Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Autumn slowly tiptoes its way into Cyprus...

This blog has been rather neglected, of late. It's not that we've been ultra-busy, nor have we done a lot of entertaining. It's just that, as the last weeks of summer slowly ease their way out of Cyprus, a kind of lethargy lingers in the air. Time marches on, but I'm not entirely sure where it's vanished to.

I re-started going for early morning walks with my friend Sheila, at the beginning of September. I thought it would still be too hot, but it wasn't too bad, and I do like being out in the early morning, seeing the first light of day:

We don't usually get any rain until nearly the end of September, but it was a rather wetter month than normal. I think we counted four rain showers through the month, one of which was preceded by dramatic grey clouds, and lasted for at least fifteen minutes along with some lightning and thunder that were just a little too close for comfort:

After the rain, there was some water in the Salt Lake, and some significant puddles nearby, one of which had attracted some unusual birds; we have no idea what they are:

Meanwhile, the kittens continue to settle in well, and grow fast; here they are looking sweet and angelic, belying their usual mischief and energy:

Alexander's life is so exciting - from his perspective - that we decided to help him start a blog, to record his escapades in his own words. So to speak. If you're interested, it's called Alexander the Great

Meanwhile Sophia, now fifteen-and-a-half, remains in good health although she prefers a slightly softer place to sleep:

Cleo is sixteen - really quite old for a cat - and somewhat arthritic. One of her front legs has been swollen for a while, too, though it goes up and down. But she gets out and about, and purrs when she's on our laps (or snuggling into my neck at night...) so we're not over-worried. She also likes relaxing on cushions: 

Two thousand miles away our grandson continues to grow and flourish; he's four months old today. We are so thankful for Skype which enables us to keep in touch, letting him see our faces and hear our voices:

David now has his own passport - which, astoundingly, arrived less than a week after the application documents were posted - so we very much hope he (and, of course, his parents...) will be able to come and stay here in a couple of months. 

Now that October is here, the humidity has mostly gone, and the daytime temperatures aren't hitting 30C any more, at least in the shade. We've stopped using air conditioning and are just reliant on fans... although a tee-shirt and shorts are still our usual attire. It's likely to be another month before I venture back into jeans. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Introducing our Cyprus kittens

I mentioned in passing, in my last post, that we have two new kittens.

This is not something we planned, precisely. Until six years ago, we had four cats, and that was plenty. Then Jemima vanished one night - we never found out what happened to her - so we were down to three. Daniel had left home so we only had three humans; Daniel was Sophia's human and I was Jemima's, so in the absence of both, Sophia adopted me. Quite an undertaking as she is a highly extraverted, vocal and bossy cat.

Then nearly a year ago, when Richard and I were in the UK, Tessie disappeared. Tim was her human (although there had been some competition from the others while we were away) - and since Richard (Cleo's human) is often out or away, Cleo adopted Tim too.

But Cleo is now sixteen. She's getting thinner, and arthritic, and one of her legs is a bit swollen. Her coat is in good condition and she seems in good health overall - but cats don't often live more than about sixteen or seventeen years. Some make it to twenty, and we hope ours do - but she's definitely getting elderly. Sophia, Cleo's daughter, will be sixteen at the end of next February. She is still quite active, her fur is thick, and she isn't getting thin.. but she does sleep more than she used to (though not at 5.00am, unfortunately).

We had said, idly, for the past couple of years that it would make sense to introduce a couple of kittens into the house while we still have our older cats, to have some overlap. But Cleo and her daughters never accepted Tessie: they wouldn't eat together, they hissed and spat at each other, and Cleo was actually quite afraid of Tessie at times. Tessie, too, saw herself as defender of the house: if any other cat dared to come on our property, or any part of the road she considered hers, she would chase it away. Sometimes quite viciously. The other cats in our neighbourhood were terrified of her - and yet she was a friendly, fluffy cat who liked people very much.

I knew there was no way we could bring kittens here with Tessie around. And I didn't really want the hassle of kittens again, in any case.

Then our friends' second cat Conny gave birth to three kittens early in April this year. I didn't take a whole lot of notice of them at first, but they did become rather cute, as kittens do. There was this grey female one, who, at about five or six weeks old, took a strong liking to Tim:

Then there was a calico female and a brown and white male, who tended to be a lot livelier, watched here by their mother: 

(For anyone who thinks, as I did until recently, that 'calico' is the American word for 'tortoiseshell' - that's not actually the case. Tortoiseshell cats are mixed brown/black and orange, generally, while calico cats have more distinct patches of orange and black, plus large amounts of white).

When we went to see our friends, the three kittens would play for a while, then curl up in a bundle to sleep: 

Our friends did not want to keep them. Richard was very keen on adopting the two girl cats, so we said 'maybe', and 'if our two older cats don't mind'. I thought they probably would mind, very much, so didn't really see it happening. The boy cat was definitely going to be adopted by another friend. 

The kittens were given names, by our friends' 8-year-old daughter, Katie. The boy cat was called Alexander the Great, because he was so big and strong. The calico cat was Joan of Arc, because she was so brave. We didn't think the names would stick, but somehow they did.

And then there was 'the grey one'. Katie wanted her to be called Grandma, 'because she's grey and beautiful'. Someone else in the family wanted her to be called Alfie. I suggested, rather frivolously, that if the other two were named after famous people from history, perhaps she could be Lady Jane Grey.  And for some reason, that name stuck too.  I thought that, if we DID adopt the two female kittens, Joan and Jane made a nice pairing. 

We continued to watch them grow up. Here they are exploring our friends' dolls' house 

Then they would drop to sleep, curled up again... although by early June it was getting a bit too warm so they spread out a bit more:

I did notice at this stage that Lady Jane Grey was something of a loner, often sitting and watching while her two more boisterous siblings chased each other around. I made what was, perhaps, a foolish comment: that Alexander was really not suited to being an 'only cat'. And it was about this time that Alexander's future family found and adopted a feral kitten and said they really didn't want him after all. 

Then we had the news that our grandson had arrived. All other concerns seemed minor. Richard and I flew out to the UK when David was just a couple of weeks old and for the next two months I didn't think much about Cyprus at all.

However, Richard returned a month before I did. And within a few days, he said that he thought the kittens, almost four months old now, were ready to be adopted. 

Not Jane and Joan, as I had thought, but Alexander and Joan.

I didn't mind being away from home while he introduced them to the older cats and had a few sleepless nights of mewing kitties who assumed his toes were cat toys. But Cleo and Sophia accepted them - dubiously, but with a much better grace than they ever accepted Tessie.

Tim, meanwhile, found an apartment about five minutes' walk from where we live, closer to the school where he works, and moved out. Also in my absence.

And Tim adopted Lady Jane: 

Since they were all four months old by this stage, they were all neutered; this is something that some Cypriots don't like to do, but there are so many stray cats that we felt it was important. Particularly for Alex, who was growing fast and starting to display worryingly teenage tendencies. We did not want him spraying to mark territory, or roaming the streets at night yowling for females. 

So by the time I got home, the two kittens were in residence, in an uneasy alliance with Cleo and Sophia. Alex likes to sleep in bookcases and on printers:

Joan is still quite interested in exploring: here she is discovering herself in a mirror: 

And she also sleeps on the sofa, much more elegantly than her brother: 

A couple of weeks ago, Richard and I watched an episode of Doctor Who on DVD. Cleo loves the show - she always sits on Richard's lap when we see it. Sophia keeps out of the way. We had no idea where the kittens were until it had finished, and we discovered Alex hiding behind the sofa: 

... just as I used to when I was young and Doctor Who was on. 

Alex seems to be getting a lot bigger than Joan - typically male, I suppose! - but they still do everything together; here they are having a nap while trying to stay cool about two weeks ago:

.. and here they are, exhausted after the visit from our young friends: 

Alex sometimes washes Joan; she puts up with it for a while, but then tries to push him away: 

But overall, the experiment is working just fine. Here are three of them sharing a sofa a few days ago: 

The kittens are nicely subservient, and Cleo seems to think they're her kittens - she tolerates them remarkably well, and bats them away when they encroach too much. Sophia treats them like annoying little siblings. They have just started eating together, even sharing dishes - something neither Cleo nor Sophia would ever do with Tessie. 

What I find particularly interesting is that, although they still make some mews that sound very like their mother, they have also picked up some specific 'words' from Sophia. The one they are using in this short clip, however, appears to be a universal cat word - I've heard their mother use it, I've heard Sophia use it, and I've seen other cats on YouTube using it. It apparently means 'give me yogurt':

PS Alexander has now started his own blog: Alexander the Great

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cyprus sleepover....

Last night we had three young visitors to stay.

My friend Sheila's three oldest children are away at the youth group camp in the mountains; so I implemented an idle suggestion I'd made three years ago (and for which Sheila had been counting down the days...) to give her 24 hours with her husband, and no offspring at all.

This was a first for them, at least in the past 17 years, and it was also a first for the three girls, none of whom had previously been to a sleepover without parents. I know them well - our families spend a lot of time together - and the girls were looking forward to this as much as their parents, so we didn't really have any worries about them.

However, it was also a first for me. I'm pretty sure we had the occasional teenage boy staying overnight when our sons were that age; they kept out of the way, mostly. But we've never had younger children staying without their parents. I wasn't entirely sure how well I would survive... I like these three children very much, but they tend to be LOUD and I am quite noise-sensitive.

They are also full of energy, and we don't have any outdoor space; moreover, I don't go out in temperatures over about 30C (maximum) so there was no way I could take them to the park during the day. Essentially we were going to be stuck in my air conditioned study, where I keep Lego left from my sons' childhood and various colouring equipment, but not a lot else. I knew that, if all else failed, they could watch a DVD... but hoped not to be reduced to those straits.

On Tuesday, early, I did some extra shopping at our local fruitaria, ensuring we had plenty of potatoes, carrots, cucumber, bananas, eggs, edam cheese and chicken drumsticks. These children are quite picky eaters so I wanted to ensure there was at least something they would eat. Wednesday morning I cleaned the house first thing, put some bread ingredients in the breadmaker, chicken drumsticks in the slow cooker, yogurt mixture in the yogurt maker, and boiled some eggs... and was ready for the onslaught!

They arrived shortly after 11.00, as agreed. They brought their pillows, some clean clothes for the following day, their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and two 'American dolls' complete with outfits and beds.

They're quite self-motivated children, so when I asked what they would like to do first, Katie (nine) said she would like to do some more work on the story she is writing and saving on my computer. Sophia kept guard:

Helen (nearly six) and Elisabeth (just four) opted to play with Lego. 

Alexander (four-and-a-half months) decided to make the acquaintance of one of the dolls, and sat on her lap for a while:

(I probably didn't mention until now that we have recently adopted two of our friends' kittens.) 

Lego soon became boring, so that was put away and the colouring books came out. Colouring isn't something my sons ever did, but a few years ago these girls started asking for printed pictures to colour, and eventually I bought some inexpensive tear-out colouring books of various types from the UK. These are still popular, slightly to my surprise: 

This lasted until lunch-time, where the fresh bread, boiled eggs, cheese and cut up veggies seemed to go down well. After that they wanted to play some games; I wasn't willing to sit much longer in the over-warm dining room, nor to turn on another a/c, so we brought the games through to the study. All three of the girls like (and are good at) Uno:

We had some discussion about whether or not it was 'mean' to play certain cards; Helen can be quite sensitive, and Katie is very competitive. Elisabeth won in the end and I was blamed since the card I played enabled her to go out. I knew it would, as Katie had seen (and told us) what Elisabeth's one remaining card was. I played what I would have done anyway, and explained that it would have been cheating to avoid playing it, since we weren't supposed to know what it was...

We decided not to play another round. Helen and Elisabeth said they would like to play Misfits instead: 

Katie said it was boring, so lay on Elisabeth's mattress (which they had also brought) and read:

When it was clear that I was likely to win at Misfits (not that I was actually trying to....) the girls decided it was, indeed, boring, and they would rather do some origami - something Helen is really quite skilled at:

Meanwhile, Katie read another book: 

Eventually one of them asked if they could have a 'princess' picture to colour from the computer. Katie, who is quite computer literate, offered to find and print them:

Elisabeth collected the pictures from the printer:

They coloured for a while but started getting a bit hyper and wriggly. They really needed to use up some energy... and inspiration struck. They had previously done some of Leslie Sansone's 'three mile walk' at home with Sheila. I put it on, and they thought this was a great idea:

Helen kept starting and stopping, while Elisabeth kept going. Katie said that she only really liked the second 'mile' so she joined in for a few minutes too:

Here are a few seconds of Elisabeth, small but determined, who took it very seriously and kept going right to the end of the three miles: 

I'm not entirely sure how it's counted as three miles since nobody goes anywhere - other than a few steps forwards and backwards - and Elisabeth's steps aren't very big. But still, quite an achievement for one so young.

After that, I read some books, and prepared the rest of our evening meal while the children ran around the house and played with the kittens. My noise tolerance had about reached its limit... so Richard offered to take them out to a local playground after we'd finished eating to give me half an hour of peace!

In the event, Katie decided to stay here and opted to have a bath instead... and when the two smaller girls got back, they also wanted baths. Katie went to read in Richard's study since mine was turned into the girls' bedroom overnight, and around 8.30 the two younger girls were pretty tired and ready for bed. I read them a couple of books then turned out the light and combed their hair in turns; for some reason this calms them down and helps them to fall asleep. It wasn't instantaneous but shortly after 9pm they were both fast asleep.

Katie finished yet another book and then went to bed around 9.30 without any trouble; I hung around for a while but all was peaceful, so I took a cool shower, checked email and Facebook on my netbook computer and then fell asleep!

I woke about 5.00 with Sophia wanting to be fed... so I got up, fed all the cats, read for a while, and got dressed. It was about 7.00am before any sound came from my study; Katie and Helen emerged as I was juicing some oranges. They said they were hungry and that Elisabeth was still asleep.

So I gave them some (diluted) fresh juice, and yogurt with raw oats and bananas (their request):

After that they had some toast and butter. Katie said she often has four pieces of toast but could only manage one today.

Elisabeth appeared about an hour later, and lay on the floor for a while. I wondered if something had upset her but Helen assured me she is always like this in the morning. So I waited until the grumpiness subsided and she had breakfast, the same as her siblings but without the yogurt or oats.

Then I looked at my study: 

Helen was eager to play with Lego while Elisabeth finished her breakfast, so she helped me put the sofa-bed away and she and Katie played for a while: 

However their game seemed to consist in finding and storing 'jewels' so as to get rich, and the kittens wanted to play: 

So the girls raced around the living room trailing ribbons behind them, a wonderful game for young kittens.

One of the dolls stayed in bed for most of the morning: 

The other one got dressed but then fell in a heap, and was joined by Alexander when he was worn out by all the ribbon-chasing:

She wasn't allowed to rest long, however - Helen wanted to do her hair.  And Katie read another book: 

Elisabeth then said she'd like to do another 'three mile walk' with YouTube, so Katie found it for her on my computer, and the three of them started energetically... but once again the two older girls gave up after about five minutes, while Elisabeth kept going to the end, even though she was clearly very tired by the time it finished. 

After some more colouring, we played a couple of games of 'Probe' (a sort of board game variation on 'hangman') but since Helen and Elisabeth aren't reading much yet, we had to be in 'teams'. Helen and I won the first game although Katie was convinced we would 'never' guess her word: 

We then swopped assistants; this time Katie won, and decided to reveal her word, another one which she said I would never guess. She was correct. It was, she told me, an 'old American' word which she was certain I would not know. All I remember is that it started with J and ended with A. I said I didn't mind at all that she had won, but I didn't feel it was quite fair to use a word that I'd never heard of... 

During the course of the game we'd had a text from Sheila saying that as 24 hours were up, they could come and get the girls. All three said they wanted to stay to lunch (as I had expected them to) and after some negotiation they agreed that their parents could come at 3.00pm to collect them. 

After the game, I suggested they pack their clothes and dolls and also the pictures they wanted to take home. I read a few books to the younger girls but Helen said she was getting hungry. So we decided to have lunch at 12.30. 

After we'd cleared up, I read some more books, then Elisabeth said she wanted to go home. It was only 2.00pm (and the older two said they wanted to stay longer...) but Elisabeth was clearly starting to flag. She's really very young to have been away from her parents for a night. So I texted Sheila and she said she'd come over. 

Elisabeth put her shoes on and picked up her things, ready to go:

- although when her parents arrived she barely greeted them!

The house is peaceful once more, the kittens asleep, my study my own. I enjoyed 27 hours doing the full-time parent thing, but was glad to be able to hand the girls back again. I suppose this shows quite clearly that I'm now at the stage of life where it's perfect to be a grandparent; hands-on 24/7 motherhood was something I thoroughly enjoyed in my late twenties and early thirties, but wouldn't want to repeat twenty years later. Not for more than a day or two at a time, anyway...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pondering on Swanwick after returning to Cyprus

With hands-on Grandma-duty taking up my time (and mind) for three weeks prior to going to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, I had barely skimmed the online brochure that explained the available courses. It wasn’t until I reached Derby station that the reality hit me: I had done virtually no writing at all for a couple of months, and not much for rather longer, yet I was about to attend a writers’ conference. What had I let myself in for?

Swanwick had been on my radar for a long time; a friend attended a few years ago and her enthusiasm was inspiring. Circumstances and finances conspired to allow me to consider attending in 2014. My mind was made up when I saw that there would be workshops by the writer Della Galton and the People’s Friend fiction editor Shirley Blair. Even so, I sent in my application quite late!

Arriving at the Hayes Conference Centre, which consists of a lovely old building (and some more modern ones) set in gorgeous grounds, I felt a little like I did when I started secondary school. I had only the faintest idea of what to expect, I didn’t know my way around, I didn’t know a soul. I had chatted to someone while awaiting the bus at Derby station, and to someone else on the bus; both pleasant people, both also new to Swanwick. But they seemed a lot more organised than I was, with a good idea of which sessions they were going to attend.

I didn’t know if I had to sign up for courses, nor how quickly I had to make my decisions. My mind buzzed with queries: Were numbers on the courses limited? Were there criteria we had to fulfil before joining any particular session? What would I do if I found myself out of my depth, or if I was simply too tired? Was it compulsory to go to courses every day? What about the speakers? And did I really have to attend the discos, that didn’t begin until 10.45pm? I like to be asleep by about 10.30 at the latest, not bopping in bright lights and loud music.

Observing people as they arrived and settled in, it was obvious that there were a lot more women than men on the conference. Rather to my surprise, almost all the attendees were white-skinned. Many were white-haired too; that was also unexpected, after I saw the lively late-night programme. While there were a few young people, the majority were around my age or older, albeit mostly fit and active.

I knew that Swanwick was a Christian centre, and saw from the programme that the conference hosted a church service on the Sunday, as well as short chapel meetings most mornings entitled ‘Lift up your hearts’. But this was not a conference for Christian writers only. There were evidently a variety of beliefs represented (or none); about 15-20 people attended each of the chapel meetings, out of 240 conference members.

One of the first questions I was asked on meeting anyone was, ‘What kind of writing do you do?’ I started by mentioning fiction; most of my recent writing has been fiction of one kind or another. I clung to what felt like my credentials: I had three short stories published in magazines some years ago, and won second prize in a story competition - again, a few years back. I’ve started a few novels, three of them with NaNoWriMo though they all need extensive editing and (now I look at them dispassionately) are not actually very interesting.

So I muttered that I was mostly interested in short stories, and asked the same question back. I quickly learned that Swanwick encompassed any kind of writer. People talked about columns, and non-fiction books; amongst the fiction writers there were some who wrote for children, some who had written crime novels or historical sagas, some who mainly wrote short stories. Then there were play-writers, poets, health writers, bloggers… such a variety that I soon realised it was also appropriate to mention my websites and blogs, and that I write book reviews.

I met people who were long established as writers and regularly published, and I also met those who were not yet published at all. Not that it mattered - there didn't seem to be any snobbery or cliquishness. Some have opted for self-publication - easy to do in the e-book/print-on-demand world - and some were in a similar situation to me, with just a handful of published pieces, and a lot of rejections. Although in my case it’s been a lot of procrastination and not much writing at all for some time. When asked what I hoped to get out of Swanwick, I replied that I hoped for some inspiration and motivation to get writing again.

So I perused my programme, and on the first full day (Sunday) I opted for a ‘long’ course on short story writing (one hour per day over four days), and a ‘short’ course (two separate hours on one day) on novel editing. Nobody, I learned, had to sign up for anything, or even attend anything - we could pick and choose whatever appealed. I decided to go to the church service too, and a (secular) morning meditation, as well as a tai chi style relaxing session before dinner. Then there were workshop sessions in the late afternoon where we would be guided to do some actual writing and read our drafts aloud to each other.

With three full meals, a morning coffee break and an afternoon tea break, I was fully occupied, that first day, from 8.00am until dinner ended around 7.30pm. And then, although I’m not, in general, a fan of after-dinner speakers, I was eager to hear the People’s Friend editor, who was billed from 8.00 to 9.00pm. All day, I had been told - repeatedly - that I should ‘pace myself’, and not attend everything. I had already decided I would not go to any of the late night discos; nor was I keen to go to readings about World War I which didn’t start until 9.30. So at 9pm, my mind buzzing and my body weary, I retreated to my room. I checked my email (the onsite wifi is a bit slow, but available everywhere) and was fast asleep by 10pm.

Monday had a similar format course-wise, although there was no church service, and I decided not to ‘unwind my mind’ in a group at 5.15, but do a bit more recharging on my own between sessions and meals. I also opted out of the evening speaker. Once again, I was asleep by about 10pm. I slept extremely well, waking at 6.00am and wondering why there were so many late-night activities, but nothing at all in the morning until the chapel or meditation sessions at 8.00, followed by breakfast at 8.30.

By the end of Monday I felt as if I had been at Swanwick for at least a week. I could find my way around without consulting the plan (though I kept it in my bag), I understood how the days were structured, and I was beginning to recognise some faces. There were 60 first-timers, known as ‘white badgers’ because we were issued with white badges; as a newcomer I was made to feel welcome and accepted. Everyone was encouraged to talk to different people at the coffee breaks and meal-times - and I probably spoke to at least 100 different people through the week, maybe more.

At the same time, I began to feel rather out of my depth, almost as if I were just playing at writing. When I heard other people reading out their ‘drafts’ after the short workshop sessions, I felt like a beginner by comparison. I wandered around the ‘book room’ and was amazed to discover just how many people on the conference had written books; this was not, as I had vaguely imagined, the realm of the occasional short story writer.

Tuesday was a lighter day; I went to one talk, but there were no workshops other than a script-writing/drama one in the afternoon, which I did not plan to attend. I didn’t go to a talk on forensics, either; instead I did some editing and a bit of writing on my own. I could see quite clearly why so many of my short stories have not been accepted by magazines, reading them through on my computer many months after writing them. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to make them more interesting…

Wednesday and Thursday repeated the pattern of Sunday and Monday with courses, the writing workshops and so on. I missed the Wednesday night speakers; I did think about going to the drama performances afterwards, but they didn’t start until 9.30. I gather they were excellent. I would like to have gone to the ceilidh too, but that didn’t start until 10.45!

On Thursday night there was no after-dinner speaker; instead the 8.00-9.00pm slot was taken by a spoof game show, so I went along. It was amusing but extremely noisy. The audience had been issued with kazoos, and the PA didn’t work very well… but it was the last night, and I thought I should make the effort. This was followed by an official farewell with various awards and thankyous. It didn’t last long and I managed to get to my room by 9.30, unlike the majority who headed to the bar.

On Friday morning the coach to Derby station left at 8.30am. I didn’t have anyone in particular to say goodbye to; I don’t make friends easily, and had no interest in hanging out in the bar before meals. I was happy to wave in general to the crowd who gathered outside, smiling at a few folk I recognised. I was shattered, and relieved to be spending a long and peaceful weekend with my brother and sister-in-law, not far away, leaving the long day’s travelling back to Cyprus until Monday.

I have no idea if I'll go to Swanwick again. Lots of people go every year - I met some who had been regularly for twenty years or more. It's certainly a lovely setting, great food and accommodation and a friendly environment. The courses I attended were excellent too - and I'm sure the ones I did not attend were also very good; there were four options at each stage so I had to decide against quite a few.

So it depends partly on what courses are offered next time, and also whether I actually do some serious writing this year. There's not much point in learning about it if I don't put it into practise, after all... 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Another month out of Cyprus whizzes by...

I think this has been the longest time I've been out of Cyprus since we moved there. When I eventually return, I will have been away for over two months in all, happy to have missed most of the summer - not to mention the acquisition of two kittens, and Timothy moving out - but most of all thrilled to have been able to spend so much time with my grandson. Those last two words are just beginning to sound natural, although as I only feel about 26 on the inside, it's still a bit surprising to me that my sons are in fact around that age, and that I am now a grandmother...

I have travelled the length of the UK twice since I last posted on this blog - so as I don't want this to be an epic post, I've selected a few photos to illustrate the past five weeks.

We left Carlisle early July, and went to stay with my father in Alcester. While we wanted to see him in any case, the date was chosen to allow us to attend the wedding of one of my longest-standing friends in Birmingham:

It was a wonderful day. A packed church with a moving service, and then a relaxed reception, where we were able to catch up with various people we'd lost touch with. As the minister said, it was a taster of Heaven. 

While in Alcester, we were delighted to discover that we had hit raspberry season, and picked a bowlful like this almost every day: 

This is significant because fresh raspberries are almost impossible to find in Cyprus (and extortionately expensive). 

After a week in Alcester we travelled down to Sussex, on the south coast, to stay with Richard's mother. We spent a lot of time looking at old photos of Richard's ancestors, and went out and about too. But I didn't take any relevant photos that could give a taster.

On July 15th we drove to Gatwick Airport, and returned our rental car. Richard then flew back to Cyprus - with vast amounts of luggage - and I waited around in the airport, reading a Kindle book, until the evening coach [that's a bus to American friends....] to Carlisle. It was a long journey, and although I hoped to sleep it was almost impossible as I didn't have much room on my seat, and when I finally dropped off it was time to stop for a rest-break.

It was wonderful to see Daniel waiting for me at the coach stop in Carlisle at 5am; we walked back to his house (about a mile away) and I had a nap. 

I also had a siesta, knowing that I would not be able to go to bed early; the wonderful Adrian and Bridget Plass were doing a show at the local church, and I was determined to enjoy it. As, indeed, I did; very much: 

Of course the main reason I'm back in Carlisle is to be of some assistance to Daniel and Becky as they struggled with David's nocturnal habits, unpredictable crying and colic. He's a lively, wriggly baby with very little patience, and they would often start the day in a daze of exhaustion. It's astounding how one tiny 10kg person can disrupt the lives of all the adults around him... while also charming us utterly :-) 

When we were in Carlisle at the start of July, we bought a 'Babasling', as recommended by the NCT.  In our absence, Daniel had started to use it when David needed to be carried around, to give him a hand free for other things. David's not the kind of baby who wants to be in a sling all the time; he likes his hands and legs free to wave around, and he's extremely wriggly. But when he's tired, and wants to be held, it's ideal: 

A few days after Richard returned to Cyprus was the date of our 34th wedding anniversary. We had a brief chat online, and I'd almost forgotten about it when this gorgeous bouquet arrived: 

It lasted over a week.

Meanwhile, David has been growing, slowly - on the whole - getting over his colic, and becoming, generally, a more settled baby. I take him out for a walk in his pram most mornings, and he's started sleeping at least slightly more at night than during the daytime. 

He was given a little sunhat, which makes him look a lot older - here he is in his carseat, dressed to go out a few days ago: 

Of course he likes sleeping on people during the daytime; I take my turns willingly: 

Saturday was an extra special day, my father and his wife were in Carlisle for the weekend, and spent several hours here so they could meet David. We made sure to take several four-generational photographs; this is my favourite: 

I leave Carlisle on Saturday morning, and am going to miss this little guy far more than I would have thought possible.