A conference husband’s life is not bad one. You help your wife with wardrobe choices, wish her well with the presentation she’s making to senior medical practitioners from around the globe, and then take a brief from her to buy a new handbag to match her outfit! So off I go to to the wonderful boutiques of Milan, style capital of the world.
I quickly manage to tick off the handbag purchase thanks to some diligent research and a very cooperative store owner allowing me send lots and lots of photos to madam! My knowledge of handbags has now grown exponentially..from zero..to the ‘little-bit-is-dangerous’ level. Now I could move to the more solid ground of the serious act of procuring some new smarter threads for myself, appropriate to a stay on the Italian Riviera coming up next. I made a quick reflection as I walked the malls of how our life has changed since moving back to Europe!
Mrs A is once again on a mission to help the 7,000 odd members of the support group she runs by attending a conference with the world’s thought leaders on ENT laryngology diseases. She listens to the latest research being debated by the experts, and works through what will be the likely implications for her fellow suffers of idiopathic subglottic stenosis (a narrowing of the trachea just below the vocal cords, with no known cause). She networks like crazy, building new relationships with these practitioners and deepening existing ones. She wants to ensure her support group members have access to the latest data on what’s working and what isn’t in treatment options. Mrs A also has to sometimes call in favours for people in urgent need of medical are, which isn’t always recognised by the gatekeepers making the appointments.
Catherine had to crowdfund for this conference her travel and attendance costs from friends (thank you to donors who read this blog, you know who you are!) and her support group, who have given generously recognising the value the community gives them. I am enormously proud of her and the energy and enthusiasm she brings to this new vocation.
We are, I recognise, enormously privileged to have the opportunity to travel like this, combining business (for Mrs A) with pleasure. So after a few days in Milan we headed down on the train to the Ligurian coast, just to the west of Genoa. I have to say after reading supposed `’horror stories” about catching trains in Italy, it was all very civilised. Clearly the authors of these posts had never experienced rail travel recently in the UK!
In 2019, while motorhoming our way across Europe, we had stayed in a car park overlooking this gorgeous Ligurian coastline and randomly caught a ferry that took us to this little village of Camogli. We were besotted.
It still has a working fishing fleet, their catch cooked in the local restaurants. We barely heard any language other than Italian being spoken. The houses have been built up six stories, allegedly so fishermen could spot them from way out to sea, and their wives watch for their safe return (I did check and there is no record of women working on the boats).
“We’ll come back here one day” we promised ourselves, and we grabbed the opportunity when we realised we would only be a two hour (and 26 Euro!) train ride away in Milan. Our train journey into London from our home in Somerset takes about the same journey time, but costs four times as much.
So we had decided to treat ourselves to a nice hotel in Camogli. We are still getting used to not being campers, caravaners, and motor-homers, so the idea of paying lots of money for a night’s shelter still rankles! But pay we did, and had a place right on the front with sea views. Privileged indeed. Sitting over a leisurely breakfast with this view will be an enduring memory for both of us. As will for Mrs A having her first (second, third and fourth!) vegan croissant!
Our days were spent exploring by train and ferry along the coast.
One trip included a trip to the more famous port town of Portofino, home apparently to the rich and famous.
And you can see why. What a visually stunning place, but not an iota of authenticity left we felt, and were a little relieved to get back to our more laid back Camogli. There are a lot of family owned holiday apartments there, and we met people from Milan who had been coming here for generations. It gave a lovely feel to the place as the restauranteurs knew they had to cater for returning customers.
We had wonderful dining experiences all week, provided by people who were clearly passionate about their food and wine, and seemed genuinely to take pleasure still from seeing their customers enjoying themselves. It does help I think that I tend to be quite vocal about my tasting pleasure! We sampled some local wines of course, mostly whites, with Vermentino (or blends including this grape) being one of the main varietals. A perfect match for the variety of fresh seafood we found ourselves served. Anchovies straight from the boat, the same for a variety of fish we’d never heard of, but that didn’t deter!
This spring and summer has certainly had an Italian theme, with two trips within a few weeks of each other. But we both share an excitement for coming back to what we feel is our little slice of Somerset paradise. to walk amongst our trees, check on the veggies, listen to the birdsong. We’re home.
Location: Rome and Loro Piceno, Italy, the Cotswolds, UK
Author: Mrs A
Just a 50 minute drive from home is Bristol Airport, and it was here we found ourselves in mid May, dropping our car off at the ‘Park and Fly’ section to board a flight to Italy. Oh so civilised, and very easy access. Within five hours, we had unpacked at our hotel, showered and changed and were sipping a refreshing Aperol at a street-side bar, people watching on the streets of Rome, Italy.
Here we spent a wonderful history-filled, chilled out 3 days (stepping out the 36 km/23 miles required to burn off all the pasta and pizza!), exploring the many sights within easy walking distance from our hotel.
Our first day, I had booked us a tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and the incredibly grand Colosseum. Our tour guide was fabulous – Rome born and bred and fluent in English, she knew the history inside out, and presented it in an exciting and vibrant way, as though it was her first visit too. She had our small group enthralled with her stories and extensive knowledge of the venue.
The Forum, which was, in Roman times, the commercial centre of the city, where markets were held, banking, trials, celebrations and political announcements made was a breathtaking area, with tall pillars and evidence of cobbled streets and squares. For nearly a thousand years, many of the structures remained buried under layers of silt from the frequently flooding River Tiber, and excavation commenced very slowly in 1803. In 1932, Mussolini decided to celebrate 10 years of the Fascist Party’s power by building a road through the area, which encouraged excavation to speed up substantially, though it seems the cataloging of findings was equally rushed. Nevertheless, this piece of propaganda means the fabulous ruins are available for us to see today.
Palatine Hill was where the royal palace was situated, and over the centuries many dignitaries have made their home on the location, with views nowadays stretching over the ruins.
The Colosseum was our final stop, made famous by films such as Russel Crowe’s Gladiator (can you believe that is 23 years old now?!). From the poses for photos around the venue, it seems many of the visitors had recently watched this movie as homework! Our guide corrected the many inaccuracies in the film, including the Roman Emperor’s ‘thumbs up’ to indicate the gladiator can live vs the thumbs down meaning death. Apparently gladiators were all seen as prize sportspeople and death was not really an option.
The tour was so interesting, helping us bring parallels from Rome to so much in the UK, recognising much of the language we speak originates from the Latin spoken by our ancestors, as well as many of the roads we travel on following routes originally forged by Roman troops.
Our second day we did a tour on foot, crossing the River Tiber (now seriously protected from flooding with huge walls either side of it) and exploring around St Peter’s Square and the area around The Vatican. I debated going in as the queue was quite short, but Mr A was adamant he did not want to give Catholic priests any money and has little interest in the art and architecture within there. So we continued on our exploration without it.
It was a fun city to visit, the food delicious and the people friendly, but soon it was time to leave Rome and head back to the airport to hire a car to drive across Italy to the eastern side, and our friends in La Marche. Sydney friends, Clive and Aisha, had been joined by UK friends, Mel and Barny, at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Ferrara, northern Italy, braving ankle deep mud to hear him sing. They report it was well worth it, though the two hour journey back to their car took the shine off somewhat.
The weather was cold and wet on our arrival at Mel and Barny’s Italian house in the village of Loro Piceno, and we all wrapped up warm in fleece jackets and rain coats, the views across the valley shrouded in low cloud, quite different from what we experienced when we visited last time, in June 2019.
We made the most of it though, with Mel and Barny doing us proud with incredible restaurants booked for lunch and dinners, with a combination of hillside villages and a visit to the coast too. The weather improved as the week progressed.
Mr A and I took a day trip to Assisi with Clive and Aisha, before dropping them to the airport for their flight to the next destination on their extensive holiday.
On our last day in Loro Piceno, Mel and Barny took us to Sarnano, a stunning hilltop town. Mel and I left the boys sipping coffee and people watching, while we went off on a hike in the foothills of the Simbolini mountains, exploring a number of waterfalls. The heavy rainfall had made the usually peaceful babbling creek into a roaring torrent, and the waterfalls simply breathtaking. You would not have wanted to slip in!
Mel and Barny had once again given us an incredible time, showcasing the best of their region’s restaurants, views and walks, and giving us another taster of life in this stunning part of Italy. We are so grateful for their kindness and generosity.
We flew back home to a happy Tassie, having been well cared for by our Australian housesitters, Sam and Steve. We had just enough time to quickly wash our clothes, do a little gardening and repack bags to head off again to the Cotswolds to spend a few days in an AirBnB with friends in a village there!
On our way to meet them, we called in to visit a National Trust Roman Villa in Chedworth near Cirencester. Archaeologists were on site, literally peeling back the soil and grass to reveal near perfect mosaic tile floors, and we listened in on an interview for an upcoming TV programme which revealed the extent of what they were discovering.
We met up with Mark’s old school friends, Stuart and John, and Karen and Catriona, their other halves, in an AirBnB in the village of Bledington. For one day only, Andrew, the other member of the schoolboy foursome, drove up to join in the fun and frivolity.
We had left hot sunshine in Somerset, so were somewhat unprepared for the chilly north wind and heavy cloud that greeted us. The summer dresses didn’t get much of an airing, and we even lit the log fire in the evenings! We did some great walks, and the village pub was welcomed for the odd drink or two.
It was a fun three nights away, and we all hugged our farewells with promises to catch up again soon. Mark and I drove back to Somerset, and by 1pm were welcoming our next guests into our home.
Phil and Libby are friends from Australia who we originally met while travelling in our caravan. We were very excited to host them at home and give them a brief taster of our area, and took them up onto the Quantock Hills for a morning walk, with lunch at picturesque café, The Rocking Horse, and dinner at our local pub. We squeezed a lot into their two nights, before dropping them off at the station to continue their travels in London.
We had two nights just us, before the next visitors from down under arrived, my dad, Richard and his wife, Sue, over in the UK for a few weeks from New Zealand, celebrating dad’s 80th. We started off by experimenting with the rotisserie feature on our new BBQ – it all went well and nobody got food poisoning – hurrah!
My brother, Alex, had also come down to Somerset to spend some time with dad, and had booked a cottage on a nearby farm to stay with his two dogs. Alex loves walking, so we left dad and Sue having a lie in and took Alex, Scout and Raffles on one of our favourite circuit walks in the Blackdown Hills.
Dad and Sue joined us for lunch and a drink at our local pub, before a short walk along the River Tone.
We were very fortunate to be invited to climb the tower of St Giles’ Church, at the invitation of one of Bradford on Tone’s octogenarian residents, Dave Richards. The church dates from the 13th century, with a narrow spiral staircase taking us up the bell tower. We stopped briefly a the bellringer’s room, where the ancient church clock’s cogs and wheels click and turn before chiming each quarter hour and hour between 7am and 10pm.
At the top of the tower we were rewarded with incredible views across the village and surrounding countryside, as well as a unique view of our home.
As always, it was great fun to have them around, and time went too quickly – before we knew it they were heading off to their next visit in north London.
We had a few days to regroup, before our next trip where I am writing from today – in Milan, Italy. I have been invited here to the European Laryngology Society Conference to present the airway stenosis patient experience. My presentation is today, and the next update will come from Mr A. I bet you can’t wait!
Location: Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset, Vienna, Austria and London, UK
The end of February saw a frenzy of activity as painting, electrics and flooring were all coordinated to complete our newest room of the house, our home bar! When we bought the house, this room had been accessed only via the garage, and was used as an office. We have moved the office to a new space and wondered what we would do with it.
A few inspired thoughts, and the access point to the room was moved to near the kitchen, the window removed and replaced with bi-fold doors, the strip lighting, shelves and desks extracted (reused in the garage and loft)…and voila, Bad Cat’s Bar was born!
We immediately hosted an evening with drinks and nibbles for a few neighbours and friends who had been a part of the team to help create it.
The first of March saw us heading off to London for the night in advance of our flight to Vienna, Austria. We found a superb Thai restaurant in the basement of a pub, run by a Thai family, very unexpected, and incredibly delicious. Duck pancakes, soft-shell crab and more…it beat us!
The following day we headed off to Heathrow Airport and boarded our flight to Austria. It all went without a hitch and soon we were checking into our hotel. I had been invited to the city as a guest of doctors at Vienna University who were hosting an event for thoracic, ENT and respiratory physicians. The medical fraternity is only recently dipping its toe into representing the voice of patients, and given my experience with this disease and involvement with so many of the doctors with research, I am fortunate to have been invited in that role.
It was a fabulous conference – while it was mostly scientific in its nature, with little I could take back and present to patients, it was a superb opportunity to network with doctors and spread the word about offering support to their patients. My presentation went well on Friday, and I was lucky it was just before the lunch break, so I had a lot of opportunity to chat to interested people afterwards. Many business cards were exchanged, and promises of more research to be conducted into airway stenosis soon. I look forward to being a part of those conversations.
Soon it was Friday night, and the conference was over for me. I returned back to the hotel to freshen up ready for dinner and cocktails, joining our friends and neighbours from Bradford-on-Tone, Jim and Lucy. They had flown out to join us for the weekend and were ready waiting with Mr A in the bar with a glass of crisp fresh Grüner Veltliner.
We had a fun night out, visiting one of Vienna’s funkiest bars, The Krypt, for cocktails and laughs until the adrenaline crash appeared around midnight and we had to go home!
Mr A had taken care of the weekend’s planning, as it was all part of my birthday present. How convenient that we were in Vienna?! So Saturday morning began with a walking tour around Vienna’s most picturesque buildings. If you have not been to Vienna, then you will not realise that every single building in the city is attractive, right down to the one that houses McDonald’s!
Mr A’s walking tour took us across town, allowing us to admire many stunning buildings on our way to our lunch location, the Naschmarkt. This colourful location is home to Vienna’s food market, and a street full of every cuisine you could imagine, as well as fresh produce ranging from tanks of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to crispy nuts and cakes of every flavour.
We found ourselves a sunny corner on a table outside a Turkish restaurant, and settled in for the long haul.
The afternoon and evening continued in a similar vein, with superb scenery and delicious food. Mr A had excelled himself in his booking of the best places, with Saturday night a fabulous 6 course Italian degustation in a tiny restaurant with just 5 tables and service like we were dining at a friend’s house.
Sunday morning was my birthday-with-a-zero, and Mr A proposed we actually go for breakfast for a change. I did wonder why, given I don’t really eat breakfast…and all became clear when the staff brought out a bottle of bubbles and everyone sang to me! What a surprise!
Our next event of the morning was a short walk away, the the Spanish Riding School. It is something I had always wanted to see in person, the incredible dancing horses always included as part of the pomp and ceremony in royal events of my childhood.
It is an Austrian institution dedicated to the preservation of classical dressage and the training of Lipizzaner horse (cross breed between Iberian and Arabian horses) – even the ornate venue dates back to the early 1700’s. We sat enthralled as immaculate horses led by their trainers walked on the spot, delicately danced their way around the stadium and defied gravity to jump and clap their hooves together mid air. Just blew us away! Bucket list item ticked off!
A cup of tea and apple strudel followed for the dairy-eaters, a vegan cake for me, and an afternoon at the art gallery.
For our final evening in Vienna, Mr A had booked us a table at a Japanese restaurant. Boasting an amazing and well deserved reputation, we were treated to a huge menu of options, ranging from the more unusual sea urchin through to more traditional Katsu dishes. It was a first for Jim and Lucy, cuisine wise, and for us a long time since we had anything this good. A great birthday dinner choice!
We concluded our time in Vienna with drinks in our hotel bar, a night-cap to finalise our time in this beautiful city. We had such a good time with Jim and Lucy, barely pausing for breath between laughs, it was a superb birthday.
Returning back down to earth in the UK we were treated to a cold snap, and once again our garden and countryside was transformed into a magical fairyland by the snow! It was very short lived, with the following day turning out with sunshine and temperatures in the teens, quickly melting any last signs.
And so here was I thinking all the birthday malarkey was all done and dusted, when at 1pm the following Friday the doorbell rings. I opened the door, expecting yet another piece of biking or outdoor gear for Mr A to have been delivered, and lo and behold, there’s my sister, Helen!
I settled in to a weekend of sister-time, a Friday night movie, brunch at Sheppy’s and a stroll around our village in the rain…the stroll that seemed to never end. In fact I started to think Helen hadn’t had enough sleep as she made me head back to the church for a third time in the drizzle…
Finally we got home to find why she had been delaying me, as my mum strolled down the stairs with a beaming smile on her face! A huge shock, given mum had not until this point made it to our new home as she was busy being carer to her poorly husband.
The excitement did not end then, with the doorbell constantly ringing, and in walking my cousin Karen and husband Iain, cousin Ian and wife Caroline, brother Alex, friends over from Devon, Karen and Dan, and Jim and Lucy arrived to join in the fun too!
Mr A had organised catering from a local business, Conrad’s Kitchen – a veritable seafood feast, with fresh crab, lobster, languistine, king prawns, cold meats, salad, potatoes, bread and more. Just incredible. Friend Karen, who not only works full time for the NHS and is mum to pre-teen twin boys baked two delicous cakes! Amazing!
We finished off the weekend by dusting ourselves off post a huge egg and bacon brunch and heading off to the river for a walk to blow the cobwebs away. A superb weekend – well done to Mr A for all his hard work and to all our friends and relatives for keeping such a big secret!
A week’s worth of sheet and towel washing was worth all the fun and laughter (I seem to recall a TikTok clip being made at one stage!!) and awesome memories made.
Life returned somewhat to ‘normal’ after that, with gardening and household jobs, plus a trip up to London for more injections in to my airway. After last year’s chaos of never ending operations, it seems (‘touch-wood’) that my airway is finally stabilising and the injections are working again! Thank goodness – an operation every other month just was not sustainable. Fingers are thoroughly crossed that this trend continues – 6 weeks of easy breathing so far…
March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers, according to a proverb from the 1800s, so we hope that is true, as the end of March has been very wet and windy. Fortunately for us we can be flexible with our schedule, so as soon as the sun shines we get out and about. We did a stunning 36km return cycle along the Taunton Canal, spotting a vibrant little kingfisher shooting up and down the waterway and a cute female roe deer bounding through the fields.
With a small inheritance from my grandma we purchased a Cider Gum in her memory – a Tasmanian eucalyptus tree. We plan to keep it from growing ‘too big’ but enough to hide the view of some of the nearby houses, the scented leaves bringing back great memories of the Australian bush, while the name seeming to be fitting with our new home in cider-country!
We finished the month by getting awnings installed over our big glass windows – enough to give us some shade from the hot southern sun, while not blocking the view from inside. We shall probably never see the sun again! They are also able to be used in light rain, therefore giving us a dry outdoor space for summer barbecues. Lots of options ahead.
I’m going to finish off with a little plea for help.
Unfortunately, despite pleading with them, they have a policy of not sponsoring admission, travel costs or accommodation, even for volunteer patients!
I’ve attempted to find corporate sponsorship too, but as I am not a registered charity, have hit dead ends there too.
So I am now trying to raise money for…
£660 (750 Euro): Entry to congress – 3 days – I plan to attend all sessions relevant to airway stenosis and take notes where I believe patients can learn something useful £100 (110 Euro): Congress dinner – a great networking opportunity, and something I would pay for myself £240: Return flights from Bristol Airport to Milan £210: Parking at Bristol Airport £900: Accommodation – estimating it will cost about £225 a night based on the Congress website’s recommended hotels near the venue – if it is more I will cover the additional cost
Total: £2010 (excluding the dinner) – rounded down to £2,000.
Of course, there will be additional expenses including taxis, petrol, food and so on, but I will cover those costs myself.
I hate asking for money as I know everyone is stretched and gives so much to other causes, but I do hope you can spare a little. Even a small donation will help add up to the total amount. If you can help at all, the link is to be found here: Catherine Anderson GoFundMe
It has been more than 24 years since either Mark or I spent a December on this side of the world, and bizarrely it was something we were rather looking forward to. All the Christmases in Australia, while fun, hot and sunny and usually spent with friends or travelling and camping, never felt quite like Christmas to us.
For me in particular, Christmas means wrapping up warm, dark mornings and evenings, the sight of car lights reflecting on dark wet roads, and the festival of light provided by street and shop window decorations, brightening the time of year. The UK delivered that in spades, and even bah-humbug Mark who usually lacks enthusiasm about this time of year got into the spirit of things and started having fun!
Not long after returning from Seville, we decided to buy our Christmas tree, in anticipation of guests coming to stay on the first weekend in December. We thought it best to support a local business, and drove out to the Christmas Tree Farm. Neither of us had ever done anything like this before, arriving to a huge barn full of trees of all shapes and sizes. How to choose? First of all it was the height. We headed to the 6-7 (180-215cmish) feet section, as they looked good, and both settled on the first one we spotted. We were told jokingly by one of the workers that was not allowed, so we wandered around looking at other trees for another 10 minutes, and returned back to it!
We also had to pick up decorations, as we had donated all of ours to our next door neighbours in Curl Curl, Australia before we left. I did have a pang of sadness that we hadn’t rescued a few special pieces, but it’s all too late now. So it was off into the giant Christmas shop we went. I don’t think we have ever been so ready for the silly season!
Our friends from Devon came over for the weekend, a cold and grey one, brightened by our sparkly new tree. We spent our time eating and drinking with a little shopping for gifts in Taunton and Christmas Fairs in local villages. The boys are mad football fans, so they got a couple of early gifts – a World Cup ball each – they were very pleased!
A couple of days later our friends Mel and Barny travelled over to join is for a visit from their home in Essex. After an evening of food, laughs and gin tasting, we took them down to the coast and the village of East Quantoxhead for a walk and to clear out the cobwebs. It was a spectacular day, and really showcased this part of the country.
A superb dinner at a new-to-us restaurant in Taunton, Augustus, concluded their visit.
Mr A joined them on their return train journey to London, taking himself up to Milton Keynes to spend a few days with his grandchildren, given we’re not seeing them during their Christmas school holidays. He had a great time also catching up with his daughters and doing a few walks and a curry night (of course!).
While Mr A was away, something exciting happened in Somerset – it snowed! I was like a five year old version of myself, running from window to window, videoing the big fat snowflakes falling down, and rushing out with my camera to capture the spectacle throughout the village before it inevitably melted. Another big tick in the Christmassy box!
Our village, Bradford-on-Tone, is famous for its ‘Bradford Sparkle’ spectacle, which lit up on the 10th December. Everyone in the village comes out to stroll around the streets, admiring peoples’ lights, and there were some incredible efforts…and no, not by us. Fortunately we had been given a heads up that our house was a bit far out of the village (3 minutes walk from the village square), and people wouldn’t get as far as us. Maybe one year we will be set up enough to participate. Of course the grand finale was a visit to a very crowded pub to enjoy a mulled wine by the fire.
Several of the grand houses and gardens in the UK are illuminated at night at this time of year and open to visitors, and our nearest one was Hestercombe House, close to where we initially were living last February and March. We’d never been in the gardens, and it was great to stroll around the lakes, temples and arbors with a mug of mulled wine, and our neighbours, Lucy and Jim.
We concluded with Christmas reef making at the pub – very festive!
The dark days are taking some getting used to, with ‘sunrise’ currently about 8.15am and sunset about 4.15pm – some days it barely feels we are out of our pajamas! Now we’re past the winter solstice days are slowly getting slightly longer. We’re learning that mornings are best if we want to head out hiking, as afternoons often feel like one long dusk, leading to sunset!
You’ve probably heard about the madness of all the strikes in the UK the past few months. We have mostly been impacted by the railways and postal workers, with our sympathy with the rail workers now dwindling away as yet another event has to be cancelled.
Fortunately the week before Christmas the trains were running smoothly, as I had to go to London for my fourth operation of the year. I went up a day early and met up with my friend Jacky for a visit to the Royal Academy of Art, lunch and a little furniture shopping. It felt lovely and festive in London, but I felt for all the shops and restaurants which have suffered due to the train strikes.
My operation went as planned, and I was able to leave with Mark early afternoon on the 22nd December and be home in Somerset for a sleep in bed before the sun set. Perfect!
Thankfully, due to the proximity of my operation to Christmas, we had planned a quiet few days, and roasted a chicken and vegetables for just the two of us on the day, and I felt well enough to join Mark up on the Quantock Hills for a hike on Boxing Day.
It was a stunning morning, and we were delighted to see a huge herd of Roe Deer galloping across the hills, usually a rarity, and if we are lucky just two or three, not more than 30. Our delight soon turned to dismay, as on our return walk we saw a pack of hunt dogs, barking and snarling in the back of a truck, and the Boxing Day hunters on horseback getting ready for a chase across the hills. Apparently this is a tradition that goes back more than 500 years, but it doesn’t mean I’m ok with it. We left before we encountered any blood and guts.
On the 29th we picked up my sister, Helen from Taunton station for a few days of R&R. Of course we all got over excited as usual, and so the following morning delivered hangovers – when will we learn?
It was on this morning that we learned that our grandma, Jean Marshall, had passed away in her sleep – 100 years and 7 months old. We hope she is reunited with granddad ? and we will be celebrating her life with family later this month.
Helen and I had lots of hugs and tears, and many calls with our mum. We toasted her life and our memories at a lunch at our favourite Italian, Villa Verde.
New year’s eve was soon upon us, and after a morning ambling around the shops in Taunton it was back to get dressed and ready to see in the new year. Our neighbours, Jim and Lucy joined us for Prosecco, before we all wandered down the road to our local pub for dinner, live music, wine and laughter.
And so a new year began. We started as we mean to go on, with a New Year’s Day hike to Culmstock Beacon with Helen before we dropped her at her train home, and on the public-holiday Monday, off on a circuit walk concluding with bacon butties with a large group of friends from the village.
We’re already booking flights for various trips to Austria and Italy, and are dreaming up ideas of places to visit in Truffy (our motorhome), who has been rather under utilised in the past few months – his last trip was back in May!
I bought Mark a stunning book for Christmas about ancient Britain, jam packed full of photography and writing from David Abram, an aerial photographer and historian I follow on Instagram (@davidrabram). That is already inspiring several destination ideas.
Exciting times ahead! Sending everyone all the best wishes for 2023 – may it bring health and happiness, and many adventures!
Location: Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London, UK
September was a busy month for us, hosting family and other visitors at our place. Catherine kicked things off with her Dad and his wife Sue arriving from New Zealand. It was the first time Catherine had seen him for over three years. Then her half brother Alex joined us and all were there to share in my birthday celebrations.
Then my eldest daughter Zoe also came for a weekend. I dont think we have ever spent a weekend together like that. It was very special. We had talked for a while about walking a bit of the South West Coast Path together, after both reading The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn and being really moved by it.
Catherine’s half-sister Elle and her family also joined us for a few days including fun at the Somerset County Show. Now, when I say fun, that can encompass many things in Somerset, we are learning. So a spot of ferret racing barely made us blink. Yes, the kids loved it, we loved it, and possibly the ferrets!
Family weren’t the only visitors in September. We also had the crew from my school days. Stuart and Karen, John and Catriona, all came for a couple of nights, and as usual we went hard on the first one with a lovely long dinner out at what has become our go to restaurant, Villa Verde in the village of Rockwell Green. The early hours of the morning found us dancing round our dining room! Grow up? Never….
My buddy Andrew joined for the next day and joined us for a head clearing walk on the beautiful Quantock Hills. This group of friends has been my rock through my whole life, and I love ‘em to bits :).
Finally on the visitors front, we had Percy, the peacock, who the village adopted after he escaped from a very cramped cage at a local farm. As autumn comes here, his tail fathers have been lost (well we found one that has pride of place now in a vase), and he has taken to resting up on our patio in the sun. Tassie, our Burmese, looks on with horror, and a speech bubble can almost be seen on her expression saying, “Wow, weird place this village!”
September has also seen us exploring our local area, both hiking and kayaking. Exmoor is just up the road, and Catherine plotted a few great little walks, including one around a reservoir up in the hills. I don’t think there’s any danger we will run out of local hiking trails. We really have landed on our feet here…hah hah.
Another walk started from a tiny settlement, Bury, where we started and finished from a medieval packhorse bridge.
On another occasion we tagged on an exploration of the River Exe estuary to a visit to a stone mason, and found a great selection of birdlife and some fabulous scenery – we hope to come back here one day. It’s well known as a fertile fishing ground, and there were plenty of Little Egrets catching fish. As always, we were told; ”Oh you should have been here earlier, there was an Osprey catching fish here”…but obviously nothing for us to see!
Then it was turn of our arms to get a workout, as we paddled across an area called the Somerset Levels, which we live on the edge of. With 160,000 acres at an average height of only a few metres above sea level, its is one of the flattest and most flood prone areas in the UK. It also home to rare species of birds, and our kayak gave us glimpses of some of these thanks to Catherine’s big lens. We weren’t sure how good the kayaking was going to be in the UK. How wrong could we be, certainly with the kind of weather we have had this autumn. So another tick in the move country (and hemisphere!) box for us.
But it is not all visitors and playtime. We have been busy planning modifications we want to make to the house, and already have started on one project, converting a room used by the previous owners as an office (only accessible through the garage!) to….a bar. Yup, we are getting a whole new extension to our kitchen, having had a wall knocked down creating access to the room directly from it. Planning permission is in for bifolds to be installed as well, to open up the view. Much work to do but its great to get started on making the house our own.
Catherine also as been working, doing her voluntary advocacy work, talking at conferences, contributing to research papers, managing an ever growing support group (approaching 6,500 members now!) and meeting fellow sufferers of the rare disease she has. She also manages to find time to do some paid work for a company in Australia. A right powerhouse she is, also squeezing in a flying visit to her cousin, auntie and uncle somewhere in that mix.
Thank goodness for our easy rail connection here from Taunton. Well, when they aren’t on strike, or have leaves on the line, dead sheep, kinky rails, strong winds, overhead power failure, or the many other reasons we get given for delays. It’s not especially reliable, but mostly gets us there more easily than by car when London is the destination.
What about me then? Well, not too much to tell amongst the flurry of visitors. I have kicked off volunteering in the local community shop though, and they want me back for a second go. I know, surprised me as well 🙂 I did go along to the local Morris dancing club night, given my philosophy is to give things a go.
Well, let’s just say I gave it go, and leave it there.
We are really loving the community here, never having felt part of one before, given we’ve mainly lived in larger towns and cities. I think we will always be ”the Australians at the Brodie’s place” (our previous owners), but that’s fine. One resident was telling us about ”The new people at The Old Schoolhouse”. It later emerged they’d lived there five years.
Change seems to happen slowly here. For instance, I can’t believe how attached every government department is to sending letters! Yes, actual snail mail. They seem to take pride in taking as a long as possible to enact a process. I started applying for my Government pension at the end of August. By the end of September I had made 23 phone calls, and finally received an application form for it through the post on the 29th. I said to one call centre operator, ”But can’t you just send me one from your computer?”. ”Ooooh no”, she says, ”That’s a whole other department that do that”. All part of the charm? Sometimes. Other times its all just frustratingly slow 🙂
And while we are on the idiosyncrasies of this country, none were more evident then when we saw the nation mourning the loss of it’s Queen. One bloke even got arrested (later released) for holding a sign that read ”I didn’t vote for you”, referring to the new king.
In the land that reveres its tolerance of free speech, I realised there are some very touchy subjects, and the monarchy is definitely one. I even saw local councils around us have cancelled food festivals where small businesses show case their wares. Apparently they are not appropriate at this time”, to quote the council minutes. Very strange.
There is much to learn. Best done by listening and keeping quiet and trying to keep my eyebrows under control 🙂
Location: Bradford on Tone, Somerset and London, UK
When Mr A last wrote he was struggling through a bout of Covid-19, isolated in his own wing of the house, while room service (me) delivered meals on a tray. Finally on day 9 he tested negative and was free to return to the shared spaces of the house, with a great deal of relief. I had managed to avoid catching it, thanks to his strict isolation.
Soon after he was released, I had my second immunotherapy infusion in London, and on a hot Tuesday morning headed up to Hampstead. The Royal Free Hospital has a charitable arm which provides free accomodation in a brand new building for long-distance patients, conveniently located beside the hospital, and walking distance to shops, cafes and the London Underground. After checking in, I decided I wanted an afternoon in the great outdoors, given I had so much indoor time ahead (hooked up to a drip), and took off to explore Hampstead Heath.
The Heath is a bit of a hidden gem in London. First written mention of it dates back to the year 986 when Ethelred the Unready allocated some of the land to one of his servants. Nowadays, at 790 acres, it is one of the largest green (or mostly yellow at the moment) spaces in London.
There are about 30 ponds on the Heath, three of which are available to swim in (one mixed genders, one female only, one male only), which were absolutely packed on this 30 degree day. Looking at the murky brown waters, I decided not to partake! My mum grew up in this area, and told me of people swimming here in the 1950s and 60s – I cannot imagine they have been well cleaned since this time, but I could be wrong!
The following morning I was off for my infusion of unicorn juice. This is my second infusion of Rituximab, the aim of which is to suppress my immune system and stop it from attacking my airway unnecessarily! Already, despite having an op in June, at this point my airway was already on the decline.
The day after I returned from London, my sister, Helen, brother in law Stu and nephew and niece drove over from Brighton and spent a busy and very warm four days with us.
The temperatures were more like what we would have expected to find in Australia, and our local river was again a lovely cool haven for a bit more packrafting with the kids.
We held a bit of a housewarming party too, with our friends from Honiton coming over for a BBQ one evening. We ended up congregating under the cool shade of the oak tree to sip wine, listen to music and share stories of our misspent youths!
The first of our Australian visitors arrived, with John and Eveliene stopping by for lunch en route from Plymouth to Oxfordshire, the months falling away as we slipped back into old conversations and jokes easily.
The next visitors were also from Australia, Karen and Chris, who stayed for three nights. They arrived on our 20th wedding anniversary, so joined us and our new friends and neighbours, Jim and Lucy, for a celebratory dinner at a local Italian, and a glass or two of bubbles.
A tour of a nearby brewery was in order the following day, somewhat of a hair-of-the dog, and Exmoor Ales obliged us with tastes straight from the barrel. They were rewarded with a few purchases.
No flying visit to Somerset is complete without a walk in the Quantock Hills before lunch at our local cider barn, Sheppy’s, and of course that was scheduled in for their final day with us (they also have a fine wine list, for the non cider drinkers!).
Not one to waste time, I squeezed in another operation on my airway on the day Karen and Chris left – hoping this is the last one this year – I have lost enough brain cells to general anaesthetics in 2022! Final pre-op photo for this year…(fingers crossed!), this one conducted at our local hospital in Taunton, just 12 minutes drive from home.
Readers who have been following us for a while will know that Mr A is rather partial to a solo cycling adventure, and he has been feeling he should plan a trip. So he set off on a training ride for two nights, loading up his electric bike with tent, sleeping bag, stove and a few supplies. The good thing about bike-packing (as it is called) in the UK, is that there is not hundreds of kilometres between water and food supplies, making the load a little lighter. The battery on the bike also helps a bit too! He had a great few days, saw some stunning countryside and was able to refine his packing list for next time.
Mark had not long left our driveway, and my sister and niece arrived from Brighton to join me for a few days.
I took Helen and Isabel to the small fishing town of Watchet, just a half hour drive from home. Following Jim’s tip to use bacon as bait, had a successful hour of crabbing in the rock pools. All crabs were released unharmed and enjoyed their morsels of bacon!
After saying farewell to Helen and Isabel, Mark and I realised we had a few days off from visitors, so decided to take ourselves off on a hike. I plotted a 9km route using Kamoot (our favourite mostly free app for plotting hikes via public footpaths and bridleways) and off we went. Despite being a long-weekend, we didn’t see anyone else on the paths.
It was lovely to get out in the fresh air amongst nature for a few hours, to fully test the new (again!) airway, and make the most of where we live.
We continue to feel more and more settled in Somerset, and metaphorically pinch ourselves on a daily basis when we admire the views from our windows or stroll through the village on our way to pilates at the village hall.
Creating memories with our friends and families, and having our Australian and UK lives mingle, all helps us to feel more at home here in Bradford-on-Tone. We are starting to make small changes to our home, putting our mark on it, and are enjoying fresh produce from the garden – a rhubarb and apple crumble last week, thanks to produce tended by the previous owners, and almost every day we are consuming salad leaves and peppery radish, sown by Mark’s youngest daughter, Hayley when she came to stay.
I am getting to know some locals as well, having met another lady with the same airway disease as me while I was in London, finding we live just 20 minutes drive apart. Last week another patient called in to meet us for lunch on her way home from holidaying in Cornwall – another time we really appreciate our proximity to the UK’s major transport networks!
While the past few months have delivered some health challenges, I am fortunate to have access to the best care, and a responsive medical team who are on my side. When I read almost daily about the waiting lists for medical treatment, I know that not everyone has this, and I am incredibly grateful. Mr A is now under the care of a world renowned eye surgeon in London for his glaucoma and pigment dispersion syndrome (PDS). We have had to organise this privately, the cost well worth avoiding the dangerously long wait to see an National Health Service doctor, which could be potentially damaging to his eyesight.
We’re learning how to navigate the systems, and though I am certain there will be more hurdles ahead, we have good friends and contacts who are helping us to overcome them.
One of the reasons we migrated to the UK was to spend more time travelling and exploring Europe…now we have been here seven months, we are starting to think about where and when we might get away…plans are afoot…watch this space!
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: Brighton and Hastings, East Sussex, Widworthy, Devon, Charing Cross Hospital, London and Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset
What a month it has been! Time has simply rushed by with so much on our plate.
I left Mr A for a long weekend and headed over to Brighton for some family time with my sister, niece and nephew. It was perfect timing as just 10 days after my grandma’s 100th birthday, so we took advantage of that special event to pay her a visit (the first time I have seen her in three years) along with our mum.
Helen’s husband Stu was away on a boys’ weekend, so I stood in as responsible adult on school pick ups, swimming lessons and drama classes. It was simply exhausting – hats off to all those parents out there, especially those struggling to breathe (as I was!).
It was a glorious weekend, and we made the most of every moment – lunch on Brighton’s seafront, a walk up on the Sussex Downs at Devil’s Dyke, and time in Hastings with mum with lunch on the pier and tea in her beautiful garden.
The only fly in the ointment was my breathing. I can only put it down to stress, but despite having an operation on my airway mid April, my airway was determined to rapidly close up (for our newer readers, I have a rare disease called subglottic stenosis), and was declining on a daily basis.
Mark and I still managed to get out and about and enjoy the Devon countryside, but it tended to be shorter and flatter walks, with plenty of rests!
Thankfully I have a great relationship with my surgeons in London and they were able to book me in for another operation quickly…I guess breathing is quite important.
My friend Jacky was kind enough to put me up in her daughter’s old bedroom in her house in Twickenham, and given the train drivers decided to strike on my surgery day, also hired a car and played taxi driver to drop me off and pick me up from my operation. I feel so grateful for her compassion, feeding and watering me over two days with kindness and patience.
Once back in Devon, time flew by in a whirlwind of bed and appliance buying, followed by packing up boxes, with a sprinkling of walks up our picturesque lane with Princess Tassie who seems to be 10 years younger than when she arrived!
Before we knew it the day was upon us…completion of our new house purchase! We drove over to Bradford-on-Tone and met Andrew and Jan, the previous owners. Understandably they were a little emotional at saying goodbye to their home for the past decade, but we assured them we would be worthy caretakers, as we took the door keys and entered.
They had left the home in immaculate condition – almost like a new build, with plenty of opportunities for us to put our stamp onto it in future months.
Over the next few days we gradually moved in, our possessions from Australia fitting in nicely, and despite a few minor hiccups, most of our deliveries arrived as planned, and all services eventually connected.
We are more than delighted with our house, which feels like it was made for us. Tassie is embracing the multitude of sunbathing locations and enjoys her strolls around the 1.6 acres of land we have…yes we will be employing a gardener!
We’ve only been in the house a week, but already have spotted approaching 30 species of birds just from our garden.
Our home is a 3 minute stroll from our local pub, and within 15 minutes cycle along sleepy country lanes to several others. We are surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) in all directions – the Blackdown Hills, the Quantock Hills, Exmoor….We can be in London in less than two hours door-to-door, and the nearest junction to the M5 motorway is a 5 minute drive away, giving us a multitude of travel options. I think we are going to be very happy here!
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK
Ok I’m back on blog writing, now I have a working keyboard. Never buy a so admirably misnamed ”Smart Folio” keyboard from the master of design Apple. It makes a soap dish look smart. Anyway, back in the saddle now with a brand new AirPad Air, paired this time with the newish ”Magic Keyboard”. The magic is in that this one actually works. Brilliant, with a built in touchpad keeping my curry covered fingers away from that lovely screen.
So, is this a travel blog you ask, or a tech round up and bemoaning of the sad state of Apple now they have their market dominanance? Ok, well given we are not travelling around very much, I guess now its more of a catch for friends and family scattered around the world, on what we’re up to, and a great place to showcase Catherine’s ever growing repertoire of photography skills. For me, an opportunity to say what the hell I like, knowing most of you skip to the photos anyway!
So here’s a random thought to prove that mantra. I was laying awake the other night (been doing a lot of that recently!) and mulling over a book I’m reading about the history of England. One phrase stuck in my mind. ”Civilisation after all means living in cities”, in the context of the changes that went on in England post the Romans packing up their far too short togas, and heading back to Europe to get a better tan. We are seeing up close here in Somerset changes that will I think forever change what it means to live a civilised life, and be dependent on a city to do that.
Our dependence on cities for our employment, shopping, leisure and socialising has been broken. We don’t need cities for any of that do we? We might want a city for some lively night life, bricks and mortar shopping, and that overall buzz you get from being in the thick of things every so often. But for the first time in a few thousand years, we don’t need to live in one to find meaningful, well paid work (with good broadband), or to wander the shops to find the best choice and price, or to catch the latest films, or meet up with friends.
I know, not a startling insight, this has been coming for a while, and we all acknowledge that, but now Catherine and I are living it, as we transition our lives from having a home in the city to one in the country, and coming to terms with it. Unfortunately for us, half the rest of England is doing the same, and pushing up prices of houses as a result.
But will we be happy? As long as we can get the train to ”civilisation” for our monthly fix of fine dining, window shopping, perfectly mixed cocktails, and live music…we think so. Time will tell. Perhaps the big thing missing from our ”happy list” is having that network of friends around us, and that sure isn’t dependent on being in a big city. In fact I would say now we are not working in offices, it is inversely correlated to urban living. It will happen.
Meanwhile, we can’t look at houses every day, so off we skipped to our favourite (well we’ve been once before!) birding site locally. Ham Wall – no – not in search of a sandwich smothered in English mustard, but this fabulous wetland half an hour drive north of us.
Some cracking shots there right? It was about 8 degrees, with a chilly old wind, and we were as happy as Larry (well, if Larry had thermals on). A Thursday afternoon and as usual the car park is heaving with fellow twitchers lugging around their big lenses and spotting scopes. All very friendly and willing to point out some of the shyer types hiding behind the rushes. I think one day this will feel like home. Not yet, but its getting easier. I don’t get a lurching feeling in my stomach as often when I think of Sydney Harbour.
Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.
Walking through old forests like these just makes us take big deep breathes, you can almost feel the oxygen levels get denser. Dogs were happy as well!
After the forest came the open country up on Exmoor. Fabulous. We will be spending a lot more time up here, once we have a car that can deal with the bumps. Yup… we bought the wrong car. Too long slung. Not our finest hour in the research department. However, watch this space, cunning plan in place.
We are just loving the area we are trying to make our new home. So much variety in the scenery. Coast, rolling hills, open moor, it has it all. We just need to settle into our forever home to really relax and enjoy it. Fingers crossed. Again, watch this space. Things are moving.
This week we have transferred our base of operations to our friends’ Karen and Dan’s house in Honiton north devon. They were away and asked us if we would kitten sit. Oh yes please we purred. A feline fix is just what we need while we wait for our dearly beloved Princess Tasmania to join us here (26th April!).
We also had to do a quick two nighter into London for madam to get an operation done to help her breathing once again. We were soon scuttling back to Devon, with a much improved airway. What a relief for her. It’s literally a life changing little op, to be able to get huge lungfulls of air once again into her system she can bound up the stairs, instead of wheezing her way up while the kittens dash past disdainfully.
We finished our stay in Honiton with a glorious morning out at another nature reserve, Seaton Wetlands on the Devon coast.
So thats us. Coming to the end of our first spell of a ”holiday rental” – 11 weeks in fact. There have been some brilliant moments, and some tough times. We think the tide is on the turn now, in a good way, but more on that in our next instalment.
Finishing off with a few shots of the beautiful bluebells now blooming up in the Quantock Hills – if we could share the aroma, we would!
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!