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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2011 Christmas Newsletter

We started the year in style on the new Cunard Queen Elizabeth on her maiden world cruise as far as New Zealand which took us to some parts of the world we had visited before and many we had not. The new Queen Elizabeth is a very different ship to the old QE2 where we had many happy times – she is very similar to the Cunard Queen Victoria with a few changes which all for the better. The service is as good as ever and the cabins and ship as a whole is much more comfortable than the QE2 but even so we miss the speed, strength and handling of the old girl in bad weather. We won’t see 33 knots again, probably not even 23 knots.

The cruise was however memorable in many ways and we will restrict ourselves to a few highlights here as there are detailed accounts at Introduction to Queen Elizabeth, The Inaugurals and a Picture Gallery|| The Maiden World Cruiseof the Queen Elizabeth from Southampton to Auckland. It started off with spectacular firework display as we left Southampton for a tandem Atlantic crossing with the Queen Victoria along side us all the way except for the daily swap round so passengers on the other side got a good view. We enjoyed the new Verandah Restaurant where we had a complementary lunch as regular travellers – almost everything on board (other than drink) is free but you pay an extra but nominal sum for the Verandah Restaurant (Executive Chef Zimmermann hopes to get the first Michelin star at sea) and boxes for the theatre which do come with a bottle of champagne. We tried that as well!

The first stop was New York where we were joined by the Queen Mary 2 for the first gathering of the three queens. Our approach was in darkness so Pete watched from the gym and then hauled Pauline out to watch the final arrival. We were docked at Pier 88, right next door to pier 90 where the Queen Victoria had docked a few minutes earlier, and next to the Aircraft Carrier, now a museum and Concorde. Pier 90 was one of the piers operated by Cunard in the hey days of the Atlantic trade with weekly crossing by the original Queens. The Queen Mary 2 is a bit long for the piers at Manhattan and overhangs into the river so she was moored in her usual berth in Brooklyn. We all left together the following evening where an even more spectacular firework display was laid on with the Statue of Liberty in the background. We will not go into every detail of the journey you will be pleased to know but we have to mention the Panama canal – the biggest undertaking by man before the start of the Space program and still very impressive. We had a day in Los Angeles where we joined up and did some hiking with Joe and Jill, friends made originally in Oxford.

One of the big problems with cruising is the amount of food and lack of exercise so during the long stretches at sea in the pacific Pete was persuaded to join the fencing class. So now it was up to the gym at 0600 to burn 500 calories on the cross trainer followed by a few stretches and weights to strengthen the arms and lunges to strengthen the legs and after an hour then after a big bit of fresh fruit it was time to go to the fencing class. You wrap up in padded armour and put on a mask which would probably withstand a rifle shot to practice en garde and lunges till you wish you were back in the gym - but it was good fun in the end. Meanwhile Pauline was marking OU scripts and wishing the internet worked properly through the wifi and satellite links.

We have never been to the Pacific Islands so from now on it was all new – First, Maui and Honolulu in the Hawaii islands which we really enjoyed. Then after four days at sea it was Apia in Samoa where singers and dancers from the local church gave an excellent welcome - their performances on arrival and departure were highlights of the day and very similar to the Maori ones we know from New Zealand. Next Pago Pago in American Samoa after which we travelled West – a special party was laid on for all those people who celebrated their birthday or anniversary on 11 February with unlimited free drinks but the day was over before any orders could be taken as we crossed the International Date Line. Our last stop before NZ was Port Denarau in Fiji which is very artificial - it is all built on reclaimed mango swamps and is effectively an island only connected to the mainland and the nearest town by a causeway. Virtually the whole island is in use and has a mixture of Resort Hotels on the coast, golf courses and other sports facilities in the middle and luxury housing contained in a series of gated and secure compounds, many with an extensive artificial 'canal' networks so they have moorings linked to the sea.

Our first stop in New Zealand was in the Bay of Islands before the quick trip down to Auckland where we disembarked for an overnight change of lifestyle from Black Tie and 4 course dinners to shorts and a barbeque and a luxurious cabin to a tent and van although we did have a transition period in Napier for the Art Deco festival. It was obviously a much shorter time than usual in New Zealand than our usual 3 months so we stayed in North Island. Even the sailing was shorter than usual although we did get out to Great Barrier Island where we had the excitement of the Tsunami coming through – it was much less than foreseen and we did not really notice it as we had left at dawn so we took it in deep water. In the evening one could fell the seas surging in and out of Bon Accord harbour on Kawau Island where we moored – all the boats kept swinging round every fifteen minutes as the water sloshed in and out of the mile long harbour! But enough of New Zealand we have written so much about it other years.

We then just had time to reduce the height of the three feet of mail awaiting us at home before we were off again with friends on the annual Easter ‘Walking Holiday’ which has rather less walking and more eating and drinking than in the old days but it is great to catch up with all our friends from college days. This was our first visit to Charmouth in Dorset and the chance to explore the Jurassic Coast, a new area to us. Almost as soon as we were back it was off on our narrowboat, Corinna – up to Red Bull for her bi-annual haul out and bottom blacking; whilst we were there Joe and Jill joined us far the day and again when we were travelling. This canal cruise, just under a 1000 miles, took us up the Peak Forest Canal to Bugsworth basin, one of the largest inland ports in its heyday and across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain and now a World Heritage Site. We eventually made our first visit to the Erewash canal and then towards home on the river Soar and through Leicester and Loughborough to Foxton, the site of an old inclined plane – we last went there in 1985 in little Corinna our Shetland 535 we still have as a run about.

A lot of the remainder of the year has been dominated by Pauline’s mother – Ethel who has had a few falls and has needed some care at home for the last year and is now in Hammerwich Hall, a BUPA care home (near her home and Lichfield)– she would greatly appreciate visits from anyone she knows who is passing and probably those she does not. Pauline has been clearing out some of her old possessions at the house - we have found Ethel has kept Everything so many old treasures have come to light including a miniature garden collection which is very collectable as well as an almost full sized dolls pram. We also found 1930s Cossor radio and even a 1949 Bush TUG.12b TV with the big 12 inch screen in showroom condition with receipts and guaranties showing it cost 78 guineas, a fortune in those days – any takers? It seems to be a time of moves and clearing out – Pete’s sister and brother-in-law, Pat and John, have just completed a move in Guernsey which has been a downsize with a big chance for rationalisation – it all makes us feel guilty about the amount we have around.

Pauline is continuing with the OU for several more years, teaching Problem Solving and Improvement: quality and other approaches. The salary used to pay for two return flights to NZ but not any more! Pete still describes it as her Charity Work although he still does a lot of sorting out of computers for nothing although an occasional bottle of wine has sometimes appeared. On the computer front we remain committed to the OpenSource movement and several of our friends have followed us on The Road to Freedom. Pete is still in the process of writing books on ‘Perpetuity Publishing using OpenSource software’ and ‘Home Winemaking’, where he already receives hundreds of emails seeking advice every year – he was even asked to contribute a regular home wine-making article in Gardeners Answers.

We are just off on a cruise to the Caribbean hence sending out our Xmas cards very early leading to a rush to write the newsletter. We will try to update this newsletter whilst we are away but certainly well before Christmas. We fully intend to add a few pictures but have to admit the New Zealand 2011 write-up is still in draft.

A very happy Christmas and New Year from Pete and Pauline

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