For two weeks of this month Jessie spent some very high quality time in South Africa on a school trip. Amongst the many valuable experiences she had was that she met up with (and I am nearly sure that I have got this right) her second cousin once removed Anton Apps for breakfast in Randburg, a suburb of Johannesburg. This was largely due to Anton determinedly cycling to meet her after his car broke down. It was an historic, momentous and thoroughly worthwhile two-ends-of-the-wider-family meeting. Jessie also met various Zulu and Xhosi warriors, lion cubs, Miss South Africa, Robben Island survivors, and even saw Desmond Tutu into the bargain. She helped to build a Habitat for Humanity house in one of the townships, painted an orphanage and after coming back said that she had generally had the time of her life.
Alli, Gwen and Ella went to England for the week while I struggled on at work, returning to an empty, cold. dogless and dark house every evening. Oddly enough, during the month the weekdays tended to be cold while the weekends stayed sunny and even warm. We went with Gwen and some neighbours’ children to the Lange Erlen Park in Basel on one such Sunday complete with a blue sky and a warm sun. Lange Erlen is a small, unassuming, popular and friendly little zoo in north Basel right by the German border. It comprises, largely, animals in their appropriate environment who seem to be happy creatures. Certainly the pot-bellied pigs appeared to be fulfilling their well-known metaphor. Afterwards we spent some time wandering along the gurgling River Wiese (right bank Swiss, left bank German) which gives into the Rhine after a long cascading journey downwards and southwards from the Black Forest. Baselers were out strolling around in their short sleeves, their dogs exercising happily along the sides of the river. Bonnie had a brilliant time there and exhausted herself with the multifarious company she encountered. Later in the month, Bonnie must have eaten something rotten or poisonous on one of her daily forest walks and was very ill. The vet gave her an intravenous infusion and she is now recovering strongly.
At school, Jessie and Ella each had exemplary reports, Ella – who has been working very hard – did extremely well in exams, and Gwen was chosen as the Grade Representative for her year. Rehearsals for the new musical are under way and Jessie and Ella both have small parts in Grease while Jessie is also the stage manager, as she was last year for High School Musical. Not content with re-starting the school’s student newspaper Raw, Jessie also organized and directed a mock human rights trial at the school based on the practices of the International Criminal Court. It was a pleasure (almost an honour) to witness around thirty teenagers diligently play the parts of the accused, the lawyers, witnesses defence and prosecutors in a staged trial concerning the human rights abuses of the FARC in Colombia. Given that the mock trial took place indoors on a bright Saturday morning, their commitment and enthusiasm was very impressive. I thought of Grandad who would without a doubt have been there by choice all day listening intently to the trial and taking copious and careful notes.
I went to the USA for a week, attending a conference on climate change that took place at a conference centre in Chappaqua in New York State. We were there just as the trees were turning from green to red in the woods near the neo-colonial towns an hour or so north of New York City, after a train ride in which the names seemed very familiar and sonorous to me although I had never actually been to any of them before – Scarsdale, White Plains, Pleasantville, Valhalla, Katonah.
On the Halloween weekend we were socially active, welcoming the Miles of Luxembourg for a lightning visit as well as our good Swedish friends Ann-Lii and Freddie de Mare. Our younger children went on a pre-determined trick or treat session over at what we call the ‘American ghetto’ nearby while the older ones went to Basel for the evening. On Saturday we had a dinner party and on the Sunday I went with Freddie and Ann-Lii for a muscular two-hour hike near the Passwang tunnel followed by a restoring beer at the Alpenblick restaurant nearby. It was another sunny Sunday and there was a breathtaking view of the glinting panoramic Alps on one side, as well as Basel and the Black Forest on the other as we made our way around a snowy ridge at 1200 metres, following a haughty border-line between Baselland and Solothurn.
One evening I went with Jessie to a well known Indian restaurant, Jays, to inspect some photographs taken by two of her friends. I bought two particularly good prints for posterity. I also went with her to see an ultra-modern treatment of the romantic opera La Boheme with Jessie one Sunday evening at the Theater Basel. The cafe scene comprised skiers with moon boots and padded jackets sitting around by a chalet at the top of a mountain. It also featured half-naked men standing stridently around in white Y-fronts and huddled lumps of white duvets (representing snow drifts) on the stage. It was entertaining and memorable and somehow the very high quality of the singing was enhanced by the unusual settings. Talking of snow, after a brief flurry we have all been told to expect it soon in large volumes at a location very near us.
Yours from the High C,
Zulu Posterity Valhalla