Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Friday, 22 September 2017

Well and truly inaugurated.

Risking the feeling that I might just have been 'in your face' enough in recent days and weeks, I feel I can't let an event such as yesterday's pass me by unblogged. Some of you may not even know what happened, though if that's the case, I have only one question...Where have you been???

Yesterday evening, at 7pm, Angeli and I didn't even have time for a moment's reflection...not for a second did we think.."Will anyone come?" Angeli barely had time to whip off her dirty t-shirt, after having worked non-stop all day, in exchange for the pristine white one with our logo on - matching my own, in several sizes smaller - before our first guests arrived.

Let me recap and savour the whole thing from the beginning again - so far, it's not a long story but it is quite an exciting one. As I may have mentioned in my previous post, only about five months ago, Angeli and I had our first conversation about the possibility of working in partnership. The idea was that a partnership would allow us both to do something we feel passionate about, whilst doing it individually was almost prohibitively expensive and difficult to do. Angeli said she would do it with a bit of a push and I said I'd do it if she did it with me. In the end, we jumped together, believing, instinctively at first and then with growing confidence, that our idea for a joint Art and Yoga Studio was a good one and just what our town needed.

Large Yoga Space
We did a course run by the Junta de Andalucia and learnt how to plan effectively and simply for our potential clients. We walked kilometres and kilometres around Alcala looking at premises. We sat drinking ginseng and ginger teas (herein lies the answer to everything...) making lists of things to do; I drew a logo and we decided on a name.

The Art Room
Then we found the premises. Perfect and with a most obliging landlord. A completely blank canvas with two working spaces, one for each of us and space for a reception/meeting area. This was in the middle of July.

After that, there was a lot of behind the scenes work.

And a very steep learning curve. Domains bought; websites created; blog pages written. Have a look! I did much of it myself with some help more recently from Angeli's daughter, who, from Madrid, has been a great help as she's a marketing expert. Take a look...

                                                              MerakiStudio Alcala

We began to talk about dates and promotional material. And then it was September. 

We'd been invited to a Forum for Business in the town - a big, well-attended event, run by the council and with lots of successful local businesses represented. We did feel a bit amused that there we were, as yet untried, but being promoted alongside flagship companies based in Alcala la Real.  With our own board of information on display, premises contract still unsigned and our fingers crossed that we weren't getting carried away with our own enthusiasms. The morning of the two day event saw us picking up our visiting cards, hot off the press....
I do think this event helped to bring all our thoughts together. We took full advantage of the contacts we made there to promote our idea and were really pleased with the positive responses we got from the others when we explained our idea. It is also possible that we are the first two people in the town to get together and offer two very different activities from one single place. On one occasion, trying to find out about the licence we needed, Angeli was told by someone in the town hall that it wasn't possible to run two different things from one place - no such licence existed. Happily, we've overcome that particular little problem. I think. I have rather left all the talking to officials up to Angeli. She can do it much better than I, although I have little fear of tackling anything at all in Spanish now...even with our landlord, who is from Castillo de Locubin, where they speak with an altogether unintelligible dialect, I can appear to be holding a normal conversation. The trick, of course, is to nod in the right place. Nothing else. And make appreciative noises as he has repainted the whole space, fitted windows where we needed them, replaced the lights, painted the outside...and generally been most accommodating.

Angeli wanted wooden flooring in her part of the space - warmer and more comfortable for doing yoga. We had a very nervous week as the delivery was held up and with less than a week to go, she got the news that the delivery couldn't be made before the weekend. And I have to say, she was so cool and adaptable when she heard, she was a great advert for yoga as a stress reliever! And in the end, the delivery was made on the Friday - six days before our planned inauguration day - and it had to be unpacked and left in the ambient environment for 48 hours before it could be laid....

The logo arrived for the window.
Angeli, her husband and her brother began the process late on Sunday afternoon and worked really hard all day Monday, so that by Tuesday we were beginning to see the space start to take shape.

Our logo was carefully attached to the window and the light box outside the door had its new vinyls put up, with our name and the logo.

Tuesday evening, FR came down to put up an old driftwood branch that he'd found on the beach many years ago and which he thought would look good in the window and something to display some of my pictures from.

I unpacked my boxes and pictures and materials and began to make myself at home in my space.

As instructed by Meche, our business advisor, I held back on investing money in new furniture wherever possible - so, looking a little lost in the big space, but still very familiar to me, I brought in a couple of bookcases and my boxes of paper, stamping and card-making equipment and cases of pens, tubes of paint....oh, looks like a spirit level left inadvertently on the top shelf!  It was Tuesday evening when I had a mini-crisis as I couldn't find all the pictures I had selected to put in the window. I was convinced I'd thrown them in the bin and that I was going completely crazy...of course, I found them in my car. Just so you know that even when things are going as well as possible, this journey has had its stressful moments!

But so many great things have happened too!

On Wednesday morning, a friend of Angeli's came in with a super-duper cleaning machine, which swept, washed dried and polished everything sparkly and new. I was so very grateful for this as cleaning floors with a mop and water is not my favourite pastime...

Oh, and the ladies of La Hortichuela, a nearby village, arrived. And yarn-bombed our tree!!
We did buy new units for the front of the studio to make a reception area, separate from the Yoga floor. And Angeli splashed out an a wonderful and enormous mirror, which adds great depth to the place.  And we took an IKEA delivery....had to. Tables and chairs for me and a sofa for the reception area.

And then, somehow, between Wednesday evening and Thursday lunchtime, with the help of Angeli's two sisters, an amazing transformation took place. 

From a clean, empty space, suddenly, we had this magical, special place. I could hardly bear to leave it on Thursday morning, but I had promised Spinach Filo Pastries, Tzatziki, Carrot Cake, FR's tortilla and Sangria for the food table...and only the tortilla was made..

A crazy couple of cooking hours later before I jumped in the shower, only to find there was no hot water...but, it was very reviving just when I needed reviving.

Angeli arrived at the studio just as I did, still busily doing all the last minute things like sorting out the drinks, collecting the documentation and papers we needed for the inauguration - information about classes and hours and the like. She'd obviously never stopped since the morning but incredibly just carried on until the last moment, before whipping off her work clothes and emerging shining and beautiful in the white t-shirts we'd had printed...interestingly by the company that had occupied these premises before us and who were now just around the corner - they did our logo and various other design and printing material. 

Our beautiful window.
With driftwood log, Zentangle inspired art, yoga poses and our logo and name...and fairy lights.

And then I'm back to where I started...on the very dot of 7 - not before, of course - a group of English people arrived. Some friends, some acquaintances and some new people who had come to meet and support us. And lots of Spanish people, including the wonderful Friday evening's  Las Tanglers group. People from Taghleef where I give my English classes. People that I met when I first came to Alcala and who have remained friends ever since. People who I have only spoken to on Facebook...and people who I know will become great friends in the future, who have already provided us with incredible support, who want to collaborate with our project and help us to grow it into something great. So much incredible positive energy flowed. Words simply can't transmit the feelings I got from yesterday. At least not any that I can think of just now... apart from thank you. Thank you family, thank you friends. thank you all. 

So here are a few photos..And a big thank you if you came. Hope you agree that it was a wonderful evening! And don't forget - we have a week of free classes. If you didn't register to join yesterday and want to, just get in touch! 

Photos courtesy of Paco Pepe Garcia y Ester Nieto Molina.

Monday, 28 August 2017

And now, a sidestep...

You may imagine that I spend my sunny days lazing in front of a pool, with a glass of something alcoholic in one hand, sunglasses perched on my nose and a book in my other hand.
Not a bit of it.
In the months since I last wrote, which was all of four and a bit months ago, I have taken a huge step - one I vowed I'd never take - and am on the verge of launching my own business.
I'll have to explain a little,

I've been doing a lot of teaching during the past year and it is tiring work. In particular, teaching youngsters seems to drain more energy than I can draw from it and I was beginning to feel that I couldn't continue, despite the good days - and the car repayments!
What did give me heaps of energy though, were my Friday evening drawing classes.

So I set to thinking. I knew that the person who initially invited me to give the workshops - a teacher of yoga, called Angeli - was also keen to work more on yoga teaching than the enormous amount of administrative work she seemed to have acquired over the years supporting a number of women's associations. And so I met her in the park one day towards the end of May to sound her out. And she was very interested in the idea of us working together from shared business premises, or as they call it here, a 'local'.

Between then and now, we have undertaken a course run by the government of Andalucia on how to set up in business; we have hunted down and located the perfect 'local' here in Alcala la Real; we have decided on a name and an identity for our local and within the next few weeks will be having an Open Doors day to explain our ideas and to get the good townsfolk to enrol in our various classes.

The original drawing for the studio's logo. The actual is a cut down, simplified version.
I like this because it's a Dingbatz Zendala Mandala....covers so much!
We have also been invited to take part in a forum for new businesses; we have our own website and logo and people have been stopping me in the street to ask when they can start! Goodness me, I really do think this is happening and it's not just a dream!

What, you may be asking, am I going to actually do? Well, our local is big and light and airy. It's divided into three parts - as yet, there's some finishing off to do, but I will post some photos soon - with a reception area at the front, then Angeli's yoga space and finally, my art and drawing space. I'm going all out to hold classes focusing on painting, drawing, experimenting, learning and generally being crafty and creative.  I'm offering morning classes, aimed primarily but not solely, at the many housewives and older women who have free time in the morning and like to do new things. Then in the afternoon, I'm offering ZenKids classes - and yes, Zentangle will form a part of everything I do! However, we'll do a range of things, including joint projects, stamping, lots of colour, and, of course some Zentangle patterns in amongst. It's their chance to be utterly free and without the boundaries put on them at school - I do hope they'll enjoy it!

I will continue some days with evening classes - again, using Zentangle patterns as a basis for much of them - but also more painting and some calligraphy. Anything really. It's a learning curve for me too. I'm not the greatest of artists but I have a knack for showing and encouraging others and I have learnt that confidence and bit of technique goes a long way towards having fun and being creative.

Angeli is also super-creative and our only problem is keeping some of our more exciting ideas and plans in check...for later. She's really good at Zentangle drawing and I'm hoping to do some of her yoga classes whenever I can....can't do any harm and maybe help me to stretch out some of my rather stiff old bones. I have just once or twice stopped to think I am maybe too old to be starting a new project, but I seem to dismiss the idea very quickly and if you're as old as you feel, well right now, I'm about 36 and at my peak!!

The website is not quite finished and contains a few tricky problems that I am still working on but I hope you'll pop over, have a look, follow us and wish us luck. If you're anywhere near, keep your eyes peeled for information in the next few weeks or watch for the date of the Open Doors on the website or Facebook.

SOOOO excited.
AH...the name?? Well, we are Meraki Studio Alcala. Meraki is a Greek word meaning to do something with love and soul. To leave something of yourself in what you create. I think it is just perfect.

Says it all...well, some of it!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Happy Birthday Mum!

On 1st April, it was my mum's 80th birthday! Although I couldn't get to celebrate with her on the day, we had previously arranged to have a little party at my sister's house the following week, so on the Friday afternoon, I jumped into my little blue car and drove down to Malaga to catch a plane to the UK.

After an uneventful and relatively peaceful flight, I arrived in Manchester where my sister was waiting for me.  We spent Saturday shopping and cooking and generally chatting away as usual and the sun shone down. It was lovely and everything went to plan.

The party was relatively small but consisted of family and close friends. It was a shame that all my family couldn't come with me but it was logistically and financially impossible to travel en masse so close to Easter. However, one of my gifts to my mum was a large framed photo of my three - Mum's request - and she was very happy with it.

I also did a painting for her. One of my Zentangles which carries a 'hidden' message....look carefully and you might just see that the design is based on the number '80 80 80'.

I had the picture framed with a nice dark passepartout and a mid-oak frame which looks perfect in Mum's room
It was very good to see old friends - many of whom are now genuinely old....but who look great. I also think my mum looks pretty good for 80!! Here are a few photos from the day...I should really have taken more, especially as my sister's garden was looking so very beautiful but I completely forgot!

A view of the delightful garden - perfect place for a party

Setting out the tables and chairs...

Tuck in... plenty of delicious food for all tastes.

And an Easter themed birthday cake...the chicken is co-incidental! It was a gift from a friend to my sister but to put it on the top was irresistible. We decided against risk!

Well done Mum - a brilliant 80!!
Here's to continuing health and happiness. Axxx

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Four years

Four years have passed since we moved into our house here in Villalobos. In some ways - as we all say - it seems to be only yesterday when we packed up our things yet again and drove out in the drizzle to the countryside. It was such an exciting day...

The lovely table didn't collapsed sometime last year.

The garden in its original wild state

Romy happy in the silly little reformed to full height!
Four years on and there has been a lot of work. It's involved digging up existing parts, adding new bits, rather a lot of concrete and huge amounts of toil, mainly by FR but with help from the boys on the more back-breaking things!

There has been a lot of planting, building of walls and the placing of strategic electrical points in preparation for summer living....
Lots of trees....walnut, almond, cherry, nectarine, plum, pear,,,,
There's still a lot to do but FR's vision is taking place. I keep putting bulbs every year - slowly but surely our garden is starting to bloom.

I don't have a lot of time for gardening 'proper' but Mateo is a good helper and a brilliant weeder...I'm looking forward to getting the front of the house's still the original ugly concrete that was here when we moved in. In time, it will be a beautiful terrace and additional living space, with furniture and plants and nice things. In time. 

And today, I have just taken a walk down memory lane as I dropped Romy off at her friend's house, which is the house we lived in before we moved here! It's such a beautiful day that I decided to do my old, favourite walk (though sadly without my favourite little white ball of fur that was Darwin....) up through the pine trees to La Mota, glad that there was no one around to hear my panting and puffing as I plodded up the steep hill. About halfway up, I heard a band playing. Practising for Semana Santa. It was lovely to listen and as I got to the top, I could see that they were rehearsing carrying the platforms that in a couple of weeks will be topped with figures of Christ, the (various) Virgins, plus donkeys, flowers, other figures - making them very heavy indeed. Today though, from an onlooker's point of view, it looked like a large table with about 20 people underneath it, who from time to time, lifted it up onto their shoulders and 'processed' a distance to the music, then stopping for a break. 

The glorious view from the top towards the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the distance. The playground is new. 
As is this 'recontstructed', in a wonderfully minimal sense, church at the foot of La Mota. 

It really was a gloriously bright and sunny day on Sunday.

My photo is embarrassingly bad - I didn't manage to capture the 'table' or really even the people underneath - and you can't see the band that was just around the corner...I felt a little rude taking photos of a rehearsal. Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered at all!
Anyway - it was a slightly comical sight but will be impressive in a week or so from now once the processions start.

Four years ago, blogging was an integral part of my life. I could hardly carry out any activity without thinking how my blog post would accompany its description. Nowadays, I rarely write and rarely read blogs....and with a few notable exceptions, I think many of my blogging friends must feel a bit the same. It's too easy now to upload a photo to Facebook or Instagram and be done with it. I also have less free time than I had for writing. My free time is usually spent drawing my Zentangles. I am more addicted to this than ever! Partly, this is because every Friday evening, since last October, I have been giving a class to a growing group of, mainly, women at one of the local social centres in Alcala la Real. There is huge enthusiasm and more than a little talent amongst this group and I'm going to show a little of our work here...even though I have a blog and a Facebook page devoted entirely to tangling. 'Being Here', for me, is about being part of the town I live in and apart from my children, Zentangle is a thing that has brought me more into the community than almost anything else.

Our classes are informal and we practice different patterns.
Outside the class, people also tangle - and bring in their various artistic endeavours each week. And each week, they are more impressive. They really keep me on my toes!

Note, for example, the beautifully decorated box on the right - absolutely stunning work by Aurora. You can see some of her 'practice' work, albeit a bit blurred, in the notebook she's working in.
She's really very good.

This is a final set of tiles, done in the last half an hour of the class. There is a peace and tranquillity that descends at this time that is incredible. A room full of women - Spanish women for the main - and silence. Beautiful, eloquent silence as we slip into a Zen state of concentration and creativity.

And this is in my English teaching classroom - sometimes the drawing creeps into an English lesson. I have one group of young teenage girls and it's a special treat for us all when we have a lesson devoted to the language of Zentangle!

And whilst I started off this post by saying that it seems like only yesterday that we moved house, looking back now, and seeing how life has changed and developed in these four seems like we have done a lot and moved on even more, not forgetting those we have lost.

Life has changed in many ways for us all. What were you doing four years ago?


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Al azar.....

Since the summer last year, at the invitation of a great women's association here in Alcala, I've been giving Zentangle classes on a Friday evening. I think we have around 25 people, mainly women, who come regularly, either to the beginners or the advanced classes, I often leave the house feeling quite tired after a long week, but invariably, I am rejuvenated when I arrive home a few hours later.

Al azar is a 'Spanish' phrase which I recently discovered and which has made my Friday evening's teaching SO much easier all of a sudden. 'Azar' is not originally a Spanish word, as you may imagine. It seems to originate in Persia, is found in Arabic (which is probably how it entered Spanish) and is quite common in Hebrew too. It can mean chance, fate, bad luck, 'Al azar', however, means randomly, frivolously or by chance. This is the meaning I need in my classes.

The point being that I became ridiculously excited when I discovered this phrase, because my alternative was a very long word that I could never remember...aleatoriamente ....but which I need to use very often during the classes to explain - 'make random dots on the paper'. Random is one of my favourite words - and indeed, concepts. Doing or thinking things 'at random' sparks my imagination and can set me on a wonderful path of discovery - finding something by chance is so exciting. It's one of the things I love in teaching and in my drawing. You never know where you'll end up or what you'll end up with.

It's how writing my blogposts go. I sit down with an intention in mind but many of my posts take a direction of their own at the production of a random word that triggers a set of thoughts.
I'm labouring the point. I'll stop.

I was on my way home today from taking Romy to a friend's birthday celebration. It has been raining quite a lot in the past couple of days so I was quite surprised to see a neighbour out and walking up the hill, still at some distance from her house. I stopped and asked if she wanted me to take her home, but she grinned and said no, she liked walking in the rain. She was wearing her dressing gown. Couldn't see her feet. But she did look very happy! Just thought I'd share.

A couple of weeks ago now, the wife of Edward Bond died. Edward is FR's guide, mentor and friend and he knew Elisabeth personally. At random, he opened a book of Bond's poetry a few days later, only to find the poem, 'She died'. FR was genuinely moved by this chance occurrence.

Strange random things sometimes encourage us to look for patterns in life. I'm not saying we always find them but there is a sense of reassurance for me that today - 4th March - is the birthdate of my great grandmother and FR's father. And that both our sets of parents got married on the 10th June - which is also the birthday of my oldest and closest friend. They make little links in our lives. Randomly, of course.

I was surprise, however, that at our last Zentangle class, we were discussing very briefly at the end about maybe contacting a qualified teacher who lives in Madrid to see if she would come down and do a class with us. I sent her a message once - in August 2014 - just after she had done the Zentangle teacher's course in Rhode Island. She sent me a very nice reply the next day but since then, we have had no contact. So imagine my surprise when, last Saturday morning, I got a message from her asking me for my email address! Random or what??

This is the Zentangle pattern that sparked my need for the word 'random' in Spanish. It starts off with a set of random dots on the page which are then joined together with five lines. So simple and so effective - I use it sometimes with my English students if I ever get on to the subject of chance, of course!

Random questions make great conversation topics in my English classes. It's incredible how an unexpected question or statement can spark several memories or thoughts in people's heads. No need to worry about a language barrier if people really want to speak. Recently one of the best random questions was 'How would the world be different if animals could speak?....It really got my 13 year old students talking and made many of them think deeply about eating meat, visiting zoos and protecting the environment.

Quite out of the blue, I got a message last night from my nephew, Will. Several years ago, I bought him a wooden box for his birthday. It had a dragon on it and it caught my attention for him as he often uses the name 'Wishdragon' when online - a lovely name in itself - so the box seemed perfect. Being Will, I suspect he was a tad bemused at receiving an empty box but it made him think how he could put it to use. I am so delighted with what he came up with...a musical box, complete with the roll and beautiful tune he composed himself. Hope you enjoy this.

I will randomly end at this point, stopping only to say - do share any random thoughts or ideas you might have at this moment!

Thank you!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Starting 2017

It seems so long since I posted that this really does feel like starting over! I have been working many more hours a week since the summer and now, a few months on, I am getting into it and coping better. It has taken a while with some of the classes in the Academy but I am much more relaxed now about teaching in my own style and enjoying the interaction with the students there. And the people at the company continue to be engaged, fun and a pleasure to teach. So as far as the teaching and the working goes, life is really good.

It felt as though we all had to work right up to Christmas. School and academies didn't finish officially until 23 December and many students had exams in the final week. I missed the celebratory Christmas lunches that I used to have with colleagues and friends when I lived in the UK - more so this year, I think, because I was working more - but in our town, Christmas is still pretty low-key as it is one of the more intensive periods of work. It's olive picking season. The hills and countryside ring with machinery and tractors and the roads are positively busy with landrovers full of workers ready to gather the fruit. They've been lucky with the weather this year - it's been clear blue skies (and very cold nights) since mid-December. It's hard not to get caught up in the hype of buying and spending at this time of year but easier when it's not being pushed at you from all sides. We were aware that Christmas was coming - the lights and trees in the town blazed from 6th December - but it has been comparatively subdued. I'm sure I've commented on this before and I'm glad we haven't had the Christmas 'musak' in the shops, the constant bombardment with advertising, the pressure the buy, buy, buy ....but I still miss Christmas carols and pre-Christmas parties...

My boys have reached an age where, when asked what they would like for Christmas, they say just one thing and don't have long expensive lists (phew!) ...Romy hasn't quite got there yet (but she will!) As a result, we had a quiet Christmas at home with a few presents round the tree on Christmas morning, a delicious lunch and then our usual routine of Christmas games and fun that are particularly English. I enjoyed it very much. I think we all did.

Back in August, I rashly booked a trip to England for Ruy, Romy and myself in late December until 6th January. I say 'rashly' because I didn't check with anyone before I booked, including Ruy and Romy! The prices were good and I had this sudden thought that they would like to visit London - for the first time - and Christmas was always especially exciting, with the lights and the special events. I planned for us to go to Manchester and visit family first, then head to Huddersfield to catch up with old friends before a couple of days in the capital. When I told them, they were less than enthusiastic...or at least not as enthusiastic as I'd hoped they would be. Fortunately as, time went on, they warmed to the idea. I seriously failed to take into account that my sister always goes skiing at this time of year and we had nowhere to stay. And in the intervening months. my father has been so ill that we began to fear we might have an unplanned visit before Christmas but I am glad to say that he has had a good recovery and was looking quite well when we saw him at New Year. He really is incredible!!
However, our backup plan to stay with my parents - a bit of a squash but manageable - caused my mum some stress as dad is often awake during the night and she was worried that as well as keeping her awake, he would keep us awake. So we booked into a hotel near Knutsford for that part of our visit - and which Mum generously paid for.
In addition, I began to have serious qualms about the potential for bad weather. It would not be unusual to find freezing fog, rain, driving wind and even snow between Knutsford and Huddersfield during the winter month, now would it! I'd booked a car for the northern part of our trip and did spent a lot of time checking the weather forecasts as our journey approached - all looked like it might be OK but I know how changeable it can be.

In the end, the weather, travel and fun gods smiled down on us and we had a wonderful time. It was 18 months since the children saw their grandparents and we were lucky that dad was well enough for us to all go out for lunch one day and to have an afternoon playing dominoes together - Romy was the winner.

Our time in Huddersfield was spent at my friend Marion's house, who was the absolutely perfect host and where we felt utterly at home. We also had a delightful afternoon with Karen and Philip, friends of mine since we were at University, where my children were introduced to dumplings and frog-flipping.

Then Ruy spent a day with old school friends, which he enjoyed, whilst Romy and I went shopping and where I discovered that at almost 13, Romy is a professional at selecting which clothes are 'her' and which are not.

The weather was more than lovely, it was spectacular and I so enjoyed a long walk with Marion one afternoon, taking in green fields, damp verges, crisp blue skies and woolly white sheep in the fields. Super bracing and definitely appetite-building. And we did eat a lot! It was so tempting to eat everything that was 'not Spanish' for a change. We had curry, home-made pizzas, moussaka, Greggs pasties (!), mince pies, apple pie, thick fresh cream, filo pastries, meat and potato pie, turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches, cappuccino coffee and gingerbread biscuits.....oh, I could go on ... but I won't! Marion had a party whilst we were there, where there was more game playing and lots of eating and catching up with old friends.
And then it was time to leave.

After taking the car back to the rental village at Manchester airport, I think the children were almost ready to go home. We felt to have been away quite a long time but we still had London to do! We caught the train and arrived just before it got dark. Our hotel was outside London, near Wandsworth (long story why) so we took the upstairs seats of a double decker and took the scenic route via Trafalgar Square, past Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey...over the Thames and with views of the London Eye - all lit up and beautiful by 4.30! Having lived in London in my early twenties, I love seeing how much I remember and how much has changed. It did look particularly lovely when we arrived and we saw some ice-skating rinks which we decided would be a good thing to try out the next day.

And the next day, after a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off the the Natural History and Science Museums - where there just happened to be one of the above-mentioned ice-rinks. We bought tickets for an afternoon twirl.

And then we went to explore the museums. I adore these buildings so much and the weather was again unbelievably beautiful and showing London off at its best. We spent the morning in the Science Museum, then went round to the Natural History Museum, where we met my cousin from Australia, Dee-Anne. She mentioned on Facebook that she would be visiting London at the same time as we were there so what a great opportunity to catch up?

Which we did over lunch ...and whilst Ruy and Romy were trying out their skating legs. (You didn't think I went skating as well, did you?) We held the coats and shouted encouragement, whilst carrying on our own conversation and soaking up the beautiful surroundings. Sneakily, I would have loved to have skated but was really worried that I might fall and break something important which would create serious knock-on problems for our return home....

And try as I might, I couldn't persuade the children to leave the museums so when they closed, they were happy to make the journey back to the hotel, stopping to buy some sandwiches to eat in the room. I intended that we went out again later but they were exhausted - we'd walked a lot and skating is quite tiring - so after laughing a lot at Romy, we eventually fell asleep quite early. And the next day we had to make our way to the airport at Gatwick. We had time to go to Buckingham Palace and ALMOST see the changing of the guard. My goodness, what a lot of people there were - probably the sunshine that brought everyone out on the streets.

(There were so many people that it crossed my mind that the Queen's cold had got the better of her, but apparently not and the crowds were quite normal.)

And then, we were on the train to Gatwick and home! I'd had another slight panic back in October when it sounded as though Monach Airlines were about to collapse....they were, of course, the airline we would travel back with. But again, we were spared any problems and I would like to congratulate our pilot on the smoothest landing I have ever experienced - like a feather brushing the earth, it was.

FR and Mateo were just arriving as we emerged from the airport - they'd been on the beach at Malaga when I called to say we'd landed (15 minutes early) and they had to scrabble into the car and make the 10 minute journey to find us, so our joint timing was perfect for a quick pick-up. It was lovely to see them again after what felt like a very long time. It was nice too to feel energised by the trip because, contrary to my many fears (foul weather, my dad's health, staying in so many different places) and worries (responsibility for passports, tickets and belongings always weighs heavily on me when I'm with the children), the holiday had exceeded my expectations; we'd had wonderful weather, done everything we'd wanted, negotiated roads, rail and air travel and returned safely without a single problem*, a great deal of good temper and a sense of achievement. I really feel as though my 2017 had got off to a very good start indeed. I won't start on the state of the world at this point, but having such a good personal beginning is giving me the strength to face what might be to come....

*There was just one hiccup to all my plans. I lost tally of the days and dates and as a result, failed to meet up with Kath and Jenny as I had planned. I would also have LOVED to have seen Janice but I didn't make plans to do this, focusing this time on doing what the children wanted to do and knowing that she and Mark have had a busy and exciting time with family themselves.

And, if you've stayed with me to this point - thank you. If I saw you in England, it was a pleasure - it's always lovely to bump into people in the street that I know. It often gives them a bit of a surprise but the years roll away immediately - at least they do for me.

Here are a few more photos - all from our trip.
Happy New Year to everyone and I sincerely hope we can pull together to make it a good one, somewhere and somehow.

Romy looking very proficient

And Ruy too!
Possibly my favourite photo...

Waiting for a turn in the 360degree flying pod at the Science Museum

Outside the Natural History Museum
With Dee-Anne ...still at the Museums!

Palm trees, blue Wandsworth! (HONEST)