Hi! I’m back after a glorious fortnight in England! My England – the England of my childhood dreams, my adult fancies and fantasies! It was a homecoming of sorts as my sister Tik and I retraced our arching steps and aching memories to the England that we’ve known all this lifetime.

For me it has been an Anglophiled and England-filled lifetime indeed – from the childhood Noddy stories, Famous Five and Secret Seven to the romanticism of Wordsworth and Keats right through to Bacon and Shakespeare; Dickens, Hardy,  and the Bronte sisters; the hardcore English linguists Quirk, Kempson and Wilson; The Guardian, The Times and The Sun. Forever it has been English language and linguistics – Semantics and Pragmatics; Syntax and Morphology; Phonetics and Phonology in Leeds and more of the principles and theories  in London.

Amidst English housekeeping in Twickenham, grammar school in Kingston and boarding school in Caterham there was time for leisurely ambles into meadows and parks; farmlands and gardens; cobbled paths and thatched cottages and of course the glorious rides around the  crags and cliffs of the Lake District and Cumbria ; the lochs of Scotland.

Onward the family marched to the University of Nottingham, Hull and LSE and of course London and SOAS; in the day the endless shopping for food at Tesco and Sainsbury, shopping and more shopping for clothes and shoes and bags in Oxford Street;  at night the plays and Christmas pantomimes and Westend musicals. And cooking and cooking and cooking family meals singlehanded! Mowing the backyard and cleaning clogged drains singlehanded!

England is stamped in our hearts and in our minds never to be forgotten, only to be relived when the opportunity presents itself each leaving a mark unique in itself. It’s no wonder then that every time I land at Heathrow  airport it feels like a homecoming! Pulang!

          Tiap kali aku menapak bumimu England

          Sekejap rasa pulang…

It was so sekejap , all 13 days spent in London with a weekend in Dorset and skirmishes in Oxfordshire, Devonshire Close and Albemarle Street, London.

 Ah! To see the woody gardens and sprawling farmlands again,  multi-hued with the colours of late Spring.  As we drove past the canary-yellow rape seed farms and passed the monumental Stonehenge into familiar Sherbonne country roads my heart missed several beats as it recounted the earlier sojourns  and hearty pub lunches with dear, loved ones!

Ah! To see my old neighbours in Poulett Gardens, Twickenham and the look of utter surprise on their faces as they opened their front door to 3 Malaysians (me, Tik and AB). And then the ongoing prattle of who’s married and who has how many children, who has been ill and who has passed on in the 20 years since the Yusufs left the neighbourhood. It was a joy to chat with Bob and Barbara face to face and with Bilge on the phone.

The Youngmans – John and Naomi – offered us delightful hospitality at the lovely Holbrook Hotel. We accompanied them to the Sherbonne Old Boys luncheon and then to Judy’s for tea in her quaint home, a converted barn in the village of Lye. We rubbed shoulders and exchanged formalities with John’s classmates and teachers of half a century ago as we listened to English wit and humour in the three speeches. All the while in the marquee we heard the shouts of the cricket teams playing on the school field. We trotted around the village, stopping by at the Chapel where John said his prayers as a schoolboy and his school house where we peeked into his old dormitory, now a double room presumably for the seniors.  Things which seemed enormous and awesome to him as a schoolboy must look quite small and ordinary now.

Dinner at the newly refurbished mews home of the Youngmans near Regents Park was a sumptious Italian meal cooked by Naomi – asparagus and risotto  and osco bucco and tiramisu. After dinner there was a unanimous decision  to watch the 1980s group ShaKaTak play at a jazz club in Soho. We clapped and tapped to the upbeat rhythm of the group and remembered our teen and early adult years when entertainment was more pure and clean, and to be gay was fun not fashionable.

The biggest surprise was in Bicester village when out of the teeming Bank holiday shoppers I spotted Soraya Tremayne who, like me, was a bored Shell wife in Kuala Lumpur in the 80s but found our bearing in academic pursuits. What an utter joy to see Soraya and to be persuaded to return home with her to say hello to Bruce. So off we trundled to The Old Rectory in Charlton-on-Otmoor, a charming 19th century English house set in a sprawling 2 hectare estate.

On arrival there was dear Bruce, now a gentleman farmer, proud to show us his fruitful gardening efforts. How I still imagine that in a previous life and in a previous world a horse carriage would have trotted up the cobbled path and stopped by the formidable front door and Bruce would emerge in his finery. He would have been the aristocratic owner before the house was sold to the parish.

Ah! The English tea and sympathy! Bruce and Soraya – so calming in their laid- back  life and so genuine! So different from frenzied Kuala Lumpur with its artificialities and affectations!

And then there was Charlie my Facebook friend, a popular English hairdresser at MichaelJohns by profession and an Eastern philosopher cum counsellor by inclination. Charlie had plenty of charm and style and joie de vivre as we tucked into crab linguini and decadent desserts at Dolados a few quick steps away from his salon  in Albemarle. If there is madness there is indeed method in Charlie’s Sarawak Malaysian hospitality. 

I must not forget our lovely accomodation in East Acton, 6 bus stops away from Shepherd’s Bush Station. It was in the apartment that Tik and I relaxed in our oldest housecoat and soaked in long-lost English TV news and breakfast chat shows. Ah yes! We were glued to the weather forecast which would determine what clothes and accessories we would wear to scour the shops in Westfield or Oxford Street. Shop we did but not till we dropped! Restraint was the order of the holiday as we reminded ourselves that the shops in KL are paradise and the prices heavenly!

So, it was a joy to come home to our roots and our senses after the fun and gay abandon and anonymity that we were privileged to enjoy for a while in England!

Malaysia My Malaysia! With all thy faults I love thee still!



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June 2010
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