2001 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

2001 has been a good year for us, personally, with lots of events and trips.

We opened last Christmas season with the London Gospel Choir concert at the Barbican.  We went to the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, had a traditional Christmas Day at home and then had a trip to “The King & I” on Boxing Night.  Then Jackie went to Spain for New Year and to see her mother’s new apartment, which is really comfortable and convenient, while Graham travelled around the UK, visiting South Shields and Aylesbury.

Jackie followed that with a trip to Chicago and Boston with 3Com.  January is perhaps not the best time to visit either location but it was a good chance to see New England – the 3Com campus, which is a brick-finished building on top of a hill with tremendous views over the Massachusetts countryside and a colleague’s beautiful Connecticut home.

Apart from that, Jackie had another trip to California and then one to Ireland, before reorganisations and restructurings in the company finally meant that her role was made redundant.  Jackie’s last day with 3Com was 4th July.  Happy Independence Day !

Since then, Jackie has been really enjoying not working.  Her main achievement has been related to diet.  Following a colleague’s success with the same plan, she undertook the Atkins Diet from the middle of August.  The objective was not only to lose weight but also to start preparing food again after years of relying on quick and convenient ready-made meals.  The weight has gone down 20lbs and, after the initial stress of not knowing what to cook or how to cook it, Jackie is now really in the swing of cooking for herself and for Graham.  The best discovery was a Nigel Slater recipe for chicken, roasted in white wine and then finished with cream !  If you want to learn more about the Atkins diet, the web-site is www.atkinscenter.com.

The other big thing that Jackie did was to go around the world.  The main aim was to visit her sister, Diane, but it is pretty much the same price to go all the way around as to go there and back to Australia, so she did.  Stops were Singapore, where she met up with colleagues from Singapore, including having a meal at Raffles Hotel and experiencing a Chinese foot massage, which is painful.

Next stop was Sydney where she spent 10 days with Diane.  They visited Chris and his wife, Janet, for the weekend and Charlee and her husband, Jeff, and children, Joshua who was nearly 4 and Sierra, nearly 2, just missing Jon who was born the day after they left !  They did tourist things in Sydney, saw the David Duchovny movie Evolution and went to the Sydney Opera House to see a production of L’Elisir d’Amore, which, set in the Australian Outback of 1914, had very funny surtitles in broad Aussie slang.

Jackie’s next stop was Tahiti, taking a Samoan airline via Auckland to Tahiti.  The South Pacific lived up to the expectations built up from movies, being luxuriant and beautiful.  It was a surprise –a welcome one – to find that it is easier to enter the country than it is to enter Australia – straight through the local citizen line, thanks to the burgundy EU passport.  And, next year, the Euro.

Finally (if you don’t count the half day at LAX in transit – thank you American Airlines for the shower) to Denver where Jackie appreciated the hospitality of Elizabeth and Mark and their three boys – Andrew – 8, Jonathan - 5½ - and Kevin - 2½.  There was hiking on Mt Evans; brunch with Susan; and a trip to Denver Museum of Natural History.

At the end of this trip Jackie did a three-day wine appreciation course at a school in the City of London – something she’s always wanted to do.  It was very interesting and informative.  Jackie now knows how you are supposed to taste wine and why you do all that slurping.  However, she needs a lot more practice !

All this was on top of Graham and Jackie’s Annual Holiday.  This year we went to Spain, including a visit to Jackie’s mother.  We flew into Seville, stayed the night in a gorgeous hotel with courtyards and a roof terrace, hired a car and drove around Andalucia.  We visited marshland and perfect white sands on the Atlantic coast, barren mountains around Ronda, the hot river plain of Córdoba, pine-clad mountains North of Granada, traces of snow in Sierra Nevada and, finally, the busy chips-with-everything Costa del Sol.

Mostly we stayed in Paradors, the chain of hotels founded in 1923 by King Alonso XIII.  The ones we picked had spectacular settings or were in historic buildings.  The restaurants served delicious food with local dishes, ingredients and wines.  We tried some of those for dinner but avoided them at breakfast since the traditional breakfast dishes seemed to comprise strong smelling cheeses or fish !

The variety of scenery and sights was part of the pleasure of the trip.  In light of more recent events the Mesquite at the centre of Córdoba was one of the most impressive sights.  Here there was a magnificent Moorish mosque – acres of graceful pillars supporting highly decorated arches and domes.  When Isabella and Ferdinand conquered Córdoba, they constructed a huge cathedral in the middle of the mosque, demolishing as many of the pillars as needed.  Christianity triumphant.

The last few days of our holiday we spent with Jackie’s mother, taking advantage of the excellent swimming pool facility to take in some sun and to splash about a bit.

It was a big year for Spain in total.  Jackie spent a further week with her mother for the latter’s birthday in August.  But, well before that, at the end of April we went to Barcelona for a long weekend, staying with Nathalie, Dominique, Lucie 5+ and Adèle – nearly 2 - who had moved from Paris for a year.  We enjoyed visiting lots of Gaudi sites, including the work-in-progress, the Sacred Family cathedral, where we climbed up inside the spires to the top of the façades –aside from Jackie: a tad scary !

Jackie saw Nathalie and family again in November when she dropped in on a flying – or should it be training – visiting to Paris with Elizabeth and Jonathan, via the “train under the ocean”.  Lucie took charge of Jonathan and led him in an impromptu concert, playing her violin.

We saw lots of shows, particularly in the first half of the year.  At the Royal Opera House, we saw La Traviata, Turandot, I Capuleti e I Montecchi, Angela Gheorghiu, Rigoletto, Orpheo ed Euridice with Cecilia Bartoli, The Bartered Bride, Otello and Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  Our favourites there were an excellent Thomas Hampson recital, particularly the American folk songs he sang for encores, and Queen of Spades – a Russian opera with a wonderful tenor, Vladimir Galouzine.

Graham and his mother saw Kiri te Kanawa in recital and a production of Aida by the Kirov Opera.  Graham saw the Kirov do Un Ballo in Maschera and went to the Linbury, the smaller theatre within the ROH to see Eva Meier.  Jackie went with Hayley to see the Royal Ballet in Romeo & Juliet and with Hayley and her niece to see them dance short pieces on the last night of the season.  Jackie also saw the Kirov ballet and Sylvie Guillem’s production of Giselle.

We spotted some interesting VIPs at the opera house.  Roberto Alagna was sitting in our row, watching his wife’s recital, and he paused to let Jackie out of the row when we were leaving.  Baroness Thatcher and Dennis sat next to us at dinner and, on the same night, Stephen Hawking was in the Grand Tier.  But – the winner is: when Jackie went to the ballet with Hayley and Emily on 4th August, who should be taking her mother out for her birthday but HM The Queen !  So we all sang Happy Birthday to HM The Queen Mother.

There were two trips to see Dean Friedman, once at the Purcell Room on the South Bank, which is a very comfortable venue, and secondly, back at the Spitz, on a steaming hot August Bank Holiday weekend.  Graham has also contributed via the internet some up-front funding for Dean’s costs of recording a new album.  Expect that next year.

We have also been to see South African Gospel, Paco Peña in Musica Gitana, Ute Lemper in Naughty Baby, Bryn Terfel and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Jules Holland & his orchestra (courtesy of Andersen alumni) and Yo-yo Ma, the cellist who composed the music for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Speaking of which, this is one of the few films we went to see, the others being Shrek, Planet of the Apes and Moulin Rouge.  We spread our wings from Leicester Square this year, trying out the Barbican cinema and Screen on the Green, which is particularly convenient, being at the top of our street.

And, finally, in June, at the start of our vacation, we went to see Jose Carreras at the Hampton Court Festival.  We tried out some proper dining tickets, including a light meal and wine served in one of the rooms of the palace and seats under cover.  The disadvantage was that those seats are a long way from the stage so no good photos.

One eagerly awaited event of 2000, which seems a long time ago now, was a visit by Jackie’s nephew, Chris, and his wife, Janet.  They did a grand tour of relatives in the British Isles and then of European sights in February and March.  We had a pancake party on Shrove Tuesday and Janet taught us and Dionne to make our own pancakes.

For Jackie’s 40th birthday, Graham organised a surprise party at Fredericks for Jackie, inviting “the girls” from college and husbands, and much surprise and laughter and alcohol ensued.

We chose the British Museum for our Easter sightseeing.  The new roofed-in courtyard is magnificent, the restaurant was excellent and the exhibits interesting !

The latter half of 2001 has, of course, been a sad year for global politics.  On 11th September, Jackie was at home, watching live as events happened.  It reminded her of a Tom Clancy novel.  Unfortunately, in real life it is harder to be sure what is the right response to terrible events.

It certainly proved how much the world of communications has changed.  While she sat on the sofa at home, switching between live news from Sky, NBC, and CNN, she took calls from family in Australia and Spain and both parties watched exactly the same coverage as they spoke.  Such a small world to have such huge misunderstandings and hatreds !  Let us hope that 2002 will bring more harmony and respect.