Kathy Martin’s life story (8)
By Kathy Martin…
My life story continues
Thinking back to those days, it all seems very unrealistic and find it hard to believe that I learnt to fire guns and took Sasha for walks in her pram with the submachine gun lying on top of her blanket! Streak would, obviously, come with us, but also Kanga would follow, for a while, before turning back!
When we returned from our walk (usually down towards the big baobab tree) Kanga (we were certain she thought she was a dog!) would be sitting on the side of the road and would accompany us back home!
When Sasha was three months old we took her to England to show her off to friends and family! Once again, we hired a car from Avis and started off in Pett. We had Sasha’s christening (Michael was her godfather and Bridget her godmother, in lieu of Ann-Marie, who was in Bulawayo) in St Mary Star of the Sea, Roman Catholic church, Hastings.
We left to travel around, went to Edinburgh to see Alistair’s relations and, as there were no disposable nappies in those days, had a bucket in the boot with Napisan. When we got to Scotland, went to a laundrette to wash the nappies and hung them out in the garden on our return. Although it was a sunny day, the air was so moist, they did not dry!
We had stopped for lunch on the way to Nottingham, and I was stung on the foot by a hornet. Went with Peter and his wife, Muriel, to a Policeman’s ball (he was a high up dignitary in Nottingham), his youngest son, John, babysat Sasha for us. Remember having a very uncomfortable evening, with my foot in agony.
We had doped Sasha up with Calpol for both flights and were very grateful, as she slept very well and was no trouble.
Back home in Victoria Falls, Sasha and I settled into a routine of going to the airport every day. One of the porters’ daughters, Irene, came and took Sasha for a walk in her pram whilst the flights were in. As Sasha grew she would have a wonderful time in her walker, she would “bomb” around the airport and the guards would make sure she didn’t get out onto the runway! She was a hit with everyone. She had many admirers and was a very happy child.
Alistair’s call-ups were becoming more frequent and he stayed in longer each time. Then luck was on our side, he changed army companies and there was a “cock-up” when he left camp. Usually he was given his next call-up papers before they paid them (not much!). As we drove back from the airport, he said “this is it, we can leave, I’m not under call-up”. To explain, no one was allowed to leave the country if they were under call-up.
Immediately we started proceedings to leave; basically we couldn’t tolerate the war situation any longer. It was ridiculous that Alistair was being sent to an army camp in the bottom southeast of Rhodesia, whilst Sasha and I were in the northwest suffering our own mortar attacks etc. One camp when he came back it was obvious that he had had a very bad time, turned out that they had been ambushed and smoking saved Alistair’s life, he was bending over to light his cigarette when the shooting started! Those of you who have read Alistair’s war stories will know this was far worse than he told me!
We had to get tax clearance in order to leave. So, on a visit to Salisbury, we went to the tax office and sat waiting. An older white guy came through and recognised Alistair; asked what we were doing and proceeded to whisk us through the proceedings. After we left asked Alistair who he was and it turned out he was the father of one of Alistair’s first girlfriends. We lived with May whilst we organised our departure. As we couldn’t take money out with us (well only the equivalent of £1,000) we had a great time spending on “things”, Willsgrove crockery, sheets, blankets, leather jackets etc.
When we packed our boxes in Vic Falls and realised very soon that one doesn’t put books in one box as it is impossible to move it! We left Rhodesia with regrets, but mainly relief that we had all survived the war. We were not sure what awaited us in UK, but felt that, if nothing else, we would guarantee Sasha a good education and the chance of a good life.
Mummy and Daddy collected us (we returned to Gatwick at a later date to collect our “cargo”). They had agreed that we could live with them, in the first instance. A decision we wondered if we’d made correctly, as if we had just arrived as refugees we would have been housed by a council and in time could have bought our own place, however, we shall never know if this would have been better or not.
We spent £750, out of our £1,000, on buying a Renault 4, as we felt it would help Alistair’s job prospects.
Alistair, almost immediately, got himself a labourer’s job at Lignacite, where they made breezeblocks. Have always admired Alistair’s willingness to do anything, he cleaned schools, as well, and said that was the worst job he had ever had!
We arrived back in the UK in August 1978 and have always said that it only took me four years to meet the man of my dreams, fall in love, get married and have a baby, before returning to UK!
Sasha and I stayed “at home” whilst Alistair was working and found it very difficult, as my mother had her own ideas as to how I should be bringing Sasha up!
We often went out for a walk in the afternoon, just to get out, and met Jane Tolofson, who lived just down Watermill Lane with her two boys. Her eldest, Kris, was Sasha’s age, so we often went round to her house, so they could play together, many years later, when I joined the NHS, I met up with Jane again, when she was a manager in St Anne’s House.
That first winter, we had quite a lot of snow and we togged Sasha up in her all-over leggings coat, when we took her out into the snow, she cried, like her mother, did not like it! However, she got used to it and we went down the lane and into the Caravan Club Park, which was only open to caravans from March to September. She had a great time, running round and rolling in the snow, tears all forgotten!
We very soon realised that we could not stay with Mummy and Daddy forever, so looked in “The Lady” magazine for possible “live-in” jobs.
We found one in Pyecombe, near Brighton on the A23, living with a single man and I was his housekeeper (luckily did not have to cook as well, as I am not a brilliant cook). It was a brand new house and we lived in the downstairs “flat”. Alistair had found a job at Blue Star Travel, Burgess Hill, so we were close to his work. However, this was always a temporary stopgap, so we kept looking.
We all went across to an interview nearby, but the woman didn’t fancy having a toddler around! Sasha and I went on our own to another interview in Capel, near Dorking, and luckily Mrs Crow “fell in love” with Sasha, who reminded her of her eldest, Nicky, as a toddler. We moved into 3 Rushetts Lane, Capel, Near Dorking, at Easter 1979. We had a big bed/sitting room upstairs and Sasha had a small room, just big enough for her bunk bed and not much else!
Downstairs we had a small kitchen/dining room, with a Rayburn oven, which kept us very warm in the winter, as long as we sat on it, which Sasha and I did, quite a lot! We had a lean-to conservatory, just big enough for a sofa and our washing machine! The garden was quite small, but Sasha and I enjoyed playing around in the mud and making a vegetable patch.
There was a well and Sasha would make mud pies, but unfortunately, she also tried to eat them! She had three imaginary friends, who lived at the bottom of the garden, Fred, who was a very naughty little boy (it was always Fred’s fault if something was broken or lost!), Su‑Su, who was an older girl and looked after Sasha and Helen, who we never really heard much about!