The temperature around me dropped a full thirty degrees when I returned from Abidjan in mid-month, just three days after Gwen’s 20th birthday, a momentous event that convinced me that time accelerates faster every year. This sensation is apparently called zenosyne. I explain it to myself by recalling that when was five years old, one year was one fifth of my life. But now I am nearly 62 years old, and a year is a 62nd part of my life. Each year therefore becomes shorter as a proportion of the whole, and we all experience it as shorter because it is – by impression – relative. My arrival in Basel heralded an abrupt and startling adjustment from my current life in Abidjan to the huge luxury of my former existence. There was a limitless choice of food and drink; the Christmas shopping seemed completely excessive; there were (almost) zero traffic jams; no car that I could see was an environmental hazard (with the possible exception of my own dearly neglected Galahad); and no one looked as if they needed any money. But it was great to visit, almost immediately, our neighbors Jeff and Ginelle to celebrate their daughter Reilly’s second birthday, and to reintroduce myself to our dogs Max and Bonnie, both of whom managed to remember me, although Bonnie is becoming a bit deaf, and has taken to catching and eating mice then regurgitating them on our dining room floor. I also saw my friends Wynne and Martin (separately), and at a Christmas drinking session at Flanagan’s I was very glad to see Peter, Paul, Katy, Richard and several other friends as well as managing to watch televised Scouser football at Paddy O’Reilly’s with Jeff and his father on two separate occasions.
Over the whole Christmas period we counted our blessings in our daughters Gwen, Ella, Jessie and her partner Jurrat, and my parents-in-law Laurie and Kay, which collectively made for the traditional family Christmas, furnished by quizzes, board and card games, razor-sharp conversational interludes, and junk TV. We (in which “I” is a constant) also ate walnuts collected by Alli in the fall from the local trees, took longish walks in the countryside with the dogs, viewed “It’s a wonderful life”, attended the Christmas market in Basel, undertook major shopping expeditions, ate lunch at Lily’s in Basel, took midnight mass in the village (followed by gluhwein) and dined extremely well, particularly two Christmas dinners and the New Year’s Eve dinner conceived and cooked expertly by Jessie, assisted by Ella. Not to be outdone, Gwen also cooked an excellent vegan dinner for us in the first days of the new year. Most of us went down with some sort of cold, cough or fever during the period. Family Christmases such as this are unforgettable, and even if they tend to follow an established pattern, there are always innovations. This year, Jessie’s home-made eggnog was a clear winner. It was – controversially – the first Christmas in which neither stockings nor Santa Claus made an appearance. We also played online for the first time – Psych – with friends and families in different countries. The only disappointment was the weather, indifferent to our advent expectations. I spent the last few days, as ever, fighting to keep up with long neglected paperwork, and employing the remarkable 21-year old Galahad in a post retirement task of visiting the local dechetterie with assorted dechets, including the Christmas tree. After two years of suffering near-criminal neglect out in the open, after I charged the battery, Galahad started up smartly with nary a complaint.
The weekend previous to my return, I had been invited to attend the profuse wedding of Michel, the manager of the boozer nearest to me, the Jardyland, to a local girl thirty years younger than him. Trying to find the wedding venue, even though it was billed as being in the gardens of the Hotel Eden, was difficult as I didn’t know any of the few guests already present when I got there, with nearly an hour to spare. An older lady who seemed to know me wrapped me in conversation as soon as I arrived, and I spent 45 minutes quaffing champagne in the pre-ceremony cocktail session, swapping sage observations about the bride and groom with a small group of guests. Five minutes before the ceremony, I looked around again and was perturbed to see that I still did not recognise anyone there. It slowly dawned on me that I might be at the wrong reception. Just then, the maitre d’ enjoined us all to take a seat for the arrival of “Francois et Josephine” thus confirming my suspicions. I finished my glass unhurriedly, excused myself politely, flushed inwardly, and tiptoed off behind a large loudspeaker to return to the notice board in the lobby. There I found that the wedding I needed to be at was in the same garden (of Eden) but much further over by the lagoon. I arrived just in time to see the limousine draw up on the lawn and the bride alight with aplomb. In a serious breach of protocol she sang with the choir as it serenaded her up the aisle. When the big question came, the new Madame Blot shrugged and turned theatrically to the audience for assistance in her response, as if it were the X-factor. I didn’t stay very long at the shimmering reception in downtown Abidjan but I did observe that drunken Frenchmen falling over were rife.
I was in celebratory mode again on the last night before leaving Abidjan at the dreaded office party, although Africans en plein fete are a truly joyous and inspiring sight. All rush to the dance floor whenever anything remotely rhythmic is played. They make a circle, clapping and dancing, and one by one take turns to gyrate stylishly in the middle of it. On these occasions I tend to get dragged in early as a comic interlude, but this time I avoided it and the inevitable photos. There were tearful tributes to departing colleagues and two coterminous birthday celebrations, but of particular note was a spontaneous contest for eating extremely hot chili peppers. An Indian won by munching and swallowing whole the Madame Jeanette, a legendary yellow fire-pepper named after a prostitute from Paramaribo, Surinam. I had been told in a circular note to come in my traditional dress, but not wishing to make a complete fool of myself in some idiotic Beefeater bodge, I donned a stylish Bangladeshi outfit, a gift earlier in the year from Jessie’s partner Jurrat’s sister. It fitted and worked perfectly and nobody invited me to gyrate all evening.
With my best wishes to you all for a very Happy and Healthy New Year.
Photo: Jurrat, Jessie, Bonnie, Alli, Gwen, Max, Ella: Leymen, December 2018