I feel like an impostor. I’m neither in the Hindu Kush nor up to my elbows in Carrot Crush. Things have moved on.
I meant to write this a little while ago – like a year or so, but tempus has fugitted rather and it became like that Thank You card that you should have written but didn’t. After a couple of weeks it gets a bit tricky and after a month you have to decide whether it’s all just too awkward or whether you can still get away with it after a decent amount of grovelling.
Anyway, here’s My Life Over The Past Year in a nutshell.
Life all became a bit interesting at the end of June, 2014. We knew we were coming back to the UK sometime in the next year, probably around December. We’d got a place at our 2nd choice school for H to start in the January and had just completed on our house purchase and all was well. Then, on June 23rd, I got an email from that school saying that H’s place had been given up and that we should contact the Education Authority. A quick call to my friend Dean (after a particularly eventful application process I was on first name terms with the Education Authority staff, and Dean and I were positively bessie mates), and I discovered that:
- “Oh joy!” – we had been granted our first choice school; and
- “Quel horror!” – they needed H to start in September.
We flew back to the UK to meet with H’s new headmistress who very firmly put her 6 inch heel down (she’s very glam) and said yes, H absolutely had to start in September. We left the meeting in something of a daze. It was the beginning of July.
We cancelled our summer holiday, flew back to Pakistan and packed up stuff for me and the boys. We then headed came back to the UK and set up camp in our new house.
Hubby went back to Pakistan until December and I stayed with the boys (now 4 and 2) in the UK. Things I have learnt:
- The UK is great. You can drink the tap water and feel confident that there is nothing in it that will survive 12 minutes of a rolling boil (a statistic about Pakistani tap water which I filled me with almost constant terror).
- Starting building works without your partner, even when on your own with small children, is a Good Thing. You earn kudos for doing it all on your own and you get to decide EVERYTHING. When hubby does finally pitch up, he only gets to say how great everything looks, because he wasn’t there to help.
- Children are adaptable. I knew it anyway, but have been amazed at just how quickly the UK became the norm.
- I get a bit giddy (even still) when I get in a car and drive to see a friend. It’s just not been something I could do for the past 7 years.
And now, hubby’s home, Son 1 is in Year 1, Son 2 is at pre-school. I’m at home, writing away and looking at St Albans’ Abbey through my window. All is well. I’ve missed my blog and my friends from around the world whose lives you only glimpse through a post but to whom you feel strangely attached, so I’m back in the saddle. Expect more dribblings from me, although on life in the UK as an ex-ex-pat.
However, I can’t pretend I’m carroty or kushy any more.
I’ve re-invented (oo-er) and can now be found here. It’s all new and very exciting. Come and see!
This is not a sponsored post. I’m not getting any money or free hoover bags or anything for writing this. It’s just that it’s not often that you meet pure passion head on.
And so, here are 5 Reasons To Love The Vac Centre, Stamford, Lincolnshire:
1. It’s a Dream Come True.
Once, there was a little boy who loved vacuum cleaners. It started when he was little and he began dismantling his mother’s cleaner to see how it worked. Kudos, here, to his mother. If either of my boys started attacking my vacuum cleaner with a screwdriver I wouldn’t be encouraging. He followed his dream and opened a shop 20 years ago. It’s this shop:
I challenge you to go in and ask if they sell irons. Go on. Dare you…
2. Is there anything he doesn’t know about vacuum cleaners? I don’t think so.
My mother went in to get some hoover bags. She couldn’t remember the model of her vacuum cleaner, but she could remember that it was Electrolux, she’d bought it in 2003 and it was a sage green colour. Our man was able to reel off the model and presented her instantly with her new bags.
3. You give him problems, he gives you solutions
When we last went back to the UK we asked my ayah if she’d like anything brought back. “Yes,” she said, “A new vacuum cleaner”. I like to treat her where possible, so I went in to the shop and presented my needs. These were: a robust cleaner suitable for 2 boys with asthma which could be brought back to Pakistan in our suitcases. There was no hesitation. We were shown the new AEG. I mentioned that I’d liked my old Miele. Yes, he said, my old one would have been good but the new ones are, apparently, a bit plasticy and prone to cracking. Then he started talking about HEPA filters and suction powers and suddenly I wanted, no, needed the new AEG in a way that I had never before imagined.
4. Make Do And Mend
If he can repair your cleaner, however, he will. Someone brought in their mother’s old cleaner from the 1930s with the original cord still attached. He got it working.
5. He Encourages Fellow Enthusiasts
He told us that the job centre had got in touch. Apparently they knew of a young man who had also had a love of vacuum cleaners from an early age. He’d had a job stacking shelves, but had become depressed and, eventually, lost his job. They asked our chap if could do anything, so he employed him as an extra pair of hands to help with the servicing and repair side of the business. Apparently he’s no longer depressed. “Imagine,” said our friend “having to stack shelves when you really want to be working with vacuum cleaners! No wonder he was depressed.”
Our young man had found possibly the only person in England who really, really understood.
You are possibly the most revolting person it has ever been my misfortune to meet and I would like to publicly thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell you so.
At first I hadn’t realised what was going on. We’d boarded the aeroplane in Birmingham, settled into our seats and our two boys were, for the moment, sitting quietly anticipating take off. I heard a child crying elsewhere in the cabin but thought nothing of it save to be grateful that for once it wasn’t one of mine.
My curiosity was piqued by the gaggle of flight attendants and ground crew directly on the other side of the aeroplane but it wasn’t until you started shouting that I found out what was going on.
– I CAN’T SIT BEHIND A CRYING CHILD FOR 8 HOURS
Ooh, I thought, you’re one of those strange people who think that a ticket on an aeroplane entitles you to a spa experience. You know, one of those oddities who seem unable to work a pair of headphones or even just to be engaged enough with society to know that children cry but, if they’re not your children, you can just sit back and be grateful that you’re not trying to keep an overactive octopus crammed into an airline seat for 8 hours. This should be fun, I thought.
– I’VE PAID FOR MY TICKET. I DON’T CARE IF THE CHILD IS DISABLED. IT’S HER CHOICE (at this point you were gesticulating wildly at the mother) TO TRAVEL AND IF SHE CAN’T CONTROL THE NOISE HER CHILD MAKES SHE SHOULD BE MADE TO LEAVE THE AEROPLANE. TAKE HER OFF THE AEROPLANE.
-YOU CHOSE TO BRING THIS CHILD ON AEROPLANE, you continued, even though it was perfectly plain to everyone that the poor woman could only speak urdu and was clearly going home to Pakistan – a journey that is nigh-on impossible by road and overly lengthy by sea. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SUFFER BECAUSE YOU CHOSE TO TRAVEL WITH A DISABLED CHILD.
Well that was a game-changer. I got angry. I didn’t say anything as, well, I’m British and there were enough people around with all the crew and stewards, but I resolved that if they tried to evict the poor mother and child I would get involved. They didn’t. They moved them both to our side of the aeroplane, away from the noxious fumes of poisonous bile you were emitting.
And that, I thought, was that. I was seething but it seemed to have been worked out. And then you caught my eye (actually I was probably glaring at you – I’m not very good at hiding my feelings at the best of times).
-I COULDN’T HAVE SAT BEHIND THAT FOR 8 HOURS.
you said, thinking perhaps that you had an ally in me. You were wrong.
“I think your behaviour is outrageous. How could you be so insensitive? I think you should be ashamed of yourself,” I said.
I was feeling glad I’d been able to say something but was almost shaking with rage. And then you kindly gave me carte blanche to release the safety lock and open fire.
– EXCUSE ME! EXCUSE ME!
I couldn’t quite believe it but, yes, you were trying to get my attention.
-I JUST WANTED TO SAY THAT I SAW YOUR CHILDREN EARLIER AND WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW HOW WELL-BEHAVED I THOUGHT THEY WERE.
And that was it. At any other time at all in the last 4 years I would have accepted your lovely compliment with welling eyes and a full heart. You may have been invited to be godparent to one of the little angels whose behaviour you’d seen for merely minutes and whose full blown tantrum you’d missed by seconds. If sufficiently moved I may even have shared my jaffa cakes with you. But not now. Oh no. You forfeited all good will when you tried to get a mother and disabled child removed from an aeroplane because he’d cried.
Usually, when I’m angry, the words don’t come out. I stumble and trip and dribble a bit and feel utterly wretched because, let’s face it, when you’re angry you really, really want to be able to vent. I don’t know what guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder, but for the first time in my life, I was an articulate angry person. I can’t quite remember what I said (there was quite a lot of it) but it started with:
“Thank you and I thank God every day that my children are healthy and are not disabled and if they were disabled I should hope that people would be an awful lot more compassionate than you have been.”
It continued in the same vein for a good few minutes. After a little while I realised that I should probably wind up so I returned to the ‘be grateful that you’re healthy’ line (always good to finish on a high).
– I AM GRATEFUL I’M NOT DISABLED, you said.
“And that is probably the only thing we will ever agree on,” I ended.
I do not know anything about you. There may be reasons why you acted as you did, although I can’t for the life of me think of what they are. I do, however, hope that you were thoroughly ashamed of yourself and have resolved to be a changed man. We can but hope.
Incidentally, the child cried for a maximum of 5 minutes for the entire 8 hours.
And now for something completely different…
Occasionally I do a guest blog for a great website called Smitten By Britain, my specialist subject being Northern Ireland.
I’ve been invited to a party!
Tomorrow Jamat-ud-Dawa (the political wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba who are, according to Wikipedia, one of the largest and most active terrorist organisations in South Asia) are holding a Grand Rally in Islamabad to celebrate the day Pakistan tested nuclear weapons sixteen years ago in 1998. If that isn’t cause for a large cake and a bouncy castle I don’t know what is.
Quick – get some balloons and a piñata!
Together with the army they are holding a Yaom-e-Takbeer or Day of Greatness and the party workers have invited everyone!
I fear I may be busy.
The Pakistan International Airways baggage allowance is 40 kg, even in economy. It is generous to a fault, that fault being “What On Earth Are You Thinking?”. Nothing will prepare you for the sheer volume of cases that, eventually, find their way onto the baggage belt at the far end of Benazir Bhutto Airport, Islamabad. In the midst of suitcase nirvana, however, are some choice items which have included:
1. Someone’s glasses case, complete with glasses sticking out of the top. They really deserved the ‘fragile’ sticker.
2. A crutch. Singular.
3. A box of Pampers, merrily tootling around by itself.
4. Big, thick, fluffy blankets. Because 40C is sometimes just not snug enough.
And, most bizarrely, a bright purple suitcase with pictures of flowers on it which I saw someone remove from the baggage belt and then….put it back. Having piqued my interest, I then watched them to see what case they finally settled on.
It was black.
“Can I check your bag?” said the chap at security at Islamabad International Airport.
“Um, yes” I said, trying to work out quite what he might have seen in a bag containing nappies, wipes and Julia Donaldson’s seminal work “Monkey Puzzle*”. (This is J’s favourite who will present it to you, climb onto your knee and proceed to point at every blue butterfly in the book demanding “What is that?” with increasing volume until you say “It’s a blue butterfly”. He then moves on to the next one and repeats. There are blue butterflies on every page. It’s torture.)
Should be banned under the Geneva Convention.*
We were waved in the direction of a table. It wasn’t clear on which side we should stand, so we plumped for the one which meant the official would be closer to the scanners. That’s what they do at Birmingham City Airport, so it must be right. It was wrong. We were promptly moved to the other side. We were still a bit bemused. So was the official, as a mound of children’s detritus emerged from the bag.
There was then a small incident somewhere around the scanner area, so our official headed off to go and have a look, leaving us with the bag. Had we been international arms smugglers, this would have been the welcome opportunity we were after to secret our nefarious goods from Bag About To be Searched into Other Bag. As it was we were still at a loss to why we had been stopped so we didn’t. He came back.
Eventually, after much rummaging, he found a small car. We all looked at each other. He shrugged and took it off to scan it, leaving us with the bag.
It was at this point that a small ruckus started up. A lady, having already passed through security, wanted to have a chat with a chap who was still at check-in. Having located a door which connected the two, she had it open and was gaily settling in for a good old natter.
Our official, who by now was looking a little flustered by having had an incident with a scanner and then only having found a dinky toy in the bag of a dodgy western family clearly up to no good, started shouting. The lady shouted back, expressing surprise and gesticulating madly with her hands. She was clearly very keen to continue the conversation. Our man had had enough. The lady was encouraged to abide by basic airport security rules and the door to The Outside World was firmly shut.
We were reunited with our dinky toy.
We all went on our way.
Things I won’t miss when I leave Pakistan: No. 1 – Benazir Bhutto International Airport
*(Photo courtesy of Amazon.co.uk although I’m sure it’s also available from all good bookshops)
Ok, so here goes. The Camel. Or, if this were a Victorian novel:
The Camel: A Tale Of Anguish, Woe and Humiliation Concerning H And His Mother And Half Of His Elementary School And, I Think, Quite A Few Of Middle School Too.
As background it is useful for you to know that I don’t like riding animals. Apparently there was an incident on a seaside donkey at Skegness when I was very little and, since then, they bring me out in a cold sweat. Even thinking about it, as I’m typing now, my stomach is churning. I think it’s because they move once you’re on them. For some reason (I know, I know) I wasn’t expecting that. I have been on animals. I went all the way to Patagonia and I was damned if I wasn’t going to do the obligatory pony trek across the national park. However mine was very different from most as, having had a near breakdown when brought within a metre of my horse, I was put on Pinto, the slowest horse in the world and then (the ultimate humiliation) on a leading rein with a chap walking in front. Even then it took a good while before I’d open my eyes.
I’ve been on an elephant (it didn’t move very quickly either) and on a camel but only successfully when sitting behind my husband hanging on for dear life. I sat in front of him once and hated it so much I threw myself off the top halfway through the trek (the camel was about 2 metres high and still walking. It could have been running for all I cared – I was pretty single minded) and walked the rest of the way home.
So, March 21st was Pakistan Day at H’s school. It was lovely. There were these chaps:
And there was a wagon you could sit in and be pulled by oxen, and face painting, and delicious Pakistani food, and beautiful Pakistani crafts and inflatable helium guitars – pretty much everything that makes Pakistan special and wonderful for children.
And there was a camel. The idea was that you queued for the camel up a set of steps about 6 foot wide and high and the camel would be brought to you. Without it having to kneel down you could climb onto the beast from the top of the stairs, go for a quick shuftie round the garden and clamber off again. Doesn’t it sound easy? Piece of cake. Piece of b***** cake.
I have to admit that I was hoping H wouldn’t be bothered. He’s inherently cautious and there was a large part of me screaming inwardly “It’s a 2 metre high beast with bad teeth and a grumpy attitude. You don’t want to get on it. It’s got long legs. It could take off at a gallop at a moment’s notice. Why would you put yourself on top of it? Why? WHY?????”
“Please can we go on the camel?” asked H, as soon as he saw me.
“Of course, that’ll be fun!” I said.
And so we started to queue. There wasn’t really a queue when we started. However:
1. I’m British. I queue. That is what I do.
2. I’m a mother with a 3 year old in the midst of much older children.
Within, oh, about 10 seconds there was an orderly queue. It didn’t stop people attempting to push past to get to the top of the stairs. I say ‘attempting’. They didn’t do it twice.
So, having stood for 20 minutes waiting patiently for our turn, and standing in the midst of a crowd of pupils who were just waiting for me to get off before they could form their usual orderly mob, the camel arrived.
A diagram is necessary here:
I’m quite chuffed with this. Easily pleased?
We put H on top of the camel. He instantly started crying. As you can see, the top of the camel is quite pointy. It’s also rather a long way from the top of the steps. But my child is crying and needs me and I have to get on the camel. But the camel is a good metre away from the top of my steps and I’m the least agile person in the world. I try to fling a leg in the direction of the camel, but I’m shaking so hard I can barely stand up. It’s a camel. I hate camels. But my child is still crying and really needs me. I’m shouting at the man with the camel to bring it closer to the top of the steps. Have you ever tried to move a camel sideways? It doesn’t really work.
(At this point I realise that a crowd is beginning to form. Quite a few of the elementary teachers and the PE staff have arrived, as well as the drivers of the wagons and some passing students.)
I quickly calculate that the camel is closer to the top of the other set of steps, which is packed with children some of whom were standing on my set of steps and who left when my officious queueing system became too much. I don’t care. My child is still crying and has now been lifted off the camel onto the top of the other set of steps. I race down my steps and, displacing small people as I go, canter up the other set of steps.
(The crowd is getting ever bigger. People have started shouting ‘helpful’ comments and I think, somewhere, someone has started selling tickets.)
At the top of the steps is my sobbing pile of a child who has, let’s remember, spent the last 20 minutes being VERY excited about his camel ride. I asked him if he still wanted to get on, if I was on first. “Yes,” he said. “Oh no” I thought.
So now I’m shaking like a leaf but with an audience of, well, it’s no exaggeration to say it was now approaching the thousands, I had to go through with it. With shouts of encouragement from the head of PE and the headmistress of the Elementary School, I throw myself across the abyss and land, rather untidily, on top of the camel. Summoning a smile from I have absolutely no idea where, I turn to H and hold out my hands for him to climb across. As the chap at the top of the stairs lifts him, he starts to kick his legs and screams “No, no, no, no, no!”. Bad timing, H. If only you could have done that a few minutes before.
We decide that camel-riding is off for that day. H is passed down to my friend (also a teacher at the school who had brought her entire class to witness the commotion). I’m now stuck on the camel. It took a leap to get on. I hadn’t a clue how to get off. And have I mentioned that I’m wibbling like a jelly? I’ve blanked quite a lot of what happened next but I think it took 2 camel trainers, the head of PE and a healthy dose of adrenalin to transport me from up high to down low.
“I didn’t like it, Mummy,” H said, unnecessarily. “Don’t worry,” I said, “maybe another day?” (when your father is here and I can stand at the bottom holding coats and shouting encouragement, I didn’t add.)