Something I neglected to mention yesterday, when I was outlining the reasons for this trip, was a recent series of events in Sandy’s family. The first domino to topple was the passing of Sandy’s father. He was never a significant part of Sandy’s life since she was born, so there wasn’t a real bond for which Sandy would need to grieve over. Still, it’s her father at the end of the day and it still had an impact. Sandy always knew that there were a couple of other children from the same man, but she was never really in touch with any of them through the years. As a result of various children reaching out to each other following this man’s death, it has since come to light there are quite a few more half-brothers and half-sisters of which Sandy was never previously aware. Now, instead of being one child of six, Sandy can claim to be one child in about twelve…and counting! Where the relationships now go between Sandy and her newfound extended family remains to be seen. So far, several seem to be interested in getting to know each other some more, so it’ll be interesting to see how this develops in the coming weeks and months. New family members notwithstanding, the recent news of Sandy’s father’s passing was another one of those triggers that contributed towards the decision to embark on this trip. Whatever else family is, it’s also precarious.

For this, day two of the trip, the plans for the day were somewhat flexible. That’s another way of saying we had no idea what we were going to be doing. Regardless of what we end up doing today, I at least want to spend some time building some new memories with my younger sister, affectionately referred to in my mind as little Jacky, and her daughter, Ella. Both are outspoken and spirited personalities – confident, sure of themselves, able to defend themselves, etc. Another way of putting it might be that they have big mouths, and why not? We love them both for it. I’ve previously described little Jacky as having been hardened by life. The reasons for this go far beyond the scope of this blog entry. Suffice to say that Jacky hasn’t always been dealt great cards in life, although she has come out on top at the end of the day.

Jacky has gone out of her way to make us as welcome and comfortable as possible. This even extended to giving up her bedroom and moving heaven and earth to make space for an extra four people in this modest sized British home. We’ve been here before, and immediately felt welcome and at home from the moment we walked through the front door. Joey is quite taken by Jacky. We were pleasantly surprised at just how quickly he was at ease here in this new environment. If ever there was a barometer for how kind and friendly someone is, it surely must be how Joey responds to them.

Sandy and I stirred and were up and about by around 8 am this morning. As it happens, we were the first. We at least had a restful night, which cannot be said for Jacky. She had arranged for Ella and Jae to both sleep on the couch. She in turn would sleep in Ella’s bed. It seems there were some challenges with the logistics of an adult sleeping in a child’s bed. One of the bed’s supporting slats shifted at one point, so Jacky decided she’s sort the problem out but adjusting the rest of them. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t align everything correctly, which resulted in several slats not being correctly seated. When she went to lay back down again, several of the slats fell through and she ended up with her arse on the floor in something of a compromising position. To make matters worse, she was contorted to the point it was nearly physically impossible to free herself, arms and legs flailing around like a demonically possessed octopus out of water. My only regret is that I wasn’t there for her in her hour of need. After all, someone really needed to be there…to photograph the incident for posterity.

Notwithstanding Jacky’s slumber challenges, she managed to pull off a rather nice poached egg and bacon breakfast with some provisions I’d picked up from a nearby supermarket this morning.

We spent most of the morning just lounging around and chatting. We thought we’d all do something fun together, like bowling, but it’s a bank holiday weekend here in the UK and everything was booked solid. Sandy was keen to do a bit of shopping at a nearby hobby & crafts shop, the likes of which are extremely scarce back home. I dropped her and Joey off at the shopping centre while the two of them caught up with some retail therapy. I went off to a nearby leisure centre to explore options for what we might do with the kids today. After some exploration, I ended up booking for one adult and three kids at an indoor mini-golf venue. While at it, I also managed to book us into a restaurant for this evening for the six of us.

After a quick stop off at a nearby Tesco’s, where I picked up some burger buns and a few other provisions for Jacky’s planned burger lunch, we made it back to home base. Lunch was very nice and we’re still feeling very much welcome here.

Our mini-golf booking was for around 2pm. Jacky was to spend a bit of time catching up on some of her work admin while Sandy and I took the three kids to have some putting fun. The venue was busy, loud and chaotic. It was only going to be a matter of time before Joey became overwhelmed with all the external stimuli. In the event, we made it to around hole 7 before Joey declared it was all getting too much for him, so I took him outside for a few minutes to decompress a little. This did the trick nicely, and what would normally have been a catastrophe was averted. The fact that Joey was able to articulate that he was getting overwhelmed and needed a temporary escape is itself something of a minor miracle. Six months ago, this would not have happened. We would instead have seen some behavioural challenges with him instead, possibly even resulting in a world of stress for him and for us. If nothing else, today’s turn of events demonstrates the progress he has made in recent months. He has a much better awareness of his own condition and limitations. We’ve all become a lot better at managing situations like the one today.

With the exertions of the mini finally golf behind us, we made our way back to home base. As I write this now, several of the household are napping around the home while the calm before the next storm (tonight’s dinner) can, for now at least, be enjoyed.

For the remainder of the afternoon, we just lounged around the house a bit. Jacky laid on some burgers and chicken legs for lunch. I had booked us into TGI Friday’s for dinner tonight, so all we needed to do was to get everyone there – a short 7-minute drive away. Since Jacky’s car is currently in for its annual M.O.T., I offered to drive back and forth twice to get everyone to the restaurant.

The restaurant was quite busy, as were all the others at the leisure centre this bank holiday weekend. The atmosphere was lively but not too loud. Joey held up rather well, all things considered. The food was good, but we found the service lacking. After our food came out, we asked three different staff members for some cutlery. With the food steadily getting colder, we eventually resorted to pilfering from an adjacent table. Several requests for various things went ignored throughout the course of the evening. It didn’t really spoil our enjoyment too much, but it was a little disappointing all the same.

Joey eventually reached his external stimuli threshold and started to deteriorate. I had to take him outside for a little walk around the carpark to keep him from melting down. We haven’t seen a full-blown meltdown for some months now, and I didn’t want to break that streak. The walk through the car park, along with me grounding him by asking him some questions about his favourite toys, helped. When we made it back into the restaurant, however, it was clear we’d reached a point of diminishing returns. Jacky and I took him back to the house, while we left the others to order and enjoy dessert.

By the time I returned with the car, Sandy was ordering Joey a little something from the adjacent KFC. We already predicted he would be asking for something more to eat once he took his medication a little later, which he in fact did precisely on cue. He didn’t eat much in the restaurant.

Once back at the house, we were all starting to show fatigue from the past couple of days and slowing down a little. After some preparations for tomorrow, we settled in for the night.