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October 2018
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2002-09-04 We paint Singapore red on diet coke

 

In 1997, I was engaged by Singapore Lyric Opera to sing the small, but scene-stealing role of Snout (The Wall) in A Midsummer Nights Dream by Benjamin Britten at the Victoria Theatre in Singapore.

Never having been outside Europe, this was quite an adventure. My good friend, the fine Irish bass Gerard OConnor from sunny Ballinasloe - now resident with English National Opera - was also engaged for the job, so at least I knew there was one friendly face.

I had heard lots about Singapore Airlines and it more than lived up to its reputation as the worlds best airline. Being the opposite of a nervous flyer, the extra excitement of a dramatic thunderstorm over the Bay of Bengal added to the experience.

We were met at the worlds finest airport by the adminstrator who was a tiny chain-smoking lady from Roscommon called Aideen - another surreal moment in my career.

Aideen took the two Irish lads for a drink to one of the Irish pubs. Gerard and I had Diet-cokes while Aideen had a couple of pints. The next day she told the assembled cast at the first rehearsal how the two Irish lads had made feckin eejits of themselves and painted Singapore feckin red!

Hardly likely with the strict regime of rules that exists in this crime-free city. If its a holiday of drunken debauchery you want, this is not your dream destination. Heavy fines and prison sentences are given for chewing gum in public and spitting (one of my favourite pastimes), and should you be short-taken in a lift then its a few months behind bars as a reward. Drug offences carry the death penalty. Lucky Im a good boy!

The hotels in Singapore are mostly of a very high standard. The Westin with its top floor revolving café is the highest building in the city, and of course Raffles is world-renowned. I was taken to Raffles for a birthday treat to sample their famous afternoon tea and a Singapore Sling (the latter being a waste of money).

The heat in Singapore was at times unbearable and there was a smog during much of my stay due to some forest fires in neighbouring Sumatra.

Singapore is shopping heavenand the main shopping area is Orchard Road with its many exclusive malls and the more tacky centres such as Lucky Plaza.

But there is a lot more to this city. I am not a great fan of zoos but Singapore has one of the cleanest and kindest zoos I have ever visited, with very generous enclosures, and the Night Safari (same place by night) is an absolute must. The Orchid Garden is always in bloom and resembles an extremely lavish set for Madame Butterfly - a haven of assorted colours and scents.

A short cable-car ride (or bus) will take you to the semi man-made island of Sentosa, featured in several Bond movies. The little monorail drops you off at any of the islands assorted attractions - Undersea world, the serpentarium,vast bird parks or one of the perfect golden beaches. Sentosa is too perfect really but well worth a couple of visits.

Other than that there are many colourful Buddhist and Hindu temples, and if you take your shoes off and treat them with respect, they dont mind you visiting them at all. By night, there is a huge selection of eateries down at picturesque Boat Quay.

I was a brave boy and ventured alone into the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve-miles and miles of open jungle. Apart from a few acrobatic monkeys putting the fear of God into me, and sweltering soaking heat, it was a pleasant trek. However I could have won a Wet T-shirt competition hands down!

On one of my first days in Singapore as I was getting up I was watching Singapore AM news. Breaking news - Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash in Paris. I was 8 hours ahead so I heard it literally as it was happening. I certainly remember where I was when Diana died.