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The Watson-Laird Gazette 2007


Well! What a year it's been! (Don't we always start the letter like that?)

Due to some only recently discovered fraud on the international vowel market, leading to a global shortage, we almost had to produce this year's newsletter in txt spk. However, some shrewd early buying by Santa's little helpers in Hawaii, led to a glut. On behalf of you all we'd like to say Mele Kalikimaka to everyone in Hawaii.

One of the problems with time-scheduled journalism, is that there is always the risk of last minute lack of inspiration. This does mean that the dedicated journalist often asked to start early, so Martin is actually writing this on New Year’s Day 2007.

To give you a quick overview of the year, from a viewpoint on this cold January day, Alice will be starting a new job, and we'll be having holidays in Brussels, Dorset, the Isle of Skye, and Berlin. England won't qualify for Euro 2008. We're also going to have a wonderful Name the Teddy Bear competition, with lashings of prizes!

Ah well enough of this silliness, let's look back at the year we've come to know as 2007.

It’s a year we've come to know also as the Noughties, as Alice and Martin, and Alice’s father, and Alice’s new nephew all had significant birthdays. Clearly, Martin is still behaving like a 10 year-old.  For many weeks before the big day arrived, in his case, he was actually dreading the event, not even wanting to celebrate it. Once it arrived it was just like another birthday. Alice regularly tells him of all 50 year-olds that she sees on television who look much older than he does… 

And one of the big surprises of the year came quite early. Alice's mother got us a subscription to the fortnightly Web User magazine. Each edition has a special feature about a reader's website. We sent details to the magazine, and were delighted and surprised to be selected. Here's what they said,

“Martin Watson's website includes much of what you might expect from a personal website - family photos, lists of interests, Christmas news letters and a journal - but there's also a raft of information the like of which cannot be found elsewhere. In addition to modern and historical information about Martin's home town of Teddington, a large portion of the site is dedicated to his interest in puzzles. Martin has been designing puzzles for years, and some of them are available for free so you can build and solve them yourself. A well-thought-out layout and Flickr integration, coupled with unique and interesting content, make this a simply delightful website which we strongly recommend you take a look at." (C) 2007 Web User. 

As a birthday present for Alice, we went to the Belgian capital of Brussels. We stayed in a fine hotel, just a few hundred yards walk from the magnificent ancient square. Alice had very set ideas on what she wanted to see while we were in the city for a long weekend, and she will agree that we managed it all. Martin even managed to slip in a trip to one of Brussels's most historic breweries, one where the beer is produced by natural fermentation from the yeast coming in through the holes in roof. Considering many of our bizarre health and safety rules are made in Brussels, this one seems to have slipped through, fortunately, because the beer is truly excellent, although perhaps a bit sharp for many palates.

Our next holiday was at Easter, a return visit to the small Dorset village of Moreton. This time we stayed at the Frampton Arms, a lovely country pub just across the road from the station, making it ideal for train journeys to Poole, Weymouth and the surrounding area. We had 10 days of the best weather of the whole of 2007.  We enjoyed clifftop walks, hilltop rambles, exploring the promenade at Weymouth, several bird sanctuaries, and also made a return visit to Brownsea Island in the middle of Poole Harbour. We saw a plethora of plovers, a load of lapwings, and some charming chickens (Martin loves chickens, he could photograph or eat them all day!) We also went on the heritage railway from Corfe Castle to Swanage.

For the last several years we have always taken our summer holiday to coincide with the International Puzzle Party, which has taken us to Japan, America twice, Belgium and Finland. This year's event was held in Australia, but we decided to to go somewhere a little closer to home, partly to give Alice a choice of holiday destination! She hated the responsibility, but eventually settled for the Isle of Skye, which for those of you who aren't too hot on Scottish geography, is off the west coast. They say that Skye can have the weather of four seasons in one day, and this was almost achieved. There were days of brilliant blue sunshine, when the rocks and coasts of this beautiful island looked almost Mediterranean. Sometimes it rained a lot. We spent a week in the south near Broadford, in a house which only had one nearby neighbour for two miles, before moving further north to the village of Staffin in the shadow of the Quiraing, a 7000 ft long landslip, the longest in the British Isles apparently. One of the high points was a boat trip seal watching near Dunvegan Castle.

We'd been looking forward to this unusual holiday destination all year, but in the summer Alice got a new job and we had to take an extra week's holiday at short notice and she suggested Berlin. We'd been to Berlin for a day-trip not long after we first met, and about a year after the Berlin Wall came down. We spent a wonderful week relaxing in this marvelous city, including a three-hour boat trip around the city via river and canal. There is still a lot of building going on in Berlin, and some of the architecture of recent years clashes with the older buildings. We also had a day-trip to the nearby town of Potsdam, with its wonderful country estate. Our return flight, a day and a half before Alice was due to start her new job, was cancelled and we had an extra night in a hotel at the airport. A chance meeting with a fellow stranded passenger led us to make a claim for compensation from British Airways, and the £173 which we each received, almost paid for the holiday.

Although Martin still works for South West Trains, his work responsibilities have changed radically. Back at the end of the spring, he was asked if he was interested in joining the CCTV evidence gathering department. He had previously expressed an interest in this, but nobody had made a note of it, so his boss was quite pleased when he accepted a 10 months secondment. Each day he receives requests from the British Transport Police for CCTV for forensic purposes, hopefully showing details of crimes being investigated. He also provides CCTV to managers for health and safety and operational purposes. It has been quite an eye-opening few months, providing him with enough material for several books!

At the beginning of the year we joined Surbiton and District Bird-watching Club. Once a month we have a presentation with slides on wildlife, especially birds, from around the world.

Alice seems to think that it's necessary to bribe Martin to attend, by taking me for a curry earlier in the evening. He doesn't let on! We've been on a couple of coach outings with the club, notably to Rye Harbour, and Welney Wetlands in Cambridgeshire.

In a misguided attempt to try and discover his sophisticated side, Alice has taken Martin to the theatre twice this year. Firstly we went to see To Kill A Mockingbird, based on a truly remarkable book, which we would both recommend to anybody.

More recently we saw Penelope Keith in the Importance Of Being Earnest, also based on a truly remarkable book which we would also both recommend to anybody.

In response to these two theatre evenings, Martin took Alice to the London Palladium, for some down ‘n’ dirty rock’n’troll to see veteran Sixties pop star Joe Brown, who was accompanied by the extremely talented Dave Edmunds, who had hits in the late sixties and seventies and the eighties. Martin thinks she was the youngest one there!

We'd like to invite you to come up with a name for this year's Christmas Bear. We'd like you to choose a suitable name for the little fellow, from this list of minor deities.

Thor, Zeus, Eric Clapton, or Martin

This year’s Page Three bird is Morag the Capercaillie.

While we were on the Isle of Skye, Martin kept seeing them everywhere, but each time Alice looked, they’d gone…

Well, earlier on we mentioned Alice's new job. Following various scandals at the Home Office she decided it was time for a change, and she now works for the Institute of Chartered Accountants, as a cataloguing team leader. Shortly before changing jobs she successfully completed a year's course working on at a management development programme. As well as all this excitement she has still been able to find time to do fund-raising for renovation to a tsunami-damaged Library in Hikkaduwa, in Sri Lanka (or 'he could tour' as the voice recognition software which we’re using for this Christmas letter would have it!)

This year's competition is something rather different and will make you really think! Below you will see a list of common every day or household objects. All you have to do is estimate the length of each item, without looking at one.

You can use whatever unit of measurement you choose, either metric or imperial, and then you must measure the object yourself to see how close you guessed. If you are just over or just under by 10 per cent, consider yourself correct. Your decision is final!

Here’s the list:

  • The diameter of a £1 coin
  • The length of a VHS video cassette without box
  • The height of a standard baked beans (or similar) tin
  • The diameter of a standard CD
  • The height of your dinner table
  • The length of a toilet roll tube.
  • The thickness of a single page of the Watson-Laird Gazette
  • The distance between the backs of your ears, round the back of your head

Alice has a weekly evening class, this year it is 20th century art history.

This year’s bad joke:

Every year, just before Easter, the Chief Rabbi in Rome goes to the Vatican and presents an ancient, and by now quite tattered envelope to the Pope. The Pope inspects the envelope, shakes his head, and hands it back to the Chief Rabbi, who then departs.

This has been going on for nearly two thousand years. One year recently, it happened that there was a new Pope and a new Chief Rabbi. When the Chief Rabbi presented the ancient envelope to the Pope, as he had been instructed to do by his predecessor, the Pope looked it over and handed it back as he had been told to, in turn, by his predecessor  .  .  . but then the Pope said, "This is an unusual ritual. I don't understand it. What is in this envelope?"

"I’m sure I don’t know," answered the Chief Rabbi. "I'm new here myself. But, hey, let's open it and find out."

"Good idea," said the Pope. So together, they slowly and carefully opened the envelope. And do you know what they found? The caterer's bill for the Last Supper!

Just as the Watson-Laird Gazette went to press this year the household was rocked by the news that two CDs containing all the addresses for next year's Christmas cards had gone astray in the post. This might mean you don't get a card from us next year, or perhaps you'll get cards from lots of people that you don't know.

Congratulations to Alice’s brother James, and wife Celine on the birth of their son, Stanley, right at the start of the year.

Well that's about it for another year! We'd just like to wish all our friends and family a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous and happy 2008. Hopefully the current cold weather will be the coldest it gets this winter, and spring is just around the corner!

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