7 years later and our first full British summer. Indeed, the weather has been unpredictable but, when the sun does shine England really is beautiful. Tourists are here in Bath in their droves, but it has encouraged us to seek out the city with fresh eyes and rediscover its sheer beauty and magnificence. We have chosen to return her, we are local, this is our home. I have relished time with old friends – a lunch, a coffee, a drink. Time to reconnect, to feel a sense of history and past, old relationships now back in my day to day. This alone gives us purpose.
Joining a new school in the last 6 weeks of the summer term turned out to be a good idea. Summer term has an air of fun and excitement, school fetes, discos, and parties. The boys have settled well, making new friends and re-establishing older friendships. A big achievement – they are happy. And as for Grandpa, we did indeed resettle him to a new care home in Bath, but sadly only a week or so after the move he was transferred by the doctors to the hospital for a more thorough assessment for his needs. Grandpa has done too many moves, and this has further heightened the symptoms of his disease. A journey deep into dementia is very, very tough on us all.
Despite our brave new work of work commitments, we have been able to execute a top-notch programme of activity for the boys. As its worked out this summer break has been the best on record for the boys, full on activity and memorable family time. I have watched them grow every week, literally and in their emotional confidence. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of mummy hot chocolates dates, and daddy cycle days between.
The boys have delighted in camp days, building dens in the woods, and learning to light campfires with a flint and steel. Helped in the harvest of courgettes, cabbage, beans and potatoes, and eaten picnics in fields. They have pressed apples for true British cider, and picked French grapes during the Vendange. And family time. They have loved special weeks with their grandmothers, whilst J and I rediscovered life as a pair without the distraction and routines of children. Somerset is so very beautiful at this time of year, I have loved returning to old haunts and bringing old locked away memories to life. We have had time to chat, to be out to late, and importantly discover the delights of the Canary Gin Bar.
Sport has also been high on our agenda this summer, cycle rides, golf, and a full week multi-sport camp. Sport hasn’t featured much in their little lives to date and both are a little resistant to the norms of football and rugby making it all the more challenging to find suitable alternatives. We are both now resolute in our desire for the boys to find a sport. Sport (and music) compliments day to day school life. We don’t expect champions, but they themselves must learn team spirit, co-operation, collaboration. In turn they are to respect and nurture their bodies and feel the reward of commitment and physical effort. I know this is not going to be easy, but this is our challenge to help them find their niche, and they, and we, must persevere. Our Sunflower Journey is how the whole picture, the whole journey through childhood makes the adult, and the boy into a man.
My absolute highlight of the holidays has been the return to France. We have missed France, a lot. Sally Citroen has been fully christened with ferry journeys and an increasing load of French food and wine. A short stay in Cancale, Brittany with family was just enough time to savour the beautiful taste of oysters and French wine. The boys had last been to Cancale when they were very young, but despite this the memories were there to be unlocked.
Despite all our travel and wanderings, I also realise the significance of releasing memories of the past. It is incredible how deeply our experiences are locked deep in the depths of our mind, and we simply cannot access them until we journey down a road once trodden before. To be by the sea again was magical, and it became clear this is one aspect of our lives we really really do miss. I was lured out early each morning to pace the cliff paths and soak up the power of emotions released from simply looking out to sea. I am still processing the changes in myself, ourselves from our experiences this past year or two.
We hit the road and journeyed south to Bergerac as our next stopover. As ever, I awoke early and this time a chance to pace the early morning streets of this small French city. A fresh food market gathered pace for a busy Saturday morning, and as I watched the sun rise over the old town, and the sheer beauty and magnificence of the medieval architecture and ambience brought tears to my eyes. This is a world away from the beauty of the New Zealand landscape, and the pulse of Asia, a loveliness in its own right. A simple harmony of pulpy tomatoes, rosy red strawberries, prunes and sweet honey.
Further south still to a home from home in the village of Trausse-Minervois, 30 minutes or so north of Carcassonne. This was the ultimate family time, and the boys were in paradise surrounded by gorgeously crazy and fun relatives. We too were in paradise, consuming far too many baguettes and incorporating cheese and wine or coffee into almost every single meal. We ventured out for both fun days and days with a cultural twist. Fun days south to the coastal resort of Leucate for a day on the beach, and an afternoon lake swimming and kayaking at Lac de Jouarres.
There is so much of Europe we have missed and are ever more keen to share its history and culture with the boys, and our culture days included a visit to the incredible excavations at Caves of Cabrespine and the Cathar castle, Chateau de Lastours perched precariously at the top of a mountain spur.
Less kid-friendly, yet still understanding of wine is most definitely on my list of top lessons every boy should have. A fabulous degustation at a nearby vineyard, closely followed by a full morning helping with the grape harvest, the Vendange. A fabulous local winemaker, Jean-Baptiste Senat encouraged us to join his team for the morning, and after a short training session we descended deep into the vineyards. Many feared Big O would hurt himself once set loose with grape vine secateurs, but having dug holes with a machete in Cambodia, we knew this was another moment in which to take risks, for him to realise his boundaries and respect his environment. Big O worked so hard, and I learn each day that we have to let these boys take risks and discover their own way.
A full day in the medieval hilltop city of Carcassonne. During July and August the incredible Grand Tournament of Chivalry brings to live jousting tournaments of a time before in amongst the fortress walls. Our visit to Carcassonne was indeed the high point for the boys, and for Big O, apparently, “the best day of my life”.
Our holiday came to an end and back to school. This is not with the same sadness as perhaps I would’ve had in the past, for I know France is still there, and bubbling beneath the surface is an ever present excitement of all there is yet to discover and share with these boys.
We have started this new chapter and I now see what ‘Sunflower Journey’ really was, and what it will become – it is our stretch of the comfort zone, our record of empowering and educating two boys to become successful men. As we travel this journey it too becomes a record of our challenges and experiences, however small. I hope in time this becomes a record for them, of their paths travelled and a background to the decisions their parents made. Maybe they will piece together what made them who they are, and the things we did to share with them the context of a wider world and equip them with a desire to travel new paths and discover.
My memory is so bad, I must do it this way. The challenge of someone always looking forward, and forgetting to look back.
Until the next time.