I’m starting this letter on the last Sunday of November. The sun is streaming through the windows; the sky is a light wintry blue, belying the sub-zero temperatures outside. Yoffi, our nearly 14 year old Golden Retriever puppy, is lying by my feet, chasing rabbits in his sleep. Heather and Kate are out, gaining a qualification in kitchen technique for their stint at Crisis at Christmas. I imagine Ben is bracing himself for Spurs at home to Liverpool (2-1 FT by the way). All is well in our little bubble.
It has been a year of changing jobs. Oh, I’m still in situ. But Heather landed her dream job at Jigsaw, at Windham Nursery School, a five minute walk from our house, working with autistic children. She spent four days over last Christmas completing the excruciating NHS application forms – and got it. She loves the children, relishes her role and likes the team. It is supposed to be part time but is closer to full time. But it is so much better than her itinerant, of no fixed abode, role in Southwark, commuting 90 minutes each way, every day, by train and bus, with a knapsack, a messenger bag and pulling a wheelie bag.
Kate was ever so pleased with her new role in the Cabinet Office last December, enjoying the flexitime, the training and working on big projects like the Olympics. But then it all slowed down; with the cuts all the energy drained and she found herself bored, day after day. So she moved to a reputation management firm, Regester Larkin, a few minutes’ walk from me in the City. So far so good. With her experience she’s known in the Business Continuity world and invites me along to conferences as her “plus one”.
Ben’s life, as a freelance TV producer, is inevitably full of chop and change. Most of the year was devoted to a show commemorating the centennial of the Titanic with trips to Belfast, the USA and Canada. He’s now working on a production to do with finding and developing latent talents; somehow he’s overlooked me. It’s an unpredictable career, television, but he already has a more interesting CV than mine. Jo, his long term girlfriend, has moved to Penguin Books, and also picked up the London BookFair Award.
We’ve had a few wanders. We had an autumnal weekend in the Cotswolds, eating well, playing literary board games (Ben won!) and taking long walks. Kate recommends Istanbul to anyone who is looking for a vibrant long weekend. Ben and Jo had a memorable fortnight in Brazil. Heather, Kate and I all went to Hamburg to see Caroline, Heather’s sister, and the three generations of Kopps.
We’ve had visitors too. The Wollstein family reunited across continents, just thinking about their days here makes me break out in a foolish grin. And Annie and Jim stayed a few days over the summer, one of those decades’ long friendships that just continues where it left off.
In May Heather, Kate and Ben went first to New York then Orange Connecticut. In 2009, Heather was shown some old family trees. You’d have instinctively known she was a descendant of mystic Kaballah rabbis, wouldn’t you? What she did do, upon Kate’s suggestion, was plonk some of it into Google to find she has family over there, something about second cousins once removed that only Ben really understands. So they went to the Must-Ettinger’s son, Jacob’s, Bar Mitzvah. They loved New York and loved the family. The Must-Ettingers may even have us back.
Later, over the end of May and early June Heather and I went off to Botswana, on safari, to celebrate her gaining her Freedom Pass. Our usual holidays are self-propelled city breaks: a cheap airline, a good guide book, a quirky bed and breakfast and sturdy walking shoes are our norm. Not this time, from the moment we arrived in Livingstone to when we left Maun we were pampered. Bags were whisked away, food mysteriously appeared and laundry equally mysteriously disappeared. One transfer was a James Bond experience. Leaving Tubu Tree for Little Vumbura we took the Land Rover, water rolling over the bonnet, to the air strip where had to chase off warthogs and giraffes. We took a six seater light aircraft a couple of bounces to another strip to board the waiting helicopter which took us to the dock for the speedboat to whisk us through the channels, avoiding a hippopotamus along the way, to suddenly bank right into a papyrus lined channel – where the waiting staff were lined up to sing us in, holding hot towels and a sherry. The usual ritual was 6 am awake, a light breakfast, into the Land Rover for a four hour game drive, lunch, a nap, a light tea (vital), another four hour game drive, interrupted by a sundowner and then, of course, dinner. To be within a few feet of so many truly wild animals was astounding. The marketing literature made a point of you, the tourist, being escorted to your lodge after dark. I thought it was part of the sales pitch, not so, not so. The last few days we met up with our friends, Barb and Terry, for the four of us to rent out a camp for just us – what great fun that was. The elephants are almost resident pests. And the wild dogs were amazing. Where are all the rest of our photographs you ask? Why here, of course.
The slab of travertine we’ve carted around since having purchased it in Rome in 1977 finally has a home as a coffee table. We’ve had the paint stripped from the front elevation. We also had the coldest north face inside the house this side of the Eiger, so we had all our windows refurbished only to wish we’d done it years ago. That and a new boiler should see us through the winter.
Kate’s put four offers to buy in on south London flats. The latest is in Wandsworth, encroaching Putney, so we’re crossing our fingers. Ben and Jo are looking at Victorian terraces in a Walthamstow’s conservation area. Mind you our banks are now so risk averse first time buyers are discouraged from entering the market so they’re not finding it easy.
Our year has had its downs too. Our friend, Ernest Newman, is mourned. My half-sister, Susan Williams, passed away in the spring; thank goodness we met and spent some time together. Our beloved German Shepherd, Boozie’s, ashes are spread alongside her favourite fallen tree trunk. I think of the times we had and our good fortune in knowing them all.
Wishing you all a pleasant break and a happy 2011.
Heather and John