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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2012 Christmas Newsletter

This has been an unusual year in many ways so this time we are having to almost start writing from scratch rather than adapting the previous newsletters which were begriming to look like travel guides! True the first few weeks were in New Zealand and went as planned, but even that was after an unusual Christmas in Lichfield where Pauline’s mother, Ethel, was in a a care home and very frail. So there were none of the usual festivities and food and much of the time was clearing her house out – it was looking very unlikely she would be able to come home without full time support and the house was in no condition for that to be possible. So we had lots of trips over Christmas to the tip and charities but even so we knew we were only scratching the surface of the problem. Ethel however seemed stable so we finally set off as planned for New Zealand for 3 months most of which was intended to be in South Island.

We worked our way South seeing various friends and, of course my two nieces and family although we did not stay long with Jenny and Kev as there were other family visitors. After a month we had reached the very South of South Island, the sort of area where even mobile coverage can be 50 kms away and went up to the Lighthouse at Nugget Point, a marvelous area to look down on the wildlife as well as spectacular views. When we got back to the camp site we noticed that a SMS message had come in from a missed call sent at 0200 in the morning from the care home – there must have been a line of sight of 70 km to the nearest mobile tower. It looked bad news so we drove to the nearest phone box 7 kms away and rang back and as we feared Pauline’s mother had died during the night. It was too late that night to do much so the following morning we drove 100 kms to Invercargill, the nearest town big enough to have any sensible communications and sat on the Internet in the library for most of the day. We could not do a lot because of the 12 hours time difference but it did mean we could get to all the bank accounts etc over the internet and get a good starting point for all the paperwork within 12 hours. The plan was for Pauline to fly back leaving Pete to work the van back 1000 or more kms to Auckland or wherever Pauline returned to. We did not even have a suitcase with us so we ended up buying one in an Op shop.

The best laid plans did not work out however. To cut a long and twisted story short, there was no way that anything could actually be done for weeks. Ethel had set up and specified exactly what she wanted and by the time everyone and everything could be in place for the funeral the date had slipped to after our original return date and with the wonders of the Internet we could do almost everything from where we were. So we proceeded onwards in South Island whilst keeping accessible in case a quick trip back did turn out to be needed.

Perhaps the highlight of the remaining time in South Island was a day spent in Hokitika carving Pounamu Taonga (Greenstone / Nephrite Jade Treasures) in the Maori style. Pete carved one ready for Pauline’s 60th Birthday and there was sufficient in the piece he used for Pauline to carve a smaller one for Pete which he got somewhat earlier for his Birthday. They are now round our necks most of the time. Greenstone has great symbolic importance as well as being as strong as steel and can only be shaped in a finite time by diamond tools. Do read "Two people and a piece of Pounamu - a love story set on St Valentine's Day" at http://www.uniquelynz.com/nz12-p7.htm even if you never read anything else of ours on the web.

Once we were back we knew it would be a hectic time. Pauline was set up for a bunion operation which would leave her in plaster and unable to drive or do much for 6 weeks. We should have been in Devon for the ‘Easter Walking Holiday’ immediately we returned but it became clear we would no even be able to snatch a couple of days leave alone cater for 25 people on our ‘evening’ so regretfully we had to pull out.

The funeral was under a week from our return so it was a mad rush finishing all the organisation, continuing to clear the house and organising probate so the house could be sold. The house went on the market on the Tuesday, the boards went up on the Wednesday the day before the funeral and reception back at the house and a buyer stopped outside a couple of times on the Friday, was invited in and put in an offer which we accepted just over a week after we landed from the aircraft. We were very fortunate in this environment to find a buyer with cash in hand who wanted a building project to do up the house. It is now well along the line towards conversion back to two very extended semis. The funeral went as well as any such event does and it was nice to meet up with many relations many of whom had only been names before.

There was then an even greater pressure to clear the house, six bedrooms some with beds stacked on beds and mattresses on mattresses. Ethel had never thrown anything away so there was a lot of sorting and we were doing 10 or more car loads a day to charities and tips as the buyers were keen to complete as soon as possible – that also put the pressure on getting probate. Pete still remembers the look on the Solicitors face when they were protesting it all needed time and Pauline said that if she had a Doctorate in Mathematics simple arithmetic should not be beyond her! It all just happened after that. The bunion operation took place three weeks after our return, as close run as the surgeon was called for Jury service but managed to slip it in. The operation went well with none of pain predicted by everyone but it takes long time to be back to normal. We therefore got little time out on the narrowboat at the start of the season and after that the weather turned bad and for long periods the Thames was in flood with Red boards displayed at the locks preventing navigation. We had a few short trips to Lechlade, the river Wey and down to Teddington but every time we were rushing back as the forecasts indicated more heavy rain and river closures.

We ended up doing under half our normal cruising on our narrowboat Corinna and ended up with a couple of extra bargain cruises with Cunard, one for 4 days in the upmarket Princess Grill on the Queen Elizabeth which should have taken us to Guernsey where we would have seen Pete’s sister but the weather was too bad and we saw Cherbourg instead - the predictions were true and it was quite a sight to see a Panmax sized ship blown sideways off the quay almost 2 metres with all the dozens of lines drum tight and her azipods and bow thrusters running flat out to hold her in as the line squall came through. It did give us the chance to stock up with cheese for Pauline’s 60th Birthday bash to add to the salamis and fish we had gathered up on a trip to the Norwegian Fiords on the Saga Ruby an ex Cunard ship. The stocking up was completed on the Cruise to the Black Sea which had initially been booked two years ago for last year but had been held a year when Pauline’s mother first became ill and had eventually to go into care. The Black Sea trip, over Pauline’s actual Birthday was one of the most memorable and allowed us to stock up further. It was to an area we knew little about and Istanbul was a real highlight and somewhere we must go back to.

Pauline’s party, despite being dual billed as an anniversary, was smaller than most of our parties and had more of her friends and relations, the weather was such that most people did not want to stay outside and fortunately we could just fit the number inside. We had stocked up with exotic cheeses from France and Spain,, Salamis and fish from Norway, cakes from Spain, and Turkish delight from Istanbul not to speak of the Crayfish (the invasive American variety) we had netted specially on the Thames. Of course there was lots and lots of Pete’s home-made wines to taste and drink.

Shortly after, we went over to Guernsey for 10 days to stay with Pete’s sister and the weather struck again – a couple of days before we got there high tides and gales broke through the sea wall just down the road from them and the road outside was covered in seaweed and many of the roads in the area had been closed off – we walked most mornings to the gym in the hotel down the road as we only got a single days walking on the cliff paths.

We are writing this newsletter whilst in the Bay of Biscay between a tour of the Queen Victoria's Galley and lunch in the Todd English Restaurant on the second of the ‘Getaway Specials’ which has ended up as a Magical Mystery Tour of the Ancient Wonders. Combinations of the weather and the political situation in Egypt and the rest of the area led to continual changes in the itinerary. Ephesus, which was original not scheduled, was the highlight and ranks to us above the Pyramids, Pompeii and Petra. The write up starts at www.pcurtis.com/qv12aw-p1.htm and although not 'polished' yet has 11,000 words and 170 pictures so far.

Pauline’s Open University teaching (Problem Solving and Improvement: quality and other approaches) has been reduced, there seem to be less students signing up in these hard times so she is taking a years sabbatical and has started a Master of Law Degree to fill in her spare time! Pete continues with his involvement in the Open Source movement as well as the home-winemaking so we never seem to be idle.

A very happy Christmas and New Year from Pete and Pauline

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