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.