With an early thick frost followed by exceptionally mild weather and announcements that 2016 has been the warmest year ever recorded for the planet, it is time to wish you a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. We sincerely hope that all is well with you and your family. We have had an eventful and mainly happy year.
Last year, having had a lovely Christmas in Düsseldorf with Conny, Stephen and family, we returned for New Year to be met by two quite unexpected events.
The first, a very happy surprise, was the news that our youngest son, Michael, had been made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur, France's Highest Honour, for his contribution to French economic influence during his thirty year career with Total Oil. The announcement was followed, later in the year, with the investiture by the French Ambassador together with a reception in her house in Kensington Gardens attended by a host of colleagues and friends from all over the world. Mike gave a nice talk with a lovely mention of his Mum who, on his first day at the French primary school when he fled home unable to understand a word, sent him firmly back to what turned out to be the very beginning of a career in France! We then boarded a hired double decker bus filled with friends and champagne to take us out to a most pleasant dinner. At the end of the evening, there was an interesting glimpse of what it is like in Mike's world – while we all went off home to bed, Michael took the night flight to Moscow and then on to the Yamal peninsular in Siberia for a meeting there!
The second less welcome event was a TIA, a slight stroke. I was indeed waiting in hospital when we heard about Mike. Fortunately it was slight – I was talking nonsense for a bit (how did they know?) but it was all over within the day and there has been no recurrence. I was told to take things easy and not allowed to drive for a month, so we cancelled our proposed skiing and opera trips.
Without a car we took to the buses, using our free passes to travel to the more distant parts of the potteries to walk. During January and February, we walked the length of the old Stoke Loop Line, along the Trent and Mersey Canal from Stone to the Harecastle Tunnel, and along the Cauldon Canal from Etruria to Froghall. There were further walks during the year, in the Peak District, Shropshire and the Welsh Hills, as well as at the various opera destinations.
Something related was a balloon trip given to us for our eightieth birthdays. We had been trying to go for eighteen months and in October we made it – though not without a threat of another cancellation. In the end we took off from Tissington and, in bright sunshine, we went north over Dovedale, Mill Dale and Alstonfield, landing north of Hulme End. As we had walked in that area just a couple of weeks before, it was thrilling to see many of the features that we knew, from the air.
We imagined that taking it easy would entail fewer opera trips – but Patricia has realised that, because of her deteriorating eyesight, her opera going days might be numbered. The year started well when we went to Covent Garden with Michael & Nicky, and then we went to the Mariinsky Ballet in Cardiff at the invitation of the conductor, Valery Gergiev, with whom Michael had dinner in Moscow just three days before. Operas and festivals followed in Salford, Buxton, Munich, and Bayreuth, the year culminating in November with a frenzy during which we saw fourteen operas in six weeks We have seen some lovely productions and there is a real excitement that makes going worthwhile.
Despite the eye problems Patricia reads a lot, mainly on her Kindle, but it is impressive to see her getting through, line by line, all the regular scientific magazines and newspapers with the aid of a bright light and a small, powerful magnifying glass. And Pat still reads for the local talking newspaper every couple of weeks.
The rest of the family is well and mostly thriving. Grandson Will is pressing on with his circus adventures and even earning a bit. James has found his metier and is engrossed in computer coding; Charlie, in between summer mountain biking and winter skiing in the Rockies, is apparently doing well in his geological engineering at UBC. They all have cheerful girlfriends.
Stephen still travels regularly to the Far East and is now acting managing director of his German firm's English subsidiary, so we see him from time to time. Conny has been working in her sister's architectural practice near Frankfurt; Sarah is progressing in her IT firm in Frankfurt and Timmy has re-started his studies and is now in Cologne studying Maths and Economics. Rebecca, his girlfriend, seems to have made a good start with her law studies in Würzburg. The family visited us for a few days in the summer on their way to Scotland.
Paul is changing his job at the moment and is being interviewed for senior IT management posts; Rosalind works very hard on a daily basis looking after the family horses. Fiona's year was marred by breaking her leg skiing but she is still enjoying her teaching. Husband Adam is fully engaged in his actuarial work and learning to play the piano. Felicity is gathering responsibilities and dealing ably with problem horses at the Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
However, despite mainly good health and lots of interesting things to do, we find ourselves in low spirits with the political, economic and environmental situation. Jonathon Porritt, the University Chancellor, gave a splendid lecture recently during which he pointed out that the referendum and the US election were determined by the people who are being left behind in our society; the normal approach by the environmentalists of pointing to the deteriorating situation and simply requiring the lower paid and the third world to accept this and suffer, clearly doesn't work (and is unfair) and that society needs to come to terms with this group and engage with them in order to find a way through. Add to this the fact that climate change is happening rather faster than early estimates predicted does not portend a quiet future for our offspring.
Nevertheless we are off skiing in January! We thought of finishing altogether and then Conny and Stephen said that they would like to ski with us – so there was an about turn and I am going to risk all again in January. We are looking forward to it.
My own project of trying to fill in the gap in our web site is progressing but there are still 15 picture years to fill in; can I stay the course to complete it? My two brothers reached their 94th and 95th birthdays this year, but I doubt whether, even if I survive that long, I shall have the will or the mental agility to be doing detailed computer work for much longer.
With much love to you all.