The Harland's Erratic Millennial Caravanserai

It has been quite some year in the Harland household. This is coming to you from a village just outside Cambridge in the UK, where it has just been lightly snowing. Hence we will certainly have a cold Christmas, and possibly a white one. Getting to this point has certainly been interesting ...

Undoubtedly the highlight of the year was the birth of Emily Jean Harland at 11.10pm on May 18th. Linda was very happy to spend the summer less than heavily pregnant, but soon realised that this could be somewhat negated by the antics of a couple of highly energetic boys! As with Joshua and Timothy, Emily was born a couple of weeks early, but was a bit reluctant to finally come out. We had gone into the hospital early on the morning of the 18th, and were expecting things to happen fairly quickly. However, the contractions didn't really get going until later in the day, and it was only about 8.00pm or so that it became clear that the baby would be coming soon. The doctor eventually said that the baby had better come soon as the birth certificate had already been made out, and hence he couldn't wait until midnight! In the end, he was safe by under an hour. The midwife kept saying that it had to be a girl, as she was doing her hair before arriving. Linda got quite a shock to see it was a girl --- she said that she was used to having boys, and was basically expecting another one! Emily weighed 7lb. 10oz. (3.5 kg), and quite healthy to boot. In what appears to be a family tradition, she also had a touch of jaundice, and hence had about a day under the lamp. It was a bit less traumatic for the parents, being the third time around, but it was still quite a relief when she was able to come out. In the end, Linda was in hospital for almost a week, but, as usual, was very happy to get home.

The boys were very happy with their new little sister, with Joshua particularly keen (and he ended up spending a night at the hospital with Linda and Emily). Timothy, naturally enough, was a little reluctant to surrender his position as the youngest, but he didn't take too long to come around. He had a bit of fun in the whole process anyway, as on the day that Emily was born, he managed to get hold of Linda's keys, and set off the house alarm, with him, Joshua and Eunice (James' mum) in the house. If you have ever had that experience, it is not one that you would wish to repeat, as it is designed to drive you out of the house! Hence James was on the end of a phone call asking how to turn it off with the alarm blaring in the background. Somehow it seems unlikely that Timothy will do this again in the future ...

Emily is now a bouncy seven-month-old who is inclined to shoot across the floor on her back, like a mudcrab (and reminiscent of Timothy), and to reach out towards and attempt to eat anything vaguely within reach. She can remain sitting up, but as yet hasn't sat herself up. She has almost managed to roll over onto her stomach, but hasn't quite got there yet. She has a smile for everyone, and seems to have an inexhaustible curiosity for anything and everything. Once she gets mobile, the two boys will have to look out! She is remarkably placid, which makes it very easy for others to have a cuddle or two (something that happens quite a lot).

Timothy has had a rather interesting year. He had a couple of months at creche before Linda went on maternity leave, and after that a couple of months of coming along to school occasionally. Naturally he tends to follow Joshua around and to echo a lot of what he says. He manages to hold his own physically, and the inevitable clashes that occur have tended to come out about even! In the last couple of months his speech has come on in leaps and bounds. At the start of the year, it tended to be seemingly random single words; now he is putting together all sorts of phrases, and tends to echo just about everything he hears (and not just whatever Joshua has just suggested). He is showing an increasing interest in books, with the commad "Read!" being quite commonly used. It is not unusual to see Joshua sitting down somewhere with a book with Timothy copying the same pose with a book on one of his favourite subjects (Thomas the Tank Engine or Bananas in Pyjamas). He will be starting at 3-year-old kinder next year, which will probably suit him quite well.

Joshua quite enjoyed the six months he had at Hughesdale Primary School. Naturally being in Grade 1 meant that he was no longer in the youngest group, and he soon settled into the class (again, typically, most often finding a seat right at the front and in the middle). This year there was the added bonus of an advanced class for two hours a week. This was a group of about 12 children who were all doing well with their reading, and the idea was to give them some more stimulating work to do. As with most things, he took to this quite well. He has developed quite a taste for good stories, and recently thoroughly enjoyed The Magic Faraway Tree and similar books. Since coming away, he has been tutored at home by Linda, and he has certainly appreciated the individual attention (despite claiming rather cheekily to his mother that his teacher is a real dragon!). No doubt he will be quite happy to be back in the classroom next year. He is quite taken with Emily, and is often keen to help with her. He is also developing a keen interest in the art of making scones, so watch out next time you are at our place for afternoon tea!

Linda was at work until the end of March, and then had a term of long service leave before commencing 18 months of maternity leave, which means that she is not due back at St. Margaret's until the beginning of 2001. This meant that she spent a fair bit of time at Joshua's school before Emily was born, which all seemed to enjoy.

James has had another busy year, although for diverse reasons. Up until July, there was a lot of teaching and administration to be done, which left little time for research. However, since then it has been full-time research, and no teaching or administration, which has been re-invigorating to say the least. This has meant that there is a lot of work to do in term of writing up papers and so forth, but that is a nice problem to have!

Naturally the second half of the year has tended to dominate our thinking throughout, given that we are currently in Cherry Hinton, which is a village a couple of miles east of Cambridge, and is a nice small quiet place, though not without amenities, such as a bank, post office, supermarket, library, a few pubs and so forth. There is a beautiful old church, set in a lovely garden which still contains headstones, and it is all very picturesque. The reason that we are in this part of the world is that James is on sabbatical leave, most of which is being spent working at Queen Mary and Westfield College, which is part of the University of London. Cambridge is not perhaps the most obvious place from which to commute to London, but it seemed that it was more used to short-term visitors from abroad than most other places within commuting distance, and it also seemed to be a much better option than a flat in London.

Coming away had been quite an experience. We managed to rent out our house without too much of a problem, but we ended up having to move out of it two weeks before we left. This was probably a good thing, in that it separated the "packing up and moving out" process from the "packing up and taking off" process. Not having moved for a while, it quickly became apparent that we had a lot more stuff than we thought, a rather high percentage of which ended up being thrown away. Having packed up lots and lots of boxes, moved our things into storage, taken the dogs to a boarding kennel and scrubbed the place clean, then all we had to do was to pack what was going with us and organise the remaining details. As ever, these also seemed to be much larger tasks than we imagined, and, as ever, having done it once, we now know how to do it properly, but may never do it again because we have already done it once! It was around this point that we began to really question the sanity of going overseas for six months with three young children (and not for the last time!). In many ways it is not so much a six-month sabbatical as a six-month world tour for five, with various kangaroo-herding exercises interspersed along the way!

Having left Melbourne on 22nd July, our first stop was the USA, where we spent about a month. We flew into Los Angeles and soon settled into a hotel just over the road from Disneyland. James had a couple of days of work to do, but Linda ended up with the tougher job, not only touring SeaWorld and the like, but also the local medical centre when all the kids fell ill, with Timothy coming down with an ear infection. Thankfully all recovered fairly swiftly. After a week there, we drove up to te San Francisco area for another week, staying with Mark, Juliet and Ian Davoren and having a wonderful time. Ian certainly seemed to enjoy his older playmates, and it was great to catch up with them all. Things got a little more hectic after that, when we flew to New York, and ended up on a bizarre, very late and extraordinarily long taxi ride to New Jersey (the full tale should really be told, but only under certain circumstances) --- poor Nevin waited up for us, got to bed about 4.00am and still managed to play cricket the next day! After a couple of days exploring, we drove up to Niagara Falls (a longish drive, but well worth it), then down to Pittsburgh for a couple of days, and then across to Philadelphia, where we stayed with the Bird family (Steve, Kay, Andrew, Alison and Kirsten). Again, it was great to catch up with old friends and watch the kids play (Joshua getting baseball lessons from Andrew was a particular highlight), and for that matter, to recover a bit from the running around. All too soon we headed for New York, and the flight to the UK.

On arrival in the UK, we spent a week with Jane, Robin, Thomas and Catherine Redgrave, which was a great help while we sorted out housing in Cambridge, and settled into the country, as well as catching up with (yet more) old friends. Joshua made the comment about this time that we seemed to have friends everywhere we went! (and given that most of them have young children, that is just how he likes it). Having settled in, we tended to alternate weekends between touring the countryside and taking it easy. The weather was surprisingly humid for the first few weeks, but it didn't take too long for that to wear off! One of the first major trips we did was to York to the National Railway Museum, when they had a Thomas the Tank Engine weekend. Both of the boys were very pleased with this, with Joshua keen to listen to the Fat Controller telling stories, and Timothy not knowing which engine to run to first. All the red ones were greeted with cries of "James! James!" and all the green ones with "Percy! Percy!", and there were rather a lot of each. Something about trains seems to fascinate him, and whilst Joshua had a thoroughly good time as well, it was Timothy who was pulling us back into the place for one more look at the model railways as we were leaving.

Without wanting to sound like a travel brochure, we also have managed to get to Wales, Stonehenge, France (well, Paris and environs), Seaham & Sunderland, and Scotland, about each of which many tales could be told. Naturally going back to Edinburgh was a particular highlight for Linda and James, with Linda not having been back there since leaving there eleven years ago. Finding some snow in the hills near Hexham on the way up was a definite highlight for Joshua, particularly making his first snowman, smashing it to bits with snow balls and pounding his father with the same. It has just snowed lightly in the Cambridge area (although not enough to have any serious effect or snowball-gathering ability), so we are hoping for some more in the near future, making us one of the tiny minority in the UK who actually want the weather to get worse!

While we have all had a good time here, it is now only a matter of weeks before we return home, and that will be very welcome. We leave the UK on 17th January for Singapore, where we will spend about 5 days before returning to Melbourne on 24th January. Coming from the UK winter, that few days in Singapore will probably feel quite like a sauna! One thing that has become very clear to us as we have pursued this mad adventure is that it would have been significantly more difficult (if not impossible) without the help and support our family and friends. Listing them all would take a very long time, and always runs the risk of omission, so we will not do so here, but we are immensely grateful for all the help we have received. If there ever comes a time when you decide to herd kangaroos for half a year, you know where to come for help!

May you have a safe and blessed Christmas, a Bonnie Hogmanay (that's Happy New Year for non-Scots :-) and manage to avoid any Mill-Looney-Yum Madness (one thousand mad chocolates? :-).

Lots of love,

James, Linda, Josha, Timothy and Emily Harland (and Max and Melanie in absentia).

PS Those of you with Internet access may wish to look at some more details available at James' personal page. James promises that further installments will be available there very soon ...

James Harland (jah at cs dot rmit dot edu dot au)

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