Sunday 25 August 2013

Top 4 tips for international expat travellers.

If you're flying on holiday there is a chance you have a holiday rep to meet you at your end destination and transport to and from the airport.

If you're travelling on business, you're likely to have your ticket booked for you and met at the other end or at least have car hire waiting for you on expenses.

If like me you're an expat, travelling to your home country on a regular basis, you're likely to have none of that available to you.

Tonight I'm taking a direct flight, but ususally due to the cost of the flights, I travel via Dubai.

Here are my top 4 tips to survive International travel as an expat.

1. Make sure if travelling through another country that you have either local currency or £'s/$'s for a cup of coffee. Hubby travels business class so gets to use the lounge and he didn't understand my frustration of arriving in Dubai with only Rand's and Pound coins. I had to go find a fellow British travel and ask him to change £10 in coins into a note as they won't take coins at Dubai airport. However they did give me the change half in the local currency and half in British coins....go figure.

2. That said re money, make sure you have a Pound coin on you when you arrive in the UK, they charge for the trollies and trust me, after a 12 hour flight or 2 x 8 hour flights, your need for a trolley is great.

3. When I arrive in the UK I have only 2 people that can collect me from either Birmingham or London airports and they have done many times, but I don't want to keep pushing my luck and as this is a bank holiday in the UK, I've booked my train travel in advance, be warned though, tickets can't be collected from Heathrow, so it's a tube first into Paddington.

4. Allow yourself time when you land to get your bearings, freshen up and grab a coffee, swop your sim cards and top your phone up. Some UK mobile companies won't let you top up online outside the UK.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Going back to the UK (again)

Suit case packed, weighed, re packed. It contains a fog/misting machine and a black light and hand luggage has a set of disco lights in it.

I have a selection of winter and summer clothing, my train ticket from Heathrow to Malvern. All hand held devices are being updated and charged. UK sim cards at the ready.

Dog washed, food shopping for hubby done and we're off.

When I arrive in the UK on Monday, we will all be in the same country for the first time since 18th January 2011. Well actually not, hubby will stay in South Africa till the 6th September and then we'll all be in the same country...No, 2nd youngest child, aged 18, flys back to South Africa on thursday night. So while the rest of us are in the UK he'll be back here alone, apart from the dog and the cat to look after (him)

So the purpose of this UK trip? Tenants are finally out, but they've left rather a mess in the house. Youngest son starts full time boarding on September 8th, so we'll be settling him in to his new school. Hubby has business in the Uk and is off to Germany after I leave the UK on September the 19th to be back in time for the 18yo's Matric dance/Prom.

Anyone else live such a complicated life? Don't envy us expats, nothing is normal any more.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Error 404

I'm off to the UK again, I've only been back 5 weeks by the time I fly back out and so much has happened in that time.
The tenants are finally out, the quote for redecorating plus repairs and replacements, loss of rent, solicitors, cleaning etc, etc is currently around £8000...* sharp intake of breath*

My 14yo son left South Africa last week to attend Boarding school in the UK. I've throughly cleaned the house top to bottom, redecorated the boys bedrooms and the dining room. I've packed my bags and I'm ready to go.

So why Error 404.

Seriously, my life is complicated enough as it is.

Flights to the UK. I need to be there by the 6th of September at the very latest. The only flights available with Virgin Atlantic, BA, Emirates and Air France are this Sunday or September the 5th or my other alternatives are to book with Egypt Air with 2 stop overs and 2 carriers or Business or First class, neither or which I can afford.

So Sunday it is, August the 26th. Good job I got on with the cleaning and the decorating when I did.

But now I have to get from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Malvern. So I checked The Trainline. £50 single ticket change at Paddington. Click through the process to discover I have to collect my tickets prior to the start of the train journey.....mmmmmm can't collect tickets from Heathrow. So I booked a ticket from Paddington to malvern at the cost of £30. When I get to Heathrow I'll get the tube, bus, whatever, will figure that out when I get there at the cost of £8.40. A saving of £10.10 after the booking fee. And while we're at it, the trainline wasn't any cheaper than booking with National Rail direct.

Is your life as complicated? If not, please let me know the key to your success.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The best holiday we ever had, France with 5 kids.

As an expat family, it has been a long time since we've all been together, let alone on a holiday together. The eldest child, who moved into residential care in 2001, now aged 25 is profoundly disabled and due to her disabilities holidaying as a family of 7 was only possible on one occasion to France August 1st - 10th 2002.

After a delay with a cancellation on the ferries of 12 hours and 5 kids aged 3, 7, 10, 13 and 14 we arrived in Brittany rather tired and weary in our 7 seater, filled to the brim. We had booked the over night crossing with the intention of at least one of us getting some sleep after a 5 hour drive, 12 hour wait in Bournemouth and a 6 hour ferry crossing where our daughter wouldn't sit still and between us and supervising the other children we walked the entire crossing to occupy her.

After another long drive to Concarneau, we arrived at the Gite we had rented, unpacked and let the children explore the gardens and neighbouring fields, where they came across a horse that the 3 year old nick named 'Hip, Hip, Horsey' who was green and had 8 legs.

We ventured to the beach every day, Brest, le Conquet, Quimper, Carnac and our favourite Damgan. We had visited and have visited this area of France om many other occasions. Our daughter couldn't stay on the beach for long periods of time otherwise she'd rub sand in her eyes or eat it and as the boys were only really interested in sand castle competitions, this was an ideal beach for hubby and I to take it in turns to explore the town drinking coffee and eating pastries, while the other stayed on the beach, judging castle competitions, supervising the picnic or taking the boys on the trampolines.

This holiday also gave us the opportunity to take many photos of all the children together enjoying themselves and a rare photo of all 7 of us. The eldest boy always seems to have a birthday when we're on holiday, the last one was his 18th in San Fransisco before he left home in 2007, the next eldest had their last family holiday in Tunisia in 2010 before he left home also.

In 2011 we moved to South Africa, we've had family holidays with the youngest 2 children, camping in Kruger and Hubby and I to Cape Town on our own when the children have visited the UK. Our 2 older boys have been out to visit us, but holidays here are more about entertaining and taking family and friends to explore. We travel separately to the UK to stretch out contact with the adult children and our parents. The youngest child, now 14, left home last week to become a full time boarder in the UK. That just leaves the 2nd youngest now aged 18 who leaves home for a life in the Marines, mid 2014.

Holidays are very important to us as a family, we've travelled to many places with a combination of children and on our own. But the holiday to Brittany was our best ever holiday. It was the one and only time outside day to day life that we were all together. It was hard work, but the fondest of memories.

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Monday 19 August 2013

How do you cope as an expat when your child is not with you?

I will confess the first few days were tough, the kind of roll up in a ball and cry tough.
Now I'm celebrating my freedom for a few days, but guilt is creeping in slowly. He's our 4th child to leave home, it doesn't get easier especially as he's only 14.

We sat down and made a list of all the things we wouldn't miss about our 14yo son. You can read them here.

Then there was the acknowledgement that as an expat life is one big constant change.

The selfish part of things, the 'how am I going to cope?'

The packing finally gets started with a major sort out of the bedroom.

Then there is the last ever school run after 17 years.

The last outing together.

The goodbyes at the airport.

The 18yo is back in just under 2 weeks, so Operation 'call for the men in Chem suits' has started.

I've got around a week to clean, re decorate and re arrange the rooms before I fly back to the UK. Two reasons for my return are:
1. the tenants are finally out and I'll start blogging about the state of the house, damages, thefts and costs soon.
2. we can afford the flight for me to be the one to settle son into his new school, so I'll see him again real soon anyway, just can't seem to find a flight.

He returns to us for Christmas for 2 weeks and again for the major UK summer holiday. I'm hopeful I can afford to spend Easter with him in the UK also, but that will depend on finances.

I'm just not sure how I'll manage all the time in-between.

But for now, the house is tidy, the coke is still in the fridge, the chocolate bars sit in the cupboard, the washing and ironing is all up to date. I'll start the painting tomorrow as long as I can persuade the cat and the dog to stop following me around the house, they've very quickly filled the space.

Sunday 18 August 2013

How would I spend £20,000.00

How would I spend £20,000.00? Well that's an easy question to answer. I live in South Africa, I've travelled the world, I've had my dream holidays. I've stayed in the Balligio in Las Vegas, have safari's on my door step. I've been to University. I have my kids in private school, so I don't want or need to spend ANY money on me.

With the exchange rate, turning £20,000.00 into R300,000.00

I could make up 1500 Santa Shoeboxes for children in townships this Christmas.

I could bake 100,000 cupcakes to give to all the receipients of a shoebox this christmas.

I could provide a pen, pencil, sharpener, eraser, note book at the cost of R18 a set to 16,666 children to support their education.

Don't get me started on the one off projects I'm involved in such as painting shacks in townships, delivering hygiene lessons, accompanying children with mental health problems to horse riding lessons, working in a protective workshop.

£20,000.00 would go so far in South Africa, I could do so much physical good with it. I could turn people's lives around with just a fraction of that amount.

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Sunday 11 August 2013

Who you talking to?

Hubby constantly asks 'who are you talking to?' 
'Some bloke in *checks profile for location*'
'Whats his name? No, his proper name?'

I don't know who he is or where he is. I don't know an awful lot about any of you.

I remember a few things, like the name of your child or what you do for a living, or you're an expat or suffer with depression.

I can probably describe your tattoo or name your dog and I know what you had for dinner, but I don't know you.

You all have real names, I don't know them. You all have a face, but I'd never match your twitter avatar to the real you, some of you I still don't know what sex you are. But it doesn't matter to me.

Most of you reading this will understand me, but a fair few who don't 'do' twitter like my hubby, just don't understand how I can open up to strangers like this, argue, debate, cry together, feel better after a 'little' virtual chat.

I can't explain it either, I don't want to understand it, I just enjoy it.

My last Sunday with 14yo before he moves back to the UK

Dog walk and Picnic at Irene Village 

Saturday 10 August 2013

No more pack lunches


My role as a mum stops now, right now, no mum no more. Well not on a daily basis anyway.

Today is the day that my 14yo son got on a plane and left Johannesburg to live in the UK.  No we won’t be following him shortly, we’re staying put. Although we will make regular visits and him back here. His Dad, 2 brothers, sister, grandparents are all in the UK, there are pupils at the school who were in his prep school.

I will always be mum but I will no longer be parenting him. I’ve signed that over to a school in Gloucestershire. I know what I’m doing, I did it before, intrusted my son to Matron at a boarding school, but then we were only 4 miles away, we had 3 other boys at home. Now we are 6000 miles away, OK the 18yo is still at home, but he doesn’t really need parenting anymore, he drives my car, he does the food shopping, he is ‘mums taxi’ these days, mainly because he always needs my car. He has his own ‘wing’ of the house. Bedroom, lounge, study, bathroom, front door. He comes and goes as he pleases but with respect to us.

The youngest wants to go back to the UK, he says he’ll miss the cat and the dog, the pool, his brother, but he hasn’t said he’ll miss us. We’ll be back in the UK the first week of September to settle him into his new school, to take charge of his unpacking. Then I think the reality will hit home, we’ll be leaving him behind.

I know I’m going to miss him.

My last ever school run


I started my first school run in September 1996. I had of course done the pre school and nurseries prior to that.

That’s 17 years of early starts, juggling work, kids, pack lunches, uniforms, missing PE kits, hours of homework, reading.

It has involved 3 Primary schools, 2 Prep schools, 5 Secondary schools and 1 boarding school and that’s just with 4 boys.

August 2013 marks a new start for me in my life. I no longer have to do the school run as 14yo returns to the UK to return to full time boarding to start his GCSE’s.

Technically there may be a few more school runs but they will be collection and return from/to OR Tambo airport. The 18yo finishes school in November but he drives now so no more involvement from me.

The last day of my school run career ended with me dropping off all the uniform, returning all the school books, saying goodbye to the admin staff that I’ve made friends with over the past near 3 years. One last discussion on the English Premier league with Wendy in the school shop and her love of Liverpool FC.

After a breakfast out, a few tears and the food shop, I collected my son at 11am. He immediately changed out of his uniform, we washed it one last time. He isn’t sad to leave the school, I’m not sad he’s left the school.

But I do wonder for how long I’ll enjoy the lie ins in the mornings before I get bored and hanker back to the routine of the past 17 years.

Operation expat child, return to the UK

Yesterday we started the slow process of packing for 14yo to leave South Africa and return to boarding school in the UK.

When we moved to South Africa in January 2011, we had a major sort out, we threw away all the crap, donated anything we couldn’t sell, handed toys over to play groups, family and friends.

When we moved within South Africa in June 2012 we did exactly the same. I can’t believe how much crap we had accumulated.

Yesterday, I emptied my son’s bedroom and started the whole process again. I found tools, a kitchen knife, long lost memory sticks and the missing odd sock pile. I dumped everything in the spare room and only returned to his room what he is either taking with him or wants to keep here for when he visits.

There was one small box of ‘keep sake’ stuff we put in the attic.
2 black bags of clothes and shoes he’s out grown for charity and toys.
A boxes of paper, old school books etc for recycling.
Box of educational supplies for donating to charity also.

I went to the airport on Thursday to collect hubby from his business trip to Cape Town and made enquiries as to how we can transport his music technology equipment over to the UK, inc 2 huge speakers, smoke machine and missing desks. It will all fit (apart from the speakers) in a suitcase, but even with cling wrapping the case, I fear it will all go missing if it goes through the usual channels. OR Tambo airport is notorious for stuff being stolen.

He’ll leave a lot of his summer clothes here as he’s back for Christmas and probably won’t need them in the UK till next year. He has a laundry basket full of Panda teddy bears that he doesn’t play with anymore but can’t bear to part with and there’s all the Lego and K’nex that goes back to when I was a child, that has been added to over the years to stay behind.

We are all sorted now. I didn’t want to do it, he didn’t want to do it, but then what 14yo wants to tidy their bedroom?

Friday 9 August 2013

How am I going to deal with the issue that my 14yo son leaves home next week?

I’m not allowed to blog about my 14yo anymore, I’m also not allowed to post photos on face book, without his approval, OK I abide by his rules, it’s his life, not mine to share, I hate it when others do it to me, so fair is fair. But what I can talk about is how what my 14yo does affects me.

He is returning to boarding school in the UK to follow the GCSE and A level system. He was a boarder prior to us relocating to South Africa in Jan 2011. We’ve had a fab time here with him. We always wanted to give our children the experience of living in a different country, culture and way of life. Unfortunately by the time the opportunity arose 3 of our kids had already left home, but they’ve had the opportunity to visit for extended periods of time.

Now the balance shifts, there will only be the 3 of us here in South Africa now with every other single family member 6000 miles away………My dad isn’t in the best of health, the youngest will be living near his dad, aunts, uncles and cousins and 2 of his siblings, his other brother lives in Leeds, but currently he only sees them once a year, although his aunty (my ex SIL) and niece have been out to visit as have the grandparents and hubbies sister.

So he will be OK, he has his family on his doorstep, exeat weekends and half terms and visits in between. There are students at his boarding school he went to prep school with, some familiar faces with the staff and an environment he thrived in, misses and is looking forward to returning to.

But what about me? I’m his mum and although as with all kids, they usually manage far better than we realise, I’m worried about how I’ll manage. I’ve been a mum for 21 years; yes I still have my 18yo here. I’m sure he’ll fill the gap. There has been very little difference to my life as a mum when I went from 5 kids to 2 kids, but they left home for different reasons.

The 25yo is profoundly disabled and went into residential care aged 12, that was hard, but for different reasons. We visit her when we return to the UK, but she has no understanding of us not being there and takes at least 2 visits before she settles back into a familiar routine and gets quite upset if we take her away from her home for too long. The 23yo left at 18 to join the army and was stationed in Germany when we moved here. The 21yo also left home aged 18 to start a management training course in hospitality and has since moved from Reading to Cheltenham to Leeds. The 18yo is preparing himself to join the Marines and could be leaving home with the next 6 months, but the 14yo? I’m supposed to have at least another 4 years to prepare myself for him leaving home.

I’ll be able now to focus on my volunteer work, raising funds and awareness for people with disabilities in South Africa, finish the book I started writing, run social media accounts for charities, advise on child welfare issues, develop short course life skills programmes, walk my dog, swim daily, finish my degree in Criminology, finally get round to scanning all my photos prior to 2003, improve my sewing skills and branch into making my own clothes as well as making and selling my hand bags.

Lots to do to keep me busy, but I don’t think it will replace the gap in my heart for my son leaving and my family being so far away, but it’ll help and I’ll look forward to December 19th when my son returns for Christmas.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Constant life changes

I wrote this post a week ago, but another week on things have changed and I now believe it is the constant changes that make me feel depressed. I just don’t feel I can ever get on with anything without major, time consuming, disruptions.

‘I’ve been back in South Africa a week and I’m depressed. It isn’t South Africa that depresses me, it’s the lifestyle we lead that causes it. Don’t have to work and don’t suffer financially for it, the sun shines daily and we’ve even got a pool in the garden, we now own a cat and a dog, we have the most amazing holidays, day trips and evenings out. We have our health…what more could we want?

I spent 9 weeks in the UK trying to sort out the eviction of our tenants. I learnt something new every day, I went through a complicated (didn’t need to be) insurance application, solicitors, courts, frustrations, family issues, travelling hundreds of miles to make sure I fitted everyone in on my trip, as everyone seems to think I visit just for their benefit.

Felt guilty (self imposed pressure) for leaving hubby and the boys for so long, the poor dog, we’d only had him 4 weeks before I left, would he cope? Would they cope without me there?…of course they did, I just needed to feel missed.’

 So why the depression? Quite simply my life, my old life, and the life I worked so hard to achieve just isn’t here. I’ve accepted I can’t work and have found fulfilling voluntary work, but it’s just not stimulating me enough, there are no/few challenges.

When I’m challenged I do operate at a different level, I’m short, snappy and unbearable to be around, but it’s what keeps me going, keeps the fight alive. Makes me, me and keeps me happy.

The youngest child leaves for the UK in just over a week, assuming I can get a flight for him and haven’t left it too late. He is returning to attend boarding school as his dyslexia and dysgraphia just isn’t catered for here in main stream schooling and besides, he needs to do International qualifications.

So what have I done since my return? Well I’ve cleaned the garage, rearranged the camping gear, tidied up all my paperwork, tweeted, face booked and blogged. Have I started the process of sewing name labels in his clothes? Starting his packing? Completed all the medical forms? No, I’ve done nothing.

But why not? Why do nothing?

Well apart from not wanting him to live 6000 miles away from me (his dad, 2 brothers & sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all are in the UK) I don’t want to have to deal with another change in my life again. The beginning of September I’ll be returning to the UK to settle him into his new school, I have the house and finances to sort now the tenants are finally out, I may be there for 2 weeks, I may be there longer. My dad’s health isn’t good, I may have to return earlier.

But then what do I do? Well to start with there will be the bedrooms to sort, repaint, rearrange and clean. I’ll walk the dog, clean the house, cook dinner and resume my voluntary work. I’ll settle into a new routine and guess what? Son will return for Christmas, Mother in Law will be out for 2 months to visit, my routine will change, they’ll all go back and I’ll be left feeling depressed again.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Men are good at nagging

Last night hubby reminded me of the importance of me getting up in the morning on time, needless to say his message didn’t go down well.

This is my daily morning routine.

Wake up at 6am and complain at hubby for waking me up

Doze for 20 minutes while hubby leaves TV & lights on, makes and eats his breakfast, wakes kids up for school

Drink tea that hubby has made, still complaining about being woken up so early

Get up at 6.50am to make sure kids have everything they need

Wave family off for the day, shower, dress, drink more tea

Feed dog, cat, collect laundry, crockery, hang up wet towels, load dishwasher, prep dinner, clean kitchen surfaces, sweep and mop kitchen floor

This morning by 7am, I’d done all the above, by 8.30am I’d dropped the car at the garage and hubby at work. All of these with constant comments and remarks 'I can't afford to be late'

By 9am I’m sitting in Kempton Park blogging and having breakfast….beat that…



Monday 5 August 2013

Working abroad

If you’ve been offered employment abroad then great, take it and enjoy, but if you move abroad with your partner’s job, don’t expect to find work easily once you arrive in your new country.

I’ve read about British expats all over the world, highly qualified, going through the lengthy and expensive process of verifying their qualifications to be told they cannot work in their new country. Of course if you move in and around Europe, things are different and also appears to be easier for a non European to gain work.

They always need teachers, don’t they? Especially ones that are Special needs trained, with in-depth knowledge of autism and child protection. Yes they do, but then you discover these areas are not listed on the current ‘skills shortage’ list. You don’t comply with the Black Economic Empowerment, BEE laws.

Of course everyone tells you ‘of course you can get a job in South Africa, it’s easy, no problem’ oh ok then HOW? Give that mate a call, pass on those details you talk about.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Mexican stew for hob or slow cooker

As you know I've been a bit busy recently having spent 9 weeks in the UK. I'm now, well the kids are, in the middle of exams, the youngest is leaving for the UK to go to boarding school in just over a week so I've been extremely busy, what with packing, revision and of course getting my hair and nails done.

The slow cooker has been my saviour this week. The school run is at 7am and now the eldest drives, I find myself up at 6am, giving them a kick up the back side and in between drinking tea and barking orders, I start the dinner.

So far this week we've had a Thai Green Curry, Hungarian Goulash and Chicken in Mushroom. We've also had a take out and dinner out with friends.

But the favourite this week has been the Mexican Stew, served with plain rice and peas. If you don't have a slow cooker it also works well on the hob on a low heat for 2 hours.

Brown the beef in a table spoon of olive oil. Remove from the pan.
Gently cook the diced onion, finely chopped clove of garlic and chopped pepper for 5 mins.
Put the onion, pepper and beef in the slow cooker.
Add half a tea spoon of cumin, 1 finely chopped chilli, a tea spoon of brown sugar (removes the bitterness) 9 fluid ozs of beef stock, a tin of peeled and chopped tomatoes, a generous helping of tomato puree and a glass of red wine.

Set the slow cooker to low for the day.

And don't forget to make sure the dog is around to clean up all the floor scraps.

My slow cooker settings are ideal and I've yet to have a meal dry up, but you may need to check there is enough liquid in there and top up with stock or water if necessary.

I really should thank the following companies for their support, they didn't sponsor the post, but I think they should consider it for the future.

Global Knives

Friday 2 August 2013

Win a personalised planner

I attended Britmums live and amongst the items in the goody bag we all received on the last days was a voucher to have a personal planner printed. As most of the items in the bag were related mainly to parents with young children, I took advantage of the offer code I was given to have a personalised diary for 2014 printed.

I love pink, I am Chickenruby, I went to the website.  I followed the simple instructions and within 2 weeks my planner was delivered.....tah dah.

Now I'd like to offer you the opportunity to win your very own personalised planner, which will be sent via email to you should you win.

There are 2 conditions, you must have a UK residential address and you must answer the question below.

I'm an expat, communication is my life line. I carry my diary with me everywhere, to record days out, take notes and to ensure I don't forget a single birthday amongst all my family and friends that I have world wide. Whether I send them an email or a card through the post.

My friend forgot my birthday one year, but she had buried the in laws 2 days before.

So who forgot your birthday and what excuse did they give you?

The comment that amuses me the most will win a voucher to design their own personal planner.

Closing date midnight 9th August.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Things we won’t miss when 14 yo returns to the UK for boarding school


The mess

 Things going missing

Sweet papers down the side of the sofa

Hysterics if the cat and dog get within a mile of one another

Overriding TV programmes so he can record his

Searching for the remote control

Never being able to find a battery, selotape, scissors, glue, blu tack etc etc

Half empty tool boxes

Looking for door keys

Odd socks under sofas, in the dogs mouth, behind doors, dropped down back of washing machine

Denial that he was involved

School runs

Packed lunches

Shoes and bags dumped in the hall

Cushions and blankets piled up on the floor

Evidence of fires being lit

All the plug adapters and cables in his room