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  • Christmas Letter 1996
  • Christmas Letter 1997
  • Christmas Letter 1998
  • Christmas Letter 1999
  • Christmas Letter 2000
  • Christmas Letter 2001
  • Christmas Letter 2002
  • Christmas Letter 2003
  • Christmas Letter 2004
  • Christmas Letter 2005
  • Christmas Letter 2006
  • Christmas Letter 2007
  • Christmas Letter 2008
  • Christmas Letter 2009
  • Christmas Letter 2010
  • Christmas Letter 2011
  • Christmas Letter 2012
  • Christmas Letter 2013
  • Christmas Letter 2014
  • Christmas Letter 2015

  • Christmas Letter 1996

    The terrible thing about Christmas is that it reminds us that another year has sped past. However, this is more than compensated for by the great pleasure that we have in sending cards to and receiving cards from so many wonderful friends all around the world. We particularly love receiving letters and news at this time and we regularly have circular missives from friends in such countries as Australia, New Zealand and the USA. For our part, we enjoy reviewing our year in our traditional Christmas circular and we trust that you will accept this way of telling you our recent news.

    After we had sent out our Christmas letter 1995 but before Christmas itself, we suffered two sad losses in the family. Dear Denis - Vee's stepfather since she was nine - died days after his 85th birthday following complications after what we had hoped would be just a routine operation. Then Vee's Uncle Mirek - one of the brothers of Vee's Czech father and the closest member of our 24 Czech relatives - died after months of suffering from cancer. Incredibly the funerals fell on consecutive days - the first in the Czech Republic and the second in Chichester - and Roger was able to attended both and give the oration for Denis [for text click here]. We know from other Christmas letters that friends have had similar deaths of parents and relatives and we guess that this is another sign of how middle-aged we have become.

    This year was a particularly tough one for Roger. After a really pressured year as Head of Research in the newly-formed Communication Workers Union, in the Spring he had to have some time off. This came hard on the heels of a speaking commitment in Luxembourg and a short holiday in Caen (France) but, since his return to work, he has spoken at a congress in The Hague, done a meeting in Paris, spoken at a conference in Brussels, visited Amsterdam and lectured near Lisbon, As you can see, he's taking things easier now! In fact, he is about to recruit a 13th member of staff into the Research Department which will either ease his work load or increase his supervisory load!!

    Meanwhile Vee is wonderfully well and does not look or act her age. She has now spent five years as Executive Officer to the Principal of Ealing Tertiary College. She loves her work and has a lot of fun with colleagues. Vee has always adored cats, but Roger - at least until his recent time at home - could not stand them. However, during this year - and especially when Roger was around the house - a local cat has adopted us, we now have an understanding with the owner, and Honey (named after her colour) has moved in with us and even sleeps with us. So Vee is absolutely delighted (and secretly Roger loves it too).

    Vee’s other great love is the home and the garden for which she always has ideas. A year ago, we thought that we would have to move home because there were plans for Roger’s work to move to the other side of London. However, the plans have changed, the new headquarters will be accessible by public transport, and so we can stay at Sudbury Hill in west London where we have now lived for 12 years. This has enabled Vee - with the engagement of a handyman - to carry out all sorts of improvements involving walls and lights and a garden shed. Do come and visit us and see what it all looks like - and you can meet Honey.

    Rich is now 20 and a fine young man of whom Roger and Vee are really proud. He is now in the third and final year of his degree in International Relations at the University of Sussex, but this term (September-December) he has been studying at the University of Amsterdam under a scheme run by the European Commission. His Dutch courses - which are actually taught in English - are entitled "Environmental Movements And Environmental Discourse" and "Thinking The Body: The Hermeneutics Of Gender" (if you know what this means, you too should be a student in Amsterdam!). Roger and Vee visited Rich in Amsterdam for a long weekend when he gave them the 'alternative tour' which included the sex museum and the hash museum!!

    When we wrote to you last year, Rich was living with his girlfriend Emma. Subsequently he split up with her - although they are still good friends - and since then there have been several other girlfriends. Rich will return to Sussex University in the New Year and he will graduate in the Summer. He is not sure what he will do then - he may do further studies or he may try to pursue a career in sports journalism (he is still fanatical about football).

    As you know, we love travelling and holidays but this year has been quite restrained in that respect. In the Spring, we had a long weekend in Caen (France) and visited the Bayeux Tapestry and the D-Day landing beaches. In the Autumn, we spent a few days in Paris - where Roger was attending an OECD meeting - and then, as mentioned earlier, we visited Rich in Amsterdam for a long weekend during which the weather was miserable. It was our great pleasure during the Summer to have one of our dear Czech mates- 14 year old Vojta - to stay with us for two weeks to see the sights and to learn English. His family has invited us to spend Christmas with them in Prague and we are really looking forward to celebrating this festive event in another culture and to seeing such wonderful friends as the Horvath family.

    These are times of great change and Roger, Vee and Rich are all fascinated by the new technological opportunities. Next year, we are likely to connect to the Internet, subscribe to cable television, and obtain a mobile phone. Change is like a fast-flowing river. Either you struggle to resist the current and hope that you are not swept off your feet and drown. Or you learn to swim and use the current to take you in exciting new directions. We hope that, in the coming year, you will not be drowning but swimming! Do let us know how you get on. Meanwhile we hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and a splendid New Year.

    Christmas Letter 1997

    We may be coming older, but we still love the magic of Christmas. One of the wonderful features of this time of year is the opportunity to exchange greetings and news with so many friends all around the world. Each year, we send out around 170 Christmas cards and, in more than 100 cases, we include a circular letter. We are sorry that we cannot write a personal note to you, but we are sure that you will understand that this is the most practical way to pass on our news to friends that we have seen little or nothing of in this busy year.

    It has been a challenging time for Roger. The Communication Workers Union has now been in existence for three years and, in that period, he has been Head of Research with half his staff in Ealing in west London and the other half in Clapham in south London, some 12 miles or about an hour's travelling apart. However, at the beginning of December, everyone in the two buildings moved to a single headquarters, so at last all Roger's 12 staff and all his CWU colleagues are together. The problem is that the new headquarters is in Wimbledon in south London, a journey of up to one and a half hours from home.

    During the year, for Roger there were lots of pressures at work. Then one of his staff - a young Research Assistant called Marc Lane-Martin aged just 30 - was murdered in a brutal stabbing in an apparent street robbery. Some months later, when the police released the body and the funeral could be held, Roger gave the oration at Marc's funeral [for text click here].

    Vee too has had an unsettling time at work. She has now spent six years as the Executive Officer to the Principal of Ealing Tertiary College, but this year her previous boss Ian Wallis moved on to become head of another college and she has a new boss Mike Griffin. There is now a possibility of the two colleges merging and this is proving to be a controversial and stressful process. A decision is due in the next few months and a merger in 1998 is a possibility.

    In the course of the year, Vee did a two-week period of jury service. It was a traumatic case involving allegations of child abuse and the jury was unable to reach a majority verdict on most of the charges. All this has made her an expert on the judicial process, so that she has plenty of views on the Louise Woodward case in the USA.

    It has been an excellent year for Rich - now 21. During his final six months studying International Relations at the University of Sussex, he wrote a dissertation on the international organisation of cyberspace which won him a first before graduating with an Upper Second Class Honours degree - a well-deserved result. Roger & Vee were very proud to attend his degree ceremony in Brighton in July. He has decided to stay on at Sussex University and take a Masters degree. The course is called "Critical Theory", but he tells us that really it is all about post-structural philosophy (whatever that is!).

    Rich is back with his girlfriend Emma, although now they do not actually live together. She is a lovely woman and, like him, graduated from Sussex this summer. She obtained an Upper Second Class Honours degree in English Literature and she has now taken a year off study to work in a Brighton book shop.

    Roger, Vee & Rich are making more and more use of information technology at work and at home. So far we have not obtained a mobile phone or subscribed to cable television or connected to the Internet, but Vee & Rich make daily use of computers at work and university respectively. Roger has both lap-top and palm-top computers which he uses more and more, and all three of us are making increasing use of e-mail with colleagues, friends, and even each other.

    The last full member of the family is our cat Honey. Last summer, she adopted us and we came to an arrangement with her owner. However, now the original owner has moved away so Honey really is sticking with us. She loves to hunt for mice in the spinney at the foot of our garden and to bring them into the house for games! Also she adores sleeping on our bed each night and often snuggles under the duvet!! She is the one member of the family who is not yet using computers, but she is bewildered by the cat noises on Roger's lap-top.

    In fact, we Darlingtons regard the Horvath family in Prague as part of our family. Roger and Vee first met Pavel in 1985 when he was working as a child heart surgeon at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Tragically in 1994 Pavel - then aged only 41- died of leukaemia, following two unsuccessful bone marrow transplants in London [for Roger’s tribute click here]. He left a widow Tamara and three young children Vojta, Kacenka and Martin. This summer Vojta - now aged 15 - came to spend two weeks with us in London and then, in late November, Roger & Vee- accompanied by Vee's twin sister Mari - went over to Prague to spend a week with the family.

    As you know, the Darlingtons love to travel and this year has been no exception. Roger attended the CWU Annual Conference in Jersey and later Roger & Vee had a romantic weekend in the historic city of Rochester. As usual Roger's work has taken him abroad on a number of occasions: meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg, lectures in Geneva and Bulgaria (his 100th trip abroad), and a congress in Prague (where he managed to make a short address in Czech). Also Roger & Vee spent an Easter holiday in delightful Bruges.

    This year will be memorable in so many other ways. In May, we had the election of a Labour Government after 18 years of Conservative rule. As life-long Labour supporters, on election night we stayed up until 4 am and rejoiced at Labour's 179 seat majority. Then, in August, we had the tragic death of Princess Diana. We are not royalists, but it was impossible not to be moved by all those flowers outside the palaces and we watched the Westminster Abbey funeral live on television. Finally, there has been the weather, about which the British love to talk so much. January was the driest since 1779, June was the wettest since 1860, and August was the second hottest since 1659 - something worrying is happening to our fragile eco-system.

    So that was 1997. But 1998 promises to be as busy and as exciting. In January, Roger will be flying out to Kuala Lumpur - his first ever trip to Asia - to lecture at a trade union seminar on multi-media. Then, in June, it will be Roger's 50th birthday and Vee is planning a big party and a holiday in New York. In the Autumn, Rich should obtain his Masters degree and may then enter the world of work.

    So that's our news. What about yours? We would love to hear from you, so do keep in touch and let us know how you are going on. Meanwhile very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    Christmas Letter 1998

    We love to receive news from friends at Christmas time whether it is a few words in a card or a specially prepared circular letter. Since we send cards to so many friends at home and abroad, we find it easiest to put our news in a letter of this kind so that we can share the events of 1998 with all of you.

    Roger has had another challenging year at the Communication Workers Union. A year ago, everyone moved to new headquarters in Wimbledon and it is a really long journey for him. During the year, the building was officially opened by the Prime Minister Tony Blair. As well as a change of building, Roger has had a change of boss. Following an election, Derek Hodgson has become the new General Secretary. He is very supportive but also very demanding. Roger and Derek have spent a lot of time this year involved in the Labour Government's review of the future of the Post Office. They have made written and oral submissions to Government Departments and met no less than nine Cabinet Ministers.

    Vee started the year anxious that her college – Ealing Tertiary College – might be merged with another one just outside London. However, she was really pleased when, in the summer, the Further Education Funding Council turned down the merger. So now her college has a new Principal Mike Griffin for whom she works as PA in a very effective partnership. However, she has had a very pressured year and she is hoping that soon she will have an assistant.

    Rich - now 22 - finished his education (at least for the time being) this year by gaining a Masters Degree from the University of Sussex. Only Rich really understands the subject of this second degree. The title of his dissertation was "Derrida and the question of the technics" which apparently is something to do with contemporary philosophy. He is now working temporarily - he is covering for someone on maternity leave - as Press Officer at the National Union of Students which is good experience before he decides what to do next. Meanwhile his girlfriend Emma has returned to Sussex University to do her own Masters Degree in English Literature.

    As you know, the Darlington family loves to travel and meet people from other countries. This year has seen an exceptional amount of foreign travel.

    Until this year, Roger had never been to Asia and then incredibly he has been there twice in 1998. In January, he went out to Malaysia where he gave presentations on multi-media convergence to a conference in Kuala Lumpur and saw the Petronas Tower (now the tallest building in the world). Then, in October, he went on a union delegation to Japan where he saw the amazing bustle of Tokyo, the temples in Kyoto, and the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. Besides these long hauls (involving flights up to 14 hours), Roger's work involved the usual short trips to parts of Europe: Brussels (three times), Luxembourg, Paris and - best of all - Venice. His flight log has now clocked up 500 hours.

    Vee has travelled widely this year too. As well as a long weekend in Prague with her twin sister and brother-in-law, she managed to visit North America twice. First, in July she had a two-week holiday in the USA with Roger. This was a great time spent mostly in Washington and New York, but we stayed with Larry & Vicky Cohen and with Suzan Cole in different parts of New Jersey and met 11 sets of friends.

    Then, in September, Vee had another two-week holiday, this time in Canada with her twin sister, brother-in-law and eldest nephew. They flew to Calgary, hired a car and meandered through the Rockies. It was a holiday she had always dreamed of having. The scenery was spectacular and the weather perfect. Vee went white water rafting with her nephew (what a thrilling experience), bear and elk watching, horse riding through the forests and canoeing on Lake Moraine (utter tranquillity). The family then drove over to Vancouver Island where they went whale and sea lion watching. They then flew across to Toronto to spend a few days with Derek’s relatives. The CN Tower was another exciting experience and the views from the top of the tower were superb. There was the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls which was still awe inspiring even at a second viewing.

    A highlight of this crowded and exciting year was Roger's 50th birthday party in June. Vee organised a wonderful event at her college, there were over 50 guests, and good friend Tony Young made a really funny speech. Another special family occasion occurred in November when Vee's youngest nephew David married Sharon and Roger had the honour of giving away Sharon. There was great excitement when the white Daimler car that was due to drive them to the church went missing and they had to commandeer a stranger's car [for photographs.

    Now we are looking forward to Christmas. Two years ago, we enjoyed Christmas in Prague with the family of our dear friend Pavel Horvath who died of leukemia in 1994. This year they are going to join us in London: Tamara and the three children Vojta (16), Kaca (13) and Martin (12). For part of the time at least, we should have Rich & Emma with us and then of course there is Honey the cat. So it should be a fun time!

    Please keep in touch and let us have your news. Meanwhile very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. On to the millennium ...

    Christmas Letter 1999

    Welcome to this year's edition of the famous Darlington family Christmas letter - now in its 21st year. We borrowed the idea from our good friend Father Charles Urnick of the USA who started his series of annual letters in 1973 and now sends out an amazing 16-page booklet complete with photographs and jokes. We ourselves receive around a dozen such letters and we absolutely love reading the news of our friends all around the world. So we hope that you enjoy reading all our news about 1999 - the last year of the old millennium!

    The sad feature of this year was the death of Roger’s mother in early February as a result of heart failure. Ever since a stroke 10 years previously, she had deteriorated in health and the end was almost a blessing. Fortunately Roger & Vee had visited her at her nursing home just two days before. At the funeral, Roger gave an oration on behalf of his sister Silvia, his brother Ralph and himself [for text click here].

    However, the rest of the year has been exciting and enjoyable with the best news arriving just in time for Christmas. After 21 years as a trade union official, Roger has obtained a new, challenging part-time appointment which he will fulfil in addition to his full-time job. The new post is Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation [for web site click here]. The IWF is a body set up by the UK Internet Service Providers to self-regulate the UK Internet industry in relation to illegal and offensive content with particular reference to child pornography. It is expected that the post of Chair will require about four days work a month.

    What about the rest of the news?

    It has been a characteristically busy year for Roger, his fifth as the Head of Research at the Communication Workers Union [for web site click here]. The main challenge has been lobbying the Labour Government in relation to its proposals for more commercial freedom for the Post Office. Together with the General Secretary Derek Hodgson, Roger has met half the members of the Cabinet, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, with at least a dozen other meetings with Ministers at the Department of Trade & Industry, including some with his former boss Alan Johnson, one-time Joint General Secretary of the CWU and now the Minister for the Post Office. The Bill to reform the Post Office was included in the Queen's Speech, so next year he will be briefing on the legislature as it goes through Parliament.

    For Vee, it has been a demanding year as she continues to work as Personal Assistant to Mike Griffin, the Chief Executive of Ealing Tertiary College [for web site click here]. It has been a tough year for the College because student numbers have been lower than forecast and in turn this has cut the funding to the College. The Chief Executive's office - which was relocated during the year from the Acton centre to the Southall centre - has been under a lot of pressure, but Vee loves her work and this year she has had the help of a cheery Irish assistant called Maura.

    Rich - now 23 - is still working as Press Officer at the National Union of Students [for web site click here] but, whereas he went there on a short-term contract, he now has a permanent position. He has had a really exciting year handling the media and attending the political party conferences. His new girlfriend Philippa is a member of the NUS Executive and currently finishing her History & Sociology degree at Manchester University. They recently had a very enjoyable break in Prague, staying with our great friends the Horvath family.

    No Darlington Christmas letter would be complete without reference to foreign travel. This year Roger and Vee had a short, but thrilling, holiday in Cairo [for account and photos click here]. In the city itself, we visited the famed Cairo Museum with the fabulous artefacts from Tutankamun's tomb including the sensational funeral mask. Out at Giza, we saw the wondrous pyramids which are almost 3,000 years old and - in the case of the largest - comprise some 2.3 million stone blocks each weighing around two and a half tons. Vee had a wonderful ride on a camel called King Solomon, while Roger was racing around in 30 degree heat taking as many photographs as possible. We would love to return to Egypt sometime, probably to Luxor next time.

    Besides this holiday travel, Roger has managed the usual European trips for various meetings and speeches: two trips to Brussels, two to Geneva, two to Frankfurt, one to Luxembourg and one to Florence. The Italian visit was to tutor and speak at a four-nation seminar on "Multi-Media Convergence".

    This year we have continued to develop our love affair with information technology. Roger now has a computer at home linked to his computer at work by a high-speed BT line. He has a mobile phone now and Vee is about to acquire one. We have a wide-screen television and have just subscribed to a digital television service. Above all, Roger has become more and more interested in all aspects of the Internet and, in the summer, he opened his own Web site.

    Even our lovely cat Honey is embracing the world of technology. She loves watching television, especially when sitting on Vee’s lap, and so we are pleased that we do not have pay-per-mew programming. She has been micro-waved - sorry, micro-chipped - so that, if she wanders off, we can recover her. Now she is thinking of acquiring her own computer because she likes the idea of playing with a mouse but, because she is out and about so much, she would prefer something portable like a pawtop.

    Honey with a few furry friends

    So much for 1999. We are now excited about the millennium. We will probably celebrate its arrival by going down to the festivities on the South Bank in central London. Then, early in the New Year, we will visit the innovative displays in the Millennium Dome at Greenwich and ride on the new giant Ferris wheel opposite Parliament. We hope that you have a restful Christmas and an inspiring New Year and that you will keep in touch and let us have your news throughout the coming year and beyond.

    Christmas Letter 2000

    One of the features of Christmas that we love most is hearing news from friends at home and abroad and this newsletter is our way of telling you something about the activities of the Darlington family in the last year.

    Of course, it was a millennium year. Roger, Vee & Rich were all down in central London on New Year's Eve when, together with thousands and thousands of others, we thrilled to the spectacle of a 17-minute display of some 37,000 fireworks. How did you greet the arrival of 2000? Later in the year, we visited the Millennium Dome at Greenwich which was not as exciting as we would have hoped, but not as poor as most of the media suggested. Also we rode on the Millennium Eye, the giant ferris wheel overlooking Parliament, and this was a wonderful experience.

    In Britain, the millennium will be remembered for the weather (you know how we British love to discuss the weather!). The Autumn was the wettest since records began almost 300 years ago and, on the south coast (near the home of Vee’s sister), they even had tornadoes.

    In family terms, the year 2000 had its share of sadness. Less than two years after the death of Roger's mother Anna, his father John died. John had fought prostate cancer for several years and the funeral was a particularly difficult occasion for Roger and his sister Silvia because John had been married three times and virtually no-one at the funeral knew them.

    There was more tragedy at a trade union conference in Edinburgh when Roger called out a doctor to look at his close American friend Eduardo Diaz who was feeling unwell. The doctor diagnosed a virus, but a few hours later Eduardo was dead following a heart attack in reaction to other medication he was taking. Roger accompanied the body to Washington and attended the funeral in Alexandria [for Roger's tribute click here].

    Work-wise, though, it has been a very successful year for the Darlingtons with each of us having a change of employment.

    Roger is still working full-time at the Communication Workers Union where he has now been Head of Research for six years [for web site click here]. However, at the beginning of the year, he took on an additional, part-time appointment as Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation [for web site click here]. The IWF has been established by UK Internet service providers to combat criminal content on the UK Internet with particular reference to child pornography. Roger is supposed to spend four days a month assisting them and this involves chairing meetings of the Board, meeting civil servants, Ministers and companies, doing radio and television interviews, and speaking at conferences. It all makes for a furiously busy life, but the CWU and IWF work fit well together and it is really interesting being at the cutting-edge of technological developments.

    Vee changed her job in the summer. After almost 10 years as PA to the Principal at Ealing College, she moved to Harrow College to perform the same duties [for web site click here]. As well as a change of scene, she has a much shorter journey to work and a competent new boss called Barbara Field. Vee has used a computer for many years, but the move has given her the opportunity to up-grade her IT skills.

    Rich - now 24 - has changed his job this year as well. After two years as Press Officer at the National Union of Students, he has become Media Officer at the Transport & General Workers' Union [for web site click here]. The TGWU is the second largest trade union in Britain and the only one with a black General Secretary (Bill Morris), so Rich has been involved in a wide range of industrial and political issues. Meanwhile his girlfriend Philippa has now graduated from Manchester University and started work with Proctor & Gamble.

    As you know, we love to travel and to meet people from different countries and cultures. Roger is doing much less travel with the union these days and this year his only trips were to Geneva and Stockholm. However, we kept our Czech connection very much alive: Roger & Vee spent Easter in Prague with our 'second family' (Tamara and her three children); then, a couple of weeks later, Vee and her twin sister Mari returned to Prague to receive a special award from the President Vaclav Havel to mark their father’s wartime exploits; and finally, in the summer, we hosted a visit from Tamara's eldest son Vojta and his girlfriend Tereza.

    Then, in September, Roger & Vee had the holiday of a lifetime when we made a nine-city tour of China in just over two weeks [for full account click here]. We made four internal flights, three train journeys, and a long canal ride and travelled at least 13,700 miles. We used almost every imaginable form of transport: Airbus and Boeing jets, various trains, different coaches, city transport including a double-decker bus, a tram and a metro, motorised and pedal-driven rickshaws, a funicular and a cable car, and all sorts of water vessels including a Chinese junk and a sampan. There was also a considerable use of 'bus number 11' (the Chinese way of saying 'on foot').

    It was not exactly relaxing, but it was a rich and wonderful mix of experiences: the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the animal market of Guangzhou, the gardens of Guilin, the beautiful trip down the River Li, the terracotta army of Xi'an, the commerce of Shanghai, the gardens of Suzhou, the journey down the Imperial Canal, the historic lanes of Wuxi, the tomb of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing, the magnificent Great Wall, and the Forbidden City and Summer Place in Beijing. Along the way, we visited silk and jade factories, we attended a concert of traditional Chinese instruments and a sample of the Peking opera, we saw a demonstration of cormorant fishing, and we even had a one-hour foot massage.

    Roger took almost 600 photographs and some fellow tour members have given us a home-made video, so there is plenty to show you if you are interested.

    We made some Chinese friends on the tour with whom we are still in touch by e-mail. Also, on the flight back, we befriended a young Chinese student on her way to study at Oxford University and Hua Ye - known as Cathy - is now like our adopted daughter.

    Our Chinese friend Hua (Cathy) Ye
    who is studying for a PhD
    in bio-chemical engineering
    at Oxford University

    Finally Roger continues to develop his personal web site and this has now registered around 5,000 hits. On the site, you will find an on-line version of this letter - with hyperlinks to further information - and lots more features of interest. Please visit the site over the festive season and regularly over the year for more information on our activities as they happen.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a successful 2001 and, above all, please keep in touch.

    Christmas Letter 2001

    One of the best things about the Christmas/New Year season - besides the food, the drink, the movies and the rest! - is the opportunity to be in contact, if only through cards and notes, with so many great friends all around the world. This newsletter is our way of telling you about our lives over the past year and encouraging you to let us have your news.

    As usual, 2001 was a year of high and lows, but with many more highs. Let's deal with the lows first.

    Like all of you, we were horrified by the terrorist attacks of 11 September. Fortunately none of our American friends was directly involved, but a number of telecommunications workers lost their lives that day and some postal workers have subsequently been killed by anthrax. Our heartfelt solidarity goes to all our American friends and their families and colleagues.

    On a personal level, this year's low was the news - after no less than five sets of complicated tests - that Roger has lost most of the vision in his right eye due to a condition diagnosed as pathological myopia. The really bad news is that he is advised that the condition is non-treatable and that there is a serious risk that the condition could eventually occur in the other eye.

    The high point of our year was a fantastic three-week summer trip to five countries in South America: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru [for full account click here]. The most magical points of a truly wonderful holiday were the opportunity to see the thunderous Iguazzu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides and the visit to Machu Picchu, the famed 'lost city of the Incas'. However, there were so many other thrilling experiences from taking the cable car up to Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro to sailing out to the reed islands of azure Lake Titicaca to witnessing the colourful Inti Rami festival in Cusco.

    Roger took an incredible 750 photographs and collected lots of e-mail addresses from new friends. Vee went hang gliding off a mountain in Rio (she really is crazy!), but spent two days in bed with altitude sickness in La Paz (height 12,000 feet or 3,600 metres).

    Workwise, it has been an interesting and successful year for us all.

    Roger has now been Head of Research at the Communication Workers Union for seven years [for web site click here]. In the summer, the Union elected a new General Secretary Billy Hayes and Roger has been working closely with him, especially on the production of the organisation's first-ever strategic plan. Meanwhile he has now done two years as the part-time, independent Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation, a self-regulatory body that combats child pornography on the UK Internet [for web site click here]. He is supposed to be working four days a month for the IWF, but growing political and consumer interest in Internet issues has required him to put in a lot of extra time.

    Vee has continued to work at Harrow College where she is PA to the Principal, Barbara Field [for web site click here]. The College is to be inspected in January 2002, so everyone is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the highest grades are achieved in the various categories. She has also been attending night classes in information technology and struggling to master spreadsheets and databases. One of her nephews Martin married Isobel in the summer and Vee did a reading at the wedding. The whole event was an excuse for even more telephone calls than usual to her twin sister Mari.

    Rich - now 25 - has changed jobs again. In the summer, he left the Transport & General Workers’ Union (the second largest in Britain) and went to work for the Trades Union Congress, which is our national trade union centre [for web site click here]. He is Media & Campaigns Officer there, working regularly with the General Secretary John Monks and this year’s President who is our CWU colleague Tony Young. Meanwhile Rich and his girlfriend Philippa have been living together for the past year in a flat near the Tate Modern art gallery on London's South Bank.

    As you know, we love travel and friends and there have been a good deal of both this year.

    Besides the summer trip to South America, Roger and Vee spent another Easter in our favourite city of Prague with our 'second family' the Horvaths.

    Then CWU or IWF work took Roger to Brussels (twice), Berlin (twice), Stockholm, Paris and – the big one – Beijing. The China trip was to speak at a Government conference on the regulation of the Internet, but it enabled him to spend another few days in Beijing (it was the last stop of our Chinese odyssey in 2000) where he revisited places like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and did new things like seeing the frozen body of Mao Zedong.

    This year's visits to our home have included Rosie and Victoria from the USA, Kaca and Martin from the Czech Republic, Hua and Zhihao from China (but resident in Oxford) and Jill, our Scottish guide on the South America holiday who stays with us on her way out to or back from her work in the sub-continent.

    So 2001 has been a fun year.

    2002 should be equally interesting. Roger and Vee will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary - they may be very different, but it’s a great team! Meanwhile Roger is planning to increase his time at the IWF to two days a week which will require him to reduce his work at the CWU to three days a week - at least, that's the theory.

    Somewhere in the middle of this, Roger continues to expand his personal web site, which has now recorded around 8,000 hits. You'll find on it a full account of our South American holiday and an on-line version of this Christmas letter with relevant hyperlinks, so check it out now and during the year.

    Have a wonderful Christmas, a great New Year, and please keep in touch.

    Christmas Letter 2002

    As we prepare to spend our 21st Christmas together, we think about our many wonderful friends around the world. We want to share with you the news of our lives in 2002 and to wish you every happiness for 2003.

    This year has been a time of great change for Roger. Following the diagnosis in the Autumn of 2001 of pathological myopia in his right eye and a threat of the same condition in the other eye, he decided to accept an offer of medical retirement from the Communication Workers Union where he had worked for 24 years. So, at Easter 2002, he became what he calls a semi-retired portfolio worker. This means that he has two contracts for part-time work plus a number of other interests. However, since he was something of a workaholic, he has found it difficult to adjust to a slower pace, less social interaction, and some ill-health.

    Roger, Vee & Richard with
    Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown
    at a House of Commons retirement fuction for Roger

    He now works three days a week for the Communication Workers Union [for web site click here] as a Strategy Adviser focusing on issues like the Union's strategic plan and its broadband campaign. Also he works one day a week for the Internet Watch Foundation [for web site click here] as Chair which this year has involved some 15 radio and television interviews. However, the CWU contract is due for review in May 2003 and the IWF one in September 2003, so we have to see what the future holds.

    Meanwhile Roger has become a director of a new training consultancy called SpiritWorks [for web site click here] and might in time be trained as a trainer. Also he has agreed to write a monthly column on the Internet for the union representing professionals in communications [for web site click here]. In his spare time, he has joined a local gym, which he tries to visit once a week, and he is attending a number of short courses, starting with art history and PowerPoint. Finally he has bought a new PC, scanner and printer and obtained a broadband connection, all of which assists the enjoyable development of his web site that is now receiving around 200 visits a day.

    Vee continues to work as PA to the Principal of Harrow College [for web site click here] where she has now spent two and a half years. At home, she loves to work on the garden and has brought about all sorts of improvements. However, her 'big project' is an extension to give us a much larger living room and a patio. She has already had the plans drawn up and approved and she hopes to have the work completed by the Spring. Also in the pipeline is a kitchen refit which has to take account of the cat flap - it's a pity that our cat Honey cannot open doors. Home-worker Roger and Honey might have to leave home for the duration of the chaos but, once it is complete, we will certainly do more entertaining.

    Rich's career continues to flourish. In September, he moved from our national trade union centre, the Trades Union Congress, and joined a Government office, the Department of Trade and Industry [for web site click here] . He is Senior Press Officer responsible for employment relations, manufacturing and the regions. He has two members of staff reporting to him and he works closely with DTI Minister Alan Johnson who used to be Roger's boss at the CWU. He still lives in a rented flat close to the centre of London, so that he can actually walk to work.

    This year, we have had a number of visitors to stay with us, including Stuart Bartrum from New Zealand (his mother Val worked with Roger in 1971-72), Larry and Vicky Cohen from the United States (Larry works for the CWU's sister union in the USA), and Matt Holden and his partner Mel from down the road (Matt is Roger's nephew and he and Mel have bought a flat locally from which they needed to take refuge while the ceilings were sound-proofed). The arrival of Matt and Mel in Sudbury Hill has encouraged us to form a team - called "The Whizz Kids" - for the weekly quiz at our local pub, the "Black Horse", and we have actually won twice.

    We try to visit Prague each year because we have our 'second family' (Tamara, Vojta, Kaca & Martin Horváth) there. This year was no exception, as we made a trip at Easter. Vojta is now studying medicine at university and Martin is doing well at school, while Kaca is spending a year in Oregon, USA.

    Roger with his special friend Vojta
    at the Horváth's flat in Prague

    In recent years, we have had some sensational holidays: Egypt (1999), China (2000) and South America (2001). This year, we had a less adventurous - but still thoroughly enjoyable - June trip to the Andalucian part of southern Spain [for full account click here]. The highlights were our visits to the Alcazar in Seville, the Mezquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada - all fabulous examples of stunning Moorish architecture.

    Roger & Vee having fun
    at a flamenco evening in Seville

    However, out next big trip is not far away. The last two weeks in January, we are going on holiday to India and Nepal which should be fabulous. We will see the Taj Mahal and might manage a flight to Mount Everest. Then, at the end of April, we are going to make a short visit to St Petersburg on the occasion of its tercentenary. You will be able to read all about these trips - and keep up-to-date with our other activities in 2003 - by checking out this web site.

    However, we hope that you will e-mail, telephone and visit when you can. We value your friendship and look forward to being in touch in the months ahead. Meanwhile have a relaxing Christmas and a great New Year.

    This year's Christmas turkey

    Christmas Letter 2003

    As we approach another Christmas and New Year, we would like to share with you and all our friends around the world some of our news from the last 12 months. This has been an eventful year for the Darlingtons with major work developments for all of us.

    Roger secured an extension of both his contracts. At the Communication Workers Union [for web site click here], where he acts as a part-time Strategy Adviser, his contract was extended for another year, so he will work for the CWU at least until May 2004. At the Internet Watch Foundation [for web site click here], where he serves as part-time Chair of the Board, his initial three year contract has been renewed for a second term, so he will work for the IWF until December 2005. Meanwhile he has been short-listed for a senior public appointment but, at the moment, we do not know whether he will be selected for the position.

    As you know, Roger took early medical retirement from the CWU in April 2002 as a result of pathological myopia which is severe in one eye and latent in the other. Since then, he has developed cataracts in both eyes with the one in the already 'bad' eye being especially advanced. So, in mid November and early December, he had successful operations to remove the cataracts which has made a substantial improvement to his vision.

    Vee is still working at Harrow College [for web site click here]. However, after three and a half years supporting the Principal, she wanted a change. So, at the beginning of December, she moved over to be PA to the Director of Human Resources. This has involved a change of work location to a campus nearer our home, so Vee can now walk to work in about half an hour passing over the picturesque Harrow-on-the-Hill.

    This year, Vee's vision of how our home could look has become a reality. For the last six months of the year, a major building project - overseen by her brother-in-law Derek - has been in progress. At the front of the house, we have had a new drive to the garage while, at the back, the garden has been levelled out and returfed and a spacious terrace has been constructed. Inside the house itself, the living room has been substantially extended and the kitchen has been redesigned and refitted. All the internal doors have been changed and, except for the bedrooms, all the carpets have been replaced. It looks wonderful and we are looking forward to doing some serious entertaining in 2004.

    How it all started - six months & several million pounds ago

    Living room extension (on right), redesign of kitchen (on left)
    with new terrace and returfed lawn

    Rich - who is now 27 - is about to take up his fifth job in as many years. For about a year, he has been working as Senior Press Officer at the Government's Department of Trade & Industry [for web site click here]. He supported the Minister responsible for employment relations who used to be Alan Johnson MP, a former boss of Roger's at the union, and then, following a Ministerial reshuffle, was Gerry Sutcliffe MP. However, in mid December he takes up a new position: Media Manager at the Institute for Public Policy Research [for web site click here]. The IPPR is the premier Left of Centre think tank in the UK.

    In the course of the year, Rich went on holiday to Amsterdam and Lanzarote with his girlfriend Emily, a young woman brought up and educated in Canada. She works as Head of Communications for one of the largest British trade unions, the GMB.

    Roger & Vee have had a great year for travel. In January, we spent two and a half weeks in India and Nepal [for full account click here]. Highlights including an elephant ride up to the Amber Fort, a romantic photo in front of the Taj Mahal, the erotic temples of Khajuraho, the public cremations at Varanasi, and the Buddhist temples of Kathmandu. While we were in Nepal, the Maoist insurrectionists declared a cease-fire, although it seems now to have broken down. Then, in May, we made a short visit to St Petersburg [for full account click here] which was celebrating its 300th anniversary and marvelled at the splendours of the Hermitage Museum and the onion domes of the Church of the Spilled Blood.

    In October, we took a trip to Istanbul - an exotic blend of churches, mosques and palaces - and experienced everything from a trip on the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia to Roger joining a belly dancer on stage [for full account click here]. It is absolutely awful that, just five weeks after our time in Istanbul, the city was struck by murderous suicide bombers. Almost every year, we spend some time in Prague because our 'second family', the Horvaths, live there. This year, in fact, we went there for a week in July and are going back for a few days just before Christmas together with Vee's twin sister Mari and Mari's husband Derek.

    Roger has now been running a web site for more than five years and you can access it for more details of our holidays at For the second half of this year, he has also been operating a daily weblog, so you can learn more about our day-to-day activities at The web site and weblog between them are now receiving almost 500 visitors a day and you might find them a convenient way to keep in touch with us between Christmases, especially if you use the e-mail link on the web site or the facility to comment on entries on the weblog. Whichever format you use, we would love to hear from you and learn your news.

    Meanwhile have a great Christmas and a wonderful 2004.

    Christmas Letter 2004

    One of the best things about Christmas is the opportunity to spend time with family and renew contact with friends - if not actually seeing each other, then at least exchanging cards and some news in the form of this newsletter. It's been a really good year for us and we'd like to share some of it with you - and hopefully hear back some of the events in your lives.

    Since Roger took early retirement in March 2002, his vision has been improved through operations and he has developed a portfolio career of various part-time contracts in the communications field. He has been doing consultancy work for the two trade unions, the Communications Workers Union [for web site click here] and Connect [for Web site click here]; he has continued to serve as Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation [for web site click here]; and, since February 2004, he has been a member of the Consumer Panel for Ofcom, the new regulator for telecommunications and broadcasting [for web site click here].

    His work with the CWU finishes at the end of this year and his term of office at the IWF concludes at the end of 2005. So, in the course of the next year, he will be looking for another part-time public appointment and has in fact already had one interview.

    Vee continues to work at Harrow College [for web site click here] as PA to the Director of Human Resources. She was 60 in November, but she certainly doesn't look it or act it, and she intends to stay on at the college for another couple of years.

    Coincidentally Vee shared her 60th birthday with her twin sister Mari. The two of them - with members of the immediate family - marked the occasion by attending the musical "Mamma Mia!" [for web site click here] and having a meal at a special Italian restaurant in central London [for David Rowe's photos of the celebrations click here]. We had a great time and, for Vee and Mari, the fun isn't over because Roger and Mari's husband Derek have bought them rides in a balloon which will probably be taken up in the spring.

    Rich is now 28 and lives in central London, so we see him quite often. A year ago, he moved to the Institute for Public Policy Research [for web site click here], which is the premier Left of Centre think tank in the UK, where he works as Media Manager. His partner Emily Thomas is a lovely woman who spent most of her childhood in Canada but has now returned to the UK. She works as a Special Adviser to a Government Minister, so Rich & Emily are both heavily involved in politics and we're all awaiting the General Election which is expected in 2005.

    We've now lived in the same house in north-west London for 20 years. Last year, we had an incredible amount of work done on it - mainly extending the living room and building a terrace. So, in late July this year, we had 40 people round for the official launch of the terrace. The only work we've done this year is to knock the toilet and bathroom into one and modernise all the fixtures. So hopefully - says Roger and our cat Honey - 2005 will be noise-free and dust-free.

    Roger doesn't travel abroad much these days on business, but this year he did go to Paris for a meeting and to Turin to deliver some lectures. For the two of us, though, this was the year of Africa. In May, we had a week in Morocco visiting the various royal cities of Marrakech, Meknes, Fes, and Rabat [for full account click here]. Then, in October, we had a wonderful two and a half weeks in southern Africa. Most of our time was in South Africa, but we had brief periods in Swaziland, Zambia and Botswana [for full account click here].

    There were so many highlights: a shooting in Johannesburg, seeing the 'big five' - elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino - in Kruger National Park, visiting a township and Robben Island in Cape Town, swimming in a lagoon by the very edge of Victoria Falls, and much more. Vee excelled herself in craziness. Besides riding an ostrich and putting a python round her neck, she did the highest bungee jump in the world. The jump was at a place called Bloukrans Bridge near the Garden Route in South Africa and it is 216 metres or 708 feet (that's higher than London's Telecom Tower).

    The first seconds of Vee's record bungee jump

    Roger continues to run his web site and now operates two weblogs - one for personal observations [click here for NightHawk] and one for his professional activities [click here for CommsWatch] - which he up-dates daily. We've put this newsletter on the web site and added hyperlinks to things like the account of our holidays, so please check out the site this Christmas and throughout the year for our news [click here].

    Enjoy the Christmas/New Year break, have a great 2005, and please keep in touch.

    Christmas Letter 2005

    As is our long-standing tradition, we wanted to let you have a few notes about our activities in the last 12 months, so that you know what we have been doing recently and how things stand for us on the cusp of a new year.

    It is now almost four years ago that Roger took early retirement from the Communication Workers Union [for web site click here], Since then, he has - rather grandly - described himself as a portfolio worker and he is currently in the process of a major restructuring of his portfolio. A year ago, he was still doing consultancy work for the CWU, but that finished at the end of last year; for the past six years, he has been Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation [for web site click here], but that finishes at the end of this year; meanwhile he continues as a member of the Ofcom Consumer Panel [for web site click here] working on issues of telecommunications regulation. So he is now looking for one or two other things to do.

    For her part, Vee continues to work at Harrow College [for web site click here]. She has been there for more than five years now and is very content, but she is starting to think about the future. She needs to leave in the next year or so to maximise her pension and, in any event, is reaching the point in her life when she would like to be able to be able to spend more time at home and in the garden. So one option is that she formally retires from her current position and seeks part-time work at the college or elsewhere.

    As usual, Rich - who will be 30 in June - is the one with the most change in his life. At the beginning of the year, he was asked to work for Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education & Skills as her Special Adviser. It has been a fascinating year for him - the General Election campaign was particularly exciting - and he has now returned to the Institute for Public Policy Research [for web site click here] as Head of Media Relations. He and Emily have just bought a flat in central London, so it has been a busy few weeks for them. It doesn't stop because they are off to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with Emily's mother.

    Roger and Vee have as usual done some travelling this year too. We spent a week in Jordan, mainly visiting the stunning Nabetean pink-stoned ruins of Petra but also taking in a visit to Wadi Rum where part of “Lawrence Of Arabia” was filmed [for full account click here]. The hotel we stayed at in the capital city of Amman was one of the three recently attacked by suicide bombers so we could identify very easily with the suffering of the Jordanian people. As well as this holiday, Roger had business trips to Milan and Budapest. As you know, we love travelling and we will in fact be spending this Christmas in Prague with our dear friends the Horváth family.

    Our first glimpse of the Treasury at Petra

    As well as travelling abroad, we really enjoy meeting people – especially young people - from other countries. This year, we had several visitors to our home, including Vojta, Kača and Michal from the Czech Republic (Vojta & Kača are members of the Horváth family) and Carlo and Josee from the Netherlands (we met them on our holiday in South Africa). Also the five-year friendship with our Chinese 'daughter' Hua (whom we first met on our flight back from Beijing) was marked by our attendance at her graduation ceremony at Oxford University - all in Latin - when she received her PhD in biochemical engineering.

    Another interesting feature of the past year relates to Vee's father Karel Kuttelwascher who was a Czech pilot flying with the wartime Royal Air Force when he was so successful at night intruder operations that he shot down 15 German bombers and won the Distinguished Flying Cross twice [for more details click here]. Roger wrote his biography which was published in 1985 and we keep thinking that the story is over and then it keeps coming back. This year the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight painted one of its flying Hawker Hurricanes in the actual colours of KK's aircraft and we were invited to RAF Coningsby to see it. While there, Roger, Vee and her twin sister Mari were all interviewed for a television programme about him which will be broadcast in the new year.

    The RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane IIC PZ865
    painted as Karel Kuttelwascher's 'Night Reaper' BE581
    (photo: Keith Brenchley, crown copyright)

    Meanwhile the next generation is on the way. Mari's son Martin and his wife Isobel should be parents by the time Christmas is actually here and we are all excited by the impending arrival of a new member of the family

    As we rapidly approach another Christmas and reflect on another happy and successful year for the Darlington family, we remember the appalling death toll in the south-east Asian tsunami of a year ago and the carnage of the terrorist bombs in our home city of London in the summer. We wish you and all the citizens of our inter-dependent world a joyous and peaceful Christmas and year ahead.

    Christmas Letter 2006

    We love Christmas and it will be our 25th together. It is fun to have all that delicious food, watch all that special television, see many members of the family, and – through this annual newsletter – be in touch with so many good friends. We will reflect on a full and happy 2006.

    It is now almost four years since Roger took early retirement from the Communication Workers Union and he has carved out a satisfying new career as a portfolio worker in the consumer representation field. He has now done almost three years as the member for England on the Ofcom Consumer Panel [for web site click here] and he has been given another two years on the Panel. In April, he became the Greater London regional member of Postwatch [for web site click here], the consumer watchdog for postal services, and, although the Government is planning to merge this body with two other consumer organisations, he should have another year and a half there. Meanwhile he has already done 35 radio and television interviews for Postwatch.

    Vee has now done more than six years at Harrow College [for web site click here] – a further education establishment - where she remains PA to the Head of Human Resources. This year, she was on the winning team 'The Hardhats' (mainly Estates & Services) in the annual quiz night at the college. However, Vee has now made definite retirement plans and will stop work on 31 March 2007. She intends to do all sorts of projects in the house and the garden and she may do some volunteer work with a local community organisation and help out at the local St Luke's hospice. Also she hopes to be able to spend more time visiting some of London's galleries and museums. She has earned it. Finally she is looking forward to spending more time with her nephew's daughter Yasmin who will be one year old at the end of December.

    Rich has had a very successful year as Media Manager at the Institute for Public Policy Research [for web site click here] where he has achieved terrific media coverage for the work of the 'think tank'. His partner Emily has gone from strength to strength career-wise as she moved from being Special Adviser to the Minister for Science Lord Sainsbury to fulfilling the same role for the Secretary of State for Trade & Industry Alistair Darling.

    Early in the year, Rich & Em bought a flat together in central London. Then, in the summer, Rich surprised us by proposing to Em (he always said that he would never get married). She accepted and they had an engagement party a few weeks ago. We are delighted that Rich & Em are so happy together and look forward to the wedding which is the subject of much discussion but so far no date.

    Emily & Rich - a winning team

    As you know, we love travelling and this year has seen some great trips. In the spring, we visited Indochina, travelling the length of Vietnam from Saigon to Hanoi, seeing Vietiane and Luang Prabang in Laos, viewing Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and even calling into Kuala Lumpur during an aircraft change in Malaysia [for full account click here]. For Roger, the holiday was especially memorable since he passed out in Hai Phong, badly bruised his face, and spent the night in a Vietnamese hospital.

    If Roger looks beaten up,
    you should see the other guy

    In the autumn, we went to Uzbekistan and saw the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand [for full account click here].

    Vee & Roger in front of Samarkend's Registan complex

    One further venture abroad was a long weekend in Paris with our Chinese friends Hua & Zhihao [for some notes click here].

    Roger even added some other short trips: speaking engagements in Berlin and Geneva and another long weekend in Paris, this time with his sister Silvia [for some notes click here].

    This year has seen a number of visitors to our home. Vojta from Prague came to stay with us for six weeks while he studied at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (he is close to finishing his six-year medicine degree). Then there were shorter visits from Tamara (Vojta's mother), Claudia & Jessica (Emily's mother and sister) over from Los Angeles for the engagement party, and Trev & Tess from the Isle of Wight whom we befriended on our Indochina trip.

    So it's been a full and fun year and we look forward to more friendship and frolics in 2007. You can follow some of our activities by reading Roger's blog which is linked to his web site [click here]. Indeed this newsletter will be found on the web site with a couple of photographs and some hyperlinks if you would like some more detail. The site now receives some 3,000 visitors a day which is around 100,000 a month or over a million a year - so feel free to add to the number.

    Meanwhile have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year - and let's keep in touch. We really value your friendship.

    Christmas Letter 2007

    What we love most about Christmas is being in touch with family and friends. This year, Vee's family - seven of them – will be joining us for Christmas Day and then, two days later, we'll drive up to Leicester to join a gathering of Roger's family. We like it when Christmas cards give us news of friends and this Christmas newsletter is our way of telling you how we are.

    Roger took early retirement almost five years ago now, but has been become almost full-time as a portfolio worker. Officially he does a day a week on the Ofcom Consumer Panel [for web site click here] and two and a half days a week on the Postwatch Council [for web site click here]. Then he does a bit of consultancy work with the trade union Connect [for web site click here] and a little training work with a company called Lamont Associates [for web site click here]. Technically the Ofcom and Postwatch work could come to an end in the next year or so, but he's already applied for two public appointments that, if successful, would replace his current positions.

    Vee took late retirement when she left Harrow College at the end of March. She has been loving the free time, able to do whatever she wants in the home and the garden. Also she is on call to help out her nephew Martin and his wife Isobel with their lovely two-year old daughter Yasmin. On two occasions in the summer, she went off to France for 10 days to stay with her Welsh cousin at their remote holiday home in the Charente region of France. This is set in four acres of land with a fabulous swimming pool and a huge barn housing swallows, bats and owls.

    It's been an exciting year for Rich and Em. First, following Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister, Em moved to the Treasury [for web site click here] with the new Chancellor Alistair Darling where she is one of his Special Advisers. Then, in the last few weeks, Rich has given in his notice at the Institute for Public Policy Research so that he can become Director of Communications for an organisation called Creative Partnerships (which works with the arts and cultural sector to raise educational standards in schools in the poorest areas of England) [for web site click here]. Their wedding plans are now well-developed and the happy event will take place in South Wales next Easter weekend.

    This year marked our 25th wedding anniversary. Although this fell in March and was quickly followed by Vee's retirement, we waited until Roger's birthday at the end of June when we held a triple celebration with 50 family and friends. The idea was that we would have much better weather in June than in March but in fact it crashed with rain. Fortunately a gazebo on the terrace kept us dry and a toast from Rich lifted our spirits.

    As you will know, we love travelling and this year we took the opportunity to see a bit more of the world. We went to Prague twice: once in January to spend time with our dear friends the Horváth family and then again in October to attend the graduation ceremony of Vojta Horváth as he became a doctor. Roger didn't manage to join Vee on her French trips, but he had a break in Sarajevo (Bosnia) with his sister Silvia [for full account click here] and a speaking trip to Zagreb (Croatia). We also had an enjoyable weekend on the Isle of Wight staying with Trev and Tess Jessop who were in our group of tourists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Trev and Tess live in a lovely 1805 gatehouse just outside the peaceful hamlet of Wroxall which is near Ventnor.

    Our main holiday - a really fascinating experience - was in Israel at Easter [for full account click here]. We went there with Eric Lee, a close American Jewish friend (who previously spent 18 years on a kibbutz in the country) and his teenage son Yonatan. We rented a car and Vee drove. As well seeing the capital Tel Aviv and the divided city of Jerusalem, we visited the Dead Sea and the Golan Heights and we spent a day and a half at Eric's kibbutz of Ein Dor.

    Vee and Roger at the Western Wall

    You can find accounts of our foreign trips on Roger's web site and you can keep up-to-date with with our activities in the year ahead by following Roger's blog [click here]. Better still, we hope that you'll be in contact and that we might even see you.

    In the meanwhile, we hope that you have an excellent Christmas and a successful New Year.

    Christmas Letter 2008

    Well, here we are again at the end of another year which is proving to be monumental in many ways. The world wide recession is having a terrible impact on many families with foreclosures on homes and rising food, fuel and heating costs - but, so far, there is no sign of an improvement in sight. However, the beam of light in these gloomy times is the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. We find him inspiring and trust that his calm and thoughtful approach to the problems facing the USA will bring about change that will improve life not just for the Americans but also the people of Iraq with an early end to the war and the citizens of the world with a more sensible approach to global warming.

    Turning now to our news, this started with a really wonderful holiday in Cuba in early March [for full account click here]. We visited Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara and Vinales and had some fun companions. It was everything we'd imagined but we were saddened by the poverty and the lack of some basic commodities. The soap, toothpaste and pens we took were gratefully received and we were also encouraged by our guide to leave any unwanted clothes and medicines. It was a very sobering thought to realise that so much that we take for granted was not readily available to the populace. Vee discovered the drink she has been searching for (the elixir of life) in the form of mojitos. The joy for her of this drink, apart from its delicious taste, was the fact that despite downing so many she never ended up with a hangover – absolutely blotto on one occasion but still able to enjoy life the following morning!

    Roger & Vee at Havana Bay

    Then, on Easter Saturday, Richard married Emily, his partner for the past five years. They had a civil ceremony in the Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel near Newport, South Wales and friends and family from the UK, Canada and the USA were able to attend. Rich and Emily both made great speeches and we all sang a hearty rendition of "The Red Flag" at the end of the ceremony. Both Rich and Emily changed jobs this year: Emily left the Treasury and now works for the Design Council [for web site click here], while Rich is about to leave Creative Partnerships and become Special Adviser to Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development [for web site click here].

    Emily and Richard sign the wedding register

    Roger and Vee - the proud parents

    On 30 May Martin and Isobel Rowe (our nephew and niece on Vee's side of the family) provided young Yasmin with a brother, Lucas, who has turned out to be a dear little man with a seemingly constant smile on his face. Yasmin will be three years old at the end of December so that's another excuse for a family get-together. Vee goes over one day a week to play with Yasmin and take her out to the shops, the park and swings and slides. This gives her mummy Isobel a welcome break.

    Princess Yasmin

    The great milestone in Roger's life this year was his 60th birthday on 25 June. On the following Saturday we had a great party that Vee had organised at the Grim's Dyke Hotel, Harrow Weald. This was the home of Gilbert - one half of the Gilbert & Sullivan team - and is a magnificent, very large house set in beautiful grounds. We hired the Music Room and invited approximately 60 relatives and friends to join us on this special occasion. Roger gave a speech covering the various decades of his life and then we all joined in a sing-song which our friends Georgeanne and Andy had organised. The weather was glorious and people took advantage of strolling round the gardens and feeding the ducks on the lake.

    Roger and his sister, Silvia went on a short holiday to the Baltic States taking in the capitals of Estonia (Tallinn), Latvia (Riga) and Lithuania (Vilnius) [for full account click here]. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves in spite of some inclement weather.

    In the course of the year, Roger's portfolio of work has changed somewhat. He has now spent five years on the Ofcom Consumer Panel - recently renamed the Communications Consumer Panel [for web site click here] - but he has just been given another three-year term, one of only two original Panel members to go forward to a new Panel membership. His two and a half years on the Postwatch Council came to an end in the Autumn, when Postwatch was merged with two other consumer bodies to create a new economy wide organisation called Consumer Focus [for web site click here]. Roger has been on the Board of Consumer Focus since its creation at the beginning of the year. So he has these two public appointments to keep him busy in 'retirement' and may well look for a bit more work in the new year.

    As a result of leaks when heavy rains fell, we decided that a new roof was urgently needed. Work started towards the end of November and the roofers that Derek (Vee's brother-in-law) appointed did a first class job and then went on to help replace all the gutters, fascias and soffits so the whole place is watertight. The property has a converted loft and so Vee and Derek undertook the insulation of the loft areas that remained, stuffing as much fibreglass into the sections of the loft that the roofers had not dealt with. Hopefully, we are going to feel the difference both in our pockets and comfort wise. We are also due to have cavity wall insulation undertaken sometime in January.

    In the meanwhile ...

    This Christmas we will be going down to Felpham, West Sussex and spending the time there with Vee's sister Mari and brother-in-law Derek together with Martin (their son), Isobel, Yasmin and Lucas. It should be great fun. Unfortunately, their other son, David, will not be joining us since his wife Sharon has to work all over Christmas as she's a very much needed midwife. In between Christmas and New Year, Roger's sister Silvia will be organising a traditional family gathering in Leicester and we always see in the New Year with our American friend Eric.

    You can find accounts of our foreign trips on Roger's web site and you can keep up-to-date with with our activities in the year ahead by following Roger's blog [click here]. However, we hope that you'll be in contact and that we might even see you.

    In the meanwhile, we hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year.

    Christmas Letter 2009

    Once again we are sending out our Christmas letter to all our friends around the world. There may have been lots of jokes about people sending out these annual letters but at least it is a way of keeping in touch with so many people.

    What a momentous start to 2009 it was! The USA had elected its first black president - Barack Obama - and we had high hopes for a radical change for the better. We had been transfixed during the whole of the presidential race and will never forget the night in Grant Park, Chicago when Obama spoke to the crowds thanking them for having elected him. He took over at the worst possible time, what with the world recession, global warming, and the war in Afghanistan. Apart from all these huge international problems, at home Obama is endeavouring to get a healthcare plan into place and enable millions of poor people, both black and white, to have treatment without worrying whether the bills will cripple them.

    At Easter we had a short holiday in Prague with our wonderful 'second family' the Horvaths. We never tire of seeing them or their beautiful city.

    In August, it was the 50th anniversary of the death of Karel Kuttelwascher [for biography click here], the father of Vee and her twin sister, Mari, and the Czech authorities had invited them over to commemorate the event. Vee and Mari decided to drive to the Czech Republic and eventually arrived at Jihlava where they were the guests of the Director of the Police Academy, Zdenek Sadecky. They stayed in the Academy which had originally been built for Hitler's Nazi Youth - a sobering thought but the hospitality was first class. Zdenek Sadecky had arranged that one of his English teachers, Jitka, would be their translator and one of his deputies, Dalibor, would be their chauffeur. They were both wonderful.

    Former Czech airman, Mari, Vee & Dalibor

    A busy programme had been planned for most of the week. At 6.30am on the Monday, they had to appear on Czech national television and there followed a series of interviews for the local television stations. They then went on to the little hamlet of Svaty Kriz to unveil a plaque on the house where their father was born. There were speeches by the Director of the Police Academy, the Mayor of the nearby town of Havlickuv Brod and various other dignitaries. They then had press conferences in the Town Hall and the Academy. Needless to say, it was a very emotional time for Vee and Mari and all their Czech relatives who had journeyed from nearby towns to honour this brave Czech fighter pilot who fought with the RAF in World War Two.

    Zdenek Sadecky, who is an aviation enthusiast, arranged for the Kuttelwascher twins to have separate flights in a two-seater plane which had been built at the nearby aircraft factory. That was an exciting experience. The latter part of the week was spent sightseeing and then enjoying some unforgettable barbecues with the family. They have said that they will go back again next summer.

    Then, at the beginning of November, we had an eight day holiday in Iran. We started in Tehran, visiting the National Museum and the National Jewels Museum. We then flew down to Shiraz and visited some of the many beautiful mosques and fascinating bazaars. We travelled slowly back north visiting the 2,500 year old archaeological ruins of Persepolis. At the height of the season, they can have up to 25,000 visitors a day here but, when we were there, the maximum must have been 150 – perfect. There were so many wonderful sights in Isfahan, mostly notably the mosques in Imam Square (the second largest in the world), and Roger was able to show off his dancing skills at the Khaju Bridge to the amused locals who were singing and clapping. He won't be auditioning for "Strictly Come Dancing"! Roger has put a full account of the holiday on his web site for those who are interested [for text click here].

    Vee & Roger at the Imam Mosque in Isfahan

    Although Iran delivered all that we expected in terms of archaeological sights and Islamic architecture, what truly astonished us was the friendliness of the people. So many of them wanted to talk to us, to welcome us, to give us food, and to assure us that we were welcome. At least in the cities, there is clearly a massive disconnect between the views of the Iranian citizens and those of the fundamentalist regime. Long before our trip, Roger had been in e-mail contact with a young man who later took part in the demonstrations against the fraudulent presidential election in the summer and, in spite of the risk, he saw us when we were in Tehran and we visited his flat to meet his family and have a traditional meal on the floor.

    On the home front, Roger has continued with his part-time appointments on the Communications Consumer Panel [for web site click here] and the Consumer Focus Board [for web site click here]. But he has had time to take up short story writing and, in the course of the year, attended a part-time course and crafted 15 stories of an average length of around 3,000 words. You can find them on his web site [for text click here].

    Meanwhile Vee is busying herself as only she knows how! We have not had any major renovation work this year but plenty of decorating and re-carpeting. Vee always finds ways to spend the money but at least we get the messy jobs done while we're on holiday so only the cat has a nervous breakdown and not Roger. Vee's duties of collecting her great niece, Yasmin, from nursery twice a week have ceased since she is now going to a school near her home in Egham. However, whenever the 'phone calls for help come in, then Vee is there like a shot. Yasmin's little brother Lucas, who is now a year and a half old, is adorable with a mass of curls and perhaps Vee will be called upon to help out with him sometime.

    Richard has had a busy year at the Department for International Development, where he is Special Adviser to the Secretary of State Douglas Alexander [for web site click here], and Emily has now left the Design Council to start a consultancy called Aequitas [for web site click here]. They will be in Los Angeles for Christmas, visiting Emily's mother and sister.

    We will spend Christmas at home this year with various members of Vee's family coming over on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, before we head up to Leicester for a reunion of Roger's family. Our biggest plan for 2010 is a return visit to China, 10 years after we first went there. This time we will travel with Hua, whom we befriended on the flight back in 2000, and her husband Zhihao and young son Joshua (who are like a family to us), so it will be a very different experience. Also the coming year promises a General Election – a very tough challenge for Labour after 13 years in office.

    And, of course, we hope to see you - or at least hear from you - in 2010. Meanwhile have a wonderful Christmas and a joyful New Year.

    Christmas Letter 2010

    This winter, here in Britain we have not had to wait until January or February for the snow. Instead we've had more snow in November and December than for 35 years. Many might wonder if global warming is a myth but we're not fooled by the current cold weather. The year as whole has been one of the warmest world wide for decades and we all need to move fast to a low-carbon economy. Climate change remains the greatest challenge for humankind, despite the problems of economic recession and international terrorism - but 2010 has been a good year for us at a personal level.

    We've spent many happy hours with our friends, especially Hua & Zhihao and their son Joshua when we all went on a three week holiday to China towards the end of March. This was a holiday with a difference. Of course we saw many of the tourist sights in Beijing and Shanghai but we also went further afield to meet their friends and family around the country. Nearly every lunchtime and evening we were treated to a sumptuous meal, the first of these being in an individual yurt in Beijing serenaded by Mongolian singers and musicians.

    Roger & Vee with Zhihao & Hua
    in front of the Forbidden City overlooked by Mao

    Darling Joshua wearing Roger's hat
    - yes, he is big for just under 3!

    We visited the university in Dalian where Zhihao & Hua met and had a great time with many of their friends. Later we spent a few days in Wuhan where Hua's father & mother and other relatives live. For the last few days of our holiday, we travelled to Chengdu for the traditional Chinese wedding of Hua & Zhihao's Chinese friend Suzanne and Stephen, a charming British man who was embracing the Chinese culture wholeheartedly. For a full account of our wonderful holiday, please check out Roger's web site [click here].

    Then, in September, Vee and her twin sister Mari were invited back to the Czech Republic to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in which their father fought along with other Czech pilots. The large theatre in Jihlava was filled with students from local schools and colleges and a documentary about the Battle of Britain and some of the Czech pilots was shown. This was followed by the students asking questions to two of the surviving pilots and Mari and Vee. Then Mari and Vee cut the ribbons to formally open the museum dedicated to their father, Karel Kuttelwascher, and the organisers hope that the young people of today can learn about the Nazi occupation and so counter-act the rise in fascism which is stirring in many European countries today.

    Roger had an extra trip abroad too when he and his sister Silvia spent a few days in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. They missed the Little Mermaid which was in Shanghai for Expo 2010 but experienced the most expensive cup of coffee of their lives (60 kroner which is £7).

    Vee has enjoyed yet another year of retirement. She has been able to help her niece and nephew with their young children, Yasmin 5 (at Christmas) and Lucas 2.5 years. Vee's sister Mari and brother-in-law Derek decided to downsize this year and so this was a chance for Vee to get involved in all things to do with houses. They found the perfect detached house for themselves which is ideally placed in the small village of Felpham, West Sussex. Derek is very pleased as it is only a three minute walk into the village and a choice of four pubs!

    Roger has continued to serve on the Communications Consumer Panel [for web site click here] and the Consumer Focus Board [for web site click here], but the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government which took power after the General Election in May is going to abolish almost 200 public bodies including both of the ones where he works. Meanwhile he has been appointed to the Policy Stakeholder Committee of Nominet, the body which manages Internet domain names in this country [for information click here]. Also he continues to write short stories (all 25 are on his web site [click here]) and he spends an evening a week at a course on International Relations.

    Roger treated himself to an iPad within weeks of its launch in the UK. He uses it mainly to take notes at meetings but Vee loves it so much for surfing the web that she really doesn't like it leaving the house. At least we can share the television and this year we joined a DVD rental scheme so that we're seeing more films than ever.

    In the New Year, Richard and Emily will become the proud parents of a baby which is due to arrive early in January. This will make us grandparents for the first time and we are looking forward to being involved and supportive. As a result of the change of government at the General Election, Richard was out of a job, but he was quickly hired by the think tank Demos [for web site click here] to head up their Open Left project and is doing consultancy for the think tank he used to work for, the Institute for Public Policy Research [for web site click here]. He's been interviewed by the BBC's "Newsnight" and "Today" programmes and writes regular blogs for the "New Statesman". Emily's consultancy company Aequitas is going from strength to strength [for web site click here]. The plan is for their baby to go to the local Sure Start nursery once it is six months old.

    The coming year promises to be a really tough one for many in Britain with a depressed economy and savage public expenditure cuts, but we are fortunate to be out of the job market and free of any mortgage and to have close families and wonderful friends. We hope that you'll be in touch in the coming year and that we might see you for friendship and fun. Meanwhile have a wonderful Christmas and New Year with your own family and friends.

    Christmas Letter 2011

    2011 has been a very special year for us. In mid January Richard and Emily presented us with our first grandchild, an adorable girl named Catrin, at St. Thomas's Hospital in London overlooking the Houses of Parliament. We were able to see her when she was just a few hours old and took them home to Richard and Emily's flat for her first night in this great big world. For Roger, it was the arrival of the little girl he always wanted and he has been particularly besotted, managing to see her and babysit regularly. A few weeks ago, we had Catrin with us for two days – our first overnight responsibility – while her parents had a very short break to celebrate Emily's birthday. The three of them will be spending Christmas with Emily's family in Montreal.

    A VERY proud grandfather

    One of the cutest photos of baby Catrin

    Roger has now spent eight years on the Communications Consumer Panel [for web site click here] and four years on the Consumer Focus Board [for web site click here], but both these paid appointments are due to come to an end early in 2012. Last year, he joined the Policy Stakeholder Committee of Nominet, the organisation which manages .uk domain names, and this year he became Chair of the Digital Consumer Expert Group, the body which advises Government on consumer views of switchover of television and radio, but both these positions are unpaid. He would like to find one or two new paid appointments and is pursuing a number of applications. Vee doesn't want him to be around the house too much!

    As usual, we were able to do some interesting foreign travel in 2011. In early March, we went on a tour of Syria and Lebanon. At the time we booked the holiday in autumn 2010, nobody told us that there would be an Arab spring in 2011. In fact, during the period we were in Syria – seeing the cities of Damascus & Aleppo and the ancient ruins of Palmyra & Apamea – the country was totally quiet. A couple of weeks later though, the demonstrations started and we have been astonished at the bravery of the protesters, some 4,000 of whom have been killed by the security forces of Bashar al-Assad whose days as dictator must be numbered. For a full account of the holiday in the Levant, please check out Roger's web site [click here].

    Vee and Roger in Beirut

    Vee and her sister, Mari, were invited to attend the Pardubice Air Display in the Czech Republic in June but unfortunately, due to an accident Derek had in falling off a ladder (don't ask!), Mari was unable to go. It meant that Roger accompanied Vee for this event, part of which was to commemorate the 95th year of the birth of Vee's father, the wartime night fighter ace Karel Kuttelwascher [for an account of his exploits click here]. We stayed with our friends, the Horvath family, in Prague and then were whisked off together with Tamara Horvath in a Cessna plane from a small airfield near Prague to Pardubice. We were definitely VIPs at the event and Vee was able to sit in a Hurricane IIC which the RAF had flown over specially from Britain for the air display. It was this kind of aircraft in which Vee's father had achieved his greatest successes. She then made/stumbled through a speech in Czech to roughly 50,000 people and was presented with a medal and citation for her father. On the return journey after the event, our young pilot informed Vee he had been a little frightened when we came in to land as the weather had been rather blustery! We hadn't noticed.

    In September Roger and his sister Silvia continued their recent practice of having a few days abroad on a sibling holiday. This year, they went to Lisbon – a city of wonderful architecture and tile-work – where they were able to dine with Roger's friend Paula Neves.

    Then a few days after Roger's return, Vee and her sister Mari travelled to the Czech Republic again but this time by car. They were attending the unveiling of a memorial to their father to commemorate the 95th anniversary of his birth. Zdenek Sadecky, one of the founders of the Czech Spitfire Club, had organised this event which was held in the small hamlet of Svaty Kriz where their father was born. They were amazed at the organisation of the day. The ceremony started with a fly past by two military jets - Gripens of the Czech Air Force - which did a repeat run just in case anyone had blinked and missed the first one. A brass band played for a succession of dignitaries who included the mayor of Havlickuv Brod (the main town in the region), Czech air veterans of WWII, and of course the Kuttelwascher twins who unveiled the beautiful memorial to their father. It was a very emotional occasion concluded by speeches in Czech from Vee and in English from Mari. There was a formal lunch and then, in the early evening, they gathered at an event in Jihlava Town Hall for reminiscences by the old Czech pilots and a short session with Vee & Mari which included questions about social issues surrounding the resurgence of fascism in Eastern Europe.

    There is available online a 15-minute video of the ceremony which includes Vee's speech (in Czech!):

    In 2012, we will have three special anniversaries. First, on New Year's Day, Roger will have been writing a diary for 50 years. Somehow he has a record for every single day which makes for some fascinating reminiscing. Second, in Febuary, our cat Honey will be 20 years old - that's 96 in human years! She is clearly feeling her age and is happiest when she is within stroking distance of Vee - very high maintenance. Third, in March, we will have been married 30 years and will have a special celebratory event with family and friends. It is always wonderful to bring together our nearest and dearest and this will be a particularly joyous occasion.

    Meanwhile we will be spending Christmas with Vee's twin sister Mari and brother-in-law Derek in Felpham, West Sussex and then travelling back to spend the remainder of the time in Egham, Surrey with Vee's nephew Martin, his wife Isobel, and their lovely children Yasmin (5) and Lucas (3). Also joining us at Egham will be David, Vee's other nephew, and his wife Sharon who will have been busy working for some of the Christmas period in her job as a midwife. We hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year and that you will keep us in touch with all your news.

    Christmas Letter 2012

    This has been a special year for us because we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. We held a Sunday afternoon event in a lovely local venue where 44 of us gathered for the occasion: a wonderful mixture of relatives and friends, old and young, all mingling together. We took along photographs from our wedding and honeymoon in Amsterdam which demonstrated that we were young once. Richard gave a brilliant speech, hilariously funny (largely at Roger's expense) with an emotional conclusion [for more information click here].

    As you know, we love to travel. Last year, we went to Syria and days later a brutal civil war commenced which is still running its bloody course. This year, we decided to go somewhere that has already had its civil war and where we speak the language, so we returned to the United States after more than a decade away.

    We spent the first week in the Washington DC area where we stayed with our good friends Mike & Laura Grace and, as well as visiting museums and monuments in the city, toured the American Civil War site of Gettysburg. The second week we were in the New York City area staying with our longstanding friend Suzan Cole and, as well as more cultural sites, visited the Ground Zero memorial [for a full account of the trip click here].

    Vee & Roger at Liberty State Park
    with Manhattan skyline behind them
    - the Twin Towers now gone
    and One World Trade Center rising

    Roger usually manages to have a short holiday abroad with his sister Silvia and this year they went for a few days in Helsinki.

    We both love spending time with the youngest members of the family, especially our granddaughter Catrin (two in January) and the off-spring of Vee's nephew Martin, Yasmin (seven this month) and Lucas (four). Roger managed to collect Catrin from her nursery one day most weeks and has babysat about one a month, while recently we had her with us overnight. Her verbal skills are amazing and she is such a happy, chatty soul.

    Catrin at Bekonscot model village:
    "Wow! I am taller than the buildings."

    Vee usually looks after Yasmin and Lucas one afternoon a week and we had them over for a two-night 'sleep over' which enabled us to take them to the London Aquarium and the London Eye. They are really lovely kids and we have a lot of fun together.

    Lucas & Yasmin in a pod on the London Eye
    overlooking the Thames & Parliament

    Sadly, in the run up to last Christmas, we lost another member of the family when we had to have our cat Honey – almost 20 – put to sleep. But a neighbour's cat called Cecil had taken to visiting us almost daily for a few strokes.

    It is now more than 10 years since Roger took early retirement from the Communication Workers Union but he has been fortunate in developing a portfolio career and this year the portfolio was substantially refreshed. He started the year with four appointments; early in the year, two came to an end because he had completed his term of office; but incredibly no fewer than four more appointments have come along, so now he has a portfolio of six positions, all part-time but collectively not a lot less than full-time.

    Most of the appointments are in the communications sector and cover such matters as digital inclusion, digital radio, fourth generation mobile, copyright infringement, and Internet domain names. However, he is paid a day a week to chair a customer challenge group for a water company and he is really enjoying learning about another regulated utility sector [for more information click here].

    For Vee, it is more than five years since she took retirement from Harrow College and she is just loving the freedom to devote time to home, garden and family. She always has some project to develop the house which ensures that Roger has to keep earning some money and that her builder brother-in-law Derek is kept gainfully employed. Her latest grand idea is to have an en-suite toilet/shower built in our loft conversion bedroom. Gardening has been somewhat limited this year since we had the wettest summer for a century. Whatever the weather, Vee really enjoys visiting her twin sister Mari and Derek at Felpham on the south coast.

    Over the years, we have become something of an Apple household with an iPhone and then an iPad and finally a Mac computer. This year, Roger upgraded his iPad from the 1 to the 3 and bought Vee an iPad mini for her birthday. Now he wants to upgrade his iPhone – still a 1 – to the new 5.

    Christmas will be spent at home with all of Vee's family – eight of them – coming to us for turkey and pudding. Then we will start to look forward even more eagerly to our holiday of a lifetime: a month away visiting Australia and New Zealand (otherwise known as Middle-earth) with a stopover on the way out in Bangkok and a break on the way back in San Francisco (that's right, a round the world trip!). That will be something for our next Christmas letter - but meanwhile have a great year and please keep in touch.

    Christmas Letter 2013

    Every year, we write about our recent travels abroad, so you know how much we love travelling and experiencing different cultures. This year was special though: we literally went round the world on the holiday of a lifetime.

    Mainly it was an organised tour of Australia and New Zealand, but we broke the journey out with a visit to Bangkok and we broke the journey back with a few days in San Francisco.

    On such a fabulous trip – our furthest and longest together – it is a challenge to pick out all the highlights, but among them would be the visit to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, our helicopter flight over Ulhuru, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, our helicopter ride to the Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, the cruise on Milton Sound, the jet boat ride in Skippers Canyon, and the views of San Francisco from Sausalito [for a full account of the trip click here].

    For Roger, a personal highlight was the snorkelling while, for Vee, her most memorable experience was cuddling a koala bear at Cairns Wildlife Dome.

    Roger snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef

    Vee and Harvey become friends

    This was not the total of our foreign travel in 2013. We spent a long weekend in Prague attending the wedding of our dear friends Vojta & Kaca; Vee had a week in rural France at the holiday home of her cousin Julia; and Roger had a long weekend in Bucharest with his sister Silvia.

    Here at home, we delight in seeing family and friends and it’s especially joyful to see the children growing up. Roger collects our granddaughter Catrin (three in January) from nursery usually once a week. We’ve also looked after her overnight a few times, either at her parents’ flat or at our place. Vee sees her nephew’s children, Yasmin (eight just after Christmas) and Lucas (five), on a regular basis. They are all great kids.

    A cheeky smile from Catrin,
    wearing her Chinese outfit,
    as she waits for
    the merry-go-round to start

    Roger’s portfolio career continues to work out well with a mix of paid and unpaid appointments across eight different organisations. The busiest has been his role as Chair of the Customer Challenge Group of South East Water. At the beginning of December, after three months of intensive drafting and redrafting, he submitted a report of over 100 pages to the regulator Ofwat analysing the company’s business plan for 2015-2020 [for more information click here].

    In the autumn, Vee was invited to the Czech Embassy in London to receive a medal on behalf of her father who was a night fighter ace with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Then she and her twin sister Mari were asked to lay a wreath at the foot of the Czech monument in Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia.

    Vee still loves being retired and finds plenty to keep her busy. She plans to have an overhaul of the garden early in the New Year with the help of a tree surgeon and a local gardener.

    This coming year, we will have lived in our current house for 30 years. In that time, we’ve done a lot to it and the latest improvement – carried out while we were on our round the globe trip – was to have a toilet and shower installed in the loft bedroom, so now we are a three-toilet household. Vee always has more plans, so it’s no wonder that Roger has to keep working.

    In fact, an independent television production company has recently visited us twice to discuss their wish to obtain a commission from the BBC to make a programme on life in a cul-de-sac. They’ve filmed some interviews with us, and some of our neighbours, so get ready for some reality TV.

    We are looking forward to the coming weeks. Roger is going to be Father Christmas at the Christmas fair at Catrin’s nursery. Then we will have Christmas at home with eight members of Vee’s family. In the New Year, we will go on our next foreign holiday: five countries in Central America.

    We hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year. We look forward to hearing from you and hopefully seeing you in 2014.

    Christmas Letter 2014

    This was a special year for us because Vee had her 70th birthday in November – although she certainly does not look or feel her age. We celebrated with three dinners in different restaurants involving different members of the family. This year also marked 30 years that we have been living in our lovely home in a quiet crescent. We have always had good neighbours and this autumn a new family moved into the other half of our semi-detached house: a Cypriot father, a Mexican mother, and a three year old son.

    The passage of the years enables us to see our little ones growing up. Our granddaughter Catrin will be four in January; Vee’s great niece Yasmin will be nine just after Christmas and her great nephew Lucas is six; while our Chinese ‘godson’ Joshua is seven. Roger usually babysits Catrin once a week and Vee looks after Yasmin and Lucas on a regular basis, while we often visit Joshua and his parents. This year, on six occasions we have had these little ones over for a couple of days and a couple of nights which has been a lot of fun.

    Roger & Catrin at Yasmin & Lucas's garden
    in a shot taken by Vee's nephew David

    As always, we have had a year of travel because we love visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures. Our big trip this year was in February when we spent three weeks in Central America visiting five nations: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala [for a full account of the trip click here]. We saw lots of volcanoes and lots of Mayan ruins and a particular thrill was when we both went on a zip wire ride. There were 12 towers and 11 zip lines that together measured 2,200 metres (7,200 feet or 1.4 miles) and Roger managed to suffer quite a serious wire burn on his right wrist.

    Roger & Vee with harnesses & helmets

    Roger's zip wire friction burn

    As well as this major holiday, we had short breaks in Antwerp (Belgium) and Prague (Czech Republic), while Roger visited Malta with his sister Silvia [for an account of the trip click here] and Vee went to Guernsey (Channel Islands) with her twin sister Mari.

    Roger still describes himself as a semi-retired portfolio worker. His portfolio is regularly in flux but currently consists of six part-time appointments: some paid and some unpaid; mostly communications industry but also the water sector. On a more occasional basis, he writes a column on IT issues for a trade union magazine and lectures on the British political system to visiting Chinese delegations.

    Vee continues to enjoy her retirement. She takes great pleasure in keeping the house looking good and in working in the garden. Most weeks, we have her brother-in-law Derek and/or her nephew’s wife Sharon staying with us for a night or two since their work brings them regularly to London.

    Next year will be full of new challenges and excitement. We will be going on holiday to Ethiopia in February; our daughter-in-law Emily will be a Labour candidate in the General Election in May; and later in the year Catrin will leave nursery and start at primary school.

    Meanwhile we will be spending Christmas on the south coast with all of Vee’s family and seeing Rich, Emily & Catrin shortly afterwards before we have our traditional New Year’s Eve with our special friends Eric (American) & Cindy (South African). We hope that you and your family will have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year. Please keep in touch because we love to hear from our friends and see them whenever possible.

    Christmas Letter 2015

    Given our age, it was likely to happen sooner or later and this year both of us had to face the possibility of cancer. One case was confirmed and one was not - but all is fine now.

    Early in the year, Vee had a mammogram and scan, which identified that she had the earliest possible form of breast cancer. She had an operation to remove the cancer and then 15 sessions of radiotherapy to minimise the chances of it recurring. It all went very well and Vee has nothing but praise for the NHS and the cancer care staff. She has been told that all the cancer has gone and she doesn’t need any medication in the future but just an annual mammogram for the next five years. Less seriously, for two months in the late summer, it looked as if Roger might have prostate cancer, but an MRI and a biopsy eventually determined that there was no cancer.

    A challenge of a different sort came in August when our son Richard obtained a job in Kenya and he, his wife Emily, and their daughter Catrin (at school since September and 5 in January) relocated to Nairobi. It is a wonderful opportunity for all of them and things are going really well, but we miss them and Skype is a poor substitute for cuddles. In October, we went over to Nairobi for a week to see them and we were able to attend Grandparents’ Day at Catrin’s new school as well as visit the national park in the city, an elephant orphanage, and a giraffe centre. Vee even fed one giraffe with a pellet between her lips, which the giraffe then took from her. She quipped that it was the best kiss she had had in a long time! [For a full account of the trip click here]

    Catrin ready to perform
    at Grandparents' Day

    Vee gives a giraffe a pellet of food and a kiss

    Vee receives a thank you lick from a grateful giraffe

    Earlier in the year (February), our main holiday was also to Africa. We went to Ethiopia where the exotic names of places we visited were themselves magical: Addis Ababa, Axum, Lalibela ... But the history was so rich and fascinating, whether it was the skeleton of Lucy, the stelae of Axum, the rock churches of Lalibela, or the castles of Gondar and the terrain was awesome whether it was the mountains of the Simien National Park or the waters of Lake Tana. Vee found the markets particularly fascinating and the locals walked for miles to get there in order to sell their produce. [For a full account of the trip click here]

    Vee & Roger at Bet Giyorgis in Lalibela

    Looking down at Bet Giyorgis in Lalibela

    The rest of our year has been stable. Roger continues to work for six different organisations part-time – all of them to do with consumer advocacy in regulated sectors like communications and water. Vee continues to enjoy retirement and arranged a major refit of the kitchen and improvements in the garden.

    We love seeing family and friends and hope to see many of you in 2016 when we will celebrate being together 35 years. Meanwhile have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and be well.

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