2004 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

Time for another Christmas letter !

For the first time in a few years we didn’t have a Christmas break last year.  Instead Graham worked with an excellent local carpenter and re-modelled the kitchen with an additional cabinet, new cabinet doors and a more functional extractor.  The overall result was very pleasing and makes the room feel larger as everything is now lighter in colour.

The Christmas outing was to see Cinderella (the Prokofiev ballet that is).  Graham was actually a late replacement for Jackie’s friend Hayley.  As expected, he wasn’t too impressed, but neither was Jackie so we left during the interval.  After a quiet Christmas at home, we went to our respective families for New Year.

2004 was another year of Sabbatical for Graham while Jackie is still happy in her recently acquired role of Technical Development Director of the Institute of Internal Auditors – UK and Ireland.  This role has seen her despatched to such far-flung locations as Australia (Sydney), America (Orlando, Florida), Scotland (Crieff), Wales and Leicester for various business reasons.

Of course, while in Sydney, she saw her family.  She stayed with her sister Diane, managed a whirlwind visit from Charlee, Jeff, Joshua, Sierra and Jon and saw Chris, Janet, Sharae and bump a few times, even enjoying a dip in their hot tub.  In October, bump was born – Patrick Neil, being a fifth great-nephew/niece.

The trip to Scotland provided Jackie with an opportunity to do something else new – travel on a sleeper train.  She took the sleeper up from Euston to Edinburgh.  It was, unsurprisingly, not as luxurious as the Orient Express but it was comfortable enough and she managed to sleep, despite being intrigued by the novelty.  The journey is mainly smooth but there is quite a lot of clanking and moving over points as the train is divided in the early hours and somewhere in the wilds of Lowland Scotland into two – one for Glasgow and one for Edinburgh.

Jackie’s day trip to Cardiff allowed her to meet Helen for lunch – after many years of saying ‘we must meet up’, so, be warned, it might happen! – and to see how the Millennium Stadium looms large in steel above the smaller, older buildings.

Our continued opera-going this year has comprised; Don Pasquale, La Forza del Destino, Werther, The Greek Passion, Tosca, Faust, Arabella, Il Trovatore, Der Rosenkavalier, Samson et Dalila, The Tempest, Les Contes D'Hoffmann and Sweeney Todd.

Gounot’s Faust with Bryn Terfel as Mephistopheles was the particularly compelling.  It featured Simon Keenlyside as well and he was also in The Tempest, which though modern and, therefore, sadly lacking in tunes, was a mesmerising production.

The Greek Passion had a fascinating set, representing a village on a hillside, and reaching from stage to proscenium arch.  Singers performed on every level and the stage rotated too.

In addition to the Cinderella ballet , we also saw the excellent Bolshoi ballet perform Prokofiev’s Spartacus.  It was very impressive … although Graham had to suppress his sniggers when all the butch warriors suddenly started prancing around in unison !

Although we didn’t see any of Placido Domingo this last year, we were lucky enough to see and hear Willard White, Thomas Allen, Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorgiu, Thomas Hampson and Bryn Terfel.  Jackie also saw Rory Bremner, compering the Accountancy Age awards.

During the course of the year we also bumped into Les Dennis and Richard Attenborough (not together) at various events.  As they say, what we lacked in quantity we made up in quality (with “Dickie” anyway).

Jackie and Hayley finally went to the ballet, going to see Carlos Acosta, the Royal Ballet principal, in Tocororo – A Cuban Tale at Sadler’s Wells.  It was a story mixing Cuban music, which sounds more African than Latin American, and dance with classical.  The Cuban dancers were incredibly supple and loose as they moved.  Carlos danced beautifully but could not quite shake off his classical precision.

Other musical highlights included the Black African singing troupe “Ladysmith Black Mambazo” at the Barbican.  They were sublime … which is more than can be said of the sound amplification used.  It made them very loud, but where we were sitting (dead centre) it created an unpleasant “booming” in the mid bass which completely muddied their otherwise clear vocal style.  When they deliberately went off-mike (as part of their dance routine) the sound, whilst quieter, improved dramatically.
Youssou N’Dour also played at the Barbican – and sounded great – performing his Islamic songs.  Best of all though was Ute Lemper’s concert in November.  She had a full orchestra and the stage was cleared back to that normally used at a proper orchestral concert.  There was minimal amplification on her voice and the whole thing sounded just beautiful,

Another musical highlight turned out to be the concert given by Steve Howe at the Royal Festival Hall.  This is despite the fact that Graham only bought tickets because he confused Steve Howe with Steve Hackett !

Don’t worry, we didn’t miss out on Flamenco.  We saw three concerts: Farruquito and Gala de Sevilla as part of Sadler’s Wells’ flamenco festival and Paco Pena at The Royal Festival Hall.  Farruquito featured the Farruco family and the four men were breathtaking, even the youngest one.  The power of the older, stronger men was beautiful.

To try and raise Graham’s brow, Jackie dragged him along to two theatre plays during the year; Five Gold Rings and Cloaca.  The former was so uninspiring that we left during the interval but at least it got us to the local Almeida theatre, which is tiny.  Cloaca, the first Old Vic production under Kevin Spacey’s direction, was actually quite entertaining (featuring Neil Pearson, Stephen Tomkinson and Hugh Bonneville).  Many thanks to the person beside us who insisted on sending text messages on a large, bright mobile telephone during the performance … we hardly found it distracting at all !

The big event of the year was the family wedding in June of Graham’s sister Dionne to Conor Whelan.  This took place in and around Towcester (and, thus, near Silverstone) the week before the British grand prix.  The wedding was in a small church off the main square and then we retired to a nearby hotel with banqueting facilities, spa and helicopter pad.

The hen weekend was at the same hotel three weeks earlier.  Jackie had an enjoyable time sampling the spa beauty treatments – oh, and drinking!

We went to Spain for a visit to Jackie’s mother in August.  Although we were there for barely more than a fortnight, we did manage to fit in a short trip and stay-over in the picturesque hill town of Ronda to celebrate Dorothy’s birthday.

After returning from Spain, Graham launched into the project management of the “great bathroom upgrade”, involving tearing out the old bathroom right to the floorboards and lathe work, rebuilding walls and replacing all the fittings.  We have gone for a fully tiled look and are currently enjoying the under-floor heating.

Graham is pleased to have brought the project in on-budget (but as it was a fixed price contract there was little danger of not achieving that).  It did however run on considerably longer than expected.  The initial hope was that it could be done in about a month (with the builders “out by Tuesday”) … in the event it took almost two months.  But as Graham says, quality work cannot be rushed.

In early September we paid a visit to Ireland in the sad circumstances of the death of Jackie’s Aunt Olive.  There was a beautiful service in a quaint church to celebrate an eventful life lived over 80 years.  We also had a chance to spend time with Jackie’s cousins - first, second and even third.

The trip back from Ireland was something of an adventure – a combination of a punctured tyre and the weather.  The weather had us transferred from Dublin port to Dun Laoghaire and to the extraordinary engineering feat that is the Stena HSS, a huge catamaran with jet engines to propel her across the wild Irish Sea – and, boy, was it wild!  The puncture had us dawdling back from Holyhead to London at 50 miles an hour on a skinny spare.

Later that month, Jackie took Graham as her guest to the annual gala dinner that is surely destined to become the most talked about of London’s “society” events … the Annual Dinner of the Institute of Internal Auditors.  OK, perhaps not!

Jackie has also been voted onto the Roll Committee of Newnham College.  This will mean two trips a year to Cambridge and the chance to contribute to the college.  Since her year is being invited back to Commem in the Spring, she hopes to see a few of you there.

GrahamWoodhouse@btopenworld.com    JackiePCain@btopenworld.com