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|Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2016 Christmas Newsletter|
The time is once more upon us to write our Christmas Newsletter and I wonder whether it is actually worth while – how many people read every word of the ever increasing length and number of newsletters which arrive around Christmas and how many people are starting to regard them as another form of spam. Are we all interested in hearing about other peoples grandchildren, pets or holidays? I am not sure, we have often tried to give ours a theme to make them more bearable but looking back they do concentrate on holidays and to be somewhat repetitive. Last year we added a few pictures and even a video and we concentrated on what we ourselves regarded as the memorable parts of the year and the achievements. So what can we find to write about this year, has there been a theme or has it just been more of the same?
The year both started and ended with a bang, literally, as we watched one of the biggest firework displays in the world from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth for 2015-16 and Queen Victoria for 2016-17 both in Madeira. We were perfectly positioned and the weather was kind both times. Some 16 tons of fireworks are expended each year covering a 7 km sweep over Funchal and round the whole bay. The following video for 2016-17 says it all.
Once we had returned it was time for our Visit to New Zealand 2016, this time for a full three months mostly spent in South Island. A major theme was visits to wineries with the intention of trying as many as possible of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards trophy winners. Unlike many other wine ‘competitions’ these are by blind tasting, first to pick out the gold etc., award winners and then another round a few months later to pick the Trophy winners in each class, varietal, sparkling etc. Depending on the award these can be for large and smaller productions but always those with a high enough production for a normal person to be able to buy them and at a realistic price. This throws up some very interesting new producers as well as the well established top growers.
We succeeded in finding and trying a good proportion of the Trophy winners, I think our final score was 12 out of 15 where we visited the winery and/or tried the trophy wining wine. The wineries varied from small family producers such as Brightwater to new huge vineyards owned by newcomers to winemaking such as Yealands - Yealands Estate and Peter Yealands wines are now readily available in the UK at modest prices yet they won two disparate trophies for Champion Open Red Wine for their Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 and Champion Sauvignon Blanc for their Babydoll Sauvignon Blanc 2016. If you wonder about the Babydoll, it refers to the Babydoll miniature sheep the eccentric Peter Yealands introduced to his vineyards in 2009. Since then, the flock has grown to over 1500 thus saving the need for mowing. They are a pure Southland breed (unadulterated genetics for 400 years) introduced from the UK which only reach 45-60 cms. The grapes are mulched with mussel shells and music is played to the wines, the sheep and even the chooks. A superficial tour of the vineyard in the van took nearly an hour it is so big.
Perhaps the overall highlight of the holiday in New Zealand was the three days we spent at the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow which culminated in a flight in the Catalina with a touch and go on Lake Wanaka. This has been very fully written up already at Warbirds over Wanaka 2016. The show is held every other year over the Easter Weekend. Good Friday is a Practice Day, the Saturday and Sunday have an identical full flying program and it is often possible to have flights on some of the aircraft on the Monday and there are also limited opportunities to fly after the flight program has been completed on Saturday and Sunday. The last time we came was in 2008 and there were many differences in the aircraft now. In 2008 there were many First World War aircraft and aircraft developed between the wars whilst this time there were no WW1 aircraft and some of the interesting early WW2 fighters such as the Polikarpov I-16 and I-153 were missing as was the Hurricane. Warbirds over Wanaka was originally established by Sir Tim Wallis and these were mostly aircraft which had been obtained and rebuilt for him and the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka. The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka is no more and is now "Warbirds and Wheels" with an emphasis much more on "Wheels" than "Warbirds" and certainly not on flying aircraft - a great loss. Over the 28 years since the first show in Easter 1988 it expanded to be one of the Big Four Warbird Airshows in the world. In a good year Warbirds over Wanaka can attract 110,000 visitors, a good fraction of the population of South Island!
Any airshow would be missing something without some aerobatic displays and there were many at Wanaka, mostly formation displays by both true Warbirds and Military Trainers of the past and present, but the highlight was once more from Jurgis Kairys, two-time World Aerobatic Champion, flying an aircraft of his own design, and paired for the less insane parts of his display with Rob Fry. This Siberian born Lithuanian is now 63 having been flying world class aerobatics for 40 years and still pulls 10G during his displays without even a pressure suit. We had again invested in Gold Pass tickets, which gave priority parking and access to the event for all 3 days, together with grandstand seats alongside the runway and a large tented area with food. There was sufficient seating for 1500 people in the stand and all the airborne displays were centred on the Gold area. The Gold Pass holders also had access to the flight line for a period every display day before flying started and could get as close as one wanted to the aircraft and talk to pilots and crew. We could even watch the re-arming of guns on the P-40 Kittyhawk and even see at close quarters a test firing, quite an experience to be within 15 metres of three guns firing (blanks, but only just, as they need enough power to activate the re-loading mechanism). Pauline has a picture showing ejected cartridges in mid air amidst the considerable smoke from the second firing, she jumped so much the first time she missed the picture. The P-40 Kittyhawk belonging to and flown by Liz Needham is the only private re-armed WW2 fighter in the world.
Long lists of fighter aircraft will only interest a few of our friends but we have to mention the amphibious Catalina which we have supported and flown on over many years. The Catalina is now restricted to fresh lake water to avoid the inherent corrosion of salt water in the sea. It was marvellous to see her not only back in operation after 4 years of refurbishment work but it was the first time we had seen her land and take off from water and we had the chance to have another flight including a touch and go on Lake Wanaka, that had to be the ultimate highlight. I am putting together some of the video I took during the show and hope to include it on this page although the video camera I now have was not really suitable as it only had a screen rather than a viewfinder making filming fast moving aircraft a hit and much miss affair. At present only a video of the Catalina including a landing and takeoff from Lake Wanaka including airborne video of a touch and go has been completed. By the time most of you read this the rest will be available from My YouTube Channel
That brings me neatly to another interest of ours which is photography. We had two Canon A720 IS 8 MPixel compact cameras with a 6x optical zoom and an optical viewfinder which were ideal for aircraft photography - both were 8 years old but working as well as ever until they both failed within a couple of weeks, one the zoomed pictures were blank and the other had physical failure of the battery compartment. Combined with the video camera problems it was time for an update. I now have a Panasonic Lumix TZ80 with a Leica lens, 30 times optical zoom, more pixels than one could ever need and the most staggeringly good moving optics stabilisation system. But most important it has an eye level viewfinder (you are actually looking at an extra high resolution screen). It takes high resolution video the equal of my dedicated video camera as well as 4k video which enables one to extract 8 Mpixel pictures in-camera to catch a fleeting expression or aircraft. It took two days of hard work just to read the manual and Pauline has replaced her camera with another Canon an SX610 HS which is simpler to use but turns out just as good pictures, in fact the colour balance is arguably better - Canon always put a very rosy glow on scenes that is ideal for people and scenery!
Returning to travel shortly after our return from New Zealand we flew to join the final sector of the 2016 World Cruise on the Queen Elizabeth. We picked this 23 day sector because we wanted to vist Petra. We flew to Dubai then cruised to Muscat and Salalah in Oman, Petra, the Suez Canal, Istanbul, Athens, Malta and Valencia in Spain before disembarking in Southampton. The Suez Canal has changed considerably since our last passage and Petra, the Rose tinted city, was every bit as memorable as we expected. We were very lucky to berth in Istanbul because Cunard and other Carnival-owned cruise lines have just removed all their visits to Turkish ports for 2017.
We made less use of Corinna, our Narrowboat this year. We normally have a long trip every other year and last year we had a close to three month journey to Liverpool for The Three Queens celebration of Cunards 175th Anniversary in Liverpool. We took her up to Goring for the Mikron theatre company's show which we sponsor at the lock every year and a few trips up and down the Thames as far as Lechlade and Windsor. We did however join Dugald and Lesley on Klein Schip, a 40.9 foot Linssen Grand Sturdy, a Dutch luxury cruiser with a steel construction which they keep in Holland. This time we joined them on the German Mittel Canal and went as far as Potsdam. We had hoped for longer but Pete had cracked a rib just before which was not a good combination with a hacking cough which refused to go away. The canals were not in general as pleasant as Holland's which are exceptional but Potsdam proved much more interesting than we expected. We saw the Bridge of Spies (where U2 pilot Gary Powers was exchanged) and the Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm. That is best known as the site of the Potsdam Conference, the last of the conferences - held in the summer of 1945 - where the Big Three — Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (replaced part way by the new Prime Minister Clement Attlee), and U.S. President Harry Truman met to negotiate the division of Europe following the end of the war. During the conference the Atomic Bomb finished the rewriting of world politics. We had previously visit Yalta, the site of the previous conference so this was very interesting follow-on.
We spent Pauline's birthday in Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife where we had some of our first holidays after we were married returning to the same hotel. Next year is a big one and we must plan something to match. We then celebrated our anniversary with a 17 day Autumn cruise to the Greek islands on the Queen Elizabeth. The itinerary was unfortunately changed because of the troubles in Turkey so we did not go to Kusadasi which would have taken us to Ephesus, or to Mykonos, a port we had never visited. Instead we went to Sarande in Albania, a disappointing alternative and Heraklion in Crete which enable us to visit Knossos, an impressive site dating back to 1700 BC, a worthy substitute for Ephesus which we have already been to twice. The final itinerary was three days at sea from Southampton, then to Mallorca, Piraeus (the port of Athens), Heraklion (Crete), Katakolon for Olympia in Greece, Sarande (Albania), Messina (Sicily) then back to Southampton via Cadiz in Spain.
Last year we wrote of the sudden illness of Pete's sister Pat who was considerably older than Pete, divided by WW2. Her condition, a Parkinson like disease, continued to deteriorate and both Pat and John went into an excellent Guernsey care home St John's in the middle of the summer. It was a complete contrast to what one reads and hears about in the UK, a magnificent old building and excellent well qualified and extremely caring staff who did everything possible. We last saw Pat for their 62nd Wedding Anniversary in July after which she went downhill rapidly and died peacefully in October, barely 18 months from when it first struck on their way to New Zealand. My niece Christine from NZ spent much of the year in Guernsey along with Jenny, Maggie, Mike and Ruth. Mike and Ruth have moved into Pat and John's house to support John. My two great nieces are following in the family footsteps and Kerry is reading Medicine at Dunedin in Otago and Jasmine will join her next year. My father, Pat and John were all qualified pharmacists, Jenny, Kev and Christine are doctors, Ruth a qualified nurse and the rest working in care - I was an escapee being a physicist!
That makes a convenient link to Pauline who has finally finished as an Associate Lecturer with the Open University, having tutored for 38 years. Her OU email address was removed in September after she had no success finding a new course to teach after redundancy due to low student numbers. Readers will recall she has also been an OU student since 2012 and she collected her LLM (Master of Laws) at a degree ceremony in Poole in November. She has attended many degree ceremonies on the Platform, including Poole in 2015, and she was allowed onto the Platform when she also collected the degree. It is relatively unusual for staff to collect degrees and she was the only one doing so at the ceremony. Fortunately the degrees are awarded by rank with Masters counting above Bachelors degrees so she was the second person to collect and could easily fit in front of the line of new graduates waiting to be presented. Two of her OU friends, Liz and Sheila came and were also on the Platform. I got a grandstand seat in the front row and got some video which is on YouTube and below before we all celebrated with lots of free sparkling wine. The OU also take a Video of the Whole Proceedings at Poole so you can enjoy all 1.5 hours of ceremony and handshaking! We stayed at a hotel in Poole the nights before and after then flew out from Southampton to Guernsey to see John, Mike and Ruth for a few days.
The above makes it sound as if all we do is travel but we have found time for Pete to fit in the usual Home Wine-Making. There are another 9 demijohns bubbling away to help consume all the fruit from the garden, even so the freezers are full of fruit. Pete still writes Open Source Software and does some other work with Linux and we have just obtained a new Pad before all the prices go up as the value of the pound goes down. It is a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8" which has an incredible screen and more power than our computers had a couple of years ago as well as good software. It is only a few years ago that I wrote that using an Android machine was like returning to the dark ages of Windows 95 but that has all changed - browsing is a delight, email gets collected first on it, diaries are seamless with the phones and laptops, all our music is present and so on. Serious web authoring and major video editing are all that are really left to the laptops. Pauline has a bit more time now she has finished with the OU and intends to do more Watercolour Painting and has started another embroidery project as well as recovering of our three piece suite, although recently she has threatened to study EU Law just to keep the brain alive. Pete still keeps up with his fitness regime and has now managed to lose weight on average on the last 6 cruises although it has involved almost every day in the gym starting at 0600 for up to 2 hours on sea days.
Time seems to fly by and we have no regrets about leaving the rat race early, as we have said before, even if you win the rat race you are still only a rat. It seems more important to feed something back in by teaching, open source and mentoring etc., to make up for everything we have gained from friends, colleagues and mentors. Two of Pete's favourite quotes are the firstly by Isacc Newton "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." and the in particular the one that he has at the start of his thesis by the brilliant Space Sccientist Robert Goddard, "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow".