The last post

I wrote most of this in a local library, the same one in which I did all my A-level revision. Seems like only yesterday since I holed up in ART HISTORY chewing the ends off my pencils, gazing out of the same slender 1970s windows at the same traffic rumbling outside, same beechwood spiral staircase separating Lending from Read-only. Very possibly the same guy stretched out by the photocopier having a little nap, and same person pacing up and down in TRAVEL.

This time I chose a table in CRIME and started typing, distracted just a bit by a girl muttering into her phone (which I’m almost sure wasn’t on). It was an appropriate area to sit in as I’d come to the library to escape the sound of our patio being dug up – nothing suspicious to report apart from some stray ivy roots, now trimmed back (after a naughty five-year growth party) to make way for our imminent house renovation. I was happy to be sharing the library with a bunch of randoms, rather than stuck at home with the endless digging.

Libraries are such lovely places of refuge and I can see myself visiting a lot, and I even had a brief thought this summer about how they might be a great place to work in – you know, actual work. When we move into our temporary home so that our flat can be rebuilt, this library will be perfectly located right between both properties and I think I’ll get to know it very well.

After writing this entry I also started work on a potential new blog (don’t wait up, embryonic stages) and edited my CV, a first step in ensuring I don’t in fact spend the rest of my life hanging out in libraries. Of all the things I miss about Singapore, and there are many, work is a major one. I look out for office dresses all the time, seeking warmer fabrics and forgetting that in fact I really don’t need them at the moment. I don’t have a calling card to hand out and I don’t write up galleries, events or restaurants and if I did, well, who would want to know about the amazing burger I just had? (apart from Mr PC, of course, who always wants to know about amazing burgers).

You can always network, though, even without a card, and while in the library I drew up a list of all the new women I had met that week. When we lived in north London before, there was a formidable local ladies’ group in circulation, membership of which approximated to work for many of my mom [sic] friends. Most were members due to the expat nature of their lives and the group is known for being a brilliant resource if you are new. But those friends were all so likeminded to me that there was always a bit of a question as to why, exactly, they had joined. The club seemed wholly alien, full of strong and forthright women racing around being dynamic and Doing Things, and there was a lot of yoga, something I’ve only lately realised is not a threat or a social benchmark (it’s just a nice way of stretching, says my new OverseasSelf to my former DiehardLondoner, slightly patronisingly).

Anyway, that crowd of mom-friends were formidable and dynamic too of course, but they also shared my slightly slovenly approach to mothering and it was this common bond that drew us together. We did ‘Wine Before Pickup’ (not coffee after drop-off), gathered on Fridays at 3:30 to unlock the patio doors and let the five-year-olds play in the road as we ate Kettle Chips around a kitchen table. The Club had lots going for it, so those friends told me, but I never bothered finding out what brilliant things it did for the community, why it was such an awesome resource. Why should I join when I was a local girl myself, had lived in north London most of my life, had enough trouble juggling the friends I already had? I certainly wasn’t looking for networking.

Well now I’m the expat outsider, come ‘home’ to a completely alien land and reaching out for contacts, familiar stories, settling tips, new people with whom to share my new experiences. And so it was that I trotted downhill towards the pub in which several of these women would be waiting to greet new starters. I had told myself, before our re-entry to the UK, that I might need to find a whole new group of people in addition to those I was looking forward to seeing again – people move on, things change, timetables are so different now to those of five years before. And then I spotted this meeting on a local online feed and knew I had to go.

Any nerves about that initial attendance meeting were minimised by the thought of my SmallMonkey having to do his own brand new networking every single day in a class-full of total strangers at school, asking all over again where the toilets are, working out who to hang out with at break and what to eat for lunch. At the time of typing he had completed just four days and had been doing so amazingly well – a stalwart at this business of starting afresh. In comparison to his soldier-like social attitude, a morning drinking coffee in a pub really would be no problem for me at all.

It took me about ten minutes to sign up, swayed by a Wine & Chocolate night in October, winning quiz voucher for Kiehl’s and the promise of book, wine and writing clubs. A few days after that there was lunch in town with a different group, expats from Singapore, then another local coffee after that, finishing off on Friday with a school-mum coffee. After my summer of social tumbleweeds, this was just the kind of week I was used to, finally something amounting to life before Repatriation. Well, though, you know what it’s like. For every ten people you meet, three will end up knowing you and of that lot probably only one very well. Some of the women I met that week will become Friday night patio-sharers, some will just be friendly faces at Wine Club. Right now I’ll take whatever I can get.

I realise what I’m sounding like, and some of you – most of you – won’t recognise me at all, I’m just not sounding like the Mrs PartlyCloudy of Before. But this is the first shaping of the new sculpture, you see. To make the statue you have to start with a craggy block and get chipping. Hopefully I’ll begin to sound a bit more like myself some time soon, at least that’s the plan. So off I go, this time exploring my home town, my own country, with a massive treasured collection of friends and adventures in Asia behind me and new lands to discover ahead.

And that’s a wrap for Partly Cloudy, a blog that was always going to be about life as an expat family in Asia. I had no idea what was in store five years ago and now I’m none the wiser, but like SmallMonkey finding friends to eat lunch with, my library week of networking was a great place to start. Thanks to family and friends old and new for the loyalty, encouragement, and lovely words in response to mine. It has been so much fun. May the adventures always lead me to your doors.

This little elephant reminded me of the Singapore ones – tucked into a red-brick London garden, it really needs to get out more. Tempted to bring it back a Straits companion next time I go out east

NB After an hour in the library I had to move, what with the competitive muttering from another bloke, plus some belching, and I ended up hiding out in FICTION, which was much quieter. Am now no longer sure I want to work in a library when I grow up

PS thanks to my ex-Singers friend Karen Saull for being an unofficial editor. Because of a different edit by her, I have realised that the word ‘new’ appears no less than 12 times here. Says it all, really.

Enter the dragon (exit via the gift shop)

A small boy looks out on his strange new habitat, Aug 2012

In Chinese temples you enter via the dragon door and exit through the tiger, having moved in a counterclockwise direction through the building. If I throw a load of pins on a map of the Far East I can’t see a clear counterclockwise route, but I know that we’ve roared through a huge part of that bit of the world, and exited through the best gift shop life could have presented us with. Jonah’s Insta byline trots out that line about leaving with ‘only your memories’ or something and it’s a cliche but a good one for a pre-teen who could just as easily have picked something rubbish – the message is a gift in itself after five years of travels.

I wrote most of this at 32,000 feet, returning to the UK after a counterclockwise trip to Australia. The route home to London made no sense at all in the planning but plenty in reality, leaving at nightime after a fog of tears and alcohol,then heading further away from England to the east of Oz, landiing on wild and sandy Tangalooma Island where we found pelicans, dolphins, whales and the Connors family, who snuffed out any sadness by filling our three beachy days with as much activity as possible. What a great exit plan, I thought, as I slid down a 25-foot sanddune on a piece of chipboard and snorkelled with wobbegongs.

Arriving home after another week of catchups with friends on east and west coasts, two flights, five airline meals, several sky-high glasses of fizz and eight and a half films, and there was Grandpa at Heathrow, then a cab ride from west to north London and suddenly we were back in the room – four years and 11 months after we shut the big black door and heaved our bags into a cab.

That our connecting flight from Perth to Sing to London whipped us through Changi at breakneck speed was a good thing. The farewells of 11 days before had been enough, and our bolt from gates 10 to 4 meant a merciful plaster-rip from there to here. If you bagsy the window seat you can have a little weep as the tankers tilt at funny angles beneath you for the last time – that’s my best tip for leaving Singapore.

Five days on and I’m slowly acclimatising. The weather is making it easy, sunny days on the Heath with friends, and every day a grassy picnic (narrowing my capsule wardrobe by the hour as my waistline widens), and into the diary a nice dotted trail of happy reunions to come, and I can’t wait for all of that. My new sim card is plugged in, I’m wearing boots again (which feel like hooves) having picked up a pair in Australia. I’ve registered a new Oyster card and Jonah’s done a morning at school. But it’s not like we never left, not at all.

The comparable memories of our departure from England are as clear to me as if they happened yesterday. Where were we? There was a birthday party with a garden full of kids. Goodbye to the cats. Crazy Olympic trip with Pa and T. Sobbing on the pavement with Kate. A desperate goodbye to the folks outside 72. Emerging into the neon moonscape of Holland Residences. Discovering delightful Chip Bee Gardens and Holland V. My first swim on Sentosa. Stifling heat both day and night. Birdsong sounding like ringtones. Sharp homesick pangs coupled with an instant love of the palm trees in my neigbourhood hedges.

To say a lot has happened in between times would be an understatement. I am the same and also not the same. Our Sing leaving party was so much like our UK goodbyes (and our wedding, actually) in terms of the balance of people; we seem to pick the same kinds of lovelies to hang out with now just as we always did back then, so I know we are the same in our core, us PartlyCloudies, choosing and being chosen by kind and kindred spirits wherever we are.

And now home (our London home, that is – this will be confusing for some time, I suspect). We came in through the dragon and we left via the tiger, in with a flash of London farewells and out with a similar pop of festive hankie-waving. If we can make the next five years as amazing as the last five, there is a lot to look forward to.

As I finished writing this, London suburbs emerged far below, the Thames winding through suburban outskirts into the corner of my window – a sewed blanket replacing the dotted tankers.

Pastures new. A treasury of friends back there and here. The biggest going home presents we could have hoped for.

On on.

Home, July 2017

If you leave me now…

As the timer’s counted down, I’ve spent a lot of time whizzing about the city in cabs, most of which are tuned in to Singapore’s bluesy, drowsy retro radio stations. WHY there is this national interest in cheesy schmooze I have no clue, but after five years of golden oldies I now can’t browse the vegetable aisle at Cold Storage without humming along to 10cc, and all those cab rides have allowed me to compile my own Goodbye Playlist. I’d like to thank Gold 905 FM, my running mixtapes and YouTube.

The positive one (for Hannah): So Good To Be Back Home – The Tourists
The conical one: Take A Bow – Madonna
The gothic one (for Debs): Say Hello Wave Goodbye – Soft Cell
The operatic one (for The Connors): Time To Say Goodbye – Sara Brightman
The unutterably sad one: Bye Bye Blackbird – Alison Moyet
The boyband one: Bye Bye Bye – ‘Nsync
The glamdram one (for Soph & Han): Going Home – Rocky Horror Picture Show
The angry one (for Claus): Cardboard Boxes – Loudan Wainwright III
The one with the high bit: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
The #guardiansofthegalaxyII one: Father & Son – Cat Stevens
The dance one: So Now Goodbye – Kylie
The retrospective one (for John, Lou and Karen): All These Things I’ve Done – The Killers
The Kate one (for Kate): Clouds Across The Moon – Rah Band
The New Zealand one (for my boys): It’s Time – Imagine Dragons
The friends-everywhere one: History – One Direction
The reflective one (for the Roa-Pauls): In My Life – The Beatles

So long, Comfort Cabs, and thanks for all the choons

PS The one for when I get back (from Tamsin): Mr Blue Sky – ELO

Nine days around South Island: lakes, peaks, prairies and pies

A month after our return, time to head back to this very special place for a review. None of the pictures do it credit, none of the words either. This is a proper travel-bore post so no offence taken if you fall asleep or skip it entirely. If you ever get lucky enough to go, though, do it.

South Island seems to be most people’s favourite. I didn’t want to be in the majority but I fell in love, and couldn’t un-love it. We flew in from the west over the Tasman Sea, having a birds-eye view right down the coast of the long mountain range that is rocked by earthquakes from time to time, white-tipped peaks coming straight down to sea. Our flight landed on the east coast in Christchurch but we wanted to go west, so we hopped straight into a hire car and drove back the way we’d flown, crossing Arthur’s dramatic Pass – four hours of vertiginous hairpin bends. By the time Hokitika’s wild west coast came into view we were accustomed to road kill, steep drops and hot pies, having picked up a bag en route.

Hokitika A dramatic rolling coastline is the first view you get and it’s really this blacksand beach that makes the town, and the famous piles of driftwood, the result of trees that have fallen into rivers during storms, been washed out to sea, stripped to the bone and then dumped back on shore. There’s a touch of the Blair Witch about these beach sculptures (some of them man-made); we gave a thumbs-up to all the driftwood fences around town. We grabbed a bag of fish & chips from Porky’s, saw a glowworm dell and went to the cool market on Revell Street where the jade for which this town is famous is very affordable. You must, says a friend, buy it only as a gift. Luckily the boys bought me my heart necklace.

A good way of seeing Fox Glacier, if bad weather prevents the helicopters from dropping you directly onto the ice, is to trek up to the start of one. The last 100 yards to the mouth is a steep uphill scramble past signs warning ‘FALLING ROCKS DON’T STOP!’, so we didn’t. At the top of the clamber, where the start of the glacier is revealed, two women sneakily picked their way across a fence marked ‘DON’T CROSS THIS FENCE’, and took a few cautious selfies, while Jonah read a small laminated story about a tourist who died after crossing the same fence to take selfies. We loved this one-glacier town, sweeping coastal road cutting through it crossed by ice-blue streams.

Everyone loves Queenstown, a high adrenaline ski town tucked at the foot of mountain ranges and looking out over a huge lake. Winter was coming when we visited – cafes had baskets of blankets to drape across chilly knees, and all the shops were on permanent merino and possum wool sales. Biking from Lake Wakatipu to Frankton was slow-going thanks to having to stop every few seconds to look at the lake views reflected from every angle. We went on the SS Earnslaw for a chug across the water, a big steamer with a café selling hot chocolate. In nearby Arrowtown, which once had gold in them there hills, we loved the autumn leaves against white picket fences, old Chinese quarter and lolly (sweets) shop, and lunch at the Fork & Tap pub, where a woodburner kept us cosy. Back in Queenstown it seemed rude not to try a Fergburger, well worth the 45-minute street queue just to pull one of the massive burgers out of the bag (big as your head).

The journey to Doubtful Sound is as much a part of the trip as the voyage itself. We drove from Queenstown to Lake Manapouri (two hours), took a boat across the lake (one hour), rode in a special bus across the built-for-trade Wilmot Pass (40 minutes) to a little quay where we boarded The Navigator. From getting on the shuttle boat the cruise takes 24 hours and food was a big part of it – we took a packed lunch for the journey but once on board there was gorgeous soup, hot muffins, a big buffet dinner and a big buffet breakfast plus a well-stocked bar which we tucked into. As a result of that bar I inadvertently missed the fascinating nature lecture from roving naturalist Carol (who pops up in various locations around the boat to give out top tips and little talks as you pass down the Sound). She was priceless and really made the trip for us. ‘Last time I came on this boat,’ a nice woman told me, ‘I got everyone clapping to attract the dolphins’. I told Carol and she wasn’t impressed. She said: ‘We will see the dolphins if they happen to be in the area, they’re not performing monkeys’. The dolphins did pop up in the end, treating us all to a last-minute and very wonderful sighting about half an hour before the end of the cruise. So many perfect moments – sailing up one of the ‘arms’ (side inlets) to moor then jumping off the side (COLD); being taken a small way out to sea (which they can’t always do) to watch the sun set over a rock full of seals; falling asleep in our tiny bunk cabin with its waterline window; being told to find a spot, stay still and just listen as Captain Glen cut the engines for a full ten minutes of silence. Best. Sound. Ever. 

Te Anau. A small town with, guess what, a lake. Also an amazing glow worm cave, which is why we made the stop-off. Behind our tiny box hut we found an eerie woody walking trail (Blair Witch again). We fell into the local pie shop for lunch without realising it was the world-famous Miles Better Pies. The night-time glow-worm cave trip ticked off two of my phobias, the dark and small spaces. Not only must you become dwarf-height for the 200-metre entrance crouch, you must then sit on a wobbly metal boat in the pitch black and stay quiet while your guide pulls you through the cave on a boat rope. But then the ceiling glows as you pass under clusters of tiny sparkling worms and oh my stars… worth every claustrophobic minute. Lost my beanie in the clamour to get out but gained a hot chocolate in the café. Every cloud has a glow-worm lining.

Lake Wanaka Didn’t think we could top Doubtful, then pulled up to this stunning town set on a, guess what, lake – far too early to get into our hut so immediately hired bikes. Pedalled up the road then took a right towards said lake, and promptly burst into tears. I don’t want to come over all Pseuds Corner, but oh, the lake, the views. I just can’t… There aren’t even pictures to express the beauty. Oh, that lake. 

Mount Cook An alpine, white-topped, chocolate box of a mountain framed gloriously by icy blue autumnal skies. The road approach is long and gives big expansive postcard backdrops as you drive all the way up Lake Pukaki.

Good views also come from the Hooker Trail, a 45-minute footlands scamper across gorse and rock to the glacier opening. I stopped to sketch while the boys crossed a swing bridge, and they returned just in time for us all to see a chunk of snow break off and rumble to the ground, about half a mile from where we were. And again, and again. We hoped it was down to the bright sun on that day, and not an ominous general thaw. 

Lake Tekapo Observatory is at the mountain-top end of a one-road-in-and-out track, a cluster of lunar white-domed buildings on the top of stony yellow ground looking down over another big, yep, lake. We stopped for a hot chocolate (what? New Zealand does really good hot chocolate, OK?) but didn’t take the night tour – as the moon was so bright, star-spotting would be half obscured. Just look up at the night sky, they said, so we did, after joining hundreds of people for a stunning lakeside sunset with pink moon rising. Yes, it was very starry, but cold, so our meandering night walk was cut short. The cold could also account for the sudden jump in percentage of merino and possum sales on the small high street. We bought, and were thankful.

Everyone gets the ferry between South and North Islands but to save time, we flew. This meant spending a large part of the day at Christchurch Antarctic Centre but it’s not a bad place to freeze away the hours, being suitcase-pushing distance to the airport (drop off the hire car, get a lift or shuttle to the Centre then walk across the car park to Departures). We hung out for three hours at the 4D cinema, chill room (takes you down to -18C in a howling gale), very adorable penguin sanctuary and mock explorer rooms. Great fun! Bought beany hats and hot chocolate.

Up when I can find the words: North Island

That’s not MY memory

“What have been your favourite countries?” I asked Mr PC on his second Last Night In Singapore. “Mine are Japan, China and New Zealand. Japan for culture: ninjas, sushi, kimonos, geishas, waving cats and temples. China for history: the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai shikumen and Beijing hutongs. And New Zealand for natural history: mountains, valleys, glaciers and those stunning endless prairies.”

“Mine would have to be Vietnam,” said Mr PC, “such a different feel to the place depending where you go, such hidden gems, such surprises, and such amazing food!”

“Mine’s Bintan,” said Jonah. “The activities, the sea, and that time when Dad face-planted off the trapeze.”

#youcantaketheexpatkidoutofBintan

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 knows 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 Blighty. 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