the rambles of a family of five in Australia


tempus fugit *

Our little grown-up boy

Sometimes we look at the calendar and wonder where the time has gone. We are fast approaching autumn and in two days’ time will have been in the UK for four months, and Dairy Cottage for three.
Little E is not so little anymore: the baby who was toddling when we landed (but still mostly crawling) now runs everywhere as fast as his legs can carry him. He walks very firmly and solidly – when he is upstairs and one of us is downstairs all you can hear is
“thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk” hither and yon as he runs between bathroom and bedroom.

I’m the King of the Castle…

E can pull himself up onto the kitchen chairs and the couches in the lounge room – albeit with a bit of scrabbling and flailing. He is a bit of a climber-in-the-making, and we have had several sticky situations – especially on the first floor. R has since installed child-proof window catches, which has gone some way to helping us feel more at ease.

It was very quiet in the playroom – looks like we have a reader-in-the-making.

E loves our next-door neighbours very much and is usually not downstairs for long after breakfast before he is ‘asking’ H to put on his shoes so he can get outside to knock on the gate. Once through the gate he makes a beeline for the (usually) open kitchen door, then plonks himself on ‘Nanny’s’ lap with little ceremony. We think their house is like an Aladdin’s cave for him – full of things he doesn’t encounter at home, all of which he is allowed to touch and play with (carefully) as long as he puts them back in the right spots. Thus far he is good as gold: playing with keys and ‘unlocking’ all the doors; moving magnets around on the fridge and squeezing himself next to the person with the most comfortable-looking chair. Some days (not all) he is given a cup of juice or water or maybe a chocolate digestive. H is not so keen on the biscuit since the last time when she ended up with little chocolate handprints all over her nice clean shirt and trousers.

Ok, so it’s upsidedown and not quite Shakespeare, but already he has a devoted audience.

He also loves the garden next-door (which is truly a garden, rather than merely a patch of lawn and a couple of flower beds, like ours) so when the inside conversation and activities get a little slow he trots out to play with the flowerpots, wheelbarrows, the hand-cranked water pump, multiple watering-cans and the bead curtain at the entrance to the greenhouse. In high summer when the garden loungers were out, E delighted in stretching himself full length in the most lushly padded one. The prince is firmly in charge of his little kingdom on the other side of the gate.

This is his “Look what I can do” face.

E is getting taller now – his head now rises above the level of the kitchen table – and he remains quite strong. The things he manages to lift and drag are often enormous, but we are almost used to it now, except if someone else comments, when we remember that it isn’t as common as we think.

First go at an ice block.

He is still keen on his food, although more sensitive to textures than before. He isn’t particularly fussy – although grapefruit and melon are not favourites – but makes himself heard when things don’t go according to plan. Last week, H was preparing to give him morning tea but obviously wasn’t moving fast enough… E got his bib, put it on and then climbed into the highchair (which we didn’t know he could do) as if to say “What’s the hold up? I’m famished.” He truly is an entertaining little fellow and we are having a lot of fun together.

A young Bendicks BitterMints fan

One of our favourite forms of entertainment while eating is to watch the birds on our bird feeder. We are slowly learning all the different kinds – nuthatches, tits, robins and the odd woodpecker. We’ve even seen next-door’s scavenging squirrel heading for our bird-table, but so far we’ve been able to frighten him off before he snatches so much as a mouthful.

With T – a special visitor from Aus.

He is now saying a few more words than before, including the names of his two best friends from down the road. ‘Tractor’ is possibly the clearest of all his words, bar ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’, but he makes himself understood to us quite well – if not always to people outside the family circle.

“No, Officer, of course I wasn’t texting and driving at the same time.”

We hope that (doting though this is) you’ve got a reasonable idea of where E is up to as well as a sense of his cheeky self.

He loves to sit with Chaucer-Bear and watch all that’s going on in the kitchen.

* Virgil: Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore, which means, “But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.”

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summertime…and the livin’ is easy

Elderberry syrup

There is currently a pan full of elderberry syrup cooling on the stove, prior to bottling. There are jars of pickled cherries, raspberry jam and blue plum jam in the store cupboard, and bottles of raspberry vinegar in nooks and crannies in the kitchen. Courgettes (zucchinis) the size of pumpkins lie on my bench – awaiting their transformation into soup, roasted vegetables, stuffed marrows and the like. The farmshop has blue and victoria plums ready for picking, with greengages not far off. E and H harvested elderberries and blackberries in their hundreds from hedgerows that line the estate roads on their usual afternoon walk. The cooking of seasonal produce has been a joyful experience since we moved here.

Pickled cherries

Our neighbours have kindly supplied us with all sorts of things – one of which is the abundance from their vegetable plots: bags of lettuce with the sap dripping from the stems, courgettes, marrows, cucumbers, cherries, elderflowers and berries and fresh green beans. Our own garden gave us a bumper crop of raspberries early in the summer, and is preparing another batch for autumn.

Raspberry vinegar

The farmshop has a PYO patch, and we’ve encountered our first gooseberries (they grow on small bushes) and redcurrants there.
We have baked vegetables; churned raspberry icecream; made syrups and vinegars; eaten fresh salads and enjoyed all the glorious bounty that we’ve been given and/or bought from markets and local producers.

Raspberry jam

We aren’t eating as much meat – partly because if you want to eat something that hasn’t been factory-farmed then it is quite pricey, and partly because the vegies are so delicious on their own. Cauliflower here is a revelation – it has a nutty, creamy flavour and is absolutely gorgeous. Savoy cabbage has become a favourite side dish, and we use the pumpkins that the English scorn to make a tasty Haloumi and roast vege bake.
H missed out on elderflower season – and therefore was not able to make elderflower cordial – but is on target for elderberry syrups and jellies. She is starting with a syrup – to use in building long, cool drinks, or to pour over cake and icecream for dessert. Hopeful friends have suggested making elderberry wine, but that will be a plan for another summer, once she’s worked out the intricacies of cooking with them!

Step 1: Select a likely-looking bunch of berries

Step 2: Strip the berries from stems, if possible.

Step 3: Pick up the jumpy ones…
Step 4: Individually hand-pick the sourest ones for a quick taste
Step 5: Mashing the berries through a sieve – E’s absolute favourite step so far!
E enjoys going for walks that involve foraging snacks on the way. He is learning to recognise a ripe blackberry and readily opens his mouth when one is offered. He assisted H in pulling all the elderberries from their stems this evening and popping them into a saucepan. He has the occasional ‘Huh?!’ moment – like this morning where he took a bite from a (rotting) windfall apple in the neighbours’ garden and spat it out in disgust – but is learning to trust us if we tell him that something is not for eating. This is actually reasonably crucial here at the moment as there are lots of berries in the hedgerows that would make him sick if he did eat them.
Our courgettes/marrows -and a cucumber
That said, he has become adept at snatching strawberries from the hanging basket in the porch as we walk by, and will usually eat them stem and all.
We are heading into pheasant, partridge and venison season – with the attendant lessons in plucking, skinning and gutting. H is keen to have a go, no one else is really convinced she will actually see it through. Stay tuned for the outcome!
The chief tasters…

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northern road trip (part 2)

View of Keswick High Street
The lovely flowers – H was very taken with the red stems.

The real purpose of our Northern Road Trip was for R to oversee the bookshop component of the Keswick Convention 2010. The convention runs annually for three weeks each summer here and is a chance for Christians of all ages and stages to come away for one week or three, hear some great teaching and spend time together. However, we weren’t there to attend Convention – just to make sure R’s side of things was organised.

R & E reading up on all the things there were to do

This meant that H & E had quite a lot of free time to explore in the mornings, before meeting up with R in the afternoons for trips further afield. The first morning after our arrival was wet, wet, wet.

The Greta river, from the park, as E & H negotiated the walk into town

There’s a reason the Lake District has so many lakes, and that reason is the rain. It was fantastic. One of the things we find it difficult to get used to, living here, is the abundance of rain. It is a real blessing to have it fall so freely, and we are becoming accustomed to the English way of getting on with planned activities outdoors, regardless of showers or torrential rain-dumps. The rain was quite heavy, so attired in what we believed to be good wet-weather gear, H & E set forth to walk into Keswick and explore the town. Our first stop on reaching the town centre was one of the many Hiking and Camping Clothing stores with which the town abounds, to purchase a waterproof jacket with hood for H, and wellies for E (with pirates on them.) Thus arrayed, with the raincover on the pram, we were finally prepared for the weather!

Can you spot the pirate on E’s wellies?
E’s favourite piece of equipment at the park

We discovered three excellent parks within 5 minutes’ walk of our hotel, and E discovered that a mac is a real deterrent to sliding down a slide…whereas it was no deterrent when stealing another little boy’s football…sigh.

E engaged in non-theft-related park activities…

E, H and R discovered that the transformed train platform/conservatory was an excellent place to eat egg sandwiches and watch hapless cyclists in the wet. We tried Kendal Mint Cake and visited Cars of the Stars Motor Museum (which was an interesting but not essential part of our trip.)

It was definitely more impressive, size-wise, in the flesh.

No more words necessary, I think.

We bought second-hand books from street vendors in the market place and spent lots of time just wandering – awed by the mountains that rose up around the town and were alternately wreathed in grey cloud or dazzled by brief interludes of sunshine.

Ahh, the mountains.

We walked across croquet lawns and wiped egg sandwich off window panes. We tried black pudding and bread fried in lard (accidentally, and only the once) and E decided once and for all that grapefruit is just not his thing.

We discovered that we all have a thing for drystone walls

In the afternoons we drove through the fells (a local word for mountains) on narrow, steep winding tracks surrounded by slopes littered with fallen boulders and gazed down into gorgeous lakes -or glimpsed them afar off, glittering like mirrors – with familiar names: Windermere, Buttermere, Coniston Water, Derwent Water, Grasmere, Rydal Water, Thirlmere and Ullswater.

This isn’t a lake, but it is pretty.

All the drives we took were impossibly scenic – even on the grey days we were there and it is a testament to the beauty of the landscape that we have such lovely memories.

The path where H temporarily misplaced the only key to our hotel room.

We drove past Dove Cottage (William Wordsworth’s house in Grasmere) but E’s schedule prevented us from doing more than sighing hopelessly and quoting a few lines of I wandered lonely as a cloud (as you can imagine R of course knew all the words.)

View of Derwent Water

We would definitely return to Cumbria and the Lake District and would highly recommend it to anyone as a great place to visit.

In the great “Boat trip vs Afternoon tea’ debate, guess which activity won out?


northern road trip (part 1)

Our first view of York

Some weeks ago we packed the car full-to-bursting and set off on a road trip. First stop: York, 154 miles (247 kilometres) from home and some three hours in the car. Perhaps, like us when we arrived in the UK, you look at the distance and think – it couldn’t possibly take that long, surely? You’d be reckoning without the awesome inertia power of the motorway roadwork speed limit – 40mph for miles and miles, often without any work being visibly attempted. That said, we are getting used to allowing much more time for journeys than is commonly needed in Aus, and once you accept it, life becomes bearable again.

A view of the city wall from the road
We were travelling to (and via) York so that R could do a little work; H could browse a few bookshops and bag some bargains and E … well, he was just along for the ride. We have learned to take many and varied snacks, books and toys for amusement and occupation during car rides, and to pray that nap time will fall neatly into a car journey. In the case of our trip to York E was wide awake and chatty the entire time and very ready to get out and explore on foot to shake out the wriggles.
One of the York city gates. Note: The word ‘gate’ in York actually means ‘road’ and the word ‘bar’ actually means ‘gate’. So this is called a ‘bar’.

So while R worked, H and E took to the streets with the pram and wandered the length and breadth of the walled city of York. We walked through the Shambles – a tiny cobbled lane with overhanging first and second storeys that blocked out the sunlight. The street had a deep cobbled ditch running straight down the middle – obviously the mediaeval plumbing alternative.
A view looking down into the Shambles

We bought some sandwiches from a Polish deli for E’s lunch and set off to the gardens of Yorkminster beside the cathedral – an absolutely magnificent building which we would’ve explored had not a high-ranking military/government funeral been taking place within. One of the results of this were the policemen with a very excitable sniffer dog (off its leash) combing the cathedral’s surrounds. E had already been entertaining quite a few park-lunchers with his antics so combined with a bounding dog intent on scarfing his lunch to check it for drugs and/or explosives we were quite the focus.

Lunching in York Minster
Afterward we did some window-shopping and meandered around the city – marvelling at the architecture and community feel, before meeting up with R for a proper lunch and some more exploring.
After an abortive attempt to leave York (due to computer issues at work we had to turn back for) we finally drove out of the city around 3pm. Like many old cities in the UK, traffic is quite a problem in the narrow streets and winding lanes. The solution is often a ring road around the city – the only difficulty being actually getting onto it in the first place. Having to get onto it twice in two hours was frustrating, but the upside is we have quite a good sense of how York is laid out.

We thought York was wonderful and are plotting our return, maybe even for a weekend, in order to really get to grips with the history of the city and to finally get inside the cathedral!

Two views of York Cathedral: somewhere we are keen to return.

Next stop: Keswick-on-Derwentwater, Cumbria (150 miles from York and another three-ish hours in the car.) Our first problem on this leg of the trip turned out to be our SatNav, whom we have christened Sylvia. She was determined to take us an extra 70 miles out of our way – virtually across the Scottish border – before putting us on the right road. Our desire to thwart her planning was complicated by the fact that we hadn’t bothered to bring a UK-wide map with us to plot an alternate route. In the end, armed with only our sense of direction to guide us, we turned Sylvia onto ‘silent’ mode and forged a much shorter and more scenic path through the Yorkshire dales and fells of the Lake District along the ‘A’ roads.

A fabulous view with the added bonus of E’s favourite road sign, usually greeted by much pointing and yelling
“Tractor! Tractor!”

Blessedly, E fell asleep for much of the journey and we were free to marvel at the lofty heights and valley views as we snaked our way along the Dales’ roads.

Our arrival in Keswick coincided with steady drizzle, so it was a relief to get into our (very lovely) room, freshen up, and go straight down to dinner in the dining room. We stayed in a phenomenally scenic and historic old hotel that used to be the Station Hotel.

Our lovely hotel. You can’t see it clearly in the picture, but it is built of local green slate and was a thing of utter beauty.

 In fact, the train platform (no longer in use) has now been glassed in and is now in use as part of the conservatory. More on that later. Commensurate with the rest of the hotel was the dining room: silver service; starched white linen and hushed tones complemented everyone: the couples on romantic weekends away and travellers on expensive package tours. Everyone, that is, except we three. E did very well but small boys and silver service are not a natural combination so mealtimes were delicious but very quick! The staff were amazing with E and most of the other guests accepted E with good grace – the kindlier ones coming over and chatting to him. H’s favourite of all the other guests would come up at each meal and say “Now then young man, you’re breathing fresh air into the room, it’s good to see you!” We were thankful to God for these people who went out of their way to encourage us and put us at ease in what could’ve turned into a tense situation. The guests who were not thrilled to be dining with E after that first meal would wait until we’d made our meal reservations and then choose another time slot. So, in the end, everyone was happy…

Our wing of the hotel – actually used to be the entrance to the station. Still with the post-box – so handy for those late-night postcards!

Stay tuned for more on Keswick in the next part of our Northern Road Trip.

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jaunts to oxford

The title for this post is not intended to come across as smug. Admittedly, ‘jaunt’ is a tricky word to use without smugness, but we hope we’ve achieved a suitable lack of it. We feel very blessed to have travelling opportunities to so many interesting places, and hope that ‘jaunt’ conveys our perky sense of anticipation at the beginning of our adventures.

We’ve been to Oxford a couple of times now, separately and collectively, and have enjoyed ourselves enormously each time. It is a very attractive city, chock-full of wonderful old buildings; quaint shops; university students and their bicycles; and places that we recognise from books and films.

We’ve been past the Eagle and Child pub (known familiarly to C.S. Lewis and the Inklings as the Bird and Baby), through Jericho and other sites known to us through reading the Morse novels by Colin Dexter, as well as various locations for the Harry Potter films.

We’ve: had a family lunch from the Buttery, eaten outside a concert hall where the Philharmonic Orchestra was rehearsing for a concert that evening; wandered through Blackwells books and coveted everything we saw; walked past Balliol, Merton and Jesus Colleges – peeping through the gates and marvelling at the calm orderliness and seen all the students welcoming May Day by parading through the streets in costume, singing enthusiastically.

R has eaten at Regent College and experienced the efficiency of the Park and Ride system. H and E have had tandoori chicken doner kebabs (yes, a bizarre fusion of Indian and Lebanese cuisine) in the middle of a flea market and paid 12 pounds for parking in Gloucester Green.

R has been to Oxford for work as well as pleasure; H has enjoyed Oxford on a family outing as well as with her good friend S, who graced us with her presence for a visit in early June. E has run around the cobbles, narrowly missing being hit by the ubiquitous bicycles, and had his nappy changed in the open air on the High Street – tucked behind a pillar of the Concert Hall gates.

The Concert Hall gates

We have yet to eat lunch in a pub on the banks of the canal; or see inside one of the older colleges but we really enjoy being only an hour away from all that Oxford has to offer.

Note: All photos courtesy of SOS, 2010.