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

A very lazy Mother’s Day 

Usually Sundays start early with rugby training for #1 and 2, followed by homework, grocery shopping and other households jobs. 

Today there was none of that. Just as it nicely coincides with Mother’s Day. A morning of lazy starts and breakfast in bed. Followed by high tea with fairly impeccable behaviour from #1, 2 and 3.  

I received three more thoughtfully decorated cards. #1 has continued with the Tie Fighter theme this year. #2 worked hard on hers for two days. #3 could barely contain her excitement yesterday as she informed me she was doing something secret that she wasn’t go to tell me about for Mother’s Day…

This was exactly about as much as I could cope with today. I am so tired right now I should be in bed. In fact I already gave myself another gift of an afternoon nap. No, I’m not hungover. That was last weekend. 

Last night I was doing something wholly virtuous. I was in fact running a 10km race. Which flagged off at 9.35pm. I know! It’s only since running in Singapore that I have come across these running events that take place at all hours. Literally all hours. Think 9.35pm is late, the full marathon flagged off at midnight! 

So anyways, I thought 10km would be ok. It would take about an hour or just over. I can that distance fairly comfortably if I practice and I’ve often ran that far in the early evening so how different could this be? It’s been a long while since I’ve ran in an organised event and I’ve missed it. The sight of seeing other runners heading to the event, soaking up the atmosphere and waiting at the start line. Then of course seeing the Finish line. 


What I hadn’t accounted for is all that adrenaline takes quite a few hours to wear off. Like a good five hours or so after the race. I should have organised the spare room instead of trying to sleep. Hence today felt like a non starter, I wonder how all those marathon runners have spent the day.

So today’s very lazy Mother’s Day has been just the ideal way to spend it and now I need to go to bed. 

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Regaining a bit of ‘We’ time

By regaining a bit of ‘We’ time, I don’t mean ‘wee’ time in that I can now go and do my business without an audience.  I cannot recall a time that involved sitting on a toilet behind a closed door in my own home. To the point that when you come and visit, you should probably remind me to do.
 

No, by regaining a bit of ‘We’ time, I mean the ‘We’ of Husband and I on our own. Without #1, 2 and 3 in tow. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. That we haven’t been out on our ownsome or with other Responsible Grown Ups since becoming parents. It’s just those times have usually been after a full day with #1, 2 and 3 and then rushing to get out elsewhere. Having a shower but not enough time to do your hair. Those kinds of outings.

 

But a special occasion calls for a bit of proper ‘We’ time. Especially if you know that someone has spent much of the past few weeks getting up in the middle of the night tending to sick children whilst you sleep off your own illness. Husband has been quite the star doing all these things whilst I’ve been down with flu and sleeping in as much as I can in the mornings. So for Husband’s birthday this year, as a break from the norm, I booked us into a fancy pants place for lunch. Why not dinner you may say? Seeing as it’s a special occasion. I said regaining just a BIT of ‘We’ time. The other night when I went out for dinner with a friend, #3 sat by the front door and very softly said ‘Don’t go out Mummy, please stay at home.’ Whereas when you go out in daylight, it’s quite acceptable. Perhaps, I should try just going out for lunch and staying out. I know people who do that. Yes, you.

 

But anyways, going out for lunch is a start. Especially to a fancy pants restaurant where the cutlery isn’t one style fits all dishes and you get a knife. You’d be surprised how many restaurants in Singapore don’t have knives. Like, why would you need a knife to cut up your pork chop? What’s wrong with the fork and spoon combo? Admittedly, the fork and spoon combo is a rather efficient way of shoveling food in at speed. So fancy pants was this restaurant that for my starter, I was presented with chopsticks, knife and fork. Two ways to eat. Imagine that.

 Fancy pants restaurants no longer scare me. They once did in my twenties when Husband and I went to a fancy pants restaurant for the first time and we were the youngest by far. It felt almost like playing at Responsible Grown Ups. Everyone else was wearing black and I had on a sparkly silver top. Having just thought of this, I realise I was wearing black today. Oh no! I’ve mastered the art of blending in.

 

Husband and I arrive at the fancy pants restaurant towards the end of the lunch sitting and I could have gotten away with saying that I had hired the whole restaurant just for him on his Birthday. We sit at a neat table for two rather than the usual picnic bench for five. There’s a policy that no under 12’s are allowed in and for a moment we look around and imagine the terror and uproar #1, 2 and 3 would be causing at the moment. Do you know what a luxury it is to be able to sit still and not have to be retrieving a child from under the dinner table? Yesterday, #3 for reasons known only to herself, decided she would only eat her dinner if I pretended she was a stray dog we were taking home with us. I kid you not. And we did take her home and she woofed in appreciation.

 

As far as Birthdays have gone for Husband these past few years, he’s celebrated with a trip to the Bird Park, Universal Studios and a five year old’s Birthday party. I think this is the year to make him feel he’s not living the life of Tom Hanks in Big.

 

In previous years, I’ve talked about your own Birthday not being quite your own with small people around who seem to adopt it as an extension of celebrating something for themselves. Present opening, cake eating, special Birthday outing. Today though, there was an Assistant Director on the scene. #1 helped me to wrap the presents, he wrote on each present who it was from and then he hid them under a cover and got #2 and 3 to do a bit reveal in front of Husband who was naturally amazed and had no idea there was a pile of presents under a cloth in the middle of the room. He even wrote on an old wrapping paper tube a special Birthday message. Significant for several reasons that he had creativity, he did it all on his own and he wrote something without being prompted. #1 is not a fan of writing.

 

Husband could really see that #1 had put in the effort to make it special for him with these simple gestures. I hope it made #1 feel good to make someone else happy. I hope there are many more of these moments over the years.

 

#3 made us laugh as all Birthdays come with cake, presents,  party and games. When it came to bedtime, #3 said to Husband ‘but we haven’t played any games Daddy.’ So I invented a new game called Musical Sleep. When the music stops, you lie down and go to sleep.

 

Happy Birthday Husband, who declared that he is going to buy a Porsche and get the mid life crisis out of the way…

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another place that’s home

I was eight years old the first time I went to Hong Kong. I remember the experience vividly for many reasons. 

In those days, and I am sounding like my Dad, Mr Li, people just didn’t go on holiday much in my family. They didn’t even take a day off and even now when they do take a day off, it’s considerately early on in the week when you can still be bothered to cook for yourselves. 

Yes they are a hard working lot but times have changed and they’re a little more restful and a lot more adventurous with their choice of holiday destinations these days. I can honestly say, that according to my Dad, Mr Li, if you have to go on holiday then there’s no point in going anywhere else but Hong Kong. Like you can’t be full if there’s no rice attached to every meal. ‘What’s the point?’, he says. ‘To see new things Mr. Li.’ ‘What is there to see?’, says my Dad, Mr Li and that is what makes him such a steadfast man.

 

As a child I can distinctly remember being asked ‘What’s China like?’ Not in any mean way I should add. It was a time way before the World Wide Web. The truth would be, I don’t know. I still don’t. Nana Moon can tell you more about China than I can. ‘But you’re Chinese!’, they would cry. I know. ‘And you’ve never been to China before?’, ‘No, my parents are from Hong Kong.’ ‘What’s Hong Kong like?’ ‘Erm, I also don’t know….’ ‘But you’re Chinese!’

  

I know I’m Chinese! I’ve always known it. Even when people have helpfully pointed it out on the street, I was aware. But finally, when I was eight years old, I went to Hong Kong where I had this whole other ‘home’.  My Dad, Mr Li and a long line of Li/Lee/Lei’s hail from our ancestral village Tai Po Mei in the New Territories on your way to the China border. 

  

When you think of Hong Kong, you may think of the beautiful skyline adorned with skyscrapers across the harbour with a few ferries or junk boats passing by. The bright lights, the haggling for cheap knock off replicas, the noise, the smell the frenetic pace. The Hong Kong that I’m more familiar with is one that moves slightly slower, more green, more rustic. The one where I remember my Grandma. My Por Por. Living in our village that bustled with so much activity. 

  

The first time I went back to Hong Kong there was so much family I was meeting for the first time. I think that’s what really struck me. To suddenly have so many Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles all in one place. They knew me as daughter of my Dad, Mr Li and sister of Big Brother Li. The reason for this visit was for a special occasion. To celebrate a new house. A house with indoor toilets. I mean, for you and me, we’ve always known that toilets are indoors, it had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be! Or that toilets could be anything but the ones that you sit on. And flush. Then suddenly toilets were outdoors and around the corner. Or indoors but nothing to sit on. Or something to sit on that you then push under the bed. It has obviously left a lasting impression.

  

I’m eight years old and I’m in Hong Kong for the first time.  Hanging out for three long weeks with cousins I hadn’t even met before. What is there not to love. Is it time that makes me view that first holiday with such nostalgia or how times have changed since? I haven’t stayed in our village since I was 16. In fact I’ve lived in our village for a total of 16 weeks in all my years. It’s not long at all to feel such strong associations but never underestimate the power of association. All my life it was embedded in me that this was our village. And that sense of belonging, no matter where you choose to live in the world, is reassuring. The village belongs to many of us. My cousins, my Aunts and Uncles, my nephews. I think this is also what makes it special. To feel this connected. 

  

So every time I go back to Hong Kong, I feel I have to visit the village. And every time it changes. I’m walking down a path that leads down the mountain to the start of the village where you then wind your way past houses that have been modernised and family members of a certain generation pop their heads out to greet you. It’s a lot quieter these days. Most people migrated out to the suburbs or to other countries a long time ago. But at the other side of the village there’s a new road that has been built on reclaimed land that could change all that and bring back families to the villages. There was a time that you looked out straight to sea but now the sea is just a bit further away.  
The path that we’re following is at once familiar and then not so. Where once there was just jungle, there’s a lot more concrete and then we reach the start of the row of terraces that led to our old house. Somehow, it looks a lot smaller. As nearly everything does when you revisit places with Grown Up eyes. I’m hit with unexpected emotion. I think of my Grandma, my Por Por. I think of my Dad, Mr Li having left this home over 50 years ago. I think of Big Brother Li looking on and wonder what kind of memories he has, especially on that particular day being his 50th Birthday. I look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder when they will understand just how important this place is and what it will mean to them. 

  

Since then I’ve been back to Hong Kong six times. Not that often to be honest. Before you could buy all things Asian at the click of a mouse, a trip to Hong Kong was an opportunity to eat amazing food, buy the latest gadgets and get yourself a Hello Kitty/Ding Dong now called Doreamon fix. I would still say it’s the best place for amazing food. But living in tropical Singapore, some of the other things that you once couldn’t get enough of, is now quite accessible. So what does Hong Kong hold for me now. Well, it’s still great for shopping but the shopping with #1, 2 and 3 renders that objective impossible as demonstrated on our visit last month. Brilliant New Adventure had high hopes of us hitting the shops together but we sadly only got a measley half an hour in. Pah.

  

Brilliant New Adventure. That’s what Hong Kong holds. And Big Brother Li. And Nephews #1 and 2. And all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins that is the other half to my family. Having lived in tropical Singapore for seven and a half years with it’s own fair share of high rises and beautiful skylines, you always will miss a good mountain. Hong Kong is so mountainous and I had never appreciated that before. You can even climb these mountains but we’ll leave that for another time. 

  

I always imagine ‘home’ as being the UK. The place where we will grativate towards in due course. It’s where I was born and grew up. Where all our family and friends are. We have amazing times each trip back to the UK and it’s hard having to leave it behind. To look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder if it’s fair that they don’t get to hang out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, close family friends all the time. 

  

And yet, what about this other ‘home’ that I have? One that forms part of their identity too living a blended cultural upbringing. You know, it had never occured to #1 to question why he didn’t have a Chinese name before this visit to Hong Kong. So Big Brother Li is working on that for him right now and most likely that’s how #1, 2 and 3 will proudly introduce themselves on their next stay in Hong Kong.

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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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So did Life Begin After 40?

Already it’s been a year and two weeks since I Embraced 40. Two years and 15 days since I started writing this blog. I can hardly get my head around the fact at how fast this last year went by. My Mum is so right as I remember when I asked her if she was excited about her Birthday coming up, she must have been in her early fifties at the time, and she said that Birthdays came around so fast, ten years felt like no time at all. Can you imagine being told that at the age of 11? The idea that a whole decade would feel like no time at all was just unthinkable when mere weeks dragged their heels and you couldn’t wait for the next good thing happen.

Of course, I still enjoy waiting for the next good thing to happen. It’s just that inbetween each good thing there are so many dull things you have to do and then you worry that there’s just not enough time to do all the good things.

That is exactly how I feel some days. What if I run out of time to do all the good things I want to do. And think about all the days and nights I’ve wasted on things that were just inconsequential. And how perhaps I’m now slightly better at doing just the good things. Who am I kidding, of course I’m not. I think I need another two decades to really reach that stage. Just the other day, someone I know asked me, “Are you still having to waste your time on that?”, I won’t tell you who said it about the that but it did make me smile and they will know who they are.

So one minute I was giddily Embracing 40 and then it was like 41 is calling and 41 makes Embracing 40 so much more official. I guess extending Embracing 40 celebrations for three months also helped to speed up the journey to 41. Plus spending seven weeks in the UK and filling it to the brim of so many people I hadn’t seen for three years and eating all the foods I’d missed out on too. Such a brilliant seven weeks people of the UK!

One of the things I had pondered before Embracing 40 was the notion that ‘Life Begins at 40’ that you often see on balloons, banners and cards associated with this landmark occasion. Does it really? But how? What would significantly change?

I know people who had a bucket list of things to do before Embracing 40 and I’m sure they probably did achieve all the things they set out to do. I could have written myself such a list but I didn’t, I may think of a bucket list at some point though. What should I do? What would you do? I like to have thoughts like that but equally if I think of all the places I would like to go to and all the books I would like to read, I think I may just get upset that the truth is we may find it’s just not possible to do everything.

I listened to Sir David Attenborough on Desert Island Discs in 2012, I think it must have been his third time on the show, (which I love and I’m still contemplating my list). In it, there is a reference to all the far flung places he’s been to and all the amazing sights he’s seen. There’s a throwback to a previous show where he talked about an ambition to climb Everest I think it was, or even just to get to base camp and he’s asked whether he ever achieved that. He replies No and now probably never would because of his age and I found that incredibly sad, even though he had done so much already.

And I think that’s what makes some of us embrace a milestone Birthday with such vigour. The very real idea of how fast time flows and how we take stock and freak out a little at how much we have done and how much more we want to do. Perhaps not all of us feel that way but sometimes there’s a real need to achieve more. Is it because we see on social media what everyone else is doing? All the places they are going to, the activities they’re involved with and does it make us question ‘Are we doing enough?’. Or perhaps why aren’t we doing more. I find social media a joy and a blight. As I’m sure most of us do at various times.

I think my Thirties were such a whirlwind of life changing events such as getting engaged, getting married, moving to the other side of the world and then becoming a parent that suddenly Embracing 40 was just there and I wasn’t sure what more Life there was to Begin after 40! I was very confused. But consider how easy going our Twenties were and how frenetic our Thirties became. What more could Embracing 40 bring? Well I think this next decade, the remaining eight years of it, will be a rollercoaster of activity, especially with #1, 2 and 3. And the irony of it all is that during this time, they will feel that time is passing by ever so slooooowly.

So how did I celebrate Embracing 40 (Plus 1)? Or 35 (Plus 6) according to Elbear who has only just Embraced 40 herself. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that celebrations were complete after four days this time. My Birthday was spent in my new place of Gainful Employment. #1, 2 and 3 gave and took back my cards and presents and opened them themselves. I got hideously intoxicated on martinis with my great group of female friends, I spent the next day hideously hungover. Husband and I went out for posh dinner at a place where you almost felt unable to order anything off the menu it was so expensive. Seriously.

And yes you did read correctly. I have a new place of Gainful Employment which is a post all to itself. For the first time in seven years I was celebrating a Birthday in Gainful Employment. I had forgotten how much fun it can be to have your Birthday be all about you. Celebrating it with lunch at a place for Grown Ups, having a Birthday sing song, cake and lots of people wishing you good things all day long.

What else have I done since Embracing 40? Well, it’s been well documented that I’ve tried to get back into running regularly again which has been so much fun! Even in hot, sweaty, tropical Singapore. I write my blog but not as often because sometimes I’m just busy doing other stuff. And yet writing my blog has become one of those things that I have to keep doing. It feels weird now not to.

So I guess for me, it’s not so much that Life Begins at 40 but more so I’m restarting many things I did before and adding it to all things I’ve been doing. So I guess this is why I was asked about whether I’m making use of my time doing good things because there is only so much time and so many opportunities to do the good things that you really shouldn’t spend it on the rubbish stuff. For now we realise the value of our time and time spent wisely is rarely wasted at all.
Life evolves I find and it’s how good are you at adapting to it.
  

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40 lessons in 40 years

So it appears to be Birthday Eve again.

 

How did that happen so fast?

 

As one good writer friend put it recently, “This time last year I was in my Thirties”.

 

In fact this time last year I was in the luxurious surroundings of the Somerset Maugham suite at Raffles Hotel sans #1, 2 and 3. Tonight I’m not. On a night where I would certainly have welcomed a night in luxurious surroundings after enduring a tag team of screeching behaviour. But they are in bed now and so I’m having a Birthday Eve port. 
Besides I wouldn’t want to miss out on tomorrow morning’s levels of excitement that come from #1, 2 and 3 on special occasions.

 

So how on earth has this year has whizzed by so quickly? It’s left me quite unnerved actually because I’ll soon be hurtling towards 50 at this rate. 
Well I guess it doesn’t help that I officially didn’t stop celebrating Embracing 40 until mid November.

 

Anyways, as I firmly fall into the 40 something category tomorrow, I was thinking am I any wiser for all these years that I’ve accumulated so far? Hmmm….you don’t have to answer that question.

 

And so I thought what lessons have I learnt exactly? 

 

1  You can learn something new from everyone you meet. Not all of it good.

2.  Trinny and Susannah, whilst annoying, were right about many things on What Not To Wear. It does often look better to dress for your body shape.

3.  …..but equally you should wear whatever you like if it makes you feel good and happy.

4.  At some point you need to take responsibility for your adult actions and accept that your childhood has great influence but does not shape how your life should be.

5.  Always be friends with people who love to dance….

6.  …..And who can be persuaded to have one more drink for the road.

7.  …..And who are funny, kind, loyal, interesting and happy.

8. True friendships don’t require censorship.

9.  You really must take care of your teeth.  It is costly to get them fixed and most medical insurance policies don’t offer adequate cover.

10.  When you are 21 and on top of all things popular culture and look upon the old ones with scorn who do not know that 1D and One Direction are the same people, rest assured that you too will suffer a similar fate one day.

11.  No matter how sober I thought I was acting, everyone knew I’d been out boozing. Not least the smell but the giveaway Asian flushed cheeks.

12.  Bodily functions will always be funny.

13.  Contrary to popular teenage belief, life gets harder not easier.

14.  …..and you do end up sounding like your parents no matter what you vow.

15.  It is very easy to sink five pints of lager but manage no more than one pint of Diet Coke.

16.  People are a lot funnier when you’re drunk. Sometimes more attractive. Sometimes less so the next day.

17.  Not all friendships last a lifetime. And that’s ok. It’s knowing when to let it go to allow new friendships to grow.

18.  Have a special pot for your house keys, car keys and work pass. A lot of time is wasted looking for these items.

19.  When you meet someone new and you forget their name the second  time you meet, never bluff your way through it because you will never get a chance to ask again. This will result in greeting each other warmly with hugs and kisses even but never referring to them by name and awkwardly trying to avoid introducing them to anyone else for the rest of your life

20.  The one size too small bargain buy in the sales is a waste of money no matter what good intentions you have.

19.  I will never understand modern art.

20.  …..or cricket

21. Dump the people who talk in riddles, who never ask how you are and appear to be on the lookout for more interesting people whilst seemingly holding a conversation with you.

22. The above is not so easy to do and so surround yourself with positive people that outnumber the negative ones to a ratio of at least eight to one.

23.  The mid-80s perm is not a good look for everyone. Neither is the mullet. Nor that bit of facial hair that sits in the dip under your lower lip. (And no Uncle Monkey the ladies do not love it.)

24.  Your siblings may annoy you but they are also the ones who always have your back.

25.  Since the day I left home, I have not stopped missing my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum.

26.  It is very satisfying to know how to drive, cook, sew, build an Ikea shelf, wire a plug and fix stuff.

27.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and people genuinely want to help.

28.  The world is a very big place, try and see as much of it as you can. Especially beyond the boundaries of a resort. 

29.   Choose a sport to follow and to take part in. It’s very unifying.

30.  Restricting yourself in order to be healthy doesn’t always make you happy. Everything in moderation.

31.  Being tidy is a genetic condition and not a learned behaviour.

32.  Even if you haven’t lived in the town where you grew up in for decades, it is still home and will give you a warm fuzzy feeling whenever you go back there.

33.  I like people who make me laugh.

34.  You don’t have to act your age but sometimes it helps if you do.

35.  You have to let the young people make their own choices, learn from their mistakes and always be there for them when they need you.

36. Going to an airport never loses its appeal.

37. All relationships not just marriages need working on. You get out what you put in.

38. I miss many things from two decades ago, mostly the lack of responsibility, the freedom and being fairly carefree but it was so fleeting and you can do so much with your time now, why chase after your youth.

39.   Quality is better than quantity and that can apply to all aspects of life.

40.  It’s impossible to recount all that you know and who knows what else there is to learn.

So today concludes my year of Embracing 40. Does life begin at Forty? It begins every single day really.
  

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Sleep……..that precious commodity most wasted

Yes I know that sleep, or lack of, is very topical amongst people with small children. It’s talked about right from pregnancy, to the sleepless nights of having a new born and from there on afterwards until new born is a teenager and how they then sleep all day and all night. How then we shall laugh and seek revenge and wake them up at 6am. But that’s not going to work. They’ll just ignore us and carry on sleeping. They’re not fine tuned to wake up at every snuffle or non snuffle to check why they’re not snufffling like all parents of small people are programmed to do.    

The reason why I’m talking about this right now is because at 10pm I have a lurker to the left of me. I know she’s there, she knows I know that she’s there. This has been going on for the last five nights.  

 It just started out of nowhere. One minute #3 is enjoying a daily two hour nap after the exertion of Part One of her day, waking up refreshed for Part Two and then going to bed after bath time, milk, story time, getting into sleeping bag, put her in cot, kiss Goodnight twice and walk off for Happy Hour. Though actually Happy Hour starts after #1 and 2 are in bed which is often trickier after delaying tactics such as ‘Just one more story please Mummy’, ‘I need a wee’, ‘I need a poo’, ‘I’m thirsty’, ‘Turn the lamp off’, ‘Turn the lamp on’ and so on.
I don’t know why I’m surprised when I’ve been through this twice before.  

Yes, the newborn days and early months are blackholes of sleep deprived nights and bleary incoherent days. But they pass sooner than you think. You have a surprisingly large amount of Grown Up time in the evenings again. You pride yourself on having one of those babies who ‘self soothe’ as the Generic Parenting Guides term it. Who don’t need hours of patting or rocking to sleep. Who go to bed and you can guarantee they won’t wake you up until the morning light arrives.  

Some people say they have good sleepers and some say they don’t. Either way, this day will come to all parents when they have a lurker hanging around silently in the hallway or just outside the living room door. When you thought they were safely tucked up in bed fast asleep after years of following a stable and comforting bedtime routine as prescribed by the Generic Parenting Guides.  

What they do not tell you is that this is by no means going to last forever. No. It doesn’t. One day, all of a sudden, they let you think they’re going to bed like normal. You in your naivety go off and enjoy your two hours of ME time, Happy Hour, watch crap tv and all other kinds of time wasting activity that you are free to do.  

Until you feel a presence. Like a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker parental intuition thing.  

So I suspect it’s one of the three lurking around. Usually #1 and 2 are more blatant and vocal about their lurking but #3 is rather a rookie at this. I go off tentatively in search of the out of bed activist and sure enough #3 is just stood there looking very cute and innocent in her pyjamas. I take her back to bed and she complies willingly. But it’s too late. She has figured out that one can get out of bed before the morning light arrives.  

We continue this dance for two and a half hours. There is no longer any ME time, Happy Hour, watch crap tv and all other kinds of time wasting activity that you are free to do. I miss it already. 


 
 




Emboldened by Night One of lurking activity and no admonishment from Husband or myself (because we misguidedly thought it was a one off), the lurking continues into Night Two. And I know it’s happening and yet as I go and investigate the rustling and snuffling going on in the hallway, I still manage to yelp in alarm at finding a small child lurking in the semi dark. She then starts crying out in fright, quite naturally as you would if your own Mum screams at the sight of you.  

By Night Three, #3 has advanced in her nocturnal wanderings and with ninja stealth traverses from her room to ours and uses this opportunity of no watchful eyes to do as she pleases. She then just casually walks into the living room with almost full make up on and asks us ‘What are you doing Mummy?’.  

What am I doing? What are you doing? It’s 9.50pm and you’re wearing lipstick #3! Then she decides she needs to poo. And this always flummoxes me. How any of #1, 2 and 3 can just do a poo in the middle of the night if they’re awake and yet won’t have the need to do so if they’re asleep like they ought to be. I just don’t get it. I really don’t. 

So this is how my evenings have rolled this week. It is exhausting. You can get through the days adhering to the needs and demands of small people so long as you get a couple of hours to recharge and do all sorts of rubbish stuff. I need that time. Like we all do. To retreat into a cave and be by myself for a short while. 



So it gets to 11pm and #3 is finally asleep. She’s sleeping in our bed which most likely will be frowned upon by the authors of the Generic Parenting Guides but I don’t care. She’s asleep. And I am drinking beer, eating the Easter egg haul still remaining and working my way through a jumbo bag of crisps. My Dad, Mr Li always said I could only have one bag of crisps a day but he didn’t specify what size. 

 
 




Just a few days of this has really thrown me off kilter. Last night, I truly was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open at 10.30pm. I should have gone to bed. I know that. 



Except I’m not very good at that. I’m very much a night owl from my early years development training in late nights whilst waiting for family to finish work in the restaurants and takeaways they worked in. And I imagine like most parents of small people, you just can’t go to bed an hour or so after your small people have. So I tend to stay up later than I should.  
 

Sometimes my sleep deprived status is from my own doing. You know, when you just feel like rebelling a little and being a bit daring and staying up that hour or two later. Consider the consequences tomorrow. And tomorrow sometimes can be rather painful as a result. It’s worthwhile if you’ve spent this time not sleeping wisely, like hanging out with friends and drinking beer on a school night. That is rather risque. But what if you just spent it doing crap stuff? Was that worth it?  

We all need good quality sleep. It’s very easy to obtain and it’s free. People say Youth is wasted on the Young but actually it’s sleep. You just don’t know how good you have it being able to sleep whenever you like and sleep in whenever you like. Like what Students do. It’s rather cruel to give Students the gift of sleep with no one badgering them to get up and not waste the day like what parents do. Then to suddenly never be able to regain this level of sleep freedom again. I mourn the loss of those days. 



I didn’t gain enough sleep credit in those days to offset the sleep deficit I’m currently in. My sleep poker face is obviously rubbish as #1, 2 and 3 have won all my sleep poker chips.




And yet, I am not helpng myself am I? #3 is finally asleep, after with further Ninja stealth having raided my jewellery box and putting on my bracelets. Instead of sleeping, or at best being in bed, I’m writing this to tell you how and why I’m not getting any sleep.  

Same like how last night, I really wanted to sleep. I was so tired my eyes were closing and my brain couldn’t function. The sensible part said ‘Go to bed! You’re tired!’. Like what I am always saying to #1, 2 and 3. And yet I wasted more than half an hour lying on my bed fully clothed telling myself I need to get ready for bed. What is wrong with me? 

So what’s the solution to regaining my evenings and doing crap stuff for a reasonable amount of time to then give myself permission to go to bed? 



Well, it’s sad when it happens but #3 needs to drop that nap. We all grow accustomed to that break in the day when you can sit down for an hour or so day time quiet time. It is a luxury as precious as sleep even.  But alas it must be traded in for those evening hours back again.


 

 




And it’s not pretty. Oh no. An attempt to keep #3 awake all day only succeeded in creating an irrational bundle of fury that fell asleep in the car at 5pm. Putting us right back to Night One. 

But like with all things, this stage will pass and I will soon regain my evenings to waste on doing crap things and not going to bed whilst #1, 2 and 3 sleep soundly until the arrival of the morning light. 

On that note, it’s really time for Goodnight.

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LinkedIn to Gainful Employment

So, it’s been six and half years since I was in Gainful Employment. How quickly time flies. When I last wrote about this subject matter in Occupation what?, it was 18 months ago.

There is now a six and a half year gaping gap in my CV.

It was difficult and strange not to be defined by my role in Gainful Employment. It wasn’t easy at first to be Unemployed. A Housewife. A Homemaker. On a career break. A Stay At Home Mum. I had never been any of these things before and it wasn’t a conscious decision to acquire these labels. They just happened upon me and I guess that’s why I found it so unpalatable. It’s not always ‘society’s fault’ that you feel at a disadvantage for being any of these things. A lot of the pressure comes from within. That feeling of we ought to be doing much more. That our worth is measured by quantifiable outputs with a financial value attached to it.

I stopped feeling annoyed at being a Homemaker when I realised just how fleeting the time you have with small children really is. And also how expensive they are. For you can’t be a Lady of Leisure or one that lunches all the time for very long when suddenly there is housing, schooling, feeding, clothing and random activities for small people that need paying for to consider. Before there’s even room for yourself to buy shoes you’ll seldom get to wear.

When I recently said out loud in conversation that I hadn’t worked in so long, I was actually asked ‘What have you done in this time?’. I’m sure it wasn’t meant with any ill intent or to make me feel like I couldn’t possibly be contributing to society or pulling my weight within my marriage because I haven’t been in Gainful Employment.

Would saying I’ve been travelling the world on £10 a day, or that I’m about to publish my first novel, or that I’m about to set up my own business be more interesting than the actual answer I gave which was that I’ve had #1, 2 and 3. It was met with a ‘Oh, you have been busy’ and not much else.

I find that just saying I have had three children in this time sometimes doesn’t quite sound enough. Not that I mean I ought to have had four. That is also another bizarre concept I on occasion encounter. When #3 reached a year old, I was asked in all seriousness that isn’t it time for #4? Like having children becomes your thing. Even if there was to be #4, I’m sure I’d be asked about #5.

Anyways, I really hadn’t thought about this six and a half year gap or worried much about it. But in revisiting my CV to give it a good dusting down and from speaking to others, I realise that something does need to be done about it. It’s a competitive market out there and the global economy is not fully buoyant.

I read someone else’s blog recently who talks a lot about life coaching and positive well being. It was a post about having to ‘market’ oneself. That a prestigious and qualified education and extensive work experience on your CV alone is not enough to get you noticed in your place of Gainful Employment or to get you that next great job. This is not an entirely new concept as you will know yourself. We all know the power and value of effective networking. Some can do it far better than others, some will do it because they have to and some just baulk at the thought of having to sing your own praises and would rather not.

I have no sound advice on this matter. To me the idea of ‘networking’ to persuade and influence people sounds a bit too clinical. I like meeting new people and hearing about them. I have a natural tendency to ask questions and I’m pretty good at remembering stuff too. This can be rather surprising to some people and a pain for those who have known me a long time when I can recall their youthful misdemeanours even when they have long forgotten. My powers have weakened somewhat though, since the arrival of #1, 2 and 3.

So how does one become as they say, ‘relevant’? I guess a couple of years out of Gainful Employment wouldn’t make a really big difference to most professions. But mine is quite a sizeable chunk. At least heading back into Gainful Employment now, the world is still using technology and gadgets I have heard of before. I’m not switching from a manual typewriter to word processor or fax machines to emails or paper files to zip files.

But then I haven’t had to work with Excel, Word or PowerPoint since then either and I don’t even now if these programmes still exist. Or if they do, it will be a revised version 23 or something. With hindsight, I ought to have given more credit to the ‘everything on a spreadsheet’ approach. I apologise for mocking such behaviour now. I’m painfully out of touch with Gainful Employment speak as well. How could I not be when I’ve been reverting back to English for Babies Level 1 these last five years. Imagine speaking to a small person who take everything literally using these phrases – Drinking from the hosepipe. I need it yesterday. It’s a jungle out there. Push the envelope. Step up to the plate. Talk until you’re blue in the face. Actually #1, 2 and 3 probably do know about this last one as I’m often repeating myself until I’m blue in the face and they care not a jot.

 

There’s a lot to consider on your path back to Gainful Employment before you even look at what possible jobs are there for you.

You need to prepare the world for your imminent return. Get yourself ‘out there’. I wasn’t aware of this at first until someone asked me if I was on LinkedIn. What do you mean? What is this LinkedIn? Linked to what that I’m not in?

The best way it was described to me was as Facebook for Gainful Employment. You do not need to be as discriminatory as you are with your Facebook friends but You Need To Be On It and You Need To Have Connections. Lots of them. Your Connections are a reflection of your networking capabilities. Really? Anyone can click a button and ask totally random people to get LinkedIn with them. I know this because I’ve had such random requests and it really threw me off balance. I agonised over the right etiquette to decline or not to decline? How would it look on my path back to Gainful Employment if I don’t have 500+ Connections? Or an interesting and wide ranging set of Connections? To be honest my LinkedIn Connections look very much like my Facebook Friends List. Bar a couple of names I never thought I’d hear from again. I’m still not sure I like my education and career history being so public. You can tell as much from my rather scant LinkedIn profile. It rather yells ‘Must Try Harder’.

This is the thing with social media these days, everyone is so visible. This is a personal blog but with public visibility. Whilst I should be able to rant and let off steam as I see fit, I know I won’t. Because it’s not appropriate. Same as those Instagram accounts that are full of selfies that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. Or Twitter accounts that are full of thoughts people should really keep inside of their heads. Or Facebook forums that are full of ridiculous and fanciful concerns. People will cross reference you with LinkedIn you know.

This should be the first point of careers advice you give to anyone. Just because you can let the whole world know your every move, give an opinion on someone else’s problem when you don’t even know them and post a comment or photo in haste, you could professionally repent that move for a long leisurely time.

Then there’s that other matter of how to be ‘relevant’. Experience. Experience is invaluable but if you’re talking too much in the past tense it’s not going to be that valuable. One has to have relevant experience. How to gain relevant experience? And that’s the trouble with a sizeable chunk of time out from Gainful Employment. Can I apply having to manage the basic caregiving responsibilities, social activities and ferrying to and from places of #1, 2 and 3 to how I would devise a strategy plan and work with minimum supervision to manage own workload? Or how getting them to eat a range of solids and green vegetables demonstrated my creative flare. Or how dealing with public meltdowns and tantrums showed I was able to deliver under pressure whilst remaining calm at all times?

I would actually like to conduct an interview and answer questions based on the new skills and experiences I have picked up in the last six and half years alone. I’ve travelled half the world and left behind an established and steady network of friends and family to build a whole new one. I’m forever meeting new people because Singapore is such a transient place to be. I’m always diplomatic when creating new links because you will always know people in common. I’ve been able to adapt to a whole new lifestyle change with minimum preparation and no previous experience when #1, 2 and 3 came along. When you have no close family and friends around, you value the importance of being a supportive friend to those networks you build. Communication becomes key when you live away because you don’t want to lose touch with those networks you already had and all the new ones you’ve made since. There is constant pressure and change with being a Parent and having to think on your feet. Financial targets are forever changing as your outgoings rise year on year. I’ve increased my knowledge in a broad range of current affairs because I need to know more to protect the interests of #1, 2 and 3.

My world, my concerns, my skills have changed and matured since I was last in Gainful Employment. I feel I have much more experience in lots of new areas that have given me much more confidence.

I just need to update my CV and my LinkedIn profile to reflect this. 

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So here we stay……..for now

I am just as surprised as you are that I will still be in Singapore for the foreseeable future.

 

I know! I remember it clearly myself just a few months ago when we were back in the UK having discussions that we may be moving back to the UK some time this year.  But we’re not.  Actually I recall thinking we’d be moving back last Autumn too.

 

Anyhow, we have moved and just a local move has been chaotic enough let alone thinking about an international move.

 

This has been our fourth move in six years.  When Husband and I moved from the UK to Singapore it was courtesy of his work which meant professional packers came swooping in and taking care of everything.  Back then it really was quite simple with just packing up our small two bedroom flat with hardly any furniture.  How those packers must have rejoiced at landing that particular job.  Back then we were inexperienced relocatees even though throughout our Student and formative gainful employment years we were still in rental accommodation and moving once a year.

 

The difference between now and way back then is the amount of stuff we (or as Husband will be quick to correct – I)  have accumulated.  You may be congratulating yourself on how ruthless and systematic you are at purging excess belongings that no longer serve a purpose, will never be used again no matter how useful the person on QVC persuaded you it would be or that just, sadly, will never fit you again no matter how achingly ‘vintage’ they may now be.  Nothing illustrates how lightly we once lived than the one small carload of all our worldly possessions we once trundled off to University with to live our whole lives by.

 

Ok, so perhaps we didn’t have to pack up beds and sofas, washing machines and microwaves, sideboards and cabinets too but the contents of one storage cupboard in our previous apartment that never saw the light of day in two years would easily fill two empty people carriers.  And as I was filling up boxes with said items, I questioned why on earth was I even bothering taking it with me. It just didn’t make sense.

 

So how has this happened??

 

Well I think by nature I am a hoarder.  Not quite so bad as the people they make documentaries about whose homes are jammed packed full of, quite literally, rubbish that is treated with reverence.  There was an episode of ‘Life of Grime’ that featured a gentleman who owned a whole house in Crouch End that I used to pass on my way to work.  Developers preyed like vultures for the property which was in a prime location and with huge potential.  The garden looked more like a scrapyard and you could barely open the front door wide enough to squeeze yourself in sideways.  How could anyone live like that? Well, it transpired that he was a refugee displaced from Poland in World War 2 and to have had nothing under such circumstances affected his attachment to possessions the rest of his life.  There’s always a reason.

 

I have no reason for my hoarding tendencies than the fact that I am an optimist in believing stuff will once again be useful, be used and will fit.  Although I am much better at accepting that stuff will no longer fit.  And even if they did fit, I am much better at accepting that particular look is no longer appropriate for my current lifestyle (or age).

 

This recent move happened quite suddenly.  Initially we thought we would just renew our lease but with rental prices falling sharply and our landlord failing to grasp this notion, we decided to move somewhere slightly cheaper and bigger that came up.  And without a six month baby in tow hindering all ability to reason and be proactive, I had a clearer picture of just how much we have that was out of sight, out of mind.  Again Husband will tell you this concept has been known to him for some time.  What has really unsettled me this recent move is the volume of our belongings that does not help with our  daily lives.  It became painfully apparent as I emptied cupboards and drawers into 110 boxes.  Some things I totally forgot I even had and had even bought a new replacement of.    

 

Moving is a great time for purging excess stuff I know that.  Some of you are very good at it, I know that too.  And I am aspiring to be like that and will at some point get around to it.  As I emptied out cupboards and drawers into 110 boxes, I was drawing up a mental itinerary of all our stuff. There’s the box of cables that we have long forgotten what gadgets they belonged to and yet have kept ‘just in case’ we need it.  We haven’t needed it for two years, surely it’s safe to say we probably no longer have the gadget the cable belonged to.  I was also amazed at the amount of socks we have in these tropical climes.  To be fair to Husband he has to wear socks everyday to work so those are mitigating circumstances.  But he has 60 pairs of socks.  Outside of work socks, there are socks for trainers, socks for cycling, socks for other sports, socks for hiking, odd socks and holey socks.  Frolicking socks breed like underpants in the dark corners of your underwear drawer.  It’s the only explanation.  Same goes for books.  Books are my greatest joy and greatest weakness.  I will always take in stray books with the promise that I will read it some day.  I have a book shelf full of books I’ve mostly read and another cupboard full of books I haven’t read and if you were to pile them up high, you would find it would be twice my height and more.  Books are wonderful.

 

After packing up the big stuff, the practical stuff and the used daily stuff, there’s the other stuff that just exists. Everyone has this stuff.  Buttons, small change, Allen keys in multiple sizes, safety pins, adapters, receipts, memory cards, Sim cards and so on that lives in a top drawer.  It all got swept into a carrier and moved into another new top drawer.  Then there’s the stuff that comes with small people.  Cots, clothes, blankets, nappies and related paraphenalia, bottles, snack boxes in various sizes, bedding and towels.  Then there’s the toys.  Toys suitable for small people from age 0 to now.  Soft toys are my nemesis.  They are everywhere and they are bulky.  And they cannot be parted with for sentimental reasons because that soft toy was sent by that special person. And just when you think your child has no emotional attachment to said soft toy, once you deploy the services of that soft toy elsewhere it will suddenly become the only soft toy to comfort your child to sleep.

 

Then there’s the stuff that I can’t part with because as you know by now, I am sentimental to the core.  The tiny sleepsuit #1, 2 and 3 all came home from hospital in.  The boxes with loose photos in that will never see the inside of an album.  The artwork of not just #1, 2 and 3 but nearly niece Strawberry Mousse going back a decade.  The bags and shoes that will always be in fashion to me even if they are not in the wider sense.  The woollen items knitted by the Mother In Law that are like new.  The memorabilia collated from trips we’ve made since moving out to Singapore that will be used to decorate our Forever Home once we really settle somewhere.

 

So you move from one apartment to another apartment that is bigger than your last one.  Although our previous apartment looked pretty big again when it was devoid of all our stuff in it. It would seem obvious that the new apartment should accommodate all your stuff quite comfortably.  This is not the case and never will be.  You moulded your old place to fit in all your stuff.  You put all the big obvious stuff in place and fill it with the all the big obvious stuff.  Then fill in the gaps with all the other stuff that exists.  And even though you existed quite happily on all the stuff you have in your previous home, when you move, there will inevitably be a post moving in trip to Ikea involved even though you already have too much stuff.

 

When you move, the initial frustration of trying to find new homes for all your stuff makes you even more determined to filter out what you don’t need.  Every time we move, there’s always that period of boxes just being there for weeks, sometimes months, because you don’t know where the gaps are to fill in with the stuff that just exists.  Plus, I kid myself that I’m going to sort it out properly and purge what we really don’t need.  But after while, I am always just tempted to get another cabinet but Husband will tell you that is not the solution and so in a bid to just rid ourselves of the unhomely looking, cumbersome boxes, I just end up filling in the gaps with the stuff that just exists with the promise that I will one day very soon get around to properly filtering it all out. I really will.

 

I’ll let you know in two years time how that plan worked out.

 

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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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