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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Christmas 
Managed to confuse at least two people at church, with both of us twins playing trombones. But most people could tell the difference. Carol duet for plastic trombones. Nick has a collection. He also has a large amount of LEDs and Arduino kit which he's used to illuminate them and create decorations around the house.

Great to have everyone around the dinner table for the first time... ever, I think. I suppose it's one of the most important things about Christmas. There's an old Maori proverb - He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. - What is the most important thing in the world? It's people, it's people, it's people. I thoroughly concur with that. To have friends is worth more than anything else in the end. Even Jesus had his family round. He might have been born in a basement animal pen and laid in a cattle trough, but all his father's side would have been there for the census. Don't think they showed up for dinner though.

Quiet day today. The girls are upstairs playing minecraft. We're all currently plugged into various devices, and the wifi is cranking hot. Apart from my mother. She's currently threading beads. Old technology. More durable long term.

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Oxfordshire 
The cars look shiny. The buildings look historic, but on closer inspection appear to be quite recently built. I think they must hire someone to put lichen and moss on all the new buildings to make them fit in with the scenery. Or perhaps it just rains a lot here.

All going smoothly so far. Just about managed to fit the suitcases in the hire car - it required a little thought and planning. The car is virtually new, so we're driving very carefully. Just about everything is computerised. There's no key. You push the key fob into a hole, and it starts itself. Then the lights adjust themselves. When you put on the brake, the engine stops, which can cause mild panic at junctions! But when you lift your foot off the brake, it starts again. Rachael has been manning the satnav for us, since she's the only one who has worked out how to do it.

Had an ornithology lesson at Heathrow, when the girls saw crows for the first time. No, they're not rooks. Rooks aren't quite so evil looking!

Bronwyn wanted to show the girls White Horse Hill. Unfortunately it was cold, blowing a gale and a cloud was moving sideways at ground level. We saw the horse, which looked rather grey and muddy, and went back to the car to dry out. Next day was a lot nicer, so I took them round my old village. Just arrived as someone was walking up the path to my old house, so we got a quick tour of that too.

Mum had shouted us a trip to see Annie in Oxford. Unfortunately, she wasn't well, so she had to stay at home and we went in ourselves. It was a fantastic performance; all of them were obviously professionals, even the smallest girl who looked about 8. Full of energy and emotion. After a stop at an Italian restaurant and a bit of shopping, we made it home.

Came across three guys in an alleyway. They were practising how to climb up the wall with two or three bounces. I've heard of the sport, but it was impressive to see them in action. I did note a small pile of cement dust on the ground though - not sure if the council approves of them wearing down the "old" walls!

Still taking a while to get over the jet lag. The girls have been waking up at 4 or 5am, and going to bed really early. Not sure how we're going to cope after we've got back!

Managed to catch up with two old friends. I've got a shortlist of people I really want to catch up with, and I'm slowly tracking them down. Thanks Jenny and Becci for making my day twice! Good to hear from both of you, and hope it all goes well. Spotted my old Wantage Silver Band in town. Managed to suppress the urge to join in...

Across at my brother's in Chelmsford now. Spent yesterday evening with everyone playing Minecraft. I think that might figure strongly in this section of our stay! Church today. Nick's bringing a plastic trombone for me to play. Probably carols...

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Singapore 
We're now in the Premier Inn, Heathrow. There's three Premier Inns here. We're not in the one we originally booked with. The taxi driver took us to the wrong one. But they've transferred the booking and we're all set up here instead.

Singapore was cloudy and not too hot. Which is good, because we planned quite a bit. We did the River Safari on the first day. Just for the morning. Well, that was the plan. We decided to get lunch back at the hotel. There was a long queue for the taxi, and no taxi. So we got the bus to the train station instead. Except we went the wrong way, and ended up doing a tour of Singapore trying to get back home again! It was 3:30 by the time we got lunch.

Did the zoo and the night safari on the second day. They're all in the same area, so you can walk from one to the other. Deliberately didn't get to the zoo until after lunch, which was just as well because it was another long day. The night safari starts at 7:30pm, and everyone piled out of the zoo and round the corner to join the queue. There's a show at the start, and they all piled into that. So we just went the other way and had a very peaceful stroll along the paths trying to spot things in the low light.

They have a number of things I've never seen before. At the River Safari, they had a giant salamander. Huge black thing with a head bigger than the rest of it, as far as I could tell. Plus some very weird looking fish. I've now met a Binturong and a number of other peculiar creatures. And a slow loris. He was indeed pretty slow.

Met up with some our friends at the Christmas in the park, which was impressive, but again was heaving with people! Escaped to the far side of the river, and watched the light show from a safe distance. Also managed to meet up with another couple who stayed with us during the year, but by then we were all shattered, and a little queasy, so I went downstairs and chatted with them while trying to keep my eyes open. On the way back, it'll be the weekend, so we're hoping to get everyone together and meet up properly.

Nice hotel. It was on top of a shopping centre. Floors 1 to 6 were the shops. Floor 7 was the restaurant and pool. Floors 8 to 24 was the hotel. Two different lifts, and there was another hotel on the block, so you had to pick the right ones! Had issues with the washbasin though. The tap, when fully open, gave a delicate sprinkle. The plug didn't seal well, so the maximum depth of water was about half an inch. They fixed it while we were out, so we had the luxury of a decent basin full on the last day.

We're taking it easy today, after a long flight. Rachael hasn't left the room, and has barely left the bed. I've made it to McDonalds (next door) and back.

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