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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2006 Christmas Newsletter

It is once more time to prepare our annual newsletter - it seems to come round quicker each year. This year it has been prepared in even more haste than usual as Pauline dropped the bombshell as we were just about to start the crossing of the notorious Bay of Biscay a day out from Southampton that she needed 20 copies to send out with the Christmas cards the day we got back on shore and that Pete should draft it. I thought of one of my mentors who I came upon one evening writing and drawing Vugraphs for a talk at a important conference the following day - he said preparation tends to take up all the time available so you save a lot of time if you start at the last minute. Over time one realises there is an optimum and the best is often the enemy of good enough. As with presenting conference papers it is really a task of adapting what one wrote last time without being discovered. If people really want to know what we have done then its mostly on the web anyway!

We have again spent a lot of time travelling, starting with New Zealand in the Spring, stopping with friends in California on the way back for a few days. This was immediately followed by the annual walking holiday with college friends, this year in the Peak District. We had our first experience of camping in the UK with a May visit to Cornwall to look at the steam pumping engines and mines, we have since bought but not used a bigger tent. In the summer we continued visiting the corners of the inland waterways system with a trip to the most Southerly most parts in Corinna. We fittened up with 10 days in Guernsey with my sister and brother-in-law walking the cliff paths. To celebrate Pauline's Birthday we had our first holiday in Malta, much more history there than we had realised. The anniversary was in France at Chateau Ige in Macon - food to die for in the middle of the Macon Wine area plus a few days beside Lake Annecy. We are completing our serious travels at present on the QE2 with a 28 day cruise brochured as Southern Delights which took us to new areas such as the Azores and Mexico as well as familiar places such as the Caribbean.

Our problem is always how to avoid boring you all with a blow by blow account of travels to places which do not interest most of you! Stop now you cry and I tried that approach but management said that was too easy a way out for me.

New Zealand

We spent our visit doing much the same things as usual, travelling in an old van, and camping or using cabins depending on how we felt. Each visit is a mixture of going back to favourite places and enjoying new and different experiences. This year we spent as much time as we could in South Island. We tend to go South every other year so next year will be a short year in the North as we will return via Hong Kong where we will spend 4 days then pick up the QE2 back to the UK via many places we have not visited. The highlights of New Zealand are the Art Deco Festival in Napier for Pauline and the Sailing for Peter followed closely by Taranaki (Mount Egmont) where we stay at Mountain House and do some walking in the amazing 'Goblin Forests' and the Whanganui River with it's steam paddlewheelers.

Napier - Art Deco and the Catalina: We were fortunate once more at Napier that two of our intersts came together. We have always been interested in flying and old aircraft and we knew that there is a Catalina in New Zealand which sometimes comes to Napier to fly at the Art Deco Festival. We joined the society last year and were pleased to find she would be at Napier, or, as it turned out, at the nearby airport at Hastings where we spent much of a day including a flight in the Catalina, pure magic, and Pete also had a flight in a modern spam can to bring him back to earth. We had a trip on the steam train to a picnic at Kidds Bush Forest. Pauline had also spent the year searching out pieces of Art Deco clothing and china which came together at the Great Gatesby Picnic - ours may not have been as elegant as some but we did have an embroidered tablecloth and period china.

Sailing is always Pete's high point of the Holiday. As usual we chartered a Raven 31, Largesse, from CharterLink and our plan this year was we were hoping to do the coastal passage from the Hauraki Gulf up to the Bay of Islands. Depending on the weather we knew we might be able to get back to the Hauraki Gulf, although we had not committed to the round trip. With no charter following in either place, CharterLink had said that we could have an extra few days to get back, so that they did not have the problem of leaving the yacht at Opua and then finding a skipper to bring it back. In the event we made good progress up the coast reaching Tutakaka Marina the second day out from the Hauraki Gulf and after some days cruising and fishing in the Bay of Islands went on up to Whangaroa harbour. We caught some nice fish and froze some to take back with us to Auckland. The weather was kind and we got the chance to make the passage back, again stopping at Tutakaka (39 Nm) and then down to Kawau, a long day at 55 Nm taking a straight course down past the Hen and Chicken Islands before turning in to the Gulf. Back on land, we had a memorable barbeque with Rob where we ended up cutting up our large and still slightly frozen tuna on his band saw.

Easter Holidays

Once we were back from New Zealand we were off virtually immediately to join up with friends from college for the annual Easter Walking holiday - actually there is more eating and drinking these days although we did have a few good walks, this year in the Peak District.


In the summer we did some boating on the Thames and continued visiting the corners of the inland waterways system with a trip to the most Southerly parts. - very much easier for us as they comprise the Basingstoke canal and the River Wey which lead off the Thames only a few tens of miles downstream. The rest of our boating was on the Thames itself, up to Lechlade where we took our little glass fibre boat alongside so we could explore the side streams and go up beyond the formal limit of navigation at Lechlade. Again this was done with friends from the David Piper Owners Club who came down onto the Thames for the summer. Later in the season we went with them to the IWA National Rally followed by the opening of the first section restored of the Wilts and Berks Canal, the Jubilee Junction to the Thames, just below Abingdon.

Pauline's Birthday, Malta

We passed through Malta a few years ago on the QE2 and had always wanted to return. We spent 10 days at an isolated hotel on the North West corner with views over the sea and across to Gozo. We were very impressed with Malta, the weather was good in September and there was far more 'history' than we had realised. The prehistoric temples of Malta are unique in all the world. Hagar Qim and neighbouring Mnajdri are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are the oldest free-standing stone structures ever discovered, dating back to 3600 BC. The older parts of the Hagar Qim Temple are said to date from this period, although later additions are more recent, between 3000 BC and 2500 BC. They are therefore older than Stonehenge and older than the Pyramids. Excellently preserved, they were covered with soil from early times and only rediscovered in 1839 and restored by European and native Maltese archaeologists in the 19th century. Hagar Qim means standing stones. Hagar Qim stands on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the islet of Filfla. Unfortunately, some of the limestone has been badly eroded, but the site still retains very large megaliths. Originally thought to be built as four main areas, or apses, it was then extended and has six large circular rooms which are connected by an interior passage. Most of the rooms also have outside entrances, and an open-air shrine is set into the outer wall. Hagar Qim is notable for its impressive entrance, for the huge stone blocks used in its construction, for its windows and low doorways carved into solid stone,

Anniversary - Chateau Ige, Macon, France

I am not quite sure how we ended up going to Ige so soon after Malta - we had initially planned a long holiday by car round Europe but for various reasons went to Malta instead. Tour de Guet at Chateau d'IgeFrance still called however and we obtained a cheap flight and hire car for a few days using our anniversary as an excuse to go to Chateau Ige, perhaps our favourite eating place in the world. Ige is a feudal Chateau originally fortified by the Counts of Macon in 1235 standing in an old park full of exuberant vegetation surrounded by meadows, woods and vineyards. It is in a historic area full of Romanesque churches as well as being in the centre of the Macon winegrowing area. We have writen about the hotel before and have been there enough to be greeted as old friends. The food is out of this world but very rich - three days is about as much as our systems can manage. Every course seems to have a pre-course to keep you occupied whilst you chose or wait. After our three days we moved across towards the mountains finding the fascinating medieval town Cremieu on the way then had two days on the edge of Lake Annecy.

Cruising - The QE2 to New Orleans, Mexico and the Caribbean

I was going to write that cruising on the Queen Elizabeth 2 was completely different but realised the many similarities including lots of good food, drink, old friends and new places to see. We completed our major travels with a cruise on the big ship, the Queen Elizabeth 2 taking us on a Southerly route across the Atlantic, via the Azores which were new to us, then to the Everglades in Florida home of the Aligator. It was then on to New Orleans before heading South to Cozumel in Mexico and Cristobal in Panama at the entry to the Panama Canal. We then stopped at the ancient port and walled town of Cartagena before heading back through the Caribbean with our first stop at Curacao complete with colourful houses reminiscent of Amsterdam, only much warmer. It was then familiar ground with stops at Grenada and Barbados before returning across the Atlantic to Madeira, another favourite, and through the Bay of Biscay to Southampton - a trip of 28 days.

Odds and Ends

Fitness: I would not want to give the impression we spend all our time travelling, it just seems like it! Pete has still kept up with his fitness programme following the damage to his arm. That is much better but the final assessment did show some long term impairment in movement but he is determined to keep up the exercises and return the right arm to its position of dominance. An incidental gain has been that he has lost nearly two and a half stone over the last three years although the QE2 does not help - there are certain words which do not translate well to staff on the ship which include 'no thank you' and 'only one please' ! Pauline does not like the cross trainer and has bought a rowing machine so we can hardly move round the house now.

Winemaking: We still convert a lot of our home grown fruit into wine and there are several batches, two our old favourites of Loganberry and Cherry, the others blends made with Elderflowers picked on the Basingstoke canal.

Electronics: Pete continues his love of techy toys using the excuse that we need good communications whilst we are doing all this travelling. We now have an O2 XDA Executive which combines telephone and Pocket PC in a package weighing only 10 ozs yet wih a full QWERTY keyboard and office software as well as communications via Wifi, Bluetooth and built-in 3G phone so we can write up and have full Email etc on the move - it even has a camera, video and plays music. We then gained a new laptop which he has set up with Ubuntu Linux now Microshaft Software has become such a security risk and so expensive. Open Source rules OK.

The Book: The other big activity of the year was Pauline starting seriously on writing her first book. It is 10 years since she retired from the DTI and she has always joked that she has wanted to write her version of Yes, Minister. It is however a lot more serious than that. As time has gone on she has realised that many of the lessons of the past have been lost and that knowledge in many cases has become even more ephemeral in the Internet age. Schemes and projects she and others have worked on are being reinvented under different names or sometimes even the same names without account of their successes and failures. The people move on or retire, documents are automatically destroyed after ten years and even the libraries which held information are dismantled. In the internet age recent information is easy to find but can you trust it and will it be there and in the same form in six months or six days? On the other hand books offer continuity, copyright libraries are forced to hold them and publishing has never been easier or cheaper. So far it is in the form of an autobigraphy and most of the hard work is done, what remains are the interesting bits of how to get it published and how to make it interesting and even saleable.

Christmas always seems somewhat of an anticlimax after a year of travel - we are avoiding that this year by only getting back with a few spare days to visit relations before going North for Christmas itself with Pauline's mother. This year we spent our day in London admiring the lights, visiting museums and art galleries, and shopping in Covent Garden and Fortnum and Masons at the start of November - Christmas, or do we now have to call it a season of greetings to be politically correct? - starts earlier every year. We have, in any case, given up shopping separately as we so often ended up giving each other the same things!

Next year: We are looking forward to escaping to the better weather in New Zealand and are trying to work out how to fit in another trip to Australia round our boating and the week trip round England celebrating the QE2s 40th Birthday and Pauline's which falls on the same day although she looks younger - it is a hard life making all these choices. Yet another choice, should I stop writing after 2 hours and go to a birthday party reception, the Captain's Fairwell dinner and Gala Midnight buffet or refine this further? I wish all questions were so simple so I am signing off for this year!

PS Just after we got back from the QE2 whilst I was setting up to print the newsletters Pauline went into the village to collect a mysterious package from the Post Office. It turned out I had won one of the latest Palm 750 Smart Phones in the Vodafone Big Ideas competition. I am not even quite sure what the idea was - we had been to the Oxford and Cambridge Club Wine Appreciation Dinner the night before and were roaming Covent Garden looking for Xmas ideas the following day when we came on a big red Vodafone bus. I went in to have a look at the latest business toys and was persuaded to fill in some form seeking Big Ideas. I think mine was some extension of the Open Source software principles of harnessing the user and development communities in other fields of business to improve visibility and reliability with reduced development times. Anyway it solved the Big problem of Pauline's Christmas present!

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