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.

I showed Flo where Pakistan was on a map this week. Her line of enquiry about my latest trip mainly focused on how many hours it would take to fly, and what meals I would eat on the plane. Like on many occasions with my children, their innocent – and on the surface, mundane – questions about life in general can be great levellers for the more typically preoccupied and convoluted minds of a parent.

That said, let me assure you of one thing: should you ever take on the challenge of hosting for your daughter a “cup-cake making” birthday party for eighteen kids, then do not expect this to have a similar ‘levelling’ effect.  Whatsoever.

Only carnage – as any rational mind would have told you in advance – ensues when you mix up e-numbers, fruit juice, various cake products (cake balls on sticks, slices of birthday cake, and cupcakes made by the marauding Frozen wannabes themselves) and enough balloons and glossy pictures of Anna, Elsa and Yolaf the Snowman to sink a proverbial sleigh.

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18 excited party-goers start to prepare their cup-cake delights

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The all important icing decorations

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Martha: a young star of the stage in the making

My youngest, Martha, was there too, in fancy dress, and the first to queue up to have her face painted. Whilst Flo dropped like a sack of overly stimulated and then utterly exhausted potatoes, around 8pm, Martha went on to surge well into the night-time, prancing around my kitchen declaring she “needed more candy”.

There are moments when I know I am being a good father, a hint of proud parent status leading me to believe that the fifteen minutes of homework completed, or the after school swimming lesson over, are gradually cementing my legacy as a responsible and “cut out” Lord of the Dads.

Yesterday, I had even meticulously prepared my signature pass-the-parcel game, pouring significant money back into the local Saigon toy-shop economy in the process.

And, then, just like that, wind forward to mid-way through the party, and behold a truly horror movie scary spectacle: eighteen pairs of starry-eyed, blue icing lipped children, pumped up with fizzy pop and about a kilo of sugar between them, all jostling to open each other’s pass-the-parcel prizes, before running wild around the venue scouring for their next fix.

It was Walt Disney re-enacting a fight scene from Braveheart. With Katy Perry tunes (Flo’s current favourite) blaring in the background.

I read this morning that there was rioting in Glasgow yesterday as the Scottish referendum results were declared – a picnic, I tell you, in contrast to a gaggle of youngsters tanked up on cake.

Happy Birthday, my darling Florence.  I love you with all my heart, but may the sugar-free days of the remainder of your youth be plentiful.

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A motley crew indeed

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

Year of the Horse, belatedly

My last post on this site was pre-Christmas.  I spectacularly missed the opportunity of writing about my January 1st commitment to stop smoking (achieved so far with flying colours, by the way).  I then reneged on posting suitably colourful and joyous photos of my kids enjoying the Chinese (in Vietnam, ‘Tet’) lunar New Year celebrations last week, as well as the standard picture of my Tet tree in bloom, them performing in their Tet concert, and me pontificating on what the new Year of the Horse might all be about.  On which front I am still none the wiser.

February kicked off nearly a week ago, and my “No Booze Feb” pledge was underway (watch this space, at this rate, next month I’ll convert to Buddhism, take up sunrise yoga classes and become a caffeine-free, vegan) in earnest – and yet I just didn’t get round to documenting this very sobering moment in time.

If I’d had the chance, I would have regaled you sooner with the rather tragic weekend story of how a stomach bug last Saturday ensured my quick demise over a 48 hour period, during which I didn’t eat, and spent as much time in my bathroom in two days as the average person might spend in a year.  It was not pretty.

And then, yesterday, I flew up to Hanoi on business, to find the Old Quarter looking resplendant in Tet decor, and abuzz with a heady mix of local adults drinking Tiger beers from 9am, and kids dancing in the streets (for once, not crowded with bikes and traffic).

All of this I have failed to represent so far in 2014.  Such slackness is potentially, in itself, a fatal start to any new lunar year.  Even my Tet tree flowered 6 days late.  The omens are not good. Continue reading