Down and back up again

For the last few years rather than acquire more ‘stuff’ we have instead tried to choose experiences as gifts for Christmas and birthday presents for ourselves. We still exchange small tokens but aim for either things which are going to be consumed quickly (nice chocolates, nice drink, nice bath products) or items which are going to be regularly used and enjoyed. We also aim to support small independent makers, usually either local people or sellers on etsy, for example my hand thrown pottery mug, tumblers, bowl and plate and my silver Rum pendant.

This has meant visits to the theatre in Manchester, London, Glasgow and Brighton. Often weeks, months or in the most recent case over a year after the actual occasion the gift was marking but there is something rather lovely in still having a treat to look forward to long after the decorations are down and the season has turned.

Way back in 2018 we booked tickets and arranged a trip to London to meet up with friends from Northern Ireland and see Dear Evan Hansen We had super cheap restricted view seats and a budget hotel booked. We were still on Rum at that point so further travel arrangements were not worth considering but closer to the date I organised house and pet sitters and booked very cheap, long in advance train and bus tickets for transport into London. We tied in our visit south with an overdue visit to family in Sussex too.

Having house and pet sitters meant not only were we confident that Bonnie, Kira and the chickens were being well cared for in our absence it also allowed some dear friends of ours the opportunity to have a well deserved break. We are lucky to have a lovely house in a lovely location just now and having someone else enjoy and make use of it while we were not there made perfect sense.

While in London we walked miles and miles and miles. We were lucky (if you can call unseasonably warm weather at this time of year lucky?!) to have mild, dry weather so we walked from the train station to the hotel, walked to the theatre, walked around seeing the sights and walked to the coach station for our trip back. For entertainment we spent hours crossing the Thames by various bridges, past St Paul’s cathedral, through Trafalgar Square, into Covent Garden, to St James’ Park, into Parliament Square, past Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben. We watched people at the skate park, enjoyed the buskers and street performers – and contributed accordingly to their upturned held-out caps, took refillable water bottles and coffee cups, packed picnics and found interesting things to see and do for free.

It was a trip of over 1000 miles but we used public transport where possible, made sure when we did use a car it was full and packed in as much as we could to make the trip worthwhile.

In London aside from the show (which was amazing, I seriously can’t recommend it highly enough. I cried three times and through most of the second half, it was so good) we clocked up about 25 miles of walking around.

Back in Sussex for a few days with family I had also arranged Ady’s belated Christmas present. One of the few TV shows we had managed to watch while on Rum was Masterchef. A hangover, along with a couple of other shows from our old mainland life which we had enjoyed and tried to keep up with thanks to iplayer when internet connection allowed. Having come from Worthing ourselves when Kenny Tutt, one of the contestants was from there back in 2018 we had cheered for him right through the process. We were so pleased when he won Masterchef Champion that year.

From afar we’d carried on following his career and been delighted when he opened his first restaurant in Worthing last year. So when deliberating on the right Christmas gift for Ady last year I had realised our usual habit of deferred gifts and experiences would be perfect in the form of a romantic lunch for the two of us in Kenny’s restaurant. So I booked the table for while we were down in Sussex and got a voucher for the set lunch for two for us.

Davies and Scarlett came into town with us and had their own lunch of their choice courtesy of a well known fast food retailer, followed by a look round the shops and a very productive hour or so spent in the amusement arcade at the end of Worthing pier. Not dissimilar pursuits in the very same locations I would have followed at their ages….

While Ady and I had the very best lunch ever at The Pitch Restaurant.

The decor was stunning, the service outstanding, the food as beautiful as it was delicious. It was truly as much of an experience as we’d hoped it might be. But as the absolute icing on the cake Kenny himself was there and came over to say Hi.

We had a great chat about being on TV, about knowing the origins of your food, about the reality of the behind the scenes side of filming a TV show, about being yourself and about staying true to what you believe in. What a lovely bloke and what a pleasure to meet him and congratulate him on achieving his dreams.

Sometime in the last few months I seem to have become something of a saltwater addict and I have to confess I was missing my fix. The sea has always been important to me and the English Channel is the body of water I grew up with. Paddling in as a small child, driving alongside on my way to work each day, taking my own small children to paddle in, using as a gauge of what the weather was doing. It felt only right to immerse myself in it while we were there. So I had a quick dip one afternoon.

After Highland lochs the air and water temperature was positively balmy and it felt like stepping into if not a warm bath then at least an indoor heated pool. It was delicious though and the paddleboarder passing by and chatty couple walking their dog along the beach all added to the startling comparison to my near daily dips back home.

London sights, shows, lunches out and swims aside the highlight of the trip as always was spending precious time with family. We are very close to my parents and a 7 month gap between last spending time with them was far too long so it was lovely to be with them, as well as seeing both my brother and Ady’s brother.

Because when all is said and done, when it all comes down to it all we really are is memories. It’s the things we’ve seen, the places we’ve been and the people we have spent time with who make us who we are.

We will continue to find our path through life treading as lightly as we can, leaving the smallest footprints, the least impact on the world. But I endeavour to leave the biggest traces, the loudest memories, the longest lasting imprints of my kisses on the cheeks of those I love.