Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire & Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Tuesday morning started wet and cold, a shock after our first couple of days with brilliant sunshine, but it was a good day for driving. We farewelled John and Catriona and headed south, aiming for a little village in Hertfordshire, Little Gaddeston, where my cousin lives.
It was not as smooth a journey as it could have been. We did not yet have SIM cards or any internet data, so we were reliant on our in-car sat nav rather than our more trusted friend, Miss Google. Our lack of trust was justified when it kept directing us off the main roads and onto winding country lanes. I eventually found that ‘motorways’ were turned off in settings! The software was quite out of date too, with several roads missing. I managed to get onto a free wifi signal at a service centre and set up the route via Google Maps on my phone. Much easier!
Other than that, the journey was fabulous. Truffy-the-truck (our newly named motorhome) is so comfortable to drive and with fabulous visibility. We were soon parking up and joining Karen and Iain for a cup of tea before Hannah and Ella came home from school.
Wednesday all too soon our visit was over, and after a morning debating storage solutions with Iain, drinking endless cups of herbal tea and watching Karen try out my ebike on their local hill (it got the tick of approval!), we pulled away and continued our journey south, heading to Hastings.
As we travelled through Kent and into East Sussex the temperature gauge dropped from 9 through to 4 degrees centigrade, and the brown looking clouds soon revealed their contents to be sleet and snow. Not far from our destination we found ourselves driving through snow slushy roads lined with white roofed houses – amazing! It’s been a long time since we have seen scenery like this.
We made it without incident to my mum’s house and parked up outside.
We had a great couple of days there, getting our first lot of kit shopping done for Truffy (we have to completely set up our new home!) as well as joining up with a local doctor. Marmalade, their young ginger cat, got lots of attention and cuddles, particularly from Mr A in the early hours of the morning (jet lag o’clock!).
On the Thursday evening we treated mum and Barry to dinner at a restaurant in Hastings as a thank you for all their help with our return…taking receipt of many parcels, sharing letters and even receiving nuisance calls in the early hours of the morning from Vodafone robots…
Friday morning we packed up Truffy again and headed off towards Brighton, with a slight diversion to catch up with a lovely lady, Karen, who has idiopathic subglottic stenosis and lives just a mile from home. I spent a good hour chatting with her – she’s a GP and is really keen to raise awareness of the disease. There will potentially be a presentation for me to do when we come back from travelling in Europe…I’ll be keeping in touch to hopefully organise that.
We were excited to finally be spending a night in our new home!
Location: London Heathrow Airport, Harby, Nottinghamshire, UK
In September of last year whilst travelling in the US, we started to dream about spending a longer chunk of time in the UK and Europe. After months of planning we have turned that dream into a reality and stepped of the plane from Sydney into a “fresh” (a euphemism the Brits use for bloody freezing) spring day at Heathrow.
The flight had been an extra long one, delayed out of Sydney with no explanation, diverting around Pakistan airspace and dodging storms over Turkey. We choose not to spend our fixed income from super and rent on business class airfares, we see too many other things that compete for our dollars and give us more pleasure. So it was the squishy back of the plane for us. A uneventful flight except for a young fellah who had to be threatened with the police to quieten him down, and that threat was delivered on when we arrived at Heathrow with 3 burly London metropolitan police officers escorting him off for what would no doubt be an unpleasant start to his UK stay, Qantas staff taking it all in their stride. What a job these cabin crew do. Cleaning up the poor aim of guys who refuse to sit down, dealing with the unruly and the far too spoilt folks with endless complaints about the wine (no, I didn’t! – we decided to sneak in an AFD (alcohol free day) on the trip). With that drama out of the way, we finally got to end over 25 hours of plane time and step out into the arrivals hall.
We were met by a guy I have known for over half a century, since the first year of secondary school, and he had driven all the way down from near Lincoln though the night to meet us. Friendships that have spanned that amount of time take on a quality that is so different. You have seen each other through so many phases of your life, you are known intimately for what you are, good and bad. So our piles of luggage were loaded (74kg of it!) and we were whisked off for a few hours more sitting on our bottoms. Arriving at their quintessential English country village of Harby, we were both reminded of all the things we love about our old homeland. The smell in the air at this time of year is quite unique, a blend of freshly mown grass, a tang of manure, it triggered so many memories, smell being our most powerful sense.
Their house is affectionately referred to by the village as “the manor”. I remember visiting the land when they first purchased it. Since then they have turned that patch of overgrown blackberry bushes into a house you would not be surprised to see on Grand Designs. John has been in the construction industry all his life as a civil engineer, while Catriona has impeccable taste and a brother who is an acclaimed architect. A great combination! When you see your friends who have struggled through some tough times and worked their butts off to create their dream home, now enjoying the phase of sharing it with friends and family, its truly heart warming.
The first job on the list was to collect our new e-bikes, chosen on line and never seen in the flesh. I have to give mention to the dealer who has sourced the bikes and provided such great service, OnBikes Electric Bikes – brilliant service indeed. So a busy couple of hours in our friend’s garage assembling them and we are ready for our first ride. What beauties they are don’t you think?
From the high end e-bike producers in Germany Riese and Muller, these machines will serve in place of a second car. Taking a motorhome into town centres inevitably ends badly.
They fly along, although in the UK (as in Australia) they are limited to 25km/hr when the motor will cut out. Really that’s plenty of speed for us. Why electric? Well neither of us is good on hills for different reasons, and we just find we decide to use a bike a lot more if we know we can make the hills without arriving for dinner all sweaty and breathless. Carrying shopping also becomes easy, important when parking your only vehicle in a town centre is problematic.
A key part of the plan to travel in England and Europe relied on us having a motorhome, for a variety of reasons. If you are relying on booking accomodation that really ties you down to where and when you travel. Also you are forced to eat out all the time. You spend a good part of your time searching, booking, moving into and out of places. All those hassles disappear to a large extent if you have your accomodation with you.
So we had decided to buy rather than rent, based on the economics of the length of time we plan to tour for, and the pleasure of being an owner who can customise and kit out their home as they wish. We decided we wanted something as small as possible, but still fit a decent bathroom with toilet and shower. So we settled on a make and model we wanted and started searching, almost immediately realising that only one or two of them were coming up secondhand a year. So when one did appear last December, we took the plunge. The dealer was also conveniently close to our friends near Lincoln, who kindly went to check it out and gave the thumbs up.
Monday: So the day had finally arrived to pick it up, on April Fools Day quite worryingly! We decided to go left hand drive as we plan to spend more time in Europe than the UK, and its a manual. So a little anxious about then getting used to driving it on UK roads, we set up to view our purchase in the flesh for the first time. What a beauty he is.
The handover and briefing on operating it couldn’t have been more professional. We have been so impressed with how the staff from Fuller Leisure had conducted themselves with us. The modifications we had done were all done right. We wanted to be able to travel independent from powered camp sites, so have installed solar panels, extra battery, a bit of kit to accelerate charging from the alternator, USB points and converted the gas system to LPG (every country we would visit uses different bottles).
We finally drove away at lunch time, and immediately I took to driving it. It has an enormous panoramic window which gives a great view of what other traffic is up to. Positioning the vehicle on the road (its a bit wider than a car at 2.2 metres) I found easy from the left hand side. My sharp eyed co-pilot was able to help call out all clear at roundabouts and junctions. So we made it back to Harby in one piece, mission accomplished!
It was just a 90 minute drive from Bulahdelah up to Port Macquarie, so we were pulling into our campsite by lunchtime. We’d decided to head for a caravan park because the washing mountain was building up, plus there are a few days of wet weather forecast.
We were last in Port about 5 years ago, that time in our Ultimate camper trailer with the kayak and two eBikes. As we drove into town, familiar sights gradually reminded us of our last visit and the Hastings River oysters we had enjoyed. Ah yes, the oysters! Sadly none found today – something to save for tomorrow!
After a couple of loads of washing were done (remember our washing machine only takes 2kg!) and lunch consumed, we jumped on the mountain bikes for an explore. We are parked about 20 metres from part of the Macquarie coastline shared pathway, and so followed our noses for a while, eventually arriving at the Settlement Point river ferry. Checking Google Maps I could see we could cross the river and continue our cycle on the other side, potentially crossing back over via another ferry. Mark checked with a nearby local who confirmed the other ferry was indeed running, and off we went.The other side of the river was much quieter, with hardly a car on the road. We passed more oyster farms and beautiful white gum trees, before reaching the next ferry about 6km later.While the afternoon was bright and sunny, we noticed that the sky to the west was looking very dark. A quick look at the weather forecast listed a whole load of warnings, including for severe thunder storms, large hail and strong winds…we whizzed back to the campground to make sure windows were closed and the awning was secured. Of course, no inclement weather eventuated, just a hot cloudy humid evening. Still it was a good 18km ride, and got the blood moving after a few days of not much activity.
I’m actually hoping we get some rain tomorrow. Our lovely friends Donna and Andy (expert sourdough chefs) will be pleased to learn we are intending to try baking another loaf. Everything is prepared, and kneading hands are at the ready…wish us luck!
I joined mum and her husband Barry in a couple of games of ten pin bowling – the first time I have been in over 20 years! Unsurprisingly I was slightly out of practice in the first game, coming second place to mum, but somehow found my mojo in the second game, with four spares and a strike taking me to the lead!
The rain closed in for the afternoon, so mum and I disappeared into the loft to try to sort through some of the many things from my childhood still left up there. Hours disappeared as I read my way through many letters received from friends in our teenage years, laughing lots at the things we said to each other about our trials and tribulations. I found lots of old photos and other goodies too, and much left to look at in future visits.
Friday 22 September
Distance walked: 10 km
After packing up my bags, mum and I drove over to Brighton to meet my sister Helen and niece Isabel after their dancing class. It was a stunning day, a crisp autumnal 17 degrees with blue skies.
We headed down to the seafront so Isabel could have a play at the park down there.
I had to buy an ice cream in Izzy’s shop – she assured me it was vegan:
We had a delicious lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant, before returning to collect Elliot from school and celebrate Mum’s birthday with cake and presents.
Saturday 23 September
Distance walked: 9 km
A morning of playing with Elliot and Isabel was followed by some sister time. Stu kindly looked after the children for the afternoon, freeing Helen and I to head into Brighton for some shopping. Its great how something so simple as shopping with your sister can be so special when you have at least 12 months between shops. I’m not sure we had the opportunity when I was here last. We even found a shop with our initials, so had to take a photo!
We had a successful trip, picking up a couple of things each, before returning home via the Royal Pavillion gardens in the late afternoon sun.
Stu is out tonight with a couple of friends, so Helen and I will be responsible for bed time and story reading, before my last opportunity for proper fish and chips for dinner. Final morning in Brighton tomorrow before I head off to Gatwick Airport, flying to Dubai and eventually Perth….Mr A, I’m nearly on my way! ❤️
Mum and I caught the train up to London this morning, then took the tube over to Baker Street. We had lunch in Regent’s Park, surrounded by hungry ducks, geese and a million and one pigeons…which I did not expect to be so bold!From there we decided to head into Madame Tussaud’s for a visit. This was mum’s birthday treat (her birthday is this coming Monday when I will be somewhere flying over the Middle East on my way back to Australia), and we haven’t been together since I was about 10 or 11 years old!
We had a great couple of hours mingling with the celebrities – they weren’t too talkative but were happy to pose for photos.
Mum giving advice to James Bond…
I tried to make friends with my nemesis, Darth Vader:
Mum was almost Incredible Hulked….
And Barack Obama was an absolute pleasure to meet…
Soon it was time for my appointment with Mr Guri Sandhu, my UK airway consultant (I like to scatter them around the globe!). We headed to his Harley Street rooms where he had kindly squeezed me in for an appointment despite being between trips (arrived back from Morocco at midnight last night, off to India in the early hours of tomorrow!). He took a look at my trachea and shared his thoughts about the next steps to diagnose what’s going on with my breathing. Hopefully the mystery will be solved back in Perth, Western Australia.
From there, we headed to Oxford Circus in an attempt to find mum a new dress for the weekend. We found lots of very unattractive dresses for sale, and were unsuccessful in a purchase. We gave up and decided a glass of wine and dinner would be in order.
We headed to the roof garden at John Lewis – by now the sun was shining and it was lovely to be sat outside (albeit with a heater overhead – it is autumn after all!). We had some delicious food and wine, before heading back to Hastings on the 8.45pm train.
Sunday morning in London saw Helen and I enjoying another cooked breakfast to see us on our way, as we washed the sheets and towels, took out the rubbish and generally turned Owen’s apartment back into a pre Slater-Sister residence. We decided to head back down to the pool for a final dip, sauna and steam before heading off to Victoria Station and catching the train down to Brighton.
Helen’s fiancé Stu met us at the train station, along with my nephew and niece, Elliot and Isabel, and took us back to their home. Elliot wasted no time advising me that I was staying in his bedroom, while Isabel was busy ensuring I became well acquainted with all her princesses and toys in her room.
Soon it was bedtime for the kids, and time for me to head out to meet Claire, a friend since uni days – around 25 years – gee we are getting old! We tried for a pub dinner but nobody was serving, so opted for a local Italian and a bottle of Chianti. A great catch up and laughs had as always. It may be a long while between drinks, but it sure never feels like it!
Monday 18 September
Distance walked: 4.5km
I was woken bright and early by an excited nephew and niece, getting ready to head off to pre-school and school. I observed Helen and Stu whirlwind around and get themselves ready for work and the kids fed and dressed and out of the front door. I have no idea how they manage it every day – it is organised chaos, but seems to work. I had to go back to bed for a nap after they’d gone!
I caught the train along the coast to Hastings, met by post-art class mum at the station around midday. I was pleased I brought along my winter clothes, as it was no warmer than about 14 degrees centigrade, with looming black clouds in the sky. Mum and I went for toasted panninis for lunch, only emerging once the hail and rain was easing.
We did a little shopping and then headed back home for a relaxing rest of the day.
Tuesday 19 September
Distance walked: 5.5km
A bright sunny day greeted us, so mum and I decided a walk was in order. We drove into Hastings and strolled along to Hastings Old Town.
George Street was still full of flowers, despite the autumnal day, and as always the pubs brought back good memories of days gone by. It was a bit too early for a pint in the Pump House!
We strolled up through All Saints Street before turning and walking along the seafront to the pier for a cup of tea.
After a bite for lunch we decided to head over to Tusker House, the home where my 95 year old grandma resides. It was great to surprise her sitting in her chair, and see her face light up and say “Ooh, it’s Catherine from Orstralia!” in her terrible Australian accent. So pleased she still knows who I am. The conversation was a little repetitive, but I think she enjoyed our visit…probably long forgotten now. Lots of the other dementia patients all seemed to think I was one of their relatives too – at one point it was like day of the zombies with several shuffling oldies trying to hold my hand or stroke my hair! Arghhh!
Mum and I needed a vodka on our return home to recover.
A relaxing evening ahead with pork ribs for dinner.
It was time for me to say farewell to Chicago, but first get some final kilometres under my belt before heading to the airport. I headed out to find some Chicago wildlife with my telephoto lens, not knowing quite what I would find in the city parks. My first discovery was a complete surprise – an escaped Australian parrot – a little blue female budgerigar which wasn’t quite tame enough to fly to my arm, but wasn’t far off. I hope she finds her home soon, otherwise she will not survive the winter.
More birds revealed themselves as I strolled through the gardens, often munching on native seedheads:
As I turned to return to the hotel, I walked back past the Art Institute of Chicago, where the cutest little squirrel was dancing around on the steps looking for snacks to bury for the winter.
And so I showered, completed my packing and headed out for lunch at a recommended local diner. A delicious chicken and noodle salad and I was ready for the off.
The flight from Chicago left on time and I managed to sleep about 4 hours on the way across the Atlantic to London.
Friday 15 September
Distance walked: 7.5 km
7.30am at Heathrow, I collected my luggage and made my way to the London Underground and across the city to Vauxhall to friend Owen’s apartment. Owen had extremely kindly offered the use of his home to Helen (my sister) and I for the weekend, while he travelled in France with friends. He was busy with calls when I got in, but seemed relieved I was there safely, advising me there had just been a potential terror attack on the London Underground in West London, very close to where I had been travelling. I had been blissfully unaware of this, having neither phone signal or data on my phone. Phew – if that device had gone off one station later…anyhow, it didn’t and I am all fine.
I showered, did some washing, and made arrangements to meet Helen off her train from Brighton later, before rushing out to Farringdon to meet two ladies from the support group I run. We had a delicious lunch and great catch up. My next stop was Paddington Station to meet a doctor friend, Reza. He is an airway specialist and has been in New Zealand the last few months, teaching doctors in Auckland how to conduct the surgery I had about three years ago. He offered to review some videos of my trachea and share some thoughts about my recent airway issues, and I in return offered to help him refine a patient questionnaire he is designing. A fair exchange of skills I think!
From that catch up I leaped back on the train across to Victoria Station to meet Helen, and from there back to the apartment. We decided to have a quiet night in with a bottle of wine and fine dining from Tesco supermarket! It was great. The view from Owen’s apartment is truly five star. We had our own music and no interruptions from anyone – the perfect night to just catch up on everything.
Saturday 16 September
Distance walked:17 km
After the best night’s sleep I have had in about two weeks, I was woken with a cup of herbal tea by Helen at around 8am. Lovely. We cooked breakfast and began the day slowly, drinking in the ever changing view out of the window. The clear breaking dawn did not last last long, with London as always reminding us that as a small island, the UK’s weather changes swiftly, bringing grey skies and occasional showers.
Our next destination was 28 floors below us, the spa. We headed down for a swim, steam and sauna, spending a couple of hours enjoying the luxury with no other folks there. I think all long flights should have this at the end of them! The perfect way to spend a grey morning.
Following showers, we headed out for a stroll along the Thames Path, clocking up a 9 km circuit, before returning to the apartment to get ready for the evening.
Our evening commenced at L’Opera Tavern for delicious shared tapas plates – the likes of wood pigeon and king prawns tantalised our tastebuds, accompanied by an Italian Syrah. Onwards then to the Adelphi Theatre to see Kinky Boots. It’s the tale of a Northampton Boot and Shoe factory which is going out of business, and finds a niche market making boots for transvestites. Funny, clever, incredible singing and dancing on six inch heels by six foot blokes – definitely the best musical I have seen. If it’s playing near you, don’t hesitate – go!
After the show we went on the hunt for chocolate sorbet (for me), finding it in a popular little gelato shop near Covent Garden Market. Absolutely delicious and presented as a rose. Here’s Helen modelling her hazelnut chocolate ice cream and berry cheesecake ice cream combination:
A fantastic evening out, and home to sleep by midnight!