Out of Sight

Perhaps the old adage rings true – it can be hard to keep the flame of familiarity burning after long spells of absence, and “out of sight” all too easily leads to “out of mind.” How often do we find ourselves thinking this at the chink of two glasses once again toasting a re-acquaintance, or, as we scramble to agree over the phone on the specifics of a last encounter?

But then, hands up, there is also the sheer laziness on my part of not tending to this blog for the past four months. This blog being one of the only portals I have of putting down a few etchings of my current life, in the hope of forming some vague picture – for the now, and for some day in the future.

And so, in the spirit of our all too often glossed over 24/7 news cycle, to the headlines…

First up, Happy Birthday – today – to Florence.


The youngest in her year, the relief of reaching 8 years old was palpable over breakfast this morning!

8 years old, “at last” (I could hear her say to herself this morning, when she bounced onto our bed and sparkled her very first and excitable words of the day).

I predict a future blog post on Sunday, reflecting on the fact that this year we’ve agreed to host a sleepover party here at our new house (this – our new house – will be covered in a minute as a second headline item). When agreeing to do this, Issy and I hadn’t discussed numbers. We are currently at 15 for the sleepover. All girls. So, yes, a blog on Sunday may be forthcoming, provided I manage to get as far as Sunday…

A belated Happy 5th Birthday to Martha also (her birthday was the day after my last post and was celebrated in style with a “Unicorn” – honestly we have no idea why – themed party…)


Too big for her (Daddy’s) shoes – Happy belated Birthday Martha Moo!

Flo and Martha are on great form these days. Fizzing from one activity and social occasion to the next, seemingly focused and eager to learn at school, both of them take on new things all the time and do so mostly with relish. Yesterday, at a monsoon struck BBQ, as the adults were sheltering in alcoves and huddled around ice-boxes of beer and cellophane wrapped plates of sausages, the kids were either swimming, scooting, or sliding about on the lawn, without a care in the world. As it should be.

News item #2 – our new house. Here it is…


After viewing 30 houses last summer, and being left feeling short changed, this year Issy found two lovely places and we were lucky enough in the end to bag this one, and moved in at the beginning of July. It’s a charming pad, with a superb garden and within striking distance of the schools, shops and all the new bars popping up each week here (Saigon is out of control on that particular curve at the moment). And we have a spare room, so get yourselves over soon!

Thirdly, the summer holidays. Moving house occupied us for some of the vacation period. We also had Issy’s sister over, with a gaggle of her mates, and took them up to Hoi An (gorgeous town) as well a quick few days up in Hanoi, and so were kept quite busy entertaining and showing them the sights and sounds (and tastes) of Vietnam.

We then made for Italy, and this year took the same camping pitch as we did last summer in Campiglia Maritima – possibly one of the nicest Tuscan spots on earth and, this time, we stayed there for a week and Mum and Dad joined us, along with Issy’s Dad, her sister and her family (who are the reason Campiglia Maritima is known to us) and last but not least, Sue and Rupert, family friends from many moons ago.

Too many memorable meals and times to delve into in words – we also took in Bologna on the way back which was stunning – the pictures below I hope tell the story better than I can. And here is some video footage to boot…


Suffice to say, when those millions have been made, one day, Italy is high up our bucket list for places to live. Watch this space.

And in other news, (cue last, comedy item for this particular news reel) and only in Vietnam do these things happen, I’ll share with you this one amusing shot from this weekend’s general larking about in Saigon…Martha and I were having a quiet lunch together at a local cafe, when, just as we sat down, a local magician started his kids show.

Now, this type of thing I’ve witnessed countless times before here. However, our guy, was dressed as Batman. This was a first for me. And it was then that he went on to excel himself in the live animal department.

If you think pulling a real life rabbit out of a hat is a cool trick (he did this) then wait until you see what else this Vietnamese entrepreneur had tucked under his cape….


There really are too many caption options here to choose from…

That’s right. He produced a large, live python!

#TIV – This is Vietnam.

Have a great week everyone – and if you have time to spare, then you’ll find more pictures below to add some colour and a touch of magic to this post.


A recent night away from Saigon. Martha hating the camera as usual.


Keeping it real. My view from hotel window in Phnom Penh last month on work trip.


First tooth!


Meanwhile, back in early Augst we climbed a tower in Bologna.


One of many ice cream stops in Italy with Grandma and Pa.


Not a bad lunch view.


Happy sisters.


Checking for apartments to buy in Campiglia Maritima!






Beer/ice cream o’clock.


Cheeky holiday selfie.


Hot molten lava chocolate.


Hanging with Tommy.


An Bang Beach in July.


Hard at work in Hoi An.


Another gorgeous sunset at The Galleface, Colombo, back in June…


Final “red” brekkie with Phoebes and Blake.


Happy Days: arriving in Milan!






Sunset on Dili beach, Timor-Leste

I double checked the meaning of Wanderlust – which turns out to be the “strong desire for, or impulse to, wander or travel and explore the world”.

Since running off to Uganda when I was 21 years old, in the absence of having any more concrete a plan for how to handle life after university, I’d say my Wanderlust levels have remained piqued ever since.

No doubt some genetic influence from my parents helped fuel my appetite for getting out and “seeing the world”. In reading Dr Suess poems to my daughters (as well as flying them off to different countries almost every school holiday) I suppose instinctively it feels appropriate to want to pass on that particular piece of DNA, connected to wandering, to them also.

Over the past five years, even without that DNA, the travel I’ve undertaken as part of my job has secured for me a schedule for which any aspiring “Wanderluster” would have been thrilled.

As someone working in international development, I can’t quite settle my mind about how conflated my footprint and actions in the world are. Choosing to direct my career into finding better ways to serve the poor, whilst simultaneously responsible for emitting more carbon in an average month than the output my entire family back in the UK manage in a year (ok, Mum and Dad are relatively guilty on the carbon too, but I wanted the analogy to sound extreme!)      Continue reading

Thai Green*


Beneath snaking concrete viaduct, baking heat
Cooks sunburnt pores, street vending nooks,
Pungent fried sizzles punch lung deep, an urban Kingdom
Jostling air, space, and conditioned lifestyles.


Spiced iced tea, rice soup, lychee cocktails,
Mesmerizing Soi-mazed corners
Inhale city sewer flavours,
Pavement tiles uneven, tilting, roasting.

Curbside, rainbow taxi ranks flank
Juice bar pit stops, bamboo bar tops,
High rise scrapers, elevators, shopping centres –
Eastern promise meets Western dream.

And still.

Not far flung from this urban jungle,
Nestled north, enveloped forest,
Lies a calmer version –
Country living –
Breathing, feeling,
Fibrous woodland,
Smoke-filled thatch.

Chiang Mai.

Opening up green borders,
Walk amongst your past-time inclines,
Sun bleached hills and warbled song birds that
Listen back.

Stop here, stop now and let this touch you –
Nature’s glorious paradigm,


*A poem inspired by a damn fine Saturday morning, and several elephants

Catching a breath in February

Happy New Year!

2016, and Saigonsays trundles on…

This weekend will mark five years since arriving in Saigon, when these pages first kept track of life and work out here and across Asia. Some defining moments within that particular half decade have been and gone, and the familiar confines of my apartment continue to provide a reliable anchor from which it becomes, then, and with a healthy dose of catharsis, a comfort and a pleasure to spin out these words and images.

Two months back, Boxing Day, and Issy and I were headed down to the coast after a tremendous Christmas Day hosting a cheery hoarde of festive revelers. A month ago I was off in Abu Dhabi meeting up with my best friend (and previous author on Saigonsays) for a weekend of “catching up”.

Last fortnight, and over the Chinese New Year period (called ‘Tet’ here) and I was side stepping down a sled run in France, propping up Flo as she skied solo for the first time in her life. And then this week, I’be been working across our closest border, in Phnom Penh.

Next Sunday I’ll fly to Ethiopia on an exciting new project. Bangkok, Hong Kong and Cairo are on the March itinerary also. Yesterday morning an offer landed on my lap to head to Timor Leste shortly after that. And so it goes on…

Too many details to catalogue since I was last peddling these pages (back in Vientiane in November) however the intention is that, hopefully, these two family videos (our Tet skiing holiday to France, and previous Australia visit back in October) might go a way to capturing some of the special experiences shared on both adventures. The photos below that then piece together December festivities and a window into life here since then, with two increasingly active little girls performing, as usual, for the camera.

Stay tuned for some more regular updates (a New Year’s resolution of mine) here and before you can say “where did the first half of 2016 go?”


Christmas elf


Christmas cheek


Christmas gingerbread making


Christmas Day





Dig in!


Four minute Cinderella panto


Robin Hood


Boxing Day treats


Boxing Day walk (in Vung Tau)


New Year’s Eve boys (Saigon)


New Year’s Day girls (Mui Ne)


The view from…our bungalow


Birthday girl (@ Park Hyatt)


With Cake (@Abu Dhabi)


Another year, another sports day


Tet celebrations




The view from…the de Groot balcony


Layered up


Catching the first powder and remembering how to ski again


Mont Blanc (on the left)


Sunrise back in Asia (Phnom Penh) this week.




A Quick Coffee Stop in Laos


The Mekong River at sunrise. Thailand to the left, Laos to the right.

I’m sat with a delicious Saturday morning coffee, in Naked Espresso, a funky cafe in the thick of the Vientiane backpacker area, having completed my daily ritual here of a brisk walk down the Mekong River nearby, which has presented me with picture perfect views this week of Thailand, just metres away over the water.

Since my last post about holidaying in Australia with Issy, I’ve traveled for work to Colombo, Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul. Squeezing in a weekend of football in Manila along the way. I’m trying my best to be a good citizen of the world, but for sure I am going to carbon hell.

Vientiane represents my penultimate trip of 2015 and, fittingly, last night I kicked off the evening with some Kiwi friends, in a German owned bar, managed by a kind man called Kami from Tokyo, where we tucked into some Laotian pork rolls, washed down with a few drams of glorious Japanese whisky.      Continue reading

A Brief Spell Down Under

Monday. And, so far today, I’ve flown to Singapore and just put in six hours working out of a business lounge and still have another eight to go before I get to kip (am Colombo bound this evening for the week…)

Mustn’t grumble however as, since my last post about our summer holidaying in Europe, Issy and I have also just indulged in a trip over to Melbourne earlier this month for weddings, family birthday partying and some brief flirting with a delicious vineyard and the salty ocean road inhalations on offer down in Sorrento.

As is the form when I get back over to the UK, trips like these are extremely special and also meticulously executed, in order to maximise each and every hour with all the important things in life.  In the case of this particular trip, the important things consisted of: new babies; zany nieces; legendary siblings; old school friends; and then an inevitable immersion in all of the particular shopping experiences and drinking haunts yet to reach the humid back-streets of Saigon.

We fitted it all in, and lapped it up (although, truth be told, for me to be accepted into the funky suburb of Fitzoy I’ll need to grow an exceptionally impressive beard – and this may take me a while.)

Video compilations with be forthcoming however, in the meantime, heartfelt thanks to Mark for the most spectacular day at Yabby Lake, to Phoebe for all the snippets of special laughs and larks, to Pobby for the Aga coffee and the egg and bacon pie on arrival (plus about two dozen other mouth-watering dishes enjoyed throughout the week) and to Mike for a lesson in cryptic cross-wording that I will never forget (I hope the Tuesday Latin tutorials continue to go well).

To all the other family and friends entourage, thank you for making me feel at home and for making me smile, constantly.

And to Alice and Richard Cook-Watkins. For seating me opposite the bride (I have been dining out on that since) and for laying on a seamless day of memories for us all.

So, as Mike would recommend – to anyone curious enough to ask – it is with whisky that one should finish one’s day and so, in spite of the fact that I am long off being asleep, I may just – on this one occasion – take him up on that and bid you farewell, for now…

Until next time.


Melbourne skyline. Obvs.


Emily, Archie and Ben. Stripey boys.


Fitzroy chic. Also obvs.


OK, I’ll admit it, the coffee ain’t too bad here…


These lot know how to do ice creams.


Replica clock-tower from Ben Thanh Market, Saigon. Love it!


End of day beer at Naked for Satan. Yeeees.


Brunswick Street bakery. Spectacular.


‘Knock off’ gin and tonic time in the garden.


Pobby’s kitchen. Aga toast – ooooooooooooooooh!


Yabby Lake vineyard.


The calm espressos before the twelve bottle tasting storm. Happy days.


The BEST lunch.


Diamond Bay. Hmmm.


Issy likes green. I like blue.


Everyone likes a good sunset.


Pin the tail. Hazy’s 3rd birthday.


Squirt the person who is pinning the tail.


It’s OK, it’s only Sam!

Summer times

In contemplating my work trip back to London this evening, I’ve realised that I’ve been remiss at updating this site since our summer trip back to UK (and Italian) shores…

As seems to be so often the norm, several weeks since being back home in Saigon and the vibrant memories of safari-ing at Longleat Park, crabbing in Lymington and camping in San Vincenzo can get easily eclipsed in the all too pressing realities of school runs, work trips and planning the next holiday!

I have managed, however, to keep up with my new video making enterprise, and in doing so have tried to capture some of that vacation vibrancy in these two clips:

Continue reading

Time to replace the Yorkshire Gold


Summer holidays Rule OK – Flo and Martha, 6th July

Saigon was blustery and cold today. That’s news in itself, given earlier this year the city broke it’s own temperature record by plummeting to depths of 23 C degrees (74 F).

However, enough about the weather. It’s July. The Ashes are on. Murray is still in Wimbledon. And it’s summer holiday time. Rejoice we all must.

My efforts in that department for the next two weeks will be not to fly anywhere and to catch up on all those things I’ve put off doing since they first found themselves populating a New Year’s Resolutions list, six months back. Continue reading