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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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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The end of summer

Perhaps not quite the end of summer. Who knows. There may even be an optimistic few days of balmy weather towards the end of September to send us into a frenzy after our summer/holiday/Singapore standard wardrobe has been relegated to the backs of cupboards and wardrobes. 

I have never known The Weather to feature so prominently in daily life. It’s rather exciting how utterly unpredictable it’s going to be. Rather like the temperament of #1, 2 and 3 all at once. One moment it’s cloudy and grey, the wind picks up a bit and you consider putting on another layer. No sooner have you done this then brilliant sunshine breaks through the clouds and your legs feel on fire, protesting indignantly at being covered up.

My Birthday Treat this year was an outing to York Maze complete with pig racing (put it on your bucket list) and an international corn eating competition no less. (To think a couple of years ago I spent it sipping posh BOGOF martinis at the glossy hotel bar in the Hyatt.) You can just tell the out of towners, the rookies to a British summer by the way they react to the whim of the Weather. Both Mrs Cake Pops and I were like this:

Grey clouds overhead.

She: It’s getting a bit chilly now isn’t it. I’ll go get us coffees.

Me: Ok, go get us coffees. I’m going to put my jacket on.

Sun peeps out.

She: It’s getting a bit warm now isn’t it. I’ll go get us ice creams.

Me: Ok, go get us ice creams. I’m going to take my jacket off. 

This activity is not just reserved for the Grown Ups. I have become a walking wardrobe for #1, 2 and 3. I’m expected to produce raincoats, cardigans, scarves, gloves, wooly hats at their request. And at their change of body temperature, I am equally expected to be a walking coat stand. 

If ever you relocate back to the UK, summer is the season to do so, even Spring if you can. Summer fills people full of cheery optimism and this is what you need when starting a brand new life. Winter receives unfair bad press I think. Why waste a quarter of your life complaining. But from a practical perspective, I’m glad we haven’t waited until December because the last few weeks of getting out and seeing all that is glorious about the UK has definitely softened the edges of transition. 

I’m pretty sure there will be days quite soon where the reality of the change of seasons is less romantic than I remembered. This makes it immensely important to store those days in the outdoors, it doesn’t have to even be sunny,  for the days indoors. But of course by then, I will be excellent at creating indoor entertainment.   

This last day of August marks the end of my first month back to the UK. It’s gone by fast hasn’t it. I can hardly believe it myself. I’ve been very busy looking at what’s around me. Exploring new ground, introducing #1, 2 and 3 to amazing new adventures. Mostly play grounds, parks, woodland walks. We’ve travelled several times to our soon to be new stomping ground and looked at houses and cars together. Involving them in the process of putting together their new life. It’s been a month, only a month, and if you ask them what would they like for lunch or dinner, the answer is still chicken rice. 

I have been so impressed with how much the UK outdoors is putting into getting people outdoors. Farms, parks and country houses that offer amazing days out with really fun activities and not everywhere charges an entry fee. This makes me look forward to other events in other seasons.

  

But to be fair, it hasn’t all been green fields and rolling hills. There have been clouds of confusion, blank space in my brain space, a lot of noise from #1, 2 and 3 and juggling a massive to do list in my head. 

You see, I haven’t had to do All The Stuff on my own for a long time. I’ve always had an extra pair of hands which takes the edge off  things in so many ways. Now all of a sudden and even if it’s not going to be like this forever, I am the person getting us from A to B about 90%, maybe a bit more, of the time. I think I’m getting better at it. I have to be but I’ll let you know in another post in a month’s time when we’ve got a new routine on the go. 

Humans, as #3 often likes to refer to us people, are a resilient species. We can draw immense strength when we need it but we also need to soften our hearts and let others in to help us along the way. This process of repatriation is a slow and long one. Quite frankly I am losing patience and I am weary of living out of a suitcase for six weeks with another three weeks to go. I completely understand why #1, 2 and 3 lose their rag and they have done amazingly well. They miss Husband to a heartbreaking degree and I can only provide big hugs and kisses and to wipe away their tears. They have been distracted with amazing outings and lots of fun and they have received warm welcomes from so many close to us who are very happy to see them, as we are them. But it is time they had their own space and familiar things around them. It is time to create and implement a new normal. One that welds both their Singapore and UK sides together before chicken rice is replaced by chicken nuggets forever.

The lazy days of summer are drawing to a close. August has been a wonderful welcome back. I’ve just returned from a week road trip with #1, 2 and 3 visiting family, godparents and friends. I could not say just how fabulous it has been to see the people of England who have helped us recharge for the next few weeks. 

As I turn my thoughts to the start of a new home, new school year, new school and new school system for #1, 2 and 3, here is where the real steps towards ‘settling in’ begin. I’m almost out of the waiting room and I’ve decided to start a new blog about it too documenting whether repatriation is as difficult as I’ve heard others say.

Until then, there’s still time for a last few glasses of Pimms. 

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Birthday Eve of new beginnings

Well actually new beginnings started 10 days ago. At the same time they haven’t really started at all. 

Since I arrived back in the UK with #1, 2 and 3, it has felt more or less like previous times we’ve been back on holiday but without the frenetic pace of travelling here and there trying to fit in people and places in a few short weeks. We also won’t be packing up and flying out again but we hopefully will be packing up to move into a new house of our own. 

I’ve been asked how does it feel being back in the UK after so long. In short, it feels quite surreal. I’m neither here nor there right now. Whilst I feel like we’re on holiday, I also need to think of the quite big things such as finding somewhere to live. Even getting a monthly mobile phone contract wasn’t as easy as I thought. It seems I’ve been away nine years and you can’t just pick up where you left off. 

So I guess you could say I’m in the waiting room just before starting my new life and the key is not to be impatient. As much as I would like to have a house, a car, a mobile monthly price plan and a routine, I have to wait for these things to happen. In short I want to have the regular ebb and flow of how my life used to run. This transit period feels like it is moving too slowly. And yet it’s only been 10 days since I landed. How long did it take me to get up and running when I first landed in Singapore? A lot longer than my memory cares to acknowledge.

But it is also quite amazing how quickly you adapt to your current surroundings. Perhaps it’s because I have #1, 2 and 3 to entertain that you push yourself to get out there as soon as you can. Or more to the point push them out there to avoid endless hours of bickering indoors. Everywhere we go right now, there is something new to see and who can make you see the ordinary from a different angle than from the viewpoint of small people. From supermarket aisles stacked full of good things to eat to the summer blooms in the neighbours gardens; from stairs in houses to walking past sheep and cows in fields. I get to experience all these things afresh with #1, 2 and 3. 

With more time to explore the neighbourhood where Husband grew up, we have discovered a number of places we had never been to before just a short drive  away. And whilst the first few days were unpredictable with sunshine and rain showers stopping play, when you grab hold of a good day, there is so much to appreciate and how many sights can you behold that could be better than sunshine across fields and watching small people round up the sheep. 

So far, the beginnings of this new life looks promising. I take it as a good sign that upon visiting our soon to be new home town that I feel a good sense of warmth. Yes, it is different to how life was in Singapore but there is also a new groundedness I feel will come about once we have moved there. 

And so tomorrow will be another Birthday. And as if to remind me, a few more grey hairs pinged out from nowhere. How do they do that? Just ping out of nowhere? 
This is my first Birthday celebrated in the UK for nine years. It brings Husband and I full circle to my Birthdays spent in the UK whilst he is in Singapore. (Maybe that’s the pattern for all our future moves.) I would much rather he was here than there and I take that as a good sign too.

So this Birthday Eve marks the beginning of something truly new. I’m interested to see what’s going to come in the next year. Yesterday on my run down country lanes I found a horse shoe and horse shoes they say bring good luck, so I hope it will be sprinkled with a dollop of good luck. And some for you too. 

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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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You’re still The Ones

I’m on a train in Staffordshire to take me back to Milton Keynes where Uncle Monkey will be waiting at 10.54pm. He is then going to drive me back to Hertfordshire where Sister in Law is getting married tomorrow. Then he’s driving back to his own home (that still only has a medieval bathroom) in London afterwards.

The reason why I’m in Staffordshire is because Mrs Cake Pops generously let us borrow their minicab for the six weeks and three days we’ve been back in the UK. Saving us a small fortune which we’re very thankful for.

Such is the kindness of the friends I have.

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People like Nana Moon who let us invade her well kept personal space for five days with all the mess, noise and chaos that comes with #1, 2 and 3.

The friends who have taken time out and driven some distance to come and spend a couple of hours with us. The friends who would have liked to have done the same but sometimes you just can’t make it work with all the commitments that we have.

As I sit in this quiet train carriage after a long day of driving from the north to the south and back to the Midlands again, I can spend an hour reflecting on how much I’ve enjoyed this return trip to the UK.

I’m looking forward to browsing through all the photos and reminding myself and #1, 2 and 3 of all that we’ve done and who we have seen.

Whether I am ready to head back to Singapore is one thing but I do know they are tired with all this gallivanting around the country. They are ready for their own room, school and all that is familiar to them. I would say #1 is even ready to have some time away from us too.

So in two days we’ll be heading back to Singapore and after sitting in an open plan train station shelter for an hour, I think I might appreciate going back a little bit more. It was really proper cold.

As pointed out to me by a complete stranger that I wasn’t wearing the appropriate clothing for the weather. Just to clarify I wasn’t wearing Geordie uniform of no coat and sleeves but I wasn’t dressed in four layers like him, including two hoods and a woolly hat (sans pom pom). By his own admission, he said he often felt people looked down upon him for dressing and speaking like a Chav. I must say I had reservations at first. But the kindness of this stranger who chose to open up a conversation meant that an hour long wait in the freezing cold passed by surprisingly quickly.

Every trip back we have managed to have a gathering of old friends. Usually at Uncle Monkey’s but not this time due to lack of personal hygiene facilities as mentioned on previous occasions.

This time, Husband and I decided to entrust the care of #1, 2 and 3 in the capable hands of Sister in Law to enjoy a jolly in London Town instead.

I Love London as you know. It was so good to enjoy a big London night out with Husband again after six and a half years. Quite a treat for us to spend our second night away from #1, 2 and 3. Especially after a whole month apart.

Even better to spend it in a proper pub on the Strand with old friends we’ve spent many such days and evenings with doing as much but a long time ago. We’re all now quite far away from our London youth. If we didn’t have children to get back to, then it’s the last train out of town to catch or a badminton league match on a Sunday morning.

That’s ok though because even if we only get just a few hours in the pub, it was exactly like old times. You all make me laugh until my face aches. I hadn’t seen some of you for a number of years but I don’t think that made much difference and that makes me feel good.

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I like how you’re still The Ones who make me laugh the most. When we left the UK, I was worried whether these friendships would fall by the wayside. Whether we’d drift apart. Whether you and I would have nothing to say, nothing to laugh about.

But after six years, it’s still the same. If not better as we appreciate each other more. We have grown up together through at least one decade if not two.

I needn’t have worried. So I just want to say Thank You.

Thank you for still being there even though I’ve been half a globe away. I’m very lucky to have friends like you.

So Uncle Monkey has just texted me to say he’s already waiting at Milton Keynes station, it does mean I’ll have to say nice things about him for a while.

I think I can manage that.

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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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Love London

I’ve been back in the UK for a month now. A whole month you know!

It’s been a busy, packed to the hilt, constantly on the go month.

It’s impossible to take it easy if you haven’t been back to the UK for almost three years. I’m sure you would have a long list of people to catch up with and places you want to be.

As you know I love Newcastle and all things Way Up North. But if you have ever lived in London, I’m sure no matter how long ago or where you may live now, the allure of London never fades.

I love London. LOVE London! Even more so now that I know I’ll probably never live there again. I only realised this fairly recently when thoughts of returning to the UK have presented itself.

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London represents a part of our lives that epitomises youth. Long boozy debauched nights and carefree lazy days. Where lifelong friendships were formed and where you truly can’t help but feel vibrant and alive.

Where else can you find such a buzz of activity and so many different ways of life. It has old English charm and the richness of a multicultural society living right amongst each other. The sights, smells and sounds of London offers a fervour you can find in few other places. Perhaps this is sentimental nostalgia and no doubt I’ll feel the same about Singapore when the time comes.

Regardless of this, I bet even you can’t deny the famous words of Samuel Johnson, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Yes, sometimes the frenetic pace of London can wear you down. The crowds, the dirt, the heat of the Tube, the queues are not always pleasant. The fact you’re never far from a rat makes me vomit. The mice on the Tube tracks freaked me out and brought me to tears to find them scurrying across the exit stairs at Finsbury Park station.

But the beauty of its famous landmarks and glorious parks are something to behold. I never did as much as I ought to have. Rarely a frequent visitor of the many museums, theatres and art galleries. They’ll still be there in years to come.

But I remember the outdoor gigs in Hyde Park, the Charity League softball games, the dingy pubs and swanky bars, the Christmas lights, the River Thames, the old church right next to the latest modern structure, the walking routes overland that take you from A to B far quicker than by Tube.

I arrived in London with no real plan. No urgency to stay. Perhaps a couple of years maybes. Famous last words. But in London time seems to slow down. Less need to settle down and become Grown Ups. Weekends are booked up months in advance because we are all so busy working, socialising and being places.

If the opportunity hadn’t come up to move to Singapore, I imagine we may be living on the outskirts of London. Perhaps still working there but hardly enjoying the life we once had. Perhaps it’s just as well to have had a concise, clean break. For London will always remain that wonderful place of our youth.

It would have been a real shame to have all this time in the UK and not find myself amongst this familiar place again. And I am very lucky that my in laws gave me the chance to relive a London experience for 24 hours sans kids!

I enjoy driving and the freedom it gives but equally love a solitary train journey with nothing to do but look out of the window. Even paying the extortionate fare from Leeds to London seemed worth it just this once. And as my Mother in Law was responsible for booking my cab to the local train station, I was guaranteed to arrive on time. In fact I was a whole 20 minutes early for the train which Husband says is the earliest I’ve ever been for anything.

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So, after a few hours I arrive at London King’s Cross train station. The excitement and anticipation I’m feeling is insurmountable! I’ve got my day mapped out of lunch with Mr Cupping, a wander around town towards the Tower of London and then back to an old haunt for drinks with old friends and colleagues.

Then suddenly I’m floored.

Where the f am I?

I don’t know where the f I am. Truly I don’t.

This is King’s Cross station? You have got to be kidding me. It was a dump. Where has the dump gone? When it was there, you sort of wished it could be a little bit more like it’s sister Euston station (which wasn’t even all that) and it wasn’t a patch on the revamped St Pancras that was all done up just before I left the UK.

Why does no one prepare you for such things?

Then when I get my bearings and find the Underground (which is downstairs), I’m confronted with queues that go this way, then that way, then this way again. I’ve got three Oyster cards in my hand and my confidence in knowing what I’m doing has taken such a battering that I’m not even sure they’re still valid.

I find myself a uniformed person to ask if they are and she helps me jump the queue to check they are still indeed valid but with only 200 shillings on each of them. The queue is humongous. There apparently is no other way to top up. ‘Unless you have cash?’, she asks. I do and so she offers to top up for me if I just wait over here in the corner.

Within 10 minutes of arriving in London, I’m handing over £20 to a stranger who wanders off with it. Even though she’s wearing an authentic uniform, I’m wondering if perhaps I’ve been away too long and am now well and truly one of ‘those’ naive tourists. But how wrong to have such little faith. She comes back shortly after and has saved me queuing for at least an hour.

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I’m meeting Mr Cupping at Moorgate station. A place I once knew with my eyes shut. Where exactly to stand on the platform to get off nearest the exit. Which ‘Way Out’ to take to get me exactly where I want to go. Clearly you lose such knowledge as soon as you no longer need it.

When I get my bearings though, I remember and I recognise roads and shops and places I used to spend hours at. We head for lunch at Whitecross Street food market round the corner from where I used to work at the National Deaf Children’s Society some nine years ago. You can actually take your lunch inside a nearby pub you know. How brilliant is that!

After lunch I head off for a whistle stop shop at Oxford Circus which is absolutely heaving and I don’t get very far. It’s sort of the same but there are shops that aren’t. A sign of the economic downturn I guess.

One thing I really wanted to see after all the media coverage that made it look spectacular, is the poppy installation, Tower of London Remembers, commemorating the fallen soldiers of World War One.

So Uncle Monkey and I took a walk together along the South Bank of the River Thames from London Bridge to Tower Bridge. The last modern structure I marvelled at was the Gherkin and now there is the Walkie Talkie and the Shard. Can you believe that was the first time Uncle Monkey had seen the Shard before? He lives five miles up the road. Both are ok but having seen all that the Singapore skyline has to offer, it doesn’t appeal to me anywhere near a fraction of the ones of old.

Tower Bridge is still absolutely glorious. Stunning. A reminder of my London Marathon days as we battled with the crowds to get across it to the Tower of London. It was so worth it. The poppies are amazing and it sends shivers down your spine just thinking of what it represents. The light was fading on an overcast day, the photographs I took didn’t do the scene justice. So I’m glad Mrs Steamer and I went back the next day on a warm and sunny Halloween. Apparently temperatures reached 21 degrees.

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And then of course, it wouldn’t be a London outing sans kids without reliving some of your errant ways in a place that bore witness to much of your errant ways with people who encouraged your errant ways like Mr Cadbury’s Eclairs who is sporting a lot of facial hair. In fact a lot of menfolk in London are sporting facial hair. To hide the wrinkles I think. Saves on Botox.

We are all a few years older than before but it seems few of us have learnt much restraint. Well we have. How could we not with multiple children in the mix and trains beyond zone 4 to catch. But it was so good to catch up with people I’ve told you about and people I haven’t seen since my London leaving do more than six years ago.

How funny to hear Scrivvers hark on about my northern accent that she forgot I had and how hilarious I find her posh clipped tones. There was much to celebrate and catch up on. It was a shame a few other faces have moved so far out of London Town not to have been there. You were sorely missed.

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Unlike the awful hangover that was sure to follow the next day when drinking on an empty stomach. (Do you ever learn?) So I stay over with Mrs Steamer because the alternative was to stay with Uncle Monkey whose flat has no working bathroom and I won’t tell you exactly how or where you need to do all your personal evacuations. Little Miss Steamer is up bright and early and it’s my first introduction to her. This gorgeous girl that keeps popping her head above the bed to check on the strange person that can’t move without feeling dizzy and sick just yet. A great lasting memory her Mum is going to remind me of I’m sure.

But later on that day Mrs Steamer herself wasn’t entirely so smug when her first hangover in nearly two years kicked in with a vengeance. That’s what you get for dragging me out around town when I can’t look down for a Hawksmoor breakfast that includes bone marrow in the mix. It was actually surprisingly palatable even with a severe hangover.

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When you haven’t been somewhere or seen someone for a long time, you imagine much has changed. At first glance you think they have but actually give it another glance and you realise the core of things don’t really change. The essence of people you know well certainly don’t.

London is still the same. It’s an amazing place to be and I’m so glad it was our home for nine years. I miss it and I love it but it’s not where I would choose to be right now. Not with #1, 2 and 3. I want them to discover all that London can be and all that London can give in their own time.

London was once that mythical place. The capital city of England that was so far away from Newcastle Upon Tyne. Even when we did go when I was a child, we hardly ventured beyond Chinatown! But that was ok because you got to eat some really yummy food.

As a consequence, I will never take London and all it has to give for granted. I still marvel at the sights and I don’t care if it makes me look a complete tourist and uncool. It makes me happy to be there.

Lucky for me, I get another night out next weekend sans kids with Husband and another group of friends who also encouraged errant behaviour back in the day. Perhaps I’ll be more restrained as we are taking #1, 2 and 3 for their first London experience the day after.

I’m definitely not tired of London and especially when I’m in London with you too. Until next time, London, may others enjoy all that you are.

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Gadding about here and there

I’m pleased to say I’ve settled down back into fairly normal behaviour after the first few days of giddiness and intense overexcitement at being back in the UK and functioning on very little sleep.

The cold is rather sobering too.

So far I seem to have also spent my first two Sundays here in a very similar state of a sleep deprived stupor spurred on by the intake of alcohol the night before. Which will also continue this weekend in Stockholm but will come to an abrupt end when I am in the company of my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum again the week after that.

It’s been two weeks since we landed and #2 looked out of the plane window and disappointingly declared to me ‘But there’s no snow Mummy’. Followed by several days of ‘Why is it cold everywhere Mummy?’, instead of just in particular artificially chilled aircon rooms. Nearly everyday we have ‘When is it going to snow Mummy?’, to which I explain, it would be snowing now if it was just a bit more freezing cold to turn this constant rain into snow but not so freezing cold that it becomes too cold for snow. Someone explain that to me, because after all these years I still don’t get how it can be too cold for snow.

It has been raining a lot. Not a jot of blue in the sky to knit a sailor’s buttonhole has been seen for days in this part of Yorkshire. As I drove up and down to Cambridge for the Sister In Law’s Hen Do on Saturday, it was like passing through the seasons on fast forward in the space of two hours.

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Thankfully, I’ve mastered the art of driving again and have only stalled the car four times in nine days. (The car is still fine Mrs Cake Pops) I’ve decided for the duration of my six weeks and three days back in the UK, I’m not going to reverse park into a space once, which is the unspoken rule of what you must do in Singapore.

Luckily I enjoy driving because we seem to have spent quite a bit of time in the car as we gad around here and there. To the point where #2 has been singing, ‘I don’t want to go to school, I just want to break the rules’. What? You’re only four where did you hear that? On the radio in the car Mummy. Which is much better than the ‘You stupid idiot’, that #1 has picked up in the car from our driving excursions in Singapore. Whilst no means perfect, there is courtesy on the roads in the UK.

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I guess with having travelled 13 hours on a plane to get back to the UK, an extra hour or hour and a half in the car doesn’t make much difference if it gets you to the people you really want to see.

Luckily local radio doesn’t irritate me as much as the local radio stations in Singapore which makes my ears bleed. However I don’t know why I was surprised to come across a local radio station I once was so familiar with, still being in operation. It’s like coming across a packet of Beanfeast in the supermarket and marvelling at its very existence. Like just because I’m no longer a Student then all things Student cease to exist.

At least from all this driving I can safely say the expansion of my bum will be due to the constant sitting down on it and not on the growing numbers of chocolate eclairs, crumpets, crisps and fish finger baps I’ve been having. Incidentally, I located my preferred Sainsbury’s Jumbo Eclairs yesterday to show my Mother in Law just why these make the most satisfying chocolate eclairs. Bigger than your average one so you don’t have to eat two which is just gluttony.

Chocolate eclair count to date – 5.

It’s still hard to believe how three years have gone by in the blink of an eye. Naturally you and I don’t look any different but the children certainly do. From babies and toddlers they are growing into confident, funny young people.

In Singapore, #1 and 2 are always surrounded by lots of their peers either at school or in the condo. They asked in all seriousness earlier this week whether there were children in England.

So to prove there were, we set off towards Warrington along the M62 where some old friends of mine live. I say old, they are very young. We used to live on the same street (in Chester-le-Street) and our families have known each other decades. He was that annoying 1st Year to my 5th Year Prefect, who thought it would be very funny to just be annoying. But I’m pleased to say he grew up, met his lovely wife and is now totally agreeable.

I love how children just want to play. There’s a small degree of shyness at first and you wonder whether they’ll get on but before long they are tearing around inventing off the cuff games, laughing uproariously and having a great time.

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I have to say that #1, 2 and 3 are doing really well with all this gadding about and being thrust into the midst of people you could say were complete strangers to them. Even if they have met them before on our previous trips back, it’s unlikely they’ll remember. But I’m very proud of how quickly they get on with it. I haven’t had any hiding behind me or refusing to get out of the car. They’ve just gone wherever I’ve taken them.

The only times I’ve thought it wasn’t going so well is when introducing #2 to some four legged family members. As I’ve mentioned on a previous occasion, she seems to have inherited my natural fear of all things animals. Although I have to say that I’ve started to overcome it somewhat because #3 doesn’t have the fear of all things animals gene.

It’s really disconcerting when you land upon relatives and your children run amok. It’s worse when they scream like a banshee and start climbing up you like scaling the heights of a coconut tree. The first time I got a welly boot in the face, the second time I was wise to the situation and only suffered a socked foot to the temple. Yet take #2 into a pigeon loft, birds flapping around, not a problem. Absolutely loved it. This is also an advancement on two years ago where she would scream like a banshee if pigeons were lurking around us at an outdoor cafe. So I think in another two years times she’ll be fine with the dogs.

We’re not the only ones to have left London and an old colleague and AA regular, Jimboni, has moved up to Hebden Bridge with his wife. I’ve seen some fabulous photos and updates on the goings on of Hebden Bridge that I couldn’t miss out on visiting their new home town.

It’s a shame the hour long drive took place in the dark which meant I never got to see the scenic views along the way. Or the majestic natural canvas that greets them every morning. But I did get to sample a very small glass of local ale and come away with bottles of many more.

Do you know The League of Gentleman? It’s one of my favourites. Tubbs and Edward in particular. As I was driving down the seemingly endless road off the M62 and passing through towns named Luddenden, Mytholmroyd and Friendly, you naturally start imagining a local town for local people. Would I find anything there?

I did indeed, it’s a beautiful town. Bigger than I thought with lots of pubs and bars. You’d have a week long hangover I imagine if you did a pub crawl round them all. So after a very small half of Ringmaster, we left to see their new home. As we headed towards the door, I noticed Jimboni was without his country coat. Oh it’s on the coat stand says he. And no one steals it? That’s quite amazing.

There aren’t many places that would happen still, perhaps not even in my beloved Newcastle, Durham and Chester-le-Street. Which is coming up next on our travels and I just can’t wait!

In the meantime, there’s another 40th to Embrace.

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