The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Janice and Frank

Do you know about the ‘Other’ Inbox on Facebook? I didn’t until Mrs Shell mentioned it and what weirdos had randomly been in touch. Whilst you and I can see a weirdo message for being exactly that, I do wonder about the people who don’t and what consequences that could have.

Anyways, being curious I thought I’d check to see what was in my ‘Other’ Inbox. One advertisement. Two weirdos. One that read, ‘Are you the Karen who worked at the R.A.C. and lived with us before you went to London?’.

It was sent 4 May 2012 by my former colleague and landlady Janice, and I only just came across it last month. I probably never would have done either if it wasn’t because of that chance remark.

For once I’m not going to conceal their given names and I don’t think they will mind.

I met Janice through work back in 1997. My first full time job since graduating. It started off as a temp position and I ended up staying for two years. I was house sharing with Elbear, Ms Beefy and Mr G but when that tenancy ended I felt that age old cliche of ‘needing space’ and decided I wanted to move out and find something else. Either side of flat sharing with someone new, I lived with Janice and Frank on two separate occasions. Neither time for long. I think the first time was a matter of weeks and the second time a year later for about five or six months.

Janice and Frank never behaved like typical landlords. Especially Janice. You just can’t keep anything from her. I suppose the fact that we worked together for a year beforehand made a difference because she had me sussed out already. The first time I moved in was to tie me over until I found my next flat. I lived in the guest room with a green tartan check duvet on the top floor. I never thought I’d move back in again but Janice and Frank were planning on renting out rooms in the whole house eventually so I did.

Along with Janice and Frank there was also George and Kevin, the two cats, and Gemmel and Megan, the two Welsh springer spaniels. Ever since telling Husband about Kevin and George the cats we have always talked about how brilliant it is to call your pets very normal human names. His favourite is to have a dog called Phillip. Though recently this was topped after watching that YouTube video of the dog Fenton chasing a herd of deer.

The house was a three storey townhouse set off a busy road in Manchester. I think it had always been their family home. It was so different to the kind of houses I had lived in before. Downstairs had two living rooms for everyday use and a massive kitchen with an old Aga it might have been. The second floor had the bathroom, an odd shaped back bedroom (which eventually became mine), a kitchenette and the ‘posh’ living room where visiting guests were received. There was usually a gate on the door so Gemmel and Megan couldn’t just wander in and lounge across the good couch, unlike George and Kevin who could come and go as they please. Upstairs was another three bedrooms.

You could only ever describe Janice as being motherly. With an interest in everyone and everything. I very much doubt her three boys ever got anything past her growing up. She is always entertaining and has that way of telling a story that reminds me of Mrs 192. Frank would roll his eyes at her because she’d be asking a dozen questions that my own parents wouldn’t ask me. I enjoyed living with them because I’d never seen anything like it! So regular.

There are several Janice-isms I still recount even now. One is as you get older, you can choose between a less fuller figure but look old in the face or a fuller figure and look young. Nice. There was also the time Dean Gaffney, at the height of his fame as Robbie off Eastenders, crashed his Vauxhall Corsa Sport and requiring assistance and advice from Mrs F which she thought was hilarious. So respectful he was she said and she milked it. Putting on her best telephone, authoritive voice and telling him he could only get help from her. Then there was the time she thought she had shingles but actually had burnt herself on the metal plate of the cooker. But I think the best memory I have, which still cracks me up, is when she turned 50 and how she nearly had kittens when she came home from work and saw the ‘Happy 50th Birthday’ banner I had tacked on the living room window facing out onto the busy main road! I genuinely thought she’d be pleased! Touched even. She just went apeshit.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am not one that has a natural way with animals. I think most people would trust me with their children but never their pets. Not Janice and Frank. With me moving in, it gave them the freedom to go away which left me in charge of two dogs and two cats. Can you imagine?

Thankfully the cats never saw me fit enough to bring me gifts. George, who was a huge tabby, often disappeared days at a time. Janice could often be heard yelling, ‘George! George!’, out of the back door. Kevin was more of a homebody. Cats are ok but not my favourite. Especially not when they insist on sitting on your lap, dig their claws into your thighs, get up, stretch, pivot and wave their tail up in your face. I never understand that.

Gemmel and Megan remain my favourite though. I do love spaniels, perhaps because of them. Gemmel the boy, was a little Rowlf looking. Big brown eyes, short and squat and long floppy ears. Megan the girl, so unlike Gemmel. Tall, slender and graceful. They looked such an unlikely couple. They were about four years old then. Now, Megan had never been spayed and every time she was on heat, Janice vowed to get it done. She didn’t want short, squat, graceful puppies and so for five or six days we endured poor Gemmel panting, whining and scrabbling to get hold of Megan.

Having never been in such close proximity to animal nature before, I got a short, sharp, Cliffs notes visual guide to it. I came home one day from work and was greeted by a particularly exuberant Gemmel. Flattered, I thought he had missed me as one of the family. Until he started humping my leg. Horrified, I yelled at him, ‘What do you think you’re doing Gemmel?? Get off me right now and do not speak to me!’. Exactly how you should address a dog driven mad with desire for his dog companion in heat. On one occasion Janice took pity on him and let them both out in the back yard. Didn’t feel like breakfast that day.

Although I’ve only ever had tropical fish (which I added to the family the second time I moved in), I can totally see how pets become such important, integral family members. I really enjoyed the time I spent with Gemmel and Megan. I took them out for walks, except they never walked and I must have looked comical half dragged around the streets to the moors behind the house. You’d never think there was such a vast stretch of fell right behind such a busy main road. Janice and Frank were very trusting. Though Janice probably had second thoughts when I told her how they both ran off into the river one time. On other occasions, Gemmel would just roll around in horse shit. Nice. Then I’d try to order him into the bath and that worked.

If I had to live in such a huge townhouse by myself now, I’d be nervous but the company of Gemmel and Megan at the time made it less scary. They would follow me around and Megan would sleep right next to me smelling strongly of wet dog and Gemmel down by my feet or on them cutting off the circulation. They were gorgeous.

Janice and Frank did as they planned and retired away from Manchester to Wales. A lovely beach area I’m told, somewhere we must definitely visit when we next go back. I’m looking forward to it.

It’s only now as a proper grown up, in years at least, that I recognise and appreciate the relationship and marriage between Janice and Frank. They met when they were 14, married, had three sons, grandchildren. They complemented each other. They had a lot to say each other in jest and affection.

When I moved to London at the age of 24 and they moved to Wales in semi retirement, I lost touch with them; too careless to take care of the past I’m afraid to say. I never stopped wondering how they and the cats and dogs were and sometimes I’d ask Elbear if anyone from work had heard from Janice after failing to find where they could be in Directory Enquiries.

So I’m glad this ‘Other’ Inbox exists. I messaged Janice immediately and impatiently waited to hear back. I wasn’t sure if I would. I mean she’s well over 60 now and do they use Facebook at that age? She does. And plays Candy Crush. And lunches leisurely with ladies. She is Grandmother to eight and I’m sure that keeps her occupied.

It is with a heavy heart though that she told me Frank passed away some years ago. I was so sad to hear that. Sad for Janice and sad that she won’t get to fill him in on all my goings on since I lived with them.

They asked me how would I like my room decorated. I said blue carpet and yellow walls please with blue curtains. That’s what I got. Plus a bracket on the wall for my tv. Frank did that for me. Ordered by Janice. Frank worked long hours and Janice would get annoyed with him for falling asleep at traffic lights. She often said she was convinced he had narcolepsy and he would counter back he was just bloody tired!

Janice and Frank. Frank and Janice. A lovely, warm couple who allowed me to share their home and never made me feel like a true tenant. In fact, I’ve just remembered towards the end of my stay, Janice even refused to accept my rent because I was doing such a great job looking after the cats and dogs. She forgot the time George tried to tell me he couldn’t get out the cat flap and did the biggest, longest pee against the wall by the telephone stand in the hallway. More shouting from me, ‘what do you think you are doing George?’.

Recently, Janice made a comment on my family photo that she was ‘proud’ and I don’t doubt that for a second. I’m quite convinced when #1, 2 and 3 meet her, she’ll be welcoming them with open arms and they probably can’t help themselves but welcome her back.

I can’t find my photos of Gemmel and Megan right now and whilst Manchester United is not my favourite team, when they did the double (or was it triple) victory, I certainly didn’t feel able to say No to watching the team bus pass by on the busy main road outside when I lived just a mile away from Old Trafford. So the only photo I could find that will have to do is this one of me and David Beckham taken in 1995.

I write this in fond memory of Frank.

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Have yourself a hot and sweaty Expat Christmas

Well it’s that time of year again. Just a month to go before Christmas Day. Are you all prepared? I know at least one of you is and has already got a pile of presents all wrapped up.

I’ll probably be wrapping up presents on Christmas Eve. This is not all down to my lack of planning or disorganisation. I have a few presents stashed away which I bought some time ago. Four years ago to be exact when I went away on a Girl’s Weekend to Bangkok and one resourceful Mum who took an empty suitcase led us to the Plan Toys outlet and there I bought a tree house because it was such a bargain. I would say #1 and 2 are about the right age for it now. Except #3 still goes rogue with eating non edible items so maybes I ought to keep it stored for another year?

This will be my sixth Christmas spent in tropical Singapore and it doesn’t feel any more natural to celebrate Christmas in 32 degrees heat than when I first arrived. That’s the reason why my mind isn’t ready for Christmas. For 33 years it had been conditioned to associate cold weather, chilling winds, red wine nights in a cosy pub and possible snow with Christmas being on the way. How can Christmas be on the way when I’m sat chatting to you in shorts and t shirt? Exactly.

I know some part of you will be thinking how lovely it would be to be sat in shorts and t shirts right now as temperatures in the far northern hemisphere plummet towards zero at night. But Christmas is not the time for warm weather. Christmas is a time for goodwill and cosiness. You can’t feel cosy in hot weather. You can only feel cosy when you’re warm and snug in cold weather and I think the season of goodwill is more abundant when you’re feeling warm and cosy than hot and sweaty. In saying that, I felt a lot of goodwill towards the first ever outdoor car park attendant I saw cheerfully sporting his fleecy Santa hat. Didn’t he know a hat keeps in 40% of your body heat? Why would you want to do that here?

Of course, not all expats living in Singapore are from the upper hemisphere. For those from the lower hemisphere they are quite adept at Christmas in this clime. From the offset Christmas is already in the wrong weather and opposite season. How confusing is that? So last week I asked a friend how will she be celebrating Christmas this year in New Zealand and she breezily replied ‘Oh you know, the usual with all the family. A roast turkey with all the trimmings on the BBQ and a salad.’ SALAD? Really? I guess it could be a sprouts salad.

Though I don’t quite feel in the festive spirit, Singapore has been ready since the day after All Hallows Eve. No sooner will Christmas be over then preparations for Chinese New Year will be under way. I’ve concluded that in the absence of actual seasons prescribed by the weather then the only way you can tell what season it is, is by what decorations are festooning the streets. It’s spring when Chinese New Year blossom is all around, summer when the National Day Singapore flags are out, autumn with the Halloween paraphernalia and now we’re at winter with all the Christmas lights and decorations which are always beautiful.

Tanglin Mall do a wonderful festive tradition with what is essentially an outdoor foam party. First an ‘avalanche’ of foam snow comes sweeping out surrounding the base of the Christmas tree and then ‘snow’ comes tumbling out from the top of the Christmas tree. In the dark, warm night air, you could almost kid yourself it really is snowing. Then just like real snow, it all turns to slippery slush.

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Except this year, I think someone forgot to order the Christmas display early enough. There’s been a fair few comments of outrage I’ve heard about how Father Christmas is riding what appears to be Cinderella’s carriage drawn by some snowy white horses, whilst some reindeer are lolling around doing not much at all. To be fair, maybes someone approached the idea with more logic than we are giving them credit for. It never snows in Singapore, and if it ever does then global warming has seriously taken hold, so why would Father Christmas need a sleigh? It would surely just scrape along the concrete causing a right old racket and who could hear those sleigh bells ringing then?

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So we’re a month away from Christmas and it’s time to start feeling a little like Christmas. Where to start? Why Marks and Spencer’s food hall of course! Some mince pies and a Christmas Port I think.

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The Gift of Sharing (but not over sharing)

I’m waiting for Husband to get back from working the week in Hong Kong. This is not a common occurence, so it was with high excitement that we all took him to Changi International Airport on Monday to wave him off. What is there not to love about airports? It’s full of promise of adventure and far away places. Plus this year’s Christmas theme at Changi International Airport appears to be Christmas Spongebob Square Pants, complete with Christmas pineapple. When #2 said out loud, ‘Look Mummy, a Christmas pineapple!’, I was about to say ‘Erm, I don’t think it can be a Christmas pineapple #2’ but thankfully I didn’t because we haven’t reached the point yet where Mummy is wrong.

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These days air travel is so much the norm and we have grown quite blase about catching aeroplanes but I still remember a time when the whole family would go to the airport to wave off whoever was flying to Hong Kong. Everyone only ever went to Hong Kong. My Dad, Mr Li, firmly believes there isn’t much point going anywhere else. Then everyone would go to collect whoever was flying back from Hong Kong. By the time I was 23, I had been to Hong Kong twice and Tenerife once. The family tried to holiday ‘European style’. Needless to say they never did again, thus confirming Mr Li’s opinion that there isn’t much point going anywhere other than Hong Kong. Though I’m still not overly well travelled, I’ve not done too badly in the last 16 years. However, I’ve inherited Mr Li’s fear of flying. That first flight to Hong Kong with Mr Li, Lil Bro and Lil Cousin Tang is where I caught my first glimpse of the Fear. Over 31 years later, I can still see Mr Li looking nervous, chewing gum and gripping the arm rest. Ironically, he’s outgrown his fear now.

So I’m not good with take off, I’m not good with turbulence but I’m ok with landing because by then it’s almost all over. Once we’re up in the air sans turbulence, I love the whole flying experience! I even don’t mind the food, I quite like exploring all those compartments on the tray and I love the souvenir cutlery too. Before travelling with young children brought a different kind of fear, (the fear of them screaming on the plane, not sleeping, making too much noise, kicking the seat in front, needing the toilet when travelling on your own, getting bored and so on), I loved the whole experience. The excitement of going somewhere different, getting a stamp in your passport (mightily annoyed at no stamp to other EU countries and Hong Kong), browsing Duty Free because it’s so much cheaper and ending up only buying a bottle of gin, watching at least two films, three if you’re lucky on a long haul flight. These days, when travelling with young children, I’ll be lucky if I even get as far as seeing what’s underneath the tin foil on my tray of food. If you thought the seats in Economy were narrow just for you, try it with small wriggling person.

Anyways, the week has flown by like it does when small children are involved. We had initial cries of ‘I miss Daddy’ at hourly intervals and especially at bedtime for the first few days but either they’ve got used to it or they feel reassured that Daddy is home in two days instead of five that they’ve been more settled about it all. Instead of lolling on the couch watching crap TV as Husband calls it without him going on about it being crap TV which I thought I’d be doing, I’ve been rather busy. I’ve been up late most nights writing to you a bit and making sets of advent calendars which I’m rather proud of so I’m going to post a picture in here too.

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Filling the time whilst Husband has been away hasn’t been a problem. In fact, during the working week, it’s only a few hours in the evening and an hour in the morning of his company that I’ve been missing. Yet, at various moments of the working day, I’ve missed being able to give him a quick call about something. Usually to share something quite mundane, I have to say, but it’s the ability to spontaneously call the other person and have a brief chat. Regular communication. Keep things ticking along until hometime. I know a lot of people whose wives and husbands work away a lot. Sometimes for weeks at a time and often wiping out the weekends too. A friend once said that when her husband is travelling, the week days are fine, you can always find someone to share a morning or afternoon with but come the weekend then that’s time reserved for families to share together. If you are one of those people whose wife or husband works away a lot then can you just let me know?

In my last post I talked about the Gift of Giving in the altruistic sense but this time I would like to talk about the Gift of Sharing. Like I say, it was a thought that started off with Husband being away this week for the first time in a long while and not being able to share the everyday stuff, particularly when it’s about #1, 2 and 3, or a conversation I’ve had with a friend, or something I’ve seen in the news, or the rage I felt at the tit in the car who had no regard for using his indicators. You know, just the general stuff. Stuff that no one else would be interested in me telling them and so it would never be said. Husband probably isn’t either about half the stuff I tell him but it’s his job to pretend to be interested. I actually had a conversation with him last week about something important during which he fell asleep. The reason why I know he was asleep was when I heard snoring. There are worse times to fall asleep I guess.

I like to share. I wouldn’t be writing to you now if I didn’t. I don’t share everything though because it’s not always appropriate. Whilst I still haven’t figured out Twittering, I’ve decided it’s not for me. I think some of it is good when it serves a purpose of giving out information that has a use but I don’t really get Twitting a message about being stuck in a queue or LOLing about something no one else can see. It’s also quite dangerous in shooting off something you really shouldn’t on the spur of the moment. By the way, I still get rather alarmed when someone signs off LOL to me. I felt a bit uncomfortable for a while when a friend used to do that and I thought it meant Lots of Love. Isn’t that what it used to mean? I also think if I over shared on social media what would I say in person? Whilst I’m not a fan of Twitter, I think Facebook has been invaluable with helping me keep in touch with a lot of people. Especially those who are ‘sharers’ and not just voyeurs. Then again it’s not quite the same as a text message, an email, a Skype chat, a card, a letter, a telephone call.

I’m not stoical about stuff as you’ve gathered, unlike many people I know, and this week I realised what essentially it is that I find the hardest about living this Expat life. I’ve often said that missing familiar things in the UK is hard. Missing people there and people I have met here who have moved elsewhere is even harder. Why do I miss you? Well, I guess I miss sharing stuff with you. Memories are created through shared experiences. Relationships are strengthened through shared experiences. The burden that life sometimes heaps upon us is lightened through sharing. We can find unexpected laughs with people by sharing a little of ourselves. I wish I could share with you this new life we have that includes all these small people who are so much fun and I wish we could share a pint together because that is always fun too.

Sharing is indeed caring and a gift that we can give freely.

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The Gift of Giving

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines on Friday, 8 November 2013, will affect 11 million people and has so far cost nearly 4,000 lives, with an estimated 1,500 unaccounted for and around 500,000 left homeless. Communities have disappeared, the surviving population of Tacloban look bewildered trying to get through each day and what lies ahead is uncertain as food, clean water and medical attention is desperately needed for the people in the here and now.

Whilst the Philippines are no stranger to being at the mercy of typhoons and other natural disasters, the strength of Super Typhoon Haiyan was declared unusual. There has been much debate about whether the wealthier economies have contributed to the occurrence of this ‘natural disaster’ because of the rise in global warming and climate change but that is a discussion best left on the UN political agenda for now. In the meantime so begins the grim task of dealing with the aftermath of such catastrophic levels of destruction to life and land. It has brought together a mass global emergency relief effort to support a country in despair but even in this area there is debate over the level of support given by some countries over others.

As a British expat, I am heartened by the fact that UK public donations has reached £33 million, with a further £30 million pledged by the British government. I read on the BBC news website that HMS Daring has reached Cebu port near Tacloban carrying 500 shelter kits, 10 tonnes of high energy biscuits and will use the ships own water filters to replenish 1,900 tankers with clean drinking water. The US is providing $20 million in immediate relief aid with much needed food parcels being dropped in by American Air Forces to areas where survivors are reaching critical stage with lack of food and clean water. Medicins Sans Frontieres has arranged teams of doctors, nursing staff, surgeons, psychologists and specialists in areas such as water sanitation to help the survivors. This is just a tiny glimpse at the international support being mobilised right now.

In addition, millions of pounds and dollars have been raised by the general public through pledges and fundraising events. A group of women from my condo did wonders with arranging a fundraising cake bake and raffle event in just a few days and raised over S$2,300 for Mercy Relief, a Singapore based NGO that is providing emergency relief of rice, preserved seafood, sanitised water and hygiene kits. Husband’s work did a quick whip round the office and raised over S$2,000. Calls for donations of clothing and blankets have been made as shipping companies donate containers to transport these items to the Philippines. The school which #1 and 2 attend have made an appeal to parents to donate money that will go to the Singapore Red Cross and the teachers are leading an activity with the children to make book marks to raise further funds. It’s good to see that so much is being done. Especially when there are a lot of people, mostly women working as home helpers, from the Philippines living in Singapore. Many of whom are affected by the events that have happened and have lost family members and homes. To be so far away during a time of great loss and uncertainty going on must be devastating. I hope it’s some comfort for them to see the world pulling together to help in any way they can.

I know it’s been over five years since I was in gainful employment but when I was, I worked in the voluntary sector as a Charity Fundraiser. My last role was with Cancer Research UK in the Major Gifts team as a Major Gifts Fundraising Manager. What does that mean? Quite simply, I worked with people with the propensity to make a significant personal donation. As you know, there are many ways to give to charitable causes from corporate sponsorship and Charity of the Year partnerships; charitable trusts set up with the purpose of supporting particular concerns; individual giving of regular monthly donations; events participation and community activity with innovative ideas for raising money coming from you.

I was 25 when I first came across the notion that you could work for a charity. A University acquaintance was working for Barnardos at the time and another friend had done some temping work for The Evelina Children’s Hospital Appeal, (the Children’s Hospital for Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, London) and they told me they were looking to recruit and that’s where I started off my career in fundraising. I then moved onto the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, the National Deaf Children’s Society before Cancer Research UK. I’ve often wondered what kind of career I’ll resume when I restart gainful employment but I keep coming back to the Voluntary Sector.

Of course it’s a hugely rewarding job to be in but there can exist a lot of misconceptions over what working for a charity means. People are often surprised it’s even a paid job. Some people are of the opinion that if you work for a charity then you shouldn’t get paid because why should donations be used to pay for salaries. There are millions of people who give their time and support for a charity without being paid and as Volunteers they are invaluable. They raise funds, they raise awareness, they steward events and without them many organisations could barely exist; both the really well established ones and the small fledgeling ones.

If only you could meet some of the people I have worked with, who are also my fabulous friends, who now work for a diverse range of causes such as Oxfam, Wide Horizons, National Deaf Children’s Society, WWF, British Red Cross, Teenage Cancer Trust, Breast Cancer Care and so many more. If only you could have a ten minute conversation with them about what their job involves and you will feel the passion and commitment exude from them as they tell you what their organisation is set up to do to help the people who need it most. If only you could meet the specialists, care providers, medical scientists whose work is funded by your donations. If only you could meet the people who need charities to exist, not because they need your sympathy but because they can tell you all about the difference that can be made and has been made.

Fundraising is challenging because I’m asking you to part with money and in return you get nothing but the knowledge that your money is going towards empowering people and giving them hope that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Some may think that ‘paying taxes’ should be enough or that the State should provide certain services and perhaps it should but there’s never going to be enough money to service a nation’s needs. If you look at the history of any charity, you will find an amazing story of philanthropy to meet a need that one person, or a group of people, have decided just can’t continue and have used their own money, time and commitment to try and solve it. The Evelina Children’s Hospital was built and fully funded by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1869 to treat sick children in a seriously deprived area of London. I don’t suppose you could have one person doing all that again but today it would still just take one person to set the ball rolling and achieve amazing things.

Like any other sector the Voluntary Sector is governed by stringent rules and regulations set out by the Charity Commission, HMRC and the government. You would expect that though when it’s about your money and your donations. Don’t you feel more reassured to know that a charity is led by responsible Chief Executives, Finance Directors, dedicated Fundraisers and a committed and informed Board of Trustees? I’ll always remember the Director of Finance when I worked at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, who would get himself tied up in knots re-enforcing to us fundraisers the importance of accounting all donations and receipts for audit purposes. I hope he’s enjoying a less stressful retirement now. Your donations are not distributed on a whim either. Careful consideration is given to all projects submitted for a request for funding and a panel of experts in that field are responsible for granting funds where need is greatest and where outcomes will directly support the most beneficiaries. It’s a very serious business and the overhead costs are kept as low as possible so that more money is directed to where it’s needed. You may think that money spent on advertising campaigns that the large, well known charities do are a waste of money but they are not. Raising awareness of a cause is just as important; getting messages out there is educating the public both to garner support and as a preventative measure.

There is so much more I could say but where would I stop? I’m really proud to have worked for the charities that I have. How could I not be when I know all the good work that they do to provide care for very sick children; supporting 30,000 people with muscular dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease that has no cure; empowering 30,000 deaf children in the UK to an education they should have and providing funding for the rare, less well known types of cancers that don’t affect as many people but still the consequences are no less severe.

I’m not going to ask you to rush out and give to a charity because if you don’t then with Christmas around the corner, Father Christmas will put you firmly on the bad list. I’ve long since realised that asking people to give under duress does not lead to a fulfilling experience on either side. Giving is a very personal choice. What cause you give to needs to have meaning for you.

I would though, like to ask you that you have a think of what concerns are important to you and have a look at what charities exist to support that concern. Then perhaps take a bit more time to see what projects are being funded right now to help and then perhaps think some more about when would be the right time for you to get involved. Perhaps you could even speak with that Fundraiser for ten minutes and if you do then I guarantee you will definitely find someone as passionate as you about that cause.

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Three months in, another nine to go

I just realised it was the 12th November yesterday. I’m three months into my year to forty already. Nine months to go. Still feeling ok about it because I’ve decided the real thing to fear is turning fifty.

I’m obviously curious about how I will look when I’m about to hit fifty because when I turn 40 I ought to look quite similar to how I look today. Unless of course the ageing process accelerates rapidly over the next nine months which sometimes feels like it will when faced with the logic and demands of a 3 and 4 year old.

You know what I realised the other day? My error as the parent is taking everything they say literally and I know I shouldn’t. For example, #1 will ask for ice cream after eating his tea and when the offer is refused because he’s had a truck load of sugar related products already with no vegetable content, he then declares ‘Today has been a terrible day’. Then with my grown up head on I then start listing all the reasons why in his book today has not been a terrible day at all which is met by a blank stare and another request for ice cream. Followed quickly by #2 asking for ice cream and I imagine very soon followed by #3. Why are small children never satisfied for long?

#1 is ruled by the contents of his stomach. A good or bad day is measured by what he’s had to eat that day. Ice cream, chocolate, sweets – good day. Vegetables, gruel, boiled eggs – bad day. During the weaning process Annabel Karmel said a wide and varied diet involving lots of colourful vegetable and food groups would mean you’d have an inquisitive, adventurous mini Master Chef in the making. She lied. At some point all identifiable vegetables gradually disappeared off #1’s plate and we resorted to her ‘hidden vegetables pasta sauce’ on a regular basis. Only in the last few months has carrots looking like carrots been reintroduced. I thought it was just the age of #1 until I saw his friend Mini Cake Pops eating, nay, shovelling down carrots, broccoli and raw celery at an alarming rate. I mention this because the need to infiltrate the diet of #1 and 2 with the required vegetable quota is one of the things that I find ageing.

So anyways, fifty. If I dare to think turning 40 is hard work then turning fifty with a 12, 14 and 15 year old will be a walk in the park? Plus the menopause is going to be looming soon after and I’ve heard quite frequently on Women’s Hour that this is not a fun time at all. So no, I’m firmly not going to be worrying about turning forty at all. Turning sixty on the other hand is another matter entirely. Finally I’ll be old enough to actually be legitimately ‘out of touch’ and what a relief that will be. No longer will I have to try and work out why no one is mocking some singer called Justin Beaver (is it just my immaturity?) to realise it’s Justin Bieber (oh, now I see why). Or wonder at the significance of #turningforty in a Twitter post. Or having nothing to contribute to TOWIE or Jersey Shore or MIC conversations.

Three months into this blog and I’m rather enjoying myself. I wondered what I would talk about but have found that I have plenty to say. Nothing new I imagine you’ll be thinking. It’s been good for me to talk with you in this way. It’s like I’m sitting down with you and having a conversation. A rather one sided one admittedly but then Husband says that’s also nothing new. I’ve enjoyed writing too. Most importantly I’ve enjoyed hearing from you too. I don’t know exactly who is having a read but I know some of you have written comments and shown a ‘like’ and it’s good to know you’re there.

I always said this blog isn’t just about me and writing about some of you already has brought back some great memories. This blog allows me to say things to you I may never have had the chance to say otherwise and that would have been a shame. I’d like to ask you to share your thoughts on my blog if you will. Add a comment that will make me smile as I continue my year to forty.

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When two become five – My Singapore Expat Adventure so far

It’s been two years since I was last on British soil. Two years! I know. That’s a very long time. During this time though we’ve had the arrival of #3 and logistically as well as financially, it has become far less convenient to make the 13, sometimes 14, hour flight back as much as we would like to.

This is the longest time I haven’t seen my Mum and Dad for and thank goodness for Skype. So I am finding it hard right now but I hope these feelings don’t cloud my account of my Singapore expat adventure.

As I’ve mentioned previously, before the start of all this I never gave much thought to living abroad. The closest I came to the term ‘expatriate’ was watching that awful television show El Dorado. There are many different definitions of ‘expatriate’ but commonly it’s a person living in another country other than the one of their upbringing, often temporary and for work reasons. Some would go on to further classify an expatriate as having ‘professional’ skills as opposed to a migrant worker who are mostly manual labourers. Why the need for such snobbery when collectively you are all living in another country temporarily for work is beyond me. Technically, I’m a ‘Dependent’ as I’m not the one doing the working. So that would make my current occupation Dependent Housewife/Homemaker. Marvellous.

Anyways, that’s not what I meant to tell you. I’ve given it some thought and the last five years has been a wonderful experience. I’m really glad we took this blind leap of faith into an unplanned adventure. I thought living in London was cosmopolitan but Singapore has me living in close quarters with people from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Holland, France, Switzerland, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philipines, Vietnam, Japan, China and a whole host more. It’s a real melting pot of nationalities here. At first I met a few people I didn’t think I would quite get along with but actually it was me not getting their tone of voice or their quirky sense of humour that threw me because it was so different to mine and they probably thought the same about me too.

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That’s the thing with living in another country. It’s so different to where you have come from and yet you arrive looking for things that are the same to what you are used to. Then feel somewhat surprised when you find things aren’t or that some things almost are but are not nearly quite the same. Isn’t that just so rude of me? I think though, that when you first arrive somewhere, you look for something familiar to cling onto to make the change less daunting. I had hoped that as we grew more familiar with our surroundings then we would embed ourselves more into the culture because otherwise what would be the point of being here? Some people are much better at adapting than others, quickly throwing themselves into local culture and creating a new social landscape for themselves. They’ve probably done this whole expat thing before and know the drill. I certainly would be better at it should it happen another time.

That’s another thing you see, how you adapt yourself. I was quite comfortable how I was in the UK before moving out here and to top it off, I was expecting #1 and the thought of my family not being around to share this precious time was quite horrendous. It made me very sad. It still does make me sad to think about what both sides are missing out on but I say to myself that the children are still young and there’s ample time for good, strong relationships to be formed with grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nearly aunts and uncles and nearly cousins. I know Husband felt guilty when I was sad and it was hard for him too but the first six months of any international move are always the hardest. We are in this together. I haven’t sacrificed anything that we had in the UK that Husband hasn’t had to give up too. My career perhaps you say? Well yes there is that and whilst I was indignant about having no official job title that I was pleased with, I’ve been given this rare opportunity of watching my children grow right in front of me during these fleeting formative years, which my Dad Mr Li never had, and I’m very thankful for that.

Singapore will always be a special place and a special time in my life because this is where #1, 2 and 3 were born and so we will always refer back to Singapore and come and visit once our time is up here. It’s Asia but then again not quite with nearly everyone speaking English as well as Mandarin. It makes me lazy in not having to try too hard in learning another language and managing very well. I live very centrally in a four bedroom apartment in a condo that has great facilities and even a corner shop and dry cleaners. As I drive into our condo, I can see that really tall building with the ship on top, we can walk to the Grand Prix track, we’re a 30 minutes drive from the airport and we can be sat on a beach in 20 minutes.

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Singapore gives off the impression of being very ‘polished’, safe and new. The sunshine helps, everything looks and feels better in the sun and you can get a fix of vitamin D nearly everyday with the temperature barely dropping below 31 degrees. It’s great that the children can play in the pool everyday if they want to, there’s always a play date to be arranged because the expat community is so big and our days are full of fun activities. If it’s not being on a play date, it’s out at a park or beach or down by the pool. I say I haven’t been back to the UK for two years but in that time I’ve been to Langkawi, Krabi and Phuket. Oh and we have home help. How can I not mention we have home help which means I barely have to do laundry, cleaning or most of the cooking on a daily basis. So even though we have three children, I don’t work and we have home help, so how hard can my life be?

It’s a thing often said amongst people who have lived expat lives that you can’t describe your existence to those who haven’t yet tried it. An expat life by all accounts is a privileged life. Especially living in Singapore with all the benefits it has to offer. I think if you said you were an expat in Siberia, your friends back home may feel an inkling of sympathy for you. As you read this, I don’t blame you if you think I’ve got it easy and that I’m living the life of Riley. I’m glad I’m reminding myself of all the good stuff about being an expat because right now after five years I’m growing weary of it. I told you some time ago that in five years I’ve waved off over 30 families who have done their time in Singapore. That’s like saying Goodbye to friends you’ve made and children you’ve watched grow from a seedling on average every two months. These people have shared so much with us from bringing new people into the world, to helping us find our feet to sharing their life experiences with us that can only humble my existence. I’ve found that part of expat living very hard. So difficult for my sentimental soul to take a battering so often. I still miss many of these families and on the flip side, these people will still be our friends in all the years to come and I am ever grateful Singapore gave me back Brilliant New Adventure friend. Whilst it was hard to see them go, it has been absolutely fabulous to have found more friends at a time of my life where I thought I had all the friends I would ever need.

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I miss the UK all the time, even though I’m told we are better off away as the UK is going down the pan. Is it really? I know there were those riots across London a couple of years ago which wasn’t pleasant and then there’s David Cameron but last year was a great year with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a brilliant 2012 Olympics, most of which I missed watching because we don’t have the right cable channel. There was a real sense of camaraderie and good will which we’ll never know about.

Did I say I haven’t seen my parents for two years? Granted that’s not quite the norm for all expats but that’s the way it has worked out for us recently and I don’t think I can fully describe how that feels. My parents are in their late 70s now and I feel immense guilt that we are this far away with three of their grandchildren and flying out this way with the humidity wouldn’t do them good either. Even when we do make a trip back it’s only for three weeks and there is never enough time to see everyone. I’ve missed weddings, I’ve missed the arrival of new people and most importantly, I’ve missed being present there in person when my friends and family have needed me. I also miss the change of seasons, the familiar language, the supermarkets, the people. I miss being part of something I recognise as real life.

On any given day, I can easily give you five things about living in Singapore that really irritates me. The heat and humidity; the cost of rent, cars and school fees; the driving; the customer service or lack of; strangers passing opinion on what #1, 2 and 3 are doing; the sound of Singlish; grown up people wearing clothing with cartoon characters or even worse, his and hers matching outfits; endless construction sites; women speaking like children in order to get their hapless boyfriends to carry their handbags; pedestrians walking on roads and cyclists riding against the flow of traffic; people picking their noses in public; my ability to find only one true Singaporean person and call them my friend. Oh look, more than ten and quite a lot more could come forthwith.

I know these aren’t real reasons, except for the cost of rent, cars and school fees, and for every irritant I can give you two reasons that makes living in Singapore great. Overall Singapore gives you the feeling of good, clean living and safety. Of course the bad stuff happens but somehow you feel less exposed to it. The range of food is amazing and you can eat good food for less than S$5 or amazing food washed down with free flow champagne. It’s a multicultural city that celebrates all religions and I’ve been educated about Ramadan and Eid, Deepavali as well as celebrating Chinese New Year and mid Autumn festival like the genuine Chinese person I was born to be. I barely spoke a word of Mandarin five years ago but since living in Singapore I understand a whole lot more and know when I’m being talked about as well. (If you’re going to call a Chinese person a banana then you really shouldn’t do it in front of them. Racism is even uglier when it comes from your own race you know.) I’ve been to countries I probably would never have gone to and I’ve met people of all nationalities who have enhanced and changed my perception of the world.

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It’s been a good life I know and to voice any complaint would make me sound spoilt and ungrateful but as with anyone, there are bound to be issues and concerns that sunshine and home help can’t eradicate. However, I should enjoy this Singapore Expat Adventure for all that it is because it’s not going to last. I’m an expat remember. Temporarily living in another country for work (or not working). Plus I am running out of tea bags. That’s one thing I can’t compromise on and that’s starting off my privileged day with a mug of shite Lipton’s tea. Well I was running out of tea bags until a call for supplies sent lots of back up including 600 tea bags from Mr Li. What exactly are you telling me people from the UK? Stay being an expat for longer?

You know, I think I just might because I’ve met someone, Mrs Cake Pops, who unwittingly is preparing me for my next adventure, the one of returning back to real life. To getting back into gainful employment, to making me see my value as an entire person again. It’s funny how things work out isn’t it. If I keep looking back to the UK, I’d be missing out on so much else right in front of me. Shamefully I haven’t even explored all that Singapore has to offer or find out what this nation is all about but before I go, I’m definitely going to.

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Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November. Then something about gunpowder plot and what not and that’s all I really do remember as my mind has already moved onto the fireworks and how pretty they are. I LOVE FIREWORKS! What is there not to love about lots of gem coloured sparkles in the night sky? The feeling of anticipation upon hearing the whizzing of the banger shooting way up high followed by an explosion of sound and colour and accompanied by the crowds going ‘Oooh and aaah’. Well I do anyways.

I was really pleased to hear that the once renowned fireworks display at Alexandra Palace, London resumed again this year after a hiatus of a few years due to lack of local council funding. Rather the fireworks go at a cost of £100,000 than some other much needed public service like the local library. Then this year some clever person brought it back with a side order of Belgian beer festival. I asked Uncle Monkey who was in attendance whether the fireworks were any good but he apparently didn’t see any as the queue for beer was so vast he decided once he got to the front he wasn’t going to give up his spot and promptly pulled out his foldable camping stool to prop up the bar. I suppose that’s what happens when you hit 40. Then I remembered he never really liked the fireworks much and was always impatient for hitting the pub afterwards and that perhaps explains why one year he told me it started HALF AN HOUR later and so we all missed out the Ooohing and aaahing stage and had to go straight to the pub. How devious.

When we first moved out to Singapore in the September, the fireworks display at Ally Pally was one of the first regular events I was going to be missing out on and that made me feel quite homesick. Plus it was hard to imagine whilst sweating it out in a vest top in 32 degrees celsius that people were existing in a world where you needed layers of t shirts, jumpers, coats, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, jeans and boots. Except perhaps for the hardy northerners who were probably just out in a vest top too.

Once you let go of summer and embrace the autumn chill, sweetened by that extra hour in bed you got last weekend when the clocks went back, Bonfire Night is a wonderful night to be out in the fresh, cold air. I LOVE WRAPPING UP! What is there not to love about hiding amidst all those layers of padding. Joining the hoards of crowds up to Ally Pally, finding your spot and for 20 minutes Ooohing and aaahing and ‘Did you see that?’ Well of course they did, how could they miss the whole sky lighting up? Then working your way very slowly back down the hill, across the park, up the road to find another small spot in the pub and having to unwrap all those many layers to find your vest top underneath because the pub has the central heating turned up to maximum which is quite unnecessary really with all that body heat being generated by a few hundred people packed in like chickens in a battery farm. You see, this is when the hardy northerners really come into their own having only gone out in just their vest tops in the first place. Who feels stupid now then?

Would I still enjoy it as much? I’m sure I’d love the fireworks just the same but would I be happy with the bangers that go off randomly at all times of the night? Would I be too concerned that the noise is going to wake up #1, 2 and 3 and tut in much the same way that pet owners worry the goldfish are going to freak out? Probablys. #3 is rather concerned at loud noises. They may also be rather concerned at the burning of the Guy Fawkes on the bonfire like they used to do on the beach in Sunderland.

How would you answer a small child who asks you why is it a celebration to watch said effigy being burned? Why indeed. Remember, remember, the Fifth of November….gunpowder….treason and plot….should never be forgot….Oh yes, the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes (Catholic), was caught under the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder right where King James 1(Protestant) would be sat the next day for the opening of Parliament with the intention of blowing up him and many others but the plot was foiled by top spy, Robert Cecil. Do you think Robert Catesby who was the ringleader of the Gunpowder Plotters would be annoyed that it’s Guy Fawkes who gets remembered over 400 years later? Probably not if Guy Fawkes was actually ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ as originally intended but instead he jumped off the gallows after being tortured for two days and they still sent various body parts across the country. Did they really tell us this at school? Really? Why didn’t we run out of school screaming?

Surprisingly, I’ve had a humungous dose of fireworks since living in Singapore. There are fireworks for the regular New Year, then for Chinese New Year, then for National Day in August (which celebrates Singapore’s Birthday, it was 48 this year) and then at the end of the Singapore Grand Prix night race in September. That’s a lot of fireworks. They even have rehearsals of the fireworks every week in the six weeks leading up to National Day. Can you imagine what the Daily Mail would say to Boris Johnson if he suggested that?

What could be a bad fireworks display anyways?

Well I suppose if they didn’t go off at all would be pretty humiliating for the nation. Or say if someone like Mr Telephone Box put the rocket into the ground the wrong way round and so what happens is that a huge crater is blown out in the front garden instead at 2am in the morning. Or perhaps you’re sat in your student abode like Big Scary D and the Locals in a gesture of goodwill decide to bring the fireworks display to you straight through your letter box.

I suppose it is rather macabre the reasons why the Fifth of November is celebrated in this way but whilst the Monarchy still stands, I guess it’s a good a lesson as any.

Though if my birthday was today, like Mr Cupping’s very own #1 (Happy Birthday!), then I would pretend the fireworks were a special bonus birthday present just for me. Speaking of Mr Cupping, you remember I told you how he celebrated his 40th with a long weekend in Vegas with the lads in my post Embracing your 40th……..Vegas style, well Husband and I spoke to him a few days after he got back. My goodness, did he look rough! He had a brilliant time and will live off many stories from that weekend to see him to his 50th but recovery was slow. Very slow. He also seemed to be confused as to what 40 should look like. He was sat with his thick rimmed spectacles on paired with what could only be described as an electric blue hoodie. It was a sight as spectacular as any fireworks display.

Enjoy all the whizz, bang, booms and pretty sparkling colours.

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Bullying is still ugly, if not a whole lot uglier

This is a departure from what I’ve written about so far. I’m loathe to sully my blog with this subject matter but I’m also so incensed, I feel compelled to say something about it.

I came across a link on Facebook that popped up in my news feed. It contained a photo of someone I don’t know accompanied by a rather strong headline. I won’t reveal the subject matter as I don’t think it’s relevant to my point. Curious and confused, I read the blog post which tells the story from the viewpoint of one of the three possible parties involved.

What shocked me so much is the responses this article received from the general public. Comments started off with genuine rage at the article content but very quickly went off topic to voice hostility on specific elements. In this case it focused on the nationality of one party and their employment status. Comments were made about retribution on one party and their family and extended family. When another commentator pointed out the idiocy of this, someone else said that they would never carry out actual violence but they are using their voices to give an opinion instead which was perfectly acceptable. Opinions were then made on foreigners as a whole taking jobs that should not be given to foreigners. What has ensued can only be described as a witch hunt; further posts have been put up giving information on one parties place of work and then targeting the personnel of the company by nationality ratio and whether such a company actually had a right to be operating in the host country.

I stopped reading, and I had spent less than ten minutes scrolling through posts, because it made me feel sick. It made me feel sick because grown ups like you and me were making comments that can only be described as racist, unpleasant and extremely damaging. All in the name of freedom of speech and being entitled to an opinion.

It’s bullying of the lowest form.

You know, the worldwide web is a wonderful thing. It allows us to find information in an instant, it allows us to share news across the miles and keep us in touch with our loved ones, it gives us another chance to reconnect with people that otherwise would have been long ago lost in the ether of time.

And yet it also gives small minded people a voice, buoyed on by the cowardice of other small minded people hidden behind an anonymous wall of cyber silence. Sitting there tapping out vile, narrow minded, ‘opinions’ often about someone they don’t know and about something they know nothing about.

I think ‘bullying’ as a word doesn’t convey the full effect of the damage it can cause. Neither does the advice ‘stand up to the bullies’ hold much store either if it is on line bullying. Ignore it you say? I wish I had. Just from the posts I read tonight has left a deeply bitter taste in my mouth.

So can you imagine the effect on impressionable, young adolescents who in our day perhaps only feared the bullies when they saw them. Now, there is no getting away from it. They can strike at any time on line and it can’t be erased, leaving an indelible mark on the victim.

Bullying is nothing new to me. An easy target being Chinese. I hate the word ‘Chink’ or ‘Chinky’ with a passion. That’s what would be called out by the nobs who thought it was funny and made them look big in front of their nob friends. We lived in one area for a few years where stones were often thrown at our windows. Even a next door neighbour once called out to his wife, ‘It’s the Chinky next door’.

It is never acceptable either to use it because that’s what you’ve always called Chinese people and you don’t mean anything by it. It should be enough that I feel slighted by the use of it. To me it brings back feelings of shame, of wanting to melt into the background, to go about school unnoticed. It’s awful being laughed at for something you can’t control, no matter what that something may be.

When does ‘banter’ become bullying? When you know in your heart you wouldn’t like it if it was directed at you.

When I was 13 we moved to Chester-le-Street. I wasn’t looking forward to starting a new school at that age. I was worried about being targeted again as well as being the New Girl. It never came. The name calling never came. If only I could tell them now, the people who were at that school with me, what a relief it was. I hardly came across that kind of bullying again either. So I worry less that the young people in my family are faced with it. The world as a whole is a lot more forward thinking.

You may say that a bit of name calling is hardly anything but I don’t. I remember the fear it struck in me. Always hoping never to bump into the group of perpetrators. The feeling of shame and wishing I wasn’t the target of their cheap entertainment. Fear is terribly debilitating.

The point I want to make and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, is how serious on line bullying is becoming and what can be done about it. It seems no one is immune with the rise of ‘trolls’ and lack of social media governance. If I felt a strong need to campaign about any issue right now then this would be it. Bullying has not gone away, if anything it’s a whole lot worse. It’s one of my greatest parental fears to navigate when #1, 2 and 3 are older and how can we protect them from it. I don’t know just yet but I hope together we’ll come up with something.

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