12 Oct

the lost art of letter writing

I’ve just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer. Set in post-WWII London and Guernsey, it’s written in the form of letters between characters. I wasn’t sure about that at first (it’s always hard to suspend disbelief that they could be collated from so many different sources), but it was delightful and very funny to read comments in passing about things that weren’t directly mentioned. Of course it’s from a time before even telephones made communication easy, so this was the only way to communicate. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as charming today. Good lord, imagine a contemporary one made out of emails and texts, emojis and dick picks. Shudder.

Dear Sidney,
Don’t believe the newspaper reports. Juliet was not arrested and taken away in handcuffs. She was merely reproved by one of Bradford’s constables, and he could barely keep a straight face.

I only had a couple of niggles with it. The first is the title; I’m sure the “potato peel pie” was only added to the name of the society to give the book a cutesey name, because it was very quickly explained and barely mentioned again. The second is that despite the main character mentioning that she’d learn that Guernsey was “roughly 7 miles long and 5 miles wide, with a population of 42,000”, the book reads like there’s maybe a couple of dozen people there max.

Dear Mark,
I’m sorry that our conversation ended badly last night. It’s very difficult to convey shades of meaning while roaring into the telephone…

Despite that, it was a delight and I very much recommend it if you are looking for something delightful. It made me want to live in post-war Guernsey, grow vegetables, and write long involved letters to my loved ones (but in email form, because I’m not that inspired). Hey, maybe that’s what I’m doing right now?

A while ago, I read another book, The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. I suppose it’s another light fluffy novel, but I’d just read something heavy for book club and needed to cleanse my palate. It is set in Kent just before the start of WWI, and it is full of people with large houses throwing parties and living beautifully, with long conversations which seem inconsequential but so full of the sorts of cutting remarks and hilarious asides I wish I could make.

“I was referring to her respectful manners,” said Mrs Turber. “Something some of us could no doubt learn from.”

“Touche, Mrs Turber,” said Beatrice. “You are right, of course, and I am a shrew.”

“The royal family indeed,” said Mrs Turber. “I’ve never been so shocked.”

“Then I am doubly sorry, for I know you are a woman who is often shocked, Mrs Turber,” said Beatrice.

I came away from it saying things like “that’s jolly bad luck”, and wishing I had enemies to be so very politely vicious to. I’m sick (again) at the moment, and I’m rereading it because it’s so lovely even if you know things are soon going to take a turn for the worse. The writer also wrote Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and from the looks of it that’s going to the top of my very long To Be Read list.

“I had better get in a few supplies,” said Agatha. “You know I like to be prepared… I’ll expect you to go to Fortnum and Mason on your way to the office and put in a  respectably small order for immediate delivery.”

“I should get a few things for town too,” said John. “My club dinners are bad enough in time of peace. A stock of Gentlemen’s Relish and some potted oysters should see me through some months of hostilities.”

See, now, that’s the spirit! Have you been reading anything good lately? Write me a letter.

05 Jun

Colds and flu and marshmallows, oh my

So after the last entry I promised myself I would write every day to knock the rust off and post a couple times a week, and then I promptly got sick and since then it’s been a merry-go-round of sinusitus and kidney infections and antibiotics and another dose of the flu etc etc etc. Sometimes B joined me for a spin, sometime it was Dave (and obviously the merry-go-round spun so much faster then), but for a solid month it was mostly me and I am fucking over it.

Then once I finally managed to get off it was B’s turn; she’s missed days of school for the last three weeks with unspecified illness. When I asked her what hurt she said her stomach, her head, her knees and elbows… at this point she got a lecture about believable exaggerations… The doctor thinks it may have been a low-grade gastro flu and prescribed probiotics. It seemed to get better but now she has a cold.

I’m really hoping this is the last of it because I’m starting to get worried about her. Before we went to the doctor I was thinking maybe it was a psychological reaction to something happening at school (she doesn’t get on with one of the girls), and I’m still worried it might be food sensitivities. That would really suck. She is the ultimate picky eater already, so eliminating things from her diet will not be fun. She also seems to have inherited my ability to deal with pain, which is to say she has none at all. She treats her body like it’s made of delicate glass: every scratch, every bruise, every almost-injury is announced in the most serious of tones. I think some of this comes with the age, she’s not damaged herself much yet so she doesn’t realise what will heal.

So that’s what’s been happening over here.

Acouple of weekends ago was the school’s Dads’ Camp, and Bianca miraculously managed to be well enough to go to it. At Dads’ Camp the dads take the kids to St John’s Island just off Singapore and (you’ll never guess) camp out. Bianca had been looking forward to it for ages, since she’d heard you could toast marshmallows over a fire. (Why you need a campfire in Singapore was never explained.) There is no potable water, cold showers only, and you have to take your own toilet paper. The morning she was leaving she told me she wished it was also mums’ camp, and I laughed in her face. In her face.

The camp is only for 25 hours, which doesn’t seem long enough and yet at the same time I found myself at a loose end. What to do with myself with all this time? I hadn’t organised anything with friends, and there were no chick flicks on at the movies. In the end I took myself out for katsu curry for dinner, then did my mandarin homework without anyone laughing at me and stayed up far too late watching iZombie. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to party.

Then it was Sunday, and time to collect them from the ferry. David hadn’t slept because it was too hot, said “never again,” and fell into bed for the afternoon as soon as he’d showered all the old sweat off. B said, “it shouldn’t count as camping because we were in a building not tents, but it was awesome and I want to go every year!” She looked like she’d been living rough for a month, and when I’d finished washing her there was a black ring around the bath. I think she knows how to party too.

20 Apr

Melbourne love

Ooh, I had SUCH a good time last week! We moved the tour down to Melbourne, staying with Dave’s sister and her two daughters, Bianca’s favourite people in the world EVER, which meant I barely saw B at all for the whole week.

B and Weewee (not her real name, surprisingly) went to childcare together, are four months apart in age, and have always had a special bond. It was so cute watching them run around together holding hands and sleeping in the same bed. It was also nice because I was not needed at all, so was able to go out and have some fun guilt-free. Seriously, when we were on the way to the airport on Sunday Bianca said, “Mum you’ve got black on your nails,” and I said, “yes, I had that done on MONDAY.” Shows how much notice she took of me in that time.

I was a little more organised this time so we managed to see way more people than normal, and I feel so much more nourished and loved for it. On the first Sunday Dave went with some friends into the city to shoot virtual reality zombies at Zero Latency, which he said was FRICKING AMAZING. Afterwards the pizza evening we were supposed to have with one family of friends turned into a massive impromptu party with all the families, and it was just brilliant. I also had dinners out with other friends (who dropped the bombshell that they’re moving to Canberra in a week so great timing!), a day of fun with my bestie Bec, another day catching up with mulitudes from work, more friends, more fun, and we even went to see Madness in concert. Dave’s favourite band ever just happened to be in town when we were, and verily it was great.

(this isn’t the best picture of the band, but look at all the other screens in the audience. Some people basically recorded the whole show.)

Dave actually had the week off which was nice, but he was also stressed because all the women in his family seem to have come to the end of their warranty periods. Both sisters had some health scares that had them going in for procedures on the Tuesday and Wednesday, and on the Thursday his mum had a scheduled surgery which went well but she wasn’t released from hospital until Easter Sunday. Everyone is fine and everything went well but it was a bit stressful during the week for him.

But at least he got to be there for it, I think he feels better for that. And we both got to spend lots of time with family and friends that we love. My heart is full. My clothes also are full, because we ate and drank a LOT. And now we are back home, in the warmth, in our condo which feels like a resort, and I’m feeling pretty good.

I wish there was a magic door between Singapore and Melbourne. That would solve a whole lot of problems.

07 Apr

the family visit drinking game

School holidays. This week we have been in Ballarat, visiting my mother. To be honest, I was dreading this. I like the idea of being home, in the familiar, spending time with my mum and all affection that entails, but you and I both know from past experiences that these things never go so well.  I know it’s my fault. I react, I argue, I try to change how she acts, and it never works.

So this time I’m trying something new. I’m staying detached, I’m not engaging with her. Smile and nod, smile and nod, go to my happy place, and if it gets too much (like when my aunts came over, and the opinions reached critical mass) leave the room. And if it’s really bad, that’s where my duty free bottle of Bailey’s comes in. Instead of saying anything, I go take a swig. It’s like a fucking drinking game. Council rates too high for no reason? Drink. Bitchy gossip about a relative? Drink! Homophobia/racism/discussions about how her iPad works? Drink! Drink! Drink!

I did pretty well, I didn’t even start the game until day 4, but it’s now day 7 and my bottle is empty and I still have 12 hours to go. It was the discussion about upgrading her iPad that did me in. Did you know it has the GBs? But not enough GBs. So she keeps getting messages about needing to put more of the GBs in. You can get a thing to do the thing and the other thing.  I didn’t say anything, not after the time I’d said she didn’t really understand how data worked on her mobile phone and she rolled her eyes hard enough to dislocate them and said, “Oh here we go, yes I’m just stupid and you know everything, I’m sorry I asked.” Come to think of it, that was what started the game in the first place.

So the bottle didn’t last to the end of the visit, which probably means I lost, but on the other hand there was no screaming, and there were no tears, so maybe everyone won.

*

It has been nice being back home though. I do love Ballarat. As a town it’s big enough to feel like it has everything you need, but small enough to feel homey and nice. We have some lovely friends here, whom we normally don’t get to see anywhere near enough, but this week we’ve spent quite a bit of time together and it’s been wonderful. They are very much our people. I would love to live in Ballarat just to be close to them. If only the trains would make commuting more viable. Theoretically there is a fast train that should make the commute not much longer than we had when we lived in Melbourne, but Dave tried it this week and not one day did it run on time.

(Actually that reminds me, way back in the day I suggested we could live in Ballarat and Dave could work in Melbourne, staying in town during the week in a little studio apartment in the city, and he said, “nooo, I could not be aways from you that long.” And then I brought it up again a couple of months ago, and he said, “hmm, that could work!” WHAT CHANGED?)

Of course, one person is missing. It was so strange coming up here, knowing I wouldn’t see Pete this time round, or any time. There’s a massive hole here where he used to be.

*

Next week (tomorrow (I can make it)): Melbourne, more family, lots more friends, lots to do. I’m really looking forward to it.

13 Mar

Hapless

The day after we moved house, one of my oldest, dearest friends died. Pete and I had been friends from university; and even back then he was just that little bit smarter than me; a little bit quicker, a little bit funnier. We used to like sparring with each other but I would very quickly be outpaced. We bonded over physics lectures and Discworld books and somehow out of everyone he’s the only one I’ve kept in touch with for… shit, 27 years. He was best man at my first wedding but I got him in the divorce. (I used to joke that my ex got all the friends but to be honest back then there weren’t many outside of work, and those ones I treasure.)

He’d had lots of ups and downs, but he’d kept going, and he had health problems but they seemed to be being managed but then suddenly they weren’t. Another friend found him on the Wednesday, very ill, and took him to hospital, and by the Saturday he was gone.

We didn’t speak very often but I always knew he was there, on Facebook and Twitter, and reading this blog–he’s one of the people I’m talking to when I write–and he was always, always so proud and supportive and there. And now he’s not. And I find it so hard to comprehend that I can’t just message him, that he’s not there anymore with a funnier response to any of my jokes, that next time I go back home to Ballarat I can’t pop round and show off B and be outsmarted again. And I keep seeing things I know he’d like and going to tell him, and I can’t. I went to see Eddie Izzard the other day and everytime I laughed I thought, “wait till I tell Pete he said—” Oh.

Pete liked good scotch and baiting flat earthers on Twitter; it was always amusing to see people try to get the better of him. I liked seeing that I wasn’t the only one. I was rereading his tweets over the last week or so and he was in his usual fine form. Then they suddenly stop; there’s no foreshadowing in real life, and I wonder what his adversaries think happened to him, if they think they finally won.

And I am so, so sad.

I miss you, buddy. Rest well.

01 Mar

We moved house about a week and a half ago. It went unbelievably smoothly and I had lots of help but of course it’s still stressful. I was actually fine up until the day after the move when I suddenly felt enraged by all our belongings. How dare they be in a box with no designated place in which to go? What the hell were we thinking, buying them in the first place?

Dave and I have different views about how to unpack. I want to take my time, opening every carefully-curated box, deciding where each item should go and place it there with care and reference, preferably while listening to plinky-plonky restful music. But David declared that that would drive him nuts and proceeded to rip open boxes and shove things into any waiting nook and cranny while I was not there to stop him. He calls it decanting. I should have wondered why he agreed so readily to me going out that night.

Oh well, at least it gives me something to do. And he did have a (small, very small) point, as it was almost impossible to navigate around all the boxes to reach the places things should go. My house now resembles a sliding tile puzzle, I just have to find some gaps to move things around.

our movers were actually rather nice

what do you mean, you can’t live like this?

*

I like our new place. It’s in a much bigger development than our last one, full of lush gardens and pools and tennis courts and also water, for we are down by the marina. The buildings are all low-rise so it feels like a lovely, relaxing resort. From our bedroom I can see yachts and fit people running along the promenade. Inside it’s smaller than the last place, but also brighter and the layout makes more sense. We had to get rid of some furniture, but all our *stuff* fits fine. Or at least it will, once I slide the tiles around…

Of course the first week I hated it and thought we’d made a horrible mistake. It was the stress of moving, and also some unrelated sadness, and I was intimidated by the beautiful people in the gym. The car was broken so I couldn’t easily get out and contrary to my expectations B was not instantly surrounded by new friends and playdates. It was all daunting. Maybe we should have stayed where we were? We had friends there. I understood where things were in relation to there. I knew where my things were, there.

I feel better now. I still don’t know where my things are, and I haven’t been back to the gym, but we’re getting settled.

it’s pretty here

26 Jan

Lamingtons and parental disappointments

Happy Australia Day! Dave has taken the day off because he says it’s unAustralian to work today. He only became Australian two years ago but I guess this, like the second verse of Advance Australia Fair, is something he learned for the exam.

I am making lamingtons! It is my first time. I’m following this recipe and so far I’ve made the sponge. It seems a little bit thinner than I expected (my pan was a teensy bit too big both ways), but maybe this is so we can use jam to stick two pieces together. The recipe doesn’t call for jam, which seems strange. Also apparently I should have started yesterday, which explains all the baking on my Facebook then. (Jamie Oliver says I can put it in the fridge to dry it out, so I’ll try that.) Later when B gets home we’ll do the bit with the chocolate and coconut, which reminds me I’d better go buy chocolate and coconut this afternoon.

Also jam.

This morning B got to dress in green and gold (“ugh, that’s green and YELLOW, mum.”) for school, and I attempted to teach her the official prayer for today:

This here’s the wattle, the emblem of our land.
You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand.
Amen.

But she refused. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with her. This is typical. We did a little cruise a few weeks ago, just 5 days up to Thailand and back, and she was loving the kids’ club and their activities until one night they were having a pirate party. She was worried and said, “what if they want us to do swordfighting and I don’t want to?”

I said, “so just say, ‘I don’t want to do that.'”

“But what if they make me?”

“Well then you say: HELLO! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

“I’m not going to say that.”

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

“No!”

“How about, ‘never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line’?”

“Stop it.”

“To the pain!”

“MUM.”

Sometimes it is inconcievable that she is my child.

17 Jan

The state of things

On the 2nd of January 2015, we arrived in Singapore. At the time we said we’d be here for two years, because it seemed as good a guess as any. We had no idea if we would like it here, or if Dave would like his job. Two years is the standard commitment for an expat role (leases and utilities all have two-year contracts) so that’s what we said. Long enough to decide if we like living here, but short enough that it’s not a life sentence if we don’t.

Okay, it’s been two years, so what’s happening?

Well, we’re still here. Singapore is a brilliant place to live, it’s clean and safe and everything just works. Dave is enjoying work (though enjoying is not quite the right word), his career is going well and he wants to keep pursuing it; Bianca is thriving at school and me…well, I like it, I’m happy, although the full answer feels more complicated than that.

We’re not committing to any particular chunk of time. Maybe one year, maybe two, perhaps even longer (though I doubt we’ll make it permanent). I have no idea what will happen in the future, where jobs will take us. All I can say is we’re not ready to leave yet.

I’m trying to sort out work. I took a leave of absence from work and that is nearly up. We’ve been talking about me working from the Singapore office but I’m really not sure how that will go so I need to think about what’s next. I’m nervous about being unemployed for the first time in… well, ever really, I’ve worked for the same place almost my entire adult life. Strictly speaking I don’t need to work here but it’s an insurance policy and takes some of the pressure off Dave. And to be honest it would be very good for my sanity to have more adult contact that doesn’t revolve around schoolyard gossip!

I am looking forward to going back but at the same time there’s a part of me bleating, “but… but… I have so much I want to DO!” Yet for the past however long I haven’t been doing any of it! It’s fair clear now that I cannot make good use of my time on my own! You can probably tell I’ve been in a slump for much of the past year, which I can really only put down to feeling a bit aimless. I need external help to find some direction. It remains to be seen whether just the threat of going back to work is enough to kickstart me again.

So that’s where we are right now: still in Singapore, looking to go back to work, making other changes too. Happy 2017 everyone, I hope it is better for you than 2016 in every possible way.

29 Jul

Nicolamas Eve

It is the evening before my birthday and I have been banished to the bedroom while Dave and B do…something… downstairs. It is very cute; B is terrible at secrets and has been bursting to tell me stuff for the past month, but I don’t really want to know. All this whispering and Daddy/Bianca outings make me feel very cherished and loved. It’s almost worth turning thirty-fifteen for.

A while ago my wonderful babysitter asked me what I did all day and I couldn’t answer her. I’m having the same problem now explaining my recent absence. I mean, I’m busy (sort of). I’m quite involved with the school and this week have been doing things there and trying to socialise and put myself out there. This is the key to getting myself out of the slump I am in, I have decided, and it has worked. So much for being an introvert, it turns out I am a people who needs people after all.

Oh! We had school holidays! Just four weeks but that was long enough. I remember last year starting them off with grand plans for daily outings and Enriching Activities, and by the last week I was putting the TV on in the morning and we watched Nickelodeon all day. I reiterate my amazement for North Americans who need to get through ten weeks in a row.

This year we paced it nicely with lots of play dates in the first week and then two weeks in Australia . The first week we were in Melbourne and my old home town visiting family and boy howdy was it cold! Then a few days in Sydney — slightly warmer, lots of mummy/daughter time while Dave worked — and finished it off at the Gold Coast where it was 24 degrees celsius and sunshine spilling everywhere. It was so beautiful, now I need to go back in the summer because right now I cannot work out why anyone would NOT want to live there?

Hmm, my glass of wine is empty. I wonder if I’m allowed to go refill it?

So — the holiday was good but busy and by the end of it I was ready for it to be over, and I found myself SO HAPPY to be back in Singapore. You know I’ve been in a slump and trying to work out why when I’m in such a beautiful place? Well I am not in a slump anymore. It seems to be well and truly gone and I feel great. I am loving Singapore and life and generally feeling happy and optimistic. I’m not quite sure what worked though. Maybe it is all the socialising, maybe I just needed a(nother) break to reset. Or maybe, it froze off in the cold like a wart.

03 Jun

blowing away the cobwebs

I did indeed open all the windows and doors in my house after the last entry. I very rarely do that because it’s so damn hot here. We’re on the fourth and fifth floors, not high enough to get cooling breezes all the time, so mostly opening the windows just makes it hot and sticky. (I have a friend who lives just down the road on the 29th floor and she has her windows open all the time. Her monthly electricity bill is only about $30 because she doesn’t need to run her air conditioners. I am quite envious of that.)

So I went round and opened all the doors and windows and the air blew in all fresh, and all the mirrors and glass upstairs fogged up, because I’d previously had the airconditioning on so they were cold, and the air was so humid. It was pretty funny actually. And it was lovely, and I really did feel like all the stale energy had blown out, but after a while I had a shower and couldn’t dry myself because of the humidity, so I closed them again. But it was lovely for a while and I’ve done it a couple more times since then.

Nice.

I did something else to clear my head; I went for a session of Pranic Healing. One of the mums at school volunteers as a healer and invited me along for a session on the weekend. Prana is the indian word for energy and life force. In Chinese it’s qi or chi and it’s the stuff feng shui works on. If you’ve ever had a session of acupuncture and felt better afterwards, you’ve experienced energy healing. This seems easier to accept and understand than say, talking about auras.

In Pranic Healing the focus is on the 7 chakras, points in the body where energy is said to flow through (which is a bit different from acupuncture which says there are hundreds of such points in your body). Anyway, the theory is that blockages in energy flow effect the physical body, so healers undertake to clear them, without physically touching. This is the bit which is a little hard to accept, but I wanted to try it anyway.

The session was a demonstration of healing on a volunteer, then a group guided meditation for stress reduction. Everyone had their own volunteer performing an individual healing. My lady was lovely and we talked my health issues and how healling had helped her. I’ve got to be honest here, she was so enthusiastic about the lifechanging benefits that I got a bit uncomfortable, that maybe this was some sort of a cult! But, I did feel better after the session. My sinus blah that was still hanging around didn’t feel as bad and I felt calmer and lighter. I believe in the benefits of meditation and this was a really good deep guided one, so it could have been just from that. Whatever it was, it was definitely beneficial.

(They tried to get us to sign up for a bunch of courses on Pranic Healing, but I am not ready to commit to that. I would rather have a few more sessions first. After all, I didn’t leap into learning acupuncture after my first experience with that.)

I was feeling very clear and calm afterwards, and I realised that a large part of my current malaise is rooted in boredom. I am bored! Of course I am bored, my days have no real purpose. It’s a little confronting to realise that I’ve taken my wonderful opportunity to do whatever I want with my days, and essentially have frittered it away on nothing much. But if I’m honest, that does sound like something I’d do… There’s no point beating myself up about it, I just have to shake myself out of it and make some of the moments count. I can do that, and I’m already feeling more optimistic. Yay for getting rid of the cobwebs! Now I’d better go open the windows up again!