An exhausting day

I have just returned from Edinburgh tonight having made a 650-mile round trip from Cumbria today. And I am feeling so exhausted that all I want to do is to rest my sore back. However, as I am having a mug of tea being turning in, I thought I would write a short post.

Today started as normal. Hubby and I served breakfast at 8:15 am, a little earlier than usual, in order to enable a young couple staying with us to get away in time to reach Birmingham before noon. They had booked online and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Then, it was a round of goodbyes to people who had stayed with us over the weekend and needed to get back home ready for work on Monday. We had some really lovely people to stay, including a couple who stayed a week, and who said that our place particularly fitted their criteria of ‘peace and quiet’. All our guests said they would return to see us, and I hope they do, as we would love to see them again too.

After that, it was a matter of trying to get as many rooms cleaned as possible before having to leave the guest house at 11 am for our run to Edinburgh and back. We have a son who goes to school in Edinburgh and today was the day we had to take him there. We were also going to shop for items for the B&B, before meeting with some folks for dinner. By the time we had dropped our son off at school after dinner, it was nigh on 8 pm. A 3-hour drive back on the motorway, and we were back by approximately 11 pm. What a long day it has been!

It was, however, so lovely to meet up with folks we have not seen in ages. The family we met up with are Toisan-speaking Chinese. In my ‘previous’ life, I worked for 10 years within the voluntary sector, particularly with people with learning disabilities and their families. One of these jobs involved enabling people with disabilities to access services which would improve their lives, whether educationally, socially, or in the wider of context of living and working in a society that does not always understand how much having a disability can skew one’s life for the worse. In all, I worked with three different voluntary organisations, one of which also focussed on carer support.

The parents of this disabled young man were people that I first met about 10 years ago when I began working with carers of disabled children and adults within the ethnic minority sector. One of my job specifications was to identify such families with needs within Edinburgh and the Lothians; and then to support them so that they were able to access and benefit from council systems already in place or to engage with the relevant authorities in order to develop methods by and through which displaced carers and those they care for can benefit.

It all began rather inauspiciously. One of the job descriptions when I applied for the post of Project Worker was that I should be able to communicate in Chinese, specifically Cantonese, as this was most often used within the Hong Kong Chinese community in Edinburgh. In an effort to help me learn Cantonese, I decided to borrow teaching tapes from the library. Within an hour or two of listening to the tapes, I knew that I would not be able to benefit from them. Firstly, the speaker spoke too fast for me. Secondly, I found it extremely difficult to repeat, much less recall, the words I was to learn. Thirdly, I became increasingly frustrated with the tapes and gave up!

My interview went well, and the interviewers knew that while I could understand some Chinese, my spoken Cantonese was pretty poor and that my written Chinese was practically zilch. Still, the panel of interviewers took me on. I had no one at home to practise my very limited Cantonese on, and besides there are medical words for different types of learning disabilities in Chinese that I needed to learn. I was basically going to have to learn to speak Cantonese on the job.

The problem was that I was very shy about speaking a dialect of which I had very little knowledge. I surmised that the carers at least must surely have some ability to speak English even if their preference would be to speak their first language. How wrong I was! For the first few weeks, I tried to speak English to the carers with varying degrees of incomprehension and frustration on both sides.

Eventually, I decided to bite the bullet. Out came the halting Chinese, all twisted and gnarled as I tried desperately to get my tongue around the pronunciation of these sing song words. Then I met my Toisan family. Oh my! If I thought that Cantonese was bad, this was even worse. I could not understand a single word they said. And I found out later that the other Cantonese-speaking carers also found it difficult to understand Toisan, which is a variant of Cantonese.

Thus, thinking laterally, I decided that I would speak to the Toisan carers in Mandarin instead – not that my Mandarin was much better, but at least it was a contender for communication since neither parent could speak English. This was much better – NOT! We all resorted to sign language and hieroglyphics in the end, but still got nowhere. In fact, I later learned that neither parent could speak Mandarin, although they understood Cantonese, which I should have used in the first place.

Now, years later, I continue to speak Cantonese to this Toisan family. Generous in spirit to a fault, they have welcomed my family and I into their hearts and lives and we continue to keep in touch although I now live in Cumbria and they still live in Edinburgh. Their son, now 35 years of age, has Downs Syndrome and cannot speak or hear. Yet, his parents remain as cheerful and spirited as I have always known them. Now, 80 and 70 years of age respectively, they must fear for their son’s future; however, I have never known them to be anything but courageous in facing the future together.

During my years working in the voluntary sector, I have been so privileged to meet with so many wonderful clients, many of whom have a tenacity of spirit which I much admire and respect. I came to know them intimately because we got on well and I ensured that I was available to them whenever they needed my help. It was thus with sadness that we eventually parted company when I moved on to a new job, and even then, we continued to keep in touch. In fact, I was actually able to arrange music sessions for their disabled offspring when I became head of another organisation in Edinburgh offering such sessions.

Since we moved to Cumbria to run our B&B, Hubby and I have visited our Toisan friends a number of times whenever we are in Edinburgh. They are great cooks, and it is lovely to enjoy an authentic Chinese home-cooked meal. We always invite them to come and stay with us, and tonight, they have finally given us a tentative date for a visit. It is all still to be confirmed, but we cannot wait to welcome them to our abode and to wow them with the beauty of the Lakes.

Mist hovers over Lake Windermere, as seen from Troutbeck, a few miles from Blenheim Lodge. The atmosphere creates a blanketing cocoon and makes one feel as if one is part of a magical kingdom in a fairytale. Hubby and I cannot wait for our Toisan friends to see this view for themselves. Why don't you come and enjoy it too?

‘Blenheim Lodge . . . panoramic Lake views, peace and tranquillity, nestled against acres of beautiful fields and woodlands, in the heart of the English Lake District National Park.’

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