“Horses are not horses in polo games. They are called ponies,” Helen said as her husband Michael expertly manouvered the car along the narrow lanes taking us right into the heartland of Surrey, the English stockbroker’s belt. Lis and I had just alighted from the 0930 from Waterloo to Woking and it was drizzling all the way, with not a promise of sunshine at all. But Surrey with its posh looking houses behind tall hedges and beautifully tended gardens in summer, is worth looking at in any weather. Busy, drab London was suddenly a million miles away.
“What a perfect introduction to polo”, I thought, shivering in my flimsy tunic which I foolishly matched with a pair of white cotton trousers. As one foot sank gently into the wet ground, I said a silent prayer, grateful that I had the presence of mind to wear sensible flats.( It was just as well, I later learnt that spectators at polo matches are expected to do their bit by trampling on the grounds in between games.) The weather continued to be unkind but the VIP marquee was warm and welcoming with lovely waitresses carrying trays of delicious canapes and drinks.
VIP guests were already muah-muahing each other on both cheeks, helleow-helleowing their friends and fast refilling their tall champagne glasses to keep themselves warm. I had to settle for something with strawberry and mint inside.
Helen persisted to educate me on things polo and mentioned something about chukkas, which apparently means the duration of time a game is played before the bell rings for a break. So, there could be 4, 6 or 8 chukkas in a game. I couldn’t imagine how the ponies could last 8 chukkas in this dreadful weather – but they did.
The Kuoni World Class Polo Cup offered a sprinkling of NAMES , this time we had Jodie Kidd the tall lanky model. Earlier it was also rumoured that Stephanie Powers of the Hart to Hart fame was also going play during the second game. But she must have thought better than to turn up in such horrible weather. There was an assortments of celebrities and society high-fliers with double barrel names. And if I had moaned about missing Eastenders this Sunday, I was more than compensated, for under the same marquee almost the whole cast of Eastenders, who had either been killed off or moved away or gone walking into the sunset, turned up. There was the rogue Johnny Allen, the lovable Alfie Moon, sexy Sam Mitchell and the delectable Dr Truman. Alfie didn’t disappoint me when I asked him to pose for me, for he consented in true East end fashion, “Oh, owite sweethark!”
I pulled my shawl around my shoulders and braved the cold wind and drizzle to walk out of the marquee. I suddenly realised this was thousands of years away from my world of old sailors and their adventures at sea, and a million trillion decades away from the world of syairs and hikayats and old Malay manuscripts that had consumed me the week before when I attended the seminar on Britain and the Malay World at the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Last week, I was in the company of scholars and experts expounding theories on Malay manuscripts, etymology and Winstedt and Wilkinson and a week later, I was surrounded by people watching players on horsebacks, oops, ponybacks (sorry Helen), chasing after a ball with something that looked like golf sticks.
As the rain poured relentlessly, I had visions of hot teh tarek and crispy banana fritters instead of bits of salmon and soft cheese on crackers. I began to yearn for some Pak Cik Sailors to tell me tales of their adventures on the high seas in between ports instead of some small talks with some jetsetters who had just made a dash around the world.
“Hey, I have been reading your blog!” I heard someone say in my direction. The words resonnated across the polo field and back and there and then, right in the heart of the English countryside that was Surrey, I suddenly realised that the person was talking about Kak Teh’s Choc-a-Blog. If it was any other person, I would have said, "Oh, get a life!” But this was Dato Mark Yeoh of YTL, who was instrumental in bringing me to the world of polo that miserable day in summer, to cheer his Pangkor Laut team.
There in the drizzling rain was Dato Mark Yeoh, flashing his boyish smile. He talked about how my entries on Pak Cik sailors brought back memories of his own Pak Cik Ibrahim who regaled him with stories of his sea faring days. This is the same person who read Hikayat Abdullah and insisted that his staff did the same. This is the man who had successfully married off old age tradition and modern day living. And suddenly, the two worlds of English polo and Pak cik Sailors, syairs and hikayats, didn’t seem to be too far apart.