Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Software trauma

Goddamn, I spent FOUR HOURS tonight trying to update our Norton anti-virus software. Having taken my money in about 60 seconds flat my new subscription then failed to upload. I was about 5 seconds away from heaving my laptop out the window when I was offered the option of on-line chat with a member of the Norton support staff. Jeswin (is that a guy or a girl?) finally sorted out the problem and I was able to collapse on the sofa, gin and tonic in hand, to join hubby in watching Goodbye Pork Pie to relax.
Sometimes I hate computers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What...No Toys???

Tonight we enjoyed a really nice bar-b-q at our friends place down the road, the ones who live in the cool new pent-house apartment which we would have walked to if it hadn't been HOSING down all evening. Normally when we go out at night we get a babysitter to hopefully get the kids into bed on time, but tonight we thought we'd take them along. The bbq was starting early, about 4pm, and we could be home at a reasonable time so we thought sure, what harm could it do?
An added bonus was that we all went to Wild Wild Wet this morning which is a water adventure park kind of like Waterbom but about a third of the size. It's fun, the kids loved the slides, the wave pool, the groovy water playground, and we got back in the car just as the heavens opened and rain of biblical proportions descended upon us. So they were tired.
In my limited experience as a mother of two incredibly active kids, the key to stopping them turning a freinds lounge into a wrestling ring or using every cushion in their house to make a fort in the middle of the terrace is to bring along a) a pile of their favourite books b)a pile of their favourite toys c) a pile of paper and pens although if you are visiting chic pent house apartments the probability of getting ink on furnishings is so great as to outweigh any potential benefits, so we didn't bring those. Anyway I had a secret weapon hidden in my handbag: not one, but TWO new DVD movies. The first is a classic I fondly remember from my childhood, Clash of the Titans. This is the original monster flick with plastercine monsters and hand-coloured scenes. Brilliant. The second was Pirates of the Carribean which is a sure fire winner with any little boys.
So the bbq was progressing well except for...did I mention the rain? It's the tail end of a cyclone which just hammered the Philippines so was pretty impressive even by tropical standards.
As the Singapore skyline disappeared behind sheets of water we took the only reasonable course of action: battoned the hatches, closed all the doors and windows, and left my friends hubby out on the balcony to char the sausages on his own! Well, we did pass him a beer every now and then.
Halfway through the second movie, Carl goes up to my friend and tugs on her sleeve. Giving his best puppy dog impression he asked "where are your toys?"
"My what?
"Your TOYS. Where are they?"
Consternation all around as this is not a household with kids. "Ummm...we don't actually have any".
Carl looks at her as if she is a bit slow and says a bit more loudly "I said, where are your TOYS?"
"I'm sorry, we really don't have any toys".

The look on his face said a thousand words. No toys???? How is that humanly possible?
With a big sigh he slouched back to the sofa to watch the rest of the new movie, at the end of a fun packed adventurous day, with a tummy full of food which had just been cooked for him, obviously thinking to himself "do I have to organise everything for myself around here?"

Monday, August 18, 2008

New chef at Blu hits the spot

A few months ago when my Dad passed through Singapore on his way to several months of wallowing in the balmy climes of Southern France, we took him out for a meal to our favourite restaurant, Blu at the Shangri La Hotel. We were a little disturbed to learn that the chef who had so long titillated our tastebuds has moved to The Line restaurant, also part of Shangri La.
New Chef Kevin Cherkas popped out for a chat and proved to be a very enthusiastic and friendly guy, bursting with enthusiasm and eager to share his vision of how the cuisine would evolve under his leadership. He was at that time awaiting $1 million of new dinnerware to arrive which apparently was essential to appropriately present his food. Yes, that's one MILLION dollars worth of plates. Gulp.
This Saturday we headed back, curious as to what we would find now that he's had a chance to settle into Blu, re-shape the menu and put his new plates through the dishwasher a few times. We weren't disappointed.
Perhaps we had given the impression we were under-cover food critics on our first visit after asking so many questions but in any case as we waited for the entrees to arrive Kevin himself appeared at the table and apologised for not being able to deliver the dish hubby and I had ordered, cheekily called 'The Egg Came 1st". Apparently the sous chef had overcooked the eggs. Kevin assured us that if it hadn't been us waiting for them he would have sent them out anyway, but in deference to us he had thrown them across the kitchen then come out to offer us an alternative. He had some delicious fresh Scottish scallops - would we perhaps like those instead? Would we ever! I LOVE scallops and haven't had the pleasure of eating any Scottish Loch scallops (known as Queen scallops) since a wonderful meal we enjoyed in Glasgow a few years ago at The Ubiquitous Chip restaurant. Kevin chose to present them sliced through the middle, dusted with herbed crumbs and then quickly deepfried until just cooked. Interestingly he paired them with a beetroot sauce and by way of apology, liberally dotted the edge of the plates with caviar. Apology accepted.
On to the mains, and here hubby and I diverged as he plumped for the roast lamb while I chose Irish Stew which promised to be fabulous despite it's humble origins. It had apparently been cooked 'forever'. Again Kevin was there to explain the dishes and I loved the large rib bone poked into the stew, his "Flinestone touch". It was as rich and tender as I had hoped, and in fact could have been eaten with a spoon, so soft was the meat. Hubby did his best to make me jealous by raving about the fabulous lamb but as I said, it's a good excuse to go back soon.
Our dining guests loved their lobster thermidor and baked Sea Bass, which were accompanied by light-as-air foams, a quirky touch to otherwise classic dishes.
Dessert was 'Lemon vs Lemon' which was deliciously tart; not being a dessert person I love anything a bit sour and this hit the spot.
To sum it up Blu remains our favourite restaurant and we are now avowed Kevin fans. If you're looking for an exceptional meal at a great location, Blu is where you'll find it. And yes, the plates are lovely.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

That Shirt, Part 2

So I was going to tell you about my birthing shirt, and got distracted by my ‘enjoy’ shirt. It was actually a more important story from my life but I really did want to tell you about the birthing shirt, so here goes.
As a woman approaches the ninth month of pregnancy she becomes obsessed with things that those who have never gone through the experience – and especially men - would never dream of. In my anti-natal class the instructor had told us to make sure we had a comfortable shirt to wear during the birth. It should be loose and comfortable, long enough protect our modesty in the early stages, yet provide easy access to the vital bits when the action hotted up. Logically you would just pick your favourite t-shirt or not bother about wearing anything at all, but frankly that’s just not me and logic rarely applied past the 37th week. Oh no. If I have to go through a major experience whether it’s giving birth or going on holiday to a new location I research it to death and obsess about the detail. So I trawled through various shops until I ventured into a lingerie retailer in Lochem that sold a good line of night shirts. I picked out the perfect one: loose fitting, short, in a practical dark blue (won’t show blood stains!) and with a tiny cute silver angel printed on the chest. Just what I wanted. It went into ‘The Bag’ in preparation for ‘The Day’.
My preparations continued, including exhaustive reading and re-reading of what was considered the authoritative book on giving birth, and practising all of the fifteen different stages of labour. I felt prepared, calm, only mildly hysterical. The due date arrived, although I wasn’t too concerned as only 5% of babies arrived on the actual date and most first babies arrive later. How wrong I was.
I won’t bore you with the story of how Niels was born because I know how much you desperately don’t want to know about it, but it did involve us racing to the hospital early in the morning. Friends later said it that when they entered our flat that day it was like a spooky sci-fi film where everybody has been vaporised: a piece of toast with one bite out of it rested on the bench, two half-cups of coffee stood cold and congealed nearby…
At the hospital the decision was made to induce labour. Before I knew it I had a drip in my arm and drugs were being pumped into me to bring on contractions. The nurse left the room to let us ‘get on with it’ and I suddenly realised: I don’t have my birthing shirt on! At that moment it seemed (to me) humanly impossible to give birth without having the correct attire.
“Quick, open The Bag and get out The Shirt!” I ordered hubby. Only then did we realise that because I was already hooked up to a drip, I couldn’t get my current clothes off, let along any new ones on. Believe me the last thing you want to be wearing when you are giving birth is a bra so there I was, the t-shirt and bra I’d quickly pulled on that morning pulled over my head and hanging pathetically from my wrist above the drip, my body exposed for all to see. Did I give a shit? Did I hell! A 40 piece brass band could have marched through the room and I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.
As the drugs pumped into my body contractions kicked in with a suddenness and severity that literally took my breath away. “Give me The Book!” I shrieked at hubby but it seemed we’d gone from chapter one to chapter 14 in less than ten minutes and I threw it in despair into a corner. A belt around my waist hooked to a monitor was supposed to transmit signals to indicate when I was having a contraction, but it had slipped down without anybody noticing and as I groaned in agony hubby calmly consulted the screen then announced “that’s not a contraction, it didn’t even register”. My snarled explosive response can’t be repeated here without me being kicked off Blogspot but let’s just say I was less than impressed by him.
Four short hours later Niels entered the world and I – white, shaking, in shock and completely pain-killer and drug free (this is Holland after all) - held him in my arms for the first time.
A few weeks later I was looking for something to wear to bed and I came across my Birthing Shirt. Better late than never I guess.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

That Shirt, Part 1

Rummaging through my ‘smalls’ drawer tonight (isn’t that a great expression? It must date back to my grandmothers’ time, or at least until before I had kids because frankly what used to be small in there, ‘aint so small anymore!) I found what I was hunting for. It’s my favourite nightshirt which in fact I call my Birthing Shirt. Doesn’t the name alone make you shudder?? And you don’t’ even know the story behind it, although you may think you do…
Long, long ago when I was pregnant with our first child, I had more than a little trouble getting to grips with the fact that I was going to have a baby. Yes, it was planned, and yes, I’d been married for several years but frankly I’m just not mother material. Never have been. I don’t lack compassionate attributes: in my lifetime I’ve had pet guinea pigs, axolotls (that’s a Mexican Walking Fish to you), eels, rats, sheep, cows, rabbits and even a horse. However until I met hubby the thought of actually going through the whole human reproductive process was unimaginable and frankly, more than a little repugnant. Yet there I was at 30 years old, with a husband whose biological clock ticked louder than Big Ben, and the realisation that it was Time. I went off the pill and hoped for the year that friends had rumoured it takes for conception to take place but damn! Within a couple of weeks I was peeing on a plastic stick and that terrifying blue cross was as clear as the North Star. I’d been knocked up. Hubby was thrilled and I was petrified. Logical really, he wasn’t the one who would have his body taken over by an alien and then have to eject the thing with as much gore and screaming as Sigourney Weaver in her memorable movie role. At four months pregnant, I decided matters needed to be taken into hand. This state of affairs was not going to ruin my life. I took myself into hand, gave myself a figurative slap in the face (or three) and told myself that this was a good thing, this is what we wanted. We were a family, and by God I would learn to enjoy it. I went out that very day and bought myself a shirt from a preggy shop which I have to this very day. It’s dark blue and in hot pink across the front is the word ‘enjoy’. I remember putting it on the next morning and driving to work. When I walked into the lobby through the revolving doors the sun shone down and I said to myself “you will enjoy this if it kills you”. And honest to God, literally from that second onwards, I loved being pregnant. It was the most profound way I have ever forced myself to change, and it happened with a day. I often think of that moment and draw on that experience because I now believe it to be one of the most profound of my life. If I could transform myself from a frightened, reluctant, overwhelmed pregnant person into a confident, joyous, mother-to-be in a day, I could do anything.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Loction, location, location...

I’m sitting here in the sultry summer evening heat grateful for the gradual and yet wonderful relief of the day cooling off. WHAT??? I hear you all shriek; the woman who has long vowed she never wants to see another winter again is complaining about the heat…in EUROPE??
Well, yes, but to be fair it has been ridiculously hot here. When we arrived last week, our plane touched down in Amsterdam to a frigid 13 degrees with soaking rains and leaden skies. The kids shivered their way to the waiting taxi, then shivered all night in bed despite the central heating being cranked up to 25 degrees. Welcome to summer in Holland. Yet within 48 hours the tables had turned and it was a sweltering 30 degrees with humidity which must have been in the high 80s. Now I know that’s normal in Singapore, and we are acclimatised to those temperatures, but the difference is that at night you can retreat to your condo and turn on the air-con. Here there’s no such luxury. Bedrooms heated to sauna equivalent remain that way until the sun rises and then heats them even further the next morning. And the sun doesn’t hold it’s regular 7:30 rise, 7:30 set pattern we’ve become accustomed to in the tropics; it hangs, bloated and sweating, in the stale over-heated haze until 10 pm before deigning to finally slouch its way below the horizon, only to leap back to bake the bricks again at 5:30 am. Acclimatising. It takes time. In the last month the kids and I have lived in three time zones and three different climates - New Zealand, Singapore, and Holland – and obviously it’s taking its toll. At least on me. I love the long dusks and early dawns, I just can’t get over the tiredness to enjoy it yet. The mother of one of my friends spotted me in the supermarket a couple of days ago but didn’t dare come to say hello because I looked too stressed and the kids were playing hell in the isles. Coping? Like hell.