At Fenton House

6 Jun


A stone throw away from Hampstead Heath is a 17th century merchant house named after James Fenton, a Balkan trader who once lived in the house between 1806-34. During their occupation, the house gained a reputation for hospitality.

The South Front of the House

It holds a stunning collection of musical instruments in almost every room; harpsicords, virginals and harps – all are over four-hundred years old.

A 17th century The Shudi and Broadwood harpsicord in the Dining Room

A harpsichord, circa 1612, in the Porcelain Room

A 17th century virginal

Two harps in a corner of a room: the big one is circa 1900 whilst the smaller one is an Irish harp, circa 1829.

A needlework, anonymous, inspired by a Biblical story from the Old Testament.

A portrait of William IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence on the wall next to a flight of stairs to the second floor. William IV gained a nickname “Silly Billy” for his unfitting image as a future king. In the portraiture, his transformation as a figure of power and authority is evident.

The Bedroom of the late Lady Binning, the last owner of the house with her extensive collection of porcellains.

Still in the room, a four-compartment tea container with ornaments on a table. Not until 19th century did women have a tea sitting in a small group but enjoy the tea, which was precious, in private in their bedroom


Alliums in blooms

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden

Free drawing classes for children and adults on the day

Drawing foxgloves?

Give a bee a life in your garden

And this still in London? Psst, only a few tourists know about the house.


When The Music Dies…

23 May

An unusual letter came yesterday.


On reading the lines, something touched me deep inside…..


But surely, it’s not what the world is interested in; not that the death of Hendon Music Society matters.


After fifty-one years, the music charity comes to an end. Putting a good spirit, its long-standing presence, according to the letter from its former President, is “a cause for celebration”.

I sighed.

I imagined how difficult for the Committee members to reach for the decision. Yet, there was a thought nagging at the back of my mind: could they have told me earlier?

I went to the concerts four times. Firstly, for Eleanor Turner’s harp recital. Then a piano recital. Thirdly, for the Chamber Ensemble of London . Lastly, with my then five-year-old son to its Sunday’s family concert in which he learnt a range of percussion instruments and played the drums for the first time.

And I must say that those performances were superb. Something you would’ve seen in either the Proms or Royal Festival Hall. Except that it had a smaller audience and the venue wasn’t grand; a local church nearby my children’s school. But all the same, each performance was awfully good.

I may not remember the name of the pieces played nor other brilliant musicians who were performing, but I do remember that most of the melodies lingered in my head. And the little boy I brought now is learning the drums at school. And he plays the piano, too taught by Renee Reznek.

When I saw the leaflet back in 2005, I was thrilled. I said to myself: goodbye Wigmore Hall, I’ll do it locally from now on.

£14 for the ticket might’ve seemed a lot for an enjoyment. Moreover, who would’ve wanted to spend a Saturday night sitting quietly for over two hours? Therefore I went alone, for my female acquaintances might’ve been dismissive to the idea. Besides, my husband had to babysit our children.

I was brought up in a country where a classical music performance is precious. In the first year I lived in London I fulfilled my penchant for finest compositions from the great composers, even though it meant having to queue for the standing tickets and poured over the papers skimming admission free lunch time concerts. Going to Barbican, a thirty minutes walk from my student hall, was considered as a treat.

Furthermore, I used to believe that the Western society would’ve had a better appreciation to music. More importantly, I was confident that the public wouldn’t have let the music die. Perhaps, fading, but vanished?

Little did I realise at the time that such an appreciation was partly due to education. Just like any other subject, it has to be introduced, nurtured, learnt and supported within communities. With hindsight, I was naive to think that a grandeur establishment such as Royal Albert Hall or the West End was evidence to “a great appreciation”.

So when I didn’t see the HMS’s leaflet last autumn at the church’s gate, it didn’t occur to me that its curtain had been drawn. In fact, I thought I had missed it. For I was looking forward to come again after “my absence” during 2010-2011 season due to the birth of my youngest in January 2011. As she was bigger, leaving her for a few hours at night would have been fine.

“…and to you the audience whose attendance made it all so worthwhile”.

That was the end of the letter.

I sighed again, speechless.

Something touched me deep inside
The day the music dies..

I folded the letter.

So bye-bye Hendon Music Society,

Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.
“this’ll be the day that I die.”**

 **lyrics from “American Pie” by Don Mc Lean

A Street Named “TAL(i)BAN” in England

16 May

Once upon a time

there’s a street named after a saint, opposite an old castle.

St. Alban's Street, Windsor

St. Alban’s Street, opposite Windsor Castle

It was there for a long long time until a boy came across the name and thought:

An alternative for “St. Alban’s Street”

“Could it have been?”

Then he was calling his sister and his mum.

His mum said, “What?” in response to his enquiry.

The boy said,”Ibu, look!”

“That’s my lipstick!” she said.

Fortunately, the family who lives in the castle wasn’t there when such a temporary change happened.

Nor did the boy press on to replace the capital “S” with the “I”.

So, once upon a time

there is a street named after a saint.

And it still has been….happily stay and will remain there forever.

(Except for the boy, his sister and his mum who know how to read it).

The End.

*in appreciation for the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day*

To the most gorgeous girl who is SIX today

9 May

I don’t know a girl like you, who were confident to ask for a present from her best friend. She then promised to bring it in on the day.

A girl who makes her parents smile while she hums in bed the chorus of Bruno Mars’s Just The Way You Are. Also, singing her heart out Eternal Flame in the car times.

“Am I still cute?” she asked. “Of course not!” her mother retorted. “Yes, I’m!” It’s difficult for her mother to realise that her daughter has grown so much she hardly keeps up. For her brother’s classmates, she still is; the “cute sister” who preferred to play with them in the playground rather than being in her line with her classmates before the bell rang.

She would’ve said “hi” to everyone she had met; be a stranger or an elderly person. She hugged her teachers whilst she was leaving. These days her warm embrace is sorely missed, for off she goes in her scooter racing with her brother.

She is a daughter who would put her mind into something completely, when she wants to. She walked at twenty months old in Egypt during a family’s holiday and ran around in a week’s time. Towards the end of the reception year, she wasn’t able to spell a single word. Why, her mother wondered; once she had copied a Peter Rabbit cover with her neat handwriting. Nonetheless, as soon as the English alphabets clicked into her brain, she assembled them and started to read. Now she’s an avid reader.

At school she’s been more into drawing and daydreaming. For her parents, it’s fine. But the classroom world at Year 1 seems not to side with her “creative slumber” period and imaginative thoughts. But her being her means that nothing would come in her way, which is against what her heart desires. Because it simply doesn’t make sense to her. Yes, to us adults who have succumbed to rules.     

Why, she might’ve asked herself, that a free mind had to be confined in a cage of golden letters and punctuation, showered with adjectives and sensible sentences?

At home her ugly toys- she dropped the “h” deliberately- takes a shrine. She retreats into different worlds of being a dolphin trainer, of  being a dog, of making a show with the “animals” as the spectators, or of a dinosaur who came for breakfast. In her bedroom the doll house inhabitants live in harmony with a T-rex, a tiger and a snowy toy. A lorry toy is parked next to the house.

Is there a girl like her who is the exact opposite of her siblings? She, the way her mother sees it, draws her older brother and toddler sister closer; the magnet that keep them together. For she ‘s caring yet firm,  generous but assertive. Well, a touch of stubbornness is on the menu, too.  Yet her parents hope that she will continuously strengthen the bonds among the three of them.

Above all, she’s taught her parents a lot about being a persona. In her unique ways, of course.    

If anything, there’s a wish her parents would have liked from her: please grow slower. Not too fast, so pretty and  smart.

Or are they too slow to catch up with her?

With love – an endless one


 Ayah & Ibu

(Mum and Dad)


Ode to Surabaya

1 May

O to be in Surabaya
Feel the blast from its heat
without a breeze
Blisters, blotchy skin;
kisses of the invincible mosquitoes

Perspiring I don’t mind
It’s May and the rains are scarce
As long as the rambutans are there

But this cold!
Staying, irritating, draining
And this drought!
Only drowning me in
In a pool of thoughts

On the city of heroes
On the warmth of the sunset
Over the Red Bridge

Why, but a whiff of grilled satay
Drifting me into smiles

Of home,
Of love.

Hotel Oranje, Surabaya, circa 1950s

Formerly Hotel Oranje, it is a symbol of Indonesian resistance against the Dutch. While the architecture and details have been preserved, now it is known as Majapahit Hotel.

The Diary of A Bad Man: Yes? No?

21 Apr

Friday evening. I heard giggling sounds from upstairs and was drawn to them after some time. Two of my little darlings were gazing at the screen of the home server.

“What are you two watching?” They were so preoccupied that they did not realise that I had come from behind. A bearded man –the Snoop Dogg’s style- wearing a black beanie and a hooded purple top was talking funnily. Funny peculiar.

My eldest jumped at my Tiger Mum’s voice and paused the video he had seen at once. Over three million hits. Wicked, children these days say.

He looked at me anxiously.

I had read the description: “A badman with seriously good looks makes a video diary about his relationship with his mum. comedy sketches about a troubled young man with the mentality of a 7 year old, ….”

“Ok, play it again,” I sighed. The “badman” approached his ami in the kitchen, calling her “Dark Vader” in a jocular tone. For she was clad in black and her face was covered.

My children had been watching the second part of his diary half way when it was stopped. “Ok, pause it,” I said. My son gave me a quizzical look.

For on the right bar whilst watching him talking, I noticed a video which stood out from the rest: a warning against watching the “badman”. “Let me watch that first,” I said, having asked my son to scroll down and clicked on the warning thingy.

A bearded man – a goat-like style- appeared; he was wearing white and he did not smile. “It’s thirty-two minutes, Mum,” protested my son. I glared.

For the first thirty seconds I was listening to his introduction of the topic. On his mentioning the word “kufr” I stopped. A sinner, like.

I heaved a sigh and said nothing. Sinners? That made the three of us, I thought. We resumed watching the “badman”‘s lamenting about being mugged by girls in a park after his mate left him alone. They took his iphone 4S. Hence, he tried to ask his mother for a replacement but she did not understand a word he said. Then he asked his “blood brother” for helping him but the brother refused.

Furthermore, we another video on how London’s Muslims celebrated the Eid – “the BBC” logo on the top left.

It struck a chord with me.

For I was in Edgware Road on my first Eid in London over twelve years ago. I was looking forward to catch a glimpse of the spirit of the celebration. And where else than in “little Arab”? The road was flooded with Muslims from different races, as I strolled down with some friends, shivering a little as wintry winds beat on our faces. I remember turning round towards the blaring sounds of Bangra music from cars stereo. Moreover, I saw the same youths in the cars going around and around at times, their engines spluttering amidst the traffic.

They mirrored what the “badman” said.

In hindsight, there was no Eid about it. People went about their business; chatting to one another in restaurants and crowds of young people gathered in every corner.

“He’s so funny,” giggled my daughter, cutting off my recollections. On another video about the Eid, he opened the back door to see the snow-covered back garden. Promptly, he lumped a snow ball and threw it to his ami , to her dismay. Then she was wading through the snow and chasing him around. A sign of disrespect to a parent, inviting for a snowball fight? Or was it a harmless fun as to what he did to “his mother”?

The priest mentioned that there was no iota about Islam on the “badman”‘s videos. He also said that our children turned to Youtube for guidance. As a result, he has got over 95,000 hits: 466 likes, 1,135 dislikes. Conversely, the “badman” had 17,196 likes, 860 dislikes for his first video.

Nonetheless, the priest had a point. My son knew about the “badman” from his classmates and they were all a Youtube generation. But, if the “badman” poisoned the young minds, why was he much more popular?

Arguably, the vast majority of young Muslims in the UK these days prefer of being educated by an interactive medium than their parents. Clearly, my children enjoyed the “badman” although the priest had stressed the fact that “the man cannot talk properly, squeaking like a mouse”.

But why? Are we us parents being muted by our children that our words are considered red herring? Is it only me or something wrong has been missing in our effort to make them learn Islamic values?

More importantly, I was intrigued as to what the “badman” remarked that he “wanted to challenge people’s perceptions on Islam”. In what way? If you read this, Humza Arshad, would you mind enlightening me?

Admittedly, I grinned at some scenes on the “badman”‘s videos whilst my face was contorted having heard the priest’s saying.

Enough from me. Watch both their disparate view points and decide yours. Yes? No?

In the meantime, we had to stop watching to say our prayers – Maghrib’s time was due. And bed time, too.

After praying, I heard different giggling sounds: my husband’s. Apparently my son showed him some of the videos.

Well, we need to talk about it with our children. Discuss it, get their impression about it-: like and dislike. Is it: the language? His brazen approach in searching his identity? His being bolshie as a youth? Or the way his addressing some provocative issues in his culture?

Now, really. There is still an Arabic school to attend to tomorrow.

What Hajj Made Me

15 Apr In the Nabawi Mosque, Madinah

In the Nabawi Mosque, Madinah

The Hajj Exhibition at British Museum finished today. It exceeds the expectation in terms of the number of visitors, as over 119,000 visitors reportedly attended it. This is a few days before its closing. According to the Guardian, 60,000 visitors were Muslims from all over the UK and the rest were non-Muslims.

Amazing. Such illustrates a great interest in catching a glimpse of the fifth pillar in Islam and its climax on the day of Arafah. Annually, on 9th Dzulhijjah, over two millions pilgrims gather in Arafah field near Mina and stay there for the next two days to perform jumrah, the ritual of stoning the evils.

To my mind, the sheer number of pilgrims on the day may be the most impressive gathering on Earth. All men are clad in unsown white two piece clothes whilst the women are covered modestly, except for their faces and hands.

I did not go to see the exhibition. I really wanted to, having heard a wealth of positive vibes from a number of friends and acquaintances who went. I had goose bumps just to hear their description.

In 1996 my parents took me for Hajj. I was twenty-two, overzealous and extremely excited about the prospect to take photographs of Ka’bah and the Haram Mosque. I gripped my SLR firmly, hidden under my torso-length headscarf as I joined the crowd of pilgrims who were walking to the mosque. Taking photographs around the Haram area were strictly not allowed, if not frowned upon.

No sooner had I stood up in front of the Haram Mosque for the first time, my knees were shaking. I felt extremely humble. Words failed me.

After completing our umrah, my father and I climbed up a hill in the outskirt of Mecca. We aimed to see the cave where prophet Muhammad received his first aayah of the Koran. There was neither steps nor designated path on its way to the top. At times I had to crawl and wished I could have been a goat. For I saw many of them climbed up the rocks quickly and bleated, as if they were gloating over their victory. Finally we reached the top after three hours.

The view of the sprawling city of Mecca in the simmering sun was worth the effort. The six towers of the Haram Mosque stood out and pilgrims circling the Ka’bah like a water current.

When I noticed the cave, it surprised me how small it was. It was barely to fit a person, small and narrow. I watched them from a distance as many pilgrims jostled to get into it. At the same time, I was thinking about prophet Muhammad. He went there before he became a prophet almost every night. How uncomfortable it must have been for him; tall and a bloke-type man of all. For his body must have been squeezed to fit into the cave. Furthermore, as the temperature dropped and desert winds beating on his face, what was it like?

Suddenly, I felt small. I was exhausted already just for climbing once. How about the prophet who did it times? What made him stay put when there was no palpable rewards, but his quest for the truth?

The Guardian columnist Sarfraz Manzoor conveyed his anxiety for going for Hajj. His were the mutual feelings I could relate to when my parents ruled that I must go with them. For I had no voice in the matter. Above all, I felt I was not ready at all.

But the daycation to the cave changed everything. The experience was real, for I had traced the path of the God’s last messenger. I went down the hill and slept soundly that night with a new mindset. Personally, it was moving that during Muhammad’s quest of seeking God, he was determined to get the answer. And he thrived. Compared with his, my faith might have been the size of a grain of sand.

Furthermore, my parents insisted on my going because I was a female. In Islam, to perform Hajj and Umrah, a woman has to be accompanied by her mahram , ie. father,brother. “In case your future husband might not be able to take you,” remarked my father.

Last November my husband went alone for Hajj and I stayed at home with our three young children. Had the five of us had gone, it would have been a tough thing for my older children and was not suitable for the baby. So my father was right.

Manzoor mentioned that he came to the exhibition with his mother. For he had promised to take her for Hajj but it does not come to fruition. He admitted his procrastination to the point that his mother’s health has made it impossible for her to go. He seemed to be genuinely sorry about it. I understand. It takes a leap of one’s faith to believe in the virtue of Hajj.

With memories of my Hajj hovered in my mind, I decided not to see the exhibition. On the one hand, I supposed details of the journey would have come back to me. Looking back, having to perform jumrah was my scariest experience. For I was separated from my parents in the midst of it and almost being trampled by a surge of people who were pushing me from the back. But magic happened. As I was about to fall, a strong hand yanked and lifted up my body. Then it pushed me away to the safety of stout sisters who protected me.

(Rest assured, Mr. Manzoor, such accident will not happen any more. My husband had an easy ride for his jumrah. The Saudis have done much better to ensure the comfort of most pilgrims while conducting the stoning ritual).

On the other, it would have made me sheepish had I been in the exhibition. Admittedly, I could not help for not seizing the opportunity of taking stupenduous photographs of Ka’bah from the highest floor at Hilton suite. My cousin happened to work in the hotel, which was just opposite the mosque and had the key to the suite. Also, in the morning and at some nights, I frequented the markets in Mecca with him; browsing items, looking at bargains or just being part of the vibrant atmosphere. Well, I should have dedicated more time to dzikr and reciting the Koran, rather than treated the journey as an ordinary travelling.

Thus, the least I could do was sending my Hajj experience, which has been uploaded on Hajj stories. Having read others’, I come to conclude one thing: that we felt humbled and are equal in front of God.

The exhibition must end, but surely, for the vast majority the experience of being there would linger at the back of their minds.

Over fifteen years ago was for me and I still can recall the extraordinary moments.

Lastly, I beg to differ with the notion on “Saudi involvement” in the matter. I sincerely hope Sarfraz Manzoor and the likes of him will gain an understanding to realise that Hajj is purely educating people, ie. Muslims, about themselves, politics aside.

To sum up, through Hajj I feel grateful to be a Muslimah.

*Photographs are courtesy of my husband’s*