The recent gales have stripped almost all the glorious autumn leaves away so now we feel right into winter. What a good time to start planning for Christmas and to look back over the past year.
Probably the most memorable thing is that Bron has had her 70th birthday in March and now treats every day as a "bonus" - biblically speaking. We had a rather splendid birthday lunch with just one special friend at the Chateau Impney hotel in Droitwich. Bron grew up not far from this fairytale chateau set in huge grounds but had only actually been there once before. Martin & Christine bought Bron a "tea-for-two" voucher which we cashed in later in the year at another fabulous hotel & restaurant - "Buckland Manor" in the Cotswolds near Broadway. The ancient valley in which Buckland Manor now stands was first mentioned in around 600 AD, when the land was owned by the Abbey of Gloucester. It was later recorded in the Domesday Book. Set in glorious grounds featuring immaculate gardens with running stream, small waterfalls, croquet lawns and tennis courts the present manor dates back to the 13th Century and provided a genteel setting for a rather spiffing afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones, jam & cream.
We lost the last of John's uncles this summer. He was John's Mum's youngest brother and lived to the good age of 93. This certainly puts a 70th birthday celebration into perspective. We were delighted though with the arrival of two new family members this year. Samuel was the first to arrive in Sweden, the first child for our nephew and his Swedish wife, and the second grandson for John's brother and sister-in-law David and Jeannette. Then in September baby Andrew was born to our niece Claire and John in Sydney, brother to Michael and Alison, and third grandchild of John's brother and sister-in-law Peter and Kay. Bron has developed a reputation for making play-quilts for all the great nephews and nieces and these two were no exception. Both were delivered by their respective Grandmothers, in Andrew's case only a week before his prompt birth.
John planned another "brother bonding" motorcycling weekend into Wales in June that was much enjoyed, especially as the weather was particularly summery that weekend. This was their second get-together. The two brothers and a cousin all live in the flat east of the country so revelled in the mountainous scenery and suitably wiggly roads! One trip took in the Brecon Beacons and Lake Vyrnwy in mid-Wales was the destination for the second. Each day trip was about 200 miles long and, of course they returned home ravenous! Daughter Kate and Gavin moved house to a bungalow in Colwall on the Western side of the Malvern Hills around this time so invited "the boys" and Bron over for a lovely home cooked meal on one of the evenings as a house warming do. It was an idyllic summer evening and we were able sit out and eat "al fresco". They are really pleased to have the bungalow the both fell for after several years of searching and are busy settling in there for life I think.
We went on a glorious holiday to the Isle of Skye this summer, something we've been promising to do for at least ten years! We based our stay at a hotel at Kyle of Lochalsh, just on the mainland. It was very windy, somewhat wet and quite cool but the waterfalls, mountains, valleys and skies were awesome - Bron fell in love with it. We took time going up and back, stopping to visit National Trust places and other attractions both well known and new to us. We also enjoyed a shorter autumn break at one of our favourite places - Tenby on the South West Welsh coast before Bron went to hospital for a major operation. This all went very well and she's recovering very quickly according to John who has to keep reminding her not to do even modest lifting, let alone gardening. Fortunately we have found a "man who can" who keeps the worst of it tidy for us with two or three visits a year. He does it all so quickly and effortlessly too - it's sickening!
We have also bought a lovely little 2-berth caravan this autumn, early enough to spruce up before the winter sets in but too late really to use this year - roll on next Spring! We were caravanners for many years when the kids were young and quite missed it when we sold the 'van in 1991 before moving to Colorado Springs for a few years. We have of course made many wonderful journeys abroad since selling the 'van but now feel ready to enjoy the caravanning experience again, both at home for hopefully many short breaks in this country, and perhaps even venturing to France and beyond - who knows. Our new caravan "Brian" (who remembers the "Magic Roundabout"?) is stored at an excellent nearby facility, ready to be brought home at short notice. We don't even have to change our car, a Vauxhall Meriva because the 'van is light enough to be towed beautifully.
August Bank Holiday saw a French Brass Band come to Malvern and we hosted one of their members as well as playing in a joint concert in Malvern's Priory Park. Apparently this was their first trip overseas and I think it was very successful. Malvern Chase Brass Band is already planning a return trip (to the Loire Valley) next year! Music as usual has been occupying much of the year. Playing with Tewkesbury Town Band is high on John's list of priorities. He was very proud to have been awarded their "Musician of the year" cup this year. There was also an excellent trombone society day at the Birmingham Conservatoire that we both went to. John also spent his usual week away at the Summer School which has moved from nearby Bromsgrove to Framlingham College School in Suffolk where John's family hail from. We are very fortunate to have theatres and events galore in this area - far more than we can afford to go to at today's ticket prices. However Bron did treat Martin and Christine to a Gala Brass Band Event in Birmingham's Symphony Hall. This was primarily to celebrate Martin's 40th birthday and also Christine's birthday in November. John was tied up elsewhere with his model aeroplane annual show. They hadn't been to the hall before which is a cracker with excellent acoustics.
So that's a look back over our year - we wonder what next year holds for us all and pray that it will not be too harsh though it won't all be good. Lots of small shops in our neighbourhood are closing leaving blank windows in the high street but others are thriving. The Foley Arms hotel, which we have used for both our children's wedding receptions as well as other family celebrations such as our ruby wedding anniversary, closed without warning a year ago, but will re-open before Christmas as a Wetherspoon's. Also our new local hospital finally opens its doors after a 30 year struggle for it to materialise. The old Tudor hotel in Great Malvern where the Victorian Malvern Spa cures took place has been empty for years and has suffered a fire, but at the 11¾ hour before auction was bought by a local entrepreneur who wants to return it to being a "hotel with a history". We all applaud that. However Coca-Cola, who bottle the famous Malvern Spring Water, summarily stopped production and will sell of the property for re-development. The Queen will have to go to Tescos for an inferior brand in future! If that can happen to one well know U.S. run firm what's in store for Cadbury's - Watch this space.
We hope that you have had a stable and happy year and wish you all the very best for the holiday season and throughout the coming months. We love to hear your news so do write and keep in touch, especially as we are less likely to meet as much as in past years.
Happy Christmas and much love from John & Bron.