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

Love is……a delivery of fried chicken

Soooo….it’s THAT day again. Love, romance, roses, balloons and heart shaped potato wedges.
But I bet none of you got a romantic delivery of fried chicken for St Valentine’s Day!

I am not kidding you! I really did get a delivery of fried chicken to my place of Gainful Employment today. Is that weird? Or is it love?

Either way, the gesture was such a surprise that it sparked a lot of joy. One of the most unexpected gifts I’ve ever received on St Valentine’s Day.

Not the only one today either. When I picked up #3 from school, she presented me with this wonderful heart shaped decoration she made. Sparked a lot of joy too. I love they way #1, 2 and 3 freely express their love. How easy it is to say I love you and to accept they are loved in return. I don’t want this to ever change for them. May the future people who are the focus of this affection appreciate it and treat it with the respect it deserves. Or I will hunt you down…

Love in its many varied forms is a wonderful thing don’t you think? Romantic love, friend love, family love. Expressed spontaneously through our actions. 

In my place of Gainful Employment there were questions of how will you spend St Valentine’s Day? What did you buy each other? Are you going out for dinner tonight? 

The young lad who is in a fairly new relationship that he doesn’t seem to particularly want to be in looked pained as he answered he had booked a restaurant some place and possibly was agonising inside over whether it’s romantic enough, whether he has made sufficient effort to show his feelings of love.  The pain of it all but I am now wise enough not to express any outward emotion on that front.

But my delivery of fried chicken from a dear friend today gave me that warm fuzzy feeling. I really appreciate the gesture and to think someone was thinking of you enough to bother. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Old friends in new places

Just as I’m gearing up to see old friends in the UK, an unexpected encounter with one older than them all occurred right here in Singapore.

By chance I discovered an old school friend, Nori, has been living a few miles down the road since January.

As much as I now have friends I’ve known over 20 years, it’s even more indicative of the passing of time to come across ones you haven’t seen in over 20 years.

With my impending return to the UK tomorrow (have I mentioned that part before?), it seemed timely to catch up beforehand.

I’m quite sure we were around 18 the last time we bumped into each other, just before heading off for Uni. Before the age where you emerge from being socially inept and when opposite genders can start forming friendships without a gaggle of others nudging and giggling away. It was also in the time before every 9 year old was putting a mobile phone on their Christmas list and what do you mean you can send virtual messages across cyberspace? If you didn’t have someone’s home address then that was that.

So that was that.

My family moved away from Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham shortly after I graduated and as I never returned home it meant that I lost touch with the people I hung out with at school. You may have noticed I haven’t talked much of those years, not because they were awful but because there’s not many to reminisce with. How sad does that sound!

If you’re wondering, Chester-le-Street (home of the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground), is a town and not the name of the actual street I lived on which often caused some confusion and gave the impression of being overly specific on my part when doing the introduction rounds during Fresher’s Week. What is worse is that should I have been overly specific, I’d have gone round telling everyone I lived on Hawes Avenue.

Nearly 10 years of angst this address caused me. Why this particular Lake District reservoir had to be abbreviated from Haweswater as such is beyond me when neighbouring roads were charmingly called Ullswater Road, Rydal Road, Grasmere Road is highly unjust. It must have been one mean spirited friendless town planner to have passed that one through and that’s why you had no friends.

Anyways, if Facebook has been good for anything other than being privy to the innermost thoughts of people you know, it has been the opportunity to reconnect, or not, with people you once knew. Sometimes it doesn’t go beyond the odd message but sometimes, you get presented with the opportunity to see how you connect when no longer socially inept.

So there we found ourselves, 22 years later, in the waiting area of a microbrewery.

What exactly is the correct greeting etiquette for someone you haven’t seen in forever? It’s a ponderous question and as it turns out you greet each other like how you did the last time. Which meant we were practically opposite sides of the room.

No, we weren’t. We were stood like thick planks not exactly knowing what to do for that awkward split second of saying Hello.

He looked exactly the same. Even without having seen recent photos of him, I would recognise him still which can’t be said for many of us. And some of us would count that as a blessing.

He said I looked the same too. It must be something to do with our Asian genes. I can more or less accept that observation and not be upset by it but I would like to think that my sense of style and personal grooming has improved somewhat since then. Thank goodness the misguided spiral perm that ALL the girls were sporting had long grown out before we last saw each other.

It could have gone terribly wrong but that’s the risk you take. Neither of us had to make up an excuse of going late night prawning to justify an early exit which was a relief and proof that we have emerged from being socially inept.

To prove how socially inept we were back then, he asked me the other day, ‘What were you doing living there?’ Some 25 years later, he finds out why.

I was interested to know where he moved onto after school because he came to our school as an Expat from Japan. I can tell you that being an Expat in our small town is not like being the Expats we are here. Far from it.

He is very modest in his academic and career achievements but it’s a story that would make our school very proud of its alumni. And so should he be because when English isn’t your first language, you have to strive much harder than your peers just to keep up, let alone excel beyond. I’ve seen Big Brother Li and Nephew #1 go through this too.

But what is heartwarming is how fondly he spoke of our school friends. Grown Ups now with families of their own and yet I can’t picture them any older than the last time I saw many of them at the age of 16.

Our small town may not possess the glitz and glamour of your usual Expat destination that you and I are used to. But for one person unexpectedly thrown in there as a teenager, I’m glad they come away with good memories because of the people there.

I already knew this though. I came to this school at the age of thirteen having transferred from a much larger school and subjected to quite a lot of bullying because cultural diversity wasn’t that common in those days. I wasn’t looking forward to starting a new school and having all this to deal with again. It’s paralysing when you’re singled out for something you can’t change with catcalls that actually make no sense.

But no one at this school ever showed such behaviour and soon enough I stopped waiting for it. There is no such thing as a little bit of racism or any other kind of prejudice. Even when masked as a harmless joke, something which I came across recently. I thought we were beyond that.

So, I’m glad that he doesn’t carry such memories from the school we both attended at least.

And you know, it was good to be reminded of names I haven’t heard in many years and faces I had to search hard to remember. But the abundance of stories about these people made me laugh a lot. I wonder how they’re doing.

I used to be quite sceptical about school reunions. For surely if you were meant to be friends then you’d still be in contact. But sometimes we drift off and find ourselves far from where we started, looking in on those who still have each other. I don’t know what we have in common now, but after meeting up with Nori, I know we had some good, fun years together. Even if we were socially inept.

What brings people in, and sometimes out, of your life is not always clear. Sometimes it’s down to no other reason than a chance encounter, timing or the fact you just get on.

But in this case it’s quite obvious. As I watched #3 run amok at lunch on Sunday when she ought to have been sat at table like all non feral children, I thought back to the well behaved, disciplined children dining out with their parents when we were in Japan. I’m quite sure this is divine intervention in letting me know that I could do with a bit of help from a different parenting style.

So I’m more than happy to do a Kid Swap (why is Swap spelt with an A
but pronounced with an O, do you know how irritating that is?) if Nori and his wife will have #1, 2 and 3 in exchange for theirs. What do you say? I’m sure a weekend will soon get them into shape.

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Welcome back Brilliant New Adventure!

Well actually she’s gone again. But for two fabulous weeks we had the company of Brilliant New Adventure. It was so so good to see her as you can imagine.

Not only for me but for #1, 2 and even 3 who wasn’t yet one when they left just seven months ago. Gather all of them together and it was like no time had passed at all. The excitement of the children over our first reunion lunch together was hilarious. It was like someone had released the Pause button. But then that’s how children live isn’t it? In the immediate here and now. Something worth reminding our adult selves.

As I watched this little playgroup reunited and the pure joy they have for each other, I felt quite reassured that perhaps they will always have one another. With #3 on the vertical move and throwing her weight around it was quite funny to see the shock on the face of son of Brilliant New Adventure. ‘Whatever happened to the baby?’. Well she’s quite the grown up toddler now. I wondered whether she would be shy around her 教母 but actually she threw herself right in the middle of things as if she’d never been away.

Where once we would pop down the road to their house for play dates, it felt like we ought to be out doing more in Singapore now that they’re ‘visitors’. So we went to the River Safari, I still prefer the Singapore Zoo as I can’t really distinguish one fish from another but I do so love the red pandas and the giant pandas as does Brilliant New Adventure. However, trying to keep all four quiet whilst we went to see them was quite tricky but then I was told that I made the most noise with my shushing!

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The last time we visited the River Safari was with Nana Moon back in December 2013. #2 wasn’t quite tall enough to go on the boat ride then. She still wasn’t tall enough this time either by just 2cm and it was heartbreaking to see the sadness on her face as she watched the others go whilst we had to sit and wait. She lay herself dramatically across a bench and looked so dejected that I just don’t think we can go back until 2cm have gone by. Or I allow her to wear her Princess dress up shoes outdoors.

You may recall, though she may prefer you don’t, that Brilliant New Adventure embraced 40 last December and one of my regrets at the time is that we were not there to help her celebrate. However, I’ve come to realise that if you have the heart to do something, it can be done at any time and still be meaningful. So we were only four months late but it gives good meaning to ‘surprise’ party with #1, 2 and 3 bearing cupcakes, candles and their gift for someone very special in their lives to let her know that we remember she is 40. Ha ha!

And life has begun again at 40.

We know there are opportunities all around us. Some of them we should be open to and some we know we shouldn’t. Some we need to be brave to take up and some we need to go and find.

I’m not at all surprised that Brilliant New Adventure has very quickly put in place the makings of a new life in Hong Kong. She has always shown strength and resilience in the face of other challenges so why not this too. Especially when it comes down to looking after one’s own happiness. At the very beginning of this, my sadness was down to why it had to be so and not over whether I doubted she would flourish with this new life.

There are lessons to be learnt all the time. From our own experiences and that of others. I feel a little bit wiser today than I did before because of someone else’s good grace and dignity.

For some time I felt rageful and upset on behalf of Brilliant New Adventure and often thought of how many ways there could be to tell someone what a nob and fool they were. I came up with some rather inventive suggestions. Yet these will never be aired because as advised by Brilliant New Adventure, what exactly would it achieve? Indeed, what exactly could it achieve.

Sometimes when you can volley back an immediate riposte there is some satisfaction to be gained rather than kicking yourself five minutes after the moment has passed having just thought of a witty response. But clinging on to words for a long length of time serves no purpose, bears no meaning and takes up a part of your soul that could be filled with much better thoughts.

As #2 is a true super fan of Frozen, I often hear the words ‘Let it go, let it go’ every day. It’s worth heeding this advice. For if she can let go then so can I because there is so much more to think about.

So much more exciting stuff! So much more fun to be had! So many opportunities to explore that can really be explored. There are people to meet and places to go.

Where once we just talked about going out for drinks, we now must take the chances when they present themselves. How strange in five and a half years to go out together for the first time after dark. So strange in fact, we couldn’t locate the bar at first. How much longer it’s been since we’ve had a drink together.

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On the one hand I do miss Brilliant New Adventure just as much as ever. I thought I was doing so well not to shed a tear. Until I started writing this. I wish I was a much less sentimental sop.

But on the other hand, there is so much to look forward to. I apparently haven’t lived properly without going out after dark in Hong Kong to places my Dad, Mr Li will no doubt say I can’t go to. I have never sampled the night life of Hong Kong ever. Something Brilliant New Adventure can hardly believe. I imagine by the time I get to Hong Kong she’ll be quite in the know of the places I have to go.

So you see, out of all this, it’s not just one person that gets to go on a brilliant new adventure. There’s no looking back anymore. The past is in the past.

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Catching up with the old in the new

In the five and a half years we’ve been in Singapore, we’ve had a steady stream of visitors pass through. Oddly enough, as there arrives more children, the visitors become less frequent. Any correlation?

With every visit back to the UK, we try our best to see as many people as we can. Travelling from London to Newcastle and branching out to Edinburgh, Guildford, Oxford and stretching from Pontefract to Manchester and Warrington, all in the space of three weeks. Sounds exhausting? It is.

But we want to do this because it’s important for us to see friends and family in these places. To remain connected with the life we had as best we can. With each visit, we seem to come back with one more child and the chance to catch up becomes a bit complicated as we juggle travel with the demands of the feeding and sleeping timetable of small children.

It means that whilst we do see people, it’s fleeting. But much rather fleeting than not at all.

(Hang on a moment, David Attenborough’s Africa is on television right now and I’m distracted by the bouncing Springboks, I guess that’s why they have the word ‘spring’ in their name. If you think my musical popular culture knowledge is so last year, so is my television viewing. I still haven’t seen Matt Smith as The Doctor because I haven’t watched the intervening David Tennant Specials between season four and five even though I have the season five box set but I can’t possibly watch them out of sequence. Now there’s season six and seven and another new Doctor again!)

I know that I’m not alone in this respect. That my living a 13 hour flight away and a 7 hour time difference can work out just the same for people who live north and south of the River Thames, let alone north and south of the Watford Gap. The responsibilities of work, family, living further apart is what changes our ability to be spontaneous and accept all invitations to any social event.

Even the last few years has brought change with the friends I have made in Singapore and opportunities to catch up have become irregular and we all live no more than a 15 minute drive away. There’s just so many things to juggle. Yet, when we do on an evening have a glass of wine in the outdoor balmy air, chatting a little about our children but more so of everything else in general, I’m reminded of that feeling of wellbeing that all is good with the world.

Of course that could be the effects of the beer. I’m kidding! It’s definitely the company.

When my old friend Big D from way back during our University days announced he’d be over in Singapore for a few days with work, it was met with a good deal of Hoorah.

And so it should. Big D is that friend who shakes a gathering up and the party guest that makes for a great night out. He’s proper fun, witty and I often forget he’s an Accountant. They say that you should surround yourself with people who make you feel good but equally of importance are those that make you really laugh. Like Mrs 192, he is one of the best storytellers I know. He has an easy knack for comedy and drama and he fuels the ridiculousness of my imagination but equally is calmly supportive during times of need and important stuff too.

I don’t know why, but every time I see him, I always have to remark on just how tall he is, like it still takes me by surprise after all this time. I introduced him to my Dad Mr Li when I got married and have a photo of the tallest and shortest men I know. In preparing #1, 2 and 3 for his arrival, I obviously had built him up to be so high, #1 and 2 were concerned he wouldn’t be able to fit under our front door. He is tall but I have discovered since living in Singapore that the Dutch are on average, collectively the tallest people that I know. The Irish too actually.

It’s always bizarre and quite a novelty to see familiar faces here in Singapore. Like we’ve all been teleported by accident to some tropical climate as sweaty, summery versions of ourselves. You grow use to seeing people in a certain environment. Same like it’s weird seeing photographs of people I’ve met in Singapore in winter clothing, like it’s a Clark Kent style disguise.

Whilst I’m beginning to grow too accustomed to Singapore and starting to take for granted the beauty and benefits of our home city for the past five years, it is good to have visitors to remind you to appreciate what’s all around.

So with just a few hours free each evening for a few days, what exactly must you prioritise to give visitors a glimpse of the life you’ve been leading out this way?

Big D had a list of ‘Must Do’s’ from people who have previously passed this way and one of them was a long list of rooftop bars. ‘Just exactly how different can one be from another?’ said he. Where once we hung out in pubs with sticky carpets and not much of a view of the amazing London skyline, we were now having pints facing the Singapore River and overlooking the equally amazing Singapore skyline. Which Big D kept saying was very much like Vegas. Really? I’ve never been to Vegas before and it’s quite ironic that a well organised, obedient nation like Singapore could resemble such a place like Las Vegas, home of Celine Dion in Caesar’s Palace and Showgirls. I look upon Singapore with new eyes now.

Then there’s of course the obligatory Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab, hawker street food (but street food in Singapore is not quite the same as street food in any other Asian country). I like how he pointed out the oddness of pairing fork with spoon which now seems to be the most efficient way to shovel in food and I forget how vexing I once found it when an eating establishment possessed no knives. Shame there was no time for Sunday free flow Champagne brunch at any one of the many five star hotels. But there was time for a Singapore Sling in the soothing surrounds of colonial Raffles Hotel, which is always quite a surprise amongst all the modern buildings around it.

It was good to introduce #1, 2 and 3 to another familiar face and what’s great about children is that they are so willing to accept whoever is put in front of them. However, for #1 and 2 to declare they missed Uncle Big D after a brief half an hour meeting makes me question the depth of their true loyalty to anything. When Nana Moon left Singapore #1 cried at the airport.

It’s been six years since Big D and I were frequent Friday Night Beer buddies. A time when you would see who’s around after work for an unplanned pint in an underground drinking establishment with sticky carpets and flocked wallpaper or a low ceilinged cellar bar that makes Big D seem like Gandalf in Frodo’s dwelling.

A time of spontaneity and evenings free to talk nonsense and laugh uproariously before chivalrously being vaguely pointed in the direction of the night bus home.

It seems like a time far from the lives we have now. So it was good to be able to catch up on all the news that I know has happened but is far better to talk about in person. The arrival of small children, big life celebrations later this year, work, family – the many elements of our lives as it is now. We are grown ups after all and it’s reassuring to acknowledge and appreciate that.

I can’t do impromptu Friday Night Beers anymore but with a bit of planning I can probably do any night of the week beers instead because nowadays you can’t be fussy what day of the week it is, if there’s a window of opportunity to go out.

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Walk not run

Sometimes you do something and then wonder why you never did it more often. In our London life, weekends could be booked up months in advance filled with Birthdays, weddings, family visits, catching up with friends you haven’t seen for far longer than you would like. How does it happen that you can live in the same city and realise you haven’t seen a good friend for a very long time.

I love London, even more so now that I probably may never live there again and look back with a rose tinted haze. But with living in any confined city, you often wonder what’s out there. Where exactly are the rolling green fields of England. They’re always closer than you think.

So for no particular occasion a group of us rented a holiday home and shared a long weekend together with wine, beer, food and a plan to do a long walk along the Dorset coast.

The weather six years ago this week couldn’t be more different to the reports I’ve been reading about today. Storm battered Britain. Floods. Thousands left without power. Coastlines falling into the sea.

This is Golden Cap, Dorset in early February 2008. We were staying in a farmhouse in nearby Charmouth.

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Look at the clear blue skies and winter sunshine. Just going back through these photos makes me smile. Look at the beautiful views and rolling green fields and how can you not feel happy. We were fully expecting grey, wintry weather with it being early February and the fact that this wasn’t going to put off our friends from joining us is always a good sign.

The Dorset to East Devon World Heritage site is also know as the ‘Jurassic Coast’. It stretches across 95 miles of stunning coastline. Not only is it gloriously beautiful but it provides an education into the science of the earth. Which we didn’t learn much about except look for a few fossils along the beach and we barely covered much of the 95 mile available to us.

What I did learn that weekend is how to take an almost authentic ‘face punch’ photo. Yep. Courtesy of Ms Beefy who bestowed this new skill upon us. She does it scarily well. It’s a three person stunt. One person has arm outstretched locked in ‘punch’ mode, the second vigorously shakes their head from side to side with jowls loose. Only with jowls loose can you achieve the desired effect. Then the third person takes the photo. This is not an activity for ‘selfies’. Hours of fun. Though I haven’t tried it since. It gives me a headache all that head shaking.

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I love long country walks. I’m sure many of us do. I have romantic notions of dragging #1, 2 and 3 on many of them in years to come. Will they love it or will they complain about it and say it’s pointless? Either way, I think they’ll look back and appreciate it. Hopefully they’ll have an idea of what a ‘long walk’ is because it is quite possible to reach your mid thirties and not know.

Who could not know? Well, for some of us, enjoying the amble and taking in the view all around us is part of the whole enjoyment. For others, point them in the direction of the summit and that’s their goal. So off they zoom. Without pacing themselves. Without even the correct footwear. Like one of those wind up toys that go off and then wear themselves out. Expleting the F word quite liberally along the way and yet proclaiming to be having a really good time but F word where’s the pub and pint coming along? I suppose I shouldn’t say who that could be…

You can go away with a group of friends for the weekend and relive the good parts of when you shared a house together. The laughs without the quirky habits they have that you remember from ten years ago. It’s good to get together away from the usual places we always go to and all the things we usually do. So why on earth didn’t we do it more often?

It may be a while before we’ll be planning a long weekend away with just friends again and I wonder what new skills we’ll be picking up then?

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Embracing 40……..Working Mammy and a whole lot more

It’s a week packed full of Birthday celebrations and today marks the 40th Birthday of a friend I’ve known for the longest time. Since we were seven years old in fact, which makes her my longest standing childhood friend.

My family had just moved to Sunderland to open up a new takeaway business located on the main road between our home and my new Junior school. In those days, there seemed less attention on league tables and Ofsted reports in deciding which school we would go to and having the decision based on walking distance from home. I can picture the route from home to school, I think it may have taken half an hour to walk it which many of us did but I don’t think you would chance it these days. It would have saved me being chased down the road by the big dog that lived at the top of our street.

Out of curiosity I looked up the Ofsted report for this school and was pleased to see it scored Good for most areas of learning and development and Outstanding for pupil behaviour. It’s always awkward being the new kid in class, the focus of attention can be mortifying at the start until you get settled in. My class were kind and accepting though and I loved this school, except for the Goblin in the Girls Toilet episode.

Working Mammy and I were in the same class and if I were to describe how I remember her back then, I can only use words such as popular, clever and talented. Definitely one of the stars of our year, if not the school. She was in the school choir (actually so was I but if you heard me sing now then you’d know I was only ever chosen to make up the background noise), she played the recorder during Assembly (an excellent instrument and I’m happy to see it still thrives in schools today), she was one of a few to be chosen to play the violin, she was one of four Narrators for one year’s school Christmas show and she was Class Monitor. There’s quite a lot to do at school come to think of it.

Outside of school, she went to Brownies, took British Sign Language lessons, gymnastics and trampolining lessons. She was active and lively and doing stuff. This may not sound unusual to you and I in this modern age of parenting where it would be unusual for children as young as three onwards to not have some form of extra curriculum activity going on. Certainly to a seven year old me in the early 80s, it sounded like so much fun and I did feel like I was missing out on so many things. But with a family working every afternoon and all the nights in the takeaways earning a living, there was just no one around to take you these places I’m afraid. So if you see me enrolling #1, 2 and 3 into all sorts of Clubs and sporting activities then you know it’s to compensate for my lack of participation as a child.

Since becoming a parent myself, I understand more the influence we have on our children, especially in their formative years. We’re the ones guiding their interest and enabling their involvement in a broad range of activities with hopefully positive effect. Elbear’s son who is almost 11, is an avid Formula One fan like his Dad, #1 is garnering an interest in Star Wars because he noticed Nana Moon and I like it but Mrs Cake Pops tried to persuade her son to trial a karate class today and he bluntly told her to ‘You go by yourself’. Sometimes it works.

My children take for granted there will be at least one play date a week in their social diary. Play dates were not that common in my upbringing for reasons that include it will turn you into a street ruffian, too much play will make you lose focus on your studies and most importantly, why on earth would you want to stray outside of your home? We used to live in this cul de sac that had a lovely patch of green outside and all the neighbourhood kids would come and call on me (although we didn’t go to the same school, I wonder which school they went to then?) but I was hardly ever allowed out. I bet they thought our family was weird.

So I do remember the kindness of the Mammy of Working Mammy inviting me round to theirs for tea after school and then dropping me off back at our takeaway afterwards. My Dad Mr Li remembers it too and still likes to hear about The Girl from Sunderland. None of you are referred to by your names but as The Girl from Guildford, The Girl from Wales, The Girl from Middlesborough. It’s like not being able to visualise a car until you know what colour it is. I remember going to one of Working Mammy’s birthday parties when she turned eight or nine and I remember the genius of her Mammy in coming up with her fancy dress costume for someone else’s birthday party. She came dressed as an old Victorian lady complete with frilly cap and spectacles.

I only lived in Sunderland for just over three years. We moved again during the October of my fourth year of Junior School and it was sooooo unfair. I had friends that I loved being around and it was incredibly difficult. I remember walking across the school yard with Working Mammy and two other girls crying my eyes out with my Dad Mr Li waiting to pick me up and take me to my new home far, far away.

At the age of ten, we promised to write and stay in touch. And Working Mammy did. We carried on writing when we moved again to Chester-le-Street another three years later. Then it tapered off as the teenage years brought with it distractions. Then University, leaving home and having multiple new addresses didn’t help.

Yet the fact we are still in touch now is all due to Working Mammy because she never gives up and I’m flattered and feel privileged that she did make contact again. It’s quite something special when you realise someone is thinking about you, that they liked you enough then to want to get to know you again now.

When I saw Working Mammy after having not seen her since we were in our early teens ( I used to plead with My Dad Mr Li to make a detour if we were passing by Sunderland so I could say Hello), I was understandably nervous. What would she think of me after all these years? Would we get along? What would we have to say? She invited Husband and I to come and celebrate her 30th Birthday at Tiger Tiger (nothing like the one in Piccadilly Circus at the time, classier if you can imagine) in Newcastle Upon Tyne and I was so chuffed and excited to come up especially for it. What was she like then? Exactly how she has always been. Warm, welcoming and engaging with a big smile.

Since then we’ve shared notes on weddings plans as we got married within months of each other and we had our boys months apart too. Whenever I’ve been back to Newcastle, I’ve mostly been able to catch up with her and she makes you feel like no time has passed at all. Perhaps it’s the Northern friendliness. Perhaps it’s because some people are just born with natural good grace.

I admired Working Mammy when we were children and I admire her now as a Working Mammy and everything else that she is. She has a blog which is beautifully written about her everyday life and I look forward to her next posting. She is a wonderful, strong and vibrant woman who is only going to grab more out of everything this next decade.

Happy 40th Birthday Working Mammy! I can see you’re really enjoying your day of pampering and relaxation. Have a wonderful time in Edinburgh and you’re looking far better than Kate Moss pet!

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Embracing 40……..Just blame it on the Special Brew

Yet another person I know hit 40 this week and it seems Las Vegas is the destination to begin your mid life. The thing about beginning your mid life in Vegas is that it all starts off as a bit of a blur. Neither Mr Cupping nor Mr Muffin can elaborate much further about their respective 40th birthday weekends beyond that it was a brilliantly, decadently drunk time.

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Hmmm…genuinely can’t remember? Or would rather not go into too much detail to spare one’s blushes? Mr Cupping has genuine memory loss issues beyond his tender years but Mr Muffin? Well he’s been blaming it on the Special Brew for nearly twenty years. Why stop now?

By the way, Mr Muffin is not a monika I’ve come up with. It’s all his own work. Like Paul Ince knows, you can’t give yourself your own nickname. I believe his preferred choice was Raga but by the time I came across him, Muffin was firmly in place and somehow suits him far better. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call him by his given name you know. I only remember it because it comes up on Facebook.

He’s a friend of my other friend Lank from school. Unbeknownst to us both, we were at the same University and bumped into each other on campus. You know, the University of Salford is set in the surprisingly picturesque Peel Park with the River Irwell running through it which is quite at odds with the image of Salford as a whole, especially if you ignore the pit bulls left to run amok.

We all lived in the same student village for a year at one point and contrary to popular belief, a house full of nine blokes didn’t smell as bad as what you may think. It’s quite good to mix up your social circle. Meet new people and see how you get on. Try out a few bars that you’ve never been to before. All friendships bring something different and it’s good to have those that are not always so serious and known to bring fun and laughs.

Just as well really because Mr Muffin has one of those faces that just makes you laugh! I think that’s what I did the whole evening the first time I ever met him. Not helped by his constant mimicking of the elongated Geordie way Lank says my name but in his own Bradford baritone. I think out of habit he still does that now.

As you know, sometimes I’m not very good at picking up when someone is being genuinely serious. Just the other week at dinner with Mrs Imperturbable and a few other friends, she says ‘I’m trying to think of a happy childhood memory’, I think it’s a test because of the inappropriate laughing at the never ever having had a birthday party ever memory. Failed of course. Laughed again.

Not surprising really when people like Muffin would come up with gems like, ‘I’m smoking Lambert and Butler because it’s the thinking man’s cigarette’. Are you sure? It’s not because it’s far cheaper than a packet of Marlborough? He also came out with something equally profound about Lilt but then admitted he just liked it’s totally tropical taste.

I suppose with such financially astute tendencies, it’s no surprise he’s now a qualified Financial Advisor. In fact, he gave me some brilliant financial advice for my final year at University. Befriend the bouncers at the door of the Student Union bar. Saved a packet, never had to queue at all to get in and was successfully smuggled out a back door with Elbear one time when she needed to escape the unwanted advances of a suitor.

Then after I moved to London and met my first ever London friend of my very own, Mrs Cor Blimey, who should be housemates with her friend? Why, Mr Muffin! Exactly! What a small world and a bit freaky. But then quite fun too actually to be in London in your mid 20s with new friends and old ones.

Sometimes he likes to be Mr T, at others he likes to be Carl Cox. I think he almost got away with it in a club once until someone pointed out, ‘Hang on, isn’t this Carl Cox’s set right now?’. Hmmm. Busted. How can you not laugh?

You don’t have to be in touch all the time to recognise the value of certain friendships. I think it’s how you get on when you do hear from people that matters. He’s still funny, still open and honest, still not that mysterious though tries to be….and probably would still like to blame all his misdemeanours on the Special Brew but can you really at 40? Hmmm.

Happy 40th Birthday Muffin!

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Let me tell you about……..Nana Moon

Have you found yourself feeling a bit curious about some of the people I’ve mentioned so far? I thought as much and so from time to time I’d like to talk a bit more about them.

Let’s begin with Nana Moon as it’s her Birthday and because she’s currently in Berlin and won’t read this for ages without free wifi around. She’s one of the few people I’ve known consistently for over twenty years now which is rather exciting for me. Perhaps less exciting for her as she’s already got friends she’s known for over thirty years.

Where to begin though. How about some photos.

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I think if anyone could start a Consultancy on How to Be a Student, then it would have to be Nana Moon (albeit a Student circa the early to mid nineties). She was very good at the whole Student thing and I think I enjoyed that time all the more because someone else seemed to know what to do. Maybe’s it was because she had older siblings who had already tread the same path before her. She quickly had her room sorted out just so (a newspaper cutout of Ciaran Bracken by her bed and a poster of Damon Albarn on her ceiling), joined the University badminton club for alleged badminton tournaments (a mere front for the frequent badminton club pub crawls), she was confident, self assured, a little bit fearsome and very likeable. We lived on the same landing in our first year at the University of Salford and we shared the same house on Tootal Road in our second year but we haven’t lived together since then, although you can never rule out the same older person’s community housing in the future. Like students of the modern age, we too wore strappy dresses with hemlines just below the butt cheek. Except we rocked the look with an added layer of t-shirt (black or white), thick black opaque tights (which made the hem line below butt cheek acceptable) and a pair of trainers. Sounds fetching in type. She’s the only person I know, outside of Our Jenn in the early 1980s, who taped songs from the Top 40 charts on a Sunday evening. I can still see her now poised over the Pause button and getting extremely annoyed if she missed the crucial Pause moment.

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We are who we are mostly because of our own choices but also because of the people we surround ourselves with. I said in my last post Them their Students, that I can be with certain people and be thrown back to that time. That’s not to say that she or I have failed to move on or that we have nothing in common anymore but that time of our lives. It’s just the familiarity born out of knowing someone for so long I guess. Although we Skyped the other day (for the second time in five years because her old desktop wasn’t able to support Skype and she definitely wasn’t going to upgrade it until the Museum of Science and Technology claimed it as a historical artefact), we usually catch up in the old fashioned way. Besides Mr Li, she is one of only two people I still have long, lengthy telephone conversations with. Actually Mr Li doesn’t even count because after 15 minutes he tells me I’m neglecting #1, 2 and 3 and to get off the telephone. I chat to her in the same way I have always done and it’s very easy, sometimes I even fail to breathe and Husband will often tell me I was meaning to end the call a while ago but then he’ll hear another ‘Oooh and one more thing I must tell you…’.

With Nana Moon, I can indulge the things I like (probably influenced by her with some kind of Jedi mind trick) that as a grown up we mostly put aside. The television programmes (Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Alias), the films (Harry Potter, the digitally remastered Stars Wars Trilogy and new episodes), the bands (Blur – I would fight her for Damon, Pulp, Take That, The Wonder Stuff, The Bee Gees), the books (The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree, Star Wars again, Clive Cussler), the board games (Frustration, Monopoly, Connect 4). She doesn’t make me feel like I can’t still have these in my life as well as the grown up stuff. Nana Moon makes me regress a little which is interesting when we’ve gone to stay at hers in the UK with #1 and 2 in tow (she’s yet to meet #3) and I’m asserting parental authority. But then how could I not when she gets out the Sega and asks if we want to play Micromachines? It wasn’t that long ago either when I would nominate her to take on food eating challenges at parties. There have been several house parties where someone has decided it’s a good idea to cram as many mini muffins, chocolate eclairs or satsumas in their mouths and I’ve always put forward Nana Moon but she’s a bit coy about her abilities. She drew the line when I suggested custard creams as a counter challenge.

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If I were a superstar celebrity then she’d be the kind of friend I’d be talking about in interviews and describing as the one who keeps me grounded. She’s rather straight to the point and very honest with her opinions and after she’s voiced them then the decision to do what you will is your own but you’ve heard what she thinks. So you always know where you stand. She thinks I can’t disguise how I’m feeling by the look on my face but she can’t disguise how she’s feeling by the tone of her voice. The indignation and utter disbelief when she found out I had never seen any of the Back to the Future trilogy or Indiana Jones films was immeasurable. When she reads this now that I still haven’t watched them all properly, her voice will rise two octaves higher: glass will shatter and dogs will cower. She’s the one who pointed out with Husband the correct response to ‘It was nice to meet you’. My ears bled afterwards.

She thinks I’m rude for asking what kind of Sunday roast it will be before accepting the invitation but I think it would be more rude to sit down at table and not eat if it were to be roast lamb which I don’t like. I think she’s incredibly stubborn which is really funny to see when it’s directed at someone else. So you best not let her know any habits she has that annoy you because she’s not going to drop them and will do them all the more.

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She has led a life quite well traveled so far and some of it I wish I had done myself like taking time out to go travelling in our early twenties. During our long Skype chat the other day, she showed me her latest thing which was a map of the world where you colour in the countries you’ve been to and whilst she’s been to many countries, she really needs to go to Russia, Canada and Brazil to make the map look really impressive. She’s quite a dark horse too but very discreet about it. I don’t think even Carnage UK could catch her unawares but if you look closely, you can see she’s been up to some sort of shenanigans like the time we found the dining table chairs were misaligned. One time she stayed over after a party when we were flat sharing with Uncle Monkey who gallantly told us she could have his room as he wasn’t coming home. Lo and behold who should return in the middle of the night and proclaim to be ‘Just getting in’. She’s not stupid you know!

Most important of all, I trust her. I always have done and it’s cemented by the fact that she is Godmother to #1, 2 and 3. Besides the responsibility of upholding the teachings of Christianity, I rather want #1, 2 and 3 to have the influence of someone who has very similar interests to me but isn’t like me. They can learn a lot from her independence and I’m sure she’ll be thrilled that there’s someone who is finally interested in the meaning of all the road markings designed to promote road traffic safety. She’s a Civil Engineer and I’m very proud that she’s thriving in a male dominated profession but I just don’t get the excitement of a new chevron on the road. All those years ago when I first met her and emerging from a rather strict upbringing and a fairly unconventional family background, she was one of the first people I talked to about it which was a big deal at the time. She’s brave but not reckless and she gives me the courage to do things out of my comfort zone. She’s always been the sporty type and seems to get a lot of enjoyment out of jumping off tall things attached to elastic. If Mr Li knew about this he definitely wouldn’t approve. Actually I’m so glad I didn’t go travelling with her because whilst it would be nice to add that to my CV, I actually want to vomit in my mouth at the thought of bungee jumping or sky diving. But I know she would be able to talk me through it. I’m not very brave at all and I need a push sometimes (quite literally) and so a few years ago when Nana Moon came to visit with Ms Beefy we found ourselves down on Sentosa at the Megazip Adventure Park doing the tree tops assault course. I mean there were children a third of our age doing it too but you can’t help what you’re fearful of. So I’m stuck on this plank and even though I’m tied to a safety harness I freeze and I think I might cry and really want someone to come and rescue me until Nana Moon sensing the genuine distress puts on her lower octave voice and gets me through it. She knows when she’s needed and takes that responsibility very seriously.

She’s been my guide to the south of England, around many pubs and bars in many towns, given an education in the A-Z listing of her huge CD collection, she taught me the Beaver Patrol, she tells me I’m ‘Never too old to spoon’ – make of that what you will, she makes me arrange a bag of Skittles in a jar in order of flavour preference, she toe waves at me with her socks half falling off, she rests her elbow on my head when she’s tired, she’s hardly missed a special occasion and she is the best companion to get you through the big events in life like my 30th Birthday (mint Polos at the ready so you don’t chunder in the taxi on the way home), planning my surprise Hen Do and driving us to my wedding in her car that smells of wet dog.

No, unfortunately I can’t really tell you about the special people in my life in just one blog post. A good thing really because it means we’ve been through a lot and there’s a lot to say. Nana Moon is coming to stay in December for 10 days on her way to visit family in New Zealand. #1 has started to play Frustration but plays by his own rules. I’m not sure Nana Moon will make any concessions for a four year old either. She once challenged an eight year old Strawberry Mousse (my Nearly Niece who is 21 in a couple of days) to Connect Four, lost that one game and never played Connect Four with her again. I best get out the Connect Four then and I’m sure Nana Moon will be doing the same too.

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