Friday, 31 May 2013

Saturday and Sunday in London

I am currently sitting in my car waiting for Penelope as she is at singing. Since it is pouring down with rain I decided it was a good opportunity to catch up on my blog. The weather has been awful! Yesterday I got back out the kids winter uniforms and coats that had been put away. A friend knocked on my car window and I ended up gong with her to the supermarket so it is now the next day and I still haven't done Sunday in London!

We caught the bus from the strand into Oxford street as we had limited time and had some serious shopping to do. The bus ride was slow but eventful as the European cup was being played at Wembly that night and London was full of Germans come to support there teams. It was the first time that a final involving two German teams has occurred outside Germany. We drove through Trafagular square and could hear singing and the crowds were huge.

We got off at Piccadily and where there was singing and great excitement from supporters. We decided to grab a quick sandwich so went to a costa cafe. As I was waiting to pay for my lunch at the counter a girl of about 7 grabbed m sandwich off my tray and ran off with it! The staff were lovely and got me a new one and we decided that she was either thought it was her tray or was just very hungry. Either way I hope she enjoyed her free sandwich! Our first stop was the beautiful department store Fortnum & Mason where we got to admire the china.

We then decided to head to Hamleys which was great but very noisy and busy even for London. I think when we come back to London with the kids we will have to set aside half a day just for Hamley's toy store! Jasper could not believe it when I came home and told him that there was a whole floor of Lego.

A chima lego display.

I got my gifts for the kids and Mum managed to get some birthday presents for grandchildren then we set off back out into the busyness!

I love London shops and enjoyed gong back to Topshop and selfridges. I managed to get myself and the girls all lovely summer dresses (which I do hope we get to use one day soon!)

By this time we were tired out and wanted to get back to our hotel to change then go to for dinner before the show. We decided we could squeeze in one last London sight so headed into the Bond Street tube station bound for green park where the New Zealand solider memorial is. Unfortunately I lost mum due to the fact that my underground pass had run out of money and mum thought I was in front of her when I was behind her stuck at the gate! After a very stressful few minutes I got my card topped up and headed through the gates hoping mum was waiting on the other side - but no. I decided that she must have carried on to Green park so jumped on and off the tube and arrived at the memorial only a few minutes after her. A good reminder that it is always a good idea to discuss your destination just in case you get lost. Due to the huge amount of football fans mum had just got swept up with the crowd and was down the escalator before she knew it without an easy way back up. Lesson learned we headed home.

Show clothes on, dinner at Cafe rouge and then to Billy Elliot we went! The show was definitely a highlight of the weekend. Such a wonderful experience to attend a west end show and the performances were all of such a high quality. Billy Elliot was wonderful and even more astounding when you think that the main performers are children! Our Billy ( there are three Billy's who share the role) was fantastic and for a boy of 12 could sing, dance and act beautifully. Everyone in the audience clapped and stood when he had preformed his solos. We headed back to the hotel very content with the day we had had.

As our flight left at 2.20pm on Sunday we decided to not travel too far away on the tube so just went one stop to Sloane square. Even though it was too early for the shops to be open we enjoyed looking in windows especially at the lovely flower displays for Chelsea.

We then headed down to Chelsea bridge for one last look at the Thames before heading back to Victoria on the bus.

Mum had booked a shuttle to take us to the airport but discovered on Sunday morning that it was full. We decided to book a taxi instead and were glad we did as it took us straight to terminal 5 with no stops. Because we had not checked in online mum and I had both been given middle seats five rows apart! Oh well at least we were on. After a lovely lunch at Wagamama we got onto our plane and headed to France. What a great weekend!

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Thursday, 30 May 2013


Getting to Broughton is never easy, so I decided to make it even more difficult by going to St Nazaire first. To get to Broughton from St Nazaire you first have to take an hour taxi trip to Nantes - glad I wasn't paying the €200 bill.

I flew with Flybe because it was a lot easier, more convenient and a 1/4 of the price plus it got there at 4pm instead of 9:30pm! The flight went via Flybe's base at Southampton, which was a bit of a non-event.  My driver - John had a sign with my name on it as I came though the arrival doors. It was a nice afternoon and a pleasant change from last time I was in Manchester as last time, there was snow on the ground.

It was great being able to talk English again - not that I could get much of a word in. John was filling me in on all the things wrong with the world and most of the problems came from London. He was getting himself all worked up so I changed the subject by announcing that my parents were from Liverpool. This did the trick nicely as he was also from Liverpool - "what are the chances ah?" with a quick friendly hit to the arm. This was to be the first of many hits to the arm as he went on about the glory days of Liverpool. Somehow we got onto the subject of the Christchurch earthquakes - surely this would stop the barrage of hits to my now numb arm, but no - I think we were now long lost Liverpool brothers and I as described what it was like being thrown out of bed at 4 in the morning by the house splitting in two it was followed by a " oh my God"- whack!

Despite the fact I now had lost the use of my right arm, John was a supper guy and very proud of the area he calls home. To prove to me that they were nothing like those bunch of nob heads down in London, he took me on a quick tour of Chester - my destination for the night.  John dropped me off at my hotel, reached for my arm and shook it ( I could no longer lift it to offer it to him) and we said our sad goodbyes.

I quickly dropped my bags off in my room and headed back out to explore Chester. John had given me a few pointers, I wanted to go to a few shops before they closed but as it was after 5pm there were only a few open, quite a contrast to France were they would not think to close until 7pm. I was really taken with Chester, I walked the wall which took me around the city taking in all the historic sites along the way. I ended my tour at a pub recommended by John and it was great, good atmosphere and a friendly publican who I could actually have a conversation with. He was a young student and was quite surprised at the answer I gave him when he asked what I had been up to today and I told him that my day started in St Nazaire!  After a couple of good pints, I walked across the road to the "Upstairs at the Grill" and had a great steak, I really wanted some NZ wine, but they only had it by the bottle, so had to settle for an Aussie red.

I had a taxi booked for 8.45 reception rang at 8.40 to let me know that he was waiting, I was ready so went down to check out "ello James" whack, yes it was John and yes I had a bruise from the day before. Luckily this trip was only about ten minutes so there were only so many hits that could he get in as we discussed the good looking hotel receptionist and how great Chester is.

The inspection at Broughton went without too much drama. I had decided to catch the train down to London, as it was cheaper, just as quick and more comfortable especially as I was travelling first class. Unfortunately the National rail service lived up to its name and there was a delay for some unknown reason so we had to go another way that added an extra 45 mins to the trip. This was going to make things pretty tight as I had to catch the underground from Euston to Victoria and then the Gatwick Express. Made it to my flight with plenty of time to spare, easyjet lived up to their name and had a easy flight back home to Toulouse.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Shopping and a show

Friday morning I headed to the airport to catch my plane to London. The flight was a bit of an adventure as we ended up being delayed due to an aircraft leaving Heathrow that had engine trouble. Heathrow ended up being closed to all departures and then not after we landed the airport was closed. We were delayed about an hour but I was very thankful to arrive and not end up getting diverted to Stansted or Gatwick - especially since I had already booked my ticket for the paddington express train.

I managed to meet up with Mum at Victoria station and we walked up the road to our hotel. Mum had been staying there for a week but had been in a single room and so we moved to a twin room. The room was tiny although I think that is pretty standard for London. The location in Victoria was great and when I go back with the family will definitely try to stay in that area. Mum had been to the Chelsea flower show the day before and caught the bus just down the road and then when we went to Billy Elliot we discovered the theatre was just on the other side of Victoria Station.

As it was raining when I arrived we decided to go the V & A museum for lunch. It is a beautiful building and we could of spent all afternoon there but mum had already been there so I had a quick look on the way to the cafe. The cafe was very noisy and busy - which is very typical of everywhere in London! We got our chicken, potatoes and veges and found a table.

From the V & A we walked in the rain up to Harrods stopping at Gap on the way for a bit of shopping. Harrods was great although very busy and the toy department was a bit of a disappointment as was quite small. I could have bought a British bull dog from the Harrods pet store for £5000 but decided to pass!

When I lived in London 15 years ago my favourite shop was Harvey Nichols so it was a bit of a treat to go back again. Mum and I decided that it was time for afternoon tea so went to the lovely but noisy cafe on the 5th floor and I had a coffee and mum had a cream tea which came with two yummy scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam - enough to share!

From Harvey nic we headed to Covent garden and when we came out of the underground it was pouring down with rain. We had a poke around all the lovely shops and sat and watched a busker for a while.

We carried on walking into leister square then ended up to Piccadilly Circus where we stumbled across a big sale in Lily whites sport store. We decided that we had better save some shopping for the rest of the weekend so headed off in search of dinner. We found a great restaurant just off leister square that served fish n chips - yah!

We awoke to blue skies on Saturday and headed out without jackets. Even though I had lived in London for two years 15 years ago I never went to St Paul's so Mum and I decided to head there. It is truly a beautiful building and after paying our entry fee of £16 we got to have a look around. We decided to head to the whispering gallery first which is where you can walk around the inside of the main dome looking down at the people in the church and whisper to each other across the empty space. I decided to brave my ever increasing fear of heights and go up to the next level. Mum had done this previously so decided to head down to look around the church. The climb was narrow but fine and I came out outside the dome.

I decided to head up to the next level although was not mentally prepared for the metal staircase that wound up inside the dome with being able to look straight down into parts of the church. I almost turned round but as it was one way I had no choice but to carry on. I eventually made it to the top and came out onto a tiny viewing area that went around the outside of the dome. The view was spectacular and worth the climb.

We then went down into the crypt which had an amazing display of plagues of people that had been involved in the church (including the organists)as well as artists. There were also memorials for soldiers that had fought in past wars as well as people that had contributed to London. The crypt gave me a real sense of the broad history of London and the church and was really worthwhile visiting.

We then wandered over the millennium bridge to the south bank.

Will post this now and write about the last little bit of our holiday tomorrow.

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Monday, 20 May 2013

Penelope turns 8

Last Wednesday it was Penelope's eighth birthday. She was very spoilt and received many lovely cards and gifts both from France, family in Australia and New Zealand - so thank you all!

As it is just a half day of school in France on Wednesdays we decided to take Penelope out for birthday lunch. We went to a great restaurant called hippopotamus with the highlight being the waiter bringing out Penelope's ice cream with sparklers in it!

After lunch James took Hannah and Jasper home and I took Penelope to the mall to get her main birthday present - her ears pierced! The whole process took quite a while as she has such little earlobes that it took some time to find exactly the right place for the hole. Eventually though they were ready and with one lady on either side they counted down and did both ears at the same time. Poor old Pen got a bit of a shock as to how much it hurt but at least it was all over in one go!

That night she was a very happy girl with pierced ears sitting in her birthday princess tent from Ikea!

On Saturday we had her party and she decided she would like to invite her whole class plus two friends in year 4 and a friend from Church. It happened to be a long weekend so only about half her class could come which was good really otherwise it would have been very busy! She has been planning her party for months and had a notebook with all the details in it from who was invited to what games we were playing and also what are jobs was. Mine was to organise everything, James was the DJ and props, Jasper was games and Hannah was just to have fun. The whole disco party theme was a bit thwarted by the fact Penelope broke her foot but she was determined that this would not stop her and party was to go on as planned.

Despite the fact it was raining and the kids could not get outside we all had a great time, although poor wee Hannah did find it a bit stressful with so many noisy boys. We all were very busy but Penelope had a great time. She ended up having a friend stay the night as her mum went into labour just before the party!

She got so many lovely gifts from her new friends and has spent the rest of the weekend making perfume, designing t-shirts, making lego, doing stamps and wearing all her new accessories. Hannah's favourite present that Pen got though was a microphone and stand and Pen has been very kind at sharing!

She was also lucky enough to be invited to a slumber party last night so got to wear some of her new things plus take her new fav soft toy - a big purple unicorn. She had a great time at Poppy's party and is so lucky to have found such a lovely group of friends. Needless to say though she is very tired tonight!

Otherwise we have had a very restful weekend and yesterday after we dropped Pen at Poppy's took the opportunity to go for a walk in the local forest. This morning James went for a bike ride with a friend from Church and I had a restful morning reading my book while Hannah sang into the microphone and Jasper played on the iPad.

My two handsome men after getting their hair cut.

Toasting marshmallows on the barbecue - you can buy smurf marshmallows in France - such fun!

In other news James, Hannah and I went to the MDPH (French special education services) on Friday. The meeting went well and they have referred Hannah on to a school which provides schooling for new arrivals to France called a CLIN. We have a meeting with them next Tuesday, so hopefully they will be able to offer her a place for September. They have also given us phone numbers for other services we can access.

The most frustrating part of the meeting was finding out that they are actually very happy to work with IST (the international school) and provide services and funding for Hannah to be in the school. They said that Hannah is not the first child with a disability who has been discriminated against by IST. If the school just took a bit of time to get the supports in place and utilise the services that are available to them it could have all turned out so differently. We had been told by IST that they did not have any supports available to them so to find out that this is false is very frustrating. It is not just Hannah it is affecting but all the children with disabilities who enrol at IST.

So anyway Hannah is not allowed at IST this week because there is school wide testing going on - I am unsure why an alternative programme can not be provided for her by her teacher. I had asked if she could go to school on Tuesday afternoon as there is no testing as her class do PE and art. The teacher had said yes, but then emailed me back and told me that the Principal had said that no Hannah was not allowed at school on Tuesday afternoon. So instead Hannah's lovely new TA will come to our home and do homeschooling with her here, which although is not ideal will be fine. Hannah should be back to school Friday though which is great as I am off to London to meet my Mum and spend the weekend with her then bring her back to Toulouse on Sunday - yah can't wait!!
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Sunday, 12 May 2013

Back to routine

Tomorrow is Monday and we are all looking forward to getting back into routine. Last week school went back for Monday and Tuesday after the holidays but the rest of the week were French bank holidays. Only Jasper went to school those days though as Hannah's new TA went and met with the school so Hannah couldn't attend. The new TA is all go for tomorrow and Hannah is looking forward to getting back into it! Penelope ended up hurting her foot last Sunday and by Monday it was quite swollen and sitting at a funny angle so I decided to take her to the emergency department and yes it was broken.

It was all a bit stressful as I did have an appointment with the MDPH on Monday afternoon, which is the French special education department and I ended up having to cancel it. I am hopeful that I can make another appointment but they are very hard to get hold of and as I can't speak French it is challenging. I sent them an email using google translate but they haven't responded to that either. I have a French lesson tomorrow so will ask my lovely French teacher to ring them for me and hopefully they answer the phone!

I am also trying to make contact with a few other schools I have been told about that have alternative education curriculums which may be more suitable for Hannah. Again though it is very hard trying to ring schools when the person answering the phone may not speak English. I am hopeful though that I will have a bit more luck making contact with schools this week now that holidays are out of the way. There is a small bilingual Montessori school which sounds lovely so I will try and ring them tomorrow. It is a bit of a drive from here but we may look at a part time enrolment that way she can do full days but perhaps just three days a week. It will then leave us time for speech and swimming.

On top of all this James has been working very hard. The ATR aircraft that he has been working on flew back to NZ on Saturday so hopefully things will settle back down. Although he has gone to northern France then to Manchester tonight for two days to inspect bits of the A320 he is due to deliver in June.

The highlight of the week though was last night when the singing group that Penelope is in preformed at the English players annual fundraiser. About six different groups preformed and Penelope's group were the best and the youngest! It was a pirate number so Penelope looked the part with her crutches wrapped up to look like a wooden leg! Penelope was a bad pirate called Billy Bones and had to die! She died very dramatically and got a great laugh from the audience. We were very proud of her performance. They only did part of the show last night but are dong a full production on June the 13th. My mum is going to be here then so it will be lovely for her to see it.

Our other bit of good news is that Hannah has joined girl guides. There is an English speaking group that meets at the international school on Monday nights. Hannah had a lovely time and really enjoyed herself last week. One of the leaders is our babysitter and another one goes to our Church so it was great for Hannah to see familiar faces. I am really hoping that it works out as it will be nice for Hannah to be in an age appropriate group with other lovely girls.

A busy week ahead for us as it is Penelope's birthday on Wednesday and she is having a disco party on Saturday. She has spent the last month planning it and has a list for each family member of our tasks. I said that she could change the theme if she liked due to fact she has a broken foot but no she is determined that it must go on as planned!

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Sunday, 5 May 2013

School holidays come to an end?

It is the last day of the French school holidays today but Wednesday and Thursday this week are public holidays and our school is having Friday off as well. So a bit of a waste of time going back tomorrow really. In fact at this stage it looks like jasper is going to be the only one of mine attending school tomorrow. Hannah is getting a new TA and the school can't meet her until Tuesday - although due to the short week and the fact that probably several children will be away tomorrow the teacher easily could have had Hannah without a TA! Also, Penelope twisted her ankle on our new trampoline so not sure if she will be up to walking around on it by tomorrow. Hopefully her ankle is all better by next Saturday as she is in a show with her singing group which should be lots of fun!

We have had a good second week of holidays. We had friends from Church in New Zealand staying with us last weekend. Unfortunately the weather was awful and they were on a cycling trip around southern France. So a bit wet for them for cycling and sightseeing. We were also very tired as we had only just got back from Portugal. We had a nice weekend though and the children loved entertaining their eighteen month old.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing, hanging out with friends, kids having sleepovers and going walking and also checking out the swimming pool in Muret.

James had to work on Saturday so despite Hannah having been quite difficult at MacDonalds the day before I decided to be brave and go on an outing with the kids on my own. I did a bit of research and found an animal parc combined with an amusement parc called Animaparc about 45 minutes from here.

It was a beautiful day (finally) so we packed a lunch and headed off - once I got my GPS to recognise the address! We arrived not really knowing what to expect but it was great! The kids loved going on the rides and there were no queues and the ride operators were all really nice and friendly. The rides were quite basic but enough for my kids. Hannah just loved all the bouncy castles and trampolines and Jasper and Penelope loved the jumping frog and the caterpillar roller coaster.

The log ride

The jumping frogs

The parc was busy but not jam packed and there was heaps of picnic tables to sit at to have our lunch.

The parc is in a forest and we wandered up the paths to feed the sheep and goats as well as to look at the llamas, donkeys, cows and pigs.

Hannah got a bit cross at one point because Jasper passed her on the bouncy castle but apart from that it all went well. We will definitely go back - especially once it is warmer and they have the pool area open.

The caterpillar roller coaster and yes even I had a go!

A great day out and best of all we have discovered a thai takeaway down the road and James brought home dinner - yah!

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