February 14 1986, Melbourne, Australia
I shoved the Valentine’s card in my rucksack, hoping it wouldn’t get too screwed up, and in due course we boarded the ‘plane for Singapore.
We’d got flights back to the UK with Singapore Airlines and SAS. No, not the evil military Brits, but Scandinavian airlines, which unsurprisingly, went via Denmark. Flights to and from Australia took a long time in olden days.
This journey drew the line under my world trip. Finished. Over. The End.
Fifteen months earlier, a work colleague and I had chucked our jobs to set out on our adventure. No Operation Raleigh, or VSO, or any organisational help, just us spending our hard-earned money from journalism.
As the control freak of the duo, I planned everything meticulously. I could recite train times across Europe after spending days, not hours, in my local library with my nose glued to Thomas Cook’s railway timetable.
First up was our trip to Europe on the much-loved Inter-rail pass. A month’s travel on most trains for around a hundred quid back then.
I planned that part of the journey around my degree. I wanted to visit so many of the places I’d learned about in my archaeology lectures. I’d also arranged to visit Eduard in Amsterdam, Till in Munich, and Giancarlo in Rome. I’d met them all while I was rebuilding a medieval village in France and we’d done the usual exchange of addresses and ‘we’ll meet up’. Most times it doesn’t happen, sometimes it does.
After Europe, it was the heady and unknown step to Asia, and finally, Australia.
But the best laid plans … Because what I didn’t plan on, was meeting someone in a youth hostel in Sydney and marrying him a few months later.
My work colleague, on the other hand, had romantic dreams of being swept off her feet by an Australian sheep farmer and going to live in the outback. Not sure how she was going to meet one in a Sydney youth hostel in King’s Cross, best known for drugs, crime and sex work.
Last I heard of her, she was living in her home city in the UK with a married man and they were hoping to go to Malaysia. He worked for Emron … I’d be surprised if she ever got to Malaysia.
I’d left the UK as a single young woman with the big world wide open in front of me. I was returning with no job to go to, a husband I’d known for less than a year, and that indeflatable confidence of youth.
It was a memorable Valentine’s Day, not just for the card.
However, the UK was in the distance and we planned to enjoy ourselves en route.
First stop Singapore. Where does one stay there? Raffles. Where else? Complete with scruffy rucksacks we descended on the foyer of the beautiful colonial hotel to treat ourselves to a second honeymoon, on the grounds that a Saturday night in NSW’s Hunter Valley wasn’t sufficient.
And it was well worth it. Not even too expensive.
As for our room, well room, didn’t describe it. It was an apartment. At least twice the size of Gibflat.
I have very few memories of Singapore etched in my sepia-tinted memory, but the room, ie suite, is one. A large sitting room, a large bedroom, a large bathroom, and some sort of kitchen bit. One could live there for ages. As indeed did Somerset Maugham.
While the detail of the rooms themselves has faded, for example, did I put up my Valentine’s card somewhere? What remains, is the verandah entrance. We went upstairs and along the long verandah to enter the
room apartment/suite. It was beautiful. I could have stayed there forever.
Forever wasn’t to be though. Again I can’t remember. Did we stay one night or two? We had a drink in one of the bars. Gin and tonic I imagine, what else? But we never ate at Raffles.
We wandered around outside, exploring nearby Singapore. Gave the high-rise buildings a miss, but chose instead the cricket ground and an Arab street market where I remember eating delicious pancakes.
[I don’t understand cricket but in 1994, total: 231/6 v Gibraltar, 25 February 1994 at Ruaraka Sports Club Ground, Nairobi. This may mean something to someone. I think Gib didn’t do too well, otherwise I am lost.]
At some point in Singapore I felt sick. We blamed it on something I’d eaten, although we ate the same food. With many years’ hindsight, it was probably stress. That wonderful escape in life, from life, to be absolutely free to do what I wanted, was over.
And there endeth my memories of warm, balmy, exotic, evocative Singapore. I wonder if Raffles would let in backpackers these days? Just as well I went when I did.
Sir Stamford Raffles, known as the founder of Singapore, was born off the coast of Jamaica in 1781. His father, Capt Benjamin Raffles (d 1797) came from Yorkshire. I bet Stamford was gutted he couldn’t play cricket for Yorkshire because he was born outside the county.
[Note: In the past one could only play cricket for Yorkshire County Cricket Club if born within the county.]
Nice to know Stamford had Yorkshire ancestry though.
Singapore pix courtesy of wiki. I’d stopped taking photos by then.
Today’s Anglo-Asian food: Eggs curried, chutney, and pickle.