Boating in the Norfolk Broads

“How about a holiday in the Norfolk Broads?” Lina asked as we were having tea at our Westbury Court flat. She got the idea after watching a program about the Broads on TV. We could rent a cottage facing the waterfront or rent a self-drive boat, she went on excitedly.

Samad, with his great sense of adventure, jumped at the idea of hiring a self-drive boat. That would be the best way to explore the countryside and the broads, rivers and lakes, he said.

Ramona and Raphil would be thrilled to go boating, said Rahman, Lina’s husband, of their young children.

I had arrived in London a few months earlier to join my husband. Being a landlubber, the idea of living in a boat, even for a few days, didn’t immediately appeal to me. But how could I disappoint the others? Besides, I remembered the association of the Broads with Charles Dickens. Didn’t he write, “David Copperfield” there?

Shortly thereafter, we embarked on our holiday. A short train ride took us to the historic town of Norwich on the Wensum River, the administrative centre of Norfolk. We didn’t tarry to visit its many museums, castles, churches and outdoor markets or walk along its cobbled streets, but headed straight to the boat-hire place where we rented a well-appointed blue boat which could sleep all six of us.

We were shown how to use the controls. We learned the driving rules that would keep us safe. We were advised to always adhere to the speed limit enforced on all vessels to help reduce the waves from eroding the river banks. Amazingly, we didn’t need a driving license to skipper our boat!

Our boat turned out to be a comfortable, fully-furnished mini-apartment. It came complete with kitchen, table and sofa, bed-linen and blankets, crockery, cutlery, and pots and pans. The washrooms were aft. The sofa became a small double bed at night for Lina and Rahman. Samad and I slept in the back cabin while the children occupied two beds in the front of the boat.

We unpacked our things and stored them away in the cupboards provided. A place for everything and everything in its place, Samad was in the habit of reminding us. We were finally ready to set off to explore what has been described as Britain’s Magical Waterland.

We donned our life-jackets and went up to the deck and Samad, our first skipper, confidently started the engine, took hold of the steering wheel, and got us moving smoothly along the Wensum River.

The first thing that struck us was how beautiful and peaceful the whole landscape was. We had truly escaped the stress of our fast-paced London life and could relax while meandering along the unspoiled rivers, lakes and grazing marshes. We delighted in watching the birds and other wildlife, in the views of church towers and windmills, and pretty cottages and lodges along the river. Didn’t someone refer to the Broads as, “the breathing space for the cure of souls”?

What a unique sight is a boat in full sail gliding gracefully along the river. We saw cruisers and other boats similar to ours, with contented-looking people who smiled and waved at us. There were sunbathers who lay inert on their boats, and double-decker passenger trip-boats filled with happy tourists.

We had to stop and buy groceries. And do our laundry. Mooring the boat was initially tricky. You were required to jump ashore and pull the boat in, using the thick ropes provided, to anchor it. After a few tries both Samad and Rahman were able to do it like practiced seamen. Many a night, after we returned to London, Samad would jump out of bed at night, run to the corner of our bed, and start “pulling the boat in”, much to my amusement.

And so we passed our days, happily traversing the network of rivers and lakes, cooking and eating, making quiet conversation or playing with the children. We took them for walks in the countryside where we admired the many colourful wild flowers and plants, bright marsh orchids, glamorous butterflies and dragon flies. Evenings would find us on deck watching the sun go down.

We eventually made it to Great Yarmourh, a big coastal town on the river Yare, 20 miles from Norwich. Charles Dickens used Yarmouth as his key location when writing, “David Copperfield”.There I imagined could hear the two fishermen in his book, Ham and Daniel Peggoty, speaking in their Norfolk accent.

The Norfolk Broads have attracted all kinds – bird-watchers, writers, artists, anglers, ramblers, walkers and cyclists. We consider ourselves fortunate indeed to have been among those who’ve been able to enjoyed its stunning landscapes and many natural wonders.

Baby Amir’s Diary

I AM BORN

It was early winter in London. I caused great excitement when I arrived on November 4, 1966 at 10.55 am. Everyone said what a lovely baby I was so they had to keep a record of my measurements at birth :
Weight : 7lb 10oz
Length : 20 inches
Circumference of head : 15 inches

I was delivered by Caesarian section at the South London Hospital so my head was nice and round, but I didn’t have much hair to show off.

After 16 days at the hospital, I was bundled up in warm clothes, placed in a little cot and carried home by my Daddy. My home was just across the road at 26 Westbury Court, Clapham South.

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MRS MUNDY

When I was two months old Mummy had to go back to work at the Malaysian Students Department at Bryanston Square. So on Monday, January 2nd, she left me with Mrs Mundy, a baby minder, who lived just round the corner from us at 25 Gaskarth Road. There I met Adrian, her 10-year-old son, and two-year-old David whom Mrs Mundy looked after as well.

Each morning before she sent me to Mrs Mundy’s house, my mother would put layers of clothing on me, also bootees, mittens and a bonnet to keep me warm in the cold winter weather. But Mrs Mundy would immediately throw off my bonnet, mittens and jacket. She said fresh air was very good for me. She was a trained nurse so I suppose she knew what she was doing. She would leave me in the playground in my pram and called me her “fresh air baby”.

On my second day with her, Mrs Mundy took me to the Balham Clinic to have my weight taken. I was 12lbs 1 oz. My birth weight doubled when I was four months old.

On January 31 I had my first shot, for protection against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. It was called the triple antigen. The doctor also gave me some medicine to drink to protect me from polio. The whole process was repeated on February 28 and on March 28. On April 25 I was vaccinated against small pox. A little blister developed on my left arm, just below my shoulder, but I didn’t cry and gave Mummy no trouble at all.

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EYE PROBLEMS

Mummy was worried about the condition of my right eye. When I was a few days old she noticed it gave out a yellowish discharge. The doctor at the South London Hospital gave her some ointment for it. When the discharge continued, she took me to see her GP, Dr Carmel Gibson, at Poynders Road. Dr Gibson prescribed various antibiotics – Sofradex, Soframycin and Chloromycetin but when nothing worked she advised Mummy to take me to the Royal Eye Hospital at Elephant and Castle. There Mr Clover who looked at me said I had a blocked tear-duct and asked Mummy to massage the inside corner of my right eye to encourage the duct to open. He gave me more Chloromycetin.

On May 26 I saw another eye-specialist who gave me more drops and reminded Mummy to continue massaging my eye. In June and July I went back to the Eye Hospital and saw two more specialists. And then, like magic, the discharge stopped! So no more horrid drops for me.

NEW TEETH

I made no fuss at all when my teeth started to grow. At nine months my first bottom tooth appeared. Mummy was overjoyed to see it. At last! she cried, and bought me a present for being so clever, a baby-walker from Mothercare. Two weeks after that I cut my second bottom tooth. My third (top) tooth appeared when I turned 11 months.

MY “FIRSTS”

o I first “spent a penny” in my little yellow potty when I was two months old.
o At three-and-a-half months I took my first drink from a cup.
o At four months I really started to enjoy the Baby-Bouncer Mummy had got me and would bounce up and down in it endlessly after my evening meal
o At seven months I went on my first camping trip. Daddy drove us to Bognor Regis on the South Coast of England in his super red-and-white Volkswagen Caravette with Daddy’s sister Auntie Nyonya, and Auntie Zaibedah and her husband Uncle Zul, friends of my parents. Mrs Mundy had taught me to love the great outdoors so I enjoyed sitting around or “rocking” back and forth in the lovely wide fields of Bognor Regis.
o On September 4, Mrs Mundy took me to the barber’s for my first hair-cut. It cost Mummy four shillings. Mrs Mundy gave a sample of my baby hair to Mummy who stored it carefully in a little plastic sachet.

MY FIRST BIRTHDAY

I attended a wedding on my first birthday! My parents’ friends, Auntie Shirley and Uncle Jin Chor, got married that day in a huge building called the Marylebone Town Hall. It was a registry wedding. All the people looked so solemn so I thought I’d cheer them up by singing a song and shocked everyone. The wedding cake was delicious but Daddy said No! to the champagne.

HOME TO MALAYSIA

My parents told me something exciting today. We’re going home to Malaysia, a country very far away from England. Daddy had completed his studies and was now called a Barrister-at-Law. Mummy had given up her job at the Malaysian Students’ Department.

My Daddy was a great one for adventure. He’d been planning for months to take the overland route home which meant we would drive thousands of miles across many countries until we reached Calcutta in India. From there we would hop on a boat to Penang before heading to Kuala Lumpur. But the “Six Day War” happened so he couldn’t get an international customs carnet that would allow his VW Caravette to enter and exit all the countries in Europe and Asia along the overland route. He was very sad indeed. So we will fly home in a big airplane instead.

I will have to say goodbye to dear Mrs Mundy, Adrian and David. I will really miss going with them to that playground with the pond near Poynders Road. I will miss David most of all.

Mummy and Daddy spent many days packing. They bought three huge trunks for their things. They also packed a few of my toys – my toddler-coaster, rocking horse, baby chair and all my little toy cars.

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We finally left London on October 16, two weeks before my second birthday. The plane, A Boeing 707, made a very big noise as it took off. The excitement of it all was just too much for me and I soon fell fast asleep.

When I awoke we were in Karachi. Our former neighbour at Westbury Court, Uncle Yunus, met us at the airport and took us to his home. There we met his wife Auntie Kaniz and four-year-old Ameen who had grown so big and tall since I last saw him.

After spending three glorious days in Karachi, we arrived at the grand new Subang airport in Kuala Lumpur on October 20.

A large crowd of relatives and friends welcomed us home. I was whisked from person to person, hugged and smothered with kisses, and got very hot and thirsty. I cried for something to drink. After a lot of hustle and bustle we made it to Mummy’s sister Auntie Zurina’s home where I met the rest of our very large family.

Not long after we arrived in Malaysia, I made another plane trip. In my early years I was already quite a jet-setter! That trip, much longer than my first, took me from Malaysia all the way to the US. I was three-and-a-half years old and travelled with complete strangers all the way. But I believe Mummy has already written about that elsewhere.

Football-playing robots

The phone rang. It was my son, Aris, calling from Cornell. “I’m on my way to Stockholm,” he said, trying hard to conceal his excitement. As that was the first I’d heard of him rushing off to Sweden instead of returning home after completing his studies, I plagued him with questions. Why? Who with? For how long?

He gave me a short answer : To compete in robotic soccer, what else!

A year earlier he had seen a poster on a notice board at Cornell University about a robotics competition in Stockholm – Robot World Cup ’99 or Robocup ’99, the goal of which was to find the best football playing machines or robots. He was too late to join the team as the application deadline had passed. Undeterred he had gone to see the professor in charge, Rafaello D’Andrea. He must have said something right as he eventually got in the team. He and his teammates then slogged day and night to develop miniature robots, 15cm tall and 13 cm wide. It didn’t hurt that they had received a grant of USD20,000 towards the project.

I could not quite believe in these robots playing football. If they could play football, they might be able to do other useful things. Like cleaning windows.

I’d been looking forward to him coming home after he’d obtained his electrical engineering degree at Cornell University. So his return trip to Kuala Lumpur would have to include a stop in Stockholm.

In Stockholm, Aris’ team had to compete with 17 teams from countries all over the world including Germany, Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland and Singapore. Each team would field five robots. They would play football against each other using a golf ball on a miniature playing field the size of a ping-pong table.

After going through several days of exhausting though exhilarating soccer games which saw tiny little robots moving at great speed to outdo their opponents, Aris’ Cornell team beat all the other 17 teams and emerged the overall winner. They were the Robocup ’99 champions!

He called me immediately with the news, and promised to fly home soon.

After he got home I was proud to see an article about him in the New Straits Times titled, “When robots rule the football field”. The article came with two photos, one of him smiling broadly as he showed the campus poster that had started it all, and another of his team in front of their robots which were neatly lined up on their playing field. As he explained to Dinesh Sai and Guruchathram Ledchumanan, the journalists who interviewed him, his team had excelled because their robots were installed with a special artifical intelligence program that helped each robot recognize its teammates and avoid colliding with each other and with the opponents.

At the end of the interview the journalists asked him, Can you imagine a team of androids playing football against humans in, say, the year 2050?

Aris confidently replied, It’s gonna happen. You had better believe it!

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We are the champions! – Aris (second from right), with the rest of the Cornell team in Stockholm, Sweden

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My piano

Aida was four when she started taking piano lessons. She sat on the piano stool in her teacher, Tina Navaratnam’s house, and swung her legs. They were several feet above the floor. The piano keys dwarfed her little fingers. She looked tiny and the piano gigantic.

I drove her once a week to Tina’s house for her lessons. Tina made her laugh and soon a bond developed between them. Gradually she was able to move her little fingers over the keys and produce music.

Encouraged by Aida’s progress I started taking lessons myself. Jeyam Rajaratnam, that most patient of piano teachers, came over to the house to teach me. I got her to teach Aida too, and eventually, Aris, when he turned seven.

Miss Jeyam, as Aida and Aris called her, started preparing them for the examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, the Patron of which is the Queen of England. They diligently practiced their scales and classical music pieces. Although I refrained from taking any exams, the three of us would fight for piano time.

Aida obtained a Distinction in Grade 3 and a Merit in Grades 4, 5 and 7 and went on to take the Grade 8 or final exams of the Board. After his Grade 6 exam Aris decided he’d had quite enough and gave up his lessons, much to my dismay.

I struggled painfully on and after several years reached the level when I could play, not a Beethoven Sonata, but a Kuhlau Sonatina. I derived great pleasure in the Sonatinas of Kuhlau and Clementi.

Beethoven Sonatas were the realm of Amir, the most talented pianist in our family. Highly motivated, he displayed very early in his life a fervent desire to achieve whatever he set out to do. After completing High School, he spent ten years at Boston University in the US and returned home with a PhD degree in Computer Science. Amir had no Tinas or Jeyams or other piano teachers to guide him. He taught himself to play and today he continues to impress, amaze and delight us by performing his favourite pieces by Chopin and Beethoven, completely from memo
I bought my Petrof soon after Aida started her piano lessons, close to 35 years ago. Although I have had it maintained and tuned regularly, it has seen a lot of wear and tear, as my illustrious cousin Dr. Mahmood Merican, the Orthopedic surgeon, would be inclined to say when describing the sorry state of my knees.

I would depict Samad as a frustrated student of the piano. He tried hard but when, after going through a succession of teachers, he couldn’t make any headway, he gave it up in a huff and turned with a vengeance to the electronic keyboard. Today he is an ardent keyboard player.

One day Samad and I paid a visit to the nearby Yamaha shop as he wanted to check out some new keyboards. I wandered into the large hall where all the best grand pianos were displayed and tried out the most expensive one. It had a lustrous, silky touch such as I’d never felt before. My fingers moved swiftly and smoothly over the keys, as if there were some force that radiated from them to my fingers. Never had I played so flawlessly. Never had my Kuhlau Sonatina Op 20, No1 in C major sounded so good. Never had I wanted a new piano like that so badly.

When I reached home I went to my old Petrof and looked at it fondly. We had lived with it for so many years. It had become a beloved member of our family. How could I ever think of replacing it. There and then I decided that, wear and tear notwithstanding, I would continue to waddle my ever-stiffening fingers on its dear old keys.

Christmas Day “Queens”

The year was 1965. There were ten of us. We had been selected to be ‘Queen’ for four-and-a-half minutes on Christmas Day that year. I couldn’t contain my excitement!

Our voices would be heard reading Queen Elizabeth’s speech in our own languages – Swahili, Italian, Russian, Turkish, Portuguese, Spanish, Malay, Chinese, Greek and Persian.

The other nine ladies were all members of the BBC Overseas Service. I was included by virtue of my husband’s job with the BBC Far Eastern Services.

As Philip Jackson wrote in the Daily Mail, the idea was to read the speech in the way the Queen would, if she could speak the language. The difficult part was getting just the right amount of mimicry into it. Too much and it might turn out a la stage, television and film actress Eleanor Bron, and that would never do!

We were each handed a sealed envelope marked “Confidential”. Inside was a copy of the Queen’s speech in English. It was our job to translate it into our own language.

When he met with the ladies, Jackson said he found some of the them were impressed by the role, some nervous, and some downright blasé about having been chosen for the job. Giovanna Mogil of the Italian Section had done it before. “Just another job”, she told Jackson, with a shrug of her shoulders. Nina Dimitrievitch of the Russian Section was also an old hand at the game but she thoroughly enjoyed it “because the Russian people are very interested in the royal family”.

Nineteen-year-old Athina Tsitsis from Greece, who had lived in London for six years and admitted that her English was better than her Greek, was doing it for the first time. She had been practising hard. “The secret of a successful interpretation is to study the Queen’s way of talking and attempt to talk in the same manner”, she explained to Jackson. “I will have to talk more slowly than I usually do and be serious and dignified.”

When time came for me to record my speech, I closely followed Athina’s sound advice. In the end we all got it right, so right, we were told, that in a lot of the countries, the listeners were quite convinced it was Queen Elizabeth herself talking their language.

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The BBC’s Christmas Day “Queens”. I am seated second left.
The full “royal” line-up : Front row – Esin Ongorn (Turkish), Marina Samad (Malayan), Maria Teresa Ousa (Portuguese), Zeyna Seif Hamoan (Swahili), Nina Dimitrievitch (Russian), Giovanna Mogil (Italian).
Back row : Frances Kwan Lowe (Chinese), Athina Tsitsis (Greek), Edurne Agos (Spanish), Parvin Sarfi (Persian) – Daily Mail, December 21, 1965

Seven days in Nepal

Someone once said all you need to trek is a dash of enterprise and a modicum of fitness. I was horror-stricken to discover trekking up Mount Shivapuri in Nepal required a lot more than that.

Samad’s itinerary showed us doing Shivapuri on the last day of our one week stay in Nepal, after we’d explored Kathmadu and some nearby places.

Kathmandu – what an exhilarating, intoxicating city, with its crazy traffic, bustling crowds of people, quaint shopping arcades and narrow winding streets. We wandered around Durbar Square, the heart of the old town, admiring its spectacular palaces and temples, and walked the backstreets and saw stunning temples overflowing with marigolds.

Leaving the city behind we went white water rafting.

The jade-green waters of the Trisuli river were ice cold. After each succeeding rapid, and I counted more than 20, we got colder and more drenched. We ended that risky undertaking by spending a very cold night in a tent by the riverbank.

The following morning we headed for the Gaida Wildlife Camp located in Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s first national national park. So I was told by our guide who gave us a lengthy account of what to see and do in the park. He spoke impeccable English. I was certain he’d gone to school in England but he denied that. We warmed at the sight of our twin-bedded log cabin with attached bathroom with hot running water. Despite the hot water bottles in our beds, we shivered with cold.

We went on an elephant safari to see the endangered one-horned rhinoceros. Although the famous Bengal tiger eluded us, we saw many domesticated elephants and their babies.

We learned about the area’s glorious fauna and flora when we took a walk in the forest one foggy morning in the company of smiling Buddhist monks in saffron robes. During a ride in a narrow boat we passed within a few feet of crocodiles basking on the river bank.

On the morning of our Shivapuri trek we rose before the sun. We had least expected it to rain heavily as that was the dry season. Our guide, Ram Bahadur, strongly urged us to abandon the trek. It would be dangerous, he said, but Samad was insistent. So wrapped in transparent plastic sheets, our makeshift raincoats, we started to climb. A couple of hours later we saw patches of snow. The trek became considerably steeper. The rain stopped and it began to snow. It had not snowed in Shivapuri for 20 years, Ram told us. Just our luck! The snow on the ground became thicker and as we trudged upwards our feet started to freeze. It became harder to breathe as the oxygen level decreased. I staggered on, panting heavily. We reached the top after five grueling hours.

The top was fairly flat with a thick carpet of new snow. There were two Buddhist shrines made of small stones piled up together and decorated with colorful prayer flags.

The clouds parted and the sun appeared and we caught our breath at the spectacular view before us. Piercing the clear blue sky were the soaring peaks of the Himalayan mountains. Here were some of the world’s highest peaks, including Mt Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Though frozen with cold we could not take our eyes off the scene.

We were reluctant to move from there but the guide reminded us it was time to make our descent. We stopped at a military post to have our pack lunch and found six or seven soldiers huddled in wooden beds beneath blankets. They cheerfully welcomed us and immediately chopped firewood to make a fire using a four-gallon kerosene tin. The fire provided welcome relief to our frozen hands and feet.

As we started to leave, we saw three young Japanese girls making their way up followed by ten Nepalese men carrying tents, mattresses, pillows, tables, chairs, cooking utensils, and big bundles of other stuff. The girls were certainly not leaving anything to chance!

The short cut Ram Bahadur took for our descent was steep, treacherous, and tough on the old knees. Night fell quickly and we walked our last mile in darkness and in total silence because, unbeknown to me, Samad was suffering from an acute stomach upset. So he was immensely relieved when we finally arrived at our hotel. We richly deserved our sleep that night.

Aida runs the Boston Marathon

When Aida indicated she wanted to attempt the Boston Marathon, we raised our eyebrows. We didn’t think she would really do it. But her father had run the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon and proudly showed us the completion certificate he had earned. He was then 49. Aida was a kid at 27.

Little did we know that she had been avidly following the careers of marathoners Jane Benoit Samuelson and Fatima Roba, the amazing, petite, Ethiopian three-peat marathoner (1997 to 1999). When she appeared determined to do it, we made plans to fly with her brother Amir to Boston to be with her on her Big Day.

Running became Aida’s life. She consumed books on running, joined the L-Street Running Club in Boston and started training in earnest, gradually increasing the number of miles she ran. Once she had attained her ten-mile target she didn’t look back. Each week she added three miles to her distance. She went on to complete 20 miles, developed severe pain in her left leg, and was filled with deep anxiety. Was this the end? Thankfully the doctor she consulted found nothing wrong and after a week’s rest she was back on the track, more determined than ever to complete the 26-mile run in under five hours.

The night before the big run sleep eluded her. After a couple of hours she rose and started to get ready. Thin as a reed she looked sleek in her favorite black knee-length pants and a purple-and-black top specially designed for temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees F. She also pulled on her new black Marathon 2000 jacket. Outside the wind howled.

She went to the station to catch the bus that would take her to the starting point. Amir and Sherry, her flat-mate, decided to join her at Heartbreak Hill, the 20th mile point, and run with her from that point on. That lifted her spirits considerably, she later told us.

We took the underground to Newton in the early afternoon and walked to Cedar Street while Amir and Sherry proceeded to the Runner’s Statue at the 19th mile point. It was cold and blustery, with temperatures well below 50 degrees F.

Although the gun announcing the start of the marathon went off at 12 noon, Aida, whose number was 19221, didn’t start running until 12.30 because of the large number of runners ahead of her.

At almost 5pm we finally spotted her among an exhausted group of runners. We called out to her excitedly and hoisted high above our heads the huge placards we’d prepared that read, in bold letters – AIDA BOLEH! (Aida can do it!) and GO AIDA!

As she approached the finish line, we were thrilled to hear the loud announcement that came over the PA system – Here comes Aida! Aida-Samad! A chip she wore in her shoes allowed her progress during the run to be tracked via the Internet. She came towards us, her face all a-glow, reflecting the enormity of her achievement, and hugged us tightly.

Aida had done it! She had run the Boston Marathon in 4 hours and 55 minutes!

As it turns out Aida was not done yet. Aida did us further proud by running two more marathons in the following two years and improving her completion times – the 2001 San Diego Rock n Roll (4.34) and the 2002 Boston Marathon (4.46).

Youth Hosteling in the Lake District

If someone had told me I’d go youth hosteling in my advanced years, I would say he was off his rocker. But my husband Samad and I did precisely that in our mid-fifties.

We arrived in London very early one September morning and made our way to the Grosvenor House Hotel at Park Lane to leave our luggage which we would need for our stay in London. We took only our backpacks and went to Euston to catch a train to the Lake District. The smooth 5-hour train ride allowed us to enjoy the peaceful countryside with its neat settlements and fields and tidy clumps of trees. Even the cows appeared to graze in neat rows. We arrived at Windermere that afternoon.

A long, slow three-mile walk took us to our first youth hostel at Troutbeck. We didn’t know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised to find hot showers, wholesome meals and warm beds in a very clean establishment. We paid 30 Sterling pounds for our beds, dinner, breakfast and pack lunch for the following day, a good deal, we thought.

Our next hostel at Patterdale was grand by any standards. The room I stayed in, (men and women were put in separate dormitories), had eight specially designed bunk beds, thick warm duvets and blankets and a fitted cupboard for each person. The sitting and dining rooms were spacious and a very efficient staff fed us a sumptuous array of food.

Each morning we would wake up early, scan the sky and hope for good weather. On a fine day we decided to climb three thousand feet to Helvellyn peak. By noon we reached the foot of Striding Edge, a sharp ridge which rose steeply to the peak. As we stepped on the ridge I wailed. There was no way I would attempt it. The sight of the yellow helicopter belonging to the mountain rescue team that suddenly appeared above only increased my fear. We abandoned the ridge and took a longer, less intimidating route but it was still a hard scramble to the top. We were enthralled by the impressive scenery that greeted us, a 360-degree view of fells, dales and gleaming lakes which stretched for miles around.

After an eight-hour trek we reached rustic Thirlmere Youth Hostel, tucked deep in Lakeland. No tired trekkers or backpackers there but swarms of teddy bears, large and small. A giant one named Bremen “served” us our welcoming tea. It is said that in 1902 the American President, Teddy Roosevelt went bear-hunting, saw a cute tethered bear cub and refused to kill it. A few months later, teddy (from his name) bears were on sale everywhere in the US. In 1992, to mark 90 years of teddy bears, the warden of Thirlmere held a Teddy Bear Conference the object of which was to have teddy bears of all ages to meet and mingle, play games with each other, and generally have a good time. More than 50 bears attended. The warden joyously told us he planned to have a Teddy Bear Conference every year!

The following day was cold and windy. We followed a forest trail and got hopelessly lost. It started to rain heavily as we looked for a way out of the forest. Soaking wet we stumbled upon A591, the district’s main artery, headed for Grasmere and reached it by late afternoon.

What a pretty little village was Grasmere, famous for its association with the early 19th Century poet William Wordsworth. We paid homage to him by visiting his home, Dove Cottage, and walked leisurely from one end of the village to the other in a couple of hours.

In contrast, Ambleside, our next stop, was a bustling town full of outdoor equipment shops, book shops, gift shops, cafes and restaurants. Our youth hostel, facing Lake Windermere, was probably the largest in the area, with over 200 rooms. The place was crowded with backpackers, young and old, and people waited in long lines for dinner.

Our great adventure was about to end. On our last day we took a ferry boat to Bowness, a town near Windemere, rented a two-seater self drive motor boat and had a spin on the waters of Bowness, a refreshing change after all the trekking and trudging we’d done.

As we made our way to London, we thought of the many people we’d met, among them Philip and Jackie, a young English couple who had chatted with us as if we were old friends, pretty Miko from Japan who travelled alone, the people we had hot soup with in a pub one cold day, and the couple who showed us where we could enjoy vegetable curry and rice.

After many years I still wonder whether the teddy bears ever met again at Thirlmere.

Life at Spartan Village

Amir was three-and-a-half when he travelled with complete strangers all the way from Malaysia to the US. My husband Samad’s ex-BBC colleague took him to London, and an airline stewardess accompanied him to Detroit. We were overjoyed to see our adored and brave little boy whom I had left in Malaysia for a year to pursue my studies. We drove from Detroit to Spartan Village in East Lansing where we lived in married housing as we were both students at Michigan State.

I was amazed to discover that Amir could read quite well. We had enrolled him in a kindergarten on his second birthday. He adjusted easily to life at the Spartan Village School and did his teachers there proud. I’d walk him to school every day until he was able to go with our neighbor’s older children.

We were poor, if not impoverished, students. My sponsor, MARA, paid for my studies. Having abandoned his job with Shell Malaysia, Samad used his savings for his studies and other expenses. He bought a Ford Fairlane for USD100. He responded to a bicycle-for-sale ad in the campus paper and bought it for only USD8. It took him all over MSU’s 40-acre campus. Our son Aris who lives in California has acquired a bicycle for USD1,000. I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s song, The times they are a-changin’.

One day Samad broke his glasses. He couldn’t afford US prices so he asked my father to help him get a new pair from the Star Optical in Kuala Lumpur. He spent two months groping around in semi-darkness before the glasses arrived.

Despite our impecunious position, we were able to indulge in simple pleasures with our friends, Hashim Noor, the Agriculturalist, Chong, the banker, his brother, and Hashim Hassan and Beng and their spouses. We had dinner get-togethers and went picnicking at nearby places. I recall Beng was a meditation enthusiast and he strongly urged us to take it up but we gently declined.

Samad’s sister and her husband, an Indonesian diplomat, came from Washington for a visit and we had a great time with them. We holidayed at Lake Michigan with Dr Elyas, who would later become Kuala Lumpur’s Mayor, and his family.

A long drive with Hashim Hassan and his wife took us to Disney World in Florida. What a splendid entertainment complex! I think I attacked the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, theme parks and many rides with infinitely more enthusiasm than did little Amir.

We returned to find Samad’s savings were fast depleting. He applied for a MARA study loan and was immensely relieved to receive the money during his final semester.

My studies were almost over when I discovered a baby was on the way! I wanted to have it delivered in the US but my sponsor insisted I return to set up the Institute’s new School of Mass Communications. So Amir and I made our way home.

Samad returned four months later to meet the new arrival, a lovely baby girl we named Aida.

Sadly our dear MSU friends, Chong and Hashim Noor, have now passed on.