10 Things Tuesday: little things that I’ll remember about being in the UK

Having now returned to normality (and New Zealand) with a bump; I’ve been talking to friends and family about my trip. Amongst the many beautiful, powerful, amazing things I saw and experienced there are also lots of little moments that, for one reason or another, have stuck in my mind. Some are positive, others not so much – but all will stay with me. Looking back, they have a lot to do with food and the eccentricity of British plumbing, so in no particular order:

1. Taking a bath at one of the B&B’s where I stayed and finding that the dial-thingy that released the plug didn’t work and I couldn’t drain the bath. I had to bail it with a tumbler to remove enough weight of water to manually lift the plug. Do you know how many glasses of water it takes to fill an average bath? Neither do I; I lost count when my arm started to get really sore.

Do you know how many glasses of water it takes to fill an average bath?

Do you know how many glasses of water it takes to fill an average bath?

2. Trying to find a good coffee. This began badly with a long conversation in a Northampton cafe about the differences between the latte and the flat white on the menu. Despite the duration and complexity of the discussion (enough to provoke the man behind me to suggest I just order tea); the drink that arrived actually looked and tasted like a terminally anemic cappuccino. My quest ended with an interesting tiered concoction in Hampton which comprised a layer of milk (about 70 percent of the volume) a layer of coffee (about 15 percent) and a layer of froth (the final 15 percent). In between, I must give honourable mentions to the Olive Branch Cafe in Alnwick, the Food for Thought Cafe and Deli in Burntisland, Fife and Prego in Harrogate.

The Food for Thought Cafe and Deli in Burntisland, Fife. Supporting both Fair Trade and local producers.

The Food for Thought Cafe and Deli in Burntisland, Fife. Supporting both Fair Trade and local producers.

3. Eating a fish supper watching the sunset in Lower Largo.

Sunset; Lower Largo, Fife.

Sunset; Lower Largo, Fife.

4. Going to the loo in the middle of the night at the retirement village where my mother lives. I pulled the wrong cord and instead of turning on the bathroom light, found myself in total darkness with an alarm sounding and a disembodied voice asking if I was alright. I had accidentally called for emergency help.

5. Trying to use the shower at the same place and not being able to figure out why there was no power to the unit. Neither my mother, the village manager or a visiting tradesman seemed to know what the problem was and it looked like a maintenance call would be made until one of the cleaners mentioned that the power for the shower was an innocuous – and unmarked – orange switch in the suite’s bedroom. Well obviously!

6. Remembering that crisps and mayonnaise-heavy coleslaw are regarded as “salad” in many British cafes.

The tiny Perthshire village of Kirkmichael was home to one branch of my family for many generations.

The tiny Perthshire village of Kirkmichael was home to one branch of my family for many generations.

7. Walking into the local store in a tiny Scottish village, looking for locals who might remember or know the branch of my family that lived there; and finding everyone present was from Coleshill in the Midlands (strangely, a place I worked in many years ago).

The Millenium Bridge being raised. Newcastle, England.

The Millenium Bridge being raised. Newcastle, England.

8. Watching the Millenium Bridge in Newcastle raised. A beautiful piece of architectural engineering.

9. Taking a shower in one hotel, only to find that the rubbish design of the wet-room drainage meant that the water flowed into the bedroom. A time-consuming and frustrating process of trying to report this and get it fixed ultimately proved fruitless. Warning; if you book into the Ramada Encore in Gateshead, take gumboots and waterproof luggage.

10. The camaraderie of the would-be internet users staying at a hotel near Durham that advertised free wifi, but failed to point out that it only worked in the carpark. To the dozen or so other hardy souls who joined me on that Sunday night holding our phones and tablets aloft in search of connection – I salute you. You represent the best of British; that self- deprecating, gently mocking British humour and stoicism that got the nation through the Blitz,  the Thatcher Years and internet blackspots of County Durham.

Word a week photography: arch

I’m in the UK at the moment – revelling in the architectural gems of many centuries that pop out at me wherever I go.

Sue’s Word a Week photography challenge is arch: perfect for so much of what I’ve seen on my recent travels.

The parish church at Gayhurst, Buckinghamshire.

Dunfermline Abbey, Fife, Scotland

The parish church at Auchtermuchty; Fife. Home of my Leslie forebears in the late 19th century.

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

The old churchyard at Kirkmichael, Perthshire. The headstone in the foreground is that of my 4x great grandparents, James Wallace and Ann Cunnison.

Fiddling in the roof

I’ve been in the UK for five days now; not quite sure where the time has gone but it’s been lovely to catch up with family.

I’m not exactly jet-lagged, but my body clock is slightly out of sync with local life. It’s seven o’clock on a Sunday night and I really just want to go to sleep.

I’ve got so many potential posts buzzing around in my head, but for now all I can manage is some photos. So far my rooms have been in loft conversions; deliciously comfortable, well-done conversions. So here are the views from my windows this last week.



Black and white: not how I’d describe my family

If family is a community of love and caring, my son is at the centre of mine.

If family is a community of love and caring, my son is at the centre of mine.

It’s kind of ironic for me that Sonel’s black & white photo theme this week is family, because in my life, family is certainly not “black and white”.

Dad, Mum and two of the three kids.

Dad, Mum and two of the three kids.

I grew up an immigrant; half a world away from any extended family.  For most of my childhood it was Mum, Dad and the three kids. I had aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, but they were represented in my life by Christmas gifts  of The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals and tubes of Smarties that usually arrived in February.

I envied the neighbourhood kids that visited grandparents or got to spend summer holidays with cousins “on the farm”. Although my parents were active in our community and both seemed to have lots of friends, I was a lonely awkward child who probably needed the security of a large family; the sense of people that loved me unthinkingly – because we had shared ancestors.

In my twenties, I moved back to the UK where the majority of my extended family live. I got to know a couple of aunts and my grandmother really well and I’m forever grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. Over the years, I’ve built tentative relationships with some of my cousins – and more recently their children.

These are loose connections though, and although I’m extremely fond of these men and women who share my ancestry, often my facial features and in some cases my name – they are still half a world away. So too are my mother and brothers, all in England these days. The only blood relative I have in New Zealand (apart from my son) is my father, with whom I’ve long had a difficult relationship.

On a day to day basis, family pretty much means my partner and son.

My son's Naming Day; surrounded by those we chose to be an on-going part of our child's life. the babies are teenagers now.

My son’s naming day; surrounded by those we chose to be an on-going part of our child’s life. Those babies are teenagers now.

Yet I do have a sense of belonging to a group that is more than community. It’s made up of my friends, sometimes neighbours and some relatives. These are the people I’m close to; those I call when I feel like shit and need advice or a shoulder to cry on; the people who’ve looked after my son when I’ve needed them to – and more often because he likes being at their house anyway. The people I want to be with when I have something to celebrate and even more when it’s their turn to triumph.

The Maori word for this is whanau – which means family, but not merely or even necessarily in a biological sense.  It’s about the communities of care that we construct – whatever their basis. Whanau is the group of friends, second-cousins and god-parents that gathers for dinner sometimes. It sends me out gift shopping for an old friend’s grandchildren, allows me to embrace my partner’s nephew’s half sister as my niece and my son to regard a friend’s young child as a cousin too.

My son is an only child, and in many ways I worry about his lack of family. Yet I’m confident that his whanau – the people we have chosen and who have chosen us – will love and support him. I’m confident too that he will create his own whanau as he grows older.

Thanks to Sonel at Sonel’s Corner for this week’s Black and White Weekly Photo Challenge : Family