I am now reaching the end of my marathon sojourn in the old country and I have to confess that it is not before time.
Of course, all this idyllic, blissful ‘happy- families’ state of play in dear old Blighty couldn’t last forever – could it?
On my last trip to the UK in 2005, which was also scheduled for 1 month, both Dang, my wife, and I had decided that enough was enough after 3 weeks and we just wanted to get back home.
On that occasion I was able to re-book our return flights and we went back a week early. This time I am not so lucky and I cannot change my ticket, so I am stuck here till next Sunday.
What has happened? Nothing too terrible really, just a desire to get back to my home and dogs and you know who and an increasing weariness of having to live out of a suitcase and have my clothes strewn all over the floor and chairs as there are no closets to put anything in.
At the best of times I never enjoy staying in other people’s homes, especially when I have to share bathrooms with others and for the last week of my trip I am stuck in my brother’s house with his wife, and my sister and her husband – five large adults, all sharing a single bathroom in what is reallyu only a medium sized semi- detached house.
During my previous stay here, at the start of my trip, I was able to stay in my brother’s second, larger bedroom, which though not having an en suite bathroom, did have a small wash basin with hot and cold running water where I could perform some of my ablutions.
But on my second visit to Tonbridge, I have been relegated to the smallest bedroom, with no wash basin and is chock -a- block full of books, knick knacks and other discarded jetsam, and with virtually no room to put anything.
Of course, I was thoroughly spoiled at Natalie’s house where my bedroom had a wonderful adjoining private bathroom with all mod cons and I was the only guest in a large house. Even at Samantha’s place and at my friend’s house in Barnwell, I was the sole guest and was given a decent sized room, but here, back in Tonbridge it is getting a little tedious.
I have tried to keep my spirits up by doing my best to remain cheerful and continually cracking satirical jokes, most of which, I regret have fallen on uncomprehending ears. I admit that I do have a pretty warped sense of humour and clearly, after a life time of debauchery in the uncivilised tropics, my sense of humour is probably not in sync with the doughty folk back home. Some of my nearest and dearest are ‘not always amused’, by the Black-sheep!
As is my want, as we all sit down for meal, I might say something a little bit outrageous which is intended to provoke a smile or a giggle, but unfortunately I am invariably taken too seriously and before I know what has happened, a heated argument ensues.
Now Mobi, never being one to shirk a good old fashioned argument would then stir the pot by following up with even more outrageous statements and within a short space of time the dinner would start to descend into shouting match, with all four adults ganging up against poor old Mobi!
To be honest, the more they got worked up, the more amused I became – it was uncommon sport to have a gentle poke at my kinfolk, and it helped to lighten my mood and relieve my boredom. I mean – how would you like to spend a week with four adults whose combined ages, excluding Mobi, exceed 275?
(As those who have been following me for any length of time will know, my preferred group of 4 people to socialise with wouldn’t even have a combined age of 80!)
Anyway, on top of my general discomfort, the cracks started to surface in my happy family.
On Thursday, before breakfast, things sort of came to a head. My sister, the oldest and by far the most prudish of my family, suddenly took it upon herself to have a ‘go’ at me, and even resorted to foul language – so unusual for her – such was the vehemence of her verbal attack.
The target of her attack was my Samsung Tablet which she accused me of ‘playing with incessantly’ and texting all day long and that I was behaving in a highly unsociable manner and I should put the ‘sodding thing away!’
At the time of this verbal barrage, we were all sitting in a little kitchen conservatory, sipping our coffee and waiting to eat our breakfast. My sister’s husband was reading a book, my sister herself was reading a newspaper, as was my sister in law, and we were intermittently chatting.
I pointed out to my sister that I was browsing the day’s news headlines on my Tablet, just as she was doing in her newspaper and I had not sent a single text since I had been in England. But in her mind, deeply rooted in a bygone age, a newspaper or a book is socially acceptable, but not a computer tablet.
I got a bit angry but didn’t say too much. My sister is not a well woman; she has been crippled with arthritis since she was a teenager, so there was no point in getting into a major row, so I just fumed a little and kept my own counsel.
But shortly afterwards, during breakfast, I noticed that my brother- in-law was reading so I couldn’t resist asking her why it was OK for her husband to read a book while eating his breakfast and wasn’t it a just a tad antisocial? She replied that it was OK to read when you’re eating as you couldn’t speak when you had food in your mouth…….
I then spent most of the day my room, doing various things on my computer, sorting all my photos and so on and trying not to let her outburst get to me. The incident probably sounds silly and trivial to you, my readers, but it actually makes me sad to have to put up with my own sister talking to me like this. There is little doubt that she is an embittered person.
Of the three of us, I would say she has let my father’s appalling behaviour and her unhappy upbringing affect her more than my brother, who seems to have been affected the least, or even myself.
She is deeply bitter about the way my father behaved to her and she simply can’t let it go. She will never talk about it and the memories of his abusive behaviour will undoubtedly torment her until her dying day. Yet next January she will be 70 years old.
Since I managed to find a way of coming to terms with what my father had done to me and to also stop hating him, I have found a peace and contentment in my life that I never thought possible.
But my sister will never do this and she will remain an unhappy, tortured soul, ever given to complaining and moaning about her ‘lot’ in life, especially with regards to her crippling disease and numerous operations that she has had to endure. She is also quick to reprimand and scold her husband, who has stood by her for nearly forty years, given her two fine sons and taken care of her. In his own way, like me, he is a bit of a free spirit. But I doubt that she sees it like that. The events of that morning made me a little disconsolate.
Upon reflection, I think I am a bit late in the realisation that she totally disapproves of me – for what I am and what I have done. Thinking back, I can recall that she always seems to be looking down on me, rarely showing any interest in me or my life and just occasionally asking condescending questions about what I have been up to and generally giving out a strong air of disapprobation to anything I might venture to say, on just about any subject. I now think that even when she is being quite civil with me; it probably involves quite an effort of self-control on her part.
I have been so happy with my family here in England, with my two daughters and with my brother, Sid and his lovely, caring wife Jane. In the past, we have not always seen eye to eye, but he and Jane have treated me so well and they have gone out of their way to make my trip a happy one.
Even my brother-in-law, (my sister’s husband), has been charm itself , but I have to say that my sister has succeeded in spoiling my happy and contented state of mind, and I will now return to Thailand with a certain degree of distress and regret.
Yes, regret; regret that I didn’t just plan to stay for 3 weeks, and return to Thailand, immediately following the grand Mobi- family barbecue last Sunday. That would have worked out really well and my sister wouldn’t have had to spend too much time in my close company, no doubt to the benefit of us both.
So how did the barbecue go off last Sunday, with all that rain?
The storm awaited us over the Dartford Bridge in Kent
I have to admit that it was a bit of a wash out. The three of us; Nat, Abe and me, were the last to arrive and found the entire family sitting and standing around the house, all trying to find somewhere to sit down. It was a large crowd, but it was family and we all chipped in, (well the younger ones did anyway), and after a while, the rain eased off a little and a few hardy souls, together with my brother Sid, ventured into the garden and fired up the Barbecue under a sea of sodden umbrellas. Before long, we had a repast fit for a king on the kitchen table with hungry hands all waiting to grab their vittles.
Sid and Jane’s Barbeque with hungry hands awaiting
‘Manu’, Sid’s 17 year old cat, oblivious of all the fun and the only member of the Mobi clan who can be identified on-line
The rest of the day passed off as well as could be expected and after a few hours the folks started to depart as many had a long drive to their homes scattered all over the south east of England. Dear Natalie bade me a very tearful and emotional farewell; we both promised to chat more often on Skype and she has promised that she and Abe will visit me in Thailand next year.
The days following the barbecue have been singularly lacking in any kind of special excitement and I suspect that all five of us, crammed in together here in Sid’s house, are starting to count the days till Sunday when we all depart back to our homes.
A bright point was on Wednesday, when we took a trip down to the Bluebell railway in Brighton, near Sussex, one of the oldest preserved steam train lines in the world. It was a very pleasant day and I enjoyed the one hour return train trip back in time on an ancient Pullman carriage, pulled by one of the many beautifully restored British Rail steam engines that the Bluebell line now owns.
A journey back in time to the age of steam – The Bluebell Line in Sussex
An advertisement from a bygone age
A packet of fags for a ‘bob’…..
A few shots from the Bluebell rail ‘Shed’
An immaculate 1950’s ticket office
During Thursday, the upset with my sister seemed to be fading fast, and it might have been my imagination, but it did seem that she might have been making a effort to be friendly to me, following the unsavoury incident that had occurred that morning.
I confess that in the hours following the incident with my sister, I actually felt like going out to a pub and having a few stiff drinks to calm me down. This is the first time I have had such feelings in many a month and only goes to show that I am still not completely out of the woods as far as temptation is concerned. But it was a fleeting moment and there was no way that I would seriously consider doing such a thing. Just a flight of fancy, really…. I hope.
On Friday, I awoke feeling much better about things and resolved to put our little tiff behind me. We were all taking a trip to London, via Ebbsfleet, The new International High speed hub in Kent; thence to St. Pancras on the new Hi-Speed rail line to meet up with Sid’s daughter and granddaughter, and then back to Stratford International, and finally onto the Dockland’s Light Railway for the last leg to Pudding Mill Lane to view the 2012 London Olympic site.
The trip went well and we had a good day out; riding on London’s 21st century rail system, (the trains have top speeds of 300 kms per hour!) and getting a good view of the Olympic stadium and surrounding areas.
The new Hitachi High speed Southern Rail trains, capable of speeds of 300kms/hr.
The new St Pancras Concourse
The new-style Kings Cross station, still under construction
The magnificent St Pancras Hotel, an enormous Victorian, Gothic structure, now renovated.
The original St Pancras station roof
The new concourse
Docklands Light Railway Station
Views of The London Olympic Stadium from the ‘View Tube’
Looking towards the ‘Square Mile’ of the City
Canary wharf in the far distance
Back in Tonbridge my little local problem, which I had thought had been put to bed, suddenly reared its ugly head once more.
The morning we were due to go to London, I appeared in the dining room at 9.30. the usual time we had been having breakfast all week, only to find that everyone had already finished eating!
‘Oh, why did you have breakfast early?’ says I.
‘We’re going out to London,’ my sister snarled at me.
‘Oh what time are we leaving?’
‘Now!’ she snapped back.
‘I thought we were leaving about 10.30,’ I rejoined.
‘We are,’ Sid’s wife confirmed to me.
‘But we have to do all the washing up before we go!’ cut in my harridan of a sibling.
Five minutes later the washing up was done, Mobi had his breakfast at leisure and one and all sat around and chatted for another 45 minutes before the scheduled time to go eventually arrived. The early, unannounced breakfast, remains a complete mystery to me.
My sister continued to make a few snide remarks to me when we were out in London, but I chose to ignore them. When we returned to Sid’s place, I decided to bring my laptop downstairs to the sitting room to download the day’s photos from my camera and show them to everyone.
Unbeknown to me, I was setting the stage for a showdown.
As I sat down. she made one nasty remark, but I just smiled; she made a second and I laughed it off, but she didn’t know when to stop and when she asked me in a very nasty and sarcastic manner: “So without your computer, you don’t have a life?”, I’m afraid I blew up.
I told her she had been doing nothing but make snide, patronising remarks at me since we had been together in Tonbridge and that I was fed up with it. I actually said much more – I was very, very angry.
I had tried so hard to keep the piece but in the end it just wasn’t possible. I have never held any bad feelings for my sister before this week, but I’m afraid that now, I can see her for what she really is; an embittered, sad old woman who seems to get off on bullying people who she thinks will not fight back, like her younger brother, Mobi.
Well now she knows different. An uneasy truce has ensued and after I had calmed down, I apologised to Sid and Jane for my outburst and told them that I would get a taxi and get a room near Heathrow for my last 2 nights in England. I told them that I did not wish to create any more upset or distress to anyone.
Dear Sid and Jane would have none of it and begged me to stay, as many of the family were coming back on Sunday to say their goodbyes and the five of us had planned a nice farewell dinner out on Saturday Evening at a fancy restaurant.
Of course I had no choice but to accede to their request as they have been so good to me and they genuinely seemed to understand and be sympathetic to me and my problem with my sister.
Overall, it has been a very happy and very worthwhile trip, and let’s face it – no holiday of one month’s duration could be complete without a few unfortunate domestic incidents.
My family, young and old, with one notable exception, have pulled out all the stops to make my trip a happy one and I will be forever in their debt for all the efforts they have made and the kindness they have shown.
This will be my final blog from the UK as I will be departing tomorrow evening, Sunday, but I will be making more reflections on my trip when I am back in Pattaya.
In case some of you may be wondering, I have been chatting to Noo every day on Skype and on most days we have had web-cam chats. She is home all the time, taking care of the house and dogs and she can’t wait for me to get back, (or so she claims….).
I do miss her and can’t wait to hold her once again in my ageing arms…..
BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I don’t give a hoot…