Almost New Year

We’re midway through the festive season, in that strange lull between Christmas and New Year, when some have gone back to work and some haven’t. It’s an odd time of year. All through December I look forward to the time off that comes at Christmastime, and then when I get there I’m not always sure what to do with it.

Late on the eve of Christmas Eve, I began packing for my early morning flight the next day.

Packing, I find a relatively straightforward business, when going somewhere for a decent length of time – heading to the US for 10 days, for example. Or when going skiing. In both of these scenarios there is a lot of underwear to pack, not to mention a shedload of compassionate chocolate for my American friends in the former instance, and thus the which-bag-to-take decision is an open and shut, er, case.

When one is flying down to London for only four and a half days, however, there is much opportunity for vacillation. And when there’s an opportunity to vacillate I like to grab it decisively.

It seemed easy enough, initially. I had the option of checking a bag into the hold for free. It was a no-brainer.

So I dragged out the big guy, and started to fill it. Got everything in, room to spare. Looked a little under-filled, frankly. Began to wonder if I could have got it all in the carry-on-appropriate little guy. 

Vacillated.

Got the little guy out. Decanted everything from the big guy into the little guy and packed it to the gunnels. It fitted, just. Although there remained the ‘morning of’ items that would need added. Would be tight. Decided it was going to be ok.

But now… all the toiletries needed to be in 100ml containers. Dug out some clear plastic bags and began to fill them. Realised my Travel Size tube of shaving gel is probably 4 years old now. Wondered if I’d made the right decision. Would I have to re-check in?

Vacillated.

What settled it in the end was the thought…

“What if I receive a gargantuan Christmas present this year?”

And that did it. There was simply no space for a gargantuan present. 

Everything out of the little guy, back into the big guy.

Arrived at London City Airport, and my sister picked me up, with my oversized suitcase, at what we both thought was the pick-up point.

Cue the arrival of an Official at the driver’s window.

“I’m terribly sorry, madam, but I need to inform you that you haven’t got a ticket YET, but as soon as you drive away you will incur a £400 charge. This is a drop-off area only.”

My sister protested her innocence. No signs, she said. This is where she’d always come to pick up people, she said, channeling a classic Northern Irish argument for right-of-way. I was waiting for “My father and my grandfather ALWAYS picked up people here y’know” but it never came.

The Official, as Officials are wont to do, failed to acknowledge anything she was saying and simply repeated the script.

“…as soon as you drive away you will incur a £400 charge.”

With the option of ‘driving away’ now effectively off the table, I began to think we might be spending Christmas there, just me and her, in the car. Maybe Deliveroo could bring over some turkey sandwiches to keep us going. I had some Christmas tunes on my phone. It might not be so bad. Just four and a half days, then I could leave the car – mildly odorous and slightly itchy I would presume – and go back into the terminal to fly home, and she could safely drive off, having legitimately dropped me off at the drop-off point.

Mercifully, a compromise was reached, which involved me guiltily exiting the car, walking a few hundred metres to the official pick-up point, where my sister picked me up again, legally, for £397 less than she might have had to pay, and Christmas was saved. Hurrah!

Christmas Day duly arrived. Christie (6) declared to anyone who would listen that he had seen Santa and his reindeer flying into the garden the previous night.

“I literally saw Blitzen fly down into the garden.” 

“Oh really?”

“He nearly crashed into the SHED!” he proclaimed, joyful and triumphant.

I need to have a conversation with Christie about his use of “literally”. Maybe next year.

Over Christmas much turkey and many pigs in blankets were consumed. 

Of course, no gargantuan presents were received. However, I did receive a triple-pack of white hankies with my initial embroidered in the corners, which made up for the slightly disappointing absence of socks.

After a muddy visit to the park, and a family outing to see the wonderful Mary Poppins Returns, having been warned in a dream, I returned to the airport by another route (the bus and the DLR). This foxed the Official completely.

Back in Edinburgh Friday evening, it being the last Friday of the month, me and the gang were at an unusually-quiet Akva for a festive G&T. Or two. Or three, in some cases, but no names will be mentioned.

Post-Akva, there was an ill-conceived and ultimately abortive attempt to go clubbing by a few of our number. Once again no names will be mentioned. On our initial foray into an establishment on Grindlay Street, we appeared to have stumbled upon an underground table-tennis club. For children. 

Bemused, we beat a hasty retreat and retired to a nearby bar, where there seemed to be some other over-16 revellers, and we shouted at each other at close range for a couple of hours. It was great fun, although I really don’t know what anyone said, and just nodded and smiled a lot. 

Last words of the year go to Over the Rhine

Happy Almost New Year. There is still so much music left to be made.

 

Sleeping at Altitude

Dear Reader

I apologise for the longish interval since the last post. I say longish, but really, as the long-suffering long-term readers of this blog could tell you, this latest spell of literary inactivity is nothing, a mere blip on the radar, a veritable drop in the ocean of time, when compared to some of my previous hiatuses.

The blame for my non-writing is, as ever, to be laid firmly at the door of someone or something else. On this occasion I will blame more life changes. At the end of the month I moved out of the Finance Director’s house, flushed with success at having not burnt it to the ground. I consider not-burning-the-house-to-the-ground the principle achievement of any successful house-sitting gig, which may seem a conservative goal, but – I think you’ll agree – a worthy one.

The remainder of my time in the FD’s house went reasonably smoothly. Her bathroom scales continued to malfunction, only ever showing two numbers – zero and <a big number>, no matter how many times I went to the gym. But latterly my gym visits were stymied by a fungal infection in my foot (I do apologise if you’re eating your tea), which kept me on my backside for large parts of the day, with foot propped in the air, and doing a lot of hopping around on my other foot when movement was required.

On one memorable morning, I got out of bed, and showered, only to realise I had left something important (in a fungal foot-care sense) at the bottom of the stairs, and was left with no alternative but to hop down the stairs naked. Naturally, while mid-descent I remembered that the bottom of the stairs was 100% visible to anyone standing at the front door, due to the proliferation of unfortunately-placed glass doors. Such as, say, the postman.

Mercifully, the postman was not at that moment in the vicinity, and able to witness my naked stair-hopping. I hopped gratefully back up the stairs.

Having moved out of my big house in the country, I eschewed the opportunity to move in with my mother for the second time in my adult life, and instead moved into another flat in Edinburgh, which, it’s fair to say, is a fraction smaller. My bedroom is of a size which makes me wonder if, come the fast-approaching summer, there will be room for the bed *and* my cricket bag. I strongly suspect not. In other circumstances I might prefer the bag over the bed (am confident the cricket bag could be pressed into action as a bed – it’s approximately the same size), but the bed will not be moved, nailed to the wall as it is. It’s a cabin bed, the slightly-more-grown-up cousin of bunk beds, and it’s very high up. So high up in fact that I woke up feeling slightly ill halfway through Wednesday night, which I attributed to altitude sickness, but may in all honesty have been more to do with a bag of Cadbury’s mini eggs that I had worked my way through earlier in the evening.

The cabin bed, while not a bunk bed per se, brings back fuzzy nostalgic memories of caravanning holidays with my family in the 80s, only without the permanent faint smell of gas and the reassuring drumming of rain on the roof. It was during one of these caravan holidays that the top bunk (which was more of a hammock, and contained my sister at the time) collapsed on top of me one night. Good times.

My new flatmate is a top bloke with many endearing qualities, such as a sizeable Wisden collection. He’s given to much physical exercise, and goes running every Wednesday night, while I sit at home and work my way through the chocolate mini eggs (see above).

Obviously I can’t confirm that Cadbury’s will be the chocolate choice every week, and post-Easter one assumes that other non-egg related chocolate shapes will need to be found.

Maybe it’s time to find a local gym again…

England in shock World Cup exit

I find myself in London, watching the game with my sister as England take on Germany in the World Cup.

“Great tackle.  GREAT tackle”, emphasised Mark Lawrenson as Ashley Cole went in studs first on a German ankle.

“The referee got that one right,” the commentator asserts not long after, as replays showed Rooney throwing himself melodramatically against a German defender.

My sister can’t understand why I am not fervently rooting for England.  I find it hard to grasp why she is.  Alison, though, lives in England, where the hysterically one-eyed media coverage of England’s various footballing campaigns doesn’t seem quite so inappropriate as it does in other parts of the UK.  For my part, I take no specific pleasure in England losing, as some of the natives in my adopted country do.  An English exit from a major tournament brings relief, rather than glee.

Germany’s keeper whacks a long goal-kick down the middle, and Klose holds off the attempted foul from Upson to poke it into the corner past James.  “Sunday pub league goal,” dismisses Lawro, as if the Germans should somehow be ashamed of themselves for scoring it.

Podolski makes it two after 33 minutes.

I was midway through explaining my Brits-don’t-have-the-right-psychological-makeup-to-win-consistently theory to Alison, when England, rather inconveniently, scored.  She shrieked.  I slumped.

This seemed to be a good time to ‘catch up’, my sister having paused the match near the start on account of retrieving baby Sebastian from his slumbers.  She fast-forwarded the TV back to normal time, just in time to see Lampard’s shot crash off the crossbar and over the line.  Not given.  Cue a studioful of half-time experts who, it would seem, have been campaigning vociferously for goal-line technology to be introduced for years.

Mercifully England’s overall ineptitude meant it finished 4-1 rather than 2-1, or there may have been riots in the streets.  Not in Hackney, probably, where there may well be more local support for Ghana than England.

Two days later, Peter Singer, writing in the Guardian, has a pop at the German goalkeeper for ‘cheating’ by not owning up that the ball had crossed the line.  As, no doubt, the England goalkeeper would have done in similar circumstances.  He quotes cricket as an example of a sport where players sometimes walk even when they haven’t been given out.  Tellingly, to find a high-profile instance of this happening, he has to go all the way back to the 2003 World Cup, when Adam Gilchrist walked against Sri Lanka in a semi-final.  Walking is not common in high-level cricket, or even at lower levels, for that matter.  Besides, Gilchrist once walked thinking he’d been caught, when replays proved his bat had hit the ground rather than the ball.  Gilchrist’s approach was laudable, but at that level a player is entitled to allow the umpire to make the decision.  And if Neuer, the German keeper, had insisted to the referee and his assistant that the goal should stand, they would most likely have waved away his protests.

Having sweated my way into town yesterday and exhausted myself by simply pootering around the South Bank in the heat, I have decreed today to be a rest day.  Sitting around, mostly outside, reading Marcus Berkmann’s Rain Men, has been the order of the day.  My sister is just about to go out for a walk with Maggie and the little girl she looks after on Tuesdays.  Sebastian is upstairs asleep, and I am instructed to get him up at 3.45pm.

“Do I need to do anything after that?” I enquired, hoping that I wouldn’t be expected to do anything too complicated, like change his nappy.

“Change his nappy.”

Deep breath.

“Ok.”  How hard can it be?

This time next week

“Just think,” remarked Wiseman, as we walked to my car this afternoon. “This time next week we won’t be walking along this road.”

Next Saturday he and I embark on a holiday together, which begins with what he euphemistically refers to as a cruise, from Cairnryan to Larne, and then an ocean drive to somewhere in Donegal.

We wistfully considered how, by this time next week, we could be grumpily sitting at opposite ends of our cottage, he sending me a text to let me know that he’d finished using the kitchen, and had cleared away “my” mess. Or one of us pushing a boat out from a deserted beach in Donegal and rowing for home, having had enough. It would be a sad indictment on our friendship if any of this had come to pass by this time next week, since we would only have been in each other’s company for 24 hours or so.

Hopefully it won’t come to anything like that. But just to be on the safe side, we’ve roped in some others (girls, no less) to share the cottage and buffer us from each other. Perhaps they might even elevate the chat to a higher level. However, one can’t be sure, and consequently, the blog may soon be receiving some much-needed attention after weeks of neglect, although wireless hotspots likely being even less numerous in Donegal than well-surfaced roads, the actual posting may prove to be a stumbling block. We’ll see, as my mother always said when my sister or I had asked for something she had no intention of giving us.

Speaking of my sister, she made a welcome visit to Edinburgh last week with young Maggie in tow. Maggie seemed very impressed with my new car, and in stark contrast with everyone I have mentioned this to, was especially excited that I’d managed to secure an SM57 registration. Of the readers of this blog, I expect only The Weir will fully join with myself and Maggie in the appreciation of a classic microphone appearing on my number plate. Maggie confided in me that she would never use anything else on snare drum or guitar amps. She’s very advanced for her age.

Having now replaced all of my stolen items through the kindly insurance company, inevitably I am beginning to realise that there are other things I haven’t seen around for a while. Like my Red Sox hat, and my Leatherman knife. Very disappointing. The police have now removed the thieving bandits from general circulation, which is something. I imagine they’re regretting leaving fingerprints all over my kitchen window. Or perhaps they’re not bovvered.

By this time next week, I won’t be either…

More toilet tribulations

“Would you like a bit of egg?” asked mum, proffering some chocolate.

I was down chez mes parents, sharing some post-prandial conversation. My sister Alison and the wean Maggie were there too. We suggested that, it being July, it was the wrong season for chocolate eggs and was it not actually a Terry’s Chocolate Orange anyway. Dad, or The Lord Cecil, as we like to call him – after a Hackney pub defunct since the day a double decker bus drove into it – whose chocolate orange it was, was graciously unperturbed at it being shared around. Tell the truth, he seemed a little put out that there was no ice-cream to go with it.

Met Wiseman for dinner in PizzaExpress tonight. After some slightly disappointing exploratory main courses (exploratory in that we both deviated from the reassuring familiarity of our customary pizza choices), learning the lesson along the way that spiced beef and mushrooms are not a number ONE topping combination, the thoughts turned inevitably to dessert. Here we often differ. Wiseman regularly goes for the Chocolate Glory. I find the tiramisu keeps me more regular. Tiramisu, indeed, is an old and faithful friend. A bit like a dog. A dog is slightly better, in that tiramisu is sometimes off the menu – this fate befell me, distressingly, on two consecutive visits to PizzaExpress. A long time ago, but it has lodged in the memory. Dogs, on the other hand, are never off the menu, at least not in Hong Kong. They are sometimes asleep, but you can wake them up and they’re not even grumpy about it. How do they do that?

Chocolate Glory is more like a girlfriend. It’s great to start off with, but you soon start to feel sick.

Speaking of regularity, some seagulls appear to have no problems in the waste pipe department, as my car can testify. They have managed to deliver several consignments onto the driver’s door, one of them right on the edge of the window, nearest to the handle. So every time I get out of the car I push the door shut and… yep. If you meet me in the street avoid shaking my hand.

And while we’re on such matters, I believe Broon has recently had to purchase a new toilet seat for her house to replace a broken one… it would appear that the phantom toilet-seat destroyer has struck again. The Admin Supremo has been recently spotted in the North Fettes area carrying his own toilet seat around with him. It’s all very curious. Perhaps we could make it into a TV mini-series. (Q. Do they still have mini-series on TV or is it all mind-numbing “reality” stuff nowadays?)

Room 65 kicks off this week, which must mean that I’ve been numbing your minds, those of you that are still reading, for over a year now, since I remember mentioning it in the blog last time around. Am guesting on piano again, which means more ill-timed glissandi and misleading introductions. But I’m sure we’ll all muddle through. Feel free to drop in to the café at 65 High Street if you’re bored of an evening.

And with that I’ll bid you goodnight.

Lie-ins and bowel movements

Woke up on Tuesday morning at 7.50am. Jumped out of bed, suppressing expletives in various languages and pulling a muscle in my back as I did so – that one under the shoulder blade. 7.50 is the time I normally leave the house in the morning. Decided this time not to leave the house, given the distress which would have been caused to onlookers by my state of undress.

Shortly after arriving at work at 8.30 on the nose, discovered that our receptionist had also slept in when I joined her in the queue for breakfast in O’Brien’s.

The backroom staff at work have had their numbers boosted and their biscuit supply disproportionately depleted by the arrival of Dish, freshly arrivée from France and still blogging, much to everyone’s relief. Having spent a whole year picking up working practices in France, we are anticipating her going on strike at any moment, but in between spells on the picket line she will be helping the Admin Supremo in his tasks – primarily coffee-drinking and causing civil unrest. And cheerily replying “Super Dooper Doo” when asked how he is by people on the phone, shortly before ferociously devouring them for applying the wrong tax code to our invoices or some such.

Mum, meanwhile, has gone south for the summer, or at least this week, to spend time with my sister and little Maggie. Share the love, I say. It would have been rude of me to keep all of the nagging to myself for the whole year. Dad, having been notified that I would be staying with him while mum was away, immediately booked himself a week in the most expensive nursing home he could find. I fear I may have messed up the porridge production one morning during my last stay, and my dad has a long memory when it comes to the quality of his food provision. Initial reports from the nursing home have been encouraging: the desserts have been of a very high standard. In fact he almost fell out of his chair with excitement while describing them. Dad takes his desserts very seriously.

Speaking of falling out of chairs, the toilet seat at work has cracked again. Reluctant to speculate on the identity of the guilty party, I can only report that all members of staff used the facilities on the morning in question, and none reported any problems getting purchase. Nor, indeed, was any damage noted or commented on. Perhaps their circumspection can be attributed to a desire to not feature in a blog entry…

Time for bed. Don’t want to sleep in again. Angry Mac Guy describes a blog as a generic layout filled with details of the writer’s every bowel movement. Apologies if this one’s been a bit like that, I like to think it usually isn’t. Come to think of it, my blog normally has details of other people’s bowel movements. Not sure that’s any better. Ho hum…

Healthy eating at Easter

Went to give blood on Good Friday, a little apprehensively since I’ve had a cold recently, and am still coughing from time to time. The nurses at the Blood Donor Centre in Edinburgh take a fairly relaxed approach to your suitability to donate blood. About as relaxed as an SAS admissions officer. If you’ve so much as recently walked past someone who sneezed, they’re liable to shake their head sadly and ask you to come back next time. Woebetide you if the person who sneezed as you walked past might have once had sex with someone in Africa. Then you’re for the high jump. You can see why I was apprehensive. Not only have I coughed recently, but I know a man with a Kenyan wife. So when I mentioned that my plane home from Australia in January had stopped off at BANGKOK… the eyebrows were raised sharply and she disappeared to ascertain my fate. I glanced nervously upwards, half expecting a hermetically-sealed container to drop from the ceiling and insulate me from society until I was safe.

I protested that I hadn’t left the airport in Bangkok, and had purchased nothing more than a book while I was there, but all to no avail. Apparently the plane even touching Thai tarmac knocks blood donation on the head for 12 months. Malaria hotspot, it would seem. So that’s that. Still, I came away with some mini-eggs courtesy of the Blood Donor Centre.

Easter Monday brought an expedition to St Andrews, after breakfast at the incomparable Indigo Yard. Kenny D, Broon, and Jen all made the trip, among others less infamous to the readers of this blog. We were all careful to suck on sweets as we went over the Forth Bridge, after Jen’s public assertion that her ears pop when she goes North.

The sun shone, the wind blew, and we had fun. The sun shone so much that Jen went slightly pink and declared herself to have sunstroke. The wind blew so much during our time on the beach that we all experienced exfoliation by sand-blasting, and are still finding sand in various bodily crevices. Actually, I can only speak for my own crevices. A long and satisfying game of beach cricket was marked by the usual events: dropped catches aplenty and Kenny D muttering darkly about the uneven surface every time he got bowled.

Dining in Zizzi’s that evening, I took a moment to read the advisory notice on my glass bottle of Coke. It advised me that 330ml of Coca Cola, ie one glass bottle or a can, contains 39.5% of an adult’s RDA of sugar. I pondered this for a moment, considering how I’d started the day with a breakfast soaked in maple syrup, and reckoned that with the syrup and Coke alone I must have been close to sugar saturation for the day. I looked up to see three year old Lewis polishing off the last of his own bottle of Coke, and breathed deeply. What percentage of a child’s sugar RDA, I wondered…

My sister and her partner were up over the Easter break, which meant I finally got the chance to meet my 11-week old niece. We got on reasonably well, I feel. She seemed to tolerate me when I kept moving, as if this held promise that I would soon hand her over to someone more competent. Childcare, at that age, seemed refreshingly logical and uncomplicated to my bachelor eyes. If she was crying, she was either hungry (hand her to my sister), or tired (hand her to my sister), or had a loaded nappy (hand her to anyone in sight. Except perhaps, my dad). If she wasn’t crying, carry her around for a bit for bonding purposes until she started crying.

On Saturday at our church’s music practice, two of the band, by necessity, brought their young kids along. Surveying the carnage in the church at the end of the practice, and the fraught look on the faces of the parents in question, I was reminded that childcare doesn’t stay logical or uncomplicated for long.

The weather was glorious in Galashiels today, which is where my job took me. Sitting outside at lunchtime, drinking my way through 60% of my sugar RDA, I looked up to see a bus with a question plastered over its side: “SALT. Is your food full of it?”

I checked the bottle. 0.0g salt.

Phew. Still eating healthily.

Australia, part I


Arrived in Sydney last night. Skies were grey and overcast. Considered asking for my money back, but today has dawned bright and sunny. Not sure of the temperature but it feels like mid-high twenties, with a slight breeze, which is nice.

Am staying with the Coy family in Denistone, NSW – a suburb of Sydney. Managed to edge out the eldest son (Andrew) in a game of Fifa 06 last night, although the teams were heavily weighted in my favour. Am going to need to continue to fix a team ‘handicap’ to have any hope of competing with these young upstarts. Phil and I reminisced on the Subbuteo contests of ‘86 and how technology had moved on somewhat. I assured him that the Subbuteo flame was still lit, at least on Boxing Day between myself and Slid. Although not this year, alas, as I have another Boxing Day fixture to attend.

Discovered that my Aunt Dulcie phoned this morning to welcome me to Australia. Embarrassingly, I was still in bed. The problem was I woke up early (good old jetlag), checked the time, which was 1am. This was a little disappointing. Woke up at periodic intervals thereafter to find the time still depressingly early. Was confused by the obvious sounds of the younger Coy boys playing in the house from about 5am. Eventually checked my watch to find it was 10.30am. I had been checking the clock on my mobile phone prior to this, and only now did I realise I had left it on Singapore time (-3 hours). D’oh. My aunt rang again this evening, so mercifully I was able to explain that I wasn’t being a sluggard and how I am normally up really early with a cheery wave and friendly greeting ready for anyone in earshot.

Ok, so I have noticed some important differences between life here in Oz and the UK.

• The house numbers are painted on the kerb
• The light switches are labelled (light, heat, fan etc)
• Pedestrian crossings – when the green man comes on it makes a sound like aliens shooting ultra-laser-stun-molecular-disintegrator weapons (I imagine)
• The (sun)light is definitely different here. I fumbled my first few tennis-ball catches on the beach today before putting my shades back on

Y’know how in Scotland, on a summer’s evening after the sun has gone down, it can get a bit chilly, even though the day has been gloriously warm? Apparently that’s what happened today. My hosts starting shivering and reaching for their jumpers. I reassured them that it wasn’t cold at all, oh no.

During lunch today, one of the boys noticed a spider, fairly big by UK standards, on the ceiling. Mrs Coy calmly announced that it was only a baby tarantula. Tarantulas are not considered particularly dangerous, according to Mrs Coy. There are much more lethal spiders to worry about. This is good, as where there’s a baby tarantula there must be a mummy tarantula nearby. I was just considering this, the baby tarantula, and its larger, hairier mother, when the Coys’ pet rabbit brushed up against my leg. It was at this point that I lost forever the illusion of macho masculinity that I try so hard to convey to people who don’t know me very well.

As I write, the baby spider has not yet migrated into my room, but hey, it’s got the whole night to do that. And I’ve got the whole night to think about it.

Night night, sleep tight, don’t let the… yeah yeah

Singapore

Back home, very near to where I grew up, there is a road called Orchard Road. It’s the narrow, twisty, hilly road that took us to church on Sunday mornings, and on the way back, as we crested a rise, we could see our house framed against the Mourne Mountains. My sister once crashed the car on this road.

Here in Singapore, they also have an Orchard Road. It’s a bit wider than the one I grew up near to, and has a few more shops. But I would tip my sister to crash the car here too.

Singapore has been warm and humid, and has been mostly raining since I arrived. Our Aussie pilot came on the PA about 2 hours out from Changi airport, with confident predictions that we were about to be thrown about in a storm on our approach, complete with detailed explanations of how he would abort the landing at the last possible moment, if required. But this was ok because he’s been flying for Qantas since 1967 and let us know this at least 3 times. Naturally, we flew straight in and landed without any problems. Favourite comment from the same pilot, before we took off from Heathrow: “We’ll be taking off and heading east, aw look folks, we’ll be heading that way all night.”

Have now spent a wonderful day in Singapore with Koji, Hwee Sng, and their gorgeous children. Koji hasn’t really changed in 10 years, apart from putting on a little more weight, and losing a little more hair. He still retains a wonderfully positive outlook and smiles a lot. And he still has a BB gun. Hwee Sng, I think, despairs of him ever growing up.

After a morning building Lego houses and crashing racing cars with Isabella (5) and Ethan (2), Koji rescues his kids from further punishment by taking me off on a whirlwind tour of Singapore’s tourist attractions, including, all-importantly, the Singapore Cricket Club. Have posted some photos on my photo page (link on the right). As Koji drives me (efficiently) around I fall asleep in the car a few times. Am not good at overcoming jet lag – having my meals knocked out of sequence is never a problem, as I seem to be ready to eat whenever the opportunity arises, but the sleep pattern really suffers.

Singapore proves to be just as clean and efficient as Jones warned me it would be. And a lot greener than I expected. What’s more, they use British power sockets! I like it a lot here. The heavy rain makes me feel right at home, although thankfully we had a dry day for the sightseeing. Now, sitting at the gate waiting for my Sydney flight to leave, I regret I didn’t have more time here, but that’s just how it goes.

So, onwards to Australia.

In October 1986, I remember coming home from school one day to discover a couple of Australian visitors staying with us. It was my first experience of Australians, and I remember disliking them immediately for their self-confidence and assertiveness! I can also remember being in tears when they left us a week later. Growing up in rural N Ireland, with my friends literally miles away, and a non-sporty sister for company, the arrival of two sport-loving Aussies turned out to be an absolute dream. They taught me 3-man Aussie rules, came and watched me play for my football team on Saturday morning, gave me hope that going to church could be fun and didn’t have to require wearing a suit, and, crucially, represented Crystal Palace and Liverpool in three-way Subbuteo tournaments.

Eight hours from now, and a mere twenty years later, Phil, one of those globetrotters, will pick me up from Sydney airport. I hope I recognise him…

London, Day 3 and the Losing of the Ashes

This is a poster up in my sister’s kitchen, espousing the good old British spirit which carried us through the war years.

Spent most of Saturday setting my a wireless network and generally tidying up my sister’s laptop. IT literacy, like most things in life, is a relative measure. To my sister and her partner Angela I am fully qualified technical support. To someone like Jones I am a technical disaster waiting to strike. He knows the latter is a more accurate appraisal of my IT abilities because he has to field the panicky calls from me whenever I blow something up. However, this time all appears to be working ok after my tinkering.

This weekend I also had the chance to meet Jo and Stewart, friends of my sister, who will be in Melbourne at the same time as me. They are heading over there for a wedding in Airlie Beach, and are very sensibly only attending one day of the 4th Test at the MCG. Rather less sensibly, they are taking their baby son Lewis with them on the trip. Although Jo, like my sister, is a nanny by profession, so if she can’t handle it, I’m not sure who can.

Looking forward to seeing them again in Melbourne, it will be nice to have a couple of familiar faces there.

Last night, I joined my friends Tom and Joy at a carol service at St Paul’s Hammersmith. Tom was one of three flatmates who put up with me for my final two years at university.

All three of my ex-flatmates from that flat are now married. Probably the first to go (my chronology of these matters is a little vague) was Koji – who married Hwee-Sng when he returned to Singapore after graduating. Hwee-Sng was also studying in Edinburgh with us. Tonight I fly out to Singapore for 2 nights – sometime tomorrow I will see them again for the first time in over 10 years.

My sister, with her customary sensitivity, stops outside my door this morning, and announces “I think you’ve lost the Ashes.” Like I lost them myself, personally.

“I know” I reply, gruffly. I had, at some point during the night, switched on Radio 4 LW on the little radio I put beside the bed last night for precisely this purpose. Mercifully I missed the denouement itself, but I got the gist of the way things had turned out, even in a semi-conscious state.

Mornings are not a time when I like people telling me things I’d rather not hear, especially if I already know them. Tom and Koji, I imagine, both learned this. But Alison sounds positively cheery about England’s capitulation. Having recently opined that “There’s too much cricket chat on your blog”, perhaps she thinks this will reduce it.

Ha! Little does she know. Plenty of cricket left in this series. Still time for England to win two Test matches, and cast a gloriously artificial sheen on the series result.

Come on England. Keep calm and carry on.