19 November 2014

A Random Act of Kindness

I erred today.

I often do.

In  this particular instance I blame no one but myself. 

It was a moment of madness. 

I was a bit grumpy and I slept poorly. 

I had received far too many irksome emails from the English for whom I work and who had been annoying me from their far away ivory towers. 

In London. 

I was on the train and it had been raining so I had my umbrella. 

So I was armed.

I was dangerous.

In Singapore in each train carriage there are designated seats for the elderly and for pregnant women and these are very clearly marked. There are amusing little caricatures of an old man and woman with walking sticks and a lady with a swollen belly above each of these seat - and there is text in four different languages that also asks train travelers to consider such passengers and to give up these seats.

So the designation is clear for both the literate and the illiterate.

I have on many occasions witnessed young Singaporean women leap to their feet and usher both the elderly and expecting mothers to such seats. 

Often these seats are occupied by young Singaporean men. 

I have previously cast such men an inquisitive glance. 

Sometimes I have given them a withering stare or I have nodded my head towards someone standing. 

Someone more deserving to be sitting than they. 

In the majority of cases they too have offered up their seats but they have done so a little more reluctantly.

In recent times I have noticed a cunning ploy that has been adopted by some young Singaporean men. 

Not all mind you - but a few. 

They have dived into such seats and then they have immediately feigned sleep. 

This happened this morning. 

It happened when I was grumpy and peeved

It happened when I was armed and dangerous.

After one stop an enormously pregnant but tiny little Indian lady got on the train and squeezed amongst the throng.

There was a pretending-to-be-asleep young Singaporean male sitting in the designated seat. I prodded this sleepy Singaporean with my umbrella. 

Gently mind you.

Just to rouse him. 

One bespectacled eye opened and then it immediately closed - which forced me to prod again.

Then both eyes opened. 

They opened in a nasty and shallow little squint.

I nodded my head to the pregnant lady who was standing directly in front of him and who was next to me. To my great chagrin, he then again closed both his eyes.

The third prod was less gentle.

His eyes then fully opened and he snarled, "What?

That was his first mistake. 


I replied that he must stand up. I told him that the poor lady was pregnant and she should sit down. 

The Singaporean man than called me a "Stupid British'.  

Which was his second mistake. 

This was a most unwise comment to make to any Australian - under any circumstances. 

Not the "stupid” comment - just the "British

It was like waving a red rag to an enraged bull.

Without raising my voice I suggested that he stand immediately or I would set him on fire. 

He, the pregnant lady and all other passengers within earshot looked visibly alarmed and there was a collective gasp. 

Nevertheless, stand he did.

The prospect of incineration is a powerful motivator.

The Indian lady of course refused then to sit down and I had to force her.

The Singaporean man glared at me for the next 10 minutes. 

It was a little awkward and a tad uncomfortable. He alighted the train one stop before me and as he exited he smirked at me and he took my photo with his mobile phone.

I'm not sure why but it has been concerning me all day.

8 November 2014

Back on the Bus

I was back on the bus today - the Molly Bus.
Molly is a mobile library that I happened upon in a chance but delightful encounter a month or so ago. I have written about this previously in a piece called 'Hairy Maclary' - so I will not recant this convergence again.
The National Library of Singapore operates Molly and it is an Outreach service. The bus is driven around the Island to provide book lending to little children who have limitations in accessing the few public libraries that are here on the Island. The bus is stocked with more than 3000 books. It is also decked out with a reading area at the rear of the vehicle where book readings and story telling is conducted.
On Sundays a very colorful character whose name is Mitra drives the bus. He is an enormous and jovial Indian Singaporean.
The name Mitra is Hindi.
Mitra told me that the English translation of this is 'friend'.
I find this quite fitting and appropriate.
Mitra is now a friend of mine and I like him a lot. I think he may well be the friend of everyone he meets. His smile is beaming and his voice is booming and Mitra's laughter is infectious. He loves driving Molly the mobile library bus and he adores reading to the children.
I enjoy his company very much.
I have been on the bus a couple of times now with Mitra.
I have volunteered to read stories.
Where I live in Novena is generally one of Molly's last stops for the day so Mitra very kindly swings by and picks me up earlier. The bus is too big to come through the driveway and turnaround area of my apartment complex so I wait out the front for him to arrive. I await at the front of the Guard House for my condominium where the new and much improved security guards are posted.
Their names are Raj and Raj.
They are also Indian chaps.
The Security manager of my apartment building replaced the previous security guards because they slept on duty - all the time. I have also written about this before so I will not bother going through the whole saga again. Suffice to say Raj and Raj are very attentive and alert. They are Sikh gentlemen who take their duties very seriously. When Mr. Tan introduced me to the new guards last week he told them - quite incorrectly - that I was a most important tenant - just because I sit on the somewhat impotent Owners and Tenants Committee - and more so I think because we share a mutual disdain of another tenant.
Jens the lunatic Dane.
When I passed the security guard house this afternoon to wait for Mitra and Molly, Raj and Raj emerged from the hut and stood at attention and they then gave me a very formal salute. I have told them repeatedly that this is not at all necessary but they have been doing it all week - whenever I arrive or leave.
It is getting ridiculous.
"Guys you really don't have to salute me every time you see me. In fact you don't have to salute me at all. I am not worthy of it" I said once again.
"It is being our honor and our greatest privilege Mr. Peter sir" one the Raj replied.
"Well at least please just call me Peter. You can drop the Mister and the Sir". I implored
I have also told them this a number of times before.
"We will never be doing that Mr. Peter Sir" the other Raj said.
I just slumped my shoulders and sighed at this.
"Has the fat Danish crazy one been causing you any trouble?" I asked.
I was referring to the lunatic that is Jens.
"He is being calling us rude names and is being making the birding hand at us"
"The birding hand?" I enquired.
One of the Raj's coyly and I think somewhat reluctantly demonstrated the 'birding hand'.
It was actually what Americans refer to as 'The Bird".
It is conducted by showing the back of a closed fist and extending the middle finger.
I laughed out loud when he showed me this and the poor Raj blushed in embarrassment.
"The Bird" gesture is also known as "Flipping the Bird" or "Giving the Finger". Somewhat ironically it is also on occasion referred to as the "One Fingered Salute". It is considered obscene and is a symbolic hand sign that is quite rude.
It is a gesture of contempt and disrespect and it's use is universal. I have on occasion used it myself - on more than one occasion in fact and I will likely use it again.
I have also been a recipient of it.
I don't mind in the slightest.
It is just a gesture.
"The Bird" is not a modern invention. The gesture dates back thousands of years and was used by both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans. With the tragedy that is the current Greek and Italian economies I would imagine that it's use is still common in these modern societies as well. The Greeks and Italians would be quite appropriately be giving the birding hand to their governments and to the World Banks for devastating their economies and robbing them of their hard earned savings.
I give these governments and banks the birding hand myself.
I give it to them with both hands.
In Ancient Greece the extension of the middle finger represented a phallus. A dick. The closed fist was symbolic of testicles and the gesture was offered to suggest an insulting engagement in anal intercourse. The gesture was referred to as "katapugon'. This translates to "a male who submits to anal penetration".
Apparently Socrates used it a lot in the Greek Parliament.
Bless him.
The Latin term that the Romans used for the 'birding hand' was "digitus impudicus". This meant the "shameless, indecent or offensive finger".
It was considered to be very rude.
I told Raj and Raj not to worry about Jens and not to take him too seriously. I informed them that he gave the birding hand to everyone.
I told them that he was a mad man.
I told them this because he is.
A mad man.
"Don't salute him whatever you do" I suggested.
"We are only being saluting you Mr. Peter and Mr. Tan"
I simply sighed and shrugged again.
I have no desire to in any way insult the gentlemen that are Raj and Raj.
Mitra arrived then in Molly the bus. He parked the huge vehicle out the front of my apartment complex and he jumped out of the drivers seat. He greeted me with a crushing bear hug and a broad grin.
"Let us go and be reading to the children my Australian friend Mr. Peter" he roared at me.
"No worries Mitra let us be on our way" I replied.
As I climbed into the passenger seat I noticed that the two Raj were standing in stiff salutes and they maintained this posture until we took off. All I could do was salute back and wave goodbye.
Mitra and I chatted about books and India and cricket and children in our drive across the western district of Singapore.
We laughed a lot.
Mitra has seven children and fifteen grandchildren and two more grandchildren are on the way.
He adores them all.
We made five stops before we arrived back at Novena where I alighted the bus.
At each stop we made there was an orderly line of cute little Indian, Singaporean and Chinese children waiting for Molly. Mitra opened the big side doors of Molly and he patiently swapped books out and stamped cards.
My job was the story reading.
I am gradually working my way through the Hairy Maclary series of books. These are very funny and poetic tales about a naughty farmhouse dog and his adventures with his dog mates and his archenemy the terrifying cat Scarface Claw. I put on my dog and scary cat voices when I read and both the children and their parents seemed to enjoy the stories - almost as much as me.
On the last stop at Katong a tiny little Indian girl about 5 years old shyly asked me if I could read some of her favorite story Thumbelina and I told her that of course I could.
She sat in the big chair next to me as I read the story.
I used to read the same story to my little Charlotte when she was about the same age so it brought back beautiful memories. My little Totty is not so little anymore. She is eighteen years old but she is still my baby and my how she writes.
She wants to be a Writer and she has since she was a little girl.
Words can not adequately describe my love for her and my pride in her.
I miss her every moment of every day.
Time passed quickly on my journey with Mitra on Molly - as it always does.
I won't be able to go next week because I will be in London for work. I will be amongst the cursed English for whom I work. I explained this to Mitra as I said goodbye. He again crushed all the air out of me as he hugged me farewell. He seemed as disappointed as me that we would not see each other for a couple of weeks.
I walked home slowly feeling happy at having such a joyous afternoon. Raj and Raj were waiting dutifully at their post when I arrived at my complex and they again snapped to a stiff attention and saluted me as I walked up the driveway.
I sighed and smiled and saluted them back. 

14 October 2014


I associate both teetering and tottering with tightropes and circuses.

I know it is just likely me but word association is a personal thing at times – not just some psycho babble testing.

I can think what I want.

Whenever I want.

And I do.

When my son Tom was little his best mate was a kid called Will - short for William. Will was Australian born but his parents and older siblings were from South Africa. They were the white variety but thankfully not of Boer extraction. They were not racists or bigots either and were very nice people.

Wills mother Sharon was particularly pleasant. She was a little off centre and was forever dashing off to yoga and meditation centres and had a delightful way of sort of hopping around on the spot whenever she spoke.

She reminded me a bit of a sparrow actually.

Hop hop hopping before trying to fly away.

My family used to have a crack at me whenever Will’s mum and dad came over to our house - as I tended to slip into my Seth Efrican accent. I didn't really mean to. It was just one of those things that I still do but only amongst Seth Efricans.

I have no idea why.

The Seth Efrican accent is more annoying and grating than the New Zealand accent.

Both are an abomination.

Tom and Will were very close and were full of mischief and fun. They used to have a thing for climbing. They climbed trees at first when they were quite little – then later buildings and towers. They didn’t mind challenging authority either and grew up getting into trouble at both school and later with the authorities. It was just boy stuff really and even though I had to pretend to be concerned and upset I didn’t actually mind all that much. I quite like kids that express themselves and I for one don’t accept things for the way they are.

Rebellion is not necessarily a bad thing – as long as no one gets hurt.

We should all of us challenge everything.

It is the way that things get changed.

Of course when Tom and Will got suspended and expelled a few times from school I was a bit worried where that might lead - but that too worked itself out.

Stuff usually does.

When we teeter we inevitably find balance. We find a way to stand up – even if we are sometime supported.

We often need to be supported.

It is what love and respect is all about.

When the boys grew through their teens they went through various fashion and attitude shifts. Their Goth one was particularly amusing – all dressed in black and wearing dark make-up with bleak attitudes to match. I used to hang shit on them about it – and they got suitably Goth morose about which only amused me more.

I wouldn't let them play their Goth music very loud only because I didn't like it.

I like most music - but have a preference for stuff you can dance to.

I am old school in that regard.

Will and Tom and some of their Goth mates would come around to our place and sit on our roof smoking joints and drinking beers and watching the world go by. I used to come home from work and occasionally sit up there with them.

We chatted away about the world and life and some surprisingly intellectual philosophical shit.

These kids had a slightly different view of the world but they were smart. They had opinions and they weren’t afraid to voice them.

I liked that a lot.

I also learned a very long time before I became a parent never to judge a book by its cover. My parents taught me that.

There are bits of them in me.

That old chestnut of a cliché stands very true and my kids - and my son Tom and his left-of-centre-friends taught me a lot on this front.

You can learn a lot from your children if you let them in and listen.

I learn from them all the time.

Just because you see the world in a tinted and tilted way it doesn't mean you have to slide down either.

You really don’t.

Who we are is not what we wear but it is the essence of our being. It is the regard we hold for others. It is kindness and benevolence. It is other far more defining and relevant characteristics that we need to embrace in order to be.

Tom and Will went through a full on piercing stage as well – with all manner of foreign objects protruding their bodies. Will went particularly berserk on those ear-stretching things - and I used to tell him he reminded me of the African natives who started such a trend centuries ago. I wasn’t at all surprised that Will knew all about the tribe and the history. He read a lot of books and we used to talk literature all the time. The piercing and the tattooing didn't bother me in the slightest although I think that Sharon - the sparrowy hopping mother of Will - got a little concerned.

Art is art and the kids’ bodies are their own.

Why the hell should we all look the same anyway?

Where is the fun in that?

Will always wanted to be in circus. I remember him telling me this when he was only twelve or thirteen. It wasn’t one of those I-want-to-run-away-to-the-circus scenarios. He wanted to perform on the trapeze. He wanted to juggle and eat fire and get into cages with lions and tigers.

He was always juggling stuff around at our place. I remember being entranced as he juggled a trio of kittens once – never dropping them at all and being oh so gentle.

It was excellent.

Will’s Seth Efrican parents were very supportive of all their kids and they encouraged all of their children to follow their dreams.

We should all do this.

I think so anyway.

For some reason I never fully understood, Will and Tom had an ‘incident’ and all of a sudden they were no longer were best mates. I remember Tom being quite upset but he didn't want to talk about it so I never pushed.

I do remember hearing a couple of years ago that Will had gone on to a circus college and he was indeed living his dream.

When I heard that news I laughed out loud in delight.

He is a performer now in a quite famous Australian circus that tours the world. He juggles and does amazing trapeze acts and I hope that I can one day go and see him.

Tom and he are friends again but they don’t see each other all that much. We all grow apart from people we were close to when we were young. Tom told me that Will went through quite a troubled period of self doubt and anguish - then he announced to the world some years back that he was gay.

It sort of all made sense to me.

Poor Will was teetering and tottering about his own sexuality and I am so glad that he discovered and decided who he was and that he had found his happiness.

People’s sexuality is no-ones business but their own and I hope that he was never bullied or hassled just because he was gay. That would have been sad and if I had known I would have intervened and told him to be who he was and that to me he was and always will be a fine young man.

My own Tom still teeters and totters a bit as he tries to find his own place in the universe.

Who doesn't actually?

I sway and totter myself all the time.

Life is a tough journey sometimes and there are always ups and downs. I have learned that we need to move with whatever is thrown up at us and be as accepting and as tolerant as we can of others.

Kindness and empathy and just trying to do what is decent and right are the key to everything. Special moments and experiences come along sometimes and we need to snatch them when we can.

Teetering and tottering is all a part of this.

We will sometimes fall off and fall down – it is the nature of life and growing and being - but the most important thing of all is to just dust ourselves off and get back up again.

We will teeter again

Then we fall and we stand

Balance will be restored and everything will usually work itself out.

It is Ying

It is Yang

It is the way things are.

3 October 2014


We are born and then we die.

What went before and what goes beyond is an unknown so the life we live between these two certainties is all that matters.

This is my belief anyway.

The duration of our current existence is indeterminable. I have learned this from experience and have lost people who are close to me in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.

Losing someone you are close to sucks no matter what the circumstances but it is what it is.

Demise is a sadness in any exigency however grief is a process that is tied very much to love.

The greater the love – the more significant is the loss.

I have learned this too.

Men and women are sapient creatures who are as complex as we are unpredictable. I don’t get a lot of things and my life is littered with mistakes of my own making. I try however to deliberate and excogitate from my erring.

It’s not easy.

I try to use words like excogitate too.

I like the sound of it.

I like writing it too.

I don’t get violence but I have been embroiled in it before.

I don’t like cruelty either – yet I have been both a victim of it and a deliverer. I have felt shame and pain in many forms. I am perfectly imperfect and I hope that I have grown from my inadvertence.

I don’t know whether I have though and I am not adequately equipped to measure my own worth.

I don’t believe in deities or in a faith that is blind.

Why would I?

How could I?

I have seen cruelty and injustice and inequity that horrify me. What manner of god would permit such atrocities? I have discussed and debated this matter with men of cloth and monks and lamas and their arguments that man is imperfect are sound - but they don’t convince me to worship.

I comprehend the need for belief but my preference is to invest such faith in myself - and the people who I love.

It is a big endowment but I can touch and see it.

I can shape it.

I believe that the majority of people are inherently good but there are vocal and powerful minorities that are not - and they are the wreakers of chaos and havoc.

They are the ruination of things that really matter.

I think the teachings of the Bon - which is the foundation of the tutelage of the man named Buddha make the most sense. He saw and wrote that we are impaired creatures and that our development into something that he calls enlightenment is a simple path of compassion and compunction and lenity.

It is consideration.

I understand that I am in a minority here in a world awash with religions that seem more confused than me. I think that the supposedly merciful gods worshipped by billions would be appalled by the behaviours of the extremists amongst their devout. Tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of people have perished in conflicts relating to religion.

Look at the Middle East.

Look at Ireland.

The Crusades.





Junior and Senior.


Wars make no sense yet there are economies that have a dependence on conflict.

Look at the United States of America. They are warmongers of the highest possible order – engaging, invading and intruding. The cost of manufacturing and deployment of weaponry and soldiers would feed the poor of the world and educate the destitute but they can’t seem to stop.

I don’t think they can afford to.

To many people acts of bravery involve death and destruction and peril when real bravery is the opposite of these things. Gallantry is providing for people who have less than do we.

It is tolerance and acceptance.

The Americans have been occupying foreign lands and devastating populations with weapons of mass destruction for a hundred years.

They can’t seem to stop and their hypocrisy and ignorance is terrifying.

I lost friends and colleagues in the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. The event that is forever synonymous now with the numbers nine eleven. The attack was horrendous but the Americans commemorations of this loss seem to me to be a glorification of war. Their bombs and drones and military might inflict such damage – more damage in fact – on so many people in so many countries.

Don’t they understand?

I don’t think they do.

I have known love and hate and joy and despair and I seek wisdom but it is so hard to find.

So is myself.

I have looked high and low.

My search continues but as I age I am discovering that a purpose might be many things and there is simplicity and some satisfaction in just being.

I believe that we are formed by what we desire yet we are shaped by what we experience and so I endeavour to experience as much as I can.

I cram my life with people and events and I move around a lot to take in what I can.

I am restless.

I am reckless.

New cultures, new people and talking to strangers have enriched me yet I still don’t know my purpose.

I do not know who or why I am.

Yet I have had a very fortunate life.

I can’t complain.

Even though I sometimes do.


I think that kindness may be the key to everything and life lessons relating to compassion and morality are important but empathy is something that is inherent.

Selflessness is not a natural state but it is an important one.

We need to frequently put ourselves in other shoes.

We need to put our lives in perspective.

Wealth is not possessions or money.

It is goodness.

It is virtuosity.

It is righteousness and honour.

These are noble things.

These are precious things.

They may be everything.

I know where I have been but I still don’t know yet where I am going. At times I feel so lost and dazed and directionless. I hope to tread a path that causes minimal harm but I value and cherish experiences. I want to immerse and saturate myself in my surrounds.

I need to experience experiences.

They are the essence and substance of who I may become.

For the moment though – I think that just being is enough.