2003 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

After sending off our cards last year, and just after seeing off the decorators, we went for a pre-Christmas trip to Munich where, wrapped in our warmest coats, we strolled around the Christmas market and drank mulled wine.  On this, our second visit, we spent nearly two whole days in the very extensive Deutsches Museum.  We came back to London in time to see a small number of performers from the London Community Gospel Choir at the Jazz Café where we could eat dinner while listening to the show.  After a quiet Christmas at home, we went to see the New Year in with our respective families.  During her stay in Spain, Jackie went to Gibraltar, finding it disappointing and decidedly chilly, as opposed to Spain.

2003 was another year of Sabbatical for Graham while Jackie spent a reasonable proportion of it at job interviews, which she really, really hates.  Happily, as we write, she has secured a permanent position as the Technical Development Director of the Institute of Internal Auditors – UK and Ireland.  This will involve indulging her interests in writing and in technical audit matters while furthering the aims of the Institute.  She is based in Clapham.

We (finally) got around to visiting the “Bodyworlds” exhibition in London just before it closed.  You may recall hearing about this as it has travelled around Europe.  Basically, this surgeon/artist has come up with a “plasticising” technique which allows him to capture and display human tissue after death.  It was fascinating and not at all as gruesome as you might expect.  It demonstrated the wonder of the human body and how extraordinary it is that most of the time it all works quite well.

By far the most worthy thing we did this year (and probably ever !) was beyond a doubt attending a First Aid course at the Red Cross headquarters in March.  Although at first Graham was taken aback at being expected to pay, he was forced to concede that it was the best £50 he ever spent.  So if anyone feels a bit ill, please hang on until we are around.

Graham’s big achievements for the year included assembling not one but two 3-D jigsaws.  A physically awkward one of the moon took its toll on his fingers; the other fiendishly complex one was of a human head … and it certainly took a toll on Grahams head !

During the summer Jackie wrote a chapter of a book about Corporate Governance.  She is also editing a friend’s detective story, which is taking longer than it should.  Graham, on the other hand, carried out the upgrade of the main TV by replacing it with a 1024 line plasma screen and associated electronics to maximise its resolution.  In the absence of “high definition” in the UK it’s the best he can do for the moment.

We stayed at home for most of the year, enjoying the newly decorated and improved house and even, from time to time, having people to stay – Graham’s brother, Mark, and sister-in-law, Linda, for a flying visit; Graham’s sister, Dionne, and her now fiancé, Conor, for a much-belated birthday dinner; Krysia and Mark who we finally invited round from their nearby house just before they moved away out into the countryside; and Jackie’s mother, tempted away from her life in Southern Spain by her idea to take Jackie to Ragdale Hall.

Ragdale Hall was one of the few things that could tempt Jackie away too.  They stayed there for 4 nights in late March and found the place is just as good and relaxing as ever.  The management never stops improving the facilities and adding new ones – the new pool, dining room, extra coffee bar and a new relaxing room.  It was glorious.
As for us, we went away for four short trips.  The first was to Manchester for a long weekend, mainly to be at the surprise 80th birthday party of Jackie’s Aunty Gladys but also to see cousin Geoff’s new house, which has a spectacular conservatory all along the back.  We saw cousin Don over from Ireland and visited Urbis, the Manchester museum of cities.  Of course Graham couldn’t allow this trip to pass without paying a visit to the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank !

In the early summer we braved the world of English B&Bs with the need to be polite to perfect strangers over breakfast when we went to Cornwall to visit the Eden Centre.  There was a certain irony in the fact that the week before was glorious and the week after was glorious and the week we were there it poured with rain, at least some of the time – it was “Eclipse 1999” all over again.  Cornwall certainly now owes us at least one good weather holiday !  Fortunately much of the Eden Centre is under cover so it worked out just fine and lunch at the restaurant was surprisingly good too.  The temperate biome is full of lots of pretty flowers but the tropical biome is more interesting because it is less familiar.  It is the larger of the two and the path winds upward, as the atmosphere grows warmer, through thickets of trees so you can’t see it all from any one spot, making it more mysterious.

Of course, most of July and August was spectacular weather in London – with a virtually unprecedented heat wave in August.  We were privileged not to have to go to work (or to have to do anything at all) so we could enjoy the weather.  However, there were days when it was so hot that we were forced to turn off our computers and sit quietly in what shade and through draught we could generate.  We even had to bring down some wooden chairs from the roof cupboard so that we could avoid sitting on upholstery.  The thermometer on our roof topped out on August 10th at 38.3?C (100.9?F) in the shade !  On this day South East England sweltered in the highest ever recorded temperatures.

September, you may remember, was notable for the “close approach” of the planet Mars to the earth.  Graham, having procured the correct attachments for the telescope so that he could take digital pictures using its magnification, made the most of the once-in-60,000-years opportunity by spending several nights snapping away as it whizzed over our heads (well, 35 million miles over our heads).  The results will, no doubt, eventually find their way to his web site one day.

We went to South Shields for Daniel’s birthday and for the Great North Run.  Mark and Dionne ran again, this time joined by Conor.  Jackie, Graham and his parents went to watch and capture the family on camera, not to join in.

Then in October we went to Paris to stay with Nathalie, and Dominique and their two girls, Lucie and Adèle.  We had glorious weather in the city for sightseeing.  We went to Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower and walked miles.  We found a very good restaurant on the way up to Montmartre, like a fairy tale cottage, squeezed into a triangular space.  But the surprise highlight was a spur of the moment tour of the Paris Opera – what a monumental building, gaudy with gilt and burgundy velvet.  Then we went to Le Mans for Nathalie and Dominque’s joint 40th birthday party – a weekend-long party in an out of town converted farmhouse with 40 adults and 20 children.  We finished the trip off with a stay in Jackie’s favourite Paris hotel, Hotel de Jeu de Paume, built in an old real tennis court.  Graham liked that and also enjoyed his first trip on the Eurostar train.

During the year Jackie managed to meet quite a few people for a movie, for lunch, for drinks or for culture.  It will be a challenge to see if she can do the same next year.  One highlight – in more ways that one – was going with Clare to Vertigo 42, a champagne bar set at the top of what was the NatWest tower in the City.  It is little more than a wide corridor around the outside of the building, with large picture windows.  It is necessary to book a table and one of the party has to have a photo i.d. for security but the views are good and there is a wide choice of champagne by the glass.

Jackie went with Elizabeth to the Aztecs exhibition at the Royal Academy.  The artefacts were not realistic and yet the figures of people and of animals were very vital.  She loved the fact that they were made up of many layers of detail, standing out in vertical strata, creating a three-dimensional effect from many two-dimensional pieces and that they had detail on all sides, including underneath.  The exhibition was well done – there were specially placed mirrors so that you could see the details underneath exhibits and the recorded commentary, included in the ticket price was excellent.

There have been a lot of films in Jackie’s year – over a hundred.  This was mostly about making the most of the Sky subscription and there were some duds as well as some real finds: “The Impostor” and “Waking the dead” being two of the latter.

She went to the cinema with Anne to see “The Hours”, which she really enjoyed, including the role the music played in the drama, and with Linda to see “Calendar Girls”, which made her quite homesick for Yorkshire.  We thank Sky also for Harry Potter I and Lord of the Rings I but we succumbed to the temptation of the DVD for Lord of the Rings II.  We also went for the DVD for Matrix II.  Sadly a very poor film indeed – we won’t be bothering with Matrix III !

Jackie’s criticism of films threatens to be even pickier in future after she completed a 30-hour-in-three-days course on “Story” by Robert McKee, screenwriter and teacher.  This was prompted by an article in Harvard Business Review, would you believe, so it could have business as well as writing benefits.  Jackie is not quite sure how to put the ideas into practice – maybe next year.

Harry Potter books have started to appear around the house.  Jackie thinks they are great.  Graham keeps muttering about their being children’s books.  However, Jackie also had some more grown-up material, devouring the whole back catalogue of Susannah Gregory’s detective stories set in the 14th century Cambridge and starting on Agatha Christie’s.

A quiet year for opera saw us going to only seven performances, the highlight being “I Pagliacci” with Domingo.  Many of the others were new productions and, sadly, at best they were uninspiring and at worst they ruined the opera.  ROH has to pull its socks up.  Flamenco was represented by Juan Martin’s troupe at the Barbican (so poor we left during the interval !) and the Spanish National Dance Company at Sadlers Wells (which was breathtaking).  Fortunately, Graham’s parents were able to use a pair of tickets to see Madame Butterfly which we weren’t able to use as a result of our French trip in October.

Jackie went to the ballet a few times.  With her mother she saw “Sleeping Beauty” at ROH, another new production that did not improve on the old but the dancing was good, and “Wuthering Heights” at Sadlers Wells.  The latter was a beautiful new ballet, using lovely music and great casting.  Towards the end of the year, she drooled over the music and the narrative drive of “Romeo and Juliet” at ROH.

Graham’s pet musical indulgences saw him dragging Jackie to see Dean Friedman (again) at the Bloomsbury Theatre but even he couldn’t drag her with him to see the German songstress and diva Ute Lemper when she appeared at the Royal Festival Hall.

The year wouldn’t be complete without honouring the precedent set last year and getting a bit of decorating done during the Christmas rush.  As well as refreshing the bits missed last year, Graham supervised the overhaul of the kitchen – new extractor fan, modern doors and handles.   It’s looking very smart and much bigger.

GrahamWoodhouse@btopenworld.com    JackiePCain@btopenworld.com