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I made a flying visit to London on 12 May as the Cades and I were all leaving together for France just a few days later. It was so good to see the family and everyone was in excellent form. The house had transformed and there were so many improvements to see. I’ll look forward to examining them in detail when I get back in July.

Julie came round and we all spent a lovely, relaxing evening together even if I did drop off from time to time, not having slept on the plane from LA.

Kate and I had a lovely outing into the West End on Thursday. 

We did our errands and were enchanted by the beautifully decorated elephants that kept popping up on all sides. Kate told me that these are donated by artists and are later auctioned for charity.

And then it was home to pack so that we could catch the Chunnel train the next morning.

I was back in London overnight at the end of June before going down to Hampshire for a school reunion. 

Back from Hampshire and a lovely few days with my Sherborne friends, I could now look forward to three lovely weeks from 1-18 July of living and working alongside Kate and family and all the activities that entails. Their ‘ruin’ of late 2008, which gradually took shape during the whole of 2009, was now nearly complete. They’ve both worked so hard on it and would dearly like to see it finished. It’s been an enormous project. So much had changed since I left in September 2009. But they still couldn’t say that any of the rooms was completely finished, although there were parts of every room that were beginning to look very good indeed.

So we set to work, to see what else we could accomplish.

With plans for the carpet to be laid on the top two floors on 21 July, we shared the final tasks of sanding, painting final coats on mouldings, skirtings, cupboard doors, dado rails, staircases and architraves – as well as the walls and ceilings themselves – looked after the girls, went on errands for more supplies when we ran out, and generally got cracking.

Kate did most of the painting.

Of course, with two small children, there’s an endless round of school activities as well as the ones that take place at weekends. Saturday mornings consist entirely of drama, tap dancing, and singing. And then there were swimming and piano lessons during the week.

And there were a few adult activities too!

We were delighted to welcome Philip Whearty, Marianthe, Breeanna and Chenise to a BBQ dinner on a fabulous summer evening.

The day had been very hot and the evening was perfect. We sat outside in the garden until 10.30 without a hint of a breeze. In the middle of the meal, we strolled around Queens Park to enjoy the activities taking place on all sides, people playing sport, chatting, jogging, eating and drinking. The children enjoyed the play areas. It was a quintessential English summer evening, showing everything off at its very best. Including the garden.

Meanwhile, the painting progressed and everything began to look really smart. With the sanding all but finished, it was now possible to turn out and clean the insides of cupboards, like these ones in the kitchen, which have been amassing dust for months.

And scrape paint off the glass on some of the windows, which makes an amazing difference to the overall effect.

The girls were a great help too. Tyla cleaned the big bi-folding doors that open into the garden.

Riley helped to prepare meals.

And sometimes we took one of the neighbour’s dogs, Winston, for walks in the park.

And in the quiet moments when Kate and I couldn’t paint at the same time, I got on with the final edits for my book and sent it off to Anne.

I drafted Blogs for all my happy memories and got the photos ready to post onto my web site.

And I made arrangements for the next six weeks of croquet tournaments and visits to friends and family.

I booked all my train tickets, ordered and installed GPS maps of Europe for my Garmin so that I can drive in England without reading maps simultaneously and booked my flights to Brittany to visit the Cadorel family in September.

And, following an exciting call from Adam to tell me that he and Janice have become the proud possessors of a villa in Lake Como, I booked flights for Julie, Suzi and me to visit them there at the end of August.

In the middle of all that, I suddenly realised that I’d left my croquet waterproofs in New Zealand. The beautifully fine weather we’d been experiencing might not last. So I spent a whole morning travelling out to High Barnet on the tube to visit a bowls shop I’d found on the web. I bought a lovely new waterproof jacket, so long that I decided not to bother with the trousers!

The next few weeks were spent visiting lovely friends, playing in croquet tournaments and using Julie as my base in London as Bret's parents were coming over for a visit.

In between the various sorties, Kate and I spent several days finalizing any painting that would impact on the new carpet in their house when it was laid. We also had great times with the littlies, went to swimming classes, had playdates and did a bit of socializing too. Bret, meanwhile, was being sent to Italy on business for a few days most weeks and that added to the pressure with the visit of his parents only a few days away.

The last couple of days were spent moving things off shelves and desks so that heavy furniture could be moved, tidying the front garden and cutting the hedge, giving the house a bit of a spring clean and doing a bit of fun cooking with the girls.

Finally, Kate drove me, and my big case, to Julie’s flat so that I could make my base with her while Bret’s parents were visiting. We didn’t have long together before Julie kindly came with me to St Pancras to make sure that I got onto the train to Nottingham safely to play in my first of two tournaments.

On 29 July, Julie and I went from her flat to Kate’s for lunch to see the new carpet and greet Bret’s parents. The carpet looked marvellous and Bruce and Cheryl were in good form.

We had a lovely chat until Julie and I left. They took Riley to the park for her first biking adventure without stabilizers to which she apparently took like a duck to water, and is now riding like a pro.

Julie and I caught up at her apartment for the evening and then she took me to Paddington the next morning to catch the train down to spend a few days with brother, Tony, and Janet near Moreton-in-Marsh. Although I’m sure she’d far rather have been doing other things, she insisted on being a little mother and trundling my bag for me!

It wasn't until 14 August that I squeezed another couple of days in London. By the time I got there from my time with Sally and friends in Hertfordshire and met Julie at Green Park tube station, the heavens had opened. We had several chores to do and we walked a long way as the rain diminished. My back and right hip that have been troubling me for months were really painful and I was glad to be back at her flat. Added to the pain, I was also experiencing very swollen ankles and fatigue. I relaxed while Julie showed me what she was taking on holiday which caused us both much merriment. It was far too much but she eventually got it all sorted.

I dropped off while she was packing, surprisingly. We had a very relaxing evening and a lovely salad dinner. Then she insisted on giving my legs a massage because she thought that fluids were being blocked by my back in some way and being retained around my ankles.

On Saturday, she was up early to pack and get ready to meet her friends at Liverpool Street Station on their way to Stansted Airport. She was in fine spirits and it was obviously going to be a very happy holiday. Selfishly I was sad to see my in-house massage therapist disappear.

I was still tired and in a lot of pain. Kate rang and insisted on taking me to A&E at Charles Hospital nearby. There wasn’t a long wait and a lovely doctor gave me some stronger pain killers but then checked my blood pressure. Normally below 120 over 80, it was 196 over 84 and we were both horrified. He suggested that the pain could be causing stress and told me to report to Kate’s GP on Monday morning.

I had lunch with Kate and family and spent the afternoon relaxing before they dropped me back at Julie’s where I rested.

Sunday was another restful day with Suzi arriving from Kent for a couple of hours of catch up before Kate and Cheryl arrived to go to the Albert Hall to enjoy an evening at the Proms.

And we did enjoy it. We walked to Kate’s and she kindly drove us both ways which saved a long bus ride of 19 stops – a great relief.

The programme was Russian and not quite to our taste but the musicians were wonderful and just being the16re was a great delight.

It was hard to get a photo of the interior because of its size, but Cheryl was enjoying herself as much as Suzi and I were.

After lots of travel, I was back in London from 1-4 September and back with Kate and family in Queens Park. I found a very excited Kate, packed and ready to spend five days with Bret in Venice, courtesy of his company. They’d been sending him to work in Milan so much while his parents were visiting that they decided to try and make amends. So I was put in charge of the littlies!

Our first trip on Wednesday morning was to Westminster Cathedral (not Westminster Abbey) to meet up with Patsy and Ross from New Zealand. We were so lucky to have been able to arrange it as our London visits only coincided by a couple of days.

The Cathedral itself didn’t do much to inspire us although there’s some beautiful marble inside.

However, lunch at Wagamama’s in Victoria was great fun. We sat outside because the sun was shining brightly but there was a cold wind blowing through the area and we soon moved to a lovely grass area alongside the restaurant where heaps of Londoners were enjoying their lunch.

On Thursday, the lovely one-time Nanny Cate came to relieve me at 4.00 so that Julie and I could set off to the Wolseley Restaurant which is next door to the Ritz in Piccadilly. After my lovely stay with Elissa in Nottingham, this was my opportunity to return some of her generous hospitality. She’s Julie’s godmother so it seemed a great opportunity for the three of us to have a night out together.

Dinner was sublime. Elissa recommended Duck confit and it tasted just the same as the wonderful roast duck my mother used to produce from time to time. A real treat.

Dinner over, we made our way to the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street to see Jersey Boys.

This is the hit Broadway musical that tells the story of the legendary vocal group, The Four Seasons, and features their classic hits. The story follows the rags-to-riches tale of Frankie Valli and his group as they work their way from the streets of Newark to the heights of stardom. The music may have been new to Julie, but Elissa and I were taken for a trip down memory lane as we listened to such hits as ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’. It was a great night out.

Julie was free on Friday so she came to join Tyla, Riley and me on an expedition to Chiswick and a large pool complex where we spent about four hours. With all sorts of exciting adventures like water slides and wave machines, it was hard to get the girls out of the pools and it’s probably the first time I’ve seen them almost totally exhausted!

As the next day was Saturday and Kate and Bret were coming back from Italy in the late afternoon, Julie took over the care of the girls while I packed and left for my adventure in Brittany.

Returned from Brittany on 10 September, I now had the prospect of three weeks with the family, a real treat after my little visits between other travels for the past four months.

The first few days of this visit were spent frantically putting the finishing touches to the book. Emails with last-minute edits were flying across the world between Anne and me at an alarming speed. Her ability to make instant changes made my head spin with gratitude. After six days of really hard work, I had to give the final sign off and ask Anne to send everything to the printers. Now I sit on my hands and wait until I get back to New Zealand and can hold the real thing in my hands. Phew!

Adam and Janice dropped in one evening, over on business, and we enjoyed a happy family dinner together.

We made a pilgrimage to my old school so that the littlies could see where their grandmother had spent so many happy years. We were all charmed by the facilities on offer, the ambience, the friendly welcome and a quick visit to The Abbey as we 30stopped in the town for a snack.

I also popped down with Suzi to see Bub in Hampshire for the day. With Suzi moving to a new hospital in Frimley in Surrey, Bub had kindly agreed to put her up for a short time while she looked for accommodation. It was a special treat to have another day with Suzi and also to see Bub again briefly.

With the book put to bed, Kate and I were able to indulge ourselves and spend a day in Oxford Street and another at Brent Cross, a huge shopping centre. These were rare treats. I always love shopping with Kate because she invariably knows what clothes will suit me and I always come away with things I love. Fortunately, she bought a couple of things too so we both felt great.

Meeting all the deadlines for completing the book had been stressful and my blood pressure was on the rise again. I made an appointment to see Kate’s doctor just to make sure it was at a safe level for the long flight. Unfortunately, nothing was alleviating the hip and back pain so that was something I’d have to deal with on my return to New Zealand. Meanwhile, it was time to work on the preparations for the book launch on 19 November!

With only a week to go, it was time to prepare for a family party that Kate had planned. We shopped, and cleaned, and cooked up a storm. The house looked great and we awaited the arrival of the rellies. Suzi arrived on Friday evening and Julie on Saturday morning. With all the time and Adam and Janice have been spending working in London recently, it was a pity that this wasn’t one of the weekends when they could arrange to stay over.

Jen and Colin arrived on Saturday afternoon to stay for the weekend and it was great to catch up with them. We strolled in the park and generally relaxed.

They brought the most wonderfully appropriate gifts for the girls. A book for dog-mad Tyla, and more farm animals to add to Riley’s collection. She spends hours arranging them in formation, talking to them and listening to what they have to say!

We all spent Sunday morning doing last-minute food preparations. Firm relationships were formed over breakfast.

The children were amazing. Jen and Colin kindly took them to the park while we prepared. It was a real joy to welcome my brother, Tony and Janet, their daughter Emma and her three children, including the latest addition, Olly, and son, Tim. Then Jen and Colin’s daughter, Jules and Clive and their son, Luke. I’d been in touch with each family recently but they hadn’t 26been in touch with each other for years so there were some great conversations going on.

The children got along famously, as did the adults!

And Clive and Tyla showed us their talents at the Karaoke!

It was such a happy reunion that we all resolved to repeat it more frequently in the future. Kate and Bret had been such lovely hosts and it was great that, after all their hard work, their house was far enough advanced to stage the happy event.

And so it was time to think about packing. I got my admin as far up to date as possible, knowing that I’d be busy the moment I arrived home. We had a lovely last night with an Indian take away and a lighthearted DVD.

And the girls made lovely pictures for me to take home.

London on and off - 12 May-30 September 2010

 
 
 
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