1 To SmallMonkey, for allowing you to believe in Father Christmas right up until now. Yep, it’s us! Huge sighs of relief all-round and immediate re-direction of The List.

2 To the pigeon who flew into the window opposite then landed on a high-up ledge just before we had to leave the condo for an all-day party. We assume you’re OK, since you’re not here any more.

3 To Mrs H, who I have managed to successfully ignore for the last nine days. Think of it this way: having me sob into your shoulder all week was the last thing you needed. Goodbye, then. Good luck x

A brief guide to the F1

The world’s racing stars come to town every year, bringing the centre of Singapore to a standstill with streams of onlookers and big bands to back up the action. This three-day festival with a motor race running through it comes at a price, with tickets going for several of your best Singapore dollars, and it’s a notoriously tough event for drivers, who have to ride it out in such high temperatures and humidity that the race is at the very top of the two-hour medical time limit for such an event.

On Friday the cars practice, on Saturday they practice again, and on Sunday they go really, really fast after which the winning driver sprays everyone else with bubbles. Standard. Meanwhile, lucky ticket holders mill about the Padang and the Esplanade, clutching plastic tubs of beer and reading the handout map upside-down.

Thanks to this popular event I reckon I might be able to make the folks back home a little bit proud. Being the only one out of four not entirely comfortable with festivals and [mouths silently] camping, I think it might surprise two of them to know (and would have surprised the remaining third had she been around to appreciate it) that I’m actively enjoying this annual slice of festival life. OK so we don’t actually camp but I’m fine with the stinky Portaloos, with the lying around in between discarded paper plates for now-and-then-breathers and with swapping my beloved V&Ts for buckets of beer (which of course gives rise to all the lie-downs). All of this is just a shadow of the love my family have for Woodstockathons but it’s a start: perhaps we might be directly related after all?

The carrot on the stick is those whizzy cars and the big bands that provide the wow-factor backdrop. Singapore is shown off via the world’s news channels in starry palm-fringed flashes, and when you venture into town to see it for real, let me tell you the most anti-festival person would happily set up camp for an hour or two because it is all pretty fabulous. With three pops at the F1 cherry under my belt I am now qualified to show off the mud beneath my nails and divulge my top ten F1 tips. After two nights of losing Mr PC somewhere near the Fanzone Portaloos I’m tempted to give it the slightly tetchy SMS subtitle: ‘Where the F1 are you?

F1: I reckon you should splash out and buy Zones 1, 2 and 3 to get maximum coverage. I have no idea what that gets you as we’ve only ever bought the ‘cheap’ Zone 4 seats, but the posh zones quiet literally sound like fun.

F2: If you are stingy like us and persist in only buying Zone 4 tickets, exit from Raffles Place and you’ll find a whole set of stands just for us lot from where we can wobble up some metal steps to see the cars whizz past. It’s alright, they’re pretty solid. Nothing collapsed under me (this time).

F3: Leave the suede footwear at home because those nice boots will not survive. Wear Tevas or Keens, wash, air-dry, repeat.

F4: If you wait at the back for second entry into the Fanzone, do not push me, I repeat DO NOT PUSH ME. The only ‘crush’ I want is ice in my beer cooler.

F5: If there’s someone good at the Esplanade stage then arrive early. It’s such a ridiculously tiny venue, you can all but set up a fun little tea party and that’s it. I saw the end of one of Ziggy’s dreadlocks. Once.

F6: Rain is rare, but if you got caught in the Robbie monsoon you’ll know just how soaked that 90 minutes of Padang time can get you and there will be nothing, NOTHING you can do if the sky unzips, apart from swim home so leave the umbrellas behind.

F7: If it does rain, strip to the waist and aquaplane all around the Padang until it’s time to go home. Or not. Looked like fun.

F8: Despite warnings of road blocks and jams, this weekend we got lucky with those nice blue cars no less than three times. When you’re going in get dropped just before the Fullerton and walk up. Going out, walk a little way from the Padang and BING: tons of the little green lights all down the road. Praise be.

F9: Bringing the saucepan lids? Up to you. Some smalls love it, some hate it. We’re bringing SM next year so I’d love a repeat of the wonderful Mr Williams, who wet-tap-danced his way through a great version of one of SM’s favourite hits Candy. If it’s JLo wagging her papi again we’re in trouble, because I can get foam earplugs from the merchandise stands but they don’t sell blindfolds.

F10: Want to know where to find the cheap beer? Come with us next year, we’ll show you.

See you in September 2015.


It’s all Chinese to me

Every now and then I surprise myself, and not in a good way. It shouldn’t be news to me that I’m slow at learning Mandarin, because languages have always been my biggest personal failing: D in French, so-so in Latin. It’s just that for someone who loves music, singing and talking, I’ve always been surprised that I’m so rubbish at learning to speak anything other than English.

Earlier this year, at the age of nearly-45, I decided to embark on yet another linguistic voyage, and set sail with Mr PC on a Mandarin cruise. The classes were at first buoyant, breezy. Riding high on the light and choppy waves of ‘Hello, You, They, Thank you’, we sailed home after each class in a froth of smuggery, buying a smarmy coffee en route and chirruping out the odd word to each other in front of friends and family. This is easy! [we thought] Everyone look at us! The teacher was a gentle captain, friendly and supportive and funny, but even she could not save us when the Mandarin boat she skippered sailed into the tricky waters of week three, hit a rock, and started sinking.

We persevere, Him and me, each week. He’s pretty good, actually, having an engineer’s clever memory brain, but my brain is mercurial, changeable, restless, and so we are mismatched students. While he sits high up on the deck scanning the language horizon, with his perfect white teeth forming perfectly shaped words, I lie on my bunk feeling queasy and brace for an hour and a half of typhoon learning, small virtual squares hurling themselves at the wheelhouse window of my brain, scattering squiggles across the deck and rocking them back into the perilous waves of sound coming from somewhere near the front of the room. I live in hope that somehow, by some kind of linguistic osmosis, one or two of the little black shapes will get caught in my brain-net, but always they are washed back over the side, lost forever in the tricky D-grade sea.

This week I tried really, really hard. I set aside time each day to pore over the inscrutable pages of my workbook, and when I couldn’t do the current chapter I made myself go back over a more manageable one to at least learn a few phrases from that. I used Mr PC’s clever tablet app, slowly, slowly memorising one, two, three more words each day and it worked, because in tonight’s class I remembered so much more than last week. It is possible, I realised, but only with a momentous effort and many, many cups of tea.

Now you know that if you catch me staring at you with a blank look, it’s not because I’ve left something in the oven, 这是因为我总是在学习.

Signs and wonders

I’m doing a tour tomorrow and I’m always nervous the night before. Then I walk through those pretty double doors of The Peranakan Museum, past the blue eagles (high-flyers, protectors of the elite, just the job for taking care of the schoolboys who once went in and out of the place), and I’m fine.

Guiding aside, I knew there was a reason for me taking that docent-training course last year and it came to me yesterday, on a trip to a dusty junk shop. Tucked down the side of one cavernous room was a low red chest with metal decorations. I loved it, as did my friends, and we spent a long time fondling the gorgeous thing, wondering what it had been used for. Some symbols gave clues as to its story.

For starters, the dresser had bat handles – bats are signs of good luck because the Chinese word for ‘luck’, ‘Fu’, sounds like the word for bat, and very often the bat character is portrayed upside down, emptying its luck out on those below. There were two birds on the front – parrots or maybe pairs of phoenixes, queen of the birds and another emblem for good luck in marriage. There was the colour itself, lucky red – trademark pantone choice for auspicious events. Finally, right on the top, was the giveaway side-by-side symbol for ‘double happiness’. I looked for another chest because if there were two, then… and yes, tucked away deep in the next room was the matching twin: a pair of lucky double happiness wedding chests no doubt given as a wedding present. Douze points and smugface.

Have not gone back to buy them yet. I may have passed the symbolism test but I need to convince Mr PC that my wedding trousseau is still missingimage(2) something.