Jul 31, 2014

The Readers

Something very nice, very gratifying has happened to Eloise. I'm not sure quite when, not even vaguely, there probably isn't even a when, but over some indeterminate period of time Eloise has become a keen and independent reader.

Parentally, we have always tried to emphasise books and their importance and the rich experiences they can afford the imaginative reader, but Eloise wasn't confident enough in her reading to really enjoy the actual doing of it. Sometime though she's started bring home books from the library and just sitting down with them and reading them almost cover-to-cover.

And a bonus to that is that Lyra sees Eloise reading, and, worshipping the ground that she walks upon and all that, and with a concerted effort that Nicole should be congratulated on, now at bed time Lyra takes herself off to our bed, grabs some books, and ensconces herself upon it books at the ready.

Jul 27, 2014

Eloise's Amazing Time Travelling Hair

Eloise's Time Travelling Hair
One day it was plaited, or braided if that's the right term, then it had become suddenly larger! And, if you look carefully, you can probably see a corresponding swelling in the Attitude gland.

Jul 17, 2014


With Claire, my bosomed buddy, and Georgia, her daughter and Lyra's best little friend, we have on occasion been exploring what Brisbane and its surrounds have to offer in the arena of Soft Play Centres.

I do not have imagery to show you of the actual physical reality of the Facilities themselves as I can't help but think that in this day and age, being what this day and age is and what it entails and carries with it in terms of gender stereotyping and general paranoia, I can't help but think that snapping away inside a Kiddy Play Place might not be the best idea ever conceived.

So I will leave it at this: here are Lyra's sliding dungarees, or fungarees as I personally like to call them. Some of these Places have pretty good slides which are quite exciting for even a Big Grown Up to slide down, and the excitement can only be enhanced by the appropriate low-friction attire which will ensure no skin-plastic-interface drag and consequently a rapid, smooth descent down any slide Lyra might be presented with - long, short, undulating, or spiral.

Jul 16, 2014

Jet Lag

Before we had set off for those distant shores, so many moons ago, in a fit of pique I had visited the school just to see if there was a form or something that we had to fill in.

I didn't think there would be, being under the impression that the Australian approach to education was a little more mature than that displayed by England's tinpot fascist jobsworths, but as it turned out if kids were to be out of school for more than ten days there was something that needed to be filled in for the principal to approve. So I filled it in, and at the time thought it might be a bit hopeful that Eloise would make it back to school on the day following our return, but you never know, so that's the date I put.

Well it turned out that my jetlag optimism was completely misplaced, with various nights being passed in a sad state of wakefulness with four of us tucked up in bed together and variously Eloise and/or Lyra tossing and turning the night away and all of us turning in days and nights of somnambulistic zombiefaction.

Suffice it say that Eloise didn't make it back to school on the day after our return, or on the day after that, or even the day after that.

In fact we were quietly quite impressed when Eloise made it back to school on the fourth day and never looked back.

Jul 12, 2014

All Good Things

And so it was that the Epic England  Expidition of 2014 came to an end, bear the shouting.

Sam treated us to Bird's Eye Potato Waffles (they're Waffly Versatile) with baked beans in the morning as our Final Request, and as the day went on we dribbled away, up the road and over the water and up to Perlin's Farm where John and Ros put us up for a night and fed us most hospitably before an early start and a woozy drive up to Heathrow, a somewhat random approach to finding the car rental place, the stress of wondering if any bumps or scratches were going to be a problem, the relief when they weren't, then the submission to the twilight zone of international travel, the blur of the airplane, Paul waiting at the airport for us to hop straight into the car and deliver us to our very door.

And to bed.

Jul 11, 2014

Canoe Canoe, Kayak Kayak

After the unbridled success of Osborne House - obviously the best birthday day out ever, in anyone's book - in the excitement everything gets a little hazy, but after a short spell at Slimm Towers to freshen up etc we headed of en masse or approximately so to the Trattles Hut for some beach action with the incidental addition of the Famous Inflatable Kayak which Matthew had been given for his birthday by his lovely not-wife Samantha.

The twins had been down to the beach the evening for a little kayak-testing and sibling bondage but if memory serves a critical component had been forgotten and the kayak in fact was inaugurated upon the occasion of Maisie's birthday.

After a spot of food and drink on the grass, we attended to the kayak, assembling and inflating and generally making ready - with half an eye on the sky with its burgeoning cloud. Across the Solent a bank of grey cloud loomed over the Hampshire Downs, grey beneath, brooding.

There was pressure for Maisie to be the first passenger but between them the cousins managed to cook up some sort of crisis of fear and trepidation and general reluctance, the sort of display were getting used to, and the upshot was the Eloise, being the only one that was actually up for it, was the first.

The wind was getting up a bit, more people turned up, food was eaten, games played on the beach. More people went in the canoe, sorry kayak, it's a kayak not a canoe! And the boat, if it's a boat, proved to be a success for the grownups, as well as Eloise and Isla who had a go too. No doubt Maisie and Violet will try it out sometime.

The inevitable inevitably happened and the clouds bridged the Solent bringing with them the keys to heaven, which duly opened. A frenetic yet calm and purposeful clearing away into the beach hut took place and as we made our way back to the car the senior Slimms arrived.

We made our way back to Magnolia Mansions for our final night and a little party for Maisie out in the garden after the rains had passed. I passed the evening getting Lyra to sleep and came back down again just as everybody else was going to bed.

All was not lost however as an inebriated ping-pong mini-marathon was embarked upon as the Slimm boys let me win a couple of games then rather cruelly beat me senseless through the medium of easy points-scoring.

Just a Moment

who farted

Maisie's Birthday

It's a rare nine-year old girl that for her birthday treat would go to an English Heritage place but Maisie is a history enthusiast and Osborne House, the erstwhile residence of the Queen Victoria, was her choice of birthday venue.

Breaking the habit of a lifetime, I will not delve into the transport arrangements deeply except to detail that Chris occupied himself elsewhere with a putting wedge whilst Sam was at work and so also absent and so Nicole, Nicole, Matt and I alongside the four semi-senior cousins and the two juniors made up the Fun Time Time Team for the day.

And what a Fun Time we were to have. After negotiating our dodgy multi-child-pass successfully past the front desk and successfully avoiding forking out for a horse-and-carriage ride up the drive to the House, we trudged up the gravel instead and before long there was the mocco-rococco Osborne House in all its follicious glory, towers, flagpoles, galleries and all, basking in the sun, its cladding sickly in the yellow light.

We headed for the disabled entrance to find that our strollers were machina non grata and had to be stowed away under the watchful gaze of the Watchers and that photographs inside were forbidden for no particular reason that we could fathom. In fact I wonder if I'm even really allowed to describe the interior to you.

The Grey Guardians were out in stern, super-officious force, their presbyotic gazes tracking Lyra like air-defence radars tracking an F-16 on its final bombing run, their aged frames ready to pounce like geriatric mountain leopards on to an unsuspecting baby goat. All she had to do was touch something... look the wrong way at someone.

And I'm actually not exaggerating, although I may be stretching the metaphor just a nadge; there was one point when we were walking down a corridor and this younger Grey, maybe an apprentice, was on theother side of a window, just look at me; I made her a "What, me?" gesture and her face softened into a little smile and she pointed just behind me, where guess what Lyra was walking as nice as you look, hand in hand with Mumsy.

The course through the house was laid out with ropes, I don't recall if they were red or not, but it seems likely, and every available piece of floor was occupied by a statue, every patch of wall by a painting. There was a lot to touch. A lot of temptation, except of course that Lyra didn't know that she wasn't suppose not to touch anything, so it was just there to be sampled.

I asked one of the attendants why it was that nothing could be photographed and she gave me this funny look like I was some sort of idiot before lecturing me that the house may have been passed onto English Heritage but the artworks within were part of the Queen's private collection and that of course we were priveleged blah blah blah. I sort of felt like saying that it was my taxes that the Queen probably used to buy all this guff, except the stuff that she was given or just inherited from previous generations, but I don't pay English taxes anymore, not that my argument would have held any water anyway no doubt but apparently photography was forbidden on copyright grounds and these days who can argue with copyright laws.

So thinking about it I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with taking the risk of even describing any of this to you except to say the the course of our route took us up, and then down, through one fusty room after another, and yes Lyra did set an alarm off, and yes the Grey Guardians did pounce upon her like Mountain Leopards. Just really nice, ineffectual Mountain Leopards.

I was relieved to get outside at the end because you know too much ridiculously opulent wealth in the space of a morning can be a bit overbearing. I think it was the Indian Room that did it for me in the end, then one where they shipped over artisans from the subcontinent to deck out this room in Queen Victoria's holiday house with filigreed (that's not the right word), carven sandalwood of frankly baroque complexity so that she could have tiffin and lead a nice family life, no countermand that, a nice normal family life in surroundings of reasonable comfort. Oh, the hardship of being the figurehead of the British Empire.

We ate ice cream in the Italianate Garden; the nice man even took our empty cartons, for there was not a rubbish bin in sight. After noodling around the fountain for a while, we headed out to the Swiss Cottage for another little taste of how the Other 0.001% used to live, and maybe still do.

We were still functioning as a unit, and the walk was long and everything was right. We got to the Swiss Cottage and looked with interest at the monogrammed wheelbarrows of the little princes and princesses, the vegetable gardens that bore their names, now tended by volunteers from the proletariat, thetourist plaques with touching stories of how the little princes would practice trench warfare tactics in their little imitation battlefields.

We visited the Swiss Cottage where our little girls played dressups and imagined themselves in that world

We played in the Swiss-Cottage themed playground. There was a lot of squealing. Eventually reserves began to run low, and time to run out.

And we had places to be.

Jul 10, 2014

Doing the Portsmouth Walk

So the battlement whose name we have through a team effort recalled is The Hard, is it turns out named in a rather uncompromising yet descriptive way. It's made of concrete, which makes it hard, and I suppose it must be hard to hold back the sea. There was a staircase that looked as though it would be hard to climb.

It was quiet on one side, then through the arch, on the beach, waves on shingle and wind off the sea; the occasional hovercraft. We wished we had gone on a hovercraft. That would have been a real adventure.

Lyra had fallen asleep on the walk so I tended the stroller while the others climbed the steep-looking staircase and promenaded along the Hard Top, the mysteries of which were hidden from little me, sitting down below on a bench in an arch in the shade from the sun and the wind.

Anne insisted that I should go for my walk along the top and at first I wasn't sure that I could really see the attraction but when I got up there it was quite an interesting spot, full of pictures to be taken - many of them rubbish, maybe some of them nice. There were benches, wavy like the sea. That's clever I thought but maybe not really clever enough. Tall lamppost reminiscent of the Spinnaker. Interesting stony textures.

Down on the other side, a shady terrace; the appalling architecture of which really made it unworthy of the name; more a concrete shed without any walls but a few more benches with attractive lights overhead to add a little atmosphere to those twilight encounters that I imagine would happen in such dark recesses after dark in a secluded cranny such as this.

Ahead, the beach, a few people on it. some of them young sunbathers, some of them older specimens. I met up with the others and Eloise and Lyra attempted to throw stones at the sea for a while. Eloise managed to hit it a couple of times.

We followed the Millennium Walk back towards whatever the big shopping centre we'd been at was called, following the route around some dockyards and a couple of pubs and restaurants. It was kind of quaint and picturesque in a sort of people-live-here-now-but-in-the-olden-days-it-used-to-be-grim-and-dirty kind of way.

And that was that; we hopped back onto the Catameringue (sic) and headed back across the Solent to our next appointment.

Another Skill I Never Mastered

After the HMS Victory we met up with some friends of Anne's who knew Nicole when she was a mite, and we drank a drink in a pub then ate pizza and pasta in the scorching South Coast sunshine before we sensible Australians, respectors of the Sun, had the Enormous Parasol deployed, and drank some wine while Lyra ran around the outdoor piazza-style dining environment, to the possible annoyance of the other diners.

Afterwards, in an act of post-prandial contrition and atonement, we walked the Millennium Walk into some other areas of Portsmouth before arriving at some immense battlement, punctuated with arches, one of which hid a door which led through the thick fortification wall to a little shingle beach where a few ne'er-do-wells sunbathed in the suntrap reflecting off the brickwork.

I took a walk along the top of the battlement and saw a guy cleaning the windows on the house and reflected that, whether it was the exact composition of the soapy sudsy water, the precise action of the squeegee or the ineffective application of the Two-Cloth Method, here was a skill being very ably demonstrated in front of me, which despite the best efforts I have been able to apply, I have just never been able to master.

Snatching the Feet From the Jaws of Victory

Far be it for me to bang on about logistics and principle of keeping things simple but I have a prime example of Slimmplification coming right up.

Today was Portsmouth day. We (Anne and the Brisbanes) were to catch the Catameringue (sic) over from Ryde Pier. To get to Ryde Pier, Mick was to take us.

Complication: Eloise had been invited to school because Maisie was going to do a Show and Tell or whatever their equivalent is. This meant that the plan was for:
1) Nicole and Eloise to go to the school (I don't recall how this was achieved, I don't expect it was complicated)

2) Mick and Anne to rendezvous with Lyra and I at Magnolia Mansion and proceed to Ryde Pier.

3) Mick to return to the school, retrieve Nicole and Eloise and deliver them back to the pier in time to catch the ferry.

Phases 1 and 2 were completed without significant delivery. Anne, Lyra and I were indeed delivered to the pier in plenty of time, where we waited.

And waited.

Meanwhile, or rather previously, Mick had neglected to take his mobile phone with him.

After a while, when it would have been nice for phase 3 to be well in hand, we phoned Mick but he didn't answer.

So we waited. In the absence of any other activities that we had either the time or the inclination to perform, we waited. The ferry was due to leave in five minutes.

The last call for the ferry went out. As the barriers closed, Nicole and Eloise ran into the building. We yelled at the ferryman to wait for us. He was not inclined to wait, clearly feeling that he had a choice in the matter.

So we missed the ferry.

Turns out the Slimmplification was manifold: firstly, Maisie's presentation had had nothing whatsoever to do with Eloise and there had been no perceivable need for her to be present over and above learning how dreadful discipline in English schools appears to be; secondly, the Slimms, bless them, had agreed to meet in a playground, without specifying exactly which one, relying as we sometimes wont to do on lgendary common sense to provide the answers.

So were there recriminations? Yes, there were. Did we put them behind us? As far as I'm aware, we did. Did we manage to do some more waiting? Yes, we did.

The ferry trip, when it eventually eventuated, was pretty quick, and when we got off at Portsmouth we carried on the day's activities by forming an orderly line and doing some more waiting. This time we waited in a queue to get into the Dockyards where all the tourist attractions are, and where Matt works, so we managed to get two types of waiting concurrently achieved: waiting for Matt and waiting to pay for our tickets. Matt the Efficient turned up in good time and we had a chat with him in the queue about the attractions we would like to see but eventually he had to go back to work, coincidentally just after the tickets had been purchased, so off we went to see what we hoped would be the highlight of the day: the HMS Victory.

The Victory did not disappoint: in its dark and claustrophobic confines footfalls knocked like possums at night and cannon lined the galleries bedecked in rope, their accesories around them, powdering thingies, powderkegs, powderhorns, boxes of balls, cages of rope protecting the the winching routes from one deck to the next.

A constant crouch was what was required with the beams overhead just below the height of my head; and the stairs were steep on the way up and steeper on the way down.

Eloise was clearly absorbed by what was going on as we filled in the gaps with stories of pressganging and sea battles. A Grey Guardian showed her how to trigger the mechanism on the cannon. Lyra was just delighted to be in a place so strange and different and ran back and forth with fire in her eyes.

We went up on deck then back down again into the bowels of the warship, saw the Infirmary and the various cabins and mess rooms of the ranks and the ratings.

As we descended into the deepest depths Lyra made everyone's day just that little bit more interesting by losing her shoe, dropping it between the slats of a staircase and deep into the bilge of the ship when the enormous masts wee fixed onto the hull. We could look down the gap between the floorboards and a structural spar and see the little red shoe nestled next to a hullpart.

A Grey Guardian noticed our dismay and came unflinchingly to our aid, fearlessly and indomitably in the way only a Military Man can muster. He professed to have seen many an unlikely scenario unfold on his Tours of Duty aboard Victory but that this was the first time that somebody had lost a shoe. But not to worry for he had a plan.He got out his R/T and before long another Grey Guardian appeared, instantly gelling into the Team, receiving his orders, saluting smartly, and leaving by a secret passage.

The lights went out momentarily then came back, but with lights below on as well, and within a couple of minutes Grey Guardian #2 appeared below us, quartering the floor space, before locating the red shoe, retrieving it smartly, and disappearing.

Within a couple of minutes we were showering the Grey Guardians with thanks as we returned the shoe to Lyra's foot and within a few more minutes, as we had had to do in most of historic locations we had visited, we made good our escape.

Jul 8, 2014

Happy Birthday Anne Slimm

I promised you some photos and by God you will have them, incapacitated though I am.

On this Day in History

Today was Carisbrooke day, a day we had been aniticipating for a while. Also Anne's birthday, a day to be celebrated with a trip around a fusty old ruin with sagging walls, I mean an icon of historical architecture that has stood the test of time, with surprises hidden at the end of its many dark passages!

Be that as it may, and I think I may be living dangerously literarily if not actually literally, the Birthday Girl and Chief Celebrant turned up at the house, in the rain, to announce that they didn't really fancy the castle, what with the rain and them being English and all and so not used to it, though to be fair it was her Birthday and what could be worse than drizzle on your big day?

Anyway I wasn't really up for submitting to the elements and neither was Nicole, and soon the weather cleared up, though it was odds-on that it wouldn't be for long. And a day in Anne's caravan looking out of a rain-streaked window whilst young children did rubbish arts and crafts... well frankly that didn't appeal.

So Carisbrooke it remained. My understanding is that the Grandpeople took the dog out to Bembridge again and the weather was lovely (or at least acceptable. I forget the fine detail). We went, chaperoning little Isla, to Carisbrooke. The Islanders. it being a school day, were at work, or school. Bless 'em.

With some trepidation we travelled in our solitary Hocus Focus, flying blind on our way to Carisbrooke, largely owing to the fact that we had forgotten to find out where we were going and had neglected to activate the Voice of Misdirectional Despair.

However as we approached a particularly large intersection with dual carriageway and everything (on the Isle of Wight, who'd have thought it) and breezed past the sign to Carisbrooke, our eyes met, my wife's and mine, and we fumbled for that damned phone while pulling a 1080 degree turn on the roundabout that seemed likely to go on forever as that miracle of modern technology failed completely to establish our location and then, when it did, only established it as it was twenty five seconds ago.

Forced by circumstances to strike out in a semi-random direction (to the extent that this is possible for a person of the male persuasion with the sense of direction that goes with that mixed blessing) that Cursed Voice was able to establish our whereabouts with sufficient certainty to establish that it disapproved of our route. Not to be discouraged, we carried on in our random direction and, as on many other occasions, many of which you'll have noted that I have recounted here in quite excessive detail, eventually we Reached Our Destination.

Nicole pulled off an amazing money-saving coup d'argent, id that's a thing, by purchasing a Foreign Visitor With Oodles of Kids Pass which was on offer, kind of an English Heritage day-trippy thing oly for more than one day and it got loads of kids in free, because we would be off to Osborne House as well with all the cousins and this would represent a significant saving.

We set off up the steep approach to the gatehouse with hope in our hearts.

As we entered the Bailey, pleasantly surprised at the state of the buildings inside we decided that children and food make a good combination, and so headed off to find a spot to pick our nick. On the way we came across a donkey, for some bizarre reason, going off for his team break. I demanded that a photograph be taken, and perturbed by my manly domineering aggression, the donkey-keeper acceded.

See how the children have guaranteed that the skies will remain dry throught their conscientious wearing of the waterproof? Hang on, that Isla looks suspiciously like she is flagging in her diligence...

Next on the list, after eating our sandwiches, crisps, and crisp sandwiches, was to walk the Wall, precariarsely balancing with arms outstretched as we carfully made our way along a pathway that was only several feet wide and bordered with walls that you would need serious climbing skills to escape over. There were steep staircases, however, and we got quite warm, so the raincoats were stashed away.

The heavens opened at this point, or at least made a pretty credible threat, as we drew around the curtain wall and had a look around the ruined keep and then lost interest as the clouds gathered and we realised there were some steep stone steps to get down in conditions of increasing peril owing to the slippery nature of rocks as explained most capably by Bon Jovi.

We were half way there when the rain started for real and we were forced to deploy not only the kiddy raincoats but the grown-up ponchos which did keep us dry, thankfully, though did little for our self-esteem sartorially. Still I'm sure Mum appreciated the sacrifices that might need to be made when she gave us the gifts, like Galadriel, so many moons ago, so many miles away.

I didn't squeal but I can't vouch for the females as we ran around the corner, across the courtyard to retrieve the stroller, then back to the museum to escape that damned downfall, onto a darkened world of stained panelling and veneer, full of things that shouldn't be touched but which looked so inviting especially for the toddler of no literary capability.

Have I explained to you previously that little Lyra has been described variously by adjectives throughout the spectrum (not that I want to bring up The Spectrum, if you understand) from Spirited to Maniacal? And that, even if we were to attempt to restrain her every movement to bring her under control, the only real result would be shattered windows within a twenty metre radius, an outcome I'm sure none of us really wants.

Maybe you can guess where this is going. Aside from disapproving glares from Grey Guardians.

Downstairs in the museum there are some precious things but to be honest they aren't that precious and anything that could be mistreated was fastened down with big chains. So you couldn't try on the helmet, because the chain wasn't long enough to let you do that, and you couldn't practice swordplay, because the chain on the sword wouldn't let you. In that case, I'll grant you, for good reason. Lyra still managed to get a bit of a reprimand when she tried to touch the big cardboard model of the castle and the grounds, but she was never going to do any serious damage.

Upstairs, likewise, not much of value, and anything out in the open was probably fair game, except maybe the attendants.

Off to one side though, there was a bit of history. King Charles' bedroom. For King Charles had been held prisoner at Carisbrooke when the Roundheads - everybody's favourite Puritan killjoys - had had their revolution and banned Christmas and all that. Kind Charles' bedroom had a fireplace that we could sit on if we liked, and a little space to stand and appreciate the contents, those being a period four-poster bed a couple of chairs, a slightly threadbare carpet, a copy of Knave.

All roped off. With red rope. I mean... people talk about a red rag to a bull, but this was a red rope to my child.

Imagine Nicole's squeal when Lyra tried to climb up onto that bed, and the speed at which Mum's finely-tuned action stations overcame her normally visceral politeness to get her over the rope after the child.

Alarm, woop woop bingley bong!

Oh the Silver Guardian was very nice about it and all that as he went off to reset the alarm system but you could tell as we walked shame-facedly back to the entrance that he'd been passing round an APB for my child and that she was very definitely Lyra Non Grata.

We sensed that it might be time to get out of Dodge, but the mystery of the donkeys had to be resolved. It turned out that for centuries donkeys have been working the treadmill that draws water up from the deep well and that furthermore for minutes this had been something that we had to see, and was in fact scheduled to be demonstrated in half and hour or so.

So we went to the Princess' Gardens and had a squizz around there for a bit; then we went and joined the Donkey queue, which had begun to burgeon.

It wasn't long before the clouds began properly to precipitate our heads, calling for me at least to seek shelter in a chapel with Lyra, but the girls to their credit remained outside in the rain, and so gained entrance to the Donkey Gulag to watch the donkey traipse around in its wheel for a couple of moments.

Lyra and I got in part way through and there was a little delighted petting of the beast afterwards. And then we were homeward bound.

In the evening Nicole made a nice meal for her mum. It I spent most of the night trying to get Lyra to sleep, or so it seemed.

Jul 7, 2014

Bembridge Phase Two: Windswept and Interesting-Looking

For our next trip we went to Bembridge. Anne I think needs to take the credit for suggesting that we visit the Beach Hut Cafe. Even though on this occasion we had it on good authority that we knew where we were going, and that good authority was in the lead vehicle, and there were brown signs quite clearly pointing the way, still we managed to get lost. Not irretrievably, mind you, but just enough, you know, just enough to make it worth mentioning.

The cafe itself was perfectly fine, although being in a beach hut, as the name might have suggested to you, all the seats were outside. And though it was sunny it was also assuredly breezy and rocks had to be deployed to hold down tablecloths. The food was lauded, and why not: I don't remember what I had, a sandwich rings a bell, but I'm sure it was simply marvelous. But it was windy. Exposed, and windy, even in the recessed patio that we sheltered in.

We had Chris, Nicky, Noah and Isla with us for a while: Isla stayed behind while the others went for a rest. Those of us who remained went down to the beach to walk the Astronomer.

Beppi spent a happy time ignoring his so-called Master's calls and assaulted (in the nicest possible way) other peoples' pet dogs and pet humans, and went back to the cafe for a bit while his Mum hid around a corner of the sea wall. Meanwhile, though perhaps not contemporaneously, Isla went for a paddle/wallow/padlow/wallle in the shallows, trying not to get pulled under by predatory mutant seaweed.

Afterwards we returned to the cafe for ice cream. Shivering away in the cold wind, while the ice cream melted under the warm sun.

Jul 6, 2014

Bembridge Phase One: Extended Family

My intention - my choice - is not to recall directly the events of that night except to say that we Buckdens and Brisbanes, basking in the peace and quiet of the Bespoke Patio of Ryde, felt much as one would after sticking one's head out of a car window at seventy miles an hour for five minutes, then pulling it in and closing the window - at peace and yet faintly bewildered. We relaxed and got to know each other again.

In the morning we had a complex logistical rendez-vous to manage with various people staying in various different places and the plan being to visit a beach the location of which none of us was certain of. GPS was of no use and so, after a short consultation with a map, we set off to find what we could find in sunny Bembridge.

We ended up driving down a little gravel trck to a little gravel car park; it was lucky that James caught up to us when he did. We parked our four cars as best we could, unfurled our strollers, leads, and other equipment, and then we - and my we I mean Anne, Paul, James, Jane, Erin, Noah, Liz, Ethan, Eloise, Lyra, Nicole and I - trudged off up the beach, accompanied in the loosest possible sense of the word by Beppi the Incorrigable.

Paul had to rescue a ball that Beppi got bored of in the sea. Eloise and Ethan went random-stone-collecting and Erin had a go with the bucket and spade. The wind blew up the beach. Paul was determined to go for a swim and, inexplicably, Eloise and Ethan joined him, but before long it was time to depart for people had ferries to catch.

Jul 5, 2014

Slimm Family Get-Together? Cue Barbie

Over the weeks leading up to the Australian Contingent's much-anticipated visit, there had apparently been behind-the-scenes machinations where our people had spoken to other people and their people had talked to our people and arrangements and compromises arrived at, certain assurances given, to enable a Slimm Summit to take place.

Though not a Summit to match the huge conclaves of yesteryear, convened when the youngest generation had not yet achieved full self-determination, I was expecting significant numbers.It was being sold as quite The Event.

Statistically and generationally speaking we can break it down in terms of the ratios of attendance to availability, and those can be modelled as inverse normal distribution to seniority.

In addition to the Slimms my dear brother James dragged his family along to be bullied and generally beaten up again, and young Elizabeth, Nicole's childhood friend, last seen March 2009 in the Epsom Snow. Strangely as I recall in Epsom they did not salt the side streets.

Anyway all proceeded very amiably. We decided reasonably early on that we wouldn't drive and so the option of becoming ridiculously drunk opened up for me. Instead I drank very responsibly, sampling Old Speckled Hen for the first time in many years.

The barbecues were arrayed behind the Caravan of Climate-Altering Immensity and that seemed to be where the senior men-folk seemed to congregate to guffaw at one another and breathe grape-laden Australianisms in our general direction. My general plan was to keep a low profile, try to prevent the offspring from suffering or inflicting serious damage, and to make sure that my bro and his retinue were attended to and succoured socially and spiritually, if you know what I mean.

The food was universally lauded by the meat-eaters. My veggie stuff was pretty good. Chick-peacular.

Anne does love her grandchildren whole-heartedly, and she had a plan, which was for all the grandchildren who were capable of speech to spend the night in the Amazing Caravan.

Well she didn't reckon with me.

Anyone who has known me sufficiently long, and sufficiently long can vary between a few weeks to, oh, a couple of years, knows that I'm a bit of a disaster in the playground as far as damaging other peoples' children goes.

Still, in this playground I did OK. Everything was made of wood and it was in the middle of a wood. As long as they didn't fall off the rope swings they'd be fine, and they didn't. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, they were laughing and everything!

Kate saw some poles and said that'd make a good photo. I just had my mobile phone but I could see her point. The poles were three feet high and geometrically arranged. If that isn't photo material I don't know what is.

In retrospect, and isn't retrospect lovely, our error was trusting an 18-month old baby to stand on a pole even if just for a few seconds.

They went down like dominoes, Lyra and Eloise and Maisie did. Maisie hurt her leg. She cried. Kate comforted her. She cried more.

It all sort of went downhill from there really in a copycat crescendo of crying and condescension, cousins crying left right and centre, for no very good reason, in fact self-defeatingly as poor Anne's dream date evaporated in tired little girls' wails and grown ups' inability to deal with it.

"I want to sleep with X"
"I want to be with Y"
"I want to stay here"
"I want to go with Nanny Z"

"If you don't stop crying, none of you will be staying"

Eloise stayed the night, they watched a video, had a nice time. She was the only civilised one and the groupthink almost got her at one point.

Jul 4, 2014

Solent Blue

So another day, another destination on the funny funny fun fun merry-go-round of holiday funny fun, and this time we were off to the Isle of Wight.

The original plan had been to spend a night or two on a campsite, in a tent, having some sort of familial barbecue thingy, but given Lyra's continued descent into sleep hell, we decided that perhaps this wasn't such a great idea and decided to ask Matthew and Sam if we could presume upon their hospitality for a little extra time, a request to which they readily agreed. Thank Flip!

So the Slimms de-camped en masse. Eloise travelled with the Buckden Slimms, staying over there after Isla's party and we stayed at Gamilngay, trying to keep the Senior Slimms on track. Trying and failing. Tempers were tested. Let's leave it at that.

We agreed to rendez-vous with the Buckden Slimms at Fleet Services, the English Meeting Place of Choice, and set off from Gamlingay at a crawl as the Slimm Land Cruiser pulled the Goliath Caravan Of Amazing Comfort down the road. We followed and followed and followed and then something just sort of flipped inside my head and suddenly we weren't following anymore we were free to go as fast as we wanted and we exulted as we sped off down the motorway at exactly seventy miles per hour leaving the Goliath Caravan Of Amazing Comfort But Limited Speed behind us, an ever-decreasing shape on the horizon a little like Ely Cathedral.

In a salutory lesson in the limited effects of driving much faster then everybody else, the Senior Slimms arrived about five minutes after we did at Fleet, where we had located the Buckden Slimms and Eloise and almost managed to attract her attention away from the effing Eye Pad, but not quite.

Refreshment then to Southampton to get on the Ferry where we waited for hours or an hour or maybe less before getting onto the ferry and wandering around with the Buckden Slimms camped out downstairs in the cabin, the Senior Slimms on deck with the Dog, and the Gavins wandering around between them, just sort of chillin', know what I mean?

In the Absinthe of GPS and/or meaningful maps of the Isle of Wight or The Island as it is affectionately if efficiently (and unimaginatively if we're honest) termed by the Locals (they probably call themselves The Islanders or maybe even the The Islanders) we decided, us and the Buckdens to rendezvous at a supermarket car park. Unfortunately there was a little confusion over the exact supermarket the car park we should meet at belonged to, leading to some messing up about, but eventually we hooked up and travelled in cut-down convoy-style to the Freshly Built House of Slimm.

As Chris was in the lead, of course we got there absolutely flawlessly, and parked up in the building site outside the Edifice of Ultimate Luxury and unloaded ourselves.

Later we went to the beach and ate masses of fish and chips next to the Trattles Beach Hut, with which the Ryde Slimms are affiliated by Common Law Marriage (if that law even applies on "The Island"). The fish and chips were very nice.

Lyra's sleep performance was better then ever. She didn't scream much, but only owing to the fact that as soon as she was was left in the cot and the door closed she climbed straight out again, opened the door and was downstairs again within two minutes, heralding the final phase of sleep management for Lyra, where she was lulled asleep every single night by an Adult.

Good grief.

Baby Travel Don'ts and Don'ts

Three weeks into the trip, let's take stock on what we've done right and what we've done wrong with Lyra and see where her sleeping and general well-being is up to.

1) It's impossible to distinguish jet lag from the effect of the accursed long summer evening. Long summer evenings are great for adults but really crappy for children. We can't really take blackout curtains wherever we go, can we?

2) Every time we go away, she gets a little worse. Now she's in Gamlingay, another house, another room, and we're leaving her to scream herself to sleep. If you go up to her and open the door - instant silence. Anne, whose opinion as a child-care expert I respect (mostly because she agrees with me) opines that Lyra is playing a game, that she is being naughty and just doesn't want to be left alone.

3) There is the legendary 18-month separation anxiety sleep crisis as well in the mix.

So what have we done wrong? Moved around too much, not been strict with bedtimes, not been strict with sleep discipline generally. What have we done right? Good question!

Last night she figured out how to climb out of her travel cot. So we had two hours of screaming and banging on the door too!

Jul 3, 2014

Isla's Birthday

The Gamlingay Slimms are obviously biologically sensitive to the time of the year in the expression of their primitive urges, as their family has a cluster of birthdays around this June/July time, with the Twins, Isla and Anne all having birthdays within a two week period.

Today it was Isla, and what better way to celebrate than with a barbecue.

We were reminded that the last time we were in England all together, Isla was just a speck. I remember waiting in the hospital car park while Nicole and Anne delivered something up to the heaving Nicky, and waiting for ages in the car because the legendary Isla Grace had just been released into the wild.

Well, five years on, look how she's grown.

Happy Birthday, Isla!

Jul 2, 2014

Another Trip to London, for Eloise, and the Infernal Beast Redeems Himself, Almost

Eloise went on another trip to London, this time with Anne and Mick (which was handy, considering we were staying with them).

This time the linchpin event was Matilda the Musical, though other activities were undertaken, all of which escape my mind at the moment. I'll come back to it when Eloise is awake. I'll ask her. If I remember.

We had some tasks to perform while the hosts were away. One was to get my wedding ring back to the wedding ring shop. My wedding ring needed to have its annularity restored, as once again it had inexplicably split. Well, let's refine that a little. This split, unlike the previous break, was inexplicable. The previous break was kind of explicable, being caused by a box of ginger beer, but inexcusable. The new split was pretty inexcusable too. So let's say instead that my wedding ring needed to have its annularity restored as once again it had inexcusably split. Unless you believe the ringmakers, of course, who told us instead that this sort of thing can happen.

Still we got the ring back and they were very nice and promised us to fix the ring and mail it back to the address in Hampshire that we gave them where I would be reunited with my token of love.

Our other task was to walk the Infernal Beast Beppi, and we repeated the Heaven-Opener of some days previously, only extending it with a circuit around some mysterious woods. We continued our previous porterage strategy and went armoured with the pram (or stroller, if you prefer), pushing it through the root-knotted ground and the bracken- and nettle-chocked path while the dog ran up and down, failing notably to run away.

Although, to be scrupulously honest and fair, he did assault several dogs before we got to the woods and failed conspicuously to return when Nicole blew on her little whistle and called "Beppi" in a strangely familiar and faintly ridiculous contralto faintly redolent of desperation and disillusion tainted with mild embarrassment.

In the way back we stopped at the allotment to perform watering on new plants and sampled the wonderful post-modern composting toilet.

And a good time, I'm sure, was had by all.

Jul 1, 2014

Another Allotment

On our first day in Gamglingay we went on a walk for the dog's benefit up to the allotment that Granddad Mick maintains.

The heavens opened while we were out and in retrospect us tourists, who had brought no raincoats for we own no raincoats, probably owe our health if not our lives to the wisdom of the Slimms who gently suggested that we use the spare raincoats that they had available.

A thing that I had forgotten about life in dear old England was the ski jacket that is the commonly worn protection of the Englishman in his everyday life, protecting him as it does from the wet, the damp and the cold that are the normal state of the English climate. We do not need these things in Australia. If it rains we deploy the umbrella and if that fails we use the modern invention of Shelter. If we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of being Heavily Rained Upon, we shrug our shoulders, suck it up, maybe complain a little, and either wait for the wetness to evaporate or else change our clothes.

Be all that as it may, and returning at least for the moment to the point, we walked across Gamlingay and out a little way in the country where among the sodden fields was nestled a little oasis where the land was divided up into sodden allotments.

On a different, sunnier day, we wandered down there again, ironically under motor power in the Hocus Focus. The heavens failed conspicuously to open and we whiled away some time as Eloise and Mick harvested some vegetables and generally performed mysterious allotment tasks the secrets of which I chose not to inquire too far into.

There was a shed, and chairs, and many rows of finely ordered plants, all growing. Clearly a finely maintained allotment, much like my Mum's.

Around the allotments, rough borders of cornflowers in the summer sun.

Churchyard and Cathedral

Anne and Mick spent many years driving back and forth to Norfolk to take care of Nicole's grandparents Olive and Stuart in their fading years and to their credit stuck with them through thick and thin, staying with them and helping them through the most difficult parts of their lives.

I wouldn't want to speak for her but I think Anne was quite pleased when Eloise said that one of the things that she wanted to do while we were in England was to visit Granddad Stewart's grave in Necton and to help her to clean it and put some flowers on it.

I remember that we went up last time we were all in England together and Anne and Nicole paid their respects to Olive by cleaning her gravestone back then and now Stewart has been buried with her, so it was a nice thing to do to go and see the church and the graveyard.

We got there on an archetypically English afternoon, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze ruffling the oaks and a ride-on mower attending to the graveyard lawn.

Mick and the Infernal Hound retired to a respectful distance while Anne, Nicole and Eloise attended to the gravestone and Lyra attempted to frustrate them.

I had a look around the graveyard, at the new gravestones, perfectly typefaced, and at the very ancient gravestones with their carvings all but invisible through time's weathering, and felt the history of the village there written in stone underneath trees as old as the oldest carvings there.

After all that mooning around I had a look at the progress made, and there were soap suds and Lyra was trying to sabotage the flowers. I had a look at the church. It had a nice ceiling.

Afterwards we went to the pub and had a nice pub lunch thingy. And then to Ely.

We happened upon a car park which was astonishingly free of charge. There were people in the car park, just standing around, wondering how it was that this car park was free. It was as though it had been transported from the distant past where every available inch of land wasn't exploited and taxed and owned.

We looked at a map and struck off in what looked like the right general direction, with Eloise walking Beppi the Astronomical Mutt and the rest of us following on. Needless to say with my navigating skills we were soon at the Cathedral.

Both grandparents elected not to enter the Cathedral ostensibly for dog-care reasons, arguably in fact to go shopping.

Us tourists though felt compelled to enter the hallowed halls of the Cathedral, a huge edifice standing like a huge edifice that stands over the surrounding countryside like a really finely architected aircraft hangar.

We wandered around the collosal Cathedral after negotiating our entrance and looked up at the ceiling so far above and ambled down the aisle, our footsteps echoing amongst all the footsteps and intermingling with the floating phrases that wafted around as someone in some dim recess played upon a keyboard we couldn't see and made his music on organ pipes that we couldn't find.

At the centre of the Church we craned our necks at the octagonal tower, buttressed and hollow, its collonnade of stained glass letting in the sunshine, colouring it as it lit the stone beneath, as we walked round the roped off area surrounding whatever it was that was roped off which we frankly we didn't really give a monkey's about.

Lyra however, naive, unformed, innocent, impish, cannot look a rope in the eye without appreciating that the area inside is somewhere that she ought to be, and chose this moment to begin a concerted campaign of being where she wasn't supposed to be on an epic scale.

And while she was it she thought she might, what with all the gentle sounds of footsteps and music echoing about, take advantage of the interesting acoustics of the place by making as much noise as she possibly could.

We went to visit the Lady Chapel, a side-church that was in use while the Cathedral was in disrepair (or something) which was much smaller and more acoustically interesting, being totally unencumbered by soft furnishings of any kind.

A security guard poked his head in, probably imagining that some ultraviolence was being perpetrated in this holiest of holy places, but it turned out that it was just a little girl making a lot of noise. A lot of noise. He retired, shaking his head.

We left the chapel and headed out into the transept  (which almost certainly isn't the right word for the area of the church surrounding the bit in the middle at the far end where the choir is, and the altar, and all that.

Eloise and I  found the organ, and even saw the organ grinder make his way through a little mini-person sized dwarf door and climb up a little stone spiral staircase into the secret organ room. We went looking for the pipes, but got waylaid on the way by a lady sitting at the back, appreciating the music. We got talking and it turned out that she was an off-duty guide with all sorts of interesting facts and knowledge.

After a while an official rector/proctor/verger type guy sidled up and said that we should leave now because they were closing up the back end of the cathedral for evensong. We talked a little more then left, only to find - horror of horrors - that the heavy iron door was closed and we were trapped in the back end of the church! Eloise was to put it mildly a little concerned and I was having a little laugh about it, thinking someone official will come along and let us out..... won't they....

It turned out that a good tug on the door opened it perfectly well. It hadn't been locked at all. Eloise however was discouraged and we left the Cathedral to go and see how Beppi was getting on.

Mick was outside with the dog and we waited for a while for Anne, who was shopping. I enticed Eloise back in for Evensong, which was beautiful, but she didn't appreciate it, the little Philistine, so we left and that was that.

We rounded off our trip to Ely with a walk up by the river and an ice cream.