Welcome back. Remember me? I know, I know, it’s shameful. Let me explain.
I have been using a free hosting website while I worked out whether I would use it enough to justify a real, grown-up paid one. Let’s not take a vote on that. It has done the job admirably but its storage space was limited and about the time we left New Zealand, just when things started to get interesting, it filled up. I could still write text, which needs hardly any room at all apparently, but photos were not a happening thing. And who doesn’t love photos?
So I had to back up the whole site (and it’s bigger than I thought, mostly because: photos), find a new host that I liked, cross their palm with silver, transfer All The Things across, make it all go, and transfer the domain name. And when I say ‘I’, of course I don’t mean me. I can do zero of that. The person who pays for the rest of us to lounge around in Singapore by spending long days in front of a computer screen had to do all of it when he got home from spending his long days etc etc. And may I say, he was very patient and obliging about it. He will persist in actually trying to teach me stuff and make me do things for myself which we both know is a mug’s game and complete waste of everybody’s time but his heart is in the right place.
Without further ado, then, here is my new-and-improved site. If all goes well you shouldn’t notice anything different at all except that I actually use it.
We left Napier airport early in the morning on February 1. Amy’s only experience with flying was when she was three months old and the others have none at all so great fun was had by all in the little plane to Auckland because we could see out the windows. Cassia was very taken with the soft fluffiness of the tops of the clouds and would have really liked to get out and have a play. Amy took many photos of clouds from above. Everyone was fascinated. There were biscuits. All was good.
We had a few hours in Auckland which we spent with our very dedicated and lovely friends who turned up at the airport with lunch, goodie bags to get us through in case of a food shortage and – wait for it – our cats. Is that solid friendship or what? We had re-homed our cats with them a few weeks earlier and Daniel and Noah’s greatest wish was to see their beloved pets again before leaving. We hadn’t been able to make it to Huntly to visit them so the cats were put in cages, chucked in the back of the van and given a road trip (which all cats love, as you know). In the airport carpark the kids were all shut in the van with the windows closed tight and they were able to spend some quality time saying goodbye. We appreciated it very much.
My father-in-law was also able to be there so when the time came to go through the gates we were sent on our way with much love and laughter and we didn’t need to feel sad. Then it was all go and we didn’t have time. The excitement helped a lot.
I hadn’t done a long-haul flight since 2003 and here’s the news: those little screens in the back of the seats with movies and cartoons and headphones are truly God’s gift to the travelling parent. By the time the kids have watched a movie, had lunch, watched another movie and had tea, you’ve arrived. Someone should get a Nobel prize. I had packed sticker books and felt pens and Uno cards but we barely had time for them. It completely transforms the endless boredom into something almost enjoyable.
Our tickets were booked by a corporate travel agent and when we first received them they had one child sitting with me and everyone else scattered far and wide over the plane in separate seats. Although I could see potential benefits to this scenario I asked that they change it and we ended up with four of us sitting along the central area and one across the aisle. Cassia insisted on being that one and had as a neighbour a Middle Eastern man travelling with his small son. Despite the language barrier he kindly helped her with untangling headphones, working her screen, opening her lunch and various other things. I guess parenting transcends language. The set of three seats behind Cassia and her servant was vacant so we all had the chance to sit in a window seat when we wanted and Noah and Cassia were able to stretch out and have a snooze.
The little boy on the other side of Cassia’s travel daddy had Lego in a shoebox, so then:
Because Lego also transcends language.
After being up for over 20 hours we arrived at Changi Airport and I started to reap the benefits of being on my own with four children: people feel sorry for you and assume you need help. And who am I to disabuse them of the idea? We were whisked past a long queue and bundled into a taxi without further ado.
I had booked a hostel because the hotels were expensive and I decided the money would be better spent on fun, and I did not regret it. It was basic and very mauve but the staff could not have been more kind. That first night I discovered two things which would come up again and again over the course of our stay: four children really is considered an unusually big family in Singapore, worthy of comment (and sympathy, apparently); and small blond girls with casts, glasses and attitude are also rare and fascinating creatures.
Although they had a little boy of their own the manager and his wife were taken with Cassia to a ridiculous extent. Every time we went into the reception area any staff in the vicinity would rush over and talk to her, vie for her attention and give her handfuls of lollies from the basket on the counter, while her siblings looked on in bemused disgust. If any of us were in the lobby without her we were asked ‘Where is the small one?’ She was a curiosity and a marvel.
I had chosen the particular hostel from the internet because its service came highly recommended and it turned out to be a good call. The manager seemed to make it a personal mission to make things as easy for me as possible. He booked things, drew on maps, make sure I knew where I was going, sorted out all sorts of little hiccups. On our final day Noah was looking a bit droopy at breakfast and when the manager looked over and saw me feeling his forehead he asked what was wrong and offered child paracetamol. Check out time was late morning but our plane didn’t leave until midnight and the plan had been that we’d leave our bags in their storage area, go out for the day then pick up the luggage and go to the airport early to fill in the time. When he saw that all may not be well, the manager gave me the use of our room for the rest of the day instead which meant that we could go out and have fun then come back for the evening, have a rest or a sleep, pack up at our leisure then leave for the airport in time for check-in without having to wait there for hours because we had nowhere else to go. Noah turned out to be fine but it made the day, and particularly the time until we could fall asleep on the plane well after midnight, so much easier and less stressful for all of us. There was no extra charge or anything. A small thing for the manager, probably, but by the point where we were near the end of our third consecutive 20+ hour day, a huge thing for me.
In fact Singapore was full of helpful people. It was clean, it was organised, it was easy to get around on the train and it felt very, very safe. It was the right place for us.
On the first day we were all awake and ready to go well before the day was ready for us. It was nearly lunch time according to our bodies but barely 5a.m. according to the clock. Because we had been sent off from Auckland with a food bag each by The Most Organised Friend In The World we were able to take the edge off the hunger and go outside for a wander around. It was very dark and very hot and quite surreal, really.
The day’s main activity was swimming. We went into town first on the rapid train to buy tickets for the next day’s adventure and to eat the most juicy and flavourful fruit ever from a little shop which sold nothing but cut-up fresh deliciousness. By the time we’d wiped the stickiness from our chins and taken the train home we were in serious need of cooling down so I checked with Aunty Google and selected a likely-looking spot.
It was a reasonably long train ride to the Jurong East Swimming Complex but so very very worth it. It had a kiddie pool with a wet playground, a wave pool, a lazy river with all sorts of interesting features, big floaty inner-tube things, water slides, restaurants, all sorts. I’m amazed that it’s not a tourist attraction – I didn’t see it advertised anywhere, I only found it by Googling for public pools, and we had it to ourselves apart from a few local families. How do people not know about this place? It should be way more famous. And, even better, the entrance fee: when I went to pay the clerk apologised to me because it’s more expensive than the other public pools because of the extra facilities. The total cost for five of us? Six dollars. We stayed for hours and it’s probably the best value I’ve ever had from small change. There aren’t many photos because I was too busy getting wet but here goes:
If you look carefully in the photo on the left you can see my favourite part, a sort of tornado-looking thing under the bridge. It was a misty shower that you could stand in and it sort of rained down and swirled around you. After the weeks of rushing and organising and the days of travelling and being responsible for the children in a foreign country on my own there was something about standing under there and feeling the water coming down that just washed all the tension away. Totally recommended.
While we were there Cassia taught herself to swim because the lazy river pushed her along at just the right speed to make floating easy. She made that leap that they all make eventually from trying to keep her head out of the water, and therefore sinking the rest of herself, to relaxing and realising that having your head go under is fine and physics takes care of everything if you let it. She was very proud and I was able to tick the ‘See! It’s educational’ box.
Nobody wanted to leave so we had dinner there and then it got dark so we had to. On the train ride home we were standing next to a lady with no English at all who managed to communicate that I had a lot of children, that Amy looks like me, and that they were all very good and quiet except for Cassia. Yep. Then all of a sudden the 16-hour day, the many hours of swimming and the half hour of jumping around being a pain on the train caught up with Miss Look-At-Me and she conked out. I carried her from the train to the hostel and up the stairs to bed and that was Day One.
The next day we went to Universal Studios. The kids had no idea what it was and Daniel, with his constant fear of being taught something against his will, campaigned against it because he thought it would be about how movies are made. He’s never been so happy to be proved wrong.
We took the train and the cable car because it’s on an island. And then we had, officially, the Best Day Ever.
Again, not many photos and no action shots because I was way too busy for that. It wasn’t really that overcast, it’s just that I was taking photos through the cable car windows. I believe that if you click on any of the photos you get a larger view.
Universal Studios was pure magic. We could have spent days there. We got through truckloads of water and a good few ice blocks but mostly we were too busy to want to waste time sitting and eating. Like the rest of Singapore although it was crowded it felt very, very safe and I had no qualms about letting Amy and Daniel and even Noah go off to do their own thing. There was plenty for all ages and a 4D Transformers ride that was absolutely mind-blowing. The technology they use for those things must be incredible.
Again, nobody wanted to leave. Although we had been there for eight hours and awake for a lot more I had to use serious bribery to drag them away. ‘We have a plane to catch!’ didn’t even come close. They were all happy to forget Ireland and live at Universal Studios.
We went to get our stuff from the hostel, the kind manager hailed us a taxi and said goodbye to Cassia, and we went to the airport. Noah and Cassia fell asleep in the taxi and, once on the plane, Noah and Amy were both out like a light before the rest of the passengers had finished boarding. It was a very long day (that happens when your body clock tells you that four a.m. is a reasonable time to start) but I’m fully confident that we wrung every last drop of enjoyment out of it. Nine months later the kids still talk about Universal Studios. Parenting win.
And on the off-chance that any of you are not yet catatonic after this ridiculously long post, I bid you goodnight.