A Unique Friendship

Maria Angeles is my oldest female friend. My father, a Dutch Eurasian and her father, a Spaniard, worked for the United Nations and were both posted to Jerusalem. No, they were not military observers or troops, they were permanent staff of the United Nations.

Schmidt Girls College, Jerusalem
Schmidt Girls College, Jerusalem

Maria Angeles and I met at Schmidt Girls College, a strict convent school run by German nuns. Both of us were about ten years old, although neither of us is positive exactly what age we were. What we do both remember very vividly is our German lessons and our Albino music teacher who terrorised us. We also recalled the very strict discipline of the nuns that would be completely unacceptable in today’s educational environment. In fact, it would be classified as child abuse and bullying.

A couple of years later, due to the political climate, I was sent off to boarding school in Beirut. Maria Angeles’s family was posted to Cyprus, then onto Geneva. My Dad was posted to Nairobi, so I finished my education in the UK and began working in London, Maria Angeles finished hers in Geneva before returning to her native Spain to start working.

Throughout those years, we remained in close touch, exchanging long letters and always planned to meet up again. Maria Angeles was the first to get married, and even though I was only in the UK at that stage, it just wasn’t possible for me to go to Spain. She sent wedding photos, and when I got married a few years later, I sent mine. As the kids came along we exchanged baby photos, and so our friendship continued even though we were living continents apart as by then I had moved to Australia. We shared trials and tribulations, stories of separations, family weddings, proud moments and everything in between.

When I moved to Spain in September 2014, I had hoped we’d be able to meet face to face. Unfortunately, that was not to be as by then my dear friend had been in a horrendous motor accident. She’s left with limited mobility, unable to drive, and can only walk short distances with the aid of crutches. The need to rely on other people to help her get out of the house has severely curtailed her movements. So although I was in the same country, my work schedule, and her mobility issues kept us from meeting. We talked on the phone and kept in touch by email – yes, we have finally graduated from hand written letters!

with Maria Angeles
Taken at the end of my 40 hour journey from Darwin – as I stepped off the train in Alicante – reunited at last!

On my return trip to Spain last week, I made it a priority to see my dear friend. The days were blocked out in my schedule to travel to Elche, a 6-hour train journey from Barcelona, and the shoe city of Spain. I didn’t venture into a single shop; instead the time was devoted to being with my childhood friend.

We talked as though we were still those two young girls. There was no awkwardness despite the fact that so many years have passed. It seems like it was only yesterday we were kids yet 45 years seem to have flown past.

Maria Angeles and I agreed, during our reminiscing that we’d both had a great life.  Wonderful opportunities, and education even though we spent considerable time in political hot spots and third world conditions (Congo, India, Pakistan as well as the Middle East).  We also reflected, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was our diverse childhood experiences that have really bound us together. Unlike those who grow up in the same place, we never had the opportunity of neighbourhood friends since our neighbourhoods  frequently changed. Our home was always where our parents were posted.

Just as I struggled to adjust to a life in the UK and then in Australia, Maria Angeles struggled to return to life in Spain. We are both United Nations children, the people we are today is thanks to our upbringing, the challenges we faced along the way, the amazing experiences and people we met along the way, but to us it was all normal. It was our life and we just accepted it as normal. It is only as we have grown older that we know just how different that life was.

I’m thrilled that I was able to see Maria Angeles in person once again, to have a glimpse into her life today. It was nice and at the same time a little weird meeting her adult children as it still felt like we were those two young girls. How could she have such a grown-up family? Equally, I think her children were as fascinated to meet such an old friend of their mothwpid-img-20150806-wa0001.jpgers, one who came from so very far away, as they have lived their whole lives in the same place. While I was there, they had a snapshot into their mothers childhood years, and I suspect saw her in a slightly different light.

We don’t think of ourselves as being old, but Maria Angeles is now a grandmother to three gorgeous little boys, the eldest of which is three years old.  Some of my other friends are grandmothers, but to see my old school friend as a Grandmother was something else – makes me realise I must indeed be getting old even if I do still feel like a spring chicken.

We’ve promised it won’t be another 45 years till we see each other – we’ll both be celebrating our 100th birthdays if we leave it that long!  Seize the day, live life to the full because we never know what’s around the corner. Life is fragile and I’m thrilled I got to spend those two magical days with my lifelong friend and her delightful family. Friendship is a wonderful gift and I am pleased to have some very special friends.

Michelle

Singapore…..childhood memories

Seletar Hills, Tick Toc Man, Mee Siam, curry puffs, sweet tea loaded with condensed milk, Changi beach, Serangoon Gardens, Dr and Aunty Lim, the DeSouza family are just some of the memories that flood my mind as I walked from my hotel to the Hawker Centre.

I remember the excited anticipation that built before our regular 3 month trips for home leave to Singapore. We eagerly anticipated eating much loved food, shopping trips, day trips to Changi beach.

One memorable time Uncle Percy got a big bungalow (part of his job perk) where it seemed like 20 or more of us stayed. Cousins, aunties, mahjong kakis stayed up late into the night as we kids tried to sleep in the tropical humidity. The only whitie amongst our massive multi cultural gathering was Mum who made scones for afternoon tea which went down a treat and then at night we either feasted on noodles from the local hawkers all tied up in banana leaves or went down the road and sat at a roadside stall to enjoy a bowl of noodles. Delicious!
image

As I sat last night look at the twinkling lights of ships in Singapore Harbour I felt blessed to have enjoyed a childhood that included the Singapore of old where we danced in the rain which brought relief from the tropical heat – by contrast today I stayed in a coffee shop till the downpour passed and then, rather than jumping the fast flowing monsoon drains of old to get across the road, I crossed via the covered pedestrian bridges that have been build above the wide roads to convey people safely from one side to the other – Singapore has changed so much but the constant is the delicious food.

Michelle

What we’ve lost since Grandma’s days

This latest blog has been prompted by an article I just read on LinkedIn titled Food on our plate: friend or foe.

As a Western developed society we seem to have lost a great deal of the simple stuff that was about in our grandparents days that contributed to us doing more exercise as a part of our daily lives.  Most people in Green Hammerton, the village where my Grandma lived, did not have a car or a telephone. My Grandad used to ride to work on his bicycle.

There was the village shop/post office that everyone walked to, they also walking to visit neighbours and kids walked to school – including me when we lived in the village for a few months during the 6 day war period in Jerusalem as Dad decided, the family would all be safer in England while he stayed on in Jerusalem. If we wanted to use the telephone we needed walk to the red public box located near the shop and bus stop whilst remembering to make sure we had sufficient coins for our call. Some years later Grandma did get a nice shiny new telephone in her house – I remember it vividly being green and us having to running to answer the phone, which was located in the hall, if we were all out in the garden – no cordless or mobiles back then.

As a child my grandparents had a large garden that Grandad grew vegetable in, he spent hours digging, weeding and gentle tendering to his crops of potatoes, peas, broad beans, rhubarb, strawberries and lots more. Gardening and fly fishing were Grandad’s passions both physical activities.

In her WAC Uniform
Aunty Nell – In her WAC Uniform

We’d take walks up to the farm to see our Aunty Nell, down the country lanes picking blackberries to go into the beautiful pies and jams that Grandma used to make. Yes, we ate lovely hot pies (Grandma’s pastry was the best!) with lashing of fresh cream, toast with real butter and home made jams too. Whilst we did not play organised sports our days were filled with activities that did not allow us to become couch potatoes.

Even the washing was a production as it had to be lifted from the tub and pushed through a mangle to squeeze out the excess water (watch out for fingers!). Eventually the mangle was replaced with a twin tub machine but that still meant lifting from the washing tub into the spin dry compartment. Not like today when we just press one button and it’s all done. The most exercise we get today is hanging our washing on and taking it off the line – although some people even have all in one machines that dry clothes too! Back in Grandma’s day our arms got a work out lifting the heavy, water logged clothes.

Whether I was in England, Singapore, Jerusalem, Rawalpindi, Kashmir or Beirut, as kids we were always active without really thinking about it. In England we would take long walks down country lanes, go on picnics in the Lake District, walks in the Bronte country and more. In Singapore we would play in the garden, roller skate in the park and walk round the markets. Ín Kashmir we swam daily in the lake, walked along the Bund, rode horses in the mountains and went fly fishing. In Rawalpindi we rode bicycles and played in the gardens. In the Middle East we played in the fields behind our houses, played tag and hide n’ seek with kids in the neighbourhood.In the school yard games of hopscotch were daily occurrences. We also walked to the shops, ran up and down the stairs to our classes and to each others dorms.

My point is that all these are physical activities which were built into our daily lives – we did not think about exercise, we just did it unawares and we didn’t really think about food as a friend or foe either – we just ate what we were given.

There’s lot I could add about fast foods, nutrition and more but I’m going to leave it here for now but I would love  your feedback on what has disappeared since your Grandma’s days that you feel might be contributing to us becoming physically more unfit and battling with weight.

Michelle