Europe – July 2017

Day 5 – Westcliff

Wednesday 2nd August

Once again I found myself waking early and without the benefit of an alarm. If only I could do this normally when not on holiday. Breakfast this morning was a muted affair. The kids were pre-occupied with their own forms of entertainment and Sandy was still asleep.

After a few days here, it was pretty clear that I had underestimated the number of books I needed and I’ve already exhausted the limited supply of what I brought with me. There are still people here in the UK that I planned to give some books to and that’s not even considering the people in Holland yet. To at least partially remedy this, I’ve just ordered another batch of 20 books and shipped them directly to Frank, Sandy’s Brother, in Holland.

Our major plan for today was a reunion with some of Sandy’s friends at Cara’s house. This is a group of friends that came together during anti-natal classes they all attended (including all the husbands) during their pregnancies some 11 or 12 years ago. The girls from that class have all kept in touch over the years and were a terrific support group to each other back in the day. This is a group of people that might otherwise never have met or had anything to do with each other but eventually became close-knit friends.

Since the reunion wasn’t scheduled until 1 p.m., we found ourselves with a bit of time on our hands and so we thought it would be a good idea to pop in and see Dad at home, which we did. Dad is a funny character and a relentless storyteller. It’s a shame we don’t have more time to spend with him, as the kids love hearing all his stories.

We reluctantly said goodbye to Dad and set off towards Westcliff, where the reunion would take place at Cara’s house. Being the first of the guests to arrive, we managed a few minutes of quality time with just Cara’s and our families, which was nice. Cara’s eldest, Finnian, wasn’t at home as he was engaged in some sporting activity somewhere. He arrived about an hour after we did. It was the first time I’d seen Cara’s youngest – affectionately known as fluff. Cara’s middle child, Connal, was diagnosed not long ago with a form of cancer that has ultimately led to him having half of one leg amputated. Between his wheelchair and prosthetic limb, it doesn’t appear to have slowed him down at all and he seems perfectly well adjusted. That’s just my observations of him from the outside, of course. One can only speculate as to the hardship he and the rest of his family have had to endure through the entire cancer life-cycle.

Cara had laid on plenty of food and there was an inflatable bouncy castle in her back garden, which the hoards of kids that were present throughout the afternoon took much advantage of. There were a couple of other friends from Sandy’s anti-natal group present, although some weren’t able to make it for varying reasons. There were also one or two friends and neighbours of Cara’s that we didn’t recognise but everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and it was terrific catching up with everyone. Both Cara and her husband James are exactly as I remembered them. Cara is one of the most exuberant and up-beat people I have ever met – larger than life itself.

It was a lovely, relaxing afternoon but it had to come to an end and by around 5 p.m., everyone was starting to pack up. Sadly, the weather didn’t play nicely for us today, as it started to rain just about when we arrived. It was on-again/off-again raining throughout the afternoon, in fact. It didn’t dampen any spirits, though, although it did dampen several children, most of whom ended up with wet cloths and socks – not that it bothered anyone.

There was the inevitable scrum at the end with exchanges of hugs and photos. We also handed out a few small gifts that we had brought with us from Australia. We would have loved to stay longer but we also wanted to get to the hospital to visit Mum. We didn’t know whether this would be the last opportunity to do so, so we really couldn’t miss the opportunity.

We eventually wrenched ourselves loose from the last round of hugs and cuddles with Cara and her family and made our way back to the car. It was a sad moment and the trip to the hospital was a quiet and sombre one. Given the poor weather today, we thought we might forego the trip back into London tomorrow. In a flash of inspiration, we thought it might be a good idea to have lunch with Cara tomorrow so we called to see whether that would be possible. It would, although the logistics might be awkward since James and Finnian wouldn’t be there, as they are at the cricket all day and we wouldn’t all fit into the one car. We’ll have to see how this pans out tomorrow.

We arrived at the hospital and parked the car. When we arrived at the Nightingale Ward, Mum was sitting up in bed having just finished her dinner. She was looking very well – very much better than the last time we saw her. She sounded much better also and was up beat. It looks like she’ll be released from the hospital in another couple of days – perhaps sometime this weekend. She has been provided with a CPAP machine for use overnight going forward. Before she can be released, the hospital wants to make sure it is calibrated and that she’s used to using it correctly.

The visit was all too fleeting but I had a chat with the head nurse about possibly getting in to see her one last time before we leave the country. The permission was needed since it would be outside of visiting hours. The nurse I spoke to was understanding of our situation and said it would be possible, although it would have to be done carefully, so as not to disturb the regular routine of care that would be taking place in at that time of day.

With energy reserves now all but completely depleted, we made our way back to Paul & Marie’s house, where Marie was apparently going to be laying on a full roast dinner – something Sandy has been looking forward to since we arrived. Marie was indeed slaving away in the hot kitchen when we arrived.

Paul was working on his spud launcher, with Joey bouncing around with excitement. It’s either fortunate or unfortunate depending on your point of view but there was a technical problem with the ignition system and the whole thing wasn’t working as planned. I actually started to relax when I heard about the problem. When I pondered yesterday what could possibly go wrong, I could actually think quite vividly of more than a few potential disaster scenarios.

I somehow managed to review my blog from yesterday so that I could post it online. That left pretty much nothing in the tank for even writing up the notes of the day’s events. I called it a night and struggled up the stairs, where I collapsed onto the bed and was soon off to lala-land.