This will be a combined blog entry for both yesterday, out final full day, and today, the day of our return home. For the penultimate day, we spent the entire time at Jacky’s house, chilling out in Stevenage. This was an opportunity to sit in one place long enough to reflect on what was a whirlwind tour around the British Isles. Was it a successful trip? I guess that comes down to what the criteria for success are. When is it a successful trip? We had fun on the one hand, but it was exhausting on the other. We got to see Dad and some other relatives on the one hand, but it was an emotional rollercoaster on the other. I like to think that the most important objective of the trip was to see Dad again in the flesh and to make more memories with him while we still can. At eighty-five, we’ve no idea for how long we’ll continue to have this privilege. I guess living at distance, which we’ve almost always done, gives us a different perspective. If we were living in the UK, we might not be so quick to want to visit Dad in person, or at least it might not seem so pertinent or significant an event. You tend not to worry too much about things that are on your doorstep. There’ll always be tomorrow, right? This is the same reason most people never truly explore their own country. For us, making our way back to my hometown has always been something of a significant event, which takes planning and forethought. It’s never truly a holiday in the truest sense of the word, and always costs us a lot in terms of energy, both physical and emotional. Traveling back home tends to really take it out of us. This trip was no different. As I sit here on the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, I find myself with a mixture of emotions and not quite able to call it a success or a failure either way. It is what it is and it’s what we’re used to.

I would have liked to have seen more siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces this trip. That would have meant yet more diving around and yet more exhaustion. We had to draw the line somewhere. Whomever we didn’t get to see this time, there will always be another trip. And our house is always open to anyone that wants to visit us also, so there’s always that.

This trip wasn’t without its stresses, strains and mini dramas. What trip is? Fortunately, we’re all adults, and it helps we have some experience in dealing with difficult children. We came as friends and left as friends, so all’s well that ends well.

Dinner plans for the final full day yesterday kept changing. We were going to eat out, then at home, then there were to be six of us, then four, etc. A couple of days ago we picked up a chicken at Tescos in anticipation of a hearty home-cooked meal. The bird is still in Jacky’s fridge, so she and Ella will enjoy that particular delight. The reason for this? Jacky had an impromptu stint behind the bar at a pub where she was helping the landlord. This left just the four of us. Since day one, Sandy had been hankering for a meal at a carvery. We nearly always have a meal out as a family at one of these whenever we are in the UK. It’s Sandy’s favourite type of restaurant. We had a few missed opportunities throughout the past week, so I saw my chance and suggested we make our final night in the UK the one. It would mean nobody would have to cook or clean up and it’s a guarantee everyone would have something to their liking. God knows it’s becoming ever more challenging to satisfy everyone at mealtimes.

In the event, the Toby carvery in Stevenage, which was literally a few minutes around the corner, was an enjoyable experience. Joey was a little overwhelmed with sensory overload at one point, but that was remedied when I took him with me to spend ten minutes decompressing in the car part way through the meal. I see these things now as ‘a meltdown that was avoided’, so it’s a small price to pay. Managing Joey in this way means nobody is stressed – including him – and we can all enjoy our lives that much more.

Sandy sprang into action this morning with her expert packing skills. I was confident we would NOT be able to pack everything back into the car. This was mostly on account of all the additional stuff we accumulated. This included all the comfort foods and things we picked at Tescos – things we can’t get back home. The car is now packed with things like packets of sausages and bacon (I only hope we don’t get hit with a customs inspection at the border crossing), chocolate, vinegar, etc. Joey has also accumulated yet more Lego sets – not just the new ones but also the Lego he had now retrieved from Paul’s house. Joey had inadvertently left some Lego sets with Paul a couple of years ago. We haven’t heard the last of it since. He regularly made references to it over the past couple of years. It would have made sense to break up the sets and put the pieces into bags for transportation. That way, we’d need much less space in the car, which was already full on the way over. Joey insists he’s not going to break up the sets, so Sandy had to remedy the situation by picking up a couple of plastic containers with lids (she has something of a fetish for things to put things in, but that’s another story for another day). Unlike bags of clothes, these plastic tubs are rigid, so it only adds to the challenge of packing the car. Much to my surprise, Sandy’s packing skills, which are the stuff of legend in several countries around the globe, were put to good use this morning. Heaven above knows how she did it, but she got everything in. And we didn’t need any string to hold the doors closed. Result!

The time had come this morning that I think Sandy had been dreading since before we even arrived. It was time to say goodbye. Sandy really has struggled with this. It has gripped her emotionally. Nothing to do but to try and make our way through the process. I had forewarned Jacky about this. Once again to her credit (she really is an amazing Sister who I’m so grateful to have), Jacky helped manage the situation brilliantly.

At this point, I need to spend a little time on Jacky, whose actual name is Jacquie. I’ve always called her Jacky, since I have a big sister called Jacqueline. I use the spelling of ‘Jacky’ to distinguish in my own mind between the two sisters, although it just so happens that Jacqueline is mostly referred to phonetically as Jacky by everyone else also. We have two ‘Jacky’s’ in the family as little Jacky is not a biological sister. She came into the family when she was a young teenager. To me, she’s every bit a sister as my two biological sisters. In many ways, I’m closer to little Jacky than I am with the others. I think this is because she and I are much closer in age. We attended school at the same time. I finished her homework for her on many occasions. She, in turn, returned the favour – and I learned of this only later in life, I might add – by apparently stashing her bloody weed under my mattrass to avoid Mum or Dad finding it when we were in school/college! Thanks, sis! That could explain a few things. Anyway, ever since she found out about my blogs, little Jacky has been badgering me to mention her more. To be fair, she’s not the only one. Jae has also commented that she has received fewer mentions. The truth is, it’s not deliberate. I don’t set out with any intention of mentioning anyone any more or less. I just write as per the events of the day. Whatever comes out, comes out. More than that, however, my blogs are about my perspective more than anything else. There’s actually quite a lot I could have written about Jacky. She’s hilarious, for one thing. She’s one of those people who doesn’t have a filter on her mouth. She calls it as she sees it, with a very down to earth perspective on life. I think this is one of the reasons she and Joey have gotten on so well together over the past few days. She doesn’t take shit from anyone or anything. For all the bravado and outer façade, however (and I mean that in a positive way – you get very much what you see with Jacky), you’d have to go far and wide to find anyone more loving and loyal. She definitely doesn’t have a drink problem. She can drink, get drunk and fall – all without a problem. I love Jacky to bits.

After our departure from Stevenage, with the car laden full of things I didn’t think would possibly fit, we made our way towards Dover and the crossing back to the European continent mainland. South Ockendon was pretty much exactly halfway and directly in our path, so we stopped off to visit Dad one last time. The weather has gotten considerably warmer today. We took the opportunity to spend some quality time with Dad downstairs in his beloved garden. We chatted for half an hour, listening to some of his stories we’ve heard dozens of times before already. It didn’t matter. We were making more memories. I love every minute of it. We saw him back upstairs and into his chair. After saying our farewells, I doubled back and insisted on a couple of photos for posterity. I specifically wanted the last glimpse I had of Dad to be one of him smiling. I remember the last time I saw Mum, laying in her bed in this very same house (she was bed-ridden and riddled with health problems), not realising at the time it was to be the last time I would see her. I certainly hope this won’t be the last time I see Dad, nor do I expect it to be, but it didn’t hurt to make sure a lasting memory of him would be with a smile on his face.

And that’s a wrap. This concludes the holiday blog for this particular family trip. We laughed, we cried, we had fun, we stressed, I had twinges in my testicles…we once again lived with family, and that made me once again realise just how lucky I am. Until the next time.