Floating around

There’s a 5km loop that encircles our leafy neighbourhood of Thao Dien. I walked it earlier in the week, respite from my recent commitment to the medicinal effects of running.

Endorphins tend to surge me through my days and weeks here at the moment – a daily fix that usually means I can take on most things until the evening drinks are made.

I felt quite different on my walk, with the sun up high, and the pace slowed, from the typically high octane bounding about in the dark to which I’ve become acquainted on my early runs.

In the daylight I see the array of multi-coloured fabrics hung on washing lines, baking in the morning heat. I brush past a huddle of local commuters, their motorbike engines still running, waiting patiently for their Styrofoam containers of sticky rice.

The background blend of passing traffic, workman’s angle grinder and school children, mix with the distinct smell of street- vended food: grilled pork and fried eggs smoking off makeshift bbqs; chicken broth bubbling in deep metal cauldrons.

It’s clear today, but the muggy cloak of the tropics is always there.

Beads of sweat start to appear on my t-shirt and I wonder if, with October looming, we’ll finally enjoy some cooler times. No monsoon downpours each afternoon, the mercury hopefully dipping under 28 degrees, as opposed to creeping up to 38. These months to come are usually the best Saigon has to offer, bookended as they are between the constant swelter of March through to September.

Saigon has all the trappings of a modern city. Its ever accelerating growth, and gravitas as a regional player, something to behold, particularly knowing that, at heart, it remains a charming, country town.

You don’t have to skirt too far from the suburban centre to find rice paddies, and the zig-zag of water buffalos and wooden ploughs scoring lines through the dewy grasslands.

I wonder how Saigon will look a decade from now? Perhaps more like Bangkok, overrun with high rise buildings and chrome plated hotels, but still harbouring the charm and quiet of what went before.

Discreetly nestled down the backstreets and “hems” of Saigon, I’d like to think you’ll still find the lady who sells me sticky rice for my daughter’s breakfast, and who smiles warmly when we stop at her cart on our way to swim practice.

As I walk deeper into the labyrinth of narrow lanes, purposefully avoiding the 4x4s and the buses impatiently flashing past, I know I’m fortunate to feel as comfortable as I do, nodding and waving to some of the same locals whose front doors I’ve run past over these months of lockdown. A small connection is enough, I realise.

There are side streets here I’ll never manage to find and walk down. Inhabitant’s waves I’ll not now receive, let alone stories about their life I’ll never hear. The richness of each anecdote and perspective will always be lost to my foreign ears.

Imagine living through the American-Vietnam war and now, as the city’s sky train construction lurches into its 6th yearly cycle, you watch as your grandchildren travel and explore parts of the world of which you’ve no reference?

I think about Mr Nhi, who has tended to our unruly garden these past 4+ years, and with whom I can exchange just a few words.

At the best of times I’m speechless in his presence, from the sheer magnificence of how he holds himself. A man of little words, of smooth and simple actions, Mr Nhi is one of the most humble and impressive men I’ve ever known. I feel his wisdom just is. His sister passed recently and he barely mentioned it, save to inform us he would switch his days around. He conveys so much in everything he does, in spite of his actions being so subtle and unassuming.

How many other Mr and Mrs Nhi’s lie metres from our home? All too often eclipsed by the blur of frustration and fatigue that I carry around – particularly on those days when I don’t run – pontificating about the future, or wrapping myself in nostalgic memories from the past.

The promise of something new remains a glowing ember, in the fire of Covid. The promise of free movement again. All will come in good time, I am sure.

I stop by the river and watch another boat load of bright orange and blue containers drift by, off on their journey to ports and final destinations thousands of miles away.

At the back of the vessel is the cockpit, and outside this a makeshift washing line sways its black uniforms in the breeze.

In the boat’s wake bundles of lotus stems and driftwood, wrapped up in clumps, bounce along behind.

Casa Mitra

It’s hard not to drift into nostalgic daydreaming during the Nth month of Covid. Where the phrase “20:20 vision” conjures up clarity and focus, the year 2020 has flipped most of what we knew, or thought we knew, on its head. And left it there.

The upside down view of this brave new world is one with which many are struggling. Me included. Whilst Saigon is Covid free, the conversations had – out running at dawn or over drinks at dusk – are clouded by everyone’s exchange of perspectives on the pandemic, and the regaling of stories about work woes, or life crises. Me included.

I’ve found one good tonic to this malaise is spending more time with Florence and Martha. Back at school now these last 6 weeks, they are cruising along, their 4 months of “home based schooling” a distant memory.

They are swimming again, gossiping about their teachers, and playing on homemade water slides in our garden. Earlier in the summer we escaped to Hoi An with some friends, and the honest past-time of hermit crab catching became the order of the day, everyday.

I’m all too aware that ours is a somewhat sacred reality, compared to many families around the world, coping with alternative lock-down rules and regulations.

I wonder, too, how this year’s memories will manifest for the girls. Differently, perhaps, for their cousins in Australia, Italy and in the UK – who knows?

We are fairly powerless to direct how young people’s future memories resurface. The beauty and brilliance of the mind is, perhaps, just so because of the randomness of how we recall and re-imagine moments from the past so clearly.

Only yesterday, a wave of images crashed through my conscience. Triggered by talk of going on holiday, I was teleported for a full five minutes back to Lanzarote in the 1980s.

A part of the Spanish owned “Canarias,” Lanzarote is a volcanic island, lying off the coast of Morocco, which boasted at the time one main road connecting its scattered white-washed towns and villages. You can drive the length of it in two hours.

Following a successful family holiday of ours in Tenerife, before some further reconnaissance to Lanzarote itself, Mum and Dad bought a villa there, in the same complex as some of their friends, a mile up from a quaint fishing village called Playa Blanca.

Down on the southern most tip of Lanzarote, Playa Blanca was a humble spot to which to escape. There were three restaurants running along its harbour front, and a supermarket in the centre, whose dusty shelves we’d explore as kids, looking for beach balls and plastic spades.

Our villa back when we first took it on was renamed Casa Mitra – the house of the Bishop’s Hat? – and, for a good long while, we’d visit twice a year, coinciding trips with family friends over New Year’s and Easter.

My brother, Matt, and I quickly adjusted to this exciting phenomenon of regular holidays in the sun. Who could blame us? We’d have suntans each February half-term, and could order ham, egg and chips in Spanish before we’d left primary school.

It wasn’t long before we graduated from selecting off the child’s menus to choosing moules marinara and fillet steaks, much to the chagrin of Dad, footing an ever increasing bill.

As youngsters, we’d guzzle down half a dozen bottles of 7Up a day, having spent the lion’s share of it playing tennis, or throwing tennis balls at each other in the swimming pool.

I was then soon enough of an age where I’d be sloping up onto the roof of the villa to smoke cigarettes, whilst Matt, not so many years later, chose the beach of Playa Blanca to drop down onto one sandy knee and propose to his wife, Becks.

In many ways, Lanzarote ended up being an integral part of our family. Having lost our Grandma Edna (whose anniversary on 23rd Sept coincided exactly with my flashbacks yesterday) in 1983, it was only through her legacy that my parents had been able to buy Casa Mitra in the first place. We often spoke about how much Ma and Pa would have enjoyed being with us on these special holidays.

And then, not so long ago, Mum and Dad returned to Playa Blanca to rekindle the memories in person. Meeting up, quite incredibly, with the same brothers, Santiago and Pascal, who ran the local café all those years before. They were still running it, and it was still called Snoopy Bar.

When we first arrived in the Canaries we did some of the tourist things, exploring the volcanoes and watching as local guides launched tree branches down into the smoldering crevasses, only for them to instantly catch fire. The tree branches, not the guides.

As our visits evolved, however, we ended up sticking to a routine of frequenting our favourite eateries, and avoiding the tourists and the traffic jams in the capital.

The simple pleasures in life were all we required to curate the perfect day in Lanzarote. As kids, it was all about playtime. For the parents (as I can only now fully empathise) it would have been the frothy breakfast coffees at Snoopy’s in the morning, and their Tia Maria nightcaps in the evening.

We’d always hire a clapped out Seat Panda and drive up to the top of the island, through the idyllic village of Yaiza, past the more industrial capital, Arrecife, until we reached deep into the black mottled mountains surrounding Arrieta.

Here, we’d take a table outside a small restaurant, Bar Miguel, and devour calamari and salted boiled potatoes – I can taste them now – with the sea spray from the waves flicking onto the wooden table.

It was the ultimate local hangout, and we seldom missed a trip up to sample the day’s catch. Whilst Mum never touched the squid, their beers were icy cold (just as she likes them) so she didn’t hold it against us that we were forever driving up there.

We still reminisce about the evening Dad ended up eating only with Matt and I, following a few too many strong gin and tonics at a neighbour’s villa, resulting in Mum “just having a little nap in the car” whilst we, oblivious to why she’d choose to sleep so early on in the evening, tucked into our flambéed crepes.

Taking oneself back in time, in the spirit of nostalgia, is unavoidable. Particularly now. Deep in the recesses of my subconscious, these tastes and smells and foundational memories of Lanzarote still burn.

Remembering the feeling being sat, aged 12, on the scorched back seat of our Panda, my walkman plugged in, bounding up the island, is a feeling I’m sure helped at the time define for me the notion of travel, and of trying new things.

My eldest, Florence, turned 12 last weekend. Her carbon foot-print, by contrast to mine at her age (up until Covid struck) has been off the charts. The constant cycle this past decade of being an expat, and a “third culture child”, has ensured this.

Heading back to the UK for Christmas last year, and then being flown out of Heathrow with my parents to Sri Lanka to be met by me and Issy, before playing starring roles at our wedding, all involved a bit of planning – yet, for the girls, it was water off a duck’s back. In the end, it also turned into one of their most cherished flying experience, given “Grandma was constantly handing us sweets and treats!”

I would love to think that, one day, Flo and Martha’s recall from their formative years was as similarly heart warming and inspiring as mine remain. That their memories of travel and adventure and play are as prominent, and help shape their attitudes and perspectives.

Positive sentiments evoked by nostalgia are lasting, they can live through pandemics, and undercut the trouble and strife of adulthood.

Ironically, the girls will not appreciate, until much later on, just how empowering they continue to be for us adults, today. They are often that needed distraction and remedy to everyday angst, or to future speculations – a visceral antidote to that feeling we all share of being stuck in time right now.

The costs of this pandemic are being felt by everyone and are, as yet, to be fully understood. In the meantime, nostalgia can be a priceless commodity and, whilst we associate it with things past, it begins of course in the present.

First world problems

boris
The UK Government is finally suggesting masks might help

I enjoyed Rod Liddle’s piece on face masks https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-I-will-wear-a-face-mask today.

For those unable to access the article, aside from the entertaining corollary he makes about only being allowed to have sex with his wife whilst wearing a mask, Liddle hammers home a key point, that many of us have been stating and re-stating over the past months about the merits of mask usage. Amusing banter aside, reflecting about Covid, he underscores what, in the UK at least, seems to continue to be an issue of Individual vs. Society.

“There seems to me more than sufficient evidence that while wearing a face mask does not entirely eliminate the risk of spreading the virus, it reduces it. We can argue about how much, but surely that is certain. And so, I will wear a face mask. Not just for sexual intercourse.”

Rod Liddle is an incorrigible writer and enjoys pushing people’s buttons on numerous topics. However, on masks, I couldn’t agree more with the premise of his argument for wearing one, and furthermore his conclusions over how slow to act the UK has been, in the face of the spread of the virus across Asia and into Europe.

Liddle doesn’t suggest Boris’ team has been incompetent, more that “they were possessed of an unconscious belief that this pandemic had been over-rated by supranational institutions, such as the World Health Organisation, that it was an over-stated concern.”

An unconscious belief.

Somehow this, for me, aptly sums up a lot of the conjecture, and ultimately the culture, of more developed nations such as the UK.

Of course, the UK media pounces on any decision the Government makes, when it comes to Covid. That said, the UK has suffered tremendously because of Covid, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, many have been right to point out the shortfalls of the  Government which have made matters worse for the public.

Boris (described brilliantly by the comic Jon Richardson as a “human wet fart…funny at the time, but you have to immediately check for damage”) will, and probably should, remain the target for most critics. However, when it comes to societies typically used to seeing their country branded as “first world,” doesn’t this ‘unconscious belief’ symptom stretch further and wider, beyond politicians and the media, and into the day-to-day recesses of everyday life?

Were I to have still been living in London, these past 9.5 years, I would have felt the same. Covid started its carnage in a Chinese market, thousands of miles and cultures away from where I would have been living and working. If I’d been in the UK I can see me, back in February, talking to colleagues in Asia (as I did, in reverse, for weeks and weeks earlier this year from Saigon) hearing about the turmoil being faced by citizens in countries bordering China. Schools closing (as they did here during the first week of February). Quarantine rules in place shortly after this. Masks compulsory. Flights grounded. Lock-down enforced. Testing and tracing immediately initiated.

In Vietnam, and across Asia, there are more recent experiences of similar outbreaks, which have definitely helped drive action during Covid. Mask wearing is standard here, particularly if you are ill and out in public. It’s a cultural norm.

Citizens listen to their Governments in many Asian countries, because the nature of the political governance systems in these countries is different. Not all these differences are favourable to citizens, but they have contributed to a reality where Vietnam still only has 370 positive Covid cases and no fatalities.

There has been no end of speculation on social media as to why this is (as well as the predictable conspiracy theories). This thread on Twitter was particularly good in demonstrating just how pissed off some people were at the realisation that a “third world” country such as Vietnam was doing so well combating the virus.

Overall, you could say that there has been a unity here across the country, and in response to the measures taken by the Government, and perhaps that is part of it.

Expats like me are stuck until quarantine rules change, but life here is safe and we’ve had a much easier time of it compared to South America, Australia, the US or across Europe. Although schools closed for over 3 months, our actual lock down measures were many shades lighter than those elsewhere, and normal life resumed relatively quickly.

There are 98 million people living in Vietnam, and we have just 370 cases. These are truly insane figures, when you read that only yesterday there were 15,000 new cases in Florida alone.

Liddle’s words resonated with me because I realise the true privilege of perspective that living in Vietnam has given me.

Yes, I’m desperate to leave, move on to Australia, set up in fresh surroundings, and that day will come. Until then, recognising what and how these types of unconscious beliefs manifest – in all walks of life, and in their unbridled cause and effect – will remain something I’ll try not to take for granted.

 

Team Anyone But Trump

Kanye West says he's running for president, Elon Musk supports | KRON4

“Kanye West running for President”.

A new dawn, a new day, and another new absurd headline. I scanned the first few lines of this morning’s papers and shrugged off today’s selection of impending doom articles as quickly as it took for my coffee to brew and for me to seek solace – and salvation – in the cup’s reassuring aroma.

Like many, it’s hard to take anything you read in the papers too seriously. Especially when the topic is American politics.

But I was piqued, for a few seconds at least, by Kanye’s tweeted statement, whatever unfolds next.

It seems highly implausible for West to be serious, or in a position to launch an election campaign in 2020. It’s more likely a PR stunt of some description, but I am not qualified to critique Kanye West, as I have scant knowledge of the guy. I have only a fraction more of an understanding about how American elections work. But, of course, actual qualifications and knowledge are not required, when it comes to climbing to the top of America’s highest political perch. Anything goes.

So I don’t feel I need to do any quick research to be appraised of West’s credentials as the issue, it seems to me, is cut and dry: anyone over the age of 18 years old, from any background, discipline or political persuasion, anyone, would be better than Donald Trump as America’s next President.

The audacity levels of Trump (yesterday using an Independence Day public appearance to slander swathes of his own country’s citizens, whilst peddling more false information about Covid-19) have stretched so far that, as ludicrous as he is, as grotesque and revolting as his narrative continues to be, he remains highly likely to stay in power until 2024. That is the bizarre reality behind how so many aspects of our world order seem to operate.

Of course, some would say that there are far worse characters in the Republican right-wing than Trump himself. I say, isn’t it worth running a potential risk of that magnitude in order to, at the very least, remove Donald Trump from power?

I have not even an atom-sized morsel of a compliment to pay to Donald Trump. He is a bullying, bigoted, raping narcissist, whose child-like, toxic diatribes will forever stain his country’s history books. He should have been locked up long before he ran for President.

The rogue offspring of Beelzebub would make for a more palatable option on this year’s 2020 ballot paper than Trump. Literally anyone, anyone. Dear God, please, just anyone other than him.

To me, there is simply no longer any excuse for Trump to continue to be in power. No longer any excuse for him to be allowed to reside over any law, jurisdiction, or any decision or policy that has the smallest ripple of societal impact.

That the opposition party are only able to field “Sleepy” Joe Biden as their ‘best’ chance of toppling Trump is almost as excruciating as having to tolerate the idea that Trump is still in the frame.

From today onwards, Team Kanye have my full support.

Anyone but Trump.

Lock-down shopping

shopping
Dawn again on our street in Saigon.

Lock-down shopping

I always seem to write shopping lists
That seldom leave my pocket –
Returning instead with unexpected treats.
It feels a luxury of sorts
To wander the aisles
Quietly
As an interloper.

I prod at flagons of yellow-crested olive oil,
Visions of flour-caked aprons
Kneading the dough
And pouring the Pinot
Soothed,
In that moment
Of ordinariness.

That freedom of choice.

A Wedding in Galle | Part 4

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Official Sri Lankan wedding certificate signing

The Party

Issy and me had been ushered from the wedding steps to the registrar’s table, and were blurting out scripted lines of commitment. Our mothers, witnesses, hovered behind us, as Cake (aka “Martyn”) floated into the frame, and handed us two fizzing Proseccos.

The first clink of glasses, not much past 4pm, heralded in the beginning of the next Act.

With Issy still clutching the yellow and white bouquet, organized by her sister Joey, a parade of baked guests streamed past, snapping pictures and pausing momentarily for a congratulatory gesture.

Through the dreamy colonial living room in front of them, a table full of drinks was poised in the courtyard, waiting to be claimed by an increasingly parched cohort of friends and family.

For the next two hours my task was to mingle, be present for the staged photographing of our esteemed group (whilst outfits were still “on point”), cut the 4.5 kilos of wedding cake that Mum had made, flown over from the UK, and iced that morning, as well as – crucially – ensure I didn’t re-hydrate too much from the selection of alcoholic drinks that were now being circulated by the exemplary staff of The Sun House.

I began venturing through the crowd and ran straight into Butler, who was dancing on the raised corridor which ran around the outside reception. He was as happy as a sand-boy, although very much dancing on his own.

Richie, mercifully, was suddenly by my side, as he’d been “keeping watch” on the man in question – a more lovable pair of rogues you’ll be hard pressed to meet (and hard pushed to out-drink) however today was not going to last much longer for Butler, in spite of his declarations that he was “the best goddamn dancer in Sri Lanka”.

I can’t recall the exchange which then took place between the three of us, other than, mid protestation at me and Richie pointing out to him that he was “maybe peaking a tad early” (even by his standards) Butler excepted – ‘seriously’ – and fairly instantly that he “needed to get home, boys”. To which Richie, not missing a beat, replied “that can be arranged.”

Butler had flown in from Sydney for the occasion, managed an hour (a “solid” one, by all accounts) before being deposited in a tuk by Richie. It transpired, later, that he’d managed to take the wrong mobile phone with him, which set in train some secondary damage control, under-taken by Rich, who duly went off to swap the phones.

Meanwhile, group hydration was well underway, and our second mini ceremony – a Sri Lankan tradition whereby the bride and groom’s little fingers are tied with string, and water poured over them – went off without a hitch.

Cake presided over this, supported ably by Flo and Martha (who respectively tied and watered our little fingers) and a legion of young bridesmaids and helpers, fixing white cotton bracelets on all our guests’ wrists (at last count, my father and brother, and Saigon buddies, Lars and Pat, are still wearing theirs, albeit the threads are a shade darker in colour now.)

Our commitment to carry over one hundred Vietnamese fans from Saigon paid dividends, but soon the sun’s heat started to dip, and the melting shades and light of early dusk hinted to all that our next scene change was drawing closer.

We’d chosen to marry at The Sun House, and host our wedding dinner next door at The Dutch House, for largely sentimental reasons.

However, a further advantage of this choice was not to have to go overboard on expensive decorations and razzle-dazzle. We liked the whole setting as it was.

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Feeling Fabulous

From a list of additional wedding day accoutrements, we’d shunned the $600 presence of a live elephant and, instead, gone with tree-lights and the hiring of five local drummers.

As with much of our entire trip to Sri Lanka, there was a cosy vagueness to how the drummers fitted into place on the day. As is typical, however, with the way that much unfolds in Sri Lanka, in the moment itself they ensured a charming and memorable execution of said plan, and exceeded all our expectations.

It was approaching 6pm, the drummers had finished adjusting their costumes, and were limbering up by the front gate.

Issy and me held back, as our entourage snaked behind this affable latest addition to our revelry, and we were “drummed” over to the adjoining House.

This had given Issy time to slip out of her designer dress from Milan, and into an online purchased (never tried on until that week) shimmering gold number, that was about to enjoy its first outing.

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Leading the way to the Dutch house

We held hands for only the second time of the day and headed after the group, halting en route for a brief episode with a handful of tuk drivers, smoking fragrant cigarettes, as the ocean waves reflected back the crimson setting sun in the distance.

Excitement levels further intensified as we entered the garden of The Dutch House and were introduced formerly to our wedding posse.

The drummers were now in dance formation and lighting large fire batons that they were to then fling around, and inside, their persons.

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Issy and me rejoining the party

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What a view

Donning engorged Sri Lankan masks, they then carried out a sequence of energetic foot stomping and jumping.

Alberto, our Italian brother-in-law, couldn’t contain his urge to join them, and was up on his feet giving his all, dressed to impress as if auditioning for the next James Bond movie.

As the beats sped up, the first few light touches of rain sprinkled our tables, and some guests took cover under the arches of the House.

A nerve-wracking ten minutes elapsed as I contemplated the scenario of a full downpour, rendering these jovial scenes a total wash-out.

Makeshift umbrellas were fashioned out of fans and serviettes, but the gods were smiling down on us. As the drummers finished their set, the rain passed, and half our guests then made a bee-line for the dance-floor to enjoy the local DJs’ (“The Lunatics”) opening selection of tunes.

Not long after this we had to formerly announce that the food was being served to the tables, and shepherd guests back to their seats, so dinner could begin.

I hardly ate, having sampled the dishes with Issy back in September when we visited, and experiencing, first-hand, the perils of eating too much Sri Lankan curry!

We knew the food tonight could potentially be some of the best curry available, and we were not let down. Sensational cashew, beetroot, egg-plant and fish curries, and more besides, were complimented with such delights as coconut sambol and paratha breads.

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Time for a feast!

I did a short lap of the tables, to find everyone deep in consultation with their food, along with a few suspect smoke rings blowing off one of the ‘Saigon’ tables (word had got round about the exotic smokes the tuk guys were enjoying.)

The odd phone torch was assisting those on some of the outer (badly lit) tables, as people riffled through the assortment of spices and textures in front of them.

Speeches soon came around, and Mark and Bish delivered eloquent, entertaining and touching tributes, “working the room” considerably well, given the room in question was a wide open outside space, and we weren’t using mics.

Issy and me took turns cantering through a long list of people to thank. Included in which, notably, were “Don Gino” our eldest guest, 80 years old, from Santa Cristina, Italy, who was halfway through his first trip to Asia (and whose sartorial elegance was no match for any of us) and nephew Tom, who was talk of the town, given he’d signed a contract that week to play in goal for AC Milan’s Under 17’s team.

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Speeches

I was hurtling through my final messages and votes of gratitude – in particular, to both our sets of parents, and all those who had done so much to bring this special day to the rising climax which it felt then we were fast approaching – as well as failing miserably on my hydration strategy. It’s hard to recall exactly the words I used, but I enjoyed every second of trying to express myself.

And then, as Cake closed us out with a rendition of John Donne’s The Good-Morrow, The Lunatics flipped on the first dance (“Need You Tonight” by INXS) and Issy and me were running to the dance-floor.

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Let the dancing begin and with mops at the ready!

As climaxes go, this one sustained well into the early hours of Friday night.

Any reservations I’d had the previous day, about the health and safety of people tripping on the make-shift dance-floor, were forgotten in the melee. Besides, Rukman and his team had done this before, and tactical mopping was in place whenever things looked too slippery!

I put it to you, on record, that everyone made the most of the opportunity to shed some curry calories. We all danced a lot.

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Issy and her sisters in Blue (Issy still wearing the garter given to her from Mum)

Noteworthy, for posterity, and in no particular order of gay abandon, was:

Anna, tearing her calf muscle after fifteen minutes of what, I can only imagine, was a strong commitment to the dance floor;

Derek laying down characteristic Travolta moves for two solid hours (causing those who’d not had the pleasure of witnessing his unique form before, asking me later in the evening “was that man OK?”) then joining forces with Pat “The Crater” Cartier, whose garish orange trousers appear in almost half of the photographs taken that night, complete with sweaty knees;

And then Joey’s rhythmic moves being curtailed later on, after being stung on the foot by a “scorpion” (which we concluded, over many gin ‘n’ tonic sessions during the days after, down in Mirissa, might have instead have been a centipede) before having her injury administered to by a member of staff and the simple cleansing powers of a raw onion.

Truth be told, there wasn’t anyone, child, adult – or, indeed, octogenarian – holding back.

Everyone had brought bottles of spirits for nightcaps, but plenty remained unopened.

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Gino showing Irene his best moves

Difficult to re-create the full happenings in words, however Ejaz’s set sequence below gives you a glimpse of the level of class we collectively executed on the night.

Time plays havoc with one’s sense of reality. As does a healthy mixing of different potent drinks. Later on, I’d lost track of who had left, whether the kids were still swimming or back on the dance-floor or, indeed, fast asleep.

The faithful Rukman was always on hand to smile away any flashes of worry I might have had at that stage. As was the House’s owner, Geoffrey Dobbs, who shared a few wines with us and, I think, enjoyed watching so many people from around the world put so much energy into letting their hair down in his normally tranquil garden.

At around 1:30am the local police arrived to officially close down our party, after a complaint about the noise from a neighbouring hotel owner.

This inspired a ‘last-call’ race to the pool and me, flanked by my two loyal Best Men, attempting to fireman’s lift by brother-in-law, Sam, down the hazardous steps.

We had reached the night’s end, and a more fulsome compliment of indulgence, laughter and love would be hard to conjure up.

As John Donne’s crystallizing prose aptly foretold earlier in the evening:

For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere

I can’t ever remember being happier, than during the magical hours of that whole day – Issy and me will be forever grateful to everyone who made it so.

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This final photograph was taken, fittingly, by Phoebe – my sister-in-law and, by now, our celebrant extraordinaire.

******************* THE END ********************

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Fabulous Friends and Family

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Oddie clan

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Bishop clan

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Bridal Party

A Wedding in Galle | Part 3

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Drinks on the beach, Weligama, April 2015.

The Wedding Ceremony

Five years ago today I turned forty years old and Issy, the girls, Mum, Dad and me were in Galle, Sri Lanka celebrating. That same morning, Issy had set in motion a series of internet clicks which were to become life defining.

She was searching for a lunch spot, and had found a cheeky little house perched up from Galle Fort, called The Sun House, which had piqued her aesthetically inspired antennae.

One email later, and their management had confirmed that, unfortunately, they were closed for the season but that, actually, they would be happy to open up the House for us, and would lay on a Sri Lankan birthday feast.

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Fish curry on my 40th. The Sun House, April 27th 2015.

Although Martha, nearly four years old at the time, managed to pull off a three hour nap throughout our entire and inaugural experience of The Sun House – awaking long after our fantastic meal had ended – the resulting day-trip was to inspire our wedding ceremony, back in January of this year, at exactly the spot at which we enjoyed the first samplings of their unique fish curry…

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All my girls, out and about in Galle, April 2015.

Winding back to our wedding day story, it was 3pm, on the first Friday in January of this year, and a steady stream of guests were arriving.

All the mental rehearsing, of the moments about to unfold, were lost in a burst bubble of time. As people spilled into the House, in place of conversation I’d settled, instead, on simply making lots of eye contact, smiling, and offering suitably complimentary noises about the dress, the shirt or the new haircut which was, at that moment, bobbing in front of me in a delicious blur.

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Kate and Dicko, rocking the fans!

Everyone seemed very happy. It felt bit like a scene from a play, although I knew that no one was acting. The gathering of these warm bodies milling about, the hearty chorus of special reunions and overdue embraces, all at this pre-arranged time and date, everyone dressed “fabulously” (as instructed on their invitations) and exuding a collective sigh of contentment, was all scripted, and yet appeared to be happening spontaneously.

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Keeping cool in the heat.

We’d already one additional guest, forgetfully left off our table plan, but I was none the wiser, as this preliminary clerical mishap was palmed off to Cake, one of the two Best Men, and on Master-of-Ceremony duties, who added it to his “to-do” list.

I was left to drink in deep the kaleidoscope of colourful fabrics and Vietnamese fans buzzing around me. It was hot, but our guests seemed unperturbed. We were all sweating. All in this together!

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Getting settled in.

As numbers steadily grew, I took a few seconds to freeze-frame the various new groups of soon-to-be-inebriated-on-the-dancefloor friends and family, melding in these early moments of the event. For now, and before the free-flow bar was open, you could still make out the starched creases on some men’s shirts, where an iron had recently passed, appreciate the coiffured hairdos, and the children dressed in thoughtful garb.

Over the preceding six months, the time spent in clothes stores – from Melbourne to Milan to Salisbury – ensuring Flo and Martha’s outfits complimented those of their new Australian nieces (with the eldest, Ella, re-modelling the dress Issy herself had worn at Max and Quimby’s wedding 16 years ago) flashed across my mind’s periphery.

I extended my hand for the latest familiar face bustling into view: it was school buddy Paul (“Butler”) who grabbed and shook it, with a wry look in his face. I knew, from living with this incorrigible Irishman in Battersea, London, for the final two years of the ‘90s, that this meant only one thing: Butler had started on wines early. By early, of course, I mean, Wednesday.

Before I’d had the time to fully consider the magnitude of an already fully-charged Butler, Richie (let’s call him our super-hero protagonist for the next hour) came hurtling across and, as a loyal linebacker blocking his quarter-back, proceeded to escort him somewhere else.

Never a dull moment, I thought to myself, and pressed on to find Chloe who, unbeknownst to her, was about to join Richie on the super-hero docket.

By now, we were missing only a handful of guests, and were minutes away from lift-off. Outside in the garden the seats were almost full, guests were firmly practicing their fan techniques, and a certain friend from Portsea was beginning to regret his choice of absorbent linen shirt.

Not far from here, up a winding flight of stairs, and inside the Cinnamon Suite, Issy was all but ready – with merely the minor detail of her dress being re-stitched by mother-of-the-bride, Pobby.

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Dress fixed, and looking fabulous with the father-of-the-bride.

Below them, Chloe and I met by the Sri Lankan registrar’s table, all of us exchanging grins and fittingly positive sounds, by way of a form of greeting. “We need the bride’s passport, please?” came the request. “OK, yep, I’ll get it,” said Chloe, on auto-pilot, “I’m just sorting out the entrance music,” she flashed back a steely glance of the eyes, and smiled harder than probably necessary.

“Great, thanks, Chloe,” I chipped in, “What did Issy settle on for music?” I asked, rather stupidly, “I’m not 100% sure,” Chloe replied, and turned 180 degrees on her heels and headed back up to find the bride.

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Finding a cool spot!

I slowly back-tracked from the registrar and out towards the steps, overlooking the garden. Our guests were dotted among the frangipani trees and, beyond them, a multitude of dark green fronds framed the view out to the ocean.

My brother was by my side, having completed another Best Man duty, walking Pobby to her seat. He looked cool, calm and collected, save for the sweat pouring through the back of his jacket.

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Pobby, Bish, me and Joey heading into the fray.

There was a reassuring twinkle in his eye. We were only waiting for Ange and Greg, and then we’d be at full quota, he reported. And, then, tantalizingly, he smirked “have you seen Paul Butler yet?” I couldn’t but chuckle, before looking away for a distraction. The bridesmaids and Flo, our ring-bearer, were congregating nearby.

Chloe came back into focus behind them. She had Issy’s passport in hand, and an iPhone at the ready. She was tampering with the speaker as I walked back, for a final time, to the courtyard. One last lungful of sticky air, and an appreciation of what was about to unfold.

A screech of tyres echoed through the open front gate, and I saw Ange’s cheerful face emerge – they had scraped in before the game’s opening whistle. Slightly delirious (their tuk had accidentally driven them a good ten miles in the wrong direction) but quick to adapt to the discreet moment of the story-line into which they’d been fortunate enough to stumble, Ange and Greg high-tailed it to the garden.

I followed them in, and was taking my position, as rehearsed with the family the evening before, next to the bridesmaids and our celebrant, Phoebe.

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Yasmin, Jensie and Becks with front seats, whilst Chloe negotiates ID checks for the bride with our registrar.

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A celebrant’s fanning duties are never done!

Recently qualified as a celebrant, Phoebe was about to oversee her fourth wedding ceremony. Issy and me couldn’t have been more proud and excited at the prospect.

As an extremely dapper Mark, and his beautiful youngest daughter, with meticulous timing, stepped out – in the wake of Martha and Hazel, who were carefully and proudly dropping handfuls of pink ginger petals on the floor – I looked across at Phoebe and, for the first time that day, felt at ease.

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Flower girls Hazel and Martha.

The opening bars of “Good Day Sunshine”, courtesy of DJ Chloe, jolted everyone into action.

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Ella, Flo, Martha and Cake

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Bish, Hazel, Sunny, Lulu, Phoebes and me

Our guests craned forward and arranged their phones, whilst our blessed photographer for the day, the wonderful Teegs, adeptly took up prime position.

Issy and Mark took centre stage.

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Go Teegs!

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Walking out.

Issy looked stunning and was relishing, it was clear, the sensation that things were, once and for all, now underway.

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The Bride has arrived.

Over the next fifteen minutes we basked in the delightful informality and tenderness of Phoebe’s curation of our wedding ceremony.

With only a few clipped, unscripted moments (Issy taking control of a fan to wave the perspiration off Phoebe’s brow; whilst towards the back I could just make out the muffled heckles of Butler, prematurely suggesting “I do” before Richie could suitably gag him!) Phoebe spoke touchingly about our union, and about life.

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Phoebes, on form!

The sky showed no signs of monsoon raining (as it had done at the same time the previous day) as everyone simultaneously squinted, fanned, and momentarily paused their lives and their conversations.

Time stood still, as Phoebe’s words injected a beautiful and wholesome dose of thoughtfully crafted sentiments into the thick air, and into the respective consciences and imaginations of her audience. I didn’t want it to end.

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Stuck in time, briefly.

The moisture had disappeared from my mouth, and my cheeks strained at the sensation of being so happy, of being in love.

I also felt increasingly ready for a drink – as, it transpired relatively soon after we’d exchanged our rings, did a number of our party. Fortunately, we had catered very well for such eventualities.

At last we were wed.

Nine hours of flagrant revelry was about to get properly underway.

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Married!

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Time for a drink?

A Wedding in Galle | Part 2

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Sunrise on our wedding day. The Sun House, Galle.

Friday 3rd January, 2020

I awoke in a bedroom with my daughters around 7:45am. Plans to see the sun up, in my battered pair of runners, were immediately dashed. I’d over-slept and over-indulged the previous evening. My phone pinged. Issy was sending me a photo of the sunrise. She’d made it up in time and had run 10kms. I smiled, and drained the glass of water that had sat patiently waiting, since 2am, for its chance to play a part in the day’s events.

At 3:30pm today, on the steps of The Sun House, and in front of eighty-two people (who had respectively and kindly rearranged their family Christmases and New Year celebrations to be with us) Issy and me would marry.

As I struggled to determine exactly the total number of hours still up for grabs before 3.30pm, and the silence of that moment when Issy and her Dad, Mark, would walk out in front of us all, it felt increasingly inefficient to remain in bed. I swung round and left the house, blinking hard as the garden colours came into focus.    Continue reading