Sunday, 6 November 2016

A Memory Sparked To Life By Food

I have just travelled back in time, probably over 50 years to an equally grey and dark day.
Lunch cost me no more than 94p from Waitrose. Cooking it only required boiling water in the kettle, which I added to a warmed frying pan and after I added my lunch to the water, I kept the water on a low heat, but I don't think that was really necessary. Removed lunch, let it drain a little, placed on a warmed plate. A good old squeeze of lemon juice over lunch.
Eating it was a wee bit fiddly, but if you pull it away from the tail you get few, if any bones.
If you haven't guessed by now, it was a kipper. 
A glass of an over chilled and unexceptional Gewürztraminer is easing me into happy reveries of days gone by. I'm posting it here as I can't share this moment with either of two special people in my life. One is dead, the other is thousands of miles away. 
I raise my glass and fondly toast you both.

Monday, 31 October 2016

When you wonder if you've fallen down a rabbit hole and not been aware of it happening. Number 47.

I am waiting for a delivery today. I hear a vague rustling sound, like it might emanate from the front door.
I look out of the upstairs window to see a person standing in front of the house looking it up and down, but parcel see I none. There is, however, a rather small unmarked, white van which is not recognised by me.
Using all my powers of deduction I conclude this might be related to the expected delivery, so I descend the staircase. I open the front door. No sign of the said person. 
I am about to go indoors when she appears from across the street and says "Oh good, I thought you weren't in."
In all innocence I say to her, "I hardly heard you at the front door. Why didn't you use the doorbell?"
To which she answers, "I didn't know if it worked."
No wonder people don't receive deliveries they wait for all day if this is what happens across the board.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Ian d’O’s (or Iain d'Eau's) Diary. 
A First Class Bear gets a Special First Class treat.

Sometimes it is good to have a guest blogger on one's page. Today I am handing over mine over to a new best friend. He's called Ian d'O, though he prefers the more exotic spelling of Iain d'Eau. He is pretty sanguine about the spelling, but I think I may have to acquiesce.

On our return flight from Singapore to London via Zurich with SWISS, I discovered we were to travel on the new Boeing 777-300 (ER) being introduced into the fleet to replace the older, smaller, and less fuel efficient A340-300. I had some miles to spare and when Ian found out he kept tugging at my sleeve. I relented and we got to travel First Class on the new plane.

Now as I am not really a clever blogger, I don't take the right photos on phones at the right time nor do I have the first idea of what I am doing. I tried to supplement Ian's text, but I let him down. He has been kind and forgiven me, but I am on warning that detention may happen at any time.

Here then is the travel blog of Ian d'O, also known as Iain d'Eau.

When you are a bear and you have found your human, the only human that was meant for you to look after, you soon find out if looks can be deceiving.

Timbo said he fell in love with me from among all the other bears at first sight. Ha! He does not know bears like he thinks he does. 

Well, after we went from Penang to Singapore and stayed there a few days, I met Timbo’s specialest friend. He has got a nice nick name. Timbo calls him Special K, because he is a very special person.

Special K has a lovely smile. I thought it was the cutest smile I have ever seen since I arrived in the shop at the lovely E&O. Believe me, I have seen lots of smiles in the shop. 

When it came time for us to go to cold, chilly, nippy, London I wanted to be tucked in Timbo’s bag to go to the airport.

I am excited, what does cold mean? What does chilly mean? Why does nippy mean? I think it is not going to be as lovely and as warm like Penang or Singapore, but I think it could be fun. I know I will like it, because I will be with Timbo, looking after him.

Apparently you have to check in to get on a plane. You cannot just walk up and get on one. First you have to give your luggage to somebody who sends it off to who knows where? 

While we were doing this, Timbo and the lady were talking about miles and redeeming them The lady gave Timbo a number and he said it was wrong and too much. Timbo was right. I am learning Timbo knows some special things and makes sure he knows about them. I think he can be a clever Timbo, for a human. He is not a bear, so he cannot be that clever.

Next, after you give away your bags with your belongings,  there are all kinds of people who have noisy machines in their hands that stamp a small book of Timbo’s. 

He said everybody has one these when they travel the world. They are called passports. I asked Timbo why I did not have one. Apparently, because I am a bear, I have special privileges which mean I do not need a passport book. Sometimes, I feel I would like to be a tiny bit less special and have those books. Timbo says they tell stories of places he has been to.

After that there are loads and loads of bright, shiny, shops, and they sell all kinds of things. Timbo went around and said there was not much and he then used magic spells like “exchange rate” and “Brexit” and “those blithering idiots” to make the desire to spend money go away. They worked very well. Timbo must be a powerful wizard to make himself not spend money, because everybody in the hotel shop spent money.

We next went to the lounge. This is yet another special place for certain special people. There are different kinds of special people and they all have different special places. Timbo said he was not that special, well, not yet. I asked him when he would be. He smiled and said to me, “Wait until we get to the gate”. Then he crossed his fingers. I crossed my claws too. They are magic claws. Only a bear’s special human can see them. Timbo’s smile grew bigger when he saw me do that.

After he had been doing lots of finger tapping on his phone, and lots of smiling, writing nice things to his friend Special K, he said it was time to go to the gate. We went past all the bright, shiny, shops again. I am learning humans do things like this, to make sure the magic spells are still working.

Next we get to the gate. Timbo had to take all sorts of things out the bag (I stayed hidden), and then we all disappeared inside a big box that made me feel funny. Timbo says they use Ex Rays to see what is there. These Ex Rays could not see me. I must be a more magical bear than I thought.

We came out the other side, and Timbo had to pack the bag back up again. It is unfair to Timbo, because he packed it very well in the first place. I know that because I had loads of space to snuggle up in.

The people looked at his ticket. This made it the fourth time somebody had looked at his ticket. Humans cannot trust each other very much to read the same information. After a few minutes when we had been in this new lounge (but I thought we were at the gate) Timbo’s proper posh name was called out. He went to the man and the lady who after all that checking of the ticket only took it away and gave him another one. Timbo said with a happy smile “2K”. This was the magickest magic spell so far.

After a little while longer, the man asked Timbo and three other people to join him. Nobody else. We went along a special tunnel which then became two tunnels. A lovely lady was guarding our tunnel. I knew it had to be an even more special tunnel. 

When we go to the end of this tunnel a beautiful smiling lady said what Timbo told me later was “Grüezi”, a Swiss word to welcome you. I was a word that you have to say back but Timbo using his knowledge of magic said “Grüezi wohl” which makes the lady feel even happier, he said.

Cor! Wow! Golly! Blimey! What a big room! And only eight huge, massive, humungous, big seats for all five of us! There was a funny little seat opposite each big seat. Timbo tucked me in the one he had and put the safety belt round me so I would be ready for when we left. He did not want the lady to tell him off for not looking after me properly. When she came to check Timbo was a good boy, She was very pleased he was looking after me properly.

All buckled in properly.

The photo Timbo took of me with the special bag of goodies and slippers he was given.
Please note, nothing bear sized was provided.
The lady also gave Timbo pyjamas which he is allowed to keep (Swiss do not have bear sized pyjamas, I think that is very wrong). Timbo says he does not wear or like pyjamas very much, but these pyjamas he has from Swiss are the best and most comfortable he has ever had. He said they are featherlight and then sniggered. That word must a funny word, though I do not know why. I think Timbo might be a little naughty.

We had loads of gorgeous scrummy things to eat. I was not as hungry as Timbo, so I only had a little bit of a starter of lovely salmon. Timbo also had the green split pea soup that he said was "Super Suppe" to the lady. That was Timbo making a joke I found out because the words sort of sound a little bit alike. 

Timbo's Salmon Thingy

My Sensible Sized Salmon Thingy
The Super Suppe. Haha!!
Then it was time for bed. The nice lady made up a bed for us. When it was all done I crept under the duvet and it was really lovely.

In bed waiting for Timbo.
Cor, what a big bed!
And there are special nibbles by the bed for me!!!

Then Timbo came back with his featherlight jim-jams, as he called them, then he sniggered again. He got under the duvet and we slept long hours. But before we went to sleep, the nice Julia lady gave Timbo something that made him gasp and he said “Oo@! I love these!” It is a traditional gingerbread from Apenzell, part of Switzerland. He had one. I had a nibble too. I can understand why Timbo loves them.

They have a name that has extra meaning for me. They are called Appenzeller Bärli-Biberli. These are small version of the Appenzeller Bärli-Biber. Putting -li at the end of Biber makes it mean it is a small thing. I asked “So what is a Bärli, Timbo?” He smiled at me again and said “You are a Bärli, Iain.” Gosh.

On this special new plane, there is so much lovely specialness for me, there are slidey parts that make it like a tiny, tiny bedroom. The slidey bits are about as high as Timbo’s chest and he said he likes the tiny, tiny bedroom not being all locked away.

When we woke up we stayed under our cuddly duvet a bit longer. It was soon going to be breakfast and the lady took the bed away and pulled out the table and gave us a lovely breakfast with crêpes, they are very posh pancakes says Timbo, with bananas and yummy sauces. Then it was soon time for Timbo to get dressed properly, while he was away, that nice lady Julia brought me a nice big bag of Appenzeller Bärli-Biberli, all tied up with a lovely SWISS ribbon. She must like Bärlis. I like her.

Me and my nice big bag of Appenzeller Bärli-Biberlis
When Timbo got back he had to pack everything up into his bag. I have a private photo of me with Annamarie and Julia, and also with the lovely Sara Dibenedetto, who was the kind and caring Maître de Cabine who was also a friend to me, but she was busy looking after everybody on the plane, so I did not get a chance to know her better.

We landed in Zurich which the Swiss spell Zürich. It is also the name of the Canton, which is like a small country inside the bigger country of Switzerland. That is a bit like my old home in Penang, because Penang belongs inside Malaysia. We had a nice relaxing wait before we went on to London, but it was not as special or exciting a journey, because they do not do nice First Class with big beds to London.
You know, I could not have chosen a nicer human than Timbo. He showed me there are many nice humans in the world, they almost as nice as bears, or even Bärlis. I think I prefer to be a Bärli.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Last Full Day, The Rainy Season, Blackpool and Doughnuts, W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday 13 October 2016

I can’t complain. The rain has held off from drenching the area until today. I really should have come outside the rainy season for more adventurous outdoor stuff, like the local Botanic Gardens, ascending Penang Hill, revisiting the War Museum and other places south of George Town. If I have time and opportunity in the future, I will do it come back. Of that there is no doubt.

The ghosts of places still to revisit will be benign, as my return visits to Bali, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore have proved. the shared love we had for this part of the world probably is the reason. It was shared, and the memories, visits, explorations were positive apart from only one. A pretty good record, all things considered.

Now if there’s one complaint I have about breakfast, it was the inclusion among the pastries of mini ring doughnuts. How dare they provide something irresistible? Has the kitchen no shame in forcing me to have one (yes, I can resist temptation)? Of course the best ring doughnuts I’ve ever had go back to my days as a prize bingo checker, and later my elevation to prize bingo caller at the old Central Station in Blackpool.

Like many school kids in the borough, I worked in the Blackpool tourism business in one way or another earning holiday money. I was a sad bugger. I took it seriously. I played bingo elsewhere observing how others who had been there for years operated. One guy, with one of the worst wigs I have ever clapped eyes on, and who was well known to everybody in the prize bingo world, was good at his job. I later found out, following a visit by the D’Oyly Carte, when he was a couple of rows in front and maybe half dozen seats to the right that he liked G&S and sang along with everything. He also had a personal odour problem, which I discovered were also as well known as his excellent  hairpieces.

But I digress, I digress.

One aroma that filled my adolescent senses and always needed to be satisfied, not that I ever made the slightest effort to avoid it, was that of freshly made ring doughnuts. One watched them made, from the batter being fed into the system, the fat sizzling away, the alchemical change from semi-liquid to more solid matter happening before one’s very eyes, then plopping out and being sugared, picking it up gingerly and biting into it with the full pleasure of fat, batter, sugar and warmth invading the mouth. That’s how one east a proper ring doughnut, and every miserable failed attempt at creating one will always revive the happy memories of my teenage years and the Fylde.

Walking back from breakfast I fell into conversation with a member of staff. If there is one thing I like about the E&O, it is the friendliness of the staff. Have yet to meet one surly person. We all have our off days, but there are more smiles per face here. One thing we spoke about was how Somerset Maugham, a name I associate (but not exclusively) with tales of life in the British Empire in the first half of the twentieth century., has seemingly disappeared off the bookshelves. I’ve had a cursory glance on line at his book On a Chinese Screen: Sketches of Life in China. It is well written, not given to fanciful fripperies and frills. I remember one of the first things we were given to read in the first form at Oakham School by our English teacher, “Slasher Hardy”, was a short story by Maugham, The Sexton, which we had to précis. Reading it I could not even begin to think how one could cut down such writing, so spare, with few, if any, excessive words. Why and how did I forget him so soon after that lesson in the Old School building?

After seeking shelter in the room I decided I had earned a day off. I have been here before and we had taken time off from tourism. I have plenty more reasons to return to Penang. Had I organised myself better, I could have extended this trip with a schedule of things to do, rain being the main spanner in the works.

Would I come back and do more? Yes. Would I encourage anybody wondering where to visit in Malaysia as their first port of call to come to the island of Penang? 

These questions are, surely, dear reader, rhetorical.

My one and only regret is unlike on the previous trip, I did not have afternoon tea here (it was naughty in the extreme). But when you don’t have somebody special, or at the very least, extremely pleasant to share it with, it’s not much fun.

Afternoon tea, at the E&O,10th November 2012.
Celebrating (a day late) my 58th birthday.


Au revoir, Penang. Au revoir George Town. Au revoir E&O.

I’m glad to have renewed our acquaintance. I’ll try to do better next time.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

George Town: A Temple, more meandering, a Cemetery, and a rant about food and a review of a restaurant.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Today I missed the chance to see the fishermen. One needs to get one’s lazy arse out of bed early to see them, and I resolutely slept through until quite late.

This morning at breakfast there is much less cloud over the coastal fringe where the hotel is situated. Yesterday was warmer than Monday. today looks to be a real scorcher. Within seconds of writing this sentence there was a short-lived but heavy rain shower. The temperature dropped noticeably and the sun continued to shine brightly. Nothing unusual there, then.

Probably the main delight for me is aimlessly meandering around the streets of George Town. There is a marvellous nucleus of colonial buildings, in different stages of (dis)repair. 

Some appear to be in need of architectural last rites. Dotted around the place is street art for visitors to enjoy. It’s interesting stuff and looks good in situ, but, like photographing Venice’s Grand Canal from atop the Ponte Rialto, such images are two a penny. I would need to have, or find, a special or quirky reason to pause at each one and “collect the series” either in part or complete on my camera. I twice observed a gentleman with a Leica resolutely searching out some of them.

After my large, late breakfast I made my way to the Kuan Yin Teng, the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy. She’s popped up in a few temples I’ve seen, so I guess she’s done a few good turns, a bit like the Virgin Mary I imagine. In Penang she has two temples apparently, one Buddhist, the other Taoist. I know some people hedge their bets on religion to be on the safe side, but for a Goddess to get about a bit is not so common place.

As is common with most functioning temples I've been to, one can buy last minute offerings to the relevant deity in literal or symbolic form. This temple is no exception!

These joss sticks are a bit unwieldy.
This is quite a lot of incense. 
Joss sticks were not allowed inside the temple.
These are located immediately in front of the building.
We went inside this temple on the last day of our first trip, 13 February 2011. Chinese New Year was late in 2011 and there was a lot of activity inside. This time was much quieter, a more relaxed day. A Chinese lady stopped to talk to me inside. In the winter months she comes back to Penang, but the rest of the year she is in Mississippi. It's interesting the people you meet.


These lanterns filled the ceiling above the altar at the back of the temple.
This is one hell of a temple block.
It is about 18 inches or 45 centimetres long.
I really wanted to test it!
When I saw this I initially only saw
 the small parts making up the whole.
The design is beautiful to my eyes.
I love taking photos of candles.
It's not easy.
Looking up, one sees beautiful work like this. 
The lady arrived as I was setting up the shot.
She has made the image work.
I then went on another nose following expedition, taking a diversion down an alley where useful stuff was on sale, stuff like screwdrivers, harness clips. In fact, in this small area including a few shops nearby, this seemed to be George Town’s hard core hardware ghetto. After the stalls had petered out, the plants outside this door caught my eye.


Walk off the beaten track.
You never know what you will find.
This is an ex-house. It has ceased to be. It is no more.
The Campbell Street Market
A small diversion on the way back to the pool, sorry, I mean the hotel, was the Protestant Cemetery. 

The cemetery, as seen from outside.
Most cemeteries are full of the usual notables and nobodies, and this cemetery does not fail in that respect. It does, however, contain the remains of a notable nobody, one Thomas Leonowens (according to Wikipedia it seems this surname was a creation and not the name he had at birth). He married his childhood sweetheart, emigrated to Australia, thence to Singapore, before finally arriving in Penang, where young Thomas found work as a hotel keeper. He died on 21st May 1859 aged 31 years & 5 days. His burial place is marked by a not insubstantial monument. 

The grave of Thomas Leonowens
His wife, Anna, went on to be better known, as the author of The English Governess at  the Siamese Court (1870) which was the basis for another book, several films and probably best known of all for a couple of generations, the musical The King and I.

One of the larger monuments of somebody I know very little about.
A detail from the above monument.
Whilst in the cemetery the heavens opened and the air was refreshed. It being only a short distance from the cemetery to the hotel I was back in the room in next to no time.

The arcade beneath the E&O's new extension.
But before I reached the room I was captivated by the colours of a stunning scene of the sea and sky. When I see things like that, I wish had the ability to paint and capture what I see and the emotion aroused by it, rather than merely photograph it and edit the image to try to recapture the parallel lines and the colours.

Seascape after rain. 
After resting it was time to go in search of food. The idea of eating before I am truly hungry defeats me, but yesterday on my hunt I found a not unpleasant place that offers pasta and tapas, Coffee Atelier, 55 Restaurant and Cafe, 55 Lorong Stewart (on the corner with Lorong Chulia), but as ever, once one gets out of Europe those terms become more fluid. 

Bruschetta (charmingly mis-spelled as bruchetta) appears under the heading of tapas. I'm sure as many sins have been created in the movement from East to West as have occurred in the opposite direction and also between one country and another. Spaghetti bolognese springs to mind as one culinary crime which will get Italians, if not foaming at the mouth, simmering with rage at the non existent and probably bastardised version served up before them.

One would hardly believe Fish and Chips could be cocked up in a grand scale, but it does, not least with the usual abortion laughingly dressed up as something made directly from the potato rather than a mush. Chips must be firm!

The young man the previous evening had been very polite, that I thought it churlish not to return, even though I preferred something more local, but with locals working on European stuff, why the Hell not? This review is not based on extensive knowledge of food, Jay Rayner style, but of one ordinary traveller's experience.

My choice was their aglio olio (no mention of peperoncino!) with bacon. It came served with cherry tomatoes and sliced black olives. I was offered the opportunity to have it served with cheese or to sprinkle it myself. I chose the latter. There was a gentle sprinkling of something black around the edge of the pasta bowl (yes, that was a nice touch). What came as a shock was the heat of the first mouthful on the tongue, and that was most welcome, but there was one more pleasant shock to the system. The pasta was firm! The concept of al dente was not only known but practiced. 

I will not allege this aglio olio will set the culinary world ablaze overnight with a culinary purity that even the Olympian Gods could scarcely believe capable from humans. 

Complaints? I would have loved a bit of ciabatta or focaccia to wipe the bowl clean. 

I came with no expectations, but I left the first course with a still warm tingly mouth, tongue and lips. 

For dessert I chose, as I have an evil streak in me, the homemade (please note the term, homemade) tiramisù, a dessert I really enjoy and I have eaten in different guises over the years. When it was brought before me it was served in a glass. Homemade was not interpreted like 'della casa' meaning bought in from a large catering company.

As a winter pud it would have stood up to the rigours of a walk in the cold back to the hotel but for George Town on a typically warm evening it was too heavy for my stomach. The creamy distinctly coffee flavoured filling (I think it was mascarpone) and the well soaked sponge tasted wonderful. A more daring oomph of alcohol would not have gone amiss for me.

Including a 600ml bottle of mineral water and taxes, the bill came to RM 48.75 (about £10 post Brexit). The food was better than some I've had in Europe, and even, dare I suggest, in some Italian places where the tourist customer is not treated with respect.

I had a pleasant conversation with the young man who was front of house. Yesterday he had been chef. He probably told me too much, had I been a critic revising restaurants, but it was pleasant to talk about food and to pass back to the staff the pleasure one's had. 

Our conversation had meant I avoided the rain and I returned the hotel dry to complete the blog prior to bed.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

George Town, Penang, The Ubiquitous Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

11 October 2016

Oh the joy of memory and photographs there to trigger it off! Despite retiring late as I was hell bent on getting yesterday’s story posted before midnight local time, i woke at seven and felt most refreshed.

Perhaps it was sitting outside the hotel bar, Farquhar’s. Perhaps it was the Nasi Lemak I had for a late supper. Perhaps it was the watermelon juice, reviving the memory of the first time I tasted that simple but heavenly and refreshing  beverage. Perhaps it was the sea air. Perhaps it was the soporific crashing of waves against the wall dividing the sea  from the hotel grounds. Perhaps it was a combination of all of that. Or some. Or none. Whatever, I slept more soundly than the blessèd ever could.

Like any normal excited 61 year old boy, I peeked through the curtains. It was misty. Only a short distance from the hotel was a fisherman at work. It couldn't be more perfect to follow on from yesterday’s entry than if I had arranged for this to happen. Do you honestly think all these wonderful coincidences on all TV programmes are serendipity at work and nothing else? 


A long lazy start to my first full day seemed in order. Reviewing the photographs of the first trip again, revived memories of part forgotten events, such as the man curious why Laing and I were photographing a block of buildings. We responded it was the colours that had caught our eye.

We had decided to visit the various Doctor Sun Yat Sen places in Penang. The good doctor certainly got about a fair bit, so much so it feels that every place I’ve visited in this part of the world has a Sun Yat Sen house, story, museum, memorabilia, etc, and if it doesn’t, it’s trying to find somewhere within a radius of 5,000 kilometres with which it can allege it has a link, no matter how tenuous.


There is something charming about the building in Lebuh Armenian. It was his base in Penang, not merely somewhere he lived. There is a back door through which he might have gone, eluding those trying to find him.

I gave a modest donation to the museum on this visit, places like this rely on a volunteer workforce and modest entrance fees (only 5 ringgit, about a pound at the time of writing, unless there has been more seismic Brexit news). The gentleman was reluctant to accept it, but it was nothing significant for me, and I am a believer in these small places which keep history alive. They do no have the same clout as national museums and we should treasure, encourage and support these small jewels, even if my donation was not the widow’s mite.

Laing took several excellent photos on the trip here in 2011. I have attempted my best of those, but that is nowhere near as good as his images. At least I have been able to include my own. 

We were fascinated by the electrics board, Laing from a more technical viewpoint, I was more interested in the appearance of it and its historical value. This time I was able to take two photos I felt I was denied in 2011 as he had already beaten me to it

If there is anybody out there who can supply spare parts for these bakelite beauties, get in touch with the museum!



The container of Stephen’s Scarlet Writing Fluid will probably not mean much to many of you, but it does between Laing and myself, and if there is an afterlife, I hope he’s looking down on me smiling at this today.


The book safe has a bit of a face about it, two eyes, a smile. I can’t fit in the nose, unless you want to make the crest into that and placed, Picasso-like, skew-whiff.


The telecommunications photo is one he would have taken. Again, this was serendipity playing a part for me. I was lucky to find the potential in the image. Again, it would be a personal photo.


The last photo is again one of those moments you get the chance or you don’t. The seat is definitely rent, but I’m not so sure about the “happy happy” part. It's a bit too Singlish for my liking.


Yesterday I spent ages trying to find somewhere to eat, but many restaurants are closed Mondays, and I either got the address wrong or some places no longer exist. This evening I fared equally poorly, I didn’t realise so many places closed (not took last orders but closed) between 8 and 9.

After eating in the hotel again, overpriced, but not ridiculously expensive, not when one is used to prices in certain major European cities.

I went out on the balcony and emptied my mind, returned inside to write this up and not a moment too soon. The rain is lashing the balcony doors.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Penang - A look back to the first visit to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel.

Monday 10 October 2016

Four years and eight months ago to the day, we arrived for the first time in Penang, on a rather late flight out of Bangkok. We were celebrating our first meeting in 1976, which we treated as our anniversary celebration. Having survived for some years on one income, Laing decided that with his recently activated early pension we would only ever travel long haul in the comfort of business class.

This journey took us from Bangkok by air to Penang, then the train to Singapore (before the station at Tajong Pagar closed), and finally on to Bali by air once more. Penang was the only place we had not visited before. 

We had recently seen a part travel but mainly food programme about Asia presented by Rick Stein. One of his stops, and therefore a programme, was based in Penang, and he stayed at the E&O. When we saw the building we fell in love with the hotel. Its old world charm appealed. We knew it was recreating in modern terms (fake is an accurate term although the pejorative overtones associated with this word do taint it somewhat) an idealised colonial past, where the likes of Kipling or Somerset Maugham would reside (an extended stay being de rigueur) and create tales located there, recalling the days of the Empire at its height, or of the unruly, untamed, passionate, wife of an absentee rubber plantation owner indulging in improper liaisons with a well known roué whose scandalous past now culminates in a tragic lust that is sadly his first and only true love. 

Such was our instant ardour on seeing that episode, we knew Penang was a place that had to be visited.

We arrived at the hotel nearer midnight than is respectable, but at least it was the right side of that ungodly hour.

We were offered cold cloth towels to freshen up, and a delicious, chilled, fruit drink. On my solo visit in 2016, I was  told the mix was orange, melon and pineapple. It was smooth and just the right level of sweetness, unlike the Singapore sling I tried in the excessively noisy Long Bar at the E&O’s sister Sarkie hotel, Raffles.


 Once the formalities were complete, we were led by the butler (how wonderful this all sounds, it is, trust me, however they do not butle for you alone) to our room.

We knew we were not on the ground floor but the first floor. It seemed incredibly lazy to be taken up in the lift for just one floor. 

The room felt huge. It seemed like a map was needed for the bathroom. The bath was long, wide and deep, not that we ever used it.

The generously sized twin beds looked of a time when mosquito nets would have been suspended from above. The sort of bed a boy could turn into a fortress, or the bridge of an enormous powerful aircraft carrier and still have room for the rest of the flotilla. Not that I ever had such visions of power as a child!

There wasn’t much of a view to see in the dark, but we had a lovely little balcony and the swimming pool lay below.

When we woke the following morning there was something more to look forward to, a magical, misty scene with marine traffic coming through the Strait of Malacca delivering various cargo, not just huge container vessels or oil tankers , but also a regular flow of ships bringing tourists to the port at George Town.


Not only did we have all that excitement, but the local fishermen were at work on the hotel doorstep. It seemed hardly possible they would be working apparently so close to shore and each morning they would fish a different area, or haul in the pots they had laid.

And we hadn't even gone for breakfast yet in Sarkie's Corner!