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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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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