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…..

cafe

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

twickers

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

harp

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

teddy

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).

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Year of the Horse, belatedly

My last post on this site was pre-Christmas.  I spectacularly missed the opportunity of writing about my January 1st commitment to stop smoking (achieved so far with flying colours, by the way).  I then reneged on posting suitably colourful and joyous photos of my kids enjoying the Chinese (in Vietnam, ‘Tet’) lunar New Year celebrations last week, as well as the standard picture of my Tet tree in bloom, them performing in their Tet concert, and me pontificating on what the new Year of the Horse might all be about.  On which front I am still none the wiser.

February kicked off nearly a week ago, and my “No Booze Feb” pledge was underway (watch this space, at this rate, next month I’ll convert to Buddhism, take up sunrise yoga classes and become a caffeine-free, vegan) in earnest – and yet I just didn’t get round to documenting this very sobering moment in time.

If I’d had the chance, I would have regaled you sooner with the rather tragic weekend story of how a stomach bug last Saturday ensured my quick demise over a 48 hour period, during which I didn’t eat, and spent as much time in my bathroom in two days as the average person might spend in a year.  It was not pretty.

And then, yesterday, I flew up to Hanoi on business, to find the Old Quarter looking resplendant in Tet decor, and abuzz with a heady mix of local adults drinking Tiger beers from 9am, and kids dancing in the streets (for once, not crowded with bikes and traffic).

All of this I have failed to represent so far in 2014.  Such slackness is potentially, in itself, a fatal start to any new lunar year.  Even my Tet tree flowered 6 days late.  The omens are not good. Continue reading

The Year of the Dragon

Around about this time in January the UK press tend put out articles naming the year’s official most depressing day.

Their logic cites a combination of things such as the dreary winter weather, or the inevitable financial whiplash of Christmas spending.  More often than not the offending day in question is January 23rd (which is unfortunate in our household as this is, and has always been, Lou’s birthday.)

This year in Vietnam will be a quite different affair though, as 23rd January is Chinese New Year and subsequently, due to Vietnam being one of the many countries embracing the lunar calendar, local life in Saigon over the past weeks has been 100% focused on celebrating the beginning of Tễt (the official name for the New Year here) and the 4 days of public holidays which accompany this.

As previously described in this blog, December here was wall-to-wall Christmas eye candy.  On every street you’d find precariously hung fairy lights, young Vietnamese men dressed as Santa and smoking cigarettes, shops and restaurants blaring out festive carols on a 24/7 loop. Continue reading