Tag Archives: christmas


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

Ewart and Elaine Tearle

Letters home, 2010, Christmas

To all our special friends and family, Merry Christmas and a very
Happy New Year!!!! Love from
Elaine & Ewart xxx
It is Elaine’s turn to produce the letter this year so this addition will be short & colourful…. Ewart is working & Elaine is home recovering from a fractured right shoulder after a fall.
Elaine and Ewart

Elaine and Ewart

2010 started well with Ewart taking me to Luton Hoo to mark our Christmas together—a perfect evening beginning with a new diamond & ruby necklace, a chauffeur driven Mercedes, ankle deep snow, very high shoes & flash evening dress, a stately home with all the special service treats and a perfect dinner… This was a perfect beginning to a very happy year which has included: watching our delightful little grandson Liam growing up, with travel to far off climes to visit special friends and with a happy year for both of us at work—Ewart as a self employed contractor working with InTermIT providing computer support to schools around Hertfordshire, and Elaine continuing to enjoy teaching at Sandridge School, which has also included mentoring teachers and trainee teachers, also in Hertfordshire. Our cameras have played a big part in our year this year, a hobby we are really enjoying sharing together as it gets
us out and about while recording memories of special times and places we are sharing.
Luton Hoo

Luton Hoo

We had several trips to Amsterdam to spend precious time with Genevieve, Barry and little Liam. During these visits we experienced Amsterdam and its colours of the differing seasons. We have also been building a lovely friendship with Barry’s parents, Leny & Cocky de Vent, who have shown us love and generosity on each of our visits… Gene took us to Delft for a great day out and G & B spoilt us daily with specialty menus!!! Scrumptious!!!!
Liam de Vent

Liam de Vent

This is Barry & Genevieve’s apartment block, note the frozen canal in the foreground. Gene and Barry are the couple walking. G,B & L have also visited us here in St Albans where we have enjoyed animals, pub meals and family time. With being in different
countries & Genevieve’s job taking her regularly around the globe
Skype is an integral part of our lives these days..
Barry and Genevieve's House

Barry and Genevieve’s House

Our travels also took us to USA for a month over summer to visit special friends—Sam, Daniela & Logan Crompton & family in
Sherman Connecticut & New York, and Shayne, Lee Bate s & Shaun In Fairfax Virginia with several day trips into Washington DC & the
Shenandoah Forest. We have taken thousands of photos capturing every special moment. Every day was action packed and we walked until we could walk no more!!! In USA we experienced lots of variety and thoroughly enjoyed the rail trip between Washington DC and New York.
We even got separated by police when there was suddenly pandemonium at the White House!!! Got some great photos though before the police moved us on. Other highlights were walking the Brooklyn Bridge on a gorgeous sunny day, doing jigsaws well into the night with Sam, & D & being rescued with tow truck at Kent Falls!!! All Blacks cover on the back of Sam’s jeep made us get noticed with that one! We all had a great time crushed into the front seat of the truck!
Back in the UK, Iris turned 80 and also Ivor’s sister Jean. These were two great family parties for us to attend. As usual the year was also filled with hours of family history research, great family emails arriving daily from all over the world and meeting with family and friends. For me a highlight was the two days we spent with my nephew Michael who is currently doing his BIG OE here in London. We had a great day together exploring City Hall and Lloyds of Lond
on with our cameras on the London Open Day.. Mum got her clearance at last from cancer which was the best news of all!. We are now saving for our next trip… Hope you have been happy
this year too!



Letters home, 2009, Christmas

“Hello, Dad.”

“I’m ringing on my mobile because I wanted you to hear this.” There was a pause.
“Burble, bobble, na, na, goo, da, la, la, la.” Another pause.
“You have a grandson, and his name is Liam.”
“He sounds absolutely gorgeous. How long ago?”
“A couple of hours.”
“So you are ringing me from hospital? Are you allowed a cellphone there?”
“I don’t know. If they don’t want me to use it, they’ll take it away, but I’ve done what I wanted with it, anyway. I rang you. We’ve called him Liam Tane de Vent.”
Liam Tane de Vent

Liam Tane de Vent

“Why have you given him an Irish name?”

“Is it Irish? We wanted a name that would sound the same in any language. We go to so many places that we thought we’d see if we could find him a sort of universal name. Liam sounds the same in English as it does in Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Mandarin… see what I mean? We spent hours with a names book. Barry also wanted a New Zealand connection in his name because with de Vent he has a Dutch one, and he doesn’t want Liam to forget he’s also a Kiwi; that’s why we called him Tane, as in God of the Forest.” I could sense her smile on the phone. “It’s a very green name, too.”
I could still hear his gurgling baby sounds very clearly in the background. A happy baby and a deeply satisfied new mum.
“Well done, Joni. We are so proud of you.”
What new baby ever comes home fully fault-free? Once released
from the hospital, Joni became unwell and somehow this caused
strife with an overzealous visiting nurse. Barry’s mother, Leny,
was an excellent source of help and support, but she couldn’t be
there all the time and sometimes events and the emotions that go
with them swirled around Joni uncontrollably. Elaine had a chat
with both Joni and Leny and they agreed a girl needs her mother
from time to time. She spent a week with Joni, Barry and Liam
and when she returned she was ecstatic.
“What a beautiful baby! What a lovely little boy!”
Sheswallowed the tears that welled up in her throat. “
You know, that was one of the best times I have had with Genevieve
since she left home in the fifth form to go to Girls High.”
Babies do that.
Only once in your lifetime do you have a first grandchild. If we
had done nothing else all year except this, and our visits to
Amsterdam and their visit to see us in St Albans, we could have
counted this year as a full and rewarding one, but of course,
that’s not the way things work; those trips to Amsterdam were quite memorable for very different reasons. On our first trip to see Liam, we dovetailed very nicely with the visit to Amsterdam of our sister-in law, Kathy Pond, Elaine’s brother Gordon’s wife. She, too was delighted with the reception little Liam gave her. Joni tied on him his All Blacks bib and he charmed her with smiles and gurgles that she simply could not resist.

Kathy Pond with Liam

Leny and Cocky had very generously given us the keys to their house in Amsterdam while they spent the week in their summer house, and after we had worked out the route from their place to Westerkerk and thence on to Haarlemmerweg, as Genevieve’s building is called, we were able to walk it in about 20min.
“It’s good exercise,” said Elaine.
“Have you been inside?” asked Joni? “You’re living nearby
at the moment. Westerkerk is a stately, beautiful place.”
“It’s beautiful from the outside, all right, and I have always
loved the sound of its bells. Those are the same bells that
Anne Frank wrote about in her diary. But I’ve never been
inside it.”
“It’s worth the visit. Rembrandt’s there.” Genevieve knows
what makes me tick. “I don’t think he’s actually buried in the
church, it’s not the Calvinist way, and besides he died a
poverty-stricken, unknown old man, buried out of town in a
pauper’s grave. Westerkerk was his church, though, and once
the city fathers saw that he was one of their most famous sons, they put up the memorial in the church for him. You’ll have no problem finding it because the inside is very plain and unornamented and the Rembrandt memorial is quite flamboyant.”

Rembrandt memorial

We also took an afternoon stroll with Barry, Joni and Liam to see Jenny and Han’s summerhouse. This isn’t exactly it, but the picture shows the style of construction and the quite luxurious setting in
the middle of a bush-clad park to the south of the 250-acre Westerpark. The buildings are not allowed to be heated, nor to be occupied out of the summer season, but they are none-the-less the
genuine beach bach that New Zealanders would instantly recognise, when they remember the days of packing-case cottages on sandy spits and rocky outcrops overlooking the sea.

We had visitors, too. Jim and Dos Mark came to see us from their farm near Te Awamutu. We picked them up from St Albans City railway station and we spent a very nice afternoon in the

sunshine walking around the market, the cathedral and Verulamium Park, as well as the obligatory visit to the Fighting Cocks pub. A former colleague of Elaine’s came and stayed with us. Judy
Dixon and a friend from Federated Farmers, Trudy, stayed for a couple of days with Iris and we took them to the Wicked Lady pub for dinner.
Kaye and Merv Thorburn from Te Awamutu brought
us news of their new life as retired farmers. Nice work when you can get it. They have built a new house overlooking the valley they have farmed for so many years and we sat at our table overlooking our little park and tried to find reasons why each of us had lost their son. There is no reason, and there is no cure for the loss. Each of us felt that somehow there might have been something we could have done to prevent the accident that overwhelmed our boys, but the awful
sense of not being there to help when we were needed the most, the knowledge that we knew nothing until hours after the event, and the deepest sense of what might have been, if our boys were still with us, hurts as intensely now as at any time in the past. Elaine and I had lit a remembrance candle in Westerkerk, and for a moment, as we reflected on the things our Jase had done and the people whose lives he had brightened, we felt that perhaps his life had not been in vain, but we wished even more that we were still able to share these adventures with him.
Hamilton Boys contacted us to tell us who the recipient of this years Jason Tearle Memorial Trophy was, and while we knew that he was not forgotten, we still wish, more and more forlornly, that we still
had him. Friends always bring us both smiles and tears.
“Elaine, would you like to meet us in Portimao? Marilyn and I are going to stay in my timeshare and there is plenty for room for you and Ewart. The hotel overlooks the beach and there is even a
swimming pool.”
“It’s on the Algarve. You’ll love it at this time of year.”
“Portugal would be wonderful!”
Frances Rawlings used to be the editor of the Waitomo News, which she took over from her father and then sold when she retired. She and Elaine had been friends since the early days of Elaine’s working for the Waitomo Development Agency in Te Kuiti. She is a passionate, intelligent, earthy woman who wears autumn colours with a panache born of red hair, an infectious laugh and
sparkling blue eyes. Portimao was a good choice. The English like the
weather in the Algarve, and they throw off their inhibitions with their clothes in the clear air and bright sunshine.
Algarve beach, The Rock

Algarve beach, The Rock

The Rock is what the area around Portimao is famous for, and this
picture shows it at quite a low tide, with the surf lifeguard and beach
concessions to your right and the café and sunbathing areas behind us and to our left. It’s a beautiful, long beach and one to be admired and treasured. Fortunately, the English aren’t the only ones who go there, so the Manchester fish wives with their rowdy children and boozy husbands, their loud voices and their habit of flashing their red knickers while they dance on the tables, have to share it all with the Irish, who built this resort and lost an incredible lot of money when the bubble burst and they couldn’t afford to finish the projects they had started. Deep holes in the red clay fight with half-finished high-rises for whatever money is left to continue the development.
The holiday makers – Frances, Marilyn, Elaine and I – watch on, enjoy the sunshine and stroll in the gentle waves that lap the length of the end-on-end beaches of Praia do Vao and Praia de Rocha. Nice place.
The thing about summer in England is that it contrasts so vividly with the winter that precedes it – or follows it, depending on your personal preference. The St Albans Snow Day definitely proceeded this summer. No hint of how heavily it would snow could be discerned at Christmas, which was really quite mild. There were
a few frosts in January, but nothing out of the ordinary. However in the first week of February it snowed, then paused, then snowed, took a breather for a day and then fairly chucked it down all night.
On 3 Feb when the sun came out, there was an incredible sight of a smooth blanket of pure white snow glistening on the fields, with deep black pencil marks for roads and lines of green-brown smudges where the hedgerows followed the fence lines.
I walked over most of Jersey Farm, Sandridge and Smallford, including a very nice stroll through the grounds of Oaklands College, which is the local farming training institute. Two sights stand out.
One is the Jersey Farm Woodland Park pond which was frozen over and carried the starburst of a snowball that someone had thrown at the ice, trying to break the surface. The second was watching a young snowboarder trying to avoid almost certain injury by throwing himself off his board before he hit the fence at the bottom of his run. You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
Snow boarder in Jersey Farm

Snow boarder in Jersey Farm

The trains stopped running, the buses were parked and did not even leave their garages and Elaine went to and from the school each morning to post “Sorry we are closed” messages for parents hopeful the school would open and take their fractious children away. Our little Hyundai could easily negotiate the drift-covered, slippery roads because it’s an automatic and will go as slowly and delicately as conditions dictate. The 4x4s had no hope. Their tyres were too slick, they carried no chains, and the power they hit the road with left their wheels spinning helplessly as they slid gently and inevitably into the ditch. Elaine sailed serenely past in her cheap little import and carried on with her business. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was asked about the snow conditions that had brought the mighty heart of London to a standstill. Was this just another case of the wrong kind of snow? “No, no,” he said. “It was the right kind of snow, just the wrong kind of quantity.”
Woodland Park Pond

Woodland Park Pond

We also lost two of our family’s best friends this year. You may remember Roland Adams. He was a nephew of my paternal
grandmother, Sadie. He was the very first person from England to visit my father, since Len Adams had been to see Sadie in the 1920s. He had rung me from Auckland and had travelled by bus to the Waitomo, where he met Elaine, who arranged to be with him while he went on a tour of the Waitomo Caves. Later in his holiday, he left the bus for a few days and we took him to Hahei to see Dad.


Roland was hugely impressed with the beautiful coastline and the fabulous little bay that lay almost in Dad’s front yard. He ascended the two flights of steps that led to the door and he and Dad met for the first time in their lives. It was very emotional, partly because of the memories that swept over Dad at meeting one of his family from the Old Country, and partly because it was Roland who had bought Dad’s small lathe for him and sent it out to him all the way from England, when they were both about 15yrs. It was just a bed and a head and a self-centring three-jaw chuck, and over the years Dad had made all its tools and even its screw-cutting attachment.
He had bought a four-jaw chuck for it at an early stage, but the rest he made. With the lathe he had made countless small motors and working steam engines. His enduring legacy will be a 3ft model of an Irish lake boat that he and my brother Graeme built and into which he fitted the most intricately finished and beautifully scaled steam engine I have ever seen. When Elaine and I visited Henley-on-Thames we saw the original. We gasped. The model, even down to the dolls that fitted inside it, was perfect. In sending the lathe, Roland had not only indulged my father’s deepest passion, he had also unwittingly laid the foundation stone for the work of a lifetime.

The second death in the family was very close to us personally and emotionally. Jennie Pugh was a darling, a sweetheart and Elaine’s best friend.

Jennie Pugh

She had been to see Jennie almost every month since she had been in England, and she had been a confidante and an advisor. This picture is of Jennie and Elaine at her favourite restaurant, The Moat in Luton, in 2005. This is the Jennie I know and this is the Jennie I will remember. She told me all the old stories of Levi and Sarah, my great-grandparents, and the stories of their children and their children’s children. It was Jennie who had given the walnuts from her own tree that Sheila, Thelma and Clarice had planted on our Otorohanga farm in memory of Jason.
That tree had been planted from a walnut that Jennie’s cousin and husband Ernest Pugh had brought from Levi’s house in Wing. And the walnut that grew on the tree in Levi’s yard had come from the house of his mother, Mary Tearle nee Andrews, in Stanbridge. The two walnut trees in Whawharua carry the memories of my great-great-grandmother.
Jennie’s death will forever hurt us because it was long, it was painful and it was dreadful. It started with a diagnosis for diverticulitis, which three years later turned out to be a tumour. The doctor all
that time insisted that her pains were imaginary and her appointments to see him were unnecessary and time-wasting. He thought she was just a silly old woman. She was finally invalided to a care home when she couldn’t look after herself and within days she was drugged beyond recognition.
She had entered as a cancer patient and the heroin they gave her (there is a fancy name for it) was for the pain, but it made her almost unrecognisable.  The Macmillan Nurses never appeared. When I
asked would they visit, the manager said they weren’t needed because Jennie was under the care of a District Nurse, and the home would call her when they thought it was necessary. We visited
Jennie every week, and we were heartbroken at her slowly deteriorating condition. Eventually she simply gave up. The drunken-headed incapacity she felt, the helplessness, the base and deprived living conditions, the smell, the cramped room she was never allowed to leave unless she was being carried to dinner, the bullying night nurse, all this finally overcame her and she gave her body one last command which it could not disobey; no food, no water, I am going to die. I want to see Ernest.
She turned her face to the wall for weeks. There was no sign of our Jennie in the little curled-up bundle of pyjamas in the hospital-loaned adjustable cot, just her body obeying her last command. It
was truly awful.
She left me one last legacy. When Levi’s sister, Elizabeth, married and moved to Huddersfield, everyone in the family called him Uncle Bedford, and when he died, Levi took the train all the way to his funeral in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. When Levi returned, he was carrying Uncle Bedford’s glass cane, and that cane had been standing against the wall in Jennie’s house since Levi died. A
few weeks ago, Jennie’s son, Norman drove from Chelmsford and presented me with the glass cane. It’s clearly old, it’s a pale green and it must be very brittle. I have mounted it on solid timbers in
the loft, and there it will stay until I have better plans for it. It’s not just a glass stick; it’s not even a Cane of Remembrance – it has its own life and its own story and it carries with it a raft of associations. It’s a treasure.
I must also record our deepest appreciation of a gift from Margaret Brookfield of Perth, Australia, of a quite magnificent hamper of Duchy Originals organic produce from Harrods of London. Margaret is David Palmer’s sister and Jennie & Joyce’s niece.
Joyce Palmer’s 90th birthday gave us an opportunity to explore part of England where we had little local knowledge – Norfolk. Interestingly, there were Tearle histories in Norfolk and on the Suffolk border. One of our ancestors had moved to Sandridge in the 1780s and had his children here until the turn of the century. Two of his sons became vicars, Frederick in Gazeley, Suffolk, and Edwin in Stockton, Norfolk. In both of these churches there is a stained glass window in memory of these men. Also, Elaine found out that there was family of her own in Norfolk, and we wanted to make sure we met Norah Lowe and her family in Stalham, and Elaine wanted to see her friend and ex-colleague Mandy, who owned a boat on the Norfolk Broads.
Joyce Palmer

Joyce Palmer

Joyce’s party was taking place at the home of her nephew David
Palmer and his wife, Yana. We had met previously at The Halfway pub in Luton for Jennie’s 90th. Joyce looks a little the worse for an adventure she had when she fell, but she was unbroken and looking forward to the party. David had driven all the way to Balham to pick Joyce up and we volunteered to return her so he didn’t have to make that long return trip twice, through busy, twisting London streets. David’s house is the former brewing house in Pulham St Mary and it’s part of a much larger conversion of the entire brewery into a hub
of flats and cottages.
Opposite, they are repairing the roof on the old church. Yana’s mother and stepfather arrived, followed by some village couples. Joyce loved her party. “I didn’t have a 21st birthday party,” she explained. “My elder sister, Edith, died and Mother and Daddy couldn’t find it within them to celebrate with me, so nothing happened.” She looked into her glass and then round the people gathered in David’s living room. “This is the best party I have ever had. The salmon was wonderful, and I must say it’s the first time I have ever drunk champagne.”
The following day, Elaine and I drove to Stalham with Joyce to visit Norah Lowe, Joyce’s cousin. Norah’s children were gathered in her tiny living room, as was Lacey, her darling great-grandchild. She busied herself bringing biscuits and pouring tea, and when she wasn’t serving real plates she served pretend ones on the seats to little invisible people, all of whom had names.
“Mandy, are you on the boat tomorrow?” Elaine asked on the phone that night.
“Yes, but we are not going anywhere, so you are welcome to visit us.”
Visiting Mandy in her boat

Visiting Mandy in her boat

Mandy knew Elaine very well. She gave her complicated instructions on how to get there, including something about some painted hatching in the middle of the road.
“Paint hatching?” I asked as we drove through the villages and towns of Norfolk to get to the Broads.
“Do you mean painted chickens?”
“Oh, just drive.”
“What’s wrong with the boat?” she asked, when we arrived and had settled down to a cup of tea alongside the barbeque.
“Nothing that I know of, is there, Colin?” said Mandy blankly. “Can you see something?”
Elaine had another go. “I mean, why doesn’t the boat go anywhere? Doesn’t the motor work?”
“The motor is fine, it keeps us warm sometimes. It’s quite useful for all sorts of things.” She stopped. Elaine waited. “We can cast off and go for a ride, but we can’t actually go anywhere.” It was Elaine’s turn to look blank.
“I’ll show you.” She skipped past a small dinghy that Colin was working on and walked briskly to the end of the canal. “Do you see that bridge down there on the right? Our boat’s too tall to go under it, and too expensive to lift over it. The canal we are on is a dead end behind us and there is another bridge like that one about a mile to the left of our canal. We can go boating all right, but we can’t go
“So your boat is rather like a floating caravan on a fixed berth?”
“Why did you buy it if you can’t go boating?”
“Because the Broads is a unique place. A beautiful place. You can only do 5mph, so you don’t need a large boat unless you need the room for sleeping accommodation. See the dinghy that Colin is working on? We run about in that and we sleep on the boat.”
They took us for a short ride in the dinghy and we passed this quite magnificent, if a little fading, boat house. Where else on earth would you find a boat house with pillared porch? Classical palace from the front, bach at the back.
“What about Wales?” I said once we were back home.
“Yes? What about Wales?”
“Would you like to go to Cardigan Bay? Lie in the sun, walk on the rocks, watch the yachts sail by? Remember Phil Thomas from Sainsbury’s? We used to put the nose bags on and go for lunch in the café. We can go there for a few days. He’s given me directions – go straight through Swansea, stay on the M4 until it disappears and take the road to Llandysul. We’ll drop off in Cardiff for a few moments to see James at St Mary’s Whitchurch.” In order to go to Wales you have to cross the Severn and it’s not just any old river, neither is the Severn Bridge just any old bridge. It’s a toll bridge to start with and it is simply huge. You can see it for miles before you get anywhere near it, and when you are on it, the towers holding the suspension wires soar into the air above you. The tides below you run at eight knots and raise the water level up to 30ft between low tide and high tide.
The incoming tide passes the outgoing tide, and there is a boilingshere plane between them. Here is the reason we called in at St Mary’s Whitchurch. James was actually a Preston man who joined the Welch Regiment in WW1 because he was living and working in Wales. He died after the war ended, having survived it all the way through. He still has family living in Cardiff. At some time in the late afternoon we finally reached Llandysul, having driven about nine hours to get there.
J Tearle

J Tearle

True, the views were sometimes beautiful, but it was a shaggy dog who got out of the car and asked where Phil Thomas lived. It had started to drizzle a light, soggy rain and in the dim light I stopped an
elderly man walking briskly down the narrow footpath past the whitewashed houses and coloured doors.
“Phil Thomas. He lives on this road, but I’m not sure where.”
“Oooh, I know several Thomases in this town, but I don’t know any Thomas on this road, and no Phil anywhere in town. Ask at the pub over there, they might know, and they might let you use the phone to ask Phil where he lives.” I walked towards the tiny island of light across the road and passed into the public bar. “Phil Thomas? I know everyone in this town,” said the bar man, who I think was also the owner, “but I’ve never heard of Phil.” He looked around the other men in the bar, seeking confirmation. They all nodded. I took out my cellphone and flipped it open. It didn’t even say ROAMING.
“Do you mind if I use your phone? My cellphone has no coverage here.”
“Neither has anyone else’s,” said the barman cheerfully, handing me the phone. “If you are still here in the morning, you can climb the hill across the river and you’ll find a signal at the top.”
Phil gave me the final directions to his house and we pulled up gratefully alongside.
“Mate!” he said. “How good to see you!”
We climbed the steep, short steps to a small grassy yard, past a faded green shed and across some gravel to the door of the house. “Get back! Get Back!” yelled Phil. He pushed the door inward and two huge dogs bounded through the opening and crashed into our legs. “Don’t worry about them, they are just a little excited because they’ve been inside all day,” he said as the dogs wacked their tails against us and licked whatever of us they could reach. “They’re Rhodesian ridgebacks,” he said by way of explanation, as we edged through the opening and pushed our bags past the dogs into the hall, “but they are very good pets. The older one is a replacement for my first dog, who is in the living room, and the younger one is a stray we were given to look after.”
So there is another one to come. How do you get a replacement for a dog that isn’t dead?
He slowly turned the knob to open the living room door. “Sit!” he yelled. “Sit down!” We followed him into the living room, the ridgebacks diving through our legs to get there first. An elderly black
labrador dropped painfully from a huge red leather sofa pushed up against the wall and came to greet us.
Keren introduced herself as she pushed the skipping dogs apart. She was a short, slim, young woman with shoulder-length dark hair and a black ruffled blouse. Good looking, too; she was just back from working in the local Buddhist temple where she told us she worked as a volunteer several days a week. This was the temple that made British news headlines because their sacred cow had developed TB and had to be destroyed. No reprieve. She made us a beautiful dinner of baked spuds and slices of beef and then gave us the cook’s tour of the three-storeyed house. It was called Arwel and it was only a few doors from the pub I had visited. I digested this slowly while I unpacked the suitcases in the little loft bedroom. Painted white, with a brass bed, high pointed ceiling and a skylight window, the room was cosy and inviting. Huge oak beams supported a tongue and groove planked ceiling. Scaffolding outside told a tale of ongoing renewal.
In the morning I decided I’d tackle to issue of the stranger in Llandysul head on. “Prengwyn is just over that hill, isn’t it?” I said at breakfast. “You were born and brought up there. I suppose it would be 5 miles by road? Two miles as the crow flies? It just seems so odd that they don’t know you, when you live a few doors from them here, and only a few miles away from them all your life.” Phil took me outside and pointed to the hill across the river.
“If you climb the hill you can see most of Wales,” he said. “It takes about two and half hours to get there, half that to get down. When you get there you’d be able to use your mobile. The only trouble is, you have to walk the long way round because the short way across the river is by bridge, and it’s privately owned. Of course, you could join the Angling Club for £1000 a year, and take the bridge route or …” He paused. “You’d be unlikely to get there and back without a rain shower, too, on any day.”
He hitched up his green khaki trousers, tucked in his cotton shirt and smoothed out his old green jersey. His long hair and light stubble framed a face of fortitude and yet great good humour. “They call us The English,” he said slowly, uncomfortably. “I have lived here all my life except for some time in an English school, but I don’t speak Welsh natively. Anyone they view as a stranger is always called The English, no matter what nationality they really are.”
Elaine joined us and Phil whistled up the dogs. “I’ll take the dogs for a walk while I show you around,” he said. We walked down the hill and along a path that followed the river. A small weir chuckled on a sweeping bend and dark, peat-stained water splashed and sparkled in the sunshine as it danced over the weir and swirled its way off beh
ind us. “So you need to live in your valley all your life?” I asked.
“More than that, you need to have lived in your village and married a fellow villager. Your father and mother would have lived there and probably their parents as well. And you need to speak Welsh
as an infant. Anything else and you just don’t belong there.”
“I know how that works,” I said with some feeling.
“For ten years we lived in a village of about 60 houses, in the King Country, called Piopio. Everyone was related to everyone else and the Outsiders, who were related to no-one, were usually the teachers and the policeman. Strangely enough, from time to time, you would hear the villagers slag each other off and call one of them an Outsider. Everyone belonged and yet they didn’t belong. Sometimes they’d refer to themselves as not feeling that they belonged either. It’s tribal, this thing of villages. You are both important and yet nothing, you belong and yet for one reason
or another you don’t belong. Village life can be supportive, but
mostly it’s destructive, and the people they take most delight in
destroying is each other.”
“That reminds me,” said Elaine. “As we came into your road
there was a sign that said TOWN. I thought this was a village.”
“Do you see the church over there? It’s a big one, so this is a
town,” said Phil. “We are as good as Milton Keynes, which has
about 300,000 people in it, because we are a town, and so are
they. And we have about 300 people.” He grinned. “The
British have a way of elevating and levelling at the same time.”
We had walked some way down the road and Phil snapped
open a wooden contraption that looked like a stock gate,
whereby the gate opened only wide enough for one person to
walk through at a time as the gate swung in the V of two short
wooden fences. “It’s called a kissing gate,” he explained. “The
gate kisses, not you.”
We walked in cool, dappled gloom along a bush walk that rose quickly upwards while we looked for mushrooms and orchids and tried some small, bitter, black berries attached to miniature shrubs barely six inches high. “Do you see the ridge on the downhill side of this path?” He pointed to the trees growing amongst an embankment that followed our path. “It’s Iron Age.” I did a quick calculation. The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age, and that finished more or less when the Romans arrived, about 2000 years ago. “You mean somewhere between 2000 and 2800 years old?” I surmised. “Not less than 2500 years,” he said. “Our first settlers arrived in the 16th Century, at the earliest, so this has got a bit of
age on that.” “Ours started arriving as the glaciers retreated, 10,000 years ago,” he said, shortly. His ancestors had been here for all that time, and he still didn’t belong.
We took the coastal route for the rest of our holiday in Wales, determined to see as much of the Cardigan Coast as we could. There are two things that stand out about a summer holiday in Wales; it’s cold, and it rains nearly every day. Here is the beach at Llangrannog on a lovely, sunny Welsh summer day. The craggy coastline is bitten into by sandy little nooks like this where the locals and the English
enjoy the lifestyle. Behind me is the café on a rocky knoll and in front of me people are swimming in their wetsuits and enjoying the sun in their anoraks. It’s going to take a long time to get a tan. When we left, Phil said, “That was the finest spell of weather we’ve had all summer. Three days of sun is a miracle.” “A gift from the sunny Waikato,” said Elaine with a flourish.
The second thing we remarked on was a genuine surprise, no less because it was directly related to our own city of St Albans. This is the town of New Quay, sometimes spelt Newquay, even on the road signs. You can see that it’s still a commercial fishing town, even though it’s on pretty hard times. The Cardigan Coast faces Ireland and the Irish Sea is as cold, stormy and unforgiving as the Tasman. We walked along the beach, warming our toes in the dry sand, watching the locals digging moats around their sand castles and pestering their mothers for ice creams. Large grey seagulls screamed and dived overhead and a small group of teenagers was attending a coaching session on surf rescue being run by an enthusiastic young man in a black and yellow wetsuit who was encouraging them to jump into the water from the surf ski. To our left another group, but much older, were working on an orange inflatable zephyr. We approached the zephyr and took a few pictures of the scene as the men worked. An older man, greying and distinguished in a blue blazer with RNLI and a Commodore badge on it wandered over to us.
“What broke?” I asked, after we had introduced ourselves.
“The inflatable part of the boat has some patches of perished rubber, so we are repairing that and we’ve taken the opportunity while the boat is out of the water to make some improvements and adjustments to the motor.”
We watched the team with interest, and Elaine said,
“Where did the boat come from?”
“Do you mean how did we pay for it?” asked the Commodore. “By public subscription, private bequests and a hell of a lot of fundraising.”
I looked at the impressive club shed and noted the launch inside, he saw my glance. “That, too,” he said with feeling. “The one before it was called the St Albans because all the money for it was raised by a group in that lovely city.” He swung his arm in a wide arc encompassing all the view, “We patrol everything on the sea between here and Ireland. We can be called out at any time of the day and night to save someone’s life, and every single one of us is a volunteer. The only paid man in the entire club is the engineer who is working on the motor of this zephyr. That’s a full-time, paid job.
Of course, he’s also responsible for all the equipment on the Lifeboat as well as making sure the tractor works every time it’s needed.” He had seen a signal from someone and he readied himself to leave.
“There are six hundred such clubs in Britain and every one of them survives only because of donations and volunteers.” A proud man. A good man. We had time for a wedding too, this time it was in the Cotswolds. Last Christmas our young neighbours, Samantha and Mark, had invited us to their wedding and they were talking to us about the arrangements. They had hired a water-mill in the hills and
would have their ceremony in a walled garden which had a covered walkway round it. If it rained, there would still be a viable ceremony, but if it was sunny, the view would be quite spectacular. This is the venue on a quite beautiful Cotswolds summer day.
It was marred slightly by a screech of tyres and the loud bang of two vehicles coming together, on the other side of the hedge behind which I had parked the car. When I arrived at the scene everything was calm enough; an older woman was being eased out of the front car which had been tail-ended by a huge 4×4. I took off my black suit jacket and stood in the middle of the road in my white shirt directing the traffic through the one-lane gap between the cars and the other side of the road. I didn’t have any authority to do so, of course, and if someone had taken it upon themselves simply to charge the gap, I could have done nothing about it. However, no-one did and everyone I waved down and asked to stop while cars drove past, did so and waited patiently for their turn. After about 20min, a police car screamed up with its blue lights flashing and a young cop jumped onto the road and waved me out of the way. Job done. No-one dead.
Cotswalds house

Cotswalds house

After that, the wedding was a piece of cake. We met all the friends
who Mark and Sam had talked about and whose names I was familiar with, but whom I had never met. Nice people, too. It was simply a glorious day; and the accommodation in the mill was superb. In this photo, Mark is examining the garter that Sam has insisted he look for. You can see the low stone wall behind which is a beautiful little pool and the walled garden with coloured lights, a small fountain and a brass statue of a semi-clothed girl who must be freezing by now with all that cold water constantly flowing over her. I made up a CD of the day’s photos and mailed copies of it to Sam, her parents
and a few of her friends.
Mark and Sam at their wedding

Mark and Sam at their wedding

You will remember Thelma Shepherd, Dad’s cousin, who was our first contact in England way back in the middle 80s when she answered an advertisement that Barbara Tearle had placed in a
local newspaper, enquiring about relatives of Levi Tearle of Wing. Thelma lived in Wing and she made the monumental voyage to New Zealand to see us in the same year Jason was killed. Her son, Martin, lives in Warwick and works as a designer for Land Rover. He sent us a card – would we like to come to his 40th birthday celebrations in
Leighton Buzzard, with a trip on the narrow gauge steam train? Of course we would. This is the train as it pulled into the Leighton Buzzard station. I suppose the gauge would be about a foot, and the original train hauled sand. It looks awkwardly tall for such a skinny footprint, but if you put people into such a machine, it needs to be tall enough to accommodate them. It wouldn’t look so gangly if it
was hauling the old sand wagons.
steam train
“It hauled sand from near Heath and Reach to Dunstable,” said Martin as we stood on the platform and admired the train we knew had been an obsession of his since his boyhood. He still travels to
Leighton Buzzard from Warwick almost every month – to keep his steam certificate current, he insists. “It’s very pure sand and it comes in a range of colours, so it has lots of uses, especially in construction. After the War, the local farmers who were mining the sand were told that their drays were ruining the road, so they had to pay for repairs.


They weren’t keen to accept the cost of maintaining public roads, so they extended this narrow gauge railway to Leighton Buzzard. The
sand could then be offloaded onto boats for cartage down the Grand Union Canal to London.”
“So this railway dates to just after WW1?” I asked.
“1919 to be exact,” he said.
We climbed aboard for the return journey once the engine had been turned, and the train let off lots of steam and loud toots of its whistle. The sharp, acrid smell of coal smoke made me wonder what
the owners of the trim tidy houses that lined its route thought of a coal burning locomotive on their back doorsteps. Perhaps they weren’t allowed to complain; after all, the loco was clearly there
before they built along the course. The train stopped at the one road crossing on its journey, not far from Sheila Leng’s house on Hockliffe Rd. Tall beech trees lined the course and green dappled light filtered into the train. Two men jumped off the train and ran either side of it out onto the road. One car going to Leighton Buzzard from the left of the train, stopped to watch; another from the right, heading to the A5, charged the crossing to avoid being held up. This is the crossing where I had often sat and watched the train gently rock itself across the road. Martin climbed down from the train as soon as it stopped at the terminus and had a chat with the engineer. Two experienced, dedicated men, giving of their lives for the survival of their history and the education of their children.
The smell of the coal smoke had made me remember my time near the railways: I lived for 6 weeks in the now-burned down Empire Hotel in Frankton near Hamilton, NZ. It was interesting…. The cook was a great guy – huge, bald, loud, dressed in a white singlet, canvas trousers and black boots, sweating all the time. He cooked a swathe of bacon, and a bucket of sausages, in a yard-wide cast iron frying pan over a red-hot coal range while the eggs gently boiled in little cups alongside a smaller pan of frying onions. The under-cook passed him hot plates from the oven and he slapped some bacon, a
couple of sausages, onions and an egg on each plate and then whacked it down on the counter, swinging it along the shiny surface until the man at the head of the breakfast queue swept it up before it hit the floor.
You could hear each man take the plate and swear at how hot it was as he carried it back to his table. They seemed to know a lot about the ancestry of the cook. My bedroom was on the second floor and overlooked the railway shunting yards. The drivers and engineers
yelled orders and banged trains together all night long, but no more energetically than at eight o’clock in the morning when everyone in Frankton had to cross the railway line to go to work in Hamilton. At that hour of the day here was always a train (or two – it was a dual line between the station and the shunting yards) across the only crossing on the only road to Hamilton.
The hotel – more a boarding house, really in the way it was run, was a wooden structure clad in weatherboard. It was quite a handsome turn of the century building painted green and white with a large gold sign. Even in the nineteen sixties when I was at university, it had seen its best days. The green was faded, the white was dirty and the sign was cracked and had bits missing. The stairs creaked, the roof leaked and the manager put his head to every door in the hotel to assure himself there were no girls in the hotel after nine PM. In fact, women were not allowed in the hotel in the day-time let alone stay overnight. The hotel had A Reputation and the manager was determined to stamp it out.
I suspect (as did the local press) that a disaffected lothario burnt it down when his girlfriend was discovered under his bed. The tragedy was that he killed six in the attempt to extract his revenge on the hotel, and he is still in prison for the offence.
I suppose that sooner or later I should tell you about my job situation. It didn’t start very well, with last year ending in unemployment. At least the flat was paid off, so we didn’t have the
worry of having to find £600-odd per month for rent, or the mortgage, but being out of work is not a good feeling. I had some work, with the Our St Albans magazine asking me for my photos, but
while it was good to be wanted, and my photos appearing on the cover of the magazine, there was no money in it. I had to register as a Jobseeker and that is not a nice experience, nor is the constant trekking into town every week, to prove to them that I was still looking. No money came from them, either. I was paying to see them, but they weren’t paying me the promised £62/wk, so I was on a definite loser. I applied for a job with an IT company in Harlow, it wouldn’t be easy getting there from here, but with a bit of careful driving it should be manageable. I had a phone interview with the IT manager, to make sure I had some proper IT skills, and another one with the IT manager and his boss. When they said they would like to meet me, I was pretty pleased. First, though, they wanted me to take some on-line psychosomatic tests. Or perhaps psychometric, I don’t know. All I know is that there were tests of sentences where you were told one thing then asked what didn’t happen? Then there was a test where you had to say what the upside down word was. Then there was a test of four symbols which were inverses and mirrors of each other. Which was the upside down reverse? Then there was the rotated symbol; which one was rotated only three times? Something like that. I cannot, I never have been, able to reverse or mirror things in my head, I always have to make a model of it and rotate the model. The tests were 40 tests in 20 mins. I couldn’t finish them in time, except for the first one. I failed miserably. They rang me the next day
to say “No, thanks.” Even that was an improvement; no-one ever rings. Elaine introduced me to the IT tech who managed the computers and network in Sandridge School, and he organised a phone interview with David Wall, the owner and manager of IntermIT, which was the company that supplied these IT services to
schools. I registered as self-employed on 9 Feb 2009, which was the day I signed the agreement between me and IntermIT. It seemed a very slow start, but with some training on the peculiar networking technology they use here in Hertfordshire, and some shadowing of the local IT techies, I earned a couple of schools of my own, firstly just a few hours a week, then three days a week and now, in the New Year, I shall start at 10:00 on Tues and then work 8-hr days until 5pm on Fridays.
It’s quite a cool job. I fix dying PCs and I resurrect dead ones. I administer the school computer network and clean the overhead projectors. I install new PCs and run housekeeping jobs on the
entire network and its printers. To start with it was unutterably foreign; the network system was unique to a small company in Abingdon, Oxford, called RM, and it had been a long time since I had
been close to individual PCs, so I was no longer intimately familiar with Windows XP Professional.
These days, though, I see recurring problems and I very seldom have a day where anything is unusual. Some schools have me for a two hour stint per week, and others have a four-hour block. It depends on what they sign up for. I prefer the four-hour schools because there is always a harried dash between schools, so to have only one cross-town trip between two four-hour schools is a much nicer day than three such trips between two-hour schools.
It’s also very nice to walk into work and for people to say “Oh, Ewart! How nice to see you.” At Watton-at-Stone, they asked Elaine and I to come to their staff party, St Anthony’s School in Watford gave me Christmas dinner and the Ryde School gave us a bottle of mulled wine and a box of chocolates. We put those on the Christmas table.
The money from my Jobseekers Allowance arrived in the first week in December and I was pleased we weren’t absolutely desperate for it way back in January. Not that we would have got a cent at
home, anyway. When I was out of work for a short while before Waitomo Computers started, I called at the Te Kuiti job centre to enrol as unemployed and the lady said she wasn’t going to pay me anything. “You’ve got a house, haven’t you? You have to sell that first and when the money runs out, we’ll have another look at your situation then.”
So at least I am now gainfully employed, and I do like the work.
Strangely enough, the year has ended as it began. Snow; lots of it. Perhaps a little earlier than last year, or it’s possible that we’ll get another load come February. Whatever the case, this isactually our 10th Christmas in England, and our 10th Christmas in St Albans. I remember our first really well. We were so surprised we were still actually here, we hugged each other and danced in St Brelades place, while we listened to the local choir sing carols in the frost and the dark. They stood in a semi-circle in their red cloaks and white hats, holding fluttering candles that somehow stayed alight, while they sang like angels. It seemed really odd to be celebrating Christmas while being freezing cold, and the day had been pitch black since ½ past 4. Now, it’s how Christmas ought to be; that’s why there are logs on the fire – actually, that’s why there’s a fire at all. That’s also why there is a roast in the oven and baked vegetables to eat, Christmas pudding and fairy lights. It’s all part of Christmas in the dark and the cold. Christmas is a mid-winter celebration. From now on the nights get shorter and spring is coming.
I still had a problem with how to celebrate ten Christmases in England. I settled on Luton Hoo. We had been to see Four Weddings and a Funeral at the movies in Hamilton and we had see it twice more on TV, although not deliberately. All the action in the cars to and from the beautiful house with the portico, is on the driveway into Luton Hoo, although the evening scene of attempted seduction took place in a nearby hotel. Since the movie, the stately home has been bought by a small hotel chain and it has been turned into a very beautiful hotel, spa and conference centre. I’ll take Elainethere. A
chauffeur-driven car? I found one of those, too.
“Make sure it’s warm, because she won’t be wearing very much.”
“It’s a Mercedes, Sir, and it is not only warm, it has heated seats.”
Elaine bought herself an elegant cocktail dress and evening sandals from Debenhams. She went to Pure, the local beauty salon, and had her eyebrows shaped, a manicure and a facial. On the evening before she went, she also had a pedicure. In her dress and sandals, red fingernails and toenails and a new hairstyle, she looked sensational. I gave her a ruby necklace that I had been saving up for all year. Perfect.
Elaine celebrating 10 years in England

Elaine celebrating 10 years in England

The car arrived exactly on time at our flat and the driver eased the car out onto the road. “I’m a little worried about the snow,” he said as he accelerated up the hill. “These rear-engined German cars simply cannot hold the road in icy conditions. I’ll keep my eye out and if the weather worsens I may have to come and get you in a different vehicle.”
“All right,” I said, “but I want a posh one.” The driver grinned and turned up the climate control. Luton Hoo was as gorgeous as we had hoped. As we drove up the mile-long sweep of its approach, we could see its tall buildings outlined by concealed lights reflecting in the gloss of deep ridges of freshly fallen, glistening white snow. A doorman eased open the car door and Elaine gingerly stepped out onto the frosty tarmac. The portico overhung the steps but not far enough over the drive to allow a dry footfall. We helped her up the stairs and she practically melted into the warmth of the Luton Hoo entranceway. Tapestries hung on the walls and Italian marble faced all the corners and most of the niches.
“The marble cost more than the entire estate,” said our dinner waiter, while he led us to a sofa near a huge fire. “I’ll come and get you once your dinner order is complete.”
It was just a magic evening.
There is a short update to the story that began this letter – Joni, Barry and Liam are now in New Zealand and they have spent Christmas with Elaine’s mum, Alison Pond, in Hamilton. Liam is
her first great-grandchild, and she was simply ecstatic to see him, and to renew her deep and loving friendship with Genevieve. They will be in NZ for another couple of weeks, and we wish them all
the best.
I have to ask myself if it was all worth while. Did I do the right thing in dragging Elaine 12,000 miles around the globe to live near London? Was all of this a waste of time? Could we have done something better? You have to give Elaine a huge amount of credit for tidying up all our affairs at home before we left, for allowing herself to be wrenched away from the only home she had really wanted all her life – a beautiful house nestled into the hillside overlooking a lovely green valley.
She had to start everything all over again; retrain as a teacher and climb the ladder of promotion like any rookie. She had to prove to the English that she is as gifted a teacher for their children as she was for Kiwi kids. You can’t say that, you have to prove it. Year after year, her kids have simply adored her, she is showered in thanks at the end of every term and parents who initially found their children were forced to go to Sandridge by some invisible bureaucracy and truculently berated her for the future possible shortcomings of a stranger and a foreigner, found themselves admiring her and then thanking her for the opportunities she had given their children, which no teacher had ever offered before. But that’s not why she came here; she had already proved all that and she had hoped the Agency had put it all behind her.
She came here because I came. For that, I cannot thank her enough. I think that life in St Albans has been better than it ever was in New Zealand. We have had adventures in England, Europe and Africa that we could never have hoped for in New Zealand, and neither of us would have missed living so close to London. Our friends still come to see us, and those who can brave the ladder roost in the loft; we had Iris and Jill over for a most beautiful mid-week Christmas dinner that Elaine prepared and we had Christmas Day with friends in Cuffley. Our cup literally runneth over. Our one-roomed flat is not a house but it is most definitely a home.
May we both wish you the very best of a modern Merry Christmas and we do hope you find fulfilment and rewards in the New Year.
Lots of love
Ewart and Elaine.

Letters home, 2008, Christmas

On the week we paid off the mortgage, I lost my job. As part of the ServiceDesk management team, I had been to Brno in the Czech Republic to see how a model Desk ran. They regard these occasions as another opportunity to get as drunk as possible, on someone else’s money. “What happens on tour, stays on tour,” my boss explained. By 10:30pm my boss, the Chief Negotiator and our hosts were working their way through a stash of bottles in a local restaurant-come-pub. “You’re not drinking,” said the Negotiator. “You are making us feel uncomfortable.”

“I don’t judge you,” I said. “I just don’t drink.”

“We can’t get properly tanked if you’re sitting there stone cold sober.”

Back in Capability Green, near Luton, the autumn colours were beginning to grow riotous, led by the acers.

Capability Green

I have to save £34,000,” said my boss, “and it has to come from the Desk. She looked at me sharply. “I can save £54,000 if I cut your rate.”

“No you won’t,” I said.

“If you don’t take the cut, you will be deemed to have resigned,” she said.

I gave her my Blackberry, my laptop and my door key. On the way home I rang cousin Iris Adams. “Come and have a cup of tea,” she said. “It’s always nice to see you.”

The previous Saturday, Elaine and I had walked into the Halifax and paid off the final amount on our mortgage, plus a closure fee, plus release on the deed documents. “How do we get the deeds?” Elaine asked.

“In a couple of weeks Head Office will write to you and ask you how you want them delivered,” said the teller.

“That’s it?”

She smiled.

Outside the bank Elaine said, “We’ve just paid off two houses in our lifetime. And for exactly the same amount.” She took my arm and gave me a gorgeous smile. “What a relief!” She said. “No mortgage. Let’s go and get a cup of coffee.”

I suppose I shouldn’t really start near the end of the year, I should show you the highlights of the year more or less in chronological order.

The first highlight was our trip to Bordeaux which merged the end of 2007 into the beginning of 2008. It was cold, it was dark, it was miserable; and the French were even worse. We took an easyJet flight from Luton and landed early on 29 Dec 2007. The taxi wasn’t at all certain where the Confort Hotel Meriadeck was, but we swept through town in his elderly Merc and after running round the one-way system for a while, we dropped a street level under a bridge and pulled up outside a lift. The cabbie opened the boot, dropped our bags on the pavement and looked at us.

“Ici,” he said.

Some men in overalls were carrying mattresses into the lift, propping the door open as they loaded. We looked at the meter and gave the cabbie his fare. “Let’s try my French,” said Elaine.

“Ou est l’entrance?” she said to the nearest mattress-bearer. He looked at her blankly. “Do you know where the entrance is?” she said, trying the only other language she knew. He said something to the man carrying the other end of the mattress and she came back to me near the luggage. “I think they’re Turkish,” she said.

A short fat man in a grubby apron bustled up and waved the mattress into the lift. “Are you tryin’ to get into the ‘otel?” he asked in perfect Cockney. We nodded. “This is the goods entrance and there ain’t no door, but I’ll take you up to the first floor – that’s reception.”

We crushed into the lift alongside the mattresses and our bags. “Ow long are you ‘ere for?”  

“Until the other side of New Year,” I explained.

“Bordeaux ain’t much of a place in win’er. This is wine country and that’s what people come ‘ere for – wine tours. I don’ know if there’s much open.” He hesitated. “Best a luck, Mate.” The door slid noisily back and he leapt out of the way of unfolding mattresses snapping open after being confined in the lift.

“Room 416,” said the receptionist. “If you are going to come into the hotel later than 10pm, please ring reception from the phone in the entrance hall.” She gave us an electronic door key and we rolled our bags over to the internal lift on the other side of reception.

“So how does he talk to those guys?” I wondered.

“In Turkish, I suppose,” said Elaine.

A skinny brunette in a blue hospital smock appeared behind us, followed us into our room and rapidly made up the bed. It was one of those foldaway divans with a metal frame and it took up all the room between the table at one end of the room and the mantelpiece at the other end. With it open, we couldn’t get from the door to the window. She was an expert, punching the mattress in exactly the right place to make the frame cough and fold neatly in two. She slid one half under the other. “You’re doing that from now on,” said Elaine. “I’m not losing my hand to that metal lobster.”

While Elaine hung up her clothes in the wooden wardrobe, I made a cup of tea with a cup from the cupboard and some tea bags near the kitchen sink. No kettle; I took the tea bag out of the cup. I put a couple of tiny pots of UHT milk into the cup, filled it up with cold water and wound the microwave oven’s clockwork control to 2min. There was a powerful smell while the water heated.

“What’s going on?” Elaine yelled. “That smells like burnt toast and last Sunday’s roast cooked into an apple pie.”

“I think that’s exactly what happened,” I explained. “Someone turned on the microwave for an hour to cook a frozen ready meal and just left it while they went out.”

“That smell is truly awful. I hope it goes away soon.”

Someone had stolen my camera from the rack in the train on my way to work a couple of weeks previously, and I felt naked going outside without it. “Take a few shots,” said Elaine generously handing me her Sony, “while there’s still a little sunshine.” The boules players on the Esplanade Meriadeck  smiled at me, and then let me shoot their action while they concentrated on the game. At the end of the jardin was an open area containing a stone obelisk wrapped in a large broken chain. This small plot was rather grandly called the Esplanade Charles De Gaulle. We crossed the Cours D’Albert and followed a narrow street past the Hotel de Ville and a skating rink towards the Cathedral St Andre – Bordeaux Cathedral – in the Place Pey-Berland. Two tall, heavily ornamented towers dominated the front of the cathedral while huge flying buttresses swung in arches from the top of the walls down to pillars alongside the church. The gold-plated statue of a saint adorned a tower in a small square behind the cathedral and beyond that was a tramway. We tried the front doors of the cathedral, but they were locked. Traffic swirled all around – on the wrong side of the road, of course. We constantly had to remember where we were and to look to our left for oncoming traffic. They ignored pedestrian crossings, parping at us if we got in their way, although they did stop for a red light. “We’ll get some milk and breakfast things – and some fruit – so that we are not paying too much to eat,” said Elaine. “Keep your eye out for a dairy.”

The boules players, Esplanade Meriadeck

The boules players, Esplanade Meriadeck

In one of those existentialist moments beloved of the Continental writers, our way was blocked by a river of movement. People were walking past us, left and right, in a solid phalanx and we stood flummoxed, waiting for the tide to ebb. It was like walking out of the Oxford St Tube station. I looked up for the street sign on the stone wall in front of me. Rue Sainte Catherine. It’s the main shopping street. We retreated one street and walked a block to a cosy looking café to re-assess the situation.

“Why don’t we eat? Looks all right.” We walked inside.

A waiter asked us something very rapidly in French. “A table for two, please,” I said.

“Deux?” he asked.

He lead us to a table near the window and I picked up a menu. “Un moment,” he said and left. A young couple with a child smiled shyly at us and sat at the next table; an older couple sat opposite us across the aisle. Another waiter asked the young couple for their order, and then took the order of the older couple. About

Rue Sainte-Catherine

20min later he was back with their orders. He disappeared.

I looked at Elaine, stood up and put on my coat. The waiter re-appeared. “Your ordeur?” he asked. We ordered from the menu and he left. “What was that all about?” asked Elaine.

“If you stand up, then you are taller than everyone else around you, and the house thinks you’re leaving without paying. It certainly got their attention.”

We waited for another half an hour while others, who had arrived after us, were served. “Do that stand up thing again,” murmured Elaine, “otherwise I’m just going to leave anyway.”

Our food arrived and it was poor. The lettuce was wizened and the bread was stale. We ate unhappily.

Monument aux Girondins

Outside we braved the Rue Sainte-Catherine again and saw the kebab houses and fashion stores cheek to jowl along its length. It was long, dead straight and absolutely crowded. At one end it opened into a square called the Place des Quinconces that was once the courtyard of a castle, with a huge fountain, called the Monument aux Girondins, of prancing horses being driven by Britannia as the centrepiece of a monument to the Chateau Trompette that stood on the site from the 1400s until 1815. A plaque on the ground explained “For three hundred years, Bordeaux was English…” The chateau guarded the “infidel city” until finally it capitulated and became properly French. At the other end of the Rue Sainte-Catherine was a square called Place de la Victoire with a tall spike, a triumphal arch and a bronze turtle covered in bunches of grapes, bottle corks, bottles and all the paraphernalia of wine-making. The turtle is the symbol of Bordeaux, and wine was the means by which it had become wealthy. The arch was the beginning of the road from Bordeaux to Spain, but I never found out what the spike was for.

As we were walking back to our hotel, we came across a little Moroccan market with carpets (never buy them) lights, ornaments and tea sets. Now, they do know how to make tea and coffee, and in a most original and unique fashion. We bought a brass tea-set and two sets of beautifully decorated glasses. To our relief, they just fitted inside my case.

Even though it was pitch black night, the time was only 4pm. We looked for dinner and some supplies for breakfast. If we took the stairs, we would enter the forecourt of a supermarket that adjoined the hotel. Nice touch. Then we noticed that it was more than a supermarket, it was a mall. There was breakfast food and fruit, some clothes shops, a toyshop, various kinds of eatery and even a small diner. We picked up our supplies and ate at the diner.

The following day was New Year’s Eve and we wondered if anything was going to happen. Perhaps some fireworks, maybe a carnival. We couldn’t find anything being advertised, but we could simply have missed it. We thought we’d head back to the centre of town – it wasn’t very far – to see if we could find out.

We walked past the cathedral and admired its beautiful, sultry proportions in the morning winter mist. Again, it was closed to visitors. Did it ever open?

When we arrived at the Rue Sainte Catherine, we turned left towards the Britannia statue and noted the Café du Pain on our right. “That’ll do for lunch,” said Elaine, “but first, why don’t we have a look in the chocolate shop?”

“The who?”

I hadn’t noticed the brightly decorated little choc shop to our left, but Elaine had already disappeared through the door. A short, but quite beautiful young girl in a black top with a red pinafore gave Elaine her best welcoming smile and offered a treat from a tray of chocolates and bonbons. Elaine bit into one of the chocolates and sat down. “That,” she declared, “is beautiful.” She looked around at the marzipan delicacies, glace fruits and Belgian shell chocolates. Butterfly biscuits and lemon slices with chocolate cake wings sat on tiny shelves attached to yellow walls with gilded carvings. “Good heavens, they are exquisite. What fabulous presentation.”

“Do you like all of this?” enquired the girl, looking up at Elaine through blue eyes behind small square glasses.

“You’re not French. You sound like our friends in the neighbouring flat. Are you Polish?”

“Yes,” said the girl.

“Well, this is beautiful.”

“Thank you. It’s mine.”

“Do you cook all of this, too?”

“Yes, and we make all the sweets ourselves. We have ovens at the back of this store for the cakes and biscuits, but we make the sweets at home.”

We had a couple of her gorgeous cake-ettes and a coffee each and left. “Did you ask her if there was anything going on tonight for New Year’s Eve?” I said.

“Yes, and she didn’t know of anything.”

“That’s ominous. She lives here and she doesn’t know of anything we can go to tonight.” We spent the rest of the morning exploring inner Bordeaux. There was no sense in going to the wineries; the lady in the hotel explained that they were all shut for the winter. They had wine tasting in the summer to encourage you to buy lots of their wine, and did not simply give it away during winter. The mist hadn’t lifted and the cold was unrelenting. We called in at the Café du Pain for lunch.

Sturdy oaken tables with wooden utensils sat squarely with upright wooden chairs. Each table had a candle flickering at its centre and loaves of bread – wholemeal, twisted, French loaves, baguettes and flat unleavened cakes sat artistically on wooden mantelpieces and dressers around the café. Earthenware jeroboams that once may have had wine or olive oil lay carelessly on their sides. A quiet buzz of conversation and a warm, just-toasted scent accompanied us to a table on the mezzanine floor. We looked down on the rest of the café and I felt a deep sense of déjà vue. The waiter who had shown us to our table hovered. “Would you like a drink?” he asked. We ordered the usual and he read it back to us.

“Are you from Amsterdam?” I asked him. He stood bolt upright from having been bending over, the better to hear us. “Yes,” he said, surprised.

“There is a very similar café in the Jordaan.” I explained.

“I know it,” he said, smiled and left. He brought us slices from different loaves of bread that we dipped in olive oil or balsamic vinegar while we drank our coffee, and his soup and Caesar salad were both perfect.

It was two o’clock when we left, but the overcast conditions and the winter season already meant that the street outside was gloomy and approaching dark. “I know we’ve only just had lunch, but what are we going to do for dinner?” I asked.

Cathedral Saint Andre

Cathedral Saint Andre

“We’ll come back here,” said Elaine. She looked at the windows of the café.

“Hmm, no we won’t – he’s closing at 4pm today. Never mind, we’ll go to the diner in the mall. Their food is all right, and at least you can get it yourself.”

We took the long way round the Britannia monument to admire the Christmas lights and to follow the river along to the Bordeaux stone bridge. Elaine spent some time in light drizzling rain to prop up her camera so she could take this quite beautiful picture of the bridge at night.

By the time we had walked the river bank to the end of town, we were well ready for some dinner and a bit of entertainment, if anyone had some fireworks or a New Year’s party to attend. At the hotel, we changed into new clothes, but still warm ones, in case we had to stand outside.

The mall was closed. I checked my watch; 6pm. We looked through the glass doors and there was no-one in any of the shops inside.

Pont de Pierre - Bordeaux stone bridge - at night

Pont de Pierre – Bordeaux stone bridge – at night

“There’s a restaurant in the street parallel to the one we used to get to the cathedral,” I volunteered, so we walked there. It was closed.

We walked back to the centre of town. Everything was closed. Except McDonalds. It was 8pm. There was nothing we could do. We ordered a double mac, a pot of chips, a cup of tea for me and lemonade for Elaine. It was awful. It was horrible. It filled us up was the best you could say.

We walked back to the hotel and watched CBS News (the American primaries) until midnight. We went outside. Not a peep; no fireworks, no car horns, nothing.

On the way home in the plane, we checked our understanding of the state of the world. The best cooking we ever had was Italian – in Venice, actually. We had beautiful food in Prague, in Budapest and in East Berlin. The worst food was in Paris, Nice and Bordeaux. Anywhere in the world, if the advertising for a restaurant says French Cuisine, then it will be expensive, but don’t expect quality. Maybe the French like to give themselves Michelin Stars just to cheer themselves up. One day they might cook ok – if they cared enough to bother.

In April, Doug Davidson came to stay. We had first met him as a very young chap in Piopio – now that’s a while ago. His mum is Mary Venn. He had been on a long trip around South America, and he reckoned he could even speak some Spanish. The nights weren’t too cold so he was happy to stay in our loft and we set up his bed with a blow-up rubber mattress and an electric blanket. He showed us his photos from South America and I collected them all up onto a DVD so he couldn’t lose them and mailed a couple to his mum in Hamilton. Elaine introduced him to Nichola, a beautiful young teacher’s assistant, so he had company for the time he was in St Albans, and a way of seeing the sights and meeting the locals. He was trying to get forestry work in England, but on his tourist visa he had to be sponsored. Trucking and import companies said they would like to have him, but there were plenty of Swedish forestry workers and they couldn’t employ Doug while there were European workers who could do the job. He decided that it would be best to awaken his New Zealand forestry contacts and wait until he got back home. He explored London on several trips into the City and Elaine took him to some of her favourite haunts.

On his last weekend in England we took Doug to the seaside. To Brighton, that quintessentially English coastal town and resort. The ThamesLink train goes directly from St Albans to Brighton with only a few stops. We showed him the Lanes of little knick-knack shops, we walked the pebbled beach from the Royal Pavilion all the way to the old Victorian-built Brighton West Pier. In 2002 the pier had collapsed in a series of violent storms and then in early 2003 it had been killed off by arson attacks and now large chunks of it lay rotting in the sea. A lone guitarist gazed out at the pier and sang laments for his lost heritage while the sea lapped and whispered at his feet. On the Monday, Doug caught the plane back to NZ and we had emails from him and Mary, to say he was home in fine condition.

Lament for Brighton West Pier

Lament for Brighton West Pier

The long-running tale of 2008 was really about my work. I started the year as a newly-promoted Team Manager and I was very pleased to receive the recognition that I had done a good job. By April, Sainsbury’s was telling us about the re-organisation of Service Management. 13 positions had to go. In July, I found out that one of those positions was mine, and in late August, I was no longer working for Sainsbury’s. It was a bit of a loss after seven years, but these days a permanent appointment is really only a long-term contract; I had been there a good while and I had helped them through difficult times.

I worked for the NHS for about six weeks deploying security software onto all their laptops in Watford. My workmate, Pete B, was a genuine character. He complained that his agency had stiffed him for £1 an hour. “You’re getting £16 an hour, yeah?”


“Well, I’m getting £15 and there’s nothing I can do about it, except get another contract. Anyway, why couldn’t I get Milton Keynes? I live there, don’t I? But some other git from out of town is working it, and I have to ride to Watford.” He made it sound like a swear word. He was ringing the IT agencies, chasing them for work – and when he wasn’t his girlfriend was ringing him. “Are you married?”


“How long?”

“Well, say over thirty years.”

“Ya what! Tell you, Mate, if she doesn’t stop ringin’ me not only am I not going to marry her, I’ll dump her and move up North, just to get out of the way. Thirty years? The only reason I stick with her is because I love my little daughter.” His mobile rang again. The phone burbled for a while, “Ok, Love, I’ve got the pannier on my bike, so I’ll pick up some milk on the way home. Of course I love you. Bye. Bye. Bye.” He dropped the phone into his leather bag on the floor. “Geez.”

“You had a daughter with her and you still couldn’t marry her?”

“I’ll tell you what, Mate; no-one’s ever goin’ to marry her. What a disaster.”

The phone rang again. “Christain, how are you? How’s the work in Kings Langley?” They spoke for a while and he hung up, laughing.

“Christain says that they have only done two laptops all day. I told him we’d done five already and that there were another five lined up before we finish. He said “I suppose Ewart is your gopher, is he?” and I told him “No, he’s the boss – I’m just the technical lackey.” We are miles ahead of the other teams. It’s the way you sweet-talk the staff here to give up their laptops. Everywhere else, they hide them.”

We had finished almost all of the latops that we had been asked to when I had the offer of the work as Service Delivery Manager in Luton. The year that started with a promotion has ended with unemployment. It’s a funny old world.

We had one other long-running saga this year – our British passports. About two years ago, as we were coming back through Luton Airport, the immigration clerk said, “You’ve got Indefinite Leave to Remain.” She flipped my NZ passport around the better to show me the green sticker.

I said, “I know. We sat in the carpark at Croydon from 2:30am to queue for it. We took canvas armchairs and a little gas stove and made endless cups of tea to keep warm while we waited.”

The clerk grinned. “Many have,” she said. “Why don’t you apply for a British passport? You’ve been here long enough, so you qualify.”

“Is there an easy way?”

“Hmmm, I see what you mean. Don’t forget, the sooner you start the sooner it will all be over.” She stamped our passports and we left her, wondering.

“It’ll ground us for six months!” said Elaine

In May this year, I took the plunge. I went in to WH Smiths and bought the information pack. It consisted of a book called Life in the United Kingdom; A Journey to Citizenship and a booklet called Life in the UK Test; Practice Questions. I took them home. “We have to sit and pass the test first.”

Elaine had a flip though the book, then addressed the questions in the test. “Here you are,” she said. “When was the Council of Europe established?”


“What percentage of London’s population is made up of ethnic minorities?”

“What do they mean by ethnic?”

A week later she said, “Ok, now give me any test from the booklet.” I photocopied the marking sheet and gave it to her to write her answers on, then took her through one of the sample tests. “What sport is played at the Wimbledon tournament? What percentage of Christians are Roman Catholics? What is the name of the country house of the Prime Minister?” And so on. The pass is 17 out of 25; I ran her through eight tests and Elaine consistently got more than 22. The next day, Monday, I rang the immigration number to book the test. It would be the following Tuesday, at 15:30.

“You did what?”

“May as well be now as in six months time,” I said.

“So we lose our passports as of next Tuesday?”

“No, but we have to apply for citizenship within three months, or re-sit the test.”

“And then we lose our passports?”

“We should get them back by Christmas.”

“Where have I heard that before?”

We studied the book and sat the trial tests many times that week and when we attended the test centre in Luton, and completed the test, the principal gave us each a sheet that had our names on it and the single word PASS. We could go on to the next step.

“I’ve still got a brain,” said Elaine. “I was beginning to wonder.”

I downloaded the form from the Immigration Department, we filled out one each, attached our NZ passports and a £750 cheque and sent them off into the Post Office network. The form said something like “If you sent off your passport in June, we would expect you to have it back by February.” My Christmas deadline was looking uncertain. Our NZ passports ran out in early January 2009 and it might be problematical getting a new one if the old one was completely dead.

I found an Immigration Department phone number that might allow me to plead for my passport. The lady asked me when I expected to travel. “Um, Wednesday a fortnight from today.”


“I’m going to Brno for the company.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said. In early October, our passports suddenly turned up in the mail. Just in time for me to go to the Czech Rebublic. When I got back, we sent our NZ passports off to NZ House to be replaced. They weren’t any use to us, because we couldn’t go to any European country with a passport that had less than three months left on it.

In a week, they were back, a nice new one each, valid for five years. The old passport still had our Leave to Remain sticker in it, but the corner of the cover was chopped off to show they were cancelled. Elaine delightedly flew off to see Genevieve, going out on the new passport and returning on the old one, to show she still had a right to live here. They made arrangements for us to meet in Amsterdam, to have Christmas in their lovely new flat overlooking Westerpark. It was all coming together nicely.

In early November, we each received a certificate advising us that we were British citizens by naturalisation and we were invited to a citizenship ceremony, which we had to attend within three months or start the entire process all over again, beginning with the Test. I rang the number on the invitation, and we found out the ceremony would be in the Old Court House, in St Albans Rd East, Hatfield, on 24 November at 10:30. We had to register at the desk by 09:30. We were allowed two guests each, so I asked Iris, who had sponsored us to come to England in the first place, and Jill her daughter, the best friend we had. Elaine invited her boss, Mary Weller, the principal of Sandridge School, who had enthusiastically supported Elaine’s work to become a citizen and who had countersigned all the forms that Immigration had given us. John and Liz Stredwick, who had been our friends since Elaine had worked in Goffs Oak in the early years as a supply teacher, were very happy to be there, too. It was a lovely little ceremony of swearing allegiance to the Queen and promising to be good citizens of Hertfordshire, and Britain. Then we all had our photographs taken.

The JP who conducted the ceremony stood by my elbow a short while later.

“I have just sworn in 30 people as new citizens of Britain,” he said. “I checked the roll, and there were 16 nationalities represented.”

“I was fascinated by the wording of the swearing to the queen,” I said, “because it was almost identical to the words I had to say when I signed up to be a teacher in NZ way back in 1966. She was our head of state then, and she still is.”

He paused. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to send off my citizenship certificate so I can have a British passport,” I said. “Then I can live and work anywhere in Europe.”

“And you’d want to do that?”

“Our daughter lives in Amsterdam, so I want to make sure that I can see her.”

“Oh, very good. Mind you, remember not to use your NZ passport for the next few weeks, until you have received your British passport.”

“What’s happened?”

“Now that you are a British citizen, your Indefinite Leave to Remain is void. You can leave the country all right on your NZ passport, but you can’t get back in.”

“How long will we wait for a British passport?” said Elaine, just catching the last of the JP’s sentence.

“About six weeks, I think.” Elaine looked bleak; our trip to see Genevieve and Barry for Christmas now seemed unlikely.

The moment I got back home I filled out the form, attached my passport photos to it and Mary Weller countersigned it for me. I sent off the form along with my citizenship certificate and both my NZ passports. I was grounded again. The result was in the lap of the Gods. A couple of days later, Elaine sent her form off.

We waited.

A week later, my NZ passports returned. There was a letter. I had to attend an interview with Immigration to establish my that my ID, in person, was the same ID as was represented in my passport, and that I matched the photo I had sent them. I had to ring a number to make an appointment for an interview.

“We are now seeing all applicants for new British passports in order to reduce ID fraud, and ID theft,” said the person who took my call. “We’ll just ask you some questions about yourself based on information that you have supplied us, and which is available to us from various sources. Next Tuesday? 15:15? In Luton? Please present yourself at reception 10min before this time. If you fail to turn up, you will need to re-apply for citizenship.

In the end, the interview was straight forward enough, and I knew all the answers. What was my father’s name? What was my mother’s middle name? What was my wife’s birthday? That was a good one – I can never remember.

They don’t tell you the result of the interview at the time, but my British passport arrived in the mail on Friday of that week. Elaine’s process followed the same sequence and her passport arrived on 10 Dec 2008.

It really was all over by Christmas.

Since I had lost my Fuji Finepix S9600 on the train, I was looking for a better camera, but in the medium price range. I always had a problem with both my Fujis not being very secure with their focus. Sometimes they would focus on the foreground and sometimes they would focus on the background. There was no way to control it fully, even in manual mode on the S9600.

The SLR technology that I was used to on the Asahi Pentax camera that I’d bought in my T-Col days had finally become affordable on digital cameras. I went back to the old days to look for a camera that would be certain to have a good range of excellent lenses. I could throw the body away when it became dated, but lenses are where the real money goes, and the technology has not really changed, because the physics of lenses still works the same as it always has. I bought a Nikon D40X, and then later added the 18 – 135mm zoom lens to it. I began to get the kind of quality in my pictures that I was looking for.

I went to the 2008 Sandridge School Fete to photograph what goes on there, as I had since 2004, when I met the parent of a girl who had been in Elaine’s class a year or two prior. We had been to see her sing in local productions.

“Are you photographing the fete again this year?” she said, fixing me with her blue eyes and shock of blonde hair.

“Would you like a copy of the CD?”

“I’d love one, especially if you can catch my daughter.”

“What are you doing these days? I haven’t seen you since the musical night you put on earlier this year.”

“I’m attending acting classes and sending my catalogue to anyone who might be able to help me. In the meantime, I’m the editor for a local magazine called Our St Albans; you know, feel-good stories about local events and local businesses. We have a circulation of about 10,000.”

“Would you like me to send you a few pictures of St Albans that you might find useful?”

Fishpool Street, St Albans

“Email them to me and I’ll show them to the boys.”

The reaction to the pictures I sent her was immediate. “The boys” wanted to use one of my pictures for the August cover; could I send her the full-sized file of my photo of Fishpool St? In this picture, you are looking directly up Fishpool street, which in a few hundred metres takes you to the Abbey gateway. You can see the Victorian terraces that line the street. The reason the footpath is so far above to road is to enable a carriage to pull up and the occupants to step down easily without needing a footstool. The pub on the left is the Black Lion, recently transformed into an exceptional quality restaurant called the Savanna. The pub on the right is the Blue Anchor, which serves the usual English ales and pub grub. Behind me is the River Ver, which flows through St Albans, and is why the early town was called Verulamium by the Romans. There was a pond here, fed by the Ver, in which the Abbey monks used to keep fish for their winter sustenance – hence the name of the street. Since then, I have had a picture on the cover of another three issues of the magazine. Here is the cover of the October issue, right. Elaine and I were having a walk around Verulamium Lake in the autumn when the lovely sunset that day let me take this photo.

Sunset, Verulamium Park

Sunset, Verulamium Park

For the cover of the November issue, left, I took a picture of the Old Sopwell Nunnery on the day I bought my new zoom lens. Henry VIII installed Anne Boleyn here and came to visit her (Hertfordshire was the king’s favourite deer hunting retreat) while he was sorting out the problem he had with being married to Catherine of Aragon, his first wife.

Old Sopwell Nunnery, St Albans

Old Sopwell Nunnery, St Albans

One morning in November, it snowed. That’s quite rare and it created a storm of argument. Global warming was turning the world into the New Ice Age. On the way to work in Luton, I saw that the Childwickbury gatehouse was covered with snow, and just as fortunately, it was bathed in early morning sunshine. The magazine couldn’t resist it for their Dec/Jan cover – winter. A local artist had put on an exhibition in the Childwickbury manor stables and Elaine and I went to see it. That’s when we first saw and admired this lovely Victorian gatehouse. At one time, the manor belonged to Stanley Kubrick (of “Eyes wide Shut”) and Elaine was describing it to her class, she told me, when one of her 6-yr olds said with a sigh, “It’s pronounced CHIDIKBRY. Get it right, Mrs Tearle.”

Childwickbury Gatehouse

Childwickbury Gatehouse

The picture also illustrates a few of the disciplines of this magazine and its covers. Firstly, it’s in portrait orientation, meaning the long axis is north-south. Secondly, there’s a space below the main interest in the picture to place an advertisement and then there’s more space above the interest to place the magazine’s name. Thirdly, the interest itself has to be immediately recognisable as a St Albans landscape feature. I’m wondering if this might be the opportunity to start another stream in my life. I’m working on it. If you would like to see more of my work, ask your search engine for flickr Ewart Tearle (those exact words, spelt that way) or click HERE. For Elaine’s site ask for flickr Elaine Tearle, or click HERE, while Genevieve’s is at flickr Cor Lems and that’s HERE.

Tearle Meet 2008

One of the most intensive and exciting days this year was TearleMeet 2008, the second of which I hope will be a long series. I asked the Stanbridge PCC (the church governors) if we could have the church for the whole day, this time, instead of only a half day as we did for the first TearleMeet in 2006 and I let the local pub, the Five Bells, know that we would be coming. We had to get in early, because July is the wedding season and the church is booked every day in every weekend for months either side. The reason for particularly wanting Stanbridge is because it’s the first place Tearles were recorded in England, and our record there goes back to the mid 1400s. In preparation for the event Barbara Tearle of Oxford told the story of Thomas Tearle, the silversmith, who worked in London in Georgian times (1750s) and she also had a very impressive collection of pictures of his work.

I spent months on The Tree, as it’s called; the family tree of all the Tearles and their relationship to each other. There are over 2000 names on it, and it stops with births in the early 20th Century. I also put a lot of new information onto my own Tearle family site. The Tree is now so big that the aisle of the church couldn’t contain it. I had to break it into six bits, and scatter it around the church, so that people who were descended from one ancestor in the mid 1700s could find their family on the Tree. Then I updated my booklet on the graves in Stanbridge, so that people could walk around the church grounds and see where their ancestors were buried. In the years since the first TearleMeet, I had been able to identify many of the Tearle girls, so their headstones could be identified as Tearle graves. It was nice to see people walking around, booklet in hand, deep in discussion with each other. I found out that a local chap had lots of Victorian postcards of Stanbridge, so I invited him to show them at the Meet. He made up a Powerpoint presentation of the slides that would be of interest to us, and he gave us a fascinating 1/2hr show.

You can read my report on the day HERE.

I have to report, unfortunately, that Jennie Pugh is not the best these days. She has suffered a series of falls, and while they are not bad in themselves, and have not hurt her, she has decided to move permanently to the Georgiana Care Home near Leagrave Station. If you would like to write to her, the address is:

Mrs Jennie Pugh, Georgiana Residential Care Home, 10 Compton Avenue, Luton, Bedfordshire LU4 9AZ, England.

Her family are in the process of selling her Oakley Rd house. It is very sad; Elaine and I visit her every weekend, and we are hoping that since Jennie is close to a ThamesLink railway station, her sister Joyce Palmer will still be able to come up from Balham in London to visit her. We are working on the logistics of this. It is a nice little care home and Jennie has been happy there before, whilst recovering from an operation last year.

On Prinsensluis towards Westerkerk

On Prinsensluis towards Westerkerk

The good news, of course, is that Genevieve is having her first baby late next February. Elaine has already been to see her, but I am looking forward to meeting her and Barry this Christmas. Now that our passports are finalised, I am free to go. From time to time, when we Skyped Genevieve to have a chat with her, we have asked her to turn profile, the better to be able to admire her growing bump. Perhaps that’s not the most genteel thing to do, but you can’t resist asking, can you? She even sent us a copy of the photograph the hospital gave her of the baby’s first scan. Our photo album of Genevieve and Barry’s family has begun.

As you will have guessed from a comment I made earlier, they have moved from their little flat in the Jordaan, close to the canals, to a more spacious 3-bedroom flat overlooking Westerpark. This is close to the Westerkerk so they will still be able to hear the lovely bells, and the chimes of the clock, of this fine and historic 1620s church. She hears the same bells and the same chimes that Anne Frank wrote of in her memorable diary. The picture above is one I took in December of 2002 during our first visit to Amsterdam to see Genevieve, and it’s from a bridge across the canal just 100m from her flat at that time. She and Barry are now living on the other side, from my vantage point here, of the tall church with the blue globe. The picture on the right is one Elaine took recently to show me the view Genevieve and Barry have of the Westerpark from her kitchen window. They say it’s a lovely place to go for a walk, even in winter. It’s certainly a view anyone would be happy to look out on, especially while you’re working on dinner.

We have sent a few parcels of clothes for the new baby (we couldn’t resist) and they have all been in shades of beige (that classic NZ cricket colour) to remind Genevieve of her heritage and to hint of greatness to Barry.

Westerpark from Genevieve’s flat

Westerpark from Genevieve’s flat

Iris has made a most beautiful fluffy knitted bear, and Elaine has crocheted a blanket that is big enough for a ¾ bed, but if folded in half will make two blankets on a baby’s cot.

In late 1994, Genevieve made a friend on her Spirit of New Zealand sailing expedition. Her name was Angela and her parents live in Auckland. She is still a firm friend to Genevieve and has been to see her often. This year she and her new husband, Gerard, Spanish in spite of the name, came to see us. What a charming couple! What a lovely girl! “Can you show us something new about London? We are coming into London Bridge Railway Station and we’ll be there about 10:00am.”

That’s a challenge. Of course I could. We took them to Borough Market and we had a lamb tortilla and a bottle of fruit juice. We showed them the Globe pub where Bridget Jones had her room in the movie, and then we walked them to Clink Street, past the Golden Hinde and along the Thames River, under London Bridge, through Hays Wharf, past City Hall, under Tower Bridge and all the way to the Design Museum. In Hays Wharf, Angela showed us her strange multi-frame, wind-up camera.

You pull a string from the back of the camera to wind it up then when you push the shutter release, it takes 7 photos in quick succession – on film. While the pictures are being taken you wave the camera about, so that when you print the film, you get a succession of photos that you paste along your wall at home in a sort of lazy, lolloping s-shape. Why not? Very interactive. Very intuitive. She took a wind-up photo of the statue of the Navigator, a huge bronze ship in a fountain, that looks a bit like Jules Verne’s submarine, but with a mast. The picture here is of Angela, Gerard and Elaine having at chat in the late afternoon near the Design Museum, just before we took them back to London Bridge Station and their trip home.

Angela, Gerard and Elaine

Angela, Gerard and Elaine

Another visitor, and not for the first time, was Shayne Bates and his family, Lee and Shaun. They had come over from Virginia, where they live not far from Washington DC, to do some business for the company Shayne works for. Our relationship with Shayne goes back to 1984, so he has been a friend of ours for quite a while, and he’s always a welcome  visitor. When we were living in Milford Close, he had come and stayed on our divan bed while on various round-the-world trips. They were going to be staying in Lancaster Gate for a week, would we like to stay with them for Saturday night?

I had no idea where Lancaster gate was, but anywhere in London is always a treat. Their flat was near the Tube station of the same name. When we looked on the Tube map, it turns out that Lancaster Gate was on the Central line, so if we took the Victoria Line from St Pancras and changed onto the Central line at Oxford St, we had just two stations to count, and we were there. “Our hotel is opposite the station,” Shayne informed me. And it was; we sent him a txt when we arrived at St Pancras at about 4pm and he and Shaun were waiting for us on the steps of the hotel. And it was teeming with rain. London in autumn, we explained to him, as though he’d never seen rain. We dropped off our bags and Shayne and I wandered round the corner to the nearest off-licence to pick up some drinks for the business meetings that were to be conducted in the flat over the next few days, and Shayne looked at the cigar stand to see what would be nice. “She’s got Cuban,” I noted to him. “They are illegal in the US, so you might like to taste one of those. They’re supposed to be the best in the world.”

“Ah, HA,” he cried. “I’ll turn up at Dulles Airport customs and breathe cigar all over them.”

“Cuban!” I’ll say. “But you’re too late. It’s gone.”

The lady proprietor smiled politely, gave him change for his order and we walked out, chuckling, into the cold and rain.

In the morning, after Lee had made us the most beautiful breakfast of bacon and eggs on toast, I noticed that there were literally hundreds of paintings on the wall along the footpath opposite the hotel. “Come on, Shaun. We’ll go and see what we can make of them.”

Elaine, Shayne and Lee in Hyde Park

Elaine, Shayne and Lee in Hyde Park

As we walked down the ranks of pictures, I explained to Shaun the basics of picture composition, and after a short while he was explaining to me what he saw in various pictures. He had learnt well. Finally, it dawned on me. This was the wall around Hyde Park. Lee, Shayne and Elaine joined us. “Why don’t we have a short walk around Hyde Park?” I suggested. We could see the Diana monument and whatever else is there.”

For the next half-hour the sun shone just enough to give us some of the those magical photos that you can only dream about. The picture here is of Elaine, Shayne and Lee looking over the Serpentine with the park beyond; a seagull on a post keeps an eye on them, and the trees on the opposite bank glow in the late autumn sun.

We spent the rest of the day having a wander around Oxford Street. Shayne was looking for a particular kind of mobile phone that would help him on his future trips to England and Lee and Elaine tried on shoes and dresses, mostly to remind themselves where they were – London -and what time of year it was – almost Christmas. Shaun and I were above all this crass commercialism – we went to MacDonald’s for a chat, and he had a Coca Cola while I had a coffee and we watched the crowds on Oxford St surge past.

I spent many weeks this year digitising Thelma’s slide collection. It was a project she had asked me do for her, and after her death, Martin dropped the boxes off for me to see what I could do. Many of the slides were at least 40 years old and the media was in poor condition.

Thelma Tearle and the rhododendrons

Thelma Tearle and the rhododendrons

It was a labour of love for a dear friend who Elaine and I still often talk about. The pictures, though, were a revelation and gave us a view into a hitherto unseen world, when Millie (Thelma’s mother) was young and beautiful; when Thelma herself was very young, slim, attractive and vivacious. We saw Martin as a baby and his father George, and we saw the marriage of Thelma’s sister, and pictures of the cottages in Wing with their living gardens and the people we knew in them, as long ago as the 1960s.

Most of all there were the pictures of Thelma’s holidays – sometimes in Cornwall and sometimes in France or Italy. There were even photos of her on the deck of the Queen Mary en route to New York, along with slides of New York, the Niagara Falls, Canada, Los Angeles and Washington. I know they are grainy and the paint is faded, but the impression they give is as vibrant and as imperative as the day they were taken.  It was a privilege to do the work.

I took the entire digitised collection to Thelma’s brother Dennis in Bedford and we spent several hours on my laptop identifying as many of the people as Dennis and Betty could recognise, and as many of the places as we could deduce from the context and their probable age. In the end, I copied all the files to DVD and Elaine and I met Martin in the Travel Lodge near the M1. Martin is an engineer on the narrow gauge railway in Leighton Buzzard and every few weeks he goes there all the way from Warwick and drives the train for the weekend. He has to do it often in order to maintain his engineer’s ticket, but for him it’s a love bordering obsession. He was very happy with the completed DVD and to see his mother’s precious boxes of slides.

Jimmy Mark and Dos, our very good friends from Te Awamutu, came to see us in July this year. Something to do with a cruise from Southampton to New York. He is the farmer who leases our 13-acre block in Otorohanga and he met Sheila, Thelma and Clarice when they came out to NZ in 1994. They sat on the deck in the sun watching Jimmy race around the paddocks on his tractor, doing what farmers do. He was working at such a pace (he always does) they called him Hurricane Jimmy. I must say that he doesn’t seem to have slowed down much, even after the last fourteen years. We picked them up from the train station in St Albans, and we took them to the local market, held every Wednesday and Saturday. As you can see from the picture, it’s a lively scene with all kinds of things for sale from these outdoor, canvas-roofed stalls.

St Albans market

St Albans market

Jimmy wanted an England flag and on a whim picked up a very nice grey tweed hat. Nothing outrageous; he looked very cool. From here, you can walk all the way through the market, to French Row, through the Waxhouse Gate, down past the cathedral,  around Verulamium Lake and on to St Michaels for a waffle lunch at the Kingsbury Water Mill. That was the plan. When we got to French Row, we introduced Jimmy and Dos to John Breeze, who has played folk songs on his guitar for somewhere over twenty years, always on this very spot, raising countless thousands of pounds for charity during that time. His daughter is Michaela Breeze, whom you saw weightlifting in the Beijing Olympics earlier this year. “So you’ve come to commiserate with Ewart now that he’s English and has to support the wrong team?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Jimmy. “He’ll still be able to support his team against the French.”

“This is called French Row because we beat them, not the other way round,” said John, grinning, just in case Jimmy was referring to his singing address. “So why do you have an English flag in your hand? Not thinking of changing, too, are you?”

“No!” laughed Jimmy. “My neighbour’s English, so when we beat England on our tour in October, I’ll fly this flag at half mast, just for him.”

John Breeze of French Row

John Breeze of French Row

“I’m Welsh, so you are welcome to beat them,” he said. “We’ll give you a good run this time.”

“You can always try.”

John went back to his singing and we carried on down French Row, past the Medieval clock tower and through the Waxhouse Gate to the cathedral. We took a diversion through the cathedral because Jimmy and Dos had never been through it. They admired the Roman bricks that had been used to build the enormous crossing tower that dominates the building, and noticed how long the nave was. We walked right through the very impressive Norman building listening to a simply lovely choir, and we called in at St Albans shrine to light a candle in memory of our missing loved ones. It’s not that any of us are particularly religious, but St Albans Cathedral is a building of heroic proportions and has such an impressive interior, that you take the opportunity to commune, just a little, with deeper thoughts and more sombre memories. The whole place has a real sense of just how ancient it is. There was a shrine to St Alban within living memory of his death, and it is said that a spring arose from the place of his execution, hence the name Holywell Hill. This has been a holy place for at least 1600 years, and all that history is steeped into the stones of this beautiful cathedral. The choir finished its song and we moved off down the hill to the Fighting Cocks pub.

St Albans shrine in St Albans Cathedral

St Albans shrine in St Albans Cathedral

“See the round bit, Dos? That’s the cockpit, where the fighting roosters were set onto each other.” We walked through the pub and looked over the handrail into small the octagonal room below.

Fighting Cocks pub near Verulamium Lake

Fighting Cocks pub near Verulamium Lake

Pictures of colourful roosters with sharp brass heels looked down from the walls.

“Down there?” she said.

“You stood up here and laid your bets, the handlers set the roosters onto each other, and the winner took the money.”

“Amid plenty of blood, I suppose.”

“True. I wonder, though, what we do today that would horrify them, but we just take it for granted?”

We crossed the River Ver and walked to the Kingsbury Water Mill along the banks of a quiet, shallow, little stream. “River Ver,” said Jimmy. “River?”

“Unfortunately, sixty percent of the flow is sucked out of it before it gets here,” Elaine said. “Drinking water, factory water and irrigation.”

We had a beautiful meal at the Mill, which has been transformed by a South African couple into a restaurant that made waffles as the basis of all its dishes. The Kingsbury mill was mentioned in the Domesday book. “In Saxon times, they only worked daylight till dusk,” I said.

“Go on,” said Dos, suspecting more.

“They had candles for light, and the flour dust in the mill was highly flammable.”

“Bang,” said Jimmy, looking around.

The weather was bit fragile and it was cooling down, in spite of being in the middle of summer. They had other appointments to meet and a ship to join, so we took them back to the railway station for their trip to London.

It’s always nice when you have Jimmy and Dos for company. We thought back on their unstinting hospitality when we were last in NZ, and the wonderful time we had spent with them on their farm.

I have an update on the flag. Dos has sent us a picture of Jimmy, in his grey tweed hat, standing alongside a flagpole outside his house, with the English flag flying. “Why is it at half mast?” I asked Elaine, who had opened the envelope. She looked at the letter from Dos.

“In commiseration with his English neighbour who has just lost an important rugby match,” she said. “Unfortunately, this time, more than one. But they just can’t seem to beat the All Blacks.”

We had gone to the Old Albanians Rugby Club rooms to see the England v NZ match, and we were two of the entire crowd of three voices raised for the All Blacks, in a room of hundreds who were yelling for an England win.

Maybe England will win next time, then. Or perhaps the time after that…

That seems to be a rundown on the major things we have done this year. It hasn’t been, shall we say, a golden year, but it has had some memorable, and even milestone, moments.

I know that Genevieve and Barry will join Elaine and I in wishing you a very Merry Christmas and hoping that the New Year will bring you happiness and prosperity.

Our very kindest wishes to you.

Ewart and Elaine

St Albans

Dec 2008