Coconut Conspiracies

It feels like we are just cycling North. North north north. Does this island ever end? I thought it was only 3km long but it feels more like 30km in this intense heat with the bicycle wheels burying themselves every five metres into Saharan sized sand dunes.

And then somehow we are back where we started.



Islands are round it turns out.

My sense of direction is bad it turns out.

By the time we stagger senseless from the bicycle seats (there had been a looooong stop at a bar shack on the way) and find our way into the sea we find we cannot find our way out of the sea. I wish we could order cake and coconuts. Maybe they could bring them to us right here. Where we float like star fish near the shore.

But this it turns out is just a daydream.

On shore we ask if there are coconuts.

No coconuts we are informed.

We’re on a desert island coated in palm trees and there are no coconuts. We ponder the strangeness of this. Maybe it is a coconut conspiracy. Lindsay tries to get the waiter to find us a coconut and bring it to us.

I think to myself Lindsay was clearly a queen or a pharoah’s wife in a past life. Or else she’s seen that scene from Withnail and I too many times – the one in the cake shop – WE DEMAND CAKE!

We demand coconuts. And despite the fact Lindsay is so effortlessly beautiful and gracious and doesn’t really demand but asks so sweetly that I’m surprised all the men on the island aren’t slathering to find the nearest tree and shimmy up it to sate her demand for coconuts – tidak ada. There are no coconuts.

It’s Monday, I say to Lindsay. M-ON-D-AY – I roll the word around as though it is foreign on my tongue. Once upon a time Mondays heralded commuter hell and the start of the working week. Now they herald leaving the kids with the husbands whilst we hop a boat to the gilis, hire bicycles, eat croissants with our feet dipped in the sand and get baked in the sun.




Admiring the view

We’ve had friends staying the last week. Sorry to neglect you. Here’s a quick catch up. I have started and written 30,000 words of my new book. I’ve been dragged rafting along the Ayung River – about as much fun as being shoved inside a carrier bag and thrown repeatedly against rocks. I’ve butterfly stitched Alula’s chin (not from the rafting, she was pretending to be a dog), I’ve had two massages and a pedicure and been to the beach for the weekend. I’ve turned down an offer of climbing mount Batur at 2.30am. I’ve ecstatic danced.

Anyway, friends staying is always quite amusing because it let’s me see my life through their eyes. It reminds me all over again how amazing the place I live is. It reminds me to not be complacent. Their gasps when they walk into our garden and catch the view, then the second gasp when they come onto the balcony make me smile every time.

One friend arrived from Mumbai and in twenty four hours I showed him everything I loved most about living in Ubud. I took him to Clear for a chocolate Matrix, we ordered enough Sushi to feed the five thousand, we drank frozen margaritas, we danced ecstatically, we went to Sang Spa for a massage, we ordered salad from Sari Organic delivered to the door and drank coconuts. Yes, it’s true most of my favourite experiences involve food and drink and dancing.

My bro in law arrived for a holiday last week too. He was our biggest supporter when we first decided to pack up and leave London. He runs Careershifters so he’s driven by the aim to help people find the career and life they love. He says we’re one of their best stories.  We broke out of the routine and found a way of making our life work.

And when I look out my window, lying on my bed, watching an episode of Buffy (he’d never seen Buffy before so I had to rectify this issue), and drinking a g&t because 2.54pm counts as g&t o’clock in the tropics, I realize how right he is. This is a better story than one I could ever have written.

On a Monday morning in London we’d be crawling out of bed, running frantically to get Alula to the childminder and make it into work. And yet here I am (see paragraph above).

‘It’s pretty amazing,’ Rich says sipping his g&t.

‘Yeah,’ I agree, and we go back to admiring the view.

What to do for christmas

‘So for xmas we have two options. If the weather is nice we can go to the beach. And if it’s not we can stay in Ubud and do what xmas is about. Namely eating.’

‘Actually Christmas is about Jesus,’ John reminds me.

I raise an eyebrow at the heathen grinning at me across the table. ‘We can eat all day, touring restaurants, then have a two hour massage,’ I say.

‘What about Alula?’ John asks.

‘We can get a babysitter for the day.’

John pauses to look at me, fork half way to his mouth.

‘Oh, yeah, right’, I say, ‘Christmas. Family. Babysitter bad.’

We agree that there will be no turkey. And instead of presents we will buy a family drum. Because what this family needs is a drum.

‘Actually I need a bookcase more than a drum,’ I say.

‘Ok, we’ll get a bookcase.’

John and I have taken to prioritizing what we’re going to buy in January when we have finally been paid and have money flowing in. Top of the list was a drum. Now relegated to second behind a bookcase. John wanted to buy a car so we don’t have to drive around in a smashed up tin can anymore but I like our jeep and if we have $10,000 I’d rather spend that $10,000 on these things:

Speakers. A projector. Outdoor furniture. A sofa. A sofabed. Oh, and a swimming pool.

‘But a car’, John says, ‘will hold its value over here.’

‘Not once I’ve totaled it, it won’t.’

I move on and John doesn’t argue.

‘I think we should do something like volunteering in an orphanage on christmas day.’


(guess who said which sentence).

‘Why not?’ John asks, ‘It’s the kind of thing I want to do more of.’

‘Well I worked for a volunteering charity for 8 years. I’ve done my bit. I’ve earned my karma, I never have to volunteer ever again.’

‘You just fired people and hired people, that’s not exactly volunteering.’

‘That’s not true. I set up projects and um – yeah, whatever. So which beach shall we go to?’

John just shook his head. Sometimes I really think he wonders why he married me.



Top 10 things to do on a round the world trip: part 1

We have seven days before we head back to London. I can’t believe we’ve been away 7 months. It’s been easily the best 7 months of my life so I’m kind of reeling with premature holiday blues whilst also enjoying the best time of the trip so far. Not that it’s over. On the one hand it feels like London will be a brief hiatus before our return to Bali in October when the next chapter of the adventure begins. As in ‘no, really, can we actually live here? (aren’t we broke?)’

Anyway, on one of our endless and endlessly beautiful car journeys through California, John and I debated the highlights of the trip. So herewith a list, for any of you out there following in our footsteps, of things not be missed on a round the world journey.

1. Californian Hot Springs

Only I’m not telling you where these are because they are too, too special. The most exquisite shrangri-la on the West Coast of America. Buried in a delve of a river canyon, bubbling from beneath the earth, slanting sunshine, cool river flowing by. Utter heaven. Maybe if you email me and ask – nay beg –nicely I’ll let you in on the secret.

I like this picture, because it looks like I have abs.

2. Thrifting

Starting Lula early. The girl has an eye for a bargain.

The unsung joy of our American trip has been the thrifting. Like shopping at Ikea it allows you to think you’re not spending anything and then your card gets declined. At a Thrift store. That’s embarrassing. Best thrifting – Mission Beach San Diego, Monterey & Santa Barbara (rich pickings).

3. Sideways wine country.

take a picnic. Don’t take a child.

4. Chai & Samosas in Patnem Beach, Goa.

Life was perfect in India. My day consisted of tripping out of our pink house, taking Alula to school via the cows munching up the rubbish dump, stopping by for 4p samosas and then heading to the beach to sip chai as the sun warmed my face. Then some writing, some swimming, some eating. BLISS.

Family Planning my style

‘Are you hearing this boys? Now always wear a condom.’

The boys laugh but I see their fear. I see it hovering at the back of their eyes like kids who don’t want to be chosen for PE.  The fear – it is being generated by none other than my 3 almost 4 year old daughter. Who should know by now that  3 follows 2 follows 1 follows ‘You have three seconds to stop screaming and apologise before I take away your Barbie.’ She should know the outcome to this conundrum is always the same.

We had been on the beach until twenty seconds ago, now I am dragging her back to the car past scared/ bemused / horrified people because her howls were disturbing the beach, and the dolphins and migratory whales. John offered to take her for a walk to calm her down but the beach was crowded and I had the thought he might get lynched by people thinking he was abducting a child.

I drag the still screaming Lula past two teenage boys who stare at me and her (I imagine them thinking – but she’s so young how does she have a child? But probably they’re thinking God stop her making that noise. what kind of a mother are you?’). I give them a free family planning lecture.

So now I’m stuck with a child screaming for her barbies. I can keep the barbies and turn up the radio or I can give her the barbies and forever be the mother that gives in. I turn up the radio. I hope the boys are listening.

Malaysia – can we live here?

We have twenty four hours left Malaysia before we get back to Bali. Home. As I’m tentatively starting to think of it. We’re going back for 6 weeks to make sure the honeymoon isn’t over.  I haven’t loved Malaysia. Just in case you missed that. But maybe, after Bali, nowhere was going to impress. I’ve been trying to rationalise it, though rationalisation isn’t one of my strong points.

So herewith my for and against list for Malaysia – can we live here?


Handrolls. It sounds like I’m bigging up something off a brothel’s menu when in fact it’s just something off a Chinatown menu. Like springrolls except nicer.

Er – let me keep thinking.


The beaches are pretty dirty and the dress code is jeans, long sleeved shirt and a head covering. In the same way that I won’t go into a bar with a ‘no trainers’ policy I won’t go on a beach with a (albeit unspoken) cover all limbs policy.

When buying alcohol in a supermarket you are made to feel like you are buying hard core porn.

The Fashion. I just can’t. Go. There.

This list lacks lustre. I turn to John, ‘I’m writing a list of reasons for and against living in Malaysia. What are your thoughts?’

He pulls a face. ‘There’s only one reason we can’t live here as far as I’m concerned. It’s not Bali.’

it's just not Bali

What do I do all day?

‘So what do you fill your days with?’ a friend asks in an email.

I stare at the screen frozen. What exactly do I do every day?

I have no idea.

My fingers hover over the keyboard as I try to think.  I have become one of those women I used to read about with a mixture of scorn and pity and maybe a fraction of envy in Hello! – the ones who spend their days lunching and sunbathing and shopping. Except it’s like some sick alter-universe. I’m lunching in the kinds of places that have photographs of the food displayed on the walls and shopping in the kinds of places that have bins of fake crocs. I’m not even managing the sunbathing because it’s too hot to sunbathe – even for me. It’s too hot to do anything other than stand naked under the air conditioning unit.

So what then am I doing with my days? Other than standing naked under the air conditioning unit?

Well let’s start with yesterday.

Woke up. Went for breakfast. Came back. Grabbed rubber ducky. Went to beach (sat in shade). Parasailed. Came home. Went for Chinese. Came home. Played snakes and ladders. Went to beach (sat in shade). Ate dinner. Came home. Watched sisterhood of the travelling pants II. Slept.

Scintillating non?

Ok that’s not all I do. I also spend several hours of each day pleading with Lula to put on suncream, brush her teeth, wear her hat, eat her squid, wipe her bum, wash her hands, not answer back, put some knickers on. That takes a few hours for sure.

I think back to when I lived in the UK. My days were filled with work, commuting, bill paying, emailing, talking to friends, cooking, cleaning, parenting, laundry-doing – usually three of the above at once – being a female of the species.

Here, I don’t do any of that. My commute is to the beach, I haven’t picked up a saucepan in five months, I did clean once – in India – I squirted some detol over the floor where we’d seen a cockroach, I don’t do my own laundry – I did once in Singapore and realised how much I didn’t miss it, I don’t talk to friends because I haven’t yet signed up for skype out, I don’t pay bills because I don’t have any, so the only thing I do do is parent. And that would be what fills my days. 24/7 because most of the time we’re sharing a bed with Lula and I’m the one waking fifty times a night when she cries out for ‘more ice-cream’ or wakes up needing a poo.

Parenting. For the woman who begged her boss to give her some work, 6 days after giving birth, it’s a turnaround. Ironically – we wrote ‘more time for Alula’ on our post-its when discussing our reasons for leaving. I only wrote that though because I wanted to appear self-less and like travelling around the world was a great big act of parental self-sacrifice and nothing whatsoever to do with the fact I wanted a year-round suntan.

And now I find myself parenting full time, well apart from when we were in Bali and she was at school and then we had Ketut (the nanny that Lula turned into a gimp) and when we were in India and she was at school in the mornings. Other than that – full time.  And it’s great – other than the battles over suncream and teethbrushing and wearing pants. Today Alula told me she loves me billions and a hundred and all the way back to London.

But still. I can’t wait for Monday. Bali. School. Nanny.


parenting beach style

Are we bad parents?

They row canoes across the beach searching for tigers and fairies called Happy. They climb mountains and make princess castles in the sand.  In the meantime we sit, drink vodka limcas and pay the nearest five year old five rupees to watch they don’t drown.

Does that make us bad parents?

I keep asking this question a lot lately. When I first paid a visit to the German run (free play rules) nursery I sat gingerly on the packed earth floor and thought, ‘hmmm, this is nice, rustic – but lovely…my GOD the children are FILTHY.’ Then I picked up Alula after her first day and it gave filthy a new name. I almost didn’t recognise her under the grime. I guess that’s what happens when you combine free running snot with free play in the dirt. Every day reminds me of that scene in Aliens when Sigourney Weaver finds that girl Newt and tries to clean her up. ‘There’s a girl underneath there,’ I say as Alula streaks naked through the house screaming like the shower is the mother alien come to get her and lay its eggs in her brain.

Does that make us bad parents?

Then we were invited to our Tuktuk driver’s house for lunch – a strange, awkward affair under a corrugated iron roof, Lula playing on their plywood bed whilst we ate off a plastic table and tried to make small talk about Hindu gods and Hindi music – neither of which I know anything about – and his kids were trotted out, pristine, polite, perfect. Hair oiled, parted just so, white shirts pressed, handkerchiefs safety pinned in triangles to their shirts, huge white smiles. I looked at Lula, filthy and barefoot, wild and singing to herself about fairies and thought ‘what must they be thinking of me?’

So I asked Cami, my waxer/masseuse, how come Indian kids are so clean and polite. And she said it’s because their parents beat them.

So now I don’t feel so bad.

Alula and Noah hang out in booze alley

kids play adults drink beer

Canoes with Dolphins

‘You are not a frickin Hardy Boy John.’

He is pointing with his oar at a giant scrub-laden hill that he wants me to climb with him.

Urghhhh, I groan letting the oar flop.

‘It will be an adventure.’

‘I don’t want an adventure. I’m tired.’

‘You’re so no fun.’

‘You’re not in the famous five.’

Everytime I get in a canoe I think of Last of the Mohicans. That’s what makes me get in the canoe. Then after approximately three seconds I decide Daniel Day Lewis made it look much sexier than it actually is. ‘I will find you. Stay alive no matter what occurs,’ rings in my ears.

I am not sure I am going to stay alive no matter what occurs in this canoe as John steers us towards a great big bloody boulder in the sea. ‘Mind the big rock,’ I call out.

‘Thanks for that. I can’t see anything at all so it’s great that you’re navigating.’

I struggle to turn with the oar in my hand. ‘You can’t see?’ Then I realise he is being sarcastic. I stop paddling. Not that he notices. Our speed remains the same. We head towards some rapids. ‘Ahhhh rapids.’

‘Why are you worried?’ John says still paddling.

‘Because it might overturn. I might smash my head on a rock and drown.’

‘They aren’t even rapids.

He’s right they are more like the little waves you make when you get in the bath. We ripple through them.

And then we see them. Three dolphins start dancing around our boat. I have never been this close to a dolphin. And for some reason the only thing I can find to say is, ‘Why don’t we eat dolphins?’

‘You’re watching dolphins play five feet away and you’re asking why we don’t eat them? You are unbelievable.’

‘I don’t mean I want to eat them (I’ve been vegetarian now for 8 weeks – kudos please) I just mean that we eat most things in the sea, we eat urchins and ugly stuff like squid. Why not the dolphins?’ Why is there no dolphin nicoise on the menu? Have you ever wondered about that?

John ignores me and keeps paddling after them.

‘If I were a native American I’d be called Canoes with Dolphins,’ I say.

John doesn’t say anything but hazarding a guess, I think he’s thinking his Native American name would be ‘Canoes with idiot’.