Christmas Newsletter 2009

6 Berne Avenue
Staffordshire ST5 2QJ

22. December 2009

To all our friends and family

The autumn opera frenzy is nearing its end and there is a brief pause in the rain drumming on the conservatory roof – it’s getting near Christmas, and time to send our warmest best wishes to you and your family.

However, this year our greetings to you are muted as we had a tragedy in the family at the end of November. My sister and brother-in-law, Anne and Bill, died together in Enniskillen. Bill was 88, Anne, 83. She had suffered from dementia for the last ten years or so, and recently had had a rapid deterioration. There was a lovely private funeral at the end of November, when we were together with our Nephews and Nieces and their families. We had not seen most of them for many years and, despite the undoubted sadness of the occasion, it was lovely to be together again. We ourselves are very sad – my sister had a profound influence on my life, and on Pat’s; Bill was simply the nicest man I shall ever know. You will find an account of the tragedy, our Nephew, James’s wonderful BBC interview, the funeral tributes and some photographs on the web site. There will be a public remembrance in the New Year, in Enniskillen, probably at the Integrated Schools that Bill did so much to initiate.

This letter would have been more subdued anyway since our year had already been overshadowed by Pat’s breast cancer, which was diagnosed in March. Happily, thanks to extensive walking in the winter, mainly in the Peak District, but including an extremely strenuous climb of Y-Garn in Wales, Pat was physically very fit, and able to take the April operation in her stride. She was so buoyed up by Paul's visit on the day of operation, that she left the hospital the very next day, to be surrounded at home by all the lovely cards and flowers from her friends. And a couple of weeks later, Pat went with the Stephen and Michael, who were visiting, and Gurnos Jones to see Stoke beat Wigan! Further walking, mainly in Shropshire, ensured that she was fully fit again for the radiotherapy in August and the walking continues. Indeed, provided there is no remission, the only problem left seems to be the continuing arithmetical challenge of reconciling and coordinating the daily doses of pills and potions.

Happily, the family have provided us with much good news. Fiona, Paul and Rosalind’s daughter, got a first class honours in Maths at Bath, as did her boyfriend, Adam. They are now taking a year off – Adam will return to an accountancy job; Fiona is exploring possibilities at the moment. Felicity, her sister, enjoyed her gap year, following school, by spending time at a donkey sanctuary in Spain, and helping dart cheetahs at a wild life park in South Africa. She has now started a University course in Animal Behaviour at Bristol. It was nice having them both to lunch in the summer, and also their parents who managed to escape from their increased stable duties (the girls have left home!) and were able to call in a couple of times.

And Michael has continued his stratospheric ascent within Total – he has been appointed Vice President for Exploration and Production for the Caspian and Asia! Now based in Paris, he has frequent trips to Kazakhstan and Baku, less exciting than they sound since they involve loss of sleep on short overnight flights. At the moment his responsibilities seem to be negotiating an extremely large, complex, and technically demanding project with oil company partners and the Kazakhstan Government. Unfortunately, Nicky has had to stay at home in Canada to see James through his final year at school in Calgary, but the family should be together again in Paris in the middle of next year. Charlie and James are progressing in school and sport, James playing representative rugby for the Alberta cubs. Will is apparently, in his laid back way, pursuing economics at Edinburgh. Will gave us a nice surprise by arriving for lunch when his father and Stephen were here to see their Mum.

Our German family continues to thrive. Stephen travels to the Far East as often as ever, working hard to offset the effects of the manufacturing recession; Connie is now in demand to translate commercial material for firms in the Ruhr; Sarah and Timmy are progressing through school and both have musical interests. Sarah sings in a school choir, and plays the flute in the school orchestra; Timmy is steadily improving at the piano, as well as being a competitive footballer for his local club. We have had three very pleasant visits to Düsseldorf and enjoyed their visit here in the summer.

We called on my brother and his wife, Ted and Doreen a couple of times. Despite their 86 years or so, they soldier on, largely thanks to the vigilance of my niece, Susan and her daughter, Emma. My oldest brother, Frank (88), and his wife, Ivy, are very lively and in reasonable health. We have also had an unexpected contact with a second cousin who had seen our web site. She kindly sent us some pictures of my father and grandparents which can now be found there.

Pat’s setback resulted in the cancellation of a boating trip, and also an excursion to see Mike's family in Canada and the Ring in Seattle. However we had skied in the winter with Christopher and Gwenda, and then had a lovely holiday in Egypt in the autumn. We spent two weeks travelling the Nile Valley from Cairo to Abu Simbel, looking at pyramids and temples in the company of a most engaging group of people. We also spent ten days in Ireland, partly in Donegal, with happy memories of our first visit together 53 years before, and further visits 45 years ago with the children. In Enniskillen we visited Anne and Bill, not realising we were seeing them for the last time. While there, we spent the loveliest day imaginable with them, boating on Lough Erne in brilliant sunshine.

The interest in opera and music continued unabated with visits to Buxton Festival, a few days in Llandudno for the Welsh National, and a number of visits to Birmingham, Manchester and Munich. Unfortunately the lavish Munich productions seem to be going downhill, in the sense that the directors seem to wish to indulge their own whims, rather than facilitating and enhancing the connection between composer and listener; on the other hand most of the music is wonderful.

This year, Peter published what is probably his last paper, on e-learning and the remote sensing of air pollutants using satellites; it was nice to finish on two forward looking subjects. At the moment we are editing a book on remote sensing which involves putting together contributions from a number of friends. It should be finished early in the New Year and then, since both of our contracts for work on atmospheric chemistry have finished, we shall probably be at the end. It seems to be the right time, since there is a surprising amount that we would like to do at home, but we are grateful to both John Burrows and Paul Monks for helping us to extend our professional lives for so long.

So an eventful year, which has turned out to be sad year, is coming to an end. We shall try to remember the cheerful times and good fortune we’ve enjoyed, and also to concentrate on the happy memories of Anne and Bill from the past.

In the meantime, we hope that all is well with you and your family. We wish you a very happy Christmas and good New Year.

With much love

Patricia and Peter