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

Do you want to build a snowman?

I imagine a lot of you are thinking ‘No, I don’t want to build a f-ing snowman.’ Or ride a bike around the halls. Even though I never see you anymore. It’s because I’ve gone away.

Then again, it’s probably because you’re not between the age of one and nine. Ten at a stretch.

Nine months on and #2’s love for all things Frozen is still unabated. We watched the film three times at the cinema. Looked up YouTube videos of ‘Let It Go’ and ‘In Summer’ endlessly until the DVD came out some time in April. Then it was on loop for a good few weeks and now it’s requested a moderate amount of times. Even #3 has gone around yelling ‘Anna’ at every Frozen artefact she sees.

For most of #2’s peers, it’s been all about Frozen for nearly every girl’s Birthday party this year. Whilst it is perceived by a lot of boys to be a ‘girl’ film, it actually holds an appeal for them too and whilst #1 won’t nominate it as a film of choice, he doesn’t kick up a fuss when it is on. Who wouldn’t want cool magical powers? I still fantasise I’m a cross between Piper and Paige from Charmed.

So it was no surprise that #2 has been quite certain since January that she was going to have a Frozen party for her birthday this year.

What does that actually mean? An ice palace with a talking snowman and real life reindeers casually wandering around? Perhaps, if you are the offspring of Kimye. (There was a time when I didn’t know what a Kardashian is and I miss those days)

What would make it a ‘Frozen’ party? I toyed with the idea of inviting ‘Elsa and Hans’ to the party but do you know how much their royalties are out here? It would have been easier in many ways to have someone else lead the party games and entertainment. Especially people who know how to whoop up a crowd of small people who on the one hand are easily pleased and on the other, a tough crowd when they choose to be.

But then I realised it’s probably been the most popular party theme so far this year. There are plenty of people who have done this already with loads of ideas easily accessible all over the place. Pinterest, blogs, parenting websites, word of mouth from people having been to many a Frozen party.

We can do this ourselves.

With the help of some friends of course!

In fact during the party, I was being wrongly complimented on all the things I didn’t do myself.

“Those cake pops look so pretty!” Yes, my friend Mrs Cake Pops did those.

“These sausage rolls are so good.” Yes, my friend Mrs Imperturbable did those.

“Wow, Olaf looks brilliant on the cake, you are so talented!” Erm, not me, my friend Great Singapore Bake Off, (actually in the interests of promoting her business, find her on Facebook at My cakes by Catarina for a look at all her other work and here’s a sample of the other Frozen themed cakes she’s done this year) made him but I did do the base cake if that counts?

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Even most of the decorations were given to me by another friend who had gone through the interior design creative process beforehand.

But then, Friends are what pull a party plan together don’t you think?

This is the tenth Birthday party I’ve organised as Parent and you’d think I’d have it all down pat. Of course not! In between decorating the function room of our condo in two hours before guests arrive and preparing the last minute food items and locating the Birthday Child and siblings to get ready for the event, I’m usually still running around doing ‘stuff’ 15 minutes into the party. It was the same last year. And the year before. I thankfully have good friends I can nominate to be official Greeters. They are the ones who arrive on the dot.

Two hours may not seem like a long time but it’s still two hours that need filling with party games and party food.

Party food is now a blend of 100% sugar products, a smattering of savoury items and a token platter of fruit. I’ve given up going for the sugar free, gluten free alternatives that sort of look like the 100% sugar products but somehow don’t feel quite right. Many of the party guests were actually making their own healthy choices, I was quite impressed. Except for #1, 2 and 3 who mostly went for 100% sugar products and meat products or strawberries covered in chocolate.

With Birthday cake there was hot chocolate and blue jelly with something called coco de nata that made it look like ice cubes. Genius.

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Party games were also sourced through the ideas of others or adapted from well known favourites.

Musical Ice Cubes – like musical chairs, except when the music stops you have to stand upon a sheet of bubble wrap. The resulting popping is even more satisfying than popping by hand. I’ve tried it out myself.

Pass the Parcel – I absolutely love watching children play this game! It cracks me up when either the child starts unwrapping regardless of the music stopping or not; when they procrastinate in passing on the parcel and examine it carefully like it’s some suspicious item you’re told to report upon finding one and then they pass it on v e r y s l o w l y.

I was a bit disturbed at the ‘modern’ version of Pass the Parcel that included a ‘prize’ for every child at each unwrapping so as to be inclusive. Back in my day, there was none of that. Each to their own and only one WINNER. Has it harmed you? But even I am not that old skool and the central prize was more 100% sugar products that the WINNER then had to decide what would be the best thing to do. Even if they didn’t decide for themselves, their supervising Grown Up soon settled it for them that a bag of 25 sugar products is best not kept to themselves.

Post It Tag – It’s like Tag but having to grab Post It notes off each other that are stuck on you beforehand for the duration of one song and the more you collect, the bigger the prize. I made it up myself. Honest.

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Pin the Nose on Olaf – As it says. Except after twirling each child around three times whilst they’re blindfolded and watching them teeter like they’re drunk is quite funny.

Indoor Ice Skating – This was an idea that was used at another party I was told about. Just your average paper plates were used for ‘ice skating’ which probably would have held their attention for a while but the added ‘snow storm’ of bean bag filler changed the atmosphere completely. For children like #1, 2 and 3 who have never seen snow before, the idea of building a snowman is probably the greatest delight they have yet to experience. This kept them entertained for the whole party. All for $20.

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The ensuing clean up operation of the ‘snow storm’ took some time to vacuum up but it was so worth it. It helps to have a glass of something whilst you’re at it too.

Did #2 enjoy herself? I think she did. And I think so did all her friends too. Even the boys. You should have seen all the Elsa’s. All of them so proud to be Elsa. Each one of them wearing different ‘official’ Elsa dresses.

This year for the Birthday sing song, #2 did not proceed to blow a 360 degree raspberry at all her guests but did sharply say to #3 that ‘It’s not your turn #3’ with regards to blowing out the candles. The first time is always for the Birthday Child but the second, third and sometimes fourth time is for everyone to join in. It does help to be inclusive.

So, do you want to build a snowman? I think you do.

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When am I going to be 4??

Imagine a three year old child sat in the back of the car strapped safely in her car seat suddenly bellowing out of the blue with both arms raised high above her head, ‘WHEN AM I GOING TO BE FOUR??’

That would be #2.

And this was bellowed out some four months ago.

And now she is four. She loves being four. It’s all the fingers on one hand when she shows someone just how old she is. She also likes to tell everyone. ‘My Mummy is FORTY’. That’s what you get for having a massive build up to your birthday.

In one of those weekly emails I receive from a reputable Parenting website that exists to make you feel better about the behaviour of your child, they tell me that my four year old is still busy, inquisitive and fun but with a ‘budding maturity, self control, and understanding of the rules that help make life a bit calmer’. Doesn’t that sound appealing?

It hasn’t happened yet but then she’s only been four for five days. She firmly believes that being four holds different responsibilities and expectations and likes to put #3 in her place as ‘the baby’. She tries really hard to live up to being four but then just as easily forgets and the glass shattering shriek of a three year old erupts. Especially when caught in an altercation with #1 whose favourite pastime seems to be enjoying winding her up.

I often wonder whether those two are going to get along well you know. The amount of times they are at each other. He builds a masterpiece of a track for his cars and she comes along and messes it up. She has something she’s happily playing with and he suddenly takes it from her. He walks past and pushes her, she thumps him in the back.

Yet at their recent Parent Teacher meeting, I was surprised but thrilled (relieved even) to hear that #1 will go and check if she’s ok when he sees her upset in the playground. I guess when it comes down to it, they’ll always look out for each other. #1 often cites he loves #2, it goes without question in his mind. At the moment #2 will reciprocate eight out of ten times.

For her Birthday present, #1 thought carefully about what #2 would like and was very proud of his choices which she was ecstatic about. He made her a card at school all by himself that he’d put a lot of effort into and he did recognise now that he’s five and a half, that the day was all about #2. So you see, the reputable Parenting website is right.

It will be a relief in many ways when you can reason with a four year old in a way that you can’t quite with a three year old. A three year old that can articulate their rights and wants so well that when you dare to contradict their rights and wants in a way that doesn’t match up to their idea of their rights and wants, well just make sure you’re not in a hurry to be somewhere else and have a pair of ear muffs handy.

I have, and will continue to be, that parent who will try and ignore the screaming child sat on the pavement or in a shopping centre until they tire of it or I need to be someplace else and wrestle said child on our way. Halfway through the episode, we’ve both forgotten what the altercation is about but it’s too late to do anything about it as we BOTH need to stand our ground. #2 can certainly do that. For much longer than #1 can as well.

Sometimes we have stand offs over the most ridiculous things like who pressed the lift buttons firsts, who got unbuckled out of their car seat first, who gets to watch what on television. When they get older, I’ll probably just tell them to arm wrestle it out.

#2 is a fabulous story teller with a really wild imagination and who am I to curb it. It’s the way she talks in that totally animated manner she’s been doing since she just turned three. That tone of voice that makes any story she narrates sound like the honest truth to the point where I have to say to people that they may want to clarify a few details with me to get the real picture. Apparently we are getting a dog and moving to Phuket.

She cracks me up often with her facial expressions and likes nothing more than to pull funny faces. Our membership cards for the Singapore Zoo and River Safari both have photos of her pulling a face, why the membership person didn’t say anything is beyond me but it makes me laugh.

I like her strong character and I hope she always has it even if it does give me a headache at times and makes me stand alert on play dates when I’m not sure which way it’s going to go, ready to lunge in if I can see she’s about to let rip with a flow of indignation about who is the real Elsa. Well, actually neither of you are but even a four year old isn’t quite willing to believe that.

This weekend is going to be her 4th Birthday party. It doesn’t feel that long ago when I told you about her 3rd Birthday party and she blew a 360 degree round of raspberries at everyone during the Birthday sing song because someone blew the candles out first……..

She’s requested ALL THINGS FROZEN! There’s going to be TEN Queen Elsa’s at the party. What shall we do when they all declare to be the REAL Queen Elsa?

Incidentally, a couple of days ago when I asked #2 how old she was, she replied with ‘Eleven and a half’.

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Embracing 40……..One week in

So….I’m officially 40! Plus a week.

Completely, irrevocably FORTY now.

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I feel like I have fully embraced the whole turning 40 thing and I still have an official Fancy Dress Finale to look forward to in a couple of weeks too!

I had a really, REALLY great time! A few weeks ago I didn’t have any set plan as to how I was going to celebrate but Husband and lovely friends have ensured that it was fabulous. I’m so touched by all my celebrations and what has made it extra special is the company that you get to share it with. Part of me thought that perhaps I ought to be celebrating this milestone Birthday with those who have been there for my 20th and 30th Birthdays and I will do, later on this year when I’m back in the UK. But then wasn’t the whole point of writing this blog to reconcile the past with the present? And so Embracing 40 with all my friends and family in Singapore has been absolutely amazing and given me some wonderful memories.

Besides it would be just rude to forgo celebrating as fully as you can when I’ve been building up to it for a whole year! I felt blessedly inundated with Birthday wishes that were sent in person, by text, by telephone and by mail.

The gifts I received were carefully thought through and had me overwhelmed at times. They are gifts that reflect our history together and will remain with me for the rest of my days. Lil Sis can’t believe that I kept her present for me unopened for two and a half months. I can’t either as I’m notorious for giving things a good shake and guessing what’s inside. I guess that’s what makes me Forty……..Some of the best gifts weren’t even gifts for me but to be told some really happy, good news.

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My good friend Pancakes For Dinner asked last Wednesday night whilst we were sipping ice cold champagne on a roof top bar (Yes, I did have to get that in!), why was turning Forty such a big celebration. For her, turning Thirty was the big one. (I actually think when I turn all the big numbers it will be a Big Celebration.)

So why is it indeed?

Well firstly, it feels like a long time since you had something that was All About You. That may sound egotistical to many but it’s true. It’s not like I’m saying I behave in a way that everyone else comes first at all times but as a general rule one does naturally, instinctively put family first. All other Birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day has sort of been about you but also about being together as a family.

But for Embracing 40, it was ALL ABOUT ME! Well, 80% me. This included the part where I get to sleep in on my first day of being Forty until 8.45am in a gorgeous terrace suite at the beautiful Raffles Hotel and then enjoy a leisurely breakfast with Husband. The part where I get to go out at 7pm to drink champagne and not feel guilty about missing bedtime. The part where I get to dress up and go out for lunch and the part where I get to open presents all by myself!

By the way, notice anything familiar with the balloon below? Yep, it’s exactly the same balloon I got Mrs Imperturbable when she Embraced 40 with her first Birthday party ever! As my lovely friend Mrs So Bold says, ‘What goes around comes around!’

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Because when your world is filled with responsibility, it’s good to treat yourself well and look after yourself. It’s important for #1, 2 and 3 to see you enjoy yourself and live a life beyond them as well. However, of course a celebration isn’t a celebration without #1, 2 and 3 in tow and for them to feel special too. So on the afternoon of my 40th Birthday we went up to the Skytower of Marina Bay Sands (the hotel with the boat on top) and had a celebratory drink up there where #1 got to drink out of a real proper glass, not plastic, (aim high #1), whilst overlooking the hotel guests in the infinity pool. That must be a bit intrusive for them though and also I’m not sure I’d be happy with the general public just sort of staring at you for entertainment when you’ve paid almost a thousand dollars for the privilege.

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It’s funny how we view Forty. That it’s like some sort of hurdle to endure and get over. There’s still a lot of mixed feelings out there about this milestone Birthday for those who have passed it and for those for whom it has yet to come.

Unlike Thirty, Fifty, Sixty and even Eighty, Forty is accompanied by a very loud, hard sounding capital F. I think this is designed with the purpose to make you feel a whole lot better when you come to the much softer sounding Fifty. Anyways, why wish away the years so soon.

All I’d like to say is that Forty is still young. Although sometimes we may not feel it, just think it. I’ve had sound advice from people MUCH MUCH older and in the know, that they still feel no different to how they did at 18. How your body creaks is one thing, how you feel inside is another which projects a whole different persona.

I think one great thing about Embracing 40 is knowing that whilst there are responsibilities to uphold, people to take care of, ultimately you haven’t forgotten the person you once were. There is so much to enjoy, to achieve and to do. Still so much more information to know, places to go and people to meet to add to all the stuff you’ve already accumulated.

So here’s to Beyond Forty. I can feel wisdom flowing through me already. So much so, that I realised that I don’t have to set up a whole new blog thing and just needed to change a few details on the one I’ve been writing in. I probably have the most unsophisticated blog out there but I’m looking forward to keeping this up. I’m really enjoying it.

Thank you once again for all your lovely well wishes and thoughtful gifts. If you didn’t already know, but I’m sure most of you do, then you’ll definitely know just how much you have all around you and a few steps away, when you come to Embrace 40.

Mr Cupping sent me a book, ‘Older but not wiser’ that cracks me up no end. I’ll share some pages as we go along but this one is always so apt, don’t you think?

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The last day of your Thirties

Last night just before I was about to fall asleep following a slight all day hangover haze after celebrating a friend’s 40th Birthday, Husband said ‘This is your last night of going to bed and waking up in your Thirties’.

Well as if that’s not going to send me bolt upright awake again. Then this morning #2 quietly creeps into our room and asks Husband, ‘Daddy how old is Mummy today?’. To which he replies, ‘She’s still 39, #2.’

So here we are.

Me on the last day of my Thirties.

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Never mind about turning 40 tomorrow, today is about bidding adieu to my Thirties.

Husband calls this decade the Transitional Decade after reflecting upon his own 40th last year.

It’s a decade that has been filled with life changing events for us bringing commitment and responsibility. To each other, to our respective families, to work and most of all, to the all consuming commitment and great responsibility to our children.

You could map out on a graph our increasing levels of responsibility as we travelled through our Thirties. It is as how it should be. But it doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t feel the weight of that responsibility and occasionally lament the loss of those truly carefree, days. Particularly the responsibility involving raising a new generation of people in the best way you can. As soon as children begin developing character, language and opinions; parenting soon becomes something far more complex.

I’m still just winging it you know but I also see traces of my Dad, Mr Li, my Mum and others who have played a part in my upbringing in the things I say and do. Even Husband says every so often he can hear the Father in Law’s voice as words come tumbling out when speaking with #1, 2 or 3.

I must have been in my early teens and yearning to be that little bit older like you do. Edging towards being able to do as I pleased. I asked my Mum if she was looking forward to her own Birthday one year, she would have been in her early Fifties by then and she said to me that at her age, ten years go by without you even realising. At the time, I fnarred the idea when all my time governed by the Grown Ups seemed to take FOREVER to pass.

Now I know all too well what she means. Even this last year has flown by.

A couple of days ago when I woke up realising I had just three days of my Thirties left, I felt a huge surge of emotion that bubbled up from the pit of my stomach. Not sadness I should say but a mixture of excitement, anticipation and the thought of ‘Have I done enough with my life so far?’

I guess I could have probably done more. When I think about the wasted weekends of my youth spent in a hungover haze. I perhaps ought to have been doing something more productive. One of our friends we had lunch with on Saturday said she hates sleeping, it’s such a waste of time when you can be doing stuff. I like sleeping. I love nothing more than being wrapped up cosy warm under a heavy duvet which isn’t something you can really do in Singapore.

I wish I had travelled a lot more to places off the beaten track but I figure I can still do that and without feeling the need to partake in any form of extreme sporting activity whilst I’m there.

I know some people have drawn up lists of amazing Things To Do Before 40. I met the wife of Husband’s colleague last October who, together with a group of friends turning 40 within months of each other, had drawn up a list of things they each wanted to do and set themselves a challenge of fulfilling the list before the last of them turned 40. A great idea but not one that I would have been able to do whole heartedly. Not when time is governed by the needs of #1, 2 and 3 being so young.

Besides I rather think I’d prefer a list of Things To Do Beyond Forty. I always have a list of things I really want to do and so perhaps it’s time to be more proactive towards achieving new things.

And yet I am achieving new things, all the time. Perhaps they’re not skills that will set the world alight and perhaps it’s only in things that pleases #1, 2 and 3 the most but I have been continuously moving forward. As have you no doubt.

Progress, self development, growing up or whatever you may wish to call it can be measured not just in ways that you can see like gainful employment, family and lifestyle. But in ways that only you may know. Like how we react to things that annoy us, how we diffuse arguments and what simple things give us happiness.

I started writing this blog exactly a year ago today. Having played around with the idea for some months, I felt self conscious at the thought of writing about myself. (You can feel it in my first post here http://wp.me/p3Os6f-4 .) About writing about the people I know too. That is even more terrifying because what if they feel offended by my words? I guess it comes down to trust. Do you trust my judgement.

What did I want to achieve exactly from this blog?

Just a feeling of appreciating what I’ve achieved so far. That it’s not all about being defined by one role or stage in our lives. I’m doing this now, but I was doing that beforehand and now I’m thinking of doing this next.

Having never kept a true diary, I also wanted to document some key stories for #1, 2 and 3. For since their arrival, I’ve become increasingly aware of my own mortality and who better to tell them about me than me. Plus I also realise just how little I truly know about my own Parents and Grandparents having never asked them about their lives before and only catching snippets of their own reminiscing.

Have I enjoyed writing? Yes I have. Very much so. I’ve spent the last year raking up the past and revisiting memories of events that have meant something and I’ve incorporated parts of our lives here in Singapore.

I feel like by putting it all in this blog I’m able to bridge the gap of the life I had before Singapore and the life I have now. I felt like neither group of people I know over here and back in the UK were really getting the full picture. I feel a year of doing this has helped fill in some blanks.

I realise that whilst I still miss the UK and all my family and friends that are there, I’ve had the good fortune to have lived this Expat Life and widened my horizons and meet all sorts of new people and see all sorts of new places. I was given opportunities I wasn’t expecting and have gained more than I imagined.

So what will I do now the year is up? The world’s longest ever 40th Birthday Eve build up. Well I’m going to be Embracing 40 from tomorrow and I haven’t decided how long celebrations are going to go on for. Then I think I might start a new blog looking at Beyond 40. I haven’t quite finished writing about all the things I’ve been thinking about and I’m not quite ready to stop.

And I’d like to thank you for reading it too. It’s been really encouraging to hear your thoughts on what I’ve written about.

So I’ve really got to go now because initially I thought the most that would happen was going out for lunch with Husband today but then he told me a few days ago that I get to spend Birthday Eve in a mystery hotel! And so after a mini tour of the island which could also just be Husband not knowing where he’s going, we arrived at the car park of Raffles Hotel!

I’ve been here so many times for Singapore Slings with visiting guests and ushering in the Chinese New Year and have always wanted to go beyond the ‘Residents Only’ sign. Today I am! It’s so beautiful and we are in the Somerset Maugham suite where he really did stay. It is probably half the size of our flat. I am currently on my own whilst Husband goes and collects #1, 2 and 3 for a mini stay and then they’re being booted off home. This is the first time since #1 arrived that Husband and I are going to spend the night on our own! (Staying in the labour ward doesn’t count.) I feel very lucky indeed.

So this is all from me in my Thirties.

Until 40 it is then.

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Happy National Day Singapore!

In the world according to #1 and 2, it can only be my Birthday after Singapore’s Birthday. So…Happy 49th Birthday Singapore!

It’s Singapore National Day today and I have been wishing people Happy National Day! Though it feels slightly weird too, for in the UK I could be perceived as having BNP aspirations, which I don’t.

What is this Public Holiday celebrating? Singapore’s Independence from Malaysia in 1965. (Scotland, this could be you next year.) I grew up with my family talking about how intelligent someone called Lee Kuan Yew was. I naturally assumed he was some wealthy business type person from Hong Kong as no one seemed to explain who he was and had they said he was from Singapore, I don’t think it would have meant anything anyways.

So the penny only dropped a few years ago that the highly revered former Minister Mentor of Singapore was the exact same person! He lives around the corner from us actually, in a fairly modest house with 24 hour security and only exits his home with a full Police escort. He’s my best Singapore Celebrity Spot with only the really annoying man on Breakfast TV to go up against. I told my Dad, Mr Li that I’d seen him before but I don’t think he’s as into playing Celebrity Spot as I am.

Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s first ever Prime Minister with his son, Lee Hsien Loong holding the post right now. Hence the Minister Mentor position. He’s written several books, and has had several books written about him, on how he has contributed to making Singapore what it is now.

In less than 50 years, Singapore is in the Top Ten countries with the highest number of millionaries out of a population of just over 5.3 million people. There’s not a day goes by when we don’t see at least one Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini or Maserati go by, #1 is so used to seeing them that he’s at risk of thinking it’s quite normal. The wealth you can see is impressive but also it only goes to highlight the huge gap between those who have not.

Modern Singapore has made huge steps forward even if at first independence wasn’t what they really wanted. It’s a beautiful city state that works well and I have felt very at home here but Singapore, don’t be in a rush to be so brand new and shiny that you regret losing all the character of the Singapore you were. The beautiful shophouses, the traditional Peranakan influences perhaps even to some extent your unique Singlish lah.

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National Day celebrates all Singaporeans together whether of Chinese, Malay or Indian heritage. And so they should be proud of themselves. There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic and nothing irks me more than people who have the honour of representing their country on a public platform, like overpaid footballers, who refuse to sing the British National Anthem.

Some may think it’s a bit contrived to have an annual three hour parade, presentation and fireworks to say how great the nation is. But I like how it is also about recognising all the Public Services for the work they do with the respect they deserve. From the Police, Fire, Ambulance to the Navy, Army and Air Force Services. It would be a shame to let this fall by the wayside.

Some may think that the resources spent on rehearsals for today that began way back in June and performed every Saturday, could be best spent on other things that would go to benefit those who have not. Though we have certainly enjoyed looking out for the chinooks flying the Singapore flag and the fabulous fireworks display.

But there is no denying that the build up to National Day every year certainly does bring this nation together. The streets are festooned with flags and cars have flags waving out the tops and there are a mass of people wearing red and white, including ourselves.

Initially when we first moved here, I wasn’t that bothered about National Day but ever since #1 started school when he turned three, it has become important for us to acknowledge today too. For Singapore is home for #1, 2 and 3. Even if Husband and I know that it’s temporary. It is home for now and most importantly it is the only home that #1, 2 and 3 have ever known. We chose to live here where they were born and it is our duty to make them proud and know something of this country too.

If you were to ask #1 and 2 where are they from, they will answer you Singapore and England. We don’t refer to England as ‘home’ because this is their home and home is where we all live together . Quite soon England will be their new home, but for now, I want them to fully live their lives in Singapore.

This year’s theme for National Day is Our People, Our Home and Singapore is a diverse nation. The School concert celebrating National Day was on Thursday and the children practised traditional folk and patriotic songs in Malay, Mandarin and English which they all performed with pride. It was then followed by a celebration with traditional Singaporean food and having two children in different classes meant bringing in two cakes, at the request of #1, we made a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and marshmallows to represent the Singapore flag and a pandan chiffon cake.

And so back to my earlier point of it can only be my Birthday after Singapore’s. When asked a few weeks ago, whose Birthday is it next, the unanimous answer was ‘Singapore’s!’. I must admit it wasn’t quite the answer I was expecting but then I can’t argue when up against a whole country I guess.

Now that it is Singapore’s Birthday today, I’ll use the eloquent but censored words of my friend Scrivvers, ‘Come on Forty!’

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Elbear the Wise

Over twenty years ago I was sat outside Maxwell Building, free for the day whilst everyone else from my landing in our Halls of Residence were off registering for their course.

A girl a few feet away looked like she was saying something. To me it seems but I had headphones in (like what Students do) and couldn’t hear a word. It’s quite brave making the first conversational move. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re a teenager. In fact some adults still haven’t quite honed down this skill.

So what are the odds of finding yourself sat next to someone who lives in your Halls of Residence AND also happens to be studying the exact same subject as you? We arranged to meet up the next day to go register for our course and that was the start of that.

I spent the next six years with Elbear at University, as housemates and as colleagues. Outside of Husband and family, she’s the one I’ve spent the most time with before I moved to London. I imagine she’s one of the few people who can see traces of the me in my twenties in the me I am now.

I think it would be quite fair to say that I ‘grew up’ with Elbear. For what can be more life changing than being away from home for the first time and staying away from home thereafter. In those few years at University you’re still cocooned against the reality of being a grown up. Though I imagine we all thought we were quite grown up then.

The transition following University can be quite tough. Going from being surrounded by a ready made social life, discounts at nearly every store, travelling at reduced fares, overdrafts that don’t seem like real debt. Quickly followed by the sombre reality of finding a job, paying rent, taxes, multiple bills, change of identity from Student that masks all manner of behaviours to becoming responsible like everyone else and finding your feet amongst it all.

There was no Big Plan when we decided to find jobs and stay in Manchester. We got temping jobs together which all seemed a bit of a laugh at first. I can just see us now! Fresh graduates, just starting our first full time jobs and working with people who seemed….who seemed…well so old! We were never going to turn into them naturally. They don’t even know how to laugh. But then you realise that work is no laughing matter, especially if you want to get anywhere.

But I’ve had plenty of laughs with Elbear because she is mischievous, indulges in the ridiculous and a real partner in crime.

In our Final Year we never paid to get into The Pav and being on protective terms with the Bouncers was a bonus to once help get us smuggled out of the back door to avoid regretful encounters with the wrong people leaving them suddenly rather flummoxed on the dance floor.

When our Halls were installed with private landlines that you could call internally for free, it elicited huge excitement when you saw the flashing red light signalling popularity but then you’d find a whole lot of non verbal messages. Lovely.

After a particularly gruesome Econometrics test paper, Elbear sent the paper to Nestlé because at the time ‘only Smarties have the answer’ so she demanded if that was the case then try this exam for size.

I think true friendship is found in those who dance with you with full abandon. Because if you can dance with someone and not give two hoots about anything else then that says a lot about just how comfortable you are together. I can’t listen to Pulp without thinking of Elbear throwing her Jarvis moves.

She’s my very own Nigella, starting me on the right path of home cooking when previously I thought spaghetti bolognaise only came in the form of Dolmio or Ragu and it must never, ever come served with peas you know. These influences have a huge impact on you as you go on and it’s always a bonus to relish a friend’s cooking.

Then there’s also her brilliant Decoy Biscuits Plan. You should all try this one! You keep your good M&S biscuits on the top shelf in the cupboard but leave your regular Chocolate Digestives or similar on the shelf below. The person foraging for food is instantly gratified by the Decoy Biscuits and will look no further.

I came to Parenthood a few years later than Elbear and it’s good to have someone who’s been exactly where you are now. To have that understanding of how frazzled #1, 2 and 3 can sometimes make you and for there always to be someone to gently point out the things that aren’t really so big and annoying after all. One day maybe #1, 2 and 3 will build a cocoon around themselves and emerge as well behaved as her own #1.

But why is Elbear the Wise? Well, I do know a lot of wise people now who listen without judgement and give sound advice if it’s sought after. However for me, Elbear has always been this person. A naturally very caring, nurturing person, she was the one who understood many things I perhaps hadn’t reconciled myself to understanding in my younger years about myself.

Empathy is a gift. In my early twenties when I was wading through a fog of emotions and events that don’t need talking about here, that I wasn’t even aware were affecting me that much, Elbear is the friend that made me feel quite looked after. When you think you need to have all the answers yourself and rely on yourself to do everything, it’s quite a treat to realise that you don’t.

In the very early years of our friendship, in a time when I had even less patience than I do now, she said something to me that I’ve carried with me ever since. It was about learning empathy myself. That in each of our lives, we all have different measures of what is considered a ‘problem’. It’s still a very real problem for someone that deserves our understanding even if in our own experience it feels trivial. How very wise.

Although we are all fully fledged grown ups now, there is no harm in having someone there guiding you along the way through a path you’ve not yet trodden. Who says we have to have all the answers ourselves? What friends would we be if we could no longer rely on each other.

I’ve lived away from Elbear for almost 15 years now. But you never know, I’m quite sure at some time soon, we won’t be that far away from each other again.

It’s Elbear’s Birthday today. In an earlier email this week she had the good grace to encompass herself in the ‘we are all turning 40 soon’ category. She’s still got a whole year to go and I think she should revel in her youth, don’t you?

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Mrs Steamer…….When you just know

Sometimes, it’s not just the people you’ve known the longest who come to mean a great deal to you.

Mrs Steamer and I were colleagues at the National Deaf Children’s Society (www.ndcs.org.uk) for just under two years. It’s not a huge organisation and although we both work in Fundraising we didn’t really cross paths that often because I and a few others were hidden away in an outbuilding.

Incidentally we once saw Mackenzie Crook filming outside our window. Nothing hugely dramatic, he was smoking a cigarette whilst loitering down a back alley. Maybe he was just there smoking a cigarette.

Then I got a new job with Cancer Research UK and just a few weeks before I was due to leave, I was moved to sit opposite Mrs Steamer. If it wasn’t for this decision by the Director of Fundraising to get someone to keep tabs on me in my final weeks then this friendship wouldn’t have blossomed.

And she totally did keep tabs on me. More or less asking me everyday whether I was actually doing any work or more to the point did I have any work to do with me leaving in a few short weeks. Pah, the impertinence of the young.

That’s the thing that took me by surprise really, I thought her youth would mean we would have very little in common. I was just about to get married in a few months and she was a mere fledgeling in her mid twenties. I thought she’d be out every night Clubbing and shouting ‘Choon’ so you can imagine my shock one Friday when she was in a hurry to get home. Fridays are for FNBs -Friday Night Beers. The more impromptu the better. ‘What are you up to?’ I asked. She replied with ‘Guitar Hero 3 has just come out and I’m really looking forward to trying it out’. Really? Come to think of it, that could have been a dealbreaker.

However, I’m glad it wasn’t because she really can do some heartfelt, full of soul air guitar renditions worthy of the Annual Air Guitar World Championships, yes it’s a real life event. As demonstrated at our wedding. I once changed my Facebook profile photo to one of her really going for it on her air guitar, totally lost in the moment and wiping the floor clean with any other pretenders whose presence she was oblivious to.

I may have mocked her at the time but when Guitar Hero came out for the Wii, well you can guess who quickly got addicted to it.

As new friendships go, especially the ones that start with work, you can generally have a really good time with people whilst you work together. That shared camaraderie of office politics and after work beers in the local pub. But some rarely go beyond that and some are lost once you or they move on. I sometimes wonder about the colleagues I worked with some ten years ago who I don’t keep in touch with. You spend more waking hours with them than anyone else and suddenly you don’t see them anymore.

Just before my Leaving Do, something clicked (whilst drunk no doubt) that said I think this work colleague could be something else. It was presumptuous of course and also a bit weird too. I was getting married in just over three months time, the Hen Do was in two months but I felt like I really would like Mrs Steamer to be part of it. For once the occasion had passed then I wouldn’t want to feel like I really wished she’d been part of it too. But equally, it’s quite risky to invite such a new friend to your wedding. What if they don’t feel the same way? What if they really do think you’re weird? What if they were only being polite? It’s risky. So best do it when drunk.

Then of course I had to break the news to Husband that I was planning on inviting someone he didn’t know and who I’d barely known that long to our wedding. He needed some convincing and then we had that awkward first Couples meeting in a pub in Highgate one Sunday afternoon. So what do you do? You get steaming of course! I wouldn’t recommend this course of action the day before you’re about to start a new job.

Trust your instincts people say and I’m glad I did as by chance I have a really wonderful, funny, often wise and straight talking friend that I really wouldn’t want to have missed out on. When Husband had his leaving do and I was eight weeks preggers and not ready to declare the news publicly, she was the decoy gin downer and when Husband went off to Singapore she came along with me for that first scan I had at the hospital. With her above average sized family, she’s been able to offer advice and anecdotes that puts the small stuff into perspective or be that supportive person who completely allows you to rant about it.

When she officially became Mrs Steamer to Mr Steamer, it was a wedding that we knew we had to come back for with a three month old #1 in tow. It’s been impossible to come back to the UK for every occasion and it is with sadness that I’ve had to miss out on some special occasions but there are some that happen which you know you can’t let pass you by. She looked absolutely stunning and the whole day was fabulous. When you see someone in the midst of their own family, you can really see what influences they’ve had upon them to be the person they are.

In the year or so between declaring ‘I really want to be your friend’ to my leaving Singapore, I had some really good laughs with Mrs Steamer and Mr Steamer. We used to live fairly close to each other and I was always amazed at how he would appear like the Shopkeeper in Mr Benn to come and pick us up from the pub. I used to say, you are so lucky he keeps coming to pick you up and whilst she would protest it was reciprocal, I was never fully convinced. The downside to this arrangement is that there was always a sober person to bear witness to your drunken disgrace and so Mrs Steamer would be armed with plenty of ammunition the following day.

Together as a couple, they are exactly the kind of people you want at a dinner party. They both complement each other, are very easy going and incredible fun. They’re the kind of people that you want your other friends to get to know and befriend. They’re the sort of influence that #1, 2 and 3 will no doubt enjoy being around and consider a lot more fun than we, the rule wielding, fun restricting parents we no doubt will seem to be to them.

She’s the best person to teach the girls how to apply mascara, the only person I know who truly feels ‘naked’ without it on and would have to buy some on the way to work. She’s one of the best foodies around and it was with her, Mr Steamer and Big D that we went on Gordon Ramsey’s The F Word (Series Four it was) and Big D got his big TV moment with describing our pudding as ‘zingy’ which he then claimed got overused by subsequent diners. She’s loyal to work and to friends and I feel privileged that we’re part of that too.

In those early days, it may have seemed forward in asking someone you’ve only really known for a few weeks to make plans to come on your Hen Do and wedding but when you know, you just know. I’ve been in Singapore a substantial part of the time I’ve known her for but it hasn’t hampered our friendship. She’s been to see us up in Skipton for real pork pies when we’ve been back to the UK and out to visit us here, timing it just right when #2 was six months old so that I could go out and get steaming too. Uncle Monkey was also visiting at the time and let’s just say we went to some Tourist attractions that was a first for all of us.

It’s her Birthday today, perhaps a more sedate affair than the steaming ones of a couple of years ago but I’m sure she’ll have great one. Happy Birthday Mrs Steamer! I miss you and I can’t wait to see you soon and meet Little Miss Steamer.

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