January 2012

SIXTY YEARS AGO

439127530_0c4545a5f8Yes, a couple of months ago I mentioned my decision to change my life, but the fact that once again Nigeria is in the news for all the wrong reasons will suffice as an excuse to add a bit of detail to my life.

I am not alone in our Probus Club to be able to claim time living there, but I think I am the only one who worked there for Government.  We ran that huge colony – now the one with the largest population of any country in Africa – for the ten years I was there without any fighting between tribes, with a growing national income and brought it to the point of Independence in 1960.

nigerian-made-christmas-cardNot all the British were responsible for the government of the country and I was amongst those whose job was to educate Africans in college; a bit of a joke, I suppose, since I had not been able to attend college myself, but my work there was to teach men technical stuff that kept the telecommunications working and being brought up to date.  I had been doing this at home for a few years, so I had something to pass on to them.  I had inherited my father’s teaching ability gene and some of my students rose to high government position.

As I write this, it is January 2nd and that is to the day the sixtieth anniversary of my being sailed into Lagos harbour.  Hot and steamy is the only expression for the climate that I met there.  No air-conditioning in those days – except in Government House – so one’s sweat glands worked overtime, day and night, not helped by the essential mosquito net over the bed.

As a bachelor I had a one-bedroomed wooden bungalow and I hired a steward boy (man, actually, older than I was) to do my cooking, cleaning, washing and everything, for which I paid him £1 per week, with which he was delighted.

My teaching was six days a week, with Saturdays only until noon and it was that morning each week when I quit the technical teaching and answered their many questions about life in England, but I also had questions for them about their lives in the small villages most of them came from.

I played tennis at the Country Club each dry afternoon, helped build a theatre there and found I had an acting ability which I seem to have passed on to my elder daughter.  In short, I learned to grow up and enjoyed every minute of it.

What a pity the Empire has gone; no such education for our grandchildren.

Speakers

IMG_0745Well, it was Christmas again, it hardly seeming to be a whole year since the last one, but with it of course came the pleasure of having Malcolm Newman to remind us of the enjoyable annual chat he produces year after year.

As Pastor of our Congregational Church in Old Coulsdon, the Reverend Malcolm reminded us that Christmas was not just an excuse for us to slaughter a turkey and eat too much whilst surrounded by grandchildren tearing paper off presents.  No, much more, it told us of the birth some 2000 years ago of the Son of God; not, your Editor reminds us, exactly 2011 years since our working out of the precise date was, some say, messed up by a Pope in the 5th Century who couldn’t add up.

27077356_500x500_1No matter, He was born in Jewish Judea in Bethlehem, of a Jewish mother and proclaimed the King of the Jews.  His birth was proclaimed by angels and Malcolm was certain that angels do indeed exist as the messengers of God.  He reminded us that it wasn’t only the Jews that welcomed him, for there had the wise men from the East too who had been told of his arrival.

Was the birth truly in the depths of winter?  Well, would the sheep have been outside at that time of the year?  Malcolm reminded us that the Christian Church used the pre-Christian faiths’ ceremonial dates, adopting them to our needs for such as His birthday; carols were known before Christ and were sung to mark the return of the sun, again adopted by the early Christians.

More recent things connected with Christmas were taken from other religions, too, he told us, such as kissing under the mistletoe which came from the Druids [I thought they were all men!]. Christmas cards of course had to await the penny post, with the first known cards posted in 1843, just three years after the service began.

As always, Malcolm kept our interest in what he had to say, so much that your Editor forgot to make enough notes, but the message was clear, as always.  We donated to his Leprosy charity.

__________

Today:Mary Moore telling us about Hidden

                                            London

February 2nd:Due to cancelation by booked speaker

                                           Ian Payne will step in and give us a talk on

                                           his families history

March 1st:          AGM and Our Chairman’s Charity.

April 5th:          Derek Barr tells us about Fairfield Halls.

Club News

Peter Barker is slowly recovering from a stroke which means he is chair and wheelchair bound.  They have modified the house to a one-storey bungalow with a four-bedroomed loft, as his good wife puts it and she, bless her, looks after him on a 7/24 basis.  We wish them well.

Andrew Kellard had an accident on the golf course which he swears wasn’t caused by taking too many shots on the 19th.  He had a sort of blackout and collapsed, but was helped to his feet, sat on a seat and given coffee all of which made him a whole lot better; nothing broken.

We had reason to mention Dudley Coates’ son Lt.Col James in our November issue, on his being awarded the OBE.  Well, we have further reason to write about him, since he has been selected by the Daily Telegraph as one of a very few Britons of the Year for 2010.  This is all to do with James’ work as c.o. of 3 Para and his successfully dealing with the Taliban in Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand.  Congratulations to the Coates family, father and son.

Jim Mulvey reports that his Top Hat visit to the Aldwych Theatre arranged for June 21st., is already fully booked, so folks like your editor who thought it might well be worth going will just have to swallow their tears.  There’s another chance for an outing – a cruise and lunch – around Easter, but no details just yet.

Jim is a man of many parts, which includes an interest in the local history of Coulsdon and we remember his talk to us some months ago with the photos he has collected over the years.  Someone (could it have been your Editor) mentioned this to the local history Bourne Society and they have booked him to tell much more to their monthly speakers’ meeting; sadly this was yesterday evening so you’ve missed the chance to attend, but the Bourne Society is well worth joining (£10 p.a. with £20 FREE books each year) if you have an interest in the extensive history of this part of Surrey.  Ask your Editor for a joining leaflet.

Peter Babler tells us about the regular Trad Jazz sessions at the Coulsdon Comrades Club opposite the library on Brighton Road, the next to be held January 12th, doors open 7.30 p.m., price about £12 including generous finger-food buffet at half time. Raffle for whisky and such.  Sounds like fun. Contact Alan Carter on 020 8688 8806 for details..

Dennis Evans will be reminding us of the ‘variations’ hopefully to be agreed at today’s meeting, bringing our Rules and Regulations into line with what we actually do at our Club meetings.  Decisions will be by votes and Dennis will explain what we are voting on.

I need more back-page articles, please.

Just after The War

By Ian Scales

It’s getting hard not to repeat tales we have already published over the eighteen years that the Newsletter has been in existence, but then again, our membership has changed much during that time, so earlier memories from our columns may well not have been read by more recent retirees.

Ian Payne did us a favour a few months ago by telling us the story of his life so far; no particular event from his past, just an outline of his time on Earth.  Tony Simpson, too, has recorded much of his past in various parts of the world, like his early life in Devon and even in Birkenhead.  Many other Probeans have related fascinating stories from their past, for which many thanks.  All in all they have educated us – especially your Editor – of times gone by which will never be repeated by our children and grandchildren who live in a different world.

Your Editor, too, has been guilty of occasionally having to fill this page with memories of his earlier days and just to remind those who can recall life some 65 years ago, he will fill the rest of this article with an outline of what we lived through and how we coped.

We had won the war with the help of our allies, the world was going to be easy and peaceful; no more bombs, no more telegrams telling of the loss of a dear one.  Life was going to be great starting now.

Yes, fathers came home from distant shores, mothers returned to housewife duties, but what of these years that followed 1945?

Do you remember rationing?  As a country we were broke, so money had to be saved by our not importing vast quantities of food; farmers were slowly returning to growing wheat and buying cattle and above all we had to look after large swathes of Europe who were in worse state than the victors.  The weekly meat ration was for 1/9d-worth, just a couple of chops (we have just eaten at lunch a whole week’s ration); butter was half-a-pound, margarine the same.  Tea was limited to 2oz a week and there was little or no coffee as an alternative.  Bread which had remained un-rationed throughout the war was put on ration because we could not afford to buy flour from the USA.  Yet we survived and indeed were healthier than we are now; no fat people be cause nobody could overeat like they do now.

What was the good news?  The introduction of the NHS was probably the best for some three-quarters of the population, together with penicillin becoming the lifeline for those who were ill.  No more huge bills from doctors earning a vast salary of £1200 per year; hospitals free, even including surgery.

Petrol went on being rationed for some six years after the war, but who cared? There were but a handful of cars on the road and I can recall perhaps forty cyclists including myself waiting for the lights to change on Purley Way with but half a dozen cars, all these pre-war since all new production went for export.

Coal, too was rationed and a miners’ strike in 1947 following the coldest winter for years meant little warmth at home.

These are just some headlines, so, fellow Probeans, tell us you memories, please.

Dabbling around with ducks

By Roger Brunton

When our speaker last July, Peter Jones happened to mention in passing the problem of swans swallowing fishermen’s lead weights, I was immediately taken back some twenty-seven years to the time I joined the Civil Service and was sent off to investigate a similar problem.  For centuries sportsmen have been blasting lead shot in the general direction of duck and geese.  Unfortunately ducks require a certain amount of grit in their crops to help digest their food and happily grub up shot pellets instead; having avoided the marksman they die of lead poisoning.

I went off to talk to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Game Conservancy and similar organisations and confirmed that indeed there was a problem, then on to the gunsmiths and ammunition suppliers to see what could be done.  Although cartridges could be prepared giving the right range and scatter, all the substitute shot available at that time was significantly harder than lead and would scratch the gun barrel; not a good thing for a Purdy or other top shotgun which had taken months to hand-build and cost many thousands! Well, they say there’s one law for the rich…  There must be a way round it, so I duly wrote my report and handed it in with a suspicion that it might, as they say “lie in the long grass”.

With my interest renewed I decided to try to find out if anything had happened.   I was quite right that progress had not been very swift, but in 2002 the Lead Shot Regulations were brought into force in England and these ban the use of lead shot over all foreshores, specific SSSIs and for the shooting of all ducks, geese, coots and moorhens wherever this occurs.  Sadly, I don’t seem to be able to claim any credit for them, they seem to be a consequence of the UK having signed up to the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement in November 1999. They don’t seem to have been terribly effective, since in 2002 two-thirds of the duck examined contained lead shot and the proportion was still very much the same in 2010.

The Editor should note that the Lead Shot Regulations are delegated legislation and did not come into force in Northern Ireland until seven years later in September 2009.  This means that the Northern Irish are a) heartless bastards who care nothing about the welfare of ducks, or b) have better things to do with their legislative time.

[The Author should note that the Editor was born, educated (well) and brought up in Northern Ireland, but being a decent chap at heart, will ignore the cynicism in the last paragraph.]

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