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

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.

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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?

 

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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

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Interdependant’s Day

Just four years ago, the idea of taking a cab in Sing held less thought for us than it does now. Now I have to think twice before ordering – do I really need one? How near is the MRT? I won’t melt in the rain. I could probably walk it. It’s not accurate these days to say that cabs in Singapore are cheap, because with the advent of online taxi apps the market is volatile. But this morning’s Grabcab was a good price and it was also quick to arrive, which was a good thing because this was a cab ordered by me but not FOR me, a cab for Jonah to get him home fast after a sleepover at a friend’s. I had to call the friend to get her to warn Jonah and load up his iPhone so he could text me along the way, as we’d not tried this before.

This business of putting kids in cabs is normal here, a very expat thing, veeery Sing-ish. If you don’t have a car, can’t wait for a bus, need to be two places at once, then a cab is often the answer. You can track the route and delivery is straight to your door. To pick up this morning from the friend’s house would have involved me taking two buses there and two back, one hour each way, and all before 09:30am Much easier, said bossy Mr PC (completely springing the idea on me) for him to come back on his own. ‘Everyone does it,’ he said, ‘and he already goes to scouts alone by local bus on Mondays.’ But scouts is near by, and the local buses are so reliable and… and…

Silly to be worried. At the same age I was going to school on the bus on my own (walking a 10-minute hike at the other end), popping into Covent Garden by tube to see the buskers, down to Camden to buy neon nail polish in the market, crossing the Heath on foot to visit friends on the other side – and not an adult in sight. And no cellphone either. Of course it was all rainbow jumpers and unicorns back then and it’s a different world now. All the same he needs to start learning, and what better place than in super-safe Singapore?

Jonah got into the cab looking worried, said the friend’s mum. After all, we hadn’t planned this or talked it through. ‘You should probably give him a call,’ she said. Thanks to iPhones I kept up a chat exchange the whole way home, in fact I stalked the route from there to here (panicking slightly when the app froze for a while). Ridiculous – the most non-independent mission, in fact positively pampered, but a step in the right direction for sure. Next stop, MRT to VivoCity and meet him at the cinema lobby.

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celtic popquiz

Sitting in the queue at immigration far too early one Saturday morning – actually yesterday, waiting for Jonah’s new green card to come through, feeling slightly jaded after a fun night out. As we sit heavy-lidded on the yellow bucket seats in that very odd immigration centre, Mr PartlyCloudy and I while away the time by reviewing the previous night’s very fun social shenanigans at a post-summer drinks night full of Scottish food and nice wine. We’d got chatting to a lovely couple, one of whom had asked me:

“Now then, what do you call someone who’s from Cornwall?”

To be fair it was rather an odd question, so instead of stating the obvious (“Cornish”) the best answer I could give was “Morwenna”. Much hilarity ensued, and if the lighting had been better I think this would’ve been one of those rare moments when the usuallly rather smooth Mr PC could be found blushing.

Fast-forward back to our hungover Saturday morning queue and Jonah asks what all the sniggering’s about, so we try out the question on him.

First answer: “Grandpa”
Second attempt: “Farmer”

Mr PC rubs away the tears and with a sigh checks the slow-moving ticket numbers on the screen: “I might see if I can put in for a new family”

Back in the room

Someone who shall remain nameless suggested, as I complained my way through the packing at the end of this year’s summer trip to England, that I should’ve sorted out our sons’ school shoes at some time during the “holidays”. How I laughed. At what point might I have found the time?
I write this on my first afternoon back in Singapore. I’ve had dinner out, done a morning at work, had lunch out (#lazylah) and, yes, bought those s*dding school shoes.
Thing is, there was a time when long-term expats would explain to me why they never did home visits any more. They’re tough. You zig-zag from picnic to pub, taking up people’s floor space with your exploding suitcases, refusing and then accepting endless puddings, having hurried farewells as you kiss the growing children on the top of their summer holiday heads and then waking up the next day and doing it all over again. Five weeks, five different beds, a million kisses goodbye and then a flight back through the night, holding back the inappropriate homesick tears at the end of the supposedly funny film on the flight, before hitting the heat of the taxi stand and having the first of a string of sleepless nights as your body struggles to right itself once more.
That’s the negative version. I concur, to a point, but I still think there is massive mileage in going back and seeing all those friendly faces, drinking all those cups of proper tea, getting all those bearhugs. The visit gives us all a large dose of happiness that stays in the system for a long time. Our 2016 version went a bit like this:
Cool air, late twilights, high blue skies, cups of proper tea, trees to climb, lawns, bacon, M&S deli, favourite old toys, trains, DELAYS, traffic, sirens, ROADWORKS, pub grub, festival fun, beach huts, car trips, park life, baths, chewing gum, fudge, familiar faces, bear hugs, gossip, scandal, the odd bit of appallingly bad news, more picnics, more bear hugs, much inexpensive but delicious wine, bus stop chats with strangers, thrift shop bargains, clouds that don’t burst, plates that are hot, more trains, washing up in old family sinks, neighbours who love you, kids playing nicely, curiously pleasing smelling laundry tabs, butter that doesn’t melt, more bloody ROADWORKS, intravenous familiarity and lots of love.

This year’s tune-to-wash-up-to, a bit tacky, goes to a hot road trip back from the lavender fields with Isabel, Chris, Cam and Georgie. Press play and clear the kitchen.

See you next time, Blighty

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Sand in my eye


Six years ago I had a picnic party on Parliament Hill. Since childhood, this was something we would often do when a family member had a birthday, well, for everyone apart from Mum, whose wintry January 4 birthday of course had to be inside. But for me (June), my sister (April) and Dad (September), it was a case of packing up the blankets and heading outdoors with as many friends as we could gather. Standard.

At the exact moment that Mum died, in the early hours of June 4 2010, no one really gave two hoots about how to celebrate my birthday, which was disastrously scheduled to happen no matter what the following day. As it turned out, by the time the sun came up again some 22 hours later, we were very ready for temporary distraction. One swift Facebook wallpost from my sister and around 20 of us were knocking back the much-needed vino under a tree by the Bandstand, partly to remember Jo Darke, and partly to give us all a chance to eat cake. It was quite the most bittersweet birthday I’ve ever had. The kids bundled about in the long grass, people kept appearing from over the hill, waving that long-armed “seen you!” wave, we had natural shelter when it rained, and Jonah had Fanta for the first time ever. You’d never have known we were in mourning. I’m not sure we were really, not quite yet.

The next year there was another picnic, which was lovely but rainy and a lot more low-key. The next year there was a house party combined with a farewell knees-up for John, as he prepared to move out to Singapore ahead of us, so that was fun but odd, and then we were here, and the next three June 5ths in Singapore have been tropical hotties played out whichever way I could organise it in this funny new life of ours.

And always the date was preceded by that sombre little 24-hour patch known as June 4, extended out here in Singapore to 31 hours thanks to a seven-hour time lag. In that time I always receive sweet messages and little blinking kisses and then, rather like The Resurrection, the big hand hits the 12 and it’s party time. I love that she allowed me to relax and enjoy my day – generous to the end.

This year, unable or simply too lazy to host, I dropped a mumbled note to friends about a picnic on a beach and that’s how we wound up, last Sunday, flopping about on Tanjong with a cricket bat and a blow-up birthday crown. As dawn broke on the last line of sorry kisses and they segued into happy party-popping tweets, the sun came out and I floated out into the sea with a friend while the kids ran native all over the sand. I thought of Mum, who would have so loved this loose sort of party arrangement – planned but not planned – and I thought of her again when I emptied the sand out of my lovely new blue birthday shoulder bag at home (because oddly enough a lovely new blue birthday shouder bag was also the last thing she got me), and as I tripped over a piece of uneaten sandwich and tipped the last dregs of wine out of a picnic glass, I thought of her again.

I never need to write about the Fourth of June because it is remembered by so many people in such lovely ways. I can organise my own June Fifths, have always done, and I do it very well (spotlight, moi?) but since the 5th is now permanently glued to the 4th we might as well raise a double glass every year. To you and me, Ma. Bottoms up x

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Memory cul-de-sac

A friend posted something online the other day, about her local beach. She has moved back home after living in London for years, and that ‘home’ is Cornwall, and that beach was my grandparents’ local beach, and they lived just above it in a modern (for those times) purpose-built bungalow that Grandpa built as a retirement place for them both, aiming for a nirvana setting where family would come and relax and enjoy the sea air and the stunning views. And that is just what we all did when we went to stay there, or visit for the afternoon: my sister and I spent a good deal of our childhood adventuring on the lawn with our two older boy cousins. Those were the days.

My sister went back there years ago; I think she was shown around, but this was quite soon after we had sold it. I also took a walk down the back path but I couldn’t see much, and what I could see I didn’t like so I didn’t hang around. Again, this was years ago. So my friend’s post made me instantly go online to see if my grandparents’ bungalow was still standing. You can do anything, go anywhere these days, without having to leave the house. Thanks to the wonders of online science, this time I went right up to the front door and on inside, all from the comfort of my Singapore dining table, to find that the place is now a rental holiday home, a four-bedder with stunning sea views, pictures of which appeared everywhere.

The views are precisely why my Grandpa bought this bit of land and built the bungalow right there on the cliffside, a house nesting in its own dreamy thicket of green, approached by driving down a beach road, then a cul-de-sac, then down an almost vertical drive. It had three bedrooms, an orchard, winding pathways going in and out of trees and an olympic-sized lawn that followed the cliff’s slope down to a gate. When we drove over to visit from our own cottage on the north coast, we would chant ‘I can see the sea’ as our old VW beetle nosed ever south towards the little front parking area. The prize once we had bunny-hopped to a stop was the unlocking of the big 1960s wooden door, a huge bosomy hug from Granny, and an apple-scented one from Grandpa, appearing from the orchard greenhouse to chuckle out a hello. Then us girls would sprint off to the garden to roll down the lawn and gawp, panting, at the stunning sea view. This ritual is the kind you find in magical childrens’ books, and the garden was the kind of prize that even small children appreciated – a piece of land so stunning that we never wanted to leave.

When we were little, passers-by walked the cliff path at the bottom of the garden, and would peer in through the iron gate, nosily entranced by the enormous upwards sweep of green. We would dance and twirl on the lawn, ostentatiously aware of onlookers, and enjoying showing off ‘our’ garden to the tourists. On that huge bit of grass, with borders of lavender and hyacinth, we sat and ate biscuits on plastic summer chairs during school holidays; we creaked the double swingseat higher and higher, and took turns on the proper single swing with its faded pink metal guard-poles (the one that couldn’t quite take Granny’s scone-happy weight so that she fell off, once, with a bump; she was fine, she couldn’t get up for laughing). This is where we watched the grown-ups pour tea, dark scented liquid making a pleasing bubble sound as it went into the china cups. It’s where we dutifully passed around the scones, and where the cousins chased us with pretend guns. Where water-play sessions got our frocks soaking wet and where, one rare snowy winter, we toboganned down the slope – and in all weathers that sweep of sea, gunmetal grey or glittery azure, could be seen from almost any room, any angle. What a clever piece of land.

So there I was, visiting online, musing about how it must be around 25 years since I was last there in person. No wonder, then, that changes have been made. They involve concrete, a lot of it, totally covering the old patio and (wince) half the garden. Inside, the moss-coloured carpets are gone and so is the pearlescent sliding room screen. The rooms are uniformly a pale Farrow & Ball shade of ocean grey, and there’s a little woodburner at the back where once a round brass-framed fisheye mirror, fixed high up on the wall, had me staring endlessly at the distorted reflection of my bulging face. The neat fireplace halfway down the wall of the sitting room – with a mantelpiece that had carriage clocks, and a chair on either side for Granny and Grandpa – is now just one big space, oddly huge. Four bedrooms, says the blurb, but I couldn’t work out quite how, and I also couldn’t find our old twin bedroom, a bed each for me and my sister and a high-up shelf full of china teapots in the shape of houses.

Oh, it’s OK. I suppose I can manage the change, and in any case it was my fault for snooping. I didn’t have to go inside the place to know that over the years things would be different. And if I ever visit the friend who lives nearby, I bet I’ll be tempted to take a walk along the beach path again to see what I can see. No doubt there’ll be no little girls twirling in their party frocks on the lawn…

There are two positives that I can take from this, and they are: 1) at least the place is still low-rise, still vaguely the same shape and still boasting the same vistas. And 2) I reckon Grandpa, so very modern-thinking in his design for the original bungalow, would probably be chuffed with this shiny new version.

Oh, and 3) you can’t take away a great view, so it was worth the online snoop just to see the sea once more.

My cousin, and one of those amazing sea views

 

Hero workshop

Those of us who have a good relationship with our parents can remember the time when we realised our dads were not, after all, heroes. I was around 10 years old. It was night time and we were coming back from an evening out, all four of us. It wasn’t such a huge incident compared with those who’ve been less fortunate: we’d parked and were walking to our apartment block when we saw someone being beaten up. We took him upstairs to our flat and my folks bathed his wounds and called the police. The guy couldn’t stop crying (stark memory of this grown-up young man sobbing) and nothing my parents said could calm him. I remember Dad looking so worried and I suddenly had the realisation that nothing had been able to stop the attack, and nothing would stop another one. The flat didn’t feel safe, and Dad was no longer wearing his pants over his trousers. (Actually, the same event taught me about the kindness of strangers, and another thing too – that if someone is too scared to thank you, it doesn’t mean they’re not grateful.)

Well, there goes my hero just now, packed into a cab after three weeks of top-quality Dad/Daughter time. He’s mid-70s, I’m mid-40s, and we’re neither of us too old to get a bit wet around the eyes on departure. SmallMonkey (reverting to diminutive name forms for sentimental moments) is sobbing in the shower as I write – proper small-boy sobbing – and I’ve had to sit down in a quiet room alone and take a minute or two.

I’ve talked about this business of minding the gap before, each time Dad goes – about how empty things are without him, how I miss his way with nature, his passion for education, the energy and enthusiasm that comes with him into our home and is unpacked all over the spare room, seeping into everything we do with a happy stain, and I realise I might be painting him out to be some kind of idolised Dr Doolittle, but I know he isn’t. He’s a good friend, though, increasingly so.

This parent-child friendship – those of us lucky enough to have it – comes later, doesn’t it, after the anti-hero teen angst has passed (if all is going to plan). By the time I was at college, and people were telling stories about their bonkers parents with cool habits and funny ways, starting sentences with: ‘Oh my folks are just SO HILARIOUS’, or, ‘Oh you know what parents are like!’ – I already had the strong conviction that no-one else’s parents would ever be quite like mine.

He’s not perfect, though, he has faults like everyone (the outdoor table still has a scorch mark from one of his experiments, and I’m happy to see the back of the bathroom bunting of pants, hankies and flannels), but the amazingness doesn’t seem to be fading with age, it just gets stronger. And delightfully, it all gets passed down – most noticeable this trip was the growing friendship between Dad and Grandson: proper chats, proper holiday room sharing, lots of shared schoolwork and the sort of general mellow hanging-out vibe that you see in feelgood films. Nice work, family.

You can’t really ask for more than a Grandpa who borrows your waterpistol to chase away oriole pests threatening the bulbul nest that’s just under your balcony, can you? Who else even notices there’s a bulbul nest under the balcony? We thought it was all just tropical squawking until Grandpa revealed there was a whole bird battle going on in the condo clearing, right under our noses, with bulbuls, starlings, mynahs and orioles battling it out for leadership. Who else has a Grandpa standing by to take a water pop right over the downstairs four-piece table set? I don’t think Jonah’s condo friend, popping round to play last Sunday, is ever going to forget the sight of one pump action Nerf and two smaller waterpistols all set up to go, aimed between the wooden railings at the big palm as the orioles hovered in wait. Yep, he’ll be back again, soon as his mum lets him.

Since we moved here in June, I’ve had no idea that the mad after-dark frog noise outside is a nightjar, and that there’s a dollar bird in the tree at the end of the road. The huge black bird dragging something stringy in its claws hadn’t caught something, it was just a racket-tailed drongo and that’s how they look. Nettles are like tiny glass needles, did you know that? Over at Haw Par Villa, those funny old tortoises in the pond are eating all the fish, so don’t feel sorry for them. And the carp at our own condo, meanwhile, are not sweetly coming up for feeding time, they’re gasping for oxygen, so I’ll need to get onto that.

I’ve talked in other posts – here, here and here – about how time with Dad helps me see things in a different way; how I spend the entire time quietly taking notes. You’re never too old to learn. And you’re never too old to crumple into a heap when your hero has to get in a cab to Changi. Better pull myself together, there’s a nest to look after.

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