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|Pete and Pauline's 2020 Newsletters|
It seems a long time since we last kept in touch with many of our friends so we thought it might be time for a newsletter to let everyone know how we are surviving in these interesting times. In fact a newsletter is seriously overdue as we would normally send one or more out whilst we are in New Zealand each year but we never even sent one from Australia or our Christmas Cruise from Australia.
So we start well before all the upsets to normal with three months away from home - a holiday broken into several parts. We began in Australia flying direct to Perth with Qantas on a Boeing 'Dreamliner' which was well equipped, spacious and with plenty of leg room in a 3x3 configuration. It was a long 17 hour flight but smooth, the seat belt lights never had to come on, and we are generally impressed with Qantas which compared well with any of the long haul airlines we have used so far.
We stayed with Di, an old friend going back to college days who emigrated to Australia 35 years ago. She lives in a suburb of Perth close to the Canning River and entertained us in style, showing us round and giving us insights into Australia and the way of life which we would otherwise have missed. We had in Oz speak 'a ball'. We arrived in the middle of a record breaking heatwave which did restrict outdoor activities a little. The temperatures were reaching 40 deg centigrade day after day and we were seeing up to 44 degrees on occasion so air-conditioned 'activities' had an attraction and walks tended to to be early or late in the day. We were also in the midst of all the bush fires which were ravaging the Australian bush and wildlife and threatening the towns themselves.
After 10 days we flew to Melbourne with Di and her friend Loretta where the second part of the Holiday started, a cruise on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth over Christmas and the New Year. The cruise went to New Zealand, arriving on Boxing Day in Fiordland and the final port was Auckland where we saw the New Year in with their magnificent firework display. The cruise ended back in Melbourne where Di and Loretta left to fly back to Perth.
The original plan had been for us to disembark in Auckland and continue our holiday in New Zealand. That proved impossible so once we were committed to return to Melbourne we stayed on board for the next cruise which went to Adelaide then round Tasmania to Hobart and back to Melbourne adding a third section, and an extra 7 days, to the holiday. It was at the peak time of the bush fires and we could smell smoke from half way across the Tasman and we never got to Rabbit Island which was devastated by the fires. We had one overnight in Melbourne and flew to New Zealand.
We will not say much about NZ as we have covered holidays there many times before and will concentrate more on the impact of Covid as will the rest of this news update. We were very fortunate that we had started our holiday much earlier than usual in Oz. We normally spend 89 days in NZ unless coming or going by ship as our travel and home insurance is limited to 90 days and 89 avoids any argument over time zones! This meant we were due to return on the 6th March. When the holiday started Covid was not really seen as a concern and reports were only just emerging from China and NZ was on the ball and restricted travel and started planning far earlier than the UK. By the end of our stay everything had changed and we were seriously concerned about the return trip although by chance we were flying through Los Angeles rather than our usual Hong Kong or Singapore which would have been higher risk.
The final night Pete had a Birthday dinner in the Northern Club (reciprocal with the Oxford and Cambridge Club) where we were staying. We were joined by Philip and Jenni, friends in NZ who we first met on a cruise and have a house overlooking one of our favourite moorings when sailing in the Bay of Islands - Philips birthday is only a day away from mine and they had a birthday dinner at the club the previous day at the same table - a very enjoyable evening and what a series of coincidences! We were also joined by Joe and Jill, friends from America who were also in Auckland.
By a huge coincidence we were also on the same flight to LA as Joe and Jill although restrictions on movement on the aircraft meant we did not see them after getting on board, we did however meet in the lounge before boarding. If we had been leaving at the start of April as usual it would have been a very different story - it is not clear we could have travelled and we would have been leaving and entering lock-downs and the 26 hours in aircraft would have been a very high risk.
It was a complete contrast in the UK, in NZ we had a major search to find hand sanitiser for the journey but the UK nobody seemed the least concerned - I cancelled a dinner and we cancelled trips to London and people seemed astonished with our concerns over the Easter walking holiday. How that all changed as awareness grew - in the event everything was cancelled anyway as restrictions were belatedly implemented far behind NZ with the obvious differences in success.
We managed to get most of what we needed before lock-down was eventually implemented; replacement toilet/plumbing and even a new lawnmower from Screwfix, wine-making supplies and boat paint, mostly by mail order or click and collect. Since our return we only had one early trip to the supermarket, a click and collect at Screwfix and a petrol can fill for the new lawnmower - the car did not then move out of the drive for 4 months starting 24th March. In a normal year we would still have been in NZ, perhaps it would have been better to have stayed!
It has been a very different time to what we planned and expected. The Easter walking holiday was the first to go along with cancelled functions in London. We expected to spend a lot of time over the summer on Corinna, no long canal trips but on the Thames up to Lechlade and back a few times and downstream to Windsor and Hampton Court with perhaps a few days on the river Wey or Kennet and Avon. We then had a series of cruises booked as well as several months in New Zealand. None of that has, and probably can't take place apart from use of Corinna. Perhaps what really brought it home was the deaths from Covid of our friends and relations: three in a week from our 'newsletter' and Christmas card lists and horror stories from another who recovered.
We are however very fortunate. We live in a beautiful situation by the river Thames with a magnificent view out over one of the nicest reaches. Our narrowboat is moored in the garden. We can sit on our balcony in the morning with our coffee with a view to die for in the morning sun - rarely do we get a better situation on holiday, or we can go and sit by the river. We get enough fruit from the garden to fill our freezers and make all the wine we can drink. We are well separated from other people yet only a few minutes walk from a village with adequate shopping including a small supermarket, DIY shop and award winning cheese and butchers shops. Most importantly we have a very excellent medical practice in village and superior dental practice. We have a near perfect location to shield.
We were also much better prepared than most. We always keep a good stock of food in the cupboards and freezers as well as DIY materials as we do almost all maintenance on the boat and house, we could open a shop with spare plumbing bits. We are natural hoarders - "It might be useful sometime". We were also stocked ready for catering for 30 on the walking holiday prepared to feed several dozen people so we had no need for panic buying, everything important was duplicated on Corinna as well. That is not to say there were no important jobs needed. We heard the sound of dripping water within hours of returning from NZ - hence the new toilet. Fortunately the water was turned off and the supplies from the roof tanks isolated whilst we were away. And the TV antenna/head amplifier at the top of the garden had failed- fortunately we had recently bought a smart TV and we quickly found 'Catch-up' and Live internet TV was better in in any case and gets used much of the time even now Pete has fitted new amplifiers, multiplexers and cabling. We just do not find time to watch.
We have never lacked food deliveries although there were several months where Pete was regularly searching for new slots in the middle of the night whilst we were sharing 'finds' with friends. We now have a weekly slots booked out for 3 weeks in a sequence of two regular supermarkets (Tesco and Morrison) with occasional swaps to Asda and Waitrose. The cheese shop delivers free in the village and we get the occasional delivery from the Smokehouse at Glasson basin and the occasional extravagance from Fortnum and Mason such as the Glenarm steaks (Jim to note). Amazon has supplied many more of our needs. Pauline is still doing Open University degree courses so qualifies for a student card and we took up her 6 months free of Amazon Prime and will continue at half price.
So what have we done, how are our days occupied in these extraordinary times? In some ways it has been more like a holiday. As we said earlier, most days we rise and are quickly onto the balcony in the sun to have our coffee looking out over the river. We can watch the red kites overhead and the herons, cormorants, grebes and swans, even the occasional kingfisher. Our next door neighbour found an otter sunning itself on her landing stage recently and we found the remains of a meal of Crayfish on ours. At the peak of lock-down even the traffic was missing and not a sound of an aircraft.
Pete has been getting up earlier, like on cruises, and spending 45 minutes on the cross trainer plus time on stretches and weights. It seems to be working and after 5 months he is approaching the peaks achieved about ten years ago and at a significantly lower pulse rate. Combined with his weight/body fat now being in his target range the heart and lung capacity improvements should all help in case of catching Covid.
Pauline has been busy on her latest Open University degree course, "Financial Management and Decision Making". Thanks to some recommendations from Barrie she has a thick pile of books as well as the course material and has seemed to scoring well, 95% on the last TMA but it has yet to convert to matching performance on our investments.
We have done more in the garden than the total of the last 5 years and Pete has cut back many of the trees and shrubs by the river releasing the fruit trees and bushes. Much of the fruit goes into wine and we could see a bumper crop coming so Pete started the years production early to clear the freezers - 16 Demijohns are now clearing nicely. We try to keep it for several years before bottling. Unfortunately the fruit keeps coming: 4 of four litre ice cream tubs of cherries, 1 x redcurrants, 2 x loganberries, 4 x gooseberries, 3 x blackcurrants, 2 x damson and the plums, gages, apples and blackberries are ongoing - we are back to serious freezer overload. Pauline also bought some seeds from Suttons, a first as we are normally not around to benefit, so now every tray, tub or bucket she could find is full of lettuce, rhubarb chard and dwarf beans not to speak of planting our spare sprouting potatoes.
In the evenings we have made extensive use of our Morso barbecue. It was an impulse buy a couple of years ago and we indulged in a stand which allows us to wheel it round complete with gas cylinder - it is very solidly built with the main casting in alloy and the stand is all plastic so it can live out. We have a Morso Squirrel stove on the boat for heating and hot water - still one of the best small stoves after 40 or more years in production. The barbecue is a thing of beauty, easy to use and cooks magnificently and quickly.
Pete done quite a lot of painting on Corinna, mostly roof and doors so far - redoing the scumbling (wood graining) is the next major challenge. On wet days he has put a lot more work into our website - thank you again to those who responded to the plea for feedback on the prototype changes at Christmas. It has been a major task as the site has about 700 web pages and all but 70 legacy have now been updated and all the pages, excluding those with pre digital pictures (ie. pre 2003), are now fully responsive, mobile friendly and to the latest HTML5 standard.
His indulgence for lockdown has been to buy a high end Samsung Galaxy Tab 6 10.5 inch tablet complete with pen input. It has proved ideal for our regular Zoom meetings and we even use it for TV/Catchup and sound is excellent - Pete has used it extensively for reading books from Amazon Prime. It can take a keyboard, mouse and monitor so it is almost a laptop replacement. We have not needed or found the time to resort to watching box sets and we are probably watching less 'TV' than usual, if that is possible. The only regulars have been the streams from Covent Garden and more recently F1 and the odd episodes of Brockenwood, the Luminaries (which doesn't match the book), Montalbano and currently The Bridge.
We have found the updating of our web site fascinating in that we have been looking back on our early newsletters and holiday write-ups which provoked us to create one covering the Covid months whilst it was fresh in our mind.
This is going to be a much shorter newsletter than most years as we sent a very full one out at the end of August titled "News from the Riverbank". If you missed it or did not have time to read it we have put it onto the web along with this missive and have added a few pictures.
Since then we have had a birthday in September and our anniversary in October. As most of you know we try to go away over Birthdays and Anniversaries and they are often excuses for a party of some kind. The corona virus put paid to most of that and we have now cancelled or put off all of our booked holidays until September next year and hope vaccines will release some of the constraints. The first holiday is now a scenic cruise to Norway where one need not even get off the ship and, in the limit, we can take all our restaurant meals served in the cabin. We do hold some hope for the Easter Walking Holiday in April, which has been slipped by a year. The property is split into a number of separate properties and has lots of outside space.
Our one outing over the summer was a single night away at Edgehill for Pauline's Birthday (in September) when virus rates were low. We stayed at a Hook Norton pub and had our first English real ale for 9 months, it seemed worth the risk. Our room was in a small turret accessed from outside and we had the dining room almost to ourselves. Edgehill was the site of one of the famous battles of the Civil war in 1642, and the pub was perched at the top of the ridge below which the battle took place. There were good walks and it is a place to return to. We discovered it when we were trapped on Corinna during floods just North of Banbury in 2007, the highlight then was a visit to the nearby Hook Norton brewery which still had steam power.
Otherwise we have done very little which is newsworthy since the summer newsletter. Pauline finished her last OU course, "Financial Management and Decision Making", with a distinction and is now doing a more basic one which is a requirement for the overall degree. Being a student has many perks and we have made a lot of use of her 6 months free Amazon Prime and are keeping it on at half price. We have not been able to get any cheap student/standby tickets at the Royal Opera House - one of the real losses of not risking train trips to London, as well as missing the Oxford and Cambridge Club. We usually go to their Christmas celebration dinner, with live entertainment, and then sing Christmas carols on the stairs. The club has a new Chef who has been using his spare time to create and make Christmas hampers with entirely club made contents all beautifully wrapped in light and dark blue bows, even the straw packing is two coloured. We have a small one which we are looking forwards to along with an order from F&M for Christmas fare. It will be only our second Christmas at home in 45 years and we can at least eat and drink well!
All the routine things of course continue. The car passed its MOT, somewhat reluctantly as it needed some minor welding and, like us, had tired joints, not surprising after nearly 20 years. It has barely been used this year and had recorded under 300 miles between MOTs! Corinna in contrast sailed through her Boat Safety Certificate. I just renewed the door seals on the stove and changed the fire extinguishers, but did little else in preparation. We did finally got a few trips away on her at the end of summer, up to Lechlade and down to Henley, but nothing like our average of close on 1000 miles averaged over the last 33 years. Early in 2020 the river was too high, then overnights on board were prohibited, and now the river is high again.
We have finished harvesting the fruit and Pauline's vegetables and salads, something we could never do when away from home and have full freezers. The wine we started earlier is doing well and we are about to start more batches with the frozen fruit. Everything has been put on hold due to a plague of the little vinegar flies that now seem to be frozen into submission - even racking and bottling had been a challenge. So life goes on, we still have the ever changing views of the river - the autumn colours against dark skies have been memorable - but it is far too cold for the balcony or barbecues!
On 6 December we should have been flying from Birmingham to Tenerife for 3 weeks hiking in the sunshine. We first stayed in Puerto de la Cruz forty years ago and have been back to the same hotel 3 times in recent years. Here in Pangbourne it is a chilly 4 degrees and we wish we were somewhere warmer. We had our last bottle of Tenerife bubbles to celebrate being warm and safe, and to toast the successful installation of our Christmas tree.
We have introduced a number of extra 'rituals' or things we do on a regular basis, since the start of lockdown. We had already instituted a policy of getting out our best coffee cups, delicate gold and cream Aynsley English bone china, on Corinna every Sunday and we have extended that to Saturdays with Royal Worcester or Coalport at home. We continue to use proper China and Cutlery and make sure we work through our cut glass, a big saving in wear and tear on the dish washer. On our Anniversary parties we have traditionally tried to wear something from the Wedding and although parties were ruled out Pete did get out his wedding suit and Pauline found her 'going away' outfit for this year. We also found we still had one of the bottles of red wine from the reception which to our surprise was still drinkable. Does anyone remember Peter Dominic in the Turl ? In the past we have had tasting glasses of Madeiras from Birth and Anniversary year vintages but we don't think we can afford a tradition of vintages that old any more!
As we round up this newsletter we have been asking ourselves what we miss most at this time of year when we are normally away for Christmas and we both agree it is the Belems, a very Spanish take on Nativity Scenes. They are incredibly detailed often with dozens of little cameos and hundreds of characters often modeled on locals. Some of the municipal ones cover dozens of square metres and some towns have started Belem trails. The closest we come a Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar which we have been exploring every morning after Pete has done his 45 minutes on the Cross Trainer etc. His hard work actually brought down to his college weight - Stop Press he has made it to his target at the start of lockdown of 11 stone (70kgs) 4 days in a row as we were finalising this. He can still get into the DJ that was made to measure when he started at College and one of his favourite pullovers is a Norwegian he bought whilst still at school although he worried it might have shrunk a little as it seems very short! We rarely go outdoors and our food is delivered so getting exercise now the weather is bad is even more important. We have tried to count the number of times we have been into shops or houses since March and it seems to be less than a dozen.
Keep safe and a very happy Christmas and New Year to everyone.
Pete and Pauline