Really lovely to catch up with all the family on a Christmas/New Year Zoom today. We were even joined by my nephew Josh from the ambulance where he is a trainee paramedic! Online meeting technology has come such a long way over the COVID period.
We've finally managed to evict the troublesome tenants from my Wootton Bassett flat. Late night parties, growing weed in the attic, dumping junk outside the house, swearing at the neighbours - they were a real problem over the last year or two. They left the flat in a really poor state and we now have the expense of cleaning, decorating and repairing the place. We'll also spend a little money refurbishing and upgrading it, to try and attract better tenants next time.
My wonderful Mum turned 80 today. Isn't she looking good? I was able to join her, my Dad and two brothers (and sis-in-law) by Zoom to see Mum watching the video greetings we had put together for her. So many friends and family had contributed to that and the kind words expressed by all were well-deserved. Lovely to (almost) be a part of the day's celebrations. What a woman! Here's to the next 80 years!
One small benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the lower pollution levels seen around the world. I also spotted this fascinating graph the other day, showing how Britain's energy mix had changed in the last 100 years. For example, I had no idea how little electricity we get from coal these days. Overall this graph seems pretty encouraging.
We arrived back home yesterday after a fabulous and successful month in the UK. JD got his toy Nerf guns confiscated on arrival in China (a country where common sense and a sense of humour are often sorely lacking). Fortunately JiaJia managed to persuade the security officer to let her post them to our house rather than lose them completely.
Now I just need to re-register with the local police and get our dead car battery replaced. But we are happy to be back as life slowly returns to its normal pace.
Our last little trip to London yesterday. While JiaJia checked out the Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate Gallery (crowded), JD and I walked to the Imperial War Museum where JD proceeded to tell me imaginative statistics and backgrounds to all the various planes, tanks and weaponry (to the amusement of passers-by). Who knew a Spitfire was from Canada and could travel at 10,000mph?
We also managed to meet up with my good friend Miki, recently returned from running a hotel in Poland. We all joined up for a picnic by the Thames before Miki went on her way and the rest of us headed back to Sidcup to start packing for China.
My youngest brother Andy and his children, Louie and Daisy, visited today. We started with a Wetherspoons breakfast together - fast becoming something of a Hider tradition!
With intermittent rain outside we spent the morning playing Monopoly and then, during a dry hour in the afternoon, managed to visit "Lark in the Park" - a Christian community event with many children's clubs.
One of JD's wishes for our UK trip to was to sleep in a tent, inspired by our reading of Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" stories recently.
So we borrowed a tent from my Aunt and set it up in the garden. Last night was the second (and last!) night in the tent. It was cool inside despite the recent hot weather here (almost the hottest on record) but the noise of foxes, rainstorms and police chase helicopters didn't lead to a whole lot of sleep. Midnight feasts are a nice father-son bonding thing though!
We spent a final day at Vix's yesterday, eating home-cooked and restaurant grub, and meeting mutual friends and family members who I hadn't seen in over a decade.
Before we took the three trains home, we explored a local garden, open to the public but rarely visited. We had intended to visit this time last year, but torrential rain changed the plans. This time it was dry and we enjoyed the various flowers and (rather strangely, often Chinese) trees.
We're spending a long weekend with my good friend Vix and her husband Dave in Worthing, West Sussex. Despite the chilly weather, JD was keen to hit the beach, collect shells and have a swim in the sea. Thankfully Vix is game for anything! I did join them on the second day.
The windy conditions saw many kite surfers whizzing along be the beach and occasionally [see photo] being whisked up into the sky.
We've also visited half a dozen other properties during our time in Chippenham with a view to buying another one to rent out. As we drove back to Sidcup yesterday we decided to make an offer on this ground floor flat in West End Close. Our initial offer wasn't accepted but we think we might be close to an agreement. Watch this space....
[23rd July: Our revised offer was accepted. Let the paperwork begin!]
One of our main aims for this year's visit to the UK was to view the flat we purchased earlier this year (sight unseen, but on the recommendation of trusted friends!). It's the one behind the white car. We were very impressed by the repairs and decoration that had been done for us by a handyman and our friends. A tenant is already in.
My brother Dave (plus wife Sarah and daughter Esme) visited us in Chippenham yesterday [top left] and it was really lovely to see them all. JD still has a few memories of when Dave and Esme visited us in China. Their visit coincided with Chippenham's annual festival which, this year, was themed around space and sci-fi. I was dead excited to see a phalanx of stormtroopers [top right].
I drove us down to Chippenham in Wiltshire today in a hire car. Earlier this year we bought a small buy-to-let flat here and we hope to move to the town permanently sometime in the 2020s. We'll spend a week here getting to know the area better and looking at more flats with a view to invest again later if we can. But first things first - a slow puncture to deal with!
My parents drove us to Harwich yesterday - a lovely port in Essex. My Aunt (Liz) and cousin (Beth) share a large house there and we are being looked after really well with food galore.
We've had some nice walks down the promenade to see the ferries and cargo ships coming in and out.
JD has had great fun planning Nerf gun attacks with Beth's son, Benji. And Beth's new-born daughter, Dulcie, has been happily handed around too!
We head back to Sidcup later today to get ready for tomorrow's Car Boot Sale and evening church visit.
We arrived safely in the UK yesterday after a little hiccup at Heathrow airport (my parents had got caught in traffic and arrived some 20 mins after we did!). After our 24-hour door-to-door journey we took it easy at "home" today - chilling in my parents' flower-filled garden and enjoying some home-cooking!
So begins our month of travelling, shopping, sightseeing and visiting friends and family.
And so our wonderful six weeks in the UK has finally come to an end. We spent our last day or so at Mum and Dad's packing our luggage, eating out and saying our goodbyes. Thankfully our suitcases turned out to be under our weight allowance (just!) and our flights back went fairly smoothly. As ever, it was sad to say goodbye to everyone, but our "real" life awaits us here, back in Kunming. For now, at least...
We've spent our last few days in the UK chillin' with my parents - walks in the park, haircuts, visits to garden centres (JD attended a "Pixie and Fairy" event) and various admin - bank, opticians, post office etc
It's been particularly lovely for me to see my small Chinese family
bonding so well with my wider UK family over the holidays.
Past blog entries