My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full
A Life Lived to the Full
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Part 9 – Pages 81 – 88 – Part 3
The following morning we began the long haul back to the UK. We stopped at Bangkok, all very crowded and noisy and then in Karachi, where I wanted to buy a beer. It would have cost me twelve shillings. I declined and had a Coke which cost two shillings. That seemed a better buy.
Margaret was not having a happy flight and as we went along she found it increasingly tiresome. After Karachi it was truly a long time before we reached Europe and a longer time to reach any part of Europe we knew. Maggie became more and more panicky, insisting that the pilot be instructed to put the aircraft down in Switzerland. He didn’t.
Eventually we arrived in England; I cannot remember which airport we arrived at. I guess it must have been Heathrow. I know we flew back from Gatwick which had not long been operating. We found a hotel, near Brighton and stayed for one night while we sorted ourselves out. For the first time we viewed, goggle eyed, colour television, which at that time had not yet reached Australia.
We hired a car, a Simca. Why I don’t know. Whatever happened to Simca? Eventually we arrived at Siobhan’s place in Kent. Sarah, their firstborn was a couple of years older than Jenny and Paul a year or so younger than his sister.
We stayed there for about a week, getting accustomed to life in England. During this time we drove around a lot paying visits to Canterbury Cathedral, Dover, and Margate and with a full day out in London.
I had never been to the Cathedral before and found it amazing. The sheer majesty of the building was almost overwhelming. It was here in 1170 that four Knights, believing they were following the wishes of King Henry II had murdered Thomas Becket on the altar of the great church.
The ‘day out’ in London was memorable, mainly because it rained all day. Despite that we travelled to all the usual tourist spots, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street.
During my early weeks in England I received a phone call from the RAF’s Provost Marshal congratulating me on being promoted to Flight Lieutenant, which was a really nice gesture. How he traced me to where I was staying, I have no idea.
In the early part of May we flew to Northern Ireland on a BEA Trident, an aircraft which to my biased eyes made the Dakota a machine of the utmost comfort.
Within a few days we had borrowed Dad’s Vauxhall Viva and went out on the roads of Ulster. The Vauxhall was a bundle of trouble, mostly with clutch problems. However, as we spent just on three weeks in Ireland, we had to settle for what we got. Beggars cannot be choosers.
We stayed just on three weeks in Ireland, mostly getting to know my parents again. It was now fourteen years since I had lived there and England was more familiar to me these days, and yet that was not where I/we, lived.
It was like an extended holiday and we allowed Mum and Dad to look after Rory and Jenny on many more occasions, perhaps than we should have. Although looking at the old photo albums, there were many occasions when we took them along. This included an early trip along the Antrim Coast Road and also to Carrickfergus and the huge castle. Jenny looked pretty cool in her yellow suit.
I tried to explain to Rory that this was where William Third, aka King Billy, had landed to begin his conquest of Ireland. I am not sure he paid much attention to my words of wisdom.
We spent time in Newcastle, County Down, where the folks had a caravan which allowed everyone to spend time in the Mourne. The Mountains of Mourne are rightly praised for their beauty and their peaceful atmosphere. The latter was just then coming under strain because of the activities of the IRA and their Nationalist supporters. We also paid a visit to the folks, my grandparents, in Lisburn.
We visited Annalong, a village between Newcastle and Kilkeel, where we had spent family holidays just after the War.
On 8th May we were back in Belfast and the Viva was having its clutch problems put right. Maggie, I and the kids took ourselves to Marlborough Park, where, unknown to our children, their father’s cricket career had started. We also paid a visit to the Botanic Gardens where, such as it was, my romantic career had started.
On Saturday 9th May, we travelled to Castle Hill and visited Belle Vue Zoo, which is set in the hills to the north of the city. At the time I noted that it was cold and a bit smelly. Cold it normally was in Belfast but I had never noticed that it smelled before.
We spent a lot of time wandering about in central Belfast and shopping, I can’t remember that we bought anything in particular, but it was a pleasure to relax.
On 13th and 14th May we did what any self respecting tourist to Northern Ireland would be well advised to do we visited the Giant’s Causeway. Despite having been born there, I had never found time or opportunity to visit arguable Ulster’s most famous tourist attraction. It was awe inspiring and overwhelming.
I explained to Rory that the rocks were volcanic in nature and were thousands of years old. There is a similar place on the Scottish coast called Fingal’s Cave. It is said that at one time the two ends were part of a road between Ireland and Scotland.
On our way home from the Giants Causeway, we stopped off at Dunluce Castle, a ruin perched up high on a cliff overlooking the sea and giving every appearance of tumbling into the Irish Sea. We had to keep a very close eye on the kids.
In between our trips to Newcastle, the Mourne mountains’ and the Antrim Coast road, we stayed at 118 Donnybrook Street, where also lived Alroy, my brother, who had grown quite tall, broad and hairy. The first time Rory saw Alroy he called out, in some fright “It’s Jesus Christ.” It was an easy mistake to make.
How they fitted everyone in, I have no idea.
I do remember thinking at the time and in the circumstances I then found myself, whether I would ever see my parents again.
At the end of three weeks in Ireland we once again took the BEA Trident to fly to England where some friends put us up. Jim by this time was serving as Detective Sergeant at Bethnal Green. He had no real view as to where he might be if he had followed his original idea of migrating with the Matiers.
The Bobbets lived in Woodford, a very pleasant suburban East London suburb. Their family had increased to three and to, me, they had an enviable lifestyle.
We did the usual things; days out in London with visits to many museums. We spent an afternoon in Hackney and while in Mare Street visited the Quality Fish Bar. Just round the back of the Hackney theatre, we came across a disused house with a splendid knocker which Margaret much admired.
Jim, who may have had a drop or two, immediately started to unscrew the knocker with a penknife. Horrified, I stopped him. In this way I stopped Jim Bobbet from reaching the rank he ultimately achieved in the Met, of Commander.
While staying at Jim’s we had a day out at 3 District Sports Ground at Chigwell. I met several people whom I knew and one who thought he did. This was Detective Inspector Tony Goodall.
“”Hi Paddy,” was the initial greeting.
“I call myself Brian these days “I countered.
“Are you still at Hackney?”
“No, I am serving at Butterworth.”
“Oh, that’s on R division.”
“No, it’s in Malaysia.”
“Gosh, I didn’t know we had blokes out there.”
“We don’t, Tony. Perhaps I’d better explain. I am no longer in the Met.”
Even after I had explained, I am not sure that Tony understood any better. He wandered away muttering to himself.
Jim and Sally proved to be fine hosts, as all our friends on our holiday to Britain proved to be. After Chigwell they took us, along with their baby girl, a third daughter, to Dunstable Downs where we had a picnic, and then to Whipsnade Zoo which we had never visited before.
The kids had a lot to say to the animals and I am sure they were entertained by what the animals said in return.
After leaving Jim’s we spent some time with Madge, a friend of Margaret from our Leyton days. After that we began a round Britain drive which took us through England, Wales and Scotland and through to our final days in the UK.
We drove south and west, visiting Salisbury and the magnificent Cathedral, before ending up at the prehistoric stone circle, Stonehenge. In those days it was possible to wander amongst the stones and touch them. Eventually it became necessary to cordon off the entire site and keep the visitors away. That was a great shame.
We ended up in Devon and played with the stones on the beach in Paignton. There is a photo in the album of a Mr and Mrs Smith. They are not related, so I assume we must have taken advantage of their B and B somewhere.
We crossed Dartmoor and ended up in Plymouth. These were all part of Britain where I had never been before and it was fascinating. On Plymouth Hoe we overlooked what Drake must have seen as he gazed out over the English Channel looking for a sight of the Armada. No I didn’t see it either.
We visited Polpero on the north coast of Cornwall before drifting into King Arthur’s country around Boscastle and Tintagel. We delighted In Polpero with its narrow streets and quaint harbour. With the streets being so much on the tight side, I wondered where the hell everyone parked.
We were hugely impressed by Tintagel with the ruins of the castle clinging precariously to the edge of the cliff. I kept a very close eye on my fearless two year old, almost. I took a photograph of Tintagel Post Office, built in 1660. When I paid a return visit to Tintagel in 2017, the old Post Office was still there, but as a museum and no longer a post office.
We were also pretty well enchanted by Boscastle. I think I fell in love with Cornwall on this trip as on future trips that feeling was reinforced. I was there in 2007 and 2017 and remember thinking that this was what all of England must have been like at one time.
The weather was generally beautiful and we got a fair share of the sun as we clambered about. We did not have too much longer of our holiday left and I was beginning to wonder how things were going back at Butterworth.
We began the process of driving out of the West Country, via North Samoset and the Bristol Channel and into South Wales where we introduced Rory to the Welsh language. He did not take to it with any enthusiasm, no more than he did seven years later. We drove up through the beautiful Brecon Beacons into the Midlands and we stopped in Stoke on Trent. We stopped to visit a lady called Milly, whom I didn’t know and cannot remember. I guess she was a friend of Margaret.
We found ourselves on the M6 near Kendal when we struck a problem, potentially a serious problem. Fortunately the traffic on the M6 near Kendal had slowed to a crawl, because of road works. As we crept along I felt some with the front nearside wheel. I couldn’t see the wheel, of course, on the Morris 1300 until suddenly, as we were almost stationary; I saw the front nearside wheel sliding on in front of the car.
A great panic ensued and I remember thinking thank God we were not travelling fast. We parked at the side of the road and contacted the hire company near London and they were pretty good. Within a couple of hours they had arranged a replacement car and we were on our way again to Scotland.
The rest of the journey to Glasgow was without incident and we arrived at Tim and Anne Martin’s flat in the Gorbals. I had served with Tim in the Victoria Police. We spent a couple of days with the Martins and they showed us much to see in Glasgow and we visited Stirling and the Castle. Glasgow has, obviously, many fine areas but overall, we were unimpressed. Stirling Castle was a very fine historic building.
We drove through the Great Glen and Glencoe and on past Loch Lomond.
And then we were again on our way, firstly Pitlochry and we watched the salmon tackle the famous ‘salmon leap’. It was in the Pitlochry area that we had our first day of rain in our entire trip. We were lucky. It was quite beautiful in and around Pitlochry.
And then we arrived in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a fine city in comparison with Glasgow. The living Castle on the hill provides much of its charm. We spent some time wandering around in and about the Castle. We also wandered down the hill along Princes Street. We viewed the great gun, called Mons Meg, which impressed Rory.
We then drove south into the Scottish Borders and then Northumberland. We stayed overnight at a town called Corbridge and we spent half a day visiting the Roman remains.
And then we arrived at RAF Cottesmore in Rutlandshire, England’s smallest county. My old mate Aodhan was serving with a Vulcan squadron. We stayed for a couple of days and got an idea of what life on an RAF station is like. Aodhan and Anne had three children and seemed happy. It was a tragedy when Anne died four years later in Cyprus when they had a fourth child.
During our time at Cottesmore something happened which probably did my career little good. Aodhan and I had sloped off to the Mess and while we were away, Margaet answered the phone in Aodhan’s married quarter. A very polished accent asked to speak to me.
Margaret’s reply was along the lines of “Brian, stop messing about and get your arse back here for your dinner.” She was mortified when she heard the front door open and Aodhan and I came in. Very lamely she muttered “Oh, he’s just arrived home”, before thrusting the phone into my confused hands.
It was a call from an Air Commodore Panton from the RAF’s P&SS branch. Margaret did not have a lot to say for the rest of the evening.
We went out for a picnic with the Lenaghans and visited the surrounding countryside before we were once again heading southwards and, very soon, back to Malaysia.
Between Aodhan’s quarter at Cottesmore and Soobhan’s in Kent, we stopped off somewhere at ‘Uncle Frank’s’.’ At this distance of nearly fifty years I can only assume that ‘Uncle Frank’ must have been a relation on Margaret’s side. I didn’t know him.
We were back at my sister’s for a short stay and then we met up with Dan Air on Election Day 197 1970, 18th June.
Had we had a good holiday? Yes. Had I any doubts about the direction in which my life was heading? None. Was I glad to be heading back to Malaysia? Yes.
Pages 81 – 88