2010 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

And so we come to that traditional time to say once again – has another year really gone by?

After spending Christmas with Graham’s brother and family at their home on Tyneside (featuring an enormous intra-family Wii Bowling tournament !) we saw the New Year in at home in London.  Jackie then visited her mother in Spain in early January for the Three Kings.  We both went back to Spain in August, staying with Jackie’s mother in Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol.

The big event of the year was Graham’s sister’s special “round number” birthday in May.  She and her husband hosted a wonderful weekend celebration and dinner at the luxurious Slaley Hall in Northumberland.  We made a “long weekend” of it by travelling via the 17th century Middlethorpe Hall overlooking York racecourse and staying there for a night (in the Hall that is, not at the racecourse !).

In June we visited some of Jackie’s relatives in Ireland.  This was a trip postponed from April (when the whole thing was called off for “volcanic ash reasons” – remember that?).  Jackie was speaking at the Irish District’s conference and she stayed over the weekend in Dublin, when Graham flew out to join her.  We met with her cousin Don and had dinner on the Friday.  On Saturday we travelled down to Arklow to spend the night at her cousin Penny’s house, overlooking the beach.  We were blessed with unseasonably warm and dry weather which, we were assured, is not normal in these parts (which is why it is so green of course).

In September Graham travelled to Tyneside to witness the Great North Run, which occurred over the weekend of his nephew Daniel’s first teenage birthday.  Graham’s sister and her husband both ran in the event (the Great North Run that is, not Daniel’s birthday).  His sister made everyone in the family proud by coming home in 35th position … out of the two and a half thousand in her age and gender group !

Meanwhile, Jackie had a weekend in Cambridge, the 30th anniversary of her going to Newnham back in the days of a new Conservative government and austerity measures... She did a Chinese lesson with calligraphy; and saw a mechanical model of the economy at the economics faculty, as well as having dinner with all her chums.

We had three day trips to National Trust properties.  In April, we visited Eastbury Manor.  Pleasant enough, it was little more than a larg-ish empty house, complete with charmingly amateurish Nation Trust volunteer guides and a tea room with Mars bars and plastic cups of dubious coffee!

In July, our visit to Anglesey Abbey just outside Cambridge was much more worthwhile.  As well as a huge and well maintained house, there was a water wheel/mill, rambling gardens and a substantial visitor’s centre … with excellent dining facilities !

We braved the cold in October to visit Wimpole Hall also in Cambridgeshire.  We saw the enormous mansion where Rudyard Kipling's daughter, Elsie Bambridge, lived.  There was plenty of “Upstairs, Downstairs” sights to be seen – very “Downton Abbey” !

Jackie is still at the Institute of Internal Auditors but now it is the Chartered Institute, the Privy Council having awarded the Royal Charter in February this year.  There was a big party to celebrate, held on the walkways above Tower Bridge, a pretty neat venue.

Following a reorganisation of the institute in April, Jackie became Policy Director, concentrating on promoting the value of internal auditing to government and other stakeholders, rather than helping internal auditors with how-to guidance.  The jury is still out on whether this is the job she actually wants.

She’s not done quite as much travelling around this.  Apart from the trip to Ireland, she’s been to Guildford and Newcastle as well as giving a presentation in Central London.  The international conference was in Atlanta, Georgia, this year; and, of course, the annual “mid-year” trip took place at the beginning of December.  The hotel chosen, the Gaylord Palms at Kissimmee, Florida, was like a theme park with baby alligators in the main atrium.  Jackie also for once had time to do some sightseeing, joining a colleague and his family for a visit to Harry Potter World in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.  That was great fun!  Jackie kept her eyes mostly closed on the big broomstick ride but enjoyed the butterbeer!

The best fun was going to Australia.  IIA Australia gave her the excuse by inviting her to speak at the annual conference, this year in Sydney.  Jackie’s sister, Diane, came up and stayed with her during the week and they went to the gala dinner together and to see Wicked at the theatre.  Then Jackie had a whirlwind tour of New South Wales, visiting Charlee, Jeff, Joshua, Sierra and Jon for a couple of hours – and, yes, they have now moved again; seeing Diane’s new house and the lovely little village of Thirroul by the sea; and staying with Chris and David in their country house and garden in Bowral. 

What was not fun about any of the travel this year were the natural obstacles to carefree travel – volcanic ash cancelling trips in April and threatening the flight home from Australia; and then snow doing the same for the return from Orlando. It makes you realise how nice it is when things just work!

Continuing as President of the Newnham College Roll, Jackie had an opportunity to meet two alumnae – one took her to dinner in Atlanta; and one to tea in Sydney.  It was a real privilege to meet them and to have a break away from the working environment during my trips. 

This year we had six Covent Garden operas to attend; Aida. La Fille du Regiment, Simon Boccanegra, Manon, La Traviata and Adriana Lecouvreur.

Taking them in order, we saw Aida first in May.  It was a “modern” and very bare staging – not to our taste.  Fortunately the world-renowned tenor, Marceleo Alvarez was able to keep it interesting.

Later in May we saw La Fille du Regiment.  This could have been an anti-climax, as it was a straight re-run of the phenomenal Juan Diego Florez / Natalie Dessay production of 2007.  We needn’t have worried – it was just superb.  They were both on top form and brought the house down.

In July we saw Simon Boccanegra, notable for being maestro Placido Domingo’s first outing as a baritone !  He is a great actor, and can certain sing a baritone role – although perhaps not with the raw power that more established baritones can bring to bear … but Graham for one just kept wanting him to fling out a high C !

The very next week we saw Manon.  This was our first chance to see Anna Nebtrenko in action (having cancelled at least one opera in the past).  We have seen evidence that she is one of the greats … but it didn’t really work out for her here.  Fortunately the tenor, Vittorio Grigolo., was brilliant.  Mark him down as “one to watch”.

Still later in July we saw La Traviata.  You wait months for an opera … and then three come along at once !  Although this was a relatively old staging (dating back to 1994) we were nevertheless looking forward to hearing world famous Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu in this her signature role.  Wouldn’t you know it, she cried off with a “stomach bug”.  Her replacement was merely “adequate” and the tenor wasn’t stand-out either.  Fortunately the evening was saved by Yugoslavian baritone Zelzko Lucic who pulled off the awkward “father” role with aplomb.

Finally, in December, it was international superstar diva Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann in the relatively rarely performed Adriana Lecouvreur.  On the night AG was good, but not stellar, whereas JK put in a very good showing and staked a worthy claim to be the “Next Big Thing” on the world tenor stage.

Jackie organised trips with friends from work to the Globe Theatre to see Henry VIII, Comedy of Errors and The Merry Wives of Windsor and also to see The Lion King. 

In February we visited the Sadler’s Wells Flamenco festival twice.  The Nuevo Ballet Espanol was good, but the Compania Maria Pages was better.  Their troupe leader, the eponymous Maria Pages, was excellent … but the evening was made by her troupe of four male and four female dancers who were as tight as can be in their synchronised clapping and stamping – very rousing !

In March we went back to the excellent Cadogan Hall and saw The English Chamber Orchestra with special guest John Williams.  There is room for a small grumble about how little JW was actually on stage … but it’s quality, not quantity that counts.  He was kind enough to play Cavatina (theme from The Deer Hunter) and the astounding Spanish piece Asturias.  The latter featured some astonishingly fast end-to-end guitar neck action which Graham watched closely through his opera glasses.  He swears that, so fast was JW’s movement that, at times, he appeared to possess two left hands !

In May, with Jackie in Australia, Graham saw Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez in concert at the nearby Barbican.  Whilst not in absolute top form (evidenced only by JDF’s demeanour, he wasn’t happy) he nevertheless delivered a superb performance.  He finished with a rousing rendition of the evergreen La Donne e Mobile which left everyone’s ears ringing.

Another notable musical event was the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables at its original birthplace – The Barbican Theatre.  It was a superb production.  Surprisingly, whilst the “evil” chief of Police Javert was probably the best singer on the night, the clear second was a young chap who, when we looked him up in the programme, turned out to be none other than Gareth Gates !

The last musical event before “going to press” was Paloma Faith at the Barbican.  You may know her music from “Upside Down” – which is used in at least two current ad campaigns (Marks & Spencer and Sony, I believe).  She was very good – as was the 42 piece “band” (orchestra, more like !) under the baton of trumpeter Guy Barker.  The whole evening was collection of 40s-style jazz numbers with a theme of loneliness.  Sound depressing I know, but it was beautifully done.

Jackie came back from Orlando and went down with flu so missed all the December treats.  That is also why our cards are so late this year.  Still she’s better now. 

Following on from the technology last year, Jackie has now got a Facebook page; and is also on Twitter as well as starting to try some blogging.  Feel free to connect, friend and follow as appropriate.  See you in the virtual world in 2011!

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


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