On first reflection I'm wondering what happened to the year 2009 that just raced by in a blinding-flash? Nothing in the least spectacular, barely anything vaguely interesting even, springs to mind that I might say here! Somehow the plans we had haven't panned-out. Thoughts had been of out-of-the-ordinary holidays. And of heading off on long weekends rambling from pub-to-pub in the Great British countryside. Events that de-railed those aims will become apparent in the following. Mostly the little shocks so typical of life in general. But fortunately, in the end, at worst it's come down merely to a postponement of our plans in to 2010 ~ So we're really looking forward to the first of "the tens". Thinking about it, the revised planning led to a good year in terms of catching up with people: Friends and family we'd not seen for a year or so, ranging to some we'd never met nor scarcely knew existed! (See what is meant by this when you reach our trip to Indonesia!)
January didn't get off to a bad start: We saw in the New Year in Antwerp where we'd rendez-vous'd with some good friends (Phil and Emma) who'd driven from Islington (we'd Eurostar'd it.). In truth it could've been better, I thought, as I emerged from our hotel room not until 2pm New Years Day... victim of the infamous Belgian hot chocolate-rum, more rum than chocolate! The opposite end of January was marked by an excellent show at Shepherds Bush Empire by old favourites the Buzzcocks. Joined again by Phil and Emma.
February was marked only by an impromptu Valentine's weekend that descended in to a laughably disastrous stay at the worst hotel in the world, situated in icy Folkestone. The only up-side being the fairly uncontested full refund later obtained! Otherwise February held little of note.
Similarly so March except for being invited to watch ManU beat Inter Milan 2-0. And through both these chilly months I maintained a steady programme of short hikes on one or other weekend day in mostly the Chiltern Hills sometimes in Herts, Surrey or Kent.
Over a pleasant Spring first weekend of April more ramblings. This time on the gentle 'hills' of Northants and Bedfordshire, including over-nighting with friends in the region. Also in early April my parents travelled to us by train from Cumbria to spend a few days before Easter. (We had no plans for this holiday due to Yvonne's social agenda as chair of the Indonesian-expats Christian community.). For the final weekend of April an immersion in urbanity at 'The Camden Crawl',
what's known as a 'metropolitan festival' kind of like Glastonbury without camping in the mud. (Once again ably supported by none other than: Phil and Emma!). What better than a pre-paid pass for two days wandering in and out of any or all local pubs, bars and other music venues listening to whatever talent chances to be found therein! Initially drawn by the opportunity to catch all-time favourites Echo & The Bunnymen:
Indubitably equally rewarding was the exposure to so much new music. The 'find' of The Crawl for me being Alessi (and her Ark) a fascinating teenage West London singer-songwriter-artist, who I've followed religously ever since at numerous local venues mostly pubs.
Unfortunately the second part of that last weekend of April brought one of those 'little shocks of life'. Long-story-short... Following a blackout at home Yvonne was admitted to hospital, though discharged after a day or so of brain-scans. After two nervous months of numerous tests it came down to a side-effect of her migraine medication. Relief that it was not more serious. And lately the migraines much less frequent. Perhaps due to learning, from various specialists seen, about 'life-style triggers' and avoiding these.
For the May Day long weekend I made a successful second attempt at the 'walking weekend' I'd aborted due to the hospitalisation incident. So we spent a relaxed couple of days at the excellent Cricketers Arms in Tangley. From which handy base I managed some decent hikes in this part the North Wessex Downs. I almost hesitate to publicise this pretty locale, astride the Hants/Wilts borders, as it seems to have succeeded somehow in remaining rather off-the-beaten-track.
We were joined there by Lia (co-star of our 2008 blog) and family.
The end of May long weekend took us to Scarborough via Cumbria and back to take my parents visiting my mum's sister there.
Something of an adventure with the four of us and luggage filling Yvonne's little Fiat Punto to the brim! But well worth the effort travelling the 'old roads' (well, there aren't any new ones here...) over the Pennines, through the Yorkshire Dales (often slowed by horse-drawn gypsy caravans en route to the Appleby Fair) and on across the Vale of Pickering. Re-visiting Scarborough after about thirty-five years can't say I noticed an awful great deal of change! The English Summer was bright and blustery so we enjoyed a couple of refreshing cliff-top walks. Also visited Whitby, which sadly has changed in terms of tourist over-load (these days having the dubious distinction of being England's Goth-centre!) Finally an outing with my Aunt, Uncle and 'my folks' to Ravenscar (Dracula's only known UK holiday destination) over-looking the ever picturesque Robin Hood's Bay.
On the work-front 'the project from hell' consumed June and July totally so the best of my Summer months were spent chained to a PC! The one high-light being the first weekend of July,
spent in/near Paris for one of Yvonne's 'Bataks' social group gatherings, similar to one last Summer which had given us a great excuse for travelling to Holland (see our 2008 blog). This time there were attendees from all over Europe including some others from UK, notably Lia again (veteran of Amsterdam '08) and her family. The venue was a lovely setting in the Seine valley in tiny Lavacourt. (Lia's two daughters, and friend Mei pictured here, Vétheuil across the river).
In these parts one stumbles constantly across little plaques (in the form of an artist's easel) each commemorating a scene painted by one of the Impressionist school. Often as not Monet, who settled in Vétheuil 1878, with the other folks hanging-out famously in Giverny 10 miles away.
If truth be told we almost hadn't made it to the target event... Alighting Eurostar about 11pm Friday and after some traffic we dropped our luggage in our hotel in the 18th over-looking Cimetière de Montmartre. A little after midnight we were dining en plein air at "Le Chinon". I've frequented this corner bistro-bar must be twenty years at least considering it 'my local' when in Paris. Incredulous in the realisation we'd not been in Paris for over five years I was delighted to find lively if slightly seedy "Le Chinon" yet again comfortingly un-changed! Not even the menu nor the decor.
And in this Paris (and other great cities) score over London: They don't seem insistent on change constant to the point of obliterating all the perfectly serviceable familiar. And further, this being Paris, natural enough to be eating until near 2am. Later a stroll along Pigalle in and out the jazz bars, no door charges not even obliged to buy a drink for the pleasure. Little surprise then our tardy arrival at sleepy Lavacourt for the purpose of our trip! We passed a hot and sunny Saturday and Sunday by the Seine there. But Sunday evening predictably we were to be found dining in Saint-Germain before taking in the sunset by Notre Dame. (Next morning the 7am Eurostar delivering us for work easily for 10am Monday.)
And that was pretty much that so far as June and July went. Apart from a number of excellent Alessi gigs. Also an enjoyable (though torrentially rainy) evening at a Wapping river-side pub catching up with 'old' friends from oil-rigging days. One delightful couple in particular over on their bi-annual visit from the USA. Then thankfully (there is a God!) rescued after two months of that nightmare project by the start of my annual leave:
We were off via Dubai to Singapore, Jakarta, Singapore, Malaysia, Sumatera, Singapore, Malang, (Singapore) and Jakarta until 31st August back in London Town.
For the tale, many photos and a little video, of our Summer expeditions across Malaysia, to Samosir in Lake Toba and the 'Batak' homeland; not to mention ascent of 7,600ft Bromo Volcano in East Java, wanderings in 'Old Batavia' and more ... then please do launch our photo album site.
We had to opt out of scuba-diving this time around. In light of the blackout incident we hadn't yet seen a dive doctor about Yvonne's diving-related inner-ear issues of last year. Instead we planned the non-family portion of the trip to be Yvonne's first visit to Malaysia. And for us both, a first time trip to Sumatera chiefly to track down Yvonne's father's native village in the 'Batak' homeland around Lake Toba. This turned out to be a fascinating experience even by the standards of that always surprising land! Return to the homeland photos.
(Searching now for the up-beat slant on the remainder of our year:) Alas no escaping that our Summer trip was the climax of 2009 for us. Post-August it's very hard to latch on to anything of sufficient interest to merit 'blogging' here. End of September saw the demise of Yvonne's fulltime job of five years. Short-term contracts have kept her ticking over to year-end, with good prospects for early January.
One up-side was the freeing of time for her to organise the biggest Indonesian expat community event of their calendar, the Christmas Party. To great relief this went off very well with several hundred happy attendees.
For my own part post-August was marked by a troublesome trapped nerve affecting my lower leg. Much physiotherapy in Oct and Nov seemed to exacerbate it to various discomforts in my back. In December a scan showed two 'slightly slipped' discs in my lower-most spine. Thankfully all symptoms vanished for the last three weeks of the year! Bad news is that a recurrence is likely. Good news is the prognosis, of a manageable condition not needing an operation.
In the face of those financial and health uncertainties it seemed wise to moderate our plans for a while. So as mentioned the rest of our year not exactly bursting with high-lights: For myself a steady season of hiking notably when we made it back to Cumbria for a very wet Halloween weekend.
Also the usual Autumn season of boxing on TV (at last a British World Heavyweight Champion again). And football, with a welcome invitation to Old Trafford for the remarkable 3-3 second-leg CSKA Moscow match. Several more Alessi gigs particularly enjoyeable when supported by The Treetop Flyers, another astoundingly competent local band. I increased my participation in the British Computer Society, recently being co-opted to the committee of the project management interest group. And the Dering Arms' monthly classic car Sundays recently became a great regular outing with an old friend to Pluckley, the most haunted village in England, in darkest deepest Kent.
Unexpectedly we returned to Scarborough a few days before Christmas because my dear Uncle Geoff had passed away. Slightly arduous journey by train due to near-Arctic conditions. But we were glad to be able to make it there to celebrate his life. Even more so for having, after so very long, enjoyed his company again for those few bright days in May.
Answer to 'Who is this singing?' question = Alessi (sometimes with her Ark). See the Treetop Flyers Myspace Here