Monday, 22 November 2010

Raffles in Henley

Having just returned from Singapore it was a real pleasure, last night, to attend the Henley Operatic and Dramatic Society’s production of the musical ‘RAFFLES OF SINGAPORE’ at the Kenton Theatre in Henley.

Although it was the last night the theatre was completely full – not an empty seat anywhere. My three lady friends and I had prime seats in the front row of the balcony. This production, a UK Premiere, was really well cast and I must say Michelle Wesson, playing Raffles’ wife Olivia, ‘bobbydazzled’ us all with her wonderful voice, and Alan Elston quite dominated the stage with his portrayal of Raffles himself.The first performance of the show, by the writers Richard Cleghorn-Brown and Ian Senior, was held at the Victoria Theatre in Singapore for a record two-week run.

Incidentally I’ve just finished reading the most fascinating book about Raffles and can highly recommend it. It’s called ‘In the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles’ by Nigel Barley.

My journey home the other day was extremely comfortable on both Singapore Airlines and Eva Air, but I suppose I ought to confess to an embarrassing episode. Upon leaving Singapore I tentatively requested a lift on the baggage trolley upon arrival at Bangkok where I was due to make a change to EVA Air for the main portion of the journey. The reason being that one of my legs is a bit dodgy, and the distance of 1 km between the two airlines (especially with such a short time allowance for the transfer) necessitates a very brisk walk.
Not being used to the efficiency of Singapore Airlines, as I stepped out of the aircraft cabin I was surprised to see a smiling lilac-attired Thai stewardess holding up a placard with my name on it. She told me that she had been asked to provide a wheelchair for an ‘elderly gentleman’! (I don’t really think I qualify on either count). Next to her was a young man with the wheelchair. I hastily assured her that, only if it was available, I’d have appreciated a lift on the luggage trolley to take me to the EVA Air departure lounge. However I did appreciate her suggesting that she accompany me to the airline’s Evergreen Lounge at the far end of Bangkok’s enormous airport. However, so as not to appear a complete fraud, I put on a pronounced limp for the entire kilometre, but the effort of this deception absolutely tired me out by the time I reached my destination! (But as soon as the young lady disappeared I rushed back upstairs to buy a box of orchids, hoping that she wouldn’t witness my miraculous recovery).

This photograph of part of the beautiful koi-carp filled miniature lake adds to the serene ambiance that is Singapore’s Airport. It is a real pleasure to spend time at both Singapore and Bangkok airports with their vast carpeted concourses and super-quiet efficiency. Contrast this with the dirty rubbish-strewn welcome I experienced at Terminal 3 Heathrow Airport when I arrive there on Tuesday evening. Scruffy, cold, and packed full of frustrated people, a few of us were given red ‘fast track’ cards.  Fast track indeed!  After standing for over half an hour in what was easily destined to be a three-hour queue, I’d moved forward no more than ten yards and couldn’t help but feel ashamed at the impression that first time overseas visitors are confronted with at Heathrow.  What a contrast to the queue-free ultra clean splendid airports I’d left behind a day earlier. 

I’d always believed that people of religion had purer minds than the rest of us, and that Bishops in particular are required in the words of the Prayer Book to ‘set forward quietness, peace and love among all men’.  So I was disgusted to read that the Bishop of Willesdon, the self-styled ‘Bishop Pete’, likened Prince William and Kate Middleton to ‘shallow celebrities’. Does he know them? Has he met them? No of course not. And in his reference to the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana he declared “I managed to avoid the last disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll, and I hope to avoid this one too”. He may possess anti-Monarchy opinions spouted by Marxists, but to publicly express such spiteful, crass and unchristian views only demonstrates what a shallow and nasty little mind he has. When he was ordained into the Church of England didn’t Bishop ‘Pete’ Broadbent swear ‘true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God’? So when he ordains priests how can he require them to swear allegiance to an institution he regards as ‘corrupt and sexist’?

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Ride in the Sky

I'll soon be winging my way back to dear old Henley - I've had a lovely time here in Singapore - just wish I could stay a bit longer. Have a look at this picture - it has a bit of movement in it but that's because I'm suspended high in the sky in a cable car.

From the top of Singapore's highest mountain - Mt. Faber - a fleet of cable cars run continuously over the ocean to Sentosa Island. At night they sparkle all over. In fact one of the cabins is jewelled and some are glass-bottomed (for the brave amongst us). Last night I invited Jay and Nira to dinner at The Black Opal restaurant in the Jewel Box on the summit. Adjacent to the restaurant is the cable car terminus so, between the main course and the dessert I took the half hour round trip to Sentosa and back. (I wasn't being ungentlemanly but as Jay and Nira had only recently done the trip they insisted I go).
It's quite marvellous looking down on Keppel Harbour from above, passing over this beautiful cruise ship - the Star Libra I think it was called

... and then to the lights of Sentosa.

The original name of the island was Blakang Mati - it was called that when I first came to Singapore in 1956 and was inhabited by the Gurkha Regiment. Since the Singapore Government renamed it Sentosa (the Malay translation is Peace and Tranquility) they have worked wonders in making it the marvellous resort it is today. One of the recent attractions is the Universal Studios. This in addition to the underwater world, butterfly park, casinos, spas, etc. And from the air, as I saw it on Saturday night, it really does look like a magic kingdom.

Here you can see - somewhat hazily - the lights of the restaurant as I return.

Back down to earth and another day dawns. It's a bit special as I'm going to the races. Siok Sun and K.C. picked me up from the Tanglin Club at noon and drove me to the Singapore Turf Club. Siok Sun wore a 'fascinator' (I learned this name at Henley Regatta a couple of years ago, by the way) it being the Longines Singapore Gold Cup Day and one of the events of the year. Everyone looked very smart. Here's a handsome young couple at the next table to us.

And here am I together with Siok Sun and K.C.

Our view of the racecourse was spectacular.

Every comfort was catered for with soft outsize yellow armchairs to watch the races in splendid comfort, then a magnificent lunch, as many drinks as we could manage, followed by tea and scones with exotic sweetmeats. Soon the President of Longines arrived and made a short speech. Then, with a suitable fanfare and a hustle of photographers, the main guest of honour made his way towards us. His name? S.R.Nathan, the President of Singapore. I managed to take this close up portrait of him.

And to give one of my loyal followers - RG9 from Henley - a taste of the glamour present, here are a couple of random shots I took during the afternoon.

Now the big question is, how much did I win? I'm the sort of person who never backs favourites - if I'm going to win I want to win big. So I go by names, usually names, however loosely, associated with people I know. (For example - magic man, artist from oz, rowing lad, or tootle-poot). In this way I invariably lose. But today, not only did I lose on EVERY race up to race seven (when we left), I even lost when I backed 5 horses in a 7 horse race! But it was a lovely and even glamorous day out - although the rain pelted down most of the afternoon and lightning streaked the sky. I couldn't resist one last little $20 bet as we walked past the betting counter however, and gave my ticket to a friend to check and then tear up after the race (which happened to be the Longines Gold Cup).
Soon after I arrived back at the Club I received a text from Siok Sun - I'd won $158 on race eight - so there is a God after all!

It's always such a pleasure to meet old friends - especially those you haven't seen for many years. Singapore being a relatively small place means that the jungle drums, so to speak, soon broadcasts your presence! So when I received a message yesterday from Pierre and Sandra Moccand suggesting we meet up for lunch today I jumped at the chance. I've known Pierre since 1960 when we were both young men roaring around the roads of Singapore in our sports cars, or racing in the various motor-sport events of the time. Pierre went on to marry Sandra and they now divide their time between Singapore and Australia. I took this photograph just an hour ago overlooking the pool at the Tanglin Club.

We had a lovely lunch and reminisced a lot. Sandy was entranced by my iPad and some of the many apps I've installed on it so I think I know what she'll be getting for Christmas.
So, very reluctantly I'll start packing in a few minutes time in readiness for a very early start tomorrow and the long journey home.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

At Last - the Sun

Having chosen the worst possible time to be in Singapore, weather wise, it's been really annoying to watch the Asian regional weather forecast each night and to see that everywhere from Japan and Hong Kong to Thailand and the Philippines is having lovely sunshine - the only exception is Singapore with rain all the way. So today dawned cloudy as usual, but slowly a little brightness appeared until at last the sun made a tentative appearance. Enough for me to head towards the pool. While lying on my lounger, and in between sipping mango juice and enjoying a 'gula Melaka' I glanced up into the sky and was amazed to see two birds flying in complete formation - each one performing exactly the same manoeuvre as the other. My gaze then moved down to the far side of the pool and there I saw a couple of girls walking along wearing identical bikinis. It was then that I realised that without my glasses on I was seeing everything in double. The second image was only slightly lighter than the original and it completely fooled me. It's such a long time since I took my specs off for any length of time that I'd forgotten my eyes work independently without them on.
This club has wonderful facilities - and they get better every time I come here. In the new sports centre take a look at the outdoor tennis courts (four)

... And the 2 indoor ones

But best of all - as I now have joined the Henley Bowling Club - is this full size bowling green on the third floor. Pity I'm not here long enough to have a game.

I've just received an invitation to go to the Royal Palace in Johor (Malaysia) to have lunch with Sultana Nora. She's another friend from the past when I was 'Court Painter' to her husband the Sultan. Sadly I've had to turn the invitation down as it's for next Thursday and I'll be back in Henley by then.
Yesterday I took Stephanie, from Craft Print International, to lunch at the Tavern here at the club before she took me for a tour of her company in Jurong, which is in the industrial north of Singapore. It's where I've had all my books printed. Very impressive with over 250 employees and many printing machines running continuously for 24 hours. This is also where that beautiful big book on miniature painting through the ages, that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, was printed. On the way back from Jurong I took a trip round one of the latest shopping malls, called the ION. So spectacularly modern the design is almost vertiginous with all the various levels and walkways - some leading to the MRT (underground). There's even a way to go inside this enormous lilac Christmas tree.

A few of the Christmas decorations are lit already but I'm hoping all the lights will be turned on tomorrow night. Singapore loves lights - especially at Christmas and Chinese New Year. Of course they always have an eye towards profit and Singaporeans love shopping. However if a Singaporean wants to gamble at the new Sands Casino they have to pay $100 to get in, whereas we foreigners can get in for nothing. I was told meals were also free for us but I'm not likely to try it out as I'm reserving my gambling (and losses) for Sunday when I go to the races! Having lived here on and off for 20 years I've gathered many friends from every walk of life. Tonight I'm going out for dinner with Shamsuddin - one of the artists I worked with in the early sixties. But last night I met up with yet another old friend and her young friend who I used to call 'Dolly Daydream' for a reason I've forgotten - we landed up in a Western styled restaurant in the countryside called North Border.

I could barely read the menu it was so dark under the flickering candlelight, and as usual my request for Brandy Ginger Ale with NO ice materialised with a glass half full of ice. Another of my dislikes (allergies) is garlic and these days so many restaurants seem to speciallise in putting it in everything. Last night they just didn't give up. "We'll bring the garlic separately" they said, as if they were doing me a really special favour. I gave in eventually and the steak was lovely. The garlic and honey sauce (as a special treat) they brought just stared at me from the table, daring me to taste it. I didn't!
We raced around the Marina Bay area later so I could see all the buildings at night, Dolly Daydream drove too fast for me to take a decent picture, so this will have to do.

It's now about 11pm and I've just come back from a really interesting evening with Angus, a historical lecturer, together with Sham and his charming daughter. Expecting a brightly lit Malay restaurant, as we were dining at a restaurant called Bumbu, we were ushered in to what looked like an old traditional Chinese house, and up a dark staircase till we came to this room

Hardly Malay. And each table was divided by it's own carved Chinese screen. It was a lovely evening with many reminiscences of the old days when artist Sham and I worked together in Papineau Advertising. I hadn't realised what a taskmaster I was in those days, always expecting perfection in everything the artists did. It's taken this long to discover what a pain in the neck I must have appeared! We were the only customers and to my great surprise at the very moment I was telling Angus how I came to live in Singapore in the first place, the song 'Love is a Many Splendored Thing' wafted our way. That film totally changed my life as I saw it when serving as a National Serviceman at the camp cinema and immediately put down to be posted to Asia. My life would have been completely different but for Han Su Yin's classic love story. After the meal we passed by this wall of old photographs as we made our way to Arab Street.

It was a warm and tranquil night and the air was heavy with the aroma of the various flowers and trees dotted around the quiet streets surrounding the Sultan Mosque.

But as soon as we reached Arab Street everything burst into life. Hundreds of crowded stalls lined all the little streets. Most of the drinkers and diners were smoking through big and ornate 'hubble- bubble' pipes which seemed to be the centre piece of every table. This picture is a bit blurred as I didn't want to upset anyone's reverie by using flash.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

City of Contrasts

I've certainly had a varied day today. Against all the gloomy weather forecasts the sun shone brightly this morning so I grabbed a couple of hours by the pool before going to the Raffles Hotel for lunch with Tan Siok Sun in the Bar and Billiards Room. Siok Sun is a friend from many years ago. We were joined later by Patrick Tan - the Director of Shops for the Raffles. We discussed my painting and he promised to display it prominently in the hotel with a view to it's eventual sale. (I also bought another umbrella!)
As the Gala performance of 'Raffles - the Musical' will be held next Sunday at the Kenton Theatre in Henley I was asked to pose in front of the statue of Sir Stamford in Victoria Place while I am here so the photograph can be used during the event. (Don't ask how).

Siok Sun took the picture before dropping me off at this spectacular 60 storey building. Only completed a few months ago ( and opened at the most auspicious time of 3.18 pm - eight sounds like the word for prosperity in Chinese) it's called Marina Bay Sands and is in fact the second most expensive casino in the world. It cost $5.5 billion US dollars to build and is easily the most amazing building I've ever been into. It also houses hotels, restaurants etc. etc. Here's the view as we got near to the three structures.

Once inside I looked up

And along the vast entrance way

Then up to the top. Whisked up to the 59th floor soon after the door opened there I saw a most beautiful curved infinity swimming pool and a series of tranquil gardens. Here's a couple of views from the summit. Everywhere you go hundreds of smiling uniformed people are there to help you and answer any questions you may have. And they are all really genuine and so helpful.

This building is, I am told, the new theatre.

But because everything is on such a large scale, only these pictures (I cribbed from a couple of postcards) can truly give you an idea of the real beauty of this enterprise.

And now, as they say, for something completely different! Later in the evening I ventured into 'Little India' located along the Serangoon Road. Deepavali,(or as some people call it - Divali) is being celebrated right now, and this is its highly colourful centre in Singapore.

4 or 5 lanes of traffic came zooming down the road at breakneck speed in the darkness and you need your wits about you to avoid getting run over. From across the road this Hindu temple is thronged with happy people.

And here is one of the hundreds of colourful stalls that vie with each other cheek by jowl all along the walkways. Pity I can't reproduce the many and varied perfumed and exotic aromas that wafted my way as I made my way along the covered 'five foot way'.

Now this laughing gilded and glittering chap stood out from everything else that was decidedly Indian. (He reminded me to cut down on some of the more exciting and calorie loaded sweetmeats forced on me by my many lovely friends here. (Should I really have had that extra creme brulee and banana fritter today at the Tanglin Club's Tavern?)

On that salutary thought I'll go to bed with a glass of water. I love this city.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Raffles, Orchids. And Old Memories

Well, the panic is over. I consulted Mr Google and he gave me the answer. So if anyone else has an iPad that freezes for no apparent reason all you have to do is to press the main switch and the home button at the same time for about ten seconds and it comes to life again - so the panic is over.
Will the rain never stop? It seems a deep depression has decided to land squarely on this little island for the next few days so I guess I'll have to buy yet another umbrella if I'm to get out at all. The Singapore Airlines flight from Bangkok on Monday was very smooth and comfortable. Both Bangkok and Singapore airports are vast and beautiful. What a contrast to Heathrow in England. No queues. Great efficiency and although distances are long you walk in great comfort on carpeted floors. Here's a couple of photographs of one of the edifices that greet you in Bangkok as you pass through into the departure lounge.

I'm staying at the Tanglin Club in Singapore. I joined this club when I lived here over 30 years ago and luckily kept up my membership - now as what is called a ' Permanent Absent Member'. We have great facilities here, including five restaurants, a full size cinema in the basement, and this Olympic sized swimming pool. You can see the rain spattering down on the water

Recently a five storey Sports Centre was added. Later in the week I'll be playing a game of snooker with my old friend Jack Bygrave there, and if possible maybe I can do a bit of bowling. On the third floor of the sports centre they've somehow made a full- size outdoor bowling green. Soon after I arrived yesterday evening I zipped down to my tailors to order a few trousers and a couple of shirts and then went on to a lovely home-cooked dinner at Eileen and Jack's apartment. Singapore is such a progressive place, for example every drop of waste water is recycled - the country will soon cease to rely on water from Malaysia and Indonesia as in the past, and they won't be using desalination plants either.
Today is Tuesday and I started it off with a very leisurely and lengthy breakfast in the Wheelhouse. When the rain stopped I took a taxi to the Raffles Hotel to check on the whereabouts of my 'Raffles Remembered' painting, and to buy a few Christmas presents in the shop. Every time I enter the Raffles Hotel I pick a frangipani flower from the tree growing by the entrance and put it in my top pocket as I adore the scent.

I must be flavour of the month as I was given the staff discount on my purchases. One day, when my ship comes in, I'd like to stay at the Raffles Hotel - it's got so much history. You may be able to glimpse some of the rooms peeping out from behind this greenery.

I know I go on about food in my blogs (even though I'm not an addict) but I did stay for a satay lunch in the famous Long Bar at the Raffles.

But it's not the same as the old days when the bar was on the ground floor and the story goes that one day a tiger was found under the bar only to be shot by an expatriate planter as he was sipping his Singapore Sling! More shopping on the way back to the club where I bought a very smart leather case for the iPad. Still only 3 in the afternoon and as the rain had eased off a bit and the day was cool I decided to pay a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I love it there and know it well so I'll add a few of the many pictures I took during my stroll.

This musical looking couple must be a new addition as I don't remember seeing them before. The life-size bronze (I think) carving is situated just above the outdoor concert hall so they probably depict a famous pair of people.

On the way home I stopped off at the shoemaker where I'd left a pair of shoes yesterday to be re-soled and heeled. All ready. That's what I like about Singapore - they get on with things. Later I walked down to the C.K.Tang complex at the corner of Orchard Road. Most of Singapore's Christmas decorations and street lights are up already - I hope they turn them on before I leave as they are usually quite spectacular. I was meeting my very old friends, Jayanti and Nira who were taking me out for dinner in the Marriott. I've known Jay for just over 50 years when she joined my art studio at Papineau Advertising in Singapore in 1960. The other day I received an email from her together with this picture taken one Christmas at her parents apartment in Hong Kong - the Villa Monte Rosa. I was living there at the time. Jay is on the left and I am slightly behind her. Note the change of hair colour!