The fabulous playwright and actor, Alan Bennett, is famously known for shunning after show parties and other such events, saying in his Yorkshire accent, “I’d rather go home and have a poached egg.” Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything, but it seems to me that the luckier I become and the more I experience, the pickier I get too. For example, the snorkeling off Lombok was really good, but moer than 20 years ago, the snorkeling at what we called Secret Bay near Fujeirah in the UAE was more plentiful and more colourful. Of course, it may be that nothing can beat the thrill of the first time you see or do something, but I am beginning to wonder whether I either ate my pudding first or am getting harder to impress.
Take our last two Sundays, for example…
The last Sunday in March was the Malaysian Grand Prix and we went because, well, we could, really. I mean, how often do you get the chance to live within less than 100 miles of a Formula One circuit and tickets don’t sell out in five minutes? For many it would have bee a lifelong dream. For me, I did it because it was down the road.
It couldn’t have been easier. The shuttle service direct to Sepang circuit leaves from a few minutes from our front door. A train, a bus and then another bus later and we were dropped off pretty close to the entrance.
It was hot. It was crowded. It was noisy but it was Formula One and we were there. Gosh it was hot. Even under the canopy of our grandstand it was hot. People were buying trays of Tiger beer and lugging brown paper bags of take-away as if they’d never get another chance before the race. We succumbed to a couple of cans ourselves. Well, you have to, really, don’t you?
We had seats in one of the many grandstands and I was glad to be in the shade, out of the blazing sun. Come 3pm and I was glad of my earplugs too. Boy, was it loud! I wish I could tell you what went on during the couple of hours of the race too, but really all I noticed was some low-slung cars with big tyres going round and round. It was all rather boring so I amused myself taking lots of shots of empty racetrack and WhatsApping them to friends and family. It seemed the cars went faster than my finger on the shutter. Now and again it was a bit exciting, though, when pole position changed but after an hour and a half Ian really did catch myself twiddling my thumbs.
Later, making our way back towards the bus station with the carless crowds we found ourselves herded into one of those cattle-pen holding areas where skeins of people are forced to snake between barriers before boarding a series of buses back to the train. At least we were under cover; we fans had been installed, only no one had switched them on. The hundreds of people who inched forward with us like a lacklustre no-touching conga were slick as seals, slippery with sweat and longing for the respite of that air-conditioned bus.
Would I have rather stayed home with a poached egg? Not really. I mean it was one of those things that I’m glad I did and I may even do again. F1 may not be my thing but I made a mental note to take a fan and a good novel next time.
But I do love me some nature and botanical gardens are usually on the top of my must-visit list in any city. I particularly love it when gardens are decorated with some sculpture.
On the first Sunday in April we were in Singapore staying with our friends Jacinta and Eric. Again. Ian wanted to visit The Gardens by the Bay. The ones with the plastic trees that are illuminated at night. I’d been before but took no persuading to visit for a second time. This time, because of the midday sun we took an audio tour in an open jeep and were glad of the shade and the commentary. It really is a splendid place and has deservedly won awards. The planting is spectacular, with swathes of white in the silver garden, the floating baby – a giant sculpture of a bright white baby balancing on one fist – was great. I was impressed by the Malay, Chinese and Indian gardens and of course two vast glasshouses that look like two glassy bug eyes from afar. I was thrilled to spot my favourite cannonball tree in full-blown full-scented flower.
The garden is free of charge but you pay extra to visit the domes. The Cloud Dome takes the visitor up a mountain and appropriate fauna is displayed along the way. It was blissfully cold and bursting with orchids, but I was gutted that there was no simulation of a mountain trail, but instead a series of lifts and escalators taking us up a fake mountain. I guess I’d been spoiled by The Eden Project. I’d visited its domes long before I’d ever set foot in a rainforest and its recreation of a South East Asian kampong had blown me away.
Next we tried the Flower Dome; my expectations were low. I certainly had no desire to experience a special exhibition called Tulipmania. How could anything match up to the Dutch Keukenhof Gardens I’d visited every year when we’d lived there? The displays in this dome were pretty good to be fair, but I thought Kew Gardens was better. See, I told you I was picky.
But then we walked past a sculpture.
It showed three partial figures in a line, their oriental skins sallow, their clothes faded. They carried suitcases bound for Changi airport and the second I set eyes on them I became rooted to the spot. I tried to call Ian over to look but was too choked to speak. They were refugees, weren’t they? Vietnamese maybe? It looked like they were fleeing through the fields. Their faces were whole but limbs were missing. I could see right through their torsos. They had not been wounded, they were simply outlines, examples, I suppose. I spotted a sign beside them saying the piece was inspired not by refugees but by travel. I love art. I love gardens. Yet no piece of art has ever moved me to tears to deeply. Even the haunting Korean war memorial in Washington did not render me speechless.
So, would I rather have had a poached egg? No way. That sculpture blew me away and in the Gardens by the Bay redeemed themselves fully. I could immediately forgive the sterility of the Cloud Dome and appreciate instead the infinite beauties of two of my favourite things: of nature and of art. It is a winning combination every time.