The new year got off to a bit of a gloomy start with two funerals within three days, the first being that of Pam Elliot, an old folk club friend, and the second that of Mike Edwin, our host many times at the Black Horse in Hulland Ward.
February continued the trend with Colin and most other members of St Andrews Operatic Society singing at the funeral of the father of two of the members.
On the brighter side, February also saw the OS production of The Mikado. Great fun, and much enjoyed by various family and friends.
Then it was March and we were off for our main skiing holiday. We had decided to repeat our holiday of two years previously and drive to Samoens, a satellite of the huge Flaine skiing area in the French Grand Massif. The weather was excellent most of the week and we had a lovely time. Pat managed to crack her head on an icy piste on our last afternoon, so we resolved to get helmets for the next season (yes, stable doors and horses do come to mind).
March ended with a trip to see Calendar Girls at Sunderland Empire Theatre.
Mid-April brought a telephone call for which we had been waiting nearly five years. We had finally reached the top of the waiting list and an allotment in the plot just up the road was ours! Of course we had to go straight up and see it. We were delighted to find it was in a prime site in the middle of the plot, open to the sun, and with well-worked and fertile soil. We weren’t, however, quite so sure about the size – 2,500 sq ft made us gulp a little. It has since proved to be just the right size.
We took the bike down to Hulland Ward later in the month for our habitual weekend with the biking crowd. No Mike, but Mu is still running the pub and we had a great time catching up with old friends.
April was planting time at the allotment but we did make time to attend a production of Princess Ida in Newcastle (Colin knew some of the cast). Then it was back on the bike and off to Dover for our annual May Bank Holiday trip to France with the aforesaid biking crowd. We were staying near Epernay, so the Saturday was naturally spent touring a champagne cave. Two, in fact. We started off, on the recommendation of our hotelier, visiting the huge Mercier cave for a tour in a little laser-guided train. Then, over lunch in a restaurant in Epernay, one of our friends gave us a brochure for the Colin cave. This we had to see, so we shoved the address in the Zumo and half-an-hour later found ourselves in this small, privately run cave. No tours were on offer, but we did come away with a half-bottle of champagne (all there was room for in the pannier). We also realised (given that Irvine is sometimes used as a forename) that it helped explain why Colin sometimes appears in hotel reservations as Irvine Colin!
In mid May we spent a week in London. Colin’s nephew Dougal had written the English lyrics and some of the music for Britain’s Got Bhangra, enjoying a run at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, so this provided the excuse to fill in a few days either side. BGB was absolutely fantastic, our opinion clearly shared by the sell-out audience. We stayed at a nice pub-with-rooms just off Regents Park, and also combined trips to the V&A and Science museums, Camden Town and Kew Gardens with meals at a Masala Zone, an excellent Lebanese restaurant (with Colin’s two nephews plus partners) and – prandial highlight of the week – Chutney Mary’s for the finest Indian food we have ever eaten.
While we were away in London Pat’s brother John, wife Terri and their daughter Eileen arrived to stay at our house. They were over from the USA for a week or so but were constrained in their timing to the extent that we only saw them for a couple of days. We did manage a whole family get-together at the end of the week. Short but sweet.
Also in May we enjoyed Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and the Marriage of Figaro at the Gala Theatre, Durham.
June was a month for comedy. We went to see Reginald D Hunter at the Gala and Pat took Julie to see Andy Hamilton at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle – Colin crying off as he needed to attend a St Andrews rehearsal. We also saw Cara Dillon, one of our favourite singers, at the Gala.
At the allotment we discovered just how many strawberries a couple of beds can produce. We ate them, made jam and lots of ice cream and still gave away baskets full. The sugar-snap peas were just as prolific. Note to selves: next year one row will be quite enough.
The last weekend of June we spent in Cambridge. In the summer of 1970 Colin and five college friends, having just graduated, had bought a VW Microbus and driven overland to India and back. You can read an account of the trip here. 40 years on they had decided to return to Cambridge for a reunion. We all met up for a nice Saturday afternoon’s punting on the Cam and then dinner at the Café Naz, the manager of which was so impressed by the occasion he gave us free desserts!
As we’d come all the way south we thought we’d press on a bit further, and spent a nice few days at the Penny Farthing hotel in Lyndhurst, the village where Colin spent his childhood. On one of the evenings we were very pleased to visit (and compare allotments with) Jean and Terry Wingate, very old (longstanding!) family friends of Colin’s.
Then it was a dash back north in time to welcome Jean and Charlotte, over from New England for a short stay to attend Pat’s nephew’s wedding. The wedding reception was held at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light – the first time either of us had been there. With Jean and Charlotte we also fitted in Sunderland kite festival, Durham and a couple of trips to the beach. No sooner had they left than Colin’s concerts with St Andrews began, the usual varied programme, including one of Colin’s favourites – Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium (link to nice version here if you’ve not heard the piece).
We also popped down to Leeds for Arlo’s 2nd birthday party and hopped onto the bike on two consecutive days to see Sunderland Air Show and Durham Bikewise.
We also used the bike in August to visit the tall ships moored up in Hartlepool, which (like the Air Show) would have involved long queues and difficult parking if we’d taken the car.
School holidays gave us an opportunity to entertain grandchildren Ellen and Benjamin for a few days. One highlight was a visit to a maize maze where Pat got hopelessly lost while young Benjamin found his own way right to the middle, collecting flags of all nations on the way, as challenged.
We spent the usual long weekend mid-August at Saltburn Folk Festival, where Backshift were playing. After that it was a case of frantically harvesting everything we could from the allotment before, on 31st, catching a plane to Heathrow. We were to leave Julie in charge for the next month, watering and picking the endless tomatoes as well as keeping on top of the beans, corn, salad and so on.
Meanwhile we flew to Calgary, picked up a 25ft RV and spent the whole of September exploring Alberta and British Columbia. We wrote up a blog of our trip as we went along. This has now been converted to a diary, which can be found here. The photos we took have also been pulled together here.
October was a time to reorient ourselves after being away so long. November saw delivery of a shed for our allotment; erecting it brought all our fellow allotment holders out for what amounted to an old-fashioned barn-raising. Pat baked everyone a cake.
We paid another visit to the Sage, this time to see Mary Chapin Carpenter, and enjoyed a nice family gathering for Thanksgiving. Autumn was supposed to conclude with a week in the West Country visiting various friends and relatives, but we got snowed in and had to cancel.
Mid-December saw us flying from Manchester to Cervinia for a week’s skiing. The weather was sunny, albeit a bit windy at times, and cold (-27C at the windy top!), so we had a lovely time. We also got over to Pila for the day. Colin had spent a week there some years before and was keen to show it to Pat. We’d like to go back.
Finally, we had the Carricks up to stay for the two nights either side of Christmas. 5:00 a.m. saw everyone but Colin downstairs opening presents. He managed to sleep in until 7:30, when he was woken by an elf on a hobby-horse.