Lost and found

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Moving house is stressful at the best of times. More so when it also involves returning to the UK from France where I’ve been living as a frontalier working in Switzerland and therefore entailed dealing with administrative matters in two different languages and three different countries. Even more so with a toddler and a newborn, dealing with the physical and emotional repercussions of that on a diet of too much caffeine to overcompensate for the sleepless nights and exhausting days.

Now that we are relatively settled back into our UK flat in a way its nice to have gotten all the drama (or most of it, still dealing with French admin matters and unsympathetic landlords holding our deposit hostage) out the way at once. Having said that, if someone told me I’d have to do this all over again, I think I’d rather peel off my own eyelids and eat them.

When we first decided on a return to the motherland we had thought sorting everything during maternity leave made a lot of sense as at least we wouldn’t have to juggle two kids, the move and do it all over a weekend before resuming duties on the Monday.

However, the fear inducing Halloween Brexit that never was motivated us to move a lot quicker than planned for fear that if a no-deal Brexit did happen the logistics of relocating would move from a shiver inducing tremor to a full on nightmare of epic proportions. Would we be able to move our stuff across the EU border? Would we need a visa to get home? Would the cats have to go through quarantine?

Pretty sure the straw headed buffoon that currently bumbles about as leader of our country didn’t have my cats on his mind when he made his bold promises of an EU exit by 31 October come hell or high-water. Ultimately it turned out the wannabe Trump forgot to account for a little thing called democracy and yet another extension was put in place, an election was summoned and we could have had a few more months to move in perhaps a more leisurely manner. However, I expect the relocate would have been pretty traumatic at any point and at least it is done now and my stress dreams about the whole shebang have diminished somewhat if not completely disappeared.

The plus side is we lived to tell the tale, our marriage is intact, hopefully the kids aren’t too traumatised by the whole affair and now we are here and have found we are able to enjoy my maternity leave back near friends and family, in a part of London we know and love.

It was amazing living on the French/Swiss border and being able to walk for five minutes from our apartment into beautiful countryside surrounded by imposing snow-capped mountains was pretty epic. Geneva centric living had a lot of pros and it was an amazing place to feel alive with the sound of music. Provided of course that the weather worked in your favour. The downside of where we were based was that there was almost nothing to do with young kids when it rained, at least not without a car and the small fortune required to attend the odd toddler class. Not so in London.

On our doorstep there are some really good open spaces, children’s parks and riverside walks for when the weather is clement, but there are also some good museums, cafes, etc. for when it isn’t. Which is handy because we returned to the UK at the end of October when the gloom sets in early and the tendency to rain is strong.

One rainy afternoon we decided to go to the local visitor centre that I remembered being kid friendly and pretty open plan so I thought it’d be a good space for the terrible two year old to run amok without annoying staff too much or causing us to have to chase after her constantly.

It seemed a good plan, we got there and the little monster pretty much ignored all the actual museum activities and literally just started running around the centre floor looping around the staircase, which wasn’t too concerning as that led to an enclosed gallery so even if she tried to nip up there she wouldn’t get far. She was happy, we were happy, the beard wandered off with the babe strapped to his chest to actually look at some of the exhibits and I slowly pottered after the toddler.

Actually at this point I think I should reassess the term toddler, that implies a slightly wobbly child unsure on its feet whereas my two year old knows how to work those pistons we call legs and can go from 0-60 in a flash of a moment.

So the child was careering about looping around the exhibits. Often the mini miss gets fixated on a particular game and will happily repeat for a bore-inducingly long time so I was feeling quite secure that she’d continue to repeat her route and I could just gently track her without needing to keep up with her exactly.

The problem was that staircase. Not that she went up it and came tumbling down but that it created the only real blind spot in the gallery. She was looping, I was pottering and as I pottered to the staircase I realised she had deviated from the route she’d been following in the five seconds or so she was in the blind spot. Where the stairs were placed there were at least three possible directions she could have gone in, including outside and towards the road via the automatic door which had recently been activated by some newly arrived visitors.

One moment my child was there, the next she wasn’t. I yelled at the beard that I didn’t have eyes on her and as he started sprinting across the room towards us I took a split second to decide which way to run screaming my girl’s name. In reality I thought it least likely she would have gone towards the road but as that was the worst possible option I went that way first.

I was barely out the door with the second holler of her name dying on my lips when I heard her crying and doubled back into the centre to find her emerging from the corridor towards the toilets, where either my panicked shriek or more likely someone using the hand-dryers had upset her enough to make her wail out so that we could find her.

I’m sure it won’t be the last time I lose her in a public place, certainly not if she’s anything like me who used to actively enjoy getting lost in public spaces (sorry mum and dad), and the whole incident must have been over in about 20 seconds, yet, even now, a couple of weeks after the event in question, my heart is racing and I feel the horror unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

I had thought a no-deal Brexit and UK crashing out of the EU without contingency plans for sufficient toilet roll to meet the nation’s needs was the most ghastly thing that could happen. I was wrong.

A Trio of Travellers

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At first, when I was pregnant, I thought that having a baby would mean an end to my wandering days, that I wouldn’t be able to book flights to a random destination just because they were cheap and have the kinds of mini adventures I’d enjoyed previously.

Like many expecting parents we planned a baby-moon or two to make the most of our carefree coupledom before the baby ball and chain would tether us to the ground.

At some point a friend who’d already had a baby and was much more enlightened than us pointed out that actually travelling with a child was possible, not even that difficult, you just had to factor in a couple of extra details  in your planning, don’t book a room on the fifth floor of a hotel without a lift.

Being a migrant, with all our family and many of our friends based in a different country, a degree of travel has, at any rate, been essential to introduced loved ones to our loveliest one. Flying from Geneva to the UK is also not the most arduous of journeys (unlike some of our baby parents friends who’ve travelled to Canada and Australia to introduce their newborns to family).

Our munchkin was due at the start of August and we had been invited to a wedding in the UK at the start of October, we didn’t know if the babe would arrive according to schedule and weren’t sure how long it’d take to process her application, but we hoped we’d be able to sort her a passport in time and optimistically booked flights on basis that it was better to book early and not pay crazy extortionate last minute prices but potentially risk not being able to go. I think we booked flights around July and it was during the booking process that we first spelled out her name, I found the whole thing too strange so made Tom type in the characters that enabled easyjet became the first to see our baby’s name in print.

As it turned out, the little turnip arrived a few days early, the passport was processed by the end of August (sadly not quite in time to make it for another dear friend’s wedding) and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for our first family flight to the UK.

A neighbour recommend the use of Muellin oil to help prevent popping ears and I’d already read that breastfeeding on the plane or giving the baby a dummy or something else to suck on was supposed to help.

As it was our first UK trip and I was on maternity leave we planned to stay in the UK for a little over a week to take in as many friends and family as possible, outside of those chums we’d see at the wedding. So as it was a prolonged stay and babies necessitate so much stuff we packed a suitcase in addition to the cabin bags, baby bag and pram with removable car seat.

Navigating the airport via luggage drop-off, security and passport control was manageable if a bit of an exercise in juggling as we traversed through the terminal shifting bags and baby and accoutrements between us.

The flight itself was not terrible and aside from a bit of crying on departure the teeny one was fine, snoozing through most of the flight.

Our biggest mistake was in not realising that although you drop your buggy off at the plane you don’t get it back until you get to baggage reclaim and as the first airport we flew to was Gatwick this meant a 10/15 minute walk having to carry baby bag, two cabin bags and a bag of duty free in addition to the baby. So the Beard lugged the luggage and I managed the mini one and we vowed to pack the harness and to make the most of the pushchairs both sets of grandparents had picked up from charity shops, for future trips.

Since then we’ve travelled a lot, probably more than we did BC (Before Child) as within a year we’ve been back to the UK on six separate occasions as well as travelling to Sorrento and Split. I think our child has flown more in the first twelve months of her life than I did in the first twenty-one years of mine.

‘Tato-tots will not fondly recall the first time she flew on a plane, whereas I will always remember the first time I flew (with my parents to the Algarve when I was about 12), because by the time she’s old enough to form those kinds of lasting memories she’ll probably have already flown a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe.

It is becoming more challenging flying with her as she has grown and become more alert and interested in what’s going on around her. We can no longer expect to have an easy flight with a child contentedly snoozing in our laps and the Beard and I have to mentally brace ourselves for what is starting to become a fairly exhausting mission (considering no flight so far has been more than 90 minutes), trying to keep a lively little one entertained in confined spaces as we move from one line to another to coop ourselves up in set seats and then repeat the line shuffling before strapping her into a car seat and making the journey back to whichever grandparents’ house is base of operations for the visit.

I am pleased that we did manage a couple of actual holidays this year too, with a break in Sorrento with just the three of us in the Spring and a trip to Split with friends at the start of the Summer. I think next year we’ll need to be a little more strategic to maximise the use of my leave, navigate the Beard’s study requirements, manage the friends and family visits and still get some actual recharge-your-battery type holidays in the mix too, all whilst the teeny one becomes less teeny and more of a terror as mobility increases and willingness to sit still decreases.

Still, I can confidently say, travelling with a baby is definitely a possibility it just requires a little more preparation to make sure the route taken and final destination are as baby-friendly as possible. I imagine travelling with a toddler will also be an option but will come with its own set of challenges that we’ll need to figure out.

Are we nearly there yet?

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‘Are we nearly there yet?’ is that annoying question all children like to throw at their parents on any journey. Best timed 30 minutes into a several hour journey and then repeated at 5 minute intervals until ceasing abruptly when actually close to the final destination and so denying long-suffering parents even the smallest satisfaction of finally being able to answer ‘yes’.

The same question isn’t asked quite as frequently as an adult but I’m pretty sure people are now starting to wonder this about me. Is she nearly there yet or does her journey have no foreseeable end in sight?

I haven’t lived in the same place for more than two years since I was at school. In the last 12 years I have had 13 different addresses in three different countries and four different UK counties. Not only have I absolutely ruined my aunt’s address book but I’ve begun to wonder whether this constantly moving around isn’t purely related to circumstances, as I’ve always tried to convince myself, but is in fact due to some defect in myself where I just can’t stick in one place for long.

Definitely some of the moves have been circumstantial. I well and truly didn’t want to be evicted from our lovely/dingy little basement flat in Blackheath. The eviction wasn’t because we were horrendous tenants but because our landlord had outstanding debts and legal action had been initiated against him before we even moved in.

The first we realised there was a problem was when the fiancé thought he’d open a letter with the Eversheds logo addressed to ‘The Occupier’. (I had assumed these were from some sort of DIY company and was just another junk-mail flyer offering discounts on a great range of garden sheds but in my defence we did used to get a lot of junk-mail). The notice that we opened advised that we would be evicted in a week.

I called  who were very helpful and advised us how to get a stay of execution on the eviction order. The bearded one filed the paperwork at the local magistrates court and a few days later we presented ourselves before the judge to plead our case. The judge was pretty relaxed and allowed us a bit longer to clear out but this nonetheless resulted in a hurried move from Blackheath, a beautiful area of London, to Chislehurst in Kent, primarily chosen as somewhere we could afford and were allowed the cats.

The move from Chislehurst to Greenwich was sort of circumstantial too in that I hated Chislehurst so spent hours trawling property websites dreaming about the day we wouldn’t be subject to the whimsical world of renting. When I spotted a flat in a London borough I loved, that we could actually afford to buy (with a lot of help from various relatives), moving again made sense.

The moves around Warwickshire as a student were also mostly dictated by circumstance, staying in University accommodation for three years wasn’t an option so the move to a house big enough for eight of us, which we did at least stay in for two academic years, wasn’t really a conscious plan.

After Uni a brief stop-over at my parents in Oxfordshire couldn’t be a permanent solution (they wanted me to pay rent!) so London, where I was working at the time, made sense. But I should probably accept responsibility for the constant relocating around London with different friends and then forcing my way into the bearded-man’s flat and then forcing him to move somewhere I liked more.

Capture d’écran 2015-06-05 à 14.33.39It occurred to me I might have a problem with settling anywhere when I remained eager to keep going even after we moved into our very own flat in Greenwich. I love Greenwich, it is a great little enclave in it’s own right with good markets, beautiful parks, easy access to the river and a vibrant atmosphere, not to mention the convenient access to central London and work. However, I was there for a year before I applied for the Cambodian internship and it was just a few months after returning from Phnom Penh that I thought applying for a job in Geneva was a good idea.

In a 30th birthday card a friend joked that I kept moving further away and my next stop would be somewhere in Africa where post could only be delivered by parrot. It’s that kind of humour  which is tossed around jokingly but may not actually be that funny because it isn’t completely beyond the scope of what’s possible. Not that I’m planning to move to somewhere with parrot postal deliveries (pretty sure my beloved would draw the line at somewhere with lack of internet) but I do find myself thinking what and where is next?

Geneva hasn’t always been the easiest place to live in but now it has started to become normal with a work life balance and weekly routines. This should be, and on some levels is, a good thing, it’s just ‘normal’ sounds decidedly unappealing. 

The same friend who sent the card asked me recently where I thought I’d eventually end up and I couldn’t give a straight answer. I don’t know if my future lies in the UK, Switzerland or some distant realm I haven’t even thought of yet, but there is something about that concept of staying still that terrifies me.

Perhaps it is just the thought of a long determined future without surprises that seems alarming, that idea of reaching a single point and thinking ‘this is it’, although I know that life won’t stand still even if I manage to do this for a while.

I’m sure my aunt is hoping that I’ll stay still long enough at some point to lay down some roots that become so enmeshed with a geographical location that I won’t be obliged to invest in a constant succession of guiltily offered address books. Or perhaps I can just get her some sort of electronic planner that will allow her to keep track of me without making such a mess of things?

One thing I am certain of is that I wont be able to tell you if I’m nearly there yet until I’ve already been there for some time without realising.