Letters home, 2001, Dec 9

9 Dec 2001

I’m absolutely delighted that Joni went to see you yesterday. It sounded on her mobile as though you had a very good visit and it was very nice to hear you on the phone. When she called me from outside the home she said she was standing near the harbour and I could hear all these birds singing in the background.  It was quite remarkable.  You don’t hear birds singing like that here very often.  The robins go berserk in late winter and early spring and they sound wonderful. We can also hear a few larks in the summer, but mostly we hear only the raucous squawk of the ravens and the dreadfully monotonous two-tone call of those bloody pigeons from as early as 4:00 in the morning, when the dawn is that early.  The only time you can hear birdsong is when you are walking in the local patches of forest.

Just before Ivor went into hospital we went to see the local production of Chess at the Arena Theatre.  The St Albans Operatic always put on a very good show. The lead singers are imported professionals but the cast are hardened locals. Chess is quite a good show, with the music written by Bjorn of ABBA fame. I don’t think he made a particularly good job of the music since much of it is monotonous bouncy stuff intended to get the words out rather than a song or songs as such.  

The best two pieces are in the second half – Bangkok and I Know Him so Well, the song Elaine Page made her own. I didn’t know the song is actually a duet. The hero is a chess champion and the game in Bangkok is a re-match; the American girlfriend and the wife sing this song just before the wife marches him off in triumph back to Russia. It’s an interesting enough premise – when two players are equal in ability and talent, sport is about gamesmanship, not the game.  Therefore what goes on behind the scenes will heavily influence what happens on the field of play.  Nothing new there.  Two good songs in the second half and some nice voices to listen to.

A word about the murder of Sir Peter Blake.  We were very upset to hear that a man whom we admired a great deal had been killed by pirates in Amazonia. The local press (eg the Guardian, The Times and the Evening Standard) all called him the “Legendary British yachtsman Sir Peter Blake.”  New Zealand born, you see.  We thought about that for a while, but eventually decided that in order to write a meaningful story about him you have to find a local connection and after all, Pippa and the children do live in Hampshire. I wore my All Blacks tie to work. It’s a black tie with a silver fern on it and it was sufficiently different from my usual colourful computer ties for people to ask me why I was wearing a black tie. He was a remarkable and courageous man and we shall not see his like again.  New Zealand and the whole world are much the poorer for his leaving us.

Since New Year is coming up, I ought to give you a bit of a confession: I don’t run any more.  A few weekends after I finished the London Marathon my legs fell off. I can walk ok, but I can’t run.  It’s an Archilles injury in both feet and I feel pretty embarrassed about it. Still, I suppose if one goes from being a smoker and a couch potato to running a sub 3:45 marathon in just three years, you may have to pay for it and it looks like I am.  

The only thing you can do with an Archilles injury is wait until it heals, so now I go to the gym with Elaine.  I use the rower, the kayak, the stepper and the crosstrainer as the main equipment and on Sundays – as today – I spend about 1/2hr on each. I’m hoping I can run in the Garden City 10mile in September next year, so I’m not going to do any running at all until about April, when I’ll start working on the treadmill.  

I suspected it was too early to try the marathon, but the opportunity presented itself and I just took it. I am still immensely pleased with my London Marathon medal; it’s one of those things you have to work very hard for and once you have it no-one can take it off you.  There aren’t very many people with a better time than mine, and I still haven’t met one.  I enjoy going to the gym because after the training session Elaine and I go to the steam room and then have a soak in the spa (which they call a Jacuzzi here) so it’s really rather civilized. We go to the gym three or four times a week and you can see the changes it’s made to Elaine.  She really does look taller.

The last thing I have for you is the news that we are going to Cyprus for Christmas. The office co-ordinator at accenture asked us what holidays we wanted over the New Year period and Elaine has been dead keen to go overseas (abroad, as they say here) for part of her winter holidays.  On Thursday of last week I finally got the email to say I had four days off from the 19th – three days, then the weekend, then the Monday, then Christmas.

I rang round lots of travel agents and they all said, “Not now, you can’t.” Yesterday morning I called in at our local travel agent in the Quadrant, the shopping centre for Marshalswick (our suburb, of which Jersey Farm is part) and he had THREE holidays I could choose from.  I could have Alicante, Madeira or Cyprus, all within our budget, including accommodation and all with flights leaving on the 19th and returning on Boxing Day.

I went round to the hairdressers to see Elaine and we agreed that we’d had a holiday on the south coast of Spain, so we’d give Alicante a miss, Madeira is mostly England “over there,” so we thought Cyprus sounded suitably exotic and we plumped for that.  Since then I have found out that Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean, it’s a Commonwealth country and has a history going back to 7000 BC.  There are castles and old cities and Greek and Roman remains.  It’s the home of Aphrodite, it has deep clear blue seas, the winter temperatures are about 16 degrees C, most people there speak English, they ride on the left side of the road and you can drive around the island in about 3½ hours. New Zealanders don’t need a visa. We should have lots of interesting things to do and see.

Since we are leaving in 10 days time I doubt I’ll get the opportunity to write to you again before Christmas.  I that case please accept the warmest Season’s Greetings from both Elaine and I.  You know that we’ll be thinking of you, about our family and all our friends in New Zealand.  Merry Christmas.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine