School’s out for summer

Actually in our case it really is out for ever, because we’re moving to a brand new one in August. So brand new that building work is not even completed yet, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And so just as quickly as it started, it seems, Y4 is over and ten long weeks of summer stretch ahead. I’m not scared, I have plans, and with the help of these bookings, plus the month-long trip back to the UK, plus a little nip of vodka now and then – oh, and Vietnam in August – well, I think I’ll cope.

In amongst all this I have one eye on the horizon. SM is conscious that our visit here has been extended – not unhappy, just aware. I think we are all a little worried about his transition to the new school, because last time it was unexpectedly tricky and we’d all like a smoother move this time round. It’s been a mixed old bag of a school, and saying goodbye today to the place, and to some of the people, reminded us of what we’ll miss:

The lush tropical courtyard garden, the rolling green playground, the massive running track, huge retro outdoor pool with cantilevered roof, snake-fondled climbing frame, the red-toothed betel chewing gate man, rousing school songs, fab and utterly wonderful Y4 teacher, brilliant bus auntie and sweet paper airplane-making driver (not while driving, thankfully), plus the basic but essential plus point of relative proximity to home (apart from in a storm, when every journey in Singapore takes an extra hour). Most of all we will sorely miss SM’s Best Friend, who stays at the old school while we move on. As I type they are chatting over an after-school dinner like an old married couple; that’s one thing that will never change.

So then, the things we won’t miss: the mad elf outfit with balloon shorts, the stinky Glastonbury bogs, snakes on the climbing frame, bizarre lack of email system, odd tinted windows on the music classroom (WHY, I always wondered), marathon three-hour school shows with wobbly sound system and no cushions, unidentifiable lumps of gristle in the canteen food, lack of any trace of breeze on entrance steps, chilly welcome to the Y3 class – all that. No postcards for you lot.

I meant it when I wished the teacher well this afternoon, as I collected SM, Best Friend and BF’s Little Brother for the very last time. Stuffed into the back of a Comfort Cab with a year’s worth of classroom tat each, we waved to the man at the gate as we left, and I had a little urge, Ferris Bueller-style, to chuck all the bags out the window as we skirted Star Vista Mall until I realized that, well, if you don’t hold on to something tIMG_6366here’ll be nothing to fondly dig up later down the line.

So we’ll miss you, funny old school, and you, Best Friend (although I reckon we’ll see you more once we’ve left).

To be continued…

Flights of fancy

This week has been all about diaries, with our UK summer visit in mind. In the frenzy of setting up the mother of all Excel spreadsheets, containing everyone’s school dates, work days, holidays, birthdays, credit account details, shoe size and eye colour, there is an underlying excitement about the upcoming trip, not least for the thought of the hours spent Doing Nothing on that long flight home. Turbulence is yuk, but Nothing is just lovely.

When I was seven we went on an aeroplane for the first time, me and my sister, and so did our Dad. I remember him holding our hands and making us skip with him (yep, skip) from the terminal building all the way across the tarmac until we passed almost underneath the big polished nosecone of the jumbo before skipping up the rickety steps on the side. There are some notable points about this little vignette:

Point A: This was Dad’s first time on a plane, and if I was seven years old that means he was 36, so that’s a whole 36 years before he ever flew (he says they drove everywhere: that’d be Europe, presumably).

Point B: we skipped across the tarmac which means we were on foot, no covered walkway or runway bus, just a happy stroll to this huge 737* and a tippy-toe up the side like a family of happy ants. Bonkers.

Point C: (and you had to be there for this one) I remember him being way, way more excited than me.

The same bloke is now an accomplished air traveller. In the last ten years alone he’s been to Malaysia, Kenya, Egypt, Japan, China and America as well as all around Europe and back again, and of course out here to Singapore three times. He wanders down to the gates unhurried, tackles turbulence with a scientific approach (another beer, please), writes chapters during the flight and steps off at the other end unruffled.

In the 38 years since our maiden trip on the big jet (to America, actually, to live, which is also why we were so excited) I’ve been around the block a few times, too, clocking up the bulk of that during these expat adventures, but no matter how many times I buckle up for take-off I never get over the sheer freakyness of air travel, that amazing technique of propelling bodies through the sky to get from one side of the world to the other. In honour of our imminent summer flight back to the UK, here are my top 10 reasons for why we should never be blasé about flying:

1)    You are flying: f.l.y.i.n.g

2)    You can walk up and down, look, while you’re flying

3)    The meals come in tiny little packs with tiny little puddings and diddy bread rolls, and on the bigger flights they are free, no cash required at all. Sometimes there is wine

4)    Sometimes there are goody bags (for the kids, yes, but even so)

5)    Sometimes there are free headphones, wee small tubes of toothpaste and, on really posh flights, socks

6)    The window blinds go up and down

7)    If you want another blanket, no problem, just ask the nice lady

8)    On the bigger flights there are TV screens showing all the films that you never got round to seeing: for free! On that maiden flight we were both given, my sister and me, a covered shoebox full of ‘Stuff To Keep Us Busy’ so yeah, we knew how to roll, but look at us now: plug me in!

9)    On very big ones there are inside stairs that you can climb, while at the same time actually flying: up and down, up and down. Amazing

10) They thank YOU for flying with THEM: amazing

We never fly posh class so I can’t imagine what that must be like, but I’ve walked through the cabin and I can see there are beds where you can sleep, which is again, yes, amazing, but why would you want to sleep when there’s so much fun to be had?

*Dad left me a note: ‘One detail: there were no jumbos in 1976; it was a Douglas DC8’ See? Totally au fait with the whole thing

Exit notes

Some friends are for life, from the minute you say ‘hello’. Some never quite turn into old friends but are always friendly enough. Some friends accompany you on outings, some you might see just twice a year, some are for pints in pubs, some provide shoulders, some are for any old time, any place, anywhere… and then you move to ExpatLand and a whole new set of categories crops up. Worst of these, I have found, is ‘Friends On The Move’, a lonely section at the very back of my mental Rolodex that would have a dark label were it ever part of a real-life filing system.

Transience, that rotten nomadic chestnut, is a thing we expats truly hate about life in a foreign land, and of course it’s not confined to Singapore, it’s global. Hop on to any overseas advice forum and you’ll see threads on relocation, saying goodbye, how to cope with old friends leaving just as the new ones are coming in, expecting smiles and handy social maps. Farewells are a good life lesson in the long run but nonetheless tricky every time. It is far worse for the people on the gangplank, yes, especially as in many cases leaving is something that’s out of their hands. For those waving from shore, though, it’s not exactly a picnic either.

The latest of the leavers drew a standard bland-but-sympathetic response from me, when in fact all I really wanted to email back was:

“You can’t go, what will I do? Remember all the fun times? Wait, we never did karaoke!”

That message remains locked away in my virtual filing cabinet under the dark ‘departures’ section and safely converts, in emailed reality, to a simple sadface.

Ohnevermind: the world is small as well as round and we’ll meet again. To be honest, though, I’d prefer to meet you out here, in that new bar we always said we’d try, wearing the sun frock I got from that shop you told me about that opened just a week before you told me you were leaving. I kept a card for you… oh.

Bon voyage, then, and harden my heart some more #sadface.

Sundowner for starters

10 steps to 10k (when you’re not a real runner)

1K       10.30pm, Singapore Flyer, 32C, clear skies – off we go! No warm-ups for me, no need. I’m relaxed, in shape, feel good. Whoo, look at me lift my heels! Careful not to set off too fast but feeling fine. I take my first jellybaby from the little bag Mr PC gave me – one per K for energy levels, apparently. You got it, Mister! That’s one marathon technique I’m happy to follow. Salute as he waves, departing for marathon start, maybe I’ll do that next? Sip from water bottle, lid a bit stiff but prise it open with teeth, no probs. Stay hydrated, keep cool. Yeah!

2K       This is so easy: all that training paid off. There’s a breeze, the stars are out, we have perfect running conditions. Look at the view! Look at all the cars stopping for all the runners! Look at all of us! I love this town. Ankles are fine, knees holding up, all good. Jellybabies are working nicely. Trot past first hydration station, don’t feel the need yet, am still getting stiff water bottle open and closed with teeth just fine, all good. Really pleasant so far.

3K       Trotting along, lovely, jogging past the walkers at a nice pace, getting a little warm, sure, but nothing I can’t handle. Jellybabies are an inspired choice, I can really feel the power-surge kick in as they melt in my mouth. Water bottle cap still locking a little but look, I can yank it with teeth, no probs.

4K       Out of my way slow-coaches, I’m a lean, mean running machine and I’m coming up on your right! Just kidding, I’m a sensitive co-runner, nipping and gliding in-between all the poor little walkers. Feeling the heat, pause at 2nd water stop for an ice-cold 100+ – the most well-equipped runners still listen to their body when it says: it aint half hot, mum. I’m a natural! Why don’t I do this more often?

5K       Bit bored, if I’m honest. Pass the time by spotting people with same shoes as me. Also spotted several cramp victims, poor things, so glad I trained at night, it’s got me so prepared. Breeze drops suddenly, very sweaty now: sweaty hair and sweaty calves, bizarre. Need drink: water bottle now very stiff, wrestle open with one hand, shower the darn jellybabies clutched in the other;  bit wet now. Hang on, hill…

6K       …still on the bloody hill. Very hot indeed. Only 6K? Tap phone, check it’s working. Absolutely no breeze at all and a million sweaty porkers herded round the paper cups at the 3rd water stop. On your right, all of you, only joggers and runners should get the 100+ before the walkers. Need a wee. Shoe game a bit boring. Jellybabies very moist.

7K       Eyebrows sweaty. Christ it’s hot. OUT OF THE WAY. Whose idea was it to run us through all these dark patches? Stick up a simple arc lamp, why don’t you. Trip over twig, paper cup, walker. Jellybabies now sticking together in one big clump. Can’t sit down, onlookers hogging picnic benches, polite clappers in the dark. Very sweet but I could make more noise opening a crisp packet. Probably snakes in hedges so can’t stop for wee.

8K       Hill, slight but long, can’t breathe, very hot. Stupid jelly babies, stupid water bottle. Peel off single head, chuck the whole lot in hedge. Sweat now coming out of eyes, dripping off nose. Sweatband smells of a farm. Whole air smells of a farm. Last water stop, sip half warm cup, throw rest over head, shower man behind me. Arc lamps in sight, sound of band at finish line. Oh God, the finish line…

9K       …the finish line? Not the finish line, just a long bit of track that goes right by the real sodding finish line only to have us limp all the way down to some godforsaken dark spot at the far corner (where there are no toilets, incidentally) and back up again to the real end. Note to organisers: PUT THE END AT THE BLOODY END. Sweating buckets. Will I run out of sweat? Will I start to sweat wee-wee? Might help.

10K     Final few yards, clappers in earnest. Too late, can no longer hear, ears full of sweat. Sweatville, Singapore. Is it the finish line? It is the finish line. Underwhelming limp under arc-lit banner. Trip over bib line. Snatch medal. Ignore banana. Find cab. Sweat. Divert to Daily Scoop. Wipe sweat patch with $2 bill. Limp down road licking ice cream. Limp up stairs, into shower, put medal in bin, have wee, bed.

Woken at 5am by post-mazzer husband ruefully binning bagful of sticky jellybabies.