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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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Something I’ve learned this week: NEVER get too comfortable!

I swear that, no sooner do you say out loud that things seem settled, something will come along and kick you in the shins.

And surprise, surprise, if that “something” isn’t school!

As regular readers will know (well, if you’ve been reading since “the beginning” anyway),  when we moved in 2010, getting the kids sorted at school was one of our biggest nightmares.
I mean, it would be, wouldn’t it? It’s one of the most important!

We thought we’d done as we were asked. We got all English school reports (including an extra letter from the school says “Child A passed/failed” which they INSISTED on) officially translated (at significant cost!), got vaccinations up-to-date and obtained what seemed like every piece of documentation under the sun and, eventually, they seemed happy.

You know how they say never count your chickens until they’ve hatched?
Well, turns out these eggs have a FOUR YEAR incubation period!

This one made me giggle!

This one made me giggle!

Yesterday, I got a call from the secretary at the head school of the Agrupamento. She informed us that we should have had our original UK school reports officially “stamped” as well as translated. As far as I can understand, it’s so that it legitimises the report (ie. verifies that it’s from a genuine bone fide UK school and not something we knocked up on the internet.)
I get that, I do. What irks me is being asked for it NOW, not four years ago.

Why?

Well, because NOW, it’s urgent. Urgent because both boys have exams and could potentially move schools this year.

So it’s urgent now.
Of course it is.

So now I’m to-ing and fro-ing from British Embassy departments to Ministry of Education and other Consular departments.

School wasn’t 100% sure which (of their many hundreds of them) stamp I needed, just that it needed  to come from the Consulate. The British Embassy are fairly certain it’s the Legalisation department that I need, to get the UK school reports stamped as official, but asked me to check with the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education couldn’t give me someone to whom I could speak English, so I gave up and emailed instead. Not holding my breath there!

I’m now waiting for the Legalisation Office, whose phone line is only operative between midday and 4pm – what?, to open so I can find out what I need to do next.

Seems as though we’ll need to send all the documents (originals, of course) to their Milton Keynes office for processing. At a cost, of course.

Meantime, we’re all stressed now.

Boys aren’t stressed enough though.
They need to study and won’t. In a nutshell, if they don’t study, they’re going to fail. Maybe then they will realise. Perhaps it’s what they need: to fail. For purely selfish reasons, I’d prefer Eliot to pass so he can move to the school around the corner from us and cut out a twice-daily school run. If Jake passes (big IF. Very big if) he will move to one of the Secundaria schools in town, depending on what he wants to study. That’s a whole OTHER can of worms which, while I’d love to discuss and share, right now I just can’t be bothered.

So anyway, yeah.

I guess the moral of the story is “Don’t get too comfy”.

keep-calm-and-don-t-get-too-comfortable-JPG

 

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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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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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It’s taken me a while to get chance to sit down and continue this A to Z. I’m starting to think that the entire alphabet is going to last more than a year. That’s something I never could have imagined at the start! Still, it’s a nice project to be getting on with and a bit of motivation to do more than just post photos on Facebook each time we do something fun!

Anyway, I’ve had my P topic for a while. Actually, I had several ideas for my P topic but lately which one to choose has become clearer.

P is for Priorities

In order to make our move to Portugal, we had to take a good look at our priorities.

Our life in England was comfortable. We had modest income (topped up with tax credits) to allow us to be self-employed and spend some time with our boys but we constantly felt restricted. There was little around us locally that inspired us, as a family and it’s no secret that we’d had itchy feet for a long time.

A move abroad, however, would come with huge sacrifices and definitely required us to look long and hard at our priorities.

In the UK, we could live comfortably in our own home and not have any real worries about money. We had our own 3 bed home with large garden in a pretty outlying village. We had a nice, smart, modern car. We could be in full control of our own business. We could visit family and friends whenever we felt like it. We would be in as much control of our lives as is possible to guarantee in this day and age.  Despite this, we weren’t settled.

In Portugal, there is always a concern that we won’t make ends meet. We work hard to ensure that our business makes enough money to cover our basic living expenses plus a little extra but, in order to do that, we have had to significantly change the way we work. We’ve had to sub-contract out various parts of our business and rely on others working with us. This is a scary position to be in, I can tell you.

We also now live in rental accommodation, something we’ve never done before. Our housing situation is also a little out of our hands as we are constantly aware that our landlady could decide to sell, if she so wanted (fortunately, she has other, empty properties she could sell first and that’d be difficult enough in a stagnant property market!) We had also had to take in tenants in our UK house and this puts another financial strain on our household. All well and good while the tenants are in but a huge burden should they decide to move on.

We own an old banger of a car. But not a cheap car. Oh no. There is no such thing as a cheap car here in Portugal. We now own the oldest car we’ve ever owned (it’s 15 years old) which cost us the most we’ve ever paid for a vehicle!

We’re now half a day or more from family and UK friends. The boys have lost contact with many of their school friends they grew up with and we’ve all had to find new friends in a foreign land.

Life here isn’t easy, by a long shot. It’s financially unstable and, at time, emotionally draining.

However, at the same time, it is beautiful and full of new opportunities.

Ponta de Piedade

Ponta de Piedade

Despite having less money, we are surrounded by things to do.

With the beach just a few minutes walk away, we can visit all year and enjoy the ever-changing scenery it presents us.

A trip to the beach in July

Meia Praia Beach in February!

The boys have both made new friends in school and Eliot, in particular, is happy to find friends where-ever he goes. He can be bossy in TWO languages now!

Boys playing with new friends at the Skate Park, Lagos

We have made some great friends ourselves and now get to spend quality time with them too, often enjoying outdoor visits, picnics, meals and new places together.

Our newly made good pals Dave and Aly (wave, guys!)

As well as making new friends, UK family and friends visit us here which is something that never happens in England!

My little sis on one of her (many!) visits

We get to learn about and share in a new Portuguese way of life, with it traditions and festivals.

Loulé Carnival 2012

And, as the Algarve typically has few weeks of bad weather per year, for 90+% of the year, all this happens in the sun, of course!

Sunrise on Meia Praia Beach

So, yes. We’ve made sacrifices with our move to Portugal.

We’ve sacrificed income, control, our own home, a nice car, ease of communication and having family on our doorstep.

In return, we have beautiful days, fabulous places, great friends and regular visitors.

A fair trade-off? I’d say so.

It’s all about priorities, innit?

It’s a hard life but someone’s gotta do it!

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It seems like ages since I posted a school update although, I suppose, it probably is!

Well, the school year is over and we’re 2 weeks in to the long, long, long summer holidays*

I have to admit, the holidays are easier for us this year, now that I’m not working for anyone except us any more. While this does mean we have a sizeable drop in income, it also means I have more time (well, more flexible time) to spend with my boys and, as long as we are still managing financially**, that’s worth more to us. I still do design work, if a client requests it though. That extra money is definitely always welcome!

So, end of another school year and definitely a different vibe to last year.

Last year, it was all something of an unknown. We hadn’t realised that Jake, being in year 6, would have big end-of-year exams in Maths and Portuguese in order to move from 2nd cycle to 3rd. Quite how he managed to pass those I have no idea. I guess we’re fortunate that he is intelligent enough in Maths to get a good grade and lift him out of the “automatic fail” group (which a failure in both Maths and Portuguese could be)

Year 7 has been a challenge for him though. Academically, it has been far more intense than Year 6 as there have been more subjects (Year 6 General science became 2 Science subjects in year 7. History and Geography split from one subject into 2)

There was a complete change of teachers, in all subjects, and an almost complete change of classmates as the classes are “scrambled” between each year and only a handful of his year 6 classmates were in the same year 7 class as Jake.

That said, Jake has coped admirably. Apart from some early wobbles with his Maths teacher (what is it about Maths teachers?!), he’s had a good year.

Results came out last Saturday and Jake, much to his relief, passed year 7 with flying colours! (in fact, coming 5th in his class of 21, with 4 students not passing at all!)

Well done, Jake!

So we’re all looking forwards to year 8, when they eventually go back in September.

Yesterday, we had Eliot’s school teacher meeting although we’d already been told his result. Actually, should I say, Eliot was told first, he told us and I had to confirm with his teacher at the end-of-term party.

Escola EB1 Meia Praia End of term mini show and party

Eliot hasn’t done so well this year. In fact, despite having a support teacher for 3 sessions a week this year, he seems to have progressed less this year than he did last year (come back, Professora Ana, all is forgiven!)

He’s had little or no homework and, apart from a huge improvement in both his oral and aural Portuguese, has gained little. He still struggles to comprehend written Portuguese and write Portuguese. All perfectly normal, under the circumstances, of course (Jake has had private lessons all year to help his. Eliot hasn’t) but it has meant that, unfortunately, Eliot didn’t pass year 3 this year.

In fact, this is actually a good thing. He has so much more to learn before he can enter year 4. Year 4 heralds the end of 1st cycle school and comes with big exams at the end of it. He’s a long way off getting there. Repeating year 3 will be a huge benefit to him. He probably should have repeated year 2 but hey, that’s in the past.

Obviously, he was pretty upset about “failing”. We’ve tried to explain to him that it’ll help him a lot to repeat year 3 and he’s starting to understand that. His classmates from year 3 will still be in his “class”, because they are a mixed year 3 and 4 class anyway, so that definitely softens the effect slightly.

In fact, yesterday, at the parents’ meeting, we also learned that, next year, due to class numbers, his class will consist of years 1, 3 and 4! (I can only assume that year 2 is a large group!)

That class mix might sound slightly strange (although remember that last year his class was years 1, 2, 3 and 4!) it will actually work to Eliot’s advantage. His teacher (whoever that might be. It may not be Professor Nuno again) will be able to involve Eliot in some of the year 1 work which could benefit him greatly and enable him to pick up some of those missing “basics” alongside his modified year 3 work.

I’m sure it must be difficult for a teacher to manage but, hopefully, it will be helpful for Eliot. Even if his homework is year 1 and his school work his adapted year 3 (they do adapt his standard curriculum work, to a certain degree, also), it should be much better for his progress. Meantime, he’s been sent home with four Year 2 books to do “holiday homework” from. Lucky boy!

So, as we head into the 3 month summer holidays, there are mixed emotions Chez Hand. Fortunately, we have lots to look forwards to. Visitors and visiting, days out and, no doubt, the occasional day when we batten down the hatches and hide from the sun!

Eliot and I are heading to London for a few days next week as a birthday treat for him. It’s something I did with Jake a couple of times, while we were in England and he was littler, but I’ve never done with Eliot. Needless to say, he’s very excited about playing tourist and staying with Aunty Wendy.

Nik and Jake will be left home. This doesn’t bode well for getting anything done. Xbox 24/7 is likely to be order of the day(s)! I won’t bother with a “while I’m gone” chores list.

Eliot will be starting at Click Kids Club in mid July. He’s looking forwards to that too. The interaction (in Portuguese as well as English) will do him good and, hopefully, Sofia, being the magical magician that she is, will be able to coerce Eliot into working through his homework (they have allocated study time, twice a week, which is BRILLIANT!)

Of course, a summer post wouldn’t be complete without a weather report, would it?

Weather has been warming up gradually over the past month or so. We’ve had some days in the high 30s and the past couple have been hazy but hot! I don’t suppose we’ll see much, if any, rain before about September/October now. It’s a tough life, eh?

I never get bored with our balcony view (apologies if you do!)

Click for our current 5 day forecast (you know you want to!)

*Did I mention how long the summer holidays were?

**Jury is still out on that one but so far, so good!

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