Category Archives: Things I have written

Stories, poems, songs…creative sort of things

The Hero with 1000 Dances

I like language and I like dancing
I like spinning yarns and I like turning pirouettes
I like epic, sweeping quests and I like loud, sweaty parties
I like twists… and I like twirls

I’ve often noted how many similarities my two passions share.

Learning a foreign language is very like learning a new style of dance. You master some basic words – some moves, but for them to make sense, you need a grasp of the grammatical forms – the foundations of the dance. As you begin to root your moves in a strong foundation, you can progress more easily to stringing them into sequences – like sentences. In both language and dance, you want to enrich your vocabulary and in both cases, when you nail the accent, you show a depth of understanding. And, as we all know, to truly understand a language, it helps to learn about the culture it comes from: its ancestors, its food – the music that feeds it. Then you can start to tell stories, to express yourself fluently and fluidly, and to freestyle – to use slang, to play, to make jokes. To have a conversation.

And it was when I began learning lindy and salsa and bachata that the idea of conversation became even more poignant and applicable. At first, with partner dancing, I felt I must learn to listen better, in order to follow my partner. I became attentive, a rapt listener, following their tales with their twists and turns; and to their moods –  the highs and lows of their sombre soliloquies, playful anecdotes, sultry love notes and euphoric exclamations; and I responded to them appropriately. But no one can listen all the time and I learned that even as you follow, you contribute to the exchange. I also learned that a good partner, in both dance and conversation, allows the other the space to add to the dialogue, to insert a joke, ask a question, even sometimes to change the subject. Sometimes you dance with someone and it’s a slow, considered, life-affirming exchange of ideas in which we say, “That’s interesting, tell me more,” or ask, “What do you think about that?” Sometimes we engage in a fast paced witty repartee, snappily one-upping, knowingly teasing or taunting, and you can spend the whole dance going back and forth with whip-smart banter. That is, if you want to. Sometimes, a partner is so charismatic that you give them your hand, and with it all your senses, and plunge headlong into their story, which, like all good stories, lifts you out of yourself and spirits you away, and you simply sail along upon it.

Just now, I am buried in the grit and grind of crafting stories; how to dig into them and make them soar and crash at just the right moments. I’m entrenched in how to vary the pace and tempo, how to endow the hero with the treasures and secrets she needs at just the right moment, how to give him the tools to claw his way out of the dark night of the soul and make it home with the answers. Naturally – and as you may have guessed – my quest has led me to Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with 1000 faces”. Amongst the countless enlightenments I’ve found in his writings thus far, I was particularly struck by this:

“Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure… Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco.”

And how, once again, what is true in stories is true on the dancefloor. Because, isn’t that absolutely the case every time you step into the cypher or take the hand offered to you? Isn’t every dance a mini adventure of its own?

And in the adventure, as Joseph says, “There’s always the possibility of a fiasco. But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”

The boy with the broken bike

Once upon a time there was a boy and he was very sad.

Why are you sad? Asked the girl.

Because my bike is broken, I cleaned it and oiled it and tuned it and then it broke down when I tried to go on a bike ride. I fixed it so many times it gave me blisters and when I took it for a ride in the countryside it broke down again. I don’t understand.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a bike here. Look, this one is all shiny and new and it has a basket and a bell. You can have it, if you like.

Are you sure? I don’t think I can take your bike. (The boy had very nice manners)

Of course! I’ve got one too, do you want to go on a bike ride?

Yes please! Where can we go?

Wherever you want!

And can we have a picnic?

Of course, that’s a lovely idea. And, if you like, we can ride up the mountain and look at the view.

So, off they went, cycling in the sunshine on the girl’s shiny bikes. The pedals whirred and the wheels whirled and the spokes clicked by so quickly that they purred. She coasted down the hill, giggling and wiggling her feet, and he stood up and pedaled hard to overtake her, ring-a-dinging his bell. He took his hands off the handlebars and waved at her, she laughed and lifted her front wheel off the path. They sang to the sound of the wind in their ears.

Do you like the bike? Called the girl.

Yes! It’s wonderful, thank you! Shouted the boy.

And they cycled to the seaside and ate ice cream. And they cycled through the valley and paddled in the stream. And they cycled up to the top of the mountain, and as they plopped down to look at the view, the boy seemed sad.

What’s wrong? Asked the girl.

The boy was looking at his shiny red bike with its basket and bell and purring wheels. He looked up at the girl and said:

I don’t want this bike, I’m not used to nice bikes. I want my old broken one. I want to try and fix it again and again.

So, although he would get blisters and break down and fall off, the boy handed the shiny bike back to the girl, turned away and walked back down the mountain to his rusty bike, never to ride like the wind or paddle in the stream or go wherever he wanted.

The girl watched him go and felt very strange. She looked down at the beautiful bike she had given him and scratched her head. Suddenly she didn’t feel like going on a bike ride anymore, or ever again. And she thought:

Maybe I shouldn’t give anyone the beautiful shiny bike.

But that made her even sadder.

I have this lovely bike and it’s such a shame not to share it. Maybe the boy didn’t need it, but maybe someone else will.

The Big and Important and Difficult Puzzle

Once there was and boy and a girl who liked to play. They played board games and card games and games of make-believe. They dressed as monsters and beasties and went whooping and shrieking through the woods.

They played together and they played apart. She played at tree-climbing and he would call up from the ground, looking out for handy footholds and clapping with delight when she swung from branch to branch like a monkey. She watched admiringly when he played marbles so precisely and encouraged him when he drew beautiful, complicated pictures.

Whenever they played together, no matter who won, they flopped down side by side at the end of the day and he played a song and she sang along and they fell asleep, tired and happy.

One day, the boy was working on a Big and Important and Difficult Puzzle. The girl, her feet wet from splashing in the river, sat down beside him to watch. He seemed anxious so she wriggled closer and put her hand on his shoulder to peer over at the Puzzle. He shook her off.

Just a minute, I’m trying to solve this puzzle, it’s Big and Important and Difficult.

Oh good! She said. Those are the best ones. Can I help you solve it?

The boy looked at the Puzzle.
No, I don’t think so, he said.

OK, said the girl. I’ll be over here splashing if you need me.

But the boy didn’t call for her and though she came to sit with him and watch him with the Puzzle, he didn’t look at her. Once or twice she said,

Why don’t you put that piece over there?

And he just shook his head.

It won’t work.

The girl felt sad that she couldn’t help and she missed playing and singing with the boy but she knew he would be able to solve the Puzzle so she carried on climbing trees and sitting near the boy and splashing in puddles and sitting near the boy. Until one day, the boy turned to see her sitting nearby and he said,

You can’t help me solve the Puzzle and I don’t think I can solve it while you’re here. Can you go away please?

And the girl was sad very sad. She stood up and walked away from the boy and his Big and Important and Difficult Puzzle and she hoped he would solve it one day.

A Yule Tale

– Gather ye round for a heartwarming festive story

Say what you like about Bangkok’s execution of Christmas (and I have), what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in effort. I happen to think that any predominantly Buddhist country that gets tinseled up and fairy-lit in the name of blatant and shameless commercialism spreading festive cheer deserves our appreciation.

It was in this spirit that I attended the Hilton Sukhumvit’s tree lighting evening and sure enough, they had gone for it gamely, with all the trimmings – all of them, indiscriminate about trimming use, they were. A brightly lit display of all the traditional Christmas items welcomed guests and warmed hearts.

Christmas display at Hilton bangkok

It’s just not Christmas without Limoncello and monogrammed handbags

We admired the unconscionably long chocolate log over steaming glasses of gluhwein (hot wine… in the tropics… cuz nothing says Christmas like sweating your Santa hat off).

Better crank up the air con, the wine's a-mulling

Better crank up the air con, the wine’s a-mulling

But the real magic was yet to begin. From nowhere, a shambles of adorable cherubs, attached to various stringed instruments, traipsed messily to the stage area, only to be hurriedly shooed away by their formidable ensemble mistress. Interest piqued, I found a spot with a good view and lo, a mini Christmas novella unraveled before my eyes.

The prettiest young lady remained seated, neatly arranging her skirts about her cello, demurely receiving the ardent attentions of the young chaps either side of her, one a gangly, awkward fellow cellist and the other casually wielding an acoustic guitar. Ahhhh me, sighed I, ruefully remembering the flutters of those early high school flirtations, oh and the complexities of the social hierarchies – how fascinating.

chirstmas choir bangkok

Cella-bella handles the love triangle masterfully

No time to linger, though.

pushy-choir-mum

Clap clap, Pushy Choir Mum had the stage to herself, having cleared the musical youths and, revelling in her moment in the spotlight, bade us attend the sweeping stairwell. A moment of hush, the sigh of a violin, and down they came, a harmonious troop of bobble hatted youngsters, shyly sawing and strumming at their instruments.

christmas kids music

As the Bangkok Von-Trapps played sweetly, PCM directing them with aplomb, I couldn’t help but notice, not every member of the ensemble shared her enthusiasm…

little violinist

Mini Taylor Swift is OVER it

The song finished to beguiled applause. The musicians relaxed a moment; swaggering guitar-player turned to joke with neighbouring cheeky-chappy violin dude, and I caught a glimpse of his face.

WHAT?!

buddy the elf

This guy is way older than these kids! Princess Cello remains remarkably poised considering she is sitting next to Buddy the Elf.

Luckily the day was saved. From back-row obscurity stepped a slip of a thing, clattering a little in her mum’s shoes. Handling the mic awkwardly, she lifted her little chin and sang ‘Happy Birthday Jesus’ in a high, pure soprano.

This picture is fuzzy to recreate the misty eyes she elicited

This picture is fuzzy to recreate the misty eyes she elicited

An audible sigh rippled round the room. Having stepped out to have a word with a colleague, Buddy the Guitar Elf and his (much more age appropriate companion) fell silent and watched in wonder.

Grown up elf love

Grown up elf love

…leaving adorkable cello fellow free to make his move and woo the princess.

cello love

An egg-nog after the show?

A happy ending, a Christmas miracle. My cockles have never been more toasty. Even mini Taylor Swift cracked a smile.

merry christmas

Merry Christmas every one!

 

For more of my thoughts on Christmas in Bangkok, click here.

For another uplifting little story, try this one.

A Tale of 4am Facebook Fortune

– in which Nicky loses her phone and puts the city on the case.

I will briefly set the scene and then just allow this marvelous story to unravel before your eyes via a series of (lightly annotated but mostly self explanatory) screen shots.

Twas a sparkly Friday night in Bangkok, we were frisky with mischief, the city was humming, something was coming.  A rag-tag, merry band of misfits made plans. They involved the opening of The Great Kabab Factory and a Bacardi party. It was to be a night of ‘Bakabs and Kabardi’ …and much else besides.

We quaffed bubbly and munched delicious paneer and lamb off skewers. We piled into taxis and screamed across the Chao Phaya. We drank rum, hot and infused with herbs, aflame and in vases. We danced, we sat under the trees on the concrete; our numbers swelled. We madly dashed through the supermarket, hunting and gathering supplies. We sloppily and hungrily ate crackers and plastic cheese washed down with still more rum on an 8th floor terrace; a couch was broken.

It was 3am and I decided to take myself home. In the street I realised I had left my phone on the broken couch, staggered back upstairs and recovered it. The taxi dropped me home and in the lift up to my flat I rootled through my bag for my keys, vaguely noticing it was full of a lot of ridiculous items among which my phone was once again conspicuous by its absence. Crashing into my flat and plonking down onto the loo for a nice pee, I emptied the contents onto the bathroom floor (the contents of my bag, that is). The sensation of simultaneously relieving oneself and being overcome with utter dismay is quite discombobulating. I was, all at once, pissed, pissing and pissed off.

whats-in-my-bag

I kicked aside the trappings of my evening and lurched for my laptop to hammer out a frenzied Facebook status, tagging everyone I could think of, in the desperate hope that the universe might smile upon me.

And this is what happened:

Facebook help plea

Gaia is straight on the case (I madly tag more humans who are probably asleep):

2-go-team

Miraculously, other people are awake and join the hunt:

help is at hand

how to find a lost iphone

And THEN:

the driver answers

6-super-driver

Twenty minutes later:

iphone is returned

In the subsequent hours, humans around the world react to this emotional roller-coaster:

beautiful story

Six hours late, Pan Pan wants to help (bless him)…

delayed response

And for the next 12 hours, people enjoy this heart warming tale:

great stories

A few closing remarks, if I may:

Hooray for technology: Facebook saved me and I now have installed Find My iPhone.

But even more – hooray for wonderful, generous, helpful humans. Special mention should be made that Gaia and Alisa had been with me all night and I think we can all agree they showed incredible mental and organisational fortitude despite being QUITE as tiddled as I was. You should also know that Alisa had to get up four hours after this escapade to sell her amazing soap all day at the Farmers’ Market – the woman is a machine.

I sincerely hope that singular taxi driver, that Cabbie among cabbies, will be blessed with brilliant, wonderful karma. If this story is anything to go by, I feel quite certain he will; social media is certainly powerful, but this city…. this city is magic.

 

 

Musical mindfulness

According to Wikipedia (so let’s not question it),

Mindfulness as a psychological concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation and refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

I am terrible at mindfulness.

I’m never where I am.

Any chance I get I’m sailing off into a daydream about unicorns and dragons OR I’m smiling secretly to myself about something delicious that happened OR (more frequently) I’m agonising over some hideous faux pas I made OR I’m constructing elaborate scenarios set in the future (in which I will NOT make a pratt of myself). I rarely notice the roses, much less stop and smell them; this is partly because I lack the facility for smell but mostly because I’m firmly entranced in my merry dream world. But I’ve become increasingly aware that this is no way to live my life. The future doesn’t exist. I can’t change or relive the past. The present is all that matters. But I’m missing it.
I have found one thing that works. One thing that jerks me back into my surroundings and forces me to notice the beauty that is casually unfolding around me whether or not I’m aware of or appreciating it. When the perfect song steals into my ears at exactly the right time and all my senses are caught at once. Then I am mindful.

Like when I’m waiting for the lift outside the MRT and my ipod sneakily shuffles onto Love Rain by Jill Scott and the sweet sustained strings and the heartbeat bass and the warm breeze on my shoulders all scheme together to drag my attention to the tree, heavy with deep velvet white frangipani against the soul-achingly vivid blue sliver of sky just visible between the grey highrises.

Or when I’m smiling because I’m listening to Get up Get down Get funky Get loose by Teddy Pendergrass and as I walk through the barrier for the train and happen to catch the eye of the cute boy coming the other way, he beams back, guilelessly and sunnily and we both walk in our opposite directions, stealing glances back and giggling goofily and giddily at ourselves and each other. (Incidentally, I saw the same boy some days later but the song wasn’t right and my stupid face didn’t know what to do!)

Or when I’m walking home in the searing heat, my clothes sticking to me and the air pressing in and down but as I bite into the sweet bitterness of a chunk of sunset pink pomelo, all at once Drive by incubus chugs on and at that moment a gorgeous powerful breeze sweeps the street and eases me and I could skip!

Or when I’m lying on cushions, staring at the sky through the fat leaves of a tree, eating papaya salad, drinking cheap Thai whisky on the beach and as the light fades and the sky is all inky and pinky and the lanterns in the trees make everything warm and soft, and the basslines of the Tracy Chapman and Sade songs they are playing are all at exactly the same temperature as the air and i drift away to exactly where i am.

And it’s like the whole universe conspires together just for a moment to give me a little gift…. just for paying attention.

And now I am always seeking these moments, i have come to hunt them.

Plug your ears and tune into to present. It’s a present!

Letter to me… from me

Sometimes I write things for this very nice online magazine and one of my colleagues there (who is now living it up in NYC studying publishing like a boss) wrote THIS letter to her younger self, filled with nuggets of advice she wishes she had known at the time. Inspired by this idea (as well as Baz Luhrman’s classic, Sunscreen), I am trying to take an objective look at my life and pen my current self a little missive from my (imagined) future self, dispensing the wisdom that I know deep down I should be following…

Dear Nicky,

It has come to my, well… your attention that while you are, admittedly, having a good ol’ time, you are also, on occasion, being lazy and cowardly. You are in a position in your life which you have never been in and probably never will be again (speaking, as I am,  from the future, I am an authority on this). You have youth, freedom, health and a team of wonderful people cheering you on. You could do ANYTHING. Oh, you’ve had a go at tango and swing dancing? What do you want, a biscuit? Please. Have adventures and experiences, grab opportunities, do something worthwhile, write things, read things, learn thing, stop looking at your ukulele and PLAY it!

Also, stop feeling guilty for having a good time, just because everyone else seems to have it figured out or at least knows what they want to be when they grow up,  don’t waste your valuable adventuring time worrying about what you’re going to do with your life. Before you know it,  you’ll have a proper job and when you want to look back at a thoroughly and delightfully misspent youth, all you’ll have to remember is worrying about the future and procrastinating on facebook.

In short, don’t miss out on things.  Your future you (um….me) will regret it… Your future you – I mean I – (will) want to tell hilarious and exciting anecdotes about your life, don’t deny her… you…me!

Coming from your future self and therefore with hindsight, this is good advice. So there!

Regards,
You/us…. Oh bugger it!

I urge you all to do the same and later we can all applaud ourselves for having lived the dream!