The time has come around again - end of the year and the need to devote a couple of hours to another potted review. Looking back to last year's issue I see I got one thing right - I have not had the time to 'do better' and we resort to the last minute rush to get something prepared in time for the post.
Where to start? The Winter months brought some very heavy snowfalls taking out power for a protracted period. It gave some impressive scenery and we ventured up the valley a few days later to take a look - six foot snow drifts all around. The snows wrecked several plants in the garden and brought water in through one of the side roofs. I actually missed the worst of impact - taking myself out on business for the two days the power was off. Andrew even preferred to go to school as without electric to power the PC he had absolutely nothing to do!
The weather was on the whole good through the spring (I seem to recall) and we made a good start in the garden this year. But as it turned wetter we again got behind and sections got away from us. We made a little progress on some of the more structural elements, and got a reasonable crop of potatoes, onions and beetroot - and the usual load of gooseberries. Also some beans - but the brussels were reduced to stalks and leaf ribs as caterpillars munched their way through all the greenery. The mild period over the past few weeks has allowed us to clear some of the overgrowth - another basis for 'do better next year'.
The big project this year was targeted at the inside of the house with a complete refit of the lounge. As the ground floor is largely open plan - and hence large - this is effectively a redecoration of half the house. Heating was installed in the 1960's and the old units were rusted and inefficient. We therefore laid new pipes and fitted new radiators, replaced the old window frames, re-pointed the stonework, added new decoration on other walls and ceiling, replaced the carpet and finished with new curtains and occasional tables. The leaky roof repaired and some outside stonework re-pointed. The project took most of the summer holidays to complete. I did the internal decoration - several weekends painting ceilings etc. The result is most effective - giving a full facelift to the downstairs. Also with the new heating the room is much warmer - at the cost of using more heating oil.
The Foot and Mouth saga curtailed all recreational access to the hills from February onwards and disrupted the outings with the school students on the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. Andrew's outing under the Silver scheme was moved to the West Highland Way - not much chance at getting lost there - over the May holiday weekend and we booked a caravan near Fort William to make a week of it. We have now started a new season with the students - hopefully the turmoil of this last year will not be repeated.
Our main holiday was - yes you guessed it - back up to Scotland for some hill walking. Susan came with us - far fitter and more ambitious to range over the high ridges than we could aspire to. We took in the Far North West - targeting the one major top we had not done before - Foinaven. This long ridge of a mountain is set well back from the roads and a long walk in. We had two forays on to the ridge but the weather was not on our side - most days saw a layer of thick cloud hanging over the tops during the middle of the day. Very frustrating as the mornings and evenings were invariably clear. Still, we made some useful forays along paths we had not tackled before and researched potential routes for 3 / 4 day walks that we might have a go at in the future.
Andrew is now in GCSE year and taking Mock exams in preparation for next June. Aside from his schoolwork he maintains his interests in badminton and tennis, and is out regularly supporting DoE project work and tuition. He took his Grade 5 violin early in the year and now awaiting the results of his Grade 6 exam. He plays in the School Orchestra and keeps up with the piano. His main 'hobby' (bit of deliberate understatement) is the world - whole and entire - of computing. He continues to tinker on with web site designs and supporting programming. He invested some cash with a web host to allow him to develop database type applications - the results of which are accessible to all. He has just been collared by the school with a direct request to help support the school's use of IT with the students. "We need someone who knows what they are talking about " he was told. The implication is, of course, that the school does not have the necessary expertise and resources to support Active IT - a situation repeated across the land I fear.
Susan is, of course, absent for the academic year and has by all accounts built up a full and active - and traditional - student life in Sheffield. This is the second year of her Mechanical Engineering course and she is living in a shared flat in the Crookes area of the city - atop another hill (but then Sheffield is all hills). Extra curricula activities include a lot of walking, rugby in the University Women's team and concert band playing with the clarinet. These take her around the country including - perversely - two weekends to Newcastle and Northumberland! Curricula activities take in academic studies and general socialising (project and pub work) - these, we are assured, receive the due attention they require. I call in when I am passing on business (social diary allowing) for a meal and chat when I can. Susan's search for a summer vacation job earned her a place in an engineering firm for the summer of 2002 but nothing for this year. So she came and worked for me over the summer vacation - putting in some solid database work for one of my clients.
That brings me around to a couple of short paragraphs on our own activities. Not much with the time left I am sorry to say. My own work has kept me busy all year undertaking various software development projects for clients. Most of the work revolves around database implementations - converting cumbersome spreadsheet files to much more manageable databases or upgrading systems developed by in-house staff to something more useable and robust. The work is varied and challenging and allows me to indulge in my passion for creating good quality front end applications. I already have a number of projects lined up for the New Year and I expect to be just as busy for the foreseeable future. We are - naturally - moving more and more towards the use of the web for this type of work and I will be going up to see Andrew shortly so that he can bring me up to speed on the issues! I am essentially working on my own now and I do not miss the old hassles of running a company employing staff at all. I look forward to this continuing over the next few years at least.
Angela continues with her dentistry with her main workload at Morpeth. She is currently supporting another practice in the town whilst the owner is away for medical treatment. This is likely to continue for some months before the longer term requirements are assessed. She continues her steady move into the technical revolution with her own computer ("Well - how else can I get on one") and mobile phone. We occasionally hear the sound of piano or keyboard in the odd quiet moment.
That about wraps it up for now. We trust that life has been treating you and your families well over the past year. We send our best wishes for the festive season and New Year to all and look forward to hearing from you. Have a good one this year!
Andrew, Susan, Angela and Simon
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