Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas in Singapore and Malaya

It seems strange shivering in cold, wet England that we once spent our Christmases in the warm, humid atmosphere of Singapore and Malaya. I've featured the photo, shown here, before in my blog but I think it really sums up the heat back then. It's hard to imagine walking around like that nowadays in December in England. Back then, that silver artificial tree seemed huge to me. You used to get some brilliant decorations back then and mum would spend the day decorating the front room. I think that I helped to decorate the tree but probably knocked off more decorations than I put on! We had many of these Christmas decorations until the 1980s but they've all long since disappeared now. This photo would have probably been taken in 1966 when I was about 5 years old. Alan would have been about 10. There was a lot to look forward to back then. Not only all of our super presents on Christmas morning including go-karts, tin robots and cars etc but also the Christmas party at the Naval Base where there would be a Santa, another present, rides, fireworks and a cinema show. There was also the Christmas tv which included Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, I love Lucy, the Three Stooges, Casper, the Flintstones etc. It's amazing that this photo was taken 44 years ago and looking at it today is almost like looking at a totally different person. Certainly a lot has changed since the sixties!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Star Trek

There was one show that we all loved to watch in Singapore and Malaya back in the 1960s and that was Star Trek. It's funny how your mind plays tricks on you because I always remember watching the show in colour but, of course, back then, we only had rented black and white sets. I think Star Trek was always on about 7 or 8pm. I remember it was dark anyway! People laugh about William Shatner's acting back then but it all looked great when I was a kid and the show was way ahead of its time. We never missed it. I remember the first episode I ever saw of Star Trek. It was the one where Kirk fights an odd looking dinosaur alien. It appears that there wasn't much money spent on this episode! I recognise the location because it's been featured in many films and tv shows over the years, including 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure'. That dinosaur gave me nightmares afterwards but he looks very harmless today. Of course, nowadays, we've all seen every episode of the original Star Trek at least 12 times and know it all off by heart but back in the 60s it all seemed amazing. Alan and me would re-enact episodes in the back garden at Jalan Wijaya the next day.
I've found a clip of that very first episode that I saw on YouTube. It's described as the 'worst fight scene ever'. See what you think. I never did watch any of the follow up Star Trek shows on the telly and, although millions of people enjoy them, I don't think I'm missing much!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Driving in Singapore

This photo reminds me of when we used to take the car across the causeway from home in Johore to Singapore. Singapore would be very busy with cars, lorries, scooters, push bikes and buses. They all seemed to drive down the middle of the road although they were meant to drive on the left as we do in England. It was great fun just watching everyone. The scooter drivers would often wear their jackets back to front when they were riding their scooters but I was never sure why. Once we had parked our car, Chinese kids would run up to my dad and ask for a dollar to look after it. It was worth it because if you didn't give them the dollar, you might find something missing from your car when you returned. Dad's friend, Poon said that if you gave them five dollars they would also find any part you needed for your own car, probably from another parked car nearby! The traffic was certainly hectic in Singapore and I remember the time we were hemmed in between two lorries and thought that we were going to be crushed. Thinking about it now, it was always a great adventure for me. There was always a lot of noise. There would be car horns hooting, bicycle and trishaw bells ringing and the noise from the busy street markets. There'd be market sellers calling out to us trying to sell us things or just to get us closer to their shops. There'd also be arguments going on mainly between all the car owners, cyclists and trishaw drivers. They all seemed to drive all over the place! I don't know if there was a Highway Code in Singapore but if there was, no-one took much notice of it! We used to catch Mercedes cabs quite a bit in Singapore and I can't remember if this was to get us back to the car, after being to places like the Botanic Gardens or Tiger Balm Gardens, or if they took us all the way back home to Jalan Wijaya. It was certainly a very busy place and very hectic. There certainly must have been a lot of accidents!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Fun at Jason's Bay

Here's a colour photo that features in the new Amberley version of 'Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans'. It was taken at Jason's Bay in about 1966. Sat on our lilo is Linda Bagwell, Debbie Sharpe, Ian Bagwell and me, complete with water wings. I never was a very good swimmer! My dad is giving us a push on the right. I remember that the water always had stuff floating in it and I remember seeing a jellyfish swim by us once. I don't remember anyone ever being stung though. There were probably sharks and crocodiles and other dangerous creatures beneath us but most of the time, we didn't think too much about it. It's lovely seeing this in colour as most of our photos are in black and white. I think that colour film was much more expensive then. This photo was taken by Tom Bagwell and comes from a slide. Looks a great day and it looks like we were having a good time. We must have visited Jason's Bay many times in the three years that we lived there. I can still remember what the beach was like and the strange smells from cows, oxen and just about anything else that was around. We probably had a barbeque later in the day near to the parachute that the men used to set up so that everyone could shelter from the heat and the sun. Seems such a long time ago now!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Amberley Publishing to republish Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans

Many of you reading this will have read my first book about my childhood in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s, 'Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans'. The good news is that it is to be republished by Amberley Publishing and will hopefully be out later this year. The book will feature colour photos and be glossy and the quality will be a lot better than the original. Also, it will receive better publicity and distribution.
I'm amazed at the many people who have read the book since it first came out in 2006 and I've had hundreds of letters and emails about it over the years. It's been very interesting to hear other people's stories and memories and to learn what everyone is up to nowadays. Previously, the book has only been available through myself, Amazon or ordered through bookshops but hopefully, it'll soon be available at your local branch of Waterstones or W H Smiths etc.
BBC 4 were interested in using memories from it in a new documentary about children's experiences in the Far East in the 1960s but, unfortunately, this seems to have fallen through. Hopefully, with renewed interest and publicity for the book, the documentary will one day get the go-ahead.
I get emails almost daily about people's lives in Singapore back then and I know there's still a great interest in those happy, idyllic times. I hope a lot more people will read the book and I hope that it will bring back many fond memories.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


I loved all the seashells and starfish we found on the beaches around Singapore and Malaya. I remember landing on an island off Penang somewhere, on a banyan trip, and the shores of the beach were covered in starfish. All the kids collected them up, there were thousands, but soon let them all go. I remember one kid took one back to his chalet at Sandycroft where it sat on the doorstep. There were many exotic shells on the beaches back then and most of us would have never seen anything like them. Nowadays, they can be bought at any seaside location in the UK for just a few pence! The photo shows a shell which I think is called a Tiger Cowrie. Dad's friend and colleague at KD Malaya, Poon, was on a trip to Borneo and picked up two of these and gave them to me and Alan when we were kids. I've still got them today, over 40 years later. I was amazed by all the brightly coloured shells back then and probably had quite a collection but I can't remember any of them. Most of them probably stayed at Jalan Wijaya when we returned home and some may still be in the garden there somewhere.
Incidentally, what reminded me of all this today was when I picked up a seashell in the house and put it to my ear so that I could hear the noise of the seaside - something I've been doing since I was about three!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


I loved the sound of all the crickets in the evening at Jalan Wijaya when we were tucked up in bed. They probably helped me get to sleep. It would get dark at 7pm and they would start making a noise about the same time, although they must have chirped through the day too. It's a noise that I never heard when we returned back to England and it wasn't until I went to Australia in 1990 that I heard them again. Nowadays, you seem to hear them more in the Summer in England but I'm sure this is more of a recent thing.
Other noises that could be heard in the night, in Johore back then, were frogs and toads croaking in the monsoon drains. There were also chit-chats running about and the odd bombay runner. Mosquitoes would sometimes buzz near your ear just before they decided to bite you. Apart from that, I remember it being very quiet, I don't remember any noises from any other wild animals. We weren't too far away from the jungle so I suppose anything could have wandered into the street in the night although I don't remember seeing or hearing anything. There must have been barking dogs as there were plenty of them about but I must have slept through it all. Some people were burgled by people with long bamboo poles with fishing hooks on the end which they would stick through any open window to see what they could grab. Luckily, although it was very hot and our windows were always open at night, it never happened to us!
Nowadays, I love the sound of crickets and grasshoppers chirping and the noise always takes me straight back to those humid nights as a boy living in Jalan Wijaya.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Born Free

Whenever I hear Matt Monro singing 'Born Free', I'm taken right back to 1966 and our holiday at the Sandycroft Leave Centre. The Leave Centre had its own cinema and I remember Alan taking me there on one sunny day to see the film. The place was full of kids, all excited and jumping about. I was only about 5 at the time. Before the main film there were several cartoons including Road Runner and Bugs Bunny. I think that someone served ice lollies and drinks before the cinema quietened down and the main film came on. Nowadays, I can't imagine that I'd spent a warm sunny day inside watching a film when there was so much to see and do outside. I remember enjoying the film and can't really remember much about what happened but Alan said that I was upset and cried when the lion died at the end! Mum and dad met us when we came out at about 3pm and I think we went to the nearby cafe. I think they spent the couple of hours, while we were watching the film, meeting up with friends at the centre. At only 5 years old, I still believed that I could come across tigers and lions while we were exploring the nearby estates at Jalan Wijaya. There probably were tigers in the jungle a bit further on but watching programmes like Daktari made me think that they were just around the corner! We saw many other films at the cinema in Sandycroft but Born Free is the one that really stays in my mind.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

More photos from the Sandycroft Leave Centre, 1965

Here's a few more photos from our stay at the Sandycroft Leave Centre in Penang in 1965. 

The first one shows my mum and Alan sitting on the railings opposite the cafe and the arcade that Alan and me spent so much time playing in. Below can be seen the beach which features in our cine films from that time. I can still remember everyone running out of the sea nearby after a school of dolphins was spotted. I've mentioned before that everyone thought that they were sharks!

The second photo shows the Butterworth car ferry that took travellers from the mainland over to the island of Penang. I'm sure that many people will remember the bright yellow ferry which was in use for many years after we returned home to England. I was fascinated by it at the time, none of us had ever been on a car ferry before and it was very exciting for a kid.

The third photo shows Alan, mum and me paddling in the children's pool again at Sandycroft. I think the building in the background housed the arcade with its many slot machines and shoot-em-up games. I think there were some chalets on this level but we were on the next level up. I wonder if this photo was taken early in the morning because the pool is empty and would be full up with kids later in the day playing with their inflatable toys and lilos.
The final photo comes from a day trip we took on the island and shows me and my mum. I'm not sure that the tanks were real and were probably just scaled down models for kids. I remember that there was also a small helicopter there to play in. Anyone watching our cine films will see a horse peering its head through the window at us. It scared the life out of me at the time but we were soon sat on its back pretending to ride it! Penang's changed so much over the years and the Sandycroft Leave Centre has now unfortunately long gone.

Friday, 6 August 2010

School Milk

All kids were given milk at school at one time. Some hated it but I loved it. When we got back to England in 1968, we were just given white milk and quite often, there seemed to be something floating in it! Anyone who was in Singapore and Malaya will remember that we were not only given white milk but also chocolate and strawberry. Kids were amazed by this when we told them back in England. I always had chocolate milk or, if they ran out, strawberry. I didn't understand the kids who always drank the white milk but there was always plenty of it. I think that the teacher would always take the order for milk beforehand to see how many wanted chocolate, how many wanted strawberry and how many just wanted plain milk. Flavoured milks are commonplace today but back in the 1960s, to me anyway, it seemed very unusual. I don't remember that it could be bought in the shops anywhere at the time although you could always order fizzy, flavoured milkshakes in the local cafes. Of course, the days of school milk are now long gone. I'm not sure if the kids of today are affected by this or not. I don't remember much about my school days, just a few memories of being in the classroom, catching the school bus and taking part in assemblies and watching the Nativity plays. Though, I think like all kids then, I'll always remember that they once gave us chocolate and strawberry milk when we went to school.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Johore Zoo

After mentioning the three-legged tiger in Johore Zoo in my last posting, I came across two old photos from the 1950s and 1960s of the zoo. The first one was sent to me by Chris Manning and shows a small elephant, complete with tusks, being fed by visitors, some of whom appear to be British. Beside the elephant is a pool and I think that I remember this part of the zoo from when I was little. I think that it contained turtles and Koi Carp but my memory might be playing tricks with me. Across the way, there are some very small enclosures but I can't tell from the photo what is in them. The flowers all look very colourful in the foreground. The second photo shows a later view of the zoo and around the pool are
either goats or very small deer. People on the left are peering into some very small cages and I wonder if the clapping gorilla that I wrote about in a previous post was in one of them? It looks like the Sultan's Palace in the background but I can't remember them both being so close. From the photos, the zoo looks very tidy and well kept but that's not quite how I remember it. The animals were kept in very poor conditions, especially the apes and tigers, and the place had a smell like I've never smelled anywhere else! It's still going today but, hopefully, it's improved in the last 40 or so years.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Tiger rugs

Many of the shops in Singapore and Malaya sold tiger rugs. As a boy, I was fascinated by them and wanted one for our bedroom at Jalan Wijaya. Of course, tigers would have roamed wild not too far from where we lived and were probably easy prey to hunters. At the time, it was something exciting but nowadays, of course, the thought of someone shooting anything as beautiful as a tiger disgusts me. We were all putting Tigers in Our Tanks and tying fake tails to our bikes and car aerials while hunters were out shooting and trapping real ones close by. Tiger rugs seemed to be everywhere back then, in hotels, offices, banks as well as for sale in places like Tangs. Their snarling heads made you think that they could leap up and bite you at any moment. A tiger is certainly a beautiful animal which is why, perhaps, that someone would have wanted one as a rug back then. I think that I've written about the three legged tiger that was on display at the zoo at Johore Bahru (it lost its other leg when it was trapped). Looking back to those days, I would have thought that people there cared little about animals but then I found this newspaper clipping from a Singapore newspaper dated 14th October 1966:
Spider fight : $500 fine
'Get caught staging a spider or fish fight and you might have to pay a $500 fine, 6 months in jail or both.' This was the message from a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals official to Tiong Bahru Secondary School students as part of a kindness to animals campaign.
It's funny that they were so concerned about insects such as spiders but not too concerned about tigers, apes, dogs and other animals. I'm sure that much has changed over the years. Of course, nowadays, I would never want or have anything in my house like a tiger rug but to a small boy, it was something incredible and fascinating.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Gooi Rubber Company

This photo was taken on our trip up to Penang in 1966. I've mentioned before that we travelled all the way up to Penang from Johore in a tiny Toyota.
There were lots of rubber plantations in Malaya but this one made us laugh because it was called the 'Gooi Rubber Company' which looked a lot like 'Gooey Rubber' to us and that's what we called it ever after. I think this photo was taken by my mum and we must have stopped on the way to take it. Although we were warned of bandits and wild animals such as tigers, I don't think we ever saw any, just the few working elephants that crossed our path further into the journey. I don't even remember seeing any monkeys on the long journey although there were plenty of dead snakes on the road.
The rubber trees used to have grooves cut in them which led down to a metal cup or half a coconut to collect the rubber. This seemed a long drawn out process even back then and I'm still not sure how they collected it all and put it to use. Some of it will have turned up in our tyres and the many flip-flops we wore over the years. There was a rubber factory near our home in Jalan Wijaya and I recall the smell. Alan remembers opening one of the bins and finding a sheet of rubber with all the shapes for flip-flops pressed out of it. It all burnt down one night while we slept. There must have been a huge black cloud and an awful smell but we missed it all because we were fast asleep.
I wonder if the Gooi Rubber Company is still in business?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Monsoon Memories

I have been putting this blog together for quite a while now but many people who were in Singapore and Malaya don't get to read it because they have no access to the internet. Because of this, I've compiled all the tales featured here into a new book, 'Monsoon Memories'. If you have relatives or friends who would like a copy, or if you would rather have a book version for yourself, then there are more details about the book on the right hand side of this page.
The more I write about our times in Singapore and Malaya, the more I seem to remember. I enjoy sharing all these memories with everyone and there are still lots more to come. I hope that the book will bring back many happy memories.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Buddha's Belly, Tiger Balm Gardens

Here's a lovely photo of my mum and me in Tiger Balm Gardens in about 1966. My mum had just been rubbing the Buddha's belly and many people did this because it was meant to bring them good luck! When I went back in 1990, the Buddha was still there and people were still rubbing his belly for luck!
At the time, I saw this statue as being quite high up but when I saw it again in 1990, it wasn't really much off the ground.
Most of our photos of Tiger Balm Gardens seem to have been taken on the same day as we're wearing the same clothes. This must have been the day also when my dad took his cine camera.
It's funny, I remember going to Tiger Balm Gardens on many occasions but, wouldn't it be funny if my memory has played tricks on me all these years and we only went a couple of times? I'll have a look through my old photos and see if this is the case.
I remember that we had a lovely time on that day. Of course my favourite statue will always be that fierce gorilla at the beginning of the park!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Sea Cadets

Unlike me, Alan loved joining things. Here's a photo of him in his Sea Cadet uniform in the drive of our house at Jalan Wijaya. I'm not really sure what being in the Sea Cadets involved, probably a lot of marching, being given orders, swimming and messing about on boats. Alan had several badges but I can't remember what they were for. I'll have to ask him sometime. One thing that I do remember him learning in the Sea Cadets is how to tie knots. The main reason I remember that though is because we were playing Man From Uncle and, as usual, I was the baddie, so he tied me up with the promise that he'd let me go if I couldn't escape. Of course, he then went out and my mum had to free me sometime later! This would probably explain why, when he came back, I gave him the water from the jar I'd been cleaning my paint brush in and told him it was orange juice (I was only five)! He must have been thirsty because he drank the lot and didn't even notice the strange taste. It didn't do him any harm though! I think that the Sea Cadets was perhaps designed to prepare you for a later career in the Navy. Alan had a lot of fun in the cadets but neither of us ever joined the Navy!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


It's strange, I can't remember there being many different sorts of birds around when we lived in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s. There were certainly many chickens and also ducks and some kids would bring their eggs home to watch them hatch. The ducklings would happily swim around the tin baths that we all had. However, there didn't seem to be many other sorts of birds and all I can remember are the few sparrows that used to come to the back door for bread crumbs and probably to eat the many insects that crawled around. There's another reason why I remember there were sparrows near our home and that's because, one day, I was walking along the side of our house and one flew straight into my eye! It didn't do any damage although the sight in my right eye has never been so good as it is in the left. There must have been many other birds in Singapore and Malaya but I just can't remember any. There must have been pigeons because they seem to be everywhere else! When I went back to Singapore in 1990, I thought that it was funny that the crossings tweeted to let you know when you could cross which was more interesting than the bleeps we get here. When we returned to Britain in 1968, as a boy, I thought it was strange that sparrows were also in England as well as in Singapore. It seemed then that there were only so many different types of birds in England; robins, blackbirds, sparrows, seagulls, thrushes and pigeons. There certainly weren't all the magpies, birds of prey, jays, goldfinches, greenfinches, blue tits etc that are around today. Or is my memory playing tricks with me?

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Picture nights

KD Malaya had its own outdoor cinema and my parents would go up there in the evening to watch the latest films. Dad's friend, Pete Barton, was the projectionist and the films quite often broke. I remember mum and dad taking us to see Goldfinger although I think that was at the Cathay. I could have only been about 4 at the time! I remember the beginning and the bit where Sean Connery nearly gets cut in half by a laser but, as always happened, I fell asleep before the end. All the kids that I knew at the time had Corgi James Bond Aston Martins complete with ejector seats. I've still got mine! Another film I remember seeing there, I think, was the Sound of Music. It was very popular at the time and mum and dad had a reel to reel tape of the soundtrack. There were normally two films shown together complete with cartoons, even for the adults. All the servicemen used to love watching Road Runner and Bugs Bunny and would roar with laughter. You can't imagine it now, can you? Other films that I remember seeing were Born Free at Sandycroft in Penang and Pinochio outdoors one evening at KD Malaya. I think I've mentioned many times before that a boy was sick nearby and everyone watching the film slowly drifted away. It might have been the evening of the Christmas party and perhaps he'd eaten too much. We went to the cinema often but, now after 40 or more years, I can't remember what films we saw. It's funny how some stay in your mind though. Mum and dad would go up the base on their own to watch films and we'd stay at home and would be babysat by their friends or Azizah, our amah. I mentioned Lingha earlier and how his body was collected to be driven home sat up in the back of the car. Lingha ran the bar at KD Malaya along with his brother, Pow. Lingha hurtled around on an old scooter, with a carrier on the back, which was usually full of curry puffs which he sold up at the Officers Mess. My parents would sit outside on a picture night, eating curry puffs and having a drink. Going to the cinema was probably more of a social outing then than it is today and my parents would meet up with friends on the base. There were many cinemas all over Singapore and several on the Naval Base. I think that we went to most of them but, today, I have a job remembering many of the films. Perhaps I fell asleep!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


I've never been one for joining in things or joining clubs or regimental organizations such as the scouts or the ATC. That may explain why, when I was 4, that I wasn't at all happy when my mum decided to enroll me in the local kindergarten. All the other kids went and enjoyed it apparently but I was happy enough at home watching Marine Boy or Samurai or watching my pet fish swim around his jam jar. When the day came for me to go to kindergarten, I'd already played up before the van arrived. Two happy, smiling Chinese people, a man and a woman came to pick me up. I can't really remember the journey to the kindergarten so don't remember if I kicked up a fuss or not. I probably just sat quietly because I was quite shy back then. I also don't quite remember what went on while we were there although I remember the kids all playing games on a small field. The strange thing was, that everyone in charge was Chinese and only spoke Chinese. Even before the end of the day, and even only being 4, I think that I could see a problem coming before it even happened. Whatever we were doing, finished and everyone was taken home. Everyone that is apart from me! I'd been unhappy enough going in the first place but to be left behind as well soon had me very upset. I remember a Chinese woman talking to me and she was probably asking me where I lived but as she only spoke Chinese, we didn't get very far. I don't know how but eventually, very late in the day, I was returned home. I thought with all the fuss that I made on my return, that that would be it. But, sure enough, the next day, the smiling Chinese couple turned up once more in their van to take me off again. I grabbed the table leg and refused to go. I remember my mum pulling my legs, perhaps all three of them did, but I wouldn't let go and eventually the Chinese couple left empty handed. So, that was the end of my education until I was forced to go to school at Kebunteh a year later. I can't remember ever enjoying school although I look happy enough in the photos! The photo above shows me running into the sea at Sandycroft in Penang. I think I'm happy in this photo but I probably let out the same sort of shriek when the Chinese couple turned up in their van!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Bangs on the Head

I wonder how many people ended up in hospital while they were living in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s? I've heard of many kids who ended up down the monsoon drains after coming off their bikes and there were stories of hookworms which, on a leaflet issued then, said that they could be contracted by walking around in bare feet. If that was the case then we should have all got them! I don't think I ever heard of anyone having any though.
I recently banged my head and when the concussion wore off, I started to think about the times I've banged my head before. If someone had asked me how many times it had happened in Singapore, I would have said just one but now I think about it, there were at least three times that I can remember. The first was just after we got there and I was three and, as I remember, I was standing up on the back of a pushchair. I would have been too old for a pushchair so maybe it was an ordinary chair. Anyhow, as I leaned on the back, it came crashing forward and I smashed my face on the front doorstep at Jalan Wijaya. I was taken to hospital where they put me under a huge x ray machine. My dad got the message at work that it was worse than it was and came rushing home and picked us up at the hospital. My face was a bit squashed and I didn't want to talk but my dad asked me if it hurt and after a while I replied, 'Of torse it hurts!' That's not a spelling mistake - I just couldn't talk properly! I can't remember how long it took me to get over it.
The second bang came when I was about a year older and I was pretending to be a kangaroo at Debbie Sharpe's birthday party. Debbie lived close to us at Jalan Dato Sulaiman. As I jumped, I cracked my head on the window and walked home, crying with blood pouring down my head. I've still got the scar!
The third time was when I was on my bike, it had stabilizers, and I went a bit too quick and fell off and hit the front gate. I'm sure I must have had other accidents like this but I can't remember them. I wonder how many other kids, who were there when I was, also ended up in hospital?
Nowadays, I just bang my head badly about every 10 years so this must mean that as I get older, I'm getting less clumsy. It certainly doesn't feel like it!
The photo shows me when I was very little and there's the doorstep in the background! I'm not sure if this was before or after the accident but I look very happy anyway.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Visits to the Bank

I used to love going to the bank but the only real reason was because they always gave the kids something free. I remember that my free gift was a yellow toy plastic safe which, when you wound it up, would play a tune. It had one of those barrel things with pins inside that hit different notes as the drum turned. It was also a money box. Back then, I was fascinated by it. I remember that we used to travel into Singapore and the bank was somewhere down by the harbour. I think that my dad has told me before that it was the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank but I don't really remember. I do remember, however, that it was very plush and was cooled by huge fans. The staff were always very friendly especially to the children.
When I went back to Singapore in 1990, I went into the main post office there, which has to be the nicest looking post office I've ever been in. Straightaway, I was reminded of our visits to the bank and I wondered if the building housing the post office had once housed our old bank. Does anyone know?
Your memory works in strange ways and there's one other reason why I remember our visits to the bank. Often, when we were queueing up, there would be a man, with one arm, in the next queue. I even remember that he wore a white short sleeved shirt. Isn't that strange that I should remember that because I would have only have been about 5 years old at the time. It sounds terrible now but, because he had one arm, I imagined him being some sort of villain or a spy. Up until then, or since, I'd never seen anyone with one arm and I think my reasons for thinking he was a crook was just because of one thing - the television! Before we left for Singapore in 1965, my parents had been watching the Fugitive which starred David Janssen. Of course, the real criminal that committed the crime only had one arm. I still don't understand how the police failed to catch him from that description! Anyhow, because of our move to Singapore, my parents missed the last episode, and it must have been either me seeing the programme (though I don't remember us having a telly), or my parents talking about it, that I associated men with one arm as being baddies. That's how you think when you're 5 years old! There was another thing that I think I remember about the bank and that was that it had a lift and self-opening doors which, as I mentioned before, as a kid, fascinated me!
Incidentally, my parents never did get to see that final episode of the Fugitive! Did they ever catch him?

Sunday, 16 May 2010


Being Forces kids, we all had quite short hair but with it being the 1960s, many people decided that they wanted to grow their hair. However, this was frowned upon by the Singapore government. The picture shows a sign that was displayed at many public buildings until at least the 1970s. It states that, 'Males with long hair will be attended to last' and by long hair, they meant hair falling across the forehead and touching the eyebrows, hair covering the ears or hair reaching below an ordinary shirt collar. I don't remember seeing any men with long hair when we were there and everyone all looked pretty tidy. Perhaps the attraction for long hair took place after we left in 1968.
An article in a Singapore newspaper on the 8th December, 1969 read:
No to 'Beatle' haircuts for civil servants.
The Government warned its employees that it would not tolerate unkempt Beatles mop-top haircuts or 'flashy' clothing during office hours.
A circular sent out to all government servants said : 'Disciplinary action will be taken against those who fail to comply with the order'. The new rule was necessary in keeping with Singapore's efforts to improve its standards of 'cleanliness, hygene and appearance'.
The rule never affected me and I must have been behind the times because I didn't grow my hair until at least 1972!
It's funny how these things stay in your mind though and when I visited Singapore in 1990, after backpacking around Australia for 6 months, I made sure that I had a haircut before we got there. Of course, times had changed and things had moved on and I don't think they were bothered if I'd had a haircut or not!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Singapore Pong

Singapore and Malaya had a smell all of its own back in the 1960s. With the open monsoon drains and the cluttered up Singapore River, the pong was something that I've never smelled since! With the river being full of sampans and bumboats bringing in food and other produce for the markets, everything just seemed to go overboard. This included any plastic waste, cardboard, rotting vegetables and fish, boat fuel, animal waste and all kinds of other waste. At the end of the day, when the markets had shut up shop, any rubbish lying around was either left where it fell or swept into the river. Of course, the rats loved it and there were many of them running about. There must have been tens of thousands of them back then because when I went back in 1990, even though the river had been cleaned up and was practically empty of boats, there were still thousands of rats running about, especially down by the Merlion statue.
I remember the monsoon drains in front of our house at Jalan Wijaya but I don't remember seeing any rats there ever, which is strange. Maybe I've just forgotten them, there must have been a lot of them about.
I remember the smell of Singapore more than the smell of Malaya (apart from Jason's Bay which sometimes stunk of Oxen muck!) and it's a smell that's hard to describe. I'm sure that anyone reading this blog who was there at the time has never forgotten the pong. It's surprising, even with all the injections, that none of us ever got anything more deadly than mumps and German measles, especially when we were walking around in bare feet or flip flops.
Now that Singapore has been cleaned up the smell has gone forever. However, if you're feeling nostalgic, I've discovered that it can still be found in places like Egypt and India!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Monsoon Season

I love hearing the sound of the rain hitting the roof and often it reminds me of sitting indoors at Jalan Wijaya, when I was about 4 years old, in 1965, watching the dirty, muddy water slowly rising towards our front door during the Monsoon season. It never did come in the house and sometimes we would float small boats made out of paper in the huge puddle outside our door. I think that I've mentioned before that when we first arrived in Malaya and there was the first heavy downpour of the Monsoon season, we all ran outside to stand in it to cool down. Our Amah, Azizah, found this all very funny but we were so unused to the humidity that the first chance we had to cool down, we took it. Even after all this time, I still remember that the rain was warm as it fell. Sometimes during the heavy rains, there would be loud thunderstorms that would shake the house. They were far more violent than the ones you got in England at the time. Luckily, the monsoon drains took away most of the water but sometimes the road would be completely flooded especially further down the road where it dipped. Dad was once driving home in his Triumph Herald and the water came up over the bonnet.
Once the rains had stopped and the sun came out again, all the smells were suddenly heightened. The smell of the heated road, rotting vegetables and just about everything else you could think of, were suddenly a lot stronger. It probably sounds strange now but I loved that smell and when I've been abroad since and it's just stopped raining and the sun's come out, that smell takes me straight back to the streets of Malaya. The only other smell that does that is the odour of Frangipani which always reminds me of our holidays at Sandycroft in Penang. Maybe that's why I enjoy a good thunderstorm so much as it reminds me of those happy days that we spent in Singapore and Malaya during the 1960s.
By the way, you'll have to read my book to find out why I don't look too happy in the photo!

Saturday, 17 April 2010


At KD Malaya, where Dad worked with Poon, the bar was run by a Chinese man called Lingha, along with his brother, Pow. Lingha hurtled around on an old scooter, with a carrier on the back, which was usually full of curry puffs which he sold up at the Officers Mess. Apparently, they were delicious. My parents would sit outside on a picture night, eating curry puffs and having a drink. Whenever Dad was on duty at night, Lingha would bring him curry prawns and rice, wrapped in a banana leaf. The prawns were huge, unlike the ones you got here. One day, Dad's friend, Tom Bagwell, got a call from Pow to say that Lingha had died and asked if he would go with him to collect the body. What Tom didn't realise was that they were just to be given the body as it was and had to drive back with Lingha sat up in the back seat! Tom kept checking in his rear view mirror to see if Lingha was sitting upright! Just as well they weren't stopped by the police on the way back although they would have probably just been use to it anyway!
There seemed to be a different approach to death over there. Life seemed to be cheap and if anyone was knocked over, the shop keepers would come out and just place cardboard over the body until someone came to collect it. There were probably quite a few road accidents at the time. Funerals involved the mourners burning paper money (Hell notes) and other items (such as paper houses, paper cars etc) so that the deceased would be well off in the afterlife.
I'm not sure what happened to Lingha after he was collected but it must have been quite an eerie experience driving him back!

Monday, 12 April 2010


I can only remember having a snake in the house once. When we first moved to Jalan Wijaya, we had a new Amah but things started to go missing so she was given the sack. She left a leaving present for us though - a snake!
I remember being about 4 years old. We had a tablecloth on the table and I was up and dressed and I think it might have been before I started going to school. I noticed something under the cloth and shouted to mum who said that it was just the television cable. As I watched, it started to move until its head popped out and it started slowly coiling itself down the table leg. I shouted louder and so did my mum when she saw it! Our neighbour, Gordon Webster, came running in with a broom and hit the snake on the head which killed it. He then lifted it carefully with the end of the broom and lowered it slowly into the outside bin where it stayed until dad came home later in the day. There was quite some excitement. The next day, dad took it to work and showed it to his friend, Poon, who said that its bite probably wouldn't harm you unless you already had something wrong with you.
The whole time we were there, I can't remember seeing another single snake. I recall that Alan once bought a rubber snake from the nearby shop and put it on the road and photographed it and told everyone that it was real when he got the photo back. He probably put it in my bed too!
After the snake incident, we got a new Amah, Azizah, who was lovely and we never had another snake in the house although there were plenty of ants and cockroaches which Azizah happily squashed with her bare feet!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Tin baths

All the families we knew had tin baths. I think that they must have been for the Amahs to do the washing in as we all had normal, plumbed-in, indoor baths. With the heat, all the kids loved playing in them, just to cool down. Here's a photo of me and our neighbours, Judith and David. We seemed to have a water fight nearly every day (no water meters then!) which always ended up with us getting the hose out just to cool down. Until I went back to Singapore in 1990, I'd forgotten just how much the heat got to you over there but I think being a kid then, I adjusted to it easier. During water fights, Alan and me would always end up drenching each other. I remember that the garden hose was full of holes but we never got a new one because it was great to stand under just to cool down. I've seen many people cooling off in these baths in photos from Singapore but I've never seen a photo of anyone using one to do the washing, even though they were meant for that. No-one had washing machines in those days and everything was washed in the tin bath with soap powder (which came from the local shop in a big red bucket) and a wooden spoon.
The second photo shows my parents' friend, George Holden and his son, Frank, cooling off in their garden. I wonder what the weather was like in England at the time? Probably snowing! There's one other thing I can remember that the baths were used for. Around the estates, there were always chickens and ducks roaming about. I'm not sure if they were wild or to be, unfortunately, used for someone's dinner! This meant that there were many unhatched eggs around and all the kids would go back patiently, day after day, to see if they'd hatched out. Some of the eggs would be laid in our gardens and some of the ducklings from them would be put in the tin bath so they could have a good swim about. We all loved seeing them and eventually they were reunited with their mothers. I'm not sure what happened to them after that, I hope that they weren't eaten!

Monday, 5 April 2010


One thing that sticks in my mind about our home in Jalan Wijaya were the chit-chats running up and down the walls. They never bothered us and I used to like seeing them. They also came in very handy for polishing off the mozzies! People had various names for them including geckos, house lizards, cicaks or cecaks and chik-chaks but everyone that we knew just called them chit-chats. I think that their proper name was 'flat-tailed gecko'. I loved watching the chit-chats run up the side of the wall of our house. Once it was dark, they'd wait beside a light for any moths or flies and jump out and quickly eat the lot. The only predator they had were the small birds in the garden but they had a defence system. If a bird caught them by their tail, it would drop off so that the chit-chat could get away. They later re-grew it and were soon catching more flies, ants, moths and other bugs. When I said that their only predator was birds, I don't really remember there being many birds in our garden. You would imagine them all to be very exotic but the only birds I remember seeing were sparrows. The only time I can remember not being very happy about chit-chats is when one got in my bed and wriggled over my legs. I made my mum check the bed for weeks after that before I'd get in again! I mentioned it before but when we went to restaurants, particularly George's Steak House, ants would take away all the crumbs from your food and there would be a big long line of them travelling up the wall. Once they got near a picture frame, a chit-chat would dart out and eat the lot. It's probably against health and safety regulations in Singapore now to have ants and chit-chats running around everywhere but then it was just a way of life and never seemed to do us any harm.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


I don't remember much about Easter in Singapore and Malaya. It probably wouldn't have been celebrated by the locals but it seemed that all schools in the 1960s had religion taught in some form or other. I loved listening to the Bible stories in the infants although to me, at the time, they would have been no different from any other storybook tale. Kebun teh Royal Naval School would have definitely been the first place I heard about Jesus and Easter, not that I was religious then and I'm still not now. Easter probably was celebrated at school in some way or other but I can't remember how. Harvest Festival was definitely celebrated, I think in September, and we were all asked to bring in food. I can't remember where it all ended up going though! Nativity and Christmas, of course, were celebrated but it's funny that I remember nothing about Easter at school. To me then, aged 5, it probably just meant a good story and then a spell off for holidays!Although there probably wasn't any Easter Eggs in Singapore (was there?), my gran used to send them over to us from Seaham in England. Of course, they would always come broken but I think that we probably thought that that was how they were meant to be and they all tasted the same anyway. I remember my gran sending over sherbet but I'd totally forgotten about the Easter Eggs until Alan reminded me recently.So, there you are, that's what Easter meant to a 5 year old - a good story, a holiday and a broken Easter Egg!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

More adverts from the 1960s

Here's a few more adverts from Singapore and Malaya from the 1960s. The first one advertises all the goods you could get back then, tax free. We had a tape recorder, a transistor radio and my dad had a Philishave but I can't remember us ever having a record player until we came back to England. Of course, everything was a lot cheaper in Singapore than it was in Malaya but when you crossed the causeway, you were meant to pay duty on anything that you'd bought. I'm sure that this would have been avoided a lot of the time though!
The second advert is for the Orchard Store on Orchard Road. It looks like it used to stock all the toys a boy like me would have loved at the time. I don't remember it at all though. Does anyone else?
I think that Little's was near Robinsons at Raffles Place. Everything was marked in Malayan currency for some reason. They had a tourist office and 'cool arcades to enjoy the fascinating display of goods from all over the world.' It was certainly a place to go in and escape from the humidity of the city especially for many English families who weren't used to the heat.
The next advert features a very 1960s traveller advertising Travel and Transportation Ltd who organised air and steamship travel. The man in the picture certainly has bought a lot for his money and looks happy to cart it all back home.
The last advert features the Cathay Hotel. Many people will remember the Cathay not just for its hotel and restaurant but also for its cinema. It was one of the tallest buildings in Singapore at the time and had views all over Singapore harbour. It also featured a shopping arcade, was air-conditioned and the rooms were advertised as having their own baths and telephones. Incidentally, I can't remember anyone having their own phone in Singapore and Malaya at the time. I've lots more old adverts like these and hope to feature a few more sometime in the near future.
I hope that these ones bring back a few memories.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

My books about Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s

Many people reading this blog will have read my three books about life in Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s. However, for those of you who haven't read the books, I thought that I would write a bit about them here in case you wanted to seek them out.
The first book, 'Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans : A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya' features our life living there between 1965 and 1968. There are many family photos and chapters include our homes, amahs, Navy life, chit-chats, Bombay runners and mosquitoes, Tiger Balm Gardens, shopping and CK Tang's, toys, school, Naval Base parties, television, wildlife, the Sandycroft Leave Centre in Penang, banyans, Christmas and coming home.
The book was very popular and many people sent me their own memories and photos which seemed too interesting to discard
so I included them all in a new book called, 'Memories of Singapore and Malaya'. This book features chapters on leaving England, the journey, arriving, our new homes, around Singapore, the people, Tiger Balm Gardens, the Botanic Gardens, amahs and amah's markets, the Woodlands Naval Base and HMS Terror, RAF Tengah, banyans, school, Malaya, Johore Bahru, Johore zoo, Kota Tinggi waterfalls, Jason's Bay, around Malaya, Penang, Christmas and heading home.
Both books sold worldwide and soon I found that I was receiving letters and emails from people every day, who all had the same memories as myself. After a couple of years, I decided to compile all these new memories and photos into another book, 'More Memories of Singapore and Malaya'.
All of the books can be bought online bookstores such as Amazon. In the UK, they can be ordered through all major bookstores and in Singapore, they're available through Select Books.
I hope that you'll enjoy reading them and I hope that they'll bring back many happy memories.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Kebun teh Royal Naval School, Johore

Both Alan and me attended the Royal Naval School at Kebun teh. The school can't have been very far away but we always got the school bus in every morning. These two photos both feature Alan's class in about 1966 or 1967. The photos were taken by Mr Lee who used to take all of the photos of classes and other events. I don't really remember him but he had a photo
studio at Admiralty Road, West HM Naval Base, Singapore. Apparently, he's still around and has a vast archive of old photos of Singapore. If you were in Singapore at the time and had your photo taken, I've no doubt he's still got the negative. I don't remember too much about the school at Kebun teh other than what I've written before. The whole area is famous for one other event though and I would imagine that a lot of the pupils who
attended the school in the 1960s know nothing about it. On 4th December 1977,Malaysia Airlines Flight 653 was on route from Singapore to Penang when it was hijacked once it reached cruise altitude. The plane crashed at Tanjung Kupang killing all 93 passengers and 7 crew instantly. The mystery of the hijack has never been solved. It was the country's worst air disaster and the victims of the crash buried at Kebun teh where a memorial now stands. 
The road beside the crash site was named Jalan Kapal Terbang Terhempas (Air Crash Road), the only reminder that the tragedy occurred there. More recently, I was sent photos of Kebun teh School by Margaret Howells that show the school it is was two years ago. As in a lot of Johore, much has changed. The school looks closed off and there are many high rise buildings nearby. It's certainly changed over the years and it seems a very long time ago that Alan and me attended the school, learned how to read and write and drank chocolate flavoured milk!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Cold Store

Reading James Seah's latest blog post on supermarket shopping (and the cold store) in the 1960s, reminded me of the cold store we used to visit in Singapore. Although we went there for our shopping, I think one of the main reasons for going inside was just to cool down from the heat and humidity outside! The cold stores were air conditioned and seemed at the time like the only place where you could cool down in those days. I don't remember any houses having air conditioning, ours certainly didn't.Another thing that Alan and me found fascinating about the cold store was that when you approached it (I think that the store was Fitzpatricks) the doors flew open to let you in. I'd only ever seen anything like this in Star Trek and usually, you'd have to open the doors yourself. Of course, nowadays, all supermarkets and stores have self-opening doors but, at the time, it seemed very space age!
Somewhere near the coldstore, was a shop that had the first escalator in Singapore. I can't remember what the shop was called but I remember going on it just before we came back to England in 1968. All these things are taken for granted now but were fascinating to small boys back in the 1960s. I remember we stayed in a hotel on the way back and the thing we enjoyed about it the most was going up and down in the lift! We were easily pleased.
Anyway, I don't really remember what we bought in the cold store, all I remember is the Star Trek technology and being able to get away from the heat of the sun (and the smell) of the Singapore streets!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Penang in the 1960s

Penang in the 1960s was very much like Singapore at the time, with plenty of market stalls, hawkers, tri-shaws and a large Forces presence. Here's some photos from that time which will perhaps bring back happy memories. The first photo shows the Magnolia Man delivering ice cream to a Forces family. There's something about the people in this photo that makes me think that they're British although there were also a lot of Australian families living in Penang at the time. I remember the tubs of Magnolia ice cream that we used to get from the van. It didn't taste much like the ice cream you get today and it had a sort of sweet, watery milky sort of flavour. It always melted as you ate it with the sun and humidity!

The second photo shows a market stall and I've a feeling that this photo was taken at the village of Ayer Itam. I remember going to the market there when we were on holiday at Sandycroft. I was about 5 at the time and the reason I remember the market is because my mum bought me a white monkey puppet! It's strange what stays in your mind. Most people stopped here before heading off to see the pagoda at the Ayer Itam Temple.
The third photo shows what appears to be a shoe repair stall. A mother is waiting with her small son. This photo must have been taken a bit later because I can see that 'The Exorcist' is being shown at the cinema in the background. It's funny that this film was banned all over the UK but was shown freely in Penang at the time!
The fourth photo shows a basket maker selling his wares, which includes all sorts of rattan work. There seemed to be someone, complete with all their goods, selling everything you could possibly want, up and down your street in those days. These included hot food sellers (remember the Satay man?), balloon men, gully gully men, fruit and vegetable sellers and even people selling live chickens. I hope to post more photos and memories of Penang here at a later date.