February 12th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
The Anglican church

A night disturbed only by a rat running round the vestry – church-mice, certainly, but church rats?  We had to be up early, because of early morning preparations for church – service was at 7.30.  We had decided to attend service ourselves – we would be up in any case, + thought it would be diplomatic to do so, since we were taking advantage of the church’s hospitality.  We also thought it would be interesting, but it wasn’t – it was startlingly dull, ritually following the printed morning service.  And the sermon was simplistic + rambling, the result of a speaker whose native tongue is Iban preaching to a congregation most of whose native tongue was Mandarin.  There was a good-sized congregation, however, with a sprinkling of expats.

Afterwards, there was a sort of buffet breakfast served in the covered area behind the church, + during this we had the chance to chat with 2 fellow Brits in exile.  They were both connected with the British Army presence in Brunei, Ian being a teacher, George a career soldier, + it would have been difficult to imagine 2 different men.  Ian was tall, thin, nervous, churchy; George was short, powerful-looking, confident, + looking very much out of place in this company.  Naturally, we told them something about our own travels + experiences, with which they were both interested.  Predictably, it was George, the non-churchy one, who invited us to come back to his house for a meal.  This was a most welcome invitation, altho’, perhaps, not entirely unexpected – it was, to be honest, a 4th reason for attending church this morning.  A long shot, but it had paid off.

George arranged to pick us up at 5, + then we wandered into town to kill some time.  We went to the shops, again, and wandered briefly around a small market – it had very little in it.  We also tried to visit the aquarium – closed for a re-fit – + the Churchill Museum – not open till 2.  Typical.  When we returned to the church, we were told that we had had a visitor, from the description, Ian.  We were, ungratefully, pleased to have missed him, + only hoped he hadn’t come to some arrangement with George, so that he would be our host this evening – he didn’t promise to be exciting company.

The Churchill museum

A little while later, the vicar knocked on the vestry door, + invited us across to the vicarage for tea.  Very pleasant it was too, + almost English, with fruit-cake, biscuits, + home-made peanut sponge.  The talk was pleasant too.  We talked about the training in Kuching – for some reason, Brunei is part of the Kuching diocese – + about how there was the possibility of further study at Oxford this year.  He also told us of the problems the church has with the government – unable to import religious books, unable to obtain permission to build larger premises.

At 2, we wandered down to the Churchill Museum, which was well laid-out, but facile + shallow.  It did, however, kill an hour or so.  And then we wandered over to the Pasat Belia to use their showers.  We certainly needed them, but they stank + were filthy.  The place is both inefficient + illogical.  Wandered back to the church then to wait for George.  To kill a bit of time Val was working on her beadwork headband, but managed to upset the tin + spill beads all over the vestry floor, so that when George arrived, he found us on our hands + knees searching for the blasted things.

The barracks were about 10 miles out of town, + on the way out he drove us past the stadium, another multi-million project, but certainly most impressive.  George also took the opportunity to tell us about his situation.  He was a Warrant Officer II, having risen from the ranks, but was serving for 2 years out here, having been seconded as part of a small force to the Bruneian army.  He hadn’t mentioned a family at all, but we met them when we arrived: his wife Helga, a pleasant German lady, + 2 kids Melanie + Stefan, who both seemed pretty good.  The first thing he gave me was the Sunday Telegraph, just a week old!  The only news of any real interest to me was the football, of course, + West Ham are still right up there.

The next surprise was even better, for when dinner was put on the table, it turned out to be roast beef, yorkshire pudding, spuds + peas.  I ate like a horse, proving there’s nothing wrong with my appetite when I like the food.  It was quite, quite delicious.  In the evening we relaxed in the lounge, but there was a very awkward incident when Ian turned up, clearly expecting to take us back with him.  George had expected him, I knew from a hint he had dropped at dinner, but obviously not this early.  It seemed he had arranged for Ian to put us up for the night, but had subsequently thought better of it, even tho’ Ian had a bigger flat.  It was very awkward, with Ian clearly expecting us to be following him straight back out, + us feeling awkward, + not wishing to cause problems for anyone (tho’ definitely preferring the George option), + George first stalling, + then definitely inviting us to stay, tho’ making some excuse, of Ian being a bachelor + unable to look after us, to soothe his feelings.  Ian eventually took the hint, + left without us, but it had been embarrassing all round.  Afterwards we watched a fairly appalling video movie, + then chatted.  Like many in his profession, George was a little right of centre, + I could not conceal my mild socialism, but there was no bitterness, + really we got on very well.  For us, a very late night.  We slept in Melanie’s room, her being shunted in with her brother.

Falling on our feet once again. Another expat experience, to be sure, but in a place like Brunei, this was to be expected. And roast beef, the paper, a comfortable bed… nothing at all to complain of. The awkwardness with Ian was resolved much to our satisfaction; there was the potential to be mildly yoppied.

  1. Kevan Baker

    Curious, Helga has never mentioned being married to a British soldier and having two children. Could it be that there is more than one German woman named Helga?

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