The Life and Times of Alistair Martin
By Kathy Martin….
Over the next few weeks I would like the opportunity to share the life story of my husband, a gentle man (deliberate splitting of the word gentleman as Alistair was a true gentleman – he always insisted on walking on the traffic side of the pavement, opened doors for me and in later years as my walking became more unsteady (I have MS), would lend me a helping hand over any uneven ground etc.).
Alistair wrote this in 2008 shortly after we moved into our flat in Doğanköy. I had never read it as when I asked if I could, he said “in due time”. That time came shortly after his heart attack on 1st November 2015 when I was searching our PC for a document and found “My Life and Times”. I read it through tears and was keen for others who knew him to read it – several friends and relations around the world said they found it interesting … so in turn I hope it might be of some interest to you.
MY LIFE AND TIMES – Alistair Martin
When I began this, it was just meant to be a general account of my life. However as it progressed I felt overwhelming urges to asperge (this word apparently means to shower or scatter with a liquid, esp holy water – but Alistair used it often to mean “I know some random facts about this subject that we are discussing and then threw bits of random information into the conversation”) about the social, political and domestic changes that occurred during my life. As such there I have hardly mentioned my gorgeous wife Kathy and daughter Sasha, now married to a wonderful man (Jon) and their lovely son Alex.
Regarding my life in Rhodesia I have used the terms “blacks” and whites”. There are two reasons, firstly, quicker to write, secondly there were many 2nd and 3rd generation “white” Rhodesians who regarded themselves as “African”, not “European”
How to begin? Well, the beginning I suppose……..
First I was born. This was on 19 August 1947. The year is important as the first two (and only ones ever used in anger) atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945, thus ending World War II in the “Far East”. This allowed my father to eventually come home from the army in Burma and I appeared sometime later. A cynic might say that my existence was brought about by the sudden deaths of tens of thousands if not millions of Japanese civilians.
At first sight of me, my parents swore a terrible oath and vowed never to sleep together again. It had to have been a terrible oath as war had just ended and everything was in short supply and/or rationed.
After the World War II American aid (the Marshall Plan) was poured into the defeated countries (mainly Germany and Japan). Given this “free” money and technical aid, the economies for these countries recovered very quickly. The dominance of German and Japanese cars, motorbikes and electronics in the latter half of 20th century bears witness to this.
However Britain was not given this advantage. Britain had been (for a long time) dependent on imports of food and raw materials for industry and was in a dire economic and industrial state because of the war. Thus money and foreign currency for trade was extremely limited. “Luxury” items such as cloth for (non-essential) clothing, sugar for sweets etc had a very small allocation. I remember that (later while living in Romiley,) we got “food parcels” from Canada (relatives?) just before Christmas. I remember the important items; a tin of condensed milk, which my mother used to make “tablet” –a type of fudge – “Royal” milk pudding mixes, and a tin of ham!
The winters of 1946/7 and 1947/8 were “the coldest since records began” – though I don’t remember anything about them. With hindsight they were possibly “nuclear winters” caused by atomic fallout – the primitive atom bombs (although small and weak by later standards) would have been (in modern parlance) very “dirty”.
My earliest childhood memories start when we lived in Romiley, a village near Stockport. We lived in a bungalow in an area of about 6 houses called called “hilltop”. Not surprisingly, this was indeed on the top of a hill. I had a pedal car. It was easy to go downhill, but when I turned the car to go back uphill, I overturned it and was thrown out, my head hitting a stonewall. The postman found me and took me home, my head dripping blood. I needed two stitches. This was in the days before we had a car so we had to walk about two miles to the doctor’s surgery. My mother’s hair started to go grey,
Sheila, my (6 years elder) sister and friends had “found” a rope. This was in the days before nylon, so it was a thick rope; the type found now mooring biggish yachts. They made it into a swing by tying it to the branch of a sturdy tree and creating a “hangman’s noose”. If you are unfamiliar with the term it is a slipknot and used (capital punishment was still in force) to hang criminals. A gibbet is set up, a trapdoor falls, the criminal drops and the neck broken by force of gravity. I was not allowed to play on it. However…. When no one was around I climbed the tree, crept along the branch, pulled the rope up, put my body inside the noose – and fell. I was not hung as one of my arms got caught against the side of my neck. I cried for help, but unfortunately for me, my friend Nicky and I had been crying “help” in the area for no reason (apart from trying to worry the adults of course), for some time. However, someone eventually came and the swing was cut down. My mother’s hair became greyer.
One day I was determined to meet my sister from school, so off I trotted the mile or so, across a main road. I was waiting outside the school gates where the village policeman spotted me. He took me home while my mother was frantic with worry about my disappearance. My mother’s hair became greyer.
My first day at school was somewhat eventful. I had been presumably told on the previous day that “tomorrow morning you will be going to school”. That was fine by me. The morning passed, lunchtime came and we all went to the “rec” (recreation ground/playground) that was next to the school. After a while the “rec” emptied and I was left alone to play on the swings and in the sandpit. My absence was noticed at school, so Sheila was sent home (about a mile and a half/two kilometres) to see if I was there. I wasn’t. I was eventually found and put where I belonged. If only someone had explained to me that school was not just a morning thing, my mother’s hair might not have become greyer.
My only other memory of Romiley Council School was of my best friend Boyce and me finding a florin. This was a coin worth 2 shillings, 24 old pence or later 10 new pence. Sweet rationing (yes I remember that) was no longer in operation so we went to the local sweetshop. We bought “lashings” of ginger beer, chocolate, crisps etc. The purchasing power was probably the equivalent of £20.00.today. We made ourselves very, very ill! The following day during assembly the headmaster asked if anyone had found a florin the previous day. Boyce and I put up our hands and we were taken to the headmasters study and were each given 3 strokes of the slipper for spending it! Never trust an adult when he or she asks a seemingly innocent question!
My parents were convinced that I was not a “normal” child, but thought that I would have a chance to get a scholarship at a public school. I sat exams for Stockport Grammar and Macclesfield Kings. I failed Stockport, but passed Macclesfield. (How different my life would have been if it had been the other way round!).
Macclesfield was about an hour train journey from Romiley. So at the age of 7 years old, I would walk the mile or so to and from the station – this was summer and winter, in daylight, dark, rain and snow. Presumably we had no perverts in the area, although Myra Hindley and Ian Brady (the infamous child killers) lived in Hyde, a village five or ten miles to the Northeast of Romiley
Macclesfield Kings. My only lasting memory is of being bullied and beaten up by an older boy (Norris – I still remember his name!). However the following day I stood up to him and won the fight. However I got 3 strokes of the slipper for wearing a torn shirt at school! I think Norris got 6 strokes probably because his clothing was in a worse condition than mine. From that day on I was known as “that plucky little nipper” throughout the school – Nipper became my nickname.
The Slipper. I can’t leave Kings without describing this! The junior classes were held in a square building. There were 4 classrooms around the sides with one stone wall and a wood and glass partition parallel to the stonewall, so that there was a hollow “square” in the centre. The hollow square and classrooms had a wooden floor. Every boy wore metal “clegs” on the heels and toes of their leather-soled shoes to save wear and tear– man-made soles had not yet come into being. The slipper was kept on the desk of the teacher of the top junior class. To get the slipper I had to get up from my desk, “clomp” across to the “top” classroom and ask for the slipper. Imagine/picture this – all is quiet, then everyone in the building hears “clomp “clomp” across the wooden floor. Then I had to knock on the door….”Come in boy, what you want?” “Please sir, can I have the slipper?” “Sorry boy, I can’t hear you, speak up” “PLEASE SIR CAN I HAVE THE SLIPPER?” By this time everybody in the building knows 2 things (1) I wanted the slipper, (2) it was very unlikely that I wanted it for a friend! I then had to “clomp” to the teacher’s desk, pick up the slipper and “clomp” back to my classroom. In my classroom I was given the slipper (the “whacks” echoing throughout the building) and take the slipper back. I then had to “clomp” back to the top class, knock on the door, “come in boy, what you want?” “Please sir I have brought the slipper back”. “Pardon me boy, but I can’t hear you, speak up!” “PLEASE SIR, I HAVE BROUGHT THE SLIPPER BACK”. “Thank you boy, put it back where you found it”. “Clomp” Clomp” and then “Clomp” Clomp” back to class. Any tears throughout the performance would have been regarded as “girly”.
I was an avid “train spotter” – this was before anoraks were invented and steam (living, breathing, beautiful) locomotives were the mainstay of the railways. One afternoon, while returning home l leant very far out of the carriage window to see the number and name of a passing locomotive. All would have been well, except my train went under a bridge and my head hit the insulator of a telephone wire post. I was thrown back into the compartment and the only other occupant had the presence of mind to reach up and pull the emergency cord before he fainted. The guard (whom I understand from Sheila later got an award from the Queen) kept me alive until an ambulance arrived and took me to Stockport Infirmary. I was in a coma for 2 weeks and it was a further week later before I could recognise my parents. Any colour left in my mother’s hair gave up and she went totally grey.
I had a very pleasant childhood in Romiley, but I was not allowed to invite my friends from the village to my 10th birthday party in August 1957. I don’t think that this was intended as a punishment; although it is probable that I had had done something wrong. With hindsight the main reason was that we had emigrated to (then) Southern Rhodesia in June 1957.
Before leaving UK we were to have hired a car (this was in the days when there were very few private vehicles, indeed in Romiley, one of the farmers still used a horse and cart to deliver milk), and drive round Scotland and England to visit and say farewell to various friends and relations. However, the Egyptian president (Nasser) nationalised and blocked the Suez Canal by sinking ships in it. Europe woke up the fact that all oil was imported from the “middle east” via the Suez Canal. Petrol was in very short supply and rationed. As a result our “holiday” was not to be.
To be continued…..
Next time the story will continue with his emigration to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.