Back home

After a 20 hour trip during which I was impressed with National Express coaches, during which we were repeatedly thrown all over the sky (most especially above Nigeria) and during which the children were mysteriously (but thankfully) well behaved, we find ourselves back in Cape Town, where the Mountain is flat and the people are allegedly rather cliquey.
Not that either of those things bother us particularly, because although the excitement of the holiday is disappearing and although the thought of work looms large on the horizon, we have our own beds in our own rooms; our own sandpit and our own Nanny (where applicable) and I have my own Uitkyk potstill brandy.


All these places feel like home…?

And although in some ways, I wish we were still over on my beautiful Island, it is good to be back home. Routines can be reinstated, normal life can begin again. And yes, routine and normality have their highs and their lows, but if they didn’t then those times away wouldn’t be so special.
Of course, if when I win the lottery, I will be on holiday all the time and it will still be special, but that’s because I’ll take my own bed with me wherever I go. The benefits and security of home coupled with the enjoyment and novelty of being away. I think I could manage that quite nicely.

Many thanks to all of you who have made the last few weeks so special. You know who you are. Apologies to those of you who we were unable to see. You know who you are too. And you should also be aware that you are top of our list for next time. Whenever that may be. I would say “don’t hold your breath”, but that would be a little pointless, since I’m sure it’ll be longer than a minute or two and you’d get all uncomfortable.

And with that, I am heading off to pray at the temple of El Matresso, the Mayan God of Sleep.

All hail, El Matresso. We are not worthy.

Holiday Highlights

Although it pains me to say it, the 2009 Kids in Tow Tour is slowly but surely drawing to a close. And – as with all holidays – it’s had its ups and its downs. Fortunately, the highlights have far outweighed the negatives and – because I blog for myself as much as anyone else and I find myself with a few rare spare minutes – I think I should list them. That way, when I get back home to Cape Town (which apparently got washed away while we were here), and it’s grey, cold, wet, depressing and my zebras have gone missing, I can quickly and easily refer to this post and remind myself of the great time we had here. Which will cheer me up for all of 3 seconds. My brain is not easily fooled.

Let us begin:

  1. The embarrassingly uncomfortable Michael Jackson Tribute in Trafalgar Square.
    This, in fact, deserves (and will get) a blog post all of its own. Rarely have I seen a group of people looking more awkward in their own skins. Apart from the one lass in her polka dot skirt, floppy hat, white tights, cream fishnets and crocs, who was making all the others even more self-conscious.
  2. The worst landing ever at Ronaldsway Airport. Not a highlight per se, but it was just nice to be alive after it. 
  3. Reliving my childhood watching Alex and my Mum heading up to the farm together to collect the milk. A reminder that it’s sometimes the really simple things that mean the most.
  4. Every visitor to the cottage being invited to come and have a ride on Alex’s shed bus. For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of the shed bus, it’s basically a shed with two chairs inside which stops at local Manx villages, Constantia Pick n Pay and the Waterfront.
    No ticket required. If you want a trip, just turn up and you’ll get an invite. Or ten.
  5. Silverdale Glen, with its Victorian water-powered roundabout. I have rarely seen anyone so ecstatic at such a unique playground feature. Bouncing with excitement. Shaking with exhilaration. And that was just my wife. The boy was beside himself.
  6. Our little girl’s First Birthday. She had cake in the garden and then went out on her first ever boat trip. I’m happy to report that the cake remained within her despite the somewhat lumpy sea conditions beyond Port St Mary breakwater. 
  7. Finally getting Mrs 6k to the summit of Cronk ny Arrey Laa. That’s a hill on the West coast of the Island with stunning views – especially at Sunset time – and it was always my intention to get engaged there. To whoever I was going to get engaged to. However, when the big moment came, I was 6,228.23 (thanks Google Earth!) miles away in Hermanus and I thought the romance might have been lost by the drive back to Cape Town International, a 15 hour trip to the Island via Amsterdam and Manchester, a drive up the shoulder road together with the worry of the weather being a bit crap when we got there. Although, I suppose we could always have taken the shed bus.
    Still – all’s well that ends well and it was nice to finally get up there yesterday evening, albeit that the sunset was more pretty than spectacular.    

And there are still 5 days remaining before the (literally) long haul back to Cape Town. It seems to have passed like wildfire, but at the same time (as is the way with these things) I can hardly remember details from the beginning of the trip. That could be down to old age or red wine though. Or, more likely a bit of both.

And – as a bit of a disclaimer – I’m not mentioning the obvious stuff like seeing family and friends. That should go without saying. Although I just said it.

Photos still available (and being regularly updated) on the only official 2009 Kids in Tow Tour flickr set.

A remarkable moment

As a parent, I recognise that there is no such thing as “time off” – even on holiday. And, vaguely related, as a microbiologist, I recognise that when visiting new destinations – especially foreign destinations – you are more likely to get sick from those annoying little upper respiratory tract infections which aren’t swine flu, but are just enough to make you feel a bit crap and produce litres of snot where before there was none.

Our youngest has gone down with such a virus. Nothing serious, but nasty to make her a bit miserable, exude litres of green gunge from her nostrils and significantly increase the dividend for Adcock-Ingram’s shareholders.
On the plus side, the boy seems to have brushed off any infectious advances from his sister’s bugs and he continues to have a whale of a time chasing seagulls, making a bus in the garden shed and generally not stopping.  

Thus, moments like this one are remarkable. Both kids in bed, sleeping soundly and in no danger of plunging into local harbours or in need of paternal solace, while wiping “stuff” on my shoulder. And that is why I find myself sitting in the sun, tapping away on the fancy laptop with a decent cup of coffee by my side, listening to the Manic Street Preachers belting out Autumnsong, Indian Summer and the rest from Send Away The Tigers*. I know that this remarkable moment will only last perhaps thirty minutes if I’m lucky, but that only makes every minute all the more special.

Reading back, you might get the impression that I’m not enjoying the holiday. Or course, I am. But holidays with young kids are different. You don’t get your pleasure from lying on a beach not dreaming of tuberculosis or Friday’s lab meeting – you get it from the smile on your boy’s face as he heads for the swings for the umpteenth time or from your daughter’s giggling as Granddad throws her a ball.

It probably sounds like hell to those of you who aren’t parents. Or at least a bit sloppy. But it’s just different and you don’t understand that until you’ve got kids. And I don’t mean that condescendingly: I certainly didn’t get it before I had kids. Priorities change and you don’t get lie-ins – even when you’re on holiday. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.

And with that, I see the lights blinking on the monitor as K-pu awakens. Perfect timing.
Thanks for sharing my short remarkable moment with me.

Tonight: The almost certainly anti-climactic final episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth, which has had me hooked all week, but which will have to pack a whole lot of action, bewilderingly virulent viruses and heroes improbably surviving massive explosions into just 60 minutes this evening if we’re going to get a decent conclusion.

* Just to clarify: I’m listening to the music, not the cup of coffee, which has no ears – often seen as a prerequisite for music listenage.

2009 KiTT: The story so far

I have finally managed to get around to using the ultra fast internet here on the Isle of Man to upload the first few photos of the 2009 Kids in Tow Tour to flickr. And not only that, but these are also the first batch taken with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28. And I love it.


Calf Sound, Isle of Man

The weather is sunny, but the northwest wind is keeping it cool. But get out of the breeze and it’s lovely. And though we’ve only been here for 24 hours, it feels like forever: this place relaxes you instantly. We were down by the sea this morning, watching the seals and for about 2 hours, we just did nothing. Any parent will tell you how rare and precious that sort of time is.

The boy, born and brought up in suburban Cape Town, is in his element. There is space, fresh air, farm animals, birds, sea, rocks to scramble over, grandparents and a plastic tool kit that his Auntie Jane bought him. This morning he went up to the farm with Grandma to collect the milk. The rural equivalent of 7/11 – this stuff comes unpasteurised in churns, not in plastic cartons.

Now, as I sit inside this beautifully renovated 18th century cottage, tapping away on a rather posh laptop, I can see the family beginning a game of cricket outside in the sun. It seems foolish not to join them.

Until next time…

P.S. Thanks to all of you who have forwarded me Louise Taylor‘s hysterical piece in the Guardian on visiting South Africa for the World Cup next year.

She suggests that Egypt should have hosted the tournament. That’s Egypt which polled a mighty zero votes when they were selecting the host nation. Yes, Louise knows all about democracy.

As she says, “surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup?” Yes, Louise knows all about hosting major sporting events.

And then, the piece de la resistance. Those four little words: “I’ve never been, but…”.

Yes, Louise knows all about South Africa.

Back home on the Isle of Man

After a short trip to the ghastly Gatwick airport and the bumpy flight over the UK and the Irish Sea, followed by the most horrendous landing ever, I feel profoundly lucky to be safely “home” in the Isle of Man. Not many people know that I almost died here, on a runway at Ronaldsway Airport just after 1pm this afternoon. But it was not to be.

I’ve seen four airports over the past few days. Four very different airports.

Cape Town is in a state of development ahead of the 2010 World Cup. And while it looks pretty spectacular and is already a huge improvement on the previously dated and rather ramshackle terminals. One slight issue is the thick dust, which is covering everything – including the cars in the long stay car park, which are well on their way to becoming fossilised. Every car park ticket comes with a free car wash. Or at least it should.

And then the much maligned Terminal Five at Heathrow. Well, I was completely impressed. Quick, clean (although I probably still had Cape Town on my mind) and very modern and stylish. We sped through in record time via the internal transit train thing and then spent all the time we’d saved watching the dancing fountains outside the terminal building.


Photo by LightReflections on flickr

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Gatwick. Aging, poorly designed, ugly, overcrowded and full of chavs. The humourless security people made me take my belt and shoes off and then laughed as my jeans fell down. So not completely humourless then. But I didn’t find it funny. Shuffling across the apron in the kerosene-stained drizzle was even less fun. And difficult with my trousers round my ankles.

And then little Ronaldsway. I’d love to tell you all about it, but I was still stunned by the utterly appalling landing by the apparently novice pilot in the blustery crosswinds.

The Isle of Man is still as pretty as I always remembered it to be. But it seems even more beautiful when you thought you were never going to see anything ever again. I’d even have settled for another afternoon in Gatwick departures lounge.