Monday, June 14, 2004
Flying home - by bus
And so the adventure draws to a close...well for a couple of weeks at least. But before we can get back to England, we've still got a fair bit of travelling to do. From Kuala Lumpur we're booked on the express bus down to Singapore. This departs at 12.00, but we nearly don't make it, as the taxi has a hard time squashing all of our luggage in - and the bus driver has an even harder time! Apparently 'executive coaches' aren't meant to be carrying people with serious luggage, and we only manage it by putting our rucksacks behind our seats.
The uneventful 5-hour trip was interrupted by the coach breaking down at a toll-gate on the motorway, where it sat for 25 minutes while the driver tried to coax it back into life. Although we had loads of time spare, we couldn't help but wonder if this was a bad sign, and what we could do if it didn't start again. Hitch (with our luggage hidden in the verge)? Call a taxi from the nearest town? Fortunately, after a lengthy application of the hammer, it started again, and onwards we went, further south. It got a bit fraught when we had to carry all of luggage across the border at Singapore - loads of stairs and queues, but no trolleys. Somehow the little things we'd accumulated as we travelled had filled out two sturdy bags. With my rucksack on my back, and the two bags in my hands, I was carrying and dragging more than 120 pounds of luggage. If I don't get fit from this last bit of the trip, then nothing the gym can do will make any difference!
And finally, around 7pm, we checked into our flight at Singapore's Changi Airport. If there's ever a place to check in four hours early for a flight, this is it! Good food, nice shopping, great play areas for the children, and for S$8 (about £3) a post-luggage-workout shower. In fact, there seemed so much to see and do, we had to rush to the gate when we heard the last call for our flight. Although it was midnight, the girls stayed awake to eat their meal, watch a film on the seat-back video, and only then did they crash out, and sleep until we arrived over Europe.
And then, suddenly, it was all over - 11 months ago seemed like only yesterday, as we came through immigration and had a joyful reunion with Sarah's parents and brother. We'd been having breakfast on the plane, as they'd been getting up at 4.30 in the morning, to get to Heathrow for 6am to meet us. Made us feel like we'd had a lie-in!
But its not actually all over yet - we're home in England for a couple of weeks, but then we're finishing off our trip with 2 weeks in France. And only then will it be "over", and we'll be able to move back into our own house and pretend that we lead normal lives again.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Hmm...is it really only two days since we left Asia?
I donít really believe this myself, but today I went to work! After almost a year of not working, it was a bit of a shock to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, drive 4 hours up to Leeds on the busy M1, and sit down at a desk in an office. For the minute, I'm only doing a fortnight's work, but when we come back home permanently, this will be a feature of my life - at least for the next six months. Two days a week in Derbyshire, for a small software company, and three days in Leeds, for another one. You may think I'm mad for choosing to do this - the firms are 3 and 4 hours drive from our home - but I couldn't imagine coming home and going to the same office, and sitting behind the same desk as I left a year ago, and wondering whether that's it until retirement. Instead, I've opted for a six-month contract, and that's going to mean spending quite a bit of time on the M1. But at least I won't be able to complain of boredom. And after the last year of never being separated from the children, I'm sure they'll like it a lot...to start with.
After my early start, I was encouraged to leave early too, so I made it back home at 8pm. Okay, it was a 15-hour day, but I spent it sitting in an air-conditioned car, on a smooth motorway, or sitting on a comfortable chair in an office. Compared to 16-hours on a single hellish 200 mile bus trip on the world's worst roads in Cambodia, it was a pushover.
The spookiest thing about today? Everybody I met in the office seemed to know a bit about me - they said things like "Oh yes, I remember you from the Holiday programme" or "I've seen your picture on your website". You could imagine that would be quite nice, but its actually a bit odd. I keep thinking about this website - what have I written or what photos will they have seen? What have they specifically remembered? Every time I try to have a serious work conversation, will they remember me as a rickshaw rider in Vietnam, or in a fairground in Cambodia, struggling to get out of the tunnels in Cu Chior with a python around my neck in Australia? And as for "I saw you on telly" - well, they're one step ahead of us. We haven't even seen the programme made in Bangkok yet, as the video the BBC sent to us was damaged in the post, and we've yet to see another copy. Something for the weekend then!
Sunday, June 20, 2004
Look Mum, I'm on telly
Last night, we sat down and watched the Bangkok episode of the Holiday programme. Now we knew why people said we looked tired on it. We did. We looked absolutely worn out. And we sounded it too. The thing is, it didn't square with how we were feeling about our travels. In fact, the week after filming, we'd all decided to go for an extra month in Asia, so that we could see Cambodia again, and Vietnam and the orang-utan sanctuary in Borneo. But we'd realised during the week of filming that the director wanted to make a film about how tired we were, and how we missed home. And after 5 days of filming in blistering heat in Bangkok, with starts as early as 5am, we were tired. And the children were both tired and irritable. And so we gave the director exactly what she wanted, sadly. But if you want to know what its like to take a family around the world, then read this website through and through. You'll find a very different story to that presented by 8-minutes of edited Bangkok highlights.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
Newton School, Chester
Today we travelled up to Chester, to visit Newton School. A few months ago, one of the teachers had emailed us to ask if we'd take part in their ICT lessons by email. They'd read about our trip in one of my columns in the Times Educational Supplement, and wanted us to exchange emails with their Year 3 classes. The class all looked at this website, and then each sent us an email. At the time, it meant reading through 60 emails, and then sending a group reply to the class, which the teacher then showed on the electronic whiteboard for the class. But the highlight for Charlotte was when they invited her to visit the school when she got home. After her disappointment at only getting one email from her own school during the year, she was even more excited to visit them.
But she probably hadn't expected this! After meeting crowds of pupils in the playground at break time, the two Year 3 classes got together in one classroom. They'd prepared questions to ask us all, so we started by showing them our video of the Canada part of the trip, then answered their questions for half an hour. We finished by showing them some of the videos from this website - they loved the bit where we had to pull over from the beach on Fraser Island so that a plane could land.
A year ago, I'd doubt whether Charlotte would have had the confidence to go to a school that she didn't know, and answer a barrage of questions from a large group of pupils. But now, after a year away from school, but surrounded by so many different experiences, she was a natural. After she'd got over her initial nerves, there was no stopping her.
At the end we were amazed to see their wall display about our trip, with a map of our route, photographs taken from our website, and printouts of our emails. It was another of those spooky feelings - there we are, off on our little trip, and because of the website, people we didn't know were following what we were up to from afar. During school lunch, Charlotte and Emily were both crowded by pupils who wanted to look after them - show them where to sit, and how to get their lunch - and Sarah and I both got grabbed by boys that wanted to ask us questions, and show us their European Cup medal collections.
After lunch we were back in the classroom, this time with a group of 70 pupils from Years 4 and 6, going through a similar Question and Answer session. Emily had been quietly drawing at the back of the classroom, but then really got into the spirit of it when she was allowed to join in the PE lesson at the end of the afternoon, running around and under the parachute on the field.
After such a positive and happy experience, we're unlikely to have problems getting Emily to school on her first day. Although Charlotte asked whether we could move up to Chester so that she could go to school at Newton School next year.
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
The shock of being home
After a fortnight, weíre starting to get used to the shock of being back in England. Things like the cost of everything. After living for a year on a budget, it is a bit of a shock to pull into a motorway service station, and pay a week's food budget for a meal and drink. It's been an expensive time in other ways too - we've had to buy two cars, one for me to get to work, one for Sarah at home.
The other thing that we have been trying to resolve is a place for Charlotte back at her old school in September. When we applied in January, we were turned down because we didn't live in the village at the time of the application. But the school told us to lodge an appeal, which was just a formality, and we'd then be able to get a place for her. Ah, they said, don't worry about timing - you can lodge your appeal when you get back to the UK. So we have. And it looks like the appeal isn't going to be heard until after the new term has started in September. Call me naÔve but I'd assumed that the panels that decide this sort of thing would want to meet in time to allow children to go to the right school at the beginning of term. Instead its looking increasingly likely that Charlotte will have to go to a different school for her first week or two. So instead of both Emily and Charlotte walking to school, we may have to send Charlotte 6 miles to the other nearest school. We know this will get sorted out in the end (we hope), but its one completely unintended consequence of our trip. And compared to how few problems we'd had with the rest of our trip, it seems like Murphy's Law that things start going wrong the minute we get home!
Thursday, July 01, 2004
Time for a break!
After just two weeks back in England, its time for a break. We're not due to get our house back for another three weeks, although we're desperate to get home, get settled down, and start to lead a normal home life. For the last two weeks we've been staying with Sarah's parents, which has been fantastic - home cooking, our own bedroom separate from the girls, lie-ins, the opportunity to pick up the phone and talk to friends - lots of home comforts that we've got used to being without. But it will be even better to be in our own home. So while we wait, we're going to finish our trip with a fortnight in France - somewhere.
Everybody seems to assume that because we're going to France, we've got 'a plan' - like somewhere to stay etc, but we're just going to head down, and see what we find. After all, thatís the same way we've been travelling the rest of the world, so it shouldn't be that difficult. If we can roll up in a small town in Vietnam and find somewhere suitable to stay, how difficult can it be in France?
Click here to read how we got on in France.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
Back to England for the final time
Finally, after one year and a day, we're back to England for the end of our journey. And we're definitely not in backpacking-mode any more. We drive on board the P&O ferry at Le Havre in our own car, loaded with our luggage and shopping, and headed straight up to the lounge to sit and read for the 6 hour trip - which after some of the epic journeys of the last year, seemed too short!
Apart from 15 days, two weeks ago, we've been away from home for a year, and as the end of our journey got nearer, we all realised what a long time it has been. Although we don't get back into our house for a few more days, we'll be back at Sarah's parents house for tonight, all with our own bedrooms, and we'll have the house to ourselves while they stay in France. It will be absolute bliss, and we'll all begin to prepare for becoming 'normal' again. We are all very excited about our return to our house, and all the normality that brings. Charlotte and Emily are well ahead of us - they're already talking about going to school in September.
Monday, July 19, 2004
That's it. Done. Finished. Travelled-out. We're now back into our old house (although sadly the car had to go back to the company, so it no longer sits on the drive awaiting us). As you can see in the photo, we left a year ago looking like typical tourists. And we've made it back in one piece. Perhaps we're a little more tired than when we left. But we've got a completely different outlook on life, and we've got a fantastic set of family memories to live off for the rest of our lives. We've done some things that we'd never have imagined, and we've all survived living together in 14 countries for 24 hours a day for 369 days, with only a couple of hours away from each other during all that time. Who knows what the future holds, but the recent past will be unforgettable.