Monday, 3 November 2008

The Streets of London

As some of you may have noticed, I've recently updated my blogroll to include newly found friends in blogosphere. One of these is Kak Teh, whose Choc-a-Bloc Blog, has a large and loyal following. I'm one of those who regularly visits her blog but have never left any comment until last week.

Kak Teh is considered a veteran blogger, having kept a weblog since December 2004. She resides in London and her posts about life in that city and the UK in general are very interesting.

I've stayed in London before, as a student of course, but only for a short period of six months. But what a memorable six months it was. It was supposed to be the first year of my A-levels but I practically didn't study anything during that period. Not a good example, you might say, but that's just me... no need to hide it.

I first arrived in London sometime in January of 1980. Bloody freezing cold. I was part of a large group of students sent to the UK before our MCE results were out. While most of the students were sent to established colleges all over the UK (where other Malaysian students have studied before), a group of 13 including yours truly, were enrolled at a private college in Greenwich, London for the first time. The Malaysian Students Department (MSD) was sort of testing to see if this college was up to the mark. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't much studying done, and after a few months, we reported back to MSD and asked to be transferred to a better college for the next term.

Upon arriving in London, this group of 13 naive boys were first housed in an old boarding house called Blackheath Hall in the south-eastern suburb of the city. Although the hall had central heating, it was still drab and dreary. The walk from the hall to our college was about 20 minutes, past open public fields. The stay at Blackheath was temporary, only for about 2 weeks, if I recall correctly. In that period, we were tasked to find permanent accomodation on our own. Since there were no Malaysian seniors at the college, you can imagine how difficult it was because we had no-one we could refer to for advice. Nonetheless, we were told by other foreign students to search the advertisements in the evening papers.

After Blackheath, I stayed at two different places in an area called New Cross. It was a bit far from college but the rent was cheap and we had many other foreign students as neighbours. The daily journey from rented flat to college was a single bus ride for about half-an-hour. While the particular college we went to was nothing to brag about, the sub-district of Greenwich is actually a beautiful and historical place. There are many places of interests within walking distance of each other but the most memorable one that I went to was the Royal Observatory. This is the origin of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian or Zero Longitude that divides the globe into east and west.

Gabriel on the right is standing in the west, Khairul in the middle straddles Zero longitude while Silla is standing in the east. Pic taken at Greenwich Royal observatory in 1980.

The GMT has now been replaced by the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), but to me Malaysia is and will always be +8 hours GMT.

The financial allowance that we got from MSD at that time was not particularly lavish, especially if you consider the relatively high cost of living in the city of London. Most weekends were therefore spent at home or at most, browsing around the shopping areas of south-eastern districts such as Lewisham and Brockley. Occasionally, we would take the bus or underground train to go to central London. The first stop would of course be the Malaysian Hall at Bryanston Square near Marble Arch for the subsidised lunch at only 50 pence. After lunch, we would walk the length of the famous shopping road of Oxford Street, not actually buying anything. Some years back, I read that Malaysian Hall was going to close down because the lease was up. I wonder if it's still there.

One evening, during early spring, my two friends and I, decided to explore the West End area of London. Although called `west', the area is actually located in central London and is famous for its many tourist attractions such as museums, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs. In short, it's the entertainment centre of London. We spent the earlier part of the evening strolling the area of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and later decided to catch a late night movie at one of the cinemas. I can't recall the title of the movie but most probably it was one with an adult rating. After the movie, we walked around trying to find a place to buy fish and chips. It was after finishing the meal sitting on a park bench, that we realised that the buses and trains have stopped for the night. Crap! How were we going to get home? Taking a taxi would be too expensive and we weren't sure we had enough money left anyway.

The only other option was to walk back home. Since I was fairly confident of the route (as traveled by bus earlier in the day), we decided to take the walk although we were not sure how far we actually had to travel. And so that night, three young Malaysian chaps braved the unknown to walk from central London to the south-east district of New Cross. After all these years, I can still retrace the route that we took. From Leicester Square, we walked past The Strand, crossed the River Thames on Waterloo Bridge to get to South Bank, down Waterloo Road to The Elephant & Castle roundabout, down New Kent Road that led to Old Kent Road (also known as the A2), on to New Cross Road before finally turning to Pepys Road where our flat was located.

The route took us through tough working-class neighbourhoods. I re-traced the path we took using Google Earth and measured it at 8.3km. On hindsight, it was probably a crazy thing we did that night.

The path of a night stroll in London, re-traced on a Google Earth image

I haven't had the opportunity to visit London again since I finished university. Sure hope that someday I would be able to do so.


D said...

You haven't been to London recently to visit the queen? (or kak teh, for that matter?). yeah, I miss Malaysian Hall in Bryanston Square. It's now in Queensborough Terrace. But subsidised lunch for 50p? WOW!

Chahya said...

Mr Oldstock,
at least u've been there.
I'm still daydreaming about
If I have the rezki to further studies again, other than Down Under, UK is in the list.
I like KT's blog too. Always entertaining.
BTW, your blog is also up in my list now :)

hanitha said...

salam bro.. best nya dpt g london..kite nie tgk gamba je la.. u know wat, spore tu pon kaki kite tk jejak lgk huhuhu... tgk je la dpd pantai lido ehehehe...
so, u citer la lgk tempat2 yg u pernah pegi ek...
mawi gak yg dpt keliling dunia :)

Kak Teh said...

Salam, thanks for the mention. You came to London just a few months after I landed in cold, grey and wet London. I swore it was only going to be three months only.
But London sort of grew on me - I know the streets of London far better than I know places in Malaysia.
Having said that, I am more familiar with places in the west, while you were in the south?
And yes, taking pictures at the line marking the GMT is a must for visitors.
Di visit London again and I should be able to treat you to a teh tarek or two at the new Malaysia Hall.

Kak Teh said...

Oh look at my typos. I meant to say:
Do visit London again...

HLiza said...

London is still in my dreams..the only far place I've been was Germany for a purpose. I regret not having a digital camera then..

jabishah said...

Hello there oldstock,
Been awhile...
You must have been an A student to be sent off to London right after your SPM... oops sorry MCE. That year I too was enrolled to... a kindi. Capital Kindergarten somewhere in Jln Semarak.Hehehe!

Nurie said...

Ni mesti budak pandai ni, bole fly straight to UK... :-)

seronok baca yr posting..really makes me miss London/UK's life so much. Hubby and me selalu berangan nak visit there again one day!(tgk tempat berdating dulu, ha ha!)
Dah masuk cold season kat riyadh ni, the grey weather lagi la reminds me of those winter days in UK..

Oldstock said...

Hi d,

Firstly, selamat datang.

No, I did not have the chance to meet the Queen. But I've seen the other Queen... the rock group :-)

So Malaysia Hall has moved, eh? Whereabouts is Queensborough Terrace exactly? Do they still serve lunch? Yep, it was only 50p those days.

Thanks for dropping by. Will pop over to your blog soon.

Oldstock said...

Puan Chahya,

Thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

Hopefully you do get to further your studies overseas. I've never been Down Under but I'll recommend the UK anytime. Except for the drab weather, most things else are just peach.

I was initially offered to go study in Australia but they later sent me to the UK. I was thrilled, basically because I'm a football fan. Another thing was I actually get to see the country that I read about in Enid Blyton's story books.

Don't give up on your dream, Chahya. Wish you the best.

Oldstock said...

Salam Hanitha,

Don't worry la... satu hari nanti insyaallah you akan dapat pergi luar negara. Kalau ada peluang nak gi Spore tu, contact I dulu... I'll give you a few pointers.

Banyak juga experience I kat negeri lain... nanti ada masa sesuai I akan cerita.

Oldstock said...

Salam Kak Teh,

Entah bila agaknya dapat gi UK lagi. If I do get the chance to go, I'll sure look you up. Would love to have teh tarik with you at the new Malaysia Hall.

Actually, memang tengah simpan duit nak gi sana lagi sebab my youngest brother has been based in London for 5 years now. He's been bugging me to come over... cuma keadaan belum mengizinkan.

Oldstock said...

Hliza, do hold on to your dreams. They will become reality one day. I visited Germany during one of the summer breaks. Got interesting stories to tell about that too.

Oldstock said...

Hello there Ja,

Aiseh... you make me feel old lah. I was the last MCE batch. My kids sometimes ask, `MCE tu apa, bah?' Lebihkurang macam tanya my father, Senior Cambridge tu apa? Heheheh...

So how's coaching young Yasmin with the story-telling coming on?

Oldstock said...


Budak pandai masa kat Mesia je... sampai UK hancus. Lebih banyak enjoy dari study :-)

Wah, kamu ni sempat lagi berdating kat Sheffield tu ye. Ke mana agaknya you guys pegi ni. Pennines or Yorkshire Dales?

Read your post about the rain in Riyadh. Pak Arab memang excited bila jumpa hujan. When I was in UAE, it rained for a few days too. Flash floods everywhere.