Saturday, 25 July 2020

Bugs and other beasties

My father recalls the many bugs and beasties which could be found in Singapore and Malaya at the time:

'Mosquitoes were an absolute menace. They loved the fresh British meat and the whiter you were, the tastier. For the first month or two, I was bitten to bits. Mosquito coils were a blessing - a slow burning chemical compound which killed any mozzies that came close.
There were ants of all shapes and sizes and some of them could give you a nasty nip. The thing that all ants seem to have in common is their sheer industry. Any crumbs or other tit-bits which were dropped were immediately carried off. If the object was too big, they joined forces and carried it together. If there were obstacles in their way, they went around them or over them or, if it was lying on one of their main thoroughfares, they carried it out of their way. One small boy, I recall, delighted in squashing a column of ants climbing up a wall with the heel of his hand. Then, before his mother could stop him, he licked them off.
As soon as it got dark, the crickets would start their chirping making a continuous noise all night. These were accompanied by deep, resounding croaks from the frogs and toads who resided in the monsoon drains. Chit-chats, small lizards, ran up and down the walls eating moths, ants or any other insect that they could get hold of.
Cockroaches thrived in abundance but we seldom saw one indoors - perhaps this was thanks to the Amah who quickly dispatched them with her bare feet. We had a reel to reel tape recorder which we brought back home. When it eventually broke down, I took it to bits to try and fix it. Inside was a huge Bombay runner, quite dead.
The monkeys in the Botanical Gardens will be remembered by all who visited. We loved feeding them and they roamed freely throughout the grounds. I made the mistake of leaving the car window open and one of the cheeky imps repaid me for the bananas I gave him by leaving a deposit on my seat!
Hornets were common. We had a huge nest of them in our workshop in the Naval Base. We didn't bother them and they didn't bother us. However, one day an Australian engineering officer was driving along Woodlands Road. As he passed our dockyard area, a hornet flew straight up the leg of his shorts. He swerved off the road and knocked down a street sign. Fortunately, he was unhurt and not even stung.
There were also other creatures in our Naval Base. A huge monitor lizard lived under the jetty. I never saw this lizard clearly because as soon as he heard a noise, or felt the ground vibrate, he would crash away into the undergrowth. It must have been three feet long at least. They are carnivorous but are no problem to people.
A friend of mine and his workforce were clearing an area of land close to our workshop one day. As they moved a couple of empty oil drums, they came upon a King Cobra and its nest of young. Fortunately, no-one was bitten. There are about forty different types of snake in Singapore. About six of these are dangerous notably the King Cobra and the Black Cobra.
We had a snake indoors one day when I was at work. It was killed by the chap next door after my wife ran for help. I took it into work to try and get it identified with no real success. My colleague Poon said that it wouldn't harm you unless you were ill or had a heart condition. I wasn't much the wiser. Tales abounded about pythons coming ashore from merchant ships and being found after swallowing a dog.
Who could forget the huge, colourful moths at the Amah's markets up Bukit Timah Road? They were attracted by the oil lamps which lit up the stalls. Much bigger than our UK butterflies, they were lovely to see. Unfortunately, the oil lamps attracted other nocturnal visitors, many of which would bite you.'

(These excerpts come from my book 'More Memories of Singapore and Malaya')

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