It felt as though we all had to work right up to Christmas. School and academies didn't finish officially until 23 December and many students had exams in the final week. I missed the celebratory Christmas lunches that I used to have with colleagues and friends when I lived in the UK - more so this year, I think, because I was working more - but in our town, Christmas is still pretty low-key as it is one of the more intensive periods of work. It's olive picking season. The hills and countryside ring with machinery and tractors and the roads are positively busy with landrovers full of workers ready to gather the fruit. They've been lucky with the weather this year - it's been clear blue skies (and very cold nights) since mid-December. It's hard not to get caught up in the hype of buying and spending at this time of year but easier when it's not being pushed at you from all sides. We were aware that Christmas was coming - the lights and trees in the town blazed from 6th December - but it has been comparatively subdued. I'm sure I've commented on this before and I'm glad we haven't had the Christmas 'musak' in the shops, the constant bombardment with advertising, the pressure the buy, buy, buy ....but I still miss Christmas carols and pre-Christmas parties...
Back in August, I rashly booked a trip to England for Ruy, Romy and myself in late December until 6th January. I say 'rashly' because I didn't check with anyone before I booked, including Ruy and Romy! The prices were good and I had this sudden thought that they would like to visit London - for the first time - and Christmas was always especially exciting, with the lights and the special events. I planned for us to go to Manchester and visit family first, then head to Huddersfield to catch up with old friends before a couple of days in the capital. When I told them, they were less than enthusiastic...or at least not as enthusiastic as I'd hoped they would be. Fortunately as, time went on, they warmed to the idea. I seriously failed to take into account that my sister always goes skiing at this time of year and we had nowhere to stay. And in the intervening months. my father has been so ill that we began to fear we might have an unplanned visit before Christmas but I am glad to say that he has had a good recovery and was looking quite well when we saw him at New Year. He really is incredible!!
However, our backup plan to stay with my parents - a bit of a squash but manageable - caused my mum some stress as dad is often awake during the night and she was worried that as well as keeping her awake, he would keep us awake. So we booked into a hotel near Knutsford for that part of our visit - and which Mum generously paid for.
In addition, I began to have serious qualms about the potential for bad weather. It would not be unusual to find freezing fog, rain, driving wind and even snow between Knutsford and Huddersfield during the winter month, now would it! I'd booked a car for the northern part of our trip and did spent a lot of time checking the weather forecasts as our journey approached - all looked like it might be OK but I know how changeable it can be.
In the end, the weather, travel and fun gods smiled down on us and we had a wonderful time. It was 18 months since the children saw their grandparents and we were lucky that dad was well enough for us to all go out for lunch one day and to have an afternoon playing dominoes together - Romy was the winner.
Our time in Huddersfield was spent at my friend Marion's house, who was the absolutely perfect host and where we felt utterly at home. We also had a delightful afternoon with Karen and Philip, friends of mine since we were at University, where my children were introduced to dumplings and frog-flipping.
The weather was more than lovely, it was spectacular and I so enjoyed a long walk with Marion one afternoon, taking in green fields, damp verges, crisp blue skies and woolly white sheep in the fields. Super bracing and definitely appetite-building. And we did eat a lot! It was so tempting to eat everything that was 'not Spanish' for a change. We had curry, home-made pizzas, moussaka, Greggs pasties (!), mince pies, apple pie, thick fresh cream, filo pastries, meat and potato pie, turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches, cappuccino coffee and gingerbread biscuits.....oh, I could go on ... but I won't! Marion had a party whilst we were there, where there was more game playing and lots of eating and catching up with old friends.
And then it was time to leave.
After taking the car back to the rental village at Manchester airport, I think the children were almost ready to go home. We felt to have been away quite a long time but we still had London to do! We caught the train and arrived just before it got dark. Our hotel was outside London, near Wandsworth (long story why) so we took the upstairs seats of a double decker and took the scenic route via Trafalgar Square, past Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey...over the Thames and with views of the London Eye - all lit up and beautiful by 4.30! Having lived in London in my early twenties, I love seeing how much I remember and how much has changed. It did look particularly lovely when we arrived and we saw some ice-skating rinks which we decided would be a good thing to try out the next day.
And the next day, after a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off the the Natural History and Science Museums - where there just happened to be one of the above-mentioned ice-rinks. We bought tickets for an afternoon twirl.
And then we went to explore the museums. I adore these buildings so much and the weather was again unbelievably beautiful and showing London off at its best. We spent the morning in the Science Museum, then went round to the Natural History Museum, where we met my cousin from Australia, Dee-Anne. She mentioned on Facebook that she would be visiting London at the same time as we were there so what a great opportunity to catch up?
Which we did over lunch ...and whilst Ruy and Romy were trying out their skating legs. (You didn't think I went skating as well, did you?) We held the coats and shouted encouragement, whilst carrying on our own conversation and soaking up the beautiful surroundings. Sneakily, I would have loved to have skated but was really worried that I might fall and break something important which would create serious knock-on problems for our return home....
And try as I might, I couldn't persuade the children to leave the museums so when they closed, they were happy to make the journey back to the hotel, stopping to buy some sandwiches to eat in the room. I intended that we went out again later but they were exhausted - we'd walked a lot and skating is quite tiring - so after laughing a lot at Romy, we eventually fell asleep quite early. And the next day we had to make our way to the airport at Gatwick. We had time to go to Buckingham Palace and ALMOST see the changing of the guard. My goodness, what a lot of people there were - probably the sunshine that brought everyone out on the streets.
(There were so many people that it crossed my mind that the Queen's cold had got the better of her, but apparently not and the crowds were quite normal.)
And then, we were on the train to Gatwick and home! I'd had another slight panic back in October when it sounded as though Monach Airlines were about to collapse....they were, of course, the airline we would travel back with. But again, we were spared any problems and I would like to congratulate our pilot on the smoothest landing I have ever experienced - like a feather brushing the earth, it was.
FR and Mateo were just arriving as we emerged from the airport - they'd been on the beach at Malaga when I called to say we'd landed (15 minutes early) and they had to scrabble into the car and make the 10 minute journey to find us, so our joint timing was perfect for a quick pick-up. It was lovely to see them again after what felt like a very long time. It was nice too to feel energised by the trip because, contrary to my many fears (foul weather, my dad's health, staying in so many different places) and worries (responsibility for passports, tickets and belongings always weighs heavily on me when I'm with the children), the holiday had exceeded my expectations; we'd had wonderful weather, done everything we'd wanted, negotiated roads, rail and air travel and returned safely without a single problem*, a great deal of good temper and a sense of achievement. I really feel as though my 2017 had got off to a very good start indeed. I won't start on the state of the world at this point, but having such a good personal beginning is giving me the strength to face what might be to come....
*There was just one hiccup to all my plans. I lost tally of the days and dates and as a result, failed to meet up with Kath and Jenny as I had planned. I would also have LOVED to have seen Janice but I didn't make plans to do this, focusing this time on doing what the children wanted to do and knowing that she and Mark have had a busy and exciting time with family themselves.
And, if you've stayed with me to this point - thank you. If I saw you in England, it was a pleasure - it's always lovely to bump into people in the street that I know. It often gives them a bit of a surprise but the years roll away immediately - at least they do for me.
Here are a few more photos - all from our trip.
Happy New Year to everyone and I sincerely hope we can pull together to make it a good one, somewhere and somehow.
|Romy looking very proficient|
|And Ruy too!|
|Possibly my favourite photo...|
|Waiting for a turn in the 360degree flying pod at the Science Museum|
|Outside the Natural History Museum|
|With Dee-Anne ...still at the Museums!|
|Palm trees, blue skies....in Wandsworth! (HONEST)|