Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Family (Page 1 of 3)

Family Fun – a week in the Lake District

I  have always wanted to visit Lake District, ever since I read Swallows and Amazons in primary school. So when my son, Jack, suggested we meet there for a family holiday it fulfilled twin purposes, spending some time with family and ticking an item off my bucket list. I saw the original ‘Swallow’ went on a walk to Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm, learned a little about Ruskin’s work and did two jigsaw puzzles. In between, I remembered how busy is life with pre-schoolers.

Charlie is an early riser who loves trains, as much his father did at the same age. We went on a steam train, during which he tried to convince me that he always drank Coca Cola, woke at four am one morning, ate his breakfast and then decided to contribute to our jigsaw puzzle at which point he woke the whole household to share in his success. I watched him ride his bike, play on the iPad, negotiate over whether or not to wear his coat and gloves and bike helmet, listened to him form amazing sentences and marveled at how much attitude an almost four year old could put into the word ‘fine.’

Born last December, this was my first meeting with Christopher. As we organized our week around his feeds, nappy changes and sleeps, I remembered how lovely it is to kiss a downy head, to earn a baby smile, and to have an infant’s warm body grow slack and heavy in my arms. Ness and I walked to Hilltop Farm and took turns in the swimming pool/gym at the local spa while Jack climbed Scarfell Pike. When I managed to get Christopher dried, dressed and safely in the land of nod all the while keeping an eye on Charlie bobbing about in the water, I felt like I’d climbed England’s highest mountain. How did I ever get through those early years?


Now I’m on the train to Wales. I’ll spend the first week on a Welsh language Bootcamp in Caernarfon. I’m feeling unaccountably nervous, considering I’ve done this before. I think it is because I’m ‘supposed’ to be able to speak Welsh well. At least, I could a little over a year ago after living in Corris for seven months. But my Welsh language brain feels rusty. Hopefully, this week will be a kick-start me back into almost fluency. There will be loads of bumbling half sentences, shrieks of laughter, moments of complete incomprehension (like all those Cofi accents) and huge leaps in understanding. I won’t be on social media much as it will defeat the purpose of a non-English week and rob me of my progress. I may do a few posts in my learner’s Welsh so if you can’t read them, get-over-it (or use Google translate). I will look forward to re-entering the English speaking world on 30th of April.

 

Hwyl tan hynny!

Christmas in July – a license for petty tyranny

July is cold and wet in Melbourne and, as it is also my birthday month, a family dinner was required. Having just returned from the northern hemisphere, I requested a Christmas in July theme. For those of you on the far side of the world, this is what Aussies do to make up for the fact that we celebrate Christmas in the heat. For my migrant parents, Christmas meant jacking up the air conditioner and serving the full Christmas roast followed by plum pudding and hot mince pies. I followed this tradition until my family grew old enough to voice their opinions. At which point it was decided a summer feast was required. We now roast meat on the Weber and team it with a mix of salads and baked vegetables which we eat balanced on our knees while swatting at flies. It is a fun day and quintessentially Australian. But I do miss the traditional fare. Hence Christmas in July. 

 

The benefit of doing Christmas in July for my birthday is that it was all about me. 🙂 I chose the decorations, the food and the music. The later meant pulling out my Welsh Christmas carols CD. A selection that would not usually be tolerated beyond the obligatory half hour. Once the theme had been set, tasks were delegated. Andrew roasted the pork:

My daughter, Phoebe, created the dessert. My son, Seth, mulled the wine.

Half way through the afternoon, Andrew asked: ‘How long does this carol CD go for?’

 ‘Ages,’ I said, not bothering to smother my smile. ‘It is called 101 Carolau Cymraeg – 101 Welsh Carols.’

‘But, Liz, it feels like we’ve been in church all afternoon.’

Andrew was right. There is a reason we only sing the ten top favourite carols annually. But I wasn’t about to alter my selection. What is birthday for, other than a license for petty tyranny? Infact, I’m thinking of making Christmas in July a new family tradition. Though, I may buy a new CD for next year. 

PS. Yes, that is an old door in the background of the first photograph. No, it doesn’t serve and useful purpose. My husband is a collector. In light of which, 101 carols once a year is a minor inconvenience. 🙂

 

Border protection: in which the family pooch takes on the local authorities

In case you didn’t realise, Liz has recently spent seven months in Wales. And in case you didn’t also realise, I was for a time effectively homeless. After all my faithful years of service, after dog sitting four growing children, not to mention the parade of exchange students. My plight was reduced to an ad on Facebook. 

Fortunately, Jo, responded, and I must say she treated me in the manner in which a family Pooch should be treated. I slept on her bed every night, had cuddles with Ella, and went to play with Midge during the day. It was doggy heaven. 

But now Liz is back and I have to put up with with Andrew again.

It may surprise you to know Andrew’s dislike of me is mutual. He took my baby safety gates down while Liz was away and refused to put them up again. Not in the shed. Or down the side of the house. Liz wasn’t too impressed. But Andrew was determined. They’d work together from now on, he said, make sure I didn’t get out. 

Yippee! I thought, escape is imminent.

So far, my efforts to break free have been fruitless. Not one escape, not one, tense, ‘look what you’ve done now!’ exchange. It seems seven months apart may have diffused the ‘it’s me or the dog bomb.’ Meanwhile, I get left home with Andrew while Liz is out speaking Welsh in Melbourne’s pubs. 

Misery!

Until I remembered under the house strategy.

Liz doesn’t like me crawling under the house. Especially when she has just paid Aussie Pooch to hydro bath me. But I can’t think of a better way to get rid of that horrible clean dog feeling. I roll in the dirt, gnaw old bones and pick up fleas and, most important of all, when Liz gets home she starts up the ‘maybe we should put up a gate’ argument.

Andrew won’t consider it, of course. His strategy was to build barriers, first with chicken wire, then with planks, and finally with a kind of scorched earth policy in which he flattened the vegetation along the entire underside of the house and walled it up. ‘Hey Liz,’ I said. ‘Is he related to Donald Trump?’

It took me a few weeks to get through that round of border protection. But last night I succeeded. There was only one problem, I couldn’t get out. Andrew had screwed my escape route closed. I had to lie under their bedroom floorboards yapping until Liz crawled out of bed, found a screw driver (yes, she learned to use one in Wales) and set me free. 

‘Biskit,’ she said. ‘Give up. You can’t win this.’

I know she’s wrong. Because I’ve tallied up the hours Andrew has spent ‘protecting’ the side of the house. And it’s quite a few. Added to which, one day soon, he’s going to forget to close the gate and I will break free. At which point, the ‘it’s me or the dog’ bomb will start ticking all over again.

Blog thirty (o Heathrow) – things I am looking forward to

Being one of two

Day or night

Better for worse

Being part of a bigger group

The Welsh word is teulu

Walking my dog

Riding my bike

To the shops

To the city

To the gym

(Okay, so that’s a lie)

But I’ll do it anyway

Join the gym, I mean

And shelve books

At the library

After stretching

Not wearing a raincoat

Every day

Or sleeping with a hot water bottle

Or in my down jacket

Hipster cafes

Good coffee

Everywhere

No, I mean everywhere

Not just Adam and Andy’s

The sgleen of trams

Along Sydney Road

WIFI

All day – every day

A phone signal

In most places

Sushi, kebabs, skinny flat whites

Salad on every menu

Water bottles on cafe tables

Being part of a faith community

On Sunday mornings

Where I’m not the visitor

From Australia

Welsh class

On Tuesday nights

In the bar afterwards

The smell of eucalyptus

Straight talking

Aussie, no nonsense

Barely polite

By British standards

Electricity sockets in the bathroom

Chasing my dog around Coburg

(Okay, so that’s a lie too)

But if he gets out, I’ll have to

Drinks with the neighbours

Rosie and Ted

Bike rides with friends

Charging my headlights

Riding home in the crisp cool evening

Turning into the bluestone lane

Heritage listed

But still bone jarring

The sensor light coming on

The garage door lifting

Home

Yes, I am coming home

 

Blog five – a matter of false information

Those who know me and can be bothered counting, may have noticed this is my fifth visit to the UK in the last ten years. You may also have observed that now and again (cough) I like to talk about the place. I mention the walks I’ve been on in Wales, the beachside amusement arccades, pubs which allow dogs (very civilised) the way people eat mushy peas with their fish and chips (maybe not so civilised) and how the Brits have a tendency to strip down to their Y fronts whenever the sun peeks out from behind a cloud (need I comment?). What you may not realise, is that I may have been guilty of giving you false information.

The misinformation, has its origins three years ago when, one Sunday, during my month long Welsh language Summer School, I decided to walk from Borth to Aberystwyth. It was a warm, blue sky, day, with only a whisper of cloud. I meandered along the Ceredigion Coastal Park, taking in the heather covered hillsides and spectacular sea views. Just short of Aberystwyth, I stopped for a drink at the cafe attached to the local caravan park. Having spent a number of summer holidays in Aussie Caravan parks, I enjoyed seeing how the Brits (largely from the Midlands judging by their accents) did the summer holiday thing. No, sun smart campaign, judging from the lobster-coloured backs of the children paddling on the beach. No trees for shade, or sun shelters and some of the caravans had two doors. Oh, my! How quaint! Semi-detached caravans!

Roll forward three years, and you will find me a little further along the coast with a group of Welsh speaking friends looking out over a different caravan park. The day wasn’t quite as sunny and, if I’m honest, it was a tad more windy (like blowing a force ten gale). As I sat shivering on the walls of Harlech Castle, I fell to making random summer holiday observations:

‘We don’t have castles in Australia so … this is not a normal summer holiday activity for me (nor the chattering teeth). Do many people stay in tents? Those semi-detached caravans you have are quaint.’

Silence. Four sets of eyes turned on me. ‘Semi-detached caravans?

‘Yes. I’ve seen them, near Aberystwyth.’

‘Really? I’ve never seen one.’ One by one, they all agreed.

Now at this point, I probably should have backed down. Four born and bred, British people, one who has an onsite caravan in a Welsh caravan park were telling me there was no such thing as a semi-detached caravan. What other evidence did I need? But here’s the thing about me. As well as telling tales of Brits sunbathing in their Y fronts, I may also have mentioned the semi-detached caravans a few times. Okay, so more than a few – and I was pretty damn sure they existed. I mean, why else would a caravan have two doors?

Our holiday finished without further reference to the great two door caravan fib. But back in Corris, I could not let the matter rest. I knew the Corris Caravan park wasn’t far away. I set off, camera in hand, to gather evidence. Imagine my delight when I came upon this scene.

I immediately sent a Facebook message to my friends.

‘Tystiolaeth!’ (Evidence)

‘Efallai’ (maybe)? The friend with the onsite caravan wrote. ‘Neu jyst carafan dau ddrws’ (or just a two door caravan).

No need to tell you what I thought of that idea. Who would be potty enough to make a caravan with two doors. Another friend messaged that she would best visiting the seaside town of Aberdyfi later in the week. She would do some research. I decided to join her This was too important a matter to leave to prejudiced minds.

We set off after dark, two middle aged women sneaking round a sleepy caravan park. Fortunately, we were in west Wales, where the crime rate is quite low, or we may have been arrested. Especially when we started circling two door caravans and peering through windows.

‘This one only has one storage box,’ my friend said.

I had to admit she was right.

‘And one number plate.’

Right again.

‘And look this one only has a name.’

I looked at the caravan in question. Number two, Seaspray, and there was only one storage box. I had to admit the evidence was stacking up against me. But what to do? How to tell my Aussie friends that a glorious West Wales holiday in a semi-detached caravan was no longer a possibility? And what about all my other stories. Maybe those men weren’t wearing Y fronts after all?

I’m not sure where all this doubt would have lead too, if not for the quiet persistence of my friend with the onsite caravan. Quite apart from our nighttime escapades, he’d been conducting his own quiet research. It’s called the World Wide Web, in case your interested. Far more sensible than creeping around caravan parks at night. Here’s the picture he sent me.

There may not be semi-detached caravans in modern Britain but once upon a time they did exist. In fact, if enough people make enquiries about semi-detached caravan holidays in West Wales we might be able to bring them back again. Meanwhile, I’m conducting another branch of research. Can someone please tell me why some British caravans have two doors?

 

Changing Patterns by Judith Barrow

Changing Patterns picks up the lives of the Howarth family in 1950, soon after the events with which Barrow concluded her earlier book Pattern of Shadows. We are allowed a brief moment of happiness before a single tragic event upsets the whole balance and the family are thrown into chaos. Old secrets return to threaten the fragile post war peace the Howarth family have found.

The story moves along at a locomotive pace leaving the reader with a breathless, page turning desire to see what happens next. I resisted the urge to flick ahead and, as I was tucked up in bed with a virus, I let myself indulge in a serious reading binge.

At the core of the novel’s plot is the Shuttleworth family. As George Shuttleworth takes up his brother Frank’s twisted mantle the Howarth family’s decisions in relation to the war and the people they have come to love are once again threatened.

Throughout Changing Patterns, Barrow tackles issues of post war prejudice. She also continues to explore the dymnamics of marriage and family. I particularly enjoyed the imperfections inherent in each marriage as well as the petty annoyances between sisters and friends. As each character grew, faced challenges and made peace with their situation, Barrow somehow made her characters real. My only disappointment on turning the final page was that I wouldn’t get to spend anymore time with this wonderfully, flawed family.

As mentioned in my earlier blog, I am still not convinced the final four chapters in Pattern of Shadows belonged in the first book. I would love to have seen them in real time at the beginning of this sequel. However, having seen this possibility, and the fact that the two novels work well despite the chapter placements, has taught me a valuable lesson. There is more than one way to tell a tale. In the end, as long as the story works, the author has made the right decision.

 

New iPad – a time for letting go.

I got a new iPad for Christmas. It is faster, lighter, leaner than my old iPad. But for some reason, I’m having trouble saying goodbye. Strange, to develop an affection for a piece of technology. But, the iPad has been so much more than a machine to me.

It was a step down the path of self-knowledge.

I recall the initial purchase decision. No one else in the family had an iPad. Do you hear that? Me, the middle-aged mother, was the first person in the family to get an iPad. The kids jumped on the MacBook train earlier than me, I was pretty slow in the iPhone race, and Andrew was as yet Apple uninitiated. He didn’t know what delights lay in store. I Therefore had to make the decision ahead of him.

Now, if that seems insignificant to you, please remember I got married at the age of nineteen. I had my first child by the time I was twenty. Money was tight. Decisions revolved around the needs of the family. There wasn’t a great deal of time or energy left over for self discovery. Until the iPad.

Andrew said: “if you want an iPad buy one.”

I saw a whole new world opening up before me – social media, books, movies, diaries, notetaking apps, image storage, dictionaries, blogging and travel apps, games, contacts, meditation, relaxation, and enhanced language learning functions.

Still, I hesitated. Did I need it? Or just want it? Was I being selfish? My guilt and self-doubt could have rivalled the seating capacity of the MCG. In the end, I purchased a refurbished model with WIFI + Cellular and 64GB of memory. I’m not addicted (cough) or dependent (goodness, quite a tickle in my throat). But I did buy a new handbag to accomodate the purchase. Causing one son to ask: ‘Do you ever go anywhere without that thing?’

‘No. Apart from the gym and library desk shifts, me and my iPad are rarely separated.’

Today is Boxing Day. I am sitting at the table with all that history. I can’t just put the old iPad in a drawer. Or, heaven forbid, throw it away. And no one carries two iPads, do they? No! that would be ridiculous. I think, in the circumstances, I might have to frame it. Underneath, the caption will simply read:

“The day Elizabeth Jane knew what she wanted.”

 

 

Celebrating significant milestones

Those of you who know me will realise I celebrated a significant birthday this year. Andrew celebrated the same milestone last year. We also clocked up a thirtieth wedding anniversary. A party was called for, invitations sent out. People flew in from interstate. We had a great night. One of the highlights of the evening was Seth’s speech. Here it is for those who couldn’t make it, with my short response.

*

Naturally I have only heard anecdotes about my parent’s time before marriage. If I trusted them, I would tell you about Andrew Corbett at the Helsinki Olympics. Instead, I thought it best that stick tonight to cold hard fact, verified by those who have lived it.

So here we go.

Quite surprisingly, after being deprived TV until I was 12 years old, I have a soft spot for movies. I therefore can think of no better way to express this speech but with obscure film references. My first thought was to compare Mum and Dad’s marriage to my favourite film trilogy: The Before Sunrise Series. The series follows the life and relationship of two people, Jesse and Celine, over the span of 20 years.

The first movie sees the pair fall in love in Paris.

The second sees them reunite 9 years later in Paris again.

The third sees them married with children

The more I looked, I found that a direct comparison was impossible:

Firstly, Hawthorndene and Vermont are not exactly Paris,

Secondly and most importantly, mum and dad achieved what took the Jesse and Celine twenty years, in the space of twelve months.

So instead myself and my siblings have created our very own film trilogy that better encapsulates the love story that is Andrew and Elizabeth Corbett.

 


Young love

Starring– Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Jack and Phoebe Corbett,

Tagline: Whatever you do…don’t have kids straight away.

Rating: G – minimal drug and alcohol use.

Box Office: limited South Australian release

Synopsis: A young naïve Christian couple fall in love in the hills of Adelaide. A 1980’s South Australian love story.

Things get off to a bad start at the wedding, when the catering runs out. The honeymoon in Robe is tense as Liz realises that the man she has married loves public nudity and outrageous facial hair. Both are studying, Andrew has a landscaping business. After settling into married life, the choice of the Billings method of birth control backfires with the birth of Jack “the guinea pig” Corbett.

Queue montage of chickpeas, no TV – board games, books and singing (Andrew Corbett’s songs), no Christmas presents before church, sugar free birthday cakes, camping holidays. Is this child abuse or inspired parenthood?

Andrew the long haired bearded hippy makes the decision to work for a multi-national oil company. Good thing he does too, because Phoebe “the favourite” Corbett is born shortly after. This is now a relationship of four…

Best moments: Andrew getting a job just before the birth of Jack. The presents from the Grandparents.

Favourite Quote: “We should try the Billings method”

Soundtrack: John Williamson, Andrew Corbett’s back catalogue

Cliff hanger: The Corbett’s move to Melbourne. The first house (paid for by Mobil) is in the inner city. The next, is an hour’s drive from Andrews work, the carpet stinks, rat poo in the oven. Will this make them or break them?

 

 

 

Fiji: there and back again

Starring: Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe Corbett, Seth Corbett, Naomi Priya Corbett

Tagline: The Corbett lampoons go on an extended vacation

Rating: R – high profanity, nudity, animal cruelty and images of archaic punishment methods

Box Office: Limited Australian release with a cult following in the pacific islands

Synopsis: After the birth of Seth, Melbourne becomes too small a place to keep the Corbetts. This is a family the world must see. (They are also broke and Andrew’s back is buggered). Enter the F word. Fiji. The transition is not smooth. Liz develops the trait of talking in a very slow voice because nobody must be able to understand her. Andrew’s eccentricities become unchecked, culminating in trying to kill the neighbours dogs with coconuts and abusing a confused old man for trying to steal the van. Both done in his underwear. These were the years of plenty – house girl/gardener (babysitter and trips away), resorts. Liz has to join slim life. Sailing, horse riding, embassy balls, more than one ice cream a year, amazing kids parties, sugar and other such novelties, Liz does ladies lunches and runs sea scouts , Dad runs Sunday school music (becomes a legend in the Sunday school circuit).

A new sister enters the family. Can life get any better?

No. All good things must end. The return to Australia is tough, long trips to work, no house girl, no garden boy, winter, have to wear shoes and jocks, plenty of Hungry Jacks.

Best moments:

Getting a new sister and brother

Trips to NZ

Resorts

Curry

Favourite Quote: “Mobil will pay for it”

Soundtrack: Isa Lei, Paul Kelly, Crowded House, Celtic Hymns

Cliff hanger: The Crows win the 1997 premiership, Darren Jarmen kicks six goals.

 

 

Sian! The kids are gone

Starring – Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe McCann, Jack Corbett Seth Corbett Priya Corbett, Vanessa Corbett, Andrew McCann and Monique Corbett with guest appearances from Carine from Holland, Winnie for a ‘Willage’ in the Faroe Islands and Alice from Switzerland and, finally, Biskit “the bloody dog” Corbett.

Tagline – They’re still married? We’re as surprised as they are!

Rating: G – a great film for the family.

Box Office – World-wide release, with record sales in the Faroe Islands, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Synopsis: living their “young adult’ years with their young adult kids. The Corbett’s settle back into Melbourne life. Mum takes up a variety of hobbies, becomes a Librarian, begins to write a book. Andrew begins to collect a set of hobbies of his own. Hiking, Canoeing, Fly Kites, fishing. The number of recycled art items begins to increase spreading from the chicken coop to his office, to the house. Ladders, chains, corrugated iron chickens. They are doing things backwards. One after the other the kids fly the coop. Half way through shooting the film, the production is halted as the money is all tied up in a government backed tree scheme. Finally, after more than 20 years, the day arrives. Drew and Sian move to Coburg. These are the hipster years, riding bikes, op shop clothes at retail prices, more art work, writing, learning welsh, teaching welsh, music. Andrew flourishing in the recycling era, hard rubbish collecting now socially acceptable (compared to us hiding in the car on the way home from church while dad searched for stuff).

Elizabeth Jane the writer is born.

Best moments:

The exchange students- lots of cul’cha.

Monique. And Vanessa and Andy.

Google has revolutionised family debate (just unfortunate that Google has multiple answers sometimes).

Dad realises his dream of being a grandparent by fifty.

Quotes:

“It’s a big bad world out there”.

“Where are you? Nobody is home, shit’s flying”

What better parents to have. As these films have shown, our parents have taught us a lot:

  • Family is important but be an individual.
  • It’s a big bad world out there, but it’s also an exciting and interesting place so go out and live.
  • Never be afraid to talk about money.
  • Music and stories should be cherished.
  • Don’t ever stop doing new things.

Whatever happens next, I am sure our days of being cooler than our parents are long gone.

 


My response:

So, here we are. Fifty years old and thirty years married. We have been together longer than we have been apart. And if you do the maths, you will realise we got married quite young. And if you have looked at Phoebe’s photo collage you will also have noticed that we were still children when we started having kids. Were we too young for marriage? Absolutely. Did we know what we were doing? Not at all. Should it have been a disaster? Well, yes, statistically.

But by the grace of God here we are.

I expect if we were clever we would create a formula and write a best selling book something like ‘the seven habits of marrying too young, having kids, struggling financially, and trying to stay sane.” But I’m not sure that there is a formula, apart from loving, living, listening and forgiving. Life is a messy business. And as for the sanity, that’s an illusion (on my part at least).

Yet, here we are.

Tonight, I want to thank Andrew for letting me grow up in my own way in my own time, with all my fads, fancies and obsessive interests. I want to thank our children, Jack, Phoebe, Seth and Naomi Priya for being part of our journey. For our children in law, Ness, Andy and Monique, for loving our children and joining our family. And, of course, our AFS daughters who have enriched our lives. I also want to thank family and friends who have travelled interstate to celebrate with us tonight – Ma and Pa, Willem, Jack, Ness and Charlie, Paul, Rod and Sue Mitchell. Finally to thank each of you for being part of our journey thus far. And for those in Coburg who have more recently become part of the journey. No man is an island. No marriage or family exists in isolation. Your friendship, support, love and laughter have all helped bring us to this point.

We consider ourselves fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Matters – a reflection on Internet enabled grand parenting

Anyone who ever had a meal with our family back in the days when we were all living under one roof will recall one iron fast rule. No phone calls during dinner time. If the phone rang we would sit, glued to our seats, listening to the answering machine go through its paces. Mostly, the caller would hang up, dinner being the favoured time of telemarketers. At others, a digitised message from the Whitehorse Maningham Regional Library Service would tell us our books were overdue. Occasionally, it was a personal call and the intended recipient would turn besseching eyes on Andrew.

He never let them answer.

These days, the rules have changed.

Sunday night we had an impromptu BBQ. We went through the usual agonised debate over how to use our gas Weber Q. We've had the BBQ almost two years and I use it all the time. But when we have people over Andrew and I have to coordinate our efforts. This always involves the instruction book and loads of impassioned hand gestures, causing Seth to observe.

'Family BBQ's wouldn't be the same without the great Weber debate.'

Anyway, we got the meat cooked, table set, salads on the table, we had just finished saying the blessing when Andrew's iPad started to chime.

'That'll be Jack,' he said, determined to preserve the sanctity of our meal time. 'We'll call back after dinner.'

'But Charlie might be in bed.'

'Quick, Dad, you'd better get it.'

'There's a spare seat. We could pop him at the end of the table.'

A quick glance at his watch, a flicker of indecision, andrew lunged, and thirty years of patriarchal control crumbled.

Charlie took his place at the head of the dinner table.

This is not an new event for the boy. We do a regular Sunday night call, watching him finish his dinner have a bath and get ready for bed.

This is called twenty-first century grandparenting.

Tonight Charlie had two adoring aunts and an uncle to watch him plough through his bowl of his spaghetti. Skype dropped out at some point and we had enough self control not to call back. The conversation turned to other matters, for some reason we needed to know what the alphabet that goes Alpha, Bravo, Charlie… Is called. I mean we had to know. I was twitching to look it up on Google, but, old habits die hard. I knew Andrew would only say.

'You don't have to look it up now, Liz.'

Fortunately, the kids are unaccustomed to not knowing. When did that happen? The realisation that most family debates can be solved by resorting to Google? Except, when two phones are involved, each one bringing up data to support their side of the argument.

Sunday night, Phoebe was the first to cave.

The alphabet is called the International Radio Telephony Alphabet, in case you are interested.

After dinner we filled the teapot and took a follow up call from Jack. Charlie was in the bath. We chatted while Jack dried and dressed him. Once he was upright, in his nighttime grow suit, Jack said. Watch Charlie for a minute will you?

He ducked from the room.

Now I don't know about you but I have reservations about minding a toddler on Skype two states away. I wasn't the only with doubts, one uncle, two adoring aunts and a besotted grandfather stared open mouthed at the screen. Charlie's chubby knees came into view, his little round toddler tummy, two wide blue eyes. He then turned and toddled out of view.

'Charlie!' A chorus of voices. 'Charlie!'

He didn't return.

I started moving the iPad around, trying to find Charlie, which didn't achieve anything, apart from making us all dizzy.

'Hold it still, Mum. You won't be able to find him. Charlie! Come back Charlie.'

Fortunately, Jack returned with Charlie under his arm. After after a story, the boy was tucked up in bed. We then took turns passing Jack around the room.

This is not a new phenomena either. We do this whenever we have a birthday gathering. Mostly with Jack and Ness. Sometimes with Carine. Or my brother Ian. Skype attendance has become a normal part of our family gatherings. I don't suppose we're alone in this. I guess it's like that in other families too.

The evening finished off with a quick YouTube session. Also becoming a standard feature of family events. We huddle around each other's mobile phones (I don't know why we don't use the iPads. Bonding perhaps?) and show of our latest favourites. Seth generally has the best offerings. This week he showed us Seinfeld in parliament. Why not check it out? Then you can be part of the party too.

 

 

A Famous Five summer

As a child, I read English books. I went on adventures with the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and the Five Find Outers, regaling mum with tales of long hot summers, camping on lonely moors, bathing, exploring castles, and picnicking on boiled eggs, tongue, ginger beer and treacle tart. Mum would always sniff at the end of my tales and say:

'That's all very well, Elizabeth. But the summer is never like that in England. It rains all the time.'

At the time, it felt like having iced water poured over my back. I imagined that along with the freedom of a different era – an era in which teenagers camped, travelled and adventured alone – the weather was also a fictional creation of Enid Blyton's. In my fifty first year, I can finally say mum was wrong. They do have summers like that in England. And this is one of them. The newspapers are calling it a heat wave but that is a weak description. I am therefore calling it a Famous Five summer. As I've climbed over stiles, cycled down Cotswold lanes, and eaten cream teas, I have found myself transported back to a simpler time.

Sadly, as well as having no idea about the English weather, emigration also deprived me of some other basic knowledge namely that the word Cotswolds, means sheep enclosure in rolling hills. I got the first hint of this when having dinner with friends in Essex.

I had no definitive answer to this. I'd seen advertisements for Cotswold cycling holidays and it had sounded idyllic. We had booked a cottage in Blockley, a village nestled in a tranquil valley between Moreton in Marsh and Chipping Camden. Realisation came quickly. Along with a valley, there must, of course, be hills. To go anywhere, we had to cycle upwards. Added to which, the cycle hire company had delivered us bikes with bald tyres, worn gears and dis-functional brakes. We cycled into Chipping Camden determined to rectify this situation, only to find the proprietor was nowhere in sight. Now being impatient, and not a great fan of being ripped off, my husband started to sort through the bikes in his yard. I doubted this was the right thing to do. When the bike owner turned up, his pursed lips and heightened colour confirmed my suspicions. Andrew was not deterred. After a short exchange, the bike guy (a young man with a distinctly Polish accent) realised this cocky Aussie wasn't going to back down.

'Hang on.' He said, raising a finger. 'I'll have a look in the shed.'

'You should have waited,' I whispered in the man's absence. 'He won't help us now.'

I revised my opinion a moment later when the bike man wheeled two gleaming, almost new bikes across the yard.

Cycling was easier after that. Though I still had to stop for breath when riding home from the supermarket in Moreton in Marsh and the road took us through the aptly named village of Borton on the Hill.

Fortunately, my primary school geography made rapid sense of the shading on the map. Some routes were hillier than others. But we did some lovely rides – to Shipton on Stour and Stow in the Wold, Hidcote Gardens, getting lost, stopping to check the map, punctuating the day with coffees and cream teas. One day, we took our bikes on the train to Oxford. The Oxford tour guide was a portly fellow called Joseph with a passion for his subject. He presumed a great deal of knowledge and seemed primarily interested in showing us famous film sites, but he was entertaining, in his custard coloured corduroy trousers and cardigan. It was worth paying for a slice of his eccentricity.

There is something magical about an English summer. The days so long, the streets and gardens bursting with blooms, the hedgerows alive with bees, butterflies and summer berries. I enjoyed listening to the Blockely Church bell ringers on Thursday evening, going to the pub, buying pork pies and cooked beetroot in a bag, the ever present smell of pollen, damp earth and sheep, and of course the Enid Blyton weather. I wish I could have stayed longer in Blockely.

 

 

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