A fading hero…

‘Hero’: a person who is admired for their courage,
outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

A few weeks ago, I got to spend an entire weekend with one of my heroes.

He’s a shadow of his former self, but holds on to an incredible memory, and intelligence that dwarves my unparalleled 33 years.

I had to pick my moments for conversation carefully – not at risk of upsetting any kind of balance, but because his old body needs rest. Whilst watching the TV, there were fleeting moments, between dozing, where he burst into life. Regaling tales of growing up, family life, and travelling the world.

He was a proud military man; a marine, in fact. And over the years, his quite meticulous and soldierly nature has softened gracefully, as his hair has greyed, and movement has slowed to a laboured shuffle.

On the first day of my visit, I got a bit of a fright. He didn’t get up. I assumed the whisky and Guinness we shared in the evening past, had helped him with an extra few hours in bed. Sadly not; the short (300 yard) trip to the local pub the night before, had left him quite breathless. I checked on him a couple of times, and brought him coffee – I could tell he was embarrassed and felt like a burden. He slowly started to perk up – but I couldn’t help notice, as I stood in his bedroom, just how small his exhausted body was, as he lay blanket-wrapped in his old bed. In my head, he’s still that fiercely fit and commanding presence; taking me swimming, ski-ing, cycling and walking – across some of the most beautiful parts of Highland Scotland.

Morning turned into afternoon – and he surfaced, very slowly. The body might fade, but the steadfast determination and willingness to put on a brave face, keep calm and carry on, never falters. He apologised – which humbled me; what did he have to be sorry for? Living an honest, courageous and rich 93 years – and getting tired? I welled up when he explained to me that ‘he and his body were just slowly wearing out’.

We had lunch, dinner and breakfast together – his portions paled in comparison to mine, as he can only manage very small amounts; his appetite isn’t what it used to be. But as the weekend and small meals progressed, the banter flowed. We reflected on the way in which the world had changed – harking back to a time where things were simple. And better.

I love hearing about his past – he’s an incredibly interesting guy. Well-travelled, very well educated – and from that, has nothing but great stories and wisdom to share. Each time I opened my mouth, I worried that my words were insignificant compared to his. But his eyes widened, and ears twitched when I told him about my life and world. It’s so different to his. In a really good way. Two diverse generations colliding and sharing their knowledge, like trans-continental tribes meeting for the first time, and being equally impressed by each other’s unusual wares.

It was hard to hear that he doesn’t get out as much anymore. And that many of his close friends have passed away. Yet, I smile when I find out that he still lives a reasonably enviable social life; taking himself down to his local on a Sunday most week for the roast dinner, and keeping in touch with his old business partner at weekly lunches.

When I left him, it was with a feeling of absolute joy, and genuine sadness. He’s a gem of a human – probably in the top 0.0001% of bestest people in the entire world. And I got him all to myself for two days. But I did that awful thing people do, as I drove off to his waving hand and huge smile; will he be ok on his own? Are his days in his house (without help) numbered? Will I see him again?

That’s a stupid way to think; I know this. What I was lucky enough to get my hands on that weekend, was more incredible memories, of time spent with my hero. And unlike younger me, I appreciate these times more than ever – with a wistful respect and gratefulness for being able to spend time in his company.

Grandpa, you’re amazing. I’ve always thought that – and I think it more each time I see you. I know you’re not going to last forever, but I thank my stars for every second I’ve been lucky enough to spend with you – and every precious second to come.

You’re a hero.

x

Malaysia – Part 1

Kirsty and I recently returned from what turned out to be one of the most exciting, action-packed and mentally enriching breaks we’ve ever been on.

I must admit, Malaysia wasn’t somewhere we were particularly familiar with – for example, I had no clue Borneo was part of the country, split into states shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei?!?)

Our lovely pals, Carla and Alessio, moved to Kuala Lumpur at the end of last year and asked us to come visit. So, we jumped at the chance; there’s no way better to explore a new city/country with good friends, who already have the lay of the land.

Alongside a scheduled few days in KL staying with Carla and Alessio, we were keen to experience other parts of this tropical kingdom. So, with the help of Carla/Alessio, and another friend who’d lived in Malaysia (thanks Stu!) we put together an itinerary that would take us across to costal Borneo, then into the world’s most ancient rainforest, and finally back to the northeast tip of mainland Malaysia to stay on the Perhentian Island(s).

Here’s a chaptered breakdown of what we got up to in each place – I’ll try and keep the ramblings short, so the photos/videos can do the talking 😉

Kuala Lumpur –

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The night-time view atop a helipad bar in the city centre.
Carla and Alessio kindly put us up in their incredible, city-centre apartment – a couple of blocks from the Petronas Towers. From the dizzying heights of the 39th floor, we could see out across the city and into the hills surrounding KL. We were well and truly spoiled by our hosts, experiencing an exciting ex-pat life in this buzzing metropolis.

KL really is the perfect mixture (and balance) of old and new – sporting enough skyscrapers and architectural wonders to rival any other South-East Asian city, or global city, for that matter. Every structure is built/inspired by this awesome melting pot of cultures and people – notably Chinese, Indian, British and of course, Malay.

Funnily enough, KL shouldn’t really be a city – by conventional standards. It’s not particularly near the coast (so no port), nor on a single, major river. And it’s hardly protected like a fort atop some great hill or mountain. From my hazy 37-degree memory of our open-top bus tour, KL came about as a meeting place for tin-producing traders at the converging point of two small rivers – and from there, expanded exponentially. And so a city was born when the trader’s first roads met at this ‘muddy confluence’ – which is exactly what Kuala Lumpur means in Malaysian. Nice fact Greg. Probably not entirely accurate, but hopefully close enough.

The KL-ites are fiercely proud of their cultures and city’s history – I’ve never seen so many museums in one place! There was even an entire (rather large) museum dedicated to the Malaysian police! Respect.

There are a ton of beautiful green spaces in KL – which add to the ‘city balance’ that I mentioned earlier. Although it’s a metropolis – it doesn’t feel like your typical concrete jungle, as Mother Nature well and truly has her presence felt on almost every block with parks, gardens and general greenery.

The smell of food across and throughout the city streets at all times of the day is amazing – again, all the more magical thanks to the epic mix of cultural (culinary) knowledge and skill. And the smells are intensified by the incredible heat and humidity – partnered with the distinct feeling that the sky’s going to open up and piss puppies and kittens any second.

Despite the fact there’s massive amounts of construction happening everywhere in this vast 21st century city (a la Dubai), there’s a humbling reminder of the country’s religious past and present each evening as the beautiful, lingering echo of the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) rings out from the mosques across the packed 8-lane highway and past the glitzy shopping malls.

KL, you’re quite some city!