Updated 16 December 2007

Dear everyone!  Hello once again, Annual Letter # 17 here.  And for once I am actually getting this done in time ahead of Christmas!  I have no idea what that means, other than I know it isn't because I am more organised than usual.  Once again, I hope you find this an interesting and enjoyable read.  As I read more books and marvel at how people can write so expressively, I realise how plain this little letter must sound, so just pretend this is Gabriel Garcia Marquez or someone similar.  I am sure it will sound better then.

  You can't get much earlier than the 24th of January, and you can't get much older than me.  But Carol keeps trying, and here she made a brave attempt to pass me with her 50th Birthday party in Brisbane.  The camera doesn't lie, so they must have been having fun judging by the look of everyone.  Either that or Carol had just opened one of her famous bottles of Grange.  Which on a birthday is not a bad thing to do.  

  The early part of the year here in FL is lovely, once you get past February that is.  February is always grey, cold (for us), and lots of days without sun.  If it weren't for red wine, you could get really depressed.  Usually it is a good time to leave, or sleep for 28 days.  But on some days, you have this scene, when I was reading the paper on a Sunday morning after the ride, and watching Genghis search the marsh for some edible morsel.  It is usually his favourite morning place, the sun streams in and he stretches out and sleeps after an exhausting breakfast.

  And this could have been the edible morsel for which he was searching.  'The boys' arrived around April for a small visit and this one was probably the largest.  He/she cruises around like a battleship.  It is 10-12" between the nose and eyes, which using local lore means about 10-12' tip to tip.  Which also means about 8 pairs of shoes if you are a size 10, and none if you are a size 14 (because you already have all the luck and don't deserve any more good things).  Might I also add here that gators root (in the Australian sense) all night for several months solid.  The accompanied sound is a curious nasal grunt which either means that was good, or that was so good let's do it again.  Either way, it keeps up for months.  And no little blue pills.  Thank heavens for double glazing, which effectively prevents extended cases of severe envy.

Of course April was also the unofficial start of the cycling season, with the usual 2 x 100 mile TOSRV ride.  Quincy FL (the Coke town), to Albany GA.  We were only 5 this year, but had a great time.  Weather was warm (two years ago it was just above freezing when we started in Albany), and wind light, so perfect riding weather really.  I was in training for 2 weeks in Italy, and 6 Gap again, so this was a good start.

So June was a wonderful 2 week biking trip to Italy which is all explained here.  Hot, hot, hot.  Like 95F hot.  We missed the Palio in Siena by one day, so I have already booked for 2 weeks in 2008 to ensure I will be in Siena on 02 July, the date of the first palio.  The second race is always 16 August (other than in 2000 when there was a third, for the new century).  (If you are going to be in the area in June, or want to come, get me quickly.  I will have to book accommodation soon to get a good place.  It is looking like a combination of bikers and non bikers - but everyone drinks vino!)  The only thing I have to figure out this year is how to ship back wine without going via the Italian postal system.  They still owe me 3 broken bottles from this year.

  This was from the first week on the biking trip, in the little village of Pescessaroli in the mountains of Abruzzo.  I was wandering after dinner taking pictures and saw this lady sitting quietly in the night.  I noticed the unusual metalwork above the alcove leading to her house.  She said it has been in the family for generations and didnt know it's history.  Soon out came her children, and then their children, and ended up with a huge conversation going on about Australia, cycling, the Giro, and my bad Italian.  One of those experiences you recall afterwards as being quite special.

  And another special experience the following week.  One of the prime rules of cycling is to stop and investigate any wine store you pass, and that is especially true in Italy.  This was in Scansano, Tuscany that had pretty much only the local wine, Morellino di Scansano.  Morellino is a majority Sangiovese, like the super Tuscans, but the owners of those big estates wanted to grow similar wines at lower prices.  Hence the Morellinos.  They are very much an undiscovered and way undervalued Italian wine, you rarely see them in stores outside Italy.  The little magnum I am holding was one of only ~160 '3 glass' (= very top tier) wines out of the entire Italian 2004 vintage.  Fattoria le Pupille, Poggio Valente 2004, by Elisabetta Gepetti.  Go find.

  Had a new camera for a business trip to France in July, and was playing at being artistic.  There are so many wonderful things to photograph in Paris, you don't know where to start.  This was on my way from dinner (the summer light is still good at 10.00pm or so) and only took 10 attempts to get the exposure right.  I also saw a horse butcher for the first time, and a dog delivering an unopened pack of cigarettes to its owner in a bar I was passing.  THAT was a surprise.  Don't know what the dog did with the change though.......

  So here is confession corner.  I haven't signed the Kyoto Accord, so Chaka and I were able to indulge our passion for Badoit mineral water.  If you haven't tried it, you must.  It is unlike any other mineral water, naturally lightly spritzer, and I will leave it at that.  So there I was in Paris, thinking how nice it would be to bring a bottle back home.  Like wine, water has a tendency to grow.  One just isn't enough, so I started thinking how I could fit two in my luggage.  I then realised I couldn't bring it on board, and would have to check it.  So THEN came the epiphany, if I had to check it, why not buy a bag to stuff full of water, and check that?!  Brilliant.   All the water cost E12, and the bag was E20.  So my carbon footprint isn't very good, but I have great water.  Now, if you are passing though France on your way to Jacksonville................

I rode 6 Gap again in Sep, did a lot of training this year for it, probably more than last year.  More here, but weather was great, training was great, ride was great, bike was great, result was crap.  Actually not that bad I guess, there were only ~600 people who completed the 100 mile ride and I was about 2/3 down.  But I was 6mns slower than last year when I expected to do better.  I was on the carbon Orbea bike with harder gears, but expected to ride through that.  Oh well, next year I guess.  And for Lynton Barber in Perth, you said you were doing it in 2008 and I am holding you to that!

  Now isn't this what weddings should be like??  My God daughter Amy Thorsen married Luke Rogers on the Gold Coast in October.  More on the separate webpage, but couldn't resist including this picture here.  It was certainly one of the memorable events of the year. 

  And this is a flyer.  It isn't the beach near me but a picture Carol took on Nth Stradbroke Island during a fishing trip.  I lived there for 5 years after I graduated from Uni and this really tugged at the heart strings.  I remember going out to the beach after work and swimming and just enjoying the fact that one could still do that without crowds.  The lack of crowds haven't changed by the looks of it.  The next thing over the horizon from here is Hawaii.  This could be a calendar photo for Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr..........

  Aimee Boggs (second from left) pulled a fun group together to be a fund raising committee for the local Cultural Centre of Ponte Vedra.  The big gala night in Oct carried over to Twisted Martinis into the wee hours so I guess we had a fun time.  Thanks to all my friends who I strong armed into donating for the silent auction, you are most generous and good people.  

  And back to Australia, Fremantle in fact.  My pal Melissa is there with Australian Labour Party royalty.  For those non Aussies reading this, left to right we have Blanche Hawke, Bob Hawke (ex prime Minister), Melissa, and Carmen Lawrence (ex premier of Western Australia, and ex Federal Minister).  Melissa campaigned as the incoming member for Fremantle in the November Australian election (Carmen was retiring), and won the seat.  So she is now a sitting Federal Member of the House of Representatives.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of her success, and how privileged I am to know her.  Way to go girl!

  Ended up in NYC early Dec and managed to see the annual tree in Rockefeller Centre.  This was about as close as we got, but I liked the angle.  It snowed the next day which was pretty magical for a Floridian.  (The NYC page isn't finished yet, so just add words to the pictures.)  With the USD having devalued so much, the city was full of UK and European visitors .  I don't think I have heard as many non American accents in the city as I did that weekend.

  So time I think for another kitty pic.  This is Genghis giving Chaka a loving throat grab.  We have been through WW III and WW IV at various times this year, they seem to go off the deep at each other for no reason, lasting 1-2 weeks.  Fur flying everywhere, chunks, not little bits.  But as my friend Biff says, if there's no blood, let them get over it.  Biff would make a very caring doctor I am sure.  However, they continue to give me much joy and pleasure, as well as laughter and angst.  Too many stories to tell, but pet owners know what I mean!  And a big thankyou to Patty-Ann, Caron and Holly for looking after them while I have been travelling this year, it is very much appreciated.

So there is another slice of my life for this year.  I am having friends over from Australia for Christmas, Ft Lauderdale for NYE, and a week off to start the year.  Goals for 2008?  Italy for biking and Palio in June/July, 6-Gap again in Sep (to get those 6 bloody minutes back), and ride the San Francisco-Los Angeles AIDS ride (don't know when it is on, but I want to do it soon).  So a very Merry Christmas, Hanukah, and other celebrations to all.

With much love and friendship,
Robert, Chaka and Genghis

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