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!