What do National Celebrations tell you about a country? Its confidence? Its personality? There is a danger in stereotyping. In the UK we don’t do National Days.
Partly our aggrandizing past has embedded an embarrassment that makes such an event a non starter. Partly it’s because the St George’s Cross has become a symbol of sick tribalism more relevant to moronic football supporters or the English Defence League on a march than a pride in statehood.
We have the usual national days – St George’s Day being 23rd April – but they aren’t the cause for a national outpouring of anything resembling rejoicing. Some politician suggested these days become public holidays but I don’t buy that – it’s not in our psyche; after all the only nationally specific holiday we have in the UK is Scotland’s second day to see in the New Year – a statement more on post imbibing than pride in place.
We joined Singapore’s 52nd birthday party with interest therefore as it isn’t something we do.
The setting is splendid: on Marina Bay and the spectacle had a few elements. National songs and a display of military capability that was all a bit Soviet for me
some captivating dance and song that showed off a welcome pool of talent maximising all the many cultural influences here; the touching involvement of local cultural icons to get the crowd swooning (we do that, big-time, this fetishising celebrity); a simply fabulous light show using 300 drones to carve pictures in the air and the ubiquitous but none the less highly effective fireworks to end the evening with an ooh and an ahh.
In fact when I think about the military piece, don’t we all like a bit of jingoistic tub thumping? If the Queen & Co grace their balcony in London for some competitive waving, someone will fly past. We might not have mock terrorist attacks being thwarted as we did here (there was something not right about a mock terrorist truck being used as part of this entertainment I felt given what has occured in France and Germany and the UK recently – I agree that the defence forces need to train for it, now it has been shown to work, sadly, but to get the crowd clapping didn’t sit well) – anyway, the point is we all still have our own need to show off our ability to kill in large numbers for some reason. So Singapore are really no different to anyone else with a military machine.
We thought there might be a parade, like the Lord Mayor’s show. This is quintessentially naff, of course, pressing delivery trucks into service as part of some flight of the imagination.
This supposition stemmed from a gathering outside our hotel about 2 hours before the main event, centred around the nearby Sri Krishnan Temple.
When we mentioned this to the Civil Servant, herself a Singaporean national, she shrugged. She knew of no such parade.
Shame. I think they are splendid and endearing, in their utter simple joy and lack of worry about who is watching.
Perhaps what this show lacked is humour. Not in the slapstick sense, that was there. Maybe that’s what I want here more than anything. The confidence to take the piss out of themselves. Mind you, as Churchill said of Attlee and to misquote it here about us: we should be a modest nation with a lot to be modest about. Unlike Singapore who have every reason to feel pride in where they have put themselves on the world map when you compare it to so many other countries in the region.
As a contrast to the this modern view of themselves, we spent the first part of the day at Pulau Ubin, an island off the coast near Changi where the eponymous airport sits spitting large planes here, there and everywhere.
Pulau represents Singapore as it used to be – a tropical island whose strategic place at the turn of the Straits of Malacca made it ripe to become a significant port and fort.
The only access to its far reaches is foot or bike and so it was that I rode tandem with the Vet, who lacks a certain cycling dexterity.
If you’ve not ridden tandem one word of warning to those at the front.
Be sure to have an ally watching to ensure a fair allocation if effort from the person at the back.
The island itself contains one house, the former summer residence of the Chief Surveyor built in the Surrey Tudor style popularised in the 1930s in suburbia.
It has been refurbished as a visitor and research centre and it is here a lot of work on the local ecology is undertaken. For the rest the island is a teeming jungle which hugs the coast.
Board walks give access to some parts where the likes of sea eagles and monitor lizards can be spied.
We found a nutmeg tree and while there was fruit it wasn’t ripe so tasted of nothing. Shame.
Before the story let me end with some roof top views of Singapore at night.
The sunset wasn’t as we had hoped but a drink with the family in such a splendid setting some 62 stories up on a warm tropical evening takes some beating.
Today’s story is based on this picture
chosen by the Beautician, who added it should involve two warring grandparents and be comic. Tricky that last bit. You decide.
Millicent Ward-Bubble’s world would have remained relatively untroubled but for the fire in her mother’s flat. Probably. Having little money, Harriet Bubble had nowhere to go while the damage was assessed, loss adjusted and repaired. Millie knew she had no choice but to invite Harry to stay. She also knew what would happen next.
‘Hi Joel. I was right.’
‘Well done on not swearing. Jemima is out with mum so you can let rip if you need to. Will you call your mother?’
‘Is there any point?’
‘Does the sofa bed still work?’
‘We are about to find out.’
By the time Millie had changed the bedding on her bed, tried and failed to open the sofa bed and put some scones in the oven Harry and Jemima were back from the park to the news. Well, Jemima being not quite 2 didn’t really take in the new dynamic. Unlike Harriet.
‘That’ll be nice.’
‘The question, mum, is will you.’
‘Will I what?’
‘Aren’t I always?’
‘With Wanda, no.’
‘Is she back to calling herself Wanda?’
‘I’ve no idea. But she will answer to it.’
‘What was it last time? Nastase?’
‘Namaste, mum. Think yoga not tennis.’
‘She’s moved on from her tantric centrist, then?’
Millie shuddered at the memory of her mother in law’s 4 hour sexual awakening followed by the neighbourhood’s awakening when her hip dislocated under the weight of her spiritual guide and hugely fat yogi. ‘So Joel said. I think she’s between, erm, experiences.’
‘I’ll give that woman her due. Her fanny might be as desiccated as an oyster that been left out in the sun too long but she can still draw them in.’
‘Choice mum. Maybe yo could say that a little quieter. I don’t want Jemima’s new word to be ‘fanny’ thanks’
‘Wanda won’t mind.’
‘Maybe you could make yourself useful and grab some supplies from the supermarket for me?’
‘You trying to get me out of the way?’
‘How can I put this politely? Yes.’
‘Do we know what she’s eating?’
‘High level, no, but she’s never turned down toad in the hole even when vegan. Just get skinless sausages that look veggie and some couscous and we should be fine.’
Millie left Jemima sleeping and headed for the kitchen. This is where the biggest battles will be fought, she thought. Operation Overlord was nothing like as complex as the first breakfast is going to be. On the one side it will be good solid English stodge – on the other lemon grass and curry leaf porridge with a chickpea brioche or some such. They will both want to impose their ideas on Jemima who, to call her fussy, would be as misleading as calling the Queen middle-youth so the tantrums will be Trump-esque. If I can get through breakfast without tasering either woman that will count as a success, Millie told herself.
Three hours later the doorbell went. Millie did a stock check. The water filter had been dug out and pressed into service, ditto the energising tea; a couple of old josh sticks that had migrated mysteriously to the barbecue fuel heap were dusted off and set going in her bedroom; and most importantly all the furniture had been realigned to follow the feng shui plan that Wanda had commissioned (and Millie paid for) on her last visit.
‘Hello! It’s love…’ the words froze on Millie’s lips. For the briefest moment Millie thought the black leather suited, shaven headed woman must be a motorcycle courier. Until she smiled. That smile could cross continents with its mix of pity and disapproval.
‘Millicent, darling,’ Wanda had replaced her usual all enveloping hug with surprise fist pump which caught Millie unawares and left her miming a jab to her mother in law’s chest, ‘this is Greg.’ She moved aside adding, ‘my soulmate.’
Millie smiled and stood back. She didn’t trust herself. Wanda swept past. ‘Where’s my little treasure.’
As she disappeared towards the kitchen Millie met the gaze of Greg. Similarly clad in leather and shaven headed with a tattoo pricking above his collar onto his neck, he was affecting a nervous smile. The thing, though that struck Millie most, was his age. He couldn’t be more than 19. ‘Um, hi. Is it okay if I leave the bike there?’ He shrugged at a large black motorbike parked on the drive. Millie nodded. ‘Great. And the bags?’ He nodded at his feet. A couple of stained and scuffed leather panniers lent against his legs.
‘Up. Second right. I’m Millie,’ she managed a smile. ‘Nice to meet you.’
Greg disappeared upstairs and Millie breathed. This was going to be interesting.
In the kitchen Wanda was on the floor with Jemima while Harry stood by the kettle, her arms folded. Wanda had removed her jacket to reveal a white stringy top and rather too obviously no bra.
Millie caught her mother’s gaze. One neatly plucked eyebrow said it all. Harry said, ‘Wanda wondered if you had a beer but since we’d not prepared for that option I’m making tea.’ Pause. ‘Breakfast tea.’ Double Pause. ‘With milk. Her allergies have cleared it seems.’
Wanda looked up. ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’
‘I imagine Greg has helped.’ Millie spoke to Wanda but looked at her mother who mouthed ‘Greg?’
‘Oh yes. He’s so grounded.’
Millie visualised the muddy boots, the scuffed luggage and oily hands. ‘Very earthy.’
Harry picked up the boiled kettle and turned away. ‘And it’s back to plain Wanda.’
When the tea was poured Wanda stood and joined the others as they watched Jemima. She said, ‘I know you both think I’m dotty but I was a fool to listen to that shaman. I realise that now. But Greg helped me see the light. He’s opened me up to new possibilities.’
The image that phrase conjured in Millie’s mind made her feel rather vertiginous. She shook it away.
Harry asked, ‘Where is he?’
Wanda waved her hand vaguely. ‘Unpacking I expect.’
Millie frowned. ‘You hardly brought much.’
‘He’s very fastidious. I’ll go and check.’
Some instinct made Millie follow behind. As Wanda opened the door Millie caught sight of Greg on his knees apparently rolling a joint, then the door shut.
She spun on her heels, determined to phone Joel. He could sort out his mother.
Oddly the rest of the day proved more straightforward than she imagined. Greg spent a long time at the end of the garden, Harry retreated to the conservatory to read and Wanda followed Millie around asking all sorts of questions about Jemima and Joel that she’d have never asked in her previous incarnation. She barely mentioned Greg which was some consolation.
Dinner was easy too. Harry had a headache while Wanda and Greg wanted to explore the ‘local culture’ which turned out to be a pub crawl. The only downside for Millie was being woken by Jemima, grizzling at 2am and having to listen to her mother in law and friend describing each other’s privates while she nursed her daughter to sleep.
As a consequence Millie slept in. It should have been a treat but when she came to, sticky eyed and stiff necked from the lumpen sofa bed, she could hear multiple voices in the kitchen. ‘Oh god,’ she thought, ‘its all kicking off.’
Cursing her husband for not managing to keep a demilitarised zone across the kitchen she mussed her bed-hair, pulled on a dressing gown and headed for the Somme.
A scene of utter depravity met her eyes, the like of which she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams. Both grandmothers sat either side of Jemima, who was perched in her high chair. While one spooned some soft boiled egg into her mouth the other alternated with bread fingers covered in sprinkles. All three were laughing as, before each mouthful, Jemima tried to blow the sprinkles or egg yoke off the spoon before happily eating it.
Joel, meanwhile watched the scene with a benevolence that Millie found extraordinary. ‘What are you all doing?’
Harry looked at her daughter. ‘I don’t often say this but I think Wanda is onto something. These sprinkles are sugar free and are the reason your daughter is eating the bread and the egg. Good eh?’
Wanda smiled. ‘Oh Harry, don’t be modest.’ Millie blinked; had Wanda used her mother’s preferred name? Whatever next. ‘Without your blowing game this wouldn’t have worked.’
Her mother was the fussiest, tidiest person Mille knew; spreading sprinkles and runny egg was not in her DNA.
Wanda nodded to the French doors, ‘Oh he felt a bit peeky so popped down the garden for some air.’
Harry rather too obviously nudged Wanda, ‘Or rather smoke.’
Both women started to giggle.
Joel watched his wife. He picked up the kettle. ‘Coffee?’
She shook her head. ‘You know what? I think I’ll go and join Greg.’