Sunday, April 29, 2007

How Depressing

Went to see Derby play Crystal Palace today at Selhurst Park. A crucial game that we had to win to have any chance of automatic promotion to the Premiership. Got my old Derby shirt out, met up with a couple of Derby friends and even took my daughter Mae in a last ditch effort to stop her supporting Chelsea.

Unfortunately we lost 2-0 and we were really poor. We have to rely on the play-offs which I don't feel confident about. Only consolation - may get a chance to go to the new Wembley.

Having said all this, it was great being with the Derby away fans. Great atmosphere, loads of REALLY LOUD singing. Nice to hear all the Derby accents too.

Whenever I see Derby, they usually lose. I'm obviously a bad influence. If we do get to Wembley not sure I should go. Wouldn't be able to bear the disappointment if we lose.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Poznan, Poland

Arrived late last night after a long and tortuous flight and feel I'm in the middle of nowhere. Well, not quite. Am in the Polish countryside, 60km west of Poznan and about 100km from the German border running a workshop.

Am staying in a really strange 'country hotel'. Is very pretty, but a bit creepy. A bit like the Bates Motel. Not quite sure whether its an old castle or a private home, but its got things like a huge birdcage on the landing outside my bedroom with strange birds fluttering about and a mini zoo in the grounds with peacocks and rabbits...quite odd.

Big news here is the fact that Poland along with the Ukraine - strange Catholic alliance - will be hosting the 2012 European Football Championship...beating Italy in the bid. Poznan are going to one of the host cities.

Expect a sudden return of all the Polish construction workers from the UK to start work on their new roads and hotels. If you're planning a new bathroom, you'd better get on with it soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Holiday Reading

Just finished John O'Farrell's 'May Contain Nuts'. Essential reading if you're a parent living in South London and worried about what school to send your kids to. Brings to life some horrendously competitive middle class parents desperate to 'improve' their kids and outdo their so-called friends. Very OTT, but funny.

This is the third book of his I've read and they've all been really good. Loved 'This is Your Life' and 'The Best a Man Can Get' - which are even funnier than 'May Contain Nuts' . Because he lives in Clapham they've often got familiar settings which I really like.

He's obviously very clever as he's also the man behind NewsBiscuit

Monday, April 23, 2007

Our Garden

As well as the nice weather, one of the other great things about coming back from holiday was being able to spend time in our garden which has been completely transformed.

Work was undertaken by Simon Pugh who was really friendly and helpful. If you're interested in sorting our your garden, I suggest you get in touch with him via his website.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Back Home

Arrived back yesterday. SO nice to be back to the familarity of south London. Whilst we were away our garden has been sorted out by a great gardener so it looks pristine. Wonder how long this will last..

Saw 2 excellent films the flight back. Notes on a Scandal. Judy Dench - brilliant as usual, but so was Cate Blanchett - she's so good looking too. Then saw The Last King of Scotland. Forrest Whittaker as Idi Amin was really convincing. Scary, charismatic, weak, violent...basically completely mad. Great 1970s feel about it.

Therefore, didn't sleep much and feeling a bit knackered. Not helped by the fact that jetlagged kids were wide awake at 4am...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hong Kong Day 2

Spent most of the day at the fabulous Ocean Park. Its basically a huge theme park with an aquarium, lots of rides and a spectacular cable car ride. We were told it was better than Disneyland and it certainly lived up to expectations.

Some of the rides were very scary - at least I thought so - so I didn't do a lot of them, but the older kids loved them. Mae described it one of the best days of her life.

To complete the Hong Kong experience we had drinks at the Intercontinental Hotel bar on the Kowloon waterfront which has the most spectacular views I've seen over to Hong Kong Island. Definitely worth a visit.

We returned to our own very plush hotel via the Star Ferry which again gave you fabulous views of the amazing skyline.

An action packed day and a great way to finish off what has been a truly amazing holiday.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hong Kong Day 1

We've had 4 days on Hainan Island and it was fantastic. Got into a nice holiday routine. Early morning run on the beach. Breakfast. Morning sitting by the sea. Lunch at the pool bar. Afternoon spent swimming and lazing around the many hotel pools. Late afternoon chill out in our lovely room, including kids dvd. Early evening cocktails. Relaxed dinner.

It's the perfect place for total relaxation. Staff are fantastic and they make you feel very pampered. A Ritz Carlton hotel is being built just next to ours, so there's obviously a lot of investment taking place in the area.

After an early flight we arrived in Hong Kong and are staying at the Grand Hyatt. Another posh hotel, but much busier than the Hilton at Sanya. This afternoon we took the steep tram ride to the Peak with its panoramic views of the Harbour.

The weather is hot and humid and the kids were tired so we took it easy today so we could ready for our big day out tomorrow at Ocean Park.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hainan Island

Well, what a contrast. We're staying at the very swish Hilton Resort near San Ya on the south coast. Temperatures are much higher - mid 30s - and its all very luxurious. Apparently the resort has the biggest swimming pool in China and the kids have spent most of the days swimming - surprise, surprise.

The beach is fantastic and the sea is warm. Couldn't really ask for more. We've got our spa treatments booked and are trying to do something sporty most days - running on the beach or playing tennis.

Have given up the Tsing Tao and moved on the cocktails. Will be here for a few more days before we move on the final leg of our holiday - Hong Kong.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Last Day in Long Yan

Today we had the priviledge of visiting a local primary school. We arrived at 8.15 to see the children do their morning exercises. However, these didn't take place because it was raining. Instead we were mobbed.

The children had never had had any Western visitors before so they were a bit overexcited. It such a laugh and completely unexpected. Felt a bit like celebrities. The school was really nice and as ever, they made us feel very welcome.

Later that morning we went to buy a computer to donate to the orphanage. We exchanged email addresses so that we could send pictures back and keep in touch.

We then took the orphange directors and some of the carers to lunch. Yet another Chinese banquet where we ate more than we should have and drank more Tsing Tao beer - well not everyone...

After more fond farewells we said goodbye before a final visit to the central square in Long Yan with the rather erotic town statue, followed by a bus journey back to Xiamen and a flight to our next destination of Sanya on the tropical island of Hainan.

Goodbye Long Yan. A fantastic experience. We look forward to coming back again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Hakka Roundhouses

Two hours west of Long Yan are the ancient settlements of the Hakka people who live in distinctive communal roundhouses made out of earth which we went to visit.

After another very Chinese breakfast - noodles, rice, congee etc - we set off through the beautiful mountainous countryside. Saw lots of paddy fields and passed through a number of small towns on the way.

The roundhouses still have families living in them, although they're now open to visitors. They're really peaceful buildings with courtyards and sloping roofs. The kind of place where the fight scenes took place in 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon'.We probably had our best lunch so far. Lots of fresh tofu, bamboo shoots, preserved vegetables and of course rice and noodles which the kids loved. Fujian is famous for its oolong tea which I've really enjoyed. Must try and and drink more of it when we're back in the UK.

It was great being in the countryside. A real contrast to the motorbikes and the buildings in the city. Last time we were in China it was full of bicycles. So far we've seen hardly any.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Visit to the Long Yan Orphange

Today we visited the Long Yan Orphange where our daughter Mae and her 2 friends Ava and Sara Louise were looked after for the first few months of their lives. This was the primary reason for coming back to China and something we'd be looking forward to for a long time.

We left at around 9am on a two and a half hour bus journey from Xiamen to Long Yan. The Fujian province is sub tropical and is known for its agriculture. Along the way we passed through fields of bananas, pineapple and loquat which is a small orangey fruit that originates in Fujian.

Long Yan is a city of half a million people where Westerners rarely visit. After checking into our hotel we went to visit the orphange. Our three girls were adopted within a week of each other in 1998. Of all the 600 children who have been adopted since 1985, only 12 have come to the UK.

We were welcomed by the directors of the orphange who told us as much as they could about the history of the children - where they were found and who looked after them. They gave us photographs we'd never seen before of when the children were babies. We then met Mae's foster parents who had looked after her for the first 10 months of her life which was an emotional moment for everyone. They gave Mae a gold buddha necklace.

We were then allowed to look around the orphanage. They'd recently had some donations so the classrooms were very nicely equipped. Today only 30 children are staying there, many of whom are children with special needs. We were told that nowadays there are far fewer children who are adopted overseas as recently the government has allowed domestic adoptions to take place.

For the final part of the afternoon we went to visit the site where Mae was found when she was 3 weeks old which was outside the Long Yan Repatriation Welfare Centre. When we adopted Mae we were told that she was left at a railway station which wasn't the case.

The orphanage directors invited us to dinner at a local restaurant where we sampled the local cuisine. The Chinese eat absolutely everything, so you had to be quite picky. Most of it was really nice, but I decided to give the ducks feet a miss. We said goodbye and went back to the hotel.

Quite a day. An experience we'll never forget. So glad we did it. It filled in lots of gaps in our knowledge. For Mae it was an opportunity to really find out about her roots and to picture where she came from. For Karen and I we were able to meet and thank the people who cared for Mae during the first 10 months of her life.


After landing in Hong Kong, we spent a couple of days in the city of Xiamen on the south east coast with our friends Rhian, Simon and their 3 children. We stayed in the Golden Swan hotel and were upgraded to a flashy suite on the 28th floor.

The most famous place to visit in the area is Gulang Yu which the the guide books rave about, a small island with lots of colonial buildings only accessible by a 5 minute ferry ride. It was quite a pretty place, but nowhere near as nice as the guide books indicate. Maybe we were still a bit jetlagged, but I didn't really see what all the fuss was about.

The following day we went around the park near the hotel, where we walked around a food fair and played at the kids playground which was great. Big highlight was the kids winning prizes on the fair which made them very happy.

We also met up with other friends, Simon and Doris with their 2 children, who were all also planning to visit the orphange the next day. There were now 3 families with 6 adults and 7 kids. Quite a gang.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Three Horse Race

After all the top teams winning last weekend its now down to 3 teams - Derby, Birmingham and Sunderland for the 2 automatic promotion slots. With 6 games to go Derby are well placed: still top and playing teams in the bottom half of the Division. However, its so close and results are unpredictable.

Who knows we may get a return to the glory days of the 1970s. This fabulous video sums up what the Clough era was all about. Derby hammering Arsenal. All the stars in action, a packed Baseball ground and a rare goal for Roger Davies. Happy days.
Great Book

I'm a big sports fan but I rarely read sports book. However, this one is really good. Written in 1978, it follows an amateur cycle race through the eyes of a rider and the joy, pain and suffering that he goes through.

You don't have to be a cyclist to enjoy it. Short and gripping. Recommended

Monday, April 02, 2007

Abercrombie and Fitch

A friend of mine last night was telling me about her visit to the new Abercrombie and Fitch flagship store near Savile Row.

All the male assistants were topless with amazing phsyiques. The female assistants had more clothes on but were equally gorgeous. Inside it was dark with pumping music - more like a club than a shop. All rather overwhelming and slightly embarassing. She enjoyed the novelty of the experience but didn't actually buy anything.

Will be fascinating to see how well it does in the UK. Apparently the clothes are quite sporty, preppy and well made. However as with most clothes in the UK, they're twice as expensive as they are in the States where the brand is hugely successful. Will the British male be comfortable discussing sizes and fits with semi-nude hunks? Will it be more than a bit of a laugh?

My wife's keen to visit. I wonder why....
Off to China

On Wednesday evening we're going on a family holiday to China. It will be the first time our daughters have been back to China since they were adopted in 1998 and 2001. As part of the trip we're going to visit our older daughter Mae's orphanage which Karen and I have never seen. Its going to be an emotional jorney but we're all very excited about it.

We're flying to Hong Kong, then going to Xiamen, before we take a trip to Long Yan with our guides to the orphanage. After, we're going to spend a week on the tropical Hainan Island before returning to Hong Kong for some siteseeing and possibly a trip to Disneyland. We're going with some friends who have got three adopted children so there will be a big gang of us.

Not sure what to expect. Not sure how we'll all feel. Will try and record what happens and post some pics on the blog.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Nice Restaurant
Went to the Phoenix Restauarnt last night, between Putney and Barnes on Lower Richmond road. Have not been there for a long time and really enjoyed it. Food was great. Most interesting item on the menu was a lasagne which was made with an 18th century recipe which included parma ham and porcini mushrooms. Quite rich and creamy but delicious.
Unpretentious but quite smart and suitable for all kinds of occasions. Recommended.