Saturday, December 28,1997
The Straits Times : Life Section Page 2

Cover Girl from first to last

Sweet dreams and flying machines
in pieces on the ground

-- Fire And Rain by James Taylor

After her book, Excuse Me, Are You A Model? came out and made her a known name outside of the modelling industry in 1990, I got Bonny Hicks to write a fortnightly column in Life!, the supplementary section of The Straits Times which I had just launched. Previously, it was called Section 2.

Life! was a new product, and with my editor's permission, I was cashing in on her name. If she proved that she was no writer, I could always drop her. I told her so when I made her the offer with a modest fee.

She took it up eagerly -- in her simple but engaging book, she mentions several times her wish to be a writer -- and so began her short-lived column.

Short-lived -- it didn't last a year -- not because she was not read, but because the pressure to stop her column from certain sections of the public grew stronger.

She was not a role model for young, impressionable girls. She did not deserve a premium spot in the national daily just because she was a model and had become notorious by writing a kiss-and-tell book.

Where was the effort? What paper credentials did she have, besides her A levels? She had it too easy.

She wrote simply, mostly about her childhood on Sentosa, but her critics saw that simplicity as simple-mindedness.

During the time she was writing the column, I met her perhaps twice. She faxed over her columns punctually, and I had little trouble with them.

I told her to stick to rustic romance. She was at her best when she was celebrating the simple things. She could write about other things later after she had found a surer voice, I advised.

She would find it seven years later, and would send the occasional piece via e-mail.

When I last saw her, it was over lunch in June. The years away had made her appreciate Singapore so much more, she said. She commuted regularly, but she saw the place as an outsider. She appeared to be groping tentatively for a way back in again, and be accepted this time.

She was rejected by a father she never saw -- her recounting of his rejection by way of the British High Commission here in her book is poignant -- and she was rejected by her people.

In Jakarta, she had kept up her reading and had obviously applied herself.

"What drives you?" I asked her.

"I guess I have a chip on my shoulder," she laughed. "I did not go to the U."

A couple of months later, she e-mailed me about her plans to go to a university in England or the United States next year.

Then she told me she was accepted by one university, but would wait to hear from the others which she had also applied to.

Why wasn't I running her granny piece yet, she asked, even as she sent me several more pieces.

I was busy with the more "serious" work, and had held it for almost a month. I would be running it this Sunday, I e-mailed her two Wednesdays ago. Thank you, she replied on Thursday, and disclosed that she was flying off to the US for a holiday the next day.

On Friday night, when I heard the news of the SilkAir crash, I thought she might just be on that flight. She had to come to Singapore to transit, wouldn't she?

I dismissed it as idle thought, because I was already visualising how I could pluck out her paragraphs about how Heaven could wait and she couldn't, and put them on the top right-hand corner of Page One of The Sunday Times.

Yet on Saturday morning, the first thing I asked when I called the Newsdesk, was if it had the passenger list.

I did not ask for any name, but was told "Bonny Hicks was on the flight".

So I got to put Bonny on the top right-hand corner of Page One of The Sunday Times after all.

"Cover girl from first to last," sighed a colleague.

That night after we had put the paper to bed, the only consolation I could seek was D. H.Lawrence's short essay titled Whistling Of Birds. Allow me to share excerpts of it here.


For every season, turn, turn

Excerpts from the essay Whistling Of Birds by D. H. Lawrence

IT IS no use any more to look at the torn remnants of birds that lie exposed. It is no longer any use remembering the sullen thunder of frost and the intolerable pressure of cold upon us.

For whether we will or not, they are gone. The choice is not ours. We may remain wintry and destructive for a little longer, if we wish it, but the winter is gone out of us, and willy-nilly our hearts sing a little at sunset.

Even whilst we stare at the ragged horror of the birds scattered broadcast, part-eaten, the soft, uneven cooing of the pigeon ripples from the outhouses, and there is a faint silver whistling in the bushes come twilight.

No matter, we stand and stare at the torn and unsightly ruins of life, we watch the weary, mutilated columns of winter retreating under our eyes. Yet in our ears are the silver bugles of a new creation advancing on us from behind, we hear the rolling of the soft and happy drums of the doves.

We may not choose the world. We have hardly any choice for ourselves. We follow with our eyes the bloody and horrid line of march of extreme winter, as it passes away. But we cannot hold back the spring.

We cannot make the birds silent, prevent the bubbling of the wood-pigeons. We cannot stay the fine world of silver-fecund creation from gathering itself and taking place upon us. Whether we will or no, the daphne tree will soon be giving off perfume, the lambs dancing on two feet, the celandines will twinkle all over the ground, there will be a new Heaven and new Earth ...

... The blackbird cannot stop his song, neither can the pigeon. It takes place in him, even though all his race was yesterday destroyed. He cannot mourn, or be silent, or adhere to the dead. Of the dead he is not, since life has kept him. The dead must bury their dead.

Life has now taken hold on him and tossed him into the new ether of a new firmament, where he bursts into song as if he were combustible. What is the past, those others, now he is tossed clean into the new, across the untranslatable difference? ...

... The bird did not hang back. He did not cling to his death and his dead. There is no death, and the dead have buried their dead. Tossed into the chasm between two worlds, he lifted his wings in dread, and found himself carried on the impulse.

We are lifted to be cast away into the new beginning. Under our hearts the fountain surges, to toss us forth. Who can thwart the impulse that comes upon us? It comes from the unknown upon us, and it behoves us to pass delicately and exquisitely upon the subtle new wind from Heaven, conveyed like birds in unreasoning migrations from death to life."

Archive 2

28/12/97 Cover Girl from first to last

18/10/97 The Consistent Story Of Mr Lee Kuan Yew

18/10/97 Everyone has a prize, its size depends on how hard he tries

26/10/97 Oh, to be a fly on the Mall

31/8/97 Are you ready for the world?

17/8/97 In New York, instead of shopping with Zoe...

8/7/97 Current Account and the Future Draft:
People's bank stays relevant 25 years on

8/7/97 Millennium plan for bank of first choice

25/5/97 World has turned, but have we?

11/5/97 In the end, it is all just a matter of time

13/4/97 Time not spent with others, life not shared

30/3/97 In Xiamen the day after Deng died