The Ryall family Christmas news 2019

Apologies again for the tardy missive – my excuse this year is that the Christmas period here has been filled with moving rooms around in the house, as Josie has moved back in, and nowadays comes replete with her own houseful of furniture. Plus all teens now have their own laptops, so the family computer area is redundant and both PCs and desks are out. In their place are tall bookshelves mostly filled with vegan cookbooks. In order to accommodate everything, we have finally admitted defeat with the remaining exercise machines, and moved them out to the semi-gloom of the garage, where they will sit in gradual decline for the next twenty years, much like the British economy. The EU flags and vuvuzelas have, however, been rescued, and are waiting to be included in a suitably witty montage artwork, but unfortunately I’ve not been able to think of anything yet.

But it’s not all been downbeat in the Ryall household. Our own eco-warrior Lizzie has spurred us to look hard at our own carbon footprint, and she and Nicola have gone almost entirely vegan, with other members of the household (including me) significantly reducing their consumption of meat and dairy. Of course, I am as much of a hypocrite as the next man, and could still fly and travel much less than I do. In fact the hypocrisy is made worse by even mentioning it (just like Fight Club), but we do need to do something urgently, or it won’t just be the car park in Wroxham which is under water.

About as close as we have to a family pic this year, as people have been all over the place

Anyway, on to the doings: Nicola has continued her yoga teacher training, including a tough week on Lesbos, which has got her to a level where she can teach. She is now teaching a class every week in Chorleywood. She has played several concerts with the Chorleywood Orchestra, along with Kirsty The CO has been running for a couple of years now, and continues to improve with every concert. Nicola also went to Glyndebourne with her friend Louise Gill to see Faust, and more recently with Nicola Wilson and Lizzie to see Phantom in London. Both amazing! In work, Nicola is in the throes of setting up a new company, Brolly Marketing, with her friend Sharon Shapiro, more of which in 2020. She has given numerous workshops on social media and marketing, and continues to do mentoring at the University of West London, and business advice clinics at the British Library. She continues as Chair of the Chiltern Chamber of Commerce, and is a Trustee at the Friends of Herts Youth Music Groups – which is likely to see big changes in the next year or two, as Herts CC changes their funds allocation system.

Nicola also took me to Hampton Court Garden Show in the summer – this provided great inspiration for the rill which I built subsequently in the garden, while she was away in Lesbos (I think I may have drawn the short straw there). She also arranged two trips out to Spain to Lydia and Nick’s lovely house there.

Josie completed her NQT year at STAGS, and was instantly promoted to Director of Learning for Year 7. She also went on a school trip to Peru and Bolivia for three weeks with senior students, which including visiting the salt flats in Bolivia, and Machu Picchu. Although an unmissable trip, it was quite draining in every sense. Back here, she and her friend Sally supported Pride Month & diversity week at School, and they did an evening on diversity and inclusion for our scout troop, which went down surprisingly well. Who would have guessed that inside each scout’s baboon-like exterior, there lurks a sensitive, inclusive soul? It does go to show what a big issue this is for modern youth though, which is difficult for us oldies to grasp, brought up as we were in the sure knowledge that the only valid gender identities were Peter, Jane and Pat the dog.

Josie also had a holiday in Somerset with Georgia, Alex, Lizzie, Gina and Abby, and a break in Prague with Georgia. Sadly her relationship status has now changed to ‘it’s complicated’, hence why she is back living with us.

Ali graduated in the summer from Birmingham with a 2.1 in Mechanical Engineering, however he has definitely had his fill of engineering now, and is determined to make his way in wealth management. He and his partner Anna have moved in with us while he is getting started, they have brought with them some gerbils, which are being fattened up for Beryl the cat. At least that’s what she told me. Anna is studying flute at the Royal College of Music, she had her first concerto with an orchestra in the summer and has just performed another one superbly (Nielsen) with Watford Youth Sinfonia (Dan’s invitation-only orchestra, largely made up of conservatoire students). She is a dedicated perfectionist, which has caused some consternation in the Ryall household as nobody here actually knows what practice is.

Ali himself has done some playing locally (double bass) including a very unusual concert at Cadogan Hall for jazz band and orchestra – there’s a video of this opposite which is well worth a watch. Ali and Kirsty have both continued playing for WYS, which has continued to perform a mix of classic and avant-garde repertoire.

Ali has been applying for jobs and grad schemes in the wealth management sector – this is quite tricky currently as many City firms are in the process of offshoring, and there is a lot of uncertainty about. A number of friends have stepped up to offer advice and work experience, and he is confident this will all come good in the new year. So special thanks to Kevin Wilson, Andrew Gould and Sharon & David Shapiro for all their help with this, and fingers crossed!

In the meantime, to keep the wolf from the door, Ali has been doing maths tutoring, and is thinking of branching out into providing a maths test service for all the online bot video interviews so beloved of recruiters nowadays – if you can’t beat them…

He’s also been working hard on his demo eToro account, which has so far shown very strong returns – if this carries on he can definitely do it for me, it sounds like a lot less grief than running a buy-to-let in Birmingham.

Ali was delighted to be asked by Kitty Gould to be Godfather to her son Edmond, ce sera un vrai privilege! And in the summer he was an usher at his friend Isaac’s wedding, which was a lovely day for all, hopefully the first of many.

Kirsty has had a very busy year – having decided to take a gap year before going to Cambridge, she spent the first part of the year in the office with us (earning some money) then went on tours to Sweden with the Vigala Singers (RCMJD alumni choir), and to Thailand with the Pembroke College choir. This included some outreach work in refugee camps, and also a slightly weird event where the choir sang while up to their necks in a water park. Back in the UK, Kirsty also recorded an album with the Pembroke choir, which was an intense but very useful experience.

She gained a Choral Scholarship at her own college (Robinson), I’m not sure whether the value of this outweighs the cost of the singing lessons required to achieve it, but it does seem to come with a lot of free meals attached, so that has to be a good thing.

She passed her driving test early in the year, thank goodness – I now know the backroads of Pinner just like Boris Johnson knows the streets of Matlock. And despite the widespread view in the Ryall household that Kirsty does not know where the brake pedal is, so far the only damage to the trusty Jazz is me losing a hubcap and denting a wheel due to a pothole on the Newmarket bypass.

In any case she spent the car-replacement fund on a new bassoon and saxophone – both ludicrously expensive, but both very beautiful. Hopefully these will hold their value well, and may even appreciate (unlike houses in Weoley Castle).

Since October she has been at Cambridge, doing lots of gigging and making friends everywhere. I’m not entirely sure about the studying, but I dare say that will follow. She was commissioned to write a piece for St Catherines’ Anniversary Concert (to mark the 40th year of women being allowed into the college), and is making a name for herself with musos all around the university. She has joined the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra (CUJO), now one of her favourite things, and Lizzie and I went to the Pizza Express jazz club in Soho to see CUJO playing with Danish singer Mats Mathias – there’s a video of this opposite, you have to strain a bit to see Kirsty, she is on the end of the row at right.

When we went to collect her from Robinson in December she was looking a bit green round the edges having just done 4 gigs in one night at various colleges around Cambridge, and been mostly paid with free booze.

Stop Press! we’ve just been to hear the Vigala Singers in St James’ Picadilly (their annual Carols for Shoppers concert, which is actually one of the most Christmassy things you can do – and it’s free!). I managed to grab a sound recording of one of their pieces which is really beautiful, you can find the sound file opposite or somewhere close by if you are using a phone. Apologies for the crackly phone recording.

Lizzie, Jonny & Xav all did their GCSEs in the summer, with very respectable results and a good smattering of 9s all round. They are now all in 6th form, which has taken some adjusting to, no doubt we will find out exactly how well when they do mocks in a few weeks time.

They have all done their DofE Silver, and are moving on to Gold. The Gold practice expedition in the Brecon Beacons was quite trying, hence the delirious look on Lizzie’s face on finishing!

Jonny & Xav both went to Tech Camp in the summer, to make video games, and scout/explorers camp, which included a visit to the tank museum, at which Xav got to ride around in a tank, absolute bliss for him. Maybe the army beckons? They have also both been down to Granny Valerie Wright’s house in Battle several times, where they get some much needed chill-out time, for which they (and we) are very grateful.

Jonny went on a music tour with HSSO to the Rhineland, and HSSO are also responsible for him meeting his girlfriend Tash, who he has now been dating for 7 months. Mostly they meet in London, but she has been here once or twice, and she seems a delightful girl, even though Jonny has clearly briefed her not to say anything to anyone. I mean, it’s not like we’re embarrassing or anything, is it?

Jonny continues to excel in his studies, where he recently achieved ‘best in school’ in the Maths Kangaroo. He is talking about Oxbridge, although only in grunts so it is a bit hard to interpret.

Xav did National Citizens Service as well as the camps above – this involved a variety of tasks, some community-based, and some camping/fun based. Due to the whole thing being massively oversubscribed, he ended up in Doncaster rather than just down the road as intended, but that did not lessen the enjoyment.

He has been going to yoga with Nicola all year – first to Cathy’s class, now to Nicola’s own class, which is great for hamstrings and posture, and also zone-out time, which is very helpful for people on the aspi spectrum.

Throughout the early part of the year Xav had Spanish lessons with our friend Yisel Ashby, which helped him achieve a very respectable GCSE.

He has had several trips out with his parents’ family friend Teresa, including to Cirque du Soleil, which he thoroughly enjoyed, although it did reinforce him in his fear of heights.

Birthday cake complete with moving tank

Jonny & Lizzie went on a music tour to Vienna with the school, and both of them have done their Lamda Silver (Lamda is like music grades for drama) – Lizzie achieved a Distinction for Musical Theatre, and Jonny a Merit for Acting.

Lizzie achieved some great grades for her music this year, with a Grade 8 Distinction for Oboe, and a Grade 6 Distinction for Singing. As in previous years, she went to Music Camp in the summer, which has now moved to a much closer location. People come from all over Europe to go to this camp, so she has a group of friends which she sees there each year, but rarely sees in between because they are so far away.

At Easter she went on a scuba-diving course with her cousin Ben, and a big thank you goes to uncle John Kirton for organising this. She really enjoyed it, apart from the ‘pro dominis solus’ subtext. She is looking forward to doing more if she progresses with her Biology (slightly uncertain currently as she is finding the workload quite substantial).

Lizzie also went to her Godmother Nicola Wilson’s house in Spain (with Kirsty), and also spent time on their canal boat, where she started doing pastel drawings – she has subsequently got into this more seriously, and has made some delightful pieces.

She has been out to a number of other events, including the Dior exhibition at the V&A, Cirque du Soleil, to Georgia’s family farm to see the new sheepdog puppies, and of course to several climate strike demos in London, and with us to the last hurrah of democracy, aka the Remain march.

As a family, we all had a holiday in Lesley and Paul Samms’ amazing house near Beziers. People came and went at different times through the holiday, but we still managed to do all the activities our lot know and love – canoeing, Bourbaki (zipwire/adventure park), and this time some fabulous Cathar castles. And it’s very interesting to see that although the centre of the village is now pretty well devoid of all the traditional French shops (which have been killed off by the airconditioned splendour of the Super U down the road), a high-class restaurant with terrace has now opened in the square, in the building where la poste used to be. And it was booked out the whole time we were there.

While we were in France, I had to get the Vito repaired – we had driven all the way down with a ripped auxiliary belt, so this needed urgent attention. The local garage, a Citroen main dealer, were very helpful, but spoke absolutely no English. However, with the aid of Google Translate and a lot of arm waving, I managed to get it sorted out without being taken to the cleaners, and the car was only gone for a day. Once we got back though, we determined to sell it straight away – as usual, it had required a lot of welding to get through its MOT in July, so we decided to sell while it still had a new-ish MOT. We just about recovered the cost of the welding. But it’s good to know that somewhere, a Goth band is enjoying the fruits of my careful maintenance over the last 16 years.

In other news, I have been enjoying more gardening, and was pleased to get my Wisteria to flower in only its third year. I built the rill, with attendant terrace, which was much enjoyed by drunken teenagers in the summer who splashed up and down it and knocked all the fountains over. It’s closed up for winter now but will be back up and running as soon as we see some sun. We have planted a load of bee-friendly and scented plants around the terrace, and we intend to sow wild flowers in the lawn area, hopefully this may all encourage more bees and pollinators this year.

I have continued as an adult helper at Scouts, we now have an equal mix of boys and girls in our troop, which makes for a much better dynamic, and I was very pleased to see in a recent assault-course activity, that there was some actual teamwork going on. It’s only taken 15 years to get here.

We supported David Gauke in the election, unfortunately December is a very busy time for us in the office, so I was not able to get out on to the streets to help, not that it would have made any difference judging by the figures. I do believe though, that it is a terrible thing when the forces of populism, bigotry and xenophobia completely overwhelm any rational debate. Having just had a meal in a large central London restaurant, where everyone from the doorman to the chefs to the manager was eastern European, I find it very difficult to see how ‘getting Brexit done’ is going to cut any ice in London. Partition perhaps?

Wishing you all the best for a happy and successful 2020

 This is really how it’s supposed to look


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