What about school?

This is probably the question we get asked most often. We’ve got four children, they’re all in mainstream state education. How on earth are we getting away with taking them out of school for six months without getting fined, imprisoned or (at the very least) bringing them back functionally illiterate?

When we told them they were going to miss six months of school

It’s taking some clever, and, in some cases, entirely accidental planning…

Geography

The first thing we did (and this was absolutely nothing to do with the trip planning itself) was move to Scotland. The law on education in Scotland is not the same as in England and, crucially, there are no fines (or anything else) for parents whose children are absent from school. That’s not to say that schools are terribly keen on it (fierce letters home for those who book holidays to Disneyland in the cheap weeks) but just that there’s no official sanction.

We have, of course we have, discussed the trip with the schools. I think I first mentioned it to the primary school about four years ago, and the high school were told before Lucy even started there. Both schools have been hugely supportive and positive about what we’re doing. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a teacher who hasn’t thought it was a brilliant idea. The schools do, naturally, have absence figures to submit and I don’t think anyone would be happy with recording six months of unauthorised absence for four children, but somehow (and I suspect there’s some bureaucratic fudge in here about which I have not enquired too deeply) all our kids are being allowed to go away and come back as though nothing has happened. We don’t (officially) need to home school during that time and nor will we, crucially, lose our school places.

S1 science. Every day’s a school day. Probably for me too.

That’s another lucky bit of non-planning. We live in a small town. It has two primary schools and one high school. There is, effectively, no parent choice. (You can choose one primary school over the other, but most people don’t bother, and unless you move away or go private, everyone ends up at the same high school). There’s also no pressure on places. There is space for our kids in the schools and there will be space when we come back. They will (administratively at least) just slot back in.

Time and space

We’ve been lucky with timing too. The children are currently in S1 (first year of high school), P7 (last year of primary) and P4 (somewhere in the middle). So while their education is important (especially to us!), they are not missing anything key. We’re not at the stage of exams – no dreaded SATs in Scotland – and syllabuses (Syllabi? Syllabodes?) and anything that they miss this year will be covered and re-covered in the years to come.

In addition (that’s maths, that is) they’re not actually missing that much school. We leave on 10th February, 3 weeks today (almost to the minute, as I type). Half term starts the end of that week, so they’re only missing half of this term and all of the next. The Scottish Summer term (like the Scottish Summer) is short, finishing at the end of June, so in all it’s about 12 weeks of school they’ll miss, some at least of which will be Sports Days and trips out (and, sadly, high school transition for Sophie and Aurora) and the like.

Support for learning

I am relieved to report I can just about manage Primary 4 maths

None of which is to say that they’re going to get away with learning nothing while we’re away. We’re rather hoping (expecting) that the trip itself will be an education (we won’t be able to get away from languages, geography, history, music and art – even “are we nearly there yet” can be turned into maths, cooking supper (and shopping for it) is home economics and walking up Mount Fuji is definitely PE) but we’ve also been pestering the schools for support so that we can be sure that when we come back the children will have covered everything that they would have done had they been sitting in their classrooms here. Lucy’s teachers have given us the syllabuses (I’m going with that one) for the year, and although I might struggle to explain a covalent bond, Ben handily has a biochemistry degree and a past life as a biology teacher, so I think we’ll be ok. The head teacher of the primary school has handed over precious maths text books so that we can make sure that all of that is covered too (No 239,356,548 on my to do list is revise long division…).

PE. Obviously.

And of course in the age of the internet and phones, there’s an app for everything. One very lovely teacher has signed us up to various recommended programmes, and as I’ve already mentioned this blog is just homework in disguise. (I’m told Because, But, So, is the structure to to aim for – look out for it).

Will it be enough? Who knows?

And if you know – or if you have any suggestions – comment below!

Harriet

Why blog (or tweet, or ‘gram)?

Why, with 20-something days to go (and 833,492,756 things still remaining on the to do list) am I blogging? Why have I joined twitter (which I always said I wouldn’t). Why does Aurora delight in telling me she has more followers on her (private) instagram account than we do on our family (public) one?

In short, why not just take our family on the trip of a lifetime and enjoy it?

When we first started talking about this trip, people we talked to (and yes, there was more than one) got very over-excited about how with the right social media this could be massive and how we could change our lives and write books and be the stars in the films of our lives and I may now be slightly exaggerating, but you know what I mean.

Is there nowhere we can get away from social media?

And of course, they are right, sort of, and of course that would be lovely (and so if you are a book editor reading this then don’t let us stop you being in touch) but when we thought about it, we realised that that would be an awful lot of hard work. It’s not that we are afraid of hard work (we suspect bits of this trip might be a little tricky from time to time, and don’t get me started on the intricacies of getting visas for some of the places we’re going), but we didn’t, really didn’t, want blogging or any other sort of social media to become the point of the trip. The point of the trip is the trip, and anything that comes out of it is a bonus…

So then, why blog at all? Well for us, in the end, it’s threefold:

These are the actual diaries. And the actual airmail letters my parents wrote to me every week. Separately.
  1. This is our diary, our journal and our record of the trip. When I went travelling in my teens I wrote a journal every day. Bits of it are excruciating to read back (what teenage journal isn’t?) but it’s real and it’s really important to me still to have those memories. I have an idea that when we get back I am (somehow) going to turn these words and the pictures on instagram and the witticisms and whinges on twitter into a book for each of us to keep. And to bore our grandchildren with.
  2. This is our postcard home. Of course there will be real postcards home (I have the idea that each of my godchildren will get a postcard from each country we visit – fortunately there are only two of them) but this is how we let our Mummies know where we are and what we are up to. We’re even hoping some of our friends will want to find out too.
  3. This is (part of) the children’s education. Again, it’s a substitute diary, in some ways, but hopefully it will keep them writing, they’ll take pictures, they’ll want to find out where we’ve been and tell the world about it. The idea is that without noticing it, somewhere along the way they’ll learn something…

And it’s with that third one that you come in, because I know that the more people they think are interested, the more followers and likes they have, the more comments they get, the more they will want to write and draw and describe. So please, do comment or like, share or retweet, and if you have thoughts or hints and tips on anything they (or I, or Ben) put up on here or anywhere else do let us know – and we will shamelessly use it to make our trip better, for all of us.

And when we write a book, we’ll mention you all in the acknowledgements. Promise.

Harriet

Hard choices – Not this time for Nukus

Last year I read an article telling the incredible story of the Savitsky Collection at what is now the Nukus Museum of Art.

In short, Igor Savitsky was a wealthy Muscovite Russian who over a period of years amassed a stunning collection of Russian avant-garde art during the 1950s, in particular buying and collecting works by (and from) dissident artists who had been banned by Stalin, and taking them to Nukus, in what is now Uzbekistan, far from the watching authorities in Moscow and even Tashkent.

It is exactly the sort of place I would love to visit for all sorts of reasons.

I was given 3 lovely mugs from a National Gallery of Scotland exhibition of Russian avant-garde art for my 21st birthday. It is a fantastic story, and it seems like it was just the sort of place we should visit, if we are close. And why wouldn’t we do it as part of the adventure?

But here’s the thing. When Igor Savitsky took all that art far away from prying eyes, he did an extremely good job…

It turns out it is really difficult to get to Nukus and it really is a long way from anywhere else we are planning to visit. We want to stick by our no-flights-except-home rule, and this means trains.

There are 2 trains a week from Tashkent, and they take between 18 and 22 hours, depending on the route, which is fair enough when you realise that Nukus is over 1100km from Tashkent (about the same as Paris to Vienna). The days they go are not particularly convenient, and there is no child-bribing water-park, or even anything else at all, worth going to see in the surrounding area.

We could go, but it would mean missing out on some of the great Silk Road cities – Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand – as our arrival into and departure from Tashkent are fixed. That’s a lot to sacrifice for a few hours in the company of an amazing art collection and many more hours on long trains.

So it was with regret that we ejected (nuked?) Nukus from our itinerary last night.

This is not an exhibit from the Savitsky Collection.

You can check out some of the paintings here.

Maybe we will have to plan another trip there next year…

Ben

What’s happening with your house?

This is normally about question 4 (after “Seriously?” “Why?” and “What about school?” (more on that one later)).

Simple answer: we have very lovely friends (plus children, plus dogs) who are going to live in it for us. It’s (hopefully) a win-win: they need somewhere to live for six months (they’re moving away after that) and we get someone to look after the house and pay the council tax and feed the chickens and fight off any burglars, spiders or other nasties and generally keep the insurance company happy.

Getting rid of this shipping container was supposed to have happened by Christmas 2018.

It was one of those cases where the universe really does provide; we had previously thought that someone else was going to live in it and when that fell through, a mere four months ago, we were at a loss. But a casual chat during a children’s swimming lesson became “Well, we could”, became “Shall we?”, became us meeting up last night to sign an agreement… so its official. They get to live in our house and we have to, really, go somewhere else.

But of course signing (and drafting) the paperwork is the easy bit. The tricky bit has been looking round our house and realising how much needs to be done before we can reasonably expect someone else to live in it: the back door that doesn’t open, the doorbell that doesn’t work, the broken bed (not as exciting as it sounds), the wobbly bannister, the dishwasher that requires to be sworn at in exactly the right way before it will deign to work, and even then only one time in every three, and grudgingly at that. We’ve been living with these things for years but can we really expect someone else to?

Happy New Home Goldie

But we’re getting there. And rather enjoying living in a house where nothing needs fixing. We’ve emptied cupboards too (“Oh, that’s where that was!”), rehomed the fish and provided an 8 page list of where the trip switches are and who is our preferred plumber..

The chickens will be looked after (although Marilyn (she was blond, busty and had an attitude to match) has sadly not lived to see us go – RIP Marilyn), as will the garden. We have a separate cottage in our garden (built for my parents but available for holiday lets while they’re not in it) so that needs to be planned for too.

Yesterday I made 26 jars of jam from the fruit in the freezer. Today, banana cake.

The freezer is being emptied (fish fingers and ice cream for supper tonight), and anything really precious and breakable squirrelled away. The deep litter filing system is being worked through (and mostly re-filed in the recycling).

The to do list continues… We leave four weeks tomorrow.

 

Harriet

 

New name

Newsflash! (Warning, it’s pretty exciting so you may want to be sitting down).

We have a new Instagram name and are now @tweedtotokyo to match our shiny new Twitter account and this blog. If you’re not already following us we’d love it if you did.

As a separate thing I’ve been mulling over the whys of blogging/instagramming (is that really a verb?)/ twittering this trip. Why bother? Who are we doing it for? Come back for my musings soon….

Harriet

How to keep your family healthy on a round the world trip

How do you keep your family healthy on a round the world trip? For six months? When four of them are children?

I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet. And given I’m currently sitting in my front room nursing a filthy cold while one of my children is in bed having refused lunch or supper I may not be the correct person to ask.

But I’m trying. Lucy and I went on a mother-daughter shopping trip today. You know the sort of thing: matching swingy hair and handbags, cutesy selfies in the changing rooms, credit cards maxxed out.

Erm, no. We spent £77 in Boots and Superdrug and came back with this:

Actually looking at it, it doesn’t look very good for £77 but we did buy Lucy a hairbrush too.

Which we (by which I mean I) have turned into this:

I’ve not quite packed it down to the size of a match box, but nearly – top tip – take it out of the packaging. And don’t forget to recycle.

Because, while when you think about travelling for a long time, everyone worries about the big scary illnesses (more on them later), it’s actually more likely that we will get colds, bugs or scrapes and we need to be prepared for those too.

So, for anyone who cares, here’s what’s in our six-month-supply, overland, Europe and Asia, family health travel pack:

Painkillers: Ibuprofen (kids and adults), paracetamol (ditto), ibuprofen gel, cold spray (because I’m a big believer in the placebo effect). Antihistamines (for bites, stings and allergies): loratadine and cetirizine, plus a tube of anthisan-type cream and one of those clicky things that apparently makes bites stop itching so much. I wanted to get some Waspeze but they only sell it in the Borders in Summer. I did get a bottle of DEET based bug repellent too. For dodgy tummies: rehydration salts (and proper medicines – more below). For coughs and colds: glycerin throat pastilles (they don’t do much but they taste nice – see placebo effect). General first aid and health care: aloe vera (good for burns), bandage, sling, safety pins, sterile wipes, plasters, blister plasters, hand sanitiser, lip balm, antiseptic cream, mouth ulcer stuff (iglu, because it works and my children don’t like bonjela – weirdos), micropore tape, E45 (my cure for everything). All, because we’re on a budget, non-branded apart from the iglu and the Calpol fastmelts because no-one makes a non-branded version and it’s worth the extra money not to have non-branded Calpol leaking all over the inside of my rucksack).

Plus the following actual medicines:

(Backstory: I went to the doctor – if you’re reading this hello doctor (and doctor’s family) and if you’re not you jolly well should be – and had a full and frank discussion about what we actually needed. The conclusion was that actually the things that will hit us are likely to be random infections (stomachs, UTIs, ears etc) and travellers’ diarrhoea (and no I didn’t spell that right first time). )

So we have two bottles of (top tip) un-made-up amoxycillin (the horrible banana-flavoured one) and a course of doxycycline as well as a load of prochlorperazine tablets to stop us being sick if one of those bugs gets us (official advice – take those before you start on the doxycycline and see if you get better of your own accord first.) We’ve also got a tube of fucidin H cream (antibiotic and steroid) in case of nasty skin things.

So hopefully if the usual bugs, scrapes and viruses attack we can deal with them, at least for long enough to get ourselves to a doctor. Because they do have them in other countries, it turns out…

And as for the nasties once again we are grateful to the NHS. We’ve been advised on necessary vaccines (and indeed given almost all of them) by our practice nurse, using the NHS travel vaccines site, which for us meant boosters of all the stuff we’ve had already, plus Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Tick-Borne Encephalitis, Typhoid and for very-brave-Magnus-only the BCG (all the rest of us have had it already – it was given at birth in West London where all the girls were born). And the good old NHS paid for lots of those too (a good thing – £800 on Rabies vaccines may not be the most fun thing I have to pay for on this trip – although I’d take it over the alternative (“nice doggie”)).

So it’s all, minus the packaging (but including the packet leaflets), packed in our kit. And no one is allowed to get ill. Not least because having got it all in there once it’ll never all go back in if I get it out again.

Is it enough? Only time will tell. But if you think we’re missing something essential let us know – we have 37 days to top it up in a language we speak…

Harriet

Getting Very Real Now

Over the last six weeks or so, we have taken huge steps towards making what was a pipe dream into a reality. Among other things, our first 100 days or so are almost entirely booked, we have tickets for various exhibitions and concerts, and we have shiny Chinese visas in our passports.

I am very excited.

In the words of Primal Scream, just what is it that I want to do? We want to be free to do what we want to so, we’re going to have a good time, and we’re going to have a party.

I also know that my expectations about the trip, the children on the trip, and me on the trip, are wildly optimistic. I will not get fit in 10 minutes. There will be times we will be lost, tired, bored, resentful, angry, disappointed and bicker with each other. We will miss opportunities. We will waste time and money. I will not become a perfect parent who never screams “STOP SHOUTING AT YOUR SISTER!”… Well, not immediately anyway.

We have also been writing lots of lists including kit, things to sort before we go, places to visit when we are on the road, and a long list of “things which are free and cheap, for the days when our weekly budget is gone by Tuesday morning.” Any hints and tips gratefully received.

Lots of the things on the to do lists are now ticked, which is exciting, but we do seem to add to them almost as quickly. We’re using various shared apps, in particular Cozi and Workflowy, though probably not getting the most out of either. We have a big paper file too with all sort of sections, now bursting at the seems.

Our goal is to do at least one thing every day for the trip, though often this ends up being more than one thing. My task for the day is to ring the Mongolian embassy in Paris (obvs),and Harriet has also rung our home insurance people already. We also got the children to download Cozi, GoogleTranslate and What3words, which will help with our Security Protocol, which is a grown up way of saying “what to do if our children get lost while trying not to look like that Picasso painting”.

Weeping Woman 1937

We’ve come a long way from the pipe dream. There’s a long way to go yet.

Ben

The Questions – Harriet

Where are we going?

From here to Tokyo. And quite a lot of places in between. Overland. With minimal plastic consumption.

Why are we doing this?

Because it’s there.  Because we can.  Because we told everyone we were going to and we can’t back out. Because hopefully it will make us stronger, individually and as a family.  So we’ve got something to talk about for the rest of our lives.

What are you most looking forward to?

Mongolia and China.  

Is it really bad that I’m rather looking forward to being able to ignore domestic politics for six months too?

And least?

Long train journeys. People whinging that they’re bored or hungry or cold or tired.  Lack of showers.

What will you miss about home.

Unlimited clean hot water.  I suspect there will be times when I will miss the routine, however odd that feels now. The simplicity of not having to make decisions every day.

Are you worried about anything?

Everything. 

I’m terrified of illness or injury or worse; to one of us or someone at home. My father has had Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years and he’s really not very well now, so what if something happens to him?  I feel as though I can deal with that possibility at the moment but how will it feel after the event if I wasn’t here?

I’m worried we might just argue or whinge our way around the world.

I’m worried about how my mental health will stand up to it. I’m hoping I will get less anxious and become more resilient but maybe it will be totally the opposite. 

I’m worried we’ll come back and wish we had never gone.

How do you think you will change?

I really hope I will be more resilient. I hope I will be more patient. I hope I will be better at prioritising the things that I already know are important but which I somehow never manage to make time for.

Who do you think is going to be best at eating new things?

Me.

What skill do you have that will be most useful on our trip

I worry about everything which makes me good at planning and preparing for all eventualities. I’m organised.   I don’t mind a bit of discomfort or dirt (or puke or….)

I speak dodgy but basic Russian.

I’m excellent at playing My Cows.

What will you struggle with?

When things go wrong (or just not as I have planned), I tend to panic first and think later. It’s not hugely useful.

And how are going to try and get over that?

I’m hoping it will get over itself. Maybe?

What do your friends think about it ?

I think they all think it’s an amazing thing to be doing. Some of them wish they were doing it too. Some of them are very glad they’re not.

Are you glad we’re going?

Absolutely.  Even if I’m going to be unbearably stressed as it gets closer. Sorry Ben.

PS It’s my birthday today.  I’m 43 and I have been given (among many other lovely things) a European Road Atlas. 

By this time next year it will all be over.  That’s a very weird thought.

The Questions – Sophie

Where are we going?

Japan.  And other places.

Why are we doing this?

I don’t know.  So we get closer to family?  I don’t really know.

What are you most looking forward to?

Taking photos of cool stuff.  Like cool sunsets, full moons, the Great Wall of China.

And least?

Missing my friends.

What will you miss about home.

My bed.  My teddies.  Privacy.

Are you worried about anything?

Spiders.  Bugs.  Not seeing my friends.  Being bored on train journeys or anywhere else.

How do you think you will change?

I actually have no idea.

Who do you think is going to be best at eating new things?

Daddy and Mummy. None of the kids.  We’ll probably be rubbish.

What skill do you have that will be most useful on our trip

I don’t know what to say. I’ve got, like, 5000 bad things. I don’t know what’s good. I’m good at taking photos.

What will you struggle with?

I am rubbish at getting off screens when I need to. I can’t sleep on transport. I have to sleep in a bed.  I can’t sleep camping, let alone on a bus.  If something looks and smells disgusting eurgh.

And how are going to try and get over that?

No idea.  Three words. Suck. It. Up.

What do your friends think about it ?

Some of them have said they’re going to cry when we leave. They think its a cool idea but they don’t want to miss me.

Are you glad we’re going?

*shrugs* I don’t know.  I’m glad about some places we’re going but I’m, like, “why are we even doing that?” about some places.

 

The Questions – Ben

Where are we going?

We are going to Japan. Overland.  [yadda yadda yadda list of countries]

Why are we doing this?

Lots of reasons. It’s an adventure and it could be fantastic.  We’re doing it for the children to give them a window onto the big wide world. And for ourselves for the same sort of reason.  There’s an element of educational FOMO in terms of the wider world experience and wanting to improve on what they might be missing out on.

What are you most looking forward to?

In terms of places: the ‘Stans and China. But in terms of feeling I think the headspace. The press the pause button on the daily race of work and taxi driving and the house and the grind.

And least?

I expect having to readjust when I get home.  The post holiday feeling will be quite extreme after six months.

What will you miss about home.

My bed.  Privacy.  We’re going to be very much on top of each other.

Are you worried about anything?

Yes. I’m worried about catastophes: illness, security, the car breaking down (or an accident).  I’m worried about things back home requiring our attention or intervention.  Some of those things could be really horrible.  I’m worried about losing children and I’m worried we could potentially fall out and alienate somebody in the family.

How do you think you will change?

I would like to come back healthier in body and mind.  With a plan for what I’m going to do next.

Who do you think is going to be best at eating new things?

Me

What skill do you have that will be most useful on our trip

An ability to think on my feet in challenging situations.

What will you struggle with?

Arguments, whinging, I think there are places where the language barrier will be difficult.  And how much freedom to give the children.  Budgeting.  I don’t want to be responsible every hour for everybody’s entertainment.

And how are going to try and get over that?

Trying to anticipate and plan for as many situations as possible

What do your friends think about it ?

Mostly they think it’s an amazing idea.

Are you glad we’re going?

Yes

As dictated to Harriet