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!

15-23 March: Modifying Truffy, getting evicted and finding a new home

Author: Mr A

Location: Doncaster (Yorkshire), Harby (Nottinghamshire), Kettering (Northamptonshire), Brighton (East Sussex), West Bagborough (Somerset), UK

In my dotage, which is looming ever closer, I hope to be able to say that we, and all those we hold dear, survived these scary times, came out the other end having learned new things about what’s important to us and the planet we call home.

It has been a roller coaster week of intense highs and lows. It started with me heading north to Doncaster for a couple of days to get some major modifications to Truffy. We had decided to get a levelling system fitted as every time we set up camp we have to drive him up on massive ramps. Not always in good weather, and not always leading to good marital relations as Catherine tries to direct me up the various levels without driving over the top of them. Yes I did that once. So we now have four hydraulic legs that lower down with the press of a button and get the Truff all nicely level.

To be frank, Doncaster isn’t somewhere I’m going to be rushing back to, but I did discover an awesome cycle route just outside of town that none of the web sites I searched even mentioned.

The Trans Penine Trail, running coast to coast is one of the great cycling infrastructure assets of the UK with over 200 miles of signed path on mostly dedicated cycle way or quiet roads. What a fabulous opportunity to “socially distance” myself and ride its quiet paths.

The Trans Pennine Trail
A beautiful spring day to be out cycling
The Stainforth and Keadby canal – connects the River Donn and River Trent

I would prefer the term “physically distance” ourselves as being more precise. We need to continue to socialise, to support each other and keep ourselves mentally healthy, just not by physical socialising.

I then rejoined Catherine in my old home town stomping ground of Kettering, and once again experienced the generosity and thoughtfulness of our friends, with whom we had a cracking evening filled with gin, red wine, Indian takeaway and much laughter, then a hangover breakfast and a escorted shopping trip to try and stock up an empty Truffy larder.

Cheers! Lots of laughs…

We had booked on to a campsite in Brighton for a week. By now we had accepted that camp sites were likely to close and we would have to find a rental place. That proved harder than we thought with landlords returning to their holiday homes, and press articles appearing from rural communities saying they didn’t want incoming travellers escaping the cities and overloading their health services. Fair enough, but where were people like us with their homes rented out going to go? Some friends near Lincoln had offered co-habitation in their fabulous place, but we didn’t know how long this would have to be for so felt we really needed our own front door and not have to impose on friends in their sanctuary.

Brighton Pier only available for careful takeaway
Blue skies hide the chilly north-easterly wind that was blowing

Catherine managed a couple of brief catch ups with her sister and family, and also a friend from Sydney who had travelled over for her mum’s 100th birthday, only to be told on landing that the care home she was in had just been placed on lockdown.

Catherine and Wendy maintaining distance while catching up on news

There are so many stories like this around the world are making this a hugely stressful time as we try and adjust our lives and expectations.

Sisters can’t be torn apart
A couple of elves in the park

Then on the second day into our week‘s booking we were told we had to vacate the camp as they were closing, with immediate effect. We were stunned. We had nowhere to go. There had been some bad press about people streaming down to the coast to caravan parks and I think the government put pressure on the parks to close. But with zero notice we were in a difficult position.

After some calling around we found another site that was still open, booked that and were ready to head off when they rang and said they had changed their mind. Then we found another that was still open. We called in on Catherine‘s mum in Hastings, to pick up some parcels and deliver Mother’s Day flowers and card. These were passed across the threshold of her door, no hugs or kisses today. So hard for all of us. But we must behave responsibly.

It was a stressful night, made suddenly better by another kind gesture from friends who offered us a spot on the driveway of their new house. Power and water and electric hook up. We got up in the morning all ready to head to Essex.

The very much non-glamorous side of Truffy travels – heading out to the shower block in 2°C !

Then another offer came through from friends we made way back over 15 years ago in Sydney. They had a cottage available in Somerset. The property we were offered was a 16th century farmhouse set in an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Quantock Hills. We were both on the edge of tears with relief. Our own front door, in an area we had wanted to visit anyway.

Off we shot down some very quiet motorways and arrived as the late afternoon sun set over the hills. We sipped a gin, held hands, and gave thanks to the kindness of friends.

13-15 September: Royal palaces and sunshine

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton and London, UK

Sunshine is never guaranteed in the UK, particularly during September, but we were very fortunate to get a glorious weekend served up. Despite having a bad reputation, Friday the 13th dawned bright and sunny and mum and I left Hastings and drove over to my sister’s home in Brighton.

After a little shopping, mum and I met Helen and niece Isabel for lunch in a local pizza restaurant, Fatto A Mano. Named as one of The Guardian’s top independent pizza restaurants in 2015, they are well known in Brighton and Hove for their light pizza bases and delicious toppings. They even had three choices of vegan pizza meaning I could join in with a flavoursome meal!

Where has Miss Isabel learned to pose?
Three generations of ladies who lunch
Scooting and strolling through North Laine
Mum and I head home via the Brighton Pavillion

We had a lovely afternoon around the shops in Brighton and North Laine, after which mum drove back to Hastings.

Saturday morning, Helen and I said goodbye to Stu and the kids and went up to Brighton Station to catch a train to London for a sister escape. Helen and Stu both work so hard with their children and work life, and H really deserved a break. For me, selfishly perhaps, I adore my sister’s company and over the past two decades have not enjoyed it enough, and so wanted just one night for the two of us to chat, enjoy and just be together.

Our intention was to whizz up to London, leave our luggage at our hotel and explore. Unfortunately the trains had other ideas, and what should have been an hour journey took around three hours and three trains! It seems Friday the 13th’s reputation has transferred to Saturday the 14th.

Finally we did make it to our hotel near Earl’s Court, and St James’s Park was our next destination. We have memories of visiting this area as children on day trips with our mum, feeding the sparrows with pots of seed bought from little old men, now long gone. The weather was spectacular, and perfect for walking through the gardens.

Happy just to be together
Beautiful gardens

St James’s Park is the oldest of the royal parks and is surrounded by three palaces – Buckingham Palace is the most famous, St James’s Palace, built for Henry the 8th in 1532, and the Palace of Westminster (dating back to the 11th century) – better known these days as the Houses of Parliament (which has been held there since the 1300s).

Looking towards Westminster with Churchill’s underground war rooms on the right hand side

Horse Guard’s Parade remains part of the park, created during the 18th century, and too are the golden ornate gateways dedicated to the dominions – Australia, South Africa and Canada.

The left Australia gate post has a cherub with a sheep
The other Australia gatepost has a kangaroo with the cherub
Outside Buckingham Palace is the Queen Victoria Memorial, which celebrates the days of the British Empire. The memorial includes the marble statue of Victoria and the glittering figures of Victory, Courage and Constancy.
Buckingham Palace – the Royal Standard flag is raised meaning the Queen is home (if she’s away it would be the Union Jack). Helen came here to the annual garden party a few years ago, invited as part of the charity she worked for at the time. We didn’t get an invite this afternoon though.
The Royal Standard used in England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and in overseas territories
Cheesy sister photo in front of the palace

From here, we crossed into the cool shadiness of Green Park and made our way over to the Canada Memorial for a sit down, watching as wood pigeons flew down for a drink.

Green Park
Unveiled in 1994, the Canada Memorial recognises the one million Canadians who fought alongside the British during the two world wars. It’s a lovely peaceful spot to sit and relax a moment in the shade, the water gently rippling over the granite and across brass maple leaves.

After all this exploring we went back to the hotel for showers and to get ready for our night out.

We had an early dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant near Earl’s Court Station (Siam Secret – definitely recommend for authentic Thai food) before catching the train to Piccadilly Circus and the Princes Theatre for our evening’s entertainment – The Book of Mormon. This show is one of the most successful musicals of all time, and the 14th longest running show on Broadway (as of July this year).

Outside the theatre
In the bar, waiting to go to our seats
Brilliant seats with a fabulous view of the stage
Enjoying our night out already

We really enjoyed the show, packed full of laughter. Maybe don’t go along if you’re sensitive to the odd swear word, a Mormon or not open to thinking slightly differently about religion (apparently 10-15 people walk out of the show each night)) but for entertainment value it was fabulous.

We exited the show on an absolute high, wishing the show could have continued for another hour, and strolled around to Leicester Square, Chinatown and Covent Garden, just people watching and lapping up the atmosphere of a Saturday night in London.

Who knew there was a whole shop dedicated to M&Ms? Helen persuaded me to go in and I had to do some shopping
Strolling through Chinatown, enjoying the buzz
The streets that never sleep

Sunday: Our night in the hotel included breakfast, so we feasted to get our money’s worth before rolling out of the door on Sunday morning for a stroll. We had no plan as to where to go, but explored the streets of Earls Court and Kensington, deciding it would be an area that would suit us quite nicely, if anyone out there would be willing to donate us a house or apartment!

We wound our way through the streets to Kensington Palace, which has been in the royal family since the 17th century. Presently it is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Catherine) among others, but like the Queen, they didn’t invite us in.

The royal apartments are in the background behind Helen’s head
24 May 2019 was the celebration of 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria – she spent her formative years at Kensington Palace
Wandering around Kensington Palace gardens, free to the public
Beautiful formal gardens, being prepared for the next plantings
Views across the gardens to the Round Pond
Many swans on the Round Pond

We enjoyed strolling through Kensington Gardens and through into Hyde Park, finding ice creams on our way through. We stopped at the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a circular water feature made from Cornish granite, full of children playing and visitors cooling their feet. We of course had to join in.

Refreshing for the toes
A fine way to spend half an hour – I think Princess Diana would be very pleased!
The Serpentine Bridge, built in 1730, marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Crossing the Serpentine Bridge
The boating lake is popular on this warm Sunday afternoon

As our afternoon led to a close we were sad to head back to the hotel and collect our luggage, and make our way in separate directions home.

Helen attempted to take time-travel back home, but sadly the door was locked
(If you don’t understand, Google ‘Dr Who?’ & ‘Tardis’)

It was a fantastic weekend – so special spending time with my mum and sister, every moment and memory treasured. Helen headed back to Brighton, while I travelled north to meet up with Mark and his daughters in Milton Keynes.

6-9 September: A busy birthday weekend in Brighton and London

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton, East Sussex, and London, UK

Friday: We farewelled mainland Europe and after a four hour cruise from Dieppe to Newhaven were soon pulling up at the campground in Brighton, now very familiar being our third visit in Truffy.

Boarding the ferry at Dieppe

My sister Helen soon arrived with our niece and nephew for a visit, and presents were exchanged – a birthday gift for Elliot and a little something from Slovenia for Isabel. Our next stop was one of the many fish and chip shops along Brighton seafront, where a feast was purchased and taken to the Hilton Hotel. There we joined Mark’s daughter Hayley and her children Luke and James who’d travelled down to join us for the weekend. We munched on our goodies before helping put the kids to bed for the night.

Mr A excited to see Hayley as well as the ‘proper’ chip shop menu! ‘Mmm, curry sauce, pickled eggs, pickled gherkin, mushy peas….’
Sun’s going down on Friday
View from Hayley’s room
Brighton Pier looking vibrant on our walk back to camp

Mark and I strolled the 4km back to camp along the seafront, welcoming the chance to walk off the fish and chips and stretch our legs after a big day of travelling. We’ve gone back an hour on our journey across the English Channel too, and are feeling the jet lag!

Saturday morning we were off back to catch up with the family in Brighton.

Granddad Mark entertaining the boys

Mark joined Hayley, Luke and James on an open top bus tour, then I met them at Brighton Pier, soon to be joined by Helen, her fiancé Stu, and their kids. Officially I think we worked out these are step-second-cousins, but we decided to just call them cousins. They all got along just fine given it’s their first visit. We hope it isn’t the last.

Mr 8 is joined by Miss 5, Mr 7 and Mr 3 on the kids’ table
The English Channel looks almost tempting when the sun comes out

We had a lovely morning with them, and in the afternoon Mr A and I both had hair cuts to make ourselves more presentable!

Both a little more trimmed and tidy!

All this family action has not only been to welcome us back to old Blighty, but also to help celebrate Mr A’s birthday. We concluded our Saturday with a celebratory delicious curry and some fine wine with Helen and Stu.

Celebrating Mr A entering his 64th year (Helen had run out of number 3s!)

Sunday morning dawned clear and crisp, and Mr A was soon back on another open top bus with Hayley and the kids doing another tour of Brighton. I joined them later for a spot of lunch on the beach.

A fresh Autumnal morning near the old West Pier
Ice creams on the beach

It was great seeing the boys enjoying their time on the seafront. Having grown up near the beach just along the coast, I was able to share all the games and adventures Helen and I had enjoyed in our childhood, and soon had Luke and James hunting for sea glass amongst the pebbles.

Before long it was time for us all to catch the train up to London. Hayley, James and Luke were heading home to Milton Keynes, while Mr A and I had booked a hotel for the night and were meeting Zoe, Mark’s oldest daughter for a birthday eve dinner in Chinatown. We ate a delicious Vietnamese meal at VietFood, coupled with a bottle of French red. It was great to spend some time with Zoe minus children, lovely as they are.

Bustling streets of soho

It always amazes me how the streets of London are never quiet, even on a Sunday night. Especially around Leicester Square there were street artists, break dancers, buskers and many visitors, all vibrant and exciting. By the time we farewelled Zoe, however, we were exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel and crash.

Monday morning was Mr A’s birthday officially, and we were at the location of his chosen birthday gift bright and early. He’d chosen a Tudor watch – the sister company of Rolex. He’d been wanting a watch since his 60th birthday but it has taken until now to select the right one. The chosen option looks fabulous and makes for a very happy Mr A.

Hard to stop looking at your wrist when there’s something new there!
Happy birthday Mr A!

There followed a little browsing around the shops before meeting up with ‘best man’ Martin for a spot of lunch…

Pie, peas and mash times two please…Martin and Mark slip easily back into their old banter

Mark and I have not had cold weather for around four years, so do not own any suitable clothing for the dropping temperatures. We decided that wearing all our clothes at once was getting a little tiring and that we ought to invest in warmer coats. The streets around Carnaby Street helped us out there.

Get ready to sparkle in Carnaby Street London

After a successful afternoon’s shopping, we travelled back to Brighton, bidding farewell to Helen, Stu and the kids on our way back to Truffy.

15-18 August: Another flying visit to the doctor

Author: Mrs A

Location: Zürich, Switzerland, London, Brighton and Arundel, UK

Thursday: After farewelling Mark, I made my way across Zürich by public transport to the airport, a bus to a nearby train station then two trains which deposited me in good time at Kloten Airport for my flight to the UK. Everything was clean and and efficient, but once at the airport, rather expensive! I Feeling peckish I looked at the menu at one of the bars, only to find a pulled pork sandwich for the Swiss Franc equivalent of AU$42 (about £20!)…I passed and found a slightly more affordable snack at Pret a Manger.

The sun sets in Zürich
I just miss the fast train to Brighton by a second…

I finally made it to my sister’s house in Brighton around midnight and collapsed into bed.

Friday morning I was on a train again by 9.45am, heading up to London. My first port of call was Piccadilly Circus.

The famous fountain in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, signposted (and commonly referred to) as ‘Eros’ is actually the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, surmounted by a winged statue of Anteros (the brother and playmate of Eros, according to Greek mythology) 

There I met up with three lovely ladies with iSGS I’ve met via the Facebook support group I run. We had a great chat over a light lunch at Bistro Zedel.

L-R: Catherine, Karen, Pat and Gemma

After lunch I made my way to Charing Cross Hospital on the other side of London near Hammersmith, where I had a series of awake steroid injections into my airway. It’s an excellent team there, all very caring, and it makes what could be a horrible experience quite bearable! That said, I travelled back to Brighton, exhausted after the procedure for a quiet night with Helen and brother-in-law Stuart.

Saturday: Just by chance, my cousin Elizabeth had been in touch with me and my siblings in the previous month to suggest a family reunion in the nearby West Sussex town of Arundel. I hadn’t seen her, her brother Giles nor their parents, Jill and Roger for more than 20 years! We couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and so I squeezed into the back of Helen and Stu’s car along with my niece and nephew, and off we went.

Jason, Elizabeth and Jill
Cousin Giles chats with brother in law John and uncle Roger

We met up at the Arundel Wetland Centre, 65 acres of managed wetlands which are home to numerous birds, both native and from around the world, frogs, water voles as well as rare plants and flowers. We were a large group, with our extended family including children bringing us up to 19 visitors ranging from 3 years of age to late 70s. The venue did well to cater for us all, with plenty of information and a Lego trail for the children as well as more details and bird watching hides for the older ones.

Is that a cow out there in the water?
Yes indeed…one of four….
Elliot has had enough of looking for birds, he’s off to find some Lego bricks instead!
A little impromptu blackberry picking on the way around
Beautiful wild herbs, flowers and fruits around the wetlands

We brought along picnics and enjoyed an informative guided electric boat ride around the waterways, learning about the work they do there, the flora and fauna present.

Much laughter as the reeds attack William and Edward on the boat trip
Elliot enjoying the trip sat beside Helen
Off on a boating adventure – Catherine with Isabel, Elliot and Helen
Isabel having a good chuckle next to her auntie Catherine
Beautiful waterlilies on our trip around

We all had a great reunion, managed to chat at least a little to everyone before finishing the afternoon with ice creams and heading off home. A fabulous day out, and such a treat for me – if I had not have been back for my hospital visit I would not have even been there.

The three witches…I mean sisters – Elle, Catherine and Helen….

Sunday rolled around so quickly, and Helen and I ran around Brighton doing a few tasks and shopping. We managed to grab a quick lunch on the beach before heading back home, so I could pack and enjoy a final cup of tea before we headed to the airport.

A pair of wind blown sisters on the beach

The flight was a little late leaving, which meant travelling back to camp through Zurich was going to be challenging. Thankfully Switzerland has Uber in force, and for a reasonable price a lovely young Kenyan man drove me back to camp by 10.30pm…lovely to be reunited back with Mr A again and to be back on our travels.

1 – 6 July: Meanwhile, back in the UK…

Author: Mrs A

Location: London and Brighton, UK

Monday: A taxi collected me from Camping Stobreč early Monday morning and escorted me to Split airport, where I boarded a plane to London, Gatwick. Within half an hour of landing at Gatwick I was on a train heading to London. It was all very smooth – having only 8kg of hand luggage helped!

Split airport – not too busy at 8.30am on Monday morning

Yes, you guessed it, the injections I had flown back for at the end of May had not made any substantial impact on my breathing, and I was on my way back for surgery…very disappointing for us both, but sadly a fact of life we have learned to get used to the past 15 years.

I have to admit that after the heat of Croatia, it was positively refreshing to step out of the airport in to temperatures in the low 20s – like the air conditioning we had been craving all weekend!

I caught a train up to West Kensington in London and checked into the Earls Court Holiday Inn Express near the hospital. I was scheduled to be in at 7.15am, and was keen to get a bit of sleep before the operation.

The view from my hotel room – a far cry from the Roman and medieval buildings of my past few weeks, but not too bad at sunset

Tuesday: I woke early and strolled over to the hospital, meeting junior doctors, an ENT registrar and the anaesthetist, getting weighed, blood pressure and temperature tested. Finally I slipped on a gown and a pair of sexy green DVT stockings and headed to theatre for my airway dilatation.

Both consultants I have been seeing, Mr Guri Sandhu and Mr Chad Al Yaghchi came to visit me in recovery, much to the surprise of the nurse who told me not to expect anyone. All had gone well – my airway had closed by about 60-70%, explaining the challenges with breathing I have been having.

We discussed next steps for my treatment, with both doctors agreeing I should give the steroid injections into my airway another try, but with a higher frequency – every 4-6 weeks rather than 8 weekly. This is what my original doctor had told me, but I had defied him, not wanting to disrupt our travel plans too much…this time, however, I agreed to give it a go. It is going to be hard to keep to our travel plans where I keep having to return to doctors for treatment, but I have to breathe…very frustrating!

Mum travelled up from Hastings to break me out

When I was returned to the next stage of recovery, my mum was there waiting for me, a welcome face amongst all the medical fraternity. Together we left the hospital, taking a taxi the five minute drive to the hotel for the night.

Evidence – 2:10pm I broke out of hospital

We had a relaxing afternoon, catching up on news, a Chinese takeaway and an early night.

Wednesday: Mum and I got to enjoy a final breakfast at the hotel, and we joined by a member of the support group I run, Kelly from Cornwall. She and I had been exchanging messages online for about four years, and she is also a patient of Mr Sandhu. It was amazing to hear Kelly’s story which is quite different from mine, but with some similar symptoms. She’s a passionate and enthusiastic lady – hopefully we can work together and perhaps meet again.

After checking out, I then headed to Brighton to finish my convalescence with my sister and her family.

Thursday: One of my friends from university, Claire, lives near to my sister and also had a hospital visit this week. It was good to catch up with her for an hour to hear how she had gone. Soda water and lime was our choice of beverage as we sat in a sunny pub garden.

Two post op friends – Claire on surgery #1 and me #29!!

Later in the day I joined my sister in collecting my niece and nephew from school, and we took them down to the local park for a play in the fountains down there. Much fun for the children…and ice creams for my sister and I (medicinal reasons of course, soothes a sore throat!)

Yay for vegan ice cream!
Elliot working on stopping the flow….What happened next? Yes the water sprayed me straight in the face!
Isabel enjoying the water
And some park time to help warm up after the water

Friday: It was back up to school with the kids to drop them off for their day, before joining my sister in some shopping, picking up bits and pieces we cannot get in Croatia.

That wiped me out for the afternoon, and I was grateful not to be in 33 degrees as I collapsed into bed for a sleep.

We had a quiet evening at home, sharing a takeaway curry and a glass of wine as the sun went down.

Spectacular skies over Brighton this evening

Saturday: Another bright sunny day with temperatures in the low 20s – making me really appreciate British summertime – I wonder why it never is dull and rainy when I visit? Poor Mark is already sweltering in Split, having started his day with the washing and cleaning out the fridge.

I’m pleased to say my breathing is much better, and sore throat aside, I am feeling good.

Chart showing my peak expiratory flow (PEF) – back on track for now

I will be back on a train to the airport this afternoon, then back to Split this evening. Mark and I have decided tomorrow it will be time to move on and explore more of Croatia…it will all be much easier with a full airway!

30 May – 1 June: Flying visit to London for news about Darth Vader…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton and London UK

Thursday: There was no sleep all night as I awaited my 4.45am alarm to send me off to the airport for my flight to the UK. I farewelled Mr A and taxied to Firenze airport.

Boarding Vueling Airlines flight to London Gatwick

All went without a hitch and my sister Helen met me at Gatwick Airport with my niece and nephew, Elliot and Isabel.

We had a lovely morning taking the kids to a local park, the cloud clearing to a lovely bright sunny day.

Elliot and Isabel being entertained at the park

It was so good to have some time with my sister before Friday’s appointment in London.

Sisters – off to the pub for dinner

Friday: Regular readers will know I have a rare disease, idiopathic subglottic stenosis (iSGS). Sadly there is no known cause or definitive treatment for this disease, which basically results in your airway closing up, filling with scar tissue. The reference to Darth Vader relates to how it sounds when you’re breathing through a narrow airway!

Since December last year, I have been trialling a new procedure which involves injecting steroids into the scar tissue while awake (under a local anaesthetic). It has been working really well, and until about Easter I had no issues with breathing. Unfortunately, since late April I had been starting to struggle more and more, with this visit to see an Otalaryngologist in London the only way to really understand what’s going on. It was a day I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading, wanting to know more, but fearing I knew the answer already.

I caught the train up to London, and then across to Kew Gardens. There I met with a fellow iSGS patient, Jacky, with whom I have become friends after meeting online via the support group I run on Facebook.

My hospital appointment wasn’t until 3pm so I had a chance to spend some time doing something for me. I have seen many friends visiting Kew Gardens and the Chihuly Glass Sculpture exhibition and was keen to go for myself.

A little bit like my head is feeling!

Beautifully restored Victorian greenhouse

Perfectly popping colour

You can almost imagine these sprouting out of the soil

Like amazing flowers bursting out of the greenery

There be dragons…

Some look better when you step away from the glass and look at the big picture

Wonderful water lilies

Jacky was a great guide, and we explored the incredible sculptures in amazing settings. We spent a couple of hours in the gardens before parting ways.

I headed off to Charing Cross Hospital (nowhere near Charing Cross station, interestingly enough, but nearer Hammersmith) for my otolaryngologist (ENT) appointment.

I didn’t wait long before Mr Chadwan Al Yaghchi (Chad) called my name. Chad is a trusted colleague of Guri Sandhu, the expert consultant who I have been seeing in the UK since 2014 and one of only a few doctors who does the steroid injections under a local anaesthetic rather than a general.

I signed my approval forms and had a laryngothracheoscopy (a camera which passes up through your nose, down your throat, past your vocal cords and into your trachea).

The camera showed the scarring was returning to my airway, and in the area it had built up I was breathing through around 6-7 millimetres (closed by about 50-60% – think about the diameter of a pencil when I should be breathing through at least double that). As you can imagine, any extra mucus will narrow this even further, and constant coughing will cause inflammation which can cause yet further issues. This was very disappointing news, but not that surprising – I already knew it was getting harder to breathe on all these steep hills, I just now had confirmation of why.

Chad continued with the injections, all done through the camera, and within an hour it was all over. Now I begin the waiting game to see how they impact the scarring. I need to nebulise saline (breathe in clouds!) at least twice daily to keep my airway moist and help avoid issues, and am keeping my fingers crossed my peak expiratory flow (how much air I can blow out at speed) improves, and the scar retreats.

The story of my breathing over the past year or so….

The coming week to ten days will be important to determine whether it’s worth flying back in five or six weeks for another injection, or whether I will need to go to more drastic measures and have a dilation operation.

Exhausted after all the news and procedure, I headed back to Brighton for the evening.

Saturday: After a few stressful and full days it was nice just to relax with my sister and her family in Brighton.

Spectacular weather means ice creams and water play

As the day drew to a close, it was time to head back to Gatwick and fly to Florence. It has been a hectic couple of days, made all the more pleasant for being able to spend some precious time with family. 

A fine view of Sussex as the plane takes off

I now know I will be back in London again in July…the question is, will yesterday’s procedure stem the decline in my airway so I can just head back for more injections, or will things continue their downward trajectory and mean I need surgery? Only time will tell…meanwhile I feel even more determined to make the most of our travels.

27 April-2 May: Our final family time this spring in Sussex

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, Hastings and Newhaven Ferry Port, East Sussex, UK

Saturday-Sunday: Before heading to Continental Europe, we spent our final weekend in Brighton with Catherine’s sister Helen and her family. London-on-Sea, as it is jokingly known locally, served up its usual eclectic way with everything from fine dining to a wonderful greasy spoon cafe for brunch.

Feeling a little neater after some haircuts

Catherine, Helen and Isabel – just the girls

Just a small brunch to start Sunday!

Miss Isabel ready to party – Catherine bravely accompanied her to a 5th birthday celebration, despite the promise of party balloons 😲

Then it was time to head along the coast to Hastings and Catherine’s mum, Jenny.

Monday: Catherine and Jenny visited her nearly 97 year old grandma, good genes on that side of the family at least!

Jenny looking radiant

96 years young, Jean enjoying the sunshine

Jean will be 97 in a few weeks’ time – this may be her first selfie!

A few more lovely home cooked meals from Jenny, and a chance to get some last minute tasks ticked off before we head over the English Channel on Thursday.

Young Marmalade enjoyed the mouse on a stick we bought for him

Tuesday: Jenny took us over to Hastings Country Park for a short walk and some fresh air, another place of great memories for Catherine.

Views over the gorse flowers across the country

Jenny heading through the kissing gate…

The sun breaks through the cloud…team photo

A lovely woodland walk on our return circuit

More bluebells adorn the woodland here

A mother-daughter shot to complete the walk

Later in the day, Catherine took me on her and her sister’s favourite after school activity, a ride down to the beach and along the coast. It was a cold day, but the sun shone and Hastings showed us her good side.

Warming up in a sheltered spot on Hastings Pier

Yes, there is sand (at low tide) in Hastings!

Matching bikes and huts

Mingling with the local wildlife on the pier…odd….

Riding the bike path along to Bexhill-On-Sea

It’s an interesting mix here of demographics, with everyone from a scattering of celebrities, and working class housing estates. If feels an authentic town, with the largest beach based fishing fleet in Europe still bringing in the delicious fish and cockles that we just had to sample.

So many memories from Catherine, shared with me, and it does draw you even closer together understanding someone’s childhood, as I had shown her mine in Kettering.

Wednesday: Now it’s our last day in the UK, with a ferry across to France early tomorrow. I few nerves on my part as I keep running through all the things we need to have sorted. Catherine as ever the calm one, thank goodness.

We are parked up at Newhaven Ferry Port for the night. Little Truffy is dwarfed next to his bigger HGV cousins all waiting for the 9am ride across the Channel to Dieppe. What adventures await us in France?

6-11 April: Our UK meanderings continue

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes & Kettering, UK (phew!)

Friday-Sunday: Brighton is one of our favourite UK towns to visit, and not only because that’s where Catherine’s sister and family live. We love the quirky shops, the pubs, the long cycle paths along the seafront. It just feels vibrant and eclectic. It was also where we were going to spend our first night in Truffy the Truck, our new home on wheels. We had pre-booked a site and turned up with some trepidation for our first experience of “camping” in the UK. Wow…what a find. This place was great with huge sites, spotless facilities that even were centrally heated! Luxury…

Spot our little home 😉

Cycling past Brighton pier

We got a few things wrong though and found our feet higher than our heads when settling down in the drop down bed. No air suspension to adjust on this baby. We did however get the hot water and heating working, apparently more than some folk manage on their first encounter with a Hymer motorhome.

The weekend sped past with wonderful times hanging out with Helen and Stu and their oh so energetic kids. How these guys juggle jobs and raising these two little bundles of joy I have no idea. I was exhausted just watching breakfast unfold!

We cycled, we ran for buses, we ate our way though fabulous dinners, we laughed and we talked. As an only child these guys are the nearest I have to experiencing the joy that a good relationship with a brother or sister can bring.

Curry night with Stu and Helen

Drinks down the local pub

Cycling along the seafront – Helen and Catherine with Miss Izzy

Wild Isabel

Pensive Elliot looking for sharks

Happy days!

Adorable Miss 5

Our first artwork – courtesy of Miss Isabel, an artist’s impression of Truffy – L-R Stuart (top left), Helen, Mr A (with cap on), Elliot looking out of the window, Mrs A and Isabel. Complete with rabbit and sunshine.

Monday: All too soon we were off along the south coast to Portsmouth and a flying visit to Catherine’s half sister Elinor and her family.

Young Nelson clambering for cuddles

Miss Vivienne who simply demands cuddles

William showing Auntie C his toys

Edward munching on breakfast

Catherine and Elle

Tuesday-Wednesday: Portsmouth gets put on the list for “must come back and explore”, as we literally stopped by for dinner before pointing Truffy north and heading up to see my daughters and grandkids in Milton Keynes. We congregated in the local pub and had a lovely catch up before retiring to the car park for an overnight stay.

Just a small meal for Mr A!

Grandson Luke enjoyed his burger dinner too

There are certainly benefits to being in a fairly stubby little 6m motorhome. We also used the opportunity of being close to the huge retail centres in Milton Keynes to do some power shopping in our bid to get Truffy fully functioning as our second home on wheels. IKEA bless you for all those good value products!

We had a quick visit to the local lake, which to Catherine and I felt like we had been teleported to Siberia, with a cruel wind blowing across the water.

Cousins – will nobody look at the camera? L-R James, Lilly, Jacob and Luke

Grandson James doesn’t seem to feel the cold as he plays on the slide

We retired to behind the somewhat expansive glass of Truffy and dashed off to our next stop in this whistle-stop tour. My home town of Kettering, and the ever warm welcome of my long term friends Stuart and Karen. These guys have chosen to stay in the town they also grew up in, and increasingly unusual phenomena, but their extended family has mostly done the same, so its a strong and supportive community they are enjoying.

Thursday: A lunch had been organised to bring together my family still living in the town as well, cousins and their families. It was great to see them, and not for a funeral.

Family gathering. L-R: Derek, Diane, Derry, Lisa, Diane, Robert, Mr A

My last few visits have always been tinged by the sadness of my parents passing, Finally, a short trip to see Stuart and Karen’s daughter Laura, who had stayed with us in Australia. To see her so happy as a mum of 10 months, and getting married to the guy she met on when travelling, this was a joy for us.

Gorgeous baby Oliver – 10 months old today

Karen and Catherine

The boys: Mark, Oliver and Stuart

Stuart, Laura and Mrs A

All of our lives go through ups and downs, and to catch so many people on the up was just brilliant. It’s been a hectic 10 days since we landed, but already we have so many memories tucked away of seeing friends and family, and getting to know our new home that is going to take us on so many new adventures.

Our time in Kettering concluded with a curry in town…our third in a week!

Day 115-117: 21-23 September – (UK) Quality time in East Sussex with family

Author: Mrs A

Thursday 21 September

Location: Hastings

Distance walked: 3 km

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

Location: Brighton

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

Location: Brighton

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! ❤️