Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Last Full Day, The Rainy Season, Blackpool and Doughnuts, W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday 13 October 2016

I can’t complain. The rain has held off from drenching the area until today. I really should have come outside the rainy season for more adventurous outdoor stuff, like the local Botanic Gardens, ascending Penang Hill, revisiting the War Museum and other places south of George Town. If I have time and opportunity in the future, I will do it come back. Of that there is no doubt.

The ghosts of places still to revisit will be benign, as my return visits to Bali, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore have proved. the shared love we had for this part of the world probably is the reason. It was shared, and the memories, visits, explorations were positive apart from only one. A pretty good record, all things considered.

Now if there’s one complaint I have about breakfast, it was the inclusion among the pastries of mini ring doughnuts. How dare they provide something irresistible? Has the kitchen no shame in forcing me to have one (yes, I can resist temptation)? Of course the best ring doughnuts I’ve ever had go back to my days as a prize bingo checker, and later my elevation to prize bingo caller at the old Central Station in Blackpool.

Like many school kids in the borough, I worked in the Blackpool tourism business in one way or another earning holiday money. I was a sad bugger. I took it seriously. I played bingo elsewhere observing how others who had been there for years operated. One guy, with one of the worst wigs I have ever clapped eyes on, and who was well known to everybody in the prize bingo world, was good at his job. I later found out, following a visit by the D’Oyly Carte, when he was a couple of rows in front and maybe half dozen seats to the right that he liked G&S and sang along with everything. He also had a personal odour problem, which I discovered were also as well known as his excellent  hairpieces.

But I digress, I digress.

One aroma that filled my adolescent senses and always needed to be satisfied, not that I ever made the slightest effort to avoid it, was that of freshly made ring doughnuts. One watched them made, from the batter being fed into the system, the fat sizzling away, the alchemical change from semi-liquid to more solid matter happening before one’s very eyes, then plopping out and being sugared, picking it up gingerly and biting into it with the full pleasure of fat, batter, sugar and warmth invading the mouth. That’s how one east a proper ring doughnut, and every miserable failed attempt at creating one will always revive the happy memories of my teenage years and the Fylde.

Walking back from breakfast I fell into conversation with a member of staff. If there is one thing I like about the E&O, it is the friendliness of the staff. Have yet to meet one surly person. We all have our off days, but there are more smiles per face here. One thing we spoke about was how Somerset Maugham, a name I associate (but not exclusively) with tales of life in the British Empire in the first half of the twentieth century., has seemingly disappeared off the bookshelves. I’ve had a cursory glance on line at his book On a Chinese Screen: Sketches of Life in China. It is well written, not given to fanciful fripperies and frills. I remember one of the first things we were given to read in the first form at Oakham School by our English teacher, “Slasher Hardy”, was a short story by Maugham, The Sexton, which we had to précis. Reading it I could not even begin to think how one could cut down such writing, so spare, with few, if any, excessive words. Why and how did I forget him so soon after that lesson in the Old School building?

After seeking shelter in the room I decided I had earned a day off. I have been here before and we had taken time off from tourism. I have plenty more reasons to return to Penang. Had I organised myself better, I could have extended this trip with a schedule of things to do, rain being the main spanner in the works.

Would I come back and do more? Yes. Would I encourage anybody wondering where to visit in Malaysia as their first port of call to come to the island of Penang? 

These questions are, surely, dear reader, rhetorical.

My one and only regret is unlike on the previous trip, I did not have afternoon tea here (it was naughty in the extreme). But when you don’t have somebody special, or at the very least, extremely pleasant to share it with, it’s not much fun.

Afternoon tea, at the E&O,10th November 2012.
Celebrating (a day late) my 58th birthday.

Au revoir, Penang. Au revoir George Town. Au revoir E&O.

I’m glad to have renewed our acquaintance. I’ll try to do better next time.

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