Location: Milton Keynes, Bradford-on-Tone, London, UK
I write this from my ”Isolation Wing” in the the new house that is rapidly becoming a home. COVID-19 struck me down. How? Well..here’s my side of the story. We were in London again (I think we need shares in Great Western Railway!) for Catherine’s kick off immunotherapy treatment to try and tackle her subglottic stenosis.
I encouraged madam to go clothes shopping, usual uphill battle, and volunteered to travel across London to collect the right size from a different store.
I walked 18kms that day, one of the many pleasures actually of being here, exploring the big city. I most likely caught it somewhere then because two days later I have sore throat, aches and pains and I’m down with the plague.…so it’s Catherine’s fault! 😉
Anyway, there are definitely worse places to do my time in bed, with my own private ensuite and kitchen! Catherine even ran a fan at my door so my dirty germs wouldn’t pollute the house. Seriously, it’s really important we keep her safe as her airway is already declining since the last op, six weeks ago.
It wouldn’t feel right without a hospital appointment in the week. I had to cancel mine at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital in London, which was supposed to be today. I could wait another 8 months for my NHS appt (been waiting 4 already), but by then who knows what mess my eyes will be in. There are 30,000 vacancies currently in the National Health Service in the UK. Well, Catherine is certainly getting more than her fair share of those scarce ENT staff!
Backing up to pre my COVID isolation, I went gadding up to Milton Keynes again, responding to a request for help from daughter number two, whose hubby away again and she is at work. A few school runs and pick ups, a walk in the woods, a lovely birthday meal out with the whole mob for daughter number one. It ticked a lot of boxes.
The same daughter (Hayley) then brought her two boys down to stay with us a few days later. Apparently, according to the boys, a highlight was going packrafting down the local River Tone (stream at the moment with lack of rain!). A few laughs, a few tears, the usual.
We continue to kit out the house, with lots of couriers turning up with furniture and bits and pieces. really enjoying the process. Even found ourselves supplier to help us with some modifications, more on those when we get further down the track.
I just feel so good about this place, its rural views, its land size (I’d dig a moat if I could!) and how the house is laid out, with a few minor changes coming up. We know we were so lucky to find it, and really enjoying starting to have friends as well as family come and stay. The house can start to build some memories for us.
My favourite spot is under the old oak tree. Camping chair, bottle of wine, and even joined by local friends three times now! The times they are a changing.
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and Brighton, East Sussex, UK
The past four weeks have whizzed by, with both of us spending time with our families, which has been an absolute pleasure after so long apart. We have started our time here as we mean to go on! But I am going to start with the excellent news.
Last Saturday lunchtime we went to see a house in the village of Bradford-on-Tone. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are currently living, and a small village of about 600 residents. The agent had hand picked us for the first viewing after reading our buyer’s profile, describing our desire for a house with plenty of light, preferably in a village community but not a housing estate. We asked for something that had a high graded EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) which would mean cheaper running costs, and a newer or recently renovated house not requiring too much work. It ticked so many boxes. We made an offer and it was accepted the same day.
Now, while this is exciting and we celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco at our local pub, this deal’s not done until the fat lady sings. In the UK, the sales process is excruciatingly slow, with the average house exchange completed in four months. An accepted offer also doesn’t mean a certain sale, either – the seller can change their mind at any time, and there is always the risk of another buyer swanning in and offering more. It’s a horrible process!
I will refrain from sharing more details of this property until we feel more secure.
Our last post was written just prior to a long awaited weekend to celebrate my birthday and that of our friend Karen (‘surrogate sister’ and long suffering childhood friend!) who also joined us with her family. We had organised everything at the end of last year, booking two lodges at Mill Meadow to house everyone for a weekend of festivities. So much could have gone wrong, and yet nothing did – everyone stayed healthy and all went as planned. Fabulous cakes were provided by a local baker, Wizz, and we had a party in the skittle alley at our local pub, The Swan.
The following weekend, Mr A drove Truffy (our Hymer motorhome) up to Milton Keynes to spend some time with his daughters and grandchildren, the spring temperatures rising and bringing us blue skies and sunshine.
House hunting has been an all encompassing activity during the week, with daily pouring over the property apps and visiting the agents in person in the hope we might make an impression and be alerted to a suitable property ahead of the pack. It had begun to get us down, the uncertainty of our future living circumstance with an ever approaching deadline for moving out of our holiday accomodation, something that hasn’t gone away, despite our accepted offer on a property.
When there were no properties to visit, we broke up our weeks with visits to local regions. WWT Steart Marshes were our destination on one occasion. A unique scenery of wetlands stretching out towards the Bridgewater Bay and the River Severn Esturary.
On another occasion we headed to the city of Wells via an RSPB wetland site, Ham Wall, near Glastonbury. It was a really magical place. The birdlife was prolific, with tame robins eating out of our hands, Grey Herons, Teal, Marsh Harriers, and a special visit from a Red Kite. This particular fly-by felt like a spiritual portent – Mark’s father was part of the RSPB team in 1989 that was responsible for the reintroduction of Red Kites to the UK. It was as though Clem Anderson was visiting to register his approval.
Wells is a historical city with a magnificent cathedral and a palace surrounded by a moat. It is often referred to as the smallest cathedral city in the UK…this is in fact wrong (points to anyone who can name the actual smallest city). We had an explore before returning home – plenty to see there on a future visit.
Another bird trip took us to RSPB Swell Woods – home to many little woodland birds, and the exciting location of my first decent photo of a Great Spotted Woodpecker!
I had an appointment with my specialist in London for my airway stenosis. I didn’t expect it to go well – my regular peak-flow tracking has shown an overall decline, pretty much since we sold our house in August last year. My appointment confirmed this – my airway was too closed up to treat without significant risk in day surgery, so they booked me in for an operation in 12 days time. At least I will be breathing easy again – it is the first operating theatre visit in nearly three years, which is a good thing.
I caught the train down to Brighton to drown my sorrows and put this news behind me with some time with my sister, Helen and her family. Mum also joined us for a pizza lunch and sunny afternoon at Brighton seafront to celebrate Mother’s Day a week early.
Back in Somerset, last week we had a visit from friend Barny and his young working cocker spaniel, Bertie. We did a couple of good walks and of course a couple of visits to our local pub.
It has been an amazing month – writing it all down reminds us of how much we have seen and done. While the white-knuckle ride of emotions associated with searching for a home to live in has been somewhat exhausting, it has thankfully been counteracted with quality time and great memories made with our families.
April will bring new adventures and challenges, with plans already including cat-sitting a pair of kittens, my operation, more time with family, moving out of our holiday-house and into an Airbnb, and one long awaited event we are quite anxious about – the arrival of Princess Tassie the adventure cat, from Australia. The emotional turbulence is not over just yet!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.
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.
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.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.
Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.
The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.
We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.
While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.
Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.
Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.
On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.
Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!
I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.
We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!
That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.
Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.
Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.
Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.
After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.
We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.
It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.
Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.
Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.
People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.
We never get lessons on how to be a father. Some people just seem pre-programmed and naturally adopt the role, bringing their very best self to the challenge. Other people, like me, have found it a bumpy road, with many a stumble on the way.
This trip back to the UK has given me the opportunity to spend time with my daughters, my grandchildren, and my wife’s and friends families. It’s been precious time, where some of the most poignant memories of our whole trip have been formed. To see both my daughters turn into such incredible mums has been an absolute joy. To see how they have faced every challenge (and there have been many) head on and powered through. I’m so very proud of them.
Parenting in this digital age seems have some unique opportunities and risks. There is never a shortage of on on tap entertainment for the “witching hour” when fractious little ones can be offered a screen to calm them down. But how much screen time do you give them? Are any taps being tuned off? The imagination required to entertain themselves? I’m certainly not qualified to answer that question, but it’s one I see many parents posing themselves.
As we supplement our face to face networks with digital ones, I think that also provides new opportunities and risks for parents with young children. Is the screen time an opportunity cost for building face to face friendships out in the street, or do the multi-player game platforms replace that? How do parents ensure there’s a balance between sitting and moving around? I watched my four grandchildren spending time together racing around screaming with joy and I know where I would put my bet.
There are some difficult choices for parents to make, with so much conflicting information about the risks and benefits to children of enabling their access to information and entertainment. How do parents equip them to filter what they see? Through censorship or education and guidance?
I watch my daughters having to make decisions on these topics, with, from what I can read, very little good quality balanced content to help them.
Family relationships are rarely easy to navigate smoothly, ours being no exception, but I can only thank the much smarter than me Mrs A for her support and positive modelling as to how I can be a better father, grandparent and uncle. Always in her debt it seems!
Location: Harby, Nottinghamshire and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Thursday-Saturday: We were kindly invited to stay over the first part of the Easter weekend, with friends in Harby in Nottinghamshire, a village embodying all thats good about the remnants of rural England. A good pub, a strong sense of community, roads where cyclists still feel safe to venture out on a morning in droves and endless opportunities to potter around the fields on the rights of way that make this beautiful countryside so accessible.
I was lucky enough to make friends at secondary school that have become lifelong mates, along with their wives and partners. The party begins, the catching up on our lives lived so distantly for much of the year.
It feels like we have only just left each other’s company last week. The sound of laughter, music and popping corks rings out over the usually tranquil garden of our hosts. Stunning food is served with of course wines to match. We are having an Italian theme to the party to get us in the mood for a major birthday milestone one of the group has in June, as we have organised to celebrate it together there.
We decide our appetites need to be sharpened by a little cycling, and off we go down a “greenway” as they are called here, that can be accessed from the village. Of course it leads to a pub, and oh…another one on the way back!
It was a merry bunch that sat down to dinner each night!
Easter Sunday–Tuesday: All too soon it was time to bid our farewell and hit the road once again. Next stop: my daughters and grandchildren in Milton Keynes. After catching up over Chinese takeaway the first night, we kicked off with cycling from one daughter’s house (where we were parked), to the other’s house, via the extensive network of “redways” as Milton Keynes calls them, that were designed into the city’s original blueprint. It was fantastic riding with my oldest grandchild, taking his first big ride on a new bike. He did so well.
Both of my daughters are moving to new houses within a few weeks of each other, so an exciting time to hear their plans and see their properties. When we come back in September so much will have changed. They all have worked so hard to make this jump to bigger homes. Very proud of them both. At their age they can afford to take some risks with big mortgages. A period of economic instability, especially in the UK, looks pretty likely.
Our visit also coincided with my oldest grandson’s 7th birthday. He really is maturing at a rate of knots, and in such a good way. A real pleasure to see. So a little surprise was hatched where we met him out of his first day at a new school, in Truffy, and they got to take a ride in their first motorhome. Hopefully memorable!
So we then bid a big goodbye to my family until we are back in September, and pointed Truffy’s nose south in preparation for our upcoming ferry to France next week.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!