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

With a fizz, pop and a whizz bang

I can hear the last few crackle and pops fading away. It’s been a decade since those familiar sounds signalled the start of shorter days and colder nights. Since the clocks went back an hour last weekend, there has been an unfamiliar drop in temperature outside. Oh my gosh! So much for acclimatasing gradually into a traditional northern English winter. 

I’ve gone from embracing this cooler weather to sporadically yelling ‘I’m bloody freezing!’ We’ve been going to the local park every day after school. In the early autumn days that was lovely. Sitting in the late afternoon sunshine, chatting to other parents over a coffee, only calling out home time when it was time for dinner. 

Now, now you’ll be lucky if I can manage 20 minutes of non body movement on a cold wooden bench whilst my ability to chat to other parents diminishes by the second as my face freezes up. I mean it’s possibly just me. I have seen some people still in shorts. And it is no use saying to me ‘But you’re from Newcastle!’ Do you know how many years, nay decades it has been since my proper north east of England days? I’ve just moved back from the tropics for goodness sake!

I AM FREEZING! 

And I am not the only one in this household who thinks the same. #2 was in tears last night after just two hours outdoors. Trussed up in multiple layers and a big thick winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves. I don’t know what else she can wear for when winter sets in proper. We had all been admiring the fireworks when suddenly, painful yelps could be heard from #2. Baffled as to what could have happened #2 woefully declares her fingers are not working and her toes have disappeared. 

And she was right. I couldn’t feel my toes on the walk home either. Nor was my mouth formulating the shapes to speak. But #2’s distress was too funny as you see unfurl before you the idealistic notions of playing in the snow to the reality of living in conditions for snow to happen. I’m sure in time, they will all acclimatise. Maybe I will too but until then it’s tempting to see sense in #2’s declaration that she was catching the next flight back to Singapore.

Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks Night. It’s a brand new occasion for #1, 2 and 3. Who is this Guy Fawkes? Why do we burn him on a fire? Why was he naughty? These are quite terrifying concepts for young children. As we gloss over the story on our way to said Bonfire Night the local church are handing out free sugared doughnuts as a timely distraction. This will mark all that is good about Bonfire Night forever for #1, 2 and 3. 

Fireworks are one of my all time favourite things. The explosion of sound and colour against a clear night sky just makes me happy. In Singapore we were truly spoilt for magnificent fireworks displays. But I feel there is something more authentic just standing watching a frenzy of fizzing, popping, crackling fireworks going off in the freezing cold.  

There’s a proper massive bonfire, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a teenager on a beach in Sunderland. And actually a house just down the road and around the corner from ours had their own mini bonfire going on in their front garden which concerned #1 no end. He was pleased to see just the embers were smouldering when we passed it again on our way home.

The other thing I did today was boil a lot of sugar. A lot of sugar. And syrup. For cinder toffee and toffee apples. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to make my own. I mean when cooking for small people, homecooked from scratch is usually the better, healthier option. But sugar is just sugar. I could have just bought them from the shops. 

But then again, there is something soothing to be indoors on a FREEZING cold afternoon measuring sugar and syrup with #1. And I have to say, it is not so easy to make your own toffee apples. I’m not even sure the cinder toffee is right either but #1, 2 and 3 were more than happy.

And that is enough for me. For these occasions will come to mean something to #1, 2 and 3 as we add it to the other calendar of events. Creating new traditions as we embrace this new life and add some warmth in our hearts to defrost those fingers and toes so we will brave the cold outdoors again. 

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A proper cold Halloween

“I can’t wait for Halloween”, says #1.

“It’s today!”, replies #2.

“I know”, answers back #1.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d be out Trick or Treating tonight. Not just because I’m scared of all things spooky. I even couldn’t cope with #3 randomly “woo oohing” around the house this past week in a Casper the friendly ghost fashion. 

No, it’s more to do with being without a ready made condo community on our doorstep. It’s a bit tricky figuring out what’s the norm when you’re trying to create a whole new normal for yourself. This time last year, #1, 2 and 3 had wrapped up three Halloween events already. Which looking back now seems a bit excessive for Halloween but a lot of fun. So much fun for #1, 2 and 3. 

Without the security of a ready made condo community, Trick or Treating seems to hold many people in conflict about going knocking on the doors of (mostly) strangers to basically ask them for sweets. Of course we all get where the concern comes from. So what do you do in these different times to that of our childhood. Though I’m not sure it was considered that acceptable even back then when sweets were actually a proper treat. 

So I’m of sort giving up on the idea when a very kindly teacher sends a note home with every child, inviting them to come Trick or Treating at her house. Well at least there’s one house to visit and perhaps there’ll be a few more on the way. 

As it happens, there were whole streets festooned with cobwebs and pumpkins. The scary and the sweet were out in dedicated sugar harvesting mode. Cries of all 200 bags of sweets have gone could be heard from several doorways but by then #1, 2 and 3 plus their three friends have reached sugar saturation point. It’s so dark at 6pm that you can’t see the amount of sweets that have bypassed the Halloween bag! 

And it’s funny how when Trick or Treating there are no cries of “How much further do we have to walk?”, “I’m coooold!”, “Can we go home now?”. In fact I’m the one yelling how cold it is and I’ve got three layers on! With a long cloak not just for Halloween effect but in a bid to keep extra warm! I found myself admiring and nodding in approval at those wearing full on fleecy onesies as my next year’s Halloween outfit of choice. Makes a change from sweating it out in the tropics wearing 100% polyester.

As much as #1, 2 and 3 were keen on the haul, they were equally excited about giving out the treats too but we were out ourselves during prime time. Would we get any Trick or Treaters ourselves? They enthusiatically looked up and down the street. Practically wanting to open the front door and shout out to passersby to come knock on our door. And their yells of excitement when they heard the doorbell ring and proudly held out their cauldron of treats made me very happy for them. 

So that’s our first Halloween in our new town done. All that’s left is to remind myself I still have my Halloween face on before I head off to get ready for bed and scream at myself in the bathroom mirror. 

Happy Halloween!

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And just like that

As bright as three shiny new pound coins, #1, 2 and 3 left the house, bounced down the road and around the corner, off to explore new places and be amazed by great things. 

It has been a long summer holiday for these three. A lot of change. A lot of moving around. A lot of waiting. But finally, a step towards normality. 

Filled with a good mix of nerves and excitement, #1 and 2 started their new Big School just a couple of days ago. Thrown right in at the deep end having never seen the inside of their new school before. What an adventure. And such bravery from them. For what else can be more nervewracking at that age than being the New Kid. The one that doesn’t know what is expected of them. 

  • What do I wear.
  • What’s my teacher called.
  • What do I put in my bag. (Actually this is more for me)
  • Where are the toilets.
  • What if I get scared.

Two years ago I was sending #1 and 2 off to Big School for the first time. They were fine. Two years later, I was sending them off again. They were fine. As I knew they would be. I took them to meet their new teachers, who were waiting to welcome them in class with big friendly smiles. I could feel their hesitation. A few more moments of delay. A few quiet words of nerves. ‘Mummy, I’m scared.’ I know sweetheart but you will have a brilliant day. And I will be waiting at the gates for you.

And of course they did. Brimming full of excitement and hardly believing their good fortune that for school lunch there was ice cream! Ice cream inside some kind of cake. Wow, that sounds exotic. Artic roll? 

The relief is palpable as I hear them excitedly chatter about their day. And the hug. That hug you get when they see you immediately after school. I’m so glad for the chance to get these hugs again. Those arms wrapped around you, filling you with warmth. Then it dissipates like steam and normality resumes. “I’m hungry Mummy.” “Can we go to the park? Whhhhy noooot!”

So you see, I’ve been through this before. I’ve done the whole starting school thing several times. I should be a Pro at this. I should be writing my Get Up and Go List with all three in Big School. Six hours a day of quiet time. Isn’t this what all parents have been waiting for? The countdown to the end of summer holidays and back to school. 

Yes that is quite true. When I was in Gainful   Employment, school marked a sigh of relief that their time was going to be properly occupied and I no longer had to wonder what to do with them outside of the annual leave Husband and I could take.

Equally, since giving up Gainful Employment I have enjoyed seeing their faces everyday. And not just for the last hour, half hour of the day. Some days have been looooong. Some moments of some days could be better but overall, I wouldn’t be without these days. Especially when I think about how fleeting every stage of their childhood can be.

Perhaps it’s because I know how fleeting it is, preparing #3 for Big School has been the hardest. Apparently it always is for the youngest one. Your last baby all grown up. The one you don’t mind crawling into your bed space in the middle of the night, long after the older ones slept all night in their bed. You don’t mind because you know one day it will stop, this little squidgey person snuggling up to you. And one day you want it to stop because they are taking up too much bed space. 

I always enjoyed shopping for school uniform. I think it’s because it was the only time you got so many new things at once! New clothes, new shoes, new bag and new stationery. It seems it’s just as much fun for #1, 2 and 3. (Less so on our pockets though. Three lots of uniform, school bags, PE kit, welly boots.) #2 and 3 have been wearing their new school shoes indoors for days! They are so proud to be wearing their new uniforms and they look so smart in them too.

It’s funny this whole Big School thing. Now that it’s the end of the day, I can laugh about it to myself. How this morning I could barely hug #3 closely and wish her a brilliant day before I could feel the tears threatening to fall. She had no doubt it was going to be ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT. Yesterday we talked about how she felt about starting Big School, she was ready. Then she said “you’re going to cry Mummy.” Really? Why! “Because you’ll miss me.”

Ah. She got me there. 

The walk was barely long enough. The Goodbyes in the school yard all too brief. I help her place her bag on her peg and walk her into her new little world. It’s colourful, warm, fun and exciting. This is where #3 belongs. She’s waited patiently for today. For the uniform, the shoes, the friends, the learning. The learning. Constantly telling me that she doesn’t know how to read the words yet. I’m sure it won’t be long. 

I watch her through the window. Overhearing other parents talking about the Parent Syndrome. I have Parent Syndrome too. I wonder if #3 will look up and see me for one more wave. But of course she doesn’t. She’s looking around with a curious happy smile on her face in her smart new uniform and shiny shoes. Full of confidence. She’s looking happy. And then she moves out of sight and it’s time for me to move on. 

But before I do, the Teaching Assistant has already clocked another one with Parent Syndrome. She comes over and asks if  I’m ok, offering words of comfort and encouragement.  I feel even more ridiculous admitting #3 is #3 but she reassures me it’s all quite regular. 

There are days you cry out for ‘ME’ time. A quiet moment to sit down and have a hot cuppa tea uninterrupted. None of the multiple echoes of “Mummy, Mummy”, being able to get jobs done within half the time it takes with three in tow. Sort out boring admin jobs. Clean and tidy. Go out running. Have coffee. Find new cohorts. Regain Gainful Employment. Read a book. Do something new! 

Six hours seemed to pass by quite quickly before I’m back in the school yard. There’s #1 and #2. We go and collect #3 together. She’s all smiles and dishevelled curls. A sign of a brilliant day. 

Later on, we all ask her how she felt. She thinks about it. 

“I almost cried but then I was having too much fun.”
And that is why she’s ready to join in with the big kids.

 

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All Hallowed Out

I have felt frightful today. As bad as my Halloween look from last night. No need for the extra pale make up or faux dark shadows under the eyes, the zombie look is all natural today. I’ll come to how I got to that state later on.

I don’t know why or how but Halloween this year turned out to be a rather big affair. An almost 24 hour long celebration of all things spooky. I am not a big fan of all things spooky. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like watching scary films and I used to sit on the ghost train with my eyes closed but pretending they weren’t. I jump at the slightest thing and have been known to scream in people’s faces if I happen to turn a corner and come face to face with someone I wasn’t expecting to be there.

But you know, Halloween with young children is a more friendly affair. Small people dressed up as pumpkins, spiders, witches and wizards and a random array of non-spooky related outfits. How can you resist a good dress up like that.

#3 loves a good dress up. Whilst it’s a whole month late, we held a belated Birthday Halloween party to celebrate #3 turning 3. She was only going to acknowledge it was no longer her Birthday when there’s been the big Birthday sing song around a big Birthday cake. Ah, the Birthday cake. I can’t tell you how amazing #3’s Birthday cake was as created by my exceptionally talented friend Cathy from My cakes by Catarina. I asked her just a couple of weeks ago if she had time to make #3’s cake and she asked what theme did I have in mind. I told her #3 wanted to have a Cinderella at the Ball party with the shoe but as it’s Halloween can you do something with a pumpkin. Clear brief? This is what she came up with. A cake of two halves. I knew it was going to be spectacular when I received a message from Cathy the day before saying ‘I love your cake sooooo much!’ and I know how much Cathy enjoys what she is clearly so talented at doing. Look at the detail. The care and attention that has gone into this cake. It seemed such a shame to have to cut into it but it tasted amazing too.

  
I remember when #2 turned 3, one of the biggest highlights of her party was having a friend there all of her very own. The friend she has made all by herself at school. Well this time it was #3’s turn to have a friend of her very own at the party. And for the first time I was referred to as #3’s Mummy. I’m sure it’s something I’ll hear a lot more of soon enough. For now, most of #3’s friends are an older crowd and they want to PARTY! They actually make their own entertainment. Running amok, chatting, shouting, eating handfuls of crisps. It’s quite funny how just two years ago #1 wasn’t that bothered about party games but he now loves them. He loves musical statues but still no one quite gets the whole statue bit so we did musical chairs instead and still no one quite gets that either. Some kids just sit on the chairs watching the others go round, others dip in and out of the game and the music stops and they are so small that two, sometimes three can fit neatly on one chair so that no one ends up out.

So that’s another party done. All Birthdays done for another year. But it was the first of three Halloween parties of yesterday. Halloween perhaps still isn’t as big an occasion in the UK as it is in some other countries. We did do Trick or Treating around the neighbourhood which is quite ironic that on this one occasion it’s ok to accept sweets from random strangers. Anyhow, last night we were invited to friends who live in a neighbourhood where every other house had gone to town with all things spooky. There were hoards of young people, small children and parents out together dressed up and enjoying a real community activity. Homes were decorated elaborately scary and buckets of sweets were waiting for the incoming visitors. I have never seen anything like it. #1, 2 and 3 enjoyed themselves and so did I. Now what to do with the enormous stash of sweets and chocolates they’ve brought back?

  
And finally after almost 12 hours of Halloween activity already and torn between wanting to go to bed to moving onto the final Halloween do for Grown Ups only. The good thing about Halloween fancy dress up is that you don’t need to do much to look bad. A layer of too pale foundation instantly ghouled me out and a bit of black eye shadow to enhance the dark circles that already exist permanently. Plus a bit of fake blood. And we’re done. Husband and I dressed up as zombie tourists. I think he secretly wanted an excuse to buy a selfie stick. Why would zombie tourists be scary? Because you may not be aware that I have an irrational fear of couples, families even, who wear matching clothing. Like the exact same top. There’s a Chinese saying that roughly translates to mean the ‘loving couple’ look. That a couple who wear the exact same top are more in love, in tune than those who don’t. If anyone dared to wear the exact same top as me, we would no longer be a couple. I feel distinctly uncomfortable when I see couples walking towards me in their exact same tops. I feel irrational rage and the impulse to ask them if they know they’ve left the house in the exact same top. It is my worst nightmare. As Husband knows all too well. Even being in the shop trying on our tops and catching first glance of ourselves in the mirror nearly made me violently ill.

And then I was violently ill. Felled by the Evil Twin 2 and her tray of catch up tequila shots and gin with a small dash of mixer. It has been quite some time since I’ve had those all day hangovers. The kind where you wake up and can’t move without feeling nauseous. Where you can’t look down. That is a sure sign that things are bad. And whilst Husband was up early and out to rugby training with #1, I was left with #2 and 3 with a 10am party to get to in a play gym. On a Sunday morning. Thankfully it’s been a haze free day so the indoor gyms were not as packed as they could be. But still, being anywhere but in bed when you can’t look down is not good. Over the course of the three hours there, I could feel myself slowly coming out of Hangover Hell a couple of steps only to fall back into the raging fires of it again. I’m still not quite out of it yet but at least it’s bedtime now. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll look a bit more human again.

  

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All good things……..

So if I have to be awake at 3am I may as well make use of the time and conclude my travels around the UK.

However when I’ve had only a couple of hours sleep these past few days I’m more than likely to ramble on more so than usual. Or not at all as I can honestly say my brain is working a few steps behind.

A whole month has been the longest that Husband has been away from #1, 2 and 3. The month seemed to pass by fairly quickly as we travelled here and there but I know it has been tough on both sides. It was very disconcerting when #3 kept calling every male she encountered ‘Daddy’, I tell you.

Spare a thought for Husband who arrived in the UK for just nine days. Getting over jet lag one way only to encounter it in triple force a couple of days later. How do international jet setters do it?

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Even just six weeks of road tripping in the UK has been enough for me. I think I’ve seen enough of the A1 for awhile. I have never found the A1 as interesting as the M1 mostly due to the service stations being rubbish. But this time back, I’m rather disturbed by the presence of several Adult Sex Shops in BIG LETTERS on either side of the A1. That’s just wrong. And very unsavoury UK. Though I suppose if you needed some emergency pants then you’d find some semblance of pants there.

Anyways, after a big London night out with The Ones, Husband and I spent a couple of days with #1, 2 and 3 taking in the sights of London Town. It would have been a total shame had we not been able to do so as #1 is old enough to have heard about the London Eye, Big Ben and where the Queen lives.

It’s exciting taking young children to these famous landmarks and reminded me of how much importance was placed on these places (except the London Eye) when I was a child.

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It also happened to be Remembrance Sunday when we were in town. It can’t have escaped your attention that this year marks the centenary of the start of WW1. The streets around Buckingham Palace, The Mall, Houses of Parliament and Downing Street were completely pedestrianised. You couldn’t get right up to the gates of Buckingham Palace but you could amble undisturbed by traffic around the Cenotaph where poppy wreaths had been laid earlier that day.

The thing with sightseeing with children is that you really can’t pack in much and there’s not much point taking them places they have no idea about. But that was ok as we rather enjoyed just walking along the river Thames from the Houses of Parliament past the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, HMS Belfast, the GLA building, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Doffing our caps to the pubs we’d once frequented but bypassed this time. We even saw Tower Bridge open up not once but twice in the time we were there, I’ve never seen that before.

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Having marvelled over the fact that Uncle Monkey had never seen The Shard until a couple of weeks ago, I was equally incredulous to discover he had never been on the London Eye before. How is that even possible? Until the revelation came out that he has a huge fear of heights. Well I never, the things you learn about people you’ve known for years. Good job he has us to show him the sights of the capital city he is so very proud of.

When we reached the Tower of London dusk was falling which transformed the mood around this historic landmark. At 4.55pm began the roll call of soldiers who had fallen during the First World War.

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I think York may well be my third most favourite city in England. It’s probably the one I’ve visited the most without having lived there. The last trip back we saw David Gest (you know, him who was once married to Liza Minnelli), strutting around the cobbled streets. I have a not so discreet pap shot of him. If ever you’re up in that area, go and have afternoon tea at Betty’s, I do love Betty’s but I think they have fallen a little out of love with us after #1, 2 and 3 lost the plot a bit and we were presented with the bill without having really asked for it. Take a stroll around York Minster, the Castle Keep and along the river. It’s incredibly beautiful up in York through all the seasons. #1 and I weren’t so keen on exploring the Jorvik Viking Centre which offers a true to life Viking experience complete with sounds and smells. The smell emanating from the Gift Shop was a little bit too realistic and enough to make me retch. I am not tolerant of bad smells.

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We made one more trip up to Newcastle for lunch with my Mum and my Dad, Mr Li, Our Jenn, the Facebook Informant Cousin and Nephew #1. Have I ever mentioned that conversations with my cousins can never be conducted at regular decibels. Everyone has to shout. REALLY LOUDLY. To the point where people around us think we’re having an argument when we’re just talking about the price of peas.

There’s a department store in Newcastle called Fenwicks which has a fabulous window display sequence every Christmas time. It’s like a tradition to mark the start of the festive season to go and have a look at the Fenwicks window. #1, 2 and 3 were fascinated by this year’s Alice in Wonderland theme. They were especially taken by the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party window. I wonder why.

So this trip started off with a wedding and ends with a wedding too with #1, 2 and 3 playing some very special roles for Sister in Law’s wedding to our new Brother in Law. Sister in Law looked absolutely stunning as the radiant Bride. It was a great family occasion and one more chance to see some of our friends before we were due to leave the UK the next day.

It’s always a pleasure to bear witness to Uncle Monkey and Mr Steamer getting absolutely mortal. When my partying shift was over and I was saying farewell to people, Uncle Monkey was shimmying on the dancefloor in hot pink flip flops with a fair few shirt buttons undone (not enough to bare nipple as staring at them is rude) and Mr Steamer had lost the ability to understand coherent human speech.

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Small people dressed up in fancy outfits is very cute. Especially #1 looking so proud dressed in his smart trousers, shirt, cravat and waist coat. Good job he had a full six weeks practice of wearing many layers to build up to this part. #2 took her role as flower girl very seriously and was very insistent that it involved carrying the train of Sister in Law’s gown. #3 loves a good dress up and couldn’t wait to put on her dress and literally ran up the aisle to hang out with the Groom. Then during the ceremony, #3 decides it’s a good time to practice her fake belching. Quickly joined by #2. Fake belching during a wedding ceremony by a 2 and 4 year old. They are very good at it I must say.

And just in case we haven’t made good use of every moment we’ve had in the UK, Mr Cupping and his family came over for lunch just before we had to depart for Heathrow Airport. I’m really glad they did too so that we could give our Congratulations in person to the whole family for the exciting and happy times ahead of them.

So, as all good things go, that concludes our six weeks and three days away.

I had high expectations as you know and it has been the best. I certainly feel I’ve made up for the three years I haven’t been back. After six years of living a life abroad, I’ve had the privilege of many great experiences which I’m very thankful for. But what it has taught me the most is an appreciation for what I have in family and friends in the UK. That over time, these relationships haven’t weakened but have in fact strengthened.

Some things have changed of course and the economy, the Government, some public services may not be ideal but to be honest, where on this earth is everything ideal. The prospect of moving back is daunting and what I’ve just experienced has been a fabulous long holiday and nothing like what real life would be like. Yet, even so, we’ll all be in it together and you can tell me all I need to know as I still don’t know how to apply for schools.

I’ve seen as many people as I could and I love you just as much. I’ve caught up with some really old friends and made some lovely new ones. I’ve eaten everything that I wanted to and perhaps shouldn’t. I’ve drunk many a proper pint of draught Guinness and developed a new love of whiskey. #1, 2 and 3 agreed that the UK is brilliant and they enjoyed everything we did.

But I do know they also want to be back home. And home for now is Singapore, which is also ok.

Now please can I get some sleep in my comfy, cosy bed I’ve really missed!

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The Great British Outdoors

If there’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed about being back in the UK, besides from being with all you’s lot of course, it is being in The Great British Outdoors.

You may wonder what on earth am I talking about with having lived in Singapore for the last six years where it is eternally between 26 and 32 degrees. How you would trade a grey rainy day for sunshine and temperatures like that.

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It’s just not the same. I doubt many of you could manage hours in The Great Tropical Outdoors without sweat dripping everywhere, getting sunburn and feeling like you’re going to expire and in dire need of a sit down and nap.

It is much more enjoyable being out in The Great British Outdoors over here, even if you do get a bit windswept and #2 and 3 turn a bit blue.

A cold, crisp air is far more energising and I forget just how much I miss being able to run outdoors in the cold. Although at first it takes a bit of motivation and layering up, once you’re out moving it doesn’t take much to get you all warmed up. Just as well I like the cold as I had promised #1, 2 and 3 a trip to Peppa Pig World.

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Peppa Pig and her family have long captivated #1, 2 and 3 with their rolling around in muddy puddles escapades. #1 and 2 couldn’t believe there is such a place as Peppa Pig World. Neither could I actually. They have been going on about visiting this place since before we booked our flights.

It’s a long drive from the In Laws to where Nana Moon lives. But along the way lives Lil Sis who came to Singapore in May with my gorgeous nieces Babs and Mini. #1, 2 and 3 simply adore Babs and Mini. They were highly excited to be visiting them and would have loved to stay for longer. It was hard work wrenching them away and only the promise that Nana Moon lives near to Peppa Pig World would do the trick.

Then just before we passed under the bridge to get to Nana Moon’s, we spot a massive billboard poster advertising Peppa Pig World, convincing #1 and 2 that Nana Moon does indeed live in Peppa Pig World.

Nana Moon is a connoisseur of high octane thrills. So is #2 and #3 has full potential to follow suit. I do not. I am getting worse as we move further Beyond Forty. I especially dislike rides that go round and round. My head spins on a basic playground roundabout then I have a headache rest of the day. I’m also rubbish at acting cool on rides and will inevitably be the one screaming from the top to the bottom of a slide. Much to the chagrin of #1.

But Peppa Pig World is amazing! I love it and so does Nana Moon. I’m pleased she did because a theme park with three children is not always everyone’s idea of a Sunday outing. They especially like her enthusiasm for going on all the rides. I like the fact none of the rides were high octane, except for the spinning clouds one. Everyone else is spinning in theirs except for us, until we discover the wheel you manually turn yourself for high octane spinning action. I felt sick afterwards.

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What is lovely about these outings is how much they really believe it’s Peppa and George they are meeting. Which is why it is rather surprising to find the cafe happily offers ham sandwiches as part of the packed lunch boxes you can buy. As pointed out by Nana Moon.

Another favourite of #1, 2 and 3 has been The Gruffalo. They were a little nervous about going to Alice Holt Forest for the Gruffalo’s Child forest trail walk until they realised there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo and it was all picture book cut outs.

Incidentally, whilst we were having lunch at the cafe at Alice Holt Forest, I overheard the conversation at the next table where the children were having sausage butties for lunch. One child asks ‘where do sausages come from?’. A Grown Up answers ‘from pigs’. Another Grown Up adds, ‘like Peppa. You know, where you’re going to tomorrow’. The child was silent for a very long time.

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In Singapore, we do have a fairly good outdoor life with the swimming pool, the man made beaches and parks but there’s nothing quite like a bunch of trees and a stream to play Pooh sticks. I’ve seen how much #1, 2 and 3 along with their friends enjoy having any patch of grass to run around on. They just love playing catch and they can go on for ages! I can feel myself burning off the calories just watching them. I wish.

It has been great to have spent time with some wonderful friends out and about. To go places together that neither of us have been to and just have our children play together. Or on the occasions where it has been raining without a break, it’s been great to catch up indoors with mugs of hot tea and pasta and marvel at how times have changed where once we caught up in some bar or other.

To enjoy The Great Outdoors, you don’t need sunshine, warm weather and t shirts. Don’t envy us the seemingly better Great Tropical Outdoors with it’s mosquitos, humidity and sweat fests. Sometimes it is glorious to have all that but I think I’d rather have something more varied. Something more like the change of seasons The Great British Outdoors has to offer. So that you can truly appreciate a warm hazy sun after a long freezing winter. Where you notice the small things like falling leaves and the new blossoming of a winter crocus. The bluebells and hay fever to follow and the long days of sunlight. Winter can be grey and dismal but there is much warmth to look forward to.

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One Fine Day

It’s like I haven’t been away at all.

Not for three years. Not even for six years.

When I go through Arrivals in any other country, I love the anticipation that comes with exploring a whole new world outside.

But when it comes to arriving back in the UK, it’s the excitement of returning to all that’s familiar. All the things that I have missed and suppressed my thoughts on whilst living abroad.

That first intake of crisp, fresh air. The cold breeze on your cheeks. It never fails to bring a huge smile to my face to feel you’re not suffocating in the humidity. Or haze as they currently have it in Singapore.

But like all things built on nostalgia, it didn’t last long as I discovered just how cold it bloody well is.

Much to the astonishment of everyone else who keep telling me it’s ‘lovely and warm’. I just don’t quite get it. The toilet seat is cold for a start.

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As much as I will never truly acclimatise to 32 degrees tropical heat. I obviously have been softened by it. In fact what am I saying, I long lost the ability to venture out in hot pants and cropped tops like a true northerner after a few years of living down in London. What hope do I have now?

But I had forgotten that feeling of going out in the cold (to me) and quickly warming up after a brisk walk along the canal which nestles not far from where the sister in law lives in semi rural Hertfordshire. It’s wonderful. Followed by a pint of Guinness in the local Public House which is even better. I was impressed with how swiftly I’ve managed to get a pint in this trip back. Simple pleasures.

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Jet lag is not the most fun after a 13 hour flight where #1, 2 and 3 were like a tag team in their sleeping patterns. Fellow passengers possibly had the right to be annoyed at the commotion from #3 but what can you do. I don’t know whether you can compare jet lag to the state of delirium caused by sleepless nights with a newborn but the effects of prolonged periods of no sleep definitely takes it toll on normal levels of functioning human behaviour and rational thought. I’m not sure it’s come back yet.

The fact that I was barely able to hold a thought during a flying catch up with Mr Muffin on Friday afternoon was blamed by him on these factors in this order: being 40, being Mother to three children and being just me but not on the jet lag. So by the time I arrived at Nana Moon’s on Friday evening having been chauffeured down by Uncle Monkey, I apparently was a lost cause displaying signs of giddiness and overexcitement. So they did the sensible thing of plying me with red wine and sending me to bed before the end of X Factor. It was like a severe case of déjà vu, have I even been away?

Incidentally, a journey that should on average take just over an hour was squeezed into 40 minutes by Uncle Monkey in order to reduce the amount of good quality interrogation with no escape. But it was a fruitful 40 minutes as he now owes me £100.

So having gone to bed half cut, you can imagine my annoyance when I woke up at 2.45am. Wide awake. With a wedding to attend at 2pm and the intention of continuing on until the early hours. It wasn’t looking good at all for that. Neither was Nature going to allow a quick snooze in the maze either.

To quote the concern for my wellbeing at the time, here is an excerpt from Uncle Monkey. “Delirious and giddy again? I feel sorry for Nana Moon! I bet you are currently hyper, but in about an hour you’ll be shouting at cars passing you by in Geordie asking them “what the hell do you think you’re doing man?”.

Where he gets this idea from is beyond me.

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But as soon as we arrived at the wedding venue, it was clear it was going to be One Fine Day.

I already knew I would be catching up with many of our old crowd from University. But it was equally as fun to catch up with faces from years past I’ve encountered through Big D’s social engagements. All of us now sharing similar stories of domesticity. Equally as good was being introduced to familiar names but not faces of new friendships and relationships that have formed since I’ve been away.

I must admit to experiencing a severe absence of presence a couple of times as the impact of not sleeping kicked in. But regular bouts of bracing cold air throughout the day soon sorted that out. I still wasn’t getting why people were pronouncing it ‘positively balmy’ when my teeth were chattering and I’m trying not to look it as others are waltzing around like it is ‘positively balmy’.

What the f has happened to me?

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In short, it was a fabulous wedding and so worth deferring my UK trip for. To see good friends united in matrimony and share in that moment with them with other good friends is always an honour. I wish them both a long and happy life together with good health and great times ahead. Doesn’t the Bride look stunning?

Naturally, Uncle Monkey kept in contact through the evening to check on my sleep/delirium status and Nana Moon obligingly provided updates on the amount of times I was shoved outside for more bracing London air. How can you tell me it’s not freezing when there is steam when I breathe?

I’m not quite sure how it happened but it was gone 3am before I went to bed. Some things change but most things stay the same and that’s quite reassuring in many ways. I’m sure Nana Moon will agree as she discovers I still can’t seem to divide the bed in two down the middle instead of either side of me.

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It’s barely been a few days since I landed back in the UK. Everything feels how it should be. Time doesn’t seem to have passed by at all as we fit right back into the last conversation we had. Such is the advantage of modern technology where you can have a very real and current presence in most people’s lives if you are both willing to make the effort.

I’m happy to be back. More than happy to have milk that tastes like fresh milk and thick buttered toast with hot mugs of tea that don’t stay hot for very long. To drive on motorways with open fields either side, even the back logged M25 held a certain charm on our first day back. Incidentally last week I could drive, this week I apparently can’t as I stalled the car five times in a row at traffic lights. (The car is still fine Mrs Cake Pops.)

So are #1, 2 and 3 happy to be here, who are loving being amongst family and Godparents. Being outdoors in the garden intrigues them and having stairs provides endless entertainment possibilities.

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However, with every high, there is a low and after marking our 7th wedding anniversary, Husband has had to return to Singapore to keep one of us in gainful employment.

But as I know only too well, absence will only make the heart grow fonder.

In the meantime, for such sacrifice, I really ought to make this trip all the more worthwhile.

For now, it’s about time I got some sleep.

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Hello UK – it’s time you and I got reacquainted

Today in Singapore the sun is shining and the temperature will range between 26 and 32 degrees with 70% humidity levels.

This is nothing new. It’s barely worth asking me what’s the weather like because with all probability it’s going to be like this.

I’m not showing off. I see the forecast says it’s also sunny in London and Newcastle.

Rest assured I will tell you of the occasions the weather permits the wearing of long trousers. Such rarity elicits great excitement.

However as you are all interesting and stimulating people, I daresay our conversations would never need to hit the doldrums of asking what the weather is doing.

So, after nearly three long years, I’m finally coming back to the UK! Long trousers and long sleeves with a jumper, coat, scarf and boots. Even when I’m in Newcastle. Especially when I’m in Newcastle. It has to be snowing by now.

I’ve started packing already. I have a winter wardrobe circa seven years ago. I’m not outdated, I’m just really into vintage. However to make myself more current I went to buy two new long sleeved tops that don’t look much different to the ones of seven years ago.

I could have bought this but figured I might lose one of the children in it. #3 especially.

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I’m exuding an air of palpable excitement. Forget the 13 hour night flight with #1, 2 and 3. It’ll be a breeze I’m sure. Just get through the first six hours without crying and all will be well.

And this time I’m back for six weeks and three days. The longest time ever! I just can’t wait.

The first weekend is Big D’s wedding at the former residence of King Henry VIII. Nana Moon and I are going together and I’ll be seeing Ms Beefy, my cousin and her husband plus a few others all at the same time. Slightly concerned the jetlag will send me to sleep in a darkened corner of the dance floor by 8pm. Or even more concerning, into a state of delirium.

Then I’m off to Stockholm for a weekend sans #1, 2 and 3, to help Nana Moon Embrace 40 with £20 pints of beer. Who would have thought there are places more expensive than Singapore for beer. This is one weekend I am so glad I’m back for as not only am I sans #1, 2 and 3 but I get to spend it with my three best friends for the first time in forever. However I haven’t actually told my Dad, Mr Li I’m doing this and after the encounter I told you about in my last post, I’m not sure I will. But equally perhaps this is the best way to break the news to him? I’m sure someone will tell him on my behalf.

Plus there are new small people to meet. I’m looking forward to seeing them in person having seen so many photographs on Facebook and the many status updates of how they are always getting one better over their parents. But there is one young lady in particular, I’m looking forward to meeting most of all. The news of whose arrival still fills me with huge emotion when I think about it.

And not forgetting my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum and all my nearly nieces and nephews. I’ve missed them all so much and I’ve missed out on so much too. When I left the UK they were mostly young adults with student discount cards and now they know why I was always making use of their NUS cards.

The thing I’ve learnt you have to do with being an Expat is that you can’t always look back at what you left behind. Otherwise you’ll never be fully present in the place where you are. So to that extent you do have to become slightly detached from where you come from. Is it still Home? Yes it was and no it isn’t.

After exactly six years away today, nearly three of which I’ve not returned during, I have lost some connection with what I know of the UK. I’ve grown accustomed to changes that made me homesick and I’ve nearly stopped comparing what is better in the UK than in Singapore.

But I’m ready to get reacquainted all over again.

What does it feel like to have a proper pint of draught Guinness instead of one out of a can that’s then poured into a glass and placed on some whizzy gadget that does something which ought to make it taste like a draught one. I’m sure there’s a special name for it.

How different is a glass of red wine going to be in crisp cold weather. Pub with roaring fire thrown in would be an added bonus.

How many different varieties of crisps will I find on the shelves of Sainsbury’s? I’ve already worked out that I can’t buy more than eight different multipack varieties because of my Dad, Mr Li’s rule of maximum one packet a day. Last time I slightly miscalculated and ended up leaving 42 bags with Uncle Monkey. And knowing his lack of concern for Best Before Dates, I bet he still has half of them and more than likely will think nothing of offering them to #1, 2 and 3.

I have a really long list of food items I need to get through and so planning my trip around this needs to be done meticulously. I bet you didn’t even know certain food combinations don’t exist in all parts of the UK. This was a huge shock. I almost couldn’t move to London because they had never heard of chips and gravy in the same carton.

If you can have a bag of chips. And you can have a pot of gravy. Doesn’t it make sense that you equally should be able to have chips and gravy together? It’s very simple. No you can’t. I just don’t get it. Goodness knows what they would make of adding some fried rice into the mix as well. Although Mr Cadbury’s Eclairs thinks this is food abomination. Double carbs are the work of the devil. So does Mrs Cake Pops, I can already see the look of disgust and retching as she reads this.

Elbear the Wise once said that the sign of true friendship is knowing how someone likes their tea. If you’ve forgotten, it’s regular tea brewed for a few minutes with just enough milk to make it look like caramel and filled to one centimetre below the top of the mug. Half filled mugs will be sent back.

Equally a sign of true friendship is allowing the ketchup to reside right beside the salt and pepper next to the Sunday Roast. I just don’t get why this upsets you so? Is it because it merges with the gravy on the plate?

Without sounding as if I have a disregard for the rising numbers in the obese and diabetic, I can’t wait for a real proper chocolate eclair. M&S are ok but one is never enough and two is just gluttony. What is ideal are the Sainsbury’s Jumbo Eclairs. Are you listening Nana Moon? Of course you can get eclairs here and when I first chanced upon one, I was so excited and then so bitterly let down that I almost threw it back and proceed to lecture on what makes an authentic eclair and faux fresh cream is not one of the components and that I should know having won the taste and presentation categories of a homemade chocolate eclair challenge against Mr No Beans, whose real strength lies in the tarte tartin.

But of course this is not about all I can eat. And I really must watch that as I can just fit into the dress I would like to wear to a special family wedding six weeks later but if I don’t manage to keep all in check then fear not, like my suitcase, I have an expandable back up dress.

Last Friday as I anxiously waited for the Scottish referendum results to come in, I could feel the nerves building up. I personally wanted a No outcome so I’m pleased with the result but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel for those who passionately wanted it to be a Yes. Had it been a Yes, it would have made coming back very weird and even more disconnecting for me. Change happens, I get it. The second from last time I was back, David Cameron became Prime Minister. But to lose a whole country? Well that’s just quite careless.

I honestly never thought I’d still be an Expat right now. I thought we’d have moved back some time this year. But I think it’s better this way to get reacquainted again so that I know what it is we’ll be coming back to. There’s a General Election next year and it’s time to listen to what the Parties are saying. Six years away plus #1, 2 and 3 in tow is a big lifestyle change to adapt to. I don’t even know how you would get them some education so it’s about time to find out.

But leaving all that aside, I am more than ready to see you again. And I quite simply, just can’t wait!

Plus, Mrs Cake Pops bought me my very own onesie for this trip. Though I highly suspect she wears hers for casual Sunday wear. I haven’t tried it on yet but all I can see is a Tomliboo and I’ll be bringing it to Stockholm.

I thought six weeks and three days was a long time but it definitely won’t be enough time for me to see all of you who I really want to see but I’m going to give it a good go.

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Teacher’s Appreciation Day 2014 – How to show your appreciation

It’s Teacher’s Appreciation Day today in Singapore and most of the local schools are closed giving pupils and Teacher’s a much appreciated day off.

I assume it’s not Teacher’s Appreciation Day in all countries, such as the UK with the new school year having just started a few days ago.

Why am I talking about this? Well, Teacher’s everywhere deserve our appreciation for taking our beloved offspring off our hands for half of their waking hours, five days a week and for weeks at a time. I’ve often said that school was invented to give parents and their children a break from each other.

Plus there’s the whole teaching them to read and write and do sums. I don’t know how they do it but #1 listens to his teachers and absorbs what they say. So why can’t he do the same at home? Why do I have to repeat myself endlessly over all things? And why when I give him some piece of information that I think is interesting and new his answer is ‘I know Mummy, I know that’.

The other reason I mention this is because it makes me That Mum again.

The one that doesn’t remember it is Teacher’s Day until arriving at school on the day.

The one that sends their children to school sans token of appreciation to all their teacher’s whilst Mrs Cake Pops has individually personalised handcrafted candles of the Teacher’s signature scent. I’m exaggerating of course but you get the picture between Prepared and Organised and well, just not.

The one that will never make it onto the elite Class Mum In Waiting training programme.

But not this year.

This year, I am Prepared and Organised.

#1 and 2 are bringing in homemade cookies and brownies all wrapped up neatly with handmade gift tags signed by #1 and 2.

In reality, #2 measures one or two ingredients and tips it into the mixing bowl. Followed by one or two stirs of the wooden spoon. Followed by one or two rolling out of cookie dough. Followed by one or two attempts at writing her name on the gift tags.

#1 didn’t even hold so much as a wooden spoon but did eventually write his name on all 15 gift tags.

I’m up past midnight because I didn’t get a chance to bake the brownies until after their bedtime as we chose to spend the afternoon at Mrs Imperturbable’s condo instead. Of course this was way more fun than having to ‘work’ at their Teacher’sDay gifts.

But that’s ok because this year I am Prepared and Organised!

This morning we arrive at school with our basket of goodies. #1 and 2 proudly announce they are cookies and brownies they helped to bake. I suppose both touched a utensil required at some point of the manufacturing process.

This morning I wasn’t That Mum.

I may get an interview for the Class Mum in Waiting Training Programme after all.

Some hours later and I’m on my way to get #1 and 2 from school because it’s a half day finish. My phone rings. It’s the School.

They’re just wondering if I’m aware it’s a midday pick up today so that the Teacher’s can head off early and enjoy their Teacher’s Day lunch.

No matter how good the cookies and brownies are, I’m sure they’d rather have their much appreciated half day off without #1 and 2 in tow who waste no time before telling me how such and such was picked up and they were still in class and then such and such was picked and they were still left in class.

Next year I’m going to be The Mum Who Reads The Whole Email.

As well as being Prepared and Organised of course.

Incidentally, so you’re much better Prepared and Organised, Teacher’s Appreciation Day for most countries is 5 October.

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Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November. Then something about gunpowder plot and what not and that’s all I really do remember as my mind has already moved onto the fireworks and how pretty they are. I LOVE FIREWORKS! What is there not to love about lots of gem coloured sparkles in the night sky? The feeling of anticipation upon hearing the whizzing of the banger shooting way up high followed by an explosion of sound and colour and accompanied by the crowds going ‘Oooh and aaah’. Well I do anyways.

I was really pleased to hear that the once renowned fireworks display at Alexandra Palace, London resumed again this year after a hiatus of a few years due to lack of local council funding. Rather the fireworks go at a cost of £100,000 than some other much needed public service like the local library. Then this year some clever person brought it back with a side order of Belgian beer festival. I asked Uncle Monkey who was in attendance whether the fireworks were any good but he apparently didn’t see any as the queue for beer was so vast he decided once he got to the front he wasn’t going to give up his spot and promptly pulled out his foldable camping stool to prop up the bar. I suppose that’s what happens when you hit 40. Then I remembered he never really liked the fireworks much and was always impatient for hitting the pub afterwards and that perhaps explains why one year he told me it started HALF AN HOUR later and so we all missed out the Ooohing and aaahing stage and had to go straight to the pub. How devious.

When we first moved out to Singapore in the September, the fireworks display at Ally Pally was one of the first regular events I was going to be missing out on and that made me feel quite homesick. Plus it was hard to imagine whilst sweating it out in a vest top in 32 degrees celsius that people were existing in a world where you needed layers of t shirts, jumpers, coats, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, jeans and boots. Except perhaps for the hardy northerners who were probably just out in a vest top too.

Once you let go of summer and embrace the autumn chill, sweetened by that extra hour in bed you got last weekend when the clocks went back, Bonfire Night is a wonderful night to be out in the fresh, cold air. I LOVE WRAPPING UP! What is there not to love about hiding amidst all those layers of padding. Joining the hoards of crowds up to Ally Pally, finding your spot and for 20 minutes Ooohing and aaahing and ‘Did you see that?’ Well of course they did, how could they miss the whole sky lighting up? Then working your way very slowly back down the hill, across the park, up the road to find another small spot in the pub and having to unwrap all those many layers to find your vest top underneath because the pub has the central heating turned up to maximum which is quite unnecessary really with all that body heat being generated by a few hundred people packed in like chickens in a battery farm. You see, this is when the hardy northerners really come into their own having only gone out in just their vest tops in the first place. Who feels stupid now then?

Would I still enjoy it as much? I’m sure I’d love the fireworks just the same but would I be happy with the bangers that go off randomly at all times of the night? Would I be too concerned that the noise is going to wake up #1, 2 and 3 and tut in much the same way that pet owners worry the goldfish are going to freak out? Probablys. #3 is rather concerned at loud noises. They may also be rather concerned at the burning of the Guy Fawkes on the bonfire like they used to do on the beach in Sunderland.

How would you answer a small child who asks you why is it a celebration to watch said effigy being burned? Why indeed. Remember, remember, the Fifth of November….gunpowder….treason and plot….should never be forgot….Oh yes, the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes (Catholic), was caught under the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder right where King James 1(Protestant) would be sat the next day for the opening of Parliament with the intention of blowing up him and many others but the plot was foiled by top spy, Robert Cecil. Do you think Robert Catesby who was the ringleader of the Gunpowder Plotters would be annoyed that it’s Guy Fawkes who gets remembered over 400 years later? Probably not if Guy Fawkes was actually ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ as originally intended but instead he jumped off the gallows after being tortured for two days and they still sent various body parts across the country. Did they really tell us this at school? Really? Why didn’t we run out of school screaming?

Surprisingly, I’ve had a humungous dose of fireworks since living in Singapore. There are fireworks for the regular New Year, then for Chinese New Year, then for National Day in August (which celebrates Singapore’s Birthday, it was 48 this year) and then at the end of the Singapore Grand Prix night race in September. That’s a lot of fireworks. They even have rehearsals of the fireworks every week in the six weeks leading up to National Day. Can you imagine what the Daily Mail would say to Boris Johnson if he suggested that?

What could be a bad fireworks display anyways?

Well I suppose if they didn’t go off at all would be pretty humiliating for the nation. Or say if someone like Mr Telephone Box put the rocket into the ground the wrong way round and so what happens is that a huge crater is blown out in the front garden instead at 2am in the morning. Or perhaps you’re sat in your student abode like Big Scary D and the Locals in a gesture of goodwill decide to bring the fireworks display to you straight through your letter box.

I suppose it is rather macabre the reasons why the Fifth of November is celebrated in this way but whilst the Monarchy still stands, I guess it’s a good a lesson as any.

Though if my birthday was today, like Mr Cupping’s very own #1 (Happy Birthday!), then I would pretend the fireworks were a special bonus birthday present just for me. Speaking of Mr Cupping, you remember I told you how he celebrated his 40th with a long weekend in Vegas with the lads in my post Embracing your 40th……..Vegas style, well Husband and I spoke to him a few days after he got back. My goodness, did he look rough! He had a brilliant time and will live off many stories from that weekend to see him to his 50th but recovery was slow. Very slow. He also seemed to be confused as to what 40 should look like. He was sat with his thick rimmed spectacles on paired with what could only be described as an electric blue hoodie. It was a sight as spectacular as any fireworks display.

Enjoy all the whizz, bang, booms and pretty sparkling colours.

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