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Memories of Herat
Not my blueberries
A claim to fame
Memories of Kenya
A more generous
Coventry raid Traveling unprepared
Just one of
those days Years
ago in daFranco The
Harold and me 1941 On
the woodpile 1942 The
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
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
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 be
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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 me that I am defeated in argument but I'm not ready to admit it.
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
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
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
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
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
letters to her. These were often written in a hurry, late at night and
mailed in the morning without re-reading them. They are
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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.
more generous used-to-be
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
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
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
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
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
escaped Nazis gave the technology to the Arab nations around
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
ago in daFranco
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
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.
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.
and me 1941
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.
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
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
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
the woodpile 1942
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
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.
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
What 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