Reminiscing London

And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils

A post to chronicle all the highlights of our April 2010 trip to my favourite city in the whole wide world – London, England. Quite a bit of drama since we were (happily) marooned there for an extra week whilst Gordon (Brown, not Ramsey) and Friends got themselves sorted over the Icelandic volcanic ash thing.

Examining the herald of spring


When we told our friends we were off to London with 18 month old K in tow, some commented on our bravery. Or foolishness, we joked in reply. On hindsight, it was sheer recklessness.

But I exaggerate. The parts we anticipated to be the hardest, turned out to be non-issues. K slept well during both flights (6-8 hours each way, albeit in my arms for 2-4 hours each time, making it most uncomfortable for me to rest decently) and was happy enough with the food and messing around the bulkhead space when she was not sleeping. She adjusted to the time difference seemingly better than we did, though I did have to nurse her back to sleep the many times she woke during the first night.

I can only thank the Lord that I am still nursing her, since that helped during the flight and for her to get down for naps and for the nights. But it got so pervasive (ok still less than a newborn, for the new mummies reading) that I literally wanted to get her off my chest quite badly, many a time. I think my supply has even gone up, as a result of the past two weeks.

British Museum Great Court
But anyway, as with food and telly (i love Postman Pat and Chuggington! K likes In the Night Garden) whilst we were there, I cut her a lot of slack in the nursing department. Thankfully again, she has re-adjusted well to not seeing me during the day once I resumed work (oh the respite!). She even smilingly waved me goodbye when I went out for a much needed back tui na the day we returned.

The weather. It was virtually perfect. The coolness brought me back to my uni days, both there and across the Atlantic… the sun shone brilliantly, and there were days when the heat actually burned through just one layer of clothing.

It might have been an exception (some were calling it a ‘heatwave’, though most days were still rather chilly to us, with temperatures around 10-15 degrees) but gave me good reason to continue telling all who would listen, that London had beautiful azure skies for the most part of the years I spent there, and should not be fixated in minds as a dreary drizzly grey city.

Regent Park willows

Running to the next phone booth.

In typical British dry (not) humour perhaps, the only day the skies watered down in the two weeks we were there, was the morning of the London Marathon! 10 days of blazing sunshine, warnings of heat during the Marathon, and the poor runners (Olympic medallists and all) had to start in soaking rain.

The flowers. I have a fixation with blooms. And there were so many gorgeous ones! The only season I like better than Spring is Autumn, for all its glorious colour.

A tree bursts forth in blooms, whilst K sits unmoved by the glorious spectacle.

dancing in the wind

The friends. The best part of my trip were the friends we were able to reconnect with. And it was so fun seeing our children interact, and for K to get to know my mates. We also got to meet with our pastor and his wife who were studying in Durham, and had driven down some 6 hours for a weekend break and to meet with us!

The Allens hosted us to dinner in their home, and we got to meet baby Thomas as Kate snoozed away! We were grateful for the Thomas’ family’s gracious hospitality for the few nights we spent visiting their home in the lovely London suburb of Haywards Heath.

The Fisher family – I knew both of them as students years before they even got attached. Now with toddler Seth, who’s a real sweetheart, and expecting baby Simeon very soon!

The memories. In many ways this was the same old London to me. so many fond memories came flooding back, as I visited many old haunts and neighbourhoods where I lived.

A friend asked what I felt had changed in the 9 years past, and I couldn’t notice much apart from the fact that some of the A4 sized ads along the long tube escalators were now animated screens instead of posters. I got a taste of a SAHM’s life there, and saw more playgrounds and museums (kids’ section) in 2 weeks than I probably have in the past 18 months in Singapore. Was good to explore the Natural History Museum, Science Museum (wonderful basement and bubble magic show) and National Army Museum (for its great kids indoor playroom) – all which I’d never been to before.

The tough bits. My heart actually rejoiced when news broke about the airspace closure. Initially on Thurs, I thought it was too good to be true, and we’d still have to pack and go come Mon, but over the weekend, it panned out that Mon was a no-go, and the first flights only resumed on the Wed after! And each time our flight was further delayed, all I could say was a little ‘yay’, whereas the hubs was a tad more concerned’ since there was no knowing whether we’d be stranded for 2 more days or 20!

Round pond swan, at dawn.
I got myself mentally prepared to take no-pay-leave should my paid leave run out by then, haha! Better delayed that dead, was what I said.But due to the dry air, K and I got sick. I lost my voice and K’s clear nose runs turned green. That was when I conceded that I could cope with being a solo SAHM in a foreign land if I were sick OR if K were sick but not if both happened at the same time (which usually does).

Voice-less and coughing my throat out and having to deal with a fussy, screamy baby-who-won’t-sit-in-the-buggy (no one says ‘stroller’ apparently) was not fun. The hubs had to go work in his London office to literally provide a roof over our heads (guarantee paid-for accomm), and I was not about to go Big Issue peddling with a toddler, so just dealt with being solo most times.

During the weekends, we’d venture further afield and the hubs got good arm workouts from buggy carrying up and down the too-many Tube stairs. One trip to a friend’s home saw us change trains 2-3 times one-way, up and down long flights of stairs amidst the rush hour crowd. Not fun.

K went ballistic during a long bus-ride, which we were forced to take because of severe Jubilee Line delays. Much as she loved buses and would happily exclaim BAAH! everytime she saw one, she hated bus rides. She just wanted to walk around the bus as it moved, which of course was a no-go. So she spent most of the journey fussing, and the last bit bawling.

When K and I were alone some days, I’d choose the Ergobaby carrier instead of the stroller, so she’d walk when willing, and I’d ergo her the rest of the time, esp up and down the Tube stairs. Some days she’d throw tantrums at the supermarket and I’d just have to let her fuss and wail whilst paying and packing up the groceries. Other days she’d get tired halfway and insist that I carry her to sleep.

We changed hotels many times. Apart from the first night at our friend’s lovely Haywards Heath suburban home, we were at the Royal Garden next to Kensington Gardens (where we could go for early morning jogs/walks with K in a buggy), then a very basic Holiday Inn at Gloucester Road, then back to the nice one for the first bit of the extension, then to a smaller boutique hotel behind the British Museum for the last 5 nights of our stay. K was nonplussed, and I suppose if she were older she would have asked Where? Why? What? But at this age, she just went where we carried her, and adapted admirably.

church nursery

Church. I was so happy to be back at the Tab, for not just one, but two Sundays. Really missed the preaching and fellowship. Two families that had 0-2 kids 9 years ago now had 5 each! Sat with Kate in the nursery room with a TV link both times, but caught enough of the messages to be inspired. Incidentally the passages were from Ephesians 1, which was also the chapter preached upon during my first visit to the Tab.

Inspiring expositions on the righteous wrath of God, his perfect holiness, the elect, the trust that characterises and differentiates believers from the world… how it is not wrong to aspire for adequate provision of food and clothing, but to know that even in suffering, God is, will and must be glorified.

The quirky highlights. Made my first (and I would say my last) LV purchase. Acting on behalf of a friend, mind. It was an interesting experience, walking into an LV shop and actually buying something within 5 mins. But stingy me wouldn’t pay that sort of prices for simple leather goods.

It seems to be British culture to tell someone their toddler is gorgeous. K might have thought her name changed to that, at the rate ladies (plus a very effusive man at a supermarket), waitstaff were telling me “your daughter is GORGEOUS”. K made everyone nearby grin and coo when she instinctively waved as we were moving to get off the train. My brit friend even commented that it was an unexpected departure from the usual solemn train rides where everyone icily (courteously? as a matter of principle?) ignores one another.

she loved this playground ‘house’ and spent an inordinate time sitting inside, then outside, then inside…

One day when she was cramming rice from Wagamama’s down, she suddenly gave us this cute, my-tongue-feels-weird look and slightly panicked whine. She had tasted some Jap curry! Welcome to the world of mild spices, my dear. After some water, all was well again. Food-wise, K was slightly erratic. Some days she’d wolf down half an adult’s portion of beef. Other days she went vegetarian. When we were at Royal Garden Hotel, she ate large portions of cereal, fruit, bread, yoghurt, milk for breakfast.

For the last 3 days of our stay, she ate two hard-boiled eggs every morning and some milk, toast and many slices of peaches. For the days we had breakfast out, she’d eat scrambled or fried eggs. Some days she’d decide she didn’t want eggs and gulp down half of the hubs’ milkshake instead.

Some days she’d eat almost an entire child’s portion of plain pasta (rejects it with sauce), and other days reject that too cos it was a tad dry (prepared by another eatery). Some days she’d like rice, other days she’d prefer egg noodles. But mostly, it wasn’t hard finding food for her. M&S all-butter animal biscuits were the preferred snack between mealtimes.

A friend I met up with asked if there was any food from London that I missed. I couldn’t think of any except crumpets! Saw some in the supermarket but didn’t have an oven anyway, so it shall remain as a fond memory. Ate enough Belgo mussels to last me for a long while (overambitiously went for a kilopot), had my Kam Fung fix (Nasi Lemak that is totally an understatement for what is served), and many a Pret sandwich.

‘thank you dear God for providing me with a big English breakfast whilst I wait out the Icelandic ash’
Marathoners passing the Houses of Parliament

Unexpectedly (or rather, thank you Icelandic unpronounceable volcano!), we caught the London Marathon! A small stretch of the course, anyway. We braved the downtown crowds after church, while K slept through most of the mayhem. There was such a festive carnival atmosphere around, and we just marvelled at the elderly who had completed the 42km run.

People from all over the world had flown in to participate in this event, and to me the best part was that the non-professionals who wanted to run had to raise at least 5000 GBP for a charity of their choice first. Which made the whole event so much more meaningful and less egocentric. These days marathon running seems to have been overtaken with pushing MY limits, never knew what I could achieve, yadayada.

Did some shopping, but not much since we purposed not to splurge. The trip itself was treat enough. Overall, I’m glad we were crazy enough to undertake it. K might not remember much of the trip, but she’ll have the photos to remind her of what a privileged child she is, to have visited at such a young age what will always be to me one of the most fascinating cities in the world, each building so steeped in history.

Sleeping through it all at Trafalgar’s Square – K slept so much more in the UK – perhaps it’s the weather. However, hubs and I agreed that it would not be easy to settle down there even for a medium-term stint, since the school environment/system is less than ideal (many of my friends are currently grappling with whether or not to homeschool), and we’d miss the extended family support, not to mention cheap local Singaporean fare.

I was totally in awe with my SAHM friends who coped with no domestic help (some even homeschooling) and very little extended family support. There they were, all by themselves with an 8 month old baby, or an almost 3 year old with another baby due soon, or 3 kids below age 6 and another due soon, or 5 kids between the ages of 12 years and 18 months.

And they do the laundry! And prepare home-cooked meals daily! I was floored. And a bit ashamed. I asked one friend how she coped and she matter-of-factly said “I guess you just step-up to it”. They were bemused with my description of Singaporean society and the affordability of domestic help. To them, it was staying at home, or forking out for expensive nursery care as the alternative.

It was good to share London – the places and the friends – with my two nearest and dearest. Praise God for sustaining us through the unexpected extended stay!

Bye bye London

  2 comments for “Reminiscing London

  1. August 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I like the article. Very well written!! 🙂 and the details are useful for anyone who is spending their time there in London! 🙂

  2. August 1, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks, you are so sweet.

    Btw, I have a collaborative travel with some friends that has lots of good tips on various places too. We thought it’d be useful for us Singaporeans who love to travel with kids. 🙂

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