28 July 2014


My legs and arms are sore.

Muscles I haven’t used for a while are aching and it hurts a bit when walk around.

I returned this afternoon from a surfing trip with some mates who like me, live here on the Island. It is something we do only occasionally now but I wished we did more often. We left Singapore on Friday afternoon and drove to the west coast of Malaysia. Where we go is an off-the-beaten-path beach that few people know about.

It is our secret place.

The last 20 miles or so are driven down a track that the jungle has mostly taken back and the way is rutted and bumpy.

A four-wheel drive is required.

The beach is shaded with palm trees and the sand is snow white. The turquoise blue water has waves that break left-handed over a sand bank that sits a hundred or so meters offshore. It suits me well as I am a goofy foot.

I will not explain what a goofy foot is as I simply couldn’t be bothered.

Other surfers will know what I mean.

I have surfed many times with the friends I went away with. We have surfed together in Indonesia and South Africa and Japan and Australia – and it is the main thing that binds us. We all grew up on beaches but we are otherwise quite different people – as should be the case.

No two persons are alike but there are synergies and passions and a sort of synchronicity with things that on occasion brings people together.

That attract.

Coherence is a funny thing.

It is wonderful too.

I treasure such moments.

I really do

Surfing to me – and I think to my mates as well - is a Zen type experience. It is not a sport but it is a fleeting state when you momentarily harness the pulse and the energy of the ocean. On the instant when you capture and ride a swell - there is a oneness with it.

The ocean that is.

It is both an exhilarating and a soothing experience where the outside world disappears.

For me it is a sense of belonging.

It is really nice.

The disconnection from the world when we go to the secret beach is prepossessing too. There is no mobile phone reception and we all like that.

We sleep on the beach and light a fire at night – not because it is cold – on the contrary – we live in the tropics. We do it because it is cozy - and to cook of course. Mosquito repellent is mandatory but effective and we take basic supplies of water and food staples. Quite often we fish and eat what we catch but on this occasion we grabbed some fish and fruit and vegetables from the local village. One of the boys is a chef at a pretty famous restaurant on the Island and he happily whips us up dinner and lunch.

We pluck mangoes from the jungle for our breakfast.

Wicked ones

We gorge ourselves on them.

I love sleeping on the beach and it reminds me of my childhood days when we would do the same thing. We would boil up mussels scraped from the rocks and dive and catch crayfish and boil them too and we would laugh a lot.

Those were the days.

Even though sleep is usually my enemy, after a day in the surf slumber is easy. It is deep too. I am easily lulled by the wash of the waves on the beach. The breaking waves seductively whisper to me and the voice of the ocean is endless.

It is a seductive and soothing and sensuous sound.

It is perpetual too.

The torpor we all experience is a splendid thing and we wake fresh and invigorated.

Apart from the surfing and the sleeping on the beach it is the conversations that I have with the mates that I like the most. I often wonder what girls talk about when they go away together and I am sure it is quite different from what blokes chat about.

With this particular group and on this particular occasion we talked about the futility of wars and the meaning of life. Two amongst us were South Africans who were children in the times of apartheid. I was enthralled when they talked of the cruelty that they experienced and were a part of - and their description of the joy that erupted when De Clerk released Mandela and how the anger and the tension and the injustice of the nation dissipated.

I asked a lot of questions - as I am prone to do.

It was frightening and fascinating.

We talked about the conflicts in Gaza and the Ukraine and Afghanistan and the horror of the Malaysian Airline plane that was shot from the sky. We pondered about man’s inhumanity to man and the abhorrence of violence. We talked too about love and hope and music and books and we conversed too about innovation technology and the environment. We laughed quite a bit as well as we remembered moments of joy we had shared on other trips.

Riding other waves.

Before we all fell to sleep we all sat quietly for a while looking out at the splendor of the ocean and I think reflecting on who we were and what was our place in the world.

I did anyway.

Before sleep engulfed me I stared at the stars in the sky and I took in their beauty. We don’t see them in Singapore for the unnatural illuminations hide them from us. I felt a state I can only describe as contentment  - but it was much more than that – as I knew with absolute certainty that the stars were watching me.

They were watching over me.

We all awoke at dawn as the red-pink sun broke over the horizon. The shriek of monkeys and the squawk of birds from the jungle roused us. As we shook sleep from our eyes and we peeled and gorged ourselves on the wicked mangoes we had picked the day before, we saw dark storm clouds gather in the distance and coming our way. We saw flashes of lightning and heard crackles of thunder.

Wiping mango juice from our faces we grinned knowingly at each other. Not a word was said as we quickly waxed our boards, fixed our leg-ropes and half trotted to the sea. The water calmed as we paddled out and the rain started to fall – slowly at first and then in driving sheets.

The swell was big and clean and we caught wave after wave while bolts crepitated the sky and peels of thunder boomed.

It was a magical moment.

It was a perfect climax.

When the storm passed we paddled in and toweled ourselves down and we drove back to Singapore – mostly in silence.

We were enraptured I think in waves of rumination.

I am enraptured still.

19 July 2014

Nefarious Creatures

There are now half a dozen pair of unmatched socks in my sock drawer.

The whereabouts of their counterparts are a mystery to me.

I do all my own washing and hang my clothes on a drying rack on my small verandah, so there is no chance that my missing socks have been left at a Laundromat. My verandah is enclosed and so there is also no possibility that any could have blown off and been carried away by the wind.

I have searched every square inch of my tiny apartment for the missing socks but they are not to be found.

I can only assume that the sock fairy has struck again.

This has happened nearly all my life. The sock fairy is mischievous and irksome. I imagine the fairy to be female.

She is impish and pernicious and she has gossamer wings. 

She is driving me mad.

My grandpa once told me never to run in the rain with my socks on. My grandpa often gave me strange but profound tidbits of wisdom. He was full of pithy sayings and I have heeded them all. I have never - nor will I ever - run in the rain with my socks on.

Grandpa died when I was twenty-five years old. He died on my birthday. His was the first funeral that I ever attended. I recall being told of his death as if it were yesterday  My Dad rang to tell me of his passing. Hearing the news felt like my heart had been ripped from my body.

My weeping was unrestrained and I could not be consoled.

Until that time I had never realized that the pain of loss and sorrow could be so deep and dark and that it felt so much like fear.

I know now that death only ends a life and not a relationship. I still think of my grandpa often and his wisely ways. He taught me much and I know from him that knowing oneself is the beginning of all wisdom.

Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He buys and sells countries and is known in Financial markets as the "Oracle of Omaha". It is quite possible that he now owns Spain and Greece and much of the Ukraine. He would have got them for a bargain price.

Buffett is much quoted and he once said:

Whether we're talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down"

The sock has been around for a very long time.

The word is derived from the Latin 'soccus'. A soccus was actually a type of shoe. At some point in time the Romans began to slip their sandals over the top of their soccus when they went outside and soccus were worn only indoors.

The Romans didn't invent the sock though – the Egyptians did.

Archeologists have found remnants of socks in tombs that date back to the fourth century. The most famous of all Mongolians - Attila the Hun - was also a big wearer of socks. He apparently wore very colorful socks as he rode into battle and he slaughtered his way across central Europe.

The father of the modern sock is an Englishman named William Lee. He was a Reverend from the county of Nottinghamshire in England. The Reverend Lee invented a machine that could knit socks out of wool and cotton. This was in the late sixteenth century. History records that when the good Reverend first endeavored to patent his machine, Queen Elizabeth the First - who was the Monarch of the time - initially refused to grant it. Her refusal was based on the fear that such a machine would jeopardize the employment of the many thousands of women of England who made their living by knitting socks by hand.

Nottinghamshire is where Robin the Hood lived.

I am not too sure of the time lines of Robin the Hood and William Lee but it is quite possible that the Reverend may well have socked the Hood. 

I like to think so.

Reverend Lee's sock knitting machine was eventually patented and the mass production of socks began in earnest. The machine he invented was a type of loom.

Loom is a most excellent word and is one that I will endeavor to use verbally in a sentence tomorrow. Apart from being a weaving machine, loom also means something that is ominous and impending. I will use the word loom in a conversation with one of the English with whom I work. They are not particularly bright and will undoubtedly be somewhat startled by the word.

I like saying the word loom and I am saying it out loud as I am writing this now.

It sounds a bit minacious.

As I have already stated, a loom is a machine that is used to weave cloth – including socks. I often repeat myself.

I often repeat myself.

When I think of loom I also think of doom.

I am saying both words out loud now as I write this.

I think that perhaps I am losing my mind.

Irrespective, I have now decided that I will try and utter both 'loom' and 'doom' in the same sentence to one of the English tomorrow.

I shall choose my victim carefully.

I hope the sock fairy is listening to me say 'loom' and 'doom' out loud as I sit here alone in my apartment, tapping away at my keyboard.

I hope that I am striking some degree of fear into the nefarious creature.

I hope that she will stop taking my socks.

12 July 2014


I have never before felt so helpless and hopeless and hapless as today. I have never before seen such fear and bravery and such kindness and compassion all together in the one place. I spent the afternoon at the Children’s Cancer Centre at the KK Women and Children’s hospital here in Singapore.

It was harrowing.

It was moving.

My hands are trembling a little just trying to capture what I witnessed. I doubt that any words I write will quite do the experience justice.

I shall nevertheless try.

I feel compelled.

I don’t know why.

I was made bald early this week. I was amongst quite a large group of people in my Company and on the Island that voluntarily had our heads shaved to raise both funds and awareness for the Hair for Hope Foundation. Like all the other volunteers I did it because it is a good and noble cause. I was more focused on the raising of funds though - and I didn't give the awareness piece as much as it deserved.

The head shaving act was no big deal to me. I am not very pretty with or without hair and it will grow back.

I saw the video presentation on the Hair for Hope foundation so I knew what the cause was all about – but I didn’t really know. 

I hadn’t seen it.

I hadn’t witnessed it.

But today I did - and it has shaken me to the core.

I went to my weekly acupuncture treatment the day of my balding and wearing my ‘Hair for Hope’ tee shirt. At the conclusion of my treatment my delightful and quite demure acupuncturist Dr. Jun meekly and politely thanked me for taking part in the event. I told her it was my pleasure and it was no big deal and then began a conversation about cancer and children. She asked me if I had known any children with cancer and I told her that I hadn’t but I had two adult friends who were currently battling the disease

Dr. Jun gives her time at the Children’s Cancer Centre at the KK Hospital a couple of days a week and she asked me if I would like to visit the oncology centre this weekend – which was today. She told me that the unit has many volunteers and always has a need for more – if only to read stories to some of the smaller children while their parents received some respite. She thought that me being freshly bald would also entertain the children – most of whom were the same.

Bald that is.

Dr. Jun told me that despite the advances of modern medicine – loss of hair and nausea were still common effects of the intrusive and often painful chemotherapy treatment that was required to fight the disease.

So along I went – with Dr. Jun – today.

I learned much today about cancer and myself – but amongst the knowledge I acquired was that leukemia is the most common form of cancer suffered by children in Singapore - and it chooses it victims indiscriminately. I met children today of many races and religions – Asian and Caucasian and Indian – Christian and Hindi and Muslim – all of them bald.

I met the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunties and grandparents of children who were brave but terrified. They were exhausted too. I saw brokenhearted parents walking into bereavement sessions with counselors so kind and considerate that all my petty worries evaporated in a moment.

They disappeared into thin air.

I played for a while with a bunch of little boy and girl baldies who laughed sometimes when I made fun of my own bald head and myself. Their chuckles and giggles came in between coughs that I could tell hurt their little lungs and I had to wear a mask in some of the rooms so I wouldn’t compromise their tiny and fragile immune systems. Dr. Jun gave me a good tour of the facility and the afternoon passed by in a kind of a blur that even now I have difficulty in remembering all of the detail.

I do recall her telling me that the odds of survival of childhood cancers are increasing all the time and with the advancement of bone marrow and stem cell transplants more than one in two children with the disease will now likely recover and go on to live healthy and happy lives. It was chilling though to think – no to know - that of the fifty or so children I saw today twenty-five would probably die.

None were older than ten.

At the end of the afternoon I sat for a while with a little six-year-old girl named Libby who looked so tiny and frail in her big hospital bed. I read her a story. Libby has been undergoing chemotherapy for nearly three months. She was bald and brave and she giggled at the funny voices I put on and I don’t think that she could hear the trembling in my voice. I read her less than half the story about Jack and the Beanstalk before she fell asleep and then I held her pale and minuscule little hand in mine until her mum and dad came back into the ward after getting a cup of tea.

I am sure there was despair in my face when I hugged Libby’s Mum goodbye and I think I may have hugged her a little tight. When I shook Libby's Dad’s hand I saw the anguish in his eyes and I desperately wanted to say it’s OK – everything will be all right.

I knew though that I couldn’t.

Then I walked out with a big and fake grin on my face and I said goodbye to the other kids while my heart broke into a million tiny pieces.

I am not sure if it will repair.