Saturday, 31 October 2009


Here's a shot of the monkeys in the Botanic Gardens. I'm squeezed between Alan and my dad. They were both quite happy feeding them but I was quite scared, as you can probably see in this picture! I probably wasn't much bigger than them at the time! The monkeys all look pretty well behaved in this photo but as soon as they knew anyone had food, they'd pounce. As well as bananas, we used to give them peanuts which were sold in paper cones by people inside the gardens. It's a shame that they're not still in the Singapore gardens nowadays. I'm sure everybody who is about my age, and who visited the gardens at the time,will have very fond memories of them.

Friday, 30 October 2009

More home movies

Here's another home movie from the 1960s. This one starts with me on the beach at, I think, Jason's Bay, near Johore Bahru. There's also film of my dad and Alan swimming and then you can see the giant parachute that all the men used to set up when we had a banyan. You can also see the family's Triumph Herald in the shot. The cricket match on the same beach features my dad, Bette and Les Sharpe together with Tom and Jean Bagwell, all Naval friends of my parents.

The next scene is us filming as we drive towards the customs point at the causeway. My mum is filming out of the window as my dad drives. Then there are shots of Johore together with all the old shops and cars.Next, there's film of us about to go into the Navy Base entrance.
The final scenes are taken at Jalan Wijaya. There's me at home and then getting an ice cream as a man wearing a turbin drives by on a scooter. The final scene shows me wearing a hat which I remember was left over at our house from a party my parents had with all their Naval friends the night before.
Seems such a long time ago now!

Lost friends

Here's a photo of my parents and their friend, Poon at the Chinese New Year Ball in February, 1966. After we returned home in 1968, Poon came to stay with us in Plymouth but then we moved and we all lost touch. My dad would like to hear from him again and I've tried to trace him on the internet but with no luck. I often wonder what happened to him.
I remember when he visited us in Plymouth that my dad warned him that the lock didn't work properly on the bathroom door. He said, 'Don't worry, on my bathroom we don't even have a door!'
Dad told me that 'Poon' was a nickname (after the Chinese racing driver Albert Poon) because his name was unpronouncable to English people. However, some colleagues said that Poon was part of his name and he certainly always signed Christmas cards, 'Poon'. Another friend, my parents would like to hear from, is Omar Mahmood. Both he and Poon worked with my dad at KD Malaya. I suppose after all this time, it's probably impossible to ever find out what happened to them but perhaps one of them, or a family member might read this blog and get in touch!
I remember them both fondly from when I was a kid. It's amazing that it's now 40 years since we last saw Poon.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Mr Lee

Here's Alan in our front garden at Jalan Wijaya in about 1966. I bet many Naval families will recognise this chair! Ours came home with us and lasted until about 1990.
In the background is an old car. I think that this may have belonged to Mr Lee who lived across the road from us. I never knew much about him but I remember that he had two wives. I remember one night we heard what we thought was gunfire. At the time there was trouble with Indonesian terrorists and we were cautious about going outside. However, it turned out to be Mr Lee letting off a load of fire crackers that were hanging over his balcony!
Mr Lee once asked my parents over to meet Tunku Abdul Rahman who was the first Prime Minister of Malaysia. I never knew what Mr Lee did for a job but he was quite well off and seemed to have influential friends.
I don't really remember too much about him but he always seemed friendly and would wave over to us. I wonder what he thought of all the Naval folk moving in around him?

Fancy dress

This photo was taken on 16th October, 1965 at HMS Terror in Sembawang, Singapore. I'd have been just 4 years old at the time. In the middle of the picture, dressed as an Indian, is my brother, Alan. Beside him is Carol Webster who lived next door to us in Jalan Wijaya.
What's funny about this picture is that they came second but when they turned up at the event, they had no plans on entering whatsoever. However, they changed their minds and my mum and her friend, Barbara Webster, Carol's mother, quickly nipped over to the NAAFI shop and bought some crepe paper and made these outfits as fast as they could! I think that they did a good job.
I remember this day and I wanted Noddy and Big Ears to win but they came third. The winners were the two boys on the right who were dressed as locals.
I think this event has stayed fresh in my mind because of this photo and it's funny, I can't remember a thing about the rest of the day!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Here's a picture of Azizah, our Amah. All the forces families had an amah and she would help with the cleaning, ironing and looking after the kids. We loved Azizah and I wish that we'd kept in touch after we returned to England. I think she might have had difficulty writing English though and we knew little Malayan. Azizah was 25 years old in this picture and with her is her children, Fadzilah and Fadzil. The photo was taken at our home in Jalan Wijaya. Azizah lived somewhere near to us but I can't remember where. Alan told me that we once went to her house when it was one of her children's birthdays but I can't remember. I wish I could! I remember that Azizah taught us some Malayan. 'Terimah Kashi' which meant 'thank you' and 'sama-sama' which meant 'you're welcome'. She probably taught us some other phrases but I've long forgotten them. My mum would give stuff to Azizah including toys for the kids. She once asked her if she wanted some table cloths which she was very happy with. The next time we saw her, her husband was wearing them! Fadzilah and Fadzil used to come to our birthday parties, I don't think they spoke much English. I would love to know what happened to them all and I hope they remember us as fondly as we do them.


This photo shows how busy the markets were on the streets of Singapore during the 1960s. There were stalls everywhere and they would sell just about anything. It was all fascinating to me and, being smaller, I was on the same eye level as the fruit sellers who were sat next to their produce which was sometimes spread out on wicker mats. This was the first place that I ever saw and tasted a rambutan. I'd never seen anything like them and as we walked by, stall holders would offer me them. I couldn't refuse! I got to love rambutans in the three years that we lived in Singapore and Malaya. I can still remember the taste now, though I haven't had one since we returned home in 1968. I think that they sell them in Sainsbury's in the UK so perhaps I'll buy some one day!
From the top picture, it's amazing just how busy the street markets were. Everyone was happy to barter and the seller and the buyer always seemed happy with the final price. I can still recall the smell of those stalls - the fruit, the smell of wicker work and just the smell of Singapore in general which I'm sure is a smell long forgotten by many Singaporeans!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Here's that tree again, just a few months later in 1967! It's amazing how it grew.
This photo was taken on my 6th birthday and my present is sat beside me. It's a Cragstan tin talking robot. They're worth anything up to £1,000 nowadays but then they cost just a few dollars. There was a shop by the coldstore near to our house that always had toys in the window. There'd be robots, tanks, robotic clowns, battery operated cars - everything a kid could want.
We'd been to friends of my parents and their son had one of these robots and then I got one for my birthday. It could say many things including, 'I am a mighty man with 100 horsepower of energy inside me', 'I am bulletproof too, ha, ha, ha!', I'm leaving now to explore the outer limits, goodbye see you again!' and other things that I've long forgotten. To me it was fascinating. My brother had a walking tin robot that fired guns and we used to have mock battles between them. At the time, there was a Japanese cartoon on the tv called, 'Gigantor', which featured a giant robot. I'd never miss it.
Some inquisitive kids would take their tin toys apart and find that parts had been made from food tins and coke cans. Nothing was wasted over there! The toys there were amazing. I remember having a tin aeroplane, remote control car, trains etc. They all seemed far better than they are nowadays. If I'd kept all of these tin toys, they'd probably be worth a fortune.
I see I've scuffed my knee in the picture and also, I have socks on, we must have been going out somewhere! Incidentally, on the tape we sent to my gran, that I mentioned earlier, I'm saying, 'I am bulletproof too, ha, ha, ha!'

My tree

Here's a photo of me in our back garden at Jalan Wijaya in 1966. I'm sitting in front of my tree which, as I mentioned earlier, had just been a branch I'd found in the road and stuck in the garden. This photo probably wasn't taken too long after I'd planted it. It was to grow a lot bigger though and I'd climb it regularly and I think we even tried to build a tree house in it once.
From this picture, it's hard to imagine how fast it grew. I remember one year, that we had a hornet's nest in it and I can't quite remember how we got rid of it. There seemed to be a lot of biting and stinging insects around. This was by the back door and I'd regularly get bitten by large ants there, that's probably why I'm wearing flip-flops.
I don't look too happy in this photo. Perhaps my brother was off playing Samurai with other kids on the estate. The house behind me belonged to the Websters. It was Gordon Webster who sorted out our snake in the house (it ended up in the bin after being hit by a broom). They had three children - David, Judith and Carol. David was my age and we'd play together though it looks like everyone was out on this day!
Incidentally, when I revisited in 1990, it looked like the tree had been chopped down.

Letters home

I recently came across this small reel to reel tape. When we lived in Jalan Wijaya, we used to record messages on to a tape and send them back home to my gran in Seaham. She would then record a message on it and send it back to us. It's strange how the world has changed since with computers, webcams and emails. Back in the 60s, the only contact was through letters and postcards. Even phones were unheard of in people's houses in those days.
Reel to reel tape recorders were relatively new but with electronic equipment being cheaper in the Far East, many forces families had them. We only had a few tapes - Carousel, The Sound of Music, the Black and White Minstrels and an episode of Steptoe and Son which I remember involved him eating pickled onions in the bath.
Recording our own voices was great fun for me and Alan. We had many of these 'Living Letters' tapes but over the years, they've either been recorded over or disappeared when technology changed. It's amazing that this one has survived. I recently had it transferred to CD so that I could listen to it again. Unfortunately, there's not too much on it but we're telling our gran how we've been to Johore Zoo and I sing songs that I've learnt at the infants. One is 'Little Bird I have heard' which I knew all the words to then but have since forgotten. I'll add it to the blog at a later date if I can. The tape is quite clear and I can even hear a scooter going by outside our house. What amazed me most though, was just how well spoken we were. Maybe the tape has distorted things but Alan, in particular, almost sounds posh. Did we really speak like that? There's also a clip on the tape where I impersonate a talking tin robot that I'd seen at a friend's house.
My gran is now long gone unfortunately but I can imagine her getting the tapes and taking them around a friend's house and the excitement of them listening to our voices, recorded in a place so far away. I remember with the returned tape, our gran used to send us sherbet, something that probably wouldn't make it through customs nowadays!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Orchard Road

Here's a lovely old photo of Orchard Road from the 1960s or perhaps, a little bit later. Some of the cars look like they could be early 1970s models.
When I went back to Singapore in 1990, the skyline of Orchard Road had certainly changed and I'm sure it's changed a great deal since.
In the background are signs for, 'National Optics', 'Sony', 'Teac' and 'Cathay Pacific'. The large building on the right is the Hotel Phoenix near to the Orchard Building. A signpost on the left reads, 'Bideford Road'.
Back in the 1960s, the main shops that I can remember in the area were Tangs and Robinsons. I think that Robinsons was air-conditioned and we used to go in just to cool down! Anything we bought had to be taken across the causeway to get it back home to Johore Bahru and this involved 'duty' being paid on items bought. If you tried to hide the items and they searched your vehicle and found anything, the fine would only be a few dollars anyway. Every time we went across the causeway, they would ask us if we had anything to declare but the question was in Malayan. My parents and most of the forces families knew the reply for, 'I have nothing to declare' but I can't remember what it was.
Of course, there was a game to see what could be taken across the causeway without paying duty. This included buying bikes and cycling them across, sitting on new cushions so they looked like they belonged to the car and wearing bought clothes and other items. I can't really remember anyone paying duty on anything.
I loved our trips over to Singapore in the 1960s. It seemed that there was so much going on there. Of course, it was the place where my dad worked and we regularly went to the Naval Base for cinema shows, firework displays, Christmas parties and other events. There always seemed to be something going on when you were part of a Naval family.

Grass Cutters

Every so often, Alan would take the family's bakelite Kodak 127 camera and wander around the estate taking pictures. They were all quite interesting because they would be pictures of things that were happening at the time rather than just family photos, I remember he took the photo of the Satay man which I featured on a previous post and also some newly hatched ducklings. There were quite a few chickens and ducks about and we used to watch for their eggs to hatch. I think that some of the photos that Alan took might have been lost over the years but here's an interesting one of a grass cutter near our home. I don't remember anyone having a lawn mower at the time and if they did, they certainly weren't electric. For $2, the grass cutters would cut your grass. They had huge scythes which they used to swing over their heads. It all looked pretty dangerous. The area of land shown in the picture was between us and the row of shops, including the cold store, where we got our shopping. I remember one day, when we were returning from the shops and I found a branch which I took home and stuck in the back garden. Amazingly, it grew and continued to grow over the next three years. I had great fun in that tree, I'll post some photos later!


Everyone who lived in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s seems to remember the tv programme, Samurai. I asked my brother recently if he remembered us making Ninja stars and he remembers that we used to throw them at the old wooden packing crates left by the removal men when we moved into our house in Jalan Wijaya. The stars were quite lethal, though I don't think that any of the local kids every had fights with them.
Here's a clip I've found of the original show. The haunting theme tune should bring back instant memories. It reminds me of being right back at Jalan Wijaya in the garden attacking my brother!

It's funny, there wasn't a kid in Australia, Japan or Singapore who hadn't seen Samurai. Yet, when we got back to England, nobody had heard of it. Samurai starred Koichi Ose, who was a top movie star in Japan at the time. He played the lead character, Shintaro in the programme. His arch enemies were the Koga Ninjas.
Samurai was a huge show and when Koichi Ose visited Australia in the 1960s, he got a bigger welcome than the Beatles. He was greeted by screaming fans in home made kimonos throwing Ninja stars made of cardboard. Apparently, he had no idea just how popular he was outside Japan.
The show ran throughout the 1960s having first been shown in Japan in 1962. It was dubbed into English which could be quite funny some times. For instance, Shintaro would be giving a long speech and his mouth would be moving quite a lot and the dubbed voice would just say something like, 'Yes, I know'.
Incidentally, Koichi Ose is still alive and living in Japan. He retired in 1969 and started up a property company and in 1980, he and his wife opened a chain of noodle restaurants. I hope he has as fond memories as I have of Samurai.

Sunday, 25 October 2009


Here's a photo of me and my brother at Sandycroft, Penang in about 1966. There was a lovely dog there that used to follow us everywhere and I think he must have belonged to someone who worked in the cafe. If my memory serves me right, his name was Pepper and I think he was a Labrador (or something similar!). Back at home in Jalan Wijaya, there were many wild dogs roaming around. I quite liked seeing them and sometimes we'd play with them, although we were told to keep away from them in case they had rabies. Many servicemen and their children had dogs but when they came to return home, the dog had to either be found a new home or, unfortunately, be put down. I remember a few people who had dogs near to our home and I think someone even had a couple of poodles, which weren't the sort of dog you would expect to find in the Far East. Most of the wild dogs on the estate were just a mixture of everything and most were quite friendly though they'd bark like most dogs! I remember one day when Alan came in and said that he had seen the police driving around and shooting stray dogs. It was very upsetting but they did this often though I never witnessed it. There's one time that I really remember coming into contact with a stray dog and this follows on from my last post. I think I was at Debbie Sharpe's birthday party near to our home. I was about 5 at the time. I was jumping around the garden, pretending to be a kangaroo, when I cracked my head on one of the steel windows that was open. Now, it's funny when you're in pain, you remember anything that happened to you at the time,even years later. I remember that Englebert Humperdinck's 'Please Release Me' was playing on the radio! Anyway, I decided to walk home with my hand on my head and blood pouring down my arm. As I made my way up the street, Bette, Debbie's mother, had seen what had happened and called me back. I was determined to get home and was probably tearful. As I came around the corner into Jalan Wijaya, a huge friendly, wild dog came up to me, wagging its tail, and stood on my shoulders and licked my face. After all the warnings about wild dogs, I think I then ran home as quick as I could. I had a sore head for a while but all was soon back to normal. As I said earlier, I've still got the scar and my hair never did grow there again! Whenever I hear 'Please Release Me', I'm taken back to that day in Johore Bahru, my sore head and that scary dog!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Sandycroft, Penang - Home Movie

This photo shows my dad, Alan, George Holden, Les Sharpe and my pal, Debbie Sharpe. The Sharpes lived very close to us in Jalan Wijaya at Jalan Dato Sulaiman in Century Gardens, Johore Bahru. I remember cracking my head open on one of their metal windows (I still have the scar) but I'll save that story for later! Incidentally, Les has just got in touch with my parents again after 33 years after reading this blog!
This photo was taken at the tennis courts at Sandycroft and I remember the day because I was a bit moody and wouldn't play and me and Alan went off to explore instead. To save any confusion, and I forgot to mention it before, both my dad and brother are called Alan. We used to have a copy of this photo but it disappeared over the years but when my parents met up with George Holden and his wife, Kit, recently, I was able to get a copy. We've loads of photos of Sandycroft and I'll post some more later.
Meanwhile, here's another of my dad's home movies, this time shot at the Leave Centre at Sandycroft in Penang in about 1966.

It starts off on the beach at Tanjong Bungah with me trying to fill the moat of my sandcastle. Everyone will recognise that red bucket, the washing powder used to come in them! Then, there's a shot of us playing football up by the chalets. I think the chalets were on several levels and we were somewhere near the top. The chalets had no toilets, they were at the end, and at one point, my brother stops playing football to go to the block at the end!
The next scene shows us with our large wicker hats, to keep the sun off, heading down towards the boat jetty and then there's a cruise along the river. Looking back, you can see Sandycroft.
After that, we're back in the hire car and heading up to Ayer Itam Temple. There was a small market nearby which is shown in the film.
The shots of the tank and helicopter were taken on another day trip out on the island. I remember sitting in that helicopter and the horse in the film sticking his head through the window. I wasn't too keen! We both ended up on it though!
The final part of the film shows us sat at the station at the bottom of the Penang Hill railway.
The film isn't too clear but hopefully, it'll bring back memories. I've never seen any other home movies of Sandycroft. We've got other films like this which I hope to include soon.


Here's my dad in his tropical gear off to work taken at our home in JalanWijaya. It must have been a weekend because I'm in the background but not in my school clothes. On the back of the photo, it says that it was taken at 7am in the morning. I think the notes on the back of the photo were written for my gran who was back in England.
Dad's long socks had two purposes. One was to look tidy but the other was to keep mozzies from biting his legs and ankles. We were all bitten by them but they seemed to be attracted to him more than any of us. We were always swatting the things and we used to burn stuff called 'Elephant Coils' which kept them at bay.
I remember having mosquito nets somewhere over our beds. My parents can't remember this at Jalan Wijaya so perhaps we had them when we went to stay at Sandycroft in Penang. We must have taken tablets because of the chances of getting malaria and other mosquito related illnesses but I don't remember them. I know that a teachers at one of the Naval Schools in Singapore died after being bitten by a mosquito.
Nowadays, Singapore is mosquito free. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a campaign to rid the area of them and there were rewards for people who discovered and destroyed mosquito nests.
It makes me itch just thinking about it!

A Tiger in your tank!

We used to love visiting the many Esso garages around Singapore mainly because of the free gifts! At the time, there only seemed to be Shell and Esso garages and we were always nagging dad to go in the Esso one. There was no self-service in those days. When your car pulled onto the forecourt, a group of men would rush out. One would busily clean your windscreen, another would open the bonnet and check your oil and water and another would fill your car up. Then, they would take your money and come back with your change and the all-important free gift! They were always very friendly and polite. Quite often they would point at me and say something like, 'nice fair hair!', the locals seemed fascinated by kids with light coloured hair at the time. One of the free gifts was a Tiger Tail, which we would get dad to attach to the car aerial, At home, we all had these attached to our bikes. I bet there aren't many still around today. We also got free drinking glasses, cups and badges (I've still got mine) all with the Tiger's face on. Even if there wasn't a promotion on, the garage workers would still give you free sweets and lollies. They were just happy to have your custom. There probably isn't any non self service garages in Singapore anymore. I've come across them in Australia and some parts of Cornwall but it seems a thing of the past now. Thinking about it, there seems to be a lot less Esso garages too!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Dad's birthday, 1967

It's funny I can remember so much about this photo taken in 1967, when I was just 6 years old, at our home in Jalan Wijaya. The ice cream man had just been on his strange motor cycle ice cream van contraption. He used to carry everything; ice cream, lollies, pop corn, drinks etc and you always got something free which I remember at the time was Marine Boy transfers. I can even remember the taste of that lolly like sweet milk on a stick. Does anyone else remember them? My mum's given me a saucer because it was so hot any ice cream or lolly that you had would just melt down your arm before you could eat it! I've built a train out of Lego and there are the instructions in front of me and I can recall, and you can see it in the picture, that I built the tunnel too small for the train to go through! I even remember sticking to that vinyl chair because of the heat and the table I'm sat at is the one where I saw my first snake coming down the leg.
I know this is Spring 1967 as I recall my mum was just about to wrap up my dad's birthday presents, and there they are in the picture, Old Spice and a box of cigarettes! It seemed at the time that there wasn't a person in the Navy who didn't smoke. Funnily enough, I remember all the detail in this photo but I don't remember my dad's actual birthday at all!
On the walls are those pictures that you only see nowadays in charity shops - ships made of wicker and framed. We must have had those for years. There's also a money box in the shape of a black baby holding fruit. These were everywhere when I was a kid. The cabinet in the background was where I kept my collection of plastic vehicles from the past which were free with Sugar Smacks (which is why I was unhappy with the box of ants I got from the cold store - my mum wouldn't let me fish out that free gift!).
It's funny that I remember so much from a small photo from 1967 but would have to really think what I did a month ago. It's funny how the memory works, isn't it?

Cooling down

When I went back to Singapore and Malaya in 1990, I'd forgotten just how hot and sticky it was there. Here's a photo of me in about 1966 cooling down in the back garden of our house at Jalan Wijaya. The water from the hose was great to keep the heat at bay. I remember that it always had a few holes in it so this made it even better! I remember when we first arrived at Jalan Wijaya and the heat was proving a bit too much. When the heavy rains of the monsoon season started, we all ran out just to cool down. Our amah, Azizah, laughed and must have thought we were crazy. I remember that even though we were getting wet, and it was a break from the heat, the rain was still warm! We had fans in the front room and the bedrooms to keep us cool and the windows had to stay open at night. This had its disadvantages though as mosquitoes would come in and also there was the fear of thieves who would sometimes get a long bamboo pole with a fishing hook on the end to hook what they could. We must have been too hot to sleep on most nights yet in one of my old photos, there's a blanket on the bed. Perhaps we just adjusted to it. I remember we were very cold when we finally returned to England!

Bugis Street

Here's a photo of Bugis Street in the 1960s. I can't remember if we ever walked down this street but I suppose we must have done when we were in Singapore. By day, it was an ordinary enough street but by night, it was the meeting place for transvestites, some of whom were very convincing. Forces personnel who visited the area wouldn't realise that the beautiful girl on their arm, that they'd been buying drinks for all night, was actually a man! It was said that the way to tell if they were men or women was that the men dressed as women looked stunning, whereas the proper women just looked ordinary! Bugis Street was once crammed with merchants and traders making it one of the most vibrant areas in Singapore. In the 1960s, there were also many outside bars. When I went back to Singapore in 1990 and was sitting near Orchard Road at night, I noticed many men dressed as women parading up and down the street. It was certainly more obvious though! Bugis Street became famous the world over at the time. However, all changed in the 1980s when the area went under major redevelopment. Restaurants and modern shopping malls took over and the building of the underground MRT disrupted the area, changing it forever. 

Amazingly, the Singapore Tourist Board tried to recapture some of this previous 'glamour' and created New Bugis Street but the area had changed too much for the idea ever to be successful.
Here's a lovely photo from the 1960s of a man and his trishaw travelling down Bugis Street. On the right is the Chan Textile Company. It certainly looks a lot quieter than it was in the night time!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Satay Man

This photo of the Satay man was taken near to our home at Jalan Wijaya in 1966. My brother, Alan, took this with my parents Kodak 127 camera. I think I've still got it somewhere!
The Satay man used to sit near to the shops by the coldstore in Jalan Dato Sulaiman. He would heat up meat in his pots and pans, I think he had some sort of paraffin heater. His fuel container was an old Milo tin that had been modified - they never wasted anything! As far as I can remember, he never looked any happier than this!
We were told not to eat any of it but I'm sure Alan tried it several times. It never seemed to do him any harm though. It's amazing that the Satay man would carry this contraption around on his shoulders, it all looked pretty heavy.
In the background, is a cafe. I remember going in there for milkshakes. I also remember buying 7-up and Coca-cola which always seemed to come in bottles and we'd buy strange Chinese sweets.
The coldstore was near by and my clearest memory is getting a packet of cornflakes, mainly for the free gift, and opening it up and it was full of ants. The shopkeeper just laughed when we took it back. I remember the washing powder you bought that always came in a red bucket and you used to get free cups when you bought anything and eventually you had a complete tea set. I wonder if there are many of those about still?
There was also an insurance salesman's office in the row and he always kept a small monkey on a lead attached to the metal grill on the front of his shop. Further down, I think there was a photographers shop. This row of shops seemed to be the first port of call before we set off for any of our adventures around the estate.
The Satay man is probably now long gone though perhaps he wasn't as old as he looked in the photo!

Snake Charmers and Magicians

I found the snake charmers and magicians around Singapore fascinating when I was a kid. The snake charmers, who were all Indian, would carry their snakes around in baskets and give performances at the Padang and in front of Raffles Hotel. The snakes were meant to have their poison removed before they did their tricks. We were still scared stiff of them though! I remember us all going to Singapore on a shopping trip and Alan and me wandering off so we could watch the street magicians. It was all amazing to us, I don't think there were even magicians on the tv at the time. One trick they did was to hide a ball under three containers,move them around and let someone from the crowd point to where they thought it was. Of course, they were always wrong. This is quite a commonplace trick nowadays but then, it was all new to us. I can't remember if they got money from the audience, either by them guessing which container the ball was under or from them just paying them for the show. Some kids had the gully-gully man come to their birthday parties and he would perform tricks with snakes, card tricks and other acts of illusion. He was very popular at the time. Nowadays, the street entertainers such as the magicians and snake charmers have long since disappeared from the streets of Singapore. It seemed a lot more interesting place back then and has certainly lost a lot over the years.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Home movies

This photo shows my dad at Kota Tinghi waterfalls using his Super 8mm cine camera. Super 8 was the latest thing then. We had a projector at home and would enjoy watching all the films that he shot. We only had one other film which was Frankenstein which lasted about 15 minutes. I didn't like it much but I remember the projector being set up and some of the other kids in the area coming in to see it. My dad shot quite a lot of film it seemed at the time but nowadays, it seems to squeeze into about 20 minutes. I'm sure some of it must have disappeared over the years. For instance, here he is in this photo filming but we have no film of the waterfalls whatsoever. The cameras could be hit and miss in those days, unless you had a lot of money to spend on them. I remember that you had to go somewhere really dark to change the film and make sure that no light got in. Then, when it was finished, about 4 minutes worth, it had to be taken to a lab to be developed and you'd get it back about a week later. It must have been quite exciting seeing it for the first time. Many years ago, about 1980, I had our films transferred to video tape. They were silent but I got a sound effects LP out of the library and added sound as best as I could. It probably doesn't quite fit! Then when DVDs came out, I transferred the tape over. I'm sure a lot of the quality must have been lost and I haven't seen these films shown by a projector for over 30 years. My dad says that the quality was never very good in the first place. Anyway,here's one of the movies. This one starts on the Penang Hill Railway and shows Georgetown and the Botanic Gardens, along with those cheeky monkeys! There's also clips of Sandycroft and I think I even cry in it (I would have been embarrassed at one time!). There's also clips of us feeding the Koi Carp at the Sultan's Gardens in Johore - you can see I wasn't very big at the time - and film of Johore Zoo which shows a clapping gorilla and a three legged tiger. 

The worst zoo I've ever seen.  
I hope that you enjoy it and oh, try turning on the sound!

School days

This photo taken in 1966 shows me and my brother, outside our home in Jalan Wijaya, waiting to go to school. The writing on the back of the photo says that it's 7.30 am. I certainly look more awake in this photo than I do today at 7.30am! We went to the nearby school at Kebunteh which couldn't have been too far away from our house. There was a bus stop just down the road and we used to get the school bus in every morning. When we first started, they tied parcel labels to us, like evacuees in the Second World War, which carried details such as our names and address. They did manage to lose us a few times, I remember! I remember sitting on the bus looking out of the window and watching the large sun rising. It always seemed bigger and more orange over there. We were always quite tidy for going to school and all of the Navy kids used to dress like this. I can see my brother has his RN Navy School badge on - I've still got mine. He also seems to have a prefect badge or something similar. Our cases, and all the kids had them, probably just contained our lunch, an exercise book and some pencils. Mum would always put a Cadbury's chocolate bar in there which I would share with the chubby boy in the class. One day, he decided he wanted it all and snatched it and ran off with it. I ran after him but he ate it before I could catch him! I wonder if he remembers that? Lessons were only until 1pm because of the heat so we would have the whole afternoon to do what we wanted. I think dad would come home early somedays and we'd go across to Singapore or somewhere nearer like Jason's Bay, Johore Zoo or the Sultan's Gardens. Everyone who went to school in Singapore and Malaya will remember the bottles of milk that they gave us in the morning. Where as you would only get ordinary milk in England, you would get a choice of chocolate, strawberry or plain at the Naval School! I always had chocolate. Some kids just had the ordinary milk which I never understood. My memories of being at school are fading. I remember an incident where a girl ate poison berries off one of the bushes near the school, I think she was alright though. I also remember the Christmas Nativity plays, singing hymns in the main hall and various classes. We had a lovely teacher who I suppose was in the Navy, it's a pity that I can't remember her name. I remember the first book we were given to read which was called 'The Story of the Little Black Sambo' which is a title which would be frowned upon today but strangely the book is reprinted regularly and is still on sale today. The infant and junior parts of the school were seperated at the back by a large fence and I would go and talk to Alan there sometimes during our breaks. Parts of the school are still there though they're run down and look disused. There used to just be just barren land around about the school but now there's tall skyscrapers and modern shopping centres. It's probably hard for the locals to imagine what it once look liked.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Botanic Gardens, Singapore

This photo shows my brother, Alan, my mum and me in the Botanic Gardens in Singapore in 1965. It also shows our lovely Triumph Herald! The gardens were full of monkeys at the time and I think that's one of the main reasons that we went. I don't remember any of the plants! There used to be banana sellers outside the main gates and there were many people happy to buy them to feed the monkeys. I loved seeing the monkeys but have to admit I was scared stiff of them! You'd have a bunch of bananas behind your back and before you knew it, they would be snatched and you'd just see the monkey running off with them! The bananas were nothing like you get nowadays. They were short and very sweet. I think that I told the story in my book of the time we left the windows down on the car. It was so hot, it was the only way to cool it down. When we came back, the car was full of monkeys, one even looked like he was trying to drive. My dad scared them off and was just about to sit down in the driver's seat when my mum noticed that one of the monkeys had pooped there. She caught him just in time. We all laughed about it at the time. When I went to Singapore in 1990, one of the things that I was really looking forward to was visiting the gardens and taking the monkeys some bananas. I was disappointed to discover that they had all been moved on. I really hope that they weren't all killed and I hope they were relocated elsewhere but I have my doubts. I really missed them and think that they were a huge tourist attraction. Perhaps the locals saw them as pests though. I think that they used to take sunglasses as well! I've heard the ones in the Botanic Gardens in Penang are still there and I've seen movies on YouTube of them. They certainly gave us a lot of pleasure and I'm sure lots of people have funny and fond memories of them.

Oxen on the beach

Here's a photo of me in about 1966. I think it was taken on Jason's Bay in Malaya. In the background is a man on a bicycle hearding oxen. To this day, I remember the smell and it's a smell I've not come across since! My face, I think, gives it away! We used to visit Jason's Bay often. It was close to home for any of the service men who lived at Johore Bahru. There were regular banyans and barbeques and the kids would enjoy playing on a lilo (do they still have them?) or swimming in the sea. There must have been allsorts of dangerous creatures swimming around out there but I don't remember seeing any of them. I wouldn't be surprised if there was an occasional shark. There were certainly jellyfish though we all seemed to survive unscathed! This photo reminded me of all the smells that you used to get in Singapore and Malaya. I remember the smell when catching a bus. There would be live chickens running around, this is what they called 'fresh' in those days, and fish wrapped in newspaper on the floor. Singapore itself had a smell all of its own. I think that the canal running through the city had just about everything floating in it! Of course, the river was a much busier place then, full of people and sampans. The market stalls with their fruit, vegetables and meat all added to the smell and any rubbish just seemed to end up in the river. Of course, it's all very clean nowadays. When I went back in 1990, the streets were spotless. There were fines for eating on the MRT, dropping litter and even for not flushing the toilet! All very different from the Singapore of the 1960s. I still miss it though. I wonder what Jason's Bay is like today and if there are still Oxen taken across the beach?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Change Alley

Remember Change Alley? This photo shows it as it was in the 1960s. When I went back to Singapore in 1990, there was still a Change Alley but it was in a different location and a lot different from the 1960s version (they still sold pirate tapes though!). Nowadays, I believe Change Alley has gone forever. In the 1960s, it was a place where you could buy anything. You could be measured for a suit and it would be ready the same days all for a knock down price. Everybody bartered for everything and always came away feeling that they'd got a bargain. You couldn't get by a stall without its owner calling out to you or coming to greet you. Quite often, he would shake your hand but not let go and slowly pull you back into his shop. I remember them selling everything there - electrical goods, clothes, bags, furniture, toys etc. The stall holder would always ask where you were from and when you told him, he would say, 'I have an uncle there!' If you didn't want the item, or just wanted it cheaper and were walking away, they would always call you back and offer it to you at a lower price. I'm sure we came home with stuff that we didn't want to buy in the first place! It was very popular and could get very busy at times. I always remember the shopkeepers being happy and even tempered. I think as a small kid I just found the whole experience totally fascinating. Of course, if you bought something cheap in Singapore and took it back over the causeway to Malaya, you were meant to pay customs duty. I'm not sure anyone ever did though!

Sunday, 18 October 2009


We all loved watching the telly in Singapore and Malaya. My favoutite programme was 'Samurai' which was a Japanese programme dubbed into English. The hero, Shintaro, would be attacked every week by Ninjas who would fly through the air and jump backwards into trees. Their use of deadly five pointed Ninja stars had all the kids making their own out of old Coke tins which they would fling at bits of board. They were quite dangerous at the time as the old Coke tins were made of thick metal and nothing like the aluminium ones you get today. There was a talent show on every night. The prizes weren't up to much and nearly every contestant either sung, 'Fly me to the Moon' or 'I came to your wedding.' I remember the presenter announcing the week's prize as, 'a lawnmower, ideal for mowing lawns!' As a boy, I loved watching cartoons such as Marine Boy, Gigantor and the Flintstones. The Flintstones was enjoyed by adults at that time also. In the evening, there was a whole variety of programmes, mainly from America. These included Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek, Mr Terrific, Lost in Space, I love Lucy, I dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Just hearing the tune of Bewitched takes me back to living at Jalan Wijaya. All the tvs were rented and there were no remote controls and it had to be tuned on a dial to get the programme. I think that there were two tv channels at the time. When we first got our telly, we were watching the Flintstones in the front room and we turned around when we heard giggling and all the Chinese kids were sat on the gate at the front of the house watching it. They'd never seen the telly before and their families were probably too poor to afford to rent one. When I see any of the programmes repeated nowadays, it instantly reminds me of living in Singapore and Malaya. It seemed the golden age of television, I have to admit that I hardly watch it at all nowadays!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sandycroft Leave Centre in Penang

Here's a photo of my dad, me and my brother Alan by the pool at the Sandycroft Leave Centre. Like many people in the forces at the time, we took our holidays there every year. I would think that this photo was taken in about 1966. Seems such a long time ago now! We would have a great time there. There was an arcade I remember just in the background and also a cinema where I remember me and Alan going to see, 'Born Free'. I'm still reminded of Sandycroft everytime I hear that song. I remember us all sitting to the right of this picture having our breakfast. There was a small cafe nearby. Suddenly, everyone came running out of the water and it was like a scene from 'Jaws'. Someone had thought that they'd seen a shark and shouted out to everyone in the water and it started a panic. As we watched, the 'sharks' started jumping out of the water and it turned out it was just a school of dolphins. Everyone had a good laugh once they realised what was happening but had been pretty scared previously. Some days, we would tour around Penang. One day we went to the Snake Temple where I had snakes put around my neck, much to my parents' displeasure! We also went to the Penang Hill Railway - great views from the top - and we also visited the Botanical Gardens. I loved it there because of all the wild monkeys. We made sure that we had plenty of bananas for them before we went in! I was scared of them but, I suppose at the time, I wasn't much bigger than them. On some days, all the Naval people would hire a boat and we would go on a banyan to a beach or island somewhere close. Dad always seemed to have a barbeque on the go and there was always plenty of Tiger Beer to hand. A huge parachute would be set up on the beach and we would all shelter from the sun under it, in between swimming and playing in the sand. I remember one beach that we landed on and there were thousands of starfish everywhere. The first year, my dad drove up to Penang in a hire car. It must have been one of Toyota's first cars and certainly their smallest. Dad had his legs up around his chest! It certainly seemed to take a long time getting there and was quite a journey, broken up by wild tigers and working elephants. We needed a holiday by the time we got there! The following two years, we flew up by plane instead. I also remember visiting Ayer Itam Temple and seeing the turtles there that were hundreds of years old. Unfortunately, Sandycroft is now long gone. Dalat School stands in its place, though parts of the old leave centre can still be recognised. I think that some of the huts might still be there. A few years ago, the beach at Tanjong Bungah was hit by a Tsunami but the area has now been rebuilt. Looking on the internet, it's all certainly changed over the years and seems to be surrounded by high buildings, mainly hotels. I bet we all wish that we had a time machine and could travel back to those happy, relaxed, blissful days!

Friday, 16 October 2009

The House of Tang

I'm sure that everybody who was in Singapore in the 1960s will remember the House of Tang which was situated at the corner of Orchard Road. How times have changed! Orchard Road looks nothing like it does in this picture anymore. Singapore is far more built up nowadays and although Tang's is still there, it totally different to this. It's interesting to see all the old cars around the building, I wonder if our Triumph Herald is parked there somewhere? Tangs was a shop that seemed to stock everything. My favourite time to go was at Christmas when a whole floor would be stocked with toys - robots, cars, tin toys and mechanical toys. They would all be battery powered and would all be working on the floor as you walked around. It was a magical place for a kid. I also remember all the wicker and rattan furniture, the carved camphorwood chests, carved wooden statues as well as just about anything you ever needed. A lot of this stuff seemed very foreign and exotic in those days but now, it can all be bought in your local high street! Tangs was founded in 1934 and was established on Orchard Road in the 1950s. Today, Tangs is a very modern store and nothing like it is in this picture. Times change but it seems a shame that the Tangs of the 1960s that we all loved to shop at, has gone forever.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Tiger Balm Gardens

Many people will recognise this photo from my 'Memories of Singapore and Malaya' book. Just the other day, my dad was looking at this photo and said, 'I've never understood what you were doing with your arms in that picture!' Of course, I remember it being taken, with my parents 127 Kodak Brownie, and the reason my arms were like that is because I was pretending to be the gorilla behind me! I used to love our visits to Tiger Balm Gardens back in the 1960s. I think the gorilla statue was somewhere near the beginning of the park. In those days, I remember the park being right beside the sea but nowadays, with all the land reclamation, the sea is far in the distance. My favourite statues in the park were all the huge animals and although there were signs telling eveyone to keep off, I have to admit that we climbed all over them. It seemed a fantastic place when I was a kid. My brother still talks about it and remembers the hideous statues that were contained in a room within the gardens that were for adults only. I never saw them but I do remember him sneaking in. I went back to the park in 1990. It didn't quite seem the same and a lot of it had changed. It was meant to be bigger but somehow seemed a lot smaller than I remembered. I've heard that since I last visited, it has been closed and is now restored back to how it was in the 1960s. I saw a recent photo of the gorilla and he appears to have a smile on his face!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Jalan Wijaya, Century Gardens, Johore Bahru

From 1965 to 1968, we lived at 103 Jalan Wijaya, Century Gardens, Johore Bahru. The picture shows my dad and me outside our house beside our Triumph Herald. In the background is a Wanchi Burberry which was the name for the umbrellas that you got over there which were made out of paper, bamboo and fish glue. They certainly smelled strange when it rained!
We had some great times at Jalan Wijaya and many of you would have read about my experiences in my book.
In 1990, on a stopover in Singapore on the way back from Australia, I decided to try and track down our old house. Once across the causeway, we got a taxi but he had no idea where Jalan Wijaya was. We were driving around aimlessly when, suddenly, there was a car crash in front of us and we had to get out. By sheer coincidence, we were right on our old street! It had certainly changed. There used to just be jungle at the end of the road when I was a kid but now there was a shopping centre, a leisure complex and even a Holiday Inn. We found our old house which now looked very run down and had rows of old drinks machines outside. The cold store and shops which were across the road were shabby and one looked burnt out. I wish that I'd had more time to explore and take photos. I often wonder what the area looks like now. I've found it on Google Earth but it's hard to see much. There doesn't appear to be any photos of Jalan Wijaya on the net. I see that the area is now known as Taman Abad. I'd love to go back one day and see what it's all like now and have a good wander around.

103 Jalan Wijaya in 1990