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Winter was supposed to begin officially on 1st December but it began early in November which was a very cold month resulting in cauliflowers being the size of broccoli spears by Christmas. Thank goodness sprouts are not affected by cold weather, in fact there are some who say you should not eat a sprout until the frost has been on it.
The unseasonal early winter and flatulence-producing vegetables dealt with appropriately we embarked on our annual tour of Christmas presents distribution by spending a few days in Worthing with our friends the Harpers prior to a trip to Stogursey in deepest Somerset to annoy the rellies!
We paid a visit to Worthing Rugby Club to watch the annihilation of Australia for the fourth time this year and the completion of an unbroken year of wins for the England Rugby Union team. Since the humiliation of being knocked out in the pool stage of the world cup competition we have won 16 games on the trot and chasing the AB's record of 18 games without loss. I look forward to another 6 nations grand slam in the new year.
Although the Worthing clubhouse provided a good atmosphere in which to watch rugby, the seating was uncomfortable, the TV was steam driven and the beer was so bad that Les wouldn't drink it. Something one does not expect in a rugby club.
In fact the beer generally was sub standard on this trip being too cold and flat, however, I must mention the Squire and Horse pub in Bury where we had the best steak and kidney pudding I had ever eaten. Complete with a suet crust pastry and a rosemary and red wine jus it was heaven on a plate from the Australian chef/landlord Nicholas. (We tried not to talk about the rugby).
We joined up with Sally's walking group on a cold and frosty morning but first visited Hardham Church, dating from about 1050, which contains frescoes completed during the 12th century, the earliest series of wall paintings in England.
One of the best preserved is of the Temptation of Adam and Eve which is shown above but there are nearly forty scenes depicting the Life of Christ, Judgement and Apocalypse (including Hell scenes), and the Labours of the Months. As can be seen from the photo below the interior is very simple but attractive.
We were blessed with nice sunshine for our eight mile walk which was mostly through fields and woodland.
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Our last concert of 2016 was the English National Chamber Orchestra, the first time they had visited Cheltenham. The programme was all Viennese with Haydn's Symphony No. 44 in E minor, Trauer (Mourning), Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37 performed by James Brawn and Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550.
James Brawn is English born but has lived, studied and worked in Australia and New Zealand. He returned to England in 2010 and now lives in the Cotswolds. Following in the footsteps of John Lill he is in the process of recording all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.
Although Beethoven was German by birth he spent most of his life in Vienna and studied under both Hayden and Mozart.
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I said at the end of the last page that winter began on December 1st. I am writing this on December 21st which is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the start of the astronomical winter which begins on December 21st, with the winter solstice, and ends on March 19th. The meteorological winter always begins on December 1st and ends on February 28th (February 29th during leap years).
We will be escaping part of the British winter as we fly to Hong Kong on February 7th then on to New Zealand to visit all the friends and rellies, returning via San Francisco arriving back in the UK on 9th March when we will be officially in Spring meteorologically speaking but astronomically we will still have a few days of winter left until March 19th.
I hope readers will appreciate the meteorological justification for the naming of pages on this website!
I reached the grand old age of 76 in December and among the cards I received was one which had a reproduction of a water colour by Richard Briggs of a place of deep religious significance. Thanks to the Cliffords who appreciate my unnatural fascination with the game of rugby union and Barf Rugby in particular. But my wife Sue, who is of course a New Zealander, also practices the religion to a lesser extent and her card featured a cartoon by Alison Lingley of a bunch of her fellow Kiwi's doing the haka!
Talking about New Zealand we were last there in 2012 for the Rugby World Cup so it is time for another visit and it will be yet another round the world trip. This time we are flying out via Hong Kong and stopping for three nights there. We have not visited Hong Kong since the 1980's and on that occasion we flew round the world on Pan Am flight PA1, making a side trip from Singapore down to New Zealand and Australia. We can date it as while we were in New Zealand there came the news that Pan Am flight 103 had been blown up over Lockerbie which was in 1988. Some things in life you never forget.
PA1 was a flight which flew continuously around the world and the problem was that as it progressed it got further behind schedule. When we arrived in Hong Kong we were met by "Super Wong", who worked for my companies Hong Kong agents and I found myself at the bottom of a Kowloon dry dock sorting out problems with a ships controllable pitch propeller. That problem sorted we were wined and dined by our agent who offered us the used of the company Junk, 40 feet of teak luxury complete with Chinese skipper who took us to Lantau Island.
I am getting to the point now as this time we will land on a Virgin Boeing 787 at that same Lantau Island which is now the site of the international airport but when we were last there Lantau only had bikes for transport so we are going to see big changes from the start.
We have joined the University of the 3rd Age (U3A). They tell us that it is for those who "want to meet active and enthusiastic people who take a creative and positive approach to retirement". The meeting for new members is scheduled for February when we will be away but we managed to join a U3A ramble around Crickley Hill and said hello to some of those Belted Galloway's we are busily eating our way through! U3A have various different activity groups in Cheltenham such as Walking, History, Music, Literature and even Scottish country dancing, not that we are interested in the latter but we look forward to getting involved on our return.
The lunchtime recitals at the Town Hall have started again and the first one was the piano duo of John Humphries and Allan Schiller, two musicians who have been playing together for 30 years.
They began the recital with The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel which is guaranteed to get the fingers loosened up. This was followed by Mozart's variations in G major and Schubert's Fantasie in F minor.
Ravel's Mother Goose suite was originally written for piano students and consists of five movements. It became popular when Ravel orchestrated it for ballet.
The recital concluded with two Slavonic dances by Dvorak, his second and eighth, the latter being the most well known and a great one to finish on although they did play a bit of Schubert as an encore which calmed us all down.
The Rugby Six Nations tournament began that weekend with England meeting France at Twickers then the following week we set off on our travels so I missed most of the games and from past experience and despite Rugby being a religion in New Zealand, they did not show it on TV there. I did plead with 'er indoors for us to go in June to coincide with the Lions tour but she said it would be too cold then.
We just beat the Frogs 19-16 before we left and on arriving in Auckland we were met by our friends Terri and Byron who announced he had recorded the Wales v England game which we scraped though 16-21 but the good news was that now we were the only team that could win the grand slam. The New Zealand rugby TV offering has now improved since our last visit as on the new Rugby Channel they not only broadcast six nations games but UK club games as well. I was therefore treated to being able to watch our Barf boys suffer inglorious defeats at the hands of Bristol and Wasps!!
We finished our New Zealand tour in Auckland where I learned of the strange game against Italy where England needed tuition in the laws of rugby union but we eventually won after lessons at half time. We arrived home in time to watch England finally click and begin to play as we know they can to hammer the Sweaties 61-21, a record score to retain the six nations championship and equal the All Blacks world record of 18 wins on the trot. A hat trick of tries for Barf boy JJ and one for Anthony Watson as well. We now had to win against Ireland in Dublin to get the double grand slam and a world record 19 wins on the trot. Unfortunately they could not repeat the performance they gave against the Scots and Ireland played out of their skulls to close down England. They played 70% of the time in the Irish half but only had the ball for 70% of the time. Ireland deserved the 13-9 victory as did France who just beat Wales in the 20th minute of extra time in Paris!
As you can see from the photo above of the daffodills at Montpellier, Spring has almost sprung since we arrived back in Cheltenham. March 20th is the equinox.
I have now recorded our latest world trip and the pages on Hong Kong, New Zealand and San Francisco are now live and I have begun another page for the Spring of 2017.