British Expats

British Expats (
-   Rest of the World (
-   -   Back in the Day (

Gordon Barlow Nov 13th 2021 5:16 pm

Back in the Day
The New Hebrides (the independent nation of Vanuatu since 1989) was an Anglo-French condominium in the Pacific Ocean – and a Franco-Britannique one called Nouvelles Hebrides, to the French. It had a bizarre constitutional set-up – the result of a strange episode in its history as a European protectorate. Some selective BE members might be interested in the set-up.

By the late 1800s, most of the islands in the Pacific had fallen under the control of the European empires of the day, plus the USA. The native peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia had no weapons to match those of the Western powers, who simply divvied up the territories among themselves.

France claimed New Caledonia, Britain claimed Fiji. Germany wanted the New Hebrides, but neither Britain nor France wanted a German presence in the region; they also didn’t want the Islands themselves. The logical thing to do would have been to split the entire archipelago down the middle; but logic has never featured strongly in Anglo-French intercourse over the centuries. What they did was agree to run the Islands jointly, as a “condominium”. It was referred to by one and all, when we lived there in the 1970s, as a pandemonium.

The imperial headquarters of the British and French expatriates composed two legal Codes, one for each populace in its own language. Expats of other nationalities were obliged to choose which Code they would be bound by. Additionally, there was a Condominium Code, applicable to all residents – British, French, all other foreigners, and all natives.

A fourth collection of rules comprised a Native Code that applied to all natives and all native-white affairs. This was published (as was the Condominium code) in both English and French, by a printer in Montreal. The translations did not always correspond exactly, but that’s life. Or c’est la vie, of course.

Finally, there was a fifth set of laws that the natives had to cope with, and that was their own “Custom Law”, analogous to England’s Common Law. It was unwritten, and little known among expats. It didn’t vary much from village to village – although, with seventy Melanesian and four Polynesian languages spoken in the archipelago (none of them written), there existed some scope for disagreement.

When I had nothing better to do at the office, I waded my way through the Islands’ constitutional laws, Custom Law excluded. I was intrigued by one odd law in the Native Code that prescribed six months in prison for the crime of “aiding and abetting adultery”. The mind boggled. Surely there wasn’t a travelling cheer-squad that attended each adulterous mating, that the European powers were trying to abolish, like suttee in India? One of the BDAs (British District Administrators) explained it to me, amused by my indignation.

Marriage was taken very seriously by the Melanesians, newly converted to Christianity. But, you know, boys will be boys, and the more attractive of the young bachelors did not always resist the temptation to seduce married women, when the opportunity arose.

An unfaithful wife would be beaten by her husband; Custom Law allowed that. Her partner in infidelity might be killed by the husband; Custom Law allowed that, too. But the Native Code forbade murder, and it took precedence over Custom Law. How could the murders be stopped?

The chiefs had come in a delegation to the European administrators. If the white rulers really wanted to be helpful and stop the killings, would they please amend their Native Code and outlaw adultery? Perhaps it could carry a penalty of six months in pokey, to allow tempers to cool. Well, of course they would! No problem! However, by legal definition, the lawyers said, “adultery” could only be committed by a married person. Outlawing adultery would catch an erring wife, but not her unmarried paramour.

“Aiding and abetting adultery” was not the most elegant of terms, but it did the trick.

Gordon Barlow Nov 20th 2021 8:05 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Another “back in the day” report from the New Hebrides in the South Pacific (the stage-play of that name was based there), where my wife and I lived from 1972-75. It (the report) jumps about a bit, but that can’t be helped. It’s how I reminisce. Here we go…

At a party one night, we had chatted to this English couple cordially for a couple of hours, and gotten on like a house on fire. We were a bit taken aback at the response to our invitation to dinner the next Saturday. “Sorry,” the wife said, “but Richard will probably be sick that day.” Wow! How do you handle a brush-off like that?

“Ohhh,” she said. “I’d better explain that.” And she did, and we let it go, and sure enough Richard was sick that weekend. (We checked.) His malaria, contracted in Kenya some years before, where they used to live, was of the recurring kind, which laid him out for three days around the same day every year. They had it on their kitchen calendar. It never happened in England, because the climate was different there – but in New Hebs, the tropical humidity was just like home, for the virus.

The Islands were an embryo offshore tax-haven, back then, and probably still are. When they went independent as the nation of Vanuatu, they confiscated non-residents’ land (including ours), and that’s never a smart move. Anyway, back then…A new client flew in from Australia one day, checked into his hotel, and woke up with a high fever in the morning. The local British doctor was bamboozled. “It looks for all the world like malaria,” he said. “But the fever doesn’t come overnight. And you say you’ve never been up in this area before.” “That’s right,” the visitor said. “I’ve lived in Sydney all my life… except during the War, of course.”

Of course. Thirty years had passed since he had been a soldier in New Guinea, and the malaria-parasite had lain doggo ever since – coming to life as soon as conditions were suitable.

I was lucky with my malaria, when it came. It was the common-or-garden variety that required only a few days of heavy sweating at home in bed – and no repeats. Its worst effect was the weakening of my immune system that enabled Hepatitis ‘A’ to catch hold immediately afterwards. That kept me under for another week or so, but it didn’t recur either.

Neither illness warranted a trip to hospital, that’s the focus of this story. As a joint British-French protectorate, Efate (the main island) had two hospitals - one British and one French. The latter was staffed by French Army doctors, who rarely met a leg they didn’t feel obliged to amputate. The British one had a better reputation, and very few people died in it.

The British one (Paton Memorial Hospital, called “PMH”) was a short boat ride across from the main island, followed by a long and steep stairway up a rocky hill. A ferryman was on call 24/7, at least in theory. One had to phone him at his home, and wait at the dock while he got dressed (if he was in bed) and rode his bike down. His duties then were to help manhandle the patient on board and off at the other end, and help him or her up the exhausting stairs – to the hospital if still breathing or to the mortuary if not. The hospital had an excellent survival ratio, although the path didn’t.

By coincidence, Linda and I were familiar with the initials “PMH” from our three years in Nassau, Bahamas. There, they stood for the Princess Margaret Hospital, named for the Queen’s sister. The time interval for us had been only fifteen months, so Linda’s mistake was forgivable.

She had to phone and reserve a bed for after her appendix operation, which she had delayed until after the Queen’s visit. Royalty was on people’s minds. Somehow her call was answered not by the switchboard but by someone at the nurses’ station, who assumed it was an internal call. So the greeting was casual: just, “Hello?” Linda, thrown a bit by the informality, asked “Is that Princess Margaret?” “Uhhh…” Linda, uncertainly: “Is that Princess Margaret?” Silence. Had the line gone dead? That was common enough. Linda, again, giving it one last shot, “Is this the number for Princess Margaret?” Finally, politely, puzzled and apologetic, a small voice ventured, “She’s not at this number. This is Nurse Bong.”

I must say Linda was treated very respectfully, when the time came. It’s always nice to have friends in high places, isn’t it?

uk_grenada Nov 24th 2021 10:35 am

Re: Back in the Day
In my youth i lived in Iran.

As the child of a british diplomat, i of course went to the british embassy school. This was the best school in the country imho, and definitely the only one that educated in english, so it was the school for all diplomatic children. It was also the school for the shah's kids. School plays and sports days were graced with Shah Rezah Pahlavi and his wife or girlfriend, an ex model, french? and his huge security detail who were under strict instructions not to interrupt the fun.

We used to go to his palaces for parties. I will always remember one where the theme was cowboys and indians. We were all given very professional looking bows and arrows [soft tip, very low powered, but very accurate] or replica revolvers [toy isnt the right word] which we all kept. Anyway, in full battle we rattled round the palace, avoiding various priceless antiques - mostly. However in one living room we were shooed out by a security guy after someone managed to hit a painting. It wasnt a very nice painting, a blue daub of a weird looking woman. The boy who did it complained to one of the shahs kids, who complained to dad who told the guard to not restrict the fun. Im not sure ho much the shah paid picasso to paint his wife, but i thought it wasnt worth it at the time. Today i wonder how much he charged for commissions.

uk_grenada Nov 24th 2021 10:42 am

Re: Back in the Day
One christmas, we did a play, that needed us to make a set inside a british castle. I had a kids plastic knights outfit, and i was asked to donate it to the effort, which i did reluctantly. After the play i proudly told the shah that was my plastic armour on the set, but they had stuck it together so couldnt be used again. He smiled and asked if i would like a persian shield, and i said yes please. He just took one off the wall and handed it to me. A week later his secretary wrote to my dad confirming that the shield was now my property which was legally fortunate, and at which point he looked at it more closely.

Its on loan, in the british museum.

Gordon Barlow Nov 27th 2021 1:46 am

Re: Back in the Day
Gosh, you certainly moved in high circles, Grenada! Something to remember, that's for sure.

My time in Iran (all ten days of it, in 1964, with Linda) was at a completely different level! The closest we got to royalty was the ruins of King Darius's palace at Persepolis. We hitched down from Qum, and wandered around the site quite unsupervised. I had always wanted to go there, because I had been impressed at school with Shelley's poem "Ozymandias". I found out later it - the poem - referred to a ruined statue in Egypt, but never mind! The place lived up to my expectations anyway.

After taking our few pennies’ entrance money, the ticket-seller disappeared, trusting us not to steal any of the ancient stones. (Wikipedia has a photo of what they look like now, but back then it hadn't been tarted up for tourists at all.) We inspected the site at leisure, but once the snow began to fall, we disappeared too, jumping on the first truck headed south - to Shiraz, where we spent the coldest night of our lives. The next day, we walked to the western edge of town and flagged down a bus to the nearest port (Abadan) to find a ferry to Kuwait.

There were no ferries, for some reason, so we haggled for a passage on a boat carrying cattle. They spoke Arabic in that part of Iran, which was some relief. Not that either of us spoke Arabic, but at least I had a dictionary with 800 words of it. Our departure was quite a contrast to our arrival in the country. At the Turkish border we had fallen in with a convoy of returning expats in almost-new Mercedes Benzes they had driven down from Germany for resale. Two days in, one of the drivers nearly drove off a cliff, so he was fired in favour of the team’s new emergency backup. We two drove into Tehran in as grand a style as a couple of young travel bums ever did. The cattle-boat was a bit of a comedown.

A vivid memory of mine from the voyage is the flash of a pearly white bottom as Linda perched warily on the pooping seat way above the poop deck (what else?) before I joined the five crewmen and faced the bow, staring diligently ahead until she clambered down and rejoined us. It was a rough sea, and I’ve never known how she managed. If she’d fallen off, it might have been five minutes before any of us dared to look round and discovered the loss. Inch’Allah, we all muttered – “It’s in the hands of God”.

We got in at three in the morning, and slept on the porch outside the Immigration shed until the staff arrived for work. Those were early days for Kuwait. The arrival-procedures have probably been brought up to speed since then.

uk_grenada Nov 27th 2021 9:22 am

Re: Back in the Day
Persepolis really is something isnt it. The fact you can still see the burn marks where alexander accidentally set fire to it with his boyfriend. Did you see the stone floor of the treasury bowed by the weight of tons of gold? To think darius didnt add protective walls because at the time it was 1000 miles to his borders. We visited most of the sites, Isfahan The river at Qum is fascinating, its literally carpeted. They put new carpets in the river bed with a stone at each corner to wash for a few days.

One basement vault of the national bank contains the crown jewels, far more impressive than the british ones, their collection of faberge eggs, and peacock thrones is fascinating, beats topkapi. While i was there the shah attended the airshow at farnborough, and said he wanted to have one. So one day they just shut the airport and had one. The british and americans brought their toys and we all had a wonderful day , none of that strange european idea of not flying supersonic or not using actual weapons. They blew big holes in the desert, using a vulcan bomber, and fired real missiles from a lightning. I was told they did make sure nobody was there first!

Gordon Barlow Nov 28th 2021 11:52 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Another few paragraphs about life in the New Hebrides back in the day, while I'm in the mood! The New Hebs (before it went independent as Vanuatu) was a fascinating place. This archipelago in the South Pacific was and is populated by ethnic Melanesians, with a scattering of Polynesians – biologically related, very distantly – to Australian aborigines and native Hawaiians, respectively. Plus a few ethnic Europeans on the fringes, stealing slaves for Australia’s sugar farms (until 1901) or operating coconut plantations, or trading.

In the 1970s, the two nations made half-hearted attempts to establish an offshore tax-haven (paradis fiscal, in French). Their attempts were thwarted by the inadequacy of international communications. The overseas phone service was an antiquated radio link. (“Do you copy?” “Roger; wilco.” “Foxtrot Uncle Charlie…” “Over and out!”) We were connected to the world via an undersea cable to Australia during the scheduled British sessions, and one to Tahiti during the French sessions. I was once cut off in the middle of an incoherent exchange with a prospective client in New York, when the session changed cables! I pleaded with the French operator (je vous en prie!), and she kindly gave me an extra three minutes. There were reckoned to be 113 separate Melanesian languages, some spoken in only one or two villages, and four Polynesian ones. The lingua franca was and is a simple local pidgin-English called Bislama.

The territory was governed eccentrically by France and Britain in tandem – not in any Euro-bullying fashion but in cordial partnership with the local village chiefs. The European powers had only invaded in the first place, in the late 1800s, in order to forestall Germany’s presumed intentions. Their later governance concentrated mainly on the affairs of all non-native traders, visitors and residents. When the Christian conquerors arrived, they stopped the traditional practices of head-hunting, cannibalism, and wearing no clothes, and tried manfully to stop domestic violence and revenge killings. The Native Code of the Islands (explained in one of my earlier posts, above), negotiated by the two European administrators and the village chiefs, put the punishment of violent crimes into the hands of the Europeans. Offenders were prosecuted in The White Man’s courts, and served time in The White Man’s jails.

The British jail was a source of wonderment for us “British” expats. The rickety fence was designed (deliberately) not to keep prisoners inside but to keep their families outside. Why would anybody bother to escape, when his village chief would only send him back? Except on special occasions, naturally.

At one village wedding, a British Magistrate friend of mine caught sight of a prisoner he had sent to jail earlier that day. “I carefully didn’t catch his eye, and he carefully kept out of my way,” my friend told me. “Neither of us wanted to spoil the party. No harm done. He took himself back to jail before morning. I did check that.” What is now called “community service” was part and parcel of jail sentences. True story! Work-gangs of twenty men (violent offenders all) swarmed up and down the town streets armed with sickles and machetes, under the benign supervision of an unarmed native policeman. A chain-gang without chains…

Because old habits die hard, the jail was always full. So there was always a waiting-list of sentenced offenders who had been sent home to their villages to await official recalls by the government radio station. The station was on the air three times a day – half an hour in each of English, French and Bislama, each time: news, followed by public announcements. “This message is for Henry Bong, believed to be (…!) on Malekula. Please meet the Motor Vessel Maskelyne at the jetty on Saturday morning. On arrival in Vila, report to the jail to commence your sentence. Also, Peter Vatu on Erromango, please meet the Maskelyne at about noon on Saturday –” [and so on until the half hour was up].

And, wonderfully, they all did report, unless they were severely sick or injured, or had a wedding to attend… I don’t remember what they did if they didn’t know where the jail was, when they got to Vila. Asked a policeman, I suppose.

Gordon Barlow Dec 8th 2021 8:33 pm

Re: Back in the Day
A few more words about our time in The New Hebrides during our time there in 1972-75 – “back in the day”… One of most interesting islands in the group was Tanna, famous for being the home of a strange local cult dedicated to the worship of a Messiah they called “John Frum”. The cult was invented (formed?) by a few local villages of unsophisticated native Melanesians as a way of explaining the appliances, cars and heavy machines, and the planes that carried them, brought into the islands by white invaders – specifically, American support troops during the Pacific War of 1941-45. It was reckoned that the name of the Messiah was actually “John From America”, but opinions differed. (It seems logical enough to me.)

With no possible concept of how those machines came into existence, the cult ascribed their presence to magic – pure and simple. Their former belief-system was abandoned as false (since it had failed to account for the machinery), and the villagers bent their minds to understanding how the magic worked. If they could discover the trick, they could conjure up the products without the intervention of any foreigners. This was the core of their religion.

When the Americans went away (promising to return, as Americans do) they left behind the fruits of their magic, which they had called “cargo”. The villagers tried to maintain the equipment, the way they had been taught. How hard could it be, after all? Of course they failed, and had ever since waited patiently for their man to return and disclose the magic formula. I’m told the cult still exists. In 1972 the village we visited had a mock airstrip and a mock plane, and the elders met every so often to check whether John had snuck up on them overnight.

As they learnt from the Christian missionaries, a few decades is not an unreasonably long time to wait for the return of a Messiah. Sigh…

Gordon Barlow Dec 16th 2021 6:26 pm

Re: Back in the Day
One of our adventures in Vila - if you could call it an adventure - was our modest contribution to tourism there. The place cost an arm and a leg to stay at a hotel, back in the early '70s, so no budget travellers went there at all - with only very rare exceptions. There was simply no middle ground between the hotels and sleeping in the wild. So after a trip to Bali, where there was a middle ground, Linda & I turned our backyard maids’ quarters (it came with the house; we didn't have a live-in maid) into a simple, informal hostel. We charged a buck a night (maybe $10 in today’s money) for a bed, toilet, coldwater shower & basin. No cooking facilities. The word spread gradually on the budget-travellers’ grapevine. Hey, it was worth flying into Vila after all; there was a place there that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Before then, Vila was just not on the backpackers’ list of places to go.

Embarrassingly, the situation was getting out of hand by the time we left. One night we had two in the tiny room, six in tents, and three in our house. That’s when we got rumbled for doing business without a licence. I fought the case, before it got to court. “Oh come on! A buck a night is a hobby, not a business! Sheesh!” The authorities saw the sense of that, and we were reasonably well-regarded people, so they let us continue raking in the dollars! The year before, Linda had taken pity on a couple of backpackers at the airport who were looking for a cheap place to stay, and brought them home to our flat for the night. By an absolute fluke, we had met the chap nine years before when we were doing our backpacking adventures in Europe, so they stayed for two or three nights. But that's another story. Later...

Gordon Barlow Dec 24th 2021 6:25 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Here's the follow-up to the reference in my last post, about the couple who came to Vila and the girl whom Linda had met years before. It's a "small world" story, and here it is now.

One day when I got home from work there, I found two strangers in the flat. Linda worked for a tour company at this time (1972), greeting each plane-load of visitors to the Island. This couple had asked her to recommend a cheap place to stay, but they were backpackers, and we had been backpackers once, so... (Those of you who have travelled will know what I mean.) Linda was hopping up and down and telling me she and the girl had discovered that they were at the same church retreat when they were fifteen, in Victoria, Australia. The husband's name rang a faint bell with me, so I got out my old address book containing the names of people I'd met during my travels through the Middle East and the Soviet bloc in 1964/5. And there he was: Bruce Stephenson, mother’s address in Canada, Thessaloniki, Greece, October 1964. “I don’t remember you”, I said, “but the book doesn’t lie”.

We thought about it, then, “Zorba the Greek!” Bruce cried. And so it was. That was a movie in the town cinema, in English with Greek sub-titles, and eight or ten of us foreigners from the hostel went to see it. It was a great movie, with some good laughs. We laughed at the funny lines a second before the locals did, which made them even funnier, we thought. Afterwards we sat around drinking coffee back at the hostel, and some of us exchanged names and addresses. “If you ever get to Canada...” - that sort of thing.

Next day, or the one after, I was ready to hit the road again, going east. I had already promised a lift to two fellows, each of whom stuffed an alarmingly large rucksack into my Beetle. Then some girl from the Zorba session asked if I had room for one more. Well, not really, but what can you do? The boys got out where they wanted, but over the next few months she and I drifted eastward, then westward, then north, then west again... After a certain amount of off-again on-again foolishness, we married in Toronto in 1967, and stayed married until she died two years ago.

Zorba the Greek” influenced my life in another way, too. We might not have been in the New Hebrides at all, except for the lure of Crete, where the movie had been filmed. Somebody on our travels had told us about the caves of Crete, which had become a hippy hangout. We were never hippies, but we were low-budget travellers, and living in caves on a Greek island with eccentrics like Zorba became part of the dream. In 1970, after three years in Nassau, Bahamas - underworked and overpaid - we decided we were rich enough to retire there. On the way, in Perth, Australia, Linda took a course on teaching English as a second language, and I taught myself how to make a fortune playing the stock market. What could go wrong? Well... At the same time as I was wondering what had gone wrong, a trust company in the New Hebrides was advertising for professional staff. I went there and did my thing, while Linda showed tourists around the island and met visitors off the planes.

We never did make it to the caves of Crete, and nor did Bruce and Pam. Somebody told me the hippies are still there, and good for them. In idle moments, I wonder if any of them ever got stoned for sexual misbehaviour like the widow in the movie. Linda and I got stoned in Egypt, once, not in the nice way; but that’s another story.

BEVS Dec 25th 2021 2:25 am

Re: Back in the Day
Evening from New Zealand Gordon.
I am just popping by here to wish you many Best Wishes.
I hope your festive season is filled full of cheer.

M 🎄

Gordon Barlow Dec 25th 2021 3:47 am

Re: Back in the Day
Thanks for the thought, M. Always lovely to hear from you. I don't think I ever knew that you lived in NZ. One of my favourite countries, with nicer people than most places. My wife's bridesmaid (1967) lives outside Auckland, and one of my flatmates in London (1963/4) lives in Christchurch. I've visited them both, but not for many years. Too late now to think of going there again, with all the Covid stupidity. Anyway, our son and his children all live in Norway, so that's always my first port of call. All the best to you.

Gordon Barlow Jan 2nd 2022 6:42 pm

Re: Back in the Day
In the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in the South Pacific, a pidgin called Bislama (from the French beche-de-mer, the sea-cucumber animal of the region) became the official language when political independence came in 1989. It was the lingua franca of the scattered islands before that. During our three years there in the 1970s we never mastered it. Shame on us, really, because it really didn’t need much mastering; it was the simplest pidgin imaginable. Basic English words strung together separated only by long and blong (= belong). Pretty much. We all made it up as we went along. It doesn’t seem to have developed much since we lived there, although the native politicians changed the spelling of words to disguise their English origins.

The national motto (Wikipedia says) is "Long God yumi stanap", which translates as “in God we stand”: yumi is “you-me”, and stanap is “stand-up”. I would have said “blong God” was more correct, but what do I know? Bambae is “soon” or “later”, a vaguely phonetic rendition of “by and by”. Olgeta is “everybody”, literally “all together”. And so on. Wonderful stuff!

Well, that’s what politicians tend to do, especially in artificial nations with no common language and no sense of the ridiculous. In other circumstances, the process works in reverse. One of Britain’s former Australian colonies has a city called Air Delight, named for a British Queen Consort. Fortunately, the original spelling, Adelaide (she was German, actually), has been retained. Thank God for small mercies.
The English language pops up in one form or another in unexpected places all over the world, as a by-product of Britain’s former trading empire. The Bay of Islands off Honduras is populated with families of early settlers from Cayman and Jamaica, as evidenced by the surnames; and they still speak English. Same thing on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. On the north coast of Panama, the black residents of Colon are descended from the diggers of the Canal, recruited from Jamaica and the eastern Caribbean islands. After Castro’s revolution, English-speaking residents of the southern islands of Cuba fled to Cayman, from where their ancestors had emigrated. (And what a smart move that was!)

What should amaze us, but doesn’t, is the fluency of English spoken by so many black people of African descent in the Caribbean and North America. It was the strict policy of slave-owners and traders to split up tribes, clans and families on their arrival in the New World, in order to minimise the danger of revolt. Pidgins and patois originated to provide means of communication between owners and slaves and among the slaves themselves. (They spell it “patwa” in Jamaica.) Nevertheless, most blacks in the US, for instance, speak standard English.

Trade is the most powerful of forces. The word pidgin is reckoned to be the closest the Chinese merchants of Canton could come to the English word business. (It’s plausible.) Pidgin is called creole in most languages other than English. In Haiti everybody speaks a French-based creole except the brown-skinned social elite. In Curacao, Papiamento is Portuguese-based. The best-known Dutch-based pidgin is Afrikaans – influenced by so many other tongues as to be almost a separate language today.

Almost. Chris, my flatmate in London all those years ago, spoke Afrikaans, and could be understood in the Flemish part of Belgium. Once, though, he narrowly escaped getting beaten up in a bar for speaking what the locals heard as mocking baby-talk. I guess sometimes, you just can’t win!

Gordon Barlow Jan 12th 2022 1:22 am

Re: Back in the Day
The New Hebs marked a major turning point in our lives – Linda’s and mine. It was there that we decided to have a baby, after seven years of marriage, and his birth in England heralded the end of our wanderings. Until then, we had been expats (Australian) in England, Canada, Bahamas and Australia. (Yes, we were expats in our old homeland. The old adage “You can’t ever go home again” really is true, as many expats have found!)

We had left Nassau (Bahamas) with almost enough money to retire to the caves of Crete. We had heard about the hippies who lived there – from the movie “Zorba the Greek” and fellow travelers we’d met along the way. Almost enough money…! Linda chose a school in Perth, Australia, to teach her how to teach English as a second language; and my job was to learn how to play the stock market well enough to top up the cash reserves as and when required. I won’t dwell on that disaster, and mention it only to explain why we were in the New Hebs working for a living the next year. Sigh.

Having restored the kitty, and thinking a baby wouldn’t change our plans, we packed up all our worldly possessions and put them on a boat for England. Well, not precisely, of course: there were no boats to England from the Islands. We have no idea how our gear got to England, but it did. We collected it from London three months later, having found a house in “The Lady” magazine that we could rent until the baby was born and a Kombi bought and converted into a mobile home.

Camping with a six-weeks-old baby wasn’t as much fun as we’d thought it would be. Some people can manage it; some of them have written about it on BE. We couldn’t. We got as far as southern Spain before exhaustion hit us. In Fuengirola, we parked the Kombi and spent the winter in a rented flat.

Showing more stubbornness than sense, we went on the road again in the spring. Via a brother-in-law’s flat in Italy, we got to Corfu before the exhaustion came down on us again. That was as close as we ever got to Crete. We retired to England, sold the Kombi, and rented a house in Bath near where my English grandfather had been born.

It took us a year to figure out what to do next and where to go next. I registered with an overseas-employment agency in London, and they found me a job in Cayman. We signed up for our customary three years, and never left. It proved to be a wonderful place for a young boy to grow up. At the end of three years I told my boss he couldn’t afford me any more, and retired to be our son's house-father from ages six till eleven. Linda kept working, and became a lawyer at the age of 70.

In the aftermath of the loss of Hong Kong to China in 2002 (if I have the year right), Britain gave all residents of her remaining territories full UK citizenship, and we three Barlows became British expats instead of Australian ones! Progress, eh? I let my Australian passport lapse, though Linda kept hers. I’m not sure if Ross still has his – maybe not. Anyway, he’s a Permanent Resident of Norway now, with three Norwegian children.

So. That’s the story – boring, probably, but it is what it is – of how the New Hebrides decision in 1974 changed our lives. We never did make it to the caves of Crete and the hippies who live there. I did my best to encourage Ross to explore the world, and he spent two or three years in hippie communities in Central and South America. He and a Norwegian girl lived in a treehouse overlooking Lake Atitlan for six months or more; I suppose he still owns the house, if it’s still there. He's 46 now, and unlikely ever to visit the caves of Crete! (Or to visit New Hebs, either, probably - although he really should do, on principle.)

It’s up to the grandchildren, now, to do their duty. I have to say things don’t look promising, but you never know…

BEVS Jan 12th 2022 1:29 am

Re: Back in the Day
It is not at all boring Gordon. It is very welcome.


Rete Jan 12th 2022 3:05 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Gordon, I'm enjoying every word. Love your style of writing and the humour you inject into your narrative. What an interesting life you've lead and to have had a helpmate such as Linda by your side was the icing on the cake.

Continue writing, please.


Gordon Barlow Jan 12th 2022 9:40 pm

Re: Back in the Day
In the New Hebs I was able to play cricket, for the first time since leaving school eighteen years before. Of course there had been plenty of opportunities in other places, but the standard was usually higher than I felt comfortable with, so I didn’t bother. Also, the setting in Vila was too beautiful to resist. The field was a specially cleared space in The British Paddock, a high ground overlooking the little harbour with Iririki in the middle distance, where the British governor lived, and where the hospital was.

The standard was one I did feel comfortable with. I was among a whole bunch of useless players, from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and occasional natives of the Islands. Oh, and Scotland. I have a vivid memory of an incident involving our Scottish wicketkeeper, that is worth telling. Here’s what happened.

Now most Scots are cheerful folk, but the nation does produce some individuals who are dour and just plain cranky. Ian was one of these. All the same, we were momentarily sorry when Fred hit him with a cricket ball. Fred was our team’s fast-bowler and Ian was half an hour late on an attempted leg-glance. The ball hit him on the back of his thigh, behind the pad. He went down in a heap – in obvious pain and cursing fit to bust. We fielders cut short our appeal for LBW and gathered round the victim. The umpire wandered down from the bowler’s end. “Are you all right, Ian?” He asked solicitously. Poor Ian. “Of course I’m not all right, you bloody fool! It hurts like hell and I can’t stand up.” The umpire sighed in sympathy. “Well, I’ve got some more bad news for you. You’re out.” Ian was the only man on the field who didn’t see the funny side of that.

It was good to get back to the game. In later years I played in England, Greece , the USA and Cayman. A year or so after leaving Vila, we were living out of a Kombi van and an old tent in a camping ground on Corfu, where I turned out a few times for The British Casuals. That was a scratch team of whatever foreigners happened to be on the Island. The standard was as low as it was in Vila, so I felt no shame.

The British had introduced cricket during their occupation of the Island in the fifty years following the Battle of Waterloo. There was a Greek National Team in my day, whose members were spread among three or four local teams, which played with us on equal terms. All one can decently say about their abilities was that they were better cricketers than umpires.

They weren’t always sure of the rules, which situation generally worked for them. They scrupulously kept the rule about stopping for tea when the clock struck four, but were less fussy about others. On the other hand, they had only a tenuous grasp of tactics, which usually worked against them. An umpire once gave me “run out” when I was yards in. More fool him, because I was about nought after twenty minutes at the crease and the next man in hit the bowlers all around the park and we won the game.

The field was in the middle of the Corfu Town Square, surrounded by seedy hotels and restaurants. Recent photos online show that matches are still played there, but there is also a far nicer place elsewhere on the Island. The Greek National Team is now drawn from eleven clubs and plays in a formal ICC league, ranked very low down alongside places like Pitcairn and Corsica. At least, they did before the current economic crisis. If the poor fellows can’t afford to import bats and balls any more they may revert to the standards of old. I wonder if they still have my name and address in the archives...

Lugsbug Jan 13th 2022 9:16 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Hi Gordon, I came across your posts by chance and think your stories are wonderful! Thank you for sharing :starsmile:

Gordon Barlow Jan 20th 2022 12:17 am

Re: Back in the Day
One of the good things about living in the New Hebs in the 1970s was that everything was a lot simpler than it was in sophisticated cities. For one thing, the food was simpler. It reminded me of my youth in Brisbane, Queensland, where in the 1950s the shops used not carry pre-cooked meals. McDonald’s and KFC hadn’t arrived yet. Every sandwich shop created its fare while we watched. Nothing was prepared ahead of time.

We office workers lined up at midday and gave our orders one by one to sweaty lads living dangerously with sharp knives. There was no air conditioning, and the fans couldn’t really cope with the heat. Hygienic gloves had not yet come into fashion, but we didn’t need them. We hardly ever discovered blood in our fillings. There were no sandwich shops in Vila, but the principle was the same.

Childhood allergies were little known, because allergies are immune deficiencies caused by the excessive and needless avoidance of germs. The only kid with asthma in the bush in my childhood was somebody’s cousin from Melbourne, a thousand miles to the south. Maybe he had led too sheltered a life there. He was a delicate boy, who tended to hang back when the rest of us were messing around in the dirt.

Kitchen cleansers that remove ninety-nine per cent of all household germs are bad for young children. It’s that ninety nine per cent of household germs that build up kids’ immunities. In Vila, kids played in the mud. We were continually reminded of simpler times.

Not only was food simpler than it is now: so were menus. Our mothers’ menus at every mealtime were quintessentially simple - namely, what was on the plate. The choice was Hobson's choice: eat it or don’t eat it. Actually: eat it all or don’t bother turning up for the next meal.

My Mum would bend the rules a bit, in a good cause; but she never broke them. I hated pumpkin, so she kindly served me only a token amount' and in the spirit of fair play I ate all of that. In the bush, most of our food was mutton, home-raised at a marginal cost that was close to zero. In town, too, our only meat was mutton, out of residual loyalty to the sheep-farming industry. During my working years in Brisbane my landladies often served up roast beef on Sundays, but it was many years before I could eat it without feeling guilty.

I was left with a lifelong aversion to choice, with regard to foods. Even today I never feel completely comfortable in restaurants. I love eating at friends' houses, because they don’t give their guests a choice. Occasionally a hostess will say, "I hope you like this", but she doesn’t really care. There’s never an alternative on offer. "Sorry, Wendy, I’m a vegetarian." "Oh dear, George; let me scrape the meat off your plate and give you a few more potatoes. There you go."

When courtesy requires, I will eat anything at all. In Tehran, I was once offered a sheep’s eye. As it happened - and fortunately - our host had lived in the West. As I steeled myself, the eye glaring at me defiantly, he took pity. (The host, not the eye. The eye was pitiless.) "I know it’s not a western thing", he said, "and I won’t be offended if you’d rather not eat it. But for us it’s a delicacy. Why not let me eat it?" I settled for the tender eyelid-meat that surrounded the organ. That saved me a little bit of dignity. Linda wouldn’t even eat that.

Somebody once told me of a British couple who discovered a restaurant in Madrid whose specialty was bulls' testicles. Animals killed in the bull-fights are sold at the markets, and no part of the beast is wasted. One night the serving was meagre - wonderfully tasty, but much smaller than usual - and the couple asked why. The waiter shrugged. “Senor, Senora... You know, the bull doesn't always lose. Sometimes it is the matador who dies.” Shrug.
It - umm - it may or may not be a true story, but it’s worth the telling!

Gordon Barlow Jan 27th 2022 8:24 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Back in the day, Linda and I were expats. We both left Australia in 1963, on the same boat but eight months apart. After that, we were expats based in (successively) England, Canada, Bahamas, Western Australia, New Hebrides and Cayman - before making the transition from expats to immigrants in 1981 in Cayman. The distinction between expats and immigrants is clear, in my mind. For me expat is a temporary state, conveying no commitment to settle down.The roots are shallow, ready to be pulled up at any time; immigrants are there for the duration.

As expats, we took advantage of our temporary bases to visit other parts of the world. Based in England, we backpacked through nine countries in the Middle & Near East, and drove my Beetle through another nine behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Based in Canada, I checked out a few West Indian islands, and Linda drove with a friend down to Mexico. Based in Bahamas, we used our weekends to suss out most of the Out Islands as well as a couple of the Caribbean islands, and took our annual vacations in Europe and Central America. Based in the New Hebs we holidayed in South Africa and Indonesia.

Our journeys as expats took in every continent except Antarctica, which is why it made sense for me to choose "The Rest of the World" section for this thread. In her obituary two years ago Linda claimed to have racked up "about ninety countries"; I didn't check, but it seemed right. I lost the taste for travel in my later years, so my total fell a bit short of hers.

The older I get, the fewer details I can recall. Well, fair enough, I suppose. But we all have our incidents from travels that even old age can't banish. I have a ten-hour trip on the roof of a mini-bus in Haiti in '66, our overnight cattle-boat from Iran to Kuwait in '64, breaching the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie in '65, an outdoors dinner one evening in Montmartre in '70, our son's tree-house home overlooking Lake Atitlan in 2003... Even a human-rights conference in Gibraltar in 2004, on my way to visit the grandchildren in Norway. (And coming back home to a hurricane-battered house, after Linda and an army of Jamaicans had gotten all the water out of it.)

I really hope all this musing will encourage others to reminisce about their own lives as expats, "Back in the Day". Let's hear it. Why not?

Gordon Barlow Feb 6th 2022 7:18 pm

Re: Back in the Day
When Linda and I finally settled down, we happened to be in Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. It was our third "offshore tax haven" – the others being Nassau in the Bahamas (which is not in the Caribbean, just the West Indies) and Vila in what is loosely called Oceania.

Having done our big travel adventure and gotten that out of our systems in 1964/65, we took jobs in Canada on our way back to our respective Australian homes. I was an accountant and she a teacher. We hooked up again in Toronto, and eventually married there in '67. Then I fluked a job in Nassau with an offshore-trust company, while she taught in a government school there. When the local Black Power movement spread to the schools, she became an office secretary in a firm of "offshore" lawyers.

That was a major turning point in our lives. We loved the Island so much that we forgot about going home to Oz. Instead, we decided to retire to a hippie colony in the caves of Crete – which I have told about in an earlier post. A financial catastrophe (my fault - over-reaching!) required us to go back to work, and we looked for jobs in a budding offshore tax-haven to replenish our retirement fund. That was Vila – and nothing replenishes a retirement fund quicker than tax-free salaries. I went to work for Burns Philp’s recently formed trust company (Burns Philp was a longtime inter-island trading company and Linda went to work for the local Peat Marwick representative.) More happy days.

I switched trust companies – as full Manager, this time. This was back in the day when the locally used Australian Dollar was worth more than the US Dollar, so we were able to retire again and head for the caves of Crete again. Linda was pregnant, but that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Wrong. There are couples who take babies in their stride without drawing breath. Alas, we weren’t one of those. It’s a long story, but from England in a brand-new Kombi, we made it as far as Corfu before throwing in the towel. So – back to England and the hunt for another tax-haven job. This time it was Cayman that got lucky (...), and we began our standard three-year stint in 1978, eleven years after our first tax-haven in Nassau.

And after the three years, we liked the place too much to leave. We gave up on travel, pretty much, and over the years passed the baton to our son. He carried it to England, Australia and several countries in Latin America, before ending up in Norway with three Norwegian children.

He owns a house there in a forest, plus 60 acres of trees plus a few basic cottages halfway up a mountain. He also has title to a treehouse on a 6000 sq ft strip in Guatemala, where he and one of the mothers lived during their hippie period. I hesitate to say he still owns it. Linda and I bought a block of land in Vila when we lived there, as a speculation, but the post-independence government stole it from us in 1980. So who knows whether Ross's has any value, after twenty years? It's not likely, to be fair.

Gordon Barlow Feb 13th 2022 2:18 am

Re: Back in the Day
I have already written here that Vila in the New Hebs was a turning point in our lives when Linda decided we needed a child in the family. But there was a second way that our lives were affected. While there, I discovered a modest talent for propaganda. With little else to do, I composed a surprisingly effective booklet for my employer, a new and struggling trust-company, boosting Vila as the world’s greatest unrecognized offshore tax-haven. Something along those lines anyway…

Three years later in Cayman, I did a similar job as manager of a company here - persuasive enough to pull the Company up to #2 in the Island’s new offshore incorporations. The more companies, the more profit, right? I don't say my booklets were brilliant pieces of work, by any stretch - but they were effective.

And eight years after that, after a long stint as a full-time house-husband, I was invited to open Cayman’s first Chamber of Commerce office. More propaganda booklets, plus this time a monthly newsletter. The latter was an amazingly useful weapon in our war against a radical proposal by the government of the day to introduce a tax on wages. (Such a thing! A tax on wages in a tax-free haven! What were they thinking?) The newsletters enlisted all the Island’s businesses and their employees in a successful battle to reject the proposal.

I was blamed for the victory. My Work Permit was pulled, and my family was scheduled for immediate expulsion. My allies and I fought vigorously, taking the battle to the UK overseers of Britain’s remaining colonies, and ultimately we were grudgingly allowed to stay. Resentful of my treatment, I took to writing newspaper columns that were severely critical of selected local policies. For the next twenty years or so I was the sole public defender of free speech and civil rights in Cayman - a hero to some and a pain in the neck to others. Sigh... That’s life, eh?

(By the way... My failure as an advocate for free speech in Cayman was dismal. Our main online news-forum is quite popular, but I have just checked its current thread on our local Covid effort,, and of 194 comments only one was signed with what looks like a proper name. Twenty others had obviously fake names, and the rest were signed either "anonymous" or "anon". This, in a British colony! Sheesh.)

I wish I’d done something useful for the native Melanesians in the New Hebrides when we were there. They lived their traditional way of life, largely outside a money-economy. The main modern equipment they used was the transistor radio. Young women would take casual house-cleaning jobs to earn money enough to buy new batteries for the family radio. When they had enough- they disappeared back to their home villages until the batteries died again.

Gordon Barlow Feb 22nd 2022 12:06 am

Re: Back in the Day
I have told why we moved from Perth to Vila, but forgot to tell how we already knew about Vila. It was very much an embryo tax-haven at that time (1971), and not at all well known. But how we knew about it is that we had called in there on our way from Nassau back to Oz. We had island-hopped across the Pacific, by plane.

In those days it was usually just as cheap to jump from island to island as to take a direct flight. I had learnt that, when I was working in Toronto and got a flight around the Caribbean for the same price as I would have paid for a direct flight to Barbados and back. I was able to touch down in Nassau, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and St Thomas, and back via Bermuda, stopping off at each place.

This time, we flew from Nassau to Townsville via Mexico City, Pago Pago (American Samoa), Tahiti, Fiji and Vila. We stayed at the cheapest places we could find in each place – including Madame Rossi's guest house in Vila. During our three days there we wandered around and saw what there was to see, never thinking we would spend three and a half years there after the Perth venture went sour.

We made good use of our time there. Weekends were spent on some of the other Islands - including Espiritu Santo, a popular scuba-diving site with its magnificent underwater view of US Army equipment from 1945. The story behind that is interesting, and here it is. When the war ended, the Army offered to sell all its equipment (jeeps, bulldozers, furniture, and all the usual wartime-base paraphernalia worth millions of dollars) to Britain and/or France for six cents on the dollar. The British and French authorities scoffed at the idea of paying anything at all for stuff that the departing owners were going to leave behind anyway. So... the US Army built a jetty and drove every single piece of equipment off the end, in two days of angry frenzy. Check the story online: “Million Dollar Point”.

Our two annual vacations were spent in South Africa (where my Best Man from 1966 lived) and Indonesia (where a banker friend had been posted). Apart from the fact that our son was conceived in Java - at least according to our calculations, later on - the vacation was memorable for a bus trip in Bali. As I recall, it was a stinking hot day - really stifling. Linda was allowed to sit up on the front step where she could get fresh air every time the door opened, while I grabbed a window-seat just in case I was overcome by the heat. I was fine, as it happened, but the local man seated next to me wasn"t. He had to reach across me from time to time to throw regurgitated rice from his hand out the window. Most of it got there safely, though not all...

BEVS Feb 23rd 2022 3:49 am

Re: Back in the Day
I really enjoy reading these posts Gordon . Lifts a person.

Lion in Winter Feb 23rd 2022 3:17 pm

Re: Back in the Day

Originally Posted by BEVS (Post 13096731)
I really enjoy reading these posts Gordon . Lifts a person.

I hadn't realised. There's a whole biography in here!

Gordon Barlow Feb 23rd 2022 4:32 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Thanks for the encouragement, BEVS. You're very kind and thoughtful. Much appreciated!

Lion: not a complete bio, just "back in the day" stuff. I mostly skip over the last 44 years!

Gordon Barlow Feb 28th 2022 2:50 am

Re: Back in the Day
I don’t remember ever going to the beach when we lived in Vila. The shallow waters were home to what were called “stone fish” – famously poisonous creatures indistinguishable from the sea floor, that poisoned anybody who trod on them. Equally dangerous were mosquitos that carried the dengue virus. That virus was a variant of malaria, second only to Yellow Fever in that category. We all dutifully took our quinine tablets that made our eyes go yellow – and didn’t always work anyway.

The Island's squash-court was a five-minute boat-ride away, long enough for me to get bitten on one trip, by one or more mosquitos. Mine was the common-or-garden malaria, not one of the exotic varieties. Lucky for me: only a week in bed, sweating profusely. Unluckily, it weakened me enough to catch hepatitis-A, which was doing the rounds at the British BESA Club at the time. So. Back to bed for another week, while Linda shot off to Melbourne thinking she had cancer.

Surprisingly, we never even saw a snake in the New Hebs. Surely there were some, given the tropical jungle on every island - but not one did we see. Snakes used to feature highly in my childhood nightmares in "the bush" - a 5000-acre sheep farm 250 miles west of Brisbane - and we saw plenty, but were never bitten. I had to wait till I had settled down in middle age in the suburbs here in the West Indies before my nightmare came true. Here's a quick summary of what happened then.

Filling in time until our international flight to visit the children, I walked around the house checking the security of our back windows. I caught my foot in the tendril of a weed, and tried vigorously to shake myself free. Irritated, I looked down to find that the tendril was in fact a small snake - maybe three feet long. Struggling to get out from under, it nipped me just above the ankle.

Now then... this is where the family narrative divide. Linda always told people I went white with fright. But as I recall - and I should know - I was Mister Cool from start to finish. I phoned the hospital and asked the nurse whether Cayman had any poisonous snakes these days, and what would she do if I came to see her. She said no, Cayman did not have any poisonous snakes yet, as far as she knew, and if I came in she would give me a tetanus shot and an aspirin and send me home. So I sat down and reviewed my options.

We had to check in at the airport in two hours, and the wait at the hospital would be at least two hours. Either the snake was local and non-poisonous or it was an illegal immigrant and poisonous as likely as not. I decided to wait for a clear sign of danger, before panicking. Linda dabbed some Dettol on the tiny punctures while I sat and sipped a cup of tea, on the alert for a Sign. Pain or swelling would mean a trip to the Emergency Room and maybe a night or two in hospital; no pain or swelling would mean no problem, and we could catch our plane.

And that’s how it was. A week later, in Ross’s forest-cabin, a nasty boil appeared on the side of my shin, for the first time in my life. But it went away again, and probably had nothing to do with the snakebite anyway. Who knows? And for the record - I did not go white with fright. And, for someone who went to sleep with the sheet over his head to protect himself from the deadly snakes beneath my bed as a boy, I was Mister Cool. Relatively speaking...

Gordon Barlow Mar 3rd 2022 5:47 pm

Re: Back in the Day
When my mother's maternal grandfather died in 1908 on his small sugar plantation outside Mackay in Queensland, his widow took the body and her two children to the town, over creeks swollen with recent rains. She did the journey with the help of the family's "indentured labourers" - Pacific Islanders who had been persuaded and/or forcibly abducted from their island-homes by British traders licensed by the State's government.

Formally, they weren't slaves-– any more than the transported convicts had been slaves since the first British settlements in Oz. The same system had been adopted in all British overseas colonies, after the formal abolition of slavery in 1834. Most (all?) of the Caribbean colonies and ex-colonies today have ethnic minorities descended from indentured labourers who had been recruited in India and China. The practice was only discontinued in the early 1900s. (And the actual system itself has continued to this day. All migrant workers here in Cayman are indentured to their employers, and cannot change employers without specific permission from the authorities.)

In Queensland in the mid- to late-1800s, the trade was called "blackbirding", and the victims' homes were the nearby islands, including The New Hebrides. The same practice existed in the eastern Pacific, where native Hawaiians were taken to the western regions of the USA and Canada. The common name for them all was "kanakas", the Hawaiian word for "men". My great-grandmother used that term when telling the story to her daughter, who told my mother.

When Britain's six Australian colonies united in 1901, the first law passed by the new Federal parliament was the Pacific Islanders Act, which cancelled all the indentures and sent the labourers home. Except those who had been in Australia for longer than five years, who could stay if they wanted. Some did stay: there was a colony of them living near my mother (!) in the village of Fingal on the New South Wales border in the 1970s.

My ancestor's sugar farm was sold by his widow, and a portion of the proceeds was inherited by her daughters, and some of that filtered down to me. I may well owe a few quid to some of those labourers' descendants. Ah, BUT... there is a corresponding debt owed to me. What goes around, comes around! When the New Hebrides islands united as the Republic of Vanuatu in 1980, the new parliament's first Act was to confiscate land owned by non-residents - including a half-acre town block that Linda and I had bought (from another expat) for our eventual retirement.

I was indignant about that at the time, naturally enough. But I really shouldn’t have been...

Gordon Barlow Mar 10th 2022 3:35 pm

Re: Back in the Day
My first boss in Vila was a fish out of water. Or maybe a bird under water. One of those. A nice enough fellow and capable enough, but a big-city man used to big-city efficiency. I never learned what local tribulations he had to deal with before our arrival, but we were there for the last two.

He invited us to dinner at his home for our first Saturday on the Island. As it happened, a mild cyclone (hurricane) blew up on the Friday; we had no phone where we were staying, so no way of knowing whether the dinner was off or not. We assumed it was on. It wasn't a bad storm - not any worse than we had survived in Nassau; still, there were palm fronds flying around as we drove to his house. Knocked on the door, and he opened it a crack and yelled "Are you bloody mad?!" and that was that..

Five days later, back in the office, the local phone service let him down, and that was the final straw for him. Cursing wildly, he wrenched the phoneline out of the wall, raced home, packed, and took the first plane back to the big city. That was how, two weeks after my arrival, I became the Acting Manager of the Burns Philp Trustee Company. We never did get to meet his wife.

The Company's Directors in Sydney brought in a high-powered manager from Nassau, which disappointed me enough to quit and talk my way into a job with an even smaller offshore-trust company - but with the always-important title of Manager, with a Manager's salary and a Manager's new car. And a working telephone... Plus the opportunity to go overseas fishing for clients in eastern Asia from Singapore and Manila up to Taipei and Tokyo. It was that second job that got me a similar one in Cayman five years later, after three years in Vila and a futile adventure in Europe with a baby in a Kombi.

Gordon Barlow Mar 14th 2022 9:33 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Pam and Bruce (post #10 above) were our first house-guests in Vila, in 1972. Linda never saw them again, but I stayed with them for a few days in their home in Penticton, Canada, on my way to Australia with Ross 13 years later. He & I took the Amtrak train across the US from Tucson to Seattle, and the bus from there. What a super trip that was - highly recommended!

We only ever had two more guests, not counting the travel bums mentioned in Post #9. One was my Mum, who flew up from Brisbane for a week, and the others were the Johnstones, whom we had known in Nassau. Dave Johnstone was in the front row of the audience when I came 4th in the live-radio Bahamas Champion of Knowledge competition in 1969. I should have been 2nd, but I had a brain-freeze when asked what the Dewey Decimal system was. Dave being a school librarian was disgusted with my failure; another friend referred to me ever after as "Brain-of-the-Bahamas-brackets-failed". (My 4th prize was a copy of the Larousse Encyclopedia, which has a wonderfully comprehensive explanation of the bloody Dewey Decimal system, as it happens.)

The Johnstones were teachers in Popondetta in PNG, at the time of their stay with us, and were on their way to Fiji or NZ or somewhere on holidays. Dave's widow lives in Cayman now, and drops by from time to time with her daughter (now 50 or so) who at the age of one slept in a spare drawer in our flat out on the road to Mele, outside Vila. Of course she (the daughter) doesn't remember that - ungrateful wench!

Gordon Barlow Mar 19th 2022 6:46 pm

Re: Back in the Day
When I blew a third of our savings in Perth, learning how not to play the stock market, we had to postpone our expedition to the caves of Crete where the hippies lived. Hey, look: it seemed like a good idea at the time; what more can I tell you?

God - that's Loki, my personal god, the old Norse fellow - said that a salaried job might be a better bet, and immediately landed me a tax-haven job in tax-free Vila. Linda gave guided bus-tours of the Island, answering silly questions from people who had never been out of Australia before. "What do you call that flower?" I mean: who cares, right? She sighed and gave them names she made up on the spot. "I don't know what the scientific name is, but the natives call it the blue-fart snifter. Not to be confused with the yellow-fart snifter which we'll come to shortly." Six months of that and she became a secretary to the Manager of Peat Marwick's local office.

Two years after that, she decided to get pregnant. The caves of Crete were still on the agenda, but no worries! What could go wrong? We discovered the answer to that, when we finally got on the road in England with a brand-new Kombi and a six-week-old baby. We discovered that where two had been company, three was a crowd. The mad. sad, adventure ended with a near-fatal accident in Malaga. We rented a flat in Fuengirola for the winter, and when the sun came out we moved in gentle stages to Monaco (Linda's sister was married to a croupier there), then Vasto on the Adriatic (the brother-in-law had a spare flat there), then a camping ground on Corfu. That's as close we got to Crete. The dream was over.

We had plenty of cash in the bank, still, from our time in Vila. Enough to rent a house in Bath for a year while we considered our options. I took Loki's advice and told a London employment agency to find me a job in another tax-haven. Cayman came good, and we stayed here ever after. Could have been a lot worse...!

Gordon Barlow Mar 25th 2022 7:14 pm

Re: Back in the Day
I have mentioned the near-slavery conditions of the Pacific Islanders recruited to work on Queensland farms in the mid-to-late 1800s. School history lessons are hopelessly limited in what they teach about slavery of any kind. The British Empire outlawed chattel slavery in 1834, and the USA empire did so in 1865, but the outlawry only applied to that form of slavery. The practice has flourished since prehistoric times, in all civilisations, under dozens of names. Often, it was called "indentured service", where individuals (whole families, sometimes) were licensed by governments to work for specific employers, and could not leave those employers without government permission. We still have that in Cayman and other West Indian territories today for all migrant workers, and it's what was instituted in Queensland with the Islanders - and (as far as i can ascertain) Chinese workers too.

In the New Hebrides, the local native Melanesians and Polynesians were coerced (my word, but it fits) into conversion to the Christian faith - Roman Catholic in the French-controlled villages, Presbyterian and other Protestant denominations in the British-controlled ones. They were also subjected to the white-invaders' laws, which took precedence over their own "custom" law. The natives had to wear Western clothes, to get any respect; no more public nakedness. All females above the age of puberty wore "Mother Hubbards" utterly shapeless and sexless throw-overs - except during their traditional public festivities, when they could go topless. The men all wore normal shirts and trousers, except that some of them (it was tribal, I think) on festive occasions were allowed to forgo those in favour of their traditional penis-sheaths. I kid you not. There were two varieties of those things, spelled "nambas" but pronounced "numbers". And - I am not joking, as God is my witness - the two varieties were called "big nambas" and "small nambas". Wikipedia can explain the difference to you; I'll be damned if I will. I'm outta here.

Gordon Barlow Apr 2nd 2022 3:09 am

Re: Back in the Day
We took two month-long vacations while we lived in Vila. The first one was in 1973 to Capetown (RSA), with two nights in Mauritius on the way. My Best Man at our Toronto wedding six years previous, lived in Capetown, and our generous wages in Vila made it an affordable trip. Except for a few days in Egypt during our backpacking days, we had never set foot in Africa before.

Those were the days of apartheid, so I inevitably embarrassed myself a couple of times by blundering through the wrong doors. One incident stands out in my memory. We were driving a rental car up from Capetown to Natal and the Kruger National Park, mostly on back roads. I got lost once and stopped at the only building for miles around, which turned out to be a shebeen - a rundown pub. It was a one-room affair with - I noticed too late - black men sitting along a counter on one side and white men sitting along an adjoining counter on the other side. All chatting away amicably, but that stopped the moment I came in the wrong door. (Which announced to them all that I was a foreigner, of course.) I couldn't very well go out the door and in the other, so I carefully shared my questions as equally as seemed diplomatic. They all argued among themselves as to how I could best get back to civilisation until the room reached a consensus. One of them gave me the verdict, and the rest nodded approval.

They wished me well, and came to the door(s) and waved us off. Fortunately, neither group had invited me to sit down. I really wouldn't have known what to do.

Gordon Barlow Apr 7th 2022 4:43 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Our next vacation took advantage of our proximity to the Asian islands: we flew to Jakarta and took a train across Java and a boat to Bali. Kuta Beach was in its prime - a haven for hippies, before all the junkies' needles spoiled it. My son was telling me the other day that his friends were impressed by his parents' wanderings - lived 1000 miles apart in Australia, went to England on the same boat but six months apart, met in Greece, backpacked around the Middle East, married in Canada, only child born in England... I told him he could add that he was conceived in Indonesia - either Java or Bali, I couldn't tell him which. "Oh come on Dad, you must know which island!" I said no I couldn't, because in those days without children, we were at it every night, pretty much. I began to follow up on that theme, but he cut me off. "Oh God! Whoa! I really don't need to know all the details! La la la, not listening! Jeez, Dad!"

How to throw your child off-balance with just a few well chosen words...

BEVS Apr 11th 2022 7:14 am

Re: Back in the Day

Originally Posted by Gordon Barlow (Post 13106395)
Our next vacation took advantage of our proximity to the Asian islands: we flew to Jakarta and took a train across Java and a boat to Bali. Kuta Beach was in its prime - a haven for hippies, before all the junkies' needles spoiled it. My son was telling me the other day that his friends were impressed by his parents' wanderings - lived 1000 miles apart in Australia, went to England on the same boat but six months apart, met in Greece, backpacked around the Middle East, married in Canada, only child born in England... I told him he could add that he was conceived in Indonesia - either Java or Bali, I couldn't tell him which. "Oh come on Dad, you must know which island!" I said no I couldn't, because in those days without children, we were at it every night, pretty much. I began to follow up on that theme, but he cut me off. "Oh God! Whoa! I really don't need to know all the details! La la la, not listening! Jeez, Dad!"

How to throw your child off-balance with just a few well chosen words...

He HeHeHeHe He He He. Really made me giggle.

I have a young pal back in the UK a good 20 years or more younger. When my Dad died and I was made to leave the house , she kindly offered me to stay with her and her young son.
One evening she invited her Mum & 2nd husband over so we could have tea together.
They and I had several glasses of wine and the subject turned to something or other. Not sure what. Anyway at some point Mum made mention of ....erms.... shannigans of the fruity nature happening on the kitchen table.
That was it ! My young pal just did not know what to do with herself. So funny looking back. So awkward at the time.

Gordon Barlow Apr 11th 2022 2:30 pm

Re: Back in the Day

Originally Posted by BEVS (Post 13107078)
...Anyway at some point Mum made mention of ....erms.... shannigans of the fruity nature happening on the kitchen table.
That was it ! My young pal just did not know what to do with herself. So funny looking back. So awkward at the time.

A lovely story, BEVS! Like one of those jokes that ends with something along the lines of "... and that's why we could never go back to that MacDonald's again!"

And maybe it's why so few apartments these days have kitchen tables. Who knows?

(Thanks for your help on that other thread, by the way. Very much appreciated.)

Gordon Barlow Apr 17th 2022 4:06 am

Re: Back in the Day
Our first annual vacation from Bahamas, where we lived for three years 1967-70, was through Central America - from Mexico City down to Panama, mostly on the cheap because that's what we were used to. There was one incident in El Salvador that rattled me, which has stuck in my mind ever since. The fault of my English-Spanish dictionary lay in the fact that the Spanish in it was the Spanish of Spain, not of Latin America. They're not always quite the same, it seems.

Linda was in bed with very painful constipation in a little hotel in a down-market part of the capital city. I rushed down to the nearest pharmacy, and asked for something that would ease my wife's constipacion. No problem, senor, except that what the boss-man gave me was a bottle of nose-drops. Oh, damn! I could see the connection between the two kinds of blockage all right, but my dictionary-Spanish couldn't bridge the gap. The more I demanded a cure for constipacion, the more the man insisted that the nose-drops would do the trick. On the verge of panic, I realised that to get my message across I had to mime the problem. So for three or four very long minutes I played charades. Nothing on God's earth will make me describe what I did to get my message across. The most disgusting performance of my life - made more disgusting by the presence of twenty passers-by jammed in the doorway watching an obviously mad young gringo put on an inexplicably grotesque series of actions that all ended with the word "nada!" - nothing. Finally, when I was reaching the point where I had to take my pants off, the pharmacist shouted "Ahhh! Constrenuenso!" The twenty onlookers held their breath while I checked with the dictionary, and burst into hearty applause when I accepted the verdict. The word meant "constrain", and that was close enough.

Poor Linda. "Where on earth have you been?" She cried. "Drink this", I said, "and don't ask questions." The stuff worked like a charm.

Gordon Barlow Apr 26th 2022 12:26 am

Re: Back in the Day
Another "back in the day" reminiscence. (Am I the only BE member to keep the practice of reminiscence alive? Maybe so!)

One long-weekend in Vila, some time in the period 1972-75, we flew to Honiara, on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. That island was a famous US air-base in World War II, and it had (probably still has) a good little war-museum. I remember it vividly for the iconic photograph on the wall, of a dead American soldier - with his helmet still on - in the sea between his landing-craft and the beach he had been wading towards. 19 years old, trained and honed for battle, and shot by an enemy sniper before he even made it to the beach, in what would have been his first battle. What an utter, utter, waste of a life. It's the saddest photo I have ever seen.

I'm reminded of it now, because the Solomon Islands government has just signed a military protection agreement of some kind with China. Australia and the US have their knickers in a twist about it, and are openly considering whether to invade the Islands. I can't help but dread the prospect of another 19-year-old - Australian, Chinese, American, it doesn't matter which - dying some day in the same sea a few yards short of the same beach. The same futility, the same waste of a life. Sigh...

Gordon Barlow May 3rd 2022 2:01 am

Re: Back in the Day
What could be more "back in the day" than a wedding of 55 years ago? That's how long since Linda & I married, in the chapel of St Paul's Church in Toronto. I've always thought we had 20 people there, but I can only remember 15, plus us. In the program I composed for Linda's Memorial Service three years ago, I included a dozen photos of her in a variety of settings - and one of them was us getting into the limo in the January snow after the ceremony.

On our 25th anniversary she had published that photo in our local newspaper here. I was wearing my black-rimmed specs - fashionable at the time - which prompted a comedian at the Tennis Club next day to hail me with mock surprise, "Hullo! It's Buddy Holly's father!" Which is funny if you're old enough to remember Buddy Holly. Not if you're not, of course. Our mothers phoned us from Australia. Linda had met my Mum in England two years before, but I didn't meet hers till nearly four years after. A trusting soul, was Mother Currie!

I'm hoping this brief item will encourage other old, or even not-so-old, codgers to give us their memories of their weddings. Only if they were memorable, though...

Gordon Barlow May 8th 2022 5:47 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Linda didn't expect to get married in a church - with me, anyway. But I thought it would be a romantic thing to do. So we went along to the parson there and asked him, and he said we had to come to three services beforehand, and could then be married by banns - instead of by a licence. The lead-up to the wedding had been something less than romantic, so the service itself evened things out a bit.

Linda had given up on me a couple of months before, and gone back to Australia to start a new life. Finally, grudgingly (!) I realised I had blown a good chance and begged her to come back. Most un-romantically, she said (on the phone, this was), "put it in writing." "Oh, and send me the fare." Poor girl. When she flew into Toronto, I wasn't there. I had been called down to the Bahamas on an auditing assignment. She turned up at my flat, told my flatmate who she was; he checked with me, and gave her the money to buy herself a ticket down. A pretty crappy start to a fifty-two year marriage, I guess. Does any reader have a less promising one?

All times are GMT. The time now is 10:23 am.

Powered by vBulletin: ©2000 - 2022, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright © 2021 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.