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

Long may they forever believe……..

So, he wasn’t quite the Father Christmas beloved by all in Miracle on 34th Street but he’s Father Christmas all the same. Or Nick as he introduced himself to #1, 2 and 3. How times have changed.

Meeting Father Christmas at the Big School Christmas Fair today

 

As it is still November and quite the norm not to be thinking of Christmas and Christmas related festivities for another good week or so, my brain was unprepared for #1 asking to queue up to see Father Christmas. #1 will only queue up uncomplainingly for something he is really keen to do. Otherwise every 10 seconds or less there will be declarations of boredom. But not so today as he waited patiently in line with all the other believers at the Christmas Fair held at Big School today.

 

In fact in previous years when I have suggested such a rendez-vous with FC to set in stone The Gift from FC so that there is no sudden change of mind two days before Christmas, #1 has always been a bit reluctant. A bit fearful of FC to be honest, as you would be. Great big looming man suspiciously the only person in the tropics wearing entirely inappropriate clothing for the weather. #2 has never been so sure either and #3 outright refused to go anywhere near him last year. She was much better this year as you can see but when asked for a group hug, she high tailed it out of the Grotto. Quite rightly so and adhering to the Stranger Danger laws impressed upon them.

 

Where do you sit in the debate over whether we should perpetuate the myth of such whimsical characters like Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny?

 

Are we creating magical childhood memories or are we setting them up for bitter disappointment and breaking their trust in us, their parents, who they should trust the most. The ones who tell them not to tell untruths because Father Christmas and his Elves are listening.

 

I never believed in any of them because I was never led to believe in any of them. My Mum would have found the idea completely preposterous. Yet ask her about the Goddess Chang E who flew to the moon and lives there with the White Rabbit and that’s all ok. Actually someone should tell John Lewis that the man in their latest Christmas ad has a neighbour he needs to meet and there is really no need for him to feel so lonely.

 

Yet I hold all these characters from both cultures I cross with warmth and value. I haven’t picked a side and so we celebrate EVERYTHING. Living in Singapore #1, 2 and 3 celebrate the cultural festivals of several religions. Christianity, Muslim, Hindu. And they are all the more richer for it.

 

It was a very natural decision to welcome Father Christmas into our home, along with the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Chang E and lately Messrs Solo, Skywalker and Darth Vader. Because they are children and children should have something magical and fun before they realise that the world is not always magical and fun as we know ourselves.

 

Husband and I love being able to create some great times for them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And I have to admit it’s also good for us to do. Creating little traditions of our own and giving #1, 2 and 3 fun times and hopefully happy memories.

 

The reason why I’m writing about this today is because all of a sudden it occurred to me that it won’t always be like this. I’m not sure how many years there will be left where all three will Truly Believe like they do today. And I will miss that when one of them doesn’t. 
Perhaps it won’t make much difference. Perhaps it’s the Christmas traditions we create ourselves that will be the most remembered and time we spend together. I still love Christmas and Chinese New Year and Easter and Mid-Autumn festival all the same.

 

But of course it will be the first time they realise the world is not all that it appears to be. Though I really hope that our efforts to make it a wonderful place is enough for them to keep on loving it and all that it has to offer just as much as they do now. To keep an open mind about everything they come across and see the value in a bit of magic. Otherwise what dull lives we would all lead. 

 

 

 

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All the air we can breathe – #XtheHaze

The other morning as I walked outside with #1 and 2 to wait for the School Bus to arrive, I immediately noticed the cool fresh air. It was just before 8am and after #1 and 2 were waved off to school, it seemed like a shame if I didn’t spend a few more moments appreciating the outdoors.

  

One thing I miss about the UK is the change of seasons, something I will never outgrow. How by now, many of you are thinking about the cold winter months drawing in and layering up with long sleeved t shirts, cosy jumpers and a smart warm coat. I really miss the UK once it hits September. Not least because September marks the end of another year in Singapore I wasn’t expecting to be celebrating. More so because September brings a welcome relief from the heat of summer in London. The hot, uncomfortable journey to and from work on the Tube inwardly grimacing as you touch sweaty forearms with the next passenger. The still nights unable to sleep properly. The idea that as it’s September, rather than expect it, any sunshine is a bonus.

Here, in the tropics you don’t experience that acute change between the seasons. That’s what I always thought before but actually live here long enough and you do notice the difference between hot and muggy most of the day to hot and muggy all day long and well into the evening.

We’ve just entered the rainy season and what a relief that is. Temperatures can drop to a comfortable 25 degrees. Not for long I should add. Only until it stops raining. It’s now the sort of weather you can sit outside a cafe and have coffee without getting fidgety. You can go out running for an hour and feel like you’ve been for a run instead of fighting against a wave of treacle. #1, 2 and 3 can tear around and not end up a big sweaty mess. We may even be able to spend a whole day, actually let’s just say half a day outdoors and not feel like we need a lie down from being drained of energy afterwards. The heat really does take it out of you like that.

Every time I heard someone say how they would love to live in all year round sunshine, I wanted to counter it with how it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. How ungrateful does that sound. Only because I personally am not a fan of all things hot. In the tropics the hot weather is seen as a given. As such, an outdoor existence is seen as a given. Whilst in many other countries for some part of the year, you may have to spend days indoors because of cold, wet weather, we never really get that in Singapore. #1, 2 and 3 can spend a lot of time getting a consistent vitamin D fix. I was starting to take this for granted.

That was until this year’s Haze episode happened. In my seven years of tropical living this is the third time I’ve really felt the effects of the annual burning of the forests in Indonesia to clear land for unsustainable palm oil plantations. The post I wrote back in September after the Haze initially hit #XtheHaze – We Breathe What We Buy was to talk about my lack of understanding about what the Haze is and that it’s not just about one country, one product or one quick fix solution to stop the Haze from returning next year. Or even to stop it recurring from this current episode.

  
As I look outdoors this evening because we can actually sit with the balcony doors open again, it is hard to imagine that just a couple weeks ago we spent day after day with windows and doors closed shut against the outside. All outdoor pursuits were cancelled from swimming, running and play time. Even just walking 10 minutes to the shops on some days. School was cancelled one day. People who could were leaving Singapore on Haze breaks. There was a feeling of Haze rage in the air mingling with slightly acrid smell of burning.

There was a huge presence on social media about the Haze. What was it? Who was to blame? Why was nothing being done about it? The same questions came up over and over again. My own post was shared and viewed almost 2,000 times. (I know, it will never happen again!) But that showed the extent of people talking about the Haze and wanting answers. And the longer the Haze lingered with its bad smell, the more people talked about it. The WWF led #XtheHaze campaign – http://www.webreathewhatwebuy,com gathered much needed momentum and publicity. Local media in Singapore picked up on the growing public and consumer demand for more knowledge and coverage on the Haze issue. It was great for the campaign although to date still only 13,000 pledges have been gathered from the public at large to support calls for sustainable Haze free palm oil even though so many people were outraged at current unsustainable practices.

But no matter how much campaigning and behind the scenes efforts are going on, it didn’t change what was happening in the here and now. No one could have predicted how long the Haze would last for. After all, in previous years it was barely noticed or it stopped affecting Singapore after a week or so. This time was definitely different. Every morning you would draw open the curtains to find a grey fog. An unnatural grey fog that is. It looked like how you would imagine a cold misty morning that you may be waking up to yourself these days. But take a walk outside and there was nothing fresh or bracing about this particular grey foggy morning. The air felt dirty. And in your head it is so confusing thinking it ought to be a cold winter’s day but it’s actually still tropical muggy.

Having been so used to open balcony doors at home all the day, it suddenly felt weird to live in 24 hour air con. I was certainly cool unlike my usual sweaty self. You’d think I’d be happier for it but I didn’t like it. It felt restrictive. And it was restrictive. Totally. No outdoor time. No running around the block. No taking the kids swimming. No sitting outside a cafe for a coffee or pint. Nothing was going on at all. The streets were noticeably more vacant. No thought of going to any of the outdoor attractions. The effect on such businesses must have been high. But the indoor play gyms, air purifier suppliers, cinemas, pharmaceuticals must have made a mint.

A growing fixation with the PSI levels started to develop. PSI is the Pollutants Standard Index. I’m not sure how they measure it but they give you a guide and what’s considered healthy or unhealthy, especially for certain groups of people like the elderly, children and those with underlying respiratory conditions. On a regular day like now, it’s about 60. Was it over 100 yet? It’s slowly creeping up to 200. It’s over 200! Oh my gosh, evacuate it’s about to hit 300! We can’t breathe! But of course we can. The odd thing is that is in many other cities, this is considered quite normal. So what exactly are we complaining about? Well the main issue is that this can be entirely preventable. It is completely a situation created by people, corporates and financing.

And as the weeks dragged by, and Haze rage and Haze malais set in, I started to get annoyed at some of the comments and concerns some people were talking about on social media. The Haze would pass. It was just a question of when. Yes it was a nuisance. It was unpleasant. It hindered our very good quality of life in Singapore but we could easily safeguard ourselves by staying indoors, wearing the N95 masks when outdoors, even leaving the country. That’s not to say the concerns and opinions voiced were not valid, they were but I felt some degree of perspective was being lost. Whilst we could stay cosy cold indoors, what about those who had jobs outdoors? The construction workers, the manual labourers who take care of keeping Singapore as clean as it is famous for being. Some households who do not have the luxury of air con and sealed windows. Some who do not have homes at all. Perspective is a great asset to keep hold of.

Whilst fingers were pointed at Indonesia as a whole as the cause of all this, the fires continued to rage through the forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Ravaging wildlife habitat and forcing people from their homes. An N95 mask wasn’t going to make any difference at all when PSI levels were over 2,000. The images from Kalimantan, Borneo showed not a grey foggy day but a thick yellow dense fog. The photos looked like they had a sepia affect which of course they didn’t. It put into perspective how hard done by we felt in Singapore. But look at what is happening to those innocent bystanders who are not benefiting from any of this activity. So it was great to see voluntary organisations galvanise into action to try and do something at ground level. Voluntary movements such as http://www.relief.sg and Let’s Help Kalimantan who have a Facebook page detailing all the work and call for support they need gathering funds and sending supplies over to the people of Indonesia who need it right now. Who need it the most. Who probably know even less of what is going on than we do here.

  

The long term repercussions of this Haze episode is not yet known. The cost to the health of the people living in close quarters to the areas where the forests burned for weeks. Still are burning. 50 hotspots are still being reported everyday. The loss of wildlife species and habitat. The loss of reputation for some even. There have been many promises by government that this will change and we will hopefully not see such a prolonged episode of Haze. I can’t say it’s not going to happen again next year. Even the Indonesian government has declared they need three years to turn things around. But this would be with all concerned stakeholders doing their bit to make this change.

I met a staunch conservationist last night who is right in saying we need to continue wielding the microphone and making noise about what causes the Haze and how it must be changed. Just because the wind has changed direction and the forest fire residue has been blown away from Singapore to some place else, it doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s not. And right now, like what has happened in previous years, it’s out of sight and seemingly out of mind.

What this has shown me is just how detrimental our actions are on the Earth’s natural resources. It compounds again, that to save the Earth is everyone’s responsibility. In many different ways. The Haze is but one issue. Protect the Forests. Save the Seas. Look after critically endangered wildlife species. Climate change. Food supply shortage. Rising sea levels. Diminishing polar ice caps. Just a few issues I can mention off the top of my head right now.

But for now, take a breath and appreciate the clean air around you. It’s not something you can take for granted. Whilst I only got a little taste of a polluted, toxic environment, even just for two months is long enough to say this is not what I want #1, 2 and 3 to inherit. So whilst the Haze has gone for now, we still need to do so much more collectively to ensure it doesn’t come back for all concerned.

  

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Eight years and more

In the melee of daily life, it can be difficult keeping track of the small things. Like the dry cleaning that needed dropping off a few weeks ago, the button on a top that needs sewing back on or the writing of the list to remind you of all the small things that need doing.

But what happens when you forget to keep track of the big things? The costumes for the school celebration, Birthdays of people scattered all over the globe. Your own Wedding Anniversary.

Yes, it has come to that. Well almost. It’s not that I forgot it was our Wedding Anniversary. I always know when and what day it falls on. I however couldn’t say the same for Husband. I asked him, in the midst of a conversation about someone else’s wedding, if he knew when our Wedding Anniversary was to which he replied with a random day of the week. Note to Husband as he reads this, set an annual reminder in your calendar to look at the engraving on the only piece of jewellery you’re wearing. 

When you’re all in the throes of wedding planning and doing the fun stuff like choosing your wedding bands and discussing with the Jeweller the fit and width of the band and then the Jeweller suggests how about getting an inscription engraved inside the bands, it’s complimentary after all. Ooh that sounds good! What should we get inscribed. Our names? I’d like to think you’d remember who you were married to. I love you? I kind of think that was a given considering we were getting married. The Jeweller helpfully suggests how about your Wedding date.

They know something all nearly newlyweds don’t. That if suggested to them would cause feelings of outrage and scoff at the mere thought. How could you EVER forget your own Wedding Anniversary! Especially when you’ve just spent months building up to this one day. There is no way you will forget. Absolutely not.

But then suddenly, it almost happens. Too busy with Gainful Employment, commitments to other engagements, with #1, 2 and 3, sourcing costumes for school events to take the time to make this day a special celebration. 

It doesn’t have to be anything big or extravagant. Just a moment to remember that this day eight years ago we were in the midst of one of the happiest celebrations we’ve had together. A gathering of all the people who mattered most to us to share something good. 

A time before being pulled in so many different directions that leaves you having to factor in time together. Actual time together for just us two. There are occasions where that means sneaking off to the supermarket together. Then adding on a daring coffee to it. I know. 

A Wedding Anniversary should symbolise all the things that were true on your wedding day but also acknowledgement of all that you have gained since then. Lessons of growth and compromise you experience because you have committed to a life together. 

I love attending a wedding. I love to take in the detail, wait in anticipation to see the Bride, watch with high emotion as the Groom sees her walking towards him to begin a whole new chapter of their relationship together. I even feel this way when I’ve been at weddings where I don’t even know the couple well, or at all. I don’t mean I lurk at the back of churches with my wedding best on, it’s been when I’ve been Husband’s plus one. 

I can definitely say that #1, 2 and 3 like a good wedding too and so far they have been to four weddings in Singapore, Japan and England (thankfully no funerals.) All culturally very different too. You’d think they’d be pros at being good wedding guests by now.

So when asked recently to be flower girls and ring bearer at the wedding of friend of Husband’s, we sort of thought it would be ok. How chaotic can it be for them to don pretty dresses and smart outfit to begin the celebrations of this couple’s most important and memorable day they’ve spent a lot of time getting just right for them. 
How indeed.
  

I’m not actually sure whether the Bride has seen this footage yet but the serene image of #2 and 3 throwing rose petals as they paved the way for the Bridesmaids didn’t quite go to plan. In fact as you can see here they are about to break free from Husband and had to be duly rounded up like sheep gambolling in a field. I’m happy to report the Bride still considers us her friends and regular Flower Girl activity resumed once the man with the camera disappeared. 

Often when you go to a wedding as the plus one, you feel wrapped up in the warmth of occasion whether you know the couple well or not. But for this wedding I really felt like they were sharing the whole journey of their story so far. The thought and effort that had gone into the videos that were played describing how they met and the surprise of the proposal added to the day for me as a guest.

At the same time, with the experience of a few more big life events these newly weds have yet to encounter, I appreciated the timely reminder of the buzz and fun and optimism going to every wedding gives you.

And so just a few days later, quite unexpectedly, I arrive home to a beautiful bunch of flowers from Husband, a rare occurrence after I once rebuffed his romantic gesture when ill and I said it would only make my hay fever worse. It was the message inside that made the day about us again even though there was no opportunity to go for dinner or similar appropriate celebration.

Today will also begin a new chapter and journey for my Nearly Nephew Dazzler and his gorgeous wife. I’m so sorry to be missing out on what will no doubt be an amazing family occasion. I’m eagerly waiting for photos as I speak to you now!
There are no words of advice I can give or guarantees I can make but today will be one special day at the start of many more yet to come. 

  

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All Hallowed Out

I have felt frightful today. As bad as my Halloween look from last night. No need for the extra pale make up or faux dark shadows under the eyes, the zombie look is all natural today. I’ll come to how I got to that state later on.

I don’t know why or how but Halloween this year turned out to be a rather big affair. An almost 24 hour long celebration of all things spooky. I am not a big fan of all things spooky. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like watching scary films and I used to sit on the ghost train with my eyes closed but pretending they weren’t. I jump at the slightest thing and have been known to scream in people’s faces if I happen to turn a corner and come face to face with someone I wasn’t expecting to be there.

But you know, Halloween with young children is a more friendly affair. Small people dressed up as pumpkins, spiders, witches and wizards and a random array of non-spooky related outfits. How can you resist a good dress up like that.

#3 loves a good dress up. Whilst it’s a whole month late, we held a belated Birthday Halloween party to celebrate #3 turning 3. She was only going to acknowledge it was no longer her Birthday when there’s been the big Birthday sing song around a big Birthday cake. Ah, the Birthday cake. I can’t tell you how amazing #3’s Birthday cake was as created by my exceptionally talented friend Cathy from My cakes by Catarina. I asked her just a couple of weeks ago if she had time to make #3’s cake and she asked what theme did I have in mind. I told her #3 wanted to have a Cinderella at the Ball party with the shoe but as it’s Halloween can you do something with a pumpkin. Clear brief? This is what she came up with. A cake of two halves. I knew it was going to be spectacular when I received a message from Cathy the day before saying ‘I love your cake sooooo much!’ and I know how much Cathy enjoys what she is clearly so talented at doing. Look at the detail. The care and attention that has gone into this cake. It seemed such a shame to have to cut into it but it tasted amazing too.

  
I remember when #2 turned 3, one of the biggest highlights of her party was having a friend there all of her very own. The friend she has made all by herself at school. Well this time it was #3’s turn to have a friend of her very own at the party. And for the first time I was referred to as #3’s Mummy. I’m sure it’s something I’ll hear a lot more of soon enough. For now, most of #3’s friends are an older crowd and they want to PARTY! They actually make their own entertainment. Running amok, chatting, shouting, eating handfuls of crisps. It’s quite funny how just two years ago #1 wasn’t that bothered about party games but he now loves them. He loves musical statues but still no one quite gets the whole statue bit so we did musical chairs instead and still no one quite gets that either. Some kids just sit on the chairs watching the others go round, others dip in and out of the game and the music stops and they are so small that two, sometimes three can fit neatly on one chair so that no one ends up out.

So that’s another party done. All Birthdays done for another year. But it was the first of three Halloween parties of yesterday. Halloween perhaps still isn’t as big an occasion in the UK as it is in some other countries. We did do Trick or Treating around the neighbourhood which is quite ironic that on this one occasion it’s ok to accept sweets from random strangers. Anyhow, last night we were invited to friends who live in a neighbourhood where every other house had gone to town with all things spooky. There were hoards of young people, small children and parents out together dressed up and enjoying a real community activity. Homes were decorated elaborately scary and buckets of sweets were waiting for the incoming visitors. I have never seen anything like it. #1, 2 and 3 enjoyed themselves and so did I. Now what to do with the enormous stash of sweets and chocolates they’ve brought back?

  
And finally after almost 12 hours of Halloween activity already and torn between wanting to go to bed to moving onto the final Halloween do for Grown Ups only. The good thing about Halloween fancy dress up is that you don’t need to do much to look bad. A layer of too pale foundation instantly ghouled me out and a bit of black eye shadow to enhance the dark circles that already exist permanently. Plus a bit of fake blood. And we’re done. Husband and I dressed up as zombie tourists. I think he secretly wanted an excuse to buy a selfie stick. Why would zombie tourists be scary? Because you may not be aware that I have an irrational fear of couples, families even, who wear matching clothing. Like the exact same top. There’s a Chinese saying that roughly translates to mean the ‘loving couple’ look. That a couple who wear the exact same top are more in love, in tune than those who don’t. If anyone dared to wear the exact same top as me, we would no longer be a couple. I feel distinctly uncomfortable when I see couples walking towards me in their exact same tops. I feel irrational rage and the impulse to ask them if they know they’ve left the house in the exact same top. It is my worst nightmare. As Husband knows all too well. Even being in the shop trying on our tops and catching first glance of ourselves in the mirror nearly made me violently ill.

And then I was violently ill. Felled by the Evil Twin 2 and her tray of catch up tequila shots and gin with a small dash of mixer. It has been quite some time since I’ve had those all day hangovers. The kind where you wake up and can’t move without feeling nauseous. Where you can’t look down. That is a sure sign that things are bad. And whilst Husband was up early and out to rugby training with #1, I was left with #2 and 3 with a 10am party to get to in a play gym. On a Sunday morning. Thankfully it’s been a haze free day so the indoor gyms were not as packed as they could be. But still, being anywhere but in bed when you can’t look down is not good. Over the course of the three hours there, I could feel myself slowly coming out of Hangover Hell a couple of steps only to fall back into the raging fires of it again. I’m still not quite out of it yet but at least it’s bedtime now. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll look a bit more human again.

  

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