Sunday 13 April 2008

Tales from the tracks

The 1510 from Euston to Coventry was already packed by the time I heaved myself up the coach next to the buffet bar. As the Virgin train eased out of the station, I found a seat with a table to continue work which was interrupted when I got the news. It was not by the window. But it didn’t matter as my mind was too preoccupied with a thousand and one things for me to enjoy the English countryside zooming past. Cluttered in my mind were looming deadlines, piling up laundry, hungry cats, interviews to be transcribed which alternated with splashes of green fields, quaint English villages and landscapes still undecided whether it was winter or spring.

But even as we were passing through the backyards of Milton Keynes, I still couldn’t concentrate on the work staring back at me from the screen. My mind strayed to what awaited me at the end of the journey. I’ve made many a train journey through the lengths and breadths of Britain and beyond, not knowing what was in store at the end of the line. Sometimes what would start off as exciting and promising would fall flat, with nothing to show for at the end of the day.

Take the trip to Dover for example; Dover with its promise of fresh sea air and the imposing White Cliffs, the friendly greetings from the doves circling above hooting ships. And most of all the promise of that swim, the marathon swim that was supposed to put Malaysia on the map of channel swimmers and prove to the world that Malaysia certainly Boleh. It wasn’t one or two trips but several thanks to choppy sea, bad weather and no ‘window’ for our channel swimmer Malik Mydin, now a Datuk, of course. Suffice to say, by the time he finally and literally took the plunge, I was very familiar with the route from Charing Cross to Dover Priory.

Sometimes we’d get an sms saying , yes the swim was definitely on and that got our adrinalin pumping and we’d jump on the train only to be told halfway there that the swim was aborted as the wind was too strong, the waves too high etcetera, etcetera.

So, we’d roam the small seaside town of Dover. The residents had never seen so many flag waving Malaysians. Shouts of Malaysia Boleh echoed across the channel.

When it did happen, it was at about 2am on the 2nd of August I think and I remember the walk at about 1 am from the hotel to the beach. What a sight! It was like Pied Piper leading the trail to a waiting boat, which then took him to a certain point where he was to do his swim. We had to take another route by car and walked down a very steep slope to the beach to await Malik’s boat. We were greeted by millions of sandflies everytime we lit up the camera. It was dark and eerie and the group of perhaps 10 of us stood shivering trying to fend off the sandflies. Suddenly from afar we saw lights appearing in the darkness that was the English Channel. Three boats appeared, one of them carrying our swimmer. We or I certainly, shivered again, this time not so much because of the cold but because of the excitement. Malik climbed down into the water and with a hoot, hoot, hoot, he was off, the cheer of Malaysia Boleh ringing in his ears. We stood there watching his head bobbing in and out of the water until we could see no more. What a moment.

And yes, the next day I was back again, waiting by the beach to await his return. He did it in 17 hours something. I was supposed to be in the boat accompanying him and I even had my sea sickness pills, but somehow I was needed on land rather than being sick all over in the boat.
I can still picture Malik as he appeared from the boat that took him back to Dover. He looked like a battered boxer, but a champion nevertheless.

Now how did I get this far when I wanted to talk about my train rides?

On another train that took me to Southend on Sea, I felt the knots in my tummy that wouldn’t go away. It was an anxiety that started a day before when I met and instantly took into my heart two lovely boys – Muhammad and Ahmad. I had never seen conjoined twins before, never mind played toy cars with them . But that was what we did during our first meeting. They were adorable, so together yet so different in personalities.

It must have been from Liverpool street that we took the train to Southend-on-sea, the town that boasts the longest pleasure pier in the world. But pleasure was the last thing that we had in mind.

Muhammad and Ahmad who came to London for the operation were being taken to Riyadh after receiving a generous offer for an operation to separate them free of charge. The brothers had greeted us with their mischievous grin, racing up and down the lawn in a sort of wheeled walker. They were full of life, whizzing about, enjoying each other’s company, not realising that within a few days they were going to be separated. They had to learn to live apart as individuals. And I worried for them for it was no small task.

Well, from what I hear, they have done well. And I am happy for them and their parents.

I have written about one happy train journey here and many more. I’d love to write about the train ride from London to Budapest and the ones in Germany that took us along the beautiful and quaint villages along the River Rhine

But for now, suffice to say, the trip to Coventry came and went, leaving me with a certain feeling of restlessness.


Anonymous said...

Train trips are a sign of restlessness sometimes in itself, Kak Teh. I remember when I was still living in Germany --- how I would take the Schoeneswochende ticket and just carry myself across different paths, across the Continent, with no clear aim or desire.

These trips are almost always a revelation. Much we can learn about ourselves when abandon our normal schedules and routines.

And this entry of yours, in a way, reflects that, how writing about a train ride segued into yet another of our feats of Malaysian Bolehism... Life doesn't have to follow any perfect track. We just need to believe this.

Kak Teh said...

Kenny dear, how did you read my mind? Sometimes I yearn for that seat by the window so that I could be with myself, by mself and with my thoughts. If only there is a ticket to nowhere, I'd get that now and take my new laptop with me.
My husband loves train journeys.
But that is because he hates flying.
Take care Kenny. One day we must compile a story abt the Datin and the Tempe.

Bergen said...

I love trains.

Pak Tuo said...

Exquisite entry Madam.
Soothing for a pleasant read on a 'coo-coo' ride.

bagaimana harus saya menterjemahkannya untuk tatapan umum,

A Mature Student said...

I have never travelled further than London by train. I tend to observe people and some 'loud' conversations attract my attention. :)

My longest train ride was from Klang to Penang and all the time I was tensed watching out for cockroaches and was in much discomfort from the filthy train. :(

Kak Teh said...

Bergen, nampaknya ramai orang terengganu suka train.

Pak Tuo, nak terjemahkan, hmmmm, bagaimana ya?

clockwise,ya, it is very interesting to watch people. Here they are not too noisy, unless it the night crowd after a football match or concert. Otherwise oeioke just tend to read books or newspapers and nowdays most people work on their laptop.

Atok said...

My longest train ride was a roundtrip Butterworth-Bangkok in 1989... and I'm still impressed how fast the guy converted my seat into bed, including putting bed sheet, pillow etc in seconds.

MrsNordin said...

Can I have your job?? :)

Kak Teh said...

atok, that must have been interesting. I have yet to do that bit. Next week, aiyah - more trainrides!!! nak ke manchester tak? 19th april?

Mrs nordin, no you dont want my job. Saja -saja made it look interesting - well , come to think of it - ya! i love some of the stories, while others, berat sikit bahu yang menanggung.

Pi Bani said...

Trainrides? The trainrides I remember most were the ones waaaaaay back when I was in school. Kena naik train balik asrama... musim raya all coaches full (that time no numbered seats - main sumbat selagi ada orang boleh masuk). Finally we (budak-budak sekolah) were told there was a gerabak tambahan for us. Indeed there was... a gerabak barang smelling of ikan bilis. THAT trainride I can never forget!

Bergen said...

In Trengganu, only in Dungun yang ada train. Itu pun untuk ankat bijih besi dari bukit besi ke jetty sura gate. Keretapi penumpang free, kompeni subsidi. So that's why ramai orang Trengganu suka train kot. Some people call it kereta lipang.

Kak Teh said...

pi bani, i remember too coming back from ITM those days...aiyoooo, bercintanya nak balik. Gerabak penuh segala mak nenek. I was once quite lucky, the conductor moved me to first class coach!!

bergen, you know, a lady whose father was a manager of that kompeni wrote to AG and sent some old pictures of the bukit besi.

Mama Rock said...

wanted to try the orient express but the fare is too much for me to fork out...saja nak compare with the numerous train rides i took every semester holidays from JB to Seremban and vice versa :)

OOD said...

like you and Bergen, i love train rides too. Romantic! But i suppose not the trains in remote Sabah.

wonda said...

I always take the subway and what I see is walls and tunnels, doors opening and closing at each platform.

Bergen said...

Kak Teh, the lady who wrote AG and sent pictures, is her father's name Ghaffar from Penang? My uncle was one of the train drivers.

Kak Teh said...

mama rock, the orient express would be really nice!! one day, perhaps, one day!

Ood, i picture you in the train, with a kain batik swing hanging from the bumbung.

wonda, that can be therapeutic too.

Kak Teh said...

bergen, this was from an english lady whose husband worked there. Some pictures of the community there, i think. err...I'll have a look at it again.

wanshana said...

Never mind the restlessness - I think it is/was so exciting to have been in the midst of (Malaysian) history in the making.

Just imagine - when you're 80 years old nanti, telling your cucu-cicit about all these and saying, "Tok Wan/Onyang was right there covering the event when this and that happened, etc."

Waaaa...seorang Tok Wan/Onyang yang sangat cool!

Kak Teh said...

wanshana, am sure the greatgrand cucus will yawn and say: oh no, not that story again!!!

Anonymous said...

Kak Teh dear,

Rindu la!! Its been a while since we last met. Saw Ewok at her workplace the other day.

I too prefer train rides than planes. Dont know how I managed the past 2 years traveling for work within Europe. Daily trips for business meetings is norm (tho I dread each time!).

Pak Tuo said...

Salam Kak Teh dear,

Does B.R gives discount on Europe Inter Railing for Malaysian OA Pensioner.
Is the one month unlimited inter-railing within Europe still stands?

Those was the joyes ride I ever made.

Yes,The White Cliff of Dover via Hook Ven Holland or Ostends or Calais or Izmir via Bari.
Who could forget?
Nostalgic Kak Teh!

Kak Teh said...

ms istanbul, memang in the words of youngsters today, "busy giler" ! But i did go to our favourite meeting place tadi , you were not there. and do give me a tinkle as i have lost yr number when i upgraded my phone.

Pak Tuo,
hahaha! I am not sure they give discount to malaysian pensioners - will have to be one to find out.

D said...

Kak Teh, shhhhhhhhh... You miss me already ka? HeHeHe. I sure hope I wasn't the one who made you restless! *wink *wink

ilene said...

Kak Teh, I wish my recent train ride to Klang was as pleasant as yours! I would be most happy if I could get a seat let alone a window seat! hahaha

Further, I also wish to be able to write as well as you do(or at least 50% pun ok lah). I have been enjoying the stories written by you and am trying to digest the way you've put them down in writing. Simply inspirational!

Anonymous said...

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mad redo1 said...

these tales from the track certainly inspired mad redo1 to write about a train ride... hopefully it will be out there in a few days...

Ailin in Aalborg said...

Isn't it amazing--all the thinking that gets done on trains? I will miss my train rides when I move from here.

Tunku Halim said...

There is something quite romantic about a train journey. There are the sights shooting past, the various fellow passengers, you alone with your thoughts and all kinds of possibilities which a car or air journey just cannot conjure up. I must get on that train very soon!

wizcakes said...

I love train rides Kak Teh. Train rides somehow equate to romance for me. Hollywood has certainly made them that way. Parting lovers at the stations, reuniting families or seperating them all done there. The misty, blury background and the aksi racing the train to catch the last glimpse of your loved ones.

My favourite train ride(which you must take one of these days) is with the Bernina Express. We crossed the alps from St Moritz in winter and descended to the mediterranean Tirano all in one day. Lovely journey, needless to say a romantic one too. Aaah, maybe romance was just in my head, such a romantic fool I am.

Nice post as always.

Kak Teh said...

D, I miss the laksa johore!!! wish i had some take aways. Next visit ya?

Ilene, aaah no seats? That reminds me of our trainride to Glasgow. Husband said no need to book - just go there and there'll be plenty of seats. Haiyooo, we were standing from london to god knows where. and Ilene, thanks for kind words.

matredo1, looking forward to your trainride story.

Kak Teh said...

nordic convert, nak pi mana pulak??? jangan pergi tanpa kata.

Tunku Halim, i enjoyed writing abt my train ride with you - inspired by 44 Cemetary Road. And yes, am looking forward to read your account as well.
This is the thing abt blogging, we tend to get encouragement and inspiration from others. I have one more coming up yesterday's trainride to manchester!

Kak Teh said...

wizcakes, how right you are. All the romance at the platform - the parting, the meeting, and all layed out in the movies and in our heads. In reality, and from experience on the long train journey from here to Budhapest, there was nothing romantic as I sat there crying my eyes out cos i was missing the children.
and yes, i'd make any journey to get hold of that cupcakes of yours!! Next visit, ya?

Anonymous said...

Assalamulaikum Kak Teh

Saya terbaca blog kak ni dari zawawi nyer link .

Kak ni skolah kat SIS ke dulu2 .

Saya pun skolah kat sana masa dulu di zamam zawawi .

Saya pun dah berkurun menetap di London ni . Kak dok kat mana kat London ?

Kalo kak ni ex SIS tolong emel saya boley , seronok gak citer2 masa dulu kat SIS .

email -
mobile - 07888756986