Category Archives: Uncategorized

Adapting to Your Environment

One of the things I knew nothing about before moving to Hanoi was the reality of the climate here.  Speaking completely personally, and no, I’m not an expert (!) – it’s awful!  We’ve been here almost a full calendar year having arrived at the very beginning of March 2012, February is the only month we haven’t experienced yet.

Apart from November which was a lovely month (am I biased because I had friends to stay and it was my birthday?), no weatherwise it was pretty good, really every single month has been a challenge for me.  When I first arrived I was pretty soon struck down with Hanoi Hack (a medical term folks, I’m not making it up for dramatic effect), that took weeks to clear up before a short period of respite and another bout of coughing, bronchitis, sinusitis  …..

Add to the challenge of keeping my body healthy with all the pollution here, the climate  itself and really I’m amazed I’m still here!  March was very grey, April started to brighten up, May – August were so unbelievably hot that going up a flight of 10 steps inside the house seemed like a gargantuan effort.  Oh you get the picture …

One of the things I love about the Vietnamese, and expats now I come to think about it, is their willingness to share information.  And this is particularly so when it comes to medication.  I have drunk all sorts of herbal concoctions and teas which were absolutely guaranteed to cure a cough (and no, I don’t know what was in them but they looked horrid enough to perhaps work!), I’ve spooned down all sorts of hideous syrupy liquids, taken tablets, antibiotics, anti histamines ….  However, I think all of this has been a waste of time and my latest venture – to a Vietnamese lady who practises traditional Chinese medicine – pretty much sums up the state of play.

After listening carefully to everything I have tried so far (and to be fair, only giving the very faintest of smiles), looking at my tongue, taking my pulse and blood pressure and then feeling around various key parts of the body she gave her diagnosis:  My body was fighting itself, it is not in harmony and really the fighting is too much.  So, I must start yoga, only eat food that is fresh and in season, gargle and sniff sterilised salt water twice a day, take exercise, relax more and stop struggling against my own body but let it find it’s own path to healing.

And the bill?  A big fat Xero.  She said there was no charge for her advice because really it was just common sense that I had forgotten and there is nothing wrong with me that my body won’t sort out for itself if I just give it a chance and lay off all the medicines.

A tip here that could result in some impressive savings for the National Health system in the UK perhaps?!

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I wanna tell you a story …

But I don’t know which one to tell you. Should I tell you about eating dog in Vietnam? Or the experience of being Country Table Coordinator at the HIWC Charity Bazaar (which looks set to be a record-breaking fundraiser this year, having taken $115,000 by the end of the day), or maybe I could talk about attitudes to Christmas here in a Communist/Buddhist country? Or how about the trip to Cinematheque with my book group to meet LeLy Hayslip?

Okay, I’m going to talk about the cinema trip – if you want to hear about the others send me a message and I’ll oblige.  I belong to two book groups out here and am planning to start another. Both are through the Hanoi International Women’s Club (HIWC) and both are very different in character and membership. The lunchtime group is older women (oh okay, more my own age) – generally women who aren’t working, American, British, one Indian lady and a Scottish lady who has lived in Geneva for years. We host the group in turns and the host provides lunch – either home cooked or bought in. We meet from 11.00 – 1.30 and never have any problems talking about the book and veering off into fascinating discussions sparked by the theme. We’ve read and discussed books such as ‘The House of Velvet & Glass’ and ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and are about to meet to discuss ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ (which is short stories – a genre I would never choose and I’m loving them). Choosing books always feel a little like pulling teeth and there’s only one or two of us who suggest any – not sure why!

But, I’m digressing because it’s actually a book that I’ve been reading through evening book group that I want to talk about. Evening book group is younger women – i.e. women who work or are still active mums (as opposed to me whose kids are back in the UK and aged between 18 – 26 years). We take it in turns to choose a book and the ‘chooser’ hosts. We usually get together in the host’s house at around 7.30 and enjoy wine and nibbles whilst having some very lively debates! We’ve read books like (the fabulous) The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman and The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhharta Mukherjee (a biography of Cancer which is brilliantly written, easy to read and absolutely fascinating). Our latest book was ‘When Heaven and Earth Changed Places‘ by LeLy Hayslip. Not entirely by coincidence, this was chosen because we felt we should read some Vietnamese literature and this won out over other suggestions as LeLy was scheduled to visit Hanoi in December.

Several of us are members of a delightful independent cinema club called Cinematheque Hanoi who tend to have themes and special screenings, including Q & A sessions with the author or director of a film when possible. (They’re about to start a week of David Lean films, including the first showing in Asia of the new HD version of Lawrence of Arabia – I’ve already booked my seat!). LeLy Hayslip’s book is about her experiences growing up in Ky La, a village near Da Nang in central Vietnam – caught between the Viet Cong and the Republican Army. Her graphic account was made into a film in the 1990s (I think) by Oliver Stone. She was at the screening, having prepared (with some Buddhist monks) a fantastic vegetarian buffet supper for all guests and then conducted a Q&A at the end.

So, 6 of us met up at Cinematheque for supper and a bottle of wine, all confessed that we hadn’t finished the book but were enjoying it. We met LeLy and were blown away by the film – a little Americanised for sure but great nonetheless. The Q&A was fascinating and LeLy was so open, honest and friendly it was hard to equate her with the traumatic life of the character on the screen. She donated all proceeds on the night to a charity she established in 1998 to help to heal the wounds between America and Vietnam following the war – East Meets West Foundation.  What struck me, sitting in a red velvet seat, in a 90-seat capacity, independent cinema, sipping my glass of wine, with friends was how unbelievably lucky I am to have these opportunities. Where else could I meet such an inspiring woman in person, and enjoy her food, life-story and company among friends.

And where was my husband at the time? Out with a group of French friends enjoying an evening at L’Opera Hanoi listening to a Jazz concert featuring Vietnam’s most famous saxophonist.   Sometimes the choices we are having to make about how to spend our leisure time are almost absurd. I’ve always said that I wish I could have two parallel lives – one with the choices I do make, and one with the choices I didn’t make. Never has this been more true than here in Hanoi where on many occasions we’re having to choose between almost impossibly fabulous events. In the end it usually comes down to which one we’ve said yes to first!  Ah, it’s a great life eh!

When Being Dissatisfied’s a Good Thing

One of the things I was particularly looking forward to about moving to a completely new place was the feeling that I would suddenly have more time. Back in the UK I managed to fill all my time – with a combination of work and leisure activities – so that I never seemed to have the time to take on anything new or even ‘enough’ time to do some of my activities to the extent that I wanted to.

In Vietnam though I felt that things would be different. For one thing I wouldn’t have friends and family around and although I love spending time with them all, without their presence I should, in theory have spare time.

Five months in and that just doesn’t seem to be the case. My husband reckons that the day I die I’ll still be complaining that I haven’t got, or haven’t had, time to do everything I want to do. Maybe he’s right, maybe I am just one of those people who is constantly dissatisfied. But I don’t actually think that’s what he meant. I think he meant it as a compliment. He often says that I have an insatiable curiosity and interest in life, a thirst that can never be quenched. Hmm.

So what exactly do I do all day?

Well let me see:

Monday – free in the morning to catch up with marketing writing and other bits of admin related to owning property that’s rented, pensions, general ‘stuff’. The afternoon I try to meet up with my writing buddy to do a couple of hours of creative writing. Walk the dog – which takes the best part of an hour and a half made up of walking for around 45 minutes, cooling her off and feeding her and showering and changing clothes. Often I cook on a Monday but Chi will have acted as sous chef so not usually too much prep to do. The evening is spent chatting to hubby and watching one of the many series we enjoy on DVD. Bed and read either one of the book group books or something I’ve chosen.

Tuesday – 9.30 – 12.00 – teaching English to a Vietnamese lady. Sometimes on the way home I’ll stop at a shop to buy some of the Western groceries that Chi doesn’t buy. Chi works all do so usually cooks on a Tuesday. In the afternoon I walk the dog earlier and then go to Lacquer class from 3 – 6p.m. Home to finish off the supper and eat with hubby.

Wednesday – 9.30 – 1.30 – Play Mah Jong with a group of International Club ladies followed by lunch. In the afternoon as I’m in town I will do any admin or buy items we need from shops in the centre. Today for example I went to find and pay the tour operator we’ve booked some forthcoming trips with. Home to walk the dog. Catch up on marketing work and keep in touch with friends/family. Cook supper and evening with hubby.

Thursday – a.m. teaching Vietnamese lady as Tuesday. If I haven’t made it to my writing buddy on Monday I go in the afternoon. Otherwise I prep for a Business English class tomorrow, read a Book Group book if I find time and play some learning sessions of Mah Jong. I do ad hoc writing work for clients in the UK in addition to retained work so often fit this in here. Walk the dog – of course. Evening – Chi works all day so cooks. I might need to do a bit of prepping but otherwise – evening with hubby.

Friday – 8.10 – 2.00 I go to hubby’s work where I teach all the Vietnamese staff Business English, followed by lunch with hubby and colleagues. Home to walk Sally followed by cooking supper if needed. Sometimes we go out on a Friday night but not always.

Saturday and Sunday – 9.30 – 12.30 on both days I teach the Vietnamese lady’s 2 young children.

So, in between these ‘set’ activities I belong to the Hanoi International Women’s Club and go to coffee mornings or other events they run; belong to two book groups and a writing group. We swim at least once a week and go probably three times a month to the independent cinema club to see a film. On average we eat out with friends once a week and I try to meet a friend for coffee or lunch once a week. We are about to buy a bike each to go cycling at the week ends and so I can do my short run journeys by bike instead of needing a taxi to get everywhere. I knit in the evenings and we sometimes listen to a story on CD but hubby usually falls asleep and I get fed up having to listen to the same chapter the next evening x about four before I refuse to hear it again and we give up! Once a month we’ll go to a cultural event – at the English book shop perhaps or a wine tasting. I write a journal and occasional blog!!!

I’ve just volunteered for a role in the HIWC Charity Bazaar annual fundraising day held at the end of November. It sounds like a pretty big role but in all honesty the work hasn’t started yet so that isn’t taking my time.

Now, what don’t I do that I want to?

Go to pilates classes every week; go with the ladies to the orphanage to teach the girls to knit/spend time with them; more creative writing; join the weekly ‘hash’ walks on a Saturday; baking; cultural things with a friend – visit more museums, pagodas etc.; some time with absolutely nothing planned; more trips and week ends away.

Some of these we’ve got planned – we will buy bikes this week end, the hash walks will start up again I guess in September, when I finish the lacquer course I’m going to use that time for the orphanage/pilates/cultural things with a friend and we’ve got number one son coming to visit next week and have two pretty full-on weeks planned of visiting Saigon, Danang, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi and Sapa.

Is my husband right – do I just want to do more things than there’s time for? Life is for living right and absolutely every component within mine has been chosen by me – how enormously priviledged am I. So none of what I’ve written is a complaint – more an observation that perhaps some of us are born to be dissatisfied – in a good way!

The Borrowers

I don’t know why, it’s not as if the inhabitants are little people or anything, but this dwelling always reminds me of The Borrowers. Just before moving to Vietnam we watched a new BBC One dramatisation of Mary Norton‘s classic novel so maybe that’s why it’s near the front of my mind. Like many children I absolutely loved the idea that there might be little people living in our midst who ‘borrow’ all those things that go missing!

However, this picture is in some ways perhaps rather sad – this motley collection of cast offs and leftovers is someone’s home. From what I can gather a family of 6 live here, including two young children, but that could be more because Vietnamese families prefer to live all together and I often see an elderly woman emerging from the front door too.

Like many thousands of Vietnamese people, this family make their living from collecting, sorting and I guess selling on somehow, other people’s rubbish. Their house happens to be on a piece of wasteland where I walk Sally sometimes so the family now recognise me and wave or say Xin Chao (hello). The children – under 6 years of age – are both fascinated by and terrified of Sally but they do seem to enjoy watching her frolicking around off lead and throwing/catching various bits of ‘treasure’ like an empty drink bottle.

Not usually one for facts and figures I can tell you that the minimum wage here is (supposedly) 2 million Vietnamese Dong (Vnd) per month – roughly £60 and very roughly £2 a day. Sure many things are very cheap here but even so, that is not a lot of money. A paper collector can earn 3 million a month while a surgeon will earn 30 million (an amount that only 2% of the population generate).

The observant amongst my readers will have noticed that there are a) not a lot of photos and b) none showing people. It’s not that I’m not interested in people, quite the opposite in fact, I’m only really interested in people. It’s because I have an absolute horror/dread/fear of taking someone’s photo without asking them first. Yes I have some hang ups about having my own photo taken and yes it stems from my childhood and yes Dad, I forgive you honest I do! There are some stunningly beautiful, tender interactions between people here where the lines between public and private are very blurred.

Many people live out their lives on the streets, in public and the opportunity to observe or bear witness to all of life’s interactons is all around you. When my hubby walks Sally last thing at night he never ceases to tell me how many of the cars and motobrikes were ‘rocking’ on the waste ground which doubles as a spot for young lovers under cover of darkness. (Isn’t that illegal in the UK by the way?!)

Maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to ask The Borrowers if I can take their picture outside their home but then how could I explain that I don’t want the picture to gloat or show the world how dreadful it is here – but to show you how happy they seem, the level of teamwork displayed with every single family member pulling their weight and mucking in and how ingenious is their house which withstands the truly awful weather in Hanoi. I couldn’t explain it and have them understand and I don’t want to steal from them so I’ll have to try to capture them in my mind and the occasional furtive picture and hope that that’s okay with them.

Shopping

It is no exaggeration to say that I can spend all morning shopping here in Hanoi. Pause a moment while I wait for friends and family to process what I just said. Karen shopping? It will seem unlikely I know but ….

I haven’t yet found a shop that sells everything that I want for a meal so I end up going from shop to shop buying meat here, vegetables there, condiments from a third and bread from – well, the bakery of course! Things aren’t so different here.

Or at least that’s what happened before the fabulous Chi took over the running of our household. Now, at least some of the traipsing around can be alleviated by telling her in advance what I need and waiting for her to arrive for work, happy, smiling and bearing gifts! Well, fruit, veg and/or meat to be accurate but it feels like a gift because the quality and price are far superior to anything that I can manage to buy and I’ve had to make so little effort myself.  When I complimented her yesterday on the quality of the Dragon Fruit she’d bought me she replied, with a totally straight face: “I am a Vietnamese woman. I know how to shop”.  Well quite a few of my friends know how to shop Chi but trust me, they couldn’t buy fruit at the absolute peak of perfection quite like you do!

In the UK I would often trek around one of the big supermarkets, aisle after aisle searching for a product that eluded me only to ask an assistant who pointed to the very shelf where I was standing (who does decide where all those products go by the way?).  Out here my inability to find items is greatly simplified by the clever Vietnamese grouping all their shops by item, especially in the Old Quarter.   Therefore if you need paper you simply go to Paper Street, if you want bamboo furniture head over to Bamboo Corner.  However, even this cunning strategy falls down, from my perspective, when it comes to two particular items:  nappy sacks and tea towels.  I absolutely can’t find them anywhere but I love the idea of Nappy Sack Street so am not going to give up.  Without wishing to further worry my family with talk of all things baby related I was thrilled to find, after only an hour’s searching, Paddling Pool Lane.  The dog (nappy sacks are the perfect receptacle for taking out on dog walks) is in danger of over-heating out here and absolutely refuses to go near water unless it’s a muddy puddle or Westlake where the only steps in and out are about a kilometre from the house and it’s too hot to walk there.  Hence the need for a paddling pool!  Tea towels?  I’ve no doubt I’ll find them when I least expect to and no longer want them.  Until then, I’ll make do with the one that I packed (accidentally I admit!) and await my furniture shipment from the UK.

Bits & Bobs & Observations

I’m conscious that it would be very easy when writing about a place where I am very much the alien, to sound like every comment I make is a judgement call. Let me clarify right at the start – the comments I make are observations and absolutely not judgements. Of course, I come from a particular generation, gender, culture etc. etc. and those give me a set of rules by which to live. If I am going to write anything about my time here I simply don’t have the time or energy to qualify every single statement and question whether I’m sounding too negative.

If I intend something to be overtly negative or critical, I will make this absolutely clear at the time of writing – otherwise please do not take offence at anything I am saying. My way of doing or seeing things is no better nor worse than yours or indeed the situations I’m observing. They are worthy of comment simpy by virtue of being different to what I know/expect or because of my reaction to them or whatever – they resonate for me in some way and I’d like to share them with you.

Okay, that’s the disclaimer, now for some of the observations:

Having been brought up as an expat child, moving to Kuwait when I was 8 years old (back in the late 1960s) I was perfectly comfortable with having domestic staff around – an aya (housekeeper/maid/nanny) and a gardener and various other people who seemed to work hard and always be smiling. It’s not a natural state in most British households however so I do have a slight aversion to paying someone to clear up after me. However, it is pretty much de rigeur here among expats and many Vietnamese so I jumped at the offer from a friend to “share her maid”.

I set off to meet said ‘maid’ (whose real name is Phuc but my friend has young children and they agreed it would be better to change her name to Chi) thinking that I was about to conduct an interview. Oh no, not a bit of it. A gruelling 20 minutes later when I had agreed to: paid public holidays, paid sick leave, overtime, a one month bonus at Tet (New Year), pay while I’m on holiday, an annual pay rise and a one month bonus for each year worked when I leave (all perfectly reasonable requests I thought) I found myself leaving with a housekeeper/cook who has agreed to take me on!!!!! I need to spend some time thinking through this interview because there are some serious negotiating/selling skills lessons to be learnt! Anyway, I’m delighted and Chi starts on Monday morning.

Most of the grocery shops that attract the expats have notice boards and they are often teeming with Situation Wanted adverts – predominantly for cooks. It is patently clear, with even the most cursory glance at these advertisements that the pinnacle of achievement for a domestic cook is: ‘Can follow Jamie’. Jamie Oliver, if this message ever finds its way to you my advice is to get yourself over to Hanoi pronto. Okay, Gordon Ramsay might have beaten you to it in television terms but I tell you what Jamie, you have the most loyal following out here – the mere mention of your name literally opens the door to peoples homes. I have applauded the school meal and other initiatives and would love you to know that just by being, by producing your cookery books and I guess by making the TV programmes you are enabling people to work who might otherwise struggle. How fantastic is that!!!

Staying on a house type theme, we move into our new house this Sunday and I am sooooo excited. We will move from a small apartment crammed with furniture to a huge house and barely any furniture. Because land is so limited here in Hanoi the houses tend to be narrow, deep and tall and every inch is used. We struggled to find anything that was built on a human scale – some of the rooms were just so big that even moving from a 4/5 bedroom house in the UK we would fit all our furniture in one room here.

Having been married for 7 years I learnt something new about my hubby during the househunting. Well, I learnt two things – he hates househunting and, more interestingly, he loves modern houses. I had no idea. This came to light when an agent managed to sneak in a viewing to a house that was totally unsuitable but he wanted us to see it – the most enormous, brand new, 7 storey extravaganza I’ve ever seen. I hated it and Kevin loved everything that was new about it. This made me re-think my viewing policy and I realised that earlier that week I had in fact seen a house that he might just love, but that I had discounted without a second glance.

I hastily phoned another agent and requested a second viewing and lo and behold – he absolutely loved it. Here was our dream home (apparently!). To any friends or family reading this – contrary to popular belief I obviously do not wear the trousers in our house because this house was most definitely not my choice. However, it wasn’t complete and we’ve had to wait 4 weeks before it will be ready for us. During this time I’ve walked around the area and watched the house progress and I must confess I’m really taken with it. It’s not a house I would ever buy or could even afford in the UK – 5 floors, a lift, a pool in the basement, a roof terrace to die for and the most enormous sun lounge and balcony. Now that I have Chi to keep it all looking pristine I can just relax and enjoy living in a space that’s completely different to anything I’ve experienced. I love home-making and am really looking forward to turning a relatively blank canvas into a welcoming sanctuary and haven from the madness that is Hanoi. See photo below of the green just beside the new house.

Just before I leave the subject of house hunting I was surprised by the ‘customer is king’ attitude of landlords here as in house after house I was told: we can remodel it for you. If you don’t like that wall there, we’ll move it, want a wall here? No problem, we’ll put one in. New kitchen? But of course. New bathrooms? No sweat. Anything you want, we can do it.

All I can say is that the experience is nothing like we encountered as landlord’s when renting our home in the UK. Everything was pretty standard and the agent advised us before marketing the property what we should and shouldn’t do and what was expected by most tenants. Also of course, the rent we could expect. Here in Hanoi the rent bares absolutely no relation to the size/style/quality of the house and Kirsty and Phil have no chance here – location is almost irrelevant too in setting the rental price. It is entirely dependent on the landlord/owner. They will charge whatever they want for their property – you pay it or the house sits empty. The Vietnamese are very superstitious and will not carry out important transactions on an inauspicious day. April 15th is a good day to move house – thankfully!

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Not what it seems?

Overwhelm

Having been here for three weeks now I fully intended to write once or twice a week but this has been wildly unrealistic.  Why?  Because there is so much to see and take in as a newbie that just living it is enough without re-living it by writing about it all!!!

I have one of my son’s with me for a couple of weeks so, in addition to acclimatising and finding us a house, supporting my husband when he comes home totally exhausted and trying to get to grips with having a dog in a city that neither of us knows and she hates the constant stream of scooters whenever we set foot outside the apartment – I just don’t seem to have the energy to write.  I don’t want to write when I’m too tired because I don’t want a negative or low-key blog – I’m loving it here and want that to be reflected in what I write.

I have been keeping a list of things I want to write about and I hope to get around to them all at some point but for now I’m going to share with you one note I made that seems to make perfect sense but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what I intended to say about it!!!  The note reads:  Often messages misleading.

When I work out what I meant by that I’ll share it with you  For now though I’ll just make a couple of comments.  My son and I have just come back from a fabulous street foods tour with Tu from Hanoi Street Food Tours – check out his blog at vietnamesegod.blogspot.com and had an amazing time.  What I felt really strongly though is that I need to start learning Vietnamese ASAP because I’m going to miss so much of what’s happening around me if I can’t converse properly.  Food is a passion and I really want to buy locally and eat seasonally – for that I need at least some words and phrases.  So, top of my To Do list is to get some lessons!!!

The second thing I wanted to share is how tough it is when you first arrive if you have family ‘back home’ because I find myself living in two time zones.  Everything gets translated back into UK time so that I don’t miss speaking to the kids or my parents because I’ve got the time wrong.  Also, I’ve kept a client in the UK so have to make sure that I keep to the deadlines – in UK not Vietnamese time.  This so far has involved me living a full day here in Hanoi and sitting down to ‘work’ at about 7p.m. knowing that I’m still well on target for the UK working day.  That’s not sustainable long term as I’ll be exhausted but for now well, ….

So, all good, more tiring than I expected and things move at their own pace which is as it should be but takes some getting used to for a controller like me!

Have an ace week end everyone and I’m off to sit on the sofa and stroke the dog’s tummy and we can reassure each other that all’s well with our world 🙂

TET Fever

Well, I’m not sure about the fever bit but from this distance the whole Vietnamese new lunar year is very confusing.  I guess it’s one of those where you really have to be there to understand it.

I thought it was one week long celebration with festivities and a carnival like atmosphere everywhere.  Reading Twitter posts and chatting virtually to a couple of friends out there – both expat and local – it seems that actually everything shuts down and the best way to enjoy Tet is to go away!

Next year I guess I’ll ‘get’ it a bit better.  Or will I?!

To Let

It’s official, the house is now available to let and I’m busy getting all those odd jobs done that we never quite got around to.  Like putting draught excluder on the windows and doors that previously allowed the gales to blow right in as we shivered inside muttering: We should put draught excluder on that window/door.  Daft isn’t it – £6.95 in B & Q and we’re snug as bugs.  The only thing is we do get a bit of a shock when we open a door and realise it is actually still blowing that gale outside, we just didn’t notice it!!!

Enough about draught excluder.  The To Let board has just gone up outside the house and I feel quite strange looking out at it – there’s something slightly vulnerable about being inside a house that’s advertising the fact that you’re going.  Anyway, we’ve had an enquiry from a family relocating from Austria which I’d love – there’s something really appealing about a family having an adventure here as ex pats while we’re in Vietnam doing the same.  However, sentimental old fool that I am – a rental’s a rental and I won’t insist that the house goes to ‘someone that I like’ 🙂

Christmas was wonderful and we had plenty of time with all the kids which was great – they seem to think that they must spend lots of time with us because we’ll soon be gone.  They do know we’re back on 16th June don’t they?!  Ah well, I’m not complaining, it’s been ace.

This week has been remarkably stressful because I ‘phoned Singapore Airlines, just to confirm the arrangements for Sally and was told that they don’t take pets from the UK.  Panic, panic, deep breaths, scream.  Not to be deterred I emailed them and asked the same thing, only to have a lovely man call me to say yes it can all be done, to explain the process and get her booked in.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I always like to speak to someone first and really dislike/distrust online booking forms.  This incident reminds me though how important it is to do both – but make sure you’re dealing with someone who does actually know/have the ability to help you.  Avoid call centres at all cost!!!

In addition to clearing the house I’m busily arranging to meet family and friends to say goodbye – only 6 weeks really to do it all and we’re going to Vejer for a week in the middle of it all so plenty to keep me busy.