2006 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

2006 began in Durham as we saw in the New Year with Graham’s family in a hotel in the centre of this historic and beautiful (and cold !) town.  There was much splashing in the pool, steam room and spa, followed by a gala dinner complete with piper at midnight.  Excellent!

It has been a big year for seeing Jackie’s family too.  Probably the biggest event of the year for us was a trip to Australia in April.  Jackie was speaking at an IIA conference and the opportunity to “make a holiday out of it” was too good to pass up.  Consequently, we did a big family tour, starting with Jackie’s sister Diane in Sydney, before taking a hire car to visit the capital, Canberra, and Nowra on the coast South of Sydney.  Jackie’s nephew, Chris, lives in Canberra with his wife, Janet and their two children, Sharae and Patrick; and her niece, Charlee, lives in Nowra with her husband, Jeff, and their three children, Josh, Sierra and Jonny.  It was really fun to spend time with them all.

Diane came to Europe in August and September to help celebrate the 80th birthday of her and Jackie’s mother, Dorothy.  She stayed with us for a total of two weeks and we joined her in Spain for a week in August.

The week in August coincided with Dorothy’s actual birthday.  We spent a week, courtesy of Dorothy, at the Triton, a hotel on the beach in Benalmadena and a good time was had by all, lounging in the sun and walking on the promenade.  By coincidence Graham’s parents were staying nearby in Fuengirola.  They joined us on the night of Dorothy’s birthday for a slap up restaurant meal.

We went back to Spain in October to take Dorothy to Seville for a belated birthday treat.  The weather was not kind to us - it rained a lot – but at least it wasn’t too cold and it didn’t stop us sightseeing.  We enjoyed the Cathedral and, in particular, the church of the Macarena (being an area of Seville - not a dance !) where are kept the ornate floats, paraded in the famous Easter Week processions.

This year we visited Graham’s family in South Shields several times.  With Jackie work committed, Graham visited Daniel on the occasion of his First Holy Communion in June and on his 9th birthday in September.  We both went up for the family birthdays in March and July.

For his 40th birthday in March, Graham’s brother, Mark, was treated to a proper surprise party.  He thought he was going out for a quiet meal with his wife and parents only to arrive at the restaurant to find a table set for all eight of us along with balloons, cake and a big gold-wrapped present box.  This contained a set of cymbals for his recently re-launched drumming career with the fast rising North East band The Enzymes.

Graham’s mother’s 70th in July was a more sedate affair.  For one thing, it is pretty difficult to pull off a really surprising surprise party only four months after another !  A coach was arranged to take us all to an excellent restaurant outside Durham at which a private dining room had been booked.

While Graham enjoyed another year of sabbatical, Jackie’s role as Technical Development Director of the Institute of Internal Auditors – UK and Ireland continued to be busy.

Firstly, and on a particularly personal note, the year opened with the confirmation that Jackie had been successful at the last set of examinations she sat – never more, never more.  The prompt completion of an experience log book meant that she now has more letters: “MIIA”, after her name.

Secondly, each month has wafted on the internet to members a piece of guidance on topics such as the risk of bird flu and European Union directives.  Then twice a year she gets her picture printed in the Institute’s magazine by writing a ‘technical supplement’, telling members what is going on.

Jackie’s done lots of presentations this year: in Sydney (yes, Australia), in Belfast – first ever trip to Northern Ireland, Swindon, Manchester and three times in London, once deputising for the Institute’s President.  Her first presentation of the year took her back to Durham.

Other short trips included Chelmsford, Chigwell, several to Edinburgh (where she has developed a fondness for the steep windy Cockburn Street that connects High Street with Waverley station), Bristol to work with colleagues from the French Institute and Birmingham for a media training course at the ITV Central offices, where Jackie saw inside a TV studio for the first time – with lights off, it is cold and, with the sound proofing, very quiet.

The big trips were related to serving on international committees, in particular, the Internal Audit Standards Board.  Firstly, the International Conference took place in July in Houston, Texas.  Jackie was there for eleven days but, given that six and a half days were solid meetings, there wasn’t much time for sightseeing.  What she managed to fit in was: the Fine Arts Museum, lovely exhibits of art from almost every era housed in a manageable space; the Sunday afternoon conference trip to the Johnson Space Centre, the Apollo programme mission control centre; and the collection of historic buildings in Sam Houston park downtown.

The second trip was in October when the Standards Board met in Milan.  Finally, at the end of November, the annual trip to Orlando in Florida.  Yes, she knows, lucky her! Well,  she did manage to spend one day soaking in the sun and swimming in the pool but also had five and a half days of 8 till 6 meetings, which is harder work.

Jackie continued to serve on the Roll Committee of Newnham College, which gave her an excuse for several visits to Cambridge.  One, an attempt by the Roll to host a tea party for the graduands in July, didn’t go so well – very few people came.  Later that week, the garden party in honour of Baroness Onora O’Neill, standing down as Principal, benefited from the glorious summer weather so pretty frocks and elegant hats were the order of the day.

Then Diane and Jackie went to Cambridge for a day.  They made use of a walking tour that you can download from the internet as an MP3 file but had to go “off-piste” to show Newnham to Diane.  They sat in the garden under Jackie’s windows at Peile Hall, eating Fitzbillies cakes.  They were actually able to look in Jackie’s second year room because it was open – empty since it was the long vac.  It seemed as light and airy but smaller than Jackie remembers.

Diane served as a good excuse to do other fun things in London.  She and Jackie went to the Proms and even managed to get themselves featured reasonably prominently on the BBC coverage !  It's been put into *.wmv file and can be downloaded from here.

We all went on the London Eye and then Jackie and Diane went on to see Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre.  Although the seats were very cramped in the middle gallery, it was very atmospheric being in this Elizabethan-style theatre.

After Diane came back from Spain, they had a “Royal Day Out”.  This included the Royal Mews - the Queen’s carriages; the Queen’s Gallery, including watercolours from the Queen Mother’s collection; and Buckingham Palace, glittering with gold leaf and beautiful things.  There was a special exhibition for the Queen’s 80th birthday – her evening dresses, arranged in swathes of similar colours, and showing how tiny her waist was even into the Sixties.

Diane and Jackie’s cousin Don came from Dublin to see Diane for the first time in nearly fifteen years.  It was a good opportunity to serve Sunday lunch on the family Minton china.

In the year, we saw our fair share of theatrical performances.

After we went to press with last year’s letter we went to a performance of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  This was the famous Patrick Stewart one-man show.  Simply breathtaking.  One man, one chair, one table … and a cast of thousands of characters.  Being the matinee show it was followed by a question and answer session too.

We were choosy in the operas we saw and went to “only” five: Eugene Onegin, Cyrano De Bergerac, Tosca, Turandot,  and La Boheme.

As was to be expected, both baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and tenor Rolando Villazon were excellent in Eugene Onegin .

Placido Domingo delivered a peerless performance (complete with big nose !) in the newly revived Cyrano De Bergerac.  The evening was tinged with sadness – this may be the last time we hear the greatest tenor of the twentieth century.  Still, we have had thought that for several years !

Bryn Terfel, our home-grown baritone stole the moral victory with his performance in the new (and very dark) production of Tosca even though the “Saturday night” audience were keen to applaud the better known international stars of Angela Gheorghiu and Marcelo Alvarez (good … but not that good !).

Another year another Turandot !  Despite getting on for twenty years in age, this “red silk” version always looks fresh.  This time the tenor was Ben Heppner.  He was pretty good, but unfortunately he fluffed one note.  It was only one … but it was at a crucial point in the narrative when he was signing a capella all by himself.  Oops !
Marcelo re-appeared later in the year in La Boheme.  He delivered an odd performance; lacklustre for the first half, much better in the second.  It’s a shame because Graham thinks he can sometimes be very good indeed.  He just needs to get a grip as we will be needing a “new Domingo” shortly.

In February we attended two shows in the annual Sadler’s Wells Flamenco festival; Sara Baras and the Spanish National Ballet.  Both were excellent.  Then, in April, we saw yet more Flamenco in the shape of the Paco Pena troupe and his A Compas (to the rhythm) show.  Some say that he is the world’s greatest living Flamenco guitarist … no dispute here !

At the Barbican we saw a concert given by Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.  He managed a superb “crossover” performance by singing a programme of predominantly Russian opera “off-mike” in the first half and then changing completely to a modern conventional singing voice with the aid of a microphone to deliver some quite beautiful twentieth century Russian music.

In an off-the-wall moment we went with Jackie’s cousin Geoff and his wife, Kimberley, to see the Blue Man Group.  As performance artists, they are quite liberal with paint (mostly blue) and other assorted gunge.  We were just a bit worried when the first few rows of the audience were issued with plastic cover-alls as they entered the rows in front of us… but, we were spared any damage and had quite a fun time.

December was “tenor time” – firstly, Juan Diego Florez, struggling with the remnants of a cold that had him sipping tea and surreptitiously clearing his throat. But that didn’t stop him delivering a barnstorming performance.  What a guy !

And then Jose Carreras with 250 voices at the Royal Albert Hall.  Being amplified, it was like watching TV (with really bad speaker placement !) and it didn’t give him a chance to shine.  Still, the boys’ choir, Libera, the three other combined choirs and the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ made the whole evening worthwhile and had lots of seasonal atmosphere.

GrahamWoodhouse@btopenworld.com    JackiePCain@btopenworld.com