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|Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2004 Christmas Newsletter|
It is once more time to prepare our annual newsletter - it seems to come round quicker each year especially as it was a year of anniversaries including our 30th Wedding Anniversary, my sister Pat and John's Golden Wedding Anniversary and Pauline's mother's 90th Birthday. Otherwise it seems to have been a year of even more travel than usually, starting with New Zealand in the Spring followed by many new and interesting places including a cruise on Queen Elizabeth 2 to the Norwegian fiords and on to North Cape to see the midnight sun, followed by a couple of months in Australia in the Autumn. We managed to fit in a short cruise on the canals as well.
So how do we select a few interesting highlights, anecdotes and themes to run through the rest of the newsletter - perhaps the only answer is with difficulty! This year we are also trying a slightly different presentation with more illustrations - hover over them to see information and click for a larger image. If you have a big screen and broadband (or patience) then you can also double click on the Australian images for a bigger image still. If you want to print the text to read on Christmas morning in bed with all your other newsletters then the last draft before illustrations were added is available as a text only version to print.
One common theme has been an increase in healthy activities such as hiking and generally trying to get fit - as you will recall Pete suffered a fractured arm and damaged shoulder following an accident last year. It rapidly became clear that he also needed to improve his general fitness that had deteriorated seriously whilst largely immobilised which had also caused the gradual creep upwards of weight to accelerate. We bought a cross trainer and Pete has certainly made a lot of use of it and other equipment which has made a big difference to the arm and cut back his weight to the point that he wore his wedding suit for our anniversary.
We spent 3 months in New Zealand 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. One of the highlights of this New Zealand visit occurred almost at the beginning and was a trip on the Soren Larsen. The Soren Larsen is a square rigged Tallship, 145 foot long and largely built of English oak, the prince of woods for shipbuilding. She has oak frames with immensely strong double oak planking covered with an additional layer of New Zealand Totara to protect against shipworm in the warm southern oceans. She was built as a trading ship, the last of a line from a famous Danish shipyard and named after the shipyard's owner. After her trading days were over she was lovingly restored, and then became well known because of her leading role in the TV series The Onedin Line.
She runs a mixture of short sailing trips and extended cruises round the Pacific. There is a professional crew of 13 and a voyage crew of up to 22 who are expected to work during the trip, although previous experience is not required. She is a 'serious ship'; she has gone round the world twice since she was restored, including doubling Cape Horn under sail. She was in fact the first square rigger under British register to round the Horn in nearly 60 years and the first all wooden square rigger to do so for a century.
Our trip, which was our Christmas present from Jenny and Kev, was a full day from Auckland, which took us past Rangitoto Island, up the Motuihi Passage and round Rangitoto back to Auckland. The winds were light and even with full sail, a magnificent sight, progress was slow and the engine had to be called into use to get us back at a sensible time. Although this was a short trip everyone was called on to pull on lines to help raise and adjust the sails and there was an opportunity to go aloft. Pete dearly wanted to go up but the transition to the platform at the half way mark (circa 60 ft high) involved a short under hung section, which would he felt would have put unacceptable loads on his recently broken arm. He did however end up on the wheel for a good length of time as well as doing his fair share on ropes.
One of our old favourites is Napier, which we visit for the beautiful buildings and for the local wineries. Napier describes itself as The Art Deco Capital of the World and started life as a copy of an English seaside resort. It is located in Hawke's Bay, renowned for its warm sunny climate, and its Marine Parade is lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that was to change at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Pharmacies caught fire and a brisk easterly wind spread the flames rapidly. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe so the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.
Napier the Victorian town disappeared and re-building was an architectural challenge. English style offered no inspiration but the journals of America were full of interesting ideas, in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else in the world can be found so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a Plan. Many of these buildings remain and we have noticed in the last 10 years that continued restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. This year we arranged our visit to coincide with their Art Deco Weekend - this is a major event with visitors coming from all over the world as well as New Zealand and the town turns back the clock to the 30s. We began by attending the Opening Ceremony, which is the initial formal event. Deco dress was de rigueur and everyone was showing off their finery and it gave us an indication of the real enthusiasm of locals and visitors and the scale of the event. We could now understand why we had needed to book events and accommodation months before we left the UK, and why even then some were sold out.
The next morning began with 'Deep in the Art of Deco', a guided tour through 12 of the best classic Art Deco buildings most of which are normally not open to visitors. It gave us an excellent overview and, although we had read books and been round Napier a number of times, we learnt a lot more and fitted a number of pieces into place. Each tour group was limited to 20, so we got a very individual and unhurried look in the two and a half hours. As soon as the tour completed it was time for the Vintage car parade through the centre of town. It was here that we perhaps really began to understand the scale of the weekend. Led by the Prime Minister and escorted by members of the New Zealand Royal Navy, there must have been over 150 cars from the 1920s and 1930s all in showroom condition in procession through the centre of the town. After a brief period to recover it was back into town for the street parties that started early and gave way to free jazz in the evening in the 'Shell' - we did not make it to the end at midnight. A great time which we will repeat - Pauline has spent much of the year seeking out 30s style clothes, including a fur cape for the chilly evenings.
The next major trip of the year was our Cruise on Queen Elizabeth 2 from Southampton to Amsterdam and then up the west coast of Norway to North Cape. It is an area of the world we had never visited. Norway is a narrow country, 1600 miles long and with 13,300 miles of coastline. We very much enjoyed our cruise which paused at Amsterdam , Hellesylt , Geiranger, Alesund, Trondheim, the North Cape, Flam, Stavanger and Bergen with deep penetrations into the major fiords, quite an experience on a ship the size of the QE2.
The scenery is spectacular, arguably even more so than New Zealand, and the people are equally friendly and helpful. Not surprisingly we stayed up until midnight when we reached North Cape to appreciate the Land of the Midnight Sun. The sun broke through the clouds just as we arrived and hit the clouds over the North Cape, but we missed the famous "sunset". A strange feature is that there is a little rocky projection on North Cape like a horn making it yet another 'Cape Horn'.
We finally got back onto the canals in June, over 12 months since the accident - up till then we had only had a few trips on the Thames where all the locks are manned and there are no bridges. Pete could still not face the canal lift bridges on the South Oxford so we took Corinna our Narrowboat down the Kennet and Avon canal to Bath and Bristol. There are lots of big locks and some swing bridges but they gave him less problems as they did not involve any lifting or activities above ones head. In fact we had an excellent passage through Caen Hill locks completing the middle 16 locks which step down the hill below Devizes in 100 minutes.
It was then time for a trip to Guernsey for my sister and brother in law's 50th Anniversary. We went over well before which gave us a chance to do some walks on the cliff paths. The cliff paths along the south coast are about twenty miles from end to end and have lots of great views as well as lots of descents down to water level and back up the 250-300 feet to the top of the cliffs. The exercises on the machine seemed to have done Pete a lot of good and improved his overall fitness a lot as well as exercising the arm and we completed the paths in a couple of sessions. We also took a ferry to Herm and walked the cliff paths there.
We are members of the SS Great Britain Trust, and got back to England just in time for a memorable Cruise on the Matthew. In 1497, John Cabot set out from Bristol, under the patronage of King Henry VII, sailing the Matthew to the mainland of North America. The new Matthew was built as a replica, and is a square rigged caravel. She marked the quincentenary of Cabot's original journey by travelling from Bristol to Newfoundland in May and June 1997. Her permanent base is at the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol, next to the famous SS Great Britain designed and built by the greatest British engineer of all time, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose suspension bridge our journey would take us under.
There are no pictures of the original Matthew, but the size, tonnage and number of crew were known. The new Matthew was designed with an overall length of just over 60 feet and a beam of 20 feet. The hull of the Marie Rose influenced the hull shape, and the square rig enabled her to carry plenty of sail. African Opepe was used for the keel, oak for the frames and Douglas fir planking. Modern oak trees are not large enough to make the keel. The hull is carvel construction where planking is laid edge to edge and a small gap between each plank is caulked. The new Matthew took more than a dozen skilled shipwrights 2 years to complete, even using modern tools. The main sail carries two bonnets, which are laced on the bottom of the sails and can be taken off to reduce sail area. Unlike the square-riggers that followed the spars are lowered to the deck with the sails attached for reefing and setting - this involves a lot of hard work on the ropes and no slackers were allowed!
We joined her at 0600 at Portishead and had a memorable trip, much of it under sail, out into the Bristol Channel round Steep Holm and Flat Holm before returning off Portishead. Timing was prefect and we proceeded with the tide up the tortuous channel of the Avon to Bristol passing under the Suspension bridge before locking into the Floating harbour at Bristol. We were just in time for the start of the river festival at which we spent the next day.
Then in September Pauline's mother Ethel celebrated her 90th birthday and we went up to Burntwood and organised a small party on the Saturday, which continued with more friends at church on the Sunday evening. A lot of our homemade wine seemed to disappear as well as the Birthday cake, one of a pair which Pauline made, the other being for our 30th Anniversary. We took lots of pictures of the food and visitors and gave Ethel an album with them all.
Our own thirtieth anniversary party will be something we remember for a long time - we ended up with more people (over 50) than we had really intended and even then there were many good friends who could not come. It involved Pauline in quite a lot of catering to give a full meal to that many and Pete bottled a lot more of his homemade wine in preparation. It also involved a lot of clearing up and moving stuff from the house to the loft, the loft to garage and the garage to the dustbins. We tried to get a contract cleaner in but once they had seen the house we never even heard from them again. In clearing up we decided to use some of the carpet tiles we found to cover the floor in an upstairs room which we wanted to return to use as Pete's office. The idea was to clear the area enough to at least move the computers upstairs from the lounge. One thing however led to another, so the day before the party we were still completing decoration of the room having had to clean up, re-putty, and paint round 57 window pains (excuse the pun) as well as emulsion or paper most of the walls. Then Pete was able to wire up the network for the computers round the room, and set up the broadband and WiFi for the rest of the house. All this was between the minor task of doing the shopping and then the cooking. We also have our first digital camera so this is the point where our pictures on the web site go "digital". Thankfully we are both used to multitasking and project planning.
Pauline had been given one of the original Bridesmaid's dresses from the wedding which she modified to wear, and Pete wore his suit from the wedding and even found the original shirt and tie to complete the outfit. We were delighted at the number of friends who came and relieved that the weather turned out better than forecast. Pete was anxiously watching the rain radar display throughout the morning and finally decided it was safe to set up the punch and homemade wine outside. Massive amounts of food disappeared along with the wine and time quickly passed and we hardly seemed to have spoken to everyone by the time for cake, champagne and speeches.
We interchanged a pendant and cuff links made specially for us by Catherine Best in Guernsey. The design 'Love of Life' incorporates a Heart representing Love, merged into a Life Ring representing Eternal Safety - in the case of Pauline's pendant the usual diamond was replaced by a pearl for the Pearl anniversary whilst Pete retained the diamonds representing the Spark of Life. Pete said a few words, fortunately without the addition of bagpipes that introduced Pat and John's anniversary speeches in Guernsey. There hardly seemed to be time to complete the washing up and freeze the food left over before it was time for our special anniversary holiday, Our first trip to Australia.
Australia is so big it is difficult to know where to start when you plan a first visit. In common with our trips to New Zealand, Wines and Winery restaurants featured heavily in our planning as did our interest in Gold, which in the case of Australia extended to Copper, Silver and Opal mining. Rivers and Riverboats formed another theme in our plans. Nothing however had prepared us for the native animals and birds or for the Outback and some of the walks and scenary.
We started on the West side in Perth where we were entertained in style by Di, a friend from college days, and as the Australian say, 'had a ball'. We went to the Swan River and Margaret River wine areas, good choices for our introduction to Australian wines. Being based in Perth and visiting nearby Fremantle was again a good introduction to Australia and the way of life. Di was waiting to go into hospital so was not working and we went out together, much of it with Pete driving her car.
We then flew across to Adelaide where we picked up our Wicked Campervan. The vans are liberally decorated on the outside, some being quite erotic although ours fortunately was fairly restrained. They claim they are 'Wicked' because they have a huge bed space in the back, which is big enough for three - they even supply three sets of cutlery etc. We slept in it most of the time and it was remarkably comfortable with two. One side was graffitied "No Worries" and the other "G'Day Mate". It was only after a week when we were buzzed by a second Police chopper that we realised there was more on the roof!
We covered a tremendous mileage, over 8000 kms in five weeks, in our van but could only sample a range of what Australia has to offer. We saw underground houses, shops, restaurants and even churches in the heat of the Outback at Coober Pedy, yet days later we had left the arid centre and were walking in rain forests. We camped in the Snowy Mountains with Kangaroos watching us from only a few yards away as we prepared and ate our supper. We spent a lot of time deep underground in Silver, Gold and Copper mines and climbed high up through the snow in the National Parks. We spent time in the cities such as Sydney, where we stayed with our friend Kristy for a few days, Canberra and Melbourne as well as Adelaide where we started and ended. We are not really city people so it was the many vineyard areas, the National Parks, the Murray River, and the scenery along the Great Ocean Road which stand out along, of course, with the wildlife - so different to anywhere else.
We had known before we arrived in Australia that we should investigate the Murray River but agin we were not prepared for the scale of it - The Murray and Darling River Systems feature throughout the last few weeks because the area they cover as well as our interest in Rivers and Boats. It is one of the four largest river complexes in the world about 4500 kms being navigable. It is critical to the economy of much of the inhabited parts of Australia as it provides a vast power source from hydroelectric, and it provides most of the drinking water and water for irrigation critical for much of the agriculture. It also played a critical part of the transport system and had hundreds of steam paddlewheel driven riverboats serving inland ports, later linked to the railway system.
We first saw the Murray as a tiny stream when we camped at Tom Groggin in the Snowy Mountains (where we had our memorable encounter with the Kangaroos) and shortly afterwards walked up above the snow line onto the Kosciusko Range, the source of the Murray. We saw the huge Hydroelectric Lakes and power stations of the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme. Later we saw strange lakes at Mulwala where whole forests had been submerged when the weir was built. We saw the inland port of Echuca and travelled on one of several vintage paddlewheelers there. We continued our investigations, heading downstream, of the River and the Riverboat story at Swan Hill, Robinvale and Mildura where irrigation and salt issues entered the picture with further pieces added to the story at Renmark, Banrock Station (nice wines), Morgan (the big bend), Mannum and Murray Bridge.
After Australia, the run up to Christmas seems somewhat of an anticlimax. Maybe it is also the extended effects of the jetlag. We still enjoyed the formal Christmas party at the Oxford and Cambridge Club followed by carols sitting on the stairs round the Christmas tree - always a memorable evening but hard on the liver. It marks the start of Christmas festivities and we spend a day in London admiring the lights, sometimes visiting museums and art galleries, and always shopping in Covent Garden and Piccadilly. 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 QE2 - it is a hard life making all these choices. We certainly have no regrets we left the rat race. As someone said; the trouble with the rat race is that even if you win you are still only a rat!