Christmas Letter 2006

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Helen and Elisabeth2006 started out full of optimism: I was well-organised, Helen and Elisabeth[1] were visiting in January, and I was finally going to see Ballarat.

My family went to Ballarat in 1954 (I think it was 1954: I hadn't yet started school) leaving me behind with Dad's parents. I received postcards every day - lovely black and white ones that I wish I still had! - and I clearly remember one of Ballarat, showing what I thought was a railway line running down the middle of a street. I considered that I should have been taken along just to see that. Twenty years later, in France, I was somewhat mollified to see a railway line (actually another tramway) running down the middle of Saint-Etienne. Nevertheless I've always yearned to go to Ballarat. Helen and I had every intention of going there together when she was living in Melbourne but, although she sang up there quite regularly, I never managed to be around at the right time.

Helen and DanielStick insect on binSo it was with great joy that I set out on my January travels - my only travels for the year, as it turned out. My first port of call was Sydney. On our right is the stick insect I saw at one of the picnic areas where I stopped on the way to do stretches and drink iced tea. I was so excited I sent my sister a text message about it. Her reply was "Yuk!" and, when I arrived at her place, no one was interested in my photo, so now you have to look at it.

Fiona and I collected Helen from the airport and we all had some happy days together.

Helen, Amy and Daniel Amy and Daniel dressing up Amy and Daniel with the new bunny Fiona, Amy and Daniel with the new bunny Aunty Val with the new bunny

I attempted to mind the children one day, which caused them to break out in a rash of illicit dressups from Fiona's room. Later the new pet rabbit arrived, so we all had a go of it. I just want to say at this point that Fiona's visits this year have been high spots. I am fortunate to have such a wonderful sister.

Helen and I came back to Canberra on a very hot day. The car's air conditioning stopped working five minutes into the journey, causing me to catastrophise at length about the million dollars it was going to cost to fix, and the weeks we were going to be transportless. Next morning we took it to the repair people, who fixed it in an hour for $80 - and let that be a lesson to me! There was time for H to finish getting the caravan ready for Elisabeth's arrival, and to buy a pergola and some outdoor furniture: she knew E wasn't ever going to go inside. (E comes from Norway, above the arctic circle, and feels it is wrong to stay indoors when the sun is shining.) Then H collected E from Sydney airport, and they flew to Melbourne to start rehearsing for the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival.

No Smoking Anniversary CakeI joined them in Melbourne soon afterwards, quite nervous to be meeting Elisabeth for the first time. We bonded over a "health break" on the drive down to Geelong. E was only smoking very occasional herbal cigarettes by then; she has been a reformed smoker for more than a year now, and on your right you will see the cake H made her to celebrate the recent anniversary.

How we rushed about! Between Friday and Tuesday, we visited Brunswick, Geelong, Anglesea, Rosanna, Fitzroy, Ballarat, Daylesford, Rosanna, Richmond, and a different part of Brunswick. Helen caught up with assorted colleagues, friends and family, including grandmother Margaret (who put us up at Anglesea) and Uncle Adrian (who, like us, was staying at Aunt Lindy's place - unfortunately we missed Lindy this time), Fidonet friends GRim, Dey, Neens (and Susan and newborn Oliver), and godmother Annabel (who joined us in Ballarat). Annabel and I were delighted to see Maureen (ex-SCUNA) at the Daylesford concerts.

There were five concerts in three days.

On Saturday 14 January, Triptych launched their CD Words of the angel at Dante's cafe/gallery in Fitzroy. People interrupted the flow of the concert to applaud Helen's compositions! It just so happens that I have the text of a small, five-star review which appeared in the May edition of the ABC magazine Limelight:

Gorgeous Gregorian sacred music, some sensitively adapted by Triptych soprano Helen Thomson, receives exquisite, near-flawless performances by this highly talented vocal trio, occasionally accompanied by recorder and hurdy-gurdy. Whether in blissful unison, full-throated harmony or intricate polyphonic filigree, this Australian ensemble will surely lift you to a higher plane. SS

The CD has had a bit of exposure on ABC FM (where the Sunday concert has also been played) and on 3MBS FM and I just thought I'd mention that it's available at a Melbourne music store called Readings...

On Sunday 15 January, Triptych was to perform Words of the angel in the Loreto Chapel in Ballarat at 3pm. Twice as many people turned up as would fit, so a repeat performance was announced for 5pm. Same thing happened at the Anglican Church in Daylesford next day. Helen and Elisabeth performed (twice) arias by Monteverdi and Luzzaschi, Helen singing and Elisabeth playing cornetto, a Renaissance woodwind instrument which is difficult to play well - and she plays it very well indeed.

Judging by my vast experience of music festivals (Emma Kirkby at Domaine Chandon, Coriole twice, and two days of Ballarat), I could quite happily spend my whole life at them. What an excellent idea: a whole bunch of interesting concerts taking place close together in time and space so that you can go to everything and be immersed in music for a holiday. You can even talk to the performers, if you're brave. Usually there's beautiful scenery and good food and wine as well. I was quite envious of the people who were attending the lot!

I have to confess I was a bit disappointed in Ballarat itself, though: it was busy and large but not strikingly gracious. Mind you, I saw very limited bits of it. I expect if I spent a decent length of time there, I'd find plenty to like about it. (And so the Ballarat obsession continues!) Daylesford, though - what a gorgeous place!

Puzzle and PussDaniel, Amy and a llamaOn your left is my last photo of the year: H & E called me urgently outside to witness the unexpected closeness of Puzzle and Puss, who normally give each other a wide berth.

When the time came, it was very hard to say goodbye to Helen and Elisabeth. They spent their final week in Queensland. It didn't make sense for me to go to Sydney just to say goodbye again, so we were sensible and spoke on the phone. (Thank goodness for affordable international phonecalls, by the way! I get to speak to Helen for an hour a week at least, so we manage to keep up pretty well.)

On your right is a photo Tim took at the lovely family birthday party Jo organised for me in Weston Park in February. After lunch and a cake and lots of laughter, we were thinking about packing up when a small red car pulled up nearby and a llama unfolded itself out of the back seat. The llama's chauffeur said he had four llamas and they'd eaten all his grass, so he took them around the parks. We were extremely glad he did!

My drawing of the birthday party

For my birthday I gave myself a ramp because I was having so much trouble with my right knee. Eventually I borrowed money so I could jump the apparently endless queue for a knee replacement. I had the operation in May and afterwards was so crook I gave up smoking.

Dac, who has been spending a fair amount of time at home in the past year, was pleased about the improvement to our environment!

My drawing of Dac and me and the pusses

I'll be eternally grateful to family and friends who visited me in hospital and afterwards, made sure I had enough to read, accompanied me to an endless parade of medical appointments, visited from abroad or interstate, took me about when I couldn't drive, supported me through yet another C*mc*re battle, informed me of concerts I might like, joined me for lunches and cuppas, and generally made life worth living.

Just when my knee was finally healing, my left sciatic nerve packed it in and wrecked my other leg. There's a certain irony in having an operation for the sake of mobility and ending up almost immobilised by a slight break in routine. I hope one day to return to what I laughingly term normal so I can get a few things done besides leg exercises.

And so I finish 2006 disorganised, going nowhere in the foreseeable future, missing Helen, who can't come home this Christmas, but looking forward to celebrating with Dac and Annabel and Brian. As I have in this letter, I'll skip remembering most of 2006 and trust that 2007 will be better. To those of you who keep in touch, thank you! To everyone who's read this far:

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!


[1]More about H and E, who live in the Hague in Holland, on H's website: see performances and blog.

Page created December 2006; last updated 20 December 2006