england

At home with my folks, Hampshire, England

It’s been a fortnight since we returned from the UK to the US. We are heading back to New Zealand to live at the beginning of October, but for now we’re in limbo; between the two places we love.

I haven’t felt like writing anything much, but have tried to fit in a little reminiscing about our trip. It’s bittersweet to write about the times we shared with our wonderful family and friends whilst in the UK: On the one hand, the photos and memories make the trip linger on and make everyone we love there feel closer; On the other hand, I’m thrown against the wall of reality – that we shan’t see them for a year or so, at the least, and we are about to move even further away again – back to New Zealand.

On every trip back there are always so many people we don’t manage to meet up with; as well as all the wonderful reunions I write about. I haven’t seen many cousins, aunts and uncles in well over a decade. The UK is my home of birth, but not my children’s home. They were born in New Zealand and, as much as they’ve enjoyed this time living in the US, are looking forward to getting back there.

I am forever torn in two – trying to be positive for my children and their future (for sure they have an amazing life in New Zealand and a wonderful future with so much freedom of choice and opportunities), whilst feeling guilty at not being there for my folks. I feel driven to write down all the events, both big and small, that make up the passages of time; clinging on to them to protect them from fading. However faded those memories become they will live on in photographs and the love that we shall always feel in our hearts.

So, this is what it is; a place where I can write about the times we have shared and safeguard them in some small way.

Our last week in Europe was spent with my Mum and Dad in their Hampshire home.

My dear folks with their youngest granddaughter, Alice

It’s where they have lived for thirty-five years and where I grew up. My best-friend, from when I was 11, still lives a few houses away and many of my other school friends have stayed and are seeing their own children pass through the schools we went to. The week was one of spending time with people that have touched my life throughout the years and still mean so much to me. I caught up with friends over coffee, at local pubs, even at a new trampoline centre (anything to keep the children happy!).

Old University friends of both my husband and I (yes, we met way back then… at Southampton University) came together. We shared memories, talked of our different life journeys – the happy and sad parts that combine to make life’s rich tapestry – and looked forward through our children’s eyes at what is yet to be.

We took a day trip into London with my folks and our children, walking through the parks and admiring the sights steeped in history. Hubby took our older two children to the theatre to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’, whilst I spent a lovely afternoon boating along the river Thames with our youngest daughter and my folks.

The week came to a close on a Friday. Our flight scheduled to leave Saturday afternoon. The last day was spent sharing my best friend’s celebration of her youngest son turning ten. She kindly invited us to share the ‘football party’. It was lovely to see her sons and my daughters getting on so easily.

In the afternoon one of our nephew’s, Michael, came down from his University digs, along with his lovely girlfriend, to spend the evening with  hubby and I. One of the binding memories of our visit to the UK this time round was how our daughters enjoyed the company of their older cousins – they were reunited with all but one of their six cousins. All their cousins are boys, and most are a fair bit older, but the bond of family made their union easy.

Michael, Sophie & Alice

Likewise, the bond between Aunts and Uncles and the girls, their nieces, was lovely to see.

Seeing my sister and having the chance to head out for a run with her was a special highlight for me (yes, I’m still running – before wine… have to earn it now I’m forty!).

My sister and I

The memories will live on in our hearts forever xxx

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Linking up with ‘The Photo Gallery’ at Sticky Fingers

 

24 hours in England

We touched down at London Heathrow early afternoon on Saturday. Our flight from Los Angeles went smoothly enough – after a delay boarding the plane due to a fatality on the incoming plane from New Zealand. Thankfully, we had access to the Air New Zealand lounge, which was so much more pleasant and peaceful than the alternative. It was a lovely touch of ‘home ‘ for our three New Zealand born daughters. They walked in to a greeting of ‘Kia Ora’ and a big cuddly Kiwi bird. New Zealand wine and beer was available, cheese from the homeland, carrot cake and pictures of red Pohutakawa trees bordering a pristine New Zealand beach.

We enjoyed grazing on snacks, chatting to the cabin crew, watching the World Cup football and the airplanes coming and going.

The cabin crew on the Air New Zealand flight to London Heathrow were so friendly and welcoming; a blend of nationalities from Welsh to Spanish. We settled in for the ten hour flight, with a great assortment of inflight entertainment. The children were all impeccably well behaved on the flight. They didn’t sleep much (probably three hours at tops!), but were quietly happy with the movies and games. The man of the house was delighted to enjoy a ‘Speights’, so he was ‘good as gold… mate’!

When we landed in London, early afternoon, it was morning in Santa Barbara, California. They’d been on the go for 24 hours and were extremely sleep deprived, but still held themselves together for the nearly one mile walk from the airplane to customs!

It was incredibly humid in the airport. By the time with reached the lines of people at customs we were all dripping with perspiration. After a relatively short wait, of around twenty minutes it was our turn to hand over our passports for inspection. Unfortunately our middle daughter was feeling very queasy at this point and shortly after declaring, ‘I feel like I’m going to vomit’, she spewed on the floor at the customs desk. My heart went out to her, whilst my stomach churned. It was all too much for our eldest daughter, who withdrew as far back as possible. Our youngest was sweetly comforting and sympathetic. The staff at customs were so good, offering up water, a cloth for our daughter and a bag for anything else to follow. Poor love.

Half an hour or so later, we finally emerged with our bags at arrivals to be greeted by my dear parents.

Whilst Dan headed off with our eldest daughter to pick up a hire car, I headed off with our two youngest in Grandma & Granddad’s car to their home in Hampshire. We skipped an awful traffic jam on the M25, by driving via Windsor – pointing out the castle on the way.

We spent the rest of Saturday resting. The man of the house enjoyed watching some more World Cup football, having a couple of pints in an English pub with his father-in-law and picking up a primo English curry (the Gulshan in Fleet is such a good’un!).

Our youngest daughter was the liveliest. She was so excited to be at her Grandparents house.

The next day, Sunday, started incredibly early. Miss 4 and Miss 8 awoke before 5am. By 7am Miss 4 was ready for some exercise out and about (she’d already circled the garden, said ‘Good morning’ to the wood pigeons, and eaten a pancake). I headed out to the local swimming pool with Miss 4 and Granddad  – at 7am! We had a really fun time and returned back to the house. Miss 4 was still bursting with energy. Meanwhile Miss 11 awoke and headed up to the local town centre with her Daddy and Grandparents for a full cooked English breakfast, before walking up to the local Calthorpe Park to check out the annual carnival festivities with young Miss 4 in tow.

They all returned about midday, with Miss 4 asleep in the buggy. I’d stopped at the house to keep Miss 8 company – still in recovery mode from the being sick on arrival at Heathrow.

We had a few good hours left to rest before having to head off on another journey – this time to Copenhagen in Denmark. All the girls fell fast asleep and we had to wake them up at 4pm when it was time to leave for Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5.

Terminal 5, London , Heathrow

Terminal 5, London , Heathrow

So, a flying visit to England indeed! Managed to get a quick fix of an English curry, pub and full cooked breakfast though. I managed a nearly 4 mile jog too (on the day we landed – definitely had a touch of cabin fever to expel!). It’s always a great feeling to arrive in England, the birth place of hubby and I. There’s a feeling of completeness, for me in particular, when I’m at my folks home. We bid farewell, knowing we’d be back on British shores again in a fortnight, after a two week business trip for the man of the house in Copenhagen. Phew! Busy times, but precious too.

An English Wedding & a reunion of old friends (Part 2 of my trip to the UK)

I have missed so many weddings in England over the past fifteen years living in New Zealand. My dearest friends from school, college and University days have met their sweethearts, walked down the aisle, partied like there’s no tomorrow, all whilst I’ve been wishing for someone to invent instant travel through time. Unfortunately, often laden with a child, and the cost of travelling some 36 hours across the world, the feasibility of me managing to materialise for those weddings has been zero to impossible. But, in this one instance, placed a little closer around the globe to England (on the Californian Coast of the USA, as opposed to Wellington, New Zealand) I felt better placed (and granted more well financed, with children not in babyhood) to make the journey.

This was to be the wedding of the century to date (bearing in mind that I was married last century, ha, ha, and I have three daughters that may, or may not, get married one day… but I am SO not ready to think about the latter just yet!).

It was the wedding of one of my dearest University pals to her long time sweetheart.

Wedding of Alice and Mike

At the wedding were several University pals – making it quite the reunion, some twenty years since we graduated – or there about. It was an opportunity to finally meet the respective other halves that I’d heard my Uni pals dream about in drunken stupor at the University of Southampton, to hear about their off spring, to discuss life on the cusp – or having just turned – forty… and to compare smile lines. It was one of the last friends, of my close buddies from Uni days, to walk down the aisle and the timing was perfect. I wasn’t going to miss this wedding for all the tea in China (or, more apt to my personal circumstances, all the potential wedding YouTube video takes of the wedding). I had to be there.

Surprisingly, my usual instinct to capture every moment on camera totally evaded me at the wedding (and the photographs I did take, later in the evening when the dancing got going… are probably best not shared here – lest I risk ending those very long, special friendships!). I was so caught up in the moment, and literally shaking with excitement at being there, that it felt totally inane to get out my camera. I wanted to embrace the moment heart and soul and, during the service especially, didn’t feel right intervening on the magic of the moment (besides, there were professionals employed to do that already!).

And magical moments there were indeed… The dear youngest son of the bride and groom walked down the aisle, at the tender age of four, holding a sign reading, ‘Daddy, here comes your Bride’! He walked with  a strong step, but bashfully hid behind the sign; the perfect blend of confidence and innocent shyness. He continued, throughout the wedding, past the dinner, speeches and first dance, with equal perfection of character, finishing up with a party building dance of ‘Gangman Style’ on the dance floor!

After the service, at the historic house of ‘The Grove‘, in Hertfordshire, England (where the presence of early man on the land dates back to 7,000 BC!) we were treated to champagne and canapes (which I can never manage to eat without making a mess and general fool of myself – so passed on several times, whilst trying to sip s.l.o.w.l.y. on the champagne!). Whilst we caught up with one another and marvelled at the gorgeous Mr & Mrs in their finery (and pondered on sharing the same space that, once upon a time, Queen Victoria, King Edward, Tiger Woods and many more illustrious guests have stayed, played and partied) roving entertainers kept us all amused (not that we really needed anything extra, but they certainly left an impression… a magician, a pick-pocket and caricature artists!).

Feeling pleasantly relaxed the bell was rung for dinner and we all made our way to our tables for the dinner and speeches  (little did we all know, there were some ‘singing waiters’ to keep us all in high spirits, no chance of a post dinner snooze! By the time the singing waiters had finished with us, we were all ears for the speeches and feeling pumped up for an evening’s dancing.).

I have to mention here how particularly special this dear friend of mine is. I’ve only ever known her to be smiling, positive, caring and thinking of others. Life has dealt her a tough hand; with the unexpected and sudden death of her father to a brain tumour and, a few year’s later, her dear sister, Lauren, also passed away due to brain cancer.  Both her and dear Mum have been absolute troupers. My friend, Alice, raised nearly £40,000 for Cancer Research UK and carried the Olympic Torch through Hatfield, UK, on Sunday July 8 2012;

“Thanks to support of Lauren’s friends and family and the very generous donations, inspired by Lauren’s story. A big honour for me, and a huge source of amusement for Lauren, I’m sure!” (Alice Breheny)

And so, as anyone reading this will imagine, this wedding was extremely touching in so many ways, not just on the happy union of two incredible people, but in memory of two very special people, taken too soon. It was a wedding filled with happiness, tears, laughter, memories and positive thoughts to the future – the full roller coaster of emotions!

As the official photographer rightly puts it (and you simply MUST check out the incredible photographs!);

“Anyone who was bored at Alice and Mike’s wedding at the Grove last weekend deserved to be thrown out.  They were determined to give their guests a great time and every minute of the day was filled.  In no particular order they had … the beautiful setting of The Grove, candy floss, a photobooth, a caricaturist, Keith the Thief (a pickpocket), a magician (amazing), hilarious and very talented singing waiters, a spectacular evening disco, a dancing competition and air guitars.  And best of all a great crowd of friends and family who lapped it up and rocked the night away.  Add to that a fantastic couple and their four much loved children to welcome everyone and it all adds up to quite some wedding.”

It really was one of the best weddings I have ever attended. There was such a positive vibe amongst everyone and it was definitely worth the flight to be there! Alice, ever thoughtful and caring, left a surprise waiting for me on the dinner table at the wedding, which brought a tear to my eye…

A beautiful gift from my friend

I danced the night away with my Uni friends and finally got to sleep about 2am ish… only to be woken around 8.30 am isn for a drive up to the Peak District to see my dear sister and her man! Thankfully I wasn’t driving – my dear folks had stayed the night at The Grove too, and joined in the dancing (but turned in at a more sensible hour!).

What a wedding! I wish Mike and Alice very many happy, wonderful years together and Mike, you are indeed ‘A very lucky man!’…

A very lucky man!

 

Read ‘Part 1’ of my trip here: ‘LA to UK for 4 days, sans children. A once in a decade trip!

LA to UK for 4 days, sans children. A once in a decade trip! Part 1

It was my first trip away in ten years, without wearing my mother and wife ‘hats’. An old University friend in the UK was the carrot and after ten years of at home parenting (mostly as an expat in New Zealand), with only one night away (ever; and that was when I had two daughters, not three), it was a well overdue trip. It took lots of friendly encouragement from friends to give me the confidence, before hubbie gave me the final push – by booking the flight for me! There was no excuse now!

So it was, that I boarded the air-coach at Santa Barbara on a Thursday morning, to travel to Los Angeles and then fly to London Heathrow for a four day stay, wearing only my daughter, sister and friend hats. It seemed easier to fly ‘across the pond’ (the Atlantic) than it ever would have been to do a short trip home to the UK from New Zealand, our home of over fifteen years. Half the cost, half the distance, half the travel time.

The biggest ‘pull’ to living for a year or so in the USA with three children (for hubbie’s work), was knowing I’d be a little closer to my beloved family in the UK; so it was only right that I made the most of the opportunity. Hubbie insisted that they would cope without me (but I still employed someone to help out on the days he would be working from home – knowing full well that little work would be possible with the ever present zest of our wonderful Miss 3 and home-educated Miss 8 and 10!).

Boarding the air-coach was easier than I could have anticipated, with all three children being genuinely positive with their send off. There were no tears, no guilt trips, no desperate pleas to join me. So I stepped onboard with light feet and excitement, feeling instantly free of responsibility. A two hour coach trip, four hour wait at LAX and ten hour flight was ahead of me – time, more than I can remember having in the past decade, for reading, shopping, browsing the latest book releases, eating at leisure, watching movies and staring out of the window for some uninterrupted day-dreaming.

The flight was quiet, with almost everyone in the back third of the plane having a line of seats to themselves. There were hardly any children to remind me of my own (though one did pipe up about the time I knew my brood would be heading off to sleep in California – which resulted in me having a little sob!). I got those tears out of my system, sipped a wine, put on my eye-mask, plugged in ear-plugs and breathed deeply – I’d need all the rest possible – as I was due to arrive in London Heathrow at 11am (3am in California).

My agenda for the four day trip was a stay at my childhood home in Fleet (after landing at LHR at 11am and catching a breath of fresh air at the amazing Wisley Gardens), and a catch up with my best-friend, on the Friday night; a wedding on Saturday, at The Grove, Hertfordshire; a trip up to the Peak District to see my sister on Sunday; a return drive on Monday, from the Peak District in northern England to Hampshire in southern England, an evening watching Giselle, the ballet, at a cinema in Camberley (live screened, globally, from the Royal Opera House in London); before a 6am departure on the last day for my return flight.

I landed in LHR ahead of time and cleared border control and customs before my folks had even arrived at the airport to greet me (it was a lot easier to power walk from the airplane to border control without children trailing bags and needing toilet stops!).

My folks surprised me with a visit to Wisley Gardens, enroute to my childhood home in Fleet, Hampshire. It was just the fix my body needed after a long haul flight and six months of living under Californian blue southern skies, where I’ve only seen rain in two days! I was hungry for ‘real weather’, green grass, air temperatures that make a person feel alive, savoury foods and a proper cup of tea in a china cup! At Wisley Gardens I was immersed in historic architecture and gardens willed with familiar trees from my childhood in Hampshire.

Wisley Gardens, England

I borrowed my Dad’s camera and turned into an obvious ‘tourist’, finding excitement in what the locals would take for granted: Silver birch trees and pussy willows dangling over a river in flood, holly bushes and snow-drops, grass so green it was luminescent and watered only by nature’s hand, hellebores in flower and even a tree in blossom. I barely had a moment to think about my dear daughters in the USA, as I was so immersed in the moment!

Wisley Gardens, England

My senses were alive with getting a fix of nature, British style, and the fresh air was fighting off my jet lag with a brisk hand.

Wisley Gardens, England

 

Unfortunately the fresh air wasn’t quite enough to completely banish the fuzzy head of long-haul and a nap would be needed if I was going to manage to stay up till bedtime, so it was home to Fleet we went. My dear Mum tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, under instructions to wake me about 5pm.

A refreshing nap and I was ready to catch up with my best friend from school days. I wish I could have stayed up longer, but with a wedding to attend the next day, I needed some shut eye!

To be continued…