We’ve been in the UK about a week now. Here’s what happened so far:
The flight was good because it wasn’t full. There was a spare seat next to us which meant the kids could both stretch out a bit and get some sleep. American Airlines has a new policy (brought on by some overly-litigious employee/customer, no doubt) that their weight limit on strollers for gate checking is 20lb. Any stroller heavier than that must be checked at the checkin desk, and ours weighed in at 22lbs. Never mind that Micro-elbeno weighed 3 or 4 lbs heavier than we know him to be on the same machine, or indeed the observation that they have a financial incentive for the machine to deliberately over-read and there is no apparent regulation. There’s no arguing with checkin desk automatons.
Our rental car is a Peugeot 3008 diesel automatic, and after about 20 minutes on the road I was used to UK driving again. The transmission is pretty sluggish though – it takes a second to respond to putting your foot down.
The first night we spent in Woking. After getting to our hotel, I took a quick shower and took the boys out to get some air and see the delights of Woking town centre – viz, a statue of a Martian (HG Wells was from Woking, their one claim to fame) and the Peacocks centre, with its huge Xmas ornaments hanging from the ceiling and occupying the central part of the mall. Mrs Elbeno rested a little and showered, and my parents, my sister and her husband and new daughter joined us for dinner in the hotel – quite a passable meal. Mini-elbeno enjoyed dessert.
Next day, we headed off to the Southwest to visit more family and friends. Down the M3 and the A303, our first stop was Wincanton where we visited my aunt and her family. We also stopped in to see both my Grandma and Grandad who are temporarily in separate care homes – one in Yeovil and one in Langport. They were both thrilled to see the boys – it was the first time they’d seen micro-Elbeno. It may be the last, so I’m glad we were able to stop by each of the places for a half hour. My grandma is in the end stages of heart failure, and while my grandad seems physically fit, he is 92 and the journey from health to illness can be quite short at that age. They have both lost significant short term memory ability, but they remembered us, including mini-Elbeno, and they knew who micro-Elbeno was too. Even though we had the same conversation 5 times, it was nice to be with them and see how happy they were to watch the boys playing quietly together.
Leaving Langport, we went further down to the Southwest to stay the night in Exeter. We had dinner at a pub called The Barn Owl right next to our hotel, and the food was pretty good. Against all odds I actually remembered the PIN for my UK credit card – a PIN which I set at university when I got the card, and which I have never used until now.
We were in Exeter all day Wednesday, where we met up with my old friend David. He has two boys as well – the older about a year younger than mini-Elbeno, and the younger one almost exactly the same age as micro-Elbeno – and independently named the same! The boys had fun playing in the morning, and then we went to lunch at my friend Lawrence‘s house. Lawrence fed us pasta, and we had a pleasant lunch conversation, then he kindly signed a few of his new books for me. Back at David’s house, the boys played some more and we had dinner after David’s wife got home from work – chicken Kiev, new potatoes, broccoli and leeks. We were introduced to a kid’s show called The Night Garden – a spiritual successor to Teletubbies – and David’s kids went to bed, and we went back to our hotel.
On Thursday we drove back up country to our rented cottage in Chipstead, near Redhill. We stopped on the way to spend half an hour at Stonehenge. Mini-Elbeno enjoyed the audio tour, but the thing he remembers the most is the warning at the end to return it lest an alarm sound. Anyway, we had lunch at a cafe in Andover and got to the cottage in the late afternoon. My parents and my sister came down and the girls had a night out while my dad and I looked after the boys.
Friday was the day that everyone had taken off work to prepare for the Thanksgiving feast on Saturday, so we headed to my parents’ house to be with the family. Most of our time was spent looking after the boys though. We chilled a bit and visited the local park to let out some energy. In the evening I went out with my dad and my brother and sister. We took the train to London Bridge and ate at a restaurant called Roast. I had a scotch egg with piccalilli to start, followed by roast belly pork with mashed potatoes and applesauce, also carrots and a nice apple and celeriac salad with candied walnuts. Dessert was apple crumble with custard. I was digging in the crumble and thinking, this is a tough apple, but I managed to slice off a bit with my spoon. After chewing it a bit I realized it wasn’t an apple at all, but rather a lemon. I was chewing a sizeable portion of lemon peel. I swallowed it, dug out the huge piece of lemon from the crumble, and continued. Everything after that rather tasted of lemon…
On Saturday, Mrs Elbeno did a 9 mile run in the leafy wilds of Surrey, and after that we headed to the parents’ house for the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. In the end there were 23 people who I will list here for my own future reference: Dad, GJ; the four Elbenos, Cara, Garth and Olivia; Alexander and Georgie; Anne, Joanne and Duncan; the Parry-Clarke clan including Georgie and Ben; Helen, Luke and Tom (who arrived a little later). We all feasted in a marquee in the garden – the usual excellent food with plenty of leftovers!
Sunday morning, we got out of the house and went down to Brighton to see our friends the Boards. The small Elbenos had fun playing with the Boardlets and then we went to Brighton Marina for lunch at Pizza Express, an old favourite of Mrs Elbeno’s. Leaving Brighton slightly later than planned because of micro-Elbeno’s temporary loss of a shoe, we arrived at Olivia’s christening a bit late. Luckily we didn’t miss anything important – we arrived in time to see everyone and eat more sandwiches and cake. On Sunday night Cara, Garth and Olivia joined us for “dinner” of leftover sandwiches and cake and a few games around the table.
It’s now Monday morning and today we’re going once more to see my parents and up to London to the museums. Tonight will be our final meal with the family and then tomorrow we’re back home on the plane – just in time, I hear, to miss an airport workers’ strike which threatens 12 hour flight delays! The weather here in the UK has been kind to us and our cottage has been a good place to crash and even do some laundry, although we haven’t figured out the arcane controls for the underfloor heating system. We are now content just to let one room be hot and one cold, even though all of the controls we can find claim to be set to the same temperature.
I’m not really looking forward to the flight home (small chance of a spare seat again, I think) but I am looking forward to the comforts of my own home and even to seeing what’s gone on at work since I left…
I’ll supplement this epic post with pictures once I get home and can get everything sorted out.