the rambles of a family of five in Australia


a-hunting we will go, a-hunting we will go…

The Lodge

A favourite film scene of mine has always been the fox hunt which Mary Poppins, Bert the chimney-sweep and Michael and Jane Banks get caught up in while in one of Bert’s chalk pavement pictures. I’m not sure if it is the charming mix of animation and real-life actors, the music or the comical animals that make it so enjoyable for me, even now as an adult.

Recently, we had the opportunity to lurk on the edges of the local Hunt’s Meet, prior to the commencement of the actual hunt itself. Due to the ban on fox-hunting which is in place in England, there were scent trails laid, rather than the hunt searching out an actual fox.

The weather itself was glorious: sunshine beamed down, the breeze was no more than a zephyr and we found ourselves scenting spring on the air, rather than frost and snow.

The Meet

 We walked up to the Lodge and stood on the ha-ha (a walled embankment above a field) to watch the hunt meet. The horses were enormous and high-spirited – great fun to watch – and their riders were decked out in glorious costume. (Not really costume, but the outfits dictated by custom.) We even spotted a lovely lady riding side-saddle in a fabulous skirted riding-habit – quite as if she had stepped from the pages of an Austen novel. Riding hats are merely hats here – not helmets (it’s not even compulsory to wear a bicycle helmet when riding on the road here!) – so there were various modes of headgear: top hats, bonnets; caps etc.

Taking some final instructions…

The hounds were brought up after about half an hour or so, by the Master of the Hounds/Kennels, and they were gorgeous. Liver and white and thigh high when standing on all fours they were inquisitive, boisterous and utterly consumed by the need to explore. The home-made sausage rolls and glasses of port being handed around were safe only on horseback or in the hands of the very confident. E was captivated and desperate to get closer to the ‘dogs!’ until he was licked in the face, which made him more timid. (N.B. Never let anyone hear you say ‘Dogs’. They must always be referred to as ‘Hounds’.)

When it was time for the hunt to set off we got to see the Master of the Kennels in action. He had such amazing control of the whole pack of 20 or so hounds that he could look at one who was baying softly and say ‘Shhh’ with his finger to his lips, and the hound would stop. Only once did we see one hound continue, at which point it was flicked on the nose (by the Master, who was on horseback) with a piece of cord, and then it did hush!

The hounds led off the hunt – searching for a scent to follow – and were then followed by the riders. We saw them hither and yon across the estate for most of the day after that and it was a bit of a thrill to hear the horn being winded and to be part of our own Mary Poppins moment.

E rediscovering sunshine

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christmas 2010

Jesus is the reason for the season!

Rob getting suitably attired to sit in the kitchen and open presents…

E’s first gift – not really sure what to do with all the paper…

First gift unwrapped and sorted – think E is getting the hang of it all!

New crockery and cutlery from Gma and Gpa….

…yep – it’s a winner!

‘More tractor, Daddy, more tractor!’

E chose this himself on Christmas Eve and is still delighted by it!

Cooking Christmas Lunch – E loves to grind pepper.

E also volunteered to wash up. Water all over the floor = happy little boy.

E had his eye on dessert (apple pie) since he woke up. (So did his Dad!)

The wonders of Christmas snowfall!


snow, ice and sunshine

A view of our neighbours’ house after 8 inches of snow

 The sights, sounds and scents of Australia have come as a surprise to we three travellers. Eight months away has been longer than we realised.
It is around 40 degrees hotter here in Aus than it was in the UK a week before we left (minus 12C). We have spent the last month trundling around outside in snow and over ice so all this bright Australian sunshine feels like a movie set.

Our front garden – several inches closer to the windows than usual

Winter in England has been very wintry indeed – a great experience for our first Christmas away from Aus. We have been used to central heating, seven layers of clothing inside the house, putting hats, gloves, duffle coats and snow boots on in order to leave the house. We’ve had icicles more than a foot long hanging from the guttering (which was also full of ice!) and snow nearly 8 inches deep on the ground.

R’s car – on a good morning!

Arriving in Aus was like walking into a sauna – good, but strangely discomfiting at the same time. E has been able to wander around barefoot for the first time in 6 months or more, and is having a wee bit of trouble adjusting to the feel of grass on his feet (he’s not a fan!) We have discarded all our layers – something we didn’t do even in the English summer – and are all contemplating the purchase of shorts (never necessary in the UK, for us at least.)

A view from our driveway to the field and beech trees next door

We are all a bit bamboozled by the light here – which has a spectrum of colour and brightness here – unlike the UK where it is both muted and crystalline at the same time. The shades of green and all the flowers here are in contrast to the varied (and oddly beautiful) shades of brown, grey and white that are the English winter colour palette. We are loving the raucous bird songs and vibrant flashes of colour of all the birds and flowers here, as well as the assault of eucalyptus and lemon scents that waft through the air as we walk.

E exploring in gum boots – the boys didn’t get very far. This was obviously a warm day – no duffle coats!

We are not loving the jet-lag and the heat is a shock, but we are very blessed to have travelled so safely and swiftly with our bright and active little boy. He didn’t sleep much on the plane and is showing signs of jet-lag in his desired sleep times, but has been tantrum-free for the whole trip so far and accepted the space limitations on the plane with a good grace and composure.

E in snow-boots – life will never be the same! He can run down an icy road wearing these.

We look forward to seeing family and friends and catching up on each other’s lives over the next three weeks. Phone calls could prove tricky but email and facebook (and this blog) will be good contact points.

Making headway through a restorative babycino after a cold morning in Stony Stratford.

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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.

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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)

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Bemusing things:

  • You can buy alcohol in the supermarket (not in a separate bottle shop attached to the supermarket, but actually IN a regular supermarket aisle)
  • A (supposedly) cheap haircut costs 27 pounds, when in Aus practically the same chain, giving practically the same haircut, charges 22 dollars…
  • New Zealand lamb is cheaper here than British lamb (at least in Sainsbury’s and M&S)
  • Tasmanian Leatherwood honey is freely available in the supermarket here, whereas in Aus it was sometimes a battle to buy it even in Tasmania.
  • We are equally likely to be mistaken for South Africans as Australians (due to ‘similarity of accent’). When we explained that that was akin to us thinking that someone from Manchester has a similar accent to someone from Wales, people looked at us as though we were mad and/or hard of hearing.
  • No-one we meet ever thinks it was a good idea to swap Australia for the UK. Everyone thinks we are mad.
  • The water does not taste good. Is it all truly recycled…?
  • A 40 minute drive is accorded mythic status. If you tell people you’ve been in the car for 40 minutes they will automatically offer you tea and cake to help with the ‘recovery process’.
  • Brussels sprouts are actually called ‘button sprouts’!
  • Not many people (“No-one!” according to the first Real Estate agent I met) have plain TV. “Everyone” has SKY because “cable is rubbish”. We have cable, and we concur.
  • People always ask how we survived all the spiders and ‘bugs!’ in Aus, but when H timidly addresses “the mouse issue”, people say “Awww, a little mouse can’t hurt you, nothing to be afraid of!”
  • Young persons (!) wear hot pants and singlet tops when the weather is so cold that E willingly tucks his hands under his pram blanket. Apparently summer consisted of three days about four weeks ago.

Wonderful Things

  • Every pear we’ve eaten so far tastes exactly like you wish all pears would taste.
  • Every hedge or bend in the road conceals another lovely village.
  • Flowers pop up in the middle of lawns and public spaces and people step or mow around them.
  • A typical bought lunch might consist of: 3 half sandwiches in a triangular box: one prawn & mayonnaise; one egg and cress; and one ham with mustard. They are GOOD. You can also get a packet of crisps and a drink included for the princely sum of three pounds. There is more than enough food for E and H to share this as a meal (although since E can’t eat crisps we swap them for a packet of precut mango.)

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    downtime in a green cardigan (all the cutest boys are wearing them)

    H & E just come in from the cold on the balcony

    After what felt like a very busy week – perhaps because of, rather than despite, the bank holiday 4 day work week – we were very pleased to reach the weekend.

    E in motion & pushing his birthday gift
    Chuckling over a ‘secret’ plan to get onto the balcony without Mummy noticing

    We are in limbo here until Monday, when we might possibly hear back from a real estate agent or two, so we spent the weekend: looking for furniture – in case we end up renting something unfurnished; driving around and getting a feel for some more local areas; planning exotic weekend trips away (ok, so not actually planning, but we picked up some train timetables… 83 quid return to Paris via the Eurostar from a station not more than 1km from our front door!); going to church – in Wolverton, this time; and picking up a highchair from a successful ebay bid in Little Harrowden – 20 miles and around 40 minutes from MK.

    First roadtest of highchair: with biscuit

    We’ve been on some walks – all three of us – although the littlest member of the family was not required to walk the whole way… and H & E are planning a trip to the Willen Park Maze/Labyrinth once R comes back from a week-long session with the car. We also quite like the sound of a walk along the Grand Union Canal with a leisurely stop in one of the canal-side pubs for lunch. Alas, such treats will have to wait until we are settled somewhere, and don’t have to keep chasing all the thousand-and-one things required to start life anew.

    A tree in spring… on our walk

    H met a real-estate agent she’d quite like to be friends with, but is realistic about the chances of such a friendship actually occurring…she is too chicken to say anything i.e. “Would you like to be my friend?” due to the very real possibility of sounding desperate and/or stalkerish; as well as being frightened of having mistaken the signs and having to experience a flat-out (or pitying) rejection. It is also true that said potential friend is very cool (R’s opinion) and unlikely to be in need of more friends…

    R & E posing patiently for H in the bitter breeze on our evening walk

    So that is our news for the weekend. No post-election commentary, because frankly, we are puzzled by the whole process and all the candidates to boot.

    This is the opposite of how E looks when he is told “It’s Bedtime!”



    It was an odd thing to land in England, knowing that it would be our home for some time to come, the weight of expectations hanging as heavily as our excess baggage.
    The weather was a shock to us, in contrast to the tropical humidity of Singapore, it was crisp, fresh and no more than fifteen degrees. It was also a beautiful day – bright blue sky, fat white clouds, green grass, and a landscape full of trees covered in buds.

    We are living (for the moment) in Jade House. It is in  a huge block of apartments right in the middle of the shopping and business district. For all that, it is very peaceful and well laid out – even park-like – in its surroundings.

    We are beginning to settle in and find our bearings here: The sun rises early and E wakes around 6am, therefore, so do we. R walks the 500 metres to the office each morning; and E and H settle in to a day of exploring the neighbourhood; buying the necessities (which are quite numerous when you’re starting from scratch!) and the endless washing that seems to accompany the possession of a small front-loading washing machine. We have discovered the MK market; a huge mall; all the relevant baby stores within a 10km radius and the hazards of a climate where rain is never too far away.
    We have two new sets of wheels in the family: a car for R & H and a new pram for E.
    We are having fun zipping around in both ‘vehicles’ and learning the way that things are done here. We now know that it is not the done thing to drive slowly (or at what would be a legal pace in Australia), everyone motors along at between 80-100kms on quite small, built up roads. There are very few speed signs posted so we are trying to keep up with the flow of traffic for the moment until we work out how to know the speed for sure.
    It is also not the done thing to go to the park/playground in the mornings here. The reason being that all the equipment is covered in dew and it takes a long while for the sun to dry it out at this season.
    We have a lovely view from the flat (all windows and balcony) of the park/gardens in the central square of the apartment. There are even tulips popping up through the lawn and nodding their bright heads at us as we walk by.

    E is a bit short of toys at the moment so is finding amusement in other ways…
    Some other exciting news: E took his first steps on the Wednesday night before we left Australia – just in time for both grandmas to see him! He has been taking more steps since we’ve been here but suffered a setback when he fell two days ago – cutting his lip on the glass TV cabinet. It was a bit of a shock for R and H, but overall E has weathered it well and has only a small mark on his lip to show for it now.