Day 10 of UK Trip

We woke up at 7:15am this morning so that we could make it in time to get the ferry across from Gill Bay to St Margaret’s which is on the Orkney Islands.  The ferry left at 9:30 but we had to be there to ‘check in’ at 8:45.  It had rained quite hard at times during the night and it did cross my mind that I hoped motorhome hadn’t sunk too far into the wet grass it was parked on.  Fortunately there were no issues in that regard and we pulled at about 8:10am.  We first had to refill the water tank (which takes about 10 minutes) and then we headed for the ferry.

The ferry wasn’t full as there were only about 20 cars, 3 motorhomes and 2 trucks.  They loaded the cars and trucks first and then lastly the motorhomes and as we were first we got to in first.  The only issue was that the guy said we had to reverse the motorhome into the ferry!  Now that is easier said than done.  The motorhome is about 6 meters long and there is basically no rear vision at all – only the side mirrors (and that isn’t great).  And I had to reverse it into a ferry through a very narrow on ramp… they must be kidding!  Fortunately I did manage to do it without damaging the motorhome or killing one of the ferry personnel.  Very proud of myself.  The guy behind us parked next to us and he was he finished parking he had a very ‘chuffed’ look on his face – he clearly was as proud of his achievement as I was.

The ferry trip took about an hour and even though it was cold on deck it was a really nice trip in that we ended up seeing numerous sea birds which you would only usually use on a pelagic trip.  We probably saw around 15 lifers today (including Puffins – Jenni we saw about 5 or 6) and about 10 of those during the ferry crossings.  It wasn’t raining anymore but it was still overcast but the clouds definitely seemed to be lifting and that proved to be true.  The ferry crossing was uneventful and we disembarked and started our anti-clockwise drive around the Orkney Islands.

While the weather started to clear and we got a really good view of the Orkney Islands, they were as spectacular as we expected.  While driving around, Helen reads the various guide books to me (the kids are too busy reading their own books) and so we have discovered some interesting facts about Scotland.  For instance, there 40 different words in Scotland to describe somebody who is drunk (I wonder why when there is so much whiskey and nothing really to do here … what do all these people do for a living is a constant thought we have), the only musical instrument to be classified as a weapon is the Bagpipes (Brian will no doubt agree with that), and the alcohol related deaths in Scotland is 3 times what it is in the rest of the UK (notice a trend).

We stopped at Orkney’s main town – Kirkwall – to get supplies for the rest of the day and then headed toward the northern most point.  To give you an idea of how far north we are – we are almost oppositie Norway (and very close to the same Longitude as the Baring Straights).  If you head West from the Orkney Islands there is pretty much nothing between here and Canada.  We stopped for lunch at one of the Northern points and then had a pleasant walk along the cliffs to see the breeding sites of the Gulls and Kittyhawks.  After lunch we headed to Stromness where we planned to sleep over for the night but as the Island is actually quite small we ended up getting there at 3pm.  I was going to reserve a spot on the ferry back tomorrow but as the next ferry was at 16:45 and the one tomorrow at 11am, we decided to take the 16:45 ferry and not waste the morning tomorrow.  The ferry back was much more impressive in that it was much bigger and didn’t require that I reverse the motorhome into it.  We again watched for sea birds on the deck and as the sun was out it was a very pleasant trip back.  It was slightly longer (1hr 30mins) as we left from further north and headed slightly further west.  We also got into discussion with an elderly couple from Kansas City who are touring around the islands and had spent time already on the Shetland and Orkney islands and were heading for the Hebrides.  Interesting people and a nice conversation with them.

We got back onto the mainland at 6:15pm and we decided to aim for the closest caravan park which was only 2 miles away.  It is run by a Texan – I spotted the different accent.  After trying out various different pitches (all of which had considerably slopes) we eventually settled on one that has a sideways slope so this evening only Stephen should roll off his bed.  Chloe is the best off as she has her head above her feet, the rest of us are the other way around (parked this way for the view). We are right on the coast line and can see the Orkney Islands from here.  In fact it is now 11:30pm and I just went to the loo and the sun is still setting in the West.  I don’t think it really gets properly dark here.  The other thing I noticed is that it is getting cloudy in the East again and the wind is blowing from that direction.  I am hoping there is no more rain on the way.

We had bought steak from Orkney (genuine Orkney beef) for dinner and we had also purchased an all-in-one barbecue (just light the paper) so we thought we would give it a try with the steak.  It said that we shouldn’t stand it on a heat resistant surface and while I though the melamine outside table wasn’t good enough, I decided to stand it on a cardboard box and then on the table.  This worked fine for the first 20 minutes or so until I noticed the melamine table turning brown (it was grey) and then decided to lift off the box and barbecue (which was in a foil container) at which point the box decided to light up as well.  The grass became the obvious place to drop the barbecue and Michael kindly pointed out I was going to burn the grass.  At this point Helen offered the grill rack from the oven … if only she had thought of that 20 minutes earlier!  No damage done (ok – very little damage done – just a slightly black outline in the grass and slight brown tinge to the table) and we were back in business.  We could only fit 3 steaks on the grill and so the rest had to be panfried inside the motorhome.  They turned out very well and along with the mixed vegetables and baby potatoes with cheese it was again a nice dinner.  We walked into the town (Thurso) and found an ice cream shop still open and so we had those for desert.

All the campsites are rated here in Scotland and this is the first 3 star one we have stayed at.  The first 2 were 4 and 5 stars.  There isn’t much to rate them on but the key feature is the quality of the bathrooms.  When Helen returned this evening she said ‘Definitely 3 stars’ and after I had used this evening for a shower I think it is more like 2 stars.  We will survice though and the view makes up for it.  As no one went to bed before 10:30pm this evening and Stephen having just gone to bed at 11:30pm, I think we will all sleep in.  I will go to sleep as soon as I have sent this.

Yours from the Island hopping Temples.

Day 9 of UK Trip

The howling wind last night brought the rain as predicted.  And has it rained.  As I sit here now I can still hear the steady fall of rain onto the van.  I can also feeling the rocking from Helen moving around on the bed above me.  It has rained almost the whole day.  Michael asked this evening for how long it had been raining and I said the whole day.  I think was a slight exaggeration, it probably didn’t rain for about 5-10 minutes actually.  It is a pity it rained so much because I have no doubt the views would have been staggering if it had been a clear day.  As it was, the scenery during today’s drive was beautiful despite the rain.

We woke up at around 8am this morning.  Stephen and Helen slept the best it would seem.  Chloe complained that Michael kept rolling on top of her (as the van was at a slight downward angle) and Michael acknowledged that at one stage he kicked Chloe as well.  I had the irritating problem that the cushions on my bed are not joined together and so there is a crack between them and of course I rolled the whole night into the crack.  Unfortunately we got the van parked at the same angle again this evening so it will probably be a repeat performance.  What we need is an automatic levelling mechanism so that when you park the van it adjusts the suspension to ensure you are level.  Maybe I could patent that and retire with my millions.

After we had breakfast, we pulled the plug (literally – the only external connection we have) and headed further north.  The road follows Loch Ness northwards.  We went in to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre which details the photos, videos and scientific work done to try and find Nessie – the affectionate name given to the Loch Ness monster.  The number of photos makes you really wonder whether there isn’t something behind it.  Even the scientific explorations have been inconclusive but have found strange phenomenon which are still unexplained.  There was also a brief movie to watch about the monster including interviews with some of the people who have supposedly seen it.  Very interesting actually.

We then headed into Inverness which was previously the furthest north Helen and I had been in Scotland.  A quick stop at the shop to get more provisions (only a small fridge) and then on our way northwards again.  We headed up the East coast of Scotland to Wick.  We stopped briefly for lunch at one of the small coastal villages and ate lunch looking over the sea.  We stayed inside the van as it was quite cold as well as rainy.  We did spot 1 lifer there (birds for those of you who haven’t read our previous travelogues).  We have extended our birding habit to the UK and found it quite easy to bird here because there are usually only 1 or 2 of a particular type of bird.  For instance, there is only 1 type of Swallow so when you have identified it as a swallow (which is quite easy) then you know you have seen the only type as there are no other options.  So far we have seen 31 birds in total.  I thought we could get to 100 for the trip but that depends whether the weather improves over the next few days.  It is quite hard to see birds in this weather though we did see 4 lifers today in total.

We continued to head north until we got to John ‘O Groats which many people think is the furthest point north on the UK mainland but it is not actually.  Dunnet’s Head is actually the furthest north.  We didn’t even get out at John ‘O Groats but rather headed to Dunnet where we knew there was a campsite.  On the way we passed Gill’s Bay which is where we can get a ferry to the Orkney Islands.  We booked in for tomorrow for the 9:30am ferry and that is what we will do, weather permitting.  It is only a 15 minute drive back from the camp site at Dunnet to the ferry but we need to be there 45 minutes before departure.

We checked into the campsite at around 4:30pm and then went up to Dunnet’s Head which is about 5 miles away on a single track road.  When we got there only Helen and I got out as it was cold and raining but we were rewarded by seeing a Great Skua (another lifer).  Stephen was slightly annoyed because Helen and I saw about 4 lifers today which he did not see because he was reading his book and not looking out of the window.  We headed back to the camp site and have been there ever since.  We had pork sausages with barbecue sauce, rice, fried mushrooms and cucumber and tomato for supper tonight.  Again a nice meal with limited equipment.  The only problem now is that the whole van smells of pork sausage.  You don’t notice it until you go out of the van.

The fact that you will be reading this report shows you that we still have cellphone reception though it is quite a slow connection.  Not sure about tomorrow though so don’t be surprised if you don’t get to read the travelogue tomorrow.

Good night from the rainsoaked Temples.

Ps. Sorry about the late posting but I could not get connection due to the fact that there was a military procedure happening during which they were testing out a signal blocker. Stephen

Day 8 of UK Trip

Today never went as expected.  I really hope tomorrow doesn’t go the same way.  No, I am not repeating yesterday’s blog.   Stephen said that I was tempting fate by typing that yesterday.  Last night we slept remarkably well and much better than I expected.  There were at least 2 “party” groups staying in the hotel – one bachelor’s party and one hen party – so I was expecting a noisy night.  In addition, because our room faced East, we expected the early morning sun but as the room was so hot we needed to leave the window and blinds open so that we could get a minimal amount of air into the room.  As the sun rises at around 4am, I expected to be woken up early.  However, despite the lumpy bed we all slept well (probably the 5:30am start) and while I woke up a few times in the morning due to the sun pouring into the room, I went straight back to sleep again.  I got up at around 8am and the rest of the family followed at about 8:30am though I had to actually wake the boys up by going into their room (we had an extra key for that purpose).  We went down to breakfast at about 9am and the breakfast turned out to be more extensive than we originally thought and there was no charge for the kids.

We could only pick the motorhome up at 12pm today and we fortunately only needed to check out at 12pm so we decided to kill the time at the hotel.  As our room was about 5 degrees warmer than the boys’ room we decided to rather move everything into their room and everyone settled down to read, play on their computers (4 laptops travelling with us) or in my case do some CBD work (as it might be the last decent internet connection for about a week.)  At about 10am, the fire alarm went off!  I told the kids to grab the important things (everyone went for their laptops!) and we headed down the 4 flights of stairs to the assembly point.  As we went through the reception area we could smell burnt toast and so we figured the alarm went off due to someone burning their toast (and we weren’t far wrong).  Incredibly we were one of the first people out and we were on the 4th floor.  Everyone else was obviously waiting to see if it was a real alarm or not.  I can see how people get trapped in buildings that are on fire if they simply don’t leave when the alarm goes off.  The fire department came and we were let back into the building about 10 minutes later.  It turns out that someone tried to toast a croissant even though it very clearly says above the toaster that croissants must not be put into the toaster.

After the eventful morning we left to collect the motorhome.  When I gave the taxi driver the address he asked whether we were going to stay in a flat.  I said no, collecting a motorhome.  He said, no businesses around there, only flats.  My initial thought was this guy has no idea where this address is and I was going to phone the owner so that he could get instructions but the taxi driver insisted he knew where it was so I left him to it.  He kept muttering about it being flats and no businesses.  We found the address and he was right, it was flats (and council ones as well) but outside the flats were 2 motor homes.  He was very surprised (as were we) but we figured we had the correct place.  William (the owner) was sitting in the one motorhome (the one we were getting).  I suspect the guy is the on dole but running a motorhome rental company on the side.  I cannot believe that in the UK that it would be allowed to run a company renting motorhome from your flat (especially given all the regulations they have).  Anyway, we got the motorhome from him, got our instructions on how everything works, turned on the GPS (or SPG as Brian calls it) and headed for the North.

We were on the motorway for the first 30-40 miles and so we stopped at a ‘Services’ to get lunch.  Helen chose the ‘Roast Ox’ crisps.  This choice followed her ‘Builders Breakfast’ ones previously and I am starting to get concerned that she might start growing a beard or something soon.  Let’s hope it is just her curiosity and the intrigue of trying out new flavours.  Soon afterwards we came off the motorway and started our travels on more minor roads.  The SPG decided that a very minor B road was the fastest way to go (probably because it was shorter and the speed limit was the same but there was no way you could travel at the same speed on that road).  The “A road” ran almost parallel with the B road we were on so it was clearly not a good decision by the SPG.  We have learnt our lesson now and so when it later tried to do the same thing again we ignored it.

Our plan was to try and reach the shores of Loch Ness so that we could (ideally) spot Nessie, get our photo and get rich.  We had to stop for supplies (not for Nessie – for us) and so we stopped at Fort William where Helen remembered there was a good supermarket (from our last trip to Scotland about 10 years ago – Chloe wasn’t around then yet).  Not sure how she remembered that but I guess there is a special part of a woman’s brain that only remembers shops.  We got what we needed for a few days and continued to head north.  We had managed to pick up a Scotland caravan park guide so knew there was a park on the side of the Loch and we hoped they would have space for us.  We found it and it really is on the side of the Loch.  We filled up the water tank and then hitched up the van to the electrical supply.  We then unpacked both the groceries and our suitcases so that we could get rid of the suitcases into the storage space under the mobile home.  Helen then set about making supper which turned out very well given the limited space.  Stir fry sweet & sour chicken was our first meal in the motor home.

We also had to figure out sleeping arrangements.  There is a double bed above the driver’s seat, at the back of the motorhome are 2 single beds (though they are probably 1.5 beds actually) and where the table is, that makes into another 1.5 bed.  Helen felt claustrophobic in the double bed so we have the 2 single beds at the back and after a lengthy negotiation, Chloe and Michael are sleeping at the top and Stephen where the table goes.  We will take some photos and try and upload to the blog when we are able to so that you can see how it all works out.  (PS: Stephen took some photo’s of the evacuation this morning from the hotel but in the downloading process managed to lose them….sorry…they were quite entertaining.)

So we are currently parked about 3 meters from the Loch and I hope that the park brake doesn’t fail or that it doesn’t rain too much tonight.  I am reminded that we ought to find a flat parking in future – I remember that from the Ireland motorhome trip and it took me 1 night to remember it.  I won’t forget again.  It is now 10:50pm and there is still enough light to see the sky which is becoming more cloudy.  Bad weather is meant to be approaching tonight and will be with us until at least Tuesday.  The wind is howling at the moment and the motor home is swaying back and worth.  Regardless of what the weather is like we will enjoy ourselves.  They already has been much laughing and fun and everyone is enjoying it.

Yours from the travelling Temples.

Day 7 of UK Trip

Today never went as expected.  I really hope tomorrow doesn’t go the same way.  It started off ok except that we had to get up at 5:30am this morning to ensure we got to the station in time to catch the train to Edinburgh.  We had decided to take the train up rather than to fly and in fact it was slightly cheaper to take the train.  As we left the apartment a taxi was going past so we didn’t even battle to find a taxi, despite it being 6am.  The train left from King’s Cross.  We got there with sufficient time to get a coffee before boarding. The train left precisely on time and we were due to arrive into Edinburgh at 11:35am.  It is a scenic journey and you only stop a few times at major centres such as Leeds & Newcastle.  The good thing for me was that the train had free Wifi access so I could get some CBD work done on the trip.

The plan was that when we got to Edinburgh we would have some lunch first and then go to pick up the mobile home.  We had been told that pick up time was 3pm but that they would have it ready for us to collect at 2pm.  So we need to kill about 2 hours before taking a taxi to the collect the mobile home.  They had told me that if they had it ready prior to 2pm they would call me on my mobile.  We found a Cafe Nero (or Cafe Nerd as Chloe calls it because the name is sign written in capitals and the O looks like D).  We had a sandwich and drink and were doing quite well in killing the time when my mobile rang at about 1:15pm.  It was the owner’s mobile phone number (I recognised it) and so I was expecting him to say we could come and collect it.  It turns out (after taking awhile to adjust to his broad Scottish accent) that the previous renter had someone damaged the door which was now broken and therefore the van was unsuitable to rent.  He said that they had tried to get a new door but the agents had said it would take 8 weeks to get a new door.  He said they had tried all the other motor home companies and they didn’t have a free van either.  He said they were trying to repair the door but that they had to send one of their staff to Glasgow to get a glass panel and only when he returned would they know whether it would work.  He offered that we either take a B&B for tonight (at his expense) and get the van tomorrow or he would refund us the entire rental.

Really not the type of news you want when you are looking forward to a quiet 7 days driving around Scotland!  My view was that we should wait as long as possible to see if they could get it repaired today still but if they couldn’t we would take a B&B and then pick one up tomorrow.  We settled in to Cafe Nerd and promptly spent another 2 hours there!  4 hours in a coffee shop is quite some feat and Helen and I were really proud of the kids for how patiently they handled it.  I was extremely frustrated, annoyed and bored out of my mind so I can only imagine how they were.  I remember that Rob Smith once remarked in a sermon that you could not learn patience unless your patience is tried – well today we all had our practice.  Eventually at 3:15pm they called to say they definitely couldn’t fix the problem today and that they would pay for us to stay in Travelodge for the night.  They made the booking and told us the address – we eventually left Cafe Nerd and took a taxi to the Travelodge.

When we got to the Travelodge, of course, they had no booking for us at all.  I called the owner, he swore they had gotten one of his staff to make the booking, they denied having one for us and they said all the family rooms were taken.  The owner spoke to the manager of the hotel and that also didn’t resolve the problem and so it went on (in repeat iterations for about 10 minutes).  I eventually said if they had any free rooms I would take them and pay for them myself.  Just at the point the manager found a reservation for ‘Gemple’ in the system and sure enough it was the one made for us (though they had no payment details).  I called the owner and told him I was paying and they had to reimburse me tomorrow am.  He agreed to do that and we took the 2 rooms.

Immediately we got into the rooms I was reminded why I shouldn’t stay at a Travelodge.  No aircon (and it is quite warm), the window can’t open more than about 3 inches (I assume that it is like that in case you can’t take the room anymore and want to jump out), no telephone (if you want something from reception – like bedding for Michael & Chloe – you have to go down to reception and ask), a TV screen the size of my laptop, one bath towel (for three of us – we’ll follow the British tradition and not bath tonight), a badly stained sleeper chair (which Chloe has to sleep on in our room and Stephen is sleeping on in their room), and a host of other things which remind me that for £75 per night (that is R1000 per night) I could get a really nice hotel in South Africa.  Helen was irritated by the continental breakfast costing £7.50 – I hope it’s better than the room.  I think I may just sleep on top of the duvet tonight.  Fortunately I brought my own pillow along with me …

This evening we walked into the centre of Edinburgh and it really is a beautiful city.  Both the boys said they we could move here if we wanted.  We are staying on the west side and it took about 20 minutes to get into the centre (Princes St).  We found a nice family restaurant for dinner and it was a nice meal (even if the day was a little frustrating and wasted).  We walked back again and enjoyed the lovely evening at the sun still out at 8pm.  In fact it is now 10:30pm and it is just getting dark.

Everything that didn’t go as planned doesn’t really matter actually.  What is important is that we got to spend the day together as a family.  We also accept that things like this don’t just happen and that it was purposed by God for a reason.  We don’t know the reason but maybe it was (for example) to protect us from having an accident if we had picked up the mobile home today.  We don’t know but it doesn’t matter – we accept life isn’t perfect and we make the most of what we get.  Today was a day like that and I am going to bed tonight (and now literally!) still content.

Hopefully when I write tomorrow it will be from the bowels of a whale … no that’s not right  … that was Jonah who had to learn that God controls everything … let’s try that again – Hopefully when I write tomorrow it will be from the bowels of the motor home and I will be testing out using my mobile phone to login to the Internet rather than the hotel Wifi!

Good evening 2 y’all

From the “patience learned & practiced” Temples

Day 6 of UK Trip

Once again today I had to work to ensure we can give the children a good education.  As I predicted, when I got up at 6:30am this morning no one else stirred.  Michael did surface slightly before I left (about a minute or so) and Stephen nodded goodbye from the safety of his bed.  We had a client seminar today and as it was being held at a hotel which I could only reach by changing tube lines twice and then still having a 5 minute walk, I decided to take a taxi instead which took about 15 minutes with no exercise involved.  As I have mentioned before, everything starts late in London so the seminar only started at 10am (though I left at about 8:20am). I got there with plenty of time to spare which enabled me to check that my video clips were working (you can’t do a presentation without at least 1 video clip – I had two today).

I will get the boring part out of the way and say that the seminar went well.  The clients behaved themselves and all the London staff presented well.  It was a good day with about 40 clients attending.  I had to go back to the London office after lunch so that I could read some attachments on emails I had to reply to today so that spoilt the afternoon a little but not really.  We had drinks with some of the staff after the seminar and a couple of clients also hung around (you get to see who really likes you then … or maybe it was just the free beer on offer).

Helen and the kids went to Hampton Court Palace today.  We have recently acquired a ‘taste’ for Henry VIII and his 6 wives and so Helen was keen to go and Chloe is studying the Tudors so that made it interesting for her too.  They caught a bus to Waterloo station and then a train down to Hampton Court.  As it is some major anniversary of Henry VIII (500th maybe?), they have special events taking place at both Hampton Court Palace and also the Tower of London.  At the moment at Hampton Court there is also a flower show.  Henry VIII was also present today and you could have your photo taken with him and some of his wives were also wandering around the palace.  Two squires were also engaged in a Real Tennis match (of the indoor variety) and so they also manged to watch them play a little. I am hoping that the special event at the Tower will be a beheading because that would be quite spectacular to watch (I am planning to meet them there for lunch later in the trip – it is very close to my office).  They then reversed the journey and when I called at 3pm they were already home and the boys were on the Wii again and Helen was out shopping again.  The worst thing is that she claims her personal card doesn’t work so she jusy HAS to spend my money instead.

I got home at around 7pm and while we were waiting for dinner I got in my first 2 games of Wii Tennis.  I first played Stephen and did ok but then I played Michael and did worse – I regressed.  They (of course) have already got about 20 hours experience in 2 days so I am a little way behind at this stage.  After dinner it was time to pack up as we have an early morning train (7am) to Edinburgh tomorrow.  I am now officially on leave for a week and I am hoping that my staff won’t bug me (that includes all the Gen Re staff reading this and also all the CBD staff).  While I was trying to reply to a few emails this evening and after we had packed, Helen got herself settled with a Wii remote and played table tennis against Stephen and from the sound of the groans she was either having another child or Stephen won easily.  They then tried laser hockey but that seemed to go even worse for Helen – I know because she called it a ‘stupid game’ and told Stephen to select something else.  Helen then went fishing and with Michael shouting “Pull, Pull” in 5 seconds or so, she got the necessary instruction and managed to finally beat Stephen at something.  That meant she wanted to play again, and then when she won, she wanted to play again (and you thought I was the competitive one in the family).

We finally sent the kids to bed which gave me time to play some tennis against the champions.  Dad will be pleased to know that I beat Venus Williams.  It was tight but I started dominating at the end.  Now I have to wait until we get back from Scotland to start the Australian open.  The good thing about the Wii is that it tells you how many calories you burnt off and during my match against Venus I managed to consume 39 calories.  Forget the gym … this is my future exercise regime.

Now I need to go to bed even though I am sorely tempted to play one more (just one more …) game of tennis.  Hopefully I will have some form of internet access using my cellphone still and you will still get the daily updates for the next week.

Cheers

PHSMC

Day 5 of UK Trip

Today again I had to go and slave away at the coal face to make sure that ends meet while the family loafed around London.  When I left for work this morning after rising at 6:30am to go and milk the cow … no wait … that’s my Dad’s usual story – I shouldn’t plagiarise.  Let’s start that again, when I rose at 6:30am this morning to get in an hour’s CBD work before I left for my paying job (I do this because I am so scared of Janet), the flat was quite, not a mouse was even stirring (doesn’t sound original but I will go with it).  In fact when I left for work 8am, not a mouse or a Chloe or Michael or a Stephen or a Helen were a stirring either.

I did my usual and caught the tube into work.  The problem this morning was that when the underground arrived it was packed full.  I did my Bakkies Botha impersonation and cleared the door and mauled my way in until I knew the door would close without my hair being caught in it.  Fortunately 2 people got off at the next stop, so that allowed me to breathe again.  At that point I managed to look up (before that I couldn’t because my head was wedged between my backpack and someone else’s neck) and there was some advice from the London Underground Company on if you feel claustrophobic you shouldn’t ring the emergency stop between stations but rather wait until the next station and then get out.  Brilliant advice really given that if you feel claustrophobic and the train comes to a halt in-between stations in the dark with no way out, that really can’t help you to feel any better!

I got to work about 30 minutes before my boss (who is based in Cologne usually) arrived for a quarterly meeting and update.  As usual it was from then onwards a busy day which only ended with me getting back to the flat at 11pm this evening.  It was a good day though with my boss and the meeting time was productive.  While I was working, the boys were setting up the newly purchased Nintendo Wii (1/3rd of the price of what you pay in SA).  It was my birthday present to myself though it might be worn out by the kids before I get to play it.  I swear they played at least 8 hours today and they were still up this evening playing it at 11pm when we got home.  When I called at just before 10am this morning Helen said the boys were still in their pjs and were playing tennis.  When I called at around 2pm, the boys were playing tennis on the Wii and when Helen called this evening the boys were playing tennis on the Wii.  Helen had to pry them from the remotes to take them through St James Park to the Cabinet War Rooms today.  This is an amazing museum (I know I have been there) about the 2nd World War and is really a museum in honour of Winston Churchill.  Helen said they have added a whole new section since I was last there including an interactive table which documents Churchill’s lifetime.

This evening we had a client function and while I went straight from work to the restaurant, Helen met me there.  We had dinner first (there were 12 of us in total – 5 from Gen Re and 7 clients) and the restaurant managed to serve us a 3 course meal in an hour (including coffee) and made it feel unrushed.  The food quality was excellent as well so definitely another restaurant worth returning to at some point (I am starting to keep a list).  We walked through to the Opera House for we were going to watch an Opera – the first in my life and I was soooo excited …

We watched Madame Butterfly and we had seats in row A.  Now for those of you that don’t know, this means at these seats you get to dangle your feet into the orchestra pit, help to flip over the pages for the conductor etc.  You can also smile at the cast and they actually smile back and if you sneeze you can throw them right off their lines.  Given that the electronic board with the text of the songs is at the topic of the stage, you also get to exercise your neck muscles.  Fortunately the Opera was in English (I didn’t know this in advance … ok call me ignorant) but I was pleasantly surprised especially since I was expecting Italian.  The fact that it runs for 3 hours 15 minutes was also not told to me but at least they give you 2 intervals where you can stretch your legs, though we needed this less than last night as we got to dangle them into the orchestra pit tonight at least.

The performance started with the director of the production announcing that the main male lead (Pinkerton), was unable to perform as he had a sore throat and while he thought this morning that it was getting better, when he started warming up his voice in the afternoon, it got worse.  So they flew in a replacement from Edinburgh (I am not kidding) who filled in for him tonight.  Imagine stepping off a plane and into a production that you have never performed with at all, don’t know the sets or choreography and have to perform as if you do it every day.   For me it would like being asked to do a presentation on life insurance, being told there was a slide presentation prepared but not being able to look at it before having to get up to present.  Can’t imagine how it would feel but he did brilliantly – even I thought so.  The Opera really was better than I expected and I managed to follow most of it and I got to watch the Orchestra really closely.  We were told by one of the clients (who are Opera fanatics) that Madame Butterfly is a good one to start with and that we should avoid Wagner.  I will try my best to follow their advice and maybe just avoid all Opera’s in case I hit on a bad one.

Fortunately we had car’s arranged to take us home after the Opera as it is total chaos at that time of night as all the shows come out at about the same time.  There was a Bentley parked across the road and I jokingly remarked to my boss that must be my pickup and we all laughed.  And guess what, yes you guessed correctly, it was our pickup.  I will have to explain to my boss tomorrow that I never ordered it … must have been my efficient PA!  Fortunately he got the Merc … no wait that still looks bad …  Helen (of course) simply says as we get into the car, “I could get used to this”.  As I mentioned above, we got home just after 11pm and Chloe had just gone to bed and the boys were playing tennis on the Wii.  I bet they will sleep well tonight.  They had gone out and gotten their own pizza for supper and as they couldn’t find a takeaway place (which Lynne insists is just down the road), they went to Sainsbury’s and bought gourmet pizza and cooked it themselves.   Helen felt bad they cooked their own supper – I was proud that they were so resourceful and independent.  I just would never have allowed them to do that in SA but over here kids half the size of Chloe are travelling everyday on the buses everyday to and from school (and in fact now that I cast my mind back I used to do that too).

Anyway, as it is now 12:15am, I need to get to bed because I need to get up at 6:30am again tomorrow in order to do some more CBD work before going to work otherwise Janet might shout at me again.

Good night …. zzzzzzzz

Peter, Helen and the Wii kids

Day 4 of UK Trip

Today I unfortunately had to head into work (someone has to pay for the family holidays).  I got up at my usual ‘work time’ 6:30am and no-one stirred until I woke the boys up while trying to get my toiletry bag out of their unpacked suitcase.  Helen was awake when I left the flat at 8am but I don’t think she had actually picked her head up off the cushion yet.  I caught a bus to Waterloo station (it is only about a 25 minute walk but as it was overcast and drizzingly I didn’t want to get wet in my suit) and then I caught a train to Dorking for a meeting with a client.  The train trip took about 45 minutes.  It is an amazing place for an insurance office.  They must have converted the old estate in the area into the office building.  When you enter their grounds you pass ponds with ducks swimming around and the grounds are beautiful.  I would think that it must be very pleasurable environment to work in (assuming the people are nice!).  The meeting was finished by 11:30am and we (I was with 2 of my UK staff), caught a train back to Waterloo, then the underground to Bank station and walked the rest of the way back to the office and I got into the office at 1:15.

Fortunately by that time my lunch had already arrived.  For those of you who don’t know, we get free lunch in London office (see – there is such a thing as a free lunch).  You have a choice of 4 suppliers and you can pretty much get anything you would like – you just have to order before 10am.  I usually order a sandwich and today I had remembered to email my UK PA and asked her to place the order for me so it was waiting when I got into the office.  Smoked Salmon and Cottage Cheese … now I am feeling hungry again.  I sent a text (not an SMS – no one here knows what you are talking about if you say SMS) to find out what the 3 terrorists and my darling, beautiful wife were doing (or had done).  They had been (so far) to the Natural History Museum (which Helen says needs to be renovated into the 21st century), then to Harrods and they were currently  sitting eating lunch at Wasabi (take out sushi place).

I heard later from the boys about what cars they had seen.  Touring around with them in London has opened my eyes to how many fancy cars there are here.  I just hadn’t noticed before but given they point out each Ferrari; Lambo; Rolls, Bentley And GeeWhiz we see, you just can’t not help noticing anymore.  Even Helen was pointing out cars yesterday on our trip in.  The only problem was that she kept pointing to Volvos, Fords, Toyotas and the like and the boys get disgusted with her.  Then to top it off she keeps asking what kind of car that was when it was one that they had told her about 2-3 cars earlier … chicks never learn …

They seemed to have fun especially at Harrods and were almost tempted into buying ‘make your own snow’ which I was told lasts for 2 weeks.  Hard to believe but they were quite insistent and seemed to have concocted the story very well or they had in fact seen it.  They went from Harrods to Hamley’s (you can probably see a theme here) but amazingly they didn’t buy anything at Hamley’s.  They then caught a taxi back home.

Meanwhile, during their sightseeing and shopping, I was slaving away trying to bring home the bacon.  I had too much to do in too short a time as I wanted to leave the office at 4:30pm so I could get back to the flat to change before we went out to see Oliver at the Theatre this evening.  I made it back to the flat at 5pm which gave me a short time to change out of my suit.  Just at about this time it started to drizzle lightly but we were fortunate to get a taxi from right outside the flat.  We then sat in a traffic jam for the next 30 minutes and a downpour of rain (and hail) that I have never seen before in London.  It pelted and bucketed down (really – both at the same time) and at one stage I looked at the road and it would have been easy to believe that we were driving in the Thames and not next to it.  I was thankful that we hadn’t been walking!

We went to dinner at Sophie’s Steakhouse & Bar.  Stephen and I had been there about 10 days ago when he was with me in London and we really liked it, and as it was just around the corner from the theatre we thought that it would make a good venue for dinner this evening. The service was again prompt and friendly and everyone liked the food so it is a definitely a place we will come back to again.  It is a really nice and open restaurant yet it does have a nice vibe about it too.  We finished dinner at 6:30pm and so we still had another hour to kill before the start of Oliver.  We walked around Covent Garden and Helen went into a few shops but concluding that it was not going to be a shopping holiday (said with a little disdain in her voice).  We got into the theatre and found our seats which were the very back row of the Upper Circle.  London theatre’s were not built for comfort – no aircon; very steep, no leg room.  I sat on the aisle so I could at least stretch my legs out down the stairs (and occasionally trip someone when I wanted to see some action).  Helen had to sit with her legs around her neck for most of the performance except for a brief time when she stood (we were the back row so no one’s view was blocked).

The performance was excellent.  Rowan Atkinson (of Mr Bean fame) played Fagan and he stood out for the rest of the cast.  They definitely have altered the role/character of Fagan slightly to fit Rowan Atkinson and there were some stand out sections which you could see Mr Bean peaking through.  He had the audience in raptures.  There was one point where he was talking to his jewels and to himself and he says “Pearl, I want to introduce you to Ruby” and then he says, “Ruby I want to introduce you to Crystal” and he did a Mr Bean mutter under his breath and it brought the house down.  Some of the rest of the cast were also very good including Dodger (who I thought was 2nd best after Rowan).  We caught a taxi home (we were fortunate and found one right outside the theatre) and the fare was half of what we paid there (to illustrate how long we were stuck in traffic on the way there).

We got home at 10:20pm and the kids went to bed pretty much straight away and after I had done some CBD work (I have to do that otherwise I start getting emails from Janet, Nick, Michael, Gio, Lily/Lynne & Willem complaining about me slacking off), I typed this and now I am heading for bed as well because I need to be up again at 6:30am tomorrow as someone needs to pay for the family holidays (I get a feeling of déjà vu).

Good night, sleep tight.

From the Musical Ts

oliver

Day 3 of UK Trip

Today wasn’t a particularly eventful day.  We got up relatively late and we started breakfast at about 9am and only finished after 10am (egg & bacon take awhile to cook at my parents home – must be the altitude above sea level).  After breakfast it was time to pack up and start preparing to leave for London.  The plan was to leave after an early lunch at around 1pm so that we missed the evening traffic and we had to drop the car off before 6pm anyway as the car rental agency closes at 6pm.  When lunch time rolled around we were all still full from breakfast so we decided to skip lunch and just get something on the drive into London from one of the ‘Services’.

The drive from my parent’s home into London takes about 2 hours if there is no traffic but that is always a big IF. We fortunately didn’t encounter any significant delays despite passing what seemed to be an accident (2 cars and about 5 police cars) and another incidence where a truck had it’s load smouldering (2 fire engines were standing by for that one – feel at home Marcus?).  We did stop on route at the last Services on the motorway before we hit Greater London.  I thought I would fill up first and then we could get something to drink/eat and so I duly followed the signs to ‘Fuel’ which happened also to be the same direction as Exit.  We filled up and then looked for a route back to the eating area and realised there was no such route.  However, the road coming from that area was 2 lanes and I was persuaded that it must be a two-way road so I headed back down it only to meet a few cars coming up it and looking amazed to see us driving down it.  No danger as they duly pulled to their side and we smiled nicely as we past them until we got to the point which clearly indicated we were driving down a one-way road and so we decided that we better stop before we meet a truck coming up the road.  So we pulled into the Bus and Truck parking and parked the car there instead and went to buy something to eat & drink.

Helen feeling that she hadn’t yet had sufficient breakfast went for the ‘Builder’s Breakfast’ flavoured potato crisps (tasted like bacon & egg).  On the way out we passed some scary (Helen’s word) looking people sitting at the picnic tables.  They came from a coach tour and it certainly wasn’t a slimmers convention they were returning from.  Our only hope was that the shock absorbers were reinforced prior to the journey commencing.

After using the road exiting the Services in the correct direction, we hit greater London at 3pm and made our way relatively easily to the flat in central London.  The GPS is an amazing invention which takes all the stress out of having a wife who can’t read a map or navigate (not that I am saying Helen can’t do these things – just speaking in a general sense).  I did ignore it on two occasions as I knew better (and I was right as usual).  We got to the flat at 3:30pm and as there is no real off-road parking we had to block the sidewalk while we quickly unpacked the car and then Stephen and I left Helen, Michael and Chloe to get the 44 pieces of luggage into the flat while we returned the car to Hertz in Marble Arch.  That again was a relatively easy journey given the use of the GPS and this time I didn’t have to correct it at all.  Just when we handed back the car, the heavens opened and so while our plan was to grab a taxi back to the flat, everyone else had decided on the same route and there wasn’t a single cab for hire.  So we started to walk back and Stephen worriedly asked if we were going to walk the whole way back.  I said we may as well walk until we find a cab but we never did and finally we walked past a tube station so we decided to jump on the tube instead.  After one change we were at Victoria Tube station and from there we walked back up Victoria St to the flat (the flat is on Victoria St).

Helen and I went out to buy some food from Sainsbury’s and then we spent the rest of the afternoon & evening just loafing in the flat and watching TV.  You might be thinking how could they waste an afternoon/evening like that in London.  Quite easily when it was pelting down with rain and the wind was howling.  Not really weather for walking around London.

Unfortunately tomorrow through to Thursday I am going to work (for those of you who didn’t yet know I have an office in London and a job here now) but Helen and the kids are doing the tourist things.  In the car coming up Helen asked what they each wanted to do and Michael replied ‘Hamleys’, Stephen said ‘Natural History Museum’ and Chloe ‘Hampton Court Palace’.  So that pretty much covers the next 3 days for them.  We will have to figure out who is going to write the blog for their day tomorrow or whether I will have to do the ghost writing for them.

Until tomorrow.

Peter & Helen and the Three Amigos

Day 2 of UK Trip

I slept well last night and so did everyone it seems.  Mom had a good night and even though she had decided yesterday not to come to church, she changed her mind and came.  As everything starts later in the UK (Michael said it is because there are so many old people here), we only had breakfast at around 9am and then headed for church just after 10am (church starts at 11am only but it is about a 30 minute drive to get there).  It was a family service at Moordown (where my parents attend) and the singing was excellent and while it was an unconventional sermon, it was good nevertheless.  All in all, the summary would be “It was good to be in the house of the Lord”.

Incredibly, John & Margaret Whaits (who are from CT and attend Goodwood Baptist) were at the church as well.  They are touring in the area and so sought out the church to come to.  Mom invited them to join us for lunch (illustrative of how much better she was feeling).  We had the usual mandatory Sunday roast with roast potatoes; Yorkshire pudding (we’re in England so how could we not) and veg.  Desert was Apple Crumble or Apple Pie (or in my case both) with either Clotted Cream Ice Cream (as good as it sounds) or Cream (I had both again) which was Clotted after Helen beat it into oblivion.  The leftover cream will be used tomorrow morning to butter our toast.

After lunch Helen, Chloe, Michael and I decided to drive down to the sea (my parent’s house is very close to the sea but Helen was complaining that she had never been to the beach in this area).  As the weather was quite nice again (around 24), we were fearing that the rest of England might have also descended on the beach but when we found our way to one of the small coastal towns in the area it actually wasn’t that busy.  It was slightly cooler there  (around 20) but the wind was blowing quite hard and it was unpleasant even to get out of the car.  We stopped at a beach with the plan of dipping our toes in the Channel but after seeing the beach of pebbles and feeling the howling, freezing cold wind we looked at each other and dived back into the car.  Of course there were numerous Brits on the beach, paddling in the water, kite surfing (plenty of wind for that), some crazy fools trying to surf (there were no waves) and a line of people buying ice creams (no danger of the ice cream melting – only risk was that it might get blown from the cone).  No one seemed to be enjoying themselves but they were there nonetheless.  We figured out why they have those little wooden huts on the beach, so you can sit inside them and keep warm and out of the wind but still say to your friends that you had been to the beach.  That is why they are all so white – they sit in little wooden boxes away from any sun that might be shining.

We headed back to my parent’s home and watched the final games of the epic Wimbledon Final of Federer vs Roddick.  We arrived at 8-7 in the final set and spent the next hour wondering if the match would ever end.  Helen and Mom kept yelling at the TV, Dad was coaching Federer on his backhand, Stephen was fast asleep (and only woke up when Mom and Helen yelled particularly loudly at the TV) – I for once was not the one yelling – I was just amazed my wife could get so worked up over a tennis game (and I thought she didn’t even know who Federer was!).

Then it was time for the boys and I to make use of the excellent cricket pitch that is my parent’s lawn.  It would be better if they cut it slightly lower and rolled it a little more but it was at least playable (unlike the time we played in December when it was rather iced over).  We didn’t break any windows or lose any balls this time (not like yesterday when Stephen deposited one of my attempted bouncers into the neighbours garden – it would never have happened if my Dad had properly rolled the pitch before we started).  We decided to call it quits at 8pm – not because bad light stopped play but because it was time for some more food of course.  We watched a DVD of last Sunday’s service at Moordown (the Spiritual food) and then had supper.  Now everyone is getting ready for bed.  The bed times of the kids seem to have slipped considerably over the last few days.  It is now 10:15pm and only one of them is actually in bed!  I had better finish this now so that I can round up the other 2 and herd them off to bed as well.

Yours from a humid Burley Street (that is where my parents live)

Peter and Co

Day 1 of UK Trip

Hi Everyone

As per usual I will a blog of our UK trip. I can’t call it a “holiday” because I will be working for some of the days. Quite a strange feeling actually when we were leaving because I usually start relaxing knowing that I have 3 weeks holiday ahead but in this case I have holiday interspersed with working.

Well we left last night on the BA flight to London. Chloe was SO excited the whole day she kept on checking on the time and trying to find things to pass the time. The day seemed to drag on for her – I can remember those days just before we left on holiday when I was growing up! We left at 5:30pm and after driving about 100 meters down the road I realised I forgot my sunglasses and given the amount of driving we will be doing that would have been a disaster. We still got to the airport in plenty of time, checked-in, through security and passport control with no problems. In between checking-in and going through security I realised I had left my camera behind … fortunately I can borrow my Dad’s (he has the same one as mine).

The flight didn’t start well in that when they showed the safety briefing my TV screen didn’t show anything. I didn’t notice (too busy reading my book) but Chloe told me. I wasn’t too concerned about missing the safety briefing but I was concerned about what movie I wouldn’t be able to watch and so I pointed out the issue to the crew who promptly started to give me a manual (personalised) safety briefing! Just what I needed when I was only really worried about getting the movies working. My challenge was how to cut her off and get her focussed on fixing my movies! I fortunately managed to succeed when I told I had flown last Saturday and could still remember the briefing from last time.

Unfortunately the movie problem continued and not only did my movies not work but Michael & Chloe also had problems. It eventually resulted in a system reset being done of the whole plane and that got everyone’s working except mine which decided to freeze about 1 hour into the movie. “Freeze” being the correct word because the hand held remote display read “-5” and when I woke it the morning it had warmed up to “-4” but the screen was still frozen. The chief ‘kahuna’ cabin man even came to see what he could do, looked suitably surprised said he would reset it, came back 5 minutes later and said he had reset it and it should be working but it was still frozen. He gave up and as my loving children wouldn’t give up their seats I got to read until I went to sleep. Everyone slept well and we woke at 5am (UK time – 6am SA time) with breakfast being served.

We had a great view of London as we made our way into Heathrow. It was a beautifully clear morning and you could see the trademark London spots such as the Thames, London Eye and of course Lord’s Cricket Ground (the holy, sacred turf of the greatest sport in the world). We landed slightly early, cleared passport control without too much hassle (though the guy was totally confused as to why I was returning to the UK where I worked to have a holiday) and by the time we got to the carousel our bags were already circulating. We headed out to the car rental agency and picked up our car (they kindly upgraded us to car I feel quite familiar with – an E-class Merc!). It was 8am and we already on the road down to my parent’s home and after making a brief stop at a ‘services’ for something to drink (and breakfast for Michael who hadn’t eaten on the plane), we got to my parents at 9:30am.

Unfortunately my Mom was not going so well as she had a medium to large dose of Chemo on Friday as part of the preparation for the Stem Cell transplant. She was feeling very nauseous, cold then hot and generally weak. She definitely improved seeing the family and talking to the kids and stayed up and downstairs the whole afternoon and evening and even managed a little food this evening. We pray that she will have a good night’s rest and that tomorrow she will be feeling stronger again. Stephen has been here for a week and has (seemingly) thoroughly enjoyed himself. He has earned a lot of pocket money working as a ‘handlanger’ for my Dad and he even has developed his own routine while here. When I told him to get ready for bed earlier this evening he asked ‘What about watching the 10pm News?’ I don’t think I have ever seen him watch the News in my life but he now has to watch the 10pm News in the UK!

We depressingly watched the Boks being comprehensively beaten by the Lions and then Helen and I went out to the shops for a brief outing. We visited the local supermarket (Waitrose) which is an amazing shop. You can register to self-scan your groceries which just about has to be one of the best things I have ever seen. Of course it would never work in SA – just imagine it, scan one item and put 10 other items into the bag. The challenge in SA would be to see how little you could scan and still go uncaught. Not sure how they let my Dad register for it, knowing him he probably forgets to scan 1 out of every 2 items!

Played cricket with boys and then had the mandatory Saturday pm braai. Once we had finished supper and cleared up it was 8pm and the sun was still high in the sky so we decided to take a walk into the local village (Burley). It is about a 30 minute walk there (and obviously 30 minutes back as well!) and it was quite a pleasant walk even though we had to do a lot of ‘pooh’ evading (from the horses which roam free in the New Forest). Only Helen, Michael, my Dad and I went – Stephen stayed to watch over granny and Chloe didn’t fancy the walk.

A nice relaxing day and now I am feeling very tired so the bed is looking quite attractive …. Will write again tomorrow!

Peter, Helen and the 3 ugly ducklings

Photo of the back of Forest Edge

Photo of the back of Forest Edge

(Thanks to my grandpa for this image)