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, hurtling around the region. Continue reading

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My brief English Odyssey

london

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…

flo and martha

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.

whiskey

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.

holborn

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).

Food glorious food

Dark green forests and plantations, rolling hillsides dotted with the metallic roof tops of local sugar cane farms and homesteads.  Uneven tarmac, and battered shop awnings displaying adverts from bygone eras for hot chocolate, soap powders and cigarette brands.  School children, immaculately dressed, walking hand in hand along the roadside, taxis, bicycles and spluttering trucks whirling inches past them.

I could be back in Uganda 15 years ago, but in fact am in the Philippines city of Davao.  

It is the largest city in the world in terms of sheer geography, but where I am, more towards the outskirts, you do not feel much of the effects of urban sprawl, and the comparables here with the sights and sounds recalled from time spent in Africa are striking.  

The tropical latitude shared by the Philippines and the part of East Africa that I know best, mean that from the moment you step off the plane in Davao (located in the south of the country, an hour and a half flight from its capital, Manila, in the north) you experience the uplifting smell of equatorial life, its warmth, moisture and its connections with nature.  A permanent background noise of birdsong and grasshopper symphony follow you about, day and night. Continue reading

April journal

Just back from lunch, and tapping away quietly writing this as   Lou is sleeping in one bedroom and Flo is supposedly doing the same in hers…although I can still hear her singing.  Sarah is with us and downstairs having a swim.

So – 5 weeks on from the last pause for thought, and glad to report that things going well out here in Saigon.  In fact I mentioned to Lou this morning that living in Vietnam has started to feel real now, as opposed to the sense we had for a while that we were on some extended holiday out in South East Asia.  Work took me to Bangkok in the middle of March, and then a week more recently up to Hanoi, and it was upon arriving back from this last trip that it began to feel like coming ‘home’. 

True, Hanoi had been quite cold and my time there largely spent holed up in a hotel conducting workshops and meetings in window-less rooms, indulging in too much coffee, too many table mints, and having despairing Groundhog Day moments as I floated round the hotel’s endless buffet at lunchtimes wondering whether research had ever been conducted on linkages between crème brule consumption and various internal organ malfunctions. 

On the back of 7 days of seeing the inside of a hotel (with the odd skirmish at some local bars inbetween) I’d have been excited about the prospect of flying out of Hanoi and arriving back on the Isle of Sheppey but, as it was, touching down in Saigon was a real treat.  The senses were invaded with what were quite familiar sounds and feelings – the throng of chatter awaiting arrivals at Tam Son Nhat airport and the thick, hot air wrapping itself around you as you wait to jump in a taxi and weave your way through the neon lights and motor bike horns, over the Saigon bridge, and into Thao Dien district and our 9th floor apartment, where we’ve been residing for the past 3 weeks.

We’ve been exceptionally lucky since arriving in Vietnam, and this apartment was another good find.  Despite a relatively stressful weekend last month moving in (complete with lugging boxes around town, dusting and cleaning the place itself, and entertaining Flo at the same time) it’s been a great place to settle into and has some very useful amenities (pool, gym, kids area, café) onsite.  We also have a large sexy plasma screen TV, which many people will appreciate is something I’ve long dreamt of owning – although if truth be told the viewing options are not exactly cutting edge, unless you are an avid Vietnamese soap opera fan.

Flo’s school has also worked out extremely well.  We had enrolled her into the Montessori School here within 4 days of arriving and she started immediately.  Their facilities are really impressive, and she settled pretty quickly all things considered.  We’ve got our first experience this coming week of school Easter holidays (2 weeks) which will be fun, but also a bit of a juggling act for Lou.  The combination of 40 degree temperatures and an impressively weighted 5lb bump (not bad for 34 weeks) mean that keeping Flo occupied for a day can be quite tiring – I’m slightly more fortunate as my bump is only around 4.5lbs so am a tad more nimble under foot.

Anyway, I decided about an hour ago to start a blog.  Not sure what this means, other than I’ll have a convenient central space on which to keep these rambling notes, that one day might make for an interesting (for me at least) reflection of our time out in Vietnam.  Please manage your expectations carefully in terms of what you might find on this site (I’m struggling already with just downloading pictures), but I’ll do my best to entertain.  I’ve no doubt anyone who actually reads this will know better than I how to make their reactions heard.  In the meantime, go Rory Mc!  I’ll be sleeping sweetly as you hopefully clean up the Open.