Special delivery

Today, one third of the PC household returns to the UK to pick up his new role, galloping into Heathrow just in time for St George’s Day and his Dad’s 79th birthday in Marlow. First he’ll have lunch and birthday cake with the cousins then he’ll drive to London and camp out at my sister’s for the next few weeks. He starts work on Monday. As for leaving Sing, for a man of modest gestures I’ve never seen so many goodbyes locked into the calendar. He had a football farewell on Wednesday for the weekly group he’s been running – that was a tough one. In a fortnight he’ll be back here briefly and no doubt there’ll be more goodbyes. And back again in June to co-host a proper leaving do with me and repeat the beer theme once more. The multi-celebration thing is unusual for a man who’s typically quite low-key, but I suspect it’s testament to how hard it is for him to leave the town he has so enjoyed exploring, and all the friends within.

Mr PC is a man who’s rarely sad. He goes through life using the same Terminal Optimism as my Dad, constantly carrying around a half-full pint glass in contrast to my half-empty water bottle. (Does that make us well matched? It certainly makes him very patient). A person who knew him better, though, might have detected clouds across the moon these last few weeks, even during our recent fantastic canter across beautiful NZ, when, at times, my permanently happy man might have sometimes been less so.

Repatriation was never going to be easy for any of us, most of all him. Like most families we try to make decisions as a solid unit, but sometimes one person is less comfortable with a decision than the others. Just as you could say it was his idea that we came here in the first place, it was mainly me who came up with the idea that we pack it all in and head back to Blightly. Worse still, while we wait under softly swaying palms for TheEnd, drifting back and forth to work and school with the sun on our backs, he has to dump his carry-on and head straight to the Tube under chilly London skies*.

Still though, every cloud and all that. I’m hoping there will be plenty of you to welcome him home, maybe put on the kettle or pop open a beer. If you see him, he’s pretty easy to take care of but he’ll probably appreciate some Singaporean touches. He likes kopi o ping or kopi si kosong. He likes congee for breakfast, laksa for lunch and a big fish curry for dinner. He likes the heat, so turn up the radiators and hang a load of wet laundry inside so the place gets a bit humid. And as always he loves a spot of running, so if you feel like trotting up and down Kite Hill with him then give him a call.

As he paces the apartment looking for things, tying up loose ends, sending emails and printing out documents I’m sitting here looking at our Mandarin textbook collection, gathering dust on the shelf since we stopped lessons in January. His favourite word was always “husband”. Mine was “goodbye” because it’s the only one that comes to mind easily. So then: zaijian Xiansheng. Safe travels and see you in two short weeks. I’ll keep beers in the fridge and kopi by the kettle and I promise not to chuck out your shoebox full of electrical cr@p or rearrange your precious pile of interesting pocket fluff. Hope the new school has a good canteen and nice teachers. I’m sure my sister wouldn’t mind if you bought a plastic palm tree and stuck it in the window.

Here’s your leaving anthem, a top choice from the Jonah playlist that we had on repeat in hire cars all around New Zealand. I think it fits.

*I’ve got the packing, the goodnights, the homework and the exam-revising to do as well, so don’t feel too bad for him

There will now be a short intermission

Writer’s block. First time in five years. The bin is full of scrumpled up introductions. That country cannot be put into words, it is just not possible, and since I have been unable to write real or imagined postcards I’ll stick up a few snapshots shortly.

Perhaps the writer’s block is also to do with Mr PC beginning the slow dismantle of the condo in preparation for his next big move, back to the UK and to our new lives.

So the pen is pretty dry this week. Talk amongst yourselves.

New Zealand for starters

The decision not to christen their children was on balance one of my parents’ better ones, I’ve always thought. I’m grateful that they left it up to my sister and me to decide, even though since a very young age I’ve often found the internal debate too much for my mortal head to take. Most times I’m absolutely sure about my views, other times less so, and on nights like this – hunkered down in a motel room in New Zealand’s Lake Taupo, waiting for a cyclone to hit – I do wonder whether prayer might sometimes come in handy.

Taupo is on North Island, and we are four days into our tour of this uppermost half of NZ, a slow ride from bottom to top compared with the frenzied scamper of the last two weeks around South Island (blog postcards to follow). South was for tourist-trekking whereas North is to be reserved for slow catch-ups with friends and family. We’ve ticked off one cousin so far in Welly (plus his new family and tiny new baby), but thanks to Taupo’s current extreme weather watch I doubt we’ll see the friends that are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. After this it’s meant to be Auckland and one more friend, then on back to Singapore.

Anyway I’ve gone right off the topic, which was Religion, a subject I thought about a lot while touring down South, where Nature gives you a whole different slideshow. Not just daily but several times an hour, it has seemed, amazing sights took our breath away so that even Jonah, lately full of pre-teen angst, couldn’t help but gasp along with us as mountains dropped, peaks gleamed white, fields dipped and turned with unexpected mountain switchbacks, glaciers rumbled and dolphins leapt beneath us out of sparkling deep seas. Earth, Water, Sky splashed across our retinas in a palette of dazzling colours with no space to catch breath before the next snapshot appeared.

“It’s all just so Godly,” I remarked to Mr PC as yet another jaw-dropping vista hove into view on the road coming into Queenstown. And it really is, and that’s coming from a girl who hasn’t ever really had The Lord in her house, but it is the sort of landscape that makes you think about the Origin, the start of things, about prehistorical, jurassic, basic times, and what might have caused those insane angles to work their way onto the edge of mountain roads, to rise up from land to sky, pushing Beauty into your face so that there is simply nothing for it but to allow your senses to take that vertical teeter down the winding switchback trails, splash about in powder blue creek water, stuff mossy air into creaky lungs. If I’m sounding a bit trippy it’s because this country has so far been one massive eyeball festival, tweaking every sense into sharp awareness, an other-worldly, eerie series of days. We might possibly also be a bit tired.

Postcard blog notes will follow, from South Island at least, but they won’t do the place justice. No camera, no description can accurately shape into words just how stunning South Island is. I can’t yet fully comment on the North – having only just got here we’ve spent most of our time cuddling a tiny baby (gorgeous, again), poking around Wellington (gorgeous, again), driving through mossy volcanic deserts (gorgeous, again – I think we can already tell how North Island’s going to be, eh?)

And once the storm’s passed (oh please let it pass) we’ll get out from under the bed and go for a stomp around Taupo, our current spot, and no doubt have more eyeball festivals. Until then I’ll spend the next 24 hours holed up in my head recreating white peaks, mossy passes and stubby sun-shadowed boulders jutting out alongside those empty, empty roads. Hope I can find the words to get those dreams from brain to keyboard.




Space balls

Houston, we have a hoarding problem. All removal companies have told us off for having way too much rubbish. I’m getting loads ready to trash, donate or sell but it’s like dismantling Marina Bay Sands with a fork and spoon, in a lightning storm.

I caught myself doing the Oxford Street Swerve today – Londoners will know it. It’s where you’re in a big rush and you have to thread your way through the herd of hundreds of slow-moving tourists to get from A to B. I had to physically slow myself down when I cut across the park at the back of Somerset 313 and almost knocked someone over in my hurry to get to the bus stop to catch the No 36 home in time for the dishwasher fixer to sort out our leak before the piano lesson commenced, which left me half an hour to sort through some sale stuff for buyers to look through this week, before putting in an hour of work before rehearsing our two new songs for tonight’s choir practise, and then the three new songs for Saturday’s other choir concert.

It’s because we’re working towards a scary timescale. Next week we leave for our Easter trip to NZ (our fault for having another holiday, granted). When we get back Mr PC will have just three days in Sing before he leaves for London. There is an insurmountable load of Stuff to sort and we are orbiting the epicentre in ever-decreasing circles, flying faster and faster into the centre of the rubbish pile.

Mister sat down with me last night and sighed into his tumbler of whisky (a valiant effort to empty the drinks cupboard), ‘What’s the worst that can happen if it doesn’t all get sorted before July? We just pack it all up and take it with us.’

So I’m apologising to my inner tidy person (the one who rarely gets an airing) because she’s not going to be happy with the crap that’s going into our twenty-footer.

Fat lady to the green room

In my second year on this island, while studying on a museum guiding course, a fellow student took umbrage at something I had written on an online profile – ‘Head in Singapore, heart in London’. A short and simple sentence but it really riled her. Maybe she thought it meant I didn’t like Singapore (her home town), that London was better? Maybe I did mean that at the time? I had found things tricky at first and at that stage I definitely hadn’t entirely ‘settled’, whatever that means. Anyway, ever since she took me to task I’ve been careful with the things I write on this blog, sometimes to the detriment of the tone; I’m aware that my posts often sound diluted, saccharin – I guess since our conversation I’ve not wanted to offend.

I thought then – and still think now – that my colleague’s comments were unfair. Not everyone adopts a new country so completely that they give up their old life, at least not that fast. And hark at her, so hugely patriotic that she would definitely have been unable to give her heart to a brand new country should she ever have been tasked with moving to a new city thousands of miles from home.

Life’s funny, because if she knew how I felt now she might be a little less brusque. Where do I hang my hat? The loyalty card has become blurred. Anyone who knows the old me knows how impossible it would be to surgically remove London from my system, but – amazingly for my old homesick self – I do now seem to have given a bit of my heart to this tropical life. The signposts are not pointing the same way as before.

Summer is coming, time for the annual whistestop tour of family and friends, and the fielding off of the ever-bigger question: when are you coming home? This summer, actually, is the answer to that. We’ve finally stopped dithering and got a pumpkin on order to take us all back from the ball – no doubt turning up late, or ‘dropping someone off first’, or going infuriatingly down the wrong bloody bit of Orchard Road until one of us texts to redirect the driver to here (whose clever idea was it to move into a road with a similar sounding one nearby?) I hope it goes to the basement as instructed and not the turning circle, because we’re going to have a load of bags full of, well, not glass slippers but plastic flip-flops by the tonne – tropical tat picked up over time that’s looking like a 20-foot container full. It’s finally happening.

I have heard myself voicing the reasons for our repatriation countless times, and those reasons all boil down to one thing – we had to make a choice, and the bigger bit of the heart won out, but it wasn’t a cut-and-dried decision at all. I can’t think about leaving Singapore without feeling a physical sinking somewhere deep within. I’m comforted by the fact that we’ll soon be up or down the road/motorway/trainline from the family and friends who we’ve missed so much, that we’ll be able to visit the dads, aunties, uncles and cousins in a short hop, even just chat on the phone in the same timezone. Also that we can finally settle into the pretty apartment on the pretty road that we’d only lived in for two short years before leaving to come here. But as for giving up my tropical lifestyle – my favourite friends and families, all the roads and parks and bus routes and office lunches and favourite coffee shops and warm nights out and beach trips and condo barbies and so much more – it doesn’t really bear thinking about.

A friend who’s good at summing things up recently summed it up. She wrote: ‘I’m glad you’re sure about coming home, and I think that it’s a positive thing that you’re devastated too. It means you’ve had a wonderful experience and that you’re so sure about where you belong that you’re still willing to walk away from what you’ve grown to love.’ I can’t read this back to myself without a dab around the eyes but I do feel it’s time to take that walk.

I will be very glad to be heading back to people like her, because not only does she speak a lot of sense, she’s great at drinking wine, and there’ll need to be a lot of that this summer. But before then there are lists to make, things to sell, farewells to plan, a spot more travel and a general closing down of the last five years. The fat lady is making a start on her scales and I’m hanging out backstage with Denial, who is fast turning out to be one of my best mates, and will hopefully be persuaded to travel back with us.

Book bag: Daunt Books, north London.
View: Duxton Pinnacles, Singapore

Ready, steady, MONKEY

Since landing on this little Red Dot some 54 months ago, I’ve completed several organised running events, as you will know if you’ve followed the trials here, here and here. Oh, and one [disastrous] hash run, here.

These days I manage little hobbles around the locale, lightly holding the flab at bay but really not in keeping with any great sporting occasion. When Mr PC suggested we all take part in a small 2.5k family jog around the zoo I was all over it.

Training would be easy, since I was already covering the small distance involved. For Jonah it was harder, as his current pre-teen weekend schedule involves spending as much time as he can welded to the sofa, stuck to phone, computer, X-Box [enter any other kind of electronic gadget here] doing his best to avoid all things Fitness related. We managed to lever him out the door for just two training runs before the event and to start with he was out of shape. The first attempt involved me actually overtaking him and the second was happier since it ended with a roti canai breakfast and a hot chocolate on the way home. Bribery goes a long way in our house.

By the time the zoo run came round he was good to go, though predictably moody at being dug out of bed so early. We set off after Mr PC, whose longer 10K run started at 7am. He met us at the zoo gates amidst the predictable honking and hooting, loudspeaker shouting, warm-up nonsense and bass beats herding wave after wave of blue T-shirt participants into the pig pen and off on various running stages – 10k, 5k, then ours.

We filed into the starting bay; for Jonah this was a very busy first run and I could see he was apprehensive, but the pumping music soon got the adrenline going and we pushed through to the very front of the start line, checking behind to see how many people might overtake us – hundreds, from the looks of it, but fortunately they promised to start us off in waves so we wouldn’t be trampled from the rear.

“Stay with me if you can,” I said, “but don’t worry if you feel like going faster.” HONK went the starter and into the zoo we trotted, waving as we passed Mr PC who filmed us. When you play it back you can see how many people there were; at that point I’m doing a stately trot and there’s Jonah, purposefully edging forward. Fast forward around the corner and you’d see him suddenly kick it up a notch, at which point it very much became a race for Jonah, not a run.

It’s well known that in Singapore many people sign up to organised running events to enjoy a nice wander through whatever venue is on offer. Because of its position, this one was popular and there were packs of slow walkers, elderly ladies with handbags, and lots of family prams, all of which must have made Jonah feel Olympian. “Stick to the right!” I shouted as we passed a slow group clustered around the lion enclosure, and “pace yourself!” as his bandy legs did fast circles around a tight corner. It soon became clear that he wasn’t in such bad shape after all. “You go on” I panted to his back as he edged away from me and legged it past the tapir pen. “I’ll see you at the end!” I wailed, and he did a funny little backwards wave and was off, and as far as ‘Team Partly Cloudy’ went that was that – solo runners trotting separately through the semi-empty morning pathways under the palms.

Due to our fast start my ‘style’ (s.l.o.w.) was all out of kilter. I overtook several slower runners but many others overtook me. At times I was a lone jogger, relishing the chance to see zebras munching leaves, elephants taking a morning bath in the reservoir, stumpy gorillas up trees and a cheetah sitting very upright on a rock. A massive free-flying stork dive-bombed me as I pegged along the path underneath it. It was hilly and I was out of breath but even so this had to be the best venue ever for a run; also the most bonkers.

I’d been a bit worried about the noise at the start line, concerned that it might be upsetting for the animals, but once inside the zoo all was peace and calm. Runners don’t make a lot of noise when you think about it, just a patter of trainer on tarmac (and a spot of heavy wheezing from slow-coaches like me). Having been able to follow Jonah for a bit there was soon no trace of him. Was he OK, had he noticed where the path split into two different routes? I was sure he’d be fine, and I only hoped he’d spot some of the wildlife surrounding us.

A finish line is always a wonderful sight. As this one hove into view just beyond an entire family of pink-bottomed monkeys, there was Mr PC and a very sweaty Jonah, holding up a wet paw to high-five me.

“Yay,” I panted with the smallest bit of breath I had left, “you made it!”

“Actually Mum,” said the new runner in the family, “I came second.”

Jonah’s clearly got a new niche sport to follow but I think I’m all set to retire from organised events. I might just buy a ticket next time I want to visit the zoo.










Happy scout-day

Today my not-so-small monkey turns 12 at precisely 10:46 UK time, 18:46 Singapore time. Oddly, as the hour comes around so the film starts at the cinema where Mr PC and I will be spending a couple of hours tonight, on our own, as Jonah is away at scout camp and we therefore are celebrating tomorrow. This is why, while I woke this morning with happiness as I always do on his birthday (and lots of people’s birthdays) the other bit of me felt it a bit odd to be eyeing up a bag of wrapped gifts with no one to open them.

So Mr PC got up early and went for a bike ride all around the island, whizzing past Jonah’s scout camp right at the top of Singapore. And I hobbled my way around the block on a very poor 5k loop then came home and went back to bed for another half hour. Now we’re getting ready to go to the beach – a treat to lie on the sand, just us two, and pretend we’re on a proper holiday. While the scouts build rickety carts and have races, and jump in and out of a swamp lake then make smores and dampers, we’ll go food shopping, then to the cinema. Nice, but hardly the monkey-birthday of previous years.

I write posts about him on every birthday, giving a rundown of what he’s up to, but he’s getting harder to categorise and I might have touched on this last year. The older he gets the more this is the case, as it is with all just-12-year-olds. He’s by turns nicely amenable, very funny, loving and cuddly, then suddenly he’s a big moody Tasmanian devil, bending trees sideways like a Singapore storm. At home time he hurls his school bag through the door first then follows behind with a yelped hello and tucks into half a packet of biscuits, crumbs blowing over my neatly filed work papers (should have worked in my office, not at the dining table). In 10 minutes the bedroom door slams as he grudgingly does as he’s told and gets on with his homework. Half an hour later he emerges, happy again as he’s found the favourite pen he thought he’d lost. Dark again 15 minutes later when the piano lesson beckons. Keeping up with his moods is like trying to predict tropical storms. Just get a big umbrella.

He’s moral, and for all his moods he hates conflict. When asked to cut down on the number of guests invited to his birthday (I just couldn’t do another entire-class bash) he was unable to choose, so selected his best mate from outside school instead – really quite an adult decision and in fact it made for the perfect weekend. Great for my wallet too.

With the brain-stretching comes a deeper understanding and communication – we can barter better, talk at head height, present an idea in a way that makes sense to adults yet is still applicable to someone in Year 7. We can have really in-depth chats about stuff, and also share almost grown-up jokes. It’s lots of fun. We can also throw the mixing spoon across the living room but we try not to do that too often. As his brain makes room for an impossible number of new concepts, so speech depletes, and my chatty monkey is a lot less chatty than before (although I still need earplugs sometimes, which I’m half happy about).

If you follow this blog you’ll know that I posted a list of SM quotes when he turned nine, 10 and (as previously mentioned) 11. This year they’ve been few and far between but I had managed to jot down some – that was, until a stupid phone upgrade lost all my notes. As a result I’ve only got three to go on, but they’ll do:

Cheeky monkey at dinner:
Dad – “Manners maketh man, Jonah”
Jonah – ‘Oh wow, did you say hi to Shakespeare?’

Comforting monkey in parent role just before I join big new choir:
Me: ‘How do you know it will be OK?
Jonah: ‘To be honest I don’t. But it always turns out good in the end, doesn’t it?’
(and it did)

Eccentric Jonah, unable to bend one rogue toe for me to trim nails (and yes, he should be doing this himself by now):
‘I can’t be specific with my toes; they’re like a crew’

That’s it! Happy birthday my sweet scout, and see you tomorrow for that bag of goodies.

Mum x

• Aw, just had a phone call from camp from the chattiest monkey ever, completely full of the most fun weekend. We put him on speaker phone and all three talked together. Never have I felt more like my own parents, in the days when a house had two dial phones and you rang home and both folks were on the line at the same time.
4 hours later – and now a call saying he’s wet through, miserable, and wants to come home. See?













Happy non birthday

Last night I found an old hard drive, plugged it in, started going through it. Turns out it was where Mr PC had dumped a load of old pics. I loved a particular set of dark and grainy snaps, taken at the very start of 2010. I recognised the small London Christmas tree as being the very last one Mum had put up; the big glossy chocolate cake I had made for 4 Jan that year, the candles blown out as Mum turned 71, with Jonah waiting patiently for the first cut. This was her last birthday on this mortal coil, as it turned out. Today she would have been 78.

She was brave about her January birthday. It’s great, she’d say, just when everyone’s so sad about Christmas being over, I get a birthday! So instead of posting sad pictures about her every year, I try to continue the fun theme by celebrating her birthday with a shopping trip to a pretty dress shop, the rationale being that if I can’t buy her something nice, I might as well spoil myself (she’d have wanted it, I tell myself)*. Besides, it’s always the sales – another point she’d have been proud of.

Today, though, the last day of the Christmas school hols, I left work and took a sickly almost-12-year-old to lunch, who whined as we trailed from dim sum cafe to post office about his achey bones and hot head. So instead of buying anything fancy we came home and here we are now, frock-less but slightly better off in the wallet department and enjoying a cup of tea and the remains of a friend’s gorgeous Christmas spice cake, one of us going through those old pics again and the other one snoozing and fondling his new KindleFire.

Happy birthday Ma. Your ‘present’ will just have to be late, but I think you’d be OK with that too.

*I do the same thing for my birthday in June. She’d definitely have wanted that too



Everyone loves a good round robin


Started off in England (with black tights, dark nights and woolly gloves).

Back to Singers landing with that view of tankers from above.

Jonah birthday, beaches, boats, a half term on Sri Lankan lands

(Top to bottom, east and west, curry/train/safari sands).

Leeches on a rice field school trip, jungle treks with family,

Seniors get a brand new building (posh canteen and Supertree).

Malaysia and Rosy lunches, birds, more curry, Dad comes back.

Sally, Lucy, Aunty Annie, Bintan with the condo pack.

Want to know about our trip to China? (Wo xihuan Zhongguo)

Tennis, diving, guiding, writing, swimming, sailing and piano.

Birthdays held on beaches or at Raffles scoffing fat high teas.

Book club wine club choir club football. Farewell parties out at sea.

Within all this a dark thread woven

Little bits of global poison

Nasty patches here and there

Straight to bin, no need to share.

Twentysixteen you have partied til dawn,

Now call for a cab, get your coat and begone.

Deposit your sicknesses, sadness and grief,

Bring on the new year, bring out the new leaf.

Take your B’umps and your T’rexits, your Syrian war

Your crashes, explosions – then please shut the door.

Christmas in Wonderland


Now that December is here, we can talk about Christmas openly and without fear of ridicule. As a lifelong yule fan I live in the perfect city to complement such a passion. When the lights went up in late October it was a tad early, even for me. But yay! Now it’s December, the Christmas ribbon has been cut (curled around a few gifts, even) and we can get started.

We live at the top of Orchard Road, a street that people visit every December from all over the island and from overseas too especially to see the famous light display, each year brighter and better than the last. This year’s effort – blue and green sparkly reindeer prancing the 2k+ stretch from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura – is more demure than in past years, but those dangling Rudlolphs still dazzle after dark.

Orchard malls are decked out for the annual best-dressed contest and it’s not unusual to find some bonkers themes going on. There was the ‘pink’ year, with crazy flourescent acrobats and unicorns. There was the year with dangling presents and spinning tops (because of course that’s ALL Christmas is about, right?). This year the Forum Mall is fronted with lit up toadstools and, inside, a huge curtain of giant tulips. Vrolijk kerstfeest!

Orchard Road is locked in a permanent jam, but everything has an upside: the heavy traffic means we get a better look at the Tiffany tree outside ION mall, the massive white puffball outside Paragon, and the unashamed homage to shopping at Centrepoint – exploding goody bag of toys strung high above the store front, and life-sized collection of old-fashioned sweet and cake stands at the entrance. Frankincense and myrrh? Nice, but not a patch on what those three kings might’ve nabbed had they been transported to Orchard.

I love it all, sorrynotsorry, just as I always did as a child, but the intense festive feel does lessen with time. I remember being so concerned, at the end of Christmas Days past, that we now had an agonising 364 days to get through until the next one. It seemed an insurmountable timescale, stretching off into the distance in a grey fog. Of course when you’re a grown-up (looks around to find a grown-up) you realise that the spirit of Christmas is all about family, and not having mine around is hard. Thanks, then, to TheSister for flying out right in the middle of the sad grey post-Christmas patch for a festive visit to Malaysia; we’ve alerted the roti prata stalls.

Not that I want to go all Richard Curtis on you, but a real grown-up knows that It’s all about the build-up, the anticipation, the writing of cards, the getting back in touch, the thinking of those you love. And yes, if a few giant snow globes happen to be parked on the pavement, and metal lights that shine when you touch them, and a crazy pagoda strung with fairylights… well, you’ll find me loitering underneath them in full-on festive mode.

Let the countdown commence.