Many thanks to everyone who made our UK trip so much fun. We really were blown away by the kindness and generosity of family and friends. The church folk we met were so welcoming and even total strangers were so much more pleasant and helpful than they often are in China - opening doors for the baby buggy, happily giving directions, offering their seats on buses etc. Thanks to you all.
Today was a recovery day after the journey back to China, and a largely sleepless night with an upset and screaming JD. None of which is being helped by a stinking cold with all the requisite symptoms. The school term starts tomorrow and Lattitude, the charity for whom I do teacher-training ever 6 months (starting on Monday), is having all sorts of problems getting their volunteers' visas. So I've no idea how many students, if any, I'll have turn up next week.
But the UK trip was so worth it. We only just made it, with Jiajia's suspected TB and confirmed pneumonia, and plans were changing all the time. But you can't beat family, can you? Or good friends. Everyone rallied round and were so generous with their time, energy and money. JD has a whole new bunch of relatives and he grew up an awful lot in those three weeks. Let's hope there's less trauma when we (hopefully) return in Summer 2016. The countdown has begun!
[PS 27th Feb: I had a fever last night and woke without a voice! Jijaia is still coughing - 5 months and counting. But at least the Lattitude volunteers all got their visas finally, so a full cohort next week]
We flew back to China today. Our three suitcases were substantially over the limit, but JD charmed the check-in ladies and they let it slide. And we managed to get away with five items of hand luggage too. Little did we know we were just starting off a series of complications...
The return flight was somewhat less stressful than the outward bound one, as we were given special seats with more leg room and a tiny removable baby bed. JD was technically too heavy to use it, but by then we knew that "too heavy" was negotiable, so use it he did!
Our problems began in Beijing. We found out the connecting Air China flight had been cancelled and they had switched us to a China Eastern flight. However, this left from a different terminal, requiring a 20 minute bus ride (not easy with 8 items of luggage!). Still, we had plenty of time. At the new check-in, it was pointed out that our two bigger suitcases were a total of 8kg too much AND China Eastern did not allow infants a baggage allowance, so the smaller third suitcase couldn't go at all. We quickly deployed smiley JD and begged for some lenience. Finally he agreed to let our two suitcases on and suggested we take the smaller third one as hand luggage (our sixth item!).
It was only as we arrived at security that it dawned on me - we had liquids in the smaller case. The x-ray confirmed about 20 items that weren't allowed and we were asked to remove them all. Jiajia managed to persuade security that 5-6 were needed for JD on the flight, so they let us put those back. Then we politely asked to speak
to the head of security and BINGO, it was a smiley lady. We released the JD charm bomb and five minutes later went through with ALL our lotions and potions! We were last people to enter the plane and our SIX walk-on items raised a few eye-brows. Then, when I tried to put the suitcase into the overhead locker, it was just too big to fit. "Take out some of the contents", suggested a helpful air hostess. So I unzipped the lid and BOOM - twenty illegal tubes, bottles and pots fell out! Ooops. JD was frantically waved like a magic wand as I hastily stuffed them into a plastic bag. Amazingly we arrived home with every single item we had hoped to, despite breaking every rule in the book! Thank goodness for the boy.
Andy's second surprise was a belated gift for my 50th Birthday - tickets to a Premiership match; Southampton v Liverpool. So Andy, his son Louie (birthday treat for next week) and I braved torrential rain and bitter cold to take our seats and cheer on the Saints. Well, as an Everton supporter, I didn't want Liverpool to win, right? It was a good match with controversial penalty decisions and a stunning first goal. Sadly the best team lost; 2 v 0 to Liverpool. Great fun though.
We are staying with my youngest brother Andy and his family now after a wonderful time with Dave and family in Hereford. Andy has a few surprises up his sleeve for our time and the first was for JD - a fantastic "Thomas the Tank Engine" model steam train ride in a nearby park. JD is a big fan of the TV series and could barely contain his excitement at the trip. We walked around the lake and played in the playground first, to build the anticipation levels and then straddled the engine and puffed our way back to the car park.
I cringe when parents continually gush about their child or children but, if I'm honest, I do think we have been blessed with a rather cute, clever and curious little boy. Despite the long flight here, a whole host of strangers wanting a piece of him and living in a variety of houses, I think JD's coped exceptionally well. The one area he has struggled with though is his sleeping patterns which were thrown into disarray with the 8 hour time difference and continue to be a bit hit and miss depending on the heat/light/noise/comfort of the various beds he's had to get used to fast. Ava and I have consequently had a fair few nights of very disturbed sleep. But I guess it's to be expected, and it hasn't detracted from his energy levels or happy-go-lucky demeanour.
JD meanwhile was more taken with the local Fire and Mountain Rescue Team doing various exercises which saw them swimming across the bitterly cold Wye river before coming to each others' rescue with ropes and floats. Something for everyone.
One of the things Jiajia likes most about the UK is the easy access to beautiful, natural scenery. I must confess to sometimes being a little blasé about rolling hills and wide-open spaces but what I do thoroughly enjoy though are her ooohs and aaahs as she sees scene after scene of countryside views. Symonds Yat [below] was well worth the drive that got us there. Stunning views looking down on the winding river below, whilst birds of prey hover above.
I haven't ice-skated since I was a youth, so it was fun to head to a small rink in an industrial estate today to give it another go. Esme and Josh were embarrassingly confident. I looked carefree when pushing JD around on a little sledge - less so without the support. JD loved it though. Sometimes he looked a bit nervy, but whenever I paused to catch my breath he was shouting, "...again, again!".
Here at Dave's we've enjoyed meeting up with our ex-Kunming friends Peter and Judy [above], an old mate of mine Krista, and her hubbie Stuart, and the Sams family [right]. Our friends mean a lot to us as a family as Ava has very few relatives and mine are usually many thousands of miles away. So to keep in touch by email, Skype or letter means a lot. And our visits to the UK provide a brief but valuable way to renew friendships.
When we made the last minute decision to UNcancel our trip to the UK after Ava's TB scare and pneumonia, we knew we'd have to cut back on our planned travels to see all and sundry. Thankfully, many of our friends and family have put themselves out to come and visit us at the places where we are basing ourselves. At my parent's house three College friends travelled down to say "Hi", while various uncles and aunts popped in to meet JD and catch up on our news.
A picturesque train, taxi, train, train journey has brought us to my brother Dave's home in Hereford. JD met Dave and his daughter Esme last year when they visited us in China, but it's Dave's son Josh who has most grabbed JD's attention. JD is following him around like a doting puppy, discovering all Josh's toys like a never-ending treasure trove.
It's been great to catch up with Dave and his wife Sarah, and their kids (including the friendly little girl they are currently fostering). Ava and I are seriously thinking about settling down in the Herefordshire area when we move to the UK to retire, so we are taking the opportunity to pop into estate agents and visit various houses and builders during our time here. We've also popped into the doctor's twice whilst here too, as Ava's cough is showing no sign of improvement, poor thing.
One of Ava's favourite activities in the UK is shopping. She does surprisingly little in China, preferring to buy online and sell on the high street! She loves her lotions and potions, whether for herself or as gifts for friend, but her particular favourite is scouring the charity shops for a bargain. There are no charity shops in China. Ava often stumbles upon Chinese ornaments or pictures which are obliviously under-valued. Personally, I'm happier in Greggs, the 99p shop or Smiths but each to their own, right?
We weren't sure if this shop was named after our son, but we thought it was worth a photo regardless.
(Bonus points for spotting the double meaning in this entry's title)
JD had his first taste of London today. Wrapped up against the cold, we took a train up to Trafalgar Square and then a boat down the Thames to Greenwich. JD wasn't that impressed with the Cutty Sark, but Jiajia enjoyed Greenwich market. We warmed up in the National Maritime Museum before heading back by boat and train once again.
His favourite "new" food is yoghurt, partly for the taste and texture, and partly for the opportunity to daub himself and get a few laughs.
Ava is still coughing a lot after her pneumonia, so we're taking things fairly easy these first few days. Rather than travelling around, as originally planned, we're being visited at my parents' house by various relatives and close friends.
We've finally arrived in the UK and are slowly getting over our jet-lag, although with JD waking up at 2am or 3am each morning, wanting to play, it's a tiring business. It's so nice to see him getting to know his Nanny and Granddad who he's only seen on Skype before. Today we were treated to a late Christmas meal, complete with paper hats and crackers. JD is enjoying western food and eating by himself a lot more.
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