I’m packing my bags and leaving for England...

  Next week I am off to visit my parents in England. Mum and Dad live in a beautiful village on the edge of the Peak District. They are fiercely independent and live in a cosy little bungalow, with a beautiful garden. However, they are literally all alone. My brother emigrated to Sydney in the 1980’s, closely followed by my sister, who settled in Perth. I departed the Mother Land at the end of the 1990’s, first settling in Sri Lanka, before moving to  New Zealand five years later. Mum and Dad have absolutely no family left in England, myself and my siblings, with all our families, are 20,000 kilometers away, we can hardly pop round to change a light bulb or deal with a bothersome wasp’s nest (more of that later).

  My parents certainly taught all three of us to spread our wings. However, unlike my husband, I do miss my homeland terribly.  England is firmly embedded in my heart and has shaped who I am and what I hold dear. I miss my parents; the yearning is strong and pulls at my heart constantly. The older I get, and the very much more elderly my parents become, the more the dull nagging pain is felt. I know, as a family, we did the right thing, leaving England. We initially moved to Sri Lanka for my husband’s three-year work contract, this stretched out to five years. Living on a tropical island in the mists of a civil war, with very young children, was certainly exciting and exhilarating, it was an experience I would not have missed for the world. Our daily life in Sri Lanka was definitely ‘lived in the fast lane.’ We heard and avoided regular suicide bombings, road blocks and political tension. This was counterbalanced by the colorful hustle and bustle of daily Colombo life… elephants in full regalia outside the many temples, the crazy tuk tuk rides we took each day to get too and from school, the street vendors selling deliciously spicy snacks for just a few rupees and the fish market displaying the days catch, fresh from the Indian Ocean. If you are a little sensitive, easily get an upset tummy or are super paranoid about hygiene the local market was definitely a place to avoid!
 
Our local butchers!
 
  Our life in Sri Lanka gravely concerned my parents. I had taken their very young granddaughters off to a tiny Island just off the coast of Southern India, which, at the time was gripped by the terror of civil war and we faced the everyday threat of the world’s most notorious fighting force, the Tamil Tigers. They frequently heard, via the BBC news, of any atrocities before we found out ourselves. 
 
This checkpoint was right outside our house, I’m not sure if that was a good thing… checkpoints were a prime target for Tamil Tiger Suicide Bombers!

At least from Sri Lanka it was only a 12-hour flight home and we did make the trip several times a year. My parents were still in their 60’s and were able to visit us (they kept their thoughts of Colombo life to themselves). Back home in England they kept  busy and sociable. They counted down the years, months, weeks and days to our return home. However, we had other ideas, we were young and adventurous and rather than return to what we felt was the hum drum of our life in England, we decided to head south…an awful long way south to be exact!

  New Zealand has been kind to us. I do not regret our last 16 years in Gods Own Land, and my children have thanked me for giving them a fabulous, traditional upbringing, with freedom, safety and security. I know my husband and I made the correct decision.

  Oh, but it is so hard now. I am middle aged, I am reasonably healthy, I am comfortable and content with ‘my lot’. My two daughters are all grown up, the eldest has spread her wings and now lives in Australia (thank goodness she is still ‘local’. I would have been heartbroken if she had gone any further away, and thankfully she has no desire to go and live in England) Oh, how I must have crucified my parents with the decisions I made all those years ago.

   So, I am sure you can see by now, how very special and how emotional my annual trips to England are.
Mum is 83 and is pretty active. Dad is a ‘different kettle of fish’ At 88 he is not terribly mobile, his legs play up and he cannot walk more than 100 yards without pain. His eyesight is pretty poor, and he has a permanent cough. His diet is appalling, he  eats no fruit or vegetables, living predominantly on cheese, Jammy Dodger biscuits and Polo Mints. He adores a wee tipple of whisky, we are amazed that he has reached such a grand old age and jokingly agree that he has probably pickled and preserved himself in Johnny Walker Red Label! Dad is extremely laid back, like me, he is an introvert, and adores his own company. He spends all day, every day either two feet from the TV screen (his sight is terrible) or in his garden shed, listening to sport on the radio, staying out of my mum’s way, and planting and potting up to his heart’s content. Dad also has a bizarre, but highly amusing sense of humour. He knows he is old and decrepit, he sincerely hopes God will have the TV tuned to the sport channel and that he will have his own veggie plot all ready and waiting  when he arrives at The Pearly Gates. Dad isn’t ready to depart yet and sets himself goals. His long-term plans were to live from one Olympic Games to the next. Ill health has dogged him for the last decade but he gleefully glued himself to the television screen for the Beijing, London and Rio games. His goals are a little shorter term now, he realizes that surviving from the last Olympic Games to the next may be a little over ambitious.  He managed to watch the televised coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, the Tour De France and Wimbledon. His beautiful Granddaughter, Alexandra, recently popped over from her home in Perth, her visit coincided with the Football World Cup and the pair of them watched every game, Alex pointing out the important stuff, like which team has the ball, and ensured the whisky was close to hand. Dad sincerely hopes his winning streak will hold a little longer, he feels confident that he will last until at least the middle of September, and, as I leave, the football season will be in full swing, and Christmas with its promise of multiple bottles of whisky will only be a few months away.

  Dad did have a bit of a hiccup earlier this year.  He managed to catch a particularly bad dose of flu and took to his bed for several weeks. I had a number of ‘last conversations’ on the telephone with him and was prepared to do an extremely short notice, and heart-breaking flight home. Dad pulled through, he had been given some dahlia tubers for Christmas along with some packets of seeds.  He was determined to get the tubers in the ground and the seeds into potting compost. He certainly was not ready to ‘Meet His Maker’.

  Mum is still rather active and has an equally bizarre sense of humour. Each morning they take a ‘role call’, Mum pipes up “I’m here” and Dad says exactly the same. I asked her what she would do, if, one morning there was no “I’m here’’ from my Dad. She replied, “well, I will pop the kettle on and make a cup of tea, then I suppose I will have to rearrange my plans for the day.”
 
 Mum adores hiking, we call it tramping here. Over the last 50 years she has covered many thousands of miles of the British Countryside. She has now slowed down and restricts herself to flatter and shorter walks. During my last telephone conversation, she relayed a walk she had just done around Hartington, a beautiful area of the Peak District. It was pretty warm day (30 degrees for goodness sake!) and a little hilly, but she coped admirably. The highlight of her 12-mile walk (she is 83 years old for goodness sake!) was coming across an adventure playground, not a small and tame playground but one more suited to older children, a playground that presented an element of danger: a broken arm or a light concussion were all part of the parcel with such a playground. Mum couldn’t resist the Flying Fox. Her walking pal Ann egged her on and shrieked with laughter as mum hurtled at great speed, airborne, from one length of the playground to the other.
Mum and her pal, Ann at Chatsworth House in the Peak District.
 
 Mum returned home safely after an energetic days walking, laced with the added excitement of a dare devil ride on a Flying Fox. Dad was glad to see her, he had discovered a problem. A wasp’s nest had appeared just under the roof of the house by their back door. Dad is slightly more sensible than mum, he knew that wasp extermination at height was beyond him. Mum immediately went to the garage to retrieve the step ladder. She extended the contraption to its full height, then, armed with proprietary wasp killer she tottered up and sprayed the little blighters into oblivion.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I do know that when my husband utters those words…" You are just like your mother” I give a little chuckle and his intended derogatory comment falls on deaf ears. I love being like my mother!

  I have planned a belated Mother’s Day event for Mum, I have booked us both on a half day floristry course, held at Chatsworth House, which happens to be my very favourite English Stately Home. The idea is that as a group, we are allowed to wander around the Kitchen Gardens, plucking and picking flowers, fruits and foliage, then retire to the Old Stables where one of the Chatsworth’s florists will   guide and assist us in our genteel and leisurely art of flower arranging (this will be a pretty tame afternoon by mum’s standards!).  Mum jokingly said that this will be the first time she has visited Chatsworth and been legally allowed to pick the flowers… she is a devil for taking cuttings, surreptitiously digging up plants, and plucking and gorging on plumbs, tomatoes and raspberries, all, probably under the beady eyes of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire!  
                                                          

A bit about ‘Woolly’ now.

  While I am away, my wonderful ladies, Marya and Olivia, will be working extra hard in the store. It is a year since we relocated from Devonport to Milford and it has been a fun filled and extremely busy year. We have welcomed many new customers and have been able to stock and display some glorious yarns with which we tease, taunt and entice you. Our web site has been hugely successful, and Olivia is kept especially busy ensuring all things ‘technology and web related’ run smoothly and efficiently.  Many of you may know that this area of the business is not my forte and when Olivia and I work together I leave her to do all the important stuff while I chat to customers and make cups of tea.
  Now while I am away, please be aware that we will literally be one woman down. If the shop is extremely busy and we can’t help you immediately, please just chat amongst yourselves, swap knitting stories, and maybe pop a few more balls of wool into your basket!  Olivia is manning the web site and helping out in the shop. She is not an advanced knitter, so, if you do find yourself in a tangle and need some help please call ahead and we can let you know when Marya will be available and hopefully she will be able to sort you out. 
 
 
  Now, just before I draw this epic newsletter to a close I will just do a bit of a hard sell. Winter is not over yet and babies’ heads and toes need be kept cosy and warm. I have no babies to knit for, however I am totally addicted to knitting our adorable cabled bootees and beanie sets. Those of you who call into the shop will notice that they are on display all around the place, I have no need for multiple samples, I just can’t stop knitting them! Our kits feature a pair of super soft New Zealand sheepskin soles and the locally designed pattern. Our photograph shows a Peony Pink New Zealand Merino set, flanked on either side by sophisticated Italian Merino in the ever so popular shades of Dove and Charcoal Grey.

So, when I next tap out my next newsletter I will be back from my trip, with plenty of new stories, Mum will have been up to all sorts of tricks and Dad… well lets just hope Dad’s winning streak holds out!

Happy knitting,
Fran, Marya and Olivia.
August 10, 2018 by Fran Stafford