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.