Bedposts, chewing gum and Singapore
Archives For humour
There are websites galore devoted to the expatriate life and how to make the most of it. How to choose the right school. How to recreate oneself as an accompanying spouse. How to make friends in a foreign land. How to have a baby overseas – that one always makes smile. I believe the answer is the same anywhere in the world – you push.
Living a life abroad is not difficult. And as the world shrinks with the ease of travel and the omnipresence of the internet it has without doubt become easier. In some ways though the very ease of communication and the ability to see films and TV shows from any country, has created a belief that we are one giant homogenous world with little separating us – a sort of Bollywood comes to Hollywood. And that can lead to unrealistic expectations, to a lack of cultural awareness, a lack of willingness to accept and, mostly, embrace our differences.
It is a privilege to be invited to share in someone else’s customs and traditions. To travel, and to spend significant time in another country encourages us to become more compassionate, more open to inevitable differences, to understand that there is no single way to do many things. It is also too easy to forget issues that may arise whilst living in a foreign country might well have arisen when living in the village of one’s birth, surrounded by family. It is easy to blame external factors for internal problems though like everything there are exceptions.
I think a global perspective helps make us more accepting and in some ways kinder.
What travel most certainly does is introduce new words and phrases into our lexicon that are used without thought in our daily speech, without remembering those to whom we are speaking might be utterly confused.
My 60th birthday was shared with seven girlfriends with whom I have celebrated for over ten years and who, last week, flew in to St Croix from mainland USA and Britain. Sitting on the gallery one evening I looked at these wonderful women who I had met around the world and wondered how many countries had been lived in. A quick tally was 24 countries, and that wasn’t counting overlaps where some of us had lived in the same country. Had we included those the total would have been 42.
Not surprisingly those multiple countries and languages have spawned many phrases in our personal dictionaries. Growing up in Malaysia the word cukup and tidak were daily admonitions from, it sometimes seemed, most adults in my life. Meaning “enough” and “no”. Makan siap called us to the table – the bahasa melayu equivalent of “grub’s up”. Papua New Guinea added em tasol and means “that’s all”. Genoeg and tot ziens came from Holland, another “enough”, and “see you later”. My children, raised initially in Thailand, were quick to learn mai pen rai – “it doesn’t matter”.
But the phrase I had completely forgotten from my childhood was huggery buggery!
I had left the house early to go and prepare the table at Cafe Christine’s for 14 lovely ladies joining me for lunch. Unbeknownst to me, those staying with me had plans to decorate the house in my absence. (I later understood why everyone kept asking me “when are you going?”, or “what time do you want us there?” I had also been mildly surprised to note my Cruzan friends, who often work to a Caribbean clock, arrived on time and my houseguests all late.)
But back to huggery buggery.
Apparently whilst hustling to decorate the house with all manner of glitzy banners, streamers and balloons proclaiming my advanced age, my multi-lingual pals were searching for sellotape.
“Well she must have a huggery-buggery drawer somewhere!” said Trish, continuing to pull open cupboard doors and tug recalcitrant drawers swollen by humidity.
“What?” The query came from five women.
“The huggery buggery drawer. You know, bits and bobs, odds and ends. Everyone has one.”
Relating this to me later over yet more bubbles, I laughed. It was a phrase used by my paternal grandmother and my father, learned from their days in India. Sometimes it is best not look too deeply into the etymology of a word but goodness it is descriptive. And whilst Trish has never lived in India, she learnt it from an Indian ayah whilst living in Dubai.
Writing this blog brought to mind the teenage glee with which a friend and I, then living in Papua New Guinea, would call her dog to heel. Her travel history included South Africa and her amusingly non-pc parents had named the mutt who appeared one day at their door, Voetsek. Voetsek in Afrikaans is a not terribly polite way of saying, “get lost”.
And so along with kindness comes humour. Two things necessary wherever we live but which is sometimes needed in larger doses when living a global life. Some of the things we build into big events or issues are really very unimportant in the greater scheme of life, and we need a take a kecil out of the huggery-buggery drawer and learn to realize that for most things, mai pen rai!
Now I wonder if there’s an expat website for that!
Note: I’ve just been told that huggery-muggery is listed in a 1700 Scottish dictionary so it seems India borrowed and adapted from the Scots!
I’ve been caught! I have been, since 2013, a two-timer. It has been fun, exciting, though at times a little fraught. Timing is often an issue. What to wear, and where to wear it? And like most relationships there have been moments of despair, moments of regret but there has been, on the whole, great enjoyment. And strangely my heart has not been torn asunder by my dual lives. My loves are so very different it has been easy to compartmentalise their existence, to take the best of the both and conveniently walk away for a spell when too much has been asked of me by either. All in all a most selfish affair.
I thought the arrangement was long term. I thought I had it sorted. I thought I could have it all. I didn’t see the end coming and so have had the proverbial stuffing knocked out of me. I am dismayed. Discombobulated.
The decision to end this two-timing life has not been made final due, as so often is the case, to situations outside my control. I am in the hands of people over whom I have no clout. I suppose in a way I am being held to ransom. And yes, I am resentful. Though arguably I have little right to be.
As I consider the consequences of my actions, and the consequences of those who hold aloft the Sword of Damocles under which I now live, I find myself withdrawing from the one I believed would be the constant. The one who has held my heart for thirteen years.
I write not of people but of places.
Downtown Houston was, when I moved here in 2005, an area of promise but little else due in large part, according the then mayor, Bill White, to the tunnel system. Meandering 20 feet below the city they were started by Ross Sterling in the 1930s. Over the years the tunnels grew to cover 95 blocks. A warren of scurrying humans protected from Houston’s heat. And as they became more and more subterranean the hobos and the ne’er-do-wells took over the surface.
But by the early 2000’s a push was being made to bring office workers back into the light, to stop developers buying up and demolishing historic buildings, to revitalise what was once a vibrant city. To bring back those who had fled to the suburbs and who only dared enter Downtown for a night at the opera, the symphony, the ballet or the theatre – all of which are first class.
Walking the streets at the weekend in 2005 meant a quiet stroll with no chance of finding a coffee shop or a wine bar. Me, my husband and my dog were the pretty much the sole occupants. Then slowly, slowly people came and Downtown Houston became once again a dynamic, pulsating, cosmopolitan city. And I fell in love.
We bought a loft apartment, one not deemed worthy to show so we bought ‘as is’ and made it our own. We share the building with 13 other urban dwellers – a conglomeration of ages, ethnicities, and animals. We are all part of what has contributed to the resurgence of the city.
And now we are being told there is a very real chance our funky brick building with black terraces and a metal star on the roof (it used to be the Star Furniture warehouse) will be purchased under eminent domain laws. To make way for what is being touted as an answer to Houston’s flooding problems. The North Canal.
So, yes, I’m furious. I have been jolted, if no jilted. The place I have loved unconditionally is in danger of being demolished to a pile of rubble and dust to make way for a giant ditch. We are in essence being considered the scapegoats for the greed and, let’s use that currently much touted word, ‘collusion’ of property developers and officials who have built homes on flood plains and what were once rice paddies. There is a reason rice grew so well out west of the city. Wetlands will flood.
And so to preserve my heart I can feel myself withdrawing from the place in which I have lived longest in my entire life. A place that as old age approached would still be a viable option and from which, quite frankly, I could be removed in a box.
But I am lucky. I have another love. A newer love that tempted me to become that two-timer. A place so utterly different to Downtown Houston that I never felt the pull-me-push-me of loyalties. I will not though go easily into the arms of American’s Caribbean on a full-time basis. Despite the powers-that-be trying to moderate my behavior, which let’s be honest adds to the spice of life, I will remain a two-timing bint!
We are a mixed bag! A family spread across the globe – Britain, the US, Trinidad and Tobago. My children were born in The Netherlands and Thailand. My grandchildren are bi-racial TCKs. My son’s girlfriend is Polish. We are archetypal global nomads. And we love it.
However getting together is never easy. We all lead busy lives in different time zones, with the added complication of a son working rotation in the North Sea. Fortunately my daughter is a firm believer in travel being part of her children’s schooling and so has no compunction about freeing them from the bonds of formal education.
This month, after a three year gap, we managed to coordinate our lives to have six days together on neutral ground – Costa Rica. A country none of us had visited and one we were all eager to explore.
I wanted a house Ava and Harley would remember. A unique property jumped off the screen. Way down south on the Peninsula de Osa, and 40 feet up a tree. There was even a ground -level bathroom for anyone not keen on conducting ablutions in the treetops. Perfect. What fun! Until the sensible partner of our marriage pointed out that a fearless-almost-four-year-old rampaging around a treehouse would not be conducive to a relaxed vacation. And one review did mention mahogany birds the size of playing cards. For those of you who have not read my novel, Fireburn, mahogany birds are not sleek and beautiful members of the avian family but are actually up-sized flying cockroaches. Seven of our group, whilst not being enamoured of the rather repellant insects, are pretty relaxed in their presence. The eighth member of our party would not have been quite so blasé and might well have taken flight herself.
And so Sirena Azul was found. A funky house memorable for its shape and colour. Round and a vivid hyacinth-blue. Located a short way up a hillside equidistant from Domincal and Uvita, it ticked all the boxes. Large enough. Reasonably safe. A beautiful tropical garden and pool. A stream and waterfall. Birds. And monkeys.
Spider and howler monkeys to be precise.
As we arrived the dipping sun bathed the garden in dappled gold, and cicadas launched their evening chorale. Then from further up the hill came a cacophony of deep-throated coughs. Though we couldn’t see them, the howlers were howling. A quick scan of the Costa Rica guide (we weren’t set up for internet) told us their voices can be heard up to three miles away, warning other troupes to stay clear of their territory. The children went to bed exhausted but happy with the promise of monkey sightings soon.
While most of us were diving for multi-coloured plastic turtles in the pool the next afternoon, Grandpa disappeared on a monkey hunt. Having clambered upstream and over boulders, he returned happy and victorious. A family had been found larking around in the treetops – spider monkeys – their prehensile tails acting as a fifth arm. He promised a trek up the hill the next day but we got sidetracked and so the only monkeys around were the girls.
We surfed, we zip-lined, we rode, we lazed. We played games. We were a family gathered. And all the while humming birds, so iridescent it looked as if they had sequins sown on their wings, sipped from heliconia around the garden, hawks hovered, egrets busied themselves, and euphonia showed off their yellow breasts with gay abandon. Toucans did not appear though we heard them high in the canopy. A two-toed sloth was spotted but fortunately not whilst I was arboreal, and also agouti. Iguanas eyed us with reptilian lassitude as we passed by. But still no monkeys though we heard them howling as dawn crept over the horizon and through the trees, or as darkness fell in a bruised blur of purple and black.
And then as four of us sat enjoying a quiet few moments on the verandah later in the week, I think with a beer in hand, a rustling attracted my husband and there, just a few trees away, was a skittering shape. Then another. With more still to come. A balcony surrounded the top floor of Sirena Azul and we raced up. There they were. Monkeys. The same family.
A quick message was sent to those absent. “Monkey sighting. Come home.” And home they raced, in time to see the troupe swing from tree to tree in playful chase. A family just like ours enjoying each others company.
Six days flew by. Who knows when we’ll all get together again? But in the meantime we will all treasure our memories of Costa Rica, and the promised monkeys.
Writing is a lonely business.
A thick outer skin must be ordered – I believe they are available online – and worn so the writer doesn’t disappear into a tightly wrapped ball of fibres, which can later unravel into the distance hauling away what little snippets of self-confidence have been painstakingly garnered through the occasional success.
Pitching brilliant ideas to magazines is a thankless task often shot down by breathtaking silence from editors. We shake our phone, switch our computer on and off, in the vain hope the longed for acceptance and promise of small monetary gain has merely disappeared into that great universe called the ether. But no, the phone is working, so too the computer – every email from that online site from which you so rashly bought two years ago is managing to escape the junk box.
For those of us trying our hands at longer pieces – a book for instance – rejection from literary agents becomes a way of life and we really do grow an extra epidermis. We nod and smile wanly when our well-meaning friends trot out J K Rowling, again.
In need of moral support recently, I wasted hours but eventually came across a wonderful piece which cheered me no end. Did you know, for instance, that Agatha Christie had five years of rejection? The Da Vinci Code, two years. Fireburn, my manuscript is not a thriller, but I found the following critique of John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold of utmost comfort, “He hasn’t got any future.” Mary Higgins Clark, J G Ballard, Stephen King and many other now respected authors have received numerous dismissals. And whilst I don’t put myself in their elevated ranks, their perseverance and self-belief does provide an inkling of hope.
Why do I need hope? Well, I almost blew it. Only time will tell. An email arrived from a relatively new, small press chosen because it was young and, I hoped, hungry. Keen to make a name. Eager to do the best for both me and themselves. I read those magic words – we want more. And then seven – count them – seven days later another email appeared saying they were interested. A flurry of further communication, culminating in a phone call, and then, and then, the moment when the contract lands with a ping.
The cork is popped. Texts to loyal readers of both early and later versions of my book, three years in the making, are sent with exultant responses of the ‘told you so’ type. And then, and then, you actually open the contractual attachment and the fizz goes flat.
Having been verbally assured of the stringency of editing – both content and copy – you find the contract is full of typos and inconsistencies. A cobbled together document, which would ensure any lawyer worth his fee slit his throat rather than let out it the door.
The bubbles have truly fizzled. And those little inconsistencies tamped down during the phone call merge to create a cacophonous roar. You have been seduced.
No, let’s be honest! I was seduced. Seduced by the thought of a publisher who promised marketing to all and sundry – here and abroad. Foreign rights – no problem. Film rights – of course. I was already sashaying along the red carpet – a yellow dress, I thought – as actors clamored to praise the role I had written for them.
The harsh hand of reality grabbed my throat on the seventh or eighth reading of the contract. How could I sign with a company who didn’t care about their own words, let alone mine? So yesterday I wrote thanking them for their interest and time, and closed that portal.
Now, I shall pull on my newly-bought skin and head back to the computer screen to scroll through pages of literary agents and publishers.
There must be one out there who might be interested in a book called Fireburn!