“Granny and Grandpa’s house is better than telly”, said Wilfie to his parents when told he was spending the weekend at our house. That’s how you know you’re making a reasonable fist of grandparenting. We spend most Wednesdays with Ziggy in Tooting and most second Fridays with Margie and Wilfie in Walthamstow. In between we recuperate. All have their delightful personalities. Wilfred has more empathy than most four year old boys and is wonderful with his baby sister. Ziggy loves Bing, balls, dogs, trains, slides, climbing and ‘nacks (snacks). Margie knows her own mind; she is two going on 13, and oh so charming with it.
It’s taken 20 years but we actually have finished our household to-do list. It is much as we’d hoped. We’d started just over three years ago with windows and bathrooms. We finished with pictures hung and the fence painted. There’ve been some detours on the way. In one month our old fridge, a ceiling fan and our hot water all broke down – but everything was fixed. We also had the odd pleasant surprise; our original living room floor, once sanded, turns out to be walnut. The triangular dining room table is fantastic for conversation at dinner parties. It is a very odd sensation, to awake to no tradesman appointments and an empty to-do list. It leaves more time for grandparenting and holidays.
For years we’d been hoping to go to New Zealand with our friends, Barb and Terry Young. They have their own distractions (a Pennsylvania farm and dispersed grandchildren) so we went on our own, via Singapore, in the spring. We left the day before the Beast from the East in the UK, just missed the worst of the cyclones in New Zealand and arrived back to Kew to glorious weather. New Zealand is wonderful – laid back, efficient, varied and beautiful. We fell in love with Napier and Nelson. The itinerary was pretty full on. As our guide said, “You’re not on holiday you’re on tour.” Despite that, Heather managed to squeeze in meeting up with her university friends, Fatima and Fern, out there. We also had stays in Lanzarote with Ziggy, Kate and Pedro, the Dalmation coast, the Baltic states and the Veneto. Yes, we fitted in yet another trip to Italy for yet another of my birthdays.
There’s been lots of good theatre, exhibitions and cinema. Amadeus was excellent. Hamilton was almost as good as its hype. Pedro and I didn’t come away with any expensive souvenirs from Ferrari. Roger McGough’s poetry reading was unexpectedly, for me, laugh out loud funny. We make a point of going to see pretty well anything at the Orange Tree Theatre; it’s excellent, our front row seats mean we daren’t cross our legs so close are we to the actors and the theatre is a ten minute stroll from the house – what’s not to like? My stand out highlight was Picasso 1932; I was transfixed by many of the images. A photo of his Guernica was my earliest childhood “art” memory but only with this exhibition did I start to appreciate the scope of his work.
Annie and Jim Jackson-Purdy came to visit from Toronto. Ray and Betsy Eisenberg came to visit from Oakland. The Book Club Kate started nearly a decade ago had a reunion. We hosted the Committee Room for the Liberal Democrats in the May council election and we won our ward. As a family we’ve come around to celebrating all the first half of the year birthdays on one weekend and all the second half on another. We have the kids and their kids over and have a chef come in to cook for us all. No one has to worry about cooking or trains and getting back for their babysitters. It’s a great format and we’ve had some fantastic food.
Both Heather and I have had minor health scares. As a result our diet, already pretty healthy, has been transformed. White carbohydrates are a thing of the past. And I no longer add salt to my food. In the scheme of things whilst these seemed dramatic at the time they are actually pretty trivial changes.
On a sadder note I’ve lost some people this year. One of my best bosses, Matt Mulligan of GE in Rockville Maryland, died. One of my finest colleagues, Tom Hammer, of Ventro in Mountain View California, died all too early. Larry Peplowski, my best friend from Park Forest, Illinois has gone. As has Chuck Eggert from British Columbia, a University of Waterloo roommate. I think of them and their families’ loss.
Next year? Well, we have plans. We’re off to South Africa early in the year and China and Japan later. In between we have Adi Wollstein’s wedding in Leesburg. And a trip to Valencia to meet up with Dave Nyman, 40 years after we last met – and Emilio Fernandez-Martos too. That still leaves time for our terrific mutt, Elmo, and the grandkids. And lots of time for visitors too; come, if you’re brave enough.
We try not to dwell on the self-harm of Brexit and its consequences upon our friends and family. Elmo gets his walks and we get our 10,000 steps in every day. In 2019 we’ll have been 40 years in Kew and 20 years in this house; we oft think how privileged we’ve been to live here.
All the best to your and yours for the holidays and beyond.
Heather and John (or Gi and Pa, as Ziggy calls us)