Santa has been and gone


Xmas BallsIt may not have escaped your attention that what follows relates to Christmas 2013, and not 2014. As I sit down to try and scratch something together before having to write a Christmas letter for 2014 (always assuming there is lots to write about) I have included our annual Christmas letter for 2013 partly as a sort of record of some of the things that have been going in since the last update, but mostly to refresh my memory as to the mechanics of putting it all together. Those of you who received our 2013 Christmas letter will have already seen this. Those of you who did not receive it should consider yourselves lucky:


The winter clouds are rolling in to the Okanagan Valley and bringing with them an unusually large number of Christmas cards and letters – a reminder that one of my jobs is to respond. Hopefully the clouds don’t prevent Santa from landing in Penticton which, based on our experience, is about a 50/50 chance.

The Political Landscape

As a Southern African, It is hard to comment on politics in any way without acknowledging the enormous contribution of Nelson Mandela not just to South Africa, but to the world in general. He was an extraordinary individual and deserves to finally be at peace. It hardly seems appropriate to mention him in the same breath as some of our own politicians – or a Christmas letter for that matter – but hopefully he will forgive us for not taking many of the others as seriously:

Lots of you have long-since regarded Canadian politics as uninteresting, and perhaps a little boring. 2013 saw the country breaking new political ground, led by Toronto’s 330-pound, beer-swilling, crack-snorting mayor and his 265 pound brother Tweedledee who have together destroyed Toronto’s reputation as “Toronto the Good” forever. Astonishingly at the time of writing Mr Ford is still hanging on to office and flinging allegations of paedophilia at anyone who comes near, but mostly at newspaper reporters. You would think that it has to stop somewhere but the depths of his depravity seem to show no bounds. Just today, for example he has been on television providing husbands with advice on what to get their wives for Christmas. Clearly the crack has addled his brain to the extent he now thinks he is Santa. The good people of Toronto, not known for envying anyone west of Hamilton, would give their eye-teeth to have Calgary’s mayor Nenshi at the helm.

Further political colour was added by Rob Ford lookalike Senator Mike Duffy and cohorts Pamela Wallin and some other guy whose name nobody remembers but whose frivolous spending and expense claims rival those of Messrs. Duffy and Wallin and are equally entertaining. The parliamentary opposition are having a field day attacking the PM about his involvement in covering up the scandal, and as usual, no-one is getting on with the business of running the country. 2014 promises to be interesting as all these soap operas play out.

Africa Trip

In January the family took off for a trip to Cape Town. This is normally Ann’s annual visit to her mother, but every now and then I get to go with her and intrude on her “alone time”. This year, (last year really) in a fit of completely uncharacteristic generosity, we decided to spring for a ticket for Mike and Sean as well. Mike was keen to ride in the annual Argus bike race which is a 120 kilometer race around the mountainous terrain of the Cape peninsular. This race has approximately 30,000 entrants and is the largest field for a timed bike race in the world cycling calendar. Mike felt all he needed to do was to borrow his cousin’s bike, train for a day and a half and then have at it.

Granny and the Bike

Granny and her pit crew gearing up for the race

The logistics of starting off so many riders in downtown Cape Town are scary, and the potential for carnage is immense. Somehow Mike managed to avoid bloodshed and despite his rigorous training regimen, performed creditably except for severe sunburn, cramps and a crushing blow to his ego from almost being overtaken by a 50-year old man on a unicycle and barely surviving a spirited challenge from a clown riding a penny-farthing. The worst injury of the day was suffered by Ann from trying to follow Mike’s progress through a rather heavy pair of binoculars for extended periods. She was unable to flap her arms for days after that, although why she would want to escapes me. Mike flew by us in the middle of a pack of determined riders and we never did see him. Hence no photo.

After the excitement of the bike-race, Mike & Sean took off on an extended holiday to Botswana, Mozambique and Zanzibar generously leaving all their surplus paraphernalia for us to take back home for them. The rest of our holiday was restful and enjoyable and we met up with many old of our friends and school acquaintances who we had not seen for at least 35 years. The highlight of the trip was the consumption of a bottle of ’92 Penfold Grange given to me by my (now) Australian step-brother. It is without a doubt the finest (and most expensive) bottle of wine I have ever tasted, although there was a slight aftertaste of guilt for not hoarding it for longer. I am still struggling with how many equivalent cases of Thorny Vines Riesling that I will have to ship to Australia to repay his generosity.

The Hornby Clan

The Hornby Clan in Cape Town (with guest appearance from cousin Lal)


The Myra Canyon Adventure

The Myra canyon is a spectacular section of 17 wooden trestle bridges along the now defunct Kettle Valley Railway between Kelowna and Penticton, a distance of about 60 kilometers. Just before you get into Penticton, it runs past our vineyard. Commonly referred to as the KVR the old infrastructure and rails have now been removed and it has become a well-known bike trail. Anyway, in the fires of 2003 (give or take a few years) many of the trestles were destroyed, and some bright spark decided to hold a sponsored bike ride along the KVR to raise funds for the repairs. Personally, I am always suspicious of charity events which don’t come accompanied with an income tax receipt, but the girls (Liz, Ann and Cathy) were completely seduced by the romance of it all and eagerly coughed up the $250 in order to participate. In Ann’s case, the tally also included $350 for a new bike and another $100 or so for the appropriate accessories. It was to be a girl’s adventure, and husbands were not invited. This was fortunate, because it had not escaped us husbands that if there was a need to raise funds to repair the trestles, some element of danger or hardship would be involved, and we wanted nothing to do with it.

The Great Race

Brimming with enthusiasm at the start

The riders were sent off in groups in order to accommodate thousands of entrants and our girls were somewhere in the middle of the pack. The first 13 trestles more than lived up to their expectations. The views were breathtaking, the company was invigorating, and the weather was perfect. Predictably, as they rounded the corner approaching trestle number 14 they hit a long line-up of riders trying to get on to the detour around the trestle which had not yet been repaired. (Surprise, surprise!). It took another hour to edge their way to the beginning of the detour which then involved a lengthy, almost vertical ascent up one of the mountains carrying their bikes. For the three septuagenarians this was a staggering prospect, and by the time they got to the top, amidst all the sweat and cursing, it was clear that the glamour had gone out of the event. Worse still, they had at least 40 kilometers to go, and the further they went, the worse conditions got. For long sections they rode into a stiff wind and on loose sand punctuated with the odd rock lurking in it.

The Great Race II

Liz putting on a brave face at half-way (Ann & Cathy’s faces say it all)

The guys in the meantime decided to take a truck and approach the half-way point at Shute Lake from the other end so we could cheer them on. When the team of grumpy girls finally arrived there, exhausted and grimy, they did not seem pleased to see us. I think if they had any option they would be happy to have thrown in the towel right there, but rather than admit defeat, they pressed on gamely. Whatever happened next is unclear, but from what we can gather, Liz gradually dropped back out of sight with about 15 kilometers to go. By the time the others circled back to find her she was standing next to her bicycle with a punctured tire and a cell-phone in one hand barking at husband John to come and fetch them with his truck. We are not sure that deliberate sabotage wasn’t involved as part of an elaborate conspiracy between them to save face without having to go on.

The Fellow Traveller

Largely as a result of being located on the second floor of his apartment building, Sean managed to keep his head above water during the great Calgary Floods of 2013. He seems to have been the most travelled of us all in 2013, but unlike Mike and Ann, none of it has been on a bicycle.

He started off the year in Africa initially with us, and later with Mike, before spending a week extra on his own there after getting confused about his travel arrangements. When he finally arrived back in Calgary he felt obligated to show a bit of initiative to his employers and so volunteered for an away stint at Bruce Power in the depths of Ontario somewhere far away from Rob Ford. This proved expensive to him because he had to find someone who would look after his cat while he was away, and all he could come up with was a vet assistant who was prepared to spend a couple of hours a day at $40 a time. Even though this was only necessary every other day or so he clocked up quite a bill over the three month period while he was away. Additional incidentals included a couple of hefty speeding tickets he picked up heading North to the Bruce peninsular from Toronto Airport, and one very annoyed cat who did not appreciate being abandoned.

Sean’s biggest move is yet to come as he is planning to move to Vancouver from Calgary sometime in the New Year. He is trying to do this via a transfer to the Vancouver office with his current employer, or to continue working remotely for the Calgary office.  We look forward to him being a bit closer, and no doubt our truck will somehow be involved in the move.

Thorny Vines

The usual suspects turned up to make our lives more difficult this year: Unpredictable weather, cut-worms, powdery mildew and both good and bad bunch-rot. Activity in the vineyard has pretty much been covered off in the blogs I write from time to time on the Thorny Vines website, but the highlight was the launch of the 2012 vintage which turned out pretty well. This took place in Vancouver in April and the wine received several decent reviews as well as a bronze medal in the National wine awards later in the year. For the beer drinkers amongst you, this event is sort of like the wine Olympics except that no drug testing is involved. We, of course, can take none of the credit, but nevertheless bask in the glory of the winemaker Alan Dickenson from Synchromesh who also won gold for Riesling produced from his own vineyard. The 2013 vintage is scheduled for bottling in about March and will be interesting because two separate wines will be produced from it to reflect the botrytis (good bunch rot) prevalent in some of the grapes.


Once again we have had a year of enthusiastic visitors at Thorny Vines, most of whom have worked hard to either retain existing, or “adopting” new, rows. Too numerous to mention all here, we have catalogued your contributions in the Thorny Vines blog. Thank you all once again. Special mention does need to be made of Mike’s girlfriend Alana who visited twice to scout the place as a potential resting place for her favourite chair which had outgrown her apartment, and the suitability of Big Red (our truck) as a means of getting it here.

Slaving in the Vineyard

Mike & Alana slaving away in the vineyard

We would have encouraged you all to drink lots of Thorny Vines Riesling over Christmas, except that it is now largely sold out. Instead, we hope you all have a merry old time in a more Christmassy (and less liquid) way, and hopefully we will see at least some of you in 2014.


The Hornby’s