2011 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie

We will be ending this newsletter with some Big News – but let’s review the year first.  No peeking ahead now!


We spent Christmas 2010 in Islington – complete with the sort of cold weather and snow which you simply don’t normally see in London.  Do you remember the closure of the airports, etc...?  It seems so long ago.


In April we celebrated Jackie’s 50th birthday with a suitably quiet visit to Kew Gardens.  It was one of those places which, living in London, you always mean to visit – but never quite get around to.  It was well worth it and it was a glorious sunny Spring day with blue skies.


In July Graham travelled up to South Shields to visit his mother on her birthday.  He took her to the National Trust property, Wallington Hall, for a really nice day trip.


The big event of the year was a joint 50th birthday family get-together for both of us and Graham’s sister-in-law.  As we all turned 50 in the same year it seemed to make sense.  We stayed at a huge lodge in the Cumbrian forest at Whinfell Holiday Village and Graham’s sister (with her husband) laid on some superlative catering.  Apart from Conor’s cooking other highlights included off-road mountain biking, ten pin bowling and “Family Basketball”.  To really make the most of the time, we went a day early and stayed overnight near the picturesque Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire.


In September, as is traditional, Graham travelled to Tyneside to witness the Great North Run, which once again occurred over the weekend of his nephew Daniel’s birthday.  No family members entered the event this year, but Graham went along to the finish anyway – mainly to photograph the Red Arrows’ display!


The two of us had only one trip together to a National Trust property: in the unseasonably warm Indian Summer of October we re-visited Anglesey Abbey.  This time we took in more of the gardens (which we missed last time).


To make up for that, in October we also went to Cambridge.  Jackie voted in the historical election for a Chancellor and then we went to the celebration of 140 years of Newnham College, very pleasant in the sunshine and warmth.


Jackie is about to complete her term as President of the Roll of Newnham College.  She visited College several times for Roll Committee meetings, to meet senior members and to join the Freshers’ Parents’ lunch at the beginning of their daughters’ second term.  She’s enjoyed the experience very much and will miss seeing the place so often.


This year, Jackie also went back to Skipton Girls’ High School.  A group of her year organised a reunion, complete with guided tour of the school, one weekend in October. 


Jackie continued as Policy Director at the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors. She was particularly proud to play a large role in bringing about a collaboration between IIA and CIPFA, the public finance specialists, that will benefit public sector internal auditors for years to come.


She’s done very little travelling this year.  However, for the first time she went to the European conference of the IIA.  It was held in Madrid in October. It was very interesting and it also gave her the opportunity to take the AVE, the high-speed train, down to Malaga to see her mother for a few days. The train is very slick – no wi-fi, though.


This was her third trip to Malaga this year.  She went on her own for 3 nights in February and then we both went for two weeks in August. BA has started flights from London City, which are pretty convenient.


Sadly this year saw the death of Graham’s Uncle Terry.  In June he died after a battle with cancer.  Graham was able to go up to South Shields for the funeral.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones.


It’s been a busy musical year but it hasn’t included much at Covent Garden.  No Domingo in tenor roles, Carreras’s retirement from opera and repertoire bereft of interesting “classics” meant that we found only two shows that we wished to see; Werther and Madama Butterfly.


We saw Werther in May.  The role was played by major international tenor Rolando Villazon (you may know him from “Popstar to Operastar”) and he didn’t disappoint in an all-round strong singing production.


In June we saw the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly.  Graham always says that Puccini operas are so good that you really can’t mess them up with poor singing.  However a rather lacklustre (nameless) American tenor set out to prove him wrong … and almost succeeded.  He was rather poor at projecting, on the plus side he was barely audible.  This view was backed up when some of the audience actually chose to boo him on his curtain call!  Madame Butterfly herself was excellent though – so no complaints.


What we lost in operas we more than made up for in other treats this year:


Whilst Jackie was still down with the flu in late December last year, Graham battled through a snow storm to Wembley to see a full orchestral performance of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.  Russell Watson was OK in Phil Lynott’s place, whilst Justin Hayward (“Forever Autumn”) was mesmerising.  The show was of course stolen by the three storey high fire-breathing Martian fighting machines!


In February we went again to the Sadler’s Wells Flamenco festival.  We saw the Compania Aida Gomez performing a version of Carmen.  It was very odd hearing some of the Classic Bizet score, but not all of it, and no singing. 


In March we saw Youssou N'Dour at the Barbican.  He had a few guests and so rather than take an interval the performance was one mega-long relay-race of a great gig! 


May: you wait a year or more for a decent gig at the excellent Union Chapel ... and then two come along on consecutive nights!  Making a special effort (for Jackie’s birthday) Graham managed to grab two hot tickets to one of the very rare Hugh Laurie performances in Europe.  A great show from Hugh’s sauntering down the aisle next to us whilst his band played an intro to the very end!


The next night we returned expecting to see Paloma Faith in concert.  In fact it turned out to be a benefit gig she had arranged for a childhood friend.  The show just started up after the doors opened rather than wait the usual 45 minutes or so and continued until throwing out time.  All sorts of people showed up: Keith Lemon we didn’t like, but the musical guests made it worthwhile: Paloma herself, the Noisettes, Michael Nyman performing his piece from “The Piano” and, best of all, Alfie Boe popped up and sang “Nessun Dorma”.  See more of Alfie later.


Probably the biggest musical event of the year was the Domingo/Gheorghiu concert at the O2 (the Dome) in July.  Let’s first say that the acoustics in what is effectively a big top were appalling – everything was muddled (and of course , of necessity, amplified enormously).  But it was very much a “fun” gig.  Placido just seemed to be enjoying himself.  He was almost running out to do encore after encore.  To our amazement, he even sang the big numbers like “Granada” and The Three Tenors’ show-stopping “Non Puedo Ser” … very well indeed.  The man’s over seventy years old!  It was a memorable evening.


In August we went to Sadler’s Wells to see “Fela!” We really wanted to like it but the music didn’t capture us.


In October, Graham managed a “sublime to ridiculous” double event seeing the world renowned baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky one night and Dean Friedman the next!  Dmitri was superb (as ever) at the Barbican in a programme of Lieder and Dean was funny (as ever) singing his own stuff at the University of London (Bloomsbury Theatre).


In early November we were in the Union Chapel again, this time to see Nitin Sawhney.  Once again a superior musical night was provided by this jazz/flamenco/Indian fusion artist.  Of particular note was a tall willowy blonde who stepped up to the microphone and sang the most ethereal fluent Indian classical music.  Nobody expected that!


And the second Alfie Boe moment came in November in his limited run in Les Misérables.  The guy just owned the stage!  In a different league from everyone else, he completely inhabited the role.  At one point he carried the unconscious Marius about a bit … and continued to carry him in his arms whilst singing a duet with Javert!  Although, in fairness, it must be said that Javert (Hadley Fraser) had the stand out aria of the night when he absolutely nailed “Stars”.


Our last joint musical event was Planet Earth at the Barbican.  A full symphony orchestra played the music composed for the TV series along with extracts on a huge screen.  It was excellent and very well described/explained by the conductor.  The biggest applause though was for an impromptu appearance by David Attenborough in the audience.  You could really feel the love!


Jackie organised trips from work to Shakespeare’s Globe to see Much Ado About Nothing and Anne Boleyn, a new play but in the Shakespearean style: the story of Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall and her role in spreading Protestantism in England. She went to a fascinating and entertaining lecture by the historian, Niall Ferguson, on alternative histories and how they can help us understanding the causes of events. She ended the year with a trip to The Jersey Boys, which was great fun. 


Of course, the real “biggest musical events of the year” were actually performances, not spectator events!  Jackie opened and closed the year with singing performances: firstly, a shaky duet and trio at the Courage to Sing’s New Year concert; and finally, a little more comfortable role as one of the singers in the IIA’s band, Risky Business, at the IIA Christmas lunch.  In July, she sang in a performance of Carmina Burana with the Islington Choral Society.


This is a new venture for her.  She’s really enjoyed taking lessons and rehearsing and practising.  She was surprised to discover that she much prefers the solo pop singing than the choral experience.  It’s therapeutic and fun.  She’s even been enjoying a lot of Karaoke, at Lucky Voice in Islington.


And, now the Big News: Jackie has accepted a new job, Director – Policy and Technical, … working for the IIA … but, of Australia not of UK and Ireland, based in Sydney!


So, as of late February 2012 we are packing our bags and setting off down-under for 2-3 years!  Preparations are well underway, including arranging to have our London flat let out for the duration.  It’s all rather scary!  We aim to keep our email addresses and lamentably under-utilised web sites.  Perhaps this will be an incentive to keep them more up to date.



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



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