Europe – July 2017

Day 2 – Basingstoke

Sunday 30th

Recent events have led Sandy and me to take a slightly different outlook on life. The passing of a close friend – considerably younger than us I might add – has made us both stop and think. What’s really important in life? We take for granted that loved ones will always be there. The reality is that’s not always the case. When someone is suddenly gone, and you find yourself numb from the pain, you reach into your memory drawer of happy times and cling to whatever you can find lurking there. We’ve come to believe it’s more important than ever to build good memories of the loved ones around us. Those can at least continue to be cherished in the event someone is taken abruptly. To that end, the past couple of days have been probably the best of times for making really good memories. Today’s day visiting my sister, Annie, along with her extended family, was pure joy, wrapped up in relaxation, covered in giggles and, it has to be said, doused with a healthy dosing of sarcasm and good humour. Annie and her close-knit family and a fabulous bunch and we really enjoyed ourselves in their company today. So many fun things happened it going to be hard to make this blog entry do justice to it all.

The day started out on a good foot with an early rising. Ordinarily, I’m not a morning person but I was quite relaxed this morning – this despite falling asleep from sheer exhaustion last night. Annie was up and about soon after we stirred. For the second time in as many days, we enjoyed the benefits of a lovely, cooked, English breakfast – sheer bliss. Harry, and I’m told this is rather out of character for him, was up by around mid-morning. We weren’t expecting him up until well into lunchtime, so that was a happy bonus. After the relaxing breakfast, Kirsty arrived with her husband, Andy, and two daughters, Sophia and Courtney. Not long thereafter, Louise arrived with husband Chris (Lanky Chris – since we had to distinguish between him and me), son Leo and daughter Eva. Although Lanky Chris would have to leave for work and return later, we were now all here.

It was a typical British summer’s day, with alternating fresh and warm conditions driven by the sun’s struggle to push its way through the clouds on and off throughout the day. One logistic that we still needed to arrange this morning was a local SIM card for Sandy’s phone. She has been relying on her Australian SIM card for the past few days and was in desperate need of some data. With my local SIM card already in place, I have a local phone number but we also needed one for her so she and I can call each other. The need for this was exposed so blatantly yesterday when we were both traipsing around Primark in Lakeside and I continually had to keep searching for her the old-fashioned was of shouting her name across the clothing racks. As it happens, the persistent cough I’ve been nursing for the past few weeks tended to act as a beacon for her, so she always knew where I was.

Basingstoke is a stone’s throw from Hook, which is where Yasmin & Ellis, Paul’s daughter’s have always lived, along with their mother, Hazel. Ellis, it seems, has since moved away because of her university attendance. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to arrange how we can get to see them all whilst here. As luck would have it, Yasmin and Hazel were able to come to Annie’s house today, so it would be a nice bonus to see them a little later today.

Lee and I took Joey and headed to a nearby Asda to pick up the SIM card for Sandy’s phone. Joey has been in his element for the past couple of days. He has been using his spending money to pick up new Lego bits and pieces and found something he really wanted whilst at Adsa. Lee saw fit to take Joey’s cash and then pay for the Lego on his card, somehow in the process conferring a £5 advantage to Joey, which was nice.

Back at Annie’s, I installed the new SIM card and tested that everything was working, which it was. This left us with nothing left to do but to enjoy everyone’s company, which we did copiously. The kids were all having fun running around punching, kicking, annoying each other, launching projectiles at one another, etc. And by kids, I’m mostly referring here to Lee, Harry and Andy – yes, the adults. I’ve never seen such friendly banter played out in such an entertaining way as this. It was hilarious all day long. Whenever someone – anyone – left their smartphone out of their hands or sight for more than a few moments, for example, it was immediately punished with surreptitious selfies being taken by someone or other. Indeed no single opportunity for one-upmanship was lost throughout the day.

At one point, shortly before the BBQ lunch, I was sitting on the couch with Lee watching a few minutes of the Hungarian Grand Prix. In my defence, I will say up front that it’s a rather comfortable couch and that things like the rigours of long-haul travel, coupled with long drives across the country, have conspired to render me susceptible to the odd nap here and there. I doubt it was for more than a few minutes but when fatigue caught up with me and I momentarily dozed off for a quick power nap, this turned out to be an opportunity too big to miss for the kids – yes, I do mean the adults. Since I was blissfully unaware of exactly what transpired, I cannot divulge the details with any degree of confidence, so I shall just allow the photos and video footage speak for itself instead.

The sporadic rain did clear up eventually to reveal a truly lovely summer’s afternoon, at which point the BBQ was expertly brought out of its hiding place by Harry. And I use the word expertly quite wrongly here. Anyway, Annie and son-in-law Andy did a terrific job between them of laying out enough food to keep us all very well fed. It was terrific.

With the house replete with so many children all the time – and yes, I’m still talking about the male adults here, there are a number of kiddies plastic footballs strewn about the back garden, which were taken full advantage off just about consistently throughout the day. By this, I mean they were being constantly launched – with force – at the head of one of the boys. Extra bonus points and laughs on offer each time one connected with the face, which, I do have to admit, was a lot of good-natured fun.

Part way though lunch, and all the while dodging projectiles, Yasmin and Hazel arrived, which was a lovely treat. It was great to catch up with them both. Ironically, Hazel is just packing for a trip to Australia tomorrow. Yasmin’s arrival suddenly threw into stark contrast just how much things have changed for me – a reminder, of you will, of the passing of the years. In my mind’s eye, I still remember Yasmin as a little girl. And of course, this week is the first time I’ve seen so many of my great nephews and nieces in the flesh. None of them were yet born when we left the UK back in 2009.

With everyone now here and lunch having been polished off, Annie was keen for us all to have some fun playing games in the now sun-drenched garden. As team captain for a couple of these games, I did my best to choose those players that I thought would serve me well for the types of games we would be playing. Once the two teams were chosen, the frivolity began. Our team took some immediate early losses and, to be perfectly frank, it was really all downhill from there. Annie was quizmaster for the guess the brand from the slogan game with the idea being that you must first raise a hand before being chosen to present your answer, lest it be handed over to the other side for some easy points. Now, I’m not a sore looser and would never stoop as low as to accuse of favouritism or cheating or cultural bias or claiming the other side were using dirty or underhanded tactics, etc…BUT… In another game, each of the six players on each of the two sides were given a piece or paper with a number printed large upon it. Annie called out a six-digit number and the team that reorganised themselves into position such that that number was correctly displayed were declared the winners. Once again, my expert team-mates…really let me down. It was a total whitewash and we were defeated with utter conviction by the other side. It didn’t matter. This was one of those times when the true winners were everyone that took part. I don’t recall having so much fun in such a long time. For a few brief hours today, there were no outside pressures, no work worries, no medical problems – just good, wholesome, family fun. Terrific J

As inevitably happens with these things, the day had to come to a close at some point. With my kidneys somewhat aching from all the laughter of the day, we started the process of gathering our things together and loading up the car. I handed out a few autographed copies of my book and it was hugs and kisses all around – a bitter sweet ending if ever there was one.

The trip home includes a jaunt across the Dartford crossing, which entailed the inevitable traffic jam – adding probably 15-20 minutes to the overall two-hour journey time back to Paul’s house. As it happens, we didn’t go straight home since we didn’t have a key. We instead headed to a friend’s house, where Paul and Dad were both visiting after today’s hospital visiting hours. Truth be told, the kids really did need to get to bed and we were both hitting the wall again, so we weren’t that much fun to be around but it was still nice to see familiar faces again.

Back at Paul’s, now with house-key in hand, we made short work of getting the kids organised for bed. We’ve also arranged to see Jenny-Lee tomorrow for lunch, so we’ll all enjoy having a carvery, which Sandy will be most pleased with.

I had very little left in my energy reserves to write up this blog, so I contented myself with just the highlights – the idea being that I spend some time in the morning doing the whole thing proper, which I’m just now completed.