Probably the best known part of Aden for most British people would have been Crater, and for the wrong reasons, ‘Mad Mitch’ and the Argylles and his iron fist policy. I am not making any claim as to the rights and wrongs on either side, but we must always be mindful that the various outposts of the British Empire were there for strategic and commercial interests, and the military was an important part of that jigsaw.
Crater was so named as it was the remnants of a volcanic crater. It’s not exactly the most romantic of names or reasons, but functional. Memory tells me Crater was chaotic and something of a dump. I felt less safe there than anywhere else in Aden. One of the few memorable visits there was my mother buying rings. Seeing the craftsmen at work working with pinpoint accuracy impressed me tremendously.
Our cars in Aden were a Fiat 500 and later a Fiat 600. The first was white and the second was grey. A rare photo of my father (it was his camera!) at the wheel of one of our Fiats. A rare photo of my father (it was his camera!) at the wheel of one of our Fiats (posted in an earlier blog).
One day my father took the car for servicing and I went with him, not knowing the adventure that lay ahead. I am pretty sure the garage was on the edge of Crater and consequently on the edge of the dead volcano’s crater walls. We started to climb up. As we got higher, the wind was noticeable and the temperature dropped so by the time we were on the very rim we were in the cloud (not that there was much of it) and everything felt damp. My father pointed out to me where we had been and where we were going. We made the descent and arrived home, back in the more or less 100˚F in the shade.
The main attraction in Crater was the Cisterns of Tawila. They were hundreds even possibly thousands of years old. It was most likely the first time I learned that my Western culture and tradition was not necessarily the most advanced throughout history. Although the complex of tanks and walkways may seem smaller to me now, were I to revisit Aden, I am sure I would still be amazed and impressed by the construction as well as the ingenuity of the older Arab culture.
There’s also something noteworthy. Round the area of the tanks is vegetation, maybe not masses of grassy lawns, but it wasn’t ‘all desert’. So much for what my friends at Churchdown knew about anything.
There was only one way in and one way out of Crater by car from Ma'alla and that was the Crater Pass. Even back in the early 60s in Aden, cars were becoming more commonplace and decisions were being made around the needs for vehicles. Crater Pass was narrow, it was clear it had been hewn out of the crater wall. On the rim of the crater there was a wall either side of the pass linked by a bridge. To enable a better flow of traffic, the gap in the crater wall had to be widened, and consequently this meant the bridge had to go.
The scheduled day of demolition arrived. My father and I watched the explosion. The noise was the loudest I’ve ever heard. A huge cloud of dust hung in the air. As it cleared, the bridge was no more. How long the wall had been there, I do not know, but to this day, I am amazed at man’s ingenuity at solving problems, until it comes to the motor car. Whatever is needed to get somebody from A to B in the fastest possible time and with the greatest convenience is paramount, irrespective of the consequences. As I write, the 2011 Party Conference Season is reaching its final days, and the Tories want to raise the speed limit on motorways, even though this is likely to increase pollution and result in more lives lost. This is, I believe, called policy making.
© 2012 Gwailo54