Category Archives: Letters home


Christmas Newsletter 2018


Merry Christmas to you all from mostly sunny New Zealand

Yes, you did read correctly; after 19 years living and working in the UK, we have made a few changes…

Following a delightful Christmas party with Iris at her care home in mid December, an early & happy snowy Christmas with our lovely Adams cousins and a delicious lunch with the Stredwick family on Christmas Day, we received a call informing us that Iris had fallen at the home and been taken to Watford Hospital on Boxing Day.  For the next 7 weeks we supported Iris, Jill and Nick as best we could, including after her move to a care home in Norfolk, but the fall was to prove too much for Iris and she passed away a few days after her birthday in February. She had fought a long & valiant campaign against vascular dementia. Iris’s passing, for us, meant the closing of a very valued chapter of our lives with that generation of our Tearle/Adams family in the UK.  It was Iris and Ivor who started it with us and neither of them was there anymore, along with many others. We began to think…  It also made us consider our own future; fueling a desire to be back in NZ with our family. The next generation in the UK will continue to be a very important part of our lives from wherever we are and will hopefully visit us in our NZ home, along with our UK friends.

One last trip to London

The year that followed has included:

  • Having wonderful outings with Abby and Dan in Tearle places, St Albans and in London. It was so good having them live so close to us for a while!
  • Going to wonderful concerts in London and out to dinners with the Stredwicks, also baby cuddles!

* Helping various people in the Larches with issues that needed sorting out in their flats (Elaine is a director)

  • A trip to Switzerland: Basel, Bern, Zurich, Lucern, Interlaken and wonderful train journeys and boat trips in between.
  • Trips around the UK to friends and family.
  • Anh & Tien visited us in St Albans – we were so excited to have them there.
  • Meeting several new Tearle families through our website & having lovely days out with them to places of interest in Tearle Valley in Bedfordshire, some sites in Buckinghamshire & in London.
  • Ewart retiring from InTermIt and work in May, after 9 long years of faithful service in many schools in Hertfordshire. This resulted in some great parties to attend & some lovely gifts & hugs; hopefully some visitors to NZ in the future also.
  • Elaine having a lovely luncheon send off from her teaching friends at Sandridge School and both of us having an evening celebration with this group and their husbands at our local pub in St Albans – Blackberry Jack, also a luncheon with Headline, her agency employers.
  • Putting the UK flat on the market.  Sadly, as a result of Brexit political games, the market stalled, and we were not able to sell.  We engaged an agent, let the flat, packed and packed & packed until we could pack no more … bought our tickets and arranged to emigrate; with all that entails! Following the Brexit announcement by the UK government suddenly we saw many of our special friends feeling very unsettled in their new adoptive country; us too. In the weeks leading up to our own move we were helping others with theirs. We had not expected to be doing that.
  • 16 May: our friend Ann collected us, drove us to Heathrow Airport and bade us a fond farewell. We flew out early the following morning heading to Singapore and a well earned break from packing, endless phone calls to organise and re-organise things for our new journey. We had little energy in Singapore but enjoyed walking in the warm sun after a long, cold, and at times snowy winter, knowing we would be heading into a second winter once we had touched down in Auckland. At the time having a summer that was just one week long seemed a little sad to us.  We were, however, pretty lucky as it turned out, the NZ winter seemed to us to be rather mild this year. By October we were already in summer clothes & increasingly working long hours outside!
  • 24 May: arrived in NZ. Stayed the next couple of weeks with our daughter and her family in Auckland. It was quite special walking to and from school with her son and catching up on his life. Going on photography visits around Auckland – shooting trees, sunsets, beaches and bridges was an eye-opener at just how far her photography skills and interests had developed in the 19 years we had been in England.
  • There was a shock, though – how much supermarkets had changed while we were away – ESPECIALLY THEIR PRICES! We also attended our grand-son’s sporting events, mostly football (the Kiwis call it soccer) and an indoor evening football game called Footsall. We also attended numerous all-day soccer tournaments and we found out that our grandson’s team was very good, and very successful. We were introduced to delicious Auckland eateries and the Saturday markets. We bought a Suzuki Vitara, which doubles up nicely as a car and as a wagon, and for the first time, drove down to the farm to visit our house – oh no, the whole house lot of carpet was wet & very smelly!  We had no chance to move in for several weeks while we visited daily to light the fire and to air the house. We bought appliances, sorted out insurance, phones, driving licences, bank cards, and Ewart having to attend a medical (cost: $61) in order to get back his heavy truck licence. The biggest challenge of all was getting our NZ pension and dispensing with our UK pension. There is an interim payment system working at the moment, but the matter is far from sorted. No fault with the Kiwis, though. We needed help with all of this because the Kiwis do it differently from the English. We expected that, and we are very grateful to the numerous friends who helped us to get through the paper war.
  • Moved in with with Elaine’s mum in Hamilton. She was wonderful. We traveled to the farm every day and returned to her each evening, where she had especially prepared a lovely hot dinner for us, taking care to provide the very best she could. We were so honoured as that takes a lot when you are nearly 90! The amazing thing was that the more she did the younger and happier she looked. We all really enjoyed our time together in those few weeks.
  • Once the house was dry we moved our things out of Mum’s basement and into our house, hiring a truck and utilising Ewart’s newly awarded heavy truck licence.
  • Internal view of the house on moving day.

    Internal view of the house on moving day.

  • While we waited for the shipment from the UK, Ewart cut the trees along the drive and ensured that the requirements of the shipping company were met – 3m wide drive, 5m high clearance. The truck came and went without too much drama, and left our 113 boxes of stuff in the family room, the lounge and the biggest bedroom. We still had almost no furniture, so we purchased three 2-seater loungers for the living room. Very nice. During this time Ewart spent many, hours outside, taming the lawns and re-establishing our much needed water supply, which also included 2 full days with hired diggers and electricians.
  • Ewart and the Ditch Witch

  • He has also repaired the electric fences throughout the farm, digging in somewhere around twenty new fence posts and adding eight new gates. After seeing what happened as we arrived, when the fences were working so poorly that the cows had the run of our lawn and all the gardens, it is a relief to see they now stay exactly where they are put, and their water troughs are full of nice, clean water.
  • An electrician installed new light fittings throughout the house and we bought new plumbing items that have yet to be installed. Once our life here becomes a little less hectic, we’ll have time to install them, promise. We also installed a whole house lot of curtains, and they have helped to dry out the house and carpet. I purchased a line trimmer, and was presented with a brush cutter – for my birthday! A new garden mulcher was next, and I have used these three tools most days since – the place looks a lot better but there is still so much to do.  I planted a vege garden, which was soon producing for us.  Lovely to have home-grown food again.
  • We were not long moved into our house when we got the call that our nephew Kris had died in hospital. Though Kris had special needs he was a good artist, even having one of his paintings hanging in NZ prime minister’s office (John Key). It was a very well attended funeral & a great tribute to what Kris and his family had achieved in Kris’s 43 years of life, as well as plenty of humour. Kris was well known around Rotorua. It was also a great chance for the Tearle siblings and their cousins to get together after more than 20 years.
  • Once we had moved in, Mum came down for a holiday with us for a week. We all had a great time together: lots of chatter & laughter, exploring family history on the internet, on the farm and in the house, cooking together and planning the model railway with Ewart. Mum loved the birds in our garden and they came to her when she whistled. We took her visiting friends and family, shopping, going to the beach at Raglan and we took her to meet her latest great-granddaughters Adele & Isla in Tauranga. She enjoyed being part of things when the diggers were here, the curtains were installed, the TV and internet connections were made. She really enjoyed seeing our new life unfold and meeting the people who made that happen. Mum loved to shop for gifts for others – it was her hobby – we went on a couple of shopping trips together and she found and bought for me a beautiful bowl which she gave me as an early birthday present.  It now has pride of place on our formal dining room table.  Every day was a special day and the three of us were very happy together. On her last day on the farm, Ewart said to her “You have been such a good girl, you can come again!”
  • 23 May Mum turned 90 which we celebrated with a family pot luck dinner at her home as she wanted.  Another great evening of laughter. Over the next couple of weeks Mum would continue to celebrate as her friends contacted her & sent gifts from Australia, other parts of NZ and Hamilton.  Anh and a group of her friends came over and stayed for a week with Mum for her birthday & Mum loved it, going out with them as often as she could. The living room had many cards and gifts and Mum felt special. Her church also put on a special event in honour of her birthday, presenting her with 3 birthday cakes!  Mum was very happy.
  • Our grandson is just finishing his Yr5 at school and attended his first school camp a few weeks ago. He has been playing and attending coaching for football (soccer) around 5 times per week during the season, including playing Footsall. He also has regular play dates with a number of friends. His XBox has also become a valued part of his routine; he certainly thinks so. Reading and chocolate continue to be important too, as he devours his way through huge volumes of fantasy, history and intrigue.
  • We have had many lovely days and evenings out with special Kiwi friends and family since being home; dinners, coffees, meetings in town at new clubs, hot rod and vintage car displays, theatre, trips away to Auckland, Hamilton, Raglan, Te Waitere, Thames, Carterton, Masterton, Mauriceville, Danneyvirke, Tauranga, Taupo, Rotorua… We had planned to head down to Wellington to see the Ataturk memorial, then back via family in the Wairarapa but bad weather put paid to that. We hope now to do it as soon as we can get away once the weather improves, probably after Christmas.
  • In the few days leading up to 28 Sept Mum started to feel breathless. On 27 Sept we received the diagnosis from the doctor that she was experiencing heart failure; on 28 Sept she died. Ewart and I stayed in Hamilton for the next three weeks as the necessary arrangements were made with family and others. Her funeral was held on 4 October. We had a great send off for Mum with family and friends coming a very long way to attend; Anh and Tri even made it over from Australia. We are very grateful. Tri sent over a charming film clip he had made of Mum playing the accordion, which we were delighted to show at the funeral, and we used a beautiful rendition of Time to Say Goodbye by Hope Russell-Winter (a former student of Elaine’s from the UK) which we downloaded from YouTube.  Hope was delighted we were able to use her music in this way. Gordon was able to take a few extra days off work so he and Kathy, Ewart and I spent the next two weeks sorting out the house and grounds for Mum. Gordon also took me to Auckland in his Porsche to meet with our brother and family to do some family business.  It was a lovely day for all concerned.  Although we are now back at home some of these things are still ongoing for us all. Our friends & family have been really wonderful to us during this busy time; all hugs, emails and phone calls have been greatly appreciated.
  • 27 October – Paul & Colleen lent us their batch (beachside cottage) at Raglan so we headed there for the weekend – and a good dollop of photography, eating out, football on the beach, walks alongside the estuary and shopping in the village. Gordon’s best friend also had his life support turned off that day after having a heart attack earlier in the week. It was mixed weekend of news, but much was enjoyable just the same. My grandson absolutely whipped me at Monopoly!
  • 1 Nov – Ewart’s nephew from Carterton (now Waikato University) came to live with us and will stay until university goes back in about mid February. Taking him out has been a great excuse to see new things and to attend local events. He now has a holiday job in a local motel, so that will help him with his budgeting for next year at university.
  • We have enjoyed being back sharing life with our god daughter Melody. While away she found a lovely new partner, Mark, & they have 3 beautiful children together, plus Mark’s extended family who are welcoming us to family events also.  So far we have been to christenings and birthday parties.  Great country functions! Wonderful hospitality.
  • Hamilton Boys High School invited us to their senior prize giving so we could see Jason’s memorial trophy given to this year’s recipient. It was the most wonderful event and a very moving tribute to Jason was paid during the Headmaster’s speech.  We were given prized seats centre front in the hall & tribute was paid to us both during the ceremony.  An incredible Haka was performed for the Head Boy and the music performed by the quartet, bagpipe and the Pacifika groups were outstanding.  It was the best-run school event I have ever attended.  Afterwards, we were invited to the staff room to have morning tea with the staff, prize recipients and their families.  We were introduced to the last 3 years of winners of Jason’s trophy.  What wonderful young men they all were, their families too; the best of the best – it was humbling to see how excited they were to meet us.  We are so pleased we went.  It was a special day that will remain in our hearts forever.

So, in the lead up to another Christmas, here we are in a beautiful country location with incredible views of foggy winter mornings


and spectacular sunsets.

We are back in our beautiful Lockwood house, with a farm, rooms, housework, gardens and plenty of outdoor work to do on our thirteen acres.  Ewart is now often seen with a chainsaw, or a wheelbarrow full of fencing bits, or a 2kg axe for chopping wood. Sometimes he is dragging timber, lighting and tending fires or, best of all, cutting the lawns using our ride on lawnmower – called Moa. For those who have mostly known us in the UK you will find that hard to imagine after seeing us live in one room! For NZers  you will be wondering how we ever fitted into that one room, especially when you see what we brought home!

Merry Christmas everyone.  We look forward to seeing visitors from all over the globe, and hopefully, perhaps, a little for travel for ourselves in 2019.  We have plenty of catching up to do.

Lots of love from

Elaine & Ewart


Letters home, 2001, May 8

8 May 2001

Dear Dad

I received your letter dated 1/5/2001 this morning.  We will be delighted to welcome Jan and Gilly to England.  If they let us know asap when they will be at which airport when, we may be able to pick them up.  If they are going to be in London for a while, we are always on for going there to show friends around.  We can also put them up for a few nights on our spare bed in the lounge. If you recommend them – and you have – we’ll look after them for you. We live only 40 minutes by rail from Kings Cross station in London.

I heard you were having some really foul weather – even some flooding in places – but I guess with the onset of winter, the good weather has to end.  Jimmy Mark, the cocky who leases our farm, says it’s one of the best seasons he’s ever had and he’s still milking twice daily.

I hope the visit to the doctor next week goes well – be careful and be cool.

My next target is a sub 40 minute 10km.  The best I have done so far is 2km at 4 min/km, so 10km at that speed will be a bit of a challenge.  I am recovering nicely from the marathon and I did my first 8 mile run this evening. I feel fine.

I have finally been given my notice for the job at Tesco – I am out of work as of 25 May.  I have had a few phonecalls from agents so far, but a really promising one today of work in Hatfield, about the same distance from home as the present job, and a pay rise.  He said my cv was very impressive.  He’s right – my cv has some very good jobs done for some very big projects in some very large companies and I am well qualified for the sort of work I am looking for.

I have written back to you straight away so that Jan and Gilly know at the first available opportunity that they will be very welcome. Our address and phone details are attached.

Lots of love to Mum



Letters home, 2001, May 19

19 May 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

I took my London Marathon medal into one of the local jewellers to be engraved, but after telling me it would cost GBP13.00, he said the engraver wouldn’t do the job because the gap left on the medal was too small for the machine to write in. He also thought the metal wasn’t the right sort. I then took the medal into the Maltings and spoke to the fellow on the trophies stall, who had done other jobs for me. He spoke to his engraver who said the space on the medal was too small for machine work, but he would hand engrave it for me. I asked how much, “7.50.” Done. We went next door to one of the best coffee shops in the country, Costa, and had a beautiful big latte while we waited the 1/2 hr he said it would take. When I picked up the medal he said, “Blinding time, well done!”

We had a wonderful day yesterday at the Duxford May Display. Duxford is near Cambridge and was one of the Battle of Britain air force bases. It holds the first air show of the year and they had mostly WW2 planes. It was so exciting to see these wonderful and historic planes swooping past and doing aerobatics under the clouds. There was a whole section devoted to De Havilland and we were interested in this because De Havilland had his factory in Hatfield, just down the road from us.  There’s a full-sized model of the De Havilland Meteor that broke the world long distance speed record when it flew to Australia, mounted by The Meteor Roundabout opposite The Galleria, near here.

Ivor said that late in the war they could hear the huge screams of jet engines under test. De Havilland built the Vampire, and the Meteor and today, the only two non-military aircraft in the world that can cruise faster than sound are Duxford’s De Havilland Meteor and Concorde.  Both of them are over 30 years old. We also found a most peculiar link.  Elaine’s father’s boss, Maurie Andrews, flew Hurricanes and Iris’ father put the electrical wiring into them. I didn’t say it was a close link, but we did stand there and digest that while we looked over the Hurricane on display.

There was an entire flight wing consisting of two Hurricanes, a Spitfire and a Corsair all in RNZAF colours and all NZ owned. I didn’t find out if they had actually seen active service for the RNZAF.  The most impressive flying we saw all day was the Harrier jump-jet. He climbed vertically off the runway, hovering noisily but perfectly still, then he went sideways, backwards, drifted slowly forwards and then took off up into the cloud cover with a howl and a roar of pure power that still gives me goose-bumps just thinking about it.

There was also, of course, the Avro Lancaster and a section devoted to the Dam Busters.  We have an interest in that because the mayor of Te Kuiti, Les Munro, flew over 100 missions in the Dam Buster squadron.  There was also a mounted practice bomb, filled with concrete, of the type used in the dam attacks and a piece of film showing the planes practising dropping the bomb.  It’s a big, cylindrical bomb and there was a small motor in the plane to make the bomb rotate backwards at 500 rpm. The plane had to be 60ft off the water and travelling at 220 mph when the bomb was released.  Barnes Wallis’ office was in London Rd, St Albans, where we get our cars serviced.  He also was on the design team of the Wellington bomber.

On static display, and taking up most of a huge hangar, was the B-52, 4-engined Stratofortress: measure it out – 182 feet of wingspan. There was also the Vulcan bomber and I can still remember it coming to Rotorua when I was in primary school. Concorde was there and so was the Blackbird. This is a spy-plane and it carries no weapons, just a camera – mind you, a good one, it can read the number-plate on your car from 100,000ft.  

It’s much bigger than I thought a single-seater, twin-engined plane would be, because it’s about the size of Concorde.  It probably goes about Mark 4 and travels at around 200,000ft, but it broke world records at Mark 3.1 and 120,000ft and no-one’s seen it do anything more.  Anti-aircraft missiles are too slow and can’t get high enough to catch it.  One of the guys who works at the museum was chatting to me about it and he said that when a missile blows up near it, the plane is going away from the blast so quickly that the blast seems to implode rather than explode.  We didn’t see all of Duxford by any means, but it was a very good day out.

On Monday it was the May Bank Holiday so we thought we’d go and have a look at the Knebworth County Show in the morning and then visit Chenies Manor House in the afternoon.  Knebworth is on the A1(M) just out of Stevenage and when we got to within a mile of junction 7 the traffic just stopped, on both lanes going north.  We thought that since we were only a mile short of the turnoff, we’d wait in the queue but 3/4hr later, when we were still ½ a mile short of the place, the queue was still pretty well stopped.  

We thought that perhaps the priority was Chenie because it was open only seldom and we’d been to Knebworth before. The right lane was moving quite a bit quicker, but so it should have because no-one was turning off it. We drove up to junction 8 and used the cloverleaf there to get us back onto the southern lanes.  When we got back to junction 7, we could see that there was a considerable tail-back and no reason at all for the right lane to be stopped. We measured the tail-back; three miles of it.  People must be starved for a bit of country, so the entire population of Hertfordshire must have decided to go to Knebworth.

Chenie is a tiny village just to the east of Amersham, on the A405, but it makes up for its lack of size in being entirely exclusive.  There are two-storey expensive houses and a very toffy school, but the manor house and church were a revelation.  It was a Norman church, built around 1220, because the first minister was recorded on one of the walls as having been there from 1232.  On the walls were the most beautiful brasses.  In medieval times the rather more wealthy would have a brass plate made on which was a portrait of the occupant of the grave.  

Many of the plates are deeply carved and quite ornate, with biblical inscriptions and descriptions of the deeds of the person portrayed.  They were usually on the floor of the church and lately people have realised that 800 years of walking on these brasses is ruining them, so the brasses have been lifted and mounted on the walls.  In their own way, they are highly expressive and deeply moving.  Not all that many are dated, but those that are have 1300 and 1400 dates. I haven’t yet seen a date later than 1540.

These churches are basically walls, about 3ft thick, with arches held up with elegant round pillars. There’s a bell-tower which doubles as a lookout tower (or the other way round) which has a steep stone staircase inside.  From the staircase people inside could fire missiles through narrow slots in the walls out onto attackers.  The roof is usually framed with wood and then tiled or slated.  A very simple roof, it’s the walls that do the work.  These Norman churches feel solid, protective, comforting and somehow ageless and solemn.

They are not very big and must have been relatively cheap to build, because England’s population wasn’t very numerous or particularly wealthy and yet these churches are often only a few miles apart in the centres of very small villages.  They are always built of local material so they have a regional flavour which reflects whatever the commonest building material of the time was.  In spite of their great age, most of them are still in use and for me they are the most romantic symbols that England has. There was an annex and we could see through big windows that there were quite a few big sarcoffigi and some large carvings against the walls.  The most remarkable was of a Norman knight in full chain armour lying with his head on his dog, also wrapped in a chain.  Next to the knight was his wife, dressed in beautiful medieval clothing.  They were full size and carved to represent as closely as possible the people in the coffins they lay on.

Chenie Manor, it turns out, was the original home of the Earl of Bedford, the Russell family, of Bertrand Russell fame.  The whole house was built over a deep, dark crypt which was first a wine cellar and then a dungeon. Nice – people were actually incarcerated there.  Henri V111 gave the Russells Woburn Abbey when he dissolved the monastries and they shifted there, but retained ownership of Chenie Manor until about the 1700’s.  In a small paddock close to the house is a 1000-yr old oak tree, rather battered by time, but with a huge, broken trunk.. Henry V111 visited the Russells quite often, once with Anne Boleyn when Elizabeth was a baby.

We were sitting on a seat outside the house discussing the oak tree and Elizabeth when we noticed the manor’s unusual chimneys.  “That’s Christopher Wren,” says Elaine, because those are the same chimneys as Hampton Court Palace.  Well, she was right.  It may not have actually been Wren, but it was the same workmen. The chimneys have this unique twisting brick pattern built into them. Then we found out that the Russells had built the extension on the church and that most of the Russells are interred there.  It was private property, so we couldn’t go inside, but I would have loved to have seen in there.  The statuary was quite remarkable.  A funny little thing I found out – Midsummer Night’s Dream was written for the marriage of the Third Earl of Bedford and Lucy Harrington, I assume at Chenies Manor. And lastly, think of this; there is a young oak tree growing in the same paddock as the old one and is intended one day to replace it.  The young oak is planted from an acorn taken from the same branch of the tree used to hang the last Abbot of Woburn ….

We saw on the front page of the local newspaper that on the weekend immediately after 22 April, St Albans was going to celebrate ANZAC Day at the town cemetery opposite St Paul’s Church in Hatfield Rd.  This area of St Albans is called Fleetville, but I’ve no idea why and the cemetery is quite a large one.  We thought that if St Albans was going to put on a service for the ANZACs the least we could do was to be there.  I suppose about 50 people turned up along with the Girl Guides, the Burma Star soldiers, a man in full military uniform from the Australian High Commission, the Secretary to the New Zealand High Commissioner and the Mayor of St Albans, Rona Phillips on her very last official engagement.

It was a quiet and dignified occasion and people remembered the soldiers who had died of their wounds in the two hospitals in St Albans.  There was a cup of tea in St Paul’s afterwards and there we met Mark and Margaret Gill from the NZ High Commission in NZ House.  He was a very nice chap, thoroughly enjoying his stay in Britain and have, like us, lots of adventures and taking full advantage of the travel opportunities being close to Europe gave him.

Now you may not believe this, either, but Elaine and I were invited to Die Fledermaus, the opera by Johann Strauss 11.  I was pretty worried because I wasn’t too keen on being bellowed at all night in German, but it was actually quite a light-hearted affair and it was sung in English.  It’s an awful plot concerning a wealthy man and his wife, both of whom want to have a fling and actually end up with each other.  I even knew a few of the tunes; I simply didn’t know they came from this opera.  Pretty up-market for St Albans, all right!  

The costumes were good, and the orchestra was very good, but the singing was a bit … average.  It’s called Die Fledermaus – The Bat – because she gets invited to a ball but she has to dress in disguise and she comes all in black with a high-winged mask looking somewhat like a bat.  It’s part of the plot that he doesn’t recognise her in her bat dress, she looks absolutely stunning and very mysterious and he tries to seduce her.  Nice music, though.

So to follow that up, we also get invited to the Phoebus Trio: harp, flute and viola.  They were superb.  At times the viola sounded like a cello and the music they played had been written especially for this trio of instruments.  The most beautiful piece was written by an English composer, William Mathias and was a musical portrait of the three musicians he wrote the piece for.  Not particularly lyrical, but evocative and emotive, at times wild and at times peaceful, just like real people.  On Monday night we go and see the last of the musical goodies, the Ionian Singers who sing mostly unaccompanied.  That should be a treat.

I’m about to start my last days at Tesco and Elaine has made a very nice feast of afghans and apricot fudge for me to take to work..  I’ll miss the people at Tesco because they were a very pleasant group to work with.  It’s a very good company, keen to keep its traditions and to upgrade its members’ culture.  To that end I now have THREE Tesco awards.  I am the only one on the helpdesk who has so many because these awards are nominated entirely by the customers – by the people who ring up the helpdesk. The other guys say, “Oh, yeah, that’s just because they like your Australian accent.” All my awards have been nominated by women, and the other helpdesk analysts know I’m not Australian – they just want to “take the mickey” as it’s called here.  I have had two or three phone calls a day from IT placement agencies, but no offers of work, so it’s a bit of a worry.

I have largely overcome the effects of the London marathon, I’m back to being able to run 10 miles and tomorrow morning I do 12 miles then some sprints.  I’m having a go at getting my 10km time below 40min.  That is hard work.

Last weekend we got invited to a football match where a group of kids from Elaine’s class was playing in the Barton Town club team.  They were playing in the final of their competition and were so thrilled to have made it to the final, they wanted us to go up and cheer them on.  They were such charming boys and they played their hearts out, with a lot of skill for boys of only 9 and 10yrs.  They didn’t win, but they still treasure their finalists’ medals.  After the game we drove into Bedford and had a walk along the banks of the Ouse. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the third in a row as though it were full summer and people were lying about sunbathing or picnicing under the trees.  

The Ouse itself is big enough to allow quite a large ship to sail to Bedford from The Wash, which was one of the reasons it was such a strategic city.  These days it’s not so important and the river is the most horrible greenish brown colour you have to wonder how polluted it is.  We called in to explore the lovely St Paul’s Church in the middle of Bedford and we lit a candle for Jason.  We walked back along the river tow-path to our car and then the three-day drought broke with heavy clouds, a dozen flashes of lightning, crashing thunder and a torrent of rain as we drove home.

Remember we went to Leicester to see the Leicester Tigers’ grounds with Jack Dalgliesh?  And we met Dean Richards?  Well, today we watched Leicester win the Heineken Cup in grand style with three tries to none, over Stade Francais.  It was a great game – Mum would have loved it. The Heineken Cup is THE rugby trophy of Europe.  We watched it on TV, of course, but since we had been to the Leicester grounds and we’ve got the tiger to prove it, we’re happy to support Leicester.  Many of them are in the Lions team which is about to tour Australia and guess who is the coach of the Lions?  Graham Henry.  Go Graham.  Another interesting thing is that the assistant coach for England was John (?) Mitchell – he’s gone back to Waikato and we hear he’s doing great things with them. Talent will out.

The foot n mouth outbreak is nearly over.  Yesterday was the first day in which there were no new cases and the countryside is slowly opening up.  There are lots of arguments and recriminations, of course, but the thing that is most clear for me is the massive extent to which English farming is subsidised.  But the same is true for all European farming.  Some of these farms are 45 acres sustaining 100 ewes and 170 lambs.  The farmer concerned stands in front of the camera bawling that his livelihood is being taken away from him.  I’d cry with him if he was talking about his little flock that he had carefully bred up in his spare time – but a livelihood?  

They were paid 26 POUNDS per sheep destroyed.  It’s unbelievable.  It’s also incredible that a whole family can live on 45 acres with 100 ewes.  Although it was poor farming practices that caused the outbreak, as they have caused the BSE/CJD outbreak, it wasn’t just the farmers who suffered and it wasn’t even them who suffered the most, but they are the one who will get compensation.  The ones who suffered the most were the tourism industry, which itself is worth 10 times more than farming, and rural businesses dependent on farming and tourism. And they will get no compensation at all.  They shouldn’t either; in business you take the smooth and bank it to get you over the rough.  If you don’t you shouldn’t be in business.  The same applies to farming.

By the way, no, we do not eat beef on this side of the equator.  We eat lamb – there’s no mutton or hogget here – and pork and poultry and we don’t use Bisto or any other beef extract, nor beef sausages, nor hamburgers, or steak n kidney pies. It’s likely that the current crop of  CJD cases is the forerunner to a very much larger group of people who will all die in the pandemic.  It’s estimated that one-tenth of Europe will die because the affliction can take 20 years to develop.  This recent group are those most easily affected – there are many more to come and cattle are still being found, in France and Germany, for instance, with BSE. We’ll try to stay away from it and only eat beef on our visits to NZ.

 That reminds me; we left NZ on 31 May 1999 and arrived in England on 3 June 1999.  Very shortly, we will have been here for two years.  Whenever I see my workmates feeling depressed and harassed because they feel their life is jailing them I tell them that the only walls they have are the walls they erect around themselves.  They are in a jail of their own making.  There are so many jobs here, and many of them pay very well for people of skill and talent, there is no need to feel that life is closing them in.

We have a long weekend coming up – here they call it a Bank Holiday – and we are going up to Suffolk to interview someone who has applied for a job in NZ.  It should be most interesting and we’ll see lots more countryside we haven’t seen before.  That reminds me, one of the guys at work was looking on the Internet for a castle to take his girlfriend to for a holiday and he said to me, “Hey Ewart, you’ve seen more of England that most of us have, what’s it like in Bristol?”  

So I was able to tell him about the incredible bridge over the Bristol Channel and how the tides rise 16 feet in Infracombe on the North Devon coast because of the amount of water that flows up and down the Bristol Channel every tide. And the sheer between the incoming tide and the outgoing tide. And the smugglers coast. We had a good look, too at all the castles pictured on the Internet and how few of them were actually castles at all, more like manor houses.  The only one that looked really like a castle – like Warwick Castle, for instance – was GBP400 per week, I think per person. He thought he might take her to Ilfracombe instead.  Cheaper and still very pretty.

I hope this note finds you well and that you are enjoying life in Tairua.  Dad’s sharpener is ordered, it should turn up any day and I’ll forward it to you as soon as I see it.  We’ve sent Geoffrey a very nice birthday card and a present we hope he’ll have a lot of fun with.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, July 10

10 July 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you VERY much for the photo of Hahei.  It’s a real beauty and Elaine and I will put it in a frame this weekend and hang it in our living room.  Those lovely blues of the sea and the sky will provide such a contrast to the other two pictures we have of Verulamium last winter.  I know you miss your little house, but we do hope that life in Tairua is not too bad.

We were very distressed to hear of Mum’s fall and we are pleased that it was not as bad as it could have been. Still, a cracked shoulder bone is not fun and we hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

I know a broken shower is a pretty weak excuse, but if it works – to get yourself a new workshop – I reckon you should go for it and exploit the situation to the ultimate.  If you’re lucky, you may be able to remove the wall between the shower and the bathroom and so expand the workshop … best of luck!  I knew that sending you the sharpener would lead to better things.  Sharp tools call for a sharp workshop.  Well done ….

Also well done to Dora and Ian – it was good of them to go and see you.

Elaine is all ready for her inspection and a couple of exams to finish off her QTS – her Qualified Teacher Status.  Incredibly, the EU does not recognise NZ teacher qualifications and it takes between 1 and 3 YEARS to gain it here.  In the meantime, the local education authorities benefit handsomely because they get good, highly qualified teachers at rock bottom unqualified rates of pay for up to three years while they put them through the QTS hoops. Elaine will be finished – they allowed her to take 6 months because she is so highly qualified and experienced – by September, but even then we’re not sure whether she will be paid full rates right away or not until they have actually sent her the paperwork.  All the more reason for them to delay. I’ll stay in IT.  At least it’s fun.

There you go.  Have a good week.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, July 29

29 July 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

I have landed a very nice job as a Technical Support Analyst on the Help Desk for Sainsbury’s head office in Rennie House, Rennie St, Southwark.  Pronounced SUTHic.  The place is often confused with Suffolk because lots of Brits can’t say the th in Suthic, so it comes out suffok anyway and people say to me, “Oh, you’re working in Suffolk – that’s a long way from St Albans ….”

Now Mum’s mother was Elsie Orange, eldest daughter of Edward and Helen Orange.    Helen was originally Helen Hinkley and she was born in 1865 and lived at 53 Union St, Southwark.  When she left for NZ in 1883, she left from a very good place to leave. It’s easy to picture the Dickensian pea-soup smogs and imagine peering through slit eyes as you pick your way to work through the grubby brick buildings listening for the trains hissing and rattling noisily overhead.  She was a nurse in London, did you know? I don’t think Mum ever met her – she died in 1928, and Mum would have been 7 at the time.  Also, and she divorced Edward Orange in 1924, so it’s quite possible she would have had nothing to do with the Orange family, including Elsie, after that.  

However – back to Southwark.  I was very surprised indeed when I was asked to go to 168 Union St for my job interview with Sainsbury’s and I had a brief look around the area that afternoon.  Since then, I’ve taken to walking all around the Bankside area that Helen would have been familiar with and I have been looking for anything older than 1883, so that what I am looking at, she would have seen.  Well, there is a lot.  

Firstly, her house is still standing.  It’s just the shell and is being refurbished for business premises, but many of the houses around it are still in 1883 condition and you can easily get a sense of the dust, grime and poverty of the area.  It was primarily a warehouse district and many of the Victorian era buildings still standing, although converted to modern use mostly as offices, have retained the lifting gear attached to the outside walls.  

She would have been familiar with the Southwark Cathedral, which was called the Church of St Mary Overie when she lived there – it became a cathedral in 1910 and it’s only a few streets away.  She would have been familiar with the stories of The Clink – the prison that gave all others the name.  It’s just a few streets away, even though it wasn’t an active prison when she lived there, the rubble from a huge fire in the area in 1814 was still there in 1883 and its underground vaults still exist, too. It was the prison for the Duke of Winchester in Winchester Palace and it started life in the 1300’s.

It’s a really horrible place.  Southwark has been home to prostitution and crime since Saxon times.  The Duke of Winchester “regulated” the brothels and owned a large section of Bankside since King Stephen gave it all to the Bishop of Winchester in the 1130’s. As you can see the title has become a secular one. The Clink was his private prison and he held life and death over its inmates until the prison was destroyed in 1780. Incredible. In its turn it was a firstly a prison for the population under the Bishop/Duke’s control, then it was a prison to hold Catholics for Henry Viii, then to hold Protestants for Mary, then reverted to holding Catholics for Elizabeth 1.

Its last use for most of the 18th and 19th centuries was as a debtor’s prison.  For all of this time, the owner could extract fines and payments from the inmates.  He made an awful lot of money out of misery.  I saw in an issue of last week’s Metro newspaper that the Duke of Winchester is the wealthiest man in Britain.  He owns 300 acres of inner London and is worth 10 billion pounds.  So now you know it; there is wealth, power and respectability in being a pimp. There is a little bit of Winchester Palace still standing – a wall and a large rose window – and under that is the Clink. In Clink St, of course.  The palace itself, in its heyday, was inside a fully-walled area of about 200 acres; all that’s left today is that bit of wall with the window, and the remnant of the Clink.

She would also have been familiar with St Paul’s Cathedral towering over the Thames on the other side of the river, and all the other works of Sir Christopher Wren in the area built in the late 1600’s, early 1700’s.  His chief mason, by the way, was a man called Edward Strong who was a citizen of St Albans and is buried here in St Peters Church. The Blackfriars bridge Helen crossed to get to The City from Bankside is the same one I cross to get to work.  It’s called the Blackfriars New Bridge, built 1860 to replace the original bridge built in the 1760’s, by an engineer called Rennie, incidentally.  

She would have been familiar with the Blackfriars rail bridge, too, that crosses the Thames and swings through Southwark on a big brick viaduct.  I suspect that then the arches would have been open, but today they are bricked up for lockups – and there is a very large amount of space to be let under the arches of a rail bridge.  Blackfriars Bridge would have looked a quite a bit different from what I can see today because on the Southwark side of the bridge was a huge Romano-Greek building in stone called the London, Chatham and Dover Railway station.  

On its facade were carved the destinations you could travel to by rail in those days.  Part of the facade was placed in the railway building I walk through, so I was able to read what she saw: Paris, Moscow, St Petersburgh, Rome, Marseilles – lots and lots of places on the Continent.  Maybe it gave her itchy feet …  There were two other interesting things I found out – one was that the City of London ends on the other side of Blackfriars Bridge.  I always thought the City ended on the north bank, but at least in the case of Blackfriars Bridge, the City extends right over it and a few yards on the south side.  The other interesting thing is that Blackfriars Bridge, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and one other (I think Waterloo) belong to The Bridges House Trust.  It was given property in London, I think by Henry Viii, and it looks after those four bridges, including replacing them when necessary, “without recourse to public money.”  In other words those four bridges were built and are maintained entirely without calling on taxes or rates.

Ivor Adams, my cousin on my grandmother Sadie Tearle’s side, who has worked in The City most of his life, said that Bankside was the haunt of the Teddy Boys in the 1920’s and 1930’s and even today, in spite of all the upgrading that has been done there, areas just to the south, like Elephant and Castle, North Peckham and Peckham, are still poverty-stricken and crime-ridden.  If you stay close to the river, you’re ok. It’s very nice.  In Southwark, there are two named areas close to the river.  One is called South Bank and extends from Waterloo Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge and the other is called Bankside and extends from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge. I work in South Bank.  

I walked 7 minutes from work down The Thames Walk to the Tate Modern, a coal-fired electricity station that has been converted into the largest indoor space I have ever seen. And they use all this space for an art museum. Free admission, too.  I could only spend 10 minutes there but the building outside is massive in brick, dominated by a tall red-brick chimney that has been a feature of the Bankside skyline for nearly a century.  Inside, it is light and airy and there are overhead cranes quietly tucked away waiting to move large and heavy exhibits.

The last night of Music in Marshalswick turned out to be the best night of them all because it was a celebration of Elizabethan madrigals. The choral group was about 20 strong with 8 men and the group was usually divided into four voices and sometimes six. They sang these really lovely, lilting tunes from the 1500’s, many with direct reference to Queen Elizabeth I, for whom they were actually written, but some also were religious pieces.  

It’s interesting that musicians and poets of the time wrote about religious and secular things in the same idiom. And it’s also interesting that some madrigals are still being written – Vaughan Williams wrote a couple for QEII’s coronation and Aaron Copeland, the American, wrote some, too. But arranging “Home Boys Home” as a madrigal is rather like a Barber Shop Quartet singing Heartbreak Hotel in 4-part harmony; it sounds pretentious and insincere. The modern madrigals lack the romance and feel for the genre that the Elizabethans had and those songs were uplifting and so, so sweet.  

We found ourselves at a loose end a couple of weekends ago, so we drove up to Stockwood Park in Luton.  Now, I have driven past the park lots of times and always promised myself that I would call in to see the Mossman Collection – whatever that was – but I had never got around to it.  It was a bright sunny day and Elaine said her kids had told her the whole thing was free, so since they had recommended it, we thought we’d go and see what it was all about. It was a revelation.  

The first thing we saw was a gypsy caravan exactly the same as the one Graeme made.  It was mounted on a dray with the front steering wheels able to swing in under the tray of the caravan, a centre section of the roof lifted for head clearance and lots of carving and colourful paintwork all over it. Graeme’s caravan could have showed the constructor a thing or two about craftsmanship, though. It wasn’t rough by any means, but Graeme’s was better.

After that, there were sections on display of the crafts and farming activities of the 1800’s; brickmaking (10 million bricks a year in Luton alone) haymaking, poaching, hatmaking (the Tearles of Stanbridge were heavily into strawplaiting and hatmaking) the blacksmith, heart and soul of every village in the country, as well as displays of kitchen life and home crafts such as tatting and lacemaking.  It was very impressive, the displays were detailed and had authentic clothing and tools.

Stockwood was originally a large farming mansion very close to Luton, but its owners sold it to the council and in the 1960’s the council demolished the house, but left the grounds and the tall imposing brick wall that enclosed the grounds.  Inside the grounds they have set up Victorian gardens and some large hothouses.  Inside one of the hothouses is the cafe. Nice.  That was all we had time to see and we’ll have to go back to see what the Mossman Collection is all about, but it’s free, so one day when we are at a loose end and want something interesting to do for free …

Last Saturday afternoon we went to Harlington, of all places, to see The Pirates of Penzance. Actually, they were really good.  I haven’t seen the show since Rotorua Girls and Boys High schools combined to put it on when I was in high school.  They made their own costumes and set and hired a very good set of lights. Remember “Poor Wandering Heart,” and that beautiful trilling that Mabel does that sounds like a skylark?  Well, this Mabel did it really well; I still wake up in the morning with that powerful impression of her sparkling eyes and perfect pitch and I can’t rid myself its simple, clever little tune.

Harlington is one of those little villages with a very old centre of Tudor houses heavily cloaked with protection orders and surrounded in expensive modern houses.  It even has its own railway station and almost everyone who lives there gets on the train and goes to London every day.  It’s the same train I use. When they are on their way home these are the stations they pass and in this order: Blackfriars, City, Farringdon, Kings Cross, St Albans, Harpenden (another little, expensive, commuter village) Luton Airport Parkway (you catch a free shuttle to Luton Airport), Luton, Leagrave, Harlington, Flitwick (you call it FLITTick) and Bedford. They travel from Southwark to Bedford in about an hour.  

In the morning the train also stops at Gatwick airport and terminates at Brighton.  Although I don’t know of anyone who commutes from Bedford to Brighton every day, I do suspect that some commute to and from Gatwick because it’s a very big airport and it would need lots of engineers and IT people, so why not from Bedford?

At the bottom of our hill is House Lane, which goes in a more or less northerly direction to Sandridge and above the lane are large fields of rape and barley.  For most of the last three weeks there has been a gradual reddening of the rape field so we walked down to see what was happening.  The rape field in full flower is bright, bright yellow and very dense because the raceme of the rape plant is about 8 inches high with about 100 flowers on it.  Spread that densely over a 50-acre field and you can see how the colour could become so intense.  As the yellow died away, the red colour had been spreading and intensifying and now we could see what it was.  Poppies.  Here they call them field poppies to distinguish them from cultured varieties.  

I thought they were weeds, probably brought back from France and Belgium on the clothes and in the pockets of soldiers of WWI. But I’m wrong.  William Cowper, English poet and man of letters during the 1700’s was in St Albans recuperating from mental illness and he wrote about the field poppies of St Albans, so they have been here for a while and this spectacular display of massed blooms lasting about 2 weeks is repeated almost every year; it’s just that some years, like this year, are better than others.  

So Elaine and I have become much more thoughtful about English wildflowers. They are not weeds, they are real plants and Jennie and Thelma are very enthusiastic about them, as was Clarice.  I thought why get excited about weeds?  I’m beginning to see why. Remember last spring we went up the hill to see the bluebell wood?  The bluebells have a 10,000 year history here.  The ground was set up for them by the retreating ice at the end of the last Ice Age and they come up, flower and die away early in spring before the other forest floor creepers and greenery get a start.  

There are bluebells all through Europe, but they don’t mass anywhere there like they do here. It seems that the timing of the poppies is just as fortuitous.  The rape flower drops and the poppies are tall enough to catch the light while the rape seed pods are ripening.  The bright yellow turns to bright red. Alongside the roads are massed bunches of pink blooms held stiffly like feathers on tall spikes – there is plenty of hemlock, but the pink blooms are packed together rather than just scattered about. Thelma says they are willow weed. Jennie says that all these things are governed by the seasons, which are so pronounced here, so that without having to read a calendar, the person who can read the wildflowers can tell exactly where in the year she has got to.

While we were inspecting the poppy display, Margaret Martin, who was staying with us on holiday for a while, asked us for a couple of flint stones that she could take home.  That’s not difficult – pick and field stone and it’s flint.  As the glaciers retreated north about 10,000 years ago they left this land smoothly undulating but the terminal moraines are heavy in clay and water-rounded flint stones.  I thought I’d have a go at being a new-age Stone Man, so I picked up a couple of likely looking flints and banged them together. Nothing.  Why didn’t they shatter and give me a nice axe or something?  

I threw first one then the other very hard down onto the road.  Still nothing, they just bounced away. So I picked up a broken one that had a very obvious flaw in it and looked around for a stone to bang it with.  I decided I’d try a nice round stone because it would probably be stronger than a broken one and, holding the broken one in my left hand whacked it on the flaw with the round stone.  This time the flawed stone broke nicely into two.  I then whacked the very edge of the break and with a satisfying little ping a shard fell off.  When I picked it up and examined it, my little shard had a razor edge and a thick, blunt edge. It could easily cut meat held as it was in my fingers, or be mounted into a piece of wood with glue (they used resin) or tied in with string to make a slicer or a scraper. In ten minutes I’d gone from 21st Century Man to Cave Man.  Elaine and Margaret both reckoned I’d only make it to Neanderthal, but I’d still have been able to carve the roast.

My last piece of good news is that Elaine has successfully finished her QTS. That means she has qualified teacher status. We were both flomoxed when we arrived here to discover that Elaine’s NZ teaching qualifications and experience counted for nothing.  She had been recruited in NZ for supply teaching in England by Select Education and they hadn’t told her this rather important fact.  For the past two years, Elaine has been teaching in England as an untrained and unqualified teacher, even though for most of the past year she has been the mentor for a teacher in training.  Britain has an acute shortage of teachers – about 10,000 too few and it is heavily recruiting in NZ, Australia and South Africa.  

Because it doesn’t tell these people that their qualifications and experience are not recognised and won’t be paid for, they come here in all innocence and don’t know for months firstly that their are on the lowest pay a teacher can get, but they also don’t know that if they don’t get their QTS in two years, they won’t be allowed to continue teaching and therefore will have to go home when their money runs out.  Accidentally or not, Britain gets lots of highly qualified and experienced teachers almost for free.  The QTS usually take one to two years, but Elaine was allowed to do hers in six months.  She has now finished and will be paid at the proper rate in due course.  It also means, of course, that she will be able to continue teaching if she wants to.

Yesterday we got half of one our oldest wishes – to go to Luton Hoo.  As you know, Luton Hoo was the house used in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.  There was the long drive through trees and a front view of a quite magnificent house. All week we had seen advertisements for a Robin Hood Fayre at Luton Hoo, so we had to go and the half of the wish that came true was the long drive through the trees.  

The house has been sold and a hotel corporation is turning the house into a luxury hotel so sooner or later we are going to get the second half come true.  However, the fayre was a beauty and well worth going to.  As we drove up to it, we could see large white pointed tents with St George flags on the tallest poles and lots of bunting hung between them.  There were lots of re-enactments of rural life in the 1350s and there was also an ensemble playing music from the Tudor period and there was an American playing a range of musical styles using a hammer dulcimer. It’s quite a wide instrument with a peg to hold it off the ground and the musician plays it by tapping the strings with felt-tipped, curved little hammers.  It makes a very pleasant resonant sound like a clavichord, but much more mellow.

The music he was playing wasn’t particularly old, but the hammer dulcimer is certainly a Mediaeval instrument.  I mentioned to him that my younger brother makes Appalachian dulcimers and he said that the Appalachian dulcimer had a Northern European history, quite different from that of his own instrument.  Just inside the gate as we walked in was a group re-enacting family life in the 1350s.  They had a long, heavy wooden table with earthenware dishes and wooden plates.  

The women were wearing white linen full-length dresses drawn at the neck and sometimes with a tunic dress over the top.  The men wore woollen breeches, white linen blouses in much the same cut as the women and with jerkins over the top.  It was very warm clothing for such a hot and sunny day.  They were cooking meat patties for lunch.  In a small enclosure next to this little group were three colourful tents with knights and soldiers showing off their swordsmanship and demonstrating the use of Mediaeval pikes.  

In another enclosure off to the right there was a stage where small groups of musicians with Mediaeval instruments played traditional English tunes, some of which I recognised from Shakespearean plays – not that Shakespeare was Mediaeval, of course, but they always take a few liberties. On the same stage another group played a variation on the St George and the Dragon story that we had seen in a mummers play in Romeland, St Albans. They always play this story for its laughs, but St George killed the dragon and got the ever-thankful girl. She was so thankful it hurt laughing.

It’s just wonderful going to events like this and it’s one of the reasons we like being here so much.  At last we are in touch with the roots of the culture that made us who we are and we can understand better why we love the things we do.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, August 22

22 August 2001 – From Elaine

Dear Mum & Dad

It is school holidays here at present until 3 September so I am enjoying six weeks of basking mainly in sunshine while Ewart travels daily to London to work by train, but has lovely lunch breaks on the banks of the Thames near the Globe theatre.

We are now safely back after a week in West Sussex and have had a lovely break. The weather wasn’t that great and at times wet and quite cold but it didn’t stop us having fun, especially me…not quite so much for Ewart as he still had to go to work each day but we went out exploring together at the weekends and enjoyed that. We were house sitting for friends and this gave us the opportunity to explore a different part of the country.

While away we had a cat called Muffy (who got to like us and enjoy our company during the week), three guinea pigs, 9 gerbils (a bit like mouse/rats sort of) which became 14 on our last night, a pool and a big house. We had hoped to use the pool but the weather wasn’t suitable so we just kept chlorinating the pool as we were asked. I had a couple of days that I stayed at the house and watched TV and slept because I had got quite tired and the rest of the time I did lots of sightseeing.

On the Tuesday my friends Liz & John (ex Goff’s Oak JMI school) came over and took me to Lewes for the day. We did lots of exploring and had a lovely lunch at a restaurant, and attended a rather wierd art show which included a little exhibit which caught us a little off guard. Part of the show was set in a beautiful garden. We passed a large bright orange pole shaped like an arrow (exhibit No1), then not that impressed followed a lovely path between two hedges. As we went through Liz and I heard a woman sobbing and sobbing. We peared through the hedge and could see no-one. This went on for some time, then John came to assist, still no joy but we were beginning to get quite concerned. Suddenly Liz noticed a black box suspended in the hedge. We had “been done” It was an audio exhibit as part of the exhibition!!!

The experience was quite unnerving, but not to be put off, we decided to look at the rest of the exhibition, just in case it improved. There were video, sculpture and photographic exhibits – not always to our taste, but I was pleased to have been able to have the experience. Some of the pieces really made you think… On our return, John & Liz stayed for dinner once John had collected Ewart from the station. The extra travelling to work meant really long days for Ewart but he was really good about it. The trains weren’t that reliable for him either so it was quite an eventful week for him.

The first weekend Ewart and I went to Ferring and had a lovely walk in the breeze along the pebbled beach, saw our first beach huts and talked with a lady who owned one, then had lunch at a lovely thatched tudor style pub. We met an artist, had a long talk with him and looked at his paintings. From there we went on to Bognor Regis. There is a large Butlins there on the beach front – quite ugly but seems to be a very big business. We didn’t go in to look because you have to pay, but we went for a long walk along the beach front and looked at the rest of the area.

During the week I set out on my own each day after dropping Ewart to the train. I went to Brighton – saw the lanes, walked right to the end of the pier watcing all the families on the rides and went into the Royal Pavilion which has recently undergone a lot of restoration. It is beautiful, but at the same time quite strange in that it is Indian on the outside and Chinese inside but very bright, ornate and colourful throughout. It was the home of George V and William 1V and for a short time, Queen Victoria, but finding it too open to the public, Queen Victoria gutted it of its possessions, took them to London and the buildings were later sold cheaply to the city of Brighton, which still owns them to this day. The pavilion has since been returned to its previous glory and is well worth a visit.

The next day I went down to Littlehampton, arriving quite early. I walked along the beach front until the shops opened, went into town, looked around the shops and had a capuccino then went further around to The Body Shop International Headquarters where I took a factory tour. I buy some Body Shop products and had learnt about Anita Roddick and her business philosophes when I worked at the Enterprise Agency so found it a very interesting trip to do.

The last part was spent at the factory shop outlet where I stocked up on my usual Body Shop purchases. I then went on to Arundel, went to a village Art & Craft Show, visited the castle and wandered through the lovey little village poking around in antique shops before heading back to Horsham to collect Ewart from the train. Arundel is absolutely gorgeous and the castle the best I have seen so far. The Duke of Norfolk has made a wonderful job of restoring it. It is absolutely gorgeous.

I even managed to climb the keep (most unusual for me as I absolutely hate heights) but I didn’t stay up there for long as the wind was gusting heavily through the turrets and I felt quite unsteady on my feet – got quite dizzy and was very keen to get down. For me the library was the best part. It is the most beautiful library I have ever been in. It would be a lovely place to sit and read. The Duke of Norfolk’s son, daughter-in-law and five grandchilden live at the castle. It is the second largest castle in Britain and built along the same lines as Windsor.

That weekend Ewart and I went back to Arundel so I could show him the lovely village. The castle wasn’t open because the Duke was entertaining friends there but we saw a wedding going to the chapel and having photos taken. The guests were beautifully dressed. We went back to the art show then on to Chichester where we went to the market, had lunch, wandered around town, explored the cathedral then went to walk through the Bishop’s Garden. While there we saw a beautiful tree covered in berries.

We met another family there. The tree turned out to be a Mulberry tree. The family showed us what to pick and we had a lovely chat and fruity treat under the tree with them. Mulberries are sweet and absolutely gorgeous. Who would have thought that a berrry looking like a loganberry, but much sweeter, would come from a huge tree when other berries like that come from vines – most strange, but well worth tasting. It was a real treat for us. On the way home we headed out to the coast and stopped at little coastal communities all along the way. We were intending to go to Brighton to watch fireworks at 10pm but stopped at Littlehampton for a seafood dinner, got talking to a lovely waitress and left it a bit late to be on time. We weren’t worried bcecause the traffic in Brighton would have been horrific as it was Gay Parade Day.

This week I have been back at the flat but out every day. Ewart bought me a month’s membership to a local gym so I have been working on fitness machines, using the steam room and sauna, swimming in the pool and relaxing in the spa pool (called jacuzzi over here). On some days I have enjoyed the relaxation it brings so much that I have sent up to four hours using the facilities. I have been meeting some nice women my own age there too.

On Monday evening I had a lovely surprise phonecall from Genevieve’s friend Kate Abel. I had never met her but Genevieve has mentioned her in emails over a long time so I felt as though I did. She is now in the UK for 2 yrs and also travelling in Europe. She came up on Tuesday on the train. I collected a parcel for her that had been sent to us for her by her parents, met her at the train then we went exploring by car through Herts, Beds and Bucks for the day.

We had lunch at Kingsbury Mill then after picking Ewart up from the train at the end of the day walked at Verulamium Park, up to the Fighting Cocks pub for a lemonade then walked through the grounds of the cathedral before dropping her back at the station to meet a friend in London for dinner. Kate is a lovely girl and we had a really happy day together. She is currenly travelling on the continent but we hope to meet up again once she gets back.

On Wednesday I went to Hatfield to Michelle’s place. She and Steve used to live in the flat above us. We had a long chat together (I am helping her to prepare for job interviews), went to the Hatfield market and ASDA for food supplies then back to my flat for the afternoon. Steve picked her up from here after work as he works near here and that allowed him and Ewart to catch up over coffee too. He is an IT contractor too. They are getting married in April in St Lucia so it was lovely to hear of all their plans.

On Thursday I took Thelma out for the day. She rang and asked if I could help her with her shopping. We were supposed to be going on holiday together to get her some sea air but she has not been well enough to go. She gets very short of breath these days even with very simple tasks, but we managed to have a nice time together on Thursday and she was a lot happier for being able to get out of the flat for a while.

She has been ill for 11years now and is getting quite sick of it. She says she likes going out with me because I take the lead from her, others apparently tell her what to do and wear her out. To go to the places she needs to go now we stop outside each building in the car. I use disabled parking spaces as she now has a special sticker for that. That is really helpful. She goes in and does what she has to do, comes out, I drive a couple of buildings down the road an she goes into the next one after a short rest in the car. Even working this way she gets very breathless so we have to be careful. In the afternoon we go back to her flat, Thelma sleeps on the couch sitting up so she can breathe and I read until she wakes up, make her a cup of tea and then come home to pick up Ewart. Ewart and I are going to stay with her this bank holiday weekend and we will take her for a few short outings to give her a break. (this weekend)

On Friday I spent all morning at the gym. Did a good workout then spent time in the sauna, steam room and jacuzzi. Wen I got home I was really tired – think I overdid it, so spent a bit of the afternoon asleep on the couch in front of the TV. Was supposed to be watching NZ v Aus at cricket but missed it due to falling asleep.

On Saturday we didn’t need to go got the market because I had done the shopping during the week so we went for a drive into Bucks and Beds to follow the Icknield Way. Ewart had done some research about it on the internet so we went to find some of the trails. We went to the Ivinghoe Beacons, went to Ivinghoe township and Church, Pitstone Windmill, Great Gaddeston and lots of little villages along the way. We did lots of driving in the countryside, mainly on B roads and lanes.

The trees are beautiful and leafy at this time of year. We explored lovely little churches and went to one garden centre. We looked for the Buddhist Monastery but must have been on the wrong lane (little back road) because we managed to miss it this time. We were told at the garden centre it was worth seeing. It is those sorts of times that it is great to still have a kiwi accent.

Frank used to always quote “Wing, Tring and Ivinghoe, three little churches all in a row”. We have now visited all three – something we planned to do before leaving home. At Ivinghoe Church we bought a copy of the church newsletter and discovered a tale by the Minister about discovering a wonderful new breakfast cereal from a company who cared about its customers and even put a newsletter in the box!!!! You guessed it, Hubbards has arrived in the UK and is available at Tesco supermarkets!!! We are delighted and bought a copy of the parish newsletter to send to Dick Hubbard who I met some time ago at a Mentor briefing I attended in Auckland for the Enterprise Agency.

On Monday I took Jennie out to lunch to the Raven pub near my school in a little village called Hexton. This meant that Jennie could have a nice day out in the countryside in the sunshine. After that we went exploring at the Poplars Garden Centre at Harlington. Garden Centres here are huge, lots to buy and wonderful places to go exploring. Around here we are really spoilt for choice for them. There are quite a number of very large ones within a very short drive from here.

The last couple of days I have been giving the flat a treat by cleaning and tidying it…been a bit of a gad-about these holidays. Our neighbour Christine dropped in some ripe bananas so I made a couple of banana cakes when I got back from the gym today. She took one back to work for her staff for afternoon tea and Ewart and I have the other. It is a lovely sunny day today so I did a big workout at the gym, had a steam in the steam room and jacuzzi then dropped Ewart’s car off at the garage for repairs – that done I walked close to four miles home then spent a quite afternoon at the flat cooking and cleaning to give my poor little feet a chance to recover!!

They did not like walking that distance in my sandals at all. Should have been sensible and changed back into my running shoes I guess, but I got a bit lazy walking in the lovely sunshine. I am currently in training to run the St Albans three mile fun run at the end of September. I have managed to get together a group of young girls from the flats around here to do it with me so it should be fun.

Tonight after dinner we have been invited to have supper with Ivor and Iris.  It is a lovely evening so we will walk round.

Hope you are having a great winter. I understand you already have some signs of spring appearing. That doesn’t bode too well with our summer continuing does it?

Love from Elaine & Ewart


Letters home, 2000, October 22

22 October 2000

Dear Dora and Ian

Our NZ itinerary looks like this so far:

  • 13 Dec   Last day at work
  • 14 Dec   Fly to NZ
  • 16, 17 Dec  With Joni in Auckland
  • 18-21 Dec  In Otorohanga with Elizabeth and Ross Marshall – check the farm
  • 22-28 Dec  In Pauanui
  • 29 Dec   Go to Hamilton
  • 6-12 Jan  With Joni
  • 13 Jan   Catch plane to England
  • 15 Jan   Back at work.

We drove all the way up to Leicester last Friday night to stay with Kate and Jack Dalgliesh so that we could have an early Sunday morning start to go even further north to Denstone. Susan, their daughter, took us in her little black Escort. Denstone is way up north near Stoke-on-Trent and it took us 1 1/2 hours to get there because Susan won’t take the M1, which is the short route. Denstone is a beautiful village with mostly turn of the century red brick houses – nothing very old – and a most magnificent stone college built about 1880 in that Victorian baroque style with the round windows. They call it a Lottery College because you have to win the lottery to afford your kid(s) to go there. Elaine met some of the inmates and they said it cost 3000GBP per term to go there. Apart from the rural agriculture, Denstone is mostly famous for the huge JCB factory there. JCB make diggers and this factory is set in magnificent, expansive grounds with a lake that has a statue made up of about 8 stainless-steel birds landing in the middle of the lake. There is also a very comical statue of a one-footed insect looking monster made entirely of grab buckets on long arms.

We got a very good park right on the finish line and were about the second car there. However, lots more competitors arrived very soon afterward. It seemed to me very odd that so many turned up on the day and registered, whereas I had registered a month before. The track went steeply downhill and then turned to go along a disused railway through very scenic countryside with a river on one side and a steep cutting on the other. We crossed the river at a stone cafe and began a 1/4 hour ascent of the most diabolical hill I have ever had to negotiate, then a slight downhill and another 5min grind uphill, then a very long section through the forest on the other side of the river, crossing again at the stone cafe and runing back to the college along the wet, dirt track in the middle of the disused railway, through the village and up the nasty 1/4 mile incline to the college. Everyone I had ever seen pass me I killed …. along the railway track about 6 of them, up the incline to the college another 5 or six, and in the last 200m I ran down another 11, 5 of them in the last 50m. The last one I passed swore, because he had passed me about mile 3 and there, within 5m of the finish he lost a place.

I have just seen the list of the All Blacks; I think they could have done without Anton Oliver, otherwise it looks like a pretty good selection. Remember when we went to Leicester for the first time and had a look around the grounds of the Leicester Tigers? The man who was being shown around was Carlos Spencer! He was negotiating a job there, but it appears he turned down whatever offers they came up with.

I am not happy with my Denstone 1/2 Marathon performance at all. The time was a dismal 1:42:13 and now I have the results, that put me 161/266 overall and 33/64 in the M50 class. I’m down from top third to only half way. One L50 woman beat me and she finished at 1:37:44 and three M60’s beat me. This M50 class is very competitive because the first M50 home was 6th overall and at 1:19:01 was just 2:03 min behind the winner. Only 2 M40’s beat him.

I decided that this morning I’d better put things right so I aimed for 16 miles in under 2 hours. I got 1:58:44 and I ran the hard way – twice over the Nash’s Farm Road hill. And my 13 mile time was 1:36:12. If I’d done that in Denstone I’d have been 114th overall and and I’d have been 26th in the M50. Those few extra minutes make a lot of difference…. I’d have beaten the woman and one of the M60’s. I realised this morning that you have to push yourself all the way to maintain that 7:30 pace, and I think that when racing I’m too conservative so my race times are slower than my training times.

But I am so stiff and sore …

It’s getting close to Bonfire Night, so there are the odd loud bangs outside as people let off fire crackers, the Jersey Farm Residents Association is advertising its bonfire night and we are looking forward to our second bonfire here and a very pleasant evening being entertained by a live band while we watch the fireworks. Last year it was pretty crisp outside and the smell of mulled wine and cordite was a heady mix. It was also the first occasion that we met many of the leading lights around the estate. This year we are going to go over to the field where it’s held and we’ll help them put up the big white tent and add whatever we can to the bonfire.

Lots of the local shops have Halloween masks and stuff, so trick-or-treat day can’t be far off. Elaine’s kids at school are highly excited that some of them might be going trick-or-treating, so Elaine has warned them to be careful. Last year we had a couple of beautiful little kids (with Mum in tow) arrive at the door, so we gave them a biscuit each, but this year we have bought some gold and silver coins, which are really just yummy chocolates, so that we can give them a nice surprise.

The weather is still very mild, but you’ve probably heard of our flooding down south in Kent – it really has been raining quite severely. We are way out trouble here in St Albans so we’ve been watching with some sympathy as people in other communities have had trials heaped on them. Except for a couple of absolutely beautiful, clear days we have had lots of grey skies, wind and scudding, drizzling rain.

Because our little flat is so warm, we don’t have to worry about the conditions outside and since both of us work inside, neither is too upset about inclement weather and most of the time we hardly notice what the weather is doing. It is, odd, tho, looking out the window at work and seeing it almost completely dark at 5:30 when it’s time to go home. In a couple of weeks, daylight saving ends and then it will be dark going to work at 7:30 and dark again at 4:30pm before we come home. Thanks to daylight saving, we don’t get very long in the dark, because all this dark is over come March.

Bother! I’ve just found out that, due to a misplaced marshall, we all ran about 500yds longer than we should have. The race organizer says “Knock 2min off your time!” Even so, I’m still outside my 7:30min/mile target, and it doesn’t change my dismal placing….

Lloyd’s Bank has just allowed internet banking for free (it was 10GBP per month) so I signed up for it and we can now see our account balances without having to go to an ATM and we can transfer money between accounts without having to go to the bank. Very nice. They contacted me last week to say that the small business service was open so I signed up for that, too, so I can see what the balance is on our E&E Tearle Consultancy Ltd account. We may even be able to transfer money into our other accounts, but I’ll have to see the proof first.

In the meantime, be cool!

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2000, Christmas letter

Christmas Greetings from Elaine & Ewart

Greetings from St Albans where we have now been living for the last 18 months!  We’re still here and we still love it.

We had our first English Christmas with snow for a day mid week, and a little more a week later, lots of beautiful coloured lights in towns and on homes, carol singing and bands in the street playing Christmas songs and the most moving church services in Wing and Stanbridge.  The main highlight for us was being given tickets to attend the ‘carols by candlelight’ service in St Albans Cathedral – 2500 people each with a candle and surrounded by the most beautiful choral singing we have ever heard.  And we stood in the freezing cold one magical night and sang carols in St Brelades Place with our Jersey Farm neighbours. Genevieve came over for a month.  After her trip up to Edinburgh for Hogmannay and ours to the River Thames to celebrate the millennium New Year (we were right underneath all those fireworks in London you saw on TV) we all travelled to the Costa del Sol on the Spanish Mediterranean coast for a one-week holiday. We stayed in Torremolinos and visited Gibraltar, Seville, Ronda, Cordoba, the magnificent walled city of Alhambra near Granada and drove along the Mediterranean Coast.  Our main focus for this adventure was Moorish architecture.  We CAN be intellectual.  Since then Genevieve has studied for and passed two courses in Spanish language at Auckland University.

We celebrated our silver wedding anniversary in Paris, just the two of us and only for a weekend.  We enjoyed visiting many of the places we had studied as teenagers learning French in high school.  The architecture of central Paris is stunningly beautiful and we look forward to returning some day to continue our romantic walk along the banks of the Seine.  Lately we have been having other anniversaries – our second Garden City 10 and our second Guy Fawkes night in the frost on Jersey Farm Park.

In the UK Ewart has been kept busy with a range of IT contracts, beginning at first with the large banks in London City. This included West LB and several branches of Deutschebank, mostly as a hardware technician but also as a member of the migration team installing the new style managed desktops on company pc’s.  He also did spells at Maidenhead, Luton and Slough and while on this last job, he left Paddington Station just four minutes ahead of the trains in the Paddington rail disaster.  I had spent the day in blissful ignorance on a school trip with seventy 7 year olds in Suffolk visiting an Anglo Saxon reconstructed village and museum.  Later Ewart was to get a contract in Belgium for 8 weeks working for the Opel Belgium car manufacturing plant in Antwerp.  One week of this coincided with my school holidays so I flew to Belgium to meet Ewart, was put up at the Hilton in both Brussels and Antwerp by Ewart’s contracting company and spent a wonderful week exploring first Brussels, and then Antwerp, on foot.  The architecture was gorgeous and the churches and galleries wonderful – as was the shopping!  I gained a real love for Belgian lemon ice cream – and Belgian chocolates weren’t bad either…. The company paid for Ewart to fly back to England each weekend to spend time with me – home each Friday and back each Sunday night.  It was fun for a while but we were pleased it was not too long term – it is a bit difficult living in different countries from each other but we both managed to enjoy the sights of Belgium when we had time.  While at work Ewart was working long hours so he did not get about that much.  Ewart now has an IT contract with General Electric (GE) at Welwyn Garden City, not far from here, so we are managing to spend a lot more time together.  He is on contract to TESCO, the largest supermarket chain in Britain.

Before leaving NZ I signed up with a teacher supply agency.  I have since signed on with three additional agencies and they have together managed to keep me in full time teaching work.  I have now worked in about seventy different schools in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.  It has given us a regular income and plenty of holidays in which to go exploring.  I am currently working at a middle school in Barton-le-Clay (north of Luton) in Bedfordshire.  My contract is about to be renewed until July.  It takes me around 45 minutes each way to commute.  At times the traffic can be very congested but with a bit of local knowledge you learn when to be on the roads and when to avoid them.  It also helps to learn the direction that the traffic flows and then apply for jobs in the opposite direction.  After Christmas I will be training through DeMonteford University in Bedford to have my teaching qualifications recognised.  I have been hit by a new European ruling that means because I don’t have an EU passport my quals are not automatically recognised and some form of retraining is necessary.  The county is paying for it and it will take me 13 weeks instead of the usual year.  Because of this,  to date I have had to be paid at an unqualified teacher rate.

We  have enjoyed being in England and have made lots of new friends amongst family, neighbours and work colleagues.  We have made a point of taking up any offer made to us and we have had many wonderful adventures as a result.  We have really enjoyed visiting the historical features within our financial reach – this has included castles, museums, Roman ruins, roads, houses, buildings in London City, bridges, even the Shuttleworth museum where I got to sit in a Spitfire aircraft at the time of the Battle of Britain celebrations.  Because this was strictly against the rules they closed off a hangar to allow me to do it and send photos home to my dad.  His special friend flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain.  St Albans is a lovely place to live – it has wonderful huge trees, which change colour with every season, daffodils, bluebell woods, lots of Roman and royal history.  We are less than 10mins from Hatfield House, where Elizabeth 1 grew up and where she was when she was told she would be queen.  Henry Viii still casts his shadow over here, right down to the nunnery ruins near the centre of town, the Queen Mother grew up not far from here in a little Hertfordshire village and the Spensers (Princess Diana’s family) still own a lot of land around St Albans.  We have a wonderful cathedral, one of the oldest in Britain and it takes just 35mins by train to get right into the middle of London if we want a night out or a day exploring.  We both love exploring London and although we have done lots of things there are still many more to do. In fact, we are going to Aldwych, right down by the Thames Embankment in London City, for a Christmas party with Ewart’s GE collegues as one of the last things we’ll do in England before we come home.  Any excuse to go to London …  During the year we have also had visits from several NZ friends who have come exploring with us and we have been out for meals with work colleagues and English friends we have made here.  Some have also invited us home and we have been able to see a truly English view of life.  At every school I have taught at I have asked the children where I should visit and what we should do. The suggestions they have made have given us some wonderful days out together; not to mention pancake day, the Advent calendar with a little present for every day for the last month before Christmas … so many charming, new things.  We have even managed a couple of good local theatre shows.

We have our own lovely little rented flat in a block of ten.  The neighbours are young and friendly professionals and regularly drop in for a chat or a coffee, especially in summer when we all feel more like sitting outdoors.  We have a pretty little enclosed garden of our own which we supplement with potted plants year round.  I have just potted up 18 pots of bulbs (tulips and daffodils) which should flower just after we get back from our Christmas trip to NZ, 14 Dec to 14 Jan. The lawns take 5 minutes to mow!! We have bought identical beige 1983 Austin Metro cars which we have labelled ET1 and ET2 with dayglow stickers.  They are nice and cheap to run and cost little to purchase in the first place.  Being hatchbacks they also come in handy for shopping and for going to the recycling plant.  Being highly populated, recycling is a big issue in the UK and we have got right behind it.

We have really enjoyed getting back to our roots in the UK and have spent a lot of time with our respective families.  They have been very loyal to us and contact us by phone on a regular basis and invite us to share meals and family celebrations with them.  Ivor and Iris have been a great support to us.  We lived with them for four months and now live just around the corner from them.  We are all the best of friends and see each other or phone most weeks.  They were wonderful in showing us the ropes initially also – especially how to find our way around English roads and how and where to get the best shopping deals.  Iris introduced us to shopping at the market in St Albans and that is now our Saturday morning task followed by a cappuccino at our favourite Italian restaurant, in French Row, which has an English folksinger playing traditional music outside.  We have go to know John (the singer) and have been to folk club at Redbourn with him.  Here in St Albans we are right in the centre of Tearle country.  We also travel up to Leicester on a regular basis to visit with my Scottish cousins who now live there.  In the New Year it is our intention to travel north to Galashiels in the Border Country where my great grandfather came from and where my grandmother visited by sailing ship when she was nine years old.  I still have family living there.  They are looking forward to meeting us and showing us how the family lived and still live in that area.  Others I have met here tell me the area is beautiful – so far I have only seen pictures but I have heard fascinating stories from Jack, Kate and Susan.  

While here we have both taken up fitness activities – Ewart has been running long distance and has competed in a number of ten-mile and ½ marathon races and done very well.  Just this week we are really delighted to learn that he has been accepted as a competitor in the 2001 London Marathon.  It is really hard to get into so we are very proud and delighted.  At the moment his training has him running about 45 miles per week.  My efforts are very recent and far more modest.  Ewart has devised a walk/run programme for me that we do every second night after work together, in the dark and cold, lit only by the street lamps.  I put in about 13 miles per week, and already I feel a lot better for it.  We are enjoying doing it together.

We have been delighted with all the letters, parcels, visits and emails we have had since coming to England.  Our wonderful family and friends have considerably enriched this wonderful holiday we are having.  We are united in saying this was a very good decision for us.  Each day we feel privileged to be here, to be able to explore such a beautiful place, which is so steeped in history going back thousands of years and in which there is so much to do.

We are returning to NZ for just a month at Christmas to attend my parents’ golden wedding and to catch up with family and friends.  All of our parents have been unwell at times during the last year and we are really looking forward to spending time with them, as well as with our precious Genevieve.  She has done so well while we have been away: studying, working, doing lots of sport and gaining a promotion at work.  She is now Assistant Production Manager Cultured for the NZ Dairy Group, based at the Takanini plant in Auckland.  She has bungy jumped, tandem parachuted from 12 thousand feet, run, skied the west ridge of Whakapapa, played for two netball teams which are doing well in the championships, surfed, go-carted, partied and travelled to Australia, England, Scotland and Spain – in other words, she has as usual filled every waking hour!!!! We intend spending some quality time in Auckland exploring her life with her.   Merry Christmas!

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, March 11

March 11 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

It’s Sunday and I’m just in from running 21 miles.  That is SUCH a long way – it’s more than 30km and everything on me that I try to move hurts.  My schedule wanted me to do 20 miles in 3 hours, but I was a bit quicker than that and I did the 21 miles in 2:58:06.  I didn’t intend to be quicker, but I had picked up a rhythm at the start and simply kept it up.  To run a marathon in under 3:30 hrs means I have to be able to do a 1:37 half-marathon and a 42 minute 10km.

Last weekend I did my half-marathon in the prescribed time, but I haven’t met the 10km speed requirement yet.  I’m sure it will come.  I have to do another half-marathon next weekend and I really want to attack that time.  The following Sunday I have to do 20 miles, the next Sunday, 22 miles and the Sunday after that 18 miles.  My schedule is following the theory of a very famous British coach, Bruce Tulloch, who says that in order to get the time you want in a marathon, you have to run 100 miles in the long runs (those Sunday runs) in the month or so before the start.  On Tuesdays I do speed training and on Wednesdays and Thursdays I do medium distance runs of 8 to 10 miles at just under or just over my marathon pace.  Fridays I always have off, Saturday morning is a funny little slow run of 5 miles and Monday night is a slow run of 4-6 miles to help recover from the Sunday exertion.

The trouble is I don’t know if the London Marathon is even going to be run this year.  I have entered 3 races so far and all of them have been cancelled because of the foot and mouth disease outbreak.  They kept my entry cheque, too.  I have had notice that the two other races I have entered are also cancelled, so I won’t get a race before the marathon and even that looks doubtful because the race starts in a big park in Greenwich and there is a lot of stock in that park.  There are movement restrictions on all farm animals so the stock can’t be moved out of the park unless it’s to slaughter – and then only under a special permit.  

In St Albans, all the local parks have been closed including Jersey Farm Woodland Park just up the road and Verulamium Park where we like to go sometimes in the weekend.  The area around us is large-scale commercial cropping, mostly for rapeseed oil (canola) and oats or barley and there are very few animals of any sort.  However, most of the farms have notices on the front gate asking people not to drive onto their properties and all the local walkways and bridle paths that go through farmland are closed.  

The road gates of all the farms are padlocked and the front gate of each farm has a bed of bright yellow straw soaked in antiseptic that a visitor would have to drive or walk over.  Some of the restrictions have been put in place by government and also by local bodies. However, some restrictions have been set up voluntarily by desperately worried farmers, who have also lobbied their local clubs and organizations to close events that encouraged large groups of people to go on or near rural roads or byways. All except one of the races that I have entered was closed by the organizer after approaches were made by their local farmers. The other one was closed by order of the local council.  Strangely, though, the football is unaffected.  I suppose that is because the football grounds that the big clubs own are all urban and the visitors are kept in town.  But I still think it’s odd.  The golf clubs are still well attended, too.

I’ve got a bit of a problem with other countries selecting the English to treat specially. Foot&Mouth isn’t carried in sandwiches, dairy products or handbags. It’s held in a pig’s throat and the pig breathes out millions of the virus onto the wind where it will waft for about 30 miles. It is also carried on feet and wheels and can live in the earth for 6 months. When an infected animal is killed, the virus dies with it. The virus is not in its meat, it’s in the throat, but of course it can also be in the soil attached to the animal’s coat.

So let’s say I walked along a country road and a Landrover from a farm drove past me and I stood on the dirt thrown up from its wheels and say that dirt had the virus in it. A week later I got on a plane and headed for Germany. Everyone on the plane should be disinfected, because anyone on the plane could have picked up the virus from the tracks left by my shoes, not just me and the other people from England. It’s silly just to sterilise only the English. If there’s one person from England on the plane, and they are going to disinfect that person then the entire crew, passengers and interior
of the plane should be disinfected as well. I still think they have absolutely slack border controls.

We were horrified when the government allowed doggy passports and the free passage of dogs with the passport … I mean, what border controls? If you mention such things as F&M you’re scare-mongering, aren’t you? They’ve just forgotten how incredibly expensive these things can be and how eternally vigilant your borders have to be to keep them out. Look at all the illegal immigrants that get in! As I said, what border controls? I have just seen on the BBC website that F&M is in France. Let’s see if they can do any better. They are blaming imported British animals. I wonder if countries are now going to sterilize all French people coming off planes?

It’s actually the tourism industry that is suffering the most. Farming gives the economy about 21BN pounds a year, but tourism injects about 200BN. Farming is small bikkies by comparison. All of rural Britain is shut down and farming is losing about 20M pounds a week … tourism, though, is losing about 10x that.

We are not in gaol, though. I can still run on the rural roads, we can still go to rural towns; it’s just that all the bridle paths and walkways are closed as well as most of the parks and common lands. It’s not as dramatic as the fuel blockade was, but it is going to last a lot longer. In 1967, the number of cases ended up at over 1200 and we are only at about 200. There’s a long way to go, I think.

And then there’s the weather.  After a month of absolutely beautiful weather in NZ, we came back to a very cold welcome in England.  We had heard about the snow near Christmas time and we were very disappointed we had missed it because till now, there had been only one snow in a year and last year it had been very light.  A couple of days after we returned, we had a 2-week visit from one of our best friends from Otorohanga, Elizabeth Marshall, and for her the weather turned on all the fireworks.

I was sitting at work on the first day and there was just the slightest flurry of little white flakes and I had to go to the window to have a look.  Gradually throughout the afternoon the snowfall became heavier and the bare trees on the other side of Shire Park became more indistinct.  I even drove home through the falling snow. It was pitch black, of course, because at that time of year night falls at 4:30pm and I was on the shift that finishes at 6:00pm.

It snowed on and off for the next three days and while it didn’t actually inconvenience anyone because it didn’t build up into drifts like you see in other cities, clearing the snow and frost off the car each morning was a pretty cold chore.  Elizabeth went off adventuring each day, mostly catching the bus to the station and then the train into London about 40min away.  In the evenings she would show us her treasures and tell us the stories of places she had been and people she had met.  She is a straight-forward, no-nonsense sort of person but someone who can also tell the funniest stories about her day of anyone I have ever met.  It didn’t matter how cold she felt or how lost she got, Elizabeth kept her cool and soaked up everything London and St Albans offered her.  She also managed to get home every day before dark.

Anyway, this is about the weather and I have digressed.  On the Sunday morning I went early for a long run through the country and I was very surprised to feel how cold it was and to see how much snow was lying about.  There was even snow on the footpath and my feet were crunching through it and sliding slightly as though it was sand or little glass pebbles.  We thought we’d take Elizabeth to Kingsbury Mill for a breakfast of waffles and a tour around Verulamium Park and St Albans’ beautiful cathedral.  For the first time, we saw snow on the ground around the cathedral deep enough to cover the grass and there was snow on its roof and hanging on the trees.  

We took photos of the graveyard with the snow sitting on the gravestones and helped people up who had slipped on the frozen path.  We walked down the hill past the Fighting Cocks pub, with deep snow on its shingled roof, and as we walked on into the park we saw that Verulamium Lake was almost completely frozen over and there were black-coated people walking and even skating on the ice.  Of course I went for a walk on the lake; gingerly, carefully, but I did it nonetheless. Later, Ivor said that the last time the lake was frozen was in the 1960’s.  We probably would not see it again in our lifetime.  

We walked right through the park marvelling at the hoare frost clinging to the bare branches of winter-bound trees and watched the geese splash-landing in the small patch of water left unfrozen on the whole lake.  We had wrapped up very warmly at home with long-johns, heavy winter trousers, jerseys, big coats and thermal gloves, but our feet were still really cold when we finally arrived at Kingsbury Mill on the far side of the park.  

The waffle house there has a big fire and a warm atmosphere and we ate our breakfast waffles of hot raspberries and maple syrup while our feet warmed up.  We now have three beautiful photos: one looking back over the River Ver to the Fighting Cocks pub, one of the Victorian brick bridge over the narrowest part of Verulamium Lake and the last is of Elizabeth and Elaine close to the edge of the iced-over lake with its island of frozen trees in the background.  Everything is white, dark green, black or grey; the photos are almost monochrome and the day you can see in the photos is overcast and foggy with a dead white sky.

Then it rained.  It’s only just stopped, really.  House Lane, the road from here to Sandridge, is closed because it’s flooded in two places between us and the village.  It’s also flooded between us and Smallford, on the road to work.  Fortunately, there’s a diversion so I can still get to work without too much trouble.  House Lane is about 60 feet below us, so there’s no possibility of our being flooded, although we do get quite a flow of water, from the football field near us, past our front step when it rains heavily.  

The locals say that the water is so high in House Lane and it won’t drain away because the level it is sitting at is the water table.  Also, it doesn’t have to rain very much here for the water table to stay high, because it is being replenished by rains on the Chiltern Hills.  People are reporting flooded cellars and garages, but it doesn’t seem as though their houses are flooded.  The storm-water pipes are so full of water that it is pouring out of the inspection covers.

Now, it’s nearly spring.  Here, spring starts officially on 22 March, when day and night are the same length, but the peach trees are getting pinker by the day and the cherry blossom is fat with expectation.  The daffodils are massing and the crocuses are already in full and glorious colour.  The English bush them up around the trees and they make a very colourful display while much else is still in its winter browns.  

We can see why the Europeans like spring so much – it is such a contrast to the winter and it comes on in such a burst of colour and activity.  Also, it’s considerably warmer.  Only a week ago, it was –2C in the mornings and barely above 8C all day long, now the frost is gone and the day temps are around 13C.  No wonder the plants get into such vigorous action because they are spurred on by the sudden change in temperature and the rapidly increasing daylight hours.

After lunch today Elaine wanted to try out a new route to her work so we hopped in her nice new (1993!) Rover Metro (aren’t we going up in the world?) and I navigated while Elaine drove up the M1 until we got to junction 12 and I had to wake up and pay attention to the map. Normally she has to drive through much of Luton in 8:00am rush-hour(s) traffic and this new route is designed to keep her out of Luton.

Well, it was a very pleasant trip through a bit of rural Bedfordshire to Barton-le-Clay. Did I tell you that Barton was where William the Conqueror and a few of the kings after him got bricks made? It’s a very cosy and tightly packed little village with an old heart of Tudor houses with their bricked in wattle and daub walls surrounded by a substantial new housing estate in very late 20th Century brick.

Elaine was quite pleased with the new route and thought it might save her a bit of time, but more importantly would give her a much quieter, more rural and more scenic road to work. We went along the road a little more to have coffee and lemonade at The Raven, a majestic older-style pub in Hexton where Elaine and some of the staff have lunch on a Friday. We thought we’d see if there was anything interesting going on in Milton Keyenes, but got waylaid by the sight of a most beautiful church in Toddington.

Opposite it was a Greene King pub called The Sow and Pigs. Greene King pubs are always interesting because they are always in an old building and serve real ale, so they are keen to keep up English traditions. Alongside, and possibly part of the inn history of the pub is a Tudor building in all sorts of angles with white-washed walls, blackened timbers and a deeply hollowed tiled roof. Inside, there was a crackling fire and all the jokes in the world about pigs and sows, in frames on the walls. The tables were blackened oak, but the benches had comfortable padding. I pinched a Greene King cardboard coaster to put in the treasure chest because they are an unusual shape and design.

We had coffee and a pint of lemonade (I have to drink a fair bit after a run) and because it was after 4:00pm we decided that Milton Keynes could wait and we would go home. I’d had a long look at the church opposite from the warmth of the pub and I’ve decided we must go back to Toddington to have a much closer look, but wandering around the outsides of buildings in winter in England is not good sport. We drove home through flurries of what is called snow showers. A snow shower has a bit of snow, a bit of rain and sometimes a bit of hail. They don’t all come at once, they are interspersed, but now when they warn us of snow showers on the weather forecast, I know what they are referring to.

ET1 has gone. I am very unhappy about it because I loved that little car, but it refused to start a couple of mornings in a row so I took it to the Metro Centre. They pointed out all the things that would have to be done to it and I reluctantly gave it up to be scrapped. I now run around in Elaine’s former car, ET2, and Elaine has the nice new, white Rover Metro I referred to above. ET1 was only supposed to last us a few months and she would still have saved us a lot of money in car hire and a lot of time in missed bus trips, but she lasted for over a year, so I can’t complain, but she was a little sweety.

About three weeks ago, Elaine and I went to Eastleach. It’s not easy to find because it’s a bit off the Oxford road, down some country lanes and hidden deep in the Cotswolds. Elaine was trying to find traces of her grandmother’s father’s family, the Whitings. Joe Whiting had a huge fight with his blacksmith father, went to Durham at only 14 and then left for NZ. He never returned. We didn’t find the Whitings or any sign of them and none of the locals we stopped and asked could remember the name, but we did find two beautiful Norman churches, built around 1100AD, and a little Cotswold village of substantial wealth.

We looked through both churches and tried to read many of the gravestones, but the name just didn’t seem to be there. The Cotswold cottages are made of quarried limestone blocks, not much bigger than a brick, but enough bigger that you can easily see the difference. We were invited to visit the house of Mary and Ray Jenkinson, one of the longest-standing families in the Eastleach area and they were in a 16th century house. You could see that the blocks were cut with a saw, because of the vertical saw-cuts on the outside face.

These people knew a lot about the Saxon and even the Celtic history of Eastleach, but they couldn’t remember ever having heard the name Whiting. Still, the 1880’s were a fair while ago. We also found out that the early wealth of Eastleach (apart from farming) came from water cress. The Leach River is absolutely the clearest water we have seen anywhere. It reminded me of standing watching trout in Ngongotaha, but the river is not that deep. I looked for trout, though.

The water cress used to be laden onto wagons and sold in Covent Garden in London. I forgot to ask him if was still harvested, but he showed us his orchard, the river running through it and the fountain by the river that used to supply the locals with their house water. The villagers would come to this very ornate fountain with their buckets and be uplifted by the religious figures carved into it while they filled up before lugging the heavy burden home. We had lunch in the Victoria pub, which was also made mostly of Cotswold limestone blocks, and was quite self-consciously Victorian in its décor, as well as having a few pictures of the great queen herself. We debated going the extra 50 miles to Gloucester, but we decided that one town well explored on one day was a good day out.

I looked up my stats at work on Friday and compared them to the others on the team. My stats are so far ahead of anyone else, it’s a crime. I have logged 889 jobs in the month and the nearest other is 720. I have recorded 47% contact time with the customer and the nearest other is 36%, I have an average talk time of 284 secs, which is within acceptable limits, though the ideal is 240, so although I have a high number of jobs and a high amount of customer contact time, my talk time is not too high nor too low. I still had time to train two new analysts. So now not only am I the most senior person on the Online side of the helpdesk, I am also the best. That’s a nice thought.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine



Letters home, 2001, March 26

26 March 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Did another 22 miler yesterday, Sunday. I’ve got a sore right knee, but the archilles and knee problem I had in my left leg has gone! That’s funny medicine, all right.

Daylight saving started this weekend so we got up in the almost dark this morning, but I’ll be running in the light, after work, for the first time since we came back from NZ. I forgot that when I was signing on for the London Marathon I was also signing on to train all through winter. Tell you what, though, these long runs are the business, all right. Every single time I have done one, things have improved by a big leap. I have so far done 4 runs of 18 miles or more.

They don’t consider 15 miles to be a long run and they think 16 miles is the lowest limit, but 18-22 miles is the band. Each alternate weekend has been a 1/2 marathon as fast as I can go. That time hasn’t changed (1:36-ish) but my 6ml time is down to 41:30-ish and my 3 mile time is 19:51 When I input my 6-mile time, the calculator said I could was capable of a 3:12:00hr marathon. Not this year, mate. Also, my pulse is down to 39/min. I checked it at lunchtime today – how sad, no-one to talk to so he took his own pulse.

We went to Waddesdon a couple of weekends ago. Normally one goes to Waddesdon to see Waddesdon Manor, built by the Rosthchilds in about 1880 in lavish 1800 French style, then dumped on the taxpayer for the National Trust to run. Well, sort of, anyway. It’s a fabulous place with stone towers and Louis XIV wall panelling, a huge fountain of plunging horses and mermaids near the front gate and large, ornate gardens. It was closed, but we weren’t going there, anyway. We wanted to see the garden centre and to wander around the little village, which has two beautiful Victorian buildings, one a pub and the other the town hall, as well as a building that was very similar to the alms houses in Wing.

On close inspection, we could see that it did use to be an almshouse and is now 5 privately owned cottages. Lovely. Opposite is one of the local antique shops, calling itself Junk and Disorderly and right outside it was a quite magnificent Victorian bed warmer. What caught our attention, apart from the long handle, was the brass lid. Normally these bed warmers are made completely from copper and Elaine doesn’t think the colour is right, but brass is the perfect colour and with a brass lid and that long dark handle, it looks really good hanging in our living room. We had a coffee in the pub (very nice) and a wander around the garden centre (very ordinary) but it was a nice sunny day, made particularly beautiful by having lots of snow lying about.

When Elaine paid for the bed warmer with a cheque, the storeowner said, “Now there’s an old Waddesdon name,” and handed us the telephone book to see for ourselves. There were three Tearles in the book.  Two of them lived in Waddesdon, one a plumber the other a builder, while the third had a Wing address and of course, that was Millie Tearle, Thelma’s mother.  He’s the first person we have met in England who knew a Tearle.

Then last weekend, while Elaine went to the market, I took a short drive up to Woburn to have a closer look at a most peculiar church there.  I had lunch at a Greene King pub, the Royal Oak, which is quite a large and unique looking thatched building with huge beetling brows scowling over thin, hoop-topped windows. I had a very passable cottage pie.  The day was cold for wandering about in and his fire was very comfortable but St Mary’s Church, right in the middle of Woburn, has this most odd gothic steeple stuck on top of its Norman tower and I didn’t want to go back home without having had a closer look at it.  

Now a Norman tower is massive, square and has those battlements along the top.  Imagine a short steeple from the Notre Dame stuck on top.  It’s very dramatic against a dark sky, but it just looks odd.  St Mary’s church is decommissioned and now belongs to a group of guardians.  It’s a very small church with a detached tower – I haven’t seen that before – and there used to be a bell in the gothic steeple.  It is now a museum for the local district and won’t open till May. I’ll go back and have another look then.

That reminds me – this last 12 months has been the wettest ever recorded and the records started in 1765.  The water table in the Sandridge and Jersey Farm district has risen by 16 feet!  In Kimpton, not far from here, the River Kym is flowing again and that hasn’t been seen for 50 years.  The springs that used to bubble up around here when it was a marsh are flowing again and lifting the seal off the roads.

The foot and mouth outbreak is almost a complete disaster.  So far there are 612 cases, with forecasts of up to 4000.  That’s 612 farms and tonight the disease is in the Lake District.  We are very lucky that it isn’t here yet, but no one is thinking that it won’t come.  We are much less likely to get it because all our stock are housed, but it takes only one careless person to bring back something that is carrying the disease from the Lake District or the Cotswolds (and we were there only a short while ago) to spread it to our local farms.  You can feel the sense of dread.

I hope you are well and that you are prepared for your next winter.  We’ll be in touch soon.

Lots of love, Ewart and Elaine.