When we left England on January 8, the plan was to be away until mid April: in fact we had (still have!) return tickets for April 15. Until Feb 18, everything went according to plan: the Caribbean, Venice, New Orleans. After that there was a gap in our itinerary, till Claire and the boys came out to join us on March 27. We thought we might do some travelling in Central America, but then our ERA group was awarded a project which meant work for Ian in Feb/March. We therefore needed to stay in one place, so looked for a flat to rent in Florida – until we spotted a clause in the contract which said the data could not be accessed outside the EU! So we had no alternative but to return to the UK for a month or so.
This raised a further problem – where to stay in England? Two Australian ladies were staying in our flat (via our home exchange website) so going home was not an option. Fortunately Ian’s sister Maggi offered us a refuge at her home near Stroud, Glos. We thought we might be able to help her in return, as she was scheduled for an eye operation on Feb 17, but unfortunately this was postponed for a month.
From New Orleans we returned to Florida by bus, as planned, but instead of going all the way to Sarasota, we stopped off in Tampa and took a taxi to the airport. Then it was a direct flight to Gatwick, using staff travel tickets which Claire had organised for us. She and Oscar were there to meet us when we landed, and took us back to High Wycombe. We stayed there for four nights, sleeping on Claire’s bed. Claire spent two nights on an airbed in the boys’ room; the other two nights she was away on a trip to Dubai. This meant that we were i/c Charlie and Oscar again. Sandie took them out as much as possible, leaving Ian to work in peace. However, Claire was unwell after her return from Dubai; she had promised the boys a treat, so we took them bowling. It was Oscar’s first attempt, but somehow he managed to win!
Although we could not stay in our own flat, we had to call in there, to collect some winter clothes! Our packing was hastily re-organised, and summer clothes left at Claire’s. On Monday 23 she drove us and our luggage (plus Oscar) to Stroud.
By a fortunate coincidence, both of Maggi’s sons were visiting that day. We’d seen Chris on Boxing Day, but had not seen Tony for over four years, and had never met his partner Petra. It was a rare opportunity to see them all, as Chris is in the army and Tony and Petra live in Sweden. We had an enjoyable day, and Oscar had great fun playing with a toy gun (wooden and elastic bands) which was bought for Chris and Tony 20 years ago!
Maggi had arranged a desk for Ian in her spare room, an ideal working space. So he spent most of his time up there, making progress with the analysis he needed to do. Meanwhile, Sandie and Maggi had another task! Claire had decided to move to the Stroud area, in order to get a bigger house and be closer to her aunt who helps with the childcare while Claire is flying and we are away. There was a choice of several different areas around Stroud, so Sandie and Maggi did some exploring (as well as online research), aiming to decide which had the most suitable houses and schools.
On Saturday 28 Claire drove to Stroud again. Sandie and Maggi took her on a tour of some of the places they’d seen. She stayed overnight with friends in Swindon, while the boys stayed in Stroud with us. This time it was Maggi’s turn to sleep on an airbed! On Monday she and Sandie paid a return visit to High Wycombe. Maggi did some essential painting, prior to the house going on the market. Claire helped, and Sandie did her best to keep the children out of the way!
Strangely, we were involved in property buying and selling on both sides of the Atlantic. After a lot of thought, we decided to put in a higher offer for the Florida condo we liked so much. To our surprise and delight, a deal was eventually agreed. By the end of March, we shall own our ideal condo in Central Park, Sarasota!
On Wednesday 4 March Sandie and Maggi flew from Bristol airport to Glasgow to visit Aunt Margie, who was 95 the next day. Ian was left in Stroud, working hard while in charge of Maggi’s dog, cat and house. The timing of the flights meant that they were able to pay three short visits to the nursing home where Aunt Margie lives: one in the early evening, after they had checked in to their hotel, and two the next day. Aunt Margie is frail and tires easily, so this pattern worked well.
She has moved to a new bigger room, and is transported around the home in a large armchair on wheels – much better than being moved frequently between armchair and wheelchair. She is getting deaf, so communication was not always easy, although she remains quite sharp and understands well what is going on. She enjoyed looking though a large collection of birthday cards.
After their final (Thursday afternoon) visit, Maggi and Sandie flew back to Bristol, and drove home, where Ian had the dinner ready!