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!