16-22 November: Survival learnings for Howard Springs: We’re released!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Block D1, Donga 6A, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

And so we have finally reached the end of our two week sentence, and are about to board a flight to Sydney. woo-hoo!

Time during this second week seemed to crawl by in contrast to the first, Sunday seeming never to arrive. We can hardly imagine how the poor people in South Australian quarantine felt last weekend when, upon reaching their final day were told a staff member had tested positive for Covid-19 and they therefore had to quarantine for another two weeks in another hotel! No wonder one of the ‘inmates’ had a severe panic attack and ended up in hospital! The deadline of our flight is all that has got us through this period.

We had our final Covid-19 tests on Thursday morning, the rather unpleasant stick down the throat and up the nose. Give we have heard nothing about those results, we are told that ‘no news is good news‘, so can assume we are negative for the virus. I’d be rather worried if we tested positive, given we’ve not been anywhere for two weeks!

Early morning pilates is interrupted for a C19 test

So as we prepare to depart this facility, I have been thinking about what advice I would share for someone coming to serve time here at Howard Springs resort in the coming months. I share some tips under the following categories:

  • Exercise
  • Mealtimes and food
  • Laundry and cleaning
  • Social contact
  • Entertainment

Exercise – given the revised instructions that you cannot leave your deck (unless you’re going to the laundry or the rubbish bin), it’s pretty hard to get much exercise done, but it is possible. When the internet is working, it is possible to stream classes online (I have done a couple this way, also using my phone as a hotspot), but I wouldn’t rely on this. Primarily we have played pre-recorded classes which do not rely on being online or do our own thing.

You’re allowed to order goods from BigW and KMart, which will be collected by workers from Howard Springs and delivered to your room – we ordered two yoga mats ($10 each), giving us a clean space to exercise on outside. There are regularly bush fires around the area, and the deck is always covered in a thin layer of brown ash. You’ll notice that in no time when you look at the soles of your bare feet – you’ll be pleased to have an easily cleaned rubber mat as a safe haven to stand on!

Mealtimes and food: 24-hours worth of food is delivered in bags at around 6pm – that is a hot meal for the evening, breakfast and lunch for the following day. The food here is not too bad considering they are catering for around 1,000 people, workers included. They manage quite well with dietary needs (I am dairy-free), though the food choices are not necessarily what I would eat. Monday night is chicken parmigiana for the ‘normal’ people, so I get the vegan version – polenta with vegan cheese. I have honestly never eaten anything so unpleasant! The lunches are usually some kind of salad, and unfortunately the leaves do not survive the night, and by the following day are limp and unappetising. Thursday night is chicken and prawn laksa night – everyone’s favourite!

Top left:Food delivered to your doorstep around 6pm Top right: Mr A’s Wednesday night pasta night Bottom: Tuesday night’s delivered meals for the next 24 hours – barramundi curry for dinner

I recommend supplementing with your own food. You’re allowed to order deliveries from Coles supermarket with a minimum order of $50. Given it is an alcohol-free facility, endless cups of tea (black tea bags and instant coffee is provided, we brought our own herbal teas) and plain cold water get a little tiring, so we ordered sparkling water, fresh lemon and a couple of bottles of Diet Coke to add some variety. Food wise, we bought some fresh mangos, avocado and a bag of ‘superfood coleslaw’ (chopped beetroot, kale, cabbage, carrot and others), plus some chilli sauce and mayonnaise to add some flavour – each room has its own fridge. Of course there were a couple of packets of crisps and the odd bar of chocolate too, but we didn’t go too crazy on the junk food!

A good mix of healthy and unhealthy food purchases for our stay

Plates and cutlery: reading in advance we saw that all the food comes in takeaway containers with biodegradable cutlery. We decided that as food is such an important part of the day while here, we would bring our own cutlery (knife, fork and spoon each) and plastic plates and bowls. These add a little more normality to our eating. We use our Stanley mugs for water rather than the paper cups. They keep cold drinks ice cold for a long while. Mr A has his new Leatherman wave multi-tool so we have a knife, and we brought along a light. flexible chopping board for preparing those juicy mangos. Apparently you are not allowed to buy knives in your shopping once you are here.

Not fancy or expensive but do the trick and give us a little smile each meal time

Laundry and cleaning: Over the two weeks, we were allocated four days where we could do our washing. Mark and I made sure we took advantage of them all, just for the exercise – though some of our neighbours just washed items in their bathroom sink and dried items draped over their balcony rail. There are plenty of washing machines and dryers, plus a rotary washing line. Washing powder is provided in your welcome pack.

There are no clothes pegs provided, so we brought our own. We also brought a pegless washing line from our camping kit to stretch out over the deck to dry underwear, towels and so on.

Top: an approaching storm hastens the bringing in of washing off the line Bottom left: the washing-drying machine bank – tip – put powder into the barrel rather than the powder tray Bottom right: bring pegs for the washing line

Cleaning: On arrival you are provided with a welcome pack with antibacterial surface spray, plenty of disposable cloths, bin bags, soap and other toiletries, plus bucket and dustpan and brush. What is not provided is anything for dish washing. We brought a little pot of dishwashing liquid, a sponge and a tea towel.

Social contact: When the internet is working, it’s great to be able to chat with friends to pass the time, even if they are making you jealous with their freedom to roam! While we cannot move around our courtyard and socialise with neighbours, we do make sure to have a chat where possible. Mark’s totted up hours of conversation with Lloyd in the donga opposite me discussing topics as diverse as music, archaeology, travel and history.

We’ve set up a messenger chat group with two girls also in our block, Claire a super smart doctor, expecting her first child, and Bridie who has been quite unwell while here with ulcerative colitis which has resulted in her spending a few days in the Royal Darwin Hospital. Being able to remotely check up on each other has been great, keeping spirits high and sharing stories. We’ve even played a version of online Pictionary (Gartic.io) which has given us a few laughs.

We’ve suggested to the quarantine director that they set up an official Facebook group for new arrivals, and they have now confirmed this has been done for future quarantinees. This should help the right information get out there in advance and offer a moderated platform for asking questions and sharing information.

Entertainment: Each room comes with a TV with all the free-to-air terrestrial channels including digital radio. There are HDMI and USB ports, so if you have a Chromecast device to stream to, you can use that. What you can’t use is the quarantine internet for streaming – not only is it not reliable enough, but it requires a log in via browser, which is not possible on the Chromecast. The only way you can stream to your TV is using your own mifi device. We brought ours over from the UK which has a Vodafone sim with roaming enabled. Unfortunately the signal is also very weak, so it’s just not been good enough to use. The signal works between two rooms (when it is working).

I recommend just downloading content to your tablet or laptop whenever the internet is working, and watch via that.

Bose Speaker – we have a Spotify subscription and music has been our saviour from isolation. We take it in turns to use it in our room.

Don’t forget to bring your Australian charging plugs or a plug that converts your international plug to Aussie – it’s amazing how many people do forget, and it’s not possible to share items or buy any once you are here. We have plugs with multiple USB ports as well.

Another fine Northern Territory sunset

Routine helped us get through the day – starting with our pilates, followed by showers, lunch, then an afternoon of reading, researching or writing, before dinner arrives, sunset enjoyed and an evening of downloaded entertainment, inter dispersed with chats with friends and family around the world.

For me, especially, the nights seemed so long. I write with blurry eyes having had two weeks of jet lag, of insomnia and broken sleep, never achieving more than four hours on the trot, despite resisting the temptation to nap during the day. That has been my greatest challenge, and something I hope stops once I am back in Sydney. Mark tells me his conscience is clear, allowing him to settle into his usual sleep patterns really quickly!

Perhaps wine is the answer? I shall discover tonight!

WE ARE RELEASED!

Woo-hoo! We are released!!!

13-15 November: “Woo… hoo….we’re half way there!”

Author : Mr A

Location: Cell 6B, Block D, Row 1, The Howard Springs Quarantine Resort, South of Darwin, NT, Australia

As Bon Jovi screams “Woo hoo. we’re half way there!”, from the most important piece of kit we travel with, our Bose Revolve speaker, we look forward to the second half of our sentence disappearing with the same rapidity as the first.

Cells D16B and D16A, our temporary homes

Time is a funny thing right? When there’s so little variation in your routine, so few events that punctuate the day, then it seems to zoom past because there are no reference points. Psychologists have found that the subjective perception of the passing of time tends to speed up with increasing age in humans. This often causes people to underestimate a given interval of time as they age. Well that’s my excuse, I think Catherine may have a different perception given she has been pretty much awake non stop since we arrived. Our usual strategy after a long flight is to get out and walk and get some sunlight on the skin. That approach to avoiding jet lag and ensuing insomnia is not available here and she has really been struggling with her sleep.

So what‘s new for us inmates of Cell Block D, falsely accused as we were your honour of trying to import nasty germs into this virtually COVID free country? Yes, the good news is that if we had caught anything from our fellow passengers (two now tested positive) then we would have had symptoms by now, and we haven’t. With the health protocols in place here its very likely we will be getting the ”Hell out of Howard” a week today. The ultimate milestone is when we get our final COVID-19 test on Day 12 (or day 2 as it is confusingly refereed to here, with day zero being release). If we get a negative result, it‘s an exit certificate and off to Sin City! And there will be sinful amounts of fine food and wine consumed I’m sure.

I thought for this blog a Q and A format might provide some variety, taking the most commonly asked questions from friends and sharing our answers to everyone.

Q: So, were the flights free then?

A:“Nope, the politicians seem to skip that bit when they do the “Bringing Aussies Home” announcements. For us $2,200 a head for a one way fare on a “no frills” flight (two meals, 3 films and 4 bottles of water in 17 hrs). There were a few people I understand who were means tested and supported financially.

Q: Do you have to pay for quarrantine?

A: Yes – $2,500 per head, and then your flight back to wherever is home in Australia. Again if you provide evidence of low income (under $50k) you possibly will qualify for some exemptions. Given the hordes of police, army, caters, and health workers on the ground and providing remote phone based support, they wont be making money out of that.

Q: Do you feel lucky to get back to Australia?

A: Well Australians are fond of looking at the glass as half full, very admirable, but I think this is a complex question around the rights of a passport holding citizen to re-enter their own country. In July the Australian government introduced “flight caps” to limit the number of incoming international passengers that would then have to be dealt with in qurrantine facilities. The London based, but Australian born, human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who has defended cases for entities such as Mike Tyson, The Guardian and Washington Post, Julian Assange, presidents and Tasmanian Aboriginals, has just waded in and commented “It is a serious breach if you don’t allow your people to come home, albeit with necessary quarantine. It’s a total failure of government that it can’t allow its people under whatever necessary COVID conditions to come home.” And Geoffrey knows a thing or two.

The President of the Human Rights Commission has also waded in on the issue, concerned that the flight caps “may not be meeting the obligation in article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” – calling out the many complaints they have had from Australians separated from their children because of these flight caps.

So we have mixed feelings. We understand the Australian government needed to protect the citizens already in the country, and we had been warned in March to “come home or settle in for the long term”, but not everyone was in a position to do that. For instance, we decided it was riskier to travel back than stay put in the south west of England where we knew Catherine had access to quality medical support for her airway disease, never imagining that we were to be barred from returning home. For many people with work and family commitments it was just impossible to drop everything. Now around 36,000 of them are stuck overseas. So yes we feel lucky to have made it back ourselves.

Meanwhile it seems if you have money then you just get to skip around the caps and the quarantine. The same day we landed, last Sunday, the billionaire founder of SnapChat, Evan Spiegal, landed in his private jet at Sydney airport and just skipped around hotel quarantine. You can also buy your way in to Australia when you don’t even have a passport by getting a “Business and Innovation” visa – 485 of these were granted between March and mid September this year to wealthy investors. No wonder there’s some very upset Australian citizens stranded out there waving their passports wondering what the heck is going on.

Q: Whose room is the tidiest – yours or Catherine’s?

A: To be fair, we have never been asked this question, but there has been a lot of banter between us living in our small spaces in caravans and motorhomes as to who is the source of any untidiness.

Mr A’s room
Mrs A’s room

I rest my case your honour…I understand there will be an appeal lodged by Mrs A on the grounds that she had only got up. I have shared evidence with the claimant in the form of a time stamped photograph at 12.45pm. lets see how the case progresses.


Q: How do you spend your time? (A popular question!)

A: Other than writing these blogs? Well we are not allowed out for exercise, unlike the early flights, who had two 20 minute slots allocated, plus pool time! However, incidents of Australians abusing these privileges made it to social media, and then to the police, and hence now no outside time off the balcony is permitted. So a daily walk 2 metres to the rubbish bin, and a heady 10m metres to the laundry twice a week, our only “outings”.

Rubbish bin providing a daily “excursion “ opportunity

Pilates on the deck kicks off our day to an ab screaming start. After being very disciplined in lockdown at doing this 2/3 times a week, once we were back in our tiny Truffy (motorhome), it was just impractical. So we are feeling the pain! Then we are both working on different projects. Catherine has her voluntary work for the support community she administers, as well as the research work she is running or supporting for multiple doctors and universities around the world.

For me it‘s catching up on Australian news, and reading to broaden a mind dulled for so many years by an expectation at work of only being able to answer one question. “Ando – whats the forecast sales revenue this week?”

While we we were in the UK we strictly limited our news intake intake for mental and physical health reasons. Yes – physical health as well. Research is indicating that cortisol, produced when we are stressed – for instance when watching “Doom O’Clock” (as we called the daily briefings from Boris), or the latest antics from over the Atlantic from Trump, can cause a range of health issues when elevated for long periods. For a most readable analysis of the potential impact 2020 is likely having on our mental and physical health check out this Psychology today article from last week. So we have spent little time following events over here, in fact missing the introduction of flight caps completely, and despite registering on the Australian governments SmartTraveler web site, had no communication about them.

It‘s actually been a breath of fresh air to settle back into reading the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News apps. Somehow the BBC seems to have lost its way, and I’m finding a less sensationalised news content here. Obviously steering clear of Murdoch Lies Inc. and it was such a pleasure to read about the Climate Change Bill introduced last week from our very own independent MP for Warringhah the multi-talented Zali Steggall. Olympic athlete, solicitor, mother, and all round goodness as far as we can see. Anyone who can wrest away a seat from that climate denier fool Tony Abbot, well done! For an interesting write up on the bill see The Conversations’s article from last week .

Zali Steggall – MP for the Division of Warringhah – our turf

Zali even took the time to return an email I sent her concerning the flight caps, and her office has been super helpful since. The only disparaging story you will find about her is from…..of course The Daily Lies/Telegraph, a Murdoch paper. How predicable. If you haven’t seen this brilliant clip of a former Australian prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull) lay into the editor in chief of Murdock’s evil enterprises give it a watch. Even if you’re not Australian it will give you a good sense of how battle is done in the colonies.

Q: What’s the internet like?

A: Closely related to the above question! Well it’s been hit and miss to be honest, and that really needs sorting as they plan to double the current number of people coming through Howard Springs, and if you are confined to quarters then it really is important to keep connected.

‘No Internet Connection’ all too common a message

Q: What’s the food like?

A: It depends on what your comparison point is, as always. To a meal that Catherine would cook – not great. Compared to the diet of more than 690 million people around the world who go hungry – fine. Everyone involved in this facility is clearly really trying to do their best. The caters must have a tough job. There’s currently around 560 of us on the international blocks of this this facility, we are strictly “Cyclone fenced” away from the domestic detainees, who are far less likely to be COVID positive. The food has to be packaged up and wheeled around on trolleys in the baking afternoon sun, when temperatures have been regularly over 35 degrees centigrade (95°F).

We were advised to bring our own plates and cutlery, as everything is served in take away containers with wooden, disposable utensils, health protocol I assume, or a concern sharp knives might be used by those not derailing with the isolation? These plates and cutlery have been a blessing, and Catherine insists on doing the washing up so it’s done “properly”. We also get an advance bit of Christmas cheer with our plates. Small things…small things.

A little cheer in our lives…

Q: Are you allowed to mingle with others “doing time”?

A: Well if you call a shouted conversation across 4 metres of yard while wearing a mask mingling, then a bit. However, most people are inside the majority of the day, it‘s just too hot to sit around and our balcony in sun all afternoon. There is a Facebook Group started by a detainee for Howard Springs residents, which had some very helpful content on it we checked before we arrived (like “bring plates and cutlery!) . Sadly now the keyboard warriors are out in force with some really disrespectful comments, I‘ve left it. It appears to be no longer moderated. I started a little group message with a couple of people in our block instead, and that’s been helpful I think. Its so isolating for people here with one call a day from a remote tele-health service, and that’s it.

As mentioned earlier, some of the previous residents were caught breaking health protocols, so they have really clamped down on any opportunities for mixing. The few covidiots ruining life for the many – a familiar story. Three lads were caught pushing one another around in a wheelie bin for instance, wearing no masks and close together.

Today Catherine had a knock at her door and two police officers and a guy in an army uniform asked her if she knew “the gentlemen in the unit next door”, as clearly we had been seen nipping in and out of each other rooms. They thought this row was for singles. It’s good that they are on it. I can just imagine though, some observer of us going, “What’s that old bloke doing hanging around that young shielah‘s donga ? “ I should explain a “donga” is not a body part – it’s a miner’s cabin – pre-fab – desk, bed, bathroom 🙂

The police are very assertive about mask wearing, even when there is absolutely no one else around. I was told off this afternoon as I briefly put my head out of my donga door mask free, but with it dangling in my hand ready to put on. I was shouted at (no armchair manner with this particular officer) “PUT YOUR MASK ON., ITS NO GOOD IN YOUR HANDS!”. I could have rejoined “Well, it would be no good on my face either would it as there is no one within a 20 metre radius?”. But there would be no point. I have heard there have been some very rude and even violent detainees. It would be a tough job, walking around in full kit in this heat, and must be draining even if you are acclimatised. Again I have to say what a shame it is that a few idiots just ruin it.

Well, I hope that gives you a flavour of what’s going down /up here (depending on where you are reading from, geographically), any other questions just fire them in. We have time to answer 🙂 So today is day 7, and a week today its all over, we hope. And really what’s two weeks? For hundreds of asylum seekers in Melbourne it will be 6 years since they were locked up . So yes we’re very lucky.

This is what accommodation facilities for refugees on Manus Island looked like.(ABC News)







































































































































































10-12 November: …When you’re excited about a trip to the laundry…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Howard Springs Quarantine Centre, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

We have just finished day 5 of quarantine and it’s incredible how the time has flown.

Our first couple of days were consumed with calls to and from the IT team here, trying to get us fixed up with internet. Being online in a situation like this is second only to having water, electricity and food. Fortunately we didn’t have to move rooms, and have a working connection now.

Then we had the excitement of our yoga mats being delivered from our BigW online order. Now we have added an early morning pilates class to our routine and intermittent bouts of press ups, yoga and stretches throughout the day.

 « Please let me get some sleep tonight »

Nine am we either have a face-to-face visit from a team of medicos in full PPE (combat trousers, hiking shoes, long sleeve shirt, blue latex gloves, apron, orange masks that look like Donald Duck beaks and clear visors) or a phone call to check on our overall health, looking particularly for COVID symptoms and to record our temperatures.

There are a lot of staff here. Our cabins are two cyclone fences away from where the Australia Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) nurses, doctors, army personnel and NT police are all staying. We get to spot them on their breaks as they mingle in the ‘green-zone’ (we are in the ‘red-zone’) mask-free, laughing about the football results and getting to know one another.

Must be a shift change for the AUSMAT team….

Although we are treated a bit like criminals by most of the police, the AUSMAT workers are all quite friendly and chatty (from a safe distance,) and we learn that most volunteered for this job and hail from all parts of Australia. Many also had to endure quarantine before starting their jobs here, so are sympathetic to our predicament.

Mr A feeling relaxed, as evidenced by his armband monitoring health app

I have really struggled with jet lag. Normally I reboot into the right time zone quite quickly by getting out for fresh air and exercise during the day, following my usual habits to familiarise my brain with the new time zone. In quarantine that hasn’t been possible. Outdoor time is limited to the deck outside our cabins – at least we have two of those, but due to the high temperatures (36 degrees most days, with a ‘feels like’ temperature of up to 42 degrees!) we’re not out that frequently or for too long. Last night I finally managed 9 hours of intermittent sleep – much needed after four consecutive nights of three or less hours. Hopefully have broken the back of it now – the pilates seems to help. Mr A usually struggles with jet lag, but seems to be back to his normal sleep rhythms already.

Six pm is the exciting time when our food for the next 24 hours is delivered in paper bags to the steps outside our cabin. A hot evening dinner, designed to cater for required dietary needs, plus a cold breakfast and lunch for the following day. It’s a frenzy of activity, getting the cold foods into the fridge before dashing back out to the table to eat dinner before it loses the last remnants of heat. The food is not exactly what we would usually consume, but it fills a hole. I don’t think we will be gaining any weight here!

Our evening food bag delivery is on its way…
No date-books here, and what on earth is plum powder? I didn’t find out…
We’re allowed masks off to eat! Tonight was a laksa – not too bad! We’re pleased we bought our plastic Christmas plates and bowls plus metal knives, forks and spoons so we don’t have to eat out of the takeaway containers with disposable cutlery.

The food is ‘ok’. I don’t think I have finished a whole meal yet, with last night’s tagliatelle with some sort of mince and tomatoey-pesto sauce being the tastiest so far, but still with way too much pasta which became sticky and gluggy after a while. It must be hard to cater for 300+ people with all different needs though, and given those constraints they’re doing fine. We’re certainly not starving, and there is often an accompanying vegan and gluten free dessert to fill up on if dinner is not to your taste, plus plenty of fruit.

Today, day 5, was our allocated day to visit the laundry, a whole 20 metres away. We had almost forgotten how to walk! It felt amazing to stretch out the legs on the way up there, and hanging out our clothes and towels allowed us to see something new of the area we are in. We felt so guilty as we stepped off our cabin steps and walked up the building…almost expecting one of the overzealous police to come and tackle us to the ground…though given we are seen as potentially harbouring an unwanted viral visitor, perhaps it would be a cattle prod instead!

Escaped the cell! Washing day has never been so exciting….

Either way, our washing machine visit went without incidence and resulted in clean and very quickly dried clothes. Our memories of struggling to dry our washing in Truffy on those wet autumn days in the UK are already fading in the hot Australian sun.

This afternoon it was the excitement of a tropical thunderstorm. We saw the sky darkening as we took our crispy washing off the line, and it wasn’t long before we heard the first deep tones of thunder and thick, heavy drops of rain falling on the tin roof. It wasn’t as torrential or long-lasting as the weather forecast had warned, but cooled the temperatures down slightly and gave the novel aroma of hot summer rain to our environment.

The weather warning sounded much more exciting than the actual storm!
Hurrah! The rain is here!

The Northern Territory is famed for its wildlife, which on past visits up this way we have greatly enjoyed. From our 6×2 metre combined decks we crane our necks to spot anything we can. Morning is when we are most likely to see a pair of black kites circling the nearby highway, looking out for roadkill from the previous night. During the day we hear (but are yet to see) rainbow bee-eaters hunting for insects, and sunset is when we spot families of noisy white cockatoos squawking across the sky, more graceful black cockatoos calling as they pass overhead, large flocks of ibis and fluttering pairs of lorikeets and rosellas chattering their way to roost for the night. All very exciting. No snakes, spiders or anything furry so far.

Ibis (top) and cockatoos fly home for the night as the sun sets

We’re getting lots of reading done, loving our chance to have long video-calls with friends and even had a great Zoom call with our book club yesterday, with members present from the UK, France, and the east-coast of Australia. What initially seemed like a long and daunting two week prison sentence is not going to be so bad after all. We’ll do our time, and before we know it will be out and back on our next flight across to Sydney.

Another fine NT sunset
No parties on D-block
The sky is on fire

8-9 November: Hello from Howard Springs

Author: Mr A

Location: Howard Springs International Quarantine Facility, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

A number of my friends won’t be surprised to hear that on entering Australia yesterday I have been detained at the pleasure of the Australian government, whilst assessing my potential health hazard to a largely coronavirus free country . Oh yes, Catherine’s here as well, even she couldn’t bat her lovely eyes out of this one!

Flying over the Northern Territory on our descent into Darwin International Airport
All the processing – passport control, temperature checks, interviews, C19 test and provision of room passes all happened at the RAAF side of the airport
A mini-bus drives us to the facility at Howard Springs

For fourteen days we are locked up in a quarantine centre just outside Darwin in the Northern Territory, with the very best medical support on hand should the two tests we have had in the last 3 days prove to be wrong, and we actually have caught coronavirus from one of the 300 returning Australians on the Qantas flight, all of whom have had, like us, a pre-and post flight test. However, the breaking news is that one of our fellow passengers tested positive upon landing in Darwin, so clearly there’s room for this sneaky virus to make it through screening and into Australia. So super vigilance is required and we support the rigour of the process. We cross our fingers over the next few days I guess.

We have been given these wearable devices to monitor our temperature and heart beat which synchronises with an app on an iPad to a central team who are monitoring the output.

We do love a good gadget, as you know! This one is surprisingly comfortable

We should get an early alert if things go south. I envisage being given an electric shock from the arm band in the middle of the night and having a voice come through the iPad speaker “Alert, alert, your temperature has risen by one degree and we detect zero flatulence”, just as hazmat suited health warriors break my door down.

Let me back track though about the facility we are in. Originally a camp built to house workers for a Japanese mining company, it has been adapted to now provide a quarantine centre where at least 5,000 Australian citizens returning from overseas can be securely ring fenced from each other (each flight stays in groups) and separated from those domestic travellers coming inter-state, as they are also quarantined here.

Prisoner cell-block D – our home for the next two weeks all going well
The other side of that fence is where the medical staff and NT police hang out on their breaks, and stay while they are stationed here

It is staffed on the health side by an organisation I had never heard of, but should have, called Australian Medical Assistance Teams (Ausmat). They are drawn from state and territory health services across Australia, and have provided a rapid response capability to emergencies such as Samoa‘s measles outbreak last year, then that dramaticThai cave rescue (yes that was them!), and a host of other humanitarian efforts internationally. Now Australia needs them here in the Northern Territory to provide support as a number of these repatriation flights, like ours, are bringing in folk with the virus. It must be contained.

We had a long old day yesterday, with 16 hrs on the flight, then another four going though an admissions process , more tests etc. Finally getting to our room, we were wished a another “welcome home” from the well intentioned AUSMAT staff. Opening the doors to our little huts, it was hard to keep a smile on our face. A place less like home it would be hard to imagine..

A blue swan awaits us on the bed
A welcome pack on the desk containing hand sanitiser and snacks sits beside our medical iPad and monitoring hardware. In the corner the all important kettle, tea bags and paper cups.
A neat little bathroom with a very powerful shower

We spent what was left of the day unpacking and trying to get our internet working. In the latter matter, a day later the IT contractor running the set up here remains unsuccessful, so we have heard we might be packing and moving again tomorrow. Ah well it passes the time I guess, as long as our stay doesn’t reset at day one in our new accomodation!

It’s interesting watching events unfold here, a bit like we are in a low budget Australian dystopian movie. With police and wire fencing everywhere, hazmat outfits, and these drab, prefab huts. Last night we decided to try and sit on our balcony with our flasks of tea. The police across the “other side of the wire” were watching us intently enough to shout out “Masks on”- we pointed out we were drinking, and the reply was, “put it on between drinking”. There was not another soul about and we were at least 5 metres and two fences away from them. We are on a balcony by ourselves, but that’s what they have been told to enforce after the previous tomfoolery. There’s a YouTube video of a “rave” going on up here when residents were allowed a little more freedom. Learning from what happened in Victoria (a major outbreak that locked down the state for months was traced to a poorly enforced quarantine regime) everyone’s a little nervous, and we have to respect that. Over zealous maybe, but better be safe than COVIDed.

No crocodiles sighted yet – the police with their guns would soon see them off – just plenty of chirping geckos dashing around the lights outside our cabin, munching on insects

We just need to think about what awaits us on our release. Friends in Sydney already have been planning our social schedule for when we finally arrive back , making our mouths water and our throats dry. The food here is shall we say, adequate. We aren’t going to starve, far from it. The wastage must be enormous. Millions around the world would be grateful for three meals a day of anything. And there is no alcohol allowed at all.

The heat is a shock to our temperate climate adjusted bodies, but we have the luxury of air con, so no complaints there. And seperate rooms, as each unit is only big enough for a single bed, fridge, desk and bathroom. So Catherine gets a good night’s sleep with no “wild animal noises” as she puts it, disturbing her little needed beauty sleep. After so much time in close proximity we are enjoying some time to do our own thing. Well I am, Catherine must be missing me like crazy 🙂

We just think of the thousands of Australians who have not had the opportunity to come back. There are some horror stories out there. Friends of ours with two young boys and a flight booking for New Year’s Eve were told by their airline “the flight may or may not go”. They have given up their house rental, sold their car, and have only their suitcases. If the flight gets cancelled like many have 24 hrs before, what do they do? Others are stuck in far flung countries with overwhelmed medical systems. Its a horrible situation for so many Australians who just want to come home. Meanwhile our politicians squabble among themselves, and point fingers at each other, but other than this initiative by the Federal government, things are happening far too slowly to resolve the problem. These people have Australian passports. They are being denied access to the country that expects them to pay their taxes. Of course we need to protect Australia from importing cases, but we surely also owe a duty of care to those who remain abroad and are vulnerable there?

And so we are back in Australia. It was funny coming out of the room tonight onto the balcony for something, then literally a couple of minutes later going out again, and I couldn’t help but shout “Gee, who put the lights out!”. We had forgotten what the tropics is like. One minute its so bright you’re squinting across the deck to spot the croc, then bang, the curtains are dropped in a flash of an often intense sunset, Then it‘s pitch black. Not just darkish..its black. None of that oh so British fiddling around with evening twilight thing. Like everything else here, its distinctive, its dramatic, its Australia.

And so the sun sets on our second night in quarantine….

7 November: And we are off!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Heathrow Airport, London, UK

After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.

Off we go…our first step….

Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.

Final use of the NHS covid app…

Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.

Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.

Final chat with mum, sister, nephew and niece

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!

Heathrow as we have never seen it before

Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….

6 November: Our last day in the UK, walking a locked down London

Author: Mr A

Location: The Paddington Hilton, London

Its our last day in the UK. we fly back to Australia tomorrow. Rarely have we felt so conflicted. We are going to miss so much about being here in the UK, and yet we’re have so much to look forward to when we get back to Sydney after our quarantine in Darwin.

So with the day to ourselves, we decided to lace up our walking boots for one last jaunt in the autumnal sunshine. A cold snap had obliged us by providing a last chance to get rugged up, feel our cheeks cold in the wind, and smell the fallen leaves as they accumulate in piles, just urging to be kicked.

The deserted streets of London’s first day of the second national lockdown gave us plenty of elbow room to explore.

We walked from our hotel, adjacent to Paddington Station (chosen to give us easy access to the Heathrow Express in the morning) and headed over to the Thames via Hyde Park and Chelsea, admiring the rows of luxury cars that lined the mews and the boutiques all shut up.

Our walk map
As most trees are losing their leaves, some in London are already coming into bud as though spring is imminent
The quiet streets around Paddington
The Italian Gardens – built in 1860 – their fountains one of our first sights as we enter Hyde Park
A coot in the Italian Gardens
An amazing sky this morning – these are apparently altocumulus clouds, and predict fair weather
Looking down towards Serpentine Bridge
Action shot of the swan photography session
A feisty swan on The Serpentine in Hyde Park
Fabulous autumn shades in Hyde Park

Some of the cavalry even turned out to see us off, which was nice.

A little bit of training in progress
Some of these fresh faced lads looked like they should be at school
Past Imperial College, the Science Museum and Natural History Museums…the roads deserted
The Natural History Museum is a magnificent building
We even made it to Sydney sooner than expected…ah-hem….

From Chelsea we crossed over the Albert Bridge and across to Battersea Park, where we enjoyed freshly filled vegan baguettes in the rose garden.

Albert Bridge – a cable suspension bridge originally built here in 1873
The Peace Pagoda was presented to Londoners in 1984
The tennis courts are closed due to the lockdown, but some lads manage to create their own space to play
The Chelsea Bridge is relatively new, having opened in 1937 to replace a previous bridge
Crunching through the autumn leaves – a great opportunity to relive the sounds, smells and experiences of your childhood!

Then it was all the way down to Westminster Palace with armed police everywhere as the terror threat status is “severe”, before then heading back via St James Park.

Strolling along the Thames Path
Looking across the River Thames towards the Nine Elms district and the new US Embassy building (opened December 2017). It looks equally impressive internally according to the embassy website..
Vauxhall Bridge
Westminster from the Victoria Tower Gardens, the Buxton Memorial in the foreground which commemorated 200 years since the abolition of slavery

We headed back through St. James’s Park, giving Buckingham Palace a wave as we then headed back across to Hyde Park. Just under 19km (12 miles) though some of the tourist highlights of London, and hardly a soul to be seen. Brilliant.

A European white pelican in St. James’s Park – it is tinged pink in mating season. They apparently have been known to fly into London Zoo for a feed of fish before returning back to the park! There have been pelicans in the park since some were first gifted by the Russian Ambassador in 1664
Plenty of grey squirrels in St James’s Park – hiding up trees from the multitude of small dogs that love to chase them
Buckingham Palace – if the royal standard is flying it means the Queen is home – with no breeze we cannot tell which flag is hoisted
Looking down St. James’s Park Lake towards Dover House (1750s) and the London Eye peering over the trees
Such space and greenery in central London
The final walk across Hyde Park
Bathurst Mews, back in Paddington, with its cobbled streets looking frozen in time

We have had plenty of time to reflect on what we will miss and what we are looking forward to. If I had to pick the top three on each list it would be as follows:

So what will we miss? Well the majority of our “blood family” is here, on a time time zone that makes it harder to connect on line when we go back. It’s not that we have been able to actually spend heaps of time with them, given the constraints of the various restrictions we have had, but the time that we have has been brilliant.

Secondly we will miss the changes that the seasons bring. The colours, the smells, the sounds, even here in the city the autumnal colours are spectacular in the parks. The different feel you get walking in the varying temperatures and weather, the coziness of turning up your collar against a chill wind. We just feel more engaged with the natural world watching everything change.

Finally, and we have talked together about this a lot, we will miss the feeling we get of having more values in common with the Brits. The courtesy shown by drivers, or service providers, pretty much everybody has a please or thank you, or sorry in their sentence. It just feels…nice. There’s no pushing and shoving, no macho aggressive behaviour. It just feels good.

However, Australia beckons with our “adopted family” and lovely fur child, our joint number one on the list of what’s pulling us back. They have been the people who we have spent such a chunk of our lives with, in Catherine‘s case, most of her adult life. There are going to be some wonderful reunions, some long lunches and even longer dinners!

And yes it will also be lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings, there haven’t been many times we have done that over here. There’s just something so wonderful about being able to extend your outdoor time right though the dark hours especially when there’s a pile of freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters close at hand, and chilled bottle of something crisp to wash them down.

Finally, it is those great wild open deserted spaces, whether they be miles of brilliant white sand on a beach, or the endless eucalyptus forests stretching to the horizon. The emptiness is just so serene, although this year I think it will be tougher to find the quiet spots with everyone staycationing in Australia.

It‘s worrying to leave friends and family here, given the transmission rates, especially since we wont be able to easily get back should there be a problem, but we really have no good option of where to stay. So it’s on that plane tomorrow we go.

Thanks again to all our family and friends here who have made this trip, even in these tough times, so memorable. It has been such an eye opener for us to see three seasons come and go in this beautiful country. To feel the joy of reconnecting with family, and to eat properly cooked fish and chips, which is what we are about to do now as our “Last Supper” 🙂

PS. We both just heard – both negative for Covid-19 – we’re definitely off tomorrow!

Hurrah…long may it continue to be this way!

1-5 November: More farewells and another lockdown commences

Author: Mrs A

Location: Portsmouth, Hampshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK

We left Brighton and made our way along the coast to Portsmouth, arriving in time to tune in our little TV and listen to Boris’s Saturday afternoon address of the nation. Except the 4pm address was delayed to 5pm….then the 5pm to 6pm….and the 6pm to…who knows when, because by then we were sipping our first gin and tonics with my sister Elle and brother in law John! They prepared a delicious spaghetti bolognaise and which we enjoyed with the usual sprinkling of funny stories, laughter and some rather delicious red wine.

After dinner we heard confirmation of the announcement – the UK is to go into a countrywide ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as of Thursday the 5th November. All non-essential shops are to close, and foreign travel is banned. Thankfully the Australian Embassy in London countered that to confirm that the repatriation flight we’re on is still going to leave on Saturday, and that we are exempt from that rule.

Catherine, nearly one Iris and Elle
Auntie Catherine with William and Edward

All too soon it was Sunday morning and we said farewell, pointing Truffy’s nose westwards to a campsite just outside Honiton in Devon.

It was our final chance to use the services, clean out the toilet thoroughly and basically get Truffy ready for storage.

On Monday we were welcomed to our friends’ Karen and Dan house, where we tackled the final washing requirements and they were very conveniently having a new part of their loft boarded…just in time for us to avail ourselves of a small portion of space for Truffy’s soft furnishings and a few bits and pieces we aren’t taking back to Australia. We are so grateful to these generous friends for their welcome help – conveniently located just 15 minutes drive from where we are storing our motorhome.

I join Karen for a stroll with a dog she occasionally walks…or should I say occasionally walks her!

Over the next three days, we prepared Truffy for winter – draining out the tanks, blowing out all the water from the pipes, and after our last storage experience, setting up some mouse bait stations in the hope we can save some of our wiring from nibbling teeth!

Finally it was time to store Truffy. We awoke to a crisp, clear morning and a fabulous view over the frosty white rooftops of Honiton and to the fields beyond. The perfect farewell memory for this stunning part of the UK. The autumn trees were positively glowing as we drove along empty roads to the storage place and parked Truffy up for the last time.

A frosty Thursday morning
Love these autumn colours…
Everything is sparkling

We both felt rather sad driving away. Although this year didn’t bring us the travel adventures we initially expected, we have had some incredible times these past few months, reconnecting with our homeland, watching the seasons change and relishing all the weathers and temperatures that come hand in hand with them.

While we don’t know when we will be able to return we do at least feel comfortable that Truffy’s in safe hands and will hopefully not be in too bad a shape when we eventually return.

Stepping onto an empty train platform at Honiton, followed by a nearly empty train to London, we were reminded that these are strange times, with more to come. This is the first day of the UK’s second Covid-19 lockdown.

Honiton Station is rather lonely
The carriage is quiet too – not many folks travelling up to London with government orders not to travel without good reason
And we’re all alone at Waterloo Station

Our first step along the way to getting back to Australia was to get a Covid-19 test done. This was included in the price of our ticket with the results being sent simultaneously back to us as well as Qantas sometime in the next 48 hours. Getting a negative result means we can board the plane on Saturday morning…hopefully sooner than that given our flight leaves in a little more than 36 hours’ time!

We caught a taxi to Fenchurch Street where the testing centre was located. It was all very casual and ramshackle, nothing like the NHS centre I had attended for a test two weeks ago. We were called in to be tested one by one, sat in a chair in a tiny cupboard-like office, beside a bin overflowing with cardboard boxes and used tissues. Definitely not the most hygienic testing facility – we both left feeling slightly violated and with the distinct impression we had been placed in more danger of being exposed to the virus than we have in any of our previous weeks of travel.

The Covid-19 testing centre and my test kit

We left and caught a very quiet tube train from the city to Paddington Station where we checked into the Hilton Hotel for the next couple of nights. Thanks to the lockdown, there is no eating out at a restaurant tonight – just an UberEats delivery in our room.

We have one final day left in the UK before we fly, and with few shops open and nothing left to do or prepare, there’s a lovely sense of freedom about the day ahead. A chance to just breathe and enjoy London for its outdoor spaces and cool temperatures before our upcoming time in Darwin’s 34°C quarantine.

The Circle Line at 4pm is usually standing room only…not today
Even Paddington Bear sports a face mask in the Hilton Hotel lobby
Where are all the people? Certainly not at this hotel!

25-31 October: A “wedding week” in Brighton and an imminent return to Australia in motion

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, East Sussex, UK

Part of our mental health discipline in these trying times is to keep thinking of the benefits the pandemic has brought us. There have many, but one of the greatest was to be able to share in Catherine’s sister‘s wedding here in Brighton this week.

A pre wedding Sunday afternoon stroll after lunch up at Hollingbury Hill Fort
Uncle Mark explaining to Isabel how many years ago the Iron Age people built this fort
Queen of the golf course
Chasing around with Auntie Catherine
The sun reemerging from behind a black cloud, the rain heading out to sea for now

Helen and Stuart have been together a while, evidenced by having two lovely children Elliott (9) and Isabel (6), and five years before them of child free togetherness in the south coast seaside town of Brighton. They decided, for a number of reasons back in the summer this year, that autumn would be the right time to tie the knot. One of those reasons was undoubtedly that Catherine would be around to share the experience. Geographical separation over the last 22 years has not weakened the strong sister-bond. For me as well, Helen and Stu have been like family over those years since they first got together. Helen stayed with us when she came to Australia, and came to our wedding back in 2002. Stuart has shared many a decent glass of red over the years, and fed me some of the most memorable, relaxed, fun meals we have had on our visits back.

To see them share their continuing commitment to each other, with a close group of friends and family (only 15 allowed), that was just priceless for both of us. How they pulled off such a fabulous event given the constantly changing constraints, was a marvel! But they did. The week was full of hair and nail appts for the girls, and perhaps Stuart (I’m not sure :)), and time at their place just hanging out with the kids, and eating and eating and eating! Brighton has some fabulous places to buy deli food from, and I think Stuart must know them all! OK so the weather wasn’t always conducive to being out and about, but we wrapped up and headed out on walks with them, several times clocking up many miles along Brighton’s wet and windy seafront walking in and out from our caravan park.

Fresh from a haircut, Helen sports a stunning bouncy blow dry
Autumn colours in the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets
Arriving at the registry office, Isabel and Elliot almost upstaging their parents at the ceremony in their gorgeous outfits

The ceremony itself went without a hitch, in a gorgeous room at the local town hall. Bio-degradable confetti was thrown (against council regulations), and we all felt rebellious. The showers came and went, but Stuart’s sister, who just happens to be an awesome wedding photographer, captured some magic moments.

Catherine, mum Jenny, and half sister Elle sit together, representing Helen’s side of the guest quota
Elliot managed to smuggle in another guest, rabbit, who had not been on the invite list!
A gorgeous ceremony
Helen signing the registry
The happy couple emerge, jubilant, to a huge round of applause from well wishers outside
Jenny battles the strong wind to sprinkle the happy couple with petal confetti
Miss Isabel giggling at the fun
Half-sister Elle, Catherine, the bride Helen, mum Jenny and half-brother Alex

The long lunch that followed (at The Ivy in The Lanes) was one of the best dining experiences we have had over this side of the world. The food, the wine, the company, the context of the room itself and its decor, the staff whose smiles refused to be hidden by their masks. This was a special time, and has been filed carefully in our memories.

Terrible table selfies and lots of laughter
John, Elle and Catherine
The ladies’ toilets were rather special
The beautiful bride and bridesmaid
Miss Isabel

Feeling a little dusty the day after the wedding, we treated Helen, Stu and the kids to pizza at Fatto a Mano restaurant in Hove. As always they were great company and the food helped clear the head a little, as did the rather blowy and showery walk back to our campsite along the seafront!

A post wedding day pizza in nearby Hove
Day one of wedded bliss – Mr and Mrs Carter
Looking stormy over the West Pier ruins
More stormy weather approaching behind us
The bright lights of Brighton Palace Pier cheer up a rather grey looking scene

Saying goodbye to all our friends and family here is especially difficult this time as we prepare to leave, because we have no clue when we will be back, with the travel restrictions in place and soaring airfare costs.

We have made it onto one of the “specially facilitated” flights back to Australia. Qantas has entered into an agreement with the Australian government to run a number of these flights from London, New Delhi and J’burg. At $2,165 a head for a one way ticket, they are reasonably priced in these times of expensive airfares, and that‘s one way. A requirement for a pre-flight COVID-19 test 48hrs before our flight means that will be our first milestone to clear next Thursday in London, before hopefully boarding the flight on Saturday morning. Then its off to a hot and steamy Darwin non-stop, just under 17 hrs, with limited in-flight food and no entertainment provided.

A happy morning when we received this email!

Why Darwin when we live in Sydney? Well that‘s part of the deal with these flights. You have to complete `14 days quarantine at a special facility just outside the city. Landing at the RAAF section of the airport, and then channelled through a special process involving another test, special briefings, and then a bus ride to our quarantine centre at a place called Howard Springs, 30km south of the city. It was built in 2012 to house workers from a Japanese mining company, now serves as home for at least 14 days to incoming Australians on these special flights, as well as some domestic flights where passengers are also forced to quarantine. Australia is serious about controlling its borders.

At $2,500 a head, its another cost we hadn’t expected, plus our flight back to Sydney once we are clear, but still cheaper than the $19,500 business class airfare from Singapore Airlines that was our other option! There are economy fares around, but the tales of people being continuously bumped off them, as Australia is capping its number of incoming international passengers, put us off that uncertain route, and the ones we could find to book were not leaving for weeks. Plus we would then have been in hotel quarantine, possibly in a room without any access to fresh air. At Howard Springs we get to have some outdoor time each day. We would both struggle with being locked up in an airless hotel room.

Catherine’s airway disease means she is classed as vulnerable, so we qualified for the flight, thanks to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are administering the invites. So flying on a tightly controlled route from a health perspective made sense. The last flight from London arrived with zero cases, the ones from New Delhi only four, so we are going into a pretty low risk environment we think. However, England is going into lockdown next week, so how this will affect all these plans we have no clue!

On day 12 of quarantine we are to be tested again, and if we’re clear, then get permission to jump on the flight we have set up to Sydney on Sunday the 22nd. There may well be a glass or two of something alcoholic consumed that night and some decent food. The Howard Springs facility is dry, serves all meals in take away containers with plastic cutlery, like a two week long airplane flight! So a hug with our close friends Jenny and David, and hours of cuddling our fur child Tassie, will be the milestone we look forward to over the next three weeks.

It‘s sure going to be an interesting few weeks for many people in the UK and Europe as case numbers soar, and the US as civil unrest looks to raise its head whichever way their vote goes. Australia seems a safe haven. Our options here in the UK and Europe are limited for the winter as campsites will no doubt close, travel restrictions tighten, and the weather makes living in a motorhome though the winter increasingly impractical. So it‘s Australia we hope to make it back to. Keep your fingers crossed for us please, and maybe see you down under soon!

Happy Halloween!

19-24 October: Feeling autumnal in the south-east of England

Author: Mrs A

Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Hastings, East Sussex and London.

After a lovely morning out with Hayley and the boys, we said goodbye to them and drove a short way south to my cousin’s house in the village of Little Gaddesden. It’s getting to the point now that we are constantly saying goodbye, not knowing whether we will be stopped from seeing family because of Australia’s restrictions on people leaving the country, or by local lockdowns. It is heart wrenching either way.

A lovely relaxed evening with Karen and Iain ensued, a delicious Sunday roast and some fine wine consumed. Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, so Karen, Mark and I set off on a walk (map of our route).

Setting off along a lane

Little Gaddesden is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), most notably the Ashridge Estate, the location of Ashridge House, a magnificent mansion built in the 1800s on the site of an old priory built in the 1300s.

We followed a Roman road (known locally as ‘spooky lane’ with several reports of ghosts and witchcraft links) which was sunk by the third Earl of Bridgewater some time in the 1600s to allow his wife to travel in a carriage down the road hidden from the peasants. The green brick walls covered by winding tree roots and ivy certainly looked mysterious.

The Devil’s Bridge

Footpaths wind their way through the countryside in every direction, the vibrant colours of autumn catching our eyes. We walked across fields and down lanes, our ramble finding it’s half way point conveniently at a gastro pub in the lovely old village of Frithsden.

The Alford Arms was doing a roaring trade on this Monday lunchtime
Karen and Catherine – more than four decades of friendship

After a delicious lunch, we looped back around via a restored ancient woodland and the Ashridge Estate, spotting a couple of shy does in the bushes near Karen’s house. They were members of a large herd of fallow deer living wild around here, descendants of deer originally introduced during the 13th century for hunting and venison.

The intrepid walkers
Cousins – still the same two little girls who used to play together on family occasions growing up
Looking out towards Ashridge, hidden behind the trees
Beautifully disguised in the woodland copse, this pair of does certainly spotted us long before we spied them

Tuesday morning saw us once again saying our farewells as we pointed Truffy’s nose further south to East Sussex to spend some time with my mum.

We had a relaxing few days there, making the most of a sunny afternoon for a stroll around St Leonards.

Mr A enjoying the sunshine in a sheltered nook, where my grandparents used to picnic too. He had just had his eye pressures checked and all is healthy – great news!
A picnic lunch on the seafront
Ladybirds were out in force on this sunny afternoon
St Leonards Gardens, originally part of a farm in the 1700s
Mum and Barry have a rest and enjoy the view
The sunlight in the leaves lights up the park
North Lodge Pay Gate was built in the early 1800s ,when St Leonards on Sea was being developed around a burgeoning tourism industry

On Friday morning Mark and I caught a train up to London. Mark went off to have a look around the outdoor shops while I caught a tube across to Hammersmith to have some more injections in my neck, always a joy!

London was eerily quiet, being in Tier 2 of the alert levels (high), many people were staying away from the public transport and working from home.

One minute until the next train and I am the only person on the platform

Charing Cross Hospital (not anywhere near Charing Cross Station, interestingly enough!) also had few people around as I found my way to the ENT outpatient clinic, had my temperature checked (35.8°C) and waited for the team to be ready to see me. The procedure went as planned, with some great news – there is no sign at all of any scarring in my trachea – I am 100% open! That’s the first time that has happened since 2016.

Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith sits alongside a quiet haven in London, the Margravine Cemetery a peaceful green space
The fearless grey squirrels rule the roost in the cemetery
Pretending to be a tree trunk

It was hard to celebrate however, as my vocal cord was temporarily frozen by the local anaesthetic and I had no voice, but I made my way back across London to reunite with Mark and head back to Hastings.

Fish and chips from the local chippy concluded our time in Hastings, and after lunch the next day (voice back working, to Mark’s chagrin!), we farewelled mum for a few days and travelled a short way across country to Brighton… It is the start of an exciting week – my sister’s getting married (Covid-19 style!).

13-18 October: Walking in the footsteps of my parents

Author: Mr A

Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK

It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).

Great campsite at Houghton Mill. a National trust property
My mums home growing up – the riverside town of Godmanchester
The River Great Ouse
I remember her telling me she used to swim in this river as a teenager
We even found the same pub we went to that day
A gnome outside the hotel
Cheers! Remembering Clem and Jill 💕
The Old Bridge at Godmanchester

From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!

From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.

The Church of St Swithin in Old Weston where my ‘Turner’ ancestors almost certainly attended

Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.

The salubriously named road where so many of my relatives lived – Rotton actually is from the word for Royal in old English
More mentions of ancestors at the nearby church
One of my ancestors memorialised after he died in the First World War
”You are my sunshine”

A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!

From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.

A fab night out with daughters Zoe and Hayley
Well I had to keep daughter number two company with a desert!

One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.

The newest edition to Halyey’s family – the very cuddly Belle

Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.

The Grand Union Canal in mirror-like perfection
What an avenue of autumnal delight, a few minutes walk from the city centre
A seagull soars over the barges
Perfect colour palette

We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.

Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.

I thought they were coming over!
Lynx used to be native to the UK but have been extinct here since the 1300s
Just love a bird show – now now…..this one’s a buzzard….
A gorgeous barn owl
Jacob is such a lovely lad – quick to smile and a pleasure to be with
A moment captured to treasure with Zoe and Jacob

Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.

Some were keener than other top be captured by Catherines lens. -or was it my aftershave?
Intrepid explorers off for a stomp

I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.