Monday, 10 January 2011

Singapore markets in the 1960s

These two colourful photos appear in the new version of 'Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans' which should be out some time before March this year. Both photos bring back lots of memories of all the open air markets that once lined the streets of Singapore back in the 1960s. The first photo shows a couple of children looking at the many Chinese lanterns on display. I would have been about their age when I first visited a market back then. I remember the streets busy with shoppers and full of fruit stalls selling all kinds of fruit. I remember the bananas were very sweet, not like the ones you get nowadays in England. Of course, I mainly remember the rambutan sellers. I loved them at the time and haven't had one since but can still remember what they tasted like. Some stalls seemed to sell only rambutans but maybe that's just how I remember it. I also recall that there were coconuts for sale too. They seemed very exotic back then but you can get them just about anywhere nowadays. You can even buy Rambutans in Sainsburys now! I remember the smell also. Perhaps it was the smell of the nearby river or a mixture of the fruit, vegetables, meat and other products. I especially recall the smell of all the wicker work and material. Of course, the sun and heat enhanced all these smells. I can't remember my parents buying any fruit from the stalls although we probably bought bananas for the monkeys in the Botanic Gardens. I used to get given rambutans free from the stall holders as we walked through the market because they liked my fair hair! 
The second photo shows a night market. There was a totally different smell at these markets. The air was filled with the smell of Kerosene lights and heaters which would attract moths and other insects. They would then attract chit-chats who would wait by the lamps for easy prey. There was also a moth ball smell especially around the stalls that sold wooden trinkets. Perhaps it's the smell of the wood? There were allsorts of items for sale that remind me now of Singapore including the Wanchai Burberrys held together by fish glue, the many colourful paper kites, Chinese lanterns, toys and wicker hats. All had a smell of their own and combined gave Singapore its own unique smell. I haven't been there for a very long time now but I wonder what it all smells of today?

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!