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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2009 Christmas Newsletter
We started the year with 3 months in New Zealand, just visiting the North Island. The highlight for Pete was Sailing on Kev’s Piver Lodestar 37’ trimaran Shanti which we took as far as Great Barrier Island. We had hoped to go from there up the coast to the Bay of Islands but the weather was not good enough. As it was we got stuck at Great Barrier Island and then when the weather cleared for a short time we escaped by making a pre-dawn exit from Fitzroy harbour dodging the anchored boats with a torch. As we turned to leave the GPS chart plotter gave up – never trust technology – we fortunately had the charts out ready and some waypoints left in our old hand held GPS which got us out of the narrow channel and through the islands to open water. The other highlight for Pauline is always the Art Deco festival at Napier although bad weather further north prevented the Catalina from flying.
Soon after we returned 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, and the accommodation is much better than youth hostels. It is great to catch up with all our friends from college days. This was the last visit based in the Peak District and although we will miss the 2010 holiday we are already looking forward to 2011 and the chance to explore a new area. .
We then just had time to reduce the height of the three feet of mail before we were off on our narrowboat Corinna – up to Red Bull for her bi-annual haul out, bottom blacking and it was also time for the Boat Safety Certificate to be renewed. The only thing we had to do was change one earthing strap - it was the only cable Pete had bought and not made up himself. We then carried on to Chester and Ellesmere Port where we stayed at the Boat Museum for nearly a week and took a day trip to Liverpool and their maritime museum as well as seeing John Smith, a friend from school and college who Pete had not seen for 30 years. Janet and Jonathan joined us for lunch at a canal-side pub near their home. We then turned South to the River Severn intending to join the Avon and go up to Stratford. It was the time of the rains and a forecast of up to 6 inches drove us to take shelter instead at Worcester for two days. The rain was so heavy as we turned into the lock that Pete could not even see Pauline above on the lockside. Rather than wait it out we diverted back up towards Birmingham and explored progress restoring the Droitwich canal before climbing up the Tardibigge flight of locks, one of the longest in the county where we had a good run and did the main 32 locks in 3 hours 30 and completed 42 locks in the one day. Canal boating is designed to keep the crew very fit. It was then back down a similar number of locks to finally reach Stratford.
We moored in Stratford Basin for 2 days and saw The Winters Tale and Julius Caesar at The Courtyard Theatre. Building work continues on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which is due to be competed by the end of 2010, meanwhile the Courtyard Theatre is very popular. For those readers who are retired, there is a special Over 60s Stand-By ticket which can only be purchased on the day of the performance. The weather calmed and we locked down to the Avon and on to Tewkesbury. On the way we collected lots of Elderflowers and made Elderflower Cordial and a base of Elderflower wine which we blended with Gooseberries when we got home. We also have Blackberry, Cherry and Loganberry from the garden and Damson from a neighbour bubbling away.
This canal cruise, just over 1000 miles, took us past the two most well known English China manufacturers. On our way north to Red Bull basin we visited Wedgwood at Barlaston and then much later we visited Royal Worcester. The latter closed one week after we passed through. It was very sad and everything left was being sold at silly prices. We bought plates and lots of dishes, all made in England, so they must have been over 3 years old; the factory in Worcester stopped manufacturing over 3 years ago. All of their latest china was made in India so Pauline spent hours searching through mounds of stuff to pick out the English items. We also spent some time shopping at Tudor Crystal, one of the few remaining English glass makers, in Stourbridge. They have just one mooring at their site, which is very convenient. Business is quiet there too.
Once back home we joined friends Dugald and Lesley for a few days cruise on the tidal River Thames on their new steel Linssen 40.9 ocean cruiser, Klein Schip. Our own trips there had only been between Teddington and Brentford, so it was wonderful to pass the Houses of Parliament and go under Tower Bridge, as well as play with the fast ferries and their wash. The tide limits the hours when it is possible to enter riverside marinas, and time is wasted making small circles waiting for enough depth of water to lock up into safety. We completed our trip on the River Medway where we had a day round Chatham Docks which was very interesting and included a look round a submarine. The British ones are much more spacious than the Russian one we visited in Los Angeles in 2008.
Our final ‘proper holiday’ (Pauline’s words) was 24 days on Cunard’s Queen Victoria from Southampton to New York and Canada. This included Pauline’s birthday and our 35th wedding anniversary, and we were looked after very well on board, starting with an upgrade from our little inside cabin to the best of the balcony staterooms which normally is roughly twice the price. It was also an excuse for Pauline to spend hours in Monsoon dress shops at Sale Time, where her excuse was that she had lost weight and needed some size 10 evening dresses and so had to go shopping. Our favourite Captain, Ian McNaught from the QE2, is now permanently on the QV and many staff from the QE2 have moved with him. So it was like being back with family and friends. The food was as good as ever and despite an hour in the gym before breakfast most days Pete came back even heavier than when he left whereas Pauline still fitted her size 10 dresses. This led him to a vigorous use of the cross trainer and some other restraint which has got him back to target (166 down to 152 pounds) which is the mid way point in recommended fat content and BMI. He then promptly went down with Shingles! It is much more common than we realised and is caused by the Chicken Pox virus which hides in nerves and then causes very painful areas over the whole range of the infected nerve and a few spots to boot. Pete thought it was a wasp sting to start with as he is allergic to them. Almost everyone who has chicken pox seems to get it at least once, judging by those we have spoken to. It seems to be a good reason not to diet.
Pauline is pleased that she has just got a new contract with the OU for 5 years, teaching Problem Solving and Improvement: quality and other approaches. The salary just pays for two return flights to NZ! Pete still describes it as her Charity Work although he still does a lot of sorting out of computers for nothing as well. On the computer front we remain committed to the OpenSource movement and several of our friends have followed us on The Road to Freedom using Ubuntu Linux when their machines were destroyed by viruses, in any case - ‘Why buy a Window when you can have the whole house for free’. Pete is in the process of writing books on ‘Perpetuity Publishing using OpenSource software’ and ‘Home Winemaking’, where he already receives hundreds of emails seeking advice.
Pauline’s second volume of memoirs, ‘Success at the Heart of Government. Working with Ministers’ was published on 5 November. She had a book signing at the Westminster Bookshop on 24 November and can now call herself an international author as a copy of her first volume of memoirs has recentlybeen purchased in Norway. Pauline also donated copies to ex-DTI colleagues as well as sending review copies to newspapers and politicians and free copies to St Hilda’s College and the Oxford & Cambridge Club library. The cover is one of Pauline's watercolour paintings with text and background added by Pete.
She describes life alongside politicians in the Whitehall jungle as she clawed her way up the career ladder, trying to overtake her administrative colleagues, and recognising that she had to turn her uniqueness to her advantage. There are few senior civil servants who trained as research scientists and chartered engineers and even less have made an impact with science, engineering and technology as an academic, in parallel with success in their civil service career. And these are not women !
Her story is peppered with personal anecdotes as well as rare and illuminating technical and policy extracts. Starting from her first policy job as the most junior member of a small team in the Policy and Perspectives Unit, her success quickly led to her managing her own teams and advising on significant budget expenditures. Her final insights come from her time 15 years later as a member of the prestigious Senior Open Structure, leading a policy Branch in the Department of Trade and Industry.
This book continues her story since leaving Oxford and the research world which she wrote about in her earlier book ‘Quiet Quadrangles and Ivory Towers’.
You can purchase the book for £17.99 plus pp or download a copy as an eBook (PDF format) by following this link or through Amazon and Lulu but they take a huge cut!
We attend the Authors Discussion lunches in London at the O&C Club when we can. Most impressive this year was John Suchet, who spoke about Beethovan, and Paddy Ashdown who has just written his autobiography. We also purchased some O&C china – they have upgraded to a new design from Villeroy and Boch and unused items of the old design were being offered for purchase at a very favourable price so we will have to do some entertaining with all the new Royal Worcester as well.
We always have a serious wine crisis as it always seems such a waste not to use our fruit and the freezer is full, so we welcome any thirsty and hungry visitors. Please, if you are one of our friends, call if you are in our area.