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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2003 Christmas Newsletter

2003 began in New Zealand, again flying Air New Zealand via LA. It is the easiest of the options, and enables us to take out 4 half-empty suitcases, and bring back a lot of books and other bits. We have a serious library of NZ classic and historic books now, and are searching for a decent solid bookcase to house everything. Meanwhile those of our friends who remember our smoked glass display cabinet from Witney will find it has been pressed back into service after 20 years in the garage.

We were able to meet up with Phil when he arrived in Christchurch and then in Wanaka and Taranaki. It is all good walking country and we discovered how unfit we were and how fit Phil was - it was only pouring rain that stopped a trip up Mt Egmont (circa 8,500 feet) by Phil in trainers! We hope to meet with him again in 2004 and possibly Miles, the number of converts to NZ is growing with 5 parties we know potentially out there simultaneously.

We always hire a campervan and this time had a few problems which involved an alternator being rebuilt in Timaru ( a pleasant enough seaside town but a long days drive from where we had been when it fell apart !) and then being towed over 400kms from Wanaka back to their base in Christchurch when the head gasket blew. Which meant we were even further from where we wanted to be, and had lost 5 days holiday in the process. The campervan people refunded the five days, but it still meant that we missed a big chunk of our holiday in South Island. We are trying again in 2004.

Again we had 2 weeks sailing, which was booked as a one-way trip from Auckland to the Bay of Islands. Our first day was rather difficult; the self-furler jammed and then we found that the reefing sheets on the main were not attached to the sail. We looked a mess motoring back to the marina with bits of sail in all the wrong places, just as Allinghi and the posh Americas Cup convoys swept past, flags flying. Everything was soon sorted, much easier to do in the calm of a marina, and then we were off again. We were lucky with the weather and got up to the Bay quickly. Our last leg, from Mimiwhangata to Omakiwi was a bit rough, but we were in the company of a larger yacht until we rounded Cape Brett. Later we were able to sail to Whangaroa, one of our favourite places, but found it was full of the annual Game Fishing Competition and so the hotel, and its excellent restaurant, was closed except for locals.

We got back home to find our Birman cat, Tigger, was a bundle of bones and bright yellow. He had spent the 3 months with Pauline's mother, as usual, but she had not realised that his illness needed treatment. So we rushed to the local emergency vet in Lichfield where they diagnosed liver cancer and put him on a drip. Next day we managed to get him home to our local vet, and eventually he recovered enough with steroids to come home. But liver cancer is not treatable, so it was only a matter of time before we lost him. He did seem to have a good quality of life for those extra months, and it included a holiday up to Tigger's Field, just past Dukes Cut in Oxford, where he had a brief walk. Pauline has done a nice watercolour of Tigger's field.

In May we planned to take our narrowboat up the canals back to Red Bull Basin for its Boat Safety Certificate and bottom blacking, and then join the DPOC summer cruise to Lincoln. We joined the Oxford canal on 10 May and then Bridge 219, near Thrupp, crashed down on top of Peter. Fortunately the boat ahead of us had a paramedic on board, who provided a sling and suggested we get to hospital for the damage to be checked. Friends drove us to the nearest hospital at Banbury, where a broken humerus was identified. The arm was put back into the sling, as you can not plaster a shoulder and the treatment was pain management. Pauline fetched the car, and was able to get Pete back home, and to the Berkshire Independent Shoulder Unit for treatment. Then she brought the boat back alone; and is very proud of spending 11 hours on the tiller in a long day from Thrupp. We know from photographs taken at the time that the bridge was not in proper working order, and British Waterways have subsequently repaired it. Progress on this story will certainly continue well into 2004. It quickly became clear the rotator cuff in the shoulder was also damaged and Pete is still having physiotherapy. We hope he will be able to help with sailing in NZ in February, but Pauline is the registered skipper this time, just in case.

No boating meant a boring summer. It was many weeks before Pete could wear a seatbelt in the car, leave alone drive. Bargains from FlyBE from Southampton provoked us into taking two holidays visiting his sister Pat and her husband in Guernsey. One set of flights were free, with the airport tax being just £10 each. A bargain. On the first trip we saw puffins on an RSPB boat trip out to Herm Island.

One sad loss in October was the last flight of Concorde. We live under the flight path so see the beautiful birds daily. On 24 October we saw the special Bay of Biscay flight go over the house, and last week we heard the final journey of the Concorde which was going to be on display at Filton. Hopefully they can continue to fly, but without passengers.

For Pauline's birthday in September we purchased a neat Canon A70 digital camera. It is a beautiful little camera, and is similar to use to the old Canon SLR which she also has. The main benefit is being able to see the picture immediately after it has been taken, and then choose to keep or delete it. So every picture that is kept on the card is worth having. Having begun with a 16Mbyte card, we quickly added a 256Mbyte and then 128Mbyte. This gave just enough storage (400 pictures) for our 31 days holiday in November. The new internet printing services means we can upload them and get photo quality prints back in a couple of days - broad-band makes a big difference.

We had never visited South America and QE2 had a special cruise, departing 25 October and stopping at Tenerife, Salvador de Bahia (Brasil), Montevideo (Uruguay), Falkland Islands, Rio de Janeiro (Brasil), Dakar (Senegal), Gran Canaria and Madeira. Because of the special offers after we booked we were able to negotiate a good cabin upgrade, but then found that the ship was totally full with all the associated disadvantages. 31 days away is only really possible if you are retired, and so we should not have been surprised to find that most of the 1800 passengers were old and English. We have never seen so many wheelchairs. Later we heard people complaining that there were too many days at sea !

We have written up the trip, with lots of pictures, on the Website. Of the eight ports, we know Madeira and the Canaries well from previous holidays. And we visited Dakar last year and did not go ashore a second time. Those passengers who took the shuttle bus into town were mobbed by swarms of locals, and several people who ventured out had money stolen. Salvador de Bahia had similar problems for the crew. For passengers during day time there were lots of tourist police everywhere around the organised tours, and we had no problems. Only the weather was a curse - there was a horrendous storm while we were walking around the historic old town, so everyone got soaked. In contrast, we like Uruguay very much. The people are friendly and the countryside outside Montevideo is well tended. Wineries are expanding and the quality of wine is good judging by our tasting visit to Juanico. We also enjoyed the two days in Rio de Janeiro, with the highlights being the train to the viewpoint at Christ the Redeemer, and the cable car up the Sugar Loaf in a thunderstorm. Rio now feels a very safe resort. The most memorable part of the visit was when the 'lavender' barge capsized alongside and it took all day for divers and a crane to raise it and remove it.

Pauline was delighted to find that there were watercolour classes on board again, but sad that it was a different lady, Norma, instead of Lucy who taught last year. She met up with painting friends from last year, Janice and Carol. Initially they all went to Norma's classes but she was quickly nicknamed the Viking as she vandalised any pictures she thought needed improving by marking it up with soft pencil and it is alleged even ate the fruit being used by one student for a still life. They quickly decided it was more useful to sit together and paint separately. They had each brought their own paper, brushes and paints, so were not dependent on those provided from the class. Pauline has framed seven pictures done while away, including a glorious sunset of the Sugar Loaf and Copacabana beach.

The Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel is in Pangbourne, and we had been asked to collect a few rocks for their cairn. Sir Rex Hunt, the Governor in 1982, was an invited speaker on QE2, and we planned that he, and Captain Heath, would sign a rock. The cairn is due to be completed for the 25th anniversary of the war, in 2007. Unfortunately the weather was too bad to anchor in the Falklands (Force 11 overnight), and we turned back, arriving in our next port, Rio, as the sun was setting. Pauline has done a watercolour painting of the chapel, which will be found on our web site.

QE2 has good facilities, including a gym. Getting increased mobility for Pete's arm provoked us to taking a set of 3 personal training sessions. Our girl, Kristy, had been 3rd in the South Australia body building championships, and also worked in a hospital with vets. She did work us hard, with lots of 'homework' but was very careful that we did not do too much too quickly. We booked a second set of training, and even purchased a FitBall. Having spent 4 weeks in the QE2 gym we had to decide what to do when we got home. Our taxi driver was a member of a Leisure Club at Thatcham and showed us the place on our way home. But we were not keen to pay the expensive joining fee as well as the monthly subscriptions when we are away so much. Instead we have bought our own cross-trainer along with heart monitors and weights as joint Christmas presents. The cross-trainer is sitting in the dining room and is used daily, so far.

The Open University traditionally gives a long service certificate to tutors who have been employed for 25 years, and Pauline was invited to attend the celebratory champagne lunch with the Regional Director in November. It is hard to believe that it is 25 years since she first taught Numerical Analysis. Surprisingly all the other 25-ers she met looked wrinkled, grey and well past proper retirement age. I guess keeping fit, and having a good hairdresser, namely Pete, helps Pauline look young. Next year Pauline is taking a sabbatical from her charity work to celebrate.

Pete still keeps his hand in looking after computer systems and web sites for a few small firms although it was impossible to do much over the summer - it took months even to be able to use a mouse and 4 months before being able to drive himself anywhere.

Overall we are both very glad to be out of the rat race although it was very disappointing to miss our two-month trip on the canals and other boating this year. Hopefully we will catch up next year.

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Revised: 9th July, 2020