Bulletin from Blighty

I am back in England for a little while – a silly little while, in fact, as I booked my flight in a low period and wasn’t thinking clearly… But nevertheless it has been a clearing blast of fresh air and I have been able to realise that my life in KK is more than bearable, if it is interspersed with such breaks.

I have seen Consent at the Harold Pinter, which I liked very much, apart from the ending which was unconvincing. Then Julie at the National – what a load of old b******s. I should have read a review that said that it was a masterclass in mucking up a classic.  The three main actors did their best, ramping up the agony, confusion, coke snorting, betraying and the rest, but honestly, the playwright should learn to leave well alone.

I went on the anti-Brexit march – civilised, passionate, polite and probably not effective, but at least I can say I told you so. One friend was not allowed into a restaurant until she removed her Bollocks to Brexit sticker, and another went into a pub which turned out to the HQ of the tiny little protest pro Brexit march that happened simultaneously. “I think this isn’t your kind of pub, mate” – he didn’t need to be told twice.

I am catching up with friends in Kent and London. The weather is heaven. I popped into meet someone at the Estorick Gallery. We looked around, and had lunch in the scented garden. Mmmm.

My case is full (decaf coffee beans, sandals, trousers for Glyn and more, much more), my bank balance considerably emptier, but I am happy. Back in KK on Thursday evening after a dreary 13 hours from London, four and a half hours at KL, and then a two and a half hour flight to KK.  But KK is now familiar, I will see friends I have made there, our visitors start coming this month, and continue to do so regularly till the end of the year.  We are back in December for ten days or so, so we will have an early Christmas with the boys. All’s right with the world.

That’ll be the clay (sorry)

Today, after a gap of a couple of weeks while my teacher took his contemporary dance company on a Malaysian tour, I restarted my pottery class.  I love it.  I  tracked down the patient, nay saintly, Christopher Lieuw who is Sabah’s only contemporary dance company’s choreographer and  director and have been learning how to make pots in a traditional way.  This is Christopher in his dance studio with a couple of his dancers in the background.IMG_1794

I have essentially been unlearning everything I thought I knew – the clay is different, and the techniques are mostly new. My approach is a mixture of delight and cackhandedness, and what I produce has not yet been deemed worthy of the kiln – in the nicest possible way.  I am improving, I think. I am managing the consistency of the reddish clay of Sabah, and I am now able more or less to prepare it for the wheel. If pushed I might be able to use the Japanese method, but usually I stick with the Shell.

Christopher repeats his instructions kindly and gently, without a trace of frustration. That comes from me, as yet again I pull when I should push, or use my left hand instead of my right to centre instead of shape. He has taught me a cunning way to cut the pot off the wheel which reduces me to gibbering. I succeed once in every three goes, more or less. The rest of the time he has to salvage it.

But it is all a total joy. I love it. I love getting clay on my face when I wipe the sweat out of my eyes (I have brought an electric fan like the expat wuss I am), and Christopher has rigged up a blind to thrown a shadow when the sun hots up. I think even he needs this sometimes.

I love the feel of the clay and the water and the slow care that is required to achieve the simplest of rounds. I am too fast, too clumsy, too shaky, but today even I could see that my bowls had a certain bowlishness, my plates were definitely platey, and on Wednesday I may be able to throw something that merits keeping.

If not, I shall keep at it, for as long as it takes.


This is today’s effort and in the foreground
are a couple of others, including the one
that got away…

Après le deluge, la communauté

Last weekend there were very bad floods in Penampang, on the outskirts of KK, where  many Kadazan-Dusun people live.

The rain had been so heavy that many of them had to be evacuated from their houses. One woman’s house began to fill with water at 9pm; she went upstairs and was rescued at 3am, when the water had reached her chest.  Not an isolated story.

I noticed a What’s App group asking for donations and help, and I replied that I would like to bring some supplies to the Community Centre. I bought two boxes of large bottles of water (12 in each), lots of tins of curry and fish and so on and several packets of biscuits for the people who were working so hard to distribute food and water to those who needed it. I drove down to the Penampang swimming pool, half an hour away, through a deep and wide puddle of water in the middle of the road, feeling just a teensy bit generous. When I got there, I paled into insignificance.

The effort and the organisation was impressive.  Beside my two boxes of water was a mountain of others, there were large boxes of Milo sachets for the children, and several people were putting together other supplies in plastic bags to take to people who were stuck in their houses. Many  members of the 4×4 Club had turned up to do the driving. An artists’ group had collected some thousands of Ringgits. Some orange refugee tents had also been donated, and several had been put up in the sports hall. In one I saw a serious little boy eating his noodles from a polystyrene container.

People were efficiently recording donations, and requests for high pressure hoses and other such had been successful, too.  It was a real community effort, and I felt my eyes moistening at the sight of it – I blinked them away of course, in the face of so many smiling faces, who were doing very much more than I was.  Very very impressive and exceedingly heartwarming. And very welcome to all those people who had borne the brunt of the storms.

So far and yet so near – a Bali break

I have just come back from Bali. Just a week, because it’s so easy to get there on the excellent cheap airline #Air Asia which is efficient and almost comfortable. One of the good things about living here is that it is not so far from lots of places I have never been to.  Next I think we will try Cambodia and Laos, and then if time we’ll go to Australia and perhaps New Zealand.  Not all a hop away but considerably nearer than Europe.

Bali was delightful, although we went to the south (Jimbaran, Ubud and Sanur) and all I could really think was how wonderful it must have been fifty years ago.  Sooooo many tourists (of which we were two of course), with all the good and bad things that come from that. Lots of people,  higher prices, but also good food and an accessible, deep culture (even if not absolutely authentic as some purists grumble). I loved the fire dance and the other ones at the palace in Ubud: an hour and half was quite enough for me. IMG_1620IMG_1573










Our trip coincided by chance with the Hindu Festival of Galungan, which means that the many shrines with their stone animals and gods and seats are decorated intensely, and the offerings they receive each day as a matter of course are increased. There’s much more to it of course, to do with what people wear, their hats and their lace and their coloured sashes, but it was only a week…





There are always the holy decorations up, and we drove past overflowing stalls. We bought a very few – the more collapsible ones, but, unlike many bits one buys in the heat of the holiday moment, they hold some of their charm in Sabah.






Lovely art and crafts.  I wanted to rig out a house immediately with the Ikat and the carvings and the stonework – a little behind the curve, I admit. And the pretty pottery from #Jenggala in Jimbaran – we came back with some, of course.

We didn’t stay in very smart hotels but the ones we chose were still charming, on the whole. Jimbaran was busy and seasidey, Ubud hippie trendy and rushed, and Sanur more sleepy, with a lovely beach. IMG_1664The beachfront has the loud music coming out of cafes, of course, but not everywhere, and the busy main street is parallel but up a bit. I liked it better, even though some people call it S-nore, I believe.

The people we met (mostly hotel and restaurant staff of course) were delightful, but they have been touched by the brush of mass tourism. Sabah (although I’m sure it would love it, in one way) hasn’t quite yet – long may that last.

There is a relentless soundtrack of moped and car horns – the driving added ten years to my age.  In Sabah, drivers are slower (occasionally frustrating) and more forgiving. There are no horns blaring, which makes for more peaceful travelling.

We weren’t in the capital, Djakarta, which I understand really puts hairs on your chest, but we noticed the lack of cement high rise, which was wonderful.

An easy trip, a gentle break. We are lucky.