Tuesday, 19 April 2011

England Part 4: The South

Or: Toby and Friends.

But that would spoil the pattern, and anyway, we were in the South. To be exact, Bristol, Reading and Wimbledon, which form a pretty straight line along latitude 51° 50' N or so. And after commenting in my previous post that I'd managed to take photos of all the important people, I realise now that I failed to take any of about half of the people Toby met. Including Jen, with whom we actually stayed in Bristol. In my defence, she's hard to pin down long enough to take a photo of - she is one unstoppable lady! As well as being manic at work and dashing around doing all the things she'd planned before we decided to turn up on her doorstep, she managed to invite a few friends round on Friday night and cook a delicious lunch for eight of us (plus puppy and baby) on Sunday. Phew! Makes me tired just thinking about it! Isn't that right, Toby?

We had a hectic time in Bristol ourselves, trying to fit in visits to everyone. As always, there were some we unfortunately had to miss - there's never quite enough time. We spent a nice afternoon with Andy, Ellie, Esther and Susannah, playing in the park and watching Wallace and Gromit (I know, it's a hard life being a mum). The girls really enjoyed seeing Toby.


From there it was on to Will and Lucy's, who cooked a scrumptious dinner for me and played music to Toby to get him to sleep. I missed out on a photo with them, so here's one of Toby looking smart.

Next day I returned to my old haunts at Cairns Cafe, to experience it for the first time as a mother. I got a few double-takes as people adjusted to the idea of me with a baby! We'll have to go back again when Toby is big enough to play on the toys.

We then paid a visit to Claire, and enjoyed a steep stroll around Long Ashton. I just about managed to hang on to the buggy going downhill! Just by way of variety, this is Claire holding a vase of flowers. I thought she looked very ornamental. She did hold Toby too, of course.


The evening was filled with great conversation with friends, ranging over topics as diverse as IVF, tsunamis and knitting. Knitting, it appears, is very trendy these days, although I never got the hang of it when Mum tried to teach me and I can't see myself starting now.


I was excited to see my friend Naomi and her new baby boy, born exactly 4 months after Toby. Luke made my little man look like a right chunk; I couldn't believe Toby had ever been that small!


Also hard to believe we're both sitting here with our babies on our knees - surely it wasn't so long ago that we were hosting wild parties at Linden Road?

Graham's friend Sheridan dropped in for a brief hello and cuddle with Toby, then Toby went off to bed and left me with a pile of root veg to peel for the aforementioned Sunday lunch. You'd think he might have given me a bit of help!

It was worth it, though, and really nice to have the chance to chat to some Cairns Road people for longer than five minutes after church. And talking of church - if you ever get bored during the sermon, the creche is where the party really is!

Back to Reading, and you've already seen most of the family photos from that part of the trip. We also met up with Beth, who I must have known for *cough*20*cough* years and who is now mum to three gorgeous girls. Sophia, the youngest, was excited to meet someone about her size.


As well as his first plane journey, Toby also managed his first bus trip (from Woodley to Reading) and his first train ride during our time in England. We caught the train to Wimbledon to see Claudia, who's studying and working at a church there. Lunch in a French cafe was followed by a stroll on Wimbledon Common. Sadly we saw no wombles.

So, with Toby suitably cuddled, smiled at, cooed over and generally spoilt rotten, we headed back to home and Dad. For more cuddling, smiling and spoiling. Isn't that what babies are here for?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

England Part 3: The Evens

At this point in the trip Graham returned to Texas to go back to work, and it will become obvious that he's much better at remembering to take photos than I am. Although I did try hard to get one or two of all the important people that Toby met. Chief among those, of course, were his grandparents on his mother's side. So here's Toby with Grandpa: And with Grandma, in the back garden. That's rhubarb over against the fence, which made its way into a rather nice dessert while I was staying (mmmm). We went for a walk to Hambledon lock and weir, on the River Thames, and Grandma and Grandpa got some exercise by pushing Toby up and down a rather steep hill. As you can see, it was a rather damp day, but had actually stopped raining by the time we started walking. Just a snapshot of some typical English countryside - hedges, fields, and rolling hills. Why do hills roll, anyway? Makes it sound like they go around turning somersaults. Back at home, and Toby looking very snuggly after a bath. We washed him in a little tub which gradually became more and more of a tight fit as the trip went on. By the end it must have felt like being back in the womb. He isn't crawling yet, but is getting decidedly more mobile. You never knew what position you'd find him in when you went to get him up in the mornings. This looked horribly uncomfortable but he seemed happy enough.

Toby got to meet a good portion of my family, including his great-aunt and -uncle, great-aunt, great-great-aunt and -uncle, and, um, whatever you call your great-great-aunt and -uncle's daughter and her two children. Let's just stick with cousins. Close enough, especially as he doesn't have any first cousins yet, so Amy and Finlay are the next best thing. They enjoyed each other's company.


Mom and Dad had to work while I was staying with them, so Toby and I amused ourselves with a few walks around the countryside. This is the River Loddon, or a branch thereof - it's the kind of river that splits and rejoins and meanders around until you have no idea which bit you're walking by.


An old bridge and some spring blossom.

Toby and Grandma admiring the daffodils.

Just one more entry to go...

Friday, 1 April 2011

England Part 2: The North

When I was a child we drove up to visit my dad's family near Sheffield about once a year, and there was always a slight thrill when we swung on to the M1 and saw those big blue signs telling us we were heading to THE NORTH. Somehow those two words managed to convey an image of massive icebergs sailing under the glow of the aurora, while reindeer roamed in the conifer woods and polar bears fought by the light of the midnight sun. And then we got to Sheffield.
And then I grew up and gradually realised that Sheffield is barely halfway up England, and there's a lot further to go before you reach the snowy wastes. On the way you pass through Yorkshire, which to be honest can do pretty well at being a snowy waste itself in winter, but we arrived in spring, to the much more inviting drifts of daffodils and crocuses.
Graham's parents, as I may have mentioned, live in Todmorden. Pretty much all the towns in the area are in valleys, which makes it easy to get a birdseye view. If you walk at right angles to any of the main roads you are very soon on a more-or-less vertical trail. Anthony and Maddy live in the clump of red-roofed houses near the bottom of this photo. Up on "the tops" it is mostly farmland. The area got rich on wool, and there are still sheep around. This one looked like it was used to posing for photographs, obligingly showing off its best profile on top of a small mound. Another view from the top down. We actually climbed up that slope that you are looking down(not with Toby!) On our previous visit we'd come down that way, so we knew there was a path somewhere, but failed to find it this time. We just clawed our way up through streams and rocks and tussocks of grass till we got to the top. Once there, we were on a perfectly respectable path, watched over by a solemn guy with a big nose. Back down in the valley, this is Graham admiring the crocuses in the local park. I just love how 10 minutes' walk gets you from civilisation to almost-deserted hills and back to the ice-cream shop again. We visited Graham's sister in Huddersfield a few times, and on one of those occasions took the opportunity to leave Toby with his doting relatives again and take a quick walk by ourselves. This is the view from near Holywell Green, looking over Halifax. Such a typical English scene that we had to take a photo! You could barely squeeze into the phone box past the hedge at the left, but it looked like it still worked. They take credit cards these days, presumably so nobody has to go round collecting all the 10p pieces from them. Imagine. What a job. At the end of the walk we were rewarded by one of the best rainbows we'd ever seen. We stood there drinking it in and snapping photos, and then ran back to the car just before the rain arrived. Graham's friend Rich braved the M6 on his motorbike to join us one weekend. We went on a hike to Stoodley Pike. On previous visits I'd had this landmark pointed out to me (it's clearly visible from most of Todmorden) and had always assumed it was spelt Studley Pike, as to my southern ears the northern u sounds exactly the same as oo. On consulting Wikipedia I also learned that Stoodley Pike is in fact the hill, and the pointed beacon on top is properly known as Stoodley Pike Monument. Having been disabused of everything I thought I knew about the place, we went to visit it. The final approach. Inside is a short spiral staircase with no lighting except what filters in from top and bottom. I was warned that sheep sometimes liked to shelter inside and then bolt past you in the pitch darkness, so I approached with some trepidation. Fortunately we didn't meet any homicidal ovines on this visit. Graham and me on the balcony of the monument, and the view from the hill. As you can see, it wasn't a particularly warm day. Anthony and Maddy had thoughtfully provided us with a Thermos of hot water, which attracted envious looks from other chilly hikers. They also gave us some sachets of "3-in-1" coffee, with milk and sugar already included. It reminded me irresistably of the machine in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which produces a liquid "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea" (or in this case coffee). Shibden Hall, near Halifax. The grounds are now a park which we enjoyed strolling around. The hall's most famous owner was Anne Lister, in the early 19th century. She was a colourful character by all accounts, a lady landowner and lesbian in days when both were frowned upon, and keeper of an extensive diary. One final day out, to St Annes, just south of Blackpool. Technically the seaside, but we could just glimpse a ripple of water across miles of beach. The pier was high and dry and it seemed impossible that the sea would ever get close enough to touch it, never mind float boats anywhere near it. Sand and strollers don't mix, so we mostly stayed on the promenade, but you can't go to the seaside without getting just a little sand in your shoes!