The Bucket List Blog – Chapter 4 – The UK

It would be four years before my next overseas trip – which took place in April 2014. A lot had happened in those four years.  I eventually got out of a very acrimonious relationship with ex-husband No. 2, we sold the house we had bought together and I bought my own little matchbox of a place.  By this time I had my British Passport and one child out of school.  But with two to go and trying to build myself up again to a place where I knew who I was, travelling was not first and foremost on my mind.  Then I met Daniel and 14 months after we got together, he moved to the UK.  His grandfather was dying (albeit slowly) and he wanted to be there to spend as much time as he could with his grandfather before he got too ill.  And so Daniel left South Africa without an end date for returning and so the epic saga of our long distance relationship started.

At about the same time my mothers side of the family were planning a family holiday in France over June/July and because the sale of my house was about to come through I decided to join them.  And then in the style that has clearly permeated all my previous holidays, my friend Annabel and I decided to join that holiday with a holiday to Spain. (But more about that in my next post).

Sometimes I do things spontaneously and because I knew I had the money from the sale of my house, and because I was missing the boyfriend so much, on a whim, I decided to go over in April too, over Easter,  and do London with Daniel – or was it do Daniel in London??  I think it was both! 😉  It was the best spontaneous decision of my life.  It came at a time when we really needed it.  So within the space of two months I did another two trips in quick succession.  I think that this was the start of the plan that was eventually going to lead me to where I am today.  I really felt an affinity with London and knew very quickly, that I could move and live there.  The more I think about it the more I think its because English blood runs through my veins.  My mother was born in England and all her family before her for as many generations as our family history goes back, lived here so it stands to reason that I feel like I belong here.  We have a family Bible that shows the family tree going back to my great, great great-grandfather so there is history here!

Daniel lived in Central London and for the purposes of my holiday that was great!  For the purposes of having a life besides paying rent, it was not great, but that story is far too long to get into here.  He lived in Marble Arch and was literally a minute’s walk from Hyde Park – that’s how central we were.  Besides for 2 days when I went to the Cotswolds to visit Annabel we spent every single day out and about exploring London.

My first time at Hamelys! Check out the price tag on this bear – no wonder he is hanging his head – probably he is sad as no-one will buy him for that price!
Another visit to the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum – it wasn’t nearly as fun without the 3-year old!
Me at the Natural History Museum – I look awfully excited! And thin, which is why I’m posting this picture! 😉
Love, love, love the Science Museum. Could go there a million more times! Always something fun and exciting to do there!
London Dungeons – first visit and it was amazing! Have done it twice now and both times equally as good!
Me in the Cotswolds getting spring water from a natural spring on the side of the road. Again, looking very pleased with myself!
This tree looks like it stepped out of an Enid Blyton book! I have seen many fairy tale trees since then but this was my first.
Drinking beer in the countryside with Annabel – Malvern – Note the sign behind me.  It’s very rare to find a pub that serves food ALL DAY, especially in the country, hence me posing in front of the sign.
Our local – we would go sit here while our laundry was being done at the launderette across the road. Perfect excuse to drink beer and read the newspaper.

No smoking inside so we spent quite a bit of time on the sidewalk playing silly buggers with this sign.
I discovered my favourite meal of all time on this trip – Bi Bim Bap – it’s the national meal of Korea. I could eat if every day! They bring it to you still cooking – its rice at the bottom, then veggies and then whatever meat you want, with an egg on top – then you mix it all together with this amazing hot sauce and voila! Soooooo delish!
We went to see War Horse – got last minute tickets so they were cheap and front row – what an amazing experience, absolutely fantastic show!
Haha, had to include this photo. As this is (one) of the small gifts I got for Nick on this trip. But its funny because very soon after that he actually got a whole trip to London from his mom!

The Bucket List Blog – Chapter 2: The UK & Turkey

The next adventure was overseas!  And not long after the first time – in March/April 2006.  As I said the bug had bit and we were amped.  There were two factors to the next trip.  Ex-husband No. 2’s mom lived in London and she had been wanting us to visit for a while, and, well, more importantly to us at the time, there was to be a full solar eclipse in Turkey.  At the time we were avid trance heads, going to as many parties as we could with a small child and limited cash.  But as most people know, if you have a passion for something, you generally make a plan.  So when it became known that a trance festival was being held in Turkey for the solar eclipse we thought it the perfect opportunity to attend a massive SEVEN DAY festival, see the solar eclipse and see a bit of London.  The plan evolved into taking our son with us, who was three at the time, dropping him off in London with his nana while we went and partied hard for seven days.

Unfortunately all the photos I have of that trip are actual photos and if there are digital copies, I don’t know where they are.  Said actual photos being somewhere in a box in South Africa. So I will need to regale you, avid readers, through imagination and wit.  And a little help from the video below.

We spent 4 days in London before leaving for Turkey and had an amazing time.  That was my very first time in the UK and I was hooked the moment I arrived.  It was late March and all the blossoms were out as were the daffodils and it was just so different to South Africa.  I suddenly realised that I had an affinity with old buildings and architecture, something I didn’t realise before.  We did all the touristy things you can do with a three year old.  So it was the Natural History Museum where we saw the life-size, life-like dinosaurs – I will never forget Nic’s face when he saw the dinosaurs move.  It was a boat ride on the Thames, it was Trafalgar Square to look at the pigeons.  It was the Science Museum for a ride in the rocket shuttle and we even managed to go and see a play at the West End (Les Mis), which was obviously without the three old.  We packed a lot into those few days but finally we were off on our festival holiday and we could not wait.

After a 3 hour flight and a bus ride, we arrived at the venue, where we had to complete the last leg of the journey in an open air truck – think woollen scarves and hats and frozen faces and smiles by the time we got there – it was late March in Europe after all, not that warm!  Dawn was breaking when we were dropped off with our tents and backpacks and as romantic as that sounds you must remember that we had been doing trance parties for a fair amount of years now so sunrise was a time of day we were quite used to 😉  Dawn in Turkey looked exactly like dawn in Elgin or Grabouw or Stanford or Caledon.  I felt like I had travelled 6 000 miles to a place that looked exactly like every other trance party I had ever gone to.  It was a let down to say the least.  I think it’s because the entire travel had been done in the dark so there was no sense of looking out of the plane onto foreign landscape; it literally felt like we had been transported back to a party in our backyard.  Then, to make matters worse, about three hours after we arrived, and erected the tent and were just getting into the party vibe, the heavens opened and the entire party flooded, not just rain but hail the size of grapes nogal!  (If you have three minutes to spare, please watch the first three minutes of this video which gives a graphic, blow by blow account of how bad this flash flood was).  It was so bad that the main stage was completely destroyed and for the first four days of the party a smaller rig and set up was used while they fixed it.

See what I mean?  As you can imagine, this did not put me in the best of spirits.  The rest of the party remained muddy and no amount of party essentials could really completely take me away from the fact that I was living in a soggy tent, all my clothes were wet and I was going to be there for the next seven days.  To top it off, the toilets were disgusting and the queues for everything were long.

The piece de resistance and what made the whole party was the amazing solar eclipse and to be there for that made the whole journey worth it.  (Minutes 7 to 8 on the video although I don’t feel this video really captures the essence of what was such an amazing celestial happening).  Some solar eclipses, even though they are full, can be very quick and can also occur towards the beginning or the end of the day when the light is not at its fullest anyway.  This eclipse was at around 1 pm and the full eclipse lasted about 4 minutes with the entire process taking a couple of hours.  The music was stopped when the eclipse took place and the birds started chirping as the ‘sun went down’.  It was such an amazing experience and to be surrounded by thousands of like minded people was mind blowing.  After the eclipse was over the music was mental – the whole South African crew that went to the party, all converged at the river for an afternoon of connection, love and light.

The eclipse was on day 2 of the seven day experience.  I lasted 4 days and tried really hard to enjoy it and lose my mind but when the drugs stopped working (and I had had enough of the filthy toilets and the freezing cold nights) and started thinking about the fact that here I am in Turkey and I am not going to see anything except this forest, I told ex-husband No. 2 that if he didn’t get me out of there and into the City to see some sights, there would be huge issues.  He must have been feeling the same way because soon we were on a bus to Antalya where we found a cheapish hotel which was all inclusive.  I have NEVER been so happy to see a proper toilet in my life.  And NEVER been so happy to have food in my belly.  That experience had been harrowing.  Thank god there is a solar eclipse experience as a reason to have done an international trance party because if there wasn’t I would feel very foolish to have made that journey just for a party.

I managed to find two photos of me at the party on my Facebook.   I’m looking happy so I’m sure they were taken either on the first day or the last day when I knew we were leaving!!!

We had three days left and we made the most of them.  We hired a car and went to all sorts of ruins.  We found a really cool cheap apartment and wondered around, going into shops and drinking apple tea with the proprietors.  We went on a tour to a leather factory and a diamond factory and I swam in the Mediterranean.  The memories are a bit hazy after 10 years but I know I felt relieved and grateful that we had managed to see a bit of the city we were so close to and so close to not actually seeing.

Birds eye view of Antalya – imagine we had missed seeing this!

Magical Lantern Festival

Last weekend some friends and I went to the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick.  We happened to choose the coldest night of the year to do it but considering its February, there was a good chance of freezing temperatures.  Luckily it did not rain though and I managed to take some stunning pictures.  The whole exhibition took about an hour and a half to walk though – which is testament to the size of it.  For anyone reading this who is the UK, do yourself a favour and go, it is indeed a magical and amazing experience.

dsc_2919dsc_2949 dsc_2950dsc_2937dsc_2956dsc_2942dsc_2962dsc_2952dsc_2978dsc_2955dsc_2989dsc_2964dsc_2992dsc_2980dsc_2990dsc_2993

 

 

Richmond Park

Ever since Cait and I went and spent our lazy picnicking day in Richmond Park last summer, I have wanted to go back and spend some time traversing it. It is so vast with so much to see and explore.  So one chilly but sunny Saturday I set off.  My mission was to try and get to Kingston Gate and meet a friend but between my phone being a lemon (long story) and me not managing to follow my map app very well, my phone soon died and I was only 10 minutes into what my app told me would be a 55 minute walk.

Having a very good sense of how huge the park is and also noting that even though the map app showed one simple path to follow, in reality, there were many paths to choose from and without the map to assist me there was no way I was going to attempt to find my way.  The sun was already setting and with signs like these up all over the place, quite frankly I was a bit apprehensive.  In these parts one does not need to worry about muggers but more about stray bullets that were meant for deer!

dsc_2890

Here are a few other pictures from my beautiful but short-lived walk in Richmond Park!

Here I think it looks like one could be in the veld, somewhere in the bush in South Africa!
Here I think it looks like one could be in the veld, somewhere in the bush in South Africa!
Lesser Spotted Deer! Actually Fallow deer, but they are hard to spot!
Lesser Spotted Deer! Actually Fallow deer, but they are hard to spot!
Arty Pic!
Arty Pic!

dsc_2880

More African type pics
More African type pics
Nows about the time I was really glad I had turned around!
Now’s about the time I was really glad I had turned around! Don’t be fooled by the look of that sun. It was not warm in the slightest!
Almost home
Almost home
Very nearly home
Very nearly home
Another arty pic - pink chimney smoke caused by the sunset and what looks like a comet but is actually an aeroplane
Another arty pic – pink chimney smoke caused by the sunset and what looks like a comet but is actually an aeroplane
My road, home at last!
My road, home at last!

 

Do you want to go to the seaside? Hell yeah!

Just before the kids arrived I got the opportunity to go and visit some friends in Brighton.  I have been wanting to visit there since before I even came to the UK.  There are so many movies made with Brighton Pier involved, and there is of course the pebbled beaches and the sea.  So, even though it’s only a 45 minute train journey out of London, I felt like I was going on a great adventure.  Luckily I had some trusty sidekicks from Fish Hoek with me on the train which made the trip seem even shorter.

From the moment we got there hilarity prevailed.  We didn’t want to get wasted or anything but being together did bring a sense of the old Fish Hoek days and ‘let’s be naughty’ kind of vibe.  So after sitting on the beach for a while and feeling the water (it was actually warm), we bought a few beers from the cafe and proceeded along the pier.  There was a little notice that said something along the lines of “No drinking beyond this point” but we decided to ignore it as drinking in public is not frowned upon in London (all the time).

View from the sea
View from the sea
View from the beach
View from the beach

This is what happened next:

Us drinking on the pier
Us drinking on the pier
Us pretending innocence after a security guard came and told us our fortune
Us pretending innocence after a security guard came and told us our fortune
Us finding another place to drink which was definitely us getting more brazen as the notice was about entering a drinking controlled area with fines of up to £500 if caught, aren't we the rebels!!!
Us finding another place to drink which was definitely us getting more brazen (or maybe more drunk) as the notice was about entering a drinking controlled area with fines of up to £500 if caught, aren’t we the rebels!!!
We decided to take the drinking inside after that
We decided to take the drinking inside after that
Then outside again!
Then outside again!

We eventually found a place to eat a very much needed meal before setting off back to London.  While we didn’t manage to see much of Brighton, we did still feel the pebbles between our toes.  OK, the pebbles beneath our shoes.  I did see Brighton Pier in bright lights:

15672660_10153992262627163_3623948230359184540_n

And sultry tones:

15747579_10153992262667163_1499673314777759149_n

And most importantly spent time with some friends which is beyond important living here.  I love meeting new people but there really is nothing quite like seeing your homies over here.  In fact, I think rather than saying ‘there is nothing quite like home’ the saying should be ‘there is nothing quite like the homies away from home’.

This is how the day made me feel:

15697613_10153992264792163_1090907232644980393_n 15780691_10153992264422163_4832098982991585540_n

 

 

It was a dark and stormy night …

Even though my very first snow experience was a total anti-climax and there are no photos to show for it, I thought that I would still write about it and see if I can capture my audience’s attention with just my writing skills alone!

It was a dark and stormy night … well, at first it started out as a grey and cold afternoon.  All around the office people were starting to talk of the snow.  There had been sightings in places further afield but all the Londoners were poo-pooing, saying that it would not snow, it was too wet.  I was to travel to Kingston after work to visit a friend.  A normally ordinary excursion on the bus.  As I walked out to the bus stop I saw stuff falling from the sky that was definitely not rain and definitely not sleet.  It had substance, and it was white!  “Its snowing” I exclaimed to the only other person waiting at the bus stop.  “This is so exciting!!!” I squealed. The gentleman then said that I was clearly not from around these parts and that after 10 years in England it was wearing a  bit thin for him.  Then he proceeded to tell me that he was busy videoing the snow for his cousin in Nigeria, so his whole argument fell flat.

Needless to say, I kept my enthusiasm going in the bus.  I was lucky to get into the front row at the top of the bus and if I kept wiping the window with my sleeve, I could carry on watching the snow fall from the sky.  It fell, but did not land.

Upon reaching my destination things got a little more hairy as I was now in the snowstorm, and it had indeed turned into a dark and stormy night and even though it was not doing much damage to the ground, it was coming out of the sky, directly into my face and onto my eyelashes.  I dutifully stuck my tongue out and felt the snow land on my tongue, cold and icy. I first needed to head to Sainsbury’s for some wine and then on to my friends house.  My hands were completely frozen after my 15 minutes braving the elements.  Onto the pub after a quick warm up inside.  This was fun because even though snow had not landed on the ground, it had landed on cars bonnets and windscreens and we even managed to gather a good sized snowball or two and lob them at each other – they hurt!

I’m still looking forward to seeing proper snow and have been advised that I might need to leave London to find it.  And perhaps I will.  But it was great to have that element of excitement, in what is fast becoming an ordinary life again.

Kids in London

So after such a long build up – I think Rayne started the countdown at 100 days, the kids have been and gone.  What a whirlwind time we had!  Not sure where to start … so many dimensions to this trip.  The touristy stuff combined with the emotional stuff.  Being together for two solid weeks made me realise just how connected we all still are.  After living such separate lives generally – Nic at boarding school, the girls leading their grown up, working lives, we integrated and gelled so completely well again – like we were never apart.  Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean we didn’t get irritated with each other.  The normal sibling stuff was there but it was not bad at all – Nic had two mothers the entire trip.  His cool mom and his irritating mom.  I am the cool mom.  I will say no more.  🙂 Because this is not a travel or adventure blog and because my blog is about being in London away from my children, I want to focus more on the emotional aspect of them being here.  It’s been almost a week since they left and already it feels like a dream, yet while they were here it felt so real and solid and right.

I got to give my son some of the best experiences of his life so far.  He went to a football game on New Year’s Eve and watched a really good game of football.  Chelsea vs Stoke (4-2).  We went on a stadium tour of Arsenal stadium which is where I got to watch him chat to the tour attendant and realise that my son is a vibrant, interesting and interested boy who gets on well with people and is becoming a mature, solid guy.  Affection was not taken well by him on this trip but I can live with that.  ‘Don’t touch me’ often came out of his lips when I wanted to get all demonstrative.

Their first day was an adventure in itself.  First of all I thought I would be late to the airport because I had under-calculated how long it would take me to get to the airport.  I knew they had managed to get OUT of South Africa because Rayne had messaged me – the reason why this was so important is because we had been hearing horror stories about kids not being allowed out of the country at customs due to not having the correct paperwork.  Rayne had already asked permission to leave her brother at customs if this happened!!!!  (I said NO!) After all that, the only bad thing that happened was a really long queue at customs (not one question asked) so I ended up being there in plenty of time and then obsessing about why they were taking so long.  I had cried three times before they eventually came out of arrivals and wondered how it would be to see them – maybe it’s because the break from seeing them hadn’t actually been THAT long but it was just like, OK we all together now, let’s go!!!  And go we did.  These kids did not know what hit them.  Got them on a tube, then on a bus, then home, then back on a bus, then a tube, hit Winter Wonderland, did some crazy rides, ate some crazy food, then back on a tube, then a bus, then a walk home.

My biggest coup of the whole holiday was taking them to see a play in the West End – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.  Nic was in no way happy to have to go and see a play. That is SO not cool! I chose this one specifically because I thought the storyline would appeal to him.  And it did.  He was blown away and loved it and was not afraid to say so!  In fact, it was number 3 on his list of best to least favourite things we did on the trip.  Here is his list:

1    The Chelsea vs Stoke Football match at Stanford Bridge Stadium

2    Camden Market

3    Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

4    Winter Wonderland

5    Madam Tussaurds

6    Arsenal Tour

7    The London Dungeon

8    The Science Museum

9   The Tate Modern Art Museum (this was expected but needless to say Khaya insisted on staying when we needed to leave because she was enjoying it so much and Rayne loved it too, much to her surprise!)

Look! Khaya and Nic met Morgan Freeman
Look! Khaya and Nic met Morgan Freeman
And Shrek!
And Shrek!
And the tour would not have been complete without meeting Bob!
And the tour would not have been complete without meeting Bob!

The funniest part of the trip was when Khaya vomited at Winter Wonderland.  She went on two extremely crazy rides one after the other and after the second one got off, green, and gesticulated wildly that she needed to hurl.  Luckily we were close to about the only grass patch in the whole place and I said just go for it.  And go for it she did! Was hilarious!  We had such fun that day, went on so many rides, drank wintery mulled wine and cider, ate roasted chestnuts and churros … and that was just Day 1.

Me enjoying the mulled wine (with a shot of brandy) at Winter Wonderland
Me enjoying the mulled wine (with a shot of brandy) at Winter Wonderland

Rayne and Khaya did not like the transport system and they did not like the weather.  But they shopped till they dropped.  After the first disaster when I sent them off shopping and told them to just catch the same bus back from the bus station and they got lost because that bus actually left from a different area of the bus station that I did not know about.  The unfortunate thing about me being a relative newby to London is that half the time it was the blind leading the blind and I feel like we took some very long routes at times.  LOL.  Nicholas did his best to annoy his sisters and did very well most days, especially the day we went to Madam Tussauds and went on an automated tour in little buggies.  The people in the buggy are meant to tune it to the language of choice and Nic thought it would be funny to change the language.  Unfortunately once chosen it could not be unchosen, so Rayne and Nic listened to that whole tour in French!!
Both the girls have their own blogs and so I am sure they will share more of how they experienced the trip.  It was the trip of a lifetime, because it was so fantastic and because we will probably never have a holiday with just the four of us again.  It was so special because I shared it with the most special human beings in my life.  I am so lucky and honoured to have given birth to such awesome people!  Only 115 days until I see you all again, let the countdown begin!

Walking the streets of London!
Walking the streets of London! And boy, did we walk!
Camden Town!
Camden Town!
Us on the Millennium Bridge, just before going to visit the Tate Modern
Us on the Millennium Bridge, just before going to visit the Tate Modern
Our last day - enjoying coffee and croissants!
Our last day – enjoying coffee and croissants!