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

The ‘do nothing’ holiday 

Even though we live in tropical Singapore with tropical temperatures nearly all year round, it’s not quite the same as being on holiday. We do have the luxury of a swimming pool downstairs but you just wouldn’t spend all weekend in your swimming togs bagsying your sun lounger with a towel before you’ve even had breakfast.  

Though I know one day when I am no longer in the tropics and I am looking out of my window onto the umpteenth consecutive grey, rainy, dull day, I will be wondering why I didn’t spend more time lounging by the pool when it was just right there.  

But even life in the tropics is governed by the social diaries of small people, chores and general weekend time has disappeared into a blackhole again. So you still need to get away every now and then to have a real holiday experience and exhibit holiday behaviour.  

What is holiday behaviour? The need to eat three course breakfasts when usually two slices of toast will sustain you, the marvelling of seeing a Boots, Tesco’s and now WH Smiths outside of the UK and popping in just to check what they sell. I know full well what they sell! The sudden and incomprehensible desire to purchase and display upon oneself a garment of a tie dyed nature. And the all important beer calls at any time. 

If you only want to travel for just two or three hours, more than likely you’re going to end up in another tropical location with tropical temperatures nearly all year round. So shall we go to Krabi, Phuket, Langkawi, Koh Samui, Penang, Laos, Phom Penh, Borneo or Lombok? Places that once sounded so far flung and exotic that are now within a long weekend break away.  

 
 
 
I would say we are fairly experienced in travelling with small people on long haul flights which lulls you into a false sense of security when it comes to short haul flights. That because the flight time is shorter then luggage will be less, good travel behaviour from #1, 2 and 3 will be disproportionate to travel time and every thing will just be a lot breezier than travelling long haul.  

It is more or less the same. 

You pack your regular Grown Ups stuff. Then you pack the stuff for small people. 

  • Clothing for each day of the holiday plus extra sets just in case. 
  • Swimming stuff plus arm bands, goggles and things to build sandcastles/scoop water with.
  • Toiletries plus mosquito repellent, sunscreen and medicines to cover a wide range of minor illnesses
  • Nappies and wet wipes.  
  • Snacks so you don’t have to locate the nearest local shop for local people as soon as you arrive.
  • Books because that’s just part of the daily bedtime routine.
  • Special sleepy toys.
  • Special drinking cups for bedtime milk – this is when you begin to regret establishing the comfort of a regular bedtime routine as advised in all the Generic Parenting Guides.
  • Then there’s the ‘Bag that they packed themselves’. #3 packed a tiara, special sleepy toy and two mini bags of potato sticks. Holiday essentials.     

And so off we went to Bali, just two hours and 45 minutes away from Singapore. With two big suitcases and five small carry ons. No pushchair though which is progress.  

We have been to Bali before about four years ago with Uncle Monkey and we stayed in a villa in Seminyak. But for ease and in want of being on a ‘do nothing’ holiday we stayed in a hotel that had great facilities and that all important ‘Kids Club’ that nearly all families with small people look for. Husband and I thought that perhaps for a couple of hours a day we may just get a glimpse of holidays of old. No. Not a glimmer. It would seem that Husband and I are much more fun than any ‘Kids Club’.  

And even in tropical Bali, there’s no guranteeing the weather. As we landed at the airport to be greeted with grey skies and rain. A lot of rain. Non stop tropical rain. But #1 and 2 did learn how to play Air Hockey that afternoon. And they would have been Ninja Warrior Champions of Air Hockey had the sun not shone brightly every day for the rest of the week.

 

  

 
 
 

There is no such thing as a ‘do nothing’ holiday when you are the parents of small people. Fact. And just because you are in a place of clear blue skies, sandy beaches and sparkling seas, small people have no regard for the inner peace and sense of relaxation this scene is meant to bring upon you. Whatever happens at home will happen on holiday. Fact. But because we are on holiday, we always fail to remember this. Fact. And feel mildly flummoxed when the tantrums, wails and whines make an appearance when we are on holiday.  

WE ARE ON HOLIDAY! 

But because we are on holiday, it is permitted that Holiday Beer can make an appearance at any time of day. Which rather helps take the edge away. When you have a beer in your hand, it’s ok if the kids appear to be alternating between pancakes, chips and at best spaghetti bolognaise for every meal. It’s ok that they appear to be running circles around the restaurant rather than sitting nicely at the table. It’s ok if they are throwing a full body tantrum. It’s all ok with a bottle of Holiday Beer in your hand. If only they would just go to Kids Club.

 
 
 
And as I was saying there’s no such thing as a ‘do nothing’ holiday with small people. Even lounging by the pool requires at least 30 minutes of prep time that includes changing into swimming togs times three, application of sunscreen times three, application of mosquito repellant times three, herding from hotel room to pool times three, repetitive requests to go and do toilet evacuations times three because undoubtedly as soon as you get to the pool one of the three will announce an unexpected and urgent need to do an emergency evacution.  When you are ensconced poolside, one of you is invariably on permanent life guard duty or re-enacting scenes from Three Billy Goats Gruff as Troll Under Bridge. If only they would just go to Kids Club. 

As much as we say that we would love to have a ‘do nothing’ holiday, it also feels like such a waste to have travelled so far and not see beyond the hotel grounds. Especially if the kids are not going to make any use of Kids Club. Sometimes you don’t know really know what you’re going to get until your cab pulls up right in front of your hotel and I’ve had the chance to stay in some quite amazing hotels. But hotels are hotels.  

Each time we go away, Husband and I always say the next time will be easier when #1, 2 and 3 are that little bit older. And each time it is. We no longer have to lug a pushchair, baby carrier, small pouches of mushed up food, baby bottles, milk formula, large plastic tub for sterilising bottles, sterilising tablets, bibs and blankets with us. Neither do we need to find places to eat that have highchairs on the premises. Nor are we the first to eat right on the dot of opening time to get small people back to the room for bed. Most of the time when we are           finishing up, people are just about to head for dinner after enjoying Happy Hour sundowners in the bar beforehand.  

But it appears we are not quite there. And even with packing extra sets of clothing, it’s not much use when you don’t pack them in the Going Out With Small People bag. Inevitably one of the three will expel their breakfast all over themselves and you in such situations. With no spare clothes to change into. In many situations this wouldn’t normally end in a huge fashion disaster but choice of a new wardrobe can be rather limited in the Gift Shop of Bali Bird Park. #3 spent the rest of the day wearing a t shirt that could have doubled as a dress and shorts that reached above her ankles and were so wide they looked like cullottes. Though I suspect Husband secretly rather likes his fetching orange shorts.

 

 
 

But despite the expulsion of breakfasts, the cries of boredom in the car and the frantic seeking of toilet facilities down some remote jungle lane, it is so worth seeing a small glimpse of somewhere else. 

 I always assumed Bali was mostly a Muslim culture but it’s not, it’s Hindu. With amazing temples of all sizes and importance located often within metres of each other. It’s also an island rich with craftsmen creating beautiful handicrafts out of wood, upcycling old canoes into shelves, sewing pieces of leather into bags, mosaic pottery and art. There may be hundreds of shops selling the same wares lining the roads of Ubud but it’s heartening to see the actual work in progress in very rustic workshops.  

And it’s very green. Which makes an amazing contrast to the urban living in Singapore. Sometimes you think some buildings are not quite finished, there’s exposed piping and rubble and there appears to be no landscaping around the buildings. It takes a couple of days to get used to seeing this and realising that actually this is it finished. For now at least until perhaps another sum of money has been saved up to build the next part. A true work in progress. Chickens roam everywhere scratching amongst the dirt and dogs wander along the side of the roads. I saw a man stroking a chicken’s head like you would with a cat. I noticed the rubbish collected in the rivers and streams around small clusters of housing and further along a woman washing herself amongst it.   

Which coffee came from beans pood out from a civet cat?

 
I don’t know what the Road Safety Regulations are and they probably don’t mean much when you see two adults travelling on a motorbike together with three children. It’s no wonder they don’t quite get the hooha when we’re trying to find the middle seat belt in a car and won’t set off until we do. Whilst it’s busy on the roads, you don’t get that harrassed stuck in traffic feeling. The traffic flows slowly and any beeping of horns is to let motorcyclists and dogs know we’re overtaking you which is the opposite to my usual beeping of horn to let you know you’re driving like an idiot.  

On our last trip to Bali we saw the volcanic sand beaches favoured by surfers and the popular shopping areas of Seminyak on the south west coast of Bali. It’s not a big island and just 20 or 30 kilometres away the scenery changes completely. I love open space and it can be rare to find in Singapore. Even if you’re alongside another 50 or 60 tourists, there’s still something quite spectacular standing on the clifftop watching the sunset in the distance by the temple of Uluwatu. Whilst cursing the couple in their wedding finery standing precariously on the crumbling cliff edge trying to capture that perfect wedding shot and marring the horizon. Haven’t they heard of photoshop? If only the resident monkeys ran off with the camera at the end.  

Speaking of monkeys, for future reference best not to wear flip slops, hats or anything that can’t be strapped down to your person when travelling amongst monkeys. Real monkeys and not the cheeky monkeys that reside with you daily. And as terrifying as being nearer to the ground and to monkeys as it may seem, it is best to advise small people that they are far better off walking by themselves than being carried. As the monkeys are more likely going to try and grab flip flop from your offending foot whilst it’s flapping loose in the air than whilst you are using it which #2 knows all about. One ran off with someone’s hat and Husband said as I put my bag down to help another couple take a photo, one monkey was keenly eyeing up the contents. They were bold and feral and not dissimilar in behaviour to #1, 2 and 3 with their constant foraging for food and the way they drank straight out of the bottle and just chucked it behind them when they were done.      

 
 
 

So, our taking some time off to ‘do nothing’ holiday in Bali to lounge by the pool drinking Holiday Beer whilst #1, 2 and 3 are in Kids Club didn’t quite happen. In fact #1, 2 and 3 probably ended up more exhausted than normal with being so active in the pool and doing so much walking, eating late and going to bed later than usual. Husband and I on the other hand, had never been to bed so early for quite some years, which is what happens when all five of you have to cohabit a family room.  

 It was probably quite a relief for #1, 2 and 3 to get home and be amongst their stuff in their own bedrooms to finally do nothing. 

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Christmas School Holidays 2014 all done

#1 and 2 went back to school today! Yay! #3 was a bit confused to be left on her own again most of the day but I’m looking forward to spending time with her before she too gets bundled off to school. Yay!

So we’ve just had two weeks of school holidays. Half of that was taken up by the excitement and preparations for Christmas and New Year. The remaining days were filled with doing stuff with #1, 2 and 3.

Hard to believe we also reside in the northern hemisphere with temperatures never dropping below 25 degrees and a ‘winter’ characterised by heavy rainstorms and the pool is rather chilly for a dip today.

I know I often overlook all that is great about living in Singapore, it can feel like an extended holiday that has been taken for granted. I’ve just read an article in the Guardian written by a Melbourne based journalist slagging off Singapore being materialistic and a city state governed by stifling rules stunting a true democracy and creativity of the home crowd which was really more trash worthy of the Daily Mail Online.

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Singapore is a great place for entertaining young children. We are never more than half an hour’s drive away from most places the kids really enjoy going to. We can be off to the Singapore Zoo or River Safari at a moment’s notice. It has cost us S$300 (approximately £150) to renew our annual membership that gives us access to both attractions and we’ve worked out that we just need to go four times in order for it to be cost beneficial.

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Last week we went to Gardens by the Bay to while away a couple hours. The Gardens are free to roam around in and #1 made a request to go up the Skytree Walkway that cost us S$11 (approximately £5.50) for myself and #1 and 2. Then afterwards we picked up Husband from work and headed off for our annual jaunt to the Tanglin Mall ‘Christmas Avalanche and Snow Show’.

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When you look at photos of the ‘snow show’ it does look like it’s blowing a blizzard. You can almost kid yourself that this is winter. Except everyone’s still in their shorts and flip flops. What it more closely brings to mind are the foam parties of yesteryear at Uni and finding one of your friends lost under the suds snogging some bloke.

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The beaches around Singapore may not be all natural fine sand and clear views out to sea, but we’re only 15 minutes drive from several beach options and all #1, 2 and 3 are concerned with is being able to dig a hole and fling wet sand at each other. A child’s capacity to dig in the sand never ceases to amaze me. Especially #3 who hasn’t quite got the concept and is forever flinging sand in her own face and then crying ‘my eyes, my eyes!’.

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I know #1, 2 and 3 won’t know just how lucky they are to have all this right in front of them. One friend told me that the places we go to with our children and the accessibility of the places we can get to in Singapore is what most families in other countries plan to do over the duration of the long summer holidays.

We are very fortunate indeed. Especially me when I consider just how easy it can be to fill the days of #1, 2 and 3 without their cries of being bored or something is boring.

So, whilst it may be zero degrees in many northern hemisphere locations, I’m not trying to rub it in by talking about what we’ve been doing lately in the Great Tropical Outdoors, but I am reminding myself just how much we can do and ought to do when living somewhere like Singapore.

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