19 July 2014

Nefarious Creatures


There are now half a dozen pair of unmatched socks in my sock drawer.

The whereabouts of their counterparts are a mystery to me.

I do all my own washing and hang my clothes on a drying rack on my small verandah, so there is no chance that my missing socks have been left at a Laundromat. My verandah is enclosed and so there is also no possibility that any could have blown off and been carried away by the wind.

I have searched every square inch of my tiny apartment for the missing socks but they are not to be found.

I can only assume that the sock fairy has struck again.

This has happened nearly all my life. The sock fairy is mischievous and irksome. I imagine the fairy to be female.

She is impish and pernicious and she has gossamer wings. 

She is driving me mad.

My grandpa once told me never to run in the rain with my socks on. My grandpa often gave me strange but profound tidbits of wisdom. He was full of pithy sayings and I have heeded them all. I have never - nor will I ever - run in the rain with my socks on.

Grandpa died when I was twenty-five years old. He died on my birthday. His was the first funeral that I ever attended. I recall being told of his death as if it were yesterday  My Dad rang to tell me of his passing. Hearing the news felt like my heart had been ripped from my body.

My weeping was unrestrained and I could not be consoled.

Until that time I had never realized that the pain of loss and sorrow could be so deep and dark and that it felt so much like fear.

I know now that death only ends a life and not a relationship. I still think of my grandpa often and his wisely ways. He taught me much and I know from him that knowing oneself is the beginning of all wisdom.

Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He buys and sells countries and is known in Financial markets as the "Oracle of Omaha". It is quite possible that he now owns Spain and Greece and much of the Ukraine. He would have got them for a bargain price.

Buffett is much quoted and he once said:

Whether we're talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down"

The sock has been around for a very long time.

The word is derived from the Latin 'soccus'. A soccus was actually a type of shoe. At some point in time the Romans began to slip their sandals over the top of their soccus when they went outside and soccus were worn only indoors.

The Romans didn't invent the sock though – the Egyptians did.

Archeologists have found remnants of socks in tombs that date back to the fourth century. The most famous of all Mongolians - Attila the Hun - was also a big wearer of socks. He apparently wore very colorful socks as he rode into battle and he slaughtered his way across central Europe.

The father of the modern sock is an Englishman named William Lee. He was a Reverend from the county of Nottinghamshire in England. The Reverend Lee invented a machine that could knit socks out of wool and cotton. This was in the late sixteenth century. History records that when the good Reverend first endeavored to patent his machine, Queen Elizabeth the First - who was the Monarch of the time - initially refused to grant it. Her refusal was based on the fear that such a machine would jeopardize the employment of the many thousands of women of England who made their living by knitting socks by hand.

Nottinghamshire is where Robin the Hood lived.

I am not too sure of the time lines of Robin the Hood and William Lee but it is quite possible that the Reverend may well have socked the Hood. 

I like to think so.

Reverend Lee's sock knitting machine was eventually patented and the mass production of socks began in earnest. The machine he invented was a type of loom.

Loom is a most excellent word and is one that I will endeavor to use verbally in a sentence tomorrow. Apart from being a weaving machine, loom also means something that is ominous and impending. I will use the word loom in a conversation with one of the English with whom I work. They are not particularly bright and will undoubtedly be somewhat startled by the word.

I like saying the word loom and I am saying it out loud as I am writing this now.

It sounds a bit minacious.

As I have already stated, a loom is a machine that is used to weave cloth – including socks. I often repeat myself.

I often repeat myself.

When I think of loom I also think of doom.

I am saying both words out loud now as I write this.

I think that perhaps I am losing my mind.

Irrespective, I have now decided that I will try and utter both 'loom' and 'doom' in the same sentence to one of the English tomorrow.

I shall choose my victim carefully.

I hope the sock fairy is listening to me say 'loom' and 'doom' out loud as I sit here alone in my apartment, tapping away at my keyboard.

I hope that I am striking some degree of fear into the nefarious creature.

I hope that she will stop taking my socks.

12 July 2014

Harrowed


I have never before felt so helpless and hopeless and hapless as today. I have never before seen such fear and bravery and such kindness and compassion all together in the one place. I spent the afternoon at the Children’s Cancer Centre at the KK Women and Children’s hospital here in Singapore.

It was harrowing.

It was moving.

My hands are trembling a little just trying to capture what I witnessed. I doubt that any words I write will quite do the experience justice.

I shall nevertheless try.

I feel compelled.

I don’t know why.

I was made bald early this week. I was amongst quite a large group of people in my Company and on the Island that voluntarily had our heads shaved to raise both funds and awareness for the Hair for Hope Foundation. Like all the other volunteers I did it because it is a good and noble cause. I was more focused on the raising of funds though - and I didn't give the awareness piece as much as it deserved.

The head shaving act was no big deal to me. I am not very pretty with or without hair and it will grow back.

I saw the video presentation on the Hair for Hope foundation so I knew what the cause was all about – but I didn’t really know. 

I hadn’t seen it.

I hadn’t witnessed it.

But today I did - and it has shaken me to the core.

I went to my weekly acupuncture treatment the day of my balding and wearing my ‘Hair for Hope’ tee shirt. At the conclusion of my treatment my delightful and quite demure acupuncturist Dr. Jun meekly and politely thanked me for taking part in the event. I told her it was my pleasure and it was no big deal and then began a conversation about cancer and children. She asked me if I had known any children with cancer and I told her that I hadn’t but I had two adult friends who were currently battling the disease

Dr. Jun gives her time at the Children’s Cancer Centre at the KK Hospital a couple of days a week and she asked me if I would like to visit the oncology centre this weekend – which was today. She told me that the unit has many volunteers and always has a need for more – if only to read stories to some of the smaller children while their parents received some respite. She thought that me being freshly bald would also entertain the children – most of whom were the same.

Bald that is.

Dr. Jun told me that despite the advances of modern medicine – loss of hair and nausea were still common effects of the intrusive and often painful chemotherapy treatment that was required to fight the disease.

So along I went – with Dr. Jun – today.

I learned much today about cancer and myself – but amongst the knowledge I acquired was that leukemia is the most common form of cancer suffered by children in Singapore - and it chooses it victims indiscriminately. I met children today of many races and religions – Asian and Caucasian and Indian – Christian and Hindi and Muslim – all of them bald.

I met the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunties and grandparents of children who were brave but terrified. They were exhausted too. I saw brokenhearted parents walking into bereavement sessions with counselors so kind and considerate that all my petty worries evaporated in a moment.

They disappeared into thin air.

I played for a while with a bunch of little boy and girl baldies who laughed sometimes when I made fun of my own bald head and myself. Their chuckles and giggles came in between coughs that I could tell hurt their little lungs and I had to wear a mask in some of the rooms so I wouldn’t compromise their tiny and fragile immune systems. Dr. Jun gave me a good tour of the facility and the afternoon passed by in a kind of a blur that even now I have difficulty in remembering all of the detail.

I do recall her telling me that the odds of survival of childhood cancers are increasing all the time and with the advancement of bone marrow and stem cell transplants more than one in two children with the disease will now likely recover and go on to live healthy and happy lives. It was chilling though to think – no to know - that of the fifty or so children I saw today twenty-five would probably die.

None were older than ten.

At the end of the afternoon I sat for a while with a little six-year-old girl named Libby who looked so tiny and frail in her big hospital bed. I read her a story. Libby has been undergoing chemotherapy for nearly three months. She was bald and brave and she giggled at the funny voices I put on and I don’t think that she could hear the trembling in my voice. I read her less than half the story about Jack and the Beanstalk before she fell asleep and then I held her pale and minuscule little hand in mine until her mum and dad came back into the ward after getting a cup of tea.

I am sure there was despair in my face when I hugged Libby’s Mum goodbye and I think I may have hugged her a little tight. When I shook Libby's Dad’s hand I saw the anguish in his eyes and I desperately wanted to say it’s OK – everything will be all right.

I knew though that I couldn’t.

Then I walked out with a big and fake grin on my face and I said goodbye to the other kids while my heart broke into a million tiny pieces.

I am not sure if it will repair.

8 July 2014

The Balding


As I tramped wearily from the train station to my apartment complex this evening I was pounced upon by the Manager of the condominium in which I live.

Not literally – Mr. Tan is far too polite for such a thing – but he appeared as he often does – as if from nowhere.

I had not yet even entered the driveway when he materialized and bounded towards me. I was very tired after a long day in the office - battling with the cursed English - and I wasn't really in the mood for a protracted conversation.

"Good Evening Mr. Peter" he said.

"Good Evening Mr. Tan" I replied.

“You are bald Mr. Peter,” he observed.

“I am Mr. Tan”

Singaporean politeness prevented Mr. Tan from enquiring any further but I could tell by both his facial expression and the fact that he was hopping around a little on the spot that he was itching to know why I was now hairless.

Yesterday I had a full head of curly black – OK greying black – luscious hair.

OK – fuck it - not so luscious, but hair nevertheless

I have known Mr. Tan for many years now and I can read him well.

I simply couldn’t be bothered explaining my sudden baldness.

I had been doing it all day.

We walked together to the Security hut and the two very smartly dressed guards whose names are Raj and Raj gave Mr. Tan and I very elaborate salutes. As is usual - I felt obliged to return them. My father was a career officer in the Australian army so I learned how to salute from a very early age.

I salute well.

Both of the security guards are Indian chaps - from the sub-continent.

They are not the North American type of Indians.

They are incredibly nice men who are obsessive saluters. I have begged, implored and even at one stage ordered them to stop saluting me but all to no avail.

I now simply accept it.

“At ease boys” I commanded.

It is the only way I can get them to cease their salutes.

“Good be gidday Mr. Peter you are being balded sir,” one of the Raj stated.

I have been teaching the Raj the Australian language and they have embraced it enthusiastically.

“I have indeed been balded Raj” I replied.

“Why is it Mr. cobbler sir that your finest head of most curliest hair has been balded off?” the other Raj enquired

I could sense Mr. Tan leaning in to hear the answer.

“It was a charity thing Raj called Hair for Hope”

“But you are being hope Mr. Peter sir”

“I am Hep Raj” I retorted

I am Hep.

I have told both Raj and Mr. Tan as well in fact to refer to me thus. All my friends do. My surname is a long and complex one and it has been abbreviated to Hep all my life. Australians abbreviate long names and give each other nicknames. We commonly add an ‘o’ to a name as well so ‘Dave’ becomes ‘Davo’ and ‘Steve’ ‘Stevo’ – and so on.

It is what we do.

“Hair for Hope Raj. Not Hep. It is a charity to support kids with cancer”

This bizarrely but not unsurprisingly triggered salutes from both Raj and I had to once again command them both to stand at ease.

I did this firmly but gently.

Both Raj have splendid beards and they wear turbans. They are Sikhs and are Punjabi.

Virtually every male Sikh has the surname 'Singh'. Female's mostly have the surname 'Kaur'. This means "Princess".

I have discussed with the Raj the splendor of the Harmandir Sahib Gurudawara in Amrisar in India. They know that I have been there before and that I think that it is very beautiful. The Harmandir Sahib Gurudawara in Amrisar is Golden in color and its architecture is splendid. I have also been to the Gurudawara that the Raj attend here in Singapore.

It is in Katong.

A Gurudawara is a Sikh Temple.

It is a place of worship.

I told Raj and Raj that I thought that the Dasta they were wearing today were splendid and they beamed and saluted again.

I have no-one to blame for myself for that one.

The Dasta is a Sikh name for a turban. Sikh males are prohibited to cut their hair – so I suspected that my balding would be slightly abhorrent to them. The Dasta keeps the Sikh’s hair bundled and covered but it is also symbolic. It portrays the very strong values and virtues of the Sikh faith. Amongst these are honour, morality and courage. The Sikh people have a strong set of moral values and ethics. They do not drink alcohol or engage in vulgarities. Historically they have been a warrior people.

They are fighters.

They were much persecuted throughout their history.

I have previously informed Raj and Raj that I had once attended an event of Pag Vatauni here in Singapore with two of my Indian friends. This is a Punjabi Sikh thing where two Sikh friends swap turbans. Pag Vatauni is a pledge and declaration of their friendship for life. It is a bonding and they become Best Friends Forever.

Besties.

BFF's.

I thought that the ceremony and the symbolism of the Pag Vatauni I attended was very beautiful and I may have even shed a tear. If I was a Sikh I would do a Pag Vatauni with my best mate Berty for he is my BFF. 

I think both Raj enjoy that I knew a little of their faith. We often talk about karma - which is very big in the Sikh world. I was beginning to explain how I thought my balding was good karma as well as a fund raising and awareness thing for the Hair for Hope Foundation when my Danish neighbor and nemesis - the crazy fucker Jens - roared up the driveway on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He came to a stop where Mr. Tan, the new Security guards and I were standing. He was wearing his ridiculous motorcycle helmet with the two horns stuck on it.

"How is de modderfokker skippy unt ver is de hair all gone?" he roared at me.

"I am quite alright thank you Jens" I replied.

"You look fatter, more foolish and even uglier than you normally do." I added.

I ignored his observation of my hairless head and he simply tossed back his head and laughed insanely.

The man is a nut.

"I hope that Jens has not been giving you shit? " I asked of the Guards.

"His personal hygiene is disgusting and I believe he is still the culprit in the shitting in the swimming pool incident"

This is true. A very large floater was found in our pool a couple of years ago and I firmly believe that the crazy fucker Jens was responsible

"I will rip you fokker face off Kangaroo man,” Jens screamed at me.

Both Raj took a step forward toward the Dane and I held them back with a flick of my hand. Jens looked suddenly nervous and a bit sheepish.

"Be careful of such threats you make you insane Dane" I replied.

"Remember I know an KGB Russian killer who has volunteered to come and stab you in the eye with an icepick"

This is also true. I do know a huge, very hairy and heavily tattooed Russian gangster named Vlad who has told me that he hates Danes. He told me that he despises all Scandinavians in fact. He has apparently also killed several people before - in Russia. Not Singapore.

Vlad has informed me that his preferred method of killing people is to use an icepick to stab them in the eye. When I told him about my lunatic neighbor Dane Jens he immediately volunteered to 'Keel zee Danish peeg" for me. I thanked him for the offer but told him that it wouldn't be necessary.

I don't want Jens dead.

Not yet anyway.

"Fook de Russian and you too Skippy" Jens yelled as he revved up his Harley and then he tore down the driveway to the basement car park.

I noticed that Mr. Tan had surreptitiously disappeared during this conversation with Jens. He quietly slipped away.

Mr. Tan is afraid of Jens.

I am a bit too sometimes but he mostly just amuses me. Also when push comes to shove I can certainly run faster than the fat slob so I can run away.

I am quite sure too that the Raj would defend me stoically should Jens suddenly snap at my jibes and choose to attack.

I don’t think he would though.

Attack.

He is a big Danish pussycat.

"That man is a very sick puppy". I once again said to Raj and Raj.

"He has no honor and you should continue to watch him carefully,” I advised.

"He is not Sikh" one of the Raj's declared and he looked very concerned.

"No 'sick' not Sikh" I laughed.

"He is mentally ill"

"Jens is a deranged lunatic and you should not hesitate in shooting him if he causes you any trouble" I added

"We are not being allowed to be shooting peoples and are being having no guns" the other Raj replied.

He looked very serious and earnest.

Both Raj did in fact.

"I know" I replied.

"I was only joking about the shooting bit - but the man is potentially very dangerous and you need to be wary of him. He has made many threats to harm me"

"We shall be protecting you at all times Mr. Peter" the other Mr. Singh declared.

I think that they will too. Sikh's are brave and honourable and Raj and Raj are both very big Punjabi boys. They are a massive improvement on the previous dopey guards that we used to have.

I bid the two men good evening and I could feel their salutes at my back as I retreated to the lobby lift to go to my apartment.

On the walk to the lift I ran my head across my bald scalp. It feels weird but I am sure that I will get used to it rather quickly.

I raised a fair bit of money for the Hair for Hope charity by getting people to sponsor me.

I hassled and bullied for sponsors.

I did most of my hassling and bullying electronically – as one does nowadays. A couple of emails informing colleagues and ex-colleagues and friends that I was to be involved in a balding for kids with cancer quickly raised several thousand dollars.

Most of my sponsors are kind people with good hearts but a few thought that my balding was going to be a form of humiliation. They believed that removing my hair would somehow belittle and embarrass me.

Such people don’t know me all that well.

I am well aware that our hair does not define who we are.

Bald or hairy I am who I am and a balding – it is child’s play compared to the suffering that a parent must endure when their child has cancer.

A balding is nothing in comparison.

It is fuck all.