After an evanescent snow white weekend at the tail-end of October, the first week of November was warm and sunny in and around Basel. But for the rest of the month it wasn’t, and the month ended with more snowfalls. But apart from most mornings when the grey mist settled around the houses, it rained. And how it rained! Cats and dogs do not begin to describe it. Our house is just below the cheek of the Wolfsloch field next to what in England would be called a combe, a gentle hill by a brook that rises above our garden and is full of subterranean streams bursting to get to the valley’s principal brook, the Birsig, as quickly as possible. In this case the underground streams were swollen by the recent rainfall and water seeped into our basement as if squeezed from within the earth itself. Earth-moving equipment was raced to our hearth and most of our garden was promptly bulldozed, upended, then holes dug five metres down, rendering the scene more like the Somme than a prim English lawn. Pump installed, the trench was covered over again, decorated with giant tank tracks, scattered with pebbles and other hard core in the mud and a mountain of topsoil looking like the Matterhorn. There is now adequate drainage even for the rain that then continued to fall for several days on end, as if to pressure-test the new installation. The work was efficiently done so it seemed as good a time as any also to re-lay all the garden tiles, as well to build a wall and some terracing at the back of the garden before the construction of a new house on the next door plot. In some lighter work, I have been filling the potholes in our drive with stones picked up from my weekend walks with Bonnie, as if in silent tribute to the thunderous works going on elsewhere.
Despite our moribund wi-fi, we managed to buy tickets for Gwen and her friends to see the boy band One Direction when they perform in Zurich next May (assuming that they are still all going in one direction by then). Jessie and Ella went to see Michael McIntyre in London and seemed well pleased with their last birthday/Christmas presents, having sat on their tickets for months. Gwen will also be seeing them at the O2 in London next February. Jessie and Ella went to see Michael McIntyre in London and seemed well pleased with their last birthday/Christmas presents, having sat on their tickets for months. Talking of gigs, Andy, Sam and I went to see Johnny Winter at the unusual venue of the Basel Grand Casino. Johnny Winter (often known as “the gravedigger”), a six-foot, nine-stone, cross-eyed albino ex-junkie with long straight white hair, is 68 (although looks 90) and needed a firm hand to get him to and from his chair on the stage. But when he started playing he hardly stopped rocking the place for the best part of the next two hours. It was disconcerting therefore to be jabbed in the back impatiently by a very old woman who had arrived late and was trying to push her zimmer frame through to the moshpit.
The Casino gave us starter vouchers, and Andy came away with over 50 swiss francs after pushing all the buttons. Sam and I just put ours in the machine, pushed a button, checked the till and left. But there was something odd about the gleaming chrome and neon pleasure box that was the Basel Casino. No-one smiled. No-one joked. No-one laughed. No-one seemed to be happy. The casino is as depressing and dispiriting a crowded place as I have ever seen. Everyone there is a failure and somehow they all know it – by the blank expressions on their faces and the sullen monotony of their movements. It was like watching the living dead from behind a glass wall. They made the concert fans, threading their way out happily between the fruit machines, seem like whirling dervishes on speed.
I had lunch with my departing friend Monty at the Couronne d’Or one Sunday afternoon when the restaurant was buzzing with people. It was full when we went in at one o’clock and it was still full but with different people when we departed at three. Somehow this was deeply comforting for a rainy Sunday afternoon, as it put me in mind of a British country pub. Later, Gwen invited no less than thirty of her friends to a surprise party for Darlene and Monty’s daughter Hunter. Gwen had prepared a book of shared memories, a photo-poster and a DVD that she had made (featuring many choruses of Hunter’s soon-to-be-bereft friends) and other heart-felt proofs of friendship. Gwen has also been playing tennis for the school and was away in Zurich at an inter-school tennis competition for a few days, winning her games, coming third, and helping the ISB to great success overall.
Jessie and Hunter, November 2012
We attended an unusual dinner at the Au Chasseur, on the hill overlooking Leymen next to the Landskron Castle. We had thirty people, most of whom had never been to the restaurant before, sitting down to wild boar, veal or chicken, with spetzli and red cabbage. After the dinner, some came back to our house in response to my whispered invitation and considerable damage was done to my already depleted wine stocks.
The month ended with the noise of pile-drivers in the garden, from which we escaped to have a very enjoyable dinner with Elise and Paul, who served up pork dumplings and orange chicken and showed us their new arrival, two-week old Toby. I thought Toby overstayed his welcome somewhat in Alli’s arms for over an hour. When Alli hosted a ladies’ cards evening, some of the gentlemen joined me and Martin for a good dinner at L’Ange. From the soon-to-retire owner we got the latest gossip about goings-on in the village, which was exactly what we needed for our burgeoning French Letter for Leymen, whose third edition was successfully edited and distributed mid-month. I also spent several hours helping to sort second-hand books alphabetically and by subject for the annual Anglican Church Christmas bazaar the following day. This coincided with the equally annual Stadtlauf run in Basel, in which Gwen participated for the fourth year in a row while I supportingly supped pints of Guinness and Jaegermeister shots with the Richards in Paddy’s Bar. The month-end flurry continued with a successful Fondue evening of the EnglishSwissTalk social that I co-created with some Swiss friends, and an excellent panto in Basel, “Mother Goose” which followed a breathless meal in the popular Italian fast food place, Vapiano. The International Comedy Club in Basel provided another two excellent stand-up comedians, Luke Graves and Keith Farnan, both of whom picked on me and my friends mercilessly in their acts. By the end the multinational audience knew all about me, my life and foibles as revealed in spontaneity. This was thanks to our late-arriving small group having to sit in the last seats in the house, which were at the center of the front row.
But, hey, you’ve been a fantastic audience, I’m Lionel Stanbrook, thankyow!