Life went on in its usual way. Dad had to go to work, I had to go to school, and Mum stayed behind at home doing what mothers do, but there were some differences now we were in Aden. I had to go to school REALLY early in the morning, but the upside was about lunch time I wasn’t in school for the rest of the day! How those free afternoons were spent in the early months I cannot recall, but as a family we used to go to the beach a lot. Our two haunts were at first Elephant Bay and the Lido at Steamer Point. Elephant Bay got its name from the eroded rock jutting out into the sea because it looked like the head and trunk of an elephant.
To get to Elephant bay was not easy. It wasn’t in the middle of bustling Steamer Point. The road down to it was wide enough for only one way traffic, and if you got there just as the lights had turned red, well, you had to wait for ever and ever before they changed to green. And why did they change when there was no car coming up anyway, especially, as my father assured me, there was a man (who, mysteriously enough, was invisible) controlling the lights from a little tin shack just beyond the topmost lights?
When we got down there, the sea that looked calm from higher up was not so placid. Sometimes the sea would come crashing in with big waves (nearly any wave is big if you are only 7 or 8 or 9). We were safe anyway, as there was a wall and a shark net. Nevertheless, I always kept an eye open for sharks, just in case the net wasn’t in perfect condition. It never hurts to be cautious.
It was in Elephant Bay I had my first swimming lesson, and a very big lesson in life. Never believe a word your parents say, they are the biggest fibbers, ever! We went until I was really out of my depth, a sense of security was given by letting me sit on our green Li-Lo. My parents in turn held me while I practised doggy paddle strokes. This happened over several days, and then one day, my mother let go of me and I had to paddle like crazy to get to my father. I was swallowing gallons of sea water. The taste was disgusting. I swear my father kept backing away from me, and of course they thought it was all very amusing.
Despite the fact I had been let down by my parents (and I haven’t even got round to talking about Father Christmas, the biggest adult deception ever), I learned to swim and I have enjoyed it ever since, but swimming in the sea between the tropics (or at a pinch a heated swimming pool) is preferable to anywhere else!
Well, after that, I also spent time in the pool at RAF Khormaksar, getting proper swimming lessons. They always took place late in the afternoon, and most times it was dark, or almost dark, by the time I had changed out of my trunks and back into my ordinary clothes.
I was able to return to Elephant Bay and swim with greater confidence, so much so I could get to the built up part at the far end of the enclosed area. Locals would fish from there and their catch would make a meal. The sight of an angel fish always reminds me of Elephant Bay where they were caught in abundance, and dispatched swiftly and efficiently by the Arab fishermen.
As the time to leave came closer, it seems to me I spent more time at the pool on the base at Khormaksar. Not only could I swim, but I jumped and even dived into the pool and this was from the top board as well! My mother used to sit in the shade knitting jumpers for us. We were due to return in April, Eliot's 'cruelest month'. My mother wasn't going to take any chances!
© 2012 Gwailo54