Saturday, 31 August 2013

10 things I loved about living... in London

London isn't quite as exotic as the Falkland Islands, but is still a very significant place in our lives - and is (following my original thoughts for this series) a place other people visit.  I grew up in South East London, went to Bible College in North West London, and worked in Central London, so I know the city particularly well.  My husband, being a Geordie, has an intense dislike of London - despite having met me there - but I loved living there.

So, what did I love about living in London?

1. The Underground.  I know many people complain about the transport in London, but having lived in many places without an extensive public transport system and not driving, I miss it terribly!  I especially love the underground.  For three years I commuted back and forth from South East London to North West London almost daily for College.  Then, after I moved to North West London to live, I commuted back into the Centre of London for work.  And I loved commuting.  Loved the feeling of time 'to myself' even surrounded by strangers.  I even quite enjoyed that packed in the train feeling during rush hour.  If it wasn't for commuting during my college years I probably wouldn't have passed my degree, since I did most of my reading for lectures during the 3 hours travel back and forth each day.  In about five or six years of commuting I very rarely had a problem with the London Underground - in fact I was able, with a bit of running down the escalators at London Bridge and careful timing at Finchley Road, to jump from one train to another with barely a wait in between.  I also love the fact that it is almost impossible to get lost in Central London if you know the Underground.  If you find yourself confused, all you need to do is go below ground and you can find your way back to somewhere familiar.

2. Green Spaces.  London is full of green spaces, specifically the Royal Parks.  (see for specifics)  There is Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, St James' and Green Park, and then Regents Park with its very own Zoo - all within the Central area of London.  Then, in the South East, you have the vast park lands of Greenwich and Blackheath, and in the South West you'll find Richmond Park.  I have always particularly loved Richmond Park, and even the thought of it fills me with wonder.  A vast park land, full of wild deer, in the middle of a major city.  Gloriously absurd!  We used to go there as kids to ride our bikes and just generally explore.  We took my eldest daughter there when she was small, and enjoyed prowling around as adults - despite the interest my husband took in the potential for living there and the dangers for overhead airplanes (don't ask!).

3. The Christmas Lights & trip to Hamleys.  Every year when we were small we would go up to Central London to "See the Lights" at Christmas, and most years we also went to Hamleys too.  I loved the excitement, the crowds - can't imagine how my parents coped with the worry of loosing either of us girls in all those people given my propensity for drifting off, but hey, we enjoyed it!  I remember they used to employ what I assumed was a police officer to control the foot traffic, and one of them would shout "Charge!" when it was time to cross the road.  (I don't know if they still do this at Christmas?)  The shop windows were the highlight - and of course, like all things "were much better in our day".  I remember eagerly moving from window scene to window scene, following an unfolding story - usually Fairy Tales.  It was magical, an important ritual in the lead up to Christmas.

4. Multi-cultural London.  Now, I know that there are many race issues in London, little conflicts, times of unease and all out inter-racial hatred at times, but for me growing up it just seemed normal to have friends from different cultural backgrounds.  It was a shock to me to move to Devon and see only 'white' people most of the time.  I remember sitting on a bus travelling through Peckham during one of my visits home and feeling such a wave of affection for the people, all so different from one another and from me.

5. Museums & Theatres.  Growing up it was such a treat to have a good range of museums to visit in Central London - especially the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the V&A and - if we were very lucky - the Science Museum (which was expensive).  Now, of course, all the museums are free - even the Science Museum - and you can happily potter from one to the other.  There are also so many theatres in London.  Some how, without any real passion for theatre on my part, I have been to many plays, musicals and even the ballet.  I have watched Shakespeare performed at the Globe, seen Agamemnon in the Round, watched Starlight Express, Grease, Phantom and Les Mis.  I've even seen Korean Opera.

6. Shopping.  No where else I've lived quite compares to London for shopping - if you can cope with the hustle and bustle, of course, which after many years in quieter locations I do find a bit overwhelming these days.  There are the High Street shops of Bromley & Croydon where I ventured as a teenager and Watford & Uxbridge that I enjoyed in my 20s.  There is the out of town shopping heaven that is Bluewater.  There's the crazy mixture of boutiques and chain stores that fills Oxford Street & Regent Street where I would hurry on my work lunch hour.   And all the other glorious little pockets of shops in London like Covent Garden, Greenwich or Kensington.  Really there are too many places to shop, especially as they are basically the same mix of shops - and I'm not really the biggest fan of shopping purely for fun.  But the time I really appreciate having all these different places to shop most is when I'm looking for something particular and the shop I'm in doesn't have my size.  This happened when I was looking for a bridesmaids dress for my sister's wedding.  A couple of phone calls by the store staff and the dress was located in Croydon.  Cue a dash to the store in Croydon and I have my bridesmaid dress!  Simple.

7. Royalty, Pomp & Ceremony.  Growing up in London, I was particularly aware of the Royal Family, and always enjoyed watching the Changing of the Guard and visiting Buckingham Palace.  I think both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace are beautiful buildings.  My husband and I loved to walk in Windsor Great Park on summer Saturdays - another place with deer!  And, one of the great things about Husband's job can be getting invites to special events.  While we lived in London we were extremely privileged to be able to go to one of the Summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace - you can believe I went shopping with a passion for that!  He even got tickets for my parents and cousin to go to the Trooping of the Colour.

8. Meeting Husband.  On a very personal note, I met my husband while we both lived in North London.  I used to walk to the train station to commute to work, and he was walking up from the train station to go to work.  I saw this very handsome man, dressed in a suit and a Crombie Coat, most mornings for a couple of weeks and we started smiling at each other when we met.  Then, one day I went to visit my friend and was introduced to his new flat mate, a young man who looked very familiar to me.  After a moment I realised he was the man I smiled at in the mornings.  Destiny!

9. Courtship & Exploration.  So, London became even more significant for me.  After a brief period of courting, he asked me to marry him and I refused him three times until I realised he was serious.  It was during this time that I explored London a bit more with him - being a Londoner I hadn't often done the tourist things like visit the Tower of London or Tower Bridge once I was grown up.  It was wonderful to be a Tourist in my home town.  We found little pubs on the outskirts of London, travelled around the M25 in his MR2 and basically enjoyed London as only a young couple can.  We were married in the lovely CoE Church in the parish where we met.

10. Miss I.  London is also where my first child was born and spent her first year.  Together we went through all those first things - cuddling, sitting, crawling, walking, talking.  For her first birthday Grandma took her to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs, introducing another generation to the joy of living in London...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

New glasses for Miss C

Miss C has Albinism.  This means she needs to be protected from the sun as far as possible.  In particular her eyes need protecting, so she is usually found with a cap on when outside.  We're very fortunate that she has only limited vision problems as part of her Albinism, but she does wear glasses.  At our last visit to the Eye Doctors we asked for tinted versions of her glasses, as these had been the goal, according to the main consultant, of getting her to keep her glasses on.

While we were on holiday in Battle, Sussex we went to the opticians to order her glasses.  It may seem strange to do this while on holiday, but we got her last pair of glasses there and we know they have the soft frames that can't be broken!  The local optician can't get them for some reason.  The frames we buy cost £40 and are made by a company called Mira-flex.  They are definitely worth the extra money - they can be sat on, trodden on, pulled about, thrown and basically take all the abuse that a two year old can give them.  When we talked to the optician I asked if was possible to have reactive lenses rather than just a straight tint.  For an extra £20 it was.  I was really pleased because it will make a big difference if Miss C doesn't have to swap them for her normal ones every time she comes inside.

Miss C in her cool new glasses
As we'd ordered them while on holiday, and they are specialist lenses in a specialist frames, we've had to wait for them to be sent out to us.  Four weeks of waiting and they arrived this morning.  I love them, and Miss C seems pretty happy too.  She will still have to wear a hat on bright days (even if it's overcast), but now I don't have to be quite as paranoid every time we step out the door.  The reactive lenses work really well, too - there's still a slight tint indoors, as they don't go completely clear, but that doesn't affect her vision at all.  It's brilliant to see them suddenly go dark and know they are looking after her eyes.

Definitely a reason to be cheerful... so I'm linking with

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

10 things I loved about living... in the Falklands

The Falkland Islands, in case your Geography is as bad as mine was, are in the southern hemisphere about 400 miles off the South American mainland.  The population is approximately 2500, on a land mass about half the size of Wales.  The people are English speaking and many can trace their families back to the original British settlers, 9 generations back.  At the risk of being political and getting nasty comments: the people who live there have the right to self-determination and they have chosen overwhelming to remain a British Overseas Territory.

For three years we lived at Mount Pleasant Complex (the base, MPA or MPC variously), about 40 miles from the capital Stanley.  Just one of about 40 families living there - the rest of the population on base being 'singlies'.  It's not just the British and Falkland Islanders who live in the Islands, there are also many 'contractors' from all over the world, but particularly from St Helena, Chile, and New Zealand.

When we arrived in September 2009 Miss I was just 4 years old, Mr J was 2 and a half, and Miss A was 4 months.  Miss C was born in Stanley in June 2011 - in the middle of the winter.

So, my 10 favourite things about living in the Falkland Islands

1. The journey there.  (This is also one of the worst things, but it's part of the experience!)  18 hour flight broken by about 2 hours on Ascension Island, where you wait in The Cage next to the runway for the plane to be refuelled.   It's a long way with small children, but they've always coped amazingly.

2. Getting blaise about penguins.  After a few months in the Falklands, the children were unimpressed by the sight of yet another penguin colony.  My favourite Penguin encounter was when we'd taken some visitors to see the Magellanic penguin colony on the local beach.  Heavily pregnant with a two year old in tow, I wasn't able to walk the several miles along the beach, so sat down half way to rest while the rest continued without us.  After about half an hour sheltering my sleeping two year old from the wind blown sand, I saw people heading back towards us.  In the water I could see five penguins keeping pace with the walkers.  Every few metres or so they would come pottering out of the water and look at the humans as if to say, "Come on, what's taking you so long."  Then they waddled back into the water to swim a bit further along.  Eventually they were parallel with where I sat, and I got a lovely view of them without having to do all the walking (or having to smell a whole colony of them)!  Penguins, you see, don't pay attention to the rules that tell you to stay away from them.  Far too curious.

3. Traffic - or rather the lack of it.  In three years living there we were only ever twice in a traffic jam - both times on the way back from a fireworks display that everyone had attended.  I also just love the Stanley Road (otherwise known as the F25 given it's part of a big ring road around East Falkland).  Some of it is tarmac, with potholes, but much of it is gravel, since this is easier and cheaper given the local resources.  Maximum speed limit of 40 mph, and occasionally closed to MPA traffic due to high winds or snow.  The first time I drove the car after I got my provisional licence was on the Stanley Road, and I drove for about 30 minutes at 30 mph.

4. The walk to school.  Depending on the weather - i.e. if there wasn't a hurricane force gale, rain or sleet at the time we went to school - this was our walk to school, along with many of our friends that we gathered as we walked along (our house being one of the furthest out).  It was about a mile distance from home to school, and kept me fit, especially pushing our EasyWalker all terrain double buggy!  If the weather wasn't good we would walk through the mile long corridor that connects most of the accommodation and facilities on MPA complex.  If you watched any of the reports from the Falklands while Prince William was stationed there, you'll have seen pictures of the Corridor, but no pictures or descriptions can do it justice.

5. The wide open vistas.  The skies in the Falklands are amazing.  Firstly, there are very few trees and very few high buildings - other than the air traffic control tower I can not remember a building over two stories.  This means that there is very little to obstruct your view unless you're near one of the mountains, so the sky just seems to stretch on forever.  I think it may also have something to do with the position of the Falkland Islands, but I'm no expert on that kind of thing.  I just know it was spectacular.  This picture was taken outside our house with my rather basic camera.  The other thing that makes the sky amazing is the stars.  There is very little light pollution (not enough people!) which means that if the sky is clear you can see so many stars it hurts your eyes.  Almost every clear night I saw the Milky Way.

6. The ever changing weather.  Many places claim to have changeable weather - including the UK - but I truly can't believe anywhere is like the Falklands.  Beautiful blue skies, that suddenly cloud over and dump ten minutes of torrential rain on you,
only to clear again before the wind brings new clouds that drop a ton of snow which settles for an hour and then is washed away again.  And all the while the wind blows - usually a southerly wind that reminds you that the only thing standing between you and the Antarctic is a few penguins!  One of the things I can't quite get used to now we're back in the UK is long periods of rain.  In the Falklands I could time my journeys around the rain.  If it was raining, most of the time I could just wait ten minutes and I knew it would clear long enough for me to get to the corridor and shelter.  As I couldn't drive, this was very useful! 

7. Stanley.  A city (it has a Cathedral) affectionately known to those at MPA as Stan Vegas.  Population about 1800, I think (except when the cruise ships arrive).  Steep roads that I walked up and down in an attempt to encourage Miss C to put in an appearance.  Colourful roofs on many of the houses.  Two major supermarkets - one with stock mostly from Waitrose (add £1 to any pre-priced item!) and the other carried Sainsbury's but you could buy two kilos of Uraguyan Fillet Steak for £15.  There are also lots of shops that sell things to do with Penguins!  And it's Twinned with Whitby.  One day we will have to go to Whitby to see the sign that says it is Twinned with Stanley!

8. The Thrift Shop.  This is a very personal thing.  I was co-founder and bookkeeper of the MPC Thrift Shop, a place for people to sell or donate unwanted items.  Due to the high turnover of personnel on base there was always a lot of stock, and as there weren't many other places you could shop it was very popular with everyone in the Islands.  All profits went to charity, which was about half the income.  In the two years I was involved we raised £12,000 for local and UK charities, and it is still going strong now.  My favourite memory is helping some of the lads find dresses - the uglier the better - for a fancy dress party one evening!

9. The community.  Both the locals and the community on base.  On base we were a very tight-knit group, particularly among the families, and there were days, 8000 miles from home, when the only thing that kept me sane were my friends - especially my next door neighbours.  When we first arrived there weren't very many small children, but this quickly changed as new families joined us.  We didn't have access to the kind of childcare and activities we take for granted in the UK but we had each other.  From coffee mornings to mums & tots, soft play in the gym to book club, we kept ourselves busy.  Those without small children enjoyed learning crafts like Spinning and Felting.  And if you needed a lift somewhere or an elusive carrot (fruit & veg were often quite hard to come by) for a recipe there was usually someone willing to help.  If you had an emotional meltdown - and by about week three after arrival everyone did - everyone knew what you were going through and was there for you.

10. Miss Cs arrival.  My third daughter was born in the Falkland Islands, and for that reason it will always be a special place for me.  We had to move to Stanley for a month before she was born as it was the middle of winter (the day she was due my husband took part in the mid-winter swim, which involves lots of crazy people running into the icy cold water) and we couldn't risk the road being impassable - especially as she is number four and expected to come pretty quickly once she came.  After a month of waiting (she was 8 days late at this point) we had to move out of our temporary home as it had previously been booked by someone else, and after a anxious night back at MPA with the Search and Rescue helicopter on stand-by alert, we moved into the lovely Malvina House Hotel for two days, with the induction due at 10+ days.  I went into labour naturally and the male midwife (my second by coincidence my first male midwife was overseas too - must be something in the water) broke my waters.  Within half an hour Miss C was born.  I will always be so grateful that I was allowed to stay in the Falklands to have my baby (many of my friends were sent back to the UK), and to my mother in law who came out to stay with the older children.  Two weeks after Miss C was born we were invited to the Governor's for dinner to say goodbye to Husband's boss and she joined us, sitting under the table in her car seat, beautifully behaved (except when she did something unmentionable very loudly in the middle of the Governor's speech).

So, that's my 10 things I loved about living in the Falkland Islands.  I would love to go back one day, but I don't expect we will get the chance.  We are so privileged to have had the opportunity to live there, even for a short while.  Of course, it wasn't all wonderful and certainly not easy (as my references to meltdowns will suggest), but it certainly is an amazing place.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Here is Home!

Yesterday the children were trying to understand why there were so many cars on the roads at the moment.
"People come here on holiday," I explained.  "So, in the summer time there are more cars."
"Why don't we come here on holiday?" asked Miss I.

"Because we're lucky enough to live here all the time," I said.
We've been so privileged to live in places people usually only visit for holidays.  Of nowhere is this more true than the Falkland Islands.  After all, how many people even go there on holiday?  For us it is even more special because Miss C was born there.

Soon I will be doing a series posts on my 10 favourite things about the different places we have lived - at home and abroad.  If you'd like to join in and do a guest post, let me know - especially those of you who don't have a blog.

Here is Mr J getting up close and personal with one of the locals.  One of many #Magic Moments.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

In Celebration of my Middle Child

I've been thinking about the struggle and joys of the middle child lately.  My third child, second daughter Miss A has been deploring her lot as the middle one - middle child, middle girl.  "I never get to go first!"  "Why can't I do that too?"
As a middle child too I can somewhat sympathise, although I am only one of three.  It always seems as though other people get precedence - I do try to be fair, but I can see that with two dominant older siblings (Eldest Girl and Eldest Boy are pretty equal) it certainly must seem like she's always having to give way.  And with two younger siblings still very dependent on Mummy, it's no wonder she goes to Daddy first.

The good news is she has a bright future ahead of her, potentially.  The assumption in society is that Middle Children are more likely to have strong marriages, are more likely to be adventurous or creative, are more comfortable in social settings.  This makes perfect sense to me, although there is very little scientific evidence.  The early training in negotiating makes a Middle Child natural at finding compromise.  A few years back my younger sister accused me of being impossible to bait into an argument - I had learnt to choose my battles.  This is a very useful social skill, and with the right kind of encouragement, there is no reason Miss A can't learn to find ways to make the best of any situation and come out on top when it really matters.
Miss A is already the most comfortable in new situations, the least likely of the three eldest to be afraid, although since starting school last term she has lost some of her previously unshakable confidence - I'm hopeful that with the start of the new term and the fact that she will no longer be one of the youngest she will regain some of that self-assurance.  Recently, while at a Church camp, we got separated (bad mother that I am, I didn't notice for a while - there were lots of children and lots of adults who were keeping an eye on them...).  Unfazed, Miss A went to the Camp Shop and spoke to the man running it.  "My parents are missing," she said, quite calmly.  She is very proud of herself for this composure - as are we!

While it can be argued that the eldest child is the one to receive the most input in the early years, that will enable them to excel academically and have higher IQs, there is something to be said for absorbing knowledge gained from having older siblings - not to mention competition.  Miss I (Eldest daughter) has always been bright, but even with virtual one on one teaching at her first formal nursery wasn't counting to 20 before starting school (an oversight on my part, I just never counted above 10 with her).  Whereas Miss A, constantly bombarded with information from her older siblings, was counting beyond 20 aged 2 as well as holding very grown up conversations with any adult she met.

The Family
So here's to Miss A, and all those other Middle Children, and a bright future full of adventure and success.  Being first isn't always best and success isn't always about winning the argument - although I know it feels like it when you're four!

(See this article from the BBC magazine for more thoughts on the value of siblings generally

Friday, 23 August 2013

"In the Boat"

I had a feeling today was going to be a difficult day for me - not all that different for me in actual daily routine, but in my attitude, my emotions.  I am 'discontent'.  It is not an emotion, exactly.  It is a state of mind.  I am not discontent because my life is overwhelming, busy or exhausting at the moment - although that is certainly a trigger.  I am in this place because I am tired of trying to be strong by myself when I know there is another way.  It is a state of mind that can be crippling - it can cause every little thing that goes wrong to be so much worse - but it is also one that can make you stop and think. Please don't get me wrong - I am very happy in my life, I do not wish to change my circumstances especially, but rather my perspective and my engagement with them.

This morning I have been reduced to shaky tears as I contemplated the mess our house is in - washing has been piling up since I went on strike after the mammoth post holiday wash, surfaces have not been wiped down because they are too covered with STUFF (paper with scribbles on, letters in need of filing, books, toys, hair bands), only the chair I am currently sat on does not have more of the same on it, I can barely walk across the room without treading on a toy.  There's just so much to do, and alongside that I need to keep the five children reasonably content and fed.  I am very tired of being the one everyone needs something from.  It's not the worst of crisis, but it's just been building up until I now feel totally overwhelmed.  (My apologies if your life really is in crisis - everything is relative).

I have burst into tears while doing the washing up.  I have flinched from my daughter's foot tapping on my leg.  I have struggled not to push my children away from me.  I have not had a good day.

I have prayed and cried out "Oh, Lord God, please help me!  Father, I really need you with me today."  And to some extent He has answered.  A guy called Greg Boyd (theologian and preacher, but basically just a 'guy') said once "Jesus is in the Boat".  This a reference to when the disciples were in a boat in the middle of a storm, and Jesus was asleep.  They woke him up in terror for their lives, and he just stood up and calmed the storm.  Sometimes we think we are alone in the midst of the storm, but I know "Jesus is in the boat" and sometimes that is enough in itself - to know I am not alone.  Many times I have just cried and felt him comfort me (I wish I had room to describe how much greater than human comfort that is).  Sometimes, though, we need to wake him up, and get him to calm the storm for us.  This is, of course, what Faith is all about. 

Discontent is a state of mind that can be a challenge, the first step towards changing something that previously you have allowed to continue without much more than a mild protest.  It is part of the nature of my spirituality, my Christian belief, that I consider all situations to be changeable, if we will only engage our heart and mind in the belief that change is possible.  I'm not talking here about positive thinking, about 'fake it until you make it', about any other self-help method, even about changing my attitude really - I'm talking about truly believing that there is Someone out there who not only CAN make a difference in my situation, but WANTS to.  This means that prayer & faith without relationship with that Someone (God) is really not going to get me very far - belief is more than assent to a theory.  Of course, there are times when those kind of prayers are answered - but these are usually 'emergency prayers' and they're not going to get to the root of the problem.  To truly see my life changed I need to know the one who can change it.  If I believe in God - and I do - then I need to let him make a difference.

I'm not sitting here now in a state of bliss, all my problems solved because I have prayed.  Far from it.  In fact, I am still discontent - but this is a good thing.  I have sent up some of those emergency prayers, had a good cry, listened to some music (Holy Night by Graham Kendrick) which always helps me to get things in perspective, taken a deep breath, done the washing up, wiped down the kitchen and put on two loads of washing.  In other words I've got a few things done, put a bit of balm on my jagged nerves and I've got just that little bit more strength to survive another day without drowning.  Jesus is in the boat, and I'm not going to drown today, but the storm is still raging around me.  It is time to deal with the storm, and not just mine, but many others I see around me.  I am not content just to survive another day.  And so I need to stay discontented, because if I do not - on those days when things are not so bad - I will forget that I do not need to be strong enough.  It's time to 'wake up Jesus' and start seeing things change - not just for me, but for all of us.  It's time to really start believing things can change - not because of I am strong enough, but because He is.

I am intrigued to know your thoughts on this.  I want to be honest in my journey, I hope you will feel able to be too.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Rules... by The Children

Since the beginning of the Summer Holidays I have intended to get the Children to write out (and decorate - they love decorating) a set of rules that they will agree to.  They were going to be divided into:
We Say
We Are
We Do Not

It is week Five of the Holidays, and after muddling through with lots of shouting on my part, I have finally sat them down this morning to set out our Holiday Rules...

It's funny what kids come up with.  Immediately there were shouts of "Don't Hit!"  "Yeah, and don't pinch!" "Do as Mummy says" "Look after those smaller" "Don't bash bombs" (Not sure what that one is about) "Say sorry".  I suppose some of the shouting has actually sunk in - they do actually know what they are meant to be doing.

After a little discussion, these are the ones we came up with "for now" - they were keen to add a whole host of others (sit at the table to eat, eat what you're given, tidy up, keep your bedroom tidy).

We Are - Kind, Helpful, Gentle
We Say - Sorry, Please, Thank you
We Do Not - Hurt, Lie, Snatch

If we can achieve even this much I will be very impressed - then we can start on the other suggestions.

Monday, 19 August 2013

#Magic Moments - Old Memories

The other day I found a load of photos and videos I'd forgotten about - although when I say 'found', I mean I was looking on a storage drive we have and realised that it contained all our early photos.  The children and I have been having great fun looking through them trying to guess which baby is which...

Daughter One and Son One

Daughter Three and Son Two
 The girls - pigtails ages 2-3

< Daughter Two (Falklands)

           Daughter Three (Wales) >

                                                         Daughter One (Gibraltar)

 < Son One (Gibraltar)

         Daughter Two (Falklands) >

So many lovely memories, I just had to share a few!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Reflections and Reminisces

With Gibraltar in the News lately, I thought I would write a topical post and reminisce a little about our time living there.

For those of you who don't know, Gibraltar is an Isthmus - and very large outcropping of Rock - off the coast of southern Spain.  (See for all the information!)  It is approximately 3 miles long by 1 mile across and has a population of about 30,000 people.

Looking towards the Rock from the Isthmus

 At the top of the Rock - with a Barbary Ape!

We lived there from April 2007 to January 2009 and I wish it had been longer.  My eldest son was born there not long after we arrived and it's a lovely place to raise children.

The stories about seven hour long queues at the border have brought back many memories.  We were fortunate to live just next to the border - and usually walked across to go to McDonalds in Spain rather than crossing the runway towards the Rock.  My husband worked at the other end of the Rock and on Friday afternoons (when the border queues were always particularly bad - even without 'extra' checks) he would frequently decide to leave the car behind and walk home, sometimes getting back a good hour before his boss who always tried to drive it.  In the end he mostly rode a bicycle - though not a moped like many of the locals, helmet hung on the handle bars rather than worn.

Gibraltar is, I think, the only place in the world where you can walk and drive across a commercial runway.  I always used to love watching the planes landing as we waited to cross.  Once I was caught in the middle of the runway, pushing the pram against strong winds (one of the few disadvantages of living there), while a rescue helicopter was trying to land unexpectedly.  The tanoy was telling those of us still crossing to hurry, but I could barely move a step forward at a time.  In the end the helicopter landed just behind me!

The climate in Gibraltar is unusual.  Obviously you have the Mediterranean style sunshine and temperatures, but it is exceptionally windy due to its position on a peninsular.  There is also the Levanter wind  (Easterly) that causes the massive Rock Top cloud.  This is a fascinating phenomenon which can change the weather from one end of the Rock to the other.  I remember one day leaving our house near the border in bright hot sunshine then stepping onto the runway in a cold dense fog and shivering in my t-shirt and shorts.  A half mile along the Rock - through the Tunnel to Casemates Square - the sun was back out again.

I would love to go back one day, and take the older children to see where they lived.  If you get the chance, I would recommend a visit - but don't go to Spain first!  I suggest you fly direct or go by boat.  You'll find many UK High Street stores there - including Mothercare, M&S and Monsoon (where I was a regular!) - as well as the typically Gibraltarian "Jack-of-All" shops, where you can buy a surprising array of different and unconnected items.  Plus, of course, there's all the Duty Free!  Don't be conned by the 'Tourist prices' however - prices go up when a Cruise Ship comes in, despite the 'special offers'.  Try to pretend you're a local and you'll get a much better deal!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Man, Machine & Chickens

Our garden has been slowly transforming from the neat but rambling garden it was when we bought the house to a country meadow (wild flowers & long grass) to an overgrown wilderness that needs some attention.  About a month ago I began to suggest maybe we should mow the lawn.  I even went as far as retrieving the ancient lawnmower left by the previous owner in the back of the shed in the hopes it could be made to work.  Alas, no.  So, new lawnmower or strimmer required.

A few gentle suggestions - who said nagging? - later, husband begins the search for a suitable machine.  My attempts to help were politely disdained - "£60 for a strimmer?  It won't last a minute in our garden."  This afternoon he came home early from work.  "I suppose I'd better get changed, then," he said after a quick lunch.  "Oh, why?" I asked innocently.  "Well, you want me to cut the grass, don't you?"  Enter the great Strimmer "Stihl", cost approx £300 - but you can add a pole cutter(?), a blower, a trimmer... included?  Of course not!

So, out into the undergrowth departs our intrepid warrior - to scare the life out of the chickens, who were hiding under their favourite bush at the top of the garden.  They fled, unfortunately, in the wrong direction, finding themselves trapped by the side gate, unable to pass the frightening beast that whirred and cut down their pleasant wilderness before their very eyes.  A moment's pause allowed them to slip passed to seek refuge in the firs and perch on the low branches in disgust.

We're down to three eggs out of six today.  I think we might be lucky to get any tomorrow.

On the plus side for them, the cutting of the grass has revealed - and pretty much destroyed - an ants' nest, providing them with plenty of entertainment should they choose to pursue it.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Ah, the joys of returning home

We were on holiday last week.  Just a week in a caravan on the South Coast while we helped my parents run a bookstall at a Church Camp.  It was a fun time for the kids, and great in many ways for me, but EXHAUSTING!

With seven people plus suitcases to transport, a bit of logistics was required, even with our seven seater.  Cue a lovely first class train journey for me, Baby and Daughter 2 and a couple of days staying with my parents in London either side of the Camp.  (In case you're wondering, we're not fabulously wealthy, the first class tickets were only £6 more than the standard and the children were under 5 so free!)

Now, I'm the first to admit I am not a tidy person.  I do not have tidy habits, a tidy husband or well trained children - despite my frequent attempts at reform.  Growing up, however, I was trained by my mother to think that cleaning and tidying the house before a holiday was as essential as packing.  It is something I normally adhere to, and I love the feeling of coming back home knowing that all I have to do is unpack and do washing.

This year I honestly tried but I just couldn't be bothered.  A combination of general tiredness and knowing that even if I did tidy up it would be only a matter of time before the children messed it up again - especially since three of them would be staying with Daddy in the house for a few days - left me without any motivation.  So, after a half hearted attempt, I got on my train and went on holiday.

When I got home on Monday night I cried.  Some of that was left over baby hormones, but mostly it was just sheer bitter disappointment.  I had foolishly hoped that in my absence my husband would have at least organised the children to maintain the level of mess I had left behind me.  And if I'm honest I had secretly hoped that he would have a personality transplant just for a day and tidied up!

Oh the bitterness of my disappointment.  It was so much worse than I had left it.  Not even the washing up had been done...  So after a few minutes of stony silence on my part, with a bit of banging and crashing while I did the washing up, I burst into tears on my darling husband's shoulder.

True to form, he had no real understanding of why I was upset.  And to be fair, why should he?  He has a complete inability to see mess - I know this about him, and in fact it is something I usually feel faintly relieved about when friends tell me about the nagging their partners inflict when coming home from work to a less than pristine home.  But the least he can do is hold me while I cry - and so he does.

Now I am just about on top of the washing up.  I have completed eight loads of washing (I do about five a week, so a week away causes a serious backlog).  I have bribed my children to empty bins and clean the table and put away their clothes.  We have tidied the playroom a little.  I have vacuumed the stairs, and my eldest daughter's room (which, wonderfully, she had tidied better than I have ever known her to - although she seems to have discovered the magic of 'under the bed').

I still have another four loads of washing to do (with more adding every day), and a lot of tidying and cleaning before even I will feel comfortable.  And now we've discovered a wasps nest in the shower room.  I want to go on holiday again...  Trouble is, it'll all still be waiting for me when I come back - and then some!  I keep sneaking a peek at my daughter's room for encouragement.  I guess I should get back to it...  But I might have another biscuit first.

Dreadful Days, Orli Just Breathe

This one's for you Orli!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Living the Good Life

Since we married, we have moved every other year - and I mean really moved, lock, stock and barrel - from London to Gibraltar to Wiltshire to the Falkland Islands to Wales.  In each new place we have had a baby - but that's another story.  It is only this last move that we have bought our own home.

And here the dream of the Good Life begins.  It's a lovely house, easily big enough for our tribe, with a garden big enough for all the swings, slide, toy house and other trappings of childhood... and chickens...

The chickens, as I've mentioned before, are great fun and very productive but they present a small problem - one of ambition.  Now we have become - in a very small way - small holders.  Cue coveting glances at neighbouring fields and evening chats about woolly pigs.

The trouble is our dwindling savings don't quite stretch to a couple of acres of suitable farmland, not to mention the costs involved in raising said woolly pigs.  If only we could win the lottery...  When I saw the competition on BritMums for the #Spend20K Challenge this is immediately what came to my mind.  No hesitations, no questions.  We'd buy some land and raise some pigs.

Shopping List:
7 acres at approx. £2000 an acre - £14,000
Two woolly pigs (breeding pair) - £250
Stock fences - £2000
Arc pig sty - £500-£1000
Food stuffs and other expenses - £1000
Supply of good quality Port (to drown our sorrows when slaughter time comes)

My husband informs me that for each pig weighing 80kg you get 45kg of usable meat.  That's a lot of bacon and sausages - so a bigger freezer may be required.  We may also have to set aside a contingency for electric fences.  Given the propensity of our chickens to escape our garden, I suspect that pigs - by reputation rather intelligent creatures - will make short work of any attempt to restrict them and take to wandering the lanes like the local sheep.

Ah, the Good Life.  I think Bee Keeping is next on the list...

 #Spend20K challenge badge with National Lottery

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Sunday, 11 August 2013

Baby Needs Me Time Too!

I have just put my four month old down in his cot for some Me Time.  He has been getting steadily grumpier and milk, cuddles, finger sucking and entertainment have all failed.  Then I remembered that he needs space sometimes too.  I think it can be one of the hardest things to realise as a mother (even one with five children) - sometimes all the singing, jiggling, playing, feeding and general goings on is too much for a baby and they just need some time alone.  So I popped him in the cot and went to the loo.  After a token protest, there was silence.  The necessary completed, I checked to see if he was asleep, but he just grinned at me, kicking his legs.

I remember my second daughter being particularly content to lie in her cot and chat to herself.  I would hear her in the mornings for a good half hour before I went in to her.  I always worried that she might get lonely but of course, healthy children let you know if something is wrong.  She was just very happy being by herself - especially first thing in the morning.

With each of my children I have had to learn to give them space when they are happy.  It is so tempting to pick them up when they are lying quietly or join in when they are playing by themselves   We're often told that we should leave a child to cry - at least for a while so they learn to settle themselves - and there is some truth in that, but I think it is even more important for them to experience being happy alone.  If they only really experience being upset when they are alone, they will have a skewed understanding as they grow.  At the very least I try to ensure I have not left my son to cry for longer than I have left him to play happily - neither is easy to do!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Smiling on the Underground

I'm a Londoner, born and bred and I've spent my fair share of time commuting on the tube.  For many years, though, I've been living in small communities and I've got used to smiling at almost everyone I meet.  This is particularly true when I have my children with me.
So, sorry, folks, but I've become one of those strange people who smile at you on the Underground.  Although, it's really not my fault!
Yesterday I travelled to London from Wales with my four year old girl and four month old boy.  I saw lots of people looking fondly at my little baby, so I flashed them a big smile of agreement (he is exceptionally cute - but then most little babies are!).  I was puzzled to see them look startled and none of them struck up conversation, which is what I've become used to in rural life.  I had forgotten that you don't make eye contact on the tube, you certainly don't smile at people.  Surely, though I can be forgiven for thinking people were going to talk to us - my baby boy was in a sling on my front, his head next to mine.  I feel saddened that people didn't seem to expect me to be happy to have them comment on my baby.  I know it's part of a broader context, but it seems to me if people are breaking the rules enough to smile at my baby, they should be willing to at least smile at me too!
Of course, I have experienced more positive responses to my 'rural-style openness'.  I look around me as I travel, and I often catch people's eyes.  Carefully selected people will respond to a quick smile - with my children with me I guess I'm not a threatening figure.  People will ask me directions, often choosing me out of a street full of people.  This is something I have always had, actually - I think I've always been comparatively approachable, and it can be quite embarrassing if I'm new to an area!
Now, I'm not proposing full scale friendliness in London (Crocodile Dundee style).  For one thing we'd never get anything done in cities if everyone stopped to greet each other.  And I don't recommend smiling at everyone wherever you go.  It would be lovely to see a few more open faces though, people who are ready to smile, ready to help, ready at least to acknowledge that there are actual people around them rather than just moving elements of the scenery!
And if you're going to smile at my baby, have the courtesy to make eye contact with me and acknowledge that I have some right to be included.  I'm thinking particularly of a smartly dressed lady who stared at my little one for a good ten seconds and even moved closer so she could see him better, but when I caught her eye and smiled at her, she looked quite offended...