Wet Paint and Packing

Things I have said (yelled) today:


Don’t run! Walk! Slowly! No! Not there!

Now don’t touch the door! Or the door frame! Or the… oh.

Yes, it’s still wet. No, don’t tou… Hm. Right, go and wash your hands. And please don’t touch anything on the way to the… oh.

From which you can probably surmise that we have been painting and decorating.

The upstairs is largely done (only the girls’ room to go). But now we’re working on rooms that our girls need to pass through, and discovering that keeping three 7-year-olds and wet paint apart is a largely futile process.

Still, the dining room is nearly finished and will hopefully continue to look just as amazing as it does currently until we rent our house out.  See, we decided when our girls were young that there was no point trying to keep the walls clean. When you’re outnumbered by toddlers you have to be realistic about these things. So our walls have taken something of a battering over the last five years. Between the thousands of blue-tacked pictures, grubby hand tide marks, impact craters, crayonings no-one would admit to and other sundry abuses our dining room has descended to a state where we’d have trouble letting it out in Third-World warzone let alone a leafy English suburb.

There was nothing for it but to hit the DIY supercentre and start decorating.

Only it turns out that decorating is rather time consuming. And expensive. And tiring. Not to mention dangerous (when paired with wandering children). We started at Christmas and still have tons to do.

Nor is it the only thing we need to before renting our house out. We need to prove we comply with safety standards for gas and electricity, find an estate agent, make the gardens presentable, tackle all those little DIY jobs you learn to live with but renters might not be so laid back about, pack up (or chuck out) years of accumulated stuff, clear out the garage of things we really should have thrown away years ago to make room for the stuff from our house that we really should be throwing away now, and, of course, find tenants.

All of which makes our departure date seem worryingly soon. WIll we manage it all in time? I have to say, when I daydreamed about going travelling, my thoughts never dwelled on all the hard work we’d have to do before we stepped onto the plane. And it seems a shame to be spending so much time thinking about home improvements not our trip of a lifetime.

I guess there’s nothing for it than to just crack on.

I just hope all this hard work means we can find the tenants we need. And that they don’t mind a few finger marks in the paintwork.

What Does a Lessin Look Like? Sounds Small and Slimy.

[Note: I wrote this post back in February and at the time I felt rather deflated. However, our girls’ school has proved to actually be very helpful and supportive. They have been encouraging towards our girls, flexible in supporting our ever-changing travel plans and have promised to help keep our girls in touch with the curriculum the rest of their class will be working on. Fergus, September, 2013)]

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from my girls’ school regarding our imminent World trip, but it wasn’t “nothing at all”.

Perhaps I was unrealistic to expect the teacher to share my enthusiasm for the adventure we’re all about to embark upon – and, to be fair, she was… just not in regards to my girls’ education.

Her advice amounted to:

“What will the girls be missing”
“You’ll have to look up Key Stage 2 online.”

“Are there any resources the school could provide to help us?”
“No. We can’t give resources to non-attending pupils.”

“Any other advice?”
“With all due respect you aren’t trained teachers. Next year will cover a lot of ground and I think you’ll struggle to prepare them for returning to school.”

I don’t know; maybe I have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. It was all honestly given advice… but without any appreciation of the broader learning I imagine taking place.

I can recall returning home from living in Malaysia when I was 9 and finding to my bewilderment that my best friend had never left Lancashire, let alone the UK. He’d never seen legless beggars on wheeled carts, monkeys stealing tourists’ ice creams from overhanging branches, cobras dropping from trees in rubber plantations; he’d never looked down from a train window to see bullet-holes scattered across the side of the carriage, never kept geckos in his pocket or hunted bull-frogs under his stilted house; never been immersed in a thousand strange languages, eaten strange foods, smelled strange odours, been forced to not take a single day for granted; never known what it is to carry everything you need in a backpack. Never, in short, seen how wide and astonishing the World is.

And how brilliant it is to travel when you are too young to shoulder the responsibility for arrangements, too innocent to worry about risks, naive enough to be constantly and wonderfully surprised, and to greet strangeness with interest not fear. An adult traveller can never capture the wonder a child traveller experiences.

Which is not to say that experience is a replacement for learning. We won’t be abandoning formal education altogether. it’s just that there’s more for a child to learn than is contained in the National Curriculum – and many things that can’t be taught in a classroom, or with 30 kids to one teacher.

And every parent knows how much harder it can be to motivate and control your own kids. We don’t have the distance that lets a teacher bring down the weight of authority onto a child. Our kids feel freer to answer back, dig in heels and push boundaries.

So, I shan’t pretend that I’m not daunted by taking on the responsibility of becoming a teacher as well as a parent. And I don’t kid myself that it’ll be easy. I’m not unaware that there are some things that are better taught in a classroom.

But I still feel confident that, with or without support from outside, my girls will come back from a year in Asia having learned lessons that will set them up well for the rest of their lives. They will have a broader perspective on the World and will hopefully have been through enough surprises and experiences that they can approach life in the relaxed and easy manner of people who have seen the bigger picture (or at least seen legless beggars on trolleys and can be glad for what they have).

(The title, by the way, is from First Day at School by Roger McGough; a wonderful poem about the fear brought by starting school.)

Mew Mow Marmalade!

From Evie:

I’m looking forward to going travelling for one whole year. I will miss Marmalade a lot though! I love Marmalade and will never forget what she looks like. I hope she never forgets me. I will have to get strength to be able to go. Marmalade’s mewing will make me feel sick on the way to drop her off at Cornwall though.

The Beginning

I guess you could call this the beginning.

Although, it really began when we got back from Thailand in April 2000.  I remember going to see my Auntie Betty (not a real auntie, but I loved her like one, bless her) and chatting for hours and hours about my adventures in SE Asia.  She was a great traveller too, but very much believed in overland and sea travel, not aeroplanes.  The fun of crossing time zones and the sense of scale it gave you about the world were her keenest memories.  Anyway, she gave me the the first £20 towards this trip, which is what you could call the beginning.

Or perhaps it began even before then, when Ferg’s parents set off with him in a camper van to Iran, circa 1981.  Without that, Fergus may never have caught the ‘travel bug’ and passed it on to me.

Or perhaps it began when I lost my rag with the kids for not putting the lids back on their felt tip pens and letting them dry out.  “You don’t appreciate the things you’ve got, some children in the world would treasure a set of felt tip pens,” I found myself saying, knowing deep down how hollow that must sound to a 6 year old, and that the only way to truly understand this is to see the world for yourself.

Fergus and I finally decided that the savings we’d been carefully squirrelling away would be best spent on travel rather than an extension when I asked myself, “What do I want to think about my life when I look back on it when I’m old?” and I couldn’t imagine how building that lovely kitchen would feature on the list, nice as it may seem when next door have one.

But the biggest hurdle for me was probably securing a career break.  As the main breadwinner in a family of 5, the irresponsibility of giving up a secure, well paid job in a recession would probably have been a step too far.  So the real beginning came when I go the go ahead on this last week, and with a huge amount of support from the people at work too, which makes this feeling of excitement and anticipation feel even better, knowing that other people can see the benefit of what we’re trying to do and are prepared to help us.  I immediately booked 5 flights to Kathmandu.  No going back now.  This really is the beginning.