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Pete and Pauline's Christmas 2019 Newsletter

I have been reading through the last few of our newsletters and much has been very repetitive so I wondered whether to bother at all this year or whether to just change the date and see if anyone notices. However there have been a few important things happen - firstly Pauline has given up her wholehearted support of the Luddite Movement and since obtaining a new phone has been observed sitting with it (and on the computer) for hours and has even started texting me rather than ringing up and looking at the BBC news on the phone rather than the TV. This is all rather disturbing.

Call for Help

But that brings me to the other reason I continued - I have done a lot of work on the website, initially provoked by our Hosting Service, now renamed TSOHosts, upgrading the servers and associated software so I found parts had stopped working. Old wine in new bottles. Shortly after I found that the latest updates of browsers on mobiles led to a tedious and almost everlasting looping which kept reloading pages every time one changed the orientation. This has been fixed but all led to a big site validation and upgrade starting. Yes I am getting to the point - this newsletter is the prototype of the new pages. So I hope I can persuade you all to have a quick look with your various phones and computers and tell me if there are any problems (or suggestions) as I only have access to a few phones/tablets and Linux base computers and need to have confidence there are no insurmountable problems before I start to update dozens of pages.

So the following will be the usual summary of our travels with lots of pictures - not seeing them or not being able to click on them would count as a major problem as would everything going pear shaped and/or overflowing the screen if you turn mobile devices on their sides - I would not recommend trying it on computers which should not respond. At the end there will be a bit about other activities and interests - you will have to wait to find out how Pauline did in her last OU Degree course on the Environment. She has also been doing some research into Bishop Selwyn who spent a long period in New Zealand, where we visited several of his Cathedrals, before returning to Lichfield where he spent a period before his being buried there. I will leave Pauline to also summarise that at the end. So coming now to our travels.

Three Months in New Zealand, mostly South Island

We spent the whole three months of our winter holiday in New Zealand this year. I will not go into it in detail as there is one of our best and probably most comprehensive write ups if you have lots of time and interest at Touring New Zealand 2019, those who receive our News from the Antipodes newsletters may already have looked at it. I always have difficulty in selecting bits which might interest people but as many of you know I have two nieces who have emigrated and Christine who has been living near Auckland has now moved up to the Bay of Islands. Being where the climate and ground is very favourable to fruit she has an orchard with many fruit trees and a significant sized banana plantation which had a couple of dozen hands of ripening bananas. There were also avocado trees, plums, oranges and lemons - all ripe. We left with a stock which lasted us for weeks including a whole hand of green bananas - we eventually found that you can ripen them selectively by putting a bunch in a paper bag. Like many fruit they produce ethylene and if you trap it they ripen much faster, they can be 'forced' in as little as 24 hours. Unfortunately we discovered this a little late and had a banana crisis which led to eating 5 or 6 each of the beautifully succulent little bananas a day for the last few days. You will find a series of pictures of our 'travels with bananas' on the website. The avocados were also some of the best we have ever had but pictures of avocados are less exciting. I have finished off below with a typical scene with our van and tent at the Banks Peninsular. Its usually too full to sleep in it!

I thought we ought to show a little of the scenery in South Island starting with the tiny and very beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd on the equally beautiful Lake Tekapo. It has a plain glass window over the altar with a stunning view of the lake and mountains - far better than any stained glass and I used an identical picture taken a while back ago for our Christmas cards. It now tends to be very popular with many tourist buses and pictures inside are banned but we could not resist a visit. The fabulous pale blue colour of the lakes is from granite suspended in the snow melt. Looking along nearby Lake Putaki, Mount Cook can be seen 70 kms away. It is known as Aoraki 'the cloud piercer' to Ngai Tahu, and is the highest mountain in New Zealand

We will now skip ahead a long way to another area which interests us - as well as good food and wine - flying. We arranged to get to Mandeville Airfield early in the day they started their main event of the year, a 'Fly In' over the February weekend closest to the day of the first passenger commercial flight in NZ which was from Hokitika to Haas in the Fox Moth they have in their collection. We needed to be early because we wanted to be there at the very start in case we could get a flight on one of their vintage aircraft, a De Havilland Dominie DH 89, which we achieved. In fact there was less competition to fly than we expected and we had to wait until there were 8 people available! We flew just before lunch when the weather was perfect, almost calm with cumulus clouds and perfect visibility. The flight lasted 15 minutes for our $60 and was mostly nice and low at 1500 feet combined with excellent visibility. The landing was probably the smoothest Pete had ever had in a powered aircraft, certainly on grass, it was almost impossible to know when the main wheels touched or when the tail-wheel was lowered and that on an aircraft designed 80 years ago. The one we flew in was built initially for military service in 1943 hence the designation Dominie although it was essentially identical to the Dragon Rapide DH89. There were several marks with slight differences in engines and wing tip shape - ours had the full beautiful elliptical shape. So that's a couple of quick excepts covering some of the things we get up to in New Zealand.


50 Years of Easter Walking Holidays

The next highlight of the year was the walking holiday at Easter. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the first Easter walking holiday by the same group going back to college days. We were not present at the first of the holidays, in fact I had only just met Pauline when I first went. Quite a few of those present were in at the begining and some have only missed a few. Initially they were at Youth Hostels and very primitive cottages, we well remember wringing water out of pillows on a first night at a cottage which had been empty since the previous summer and warming ourselves by a very warm wall after the chimney had been set on fire over a Rayburn solid fuel cooker. When we informed the farmer he said that usually the water turned brown when people lit it and it in due course it did. These days the accommodation is much more luxurious and well organised and for several years it has been at Garth Barns, part of Garth Farm which has 240 acres of hill, fields, woodland and dingle with a private lake, wildlife pools and spectacular views all set in the middle of some glorious countryside near Llanidloes in mid Wales, an area with plenty of walks including the Hafren Forest and sections of the Severn Way as well as local walks from the farm. The barns and farm house can accommodate 50 people and we needed it as with people from as far away as Australia coming back for the 50th anniversary. These days there is less walking and more eating and drinking, people take it in turn cooking for the group and standards are set high - all very different to the early days.

Cruise to Japan and Alaska

Shortly after the walking holiday we had a cruise from Japan to Alaska and Canada on the Queen Elizabeth. This was a cruise with a number of distinct parts. The first section was similar to a sector of a world cruise - the Queen Elizabeth had come from Southampton and we joined in Japan for the sector to Alaska and Canada. At that point she started a series of short cruises out of Vancouver to Alaska involving the 'Inner Passage' - we continued our cruise to do the first of these which had little overlap with our inward passage to Vancouver giving a total holiday of 29 days, just inside our insurance limit. The full itinerary was Yokohama, Aomori and Muroran for Sapporo in Japan, then seven sea days to Kodiak followed by Anchorage, Juneau, Vancouver, Juneau for a second half day visit, Skagway, the Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria and Vancouver in Canada.

In Japan we were fortunate to just catch the end of the cherry blossom and both Aomori and Sapporo were new to us and were maiden ports to the Queen Elizabeth as, in fact, were all the remaining ports. As far as we can tell the last time Cunard visited any of the ports in Alaska was with the QE2.

The crossing to Alaska had seven sea days, including crossing the Date Line so we had the delights of Sunday 12 May repeated, which potentially confused our four cameras. In addition each day at sea was only 23 hours so that we would arrive at Kodiak with ship time identical to shore time. Unusually the time changes took place at 0900 in the morning so an hour went missing out of breakfast for those that rose late but much better for us as Pete still goes to the Gym at 0600 and an hour of sleep going missing would be a pain.

This was our first visit to Alaska: so what stood out? Wildlife, for certain - we saw Bald Eagles, Sea Lions, Otters and most memorable were the many sightings of Whales, some very close to the ship in pods of up to six. Also the native culture and races and, in particular, the many Totem Poles. We learnt a lot about the natural resources on which Alaska was built, initially the fur trades and above all fishing where salmon, crab and halibut come to mind and all were sampled. Gold, our readers will know we have an interest in gold mining, and Gold played a key role both in places such as the Juneau Gold belt and in the access routes to places such as the Klondike.

And last but not least, the scenery - Alaska is is the home of thousands of glaciers and perhaps the most memorable day of the holiday was that of the visit to the Hubbard Glacier on a day which the pilot said was perhaps the best he had experienced in 20 years. The interface to the sea is seven miles wide and the glacier is several hundred feet high and is continually calving. The ice is this most incredible blue - we cannot resist ending with this panoramic shot!

Hubbard glacier from the Cunnard Queen Elizabeth © P Curtis 2019

Corinna goes to Whaley Bridge

Once back from Alaska it was not long before we off on our narrowboat Corinna. It was nice to get moving after all the problems last year. We went up to Kidsgrove where she was built and had Tony check everything out. The engine is now 32 years old and has done far more hours than it was ever designed for, over 11,000 now, and we are considering replacing it over the next few years but at least the gearbox and most of the remainder of the running gear has now been replaced. We went down the Leek and Caldron canal and then up the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals to Bugsworth basin, a favourite stop wreathed in history and then on to the end of the branch to Whaley bridge. We were walking round the town a week before it was evacuated for fear of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam collapsing. The reservoir is the main water supply to the Peak Forest canal down to Marple where it splits to feed down to Manchester one way and the Macclesfield canal the other, overall a major setback for the northern canal network. The sooner the Canal system is returned from being in the hands of a Charity to professional management the safer and better everyone will be. It was not the driest of Holidays but sufficiently warm we hardly had to light the stove whilst on the trip to Liverpool a few years ago it was never out for a whole month until we got to a power hook up in the docks. It is all part of the fun. Hard work yet relaxing.

Pauline's Birthday - an unexpected cruise to Hamburg

We always try to do something special over Birthdays, whilst at work we always tried to make our holidays coincide with Birthdays and Anniversaries, or at least take the day off and we continue. We were looking at a couple of days in the New Forest but it coincided with the boat show and availability was low and prices so astronomical that Pete, who should have known better, joked it was cheaper to take one of the short cruises, often known as booze cruises. Pauline came back under an hour later and said "you were right, I've booked a couple of days to Hamburg on the Queen Mary 2 as we have not seen what they did in the big refit". It was a real bargain as the next cruise was across the Atlantic to the USA and Canada and it was really a pick-up for German, in particular they love the QM2 in Hamburg so she was booked solid long ago for Hamburg onwards and empty outwards. So we had a chance to spend a couple of days looking round the QM2 and then have a tour of Hamburg.

We had intended to revisit sights we knew but time was rather short and the ship offered a free tour on the way to the airport so we took that - we normally avoid tours in places we know but the day was wet so it worked out very well.

Sapphire Anniversary Cruise to Norway to not see the Northern Lights

We had two consecutive cruises on the Queen Elizabeth in Autumn 2019 over our Sapphire Wedding Anniversary, taking us first to Amsterdam in the Princess Grill, a bargain extra, followed by a longer Norwegian Explorer Cruise. We visited Alesund, Tromso, Narvik and returned via Stavanger. There there were overnights at the two northern ports to give an opportunity to look for the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) but we knew it was a long shot as it is a sunspot minimum in the 11 year cycle but it was a good excuse.

Princess Grill and Amsterdam

Alesund and Our Sapphire Wedding Anniversary

Tromso, the Arctic Catherdral, Narvik and Stavanger

And the best of the rest:

The above makes it sound as if all we do is travel (and party) but we have found time for Pete to fit in the usual Home Wine-Making. There are another 5 demijohns bubbling away to help consume all the fruit from the garden, even so the freezers are still full of fruit. Pete still writes Open Source Software, in particular for Ubuntu and Linux Mint and it has been a busy time as a new version is due out shortly and all his applets need to be updated. As mentioned in the introduction the web site has had a lot of attention to make it smoother for mobile devices and overall quality checking. The new page layout you can see here is now directed towards small screens with new drop down menus and an integrated search as well as the improvements to the handling of orientation changes and blocks of pictures. Once I have feedback on its use on other devices I will switch new pages to using the new template. Then I can start working back through the entry level and the more popular of the 700 or so pages!

Pauline, as you will recall, finished her Open University LLM two years ago year and last year 'backed into' the third year of a normal law degree studying European Law which is very appropriate at the present. This year she completed a course on the Environment, with special features on the Arctic, the Nile, the Amazon and China. Again it is all very topical and the OU material is always up to date. Another Distinction was collected and she is next going to study Financial analysis and decision making, so she can have sensible discussions with financial experts about investment decisions and risk analysis. She will also be taking her Watercolour Painting kit on our next trip as well as the latest embroidery project. Pete still keeps up with his fitness regime and has now managed to lose weight on average on the last 16 cruises. He is not sure how long he can keep that up!

But Leaving the Very Best for last

Time seems to fly by and it seems incredible that we have just had our Sapphire, 45th, Wedding Anniversary. So I thought I would end up with the story of how we met whilst Pete was still in Oxford. Some of probably know the story of how a friend of Pete’s who we will just call Steve had worked during a vacation with a lady called Janet who was to start at St Hilda’s the following term. Pauline’s godfather was a friend of Janet’s family. The first day of term Steve invited Janet round to tea in Jesus College and it grew, as such things do, to include some of her new acquaintances who were reading the same subject and some of Steve’s friends from Jesus just turned up. And that was how it all started on Pauline’s first day at Oxford 49 years ago and grew until we finally got engaged at dawn on the banks of the Cherwell at the Magdalen Commemoration Ball after Pauline’s finals. And we still get on as well as ever and occasionally revisit the spot when we are in Oxford.

We are still friends with everyone in that room where it started at Jesus and most of the friends made at college are on this newsletter distribution and we see many on the walking holidays at Easter. Friends are perhaps the most important thing in life so to all our friends:

We hope you have enjoyed our news and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

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Content revised: 28th November, 2019