Dare To Be

When I was at school, the prom queens and the UK-cheerleader equivalents made my life a misery. They didn’t like me based on the fact that firstly, I did not care to follow their style dictates, and secondly, I did not beg to join their silly little clubs. And girls can be mean, much meaner than boys. I would have preferred a straightforward punch-up in the playground than years of subversive torture that I was subjected to by the fairer sex. Little things of mine went missing: calculator, homework book, gym clothes. Nobody would partner me for science experiments. I was told the wrong things to do for homework. I was called names, unpleasant ones, just because I dared to be myself rather than follow the herd or fade into the background.

I hated school because of girl politics. To make my life better, I could capitulate and beg to join the herd, or I could keep my head down.  Or I could be strong and stick two fingers up at them and do as I wish. I chose the third way, simply on the basis that I would rather be a social outcast than a fashion victim or a wallflower.

Of course, no boy invited me to the prom. No corsage arrived. No hired limo. No wedding-cake dress. No highly strung anticipation or squealing excitement. But did I care?


Reason: I was already dating an older boy, a scion of one of the most influential families in England and having a great time. On the night of the prom, Jamie and I were in the oh-so-romantic Angel’s Garden, lying on a horse blanket, looking at stars, drinking champagne from the bottle. It was waaaay cooler than hanging out with a gaggle of hysterical girls or worse, being fumbled by a pimply date at the prom.

Over the years, I stuck to my own dress code. When my mother asked me (nicely) to dress up in something decent, I put the family tiara on. With jeans and sneakers. But at my first year at Oxford, I capitulated and shoehorned myself into my aunt’s old ballgown for the May Ball. My feet were too big for her dainty shoes unfortunately, but I wasn’t going to buy shoes that I will never wear again. Thus, I went to the ball in the appropriate dress but in wellington boots that I wore to rake out the stables. I had a great time dancing the night away, because my feet weren’t hurting in ridiculous shoes.

My younger daughter is 14. Her wealthier friends wear branded goods. Her less wealthy friends pore over magazines and made do with cheap Far East imports from value retailers. Do you know, you are polluting the planet and encouraging child labour each time you buy an item of these unethically produced cheap clothes?

She shrugged. Like me, she is not into fashion. Or girl politics. Plus, she has no money. That is a blessing, because she has so much fun with boys. And so, this mother-and-daughter partnership has developed our own style concept. It’s called HOBOism. There is no shop or internet store to wear HOBO. The label is your name. The only rule is “enjoy wearing yourself”. (The name HOBO is a take on the great British fashion brand HOBBS).

I ran a competition for HOBOs. Hajar Nadhirah Onn from Malaysia takes the biscuit (or crown). Hajar wears the head covering of her religion with pride, but it has never stopped her expressing her individuality and joie de vivre. She is seen here wearing supercool headphones and a quirky batman mask. When I first knew about her HOBOism, she had a Goth make-up on (read: overdone, smudged kohl), walking around a small town in Malaysia, giving people heart attacks. Way to go, Girl! It delights this old aunty’s heart no end to see this.

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And with the hindsight of experience, I would like to exhort all girls out there to have fun with fashion, rather than let fashion wear you. Wear a tiara/batman mask if you want, dammit, you are worth it.


Energy Food: Transformation of the Classic Pancake

My 14 year old daughter is a competitive athlete, and one of the best things about sports is it makes young people aware of the value of nutrition and taking care of their bodies instead of opting for heroin-chic beloved of the fashion industry and unthinking women, or eating junk food.

Georgina has a small frame that is packed solid with muscles. With her high metabolic rate, she burns a lot of calories. Thus, we have to be careful that she meets her nutritional requirements plus more. I don’t want her to go down the path of supplements and vitamins, because a happy and balanced view of food and a healthy approach to eating is a lifelong state of mind. I don’t want my daughter to grow up dependent on pills and chemicals.

Thus, we have one simple principle in our kitchen: we ask ourselves, “Is it nutritionally empty?”

Pancakes, for example. It is mainly flour, egg and some milk. Flour is a filler, nothing else. Is it worth eating it, apart from the pleasure of the taste? Do you want to fill your stomach up with white flour?

But we love pancakes!!!

Here’s our super-version of the classic pancake, it’s full of goodness:

Ingredients for the batter:

120g unbleached white flour

2 heaped tablespoons maca

1 tablespoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

140ml milk

1 large egg (please read about safe eggs here)

2 tablespoons of melted butter

More butter for frying


The garnishing:

1 banana, sliced

Udo oil

Wild honey

Nuts and seeds

Bee pollen


Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a separate bowl or jug, lightly whisk together the milk and egg, then whisk in the melted butter.

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and, using a fork, beat until you have a smooth batter. Any lumps will soon disappear with a little mixing. Let the batter stand for a few minutes.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. Cook the batter until light gold in colour.

With the remaining butter, caramelise the banana slices. Pour over the pancake, drizzle Udo oil and honey on it and sprinkle with bee pollen, nuts and seeds.


She had green smoothie and the super pancakes, and off she went for an activity-filled day with a big smile on her face and bags of energy. It’s a super energy-charged breakfast, that’s for sure!





My Daughter, My Role Model

Georgina has my body shape: the skinny ‘slim’ look so beloved of Asians and women the world over too, I guess.

But she never had any intention of pandering to the majority’s perception of beauty – this girl has worked hard (not only through exercise but through optimum nutrition) to have a strong powerful body that wins her trophies and gold medals.

She has bigger thighs and bigger waist than me, and she laughs about it. Her shoulders are wide, which makes her a strong swimmer though she does not compete in swimming.

She is larger than a lot of girls, but she doesn’t care. Because she knows she is solid muscles, and she is proud of them, even if she is perceived as ‘big’. She revels in the fact that she is very seldom sick – in the last ten years, sore throat is her only ailment – and that she has bags of energy to have fun. I don’t stress about her wearing tight clothes, because she is not a feeble little thing pandering to ideals of beauty, but merely showcasing her muscles. Her role model: Jessica Ennis, the British Olympian, and she is on her way there.

Her physical strength gives her mental strength and a different approach to life …. to my surprise, she listens to Martin Luther King’s speeches on her iPod!

Way to go, Warrior Woman!

No to Anorexia

Anorexia Kills

Finding Their Own Way

Religion is actually a very beautiful philosophy. It is sad that these days, the world is so polarised, over-sensitised, fearful, filled with irrational hatred and cowed by political correctness when it comes to religion. I had to think twice before writing this, so conditioned am I into thinking that the r-word is a tinderbox that could incite a large, destructive flame.

My view is that it is a personal journey, a private choice and a joyful way to be. Religion has killed loads, but it should not be buried any more than cars, sleeping pills and guns should be eradicated. It is the darkness of men’s hearts that brings about the destruction over the centuries, not something as simple and private as religion.

It all goes wrong when we try to enforce our own interpretation of what we think religion is. I often have pious churchgoers correcting me, believing with close hearts that their views are right, and mine wrong. Wasn’t that what killed the millions? A book read with 10 different eyes will yield 10 different perspectives; a sermon heard by 10 different ears will hear 10 different messages. We each have to find our own truths.

My mother-in-law knew me when I was a spoilt teenager. She expected much of me, she was tough on me and she did not tolerate my nonsense which my indulgent parents thought was cute. It was non-negotiable where my mother-in-law was concerned that I had to learn how to cook and clean, and care for her son and her grandchildren. I did not think it was that important to clean behind the refrigerator a week after my son was born, but my mother-in-law chided me for my lack of hygiene which she believed stem from my fundamental laziness.

“How would your baby survive?” she said with a shake of her head.

Fine. Point taken. Cleanliness is next to godliness. But learning how to sew? Apparently, that was in the must-have toolkit in my mother-in-law’s view.

However, she never expected me to follow her religion. She naturally assumed I was a heathen, since I had a laissez faire attitude towards going to church at that time, and I was someone who consented to a one-night stand with her son whilst I was already promised to another.

She just went about her way, taking the grandchildren to church.

And that was how my children were brought up. Catechism classes and Catholic schools. Baptisms, Holy Communions, Confirmations. The four older ones grew up beautifully, blessed with an inner grace even when they were at their worse.

But my youngest, Georgina, she fights it.

We persevered. She fought our implacability with anger, and we did something we would never ever thought we would do: we made deals with her. If you go to Sunday school and the church service later, we’ll go swimming. We’ll buy you this. We’ll allow you to have a fizzy drink (she was not allowed them). It was bad parenting, because after all, isn’t parenting about enforcing laws and forcing children to follow the ‘right’ path?

But if we had done that, we would have ended on the same track as the zealots who believe “I am right and you are wrong”, or “my God is greater than yours”. When it comes to religion, our sole aim is to give the children the foundation to make their own choices. we flood G and her older siblings with prayers, love and the light of the church. In time, they will follow the path, because parents’ faith is like a candle in their children’s lives. It doesn’t require force, but grace in how we lead our lives as parents.

G is still a long way off from being a devout Catholic. But then, I wasn’t, until I loved my mother-in-law and saw the beauty and grace in her ways.

This child of mine “loses” her rosaries. Intentionally, I think. But we never scolded her. Instead, we buy her beautiful ones every time we visit a holy place.

“I already have ten,” she would say stormily.

“Ah well, keep this one in your school bag then,” we would answer. ‘Or your pencil case. Or football kit. Who knows when you will need it, eh?”

We go to church. I hold her father’s hand during the prayer. I feel the electricity of his fingers. Almost thirty years of history in his touch. I know G feels it too, though she glares defiantly at the priest.

“Why are you praying so hard?” she demands. “What are you asking God to give you?”

“Nothing,” I answer her. ‘I make it a point to ask God for nothing.”

“You are praying for my brother’s safe return from the Middle East,” she says. ‘You are asking God to spare his life.”

“No, Kit is a good Catholic. He can pray for himself. He does not need his mother to pray for him.”

“And then?” she insists.

I give her the answer. “I pray for your grandmother, G. She who taught me to love God. She who prayed for us all. I pray for her, because she is unable to pray for herself now.” (My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimer’s and no longer functions).

Her eyes grow wet. Love will bring her to the light. With softness.

And for me, this is religion, the realisation that there is something beyond the narrow confines of the self, beyond the here and now, and a pure love that goes on and on, through the family, by the grace of God.



So You Want To Be A Parent?

My mother is a ‘ground-up’ type of person. She is like an iceberg. What you see is merely the tip, a lot goes on beneath the waterline to solidify the top that you see. She is a firm believer of substance, not form.

Thus, my mother had always taught me that I had to learn to love cooking before becoming a mum. Not merely to learn to cook, but to learn to love cooking. Her rationale is learning to love cooking is not merely about putting food on the table, but cultivating a mindset where there is a genuine desire to nurture and care for another human being.

“Saying ‘I love you’ is easy. We can say it without too much effort, without any sacrifice,” she would say. “But at the most basic level, feeding someone with the food that you have prepared with your hands and heart speaks more meaningfully.”

My mother made a lot of comfort food, especially in the winter months. I complained about her tendency to over-cook. I chided her for using too much cream, too much cheese and too much butter. But I fly home like a homing pigeon to her sunny kitchen in Portsmouth, Hampshire, lured by sweet memories of sitting here in her kitchen, doing my homework, waiting for her simple food to be served.

My mother’s food healed me, and slowly, as I grew into a young woman, I grew to love cooking, though it was not an intuitive thing for me to do. I was a physical, outdoorsy person, impatient and driven. Spending time in the kitchen was definitely not on my agenda. In my youth, I have always felt I had more important things to do in life than the menial task of cooking.

But slowly, there was a shift in my paradigm as I understood my mum’s philosophy. It doesn’t have to be cordon bleu. It doesn’t have to be show-off food. It can simply be a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes; it can be a piping hot bowl of spaghetti. It can be hearty soup made from leftovers. It is just something that you have dedicated your time to giving someone; it is the embodiment of your intention to care for another person’s wellbeing. It is like giving your energy to nurture someone else without the grand gestures or easy words.

When I lived in Jakarta, a man called Antonio Castellano cooked for me. He wasn’t a professional cook, but a management consultant working for McKinsey & Company. His specialisation is the global energy industry, but he has an Uncle Sal who sends him Sicilian recipes from home. Unusual food that you couldn’t get in an Italian restaurant in Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or probably anywhere in Europe for that matter, except perhaps in Sicily. Spaghetti coated in anchovy oil and breadcrumbs, sprinkled with capers. I watched him cook for me, this diminutive blue-eyed Italian, and I finally understood the power of my mother’s philosophy. I rather think I fell in love a little, just a little, for this is the first time a man has ever cooked for me.

I saw the beauty of food cooked with love through Antonio’s giving. I morphed into someone who genuinely loves cooking. I began to smile and hum whenever I cooked. And in my late thirties, I went back to my mother to tell her that I finally understood what she meant about a love for cooking. I had met someone who showed me his love in this deep, honourable and beautiful way.

But my mother, she said, “You have to love gardening, if you want to genuinely love cooking.”

I disliked gardening, though I have put in the hours as a teenager.

“Gardening is like raising children, Jack,” she said to me. “You nurture a plant, watch it grow, and be pleasantly surprised by it each day. There is something to love about your plant each day. And most of all, it teaches you patience and acceptance.”

“I don’t see what it has to do with cooking,” I said sulkily.

And my mother told me. Cooking is not about what you put on the table. The process starts long before coming to the stove. It is about feeling Nature, and being thankful for what we have been so abundantly blessed with. It is not a science, but a primal emotion. If we can translate that thankfulness into the food we cook, we create family consciousness.

“I don’t know why cooking schools start with the fancy stuff,” my mother mused. “It should all be about going to the garden, smelling the herbs, tasting the fruits, being familiar with the earth first. Not knives and pots and pans.”

“Ma, I buy organic food,” I sulked, as I dug the earth this summer at the vegetable patch. “It’s good enough.”

“Oh, Jack, put more energy into your digging!” She laughed gaily at me, watching me with love in her eyes. “We need good soil for the new plant we bought.”

I frowned and sulked. She came to stand by me. “You need to get to the soil on the lower layers. “

With some difficulty, she knelt on the flowerbed beside me, and took the small spade from my hand. She began digging energetically, scooping the earth from the lower layers into the flowerpot.

“Jack, this is like parenting and grandparenting. We, the parents and grandparents, are the top layer. We have had our time. But the layers beneath, that’s where all the top layer’s nutrients have leached down to. We want that layer, because that’s the best of us. See?”

I looked at her in amazement. Yes! That is the true gist of parenting – we pass our goodness down to the next layer, protecting it, nurturing it, for it is our continuity, our immortality. From here to the kitchen table, the circle of life. It’s all related, in a magical way. Thank you, Ma, thank you.

“And Jack, no short cuts,” my mother said with a small smile that carried the warmth of the whole sun in it. “Learn to enjoy gardening, love.”


We Travel, To Come Home








When well-meaning folks say to me, “You must meet this person” or “You must try this restaurant” or “You must take your family to this place”, I just smile sweetly and say nothing, hoping that they don’t follow their suggestions up.

Because I have no intention of meeting new people (however interesting/inspiring/motivating), or going to new restaurants or taking my family to some wonderful location that you think we might enjoy.

The reason is I have spent the first half of my life like a marionette on a string, a social butterfly going to all the ‘in’ functions, and met all the interesting people I have ever dreamed of meeting. One more at this stage would only burden me, so I have no need for new friends. And all the places we want to visit are our family places, places that we have left behind when we moved to Asia. Our greatest joy is rediscovering home.

Right now, at 46 and living quietly on a sweet little island, I am happy with my life as it is. I don’t want more. I am happy with the humble restaurants I find along the way, I am happy with my local beaches, and I am happy with my quiet life of precious few friends. I cherish the space and time and isolation I have found in my life. There is no need for me to add more: the open spaces and free time is simply exquisite, time devoted to our youngest child. We do want to journey inwards.  Because we travel, to come home.


Water safety for teenagers

I told my baby-daddy’s parents that swimming tops my list of life-skills, and that their grandchildren will be in the pool by the end of their first week in the world. It is not only a life-skill, but a life-saving skill.

Being able to swim isn’t enough. Your child has to be a strong swimmer who is aware of the dangers. When I was at school, a couple of my friends drowned because they tried swimming across a narrow stretch of water after missing the last boat home.

G is a fantastically strong swimmer, though she doesn’t think so (which is good). Several years back, our canoe capsized in the dark, in the open sea, and she saved her own life. She could easily swim 50 metres in choppy seas. It gives us some measure of comfort that she knows about rip tides too, and she is sensible about the dangers of the open sea. We are going to Australia for Christmas, and she has researched all the dangers about Australian seas already.

Yesterday, she was fooling around on a yacht; this Saturday she is going out on a yacht with a bunch of teenagers. We just gave her four laws that she must obey: (1) when in open seas, never swim more than 20 metres from the yacht (2) always inform someone if you are swimming in the sea (3) if jet-skiing or water-skiing, you must wear the right lifejacket, which is the one that lifts the head out of the water and (4) do not dive!!!!!

“It is also a social skill,” G smirked. “Many girls can’t swim, or are feeble swimmers, and they just sit around looking pretty and helpless, whilst I have real fun. With the boys.”

Roadmap for raising Gs: https://raisinghappystrongkids.com/2014/08/18/roadmap-for-raising-children/

A Quirky Take on Aglio Olio

Aglio olio is the staple of most Italianas, and I am no different despite possessing only 25% Italian genes. Once you make the oil (which can last for days), all you need is spaghetti and perhaps some fresh parsley or basil and parmesan cheese for a superb, soul-nourishing comfort food, namely the classic spaghetti aglio olio.

Today, I made zucca aglio olio from the pumpkin I picked up on my drive in rural Phuket.  I decanted the oil into a jar and used some for spaghetti. I then used pumpkin slices to ‘wipe’ clean the saucepan, and baked those pumpkin slices (I sprinkled some freshly ground sea salt over them). The baked pumpkin aglio olio tasted heavenly!

Recipe for my aglio olio:

1/3 cup good olive oil

8 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just begins to turn golden on the edges-don’t overcook it! Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Turn off heat. Ensure that the red pepper flakes do not burn!!

Decant into a clean jar for later use.  Serve with piping hot spaghetti, topped with grated parmesan cheese, basil or parley and freshly ground salt and pepper.

And here’s the aglio olio served the traditional way, with spaghetti:

aglio olio

Note: my friend Azlan  Adnan suggested slicing the garlic thinly with a razor for that extra flavour.  Good advice!



One of my Facebook readers did, with an even better twist: she added the aglio olio pumpkin to the aglio olio spaghetti, and her adorable daughter loved it! Thanks, Mummy Loves Jayna!

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Seven Steps To Raising Really Strong Girls

Maybe it is just an affliction of the fairer sex, but we all have had at least a Train Wreck Girlfriend in our lives. Mine is Susannah (not her real name, of course). She is a successful musician. She is attractive, articulate and funny, with a wide circle of friends and a busy life. She lives in a nice bachelorette pad in a smart part of London. You would have thought she is happy with her lot in life. Yet for the better part of our friendship, she has spent many tearful hours on my couch, wringing the proverbial sodden tissue in her hands. Susannah lurches from one disastrous relationship to the next, and in the lull in between her emotional train wrecks, she mopes around like a lost puppy, lamenting about her single state and ticking biological clock, always on the lookout for THE man to fall in love with, and therefore end all her woes (HAHAHA).

She yearns to be loved (don’t we all) but in Susannah, that yearning stems from the myth that a man will complete her and make her life infinitely better. She comes across as desperate, and men can smell desperation from a mile away. They then head for the hills without a backward glance.

What makes Susannah a needy, childlike, romantic desperado?

Though she is musically brilliant (and earns well), she is emotionally stunted at the age of eight. She was eight when she was sent to boarding school. She fulfilled her emotional needs and got her emotional guidance from reading romantic love stories, rather than real family interactions. The result: an emotionally stunted woman. Puppy-dog eyes are cute on eight year old little girls and Mills & Boons heroines, but on a 40 year old fully grown woman, it is just not that attractive. It is rather sad, actually.

In the beginning, I tried playing matchmaker but her desperation drove them all away. I introduced her to my gorgeous friend, and she stalked him persistently, always there waiting for him with that puppy dog eyes. Later, when that fell apart, I mentioned to her that my colleague had a spare ticket for the Albert Hall – she was over in my house within the half hour, without asking me anything about my colleague other than “Is he male and single?”

I have two daughters of the ages 23 and 14. I am adamant my girls will never be Train Wreck Susannahs, and so far, they are on course, thanks to my Seven Stage Programme. In fact, they are downright feisty and independent, and both are single by choice, despite the wolves at the door.

  1. Teach little girls that Prince Charming does not exist.

Men are nice, but they are not the solution to everything. More often than not, they have more frailties and issues than you.

  1. Ensure that little girls are self-sufficient

Nobody can rescue you but yourself. Men might have the right equipment to complete women physically, but there is nothing more unattractive than a needy, clinging, emotionally deficit grown-up (of either sex) seeking completion.

  1. Live within their own means

It is unfortunate, but typically, women still earn less than men. Therefore, a man with a good job presents an attractive proposition (financial security and perhaps entrée to a nicer, more secure future). I think that’s the biggest trap that women fall into. Hello, this is 2014. You have to buy your own stuff rather than rely on the man you sleep with to do so.

  1. Enjoy their own company

I know of someone who sits like a faithful and sad Basset Hound waiting for a disinterested man to spend time with her, be it dinner or walk or conversation…..anything, gimme, gimme, gimme! She would kill time waiting for him to grace her with his attention.

Methinks Ms. Saddo is far better off having a good drink, putting funky music on loud and dancing her heart out. That’s what I am teaching my daughters. And to learn to love books, of course.

  1. Give little girls emotional security

We all have needs: shelter, food, sex. But Maslow’s triangle forgot emotional security. Many girls grow up with that piece missing in their lives because they have (i) distant, (ii) absent or (iii) busy parents. They grow into needy women, trying to fill the void by playing out roles to compel the men in their lives to give them that missing piece.

  1. Have strong family ties

It is raining in London as I am writing this. From my window, I see a couple walking past sharing an umbrella. It is an achingly romantic sight. I longed to be out there, walking under the umbrella and under the protective arm of a man.

The father of my children is halfway across the world on a football field. But strangely enough, he is not the man I thought of immediately. I thought immediately of my big brother Huw Patrick, a strong and solid presence in my life from childhood. Nobody can ever take his place in my heart. Nobody can ever take my mother’s, my father’s, my other brother’s, my children’s, my niece’s, my nephew’s, my grandparents’ place in my heart.   There is something true in the old adage: there is nothing stronger than blood (though I was an adopted child). Family are the ones who give you firm grounds to stand on, whatever the nature of your relationship. There is no place more secure than your childhood home, even if that home is just a construct of your mind.

  1. Model it!

Be a strong girl yourself! Live life with laughter lacing your days, genuine happiness lighting your path, learn to find your own solutions, love yourself truly, madly and deeply, and dance like no one is watching, except your daughter, of course.