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Memories items from before 2009:           to enlarge photos, click on them

Memories of Herat   Industrial landscape   Koloyyma   Not my blueberries   Being dyslexic   A claim to fame   Memories of Kenya   A more generous used-to-be   The Coventry raid    Traveling unprepared   Just one of those days   Years ago in daFranco   The hitchhiking dog   Harold and me 1941   On the woodpile 1942   The kiss    Waving at trains         

Memories of Herat

Harry and I spent a few days in Afghanistan many years ago (1970). Memories of this visit come to the front of my mind when that country is in the news. The few days we spent in Herat are a jewel in my memory - how different from the current reality.
We were traveling back to Europe from Kenya by taking our old 'game park' car and a tent by boat across the Indian Ocean to Pakistan, driving and camping up the Indus valley, crossing the mountains between Quetta and Kandahar, on to Herat and then crossing into Iran. The rest of the trip was Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Holland, Belgium and finally back home to the UK.
In Herat I never got any nasty looks for not being veiled, although the women there wore the burka, so that not even their eyes were visible. We were never hassled by people selling things. In many places, a car and strangers brings out very persistent and pushy salesmen crowding around. It was not that Herat had no salesman - I remember a particular little boy. (The children were studying English in school so they were often stepping forward to be the spokesperson for their elders.)
We were looking at Afghan sheepskin coats one day, when a little boy stepped in front of us on the street and said that we had visited everyone's shop but his. So we followed him down a little passage between two buildings and entered 'his shop'. Well, it was probably his father's because there were a couple of older men working on coats in an adjoining room. They left the little boy to try and make the sale and did not interfere - so maybe it really was his shop. The room was lined with great piles of coats. The boy climbed onto these piles and with great flourishes swirled out a coat and let it float to the floor. Then he would pick another and let it fall at our feet. It was such a show. In his little English he negotiated the sale of two vests. But his biggest coup was to sell Harry a hat. He knew Harry loved the hat and that the size of Harry's head would mean he was unlikely to find a hat to fit as well as this one did. He probably was also happy that he had found someone that the hat would fit, so he was determined to sell it. He got a good price. He was very confident and never seemed to need to get authority from the men in the next room.
We were camped in the front garden of the big hotel in Herat. (Through much of the trip we were camped at hotels, guest houses, gas stations etc. and we were often in a rose garden.) The hotel had been built and staffed but there were hardly any guests - they were waiting for the boom in tourism that was supposed to be around the corner. It had a restaurant cum tea room that did do a fair business, especially on the Moslem Sabbath. In order to get from the parking lot and the main road to the restaurant, people had to walk past the rose garden. We were somewhat of an attraction (foreigners in a TENT). So the customers walked all the way around to get to the restaurant, using three sides of the garden and then did the same walk on the way back. Practically no one went straight down one side. No one crowded us; they kept their distance, didn't stare and remained very well mannered. Only two groups came anywhere near the tent or stood and looked at it directly. One group was a man and a boy. He introduced himself to Harry. It turned out that he was the officer from the police station where we had registered as visitors. So he knew where we were and had brought his son to see some foreigners camping. He was extremely polite and always kept and few yards away from the camp. The other people who came close were a family group of a dozen or so. They stopped on the path and openly watched us unlike others who tried not to appear to be watching us. Finally a little girl came a bit closer and said hello. She tried to practice her English but although she could understand a bit more, all she could say was "hello, how are you?" (It seemed like all the little girls as well as the boys were being schooled at that time.)There was an old grandmother figure who got tired of standing sat down on the lawn. I went up to her and asked in sign language if she want to see the tent. She followed me and I lifted the flap. She looked inside. I showed her the stove and the water jar and the food box etc. She lifted her veil, smiled and nodded approval. I thought then and still do, that because they came from a culture where tents were so important as temporary homes - they gave a camp a large personal space and they would no more infringe on our invisible camp space then we would enter someone else's garden uninvited.
The men seemed to be mostly armed on the street. The guns were of all sorts. Some looked like fairly modern rifles, some looked well over a hundred years old, some look home made. Again, I thought that it was probably one of the reasons for the politeness, reserve and non-threatening behavior. In a universally armed society you don't step on other people's toes.
My lasting impression was of a reserved and dignified people who were friendly and open with strangers.
But since that long ago time the reforming king was overthrown, the reforming president lost power and invited Soviet help, the Russians came, the Russians were beaten into retreat by the Mujahadeen, a civil war was won by the Taliban, the Americans/UN/NATO invaded, and now there is another struggle. I doubt that Herat would b
e hospitable today.

Industrial Landscape
I was born on the prairies - lots of wheat and not much smoke. Between going to the big city in the form of Vancouver and getting to the Atlantic via northern Ontario, somehow I missed ever coming face to face with an industrial landscape.
In Europe I saw industry. Over and over again, I was surprised by vistas. The most memorable of these moments happened when we were driving in the evening from the Belgium coast towards Germany. There was a glow in the eastern sky, and this being the time of the cold war, Harry and I helplessly joked about driving towards World War III. The joke got a little thin as the glow got larger, more angry and bright. We reached it and it turned out to be Luxembourg. I would have bet my life, on that night, that there were more Bessemer furnaces, spewing flame into the sky, then there were houses in Luxembourg. And the next day we drove down into the Saar and Rhineland and the industrial heart of Germany.
A couple of times in my first visit to England, we would top a hill and look down on a northern city with endless streets of little row houses as far as the eye could see. I would involuntarily gasp. But it was different to live in such a place. It was also interesting to work in such a place.
My first job in England was in the Courtaulds research labs in Coventry. Where should I start with Coventry? A potted history goes as follows. Coventry was a market town and a wool spinning center. I became extremely Protestant in Tutor times and was therefore made the prison for Cormwall's prisoners. This is where the phrase 'sent to Coventry' comes from. The citizens fed and looked after the Royalist (and Catholic) prisoners but would not talk to them at all, ever. When the Hugenots were expelled from France a few years later, many of them were welcomed to Coventry. The French protestants brought two trades with them: silk ribbon making and clock making. The fine weaving later resulted in the synthetic cloth industry. When the bicycle was being improved, engineers looked for a suitable drive. The Coventry chain (used in the clocks made in Coventry) was ideal for the bicycle chain. From the bicycle, Coventry progressed to cars and then to planes. All the industrial and port cities were targets during World War II. With Enigma, radar etc., the RAF was almost always able to protect the cities that were not on the southeast coast. But enigma was late with its information on the night that the raid headed for Coventry. When we lived there, the center of the town was all newly rebuilt but in the ring around that were the factories that survived with less damage.
The Courtaults labs had been the original Courtaults rayon factory. It was now too dated to be a productive factory but was used as a large batch facility for research into the rayon process. Across the Foleshill Road was the Engineering Division where whole textile factories were designed and sold. Down the road was the Acetate Division's labs (where I worked later). All these labs and drafting offices were in brand new multi-story buildings. But the Rayon Division's lab was a new building that was built inside a 1900 factory (and a bombed one at that). The place was large and had a 9 to 12 foot wall around it.
Along the south side, a canal ran just outside the wall and a spur passed into the factory passed a small dock. A spur railway line also passed in. At the southwest corner was a cooling tower. Under it was a large pond of warm water with a steady rain from the tower above. At the southeast corner was the shell of what had been the head office building. A garden had been planted inside the bombed out façade. Staff ate their lunches in this garden area. From a vantage point in this garden, you could see over the outer wall, across the canal and into a much, much older age. This was a ribbon factory with its mill and little cottages in a square. Again, the mill and houses were surrounded by a wall.
In the middle of the west side was the new lab building. In the middle of the east side was the power plant. The north and middle was the old rayon works. Big sheds housed vats were sheets of wood pulp was soaked in lye, presses to take the moisture out, mills to break up the pulp into a fluffy damp wool and pressure tanks to react the pulp with carbon sulphide and water. The sheds were filled with tanks and vats with high catwalks at the level of the top of these.
There were also the spinning halls where long acid baths held the jets that squirted the viscose into the acid at one end and at the other end lifted out the strands to be washed to remove the acid. The building was large and low with bank after bank of spinning machines.
The interesting thing is what happened to the viscose fluid between leaving the reactor tanks and entering the spinning machines. Under this factory was an underground world of tunnels. The viscose was aged by being pumped around these tunnels in constant temperature. The viscose was pumped for miles in spirals and back and forth. If you knew the tunnels, you could get from anywhere to anywhere underground on the rainy day.
There were three distinct work forces sharing this space. One was the scientists and technicians who worked in the labs. They pronounced 'viscose' as it is spelt with a 'v' sound. Another was the skilled workers who made the viscose. As the first foreman in the tunnels had been German, they pronounced viscose with a 'w' sound. There was a saying that you could tell someone who worked at Courtaults because they had a black and yellow tie to match their yellow skin and black eyes. Carbon sulphide is a poison and years of exposure gave people liver damage. The first product that was made with rayon was a black and yellow striped tie. But the spinning halls were the worst place, filled with acid and hydrogen sulphide fumes. At that time, Courtaults found it easiest to man these machines with brand new arrivals from India and Pakistan. They often didn't have enough English to even use the word 'viscose'. I have heard a chemist describe going to the spinning hall to get a sample to be like going to the jungle. You could hear movement behind you but if you turned around, there was no one there and only the roar of the machines. You were being following by a hundred eyes but could see no one. Most of Courtaulds factories in places across the country were modern and healthy places. The Coventry batch plant was an early factory, run as it had been up to the war. The fumes and noise were unforgettable.
It was in Coventry that I became accustomed to be surrounded by the old. It was also here that I became comfortable in the industrial landscape. That time is getting close to half a century ago so I assume the place is very different now. England is not such an industrial place as it was then.


Harry has a story. It is a very long and interesting story. Actually he has many such stories. But I am going to tell only a small part of this one story.
When Harry lived in Germany in the early 1950s, he acquired a Ukrainian friend. One night the two of them went to a dance and they drank too much not very good alcohol. Therefore Harry slept at his friends place rather than make it home. He had not been there before and it vaguely resembled an army barracks. He just went to sleep without thinking about the place.
In the morning people were getting up and wandering about, chatting, making coffee and nursing hangovers. Everyone was speaking Ukrainian. Harry joined in although his Ukrainian was a child's language that he had only spoken at home when he was young. Big words and dirty jokes had to be explained to him.
Someone asked where he came from - Harry answered that he was from Canada. This was seen as an extremely funny and clever joke. He was in a 'displaced person camp'. Everyone here was trying to get to Canada or similar places. The idea of someone coming from Canada to sleep in a DP camp was plainly ridiculous.
People guessed where he came from but the answer was always 'no, I'm from Canada.' Finally 'the professor' arrived, listened to Harry and pronounced that he came from Kolomyya. Harry just about fell off his chair - Kolomyya is a smallish city in the Ukraine where his father went to school. He was a well-schooled man.
Once I told this story to Harry's mother. She did not find it all that funny a story and was not surprised that a Kolomyya accent was recognizable. She pointed out that Harry's father spoke a language that was 'pure' Ukrainian, not influenced by Polish or Russian. I took this to be the usual partisanship that everyone has about their particular accents.
I have since read a bit about the original Ukrainian nationalist movement which started in Galicia (Kolomyya is in Galicia). It is in this area that the language arguments were hammered out. The language that was the inheritor of the Slavonic spoken in the old Kievian state and the old Church Slavonic was spoken in the area between Poland and the Caspian Sea, what we think of today as Ukraine. In the area of Galicia that language was called Ruthenian. They had the choice of: being assimilated into Polish with the Roman alphabet (Polophiles), using the language of the Bible and its archaic spellings and words (Ruthenophiles), using the modern Russian language with the modernized cyrillic alphabet (Russophiles) or using the peasant vernacular (Ukrainophiles). Galicians choose to use the vernacular language of their area with Cyrillic characters and called it Ukrainian. This choice also involve their political leanings and their religious affiliations: Roman Catholic, Eastern Rite Catholic, Orthodox. They wished to protect the Eastern Rite and to achieve real independence from the control of Austria-Hungary, Poland or Russia.
Once vernacular Ukrainian had to be accepted, the question was which vernacular should be the basis for this national language. The different parts of the Ukraine had very different histories and therefore dialects. The language around Poltava eventually became the model for Ukrainian with some additions from Galician Ukrainian. Even though Galicia started the ball rolling, the final language was not the Galician version. Apparently the language of Kolomyya was less affected by Polish or Russian than was the language of either Lvov or Poltava. Harry's mother thought it would certainly be a dialect known to highly educated Ukrainians.
The recent political split between western and eastern Ukraine reminded me of this split between the German/Polish influenced western part and the Russian/Moldovian influenced eastern part.

Not my blueberries
Some phrases come to stand for a concept that we don't have a word for. To Harry and me, 'they're not my blueberries', is one of these phrases. We had to friend years ago who took a job with a market gardener outside Vancouver. After some time, a neighbouring farmer tried to steal him away from his original employer. He said that the employer was the best blueberry pruner in the community, he had taught our friend, but our friend was better at it than his teacher. Our friend said he knew why. He did what he was taught. The employer knew what should be cut but they were his bushes and so he always cut a little bit less than he knew he should. Our friend had no connection with the bushes - no attachment, no ownership, no greed, no sympathy - he could do his job perfectly because they were not his blueberries.
Another phrase that I have found a scattering of people treat the same as I do is 'well he would wouldn't he'. During the Profumo affair in the UK (foreign minister and Russian spy visiting the same hooker), Mandy Rice Davies was giving evidence at trial. A lawyer listed all the things she had said happened and then said, 'Lord Aster denies that any of this happened, what do you have to say to that? - Lord Aster denies it!!' And Rice Davies said 'well he would wouldn't he'. In other words he would say what he said, whether it was true or not and therefore nothing has been established by his statement. Half the nation was walking around the next day chuckling and repeating, 'well he would wouldn't he.'
'They're subtle!' A friend was claiming that her university was being run for the administrative staff and not for the faculty members or the students. She went on for some time and then someone interrupted and asked, 'OK then, why is the administration block the oldest and most crowded building and why was the last hiring freeze put on the administration and not the lecturers?' There was no reasonable answer to this. My friend's claim was destroyed and so she quickly and triumphantly shouted, 'They're subtle.'  That phrase has come to mean to me that I am defeated in argument but I'm not ready to admit it.

Being dyslexic
The thing I am proudest of is that I can read and write. I can pass in this world as a normal person even though I am dyslexic. My handicap was a very deep secret until I was 45 years old - only a few family members and closest friends know, and never the people I worked with or for. But now I am out of the closet.
The situation started to dawn on me when I was in the first months of grade 2. It appeared, unbelievably, that my classmates were learning to do something that was escaping me. This was a surprise but not a serious one because in general I know I was smarter than most of them. I would figure it out, whatever it was that they were doing. But I was running to stay with them. I had to memorize more and more pages in books. While kids that could not remember what 5 plus 4 was or where any place was on a map for 10 minutes, could remember what was in the books. I knew the text was there to help with the memory but so were the pictures and I had always preferred help from the pictures. This was in the first years of teaching without phonics. That was bad enough but then we started SPELLING. We were given lists of words and later we were tested on them. I would memorize the words which was OK at first until the lists got longer. Finally in grade 2 the teacher gave us a spelling test that covered some words from previous lists and the words were not in order. Shortly into the test I stopped even trying to remember the words and wrote down five or so random letters for each question. This is the end of 'life as I knew it'.
The teacher gave my test paper to my mother having carefully written the correct word beside my attempt. To her horror, there was no relationship between the pairs of words. What I learned in the next few weeks, besides some spelling, was that this spelling-thing was important, very important and that I was never going though something like this again if I could help it. If I did not learn to spell, my life would not be worth living. My mother drilled me, Aunt Mildred drilled me, Aunt Marjorie drilled me, grandpa drilled me. Every relative in the region came to have a go. It was obvious that I would have no peace for the rest of my life if I did not learn to spell. I learned a lot. First, reading was sort of the opposite of spelling. Second, some letters were vowels and there had to be at least one vowel in every single word. Third, I learned some of the sounds of some of the letters. When they had finished, there was some resemblance between my spelling and the word I was trying to spell. But I had got the main idea, I knew what it was that the other kids had been learning and that I had no choice but to try and master it myself. Dyslexia was not something my family and teachers knew about then and there were no special classes then for the learning disabled.
In the next five years I learned some reading and writing skills but I also learned to be very devious. Some skills were good and have lasted me a lifetime. I learned to not lose concentration when I was listening, to relate things so that they had meaning and were easier to remember, to draw pictures rather than write if it was possible, to prepare for things ahead of time. I learned to have a memory like a vice and to 'read between the lines'. I also learned things I had to unlearn later. I learned to cheat on tests. I was only caught twice in five years of cheating on almost every spelling test I was given. I learned to time going to the toilet so as to not to be in the room when it was going to be my turn to read aloud, to misplace my glasses, to break my pencil, to watch the other kids lips move when they silently read. If all else failed and I was going to be exposed in a big way, I was pretty good at getting ill. I could even faint dead away. I was headed for being an adult with no language skills and all the tricks for hiding my handicap. (I would not have been unique; you just do not always see these people but they are there.) I had successfully hidden the extend of the problem from my classmates and playmates and from anyone who was in a position to help, my teachers and my family. Then came grade 7.
My grade 7 teacher recognized that I could barely read and that my spelling rarely attained the standard of being phonetic let alone correct. He kept me after school every day for the whole year,  we started back in grade1 and worked through every reader and speller of all the previous grades. When Jerry Smith had finished with me, I was just a very slow reader and a very poor speller, but I could very definitely read and spell.  Now I knew enough to help myself in constructive ways rather than devious ones. I started to lose my reliance on cheating. It was something that bothered me deeply and that I never let the other kids see me do, not just the teacher. I started to relax into my natural personality: more carefree rather than gripped with fear.
I didn't do badly in high school or in technician training. My marks were good and I had extremely effective study methods. I had to because I did not have time to cram the material. I was spending that time cramming the spelling of the words I know I would have to use. At the beginning of the year I got the new text books from the store. Within a few weeks I had read them and made notes of the material for the year. Of course it would turn of that not all the material to learn was in the books and not everything in the books needed to be learnt - but nothing is perfect. I made notes that summarized each days work every evening. I would make summaries of the summaries. When it came time for an exam, I know the work backward and forward so I could use the time to learn how to spell the words I needed. In exams I used a lot of diagrams, illustrations, point-form answers. During this time I also started reading books I was not forced to read - not novels which was inefficient reading with a lot of words for very little meaning - but poetry, drama, non-fiction.
When I finished school, I was working in a field where I did not have to write much but numbers, names and a group of predictable words. I started living with Harry. It was a bit unfair but I did  not warn him about my spelling and it was a shock for someone who assumed that any intelligent, schooled person could spell. It was mind-blowing to Harry.
He tried to teach me. When that was not working, he got the idea that I had too much bad history with the alphabet and English spelling. So I tried to learn Russian, a language that is phonetically spelt and in the strange Cyrillic alphabet. After some time I could sort of read Russian and write down Russian dictation after a fashion, but I did not understand a word of the language. The next ploy was etymology and phonetic history. How a word is spelt has a lot to do with its history. Next was cryptic crosswords and other word games.
Over the years, I eventually mastered spelling and reading became easier. It is embarrassing though that when I was managing to improve I still had big  problems. After Mother died, I found a cache of my letters to her. These were often written in a hurry, late at night and mailed in the morning without re-reading them. They are terrible!  Even today I really have to re-read what I have written.
I had a revelation one day when I was 45. By this time, writing was an important aspect of my job. I was at a meeting with a group of computer people and technicians when I struck me that I was no longer the slowest read and poorest speller in any group of people. I probably wasn't the best in an group either, but for sure I would not be the worst. For the first time I felt that I could reveal that I had a problem to friends, workmates and supervisors.

A claim to fame
We all like to have a claim to fame. I had a friend whose brother went to the same school as John Lennon  but not the same class. My husband is proud that he has managed to never see the Sound of Music film. Me? I'm sure I am one of the only people that has both been on a train that got lost and also have got lost on a train. 
I once took a train to Vancouver, when there were still trains to Vancouver. We were scheduled to arrive at about noon and we got there at about 10 in the morning. Great, we were only 22 hours late. This train had had very bad luck and we were getting fairly used to it. But in the middle of the night, the train just stopped. I woke up, realized we were stopped and tried to see what was going on. There they were: the engineer, the conductor and someone else, outside the train with a big map and flash lights. They were pointing and arguing. After a while the train started again and we went backwards for a good 20 minutes before crossing the Frazier river. I found out that the track was out on our line and so the train had crossed the Frazier to use the competition's track. They miss the bridge to take them back to their own track. So there - I have been on a train that got lost.
So now, how do you get lost on a train. We once lived in Austria for a year. We were peasants; we had papers that said we were officially peasants. If I didn't have the train stories, I could be unique as the only one in my family to officially be a peasant (or I could use the story about being walked by a dog.) Back to the story, I had some business with the Canadian Embassy in Vienna and so I took the train there from Graz, where we lived.  When I was coming back, I found the train to Graz from a big sign in the station. To be sure I even asked a railway official is it was the train to Graz in my halting German. He said yes and pointed down the train. He was standing in the way of me getting on the train and pointing down to the end of the train. So I walked down a ways and got on. The train was very crowded and I remembered that the front of the train didn't seem to be so crowded when I was walking past it. Once the train was under way, I made my way up the train and found plenty of room at the front. Off we chugged. After a while the names of the towns and the scenery became unfamiliar. Eventually I realized I was no longer on the way to Graz. I walked around the train until I found a conductor and I asked him about Graz. Apparently it was all clearly explained on the signs in Vienna. The front of the train had a destination in the Tyrol and the back of the train went to Graz. They simply unhooked the back at one of the stations and the two halves went their separate way.
The conductor asked the engineer to stop at the next station as the train was not due to stop for a long time. He kindly got out with me because of my poor German and explained to the station master that he would have to request the Graz express in the other direction to stop at this tiny station and pick me up. As he was getting back on the train, he stopped and came back. He quietly said something to the station master. Even with my weak German I understood the gist of what he said. "Watch her, don't let her wander off, she's not very bright".
So, what's your claim to fame?

Memories of Kenya
The news has brought back memories of the assassination of Tom Mboya. I worked in the University of East Africa Nairobi for a couple of years. One day in 1969 the corridors were filled with bundles of belongings - the employees were taking refuge in the college buildings. And the reason was rioting in the town. Tom Mboya, the second or third most powerful man in Kenya, had been shot in the street.
During the Mau Mau rebellion, Jomo Kenyatta was jailed. Tom Mboya campaigned for his release, for independence, and against poverty, against detentions after secret trials. When the British outlawed the African political organizations, the Trade Union federation that Mboya had founded was the only organization to speak for Africans.
When Kenyatta was released and independence granted, Mboya joined Kenyatta's government. This was very important for the unity of Kenya. Kenyatta was from the largest tribe, the Kikuyu, and Mboya from the second largest tribe, the Luo. These leaders being cooperative helped to defuse tribal rivalry. An election was going to take place in a little while. The head of the opposition party was a Luo called Odinga. A Luo in the government was important to the governing party. And then Mboya was shot.
Newpapers reported: "Nairobi the capital city of Kenya was upside down... striking and battled with the riot police, like demons, demonstrators did not surrender their demands and continued to battle with the riot police under their fierce hands, the streets of Nairobi and Kisumu was filed with chaos, bloodshed and smoke. Hundreds of cars were burnt, windows were smashed, scores of others were injured and killed, tension grew high and tensed, writers wrote what they knew was right, women wailed, hollered, ululated, some were in death grief for their killed hero, men and women left children at home to heel for demonstration. His home area was in terror, they mourned and cursed and talked along the tribal lines, which created hatred between two major tribes Kenya, everybody pointing fingers at each other. In Nyanza province, especially in Kisumu the cosmopolitan city, (non-Luos) suffered, many lose their lives, properties worth millions of shillings and their rights were violated, as the Luo's whom their son was assassinated retaliated very hard and strong."
The election was canceled because of the disorder. Odinga was detained. A Kikuyu fall guy was arrested, put on trial and executed. There were oathing ceremonies. And then all went quiet again.
An interesting aspect of the whole affair was the communication between the government and the population. Kenyan news readers had a great word, said 'misselled' and spelt 'misled'. They would announce that the President or another government official had said, 'the people should not be misled by rumours that…. yada yada'. We got the impression that no one was spreading that particular rumour but the government wanted people to believe it was a possibility.
When we put all the quasi and real rumours together we got the following unofficial story. In the political in-fighting among the Kikuyu, Mboya always took the side of the President and he was very good at the political games (hidden message: if a Kikuyu killed Mboya it was not one of Kenyatta's clan). Mboya expected to be President when Kenyatta died in payment for his clever political games. (hidden message: Mboya was an upstart Luo that did not know his place, Kenyatta owed him). Kenyatta got sick on a visit to Mombasa and everyone thought he was going to die. The cabinet was trying to figure out who was going to take over the government. Someone, probably the Vice President, said it would have to be the Vice President. Mboya said 'gentlemen, have you read the constitution'. Mboya was the head of the governing party and it was that position that became interim President according to the constitution. The cabinet had to agree. Then Kenyatta got better. (hidden message: Mboya had shown his hand to everyone and had disappointed Kenyatta)  Some part of the Kikuyu elite made a plan to kill Mboya and Nahashon Njenga carried it out. He was arrested and he admitted his guilt but said he did it on the orders of the 'big man'. While the trial was going on, there was forced oathing in the villages and slums. Oathing was something done by the Mau Mau and when the Kikuyu wanted to defend themselves as a tribe. The government claimed that they were trying to stop the oathing but government licensed trucks were used to bring strong men to the villages where the oaths were forcibly administered. Part of the oath is always that the land of Mumbi must stay in Kikuyu hands. Mumbi was the old Eve figure in Kikuyu mythology - the mother of the tribe. Elections were put on hold and the opposition leader was jailed. (hidden message: the Kikuyu elite is going to continue to rule the whole of Kenya and other tribes had better get used to it). Njenga was jailed. The government started to play musical chairs moving prisoners from jail to jail. Anyone following the moves would realize that on a particular day Njenga was the only prisoner in a particular jail. Shortly after this the government announced that he had been executed. (hidden message: the government has pretended to execute Njenga but the 'big man' had saved him and shipped out of the country - so relax Kikuyu people, all is OK.) A plane was stopped in Uganda and searched. (hidden message: relax Luo people, all is OK - your friend, the President of Uganda, has Njenga locked up and can blackmail Kenyatta if need be). Except for the happy ending for both Kikuyu and Luo, the rumours were probably pretty close to the truth.
The events since then do not seem to have improved the trust between the Kikuyu and the other tribes. Of course there is more happening here then tribalism. The population of Kenya is three times what it was at independence. Good land is scarce. The land was taken by colonial farms. The expat farms were acquired by powerful Africans at independance and were never returned to the original owners. The poor are poorer and the rich are richer. People have been moved in and out of the Rift Valley like pawns. Tribalism has been used by politicians to win elections. Unrest will reappear from time to time until there is some sort of land reform, there is some sort of population control and the central government can give people as much protection as their tribes do now. 

A more generous used-to-be
When we moved to Leicester, I went first to a new job and Harry stayed in Luton to redecorate our house and sell it. For a few weeks I was by myself in a rented row house without furniture, just a mattress on the floor, a suitcase of clothes and toiletries. It was cold and rainy and there was no heat in the house except a fire place. When I got home from work, I wrapped myself in blankets and read. Whenever I looked out the window, it was to see a dark and rainy scene of many streets of similar row houses crowded together down the slope of the hill to knitting mills at the bottom.
To add to the depression there was the book I was reading, 'The making of the English Working Classes' by E P Thompson, almost 1000 pages of thick scholarship. It matched the house, the rain, the cold and the loneliness perfectly. I spend 8 hours in 20th century, cutting edge biology and 8 hours in the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century with people out of a Dickens' novel. If I just see that book on the shelf and open it, a melancholy but comforting feeling slips over me. I physically feel that cold, lonely house but also the spirit of a time two hundred years ago.
The gist of this history is the transition from the pre-industrial to the industrial culture. Thompson follows a number of parallel movements from about 1780 to about 1840, often appearing to be the work of the same people. Hidden at the bottom were clandestine groups like the Luddites and at the top were parliamentary reform groups like the Chartist. Between were educational or religious groups like the Methodists. The culture of ordinary people was crushed and destroyed by the repression that occurred during the Napoleonic wars and the breaking of any opposition to industrialization. A new culture was created to replace the old. This creation was often undocumented and even secret. What emerged when the repression began to lift was the English working class with its highly developed feeling of class solidarity, trade unions, urban culture and democratic power. The medieval guilds went underground and trade unions came out from hiding.
I was reminded of all this when visiting England this year. We have been watching English TV and have noticed the change in the culture during the gap of the last 30 or so years. The country is of course, much more affluent now. Oil money, as in most oil rich countries, has killed the industrial base of the country - not that it wouldn't have died in any case because industry was not keeping up with the times. The oil is gone but the English now have money. Where the money comes from is a mystery to me; it can't all be from insurance, banking and tourism.
So, rarer is the unselfishness of people who just have enough and in its place is the greediness of those with plenty. I guess it is not too surprising that the working class culture is fading because the mills, factories, mines and so on are almost gone. I do not wish the old conditions on anyone. I just feel very melancholy at the loss of the gentleness and generosity that used to be so much more common in England. I wish the hard edge was not there. Of course, there is an age-thing here. Our older friends are much as we remember them - but then they are friends and they are getting on. The difference is felt on the street and in shops but most of all in the television, among the younger generation.

The Coventry Raid
When we lived in Coventry, there were some things you learned immediately about the city: it was the home of Lady Godiva and King Leofric, it was the home of the English car industry, and it was hit by a very large bombing raid in WW2. For those alive at the time in all the other cities, towns and villages for miles around, people watched Coventry's destruction. 
You may have heard of Enigma. This was a German code machine that the Germans thought was unbreakable. Some Polish mathematicians learned about in when they were in a German university. So when the Germans attacked Poland, these men arranged for the Polish underground to steal two machines and get them out with one of the mathematicians to England. The English navy stole another from a captured German sub later. The English set up a group of the best mathematicians in England at Bletchley and they made machines that riffled though German messages and decoded them by a short-cutted trial and error method. This information was so sensitive that it went directly to Churchill rather than to the normal military intelligence people. It was always nip and tuck. Usually the messages were broken while they were still useful but not always. For all of that, having Enigma probably won the war.
When the RAF were told which city to protect, the German bombing raids were only partially successful. And this was much of the time. But occasionally they didn't get a clue in time. That was the case the night the Luftwaffe came for Coventry. It was also an unusually heavy raid, many times the size that the RAF was used to meeting. It was a huge shock to everyone. People didn't know how they were being protected and so when the protection was not there everyone was very surprised. Birmingham was bombed and Warwick and other midlands industrial cities, but it was nothing like the big Coventry raid.
The cracking of Enigma was kept secret after the war. The Germans thought it had never been cracked. The story goes that  some die-hard escaped Nazis gave the technology to the Arab nations around Israel.  The English had some Jewish mathematicians in on the code cracking and they gave the secret to the Israelis. That is why the Israeli intelligence service had the reputation of being the best in the world for a number of years after the war. There was a similar code breaking group of Americans who broke the Japanese naval code.
When I lived in Coventry, the centre of the city had been re-built. My husband had been there in the early fifties and remembered many more 'holes'. But you could still see the pattern of damage. It looked to me like about a half of the buildings had been destroyed. I don't think any other sizable English town took such a beating. (London of course suffered many more raids and it was grinding punishment for Londoners rather than one night of destruction.). Coventry was a surprise because the RAF had been doing well.
The cathedral in Coventry was destroyed. It was not rebuilt but left as a ruin with a new cathedral built beside it. In Germany, the Cologne cathedral was rebuilt as it had been. (Cologne suffered an English raid of similar destructiveness to the centre of the city). After the war, the two churches exchanged crosses made out of the large roofing nails from the medieval roofs. Another interesting ruin in Coventry was an extremely old house and shop. It had been completely unknown and hidden. Its stone walls had become part of the walls of several other buildings in a crowded little corner of old medieval  buildings. The bombs completely demolished this little rabbit-warren of buildings but left the much older, hidden one standing. At the Courtault's works there was a huge bombed out building that had had a garden created inside the ruin and we used it as a place to eat lunch or take a break.
In the hierarchy of destruction there were ordinary bombing raids, then large raids that got through like Coventry and Cologne, next the fire-storm raids like those on Hamburg and Dresden, and finally the nuclear attacks in Japan. Each step was a large one in terms of destruction and loss of life.

Traveling unprepared
There is something to be said for being prepared when you travel; you do not pass a few miles from something you want to see and not know its there. But there is also something to be said for ignorance; you see and notice things that you would not have come across in a well-planned trip.
When Harry and I left Kenya, we drove back to Europe via Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. We drove right on, all the way to Norway, before turning and going back to England.
The first preparation was to have a good vehicle. Because we didn't know what we could expect for roads, we decided to take our 'game park car'. The car was a Roho, the Ugandian made version of the Renault R4, about the most utilitarian car in existence at the time. It was a square box of sheet metal with no interior trim and with sort of plastisized canvas slings for very comfortable seats. The car was light enough that Harry and I could lift it out of trouble, with great ground clearness and a weird loping suspension - nothing fancy about anything. When we got it, it had been around the speedometer at least once and the gauge no longer worked. It had a sun roof that we modified for a 'lion cage'. We got a square fence around the hole and a canvas awning over that so that we could stand in the car with our heads out the hole to take pictures. But the lions etc. could not see humans silhouetted against the sky (a no-no in game parks). Before leaving, we brought another Roho, newer but had been in a crash. The best bits from each car made the final vehicle. It looked like the game park car but had a lot of new machinery inside. We sent most of our things by sea, packed the rest in the back of the Roho along with camping gear and set off. The little car rode on deck when we crossed the Indian Ocean on a little Italian passenger boat. The boat went Venice - right around Africa to Mombassa - across to Bombay and up that side to the Red Sea - on to Venice and around again.
After two days of bribery and forms, we got the car out of the Karachi docks and we were on our way up the Indus valley. That 2 days in Karachi was one end of the spectrum. The time it took to get through customs decreased pretty much steadily until we just about caused an accident going between Sweden and Norway when we slowed down a little bit (to maybe 90 kph) to see if the border post was manned (it wasn't).
We had prepared enough to have promised ourselves not to touch the water. On the very first night Harry was offer some tea in circumstances where he felt he couldn't refuse - so he drank tepid, milky tea in a dirty cup. We also were prepared enough to know that it is foolish to drive at night. But we so wanted to get out of the Karachi surrounds that we tried night driving. The Pakistanis played some sort of game with headlights that we never got the hang of. As close as we can figure it, only one vehicle can have their headlights on at a time. If you hog too much of the time, you recieve angry, blinding blasts of full high beams in your eyes. But you need lights because anything can be on the road including stray animals and piles of sand. We were prepared enough to know about the government stations and stop at one fairly early in the night. These are large houses that were built by the British so that their civil servants had accommodation when they travelled. The Pakistani government still kept them going for their own officials to use. They allow tourists to camp in their rose gardens. Rose gardens was the rule for most of our trip. We camped in government stations, hotel yards, gas stations, camping grounds, municipal parks but always among roses.
We left the Indus valley and crossed the Sund desert to the Himalayas. Our little Roho did not have air conditioning. In fact it had a hole in the roof and even without that, the air whistled through . Air conditioning would have been a laughable addition. We started as early as we dared but even so it was just after noon that we started to climb out of the desert. Our tank of water didn't quite last the journey but almost. Of course we were prepared enough to have water pills to purify our tank. We would stop to have a drink. The first cup was sweated out immediately. I would gulp down the water, count to four and then before five came out, I went from dry and dusty to soaking wet. A second cup to hydrate and a third to store up a bit. 30 or so minutes later, the same thing. There were great mirages. As we climbed up into the hills, we came across a 'mountain stream', the first clear running water we had seen since Kenya. We drove over some rocks (bang, bang, bang) into the stream and splashed water on ourselves and the car. All was cool. Unfortunately, this little indulgence most killed us.
The rest of the day we drove along narrow bad roads along high passes into the heart of the mountains. We got to the city of  Quetta. Harry was in the habit of looking the car over every once in the while. What he found was that we had a broken suspension and that a wheel could have just detached. This probably happened with the biggest bang getting into that mountain stream and we drove through all those mountain passes with a car held together by habit. Harry took the broken pieces and set off to find what could be bought or made for a replacement. He would show people the bits and they would point him in the right direction until after a long time he was directed down a little alley way to a hovel with a tin roof and dirt floor and a state of the art TIG welder.
If we had been prepared we would have known that it was a fool's errand to go to the lake. But when someone advised it, we went. The lake was fairly large with a stone walkway around it, some piers, an island and a number of families having picnics. What wasn't there was water. The lake had completely dried up 5 years before but it was still the place to picnic.
Water that has had purifying tablets in it tastes pretty bad and it tastes even worst if it is warm. After drinking extremely warm water from our plastic tank for a few days, we bought a water jug at a potters. We still have the jug as a relic of the trip even though it was broken and mended when we ran over it with the car. The idea of a water jug is that it is just porous - when it is full of water the outside is just moist (not wet). The evaporation from the surface keeps the water cooler than the air temperature. Of the jug is put in the shade (under the car usually) the water from it is much better than from a plastic tank.
To be continued some time…..  

Just one of those days

Have you ever had one of those days! One Saturday we were all to be home by 2:30 for something very important to my mother. I forget what. Me, my brother and my step-father, we all promised individually and solemnly that we would be home by 2:30.
I went shopping with a friend. We were talking down the street (Hamilton if I remember right). Sharon was talking away when wham! I fell into a manhole. I stepped on it and it wasn't locked. My one leg went down, the lid rotated on its pins and hit me in the hip while my other leg was out on the sidewalk ahead of me. It was a little while before my friend realized I wasn't beside her. She was walking along talking while I was stuck and yelling. She came back and a crowd gathered. No one listened to me. I was saying 'can someone give me a hand'. They were complaining about the city and that the world was coming to in general. Eventually someone helped me out. My foot was covered in tar.
The bus driver didn't want me on the bus because of the tar. Sharon's house was closer and so we walked there. Her dad took some gasoline to my foot and shoe. Eventually I straggled home.
My mother was furious. I was 45 minutes late and the other two were not home either. I got an earful. It was a good thing that my foot was still stained to prove I was telling the truth.
The next home was dad with a tale of woe. He had parked someplace to do some work and didn't realize that the place got locked up. When he came back the car was inside the fence and the gate was locked. He couldn't find anyone who knew who had a key. The tale goes on but I don't remember any the details except that he still didn't have the car.
My mother was still furious. And if dad had had the car, she wouldn't have believed him either.
We waited for George. Eventually it was too late and mom's plans were in ruins just like her temper. I was feeling pretty sorry for my brother. I wasn't sure he would survive coming through the door.
He was brought home by a large workman. He had been looking at a building site. He saw something interesting and decided to crawl through the fence and have a closer look. As he was wandering around, a load of concrete was dumped on him. He was not in the wet concrete up to his head but he was covered by the dump all over. The men got his clothes off and hosed him down with water. They got the concrete out of his hair and ears. He was soaking wet in his underwear, carrying his wet clothes and shoes.
I waited for my mother to blow. She just stood there looking at us. And then she laughed. She laughed till she cried.

Years ago in daFranco
In Loughborough there is a café called deFranco. It is still there after so many years and still has at least one face from the past. We visited it and had a coffee the last time we were in the UK. The visit reminded me of some of the interesting scenes from Franco's in the 70's. One came to mind today when then was some discussion of each language having a 'sound' all its own.
One day in daFranco there was a table of 5 or so strangers, talking together in a foreign language. The regulars were trying to figure out what language it was. In the group there were people who spoke a sprinkling of other languages. I cannot remember who all was there and so I cannot place which languages were ruled out, but eventually it became a deep mystery. Harry and a couple of others settled on it being Welsh.
Someone went and brought back Taff to have him pronounce on whether or not it was Welsh. He stood by their table for a while and listened and then came back to the group. "It's Welsh alright - but I can't understand a word." Harry said, "Must be Patagonian." This was taken as a joke because Harry used to start a particular sort of statement with, "We Patagonians believe…" It took some time and many laughs to get the group to believe that Harry was serious about Patagonian. And some more time and laughs to convince everyone that we could probably converse with them in Spanish.
So someone who spoke a little Spanish went over and started a conversation. Yes, they were speaking Welsh. Yes, they came from Patagonia. Yes, Patagonia really existed and was in Argentina and that is why they spoke Spanish. What were they doing in Britain? Why they had come for the Eisteddfod of course. They had come all the way from the very tip of South America to listen to Welsh poetry.
There was an aftermath. Harry stopped saying, "We Patagonians believe.." because, hey, now everyone knew that there really were Patagonians and they were just like anyone else except for their language. That may have been when he started using the Dogo as the mysterious other tribe of people who shared his more outlandish ideas.
Another aftermath happened when Hashim said to Taff, "Are you Welsh then Taff?" Taff took offence and a fight almost started. It had to be explained to Taff that Hashim, being from Africa, was not to know that Taff could be used as a slur on his Welshness. It was not meant to be unfriendly. And it had to be explained to Hashim that Taff was a nickname for David in Wales and it was used as a friendly or unfriendly name for all Welshman, like Paddy for the Irish or Jock for the Scots. In this case the Taff's name really was Taff.
It was an interesting late afternoon at daFranco and it probably ended with someone saying, "their open!". We would then all have gone to the pub, drunk beer and played darts.

The hitchhiking dog
When we lived in Kenya, every weekend we went to the local game park, Nairobi National Park. Well, there were a few weekends when we went to a different park or to the coast or were sick. But usually we went to the little local park.
As game parks in East Africa were concerned, it was a tiny thing, about 10 miles long and 4 miles wide at its widest. But it was a very good park because it was open to the Ngong Hills and the Rift Valley along one side. Its border was a little stream rather than a big fence. On the other sides it was strongly fenced from the airport and the Karen suburb of Nairobi. The animals were free to come and go from the park as they pleased across the stream. The reason they came was that the park had permanent water. When there was rain the park had a smallish population of animals but when it was dry, the park was crowded. Crowded with animals that is. Most of the day there would not be another car in sight except in some popular places. It was the sort of place that you could get to know well.
Through most of the park you were expected to stay in your car and there were just a couple of places where the park wardens keep the more dangerous animal away and people were allowed to get out of their cars. In the main part of the park, I never did get out of the car but Harry got out twice. He braved the park once when we got stuck. Some warthogs and ostrich watched him bounce and push the car free. The other time was for the hitchhiking dog.
We drove very slowly in the park. You can't watch animals at speed. By the side of the road was a dog. A plain 'man's best friend' type dog with a collar. The dog put her paw out. It really looked like she was hitchhiking. We laughed and stopped. We stopped because the park was not a good place for a dog. But what to do?
Harry got out and opened the back door of the car. The dog ran over and jumped in. Then she jumped out and ran back to where she had been, back into the car and back to the road side. Harry said, "This may not be a wise thing to do but I'm going over to her". It turned out she had two little pups in the grass. Harry came back to the car for a conference - should he pick up the pups? We looked at the dog who was now back at the car. Her look seemed to be pleading. So Harry followed by the dog went, picked up a pup and put it in the back of the car. The dog jumped in. Harry got the other pup.
Now what? People were not to take dogs into the park in their cars. How would a dog and two pups get across the stream and a couple of miles into the park? She must have been in someone's car. Would someone really abandon a nursing dog with her pups in a game park.
We thought we knew the park well enough to take a short cut to the main gate and drop the dog with the people there. We were by the edge of a forested bit and we did not usually go into the forest at this point because it was too thick to see much. But we went into the forest at its thickest part this time. What we found down the road was the house where the wardens lived, well hidden in the forest with its own little gate to the outside world. The dog started to jump about - hey - we had the park's dog. They were very happy to see her and the pups and she was sure glad to be home. The consensus was that something had frightened or chased them into the park and they had got lost.
That was many years ago but I can still see that dog with her paw in the air, in a panic and trying to get help from a passing car and ending up with as very good impression of a hitchhiker.

Harold and me 1941

HaroldI am very fond of this picture of me and my cousin Harold. 1939 was a big year for babies in our families and so I have a number of cousins who were born within a few months of me. As a pre-school child, I played by myself or with visiting cousins and I do not remember any other playmates. But there were plenty of cousins.
As far as I remember, Harold and I never had a disagreement as children, even though sparks sometimes flew with other cousins. And as I remember, we got up to more dangerous mischief with each other than when we played with any of the other cousins.
I have found out that our mothers had some arguments on child rearing. My mother thought that Harold was 'spoilt' and criticized his mother for thinking that all her children were so 'special'. His mother criticized my mother for saying that I was a 'plain Jane'. And she really was upset with the way my mother put me to sleep. Mom put my down in bed as a baby, gave me a kiss good night, and then gave me a little slap on the bottom. Apparently I would give a little whimper and snuggly up in my pillow and fall to sleep almost immediately before my second whimper could get out. It makes me chuckle when I look at the picture, that for all their differences about child-raising, my mother and aunt were raising very similar kids.
The picture also reminds me of the prairie. As little children during the war, we had very few store-bought toys. We had very few toys at all, bought or made. But we did have a lot of prairie that we could roam in. My mother said she could see me a quarter mile away. But when cousins were at our house, we had to stay around the yard. Not that prairie yards were in any way confining. Even as an adult I find them on the large size; as a kid they were a world all their own. Here are Harold and me in the center of the yard with the house and all the buildings an equal distance away along three sides. That's the navel of the world.
I sometimes feel sorry for kids today that have to be supervised all the time and taught to be frightened in their own environments. It is not that I think this is wrong today; it is that I am sad that today it is necessary.

On the woodpile 1942
woodpileHere are 5 of us: Donnie, Connie, Harold, Marjorie and me (cousins again, in the yard on the prairie). The date on the picture is 1942 but it sure looks like we are a year older than that. The date was written more or less at the time and so was probably right. It makes Harold, Marjorie and myself 3 that summer and going to be 4 in the fall.
I probably spent more time in my youth playing with Marjorie than with any other cousin. We spent hours, days, weeks, even sometimes months at a time together. And then we have not seen one another since our teens. This picture was taken before the time when we were together so often. At this time if Marjorie and I were together, Connie was also playing with us. Oh those terrible threesomes, one of us was always left out and it could be any of the three. There was no pattern in who felt slighted on any particular day. We learned to manage the threesome over the years.
When I wasn't with cousins, I played by myself. The picture reminds me both of playing with Marjorie and of solitary play, because of the presence of the wood pile. I remember playing on the wood but always by myself. Recently I asked Marjorie if she remembered the wood pile and she didn't. There were places and things that I only played with by myself and this was certainly one of them.
Under the wood as a funny sort of soil make from decaying wood that was made from the remains of previous loads of wood. In that 'compost' there were things to be found, things other than insects and slivers. I found buttons, a knife, a couple of fossils, an Indian arrow head and many, many broken things. I don't know why things were there but I rooted around for them in the decaying wood under the fresh wood. I find the memory of that activity very calming. Even today the smell of disintegrated wood is very calming. At that age I did not think it was a mystery that so many things were under the wood so I never asked about it. Maybe I was afraid that someone would say I couldn't keep whatever I found. Now that anyone who would know the history of the pile is dead and I will never know. Never mind, it is not the most important question that I don't know the answer to.

The kiss

HughThere was another cousin I played with at an early age, Hugh. I found this picture and it reminded me of the way we were. Hugh did not like getting a kiss (at that time - I'm sure he changed at a certain age). And so what did I used to do?
I can see how this picture happened from the blurring. We would have been standing side by side, smiling for the camera. Just before the shutter clicked, I pounced and gave Hugh a kiss. He reacted in horror. And there is the action, caught forever in a burred picture.
Some of my memories of playing with Hugh involve water. (Famously so on one occasion) We were young in the 'wet years'. I was reminded recently about how kids play in water. I watched a little boy with rubber boots in a deep puddle. He very slowly and carefully moved into deeper and deeper water. Kids always think that if they are careful enough they can get to the point where the water is just a fraction of an inch below the top of their rubber boots and then retreat with dry feet. It never ever works. This time, watching the little boy, I realized why.
The boots have some hoop strength and so they keep the circular shape at the top, all nice and level. At some point, late in the exercise, the pressure of the water on the outside of the boot is enough to overcome the hoop strength. The top edge of the boot folds inward at one point and dumps the water into the boot, woosh.
Hugh had (still has) a mechanical turn of mind. Hugh figured things out. But no kid I've ever seen including Hugh managed to keep dry feet in a deep puddle. And only goody-goody kids can resist trying to go to the limit and return dry.

Waving at trains
waving at trainWhat I remember it that is was IMPORTANT to wave at trains. And the engineer ALWAYS waved back - because he knew I always waved at him. Later I learned a few truths. Engineers were instructed to wave at kids, always without fail. More shocking - my mother told me that when I was very young I was afraid of trains. The family, including my grandfather Barmby, had taught me to wave at trains but I was so scared that I would run around the house to the side away from the tracks to wave. I could not believe my ears - me afraid of trains? The picture is, according to my mother, taken on the north side of the house and I am not waving at the camera but at a train going by on the south side.
But when I was a little older I really did have a love of trains. I played on the tracks and in the allowance on either side. It was as close as you could get to the original short grass prairie and had plants that were not found in the yard or fields. I counted cars and reported the length of the train to my mom and dad as well as any unusual car types. It was really exciting when the train was so long that it had more than one engine. Long wheat trains were especially good news because it meant that there would be some more room in the elevators. (Now the elevators are gone or going. The landscape is so very different without that iconic shape.)
Once near some Christmas we were at my uncle and aunt's in Lang. It had been snowing heavily for a long time and still was. Hugh and I and a couple of other kids decided to go to the station to do something we had been discussing. We went when a train was due to pass through, crawled under the platform and waited flat on our stomachs on the ground. We figured that this was the safest way to get really close to a train as it passed. The train came through. For a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, blowing snow filled the air. I could not breathe and had snow driven into my cloths and face. The experience was awful like being suffocating and whipped at the same time. It must be what it is like to be in an avalanche. It cured me of my curiosity about being close to passing trains.
I have loved trains all my life, except apparently when I was very small.