the rambles of a family of five in Australia


an update on the princeling

E is just over 14 months old now and is very much on the move. After baulking at the stairs in Dairy Cottage (after using and loving the lifts to our flat for a month!) he has taken to them like a duck rediscovering water. He would really like to be able to walk down them as Mummy and Daddy do, but as this has led to two tumbles, he has realised his limitations and continues to descend backwards on all fours. He runs and walks everywhere at speed, except if descending an incline, or if, when barefoot, he discovers a surface that is not to his liking, at which point he goes on hands and knees.

He doesn’t really seem to have missed the vast majority of his toys too much (although we are looking forward to seeing him reacquaint with once-familiar playthings) and has been very much interested in doing what Mummy and Daddy do. He has a cupboard in the kitchen full of plasticware, and sorting through it is a favourite morning pastime. He borrows utensils and mixes things in little pots and then wants Mummy to taste them. He is fond of plugging and unplugging the vacuum cleaner and trying to push it round the floor.

When one of us is using it he cries – not because he is frightened by the noise but because he isn’t having a turn! He loves the washing machine and stands in front of it in the kitchen, watching the water and clothes sloshing around. Whenever the spin cycle begins he comes running from wherever he is to watch it and comment ‘There! There! There! There!’

We are having a ‘manners’ tussle over the broom at present, which is stored between the fridge and counter where E usually cannot reach it. He will often try to grasp it and fail and then become very frustrated and ‘ask’ Mummy to get it for him by crying. We have decided that this is a watershed moment and that he needs to say ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ through sign language or verbally before he gets it. We have been surprised by how utterly unwilling he is to do this. He throws himself on the floor when asked to say ‘please’ and commences wailing angrily. This means the broom stays off-limits. It’s one of those things, we suppose, because he is usually fairly happy to verbally say ‘Ta’ after he is given something or to be shown that he must sign ‘please’ before being given something. We’ve had the odd moment where life seems very unfair/overwhelming and he lies on the floor crying, or crouches with his head between his knees, yelling in frustration. We’re not sure if this is the baby in him coming to the fore in times of tiredness, or incipient toddler tantrums, but we are thinking about what to do if (when?!) they continue.

 He loves being outdoors and will hand the pegs to whoever is hanging washing on the line. He has tried to make off with our next door neighbours’ big watering cans a number of times. They have given him a little one of his own (which he drinks from…) but it hasn’t stopped him from desiring theirs. They love him already and if we don’t see them one day, the next they say how much they missed him. They call him ‘smiler’ and ‘the artful young chap’ and E is very happy to go to either of them for a hug. He has had several rides in the wheelbarrow and can be found trotting around wielding an adult-sized broom; spade; fork or hoe. Sydney (next door) gave him an appropriately sized walking stick made of ash, with the head of a duck carved into the top. E loves it (because everyone he sees seems to have a walking stick) and strides along tapping it on the ground – or whirling it around at inopportune moments. He likes to have his own smaller garden tools when we are gardening, and he jams them into the lawn in imitation of us digging up a patch of nettles. He is envious that Daddy gets to use the (electric) mower and today in the shed he tried to push it round, making ‘brrmmm’ noises. Often he will run outside to look at the three horses in the field next to our driveway – they are quite lordly though and pay little attention to his cries of delight.

He is particularly fond of the four stuffed animals he sleeps with: Kanga; Shanks (the lamb); Yorrick the bear and Bunny-My-Honey. He kisses each one in turn when going to bed (without any prompting) and will often bring Shanks or Kanga to look at something out the window, or at something that he’s doing somewhere else in the house. He also kisses Mummy and Daddy hello and goodbye, and sometimes just for fun. He waves bye often – even if he is only ducking out of the room we’re in to fetch something.

He has about seven discernible words now: Mum, Dad, car, there, Nan, Ta, hello and bye. He is working on horse, truck and tractor.

He has just gained a seventh tooth, heralded by a couple of unpleasant days for us, and is confidently eating the family foods we eat. He’s not keen on raw salad vegies such as cucumber, but we’re working on it! He discovered strawberries about a week ago – lured by the aroma coming from the punnet we bought by the side of the road – and ate nearly half the punnet in one go. They were super sweet, unlike most Australian strawberries, so he really enjoyed himself!

His favourite snack for morning/afternoon tea is a couple of Ryvitas with pâté on them; or a bowl of Greek yoghurt with stewed fruit. He has developed an appreciation for couscous and got stuck into an asian (ish) chicken salad for lunch today.

He goes to a toddler group run by our church on a Tuesday and loves getting involved in all the activities. He seems to be reasonably respectful of the other children and if he has something taken from him, tends to wander off and have a play with something else. Possibly this is because they are all mostly older and bigger than him. We would be interested to see what would happen if he were the biggest…

Last time there was a water activity planned, so we stripped him down to singlet and nappy and he stood beside the water tub with the other kids, splashing and pouring and having a wonderful time. At afternoon tea, he sits up at the (toddler size) table on a little chair and munches his fruit and drinks his water. Given that he loves his food, we were pleased to see that he is suitably overawed at this stage not to snatch as the plate goes past. (We had a funny moment the other day when someone mentioned that the other kids were drinking squash. In horror, I thought they meant fizzy drink, but it turns out in England, squash means cordial – and dilute cordial at that!)

All in all he’s a dream baby/little boy and we are thankful that although the move here was momentous, he seems to have settled well and to be enjoying himself (while missing all his friends and family back in Australia, of course!)

(Written 18 June 2010)

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dairy cottage

It has been said that ‘though the mills of God grind slow, yet they grind exceeding small.’ The mills of bureaucracy and government in the UK, however, merely grind slow. We’ve been living in our new abode for nearly one month, but are yet to get a phone line; bank account; internet access or a TV connection and license. We are sorry to have been out of contact for so long and look forward to being able to use skype, email and this blog to keep up to date with all our family and friends.

Dairy Cottage is a cute little stone-and-brick semi-detached house built in the early 1800s as part of a dairy on an estate. Our neighbours, who share the other part of the semi, have lived and worked here for fifty-four years and have been extremely helpful in giving us advice and hints on places to shop and how to use various appliances we aren’t used to. Our house was refitted a few years ago with modern kitchen cupboards and a new stove (the English call it a ‘cooker’) but is otherwise much as it has been for years, apart from fresh coat of paint the week before we moved in.
We’ve a little glassed-in porch as you go through the front door, then a short hallway which provides the entry into the three rooms on the ground floor and the staircase. We’ve used the biggest ground floor room as a lounge room, and the other long narrow room full of windows as a playroom for Ewan. The final downstairs room is the kitchen which is floored with very old red terracotta tiles. We’ve a small table, two chairs and E’s highchair in the kitchen, which is where we eat our meals and where H and E spend much of their day when not outside. The kitchen is also the warmest room in the house, heated as it is by the residual heat from next door’s Rayburn stove which backs onto one wall of our kitchen. Both the lounge room and E’s playroom have working fireplaces (for coal & wood fires) with lovely old mantel pieces, which at present are doing duty as bookshelves.

From the hallway you can either go downstairs into the cellar (a nice cool place suitable for storing cheese, I’m sure!) where the boiler lurks, silently for the most part, and our dryer sits; or you can go up four wide shallow steps to the first landing, off which is a small bathroom with a lovely view onto the back garden. From this first landing you then go up seven narrow creaky stairs to the second (and final landing) off which (up one stair) is the master bedroom; E’s small room; the guest room and a dressing room that leads into the main bathroom. The highest room in the house is the airing cupboard which is up two very deep stairs from the bathroom. The master bedroom and the bathroom also have fireplaces and the corresponding mantelpieces and there is a central heating range in every room except the kitchen and the landing bathroom. There is quite a bit of storage in built-in cupboards in two of the bedrooms and the dressing room, which is quite unusual in a lot of English houses and for which we are very thankful. And that is the sum total of our lovely Dairy Cottage.

Except, of course, for the garden, which, when I first saw it, I remembered as small, but it is actually quite a reasonable size. You get to the garden through the back kitchen door. On the left hand side is a gate leading into the next door neighbours’ lovely garden; then the oil fuel storage and a small brick shed where we keep coal and the gardening tools. Heading up the garden path, on the right hand side is a long garden bed about 1.5 metres wide running up along the fence line, while on the left is lawn all the way to the next paddock broken only by a hedge which serves to give us some privacy. The garden bed is lovely in the English country garden style – full of bluebells; buttercups; daffodils; forget-me-nots; foxgloves; periwinkles; raspberry bushes (soon to be covered with lovely ripe fruit); roses and violets.

 It was also stuffed to bursting with weeds, mainly ground elder and stinging nettles, which by dint of careful perseverance we have removed.

H and E have sown seeds (in very haphazard fashion) of sweetpeas, stocks, nigellas, poppies, lettuce and rocket and are keen to see what fruits are produced by their labours. Above this garden bed – running almost parallel – strung between the coal shed and another corrugated shed at the top end of the bed, is our washing line. It was there when we arrived and we are very grateful for its presence.

 Despite the fact that people look at our washing askance, we love being able to dry it in the open air as at home. People similarly comment on how ‘old-fashioned’ it is to have a top-loading washing machine, when we tell them what we used in Australia, and are horrified when we say that we wash our clothes in cold water only! It is clear that we won’t be able to dry our washing outside for most of the year here, but H intends to make the most of it while she can.

There is a further shed beyond the corrugated one, made of wood, and bordered by a forest of stinging nettles and some well established young elders, which must come out. There is also an old, dead, spindly tree that we had to pull out of the big garden bed for fear it would fall on top of one of us, and it will need to be sawn up and put on our next door neighbours’ bonfire pile. R is in charge of the mowing, given his recent prowess, but is lamenting the lack of his Australian tools, as he is currently using a flymo electric lawnmower to cut the lawn and it is a laborious effort.

The estate on which we live is about 3000 acres in size and is split between arable land and woodland. At the moment there are about 1800 acres under cultivation with oilseed rape (which we know as canola) and wheat.

There are about 35 acres planted with soybeans and maize, but this is to feed the pheasants during the growing season, before the hunting begins.  E and H try to go for a walk most days and tend to walk past all the farm buildings and machinery (which E loves to look at) and through the canola fields towards a huge Cedar tree. Today our walk was all in the blue unclouded weather and I am convinced we are experiencing a true English summer’s day. Our walk was improved further by being given a huge bag of lettuce which was delicious in our lunch salad.

All in all, reading over this before I post it, it sounds rather idyllic and I’m conscious of how blessed we are to have been given the opportunity to live here and experience this kind of life. It’s not all perfection however! There’s the little matter of the lack of mobile phone reception; the fact that it will be horridly cold in winter; the nasty finding of a dead rat on the driveway two days ago; the certainty that we are currently giving house (and chimney) room to a small and very lost bat who likes to fly around at night – when else would a bat fly, after all?; as well as the multiple creaks and cracks in a house like ours.

We love living here and E is appreciating the bigger spaces and freedom to play.

More of him (and Dairy Cottage) in posts to come!

(Written 17 June 2010)