A Baby’s Cry

Cathy Glass is the pseudonym of a foster carer, and has cared for more than a hundred chidren in the last 25 years. She has written many books about bringing up children, including three novels based on true stories and at least 17 memoirs about her experiences with some of the children who came in to her care.

A Baby’s Cry is the heartbreaking true story of a mother torn between fear and love for her newborn child.

When Cathy is first asked to foster one-day-old Harrison (“son of”) Smith, her main concern is if she will remember how to look after such a young baby. But in collecting him from the hospital, she quickly realises she has a lot more to worry about than her first thought. With a background shrouded in secrecy, hushed responses to Cathy’s queries and very few people even aware of Harrison’s existence, it becomes clear that this very sad situation has more than it initially meets the eye. Cathy and her two children, Adrian and Paula, bond with Harrison, but when a woman they don’t know starts appearing in the street outside their house, acting suspiciously, Cathy begins to fear for the safety of all of her family.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Harrison’s mother, Rihanna, who left a suitcase of a baby’s things and clothes for the first year and a letter addressed to ‘Dear Foster Carer’. Harrison is an incredible miracle of new life, so beautiful and alert, so small but perfect in every way; yet his existence is a complete secret and has to remain so. His parents are not married and cannot marry; their relationship should never have happened. It involves traditional and cultural norms and differences.

During this period, Cathy is also a respite carer for six-year-old Ellie, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress. Ellie has witnessed cruelty like watching her pet cat’s claws pulled out by pliers, and she has been burnt by her mother’s boyfriend’s cigarette butts on her back and bottom, hit by him with a belt and her mother shut her in a cupboard – another child abused by the very people who should have been loving and protecting her. Cathy writes up a log book of notes on Ellie, just like she does for Harrison and all the children she has fostered in a fostering folder for the Social Services.

Meanwhile, things around Harrison continue to intensify. There is a lot of mystery and confidentiality surrounding the case, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens next. There is an unexpected twist to the situation, but the ending is a happy one.

 

Poem 400

Inspired and challenged.

On fifth November,

Five hundred and ten days ago,

I wrote my first poem.

Threatened by writer’s block

Every now and then,

Discipline and perseverance

Kept the poems coming.

As long as my brain works,

I’ll keep on writing;

As long as my fingers can move,

I’ll play the piano.

Piano Day

Today –

twenty-ninth March twenty-eighteen –

is Piano Day.

This day –

the eighty-eighth day of the year –

I’ll remember.

Pianos –

have eighty-eight keys; obviously

why this day is designated

as Piano Day

by Piano Lovers.

Walking on Sunshine

I don’t recall this movie at all, and the claim that it contains some of the greatest hits of the 1980s prompted me to borrow this 2014 DVD.

The plot is rather lame and the narrative staggers from one song to the next: Maddie (Annabel Scholey) prepares for her wedding to Raf (Greg Wise), unaware that her sister Taylor (Hannah Arterton) is his ex-flame. Taylor is shocked, but tries to hold in her feelings for Raf, who is surprised that Maddie and Taylor are sisters. At the altar, Maddie announces that she isn’t marrying Raf…

Other than the music, the movie’s cinematography is lovely – the fantastic views, from the sun-washed beaches of Greece to sun-washed beaches of Italy, quaint Italian villages and the marketplace in the summer, nice old buildings, the gorgeous coastline and the sea, the sunsets and beautiful nights – but do not really impress.

The cast often burst out in song, but I only like Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Others include Madonna’s Holiday, Shocking Blue’s Venus, Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know, Jennifer Krush’s The Power of Love, Duran Duran’s Wild Boys, Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love, George Michael’s Faith, Billy Idol’s White Wedding and Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time. The title song, Katrina & The Waves’ Walking on Sunshine, is nice. The cheoreographer has done a good job in saving the movie from being a flop.

Mummy Told Me Not to Tell

Published in 2010, the same year as The Girl In the Mirror (which I’d just read and reviewed yesteday), and with an additional 36 pages, I finished reading Mummy Told Me Not To Tell in one day. This is the first of Cathy Glass’ memoirs that I’ve read (the other two books are novels) and I have great admiration for the work she does in fostering children.

Reece is a 7-year-old white Caucasian, has five half-brothers and -sisters, all of whom are in care. He is one of the children Cathy had taken in for respite fostering; in this case, for 10 months.

There is a high level of violence within Reece’s family home, with very poor hygiene at home, emotional and physical neglect, with the mother’s assault on Reece and men coming into the house with criminal history, including suspected paedophiles. Reece has the nickname Sharky (because he bites anything and everyone), and has  come to Cathy with learning and behavourial difficulties (like ADHD, which is Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder).

The reports from schools include violence, aggression and completely uncontrollable behaviour. His academic skills are delayed: he can’t read or write, has a short-term memory and is reluctant to improve on his skills; he has severe difficulties with receptive and expressive language; he does not interact with his peer group at any level and is portrayed as a truly horrendous child.

Reece’s family has moved around a lot and has a long history with the social services for over 15 years. There is no continuity or any overall picture. The family has a history of violence, both in the home and outside. Reece has been grossly neglected since he was born.

It is very telling when Reece remarks to Cathy one day at a seaside holiday that “I like it here. There aren’t any secrets”. The awful truth that will eventually be revealed is that the children’s (Reece and four of his half-siblings) father is their grandfather. Five decades ago, I would not have understood incest and how anything was possible when the normal building blocks of morality were demolished, but now I’m not shocked by the incestuous truth here: father to daughter, grandfather to granddaughter, mother to son.

Reece, only seven and with learning difficulty, was lost in a cruel world of sexual abuse of the worst kind – from inside the family. How does a child cope knowing that he is a product of incest?

Cathy cared for Reece for ten monthes before he moved to his new family (with his aunt May, his mother’s sister, John, May’s husband and Lisa, the only half-sister who is probably not the product of incest). Fourteen months later, when Cathy visits Reece and his new family, May shares that Reece has confided in her that “Mummy had told him not to tell”.

 

The Girl in the Mirror

Having enjoyed Cathy Glass’ Run, Mummy, Run, I went to the library to borrow three other titles by her. I decided to read The Girl in the Mirror first because it is a novel inspired by a true story like the last one, whereas the other two are memoirs about real situations.

In her acknowledgment, the author writes: Most families have secrets – skeletons in the closet that are never spoken of. Sometimes the secret is so painful, and buried so deep, that it becomes ‘forgotten’ by the family. This is the story of Mandy, who wasn’t aware she held the key to her family’s dreadful secret until a crisis unlocked it. In a short note after the acknowledgment: Attitudes to the administering of pain relief are slowly changing.

A synopsis of the novel: When Mandy learns that her grandpa is dying, she rushes to her aunt’s house to be by his side. On returning to the place where she spent so much idyllic childhood summers, Mandy is shocked to discover she has no memory of those days. Certain memories come back slowly and Mandy pieces together the horrific events that brought an abrupt end to these visits.

Cathy Glass’ writing style certainly makes her books easy to read. However, this novel is not a page turner, and the ‘twists’ are not all that surprising (which may be the reason I took two days to finish the 300+ pages), but the story ran smoothly. It is true to life, and the characters are well portrayed.

True Colours Festival Concert

I was delighted and excited that Steinway Gallery sent me an email last week, inviting me to the True Colours Concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 24 March 2018. The True Colours Festival presents some of the most talented performing artistes/troupes with disabilities from Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Singapore.

The audience was greeted with slides showing “HELLO” in the various languages, followed by the first item, a dance by two key Japanese dances with more in the background. What a pleasant surprise it was to see Dr Azariah Tan seated in front of the Steinway grand piano, in preparation for the next item.

My jaw dropped and my eyes went even bigger the moment the opening chords of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp minor, Op 3 No 2 were struck. This was not the piece I expected to hear as it was publicised on the airwaves that Azariah would perform the Fantasie Impromptu, Op 66 by Frederick Chopin. The Rach prelude was only an appetizer for what was to come next: to my delight, Azariah proceeded to play Burt Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head seamlessly. This is one of the first pop songs I learnt to play on the piano. The  hearing-impaired virtuoso Azariah was to accompany Tony Dee (talented wheelchair-bound Australian singer) throughout the song.

After Azariah left the stage, Tony Dee continued to sing Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World with a Children’s Choir on stage with him. He then sang the jazz standard All Of Me and an oldie When You’re Smiling to the accompaniment of a blind Japanese violinist. Tony Dee’s performance ended with Raindrops, sans Azariah.

Singapore’s deaf dance crew, Redeafination was up next.

They were joined by Tony Dee and the Extra Ordinary Singers towards the end of the song, Singing in The Rain.

China’s Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei teamed up for a Talent show a few years ago. With only six limbs and a crutch between them, they performed a dance item that was moving and inspiring.

After performances by the Japanese violinist and New Zealand’s wheelchair dancer Rodney Bell (who performed an integrated dance with able-bodied Brydie), an Indian dance group called WeAreOne showcased their agility and prowess in well-executed dance moves that put me to shame.

The next item is a real eye-opener: Drake Music Scotland’s Digital Orchestra.

I have never before witnessed any orchestra that performs exclusively on electronic instruments. The musicians also show that anyone can play music: whether you have no disability, physical disability or learning disability. This group of musicians received the loudest applause up to this point.

Indonesia’s Adrian Anantawan is another inspiring performer.

After his solo performance, Azariah took the stage again. And this time, he played Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. This was what I came for, and I was thoroughly mesmerised, despite being kicked in the knee thrice by the little boy seated next to me and who whined throughout to his grandma that he was bored and wanted to go home. There was more from Azariah when he accompanied Adrian in the next piece. Adrian is one amazing violinist. His performance of J.S.Bach’s Partita No 3 (which demands advanced bowing techniques) is exuberant.

After performances by WheelSmith (wheelchair-bound rapper), Singaporeans Ng Kok Wee and Stephanie Ow (Er-hu), a dance troupe from Chiangmai, Thailand performed on wheelchairs while the international breakdances ILL-Abilities awed the audience with their deft movements and feats.

A South Korean duo (a blind singer and a pianist) performed ABBA’s Thank You for The Music before the visually-impaired Malaysian group Caliph Buskers performed songs including I Believe I Can Fly and Bruno Mars’ Count On Me.

From the Philippines came blind singer Alienette Coldfire. I just found out from the Straits Times that this self-taught vocalist had won third place in the 2016 France’s Got Talent contest. She must be heard live, as any description (elegant, romantic, passionate) cannot adequately convey the power she has to touch you when she sings. Maybe that’s why her stage name is ‘Alienette’. Besides singing solo Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There, she also performed with others Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are, Carole King’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours.

The finale was the first time I saw Azariah dancing, choreographed for all the musicians! I do not know sign language, but I think at least some of it were incorporated into the dance. Hossan Leong has done a great job as the Creative Director. The scores of people involved in putting the Festival together include those from the United Nations Eductional, Scientific and Cultural Organization and The Nippon Foundation.

 

The Santiago Sisters

I picked this book out at random. I was looking for an author that I’ve never read before, and The Santiago Sisters by Victoria Fox caught my attention: It is a relatively new copy (judging by the serial number besides the pristine condition), the title appeals to me, the length is okay (508 pages) and the font size is ‘normal’.

Not having a sister of my own, I’m always curious about the dynamics and relationship between sisters; what’s more, this story is about a pair of twins born two minutes apart. The tagline on the cover (“Bound by blood, separated by scandal”) sounds intriguing. I’ve read that twins share a special bond: from birth to death, they are two halves of the same whole. Can they survive if they’re separated?

I was captivated right from the Prologue, which is so cleverly written that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to reach the pivotal moment. The book is divided into four parts: 1994-2000, 2000-2005, 2006-2010, 2011-2014, with the final chapter in each section acting as a link to the Prologue. The Epilogue is set in Jan 2015. These take us from the lives of the twins from when they were ten years old in Argentina to London to Paris to California to New York to Barbados to Stockholm and Barcelona.

Argentinan twins Calida and Terisita Santiago are separated at 15; Tessa is left behind on the (rather impoverished) family farm when Teresita is adopted by world-famous actress Simone Geddes. Simone would groom Teresita to be a superstar. Calida has nothing but, starting with a camera given to her by her late father, works her way to become a top fashion photographer.

There are secrets, miunderstandings, miscommunications, lies, deceit and repercussions. Add feelings of hurt, bitterness, revenge and hatred. Throw in friendship, love and happiness. The story also gives a glimpse into the ugliness and disgust behind the glitter of the movie industry and the brutal and yet glamorous world of fashion photography. All the characters (and there are quite a few – good, bad and the in-between) are brilliantly absorbing, and the pace of the story is exciting. There is tension and surprises. And a big and explosive twist at the end.

This is one scintillating and satisfying read; I shall borrow more of Victoria Fox’s books.

Every Thing Will Be Fine

I vaguely recall the name James Franco (he was the lead actor in 127 Hours, I think) but he didn’t leave much impression. The only thing that enticed me to borrow this 2015 DVD is the promise of Rachel McAdams on the cover. When I turned to look at the back cover, it said something about a drama about a struggling writer. I thought it could be watchable, but was sorely disappointed throughout the nearly two hours.

Tomas Eldan (Franco) is a novelist living with Sara (McAdams) but their relationship is strained. One day Tomas fatally hits a young boy (Nicholas) on a wintry snowy road. Nicholas’ brother Christopher is unhurt but their mother Kate (Chatlotte Gainsbourg) is devastated.

Even at this point, I find it strange that there is no punishment for Tomas (though he is questioned by the police), but he remains in contact with Kate. Both of them suffer guilt and loss respectively.

A few months after a half-hearted attempt at suicide, Tomas goes to the accident site and meets Kate and they go for a walk. They exchange contact details and Kate gives Tomas a book of religious nature. They talk on the phone late at night. They have a ceremony burning books by American writer and Nobel Prize laureate, William Cuthbert Faulkner. (This is one of the scenes that I don’t understand.)

Tomas and Sara part ways and Tomas goes on to marry Ann (Marie-Josee Croze) whom he met at his publisher’s, adopting her young daughter.

More than a decade after the accident, Tomas wins the Giller Prize for his latest novel. He receives a letter from Christopher and their contacts are troubling though they eventually come to an understanding.

The entire movie is so slow-paced and tedious that I’m surprised I didn’t fall asleep or fast-forward the disc. This must be partly due to the lovely countryside of Quebec, the transformation brought on by the four seasons: the frozen lake, falling snow, the dead of winter, wide expanse of lush greenery, the fields of gold, the beautiful sea and beachfront, and the rich landscape. Another reason is the music used – whether gentle piano music, stirring violins and orchestra, dramatic music or suspenseful music – are apt for the scenes.

The only lines uttered by Tomas that I like are: When you write, ideas can come from all different kinds of place. Some are based on experience and others are from the imagination.

Table 19

I don’t remember this movie being shown in a cinema here and I wondered why. I had to borrow it as it is a 2017 comedy starring Anna Kendrick, June Squibb and Lisa Kudrow, three names I recognise out of many others.

The main character is Eloise McGarry (Kendrick). She is attending the wedding reception of her oldest friend Francie Millner (Rya Meyers) and is assigned to be seated at Table 19. Eloise was orginally the maid of honour but when she broke up with the best man, Teddy (Wyatt Russell) who is Francie’s brother and best man, she is replaced by Nikki (Amanda Crew), Teddy’s ex-girlfriend.

The other guests at Table 19 are Jerry (Craig Robinson) and Bina (Kudrow) Kepp who are Facebook friends of the groom’s father, high-schooler Renzo Eckberg (Tony Revolori) whose parents are acquaintances of the groom, Jo Flanagan (Squibb) who was Francie’s nanny, and Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant) who is Francie’s cousin. It was expected that the “randoms” at Table 19 would not show up.

The six talk and get to know one another. At one point, they go to Jo’s room to smoke pot (perhaps this is why the movie is not shown in Singapore) and converse about their reasons for attending the wedding. Later on, we find out that Jo has cancer and she is “due” about the same time Eloise will give birth. The Kepps reconcile. Renzo has a new girlfriend. Walter refers to the others as his family. Eloise and Teddy are together and have a son named Joe.

Despite the strong cast, the story is weak, though it tries to deal with serious topics such as infidelity, pregnancy and abortion, breakups, cancer, embezzelment and alcoholism. The odd grouping of Table 19 is obviously for laughs, though not always successful and often feels like a TV sitcom. Some of the jokes are not in very good taste. The language is sometimes crude.

One positive message is that second chances and forgiveness are not only possible but a part of what makes a good marriage work. The movie affirms love, marriage and parenthood as good things.

The other good vibe about this movie is the music. As the main premise is a wedding at an exotic beachfront location, and there are scenes of ballroom dancing, there are plenty of music and songs (I think about 30); including Johann Pachebel’s Canon in D, Carol Ann Decker’s Heart and Soul, Jules Shear’s All Through The Night, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, Mark Gordon and Harry Warren’s At Last and Maraichi music.