In a year that saw the Brits decide they’d had enough of being a part of Europe, the Americans elect an unelectable weirdo as their president, and the Western Bulldogs win the AFL premiership, you’d expect that we’d have something really bizarre to tell you about our lives over the past 12 months. I’m sorry to disappoint you but 2016 was just another year full of joy, satisfaction and achievement for Frances, myself and our crew; tinged with some inevitable sadness along the way.
Just to prove that some things never change, 2016 was another year of change for Frances and I. Most significantly, I returned to China in late January to work for Caterpillar as the District Security Manager, China once again based in Beijing. It was a case of “back to the future” as I re-established myself in a cosy little apartment a short walk away from my office, and began applying my many years of experience and knowledge of the Chinese operating environment to my new assignment. Unlike my previous roles in China, this job with Caterpillar has more flexibility to enable me to work from home in Sydney (and Italy) as often as possible to minimise my absences from the family. I enjoy the work, and I genuinely feel that I am making a positive contribution. Having a good and supportive boss (who is an old Australian Army buddy of mine) is an important factor. Hopefully these circumstances will continue for a good while yet.
Frances had another busy year travelling around the globe. She travelled with me to Beijing early in the year to help me get settled, and then had two trips to Italy – including a few weeks in Brecon with her mother Liz. Once again, she had the pleasure of some dear friends joining her in Capestrano to share the delights of our little piece of paradise – indeed, there was a distinct Irish flavour to our visitors this year with Jenny and Anita both Irish born (and Anita’s daughter Rhianna who is an Irish Kiwi born in Hong Kong!). A particular highlight in Italy this year was to have Rhiannon and Emma join Frances and I for a couple of weeks while Frances’ brother James, and his family were also in Capestrano. Frances has made so many friends and knows the local community so well (and her spoken Italian is not bad either) that we all get treated to a very special experience when in her company.
We again began the year with a delightful camping holiday at Hobart Beach in the Bournda National Park in southern NSW with our Kiwi friends Rob and Anna and their children. We had hoped to have a similar camping adventure with them in early 2017 but alas our camping pals are heading home to NZ for some new adventures of their own.
More recently Frances rounded off the year by completing the Wild Women on Top Melbourne Coastrek in aid of the Fred Hollows Foundation in late November. The 30km walk on the Mornington Peninsula finished up on the former parade ground of the old Officer Cadet School, Portsea where I did my Army officer training 32 years ago. You may remember that Frances was supposed to do this event last year with Rhiannon, but broke her ankle several weeks before. So she’s finally got it done.
In addition to all the travel for both of us, we’ve managed to keep ourselves fit and healthy – Frances with lots of exercising, walking, Bikram yoga and kayaking, and me with running, cycling, exercising (I’ve discovered the benefits of “planks”) and lots of nervous energy.
Emma enjoyed another successful year full of activities, travel and further development of her independent living skills. The next few months and beyond will be even more interesting as Emma makes the transition from her current NSW government funding arrangements to come under the new federal government funded NDIS program. With the support of a new service provider who specialises in NDIS programs, we hope the new arrangements will give Emma greater flexibility and a broader range of support options that will enrich her life even further. As usual, Rhiannon has been a key factor in Emma’s achievements. Emma will also have new flatmates in the coming months as her lifestyle continues to evolve.
Speaking of Rhiannon, she had a career change during the year, moving from an advocacy role in the disability sector to a similar role within the medical profession, as she continues to develop her professional portfolio.And like her mother, Rhiannon has once again travelled widely throughout 2016.
James and Monique also did plenty of travel this year, including a long-awaited trip to Japan. They still live in Coogee and continue to enjoy the inner eastern suburbs, coastal lifestyle.
Oliver has now been in Brisbane for over a year, working for his cousin’s technology company and seems to be enjoying the life of a young professional.
Being as spread out as we are, we only occasionally get together as a family – the last time was in May when our nephew, Louis Elston was visiting from the UK. But we will all be together for Christmas at home this year, which will be cause for a lovely celebration.
2017 is shaping up as more of the same. Frances and I will spend Chinese New Year (late January/early February) visiting a number of friends in the north island of New Zealand, before Frances makes her first trip to Europe (Italy and the UK) in March. I will join Frances in the UK to visit Liz Elston and catch up with many of our family and friends in the UK. Then in the northern summer Frances will return to Italy for two months, with family and friends once again set to visit; I hope to be there in early August. Before that however, in early June, Frances and I and our regular hiking companion, Rob will do a six day 63km trek along the Jatbula Trail near the Katherine Gorge in Northern Territory. A big year.
Please have a wonderful, joyous and relaxing Christmas and New Year, and have a happy, healthy and rewarding year in 2017.
Lots of love,
Neil and Frances xx
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