The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

There’s nowt as strong as family

on October 28, 2014

There’s nowt as strong as family.

Superglue is pretty strong actually. I can vouch for it too when once I stuck thumb and forefinger together. I can’t remember what needed such attention but I just remember showing Husband my hand that looked like it was going to remain in an ‘OK’ sign for the rest of my life. Perhaps I wasn’t dramatic enough about the incident as he thought I was kidding and also that no one would be careless enough to do such a thing.

What is quite remarkable about the whole experience is just how painful it can be even when you’re not trying to prise your fingers apart. I don’t quite understand it myself but it’s like there’s a little force field at play. I also wouldn’t advise you to try it either. Thankfully over some time, both thumb and forefinger did manage to detach themselves from each other, as you’ve probably noticed.

It’s my last night in Newcastle tonight. I wish it wasn’t. So I think it’s best I talk about it now rather than tomorrow when emotions will be running even higher.

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Years before I moved to Singapore, every return trip to Durham or Newcastle from Manchester or London always brought with it a real feeling of familiarity, of warmth and of returning Home. Odd really, considering it’s been 18 years since I was back for any length of time. These nine days have perhaps been the longest stretch since then.

But every single time, the further north I travel on the A1 or as the train pulls across the viaduct and I see Durham Cathedral and some 15 minutes later the beautiful Tyne Bridge, the heart never fails to quicken and a smile forms because it’s good to be back Way Up North.

We’ve been staying right on the Quayside. Another fabulous welcome back with views of the river Tyne to wake up to every morning and strolls alongside it towards the many bridges that cross over it. To me, this is one of the best views ever.

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I couldn’t possibly tell you where the coolest bars are or the best places to eat. All I know is that this is where my family can be found and after three years away from them, it’s been just amazing to be back right amongst them. Especially with #1, 2 and 3. They have been showered with love and attention and have once again met so many people but now have wised up to the notion that perhaps we’re not complete strangers after all and are asking me how many times have they met this or that person before, even if they can’t remember.

The beauty about this return trip is that it’s likely #1 and 2 will remember you and we won’t be starting from the beginning again the next time we meet. And yet, I have been surprised by these three small people time and again at how easily they have slotted right in. They have greeted family warmly with hugs and Hello you’s. They have ran about homes like they are regulars. They have, most importantly and above all else, liked being with you. They have loved being with their Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Though the younger you are, the better.

It’s been really good fun watching the next generation of our family get to know each other and enjoy playing together. They are a mischievous bunch I can tell you!

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So how have I found it all being back after three years?

Well, I wouldn’t recommend such a long gap before seeing your family again. Particularly your parents. I was concerned I might burst into tears at first seeing them but I didn’t because it’s not the sort of thing you can do in front of small children and be able to explain yourself properly. Though I instantly saw how #1, 2 and 3 made all the difference to them.

You should have seen the way my Dad, Mr Li’s face lit up upon seeing #1, 2 and 3. There is nothing in this world that gives him more joy than all his grandchildren. It’s a shame all five of them haven’t had the chance to get together yet. It was a relief that they all took to him instantly because even though we don’t see him as often as we would like, you can still build up a sense of how important someone is to you by the way you talk about them and how frequently you talk about them too. Children can be wary creatures and just because you want them to have the same close relationship you have with someone, it doesn’t always work that way as true relationships are built over time and by being together. Children though, are also very accommodating and if you make the effort with them, they’re willing to give you a chance.

My Mum affectionately thinks #3 is a little rascal who doesn’t stop investigating every single thing she sees and like a true magpie, is drawn to all things shiny. She finds it amusing just watching all three potter around and playing. For although you can see lots of photographs on social media, you can never get a good sense of their true personality. Which is what this trip has given my parents, family and friends. The chance to meet #1, 2 and 3 and get a feel for who they are. And for #1, 2 and 3 to know that there are a lot of people out there who think the world of them too.

There’s also been people I’ve really needed to see because I wasn’t there at the time. My longest standing friend of 33 years, Working Mammy and her young lad got on like a house on fire with #1, 2 and 3. I can see they are also going to be a mischievous bunch together. It had been a while but as I’ve already told you all about Working Mammy then it’s no surprise that she and I got together like we just saw each other last week. Shame we only could indulge in a shandy.

In these three years, the young people in my family have turned into fine young adults. Where once I would look after them, they are now in turn looking after #1, 2 and 3. I think I’ve successfully roped all of them into doing at least one shift of childminding this past week. Quite often they’ve ended up exhausted after a couple of hours. I’m not surprised. My nearly niece, Loves Buffy was swinging them high in the air, playing tag and I Spy With My Little Eye Something Beginning With Tree. As we all know, once you start such things with children, they all want a turn and they never tell you when to stop. I’m very touched that she and her boyfriend made a very special effort to travel all the way from Aberdeen for six hours on a coach to spend time with us for a few days and spoiling the kids no end

Everyone has been spoiling the kids actually and I’m not sure how they are going to haul their stash back to Singapore.

Nephew #1, often overshadowed by the loud younger ones, is maturing into a fine young man. Completely disregards instructions not to feed his cousins unlimited chocolate but then neither do I heed what his parents say either. He’s a little bit cheeky you know, benchmarking his own drunken activities against what he thinks I have done. How rude!

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I’ve also had my fill of chips and gravy and all foods northern that my prediction of needing the back up expandable dress for the Sister in Law’s wedding has become Fact! Ah well. But no one cooks better than my Mum.

And I’ve also worked my way through the major supermarkets Jumbo Eclairs, they all do them now you know. My conclusion is still a preference for a Sainsbury’s Jumbo Eclair and I was rather disappointed with the M&S ones. You normally can’t go wrong with anything M&S from underpants to the tubs of mini flapjacks but I have to say they haven’t quite got the chocolate to cream to choux pastry ratio right.

We haven’t really done much in and around Newcastle but there are many, many fabulous things to do. The few places we have been to though, like Seven Stories which is a visually stimulating way to get children to love reading and story telling and Adventure Valley which is an amazing outdoor and indoor centre guaranteed to tire out children for the rest of the day. It’s also located right next to HM Prison Frankland and the thought did cross my mind that I hoped there wouldn’t be a prison breakout that day and we would be taken hostage.

To be honest, if there are stairs or a garden, a melon balanced on top of a vase, or even an emergency call button – these things have entertained #1, 2 and 3 enough.

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You know what I really miss?Just catching up on the everyday stuff with my parents. Not just the big things we talk about on the telephone. Mostly about their health to be honest. But you know when you’re just around each other and feeding in and out of conversations. Stuff like that.

Recently, I was asked out of all innocence how could I stand being so far away from family for so many years. I couldn’t find an answer to that.

Another thing I miss is the laughter.

And there has been so much laughter! Like proper tears rolling down your face laughter. When you can laugh with friends is pretty special but laughing with family is even better. Strawberry Mousse and her sister, who I could rename Gorilla Legs but I won’t, have had me in stitches. I don’t think they realise just how brilliantly hilarious they are. Though usually we’re laughing at each other. Because within each family, we all have our quirks. At one time some members used to make us cringe with embarrassment and perhaps made us venture far from home to avoid them. But now, I can see that this is who we are and by embracing it, I actually find we are quite funny.

And I’ve missed the language and the warm Geordie tones. I’ve missed words I used to use quite naturally like canny, mint, hoy, gannin’. Don’t be surprised if some of it has come back to stay when I speak to you next.

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By the time you read this, I’ll have already said my Farewells for now to Newcastle and all who live there. I don’t think you need to know all the details about how that goes. Suffice to say that for those who know me well, you can imagine how I will feel about that.

Even just seeing my Mum wave us off from the window tonight got me going. I miss being in the same room as my Mum. I miss catching up on chit chat. I miss telling her how Our Jenn is rubbish at not dragging me into things. That’s how things get back to the ears of my Dad, Mr Li! His source already has enough ammunition without Our Jenn freely giving out more. And for goodness sake I’m Forty! Why do I still get scared at the idea of receiving one of THOSE telephone calls.

It seems living this Expat life hasn’t really made me more independent. If anything, it’s made me realise just how much I thrive on having a big, blustery family. They are loud, rude and nosy but they are open, caring and funny. I bet none of you have a cousin who has started her own tradition of a solo Welcome Home karaoke performance. Luckily she has a willing audience in #3.

There’s a part of my heart that permanently resides Way Up North. I don’t think about missing it too often otherwise I couldn’t live in the present. However, if there’s a silver lining to all things, then I know that it definitely won’t be three years until I see you again.

It may be a whole lot sooner than you think. Lucky you!

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