In Search of a Speaker | By My Own Admission | Tell Our Sisters
Too Young to Fly too Weak to Walk | A Blue Tit's thanks | Christmas Freedom
The Prodigal Ring | The Brown Shoes
Mother's Funeral | An Inconspicuous Start | Christmas Eve 1944
When I was a Jew | Larkie Loon's Saddest Day | The Day I Met Usama Bin Laden
The Birth of Ghana | When The Cat Comes In!
WARMTH IN WINTER
AT TWO ENDS OF THE MERIDIAN
A personal diary recalling 23 days in Ghana during January 2002 in celebration of our Silver Wedding.
|On 8th January 1977 the wedding took place of Mr. Miller Caldwell alias Obruni Kwabena, fraternal worker of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana at Kortu Gon, Tema, and Miss Jocelyn France, VSO Teacher at SDA Secondary School, Bekwai, Ashanti Region, Ghana. Later that year, they concluded their term of office in Ghana and returned to the U.K. On 12th August 1980 their first daughter Fiona was born and on 5th December 1983 their second child Laura was born. By October 2001 both girls had left home to study at Glasgow University leaving their parents to live a quieter life! This was their opportunity for a remarkable adventure. Miller and Jocelyn had met in Ghana in 1974 and it was time to return. Time to celebrate 25 years of marriage with many Ghanaian friends and meet many new ones. There was a compelling wish to revisit some favourite places like Abokobi, Busua, Abetifi and of course Bekwai and Tema. But Ghana had not stood still over a quarter of a century. There would be new places to visit. There would be new sights to see. The population had more than doubled since 1972 and the currency would take some getting used to as 20 cedis was once my weekly allowance! C10,000 was now equal to £1.< I found Mr. Sam Baddoo on the internet! Tours are now a main industry in Ghana and I was confronted by pages of different tour operators. However I wished a Tema based one and Sam stood out on that page. Sam was very patient and busy on our behalf. We pestered him with some strange requests. Could he arrange a meeting with the former Head of State? Could we find accommodation at the Abetifi Ramseyer Centre? Amedzofe waterfall and hill was on our list too as well as a visit to at least one Wildlife Park. Hectic e-mail messages went between us over October, November and December then suddenly it was New Years Day……..
|January 1st 2002
Netherholm, Dumfries, Scotland. No family meal this New Years Day. Instead there was the packing away of Christmas decorations, the packing of cases, and packing presents to take and medication. Packing the car too. We left Dumfries at 6.45p.m. The temperature outside was –5? centigrade. In the back of the car was our 12 year-old collie dog, Tache. He sensed something unusual was taking place. The front windscreen was icing over. We stopped at the Elvanfoot Service station to clean the windscreen. It was a welcome break from the strain of driving on icy roads. We arrived in Glasgow at the flat Fiona is living in with her fellow students. They were at their respective homes enjoying the New Year festivities. We settled in for the night after Tache was given a walk around his new temporary accommodation. Our journey had begun.
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|January 2nd 2002
From Glasgow to Accra via Amsterdam The alarm went off at 5.30 a.m. One hour later leaving Tache and Fiona behind, we set off to Glasgow Airport. KLM efficiently booked us in and booked our luggage straight through to Accra. We had a half-hour wait before boarding. Well the half-hour grew into two hours. 'Stacking at Amsterdam' was the problem as that Dutch city was paralysed by freezing fog. We were amused to be introduced over the tannoy system, to Captain Gary Frost. He was clearly the aviational expert when it came to landing through freezing fog at Schipool Airport! The Fokker 100 flight was steady and visibility was excellent. Oil rigs in the North Sea and large wind generators broke the monotony of the deep blue sea. Then we saw land approach but as we neared Amsterdam, a local fog engulfed the plane. The fog grew thicker despite our descent. Then suddenly a matter of feet beneath this static freezing fog, the runway appeared. The first leg of the journey was complete. A further delay was announced on account of the freezing fog and the urgent need to de-ice the aeroplane wings. I felt the disappointment there would be in Accra if Julie Nii-Moi and Sammy Abakah could not learn of the delay in departure. We had no Dutch currency as we had not anticipated a delay. Strangely the Dutch had no Dutch money either! You see this was the first day of the Euro in Europe so I exchanged £15 for 25 Euros and we bought a juice and a phone-card to phone home. Fiona, we learned, had slipped on ice when walking Tache but Tache was settling well into city student life. The flight over the Sahara was a little turbulent. The yellow lorry journey from Ouahigouya to Mopti had been turbulent too some 24 years ago but there was more comfort in air travel. We tracked the plane's progress on the in-flight screen and as it crossed into Ghana we recalled visits in the past to Sandema, Tamale, and Kumasi. What would they look like now? The lights of Accra stretched far on three sides. A sheer black space filled the fourth side and so I got my bearings from the Gulf of Guinea. I recalled that the coastal road from Accra to Tema was at its best when sitting in the back of a trotro with the cool sea breezes flowing over my face, combing my hair. Alas, I had little hair now. Leaving the air-conditioned plane, we were welcomed by the soft heat of an African night at Kotoko International Airport. Through customs to baggage reclaim effortlessly we proceeded. Then we were outside. Akwaaba. We had returned to Ghana. In films I have seen posters being held up for important people to be identified at airports. It's a strange feeling to see a stranger holding your name up high but sure enough ….CALDWELLS. That was how we met Sissi who was to become our most indispensable tour guide, raconteur and good friend. "Stay here and I will bring the car." The Fanti accent is purer than a south-east England accent – that took us by surprise. Just then I heard our name being called from a fenced area and there was the Tema contingent of life-long friends…Sammy, Freda, Julie, and Hansen. The day was coming to an end and Sissi drove us along the Motorway to Tema. The motorway was familiar so was the straight road towards downtown Tema but the Marjorie Y Hotel was very new, very, very new and this was where our first two nights were spent.
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Thursday 3rd January
|Daybreak in Tema once more We had slept well and woke up in daze hardly believing that it had been so easy to leave a European winter behind. I turned on the television. BBC World Service in colour! The last television I had seen in Ghana was not in colour but it lost nothing by that. Osofo Dadze was a Ghanaian cult programme. I later learned that its long successful run came to an end only some two years ago. After breakfast Sammy Abakah rang to confirm the plans for the day. We arranged to meet for an evening meal at "Fridays" Restaurant. I purchased a phone card and rang President Rawling's Secretary, Mr. Victor Smith, to arrange a meeting for 22nd January when we would have returned south prior to our departure. Sissi then arrived and we set out to visit the Presbyterian Church Compound where I lived between 1973-78. Rev Assai Tettey had travelled to Labadi that morning so we promised to return. In the meantime we enquired where Mrs Ocansey, the daughter of the late Rev E. A Anteh might be living. A young girl took us across the road to the market area and after passing through a maze of homes, we came to her home. She too had travelled that morning but we were told by a young girl that her Aunt would be very pleased to see us. We told her we were staying at the Marjorie Y hotel. Tema's one way traffic system could have been anticipated. When I recall how busy Kortu Gon was it was no wonder that the commercial centre had become an island with an anti-clockwork, bumper to bumper, motor car track. We did manage to breach the island and drove up to Barclays' Bank. I exchanged a traveller's sterling cheque and then I noticed the teller had a plastic black bag. All the money was going into this! I had never seen so much money. That remained one of the most complicated aspects of the holiday as it takes time to confidently pass over thousands of cedis. What was an acceptable dash these days? In the afternoon we travelled to Abokobi at the edge of the Ga lands at the foot of the Akuapem hills. This had been a Presbyterian stronghold for almost two centuries and it reminded me of my first visit I had there in 1974. An elderly woman asked me if I smoked or drank? It seemed a brash question. One which I was reluctant to have been labelled for life. She put me out of my difficulty. "Are you German" she asked? "No" I said, "Scottish." "Then you're a smoker!" She went on to explain that the original Basle and Bremen missionaries introduced brewing to Ghana. They loved their beer and the habit is well established indeed. During the First World War the British imprisoned the German missionaries in 1917 much to the dismay of the villagers of Abokobi. To continue with the mission work, Scots from Nigeria were imported but they did not drink. Instead they smoked long clay pipes. So the distinction was clear. The Scots were the smokers and the Germans were the drinkers! Abokobi had not changed. Nor had the largest roundabout in the world, situated at the start of the Accra-Tema motorway. One day….. We returned to Tema along the coast road visiting the world-renowned Teshi coffin makers. I could see scope for exporting these wonderful carved coffins to Scotland for Caber Tossers, Lighthouse Keepers and blacksmiths but as the years progress it may have to be the ubiquitous computer monitor which would be in demand. We presented the pastor with a small quiach, a set of choral works and my late father's sermon case. My parents had visited Ghana in 1976 and Dad had preached at the Community One Church. As I had not followed him into the ministry, I felt his sermon case would see good use in a church that was dear to both of our hearts. We read the plaque in the compound unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh to mark the twinning of Tema with Greenwich in London. "Meridian time", shared by Ghana and the UK, must bring satisfaction to both Ghanaian and British expatriates not least in the convenience of telephoning at convenient times. A new church had been built and our former home was now an office. But the memories of my time here came flooding back. A photograph was taken of the spot in the compound where I first met Jocelyn. That evening with Julie Nii-Moi, the Abakah family and Hansen Swanikier we were dined on guinea fowl wings for starters and chicken with chips washed down with a Star beer. It was a most satisfying meal in the company of true friends to end the first full day in Tema.
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|Friday 4th January
|Heading West While in the shower, pre-breakfast, the telephone rang. We had visitors. The Ocanseys had arrived at Marjorie Y. Jocelyn went to greet them while I got dried and dressed. When I arrived at the reception area, Jocelyn was engaged in conversation with two ladies. This was certainly not the Lizzie Ocansey who had been the pastor's daughter living next door yet I recognised her! I was warmly greeted and it became clear that a second Ocansey who had been a chorister was overwhelmed to have been contacted by us yesterday. We recalled some happy memories and posing for a photograph in which we both appeared. We parted after a prayer realising we had contacted them by chance, but this was not the effervescent Lizzie Ocansey would meet two weeks later. At 11a.m. Sissi drove us off to Hansen's home where his promise of a plate of fufu was realised. Fufu and lamb soup was the final Akwabaa and set us off for the long drive to Busua in the Western Region. Sissi was anxious to set off promptly to ensure we arrived in daylight but we were not to be deprived of a plate of fresh pawpaw. The resolution was to pass the plates through the car window as we left Tema. That is how we came to have a rattle of plates and forks the length and breadth of Ghana and why the Swanikier family were three plates and three forks short for two weeks! The road to Takoradi was long and slow for the first hour or so. The sight of the Liberian refugee camp was a sad reminder of the conflict along the coast yet Ghanaians are renowned for their hospitality and friendship. The Liberians could not have found a more accommodating nation. However the strains of this refugee camp understandingly test local resolve as it does elsewhere in the world. The road deteriorated beyond Cape Coast and heavy rain descended as light faded. This slowed us down and of course visibility was reduced but Sissi had introduced us to organic bananas and they tasted so good. We arrived at the Busua Beach resort at 6.45 p.m. and headed for a shower. I recall spending Christmas at Busua in 1974. It was a quiet and undeveloped village then. We had no misgivings that there was now an International Resort at Busua and we hope it attracts conferences, holidays and tourism for many years to come. It deserves to. It was of the highest standard, as was the Marjorie Y hotel in Tema. I had every sympathy for Sam Baddoo who had been asked to find Government Rest houses whenever possible, for us. It made sense however, that the venues designed to enhance tourism were there for us to appreciate.
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|Saturday 5th January 2002
|The stilted village A leisurely 9.45 a.m. start took us further west heading for Nzulezu village. Sissi had managed to clean off every grain of laterite making it a gleaming black car once more but not for the first time, we took a wrong road. Fortunately a game warden returning from a funeral joined us and took us to the ticket office. Our guide, James, took us along a flat dry area towards a gathering of cigar shaped canoes. There, we gently guided his canoe towards the channel of water leading towards a swamp. One by one we boarded. There were four passengers but only three paddles. Guess who coxed for us? This was a most enjoyable adventure. We met a fisherman in his canoe who readily showed us his catch for the day and then we paddled through rich vegetation into the lake. A couple of crocodiles veered away from us then the first sight of the stilted village appeared. This will always be a tourist's hot spot. The scenery, the canoe ride, the pace of approaching the village and the welcome on arrival makes this a valued experience and a win/win result for villagers and visitors. We freely walked around the village, paid our respects to the chief and took memorable photographs. It did strike me that these were in fact celebrities. Do Hollywood stars have more photos taken of them? Our guide was dashed a film when he told us his other profession was a photographer. On our return, he took us to his home to see his photo album. Very heavy rain followed us on the way home but we did manage to visit the Ankobra holiday beach briefly, keeping an eye on the dark cloud approaching steadily. This had been a day with much laughter and we realised we had found a real friend and companion in Sissi. His gift of charm and conversation was worthy of a tour guide, a diplomat and an ambassador. We saw him in all these roles and many others, as the tour developed. A plate of Jambalaya for me and chicken Kashmir for Jocelyn completed a most satisfying day. This time I washed the meal down with a Guilder. (It seems that Tata, the rice beer of happy memory, was no longer an option in Ghana).
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|Sunday 6th January 2002
|Retracing our steps We had renegotiated our itinerary with Sissi this day. After all his driving, we felt we would enjoy a leisurely stroll over to Dixcove and a lazy beach session at the end of the day at Busua. Sadly there had been a few incidents on the rural path between the two towns in the recent past and so we were given a security guard to accompany us. Jocelyn had stayed at Dixcove Castle in 1974 when it was a hostel and walked over to Busua before we had met. I had visited the Castle walking the other way, the year before. We made our way to Dixcove passing swimming children in the landlocked pool and caught a glimpse of some colourful butterflies. I tried to preserve them both on film. The tour of the Castle reminded us of a sordid past in which we can take no pride. This is so central a part of Ghanaian tourism but there is an understanding and a need to share our common history if we are not to make the same mistakes again. Sissi was aware of palm wine makers at work in the area and so we called out for them and eventually made our way to meet them on the hillside where I could not resist the sweet taste of the fresh palm wine. Such a delicacy. It was so refreshing. After an attempt to swim through the waves at Busua beach, I realised I was not feeling quite myself. The palm wine kept recurring – a 48 hour fast was in order. Strangely I did not feel ill but when the tummy is upset, it ties you down. Need I say more.
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|Monday 7th January 2002
|Recuperation in paradise. It was clear that a day at home in my condition was necessary. So confined to the porch of the guest house, feeling caged for the time being, the irony struck as I began to open Lothar-Gunther Buchheim's blockbuster 'Das Boot'. There is a popular radio programme on BBC Radio 4 called Desert Island Discs in which a celebrity is asked to imagine being cast away on a desert island with his or her eight favourite records, the Bible, Shakespeare's complete works and a book of your choice with one luxury. Here I was overlooking that magical island opposite Busua on which two palm trees stand erect. Here was I reading a book I had purchased more than two years ago waiting to have a consolidated reading opportunity. I was not just on that Desert Island, I was in paradise! We met Katerine and Bruno Lewandowski this afternoon. They had strayed from the Ivory Coast and come across the border to Busua. They spoke warmly of the Ghanaians they had met in contrast to a less hospitable Ivorian experience. Later that night Joce choked over a hot fufu mouthful and Bruno came to her aid. I remained deeply enthralled in Das Boot and missed this moment of distressful consummation.
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|Tuesday 8th January 2002
Our Silver Wedding Anniversary Day
We left Busua and set off for Kumasi. We first visited Elmina Castle in its delightful promontory setting. Despite the force of the waves attacking the coastal fortress, there was little sign of erosion at Elmina. This castle symbolises the height of the Slave trade. It is a moving experience. It seems like another world. Then we think of Chetnia, Serbia, Croatia and Afghanistan and wonder if we will, ever learn to take history seriously.
By lunchtime I was taking a plain biscuit washed down with a 'Malta'. WOW Did I FEEL GOOD? The advert caught my imagination. I had made a full recovery. Lunch was at the roadside Crocodile pool at Hans Cottage Botel at Efutu. Life was so good for these beautiful creatures. They slip effortlessly from the dry bank into the water and propel themselves by unseen arms and legs towards the restaurant where diners are encouraged to feed them spontaneously. I suppose they do this to ensure they are seen to be the providers of food thus ensuring the crocodiles do not see them as the provision itself! I do not doubt the ferocious ability of the crocodile to kill and maim but I feel JM Barrie has to answer for the reputation of the crocodile in his children's play, Peter Pan. Proceeding north along the well kept Cape Coast – Kumasi road we arrived at Kakum Canopy Walk and National Park. We followed the Ewe guide towards the start of the canopy walk. Our guide was not only a wild wife ranger, he was a botanist and explained the properties of plants and trees and warned of the dangers of other plants as well as the cord of ants which crossed our path. The start of the canopy walk has a seated rest point. To Jocelyn this was more of an open plane door on a first parachute jump! Yet she managed the first stage of the seven. The canopy walk is a matter of mind over matter. It is extremely well constructed but the crucial safety net was hidden beneath the underfoot planks. It required a confident step forward with head held aloft but one stage was enough for Jocelyn. I can not deny my heart was in my mouth at one point but by then I was more than half way through the web so I had to continue. To walk so high above the forest floor gives you entry into the world of primates and birds. It is a privilege. It is not one I could permanently exchange however. Having had our exercise for the day, we proceeded towards Kumasi. Dusk was falling when we entered this formidable city. We searched for road signs but they were scarce. We found one then another directing us towards the Pink Panther. How could Sissi and I resist. Like schoolboys we began to chant…Darum, darum, darum darum darum da da di daaaaaaaa da! Da diddle a dum, darum…..etc. Sure enough, this ensured us finding the Hotel at Adiembra. A welcome shower freshened us, a meal satisfied us, then after setting the air conditioner, sleep. Deep sleep
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|Wednesday 9th January 2002
|Harmattan The harmattan had descended last night with a vengance and hung heavy over the city. I resorted to take fewer panoramic photos and entertain a return one August for better filming conditions. We set off south towards Bekawi where Jocelyn had taught in the 70s. We arrived at the SDA secondary school and were met by the Assistant Headteacher Mr Yeboah. The head teacher, Mrs Mercy Adu Tawia had expected us yesterday. She had travelled to Accra today. Nevertheless we had a nostalgic tour of the compound with Jocelyn recognising a former pupil who now taught at the school. Doris and Jocelyn recognised each other simultaneously. We then proceed up the hill to Jocelyn's former home and were greeted by the present occupants. The school numbers had grown beyond belief but school accommodation was not keeping apace. The dorms were very crowded. The Christmas and New Year holiday was still in full swing and so we toured the school without pupils. That is not exactly true however. We were taken to one of Jocelyn's former science classes and we met a full and eager to learn class of local girls being encouraged to learn science during the holiday. We were both given a chance to address the girls and wish them well in their studies. Jocelyn then presented the school with a collection of text books and a scanner to compliment the staff computer department. These gifts were graciously received and then we were invited to a surprise lunch at Mr Blake's former home, the home of Mr. Yeboah. Fufu, fresh fish soup, boiled and fried plantain and okro stew. Fresh oranges and Coke followed. Our stomachs swelled. We were very satisfied. We had spent the whole day at SDA Bekwai but we promised to look in again on our return south the following week to pay our respects to the Head teacher. On our return to the Pink Panther, I made the acquaintance of the manager Mr. Charles Chaplins Nyarko, Mr Seth McForson the marketing manager and our waiter Samuel Azemura. Charles was particularly interested in my work as the Reporter to the Children's Hearings in Dumfries & Galloway. I promised to send Charles some papers about our system. Seth asked me to provide a reference to three hotels in Scotland for him to further his studies. I hope to hear from him, to see how this has progressed. Seth also took it upon himself to ascertain the whereabouts of one surgeon Archie Badoe. We had no idea if Dr Badoe was alive or in Kumasi let alone in Ghana. There was just a chance that this surgeon who was a graduate of St Andrew's University in Scotland and a former surgeon at Wigan where Joce's father had been in his medical circles, would still be in the city. Joce had visited him there while a teacher at Bekwai a quarter of a century ago. Retiring to bed, I found to Jocelyn's disgust, Eurosport and lay back to see Southampton loose 2-0 to Liverpool. No wonder top footballers are mega rich. Who in the world has not heard of David Beckham or Michael Owen?
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|Thursday 10th January 2002
|Surprise, surprise! After breakfast at the Pink Panther Seth McForson drove us to a clinic. It was not Dr Badoe's clinic but correct directions were given from there. We parked outside a compound and entered the courtyard. We approached the clinic and sat on the bench with Sissi. To all intents and purposes, we were three patients waiting to be seen. The Nurse Manager approached enquiring which one of us required the doctor. I said it was a social call. "Please, wait a moment". The nurse entered the doctor's surgery and returned. "Please, come this way." We entered and sat down. Jocelyn asked, " Are you Dr. Archie Badoe, a graduate of St Andrews University and did you work in Wigan, Lancashire?" The doctor's face broke into a smile " Ah…Miss France….from Bekwai?" It had been 26 years since Jocelyn last visited Dr. Archie and Mrs Mercy Badoe.
We exchanged our news of mutual friends and were invited to dine with the Badoes that night. Seth, "Meda ase papaapa." Seth then took us to his house to meet his wife and daughter. They had only moved into this house a month ago. Seth kindly presented us with a cassette of Edward Akwasi Boateng called Adee Mepe Da W'Anim. We thoroughly enjoy playing the CD on our return home. The Asanthene's Palace was our next port of call. The old palace, that is, as the new Palace is being built. The proud peacocks strut around the compound which is situated on a prominent hill in Kumasi. A real sense of history was there to see. The history of the proud Ashanti people, coming from a hole in the ground to a powerful nation and more modern history when Heads of State presented gifts to the Otumfo the Asantehene, Nana Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II in the 1960s. Presents and photographs abound. It is a splendid dwelling with a comprehensive history. We proceeded out of town to the wood carvers. As we have two Ashanti stools at home, we decided to buy three figures intertwined from the one block of wood. They remind me of the Panel Members at a Scottish Children's Hearing. It is a very clever and intricate design. At 6.30 p.m. Dr. Badoe and his Liberian son-in-law arrived in their beautiful car to take us to their delightful home. Despite the short notice of our unexpected visit, Mercy had prepared a sumptuous meal accompanied with a bottle of red wine. We talked till 11.30 p.m. On leaving, Dr. Badoe presented us with his book " A Critical Look at Criticism in the Medical Profession". It is seminal text book which should inspire many other professions to positively accept creative criticism in their work. None us are immune.
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|Friday 11th January 2002
|In for a rough ride Called to prayer by Charles Nyarko, I joined the staff of the Pink Panther in the early morning devotions on the ground floor. It was a moment to think of our family so far from home while being part of a very personal family in whose company we had enjoyed the last two days. Sissi packed the car once more then we set off on the Sunyani road. I studied the Brandt Tourist book. Clearly the road to Mole was shorter to go by Wenchi. We would make a loop if we returned from Tamale the direct way but it seemed the obvious way to proceed. Sissi accepted this view and after an hour we approached Wenchi where VSO teachers Steve and Margaret had taught during our time. We had met Steve near Brussels in the previous autumn. He is a high-ranking manager with Stella Artios. There is no doubt in my mind that his familiarity with Ghana's top class beer had prepared him for his future career. My short route was turning into a nightmare. We had run out of tarred road shortly after Wenchi and the laterite on which we now drove had hidden potholes. They need not have been significant holes or deep holes but rather like a shoogly tooth, a fuse in the bonnet refused to keep contact with its metal support and the engine cut out. Not once but every two miles. We crossed the beautiful Black Volta. Stopping on the dominant bridge, to look down on the village washing and drying. This was a welcome splash of colour in the ubiquitous harmattan and laterite conditions. The car came slowly to a halt once more not long after passing an elderly man who must have walked a considerable way as we were nowhere near habitation. He was a Northerner who spoke Twi. That of course was not unusual. The Northerners had lived cheek by jowl with the Ashanti Twi kingdom for hundreds of years. I am sure he was amused by my Twi conversation. I asked him if I may record this moment on film and he obliged. I dashed him generously. He then approached Sissi wishing to present us with a guinea fowl but we graciously declined. The smile on his face took years away from him. I now realise I should have dashed him before I had taken the photo. Do you agree? It was dark when we arrived at Larambanga, the town nearest Bole Game Reserve. We sought directions from a man who turned out to be a game park warden heading for duty. We gave him a lift to the reserve. Never had a plate of Jollof Rice tasted so good. A 'Star' washed it down.
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|Saturday 12th January 2002
Who is more afraid? The next day we got up early for the dawn patrol. We gathered round our armed warden James and set off quietly on a morning stroll. The vegetation was sparse. There was little greenery but many shades of grey and brown. They were ideal camouflage conditions for wild animals. James stopped drew his hand backward making us stop instantly. With his right hand he pointed to an antelope. We saw it just as it turned and disappeared into the scrub. We meandered over hillside and plain for another three quarters of an hour. A troop of monkeys eyed us suspiciously and scampered up trees to safety. The delicate Cordon Blue birds danced between the branches of bushes. The bush buck almost seemed to stand its ground but then turned only to reappear from another angle further away. A sand bank was heavily pitted with the nests of the beautiful Bee Eater. As we approached, we disturbed them. They flew to the trees nearby giving us better sight of their slender, colourful bodies. James then led us towards a pool where crocodiles were making their way towards a far bank. Then we noticed the unmistakable silent movement of an elephant. "Quick" James instructed us. "Follow me." In a military manoeuvre we circled smartly round behind the elephant and came out at a clearing that lay in the forward direction of seven……..no nine elephants. They just kept coming forward. I rest my case with the photographs I was able to take. I will never see such wonderful wild animals in nature walk into my focus as I saw this morning. I instantly knew it was on film and would look good. It was a wonderful feeling. On our way back to the lodge, we crossed a path on which there were clean paw prints. James confirmed a lion had passed in the night. Passed in the night? Passed our bedroom! And I don't recall locking the door! There was much to talk about at breakfast. Then suddenly we were called to the rear of the restaurant where a mature male elephant had rummaged through the kitchen waste. The rubbish was scattered and a powerful foot had also damaged the bin. We arrived to see him leave smartly with his tail between his legs. It was at that mangled bin we met Pia and Marcus Atsu Agbeadah. They had had a much more adventurous journey to Ghana. They had driven from Germany through France, Spain and Algeria before finding Mali uncomfortable. They were glad to be in Ghana and soon to be reunited with Atsu's family in Accra. We hope to see them in Scotland one day. I wonder which route they would take? A guided visit by Mr Asani Dawudu to the mosque at Larambanga and the Prayer stone completed the Mole experience. It would have been interesting to see inside the mosque but that was not possible. We appreciated a visit to the Mole Game Museum where we saw an elephant embryo, several skins and a collection of elephant scrotums which had us lost for words! Sissi found his missing environmentally friendly, insect repellent that he had obtained from America. This pleased him immensely. We celebrated with a beer and a game of Oware. It had been an eventful day and one in which we thoroughly deserved the groundnut soup and chicken we had that night. I even had apple pie and custard. Now, that would have been unheard of in the 70s.
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|Sunday 13th January 2002
|Terrific Tamale It was like leaving a host of friends when we left Mole Park but we knew the animals would be there to greet our successors and play their cat and mouse game in the reserve under the watchful eye of dedicated Wild Life Rangers. We took one of them to his home village, Damongo Junction, which was on our way to Tamale. We stopped to inspect a giant anthill. Jocelyn stood nearby to gauge its height. I could not see how it could grow a further centimetre. Then as suddenly as it had disappeared beyond Wenchi, the tarred road appeared on our journey. It was a perfect road. Not a pothole in sight. Flat, straight and busy. Busy with bicycles. We entered the town and made our way to the Gariba hotel on the Airport Road. We arrived at mid-day and as Joce rested for an hour, my relaxation was complete in seeing Newcastle beat Leeds 3-1. Our Tamale Guide, Cosmos, took us to see the leather works and we ordered two leather footstools (unstuffed). They would take a week to prepare but would be sent to Accra in time for our departure. Then we visited a family in whose compound clay pots were made. It was a family business and the demonstration was captivating. Cosmos finally took us through Tamale's busy market where we were greeted at almost every stall. The response I was required to give to their welcome sticks in my memory. If I said "Naa" once, I said it a hundred times before leaving the market. It was the only dagombo word I could remember. After a hot pepper sauce with chicken, we crossed the road to an Internet Café and sent a message to Fiona. To end the evening, we were taken to a training college's grounds where we were entertained with lively dancing and drumming of the highest quality. We could not have had a closer view of the drumming and mesmeric dancing. We returned to the Gariba Hotel after 10p.m. Tamale is one of Ghana's most peaceful capital towns. The pace of life is markedly slower. The bicycle calms the streets. It is not the relative poverty of the north that makes Tamale a cycle city, it's just its perfect flatness. Kumasi's hills make cycling there, an almost impossibility.
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|Monday 14th January 2002
|Darum, darum, darum,darum, darum! The Gariba Hotel was very comfortable indeed. However, it came to the staff's attention that we were not in the right room. They wished us to move to another larger room. However as nobody was going to use our room, we were satisfied to stay where we were. My diary records -–We took advantage of the double bed and have no regrets we did not take the luxury twin beds! A visit to the Standard Bank in Tamale was necessary and then we stocked up on fresh juice and biscuits for our journey to Kumasi. Sissi complemented the attractive shopkeeper who pointed out that a product was out of date. "Ah, May I call you Miss Honesty?" he teased. Sissi had the charm of Cassanova but the dignity of a betrothed young man as he was. We paid a call on Cosmos to thank him for organising our tour in Tamale then set off at speed on the road south. I noticed a sign on the roadside and suggested we stop to explore. That is how we found ourselves at the Kintampo Waterfall. It is a centre for greater tourist potential. One would have to be fit however as the cemented block steps are taxing on the descent and quite muscle binding on the incline upwards. Waterfalls are very restful to the soul and Ghana has some excellent examples. We resumed our journey coming across a jack-knifed lorry that we just managed to get round. Fortunately there seemed to be no loss of life. Then we approached Kumasi and again we drove round until we found a familiar landmark. Darum, darum, darum darum darum, the Pink Panther came into view and we returned to our same room. Jocelyn retired early to bed while I ate in the restaurant with Kwadjo, a teacher. Our waiter Samuel Azemura returned to have a photo taken and by now he will have his copy. Seth McForson gave me three letters to post in Scotland while Charles Chaplins Nyarko and I considered how to establish the Ghanaian Children's Reporter Administration. I promised to send him some papers on my return home. Joce managed some French onion soup.
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|Tuesday 15th January 2002
|My Kwahu Alma Mater We signed out leaving our good friends of the Pink Panther hotel and visited the Kumasi Military Museum. Our debt to the soldiers of the Gold Coast in the first World War and in their eastern campaign against the Japanese in the second must never be forgotten. The Museum makes good use of its fort layout with arms, flags and pictures. Fufu and light soup at the Kumasi Cultural Centre brought back memories for us both and it was with a very satisfied feeling we set off to SDA Bekwai once more to meet the Headmistress. When we arrived, a staff meeting was in progress. Jocelyn addressed the staff and we were thanked for the scanner that we had presented along with some textbooks. The meeting then adjourned for a staff photograph to record the visit but horrors upon horrors, they had expected us earlier and had prepared another full meal for us! We managed to eat some groundnut soup and chicken followed by wonderfully juicy pineapple. How we managed to eat as much I'll never know. As a nostalgic stroll, Jocelyn left the school down the steep driveway and wandered into the town. Sissi and I followed on sedately. We came across four young men on a bench. We got talking. John Gymfi was small, round-shouldered and polite. He asked if I could get him new crutches. I took his photograph along with his friend. Some two months later he wrote to me thanking me for sending his photograph. What he does not yet know is that I have obtained a set of crutches and am making arrangements as I write this diary this evening to parcel them up and send them to him. It was nightfall before we reached Nkawkaw, which lies at the foot of the Kwahu ridge. So we ascended in the dark. As we climbed the temperature dropped and we could feel why the European missionaries settled on the Kwahu ridge. This was where I was sent to learn some Twi on my arrival in 1973. The atmosphere, the temperature, the ridge, they were all special to me. Obo, Mpraeso, Nkwatia and the best of all …..Abetifi. The Ramseyer Centre at Abetifi is a fine example of the Swiss Basle Mission architecture with its long hanging roofs and balconies and wooden beams. It was in one of these I was billeted while recovering from a car accident near Kyibi. For four months I travelled to St Peter's Roman Catholic School in Nkwatia, to learn Twi from Douglas Asomang, my teacher. We were escorted across the compound to an expatriate block in which an American couple, Brian and Courtney, and their three children lived. Brian was an agricultural adviser about to serve his Church in Brong Ahafo. A meal had been prepared for us. It was no longer hot but just as enjoyable cold. A Philippine Catholic Priest was engrossed in a video – Independence Day. It was a film that did not make much sense to me. There again I had missed three quarters of the film! I was pleased to say good night.
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|Wednesday 16th January 2002
|Distressed animals At breakfast a Dutch priest joined us. I was able to show him a few Dutch Euro notes. He inspected them with interest. Akosia the Kenyan Midwife joined us at the table with the two Pillipineos. One asked me what children I had and I told him about Fiona and Laura. I was surprised with his sudden frank question but presumed it was an oriental trait. I retorted "How many children do you have?" The table guffawed in delight. I had forgotten he was a priest! This most unusual collection of non-Ghanaians was here for a reason. They were receiving Twi lessons on the compound and sure enough when the bell sounded, off they went. We strolled over to the Ramseyer Centre and met en route Jacoline Walters Lambregste. She and her husband Rolf were resident in the centre organising lay preachers training courses. We discussed why we had returned and her small brown dog stood in the circle our conversation had made. After some time, we wished to continue with our walk around the centre so we bade her farewell and I took one step backward. That was where her dog had now moved to and my heel came down on its paw. It reacted sharply and I felt the rear of my knee nip. Then the blood appeared. I had been bitten. Jacoline took me to her house and Jocelyn applied an antiseptic cream and a bandage. Jocelyn's mind was not at ease. Could it have been a rabid bite? I was taken to the Abetifi clinic where I was given a fresh plaster and iodine. The dog was certainly not rabid. After a short rest, we proceeded to Nkwatia to look round the School grounds where I had had my Twi lessons some 29 years ago. We met an assistant Head teacher who informed me that the Rev Kofi Ron Lange, the American priest who was at St. Peters at the time I was there, had been working in Tamale! Oh if I had only known. We were shown the new Noviciates block with some pride and the grounds were generally well tended. I asked if the baboons and the crocodiles were still in the compound. Alas the baboons were no longer there but the crocodiles were. Could I see them? This struck the teacher with surprise but we proceeded towards their enclosure. Did I say enclosure? When we saw it, it was more like two traps. There were two crescent tubs. Dry smelly and not nearly large enough. The crocodiles lay unable to exercise, with a lack of food and no water. There was a pungent smell. No body cared for them. They do not deserve to be there. They distressed us and the Head teacher was embarrassed. Could something be done? On our return to the Ramseyer Centre, we met the Director and paid our respects. Before the sun set, we took photographs along the verandas to bring back the memories and returned for spaghetti bolognaise and water melon. A Ghanaian TV soap was on featuring the antics of a taxi driver and an expectant mother. Comedy is universally understood.
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|Thursday 17th January 2002
|A remarkable encounter We heard the bells at 4a.m. summonsing worshipers to Church. We chose not to join these devotions. We could not return to sleep easily and dawn broke. After breakfast, the usual motley collection of Americans, Phillipinoes, Kenyan and Dutch milled around and a Ghanaian entered. He looked around. Turning to Brian he enquired in Twi " Where are they from?" Brian understood but replied in English. "I think they are from Ireland." Jocelyn who was in the kitchen had overheard the conversation and broke in to assert " We're from Scotland!" The Ghanaian's eyes lit up. " My very first Twi pupil almost 30 years ago was from Scotland. His name was Caldwell…Miller." I turned round and gasped in astonishment " Douglas" "Eyi me Kwabena Miller!" We approached and gave eachother a strong hug. The class was amazed. Some were filled with wonderment. It was an emotional reunion and it affected not just the two of us. We could not believe we had met again. Samuel taught me before he went to Teacher College to join the Ghana Teaching Service. He had now retired from that and been asked to come to Abetifi to teach expatriates requiring to learn some Twi. He began only four months ago. We promised to catch up on our news that evening. We set off to tour the neighbouring towns. Obo was as majestic as it always has been. The road up, over and down to the Volta lake proved too much for the car. The road was heavily pitted and from time to time lorries piled high would totter above us as they passed. One slight jolt and the goods if not the lorry would reduce Sissi's car to a flat plate of metal. Our lives would be over. We gave up. We returned to Mpraeso and had a well-earned Guilder at a chop bar in the main street. As light faded, I strolled round the compound reminiscing and greeting passers by. Douglas arrived and we went to his home a half mile away. He was clearly disappointed his wife had not returned when we prepared to depart. Douglas walked us back to the Ramseyer Centre. Shortly afterwards his wife arrived and we had photos taken to recall this day for years to come in an album. I recalled an e-mail message from Sam Baddoo. "Kwabena, you have an extra day. Where do you want to spend it?" I though by the time we reached Abetifi, we would be on the home leg. It would be very peaceful and temperate on the ridge. The extra day would be at Abetiti. Had it not been Abetifi, I would not have come across Douglas. It had been a most remarkable day. Thank you Sam too.
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|Friday 18th January 2002
|Kyibi, Apedua, Koforidua, Aburi, Akosombo Breakfast at 7 a.m. included porridge, boiled egg, Milo and toast. Leaving Kwahu ridge is always a sad affair. As you loose height, the heat builds up again and your respite is over. But I was excited. The very personable pastor in charge of the Ramseyer Centre during my stay was Rev Isaac Frempong. He had become Moderator of the Church and travelled in his year of office to the far East. He was now in retirement at Apedua. We went through Kyibi where I had had a car accident leading to a court appearance. That is when Rev. Frempong spoke up for me and the case was dismissed. I had not failed to keep the car in a roadworthy condition. I had received it merely three hours beforehand, checked its tyres and prepared it adequately for the journey. Nevertheless, I had a lot to thank him for. We arrived at the village and enquired where Rev. Frempong lived. As luck would have it, we asked a niece who gladly took us to his home. He had an orchard of a garden with oranges draping the trees outside his front door.
He found it hard to recollect the blond tousled haired Scot over more than a quarter of a century ago but we chatted amicably and presented him with a pewter quaich. I would not have recognised him either as we both sported very short hair but a painting of him as Moderator showed his distinctive coiffeur in the background so I arranged for the photos to be taken there. We visited Aburi gardens, which do not look their best in January, but they are very pleasant gardens to walk through and our guide explained which dignitary planted which tree and which tree is which. The Ficus Elasticoides epiphyte into which we peered upwards was not the most attractive tree but by far the most unusual we had ever seen. We reached the Accra plains and glanced past Accra and Tema from the motorway and headed towards the Shai hills. It took us some time to identify the Akosombo Hotel in the dark. The chef prepared very tasty local fish and gateaux of the day went down a treat. No more Twi to be spoken here. Ewe greetings were in demand!
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|Saturday 19th January 2002
|Highs and Lows in the Volta Region I woke early and went down to the pool for a swim. I was alone but accompanied by a transistor radio which was reporting the local news. The pool at Akasombo, adjacent to the tennis courts, is set into the hillside with a stunning view through the hills to the Volta Lake horizon. I have seen it before and marvelled at the architecture and landscaped horticultural planning. But it was not on view this morning. The harmattan, coupled with the early morning swim, ensured poor visibility. After breakfast I sat motionless on the balcony eager to see unsuspecting birds land on the nearby trees and bushes. Manikins obliged and in the distance, some larger birds which I could not identify. The Adomi bridge is the gateway to the Volta region and such a splendid bridge. I had to stop and take a photograph from the shore once more. The bridge had not changed but I had a better camera on this visit! We were soon in Ho and found Chances Hotel – not by chance as it happens but clearly marked from the main road. We received a very friendly welcome and booked in to our room but promptly left for our journey to Amedzofe. This has never been a tarred road and so progress was made quite slowly but just as we wondered how long it would take, we began to ascend and we knew we were heading for the highest town in the region. No wonder the German missionaries chose Abetifi and Amedzofe to start their work. There are many similarities in this mountainous region to remind one of Germany or Switzerland from where the Basle and Bremen missionaries came from but it was the climate and the people which made them comfortable and made them feel at home. We reported to the Tourist Office and declared our intention to descend down to the waterfall and then ascend up the hill to the cross. We would need a guide. We had ventured this route once before without a guide but perhaps we looked less fit these days. Indeed in filling in the visitors book we were even asked to state our ages! I am still not sure why. Wisdom Jackson Ekisson had not long left school. He was assigned as the Tourist Office Guide for our excursion. It was a sedate stroll through the town that began our walk leading towards the waterfall. The road narrowed to be a path and the lush vegetation encroached as we began to feel the grassy decline. A significant change and a most welcome one was the provision of a sturdy rope that helped us descend. It had been established as a necessity as erosion of the hill had made footing precarious in some parts. Our arms and thighs strained as muscles were tested in positions not encountered for years. Strangely it was only Sissi and Jocelyn who complained of aching thighs and when they said so, amusement was the general response, not sympathy! The Wli falls are more accessible and better known but the Amedzofe waterfall is stunning in its own way. From its base across the canopy, you can see for miles and the seclusion of the fall gives it, its own special charm. We ascended using the rope and testing other unused muscles. Cola pods were found and we eased them from their cocoons. Chewing one of these dark red nuts helped Sissi and I concentrate on the task ahead. Back then to the town we walked and set off the other way to the hill. The German missionaries had built a cairn and placed a tall iron cross on its top. We had been here before and its mystic charms were intact. We contemplated the beauty of Ghana, its people and its natural wealth. With sadness we realised our trip was coming to an end. Oh how each height of pleasure to balanced by each depth in reality. Wisdom joined us in the town for a snack at the chop bar and a well-deserved Fanta drink. I hope he was pleasantly surprised to receive some photos of us with him a few weeks later as we engaged in our arduous hike. The opening match of the Africa Cup saw Mail draw 1-1 with Liberia. There was nothing in that match to threaten the progress of Ghana's Black Stars.
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|Sunday 20th January 2002
|A Stately Encounter Oats, orange juice, toast and tea for breakfast in Chances restaurant. Then I captured on film the beautiful bougainvillaea flowering behind our accommodation. Chances gardens were very attractive. Our journey to Tema would have two stops. The first was to see the John Klu museum at Akatsi. However, when we got there, the key holder had travelled. We could not enter. We proceeded westwardly and passed several police roadside checks with no interruption. At Sogakofe we drove down Ciseros driveway and parked in the shade beside the Volta river. It was an idyllic setting. I wandered down the slipway and observed the river life in abundance. Small fish darted in and out of sight, weavers chirped in the trees above revealing their yellow wings from time to time and a strange water bird dived into the Volta for its lunch. I learned it was the distinct and unusual Hammerkop with its dull brown appearance and a curious large thick crest which together with a stout bill gives its head the shape of an anvil. We had some time to wait before our lunch arrived but it was well worth waiting for. Banku with Okra stew. "Telegraph wires!" shouted Sissi. I knew immediately what he meant when my handful of banku refused to let go of the Okra, trailing the telegraph wires from my plate to my mouth. Moments later Sissi froze. "Kwabena…the President!" What was this joke I wondered. "Kwabena seriously, behind you, The President JJ." I turned round and walking towards our table in the open Gazebo, was the unmistakable frame of President Jerry Rawlings, his wife, his secretary and sprawling around the compound, his bodyguards. We rose form our plates. Sissi introduced us. This was most remarkable as in 48 hours we were scheduled to meet the President and here he was about to enjoy lunch at the table next to ours! When Sissi explained that I used to work in Tema and Jocelyn used to be a teacher in Ashanti, Mrs Rawlings immediately offered a job to Jocelyn as Headmistress of the 31st December International School in Tema. Apparently the last head teacher had gone to America. I could only hope if Jocelyn accepted, then I could find a job in Ghana too, or this silver wedding celebration might end in disaster! The Caldwells posed with the Rawlings and Sissi took the photograph before we returned to our cuisine and the President sat down to kebabs. When we finished our meal, I approached the President's secretary Mr. Victor Smith, to confirm the meeting time on Wednesday. As I did so, unnoticed, I inadvertently dropped my binocular case. Twelve miles further on, our faithful car lost power for what would be the very last time on this tour. It was not the usual resetting of the fuse, it was more serious. Sissi approached it with a screwdriver. A thump, a push, a press. No luck. We must have been there ten minutes when the Presidential entourage flew by. As the cars sped passed, the brake lights went on. Then a car returned. Two bodyguards approached. Cornelius handed me the binocular case that I had left at Sogakofe. They enquired why the car had stopped and agreed to go to the next town to find a car fitter. By the time they returned Sissi had re-routed the fuse and sparked the engine again. The fitters were not required. So a well-earned dash to the bodyguards and the fitters met the satisfaction of everyone. We entered Tema around 6p.m. and proceeded to Hansen's home where we returned his three plates and forks which we had taken laden with pawpaw on the start of this tour some three weeks before. We learned we would be staying with Hansen's sister, Naa Betty Lartey. Betty had been a sister to me in the Church compound in Tema where we had lived as next door neighbours. I had once encouraged her to drive and gave her some brief lessons. She seemed to be a very competent driver so I foolishly invited her to park the car in the garage at my home. I stood in front of the car coaxing it forward when suddenly it lurched forward. Fortunately I was nimble in those days and leapt to the door recess. How I avoided two broken legs I'll never know. Unfortunately Betty feared the worse and this incident put her off driving for many years. Oh Betty, it was all my fault. Sorry. Mea culpa. We were to spend our last three days in Sakumono at Duke and Betty's beautiful home. Sakumono, the commuter-belt for Accra. Sakumono was once, only a peaceful lagoon. Betty prepared a delightful meal after which we saw Burkina Faso draw 0 – 0. Ghana played tomorrow. Our confidence was growing.
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|Monday 21st January 2002
|Old Friends Finished reading Das Boot on the veranda outside Betty's home. Sissi arrived at 11a.m. and we set off to Nungua and Julie Nii-Moi's home. Outside Julie's home was the parrot cage but it was Kofi the African Grey's successors who inhabited it. Julie called Jocelyn to her bedroom as I chatted with Julie's family. Then I was summonsed. Julie had had made matching suits for us to meet the President tomorrow and amazingly, they fitted perfectly. A few presents were distributed to Julie's family then we set off in search of Elizabeth Anteh Ocansey whose father Osofo E.A.Anteh had succeeded Osofo J.E.Svanikier, whose daughter Elizabeth, had succeed Betty as my next door neighbour. Elizabeth had moved to Teshie and we were not quite sure where her home was. However we entered a large courtyard through a metal door and saw signs of the Elysee catering Services. Julie called for Elizabeth and beckoned her to come outside. She did and on seeing me she ran forward screaming and nearly squashed me in an Ocansey bear hug. Yes this was Lizzie all right! We spent some time sharing our families news and Lizzie telephoned Colonel Barnes to notify him of our arrival in her excitement. (Lieutenant Barnes as he was then, had married Lizzie's sister Emily.) We returned home to Sakumono missing the first half-hour of the match. We settled down to see the rest of the game. Morocco 0 Ghana 0. Julie joined us in a plate of Jollof Rice and chicken then Ice Cream which Naa Betty prepared. Later in the evening Betty's husband Duke arrived and after he had eaten we gave them our penultimate pewter quaich.
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|Tuesday 22nd January 2002
|A Delicate Mission Naa Betty arranged to iron our matching Ghanaian suits for our mid-day appointment with the President. So after breakfast and showers, we were looking very smart. Sissi arrived equally smart and we left to collect Julie in Nungua. Poor Julie was still in the throws of a nasty cold and looked very tired but this appointment gave her some enthusiasm. We arrived at the President's guarded home at the Ridge in Accra at five minutes before the appointed time. We were stopped at the gate by the security guard who confirmed who we were and that we had an appointment. We proceeded to the reception desk and were then shown into a room with a large meeting table, a sofa and several comfortable soft chairs. At first we listened to every footstep which had the potential to enter the room and cause us to be upstanding. Forty-five minutes had elapsed. Then a female secretary arrived to give the President's apologies for being late. He was detained at a meeting but would arrive as soon as possible. More than an hour later The President and his wife entered and greeted us. The President immediately took the initiative and inquired of our Ghanaian guests. It was clear that Jerry Rawlings was as comfortable speaking in Ga as in he was in Fante or Akan Twi. Julie explained our special relationship and Sissi gave the President and his wife a resume of the three weeks touring Ghana. Jocelyn and I then presented our last Scottish Quaich that neatly doubles as a libation cup. The traditionally shared ceremonial drink from the quaich between husbands and wives, lovers or friends met with their approval. I then presented photographs of Dr Richard Jeffries who has vowed to complete his biography, photographs of his father and a photograph of his cousin and his family, Tony Barbour of Dumfries, our friends. The President took the opportunity to recall his upbringing and stated with some bitterness how insignificant a figure his father had been in his life. These were times past however and that was significant in itself. His father was now dead and so it was no longer more than a matter of deep regret. He wished to send us a copy of his approved biography and he was pleased to know about his cousin and his family, the Barbours of Dumfries. Our meeting lasted 11/2 hours. During this time it was revealed that he had a sister Judy in Tema. This would be news to Tony. The President wished to write a letter of reply to the Barbours and asked when we were returning to the UK. It was tomorrow. I suggested the letter could be delivered at the Airport and the President agreed. He would send Cornelius to Kotoko International Airport to meet us there and hand over the letter. A late lunch at a chop bar with Sissi and his girlfriend Tina recalled the meeting we had just had. Meanwhile Julie drank a Malta but did she feel good? No, her cold was no better and getting her down. Had the President and his wife succumbed to it too? We'll never know. A visit to the Arts Centre in Accra resulted in the purchase of a tie, a flag and some cloth for Jocelyn to sew at her leisure. Our two Tamale leather footstools had arrived at Sissi's office and as they were unfilled, we could pack them in our cases easily. After a shower and a garden wall discussion with the Lartey's next door neighbour, we set off with Hansen to the TDC Clubhouse, where we were met by many old Tema friends from the different Church Youth Groups. Sam Baddo and his wife were there to greet us and learn of our very successful trip. One special friend was Rosemary Nanor. She explained that her father was ill. She would have to leave early to visit him in Tema Hospital. So as others were still gathering we excused ourselves and went with her to his bedside. Mr. Charles Nanor had taken me to hospital after I met with an accident and he recalled that day. We recalled many other fond memories of people, places and events but he was tired and so after a prayer we left. I was so pleased to be able to see Mr. Nanor, a wonderful servant of the Church and family man. I hope our meeting gave him some comfort in his distress. It gave me much satisfaction seeing him again after all the years. Sammy Abakah spoke of the good times in the 70s we had shared and I recalled some of the best moments of then and our recent tour. Ghana had proved itself to be a modern tourist treasure waiting to be enjoyed by many. There is something for everyone to do whether it is for a week or a month. The Game reserves, the beaches, the walks, the waterfalls, the fresh food, the beer!, the villages, the towns, the cities and regional capitals. Above all - the people. Ghana is a jewel too few see. We called at Sammy's home at the end of the night. I thought to drop off the younger members of the Abakah family even although young Sam was over six feet like his father. I could not help referring to him as Sammy Kitewaa! ( Little Sam) It sounds so much better than Sammy Abakah Jr. However Freda produced a remarkable selection of gifts for us and our children. Kente bags, Shirt tops, and dresses. What a delightful surprise they were. It had been a very eventful day. Our delicate mission had been a success.
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|Wednesday 23rd January 2002
All too soon Jocelyn seemed to have a slight temperature so rested in the morning while I read. Naa Betty produced a plate of fresh yam and fish stew. It was so tasty. Sissi and Julie arrived as we were eating some pancakes. "Ba yeni, Sissi" So Sissi sat down at the table. Julie seemed a little better but clearly sad that the last day had arrived. We spent the last afternoon in Tema calling to see Frank Duona's Foreign Exchange Office. His wife Janet was at home today so I could only send my best wishes. We then went to the Tema Fishing harbour which has expanded considerably. Julie inspected various fish but did not purchase any in the end. Fortunately the small fish she was after were on sale on the Tema coast road near Sakumono Lagoon so we stopped there and a good purchase was made. We took our final farewell of Naa Betty and her son Nii Lantey Lartey who had treated us royally at their home and taking the motorway, arrived at the large roundabout in no time at all in Accra. There we managed to purchase a further footstool so that our girls would have one and we would have one too. By 7p.m. we had deposited our luggage at the check-in desk. It would go straight through to Glasgow. Then we returned to meet Sammy, Freda, Hansen, Julie and Sissi. We went to the Airport bar and were entertained by northern dancers. Cornelius arrived with the letter from President Rawlings. He joined us for a Guinness beer. An hour later our KLM flight was called and we proceeded to the terminal. Sissi who had been the most diplomatic and faithful friend throughout the tour then took on a pastoral role and led us in prayer giving thanks for bringing us to this day amongst friends and asking God's protection for is in our travels ahead. It was a most fitting way to depart. The valedictory moment was sealed by handshakes, kisses and hugs. We took our leave.
Ghana, Yebesha wo. Till we meet again.
© Miller Caldwell
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|In Search of a Speaker
In the lay-by on the A711 , I listen to Lesley Riddock . She invites her listeners to the air waves, then dispatches them with a curt strike. The tuna in my sanny probably underwent a similar process in more salty waves. Sustenance of mind and body complete, I set off to the office in Dumfries.
The case in the Sheriff's Chambers at Kirkcudbright had lasted no more than 15 seconds. He is perplexed by the insufficiency of the law. A toddler's case fully accepted by the parents at a children's hearing but not understood by the 17 month old child, is to be remitted back to a hearing for disposal, from whence it came. The learned Sheriff felt a helicopter would have saved us both time. Indeed it would have returned him to Stranraer and me to Dumfries in a matter of minutes. My regular rendezvous with Ms Riddock on the A711 would be at risk if the Scottish Courts Administration and the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration took the suggestion on board.
Lunchtime lay-bys in south - west Scotland have proved to be ornithological and inspirational. Check out the sand martin bank on the B7068 (post Langholm hearings) and the penduline tit on the A713 at Patna (post Dalmellington hearings). Prior to working in Dumfries and Ayr, few interesting ornithological opportunities arose in John Finnie Street, Kilmarnock, where the lunch-time dauner was more of an opportunity to re-stock pampers or converse with Killie acquaintances. Burns country you realise.
Life would be so much easier if I had a matching south - west accent. Having Glasgow on my passport as place of birth has always been a niggle. It could have read Redlands Hospital, by ambulance from Bishopton, Renfrewshire, but there is no room on the page and anyway that was for only two years before Kirriemuir in Angus " provided his formative years". A genuine spell of education at Glasgow before meaningful sojourns in Edinburgh, Ghana, London, Stirling and Troon followed. Arriving in Dumfries some eight years ago, we wondered if our travels had really ceased. Consequently, I possess a frustratingly nondescript accent.
Yet it was Dumfries which managed to discover real south-west roots for me. Robert Burns' first child was Elizabeth (1785-1817), 'dear Bought Bess'. Elizabeth's great granddaughter was my grandmother Jemima Helen Walker Caldwell (1878-1968). The Dumfries Burns Club took notice.
So, in this my presidential year, I had to engage a worthy speaker for our Anniversary Dinner. This was on my mind last February as a robin inquisitively perched on the damp dyke, eyeing the contents of my lunchbox. Lesley Riddock silenced her adversarial contributors for a lunchtime news report and that was when inspiration struck. Reference had been made to the UN Secretary General.
Kofi Annan had been the Director of Tourism when my wife and I lived in Ghana. His family village at Bekwai, Ashanti Region, was also the village where my wife had taught as a VSO. Annan was our neighbouring town and his namesake. Would the Freedom of Annan be given to Kofi before Jim Wallace? Hadn't Langholm taken the lead, three decades ago by making Neil Armstrong one of their own? Inspirational lay-bys!
If I got Kofi Annan to come, then I could confidently count on the First Minister (serva fidem) who was a well- known Burnsian , frequent Dumfries and Galloway visitor, speaker at the Howff Club, the Hole in the Wa' and our own Burns Club in the town and former children's reporter besides! The helicopter was no longer a fantasy.
In July, on vacation, we found ourselves in the Secretary General's New York Office. He regretfully declined to give the Immortal Memory on this occasion while wishing to visit Annan one day, beyond his term of office. There was no need therefore to contact Donald Dewer who was recovering at that time from his serious heart operation.
Meanwhile I was invited to Hampden (sans kit) by the Chief Constable of that fair city to a Conference on Safer Scotland. The answer is of course simple. Move to the rural Stewartry of Kircudbright! The problem is equally clear. Young men in fits of alcoholic rage attack each other leaving permanent disfigurement. Medical slides confirmed their youth and Policing tactics were shared amongst all eight Police Forces. It was a sombre morning delivery and not too comfortable for those like myself who frequently strive to prevent such juvenile offending.
Then strode on to the stage, a young eighteen year old six former. "This is my town", she announced with her PowerPoint projection. Kirriemuir! And plumb centre of the slide was the former St. Ninian's Manse, my childhood home. Defying the flavour of the morning, Gemma told the conference that parents buy mobile phones for their children. Why? "Well, all we hear about is paedophiles in the community and if someone slips us a drug, maybe we'll have time to dial 999. Yes, we do move in groups, she admitted. That's not a threat. We are protecting ourselves. Anyway on a night out in Dundee, we have to catch the last bus home to Kirrie at 10.45p.m." Bravo! Gemma could have been speaking for the youth of rural Dumfries & Galloway and every rural place as well. Lesley, if Gemma phones in, please don't cut her off. Had Gemma been from our neck of the woods, I could have asked her to reply on behalf of the Lasses.
One last trawl for a potential speaker took place on 6th October. How did you celebrate your 50th?
We opened the house to a variety of neighbours, colleagues and friends. As an Ice Breaker, I prepared a quiz sheet of facts about the guests. There was no shortage of detail for each of them to identify each other but to give you a flavour of the challenge inter alia:
In 1976, I was Miss France……….(my wife)
This man's cousin is the President of Ghana………(Tony Barbour)
I won a sub-machine gun shooting trophy ……….. ( Hilary Clark my female work colleague. Wow, did I need to know this?)
One of two Wigtown personalities present, this musician performed in her maiden years, as C. Sharp…… (get it?)(Christine Barbour)
I was at school with Tony Blair……………………(John Henderson)
Just back from sailing David Coulthard's yacht in the Mediterranean……….Jock
In 1974, I was mistaken by 10,000 people for the German international football striker, Gunter Netzer…………….. (that was me actually.)
Lady Lucan informed me that her husband had tried to strangle her ……………(Jenny Henderson)
A week later Donald Dewer died. Serva Fidem, the school motto, seemed very appropriate. He had kept faith with Scottish devolution and kept faith with the people he served. Alas, neither he nor the UN Secretary General would be attending the Burns anniversary dinner.
Roving Sheriff, Children's Reporter and above all Dumfries Doonhamer, Alan Findlayson, will return to his home town to give the Immortal Memory and the former European Director of UNICEF, Canadian, Paul Ignatieff, will toast his adopted town. The Lord Lieutenant will reply as many do around the country at this time. The singers have agreed to entertain and so has the piper.
Invitations go out immediately after New Year. Burns Night is often the first social event of the year promoting hibernal stirrings. Lets hope the wintry Devil's Beef Tub will not hinder Alan's southward journey on 25th.
Like the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the President's term of office lasts just one year. That should free me up soon for south west representation for the Institute of Contemporary Scotland's affairs. The scenic and inspirational lay – bys of Scotland must be worthy of contemporary recognition. Lesley Riddock's Paxmanian jousting must too…..but lets save that, on another drive.
Ends. 1,300 words.
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By My Own Admission
First published in The Good Health Magazine
I returned to hospital, this time to have my sinuses washed out. I expected everything to go as smoothly as they had the first time around. How wrong I was!
I made my way to Ward 3B and chose a bed. The ward nurse remembered me and remarked that I would not have forgotten the ropes. I agreed. I confidently secured the irreversible studded namelet round my left wrist only to see it drop onto the polished floor seconds later. A new namelet was brought and fastened in the style of a double clove hitch by a dismayed nurse.
I was sitting up in bed now with a thermometer under my left arm at the same time as presenting my right arm to have my blood pressure checked. It was normal but where was the thermometer? In concentrating on the pressure being applied to my right arm, I had let slip the pencil thin thermometer from my left armpit. It lay beneath my pyjamas in two pieces. I reflected on another unnecessary expense to the NHS.
The shower room with its adjacent loo was already lit on my entry to provide a urine sample. I obliged with a modest sample, tugged the suspended light switch cord to save electricity, frantically noticing the plastic red button at the end too late.
'Don't worry Mr. Caldwell, you are not the first to pull the emergency help button', reassured the quietly exasperated nurse. I deserved a £50 fine!
I settled into the ward and made acquaintance with my fellow patients. We each revealed our medical problems that had brought us together and shared our anticipated length of stay in confinement with each other. I explained that I was a prosecutor of juveniles in court – a reporter to the children's panels.
That information led to sharing the story of the Sheriff some time ago who lived in Troon and relied on friends to run him to work at the Kilmarnock Sheriff Court some nine miles away. One morning he accepted a lift from a lorry driver. As they reached the 40mph limit on the outskirts of town the lorry slowed down to 32mph. On reaching the 30mph limit, the driver slowed down to 22mph.
'Taking it easy?' enquired the Sheriff.
'Aye, there's a bastard of a Sheriff in Kilmarnock an' I'm no losing my licence over him.'
On reaching the centre of town the Sheriff asked to be dropped off. As the lorry pulled into the kerb, the grateful passenger took a £10 note from his wallet and thrust it into the lorry driver's hand.
'There. That's from your friendly bastard, the Sheriff!'
As the recently acquired captive audience showed their appreciation, an elderly man stirred from the bed to my left.
'It was only £5, sir, and I should know. I was the Sheriff.
The anaesthetic could not come quickly enough.
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|Tell Our Sisters
Neil set the windscreen wipers to a more frequent thrust as he left the Moto service
station. The fine drizzle was going to damped his next leg of his journey home but it
would not diminish his enthusiasm for the day.
He had been to Milton Keynes to collect 200 copies of his first novel from his
publisher. He could not wait to get back home to introduce his work to the local
press, sell a few copies at a book signing venue and in common with all first time authors,
his thoughts turned to the 'what if' scenario. What if it became a best seller? What if film rights were in demand? Or perhaps what if he never had to work again for a living?
These feelings of wellbeing undoubtedly contributed to his decision to slow down at
the slip-way exit and make a sudden decision to stop, be a Good Samaritan and give a lift
to the dejected youth whose thumb up stance was at odds with his downtrodden look.
He lowered his passenger's window but was not the first to talk.
'Where are you going?' the youth asked.
'That'll do fine' he said, opening the front door and throwing a plastic bag on to the
back seat. Neil checked his mirror, accelerated and joined the busy motorway traffic.
'Andy's my name' said the damp passenger.
'Oh, mine's Neil. Been on the road long?'
Andy must have heard the question but he did not reply. Neil wondered what state of
mind was possessing the youth now sitting beside him and he was angry with himself for being forced to reveal where he was going before he could ascertain where the passenger wished to go. This was the very situation that had made him ignore so many hitchhikers in the past.
'I guess you're a man of few words then?' he ventured as he indicated to overtake a Curries lorry in the second lane.
'So would you if you had my life.'
'Not in work, then?'
'No. Not yet.'
'So what's the attraction of Wigan?'
'Don't know. You tell me what its like?'
'Hang on a minute. I stop to give you a lift, feeling sorry for you. You ask me where I'm going and I tell you I'm going to Wigan. So you tell me that's where you are going. So now I ask why Wigan and you tell me you don't know! That's crazy. I might as well have said Timbuktu! '
'In Mali in West Africa……but hang on a minute,…. Let's get back to Wigan.'
'Yeah that's where we're going.'
'Okay, okay. So we're going to Wigan. I'm going there because I live there. So, why are you going to Wigan?'
'Are you kidding? You must know. You said you were going to Wigan.'
'No I didn't. I said 'that'll do fine', so I did!'
'Fine for what?' Andy did not reply.
Neil looked at the passing road sign 'Services 2 miles and 26 miles'. He wondered if he should make a comfort stop in two miles and offload this awkward customer. No, that would arouse his suspicion. He would head for 26 miles and hope each mile would be less frustrating than the last.
'So what do you do?'
'I'm an author. See these boxes in the back seat? They are copies of my book.'
'An author?' he showed a spark of interest. 'Well, you are in luck.'
'In what way, Andy?'
'Meeting me.' Andy turned towards Neil whose eyes momentarily left the road to focus on his smiling face.
'Know me and you've got a best seller. I've been in a children's home, fostered, prison, I could tell you a few things.'
Neil felt the jigsaw was beginning to take shape but these were the corner pieces. He wanted to know why he was in each place. 'How did you get there, I mean I guess you've had a hard life?'
'You might think so, but I don't. If your father was a drunkard and your mother didn't care too much either, a children's home ain't that bad. Then they try and give you a real family, a foster family. That was cool but it meant living further away and I didn't settle. When I was sixteen no body took responsibility and I left. I tried to earn a little but it was soon easier to supply drugs to make a living. That, and some other things, got me prison.'
'That must have been tough?'
'Yeah, there are some tough people there but it was good too.'
'Well, you'd get three meals a day, a bed and a roof over your head' Neil said warming to this individual's plight but being conscious not to raise his hackles.
'More than that. I got some good classes. Not just the usual classes but the art classes. I did some good work there. They said I had some talent.'
'They say we are all good at something Andy. Guess its artwork for you. Books for me.
Want a biscuit? There's one in the glove box if you like.' Andy reached to open the glove box. He took out a chocolate biscuit and as he did so, he noticed a penknife. He took the penknife out and Neil's heart began to thump. What on earth made him invite this self confessed criminal to open the glove box where he always kept a penknife just in case, as gadget men do. Andy had the blade open and began cutting the chocolate biscuit wrapper. He lay the knife on his lap as he crunched the chocolate orange biscuit. Neil kept one eye on the road and one on the knife. This was doing his blood pressure little good.
Andy finished his biscuit and folded the wrapper neatly, placing it back in the glove box. Then he took the knife and examined it closely. Neil felt uneasy and knew Andy was aware he had the knife.
'You like the penknife?' Neil asked in as nonchalant a manner as possible.
'Yeah. It's cool.'
'You can have it, if you want.'
'That would be illegal. You know, carrying an offensive weapon.'
'Ah, of course, so it would' Neil felt silly for suggesting it in the first place. Especially as he was fond of it. Things were getting out of control and he knew it but he must not show any fear.
' I could make good use of it' suggested Andy.
Neil hesitated to think just what use he had in mind.
'You know real artists. They use proper paints. They could use a knife like this on their pallet.'
'Well, you're an artist Andy. If you fold it away and keep it out of sight, then whose to know you've got a penknife. After all it's only a penknife. It's not a switchblade or a cutlass!'
'You're right. Okay, I'll take it thanks.'
The monotony of the road ate up a few more miles but not as many as Neil had wished. How could he have been so unguarded on the slip-way? But it was too late to undo the journey. He had to make the best of a bad job and hope, just hope this journey was going to end satisfactorily for both of them. Such a solution was at present no where near.
With five miles short of the next service station, Neil decided he needed to have a face to face assessment of his passenger. He thought through his plan then put it to action.
'Andy, we'll stop at the next service station. I need a break and let's have a coffee.' He waited anxiously for his response.
'Yeah, I need a break too.'
There was no more conversation before the car indicated to leave the motorway and made its way to a parking place near the Service entrance. Neil clicked his fob securing his books and Andy's plastic bag in the back seat of the car.
They emerged together from the men's room and made for the coffee shop.
'What do you want then Andy?'
'I'll have a Cappuccino'
'And anything to eat?' Andy looked along the glass ledge and settled on 'a muffin'.
'One Cappuccino, a Latte and two blueberry buns, please.'
They made their way to a table by the window. Neil could see his car. Why oh why he wondered had this all come about. He had no intention of a further stop before he got home but this youth had begun to determine his moves. He was no longer in control. They sipped their coffees and un-wrapped their buns. Then Andy began to unzip his jacket. Inside was a jotter which he took carefully from his damp clothing and laid it carefully on the table.
'I was keeping it dry' Andy said needlessly but Neil recognised this was something he was protecting. Something he was pleased to produce in front of him. 'So what's this then?'
'Here, have a look.'
Neil stretched his hand over and lifted the exercise book from the table. He found it easier to leaf through the book from the back. What he saw interested him. There were drawings of countryside and of farm animals. Then pages of drawings of motor cars, motorbikes and planes. Each carefully sketched in detail, with great accuracy. He smiled as he viewed his work.
'Did you do all of these drawings Andy?'
'Yes. It's all my own work. I like to draw.'
Neil returned his eyes to the exercise book. He was eager to see what the next page would present. A building, then on the next page, was a prison scene. It seemed he could turn his hand to anything and create a picture in great detail. He sipped his coffee and finished his muffin before completing his inspection of this folio.
'You draw very well indeed.' Andy smiled.
Neil flipped slowly through to the start of the book. He eventually turned to the fist page. As he did so, a shudder took hold of him. He had focussed on the artist's name. It was a name that rang a bell in his mind. An alarm bell to be precise. Andy noticed his reaction.
Neil could not have hid his astonishment at reading his name. He had to come clean.
'Andrew Hunt. That's a name I know. It's all coming back to me. Hey it was not just drugs you were inside for was it Andy? '
'How do you know so much about me?'
'Because I remember, yes, I remember. It must be some four or five years ago by now. You stole a car, a blue car, and you crashed it. You ran away. I remember the Police put out an appeal stating they went on the hunt for a car thief. The irony of your name stuck. And it struck too because it was my sister's car! She was very upset at the time.'
'I don't deny it but I did not know it was her car.'
'That does not make it right. But anyway, I'm not going to rake over old ground especially as you did time for that.'
They finished their coffees but Neil was not leaving just yet.
'Andy, before we go to the car, tell me just where are you going? Where do you want me to drop you? Is that clear?'
'Okay. I'm going to Eccleston. That's where my sister is.'
'So you've got a sister too?'
'Yeah, she says I can stay there and get a job. She says I can get one at the service station near by. I'd like that.'
They returned to the car. Neil felt there was a better understanding between them and with less than thirty miles to go, his ordeal would soon be over.
'Your art work Andy, how long does it take to do one of your drawings?'
'Not so long. I get it fixed in my mind and then concentrate and finish it always in one go.'
'Tell me. Can you draw a sheep dog?'
'Of course I can. Why?'
'I mean not just a sheepdog sitting, but one running, jumping, guarding, playing with a child, rounding up sheep. All the things a sheep dog does. Can you do that?
'Yes of course but why?'
'Because Andy. I am an author. My next book is almost completed. It is a children's book. It's called 'The Adventures of Tache'.
'What's Tache?' It's the name of my collie dog. He has a white stain on his rump. He's had it since he was a pup. So we called him stain or mark but in French. That's une tache. So he's Tache and he's the subject of my children's book. But what I need is a graphic artist to illustrate the book and I think you'd be good at that. Are you interested?'
'That's brilliant. Yeah, let me do it.'
'Ok Then let me drive you to your sister's house in Eccleston. It's not far out of my way. Give me her address and I will send you a copy of the script and mark where I want you to place your drawings. Tomorrow I'll let my publisher know you are doing the artwork.'
'You seriously giving me work?'
'Yes. Can't say how much money this will bring at this stage so go for the Service job in the meantime.'
'Yeah. I will honestly, I will, honest.'
'Yes, I think we can do business Andy.'
Neil offered his hand and Andy shook it firmly.
'I guess we've got something to tell our sisters!'
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|Too Young to Fly too Weak to Walk
Dusk was fading rapidly as I ran the watering can along the dahlias planted two days ago. As I approached the end of the row where the bed met the box hedge, I became aware of a slow movement. At first I thought it was a bat. With the tragic rabies death from a bat bite at the village of Guthrie near Arbroath last year, I was not rushing to get near it but then it chirped and I saw a slender yellow beak.
I approached carefully to find a newly fledged wren struggling on the soil. Its disproportionately long legs struggled to provide its round body with equilibrium. I cupped my hands beneath it and brought it indoors to see it better. Its eyes were still closed. Perhaps they had never opened. I placed a bottle top of milk near its beak and gauged its survival potential. It was so very young and too soon for it to find its feet, let alone find use of its wings. They lay motionless against its tiny body.
I took the helpless bird outside and placed it by the milk on a wooden table. I went to find my camera but after locating it, was disappointed to find no film inside. It was after 10p.m.now. Then I saw my neighbour closing his conservatory doors for the night and I called him over. Fortunately he had film in his camera.
We advanced cautiously and he took a flash photo. Then I placed the wren on the lawn by the milk, lay some leaf mould around it and left in the hope that it would receive either parental support or gain enough strength to engage in its first flight.
By morning it had gone. My neighbour's photo failed to materialise.
Wren! Dear Jenny wren.
Just where and when
Did you take your first steps or your flight?
I hope you have flown
Away on your own
But thanks for your friendship last night.
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|A Blue Tit's thanks
Last week on a somewhat dull overcast morning, I was ironing through a pile of washed clothes. In a state of numbed mental activity, I was disturbed by my collie racing through the lounge, barking at the closed conservatory doors.
I looked up to see a bird in distress hitting itself on each window pane as it sought its escape from its recent point of entry. I called Tache to his basket and instructed him to STAY. I entered the conservatory and quietly opened both doors to increase the area of escape to safety. It was a blue tit. I spoke quietly in response to its distressed chirping and followed it around awaiting it to settle within reach. Alas my approach scared it to flight and the open doors became a further barrier as it crashed into the angled area behind one door. This however, gave me the opportunity to approach it and restrict its escape. I knelt down and with both hands managed to trap the bird. As I stood up I was anxious not to harm it in any way. Unfortunately I was too concerned for its protection that the tit found an adequate aperture in my cupped hand to set off once more.
Two minutes later the tit had returned to the same trapped area and I had a second chance to capture it. I did so with the skill of a pet shop seller selecting a cage bird. Throughout the operation I offered words of comfort and encouragement. I went through the open doors and stood on the patio. I continued to speak while easing my cupped hands open. The tit looked at me, realised it was free to leave and did so.
It flew to the top of a miniature pear tree some few feet from where I stood. I could see it breathing heavily as it recovered from its ordeal. I continued to reassure it by voice. Then as its breathing returned to normal, I changed my tone and made encouraging sounds for it to return to me. I had not moved from the moment it flew away. Then quite suddenly with a cocky head movement, it flew from its high perch to the nearest branch to me, only three feet away. I smiled. It chirped. Isn't thanks the most wonderful word in any language?
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Late one November evening, the telephone rang at Joan's home in Kirriemuir. It was her sister Lizzie, in Lenzie.
'Hi Joan. Lizzie here. You'll remember it's our turn to invite you and Ian over for Christmas dinner with Dad. Well this year, I've an idea.'
'Don't tell me it's going to be Boxing Day instead?'
'No. December 25th Christmas Day as usual, but with a challenge. You see it's been usual to arrive at each other's home for a late morning coffee and we don't eat till 6pm. It makes it a long day. Well with Dad getting older these days, I think he'll probably have an afternoon nap. And of course, it's no secret that Ian and Sandy don't always see eye to eye on politics or football, so what I have in mind is reaching an agreement that between the hours of 2 pm -5 pm. Ian and Sandy make themselves scarce. They can do what they like between these hours but they are not allowed in the house. When they return they must bring some sort of evidence to show what they've been up to! Sandy is up for it. Do you think Ian will be a sport?'
Joan rang back two days later indicating that Ian had agreed to go along with the idea.
Over the following three weeks Ian and Sandy considered their options for three hours of freedom. Not a hint of their plans emerged except occasionally a false trail was planted about finding a bar open or looking up old girlfriends.
Then Christmas day dawned seasonally frosty when they congregated in Lenzie to share Christmas presents over morning coffee. Ian was delighted to receive a hand shredder indicating he would be able to shred all his old bank statements while Joan smiled at the thought of shredding expensive shopping receipts. Dad was pleased with his boxed handkerchiefs and bottle of single malt whisky. 'One way or another', he declared, 'I'm well prepared for a winter cold!'
As the clock approached 2pm, Sandy and Ian left the comfort of the festive home. The sisters looked through the lounge window and saw them part at the road junction. Lizzie wondered if she had done right in organising this bizarre game. Could it cause ill feeling she wondered. Just how angry might they be on their return?
Light faded shortly after 3.30pm. By then Dad was indeed in the land of nod while Lizzie and Joan got to terms with the turkey and trimming preparations. The crackers were placed at the table settings by 5.30pm. Then the sisters sat down near the Christmas tree with a glass of red wine to reflect on their kitchen endeavours.
At precisely 6pm, Ian arrived back. He took off his coat and warmed himself by the open fire. Lizzie brought him a sherry. Before he had enjoyed a second sip, Sandy arrived. As Ian had arrived first, he was asked to explain his hours of Christmas freedom.
'I'm no wise man but I thought it's the unexpected gift that is always appreciated. That got me thinking. I went to the library at the end of last month and read about performing magic. I took three books on the subject home and practised until I was getting the illusions to appear convincing. Then I needed an audience. So I contacted the local nursing home and asked if I could perform on Christmas Day. I asked Madge Harvie, the matron, to confirm I had performed there this afternoon. Here's her letter and I promise to show you a trick or two after our Christmas meal.'
A round of applause filled the air then Ian handed the floor over to Sandy. Strangely he went to the table and began resetting the places. Without a word he brought four more chairs to the table adding four more crackers.
'We are having four guests to join us. I'm sure you won't mind. I have been with them all afternoon. A taxi will arrive shortly. Sam and his wife Grace will be joining us with their children Mary and Comfort Nakunda. They have fled the evil regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and have sought asylum in Glasgow. I've brought extra presents. Let's make it a very special evening for them.'
Tears filled Lizzie's eyes. She hugged her husband. 'Oh Sandy darling, bless you, how wonderful. And Ian, your audience is growing!'
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|The Prodigal Ring
Some forty years ago, before the era of the ubiquitous
holiday jet flight, we spent our family summer holiday at
Port Stewart, on the Antrim coast. With miles of bright
clean sand and many dunes bordered by long sharp grass, it
is one of Britain's best beaches. It was on that beach one
Saturday afternoon when disaster struck.
It was a warm sunny day. We had enjoyed a picnic at our
dune which sheltered us from a mild breeze and gave us
warmth. After a suitable post lunch rest, we stripped into
our bathing costumes and ran as fast as we could into the
cold sea. We jumped, shouted and screamed until we had
ducked into the sea and begun to swim. An annual holiday
was never a total success without a swim and my sister and
brother swam safely and happily with me on that carefree
My father, however, could not swim. Nor would he want to
swim. But he saw his children enjoying themselves so much
and he wanted to join in, as any parent would wish. His
preparation for the sea was much more cautious than ours.
He sat on the sand and removed first his shoes, then his
socks, then he took off his wedding ring. To keep it safe,
he carefully placed the ring inside his sock. Then the sock
was tucked into the toe of his shoe. It was most surely
He ventured towards us as far as he could go. Carefully he
felt his way forward and soon found the water, waist high.
He knew that was deep enough for him. We gave him
instructions as to how to swim but he knew, as we knew, he
would never be able to swim. Our instructions were not
irrelevant however. What we were saying was 'Dad, this is
how to do it'. And every child knows that special day when
they can confidently tell their parents how to do
something, which they can do while their parent can not!
The fun in the water gradually came to an end. We returned
to the dune and were given orange juice and a biscuit. A
chittery bit, as we always called it, was gratefully
received. Our teeth chattered, we dried ourselves and drank
our juice. A flask of hot tea awaited our parents.
Dad dried himself with a multicoloured beach towel. He sat
down on the beach to put his socks on. He lifted one sock
and as he did so, a gleaming ring spun into the air and
after a moment of parabola flight, it settled on the sand
near by. In his anxiety to retrieve it instantly, Dad's
hand disturbed the sand and the ring vanished from sight.
Magically, it disappeared from view, never to reappear. He
announced the disaster. We all took turns searching for the
wedding ring. Surely it could not be lost. The sand was
sifted, the area was expanded, scooped, grabbed and
harvested but there was never any further sight of the
Dad returned after an evening meal and searched for a
further three hours on his own until the sun had set. A few
evening walkers joined in for a while after they had
learned about his plight. But as the sun disappeared, Dad
returned home depressed.
He could not sleep. The ring which Mum had placed on his
finger, almost thirteen years previously, was gone but he
still could not accept that a ring could vanish so easily.
Its disappearance had defied reason as well as a thorough
The following morning was Sunday morning. At 6a.m, before
anyone had risen, Dad returned to the beach. Despite
numerous identical dunes weaving along the coastline, he
knew exactly which one we had been on that previous day. He
had marked it by tying a knot of grass. It was another
sunny morning with the sun already sharing its morning heat
- and its light. For, as he approached the dune, Dad saw to
his surprise his bright gold ring sitting proudly where he
had once sat. He approached it slowly. He bent down and
placed his hand over the ring. He grabbed a handful of sand
beneath the ring and sat down. As he sifted the sand
through his fingers, sheer joy replaced his depression as
he felt the ring in his palm. The prodigal ring was placed
securely on his finger once more.
A smiling Dad appeared for breakfast. He proudly displayed
his left hand bearing the errant wedding ring. We could not
explain why the ring had evaded so many hands and eyes the
previous afternoon and evening. Its disappearance had
mystified the family. Yet there must have been a reason for
its constant inconspicuousness.
We concluded that somewhere, a leprechaun knew more than it
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|The Brown Shoes
On that marvellously warm summer of 1960, my father entered
a shoe shop on the high street in Port Stewart, Northern
Ireland. After viewing a selection on display, his eyes
caught a pair of brown brogue shoes. They were his size. He
tried them on and with a smile brought them to the counter
to pay for them.
As the shop keeper packed the shoes neatly into the shoe
box, he said to my father in his local accent "Here's
health tae wear them."
Now this was not an expression known in Scotland although
it may have been well known in Ulster. Nevertheless it
became a family saying every time my father wore these
Many years later Dad began to suffer a few minor
discomforts. There was the blitheritis to begin with. Then
came the diverticulosus. My father never seemed to suffer
simply an eye irritation or indigestion. There was always
some mystical medical nomenclature available.
It was not a medical cure which came to the rescue for such
ailments. It was his brown brogue shoes.
Now some would say that it was in the fresh air and
exercise that the brown shoes provided, that cured his
ailments. But there are others like me who really know the
secret of the brown shoes. It was health to wear them.
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(As seen by a Ten Year Old boy)
Mother's death came suddenly. The family had been a unit of
four but now was three - an odd number - and I felt the odd
one out. Mother had been always available to oversee my
achievements however humble and rectify my regular
failings. She overlooked my mischief too. But her vacuum
was felt acutely that morning.
'Well, Michael, you seem to have grown a foot or two since
I last saw you' said an uncle whom I had not seen since I
visited him two summers ago at his seaside home in Dorset.
His remark meant nothing to me for I was still the smallest
in the class. I chose not to reply. My silence embarrassed
him and with a reassuring pat on my back he moved away.
'Hello Aunt Mae.' I was determined not to remain silent
and this aunt had always been most talkative to me in the
past. But she too was drained of words. This was not the
vital family I had known. Where was the happiness, the
laughing? I had never seen such close relatives without
Time more than any factor broke the barrier which was
impeding communication and when the funeral service was
over, I sensed some life ebbing back into the house. I
poured coffee into cups while relatives talked of their
plans for their summer holidays. I just had to break in.
'Uncle, is Milford - on - Sea in England?
This time my question reached its mark.
'That's right Michael. It's in Hampshire not far from
Southampton where the Atlantic Liners come in. You would
like it there. I'm sure.'
'Oh yes' I replied enthusiastically. Then I thought as I
sat with my sister by the fire, what a holiday without
mother would be like.
'No, no I don't think I'd like Milford - on Sea.'
'Why ever not?' asked Aunt Mae but all I could bring myself
to say was, 'I don't know.'
I felt increasingly secure as the funereal faces of my
relatives relaxed into expressions that I knew. Father was
more active than usual as he called to announce lunch was
ready. He helped Aunt Mae to prepare and serve the meal but
I was unaware of the significance of his chores. I still
expected Mum to come through the dining room door with the
silver plated teapot, but the teapot came without her.
My sister assumed many of the other roles I had seen my
mother perform in the course of a busy day's work but she
had not yet acquired the perfection Mum had achieved
through her years of service to us and I felt my sister
never would. I somehow knew apple pie would never taste
the same again nor would breakfast every morning be
complete without mother chasing us off to school. Who would
do all the things that we accepted only too readily?
Evening came early to the grief stricken house and soon
relatives were leaving, returning to continue with their
own busy lives. They left as silently as they came. When
the last car left the drive and mingled with the stream of
city bound cars, I was for the first time, aware that I was
lonely. This was the beginning of a permanent void.
However, when I returned to the sitting room, I saw not
only my father, but within that man, a mother. Qualities I
had associated with my mother were indeed visible in him
although I had been blind to them before. He caressed my
head and patted my back.
'School tomorrow, Michael? Can you make it? he enquired.
A hard lump hit the back of my throat. I looked up at him.
'Yes Dad. I'll go. Let's make the packed lunches.'
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|An Inconspicuous Start
St. Valentines Day 1973. President Richard Millhouse Nixon
sat uncomfortably in the Oval Office digesting the solemn
news Bob Haldeman had shared with him. Watergate was about
to cascade into history. Israel was at war with Egypt and
at exactly 22.15 hrs, I flew into a blacked-out Cairo
Airport, bristling with military activity.
It was my first day serving the Church of Scotland as a
missionary or fraternal worker as I preferred to be known.
I was on my way to the Presbyterian Church of Ghana in West
Africa. The Air Egypt flight would leave Cairo the
following morning and fly south to Lagos in Nigeria before
depositing me at Accra in Ghana. An overnight transit stop
in Cairo seemed romantic when I booked the flight two weeks
beforehand without giving any thought to the combatants
in the Sinai desert.
We disembarked from the plane in darkness. A cordon of
officials herded us towards the dimly lit terminal, abiding
by the war's lights-out conditions. My name was checked and
I was given a slip of paper with my room number on it,at
the desk in the terminal.
The dormitory arrangements were situated along a ground
floor corridor and I managed to see there were toilet
facilities at each end. I approached room number six as
directed by the paper in my hand. The door was slightly
ajar. As I entered I was made aware of a flat double
mattress on the floor with a definite movement on one side
of the bed. I froze. Had I got the right room?
A black female American voice broke the silence.
"You got room six?"
"Er..yes. My slip says room six too. There must be a mistake!"
"Mistake or no mistake. There's a war on. You sleep at the
door side and I sleep here at this side. You keep to your
side and I keep to mine. No hanky panky, ok?"
It was a command as much as a question and I could think
of no response in the circumstances.
And so it came to pass that my first night as a Church
Missionary was spent in the bed of a black American woman
whose name I never knew and she never asked of mine.
We exchanged pleasantries on waking the following morning
and I noticed she departed at Lagos when the flight
resumed. I arrived two hours later in Accra to start
seven years of pastoral work.
That first night in Tema, Ghana, I wrote to the Church of
Scotland's head office at 121 George Street, Edinburgh to
confirm my arrival. I was brief. It simply read, "arrived safely".
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|Christmas Eve 1944
A miracle took place in Govan on Christmas Eve 1944
It was my father's first Watch Night Service. He lived in the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow at thattime which was in the Church halls of Govan Old Parish Church where he was the assistant minister. There had not been a bombing of the nearby shipyards for 48 hours and it was a generally felt that a Christmas truce was on the cards.
The Church Officer was Sam Hall, a conscientious and very particular Church Officer, but one who wore a serious and sad countenance. The only times he had been known to be cheerful were on the days his beloved Partick Thistle Football Club in his native Maryhill had won. As it happened, as well as being Church Officer, Sam Hall was his landlord, and his good wife Ina, was his landlady.
The Minister, Rev. Dr. Stewart Thomson informed my father, James, that he had decided to go home to his manse in Pollokshields and not wait for the Watchnight Service. He explained that it was customary for the Youth Fellowship to hold a Xmas Eve Dance in the Institute. The dance would end at 11pm. and the Youth Fellowship would go over to the Church for the start of the Watchnight Service in the Steven Chapel. At 11.30pm.
The Steven Chapel was a small side chapel with seating for perhaps a hundred. It was set apart from the main church which is of Cathedral architecture and proportions, with seating for well over 1,000 in the nave.
Dr Thomson gave James an Order of Service with instructions as to the conduct of the Service, and left for home. There would be little ceremony about the service as it was for only the Youth Fellowship. There would be no office-bearers on duty, and no offering was to be taken. Sam Hall and James were left in charge.
Govan Old Church had been built without a bell, as there was not enough money to build the projected belfry. Consequently, they used a gramophone recording of a carillon of bells, attached to an amplifying system. When the wind was in the right direction, the Govan Carillon was clearly heard across the river Clyde in Partick.
Sam came to James and told him. 'We're on our own. We're going to have a great service.'
This seemed to James the most unwarranted optimism as it was he who had to conduct the service, and with the minimum of preparation. But Sam was unusually happy that night – and inspired. 'Get on with it and make it your best' he told him, and hurried away with a broad but secretive smile.
By 11pm James was ready and he went over to the Church and down the vestry which was deep down beneath the Church. It was always peaceful there. Not a sound penetrated. One could not even hear the carillon of bells.
At 11.30 he was ready to climb the stairs to the church building and proceed to the wee side chapel for the service., but climbing, he was met by a very harassed but happy Sam.
'Get back down these stairs', he ordered.
'What's wrong?' James asked.
'The Chapel's full,' he said, 'I'm fitting in extra chairs. I'll come when I'm ready.'
So back James went to the vestry, and waited, and waited.
Just before Midnight, Sam appeared and said, ' Right! We're ready. Now Speak Up. The Chapel's full I've jammed in another fifty chairs.'
'Then why didn't you let them overflow into the church? They might not see as well but at least they could hear.' James asked.
'What do you think I've done?' asked Sam. 'The church is full, and they are standing. The back gallery and transept gallery are full. There's two thousand in the Church. You'll no see them all, but they'll see you.'
James never forgot that service. The heartily sung carols and the way his hand was wrung when the service was over. The mass of wonderful people who attended. Protestants, Catholics, but for the most part, people who normally would never enter a church; men and women in forces uniform representing many different nations and men and women in the green uniform of Corporation bus drivers and conductresses, ship yard workers, young and old, respectable and some less respectable, sober and the not so sober.
There had been no collection taken but that happy congregation that Christmas morning wanted to give – and nothing would deter them. Money was left all over the place. They found collection plates and filled them.
It took several hours to count the collection that night but when that chore had been done, James confronted Sam and asked him how this had come about.
'Well,' said Sam still smiling in the early hours of Christmas Morn, 'I had gone to the Youth Fellowship Dance. I asked the young folk there if they had any good Christmas records and someone brought me Bing Crosby singing Silent Night. That's when the idea struck !'
'What do you mean, Sam'
'Well, as Dr Stewart was not attending and you were so new, I decided that we'd give the carillon of bells a rest for this special night. So I played Bing singing Silent Night. But of course with the amplifier up at full, Bing was heard in Partick and Annisland and Dumbarton! They came from all the tenements around too.'
Bing Crosby had drawn people like a magnet. Sam's inspiration had worked a miracle.
Next morning, Christmas day, was Christmas communion. Rev Dr Stewart Thomson arrived and heard about the Miracle at Midnight.
'Put on that record again for the Communion Service, Sam', was the order.
Sam did but the miracle didn't happen again.
Christmas Day in Glasgow 1944 was an ordinary working day.
Rev James Caldwell MA 1916-1995
Christmas 1944 seems so far away. I wonder how many of the congregation that night were preparing for the final five months of World War II. Of course times have changed and the novelty of a record could not have a similar impact in our lives today but maybe just maybe, this story might cheer an armed service soldier this Christmas, so far from home.
Haste ye back.
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|When I was a Jew
I left Primary 2 at Kirriemiur Primary school in May 1958. Well, that is not exactly true. The school was built on Reform Street. Therefore I came from Reform Street Primary school and that took some explanation to my new class, who knew what a Reform school was in Glasgow!
Pity that was not the only difficulty on day one. My father had brought the family down for educational purposes and he was the school's Chaplain. Clearly Miss Dick had not received my class folder from Angus County.
She drew a backward 'Z' on the blackboard and on the left of this unusual piece of art was a much longer number which I can not recall accurately but was around 36287. 'In silence please, work out the answer.'
Well, there was no long division in Kirriemuir, I was certain of that. I began by copying this strange design and numbers slowly. As Miss Dick approached the row I was sitting in, I pannicked. I worked out that she would be at my desk in a matter of seconds. As she approached, I ran my pencil all over the arithmetic. 'What have we here? A dirty mess! Well, we do not do this in Shawlands Primary. Stand up. Now come to my desk.'
I had no idea what was happening but thinking if I could get through this day, I would ask my older sister how to do this bizarre maths. As I thought through this resolution, Miss Dick produced a double-tongued leather belt and asked me to cross my hands in front of her. Three thrashings. Must not cry. I am the new boy. My fingers tingled with pain. The morning bell rang. 'Stay here all break, till I return'.
At lunch time I was approached by a friendly pupil. 'Miller, are you a Jew?' Well, this was proving to be a tricky day and a difficult question demanded a thoughtful reply. I wanted Leslie to be my friend, so I thought if Christ was the King of the Jews, and I was a Christian, then I must also be a Jew. 'Yes, I am' I said.
'Oh well, don't foret to bring your yarmulka on Friday.'
'Oh your family must be reformed Jews. Then just bring your school cap', Leslie reassured me.
At the end of term my father asked how I was doing in classs. I told him I preferred my class of 12 in Kirrie to this class of 53 but I was enjoying Hebrew.'
'Hebrew? my father enquired.
'Barook ata adenoi elu henu meloch ....Shaman Israel, Adenoi elu henu' I responded.
'Miller why are you learning Hebrew?'
'Because I am Jewish, I am A Jew.'
'Miller, you are not!'
The last day of the term meant the school went to the church for a closing term service. As we marched out, I noticed Miss Dick speaking ever so pleasantly to my father who had taken the service.
Three weeks later, we were on annual vacation at Carradale on the Mull of Kintyre. It was a wonderful holiday until I was informed that we were to visit Southend one particular afternoon. We had been invited to tea by - Miss Dick . I refused to go. For the first time I made it clear I would defy my parents and run away. I ran away after telling my sister that I would be on the golf course.
I returned at 5pm to find the family had already returned from Southend but the atmosphere was bad. I was sent to bed for being disobedient and our cocker spaniel was in the bad books too.
Rikki, who had never bitten anyone before, had been mesmerised by a plate of strawberry tarts sitting on a low coffee table. As Miss Dick in conversation was moving her hands around the cake plate, disaster struck. This was too much teasing for Rikki. He grabbed Miss Dick's hand angrily, drawing blood the colour of the strawberry tarts.
When I heard what had happened, I praised the wee dog. I thanked him. There was indeed a Just God and I could face the new term at school.
The belt, the Lochgelly Tawse, imagine a town in Fife actually produced these torture belts, was banned in the 1970s. There are many who would wish it back to disciple wayward pupils. I think it was a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Post Post Sriptum Miss Dick. If you are still alive, I hope you enjoy reading this.
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|LARKIE LOON'S SADDEST DAY
Then came the signs. First the pain, then the x-ray, then the result – it was negative. Joyfully my father announced 'it's a fraud' and threw himself even more forcefully into the fray. Then the pain returned more acutely. There was a further x-ray. Then the diagnosis. A tumour. Terminal illness. He took it calmly, told my mother she would have to take control alone and be able to 'lay her hands on everything'.
'When the band begins to play', he said, 'we've all got to dance to the music.' He secured a locum; a lady, Dr Kerr.
She got his lists of calls at the bedside. She administered the pain-killing drug. What it must mean to a doctor to know the end is approaching and to recognise every advance of his fatal disease!
My mother used to send me up to read to him, sometimes from the Bible. Wanly he smiled at my earnest elocution. We children, however, were kept unaware of the critical situation, though we could see our father fading. It was so strange to see the one who was ever active now unable to leave his bedroom. When would things return to normal?
To us the end was sudden. Jessie, the maid, who had been so long with us and was a second mother, took me into the room and removed the cover from the face. This was not my vital father. He had gone to another place.
The funeral was private and modern. Most funerals brought out the black horses with the black plumes and polished carriages. Ours was going to the family burial-ground in Glasgow and so made concessions to modernity. We had a motor hearse and a motor car following. Opposite the house a huddled group of women stood weeping. They had come to say farewell to the doctor though the funeral was private.
We noticed the group as we entered the car, Dr McCallum, lum hat on knees, in front, the three oldest boys behind with two uncles and the family lawyer. Slowly we moved off, gathering speed at the outskirts of the village. Soon we were in Glasgow at the Southern Necropolis. Then a brief service took place. Earth to earth, dust to dust. David, the youngest of us there, broke down. He was only eight.
Ian and I kept stiff upper lips. It was all so stupefying.
There seemed to be a dulling of the senses. And so we moved away, and as we did so I noticed the inscription at the foot of the tombstone, 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints'. The Psalmist, as always, said it perfectly.
There wasn't much daylight left when we returned from the funeral. I slipped off to bed and sobbed myself to sleep.
My mother found me there in the darkness and called me for tea.
Larkhall Parish Church 11th January 1928
Dear Mrs Caldwell
I am instructed to send you the following excerpt from the Minutes of the meeting held this night. Yours faithfully, John Paterson, Session Clerk.
"The Kirk Session deplore the death of Dr John Miller Caldwell at an early age. He had been most faithful in his attendance at Church and fulfilled his duties as an elder with diligence, consideration and kindness. As a medical man he was greatly respected in the Community, his singularly upright and Christian life making his professional visits often more than that of a healer of the body. He was a deeply religious man and bore his long and painful illness in the Spirit of a true Christian. The Kirk Session mourn much his loss and pray that divine consolation and guidance be vouchsafe to his widow and young family."
Taken from Poet's Progeny. See under books for sales
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|THE DAY I MET USAMA BIN LADEN
In mid December 2005 I met special police constable and restaurant Manager Farook Ahmed in Buccleugh Street, Dumfries. Farook had lost a niece in the October Earthquake in South Asia and was about to head out to Islamabad to administer the four Muslim Hands International Camps in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. As I was retired from being the Authority Reporter to the Children's Panels in Dumfries & Galloway and was now an author, I thought I could help by entertaining and counselling young children in a camp and offered this suggestion to Farook. Without any hesitation he told me to get my visa and he would meet me in Islamabad. The largest of 161 independent emergency camps was at Mundihar. In the second week of January I was taken there where during a heated meeting, I learned that aid was being siphoned to the local community. Colonel Shazad insisted that the camp be run by an independent person. Suddenly all eyes turned towards me. I became the Camp Manager of Mundihar Tented Village that day. 324 families provided a population of 2,268 in five camp sectors unimaginatively named a-e. Most spoke Urdu but Henco and Peshtu were also spoken. English was the common denominator but used as a last resort, despite being the national language. One camp dweller had lost his sister and three of his four daughters in the Earthquake on 8th October at his home town of Balakot. He had come to the Camp at Mundihar but on the day I arrived, he had suffered a tent fire in which his only surviving daughter had died.
One week later in hospital, at Mansehra, his wife died of her injuries. The Pakistan Government had already given each earthquake victim's family 100,000 Pakistani Rupees for each death. And that too went up in flames in his tent.
The terraced landscape contributed to the restricted ground in each sector and so fires were always a real threat. As he showed me the death certificates of his family, I was moved to hug him but when we separated, he smiled. "It was the will of Allah," he said with conviction. On a happier note I played cupid to the first loves of Jehangeer, the seventeen old young man setting out in a film career to twenty five year old Cuban medical practitioner Dr Jenny Carnet. Ages differed, she was Roman Catholic and would have to convert if she married Jehangeer. She would also be disowned by the Cuban delegation which held her passport and be deprived her return home to see her mother and brother again. The stakes were high. Yet on St Valentine's day they became engaged with myself as their main guest.
There was a significant administrative aspect to my work ordering aid supplies be they vegetable oil from the USA; high energy biscuits from Japan, sneakers from Sweden and anoraks from Norway. I let slip a remark I was to regret when distributing British Airways blankets, neatly packed in polythene bags. Fabric softener fumes filled my nostrils as I delivered two blankets to tents of three or four dwellers while only one blanket was given to single occupants. I passed one to a widow saying, "This is the Robertson tartan." Moments later, those who had already received their blankets caught up with me demanding to know which tartan they had. I was accurate on the Hunting McLean and the Dress McGregor but in the end I had to make a few improvised suggestions. As the weeks progressed and planning was underway to close all the camps by 31st March 2006, I grew tired and ill. It had been a 7 day week, 24hrs a day post and fraternising with some wonderful people in camp had led to a massive scabies attack. There was hardly a square centimetre on my body that was not infected. It was decided I should rest at the base camp some eight miles away at Mansehra. So behind a high metal gate, under a free eye hospital on the floor above, I slept and bathed, creamed and powdered till strength returned. One early evening alone in the base camp, resting on a mattress, I head a visitor arrive. I stood up and went on to the vehrandah to meet him. The vehrandah was raised from the ground but even although the visitor stood on the ground, he was still taller than I was. He wore a Taleban hat, a long cream gown (Kameez and Shalwar) and stood lean and gaunt at well over 6ft 10ins. "Asalaam Aleikum", I said in greeting him. Our cheeks met twice on each side, our beards touching. "Aleikum Asalaam", he replied. "Who is here?" he asked in impeccable English. "Just me but I think Rahim Ullah is making his wudu before his Maghrib prayer," I said. Suddenly the formalities returned. "Who are you?
Where are you from?" "I am the Camp Manger at Mundihar. I'm from Scotland." He said no more. He turned awkwardly and shuffled away hurriedly. As he did so I realised I had just spoken to the most wanted man in the world. Ironically, in the room behind me, was my kalashnikov. I had the means to end his life but I gave no chase. I was not going to take the law into my own hands. Guns will not make the world a happier place. But Bin Laden's days will be numbered if he frequents Pakistani towns, from the nearby Afghanistan border. Someone will have the motive to kill and gain a massive reward. My reward was massive too. I have met and lived with caring, thoughtful Muslim brothers and been accepted to share with them in their traumas. The Mundihar tented Village is closed now. All have returned to their land to build anew with aluminium roofing and wooden beams.
More earth tremors will return but they will be better prepared. It is ordained by Allah. Asalaam aleikum wa rahmatullah Peace be with you and the Mercy of Allah For Pictures of Camp Life at Mundihar in the North West Province of Pakistan and my kalashnikov, see under links at www.millercaldwell.org Miller Caldwell MA FFCS Camp Manger Mundihar Tented Village North West Frontier Province Islamic Republic of Pakistan January – March 2006.
Now buy the book, 7 point 7 (On the Richter Scale)
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|THE BIRTH OF GHANA
In 1973 on the Akwapim mountain range in Ghana, I met with Daniel Chapman-Nyahu, one of the first politicians in the Government of Kwame Nkrumah, the first black African President and first president of Ghana.
It gave a remarkable insight into the formation of a new Republic. I share my recollection of that memorable moment with you.
On the eve of the Gold Coast becoming the Republic of Ghana in 1960, Osagefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah shared a perplexing problem with Cabinet Minister, Daniel Chapman-Nyahu.
Nkrumah instantly dismissed the adjective 'Ghanaian' to describe the citizens of the new Republic. "The word contains too many 'a's and, 'i's it will be difficult to spell correctly," he remarked. The two men sought similar familiar examples to solve their problem. "China - Chinese
- Ghanese"? suggested Chapman-Nyahu. "Then what about Romania - Romanian - Ghanian?" he further suggested.
Nkrumah frowned. "Then Cuba – Cuban – Ghanan," he continued. The President stood up and walked towards the door. He turned to face his Minister. "The people will soon learn to spell and pronounce GHANAIAN" And so that is how it came about and why we call the delightful people of Ghana today - Ghanaian.
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|WHEN THE CAT COMES IN!
Childhood recollection misunderstood!
Seven year old Annie gave her 'news' at class newstime.
"Last night, Dad pissed on the cat."
Alarm bells sounded. Was the teacher hearing libidinous, indecent exposure, lewd anti-social behaviour or just what by Annie's father. Should Social Services be notified?
The teacher took Annie into the corridor and brought a teacher from another class to have the story corroborated.
Teacher asked Annie to repeat her news. Sure enough, she
repeated: " Last night Dad pissed on the cat."
At 12 noon an emergency Social Services case conference was held.
"Tell me again Annie, what did your Dad do last night?"
"I told you before, he pissed on the cat."
The Social Worker sharpened her pencil and made her own enquiry. "Does he do this regularly?" she asked.
'Oh yes, most nights," Annie replied, " You see, we don't let the cat stay outside all night. So Dad opens the back door about 9p.m. and goes Pssssst.... Trixy ...come in. And she does".
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|© Miller Caldwell
© Netherholm Publications