We began the year more or less resigned to the fact Maria was destined to be our only grandchild. It therefore came as a complete surprise in April when Joe announced that he and Eugenie had taken the plunge and that grandchild number two was on the way. So we have had that to look forward to over the year.
Another winter passed without a major snowfall or serious cold but it did stay chilly for a long time.
At the end of April, we had a very short trip on the Eurostar to see the Heironimous Bosch exhibition in his home town of Den Bosch. It was a great exhibition of work by a surrealist who was centuries ahead of his time. Everyone else at the time was painting dull brown Madonna and Child pictures - Bosch was painting surreal images of heaven and hell populated by fantastic creatures in brilliant colours. It was a big event for the town and they put on a great show. There was a Bosch themed walk around the town with large pictures and sculptures to seek out and a virtual reality 'experience' exploring his fantasy world. We managed to complete most of the walk around town but had to head for a coffee shop when it started to snow on us.
The weather began to warm up a bit in May and we set off on another culture trip to see Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum. It was a pretty hectic week - we had a very early flight out of Gatwick to Naples and most days of the trip involved very early starts to get to the various sites early in the day before the main crowds arrived and finish the visit before the heat of the afternoon. It was all pretty amazing - we had a superb guide, a Danish archeology PhD who had worked on the excavation of Herculaneum for her thesis and then remained in the Naples area. There didn't seem to be anything she didn't know about the places we visited and she also organised everything brilliantly, right down to stops for coffee/loos and lunches.
One of the sites we visited was a villa belonging to Popea, one of Nero's wives. She must have been a big favourite as the villa was very large - it had a swimming pool in the garden which was 63 metres long.
Our hotel was an old, family run place with loads of character, very friendly staff and excellent food, which we appreciated, even if some of the party didn't - well it was all Italian, not a sausage and mash to be had anywhere.
In September, we went down to our friends' house in Couzou, as we have done for the last three or four years now. We had lovely weather and just enjoyed a relaxing time in the garden with one or two trips out to see local places of interest, like a lovely garden at Le Manoir d' Eyrignac and a trip to Douelle to try to find a particular vineyard which Maurice and Lesley took us to last year, to buy some more of their rather nice Malbec wine. Success!
It was the Rocamadour balloon festival time again, but we didn't have the Patrouille de France air display this year, that was a special treat last year for a particular anniversary of the event. We only saw the balloons on the first day as the wind changed and took them all in the other direction on the Saturday. For the entire time we were there, the weather forecasts had predicted one day of rain on the Sunday, which duly arrived on schedule. We went down to Rocamadour anyway to see what was going on. The balloonists started to assemble around 5pm and were just getting started unloading their gear when there was a flash of lightning, a crack of thunder and the heavens opened. So they all packed up and set off for home. An hour later, it was sunny again, but too late, everyone had packed up and departed.
It had been very dry in Couzou over summer and Maurice didn't think that we would get enough grapes to make wine this year, but somehow, the vine had managed to find enough water to produce more that enough for one demijohn's worth. I picked them on our last day, working carefully to avoid the enormous hornets that were buzzing around. I managed to get 5 kgs but as I picked, the number of bunched diminished so the hornets and wasps became more concentrated on the remaining bunched to the point where I decided to leave them to it and made my getaway without being stung.
Tessa and Joe have both had Marathon related successes over the year. Tessa and her friend Di ran in the London Marathon, managing to get round in 5 hours 46 mins thanks in a small way to us managing to find three points on the route to cheer them on. Joe and Eugenie, along with other residents in their block of flats took their landlord, Marathon Estates, to a tribunal at the High Court and managed to secure a precedent setting judgement which has enabled the owners of the flats to appoint their own estate management company, rather than have the landlord's appointed company.
Maria is 9½ now and is growing up before our eyes. This year she joined a choir at school and performed in a concert at the Reading Hexagon on my birthday. On Sandy's birthday, we went to her dance show which was really good and she really did seem to be enjoying doing her thing on stage. She has also been winning medals for Tai Kwando where her ballet training helps her to do her moves very elegantly.
The cold Spring held back the early crops like onions and shallots but we enjoyed lots of summer veg and salads, especially the courgettes. I plant more winter veg these days so we are looking forward to parsnips at on Christmas Day. We have already eaten most of the kale but we are waiting for a new crop of brokali, which is a kind of broccoli, but it doesn't seem to be growing too well. We had a double helping of frogspawn in the Spring, but as usual, we never saw any tadpoles. Maybe they hide well in the pond vegetation, or perhaps they get eaten by the newts. But we do find frogs around the garden so some must survive.
We were both gutted by the result of the Brexit referendum and more recently, the American presidential election. I think a great many people will be seriously disappointed when it all pans out in the future. £350M per week for the NHS - in your dreams!
At least we have been able to look forward to the arrival of our grandson, Max, who duly arrived on hid due day of 30th November. The first two weeks were a bit difficult as Max didn't gain enough weight, so they had to make frequent trips to the clinic to have his progress checked. There didn't appear to be any significant problem but it was hard for them to relax and settle into a routine and get the sleep they needed. Most of the helping in the first couple of weeks was done by Sandy as I had a bad cold had to stay away to avoid passing on anything horrible. By the end of his third week, he was putting on the ounces and has recovered his birth weight, so everyone is much happier and more relaxed. Joe, Eugenie and Max will be with us over Christmas. Tessa, Joel and Maria are joining us for Boxing Day. Then it is all done for another year!