Wednesday, October 28, 2009

RAF Manston Spitfire Museum; Take Aim and Fire!!!

Our first port of call after arriving in Kent was of couse the RAF Manston Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane Memorial Museum in Ramsgate. I say of course because anyone who has met my children will realise that few things in life will ever top the moment they walked through the doors and came face to face with one of their favourite objects on the planet. Of course I may have slightly ruined the moment by squealing "Oh look Niels, a real Spitfire!!!" whereupon he turned to me with a withering look and grumbled "That's a Hawker Hurricane, not a Spitfire!"
Ok, so I'm not such a big fan but even I enjoyed the museum. It's fairly small by most standards, with just the two planes, and tonnes of memorabilia, but it was the perfect size for two little boys. Each one had actually flown in combat and been lovingly restored. After lunch in the quintessially British cafe next door we strolled around the Battle of Britain memorial - still strewn with wreaths commemorating the 65th anniversary the weekend before - then wandered across the lawn to the collection of more modern aircraft which is displayed in a much larger hanger-like facility next door. Jet fighters, rescue helicopters, and all kinds of other aircraft are collected here. When they ran out of room they simply started chopping the cockpits off the planes and displaying those instead, which seems like quite a sensible solution to me.

We left with a new collection of model planes which have been lovingly played with every day since, and a resolution to recommend this place to whoever we can. So there you go - if you like planes, history, or running around the lawn withyour arms outstretched yelling "budda-budda-budda YOU'RE DEAD" at your brother, you should visit this very worthy museum. It's staffed by volunteers (many of whom are former pilots) and survives on donations.
On the way back to our cottage we couldn't drive past Canterbury without calling in for a visit. I've heard about this place all my life and finally this was a chance to see it. Since the days when I studied Chaucer I've wondered what Canterbury is like; and after passing through the high stone gates into the cathedral grounds, I imagine that little has changed since he himself was last here. The cathedral is simply magnificent, as you would expect it to be, although we were a little stunned at the entrance fee of GBP 21.50 for a family ticket. However we weren't going to come this way again so in we went. We found the statues of Thomas Beckett and The Black Prince, strolled through the Quoir and along the endless nave.
Having developed a slight case of ABC Syndrome since moving to Europe (that's 'Another Bloody Cathedral Syndrome' to those of you who aren't in the know) I'm not usually a big fan, but it was an impressive place, dripping with history. We quickly breezed through the very, very large souvenir shop - religion has obviously been commercialised since my last visit to a cathedral - to exit into the bright sunlight again and headed on our way. This was shaping up to be a great holiday.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blue Skies Over the White Cliffs of Dover

Last week we headed off for much-anticipated mid-term break to the UK. Journeying to a holiday destination by car still holds a certain thrill for me; firstly I love the fact that no-one is going to weigh my luggage so if I decide to completely over-pack, it's my business and won't involve handing over a credit card. Secondly, it brings back fond memories of being a kid, huddled together with my sisters in the enormous back seat of our big V8 Holden, roaring off in the early misty morning for Te Kaha or Paihia for a week of living on crayfish, paua, butterfish and all sorts of other goodies Dad would bring home and Mum would cook to perfection with just one pot and a rusty spatula. Days spent playing on the beach, crunching sand with all our food and not really caring, and hair so full of sea salt it would take three shampoo washes before it would even move again. Ten cents pocket money each day - a real treat since we never had pocket money as growing up on a farm meant there wasn't anywhere to spend it anyway - and hours spent hanging upside down on the monkey bars at the local park or building huts under the Pohutukawa trees at the beach, in the days before parents started looking sideways at every potential child snatcher walking past. I also vividly remember being pretty ill on some hoildays, with bronchitis and chest infections necessitating trips to strange doctors we didn't know. I particularly have very crystal clear memories of being prescribed a cough medicine by an elderly witch doctor in Paihia which was dark blue in colour and so vile tasting it actually made me vomit and stained my tongue and teeth. Aah, the fond recollections of our youth!

I digress. Just before we headed off our new toy arrived; a Tom Tom. Ok, we must be the last people on the planet to get one but hey, we've survived with maps up until now. After reading the instruction book cover to cover (I admit it's an obsession but it's one I can live with), I programmed in our destination - to Dunkirke then from Dover to near Tunbridge Wells - and off we set. Ah, the bliss of not having to track our progress kilometre by kilometre, one finger pressed firmly into the map book so as not to lose our place. I even downloaded - get this - a female NEW ZEALAND voice for the Tom Tom - my squeals of "honey I found a voice without ANY ACCENT AT ALL!!!! probably audible across half of Lochem. Can't imagine why hubby was rolling his eyes and mumbling, but I swear it took less than 24 hours for him to start ignoring that machine, so maybe an accent like mine was asking for trouble.

All was well until we got close to Antwerp, and then Moana (that's what I christened) her died. No more power. At all. Turns out there was a faulty fuse in that little hole you shove the power cable into (and yes I do believe that is the technical name thank you very much) so it wasn't charging. However we still had our trusty maps, so off we sped to the ferry terminal.

Ferries are so much more relaxing than planes. We simply drove up to customs point where the cheerful officials briefly squinted at our passports to make sure they were the right colour (yes that's why I married him darling) before being waved onto the vessel. We lounged about a bit and then, get this, I had a MASSAGE on the boat before we docked in Dover. Let's see that happen on a plane. Plus the return trip cost just 60 euros for all of us, the car, and Moana (on Norfolk Line). Unblievable.

Arriving at our converted stable cum cottage in Shipbourne, the sun was still shining, the golden autumn leaves were sighing in the breeze, and it was the perfect time to crack open the bottle of Tanquery I'd picked up on board for half the price we pay at home, ready for a pre-dinner G&T. We were officially in holiday mode.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Father & Son

There's not much I wanted to add to the picture (taken on the Dragon Ride at Legoland, on perhaps the 452nd time Niels rode it), except have you ever seen a boy and his Dad having more fun together?

Friday, October 09, 2009


I defy anybody to look at the photo above and not crack up laughing. Taken during our summer holiday at Legoland, this is our first ride on the Lego Canoe...the first of about 15 times we did this. The looks on the kids faces are classic; Niels is old enough to realise that if this was truly dangerous, that (a) Mum and Dad wouldn't let him do it, and (b) or in any case would not be sitting in the canoe with him!
Carl however, with less life experience to draw on is clearly thinking: "We're all going to die!!!". Those popping eyes, muscles clenched in terror and hair standing on end all show that he fully expects the smiling young teenagers who work at Legoland to be seiving bodyparts from the foaming pool at the bottom of this slope for the next two hours. D-Day has arrived.
Now let's examine that emotion a little more closely...

...and then marvel at the fact that the very first thing he said when we reached the bottom - once he resumed breathing - was "AGAIN!!!"

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Looking For A New Job

Life as a parent can be so frustrating at times, and I often seem to be moaning to hubby about how little the kids listen to me. At times it feels like I'm talking to myself. Take today, for instance. Both of the boys had been so difficult at different times, and I found myself telling them to do simple things like put on their shoes or get in the car ten times. By the time bedtime rolled round I was feeling so frazzled, I decided enough was enough. After a serious talking to I made them tidy their rooms and put away the ten thousand toys strewn around the house before I'd read them a story. Then when they were in bed I spent ten minutes with each one individually talking about how they needed to listen to me more, not just ignore me when I asked them to do something or talked to them and generally pull their fingers out and behave.
Niels listened quietly and we ended with a hug and a promise to try harder. When it was Carls turn he also listened intently, nodded his head that he understood then gave me a quick goodnight kiss before demanding: "how long until Papa comes home?" Obviously he's given up on me and has decided the other parent show more promise.
Actually it's the second time this week he's made me feel like that. He loves to kick around a football after dininer, devising elaborate rules that only he can understand to explain why when he kicks the ball in my goal (the entire garden fence) he gets 3 points, yet when I kick it into his goal (a 20 cm wide zone of the fence which moves at random) I either get 1 point, or -1 point. It's always a laugh and its hard to keep a straight face when he takes it so seriously. A couple of nights ago he was getting increasingly pissed off because I didn't understand his ever-changing rules, and when I finally gave up and just kicked the ball towards him glared at me, thrust out his arm with an indignant finger pointing straight at me and yelled "that's it, YOU'RE FIRED!"
Time to find a new job.