Yes, I know this is out of chronological order, but I promised, then I forgot, so here is the bonfire night post, 5 days late.
Lauren has never experienced a ‘proper’ bonfire night, that day when the English get together and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, who wanted to blow up parliament but failed, suffering a pretty gruesome end as a result. Google if you want the history.
Traditionally we eat toffee apples (apples covered in toffee, a total waste of toffee if you ask me), set off fireworks, and keep the emergency services busy.
We decided to take Lauren and Olivia, the granddaughter of the people we were staying with in St. Albans, to the firework display in the park in St Albans. We started off the night in good form, with some sparklers.
Then, well wrapped up against the cold but surprisingly clear night, headed to the park along with a fair few thousand others.
I had just got a new camera, sick to death of trying to get my ancient phone to stand in, and did some reading up beforehand on the best settings for fireworks. I set the aperture and shutter speed and was quite pleased with myself. This was the result.
I reverted to automatic mode and let the camera work it out. Its clearly far smarter than me.
Lauren was thrilled and spent the whole evening going ‘wow’.
We are finally on the road again. Write ups a few days behind our actual travels…
Our current aim is to do a loop through northern Europe and visit the Faroe Islands and Iceland, hopefully seeing the northern lights but really just experiencing a completely different way of life – 6 hours of daylight, subzero temperatures and getting about by boat should be sufficiently different, I think.
The first leg of the journey was from the home comforts of St. Albans, through London at rush hour, to Liverpool street, where we caught the train to Harwich, in order to board the ferry to Holland. Of course it would have been quicker and cheaper to fly , but wheres the fun in that?!
We were both adapting to our new backpacks – wheelie bags may be great for round Europe, but I find a backpack easier on my damaged back than the constant tug and lift of a wheelie bag anywhere other than the super smooth surfaces of hotel lobbies and airports. At least, once I get the damn thing on my back.
Loaded down with school books, my laptop (for schoolwork), and the numerous layers of waterproof and warm clothing we will need for this leg, plus the ‘emergency’ food because I am paranoid that Lauren might miss a meal (which as we all know leads to rapid meltdown), we navigated our way gingerly through Kings Cross and Liverpool street, at the height of rush hour, trying not to hit people with our bags, and boarded the train well in advance of departure. The train actually went through Maryland, the station that for a few years was the closest to home – which was a little odd. How my life has changed since those days.
On arrival at Harwich there is an exit directly from the platform to the ferry terminal, with a lift, which my knees welcomed after the homping up and down the tube with a ton on my back. I’m either going to be crippled or a lot fitter after this trip.
There were few passengers at the passenger terminal, as most people were crossing with cars, and there were also a lot of trucks crossing to the continent. Long distance truckers seem to be a hardy, hard drinking, lot and there seems to be a sense of camaraderie among them – those we came across on the crossing from Italy to Greece seemed to have the same brash approach to things as those on the UK-Holland ferry. They have their own separate areas on the boat, including a ‘tuckers only’ canteen and bar.
Having checked in we were taken by bus to the ferry, and climbed up from the car deck to where our cabins were waiting. I’d booked an outside cabin for 2, but we had been upgraded to a family room, which consisted of a double bed with a single bunk above it, plus another set of bunk beds. Everything was clean, shiny and new seeming. The shower was large, and the bathroom itself small but perfectly functional. There was also a desk and chair, a flat screen Tv, and controls for the room temperature. This was all pretty much wasted on us, as we dumped out bags and headed out for a quick explore of the boat before bed.
There were 2 restaurants, but we had already eaten and so we headed first to the shop, where I bought a cheap watch as mine had gone completely haywire, and Lauren spent some of her money on a magnet. She is collecting badges, magnets and postcards from every country we go to.
After discussing our travels at length with the bored Dutch guy on the till, we headed outside to watch the loading of the trucks, and enjoy the fairly chilly sea breeze. The outside area had a bar and even a volleyball pitch, but we were the only ones outside.
The ship wasn’t due to sail until 23.00, which was midnight Dutch time, and would dock in Holland at 0800 Dutch time so Lauren reluctantly agreed we should go to bed before sailing. While it would have been nice and romantic to watch the lights of the UK slowly disappearing into the night, I wanted to make the most of a day in Amsterdam, and Lauren was also starting with a sore throat, so pragmatism prevailed.
The next morning we enjoyed the approach to the Hook of Holland as the sun rose, mist hanging below us as we were overtaken by container ships and surrounded on both sides by windmills looming out of the gloom, cranes and all sorts of boats.
We docked dead on time, and after some pretty relaxed immigration and customs guys, were free to jump on a bus to the nearby town where we would continue our journey to Amsterdam.
I had a great time going round Europe by train, but when I got to England it was like heads down on schoolwork which was annoying but we got it done. We pushed ourselves much harder when I found out I could go to an adventure camp for a week.
The camp was called PGL Liddington. I really liked it.
These are the activities that I did:
Motorsports (quad bikes)
Raft Building (I jumped in the lake with my friend Sofija)
I liked all the activities but my favourite was giant swing!
Most of the week there were only two girls including me, and 6 boys. Kids in my group: Sofija, Me, Rafael, Andreas, Emeron, Tom, Alfie and Lucas. Tom said his name was spelt T.O.X so everybody called him Tox.
The food for me was 5 stars. Breakfast was a cooked breakfast, with lots of choice. Lunch was very good, you could have a snack or salad or a big lunch meal. One day I had a snacky meal because I wasn’t that hungry but most days I had the hot food lunch. For dinner I always had the big meal, and every night we got a small pudding.
Mummy gave me some money to spend, and I used it for sweets and also to give to some of my friends who didn’t get much pocket money. They had a big sweet collection, my favourite was the pic and mix.
We did lots of evening activities, including sports night, ‘splash’ which is when you have to try to protect a water balloon from popping when its dropped from two floors up. My team won. Monday night we did campfire, and of course Tuesday was halloween so we had a halloween themed night. Next night we did wacky races. Wacky races is where its either a contest between silliness and acting or its a proper race where you have to run with something. Another day we did arts and crafts and then it was movie night and packing (not so fun). We watched the film grounded, its a very good film.
This week Lauren is at an ‘activity camp’ in Wiltshire, where she will be able to do everything from archery to horseriding to abseiling and rafting. We dropped her off a few days ago, and all indications are she is having a blast.
I do feel its important for her to spend time away from me – even more so during a year where we will be together a great deal of the time. I see part of my role as a parent to prepare her to operate independently in the world, and so getting her away from me and having to deal with all sorts of social interactions is critical. Someone said that real travel starts at the end of your comfort zone, and I think this also applies more generally to life – to grow, we need to challenge ourselves.
I do worry about her interacting with British kids who may be more materialistic or have more things (we got a 65% discount for a very late booking, and the camp still cost me 300 pounds for a week, so it’s only a certain type of family that will be able to send their kids there) or just be less tolerant of difference than she is used to. When I dropped her off she seemed to be the only one without a mobile phone. She doesn’t have designer gear or expensive trainers and I doubt she could name any celebrities other than ‘Craig the mean judge’ off Strictly (she loves Strictly). I just have to trust that the values and self-belief I’ve brought her up with will withstand any teasing.
In the meantime, I miss her terribly. People always say to me when she is away from me that I should embrace the freedom, and enjoy myself. And I do try. But it’s like part of me is missing and I can’t settle to anything or really enjoy it because I miss her so terribly. I know she is safe, having a good time, and delighted to be where she is, so there is no excuse for me to feel miserable. I thought if I wrote a list of all the positives, it would help, so over a very peaceful, uninterrupted coffee this morning, nursing a hangover, I came up with this list:
The ability to have a coffee in complete silence.
The guilt free night out, not worrying about being hungover the next day.
The possibility of reading an entire chapter of my book without interruption.
Being able to cross at the lights without the endless ‘wait for the green man’.
Eating junk food without worrying about setting a bad example.
Not having to know the specific details of every meal at least two meals in advance.
Being able to change my mind about something just because I feel like it.
Being able to wander without a plan.
Being able to simply decide to go out, grab my coat, bag and keys and go.
Not having to keep ‘healthy snacks’ on hand at all times.
Towels actually being on the towel rack and not the bathroom floor.
The quiet. Oh, the quiet.
Actually, it did help a bit. I’m going to have an uninterrupted bath now.
St. Albans is my ‘UK home’, thanks to the endless generosity of family friends Sandy and Lois, who have hosted me at various times in my life, from when I was at a loss after graduating and breaking up with my boyfriend aged 21, to the year I did my Masters, to various trips back to the UK from Mozambique, both before and after having Lauren.
Lois will be best known to my friends through her tireless work on Where there is No Doctor, lusophone edition, which I know graces many people’s shelves in Maputo. Sandy is a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and also no stranger to Mozambique, having lived there in the 80s (along with Lois). They have both been instrumental in my choice to live and work in Mozambique, and Sandy’s father was influential in my choice of economics as a discipline, and Cambridge as a university (he suggested I apply to Oxford, where he was a Master of one of the colleges, but I was a stubborn and principled 17 year old so applied to Cambridge).
My most memorable trip to this warm if often chaotic household was the time I visited just before Lauren turned one. One morning, to my utter horror and disgust, I found a long white worm emerging from her nose. The thing just kept coming. I screamed for Sandy, who came rushing down, and whose first reaction was “oh, cool, I don’t think I have one of those… let me see if I have any formaldehyde in the garage”….. once I pointed out there was a living thing coming out my baby’s nose!!!! he calmly went to get some Albendazole – this is probably one of the very few households in the whole of the UK that would have had this in their first aid kit – and since then, I have dosed us both every 6 months, religiously.
Anyway, suffice to say, we are always made most welcome here, even (especially!) when harbouring extra parasites.
Last Friday was one of those glorious sunny Autumn days that you forget about when out of the country. The sun was out, there were few clouds and the glorious backdrop of lush green fields and autumn trees in vivid shades of red, gold and green really served to remind us just how beautiful the UK can be. When I am not here, my main image of the UK (at any time of year, but particularly in Autumn/Winter) is of grey drizzle. Not dramatic weather – not hugely cold or wet, just endless grey.
Well Friday didn’t live up to that image – in a very good way.
School was out, exams were done, and we had designated it a special ‘Mummy-daughter day’. These are just days when the two of us do fun stuff. We hit the library for yet more Wimpy Kid books that Lauren had reserved (goodness knows what we’ll do when she finishes the series – if anyone has recommendations for similar books, please advise, she’s obsessed) then bought the ingredients for a picnic lunch and headed to Verulamium park in St Albans.
We walked for a while along the river, with Lauren crossing it on stepping stones while I walked round to the bridge, then reached a large lake that was surrounded by families out enjoying the half term sunshine.
A heron was perched on a bush on an island in the lake, and there were all sorts of ducks and moorhens and swans and geese around. We enjoyed spotting the squirrels as well, and Lauren found many dog owners willing to let her stroke their dogs.
We ate our picnic by the lake, and read our books for an hour or so, then walked all the way around the lake to the children’s play area, where Lauren spent nearly an hour racing from swings to merry go round to slides. It was absolutely packed, but she had a great time. As the sun started to set we climbed the hill up to St. Albans cathedral, and walked through the grounds to where we could get the bus home. A lovely, cheap day out in a beautiful part of the world.
It’s been lovely catching up with friends while in the UK, from my old university friends to former colleagues and friends in the development world, and of course old family friends. Apart from a quick jaunt to Birmingham, we’ve been restricted to London and the South East while we get to grips with schooling and prepare for our upcoming trip, but I’m hoping this will be remedied after our next trip. We’ll be back in early December for a week or so.
Many of our catch ups I failed to get a photo of, being far more interested in actually talking to people than thinking about my social media presence. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that we have had a wonderful time.
One lovely Sunday afternoon we spent at Indian restaurant Dishoom near Kings Cross with my friend Ed – that whole area just north of Kings Cross and St. Pancras has been redeveloped and was quite a revelation, with Lauren enjoying running back and forth through the erratic fountains by regent’s canal, proving that while her shoes were indeed waterproof, nothing else she was wearing was! Another Sunday afternoon saw us having lunch by the river with my old uni friends, and confirmed that Lauren just ‘doesn’t see the point of’ Yorkshire pudding. Sacrilege! She definitely sees the point of sticky toffee pudding though…. One Saturday night saw me out at an Irish pub in north London with Rachel, a friend from Mozambique now based here, while the DJ played ‘golden oldies’ from the 80s and 90s, waiting for an Irish band to come on at midnight and trying to decipher the cocktail menu. You know you are getting old when you haven’t even heard of most of the ingredients! Another Saturday night was spent with Italian friends from Mozambique, whose son was good friends with Lauren when they lived in Maputo. The kids had a blast and the mums enjoyed a catch up over a couple of drinks and pizza. A weekday lunch turned into most of the afternoon and much silliness with our friend Brian from Ireland by way of Maputo and Joburg.
It’s been great, but with the passports finally in the bag, the first set of exams out of the way, and the savings on accommodation being rapidly eaten up by the costs of socialising in London, we are starting to get itchy feet, and I have started planning our next jaunt – this time a loop from the UK to Amsterdam by train and boat, then onto Germany, Copenhagen (excited to see another friend, Sam) before a boat to the Faroe Islands, then somehow to Iceland (boat or plane, yet TBD), and possibly if I can get flights to work out, on to Ireland before back to the UK. It’s certainly going to be chilly, but the reduced hours of daylight will be conducive to cracking on with schoolwork. And of course, the possibility of seeing the northern lights looms large.
Birmingham wouldn’t have been top of our list of destinations on our world tour if it hadn’t been where our friend Carrie is currently living. I must say though, it struck me as a vibrant, culturally interesting city – which was a lot more than I expected.
It was of course lovely to have a proper catch up with Carrie, with whom I shared many a gloomy coffee in Mozambique as things started to go from bad to worse in the last few years. We are both ‘get things done’ kind of girls, and shared many frustrations as well as some successes. We also share a deep frustration and sense of resignation about the future trajectory of the country we both love, and having seen the writing on the wall, both decided to leave.
Lauren and I went up on the train on Friday, and stayed over Saturday. Friday afternoon I took Lauren to Bounce, a trampoline park. Google wasn’t quite accurate with its estimates, so instead of the forecast 20 minutes on the bus to get to the place, it took nearer to an hour, but we got an interesting insight into some of the less salubrious suburbs before being deposited at an industrial park on the outskirts of Birmingham. She had the place to herself for the first half an hour, and then obviously schools finished and there was an influx of kids. There was a big group of black kids at a birthday party and it was funny and a bit sad seeing her excitement turn to confusion as they had broad brummie accents and no clue where Mozambique was. Nonetheless, she made friends and by the time we were leaving they were all shouting goodbye and one of the mothers came hurrying over with a party bag.
We met up with Carrie after another interesting couple of bus rides during rush hour, with Lauren insisting on going ‘up top’ on the double decker, and me trying to follow our route on google maps so I could take a guess where to jump off.
Being Birmingham, we went for an awesome curry, and spent the evening catching up on each others’ news.
The next day, we reconvened at the local caff, for bacon sandwiches and more ‘nattering’ (acc. To Lauren who had her head, as usual, stuck in a Wimpy Kid book). The owner of the café came and sat with us and had our life story out of us before we finished our first cup of coffee.
The weather was bracing but largely dry, so we decided to go for a walk along the canal. There are lots of canals in Birmingham, including three that all join together at a sort of ‘roundabout’ in the city centre. I’d just been reminiscing about happy family holidays aboard a canal boat (and telling the story of mum falling in heavily pregnant with my brother, dad getting it stuck horizontally across the canal, and the time cows chewed through the rope overnight sending us floating downstream) when we came upon a series of locks. We explained the logic of the locks and how they worked to Lauren, and just as we finished we were lucky enough to get a live demo. A lovely couple let Lauren help with the whole process, much to her delight.
Once we got to the centre we visited the Staffordshire hoard at the City Museum – well worth it. It’s the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, and dates from the 7th/8th centuries. It was found in a field in 2009 and includes items made from in total 5 kilos of gold, 1.4 kilos of silver and 3,500 garnets. Some of the materials came from India, China, North Africa etc. There is nothing comparable in terms of content and quantity in the UK or mainland Europe and no one really knows why it would have been buried where it was.
We oohed and aahed and enjoyed the very cool interactive displays for a while, and Lauren dressed up as an anglo saxon child of the kingdom of Mercia (it’s fair to say she was humouring me at this point) before heading out for a last coffee and then a final goodbye (for now) before we got back on the train to London.
We came away with a much-improved image of Birmingham, which seems to have a full repertoire of cultural and quirky events (if you don’t believe me, google ‘Birmingham Big Sleuth Bears’) and a vibrant city centre. It was of course sad to say goodbye to Carrie, but lovely to see her happy and settled, successfully transplanted from Beira to Birmingham.