Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Return to Blighty

November 2014 (before flu)

As usual, mixed emotions.  Sad to be leaving Italy.  Excited to be moving on to the next step in our adventure.  Except this time there's the added suspense of having committed to six to twelve months in the one spot - one we haven't visited before. And there's the icing on top of extra income.  Not just extra, in fact - we'll be virtually doubling the income we've lived on for 17 months. The shopping list isn't long, but it is expensive!  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Just in case you missed the news, in August we accepted a house-sitting role where Nigel's actually being paid to work as caretaker/estate manager/gardener on a rural property west of London. I don't have a work visa, so I can only stay in the UK as a visitor for up to six months, and I can't work, but I can apply for an extended visitors' visa, based on Nigel having work here.  I'll go through that process in the new year.

In Italy the days had been getting cooler.  We'd had our last swim in Pauline's pool in the latter half of October - the water temperature had dipped to 22 degrees.  Still, it came as a bit of a shock to arrive in the UK to drizzle and 12 degrees.  Just to make us feel welcome, National Rail cancelled our train leaving all passengers to Reading hanging around not knowing when the next train would arrive, then a train pulled up, going somewhere else, and we were told to board.  I'm still confused, but it did eventually get us to Reading.  From there we caught a train to Theale where our home-owner, Caroline, picked us up to drive us to our new home, Kings Copse House.

We lived in Reading for four months earlier in the year - and vowed to never return! - so we're sort of familiar with the area and I even recognised part of the route as we have Kiwi friends working at Bradfield College, nearby, and we'd visited them there once.  In fact, Alain and Anne were the friends who suggested we apply for the position here.  However, it was a bit of a baptism-by-fire to be given the keys to the 'work' vehicle (a fairly new VW Golf that Nigel's insured to drive) and to drive off into the drizzle, dark, and after-work traffic to get groceries, with a very helpful list of instructions on how to get to the supermarket.  Getting back was trickier - instructions written for one direction aren't necessarily as easy to follow in reverse, especially when you have three multi-lane roundabouts to negotiate!  We were beginning to worry that Caroline might send out a search party!

The roads here really are dangerous.  Especially at night out here in the dark countryside.  They're narrow - even 60mph roads are often only just wide enough for two cars; many of these narrow roads have walls of thick hedging both sides, so there's nowhere to get off the road if you have to and you have limited visibility of what's going on around the next bend; often there's a concrete edge to the roads that sits up a couple of inches above the road level, so you need to take care you don't drift over and clip them; and then there's the amount of traffic, travelling at 30mph through villages, 40mph on the outskirts of villages, and 60mph elsewhere, except for the motorways where they zip along at 70mph. Having seen a few, it appears to us that there are a lot of accidents.

But at Kings Copse House we feel a very long way away from all the hustle and bustle.  The closest house is a small bungalow a hundred metres away, which is part of the property and rented out to a friendly South African couple.  Otherwise we're surrounded by 100 acres of the house gardens, farmland (with sheep!) and protected forest.  We have chickens for eggs.  There are wild deer, squirrels, badgers, pheasants, owls, red-breasted robins, red kites and buzzards. And wolves!  The wolves are actually a few miles away and we sometimes hear them howling - it's wonderful!  And when the family's not here, which is most of the time, we have this big beautiful house, garden and forest all to ourselves!

Speaking of the family, Caroline and John (the parents) have lived in Brussels for a couple of years.  They're moving to the States in the New Year, so they won't get back here very often - Caroline used to drive from Brussels fairly regularly, but I don't think that's going to be an option from the States!  Their son is already at university in the States and their three daughters are at school/university in the UK, but don't live at Kings Copse.  They will all be here for Christmas and New Year and will all be gone again by mid-January.  Caroline jokes that we'll have our house back to normal once they've all gone.

For Christmas Day we're going to Ann and Alain's for Christmas dinner.  Their sons and their partners will be there too - one of the couples has been working on the sets for Game of Thrones - we hope they're not bored with the subject yet!  

Nigel's sister and her husband, Gail and Janos, have been in the UK working on large estates for nearly five years.  They started off at Twyford, near Reading, then at the time we arrived in the UK, in June 2013, they moved to Cornwall.  They've been thinking for a little while now that it would be nice to be back up in this area so they could be near their girls (who live in Reading), and us too.  We're all part of a network of New Zealanders mainly working on large estates in southern England and through that group we found out about a place near here that was coming available.  To cut a long story short, they applied, were interviewed, and got the job.  They moved up from Cornwall the weekend before they took off for a month's holiday in NZ and start the new job when they return in early January.  Early in that process we discovered that their employers are good friends of our homeowners! 

I'll take a quick back step and return to the subject of critters.  I feed the chickens each day - there were three.  The day after Caroline left (she was here for a few days when we arrived), one of the chickens died.  I found it curled up 'asleep' in the laying box - warm, but very stiff.  Luckily it was the stroppy one that had been pecking feathers off the back of one of the others - the other two are much happier now!  Toby's a springer spaniel who lives with Caroline and John, so he'll be off to the States with them.  I'm not very dog friendly, but I've met a few I like and Toby's included in that group.  Then there's Molly, the elderly cat.  I am a cat person, but Molly does try me sometimes - particularly when she meows at 4am, and when I've found cat poo in a place one doesn't expect to find cat poo.  Grrr!!  However, she is very affectionate and has a great purr.

January 2015 (after flu)

Yes - we had the flu.  It's a month since Anne and Alain drove us to Frome (in Somerset) for the Kiwi group Christmas dinner.  We stayed the night in Frome - a fabulous old village with a lovely street of one-off shops.  Anyway, Anne and Alain were recovering from the flu, and were [apparently] not recovered enough.  We, and they, believe we caught it from them.  I succumbed on the Tuesday and Nigel a day later. And it was awful.  I haven't had the flu, and have rarely been sick at all, for more than ten years.  I was in bed and useless for four days.  It's taking a long time to recover - we're still not back to our usual bounce, but at least it's looking hopeful now!

Because of the flu we missed out on doing several things we'd been looking forward to ....  seeing the Christmas lights in London; seeing the sunrise at Stonehenge for the winter solstice; watching ice-carving in Newbury.  And, while the owners were here, we'd hoped to have a short holiday somewhere exotic, like Morocco.  But it was not to be.  Even our weekend jaunts have been limited.  We've visited Kintbury to see the canal; Hungerford (just because it has a pretty, old main street - and several interesting antique shops); the Highclere Castle grounds (aka Downton Abbey) on a very misty day.  A hunt came through our forest, so we went to watch that too.  But we've been slow and dragging our feet - not our usual energetic selves.

Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)

Mustn't grumble!!  We're here with fabulous opportunities all around us.  We're nearly well and ready for a lot more action - watch this space!

Ugly but practical
Before we arrived here we did something we've never done before - bought a car before we'd seen it and without having someone check it over first!  We bought the car owned by our predecessors here - Liz and Jim from Akaroa!  They've headed home and needed to sell their car.  We needed to buy a car.  Deal done.  And the car's great - ugly but great!  Heated leather seats are almost as good as chocolate!!

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