Witten's Christmas Letter for 1998


Tauwhare Road
RD4
Hamilton
New Zealand
December, 1998

Dear

Well, it's still December--though, admittedly, only just. We've greatly enjoyed reading all the letters received from far-flung friends over the past weeks (and if not from you ... shame!). But having been late with our epistle last year, we seem to have fallen into bad habits. The truth is, it's been hot and sunny, certainly not the kind of weather that invites you to sit down with a computer and try to introspect about the year's events. We've just celebrated the kind of sun-soaked, laid-back Christmas that we've become accustomed to here, with friends casually dropping in for a swim, new pool games invented, shady seats in the garden, straw hats, T-shirts, fear of sunburn, Chardonnay.

But last year was different! Our previous letter left off in Calgary early in December, just before the girls arrived. As you can imagine, it was great to see them again after a five-month separation while we had been in Calgary and they in New Zealand. Nikki and Jake came first, having spent a wonderful week in Vancouver where they visited one of Nikki's old school friends who lives there now. One of their highlights was a day trip to Seattle to check out the origins of Pearl Jam, Jake's heroes. Anna arrived the following day from San Francisco, having stayed with our friends Craig and Kirsten for a week--it's now her favorite city! The first thing we did in Calgary was go out and buy winter clothes for the kids: although the weather was mild by Canadian standards, it was a bit of a shock to our California-conditioned Kiwis.

A big event in Calgary was our family visit to Scott. Pam and Ian had seen him a month earlier. He's tall--completely dwarfing both of us (ok, ok, no great feat), looking down from an awesome height. He lives independently, in a house with a slightly older boy; their social worker Melanie lives downstairs and keeps a pretty tight eye on them and another pair of boys next door. They're learning a lot of life skills, shopping and cooking and cleaning for themselves, and seem to do very well. For example, Melanie teaches them to cook, apparently on the basis of one new meal a month which they practice for the next thirty days! Scott is going to a school that teaches him a range of practical skills (for example, their class is building a house). On our second, family, visit the girls were duly awed by his size, and he by their maturity. Everyone got on very well. But although his body has grown, he seems to us to be the same little boy inside, childlike and vulnerable, and we worry for him. We're unsure what the future holds: he'll probably always live in some kind of sheltered accommodation, and it's not clear whether he'll be able to hold down a regular job. As always, he's full of big ideas, but, as always, it's hard to separate fact from fancy. Anyway, we felt he was being looked after in better and more appropriate ways than he would have been if he had continued to live with us.

We sure enjoyed showing Jake around Calgary. He looked at everything from the wide eyes of a lad from a small town on a tiny island very very far away, and he constantly relayed his impressions to us. It was glorious to be able to see North America from this perspective. We went to all the old haunts: Head Smashed In buffalo jump (now a UNESCO world heritage site), the world-famous Dinosaur Museum at Drumheller (signposted on a highway far away as "Museum: 176 Km" which we always reckon just about sums up the culture scene in Alberta--or used to), the cowboy museum at Cochrane. We showed him small-town Alberta and oil-rich, boom-city Calgary. We took him to the West Edmonton Mall and he had the guts to ride on the most stomach-churning, boneshaking, disorienting, gravity-defying, suicidal roller-coaster ever created--twice! We visited our good friends Jim and Marie in Camrose, drank whisky and more whisky. (And Ian helped out with the honey-wagon.) We ate perogies, drank thickshakes. On our last night Jake tucked into an enormous plate of spare ribs--dinosaur ribs--that would feed a hungry family for a full weekend, and, greatly to his credit, did it justice (but only just). He was delightful, like a wildly appreciative and voluble sponge.

We went to Canmore in the Rocky Mountains for Christmas, staying with Saul and Judy (a long time ago Saul was Ian's graduate student, now he's a professor too) and their two kids in their gorgeous house looking up to the Three Sisters. It was great to have little (well, littler) children in the house at Christmas, gasping at the mountain of presents under the tree and demolishing it in awfully short order. It had been a frustratingly snow-free December, but Christmas dinner was skied off (by some) on icy snow at the Nordic Center in the afternoon, and on Boxing Day we ventured further into the mountains and skied through thick snow to a frozen lake (Boom lake). Easing aching muscles in the family hot tub over a glass of chilled white wine is one of life's greatest pleasures. While Saul and Ian tackled Paradise Valley, a long, arduous, but very rewarding ski trip, Nikki and Pam took Jake skating on Lake Louise. Jake is an expert surfer, and when our whole family went downhill skiing he decided to learn to snowboard. After the first day he was covered in bruises--snow being considerably harder than water--but from then on he was an expert, hot-dogging with the best.

By now, Calgary was coming to an end. We had a cozy farewell party with friends at Jo's place on New Years Eve, during which the temperature plummeted and snow--long overdue, we thought!--began falling in the city, light, fluffy, and insidious. Our long-standing tradition is to go to Elbow Falls for a snowy picnic on New Years Day, whatever the weather (almost). But this year it was marginal!--the cold was bitter, the snow deep and constantly falling. We drove the Titanic through thick snow, six of us. Dave Maulsby, now the Titanic's proud new owner, came too. But that may have been the Titanic's last trip, for rumor has it that it spent the remainder of the winter marooned on an iceberg in a car park in southern Calgary. We had to take our own wood, for Alberta Parks Service no longer provides firewood. (And, late in realizing the problem, we had to steal it from a friend's backyard at dead of night, a kind of first footing in reverse--but that's another story.) A huge blaze was kindled, in thick snow, to warm freezing hands and feet; traditional soup and sausages cooked, eaten with bread and frozen ketchup. We watched the waterfall freeze. Then, shivering, we hotfooted it (so to speak) back to Bragg Creek for more soup, this time in the glowing warmth of a nice cafe.

On January 3rd Pam, Ian and Nikki left Calgary. Dear Jo, with Anna, took us to the airport at the crack of dawn. It was a subdued parting. It was -28 C when we left, and +20 C on arrival in San Francisco.

We had a wonderful few days there, staying with our friends Craig and Kirsten. We did the touristy things, Fisherman's Wharf where the tacky souvenirs are, Ghirardelli's where the hot chocolate and cappuccino is, the Castro district where everyone's gay, or really weird (except us of course) and the food is exotic and yummy. We were spellbound by the Museum of Modern Art, where we (unusually for us, but we will be doing so more often in future) joined a group that was being shown around by a docent. She was excellent, choosing just one or two pictures in each room--not necessarily the best-known ones--and describing in fulsome detail their historical context and artistic highlights--quite different from our usual strategy of rushing round trying to glance, however briefly, at everything. We (Ian very reluctantly, but he was glad in the end) went by ferry to Alcatraz, rented audiotapes, and took the award-winning audio tour: it is really excellent, evoking the sounds, sights, and even the sweaty smells of classic US prison life. Nikki and Jake were great company. (It must be pretty tough to share the living-room floor of a tiny apartment for a whole week with your girlfriend and her parents.) Of the many tales we could tell of the wide-eyed kid in the big city, here's just one. Straying off to join a small knot of people on Fisherman's Wharf, Jake watched first one, then another, win twenty dollars. It was so easy!-- quite obvious which hand held the card. "Wanna try, kid?" "Well sure," says Jake, never one to overlook the chance of an easy buck, holding up his $20 bill. "Sorry, kid," deftly extracting it from his fingers as he guessed wrong. Jake was (temporarily) speechless: absolutely incensed (with himself). "And it was US money," he said. "That's forty bucks NZ!" We figured it was well spent. A year on and he's still annoyed!

While there we met up with Peter and Margaret Madams, friends from those halcyon (halcyon?--well, long ago, anyway) Essex days, and learned about their oh-so-Californian lifestyle. In fact, 1998 saw several rare meetings with Essex friends. Gordon Ritchie dropped into Ian's office out of the blue for an hour on his way to Perth. Peter and Shirley Noakes visited for a few days in March (unfortunately for Ian he was away in the US). Pam and Nikki really enjoyed their company, and Shirley pointed out that if the same number of years passed before their next meeting, Nikki would be thirty-seven! And we had dinner with Kwee (ex partner of Steve Matheson), an anesthetist who by an incredible coincidence taught a Hamilton neighbor of ours from Zimbabwe when he was training at Bury St Edmonds hospital years ago, and was visiting them on her way to Australia.

Anyway, we did get back to New Zealand eventually, early in January. Our home was intact (though the pool was a lurid, luminous green) and it was lovely to return to our big house and beautifully-mown, park-like, garden, after six months of moving around, camping with friends in various degrees of luxury but with no place to call our own. We just flopped! The weather was wonderful: El Niño gave New Zealand the longest, warmest summer on record. (Higher-than-usual ground temperatures and massive air-conditioner use burned out Auckland power supply lines and the city was without mains electricity for six weeks. We were not affected, and, no, neither was our E-mail.)

We did some sailing. Pam and Ian watched the Whitbread yachts leave Auckland on the next leg of their long journey round the world, they were awesome. Even more awesome was a vast ketch we saw the same day that must have been twice as big, 120 feet maybe. There was a huge crowd of boats out to see them off, and since there was no wind at all everything was moving very slowly, with a languid, festive air. It was very hot; earlier that day, becalmed, we had taken dips over the side, swimming around Beulah. Imagine our consternation in seeing, just a few minutes afterwards, a fin cruising nearby that turned out to be a 2m shark: no more swimming that day. On other trips we saw many dolphins, the ubiquitous penguins, and also--once--whales afar off. Ian took Nikki and Jake for a lazy long weekend, stopping at Oneroa on Waiheke island for a civilized drink in a trendy cafe, then on to a quiet bay for a couple of nights. Jake was at the tiller when he discovered heeling (he was not happy). He and Nikki both felt a bit queasy. Lots of ginger seemed to help; however, Nikki slept in the cockpit one night because she found life easier outside. We snorkeled a lot, and lazed around. Nikki's overall comment was that the infamous bananas flambeed a la Beulah certainly lived up to expectations. Talking of bananas, on another trip Ian took Bruce and Sue from Auckland (ex Calgary) and their kids Julia and Alex sailing for a long weekend. Beulah only barely sleeps five--the fifth is a pipecot in the fo'c'sle--but we managed really well. Having just seen the movie Titanic, Julia and Alex spent much of their time striking romantic poses (not necessarily with each other) at the very bow, making more room for us all. Alex even had lunch in the dinghy. He's practicing to be a pirate, and quite often exclaims "avast me hearties" and other nautical expressions. There was much talk of icebergs, but we didn't see any. Ian had an even more exciting time than usual with the flambeed bananas, though managed to escape with eyebrows (almost) intact. The icebergs wouldn't have stood a chance.

Another exciting part of sailing this year has been seeing the America's Cup yachts practicing. The first occasion was in April, when Pam and Ian noticed two large yachts far behind them on a beat. Never one to miss the chance of honing his racing skills, Ian kept upwind of them, tacking when they tacked to blanket them (this is all nautical talk too). However, we have to confess that Beulah did not maintain her lead for long: they sailed right past without even noticing Ian's damnably clever racing tactics. They really are awesome yachts; their masts rake the sky. We now see them almost every time we visit the area where the Cup races are to be held, between Rangitoto and the Whangaparoa Peninsula.

Another great sail (last one, promise!) was to Rangitoto and Tiritiri Matangi islands. We often pass by these, but this was the first trip ashore. Rangitoto is a prominent volcano just off Auckland; it arose from the sea a mere few hundred years ago. Pam and Ian landed and walked right up the cone to the crater at the top, through huge scoria boulders that absorb and reflect the heat, making it almost palpable. The crater is a perfect inverted cone, steep, deep, and covered in bush. From the top are gorgeous views of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf, our home sailing waters, dotted around the sparkling azure water, with vibrant green vegetation and white-sand beaches. The next day we sailed to Tiritiri Matangi, which, though previously farmed, is being rehabilitated with lush native bush and rare native birds. The lighthouse keeper doubles as park warden! It is very exotic, surrounded by dense vegetation and the liquid sound of countless birds, who seemed completely unafraid of people.

In February we had a haggis barbecue. Well, a barbecue-style outdoor haggis party really: not being barbarians we didn't actually barbecue the haggis. Rob Holte from Ottawa was visiting the Department and one of his claims to fame is that he makes a mean haggis. We had to try him out. But it wasn't easy. Do you know that it's illegal to sell sheep's stomach in New Zealand, except for "approved" sheep's stomach which has been specially imported from Australia (and you have to order it weeks in advance)? We didn't. Apparently people sometimes substitute cow's stomachs. But a mole who works at the local agricultural research center was able to locate an illegal source of native sheep's stomachs. By this time the whole idea was becoming, well, hard to stomach (just why is it illegal?), so we decided to concoct one "demonstration" haggis in the traditional sheep's stomach and another six in freezer bags (which were apparently unavailable to the original Scots). Haggis, it turns out, involves a lot of boiling. Not to mention the taties and neaps that are the de rigeur accompaniment. In fact, everything is boiled: boiled long and boiled hard. Summer in the Waikato is notoriously humid, so rather than filling the house with steam we rented a stand-alone outside gas ring for boiling. And we (or rather, Rob and some other helpers) slaved away all afternoon making seven haggi. We rented a real kilted, bibbed, sporraned, and dirked bagpipe-playing imitation Scotsman to provide live music for the occasion--which he did rather well. After some preliminary skirls on the lawn, accompanied by one of our graduate students who plays the bodran (yes!), it was time for the ceremony. The haggis (the real haggis, that is, the illegal one) was piped twice round the swimming pool (it was a hot, sunny afternoon). Ian addressed the beast in Robbie Burn's immortal words, with simultaneous translation into Kiwi for the benefit of the bemused audience (some of whom were students from China and Germany; none were Scots), along with appropriate, fearsome, gestures. We toasted in real single malt Scotch (donated to Ian's research lab by a visitor, who really was from Scotland, some months before). The demonstration haggis was duly sliced, exhibited, and thrown to the hounds, while the slaves in the kitchen served up the less authentic but more sanitary version. Ian insisted that everyone had a goodly portion; more than many guests could eat, judging by the dog's stomach (whose "weel-swalled kyte" was afterwards stretched like a drum and "maist like to rive," for those well-versed in said immortal words). By far the most appreciative human connoisseur was the one-year-old son of visiting Canadian friends: he wept piteously upon finishing each of his many servings and could only be placated by taking some home for next day's breakfast.

Ian had many overseas trips this year: too many. But they were fun. On his traditional pilgrimage to the Data Compression Conference at Snowbird, Utah, Anna joined him for a skiing weekend! She flew down from Calgary and they had a great time skiing their brains out and recovering in the hot pool. Although they ski at about the same skill level (Ian maintains), Anna is way ahead in guts and Ian is way ahead in common sense, which kept things lively. Before Snowbird, Ian spent three days on Maui, at a business meeting (Maui ... Snowbird ... what kind of business is he in?). He climbed (but by car!) an 11,000 ft volcano that rises straight from the sea, watched wind/wave-surfers doing gymnastics, including complete somersaults, on windsurfers, caught the relaxed Hawaiian lifestyle, and (ahem) worked.

Ian was Program Chair of the ACM Digital Libraries conference in Pittsburgh, an "international" event that is always held in the US--it is unusual (unique, actually) for a non-American to be in charge. On the way he stopped in San Francisco (highlight: cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito on the other side, returning by ferry) and Belfast. (Yes, an unusual routing from Auckland to Pittsburgh). It was great to visit his parents and see his sister and family. No-one is getting any younger these days, and it just brings it home whenever you see your parents. Dad and Mum still look after themselves, but--at 90+ and 80+ respectively--it's getting harder and harder. You have to admire them: in fact, on every visit home he finds his folks always have more to teach him, in terms of how they cope with life and inevitable infirmity. And of course he sailed. He raced with brother-in-law John and niece Claire. Pippa and John's children--all four of them!--took him around Strangford Lough on the family boat. After this prelude, the main event, the Digital Libraries conference, was a rousing success, although something of an anticlimax because all the work takes place beforehand. And having arrived in Pittsburgh via San Francisco and Belfast, he returned via Calgary and Canmore! After one of those trips from hell where you find yourself stranded in the US, wearing only shorts, T-shirt and sandals, carrying only a computer (no toothbrush, sweater, or clean undies), at an airport thousands of miles from anywhere on your itinerary, getting to a hotel at 1 AM (after a long argy-bargy with airline officials) and being collected from it at 4 AM, with a dinner voucher and a breakfast voucher (only to be used on that day, at that hotel), he eventually arrived at Calgary and set off in search of Anna. They drove out to Canmore to stay with Saul and Judy (with whom we had spent Christmas). He remembers drinking a jug of excellent raspberry ale with Anna, a nice evening with Barbara Birtwistle ... not much else. This hectic lifestyle has finally overtaken him.

A conference in Melbourne was next, accompanied by Nikki travelling on her soon-to-expire frequent flyer miles. Nikki appeared beautifully and exotically clad a la mode at conference functions and Ian had to introduce her very quickly as his daughter before people got the wrong idea! They visited Hanging Rock and had a picnic there. A movie tells the true tale of a party of school-children, three of whom wander off, two returning bloody, bruised and amnesic after three days, and the other never heard of again, despite extensive searches. It's not surprising when you've seen the place. It's a huge area of rocky outcrop, with weird rock formations, deep crevices, rock bridges, holes through which you can gaze out over the prairie far below. Another highlight was the Percy Grainger museum, housed on the Melbourne University campus. Australian's most famous composer, Grainger invented some amazing musical instruments, like huge vacuum-cleaner-powered recorders on which the holes could be gradually uncovered by unwinding great rolls of diagonally-oriented paper, like a giant printing press. Another invention involved several swanee whistles controlled by a sort of multiple pantograph. But more than that: Grainger was seriously into (yes!) flagellation, and sealed parcels opened years after his death contained naughty pictures, exhibits, and even home-made whips, all on display for the curious.

In November, the US National Science Foundation, seeking a bit of advice on who to give research grants to, at the last minute asked Ian to come over for a two-day meeting. It was one of those ghastly business trips, arriving at a hotel in Washington (near the Pentagon) at 11:30 PM, having been traveling for 26 hours, with a meeting at 8AM the next day. But he went on to New York to spend a few days with Craig and Kirsten (who have moved there from San Francisco) in their Wall Street apartment, and--guess what--Anna stopped by on her way from London back to Calgary! They had a great time, walking in Central Park, taking the ferry to Staten Island, visiting a jazz club at 2:30 AM until it closed at 4 AM, eating fantastic food in the Jewish quarter (pastrami and rye; we even found out what a "knish" is--and actually saw a "knishery" where they sell nothing else), cocktails (US$30 each!) in the Rainbow Room looking down on the Empire State Building.

It's also been a busy year for Pam. After six months of not working in Calgary, her nose has been pressed firmly to the grindstone this year with a full-time teaching job. Really, she'd prefer to work part-time year-round over this six months off, twelve months full on, pattern. She's been teaching two special needs children one-on-one. Stephanie is a wheelchair-bound eight-year-old with Rett's syndrome, an unusual condition that affects only girls. It involves both physical and intellectual handicap, including compulsive hand and arm movements, and Stephanie is prone to epileptic seizures and apnea. Isaac, also eight, is, in effect, grossly developmentally delayed. Though able-bodied, he displays some of the physical and many of the emotional characteristics of two to three year olds. While very keen to communicate, he has great difficulty in forming sentences, though in the past year he has become much more verbal and is using recognizable words more frequently. As well as teaching at the school full-time, her music teaching and musical activities have continued apace, including gaining Grade 8 on descant and treble recorder, with distinction. Trinity College still send their examiners to New Zealand from London each year, presumably because they like it so much. She'd just like to point out that as the full-time worker in this family, she hasn't had the chance to go anywhere exotic this year. Her big trip was going to be a long weekend in Opotoki (and you can't get less exotic than that) with a friend in September, but this got cancelled because of widespread flooding and road closures.

Nikki and Jake took Pam to a rock concert in Auckland shortly after we got back, her first in many years. The band was called Van Halen. Following the advice of staffroom colleagues, she wore earplugs--and was very grateful for them when the warm-up band started. Visiting the ladies loo to insert them, a young girl looked at her grey hair quizzically: "Are you here to see Van Halen"? When Pam acknowledged that she had been brought by her kids, the girl astonished her with a big hug: "Good on you, Mum!" Not only did Pam have the only grey hair, she was the only person not wearing black leather or sporting tattoos. From her vantage point at the back of the hall (close to the doors for a quick getaway) she enjoyed watching the band and the crowd, but left feeling a little perplexed that she didn't recognize any of the songs. It was only later that night, when discussing the concert with her brother, that it dawned on her that she had thought she was going to see Van Morrison!

We had a brush with the law this winter. Returning home from school, Pam was stopped by a police roadblock down our street. Once the policeman had ascertained exactly where we lived, she managed to persuade him to let her through--though he enigmatically advised her to lock all the doors, close the curtains, and not let anyone in. With some trepidation she drove on and duly locked herself into the house, armed only with a soppy Labrador and telephone. It took just one call to discover that there was an "armed offender" callout, and the local rugby club fifty yards away was abuzz with rifle-wielding cops. At this point Pam turned off the lights and sat in the dark, with the so-called guard dog, listening to the eerie silence. Although we live in the country, we do hear cars drive by occasionally. But that night there was nothing. All at once the dog's hackles went up and she started to growl as someone first tried the back door and then knocked urgently. With churning stomach and wooden legs, Pam cautiously investigated. It was Ian and Nikki, who had also talked themselves through the roadblock. By the time the road was reopened a couple of hours later, Ian and Pam had each missed their evening rehearsals, with the most original of excuses--"Sorry I couldn't make it last night, I was confined at home by the armed offender's squad."

Another little upset occurred when Ian's car was gently rear-ended. And then, while getting a quote from an auto body shop to repair the damage, the garage's tow truck accidentally reversed into his car parked outside ...

For Ian, musical life resumed when we returned after six months in the doldrums in Calgary. He was able to play in all the Waikato Sympathy Orchestra (must stop calling it that; they don't like it!) concerts--fortunately they fell between trips. Recently we let our hair down and played at a lunchtime event at a nearby winery, sitting on a big canvas-covered patio and performing Broadway music and popular opera songs while the audience helped themselves to buffet lunch. There was plenty of wine for us in the interval so the second half was a bit ropy--but, fortunately, so was the audience by that time. The weekly clarinet group at our house grew to a sextet, but on only one occasion have all six been here together! The jazz trio has suffered because Gary, our marvelous guitarist, put his career ahead of our music and moved to Glasgow. We have had trouble finding a replacement, and have had practices but no performances. But when Craig visited in March we had a swinging reunion of the original "Rubato" trio, a party at our place with cool jazz.

As you've already heard, Anna has been doing some traveling this year. We left her in Calgary at the beginning of January, living in Jo's basement where we had been staying on and off for the previous six months. January is not, of course, the best time of year to start out in Calgary: it's cold. And Anna has no car, which makes life there rather difficult. After some searching she got a job with a car rental agency (which she had done temporarily in Hamilton), and, on the strength of this, committed to a six-month lease with a friend on a downtown apartment. But things started to go wrong: her job didn't work out; she found life in an apartment with no furniture at all rather depressing; her friendship turned a bit sour. She got another job in a health club near where we used to live, but public transport from her apartment was difficult. Ultimately she moved out, surrendered her lease, made plans to go to England, stayed with friends in the meantime. Just when everything was fixed to leave and she had given in her resignation, things perked up, and she left Calgary for London sadly, resolving to come back soon.

Pam's parents picked her up in London, and she had a whirlwind few weeks. She went to France to stay with Pam's brother Steve, who runs a hotel in a tiny village near Toulouse, and had a great time there. She helped out in the bar, got involved in village social activities. After a couple of weeks it was back to Britain, this time to Northern Ireland to stay with Ian's parents and see Pippa and John and family. On to Sheffield to stay with Ian's brother Brian for a week; then back to London. She ended up in a house in Ealing, with some friends from Hamilton (of all places). There were fourteen people in a three bedroom house with a Bedford van parked outside (they took turns to sleep in the van). At weekends she went to Kiwi pubs where they drink Kiwi beer with Kiwi mates; it was just like being in Hamilton. Unfortunately, however, rumors that London streets are paved with gold proved unfounded. She got a little temp work, but spent a lot of time alone in the house during the day. Talking on the phone to someone from the health club she had worked at in Calgary, she heard that her replacement was about to be fired and they wanted her back. So she decided to return. Just when everything was fixed to leave, things perked up, and she left London for Calgary sadly, hoping to visit again. Sound familiar?

Anyway, things do seem to be working out for Anna in Calgary. She has her old job back, and we think working in a health club is good for her lifestyle. (Speaking as parents, we think that Anna spends too much time in unhealth clubs!) We will see. For us it has been hard spending a whole year without her, particularly when she has been miserable on the other side of the world. We miss her generally happy and optimistic outlook.

The first half of Nikki's year was excellent. She began her program at Waikato university, taking courses in (social) anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and human origins (i.e. physical anthropology). Ian didn't really want her to go to Waikato, but again, as so many times before, he has had to eat his words. Her courses have, in the main, been great. She told us of how shivers would sometimes go down her spine in lectures--little frissons of intellectual excitement--and now whenever Ian lectures he surveys the bored and listless faces of his students and wonders, doubtfully, whether any shivering is going on out there. And she got a job. Our rule is that pocket-money ceases at age 18: well, for Nikki that was 31 March 1998. And on 1 April (or thereabouts) she landed a job in the local cinema. She loves it, and gets on really well with her workmates. It's a very social business--you see all your friends going to movies!--and now Nikki takes a serious, professional interest in the movie world. She has been really happy, confiding that she has never before been happier. And she really enjoyed her trip to Melbourne in August. But since then things have not been quite so good. Her courses, though still all right, have lost some of their sparkle. Her job can sometimes be a little tedious. And she and Jake decided that they should stop "going out" together, though they still see a great deal of each other and spend hours on the phone. Sometimes Nikki's parents can't really understand what the distinction is between "going out" and not "going out"--and Nikki tells us we're in good company; her friends can't understand either. Oh well.

Here's a miscellany of other noteworthy events. When we returned from Calgary our hens were gone (apparently the tenants' dog developed a taste for them). Our sheep stock was depleted to three: one had died while we were away. (We had received e-mail saying that Mary had died; this disconcerted us because we couldn't think of a Mary. Turns out that the tenants' daughter renamed all our sheep ...) So in August we raised a pet lamb, Lucy, our baby for a couple of months, who greeted us vociferously every time we came home. She has now gone feral and joined the other sheep in the paddock. Late in the season Urshy, Nikki's pet of two years ago, bore twins, a girl and a boy. Household guests get naming rights, and as Gene Golovchinsky from California was visiting us at the time they are called Jean and Gene. Ian's nephew Peter and five other medical students from Belfast came to stay with us for a few days on their way back from work experience in Sydney; our pool table still hasn't quite cooled down from all those hot shots. Peter is tall, but he is dwarfed by all the others, so our house was pretty full. Pam cooked for the army: pound after pound of potatoes, loaf after loaf of bread. (They did some cooking too.) Ian has been doing some work with various United Nations agencies, and his software has been used to produce CD-ROMs for UNESCO in Paris, and the United Nations University in Japan; these are seeing widespread distribution. CD-ROMs for the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, and the Pan-America Health Organization, are in the offing. These activities are in collaboration with Michel Loots, a "humanitarian entrepreneur" from Belgium, who stayed with us for several days in March. Noam Chomsky, originally an American linguist who was Ian's hero in his days of speech synthesis at Essex and now a leading left-wing intellectual in the US, came to Waikato to give an inspirational, and awe-inspiring, speech on the new world order. Last but not least, one day in November we set the alarm for 4AM and sat outside for an hour to watch the meteor shower, an exciting display of shooting stars--did you see it?

And that's it for the year, except to wish you lots of love and belated seasonal greetings. We hope your New Year is happy and that you have kept your resolutions so far. May peace be with you.

Pam, Ian, Anna (remotely), and Nikki