Tuesday, 30 September 2008

What do you remember about your holidays as a child?

When I was very small we went to Ireland and the Scottish Highlands on holiday. I don’t remember anything of either holiday, apart from when we went to Scotland we stayed in a big house near Drumnadrochit and the tablecloth on the big kitchen table was the same pattern as my swimming costume. Oh, I also remember that my mum and I shared a massive (well it felt massive!) brass bed and went to sleep holding hands! Come to think of it, that should have been in my earliest memories!

Once we got to Malawi, holidays became a little more interesting and exotic. When I was about 4, my two stepbrothers (RB & DB) came out for a holiday. We had an old VW Combi – it was so cool – wish we had kept it! We went on holiday through Zambia and Zimbabwe, in the days when it was still pretty safe to do so, providing you had fags with which to bribe border guards – always worked, it was a failsafe plan!
Anyway, the main thing I vaguely remember was being ill. My mum knew I wasn’t well – I was being sick etc, so after one particularly bad spell, she took me out of the car in order to clean up, put me on the side of the road and I just crumpled to the floor. I was so dehydrated that if she pinched my skin, it stayed pinched. The found a hospital eventually – the Wankie Colliery Hospital, run by nuns. Turns out I had a bad case of dysentery, and no one knew why, because we had brought all our drinking water with us, and hadn’t touched any other water on the way. Anyway, apparently the nurses upset me as they gave me a suppository! They did spoil me though, because I was the first child who had ever stayed in the hospital, and once I was better they would take me out and buy me ice cream! I was extremely upset though, because while I was in there, the others saw giraffe and a cheetah. To this day I have never seen a cheetah – in the wild or otherwise. By the time we got home to Malawi, I had Bilharzia, so all in all, it wasn’t a great holiday for me! The others enjoyed it though!

We had several trips up to the lake, and they were always great holidays, but the next big one was in 1983 when my dad’s contract ended and we went on leave before the new one started. We had a very imaginative travel agent, so when we were given the allowance for the trip, she could stretch it to include several places. So, we started off going to Johannesburg where some friends of ours lived – I had been friends with their daughter in Reception and Standard 1. They actually lived in Rustenburg, roughly 100km NW of Jo’burg. We went to this cool swimming pool place – I think it was called the Kloof or something…anyway, they had three pools there. One was COLD, one was warmish and the other one was HOT! It was brilliant!

After South Africa, we flew to Rio De Janeiro. We went up on the funicular railway to Corcovado (the massive statue of Christ), so I have actually stood right next to it! We also got a cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and went to an emerald and diamond merchants. Not sure why, as my parents choice was a beautiful emerald necklace, or buying a house in UK! They did buy my BMX there though.

From there, we went to Florida, and went to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Now that was the most thrilling experience of my little life – I was only six at the time! I was terrified of the characters walking about, but I did talk to Mickey Mouse. He asked for my address, I gave it to him, and the bastard rodent never bloody wrote to me! I was heartbroken! We were there just before Christmas, and the Christmas tree they had there was incredible – it must have been at least 20m tall – just stunning! We also went to the Epcot Center, which was still very new, and to Cape Canaveral to see the rockets at the Kennedy Space Center.

From there we went to Washington, drove down to Annapolis and saw the Chesapeake Bay and the bridge, and also went to George Washington’s house at Mount Vernon in Virginia. I don’t remember much about that though – I mean it couldn’t compare to the wonder of Disney World!

From there, we went back to UK for Christmas. Just after that, we went up north to see the friends in Scotland, and that was when my mum and dad bought our house.

We went back to Malawi for another three years, and during that time we went to the lake some more, went to South Africa again a couple of times (including one trip to Sun City) but nothing was like that wonderful and amazing holiday we had when I was six.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Tell me about your best friends as a young child.

I had two best friends when I was at primary school in Malawi, besides my cousins. They were RP and LC. We all lived pretty much next door to each other, and our parents were also good friends.

LC lived diagonally to the right of us, and the easiest way to get to their house was over the fence in the bottom corner of the garden. My parents eventually got a step ladder made especially for both sides of the fence, as it was much easier to climb over a ladder than a fence when they’d had a few! I used to sit on our veranda practicing my recorder, and I would hear LC practicing as well!

RP lived at the other bottom corner of the garden. You had to walk behind the servants’ quarters (I’ll explain that another time!), and go through a gate into her garden.

In fact, we were all such good friends that when we left RP’s parents took our Irish setter, and LC’s parents took our two German Shepherds.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

What were your favourite childhood toys?

I loved my Barbies and Sindys – yes, I am officially sad! I wasn’t a particularly girly girl – I hated wearing dresses with a passion! My aunt and uncle lived just a few miles from us, so I was brought up with my two boy cousins (G and S) almost as brothers and sister. In fact, our parents shared a nanny. This was in Malawi. I had lots of Barbies and Sindys, and my cousins had Action Men. Obviously Sindy and Action Man were husband and wife!

I don’t remember other toys really. I loved Play Mobil, but can’t remember specific toys.

There was a wooded bit in our garden and it was *my* forest! I loved it in there, and the boys and I would play for hours in there. I also had a bike – a BMX that we had bought in Brazil on leave as it was dirt cheap there. I used to ride up and down the driveway all the time. I thought the drive was really long; it was probably only half a kilometre there and back! I also had a swing in the garden, and spent hours on it.

When we got back to Scotland, my mum and dad bought me a Sindy house, and I had a Sindy Range Rover and a couple of horses for them too! It was fab! Unfortunately I grew out of them pretty quickly then.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

What do you remember about the places you lived when you were a child?

When I was born we lived in Portsmouth, Hampshire. I don’t remember much about it from then, as I was only 3½ when we left.

After my parents got married we moved to Malawi in Central Africa. I don’t remember the move at all. It must have been some shock to a small child, particularly the climate, but I don’t have a clue!

I started school at four in the Reception class, and about the first thing I learnt was a poem called “Little Arabella Miller”.
Little Arabella Miller
Saw a hairy caterpillar
First it crawled upon her mother
Then upon her baby brother
“Ach” said Arabella Miller
“Take away that caterpillar”.

Apparently I came home from school that day and recited the poem in a beautiful South African accent! It didn’t stick though – my accent now is sort of English with a gentle Scottish burr I would say.

Anyway, Malawi was fabulous – the bits I remember anyway! We had friends down on the tea estates, we would go to rock pools at Mulanje (the highest mountain in the country), we went to a swimming pool down where they grew sugar cane – I loved raw sugar cane, and have never had it since. We went to the Lake pretty often too. Lake Malawi is (or was) one of the most unspoilt paradises on earth – a freshwater lake 365 miles long and 52 miles wide. We used to stay at a cottage owned by the tea estate where our friends lived and worked. The beach was golden and it truly was a paradise. We just had to watch out for hippos and crocs; although they didn’t come near the beach during the day, you could hear the hippos on the lawn late at night. I learnt to play darts as a small child at the lake! Also, sometimes when my mum picked me up from school we would go to the club for lunch. We would sit by the pool with our salads or whatever, and as my dad’s office looked out on to the club swimming pool, she would wolf whistle, and he would come down and join us.

School was pretty good too, most of the time. It started at 07.20 and finished at 12.00. As this was normal, I obviously didn’t complain! It wasn’t too far from our house, and occasionally, like when there were petrol shortages, I used to walk to school with my dad and he would carry on to work.

There were a lot of shortages. Petrol shortages were a common occurrence, and you could queue up for hours. Another time we had a toilet roll shortage – god knows what caused that one! Misunderstandings were quite common too, with amusing results! One year at Christmas time, the local supermarket thought it had done a fabulous job with its decorations – Christmas tree, chains across the ceiling etc. The problem was that the chains, rather than being normal paper chains, were made out of sanitary towels, as were the baubles on the tree!

On Christmas day, every year, we had local dancers on the front lawn. I presume they went to every house hoping for some food or something – I didn’t pay much attention to the details only being small, but it was amazing to see them doing their tribal dance.

We eventually left due to a variety of circumstances, two being my dad’s contract ending, and the fact that we had been burgled four times in four months, the last time resulting in the dogs being drugged with sleeping pills. It was becoming a place where it was no longer very safe to live. I’m glad we left when we did, as I think it would have become harder and harder, and all the things that we loved about the country were slowly disappearing.

From there we moved to Scotland when I was nine. We had been home on leave in 1983 and visited friends in Scotland. My mum and dad fell in love with the place, and bought a house there. We rented it out while my dad finished his final contract, and finally moved back in 1986. I went to several different schools there – which no doubt will be expanded on later.

I loved Scotland. I spent most of my life there. It’s hard to explain, except that it is part of my soul. A Celt anyway (the family originally comes from Devon, Ireland and Somerset - according to the research I have done), it appealed to me in a way that nowhere else ever has. Where we lived was very pretty, rolling hills, very very green land, lots of sheep and cows, and beautiful lochs. But if you drove just half an hour up the road towards Edinburgh the scenery became majestic and awe inspiring. Add to that, the pure, clean air and total lack of pollution in the country areas, and some of the most beautiful cities in the British Isles – it’s no wonder it is one of the most beautiful and loved countries in the world.

And now France. But that’s for another post.

Friday, 26 September 2008

What interesting information do you know about other people in our family?

The only really interesting snippet I know is that my dad’s grandfather emigrated to Australia in the 19th century, allegedly intending on sending for his family, but he never did. I’m not sure how long he was there before he died, but it was a good few years I think. Anyway, there is a large area of Perth that is called Beldon, which is quite cool I think!

Ooh, I’ve just thought of two more.

Both my dad and my uncle have been jailbirds in Africa!

My uncle was driving with his mate, from Nairobi back to Britain; a journey which I am sure was fraught with difficulties. I must get him to tell me all about it one day. Anyway, they were driving in the Central African Republic and got caught in a convoy, which turned out to be a Presidential convoy. He was stopped, and a policeman asked him if he was a spy. “Of course I am” he replied sarcastically. Never use sarcasm to an African policeman – it doesn’t work. Into the slammer he went, and paid his way out of it with cheap fags!

My dad’s jail spell happened before he and my mum got married. The Queen was visiting Malawi, and the President was driving through the town. All shops, offices – basically every person in every building – had to turn out to see the drive by. He was standing by the side of a road when a policeman asked him to move.
He said “I’ll stand where I want to wave to my Queen.”
The policeman asked him “What about our President?”
My dad replied “Oh, I’ll wave to him too…if he’s there!”

Again, into the slammer! It was only a police cell, and they let him go. Lucky for him – in those days you could get deported for less than that.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

What do you think your parents thought of you as a child?

This is a really hard question. I have no idea what my parents thought of me as a child. I know they loved me. They thought I was cute and bright and funny and clever – all the things that parents usually think about their children.

I know they worried about me, especially when I became a teenager and started to become rebellious! But, compared to many other kids, I gave them very little trouble.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Tell Me About Your Mum and Dad.

Now this is a difficult one!

My biological father I know almost nothing about, apart from the fact that he came from Somerset and worked in an off licence at one point. The Somerset bit obviously explains my slight tendency towards madness!

My real dad, my proper one – the one I grew up with – I know a lot about, obviously! He had known my mum long before I was born, and in fact happened to be in the UK when I was born, so was one of the first people to see me. He was on leave from Malawi, and as they were old family friends he popped into the hospital to se my mum. In fact, years before in Malawi, he had gone out with my mother’s sister! Luckily for us it didn’t work out! He came back on leave three years later, met up with my mum again, they fell in love (at least I assume they did!!) and got married on Hogmanay that year, and we all left the UK two days later. I apparently made Grandma cry buckets because I said I’d see her tomorrow! I was only three and a half!

Anyway, my dad is a pretty chilled sort of person, most of the time. He’s 70 now, 13yrs older than my mum, but he looks much younger than his years. He was married before, and got divorced about 5 or so years before he and my mum got together. He has two sons from that marriage Richard and David – 10 and 13 years older than me. I don’t know them that well because I didn’t grow up with them, and we have never spent a lot of time together.

My mum is pretty laid back as well. Most of the time we get on brilliantly. She is a good laugh, we get on well, she helps me out with Isla all the time, and most of the time we are good friends as well as mother and daughter. We have our blow ups, but they are usually over pretty quickly.

And both my mum and my dad adore Isla so much it is unbelievable.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

What are your earliest memories?

My very earliest memory is of sitting on a stool in the kitchen eating my breakfast. It was some kind of cereal, and I remember my mum saying “Hurry up and drink the milk out of the bowl before Grandma comes down”! My Grandma was always pernickety about little things, and my mum was a lot more relaxed than her.

Another early memory I have is probably from when I was about 3. G (my cousin) was pulling my hair and screaming that he wanted to play with my Fisher Price “Par Cark”.

I don’t remember much else from my very early years – my long term memory has never been brilliant, and for some odd reason these two memories stand out.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Tell me about the time and place you were born.

I was born in St Mary’s hospital in Portsmouth, Hampshire. The day I was born was the day of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. My mum apparently received lots of free baby food and goodies.

Portsmouth is a big naval city on the south coast of England, and although it’s not my favourite place in the world – it really is one of the ugliest cities – containing the world’s ugliest building “The Tricorn” – I love it anyway! The Tricorn has now been knocked down – I think it’s a shame – it should have stood as a testament to how not to design buildings!
My mum was a single mother. From what I can gather, she had a brief relationship with my biological father. She even went as far as going down to Somerset to meet his parents. They were engaged because of the baby. While she was there she thought she was having a miscarriage – she was five months pregnant. She was rushed into hospital in Taunton, where the doctor there told her not to worry – she was young and had lots of time to have “plenty more babies”. Luckily for me, it turned out that she had a bad kidney infection, and I stayed put until about a week past her due date. Her due date was 26th May and I was born on 2nd June. When I had Isla my due date was 26th May, and she was born on 2nd June too. Isla’s father, Colin, was due to be born on 2nd June, but was in fact born on 18th May – 2nd June is obviously a pretty auspicious date.

Not long after this suspected miscarriage my father did a bunk. I never have quite found out why. I know he had a daughter from a previous relationship, so somewhere I have at least one half sibling.

My mum had a hard time telling her parents that she was pregnant – this was 1976 when she got pregnant remember, and being a single mother was still frowned upon. Her mother took it quite hard at first, wondering what she had done to deserve this. Why is it that the older generation always think everything reflects back on them? My grandfather was a tower of strength, and very quickly, so was my grandmother. In fact, as it turned out, I was a godsend for her. My grandfather died from a stroke two months before I was born, so as soon as I was born my mum had to go out and work to feed all three of us, as my grandmother didn’t work. She became my daytime carer, and my mum took over when she got home. I think the responsibility saved my grandmother from sinking into depression.

I was born after a fairly long labour (I think) during which my mother discovered that the gas mask she had been handed was, in fact, not connected to anything at all! She threw it across the room! My grandmother did not want her to “let herself down” by screaming and shouting during labour. I think she did anyway!

2nd June 1977
N°1 Single - I Don’t Want To Talk About It/First Cut Is The Deepest – Rod Stewart
N°1 Album – Arrival – ABBA

Sunday, 21 September 2008


For my dad’s birthday, from his eldest son R (my stepbrother), he received a book called “Dear Dad – From You to Me”. The book is full of headings such as “tell me about the first time you met my mother”, or “what were your favourite childhood toys?” The idea is that my dad has to fill in the book with all his memories, and send it back to R.

I decided to take the headings in the book, relate them to myself, and write my history to give to Isla.

So, here goes.