Lessons in love and loss.

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It started as any other Monday does.

A bleary eyed me navigating the perilous route from upstairs to down at stupid o’clock in the morning.
Stumble to the kitchen, kettle on, coffee and milk in mugs. Check.
Open the windows on the right side of the house. Check
Open the windows on the left side of the house. Check.
So far so good.
Oh wait hang on, small ones school trainers aren’t quite dry yet, better just pop them outside for a bit.
Back to the kitchen fill mugs with hot water. Check.
On the way back upstairs ( to wake husband with coffee and small person with yelling), pause under the staircase to retrieve hedgehog food and water ( to wake hedgehog with bribery ). Check.
Feed hedgehog. Che……

This is the moment that the usual Monday started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

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Matilda’s box lid was ajar. Not fully open, but most assuredly not closed.
And our little Houdini was neither snuggled under her blanket nor curled up in her house. The panic level had not risen to beyond ‘sigh’ at this point as its not the first time she’s been missing on a morning. Small as she is she is nimble and has taken full advantage of the fact that once or twice we may have forgotten to fully close the lid of an evening. Usually she can be found curled up behind the front door curtain, so that was my first port of call. My second port of call was under the sofa- a space that is usually forbidden during her supervised outings. My third and slightly more frantic port of call was the downstairs bathroom doormat, a nice snuggly fluffy place to curl up. I checked all the kitchen cupboards ( even though they were shut ), I even checked under the fridge despite the fact there was now way she could have got under there. The panic level was now at ‘damn it’ and the clock was ticking, small one needed to be shoehorned out of her bed and into a school uniform, breakfasts had to be made and school bag packed. I decided to do a poo-rimiter check ( in delicate terms she leaves us tiny smelly hints on her trajectory ) and as I traced a path back to the front door curtains the horror of my morning activities dawned. *Oh wait hang on, small ones school trainers aren’t quite dry yet, better just pop them outside for a bit*.

I’d been outside. The door had been open. Only for seconds, but it had been open. What if….? The panic level was placed firmly on ‘****’.

I raced outside for a fast and futile search of the garden. But tick tick tick, if I didn’t get small one out of bed we would miss the school transport. Back inside to wake up the household and add them to the search party.

Small one was in tears before she got half way down the stairs. Hubby was out searching the garden. Breakfast was all but abandoned as we tried to alternately search and console small one whose heart was breaking in two as we discussed the possibility that she had heard the call of the wild and followed. Speeches were made about the rights and wrongs of animals being kept in cages, the need for some creatures to be wild, to be free. How adaptable animals are to their surroundings, how strong and fearless our little Matilda had become, and of course she would survive ‘out there’. What we were doing was trying to soften what we felt would be the inevitable blow of her departure.

There was nothing more to be done as school time approached. I left the house with a sobbing small one and I faced the 15 minute walk of shame as my every failing as a carer of hedgehogs was highlighted and underlined every step of the way. What’s worse is that she was right. I should have checked her cage before I opened the door.

It was a guilt that would lay heavy on me for a long while.

With promises of further search ringing in her ears small one was dispatched to school for the day and I returned to continue the search. True to my word, even though I knew in my heart it was utterly pointless, I scoured the locale for 2 hours before conceding defeat. The house had been gone over with a fine tooth comb and we had come up with nothing.

She was gone.

The day proceeded in a half hearted manner. Hubby and I went to the local flower market in the afternoon ( after leaving a food at the front door on the off-chance she scurried back), and although we managed to pick up some amazing things for the garden, along with some guilt pacifying toys for small one, our hearts just weren’t really in it. All I could think about was having to pick up small one from the school bus with the news that she hadn’t returned.

It was as traumatic as I had feared and the tears and recriminations rang in my ears all the way home. And there was me thinking I couldn’t feel any worse.

We had to move Matilda’s box into the spare room as every time small one fought sight of it she wept again.

The fact that she has only been with us a little over two weeks made no difference to the genuine sadness that we all felt. When you decide to take something or someone into your heart, time is irrelevant.
Whilst this was not small ones first experience of loss, it seemed to cut the deepest. When our beautiful little Chimney died, some time ago now, we were bereft, but at least we had some closure. The burial in the back garden meant we had our chance to say goodbye, and there was no possibility of her return.

With a missing pet the heartbreak is on-going, the smallest hope that it will return tempered against the fear that some harm has befallen your little friend. There is no closure.

Things weren’t much better by bedtime and it took hubby and I a long time, and a lot of prayers for Matilda, to persuade small one to sleep.

Hubby and I headed out to the inside outside lounge to take stock, say farewell to this horrible day and prepare for much of the same tomorrow. As we passed the untouched food bowl on the step the sadness that had oozed around the edged of my day breached the barriers and finally found its way to my eyes. We sipped our beers in quiet contemplation, both dreading the raw emotion that was sure to come the next morning. We finally called time around 1am and headed back inside bound for a restless night.

And that was when I saw the single most impossible thing I have ever seen.

The gasp that escaped my lips caused hubby, who was following me in, not a small amount of alarm.

“I don’t believe it. Look”

Hubby looked, and his burst of joyous laughter confirmed that I was not in fact hallucinating, but there, bold as brass in the middle of the living room floor sat Matilda looking, rather accusingly it has to be said, between us and the space that her box had previously occupied before it was removed from sight.

The questions of where she could possibly have been that were tumbling from our lips were swiftly answered as she turned tail and wiggled her way towards the kitchen, squeezed herself through the unfeasibley small gap under the fridge and scooched up into a tiny gap and nestled herself in between the warm wiring.

Her box was re-instated to pride of place and she was easily coaxed from her hiding space by a morsel of food ( hastily retrieved from the step outside ). When she was safe in her box, with the lid firmly shut, hubby raced upstairs to wake an extremely confused small person and spread the good news.

The look of pure unadulterated sleepy joy on her face when she uttered the words “goodnight Matilda, i love you ” is something that I will remember and treasure forever.

Love is a strange word to use in connection with a hedgehog. But love comes to us from so many directions and in so many forms. It can happen in an instant. It can grow over time. Perhaps the strangest thing about love is that we sometimes don’t even recognise it until it is gone. It really is all around us, we just need to know where to look. You can even find it behind a fridge.

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Jer Gan Mài.

What’s in a name?

The very observant amongst you ( or those of you with far too much time on your hands ), may have noticed a subtle change on my blog pages over the last few posts. I’m not even sure how visible it is on the site, or if you would have to really hunt for it to spot the difference, but there is a difference.

Shall I tell you?

Well of course I shall ! ( it would be an extremely short and rather pointless post if I chose not to ).

It’s all in the name.
Well it’s all in the sub-heading to be more accurate.

Up until very recently my sub heading has been the rather snappy ‘Misadventures in Mayenne’ . As Mayenne was the name of the region of France we used to live in it was no longer apt for my posts now that we are living in Thailand. So I decided to change it. The problem was I couldn’t decide what to change it to. I liked the alliteration of the last one so I wanted something in the same vein. I thought about using a Thai word, but as my knowledge of Thai is, for the moment, limited to “hello”, “thank you” and “can I have the bill please” that wasn’t the best idea.

So it was back to an English phrase. But what? And could I find something that wouldn’t directly translate into something offensive or silly in Thai?

We didn’t really think that we would have so much of an issue with direct translations here, but already we have stumbled blindly into a small social faux pas with an innocent nickname.

Some of you will be aware that one of our many nicknames for small person is ‘moo’. Now in Thailand the work moo means pork or pig. We thought this was rather hilarious, until we came to register her with the school. On one of the many forms they asked for your child’s nickname and we filled it in with ‘moo’. When headmistress read this the look on her face was nothing short of horrorstricken.
“You don’t really mean this, have you made a mistake?”
After an exchange of bewildered looks hubby and I confirmed that yes, we really did call her this and it was just, you know, funny because its the noise that a cow makes, but here it means pork.
“Yes it means pig meat, but to call someone moo in Thailand is, well, it can be offensive you know”.
No. We didn’t know.
“But if you just add a ‘k’ to the end, that would mean ‘pearl’, that would be better yes?”
We hastily agreed and as I was adding a ‘k’ to the end I realised that we were now calling our daughter ‘mook’. Which might be ok for Thailand, but for the western world……not so much.
Thankfully small person has used her full name when introducing herself to her new classmates so no confusion has yet occurred and hubby and I will have to curb our natural instinct lest we insult out daughter in public. whether it be in Thai or in English.

Talking of nicknames, I’m going to have to get myself a new one too. It was hard enough trying to get French people to pronounce my name, but take it to Asia and it’s asking almost the impossible. ( It’s ok, I know you’re all doing the accents to try it out). I think I may have to go for the ultimate regression and re-adopt the old family one of just plain old ‘H’.
And for any of my family who were going to suggest I revert to the old-old nickname well that wouldn’t work here either, and let’s face it ‘dribble’ is hardly an attractive option, ( thank you very much siblings ).

Anyway I digress, unusual I know, but back to the point.

Many many ideas were thought of and then rejected but I have finally settled ( for now anyway ) on Chit-Chat from ChiangMai. I hope you like it, and more importantly I hope you like my ‘chit-chat’ 🙂

But what about my ‘traditional’ sign off of ‘A Bientôt’? For those who don’t know what it means, it’s just a French way of saying ‘see you later’. Well *I think* I have found out how to phonetically spell the relevant phrase in Thai, so, please correct me if I’m wrong, but from me, for now it’s ;

Jer Gan Mài.

A change of plans and a ‘slightly’ overdue explanation

“One good reason to have detailed plans is so you know exactly which details can be changed”.

So, rather obviously, we are now in Thailand and so far we are loving every minute of it. But some of my friends are a little confused because for the last 12 months I’ve been telling everyone about the lovely little island that we are going to live on, how beautiful the beaches are, how hot it will be there and how warm the sea will be.

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But so far in my blogs not even one tiny mention of the sea, and not a single picture of a beach. How so? I hear you ask . Well, it went a little something like this;

Everything was going according to schedule and the flights to Bangkok had been booked long in advance just waiting for us to decide on exact dates for the connecting flights to the island. The school place for small one had been reserved and was awaiting her arrival with all the appropriate visa paperwork in hand.

The move from France happened with not too many hitches and even those that occurred were relatively minor. When it was all done and dusted I sat in my mothers back garden in Eastbourne waiting for the day of our flight, relaxed in the knowledge that we all knew the plan and everything was in place for our arrival on Koh Samui in 3 weeks time.

“Now this is just a thought, and it’s a little out of the blue I know, but just hear me out and see what you think about it. Why don’t we have a little look at Chiang Mai before we fully commit ourselves to Samui”.

When hubby said those words on the phone to me I wasn’t exactly in the most receptive frame of mind, being tired from the move and already mentally, if not actually, committed to moving to the island. My enthusiasm for even entertaining the idea was somewhat lacking. I mean neither of us had ever even been there and we knew nothing of the place. And lest we forget we were due to move in less than 3 weeks. So I voiced my opinion that we should just stick to the plan, but agreed to have a bit of time on-line having a little look at the place anyway. In all honesty, and with apologies to my dear husband, I only agreed to to look to make him happy as I was convinced that nothing could change my mind.

So I duly started a casual browse and began to google maps, images and blogs concerning Thailand’s second city.

Landlocked. If fact about as far away from the sea in any direction as you can get in Thailand. So no beaches then.
A couple of lakes though, and a river and mountains- quite a few of them, all round the city in fact.
And what’s that on the map, a city centre ring road? Oh hang on that’s a moat. An actual moat surrounding the city centre. That’s quite cool really, but it’s not a beach is it?

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But just look at all those beautiful temples, more than any other city in Thailand you say?
Oh and lots of huge street markets all over the city and shopping galore….well I suppose on an island the shopping might be quite limited.
Oooohh, cinemas 2 or 3 with more in development, bowling, and quite a lot of museums and galleries too because of the big local art scene.
And of course there are swimming pool, I mean just because it’s not a beach, doesn’t mean you can’t go swimming does it?
And you know, with the weather the way it is being on an island you are much more likely to be affected by storms and the risk of tsunamis and so forth.
Not that we aren’t going to the island, I’m just saying…
And the temperature fluctuates more in the north. It’s still hot, but it seems to get cooler at night at certain times of the year. In the south it seems to be hot day and night. I mean don’t get me wrong I love the heat during the day, but slightly cooler nights would have been perfect.
And look at the choice of schooling, WAY more than an island would have, even though the school we picked for small one is lovely, there is a lot more actual choice here.
Oh wow, that’s where the elephant sanctuary is that I’ve read about, and it is quite close to the tiger temple too.
Not that we are going to live there you understand, but maybe we could have a little look, I mean there’s no harm in going to see the place, it’s not like we are actually going to move there, we’re just having a look, just a little holiday before we ‘actually’ move.yes that’s what we will do, just a little break there, then we would book our onward flights to Samui.
Just a little break. Just to see, you know.

As hubby was flying out a week before small one and I, he sent his reports by phone and email, and it has to be said they sounded favourable. So what was the harm in him contacting a few estate agents, just to see what was around, not that we were definitely moving there or anything, it was just to have a little look. When the pictures of the properties started arriving in my inbox the vast majority of any remaining doubt was blown clean away. I mean we still had to see the place in person. I might arrive and instantly dislike it, although I was almost sure by now that wasn’t going to happen, I still had to entertain the possibility.

As the plane made it’s final descent the landscape beneath took my breath away.

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The lush green tropical mountains soared around a large, but surprisingly, low-rise city. The sun pierced the clouds and dazzled us with the reflected light from what seemed like hundreds of golden temple domes. The river snaked its way around the city and the well defined square of the moat shone up at us like a ribbon of molten silver encircling and protecting the city within. Even before the wheels had touched the tarmac I was quite sure I was coming home. And nothing I have experienced since has persuaded me otherwise.

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I mean beaches are overrated anyway, the sand just gets everywhere.
And it itches.

My husband is a very clever man.

A Bientôt.

Wake up, it’s time to go to school

It’s Monday morning at 9.10 am and im sitting in a multi- national classroom, pretending I’m not here, watching my small person taking large strides into a wider world.

Yes it’s the first day of school.

The selection of international and bilingual schools here is vast and quite staggering. Ranging from strict buddhist teaching through church schools to non-faith academies with everything in between. You can choose for your child to learn in any language and virtually any curriculum from around the world and you can pay anything from £27,000 – £0 per year. ( Although in all fairness in order to pay nothing you would already have to be fluent in Thai, and not too fussy about qualifications at the end of it.)

We had a school picked out and all the paperwork and visas sorted ready to rock up at the start of september. Then we decided to move somewhere different, and the search began anew.

Last week we had it narrowed down to one or two that seemed to suit our needs and philosophies and it was time to do the parental visit.

It’s a weird feeling for me visiting a headmistress office as an adult. I always feel slightly intimidated and a little bit scared that I’m somehow in trouble, but teacher made us feel very comfortable and explained how the school is run with classes taught in English in the mornings, then in Thai after lunch. Of course with small person having no Thai, she will start as a beginner and not be thrown into the deep end of history and science classes just yet. There are also lessons in Thai culture and respectful moral behaviour.

All boxes ticked so far.

At that point we were taken around the school to visit the classes and meet the teachers and view the facilities. It was very pleasing to see the students engaging with the headmistress in a happy and friendly way as we walked around the building. I cast my mind back ( a long long way ) to my schooldays and tried to imagine the children in my school being so happy to see the head teacher. Nope, even with my vivid imagination that wasn’t going to happen.

Then the cacophonous clamour of kids pouring into the hallways told us it was break time. We headed down to the playground and small one was swarmed with tiny children all wanting to say hello and tell her where they were all from.
It was like a roll call of the UN (united nations) and the ASEAN ( association of south east Asian nations). And anywhere else you care to mention really.

Small person was taken with both the students and the playground, although a little startled by the noise levels. Considering that there were only 19 pupils in her school in France by the time she left, I’m sure that it will take a bit of getting used to but she seemed very keen.

After another quick chat with the head teacher we headed off for a family discussion over some ice cream with our arms stuffed with paperwork and our heads full of new information.

As we began to discuss our visit and how impressed we were small person piped up ‘ I really like that school, it made me feel comfortable, can I go back there? I even think the uniform is cool’.

Well we thought that although we all really liked the school we should carry on looking at alternatives rather than just go for the first one we saw, but as we looked again at the other options we kept finding fault and comparing unfavorably with the one we had already seen. It didn’t take us long to make a very simple decision and call the school to take up the place. To our delight she could begin at the start of the very next week and so the practicalities had to be attended to. I mean you can’t start a new school without a new pair of shoes and a school bag.

So far today small one has been made the class ‘team-leader’ ( giving out books and collecting them ) for the week and she has discovered that her form teacher, as well as one of the girls in her class, speak French (yeah!). I have already learned the names of 3 of her classmates, due to the frequency of Teacher A having to tell them to be quiet and I have remembered just how chaotic a ‘normal’ school can be.

Small one was thankfully very excited about coming to a new school, but understandably quite nervous and requested that ‘one of us’ accompany her for the first day or two, so that is the reason that I am sitting in a multi-national classroom, pretending I’m not here.

Now how long is it till lunch?
Oh, that’s still quite a long time really. I hope she settles in soon.

A Bientôt.

Addendum.

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It’s now 3 pm and the school day is almost done. Small one has been abandoned to her fate because, quite frankly, I’ve already done my time in the classroom and I have discovered that there is an on-site (ish) coffee shop. So that’s where I am right now. My caffeine levels are much depleted after 8 hrs without a hit.

I have made a few discoveries and re-discoveries today;

Small one looks adorable in a school uniform.

I could happily eat school dinners at small ones new school. A choice of noodle soup, or rice and veg, a buffet style salad bar and fruit counter that was both sumptuous and delicious.

Most of the children in Small one’s class can’t pronounce one of their teacher’s names properly and it sounds like they are calling him ‘Teacher Hairy’

Teacher Hairy has a small ant problem in his classroom.

Unless I’m sleeping, more than 4 hours without coffee should NEVER be attempted.

The coffee shop wifi doesn’t work terribly well.

Children, en masse, are quite awful. Teachers everywhere, I salute you. You are made of far far stronger stuff than I.

Matilda ‘Pig’ Marshall

Matilda ‘Pig’ Marshall

It was inevitable.

Ever since our dear little cat Chimney went to join the great mouse hunt in the sky we have been hankering after a new pet, but family arrangements and the knowledge that we would be upping sticks and moving house have curtailed our efforts. However as soon as our sticks were firmly down again the hunt began.

Of course everyone that knows us will be aware that our pet of choice is a dog. We all love dogs and can’t wait to have a big ball of fun to muck about with, but the estate agent isn’t convinced that the landlady will be too keen on us having a dog, and as it turns out that she lives next door we decided to wait a while and see how the land lies. She seems perfectly lovely and terribly amenable and I think a dog will be on the cards soon, but in the meantime we NEEDED a pet so we scaled our thoughts down and went browsing.

The choice of pets here is bewildering and much googling had to be done, I mean everybody knows about guinea pigs and rabbits, but we came across animals we’d never even heard of! The sugar glider came under serious consideration, right up until we learned it peed on it’s owners on a regular basis and ‘barked’ through the night. We toyed with an iguana, but the fact that they can grow up to 2 meters long was off putting. The nail in the lizards metaphorical coffin was the fact that, as a rule, they do not get along with dogs.

We had seen hedgehogs, and ‘awwed’ at their cuteness, but when I saw a lady in the market stroking one on her knee the idea became firmly planted. The next time we happened to pass by the pet shop we wandered in and asked for a look. We had decided to get a boy hog, ( who I had already mentally named ‘Pig’), and asked if we could have a hold of one. The owner delved into a box of tiny hedgies and deposited the cutest ball of prickles in my hand. It uncurled immediately and started snuffling at my fingers, then it looked me in the eye and I was smitten. Unfortunately it turned out that this one was a girl, so a boy was duly sourced and given to me while Matilda ( yes I know we weren’t getting a girl, but tell that to my head who had already given her a name), still remained uncurled and was gazing at small person. Already you can see that this hog knew how to play the ‘pick me’ game. Not a hint of a face could be seen from boy hog as he stubbornly refused to uncurl, even when he was put down again he remained in his defensive posture. A family decision was swiftly made and Matilda was coming home with a box full of accessories.

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Her initial friendliness and curiosity has continued out as she has made herself a firm fixture. She was done a perimeter check on the living room and seems satisfied with her new surroundings, she has gotten to know us all through sniffing and nibbling, and in hubbys case a friendly savaging, and seems content enough to sit on our knees on her blanket without trying to run away ( most of the time ). I’ve even managed her first bath ( warm water, baby shampoo and a soft toothbrush to clean the prickles in case you are wondering ) which went rather well considering it was her first. The after bath snuggle when she curled herself around my finger and peered out at me from under a much furrowed brow was enough to melt even the coldest of hearts.

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So as you can see I’m totally smitten and my social network timelines are already stuffed with more photos than a new mother posts of her newborn, but I shall try and contain myself ( not going to happen ), you can expect a lot more Matilda love here as well. You have been warned.

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But it’s been at least 20 minutes since I sat in front of her box and watched her sleeping so it’s time to go and get my fix.

A Bientôt.

P.S. I am fully aware that we have moved to a wonderful and vibrant city with lots of exciting new adventures, and there will be posts aplenty very soon I promise. But be reasonable, we have a hedgehog.