Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Weekend in Bristol

Bristol
It’s been a very long time since I was in Bristol for pleasure, so this weekend has been making up for lost time.
Our hotel was not many minutes away from Temple Meads station. On Friday afternoon we did a quick walk about to get our bearings and see if there were any acceptable eateries within easy striking distance. We weren’t disappointed. We saw two and decided to plump for the one furthest from the hotel as Saturday’s weather was going to be iffy, to say the least.
The Firehouse Rotisserie in Anchor Square was busy when we arrived (living in London, one is spoiled by the general easy availability of restaurants). Fortunately, we only had to wait a few minutes before a table was free. Our meal, consisting of two starters, two main courses, one desert, a bottle of wine and a bottle of sparkling water came to a little under £75.00. It was of good quality, though food critics might criticise it for lacking all kinds of cleverness and sophistication. It did what is supposed to do, restore the consumer.
Saturday morning looked as bleak as the forecast threatened it would be. I had decided, come hell or high water, we were going to go to the Clifton Suspension Bridge that day. We followed a map and our noses, walking uphill most of the time. Some of it was quite steep. I remember walking on the bridge twice when I was younger. One occasion would probably have been before we went to Aden. I remember it was cold and misty. I peered over the edge and looked down at the road far below. The traffic was smaller than my dinky cars. On the bridge there was a machine that printed out what ever you wanted on a strip of metal. I typed in my name very carefully, it had to be done very carefully! In those days I was Timothy, never Tim. Those extra four letters meant I had even more brain work and concentration to do, and the cold with the wind and damp and mist all around, gosh, it was even harder still! I imagine that strip of metal is now rotting away in some landfill site.
We crossed the bridge and went into the little information centre and tourist knick knack shop. We bought some mementos and chatted with the staff. We decided it was time to get a move on as the weather was turning decidedly nasty earlier than forecast. As we descended, the rain became heavier. We managed to find ourselves at Constitution Hill, a road better descended than ascended in any weather by pedestrians. We were within striking distance of the hotel (in other words about 15-20 minutes), which was a relief as our clothes were getting wetter faster.
So we were obliged to lunch at the hotel. As we had our (very expensive) hotel bar snack a screen was lowered to reveal Bath vs Gloucester was taking place. The weather was improving, so I knew I wouldn’t see all the game, not that I was that worried, after all I had come to Bristol not to sit in front of a screen watching rugby. In the first two minutes there was a punch up and one player on each side was given a yellow card. Sorry. What went on the pitch was as bad as any drunken brawl outside a pub. Those involved in that kind of situation would find themselves arrested, in the cells and hauled up before the magistrate. There is no place in rugby for this kind of behaviour and the sooner these “professionals” are treated as what they are when they behave in a fight on a rugby pitch as out of control yobs, the sooner the better. A couple of them doing community service or behind bars would be a salutary lesson to the whole lot of them. A few moments later a soft try by Bath exposing a wide empty space which should not have existed in Gloucester’s defence made me more decided that I wasn’t wanting to watch any more. A pity really, since the team went on to win!
So off we trundled to have a look at Bristol cathedral. It’s not as impressive as any of the Three Choirs cathedrals, but what made the visit most worthwhile was an art exhibition by local school children (a lot of A level students). Now it is never fair to pick out individuals for praise, but some of the images worked very well for me. Influences of recent and living painters such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and David Hockney were apparent, and cubism was also apparent. This is apparently an annual event, and if you are in Bristol the exhibition closes at the end February. It is worth a look, who knows, the next Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud or David Hockney may be among those you see, though hopefully not the next Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin. Just to put my cards on the table!


As the cathedral was not awash with light late in the afternoon, I snapped a few of the images at ISO1600 so the rendition is not perfect (and sadly some suffer from slow shutter speeds and camera shake), but I hope it gives you a flavour of the variety and ability.


I like this image from Martha Hayes. A reflection but not a reflection. The colours are striking. 


A haunting image of aging by Ed Ashby-Hayter.


Again I like the colours, and shades of David Hockney in the swimming pool from Sophie Morris


Kate Carroll's harbour image reminded me of a pleasant stay at St. Ives.  


I love the unusual angle Adelaide Jewell used here. 


Shades of Caravaggio by Ocean Critchley-Clark. Teenagers have more recent experience of being dissolute than us oldies!


Ryan Son's painting captures the diversity of urban train travellers.


Gorgeous swirls and colours from Dong Jae Hoang ...


... and also from Claire Laruelle (I can't read the name so well on the shaky photo). 
We got back to the hotel and snoozed for more than just a few minutes. As a result we were later going out than we intended. Our first choice of eatery was packed, no table until 9.45, the next was busy until 10.00, but it had a less formal dining option which we took. We had the same amount of courses and drinks as the previous day, but this time the bill came to just over £50.00. If you are not too fussy about where to eat you could do a lot worse than eat downstairs at Riverstation. I would gladly eat there again. This is just one happy customer's opinion.
Sunday morning arrived and we breakfasted, packed and checked out. Today was what I hoped would be the highlight of the trip, the S.S. Great Britain. At £12.50 per adult the entrance fee is steep, but it does entitle you to visit as many times as you wish in a year and, if you are a U.K. tax payer, you can let them reclaim the tax.
Believe me it is worth it. To look after the ship is not an easy task. Parts are rotting away and are being looked after in a controlled environment. The ship has been restored and the museum one visits before boarding her is not a cheap option either. There was so much to see that I was quite overwhelmed by it all. You cannot visit Bristol and not see the Great Britain. She is an example of the genius of one of my all time heroes, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Travelling by rail from Paddington to Temple Meads, exploring the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the S.S. Great Britain constitute three legacies of his genius. Words fail me to describe how wonderful the time spent at the Great Britain, and those who know me, know that a failure to find words is not a characteristic of mine!
We lunched very poorly at a chain eatery, the first time we experienced a major culinary disappointment all weekend. A brief walk, then back to the hotel to pick up the luggage and I am just finishing this diary entry at breakneck speed as we go through Hayes and Harlington, We must be well ahead of schedule as it is only just gone 17.30 and we are due to arrive at Paddington at 18.05. It is illogical we should now be proceeding at a snail’s  pace. We have now come to a full stop. Seven minutes later, we resume on our way. Welcome to the 21st century, where the train’s progress into the London terminus is surely slower than in Brunel’s time. Can’t they get a sensible timetable in place? If the Italians can (who are supposedly not able to organise anything in popular mythology) why can’t we? 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Aden: Thanks to my unknown readers

At the moment I have no more Aden material, and I would like to thank those of you who have followed me for all or part of the journey. Now I have finished everything and had time to reflect, here a re she musings arising from my Aden blogging.

Blogging on this website provides me as the blogger with statistics. Some are useful. Some are interesting, such as the ability to know where visitors to the blog have come from. This includes some ghastly search engines in Russia which are not really that. I wish I could eradicate these from my figures. 

Nevertheless, on the plus side I am flattered by the large number of visits from the UK, which is really my target audience as I imagine most people interested in my life in Aden would be there.

However, I am very curious about the handful of visits from the Yemen. Here's hoping the interest is from ordinary individuals like myself and not any state or commercial organisation. If it is anther "man in the street", whoever you are (singular or plural) thank you for being intrigued enough to visit my blog. I wish you and your country peace and stability, especially given the recent turmoil. If you are from Aden, then my wishes are more heartfelt still.

My nomadic childhood has left me with more than one place that I think of as "home". In the 50s I grew up in Singapore and Hong Kong, where being surrounded by ethnic Chinese and Malay was a normal everyday experience. On my first return visit to both places after 30 years absence I felt strangely at home. Its not easy to explain to somebody who grew up in the same place how normal it feels to go back somewhere and feel more comfortable as part of a minority of the population. Home is many places to me. Singapore, Hong Kong, Aden, Gloucester, Cottesmore are all my very early homes in my time of childhood and innocence. I have a bond with them all. 

I fear I have lost my opportunity to visit Aden, given the current political and religious turmoil in the world. I cannot adequately express how much I would love to see Ma'alla, Steamer Point, Elephant Bay, Crater and Khormaksar again and see how much has changed or stayed the same. Youtube has been useful, but not all the videos posted are very good. Too many of modern Aden are more about the persons in the video than the place, but such is the vanity of humans! 

I regret very much not returning to Aden before the recent religious divisions between Islam and the rest of the world surfaced. I feel my presence would not be welcome in certain parts of the world, but I do not mean that all Islamic countries are forbidding to me. For instance, when I was in Penang I felt most welcome by the locals I came in contact with. One abiding memory is of school children saying "Welcome to Malaysia" to us. I understand they would have been encouraged to do this, but a child's generosity of spirit is a precious gift, which more adults could do worse than try to rediscover within themselves. Given a less than happy previous experience in Kuala Lumpur, the people of Penang more than adequately made up for that experience.

However, after that digression I shall return to the topic of religious division. To me it feels as negative and pointless as the Protestant and Catholic divisions in European history, or the Christian behaviour of the Middle Ages which effected a superiority it did not deserve. Then the Arab or Moorish culture was far more advanced than the so-called Western civilisation. One only needs to visit Granada and see the palace of the Alhambra and the gardens of the Generalife to realise how more advanced that society was compared with the regressiveness of the regime of "los reyes catolicos". In my blog about Crater I commented on the Cisterns of Tawila. To this day I still think they are a marvel. I can still remember how awesome (I use that word not in its modern guise) it was as I walked around. You really need to be ignorant or blind to reason not to acknowledge the cleverness of mind and sophistication of a society that brought them into being.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in my case, my absence from Aden has made me realise how lucky I have been to revisit Hong Kong and Singapore more than once. The memories I have of Aden are mainly positive, but the negative memories were due to the British presence outstaying its welcome. I am sure had I been a native of an occupied country my feelings would not have been too dissimilar. Whether I would express my displeasure I don't know. I thank my lucky stars I can express my opinions, which was not always an option open to the Adeni.

Aden: Random Memories 18: Envoi

Childhood is a special part of one’s life. For so many lucky people, it consists of growing up with the same people in the same area.
For a tiny number of us, it meant uprooting ourselves on a regular basis, friendships were never made to last in perpetuity, and possibly most of our friends of that time are forgotten.
Were we unlucky? We saw the true technicolour world that was nothing more than fuzzy black and white images on tiny television screens watched behind drawn curtains. We smelt the stench and perfumes. We lived, not necessarily comfortably nor in near proximity, with the local population. We saw another world, and yet remained in an antiseptic bubble that made us little more than an outpost of the Home Counties.
And yet, and yet, and yet, we lived a life that nobody else could live. We could climb extinct volcanoes and swim with the angel fish in the ocean. Would I change my life for that of somebody who hardly ever had the opportunity to travel anywhere when it was expensive and reserved mainly for the rich?
You know the answer.
© 2012 Gwailo54

Friday, 24 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 17e: The Return of The Natives: Attention all shipping

We boarded the ship for the very last time. There was the final party to look forward to and the possibility that if the weather in Biscay was rough, more seasickness to look forward to.


The politically incorrect design for the children's party dinner menu.
The final party is a dim and distant memory. It was a jolly affair. I am sure we had to wear party hats and probably play games, but I can’t really remember a thing about it.

Our cabin was next to the wireless room. We heard all kinds of signals. I presume they were incoming. Then one magical day a voice announced “And now the shipping forecast...” the litany commenced. We were nearly home. Ever since then, at the sound of the opening words, there is an eternal 9 year old who knows a major change in his life is imminent.
Thankfully Biscay was calm. We sailed across tranquilly. Eventually, one cold foggy morning we woke, the Caledonia motionless, in Liverpool. We went through the immigration formalities. A customs man was fussing over our boxes. My mother kept telling him she had bought the Braun food mixer in Aden, and all he wanted to know about was the camphor wood chest which we had had since Singapore. Consequently we went through customs without having to undergo the Spanish Inquisition, which is more than can be sad for a family we had befriended on the ship. Their boxes were all being emptied out and every item scrutinised. I felt so sorry for them.


© 2012 Gwailo54

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 17d: The Return of The Natives: The Mediterranean & Gibraltar

The Mediterranean
We didn’t stop off anywhere before we reached Gibraltar, so not much happened of any excitement or interest after we left Egypt. We swam in the ship’s pool, but this was full of sea water, not quite what I expected. There were funny games like quoits and organised games where the grownups behaved like children, well worse than children actually, no self respecting child would behave like that in public!
Then there was a change in the weather. It was rainy and dark, the ship rocked and rolled. Breakfast was picked at rather than eaten. Not many people were on deck or in any part of the ship. Eventually the motion of the ship got the better of me. I was tucked up in bed feeling very sorry for myself, no that my parents seemed that much better!
Gibraltar
The weather cooled as we went west. One cold morning we awoke to find ourselves in the harbour at Gibraltar. It was a cold version of Aden. Typically British symbols were to be found among palm trees and other exotica, not that it was that exotic for me, it was everyday. But the cold was horrible.
We did all the things tourist have to do when time is limited. We were like the hordes of Americans in Aden who disembarked from the cruise ships swarming all over the place to visit this and that. We mocked them. The irony was lost on me until now.
A child sees the world through uncomprehending eyes. Adults want to make everything difficult and in Gibraltar I saw a thing called “the border”. There was this guy called Franco who lived on the other side and he decided he didn’t like something or other and had closed the border. Nobody could get in our out by land. The only way was by sea or by air. 
Yes, the airport at Gibraltar. We had to wait until a plane had landed or taken off (I don’t remember which) before we could cross the road which went across the runway. That was quite unusual and exciting to see.
We also had to go up to see the apes. Their keeper gave us Maltesers and bits of banana to feed the apes. They would approach us and force open our hands and snatch the food we had. It was every monkey for him or her self. My mother took her turn, and was immediately surrounded by the creatures. Then one sat on her head. Cameras were lifted and click, my mother became a memory for others by accidental humiliation.

© 2012 Gwailo54

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 17c: The Return of The Natives: Egypt

I was told the ship was going to go through the Suez Canal, but we were going to disembark at Port Suez and go to Cairo. I felt slightly cheated that I wasn’t going to see the famous canal, but we were going to have an adventure and rejoin the ship at Port Said.
We got into the small boat that took us ashore, and already on board was a Gilly-Gilly man, or an Arab magician. His repertoire consisted mainly of regurgitating small chicks out of his mouth, removing them from a child’s ear and even, horrors of horrors, from out of my shorts! I have no idea how it got there for him to find it there. I didn’t even felt it inside my shorts.
We were ferried in a coach to Cairo across a flat landscape. It made little impact on me. Somewhere along the journey we were introduced to our Egyptian guide. He was probably called something easy for us to remember, a ‘typical’ Arabic name like Abdul or Mohammed. I can still hear him, especially the clear high pitch of his voice, calling us when he wanted us to gather together, “Memphis party, this way please.” Our round badges identified us, a picture of the Sphinx with Memphis written above it on the edge. In some of the boring parts of the journey he entertained us with comments like “I learned English from an American. See you later alligator!”
We followed a river, it was the Nile. It wasn’t blue or white, but a muddy brown. Nobody had taught us about the Muddy Brown Nile in history or geography. The city was vast, bustling, so much humanity. We were ferried to the Cairo museum. There we saw the treasures of the boy king Tutankhamen. Egyptian funeral rites were explained and shown to us. The famous mask for his mummified body was on show. It was a vast display.
No visit to Cairo would be complete without a trip to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. Our coach took us to the end of a road and we had the option to travel to the pyramids by camel or by donkey. I had already experienced riding a camel. I chose the donkey, not that it was more comfortable.
Nothing had prepared me for the majesty of the monuments. We were regaled with facts and history, part of which rattles about in my head and pops up from time to time. Alabaster was a word I heard a lot. So much was made of alabaster, covered in alabaster. They made such a fuss about telling us about alabaster, yet it seemed to be as commonplace as water as it was used so much.
We also went inside a mosque in Cairo, which I cannot recall but it was vast. We wore sacking over our feet as we walked around. It was a most stunning building. Yet again in my young life, I was facing something from another culture. Instead of a practical construction like the tanks at Crater, this time it was a religious building that could stand up against the cathedrals of Christendom.



© 2012 Gwailo54

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 17b: The Return of The Natives: All Aboard!

There is little I can remember of our departure. We boarded the R.M.S. Caledonia, room B19 (as described on the ticket) and eventually sailed away. I stood at the stern of the ship looking at the flame at Little Aden. It was bright even against the clear blue sky. Slowly, inexorably, it shrank until I could see it no more. I quietly said ‘Good-bye’.
I was going back a place that I didn’t really know, a country that was called home, with which I had some connection, and there were people called family friends and relatives, “aunts” who sent me postal orders for my birthday and Christmas.
We weren’t even going back to Innsworth, my father had a posting to a place called Cottesmore in England’s smallest county. Possibly, for the first time, the unknown was staring me in the face and I didn’t particularly want to meet it.
Kids being kids, regrets and sadness and any negative emotions receded and there was something exciting to look forward to. We would sail through the Red Sea. Would we pass where Moses and the tribes of Israel walked across and Pharaoh’s army was drowned? Would it be apparent where this was? My idle curiosity was soon diverted elsewhere and I wasn’t really bothered about it.
The weather was still more or less the same as when we left Aden, so although we had already travelled a long way we were still enjoying warm weather with bright sunshine all day long. Hardly a cloud was in the sky.

Postcard: ANCHOR LINE R.M.S. CALEDONIA LEAVING BOMBAY
from an original painting by James Burnie
(Please note there is no name on the ship. I have seen on the web an identical postcard for on of her sister ships, so the company didn't have to print three sets, one for each ship, the other two being the Cilicia and Circassia) 

© 2012 Gwailo54

Monday, 20 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 17a: The Return of The Natives: Time to go

Hard though it was to believe, our time was soon up and we had to return to the U.K.. I don’t suppose I ever thought we would return. When I was an adult, my mother used to enjoy embarrassing me by retelling the story of when I asked her, ‘When are we going back home, mummy?’ after we had returned to the U.K. from the Far East. ‘Home’ was where aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents lived. It wasn’t home to me. That place was cold and had snow and lots of drizzly rain. Home was where I lived among people who were not like me.
My father was of the opinion another overseas tour was highly unlikely. It was 1964, the crisis in Aden had yet to explode and the ignominious retreat, the last nail in the coffin of British rule was just over three years away. If my father had been gifted with second sight, he couldn’t have been more accurate in his predictions. As this was our last opportunity to see the world, my parents decided we would return by sea. A voyage from Aden, up through the Suez canal, with a diversion through Egypt, then we would pass through the Mediterranean Sea to Gibraltar, where the ship would berth a while, and finally traverse the Bay of Biscay to Liverpool.
In preparation for our departure, my mother started knitting sweaters. As I swam and jumped and dived in the pool at Khormaksar, she sat in the shade knitting, day after day.
We must have also spent some time packing up all our belongings, but I cannot remember doing this. I had my own small wooden crate which contained my toys and books, but not my teddy bear. We left the flat, and spent our last night in Aden in some hotel. It seemed empty and uninviting. It was also the first time I had seen a bidet!
For some strange reason, both my mother’s passage and mine (a total cost of £142 10s 00d) were paid for by the government but my father’s (cost £95 exactly) wasn’t. I don’t know why this was. My father’s fare cost the equivalent of £1,500.00 today. This probably did not include the expense of the trips we made in Egypt and Gibraltar.






The tickets for our return to the U.K.

© 2012 Gwailo54

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 16: Pot Pourri

Now for Aden small bits and pieces which don’t come under a bigger heading.
VC10
My father got to know a lot of people. Unlike me he did pretty well at social gatherings. Consequently, somebody he knew got me onto the flight deck of a BOAC VC10, while it was parked at Khormaksar airport. I thought the plane so vast and so modern and so swish in comparison to Aden Airways and their grotty old propeller things like their Dakotas. Now I love many old planes as much as the new.
Making my own airplanes
Talking of aircraft, my mother used to buy bottles of drink, orange squash I think it was, which were contained in a grey cardboard sleeve. One of my many childhood games was to reshape the sleeve, add wings and a tail and fly them. Naturally this consisted of me making engine noises and zooming the planes around. I wouldn’t be surprised if that included running around the room. I pity our neighbours underneath. To them, I offer a belated and heartfelt apology.
Food and drink
Although our diet was not much short of standard British fare, we did have some exotic foods bought at local markets. One day at such a market (I have no idea exactly where) my mother bought water melon. I think it was only a wedge, but it could have been whole. The red of the flesh and green of the skin made a strong contrast, and the jet black seeds made the flesh look like an oversized ladybird. The taste was delicious.
My mother always boiled the water. She let it cool and chilled it in the fridge for us to drink. Imagine, her life was based around looking after my father and I (and later my brother too), washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, mending clothes. So many women of her generation sacrificed their lives to the family. We were spoiled rotten and never knew at the time how lucky we were.
Food mixer
My mother loved to bake. Fresh Victoria sponges for tea are a childhood memory. My mother discovered there were modern gadgets called food mixers and she bought a Braun which lasted a very long time. It was used a lot both in Aden and after we came back to Britain. Things were built to last in those days! 
It was used not only for those Victoria sponges, but also for stodgier fare like Yorkshire puddings, but above all else, pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (a tradition I still observe even now, the only day of the year I knock back nothing but buttery fried batter sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice before rolling them up). 

With a Song in my Heart
Sunday lunchtime in those days was a ritual. One day the ritual changed slightly. The BBC had developed technology well enough to attempt live broadcasts with far flung posts of the Empire beyond Germany. So it was one hot sunny Sunday lunchtime, as the strains of With a Song in my heart played by André Kostalanetz and his Orchestra Family Favourites became Three Way Family Favourites with Aden as the extra hub. If I remember correctly the technology didn’t stand up to the full onslaught of the Aden sun, so we had to be content with recorded bits from London for a while. Nobody asked for a record for me or anybody I knew, and despite this major let down, it was good to know people back home were wanting to say something special to some of us over there. And all of us were there, pleased we weren’t forgotten or ignored. By remembering a handful of us in Aden, it felt like we were all remembered.
The harbour
Aden’s harbour was an exciting place, the tourists came and went, famous ships like the Canberra and Oriana anchored there, as well as the inevitable warships. We had a submarine arrive once and that was a highlight. At night the harbour was a beautiful sight with the ships lit up. 
There were also tragical events, a ship caught fire and burned and burned. We watched it from the shore. It was a desperate sight. What finally happened I can’t recall, I simply remember the blaze seemingly unquenchable. 
Flamingos
Although burning ships were not an everyday sight, flamingos were. On the causeway from Aden to Sheikh Othman the flamingos generally stood in the shallows on one leg. If one was really lucky, they might take wing.
I only have one clear memory of Sheikh Othman as an oasis of calm away from the hubbub of Aden proper. I think we had to take malaria tablets before going there as well. Other than that the memory is fuzzy.
Then there were the salt pans and the windmills. The salt pans seemed to stretch for miles and the windmills nearly always were motionless, waiting for a breath of air or an Arab Don Quixote to disturb their slumber.
A small memory of my childhood, from the back seat of a Fiat, before I nodded off to sleep. I have often found it very easy to sleep when travelling.
© 2012 Gwailo54

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 15: Kenya

What has Kenya to do with Aden? It’s a different country, and a different continent.
One thing many Aden people did was to go to Kenya. It wasn’t too far, Aden Airways’ Dakotas could get you there and back again, sometimes. We used the same currency, the East African Shilling. There was the Leave Centre in Mombassa. When in Aden, do as the rest of the Air Force do, and go to Kenya.
Our outward journey was not the best start for a nervous passenger. We must have got up at some ungodly hour, as I vaguely remember the sun was not high up when we boarded. The engines started, and we trundled toward the runway. The stewardesses offered boiled sweets or cotton wool. We got to the runway. The engines roared, the plane shuddered, the engines roared, the plane rattled, the engines roared.
The pilot then announced he could not get sufficient power and we would have to return to the terminal building and get on another plane. Which we dutifully did, disembarking and re-embarking.
The engines started, and we trundled toward the runway. The stewardesses offered boiled sweets or cotton wool. We got to the runway. The engines roared, the plane shuddered, the engines roared, the plane rattled, the engines roared. This second plane was not moving either.
Then, imperceptibly, a forward movement was felt, the plane suddenly became lighter as the worries of the passengers melted away like morning mist, and we accelerated along the runway and then, magically, the vibrations beneath us stopped, and the sounds of the engines changed from a tortured groan to a gentler hum. We were on our way. At last!
Looking out the window, I could see below us the reddish earth as we crossed over the horn of Africa. Just as on old steam trains, the Dakota seemed to move so leisurely that speed was not of the essence. As the sun rose ever higher I could see our shadow sauntering beneath us.
We arrived safe and sound in Mombassa. My memories of the place are few, but I was happy there. There was more traffic than in Aden, I thought. I had my first photo (or more accurately strip of four photos) in a Photo-Me booth while we were there. Arching over the road were gigantic elephant tusks made from metal and painted white. While we were there, I bought some little wooden figures, the Three Wise Monkeys, a tribal mask and various small animals as well as a drum made from an animal’s hide. My parents bought some of the same, but bigger, for themselves and as presents to back home for those who would never be able to come here. The drum they bought as our present for ourselves was much bigger than mine, almost as big as me in fact.
And then there was the beach. Never have I seen sand so bright and shiny. It was almost a dazzling pure white. The sea was blue and stretched even further than the sea at Aden.
While we were at Mombassa we went on Safari in the Tsavo Royal National Park. We woke up in pitch black darkness and made or way to the VW van that was to be our home for most of the rest of the day. We were beyond street lighting, the only light was the headlights of the van. As we were driven to the park cracks in the darkness appeared. The colour of the sky broke into fragments of hues of all kinds of shades of pink and red and orange, and then it smeared into a richer darker blue, which turned ever lighter and brighter by degrees. We arrived at the park entrance in half light and drove into a world not even a zoo could conjure. A dik-dik darted into the vegetation at the road side. 
I had been collecting cards given away with Brook Bond Tea. One set was African Wildlife. I have no idea if I had managed to collect the entire set, but I carefully glued every card I collected into the relevant collector’s book for every set I tried to collected. I swotted up on the animals in my book as I wanted to recognise and name as many as I could. What child doesn’t want to impress? One of the first animals in the collection was a dik-dik, and it seemed appropriate that was the first animal I saw in the National Park.
Later on we saw gazelles and zebra and wildebeest and warthogs and all kinds of creatures running, grazing or sauntering in the landscape. When they rushed about, the animals kicked up rich red dust clouds as they disturbed the dry earth beneath their hooves.
Suddenly the driver stopped the van, turned off the engine and told us to be quiet. We waited for an eternity and then, about 800 yards ahead of us, a troupe of elephants of all sizes crossed the road. They were as silent as the night. We saw more elephants during the day. At one point we were looked at very suspiciously by a bull elephant. The driver wasted no time in driving us off as fast as he could go, rather than face the possibility of a charge from the towering and menacing creature.
We saw termite hills that were taller than an eight year old. I was chosen as the yardstick for everybody to photograph. In a river we saw motionless logs. More careful inspection revealed them as crocodiles. Fortunately they were a good distance away from us. A very good distance.
The highlight of the trip was an animal orphanage. There we saw a year old elephant, that was so large I couldn’t imagine how big it must have been at birth to be that size. There was also a young orphaned rhino. The images we were used to was of angry creatures trying to demolish land rovers with their horns as battering rams. Despite the fact the rhino was only about waist height to me I was extra vigilant, but not vigilant enough. While I was stroking the elephant I felt a nudging behind me and a mid-range soprano sound ‘ee-ee, ee-ee’. I turned and to my horror the rhino had sneaked up behind me. I was terrified. The grownups just laughed. It was all right for them, they were much bigger than the rhino, I tried to get away but the creature kept following me. It was just a friendly child. I was a silly frightened child. Frightened by a youngster wanting to be friends. The journey back seemed to take forever, and we returned in the dark.
Whilst in Kenya, we also went to Nairobi and met up with friends of my parents. They showed us several of their films while we were there. Real moving pictures of their adventures. How I wished we had a camera like them and take home movies. We also took the opportunity to go through the Nairobi Royal National Park. The main point was to see the lions, but they were as timid as my friend the rhino in Tsavo had been intimate. We saw no lions. What we did see in abundance within moments of arriving in the park were baboons, or more accurately a windscreen seemingly covered by bare red baboon backsides.
As with all good things, this holiday had to come to an end. We made our way to Mombassa airport laden with our presents. In those days, not only was the luggage weighed but the passengers were too. My wooden figures and mask and my drum were all packed in the suitcase, the large drum my parents bought was too large to pack, and it was likely to take us over the weight limit. My turn came to be weighed. One or both of my parents told me to pick up the drum. I looked at them horrified. I was going to have to hold the drum and get weighed in front of all the other passengers. The shame and embarrassment I felt was, and still is, indescribable. I can almost feel the red flush rushing to my face and the sweat breaking out as all the grownups laughed. Very funny, I don’t think. How would they like to be made to do that? The journey home to Aden was without any memorable incident. I never forgave my parents for that, and I doubt if I ever will. I am scarred by it, even now. As I said before, I hate to be made a fool of in public.
© 2012 Gwailo54

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 14: Fun and Games

My parents were social creatures, and yet they found time for me. I never felt neglected or unloved by them. We would play card games, Newmarket was a family favourite, and board games, I had Scrabble for children. On my own I even used to make up words from the letters I had, and I guess this has led to an adult pleasure in puns, anagrams and word games in general.
Another board game we had was ‘The Archers’. One evening, some friends of my parents came over and I insisted we play this game. Now grownups being the kind of people they are, they need a few drinks inside them to play with kids. They feel the need to let themselves relax and be themselves, but for some unaccountable reason this can only be aided by alcohol. Grownups are most peculiar. They also plied me with Pimms, but I can tell you, I never got squiffy. I could hold my drink, even at the age of eight! If anybody dares suggest I didn’t have a full strength drink is just a nasty, spiteful meanie.
Anyway, the female friend landed on a penalty square, and it read “You have thrown a stone through Carol Grey’s greenhouse. Miss a turn”. Due to the liveliness of her character and also no doubt to an overindulgence or fondness for Pimms and/or Booth’s gin, both of which seemed to flow like water from the tap at these get togethers, it came out as “You have thrown a stone through Carol Green’s greyhouse. Miss a turn”. It was forever uttered thus on all future occasions.
I recall quite vividly my parents joining in a treasure hunt. I was allowed to go with them in the car. All the adults waited for the signal and they ran back to their respective cars and drove off in all directions. They were having a lot of trouble over one of the clues and I told them where we should be going. Did they listen? Of course not. Grownups always know best. As a result we got nowhere near winning. If they had only listened to the insight of their firstborn!
Entertainment by British performers was often provided. At the Mermaid club the family went to see the popular comedian “Al Read”. Quite honestly, I didn’t find him at all funny, my mother considered his material to be rather blue.
One entertainer who I was lucky enough to see in Aden was the incomparable Tommy Cooper. Tears rolled down my face as one magic trick after another didn’t work. He watered a plastic flower in a plastic flower pot that ‘wilted’ every time he walked away from the table. As his pièce de resistance he announced he would pull the cloth off the table without dislodging anything. Of course he did achieve this, but the table cloth had been cut up so it was placed around all the objects on it. His bemused look of amazement that the trick worked, and his bewilderment that we could see how it was achieved is something I can remember to this very day.
Not only did we have entertainers like him come along, but we also had a visit from the BBC in the shape of Forces Chance. Brian Johnston was the chairman, and the panellists were Nan Winton, Charles Gardner and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. I have a postcard as a memento of their visit. Nan Winton demonstrated the dance craze that was the loco-motion to us, since we were so far beyond civilisation!





© 2012 Gwailo54


Monday, 13 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 13: The Mikado

In the programme I have my own special entry Ko-Ko’s Sword Bearer-Timothy Ellis. My role was silent but crucial to the drama, and heavens above I also had to carry a sword! Now, theatre is all about illusion, I can reveal (and I hope this revelation doesn’t destroy any belief that theatre is heightened reality) the sword was not real. It was made of wood.
My big moment came when the chorus (which included my father) sang the word “Defer” very loud. Ko-Ko suddenly became timid and jumped out of his skin. I turned and looked at him, with perfect timing, most haughtily. I’m even better at it as I get older.
We put on six performances from 5th to 10th November 1962 at 8.30 p.m. at the Khormaksar Primary School Theatre. However, the best was yet to come! On 11th November the entire cast and orchestra were ferried far out into the harbour where we boarded the Ark Royal and gave a performance in the Upper Hangar. Thanks for the specific information here is due totally to this website address http://www.axfordsabode.org.uk/pdf-docs/arkroy17.pdf. I Googled “Steamer Point Light Opera Society” and this is one of the few entries I found. I can’t give a direct thank you to the website creator, so I trust this will do.
After the performance the Mikado (who terrified the life out of me when in costume) gave me two of his prop “elliptical billiard balls”. One bears the now faded inscription “To Tim from Mik”. Vincent Martinelli, whoever you were, wherever you are, you made one eight years and 2 days old kid really happy that night.
The only bad thing about it all concerned my mother who was one of those who helped the wardrobe mistress. They got her first name wrong in the programme, Maria instead of Margaret. That’s grownups for you.











© 2012 Gwailo54

Friday, 10 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 12: The Cubs


I belonged to the Air Force’s own Sea Cubs and Scouts in Aden. Yes, you did read that correctly!
Being a cub, I had to learn the National Anthem. Why is it such a dirge of a song? No wonder the Queen always looks so sombre on official occasions. I also did really exciting things like learn to cook (thanks Mum!), meet the Chief Scout (he wore a kilt) and the Archbishop of Jerusalem. Life was, as I am sure you will appreciate, one hectic social whirl having to deal with celebrities all the time.
One thing that also happened when I was a Cub, was the Gang Show. I took part in it at least one year. I remember we had our local version of Flying High, it was called Smelling High a dubious tribute to Crater. I wish I could remember the words. I’m sure the lyrics could still amuse.
I can’t remember if this was my first thespian experience or not. I’m sure it wasn’t though. My first was ... (see the next blog entry!)


The Archbishop of Jerusalem and I discussing weighty matters, as one does.


Bits and bobs from my time as a member of the 14th Aden.


Badges I got as cub, and I still have!


Where exactly this was taken I can't recall, but it's where we had our cub meetings. I can remember sand getting in my sandals and socks a lot!


Me outside the Church of the Rock (I'm sure I'm right). Why I am in uniform I have no idea. I've still got my whistle and lanyard!


My memento of the visit of the Chief Scout to Aden.

© 2012 Gwailo54

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 11: Choose a Church and Carol Singing

My family wasn’t the most religious. What level of faith my parents had I really don’t know. We did however go to various churches. Priests were always called Padre. It’s an Air Force thing.
The family’s approach seemed to be of the “pick and mix” variety. Before we went to Aden, I don’t remember church going as part of the weekly routine. I may have been packed off to Sunday school, mainly to get me out from under my parent’s feet. For whatever reason, after we arrived in Aden, we tried a few churches here and there. My mother was particularly unimpressed with the Church of England in a gloomy building, where later I was to meet the Archbishop of Jerusalem. We settled on the Church of the Rock and the minister was Padre Hurl (I’m not sure of the spelling here). I am not sure, but I think it was a Methodist church. No matter which denomination it was, it was a jolly cheerful place.
One aspect of church going meant we were press ganged into carol singing one year. The nautical association is apt. This was carol singing, but with a difference. I don’t know how many people have sung ‘Away in a Manger’ and other carols at Christmas while dressed in summer clothes bobbing about in a harbour in a small boat among the large ships. To my childhood imagination they appeared to be lit up much more brightly than usual that night. Possibly they were.
Christmas is now a rather more mundane affair, not to mention colder!

© 2012 Gwailo54

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Aden: Random Memories 10: Steamer Point

For me Steamer Point was Aden. It is probably the area I liked the most (apart from the beaches and swimming pool at Khormaksar). Most shops were on The Crescent and in the cool of the evening, lights enticed one inside. Here my parents bought a transistor radio from an electrical shop run by Indians (I think they were Sikhs). Until the old thing fell apart from much wear and tear, especially in its latter years when it went with me to college (my parents having upgraded to something more modern, reliable and not falling apart!) it was our radio set. Things were built to last in those days!
Steamer Point was also a commercial centre, since the harbour landing stage was there. Among all the shops, one of my favourites was a book shop, where I bought my own pack of de la Rue Patience playing cards. I also bought some books there, including a Puffin paperback ‘The Little Grey Men’ by the strangely named author ‘B.B.’ I loved that book. Now it has probably fallen apart and is rotting in a landfill site somewhere, if it has not suffered the worst fate of a book, being burned.
‘Melody Corner’ was a record shop. It was an Aladdin’s cave to me. Even to this day I love to seek out good record shops, even the online variety. I loved the sight of the LP covers.  The size of the CD jewel case does not stand up to the larger canvas offered by the LP sleeve to a graphic artist’s imagination. I’m not saying every LP sleeve was a work of art, but I doubt if the many CD covers will be celebrated in 50 years or so in quite the same way.
Presents from there for me included a Chipmunks’ Album. ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ was a favourite track of mine as Alvin rode from one side to the other. The magic of stereo came to life in our new Black Box record player. It was so sleek and up to the minute and now we could buy stereo records and listen to them properly all the time, or, more accurately, this child could sit transfixed as the sound went from one side of the box to the other while my parents more than likely rued the day they bought the LP and wished I would get fed up with it sooner rather than later.


© 2012 Gwailo54