Christmas Newsletter 2014

6 Berne Avenue
Staffordshire ST5 2QJ

12th. December 2014

To all our friends and family

Christmas is clearly upon us: there are newspaper reports of elves, smoking and behaving badly at a muddy "Winter Wonderland" not far away and we have actually had a frost to interrupt the mild weather. But, despite the rampant commercialism, it is still a cheerful time of the year, and, with this letter, we have the chance to wish all of you a very happy Christmas.

It shouldn't perhaps be a surprise that Elves are quarrelsome. They are probably related to the Nibelungen who do metal work underground and are still smarting at being cheated out of the all–powerful Ring that they had forged and which ended up with t hree sonorous but rather dozy ladies at the bottom of the Rhine.

The Ring has an influence on everyone it touches and we too are affected since we have seen two performances of Wagner's four opera Ring cycle this year. The first was at Bayreuth in Wagner's own theatre, actually built to perform the Ring. While the long-distance motoring, with a visit to friends in Göttingen, and Bayreuth itself were most enjoyable, it is not an exaggeration to say that the cycle itself was perhaps the worst ever, as evidenced by the round booing at the end of all its performances. The music and singing were largely splendid but the production was silly and the director totally ignored or spoilt the necessary illusions which so many great directors have enjoyed solving over the years. Just one example of the distracting silliness: during Brünnhilde's aria at the end of Siegfried, one of the most wonderful in all opera, an unscripted crocodile tried to eat the mellifluous wood bird!

The second Ring was almost on our own doorstep in Birmingham and, having been disappointed by Bayreuth, Patricia was determined to see a proper performance. The St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre, under their renowned conductor, Valery Gergiev, did not disappoint. The music and singing were wonderful and the production enhanced rather than distracted from the action. And there was a substantial added thrill: we were telephoned by Gergiev himself and spent most of the first half hour interval in Götterdämmerung chatting to him in his dressing room. He's a charming man, and we learned a bit about the problems of bringing such a set of operas to England while he heard about some of the idiocies of Bayreuth! It was wonderful to be with him briefly and literally to rub shoulders with the cast. But why did he 'phone us?

Well Mike organised it! Total Oil sponsored the construction of the New Stage at the Mariinsky, and Michael, who is responsible for Total's large Russian operations, knows him well. Sadly, our conversation started with the death of Christophe de Margerie, the Head of Total, in an air crash in Moscow. Michael had, happily, made a lucky decision to stay in Paris rather than accompanying Christophe as he normally would have done.

Buxton Friend
A Buxton Friend
Opera has taken us out and about this year – to the Buxton Festival, twice to see the Welsh National in Llandudno, on holiday at the Wexford Festival where we met up with a couple of Buxton friends from London, several trips to Munich, and various evening visits, with and without friends, to the Lowry in Salford and to the RNCM in Manchester. Locally we go to the symphony concerts in Hanley and occasional musical events at Keele, Adbaston and Nantwich.

There was another Continental trip in January which took us to Einsiedeln in the snow to call on friends, to Garmisch to visit other friends and to Hochgurgl to ski with Christopher and Gwenda. Christopher and I start out late to ski, the ladies meet us for lunch, and we all enjoy the pleasures of the Wurmkogel.

At home we still walk each weekend – we have spent the Autumn wandering along the Lathkill and the Dove in Derbyshire and there have been trips to the Shropshire Hills and Cannock Chase - and further afield too on visits to Northumberland and to Sussex, where we also attended Gwenda's 80th birthday party. We also spent a few days on the Grand Union Canal with Tony and Barbara Cox.

Age is just ending my period as a visitor for the RSC Benevolent Fund, but Pat still reads for the Stoke talking newspaper. We go regularly to lectures at Keele; Pat is a member of the U3A book club and I'm a member of a couple of local groups as well as two informal discussion groups. One book that I have been enthusing about this year is Daniel Kahneman's, Thinking, Fast and Slow; I have actually tried to make a summary which you can find on the web site. For me it appears to provide a simple framework for the multitude of impressions about thinking and decision making that I have accumulated over nearly eighty years. The work on our web site itself is progressing slowly – and twice a year I update the web site from the local National Trust Association. So there always seems to be a list of things to do.

The family is still thriving – and we are very much looking forward to seeing them all before Christmas when we are assembling briefly for a celebration lunch. One apparent change in the world – among the grandchildren, it is the girls who seem to be the most enterprising. Fiona has successfully transferred from the Civil Service into the teaching profession and seems to be fully immersed in her first post; she and Adam are to marry next year; Felicity, after a wonderful trip to Canada where she was studying bats and working on farms, now has a position at a sanctuary for aged horses. Sarah has started an IT apprenticeship in Frankfurt. We are looking forward to seeing her and her partner Kevin here next week, as they are unable to make the family lunch.

With the boys, Will completed his year at circus school and we saw one of his many performances on a brief trip to Edinburgh. James who spent much of the summer in Canada is at home again in Bristol with Nicky, contemplating a career; Charlie is thriving as a geology student at UBC in Vancouver. Timothy is in his final Arbitur year at school. Although his work is reasonable, he finds it hard to combine it with the extensive practice required to improve his excellent golf handicap, much to Conny's exasperation. He is hoping to train as a physiotherapist.

Buxton Friend
His eightieth year
Our own boys, all in their fifties, are working as hard as ever. Michael's good luck has already been mentioned; Stephen is back and forth to the Far East trying to ensure that his firm continues to do well despite the slowing of growth; and Paul is trying to increase the market share of his insurance firm. He and Rosalind are still also fully engaged with their two horses.

It is inevitable that we are losing friends and family – my sister-law Ivy died this year aged 89, as well as several friends. We are still fortunate with our health, although Pat has problems with macular degeneration and is no longer able to drive. We are still following my 93 year old brother's dictum "keep taking the pills" He is just taking his first - ever holiday abroad, in the USA.

We hope very much that you and your family are all well and are finding life worthwhile and enjoyable. We hope you have a lovely holiday and wish you all the very best for the New Year.

Buxton Friend
After Götterdãmmerung
With much love from us both.

Patricia and Peter