Colin started the new year on a motorbike, doing his first two Blood-bike shifts, transporting blood and medical samples overnight between hospitals all over Northumbria.
It had become increasingly apparent that Pat’s Mam needed permanent residential care. We and Pat’s sister and brother-in-law had been visiting homes across the area for several months, trying to find the one that would suit her best. We settled on Washington Grange, a five-minute drive from our house. This month we took Mam to have a look at it.
Our musical pursuits continued in 2016 with the first Tuesday sessions at the Millstone in Newcastle, second Sunday “sing-arounds” in the Hetton Silver Band Hall at Beamish museum and the first Saturday Davy Lamp Folk Club. This month’s annual visit to the Sage to see the Transatlantic Sessions was enjoyable as ever; luckily it didn’t coincide with another annual event, St Andrew’s Operatic Society’s G&S production. This year the Society put on Princess Ida, with Colin playing Guron.
After another fall, Pat’s Mam ended up in hospital again and was discharged to a convalescent facility which she hated. They really didn’t seem to do much for her, only making her doubt the decision to go into a home in the near future. She was pleased when she was allowed to go home to be looked after by her carers (and her daughters!)
We managed to get away for a week’s skiing in Bad Gastein, a resort we’d never been to before. The weather was reasonable, and our hotel was nice, but the skiing was mixed.
Finally, Colin started the process of having five dental implants. An expensive and lengthy procedure, made more so by us choosing the best dental surgery we could find. Not, we thought, worth skimping on.
For years Colin had been teasing Pat for never having been caught speeding. This was the month when Pat put that right, although to Colin’s mild chagrin her driving licence remained clean when she opted to attend a course rather than take the points!
This month at the Theatre Royal we thoroughly enjoyed seeing Guys & Dolls.
Over the Easter weekend we took a fun trip with the Carricks up to the borders. Back home the Slaters joined us for an Easter egg hunt in the garden on Sunday morning.
Some friends of ours were joining the Unthanks and the Wilsons at the Sage for One Night in Gateshead, so we went along and had an excellent evening.
Then it was off down to Peterborough for a party in honour of Colin’s cousin Margot. We decided to make a long weekend of it with a couple of nights in Oakham, in Rutland, a lovely little town. On the Friday we popped down to Foxton Locks. Well worth a visit, and we happily spent a couple of hours watching narrow boats up and down and working out which locks emptied where.
April also brought the long awaited move of Pat’s Mam into Washington Grange. It obviously took her a while to settle in, but it was clear from the start she would be much better looked after than at home, even with the visiting carers. Visitors from the retirement flats popped in to see her, we brought her sister Joan in to visit and took them both out for lunch. We made sure to take her out a couple of times a week and that helped her not to feel trapped or abandoned.
Colin did the Northumbria Blood Bikes 360° challenge on our motorbike, visiting the far reaches of the area covered by NBB (East coast, Scottish border, Cumbrian border and Tees valley). Then it was off to France for the two of us.
For a number of years Colin has been co-organising a trip to France over the May Day Bank Holiday for around 40 bikers. He had decided to let someone else take over the reins in 2017, so for his last trip as organiser he chose the Hotel de la Poste in Bouillon, in the Ardennes – a lovely hotel in a lovely town in the middle of some great biking roads, and with a nice castle!
Colin did a skills day with the IAM at Croft Aerodrome.
This month we were off to Leeds to see “Laila the Musical”, lyrics by Colin’s nephew Dougal. Coincidentally, Jo and Tom had been bought tickets by Tom’s parents to see the same show the following night!
It was Pat’s Aunty Joan’s 90th birthday and her son came from Australia for the occasion. He and Pat took her and Pat’s Mam for afternoon tea at Lumley Castle. With Pat’s Mam needing a wheelchair for most outings it had become difficult to take them out together but with two healthy adults and a car with a large boot for the wheelchair, we managed it and they had a good time.
After much to-ing and fro-ing we eventually sorted out postal votes for the EU referendum. We would be in Austria on the day, but desperately wanted to vote. As it happened the vote went against us, and we found ourselves continually having to reassure the Austrians we met that most sensible Brits, like ourselves, disagreed with the outcome!
The trip itself was excellent, and has been written up here.
Pat bought herself a bicycle, and promptly started using it for trips to her allotment.
Last but not least we made a trip over to the Lake District to stay with John and Penny, the new friends we had made the previous December in Kitzbuhel. They live in a lovely house above Bowness, and we had a very pleasant couple of days. We also found an unusual route home, as we had to come via Egglestone so that Colin could sing with the choir there that evening.
Colin’s choir held several more concerts over the month.
Kate and Iain were over for a short stay, so they came along with a couple of friends to the regularly monthly folk session at the Millstone. Then we met up with the Millstone regulars again a couple of days later, when we spent the evening at the Black Bull Inn at Matfen.
We also had fitted a new garage door – a proper electric roller door with remote control. It’s made life a lot easier!
Beamish museum had been successful in its funding bid to establish a 1950s town. To celebrate, a 50s weekend was held; Colin played in a skiffle band and Pat had her hair put up in a 50s do. Good fun.
Finally we spent a couple of nights in Aylesbury so that we could attend a day-long event in Stoke Poges to commemorate the tricentennial of the birth of Thomas Gray, a graduate of Colin’s old college, Peterhouse. The day started with a posh lunch at Stoke Place and continued with a visit St Giles Church, where the current Master of Peterhouse read Gray’s famous Elegy in the eponymous churchyard. Tea followed in the village, at the rather fine house of a childhood friend and fellow graduate of Colin’s, now a distinguished surgeon. Finally we enjoyed champagne and opera on the terrace of Stoke Park Country Club. All very refined – and actually very enjoyable!
Pat’s had her allotment for several years now, and from the beginning she’s been helped and teased by the treasurer of the Allotment Society, Neville. August saw him die suddenly in his armchair, so we added to the throng at his funeral.
Then it was down to Saltburn for our annual visit to the Folk Festival. Backshift, Colin’s band, were not worked too hard this year, so we had plenty of opportunity to see some of the other performers.
We’d been planning for a while to replace our 8-year-old ZZR1400 with a motorbike that offered a little more comfort, more luggage and better weather protection for touring. Colin had already ridden, and discounted, Triumph’s latest Trophy and Honda’s Pan European, so we arranged test rides of BMW’s R1200RT and the new six-speed Yamaha FJR. Plans are now in hand to change to the Yamaha.
We went to support Step This Way, a local Appalachian clog dance group, at Gibside, Colin temporarily joining the Bone Creek Band.
We hadn’t seen much of Iris and Arlo this year so we had them to stay for a couple of nights. Pat ferried them from Leeds on the train, and then out to Herrington Country Park for the afternoon to get some fresh air and run off some energy. Next day we took them and their cousins to Beamish for the day. Iris really liked the cosy miners’ cottages from 1913, settling in beside the coal fire to work on a “clippy mat”. Arlo investigated everything, especially the mine and the cottage coalhouses; he came home filthy – always a sign of a good day! The two opted to spend their final morning in the garden, Arlo fishing in the pond and Iris building a fairy dell in the shrubbery, then it was back on the train again.
Finally, we went up to Blyth to watch the Tall Ships come out of the harbour at the end of the regatta. We only caught the tail-end, and would have missed that if we hadn’t been on the bike and been able to carve through all the traffic.
Our 15th wedding anniversary would be on Tuesday 6th, so we decided to have a nice luxurious week somewhere romantic. After much searching online we decided on Ca’s Curial, an orange farm in Soller in the Serra de Tramuntana on the northern coast of Mallorca. It proved to be an excellent choice, and we decided to keep a diary of our holiday to complement the album Pat would put together.
At the end of the month we joined fellow members of the Northumbria Advanced Motorcyclists for a weekend at Derwent Hill in Keswick. Good company, good food and excellent roads. We even managed to do some walking!
Pat joined fellow cloggies for a large tea at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland to celebrate Penny’s 70th birthday. We also went to a performance of Three Acres and a Cow, a play and music about the history, and lack, of housing in Britain. That night we had the number plates stolen from our car outside our house. The police were sure they were to be put on an identical car for nefarious purposes, but we’ve never heard any more.
We ended the month at Beamish Open Air Museum, where a party was being held for all the volunteers. There was free beer (hurrah) – and we were driving (boo).
We went along to Durham University to see our friends Ribbon Road giving a performance of “Our Streets Are Numbered”. It’s well worth seeing, or at least buying the DVD!
Later that evening we joined a collection of NE Folk Music’s who’s who at Birtley FC to say farewell, or hopefully au revoir, to Brian and Doreen Elliott who were off to Australia for at least two months.
We went to see the ballet Beauty and the Beast at the Theatre Royal (uplifting), enjoyed some free wine-tasting at Majestic Wine (inebriating) and helped Julie and her family move house (exhausting).
1st December was Pat’s Mam’s 92nd birthday so she had a little tea party in the conservatory at her home with her two brothers (87 and 85) and her sister-in-law. Unfortunately, her sister was taken ill and had to cancel. We were pleased she’d managed to go out to lunch with her sister the week before.
Later in the month, the Millstone, our favourite singaround pub, was hosting a Xmas party, so naturally we went along.
Then it was time to pack for Obergurgl. We’d found a reasonably cheap deal with Crystal in the Hotel Alpenaussicht that looked nice and was very close to the pistes. It turned out to be lovely, and a couple of the staff even remembered Colin from two years ago when we stayed in the hotel just down the road at which they both used to work. So we were well looked after. Add to that perfect snow conditions and brilliant sunshine all week and it turned out to be one of the best skiing holidays we’ve had.
Over Xmas we entertained the Carricks and the Slaters, and managed not to over-indulge. We brought Pat’s Mam for dinner but her dementia has worsened and she really wasn’t sure what was going on.
We half heartedly thought of going in to Newcastle for New Year’s Eve, but the required round tuit never appeared.