Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Don’t Do Chores On A Bank Holiday Weekend

Before moving to Singapore I worried about loads of things, but mostly my shy nature and ability to make friends when I would be totally new.  I needn’t have worried, and although I have heard of lots of scenarios where the trailing spouse is left depressed by their new home I was unbelievably lucky to meet loads of friendly people and make a lot of friends.
afternoon tea overlooking Marina Bay
However, every bank holiday, and there are a few, as well as every summer and Christmas holiday it became impossible to make plans as everyone cleared out.  So Bank holidays/long weekends were a great time to go adventuring and get off the island.

Bank holidays in the UK may be less glamourous but I was ready to celebrate the last one of the year.  In Scotland we get Hogmanay instead of a day in late summer so this was officially my second August bank holiday ever to make use of. 
The Hickory Inn
The big plans included going swimming in Exmouth, visiting Darts Farm, going to Soup Stock at Knightshayes and attending Party in the Park in Tiverton.  We duly celebrated International Dog Day on Friday by taking our sweet little Daisy out with us to The Hickory Inn which is in the next village over from us as they are dog friendly. 
Daisy choosing Dinner
However our weekend went decidedly downhill afterwards when on Saturday morning I opened the washing machine to an outpouring of water.  Then whilst mopping up the spill and attempting to drain the machine the handle broke off and locked it shut.  We quickly figured out that it looked like the dishwasher had pumped dirty water into the washing machine as it had filled up of its own volition at some point, so Mark went off to book a repair whilst I surveyed the scene. 

Now in hindsight I can see that although my pile of dirty clothes was the closest   thing to initially mop up the water, it wasn’t the smartest move.  I would happily have thrown out some old towels that we wouldn’t be able to wash and dry, but now we had to get our work clothes into a washing machine pronto.
We tried 2 laundrettes before we found a clean, airy, large one, unfortunately it wasn’t manned, but there was a helpful American woman who had recently relocated to Devon who showed us the ropes.  Oh lovely expats! 

Soon enough we had a pile of soft, fluffy, clean, folded laundry ready to take home.  I’d never quite understood why Elspeth Thomson in one of my favourite books ever, The Wonderful Weekend Book, suggested that ‘laundromats were far superior to having your own washer/drier’, however although I wouldn’t go as far as to agree, it was quite nice to get everything done in less than an hour.

I'm pretty sure the moral of the story is that chores shouldn’t be done on a Bank Holiday weekend, and the only option is to go traveling.  Oh and if you didn’t celebrate International Dog Day you’ve a lot of making up to do with your four legged friend.
A 'dogs dinner'

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Anniversary Study

Mark and I celebrate our wedding anniversary on the 25th of October, which will be 8 years this year.  When Mark proposed we knew we didn’t want a long engagement and the church I wanted to get married at had only 2 dates available, so we took the first.  A year later we celebrated our wedding on a beautiful autumn day.
getting ready with my bridesmaids
Being the swot that I am I love autumn, cosy jumpers, boots, hot chocolate swirly leaves, perfect sunlight and the start of a new academic term.  We got married 4 weeks after I started my Librarianship training which was (in hindsight) totally crazy.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of things that I needed to do and plan, but on the day I was happy and I passed my course in the end….so all’s well that ends well!  I’d just very strongly recommend that people shouldn’t do this.
The first year after we were married we went to my bridesmaids’ baby’s Christening near Loch Eribol, in northern Scotland.  We were surrounded my stunning scenery and had a fantastic time up there so although the day wasn’t for us, we certainly made use of being away from home. (a very sold grade of B)
The next few years were less fancy and spent our anniversary apart as Mark always had a big conference to attend in Australia meaning I spent the day at home……..alone………..not even able to speak with Mark at a convenient time due to time differences.  (D-)

our barn

the pool
However, two years ago Mark excelled himself and researched and booked for us to stay at the gorgeous Aloun (which sounds like Doric for a boy!) Barn in the Malihom private resort in Penang, and we spent the 24th exploring George Town…promptly before both coming down with food poisoning from a café and spending the day laying on the cool floor trying not to be sick.  (C-)

a spot of afternoon tea in the drawing room

looking out at the dam

my pheasant love continues
Last year I took the reins (because buying and moving house for a fourth time in a year isn’t enough) and booked us into the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel in Wales.  We happily spent the weekend exploring the dam, hills and the cafes that surrounded it and I was pretty sure I held the title for best anniversary trip planner ever.  (a very solid A)
our view from the room
I wanna see the sheep!

Out adventuring

ahem....another spot of tea
Now we can all agree I’m doing pretty well here.  Technically it was my idea to go to Eribol and it certainly was my idea to go to Vyrnwy, so if I’m given the option, I blow anniversary trips out of the water.  I’m kind of a big deal.  (We’re conveniently ignoring the year we had to have a family meal and I drunkenly ‘hijacked’ a steam roller…..)  Anyway, I was pretty much undefeated until Mark announced that he’d booked tickets for the Harry Potter studios in north London.
hard evidence that the move to Singapore was causing stress
Harry.  Potter.  Studio.  Tour.  Let me just say I’m excited.  I'm as excited as a Hufflepuff can get.  I'm excited because I loved (and continue to love) the films.  I’d buy my books at midnight when they came out and spent too many hours in college on Pottermore instead of revising.  I now have a list of merchandise I need to buy and I know exactly when I’m going to have my butterbeer.  I can now say I’m happy to admit defeat and can pre-grade this anniversary as A+. 

Friday, 26 August 2016

How We Found our First Home

I love shows like Location, Location, Location, House Hunters International and Property Brothers which probably means I'm nosey and I want to see inside houses.  So when we decided to strike out on our own to buy our own house I was 100% sure my picky nature would be entirely satisfied by looking in every nook and cranny of wherever we visited.
fancy fireplace in Exeter
We looked into buying tentatively when we moved from Singapore, but the new builds I’d seen and loved in Aberdeen were entirely different to the ones they were offering here, so although great in their own way, they just couldn’t live up to my expectations.  I’d also seen a perfect house for us in the town we were already living in, and after falling for it as soon as I walked in the door Mark had a heart breaking talk with a broker who said because we’d lived out of the country we’d never get a mortgage.  
Our 1st Exeter home
We had A LOT on our plate what with Dr’s visits, getting used to a new place, seeing family and dealing with all the admin that comes with an international move at short notice.  This was not just ‘one more piece of bad news’, this was enough.  We put house buying on the back burner and started to get settled into our little new build cottage…

Gosh wouldn’t it be sweet if that’s where it ended? 

However, four months into our lease Mark had the landlords drop in and quiz him about every – damn - thing.  Asking why there was furniture up against the wall, crawling around the floor and barging into rooms where relatives were sleeping….  I sort of feel like they weren’t very used to being landlords and felt that they were doing us a favour by letting us live there, which isn’t exactly what anyone needs when they pay sky high deposits and rental charges.  After a  couple of emails from them explaining in minute detail how exactly they want us to live in their cottage we decided we needed to move (hey we’d done it 3 times in one year already, what’s one more time?).

teeny tiny kitchen/dining room and living room at Perryman
I went right to the bank who poo-poo’d the brokers nonsense and after a relatively quick mortgage approval meeting we were ready for our second viewing of the second house we’d ever looked at.  We clutched our mortgage approval letter like it was the cash itself and marched across the road to the estates agents and asked to see the house as we’d like to buy it (no poker face here).  Regrettably not quite everything was that simple and we had to wait twenty four hours before getting our viewing.  (I mean, seriously?)

As soon as we saw it we knew we wanted it and after a bit of back and forth we got it…we got our house.  That’s not even where the good news ends, after being spoken to like naughty children and threatened with fortnightly inspections we got to write to the landlords and let them know that we didn’t want the cottage any longer.  I seriously can’t think of a more expensive tantrum I’ve ever had.

Our 2nd Devon home
So that’s how we came to buy a house and move four times in one year (that’s not even our record).  It’s also how we managed to miss out on appearing on Location, Location, Location, although I probably would have been the easiest to please person in the history of the show and we know that would have made for terrible viewing.
from the Estate Agent

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Magnificent for a Monday

Everyone has their ‘thing’, their superpower which pushes them ahead of the curve or singles them out.  I know people that could look stylish dressed only in a bin bag, someone who can turn pure exhaustion into patience, and another friend who is so extraverted and outgoing I get fatigued just watching her mingle. 

My superpower is winning raffles.  I just need to look at a ticket to win baby gymnastics classes or very expensive bottles of wine.  I mean I could go and enter raffles for cars, millions of pounds or holidays, but I just don’t want to hog all this glory.  I’ve been given a gift, and as I’m pretty sure it says in Spiderman, I need to use it responsibly.
all aboard
When Mark got tickets for the annual NCI cruise I practically felt my spider senses tingling as I knew it was going to be a good night.  Exmouth has a gorgeous sea front; I love all things nautical; we were surrounded by lovely people and I could smell what they were cooking from half way along the beach. 
Not only did we have a fantastic time chasing the good weather and following the south Devon coast but after filling up our plates with barbecued seafood we emptied our wallets for a good cause and duly bought our raffle tickets.  When they read our numbers it felt like fate and Mark and I ended up walking away with a bottle of bourbon and a day ticket to the Devoncourt Spa.

This past Monday we decided to put it to good use (the day trip, the bourbon is long gone) and headed down to Exmouth to get our swim on.  This place is pretty fantastic.  Great views over the bay, use of the putting green, croquet lawn, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna…I could go on but you probably already think I’m being paid.  I'm not, but I do gush.

When we arrived we headed straight out to the outdoor pool.  Mark and I love swimming, and even though we booked a hotel for our anniversary because of its Jacuzzi/steam room facilities last October we never got to use it because a Hen Party totally took over, which means the last time we were in any pool was Singapore.  How can it be over a year since doing something we adore?  We immediately decided this needed rectified and started to speak about joining up.
From the heated outdoor pool we made it into the toasty warm indoor pool before I declared that my skin needed the steam room.  I'm more than happy to sit in there for ages (remember those 10k weekly walks in Singapore in the jungle or along the Southern ridges anyone?) but let Mark drag me in to the sauna which I managed about 2 minutes of before I declared I needed a foot massage instead.  By Monday’s standards this was great, but after the Jacuzzi I was sure we needed some sort of accolade for this fantastic day. 
By this time we were getting close to meeting my Hungry Monster and with the bar closed we decided to keep the festivities short so we could head off and grab a very late lunch somewhere.  Exmouth was jam packed so we took a leisurely drive to Topsham where we could eat at somewhere we’d been meaning to go into for ages.  The Globe looks like the sort of pub Dickens would describe in a Christmas scene (a bejewelled merry one, not one from The Chimes).  The food was delicious, the atmosphere friendly and service impeccable.  

After a little walk around we headed home for a late afternoon nap rounding off a very good day indeed.  Britain’s doing great in the Olympics, we’ve broken records in cycling, swimming, and pentathlon, and my raffle winning streak remains unblemished.  Let’s just say we’re all pretty fantastic in our own fields.   

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Celebrating the Seasons

When I was younger my Mum went back to college, university to do an undergraduate course with honours and then onto post grad studying.  When I did these things I was a fun and fearless twenty year old with zero responsibilities or f**** to give.  My Mum was busy; she was a busy single parent/employee/student who had to prioritise what she spent time on.  This meant we didn’t do much of the twee ‘celebrating the seasons’ stuff.

In spite of this (or because of it) I now love doing all of it.  I love autumn, the cosiness, the crisp leaves, and every cliché there is.  I am excited for Halloween and getting to dress up or eat loads of sweets or see kids in cute costumes walk up and down the street telling jokes in exchange for sugar.  And don’t even get me started on the fun that is Bonfire Night.  Although I’ve never had a Guy before, we’ve had our own bonfire parties with baked tatties, fire pits, fireworks and sparklers.  (If your pinterest board is called Falling for Fall or similar, I’m there.)  I'm a sucker for all things Christmas and used to adore the first snow in Scotland.  Quite frankly you can hashtag ‘basic white girl’ after most things I like.  Well, except for Starbucks, I’m a canny Scot after all. 

When we got married I kept thinking, “great I’ll have kids and then instil in them a love of celebrating the seasons.”  But this would take. Way.  Too. Long.  I want to do it now (can you tell I was a pandered to youngest child?).  I was also a respite/foster carer whilst living in Singapore and quickly realised that babies, although utterly adorable (shock, horror, big revelation) mess up your plans. 

I mean, I adored those kiddo’s, loved them like my own and shredded my heart every time I had to give them back.  However, I didn’t do half of the things I planned to do with them.  We made forts in the living room, flew kites at marina barrage, hung out at west coast park, ate ice cream in HDB play parks and splashed around in gardens by the bay – yet we never did any of the pre-planned educational and enriching activities I’d pinned on pinterest.  (go figure?)
So I decided I would just give myself all of those lovely seasonal things / take a greater interest in the Slow Movement / become more mindful myself and do these lovely things just because I felt like it.
With the change in seasons now veritable I have a list of everything I want to do before autumn stops being clear, clean and crisp and turns to soggy, boggy and foggy.  So far I want to: 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Exeter Gin Festival

Last weekend our Gin Club went to the Gin Festival at the Exeter Corn Exchange.  One of our most diligent members organised all of the tickets and let us know the times of the bus so that all we had to do was turn up – which is my kind of event.

For the ticket price we got a book telling us all about the different gins on offer, tasters from trade stands, cocktail demos and live entertainment.  Unfortunately they were all out of goody bags when we arrived at lunch time on Sunday so just got handed the ‘gin bible’ and our glass which we’d get cleaned out and re-filled when we picked whichever gin we fancied. 

We bought our £20 cards which gave us 4 gins to try and set off to scope the place out.  I’d never been in the Corn Exchange before but i believe I was in the main hall which is very much like my assembly hall from secondary school (I’m still smarting from a lack of gorgeous Aberdeen HMT style theatre).  There was a DJ booth on the stage with fairground games below it and a few tables and chairs as well as some barrels for tables too.

I'm not really a gin drinker and would much prefer a cocktail so I happily went to the cocktail masterclass first with half of our group.  The first drink made was a White Lady, the second was a Basil Fawlty, but I just can’t remember the third.  It was super sour and really delicious so I wish I remembered it more than the Basil Fawlty as I wasn’t really a fan, however it had lots of elderflower cordial in it which isn’t my cup of tea anyway.  All of the cocktails he had chosen were in the top 100 gin cocktails (I didn’t even think there’d be that many) as voted by various well known bars throughout the world. 
 The cocktail guru kindly warned us all that the White Lady had raw egg white in it so we should avoid it if pregnant…..oh yeah, and don’t drink either.  I'm sure it was all said on purpose but it was funny all the same (in a Dad joke sort of way). 

Afterwards, we walked around the trade stalls and had some samples there.  Some of the group were offering advice about which drinks were best and I tried them all accordingly.  Now I’m normally someone who drinks a half a shot of Malibu every fortnight once it’s been thoroughly watered down with loads of lemonade and pineapple juice.  Therefor before drinking even a single paid for drink I was ‘over my limit’.  However, being the trooper that I am I ploughed on with my first gin (a Scottish one) and then a strawberry one for my second.  By now everyone needed something to soak up the alcohol a bit so a few of us went in search for seats and chips.  Having found both I decided to start filling up on water and gave away my remaining two drinks whilst texting Mark to ask for a BBQ for tea.  
All in all it was a great day out; I would definitely visit the gin festival again if it was on our doorstep.  However, I do think with a large group I would recommend commandeering a place to sit relatively early whilst people take turns visiting the stalls or cocktail making demonstrations.  I'm now just on the lookout for a rum festival….oh well, if I do have to visit a far off Caribbean island for it I must!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

When you just find out you’re a triangle

When we moved from Aberdeen to Singapore I was full of excitement.  We’d spent a month in beautiful accommodation in all my favourite parts of the city and shire, were embarking on a new adventure and were exciting people.
When we moved back we had to deal with downsizing living space drastically, finding roles and work, getting a car and a house as well as dealing with illness and family issues.  I was dog tired from what we physically needed to do, but exhausted from all of the emotional output required of me.  I probably would have done really well to read up on repatriation, but instead I went about things my own way and in hindsight this was a really bad idea. 
Sometimes I do still raise my eyebrows when people I used to know through book group/walking club/meet ups tell me about things I already know (because I was there.  I did those things with you.  I still have those memories so….why have I been forgotten?!)  But I also still find it hard to talk about where we lived and got up to without worrying people will think I’m bragging or being obnoxious.  Unbeknownst to me these are really common problems.
However whilst reading one of my favourite blogs recently I noticed that they made a comment about ‘I am a Triangle’ which you can read up about here.  It explains some of the ways that being a repatriate changes you and totally hit the nail on the head for me….especially as I still think of Scotland as home.
The whole triangle thing goes a little bit deeper seeing as when we flew in to Hong Kong to start our new adventure I played Alt-J’s Tessellate on repeat.  We were on the plane, I saw Hong Kong coming into focus and I was just so full of excitement and awe.  Whenever I got homesick in Singapore I played this song and it brought me right back to the moment where I wanted nothing more than be away, doing something new, and making my own way in another part of the world.
So there you go… triangle has come full circle.
Just so you know, when we travelled back to Singapore from a ‘holiday’ in the UK I played Mr Tembo non-stop, but when we moved back I watched The Judge to channel my inner Robert Downey Jr…

Monday, 8 August 2016

Lavender Fields and Missing Ships

Whilst scrolling through my main Instagram girl crushes I was pretty jealous of the amount of pictures people get (hair flowing, skin glowing) in lavender fields.  Now I don’t have a flower crown, an ethereal white partially transparent dress or a family that could grace a white company catalogue, but I have a pretty long travel bucket list and visiting a lavender field was high up on it. 
After a little searching online I could see that we could go to an actual lavender field in Somerset which looked to be an hour away, or a 'low impact beef farm with tea room in a lavender garden'.
The chance to see the lovely farm animals and visit (for a small fee) the secret garden made it a done deal in my book and I duly took down the post code and planned the trip
We only knew North Devon from our trip to Clovelly and the Atlantic Village shopping outlet but we knew we had to go on a very busy slow road to get there.  When I arrived in Singapore I was awe of the buildings, but 2 months later it was old news to me, giant mall?  Bah, I’ll navigate it…..and I did. 

But over a year since flying across the world to South West England I still cannot believe there are this many caravans, caravanettes or roof racks in the world let alone one road – and we had to drive it. 

After waiting half an hour in a queue which didn't even appear to have a beginning I was starting to think we should just turn around.  However, Mark did put my negativity in check and I'm so glad I listened as once we got out of the traffic jam we were back on beautiful open roads traveling through quaint villages again.
About 5 miles past Clovelly on a single track road behind stuck behind a tractor (which is, despite what everyone tells you, a massive blessing when there are speed freaks roaming country lanes) we arrived at Cheristow. 
From the car park we walked up to a little bungalow which had seats inside and out as well as comfy sofa's to sit and sip tea in.  We decided to sit outside as it was such a lovely day and we'd been stuck in the car for a while already.
While we were waiting I let Daisy off to explore and we could see that she was more than happy to get out on soft grass and in fresh air again too!
Tea and cake was ordered and we got to sit in the sun looking out at the lavender, farm animals and fields.  Daisy was being her typical self and wanting to explore so I took her for a walk along some paths so she could let off some steam whilst Mark went into full blown photography mode.
I tried to compete but it's just hopeless as I've not got the skills but I like to think my 'trying' means something too...?

After I duly filled up my Instagram account we headed off in search of the lighthouse and ship wreck we saw signs for on the drive up.  We found it quite easily and although I’m still smarting about the fee to get into an area of the countryside to walk we happily parked up and went to find the lighthouse. 
Now I should state that one of my all-time favourite places in the whole wide world is at a raggedy cliff edge.  I love rolling hills, I can stare at a mirror like loch without getting bored and find peace, and I adore combing beaches, but I can easily use the wold sublime in full context when I'm at the edge of a rugged cliff looking out to sea.  This is when I realise how supremely lucky we were to live in our little cottage in Cruden Bay when we were in North Aberdeenshire.  Nowadays I constantly flip flop between longing for golden sands in South Devon or the more rocky terrain of the North as I no longer have both options on my doorstep.
 Unfortunately the lighthouse at Hartland was closed and didn’t open to visitors, “that’s ok” we thought, there's a ship wreck on this map, lets go find that…except for it floated off the previous weekend. 
We did go to the lookout, have a walk around part of the coastal path before returning to yet another bunting covered café for some more treats.  This time Mark and I decided we were too full for cake, but not ice cream and ordered up some sundaes. 

We headed home quite soon after that which means that in the space of just 24 hours I did most of my favourite things, Saturday was a very good day indeed.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Make Yourself At Home

I’ve had a blog from early 2009, sometimes I updated regularly, sometimes I left it for months on end, but I loved it all the same.  After we got married my blog was filled with hopes for the future (loads of babies) and things I loved (playing house).  It was a bit Marie Antoinette and zeitgeisty, and the community was very enthusiastic and friendly.  I loved it but over time I felt like I was changing and I didn’t know if I should change the content of the blog, it’s a bit abandoned now but it’s mine and I love to read my old posts and remember what excited my 23 year old newlywed self.    

When we shipped out to Singapore Mark set up a blog which I tagged along with and ended up mostly filling with our adventures.  I couldn’t bring myself to write about the heart-breaking stuff and we unfortunately had a spell of family tragedies and illness, as well as some shockingly bad visitors which knocked the wind out of our sails a bit.  However, it was difficult to write when every spare minute was taken up by wonderful friends, new places to visit, and events or clubs to volunteer for. 

Now we’ve settled into Devon a little bit more, bought our own house and think of this place as home in a sense.  I kept meaning to (and attempting to) update my old blogs but I just couldn’t do it, so here I am, back at the starting line.

I blog because I ‘always’ have and I love it, I can’t keep a diary for longer than a month, but I can keep memories here and share the stuff I love.  Part of the stuff that I love is writing and when I got into the swing of it I had the confidence to write as a side hustle which I felt both blessed and humbled to do. 

So, here’s my ‘here goes nothing’, my corner of the internet and place where I can store memories and thoughts.