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It’s inexcusable really, and I can’t use “I was busy” as an excuse for every hour of every day, can I?
I guess it’s been a combination of not having chance and not wanting to actually blog at all.

It is so very much harder to continue this blog here in England.
It feels almost fraudulent and so I may let it slide in its current form.
But while I make that decision (which may happen during the course of creating this post), I’ll catch you all up.
I’m aiming for brief catch up, but I make no promises!

As you know, we – Nik, Eliot and I – went to Portugal for a 9-day holiday at the beginning of October.

Eliot and Nik were super-excited about it and they loved the whole trip. The accommodation was booked in the area we’d lived in so it was like being home… except when it wasn’t.

We did plenty to keep occupied as much as we could afford (holidays are EXPENSIVE, aren’t they?!)

We played minigolf. Twice actually. It’s great fun and reasonable value if you do the full 18-hole course (honestly, DON’T bother with the 9-hole unless you have toddlers)

We – well, Eliot – played in the pool. Not bad for October, eh?

He even took his skateboard (we’d had to check a suitcase in especially to take it!)

He met with school friends (I don’t think WordPress.org allows me to embed the video but Eliot has it posted  here )

We met with most of our friends we had made while out there: a shout out to Dave and Aly; Phil, Julie, Luke and Jasmine; Peter and Lesley; Matt; Antonio and Rita; everyone at The Lighthouse and apologies if I missed anyone.

“Did you eat at The Lighthouse?” I hear you ask.

Well, dur!

We ate at all the places we knew we liked to eat and went to all the places we knew we liked to go and Eliot and Nik had a fabulous time.
I know you’ve noticed by now so I’ll go ahead and answer that question in your heads: not really, no.

I think if it had been anywhere else, it would have been a holiday and it would have been fine and great, but being on holiday in somewhere that was home.
Not so much.
It felt awkward and every time they were loving “being home” I was feeling worse and worse about the decision to move back to the UK. The more they had fun, the worse I felt.

I’ve told them that next time they can go without me, and I mean it. I actually don’t want to go back to visit again.

Maybe when the campervan is done.

The van is progressing slowly. Naff weather has hampered progress a bit and, even thought we have, for the time being, moved on to internal works (we’re currently installing electrics and final fixing ceiling panels with their vinyl coverings and lights) it’s still so cold in the garage that it’s not much fun out there. We’ve resigned ourselves to being a bit out of action until after the snowy weather for now. No point making it a chore! It’s supposed to be fun!

So we’ve done some van bits and been working and schooling and oh yes, let’s have a school update then!

Eliot is coming on well. We had been concentrating quite heavily on his maths but we’ve scaled it back to 2-3 times a week now and it’s keeping the interest up.

He’s been home edding since the start of May now so that’s 8 months although 2-3 months of that has been summer/Christmas vacations, I guess, but in the 6 months we’ve been learning, his maths age has gone up from about 9yrs 10m to about 11yrs and 8m. That’s nearly a 2 year leap in 6 months which is phenomenal. I wish he could see just how far he’s come!

I’m taking a gently, gently approach with English. We’ve learned some interesting stuff, the usual yawns about nouns, verbs, adverbs etc, but more fun was trying to remember the WORD onomatopoeia (I’m going to thank my computer for its spellcheck at this point!) from one lesson to the other, and I’m currently tackling something specific that he has trouble with: comprehension.

He’s frequently said that adult conversations (and movie dialogue etc) is completely alien to him and I think he just needs to read/hear more, so I’ve started reading to him.

Yep, at 12-years-old, I’ve started reading to him! I’ve chosen a book he likes to begin with – A Minecraft storybook – but I’ve encouraged him to ask about words he doesn’t know and phrases he doesn’t understand and I think it’ll definitely help.

So that’s Eliot!

Jake – who turned 16 this December gone! –  is studying hard (!) for his Maths and English GCSEs which he is taking this summer. He’s had decent grades in his English assessments so far and we’re hopeful he’ll pass both easily enough (he’s brainy; he should!).

It should be enough to get him into Lincoln college in September to study…well, here’s news actually… not plumbing!

He’s now decided he’d prefer to be an electrician and we’re behind him 100%. Plumbing would be excellent and he’d do well for work, I’m sure, but being an electrician could be so much more flexible. He could end up employed doing something off on a tangent from electrical work or he could ultimately become the self-employed electrician that he hopes to be, but I do think it’ll offer him many more opportunities.

Either choice is good, but electrician is the one we’ve applied to college for.

I love that he has goals!
Jake has life goals!

Sheesh, after they year we’ve had, I never thought I’d say that!

What else happened?

Jake drove his first car: a Lamborghini Gallardo at a local track day. That was fun!

And we went to the motorcycle show where Eliot could sit on any bike he wanted which was ALL of them…TWICE. He LOVED that!

We (well, in fairness, mostly Nik) removed our open log fire and replaced it with a wood burner.

We went to a gaming convention which was something of an anticlimax but Eliot enjoyed meeting Jacksepticeye (he’s a YouTuber!)

What does 2016 hold in store for the Hands then?

Well, the van is on course to be finished by the summer (of 2016, I hope!) so we’ll be using that a bit to make sure we iron out any snags before we head out into the wider Europe.

There’s school, of course. Jake has exams in May and June and we’re hoping he’ll get some work experience in over the summer before he has to go to college (we’re also hoping college accepts him!)

There’s work. There’s always work. This isn’t a bad thing when you run your own business!

Oh, and I’ve signed up for a beginners Sign Language course at a local training centre. There’s an advanced course later in the year too so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it enough to follow-up with that one and then, who knows?!

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I got told off last week for my initial post being too brief. I think the main problem was that, because I didn’t do much explaining, Nik then spent several days answering the same questions over and over.
So here’s a proper explanation.

We are returning to the UK for two reasons.

Firstly, school.
The boys have coped here. Barely.

Jake started off OK but it the last 18 months or so, he’s begun to really struggle. Unfortunately, being a teenager, he’s not really told me that. He’s your fairly typical non-communicative teen, so I’ve found out by regular reading of his school books. Despite his obvious difficulties, he seemed OK at school so we were content to let it go in the hope that, if he really had a problem, he’d tell us.

Eliot has never thrived at school, in either country. He’s about as non-academic as they come and so scraping through has been his norm really. Long-term, he worries us less. He’s one of those people that you just know will be OK.

However, this (school) year has been a whole other beast. Eliot has struggled to cope, even suffering with panic attacks at times early in the term and, while he has friends there in school who he chats to in fluent Portuguese, his abilities in the classroom are lacking. He is pretty much illiterate in the language, being mostly unable to read and spell it. At this stage of school, it isn’t going to get any better. Even he has confided in me that he struggled in class, and when my outgoing and confident 11-year-old is breaking down, I know it’s bad.

Jake is another matter entirely. He’s one of those kids who says little and just goes about his day with resignation. He gets up, showers, goes to school, goes to class with barely a mumble or an objection.

That said, we’ve noticed a change in his behaviour. He barely eats, sleeps poorly and just hasn’t been right for a while. We suspected he was suffering with depression, but it is difficult to tell the difference between “normal” neanderthal teenager and depression. Turned out we may have been right though when he came back from walking to the school bus in complete meltdown and started talking. Really talking.
Enter reason two for leaving and our proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

It didn’t take a genius to work out what we needed to do next.

Returning to England won’t fix everything. We all know that. Eliot won’t miraculously become some genius in school, and Jake won’t suddenly turn into a bouncy, bubbly teen. What it will do, however, is give them a chance.

It will remove a huge stresser from Jake’s life and that will go some way towards helping his mental health. There may well still be work to be done in that respect, but we shall tackle what is left when we know.

It’ll be a difficult transition back into English schools for both of them, but I’m fairly certain now that it will be for the greater good. For them both.

Neither boy is really thrilled about the move back (and it goes without saying that Nik and I aren’t). Eliot is quite excited about it, although he is anxious about changing school. Jake is being Jake and not really talking to us about it, but even he doesn’t really want to go back. I think it’s just change in general rattling him. I’m hoping that once he is settled into school, he will feel better about the decision.

And if one good thing has come from the last 5 years, it’s that we were right about one thing. We DO want to live here in Portugal, or somewhere like this. When Eliot has finished his eduction, we WILL be back. We are counting down the days!

Funny story: both boys have always been adamant that, when they’d left school in Portugal, they would be moving back to England again. Strangely, since deciding that we are moving back now, Eliot says he might move back to Portugal (with us) when he leaves school in 6/7 years.

Who knows what we will all be doing by then though, eh?

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There’s news.

Some people already know, most don’t: we are moving back to England.

We don’t want to. None of us want to, but we have to salvage the boys’ education before it is too late. If we had more time or more money, we could probably sort it here, but, at this stage of Jake’s schooling, it’s too late. The only way we can pick up the pieces now, is to get back into the English school system as quickly as possible with the hope that the boys then manage to get through with some qualifications – ANY qualifications – because, at the stage they are both at right now, it’s more than they will manage here.

So, that’s what we are doing: returning to England. Soon. Like, next week.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rash or sudden decision.
It will seem like it to everybody else, but it’s been something we’ve been quietly handling for a while, and with the addition of some health problems that one of us has been suffering with lately, it’s time.

So there you are.

The lorry is (all being well) picking up our stuff late next week and we are flying over soon after.

We have a ton of stuff to sort. The apartment this end, our house at the other end (it currently has tenants who now have notice), moving temporarily into the home of a family member who has very kindly offered us the use of her home until ours is vacant again, not to mention getting the boys into school.

So much to do.

So I’d better get back to packing boxes.

See you on the other side.
Maybe I’ll be able to get my thoughts on “paper” (virtually speaking) better then.

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I am actually making headway with my “Z is for…” post, but this just dropped into my inbox, and I thought I would share.

So, little bit to wait before my “Personal A to Z of Portugal” journey is done.

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Not my original choice.
Not even my second original choice.
But something I decided might be a little bit different.

X is for Xenophobia

flagsSomething everybody probably considers (or certainly should!), before moving to a completely different country, is how they will be accepted by the locals; the people who become neighbours; colleagues; friends and possibly even family.

It would be naive, I think, to expect everybody to welcome you with open arms, particularly if you are coming over looking for work. In a time when local unemployment is high, nobody is going to appreciate “the foreigners” who come in “taking locals’ jobs”.

Sound familiar?

Regardless of whether it affects you or not, it’s a sentiment that is difficult to get away from in the media in ANY country.

Obviously, we are in the fortunate position of not needing local jobs so this isn’t something we have experienced here, but I would imagine that it happens here just as it does anywhere else.

We are also fortunate that we have never really experienced any form of xenophobia or prejudice based on the fact that we are English living in Portugal.

People have been, on the whole, very friendly and accommodating. The Portuguese are a sociable lot anyway, and even as we struggle along with the language, we find ourselves welcomed in by people who will often go out of their way to speak to us in our native language rather than theirs.

Sure, there have been (many) times when “Fala Inglês?” has been met with a po-faced “Não!” (often followed by fast-paced Portuguese on their part and mindless nodding on mine!) but even when there have been clear language barriers, we have never been made to feel unwelcome or alienated.

confusedJake’s first head of year, when we moved here, spoke little English (school teachers who don’t speak English cause me the most fear because it’s such an important thing to be discussing: schooling, and I’d hate to misinterpret something!) but he was very enthusiastic about having Jake in his class at a time when it was absolutely CRUCIAL that Jake be welcomed in. He (the teacher) went out of his way to speak to us in English, helping both us (as new arrivals in the country) and himself (wanting to improve his language skills) and spent considerable time ensuring that Jake understood what he needed to in their classes together (he was the science teacher). It was lovely, and it really made a difference.

Some teachers are more old school, of course. Eliot’s first teacher (she’s been mentioned before!) was a formidable force of nature. I kid you not! She spoke (or claimed as such, anyway) no English whatsoever so meetings between us were terrifying (I can only imagine how Eliot felt!)

Having said that, at no point did I ever feel that she held our lack of language skills against me or, more importantly, Eliot. We still see Professora Ana on a fairly regular basis (she teaches a class at Eliot’s current school) and she still scares the bejesus out of me, but she’s lovely really. Friendly and approachable, even in the face of my pigeon Portuguese!

Now, I suppose all of the above is helped by the fact that we live in a tourist area. The locals, in general, are used to being amongst English (and Germans and Dutch and Aussies and many more!) and I am sure that the fact that we actually live here goes unnoticed by many in our day to day life.
It is entirely possible that it would be very different if we had moved to a small village in the hills. I can’t speak for those people. I’m sure there are communities where “outsiders” or “immigrants” (which is what we are!) are ostracised, particularly as not everybody who moves to a different country is quite so mindful of their new locale.

I am certain that there will be pockets of English who live like they are still in England (I’m choosing the English just as an example. Not because other nations are not guilty of this also)They make little or no effort to learn or speak the local language, they don’t socialise beyond their little group of English friends, and they wouldn’t be seen dead eating the local cuisine.

It happens in England, right? I have no doubts that it probably happens here too, and in these cases you could argue that the locals would have every right to feel somewhat resentful. It puts out an erroneous impression though, both of the English and of the Portuguese, and it’s a shame. But, I suppose, it happens world over.

At the end of the day, if you move to a new place with the intention to RESPECT that country, its traditions and its locals, I am fairly certain that you will usually be welcomed openly.

Certainly in the Algarve, we have encountered very little prejudice against us for being English. We have made an effort to get out and make friends, to learn the language and to generally get along.

That’s what life’s about, right?

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Firstly, oops! It wasn’t my intention to completely ignore the blog. It’s not that I had anything specifically better to do (just the usual routine of work and family life), I just… well, didn’t get around to updating.

The last time I posted (apart from our Italy posts), the kids had been off school for a few weeks and were (probably) already driving us bonkers. That pretty much sums up the remainder of the summer holiday up until the point where the boys went back to school on 17th September.

back_to_school

The return to school itself was a mixture of blessed relief and stress.

Eliot was fine. He was, I think, quite happy to be getting back to his friends, and there’s no denying that we were relieved to be getting back to some sort of routine and normality. Once we’d got used to the early mornings, that is!

Jake was less pleased. He’d been moved out of his class group AGAIN due to scheduling issues with his “Portuguese as a Foreign Language” that he does in place of mainstream Portuguese lessons. We understood completely why they’d had to do it, but Jake wasn’t happy about it at all.

That said, now that we are 7 weeks or so in, he’s settled in OK.

He does need a fair amount of blackmail and bribary this year though. This school year is a big exam year for both boys, and they need to pass this year in order to move onto their next stage of education.

If Jake passes, which we hope he will but it really is anybody’s guess, he will move into year 10 which is a change of school. I think in years 10,11 and 12, they choose specifically subjects or subject areas to study, rather than the obligatory set curriculum that they do up to the end of year 9. I have to confess that I don’t know nearly enough about Ensino Secundário (years 10-12 – secondary education) here in Portugal. If anybody wants to educate ME in that area, please do!

If Eliot passes his year (and, it is an “if”), he will move into year 5 and up to the school the Jake is currently in. This is a huge bonus for us because it is just around the corner and it means he will be able to walk or cycle to school rather than us having to drive him there.
There’s a very real fear that he will not pass this year though, specifically because it IS a big exam year. His Portuguese language skills are (apart from his speaking/understanding) just not good enough and he is reluctant to accept additional help. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes. Maybe failing this year is what he needs to accept that he does need some extra help.

Having said all that, I don’t want it to seem like we are expecting him to fail. I think, if he put his mind to it, he could do a lot well, but from a long-term “bigger picture” point of view, we are far less worried about him than Jake actually. Eliot is a strong, independent boy and will succeed in life, I think, whatever he chooses to do, and I don’t believe that his ultimate success will be governed by his academic abilities.

For example, he is outgoing and adventurous. He thinks nothing of chatting to people and being a general sociable soul. He has a particular love of dressing up and going out into town (on his own, I should add) just generally entertaining folk.

How many ten-year-olds do you know that would/could do that?

Eliot in his Morphsuit tn_IMG_1912 tn_IMG_1917

Eliot kinda freaks out some more unknowing lady!

As well as his green Morphsuit, he also has an Assassin’s Creed costume which he sometimes goes into town wearing. He does so love to entertain his audience!

Eliot’s Assassin’s Creed costume

This thing was (and is) truly a battle of wills. It was his birthday present and had to be ordered from overseas. Needless to say, Portuguese customs held on to it for 3 weeks before they delivered it (and they didn’t even charge duty or anything for it, so goodness knows why they held it!).

It’s made up of about 15-20 individual pieces and takes about 10 minutes to even put on! I actually don’t think it is correctly worn in the above photo but it’s the only picture I have of Eliot wearing it. Ask a few tourists from Lagos this summer. They probably have more photos of him than we do! In fact, when he wore his Morphsuit one time, we had got as far as the Marina bridge and it was up for a boat to go through. As we waited, several tourists had photo ops with Eliot!

He definitely has a calling… and i’m fairly certain it has nothing to do with his academic abilities!

So, what else have we done? Not a great deal really.

Back to school, work, general stuff. I visited Wendy for her birthday in early October. We’ve done a few trips out locally but mostly just been getting on with real life.

There have been a few beach visit.

Eliot body boarding

Eliot body boarding on Meia Praia beach.

And a few trips along to Praia de Rocha (the chippie here used to call to us occasionally – it has closed for good now so we probably won’t venture that way often any more)

Sunset across Praia de Rocha

Obligatory sunset “wonky tree” shot

Nik is off to the final round of the MotoGP in Valencia this weekend – lucky him! I’ll just stay home with the kids and watch it on TV. I’m not bitter about it. It promises to be a good end-of-season race. It’s down to two riders for the championship title. Defending champion Jorge Lorenzo or newbie Marc Marquez. We’re all rooting for Marquez here (even though Nik is a die hard Rossi fan!)

The resident Rossi fan (and yes, he’ll be wearing that at the MotoGP this weekend)

I say “Team Marquez!!”

Anyway, it’ll be a big race and I can’t wait to see it (on the telly!)

In other news, we are all going to England for Christmas this year. It was decided that we would do it as a treat for the boys, who are missing their English friends quite a lot. They’re both very excited about it, as are our families. Nik and I are kinda sorta excited mixed with a feeling of “what are we thinking? It’ll be freezing!”

I’m sure it’ll be fun though, and it comes with the bonus of not having to bother putting up Christmas decorations and suchlike and not having to worry about how we are sorting out everybody’s gifts this year. We’re just getting them all shipped to the UK and can do them all face-to-face, which will be nice.

Then, next year, we can get back to having our Christmas in more favourable weather! We shall miss our traditional Boxing Day walk in Alvor! I can’t see us finding a Lincolnshire location that would rival it!

We’re still having some wonderful weather here, with days still reaching high 20s in the sun. We’ve had a few spells of iffy weather, overcast and a few showers, but on the whole, it still feels like summer if you get out there in the sun. Obviously, we don’t do that as often as we’d like really, but we do try to make a point of visiting our local bar, The Lighthouse,  and sitting outside in the sun once in a while.

It doesn’t hurt that it means I can sup a pint or two at the same time, of course.

Quick pint at our local “The Lighthouse” in Lagos Marina

So, I think that’s all our news for now anyway.

I have my next “A to Z of Portugal” post topic sorted and will try to post that soon.

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Goodness knows, I’ve asked myself that a lot since we moved here in July 2010.

There’s no denying that moving to a different country with children is a very difficult thing to do. However much you tell yourself you’re doing it for “the greater good”, there are worries and doubts at every step of the way.

Obviously, these doubts and worries are not helped by plunging those children into a foreign language school environment. In fact, I think that language is, and probably always will be, our number one hurdle.

confused

There is only so much preparation you can do before moving to a foreign country. You can visit and research local areas, amenities, schools etc. What you can’t do, unless you happen to be fluent in a second language already (that’s you AND your family, of course) is remove the language barrier completely. Some basic language skills in advance are a good thing, of course, but they really won’t prepare you for what it’s like to be surrounded by it 24/7!

I’d be lying if I said that our boys’ education hasn’t suffered in some way. Jake used to be a Maths whizz in his UK school. Now he struggles, even in this subject. His first 2 years here, he actually did really well. He passed both years and seemed to be doing ok. He’s been having one-on-one Portuguese lessons at home, for an hour a week, for around 18 months now and these have definitely helped. Jake has gone from “I am NEVER speaking Portuguese” to being (or claiming to be) fairly confident. He says he doesn’t feel that way any more. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.

In his first term of year 8, however, it seemed like we’d taken huge steps backwards. He went from only failing the “least likely to scrape through” subjects, to failing, well, nearly all of them! 6 negatives on his end of term report were a real shock. They’ve prompted change though and I’m hopeful that the changes we’ve made will help. His end of second term report will tell us, I suppose.

Eliot is also struggling. He was held back last year and remains in year 3. This was a good thing really because he needs the extra time in the lower classes and his teacher tells us he has improved a fair bit. There’s no denying his verbal Portuguese skills are confident but reading and writing lags behind. His reading in English, however, is very good (something which bemuses us because nobody has actually taught him this!) and that’s reassuring. His Portuguese reading will catch up. Now he just needs to learn to spell. Either language would be good!

Jake’s last report plunged me into doubt and regret, of course, and renewed all the “are we doing the right thing?” feelings. I actually ran through my mind how returning to the UK could be better. For Jake, perhaps the move back wouldn’t be a problem in his education (in fact, the stuff he’s learning/studying here is far beyond the UK equivalent school curriculum) but it would be a huge problem for Eliot. When we moved here, Eliot was held back a year. He was also held back again last year. This means he is currently in year 3 (which, in Portugal, isn’t a problem as there are many 9 year olds in year 3) but his UK “peers” and old school friends are in year 5. Even if we returned to the UK next school year, he’d be at least 2 years behind everyone he knew and that can’t be a good thing.

Does that make me feel any better? Does it hell?!

It’s not just the kids that throw up doubts and worries, of course. Work is a constant fear. Running our own business remotely puts a lot of pressure on. There’s no steady income. If we don’t get sales, we don’t make money and, if we don’t make money, we can’t transfer it here to live on! We don’t make a huge amount of money (we pretty much live off our 2 minimum director’s salaries here) but  we still have to cover that transfer each month. Most months, it’s OK. Some months, the quiet ones (and don’t all businesses have those?!) are quite unnerving. As anybody who relies on this sort of self-employed income will know, it’s hard and a constant worry.

Oh hell, that really sounds like it’s all doom and gloom! It’s not of course. Aside from money worries and kids, everything is fine!

*insert maniacal panicked laughter here*

There’s a fine line between worrying unnecessarily and sticking your head in the sand.

Here, have a sunny photo to brighten things up!

My beautiful boy. January 2013

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