Abandoned in Singapore – Encore edition

My name is Robert Bishop.
I was born in Ireland on September 7 1967 – I am 47 years old.
I suffer from “Borderline Personality Disorder” – a mental condition resulting from childhood trauma. This results in frequent bouts of profound depression that are utterly disabling. As a result of this illness, I was “Total and Permanent Disability” retired by Education Queensland in May 2003. I now live on a disability pension, my wife has a carer’s pension, and I have two autistic children – two boys ages 16 and 18.
During my 16 years in Queensland, I often felt isolated. However, with the advent of “Facebook”, I could resume contact with many of my school friends from Ireland and several cousins – all of whom helped me through and out of some very dark depressive events including 2 suicide attempts and numerous pits of despair.
Every two weeks, I see a psychiatrist, Associate Professor Brendan Murphy, at Pinelodge clinic in Dandenong.
December 5, 2014 is the date of the 30 year class reunion of “Class of ’84” from Sandymount High School in Dublin. As so many of these people have become vital to my mental health, I was eager to meet them again. Also, my brother lives and works in Dubai and so arrangements were made to spend some time with him.
Professor Murphy approved of the notion and arrangements were made in May to go to Dubai and then Ireland.
My family could not afford for four of us to go and my children cannot be left without a carer so it was decided that I would go alone.
Sunday, November 23 2014 at 15:30 AEST; I am 187cm tall so I took the time to be first in the Emirates check-in line at Tullamarine for my flight to ensure that I would get an “emergency exit row” seat as I was advised that these provide extra leg room. This was successful.
Sunday, November 23 2014 at 19:00 AEST; I boarded Emirates Airways flight EK 405 from Melbourne to Dublin via Singapore and Dubai.
Sunday, November 23 2014 at 20:00 AEST (approximately); I began to feel acute symptoms of what can accurately described as agoraphobic. The turbulence, the noise from the engine, the oppressive heat in the cabin, the lack of airflow, the extraordinarily tight seating conditions, and the unfriendly fellow male passengers jammed into the seats on either side of me all contributed to my ill-feeling.
When the seat-belt lights went off, I got out of my seat and walked around the cabin for a while. Despite my best efforts, tears were streaming down my face and I was finding it difficult to maintain balance.
Eventually, I asked a stewardess for help. She summoned the chief steward and I was placed in the galley at the rear of the aircraft – alone. There, I cried for about 15 to 20 minutes, uncontrollably shaking and feeling utter despair and loneliness.
Eventually, the flight stewards fed me several cups of wine and I took 60 mg of fluoxetine. I also had in my possession 25mg of quetiapine and 20mg of Temazepam but was terrified of what might happen if my self-control was further reduced by taking such strong sedating medication. The cabin crew were obviously untrained to deal with such a situation and were polite but very distant in their approach. There was absolutely no sense of support and no genuine concern on their behalf. The crew, including the pilot, repeatedly referred to my episode of mental imbalance as “fear of flying” despite my protestations that I have flown domestically (on much smaller aircraft) and internationally (even with Air China and Air Yugoslavia) many times before without incident. I felt quite ignored and very much abandoned on the aircraft.
I was asked what I wanted to do. Feeling like a “little-boy-lost”; alone, isolated, and quite frightened, I asked to return home to Melbourne. I also asked what this would entail in terms of my ticket. I was told not to worry – that the airline would “look after me”. This definitely did not happen.
I was disembarked at Singapore and told to follow a man. He informed me the following:
• At my own expense, I would have to consult a doctor before I would be allowed back on any aircraft. He assured me that this would be “very expensive”.
• At my own expense, I would have to stay in a transit hotel overnight in Singapore.
• A return flight to Melbourne would cost about $ (Singapore) 1,000.
When presented with this information, I panicked and begged to be allowed back on the flight to Dubai. My family operate on a very tight budget and I had already stretched that by taking the flight in the first place. Now, it appeared that I would blow our budget right out of the water and put my family in financial dire straits. I tried to appeal, saying that I could not afford all these extra expenses but to no avail.
The demeanour of the Emirates staff was like cold stainless steel – functionary but utterly without empathy, sympathy, or concern for a man deep in a psychological crisis. The man I dealt with repeated the same phrases in broken English over and over again about Ticket policies and various other policies that made sure I felt like I was no more than baggage with a heartbeat – devoid of rights or needs – and my humanity.
I saw a doctor after sitting in a clinic waiting room for over two hours. My blood pressure was 150-odd over 110 and my pulse was racing. A male nurse sat behind a desk and utterly ignored me. The doctor deemed me fit to fly after asking me about symptoms for Ebola. No, I’m not kidding. This cost me approx. $AUD160.
I was then trundled along to the other end of the airport to a transit hotel by a young kid in an oversize suit and scuffed brown shoes – the original Emirates person had disavowed responsibility for me at the earliest point. The hotel staff got me to pay for 12 hours in the room. I found out the next day that the minimum was 6 hours with hourly rates charged after that point. Kicking a man while he is down. This cost me about $AUD150.
I took the sedatives and slept fitfully for nine hours. My anxiety levels were still too high to relax.
The next day, at about 11:00am local time, I spent 1 hour and 18 minutes on the phone to the Emirates call centre – mostly on hold. I know the time because the phone had a call-time counter on it.
Feeling a bit better, and very much wanting to continue my journey, I started with the concept of flying on to Dublin. I was informed that this would cost me an extra $4000-plus as my ticket was now invalid – despite my lack of informed and considered choice in the matter the night before. I pointed out that my next flight from Dubai to Dublin was not until Nov 16 at 14:40 local time. Eventually, after use of mental resources I did not really possess to argue my case and stand at length on hold, I was informed I could take that flight but it would cost me approximately $1500 to get to Dubai from Singapore. The utterly impassionate tone of the person on the other end as he repeated the same lines about policy I heard the night before led me to sinking lower and lower over the phone as I stood there, shaking, tears once again streaming down my face. I was, to Emirates Airlines, not a human but a piece of cargo unworthy of help or consideration of my plight.
I collapsed mentally and just humbly asked to go home. I paid an extra $560 and got a flight back to Melbourne that night.
I have since approached Emirates via the call centre for some flexibility or at least human kindness about my situation but remain without an answer.
The entire experience was terrifying and dehumanising. I would not wish it on anybody. I knew that getting an economy seat would put me in “cattle-class” but I did not expect to be treated as if I was indeed no more than a bothersome bovine. Emirates and their staff were utterly indifferent to my mental illness. I should not have been left alone, or in the care of a child – I had lost rationality and the ability to think straight. I could easily have committed suicide or at least inflicted significant self-harm in such circumstances. This has happened before under similarly emotionally distraught circumstances. I had told the doctor I was not feeling suicidal as I was convinced that if I said such a thing I would have been locked up and all humanity would have been stripped from me, such was the coldness and lack of concern evident around me. I felt inhuman enough – I did not want to end up in a Singaporean mental ward.
I want others to know my story so they can make an informed choice as to which airline they fly in the future and the possibility of being left alone, in shock, and mentally in a very dark place. I have been ill for 12 years and have learnt some coping skills in that time. If this has happened in 2005 or 2006, it occurs to me that I would not have survived the experience and there would now be an inquiry as to how Emirates handled a mentally-ill person so poorly and with such disregard for his humanity that he was desperate enough to take his own life. Given the current situation, such an event is almost inevitable.


Back in my day…

My first thought this morning was along the lines of “What will I write about today”? This is very good. This is exactly what I want.

My next set of thoughts sifted through the various things I wanted to write about and I soon realised that most of them are not high-minded concepts I alluded to yesterday. In fact, I considered changing the name of this blog to “Shit I want to gripe about” – perhaps a better description. I thought about rap music (using the term “music” very loosely), reality television (I mean seriously – that’s entertainment?), and Australians who put Confederate flag bumper stickers on their car (so – you’re pro-slavery and wish to keep alive the memory of a conflict that killed around 750,000 people and destroyed so much? You’re an idiot – or perhaps you would write “Your an idiot”). Source

Thinking about these things, I quickly realised that I am being curmudgeonly, grumpy, and sounding more like some old geezer whining about “kids today”. Next thing, I’ll be uttering “back in my day”, “things were better in them days” and wittering about drinking water from a hose or other such rubbish.


I then realised a few things. I don’t care if I come across as a crosspatch (what a great word!), I just want to write and any subject is better than none. My high-minded ideals are irrelevant. I wanna just play with words, spill thoughts onto the page, tune my writing synapses, just write stuff! I also realised that my thought patterns were leading me towards something to write about – a persistent and annoying style of post that pops up frequently on my news-feed. The “back-in-my day” memes.

In particular, I want to disparage the “when I was 14 -then and now” style of meme like those below.


This one is worse:



This really annoys me. It’s a prime example of rose-coloured glasses, selective memories and just pure bullshit. If I was to Google “14 year-old girls”, I would probably find a huge variation in kids and how they dress (as well as attract the attention of big-brother who might want me to explain my search habits). In fact, I just did that and I found a huge collection of selfies of girls who look… well.. normal! I’m sure if I kept scrolling and searching I could find one of a girl showing more skin that is probably age-appropriate but the first two screens or so are just… kids.

Get over yourself. I remember being a teen and having a keen eye for those girls who wore their school skirt with the higher-than-regulation hem. I remember girls who chose to wear clothing that was just as revealing as the choices made by girls today. I often thought that I would have preferred to attend a co-ed state high school: “bugger the education – have you seen those chicks?” I went to an all-boys school. No fun there at all. I also remember girls who, like my sister Catherine, wore the 80s big hair (prettier than Kylie – but much the same style), ripped stone-wash denims, and generally followed the fashions worn by her peers. These were her choices and I am glad she was able to make them. Others, like my sister Jackie, wore clothing that was more conservative. Such is her nature. and were also her choices – and as such were as valid as any made by her peers. I challenge you to walk through any area frequented by teens today – such as a shopping mall or a cinema complex – and I guarantee you will see much the same as you would have done “back in your day” – the full range from “Hmmm – I wouldn’t have the nerve to wear that” through to full-length cover-all clothing. The fabrics and styles may be different now but the choices are exactly the same.


Ah Charlene, I hated “Neighbours” but you made me consider watching.

And this is what really pisses me off about this kind of meme. I don’t have a daughter but if I did, I would want her to be self-empowered and have the ability to make choices about her own clothing. My boys haven’t needed me to dress them since they were 5 or 6 years old – why should it be different for a girl? We talk about empowering women and trying to have full equality between genders and then it is mostly women who bitch about the choices made by other females! I don’t get this. If they make a choice, do you really have the right to say they are “wrong”? If they wear clothing which makes them feel good about themselves and about their bodies, then is that not their choice? If you say that they are “flaunting it”, or worse, “just asking for it”, then you are propagating a horrible, misogynistic point of view that essentially condones the myriad unspoken forms of subjugation inflicted on just over half the human population. You, and I, are entirely entitled to an opinion and a choice of which manner of dress is apropos to any given situation. However, it is merely your opinion. Never inflict your opinions upon others.

Yes, I am aware of the irony in the last statement – but you made a choice to read this blog….

I understand the reality of our society where many men think that it is acceptable to impinge on a woman’s personal space, make her feel unsafe or commit any form of sexual assault – and then use her manner of clothing as an excuse for his criminal behaviour. I know that this happens – I’m not a fool. However, it is an attitude that must be erased. It must change. It is no longer acceptable for male managers to slap the bottom of an attractive young secretary, pass comment on her breasts, or make crude innuendos in the break room. This has been progress in the right direction but it is only a start – it must extend out past a regulated workplace and into the streets and plazas frequented by men and women every day – and an important step forward is the destruction of the myth that somehow the clothing worn by a girl reflects badly on her character. Let her wear what she wants. Let her choose the clothing she wears and then feel safe in those choices.

Impertinent advances, while usually inflicted by men upon women, and not always confined to young women. I was subjected to improper sexual advances when I was a young man. I wasn’t even vaguely aware of it at the time but I did have a body-shape that attracted the attention of some women. I had thick, muscular thighs and a 32-34 inch waist so the trousers I wore tended to fit me rather snugly. In fact, I mostly wore trousers with a larger waistband so that my legs would fit – especially jeans. I also wore shirts with a loose fit about my wide shoulders and then tucked in at the waist. This, upon reflection, must have shown off my shape and increased the visual appeal – maybe working for me because it diverted attention away from my face. By the way, I was utterly oblivious to all this until I met Pauline. During this time, while I was at University, I worked at a bottle-shop attached to a Safeway supermarket. The woman who supervised the check-outs and all the young casual workers had a habit of firmly grabbing my arse when she came out to the drive-through to pick up the till-takings at the end of the shift. I never objected because frankly, I didn’t care. I just thought of her as a randy older woman. I saw her behaviour as harmless and a bit pathetic. In fact, her actions were the source of great amusement for my work-mates – all male. Should I have complained? Probably – but it never occurred to me. However, I don’t think that my indifferent reaction justifies the repeat of any such action. I am just musing about my own experience.

Macho Man

Me, age 23.

I was in Munich many years ago, sitting in “der englischer garten”, having a beer or two when two women jogged down the central path wearing nothing but running shoes and a smile. I won’t pretend that I didn’t look – they were both very fine specimens of the female form – but it never occurred to me that they were inviting anyone to assault them. Sure, I concede that they were showing off their wares and probably enjoying the exhibitionist nature of their activity, but even in that state of undress, it would not have been acceptable to grab one of them and rape her. How could it be?

In the interests of being utterly transparent, I also acknowledge that I will “check out” an attractive pretty girl I encounter on the street. I might admire her physical body-shape, her pretty smile, her startlingly blue eyes, or most commonly, I will smile to see her laughing and enjoying the company of her friends as she goes about her business. I sometimes feel guilty because I want to say to her that I think she looks beautiful. I never do as I don’t want her to feel unsafe and it would be inappropriate. I certainly never feel a compulsion to touch her, impinge on her personal space, or make a derogatory or judgemental remark about her appearance. I simply admire her beauty and proceed on my way. If I am with Pauline, I might make a quiet remark along the lines of “Nice!” and tilt my head towards the person who has grabbed my attention. In return, I usually get a smile. Pauline will often point out a woman who she feels I might visually appreciate – and marvel that I missed seeing her. In fact, she has used this trait to help her judge my mood. When I am depressed, very little interests me and she construes it as a warning sign if my eyes don’t follow the wiggle of a rounded bum walking in front of me. Pauline tells a story of a time we were travelling along the esplanade in Hervey Bay and she drove past a tall, blonde, strikingly attractive woman dressed only in a rather skimpy bikini. Apparently I didn’t even so much as glance in her direction. Pauline already knew I was feeling very depressed but at that point considered checking me for a pulse.

I am also greatly amused when I spot Pauline checking out some guy – usually tall, athletic, and with an aesthetically-shaped bum. (I still haven’t figured out that bit – I don’t quite “get” what shape a male bum must be to be deemed worthy of female attention. I have tried to understand – but they just look like arses to me.)

I have seen videos on the internet where an attractive woman walks down a street and an accomplice walks ahead of her with a hidden camera recording the reactions of males as she passes them by. I absolutely agree that she should not be subjected to unsolicited invitations of various intent nor lascivious remarks – either verbal or non-verbal. However, I do not see any harm in a guy quietly checking her out as she passes by – but these are included in the video as inappropriate behaviour. What do you think?

I’m off-topic. This will be a recurring theme in my blog. I do tend to let my attention wander. A lack of focus is, perhaps, a definitive aspect of my nature.

Put away those nostalgic filters and try to genuinely remember what life was like when you were young. My generation were perhaps the last “non-digital” generation. We didn’t have the internet, smart-phones, instant access to one another via social media, or the ability to take hundreds of selfies on our phone or ipad – or the ability to put these on Facebook (or perhaps Snapchat?). This doesn’t make us “better” – merely “different”. However, I don’t think that the nature of a child ever changes – no matter what filtered visions of our childhood we carry about in our memories.

A quote from Kenneth John Freeman in 1907 is often attributed to Plato or Socrates – but the point is that the sentiment expressed in this statement is ageless. It was said about us when we were young, about our parents generation many years ago, and so on back through time. It is said about our kids now and will, in turn be said by them about the next generation.

The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise. …

Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs.”


Leave ‘em alone – let ‘em be. Work towards a future where women are not judged, verbally abused, molested, assaulted, or made to feel unsafe in any way because of her choice in the clothing she wears.This starts with respecting others right to choose.



I don’t understand….

The tyranny of the blank page.

I want to write. I need to write. I want to write a novel. A story full of characters that are memorable and sympathetic – or memorable for the pure recoil they cause when recalled.

I want the story to be utterly original. The plot may be original – “Mission” by Patrick Tilley – or maybe the story is not as relevant as the form – “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams – or the plot and characters are interwoven in such fine threads that one is simply part of the other – Shakespeare or Dickens.

The bar that I place in front of myself is impossibly high. I know this. However, I am a mediocre man with a mediocre life. If I am to produce art, it must be extra-ordinary, memorable, worthy of pop reference in “The Simpsons”; I must achieve something that is greater than the sum of my parts.

How do I achieve this lofty goal? No idea. However, I do know where to start.

Simple scratchings. Writing for the sake of it. A little bit every day. I have tried this before on a few occasions and failed to keep it going – but I go to bed every night with words, sentences, ideas spinning through my brain. Sometimes, my head is so full of words that I construct entire paragraphs, moulding them and shaping them so that they become more coherent to my bleary mind. Thus, I am compelled to try again. I may fail – again.

I want to write for an audience. I don’t exist in a vacuum. I live in a community – albeit a virtual one. I have no sense of connection with my surroundings other than my immediate family and friends but I do have a sense of connection with the many people with whom I interact via Facebook every day. I understand that it is not as good as “the real thing” but for now it provides me with a sense of belonging to a larger group. It is all a bit pathetic, I know. I was told many times when I was younger that my inability to be “happy in my own company” is a failing but it is simply a part of who I am. I like to be alone but I have a strong desire to be a part of a large group as well. The “Facebook crowd” is my community – and is the audience for whom I write.

For now. Later, I may be able to write for a larger audience. I don’t know.

What will I write about?

I thought about this for a long time. A very long time. I cannot write with regard to any subject with any authority. I simply do not know enough about anything in particular. I know a bit about myself but I don’t want to “go there”. It is not a happy place. Thus, I have decided to start from the fact that while I don’t know a lot about anything, I am curious about nearly everything. This gives me a start.

I do not understand. I just don’t get it. This will be my blog.

As a child, I genuinely thought that there would come a day when life would make sense – that I would “just know”. I kept waiting for the magic penny to drop. I’m still waiting. My parents seemed to have it all under control. I was never placed in a situation where any decision I made would have any impact beyond the immediate future. My parents made those decisions for me and I had faith in them. Now, as a parent, I – along with Pauline – make all the “big” decisions for my children. I attempt to ensure that their concerns are childish concerns.

Now I understand that this “parental certainty” (for want of a better phrase) is an illusion. To the child, the parent seems to be sailing along the currents with a direction to follow and all future courses mapped out in advance. Any intelligent adult knows that this is an utter impossibility – but we maintain the illusion for our kids. The duck appears to swim gracefully while, beneath the surface, it paddles madly just to keep up.

And this is as it should be.

As I grew older I started to understand that my parents did not know, and could not provide, all the answers to the questions forming in my mind. I came to understand that while they were following a general direction in life, their course was not cleverly worked out many years ago, step by step, with each eventuality planned out and subsumed within the master-plan. They were making it up as they went along!

As we all do.

However, I still maintained the illusion within myself that one day it would “all make sense” – that I would “work it out” – that I would, in common parlance, “get my shit together”. I’m still waiting.

As each day passes I learn a little bit more about the world around me – about my fellow humans, about the environment within which I live, about all the wonderful and abstract constructs available to the human mind. But as I open doors in the world around me, it just gets bigger. I have become aware of my very own version of “Socratic ignorance”. The more I learn, the greater my ignorance. If I open a small crack and peer through it into a new field of knowledge, I become aware of an even greater vista of information reaching out far beyond my new field of view – one I cannot ever cross – not in this lifetime – not in a hundred lifetimes.

This all sounds a bit hopeless and nihilistic. In times of mental darkness, I can find such ignorance overwhelming and think myself worthless. In fact, I have lately formed a notion that the unconscious realisation that my rainbow had no end that significantly contributed to my initial mental collapse. I often feel overwhelmed, worthless, aimless, useless – a prisoner of my own inadequacies. I don’t know if this is true. It’s just a notion.

On my brighter – read: rational – days I know that I am not worthless. My wisdom is worthless – not me. Then I realise that the situation is, in fact, reversed. No matter which crack I prise open, no matter the direction in which I choose to step or indeed the number of steps in that direction, there will always be something new to learn, new vistas to explore, new breadcrumbs of information to gather, to store, and to process. This is very exciting. I can never be bored.

My blog will deal with my ignorance. There are so many things I do not understand – from the mundane (such as tattoos) to the perplexing and entangled problems like our innate and utterly human ability to hate, mistreat, marginalise, and kill one another.

I am going to write about my ignorance – in no particular order. I might propose a partial answer to my questions but generally it will only be an opinion. I might muse about cause and effect but once again – only my opinion. Everything I write will be my opinion. I am prepared to be construed as right or contradicted as wrong. In fact, I encourage anyone who reads my blog to offer their own answers (read: opinions) on any issues I raise – or indeed ask questions themselves – on-topic or, if they please, off-topic.

I will try not to offend but it is inevitable I will. I have opinions on many subjects and can be scathing of the opinions of others with regard to any that I feel impinge on my rights or the rights of my fellow humans. I will not tritely beg forgiveness but if presented with a compelling argument for a need to apologise, I will do so – humbly and willingly. Well – maybe not humbly. I’m not good at that.

I do not possess any genuine answers – only more questions.

Welcome to my blog.