Saturday, February 18, 2012

Singapore, 1961 – Chequers Hotel (by Tim Light)

In Chun See’s blog of 17/9/2008 he takes us on a journey around the Balestier Heritage Trail. This area has special memories for me, for two reasons. One reason is that early in 1964 we went to live at 115 Whitley Road, and the Thompson Balestier area was home territory for us. But before that, at the end of 1961, we left our temporary home on Marsiling Road and stayed a few weeks at the Chequers Hotel. I was surprised to see, in Chun See’s blog, that the hotel still exists, under a new identity of Europa Country Club Resort.

My memories of Chequers are both vague and vivid. It was populated, if I remember rightly, by British families in transit, either just arriving or just about to leave. There were a lot of children, and we had non-stop fun from breakfast time until dinner. We had the run of the place – not officially – but the staff were very tolerant so long as we didn’t overstep the mark. The gardens were our jungle, and we played war games, as children do, or visited each others’ rooms to play. On one occasion, another small boy and I got into serious trouble. We were fighting the Second World War in the garden, and were soon throwing hand-grenades at each other. The hand-grenades were actually small, knobbly fruit that had fallen from a tree. When I got back to my parents I was told off for the state of my shirt. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The whole of the side of the building was covered in dark green splodges. They had to whitewash the whole wall. Needless to say, I was in hot water!

I particularly remember Jeanette, a girl about my age who I secretly fell in love with. She had a little sister called Alexandra who was a bit of a pain, because she wouldn’t leave us in peace.

I made other friends, too, but the names have long gone. It’s funny how people come and go in our lives.

We spent our first Singapore Christmas at Chequers. Singapore in the tropics is surreal when you’ve been brought up in the frozen wastelands of Yorkshire. It’s a time of year when we wrapped up in our woollies, and huddled round the coal fire to stay warm. The days are short and dark, and the Christmas decorations and lights brought a bit of cheer and warmth. So Christmas in the sweltering heat of Singapore was something else!

The hotel had a bit of a colonial feel to it, not that I remember too much about it. I vaguely remember a building with a big open porch, and another where the dining room was located. I think most of it was single storied. I don’t have one single photo of Chequers, nor can I find anything on the Internet. It would be interesting to see it today, and to see if any of the original building has been preserved.


Chun See continues …

In this 1971 photo of the Thomson Flyover (from the National Archives Picas website) you can see bits of the Chequers Hotel behind the trees. By the way, I usually refer to this as the Whitley Flyover. The car on the left is emerging from the Mt Pleasant Police Academy.

Mike Robbins also remembers the Chequers Hotel. This is what he wrote in a recent email.

“We arrived at Paya Lebar airport at around midnight having spent over 26 hours en route from UK - 10 hours to Abadan, 1 hour on the ground, 8 hours to Colombo, 1 hour on the ground and six hours into Singapore. Apart from the heat, we arrived at the height of the durian season, and that smell together with the smell of rubber emanating from the many lorries making their way to the docks with their loads will stay with me for the rest of my life! On arrival we were taken to our hotel - Chequers Hotel mentioned in your book - thought you might like a picture of the illuminated sign!”


Tim said...

Mike - it's funny how many people comment on the smell of Singapore leaving a lasting impression. You reminded me of the smell of rubber. there was a rubber factory along Thompson Road, and I now remember how pungent - but not unpleasant - it smelled.

peter said...

Did u hear of the "special rooms" and "special pull-out beds" when it was a private club in the 1990s?

Lam Chun See said...

I think Mike was indeed fortunate to have experienced the natural durian smell of Spore. Nowadays, the only place to smell durian is at the fruit market :(

Edward said...

Tim, that rubber factory along Thomson Road is probably the Heap Hoe Rubber Factory. There is a 1963 street directory of the area in the post “From My Inbox: Freddy Neo writes” (11 August 2008). I thoroughly disliked going past that factory because of its foul smell. I could never get used to it no matter how often I travel along that stretch of road.

Tim said...

Heap Hoe ... that's it! Another detail that I thought i'd forgotten.

Unknown said...

Lola is a Brand New York Hotel with full of luxuries and facilities for the travellers.

New York Hotel said...

That's a really good point Steve. For similar reasons, McDonald's also tastes a bit better.

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