Saturday, 28 January 2012

Aden: Random Memories 4: Joining Dad.

Some time later it was our turn to go, and unlike my father we would be flying! Before all that, well, when you went to a foreign country everything is not quite as it is at home. You must have an injection for this, and an injection for that, then there’s something else that needs, you guessed, another injection, until you think you’re a pin cushion for doctors and nurses. I was so glad when it was all over.
For some time home for us had been R.A.F. service married quarters, 25 Mottershead Drive, Innsworth, Gloucestershire. Leaving there is a bit of a blur. I know my mother had to do ‘the inventory’. It was something that always happened when I wasn’t around. I had always heard about ‘the inventory’, the counting of the spoons and that sort of thing. My mother was always tense as it got closer.
I imagine it went reasonably well, since we left Innsworth on the start of the long voyage to join my father. I know we took the train to London and got a taxi from Paddington but the driver took us to the wrong building. It should have been Victoria but he took us to Regent Street or maybe it was the other way round, I think. The taxi was one of those really old fashioned ones where there was a kind of cubby hole next to the driver where you would put your luggage. Despite going to the wrong London building, somehow or other we managed to get to the airport, Stansted. My mother told me the terminal was just tents, something that has been borne out in my researches. The plane however was was big and had jet engines, and we would be flying non-stop, so I knew it was modern. Flying direct over long distances was a novel experience. On the way to and from the Far East we apparently stopped off in many places such as Basra, Colombo, Calcutta, Rome. In the 1950s it took us a long weekend to get to Singapore.
Do I remember much about the flight? Only a bit. Mum pointed out the Swiss Alps, and told me when she was young, she and her sister Edna went on holiday down there before I was born. I have since retraced some of that holiday, and it is surprising how little some of the places have changed. I hope to post something about that in the future as well. Oh, and we had pea soup.
Kids being kids, the ‘are we nearly there yet?’ routine must have driven my mother to the edge of hysteria. I must have said it on more than one occasion. I also had new clothes to change into. They weren’t as heavy as those I was wearing when we left Innsworth. I had to change out of pullovers and long trousers into cotton summer shirts and shorts. Eventually we got there. I have seen a photograph of me running to my father after we had landed. In those days it seems the formalities of customs weren’t too rigid. Unless if you are a V.I.P. or a celebrity, I don’t suppose anybody gets welcomed on the tarmac as they get off a plane anywhere anymore. I don’t remember the heat, which must have been intense as Aden was generally 100˚F in the shade between sunrise and sunset. Seeing my father again at last after a very long separation was more important anything. 
Dad took us to our new home, 6 Cherry Buildings, Ma'alla (I have got this right in essence if not in detail). We were very close to the Stim factory (the local producer of carbonated drinks). A sight and sound that sticks in my memory is of crates full of bottles trundling along the rollers.

In the other direction on the same side of the street was a bank (I have stumbled across a photo of Maalla on the internet and discovered it was a Grindlays Bank, but I was convinced it was a Lloyds bank).
Across the road was the NAAFI and an Avon shop where my mother bought so many perfumes. I have a roll of film, in rather poor condition. One of the negatives is of my parent’s bedroom. On the dressing table (it sounds rather grand for something so plain, functional and unimpressive) stand various containers, a jar of vaseline, my father’s Old Spice after shave, Johnson’s baby talcum powder. I recognise the Avon bottles, I am sure my mother liked Topaz a lot. The shape of one of the bottles and of the top is unforgettable. The image is the fourth photo in this blog entry.

My own bedroom in the apartment was enormous in comparison to the tiny room I had had at Innsworth. Also there was a novelty waiting for me, an air conditioning unit. I don’t recall us having air conditioning in Hong Kong or Singapore, we just had ceiling fans. This particular unit was green and noisy. It also had a peculiar odour.
On the window ledge (it was much bigger than a sill!) were some brand new books waiting for my arrival. There was a Billy Bunter, which I didn’t really care for (sorry Dad) and Beatrix Potter’s The Fairy Caravan, which I did like. One of the characters was a guinea pig, and we had had guinea pigs back in Innsworth. I am sure there were other books. I can’t recall if The Wind in the Willows was one of them or if I got that later while we were in Aden, not that it matters much now, some 50 years later. It is peculiar to think that for me The Wind in the Willows and Aden are inextricably twinned, whereas that book conjures up a very English world.
Here I was, in my new home. Thoughts of family and England were set aside as quickly as night follows day in the tropics. Service children always seemed to adapt. We didn’t get homesick, and if we did, it didn’t last long. Aden was going to be home. Not forever, but then, forever is a long time, and two years is forever to a seven year old child.
© 2012 Gwailo54

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