Friday, 6 September 2013

Dreadful Days - Falkland Islands Returns

Recently I wrote a post about the 10 things I loved about living in the Falkland Islands.  I could probably have written several more lots of 10 things.  But I am in danger of looking back with rose tinted glasses on our time there.  So, time for a bit of a reality check.  Let me describe my average day in the Falkland Islands - I imagine many of my friends who lived there will remember similar difficult days.  I'm talking about living there, mind you.  Visitors will always have an amazing time!

Waking up to the wind howling round and under the wooden house on stilts in which we lived, it was Groundhog Day.  Likely a day like every other, it was difficult to notice the passing of time, each week dragging along, months disappearing before you realised.

Breakfast is whatever cereal was available in the shop that week and wasn't out of date after a four to six weeks freight trip, with slightly warm UHT milk because I'd forgotten to put the long life milk in the fridge - unless, of course, we still have some of the Cheerios Grandma sent in our Christmas boxes.  Quick rush to make sandwiches with the defrosted bread for packed lunches for the two eldest children, add a cereal bar and a 60p apple for snack - call me unimaginative, but it was rare I could find more to put in.  At the end of the week I'm struggling to find an apple or any fruit to add.

Time to wrestle the children into coats, maybe salopettes, woolly hats / balaclavas, boots, gloves.  It's not the dead of winter, just a normal day.  Put the youngest in the big all terrain double buggy (think Mountain Buggy style, although we had the cheaper EasyWalker), strap down the weather shield and bump down the four stairs into a 40 mph gale winds that threatens to wrench the buggy from my hands.  With the older children fighting to walk with the wind pushing us along one moment and blowing into us the next we make the quarter mile dash across grass and gravel to the Corridor.  As we struggle, another element is added - biting hail flying into our faces.  Quickly I huddle the children together around the buggy, and turn my back to the wind.  We wait.  A couple of minutes and the worst of the hail has passed.  I urge my crying children to hurry on and we continue towards shelter.

We reach the double set of heavy double doors at the main entrance to the Corridor, and I send the older children to open the doors for me.  If I'm lucky one or two soldiers are near by and hurry to open the doors for us, enabling me to pass through both sets of doors, which 'helpfully' swing outwards, reasonably easily - occasionally I have run over feet with the buggy, but they've got military issue boots on so it doesn't matter.  If I'm not lucky, I have to wedge the buggy in the first doors, reach for the next set, send the children through and force the buggy through the second set.

Then it's time for the quick walk down the Corridor.  This is actually quite fun most of the time - especially if we meet with some other children.  The older children run ahead, crashing through the heavy fire doors that come every 200 yards or so as we make our way forward.  I don't have to worry about them.  There are no cars, they can't get lost.  Occasionally helpful folk will open the doors ahead of me, but with the double buggy's metal foot plate, it's just as easy for me to crash into the door and force them open - I'm well practised at this manoeuvre, but it has shredded more than one expensive weather shield over time.

We reach the school after a mile of this Corridor - yes a mile.  We're probably early, so I stand in the playground and chat with the other mums (occasionally dads) while I watch the children run around.  It's not hailing and the wind is less intense this end of the Complex, so it's not too unpleasant, but everyone is wrapped up tight, even those who drove the mile rather than walked it.  I kiss the children goodbye, and head back into the Corridor.

When we first arrived in the Falkland Islands there weren't many other small children on the Base, so there was very little for me and the smallest to do.  However, let's assume this is year two, and we have a merry little group of under 5s to meet up with.  Let's say it's soft play day.  We go to the vast sports gym which is booked for our use for two hours.  We set up the soft play equipment - see previous Falkland Island post for pictures - and stand around in our coats, watching the children play and clamber, occasionally intervening in squabbles.  It is cold.  There is no way to heat a space this large and the fire door at the far end has been left open at some point.  After about an hour we're bored, cold and the children are hungry.  We pack everything away, and head for the high point of the day - Cake in the Oasis Cafe.

Truly it is an Oasis for us.  A comfortable, uncomplicated little space with tables, chairs, the odd sofa and some lovely people from the Salvation Army to look after us and provide us and our darling children with very large pieces of yummy cake.  £1 for a piece of millionaire shortbread the length of my hand.  60p for a cup of tea.  Sorry, I'm starting to put those rose tinted glasses back on...  But, no, it isn't quite like that any more.  Just before we left the Salvation Army had to pull out and a company took over.  There was still the same comfortable atmosphere and the prices were still pretty reasonable compared to the UK, but the cakes were not quite as yummy (well, some of them were okay) and there was no one to mother you and entertain the children.

There is only so much time we can spend in the Cafe and so much cake that can be consumed - although I think I did once go to the Oasis every day in a week.  We must part ways and head back to our homes for lunch and afternoon duties.  I bash my way back down the Corridor, and back out into the wind.  This time I don't have to worry about the older children, but it is all up hill and the wind is always against me.  I get home, drag children and buggy into the house and shut the door.  It takes me about 10 minutes to recover.

I have very little idea what I did in those afternoons that another gathering of mums wasn't organised.  Perhaps I fought my way against the weather up another steep hill to the Family Shop on the day after the Flight had come in (two flights a week bringing new people, fresh fruit and veg and mail), to stand in a queue with my friends for maybe half an hour to buy a basket of fruit, some frozen croissants and whatever else I can find.  Occasionally there are raised eyebrows and a squabble over the last remaining bananas.  'Someone with no children has taken two packets of cherry tomatoes' whispers my friend.  There are cherry tomatoes?!

On other days I may have looked at emails - but Internet use is rationed, the maximum download package was 3000mb at a cost of £139 per month.  Maybe I watched some TV with my daughter - Deal or No Deal was an afternoon staple, but you have to understand that there aren't normal channels, just the 100 top programs combined on two channels.  Or did cleaning - probably not.

Then, it's back out into the weather again to walk back to school to pick up the children and back home again.  4 miles of walking a day is good exercise, especially when you're pushing a double buggy against 40 mph gusts.

When we get home it is about 4.30pm and the children are tired and hungry.  If I have anything left since the last big shop in town at the weekend (assuming we were able to get to town last weekend) they have a snack.  Daddy will be home late because he is trying to fit "2 and a half" jobs into his working week, and works 7.5 hours of official overtime a week plus the extra he ends up having to put in.  I like to have a family meal, but it means we won't eat until after six, even with his 5 minute commute.  The children will be in bed for seven.  In the evening we watch West Wing DVDs because there is nothing on TV - is there ever?

Tomorrow will be more of the same.  It's Groundhog Day and it goes on - on and off - for three years.  Oddly I still miss it...

Dreadful Days, Orli Just Breathe


  1. wow, you're making me glad I never lived there!! Great descriptive writing - and I never knew it was so cold there, so I've learnt something tonight! :)

    1. It was a great place to live in many ways, but very hard too. If any of my friends from our time there get together, conversation will quickly turn to fruit, and the times we would say "No, you can't have an apple, have a biscuit!" I think if I had been able to drive I wouldn't have found it quite so difficult at times! I hope you read my "10 things I loved" about it post too, I'd hate for it just to seem a negative time!

  2. I am a bit embarrassed to say, but I get why you still miss it. For a time, for an experience, as an adventure, I would go today :)
    I does sounds tough though, especially with the kids being so young.
    Thank you for writing this for me :) Hope everyone is on the mend, and you had a lovely weekend!

    Thanks for linking up with #DreadfulDays :) x

    1. I think if we went back with the kids a bit older (all school age) I would find it a bit easier - especially as I can now drive. The trouble is, Miss I would then have to board in Stanley for school, which I don't fancy! We didn't take enough advantage of the opportunities while we were there because of the children - I regret not going to Chilie or South Georgia, or exploring the Islands more, but it just wasn't viable. Selfishly, I wouldn't mind going there for a year or two once the kids are all grown - not gonna happen, though!

  3. Wow that sounds tough. I also understand why you miss it, I would love to go.x

    1. In someways the difficulties are the same anywhere - childcare issues, keeping the children entertained, husbands / partners working long hours. The only really unique problems are the sense of being trapped sometimes - it's a small community, and there really are only a few places to go on a normal day - and the difficulty in getting the food you want that is in date!


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