Out of the blocks

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Best of friends and a great result

Well, I’ve officially moved into an exciting new phase of parenting: attending school swimming “meets”.

By ‘attending’ I mean standing proud on the side-lines, pretending to be calm when in fact am sweating buckets at the sight of Florence trying to keep up in the freestyle against kids nearly twice her age, whilst simultaneously I’m being watched by other more seasoned onlookers, with dozens of these outings notched up, and who seem to view me as “fresh meat” at which to be mocked.

I am already looking forward to doing the same next year and turning the tables.

Hosting children’s play-dates and organising birthday parties have been my bread and butter for a while, however, with competitive intra-school races now on the agenda, we are entering truly ‘embarrassing Dad’ territory…

Flo did great in the end. For posterity, and for my archives, she got a third place in one team relay, a fifth place in another and she then came fifth and sixth in her freestyle and breast-stroke respectively (I anticipate my eagerness to capture her positions at future competitions may wane slightly, but for now am reveling in the novelty of the occasion.)

From the outset, her attitude seemed way too zen for a six year old: “it doesn’t matter if I don’t win, Daddy”, she explained to me over breakfast this morning. A breakfast, I should note, that incorporated cereal + toast + fruit + boiled eggs (mainly as Martha enjoys using our new egg slicer, but also because I was thinking to myself that eggs would provide some valuable protein for the swimming later on.)

“Of course if doesn’t matter, darling” I naturally responded, whilst also going on to impart my own sage advice to Flo, as she was brushing her teeth, “don’t forget to kick your legs hard,” I offered, in-between her spitting out toothpaste and then arguing with her sister about who had the nicest smelling breath, “…you might think you are kicking hard, but you can always kick harder if you try,” I went on, “…swimming is a bit like golf, because there are so many things to remember, and all are important….but really, really important, is to kick your legs. Really hard.”

I actually said all that. Quite in earnest and also in the hope that she’d remember me and my wisdom as she hit the water.

“Smell my breath, Daddy, does it smell nicer than Martha’s?”

At which point I left the bath-room. To adjudicate a breath smelling competition between my children, at the moment of delivering such flawless technical advice, seemed just a tad undermining to the advice itself.

In truth, it worries me imagining the type of embarrassing parent-coach I’d turn into if either of my daughters seriously pursue competitive sports. As it happens, they already argue with the conviction of Luis Suarez each morning about whose turn it is to press the lift button outside my apartment, and so competition seems alive and well and kicking (or biting) in them both.

And so for those reasons I intend to use this particular post as a reminder to myself not to morph into ‘that’ side-line Dad.

You know the caricature in question: the one you encounter at football matches, hockey jamborees or swimming tournaments, fired up and injecting the field of play with a pendulum like regularity of what I am sure he takes to be “words of encouragement” but which, actually, thunder around everyone else’s ears as military style verbal nuggets of warfare: “faster, son! – smash that thing!! – take his legs off!!! – ruuuuun!!!!”

And so forth.

I was chatting to a friend recently about this, and heard back that some year’s ago his father had actually been banned from entering no less than three sports complexes by the school management, due to his vociferous offerings every Saturday afternoon watching his sons playing football. “Just take him OUT” being one of his signature lines.

In any case, who knows what it is that my girls will turn their hands to in the future? It’s all to come and I’m fairly certain, whatever it is, they will give it their best and the only real nerves and apprehensions to manage will be mine.

Judging by the recent Halloween dress-up-at-school day photo below, my bet would be that, in addition to swimming, mastering the art of ‘showing off’ may also end up being more than just a passing interest for Florence and Martha…

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Future entertainers?

 

 

Now We Are Six

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I am an hour shy of boarding my sixth flight in the past ten days, having recently spun through Bangkok and Hong Kong on various work assignments. Today, I am back in Thailand, awaiting a connection across to Islamabad, where I’ll be stationed for four days of meetings and workshops.

Two years back I penned a whimsical departure post on my last day in Pakistan, after a fascinating week there, and I’m excited about returning.

Travelling days like these play tricks with your mind. Today started with a 4:45am wake-up call from Florence, as she kicked off Day 2 of being six years old, albeit rather blurry-eyed and still coping with a sugar come-down from her Frozen themed birthday party yesterday after school. In the middle of the night, several hours from now, I’ll go to bed in the CARE staff house, in the centre of Islamabad, a masala omlette and some sweet tea awaiting me for breakfast when I wake up on Sunday. Continue reading

And off we go again

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Flo’s first day at her new school

It’s been so long since I wrote a blog here, that I had to remind myself of the correct address of my own site.

August 11th, and too much to fill in since my last post, but several fabulous weeks back in the UK recently – both girls had 6 weeks over there in total, having a blast up north, down south, in London and on the beaches of Cornwall and Devon – and then a new school term underway as of this morning, back here in Saigon, and we are off again, refreshed (partly, the jet-lag this weekend was a killer) and ready for the long run into the next break at Christmas…

The merry-go-round is in full tilt.

The happy and somewhat jaded campers (above) took it in their stride this morning that the summer holiday adventures were over. Bless them both, Florence and Martha just seem to take whatever is thrown at them and make it fun. 

Flo was not the least bit put out for example that it took me twenty minutes this morning to realise that her penguin stepping around the apartment in her new skirt/shorts combo for Day 1 at the Australian International School, was in fact because when she’d got dressed she had put both feet into one shorts leg, rather than what she was thinking to herself at the time, which was that her new school practice some quasi-Geisha ritual for their Year 2′s, by forcing them to hop about the classroom for the first term.

Nor did she seem intimated by the chaos of the busy new school gates, or the strangeness of her new surrounds. She was too busy taking it all in to kiss us goodbye.

Anyway, you’ll hopefully find me more prominent on these pages soon, but in the meantime I wish you all happy ends of the holidays when you get to yours.

Much love to all.

Happy Daddy

Florence's Father's Day card

Florence’s Father’s Day card

For the past three years I have been overseas during my daughter’s school Father’s Day Celebrations. This year had to see the record set straight, and so I put in a special request for the school to host their 2014 “Daddy’s Day Breakfast” today, as I am flying to Amman tonight for the rest of the week.

The children sang all of us Dads a special song, served up croissants and boiled eggs, and then Florence and Martha even made me a coffee between them (with Martha on mixing duty, and Flo doing the more precarious carrying work). All of this on the back of another fun-filled weekend of parties, dancing in monsoon rain, ten-pin bowling competitions, and watching 28 performances at the annual Dance Centre Show.

Leaving to spend the rest of the week in Jordan will no doubt produce some new thoughts to populate the pages of this blog, however after spending quality time at home it doesn’t get any easier hauling myself 1,000 of miles around the region, and having to stage a not-too-dramatic goodbye to the girls.

That said, this morning was the perfect send off.

I was crowned a mini VIP for half an hour, wearing the brightly coloured hats the girls had made for me, and touched by the two wonderful cards they’d prepared the week before (above and below).

Martha's Father's Day card

Martha’s Father’s Day card

And if the wise words on Martha’s card above weren’t thought-provoking enough, I feel today is my day to challenge the most enthusiastic team of Poet Laureates to stir up something more magical and endearing than the poem which I found inside Flo’s card:

Daddy, you are
as smart as Ironman
as fast as Superman
as brave as Batman,
you are my
favourite Superhero
XX.”
Florence

I’ll not stop smiling all week now.

Daddy's Day Selfie

Daddy’s Day Selfie

Cake or Death?

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Hungry for cake anyone?

Excited, beyond levels that normal measuring instruments would find hard to measure, Florence and Martha have been galloping through a recent spate of birthday celebrations.

My 39th last month – pic above – was ushered in with some chocolate and raspberry cup cakes. Martha’s 3rd – last Friday – was awarded double cupcake supplies: first, for a family trip to school and some mid-morning songs and card opening, and second, for an end of the day fancy dress party in Lou’s apartment, where the luminous green cakes were complimented by that reliable choice favourite - the humble pizza.

As you can tell from the photos below, at both events, Martha (playing the part of the Disney movie Frozen’s Anna in the afternoon) was quite “up” for sweet treats, celebrating, and having the day’s limelight opportunities shifted in her direction: Continue reading

Easter in Shanghai

And so it was to Shanghai last Thursday for the Easter weekend.

I am not sure when it was ever the sensible option to plan a stag weekend in Nha Trang back-to-back with a football tournament in Shanghai, allowing me just four days in between of relative calm?

Perhaps it’s best sometimes not to over think these things and, instead, just embrace them.

Am typing this in bed on Sunday, back in Vietnam (although in Hanoi, in fact, with work for the next three days) after being upgraded earlier this afternoon at Shanghai airport by Vietnam Airlines, who I would typically focus my frustrations on due to their often sub-optimal service but today, however, I was close to falling in love with them as they expertly whisked me back in business class, me having successfully competed (unscathed) in this year’s Vikings Cup football tournament, with my local team, Saigon Raiders FC. Continue reading

Short and sweet

Hello.  Now where was I?  On the verge of heading to India about a month ago, I seem to recall…

Well, India, Delhi, the Holi Festival, and the workshop I was running all went off well. Delhi is thriving, the weather was sublime, the food delicious and, as you’ll see from the photo below, I managed to pull off a mean impersonation of some kind of overweight commando at the end of an afternoon of celebrating the first day of Spring, in true Hindu style. Memorable stuff.

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On next to the UK, for some long days of meetings, but intersected thankfully by short snippets of quality time with friends and family.

Some of which took place in pubs and involved pints (I miss pints).

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There was even time whilst I was in London for some swapping of school day photographs on a night out with mates from the Merchant Taylors’ years, circa. 1985-1993.

One I can’t help but post being of our fly-by-night sixth form band, Orange Bud. Watch out music seekers, it’s not too late for a 40 year birthday reunion in 2015.

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And the past week has been back in Saigon, hosting the delightful Hellewell family, over from the UK shires.  Kathryn, James, Leo and Sam collectively took to the heat, humidity and cold beers over here with ease, and provided some wonderful times together (crammed in to my apartment as the seven of us all were!)

So “local” were the Hellewells, that they can now tick off ‘riding Vintage Vespa bikes in the Mekong Delta with the kids’ from their bucket list.

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Tomorrow I am off to celebrate a friend’s wedding up in Nha Trang on a stag weekend, over Easter I’ll be playing in a football tournament in Shanghai, and I’ll be up to Hanoi and across to Bangkok for work after that. On the cards for May currently is Beirut and the Philippines (both work) and planning out Martha’s 3rd Birthday party (very much in the ‘play’ category).

Happy Easter to you all and, next time, I promise some more words and less bullet points.

Chocs away!

Pausing for Thought

Saigon is hotting up once more.  Now I appreciate that, for many of you who drop in on saigonsays from time to time, even when Saigon is not “hotting up” there is a good chance that it still might be considerably warmer here than what other parts of the world have put up with for the past half a year.  Simply put, Saigon is always hot, except for the months we are now descending upon, when it slips sweatily into being really hot.

Time then for me to head West, first to Delhi at the weekend, for a week of work just as the country celebrates “Holi”-  the first day of spring (Monday 17th) – during which it is tradition to get splattered with coloured powder.  All of which makes for a pretty picture to stick at the top of a blog post.  Next Monday is also St Patrick’s Day – divinely timed, should Ireland come away with the Six Nations (rugby) trophy two days beforehand.

My ambition for Monday evening in Delhi next week is therefore to avoid too much pink and yellow hair dye during the day, and to successfully find a pint of Guinness in the evening. It’s not every Monday night you get to blend Hindu and Gaelic culture together in such a colourful way. Continue reading