My Quintessential Life, Memoirs by Bei Zonaga

My Quintessential Life is a very interesting, engaging and truly fascinating memoirs!  I couldn’t put it down and could have finished reading it in one sitting but decided to do it slowly relishing every story from the beginning to the end.  The author claims that she’s not an extraordinary person, nor a famous personality. Yet, in her own words she says, “But I believe we are all special in our own ways, and so our lives typical as they may seem.” She details her story to unravel her genealogy in clear-cut prose, leading up to her retirement in 2019.  And the book is dotted with beautiful black and white as well as coloured photographs.  The result is a charming, poignant and tender journey into an unexpected lens of a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, and career woman rolled into a rather unique and really ‘Quintessential Life!’

In many ways it’s like reading a social history of the Philippines from the time she was born to the present.  Cultural aspect aside, she’s just trying to tell her story, but reading it also gives me a sort of cultural identity.  Indeed it’s a privilege to enter into her world, to look at her life, from her mirror.  It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never heard of Banaba Compound, a residential community that Caltex established in Bauan for their employees in the 50s, (I worked with Hitachi in Makati Office in the mid-90s, and the manufacturing plant was in Bauan, and although I’ve made many trips to Bauan, and to this day I have former colleagues and friends who live there, no one has ever mentioned about this place).  Banaba seemed like, from Tita Bei’s tale, a typical American ‘midwest small town’ neighbourhood.  (In fact, I was transported back to my mother-in law’s hometown in Arkansas where no one locks the door and people leave their car keys outside, and we used to visit there every Thanksgiving.)  Banaba was an idyllic place to grow up in the 50s-60s where she was surrounded by a loving parents and family friends that enabled her to forge long lasting friendships. No doubt her upbringing has contributed a lot to her confident demeanour and sophisticated personality.

Remarkably, her journey is not marked by so much pain as it is for me but rather a surreal, relatively unimaginable ease (can’t help but immerse myself in her world as I was reading her story). The memory of a single event she had in high school when her Dad was diagnosed with cancer made me teary eyed. I lost my own father to cancer at a young age, and Tita Bei’s words drew me in and resonated with me.  Deep thoughts and emotions from a similar experience resurfaced, and I thought, “Oh, no! I sure do hope her Daddy didn’t die when she was in high school!” I dropped the book and decided to continue reading the next day.

There were many instances when I had to pause after reading something that resonates with me. For instance, leaving her comfort zone to study in Manila; her college years at UP Diliman; studying abroad, getting married at 31, etc. “What a coincidence! I’ve experienced all of that, and I also got married at the exact same age as she did!” I silently told myself. 

More spectacularly, through her Dad’s high-flying career, the family lived in the US and Australia, and she managed to get a rare admission at the then newly established Philippine Science High School, and she also earned her college and post-graduate degree from UP Diliman, an achievement that many young Filipinos can only dream of.  Told Jared that I feel like I do share a special bond with Tita Bei, and really got to know her a little bit better after reading her memoir. There’s some lessons that I learned from her life story.  It truly inspires me to follow her example of hard work, courage and determination to overcome whatever trials and difficulties God brings into my life.  

Ultimately, it’s amazing to discover God’s unique plan and purpose in her life, and He continues to unfold them day by day as long as she’s on earth. And I can’t wait to read her next book!

Let me share this scripture verse that she shared at the closing of her memoirs because it’s also one of my favourite verses.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing.In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

I’m back!

After a couple years hiatus (just because life gets in the way😁), I’ve recently been inspired to get back into blogging!

So, where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to? Long story! I’ll spare you the details.☺️

But let me just say that a couple years ago today I have undergone a major heart surgery called ‘Transcatherer ASD closure’ (full story here), and I am beyond blessed and forever grateful to the Lord for restoring my health. Yes, I am grateful to be alive today!

Also, I must say that the world has changed. The coronavirus was in the news back in late February and early March of 2020, and I didn’t pay it much attention until recently. Wearing a mask outdoors, businesses have shut down, grocery and restaurants deliver or pick up and personal services have even closed. No one goes anywhere except perhaps to take a walk inside and/or around their house’s perimeter fence. It is truly unprecedented, and last year I had no idea how it would affect the entire world and change our lives.

Well, our lives have changed because of the pandemic. And if it’s any consolation to you, despite the fact that the whole world is under the social, political and economic tornado caused by the coronavirus, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Just like everything else in this world, the bible clearly says that, “This, too, shall pass!”

Portrait Miniature Gallery of the V&A Museum

The Victoria & Albert Museum is my go-to place for a regular culture jaunt. The ‘Portrait Miniature’ is my second favourite gallery of the whole museum, (the Jewellery is on top of my list), and I always spend a bit of time admiring these tiny paintings when I have few spare minutes in the museum. I was there recently for the London Design Festival and got to take some photos of my favourite portraits. Being able to depict someone’s image when the recreation is only a few centimetres high is simply astonishing. It isn’t a massive collection compared to The National Gallery’s but they’re some of the most fantastic miniatures dating back to early 1500s to about mid 1600. How the medieval artists were able to paint on tiny vellum and create pocket size jewels is simply mind-boggling.

They also have a section devoted on the material and techniques how these tiny paintings were done. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

This is my number one favourite miniature not only because the image has such amazing details but it’s also in a beautiful gold frame with emerald and other precious stones.

Note: A few years back I also blogged about the beautiful V&A Museum Cafe.

A Tale of One Heart

We all have our own stories to tell.

I am blessed because I am one of God’s children. And I can always look back and quickly recall a remarkable story about His providential care over my life. I believe that God has ordained everything, even the minute details of my life, before the foundations of the world. The scripture says, “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered . . . And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.” (Luke 12:7; 21:18) Which brings me to share a recent experience that once again proved His sovereignty over my life. 

I have had heart palpitations (for the first time) sometime in January of this year and I immediately called my GP to book an appointment. She then referred me for an ECG at a local hospital and after it appeared that I have some type of heart ailment, I was referred to another local hospital for more tests. It became clear after having Echo and other tests that it’s something more serious, so I was referred to Royal Brompton, UK’s Heart Hospital, and was seen by a cardiologist who then ordered for a repeat Echo, scan, and all other tests done previously at St. Charles and Westminster.

Screenshot from

On the 4th of May, it was confirmed that I have ASD (Secundum), a congenital heart defect. I’ve had it all my life and for some reasons the Lord kept it hidden. Dr Turner, the cardiologist assigned to look at my case, explained that it’s normal for people with ASD to have their condition undetected; some would only discover it in their 50s, or sometimes in their 60s, or even 70s. And in my case, the only symptom is palpitations but it appears that the hole in between my left and right atrium is big; that the right atrium is significantly enlarged therefore it’s more likely I would have to go through an open heart rather than a minor surgery. She went on to explain that if the defect remain untreated, it will shorten my life span from heart failure, or high blood pressure, or pulmonary hypertension. Jared and I felt like a ton of brick was dropped in our heads and we left the hospital with the prospect of myself having to go through an open heart surgery. Dr Turner also explained that the large unrepaired ASD may sometimes lead to heart failure during pregnancy or after giving birth; that had I gotten pregnant, there is a risk of stroke during pregnancy, or even death simply because child-bearing/child-birth is too taxing on the heart. It was such a huge revelation and likewise an encouragement to finally understand the reason why the Lord hasn’t given us children. What seemed like a curse back then (with the failure to produce an increase through the ICSI-fertility treatments we’ve had), is actually a blessing! I realised that God was indeed protecting us by withholding the very thing Jared and I so desperately wanted – a child! This passage came to mind as Dr Turner was talking to us, “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (KJV)

We immediately shared the diagnosis with both sides of the family; some of Jared’s family asked questions like, ‘when was the last time I had a heart test’, or ‘if my parents or anyone in my family had known about my heart defect’. And of course, they expressed some of their concerns and assured us of their prayers and support. Just told them I didn’t know, neither my parents nor anyone in my family did have any idea about it. And because I hadn’t checked my medical records prior, all I could say to them was, “I had some test done in Japan in early or mid-90s and in the Philippines probably in 97-98 but I wasn’t too sure.” But after checking all my records the following day, it appeared that Echo & ECG was done along with genetic and stress test at St. Mary’s Hospital back in 2007 and all the results came out clear (it was done prior to one of the ICSI treatments we’ve had). I felt like kicking myself for not having an annual heart check up but then I realised it was all providential. I never thought I got a heart defect because I’ve always been very been active, and healthy (or so I thought), and I run 2-3x a week, do cycling, weight lifting, pilates and all of that. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I was under a tremendous amount of stress when I had my first palpitations in January but my heart ailment came to light through that challenging circumstance. The perfect scripture verse for this is Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

A few weeks after the first meeting with Dr Turner, I was informed that the team of cardiologists (between 10-15 of them) at Royal Brompton Hospital have had the chance to review my case and they all agreed that my heart defect can be corrected by a minor and not an open heart surgery. Then I had another meeting with a consultant, Dr. Kempny, after it was confirmed that the operation will take place on August 8. He explained everything (with an image of the heart with ASD on his desktop); that in my case the hole was very small for many years therefore I was free of any symptoms and the defect didn’t appear in ECG or any heart test results done earlier on. But the ageing process caused the hole to increase in size and the right ventricle is now significantly enlarged. He showed us a sample of the device, and explained the process of the operation — a TOE (transesophageal echocardiogram) will be conducted first, then through an incision in the groin the device will be inserted to the heart, and it will be opened and released to fill the hole in between the left and right atrium.

That’s me holding the sample of the device (made of nickel and titanium) that’s used for the ‘Transcatherer ASD closure.’ I was terrified when I heard that there’s a risk for this disc to be dislodged within an hour after surgery. If it did, it would end up either in the right ventricle, or worst yet, in the lungs.

After the meeting with Dr. Kempny, I became aware of the risks involved; that there is a small chance that the surgical team might found the hole too big for this procedure, so they’ll just wake me up and send me home. After which an open heart surgery will be scheduled at a later date. He also explained that one of the risks is that, after the device is placed, it may dislodge because the heart tissues around the hole is floppy (which happens 2 in 100 cases). If this happens they have to try to retrieve the device, but it may be difficult to withdraw it fully back into the sheath. In which case an open heart operation is required to remove the device, and the hole would be closed at the same time by the normal surgical method. And that was my biggest concern simply because the prospect of going through an open heart surgery is simply terrifying. But I fervently prayed that God will provide the best cardiologist to perform the surgery and that there will be no complications. And thank God, He has indeed answered my prayers!

With Dr Michael Rigby before the surgery.

So on the 7th of August I was admitted to Royal Brompton Hospital; they did run all types of pre-assessment tests and then Dr.Rigby came to see me. Jared and I had a wonderful time chatting with him and he answered all of our questions. He’s such a very gentle, caring, kind and sweet man. He told us that he’s one of the pioneers in this procedure (and been doing it since 1991), and that after looking at my medical records he doesn’t think there will be any complications. I asked him if he had any patient who had a stroke during the surgery and he said that he never had any. The reason I asked was simply because I remember Dr Kempny mentioned about a risk of stroke during surgery. Dr. Rigby explained that he would not proceed with the operation if he thinks the device will cause any complications.

Anyhow, I was prepared for the worst but continued to trust the Lord to grant healing mercies. And God has certainly used Dr Rigby to bring a sense of peace, trust and security before the surgical procedure. After he left the room Jared said, “What a very nice man; such a gentle soul and his countenance, the way he talks reminds me so much of Vic!” (Vic is a good friend of ours who died a couple of months ago) Surprisingly, Jared thought the very same thing I had in mind while talking with Dr. Rigby — he really did remind us of Vic.

Jared left the hospital that night when visiting hours ended, and it was quite strange being alone, confined in a hospital bed for the very first time! I’ve never had a surgery nor have been confined in a hospital until that day. I hardly get sick and never even had been to the A&E to see a DR except when I had to accompany someone who needs an immediate medical attention. Therefore it was rather unusual to find myself in a hospital bed, and I had a hard time going to sleep that night. Providentially, when I opened Youtube to watch something (I often watch a documentary to put myself to sleep), the very first video that appeared was that of Bro Ronald Lawrence. I’ve put it on, closed my eyes and listened to his sermon on ‘Compassion.’ I have to admit it did put me to sleep but when I woke up, the passage that Bro. Lawrence quoted was on top of my head. I listened to the sermon all over again and finished it before I tried to get more sleep.

Before I share what happened on the day of the surgery, let me just say that I’ve always been conscious of my mortality because of my experience of losing some of my loved ones early on in life (from aged 9-15 I’ve lost my grandparents on both sides of the family; my father, and one of my childhood best friends and neighbour, Adela). Anyhow, from the day I received my diagnosis on May 3rd till the day of my surgery on August 8th, it sure did occur to me so many times on different occasions that the operation might not be successful but I had peace about it. I’ve put my trust in the Lord, the giver of life — the One who upholds everything. But at the same time, not knowing what tomorrow brings, I convinced Jared that we both needed to update our ‘last will.’ And for several weeks prior to my surgery I’ve made handwritten letters to my siblings, nephews, nieces, other people close to my heart. And I’ve also had all my heirloom pieces labeled with clear instructions to Jared and my sister on what they need to do. (You may be asking, “what? you did all of that?” 🙂 ) Yes, I sure did! Really, I’m just very practical and thought it’s wise to prepare myself and get Jared to also be prepared for the worst. So during our afternoon walks at the park Jared and I would discuss these things — my wishes, every details like funeral arrangement, instructions on getting re-married, everything. Nothing was left unsaid. Both Jared and I would sometimes discuss these things over the years but before my surgery, I wanted to make everything clear and didn’t want him to be guessing on anything I want done (same with Jared, he made known to me many years ago what his wishes are in case he predeceased me). Likewise, I sent a very long message (via Messenger) to my siblings just to prepare them for the worst. I didn’t want anyone asking, “what did Elna want?”

I spent countless hours writing letters, sorting out documents, personal belongings and everything. And while going through some of my heirloom pieces, there were moments when I was overcome with emotions. Loads of memories came flooding through my mind like when I saw the set of earrings my mother wore on her 75th birthday party. There were tears of joy and sadness being reminded of loved ones who had gone before me, and at the same time, for those I was going to leave behind. I told Jared I realised even back in my early teens when I lost my father that one of the reasons people are afraid of death is because this is the only world we had known and are familiar with so a journey into the unknown can be a frightening thought. As for myself, I told him that even with the assurance of eternal life and all of God’s promises, the ‘after life’ is a rather daunting thought to ponder on but I got no fears about it. The Lord has simply given me peace about it all. But for others, especially to those who do not have Christ in their lives and have no assurance of eternal life, death must be a pretty scary thing to consider.

You know how people say that those who are dying have premonitions about it? Well, it did cross my mind on several occasions and when I was overwhelmed with self-defeating thoughts while preparing for the surgery, I was always reminded of Psalm 23. I often told Jared that having witnessed both my mom and dad took their last breath had given me confidence to say that death and dying might be a lonely journey to take because he (or no one) can usher me into the next life, but it is not something I am afraid of (I’ve shared my deepest thoughts about death and dying in this post years ago).

Even after I received the diagnosis I already claimed that the Lord will bring healing and restore my health but I went into OR all prepared for the worst. Jared and I both said everything there is to say to each other before I went into surgery. Told him that when they put me to sleep on the operating table, I may find myself waking up in the bosom of Jesus, and I am ready for it. That I am prepared to give an account of my life on earth when I finally meet my Creator. And Jared has shown so much strength through it all even though he had a tough time dealing with the prospect of losing me. He has devoted much of his time, energy and other resources not just before, but more so now after surgery, in making sure I am well taken care of.

With Dr Rigby and Lucy after the surgery. Of all the nurses at the Paul Wood Ward, Lucy had been the most helpful. God did put me in just the right place at just the right time with just the right doctor and nurse to provide for a specific need.

So on August 8th at around 11AM I went into surgery that lasted for an hour and forty five minutes, and I woke up at the recovery room thanking God that I was alive. All I remember before I dozed off was the anaesthesiologist telling me that in less than 10 seconds I’ll be asleep. As the nurse put the oxygen mask on me, I said a prayer and with a humble heart and a face turned toward the Throne of Grace there was peace and joy deep within as I dozed off for the surgical procedure.

About four hours after surgery, another cardiologist (forgot her name) came to do a scan of my heart and it was a relief to know that everything was fine. The following day while speaking with one of the ladies who had the same surgery I had, I realised that the Lord has certainly protected me. Sophie, one of the patients I met the day before (only 40 years old but already gone through 3 open heart surgery, and had the same procedure I had) told me that she found out there’s a leakage in the device and she may have to go through another surgery. I came to a realisation when I saw the scar on her chest that it could very well have happened to me — that if my heart condition had been discovered earlier on, I’d have had an open heart surgery like she did. Or if the disc had dislodged, or leakage, or had I gotten pregnant after all the ICSI treatments we’ve had, it may very well have cost my life. So many thoughts came flooding through my mind after I spoke with Sophie but through it all one thing was certain — that God is truly wise, and He knows what He is doing. I praise God that I’ve meet Sophie and other patients who got the same heart defect I got; that He spoke to me through their circumstance. And it made me realise and truly appreciate the fact that everything happens for a reason. God has not only provided one of the best heart hospitals in the world, but also one of top cardiac surgeons and the best team of doctors to perform my surgery. I realised that God orchestrated it all.

Before I was discharged I’ve gone through several test and it was confirmed that the surgery was successful. That the device is in the right place, the blood is pumping as normal but the right atrium is still significantly enlarged as expected. But Dr Rigby explained that the heart will remodel itself — the disc will eventually be covered by the heart tissues; the heart will get back to its normal size, and the other tiny hole will close itself. But even if it didn’t, he said, it’s normal for some people to even have up to 5 tiny holes in the heart that won’t cause any problem. Hearing all of these from Dr. Rigby was quite comforting and reassuring. 

I had a heart monitor after the surgery till shortly before I was discharged from the hospital. L-R top to bottom: Jared took this photo after surgery with all the different device connected to my body; the nurse did put a mark on both of my feet; apparently in case something happens during surgery the doctors can easily find my pulse; the incision where the device went through; best photo after surgery haha; my right hand w the heart monitor, and lastly, the wires connected to the heart monitor and removed from my chest before I went home. Oh and we forgot to take pics of the food I had; didn’t eat any of the food served at the hospital because Jared ordered my meals from nearby restaurants.

God has been so gracious in giving me a new lease of life, and I truly feel like a brand new self (I guess it’s the consciousness that my heart has been fixed). Having a disc in my heart doesn’t make much any difference right now other than being conscious that I’ve got this foreign object in my heart. I am on a blood thinner medication for the next six months to prevent any risk of blood clot. It is humbling, really, His Word, the reassuring voice of God deep within me. It lifts me up. I found myself praising and worshiping Him on the way to the OR and while being prepped for the surgery, instead of wallowing in the pit of fear or self-defeating thoughts. And even with the prospect of dying during the operation, I had peace about it all.

I wanna share this scripture verse that I pondered on before the surgery: Lamentations 3:22-23 “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” This is the text quoted by Bro. Lawrence on a sermon I listened to the night before the surgery and the one I carried with me to the OR.

 Also, the hymn “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies” (by the English Baptist pastor and hymn writer John Ryland, 1753–1825) was in my heart as I was being wheeled into OR. The hymn, particularly these words, truly spoke to my soul:

He that formed me in the womb, He shall guide me to the tomb; All my times shall ever be, Ordered by His wise decree.

Indeed, our time is in His hands. God works in wonderful, mysterious ways. And it’s true that He uses the circumstances in our lives to draw us ever closer to Him.

My heart is overflowing with joy and gratitude.

I pray and hope that my story will encourage and bless others. 

Some of the cards I made and sent out to Dr Rigby, Lucy, and others. Many more to be done this week. So grateful to my family and friends for their love — all their kind thoughts, prayers and support.

Note: Cover photo is a handmade card by a very dear friend of mine, Arlene Custock, my prayer partner. It arrived a couple of days after my surgery.

Hever Castle

All over Britain there are ancient castles, royal palaces, stately homes and charming cottages that adorn the landscape. Hever Castle isn’t as massive and grand as the other castles but it has a very colourful history. Not only was it Anne Boleyn’s childhood home but also later became the English country home of Anne of Cleves. Anne was the second wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England from 1533 to 1536. Her marriage to Henry VIII, her execution by beheading, made her a key figure in the history of English Reformation.

Hever Castle aerial view (

A Norman baron named William de Hever, came to England during the Conquest is believed to be the first owner of Hever Castle. He became Sheriff of Kent in 1272, the first year of Edward I’s reign. The castle came into Boleyn family when it was bought by Geoffrey Boleyn in 1462. Geoffrey became Lord Mayor of London in 1457; his son William Boleyn who inherited the Castle on the death of his father in 1463 passed it on to his son, Thomas, Anne Boleyn’s father.

The house has a lot of beautiful medieval wood and stone carvings such as this.

Thomas Boleyn married Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk and had three children: Mary, Anne (second wife of Henry VIII) and George. Upon Anne’s return from France in 1522 she joined the Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon’s household as one of her Lady-in-Waiting. But she continued to visit Hever Castle regularly. In fact, seven of Henry VIII’s surviving love letters to Anne were sent while she was residing at Hever in 1528. After Anne’s execution in 1536, her father Thomas continued to live at Hever until his death in 1539, leaving his elderly mother Margaret.  Then Thomas Boleyn’s brother, James, then inherited the Castle and sold it for £200 (£100,000 in today’s money) to the crown by indenture on 31st December 1540.

The King’s Chamber. The room where a visiting royal would spend the night.

Ownership of the Castle passed on to Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of King Henry VIII, after King Henry VIII divorced her in 1540 . It is not known how much time she spent at the Castle but she owned the property until her death in 1557. There is a surviving letter written by Anne of Cleves to her stel-daughter Mary Tudor in 1554 signed ‘from my poore house of Hever’.

Ann of Cleves panel on display at the castle.

This medieval castle is pretty enchanting, and the 125 acres garden with a man made lake is quite picturesque and ‘Instagram-worthy.’ 🙂

The lake

The “Astor Wing” (the buildings connected to the castle as seen on the aerial view photo) was built by the wealthy American William Astor who bought the castle in 1903 and spent £10M on a 5-yr restoration project. He brought the derelict castle to bring it back to its former glory and donated a lot of money to charitable institutions in Britain. He was made a peer, styled as “1st Viscount Astor” for his contribution to war charities. The current 4th Viscount Astor is former PM David Cameron’s wife, Samantha Cameron’s, step-father.

Summer is the best time to visit Hever Castle. It is such beautiful place; visitors are allowed to have picnic in the gardens and the surrounding grounds. It’s just an hour by train from central London and it’s a great place to visit for any history buff. 🙂 I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

PM Churchill was a good friend of the Astor Family and was a frequent visitor to the Castle.
Anne Boleyn’s Book of Prayer
Prayer room with intricate wood carvings.
The Medieval ‘toilet’ 🙂
One of the steps that leads to the first floor.
Rose Garden
The formal dining hall with a 16th century tapestry.
Manicured lawn
With my good friend, Kristine
Kristine and I did a lot of walking to explore the property. They have a golf course too.

Royal Albert Hall

I had the privilege of visiting The Royal Albert Hall for a private tour and saw the backstage, the lounge for the Royal Family, the Royal Box and other parts of the Hall usually off limits to the public. 

The Royal Albert Hall was built between 1867 and 1871 and was officially opened on 29 March 1871 with the presence of Queen Victoria, who was overcome with emotion as she was reminded of her late husband, Prince Albert, who had died a decade earlier, never having seen the Hall named in his honour. 

After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, plans of commemorating him a hall on the present site came up. The Prince had suggested as early as 1853 that the Royal Academy of Music might like to build a music hall on the south side of Cromwell Road.  But it remained an idea and never even came to a planning stage until after the Prince’s death.

The Hall was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people. But historically, since its opening in 1871 it has a few times accommodated as many as 12,000 people. Under the present day safety restrictions, the maximum permitted capacity is now down to only 5,544 including standing in the Gallery.

I’ve been here many times prior and it was quite eerie and strange to see the hall practically empty.

The bust of Victoria and Albert are on display in one of the walls.

The hallway on the 2nd floor.

This set of steps lead to the Royal Box.

Lounge or reception where members of the royal family would wait before they proceed to the Royal Box.

Royal Albert Memorial as seen from one of the massive windows on the 2nd floor.

Prince Albert’s bust and Albert Memorial.

The details of the stone works and other ornamentation all over the building are quite impressive. Loads of initials, ‘RAH’ – Royal Albert Hall – or ‘VR’ – Victoria Regina or ‘VA’ – Victoria and Albert are seen everywhere.

The Royal Albert Hall is a very historic and magnificent edifice and it certainly is one of my favourite buildings in London.

I’ve been here for different musical events over the years but my all-time favourite has always been the Handel Messiah and Christmas Carols.
My friend Kristine and I at the Carols by Candlelight on December 2017.
Jared took this photo of myself sometime in 2015.
After watching The Messiah with Jared a few years ago.
Taken after the tour at the very top floor where the sound, lighting, recording facilities, etc., are located.

Prince Albert Memorial

The Prince Albert Memorial is a monument, essentially a ciborium, erected in honour of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Consort. His death only at age 42, not only shocked the nation but also devastated the Queen. The monument is one of the great works of the Victorian renowned architect George Gilbert Scott in 1863-72.

Prince Albert holding the catalogue of the Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park in 1851, which he inspired and helped to organise.

The cast-bronze statue of the late prince sits on a plinth upon a larger pedestal, which also has marble figure groups of the four continents and a frieze of great artists, figures representing manufacture, commerce, agriculture and engineering.

From the centre rises a massive spire, containing a smaller niche with gilt bronze statues of the Christian virtues. Through two more tiers of plinths with bronze angels, the spire is finally topped with a cross.

There’s four massive marble figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa and America that stand at each corner of the memorial as shown in the following four photos.

The monument is inside Kensington Gardens right across the street from Royal Albert Hall. 

Taken on a spring morning, 2019.

It’s beguiling even from a distance.

If you happen to visit London, and wanna stroll around Kensington Palace and Gardens, it’s worth seeing this monument. And of course, Royal Albert Hall is just across the street, another iconic building in the city that’s worth visiting. If interested to read more about Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, here’s a link to an old blog post.

Featured Image: royalparks

From ‘Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’ to ‘House of Windsor’

Today, 17th of July, marks 102 years since King George V, frightened by the depth of anti-German sentiment at the height of the Great War, created the “House of Windsor”. The king cleverly anglicised the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dynasty to the steely British name, taking their name and legacy from the castle that had been built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. George V was dutiful, diligent, and discreet, while essentially conservative (never had a mistress and remained faithful and devoted to his wife), he had been prepared to depart from tradition when his Kingdom’s survival demanded it. George V did this in creating the new House and in his role in the Great War. His first born, Edward VIII’s brief reign (only 326 days — thanks to Wallis Simpson) was fraught with scandal, but George VI picked up the shattered pieces left by his brother, and did well most especially during the Second World War.

Four Generations of British Sovereigns. Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII (Image: Pinterest)

Sadly, his daughter Queen Elizabeth II has seen not just the demise of the Empire but also the continuous spiritual and moral decline of the country. She not only modernised her family but also her reign. When the Queen’s consort, Prince Philip, sought to have his paternity recognised in their children’s names, her grandmother, Queen Mary, was horrified and went to Churchill for advice. Philip apparently wanted the ‘House of Edinburgh’ (since it did reflect the Dukedom invested in him by George VI) which is indeed an odd choice for a descendant of the ‘House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg’. The royal family and the Churchill government did not grant The Duke’s wishes; and while the current members of the royal family recognise their paternity ‘Mountbatten-Windsor’ whenever they use a surname, the House remains solidly a “Windsor.”

King George V and Queen Mary with their children (Image: NPG)

Incredibly today also marks the 72nd birthday of the Duchess of Cornwall, the woman who the House of Windsor thought would destroy it. But, at least in the eyes of her husband, Prince Charles, she’s the perfect partner. Gyles Brandreth says in his book Charles and Camilla that ‘Camilla and her family without question, belonged to the upper class.’ Her mother Rosalind was the daughter of 3rd Baron Ashcombe, a descendant of Tom Cubbitt, the English master builder of the Victorian era, notable for developing many of the historic streets and squares, while her mother, Sonia, was the daughter of Alice Keppel, the famous ‘La Favorita’ (favourite mistress) of King Edward VII. Other historians also consider Camilla of remarkable resemblance with her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel. It was said that not only her looks but her manner and habits is very much like Alice Keppel. And interestingly, Tina Brown claims, in her book ‘The Diana Chronicles’ that, and I quote: “If you slapped an Edwardian-style picture hat on the head of Camilla Parker Bowles you would be struck by her resemblance to Prince Charles’s adored nanny, Mabel Anderson.”

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles aka The Duchess of Cornwall

With the current state of the British monarchy (and the country that sadly has gone to the 🐕 🐩 🐶), perhaps King George V’s rolling over in his grave.😂  Or may be on his deathbed he did warn his descendants, “You better straighten yourselves out, or I’d raise from the dead and die all over again if I had to!”😂 

(Featured Image of King George V and Queen Mary: NPG)

St Stephen’s Tavern

Standing next to Westminster tube station and right across the street from The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, St Stephen’s Tavern is a traditional pub that originally opened in 1875. It has been frequented by many  renowned personalities including prime ministers such as Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin and Harold Macmillan and even today it is one of the watering holes of some famous British politicians.

The pub still retains its original division bell which rings to warn the British lawmakers that there are only a few minutes to vote.
I like old buildings and as soon as I entered the door I immediately noticed the Victorian wooden carvings on the walls and the ceiling.
Photographs and newspaper clippings adorn the walls of the building.
From the ground floor, there’s a set of stairs that leads you to the 1st floor (2nd floor to the Americans), and on both sides of the wall there’s all types of framed old magazines/newspaper articles, photographs, caricatures, etc., that will make any political history buff to stop and have a look.

It’s on a Grade II Listed building with ornate wooden carved high ceiling and other fittings from the original Victorian structure. (According to English Heritage, “A building is listed when it is of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting.”)

The pub retains many of the original fixtures and fittings.

Unarguably, it is one the best pubs to visit in London for those interested in political history. It’s mentioned in one of Winston Churchill’s biography books and it’s been on my list of ‘historic places to visit’ in the city for over a decade. I’ve only visited once to take these photos with a visiting friend from Manila, and it was packed with tourists and possibly with some of the British government’s elite, too.

The End of an Era

With the recent death of a dear friend, I find myself groping for specific things to remember about him. Everything seems so recent and so mundane that I feel it is trivial to even try to capture his life in a few sentences, or paragraphs, because I believe every life deserves a book. 

But before I talk about Vic, let me just say that I am privileged that my life in London allows me to cross paths with so many people from all walks of life and for that, I am eternally grateful to the Lord because I know it’s all part of His providential ordering of my own life. I’ve lived here for over nineteen years now and many of the people I meet here have left their home country for greener pastures in London. I get a glimpse of an expat’s life and what it takes to live a life of extreme sacrifice by leaving their family back home and to make a difference in the lives of people at their workplace.

Many of my friends here only stay in London for a few years and they return to their home country or move to their next posting — that’s just the nature of living in one of the world’s financial capital.  It’s always sad when a friend leaves for whatever reason. Sadly, five days ago a very dear friend of ours, Vic Casim, left us — not to retire in NY but to meet his Creator. It took us all by surprise; his health had deteriorated very rapidly after he was confined at the hospital for a series of blood test. The last time Jared and I were with him at his flat in December of last year, he jokingly said that he’ll move to Manila once we’ve settled ourselves in the Philippines. I know he mentioned many times before that he couldn’t see himself retiring in Manila, or even in New York where his sister and other family members live.

Last week as I was trying to put together some of Vic’s photographs, I was reminded that on his 80th birthday I’ve posted on social media (both Instagram and Facebook) a tribute for him, (I’ve reposted it again in April), and the words I’ve written encapsulates in one paragraph how I will always remember him. Here’s the screenshot of that old post:

I’m glad I saved this because I often delete my old Facebook posts. Vic reposted this and I’m still trying to find the screenshots of the comments his friends left. I remember he was so delighted and even phoned me to say that Senator Gibo Teodoro had left a nice comment.

My friendship with Vic transcends politics, fashion, royal news, current events and London/Manila high society nattering. He and I often talk about spiritual things and he’s very open to discuss with me these things. Since Lou and Bobby Ramos left London in 2011, he endeared himself more to Jared and me. When Jared’s schedule allowed him to join us for any gathering at Vic’s flat, we’d always be the last people to leave. He always asked us to stay until everyone’s gone; our conversation would then naturally drift into spiritual matters and he loved to talk about it for hours on end. And even when Jared isn’t able to join us, he’d pick me up from Vic’s flat after an evening get-together with friends (because he didn’t want me traveling on my own at night). And Vic would always insist that he joins us for coffee and chit-chat and very often it would just be the three of us talking until he is ready to let us go.

Vic will be sorely missed not just by his family and friends but by his former colleagues and business contacts in London, NY and Manila. He established a permanent presence in the Filipino community here and his death left a void that none of the Filipino expats in London can fill. He’s such a colourful character and his debonair touch made an indelible impression on those he came in contact with. He often told me every time we talk about spiritual things that he’d rather die in his sleep and didn’t want to be confined in bed for long and be a burden to anyone. God has clearly granted his desire. He didn’t suffer long. I praise and thank the Lord for that.

I know that in the midst of grief, we are still in life. And my joy continues knowing that our time is in God’s hands. He is in full control of all things. But with all that, my thoughts are with his sister right now.  Tita Lourdes lost her husband a few years back and now her one and only sibling is also gone. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for her losing two of the most important men in her life but I know that with her seemingly stoic personality, she will continue to enjoy life with her kids and grandkids.

I’d like to share some memories I have of Vic since I’ve known him, from 2000 up to date.

Vic and Ambassador Cesar Bautista, summer 2000. The Bautistas were very fond of him; Mrs Bautista would often invite him over for meals at their house, or have their chef, Mang Sendong, bring home-cooked meals to his flat.
He loved Princess Diana. He talked about seeing her in the neighbourhood. We walked around Kensington Palace on her death anniversary in 2007 and I took a photo of him with the large photo of the late princess.
Last year he was too tired to get out of the house and walk around KP. The last time he and I walked around the park was when he asked me to record a video of himself for Ben Chan’s birthday. Miguel Pastor asked him to give a surprise message and I spent the afternoon with him filming in front of the palace. I edited it and sent to Miguel while having a nice chat over tea at the Orangery.
Vic’s birthday in 2007 with Lou and Bobby Ramos after the Chan-Lim family left. They’re taking a break from karaoke. 🙂 Vic’s got so many friends but they don’t merge. (His memorial service on Saturday will be the first time it will happen.) When he hosted three different ‘Sayounara Party’ (between 2014-16 because he thought he’d go back to NY for good), it was a small gathering and he only selected a few of his friends in different circles and had them over to his flat. I was blessed to have been invited in all three of them, the last one was in October 2016 and I remember feeling so sad that he was retiring in NY.
Lou, Vic, Cherie, Bremley (Vic’s friend from his Columbia University Alumni circle) and me, December 2008.
From R-L: Cherie, Lou, Bobby, Vic, Candy and me, after breakfast at Giraffe High St Kensington sometime in 2010 or 2011. Lou and Bobby stayed with him during this visit and he was very happy to have them in town for a few days.
Vic’s full of life, fun-loving and always cheerful!
Vic invited me, Kristine and Michelle for a Sunday lunch at his flat sometime in August 2018. I recall being late and had to run from church right after talking to our visitors. I recall bringing with me ube ensaymada for our dessert.
To celebrate Vic’s and Cherie’s birthday, we had a brunch at Baglioni Hotel, end of April or early May 2016. (Thank you so much once again for the special treat, Cherie!)
I made him a chocolate mini-cake, and of course, the fondant icing has to be green — his favourite colour! 🙂 Cherie also got a mini-floral design pink cake that day (Baglioni Hotel, April or May 2016).
This image of him singing one of his favourite songs, “Besame Mucho” sticks with me.
Vic had attended our church on numerous occasions — Sunday and special events especially the Christmas Cantata. Before he’d fly to NY for Christmas holiday he’d come and join us for the Cantata/Christmas candle light worship service. This photo with one of my church mates, Adiben Ferando, at the fellowship hall, December 2017 was taken just a few days before he flew to the states and that was the last time he spent Christmas with his family in NY.
At the IFS/LFW — International Fashion Showcase, London Fashion Week, Feb 2014. He loved fashion and one of the projects he started was the Philippines’ participation in the International Fashion Showcase — Filipino designers were invited to present their collections at the London Fashion Week. I’d always get an invite from the Phil. Trade Office to attend the opening party of these events — thanks to Vic! It was very special because I’d attend these events with the most famous ‘Tito’ (uncle) in the Filipino community in London. 🙂
Vic’s birthday at Michelle’s flat, April 2019. (Michelle Sanchez is the current Commercial Attache at the Phil. Trade Office in London). I now look back and regret that I didn’t get to bake a special cake for his last birthday. Although I planned on baking that Saturday morning, I received the news from my cardiologist the day before that I may have to undergo an open heart surgery. And with that heavy burden, I decided to just have a store-bought cake. During the meal he was telling us some stories about all the blood tests he had back in Feb-March and that the doctors didn’t find anything wrong.
After Lou and other Filipino diplomat friends left London, Cherie and I continued to get together with him on a regular basis. But with Cherie being gone travelling with George around the world after he retired, we’d get-together as often as everyone’s schedule would allow it. From 2016 sometimes Marlie and Gina (Consing-McAdams) would join us too. Vic would often refer to the group as the ‘foodie gang’ because we all love to eat haha! This photo was taken after we had lunch at Melissa Hemsley’s Pop Up restaurant in Mayfair, December 2017. Photo courtesy of Gina.
Vic’s birthday in 2015 with Cherie and her daughter Ileana at Papaya Tree, then a newly opened Thai restaurant in Queensway which he wanted to try.
Vic invited me to the Christmas get-together of former Phil. Trade Office staff in December 2016. I never worked at the Philippine Embassy nor did I have contact with international business people outside of the fashion industry where I used to work. Very often he graciously invited me to attend lunches, or dinners, or other events he hosted for different groups. I would only decline the invite when I’m providentially hindered. This is one of those occasions when I was able to join him and his ‘Trade Office’ gang.
This photo with Joanna Ampil was taken may be 3 years ago. Vic invited me to his flat for tea one time, and surprisingly Joanna Ampil was staying with him for a week or two while her flat was being prepared before the opening of a WestEnd musical show she was on.
Jo and I became friends on Facebook since that first meeting but I’ve never contacted her until last week. I remember Vic mentioned during our last brunch with Cherie that Jo’s supposed to stay with him for a few days in July. That prompted me to send her a message last week. Sadly, Jo can’t be here for Vic’s memorial service but she sent a recording of a song she did for his funeral. Apparently, he asked her to do this for him. (Btw, I never posted this photo before and I’m sure if Vic’s still around and read this blog, he’d asked me to post it on Facebook with a reminder, “Please don’t forget to tag me, Elna.”)
Our church’s young people had a picnic one summer and some of the parents like Bobby and Lou Ramos joined us (their kids John and JR were part of our young people’s group). We also invited Vic and he told me he had a lot of fun.
A cousin of mine, Lynn, and her daughter, Kathleen, hosted an afternoon tea for my birthday back in January 2016, and they also invited Vic. Lynn’s husband, Philip Syliangco, and Vic both occupied the same position as Vice-President of Solid Bank Philippines, though at different era. It was a point of conversation when Philip was around because they both know the same people in the Philippine banking industry.
Vic, Lynn, Kathleen, Charlene and Philip, London 2015. (I was with them and took this photo)
In early December 2017, Adiben, and I bumped into Vic at a bus stop in Kensington while we were on our way to Mayfair. We invited him to join us and he was happy to do it and ended up spending the day with us. We had lunch (Adiben’s treat — thank you again Sis!); walked around New Bond Street to see the Christmas lights and then we went to Claridges to see the ‘upside down tree’. Funnily enough, he told me to check his FB post the following day with a photo of himself by the tree with a caption, “with my secret date at the Claridges . . .” and some of his friends asked who he was with. He was laughing over the phoned and said, “I’m just going to ignore them and let them guess who I was with!” So typical of Vic! LOL
The last time both Jared and I were at his flat was shortly before New Year. Vic insisted on having a photo taken and Jared doesn’t really like anyone taking a photo of himself but he happily posed for this. Vic did put the orchids on my hands and said, “You gave this to me. It has to be included in the picture.” I laughed when he said that. Jared and I both look rough in this photo haha!
For Vic’s birthday three years ago, I got him a chocolate cake from Pâtisserie Valerie.
At the International Fashion Showcase 2017 with Ambassador Lagdameo and two other Phil. Embassy officers.
Vic invited me to the International Fashion Showcase, London Fashion Week 2015. We posed for a photo with Filipino designer Amina Aranaz.
Even after Lou left London, we’d often get-together when Cherie’s in town and sometimes we’d show up at the Phil Trade Office with ‘StickNBowl’ take away lunch. He loved roast pork/crispy pork rice and hot & sour soup. This photo was one of those countless days . . . I look at this photo and feel so sad!
One day Vic organised a brunch at the newly opened restaurant on Kensington High St. I have no recollection of the restaurant’s name (2016 or 2017) but it’s obviously in the dead of winter because we were, except for Cherie, all wrapped up from the neck down to the ankle haha! Gina, a very busy lady, was able to join us then!
At Michelle’s first flat (on her first year as the Phil. Commercial Attache in London), she hosted a dinner and I brought a cake for Vic’s birthday. Notice the candle on top — number 40! I always chuckle when I’m around him and hear someone asks about his age, he’d usually say with a big laugh, ‘Secret!’ 🙂
My girl friends Precy, Kristine, Marj, Dynah, and Michelle organised a dinner to celebrate my birthday this year and Vic was able to join us too. (Sorry Aimee you missed it!)
When former Phil. Ambassador to South Africa, Mario de Leon, and wife, Eleanor, visited London in December of last year, Vic hosted a dinner for them and invited me as well. Mabel, Eleanor’s sister, was with us, and she took this lovely photo of us before they left. Jared came to pick me up that night, and Vic insisted Jared should come in and stay for a few minutes for coffee and chit-chat but as always, we couldn’t leave until he was ready to let us go. We ended up chatting with him for a couple of hours.
He also hosted Emma Sarne’s ‘Sayounara Party’ sometime in December of last year.
Late night dinner at Côte Brasserie with Lou and Bobby Ramos after an event at the Phil. Embassy, March 2008.
Those who know Vic very well can attest that he had a good sense of humour, and he’d even make fun of himself. When he’s around people that he’s comfortable with, and he didn’t have to put on a mask, he can be quite funny. He’s hilarious when he tried to mimic people. I remember one time he shared a story about a Filipino actress he met in London and when I asked if she’s beautiful in person, he replied with his lips puckered, “No. Mukha syang isda!” (She looks like a fish.) LOL! And I asked why, his response was, “because she obviously had silicone lip fillers and botox-filled face.” 
Vic, Gina, Marlie, Cherie and I had tea at The Berkeley Hotel to celebrate my birthday last year. When Vic phoned me to ask what I think about the Berkeley fashionista themed afternoon tea for my birthday, I simply said, ‘Yes, of course! I wouldn’t say no to a ‘tea invite’ especially on my birthday haha.
Cherie and I had brunch with Vic before she flew to Greece last month, 1st or 2nd week of May 2019, at his favourite local restaurant, Côte Brasserie. Who would have ever thought that that was the last time Cherie and I would share a meal with him? The T-shirt he had on was from the recent Van Gogh Exhibition at The Tate.
While trying to find on his Facebook wall my tribute post on his 80th birthday (couldn’t find it because I often delete old posts) this is what I found: “The young ones (once)” and it made me laugh! The caption “Vic’s Angels — Cherie, Lou & Elna” encapsulates the type of friendship he had with the three of us — he can be himself when he’s around us so the conversation isn’t just about shallow things like current events or Philippine politics. As you can see, this photo was taken back in 2011 and Vic reposted it in March of last year.
It was very sweet of him to post this on Facebook. I did a screenshot when I saw it a few days ago while checking his wall posts.
I was invited to the dinner that Vic’s sister hosted at Romulo Cafe to celebrate his life on 21st of June 2019, the very same day he passed away. From L-R, yours truly, Jaime Teodoro, Chris Joseph, Rowena Romulo, Morgan German (Vic’s grandniece), Peggy German-Mccandless (Vic’s niece); Camille Rolland, Cathie de Leon, Dra. Lourdes Casim-German (Vic’s sister), and Nikki Prieto-Teodoro. We had a wonderful time talking about Vic and just before we left the restaurant we all said, “See you at the hospital tomorrow!” We all thought we’d see him again the next day. None of us thought that when we said goodbye to him before we left the hospital earlier in the day that it was the final goodbye. He passed on just over an hour after we finished dinner. Thank you so much once again for the dinner, Tita Lourdes!
Kristine and I were scheduled to meet up for brunch the next day, Saturday 22 June, and we decided to go to Côte Brasserie. It’s practically an extension of Vic’s kitchen and he’d eaten here innumerable times. When I arrived, Kristine was already seated at a table near the window but providentially Vic’s favourite table was vacant. So I asked the duty manager if we could take that instead but she said we can’t because it’s for four people. I then mentioned that it’s ‘Vincent’s favourite table’ and she said, ‘Of course!’ And then I said, “Sadly, he passed away last night!” The staff who heard what I said were shocked and in tears, “what happened?” they asked as we walked to the table . . . I simply said that he’s been ill. “But we just saw him not too long ago!” they exclaimed. I told them it was a brief illness, barely three weeks, and he didn’t suffer too long. Silvia, the duty manager, told me that she and the other staff would love to attend Vic’s memorial service so she gave me her mobile number. (I spoke with Silvia the other day and she confirmed her attendance on Saturday.)
Tine and I had a lovely time sharing stories about Vic. I ordered Egg Royal, the same one he had six weeks prior when Cherie and I had brunch with him at Côte. When Silvia brought the bill, she said, “We’ve given you a discount, the exact same discount we always gave to Vincent.” I was deeply touched! I thanked her and the other staff for all their help and services to Vic over the years, and for extending the same courtesy to Kristine and me. The yellow clutch (from Miss Selfridge) was a gift Vic had given me on my birthday in 2015.
After brunch, Kristine and I decided to walk around Vic’s old stomping ground and we naturally ended up at Kensington Court. I wanted to say hi to Noel, the porter of the building, who had been of great help to Vic. I wasn’t expecting him to open the door for us but he graciously did, and we had a little chat with him. I thanked him for all of his help and services to Vic over the years. He responded, “mamimiss ko talaga sya…ang bait na tao non!” (I’ll really miss him. He’s such a very kind man.) We posed for a photo one last time before we said goodbye to Noel. And as we walked out of the building, I said to Kristine, “This is the last time you and I will be in this flat. It’s the end of an era!”
Jo would have loved to sing this live at Vic’s memorial service on Saturday. I’ve forwarded to Rowena Romulo the audio that Jo sent me early this week and hopefully, it will be played either at the church or at the crematorium.