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Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Letter

Christmas 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

We knew last Christmas was going to be difficult as it was our first without George and Tiny. So we arranged to take our Christmas dinner up to share with Dad. However, as with 2009, it wasn’t meant to be. Dad called Christmas morning to tell us that he had to cancel as he was off to the hospital again.  We spent Christmas afternoon at the Whittington, where Dad, just as he had done the previous year, opened his gifts laying in a hospital bed. Only this time there was no George.

Boxing Day didn’t get any better. We awoke to see several missed calls on our cell phones from my niece. She had tried to reach us because my brother Dave was in hospital receiving the last rites. He had been rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties. Thankfully, by the time I called Denise back, he had seen off the worse and looked like he would be ok.

These two events would cast a dark shadow over 2011.  Dave spent the best part of six months to and fro the hospital, including several stays following relapses of his condition. But thankfully, despite the severity of his condition Christmas night, he has been fighting back and was able to enjoy a vacation on Cyprus for the first time in years.

In Dad’s case, we weren’t so fortunate.  His condition deteriorated considerably and on January 14th he passed away peacefully at Marie Curie’s Hampstead Hospice. Thankfully his granddaughter Hayley was able to visit with him the night before we lost him, and I was able to spend his last night by his side at home and was by his side when he left us to be with Mum the following morning.  As at George’s funeral, it meant so much that I was able to do the eulogy, as did my brother Phil.  And I’ll never forget the sound of You Were Always On My Mind as we followed Dad’s casket out of the small chapel at the cemetery to lay him to rest, before having a celebratory meal in his honour at his favourite haunt, The Gatehouse, with Phil and Jean, Denise and young David, Donnaghda and Hayley. 

Sadly Dad wouldn’t be the only loss the family would suffer this year – Rita and Jean both lost a brother each too.

The next few weeks the family focused on emptying Dad’s flat. Dad had lived there for 49 years, so clearing it out before handing back the flat to Islington Council proved to be extremely emotional and brought an end to the White family’s link to Holloway that went back over a hundred years.  Then I had to sort Dad’s estate.  As much as we would trade it for having him and George back healthy and happy, what they left behind would certainly make a difference in our lives.

With no Tiny or Dad, we decided to get away to Dublin at the end of March so we could spend some time with my brother Dave, his wife Rita, and niece Denise.  Unfortunately we missed out on seeing my nephew, as young David caught a plane to Australia minutes before we arrived to spend 12 months living Down Under.  We had a great time there visiting around O’Connell Street in town, and spending time with our family – the highlight being a magical mystery tour to Johnnie Fox’s in the mountains where we got lost, were given directions and re-directions from the strangest of locals, and ended up roaring with laughter with tears streaming down our cheeks.

By the time we headed back to Hertford, and following months of deliberation, we decided to become vegetarians, with both of us eating meat for the last time in Dublin before returning home. The result was better than we had expected – both of us now free of stomach problems. Better still was that I also lost over 30 pounds in the first six months.

On April 29th, the world watched William and Kate get married.  But my son Paul had bigger news of his own.  With Lisa, they became proud parents on April 30th of a baby boy they named Jamie. A week or so later, my daughter Hayley also had news of her own – she was moving out of the family home to live on her own.

May brought a memorable 14th wedding anniversary vacation in Cornwall where we ate fish for the last time.  In fact, I had fried fish and chips several times, with the last from Loggans Fish Bar in Hayle, the evening we celebrated my 50th birthday following a return light plane flight from Lands End to the Scilly Isles where we enjoyed a memorable day never to be forgotten.

One other major event this year is that incredibly Dawn swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II at Hatfied Town Hall on May 9th to become a British Citizen and now has a UK passport. By the way (in case you wondered), Dawn still has her little blue American passport. She never gave up her American citizenship; she has dual.

This summer also saw me re-ignite a friendship with Denis and Tracy after thirty years.  I had even been asked to be his best man at their wedding 30 years ago; however the 80s took our lives in different directions and we lost contact.  

On the work front, Dawn has continued her environmental efforts at City University, and thankfully didn’t have to stay away as much as in previous years. In my case, I continued my rear guard action where I worked. We lost the environmental certification I had worked so hard for us to get and following many redundancies, including my assistant, I have been left to do everything accounts related on my own. Oh yea, there was even a month when I was three weeks late in receiving my monthly pay.

This year we also became Apple fans.  Dawn received an iPad for Christmas last year and I picked up a new iPad2; then when our cell phone contracts ran out, we replaced our Blackberrys with a couple of iPhone 3GSs.  I also got more into baking and now bake all our own bread. 

In October we saw Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines in the London stage production of Driving Miss Daisy.  What a treat that was!

Best of all was a celebratory week in New York to celebrate the 15th anniversary of meeting at the top of the Empire State Building. We visited Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, The High Line, Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building again.  We got a recording of us doing the news and weather during an NBC studio tour and saw The Jersey Boys on stage.  And the vegetarian food we ate in New York was excellent. We ate at the famous vegan restaurant, Candle 79; Katz’s Deli (made famous by Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally); the Boathouse in Central Park (recommended to me by Jo Wheatley, this year’s winner of the Great British Bake Off); and The River CafĂ©, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, where we had a special anniversary meal while watching the sunset over Manhattan.

On returning from New York, we had the kitchen renovated and spent 4 weeks climbing over boxes, flat packs and appliances while it was transformed into beautiful new fitted kitchen. We’ve also had the patio doors in the living room ripped out to be replaced by a door and window.

So, as you can see, it’s been a pretty eventful year for us, one filled with laughter and tears.  We hope yours has been happy and healthy and we hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

Love, Paul & Dawn                                 

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