MY LIFE AND TIMES – Alistair Martin
I have been overwhelmed by the fantastic response to Alistair’s story which we started last week. Now the story continues with his emigration to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. We will end this week’s instalment just before Alistair and I met in 1974.
MY LIFE AND TIMES
Alistair Martin – Part 2
We (my father, mother, sister and I) sailed to South Africa in June 1957 on the Union Castle Line ship “Winchester Castle”. It was a 14-day voyage from Southampton to Cape Town. (Here begins my first asperge). In those days “everyone” travelled by sea. Air travel was still in its relative infancy and due to costs, available only to the rich. This was because an aircraft with the modern capacity to seat 100 passengers would only have about 30 seats. Mind you, it would also have 30 beds, large galley, bar and (probably) a piano!
The sea voyage was (from memory – I was 9 years old) boring. I can remember one night of “fancy dress”, with me appearing as “bath night” in my dressing gown and holding a sponge, I cannot remember any other entertainment. Except …. “Crossing the Line
The swimming pool had been “opened” a few days after leaving European waters. The top of a hold was removed and a 2 metre deep canvas “bucket” of the same dimensions placed there and filled with seawater. A pole was placed over the water and people would sit on this, facing each other and try to knock each other off using a pillow! When the Equator was crossed Neptune “rose from the deeps”! I thought it was a sailor in make-up who had appeared round the corner of the superstructure, but I may have been wrong! The end result was we children were “shaved” with ice cream and then given it to eat.
It was only in the jet age when major airlines disposed of propeller aircraft very cheaply for charter airlines to come into being. Leisurewear (for men) only appeared in the 60’s. Look at any old photo taken on the beach in the late 50’s. Children and youngsters in swimwear, mother in a floral print frock, but father! He would be in long flannel trousers, rolled up to his shins, and a shirt with a collar! He had a tie he would be (almost) dressed for “the office”! The first “package” holidays were at Butlin’s. After WWII Billy Butlin bought/leased ex-military bases, gave the barracks a coat of paint and called them chalets. He was probably the first post-war entrepreneur! Other holidays were caravans, also bed and breakfast. As few people had their own cars, public transport, British Rail and coach companies ran “holiday specials” to and from holiday resorts. Sorry, I didn’t mean to asperge.
In Rhodesia I got the nickname “Scruffy”. I would start the day freshly scrubbed, neat and tidy. I would then end the day (even at the end of the dry season) covered in mud, cuts and scratches and with torn clothing.
My education started at Alfred Beit for the few months that we lived in Mabelreign, then Marlborough Junior School, and finally Ellis Robins senior school. At Ellis Robins I was a member of the chess club and from 3rd form to 6th form a member of the debating society. I freely admit that my reason for joining the debating society was not to debate whether something was right or wrong. It was that this was the only school activity that included GIRLS SCHOOLS! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah memories. (All senior schools were single sex).
Sports – I was into swimming (Inter-schools standard) tennis and rugby. During my last 2 years at Ellis Robins I was captain of the 3rd rugby team. I was 2nd reserve for the 1st team and 1st reserve for the 2nd team. The 1st and 2nd teams were very serious about their games – “honour of the school” and all that sh**. While we in the 3rd team went out for 90 minutes of fun, win or lose, and (hopefully) get a beer or two on the way home from a friendly landlord! Being in rugby kit and on bikes it was not easy to claim we were over 18 years old! I was the only 6th former who was not made a prefect – something to do with my having insufficient regard for school rules and authority – according to friends who were prefects. By the way, they were not brave (or foolish) enough to try to discipline me.
The employment situation in Rhodesia. I am not going to defend the situation. Indeed (later in my life while working in the Child Support Agency) I overheard a work colleague say “I cannot defend the indefensible”. I was a “white” in a white run country.
To explain the situation in “colonial” Africa, there were approximately 70,000 whites and 7,000,000 blacks in Rhodesia. The blacks were regarded with scorn by the whites, as they “had not even invented the wheel”. They did not need to, they were “hunters and gatherers” still living in the Iron Age. They lived in a veritable Garden of Eden. They grew crops, (the woman’s work) kept a few cattle and goats (herding was the children’s work), if they wanted meat the men would pick up their spears and hunt. When the crops failed due to the soil being leached, they would move a kilometre or so away and start again.
When the whites came, they took the best farming lands (or areas rich in mineral resources) and created “reserves” for the blacks. Blacks – with the exception of house and/or garden “boys” were not allowed to live in “white” areas. The “boys” were not allowed to have their wives living with them.
There were no schools for the blacks, except a few mission schools where only the basic “3 Rs were taught. As a result, no blacks worked in offices. White electricians, plumbers, builders etc had black “boys” (men) who did the actual work, the white boss merely supervised. If I wanted to work (in almost any job) my employment was “guaranteed”. When I left school I had insufficient qualifications to go to university. . Anyway I could not afford to go to university. There were no such things as grants, student loans etc. All fees, the cost of books, “digs” etc had to be paid “up front.” A slight digression, but when I was a trainee surveyor (later in life) one of my lecturers (university graduate) said that he had to wait until his mid forties before he became (in real terms) better off than a friend of his who left school and immediately started work. He based his theory not only on the cost of fees, etc as mentioned above, but also on the 3 years “lost” income while his friend had progressed up the promotion/seniority/salary scale at his place of work and had gained “practical” experience.
To continue the employment situation in Rhodesia (and probably all “colonial” Africa), there was no legal reason why a black could not rise to the rank of commissioner in the police. However, to get promoted to Inspector (the first commissioned rank) one had to be live in Morris Depot during the training course. This was designated a “whites only” area, so no black could attend the course.
To continue, both blacks and whites joined the police as constables. The only differentiation was there were African constables (a/c’s) and European constables (e/c’s). The e/c’s were on a substantially higher pay scale than the a/c’s. In the mid sixties the a/c “union” complained about the pay difference. After a while the police board agreed that this was indeed unfair.
A document was issued on the lines of: (paragraph one) – With effect from (say) 1st April all constables will, irrespective of race, colour or creed, be on the same pay scale. This excited the a/c’s as the e/c’s would hardly accept a substantial pay cut!
I joined the BSAP (it paid £395 a year – more than a pound a day- before tax!). This was on “old” currency, £1 was 20 shillings, 1 shilling was 12 pence – £sd (not the mind expanding/blowing drug that was to appear in the 60’s). To put things into perspective, beer was 10d in a public bar, or one shilling in a saloon bar. I spent 6 months in Morris Depot in Salisbury (learning law, court procedures, rifle range, stables/horse riding, spit and polish, how to get into trouble etc)
During stable/horse riding we were obliged to put together a stripped down harness and bridle blindfolded in under 3 minutes. You have no idea of the numbers of the royal family, their friends and relations and indeed the whole of the “horsy” set who would come up to me in the dark to ask if I could put together their bridles and harnesses!
I then spent 6 weeks at Bulawayo driving school. (Land Rovers,- off road driving, cars – skid pans motorbikes ,on and off road riding, how to get into trouble etc). I then became a “bush pig”, mainly in Mount Darwin, but later Bindura. I contracted malaria in Mount Darwin, the symptoms became apparent while a friend and I were hitchhiking to Salisbury for a rare weekend off.” “Quinine cures malaria” said my friend so I spent the weekend drinking gin and Schweppes quinine tonics! While returning to Mount Darwin on Sunday evening I collapsed near Mazoe police station. (Can one overdose on quinine? Yes I am sure that one can!) The Mazoe police rushed me to Bindura hospital, where I spent 2 weeks
After leaving the police I joined the Ministry of Roads as a trainee surveyor. This meant a lot of messing about with levels, theodolites, measuring tapes, working out the squares of hypotenuses etc. I was stationed very near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) as the Shabani strip road was being upgraded to being a 22 foot wide tarmac road. I had a very nasty boss who kept picking on me. Eventually we got into a fight. I won the fight but lost my job.
Then I joined Air Rhodesia. I spent a few months in Salisbury in the cargo sheds, then I was transferred to Victoria Falls. About 6 months later a vacancy arose for a cargo officer at Bulawayo. I applied and was successful. After a short while I was promoted to being a traffic officer on the passenger and aircraft handling side. I was soon promoted to duty traffic officer, or shift leader.
Next time the story will continue with his meeting Kathy, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia and their life leading up to their move to North Cyprus in May 2006.