Il pleut

My mother-in-law was terrified of rain. Living as she did in the UK this always seemed a rather extreme reaction to what was only ever, as I saw it, a few drops. She was terrified of the stuff, horrified if we allowed her small grandson to play in it without full waxed-up coat and boots, and she point-blank refused to go for a walk if the clouds were looming. I chalked it up as one of her sweet idiosyncrasies and left it at that – and then we started visiting SE Asia, her neck of the woods, and the phobia began to make sense.

Tonight (well, today) it is raining in the UK and this fact has made me homesick because it is tangible news, familiar, something that I can imagine. Actually it’s major news, has taken over all the big websites in the way that large storms back home tend to – our home country is getting the sort of lashing for which my mother-in-law would have gone into total lockdown. Still (and I know it’s not a competition) I can’t help but compare it to what I have been seeing from the safety of our apartment.

When the skies open here the whole world is shiny. I’m often cosily tapping away at my computer when it hits and from our living room window the rain is so thick that it obscures the view. I can just about see across to the pool where the droplets have blurred the blue depths: you can actually see them, double-size, dashing down in needle-straight lines from the clouds. But this rain has not made front-page news, it is normal. People are walking in it. The bloke fixing the flat upstairs has simply moved his drilling inside. Cars are going past. No one is building an ark.

Yes, rain stops play here, makes things tricky. The school bus will be late, the public bus will be late, you can’t get a cab and you don’t want to be stuck somewhere other than the place you want to be when it hits because you might be there for a while. Don’t bother with any kind of proper footwear here, and don’t expect to wear trousers and not have them stick to your legs. One of the first cabs I ordered was made to wait for me and SmallMonkey because we were faffing. They rang me twice in five minutes. ‘Ma’am,’ begged the operator on his second call, ‘please hurry up it’s about to rain.’ Still, for all the palaver, it is normal palaver, very expected. And we’ve not even hit proper rainy season yet, weather that I saw last Christmas on a brief tourist trip here, when the water levels rose so high one day that walking about in my (ridiculous, I soon realised) flip-flops gave me blister burns that have left permanent scars.

I can feel myself turning into my mother-in-law, adopting her sense of drama about it all. Take last Friday, mid-afternoon: I was cooking in the kitchen when several very large explosions went off somewhere down our street, or so it seemed to me. But at the window no one was running, the sky was not full of flames, no sirens, no bells, just an old lorry chugging past and a maid walking a dog on the grassy sidewalk and duly tidying up after it, all on laid-back stroll-time. I skidded through to the living room, yanked open the patio door, beckoned to a neighbour: ‘Was that thunder?’, and she gave me a sympathetic nod.

Not such a stupid question if you’d heard it yourself. This was no chubby rumble but a sound I’d never heard before like crazy sharp static, and not just one explosion but a series of them, crack crack crack, and a deluge to follow that was like the prolonged unzipping of a giant market stall covering that might have been sagging in a storm and eventually split but then didn’t stop. Re-enact the scene in your mind and then make it go on for half an hour and you’ll get the picture.

Ten minutes later SmallMonkey hopped off the school bus like a sparrow in a birdbath, and as I held our ridiculous bought-for-Singapore golf umbrella over his head (and I will never tease Mr PartlyCloudy again for buying it) I strained to hear my boy’s voice over the water clatter:

‘It’s OK Mummy, I told the driver how to get home in the storm.’

At least someone in this family has a bit of common sense.


SmallMonkey has chosen his Extra Curricular Activities (ECAs) at school and blow me down if, after years of being uninterested in anything ‘craft’-ish, he has gone for stained glass and Chinese calligraphy. I find this selection a bit weird but whatever makes his homesick little heart happy. Fortunately Singapore has plenty of art galleries in which he can display his new talents and earn enough money for sweets at the school canteen.

SM loves the canteen – he now prefers me not to pack snacks so that he can ‘buy stuff’. I give him three bucks a week and that’s his lot: we are all happy about how much he loves this little slice of independence (and SM loves the end results), but I can see the dentist’s bill looming.

I have picked out my own ECA, too, started it last night. On Saturday I met a woman at a small dinner party who talked me into joining her school choir. ‘Its OK,’ she said, ‘just a bit of fun.’ And it seemed my mouth had its own plans that night because it immediately formed the word ‘Yes’ – I recall it as a slow-motion thing like in the films, a time-delayed karate punch of a response to a mad idea.

What’s odd is that I would never, in all my born days, arrange to meet a virtual stranger in a random school car park after dark and sing loudly in front of a load of other strangers (sober). I did time in school choir for years, have staggered about after various weddings doing the New York New York cancan, and played my imaginary air guitar in Lucky Voice Karaoke a few times, but vodka has always played a large part.

Well sometimes there just isn’t a hip-flask to hand, and in fact when your own reality has been turned on its head and the world is quite literally upside down then you can pretty much do anything you want, I am finding. Go on, ask me to do something bonkers: there’s a good chance I’ll do it.

Anyway I booked the cab (SmallMonkey suitably open-mouthed at me ‘going to sing with some strangers’) and took a chair on the end of the Alto row, and I’m very glad I did because the strawberry margaritas in the local bar afterwards were close to perfection. We might even skip the music bit of things, next week.


I feel different, and my knives and forks feel different too, when I hold them again after our five-week separation. Stands to reason, I suppose: if things have changed for me then the same will apply to everything else. We’re pulling stuff out of boxes and it’s all looking very good indeed, and perhaps it’s just that we’re so glad to see it all. How is it possible to be that fond of a spoon? And how come the bedroom dresser suddenly looks like something out of Celebrity Homes? Our home is shaping up and I’m so happy to be welcoming in the tea towels, so delighted to unpack my spotty broom and put up the shoe rack, settling the cutlery into the right drawers with care. These are our gap years, I find myself telling the metal whisk and a small white milk jug. Get ready for some adventures! I suppose I am not quite over the jet lag yet…