2013 Christmas Message from Graham and Jackie
(with links to Graham's photographs!)

Greetings from London.  Yes, we’re back!

Jackie’s position in Australia wound up unexpectedly at the end of 2012 and, without the visa entitlement that came with the job, Graham couldn’t continue his sterling spreadsheet work at the NRL either.  Despite Jackie making efforts to find another role, we soon faced little alternative than to return to the UK taking fond memories of our 14-ish months in Sydney with us.

So this year’s letter is in two halves: December 2012 to May 2013 in Australia and May to December 2013 in the UK. To see some of the highlights in photographs, go to Graham's Flickr pages here.

When Christmas 2012 came around we drove to Engadine, a moderate drive from Sydney, to have a Christmas Eve dinner with some of Jackie’s extended family.  We brought Jackie’s sister Diane back with us to Sydney and went to midnight mass in the tiny, local, stone-built colonial church.  The next morning, we drove to Thirroul on the coast to have lunch at Diane’s. All thoughts of enjoying the Australian tradition of Christmas Day on the beach blew away in the face of low cloud and torrential, albeit warm, rain!

On Boxing Day we took a ferry across Sydney Harbour to join the crowds on the heights of the South Heads and witness the start of the world famous Sydney-Hobart yacht race.  It was an awesome sight, not least because of the presence of a dozen or more helicopters of various types, either covering or policing the event!

2013 started with a bang – or two! On New Year’s Eve, we saw La Bohème at the Opera Theatre. The interior didn’t particularly impress Graham and the artistic standards fare poorly compared to Covent Garden, but no one can fault the accompanying fireworks display!  Yes, following the performance, we attended the party in the foyers overlooking the harbour and The Bridge, so we got to stand on the private balconies of Sydney Opera House whilst the New Year’s fireworks blazed around us at midnight.  An amazing “once in a lifetime” experience!

January is party time and festival time in Sydney. We went to the opening events of the Sydney Festival, greeting the arrival in Darling Harbour of a giant yellow rubber duck! No, really.  We enjoyed the outdoor bar in Hyde Park with Swedish cider and fabulous burgers from the bistro.

January is also summer and 2013 saw some record-breaking temperatures: 46°C by Sydney Harbour.  We appreciated our AC, but we had to experience that heat in our own ways.  Graham walked to Darling Harbour; Jackie stepped onto our balcony for a minute!  Apart from that, NSW continued to prove Graham right: a wonderful climate with its share of changeable, wet, windy and wild weather.

Despite that, we started to get out and about a bit.  Thanks to Wendy, one of Jackie’s friends from work, we discovered Ku‑Ring-Gai Chase national park and the Northern Beaches.  This was useful when we hosted visitors from the UK later in the year – we took them to see it too!

Graham continued to cycle and visited many of the beaches around the Harbour.  A selection can be seen in this set of photographs.

We went to Taronga Zoo. Spreading over the hills of the North side of the Harbour, it has fabulous views of Sydney. We saw the classic Australian fauna: koalas, crocodiles, red kangaroos, tree kangaroos, kookaburras – and meerkats. 

The 26th of January is a special day for Australians: Australia Day.  It commemorates the landing of the first fleet of European settlers.  It is widely celebrated with ceremonies, picnics, a race of ferry boats in Sydney Harbour, tall ships and fireworks, of course! It is not seen as a cause of celebration by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples.  2013, however, saw the flying of the Aboriginal flag side by side with the Australian flag on the Harbour Bridge for the first time as a small symbol of reconciliation.  Photographs from Australia Day 2013 can be seen here.

In February we wandered around Sydney as the significant immigrant community celebrated the Asian or Lunar New Year with lots of firecrackers and lion dancers (NB they’re not dragons!).  You can see them in these photographs.  We noticed that the term “Chinese New Year” was not widely used, because it’s not just Chinese people - Koreans and others celebrate it too.

Jackie spent some of her gardening leave exploring life as a blogger and swimming on a regular basis in the quiet pool attached to the apartment complex.  Neither of these pursuits survived the re-entry into London working life but they were fun while they lasted.  Bearing in mind that, at the moment, the blogs are lonely and neglected, if you want to have a look, you'll find the one about internal auditing here and the more general one there.  If you don't like them, tell Jackie!  If you do like them, tell your friends - and Jackie!

We decided to shoe-horn a few trips into our last few Australian months.  In February we bought matching hats at The Hattery in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, home of The Three Sisters rock formation.  In March we went to the Hunter Valley where Jackie was delighted to be able to visit several wineries and loved the countryside.  In April we re-visited the inland town of Orange, this time finding the good restaurants like Lollo Redini and, our favourite for the extra roominess, Bistro Ceello and staying in a fabulous B&B, Arancia.  Many of the photographs in this set were taken at Arancia.  We visited the nearby – in Australian terms, at least – Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo.  This is an extension of Sydney’s zoo with much more space for larger animals to range.  It’s so big that you have to drive (or cycle) from compound to compound to see the different animals.  In May we went back to the Blue Mountains and stayed at the boutique hotel, Echoes, with views out over the magnificent valleys which are so typical of the area.  Next to their garden were green shoots of recovery after the last bush fire.

But the highlight of the year was the visit of Graham’s brother’s family.  They stayed with us in Sydney for a fortnight over March/April.  We ensured that all of the boxes got ticked.  They were whisked to the Blue Mountains (twice), the Hunter Valley, Circular Quay (Opera House et al), Bondi (including a surfing lesson which Graham’s sister bought for his nephew, Daniel), the South Heads (inc. Watson’s Bay and the excellent Doyle’s Fish Restaurant), Taronga Zoo and the world’s biggest IMAX.  Graham’s brother and his wife even climbed the Harbour Bridge.

In the Blue Mountains, we stayed at the picturesque and picturesquely named Valley of the Waters B&B. We spent most of the time in low cloud but it lifted in the morning to give an idea of the view from the bedroom terraces. It was a couple of minutes' walk - or run through the rain - from the Conservation Hut Cafe, which is worth visiting particularly if you are hungry - very hungry.

We managed to see some more of Jackie’s family before we left.  We took the train, with its scenic route through bush reserve and along the coast, to Thirroul to have a chance to see her Canberra-based great-niece and great-nephew.  Jackie went to visit her niece and managed to fit in two karaoke sessions with Diane.  We met up with Jackie’s niece’s family on Anzac Day, just like 2012!

When it comes to culture, we spent quite a bit of time at Sydney Opera House. On the opera front, as well as La Bohème, we saw Orpheus in March.  In the Concert Hall, in February we saw a rather odd performance of Kaleidoscope, music by Tan Dun, played , live by an orchestra in front of a screen showing clips from the martial arts movies for which the music was written.  In April we saw a top-notch international star: the Welsh baritone, Bryn Terfel.

Meanwhile, Jackie visited the Drama Theatre twice.  Firstly, she accompanied her great-niece to see Sylvie Guillem in 6000 Miles.  Then, in May, Diane took Jackie to see Henry IV and introduced her to the actors who invited them both backstage for a drink and wide-ranging discussion of politics and theatre in London and Australia!

Jackie, Graham and Diane went to see the film of Les Misérables.  Jackie went with Wendy to see the Francis Bacon exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery.  We went back to the biggest IMAX in the world: Graham to see The Hobbit in 3D and Jackie joined him for Star Trek: into Darkness 3D.

One of the last things we did before we left was to go to the top of the Sydney Tower and look around at the city we'd lived in for 14 months. See the photographs here

Leaving Australia in early May, we came home the “other way round” ... crossing the Pacific and America, changing planes in LA.  This allowed us to spend a week re-charging our batteries on the South Pacific Cook Island of Rarotonga.  Just think of the musical “South Pacific” and you’ve got the look.  It is really to be recommended.  We stayed at the Manuia Beach Resort, which we enjoyed very much.  The  food in the restaurant was good enough that we decided not to bother going out for  meals. And, it really did look like the pictures on the website.

Graham’s sister kindly put us up on our return allowing us time to find our feet (and warm clothes!).  We were very lucky to be able to move straight back into our flat in Islington, the tenants having being obliged to leave and go to America as, coincidentally, their work visa ran out too!

Jackie was straight back to work, going up to York the day after we got back!  A short maternity-cover contract gave her a chance to continue her work on UK public sector internal audit, albeit with CIPFA, not IIA.  One of her main jobs was to support the development of the UK Public Sector Internal Audit Standards Advisory Board (or IASAB, for short!).  Here's where you can find out more, if you want.  Now that’s over, she has a couple of irons in the fire: new challenges in 2014.

Now we can pick up part two of “The Year in Concerts”.

In July we saw the world renowned Paco Pena and his troupe at Sadler’s Wells.  It was a show called Quimeras which was a fusion of Flamenco and some African dancing – which didn’t impress Graham at all.

The first tickets we could get for Covent Garden were for the all-time favourite opera, Turandot in September.  Appropriate, really, since it was the first opera we saw in Sydney too.  It was superb as ever.  We found ourselves reviewing the various changes which had been made to the house in the two years (!) since we had last been there: a new champagne bar and the restaurant Maître D’ had lost a LOT of weight.  He looked very good on it too!

We had several visits to our nearby venue of the Barbican Hall.  In October we saw local heroine Paloma Faith with the forty–two piece Guy Barker Orchestra.  A real toe-tapper of an evening that one!  She performed special arrangements of much of her newer album, Fall to Grace ... but didn’t ignore the best of her previous material.

In November and December we saw no less than four concerts there; Jane Birken, Bill Wyman & his Rhythm Kings, King’s College Choir with the Britten Symphonia and, finally, Steeleye Span. The latter delivered some new material but were savvy enough to play All around my Hat and Gaudete in order to avoid a riot!  In addition, we went  to a new venue for London.  Promoted through the Barbican centre, this is a concert hall in the new building for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Milton Court.  There we saw Anne Sophie von Otter, an alumna of the school, and two fabulous fellow Swedes.  Nice space!

Being back in London we felt obliged to do some proper “London things” like witnessing the Queen’s Birthday Flypast from our roof in June, visiting Buckingham Palace and walking along the South Bank of the Thames from Tower Bridge to the Festival Hall in August and attending the local Angel Canal Festival in September.

In July we went to Spain, just for a week, to see Jackie’s mother who continues to do well on the Costa del Sol.

In October Jackie attended an internal audit conference in Vienna, Austria.  Graham tagged along, enjoying several banquets and wandering the cold and sunny streets of Vienna, seeing the Danube (not particularly blue ... but very wide) and sampling the local sausages.  We also went to the world famous Schönbrunn Palace.  Graham at least was much more impressed by the nearby Science & Technology Museum – better than London’s Science Museum!

With the year drawing to a close, we were invited to Graham’s sister’s house to join Graham’s parents in an early Boxing Day lunch of turkey and chips and all the trimmings.

So that is a brief summary of our year.  



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



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