To recap

A bendy sort of year, ups and downs and ups and downs then a gradual ascent with the odd interruption, an almost vertical bit right at the end (bad road diggers, killer courses, overly long carol concerts) before hauling up to a stunning rooftop plateau with the sky all lit up for 2014. Let’s try and keep this one bright, shall we?


• Nice teacher: happy boy = happy home

• Family and friends in da house: happy airport trips, best possible use for spare room

• Bangkok football: bottom for scores, tops for company

• Jaunts: Ipoh, Borneo, Jogjakarta, Tioman, Cambodia, Bali, Australia

• UK heatwave: sunshine + friends + family + M&S deli = contentment

• Getting the running bug: new sweat bands in stocking, yay!

• Kids karaoke: passing on the mike-hogging gene

• Fun times: temple running, Sydney sunning, trail walking

• Redundancy: 15 years hard graft becomes a three-month weekend for the PCs

• Cultural studies: tip top speakers and a whole new slant on rice and noodles

• Spot of actual, paid work = sense of worth, cash, brain salad

• Planning permission approval: a good home to come back to

• Dad’s book comes out: #prouddaughter

• Babies here, there and everywhere: come on, last little one, we’re waiting!

• Helpful Boy school certificate, piano lessons, catching first wave: #proudmum

• An end to the psycho writing at last: #henolongerknowswhereyoulive

• Drinks on the deck, trips to the beach: #notightsrequired

• Pottering by the pool with the neighbours (getting my cossy on, wait for me!)

• Dipping a toe in the camping arena: next time, canvas

• Australia revisited – we love you, you know

LOWS: Homesickness, Haze, lost jobs, killer courses, missed kitties, downpours, bloody knees, useless condo repairs, tenants moving out, roads being dug where they shouldn’t

GOALS: Ditch course, get job, run faster, throw party, drink less, sleep longer, Skype better, write more

Happy new year, and thanks for reading

Top of the world

Sydney has a frilly, seaweed-shaped coastline with the edge of the land dipping in and out around its many little coves. On a map I lost count at 28 beaches within a 30k radius of the city centre, and I was being lazy and not zooming in. It is very easy, as a result, to spend the days mooching on the sand and drinking coffee. Luckily we know a lot of people who live in Sydney and so we spend a lot of time drinking coffee around kitchen tables as well as on the sand. It’s a tough life.

It’s been busier here than on the other side. Western Australia was a chilled, peaceful and intimate time for us three, with two small stop-offs to see people and nothing else on the menu, but the East coast has had a different pace. There’s the friend who is local and who I met in London through work. Another set of friends is just visiting, like us, and they are mutual friends of the local one and we always visit her at the same time, for some reason.

Then there’s B, my family school friend who gave us a lovely Christmas Day, and who’s smallest is my god-daughter. Being with her is like being at home. Then there’s another friend from Singapore who is visiting as well so we’ve seen her a few times. Then there are two cousins, one from each side of the family, and we’ve had lunch and dinner with them too. Of course the local friends all have other friends who we meet up with when we’re in town. It’s a bit Singaporean like that. Or London. Home-ish, anyway. The confusing map of who is where and when got so tangled today that we ended up sitting at one end of exactly the same beach as our friends without managing to meet up. I only know where they were sitting because I saw the pic on FB.

Our first trip here was ten years ago, then six years ago, and each time we collect more connections. We’ve had all sorts of times here: road trips with friends, weddings and birthdays, memorials and, if I unscrew the lid on one of our most private memory stores, a loss for us right here in this town that re-opened when we landed and will close over when we go, turning to sepia again and returning to the back of my mind, where it is probably best kept. It has been nice to take it out and examine it again, though a little sad. The pull and the connection of all these things is always here, and maybe that’s what makes this place so very special to me and Mr PC.

We are on the other side of the world from home but it’s all very familiar, and it’s reminded me a bit of what it’s like being back in the UK. I like to think I don’t need home comforts in Singapore but the truth is that if you are going to stock the supermarkets with familiar stuff then I will probably cash in. As a result I am going out tomorrow to get stupid things like tea bags and conditioner and I’m also having a cut and colour just because I can. It’s not that, though, is it? It’s having familiar people around me with whom I have a history, to whom I don’t need to explain myself and who I simply just miss. Our two-day extension that will allow us to stay here for New Year’s Eve is exciting but I fear may just be prolonging the reconnection with reality.

I’m making it all sound stressed and busy but it’s anything but, it is relaxed and happy. We are chilled, chubby, slightly unfit, but peaceful. I’ve ditched the coursework and found my brain again – my one, not the museum’s, mine. Mr PC has discovered ocean swimming and a passion for cliffside houses, thanks to the amazing one we have been allowed to stay in (a house-swap with a family who’s home is so lovely that it’s really made the trip).

I’m getting better at goodbyes these days and if anything these trips of ours teach me that the world is small. I want to go to Melbourne next. I might persuade some of these lovelies to come south with me; B already sounds keen. I’ve checked flights, though, and they are expensive so perhaps my new year resolution needs to be: Get A Job.

A point about TheWeather

I think the reason why Britain gets caught out by TheWeather ALL the time is that we are too arrogant to assume it will affect us. Other countries change their plans every day according to what is going on OutThere – you know, in the world. Over the past three weeks we have learned to wake up and just see, in fact now I think about it we’ve been doing this over the last 16 months, since moving to Singapore. TheWeather is enormous and you do what it wants, not the other way around. A small Cornish neighbor, when I was a girl, was taught a little Q&A mantra by her big sister:

Q: What’s the sea? A: Sea’s the master

So I don’t mind that our fishing trip with friends is cancelled today, I can see from my view all down the cliff road that the Clontarf palm trees are bending and the kookaburras are clinging on. We will just take a picnic to a shady cove instead.

It’s good, this travel thing. Makes you think.

Terra firma

Just woken up after our first night in a proper bed in a hotel in Perth, and still finding it weird not to have that rattling noise and swinging sensation every time someone moves.

Saying goodbye to the van was a bit sad, actually. We didn’t even create a hilarious family name for it, it was just ‘Campervan’. I feel bad with the way that we parted – on the main road outside the hotel with Mr PC standing at the little side door throwing out our enormous suitcases and a couple of stuffed plastic bags, and then driving off to the depot to dump the truck. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye properly, no parting hug or fond farewells, and when SM and I got into our hotel room I had a little weep to myself while he jumped around on his new white fluffy bed. We’ve discovered a magical way of travelling, us three, intimate and exciting, and just not present here in our comfy hotel room. Yeah OK, I got over it pretty quick. But we’ll be back again, Campervan, I know it.

Now I know why adults end up living in static home parks (the nice leafy tranquil ones, I mean, not the mid-US rusted wastelands that you drive into by accident). Living in a parked mobile home is an alternative to being rooted because you can be transient yet grounded all at the same time. It’s a fun way of playing house, the grown-up equivalent of setting out the tiny teacups, only the smallest of household items to take care of, a life almost void of responsibility. At the first campsite these permanent homes were wedged and slightly tattered, occupied by quiet long termers who came and went unobtrusively. At the last one there was a more established set of permanent inhabitants, and the long-term caravans were fenced in and bordered with plant pots and garden gnomes, festooned with seasonal tinsel and flashing Christmas lights. The one nearest our van was hosting a little family dinner when we rocked up. We weren’t invited but I suspect if we’d stayed longer, we might have been.

Funnily enough, Mr PC’s parents lived in a static home when I first met them – but a big, proper, box-shaped thing down by the river Thames. Mrs hated it, Mister adored it. In the end she won, and they decamped to the house. Their son tells me he secretly went to stay on his own once when his folks were away travelling. ‘It was a peaceful, private place,’ he said. We won’t be giving up our London apartment quite yet, but I can now see the point.

I’m wondering if there’s a way of locking down the camaraderie you get when you’re all getting along in a confined space – doing that organized morning dance of packing up and driving off, chucking tasks at SM and getting him to join in and actually enjoy joining in (sometimes). I’m not about to suggest building a den on the deck when we get back to Singapore, but I think there’ll be some new rules.


The Road to Hamelin Bay

IMG_4343The campervan has a very simple form, box-shaped and bulky as if a child designed it. It  moves a little like a child designed it, too. I can’t tell if it’s built for driving or living but like most compromises the bit-of-both combination means it’s not really suitable for either one. We ride high with a swaying gait, taking corners carefully (the hire option has a ‘no-roll package’) and listening to our things being knocked about in the cupboards. The movement is like being on a rollercoaster or a boat – down steep hills we all raise our arms (including the driver) and when we get off the swaying never quite goes away. We stand the best chance of a smooth ride when heading in a straight line with plenty of overtaking time, so it’s lucky that the road down south from Perth is a vertical drop.

I’m in the back, strapped loosely to the dining couch, partly to give SM some fun up front and partly to stop me passenger-seat driving. Here on my own I can clutch the sides of my little bench-seat whenever we turn left or right, and keep an eye on unlocked drawers skidding opening and letting loose the kitchen knives at unintentional targets, righting spilled water bottles and checking that the microwave isn’t about to shoot out of its little wooden recess.

Through my mosquito-netted side window, with its little blue curtains pinned back like pigtails, there is a good view of the land bobbing past. The further south we go the greener it gets: firstly a desert plane, dry grassland studded with scorched grey trees sucking up water from deep below ground, greener as we hit Margaret River with its lines of fresh vines, finally a winding B-road that plunges in and out of thick copses, tightly packed rows of trees throwing shadows across the looping way ahead – almost Cornish, we agree.

It gets cooler as we head south too: 38 in Perth, 33 in Bunbury, ‘only’ 25 by the time we get to Hamelin. We rattle along, tarmac unfurling in front like a sticky liquorice strip. Everything in the van has a lock-down option: plates wedged into holders, toothbrushes pegged to the plastic sink, empty suitcases stashed under the bed. We can take it fast or easy as we like it, motor on to make up time, pull into rest stops and knock up a quick lunch in ten minutes then back out again, easy.

At campsites our meals are more thorough, put together in the little galley kitchen that’s sweetly fitted out with smaller versions of cooker, fridge and sink. We dine well: pork chops with fluffy mash, juicy lamb salad, bacon & eggs, tea and coffee from a whistle kettle and perfect tanned toast from a toaster that plugs into the side of the van.

Every three days we have a different ‘home’. At the moment we are parked near a playground on a high-up plot under a low tree, pointing perilously downwards, back-end first. Mr PC assures me we cannot possibly roll back. ‘Trust me,’ he sighs, ‘I’m an engineer.’ You’re a banker-engineer, though, I want to say but keep it to myself as he has That Look. We try parking sideways but then we’re cooking sideways. In the end we put it front end first again, and Mr Longsuffering lets me switch the pillows top to bottom because our bed is the area furthest to the back, and this way at least it’s our feet pointing downhill, rather than our heads. We sleep well, in the end, thanks more likely to several bottles of Perth Pipsqueak than anything directional.

Our patio in Hamelin, a little beach down towards Augusta, is a square of flat sandy scrub, and the beach is at the end of the lane – not just any old strip of water but one of those dazzling arcs from a Caribbean brochure. We take it in turns to go running in the early morning; Mr PC spots a big stingray but I’m too busy concentrating on sand running, a whole new string to my keep-fit bow. The sea is shockingly cold after Southeast Asia’s syrupy depths and this area is currently shark-infested, so we don’t venture too far out. Chubby magpies and pink cockatiels strut under our picnic table waiting for scraps, and every morning we find fine spider-webs lacing the chairs – no extra guests in our beds so far, touch wood. The flies are a problem, sticking to lips, bedding into hairlines, exploring our ears and foraging in eyebrows. I string up tinsel from the van’s exterior to scare them off, a festive double-arc from the awning strut, but I think they like it as they bring all their mates to come and have a look.

Vineyards visited today, and a picnic on a deserted beach. Tonight a gale is blowing in and we’re about to put back the awning on the side of the van as we don’t want to take off in the middle of the night.

Next stop: Busselton

BY THE WAY: Thanks to those who left a comment (ie, ‘voted’) for my entry in a blogging competition. If anyone’s feeling generous please take a minute to interrupt your Christmas plans and visit this link: and leave a comment of ten words or more. The Expat Blog site might want to ‘verify’ you, just say yes. At best, I might win something, at worst the blog will still be promoted a little bit. Or, far more sensible, go on out to the office party and enjoy. Thanks to those who’ve already done this, and thanks to all for your continued reading, a Christmas gift in itself x

Road trip: my kind of canvas

This is not how it was last time. Then it was a proper road trip.

‘Then’ was summer of ’77, when my parents bundled us into the back of our beat-up Buick, me and my sister, and steered the overheated engine from the east coast of the States to the west and then back again in a big loop. I was eight, my sister was nine and every night we charted our route on a map. I can’t remember the exact number of states we drove through (Dad…?) but I think it was about 36 in two months.

Pop, Mum’s recently bereaved father, came too, on a post-funeral visit from the UK, sitting quietly in the back with his pale shoulder turned away from us two girls, blocking off from the squabbles and chatter as the scenery unfurled by his open window.

Pop obviously had a whole tent to himself, which left two other places to sleep – in the other tent, or pegged out on the flat back of the Buick, looking up at the stars. Who slept where each night seemed to depend on the shape of the moon, or the passing of the eastern winds, or the number of crows hopping under a tree. One morning Pop said (and he never said much, especially that particular summer when the grey mood of Nonna’s demise accompanied us on the trip like an unseen pall) – anyway, one morning, Pop said: ‘Did you hear the coyotes last night?’ Prowling up in the hills, we all assumed. ‘No,’ he said, ‘around our tents.’

Another time we bust a tire on the dusty outskirts of some kind of ghetto and had to ask for help. I think my folks thought we were basically all going to die, but the first house we came to was a shrine of kindness, and we ended up sitting on a plastic-covered couch drinking iced water and looking through family albums while dad and the husband knelt in the dirt fixing the wheel.

Another time in Florida, Mum’s back locked (from grief, for sure) and when we pitched up at the evening’s campsite, Dad carried her from the car and put her down on a grassy bank while he set up tent for the night, stepping over his annoying daughters and prone wife. A wrinkled old keep-fit lady in orange pants and a sun-visor came up to Mum, knelt over her, and said: ‘It gets better as you get older’.

If we were very lucky we stopped at a KOA camp. We only stayed at these premium campsites if we were REALLY lost or really tired: there was a kind of ‘F**k it’ mentality to those wonderful KOA stop-offs, when my sister and I would go bonkers in the pools with the curly slides while Mum and Dad – no doubt exhausted – downed beers in the bar.

This trip was the two-month full-stop to our year in America, and it encompassed all the things we had taken on board. I remember unpeeling Hostess Twinkies in the back seat, juggling hot-wrapped apple pies from rare pull-ups to drive-in McDonalds, the taste of Kool Aid at wooden picnic tables under hot pines, rubbing noses under nylon sleeping bags, dodging giant night-time moths in neon-lit restrooms, chewing illict wraps of Red Mountain (probably to keep our mouths shut) – but most of all the lonely sense that I wasn’t sure how or when we would ever get home again, to Baltimore or, for that matter, to the UK, a place I had been desperate to get back to since I arrived on American soil. I think my feeling at the time was that the trip was just preventing us from getting ‘home’.

Either way, our family road trip had one effect on one sister, and another on the other. While it put me off camping for life, it left my sister with a passion for canvas that has resulted in her spending every summer pegging out her tent at festivals around the UK.

So who ever knew I’d be here 36 years later, sitting at a pop-up table in the dark, with a beer by my side and the mossies pestering me, and there is a reason why it didn’t take a lot of persuading to get me here, and that reason is the massive, four-berth, white truck the size of a small terraced house beside which I am sitting. Because of this Goliath of a ‘home’, our nine-day road trip down the west coast of Australia and back will not be like that sepia-tinted American tarmac trail at all.

It’s cheating, really. SmallMonkey has just climbed down the little ladder from his bunk to watch The Avengers on our built-in DVD player. Mr PC is cooking roast pork chops and baby new potatoes with a crunchy green salad and has just set off the smoke alarm – I mean, there’s a smoke alarm for goodness’ sake, and a microwave, and a fridge. I showered in the campsite washrooms just like I would have done in the old days, but if I’d wanted to I could have flicked on the water heater and had a shower in our own van. We even have a can, although the unanimous agreement is to save that for ‘emergencies’ – we haven’t defined that situation just yet.

We’re definitely on the road but there’s no squishing into the back seat for SM. Today he sat up front, map-reading, waving his stick legs around the acres of space between him and the footwell, then messing about with the DVD controls. Now we’re parked up in a slightly frowsy campsite right beside a fast beach road with evening traffic whooshing by, so no, it’s not quite the same. No whispering pines, no night-time mumblings from the open back of a beat-up Buick, no distant guitar picking from someone in the next-door tent, no coyotes yapping up in the hills. Anyway, enough chatter, better switch off my computer – so handy, to have WiFi all the way out here. I’d better go and help by doing the washing up in our proper sink while Him Indoors makes up the double bed.IMG_4281

Bangkok 1-0 Singapore

Sorry Singers, it’s not that I don’t like coming back to you, it’s just that I wasn’t quite ready yet. SM’s first international soccer tournament had a load of us piling onto a plane heading north for a quick weekend trip to the Thai capital but then yanked us sharply back again like a load of spitballs out of a rubber band, allowing us zero time to explore, and that’s a shame because I think the place could well turn out to be a high scorer in the MrsPartlyCloudy Favourite City Charts, all of which seem to start with a B: Berlin, Bruges, Bilbao, and now (potentially) Bangkok.

There just wasn’t the time. We nipped next door to a supermarket to get snacks for the players. We saw a LOT of the motorway because the traffic was rubbish, and even more of it on the way back home because the coach driver got confused and set off for entirely the wrong airport (it’s OK, we spotted it and re-routed). We saw no riots (*see below). We wore a lot of yellow for the King, who was having a birthday weekend – so was Jen and so was Jack, so there was a lot of cake involved and that’s always nice.

Someone who lives there told me that Bangkok is ‘a real place, very hip and modern’, and I’d have loved to put that to the test. [Just as a sidenote here, most places in the world are real compared to the bubble that is SingSong. Don’t get me wrong, I like coming home to the vacuum, stepping onto the fragrant carpets at Changi, popping the passport into the Machine That Goes Beep and snapping the cab door closed only 5 minutes after getting off the plane, before swooshing down the fast, clean roads to home. I know nasty things happen here but most people can relax in a way that is not possible in most other major cities, and then comes the irony – that the city’s security buys you all the freedom in the world to do just the risky sorts of things that you’d never really think of doing in a place like this because they just don’t crop up, so in the end it’s all a bit of a false promise. Apart from the odd riot there’s not a lot of scope for public shouting here, and those riots are very much one-offs, much less prevalent than *the now-and-then ones in Bangkok. Not that I want to do risky things but if I DID want to, I’d have to work hard at getting a group together… Anyway, sidetracked. Forget it. Carry on.]

Ah yes: Bangkers. Those who had been to the city before told us we really needed to do a proper visit; us first-timers got a very good vibe from what we saw, and agreed it needed more days. The fresh, Spanish-warm weather helped, perfectly blue skies and breezy heat allowing the children the physical ability to play six hard matches in a row on Saturday (or was it five?) and three on the Sunday, without passing out from humidity like in Sing, or searing their feet on 45°C astroturf.

And what a great tournament, so well organised and comfy. Festive, basically, with stalls and claxons and a bloke on the tannoy and lots of shiny happy people. The team put up a good fight but it was pretty ugly, as predicted. We were carved up over the course of the weekend like chopped peanuts in a wilting popiah, matched against epic teams who would have done well playing proper grown-ups. Time and again the kids picked themselves up and went back out for more. The other teams’ balletic movements were at best captivating and at worst – well, I saw SM do a little elbow-shove at one point (Naughty! Mum would have loved that). We came out OK and hobbled onto the bus home in an oddly buoyant mood (even when we realised we were heading the wrong way) and the kids’ only concern was who was digging up the most diamonds on Whinecraft.

Predictably we water-glided to a stop on the tarmac at Changi because of rain lashing down, then waded back to an apartment stinking of mould after only two days without us. The Christmas cards instantly called out to be filled in and stamped and the next batch of coursework was sulking as it hadn’t had a single glance all weekend. Not to mention both boys coming home with potential colds.

So you win this time, ‘Kockers, and thank you for having us – I think we’ll be right back.

A right spectacle

I’ve worn glasses since I was two years old, so I like to think I know what works for me and what doesn’t. What I don’t need is someone following me round the shelves making me try on pairs and pairs of random and bizarre frames straight from a nine-year-old’s dressing up box. I don’t mind my husband doing this, or my son or a good friend, but I do mind YOU, Mr Total Stranger Shopowner, giving me your utterly useless tuppence ha’penny.

This was my first experience of spec-shopping since leaving England, a place where you often get the opposite – no service at all, big chunks of your lunch hour spent quietly queuing until someone is free to get THAT pair down to try on. On the flipside I’m also familiar with having a broad range of shapes and styles from which I can make a well-balanced choice; these blasted specs are welded to my persona so I have to get it right. Sadly, due to a recent age-related change in prescription meaning that I can no longer read without actually taking my specs off (a novel thing for me), I can’t have what I want any more and I need new ones and they can’t be any old shape because they need to work in more ways than just one. When SmallMonkey updated his prescription recently, Mr PC nagged me to get a new pair, too, and so it was that we spent the best part of half an hour today having a good laugh at my expense (that’s OK, I’m used to it from those two).

An ordeal, to be frank. It’s been a long time since someone asked me to (no, insisted that I) put on a pair of bright purple frames, then some pink ones with orange sparkle, then a mad Gucci pair with fat gold logo all down the sides. Really? My friend’s family had a charity fancy dress party in the 1990s in a rented out Oxfam shop. Huge fun, I have the dusty pics somewhere. I think I tried on some crazy specs on that day – twenty years ago. For sunglasses I think a bit of show is OK, but when I mentioned to The Two Ronnies that I had to wear these things all day (like, when I’m eating my Cheerios, when I’m waiting with the other mums for the school bus, when I’m pretending to be a tour guide in front of total strangers) it fell on deaf ears. Or blind eyes. Whatever.

The biggest laugh came from a pair that made me look just like Grandpa Bryan. I loved Grandpa Bryan so very much, and in fact he looked alright, you know, quite handsome in his younger years, but that doesn’t mean I want to actually look like him. What I wear on my face, absolutely all of the day, defines me and gives people an impression of who I am straight away, no second chances. Later they can find out who I am, and might realise that the first impression was not what they thought. But it has to fit, to be innocuous, that first time. So it really pays, spec-shop-owners, to put yourselves in the customer’s shoes when forcing random frames on a punter – would YOU want to wear the bright orange ones or the Mister Magoo specials? Then why would I?

Sale lost.