It’s A Train


People tell me there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Of course there is! In my case, this light is usually a runaway train intent on splattering me all over the walls of the tunnel.

When this happens – and it’s been happening a lot lately – I hanker for a time when things had been very much simpler. It was a time when I had precious little to call my own: no money, no women – but best of all, no worries. All I needed were my guitar, a quiet busking pitch near Tottenham Court Road tube station and a gaggle of buxom Italian tourists who, for some reason, were always quite happy to throw money (and a few other things as well) my way.

And if the coppers didn’t come around to chase you away too soon, you could easily pocket maybe fifteen quid for an hour’s worth of busking – just about enough for a few pints of lager, a packet of Old Holborn and maybe a bag of fish and chips (instead of some Moroccan hashish).

It was a time when a smile wasn’t there to hide the pain and hunger wasn’t something a few beers couldn’t cure. If push came to shove – if you got really hungry at 2.00 am – you could always sneak down to the kitchen at Malaysia Hall, pry open the door and cook yourself a mean nasi goreng. Of course, if you cleaned up afterwards, nobody would know, or notice – or even care.

There is something to be said for Malaysia Hall. With rental at only 89 pence a night (back in 1980), it was a Godsend to government sponsored students who were living on a meagre subsistence allowance of 164 quid a month. And the meals were just 50 pence a pop! So what if you had the occasional nail sticking out of the floorboard and that the central heating seldom worked? I took all the warmth and comfort I needed from an old army surplus M65 field jacket –  one with a bullet-hole over the left breast pocket (Tut! Tut! No, you weren’t allowed to take busty Italian tourists up to your room).

And you’d meet the most interesting people at the Hall. There were law students with dreams of becoming a Menteri Besar someday, accounting students who were intent on earning obscene incomes when they graduate and engineering students who seriously believed that they were the only ones with a brain anywhere within a 50 mile radius.

Then there were the ageing flower-power folks (throwbacks from the 60s) who could think of nothing else except recreating Woodstock (preferably in KL), Malaysia Hall staffers pulling every string in the known universe so that they could dodge (for the umpteenth time) out of being posted back to Malaysia and a dazed-looking, pony-tailed law student (wearing an M65 army field jacket with a bullet-hole over his left breast pocket) who absolutely had no idea of what was going on – much less of who he was or what he wanted to be.

Did I ever get lonely? Sure, but not very often.

When I did, I’d just pop into Midi’s room to listen to Jackson Browne’s ‘Rosie’ for a few hundred times. This would cause me to forget how the word lonely was even spelt – and also drive the elderly, cantankerous git next door (who was doing his Bar Finals) up the walls. The last I heard they sent him to jail. I think he’s out now.

And if the weather was good, J and I would take a walk to Regent’s Park, plonk ourselves down on a blue bench and talk for hours (we just talked, OK? What did you think?) A packet or two of Gauloises later, I’d walk her back to her swanky Baker Street apartment and I’d make my way back to Malaysia Hall, all the while wondering what just happened.

In fact, I am still wondering what happened. How did I get from all that to where I am now? I grew up, I guess. Pah! It’s a shame this is an irreversible process.

Hang on! I think I see a light at the end of this tunnel. Quick! Let’s make a run for it – chances are it’s going to be a train.

See you at Bryanston Square, folks – if Malaysia Hall is still there.


22 thoughts on “It’s A Train

  1. Hi Matt,

    It’s so ironic yet so true, ‘no money, no woman & NO WORRIES, they’re so synonymous. Wow u actually did some busking in the streets of London, u sure or not they throw u other things than just money? Did u mean the things that Tom Jones gets thrown at every time in his concerts? Knickers, sotong & all…hehehe..

    Talking about guitars, R.I.P to Les Paul founder/pioneer maker of the first electric guitar? Died on 13/08/2009. Good innings too at 94y.o.

    Also today the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock (15th to 18th August 1969). And did u know The Who played ‘Tommy’ on that day too?

    Peace & flower power to you bro, things can only get better!



    That Bob Marley fellow was also on to something when he said “No woman, no cry”. But no woman also means no… er… never mind. Yeah, when I heard Les Paul had died, I spent the whole day in bed.

    No, they didn’t throw their undies at me a la Tom Jones. Not that good-lah, brother. They just threw that ‘come hither’ look – which I may, or may not have acted upon. No sir, I ain’t telling.

  2. always have a very comical way of telling us of your UK days..we just can’t help enjoying your ‘suffering’ days instead of being sorry for you..haha

    And the train splattering description? So glad you meant it in a cartoonish way..we can’t afford to lose our adorable and entertaining hero!


    The reason my days in London sound so comical is because they were exactly that: comical! And that’s being polite about it 🙂 In fact, things haven’t changed much since then. Even today, young children look at me and start laughing. I should have joined a circus (sigh)

    But I am elated to know that somewhere out there, someone thinks of me a an adorable and entertaining hero. I’ll sleep well tonight


  3. Mat-san,

    Good ole Malaysia Hall has moved from Bryanston Square to a more sober(albeit smaller) lot about 3-miles away, at Queenborough Terrace, Bayswater.From the Holiday Villa London, walk on towards Bayswater and it`s just a couple of junctions away,or about 5-minutes` walk.When I was there 2-Xmas`s ago, they were just putting the finishing touches of paint and woodwork.Went to look up an ole friend,a long-serving staffer, Zainal(u know him?the wifey works in a travel agency).

    Tottenham Court Road Station?Memories, Mat-san, it brings back memories for me too!There`s a neat little fish n chips joint(the genuine stuff,served on pages of old newspapers) just to the left of it,eh?

    That blue bench at Regents Park?So, Mat-san, that was you all along, the protagonist in that moving tale of a love-torn couple.She from Bakers St?Hmmm, my friend, your taste in womn is certainly very discerning and definitely oozes class(just like me, he!he!)

    Seriously, Mat-san, that sad “Blue Bench at Regents Park” episode is a true eye-opener.There shouldn`t be any regrets later on in life(very much later on); no looking back and uttering a pathetic sigh,” if only………….”.

    Life`s too short, Mat-san, and is getting shorter by the day, and a man`s gotta do what a man`s gotta do, i.e. just follow where the heart beckons!

    Cheers!And Good Luck!


    Malaysia Hall is now in Bayswater? That’s where MARA hostel is (or is it used to be?). I’m having a tough time letting all this sink in. If I strike it big some day, I’ll buy 46 Bryanston Square off of whoever owns it. Malaysia Hall cannot be in any other place other than Bryanston Square! That’s where the memories of innumerable Malaysia students belong (yours truly included).

    I don’t recall the chippie. Perhaps its because I seldom ate in those days. Anyway, whenever I was at Tottenham Ct Rd, I’d be too busy gawking at the guitars in the shops to notice anything else.

    And of course I know Zainal (Sikom?). Handsome bugger! He caught a friend of mine trying to nick his bicycle once. We had a lot of explaining to do, I assure you! But Zainal was a true gent about it. Phew! However, Zainal wouldn’t remember me, though. But I reckon he’ll still remember the sorry sod who tried to steal his bike. Subhanallah! That was over 30 years ago.

    The blue bench? I’ll buy that off the park authorities, too, someday.

  4. An entertaining piece as usual but what got me rotfl was your reference to Tottenham Court Road 😀 theres actually no connection but the hubs has this running kelantanese joke that hinges on the hilarious way that TCR is pronounced. just couldnt help myself..ekekeh. and my officemates are now in total agreement that i’ve finally gone off the deep end 😉

    Would’ve liked to see u buskin’ in ur pony tail 🙂


    I think I know the joke you mean; has to be verbal to have impact, though. Remind me to write about the one that concerns the kelantanese word ‘tubek’ someday.

    Ma’am! I’d like to see me busking in my pony-tail at Tottenham Court Road again, too! But in the shape I was in then (30 years ago?) – not the way I am now 😛

    Hmm… while were at it, try saying ‘One armed swordsman’ and ‘The man with the golden gun’ very fast in Kelantanese.

  5. Mamak,

    I wonder where Aziz Purba where about?
    alah….the BBMB London staff tu always with his Ovation.
    So there say,he was the cousin of our bluesman Ito.Wallahwallam.

    Pak Tuo

    Did Aziz Purba ever play that Ovation of his? I can’t seem to recall ever seeing him do that

  6. dear matB,

    i dare say it’s not light you’re hankering for, at the end of a tunnel or anywhere else. it’s for blighty!

    there are various names for the maladie you’re suffering from. in french, it’s maladie du pays, in german, Heimweh [got to cap nouns in bleeping Deutsch!] and in spanish el mal de corazón.

    but i like it best in n9speak, terkonang kek kampung. matters not that the “kampung” wasn’t where your “darah tumpah”. “home” in my book is where you left your heart!

    i dare say the best remedy for your ailment is an airasia teek to your source of nostalgia. ;D


    You hit the spot ma’am. I miss good old Blighty!

    And I like your definition of ‘kampung’ (home): “home” in my book is where you left your heart!

    I fear making that trip to the Air Asia ticketing office, ma’am. I might just end up purchasing a one-way ticket!

  7. Mat B

    I can relate to that Totenekokrok (Tottenham Court Road) and Kanabisterik (Carnaby Street) and a host of other pristine English name places corrupted into Kelantanese English. Even my watering hole, Feliksterik, wasn’t spared…

    Hmmm, so the blue bench story was real after all…

    Puteri Kamaliah

    Yes, ma’am. There was that blue bench at Regent’s Park… a very special blue bench. And the guitar shop assistant who sang James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” is real, too. All too real, ma’am… all too real.

  8. I cant recall either.
    There’s once a jam session at Brydiston Road (near Kensel Rise),at Man Iban flat,arwah Jimmy,arwah Rommel,Chun,Jeff Gigi and me have a good jam,as you know those boys was really into rocking stuff,suddenly Aziz Purba brought out his ovation,plugging some really ‘Purba’s tune which ….well put off everbody.Jamming is all about syn.with the others but his was off course out of tune.
    Aziz got the nickname ‘Purba’ due to his involvement with bangsawan theater held at Malaysian Hall long before we arrive.
    Think he was in UK late 60’s.When hitching was easier across Afghanistan via India cross Turkey and so entry to Europe is much easier.

    There was a story of a Malaysian whom dreams to become a pilot with the RAF,cycle all the way from Ipoh in the early 60’s crossing the silk road to Fanbrough ,home base for the RAF and fullfill his life dream,ending as gallant fighter pilot with the RAF.
    Honored with Datokship a couple of years.
    Mamak,do you recall who gave the Friday’s Khutbah at the Malaysian Hall then?

    Pak Tuo

    What about the Englishman who could not fly for the RAF, hitch-hiked to Malaysia to join TUDM but was also rejected? I think he’s become a Malay now and is some sort of trainer working out of Danau Kota.

    Heh! Heh!

  9. Life’s short. Stop growing up, start growing young 😛


    I’d very much like to grow young, ma’am. But my creaky joints and aching muscles won’t let me 🙂

  10. Salam Mr MB & the rest.

    Selamat menyambut bulan Ramadhan Al Mubarak dan selamat menunaikan ibadah puasa.

    Do tell us about the fasting month back then in England? What’s it like?


    I have to admit that I only have a very vague recollections of Ramadan when I was there.

    Yes, sir. I was a bad boy. Not something I’m proud of. But I did try to give fasting a good go during my last Ramadan in London. Maybe I’ll blog about it someday.

    I’m wishing you the best Ramadan you ever had, my friend!

  11. Salam MatB,

    You were a Mara Hostel tenant once? That’s where I would squat if I come down to London.

    Heheheh… engineering students are the only ones with brains. How right you are.


    Yes, sir! I stayed at MARA Hostel once – the ’81 to ’82 session when Kamal was the warden. I was holed-up with this guy from MCKK (can’t remember the name now) on the first floor, right above the study room. So, who did you squat with? Have we ever bumped into each other? Of course, I wasn’t at the hostel much: I was mostly outside – up to no good 🙂

    MARA Hostel was nice, but not as memorable as my stay at Malaysia Hall

  12. Mr MB

    “Yes, sir. I was a bad boy. Not something I’m proud of. But I did try to give fasting a good go during my last Ramadan in London. Maybe I’ll blog about it someday.”

    Funny you said that, cos you ain’t a bad boy in my book. Whenever i read your blog, it reminds me of the truthfulness in the revelation put forth in the Quran – “In the mountains there are streaks of various shades of red and white, and jet-black rocks. Men, beast and cattle have their different colours, too. From among His servants, it is the learned who fear God” (35:27-28)


    Thanks, bro.

  13. Reading this post, it clicked why you Bangkai! It moved me what with flood of memories of my own years at old blighty. I was also – (like bangkai? self-inflicted/caused misery really!) waiting for THAT train but today we wouldn’t have guessed, subhanALlah!
    Yours of the 80’s; mine of the 70’s 46, Bryanston Square. Pak and Mak Tam were in control of the kitchen- no chance of doing you, then. But lining up at Malaysia Hall was the Pavlov’s bell of my hungry days for home-cook food. Also nowhere would you have that tiny SINK in the toilet to get your backside washed! And the rapid fire repartee in kelate english! Ooh, these are the memories which was the light at the end of the tunnel reminding us to go home, surely? Pity any young bangkais, no more Malaysia Hall!

    Red Alpha

    Now that you’ve reminded me, the sinks at Malaysia Hall – whether in the toilets or in the rooms – were absolutely tiny! Had I not seen the tap, I would have gone, “How nice! A urinal in my room!”

    Yes, maybe its time for us to go home.

  14. Mat-san,

    Sorry…it`s me again(if you don`t mind).

    Mek Yam is right …go and satisfy that yearning you have for the source of your nostalgia.There lies your “kampung”!

    My youngest sis refused to come back here ever, after going there to study some 2-decades ago.Zainal (Sikom) and his wifey Niman will forever call London home(and Malaysia Hall is 2nd home to him).And my nephew, the head honcho at Holiday Villa London…the same.

    Those immortal lyrics ring true in my head always,”..I left my……”(substitute London for San Francisco).

    Unlike you, my friend, I found my heart here,finally, so here is where I belong.But London is a very,very close 2nd.

    To each…his own!Que Sera, Sera!



    No, sir. I never mind your visits here; I welcome them.

    Yes, sir, after I sort out the spot of bother I am in right now, I’m going to wing my way over the cliffs of Dover again. And if I can get a WWII Spitfire or Hawker Hurricane fighter to do it in, all the better!

  15. selamat puasa to you and yours, matB!

    may the train you see this ramadan be loaded with gravy, sir!


    Thank you, ma’am. A trainload of gravy will do me nicely.

    I am wishing the same for you, too.

  16. dear sir, thank you for introducing me to Jackson Browne’s ‘Rosie’, both the song and the “term” to describe, well, hehe.

    penyelamat dunia (formerly penyangak)

    penyelamatdunia (formerly known as penyangak)

    No, no, nooooo! ‘Rosie’ is not the national anthem for wankers. I has just been (unfairly!) somehow interpreted that way over the years

    Good to hear from you again,bro!

  17. Many thanks, you surely brings back memories. Come to think of it, I am missing the life in London. I prefer Gitane over Gauloises, not because I was living like a gypsy but because of the strong taste.

    Pak Din

    Hah! Good to hear from you again.

    Funny that! I always thought that Gauloises were stronger than Gitanes. But never mind, the memories are even tastier.

  18. mmmm….good times gets better with age.Bad times just blurs away.
    I miss the little Jewish bakery..such fabulous creampuffs n eclairs .And I have yet to find bread (grilled on the gas heater )as delicious.Even the milk on the doorstep evoke its own memory?

    Tried to replicate that feel>>bought myself an apartment just minutes from my old haunting kid stays there most times.But on my brief stay overs…Bro,its nots the same anymore>>no John Peel,Old greyWhistle Test and Pans People???The TV is actually in color and so many channels.No gas heater with the coin slot..And even the milk is ordinary.The bakery is now just a franchise very much like DeliFrance?And A is now a grandma..

    Btw,MB…there are a few Pahang people here..they may want to cane you retrospectively after that confession.

    But of cos,Brits do pay for these sort of stuff too,


    First of all, Selamat Hari Raya and ma’af zahir batin. Its good to hear from you again, my friend.

    Old Grey Whistle Test and Pans People? That takes me waaaaaay back! And that Jewish Bakery – Rueben’s I think it was – is no longer there? Oh, no! I spent a lot of time there with my nose pressed up the window pane, my friend. (Sounds like a Tom Jones song, don’t I?)

    Wow! How’s cool is that! It must be something to be able to own an apartment in your old stomping grounds, eh? This is the stuff my fantasies are made of.

    And BTW, the folks in Pahang aren’t the only ones who want a piece of my hide!

    Thanks for the memories, my friend.

  19. Hello Mr. Bangkai,

    I am now studying Law in London. And have met a lot of pakciks out there who talk about their days of Malaysian Hall near Marble Arch with such fondness and with these misty eyes. Wow, and reading your stories just made me feel left out from this nostalgic building which would have been awesome to live in. I heard even Tunku Abd Rahman stayed at the Malaysian Hall you’re referring to. How cool is that? Malaysian Hall now is not a place for student to live, only for visitors at 7 pounds a night for students and 13 pounds, I think, for adults.

    Theres this one old guy, hes ancient, i think nama dia pak syed? cant remember. he said hes been here ages ago and still barks randomly ‘ gerik itu kawasan komunis – setan!’ and he said the old Malaysian Hall is truly historical for malaysians.

    Damn, i feel like an old soul on lost cause. I want to see this Malaysian Hall now. will take the tube to marble arch and check it out tomorrow. Dont like it when aunties and uncles fondly remember things that i know dont exist anymore coz i feel sad that its gone – as in no new generation keeping it up or something.

    The MARA hall just got renovated. Swanky now, only about 110-ish pounds a week. HAH! GILE!

    but food in malaysian hall cafe still subsidized. 3.50pounds untuk nasi campur 3 lauk. not bad.


    Aha! The thing is, ‘the old times’ always seem the best. Maybe 25 years from now, you’ll be talking so passionately about the London you used to know that you’ll make the Malaysian law students at that time feel left out! And judging from your command of English, and the way you write, this will be a forgone conclusion.

    MARA Hostel (called it hostel back then) is now swanky? And at 110 quid a week? This is scary. And Malaysia Hall meals are now three fifty a pop? At these rates I would have only lasted maybe 8 days in London before I turned to a life of crime.

    “Gerik tu kawasan komunis…” – that’s a gem! Almost as out of whack as saying Malaysia Hall is in Bryanston Square and meals there cost 50 pence! 🙂

    Good to have you here, Kautsar

  20. Selamat Hari Raya!

    Malaysia Hall?

    Bet you know Ali Karim – he seemed to have been a permanent fixture there the years I was there.

    sir cipan

    Selamat Hari Raya to you, too, sir!

    Ali Karim? Doesn’t ring a bell. Perhaps I used to know him by the derogatory names we used to give each other. But I remember the warden, En Ramli Mat Saman, tho. (No, that is his real name!)

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