Geology rocks!

Our next stop is yet another Trover inspired geologically interesting destination. As Ali has noted, with me in charge of the itinerary, rocks are featuring prominently.

We are on the part of the North Brittany coast named after its pink granite coastline, the interest would probably stop there except that in places it has been eroded mainly by water into some really cool shapes, as Ali puts it, it's like being on the set of the Flinstones by the sea.

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Not only did the photos look amazing on Trover they also suggested that F's current climbing obsession could be fed. It was definitely on the list of places to visit!

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As we approached our luxurious campsite (showers definitely required after a series of more rustic stops) from the crest of the hill, I could see the rocks in the distance, I let out a cheer and punched the air. Ali looked across in bemusement just then, probably thinking; he's nuts! who gets this excited by a pile of rocks? In defence of my sanity, what's never sure on Trover is how accessible certain sites will be, particularly when driving a bus and limited by D's mobility.  I knew these rock formations were along a well known path (le chemin des douaniers) but I was nervous that it would require a serious hike and/or lots more D carrying, from the crest it was clear there would be no access issues! Whoop whoop!!

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St Malo to the beach

The Portsmouth to St Malo overnight ferry is a very civilised way to get this part of France. Drive an hour and a half from London, sleep the night and arrive in France refreshed with the whole day in front of you.

We didn't stay very long in St Malo since Ali wanted to see the Mont St Michel but we did pick up some delicious pain au chocolat before stopping at a Trover recommendation called les Rochers Sculptés de Rothéneuf, where a small stretch of the granite coastline had been carved by an abbot into various figurines.

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It was  both underwhelming (none are very large) and yet pretty cool due to the cheer quantity and variety.

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I'm unlikely to go back but I certainly didn't feel I'd wasted five euros.

After a shortish drive we arrived at our aire which was advertised as 3km from Mont St Michel, we decided to walk it but it turned out it was 3k to the free shuttle bus that takes you the remaining 2k over the causeway. Unfortunately taking the bus would have meant missing what I expected (correctly) to be the best bit of our visit; seeing the island from afar, but not too far, so we coaxed the kids and my shoulders (I was carrying D since I remembered the island is not buggy friendly at all) into one last push.

It really is impressive to look at

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And the views from the top were better than I expected.

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All in all we walked 11k and I did 16k thousand steps. There were two clear conclusions from the day: F&G are in really good shape and D has got very heavy.

After a well earned sleep that night, we headed jack to Brittany and stopped for lunch at another Trover recommendation: the medieval town of Dinan. As is most often the case Trover really came up trumps, Dinan is gorgeous! Not only is it a beautifully preserved walled

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Medieval old town (which puts Troyes to shame)

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complete with castle, it also has a stunning medieval port.

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My favourite bit though was the road tying the two together called the Rue du Petit-Fort.

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It was fantastic on the way down

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and so nice I still appreciated it when pushing our overloaded buggy back up it's VERY steep incline.

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After lunch we continued westwards towards a recommended free aire right on Palus Plage. We arrived and despite a really good kids playground, the cobble beach and general surrounds didn't inspire us much, so we planned to move on in the morning.

After a lateish start the next morning we wondered over to the beach, tea in hand and all wrapped up against the morning chill and were surprised to find that the cobbles only stretched around ten metres after that it was a vast stretch of golden sand. (No idea how the cobbles stay so neatly in place)

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We wondered down onto the sand in our inappropriate clothes and promptly had a triple OHH! Moment seconds after this photo as D fully dressed

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found the wettest part of the beach, leaned over seamingly to examine the sand with her nose placed her elbow in it, then kneed the area thoroughly, before finally sitting down to admire her handiwork. Ah well, undaunted we continued our stroll to the edge of the bay where we found hundreds of rock pools, the kids were thrilled. While Ali took D back to the bus I promised I'd be there in five minutes to help get the bus ready to move on.

When I arrived back at the bus having finally prized two damp kids away from the rocks, I received a rather chill welcome (I had apparently arrived 45min later than promised). Despite this unfortunate negotiating position I managed to convince Ali that the kids were having so much fun perhaps we should stay another night and just enjoy a nice beach day. We put D down in the buggy, grabbed some beach stuff and headed back to the rocks. Apart from a chill wind and my sunburned nose, I couldn't have wished for a better beach day.

Quite the role model

We'd explained to the kids all morning that we would be going out for a walk, but for various reasons we'd been delayed. When we were finally ready to go F moved slowly from full on protest mode to annoying complain mode. This carried on for about half a mile, I was doing my best to ignore the verbal barrage Ali was receiving which could be summarised as: why didn't you do the lunch shopping yesterday when we were at the shops so I don't have to go the shops now? Followed by him trying to pick holes in any reasoning Ali put forward.

In exasperation Ali looked over at me pleadingly and overhearing the latest outburst I started teasing him:

Right so we're going to go and buy some lovely lunch for us four and F maybe we'll just buy you some tasty kidneys. Ali laughed and F got cross. An angry F is never pretty but armed with a stick as he can be dangerous, sure enough despite a futile NOOO!!!! He came up behind me and smacked me right accross the palms of my hands (which were trying to protect my delicate derrière).

I'm now pissed: what the Fxxx is wrong with you?

Ali interjects nothing's wrong with him, stop it.

F: Why did you tease me?

Me: You deserve to be teased.

Silence. F storms off down the road

As I heard myself utter those words, my heart sank, no one deserves that.

We caught up with him where some building works were blocking the pavement and after some struggles we managed to agree to a conversation. I got down to his eye level and said I'm really sorry for what I said, no one deserves to be teased. On the flip side no one deserves to be criticised like you were criticising mum and hitting is just not OK, that hurt.

Ali interjected: I should have just told you that you were hurting my feelings.

Just then, the penny dropped, I'm the parent and while my son was being really annoying, my automatic response to get him to stop, was to gang up on him and tease. Quite the role model, I felt very small right then.

I apologised again to F and after some further discussions we made up, so much so that we walked to the shops arm in arm.

Ali told me later that while in the bakery F came up to her and apologised for having a go at her,  that he was still learning to control his emotions  and finished with: Wasn't a building site a strange place for a meaningful conversation?

Rather proud of him.

Mission accomplished

Mission accomplished

I’m in the car park of a lovely canal side pub just South of Birmingham (they make great homemade pies) after a wonderful candlelit dinner.

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My date for the evening has been absolutely charming, the conversation flowed, we had a good laugh, reminisced over good times and discussed plans for the future. Thank you G for a lovely evening. She’s grown up so much since we started travelling, she was only 3 when we set off and now approaching 6 years old is wonderful dinner companion.

G and I are on our way back from Wales with our mission accomplished (the rest of our party ploughed all the way on to London). We’ve found the property we want to buy, our offer has been accepted and it appears that our time frames are acceptable - aiming to get in by Christmas. 

After Pembrokeshire we’d headed North hugging the coastline, Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Snowdonia. We saw some properties, one or two beautiful ones, but only one that could really support us financially. This lead us to filter out our saved properties even further. When one of our remaining favourites went under offer we decided to stop faffing around and head straight to see our long term favourite on the Llyn peninsula. 

We arrived a little early and in quite some style the car was being fixed after a radiator leak, so we rumbled our way down the private track in the bus, turned into the property and realised other prospective buyers were mid viewing, so we nonchalantly and elegantly span round and parked a little further up.

While we waited for our viewing we wandered down to the beach and were promptly bombarded by an unbelievably intense shower, in 5 seconds we were drenched to the bone. At this point we were ready to walk away from the viewing entirely, but as we walked back up the track we passed the estate agent and viewers coming the other way, so had an undisturbed look at the outside of the house. Just then the the sun came out and we were able to admire the picture perfect welsh cottage nestled in its green gardens… maybe it might be worth a look after all.

Some places just feel good. This cottage has definitely seen good times, you can just feel it. Not that a good/happy feeling place is essential since that can always change, but if we have the choice may as well find somewhere with good vibes.

Most importantly the grounds and outbuildings have huge potential. The house itself while old and shabby has been well looked after and decorated, so we could just move in. The grounds run to several acres and while they’ve been left fallow for some time there’s a mixture of outbuildings, walled garden, orchard, woodland and paddocks it’s a blank canvass. 

The surrounds of the cottage also tick our boxes. 

  • The sea is walking distance away including a small stretch of sandy beach mixed in with the more common shingle. There may even be some surfing when the wind is right.
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  • The well maintained coastal path reminiscent of trails available in Chamonix follow the shore line.
  • A village with a couple of shops for community on the doorstep.
  • Rugged hills/mountains all around for hiking and climbing.
  • Not too isolated with Caernarfon and Bangor within easy reach and Manchester airport only about and hour and a half away.
  • And the biggest bonus: it has super fast broadband.

We could have put an offer on our first viewing, but in the end we played it safe and arranged a second which just confirmed our first impression. We placed our offer, they countered and we agreed, the property is off the market!!

With our mission accomplished, we decided that we might as well head to France earlier than planned. Our Airbnb tenants had asked to extend their stay until the end of October and possibly longer (funny how that happens) so we might as well go and explore somewhere warmer (hopefully) for a while.

Before leaving the area Ali arranged a third visit at the house to meet the current owner. She was lovely, she'd moved into the house when pregnant with her oldest daughter and while it's a huge wrench to leave the time is right for her to downsize. She showed us some photos of her kids growing and bizarrely it reminded me of growing up in France. Everything about this just feels right, but there's still a long way to go, so wish us luck with our chain! 

Carguments


Ali and I have got a lot better over the years at resolving our driving issues.

Used to be that any type of directions given or received would result in an argument. After a lot of expensive therapy we discovered that Ali only uses shops/restaurants as relevant landmarks while I focus on more geographical landmarks like bridges, hills, curves in the road, rivers, that sort of thing. While clearly my way is better, I do now make allowances for my partners peculiarities and keep a closer eye on what shops are on my route just in case I need to give directions in the future.

Is this a man woman thing? There must be a dodgy theory about hunter gatherers having evolved different methods to survive: the men stalking prey looked at the landscape, the hills the rivers, etc... to find their way around. The women needing to find good coffee kept their eye peeled for Starbucks or something like that.

Anyway returning to carguments, after months without we managed two in two days! Clearly more therapy needed.

First one was innocuous enough I was rumbling along in the bus on the M4 while Ali sprinted ahead in the car. We planned to meet at a service station to make a plan on where to stop for the night, Ali stopped and checked my location on 'find my friends' so she could tell me when to stop, unfortunately it didn't refresh often enough and I sailed past majestically. I wasn't hugely pleased but the flash of anger was just a flash, Ali I suspect was embarrassed and stressed by the whole experience. Receiving wrong directions from the designated map reader has certainly set me off in the past, so much so that Ali understandably doesn't want the role of designated map reader anymore.

In this case no harm was done, we just ended up meeting up on the other side of the Severn bridge. We were much further ahead than we had expected but we were now in a bit of a rush to find a night stop. Queue some rather stressed out, manic searching before we settled on the Blue Anchor for the night and a campsite in Pembrokeshire for a few days afterwards. This the sort of last minute planning that is guaranteed to let Ali relax on a trip.

Despite being encircled by an airport, a massive quarry, a power station and a railway line the Blue Anchor did have one thing going for it, it was only a 20min walk to the beach.

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Off we toddled, Ali is right there is nothing like being by the sea to help clear the mind.  

 Even the historically industrial coastlines are beautiful. 

Even the historically industrial coastlines are beautiful. 

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Maybe we'll focus our search along the coast after all.

Despite a pleasant evening we still managed to contrive a second argument the next day. On our way to Pembrokeshire, we figured it was worth taking a peak at Carmarthen so planned to stop there for lunch.

Ali said; I'll head on ahead park up and have a look around while I wait for you, then we can have lunch. 

For whatever reason I assumed that having the easy to manoeuvre vehicle she might scope out the parking situation and park up where I could too. I was disabused of that notion on my arrival when I received a text saying: "I've parked in the multi-storey not sure where you should park but plenty of car parks it seems." At that point I saw red.

I have to admit (now after a couple of days cooling off) that this row was really my fault, I didn't ask for the help I needed and instead assumed Ali would read my mind. Sorry Ali!

I have also successfully traumatised her map reading skills. I'm not sure why I get so cross about mistakes in directions. Do I have high (too high) expectations? Not as if going the wrong way for a bit is the end of the world, we've always found our way back. Do I even do a better job map reading myself? I make plenty of mistakes. Perhaps I feel I give directions a bit better, with more conviction, and when I err I recover faster. All the same though I'm not perfect. I think if I want less driving arguments the change will have to come from me. 

Housing in this country is so fucked!

If it was down to me I'd look around for a few acres of agricultural land for sale, somewhere nice and build my own fully off-grid house. The problem is planning, even if I own the land I have zero right to build my home on it and limited right to live on it until the planners make their decision. I could buy a plot with planning pre-approved but then I'd pay at least ten times more for the same plot limiting my build options. The planning approval process is opaque everything you read suggests it's often down to the individual planner's taste and sensibilities and that's assuming all the neighbours are onside so there's no Nimby rearguard action.

Perhaps I'm being defeatist, certainly some people achieve it. Wales is also one of the best places to try, it encourages projects like the Lammas eco village but even there, in a country as sparsely populated as Wales the hoops they've had to jump through and rules they must adhere to are significant.

Now I'm not totally starry eyed about this, we do need some restrictions on building particularly around cities or national parks and I understand that if we suddenly loosen the laws the landowners will become overnight millionaires as agricultural land suddenly jumps in value and farming is no longer worthwhile anywhere near a city as land is more profitably sold off for development. There must be a middle ground.

Much as the number of full time residents on narrow boats in London has increased exponentially with the crazy rise in house prices, there has also been a big rise in full time residents on wheels. At the festival, while some of the vans were weekend/festival/short breaks vans, there were also a number that were definitely full time homes. While from the outside it can seem a romantic life, the realities of waste disposal (particularly), but also cleaning, running repairs, safety at night, heating in winter and limited choice of stopover locations can make it really tough. While not every full timer would want to stay in one place, most I suspect would love to own a place of their own to build on, or at least where no one can tell them to move on.

Some people like these: https://www.change.org/p/north-devon-district-council-save-the-round-house-in-the-woods Just decided to build on their land anyway and now face losing their home. While I know far too little about their specific case, isn't it better off for us as tax payers, them as people and for local government budgets that they continue to live in their off grid roundhouse rather than living off the state in a flat in some town somewhere? Wouldn't it generally better for councils to make land available for self builders particularly any willing council tenants?

It certainly makes me appreciate how fortunate we are to have options. With less resources we'd definitely be looking at continental Europe where there are saner house prices or looking more deeply into the Welsh government' one planet development policy that the Lammas eco village used.

Into The Wild

We went to Into the wild this weekend which is a drug/booze free, family friendly alternative/hippy festival in Kent. It was great.

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We went in the bus and were directed to a pitch near plenty of other families. Our bus fit right in, there were row upon rows of eclectic abodes on wheels; your classic VW's, converted panel vans, ex horse boxes, other disability bus conversions, classic motor homes, all the way through to luxury custom jobs (one fine example even came complete with a roof terrace).

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We soon settled in and along with taking advantage of the main festival area we really enjoyed spending time in and around our pitch, making friends with the neighbouring families and letting the kids play together and roam free. In effect we got the camaraderie of a normal campsite but with the added connection of attending a niche festival.

The highlights:

  • Raving all together in the big tent on the first night to some fantastic tunes.
  • D finally falling asleep on the first night!
  • Watching the kids having so much fun with their friends around the campsite.
  • The outstanding outfits on display.
  • Fantastic vegan Indian curries.
  • Claiming a super comfortable couch to watch some live music for a couple of hours in one of the tents.
  • Escaping the heat and the festival for ice cream at the very civilised local Waitrose.
  • Returning to the festival after the ice cream and realising that even with it's curious resemblance to a refugee camp (queues for toilets, lack of showers, water rationing, crazy heat, stressed out parents, tired children), I didn't want to be anywhere else.
  • Leaving the Sunday evening knowing we'd avoided the crazy Monday departure.
  • But most of all though meeting some great likeminded people.

We will definitely do it again!

Our marriage will survive

We’re packing again.

We’ve got pretty good at it over the last few years but it can get tiring. This time is a particularly big effort as we’re getting the house ready for a series of Airbnb guests, packing the bus, making some modifications to it (D has a new hammock and F a new bed) and preparing for a long(ish) absence. The silver lining is this should be all the packing for at least six weeks, probably the longest period of no packing we’ve had since January. 

We live in a bus, ta di, ta da! We live in a bus, ta di, ta da!!! I’m seriously excited.

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So excited in fact that I’ve rather unusually (unheard of) agreed to lighten the master researcher's load and taken full responsibility for choosing the various campsites on our upcoming journey. Obviously due to the high pressure of finding the ideal night stops, I started this search days ago, i’ve looked at various review sites, got advice from various sources and have a fixed route planned out and ready to go. 

I’m of course going to wing it.

Well not quite wing it. I have found a few campsites in the right sort of areas, I’ve access to a couple of really cool maps which list friendly pubs (for camper vans) and wild camping spots, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Besides it’s no fun sticking to a timetable, the main reason for getting the bus was to allow flexibility, flexibility to stay somewhere we like or leave somewhere we don’t. As long as I make the call on the various stopovers so Ali doesn’t have to worry about it, I’m sure our marriage will survive - Love you!

Wish us luck! We’re off tomorrow.

Propitious enquiry

Sometimes things just seem to align. 

A few weeks ago now we finally received (and accepted) an offer for our house. At first we were lead to believe that they were cash buyers, but they actually need to sell their house first. The positive side of this delay is it gives us time to have a good search for where we want to move to while still earning money from Airbnb guests.

As you can imagine we've since been glued to Rightmove. This time, rather than looking at a specific area to move to, we're really looking for the right type of property, then assuming we like it when we view it we'll assess the local area. Wherever it is the property will need to help us to earn an income, we want space, an acre at least, preferably somewhere with a view and if possible not too isolated. 

Rightmove is very convenient (I can’t imagine doing this kind of search pre-internet) but is not perfectly set up for our type of broad area search since there's no way to view saved properties on a map. In frustration Ali ended up plotting each one individually on google maps and it all became a little clearer: around half of the properties we’d save were in wales and a quarter each for Scotland and England. With the cold seasons coming to the North earlier our idea was to head off in our bus in late August to Scotland then gradually work our way South.

The more I looked at a map of the UK, the larger and further Scotland looked, so before starting to plan our trip we had a brutal cull of our saved properties the result was that 90% of the remaining properties were in wales. We’re heading to Wales for September! Scotland, its romantic isles and beautiful lochs are shelved for the moment.

Pretty much the moment the decision was made an Airbnb enquiry came in: renovations on our house have overrun, could we rent your house for a month? Uhhhh let me think...YES!!

Most meaningful of hugs

A week is a long time particularly when you're only 50 odd weeks old.

Out little family was reunited today after a week. I got a huge running hug from G as I walked in and the same from Ali, I was however really curious to see D. It had been a long time for her, had she changed much? How would she react to seeing me?

When she emerged from her nap she really hesitated at the sight of F and I, she turned away and just hugged Ali tightly. It was like a little dagger into my heart, it hurt! While I totally understood; I've just been woken up and now my dad is here? Is it really my dad? Am I really awake? WTF?

A few minutes later to my relief she leaned in to be carried, I did so until my arm got too sore to hold her. I put her down knowing things were better but not yet back to normal. After a further half hour of playing around with occasional visits to me, she came up to me, asked to come into my arms and she gave me a big full on hug, I nearly cried. In fact I'm welling up as I write this, I love her so much.

Before my children I could not really love. F's arrival was the seed that started my journey to reconnect. As much as it hurts sometimes, the delight in that hug makes it all worth while.

 

She has changed so much in a week. Crawling is totally a thing of the past, she drinks from a straw, sings, asks for help with things, understands certain words/instructions and is so much more confident and independent. I regret missing this one week of her life and so many more of F&Gs. While it can be hard being with them all the time I have no doubt I will look back at this time with them as some of my best days. I have no regrets.

Big dreams

After writing about connecting with people on campsites, yesterday F and I met up with friends we'd made on a campsite two and a half years ago. It had been too long, and was too short a visit but wonderful to see them again.

We met at Stonehenge on one of those unfortunate British summer days; 17 degrees, on/off downpours and blowing like crazy over the exposed Sunbury plain. Of course at our allotted visiting time the wind and rain were stuck on the on switch.

Even in driving rain, the site is fantastic. The stones are just massive, even at a distance (you can now only walk between the stones on the solstices) it's clear what an epic effort it must have taken to move them. In fact it would still be an impressive feat of engineering today let alone doing it when they just had stone tools.

My realisation this visit is that there must have been a lot of surplus. Surplus food, surplus time. Each stone must have taken weeks, months, even years to move from Wales, all the while having to produce and gather enough food to live and thrive as a society.

It's possible there was a pharaoh type figure ordering things. Perhaps it's easier for my understanding if there was, rather than a bunch of hunter gatherers/early farmers having so much time on their hands that while sitting in their primitive huts around the fire they decide to dream big: "I know what we'll do I've got a really good idea; we'll go to wales, carve out a rock twice the size of my hut here, then we'll bring it all the way back and plant it in the middle of our perfectly serviceable wooden henge. Who's with me?"

 

After saying our adieus to our friends, we squelched up into the van, dried off and set off to our free camping site. I'd heard that there was a path in view of the stones that was widely used to free camp. It's not the smoothest path, but sure enough we parked with around 15 other vehicles within site of the stones.

I have genuinely no idea how or why this has been allowed to happen but it's truly fantastic. Here we are at a Unesco World Heritage Site where no one is allowed to build a thing, even the visitor centre is a mile from the stones but F and I, in our bus are allowed to spend a or many nights with this view for free.

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Nice one English Heritage! Or perhaps well done to the druids and hippies and others who must have worked hard at reclaiming the stones for ongoing use and negotiated access. We will definitely be back.

Precious spark

With Ali seeing family F and I have gone on a road-trip in the bus. We really need to come up with a better name than "the bus". Without my gorgeous co-pilot and feeling a little out of bus practise I settled on Sandyballs in the new forest for a few days, then assuming I'd got my mojo back I planned to go free camping for the rest of the week.

Apart from some slightly scary driving in the new forest, (nimble is not a good description of the bus, a good name perhaps? Other suggestions welcome...) we got there safely and soon adjusted to our new environment.

As we've travelled our whole family has gotten better at taking the difficult first steps to initiate conversation, interaction, play, etc... I believe that everyone wants to connect with others, but that our inhibitions/judgement/shyness/fears stop us most of the time. That first night though, we didn't have to do a thing, connection came looking for us. A young boy cycled over started chatting to Fred and before I knew it he was making himself comfortable on the bus.

This wonderful level of inhibition in a child will inevitably result in a guardian trailing in his wake. His dad duly arrived, we had a really good chat and it quickly snowballed. By the end of the evening four random families, united by location and the spark of a 4 year old were drinking and chatting merrily while the kids ran around causing chaos. Good times.

Little mini human

It seems like it's been a little while since the last big developmental leap for D (at least that I've noticed) Bali I think, but over the last couple of weeks she's really leaped! 

By her first birthday she'd got to grips with walking, it wasn't much of a surprise as she'd been cruising for some time, but the speed at which partly walking/partly crawling changed to walking the whole time has been amazing, a week? Maybe two? She's like a proper little human!

But yet she is still so small, barely above my knee, just 12 short months to get from totally dependant, to being able to walk across a room, climb a chair onto a table, help herself to her sibling's biscuits and give herself a self satisfied round of applause. It's absolutely amazing.

Aside from the physical development there has also been a huge shift in how she interacts within our family unit. Previously she regarded Ali as her own property; if either F&G came in for a hug, she'd hurry over, demand to be picked up and push the offending sibling out of the way. Yesterday for the first time she actively encouraged G to share a hug with Ali, it was the cutest thing to see. Seeing our three interact with love and affection is one of the most amazing things.

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As proud as we are about her walking, it has brought some challenges; she's curious and into everything but is now really fast - we're having to be super aware. On the plus side she's finally sleeping fully through the night!!! 8pm - 6am last night!!!!!! Whoop whoop! We'd been sleeping much better already with just an 11pm night feed, but she's dropped that of her own accord.

It's probably the perfect time to take her on a intercontinental flight so that jet lag can cement our gains! D'oh!

 

Volunteering

It had been five years since I first went on The Essence Process, a lot has changed in me and my life since then. Plenty of the change has been facilitated by what I have learned and experienced in Menis's seminars.

It was fantastic to go back in that environment again, but this time as a volunteer.

At first I found it hard to connect with others and myself. I think this came both from being a volunteer not a participant (being outside the group looking in) but also from my barriers having gone back up over the last two years. Happily as the course progressed, my barriers descended again, I could smile, laugh, feel, love and cry with a whole heart.

Every time I go, my view of humanity recalibrates. In the wider world there is so much anger, hurry, rudeness and unhappiness. With the tragedies that have befallen London over the last few weeks, merged with brexit and Trump's rise there is a really strange atmosphere around the city. And while this atmosphere touched the course and the participants directly, this group of 40 diverse strangers still came out three days later as friends, connected by their very humanity. What is more magical than that? 

Early start

Snipits of conversation in unknown languages

Some wildlife here still in this green park, a meadow, please keep off. 

The last remnants of wildlife in London

I walk and breathe. Enjoy the vast plane trees filtering the morning sunshine. 

I enjoy the dawns when I see them, must do this more often

Filtered rays warm my skin offset by the cool breeze

Birds greeting the morning with the inescapable drone of traffic all around

Sitting for a while on a bench bathed in warm sunshine.

My eyes close and I let my mind wander.

Soon I will be inside in a place of change, my place of change

I am enjoying what bit of sunshine I can have  

I write my thoughts as I remember them

Up at 5:55am

D woke up at five to six this morning. It's a reflection on how far we've come since my last post that that is now a bad night. Our gentle sleep training has worked and we're consistently getting undisturbed adult time in the evenings as well as 8hrs+ sleep per night! We've done it!

It's almost certainly improved our sanity but strangely enough I still don't wake up feeling really rested, mind you I don't know too many parents who say they feel well rested. Perhaps when they've flown the coop...

 

Still top of our minds is our house sale; we've now had viewings and we're entering the prime selling period so fingers crossed...

Rather than just waiting, waiting, waiting, which quickly becomes depressing, we're trying to be proactive. We started with the kids by entering them into after school clubs (gymnastic/dance/karate) and joining some local homeschooling group activities. For ourselves, we've focused on getting our new business venture up and going and I've also decided to join a local Parkour group alongside playing for five a side football team.

Onwards and upwards...

  

The new, new plan...

What's that quote? No plan survives first contact with the enemy? Something like that anyway, and certainly the case last night.

While I hesitate to label D the enemy, my best laid plan lasted about two hours. We put her in her cot half asleep after her feed at 19:30 and she finally went to sleep at 21:30 with Ali and I huddling downstairs trying not to hear as D cried herself to sleep! After 2 hours of back to back soothe/sleep/wake/cry/soothe cycles we'd just had enough. Thankfully after only about 5 min of giving up.... silence!

Still back to the drawing board!

In truth the night wasn't a complete disaster since the rest of it passed OK (by D's low standards) she slept for 5hrs straight, then spent two unsettled hours before I was relieved of duty at 6:15.

This morning we discussed one topic: what is the outcome that we really want to achieve? In the end it came down to wanting her to sleep between around 22:00 and 7:00. Since she's barely eating over that period already it should be achievable. It's more about keeping all parties as happy/rested/quiet in the easiest way possible. So the new, new plan:

  • I'm doing nights for the foreseeable future.
  • 19:30 put her to sleep in the buggy and rock her to sleep - she just sleeps better that way.
  • 22:30 wake, feed and put back to sleep in her cot.
  • Sometime in the night (when she stirs) soothe and get her back to sleep. If she really loses the plot bring her in to bed with me to co-sleep.
  • From 6am onwards - when she wakes take her to Ali for a feed and try and get some shut-eye.

Hopefully with no feeds and only me for company she'll decide she may as well sleep through until Ali's back on duty.

Wish us luck...

Sleep training?

Out of eating, sleeping and pooing, babies are renowned for choosing to do just two out of the three well. Fuckers! It's not like stopping one of these is a minor issue.

We've had one of each! D is of the no sleep variety and I can tell you they are by far the worst. I love the little sprog dearly but what the Fuck!!

Perhaps we were spoilt that F&G slept 12hrs a night from around 2-3months old, but D waking up every two hours takes the piss. We also know there's an alternative; with F&G we instituted sleep training early on, aided by bottle feeding (you know precisely how much they've consumed).

For the uninitiated the principle method of sleep training is to teach your newborn to settle themselves alone until they learn to self soothe. This is code for: leave your baby alone in the dark, where it will cry itself to sleep over several excruciating nights until it learns that no one is going to come no matter how much it cries and it ends up finding comfort in something other than their parents; a thumb, a teddy, a dummy, etc...

However bad that sounds, it's really effective.

With D however we did things differently. With the help of the amazing post natal support available in France, Ali was able to breastfeed successfully, I was also around full time to assist so we decided to try the more "natural" sleep way.

D is 9 months old now and the best she's slept was during the first week of her life (4/6hr slots). Since then it's been worse, sometimes A LOT worse! And it's taken its toll.

On our recent trip we decided that we had to do something. We couldn't stomach the full night time cry-out but we let her cry a bit, then would come in and soothe, before leaving her again once settled. After a few days Ali and I got our evenings back - kids down by 20:00 and D only to be woken by 22:30 for a feed - fantastic. It may seem a small thing but it made a huge difference.

Back in London we added another stage; not feeding her in the middle of the night. While we don't know precisely how much milk she's drinking before sleep, if a 2 month year old can do 12 hours without food, so can a 9 month year old. At the very least Ali and I could do alternate sleep nights. 

Initially the sleepless burden fell on me since I don't smell of milk. While I'm notoriously grumpy on too little sleep, after 9 months of hell for Ali it's the least I could do. After three nights we got D to go 8hrs without a feed!

Unfortunately no feeding does not mean sleeping through, once or twice a night she'll stir and cry her eyes out. Sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour despite soothing, maybe I'm missing Ali's magic touch.

After a week or so Ali relieved me for two days but unfortunately on day two D regressed, perhaps due to the smell of milk, perhaps because Ali has just run out of patience. Either way, I'm back on duty tonight.

Sleepless nights or not I don't regret taking this approach with D, in fact I wish we'd had the wherewithal to have done it for the other two. Not because they turned out badly, they're AMAZING but D is noticeably gigglier and completely unattached to external soothers.

I guess it's comes down to how would you like to be treated if you were a baby? If someone asked me: "I'm really scared of being alone, could you hold my hand until I fall asleep?" I would. It shouldn't be any different for a baby no matter how sleep deprived I am.

So last night when she was crying in her cot, I went in, hugged her until she started to fall asleep, I lay her down, the tears started again so I sat next to her and gave her my hand. She clenched her little fist around my finger, closed her eyes and was soon asleep, only when her grip eased did I tiptoe out.

Leaps and bounds

I've written before about how D, and our kids generally, make non linear progress. Over the last few days it's been interesting to see some significant leaps.

D who after figuring out crawling, going up stairs and standing up within a 24hr period in Bali, had appeared to plateau since then. Plateau is probably the wrong term, she's been working on her technique (increasing her speed, strengthening her legs and improving her balance)  but the progress is less obvious. That is until three days ago when she figured out how to use a walker. We have a little cruiser!

The other big leap was from G, she can now ride a bike! We'd been encouraging it for two years without much traction, when about three weeks ago she started saying: I want to try riding without stabilisers. We didn't give it much attention since riding opportunities were few on our trip to Devon, then a week or so ago we got the bike out and sure enough with some saddle holding she was off...

Clearly when you're ready, you're ready. No need to push hard, just support and provide the opportunity.

Her beginner bike was a bit small so thanks to a chance find at the charity shop we upgraded her wheels. The new "big girl bike" and being able to master a skill previously the preserve of F really seems to have given her a confidence boost (aided by F treating her more as an equal).

This boost was soon put to use tree climbing. For several years and to Ali's relief she's been very wary of going above some of the lower tree branches (up to around 8 feet above ground). Then two days ago we went to one of their regular trees when she announced: I'm going to go higher. OK then, I responded, assuming she might rise a branch or two, but oh no! up and up she went.

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In fact about as high as F normally goes, definitely in the Ali nervous/panic zone (16 feet+).

This had the inevitable effect of forcing F to raise his game to confirm his superiority. He's now at my nervous zone, when the top branches start to thin out and really don't look like they're going to hold his weight.

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Ah well, the disadvantages of progress. 

 

Slow progress

Waiting on news of how our house sale is progressing is excruciating. Days tick by, a week, little news.

It feels like our lives are on hold.

In theory cashing in our large (but illiquid) asset would set us up nicely. In reality our finances have been crushed by our trip to and escape from Asia, no one has offered to buy our asset and in a few months we have no more tenants. What do we do if it does not sell?

Personally, I'm still happy to travel, in the event of the sale not going through I would be inclined towards renting it out for another year and heading off in the bus around Europe. Ali though has had enough. With her year long baby induced sleep deprivation it's no great surprise that settling down is appealing. 

 

If the the sale does go through, we've found some places we would definitely consider on our recent trip around Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. While none absolutely jumped out at us, South Devon (thanks Mimi) and good parts of Somerset were great. Without more progress on our sale it did feel completely unreal - house hunting while skint is a strange experience.

One thing has crystallised though. Assuming the sale goes through as planned we want to either self build our new home or buy a doer-upper.

For me building a house/home is one of my earliest ambitions and as a couple we've always enjoyed altering and improving the places we've owned. What could be more exciting than designing and building our own eco-home from the ground up?

While it does seem a little nuts to be considering this after our crazy two years of travel, at least we won't get bored once we stop moving.