Month: September 2019

33 Days in the Wilderness – Day 4

We have breakfast in the hotel.  It is self-service on the balcony above the reception area.  There are fruit juices, cereals, fresh fruit, cheeses, cold meats, toast and coffee or tea.

Before leaving the hotel we book two outings with the Singapore reps.  This evening we are going on a night city tour of Singapore and tomorrow we are going to Sentosa.  We fly out to Cairns tomorrow night so our tour will take up most of the afternoon,

We again walk down Orchard Road and to the Far Eastern Shopping Centre.  We go around all the floors and finally settle on the trader on the ground floor.  I choose a silk dress and jacket and we haggle.  He starts off at £250 but we walk away when we get him down to £150.   He doesn’t call us back so we think we have got a good deal.  Maureen picks her colours and I ask him to make a Swiss cotton shirt for Michael and cashmere and silk trousers for John  We leave deposits and arrange to call back on April 5th.

We should be in Heathrow on April 5th, but have already decided to break our return journey by another stopover in Singapore.  There is so much to see and we both feel the return journey in one leg is too strenuous.

A beautiful Chinese girl is called down from the workshop to measure us.  She draws a design for us to choose.  There is no air conditioning in this shop and the shopkeeper supplies us with bottles of water for free.  He also allows us to smoke.  Smoking is forbidden in the building but he keeps an ashtray under the counter.

We have a cup of tea under the shade of the Hagen Daaz cafe.  It is raining as we people watch.   An old man is sweeping the wide pavement.  We walk back to the hotel and take the air-conditioned free bus around the tourist route.  This takes us right around Singapore.  We end up at the Botanical Gardens and the driver calls, “Everybody off!  Next bus fifteen minutes!”

We don’t understand why but follow everyone off.  Our hotel is the next stop on the circular route.

The sky is heavy and dull with huge rain clouds threatening.   We watch a Chinese bride and her sailor husband pose for wedding photographs in front of huge palms at the Botanical gardens.  They are a beautiful couple.  The pink flowers woven into her hair match her husband’s buttonhole and she smiles shyly as we take photographs of them.  The photographer crossly waves us away as the flash from my camera is affecting his.

We eat a Caesar salad at the Botanical Gardens’ cafe but it is very expensive and we feel cheated.  It is still raining heavily and it is very hot.  We decide to do the Botanical Gardens and Orchid House on our return leg.  We buy postcards and catch the bus back to the Orchard Hotel.

We have time for one more trip down Orchard Road.  We find an underground supermarket and buy nectarines, biscuits and individual cartons of orange juice for our trip to Sentosa tomorrow.  We also buy large bottles of water and one smaller bottle which we can keep in the fridge in our hotel room.

We change for our evening tour and a rep collects us from reception and ushers us on to a small bus.  He gives us labels to stick on our clothes.  Each colour of label represents a different trip.  Very few of the people on the bus have the same green label.  The buses meet up at the bottom of Orchard Road,  We are on the correct bus and most of the passengers get off and line up on the pavement until they are herded to their correct bus.  People wearing green labels get on our bus and a pleasant Chinese girl introduces herself as our hostess for the evening.

First of all we go to the harbour and out on the bum boats.  They have tyres all around them which are used as fenders.  They were originally known as “bump boats” but over time the “p” has dropped off.  In the gathering darkness we go out to the entrance of the harbour and view the Merlion.  As we turn around night has fallen and Singapore looks like New York with high rise buildings and lights illuminating the myriad of shapes.  None of the structures are strictly rectangular.  The buildings are circular or have curves and many have green tiled roofs in the same gentle curves we have seen on the temples.

Some of the chop houses at the North harbour are now used by yuppie bankers as the huge banking and commercial buildings stand behind Collyer Quay.  Historically these chop houses had been used by the sailors coming into port.

Two ladies from South Africa and a French man join us.  He has very little English as we have very little French but he tells us he is going on to Bangkok and there are knowing smiles all round.

We are taken back on to the bus.  The next stop is a Chinese restaurant for a meal included in the price of the coach trip.  The five of us join some other English people and we have a most adventurous meal.  The waitresses, who have no English or French, are unable to tell us what the food is that they are serving.  There are no menus so it is a guessing game as a series of different dishes are served for everyone to sample. Two of the English people have said that they are vegetarians but like everyone else they don’t know if they are eating meat or not.  It all adds to the humour of the evening especially as the drinks orders are met correctly  There is no problem with English there.

Next stop is Bugis Street Market.  It is now 11 pm and the market is as busy as if it were mid-day.  We smell the durian stalls and race off in another direction holding our noses.  We try to buy hats with larger brims in the market, without success.  The market is so large we cannot see around it in the thirty minutes allocated.

Our final stop of the evening is Raffles Hotel, which is every bit as impressive as we’d imagined.  It is on Beach Road, but the beach is now further away as there is constant land reclamation in Singapore.  A hotel no longer, suites are available to rent from 500 to 6,000 Singapore Dollars per night.

We enter the Long Bar, crunching peanut shells underfoot as we walk to a vacant table.  The four of us buy Singapore Slings.   There is no air conditioning, just huge raffia palm fans in constant motion on the ceiling.  Philippe buys a beer.  He will not pay 18 dollars for a Singapore Sling but we lend him one of ours to pose for a photograph.  There are peanuts in their shells in dishes on the tables.  We are asked to shell the peanuts and thrown the shells on the floor.  It seems criminal in such a lovely room, but there are so many our contribution will make little difference.

We have the option of staying on longer in the bar and making our own way back to the hotel, but decide to meet the bus as planned.  We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, which is now today.  We get confused trying to find the entrance of the hotel, where the bus had set us down.  We end up racing down stairs and along corridors, up other stairs, but the bus is still waiting for us.

33 Days in the Wilderness – Day 3

We arrive at Changi Airport around 8.30 am and struggle to get our sandals on our swollen feet.  As we walk up the aisle towards the exit doors of the plane Maureen stops dead in her tracks.

“Look at that mess,” she exclaims.   There, strewn on the blue carpet are discarded tissues, sweet wrappers, crisp packets, cardboard boxes, newspapers and magazines amongst the airline’s blankets and eye masks.   Before I can stop her, Maureen bends as if to clean up the plane, but then she stops and straightens up.  She walks on muttering about disgusting people leaving all their mess behind them.    Off we walk following our fellow passengers into the long corridors and make our way through to the courtesy bus check in.

We are given a bunch of free or discount offers, courtesy of Singapore Airlines, and a round blue label to stick on ourselves which will identify us to the driver of the courtesy bus for our hotel.

Twelve hours without a cigarette, and Maureen dives out of the air-conditioned airport hall.  As eagle-eyed as ever, she has spotted several people standing in a circle outside with a steady flow of smoke spiralling above them.  An ashtray!!   As Maureen joins the group, I stay guarding our luggage.  I am so tired now.  I shouldn’t have played all those computer games.

Maureen comes in a few minutes later.  She has to wipe her dripping forehead.  There is no air-conditioning outside of course and it is our first experience of the intense damp heat that we have been warned about.  This is early morning.  How are we going to cope when the sun gets up?

As we wait, we debate whether it is worth leaving the comfort of the air-conditioned airport hall, to smoke in the humid air  The smoke wins.

Eventually a small bus arrives.  The driver comes in, checks our labels and paperwork and waves to us to follow him.

Maureen and I twist around in our seats throughout the journey from the airport to the hotel.  There is so much to see and our greatest impression is the riot of colour, the different types of trees, some of which we have never seen before and the bougainvillaea which is everywhere in colours neither of us knew existed.  It blinds our vision from the European pink and purple to yellow and orange shades  There is a complete riot of colour in every direction.

The bridges we pass under are weighted down with huge garlands of bougainvillaea.  The concrete island which divides the long straight road is full of trees, hibiscus shrubs and other beautiful flowers we can’t identify.  At one point we pass some gardeners who are carefully tending the greenery.   Some are removing blown blooms, others picking up fallen leaves and yet another is carefully watering all the trees and shrubs.  It is then we realise everything  is grown in tubs of varying sizes and the growth is so profuse it tumbles down to the surface of the road, covering the tubs from sight.

We pass a multi-story car park as we come closer to Singapore and each balcony of the car park is bedecked in bougainvillaea, giving the appearance of a tiered cake with bright pink icing cascading down each layer.

I see the chop houses that John has told me about.  These are open stalls, roofed with gaily coloured canopies, where various types of food are cooked and even at this time of the morning people are sitting at small square tables by the side of the road, talking and eating with a concentrated effort which is to prove typical of what we see throughout Singapore.

Our hotel is the Orchard Hotel on Orchard Road, which is our first mistake as Orchard Road is the main shopping street in Singapore and Maureen and I should never be deposited anywhere near a main shopping area.

The hotel is luxurious, huge, but the staff are kind, helpful and friendly.  There are waterfalls within the hotel, lifts on more than one side and we would find a map of the hotel very useful!

First of all we sleep and the it is out to tackle Singapore on our own.  We are hungry and feel a bit weak with the humidity as we stroll down Orchard Road.  The full blast of the afternoon heat envelopes us.  It is a bit like walking through a sauna and although we have put on sun block and are wearing our sun hats, we are dripping so much it is hard to keep up any pace.  Also our feet are still swollen from the flight, or is it the heat?   We don’t know but it is proving a problem.

We spot food in one of the chop houses below a large new shopping complex.  Again there are lots of different food stalls along the three walls of the underground area and at the small square tables the Chinese people eat and talk with the same concentrated enthusiasm that we have noticed earlier.  We are the only Europeans but we don’t feel afraid.

I choose sweet and sour chicken from one of the vendors and he waves us to a table nearby.  We have to buy tea from another stall, but the lady can’t understand what we mean and we get tea in two large glasses with condensed milk poured over.  However, the food is great and only 8 dollars which equates to less than €3.

Sated for the moment we venture further down Orchard Road, but the heat is so intense, we keep slipping into shops and cafes as these are all air conditioned.

The streets are crowded with people.  The women are mainly petite and very slim, beautiful girls. They mostly wear very high heels.  Their walk is so graceful, almost like a sensuous sway.

The traffic is on the same side of the road as the UK so this makes us feel a bit safer, but we have been warned only to cross the road at corners on the correct traffic signal because to disobey is to face a fine.  Also you should not walk down the road eating food or smoking a cigarette.  There are specific ashtrays set at regular distances down the main road and you are expected to smoke your cigarette whilst standing by an ashtray.

There is no litter on the streets at all.  It is like being in a huge well maintained park as everything is so well cared for and well looked after.

We meet people from Yorkshire whilst we are having a cup of tea at the cafe near the Hilton.  They tell us about having clothes made whilst we are in Singapore.  They advise us to haggle.  If we walk out of the shop and the shopkeeper does not call us back, we will have knocked him down to his lowest price.

By this time we have discovered, thanks to our ferret-like skills when seeking out shops, most of the buildings on Orchard Road conceal large shopping malls to the rear.  We are keen to investigate every single one of them.

We are shattered by the time we make our way back to the hotel and decide to eat dinner there.   I have stir fry duck with a bamboo shoot salad.  It is absolutely wonderful.  Maureen has BLT but the “L” stands for lobster.  The flavours are such that we just stop short of licking our plates.

We go for a walk around 10 pm.  It is still very hot.  We are really tired and our feet are still as swollen.  We go back to the hotel to have a ciggie and a cup of tea and then to bed.  Maureen gets stuck in the shower.  She can’t turn it off.

There is water spraying everywhere.  I can’t turn it off either and we have soaked all the towels supplied by the hotel, also the toilet rolls and tissues.  We are both laughing hysterically.  I ring down to reception for help but they do not answer.  Maureen finally figures out how to shut the shower off.  We are in bed by 11.30 pm.  We have only had two hours’ sleep since leaving Heathrow.


33 days in the Wilderness -Day 2

We are both awake early, but the time flies by and Maureen’s daughter, Julie, arrives to pick us up and take us to Heathrow.  Maureen’s granddaughters, Charlotte and Jessica are in the car.  They are sweet little girls and point to the constant flow of planes in the sky as we approach Heathrow, asking, “Which one is Nanny’s plane?”

Kisses and hugs all around as we wave goodbye to Julie and the girls.  We are laughing with more confidence than either of us feel as we set off.

Finally we are on our own.  We managed to secure a trolley big enough to take all our luggage.  First hurdle over.  We are excited but growing more nervous by the minute at the prospect of the journey we are about to undertake.

The flight looks as if it will be busy as there are lots of people in the queue to check in. We don’t realise that over seven hundred people will board this plane.

We hand over our large cases and are left with our rucksacks.  We find a snack bar with ashtrays and smoke as many ciggies as we can before zero hour.  We leave it as late as possible before going through customs and security checks.  There are long queues everywhere and we seem to have picked the slowest line.  At this rate we are going to miss our flight.

We start to run.   We race around duty free, saying “sorry” and “excuse me”, and then look for our departure gate.  And we run again,

Luckily for us the flight is delayed for thirty minutes, otherwise we would be calling Julie to come and pick us up.  We won’t tell anyone we almost missed the flight,

The plane is wide-bodied with ten seats across.  There is a large screen on the wall facing us, small screens inset to the rear of the seat in front.  We each have our own screen control and a magazine to guide us through the choice of films, updated news programmes or computer games.  There is also a screen choice which shows the precise altitude of the plane, our position over the country we are flying above, our speed, the tail wind and our expected arrival time.   This screen is to be vital on the second last leg of our journey.

As soon as we are airborne, the air hostesses sway up the aisle passing hot towels so we can freshen up.  The menu looks great and we start off on champagne toasting each other “Happy Holiday” completely forgetting we had been advised not to drink alcohol on the flight as this might cause our feet to swell.  Our shoes are already tucked under the seat in front.

We search the duty free booklet.  I purchase the Tiger Balm John has asked me to get.  Maureen debates the purchase of Singapore Airlines Air Hostess Barbie Dolls for Jessica and Charlotte.  In the end the problem is solved as they have none in stock on the flight for her to buy.

Maureen dozes a little on the flight  I can’t sleep at all.  I can’t find the channels for the films advertised but I find the control for the video games and play Super Mario until I am cross-eyed.

33 Days in the Wilderness – Day 1

Teresa and the children come down to wave me off.  They carry my case and holdall to the car.  Bernadette shyly asks, “Do you have another case or do you want Mammy to lend you one?”

I reply, “No Thanks.  I’m fine with these.”

Bernadette coyly observes, “What about the presents you’re bringing back?”

I explain that the holdall is almost full of presents for people in England and that it will only have my toiletries in for the holiday.

She smiles and nods her approval,

John drives me to Cork.  He is glad I am having the holiday of a lifetime, but sad to see me go.

I say, “I’ll see you in four weeks,” not knowing it will be almost five before we return and by then he will be on morphine.

As the flight takes off I feel as excited as a child on her first Sunday School outing.  My only fear is that I will get lost as I have no sense of direction.  But I am free, unfettered and I am “ME”, not someone’s wife, mum or nan for the next four weeks.

Michael collects me at Heathrow and drives me to Maureen’s.  First thing she says with a giggle is, “I haven’t packed yet.  I thought you might help me when they’ve all gone,”

I have more clothes for her in my holdall as well as presents for the boys.

Maureen’s ex-husband, John is there but is leaving later in the evening.  Alan, my eldest son turns up with his sons, James and Louis.  We have high jinks with the grandsons.  We catch up on news as we haven’t met since the boys stayed with us for Christmas.  I saw, Alan last September – over six months ago!  Our time together is precious and all too short.

Eight year old Louis huddles with John in the kitchen and whispers that he has found a really good picture in the Sunday papers.  John is not to tell Maureen, but Louis is going to cut the picture out so that John can pin it to his bedroom wall.  Much to John’s embarrassment it is a picture of a girl with enormous boobs.

Eventually everyone goes away.  They toot the horns of the cars and flash their headlights in the darkness.

James and Louis call through their tears, “Have a great holiday Maureen and Nan.”

Maureen and I hurry upstairs to do her packing.  Her double bed has bundles of neatly folded and colour sorted clothes.   She pulls dresses from her wardrobes and we systematically select and discard.  She has the most enormous borrowed suitcase.  We look at the selected clothes and then the suitcase.   Will the twain ever meet?   We manage to close the suitcase by both of us sitting on it.  We wonder how we are going to manage it down the stairs.

Maureen asks, “Did I tell you we are limited to one suitcase and it can’t be larger than………….    Now where did I have the literature?”

So we search for a measuring tape and try to convert centimetres to inches.  In the event there would be not time to do anything about a change of suitcase because our flight leaves within hours.   My one case and holdall come within the recommended dimensions – if we have done the conversion accurately – and I choose to ignore the dimension of my rucksack.

Between the two of us we manage to bump Maureen’s suitcase down the stairs to join my suitcase and holdall in the hall.

“If we are not allowed any extra bags, how are we going to have room for anything like presents or souvenirs?” I ask.  “Louis wants a snake and a crocodile from Australia for starters and James wants a boomerang,”

I did have the almost empty holdall.  But Maureen, organised as ever, with a flourish produces two largish bags which fold flat.  We were, however, to fill these with gifts and mementoes before we left Singapore.  From there we are to solve our excess luggage problems in Sydney for the benefit of stray cats.   And so the adventure begins.


My Granny

My Granny spent her later years, after the war, in New York, briefly, then in Southern Rhodesia where she spent the greatest part of her life apart from her time in Scotland.   There was a brief trip to Australia, seeing her brother and his family.  Then she was brought home to Scotland and to our ground-floor council flat in Edinburgh to die.

I had grown up knowing I was her favourite as I was the eldest granddaughter. From the age of about three, I was put on a bus in Edinburgh with a large label pinned to my coat.  My mother always sat me at the front of the bus near the driver and I was sent to stay with my Granny and Grandad in Glasgow. To her horror, years later, my mother discovered her precious cargo had been changing buses halfway through the journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow.  Very different times.

It was a lively house with some of my uncles and my only aunt still at home.  The uncles were full of devilment, particularly my Uncle Jack and Uncle James.   Despite there being very little traffic on the roads in those days, my mother had drilled into me how dangerous it was to cross the road.  I was terrified of cars and going off the pavement by myself.  I think it must have been Uncle Jack who parked me in my large tricycle between the tram lines on the Dalry Road.  He left me and let me scream in terror.   But I was a completely overindulged spoiled brat so probably deserved a wake up call.   The Uncles also added certain adjectives to my vocabulary and trained me to recite my prayers with the footnote – “And please let my Uncle Jack win at the dugs for Jesus Christ sake, Amen.”

I have a cousin who is slightly older than me, Derek, but for whatever reason, I was the favourite. Mary Blackley, née Miller, was my mother’s mother, whilst cousin Derek was my Uncle James’s son.   James, the only one of my mother’s six siblings to remain in an austere Scotland after the war, had married an English woman, my Auntie Alice, who I loved dearly.  Alice was so special to me in the years after my father died.

My Uncle James was something else again.   Full of fun, the joys of life, and devilment. He would arrive in a huge car which dominated the fairly narrow crescent where I grew up.   James was like a tornado filling our small house with noise and an energy that evaporated with the tooting of the car horn as he sped away.  Often, much to my mother’s disapproval, he would carry my step-father and my Great-Uncle Duncan off to the pub.   They would return hours later shame-faced but not contrite enough to say ‘No’ to James the next time he called.  But there was a lot of the devil in other members of my mother’s siblings.   Life was fun when her brothers were around.

Granny was 66 when she passed.   My Grandad had to hide her on the boat on their journey back from Australia.  She was so ill with heart problems, she would not have been allowed on board if the crew had seen how poorly she was.

She arrived back in Scotland as a wizened old lady.  The African sun had not been kind to her skin. She was tanned, her skin wrinkled.  Her hands were gnarled claws caught in a half grasp, her fingers swollen and knotted with rheumatoid arthritis.

Our two-bedroomed flat was cramped.  Granny and Grandad slept in the room off the living room. My mother and my stepfather slept on a newly purchased bed settee in the living room and my sister and I remained in the second bedroom.

All the tales we had consumed and savored over the years of this sparky, feisty, full of fun woman, bore no relation to the frail stooped old lady who was to spend her final days in our care.   She had been given six months to live.   Such was the prognosis, with one heart valve leaking, another closing, problems with the other two valves and she was considered too frail for any surgery.

She settled in our house but was not able for much.   I helped wash her and dress her.  She would only have me help her if I was at home.

My aunt arrived from Canada with her precious two year old son.   I was in the house when she got out of the taxi and rushed in to see her mother for the first time in many years.  We fussed over my little cousin and my aunt said she would make a cup of tea and headed to the kitchen.  When she was out of sight and hearing of my Granny, my aunt put her head against the hard stone wall and cried her heart out.

A neighbour housed my aunt and my cousin.   My aunt’s husband flew over from Canada a few weeks later and before long they were leaving to return to their lives on another continent, knowing their farewells had been the final ones they would make to my granny.

Granny was given six months to live but lived almost two years.  Scottish doctors could not do any more than the Australian doctors had.  The local GP would call to the house regularly.  His hands were always cold complained Granny.  So she bought him gloves and insisted he wear them before he called to see her!

Grandad meanwhile settled into a new life in Edinburgh.  He reunited with his brothers who visited our house often with their wives.   They had plenty of happy memories to share of times gone by when they were all young.

Grandad took up bowling.  Granny and Grandad had been champion bowlers in Southern Rhodesia but Granny was now an invalid.  She would watch him walk up the street carrying his brown leather bowling bag and keep an eye out for him coming back.   Grandad had always been tee-total and was totally against alcohol.   One day when he was walking back from another bowling session, Granny raised a full whisky glass at him as he passed the living room window.  Much to his fury, Granny sipped the golden drink, smiling as she did.  Of course it was cold tea in the whisky glass, but Grandad did not take Granny’s teasing very well and had to be convinced she hadn’t taken to the bottle.

I was seventeen when Granny fell into a coma.  By this time the rooms had been swapped around again and Granny and Grandad had the bigger bedroom, where my sister and I had slept.  We moved into the bedroom off the living room and my mother and stepfather continued to use the bedsettee in the living room.

The radio and television volume was lowered so the house remained still and quiet almost as if it were in mourning already for this life which was coming to an end.  We were watching television on a Sunday night when we heard the shuffling footsteps coming up the hall.   Granny pushed the door open and asked when Coronation Street was starting.  An avid fan of the programme she was disappointed it was not on that evening.  She also loved the singer Gracie Field but was never to see her on television.

We hurriedly phoned my aunt in Canada and they chatted for a short time. Granny grew tired and the phone call ended.   Her final words to my aunt were ‘It’s been nice knowing you’.  These words devastated my aunt.

Granny went back to bed and we kept the house quiet again.

Next morning I set off to work. There was no news during my working day. I got the bus home and as I was walking up the road to the crescent we lived in, I met my mother rushing down the road.  She whispered, ‘Your Granny died a couple of hours ago.   I’m going to the Post Office to draw her pension as it is due today.’   My Grandad had paid national insurance stamps to the UK all the time they were abroad so that they would both have a UK pension.

I cried as I walked home.  I loved my Granny and she had loved me in return and had made me feel special for the first time in my life.

My Grandad’s brother, Uncle George, was in the hall when I got home.   ‘Don’t cry.  Your Granny’s at peace now.’

My mother walked through the door a few minutes later, Granny’s pension money secured in her purse.   To my horror I noticed she was wearing my Granny’s rings, the rings that had been embedded in her gnarled twisted fingers. ‘How could you Mum!  How could you take Granny’s rings!   You must have cut her fingers to get them off!’

’Come in and see your Granny.’ Said Uncle George.   He gently took me by the elbow and led me into the bedroom.  Granny was laying in repose on the bed.  She looked so peaceful as the wrinkles on her face had evaporated.   She lay with her eyes closed but a gentle upturn of her mouth gave the impression she was smiling in her sleep.

Uncle George pulled the sheet covering her slender frame.  ‘Look at your Granny’s hands.’ He exclaimed.

No longer gnarled and misshapen like two ugly claws, Granny’s rheumatoid arthritic fingers were now as straight and slim as my own 17 year old fingers.

‘Her rings dropped off her fingers as we changed her clothes.’ He explained.

So almost sixty years after the day my Granny died, I still think of the changes death made for my Granny.  Is this what happens when you die?   Do the pains and suffering in life leave your body in death?   Do these changes happen to everyone?

I would like to think that Granny is fit and well in another life, and playing bowls with the love of her life, my Grandad, and maybe having a tot or two.