"Dear Mum" Chapter 10
With my new camera, I used to wander all round the seedy part of Singapore. There were a lot of places out of bounds, but if you wore civvies and did not carry any identification, unless you were unlucky enough to be seen by someone who actually knew who you were, then you could go anywhere.
One of my colleagues was a brothel specialist. He was called Dave, but his nickname was “Bones”, as going out for the purpose of naughty sex was called “going out on the bones.” He was also extremely thin, so the name was very appropriate. He had a fascination of women, I mean don’t we all, but he made a art out of finding the grottiest places that were mostly unknown to anyone and indulging himself to the full. He was always going sick with some new venereal disease that no one had ever heard of, let alone caught. It was long before the days of AIDS and I did not hear of anything being caught that was not cured after a few visits to Sick Quarters. I got drunk one night and was on the steps to one of the places he had recommended, but I got religion and chickened out.
I was a cherry boy and painfully innocent. This was why all the girls in the bars liked me. I was not a threat at all. One night I went to see Girlie, one of my regulars in the Paris Bar, which was in the Cathay Cinema building, at the bottom of Orchard Road. She was not there, but had left a message that if I went along to her flat, I could see her there and she had got some beer in. I took this at face value and went along. It was only afterwards that I realised that it had been a seduction scene and I was supposed to be the victim. That was the plan. I was so naïve that I did not realise what was going on. All the other girls in the bar did. I wish I was a little bit younger and know what I know now. We sat and looked at her family photos and she gave me at least 3 Tiger beers and at about midnight I politely got up and left. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I remained pure and innocent for the next two years. How could I have spent so much time surrounded by beautiful oriental girls, most of who would have given at least one back tooth for a regular English boyfriend, without doing anything about it? I still don’t know.
If we called in to the Guardroom we could pick up free French Letters. Stamped with “Government Property” and “For the Prevention of Disease Only”. They came in a round individual silver paper wrapper that looked for all the world like two milk bottle tops stuck together. As even then, I suspected that one day I might lose my virginity, I used to carry one in my wallet and one night, again in the Paris Bar, when I pulled out a ten Dollar note with a flourish, out it came. In front of about 5 girls, it rolled slowly across the table, bounced onto the floor and now to the rapt attention of all the inmates, it rolled unsteadily across the centre of the bar. One of the girls on my table ran and picked it up and to my mortification, pretended that she did not know what it was and as if it was a chocolate started to bite it. I nearly died of shame, especially as they all knew that I had never used one in anger. In spite of my innocence and this incident, I continued to carry one about with me for the rest of my stay, - ever hopeful. When I left Singapore I had the round imprint of the circular condom etched into my wallet for all time. I’m very glad that I have now grown up and have passed that particular hurdle. It was a difficult time, being a virgin. People don’t realise.
Julie, was a Eurasian. She worked in the Tiong Hoa Bar across the road from the Paris bar. She was a wonderful combination of east and west that works so well. Her mother was Japanese and her father was English. She had the lustrous long black hair and perfect figure of her mother, but, because of her father, had not inherited the slightly puffy eyes that sometimes spoil a perfect face. She was tall and slender and often wore an apricot Cheong Sam, with a high neck that set off her colouring to perfection. I loved her with a pure infatuation that was not soiled by the sexual lust that has pervaded all my relationships with beautiful women since I lost my virginity. Soon after I met her, she went up market and moved to the Clifford Café down by the sea front, opposite Clifford Pier. Of course I moved too. I picked up courage to ask her out one night. She only had one night a week off and I was so proud to have an escort of such class and beauty. We went for a meal and then a few drinks and then to a film that she wanted to see. In the middle of the film I had to go to the loo, because of the Tiger I had seen off before. When I came back I could not find her. This was and will remain one of my life’s mysteries. I thought that we were getting on OK. - Perhaps I frightened her off. I don’t know. For whatever reason she was not there. She was a bit quiet and timid and that is one of the reasons I liked her. I did not go back to the Clifford Café. It was a bit expensive and there were a lot more fish in the sea.
One highlight of a lot of servicemen’s time in Singapore was the Jungle Survival Course. We were all supposed to go on it and although most looked upon it as a “Jolly” - the idea was a good one. If a plane happened to go down in the Jungle, we were supposed to be able to survive on grubs and seeds until we were rescued. That was the idea, anyway. Even having been on it, I doubt very much if my survival capability was enhanced very much. I would have gone and bought a chicken curry if I had been in that predicament. About 15 airmen were assembled for my particular course. We were taken to the Railway Station in Singapore and the train equipped with sleeping accommodation drew out of the Station for it’s long slow journey up to KL - Kuala Lumpur, to the un-initiated. The sleeping arrangements were quite acceptable, a very comfortable foam rubber mattress behind a little curtain. Not much room, but the motion of the train soon rocked me off to sleep.
There was an armed guard on the train as there were still supposed to have been a few CTs (Communist Terrorists) about. We never saw any, but it added a sense of adventure and danger to the journey. It was the first time that I had been associated with anything remotely resembling a combat situation. I had visions of the train being attacked and built up fantasies in my mind about bullets flashing out of the impenetrable jungle and us being hastily issued with rifles to fight off the hoards of CTs. I had a strange erotic dream that night about a tiny girl in one of the bars, to whom I had previously given little thought, all mixed up with machine guns and splintering woodwork of the bullet riddled carriages. I really enjoyed that night. In spite of all the Action / Drama, I awoke the next morning, very early, full of beans and ready to go.
We were, of course, still going. It was not what you would call an express train. The windows were open and it was very pleasant watching the Rubber Plantations and Jungle go by. It is a trip that I would recommend to anyone. It is probably an air-conditioned train now, with all mod cons. But we did not need them to make it a wonderful experience.
Dawn was breaking as we pulled into the magnificent Palace that was (and still is) Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. We piled out of the train and having been told that transport to Frazer’s Hill was going to be about half an hour. I wandered out into the street to look at KL. The city was silent. I stood and breathed in the exotic smells, the Frangipani and the foods, the Nuk Mam, curry and the open monsoon drains. There was a little café across the road from the station. They had just switched on the power and the fluorescent lights flickered into life. Suddenly, the JukeBox on the same supply and having been switched off in mid-stream apparently also came alive. It had been selected to play an old Shadows record. The Frightened City. A very popular instrumental at that time. The effect of the powerful record player booming out in the silent streets was electrifying. It was really a moving experience and I listened to the whole record in awe. I filed it away as something to remember and when it was over went to join the group.
The Magnificent Kuala Lumpur Railway Station - Malaysia, two photos taken from different angles.
An Air Force Blue Bedford lorry finally turned up to take us to Frazer’s Hill. After leaving Kuala Lumpur the truck started to climb through the jungle into the hills to the east of the city. The road got more and more rugged and soon we were hanging on at each bend. Several of our number were sick from the motion. I stood at the front and looked out over the cab of the lorry, with a blast of air in my face. This was better than sitting on the bench seats along the sides. It had a tarpaulin cover and it was a blessed relief when we finally arrived at our destination. Frazer’s Hill was high enough to be a complete change in climate from Singapore or KL. There was a tiny village centred on a Golf Course and RAF Frazer’s Hill was a collection of buildings housing only a dozen or so staff dedicated to running Jungle Survival Courses. The village had, of course, a Golf Club, a little bar, a few shops and that was about all.
The HQ of RAF Frazers Hill, in the Cameron Highlands. About 2 or 3 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur, at least it was, I expect there is a better road now. It had glass in the windows as it was considerably cooler than Singapore.
There was a golf course running through the village and it was all very quaint and rustic.
When we had been allocated rooms, four men to a room, (the windows actually had glass in them and curtains, - a great novelty,) we were assembled and given a briefing by “Jungle Jim”- the chief instructor. We got into our jungle greens and jungle boots and I wore the little red peaked cap that I had for years, adorned with the Norwegian Corporal’s badge, that I had “liberated” on one of my trips to Bodo. It was all very relaxed and informal. There was even a Flight Leftenant on the course and he had brought his sixteen-year-old daughter! We could see that it was not going to be very demanding.
Jungle George, or - if you prefer, "George of the Jungle". Brendan Frazer would not be impressed. The kit was a bit non-standard as everyone added little personalised bits of their own, hence my (red) cap and towel to soak up the copious sweat, from our exertions.
Jungle Jim warned us about going off on our own, getting lost and what to do if we got leaches. And the course started. It was just like a holiday camp. We wandered about in the jungle and never got to eat one grub or root. We got to swim in icy pools and carry stretchers up impossible slopes. We got each night off, so the first opportunity I went off to the bar in the village, The Maxwell Arms, and discovered that there was a beautiful Malay girl working there, on her own, who thought I looked like Troy Donahue, or so she told me. This was very flattering for me, as Troy Donahue was a prominent film star, at the time, so I fell in love with her.
This was the Barmaid at the Maxwell Arms in the village of Frazers Hill, the photo does not do her justice, she did not want me to take any and so it is a "stolen shot". I can't remember her name at the moment, but it will probably come back to me.
So passed a very enjoyable 4 days. The last night, we had a farewell party. It actually started at lunchtime. By the time we finished. I had a pile of 11 litres of empty Tiger Beer bottles alongside my chair. I know, because I counted them the next morning when we had to clear up before leaving. “Runaway” by Del Shannon was the record that got played all the time, on the record player that night and I can never hear it without remembering this episode. It’s funny how a piece of music can take you back.
The lorry ride back to KL. is best forgotten. The twisting road and the alcohol from the night before made it a very forgettable experience. I must admit to sleeping most of the way back to Singapore, as well. We said out goodbyes, promising reunions in the future that we promptly forgot and dispersed back from whence we had come, full of new “War Stories” to tell all our work mates. Cameras full of slides destined to catch the dreaded fungus like so many of their companions. Thankfully, most of mine have survived, as quite early on, I saw a friend lose all his slides to this affliction. I bought a big plastic bell jar that had a vacuum pump that removed all the damp air and ensured that the fungus, which covered slides and lenses with a spidery growth, fatal to both, never got the chance to start. Once it started to grow there was very little that could be done.