Summer Holiday

Jamie with Kimberly, wearing baju kurung!
In one of her emails, my sister Pearly reminded us to bring cropped shorts and sun block lotion.  Packing was the last thing on my mind as I focused on completing several articles to keep in stock for publication while I was away.  A holiday break was worked into the trip to attend our English nephew, Jamie’s wedding in mid August and much discussion went into creating a daily travel plan so that not a moment would be wasted!

A wedding is a good reason for us to go shopping for gifts and as we would be meeting family members and friends, I also wanted to bring them a bit of Malaysia.  My choice of gifts has always been useful handicrafts, particularly those that are made in Johor so – no prizes for the right guess – where did I go for these lovely gifts?*  Last year in my visit to Perth, Australia, I gave such handicrafts to friends and relatives so this time, those in the UK would also get to enjoy them.

My sisters, brother and I at the churchyard
Since it was the Ramadan month, I had the opportunity to pick a choice of traditional Malay cookies for Pearly to savour.  These were carefully hand-carried in air-tight containers and I’m glad that they arrived safely (and not in crumbs!) for her to taste the familiar fragrance of kueh bangkit and sugee biscuits.  

Inspired by a recent story that I wrote about the timeless tradition of Malay costumes, I also selected a baju kurung to present to the bride.  And I must say that it looked rather elegant on dear Kim when we made her put it on just to show us!

The summer sun was rather scorching for a few days even though the sharp winds packed a chilly bite.  Our day started with a walk to the churchyard to bring some fresh flowers to our late brother-in-law’s memorial tomb.  By the end of the first day, everyone had turned a few shades darker from our time at Beaconscot Model Village, enjoying the miniature buildings and structures laid out in a lovely park in Beaconsfield.

Ivan [Left] with us after our satisfying meal at Byron
Ivan, a nephew from Kota Kinabalu who was travelling to Helsinki in Finland for a study trip, was passing through the UK and he spent the day with us.  We had much fun together especially watching his 6-foot something height cramped onto a miniature seat for a fun train ride!
We spent the rest of the day touring sites in Oxford and at the end of the day we would dine together before Ivan left for Heathrow Airport to catch his flight to Helsinki.  As we looked around to pick a place to eat, I remember pausing in front of a noodle shop to look at their menu.  We sensed his reluctance and when I asked if he was keen, his pointed reply was, “I did not come all the way to the UK to eat noodles!”  So we happily agreed on dining at “Byron” a café that served proper hamburgers!

In front of our caravan home at Bournemouth
The next part of our holiday was at the English seaside and we repacked our bags for a trip to Bournemouth where we had reservations in a caravan park.  The English take their summer holidays very seriously and this resulted in quite heavy traffic almost all the way to our destination.  But it was all part of the fun and what was more exciting are the tiny bedrooms that resembled cabins with narrow bunk beds in the self-catering facility that was our home for the next three nights. 

Early the next morning, Pearly took our nephew Brendon for a walk and they were away for such a long time that my brother and his wife started to wonder what was keeping them.  Just as they were about to send out a search party, I heard a commotion outside and when I peeked, I couldn’t help responding with a surprised shout! 
Happy Birthday dear Veronica, celebrated in caravan
in Bournemouth
Unknown to us, Pearly had arranged with our cousin Bernice [who lives in Wimbledon] to join us for the day with her young sons and they arrived to give us a nice surprise!  When the squealing and greeting subsided, we chartered our course to go to nearby Poole where there was a park and sandy beach.  Needless to say, we had a lovely day together before returning to the caravan for a hot meal.  This was also when Jamie brought Kim to introduce to us before the wedding day.  With so many gathered together, it was also timely to sing a birthday song for Veronica, our dear sister-in-law.

At Raynes Park train station with Bernice,
heading to London's Waterloo station
From the sea, we headed to the city and braved the heavy after-office traffic to Bernice and Jay’s home in Wimbledon where chicken curry was being kept warm for our dinner.  After the meal, Bernice, our gracious host and self-appointed tour manager, called us together for a “meeting” to chart our course for our first day in London.  This form of meeting went on after dinner over the next two days, albeit with less quorum because most of the participants were pumped out by sheer exhaustion after the exciting city experiences.  Using maps and Google info, she guided us on the most convenient stops in the London Underground for our sightseeing, not just to save time but also to save some energy so that we could explore the shops on Oxford Street!

Jamie & Kim with sister Melanie and mum, Pearly
outside the church on August 16, 2014
Then it was time for the wedding-of-the-year.  Bernice and her husband, Jay, came to join us and as the ladies dolled themselves up, my brother and his son were given neckties to wear that matched those of the bridegroom and other male members of the immediate family.  It was Jamie’s idea to wear matching ties so that the male family members could be easily identified.  In the end, there was quite a rush to get to the church because of last-minute preparations like making the bride’s posy with freshly cut flowers from the garden! 

The wedding was the reason for our trip to the UK and it was our joy and pleasure to share the special occasion with the newlyweds.  From where she was seated, my sister Ruby recorded a video of the solemnization using her trusted smart-phone so that it may be shown to other family members who could not be there.  The weather was cool and breezy when the bridal party stepped out of the church and as the photo-taking session started, I was quite deafened by the relentless clanging of the church bells …

With the wedding over and the newlyweds off to a self-drive honeymoon in Europe, we continued with our travel plan to various sites for different experiences.   It was a unique thrill on the canal cruise from Oxford to Abingdon to experience the traditional locks that have been in use centuries ago, an ingenious method for boats to sail inland using locks to adjust different water levels.  A visit to Cotsworld Wildlife Park to see English wildlife and other animals was dampened by a sudden downpour but it did not stop us from having a good time.

I also dropped by at 10 Downing Street to meet with
PM, David Cameron
At Warwick Castle, we had an unforgettable dungeon experience.  The inter-active fun with the dramatic medieval characters we met in the dungeon was both amusing and scary but it was also interesting and educational.  At Cadbury World our sugar-high from sampling delicious chocolate, kept the energy levels soaring and geared us up for more activities in the next few days including a visit to historical Bath.  While my sisters and I went shopping, my brother and his family went for a tree-top adventure trail in “Go Ape” and they had a great time challenging themselves, climbing and swinging among towering trees!

My sisters and I with Judy at her home in Nantwich
Even though it was summer, the weatherman reported “unseasonably cold weather”– warning that summer was officially over – and we had to wrap up with more layers to keep warm.  My brother and his family left for home a week ahead of Ruby and I who stayed on to enjoy a more leisurely paced sisters’ holiday. 

We drove to Nantwich, near Cheshire, to stay with Judy, a family friend who had settled in the UK.  Judy and her husband, Andy, live in a house they built on the site of a former chapel but let me keep this for another story.  It was a long weekend for the last Monday in August Bank Holiday and the traffic was extremely heavy on the M40 especially around Birmingham.  I somehow managed to crawl through this sector before we used the map as a guide to leave the motorway and travelled through the countryside by A-roads to reach Nantwich. 

At home with grandpa Wallace and Nan in Banbury
Another day, we visited Pearly’s in-laws in Banbury – the town that inspired a popular nursery rhyme – Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross…  Now there was more time to browse in the shops and we enjoyed having a look inside quaint village shops as well as at bright modern malls they call “precincts.”   The weather was typically cool and drizzly but on our last two days, the skies cleared and the air felt just like natural air-con! 

All too soon our summer holiday had come to an end.  It was an eventful but refreshing time where we had the experience of cruising on a canal boat, commuting by trains and moving around London through the network of Underground tubes and even had a bus ride from Abingdon back to Oxford!  Now we have so much to reflect on but the myriad experiences and memories made with family and friends are the most precious gems that we will treasure for a long, long time.  We are very blessed.


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