Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie
And so we come to that traditional
time to say once again – has another year really gone by ?
We begin with a weather
note. Whilst we didn’t have a heat wave this summer (in fact we
didn’t really have a summer at all) we did see some “extreme” weather
in the form of snow in central London (!) falling as late as 6th April
and as early as 28th October. So there were only five snow-free
months in between ! Climate change anyone ?
For New Year Jackie visited her
mother in Spain, enjoying sunshine and a lunch party.
Graham went up north to be with his parents, spending New Year’s Eve in
the traditional British way … at the excellent Raj curry house !
In March we both went up to South
Shields to celebrate the Golden Wedding anniversary of Graham’s
parents. A good time was had by all as we went out for a luxury
In August we spent a fortnight in
Spain, once again enjoying Jackie’s mother’s hospitality (and home
cooked pies). The weather was good – and we did little except
In September Graham went up to see
his nephew Daniel shortly after his birthday, taking the opportunity to
get roundly beaten in various video games. He also used the trip
to take his father to see Cragside House near Morpeth – home of Lord
Armstrong and the first private home in the world to be lit by
electricity. It’s an impressive house, and it has substantial
grounds … covered by many fallen trees (the result of a recent heavy
We decided to take some day trips
this year – Hatfield House and the Imperial War Museum in London and
the Museum of London itself. Hatfield House was interesting
(although Queen Elizabeth’s Oak was a bit of a disappointment since it
is a sapling). The IWM was a revelation. As well as a wide
variety of exhibits covering both World Wars, they are also running a
large exhibition for the 90th anniversary of the Armistice. It is
informative and very moving … and on until September 2009. Oh,
and they have a really nice café too!
Jackie remains Technical Director
of Institute of Internal Auditors – UK and Ireland. She reports
that new colleagues have done wonders for the community spirit with
weekly quizzes and quiz nights; and that the 60th anniversary was
celebrated with a grand lunch at Stationer’s Hall in the City.
Meanwhile, as for work, in between
learning to sub-edit, she’s had trips to various corners of the
institute’s territory to give presentations. Stansted, Newcastle;
Edinburgh, Dublin and Basingstoke were relatively routine.
Aberdeen in February was bracing. Bangor in April was a chance to
see spring lambs in the Welsh sunshine and to enjoy hospitality at the
Groes Inn. And, Guernsey (not even part of the UK, she found out)
was interesting – odd being on such a small island, surrounded by sea.
There were opportunities to visit
the Bank of England, the House of Lords; the Institution of Mechanical
Engineers, Bletchley Park and the British Library. In the House
of Lords her meeting was interrupted by the division bell – and her
hosts had to disappear off to vote! Democracy in action.
Jackie continues on the Internal
Audit Standards Board. It revised the standards this year, which
involved an extra trip – to a very cold Chicago in May; but was also
the excuse to go to Brussels to explain the changes in a presentation.
This was practice for a
presentation in Cape Town, South Africa. That trip was also to
represent her boss at an international meeting. Jackie went to
Johannesburg and spent three nights at a game reserve in the
Pilanesberg national park – two-day meeting, game drive with elephants
and a rhino and a trip to Sun City; then to Pretoria including to the
Voortrekker Monument; then to Cape Town and a day-long tour round the
wine regions. Very pleasant indeed.
The international conference this
year was in San Francisco, a favourite city. The plans included
an indulgent trip to a famous spa but forest fires on the Pacific coast
put paid to that. She did however find she was in the city at the
same time as Dionne and Conor and arranged to meet for lunch!
Jackie also continues to serve on
the Roll Committee of Newnham College. However, an encounter with
a cold in April and the SF trip in July meant that she went to college
only once this year – and missed the Roll garden party.
In May, Jackie met up with the
Newnham “Girls” for a jolly weekend at Krysia’s house – thank you,
Krysia (and Mark, George, Amy & Krysia’s Mum for putting up with
Jackie also tried to do something
slightly different and accepted an invitation from the Oxford Research
Group, an organisation she supports, to an evening with Baroness
Shirley Williams. Just after the American Presidential election,
the evening was about the international challenges facing Barack
Obama. It was very interesting.
This year we saw eight Covent
Garden operas; La Cenerentola. La Traviata, Carmen, Tosca, Don Carlo,
La Fanciulla del West, Matilde de Shabran and Les Contes d’Hoffman.
Taking them in order, we saw La
Cenerentola first (actually last December, after our letter went to
press). It’s a modern setting and a hugely enjoyable “panto” sort
of opera – well, it is ‘Cinderella’.
In January we went to a Sunday
matinee performance of La Traviata in order to see the “A” cast
including the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He was, as
ever, superb. Unfortunately his co-star, the stellar (though
relative newcomer) Anna Netrebko was indisposed. Ah well.
Like last year, we saw the “new”
production of Carmen again. We went to see the very talented
Marcelo Alvarez, but he can be a bit hit and miss. He wasn’t able
to rescue this lacklustre production, resulting in our staying in the
restaurant after the interval, preferring to finish the excellent
bottle of wine than the opera !
We saw the newish Tosca (as in
2006) and it is still a superb production. Perhaps the tenor
Jonas Kaufmann was the best thing on the night with a couple of
Jackie opted out of going to the
near five-hour marathon Verdi opera Don Carlo. Graham enjoyed it
immensely as almost all cast members performed at the highest
level. It was a typical Verdian rousing show.
We saw the superb tenor Jose Cura
in La Fanciulla del West. Oddly this older production seems to
have developed a net curtain in front of the stage, which we don’t
recall being there before. One of the cast even mimed a “trapped
in a phone box” routine during the curtain calls, so we’re guessing
that at least some of the cast don’t like it either. In this
production the heroine “Minnie” was a rather large women who simply
didn’t fit the role. She should probably stick to Wagner.
We discovered why the opera
Matilde de Shabran is so rarely performed. It is a vehicle for
the superb Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez and it really suits his
voice. Not many men have the power combined with suppleness of
voice to deliver all of the coloratura. But the story is pretty
odd and, even for opera, unbelievable. It’s a sort of reverse
“Taming of The Shrew” with a scarcely believable change in attitude of
the tenor. Also, JDF has to be “nasty” in the first half … and we
just couldn’t bring ourselves to see any such thing in the delightful
and polite Mr Florez !
The last opera pre this letter
provided the chance to see the excellent Rolando Villazon in
Offenbach’s opera Les Contes d’Hoffman. It was jolly entertaining
and Mr Villazon proved his mettle as a possible future Domingo.
Jackie managed to drag Graham
along to a ballet this year – Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Just
so you know, Graham loves opera … but doesn’t much care for
ballet. He found it difficult to stifle the giggles when one
chap, having been run through with a sword, managed to “die” in the
style of Tom and Jerry … even going down and then getting back up to
stumble around for a bit more. It was hysterical ! (“What, a bit
like the deathbed scene in Traviata?” J asks.)
Other than opera/ballet we saw the
excellent French soprano Natalie Dessay in concert at the
Barbican. Simply superb.
With Jackie out of the country,
Graham saw our favourite Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez in concert at
the Barbican. Coincidentally, as with the concert he gave in the
same venue in 2006, he was quite poorly. He struggled manfully
on, despite clearly being under the weather. He even took a break
to have a shower in order to try and “clear his head”. He sang
the last few song with wet hair … what a trooper!
This year we yet again went to a
concert given by superstar Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the
Barbican. This time it was a Russian “Lieder” concert, just him
singing to a piano accompaniment. Whilst that is not normally our
“cup of tea”, he made it very exciting nonetheless. On the way
into the venue for a meal, an hour and a half before curtain up, Graham
was astonished to bump into Dmitri as he arrived … quite alone, and
singing to himself “under his voice”!
And so to the annual Sadler’s
Wells Flamenco festival. This year we saw Maria Pages and her
company of sixteen dancers. It was an excellent demonstration of
coordinated flamenco dancing – especially from the eight men.
Our other Flamenco trip was in
November to see the Nuevo Ballet Espanol at the Peacock Theatre on
Kingsway. It was quite entertaining with a strong corps of
dancers, led by a male duo, Angel and Carlos: two of their own biggest
In March Graham went to the
Barbican to see the acclaimed Brazilian singer/songwriter Gilberto
Gil. In October we both went to the nearby Union Chapel to see
the US singer/songwriter Dean Friedman. The Union Chapel is a
recently restored 19th century building which is used as a music venue
as well as a chapel – it is very atmospheric.
In our non-musical theatre trips
this year we went to the Old Vic twice. In January we completed
an unusual set of brackets around our holiday season by going to see
Cinderella the pantomime. It featured Sandi Toksvig as the
narrator and was reassuringly funny. In March we went to Speed
the Plow, starring both Kevin Spacey (the Artistic Director) and Jeff
Goldblum. It was excellent and they were both superb.
Perhaps Jeff edged out in front by being just a bit more “involving” on
a big stage.
We also had American Thanksgiving
Dinner, courtesy of our American downstairs neighbours. That was
just before Jackie’s final trip abroad – the annual one to
Florida. Although it was a pleasant break, this year most of her
free time coincided with bad weather, including a tornado watch!
always happens when we write this letter, we are also left thinking:
“Wow! How did we fit all that in?”
Well, here’s to the next one!
Christmas & Best Wishes for the New Year
and Long Life