Christmas Letter 2007

Val, Dac, Brian, Annabel, Mary, Richard

Val, Dac, Brian, Annabel, Mary, Richard

Christmas 2006 was a quiet one. My daughter Helen couldn't come home from Holland because of work, so it was a small group of friends at lunch - the first four pictured above - and the next two called in for afternoon tea. I gave Brian a compilation of novelty songs which he seemed bemused by, but Richard enjoyed them. Evidently we both grew up with Spike Jones & his City Slickers. (My father bought a gramophone in the mid-fifties and it occupied a central spot in the loungeroom. I could see my parents sitting beside it and hear the 78s they played when I was in bed at night. I was definitely more familiar with Spike Jones's Nutcracker Suite than with Tchaikowsky's.)

Dac and I were very excited about the potato kugels at Christmas lunch. (Cooking is on my mind, for obvious reasons given the date of this letter.) The old Gugelhupf pan was scratched to bits so we went shopping and bought amazing new ones. One was a teflon-coated Bundt pan [see Wikipedia article, and you might want to look at Gugelhupf as well] and one was silicon. It can be readily seen that the new pans made wonderfully ornate potato kugels. Then we coated them in yoghurt and spring onions and they looked the same as any old kugels!

Potato Kugels made in the new Gugelhupf pans, Christmas 2006

This image links to a page containing a larger image, and the Potato Kugel recipe. The images below are linked to larger images

Recently I was involved in a discussion about what was stressful about Christmas, and I learned something from the enormous list that was generated: we'd be better off in the Northern hemisphere. Up there, they have a couple of days off - a little winter break - and then they get on with the New Year. Here, it's 'orribly 'ot for a start. Then everything grinds to a halt (sometimes as early as November) and we're lucky if it has started up again by the beginning of February. So, as well as preparing for Christmas, with its trappings of gifts and guilt, we have to deal with the fact that everything's shut or running limited hours for the summer holidays.

Even when you don't go out to work, it's impossible to avoid the desperate runup to the end of the year. People (including medical people) go away on holidays. Not even the radio sticks with normal programming. There ceases to be any point in turning the television on, ever. Takeaway joints are shut. Restaurants are shut. Cafes are shut. Gyms and pools are shut. Routine evaporates and all supports are kicked out from under you. Bah humbug! I'm considering making my Christmas letter and the few cards I manage to send into mid-year tasks, and giving Christmas a miss in future, apart from the carols. We could have the kugels hot in July.

Back to 2007: I muddled through January as best I could. In February for my birthday I got a diagnosis of type II diabetes. It's been a year of trying (to no apparent effect) not to eat things, hot and cold running medical appointments (mostly with people who treated me like a naughty two-year-old), and huge amounts of daily exercise (which no one believes I'm doing). The main thing I have to say about this year, therefore, is "Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr".

There have however been good things, and here are some of them.

Amy was sick at my birthday in 2007My sister Fiona and her family came down for my birthday, on a very hot weekend in February, and once again we had a picnic in Weston Park with Jo and Tim. Amy was sick, and there were no alpacas, so we didn't quite replicate the joys of the year before, but it was good to be together.

I travelled to Coriole with Daryl on the first weekend in May, my first venture out of town in 18 months. It was a wonderful festival. My detailed impressions of it are here.

Helen visited in June-July. I was so addled by the quantity and duration of exercise I was doing and the several medical appointments I was rushing to every day that I didn't even think of doing anything special while she was here - I just dragged her about with me. It was while she was here that I happened upon the physio who taught me to walk again (for the second time in just over a year) so I'm not hobbling now, as long as I concentrate extremely hard. I hold out some hope of retrieving sufficient mobility to go and visit H in Holland before too much longer.

During Helen's stay, she was informed that she'd landed a job - a permanent job - with the Groot Omroepkoor, a professional radio choir based in Hilversum. Great news!

Also during Helen's stay, one of the sad events of the year occurred: we lost our faithful Little Puss. And then, in another way, we lost Sambo, the cat Dac chose to take her place. More about that here; new, improved pages about the cats in general here.

Camilla, Brian, Gary and Annabel cut the Ten Year Turn cakeIn August, we had the Ten Year Turn. A bunch of friends turned multiples of 10 in 2007, so a combined celebration seemed in order. It was held at University House, a place of happy memories for many of us, and this party added to them. There were interstate guests, old friends who hadn't seen each other in decades, and lots of singing. Being involved, even slightly, in the organisation of things makes me worry, so I did that, but the Turn was terrific.

Another special event took place early in September: the 12th annual Clogging Convention, organised by the Silver Soles Cloggers, my club when I was clogging. [What is clogging?] I didn't go to the workshops; I just attended the nights. In a large wooden-floored building at Exhibition Park, 380 cloggers danced for about five hours solid each night, in between demonstrations from clubs from all over Australia. The sound of all those jingle taps made me very happy! [YouTube has one of the demos: the Hillbilly Shoes and even their rehearsal in the car park at Red Cedars.]


Me, Anne S, Julianne and Brenda W at the 40 Year NGHS reunion The clever cake at the reunionStill early in September, I took to the road again. I drove to Fiona's place in Sydney, and she drove me to Newcastle for my 40 Year High School Reunion. The school I went to - Newcastle Girls' High School - no longer exists, having been comprehensified and co-edified some time in the 70s. My lot, who started high school in 1962 and finished in 1967, spent longer at NGHS than anyone else ever had: we caught the first year of the Wyndham Scheme and had to do six years' high school. Nevertheless we seem to have come out of it with chiefly good feelings towards the school which held out to us "the torch of learning, keen and clear". (That's from the school song, which was sung at the reunion.)

I seem to recall that there were 174 of us at the end of sixth form. (Something like 118 went on to further study.) At the 20-year reunion there were 80 women, and at this one there were 60 - still a good turnout. It was a beautiful day, warm and clear, and we had a beautiful setting: a famously elegant house and garden, now occupied by one of us! I enjoyed catching up with friends and acquaintances, despite being a little daunted by the question "What have you been doing for the past 20 years?". Answering that I'd been exercising got me some funny looks. There was some talk of not leaving the next reunion nearly so long - possibly having a 45th - and next time I'm going with my own list of questions so I can get in first!


When Fiona and I returned to Sydney, Croydon Primary (where Amy and Daniel go) was having a public speaking competition. I didn't get to go to the public speaking competition, but I did get to hear Amy and Daniel rehearsing. Amy (8) made a wonderful speech about leadership, and Daniel (5) made a wonderful speech (with the following wonderful notes) about his favourite animal, the cow:


my favret anmi is a caw
I like it becos it has 4 hoovs and 4 legs
it cen cic with its bac legs
it gis us milk and chis
it livs on a farm and in a barn
its babies are colld cavs


Also at Croydon Primary, years 3 and 4 (all of them!) were appearing in Cook! The Musical. Fiona got me a ticket and it was brilliant. It was written by a former teacher at the school, Jeff Bonnor, with music by Chris Myles. I don't know these people but they have my admiration, as does everyone who was involved in the musical. Amy (who looks very much at home on stage) had two appearances. There was singing, there was dancing, there were terrific costumes and sets, and there were heaps of jokes. There was a song about Sauerkraut, and a song featuring the name of every Australian tree you could think of. I truly had never seen anything like it, and would have gone again if my stay in Sydney had been longer - and if the show hadn't been sold out!.

Brian making a cheetah purrLate in September (it was quite a month!) Dac and I attended the National Zoo and Aquarium to watch Brian patting the cheetahs. This seemed a suitable birthday gift for him as our cats have always lined up for a pat when he visits. I was very pleased when the cheetah in the picture started purring. Spectators had to stay outside the enclosure, so we were peering in from a distance and through trees, but we could hear the purring quite distinctly. It was the first time any of us had been to the zoo so we had a good look round while we were there.

In fourth term (starting in October) I returned to clogging. The convention had inspired me, and I'd heard that the Silver Soles teacher, Louise, was holding a beginners' class at the Turner Senior Citizens' Club. That sounded like a level I could at least try, and I was overjoyed to find that I could remember the odd step. All those hours of practice in 2004 paid off! I still haven't danced all the way through anything without making a mistake, and my balance still leaves a fair bit to be desired, but clogging is the one form of exercise that gives me joy. I was in a dance at the Cloggers' Christmas Pageant this year!

There were visits from Fiona and the niblings in the 2nd and 3rd term holidays; various Colquhoun sightings including Impro ACT shows and an excursion to the National Tally Room on election night; a trip to Gary's place at Mongarlowe in November; Sydney Philharmonia's recent Purcell concert with Fiona; arvo tea at the Hyatt with Fiona and Jo; and no doubt other high points I'll remember five minutes after I send this. Helen is visiting in February, so that's what I'm looking forward to now. Thank you, friends and family, for making life interesting and enjoyable. A special thank you to my swimming mates! I wish you all a peaceful Christmas, and all the very best for 2008.

- Val
23 December 2007
(Happy Birthday, HW!)

Vale Solo (Ian Pusser)
Vale Joan Richards

Page created 20 December 2007; last updated 25 January 2008