So where's the snow?

Muddling through life from Austria to Wales; God, life and a small black dog


Home again, Christmas 2016

I’ve just sat down and written this. Its unedited. I wonder if anyone will read it all. But I feel better for having got it down!

So after a wait of two years, we at last began our trip to the UK. Seasoned travellers, now on our second trip, we had the new element of the dog. We decided to take Eurotunnel as we didn’t want to leave her in the car as you have to on a ferry. We were leaving on the 4th of December and aiming to stay until the day after Boxing day so that we had plenty of time to be with family, do some shopping, catch up with people without endless rushing around.

We left on a Sunday so that the traffic was less in Germany, but first had to go to the Vets for Swingle to have her forms checked and to have the Tapeworm tablet, which meant we had to cross the border in 5 days. All went well and on a bright day we sped off towards home. Swingle was restless as she had never been in the car for so long, she kept on expecting a walk. Every couple of hours we stopped, and in  the little stop places, she had sensory overload where there were so many ‘Peemails’ to catch up on. She was pretty brilliant. We had made the rough plan of reaching HeimsHeim, a little town in Germany near Stuttgart which we had found by chance on the way home last time. We got there early afternoon, fairly zonked out after some much driving, to find the Motel wouldn’t be open until  Five oclock.  So we drove around the village and pulled into a Carpark to find the Hotel Hirsch just behind it.


Dog friendly and affordable, we booked in as it was so nice.  We had extra sheets to put on the bed because Swingle was moulting, and wanted to leave the room clean. We now had to start the routine of having to go walkies at Bedtime as there would be no letting the dog out the door! We walked around the town and found fascinating buildings, an old civic hall and an Anglican Church- well we really shouldn’t have been so surprised considering where Martin Luther came from!


There was a little Bible garden, and we could see that there was farms and fields all around, that in spring would be full of blossoming orchards.


We had a meal with the dog under the table, she learnt so quickly about not barking at all new comers, we live so quietly at home! I had to go through the irritation of having to explain about Gluten free, but sausages are good. So a quick pee trip, guiltily in the graveyard, and exhausted to bed!

We had decided on three days, so our destination for day two was Verdun, again where we had stayed the previous trip. We woke early and had breakfast with dog, I took my bag of Oatmeal with me as was to become normal, and made it with the tea water. We packed the car and then drove out of the village to walk Swingle. We found acres of market gardens and bike paths, and strolled around until she had done her stuff and off into the bright day.

It didn’t last long as we soon hit frozen fog, which dogged the journey the whole way to Verdun. It was in the sunlight! We found the Hotel I had aimed for, but with an automated lobby, I did something wrong, or they just didn’t have rooms, so we went off. We found a real B&B, and this time I got the card to work. It was brand new and done for industrial  stays, with spray on wood chip wall paper and thick, black scrubbing  pad carpet. Which was just as well as Swingle was sick on it!  Once settled, we went to tour Verdun, but it was getting late and cold, and we got lost. Parts of Verdun are geared up for the tourists, but a lot of the streets appear untouched and deserted since the war. Even with carriage door around the back. I would have liked the warmth and time and camera to have a snoop. Its a town ripe for being bought up and done up. We found a Macdonalds where we could take Swingle (thats what she chucked up) and I struggled to order, thank heavens for an electronic ordering board. We’d stopped at one in Germany, 100 points to Macs for being dog friendly! Then I went around a Supermarket for snacks for the rest of the evening and we retired. There was such a heavy frost, we had to cover the car for the morning.  The heating clicking on and off kept us from sleeping well, but what ho! We felt we don’t need to visit Verdun again unless for a long, guided visit!



Off into more sun and fog, we stopped at the side of the road on the way to the motorway, for peemails and looked at old battlefields. By mid afternoon we made it to Calais and in the mildness of +12, we found the Holiday Inn where we were staying. Lovely, wish I’d seen there was a swimming pool! But there was a bath, which I filled and soaked in, I don’t like showers!And there was a kettle and mugs in the room something we’d missed, they were geared up to the UK , such a joy! It was still early afternoon and so we went to the beach, about 5km away. Swingle met the beach and went nuts!


It was so wonderful to breathe the ozone air and relax. We saw some old gun emplacements and felt we would like to explore!


Due the blasted GF, I couldn’t eat a lot on the menu at supper, and we had to eat ribs, poor dog under the table! We then watched some UK tv and then crashed for the night after Swingle saw her first rabbits on her peerun!


In the darkness and frost we made our way to the tunnel, I had a lorry flash me but he was only telling me I was in the wrong lane. It was so easy just checking in and then driving on train. I felt travel sick when we first started but as we emerged into daylight and driving on the left hand side, it didn’t matter I WAS HOME!  The motorway was full of potholes, it was grey, there were so many lorries spreading dirt, traffic jams, But it was good! I scared the living daylights out of one lorry driver as we changed lane, as I turned around completely in my seat, he drove past having a good look at us! We stopped for petrol and you can’t imagine how wonderful it felt to me to be surrounded by English voices, a pure joy. We had forgotten to get some cash, thank heavens for bankcards!!

The Satnav and us got a bit lost on the way to Aldershot but arrived to a cool welcome from my sister in law and Swingle being attacked by her dogs. Not a good start! So we had a cup of tea and went to find the B&B. It was lovely, with a DIY breakfast that suited us, a small room which had dog footprints on one of the beds!  We went to the local Co-op and I found the GF range, then we went for a curry. I had a big conversation in there about GF, oh to talk so easily.  Dave’s brother propped round and we began making plans for the next few days.


We went out as a family with Dave’s Dad who’s in an old people’s home. He’s got steadily more cheeky as he’s got older but is happy. You woner if inside there is a wicked, alert wit, or just a second childhood and no ones homes!Well we wasn’t so much when he had to sit outside the pub in his wheelchair under the patio heaters due to the dog…..


Dave and I walked for miles along the streets of Victorian streets, to the parks where he had worked in the past with the council. Swingle made new friends and got attacked. We reckoned it was because she’s black(!) or she smelt odd!  We chatted to people  about dogs and what breed she was, oh it was lovely! I went shopping with Val and had the culture shock of Guildford pre Christmas and a quick trip to Primark! Met up with our nephews who have grown up enough to have conversations with!  We did get caught out with driving on the wrong side, but Dave did most of it was his patch!  We walked for miles along the Basingstoke canal. I was allowed alone in Tescoes and got doggy and GF stuff, including some tissues to stop the dog from smelling! Finding so much GF stuff was amazing, and English sausages, still so much better than Austrian ones!   We had time to catch up with the family, but we had to move on! The whole feeling of this part of the trip was just sheer relief to be talking in English, being relaxed and enjoying shops and the old towns. So many people didn’t really freak me out and I imagined the streets on hit summer evenings. I wondered if the initial friendliness of the folks in the parks would wear off as the dogs met daily, or would it be new friendships formed?

So we waved a fond farewell to family and made our way to New Milton where we had lived for 16 years, via Winchester. Dave had said this was my part of the trip as he’d had days of reminiscing and showing me his old haunts – I’d enjoyed that! After a false turn off the motorway, we arrived in St Cross in Winchester, the area where I grew up, We didn’t drive past my house this time, that’s for another trip. One day, I want to walk around all my childhood haunts with a camera and plenty of time.  We parked by the canal  where I used to paddle as a kid, finding fresh water shrimps as I dug, for some reason I’d always called it the ‘Old El’.


Behind us was where the Winchester by-pass had run, but now has been restored when the new M3 was built. Many stories there!  We walked along the canal back towards Winchester and the Street where the first Croft and Sons shop used to be. Nothing has visibly changed in my lifetime there, even the bookshop was the same. We entered the Cathedral precincts by William the Conquerors mounting block and along the little path with the metal chain fence. I used to try and run all the way down swinging it hoping the last would still be going when I got to the end. The fence is only about three feet high, so how old was I?

The joy of joys, we saw there was a market on and on the edge in a shed was a Second hand book shop. On the joy! The upperclass couple running it, she speaking with a voice deepend by smoke made compliments about Swingle, but even so, I didn’t come away with as many book as I’d have liked!  I even had a chance to boast about being a Winchesterarian born and bred! We then found Winchester was full of an enormous Advent market selling much the same things they do in Austria, so we skipped through that and walked back to the car through the water meadows. Another beloved walk from my childhood. Place where seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness was penned! We crossed the road by the recycling centre, which in my childhood had been the main rubbish recycling depot with a huge building of pipes and smells, now demolished which I used to call the Pong House. I now have a walk in Tamsweg by the sewage works, christened with the same name.


Just after this my iphone crashed, either too cold or the battery was low. I hadn’t brought my best camera in the hope that I was getting a new one and an attempt to control my photo taking! We wlaked on past St Cross and the weir where my brothers would fish for Crayfish. Of course Swingle had to jump into a ditch pretending it was grass. There were so many people about- well it was a Sunday and it seemed all had the identikit liver and white springer spaniel, so no class stereotyping in Winchester then!


So then we set off for New Milton, our home for sixteen years. We went into our most favourite café, in the garden centre in Bashley and found it little changed, apart for the annoyance of the GF thing. Oh, it was so nice to hear familiar voices around. Then we went for a walk on the forest to Longslade where I used to belt along on my horse and Swingle got attacked again.


But she did have a bit of a run. Finally, we went to the local laundrette, as we had some washing and our friends weren’t yet home. That done, we went to their house and they were already there.


It was an odd few days, as I felt a bit unwelcome, although they said we may meet up next year. We had said, please don’t change your arrangements too much for us, but we ended up buying a lot of our own food out. We did do the charity shops in the Highstreet on a cold damp day, and they were all so dog unfriendly. In the end we bought some place mats ans went back to our garden centre. This time we had a lovely chat with the ladies we had to share a table with. It was just the joy of speaking freely, of course we had the oh yes, we’ve been to Austria story, but it was so comforting.

We also walked along the beach at Barton. The weather was damp and dark and horrible, one old boy we spoke to with his Bedlington Terriers, said note, This is a Tupperware day, remember it when you get home,  its so grey you feel shut in! All these friendly people, if we lived, would we speak so much to folks, or just ignore them, was it a need on  our part, or just joy at being home?  Maybe it isn’t so good stirring all this up!

Then we went off to Somerset. On the way we met with some members of our Church, we hadn’t been able to get there on a Sunday. That was also sooooo good to talk freely not only about Jesus, but in English. They made us feel we weren’t doing so badly. A real balm to the spirit.

All this took longer than we thought and we were late arriving at my Brothers. This wasn’t a problem normally, but my iphone had had to be restarted and I could not remember the passwords or get the emails.  Glad I’d written some numbers down!  Larry and I contacted apple and eventually I got the two answers right and at George’s got the phone re-started. Call from the bank had me in a panic, but it was only that she needed a copy of my passport. And irate family trying to find out where we were!!!!

Another blessed couple of days, my brother a couple of years older, a bit blunter and scathing of things, but they treated us royally, again, we’d said don’t disturb yourself for us, so we mooched about. Larry and I went to clean Mum’s grave and chatted about writing. It was lovely walking in the damp, soggy, Somerset mud!  Swingle got on well with Larry’s dog, Tigger, but didn’t like being stuffed in the boot while Larry drove like a maniac. But we were glad to be passengers!

We also went to see ny neice’s new Victorian house (well to her) in Bridport and it was wonderful, they’d kept it as was, in the colours yet new styles. We walked on the beach at West bay, and it was super. She really impressed me when she said that it was an honour to work with old people and at the end of their lives, that blew me away!  Never thought anyone would think that. Wow.


Then at last, off to George’s for Christmas.

What can I say of those days? We had a day out to Stourhead, we had the dogs and walked around relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, ate a lovely meal, was such a joy.


Lovely early morning talks and dog walks with Michelle, walks in the forest with all the gang. Off to our old haunts along the coast, Studland, Warbarrow bay, Kimmeridge (where Dizzy tried to chase a bird up a cliff) Taking Dizzy their dog with us who got on great with Swingle too,Buying things in Swanage, eating chips!  Walking  into Wareham. Lovely ppet shop. Changing our euros at a silly good rate. Moist damp, windy days, clear blue skies too. Swingle getting muddy and learning to be towelled before being let in the house. Mince pies. Going to the big Tescoes in Bourmenouth. Sheer heaven. Buying lots of GF stuff to take home. People everywhere. Baked potatoes, proper ones in the beach front café in Swanage and sharing chips with the dogs!

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Christmas, finally meeting Stef’s new love, Paul. A quiet but steady bloke, I think with a hidden sense of humour. Stef happily fat, in that weight you put on when you first realise this is it, you settle in and relax. Really looking forward to seeing them in March. They went off running tow mornings! But Stef didn’t do well, so much condition lost since her marathon in April.


George playing alpha male with the TV and we had to watch the Simpsons. Then we bored them with stuff we wanted to watch, Finally seeing George’s railway layout upstairs. Meeting Michelle’s Mum and the new husband, making a living, pretty much as we do, but they have a place in Corfu. Michelle being a real schoolteacher with her nephews and nieces, or frustrated motherhood. We did find a pregnancy test in the back of the wardrobe.  Michelle coming home drunk after her works do. Us hoovering so we kept their place clean! Swingle still having to be let out in the night, only stopped when we controlled her water heavily in the car.


Christmas day, no camera! But books and lovely stuff. Food amazing. GF Christmas pud and chocolate log. Michelle realising how George is like his Dad. I wish I had been quicker and talked to her about if she is happy.

Felt they were ok though, and even at times we were a little bored, But that was good because I could walk away without pain. Handing my daughter to Paul in my head and feeling George and Michelle are ok.  Me trying so hard to be the perfect mother in law, but probably got on their nerves, but at least I cooked a curry for them!


Too soon it was over and I had the nearest thing to a conversation with George when we said goodbye, lets not leave it so long again! I tried so hard not to get angry when they went off with Michelle’s family and couldn’t find the time to visit us. But George does work difficult shift patterns. Try not to hassle them. I guess I want them to be happy and leave them to their lives but is it at the expense of not enough contact?

I made the mistake of booking the tunnel on the day after boxing day and the traffic was solid all the way. Our Satnav kept saying we’d miss our train but then we realised it was still on Europe time and we were fine. The port wasn’t even that full, and it all seemed old hat. But when we drove back to the hotel, Dave missed the turning and hit the kerb, we were more tired tan we thought. This time we didn’t go down to eat as we finished Michelle’s sandwiches which she had so kindly made for us.

In the morning, we took the dog to the beach again for our last blast of ozone. Then we missed the road back but has a beautiful drive alone the coast and the old gun emplacements, very like the Dorset coast. Then we drove into the freezing fog. Miserable driving with lorries playing the leapfrog game. We gave up near Metz and booked an Inn, as we drove around there was a big black community  of flats had a Police car parked in the middle, the hotel was in a secure compound. We refused the first room because it stank of smoke, Dave as usually not wanting to make a fuss, but he would have wheezed. Then we had burgers, and got them half raw instead of cooked, typical French. Then we drove all the away home in one day. The worst bit was between Munich and Salzburg, where there was little snow.

We worked well together and it was all a pure joy. Homesickness, none this time, I only hit one low point when I realised the GF mince pies where sold out!  Knowing my kids are all happy makes me happy. It was so nice to get home, with all our loot, open some presents we’d left behind and that first night we all three slept like logs!