I first heard about "Avatar" about two years ago - it took that long (and more) to make. It's the new "breakthrough 3D" film from James Cameron, maker of Titanic and Terminator 2. I went to see it this afternoon and, for me, it really lived up to the hype. The plot may be fairly formulaic, but the spectacle is awesome. After a while you simply forget that you are watching mostly computer generated images and all in 3D. You just get immersed in the story and the strange alien world. Well worth a visit to your multiplex, but do make sure it's the 3D version!
For those friends and family kindly monitoring and enquiring about the state of my health since returning to the UK, the alphabetic summary is as follows:
Aches and Shakes - these still come and go, but less often.
Blood pressure - seemingly under control with a daily pill.
Chest pains - seemingly under control with a daily pill.
Dizziness - still a problem and hard to be sure of the underlying cause.
Ear problems - solved by syringing the wax build-up out!
Fever (Glandular) - dragging on. I still have to watch how much I do.
Gout - seemingly under control with a daily pill.
Hurts - cactus splinters, verruca, nosebleeds... you name it!
Infections (skin) - two different types, both sorted with cream!
So not 100% fit quite yet, but hopefully on the mend from most of the recent ills and still on course to return to China mid-January.
Happy Christmas readers! I'm spending Christmas at a large holiday home in Walmer, near Dover, with all my family plus other close relatives. Delicious food, fun games, ages ranging from 2 to 72, heaps of presents and plenty of space to enjoy ourselves. The kids built a snowman in the garden on arrival, we had a little rain when were happily tucked up inside and then warm, bright sunshine when we went for walks (or runs for some!). Some pictures to give a flavour...
The HIDER Family
Back (L to R): Dave, Sarah, Ali
Middle (L to R): Me, Dad, Mum holding Daisy, Andy holding Louie
Front (L to R): Esme holding Briany, Harry, Josh
[See "Family Tab" at the top of this page to see who is related to who!]
Sarah [left] and Stuart [right] are two of the handful of friends I'd hoped to meet during my time in the UK but hadn't... until today, that is. Krista [centre], invited me over for a yummy pub lunch and a coffee and chat at her flat. It was good to finally meet Stuart, Krista's boyfriend, after hearing so much about him over the years. And Sarah is an old friend who I always enjoy winding up. As we sipped our coffee we noticed some snow starting to fall - little did I know this was going to ruin my evening.
The two buses to get to Beckenham had only taken 45 minutes in total. But after Krista drove me to the bus stop (with cars sliding around all over the place) I soon realised the buses were no longer running. I got chatting with a girl who had already been waiting for an hour and together we decided to
try and walk to Bromley, about 2-3 miles, in the snow. She knew the way, which helped. We had a good chat as we slipped and slushed our way past the grid-locked traffic. After 1½ hours we finally arrived (coincidentally seeing the Orient Express steam train puffing through Bromley South station - very Christmassy!). We picked up her 5-year old son and husband from her mother's and walked gingerly to their house (after a few minutes' I walk found her son holding MY hand, having abandoned his Dad behind - a bit embarrassing!). At their house they offered me dry socks (declined!) and pointed me in the direction of Sidcup (a further 5-6 miles away!). Thankfully, I soon spotted the bus I needed, although it was full and not moving (the driver told me it would be quicker to walk, but I was already exhausted). 3½ hours later it finally got me home. I felt like Ernest Shackleton stomping through the final snow drifts to make it to the South Pole ... err I mean Foots Cray Lane!
I managed to negotiate a six train return journey today to get to Worthing for a lovely Christmas Party. Vix [in black/red] had organised it for family and friends and about 25 folk turned up through the evening. Some were mutual friends I hadn't seen for 4 years (one couple remembered me from a visit some 20 years ago!). It was particularly nice to meet Julian [left in photo] once again. I last saw him in China 2 years ago. He's the boyfriend of Emily [next left], who I have known for 3 years from China, now both living in the UK. Good food, good conversation and mind-thwarting quizzes - what more could you ask?
There have been forecasts of snow in southeast Britain for a day or two, and at last I awoke to a white world this morning. Not as much snow as in many parts of the country, but enough to feel Christmassy. The only other snow I've seen this year was back in January when I was trying to climb a snow-covered mountain in the dark at 6am to visit a Tibetan monastery. Today will hopefully be a little less nerve-wracking!
I managed to do some visiting of family and friends today. First, my parents and I drove to Aunt Isabel (86 years old now) and Aunt Kathleen (who cooked us all a very tasty dinner). It was great to see them for longer than last month's Hider reunion allowed.
Then to Pete and Barbara [see photo], a couple who used to be neighbours when I was young. My main memory of Pete was as the chess maestro who progressed me from "knowing the rules" to "dabbling with tactics and strategies". He happily beat me every game we played, but was then gracious enough to go back through the moves to show me where I'd gone wrong. I learned a lot. I also recall being asked to play for his Metropolitan Police Chess team once, when they were suddenly a player short. Although the team lost overall, I drew my game, so felt I hadn't let the side down (despite being a teenager playing with, and against, adults). Pete and Barbara, as ever, showed a real in-depth interest in China and my life there, as well as serving up coffee and caramel slices! What a nice couple.
I checked out the main Manx Museum this morning, just 10 minutes walk from my B&B. It was pretty good (and free) although not really at the House of Manannan's level. Plus there were two other visitors in the building - I prefer the personal treatment! I flew back from the Isle of Man this afternoon. I didn't see all that much of the island, but I know a lot more about it now than just the "TT races". Cold and pricey perhaps, but a very laid-back and friendly place.
I had a good night's sleep in my bed and breakfast last night. It's the middle red building in the photo, and the sea is at the end of the street. Today, following my landlady's suggestion, I took a bus across the island to the sleepy town of Peel.
The "House of Manannan" there is one of the best museums I've ever been to - full of interactive exhibits, informative films, animatronic robots, computer touch screens and things to hold and explore. The final exhibit challenges you to pilot a simulation ferry from Liverpool to Douglas. After finally making it, the navigator congratulated me, but went on to mention that many of the passengers were asking for their money back (well we did hit a rock and a yacht on the way!). The museum experience was also improved by being the only visitor there - it handles over 1000 people a day in high season!
The other main attraction in Peel is the beautiful castle. There was great little walk around the outside of the walls, overlooking the cliffs and crashing sea. The castle itself was not so ruined that you couldn't imagine how it was, nor so restored that it looked modern. Just right! being a Sunday, the town of Peel was very quiet, with most shops and cafes shut. Bitterly cold, too. So with sandwich and crisps in hand I caught the bus back to Douglas as the sun set.
I dashed off for country number 94 this morning. The Isle of Man just about counts (semi-autonomous government, its own stamps and money, geographically separate from the mainland, etc).
Just yesterday, Dad and I were only discussing the dinky little planes that fly into London City Airport. Today I found myself in one of them. My "Bombadier Dash Twin Turbo-prop" made it to Douglas airport in just over an hour. I'm only here for two nights, but that's plenty long enough to tick off another "country"!
Today, Dad and I had a trip out to the Thames Barrier. It's a 20 minute drive away. The barrier was built in 1982 to remove the risk of flooding to London. When tides get too high, which has apparently happened 114 times since it was built, the enormous gates rotate up and block the waters coming into the Thames. It's an impressive site, especially with the Millenium Dome in the background and planes landing just over the river in London City Airport. We decided not to spend £7 on tickets to the Visitor's Centre however, preferring to buy a coffee and look through the free information pack we had swiped earlier!
I planned my visit to Lodge School to coincide with the Infants' Nativity Play. It was a very cute affair, as you can see. It actually felt odd to be enjoying it without having played a teacherly part in producing and practising it!
One of the very different and noticeable things between my old school in Purley and my school in China is the wide ethnic mix in Lodge School. A quick tally of the faces in the Nativity Play revealed less than half of the students are "white", whilst the surnames in the Programme suggested that even those with white faces include many with origins outside the UK. I do miss that when I am in homogeneous China
I spent today at Lodge School, where I used to work before leaving for China four years ago. It's changed an awful lot since then, due to a merger with another school which (theoretically) was to lead to a significant increase in student numbers and money for expansion and upgrading. Unfortunately, the recession and various other factors turned that dream into someting of a nightmare. The infants bulding where I used to work has had an enormous extension built [white building and beyond, in photo] but few extra students to fill it. I had a lovely day there though, getting a warm welcome (and not a few hugs) from teachers, students and their Mums who remembered me.
Having missed my good friend Elaine on my last, brief visit to Purley, I finally managed to catch up with her and her family today. Paul [left] works as a security guard in London, Elisabeth [centre] is a newly qualified teacher and Elaine [right] is still working at the Primary School where I last worked, albeit as more of a manager these days. Their other daughter, Diana, has just joined a cruise ship in Puerto Rico as a beauty therapist!
It was lovely to reminisce and catch up on all the big news from the school. We seemed to easily slip into the comfortable friendship I enjoyed with the family for 4-5 years before I left for China.
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