As he prepares to leave Singapore, Mickey Randall is full of wonder, anticipation, and gratitude. (A truly wonderful read - ed).

Singapore and Me

 

The captain is a one-armed dwarf

He’s throwing dice along the wharf

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King

So take this ring

“Singapore” by Tom Waits
This island is a photocopier.

Delivered and installed on a Monday, everyone gathers around in an uncomfortable semi-circle. However, the collating, duplexing, and high-end printing means we’re swiftly smitten. We ooh and aah. Then, the boss has a turn. Attempting a scan/sort/staple/wrong ‘un he messes it up spectacularly.

They’re technologically exciting, doing whizzy things beyond the boundaries of your competence but, do you know what? You can’t love them. And photocopiers, I’ve discovered, don’t love you back. Ever.

Within weeks, the most frightening phrase in English will blink onto the condescending screen.

Add toner

Then, the phantom paper jams start.

I admire Singapore, but leave not having fallen in love. And it’s sad to not fall in love, because it’s the only place I’ve lived that’s not grabbed my full affection. Maybe in time it will. I know you shouldn’t compare siblings, but as our ferry bumped into the dock in Dover, I fell for England.

*

Koh Lanta has the best beach I’ve seen. Long Beach. Flying into Krabi, it took nearly three hours to get there, but was worth it. When you go to a travel agency, take a booklet from the shelf, and gaze at the aquamarine ocean, flawless sand, and Thai beach resort, it’s Koh Lanta that you’re staring at.

We were there in March, and every day I was on a lounge bed, with book and beer, gazing out at the shimmering water as our boys played by the gentle gulf. These are golden moments, and I know they’re as good as it gets. I know how lucky I am.

Then, I thought about the fragility of beauty, and how infinitesimal our lives might be.

*

Our boys began Auskick in Singapore. Suddenly, they were there, flopping about in their green and gold Sharks guersneys. Of course, the best, most instructive moments as a parent are those when you spy on your kids.

Yes, they’re frequently appalling in your company, but maybe that’s the key function of the family. It’s the moments that we strive for; when you see them, getting it right, with nobody looking. We enjoy those.

I was umpiring the adjacent game, and glanced over at the boys. In a wonderful, painterly scene they were holding hands. I was instantly teary. When I looked back a few minutes later Alex and Max were entirely indifferent to the crazy arc of the ball, and wrestling each other. And the next time Alex was on the ground chatting with his opponent, while Max had wandered off. He was putting an orange cone onto his head, as if Grand Master of a peculiar branch of the KKK.

*

Like denying Warney cheese slices, living with two boys (and a wife and a helper) in a small apartment is cruel. It just is. Sometimes, we can’t adjust to our domestic environs.

I now want harsh light, and space, and private greenery. I want to rush the boys out the back door, and to wheel my own bin out into the quiet Thursday street.

Here in Singapore we swim daily, but are drowning in an obscenely overpriced jail cell. Now, the door’s open, and my harmonica’s in my back pocket. Pssst. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m anticipating my lawn back home as much as anyone.

*

A Tim Winton enthusiast since university I bought Eyrie when home eighteen months back.

I read his words hungrily. The protagonist, Tom Keely, is archetypal of the author’s males: in an emotional crisis of his own invention, and scrabbling destructively within his relationships. For me it was significant when Keely considered reaching out to his sister, living in Singapore.

Singapore. The word zapped me. How exciting. Singapore. Frisson. Terrific that she lives in the Republic. What a plucky and daring soul.

Then, the bizarrely delayed realisation.

Wait a minute. I live there! We’re brave too. Despite the tropical location isn’t this just the dreary triangle of home, work, shops. Home, work, shops? Adelaidean suburbia, but hot and humid? Only if we let it.

Why is it that our lives occasionally read better on paper than in their practical expression?

There’s something incendiary in Winton’s single word that burnt me, and gave me some gruff underage footy coaching. Periodically, we all need some third person perspective.

*

At the Meadow within Gardens by the Bay, in the sizzling sun, with Marina Bay Sands soaring over us, we stretch out on our blanket with Heineken pints, squinting, and drinking in Vance Joy’s sunny pop.

Music festivals can remind you, somewhat savagely, of the youth that has now sprinted past you. But, the Laneway Festival in Singapore is among my highlights. Off we went. Each January.

Thirty years ago we’d be thirty foot under water, but the land reclamation here is mind-blowing. The Raffles Hotel on Beach Street is now downtown and not seaside. The home of the Sling has been slung inland.

The Laneway Festival is Australian, reaffirming, and vital. The wife pats me on the knee, and says, you know, this is not a bad life.

And it’s not.

*

Once taken, Europe’s an incurable drug. It’d been nine years since we climbed off Heathrow’s tarmac, and we’d often talked of the first country we’d take our boys. Italy? Greece? Spain?

So, on a Saturday just before Christmas, we left Asia, stopped during the afternoon in North Africa, and then arrived in Europe that night.

I love that I’m still a country kid who finds astonishment in this. Munich, and sleet slashed across the autobahn, battering our taxi. One day. Three continents, three time zones, three airline bread rolls.

I’m grateful that life in Singapore made this possible.

*

Our world shrinks, and shrinks.

I remember the half hour journey from Kapunda to Robertstown for boyhood football, standing huge and preternaturally hairy man-childs, and cold showers and colder pasties. It was to venture to the edge of the world.

But now, clinging to the equator ahead of my departure I see how small the infinite country of Australia is.

Many argue nostalgia’s the memory of childhood food. Today my mind’s swirling with images of Mum’s sausage rolls, tuna mornay topped with cheese, and plastic cups of Bobo cordial.

It’s time to go home.

 

About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Bobo cordial, the dentist’s friend, especially the green one.

    We must be the only two blokes that crave tuna mornay. I like mine with pineapple pieces and toasted slivered almonds.

  2. Swish- Bobo codial is sadly no more. Pineapple cordial was exceedingly popular in my final year of school.

    And a well-crafted tuna mornay in the depths of winter is magnificent.

    Thanks for that.

    Oh, Port’s now getting rolled. Best keep typing.

  3. Another tuna mornay fan here. My dear mother ensured I had 3 dishes in my repertoire when I left the family nest. Lamb chops and 3 veg, Spag Bol and Tuna mornay – sadly nowhere near as good as hers

  4. Nose- that’s an impeccable preparation.

    The three veg? Carrots, cauliflower and beans?

  5. Spot on! Sometimes I’d show off and toss in some mash!

    Great story of your boys at Auskick. Reminded me of my coaching days and looking over ones shoulder to see the tribe making dust castles on a particularly dry Brisbane Oval, or the entire forward line sitting cross-legged in the goal square having a yarn.

  6. Nose- as one who impersonated a PE teacher here in Singapore, going out on a Saturday to coach a sporting team, for free, was often low on my list of preferred Saturday activities, but overall, I enjoyed it.

    It was something I appreciated in retrospect, and to see our boys galloping about, and learning a few skills, was a treat.

    And gee, mash with a few nicely cooked bangers is right up high on my list. Probably an Adelaide Hills pub Sunday lunch.

    Thanks for that.

  7. Dave Brown says

    Nice Mickey. Home awaits, as Adelaidey as ever.

  8. Thanks Dave Brown.

    As an agent of leisure I walked down to Clarke Quay tonight, and watched Port v Sydney. And then strolled home, and when I arrived back at the hotel, was dripping wet. And it wasn’t from Port’s exhilarating performance.

    I ready for Adelaide’s arresting cold. I want to stand on the Glenelg Oval terrace and feel a sharp breeze at my back.

    And, bloody hell, I want an iced coffee. Not a FUIC- sorry, but a Classic Iced Coffee.

    Thanks,

    Mickey

  9. Wonderful Mickey. Loved it. Enjoyed the imagery around the idea of rushing the boys out into the backyard. Its just such a homely thing to do.

    Yesterday I asked my 20 year old daughter if she wanted to kick the footy in the park with me (I’m having a few days off work) and she said yes. Brilliant. Always keep asking them. Kids never really grow up.

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hey Adelaideans. Remember the TV Radio Guide, that Best Bets sized weekly publication with lots of stories on Ernie, Fluff Fairweather, Jane Reilly, Lionel Williams, John Vincent and in its latter days, Graeme Goodings and Jane Doyle.

    One of its highlights was the full colour recipe page, with a different use for mince, bacon and cabbage each week. That’s where I got many of my cooking ideas. The curried tuna mornay was a favourite.

    Nose, we must be brothers, either that or all mums handed down the same three recipes.

    After twenty odd years of observing mum’s nightly cooking rituals, when I moved into the pre-marital home on my own, I was having trouble with the mash. The spuds were taking forever to soften, so I rang mum for some advice. “How small did you cut them up?” “Whoops” was my sheepish reply.

  11. Steve Hodder says

    As girl with the little dog said “There’s no place like home”.

    Welcome back.

    onya

  12. Thanks Dips. Glad you liked it. Kicking the footy is such a wonderful thing to do. I look forward to doing this at home and at the great park, only a minute or two from home.

    Swish- a tuna mornay devotee, I don’t think I had a curried version though. Best put it on my list. Mashed potato- done well- is of profound human benefit! I reckon once we’d ventured from the family home, that we all had a few moments such as your spuds one. And Lionel Williams? Not a name I’d considered for a while. Was he a host on Touch of Elegance? Thanks.

    Thanks Steve. Appreciate the sentiment.

  13. E.regnans says

    Love your observations Mickey.
    And the way that you place them. Link them..
    And as Steve says – welcome back.

    I wonder – where do your boys identify as “home”?

  14. Come down to the South Coast- weather fine track good here
    Dehydration is never a problem here and kids thrive

  15. Tuna Mornay is a fave here too. Our secret is to ensure that the flour is sufficiently fried in butter to make the glue paste taste disappear. My mother used to use a specific dish with th recipe imprinted in the bottom that was never used for any other cooking. Strangely, it required the use of pickles to add zing. Never got my head around that.

    On a side note, if you ever feel the need to discuss repatriation, I’m available. Upon our return after 8 years so, we had a few struggles with the day to day. Working with the Australian education system being one of them. On the brightside, our kids who started Auskick in Abu Dhabi our now entrenched in the local footy club and loving the green trees, beach and water.

  16. Thanks E.r. Whilst only three years our youngest lived in Singapore for two-thirds of his life so he probably identifies more with this island. But he has some weighty anchors in Australia such as his Nanny and Poppy’s dog!

    Good tip Oges. At least a day trip down your way is planned for next month or so!

    Thanks for the offer Gus. I may give you a shout. I’m really looking forward to enjoying the seasons and other simple pleasures, but I know there’ll be some difficulties. The shiny new four-burner barbeque will also help!

  17. Grand reflections Mickey. Particularly liked the anonymous observations on your boys from afar.
    You are keen to get home, while I am getting toward the fag end of my working life and looking forward to strange destinations in places still undreamed. I find myself looking at the travel section more than the sports section of the paper these days, while looking nervously at the superannuation balance and the exchange rate.
    Still as you say its a marvel to have these options when the car trip to Curramulka for colts on a frosty July morning once seemed the ends of the earth.
    I must be getting older (and luckier).
    Cheers.

  18. Luke Reynolds says

    So many fantstic stories intertwined here Mickey. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reminscing about Singapore while mowing your lawns.

  19. Thanks PB. Before you know it your European trip will be happening. Autumn is a fine time of year to be there too. Last night the wife and boys had their first night back in our house, and she mentioned turning on the electric blanket. Going for a five minute stroll to the shops here and dripping upon arrival, the Adelaide cold seems unreal. It won’t take me long re-learn that it’s not.

    Thanks Luke. Apparently our lawn needs some serious winter maintenance! In some ways September with its combination of footy finals, spring racing and the return of weekly lawn mowing makes it my favourite month.

  20. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great stuff Mickey enjoyable contrast of Singapore and Adelaide,mind you as sad as a week as we have ever had and definitely the most United look forward to meeting you in the flesh,Mickey

  21. Thanks Malcolm. I’m sure we’ll soon cross paths at the footy.

    Agree it’s been a horrible yet unifying time.

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