An Irishman walks into a pub (in Bangalore)

paul

The Groom. Speechless, at last.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the month in which I will celebrate my 40th birthday. I’ve not yet decided upon a suitable present to myself. Currently, it’s a close call between a new motorbike (black, with big handles, obviously) or a new sound system. A drum-kit seemed too much of a cry for help.

In reality, I’ll probably settle for a new suit-case, as my two have both recently submitted to the perils of non-stop travel these past four years of hurtling around the region.

Truthfully, a large gin and tonic on the beach (I’ll be in Sri Lanka on the day itself) will actually suffice just nicely.

Forty years is a blink of an eye, yet seems significant nonetheless. What most excites me is the idea emblazoned on greetings cards and coffee coasters that “Life begins at 40….” or, perhaps, more practically speaking that one, aged 40, might begin to deal with life a bit better. Certainly, the dealings we entertain as we grow older do seem to take on new and interesting machinations. Some of which I deem to be worth documenting here…

And so it was to Bangalore, a few weeks back, that I took myself to ensure a ring-side seat at one of my oldest friend’s weddings. Maybe not your typical “interesting machination” on paper, but significant in many other ways.

Paul and I spent the last three years of the 20th century sharing a flat in Battersea, and it is fair to say that I know him well. Well enough to correctly assume that, as I pulled up outside our hotel in Bangalore late on a Friday night, fresh off my connection from Singapore, that I’d find Paul entertaining his three other mates who had flown over from Sydney (where he himself has been living for 15 years) with as much flare and banter as only Paul can muster after a day’s boozing.

I could have been back in a pub on the Queenstown Road in London with him, on any given evening twenty years ago, as he supped his lager and fired one liners to all and sundry – the bartender at the Sheraton could only manage a fixed grin and the odd, nervous glance in my direction, as Paul showed him why he was “the best dancer in Bangalore”. Seriously though (hat-tip), he really is.

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The elegant half of the new Mr & Mrs Butler.

It took only an hour of my arriving for the others to bail, handing me Paul’s room key and the mobile phone entrusted to him by his soon-to-be-wife, Divya, herself caught up in a melee of pre-wedding rituals, conversations, and all round family mayhem.

It felt, then, like I was in charge of the night-shift for some Irish-cum-Bollywood extravaganza, as Paul scuttled from one confused looking doorman to another, with a line of enquiry about the city’s late-night watering holes from which your average local from Cork would have failed to draw any sensible conclusion.

The wedding was officially kicking off on the Sunday morning and, over the two days following, would entertain four separate events and 1,500+ guests. Divya needed a way of being able to track Paul’s movements before the important stuff began, and the Nokia handset which was then passed on to me, and shoved deep into my pockets, at that moment, was more important an item than any other piece of wedding-related paraphernalia.

Paul had never before visited South Asia, and Bangalore’s locals for sure had never before met such an affable and comedic Irishman such as he.

In any case (and not to forget that this post was supposed to describe the wedding itself) for the rest of that Friday night, we made best use of the diminishing hours we had. To quote the fabulous Withnail and I, when given £40 spending money in the Cumbrian town of Penrith: “alright – we’re going to have to work quickly”.

We settled on a late-night cocktail bar, crammed full of Bangalore’s renaissance youth, with men clutching bottles of JB Whiskey and waving about their cigarettes in a fug of brylcreamed hair, sharp threads and the words “hey dude” dropped into every sentence.

It took Paul thirty seconds to score us some free drinks, based on the novelty of our being there and having a story to tell about why we were there, and (perhaps more reasonably) because the unwitting gang of blokes we stumbled upon at the bar saw buying us drinks as the easiest way to deal with the deluge unleashed on them by the, at this stage, incorrigible young bridegroom – “…so, Bangalore’s like this big IT hub, right? I’m no IT expert myself – just give it a bit of the old ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’ and that seems to do it…”

The man was on fire.

Fortunately, we left unscathed (old school friends reading this needn’t question what is inferred here) before negotiating Paul’s first ever tuk-tuk ride back to our hotel, where we finished off the contents of our mini-bar down by their infinity pool.

As the first rays of sunrise poked up from the horizon, we decided to hit the sack.

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A quick search for enlightenment with 48 hours to go.

Saturday, and in typical fashion, Paul was up and raring to go with just three hours sleep under his belt, and the remnants of a barrel of Tiger draught directing his every whim.

To be fair to us, we nailed Saturday. Purchased Paul a tie. Visited a krisna temple. Swam. Ate. And then brushed up to visit Divya’s home to meet more of her family. I think bragging rights were justified for us that day. No doubt Divya will tell you that she carried out a considerable amount more tasks in the same time it took us to complete ours, but that is missing the point: Paul was still in Bangalore, walking, dutifully answering his Nokia every ten minutes that his new brother-in-law, Kiran, chose to ring him, and in general terms was being an all round brick. Yes, brick.

On his best behaviour, Paul left early from the evening visit with the new in-laws, and the remainder of his crew (two other guys called Paul and one called Mike – how diverse!) and I continued ploughing through the Johnny Walker Blue Label that Divya’s Dad had generously opened for us, and then even more generously encouraged us to inhale.

With the arrival of Paul’s parents the next morning from the UK, came the commencement of “the business end” of our long weekend…

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The first of the wedding ceremonies in Divya’s family home in Bangalore.

A lunchtime ceremony back at chez Divya – involving blessings, incense burning, and delicious food – was then backed up by a “small” evening reception for three hundred or so close family and friends, during which there was more free-flow alcohol, tasty eats, henna painting, plenty of lively dancing, and a resounding version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” to which Paul and Divya were made to shuffle around in a circle.  I think the instructions the DJ had received went along the lines of: “play something Irish.”

Already too many fabulous memories were squashed into these surreal few days in India, side-by-side (literally, as I was sharing a bed with him) with a best mate I’d not seen for two years since his previous Christmas visit out to Saigon.

And then Monday arrived, as did we all, dressed in full traditional costumes, a merry band of “tourists” joining the throng of hundreds and hundreds of well-wishers, to finally witness the climax of ceremonies that then officially bound Paul and Divya together in a colourful, noisy, magical, happy union.

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Sure was some tasty food back there.

There was just one more chance then to drink through the night, and consume more treats – the South Indian style lunch on banana leaves we had that day was the best I have ever tasted – before seeing in an appropriately timed St Patrick’s Day morning with a thousand Bangaloreans, and returning to the hotel with the happy couple around 3am.

Weddings are usually pretty special, and this one was no exception. It was simply the best weekend to which I could have hoped to be a part. There was a certainty to how every aspect of it clicked together.

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Wedding, done.  Lunch, done.  More free-flow whiskey anyone?

In everything that each one of us takes on – day to day, Monday to Friday, January to December, in love, out of love, with friends, with our children, our families – we are never quite sure how things might turn out.

This, it seems to me, is one of life’s most annoying, yet potentially liberating, of dynamics, and there will always be occasions when you can freeze the frame, and steal the opportunity which comes with doing that.

Such a warm and genuine feeling of love for Paul and Divya resounded throughout every moment of their freeze-frame moment that weekend, that I left feeling certain that how we might choose to “deal with life a bit better” – whatever our age – is perhaps down to how we deal with life’s uncertainties themselves.

Out and About in Saigon (with new GoPro)

Turns out any luddite can make a GoPro video of their weekend at home.

I promise more text in the next post…

My brief English Odyssey

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A glorious London skyline from the CARE office in Vauxhall

I am back in Saigon, having missed most of the Tet celebrations this month. Instead, London was calling, and I returned there for two weeks…

Tet, by all accounts, went off smoothly without me.

The weather was perfect and, in Daddy’s absence, Florence and Martha at least dressed up ‘proper’ for the occasion…

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Florence and Martha, ready for Tet!

I still can’t quite believe that, this time last week, I was sharing a pint in a Nunhead beer shop with a certain Mr Barmby – kept warm later that evening from the (frankly) glacial temperatures, thanks to our wise move to follow up the pie and gravy supper with a boat load of apple crumble and custard.

In the UK, we may entertain far too many grey and cold days each year than is good for anyone, however, we are also world class experts in tactics to at least keep the soul and the belly in fine fettle, whatever the conditions.

In every house at which I stayed throughout this last trip, without exception, the living room fires were roaring, and the alcohol and indulgent food made for a daily, and delicious, concoction.

Fish and chips, curry, roast beef, lasagne, bangers and mash. I could go on.

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Late night whiskey sampling at The Wickhams

It tends to be unsatisfactory, trying to make sense of flying halfway round the world, immersing yourself in surroundings so familiar you feel an integral part of what is going on, only to then jettison back into surroundings utterly removed from where you have been, yet at the same time also totally familiar.

On this trip, whether I was with family, with friends, on the London Underground, or pounding pavements that I used to run down to catch my evening bus home, I could very easily have forgotten all about Vietnam in an instant.

London, in particular for me after 14 years living there, will always hold a special place in my heart. I know it intricately, yet it is also not quite how I left it, and I saw myself bounding about last week as if observing a former me from the past. Steering a pushchair through a park, tapping out a text message as I headed out of the office, leafing through a Metro newspaper, waiting for something to jump off the pages at me.

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London hustle

On the one hand, my visit was intense on the work front (although hugely rewarding) but then surprisingly calming on the social front. Non-stop “catching up” with various folks, everyday, was, for a change, a much more languid and reflective and nourishing affair.

And I thank each and every one responsible for that – it was needed!

There were family trips to watch England vs Italy at Twickenham, visits to new babies, meeting new partners, rubbing shoulders with new and old work colleagues. There was nostalgia, contemplation, and a barrel of laughs (more pics below for posterity).

Meantime, over in Laos, heady with exploits of coming face-to-face with abandoned wild bears, and riding on the backs of elephants, my children threw themselves into yet more adventures and experiences that will shape them forever.

That, and I was also sent a photo of Martha yesterday learning how to fire a crossbow. I can only imagine how excited she will be tomorrow when she tells me all about that.

martha with crossbow

Martha firing a crossbow in Luang Prabang. It may not be wise in the future for this picture to be on a public website.

With Tet decorations now down, and schools back tomorrow, the end of February will close out what has been a very special few months. On all fronts.

In missing people along the way, I only feel more deeply touched by what is to come, and how lucky I am.

For this, and on many other levels (including the important role that pictures play in my life) my anthem of choice flying back here at the weekend was a real blast from the past – and therefore it does come with a warning to anyone who, like me, fast approaching 40, may not need reminding that this track first came out twenty six years ago.

Enjoy – all you 90’s disciples!

And some more pics, just for the helluvit…..

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Surely one of the best bacon sandwiches a frozen commuter from Saigon has EVER tasted.

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Brothers in Arms. Twickenham. Valentine’s Day, 2015.

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The Harp. A finer establishment in Soho you’ll be hard pushed to find.

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Teddy Brackley. 3 months old and wondering what all the fuss is about, as the rest of us get to grips with Sunday morning in Cheltenham (bloody mary’s at the ready).

Springtime in Saigon

Originally posted on saigonsays:

washing Even washing lines look better in Spring

It’s 2015. It’s mid January. And spring is here in Saigon.

In what has become my annual celebration of just how pleasant a time of year it is over here, when so many other parts of the world are either sweltering in their own juices, or snow ploughing their way to the office, I can’t resist once more in proclaiming the bleeding obvious: life is so much easier when you have the weather on your side.

Biking into work these days you are struck by the golden light, the intensely perfumed scents of the orchids and bogainvilleas, and the breeze. The fact that there is a breeze is enough to be thankful for, given Saigon’s notorious humidity track record. The New Year marks the lowest temperatures Saigon will experience until next January – somewhere in the mid 20’s – perfection in my mind…

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Springtime in Saigon

washing

Even washing lines look better in Spring

It’s 2015. It’s mid January. And spring is here in Saigon.

In what has become my annual celebration of just how pleasant a time of year it is over here, when so many other parts of the world are either sweltering in their own juices, or snow ploughing their way to the office, I can’t resist once more in proclaiming the bleeding obvious: life is so much easier when you have the weather on your side.

Biking into work these days you are struck by the golden light, the intensely perfumed scents of the orchids and bogainvilleas, and the breeze. The fact that there is a breeze is enough to be thankful for, given Saigon’s notorious humidity track record. The New Year marks the lowest temperatures Saigon will experience until next January – somewhere in the mid 20’s – perfection in my mind, although many locals are already donning their puffer jackets and scarves in protest at the chilly starts to their days.

2015 – no resolutions for me, a year instead to appreciate all that comes my way and to embrace the here and now. I am grounded in Saigon until a UK visit next month, hosting as I am a regional workshop here at the end of the month, and enjoying the novelty of “routine” after a fabulous Christmas break, involving some long weekends away, and plenty of indulgent moments of sheer fun with Florence and Martha.

Perhaps a suitable 2015 resolution after two months absence from this blog (I’ve been peppering the sister site – http://www.definitelymaybe.me – with musings on development issues over the past few months instead) would be to post a bit more regularly.

Let me see…

Meantime, a lazy capture of the last quarter of 2014, which saw me travel extensively, can be found below in the form of pictures. I took to instagram last year, so check out @saigonsays on that if you are similarly hooked.

Wishing you all a very prosperous New Year to come.

September 2014

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View over Bangkok on a work trip home

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The Kowloon ferry, Hong Kong. I was speaking at a CSR Summit. Check out the post: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/09/17/the-future-of-csr/

flobirthday

Happy 6th Birthday Florence!

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Martha back at school and in a new (big girls) kindergarten class!

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Back in Islamabad with work. Mountain top dinner! Check out the post: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/09/29/what-can-care-do-for-business/

October 2014

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Speaking at a conference in Singapore. Post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/10/13/true-power-lies-within/

sapa

A weekend escape to Sapa

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Dawn during a tea plantation visit whilst on a work trip to Sri Lanka. Post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/10/31/sri-lanka-preparing-for-a-future-without-international-aid/

November 2014

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Back in Bangkok traffic for more workshops

raiders

Saigon Raider’s football tournament in Phnom Penh (me, German Alex and German Daniel and a crate of beer Lao in a tuk-tuk)

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Back in Singapore for more conferences. Clearly I hadn’t washed that morning.

December 2014

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Lemonheads gig at Cargo, Saigon, with “Sluke” and Issy

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Back in Hong Kong for Awards event (and some dim sum)

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Hanoi for long weekend with the Suarez family

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Myanmar work trip, project visit in Lashio. Check out the blog here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/12/13/myanmar-bringing-about-change-in-a-frontier-market/

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My final Bangkok immigration queue of 2014

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Pre-Christmas swinging at Saigon Outcasts

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A trio of poseurs at Saigon Outcasts.

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Christmas 2014 is here. Woohoo! Flo with Sarah from the UK

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Skater Girl

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Scooter Girl

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Mui Ne white dunes with Issy and Luke

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Last holiday sunset Coco Beach, Mui Ne

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Last balcony shot of the Christmas holidays

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… Continue reading

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.