Chickens on Orchard

A few months ago, thanks to a friend of mine asking for company, I volunteered to do a National Parks bird count. We went to the Botanic Gardens for a quick morning’s basic training (out of a total of around 40 trainees I think there were only about three or four of us expats), during which we learned how to spot around 30 birds. The course was led by a girl who looked around 12 but who spoke with such confidence and clarity that it made you want to a) be her best friend, b) do whatever you could to be the best student ever. Sadly for me, exams were never my strong point and during the spot test at the end, while my friend had her arm in the air the whole time (“I’ve been practising,” she muttered) I kept my head low and wondered how I’d ever tell a Scarlet-Backed Flowerpecker from a Brown-Throated Sunbird.
In the end, since the actual bird count day coincided with Dad’s annual visit, I roped him in to help, and we headed up to our allocated spot – a beautiful section of Jurong Lake – at dawn one weekday morning. An ornithologist since childhood, Dad doesn’t just have bird-watching eyes in the back of his head, they’re all over his body, and we easily recorded a good collection of species to add to the NP Bird Count archives, from Collared Kingfishers and Pink-Necked Green Pigeons, to Yellow-Vented Bulbuls and more, plus a final and very special off-the-list glimpse of a buffy owl in a palm tree – awesome. The bird-count morning came right at the end of Dad’s trip and it was one of the high points for us both.
I definitely look and listen for more winged creatures these days. Javan Mynahs and Asian Glossy Starlings are everywhere, and not so special (they’re the Singaporean equivalent of London pigeons and crows), but they’re still exotic to me. I see flashes of Golden Oriole at the condo and the odd sunbird here and there, and I have always, since arriving, listened out for the frantic rising cry of the Koel, which a friend of mine christened the ‘For Real’ bird, thanks to its bonkers bugle call.
There is one more noisy type that was on our list. It’s called a Jungle Fowl and it’s a chicken, basically. You see them in all sorts of unlikely places (like the other night, on my way to see a film in a park, a mother and baby pecking around the back of the National Museum in the centre of town). Somewhere near our new apartment, which is nestled just behind a big road heading into Orchard Road (the equivalent of London’s Oxford Street), there are chickens. They’re very active in the morning and at dusk. Sometimes we get a midday toot as well, though I’m not always around to hear it. They are somewhere around the back, or possibly up a small jungly side road where there are a few big old black and white bungalows. I can picture them pecking around the lawns; I suppose those houses are ginormous enough that the occupants can hide away and not hear the noisy old chooks, but out on my little balcony I hear them loud and clear and I love them – they remind me of Cornwall, a shrill touch of home.

Dad at dawn

Dad at dawn

Thinking out loud

This morning’s mental playlist, in approximate order:

Gun laws and mental health legislation
Singapore laws and clean pavements
The man on the MRT
The wealth of Nassim
The Myanmar embassy
Ceiling fans, exterior and interior
Jason the fan-mender
My artwork, currently bubble-wrapped
Jacky Tsai
Shelving and Well Walk
Kitchen linoleum and wooden shutters
Bank accounts
Holidays to Japan
Mount Fuji
Scotland and Glencoe
Family health
Weight loss and knee pain
Play to end

Small worries

Dear SmallMonkey has the half-empty gene direct from my control panel, and his WorstCaseScenarios (WCSs) are quite astounding. It’s the end of the summer hols and tucking-up time earlier tonight was fraught with hazards forecast for the week to come:
• Playground bullies would jump out of lockers and wrestle small children to the ground
• The new teachers would pick kids out to stand on the desks and recite nonsense
• The Haze would infiltrate the lungs of half the class, who would then be rushed to hospital by very slow ambulance driven in fact by a scary clown
• The bus driver on his return journey would not collect SM from school
OK so I might have made up points 2 and 3, but we discussed the very real last point at length, especially as it was a new fear that hadn’t been voiced all summer, and mostly because the possibilities for disaster, according to SM, were endless. We agreed he could pack his [non-working] phone so that he could text or WhatsApp me if the worst really did happen.
“Where should I wait if they forget me?”
“At Junior Reception. But it won’t happen.”
“What will I say?”
“That the stinking bus has driven off without you. But that won’t happen.”
“Which Reception again?”
“You’ve been doing this for three years. It won’t happen.”
“But if it does you can get to me in, what, 15 minutes, can’t you?”
A little bit longer, actually, but he really didn’t need to know that.

If only I had enjoyed school more myself I could have painted lively pictures across that dark bedroom of the promise of playful and enthusiastic lessons the next day, of fun on the rugby pitch and hilarity in the lunch hall. Instead I played a slow and calm card, discussing favourite dinner options for after school and spending time attaching a funky new Boba Fett Lego keyring to the dreaded packed schoolbag, itself freshly locked and loaded for the numerous missions of the brand new term.
This time last year – when SM was a brand new student heading off to what was then a brand new school – I went bonkers in the kitchen and learnt how to make macaroons. Tomorrow I’ll have the office as my distraction, but I will be very early to that bus stop at 4.05pm, and my phone will be on and turned up loud all day.

Notes from a new pool

So sorry, let me just dry that off for you. Why yes, yes he is mine. No, those two are not. Yes, they are full of energy today. Yes, we are still on holiday, indeed, week EIGHT, yes! No that’s not vodka it’s water – with ice and lemon, yes. Yes, they are bit close to the edge, but they seem to have gone deaf over the holidays, it’s funny. Mmm, yes, they probably WILL slip and crack something in a minute, very slippy tiles. Especially after a few of these waters.
– Yes, he can’t wait to go to school, sweet thing, well to be honest he doesn’t have a huge say in it does he? I’ve already booked the bus and I’m ready to go a bit deaf myself when he’s got a funny tummy on Morning No. 1. Keeps fondling his scouts summer project: “Collecting Something”. He did bottle tops and we’ve quite a haul. Mainly beer.
– Oh I know, I’m so amazed I managed to get them outside, usually stuck to the electrics, aren’t they? Like getting Blu-Tac out of a ponytail. We’re doing cold turkey next weekend, honesttogoodness I wish I’d never bought any of those things. Not one of those gadgets flammable, either, we’ve tried.
– OH THEY REALLY ARE A WEE BIT LOUD, AREN’T THEY, YES. See what I mean? Quite, quite deaf. Apologies.
– Ah no, I’m not pregnant, just rather round, but yes, this sort of sundress really is so comfy when you’ve just had eight weeks of picnics!
– Well, off we go, better get them all inside, before one of them breaks something! None of the bedroom doors in this condo lock from the outside, do they? No, Thought not.