My amazing Dad turned 80 this week and, as well as a celebratory get-together with his church friends last weekend and 60+ cards on his actual birthday, my brothers and I had also arranged a trip up the Shard for afternoon tea with the family. The Shard is Europe's tallest building and quite an imposing sight in the London skyline. They had a great time, by all accounts, and I was really sorry I couldn't be there in person. We even failed to get a Skype connection up. Dad also received a book of 100+ comments, compliments and anecdotes from relatives, friends and ex-work colleagues. A small momento of a life of service to others, good humour and great respect from all who have known him. Happy Birthday, Dad. We're all very proud of you. I have wonderful parents.
So we've come to the end of our five weeks in the UK. We fly back tomprrow. We spent today packing and I'm convinced all three of our suitcases are overweight, such is the spending power of my lovely wife!
We've had such a wonderful time. JD has really connected with my parents and all his relatives, and we've managed to see everything and everybody we had hoped for, and more. And, importantly, whilst we usually arrive with one or more illnesses to deal with, this time we were all pretty much well and healthy which make a big difference.
Knowing that we are unlikely to be back here for a couple of years is a sad feeling, and a real shame for JD. But Kunming is "home" (for now at least) and I imagine things wouldn't be quite so special if we were meeting up with everybody all the time. All the same, we'll miss you all.
Dave drove us to a halfway point today where Andy picked us up and we are now settling into this huge house which they currently rent while looking for a new permanent home. We'll be sleeping in the large converted attic. Andy and Ali's kids, Louie and Daisy, go to a school literally 100m over the road from the house. Pretty perfect place!
We spent today in Cardiff. Unfortunately, Wales lived up to its reputation, and it rained almost non-stop. We wandered around the damp bay area, took an expensive boat ride to nowhere and had a picnic on the steps of the Welsh Assembly building. Later we checked out the funfair before heading for "Technoquest" - an interacive science centre which was fun (but not as fun as the Dr Who exhibition would have been - I was outvoted!). Finally fish 'n chips on the beach (well, BY the beach in the car) before heading back to drier England.
Yesterday we took a train down to Hereford to stay with my brother Dave and his family. A very warm welcome and delicious food.
Today we walked into Hereford centre, where Ava loves the charity shops, with a picnic in the Cathedral grounds. JD is fascinated by the "dead people" in the churches, Cathedrals and Abbeys he has viited and now thinks any and every statue must contain a dead person! He's "clicked" with his cousins really quickly which gives Ava and I a bit of a break at times through the day.
Today was yet another sunny and dry day. We've been very lucky during our UK visit so far. Rumours of a wetter day tomorrow though. We shall see.
Today was our Open Day where we invited a lot of friends and family to come to my Mum and Dad's house for a chat over food and drink. We welcomed ex-work colleagues [eg Susie from Futurekids and Alan from National Power, in picture, left], family [eg cousins Maureen and Dorothy, left side below] and friends from College days [eg Ratch and Catherine, below] plus many others. It was a lovely event, held outside in the sunshine with a gazebo for those who preferred the shade. Thanks to everyone who travelled from near and far to come see us. It was terrific to catch up with you all again.
Kudos to my brother Dave for taking the huge leap of accepting voluntary redundancy from his well-paid but very stressful job as Director of the fastest growing Housing Association group in the country, and setting himself up as a self-employed training consultant. It was easy enough for me to take voluntary redundancy when I was in my twenties with no family commitments, but Dave has had to consider so many more factors. He has so much experience and so many skills to offer, though, I'm sure it will be a great success. Click here for more information. Good luck bro'!
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 Ava'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! Ava still coughing - 5 months and counting. But at least the Lattitude volunteers all got their visas finally, so a fully cohort next week]
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.
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.
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.
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 penumonia, 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.
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