Life as an expat is mixed.
You have the excitement of sights that broaden your mind…
challenge your faith…
Upon arrival, we were embraced by the English speaking expat community and automatically included by dint of being there. It’s a community which includes, English, American, Australian and Dutch, all of whom make up part of a tiny minority (1-3%) of the population of Singapore. Whilst the welcome was warm and generous, membership of such a group has its drawbacks. Most of the clothes shops don’t cater for our size and we have to be wise to the view that expats are made of money and charged accordingly.
The expat community is also a transitory one as many postholders are on two or three-year fixed term contracts. Even a permanent job doesn’t equate to greater security as it’s entirely dependant upon maintaining the vital Employment Pass. If you fall out with your boss, suffer a long-term sickness or are daft enough to abuse the police, it can be removed. If it’s removed, so are you, no matter how settled you are or how critical the school year. Worse still, if the Employment Pass holder dies, the remaining dependants are given a month to leave the country.
Such a precarious existence is uncomfortable. You become acutely aware of the need to keep healthy and to follow the rules. Perhaps that’s the reason why expats don’t tend to jaywalk.
On a deeper level, being in the minority forces you to confront some national traits, one of which is the Britain class system. From an early age, we are made aware that a person’s class, and therefore his rightful place in society, is defined by, amongst other things, accent, education, wealth and family. As we get older, we can also detect if someone has moved between classes, fallen on hard times or has illusions of grandeur. Such behaviour will invite comment and, most likely, condemnation.
The British class system does not matter a fig if you are jostling for space within a tiny minority. If you try to hold onto it you are likely to become irrelevant or even considered an oddity. In an expat community where everyone is struggling to adapt, you are seldom judged. If you are, it’ll be on the basis of how friendly, supportive, generous and open-minded you are. Hence, as a British expat, we do well to abandon our innate instinct to judge and classify people. New country, new rules.
And now for something completely different, Blood and Bandages, the tour.
Our first outing was to the Imperial War Museum London where we spent the afternoon signing books and chatting to visitors.
A week later saw us at the War and Peace Revival.
We were in the Author’s Pavilion alongside writers and celebrities like Rusty Firmin, Professor Andrew Robertshaw and Elaine Everest. The camaraderie was wonderful but what I found most touching was the respect shown to William particularly by ex-army veterans, like Alan Barry, ex-Grenadier Guard and Rusty Firmin ex-SAS Parachute Regiment and Commando RA, whose role in the Iranian Embassy siege was made into the film, 6 Days.
There were so many memorable moments but one I shall never forget was when William wheeled himself over to meet the other WW2 veterans and greeted them with a heartfelt, “My comrades.”
But it was not all about chatting. There were books to sell and talks to present.
On the Saturday, it was Jeff Haward’s 99th birthday. For a veteran of Dunkirk, El-Alamein and D-Day, the War and Peace team pulled out all the stops. First, a piped band marched into the Pavilion and played a medley of tunes culminating in a rendition of Happy Birthday.
Next a birthday cake appeared accompanied by a glamorous 1940s duo who sang a sultry reprise of Happy Birthday.
William, never one to ignore a pretty face, nabbed a cuddle on the girl’s way out.
It was a super two days and, God willing, William and I will return next year.
It has been a very full summer and we loved the three weeks we spent in England catching up with family and friends. The moment we emerged from the Southwick tunnel and saw Shoreham by-Sea glistening below, it felt like home and it was hard to leave. However, there are more exciting times ahead here in Singapore. I have been asked to deliver a screenwriting course to a group of teenagers and I can’t wait to get started. However, Blood and Bandages will still keep me busy because I have a series of interviews and a lecture to deliver in the autumn and once I’ve finished teaching, I’ll start on adaptating it for TV or film. How’s that for a new challenge?
Thanks for dropping by and I’ll see you again soon.