Archive for August, 2010

The Sylvia Hotel and Vancouver

We are staying in the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver on the recommendation of online friends (thanks Jen).  What a wonderful base for exploring Vancouver!  The hotel was built in 1910 for the original Sylvia, it has since been home to a famous cat called Mr Got to Go who inspired two children’s books.  It is right on the waterfront in English Bay, which I was fascinated to see was covered in forest until the 1860s so this area was settled by the English about the same time as New Zealand.  On arriving at the airport the only car we all fit in was a limo – to the boys’ delight!

A limo!

We are loving having a full kitchen and to our amusement find the small hallway joining our bedroom and kitchn an amazingly useful extra space after living in a tiny van for 10 weeks!


Emmett loves this place.  He wanders along the seawall picking blackberries, is fascinated by the raccoons, squirrels and skunks and is enthralled by the possibility of seeing a coyote.  He manages to end up in the waves whether we’re intending to swim or not.



Contented boy (and geese)

We had a lovely day cycling through Stanley Park, even up the hill to Beaver Lake, the kids were so happy to be on bikes again after many months and Florence was rather chuffed with her trailer!  To my amazement no one came off on the shingle and we surely slept well that night!  We cycled around 30km and there wasn’t a whisper of complaint from either Bede or Emmett.

Cycling, Bede has a turn towing!

Cycling, Stanley Park

Yesterday I found an idyllic children’s book shop and spent several hours there all on my own, pity our bags can only fit a few lovely books inside.  Bede has already nearly devoured the next Percy Jackson and wants to go back to the bookshop with me to see what the staff think he should be reading next.

Granville Island was also a lovely day trip for us.  We caught the tiny ferry across False Creek and the kids were delighted by the Children’s Market – a whole market of shops only selling things for children!  Florence is sporting new dotty shoes, Bede was given a magic tricks budget that appears to have been spent on things I’d define more as pranks… electric shock pen, vampire teeth and itch powder…  Emmett bought balsa planes that are still going strong after a few days unlike the usual polystyrene ones we mostly find.  He also bought a very complicated catapult model which we are hoping to convince him not to assemble till we’re in NZ!  We met up with Jen, Sam, Noah and Juliet on the Island, it was fun to meet a family who we’ve followed by blog from far away!

We’ve also very much enjoyed meeting Rachel and Isabelle and their family, our kids have been making movies with 11 yr old Ben and 7 yr old Gaby and are all set to return for filming on Monday too!  Meanwhile Florence, Thomas and Elizabeth’s Isaac have enjoyed the trampoline and tea set.


Read Full Post »


“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old” Yann Martel Life of Pi

It’s two years since my brother Ben died today.  We remembered him by sending origami kayaks into the waves at the beach and making apple pie to eat with far too much cream for lunch.


Kayaks for Ben

Kayak in the waves

Apple Pie

When Ben died I felt his loss as if I had had an amputation.  We grew up as a pair, my childhood memories include him as if he was a part of myself.  Together we were Moonface and Silky in the Magic Far Away Tree in our front yard.  We ran away to behind Grandma Skinner’s hydrangeas together, took Ed and Greg on adventures to the park around the corner and performed live magical and dramatic performance to enthralled audiences at Christmas from our bedroom wardrobe theatre!  Sometimes there was intra-family dispute about an event in the past.  Ben and I always had the same versions of events!

In all our adventures Ben was the courageous one, while I toed the line and tried to please everyone, he dared me to go higher up the tree, faster on our bikes.  In adulthood he was our house and garden advisor, with ideas that were unconventional but perfect and practical.

When Bede got his first 8 year old sized mountain bike, Uncle Ben came over with kid-sized cycling gloves and took him straight down to jump the traffic islands in the hospital car park (because it was empty, not because it was the hospital…).  One of Bede’s lasting memories is of being asked “Did you learn anything?” if he took a tumble on a bike or anywhere else.  Bede’s sleeping bag and the tiny backpack Ben gave him to carry it is still a treasured family possession – the backpack now sports NZ stickers is carried by Emmett and it’s been to see the world with us this year!

For a year a cried as I cycled round the bay to and from work in Ceduna as the sun rose and set on another day Ben wouldn’t see.  As we planned out the “Skinner-Vennell Family Round the World Trip” over those months I discovered that I have been left a legacy I didn’t recognize at first.  My courageous brother no longer walks beside me but I wear his courage like that comfy green jersey of his, when I step outside my comfort zone.  Standing in a visa line in Kenya, in a taxi on Bangkok roads, on a ropes course 40m in the air with my 10 year old (who says just like Ben would have “Just run, don’t look down, for goodness sake, you’re tied on, the risk is all an illusion you know”), camping on a peninsula surrounded by hippos and crocodiles, sitting in the middle of an English roundabout in a camper with a dead clutch!

Again and again my grief takes me to a beach, no wonder, we shared many, Oreti, Riverton, Kaka Point, Kakanui, St Claire and St Kilda, Himatangi, Foxton, Porangahau, the East Cape, Mahanga.  This year I’ve walked with your courage at Tunnel Beach, Wexford, Calgary, Aberdyfi, English Bay.  Today the waves whipped themselves into peaks just for you after a week of calm seas.

Waves August 2010

There are many people who have given the precious gift of listening when I talk about Ben, acknowledging our family’s pain and loss.  There are three children in my family who let us smile even when we feel most bereft. There is my beloved Leah who held me up in my grief although she lost not just a brother in law that day, but a special friend who shared her creative streak and taste in music.

To grow old is a gift, I wear my grey hair and bung knee with pleasure, I make sure to learn something every time things don’t quite go to plan!

Read Full Post »

One of our final adventures in England was a trip to this museum.  Bede literally danced down the street “Emmett, can you believe we’re actually going to Roald Dahl’s house, I’m sooo excited”.  I was pretty excited by this after he had not exuded much enthusiasm upon actually getting to some of the other places he really wanted to see earlier in the trip.  My personal most memorable Bede lack of enthusiasm moment was in Egypt upon arriving at the pyramids when the Egypt mad kid sits in the van and says “I’m not getting out, it is too hot, I can see them from here”.  He actually loved going deep into the great pyramid of course but his starter motor has often taken a bit of getting going!

Roald Dahl Museum

Not for Roald Dahl though!  Notes to the mothers for future reference, if you can see kids tourist attractions outside of school holidays this might avoid the huge numbers of people all trying to enjoy the place with you!  The crowds are exhausting for us Kiwis, who find a different beach if there’s more than 50 people on ours…

Florence dresses up

And Emmett...

And Bede!

The Museum and Story centre was really well designed, with great activities.  The kids liked sitting in the chair Roald Dahl sat in to write and hearing about other famous children’s writer’s habits.  We are not currently growing any aspiring writers so Bede and Emmett were more interested in seeing the personal effects they had read about in “Boy” and hearing more about Roald Dahl’s life.  Florence enjoyed the craft room and they all enjoyed dressing up.

Make believe

We spent the night with our new friends after the museum and had a lovely dinner and lots of fantastic make believe with knights and kings and assassins!  Florence really took a liking to 3 yr old Alex and still chatters away about him.  Bede discovered he does like blueberries went we all went berry picking the next day.  Then we just had one hotel night before we headed to Vancouver.

Read Full Post »


We hired bikes.  We went to beaver lake.  I am playing Poptropica.  It is fun.  I am watching TV.  We are right beside Stanley park

Read Full Post »


I saw a skunk.  I saw a raccoon. Flo saw a turtle.  I fed a squirrel.  We are going to hire bikes.  There is no enthusiasm in this blog if you want some ask Anna to put Emmett’s diary on here

Read Full Post »

We went to Roald Dahl’s house I really liked that it had a section on all the children’s books and it had a craft area.  There was a sweet-making class but we weren’t there for the next available slot so we couldn’t do it.  There were televised with other great authors including JK Rowling.

After that we went to Jo’s house, they arrived just after we did!  We had a kingdom game where Jacob was the king, I was the captain of the royal army, Emmett and Toby were guarding the king and me and Jo were also assassins.  We slept overnight at their house, Emmett slept in Jacob and Toby’s room and I slept in Jo’s room.  Me and Jo woke up at 6 o’clock and went for a bike ride round the block, then came back and played on the computers and club penguin together.  After that we went for a long bike ride along the common.  When we got back from that Maggie and Leah cooked pancakes for everyone.

Jo and I played with the lego and we all went and picked heaps of blueberries.  According to mum they were really cheap, they were 5.95 a kilo and in Sainsburys they’re 19.95 a kilo.  We’re going to miss Jo and his family, they better come on a trip to NZ!

Read Full Post »

As Bede has said we explored both a Roman Fort and Bede’s World this week.  Arbeia Roman Fort is in South Shields at the far end of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England.  This place is fantastic!  We happened upon a day with archery demonstrations and Leah and the boys lined up eagerly for a turn!

Bede Arbeia Fort August 2010

Emmett Arbeia Fort August 2010

Archery Arbeia Fort August 2010

Bede and Emmett had a long discussion with some Roman soldiers about life in the fort and discovered that despite supposedly protecting Britannia from the Barbarians, Roman rules were fairly barbaric, girl babies and illegitimate children were killed at birth, women were treated very badly and life was brutal.  It was a cold day after a rainy night and this really brought home how uncomfortable and bleak life must have been in the muddy, cold barracks.  I know why the soldiers slept 4 to a bed now – it would have been the only way not to freeze – and we are here in summer!

Arbeia Barracks August 2010

Bede enjoyed the large display of falconry birds – he’s hankering after a Peregrine Falcon.  I was more interested in the lovely knot garden full of traditional herbs.  Emmett and Florence had a great time with the miniature catapults which have been well photographed so we can attempt to recreate one at home.

Catapult Arbeia Fort August 2010

Freaky Falcon - Bede would know what it really is...

Herb Garden Arbeia Fort August 2010

We could hardly drive past somewhere called Bede’s World!  I was very impressed at the carefully thought out museum that made the quite academic life of the Venerable Bede accessible and interesting to our Bede and to Emmett.  The boys were fascinated by St Bede’s scientific knowledge – he was aware the earth was round and that the orbiting moon caused the tides and even discovered the concept of latitude, although he called it something else.

Bede's World August 2010

Calculating dates Bede's World August 2010

Bede’s writing about Anglo-Saxon Britain is the best record of this part of English history and the museum has a working Anglo-Saxon farm.  We’ve been discussing the option of getting a little bit more than our 1/4 acre of land when we go back to NZ and Bede, Emmett and Flo wandered around the farm talking about when we get “our pigs” and “our horse” – the adults were more imagining a creek, two trees and a rope swing in our future…

The Skinner-Vennell Round the World Family Trip Pose

Today we packed up and returned our camper and headed south in a rental car.  We managed to give much of our extra gear (no longer needing sleeping bags, bedding and many of the toys acquired while campervanning) to other campers before dropping the last off at a charity shop and posting 8kg of special things back to NZ (watch out for 4 parcels coming surface mail Norah and Papa).   Bede went in and offered our duvet to a charity shop as the previous one wasn’t able to accept it due to rules – the man at Red Cross said he’d happily pass it on to someone who needed it but that it had to be brought in by an adult as he thought Bede might be playing a prank!  Bede thought this was hilarious!

The charity shop pile

We’re off to Roald Dahl’s house tomorrow and then to play with our Wales camping trip friends who happen to live near London.  We’re getting excited about meeting up with both old and new friends in Vancouver very soon!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »