2007 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

Once again seasons greeting to one and all – has another year really gone by ?

Unusually the “year” began early, as we spent Christmas 2006 with Graham’s family courtesy of his sister Dionne and her husband Conor in their home in Milton Keynes.  A good time was had by all and lots of food and drink consumed !

In February, following a decision by M&S to stop stocking a particular line of wholemeal bread, Graham decided that he was fed up with trying to buy bread which he actually liked … and bought a bread making machine instead.  Nothing can stop him knocking out two or three loaves a week now.

Jackie isn’t complaining as he does a good line in granary bread with added nuts ’n stuff – it’s made with natural honey instead of processed sugar too.  It’s nice to know that it contains good ingredients, but Graham’s thrifty side was somewhat chastened to find that the resulting loaves are not actually any cheaper than those in the shops (even at M&S prices !).

We decided to take some day trips this year – and managed to do one !  We went to Windsor at Easter together with rather a lot of other tourists, had a nice meal and took lots of photographs.

In June we took a trip to Bath and stayed at Graham’s sister’s new flat there.  It is a lovely town and we had a nice extended weekend despite the worst the British summer weather could throw at us.  We discovered an excellent restaurant just a short walk from the flat – Hudson’s – so we ate well without straying too far in the rain.  We visited the home of the astronomer William Herschel and of course the Spa for which the town is famous.  The Herschel house, from the garden of which he discovered Uranus in the late 18th Century, was a good find – lots of science for Graham and history for Jackie.

The Thermae Spa, recently opened after many delays, are not the original Roman Baths, but they provide a relaxing modern experience on several floors.  We enjoyed the roof top open air pool in spite or because of the threatening black clouds above; and the steam rooms with various different aromas, as well as the food at the restaurant.  It is a great place to go and while away a few hours.

We topped and tailed the Bath trip with a stop at National Trust properties; Basildon Park – of the Keira Knightly Pride and Prejudice fame - on the way out and Dyrham House on the way back.  Both are highly recommended.

Graham’s father celebrated his 70th birthday this year with a long weekend, again generously hosted by Graham’s sister, the highlight being a slap up meal with the whole family in attendance at a nearby gourmet pub/restaurant.  We didn’t let the damp weather deter us that weekend either – determinedly enjoying the hot sunshine between clouds to take Dionne and Conor’s newly landscaped garden and its barbecue for a spin !

Even the weather in Spain, where we once again spent our summer holiday with Jackie’s mother, was not quite what it can be – we even had mist and cloud !  However, that didn’t last too long and the resulting slightly lower temperatures were actually quite welcome.

Jackie continues to serve on the Roll Committee of Newnham College.  This committee provides a link between the alumnae and the college.  Although she missed one meeting this year, she managed to make the one in September, which was held in the new buttery wing.  This is the result of a multi-year refurbishment – a new buttery has been built for students, with windows overlooking Sidgwick Avenue and even an entrance from there too.  Above it is a large room that can be used for events, including weddings.  It looks splendid.

In November we popped into our local museum – The British Museum – to see the exhibition of the First Chinese Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors.  Whilst Graham was impressed with the preservation and craftsmanship of artefacts over two thousand years old, he wasn’t that impressed with the exhibition.  With only twenty human-sized figures it really didn’t convey the scale of the site in China, which comprises several thousand warriors.  Jackie, while accepting that 20 figures isn’t the same as seeing the real thing in Xian, was, however, impressed.  As long as you stood in the space directly in front of the little cohort, you could get the feel for what the full army must look like.  Also, she felt like they looked human – somehow making her think that they were breathing or on the verge of moving.

Jackie continues to work at the Institute of Internal Auditors – UK and Ireland.  There has been a reasonable amount of travel to destinations as varied as Croydon and Shanghai !  Various meetings and presentations have taken her to Bournemouth, Warwick University and Aston Villa where she enjoyed a tour of the ground – one particular snippet was the fact that the purpose-built television studio on site is used happily by Sky whenever they are at the ground but, when the BBC rolls into town, they bring so many engineers and stuff with them that it isn’t big enough so they have to take over the restaurant at the other end of the ground !

She made visits to Edinburgh twice and once each to Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales, Hertford, Castle Donington and West Dean College.  The latter is a splendid flint-faced 18th Century house in the middle of a parkland.  The entrance hall has a baronial fireplace and wooden panelling, which is spectacular.  It is now a centre for conservation and restoration, with lots of training courses and qualifications.

Jackie continues to play a role in the global IIA, both as a member of the Internal Audit Standards Board and representing the UK and Ireland institute at other international meetings.  An unexpected trip was 24 hours in Paris to attend a meeting of regulators and accountants talking about what is wrong with external audit !

Trips included the International Conference, which this year was in Amsterdam, and the November dose of sunshine in Orlando.  There was also an extra trip to Los Angeles for the Standards Board – we have been working on a re-engineering of the standards, which will be exposed for comment this coming January.
Most exciting of all was the trip to Shanghai and Nanjing in China.  This was for a meeting of the Institute’s chief staff officers.  The Chinese IIA hosted us to some excellent food during 3 days in Shanghai and then we all went to Nanjing on the train – an experience in itself: we had little packed meals, including a cup with instant powdered drinks, and young ladies came up and down the carriages with ordinary kettles of hot water, with which they made up the drinks as well as topping up other travellers’ instant noodles.  In Nanjing we visited the new campus of the Nanjing Audit University, which was beautifully landscaped, where we had a meeting and another lovely lunch; and then mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China.  After we arrived back in Shanghai, I had two days to do some sightseeing, to visit the famous tea house – from the Willow Pattern – and to eat Shanghai dumplings.

During the course of the year, we saw six operas; La Fille du Regiment, Carmen, Madama Butterfly, The Tempest, Gianni Schicci / L’Heure Espagnole and L’Elisir D'Amore.

In Fille we saw the superb Juan Diego Florez in what is becoming his signature role.  We continue to mark him out as the future of opera and recommend anyone to hunt down his “nine high Cs in a row” rendition of the key aria from this opera.  (www.juandiegoflorez.com)  This production also featured the excellent French soprano Natalie Dessay in her Royal Opera House debut.  She can not only sing but acted her head off in this comic role.

We found the new production of Carmen to be somewhat lacklustre.  Having been to Seville a few times we couldn’t figure out what the set designer had used as a guide – the “High Chaparral” perhaps ?  It certainly didn’t look like Spain !  It was saved by a decent performance by the dependable Marco Berti and a good one from the Escamillo (the unknown-to-us Laurent Naouri).

Madama Butterfly was nice enough, but we sneaked out during the interval of the twenty first century opera version The Tempest.  The music grated particularly on Graham who was not won over by the drama itself – it is Shakespeare !  Jackie thought the Dali-esque setting with a rotating opening book made for a suitably magical telling of the tale but was happy to leave.  We don’t think that we were alone as the restaurant in the Opera House, normally full, was about half empty !

The double opera Gianni Schicci / L’Heure Espagnole was hugely enjoyable.  Our own (well, Wales’ own) Bryn Terfel was of course excellent as always.
The last opera pre this letter was a hugely enjoyable L’Elisir D'Amore with a very entertaining set including real tractors, scooters and even a small Jack Russell terrier with impeccable comedy timing !

Our only non-musical theatre trip this year was to see Patrick Stewart in Anthony and Cleopatra in February.  He was superb, but Graham is still no great fan of Shakespeare … why can’t they just speak English !

In February we attended two shows in the annual Sadler’s Wells Flamenco festival; Málaga en Flamenco and a performance by the Isabel Bayon Compañía Flamenca.  Both were excellent.

In May we attended the nearby Barbican centre to see Angela Gheorghiu in concert.  She is a wonderful soprano, but being a bit of a diva she rather short-changed us with only eight arias and a concert that finished by 9:15 pm – although it included two spectacular dresses !  Later in May, at the same venue, we saw the Juan Martin Flamenco Ensemble.

In August we saw yet more Flamenco in the shape of the Paco Pena troupe and his “A Compas” (to the rhythm) show (which we have in fact seen before, but it was well worth a second viewing).

Yet another “duplicate event” to last year was to once more attend the Barbican (this time in October) to see a concert given by Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.  Once again he managed a superb “crossover” performance of Russian music  He started with church music, then moved on through classical and operatic and finished with modern conventional singing with the aid of a microphone to deliver some quite beautiful twentieth century songs.

And so, another year is gone.  We hope this message finds you well and wish you and yours

Merry Christmas & Best Wishes for the New Year
Peace and Long Life

GrahamWoodhouse@btopenworld.com    JackiePCain@btopenworld.com