Letters home, 2000, Christmas letter

Christmas Greetings from Elaine & Ewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ewart and Elaine