Happy Christmas 2011

Dear Friends,
I write this in Villard de Lans. It is our fifth visit of the year, which we think is a record, so that can be my theme for the year.
In Villard I do the washing up, perhaps because there is much less of it, perhaps because I am not dashing off to save the NHS from the clutches of misguided politicians, or perhaps because we have some gloves there that fit me, and slide on and off when I want them to.
A slightly more profound message from Villard is that the same place is different at different times and in different company.  We were here with some friends for a couple of days and unkindly took them up a mountain to see the high Alps.  
We have been here on our own a few times to try to sort out as flood, insurance claims and decorating and we have had two lovely holidays with family. Debbie and I slightly sanctimoniously eschew air travel these days, but we were not too proud to fetch our children from Grenoble airport. So we drove out to the flat, put the heating on and then the next day went down to the airport. When Matilda, Nick and Bethan came there was still plenty of snow. Bethan had two lessons on skis and was very plucky, but decided that that was enough. She had one go on skates which was fine with an adult on each side! Matilda was very good about it, but with a large tummy, a bad back, nausea of pregnancy and ‘flu her opportunities for fun were limited. 
Nick made his debut on alpine skis and after five days had built up his confidence such that I was reminded that I had had to warn Jean Anne about running too fast down Trevor Hill. Jean Anne thinks that it was because I didn’t want her to beat me, but I maintain that it was entirely for consideration of what they would now call ‘health & safety’!
Two months later Alistair, Michelle and Dylan came out. We had a lovely holiday, but by then the snow had all gone. Michelle too was carrying a large tummy, but at least she didn’t have ‘flu.
In due course, of course, both tummies delivered and we have two delightful sturdy little boys as grandchildren three and four. 
Bethan, meanwhile, has started school, and Dylan, nursery school, and they give us a generous welcome whenever we come to play. Bethan even had a couple of nights here on her own.
I shall spare you the changing seasons, though yesterday’s autumn sunrise was a real treat. Nor shall I ponder on why a Haydn String Quartet still has the power to move despite being heard on a hissing radio that struggles to get reception in the mountains and plays through tiny speakers, though I would find it easier to explain the joy of a wonderful summer’s evening in Acton Burnell when we heard the Fitzwilliam quartet playing one of the same Shostakovitch quartets that I had heard them play some twenty years earlier in Wellington.
Another place that has changed flavour with changing visits over the years in London. It was a frequent and regular trip when I was working for the NHS Information Authority when I stayed in hotels and visited medical Royal Colleges or the Department of Health. For about ten years I have been going on Quaker business. For those I adopted less formal dress and stayed in cheaper hotels, or more recently with Rosie, our medical student niece. The Quaker meetings involved less talking, but probably no less paper.  And finally, this year, I have been going to the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Health Committee. It was flattering to be invited, as I am neither an MP nor a Peer, but whereas they can go to a meeting on a Monday evening that takes up an hour or two, for me it takes twenty-four hours, and of course brings no reimbursement of expenses.
I have, of course, been campaigning against the break-up of he NHS for years but the threat posed by Andrew Lansley’s plans have taken up much of my energy for the last year.  We have achieved real concessions, and look likely to win more in the House of Lords, but this does not satisfy me. This is perhaps one of the reasons that I am not a successful politician. The successful politician decides when he has achieved all that he is going to achieve and says, ‘Let us call this a success.’ The stubborn idealist looks at what he has achieved and says, ‘If only there had been more of us ... if only they had listened ... we could have achieved so much more.’
Dear Friends, tomorrow the sun will rise again, Debbie’s parents are still wonderful and Monique came all the way from Australia to see them (and a few other people!) and our beautiful grandchildren love playing with each other. We wish you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
With Love from
    Debbie and Charlie