Water, water, in the wrong place 
Still rather hot, but it's supposed to get a little cooler next week. Hope it rains, too. Our tank is a little on the empty side. Thought it should be nearly full, since there was a lot of rain over Christmas. But it was below half full, and seemed to be dropping rather rapidly. Today, I found the cause. Another loose joint. I'm not sure what that plumber was thinking when he installed the new pump, but that's the third joint that's come loose. It was put on as a weird angle, which is probably why it came loose, so we had to dig up the pipe and shift it slightly. In the process, Ross put a hole through another pipe, so we had to dig that one out as well!

Our lawns have been mowed. Our very nice neighbour (who replaced Bronwyn's wing mirror and sent us an invoice for $0.01) came round with his lawnmower and did it all for us. Unfortunately, he's mowed the ventilation pipe from the septic tank (it's a big lawnmower), so we've got another little job to sort out. However, he's also offered to take away our old lawnmower and attempt to get it going again. He's a nice chap...

Forgot to mention my birthday celebrations. Bronwyn had planned a few things. In Coventry, she'd got Rachael to distract me while she bought a chocolate Happy Birthday Tim slab from Thorntons. At breakfast (in Disneyland) she presented it to me. Straight after, we came across Minnie doing a photo shoot, so I've got photos of me, Minnie and Sarah holding the Happy Birthday slab! Bronwyn organised a cake for the evening dinner. It seems to be quite a regular occurrence. They wait until you're eating dessert, then put the music on (in the correct language) and bring out the cake. It was an ice cream cake, and too much to eat, so several random strangers got a bit too.

The Buffalo Bill Wild West show was also meant to be a birthday treat, but got shifted to the day after as I mentioned before. But it was great. You have to turn up an hour early. There's a Country and Western band playing while you wait, and you're all given a straw cowboy hat, with a coloured band. This puts you in a certain section of the audience, and also in one of four teams. They then give you dinner while you're watching the show. The show involves some spectacular scenes with horses, longhorn cows and buffaloes. It can't be easy controlling buffaloes, but they seemed to manage it without a hitch. Then they split the horse riders into four teams, and you have to cheer your team for the competition, which involved some quite dangerous stunts. Obviously all well staged and managed, but really quite something with all those large animals involved. And we got to keep the hats.

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The land of mouse 
Back home at last! Seven suitcases, three or four bags, and we had about 9 parcels waiting for us that we'd posted back. Now that they're all back in the house, I don't have to count them every step of the way!

Managed to fit in a number of jobs for my mother in the time available, and then we set off to Oxford to take the hire car back. Her ladyship had become part of our lives. The GPS spoke in a Chelsea accent, and we were constantly making fun of "Now turn LIFT!" and "You have reached your Dare-stination". It was a virtually new car, and they found a small surface scratch on it, but let us off since it may not have been visible when we picked it up.

Took the bus back to Heathrow, with the same driver who had taken us out. This time we made it to the correct Premier Inn, which was an absolutely huge place. Left a couple of suitcases in the airport to avoid carrying them to Paris and back.

We got up stupidly early to catch a taxi to catch the underground to catch the EuroStar. The taxi driver offered to take us all the way in for a reduced rate because we were so early that there wouldn't be much traffic.

The journey went smoothly apart from a few tunnels, which we blasted through at great speed and sent pressure waves down the carriages. Had to change at Lille. Here we met the SNCF announcement jingle.

In British stations, they start the announcements with a pleasant C E G. In France, it's C G G#. It was a little painful. And it repeated every couple of minutes. It was nice to escape from it at the other end!

Disneyland Paris is a world apart. The bathroom mirror had Snow White and the seven dwarves mounded into the frame. The restaurant had various Disney characters wandering around greeting people, and generally causing havoc. I had a photo with Minnie, a hug from Mickey and a bounce from Tigger. Rachael had a scare from Pinocchio. He crept up behind and covered her eyes with his hands. The result was so dramatic that he did it a couple of times more. Then we ganged up on him and he hid inside a curtain. Goofy goofed around, and generally got in the way of the waiters. I'm not sure how they cope with it!

The park has different zones with different themes. I'm amazed at the attention to detail - even the railings and pavements are themed. They must have spent ages getting the rocks to look just right, and make lifelike palm trunks out of concrete. Or were they real? The cleaners and shopkeepers were in costume, each different for each zone. The restaurants and shops each had mini themes of their own.

There's a rather silly building with a clock on it. It starts making funny noises every fifteen minutes, and then goes through a sequence leading up to the main doors opening to show the time. I watched it four times, just in case I missed something! We also met the rubbish bin. It chased people around, and tried to get Sarah to put in her half finished hot chocolate "I want the cup!". It was obviously remote controlled, but was very well done, and could quite easily use French or English just by picking up people's conversation.

Because she's got autism, Rachael had a green card. It enabled us to jump just about every queue and go on far more rides than we would have done otherwise. Rachael loved roller coasters. Unfortunately because of the green card she had to have an adult with her. Bronwyn didn't want to go on many of the roller coasters, so I had to. Now when I was seven, my mother took me on this ride in the market place. It was just a little oval track, and each end went up a couple of metres. But I was terrified, and I've never been on a roller coaster since! So, the first one at Disneyland was a case of clinging on and hoping it would stop soon. But I learnt how to brace myself effectively, and by the end I was really enjoying it. I even wanted to go on the House of Terror, but Rachael didn't, so I would have had to queue up!

There was a mix up in the booking. In December, we got an email detailing an alteration to our booking. Thought that was a bit odd, but didn't think it was anything significant. When we arrived, they looked at our details and it said we'd been there ten times before. We've never been there before. Then we went to the Wild West show on the 16th, and our tickets said the 18th. We managed to rebook for the 17th. On the 18th, we turned up in good time for the trip to Paris. Nothing arrived. They looked our name up on the system and it had a different first name. We went back to the hotel, and fortunately Bronwyn had the original email with our request on it, and the concierge realised it was all their fault. She couldn't organise a refund on the spot, but in the meantime got Sarah the Rapunzel doll she'd been hankering after, and for Rachael, an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit plush toy. Oswald was the original Disney character, even before Mickey. They tried to celebrate the anniversary a few years ago, but no longer had the copyright. So there's still a few Oswalds lurking around the park, but strictly limited edition!

It was cold. I made full use of gloves and beanie. Some days it barely went above freezing. But we had no rain. In fact, we've had very little rain at all!

We made it back to London, and back to the same Premier Inn again. The day after, there was a power cut, and half the building was out. Our room was fine, but it was cold and chaotic downstairs. I got the two suitcases back, and then we headed into London for a day trip. Spent a long time in the Hamleys toy shop. They've got all sorts of stuff there, including a vacuum racing car that can run upside down. Eventually managed to escape, and continued on the Big Bus tour. You get three different views of the houses of parliament, but you only see Buckingham palace over a corner of the wall, and it was dark by the time we got there.

Very cold on the way home. All the puddles were solid. Tried to smash through one but it was obviously frozen right through.

So finally we headed back to Singapore. Didn't do so much this time apart from a little shopping, and dinner with (some of) our friends there. Plus a trip to Wild Wild Wet (or is it Wet Wet Wild?), which is a big water park with slides, a river loop, a wave pool and a huge bucket that empties every ten minutes or so. Plus quite a few other things.

So now we've not only got jetlag. We're also rather sunburnt!

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Wales. And Coventry again 
Currently back at my mother's house, sorting through suitcases and planning the journey to Paris. Or at least to Euston. The rest is a lot easier.

A lot has happened! We spent a few days in Wales, in a cottage near Dolgarrog, somewhere south of Conwy. The lounge window looks out to a bird feeder, specially designed for small birds. Rachael was most perturbed by our discussion about tits. Beyond that is a small paddock with some one-year-old lambs, and beyond that, open marshland stretching out to the hills on the other side. A very cosy and well catered cottage, although they seemed to have an issue with light bulbs!

Went around Conwy Castle. It's remarkably well preserved, but lacking in roofs and railings, so it's a bit scary from the top, but a fantastic view. We then did a trip round Anglesea. There was a lot of rain overnight, which had turned the tops of Snowdonia brilliant white, but had cause quite a few floods. We stopped at Llanfair PG, and got the obligatory photo by the railway station. On the way back, we attempted to visit an ancient burial mound. However, there was a puddle. It was six metres long, about four inches deep and covering the entire width of the path. On one side was gorse and on the other side brambles. It was also very cold. After toying with a few stepping stones, we gave up!

Headed back to Coventry for the big reunion on Saturday. This was in our old church, or rather on the site of our old church. Nothing is left, although I recognise the paving slabs still around it! They're about to split the morning service, since their 600 seat main hall is already full. I can remember the days when we were lucky to get 80.

The reunion went spectacularly well, but very noisy since everyone was trying to talk to everybody else! We appear to have triggered quite a few reunions, because several people turned up that hadn't seen each other for twenty years, let alone us. It went on an hour longer than planned.

Sunday morning was more of the same. There were a few people who hadn't made it to Saturday, and a few who wanted to talk some more. We had a great afternoon at the Browne-Markes, a brief visit to our old neighbours and then back to church again in the evening.

I'm going to have to sit down and process it all. There's a number of people I want to talk more to, and a number of births, marriages, divorces and deaths to catch up on. I was pretty shattered by Sunday night. Rachael was finding it all hard to cope with. Too many people. But she's a lot better now it's quietened down.

A few more visits on Monday and Tuesday, plus a bit of shopping and wandering round the city centre. Posted a pile of stuff back to NZ to reduce the amount in the suitcases. Then met up with Bronwyn's aunt who had a pile of stuff for us to take back to Bronwyn's mum!

Warwick Castle on Wednesday. They've changed it a bit since we last went, but that means there's new areas we hadn't seen before. We had a rather full on history lesson from the tour guide (the saga between the different kings and owners is rather complicated!) but managed to piece most of it together as we went round. Sarah had issues going up the spiral staircase, but it was a lot safer than Conwy, where Rachael decided to sit on a ledge with a 20 metre drop on the other side!

Back at my mother's. We've got a few hours to pack and head out again...


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Coventry 
Pleasance Farm is down a driveway off a lane in a corner of Kenilworth that you wouldn't notice unless you were desperately trying to find it in order to stay the night there. The farm is 460 acres, and looks like quite a sizeable operation. It used to be part of the ancient Kenilworth Castle estate. Henry the 5th built a private retreat in the paddock next door. It's not so comfy now! Hopefully the weather will be a bit drier next time and we can have more of a walk round.

Dropped in on a church in Leamington which is being run by an old friend. Dropped in also on our old church in Coventry. Nothing is left of the building I remember. Except one plaque from the original building that's now been incorporated in the new one. The church is now huge, and I'm told it gets about 650 on a Sunday morning. It gets used for a number of purposes, and the main hall was set up with examination desks when we were there.

Good to see a number of old friends - most looked the same, but buried under a little extra padding. Most be good food in Coventry. We're having the get together next week.

Bronwyn and Rachael climbed up the old cathedral spire. Excellent view. But now Bronwyn is limping somewhat!

Bronwyn's posted a number of parcels back to New Zealand to reduce the amount we need to take with us. Unfortunately one of the parcels got left on the bus on the way. We've been in contact with the bus company, and apparently someone's reported it as found. Now we just need to organise a reunion...



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Chelmsford (and London) 
One of my lasting memories of the pantomime was when Aladdin rubbed the magic ring. A woman appears on the other side wearing baggy trousers and a sparkly gold bikini top, turns to the audience and shouts "Well HELLO Chelmsford!" The other memory was of the genie, a big black guy with an enormous belly, pretending to play a bass guitar to What A Wonderful World complete with sunglasses. Extraordinary, especially since that tune isn't known for its base line. Possibly the best pantomime we've ever seen. They really got the audience into it by the end.

Then there was also two movies, including the new Star Wars, plus a couple of trips into London. We did the London Eye, the Thames cruise, the science museum and ice skating at the Natural History museum. Great fun, but nice to get back into quiet Chelmsford for the evening!

Didn't get very far in the Science Museum, due to lack of time. But we did have some interesting discussions. Esther is very inquisitive and technically minded. I've never met a girl that young who could talk about floats and doubles, logic gates, binary adders and carry bits as if they were perfectly obvious. I explained the workings of a Jacquard loom, a Cray super computer, a transformer and several other things along the way.

Minecraft figured largely in our stay there. Esther and Rachael spent hours in the bedroom, distracted and hindered by Sarah, who managed to blow up the house two or three times by accident. Daniel joined in after a few days. His favourite was to mine deep underground. They built an underground bunker (with a herd of cows, four furnaces, four chests and an enchanting room) which led to a door into a ravine, at the bottom of which was a staircase down to a warren of tunnels. Plus a portal to the nether world. On the surface I got a tour of swamps, deserts, mountains, forests (I do love the way you mine trees) and ocean. Esther was also trying to build a computer out of Redstone blocks, but we didn't get very far. I'm amazed by all the things you can do in Minecraft. I'm pretty sure Rachael will be logging back in.

Didn't see a lot of Daniel (physically speaking); he spent most of his time in his own room, and slept very odd hours. But he did come down to dinner. And to play chess. He thrashed everyone except Esther, who's apparently getting quite good at it too.

Waited up late for New Year, and then went back to the motel. Of course, we were probably the first into bed. At 5am, there was a kid running around upstairs, someone smoking in the corridor, and a distinct smell of cooking. I slept through the lot! At least nobody burnt the place down.

In (sorry, Near) Kenilworth now, in a converted farm building. This is obviously a much bigger farm than ours back home. And obviously some way from the nearest Vodafone mast. Looking forward to exploring more tomorrow...


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