It is, astonishingly, two months to the day since we returned.
Even more astonishingly, that means we have now been back for a third of the time we were away.
Despite grand intentions of blogging our re-entry, we have failed to do so, but several (well, two) kind people have said they have missed the blog, so here is a wee update.
Where were we?
Home. And school. And the office (briefly, that was banned again two weeks ago). And Edinburgh (Ben, once, to buy running shoes). And Essex (Harriet only, to see her father, who has been ill for years and did a valiant job of staying alive while we were away, but is likely not to be with us for much longer).
What did we do?
Our world is now as back to normal as 2020 will allow. So we have been settling back into our Covid-compliant routines.
The children started back at school four days after our return, with Sophie and Aurora starting High School. That has mostly gone well, although there have been occasional bumps along the way (calls from the school about refusals to wear masks mostly).
Some activites have resumed, so various of us have done limited rugby, judo, hockey, violin, flute, trumpet and piano coaching. No swimming or dancing though. The brass instruments are by zoom and the flute is happening by an open door. We will see how that works as the weather turns.
Harriet is back at work, and has started a Masters in Medical Law and Ethics at Edinburgh University.
The huge amount of reading for the latter has been made ever so much easier by the fact that Ben has taken up almost all the household management tasks. He’s been doing that along with various practical things (the patio has never looked so clean) and, having given up his job prior to our trip, the ongoing hunt for a new one.
We have three new chickens who are settling in nicely – although having to use a net to extract one of them from a tree on her first night with us was possibly even more traumatic for Harriet than it was for her. The guests in the holiday house in our garden thought it highly amusing.
The weather hasn’t been too awful (apart from last Saturday). The seasons are turning and the woods are a technicolour array of greens, yellows, reds, purples and golds.
We have been treated to some spectacular sunsets too.
We resolved our differences with Real Russia (the magic words Small Claims Court may have done the trick) and have accepted vouchers to the value of the missing amount. This won’t help us if we still can’t go anywhere in the allotted 18 months, but as our argument was that if they had explained fully we would have taken vouchers in the first place it seems fair.
However, as fast as the karmic financial gods giveth, it appears they also taketh away. Our insurance claim has, allegedly, been settled and they are paying us….wait for it….£113.
There may have been expletives involved. The big ticket item is our visas for both China and Russia which they seem to have entirely ignored. We have pointed this out. So far the response has been a resounding silence.
The plums, apples, sloes and blackberries (not all in the garden) have been on fine form and put to good use.
We managed, before restrictions tightened up again, to see all of our families and several of our friends. Ben and Harriet even managed a meal out.
Our house was left in exactly the state we left it. Which was a bit of a shock as we noticed ten years of scuffs and dirt all of which were caused by us prior to departure and ignored. Harriet spent the first week we were back on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor.
We have created some souvenirs from our time away:
Harriet has sorted the first of three large photo books, which incorporate all our instagram posts and blogs, as well as some more photos, from our time between leaving Kelso and arriving in St Pierre de Chartreuse.
Ben has had a large print of 121 views of Chamechaude made, with photos taken each day during our time there.
We also sent postcards to ourselves from each of the countries we visited, and each of the major towns in France on the way home, which are adorning our kitchen wall (although annoyingly the one from Hungary never arrived).
Ben wrote this about 2 weeks after we returned, in a post which was never finished:
“We are all, children and parents, much more relaxed than before the trip, which is lovely. I’m very impressed with how the girls, two of them for the first time, have settled into their new high school terms (with new Covid-19 routines). Magnus too is enjoying being back at school, but even more, enjoying playing with his friends, his lego and his cars.
It has been a real pleasure seeing good friends, and it is through this that I feel the main realisation has been apparent for me. By talking about the trip in general, I have solidified my feeling about quite what a fantastic time we had. I already knew it was great, either with great moments or great memories, but my goodness this was a good time to be away from the UK and work and school in particular.”
How was it?
Ben: Seeing friends has been a joy, though given the more recent sets of restrictions, it looks as though this will be more difficult for the near future. We have had beautiful walks not far from here on the last two weekends, and we have friends who are planning to camp in the garden (rather them than me), so that we can have an outside evening in our newly cleaned and arranged outside social area. I’m so glad we have a garden.
I have managed not to put back on the weight that I lost during our trip, and having more time to do things is a luxury I must remind myself of more. I have enjoyed exercising more, cooking more (although I’m not sure that sentiment is shared by everyone), and having more whole-family meals is definitely a welcome carry-over from being abroad.
Aurora: Life is the same but its different at the same time: high school, friends, family and just being in the high school! I like having friends that speak your language, good wifi, friends, friends and friends.
Lucy: I am enjoying being with my friends and we have had some lovely picnics in the park and just generally enjoyed ourselves. And my bed.
Everyone has been asking me about the trip, but I never really thought about what I would be like I was just excited to be getting back home.
Harriet: I think it is harder to separate “normal” life into good bits and bad bits. It’s more just bits. But here goes: It has been lovely to see friends and family and although my father is very far from well, I feel lucky that I have been able to see him (it was never said while we were travelling but there was always a what if plan for my hurried return and I am so glad it wasn’t required).
We live in a beautiful part of the world. It has been a privilege to be reminded of that.
I am loving, though slightly daunted by, my Masters. I genuinely do find it fascinating and I am hoping that somehow there’s a future here.
I’m also loving having a wife. I hadn’t realised quite how much time was taken up with household management. I am so grateful to Ben for taking it on. How we will cope when he gets a job remains to be seen…
I think I have changed too. I am more assertive and less worried (some of the time) about getting things wrong, or, worse, upsetting people. I went way out of my comfort zone on a train last month and asked the man sitting in my seat to move…
It is a huge pleasure being back in my kitchen, even if I’m only doing 2/7 of the cooking I was before. I may be baking to compensate… Oh, and my starter survived its sojourn in the freezer, to everyone’s delight.
Sophie: I really missed my friends and I liked seeing them and going downtown with them. I really like school because I get to see lots of friends. I love having loads of clothes.
I feel like I have got fitter. I feel that I have a better understanding of who are my real friends. I’m even more fashionable than before.
Magnus: I really love being back. I like seeing Joe and Aidan and all my friends and I also like seeing my cousin Freddie. I want to stay in the same place. School is ok. We did some paintings and made some African necklaces which I liked but I don’t like doing spelling. I think as a family we are a little bit more together. We used to have children’s meals and adults’ meals and now we just have children and adult meals.
Aurora: Just not travelling in general if I didn’t have friends I would want to travel forever.
Magnus: I don’t really have any. I just like being back.
Sophie: There were some people I didn’t really want to see. Homework. It is not very good being a young one in school. When we left we were the top of the school, and now we’re not. I sort of miss travelling in general, but I don’t know why. There are some dramas at school.
Ben: While everyone else in the family has returned to some sort of routine (at least for the next few years or so) whether work or education, I have yet to find mine.
As well as picking the worst year since 1945 to go on a world tour, 2020 has also proven (so far) to be a terrible year for finding a new job. While we budgeted a “buffer” to see us through the time it takes me to find something new, and we spent less on our travels than our budget (because we didn’t travel as much), the supply and demand curve for jobs is horribly skewed, with a lot more people than normal chasing a lot fewer jobs than normal. I know these are not normal times, but each rejection is a little soul-destroying. I remind myself that though there are fewer jobs out there, there are jobs, and I only need one.
When we returned, and before Harriet was back at work, I often joked that if someone would sponsor me not to work, that would be ideal. I don’t think that’s the case now.
It feels very strange that we have been back for a period of time equal to a third of our travels. The memories, or possibly more the feeling of having experienced such a time, are not as sharp as upon our immediate return, and while I know it was glorious, it is also a world away. Seeing the Tour de France roll through the Chartreuse, looking glorious as ever, brought real pangs to me. I miss the Chartreuse.
Lucy: We have to sanitize before we go into class and the hand sanitizer STINKS!
Harriet: Putting together the first of three albums of photos, and remembering the optimism and excitement with which we set off was surprisingly hard. I wish…. I wish… the regret has lessened hugely and we did have an utterly wonderful time, despite everything but I still wish…
The workload for my Masters is quite large and I do want to do it justice. I’m worried not only about failing to do so but also about letting it get on top of me. The juggling is easy at the moment with Ben around and being a star but that won’t last forever (and I don’t want it to, but still).
Being back at work has been fine and it has been lovely to see the (very) few colleagues that were also in the office. However as of two weeks ago we can only use the office one at a time. For me that defeats the object of being there and so I am back at home all but one day a week. One of the reasons I left my last job is because I didn’t like the isolation of working from home. I need the feedback and reassurance of having others around, and while two weeks in it is fine, I have already had moments of struggling, both with the isolation and the weight of expectations I put on myself.
In a triumph of optimism over experience we have booked (fully refundable) one way flights from Tokyo to London next August. We have kept our Olympics tickets and the stated aim is to do as much of the overland part of our trip as Covid and work and school will allow. If we do get to go we will keep you posted.
More immediately life will tick on. Harriet is taking the girls down to Essex tomorrow and we will see what happens there. She will stay for the foreseeable future and if necessary the girls will put their travelling experience into practice and come back on their own.
Our gathering-of-the-clan Christmas plans have of course been Covid-cancelled so we are busily reformulating a Christmas like none we have ever had. Just us. The current thinking is that we will have presents and our big meal (which won’t be turkey) on 24th and then we will spend 25th playing with our new presents while watching films in our Christmas PJs. Some of us are quite excited.