Friday, 19 December 2008

Dear Santa

My son has come home from school with his neatly written letter for Santa.  Here it is, in all its glory, spellings and all.

Dear Santa

Please can I have a choclate orange, a Nintendo wii (with Mario and Sonic at Olimpic games), a big tV, mario and sonic at the Olimpic games on DS, a pokemon ball with a cuddely toy Picatu in side, some the collection of the atrosaur books, a aroplane, one of your Elves, a real! Koala, Kung fo panda DVD, madagasta 2 DVD, Lourel and hardy DVD, Totankumhons death mask, a time mecian a pet unicorn, and Gold.

PS A plastasion 2 (and games) Xbox 360 (and games)

Love, xxx

Now I'm just worrying about how you look after a Koala and a pet unicorn in the same house...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A very special lady

Last Friday I went to visit my Gran. She is my mother's mother and a very special to me.

She is 95 (and a half, as my son tells me: he's at an age when this matters, as is Gran). Dad met me at the station and took me over to the home she now lives in. We found her in one of the communal areas, actually being visited by a young couple whom I didn't know. I greeted her with a bright cheerful, "Hello Gran!"  There was a brief silence, then, "Oh, if it isn't Michael!" That is my father.

We went back to her room with her. A parcel had been delivered: a plant, a delightful Christmas present from her nephew. She sat in her chair while I battled with the box it had come in and then the hoover to clear up all the soil I had managed to scatter across her bedroom. She studied the card that had come with the box. "Happy Christmas, with love from..." she read slowly, deliberately, clearly. At the end she remembered who they were, but I had to tell her that her great-nephew was grown-up now.

She told us that the staff were on strike that day. There was no evidence of this: a very cheerful lady cleared away the hoover (I had left it as a health and safety hazard for the geriatric population) and brought us a cup of tea.  The manager was on holiday and that seemed to be unsettling Gran.  Then she told us that all the people were leaving.  She told us that they were talking of shutting the home down. She looked around the room and said, "Well, I suppose this is my space. I suppose I shall be all right." "You'll be fine," I reassure her in a confident voice. I look to Dad in case there is any local news of the home shutting down but, along with the suitcase that is permanently laid out on the table by her door in case she has to leave, it is just another confusion in her mind.

She sits in her chair, white hair elegantly coiffured, tweed skirt and cotton shirt. I note her knee-length tights, a style that cries out 'old! old!' Her skin is paper-thin: when I visited in the summer my daughter had sat on her knee and, in jumping off, managed to scrape a large flap on her arm without doing anything untoward. It was the first time in twelve years, so she claimed, that she'd had to make use of the nursing care that is available to her in the home: they had to put a large plaster over the cut. Physically there is nothing wrong with my Gran, although in the last six months she has started to use a walking-stick.

On Friday, though, she turns to my father and asks how his parents are. Dad answers this gallantly: they have been dead for nearly twenty years. Gran says, "I wondered if they were..." then returns to her concern that the home is going to shut down.

I give her our Christmas present: a family photo. She recognises me, for which I am grateful, and can figure out that they are my children, but points to the strange man next to me (my husband) and asks who he is. "Do I know him?" Gran made my wedding dress eleven years ago.

Eventually Dad and I leave. We are quiet, lost in thought, as we walk to the car.

"Not one of Gran's better days," I say.

"No," he replies.  A pause. "The funny thing is, despite all her confusion and forgetfulness, it is still uplifting to see her."

And he is right. She remains a very special lady.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

No more cholera in Zimbabwe

How can this be? I'm spitting mad at the blindness of the statement!

The UN declares that there are more deaths today because of cholera in Zimbabwe, over 16,000 people infected with it and (so I understand from an email from a Zimbabwean friend) there are now no functioning hospitals in Zimbabwe - no drugs and insufficient pay for medical staff meant they were unsustainable.

Yet Mr Mugabe declares that "cholera has been arrested"! 

How I fear for the people of this beautiful country, where so much has been ruined by political greed. Let's pray for peace there this Christmas: the peace and prosperity that we wish each other as the New Year approaches. Let's hope that a non-violent solution can be found so that the suffering of so many innocent people ends.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Taxi stress

Two events this evening.

We were in a rush (nothing new there) so I got a taxi home from Rainbows with my daughter, then on to my meeting in town.  I'm stressed when rushing, when I have deadlines, when I realise that the event will start on the dot of 7, not just at some point when we feel enough people have arrived.  So when my daughter starts playing some silly game with me in the taxi I cut her short, rather abruptly - followed by her long upset silence.  

So I apologise.  I say I'm sorry, I'm stressed, we're in a rush, and I'm a terrible mother [for not wanting to play with her].

She says, "Not terrible, Mummy, but ticklish Mummy."

Interesting if only because I'm actually not that ticklish either.

Having dropped her at home with the babysitter, I dash back to the waiting taxi - ever conscious of his meter and my meeting.  He says there is no need to worry, I'll be in plenty of time, now that I've dropped off my granddaughter.

Granddaughter!!  Do I look that old?  I know I was no teenage mum but I've not yet hit forty!

Clearly my children have aged me more than I thought!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Mega mega punch punch!

My son has introduced a new game to the family.

If he sees a Mini then he says, "Mini punch and no returns!" - and punches me on the arm.

If he sees a Mercedes then he cries, "Mega mega punch punch!" - punching the arm in time with the words.

It is amazing how many of these vehicles we pass (or pass us) on our 5 minute walk to the bus. One of the Mercedes is abandoned on our road (last road tax 2006, I believe); the house round the corner has a Mini in the drive; I have learnt that a lot of vans and lorries are also Mercedes. All in all, I generally have a very sore arm. Somehow he is always quicker at spotting them and I lose nearly every competition.  

So, to rescue myself a little, I introduced the Honda Splat: every time I see a Honda I use my open palm to splat him on the head. Now, of course, he tries to do that to me too, but I'm too tall for him.  And he's added in a 'VW dance' and a 'Purr, purr, purr, Peugeot'. This morning he was upset because he has nothing for Audis - he feels something for them would keep him busy (as if he's not busy enough!).  Interesting reflection on the state of car sales: he started to introduce more punching for "58" registrations ... but there aren't enough out there.

It seems I am left with a steep learning curve to recognise makes of car from a distance, but a boy who is very happy to beat me - in more sense than one!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Is it finished?

At long last: I have written the final chapter.  The first draft is complete.

All I can think of right now is all the re-writing that has to be done, all the editing, all the chopping out that will no doubt reduce my 70,000 word masterpiece to something about the size of a parish magazine. Fingers-crossed that I win the BubbleCow competition...

But it is finished!  

If I do nothing more then at least I have a record for my children of our first year in Zambia, of No1 child's adventures in the bush, of No2 child learning to crawl and walk.

I have the story of the bats, the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere, the boat trips on crocodile infested rivers, the journeys over dirt roads, through the villages and beautiful countryside.  

I have written about the difficulties of establishing a home in a foreign land, our magnificent maids, the stressful birthday parties, the trials and tribulations of working in such a vastly different environment.  

I have tried to express the poverty of the people of Zambia, the conflicts that arise when faced with starving children, the problems of healthcare when you realise how much it actually costs.  

All I have to do now is get it published.  Any offers?

Sunday, 23 November 2008


I had a somewhat maudlin moment on Friday when sat at the dinner table with my beloved children.  

"Do you know what day it is tomorrow?" I ask.

"Saturday," they chorus.  Correct, of course.  Note to self: I must learn to use the word date.  

"Yes, Saturday the 22nd.  Do you know what's special about that?"

Lengthy pause for thought.  

"It's one month until my birthday!" No1 child declares with glee.  More truth.

"Yes, but what about tomorrow.  Whose birthday is it then?"

Well, we go around the houses but eventually realise that it is Grampa's.  And that we need to get a card and sign it and send it.

None of this is can be described as maudlin, I agree, but all the time I am thinking Today's the 21st.  Today it is twenty-one years since my mother died.  Can't you see today is what is really important?

But of course, it isn't.  Not to them, who have never met her; not to my friends, most of whom don't know she's even dead; not to the vast majority of the world for whom the day is the same as the one before, and the one after.  

I think of telling them, but their love of the living Grampa and the excitement of an imminent birthday mean I cannot dampen their joyful spirits.  I hold my tongue, chastise myself for being selfishly morose, kiss the little darlings and clear up the mess left from dinner as we rush on to other activities.  

Presumably that's the way Mum would want it too.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Why do we do it?

This 'bringing up children' lark is a bit of a struggle.  I'm realising now that, had I asked about it before starting, I never would have had them.  And mine: they are fantastic.  Really - not just maternal bias: others seem to genuinely like them! 

They aren't perfect though - not by a long chalk.  No1 child broke the rule about not taking valuables to school last week.  The doghouse means over a week without his DS, which may be even more unbearable for his mother than for him.  No2 child sulks and stomps whenever she doesn't get her own way (which means, of course, that she often does get her own way as her mother can't bear the moody tantrums).  

This weekend we've had family friends visiting, adding another three children to the mix.  They are also fantastic children!  Despite that, we spent much of the time moaning about their behaviour, their apparent disrespect, their speed of eating (s l o w . . .), and battling with the seemingly incessant wailing, the high-pitched screams, the general noise-level, the boys emptying their room into the girls, fights, disputes and the cries of "I'm bored!" despite dawn-to-dusk parental attention (x4).

Parenting is an on-going trauma.  Each stage appears worse than the next... until you reach that stage, when you would really prefer to be back where you were before.  And I have a good relationship with both my children (which is why it hurts so much when they do something inexplicable or wrong).  Others have much more difficulty even relating to their offspring, struggling with behaviour patterns that are incomprehensible.  For them every day is a battle to get through. "Why," my friend asked despairingly, "why do we do it?"

And our daughters walked past, arm in arm, giggling away, before picking up armfuls of autumn leaves, running up behind the boys and throwing the leaves over their heads, before collapsing with laughter.  

And that's why we do it.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Whatever happened?

Whatever happened last night?

This morning as we walked to school the ground was littered with green - yes, green - leaves.  We have enjoyed kicking up the brown and orange leaves from the horse chestnut trees (almost as much as collecting all the conkers a few weeks earlier) but today was a sudden blanket of green.

It looks as if one tree dropped all its leaves - just like that.  I think it is an ash (they look something like this), but I'm rather dredging that up from primary school field trips.  If the ash loses its leaves before the oak does that mean we're in for a wet winter?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Tonight we went to the fireworks.  They were splendid, but what struck me was how British we all were, standing in an orderly fashion behind lengths of orange tape in front of the display. OK, so it was only 6pm, and not really the time for being drunk and disorderly, but I didn't spot a single errant child (not that I was expecting them to be drunk and disorderly...)  Perhaps we're all just too well behaved up north.

Sadly the picture isn't mine, but is an image of how really splendid this tradition of ours is. Walking home in the drizzly rain I could hear fireworks going off all over the city, I could smell the gunpowder on the air.  It was a far cry from a balmy evening lying on the grass at Baobab School, Lusaka, watching a display fire way up into the sky and feeling the glittery explosion was about to land on top of you.  

I always wondered what sort of ex-pats decided to bring this tradition to deepest, darkest Africa. No less splendid display there - merely warmer and drier.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Contesting the election

There is much to say about half-term.  We travelled lots - day trips to Peterborough and Middlesborough (not your standard tourist destinations, I have to admit) and a weekend at my Dad's (complicated by him not being there - such is life!)

I shall write more about these trips another day, but for now I will draw your attention back to Zambia, who has just elected its fourth president: Rupiah Banda.  He was VP to Mwanawasa and won by a staggering 2%.  Unsurprisingly Michael Sata, the main opposition leader, is contesting the outcome.  Where would decent African politics be without the loser claiming irregularities and vote-rigging and resorting to the law-courts to resolve it?

It could be the USA 2000 election...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Book update

Aargh!  Half term is upon me, and I have to hold my hands up and say I have not completed my book.  It was my first deadline - failed but, if I'm honest, I always rather suspected I would.

So I must mark my achievements.  Thousands of words - over fifty thousand to be precise.  Lots of beautiful memories.  And, to exonerate myself a little, I have spent the last three weeks editing rubbish bits rather than writing new bits.  So ultimately the book is better for it - God willing!  

In fact, the only truly new bit of writing to do is the final chapter, which is lurking around in my mind, pulling strings together, wrapping up the present and finally gifting the completed book.  

So now there is a Christmas deadline looming instead.  Perhaps by then there'll be a more positive outcome for the hours hunched in front of the computer - or maybe I'll copy-and-paste this entry...

Friday, 17 October 2008


The Credit Crunch has hit Jesmond.

Two shops in Acorn Road have closed in the past four months or so.

One was a student property letting office.  Their business has been relocated to their head office in the city centre.
Within days it was transformed into Daniel's: a high fashion shoe shop.

Almost opposite it was a corner store: newsagent and general sales.  It has been closed for some while, but at the beginning of October it was finally refurbished and opened as ... LeBeado: a shop that sells beads.  Yes, beads.  For necklaces and the like.

It is good to know that, in the midst of banking turmoil and stock market crisis, Jesmond is capable of being at one with the people of great britain...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Books, blogging and the internet

Having read Hadriana's excellent summary of the workshop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival entitled Books, blogging and the internet I'm not sure I'm qualified to write anything.  Except that I was there and last-minute-stand-in-Vanessa did an excellent job of guiding this blogger with L-plates into the wonderful world of internetworking.  Sorry it has taken me so long to get my thoughts in some sort of coherent order!

I'd spent all week trying hard to learn how to write (just do it!), publish (rejection is nothing personal) and still maintain some degree of self-confidence (you do still have value, honest).  It appears that the road to riches is a long one: lots of potholes, several false summits and unlikely to be paved with gold - ever.

Yet my week of workshops has encouraged - perhaps even forced - me to persist with my writing, to set aside time every day to write something, even if it is a load of waffle.  Hopefully most of that gets edited out of the blog and the book but every time I edit or re-read there is something else that gets a line straight through.  There are supposed deadlines that I plan to meet (although I refuse to make them public, as I am sure I'll fail them all, then feel really small and useless).  Still, two weeks in to my new routine and the book has progressed another 12,000 words and some of them are excellent.

I found this cartoon and I think it sums up very well what I learnt about blogging, or indeed publishing in general.  Tickled me, anyway!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Domestic bliss

Frightening moment this afternoon.

2.4 children playing at friends or in the back street behind our house.
Husband asleep since working nights.
Me, stood at stove, flouring and frying meat for a stew for the family dinner, dressed with apron and Weekend Women's hour on in the background.
What picture of 1950's perfect domesticity is that?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The end of an era

I read with interest the state funeral of the President of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa.  I picture the events - the cortege, the copper coffin, the streets lined with people.  I imagine the disruption as schools close, roads are cut off and employees abscond for the day.  I pray for peace as this little part of the world is forced into unexpected change and development.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Rain, rain, go away

It is raining.  Again.  It rained yesterday, it will rain tomorrow.

The cricket is off.  Chester-le-Street is under so much water that the Twenty20 international with South Africa was called off yesterday evening.  This means that we won't meet up with my dad, who was going to return the various objects we'd left at his house a couple of weeks ago, but instead have an extra 24 hours of husband at home and dozens of boxes to unpack.  And nowhere to put everything: we desperately need storage space, bookshelves and a kitchen twice the size of the one we've got.

So no travel today.  Just boxes.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

In memorium

We are on the train home to Newcastle and get a moment of internet connection.

Zambia's President, Levy Mwanawasa, has died.  He was taken ill at the AU congress in Egypt a few weeks ago and died this morning.  He was 59.

I am sad for the country and its people.  He had been ill a long time, but his stand against corruption was admirable.  He was also one of the few African leaders who spoke out against Mugabe.  He wasn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but I suspect he left a better, more stable and economically strong country than when he first took office in 2001.

There will have to be an election.  There was a prophecy at the time of the last election in 2006 that he wouldn't survive the term, that a new leader would have to be found.  It has come true, unexpectedly saddening the end of our family holiday.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Summer? Where did that go?

The husband has two weeks off.  We've moved house, can't afford a proper holiday so visit the grandparents.

My father graciously lets me borrow his car, firstly so we can go to a friend's wedding and then to drive around York.  We visit Beningborough Hall (in the rain) which my sister assures me we went to as children, but I'll be blowed if it is at all familiar to me.  We visit my Gran (avoiding rain: she's indoors) and somehow manage to catch her arm as Number2 child jumps down from her knee.  A gaping hole appears, blood rushing up, a large flap of skin on her forearm.  The lady at the home comes and slaps a plaster on it (no cleaning the wound, I note) but the most noticeable thing to me is just how thin a 95-year-old's skin really is.

We visit my oldest friend, in years known rather than age (and in the rain, of course), who's just had a baby and probably my second-oldest friend (we went to the park and saw hot air balloons: perhaps the only moment it didn't rain?).  We go to have a professional family portrait taken (studios suffering from water leakage following storm damage).  Husband criticises the whole event: I'm prepared to hold my tongue until I've seen the pictures.

Then on to the in-laws.  I cannot even begin to criticise them because they kept my children for a whole week whilst my husband and I went to Edinburgh (it rained).  For the first time in ages my mother-in-law made one of her special jellies: it was milky green so I guess lime and cucumber and milk. Grannie and Grampa survive the week well, but we get the impression they are glad we came back to take the children home again...

We did get time for a guided tour of Norwich's elephants on Daddy's birthday.  Great-Uncle John was visiting from the US so our children merrily skipped around the city, snapping as many of the decorated beasts as they could.  We saw the cathedral area for the first time and were impressed: it is quite a beautiful, quiet place.  As evensong was already beginning we didn't venture inside but it is on a 'to do' list.  We made do with tea and biscuits in the refectory instead.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Days off

Unison go on strike.  We get two days off school - I say we, but really this it is the children who have time off.  Full-time mum has to go into overdrive.

Day 1: coincides nicely with the visit from Zambia of Number1 child's best friend.  Or, as he prefers to describe him, his cousin-in-law, given he is his aunt's husband's nephew (go with it: it's true).

So, a day-trip to London is set up, viewed as midway between the Isle of Wight and Newcastle.  Uneventful journeys, thank goodness.  Successfully meet up at King's Cross, followed by the inevitable toilet stop.  We catch a bus to Green Park, feeling like the ultimate tourist as we pore over a coloured map of the city, then picnic lunch on the 'green' part of the park.  Number2 child follows the boys over to the memorial to Canadian war heroes and, of course, falls in the water.  She has no choice but to be in wet clothes for the rest of the day, poor thing.

We pop across the road to see Her Majesty.  She's at home, to our surprise.  Doesn't invite us in for tea though.

Next stop, ice-cream (they've come over from Zambia: how can they possibly think it is hot enough to warrant ice-cream?) then underground to the Science Museum.

I lose Number2 child.  Tell myself not to panic and go hunting.  She's in the next room, happy as larry, and completely oblivious to the idea that wandering off away from her mother in a huge museum where there are hundreds of people milling about might be in any way concerning.

We pull out the stops for a BK meal at Leicester Square before parting again.  I've filled up on as much Zambian gossip as we can squeeze into conversation uninterrupted by children; they've filled up with running around and free Batman toys.  We wend our way home - exhausted but delighted.

Day 2 - I've agreed to take Number1 child's friend to the National Railway Museum in York.  It is great, but after yesterday I could really have done with a lie in...

Still, the museum never fails to interest me.  The boys love the model railway, I love the royal carriages, Number2 child loves to wander off...  Had a picnic lunch there and watched the friend sniffing my daughter's hair.  Is this supposed to happen before they reach Junior School?  I know they're growing up quickly but this feels excessive! 

Given the space available, I felt quite proud returning the friend to his mum at the end of the day knowing that I had never lost him, whereas my own offspring seem to disappear at the drop of a hat. 

Feel remarkably virtuous to have achieved all this on 'days off' - and little more than a week before the house move.  Collapse with exhaustion as the little darlings return for the final day of the school term and year.  Now only the six weeks of summer holidays to go...

Monday, 16 June 2008

Cricket capers

Yesterday I finally had my birthday present: a day at the cricket.  We travelled to Chester le Street to see England thrash New Zealand.

It was a fantastic day out.  The train from Newcastle was full to bursting, such that it had to shut its doors about 5 minutes before departure.  Judging by how the engine sounded as it tried to accelerate out of the city I suspect any more passengers and it would only have moved if we'd got out and pushed.  

My seven-year old loved the match. I know this because he took his scorecard and '4' board in to Show and Tell at school this morning.  I am constantly amazed by how much he knows.  He recognised Ryan Sidebottom fielding in front of us and quickly worked out that Batsman 24 (Pietersen) was worth his weight in gold.  Now he's excited about going again: what better advert for the game!

Really, there is nothing like a summer's day watching cricket in good company.  What a wonderfully decadent way to spend one's time!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

First Class Treatment

Half-term brought a series of joys.

Firstly, the children went to visit Grannie & Gramps.  For the whole week.  The extent of my duties were to travel to Peterborough to dispose of them, and then be on time to collect them at the end of the week.  Clearly I failed at the latter: personal failure rather than something I can blame on the trains, but not so disastrous as to mean I didn't get them back.  The children, that is.

Secondly, I'd decided to treat myself to a first class ticket each way when travelling alone.  I decided that I could blow the entire £56 I have earned this year on such a treat, only to discover it was only £6 more than second-class each way.  Still got £44 to spend...

Not that I was going to spend it on dining at the table, of course.  The first journey (back from Peterborough) was an adventure: what did first class really mean?  Clearly it offered wider seats and, I noted, a table at every seat.  One of the most annoying things about train travel is not having a table, particularly if you want to work at your laptop, or marking papers, or your five-year-old wants to colour in endless pictures.  Anyway, I was sharing a table with three other first-class virgins, who were heading to Edinburgh for a hen night.  I can now categorically state that champagne does not help when writing sermons (the latter had to be completely reconstructed by my husband in time for an assessed service the next day).  But I had a great time!

For the journey back to collect the kids I took full advantage for first-class freebies.  I discovered Newcastle has a First Class Lounge.  I could get free orange juice, tea, coffee and biscuits - although I had not left enough time for this before the train left.  Then I realised that these were also provided on the train itself.  I did pick up a copy of The Times and exploited the trolley service as much as possible: bottled water, fruit, packets of biscuits.  Perhaps - just perhaps - I took as much as the extra £6 it cost.  Certainly the kids benefitted from the snaffled biccies on their journey home with me!

The only downside to half-term was the misery of stress back home.  Whilst I enjoy all the travelling and seeing the world, how I long to be established and settled and providing a concrete future for my children.  Yet uncertainty abounds: husband's job, house rental, house purchase, education standards.  Should I get a job and stay here?  No sooner do I decide something than I un-decide it.

Still, the children are back now and I realise just how much I live for them.  And, thankfully, they also seemed quite glad to be back with me too.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Going up to London

Why do we go 'up' to London, even though it is down from my northern home?

My day-trip to London was, travel-wise, largely uneventful.  I shared a table on the way down with a couple of ladies who clearly examine students for PE.  (I recognise that I am an inveterate eavesdropper on conversations in this manner.)  The train was merely 10 minutes late, but that resulted in mad dashes for us all to get to our meetings.  The journey back was even less eventful.

In the middle I attended a conference for chartered accountants who have had a career break and are considering returning to work.  This was interesting for a number of reasons.  Primarily, it was the first time I had been to the HQ of the ICAEW.  Quite a building!  Clearly full of Victorian architecture and no doubt thousands of pounds of my annual subscription is spent just keeping the building looking like it does.  Probably worth it, although I do sometimes question how much we, the great British public, uphold our inherited buildings at the cost of modern functionality.

The meetings themselves were excellent: all the speakers spoke well.  No-one offered me a job on the spot (not probable, but always hopeful...) Rather disheartening to hear that the best way to get a part-time job is to go full time for 6 months and then request a reduction in hours.  I guess I could do to find a CA here that would also like to work a few hours and job-share.

I then spent a delightful afternoon in the library in the building.  The free wireless internet allowed me to update the cricket score frequently on my laptop!  I did pretend to do some work: the tales from Zambia are coming along slowly... very, very slowly.

My greatest surprise of the day was how pleasant the underground was at 5.30, going back to King's Cross.  Surely this is rush hour, a mad rush as everyone clamours to get on the train back to the 'burbs?  But no: I even got a seat!  Perhaps it wouldn't be so appalling to live in London again ...

Friday, 9 May 2008

Old haunts, old friends (2)

The original purpose of the visit: Sunday.  It turned out that you cannot get to Edinburgh from Newcastle by train on a Sunday before 11am, so Saturday was added on as a way out of this problem.  Cannot even begin to understand the mindset that has no trains going north of the border until lunchtime, but heck - no-one has asked me to run Network Rail yet.  Perhaps if they did ...

Our venue at 11am was our church in Leith.  After many years of worship there, the Methodist Church as decided to combine four churches in the city into one City church and we were invited to the final Sunday morning service in the church.  I thought it would be emotional, teary, sad, but I should have known better. I am priviledged to have worked and worshipped there. I have never been to such a cheerful, enthusiastic, open church in the UK, full of innovative ideas, full of God's praise. 

Full of food too.  The buffet was a banquet and I suspect many church members will be eating ham sandwiches for weeks to come.

Of course, this also gave us the opportunity to meet up with friends whom we haven't seen for too long.  When we left Edinburgh our friends were married and just beginning to contemplate children.  On Sunday we ended up in the Botanical Gardens, eight children running around madly, making new friends as their parents tried to catch up on the missing years.  It did appear that it was only us who had changed jobs/life/country with any degree of regularity.  However, nothing matched up to the glories of Gareth's new A-reg Landrover.  I could see my husband drooling in envy, mentally reciting the 10th Commandment over and over again: Thou shalt not covet thy best friend's landrover.

The journey home was late and uneventful, although such a long walk along the platform at Waverley that we were back out in the open air.  Also a cross-country train despite booking through national express.   One day I'm determined I'll understand the world of big business but for now I'll just rejoice in the simple joys of meeting old friends and time together as a family.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Old haunts, old friends (1)

The long weekend gave opportunity to travel to Edinburgh for an overnight stay.

No1 child was studying Castles at school last term so we arranged our train journeys to give us time to see Edinburgh Castle on arrival on Saturday afternoon.  Journey uneventful.  Glorious sunshine in Edinburgh.

On departure from Waverley, beginning the long climb up to our destination at the head of the Royal Mile ('Mum! I'm tired! My legs hurt!'), my husband noticed someone waving madly at us from their car.  We haven't lived in Edinburgh for over 12 years so this was somewhat unexpected.  More surprising still was when we were greeted a couple of minutes later by friends who we thought were in New Zealand.  (They wish they still were.)  It was a former flat-mate of my husband, still living in his university town.

Our children were unimpressed.  No1 child simply wanted to get to the castle...

I believe that neither of us actually visited the castle when living in Edinburgh.  The queues to buy tickets was appalling - surely some better system could be devised?  Another three attendants would have been a good start.  Still, our children loved running around, discovering the different rooms, rushing past all the amazing history and showing only a modicum of interest in the Crown Jewels.  Thank goodness for tea and scones - recuperation medicine for exhausted parents.

We drifted down the Royal Mile in order to catch a bus to Leith.  I reminisced, thinking how beautiful the city of Edinburgh is, how lively and interesting.  We both pointed places out saying, 'Wasn't that a vegetarian cafe?' or 'That's where our friends got married.'  We smiled at the tourist guides giving foreigners a potted history of the sights.  We ambled along, disgusted that the central Post Office is no longer there, remembering lining pennies up along North Bridge in a fund-raising attempt when at University, marvelling that the city is going to get a tramline.

Eventually we plumped for a restaurant on the waterfront at Leith.  Given how posh it was they were remarkably accommodating for us with large, ungainly rucksacks and two exhausted and exhausting children.  A bottle of wine later and we adults at least felt sane again.

A final walk to our B&B for the night.  More reminiscing, as we remembered Easter sunrise services on the mounds on Leith Links.  The regeneration of Leith is quite amazing and a delight to behold.  We finally collapsed into bed - amazed that our children could still want to sit up and read - and slept like logs.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The science of big noses

Another train journey to York, this time with a frustrating, if inconsequential delay.

I arrive at Newcastle station with just enough time to buy my cheap day return and then dash over the bridge to the platform.  On my left is due the 09:30 to London; on my right is the 09:35 to Plymouth.  I note that the 09:30 is due at 09:37, so decide not to wait for that one but turn right to catch the 09:35.  I climb on board, dump my bags in the quiet carriage and retire to the vestibule (when did this word come into use on the trains?) to call Dad and tell him when I'll arrive.

Returning to my seat the ever-so-lovely conductor told us that our train was being delayed: they were allowing the train on the adjoining platform through first!  Aargh!!  I could have caught that!  We were only minutes later, but still - how frustrating.

Dad managed to greet some poor lady alighting from a completely different train but who was wearing a T-shirt like the one I'd worn on Saturday.  Does he think I don't change?  If she's reading this: my apologies for an old man shouting at you and waving madly.  He's really very nice, not the weirdo you spent the rest of the day worrying about.

On the way home in Newcastle, a tall lady got onto the Metro and sat opposite me.  I was struck by her big nose first of all.  She also reminded me of someone ... and then I remembered it was a friend in Zambia.  Presumably she also has a big nose: she certainly is tall.  The mind drifted and I began to wonder whether height and nose size are related.  And how do you measure the size of a nose?  A good patrician hook has a large area in profile but may not extend as far a standard honker.  If you get a tape measure from the top end of your philtrum to the nose-tip, how do you know where nose and philtrum part company?  The extra millimetre either way could be vital.

She's probably another lady I need to apologise to...

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Family birthdays

First blog travels: a trip to York to celebrate my nephew's second birthday.  We missed his first by being in Africa but my sister decided he'd most like to spend the day with his cousins. Mother knows best and - judging by No1 child's desire to sit next to him in Pizza Express - she was probably right.

It turns out that the first 10 minutes are spent distributing presents.  My father brought presents for his grandchildren whilst on holiday in Ireland a couple of weeks ago.  My sister brought some Turkish Delight back from a holiday in Crete (I thought the Greek/Turkish relationship was acrimonious: clearly not when it comes to sweets).  I distributed gifts for my father (birthday coming up), my nephew (principal guest of honour!) and my brother-in-law (birthday last week).  I was rather shocked to be given presents myself.  My birthday last weekend had been singularly uneventful, overwhelmed by loads of washing after a week's holiday and a five-year-old's birthday party, so I'd completely forgotten that my family might remember.  

No2 child managed to knock an entire glass of Fanta onto the floor, shattering into a million pieces. It's always her! She has an innate capacity to be a bit clumsy, falling, knocking things over.  Then she looks both horrified and so cute that we all melt and forgive her. Again. Broad grin returns and she's back to her bubbly self and quite prone to repeating the experience.

Still, birthdays mean the book collection is growing.  I now have a tale of murder in Florence, a book about how to write a book, a book about miracles of faith and another about how to be a praying wife.  So I'm reading Nigel Slater's "Toast" and vicariously reliving bits of my childhood.

Travels were totally uneventful.  We did end the day with an hour in the National Railway Museum.  Complete heaven for No1 child.  He walked into the Great Hall and said 'Wow!' as he was faced with dozens of huge steam trains.  We wandered around, marvelling at these extraordinary machines ... then tried to dodge the gift shop, where he found more ways for me to drift towards poverty.  "We're travelling by train," I try to pacify him with.  I ought to know better.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

A starter for 10

A final act of sadness as I fall into the trap of blogging.  A way to expose myself, my family and friends to the rest of the world.  A way to entertain others with my tales of travel and - almost inevitably related - woe.

I've finally ended up in Newcastle.  I say finally, but of course nothing is final when married to an ambitious employee of the NHS, who wants to return to Africa.  He is the love of my life, and I do appreciate that children of the world need to be healed, but sometimes it would be nice to see him at home with his own (completely healthy) offspring.

Consequently 'wanders' are many.  Job postings are short-term.  Family are scattered, friends even more so.  So the blog covers wanders and wonderings.  Just how exciting can we get?

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