One of the dangers of being expatriates is that one’s children can pick up the bug. We left our children safely studying or working in the UK when we came out to Bahrain nearly nine years ago. We now have children on three continents: one in the UK, another in Hong Kong and one in Sydney, Australia. It makes for complexities and expense on holidays if, as we chose to do this year, we visit them all. So two weeks in the UK, a brief return to Bahrain and onward to Hong Kong for five days, and Australia for two weeks.
The UK element was especially busy as we were determined to sort out our housing arrangements for post-Bahrain, which meant clearing and selling a house, and in two days making a decision on buying, which we did – a house in Harborne, Birmingham – grateful for the hospitality of Stephanie in Wolverhampton enabling us to have two days intensive visiting. And we were also able to catch up with Peter and Teen, married here in the Cathedral and Teen baptized and confirmed the day before her departure to the UK. In the few days we had in Cambridge we had lunch with Tom and Maria Vittoria Pote; Tom is an ordinand at Westcott House, a Theological College in Cambridge, and will be joining us in Bahrain for a month’s placement following the Diocesan Synod next February, so it was good to meet them both and look forward to welcoming them both.
It was a joy to spend some time with our daughter Alex and granddaughter, Isla, over two weekends, to meet up with my sister and her husband and I was able to help out by preaching at St Mary’s Hitchin, where our son-in-law Dan is serving as a part-time curate and to share something of the context of our ministry in Bahrain.
After a brief return to Bahrain we flew on to Hong Kong, staying with Hannah and Tom in their fifth floor apartment (with no lift!) which kept us fit. It is always good to return to this dynamic city and to Emmanuel Church on the Sunday, where I was priest-in-charge in the 1980’s. Only a few people remain from that period, but the Chaplain, Robert Martin, was so welcoming and said that we must always regard it as “your church” when we come back to Hong Kong, which we do. After the service we joined Hannah and Tom with several of their friends on a boat trip to Stanley where we anchored and swam.
We flew on to Sydney and then on to Brisbane for a family wedding: a cousin’s daughter to which there was a large family gathering and for which both Hannah and Philippa joined us. Staying in the bride’s house was a balance of helping and keeping out of the way, but both the preparations (flowers, folding orders of service and guillotining song sheets – a familiar activity) and the wedding itself were full of good memories and a very happy occasion. The service was held in the St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Brisbane and was followed by tea in the Church hall and then later by dinner and a ceilidh, reflecting Madi’s Scottish heritage. Her father Bill, a true Scot, who’d proudly taken on Australian citizenship, was much missed but he was movingly remembered in both Madi’s sister Harriet’s speech and indeed the bridegroom Andrew’s speech too; he recalled going to ask for Bill’s permission to marry her while he was critically ill in hospital.
The Butts, on arrival at Brisbane, were able to get away together for a day at Bribie Island, where we braved the bracing Southern hemisphere winter water for a swim and a walk along the beach and enjoyed a fish and chip lunch.
Following the wedding Hannah returned to Hong Kong and we stayed on in Brisbane for several family gatherings over the next few days, while Philippa headed back to work in Sydney.
We travelled back to Sydney and were able to catch up with Doreen, who was one of the first members of the now thriving St Christopher’s Kenyan community and who as well as holding down two jobs has passed her final accountancy exams and is planning for her mother to visit for her graduation. Congratulations to her!
We had a final weekend away in Jervis Bay with Philippa and Lucy, the friend she travelled out through South East Asia to Australia with, and with whom she shares an apartment now. We stayed in a comfortable airbnb with a wonderful wood-burning stove. It is a beautiful bay, home to dolphins and seasonally to whales. We had a boat trip: seeing dolphins up close, an albatross circling effortlessly overhead, gannets out fishing, but sadly no seasonally migrating whales. The sands of Hyams Bay are the whitest in the world (according to the Guiness Book of Records) and a wedding was taking place on the beach when we arrived. We had several good walks and the whole weekend could not have been a better way to end the holiday.
It was not quite ended as we stopped for one of the “World’s Best Pies”, a walk to the Fitzroy Falls in the New South Wales’ Southern Highlands, and our adventure was continued when the brakes in Philippa’s car were clearly not functioning as they should and we had to abandon the car in a garage in Bowral, the home of the world renowned cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, and catch the train back to Sydney.
I caught the plane back from Sydney to Bahrain (Tricia follows in a week’s time) the following day, via five hours in Hong Kong and an hour in Dubai airports, arriving as predicted after a very long night at 8am on Wednesday morning. I was greeted very warmly by the taxi driver at the airport: Eid Mubarak. It was a lovely welcome home and added to by Stephen and our Tamil community at the start of their Family Day as the taxi drew up in the Cathedral car park.