13 August 2020
Some of the best ideas are born of boredom. As are some of the worst.
Back in France, over these last many months, my brother has been fighting his way through the French motorcycle test and accreditation system. As a late comer to the sport, it's been a bit of an uphill struggle for him, or more accurately, a bit of a wobble, but he's almost there, just waiting on the French examiners to get back from their annual four weeks summer vacation......after four months of lockdown.
Back in Rebak, listening to his tales and exhausted from preparing a fresh boat jobs list, I whiled away too many boat job hours pointlessly watching YouTube videos of folk hooning around the Alps on their various high powered rice rockets. And that set a worm free; oddly, in Anne's head.
"You could go on a motorcycle tour of Malaysia and I'll go and stay with my sister in KL". So motivated was she by the prospect of A) getting shot of me for a week and B) having unlimited spa days with Dawn, that she got online that same evening, searching for a motorbike tours company, or indeed anyone, that would take me away for a while.
Motorcycling isn't that big in Malaysia apparently, other than of course about thirty million scooters, ridden by folk with not a care in the world and I suspect little sense of direction, concept of traffic laws, or indeed consequences. Online, Anne could only find two companies. One was shut down for Covid and the other was on ice, not doing tours but hey, you could rent one of our bikes. And that's where it all backfired.
So joined at the hip are we, the poor woman's conscience wouldn't let me head off on my own. So, despite saying, after our seven week, seven thousand mile, two wheeled tour of New Zealand a couple of years ago that she'd never do it again, she reluctantly but valiantly climbed on the back of Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways, Kawasaki 650 for a week touring the kampongs, roadside cafes and Hyatt Regencies of Malaysia.
Like my brother, I've been through some quite taxing motorcycle training courses, including a morning with the police; riding, not in handcuffs. I'm therefore imbued with a UK bike riders mentality. So, despite the fact that by just gone breakfast, it's over thirty degrees and seventy plus humidity, we don our Kevlar lined jeans, armoured jackets, helmets, ear plugs, gloves and boots. We lose about 2kg every ride, so it's not all bad.
We must look like astronauts to the locals in all that clobber while they gaily zoom around with the traffic, against the traffic and across the traffic and whose idea of personal protective clothing is a pair of flip-flops, T-shirt, baseball cap and for reasons we don't yet understand, a jacket worn backwards. From what I've heard, usually at 05:45 at every morning call to prayer, I suspect most of their protection is believed to come from on high.
Me, I'll put my faith in Kevlar, leather and comprehensive insurance.
What a Time To Give Up Drinking
08 August 2020 | A wee cup of tea and a scone
Way back in life pre-Covid, I was lounging by the pool at the Royal Langkawi yacht club being nosy and listening in to the conversation between two of the superyacht crew who were swilling beer in the cool of the pool water. I knew one of them was Scottish but when he said to the other that he was from "Shitland", it made me smile as it was both the first time I'd ever heard the word "Shetland" spoken by a native and at the same time had one of Anne's after dinner stories confirmed true.
Anne's dad got a job up in the Shetland Isles when she was just a nipper and consequently spent her primary school years there. When her dad moved back to the mainland, Largs to be precise, Anne found herself at the front of her new school room, completely mystified as to why her new classmates were rolling about the aisles after she told them that she had come down from "Shitland".
Back at the pool, I then got talking to the Shetlander and, as seems to somehow happen to me, despite my iron will power, I was somewhat led astray and a few sundowner beers by the pool turned into pizza, beer and wine at Jack's Bistro till near midnight, then back to Time Bandit for a wee tour round Scotland by way of Laphroig, Talisker, Jura and back south via Glenmorangie.
Three days it took to recover. Three days that took us right up to Lockdown and, that seemed as good a reason as any to lose a few pounds, do some manscaping and go fitness mad, doing workouts every day, walk miles upon miles upon miles, stop eating rubbish and crucially, stop the bevvy.
And of course, what happens as soon as I hang up my beer glass?
"FREE wine with your meal" on offer twice a week at the marina. "Here Katharina, have my glass".
"All you can drink for 35 Ringgit (£7)", and I'm seldom one to pass on a challenge. Or maybe it was a taunt.
"FREE cocktails at the Eastern and Oriental every night, 6-8pm". No thanks, I'll just have a wee cup of tea.
And of course, at the door of every retail establishment these days you get to wash your hands in the stuff.
And yet, in all these months, I've clung tightly to the wagon. Talk about iron will! I really should get a prize; perhaps a Merlot?
21 July 2020
A few years ago, on a typical bright, sunny Scottish winters day I was out in the Highlands with my climbing buddies enjoying a wander around in the crisp, clear air that we enjoy in Scotland.....when it’s not raining. As we neared the summit we met a group of Asian tourists also out enjoying the scenery and weather.
Winter in Scotland can be stunningly beautiful. And variable. Sunshine one moment, hail and snow the next. Accordingly and having
learnt from experience having been caught out more than once walking from the garden shed back up to the house, we go into the hills well prepared. As “locals” we were functionally and indeed, trendily, attired in our winter gear, all GoreTex, clumpy boots, crampons and ice axes. Spare clothing, compasses and maps packing out our rucksacks. Our tourist visitors, for tourists they clearly were, although, given they were out wearing all but T-shirts and trainers they might have hailed from Newcastle. The give away the ubiquitous blue face mask which gave a clue to at least their probable hemisphere of origin. Now, trainers or even light boots are no match for gravity when it comes to a wind blown, icy snow slope and I’m not entirely sure what a face mask was going to achieve.
Anyway, we had a pleasant conversation about the weather, the views and pointed them in the direction down, cautioning them against choosing what looked like the most direct route because, as they say, it would take a good climber about an hour to get down and about twenty seconds for a bad climber.
The point is, I’m afraid to say we had a bit of a giggle about our guests being out in the bracing Scottish air while wearing a face mask.
Well, out here in Langkawi where Covid-19 is all but nixxed, it’s all flipped upside down. Now, it’s the weird westerners wearing face masks while the locals look on and giggle.
But I have to say, it does save on shaving, lipstick and hankies.
(Photo Simon Needham)
Voices In My Head
18 July 2020
“We really should just stay here, keep our heads down, be patient and see what happens next year”.
“NEXT YEAR!!!! You nuts?
Look, it’s only a shade over three thousand miles to Reunion; less than three weeks, two with today’s forecast. Just think. Two weeks from now you could be eating foie gras and freshly baked croissants.”
“Muppet. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, Madagascar is already closed and South Africa is slamming the doors shut. Slamming right now as we repeat this interminable argument!”
“Aahh. Don’t be soft. What they gonna do if you just rock up and anchor? Look at Rubicon. They’re having a great time, hiking and swimming”
“Yeah but if we go, what happens if South Africa’s shut and we get turfed out post Brexit?”
And on it goes. Fortunately, these conversations usually just go on in my head, my two little stereophonic voices duelling, day in, day out as we go over the limited options wondering whose grass is greener. Ours? Or maybe Rubicon’s where they’re gallivanting all over Reunion? And Impi telling us how fab it is to be back in Australia. Or Ziggy and John who made it to the fleshpots of the Seychelles? Even the guys in Tanzania, where apparently a quick shot of the prime minister’s magic potion protects you against Covid, (or not), all having a great time out on safari where even the sunburned and parched African plains seem greener than Langkawi’s tropical jungle.
Whatever, the “voices” can’t agree. Anne says I’ve been out in the sun too long, to get into the pool and shut up. Or maybe I’m just going a bit crazy. Anyway, enough for now. I’m off to cut the grass.
Our Lockdown "Hell"
07 July 2020
The geeks at YouTube say that using an emotive sounding title helps attracts viewers. As I'm still counting viewers on my fingers and toes, I need all the help I can get. So, if our plight fails to elicit even the tiniest degree of sympathy then, well, I'm not really surprised..... but why let the truth get in a way of a good story!
30 June 2020
"How's the air con"
That was Tom's greeting this morning as we arrived at the entry to the Corona Express ferry to the big island. After being zapped by the temperature gun I turned to Tom and through my trendy Batik designed face mask told him that the installation had progressed successfully but still too early to tell whether it's been beneficial either in temperature or relative humidity.
You see, over our first Cockpit Corona Sundowner since, what, December, Michael, who knows about these things, had told us that as our domestic air con unit was sucking in ambient air, recycling was inefficient and all the unit's energy was being consumed converting humid air rather than cooling it. All way above my pay grade but I could do the DIY to give it a go and so we're now fully plugged in and hosed up to give us super efficient on board environment management.
What have we come to? I think it's an unknown side effect of COVID-19. We've all sailed thousands and thousands of miles to get here, fought our way through gales, giant seas, putting in first, second, even third reefs with waves crashing over the decks. We’ve navigated our way through unmarked intricate, fibreglass ripping reefs and shoals. We've spent countless nights at anchor in all conditions, yet, here we are - all but epoxied to the dock, hard wired and plumbed, comparing notes on our air conditioning! Aaaargh.
Gone are the days when us hardened yotties would be swapping salty tall tales and comparing notes, experiences and opinions on proper yottie subjects like, for example, anchors.
"Oh? You've got one of these RockBaby anchors". I'd heard the wobble bar makes them unstable and if the boat turns on the tide change then re-setting can be an issue. I've heard of two boats that dragged in only five knots of wind. You'd be much better with the Spatula. Its 3D shape is specifically designed to dig in to anything wet. Ours held us in eighty knots on a scope of 2:1 lavatory plug chain".
Or maybe solar panels. "Oh! You've only got a 200/30 ZigZog phase composer driving your ampler-doodle". You definitely need a manual over ride to compensate for shadows and passing birds......" yawn, yawn. Lost me at hello.
The funny thing is, you seldom hear anyone talking about sails, let alone in mast reefing. Now there's a topic worth debate. I mean, seriously, I know as children we drew sails on a boat as a shapeless white two dimensional triangle, but that's not really how they're meant to look. But they do. I think it's where apprentice sailmakers spend their first year.
"Right you two. See that sail cloth over there? Unroll it, cut it up into a nice triangle then sew it all together."
I mean, how can folk bear to look at these shapeless things? That arrow straight leach running from boom end to the top of the mast, fluttering like a football flag mounted on a supporter's car window doing sixty miles an hour. In fact, the only time they get some shape is in the second or third year after they've been stretched both enhancing the amount of flutter AND forming a nice bag in the middle. Then of course it all jams half in, half out.
So dear readers, having no doubt insulted all my pals with in-mast reefing, I'm going back to tweak the air-con. I think we need to bring it down just a tad as my brain has overheated. Or maybe I'm just old fashioned and should get a gaff rigged Cornish Crabber.
And maybe I can look forward to some reaction. It would be nice to know someone reads this nonsense.
Here’s The Plan
23 June 2020
"What we'll do, given the lockdown has just eased and before the hordes start travelling, we'll head up to that plush hotel in the Cameron Highlands for a fancy weekend"
Brilliant idea. No one about. No tourists. No commuting COVID. First weekend of opening for the resort. Specially reduced rate. What could got wrong?
What could go wrong was that most of Malaysia had the same brilliant idea. The 300 seat Corona Express Ferry to the mainland was packed, all sat cheek by fabric covered jowl, together on manky plastic seats that haven't seen a cloth let alone a disinfectant wipe for years. Some of the travellers were much the same. That's what happens when you live on a boat.
To save seven Ringits, nearly a pound in our money, we set the sat-nav to "Avoid Tolls" and enjoyed a scenic tour through the backwaters of mainland Malaysia. Tarmac would have been nice. Sorry, that was for comedic effect and entirely unjust. The roads were fine. Twisty but fine and we had a great drive up through the jungle to the big city of Ipoh and on up into the Cameron Highlands.
There's two ways up to the Highlands. One heading north from sophisticated Kuala Lumpur and Johor and the other, going south from the more industrial Ipoh. The KL route takes one through delightful tropical jungle scenery, winding ravines and cascading waterfalls. The other route is much the same except the ravines have all been terraced and covered with "poly tunnels" in which grows, it seems, much of Malaysia's veggies and the region's specialty, strawberries. Complementing the veg industry is the tourist tat industry. Not only can you buy juicy strawberries but strawberry shaped cushions, pillows and no doubt, hats, every customer causing a five minute tailback as they reverse out into the traffic.
Finally we arrived at our chosen retreat, the five star, Cameron Highlands Resort, newly opened after months locked down and locked up. Locked to everything except the ingress of damp. Not so much an Inter-Continental Hotel but In-Continental Hotel. All the bed linen was damp giving one the awful overnight sensation there might just have been a wee accident.
In the absence of air conditioning or indeed dry linen, only body heat could dry it out. So, for us, it was home from home. Just like cruising in the lower latitudes. Or Scotland. Being 'ard and ruffty tuffty cruisers it wasn't that big a deal for us. Other guests had their bedding changed three times before bowing to the inevitable soggy sensation. And rheumatism.
Nonetheless, after three months or more on our Love Island, we though it was all very smart. Having climbed the black marble staircase to the foyer we'd bow politely to have our temperatures taken before heading up the landing to our spacious room overlooking the golf course......... and the trunk road which links Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, the trunk road passing under our window also links the vegetable farms with their markets in KL and possibly even Singapore. And it's a twenty four / seven business.
Trunk road? So called because it sounds like a herd of elephants going past the end of your bed all night. If having the perpetual feeling you might just have wet the bed didn't keep you from sound sleep, the truck noise would.
But were we downhearted? Being totally spoiled by the super attentive staff certainly helped the mood. Afternoon tea and scones goes a long way to brightening a day. That and a stunning Beef Wellington at the nearby, Smokehouse. Ye Olde Smokehouse in fact. Honestly! This hostelry, built in the 1930's was styled in the manner of an old English pub, complete with black oak beams, horse brasses, inglenooks and log fires. They lost the plot a bit on theme continuity by playing the likes of classic Scottish ballads, "Bonnie Dundee" and "Wild Mountain Thyme"..........
......Oh the summer time is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming
Where the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather
Would you go, lassie, go?
Yeah - Anne will go anywhere there's a cream tea on offer.
It was a fine break in a grand setting, amongst the tea plantations, rolling hills and, with the mist rolling down, a bit like home. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, around the corner from the hotel and golf course was, I guess we'd call it "lower Cameron Highlands" or if you're from Chicago, "The Projects". Weekend retreats for the masses. A bit like a 1960's French ski resort but with the chic removed.
What tourism can do to a place!
(Some more pics in gallery)
The Things You See
17 June 2020
The Recovery, Movement Control Order is easing here. To quote the song lyrics;
Guys are swimming
Guys are sailing
I guess we’ll have some fun
If it stops raining.
Nonetheless, new guests are arriving at the hotel encumbered with all the hallmarks of a tourist - Wheelie bags, Gucci handbags, screaming weans and the obligatory face mask. Us raggedy ass, sun tanned one-time cruisers, but now long term residents of the Malaysian version of Alcatraz, look at the new arrivals warily, wondering what bugs they might be importing to our private isolation ward. They look at us warily, wandering if they’ve inadvertently booked a long weekend on an upmarket leper colony.
Ashore on the big island, the shuttered and economically battered shops and stalls are very slowly beginning to come back to a semblance of life. There’s still only maybe five to ten percent actually open, all selling the same “Luscious Langkawi” luminescent T-shirts. Sounds of banging and sweeping emanate from the next phase of openings. No doubt they’ll be flogging kiss-me-quick hats. There’s even a few folk sunning themselves on the beach. Well, three of them.
A few cafes and restaurants are offering “Covid Specials”. Ten to fifty percent off their already extremely cheap prices, meaning they basically pay you to come and eat.
Two butter chicken curries, one fruity Kashmiri naan, one large portion of rice, a Coke Light and a green tea....... stuffed to the gunwhales for something like eight quid. Makes you feel a bit guilty. Especially when you key it all into the calorie count app.
Anyway, it’s good to see these signs of life, less so the first jet-ski tour which went roaring past the marina this morning.
The things you see when you haven’t got a rifle.