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Friday, June 29, 2007

The End of an Era

Five years ago, the head of HR left us. Today, the one who replaced him, has also gone. Most of us are still here, keeping the show running, but it's strange sitting at my desk and looking at her dark office, knowing I'll never see her there again. The friendship will survive and we'll still see each other, but I'll miss the daily interaction.

And when someone else takes up residence in there, it will be a whole new ball game. We've had an emotional couple of weeks, both Anuja and I have spent time with her, consoling her. She's worked for the company for 13 years and no matter how she tried to prepare herself for the final few weeks, it has been tough on her. Today, Anuja and I took her for lunch. And we talked about relationships and hopes and all the stuff that we haven't had much time to explore together, before. It was good. It was healing in a way. It was the sort of time spent together, that shows the bonds we have developed. There are others in the department, but the three of us have always worked well together.

This evening we had our monthly office gathering, catered by our hotel, where the corporate team gets together in the offices. The CEO speaks of our development plans and any highlights regarding business. Today, one of the items on his agenda was to pay tribute to our boss. He really didn't say very much, which I'm glad about, because he doesn't mean a word of it anyway. Anuja and I jointly said a few words too, because we were NOT going to let her hear only platitudes. This is a woman who has put her heart and soul into the job. While she may have lacked some of the qualities he wanted, noone could ever say she didn't give it her all. We spoke of her grace, honour and integrity. Of her support and encouragement. Of her commitment to building up the HR function. And that although we will miss her, we will keep her essence with us, to sustain us. And that although she has tiny feet (she is such a petite little thing), she really does leave behind very big shoes to fill.

And now, a three-day weekend is upon us. When we come back on Tuesday, our working lives will be different. But we will not let ourselves, or anyone we work with, down. Because, quite simply, no matter how we may feel about the way we are led or the way the culture no longer represents a particularly healthy organisation, we care about the people we work with. And that will always motivate us to be the best we can be.

My Little Ball of Emotion

There are times I sit and suddenly, out of nowhere, this little ball of emotion unfurls itself within me and I unravel with it. Tears pinch at my eyes and I feel a tightening in my chest. It's neither sadness nor happiness exclusively, indeed it can be a mixture of both, while sometimes it's neither. It's just a feeling of raw, unbridled emotion without, seemingly, any real cause.

It feels not so much like a loosely wound ball of wool or string, but something more intense, more powerful. Like the inside of a tightly-wound rubber thread golf ball. Something wound so tight as to make it virtually impenetrable. Until it starts to uncoil.

There's no pattern. It can happen anywhere and everywhere. Watching TV, quietly working at my desk, deciding which flavour of yoghurt to buy, watching the world go by as I sit in the back of a taxi on my way home at night. Sometimes it's when I'm thinking emotionally, but most often it's not. And it has no link to my menstrual cycle, that's a whole different emotional see-saw.

Does anyone else get that unexpected, inexplicable, crushing feeling of emotion that's too hard to hold inside?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Happy Birthday Hong Kong, SAR

On Sunday 1 July, we will celebrate 10 years of 'liberation'. 1 July 1997 was the day China took Hong Kong back into the fold after 156 years of British rule and we went from being plain old Hong Kong, to Hong Kong, SAR (Special Administrative Region), People's Republic of China. It was a complex thing, given that Hong Kong island and a small part of the peninsula across the harbour had been ceded to Britain in perpetuity, while the rest of the Kowloon peninsula and beyond, up to the border with China and including all our outlying islands, ran on a 99 year lease which ended in 1997. Britain gave the island and tip of the peninsula back too, at the time the lease ran out, perhaps fearing another Falklands fiasco.

At the time of the change, it was referred to as both the 'handover' and the 'takeover', depending on which camp you were aligned with. No matter the semantics, we went from being British to Chinese, overnight.

The Union Jack and colonial Hong Kong flags were taken down, forever, at midnight on 30 June 1997, amidst much pomp and ceremony.

And in their place were raised the Chinese national flag and our new flag, with even more pomp and ceremony. It seemed to be a case of showing who was more powerful than the other and I think the Chinese had it in the bag:

The original new flag, as chosen by a panel of local representatives, was refused and we were given another flag which was designed by an architect, in China. It connects very closely to the flag of the motherland by matching colour and incorporating the five stars from the national flag, allowing us only the use of the bauhinia, Hong Kong's indigenous flower. It is considered to be a regional Chinese flag.

The international press revelled in predictions of doom and gloom ahead, fuelled by reports of the PLA (People's Liberation Army) rolling into Hong Kong in tanks (reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989). While we sat here knowing exactly what it was, an opportunity by our new masters to give a show of strength while the world watched. Truth is, the only PLA forces in Hong Kong have been well sequestered in their barracks here and are never seen on our streets.

The past 10 years of 'one country, two systems' has worked well for us. While the border remains closed, travel across it has been made easier and the mainland has provided us with a whole new tourism market, to which we have learned to cater. We haven't been without our difficulties, first the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and then the outbreak of SARS in 2003, which almost destroyed us. But Hong Kong is an incredibly resilient place and we bounced back.

So, on Sunday, 1 July, our National Day, we will celebrate with many things, including a parade and a fireworks display over the harbour combined with our daily Symphony of Lights Extravaganza.

Here are some pics from last year and they are promising something even more spectacular this year in honour of the 10-year anniversary. With a US$2million spend on the fireworks alone, it should be interesting. I'm going to come to the office where there is a harbour view, to take in the show.

Those are from last year's show. The complete gallery is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Lunch Yesterday

The festivities continue in the 'celebration' of the loss of our head of HR. Lunch yesterday was a grand affair at one of the finest Chinese restaurants (ours) in town.

In 1998, the authentic Cantonese restaurant was transformed to a rich replica of how the original would have been in 1928, when the hotel opened. Stained glass, dark teak paneling and flooring, Art Deco features, and Frank Lloyd-Wright highlights combine to give a period feel to the restaurant. A tea counter with over 25 selected Chinese teas and professionally trained tea masters in attendance add to the dining experience. Several exclusive dining rooms, situated on two levels, are ideal for private functions.

We feasted on eight courses (auspicious number) :

(CEO), Farewell Lunch for (GM, HR)
on 26th June 2007

點心拼盤 (3款)
Dim sum combination (3 kinds)

Winter melon soup with crabmeat and bamboo fungus

Sautéed prawns with lily bulbs and asparagus

Steamed fresh spotted garoupa

Roast chicken marinated with plum sauce

Fried rice with diced scallops

Sweetened almond cream with rice dumplings

Chinese petits fours

There definitely are some benefits to working for an organisation that includes some of the best eating establishments in this town, if not in the whole of Asia. It was a strange and very strained two hours. I love watching the personal positioning, the deference, the power plays. Best part was the sharing of 'hotel' stories. Oh, if the walls of that place could talk like they did yesterday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Into the Breach

"Once more into the breach dear friends, once more."

Well, it's about to start. I have to bridge the gap between the time we lose our head of HR, until her replacement comes on board. Two months of vulnerability and exposure for me. Not to mention more work than I would have liked, and I'm not one to shun hard work.

My current boss is leaving and her replacement doesn't start until September. So, I'll have to sit on two chairs for the interim. As though I don't have enough to do in my own job, come Monday I'm also in charge of the entire department. There's a reason I didn't put myself forward for her job, and that's because I like having that layer between myself and those at the very top. I like having my own particular realm of responsibility without it including everything else, and especially without it being at the beck and call of the C(insert letter)Os. They don't intimidate me and perhaps that's the problem. Because of that, sometimes they don't know what to make of me, I don't fit the mold. Besides, I like my little corner cubicle vs. her office. But I'm not moving. Nope, my bum is staying firmly in my standard-back chair vs. her high-back chair (yes we are that anal here), though there's certainly enough of it to fit a cheek on each.

It gives me a headache just thinking about it. About being the one to attend all the meetings, handle all the unexpected questions, go head-to-head with those that can make or break you in a moment, and figuring out how to play their little games. July and August should have been quiet months where I found time to finally get those niggling little outstanding projects finished. Now it seems it's not to be. I was juggling along nicely but now more balls have been added to my balancing act. And I want need to visit with my man before too long, which will prove interesting to accomplish given I'm not supposed to 'leave the helm' during this time. But damnit if he finds a little window of opportunity, I'm there!

Truth be told, I'm feeling a little stressed, sometimes more than a little. Things have been filtering out over the past week or so with an 'over to you' label attached, adding to my already busy day. There will be issues I haven't had to handle before, tasks I was only the support for but now must double-up, and interactions at a whole different level. I have a sense of being overwhelmed just at the thought of it all! And without being able to delegate to myself. I need a 'me' to help out.

My ex-boss (the one before the current one, yep I've been through a few in my day) asked me if I'll be getting some extra monetary recognition for the additional responsibility. That made me laugh, in fact I'll be lucky if I get a 'thank you' at the end of my assignment. I'll be content to survive the two months without dropping any balls and without losing my foothold on this shaky ground. And then in September, that will be a whole different situation altogether, with the new head of function arriving. No doubt with her very own agenda.

Wish me luck, please.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Telephones Are Two-Way Communication Devices

I called my mother on Thursday evening. This would make it at least the fourth time I've called without her reciprocating. And that doesn't include the times I called and got no answer, and left a voice mail. Yes, I'm counting. Her voice sounded pretty bad, as bad as I've ever heard it. And she seemed a little low. I asked the usual questions about her, my aunt, the cats, her neighbours. It can be tough to get her talking. And then, about five minutes into the conversation I heard it.

The sound of her fingernails tapping on the table as she's talking to me. My mother has this habit of, when annoyed or bored, drumming her fingers on the nearest hard surface. You know how people do it, from the forefinger to the pinkie, individually, before returning to the forefinger again. Tap tap tap tap short break tap tap tap tap. Over and over again. But I persevered. Eventually she said oh, while you're there, I need more cat litter (I order it for her in multi-packs as it's too heavy for her to lug around from the supermarket, even with help from the neighbours). Okay, not a problem. How's the wine? Oh fine. Are you sure? Well, I suppose I could do with a few more bottles. So, two online orders were placed after the phone call. I decided to 'gift' her with the wine, it seems to be all I can do for her, really.

As always, she told me that my brother calls her every week, faithfully. As always, she relayed the fact that he doesn't say much, but it's so good of him to call. I just laughed and said that must be nice to get a grunt or two on a weekly basis. What I wanted to say was: He may call you and say nothing and that may be the most valuable thing to you, but you have two other children who may not call you as often, but who do at least ask about your life and certainly do more for you. I didn't, I remained mute. What's the point? I did ask her how he's doing with his new family, she said I don't know, I never ask about that.

I have no wish to share the intricacies of my life with my mother. My mother has this way with her children, of not asking about or discussing things with the person, directly. She will make comments or ask questions about my sister, to me, but not communicate with her directly on these things. She does the same with my sister, about me. My brother can't comment about either of us, he never gets in touch, which is why she's treated to a series of grunts. I tried committing to communication with him after our dad's death, but that has fizzled away due to lack of input from him.

My mum knows I have been travelling to the States, Rhona told her in conversation. But she's never asked me about it. More of the 'I don't know, I never ask about that' approach. I won't volunteer either, not since the day I told her that the last man I was involved with, passed away after heart surgery. Her reply, and I'll quote because I'll never forget it: "You don't have much luck with men, do you? Irene (her sister) was telling me the other day that she saw a fox at the bottom of her garden." Yes, that is exactly how it went, with those two sentences running into each other.

When my dad was alive, we alternated weekly calls, initiated by my mum because it was difficult for my dad to speak, and moreso, be understood. So it was usually between she and I and with a quick chat with my dad. He hated so, in making people uncomfortable with not understanding what he was trying to say and always cut conversations short. But even those few words he would exchange with me, were full of interest and love and honesty. While my mum told me about the pets and the house and the neighbours.

My mother. My mother who trusts only me with her finances, but will never care if I'm happy. But you know what, one of these days I'll tell her just how happy I am, finally. Whether she cares, or not.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fire Rainbow

From the National Geographic archives.

June 19, 2006—It looks like a rainbow that's been set on fire, but this phenomenon is as cold as ice.

Known in the weather world as a circumhorizontal arc, this rare sight was caught on film on June 3 as it hung over northern Idaho near the Washington State border.

The arc isn't a rainbow in the traditional sense—it is caused by light passing through wispy, high-altitude cirrus clouds. The sight occurs only when the sun is very high in the sky (more than 58° above the horizon). What's more, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds must be shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground.

When light enters through a vertical side face of such an ice crystal and leaves from the bottom face, it refracts, or bends, in the same way that light passes through a prism. If a cirrus's crystals are aligned just right, the whole cloud lights up in a spectrum of colors.

This particular arc spanned several hundred square miles of sky and lasted for about an hour, according to the London Daily Mail.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Fork or a Merge

It's all in the perspective.

I look at this picture and see a fork. But it's also a merge. And right now I'm travelling one of those separate paths, heading down to where it merges with the other path, currently being trod by my love. I can see that tree in the distance and I know that when I reach it he, too, will arrive at the same place and we will hold hands the way we do, with fingers intertwined and palms pressed against each other.

And we will finally walk that shared path, together.


To add a little levity to this post, when I googled 'fork in the road' I also got this :

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Visual and Auditory Pleasures

Sometimes you see or hear something that is so unexpected, words are neither necessary, nor possible.

Life-size driftwood horses:

Smaller scale driftwood horses:

Read more about Heather Jansch and her work.


Yes, he did win. And the latest news is that he's signed a one million pound record deal. Dreams do come true.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Real Love

The Real Thing
Love Should Feel Good
~ Daily OM Inspiration ~

Often in our lives, we fall prey to the idea of a thing rather than actually experiencing the thing itself. We see this at play in our love lives and in the love lives of our friends, our family, and even fictional characters. The conceptualizing, depiction, and pursuit of true love are multimillion-dollar industries in the modern world. However, very little of what is offered actually leads us to an authentic experience of love. Moreover, as we grasp for what we think we want and fail to find it, we may suffer and bring suffering to others. When this is the case, when we suffer more than we feel healed, we can be fairly certain that what we have found is not love but something else.

When we feel anxious, excited, nervous, and thrilled, we are probably experiencing romance, not love. Romance can be a lot of fun as long as we do not try to make too much of it. If we try to make more of it than it is, the romance then becomes painful. Romance may lead to love, but it may also fade without blossoming into anything more than a flirtation. If we cling to it and try to make it more, we might find ourselves pining for a fantasy, or worse, stuck in a relationship that was never meant to last.

Real love is identifiable by the way it makes us feel. Love should feel good. There is a peaceful quality to an authentic experience of love that penetrates to our core, touching a part of ourselves that has always been there. True love activates this inner being, filling us with warmth and light. An authentic experience of love does not ask us to look a certain way, drive a certain car, or have a certain job. It takes us as we are, no changes required. When people truly love us, their love for us awakens our love for ourselves. They remind us that what we seek outside of ourselves is a mirror image of the lover within. In this way, true love never makes us feel needy or lacking or anxious. Instead, true love empowers us with its implicit message that we are, always have been, and always will be, made of love.


Wow. When I read that last paragraph, it just totally describes how I feel. Totally and absolutely.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuen Ng Festival

Today is the Tuen Ng (Dragon Boat) Festival and our waterways will be dotted with these narrow ornate boats.

Fifth Moon, Day Five Click for western date . This Festival, also known as Tuen Ng Festival, commemorates the death of a popular Chinese national hero, Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River over 2,000 years ago to protest against the corrupt rulers. Legend says that as townspeople attempted to rescue him, they beat drums to scare fish away and threw dumplings into the sea to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan's body.

The real highlight of the festival is the fierce dragon boats racing in a lively, vibrant spectacle. Teams race the elaborately decorated dragon boats to the beat of heavy drums. The special boats, which measure more than 10 metres, have ornately carved and painted "dragon" heads and tails, and each carries a crew of 20-22 paddlers.

Participants train in earnest for the competition. Sitting two abreast, with a steersman at the back and a drummer at the front, the paddlers race to reach the finishing line, urged on by the pounding drums and the roar of the crowds.

Today, festival activities recall this legendary event. People eat rice-and-meat dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves; and many look forward to swimming or even simply dipping their hands in the water.

Local races will feature today and on the 23rd and 24th, we will host the International Dragon Boat Races.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mis Gatos

My cats. While I have often talked about Lupo, my adorable boy, I haven't introduced you properly to my cats, Toffee and Sai-loh. Jac asked me if I had cats and that has prompted this post. So, without further ado, let me introduce mis gatos:


Also known as 'no-fang cat' as he has lost all his teeth. Nothing to do with lack of care from our point of view, when I adopted him from the shelter in Hong Kong he was about three years old and his previous owner (who called him 'Lucky') hadn't properly treated a tooth infection and the vet told me that in time, his teeth would all break off at the gumline. And so they have, but he manages still to eat his hard food using only his gums.

Toffee is particularly close to Lupo and can often be found with his entire head buried deep into Lupo's ears, giving them a good clean out. I can only imagine what that raspy tongue feels like on such a sensitive area, but I've yet to hear a complaint!

He's an incredibly soft, gentle boy. I had him for about a year before I got his brother, again from the shelter. The vet warned me that we'd need to introduce them slowly, perhaps keep a door between them for a day or two. Yeah, right. In walks Sai-loh and before we know it, Toffee has him asleep in his arms in his bed. It was as though they were brothers, they just took to each other from the first minute.


Sai-loh means little brother in Cantonese. So named when I saw how Toffee took to him. His nickname is 'psycho sai' as he still has that cat thing going on of a mad half-hour every night running like crazy around the apartment He uses the living room for his 'wall-of-death' impersonation, literally running around the room approximately mid-way from floor to ceiling. His original name was 'Bess' when I adopted him and I had to point out to the vet that ummmm I think he's a boy not a girl. At which point he was snatched back and they wouldn't give him to me until they'd relieved him of his sperm sacks!

Sai-loh was fresh off the streets when I got him, at about a year old. Every night, he'd seek out the highest spot in the bedroom and sleep there. His street instincts were, and are, very strong, even though he did settle in so well as a domesticated cat. To this day he will not drink standing water, it has to be running out of the tap.

He's a bit of a daredevil. When I was in Hong Kong, he found his way out onto the washing line on the 34th floor, which is basically a frame extending outwards from the building wall, within which are four nylon lines. He was at the outermost point doing a balancing act on two of the lines. I managed to persuade him to return to safe ground without incident. In Tenerife, however, he fell five storeys from the apartment I was renting then. I ran downstairs expecting to find a splattered cat, only to be greeted by miaows and leg rubs.

I took them both with me when I moved to Tenerife. NOT a journey I'd put any animal through again, hence they stay with my sister instead of returning here with me. It was a journey of over 30 hours (via Frankfurt) and approximately 20 hours of that was spent in a cargo hold.

Friday, June 15, 2007

About Loving the Wrong Man

I've just read Sophie's post from Wednesday.

Please take a look.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I Sit and Wait

In the post below this one, I spoke about the pain of being apart, about the loss of each day we spend apart.

Some of you have been with me on my journey of finding this love, some of you haven't been reading me that long. For those who are new to my blog, I met him in July last year and along the way have written about him on many, many occasions. I'll link to posts about the early days, here, here, here, here and here.

We started out as friends. The friendship grew. We didn't jump into meeting, lightly. We considered the implications, the consequences. We knew it wouldn't be easy. Neither of us has ever gone for casual sex. This wasn't about having a purely physical affair. There was love between us even before we met. And when we did meet, we knew. We respect each other, we value each other, we appreciate each other. We support each other. We're proud of each other. We 'get' each other. We balance each other. We LOVE each other.

And I haven't always been easy to love. I've done the jealous bit, the suspicious bit, the possessive bit, the clingy bit, the needy bit. And through it all, he's loved me. Loved me more, for being so honest with him about how I was feeling. We have clashed a little along the way, to be sure, but all it did was help us understand each other, help pull us closer together. We have said that we each help to bring the other's real person to the surface, and we do. And it's that real person we have grown in love with.

In your comments on my last post, a few of you have urged me to just go and be with him. Well, it's not quite that simple. And I can't pretend it's only because of visas, or work. Truth is, he's married. Some of you who have come to be my friend from this world of blogging, already know this. Some of you are perhaps recoiling in shock at this news. And some of you are possibly even saying, "I knew it!" Maybe a few are even taking me off your reading list.

I make no apology for loving this man. I love him with all my heart. As I've said before, love isn't always easy, it can leave torn edges, wounds elsewhere. I have grown in love with the man who truly completes me, as I complete him. Yes, we could have chosen to not continue, or even start our relationship, because of his obligations. But obligation isn't love. And love is an incredibly strong force. We share a love that grows and grows, a love that neither of us has ever felt before. We share a belief in having a future together. We want to grow old together.

And that is one of the reasons I sit and wait. For him to get to the point, that the time is right. I know what he wants, as much as he does. And likewise, he knows what I want, as much as I do. But he has to make this decision in his own time. And I believe he will make the decision that includes me.

This man is worth all the waiting in the world, to me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Here I Sit

This past weekend, the weather was perfect for lots of hours spent at home.

I've lived in my little 'air box' for over six years now. Looking out at that view. And I wonder how long I'll continue to do that. I wonder when I'll close down this life I lead and just up and off out of here. The reason for me to do so, has already presented itself. I want to be with him.

There I sat, alone on my sofa, legs curled underneath me. Looking out my living-room window at the mountain and buildings I face onto. At a view I'm so familiar with. Sometimes watching as the buildings, then the mountain, became obscured completely, by the dense rainfall. Lost in thought for many an hour.

I'd said to the man I love:

"I miss you. The days pass....but that's all, they just pass. And all I think is.....that's one more day I won't ever have with you. They're like lost days....once they're gone, they're gone forever."

It saddened him to hear it, as much as it saddened me to say it.

I know what I want and need. I just don't know how to get it. It's hard to judge where our half-way point lies. Perhaps it is beholden upon me, to go more than half-way. I will be the one to travel more miles, even though his will be, in fact, the longer journey.

And so, here I will sit. Until. Until something. I don't even know what that something will be, though. But, here I will sit. Because I believe, blindly. Sometimes you just have to do that while you wait.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Rain, Rain Go Away

Thank you, weather system, we've had enough rain to last us a while.

On Saturday night, between 2am and 6am, we recorded 200mm of rain (almost 8 inches) in various parts of the territory. I think a lot of it fell overhead where I was trying to sleep. That plus the thunder and lightning (the city was hit by over 6,000 lightning strikes ) made for a very bad night's sleep. And let's not even mention the gusts of wind that seemed to charge down onto my windows. A couple of times over the past few days, heavy, low, dark clouds have thundered in, making us look like a scene out of Independence Day.

When this happens it pushes the rain into the building's walls and through the window frames, so I've had quite a few patches of wet inside my apartment. As though the high humidity wasn't enough, I'm also contending with little puddles of water in various places, just to add a little fun to the proceedings. I may finally break down and buy a de-humidifier after all these years.

It's not a good start to the summer as this can often lead to landslides. I know they're working on an area at the end of my road. Thankfully, slope stabilisation is something that has improved greatly in Hong Kong, though it wasn't always that way and I even lost a schoolfriend way back in 1972 when two landslips caused over 160 deaths. She died in the one that uprooted two residential blocks and took them down the hillside, knocking the side off one building in the process. The loss of life was somewhat mitigated by the fact that one 25-storey building was still under construction.

I live on this road, at No. 52, not very far from where it happened. So I'm thankful to see the work they're doing near me, at the moment.

Yesterday, thank goodness, was mainly rain without the high winds and lightning, but they are forecasting more during this week. We're getting the same weather system that is devastating parts of Guangdong province in southern China. It seems to have settled over the entire region.

The umbrella and bucket businesses are booming.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dedicated to the One I Love

Someone Like You
Van Morrison

I've been searching a long time
For someone exactly like you
I've been travelling
All around the world
Waiting for you to come through.
Someone like you
Makes it all worth while
Someone like you
Keeps me satisfied.
Someone exactly
Like you.

I've been travellin' a hard road
Baby, lookin' for someone exactly like you
I've been carryin' my heavy load
Waiting for the light to come
Shining through.
Someone like you
Makes it all worth while
Someone like you
Makes me satisfied.
Someone exactly
Like you.

I've been doin' some soul searching
To find out where you're at
I've been up and down the highway
In all kinds of foreign lands
Someone like you
Makes it all worth while
Someone like you
Keeps me satisfied.
Someone exactly
Like you.

I've been all around the world
Marching to the beat
Of a different drum
But just lately I have realised
Baby, the best is yet to come.
Someone like you
Makes it all worth while
Someone like you
Keeps me satisfied.
Someone exactly
Like you.

Someone exactly
Like you.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mentoring Part 2

Finally! I've been meaning to write this for a while. Part 1 is here.

I was introduced to Peggy by Margaret, the wife of my ex-boss, who worked with Peggy. So off I ventured, really quite excited about it, as it was an entry into the hotel business. Peggy had had a bad day, interviewing secretaries which had left her frustrated and at her wit's end. I was about the fifth applicant she'd seen that afternoon. Apparently, at the close of the day, Margaret went to Peggy to ask how it had gone and Peggy had replied that it had been so bad she'd taken the stack of applications and torn them all up and they were in her waste bin.

Margaret said, but what about Fiona? Peggy then reflected and said, oh yes, she was actually quite good. Between them, they rifled through the strips of paper and managed to reconstruct my application form, tests and certificates. That is why, during my entire career with them, my personnel file contained paperwork that had been scotch-taped back together. It was a strange badge of honour to bear.

Wow, I was totally flabbergasted at the way things were there. At the closeness, the teamwork, the charisma of the CEO, the drive, the excitement, the incredible vibe. The company was going through a HUGE development phase, opening hotels right left and centre. When I first started working there, we had a corkboard with all the hotels on it (we looked after the Asia-Pacific region) and the names of the heads of department. At that time there were six hotels. It wasn't long before I was printing smaller cards to squeeze in another four hotels. When it came to a three-year plan to open 25 hotels, I just took the board off the wall and went to a computer spreadsheet. Thank goodness I had my first computer by then! It was big, boxy, slow, a black screen with green lettering, no windows. Everything running from the DOS prompt. Aaaaaah those were the days!

We were maniacally crazy. I was the secretary to the head of personnel (yes it was that long ago) and the regional controller. Talk about having to spread myself thin and into two such diverse areas of business. But I did it and I learned so very much. You had to there, it was a sink or swim place and those who swam had to be olympic grade. Pretty soon I progressed to HR Officer (we had morphed into that by then) and oh my goodness the delight with which I handed my dad the letter confirming that I was no longer 'just' a secretary, well I was beaming. Though it took him many years to stop telling people I worked in PR!

Peggy was just amazing. Never before, nor since, have I met anyone like her. Serene, calm, incredibly knowledgeable and wanting to share her wisdom. She could walk into a room and command it, not through power but through her incredible aura. I sucked it all up like a sponge, I was so hungry to take in everything I could. She still laughs today, at the 'blob' she hired. Yes, I was passive (quit laughing out there) and shy and uncommunicative. In fact I would go so far as to describe myself in those days, as being taciturn (I said quit laughing!). But boy did I ever change under her tutelage. She showed me why I should have confidence, she nurtured my competencies until I felt strong enough to stand on my own, and she introduced me to so many things about personal growth. She took me from 'there' all the way to a very good 'here'.

It was an amazing place to work. We were all so busy that there really was no time for socialising outside work, so we brought that aspect into our work. We would go to conferences like a big family, each of us with our own role. We worked, ate, played (and in some cases) slept together. As I look back, I can see how incredible that group dynamic was. The respect we had for each other, the way we valued each other's contribution. We were like a well-oiled machine. The challenges the company faced were cascaded down to us and we were given responsibilities beyond our experience, which gave us tremendous scope to grow. And permission to make the odd mistake, which was inevitable. But management didn't use that against us, they used it to make things better, to help us learn. It's an incredible thing to be in a company with that mindset, at a time when so much was happening. The pressures were incredible, but so were the rewards as hotel after hotel opened and we put yet another pin in the map. China, in particular, was an area of huge growth at the time and we held a few conferences in our new hotels there. I'll never forget sunset cocktails on The Great Wall, dinner in The Great Hall of the People (I got SO drunk on maotai, chinese wine made from fermented sorghum), a fancy dress party at The Ming Tombs, cycling through Beijing and eating in the home of a family living in a commune (this was way back in the mid 80's).

I remember running a recruitment meeting with the general managers of six hotels that were all opening within a three-month period. The deal regarding Hong Kong's future with China and the return to the motherland had been signed in 1984 and there was a mass exodus of professional people to Australia, Canada, the US, Britain. People who were descended from the original refugees into Hong Kong many years before, escaping the forces that were about to absorb us into the fold, come 1997. Their parents had run once before, and now they were running from what was basically the unknown, but feared in any case. In those days in China, as it was just opening up to tourism, all the department heads were from outside the country and they were given a local 'shadow' to learn from them. I was working with a steadily decreasing talent pool in Hong Kong, so much so that there was almost a fistfight in one meeting where I had a really good chef and they all wanted him. I had to make the call that he'd go to the first one to open. I couldn't believe it when one general manager quietly left the room and was gone for about 20 minutes. Only to return to proudly advise me that he'd spoken with his project manager and they were going to push up completion date to three days ahead of the hotel which was leading the pack. Just to get a good chef! I ended up with an open offer to the candidate at both hotels, and they actually were competing to finish first. He did it, too. He completed and opened a nose in front of the other one.

Peggy, dear amazing Peggy. My annual evaluations were conducted in her office, usually after hours. First we would go downstairs to the wine shop and purchase a nice bottle of white. Then we would return to her office with a beautiful harbour view and look at the city lights glittering on the water. She'd take the guitar one of the general managers had left in her safekeeping when he transferred to one of our new operations, and strum it while we talked. About everything. Not just work and goals and evaluations. But about life, and the whys and wherefores. About how we felt and how we expressed our joy and sorrow. About what it all meant to us. And it's amazing how, from all that, good things came to us both. Clarity of vision for planning and clarity of understanding for evaluating. I think one of the most important things Peggy taught me, was that work can be a lot of fun and it can be a good part of life, not just 'work'.

We had a glorious five years together and when it was coming to an end for her, with the new regime after the company was bought out (it went from being American-based to British-based) and an entirely new way of doing things, she did the most wonderful thing for me. Long before she was due to leave, she found me somewhere else to go. She arranged for me to interview with the head of HR of another hotel company, one of world-class repute. A job of more responsibility and with a 150% increase in total pay. I remember at the interview, he was asking me where I lived and I told him (a particularly seedy area in this town, all I'm saying is the 'Seven Sisters Bar' was on the ground floor of the building where I lived and one of my neighbours worked in a topless bar. Lovely girl, we became friends and she even tried to entice me into her line of work!). He said oh well, you won't have to stay there, in fact we'd rather you didn't and with $xxxxx you won't have to. A quick calculation in my head estimated a very good increase over my current salary and I was delighted. When he then added, 'and that's for your housing allowance', I about fell off my chair! By the end of the lunch, I had a firm offer from him.

On my way back, I bought Peggy a huge bunch of flowers. And I just handed them to her and said 'thank you'. She smiled and said how happy she was that my wings were so strong and my heart so true, that someone could make a decision so quickly about my value. But then I knew she'd been singing my praises to him for days before I met him. I think I made my dad prouder than he'd ever been of me, the day I told him where I was going to be working. And I did move out from above the Seven Sisters Bar, into a really nice three-bedroomed apartment. Oh my goodness, the excitement at having a dining table. And real walls. My old 'apartment' had a bedroom in one corner, separated from the rest of the room by plywood. I laugh when I think back to how bad it was, remind me to tell you my rat stories sometime!

Peggy 'retired' from that job and returned to the UK with her family in 1991. There she set up a beautiful shop and holistic centre, with a focus on 'soul nourishment'. The shop and centre have since been sold on but Peggy continues to contribute to people's lives. At the moment she is the UK Conversation Leader for the Alliance for a New Humanity founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra. Peggy is one of the few people in the UK certified by Dr. Chopra as a Primordial Sound Meditation Instructor.

There is no doubt in my mind that Peggy gave me back the person I'd lost in my childhood. By gently and caringly working with me, by taking me into her heart and into her own family and empowering me with the knowledge she imparted to me. And I really do miss those annual evaluations.

Peggy (centre) and her 'gals', Kay and Fiona, in 1987.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Corporate Hat

I wear one. I'm in one of those jobs where we don't just dish out what someone asks us to, we actually come up with the stuff. We decide on direction, strategy, focus, priorities. Systems, standards, processes and procedures. Philosophies and guidelines. Rules. Though we don't like to call them that.

It can be exciting, it can be stimulating, it can be ground-breaking too, sometimes. And it can also be heartless, merciless and just plain wrong. Usually the balance keeps it palatable. But sometimes it's downright nauseating. And a lot of the time it gives me a headache. As though the hatband is too tight.

Today I have a headache. To witness something so wrong, so two-faced, so inconsiderate, is hurtful. I feel for the person to whom a promise was made and who carried out her end of the deal. I see the hurt in her eyes even though, as the consummate professional, she carries on banging the drum for this place, enticing people to make us their choice. My god that woman can act!

I'm not a 'corporate' person, never have been. I'm here only because there aren't that many people who do what I do, otherwise I'd probably not be tolerated. I've been approached recently, twice, about jumping ship. But you know, it would be the same there. Except they might even force me to wear a suit. You see, I don't wear suits, I look stupid in them, I can't carry them off. At least here, they don't make me wear a suit. They pay me well for what I do and I give them every penny's worth. But I'll never be a corporate person. I'll never be able to go to the next rung in the ladder either, because that would require me to put my head up someones arse in order to be a success.

Soon, I'll have a new boss. And it will be the usual story, you haven't done things right, or that well, around here. I've become almost immune to it. Partly it's not understanding the unique vagaries of this organisation, partly it's wanting to put your personal stamp on something. I do realise that. And in time this new person will be deflated by the inconsistencies, the deal-making, the promises made and broken. It happens to everyone in the end. The wise ones learn to work around it, the politicians join in, the not so savvy find their days numbered. But for all of us, it's how we survive (or not).

And I guess that's really what it's all about. Surviving. I just wish that I didn't find myself feeling like such a corporate ho as often as I do. I love the work I'm involved in, and the impact I can make. But I don't always like where I do it. I sometimes yearn for the more simple life, where I don't need to wear a hat at all.

Because this damn hat hurts today.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tree of Love

"Into love's furnace I am cast"

The tree of love its roots hath spread
Deep in my heart, and rears its head;
Rich are its fruits: they joy dispense;
Transport the heart, and ravish sense.
In love's sweet swoon to thee I cleave,
Bless'd source of love . . . .

~St. Francis of Assisi~

My love and I were talking about how we always return to our base, to the point from which our love emanates. I likened it to the roots of a tree. It is our base, our home, our 'vanilla'. It is where our respect, our appreciation, our admiration, our cherishing of each other, lives. It is where we are so deeply intertwined that we have formed one intricate network of roots, sustaining the flow of our lives.

No matter the season, no matter if the tree is in leaf or flower or fruit or bare, it is carried at all times by the roots. No matter wind or storm or canopy of ice or searing heat, the integrity of the root system is what keeps it strong. No matter limbs torn or severed, the roots keep it anchored and it can heal. It can rejuvenate.

And so it is with our love. It's not about the beauty of the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the flowers or the fruit. It's about the anchor and the sustenance. And those come from the roots. That is where our love resides, deep and strong and supportive of all we endure. We bask in joy and delight over each other's form and appearance, but where it all matters is beneath the surface, in the parts unseen but felt so very intensely.

You can wrench a tree from the ground, but so long as there are enough roots still attached, it stands a good chance of survival if transplanted. And so it is with us. Our plans may uproot us from where we are today and while that may cause us to wilt a little for a while, so long as the love, the roots, are intact, we will survive anything.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sometimes You Fit, Sometimes You Don't

I seem to have a slew of vacancies here at the moment and my life feels like I go from one interview to another. I'm always conscious that, as I fill out an interview assessment form, I potentially hold a person's career in my hands, or rather at my fingertips, as I choose the box into which to type an 'X', and decide which words to use to describe the applicant. We sometimes, but not often, apply a psychological testing tool to gain a further insight into what makes them tick. My preference is to talk and watch and listen to them. No checklist of words is going to tell me what they do in times of stress or when the unexpected occurs. I want them to give me examples of experiences and then I watch their eyes*.

Up and left is visually constructed.
Up and right is visually remembered.
Left is auditory constructed.
Right is auditory remembered.
Down and left is feelings/kinesthetic.
Down and right is internal dialogue.
Straight ahead is concentration, visually accessing a memory, or it can be a practised individual hiding any of the above.

*I'm a very much up and to the right person because I'm very visually oriented. I picture things in my mind to recall them. How about you?

While nothing is 100% accurate, I'm always watching for the up and left, or just left, and when I see that I'll pursue the line of questioning in more detail. Mostly, I'm a 'gut feel' interviewer and I've been right probably 95% of the time. The rest of the time I'm convinced they sent along their evil identical twin on day one of the job!

Interviewing is not something you feel like doing every day. It's really hard to push past a bad day at work and appear positive about where you work, as well as interested in someone who possibly is making it like getting blood from a stone. I have, more than once, just closed my notebook and asked him/her what it was about the job that really interests them. Unfortunately, more often than not it's the company they want to work for, rather than the job they want to have. It's a curious thing but it comes with the territory of being one of the world's best at what we do. They crave the association but not necessarily the job on offer.

Sometimes it's sad, how badly people want a job and regrettably the ones who want it the worst are usually the furthest away from our ideal candidate. Do I sometimes see people who I know won't fit the job specs? Yes, if I have time. I do that especially when I notice that it has been a good long while since their last interview. And I do it not because I think I have an opening for them, it's more a goodwill thing. Because if they haven't interviewed for a long time, chances are their skills are rusty. So I help them out, on occasion I've made recommendations on how to better present themselves in their CV. Or taught them a little about personal delivery, or how to more concisely respond to a question. I like to think this will make their next interview a better one, a more positive one. I look at this as 'giving back' in some small way.

I've also met some absolute wankers who tried to take over the interview, thinking I could be beaten down. Ha! That's not going to work with me. I like to give those ones all the rope they want and then patiently watch them hang themselves. The ones who won't stop talking amuse me. A lot of people would cut them off, refocus them, but I see it as an excellent opportunity to see them as they really are. What would be the point in squashing a big round ball into a tiny square box? Especially when we're not looking for a big round ball to fit our tiny square boxes?

I don't like the firing, I've written about it before. On Friday, though, I had to fire someone. I've tried with her, goodness knows I have. I've done the gentle cajoling, the understanding sympathy, the matter-of-fact job description and expectations, the do-it-or-else approach. The only thing that I got out of it was increased frustration. Nothing worked so she's now looking for employment elsewhere, but with a cushion of a month's pay in her pocket. Then of course she wanted a reference letter and while it's not in my nature to do anything to destroy her future prospects, I can't misrepresent my experiences with her. That was a very difficult one to write but I think I got around it by saying of her inflexibility "she works well in a structured environment" and of her inability to be a team player "she enjoys a supervisory role". I hope those that need to, can read between the lines.

HR work is tough, emotional, draining and can go very unappreciated. Often, we're a dumping ground for emotions that can't be expressed elsewhere. You have to take on a lot of those emotions. The hard parts need especially sensitive handling. I've seen them done badly and with a huge impact. One boss I had just started working with, proudly took me into a redundancy meeting with a long-serving member of staff to show me how it's done. He ripped her world apart and then told her that she should look upon this as a positive thing as this presented her with opportunities she didn't have if she stayed working for us. I was aghast. She was in shock. And this was him showing me how to do it! I spent almost two hours with her after that, just letting her come to grips with this huge change to her life and letting her express her feelings which ran the gamut from shock to anger, to fear and back to anger, to disbelief and then anger again. I think he was afraid of her emotions, he couldn't deal with them. But that's what she needed, not some arrogant prick telling her that this was a good thing.

There are definitely some days where I wish I assembled widgets for a living. But mostly, I love what I do, even the hard parts.

Monday, June 04, 2007

We're Having a Heat Wave, a Tropical Heat Wave

Yes, yes I know that should be Marilyn but Carmen is just so 'tropical'.

Yesterday, was Eshaan's third birthday (as some of you may know, the son of my best friend). As his first and second birthdays had gone reasonably quietly celebrated, this year was to be different. VERY different.

It was 125 people (mostly parents and their mini-me's ranging in age from two to seven) on the croquet lawn at Beas River Country Club, with a Jungle theme. And oh my god it was HOT. One of the hottest days of the year so far at 34C (93F) and with the humidity factored in, the heat index took it to 55C (130F). Even with the sanctuary of covered, tented areas I think a few of us were suffering from heat exhaustion at the end of it (those of us who were there from set-up to the end, about five hours in total).

I took refuge in gallons of iced water and lemonade and more than one popsicle. But the sweat was just pouring out of us and with the humidity up at 85%, there's really no drying off at any time. It just pours and pours and you don't ever cool down. I took refuge in a venti red bean frappuccino, purchased on my way home, and after a cold shower, I lay down until my head stopped throbbing. I turned in for an early night at about 10:30pm but was woken by my phone at 12:15am with a call from my love. Now THAT is the most wonderful way to end any day.

But my goodness those kiddies had the BEST day with the bouncy castle, face painting, mini soccer, fishing for goldfish and even Danzi the clown. There would have been ponies, too, but as it's part of the Jockey Club, they are getting the facilities ready for the equestrian portion of the 2008 Olympics which, although to be held in Beijing, Hong Kong is hosting the horsey stuff.

Eshaan was just filled with delight the entire time, running around with his mini pals, enjoying every moment of it - where, oh where, do kids get that kind of energy? And Anuja did just the most amazing job of it all, so much so she now has a new nickname, Julie (a la The Love Boat).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Life as a Streetfighter - 2

*photo from a NASA satellite

It's a pretty island, Tenerife, in parts. Like the north, the western coast, even the eastern coast drive from the tourist south to the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The south is a bit grungy in many areas with budget holidaymakers drawn by the sun and cheap booze, but that's the major tourist area and where our business needed to be. There are two airports, the main one in the south, for the tourist trade, and the other in the north, which caters mainly for the traffic to and from mainland Spain. You may know of the north airport, it's where that awful plane crash occurred in 1977, when a KLM jumbo taking off, slammed into a Pan Am jumbo taxiing on the same runway.

So anyway, the year 2000. After getting Andy back to the safety of the dive centre, I called the police and they came fairly quickly. By that time, the bastard who had tried to end Andy's life was there outside, yelling at us and accusing US of beating HIM up!!!! Well the police took one look at Andy, who's face was covered in blood, his eyes swollen shut, his lip split, blood seeping from his nose and ears and one look at this mad Mancunian who had barely a scratch and only a torn t-shirt (I think I did that), and listened to us. Then promptly arrested him and dragged him away kicking and screaming.

There, the wronged party has to make a 'denuncia' (denouncement) against the other party, basically an official complaint. The police don't actually do much unless you've done something to them. They can see what has happened but they won't charge unless you make the official complaint. But first, there was a hospital visit to be taken care of so they carted the madman away and escorted Andy and I to hospital. What a weird system there, they don't take the worse injured in for treatment as a priority, they work on a first come, first served basis. I walked through the door first, so they insisted I was treated first and I'm begging them to take care of Andy. Nope, my name was first on the list even though I had only a bloody nose, and some scrapes on my face and arms (I wasn't about to hold up my t-shirt and show them the rest). So I gave in and hurried them through mine so they could get to Andy.

He had a concussion, severe trauma to his head, face, chest and abdomen, needed stitches in his lip and two places on his head. They did the x-rays, patched him up and then said, OK take him home. Told me what to watch out for. I wasn't too happy with that but they work that way there. By the way, it was the same the night he tried to commit suicide, a few months later, they 'washed' him out with charcoal and then handed him back to me!! He'd taken a massive dose of morphine and the doctor even asked me if he was suffering from cancer as a reason for what happened. I told him emphatically no, he was healthy but had decided to take his own life. There was no psychological consult or anything (unlike Hong Kong where I wasn't allowed to take him home for two days). So anyway, we had to then traipse off to the police station, to go and make the official complaint, which we did. Once that was done, we were informed that the guy who'd done all this damage would be out the next morning and it would take a while for it to get to the courts. I later learned it would take over a year to get to the point the case is heard. Absolute madness, I guess they hope people will give up or leave by the time it gets heard and they can abandon the case. Which was what happened with this one as everyone had left by then.

The next day Andy of course insists on being at work. The old 'I'm not going to let it look as though they've won' sort of macho behaviour. In we went and who should parade past the door glaring at us but.....the madman!! And let me just say, he had had quite a going over and we hadn't done it. The police there do have their way of taking care of things when they see something very wrong. I certainly wouldn't want to get on the bad side of them, but I was glad of it that morning, to see him fairly well scuffed up like that.

Within an hour of opening shop, my Russian bodyguard was there explaining to me that he was going kill the madman. And I was appalled. I explained that wasn't what we wanted, I did say, though, that he could hurt him a little bit. I know, I know but really, you had to have seen what those bastards did to Andy. He said no, he had to kill him, not for me but because this had happened on his watch and he had his reputation to think of. Also, apparently Señor Santiago (I'm not using his real name for obvious reasons) was 'embarrassed' by the fact that he'd warned this guy off and he'd still done this to us. They put out a contract on him and he immediately 'disappeared' in fear of his life. We heard that within 24 hours he'd left the island and returned to the UK, leaving his business in the hands of his partner.

I never did see Señor Santiago again, and 'Vlad' as he called himself came back for one final visit to tell me that if the madman ever set foot again on the island, he wouldn't last a day there. I was just glad that part of it was over and that we had won, thought at an incredible price. The whole mood of the industry changed the day that guy walked away fearing for his life. Unfortunately, it had dire consequences for Andy, who never fully recovered. He insisted on getting back into the water right away, despite my pleas to rest and see how his wounds healed. But no, he wasn't going to show any weakness. It wasn't until he and I split up, and he continued to dive, that we learned of the long-term effect of the beating he suffered that night. Both his retinas detached and he had to end his diving career. Which led to worse drinking and an inability to support himself and it wasn't long until he reached the end of his troubled road.

I'll never forget that day I met the Señor, I couldn't communicate with him, nor he with me, but Andy's Italian and his Spanish made it possible for them to understand each other. At one point, after Andy's long explanation of our problems, he reached over to me and squeezed my hand and just said 'bella, bella' to me. I whispered to Andy that if he tries to get me into the white slave trade in exchange for helping us, to say 'no'! But he was actually a really sweet man, very caring and concerned about me. Which at the time, meant an awful lot given all I was going through.

It wasn't too long after all this that Andy and I decided to split, or rather I split from him, I just couldn't live with him the way I had been, and the drinking after that beating got so much worse. To the point he'd come home and collapse at the door of the wrong apartment and the neighbour would come and ask me to take him home. Or rather drag him home. I'd put him to bed in a makeshift towel diaper as he was at the stage of not being able to control himself during the night and wet the bed almost daily. It was no life, no quality of life, for either of us. He was making his choices and they were killing him. Those choices had already killed our relationship and thankfully I was able to get out of it all. And on to better days. Days as a complete person finally, for the first time in my life. With the realisation that no matter what I did for Andy, it would never be enough, it would never mean enough. He just didn't want to change. But he did change me and he helped me to grow and be stronger. And wiser, so much wiser. I'll always thank him for that.

Out of the bad came good. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Sadly, not both of us survived that final change between us. But I had to take my life back, for me. And I did. Though it's still really, really hard for me to go back there once a year, to visit.

Friday, June 01, 2007

My Life as a Streetfighter

In 1999, I packed up my life as I had known it. I booked a 20' container, loaded about 15 percent of it with my worldly possessions and the rest with all the equipment I'd need to set up a scuba diving centre in a part of the world I'd never lived and where I didn't even speak their language. I moved to Tenerife, Canary Islands. We chose Tenerife as it was under Spanish control, and therefore European Union, and no visas were required. Plus, due to warm seas, it has year-round diving.

Why? Because I believed with the entirety of my being, that if I made someone else's dream come true, I would be happy. Andy wanted to follow his dream and had nothing to his name (thank you ex-wife) so I stepped up and sunk everything I had into the business. It's a VERY expensive thing to set up, you need a compressor, all the tanks, the equipment. I bought everything new, Andy's contribution was to go to the suppliers and place the orders for the equipment. I really threw myself into it though, I researched everything down to the water temperatures and what thickness of neoprene we'd need for the wetsuits. Based on that I designed our own two-piece suits which I had tailor-made and were size-identifiable based on the different coloured stripes on the sleeves and legs. The bane of everyone's life in a divecentre is searching those things for the size label, then finding out it has been rubbed off. Usually followed by a 'well this looks like your size, try it and see'. This way, instead, we could rack them up by size and fit people easily.

I also came up with the name (the all-important 'a' listing and which translates to 'sea water') and worked with a graphic designer friend on the logo. I selected and purchased retail items, including a selection of t-shirts with our logo and website to advertise us. We were the first divecentre with a uniform. I planned the layout and bought everything we'd need, down to the display racks and desk. I took a slightly different spin on it, I guess because for me it was a business and not the extension of a hobby, which tends to be the case for many of these centres. I drew up philosophies, which the new owners remain committed to, I had service standards no one had ever seen before (the first centre in Tenerife with hot water, soap and shampoo in the showers and complimentary towels; cold bottled water and chilled, scented face towels on the boat after each dive; thank you postcards sent to each customer after their visit; etc., etc.), I delivered an experience and not just a dive. And people loved it.

I keep saying 'I' when there were two of us involved in the project, mainly because Andy practically checked out on me mentally and emotionally about a month before we left Hong Kong, and too late to change our plans. His soul was shattered when he learned of his 18-year old son's suicide. Or at least it was classified as suicide under very suspicious circumstances in the home of a relative of his ex-wife, in a small town in the northern wastes of Norway, where he'd been sent because she wanted some freedom from him. But as the family was well connected, they classified it as suicide even though apparently he managed to stab himself three times in the heart and the knife was found washed and back on the counter when the police arrived.

Not surprisingly, that changed Andy forever. I tried getting him counselling before we left but nothing helped. And while for the first month or so he put his all into the business, it wasn't long before he started drinking in the middle of the day and disappearing when he had work to do, in fact I spent a good deal of each day dragging him out of the nearest bar, back to work, but always rostering him to the centre and not out diving, when he'd had a few. I was not going to have any accidents on my conscience. He even took to cavorting with female customers right under my nose and more than once took off with them at the end of the day, not coming home until the early hours of the morning. But by then he had me where I had no escape, totally vested in a business and away from everyone I knew. He played on those two things and added a new dimension of stripping away my self-esteem on a daily and continual basis.

And while all this was going on, the 'competition' didn't like what we were doing and made that very obvious. They were breaking every standard in the book, not something to mess with when lives were at stake and I wasn't going to improve my daily take by exploiting anyone's ignorance of the rules. That was actually why we didn't buy their business, which was an early option when we explored this path, and decided instead to set up ourselves. We discovered they were trashing the industry rules, using dangerously sub-standard equipment like out-of-date tanks with faulty valves (if those things fail when you have one strapped to your back, it could potentially take off your head), and had more than three deaths to their name. Not a legacy we wanted to take over and try to turn around. Instead, we found premises nearby and set up our own show.

So, their response to us being there? A campaign of threats. Every night we drove home, I wondered if they'd tampered with the brakes or something else on the van. There are too many examples to quote, it was just a neverending feeling of utter dread. Things escalated to the point that a local guy we befriended, who heard about our troubles, introduced us to whom I later learned, was the local organised crime boss, telling us it was the only way to deal with these people. They were English and in Tenerife, the Spanish police want nothing to do with them, unless they go against the locals, and we were outsiders like the English. So we met up with the guy in a little pizza joint where he was being waited on hand and foot. Honestly it was like something out of The Sopranos. The 'godfather' took a liking to me and went himself to warn the owner of the other dive centre. A warning that included brandishing a pistol and telling him if he had to come back, he'd use it. Boy, oh boy, talk about a different life from all I'd ever known. I have to tell you that at that point, sitting in the pizza joint talking with a man who was involved in god know's what, I wondered what had become of my life.

But we really had no option, we approached the godfather after learning that the mad Mancunian (native of Manchester, England) was going to fire-bomb our business one night and at that point it was all stops out. I was also a little tired of a cohort of his passing by daily, most often when I was alone, and slowly drawing his finger across his throat as he stared at me, and telling me in an almost indecipherable East London accent, that he was going to "slit your fuckin froat". No idle threat, we learned that this man had just been released from prison in the UK, after serving a sentence for murder. He had fled to Tenerife for a 'new life' (there are a lot of people running from many things, in that place).

The gun being waved around in the owner's face, seemed to work for a while, and because the boss liked me, he even assigned a Russian heavy to watch over me every day. No charge. He spent hours and hours working out in the gym opposite, which looked into my office and was a very welcome relief to me. The direct threats stopped and life seemed to be going okay apart from the usual crap such as interfering with our customers, comments written over our signs about our instructor being an alcoholic, and the like. Well, it wasn't even as though I could argue with that as they saw Andy downing vodka at every opportunity in the local bar, situated between our two dive centres. His own staff would joke that if they had to borrow his regulator (the part of the gear containing the mouthpiece), they'd get drunk from the fumes.

Things changed one night when Andy took a small group out for a night dive (on those days I ran physical interference with his bar visits to ensure he was sober come the evening). Off they went and I was alone in the centre preparing for their return in about an hour. Because it was late, the gym was closing and my friend waved goodnight. I never even dreamed what would happen next, or could possibly happen.

About an hour after they left, one of the divers in the group came running back to the centre and said there's trouble. She was visibly upset and shaking so I ran down to where I knew they'd be walking up from the shore, past the promenade populated by an assortment of bars. There was another of the divers holding his face and Andy was lying on the ground, in full gear, carrying some extra equipment back for the girl. Always the gentleman, he was. The owner of the other dive centre and his 'mate' were laying into him, kicking his head and body while at least 50 people looked on, including other members of that guy's team. With his weight-belt still around his waist and a heavy steel tank on his back, he couldn't get up or fight back.

I'm a fight not flight person and my adrenaline started to really pump. I saw red and ploughed into them, grabbing the bastard by the head to pull him off Andy. He turned around and punched me square in the face, a blow I later learned which had broken my nose. But I wasn't letting up, I grabbed a weight-belt that one of the divers had dropped and swung it on his legs. That got him off Andy but let him focus on me again, and he laid into me once more. Then, one of his friends pulled him off me, I think perhaps the fact he was beating up on me and not Andy, pushed a button. Off they went, through the crowd that had gathered around to watch. A crowd which, by the way, did nothing to help either of us, despite the fact some of them even knew us. I managed to get Andy onto his feet and practically carried him back to the dive centre, where I locked the doors and called the police.

Gosh, this is getting to be pretty long, I didn't realise it would take so many words to write out. I think I need to stop here and do a Part 2. Stay tuned for the next installment of Fiona the Streetfighter.


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