Kathy Martin’s life story (1)
By Kathy Martin…
Decided it was time to add my life story to my blog pages!
Kathleen Margaret Gardner, born 8th May 1953 in Winchester, Hampshire, UK
My father (Daddy) was Lawrence Peter Gardner, born 21 November 1914 in Beddington, Wimbledon, in South London. Daddy joined United Africa Company (UAC), a branch of Unilever, from school, about 1930. He was posted to the Gold Coast. On one of his leaves back to Wimbledon, he met my mother (Mummy) and at a dance they kissed (the story goes that she was the secretary at the Wimbledon cricket club and Daddy said that he had to return to Africa, but that he’d be back for more)!
My mother, Evelyn Ashcroft Melland (Mummy), was born on 21 June 1922 in Broken Hill,Northern Rhodesia (Now Kabwe, Zambia). Mummy was the baby of her family and she was convinced that she would marry before her two elder sisters and brother, however, not only did they marry before her, but her mother remarried as well! My parents married on 29 September 1951.
In summer 1953, Mummy and I went to West Africa. There we lived “upcountry” (Takoradi) in the Gold Coast, now called Ghana, and returned to Winchester, in the summer of 1954, where my sister Angela Frances was born on 8 November 1954. We lived with my grandmother (Mummy’s mother).
In early 1955, Daddy was transferred to Nairobi, Kenya and Bridget Mary was born on 6 February 1957. Michael Lawrence More (a family name, as allegedly we are direct descendants of St Thomas More) was born on 28 July 1958, he weighed 11lbs 12oz the heaviest baby ever born in the hospital. Mummy checked this, in 1970, after we moved to Uganda. After having such a big baby, Mummy was warned that she should not have any more children and so had to stay in hospital for a hysterectomy and Michael was placed with a foster mother; he reckons the reason why he has never felt very strong family feelings.
We lived at 41 Livingstone Drive, Westlands, Nairobi and there are various memories:
- We had an ayah, called Wanjera (sp?) who would punish me by slapping the bottom of my feet, with my flip-flops (thereby not leaving a mark!)
- She lived in the garage attached to the house
- Hula-hoop champion!
- An old fish tank in which I raised some baby hedgehogs; and remember them being very soft at birth
- We had a beautiful cross Doberman/Alsatian called Sue who had various litters over the years, what I didn’t know until I was much older was that Daddy used to drown most of the puppies! When we left Nairobi remember going in the car with Sue to her new home and crying most of the way back!
- Having an old bath in the garden in which we could get cool in the hot summers!
- Going to a stream down the hill and getting frogspawn
- Sitting on Daddy’s lap “driving” the car
- Climbing up a tall tree and then being too frightened to come down, without help from our garden boy
- Riding my new two-wheeler bike in and out our two driveways (an in and an out) and falling off and spraining my ankle
- Spoke kitchen Swahili and could translate things for my mother with the cook and houseboy. In later years, when watching a film where Swahili was used, found I could understand quite a few of the words!
Daddy spoke Swahili very well and even translated a book into Swahili (think it was Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter!).
We would spend two weeks every year down in the Mombasa area, at a beach called Jardini, (the house my parents bought near our boarding school, in Filsham Road, St‑Leonards‑on‑sea & Hastings was called after it).
When I was nearly six, had my appendix out and remember sitting on the veranda of the hospital playing the “spinning knives” game with the nurses –we had to answer a question when the blade of the knife pointed at us for a “prize”. Granny, Mummy’s mother, came out to stay with us at this time and remember that with her gammy leg (she had a hip problem from a very early age and never managed to have the operation to sort it out) she had problems coping with our stairs and was given a bed in the dining room.
A favourite bedtime story that Daddy used to tell me was, as follows:
A little girl called Kathleen went to a birthday party and she was given a red balloon. On the way home her Daddy took her into Nairobi National Park and they passed a herd of giraffe. At that moment the balloon flew out of Kathleen’s hand and a baby giraffe swallowed it; oh dear what could they do! The mummy giraffe was very clever and took her baby giraffe to a thorn tree and the baby rubbed his neck against the tree and the balloon went BANG (at that point Daddy would clap his hands very loudly together)! Remember loving this story!
I went to school at Loretta Convent, but only have a few memories of it
- One very clear memory is when Mummy decided that my hair was not quite long enough for 2 “bunches”, so she made 3 and I was teased badly over that!
- Made my first communion when I was seven and Mummy cut up her lovely white satin wedding dress to make my dress!
- I was being taught to dive when we left Nairobi, as a consequence, never did manage to do it properly!
- Also, my bad handwriting, blame this on the fact that by the time I got to school in England, they had been taught and I missed out! My handwriting was likened to “a spider crawling over the page”, by Sister Sandra, a teacher in senior school!
When Daddy was transferred back to Accra, Ghana, in early 1962, we left Kenya on the SS Rhodesia Castle and I decided that when I grew up I wanted to be a children’s nanny and join a liner!
Various memories of the voyage include:
- Seeing /going on my first escalator in Durban, and being terrified of it!
Seeing the “tablecloth” on Table Mountain in Cape Town
- Crossing the equator and having a party with “Neptune” coming out of the sea and “shaving” the children with ice-cream
- The adults had a slippery pole across the pool that they had to try and cross without being knocked off!
- A fancy dress party, to which I went as a witch and the lady next door used her makeup to help the “look”
When we arrived at Tilbury Docks, London, Daddy (who was surrounded by loads of packing cases) was asked how long he was staying and he answered (truthfully) “10 days”, apparently the customs man was flabbergasted and said “lot of luggage for 10 days, sir” and then Daddy pointed out that his wife and family were staying longer and would be buying a house!