Mavis and the statue of liberty2004

Greetings to all from deepest Suffolk.  You may be aware that Simon Hoggart (writes for The Guardian, chairs The News Quiz on Radio 4) has compiled a book of "Round Robin" newsletters.  [Synopsis: "The advent of the home computer has made Christmas round robin letters ubiquitous. Where once the hot news of Tamsin's A levels would be sent in a short note, now it's not unusual to get a letter that includes several pages of boasting: news of wonderfully gifted children, exotic holidays, new cars, new jobs - and sometimes, several pages of misery - all decorated with jolly snowmen and smiling santas. Computers have also made it possible to include photographs of the family eating pâté in their Provençal garden, or sitting in a hot tub in New Zealand."].  Well - sorry - no Provencal pâté or over-performing Tamsins, just some information on what we've been doing... (And please keep sending your news to me - I love reading them.)

And in front of the White HouseHolidays

We started the year with a trip to the East coast of the USA.  It might seem perverse to visit one of the colder places around at one of the colder times of the year, but it works for us.  We flew to Boston in late December (my airmiles getting us upgrades to Business class, which Mavis decided she liked) and then spent 2 weeks visiting Boston, New York (for New Year), Philadelphia and Washington, travelling between them by train.  I guess highlights would include staying at the Algonquin in New York - home to Dorothy Parker's "Round Table"- the 1920s clique who spent their time in the hotel ridiculing or praising others; the various bus tours of the locations; and a curious highlight when the weather took a cold snap from about 5°C one day to about -20°C the next in Boston.  That was chilly!

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A Panda in Washington zoo
Our other holidays were a week in Wasdale - a fantastic location and where we spent part of our honeymoon, and a few days in Germany watching the Belgian Grand Prix - which is just over the border.  I got some serious walking done in Wasdale, and even managed to pull myself to the top of Scafell Pike, while Mavis practised her painting.

Self portrait at the summit of Scafell PikeWork

For me, work has felt pretty similar this year, although there's been quite a bit of change in our organisation.  I won't bore you with that, just to say that I've remained CTO of BT Exact, although I expect that to change soon, and I reckon I've done even more travel this year than last.  The roll call goes: January - Paris, Brussels and Washington.  March - Seoul in Korea.  May - Nice. June - Chicago. August - Prague and Sofia. September - Nice. October - Long Beach, California. November - Bonn. December - Orlando, Florida and Amsterdam.  About 55,000 miles, or over twice round the world.  Most interesting were probably Seoul and Prague.  Seoul was a fair culture shock, although much of the signwriting was also in English, and it's actually not too difficult to read Korean script.  A disappointment was that I forgot to take my camera and the one I bought at the airport on the way out packed up after I took my first photo!  I also had very little time to explore.  Prague was good since I'd never been before and was able to spend my evenings doing sightseeing.  Mavis accompanied me to Nice and Bonn, and plotted Act I of Yeomen by the pool in Nice.

One of the perks of my job is that I sometimes get invited to corporate entertainments.  This year I attended the British MotoGP courtesy of Cisco, and had a day at the McLaren Technical Centre near Woking, courtesy of Computer Associates.  A truly interesting day - the only disappointment was that when Ron Dennis came to the lift door, it was to meet the other person in the lift, not me!

Mavis has been kept busy at Katie's Garden and also making bespoke dresses for friends and acquaintances.

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The pergola, photographed from the balcony
The Family

My dad has continued to struggle with the aftermath of his bowel cancer and his poor kidneys, which haven't worked properly since the mid 1970's, but have complicated his recent health.  My mum still gets gip from her back, but is generally getting on OK.  They're both 76 now.  Mavis's mum (who is just coming up for 90) is getting on well - she still lives on her own in her own house and, whilst her hearing and eyesight aren't the best, is never happier that when she's watching a Grand Prix - especially if Rubens Barichello does well!

An addition for this online version of the newsletter (I forgot to mention it in the printed version) - our cat, Tinga, is still doing well at age 17 - she'll be 18 in May. Since her brother, Tucker, died last year she's been extremely vocal, but is in excellent health.

 Hobbies

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Phil as Sergeant Meryll in Yeomen
One of the highlights of the year was having "Ground Force" transform our garden.  Well - nearly.  Earlier in the year, Suffolk Wildlife Trust ran an auction, and we bid for and won their ground force team for a weekend's work in the garden.  One of the things they did was erect a large circular pergola. I have to say I was eternally grateful - I always say I can do that sort of stuff, but whether I do or not...

Not sure which heading to put this under, but it was great to have a reunion of my Manchester University friends.  Difficult to believe that it was 25 years ago that we all left.  Thanks to Andy Smith and Emma Cottrell for organising that.

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Tiger Tim
This year Mavis produced The Yeomen of the Guard for Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan Society (www.IpswichGandS.org.uk) and I played the part of Sergeant Meryll. Trying to learn my lines proved to me that without doubt I am getting older - it was touch and go this year.  Must start earlier next year.

I passed my motor-bike test in April this year - one of the more nerve-racking things I've done - I think I only managed to sleep about 2 hours the night before.  The testing hurdles that you jump to allow you to ride an unrestricted bike are now quite complex, and include a multiple choice theory test (100%) a "hazard perception" test and then a driving test on a bike of at least 500 cc - which you're only allowed to practice on if you're supervised.  I'd put added pressure on myself by deciding what bike I wanted to buy before I took the test - a Triumph Tiger - and I found one and bought it.  So I decided to take my test on my new 955 cc bike which weighed around 220 kg.  Fortunately everything went well - even the U turn and emergency stop, which are the real tricky bits - and I now go pretty much everywhere on it.  I've done about 5,000 miles since the beginning of May.  Fortunately, Mavis also loves travelling on the back.

I also bought a weather station, so can now see what the weather is like in Great Bealings from anywhere in the world!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Phil's Signature

Mr & Mrs P E Holmes
Paddock Hill
Grundisburgh Road
Great Bealings
Woodbridge
IP13 6PE

And Mavis's

13 December 2004