Part 6; On my way home

Well here I am, sitting in a First Class National Express train from Leeds to King’s Cross – free Wifi so I might as well make the most of it! I’m surrounded by business people wheeling and dealing on their phones, buying food on their business accounts and generally sounding important! I enjoy people watching, or more to the point on the train, listening. Interesting to hear their voices and to imagine what they look like – the image you get in your head when you hear a voice can be quite different from reality! The person behind me has just been caught out travelling on the wrong time train and has had to pay the full whack to get the correct ticket! Harsh! But I guess it all go down to expenses! I feel a bit disconnected really, three weeks without Nigel and the boys is a long time and I felt it deeply on Saturday night at the wedding. Suddenly had this overwhelming sense of loneliness and not quite belonging. Everyone else was there as part of a couple or a family, the children were all playing, dancing, laughing together and Lachlan and Aonghas weren’t there to join in. But I’m getting maudlin – it’s the end of a long and emotional journey and I feel very tired. (we’ve just gone past a field full of gloriously red poppies – wow! That’s cheered me up immediately!) It was lovely to see a large contingent from the Lucas clan but a real shame that nobody from Dad’s side could come. Brilliant to see old friends such as “The Dubbers”, Joan, the Browns, Mickey and Lilian, Mrs Pouncey and Amanda. Didn’t get chance to talk to everyone though so apologies to anyone I didn’t catch. It’s always the same isn’t it? You see people across the room and mean to get over to them and the next time you look they’ve gone! I will be spending this evening with Liz again in Swiss Cottage and then a very early start to beat the Tube rush hour to get to Heathrow. I’ll be there a long time before I need to be but better that than fighting through the writhing masses in the Underground with two suitcases!

Just spotted some train spotters at Grantham station – the world has progressed – they have a camcorder instead of a little dog eared notebook! Still look like train spotters though!

Think I’ll settle down to watch Amelie now to prepare myself for my Sixth Form next week. Au revoir!

Part 5: The Wedding of the Century!

I spent Wednesday morning with Ann, catching up on all her news and then took the train to Harrogate (aBridal Bouquet two hour journey via Leeds!) to stay with my sister Kate. This is where all the action is! I have had a wonderful time staying here in a house full of the sound of children! (the laughter, and the arguments of loving sisters!) Really made me miss my own boys though! Stephanie came on Thursday and a three day unashamed poser!whirl of girlie appointments ensued – hairdos, manicures, facials, massages, shopping. In between all of this Kate fielded and made numerous phone calls confirming arrangements and sorting out last minute problems. Flowers, photographer, dresses, suits; Steph must be the most pampered bride on the planet but she just revelled in it! In between all of this of course there were still meals to be cooked, children to get to school and pick up and the general dailyRosa putting her shoes on tasks to be done, as well as having two extra visitors in a family home, so you can imagine the scenes!

Personally, I enjoyed my first ever manicure and have spent the last few days admiring my beautifully polished nails! (sad really, isn’t it!?) I had almost completed my outfit but still needed shoes so the hunt was on – there are plenty of shoe shops in Harrogate but the prices are not quite in my range! Anyway, I finally managed to get a pair in a sale at quite a reasonable price – honestly Nigel, they weren’t very expensive!

Steph and her bridesmaids, Sophie and RosaSteph managed to fall asleep when she had her facial and again when she was waiting for Kate to have her manicure – she has an amazing propensity for falling asleep in strange places! I hope I manage to do the same on the plane on the way home. Steph really was in her element and loving her new nails and all the attention.

Crisis point happened when Eduardo arrived back from picking up the dresses and suits – there was only a jacket and waistcoat for Jack! Kate was distraught – she had planned everything down to the finest detail! But nothing could beSophie lacing Lucy\'s dress done at 6pm on Friday evening – we hoped that there was a simple explanation and it was simply an oversight so all she could do was leave a message with Angel Brides and hope that they returned the call first thing in the morning. There were indeed some frantic phone calls in the morning and Jo went round there with Jack at 9am to find thatJack being given a helping hand from his Mum! the suit was indeed hanging in the shop – crisis over, but stress you can do without!

The attention started in earnest on Saturday morning – to start with Steph feigned a reluctance to be photographed but soon abandoned all pretence and unashamedly posed at every opportunity! After a hectic start first thing with pressure on the bathroom at it’s height with Steph, Lucy, Sophie and Rosa all needing to shower before going to the hairdresser, Kate and I had a peaceful hour and a half to a well earned glass of bubbly!tidy the house and get ourselves showered. Sarah, the Beautician arived and we had our make-up done before the girls arrived back beautifully coiffed and all hell broke loose again! Sarah didn’t stop for 2 hours and then David, the photographer arrived and snapped every stage of the getting ready process! At some point the flowers arrived and we oohed\ and aahhed over them! and then it was a whirl of dressing, make-up, lacing up of dresses – it was wonderful to see Lucy and Sophie helping each other into their dresses, helping Steph, the boys – Guy and Jack helping each other, and generally everyone pulling together to make sure we were all ready on time. We snacked on bacon and sausage butties to keep us going desperately trying to keep the smell from pervading the whole house and the dresses! We were so worried about being ready on time – thought it would take ages to lace the girls into their dresses – that we ended up beng ready early! Never mind – enough time to relax and have a glass of bubbly – well why not?!

a proud Mum and her brideSteph had been asking us over the last couple of days how she was going to get to the Queen’s Hotel; we had arranged a white limousine to take her, the bridesmaids and the ushers but it was a surprise, so we told her we would go in Kate’s car or in a taxi. When we called her out to tell her the taxi had arrived and she saw the limo she was completely bowled over – it was an absolute pleasure to see her face, she was so excited!

The rest of the day was just stunning – Stephie was in control all the way; Ann heldThe Bride\'s Speech her arm proudly as they walked down the aisle, she took Mark’s hand (and didn’t let go for the rest of the service!), knew all her lines, (said them ahead of the registrar), and was perfectly radiant! We were all moved to tears as she said her vows and again when she confidently made her speech. It’s not usually the bride who speaks but Steph is no ordinary Mr & Mrs Collinsbride! She is a natural when it comes to standing up in public and speaking – what presence she has! – she spoke with feeling and fun and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! She and Mark danced all night, the evening was well and truly theirs! They seem blissfuly happy and soDancing the night away! wrapped up in each other – whether either of them really understand what marriage means we will never truly know, but what is clear is that they love each other to bits and, after all, what is more important than that?

Part 4 Blasts from the past

Looking out over Chapel-le-DaleMonday was strange as I returned to QES to say hello to former colleagues and also to sort out a letter to prove that I have actually worked as a teacher in the UK for the last 17 years! It’s crazy the detail required by the Salaries Assessment Unit in New Zealand so that they can actually work out what pay scale I should be on. So far I have been paid on the basic scale of $27,000 which is just peanuts. At least when they sort it out it will be all back dated which should be good.

How weird though, being back in the staffroom at QES – most people did a double take when they saw me – walked past and said “Hi, there” and then looked again and realised that I shouldn’t be there anymore and stopped to ask me how things were etc…. Going into the Dining Hall for lunch was the strangest though – I was mobbed by hordes of my ex-pupils which was lovely – made me feel missed, quite sad really! Shame I didn’t get to see any of my wonderful form though as they were all on Study Leave, some of them keep in contact via Facebook which is great so I do hear occasionally what they are up to!

On Tuesday I had a hair appointment booked at Tangles in Ingleton but before that I surprised my friend and co-Windermere Lake swimmer Liz by inviting myself in for a coffee! In the afternoon, as it was a wonderful day I decided to walk up Ingleborough. It was quite breezy and as usual was pretty chilly on the top but the views were fantastic if a little hazy. I felt quite sad as I walked up there thinking that it may be the last time I see the familiar views of my beloved Dales. However there are lots of new places to discover on the other side of the world and I have had the good fortune to live in and explore a beautiful part of the world for 20 years so I mustn’t complain! It is time to look forward!me on top of Ingleborough!

Late afternoon and evening was hectic as I met up with Jo to catch up with all her news and then over to the B & Q’s for tea. Seeing all our friends is lovely but having to say goodbye again is hard – quite an emotional rollercoaster really. In fact I am starting to feel quite tired as I have moved around from place to place – a few days here and night or two there … being in one place for a few days will be good though there will be plenty of things to do, I am sure!

Part 3 “Back up North”

Back to Liz’s flat and then off to Euston to get the train to Oxenholme – I won’t bore you with all the details but the First Class food service on the West Coast Virgin Trains Line is not First Class! They were trialling a new service which was definitely not up to scratch!chez Fiona

A busy weekend ensued – Liz and Jen dropped me off in Kirkby Lonsdale early on Sat morning – fortunate for Kate or she would have missed her hair appointment in Ingleton if I had not woken her with a phone call! Had a potter round Ingleton and then Jez took me over to Giggleswick to see Ann which was lovely. Then back to Liz’s and over to Fiona’s for a barbecue which was just great! Tasty food, perfect weather, wonderful setting and brilliant company. Fiona’s wine glasses are like buckets which means you drink rather more than is good for you – isn’t that right Blackers? It also makes you think that you can sing!Silverdale and Jan But what a laugh we had on the karaoke – talk about Britain’s got talent – it was all there in Fiona’s front room! Thanks Fiona for a great night!

Next day after not very much sleep and through the fog of the biggest hangover I have had in years I met up with Sarah and Becky for a walk with the Jaspers. Fortunately by then the Ibuprofen had kicked in and I felt sort of human again! With the sun shining across the bay the mudflats at Arnside looked almost like golden sand! It was a lovely walk though and great to catch up with all the news. We had lunch back in Becky, Sarah and the JaspersSarah’s new conservatory (totally transforms the house) and eventually had to say goodbye as Becky drove me back over to Kirkby.

In the evening Kate and I went along to Ginny’s to meet up with Mel, Jan, Clare, Fiona and Ann to celebrate Ginny’s Birthday. Warm enough to sit outside (though we did have a brazier going which was very pleasant as the sun went down) Again it was lovely to catch up with people and a very relaxing end to the weekend.

Part 2 : Une semaine chargee mais reposante

(sorry francophiles that I don’t know how to insert accents in WordPress!)

After a little tour of Liz’s top floor balcony flat, a few cups of tea sitting out in the sun – yes the sun had come out – we headed for some retail therapy. I have a skirt for Stephie’s wedding but no top so the search started, unfortunately despite trying on countless tops none of them was quite right and I finally ran out of adrenalin so we headed back. In the evening we went to see Kat’s final review at Central – a modern day story woven around the music of Madness. Absolutely brilliant and great fun too!

L\'Abbaye de FontfroideMy journey continued with a train ride to Canterbury on Saturday to visit Michelle – apart from the fact that we are 25 years older and wiser (?!) not much has changed – well okay, lots has changed but we had a wonderful time catching up on each other’s lives, reminiscing about the past and just generally refreshing our friendship. It’s no point regretting that we didn’t see each other more often over the years since it is too late now. Time goes by so fast, we were at opposite ends of the country, both busy with children and careers, we managed weddings, Christmas cards and Birthday cards but it was lovely to find that we still have lots in common and were really comfortable with each other.Andre et Yvonne

Sunday night back in London and then south to Carcassonne for a very relaxing spot of serious pampering from Vo-Vo and Dédé. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the Tramontaine is blowing and all is well with the world (apart from a sore throat and a cough). It was a lovely feeling when I looked up as I came through the airport doors to see Vovo waving excitedly at me, a huge grin on her face. It was like coming home as I was wrapped in a big bear hug and then whisked off to the restaurant for lunch.

window in Abbaye de FontfroideFirst stop – Beziers for shopping – back to the hunt for a top! Poor old Dédé followed Vovo and I carrying our bags as we perused all the boutiques. We eventually persuaded him to sit in a cafe and have a drink while we carried on. Mission accomplished we headed home. Next day we went to L’Abbaye de Fontfroide – a Cistercian abbey tucked away in a very peaceful valley, surrounded by pine woods. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. I’m not religious but have great respect for the architectural vision of ecclesiastics. But even more respect for the poor souls who actually put in the hard graft to build these beautiful places – in times where there were no machines to help it is quite unbelievable what they achieved. It always amazes me that the Church (capital letters because I use Church as a symbol for a whole range of religious groups) possesses such wealth when its followers are often so poor.les eoliens

On Thursday Dédé and I went for a walk up through the woods to the ”éoliens” – (wind turbines) . The valley where they live is surrounded on all sides by hills – not big ones, but because the Tramontaine blows through the valley they are excellent sites for wind turbines and they can be seen from afar atop the hills. There were eleven where we walked and they are planning another ten or so on the hill in the neighbouring valley. I don’t know about you but I find them strangely beautiful. They are a bit like huge swans sitting up there on the horizon, ok they do stand out and the nature lover side of me says that the spoil the wildness and purity of the scenery. And I know that Yvonne by the Canal du Midithey can only ever provide a very small percentage of the energy we need, but it is surely better to have a row of elegant windmills on our horizon than smelly, dirty, power stations or nuclear power stations that produce dangerous waste materials that we are never going to be able to get rid of safely…… In the days of the advent of steam engines, when Telford and co started building viaducts across the countryside there was an outcry that the countryside was being spoilt – they are all now listed structures and we are spending money to protect them. That’s progress! (I’ll get off my hobby horse now!)

In the afternoon we went for a little walk along the Canal du Midi and visited a book store which houses thousands of second hand books, many of them collector’s items and very rare. What an amazing place – it was fascinating flicking through the pages of books and magazines covering a huge range of topics. You could spend hours in there just sitting reading. Anyway I foundMinerve the perfect gift for Nigel (which I will have to help him read as it is in French) but I can’t say what it is yet as he might read this blog before he gets his present! We  finished off  the afternoon by doing a  tour of the area, ending up at Minerve which is an amazing village  – a Cathare stronghold and scene of a siege which finished up with the Cathars being ousted.  I really must read up on the history because the architecture is  beautiful and the stories are fascinating.  It  has a sign outside the village proclaiming that it is “Un des plus beaux villages de France” . les vignobles de MinervoisI’ve included this picture of the vineyards because I love the way they are planted in such neat rows all oriented slightly differently to catch the sun .  Sadly though, many of the “vignerons” are pulling up the vines because with the competition from the New World  wines many of the smaller  French wine producers simply can’t afford to keep going.  So as we drove along  we witnessed the sad sight of empty vineyards, the dried up vines dug up and abandoned in piles waiting for another crop to go in.  In an attempt to help the French government is giving the owners compensation for digging them up  to re-plant with something else.

All too soon it was time to head to Carcassonne and get the plane home – nearly didn’t get my case through as it was too heavy but luckily the scanner man was a very nice man who fell for my winning smile!!

My mini OE (Part 1)

It seems pretty strange being back in Europe and I can hardly believe that only a week ago I set off from Hamilton. Strange in n many ways – but mainly because it is the first time in many years that I am travelling alone, without Nigel or the children. I did worry how I was going to fill all those hours on the plane – maybe there would be too much time to think?! – but with back to back films to watch on the little screen in the back of the seat and plenty of wine and food offered by the immaculately turned out Singapore airlines hostesses, I need not have worried. The time flew and we were soon in Singapore with four hours to kill before my connection out to London. I whiled some time away tapping a belated blog post out, which I guess you have already read. Then decided I needed to stretch my legs a bit – had a wander around the shops but managed to keep my money in my pocket (Nigel will be pleased to know!) was tempted by a massage but opted in the end for 30 mins on the treadmill and a shower. Certainly felt better for raising my heart rate and getting the old circulation going, shame I won’t have time to do the same on the way back.


Climbed on board the plane to go to London and found my seat over the wing – looked out, as you do , and did a double take – the wing was immense! I don’t know much about planes but this one definitely seemed bigger than I’d ever been on – turns out it was the new Airbus. It is pretty impressive; very smooth, very spacious (though the seats are still quite short), very smart but the wings are the most amazing! How can anything that big get off the ground?!

Anyhow get off the ground it did and landed beautifully as well even though I was convinced we weren’t going fast enough to take off! We were greeted in London by an overcast sky but all went smoothly and I soon found myself in the Tube on my way to meet Liz at Paddington Station. This was when I wished I had wheels on my hand baggage – but I finally negotiated steps, escalators, getting on and off trains, crowds of people rushing here and there to arrive Chez Liz at Swiss Cottage. A nice cup of tea mmmm!

Catch up time!

This photo has nothing to do with this post but I came across it when I was looking for pictures and couldn’t resist putting it in!

Well, here I am in Singapore airport, having just finished the first leg of the journey to the UK for Stephie’s wedding. It is 6.30pm local time – about 10.30pm NZ time and 11am UK time. I’ve been on a plane for 10 and a half hours and have 4 hours to wait for my connecting flight to London. So, I thought I’d drop you all a line. A lot has happened since I last posted, not the least of which is getting to grips with the NZ education system and actually working again!

Having worked almost 4 weeks now teaching French I have got to know my classes – a jolly nice bunch of kids, on the whole! I’ve sussed out the characters, know which ones to rely on to make the rest of them laugh or sigh with despair! Already got on the backs of the ones who prefer to sit and chat rather than work, and delighted in those who are just the “perfect” students! Since most of them are willing volunteers rather than conscripts life is pretty easy as far as discipline goes, but there are always the lazy ones who will do the minimum to get by who need cajoling along. The main thing is keeping them on task and not letting myself get diverted when they ask questions about what it’s like in France, and if I’ve ever lived there, and what the French eat and what sort of music they listen to …… And you know me – I can talk for ever and they’ve sussed that already!!

Most of this last week has been spent getting together all the cover work to leave for the Reliever whilst I am away. But I also had a hectic week two weeks before that as I had to leave work for two days whilst I was out on Bush Camp! Hans, who is the Head of Phys Ed also runs the Outdoor Ed course for the Sixth Form, asked me if I would help out as an instructor on the two day navigation camp in the bush. Yes, said I – not really knowing what I was letting myself in for! We set off on the Wednesday evening, a minibus each full of kit and kids, though mine had more kit, less kids and a trailer! There was me, following in Hans’ wake as he headed off cross country on a “short cut” that avoided the main roads. I was quickly lost as he sped away in his newer, more lightly laden minibus; but I had the benefit of a couple of eagle eyed students who kept him in their sights and he did stop/slow down at junctions to give us chance to catch up before he was off again.

We were driving up to Thames and then along the Kaueranga Valley (an unmade road – bit bouncy towing a trailer – in fact the kids hadn’t locked the trailer and it came open on the way though fortunately only one tent fell out on the road!!) to an Education camp where we spent the night camped on the veranda. Before that though, tea was cooked and then a night navigation exercise just to keep them on their toes. In the morning Vern arrived – our third instructor and after a good campers’ breakfast of porridge, bacon, egg and sausages (I have to say I was very well looked after as far as food was concerned!) we set off through the bush. Just follow the trail, he said – let the kids find the way, that’s what they’re here for! The route roughly relates to the map – 7 river crossings in reality where the map shows 2 so we all had wet feet within 10 minutes of setting off! The first part is well marked though and so we had no real route finding problems. Later on when we left the main tourist trail and were in a wilder area the route was more difficult to find despite the fluorescent spray paint on the trees.

The recent storms had brought down lots of trees so we had to make diversions, the Supple Jack was so thick in places we had to crawl on hands and knees to get through it, and there were some entertaining moments trying to get 9 people and full expedition packs over the fallen trees and through the branches! At times I did find myself slightly outside my comfort zone – on my own in the bush with 8 students, sketchy maps and little bush navigation experience! Navigating through the bush is really weird because you can never really see where you are going. Occasionally on the ridges the trees thin and you get a view of the skyline, I suppose it’s a bit like navigating in the Lake District in mist – a bit claustrophobic in a way! You need to look at the vegetation to get a handle on how high you are – all new to me but I learnt a lot in a short time and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

It took us 5 hours to walk what on the map in a straight line was about 4 km! We did stop frequently to do grid references and triangulation etc which takes a while, as does all the gymnastics through the bush! High points were two huge Kauri trees – this whole area was originally Kauri forest but it was all chopped down to ship to the States at the turn of the century so little remains. We made it down to our bivvy spot with about an hour and a half of daylight left for the kids to rig up their bivvies, collect firewood, make fires, cook tea and make their radio calls! There were some ingenious bivvies but the group who built theirs using a hollow fallen down tree had the biggest surprise when the possum who used it has a home came to visit and nicked food out of their rucksacks! He even managed to open the zip on one and reach in to get an orange! Hans set a snare to try and catch him but with no luck. One girl in another bivvy woke up in the middle of the night to see a possum sitting on the chest of the girl next to her – she just snuggled deeper into her sleeping bag and hid! Apparently they are quite tame and not afraid – but can be quite vicious if cornered!

After the radio call – a check in call to the NZ Mountain rescue to let them know where we were and that all was well – the kids were given half an hour to come up with a bush poem to perform at our bivvy site! We had a more permanent bivvy – a corrugated iron shelter with iron bedsteads, a fireplace and a table – luxury! Actually it was a really neat place, right by the river in a little clearing in the bush. Very reminiscent of Swiss caving camps. The daylight goes quickly though as it is in the bottom of the valley and it was pretty cold during the night! I think I need a better sleeping bag if I’m going to spend any more time bivvying in winter in the bush! We were lucky that we had fantastic weather for the two days, clear blue skies and no wind – pretty much what we have had since we arrived in NZ really! Well the poems and songs were pretty impressive and very entertaining which rounded off an excellent day out.

Next day was pretty much more of the same – lots of bushwacking; the route my group took was less obvious than the day before so they had to concentrate hard to keep to the track and we had more clambering and crawling to do before getting to the tourist track at the other end of the ridge. Well worth it all for the stunning views through the trees though and the birdsong and variety of vegetation was fascinating. Apparently they were Bellbirds and Tuis though we didn’t actually see them. Only the Fantails showed themselves – they are really cheeky little birds that hop and twitter along by your side. I love them! Tired, footsore, shouldersore but happy we arrived at the minibus, packed up and headed home! What a fantastic place – will definitely go back with the family!