Last week I was down in Brixham, Devon, visiting my siblings, nephew and nieces - detouring via Chesterfield on the way down to visit my father, and via Dartmouth, Minehead and Bristol on the way back to see various friends, including everyone's favourite blogger, Pat.
Squiggly route from SW Scotland to Devon and back
I do the 950 mile round trip every 2 or 3 years. Usually I take my son, Rogan, with me but he's just started a new job so wasn't able to take the time off.
It's a journey fraught with deep emotions. For one reason or another, the various family members are never able to make it up to Scotland so the only way I get to see them is for me to take the time out to drive down.
Brixham itself holds several bad memories for me, so I have no desire to linger longer than necessary, but at the same time I feel a deep sense of yearning and regret at not seeing more of this part of my family.
This time my niece, Kesha, was over from Indonesia, where she went to live several years ago and is now building a reputation as hotly sought-after DJ. We've been connected on Facebook since she left and I've followed her career with interest, but it's been many years since I previously saw her.
She's often had difficulties with the photographers she's dealt with so needless to say Uncle Kim promised her a photo shoot when she came back to the UK.
Unfortunately there was't enough room in my sister's house to set up a temporary studio, so we went up the road, under an old bridge. This had the advantage of being out of direct sunlight so I could control the lighting, and the old stone walls had the feel of a basement nightclub when I put coloured gels in front of the flashes.
I've still to sit down and edit the photos for her yet, but here are a couple of behind the scenes shots of my shoot with DJ Kesha Ayres
Taken by Kesha's husband, Taurus
Coloured gels over the flashes to give that nightclub feel
We got a few strange looks from passers by, and had to leap back to the side of the road every time a car went past, but in the end we were pleased with what we got.
After 3 nights on my sister's sofa it was wonderful to be offered a real bed when I went over to Dartmouth to catch up with an old school friend, Graham. We met at the school reunion a couple of years ago. The 30 year time gap seemed to disappear and we connected as easily as if it had been last week. Graham had insisted I stay at his place next time I was in the area and the warmth and hospitality I was given from him and his family was a balm to my soul after the mixed emotions of the previous few days.
He took me up the river Dart in a boat to a pub in Dittisham for dinner. It was a beautiful ride up and back with the low sun glinting off the water and a pleasant summer breeze. Part of me wished I'd taken my camera, but I was glad I didn't. If I had, I'd have spent most of the ride trying to capture the atmosphere of the journey rather than actually enjoying it there and then.
The following day I headed up to see Pat (click here to read her account of our meeting). This was the 4th time I've met her in person, although we've known each other via blogging for nearly a decade. We first met 6 years ago for a cuppa, which extended into a long lunch and cemented our friendship.
This time I arrived for lunch and had forgotten her rules of hospitality meant there was enough to feed a small army and it would have been the height of rudeness not to have seconds (or thirds). And despite going out for dinner together that evening, the following morning I was piled up with breakfast and then cooked a big meal (not forgetting dessert) for lunch. And this time I didn't even have Rogan to help me through it.
But despite needing to create 2 extra holes in my belt, it was delightful spending time with Pat once again. I did feel rather foolish, however - I'd bought her a bunch of lilies, which I only remembered about a few hours after I'd arrived, by which time they had all but fried on the back seat of my car in the hot sunshine. She didn't flinch but immediately put them in cold water and never gave the slightest hint of disapproval or disappointment.
Elegant, warm, friendly and forgiving. It was difficult to leave Pat, but at least we still play Scrabble daily online.
The final evening of my journey was spent in Bristol with sculptor, Lucianne Lassalle. We collaborated in a project together last year and have an idea or 2 for the future.
The main course at the Italian restaurant we ended up in was very tasty, but they had hardly any puddings available. Slightly disappointed I ordered some vanilla ice cream (they didn't even have any chocolate!), but then Lucianne suggested we could go elsewhere for dessert.
This was a concept entirely new to me - given the limited number of eateries where I live - but in the area of Bristol Lucianne lives, about every 4th building has a restaurant of some kind. So I chased after the waitress, cancelled the ice cream, got the bill and we went across the road were we tucked into an indulgent, creamy, chocolaty delight.
The following day I drove the final 350 mile stretch home to fall into the arms of my beloved Maggie, just in time for dinner - followed by richly sumptuous home made chocolate brownies and ice cream.
I swear I must have put on about 10 pounds in the last 3 days...