Enjoying the Sites of Southern England

It was a sad farewell to Dan (aka Daddy) last week, but the girls are coping well. We’re really looking forward to seeing him and will be ready to fly home next Friday. They know Aunty Claire is going to help us on the return flight and were confused when she came to stay with us this weekend, thinking that meant we were going home. They are being so sweet together and bedtimes have been especially touching, as they’ve comforted each other and ‘read’ stories.

It’s really special for me to spend so much extra time with my parents and they are coping with the intrusion of busy, messy and noisy preschoolers remarkably well. Naturally there have been moments when their patience has been tested and it’s understandably hard for them to adjust, after years of peace and order, to playdough, baking toddler style, wet feet running in from the garden and all the clutter.

There are so many wonderful places to visit in and around Hampshire and my parents have been pulling out all the stops to keep them entertained. In the past week our highlights have including taking the train to London to see Buckingham Palace, the surrounding parks and sights; The Milestones Museum in Basingstoke (where we stepped back in time to the Victorian era) and catching up with our dear friend Sally and my Norweigan pen-pal in London.

Sally was one of my very good expat friends in New Zealand. We met through our midwife and shared those precious, sometimes difficult moments of the first year of motherhood. I was so sad when she announced she was returning to England, but I was happy for her. She is living the country life proper on a farm in Southern England. We were greeted with chooks running around our ankles and a very handsome rooster (which totally freaked the girls out!). Sally was preparing pigeon pie for dinner and offered us a lettuce from the garden (complete with bugs!) and freshly picked plums. We stroked the horses and watched in awe at the combine harvester on the neighbouring field. She is in her element and it was so good to see and her beautiful daughter, Amber, who is looking very grown up and ready for school in September.

My dear pen-friend, Ellen-Beate, was looking at gorgeous as ever (married life is definitely suiting her!). We’ve written since we were thirteen and this was the third time I’d met her in person (the first time I saw her was on a most memorable independent flight, at the age of fourteen, to Norway). We’d arranged to meet in the middle of the one bridge over the pond at the centre of St. Jame’s Park. My parents, having met her as a teenager, kept pointing to every passing blonde asking if that was her and each time I said, ‘No! You’ll know her when you see her, she’s much taller, blonder, natural and beautiful (and smart – having recently worked as a Deputy Judge!).’

Our trip to London on the train was extremely exciting for Charli, who is always saying, ‘I’m a girl, but I love transport!’. Sophie wasn’t so pleased to be boarding a train, as she’s developed a phobia since a steam train on the Watercress Line raced towards her at full pelter and we all had to run for cover as a load of soot was tossed in our direction! Fortunately, after ten minutes or so of big sobs, she realised modern train travel is nothing to be scared of and now points to a postcard of a train and proudly says, ‘I do! Toot, toot!’.

In London we steered clear of the shops (alas, I’ll have to wait a few years before the girls are old enough… but by then they’ll be doing all the spending and I’ll just be the walking credit card!). We delighted in the beautiful parks, laughing at a pelican crossing the bridge in St. Jame’s Park. Sophie fell asleep as we walked through Regent’s Park and continued to sleep as we rode a red, double-decker through Trafalger Square. Big Ben and the scene on the Thames was stunning as always (though alas Big Ben isn’t chimming for a month). Waterloo Station was a sight in itself as the girls marvelled at the endless platforms.

Of course the ‘big ticket sights’ aren’t everything and it’s often the simple pleasures that make for the best memories. The girls have loved going for a walk in the country lanes and hand-picking black-berries to make a crumble. They’ve delighted in showing off their swimming strokes at the local pool and being little daredevils at the playground. The squirrels in Grandma and Grandad’s garden have provided hours of entertainment and they now know what a real, red-breasted robin looks like, having seen pictures in Peter Rabbit stories.

This trip home, after three year’s away, has been more than I could have imagined. I was so nervous about the journey and travelling around with young children, but there has been no real cause for concern. Seeing the children delight in their Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins has made it all worthwhile.