Still in the Northern Hemisphere

But not because anything has gone wrong.  Rather, geography was never my strongest subject at school… it turns out Singapore is indeed in the Northern Hemisphere.  Only by 1 degree, but it still counts.

So tonight is our last night in the Northern Hemisphere.  This time tomorrow night we will be at Changi Airport, waiting to board an overnight flight to Sydney, and then on home to Canberra.

We have had a very pleasant two days in Singapore, made especially so by our (almost) surprise visitors.  On the day we left Winchester, Tony’s parents rang to say that they had decided it had been too long since they had seen the grandkids – so they were flying up to Singapore to coincide with us.  (It’s only a 5 hour flight from Perth, so spontaneity is doable).

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Any blurriness is the camera, not me. The Singapore sling I had prior to dinner has nothing to do with it.

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Our little family is all a bit jet lagged – the kids did not want to wake up this morning.  Even after I put Millie in with Toby (usually a guarantee of riotous laughter within seconds), they kept sleeping.

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Still, we have kept them awake enough to have fun with Margie and Poppa Dave.

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No really, Millie’s having fun.

We have had wonderful meals together – including a lovely dinner by the pool at M&D’s hotel, my first taste of Chilli Crab, and a trip to a hawker’s market in Chinatown that was hectic but fun.

Today we headed out to the Gardens by the Bay, which is a beautiful garden (surprisingly enough) development on reclaimed land.  Our favourite part was the Cloud Forest, which is a 35m tall artificial mountain with a waterfall (the world’s largest artificial waterfall), planted with cool-moist rainforest vegetation – all entirely indoors under a dome.  It’s nuts, and absolutely gorgeous.

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Along with the plants, are little touches of whimsy – statures dotted throughout, and in one bed, Lego plants interspersed with the real.

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It was beautiful to see the views out over Singapore – and I braved the (very high) walkway to see them. So after one last family reunion on our big trip, we are finally on the cusp of heading home.  It’s been fantastic, and I have very mixed feelings about it all coming to an end.

Still in the Northern Hemisphere

Our last night in the Northern Hemisphere

Things I will miss about England

1.  The casual littering of historical things everywhere.  This is a grave of a man who died in 1680, also marking the burial spot of his son who died in 1669.

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It was placed outside what was then a church.  Winchester, however, had lots of old churches (still does) and this particular one has long ceased serving as a church.  Instead, the remains of the building now house the public toilets.  So poor old Benjamin Clarke Esq, having had his tombstone laid outside the church, now lies outside the loos, with cigarette butts adorning his grave.   It’s sad, in its way, but also staggering – there is simply so much history here that 17th century graves are unremarkable.

2.  Exploring the food of Hampshire – we’ve been having some fun while we’ve been here.

With Autumn upon us, that has meant lots of game.  We’ve cooked partridges (but no pear tree), wild duck and buffalo burgers.

British bacon is a beautiful thing – our favourite is non-smoked, dry cured, thin cut.  Clotted cream is also fantastic.  I went through a little clotted cream binge, before I read that the fat content is high enough to actually be classified as butter in the US.

We’ve also had some truly spectacular mushrooms from the farmer’s markets.

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By far the best discovery though has been this:

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Some call it smoked garlic butter, others call it magical food crack.  Addictive and transformative, it makes the best scrambled eggs in existence.  Served over some local dry aged steaks it’s not bad either.

3.  Convenience Foods.  I always wondered why Jamie Oliver railed against pre-made meals so much – surely people didn’t eat them that often?  Then I got here and realised – oh, they’re actually good here.  Not all of them, to be sure (and there are a staggering variety – and an entire supermarket chain devoted to selling frozen pre-made meals), but enough that it’s not a horrific concept.

I’m sure it’s a chicken and egg situation – people eat them because they’re good, they’re good because there’s a demand for them – and I certainly wouldn’t want them too often.  That said, especially while away from my pantry, it’s nice to be able to pick up something tasty and easy without having to buy yet another thing we’ll have to leave behind half-finished (last count: paprika, fennel seeds, coriander, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, olive oil, cider vinegar, sesame oil, chipotle sauce and coconut oil.) .   For our last night we’re having a very good Butter Chicken with tumeric rice.  It’s fresh, and tasty, and very very very easy.

4.  Watching Dr Who and Downton Abbey as they air live in England.  It just seems right somehow.

The rest of British TV is not quite so enjoyable – it seems to consist entirely of shows about stately homes and/or gardens, the X Factor, and repeats of Top Gear and Don’t Tell the Bride.

5. A White (or at least winter) Christmas.

It’s clear Winchester is gearing up for Christmas – the lights are going up in the streets, and the air is getting colder.  There is an ice-skating rink being built behind the Cathedral, and winter markets going up.  This is a city that will wear festive cheer well, and I’m sorry we’re going to miss it.

Things I am looking forward to about going home.

1. Everything.

This has been a fantastic trip, and it’s bitter-sweet to know it’s ending.  We looked forward to this for so long, planned it, discussed it and dreamt about it.  We know full well it will be a long time, if ever, we get a chance to travel this far and this long as a family again.

But, we are ready to go home.   I am ready for our house, our dog, our chickens, our garden.  I’m ready for blue skies, and gum trees, and summer sun.  I’m ready for Toby to go back to school (oh boy am I ready for that), and for our normal lives to return.  It’s a good thing we’re not flying Qantas home, because I think I’d dissolve at the first strains of I Still Call Australia Home.

Before then, though, we have two nights on planes (strictly economy class this time) and three nights in Singapore.  A final little jaunt to round out this amazing experience.

Our last night in the Northern Hemisphere

Boys Day Out…

Hi readers! Tony here! I’m guest blogging again because I know you just can’t get enough of me. Plus also Min is making sausage rolls out of leftovers (with just three sleeps to go until we start our journey home again, we’re eating down the fridge…)

When we first arrived, we had three days in London. On our first full day here, we had grand plans that were rudely interrupted, which meant that I didn’t manage to show Toby a couple of things I really thought he’d enjoy. So today we decided to make the most of our dwindling time here in the UK, and that he and I would head up to London for the day. Our original plan was to get there bright and early, catching a 7.45 train to get into town at 8.50, so that we could be at our first destination when it opened at 9.00. With this in mind, I duly hauled my sleep loving son out of bed at 6.30 this morning and we fed, clothed, got packed and rugged up, and walked up the hill to the station.

Where we discovered that a return peak hour ticket for the day would set us back 99 POUNDS! Or we could wait until 9.00 and pay half that much.

So after a false start (walk back down hill, make tea for Imogen, feed Millie…) we finally got up to London quite a bit later than we’d hoped.

That was fine, though, because on the tube we took selfies. Which Toby took great delight in ‘enhancing’

This was one of the better ones, sadly.
This was one of the better ones, sadly.

It wasn’t a problem, though, because we weren’t on the tube for very long before we arrived at our first destination: The Bloody Tower!

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I first visited the Tower of London about 20 years ago, on my first visit to London. I remember it being a fantastic experience, partly because it was the dead of winter, pouring with rain, and as a consequence there were only about 5 people in our tour group. Today wasn’t quite so apocalyptic, but it was nevertheless a fairly grey day, and there were no queues or enormous crowds. In fact, the biggest groups getting in the way were school excursions.

We started off doing the tour directed by one of the Yeoman Guards. These are rightly renowned for being highly devoted to providing  entertainment as well as informative value. The guardsmen themselves are all former servicemen, have all received military honours for their service, and – having been continuously in service since 1485 are one of the oldest continuous corps of servicemen. The tour was fantastic, though Toby did have to get his head around the whole concept of beheading (which, let’s face it, is a fairly major theme in the history of the tower). Luckily he was assisted by our Yeoman Warder, who ended each section of the tour as follows:

Yeoman: Are you all still happy to keep going with the tour?

Us: Yes!

Yeoman: Excellent. Then let’s be-heading up (these stairs/this passage etc…)

Seriously, that joke just never got old.

Toby. Keeping his head during the tour
Toby. Keeping his head during the tour

After the tour, we took a look at the crown jewels, which we both enjoyed (but which can’t be photographed, so no pics, sorry.) THen took a walk around the tower grounds and along the walls, stopping only a few times for Toby to shoot imaginary arrows from the battlements.

Take that, you pesky iconic bridge!
Take that, you pesky iconic bridge!

Other highlights included watching the Welsh guard marching up and down the square:

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And having a go in the guardbox ourselves, trying to stand to attention and ignore all distractions*:

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Then, thanks to our later-than-planned start, it was time to get moving again. We took a quick stroll across Tower Bridge (which, thankfully, had survived Toby’s imaginary onslaught from a few minutes earlier)…

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To our next destination, the HMS Belfast museum.

The Belfast is a retired battle cruiser from WW2 and the Korean War. Launched in 1938, she saw a lot of active service in the second world war, was refurbished somewhat for the Korean war, and was then retired to the Thames, where she’s now one of the most amazing museums that I’ve ever visited. The first time I went over her, again back during my first trip to London in my mid 20’s, I remember being amazed at how open the whole ship was. It’s still pretty much the same… you can explore every little nook and cranny from the Admiral’s sea cabin, through the enormous cannons, which could shoot a shell 25 miles (they’re currently trained on a service area beside the M1, a little over 24.5 miles outside London)

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and right down to the magazine and boiler rooms in the very bottom of the ship.

There were a *lot* of ladders. All of them very steep.
There were a *lot* of ladders. All of them very steep.
Toby wasn't too keen clambering down the steep narrow ladders into the boiler room, but he did it all the same!
Toby wasn’t too keen clambering down the steep narrow ladders into the boiler room, but he did it all the same!

There’s an audio guide but, to be honest, it’s more fun just wandering and imagining what life would have been like for the almost 1000 men who lived and worked aboard her for months at a time. It wouldn’t have been pleasant. The officers all got rudimentary sea bunks, but most of the ratings lived in hammocks slung in just about every corner of the fo’castle.

They’ve done an amazing job of keeping the ship ‘as is’, and you really get a strong sense of it as a working, fighting vessel, and of just what life was like for the sailors:

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After almost two hours crawling over the ship, we realised that we were about to run out of ‘off peak’ time on our train tickets, and so had to head for home, pausing only for Toby to work his modelling career:

Finally meeting his... never mind.
Finally meeting his… never mind.

We did some schoolwork on the train, and got home as the sun went down, tired but happy. We didn’t manage our third goal, which was the Globe Theatre, but it’s good to save something for next time.

*Toby managed just a little under 3 seconds, which doesn’t sound like much but, to be honest, was better than I was expecting…

Boys Day Out…

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

John Keats wrote Ode to Autumn after an evening walk along the River Itchen near Winchester in September 1819.  Today we went for a walk along that same river, in the Winnall Moors.  However, in late Autumn the former floodplain that is now the moors is less mellow fruitfulness, and more the dying end of the growing season.  So, with apologies to Keats….

Season of mists and Sunday family walks,

Close bosom-friend of a media-free son;

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Conspiring parents just want him to talk

About non-ipad things – and even to run;

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Bend with age the moss’d and gnarled trees

As red leaves form a carpet at their feet;

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And Autumn still shows us her colourful hues,

Though muted this late; grown discreet,

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As we walk under the season’s last canopies,

The coming of Winter stills water and air,

Peace broken only by echo of leather on shoes.*

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(*Yes, I know technically one plays rugby in boots not shoes, but it wouldn’t have fit the rhyme scheme.)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.