Award winning biographer, Victoria Glendinning is Vice-President of English PEN, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of five biographies
In 1989 my husband took early retirement from his BT sales job and I stuck a pin in the TES foreign job sections. I hadn't travelled abroad much, having married young, had children and gone into teaching. Escorting students down the Rhine or round Pompeii plus camping in France when the children were small comprised my experience of 'abroad'.
The pin could hardly miss Singapore- it was a half-page ad. But surely the salary was a misprint? No, what I took as a too-lavish use of noughts turned out to be true. I passed the tests and interviews, was accepted; we spent three years on a tropical island with one of the word's highest living standards. My husband played bridge at the Raffles Club. The generous salary meant we were able to travel to exotic places like Bali and Thailand and Australia.
I was so impressed by the Chinese attitude to education that I've studied Mandarin ever since. No wonder I was keen to attend a talk at Asia House about the founder of Singapore. His statue graces a harbour setting, next to what seems to be a theatre, going by my photo. I remember it as an art gallery. Raffles Girls and Raffles Boys were the most prestigious secondary schools on the island; our visitors always enjoyed sitting in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel drinking Singapore slings. Quite a change from South London pubs.
Raffles as a character remains an enigma, reflected in the questions at the end of the talk. One in particular caught my attention: 'Given that Raffles was not fired by religious ideals, where did his energy come from?'
'When it comes to energy,' stated Glendinning, author of several previous biographies, 'my impression is that either you have it or you haven't -it's a gift of nature. Hero or scoundrel, Raffles seems to have had plenty of what we'd call 'mojo'.