January 19th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
Loading the boat

We breakfasted in our room – an entirely normal occurrence – on corn flakes followed by bread + jam.  Pleasant enough, even tho’, to our surprise + disappointment, Kuching has no fresh milk.  I suppose we should not be surprised, when there are no fields to support cows, but the disappointment we cannot help.  We went first to the Tourist Office, tho’ they were effectively useless, + then doubled back to the museum, to pick up our permit, + discover more information if we could, particularly to help us decide on either Miri or Bintulu.  This was  no good either.  We received the permit easily enough (+ quite an impressive document it was too), but they were stiff + formal, not encouraging for the sort of friendly chat I had hoped for.  So we had to decide independently.

Our choice was to take the Miri boat, because that would mean leaving Kuching a day earlier.  Kuching is a pleasant city, but we have seen what we want to see, + are ready to move on.  There is no doubt that the place is a drain upon our funds, because of the price of accommodation, + because of the temptations it offers.  Val thought for a time she had found a cheaper boat to Miri, but then discovered it took 12 hours longer.  As this counteracted the $5 per person saving, we returned to our first agent + bought our tickets, then completed our chores – changing some money, buying some oranges (the oranges here are the best I have ever tasted anywhere in my life – thin-skinned, pipless, juicy, sweet). 

We were supposed to be at the boat by 4, so we arranged to meet back at the guest-house at about 3, + then went our separate ways, Val to the museum once more, me to the British Council.  Actually, I had to go there twice, as they threw me out during their lunch-break, but I spent that time back at the Kuching Plaza, buying bread + pate, + eating a Big Boy with chips.  It wasn’t wonderful, but I thought it might be my last chance for some western food for a while.  The visit to the British Council however, was entirely rewarding, since I was able to sit in the cool + quiet, + read British newspapers – a few days out of date perhaps, but none the less satisfying for that.  Mostly, I read the Observer from 2 weeks ago, but I also glanced at the Guardian Weekly, + flicked thro’  some copies of The Times.  If I had had time, I would also have looked at the TES, + a magazine called Drama, maybe even History Today… but I didn’t have time.

And what did I learn?  Important things first.  Liverpool are top (surprise, surprise), Man Utd second (likewise), but West Ham are 3rd, having just fought their way back there, it seems, beating Luton away, + Tottenham at home (hurrah.)  West Ham are also thro’ to the 4th round of the FA Cup, having beaten Wigan at home 1-0.  Liverpool are also thro’, but Man Utd, Arsenal + Notts Forest all lost… thank heavens.

As for other news, little was evident except the relatively trivial.  French UHT milk had just begun to be imported into Britain, at 4p a pint less than good old English pasteurised.  Tony Benn is making a comeback into politics, + is being fought, not by the Tories, but by the Labourites.  Sir Keith Joseph is launching a new drive to raise standards in British schools.  (And if that means “Back to Basics” then I’m finished.)

At 3 o’clock, I reluctantly laid down the paper + returned to the guest-house, we collected our belongings, + trudged off to the wharf.  When we arrived, the crew’s own ETD was about 7, so having plenty of time to kill we sat on the wharf, drank coke, + played chess… Val won.  Eventually scrambled aboard + found a spot on the rear deck where we would be able to sleep.  In the meantime, we sat + read.  7 o’clock came + went without us moving even tho’, so far as I could tell, we were fully laden.  Eventually I was told we would be sailing tomorrow at 4 pm.  Depressed + disconsolate, we went to sleep.

Entirely predictable that I should take the opportunity to indulge myself, with a Big Boy and chips, but also lots of relatively trivial reading. Tony Benn ws on the left of the Labour party, our own Bernie Sanders, I suppose. And meanwhile Val was ensuring she read every caption in the museum.

Equally predictable was the unreliability of our departure, something we have grown accustomed to, it’s true, but when one receives a time, one lives in hope.

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