Katy Perry warmed the seat for me

It’s a wonderful thing when your children become independent, start to lead more interesting lives than yours ever was, and then invite you to tag along from time to time.

That’s how Anthony and I got ourselves invited to a wine-tasting at Berry Brothers and Rudd last Friday – to be tutored by Olivia – and so we hotfooted it to St James’s, in our role as proud parents.

We were greeted by our hostess and a glass of fizz –

and then swilled, sniffed, slurped and chewed (yes, chewed) seven different wines –

– and by the end of the evening I had a series of  interesting notes: smoky bacon, cats’ pee, leather, tobacco.  I’m just hoping those weren’t the actual ingredients.

Then we had a tour around the shop, and for those who don’t know, it’s been there for over 250 years – and when you look at a photo, you can see why it’s been called the Hogwarts of the wine world –

– definitely looks like a corner of the Leaky Cauldron.

It’s full of intriguing little staircases –

– and of course, there’s wine everywhere ….

… even in the ladies loo –

Here’s a close-up of the wall –

– top marks for appropriately-themed wallpaper here.

In the shop there’s a huge, ancient set of scales, which was originally purchased to weigh coffee, but then became famous as one of the few places where a person could be weighed in Eighteenth Century London – and all sorts of people had their weights recorded in a series of ledgers –

Lord Byron’s records show that he lost a lot of weight when he contracted some nasty disease (best not to ask exactly what, I felt), and William Pitt, Beau Brummel, Nellie Melba and the Aga Khan were all regulars … what a fascinating piece of social history.

But it’s not just a piece of history; the scales are still being sat on nowadays.  Matt Damon recently had a weigh-in and I was assured that the last bottom to grace the seat before mine, was Katy Perry’s last week …

… thanks, Katy – you warmed it beautifully.

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You know you’re in England when …

… a story about criminal damage to an artichoke patch –

– is not from a Wallace and Gromit film, but is actually on the BBC –

I popped home to England for a brief visit last week for the first time in a year, and revelled in the things that are so different to life in Malaysia.

My sister-in-law went off to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, looking glam and gorgeous (not that I was jealous, you understand) –

Meanwhile these two ladies were on the tube at 11 a.m. enjoying a cheeky G&T –

note to self: flamingo straws definitely add a touch of class in this scenario.

The roses in Regent’s Park were beautiful –

and my own climbing rose wasn’t too bad either, and definitely enhanced by the wonderfully sunny weather –

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy was wacky and flamboyant, as you might expect from something put together by Grayson Perry.

The elongated Pink Panther is entitled ‘Infinity’

and this sculpture has no title –

– but covering an ironing board in papier-mâché is the best thing to do with it, in my opinion.

I was rather taken with this bear rug in reverse –

and the guardian of the gate, made of nails –

He wouldn’t look out of place outside a Wat in Thailand.

 

 

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On the trail of the headhunters in Sarawak

How about this for the entrance to a national park?

We arrived by boat, and waded from the shallows up to the beach in gloriously warm water

I couldn’t understand why nobody was swimming, until our guide explained that the waters here are home to crocodiles – and the saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile and most aggressive of all crocodiles.  Suddenly I understood very clearly why all the beautiful little bays along the coast-

– are utterly deserted.

There are some amazing rock formations.  This one is the snakeshead rock –

which looks as though it’s been created by some giant who’s heavily into the latest stone balancing craze.

And this one looked just like a giant piece of driftwood –

– well, it looked like that to me, anyway.

There are more than forty indigenous ethnic groups in Sarawak, including the Iban, who were the original headhunters of Borneo.  Our guide was an Iban –

– and he was a formidable animal and plant hunter, but luckily showed no interest in detaching anyone’s head from their shoulders.

The Iban and several of the other tribes live in longhouses and the Sarawak cultural village has brought a whole variety of them together.

Some are short –

– note the staircase, made of a single tree trunk, which can be pulled up into the house if invaders threaten.

Some are tall –

– the narrow, single-trunk staircase up to this one was terrifyingly tortuous to climb.

And some are round and rather gloomy inside –

 

They all seem to be full of beautiful girls

who obviously have access to modern dentistry.

These two are engaged in the traditional age-old practices –

– of embroidery and texting.

The witch doctor has a surgery in one of the longhouses –

If you’re ill, he takes your illness and transfers it to one of the dolls –

which is then floated down the river in a special boat –

We were warned never to touch one of the dolls or one of the boats, if we see them on a river somewhere.  Apparently the illness will transfer to you if you touch it … scary stuff.

The village puts on performances of traditional dances, but unfortunately the dance of their fearless warriors put me in mind of Widow Twanky –

and I couldn’t take them seriously at all.

 

 

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Exploring Sarawak

I’ve always seen myself as an urban creature; like the town mouse I prefer a life of feasting and uncertainty to dull simplicity.  Whilst a brisk walk in the countryside is lovely on a sunny day, I’ve never been one for nature-spotting – I’m quite happy to leave that to twitchers, whale watchers and David Attenborough.  So I was quite surprised by my enthusiasm for going orang utan spotting in Sarawak this week.  It was explained to us that we might not see any, as this is the ‘timber fruit season’, whatever that means, so they don’t usually come out of the jungle and down to the feeding station.  But even so, I was determined to go.

Tramping doggedly through the jungle, there was so much high-pitched chirruping, whistling and ringing that I thought I’d developed tinnitus –

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I asked what it was, and it’s a cicada – but so much louder than the European ones.  How can something as small as a cicada make so much noise?  I suppose if I’d watched a few more nature documentaries I’d know the answer to that.

But it was worth all the tramping and ear-ringing – we saw two orang utans, a mother and a baby, and I wished I had a camera with a decent zoom instead of just my phone –

-as the baby twirled balletically on the rope while its mother scoffed bananas

and smashed coconuts against a tree.

Give that baby a spangly leotard and it would go down a storm at the circus.

Encouraged by my success, I signed up for a full day of animal spotting in the Bako national park.

We saw – in fact almost brushed against – a pit viper –

– the second most deadly snake in Borneo.  Luckily our guide was a bit more in tune with his surroudings than the rest of us, and dragged a woman away from the tree just as she was about to rest her arm on it.  He then gave us a useful tip on how to tell if a snake is venomous – look at its eyes.  If the eyes are slits, it’s venomous, and if they’re rounded, it’s not.  Personally, I wasn’t convinced by this; if you’re close enough to a snake to see that its eyes are not reassuringly rounded, then what do you do?  I prefer my friend Gordon’s advice – if you see a snake, scream and run away, and then pay some fearless locals to go and retrieve your abandoned bicycle.

The bearded wild pig was bizarre –

– the beard looks as though it’s made of shredded wheat, and it snuffled and rooted next to the path and took no notice of us at all.

The park is famous for monkeys – especially the proboscis monkey, which is apparently only found in Borneo.  We saw one swinging through the trees and heard a lot of others, but they’re very shy, so I couldn’t take a picture.

This is what they look like – apparently the females find the big nose alluring.

They live in harems or bachelor groups – no bachelorette groups for the emancipated females … nature is very backward when it comes to gender equality.

The silverleaf monkeys are very shy too, and were high up in the trees, so I had to resort to the internet again to find a decent photo –

They’re known locally as the David Beckham monkey, due to their upwardly swept hairstyle.  The babies are bright orange so that they can be easily seen and snatched away from danger by their parents.  What a great idea – it made me wish my babies had been turquoise or emerald, instead of boring old flesh-coloured.

We saw lots of long-tailed macaques – known as the mafia – and learnt some useful tips for dealing with them, as they can be a menace, both here and in KL.

Rule number one: don’t make eye contact, or he’ll think you’re challenging him.  So we carefully averted our eyes as if we were in the presence of some demanding A-lister.

Rule number two: don’t let them see your teeth, or they’ll see that you don’t have sharp teeth and come over and bite you.

Rule number three: never eat anything in their presence, or they’ll come over and snatch it … and bite you too, just for the hell of it.

Rule number four: if you obey all these rules and they come for you anyway, defend yourself by lunging fearlessly at them with a water bottle.

So – after an exhausting day of animal spotting, I spent the evening seeking out a few more –

This is nature at its best –

– hot, fresh and utterly delicious.

 

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