We’ve never done this before, but the desire to save a few trees and the unreliability of the postage service where we live have made us turn to an online “review of the year” as an alternative to sending cards.
So, from Colin and Anne, comes this personal view of the last 12 months, with our best wishes for Christmas and a happy 2023.
I (Colin) went up to Wirral just after New Year to see Mum and Dad. I returned home on 8 January, but after just two nights I was up again because Dad had been taken to hospital after a fall. He never fully recovered, although he wasn’t managing very well, if at all, before.
Emergency Covid restrictions meant that no care home was able to accept Mum and Dad. I was there for the next three and a half weeks. Anybody who looks after one elderly parent, let alone both, deserves the greatest respect. I had to give up music, writing, learning Romanian – even reading. My guilty pleasure was to escape to Warwick Park for half an hour each day. Anne’s support was absolutely crucial.
I can describe the January to March quarter in one word: awful
My father did, however, manage to have his 96th birthday at home, with visits from several neighbours – more people than had been to the house on one day for years.
On 1 February Mum (who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the previous autumn) and Dad moved to Upton Manor care home, just a few minutes’ walk from the house where they had lived for over 60 years. Shortly afterwards Dad tested positive for Covid-19. I was so sure he was going to die that I arranged his funeral, to the last detail!
He looked like death warmed up, but somehow survived
Anne and I managed to get away to France for a short break.
The weather was kind, and we celebrated Valentine’s day (also my birthday) with champagne and oysters on the terrace at La Bréchoire. We departed earlier than planned; but that turned out for the best as we narrowly avoided Storm Eunice.
By April things were looking up. Anne continued with her piano lessons and daily practice; I retaliated by buying a hand-made electric guitar from David Kennett. With a return to band practice at Glasshouse Studios in Cumnor, One for the Wall’s second album started to come together.
Anne, with early retirement within her grasp, attended her first meeting as a Trustee of the Jane Austen House in Chawton. There were sunny weekends with friends in East Sussex and Purbeck and, of course, more trips to Wirral.
Anne’s father, David, accompanied us to La Bréchoire for Easter, where we enjoyed some nice days out, followed by a few days in the Dordogne.
It was not a year crammed full of cultural outings, although we very much enjoyed Cabaret at the Kit-Kat Club, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, Walter Sickert at Tate Britain and Yayoi Kusuma’s Infinity Mirror Rooms and Cezanne at Tate Modern. I even managed to find someone (not Anne) to accompany me to the King Crimson documentary t the Everyman in Crystal Palace.
On 28 May we saw the great John McLaughlin, 80-year-old guitar supremo, at the Royal Festival Hall.
A few days later we flew to Greece on yet another holiday. It began as something of a trip down memory lane, with stays in the southern Peloponnese, where we’d first gone on holiday 25 years ago, and a visit to Delphi, which I’d last seen on a school trip in 1971.
Our stay on Hydra was a new experience
An austere yet beautiful island, virtually traffic-free, and well worth a short stay. I ran into someone from my old school performing at a Leonard Cohen memorial gig.
Although we’d been to Athens before, we had never spent much time there. But this time we took the opportunity to properly explore this magnificent, vibrant city. And so it was that, for the third time in my life, I found myself traipsing up to the Acropolis in the roasting heat of midday.
To cap a wonderful fortnight we were treated to lunch on the top floor of the National Bank of Greece, where my old college friend Yannis is now Governor.
Great to see Lina again, too. A reunion after a gap of four decades is a wonderful thing.
Back in England the heat was as fierce as in Greece
It became clear that Europe – and not only Europe – was suffering a terrible drought, with parched fields and wildfires. In London the temperature reached 40C. We had to buy a cooling fan in order to sit inside in any comfort. It was even worse outdoors. On 20 July Anne had her first meeting as a Trustee of the Wordsworth Trust, but had to attend by Zoom as the overhead cables north of Preston had melted.
We managed to travel up for a short break the following day. Even in the Lake District it was uncomfortably hot… until we turned up; drought over (in Cumbria, at least).
On 25 July, after just over 20 years, Anne retired from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with a well attended party (mostly by women as you can see!) at the Dickens Inn, St Katherine’s Dock.
The Dyson fan accompanied us to France on 2 August. There was much socialising in La Bréchoire, a 32nd anniversary Michelin-starred lunch and a road trip south to Saint-Chinian: a lovely place, with exhilarating mountain walking and river swimming. And very good wine.
We really took to Béziers: a town we felt we could happily live in.
Back home, six weeks later, we had only just finished unpacking when the death of the Queen was announced. There was a long queue to see her Lying in State.
We went up to town to look at the queue
The extravagant obsequies were watched in comfort on the TV. I’m glad that Dad, who was born three months before the Queen, was able to see them too.
On 3 October OftW’s second 11-song CD, Scent of the Moon, was launched with a gig at The Half Moon, Herne Hill, before an enthusiastic invited audience. Despite Covid lockdowns, illness, holidays (and even paid work in some cases) we somehow managed to get it out less than two years after The Lover’s Song. It is in no way inferior!
Just over two months into retirement, Anne’s previous employers realised they were rather stuck without her… She agreed to do a few days more work on their new strategy, which will launch early next year.
Later in October, Anne met up in London with Rosie, her friend from pre-school days, who has been living in Alicante for over 30 years. Coincidentally, we look forward to visiting the region in January.
Exactly 10 years ago we took our first holiday in India. It was arranged by Exodus Travels, meaning that we would be sharing our hotels and a minibus with more than a dozen people whom we had never met before. It worked brilliantly. Extraordinarily, nearly all of us have kept in touch, meeting up once a year for a drink, a curry, and sometimes entertainment of a high cultural nature. They are a great bunch of people, most of whom do not live in London.
Just a few days after this year’s dinner at Dishoom, I received a call to say that my father was not going to survive another 24 hours.
He passed away on 25 October
Having made all the arrangements for the funeral we decided that we might as well head off to France one last time, as planned. We enjoyed the last flutterings of summer while, back in Herne Hill, we had four rooms decorated.
The funeral, on 21 November, was attended by over 30 people, a more than respectable turnout for someone of Dad’s age (96 years and 9 months). Guests included neighbours young and old, my cousins from Wilmslow and Glasgow and many old friends from schooldays. We did Dad proud, with a reception at Hillbark. I think he would have approved.
And so to December. An invitation to a party given by Scala (art book publishers) reminded us that it is indeed good to get out occasionally. So enjoyable to meet lovely people who share our obsessions with books, libraries, history, music and languages. We felt we were stepping back in time, to the sort of parties we used to go to in those far-off British Library days.
Two days later I set off in sub-zero temperatures to King’s College Hospital for a procedure to deal with a varicose vein. All done within the hour, and I actually walked home (it’s just 20 or so minutes to King’s). I can’t say it was entirely painless, but radiofrequency ablation is a welcome alternative to the old-style alternative of stripping out the vein. Ugh.
From a roasting hot July to a freezing December. The year of four chancellors, three PMs, two monarchs and one warmongering Russian kleptocrat comes to an end. The delights and horrors of Christmas, mitigated somewhat by watching the Qatar World Cup on TV, are now upon us. Covid-19 is still with us but the restrictions have gone.
We wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful time, and a better new year.
For me, it should be a bit less traumatic. The trips to Wirral will continue while my mother is alive. Our second life in France will continue to be important. And the band has already started work on a third album!
Anne should finally begin to feel the energising effects of retirement.