Team Travel

On the wake of the success of the H.K. Festival Water-Ski Show, our team were invited to attend the South East Asian Water-ski Championship in the Philippines. A letter from the  Philippine Water Ski Association was sent to our schools and employers requesting our attendance  and thereby securing  a leave of absence for the duration of the trip.

Capture-Letter-PISKI

In this letter from the Philippine Water-Ski Association, I am listed as Mauri McDonald. I suspect Frank gave them this miss-spelling as he could never get my name right and always called me More-ee!

Leave approved, flights and accommodation were booked, the trip became a reality and the excitement began to build.

Carting all our equipment- skis, discs, ropes etc., was an interesting exercise which necessitated allowing a significant amount of extra time for managing this ancillary cargo.

We were to perform our show as part of the entertainment and displays put on for the Water-ski Championship. The boys, Frank and Lis also decided to participate in some of the individual events, competing against teams from Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and of course the Philippines.

President Ferdinand Marcos, who was in office at the time, was a very keen water-skier himself and had an avid interest in the events about to take place. Marcos later became infamous for his corrupt and undemocratic regime, living out his last years in exile in Hawaii but we were unaware of any of this at the time. By late 1973, the Philippines had been under martial law for just over a year. Although conscious of the military presence as we arrived in Manila, it didn’t really impact on us. In fact at the invitation of President Marcos, we were to be given special treatment.

What was the actual championship, took place over a weekend. The event was officially opened with a ceremony – a speech by the President of the Philippine Water-ski Association and a display of Philippine folk dance and music. The members of our team taking part in the competition did extremely well, securing the overall team trophy and our water-ski show was once again well received. As a finale to the Championship, and for no partcular reason, it was decided to do a marathon ski – 48 miles for the boys and what should have been 20 miles for the girls. However, the girls boat ran out of petrol and a rescue boat had to be sent out so the 20 miles was never completed!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the conclusion of the competition, the participating teams, alongwith the two water-ski celebrities – Lesley Cockburn from Australia and Mike Suyderhoud from the U.S.A., (both world class skiers who were attending the event as ambassadors of the sport), were invited to spend the next few days as guests of President Marcos aboard his yacht ‘Ang Pangulo’ (which translates to ‘The President’). Once we were settled in our designated cabins, ‘Ang Pangulo’ cast off, traversed around the breakwater and out of Manila harbour into the sparkling, deep cerulean waters of Manila Bay.

The first night on board was a presentation dinner dance hosted by President Marcos who also awarded the trophies.

Presentation

Philippine News – 10th December, 1973

In the ensuing days, whilst we cruised around the islands, stopping to anchor periodically, we were treated to sumptuous meals aboard the yacht – mouth-watering fresh fruits and succulent seafood; we skied just for fun, but also at his request, put on our show for the President. He too displayed his proficiency at water skiing and we were amused at the number of bodyguard ‘frogmen’ who appeared in the water encircling his passage through the bay. What exactly they would have done in the event of an attack on the President from their watery lookouts, I’m not at all sure.

On day three of the voyage, we anchored off the Bataan peninsula, best known for being the site of the World War 2 Battle of Bataan – one of the last stands of Filipino and American soldiers before they succumbed to the Japanese Forces. The President had a holiday retreat on the peninsula to which we were taken and introduced to the game of Pelota – similar to Squash but played on two walls, with a bat and gas filled ball.

Whilst at the holiday retreat, President Marcos regaled us with tales of his time during the war when he led an elite guerrilla unit. He was, we were told, single-handedly responsible for delaying the fall of Bataan by three months but once captured, he vowed if he ever got off the peninsula and survived the war, he would return one day to build a shack there.

He did indeed return to build the shack – somewhat grander than first imagined, but some years later, all his stories of an elite guerrilla unit were refuted. Most of his war time stories it turned out, were complete fabrication.

However, we were captivated by them at the time and honoured to be in the presence of not only a world leader but a man of such great valour.

Day four heralded our return to Hong Kong but as we were still anchored off the Bataan peninsula, there was insufficient time to get us back by sea, to Manila. So arrangements were made to fly us by helicopter to Malacañang Palace – the official presidential residence from where we were spirited by limousine to Manila International Airport and thence onto Hong Kong.

SkiTeam

“HONG KONG WATER-SKIERS BACK WITH A LOAD OF TROPHIES”   Hong Kong Standard, 14th December, 1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Six Months of Hard Graft

With the goal of the Hong Kong Festival 1973 in our sights,

Hong Kong Festival 1973

Hong Kong Festival 1973

the newly formed Aberdeen Boat Club Water Ski Team, set to at pulling a show together which we could present to the General Public at Repulse Bay.

 

A show plan was formulated to which we were to work towards, some of us barely able to ski had a lot of work to do! The next six months saw us learning new skills and practising at every opportunity. Weekends were devoted to practice, lessons for some of us. As the date drew closer and the need for rehearsals became more frequent, additional sessions were fitted in mid-week after school. We became our own taskmasters. It was an exhausting but exhilarating undertaking.

The show, masterminded by our mentor Frank, encompassed a variety of acts from Ski Ballet to a Five Man Pyramid. Flags, banners and purpose designed ski ropes were crafted. Lis, the main female protagonist, tailored matching bikinis and billowing blouses, and sourced long white gloves for the girls, whilst Gerhard and Frank collaborated on building a ski jump with a six foot high ramp. Finally after the months of hard graft, we were ready.

On the morning of ‘Show Day’ we assembled at Middle Bay with more than a frisson of excitement in the air. The South China Morning Post had carried some pre-show editorial in the week prior, resulting in a flotilla of pleasure craft moored just outside the ski area and a fair mass of spectators on the beach, amongst whom were our families and friends who had come to support us. From our muster point in Middle Bay, we weren’t able to see our audience until we skied into the neighbouring bay to commence our acts, so initially we had no idea if anyone had actually turned up!

The show, opened by Gerhard, Danny and Scott carrying the newly made banners, was delivered in two halves. First up was the ski ballet which consisted of the girls performing a series of synchronized dance moves.

Capture-SKI 1

A three man pyramid followed by a five man pyramid in the second half, began with the skiers all skiing together before the girls  dropped their skis to climb onto the shoulders of the boys, in order to create the pyramid. 

Capture-SKI 2Capture-SKI 3

Frank performed a trick ski sequence. Executed on small skis with no stabilizing fin – much more difficult than he made it look. Some extreme skiing acts followed – the 3-Man Roulette,  requiring precision timing, involved the three boys criss- crossing  the wake under each others ski ropes and Barefoot skiing performed by Gerhard which drew an appreciative gasp from the crowd. The Ski Jumps, Slalom 360’s, a Human Ski, a Toe-Hold Ballet and Kite Ski, we even had a Clown – with  tightly orchestrated timing and fluidity, one act flowed into the next.

One misjudged move at any point, could have seen one of us, or several of us, in ‘the drink’ but the diligent practice paid off with everything going according to plan. The final act saw all of us ski together around the bay and into the beach to finish. It was our first performance, it was slick and professional, well received by the spectators and SO much fun! The dream had come to fruition. We were all on a high!

ABC Ski Team

You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.

– Richard Bach

 

 

 

Gung Ho

hkjunk2

Traditional Chinese Junk, Hong Kong Harbour

The Chinese Junk is an ancient sailing ship, it’s origins dating back to as early as the 2nd Century AD. It’s strength and durability are sustained by the solid bulkheads which run both transversely and longitudinally across the large hull, thus allowing these vessels to have been used for ocean going journeys throughout Asia. Traditionally they carried up to five masts, each set with square sails, strengthened with bamboo battens.  The sails could be pulled up or down much like a Roman blind.

Although designs have evolved over time, junks are still used in China today for fishing but more commonly now, for tourism.

The junk became popular in Hong Kong for recreational use too. A corruption of the traditional junk design, the high stern and projecting bow still feature but these modern vessels are powered by marine engines, rather than the traditional sails.  They usually house at least one sunbathing deck, always have cushioned seating areas and often tow smaller craft – a dinghy or speedboat.

Pleasure junk

Modern Recreational Junk

The family of my friend, Lis Kutt, owned one of these recreational junks and I was lucky enough to get regular invitations to spend Sundays with them on their junk. On most Sundays, Hong Kong residents could be seen setting off on boat trips to enjoy the waters around Hong Kong and the surrounding islands. Until the demise of our cabin cruiser, when it broke it’s mooring and was lost during a typhoon, my family too had spent our Sundays out on the water. By the time the Kutt family had acquired their junk, Lis and I were in our teens – our days on the junk were spent sunbathing, occasionally catching up on some homework and water-skiing.

The Kutt family, mainly Lis and her brother Gerhard, were keen water-skiers. Lis and Gerhard had learnt to ski at a young age and were both very adept. From the first time I watched Lis ski as I sat in the passenger seat of the speed boat that towed her along, I wanted to give it a try. She made it look so easy as she effortlessly glided through the water, slaloming from side to side, crossing the wake of the boat with such grace, and spraying any unfortunate occupants of dinghies or sampans that happened to venture near her path as she switched from one side to the other.

Not so easy though as I was to find out! However, Lis and Gerhard proved to be good teachers, and like any good teachers, they inspired hope! With Herculean patience, they got me up on two skis, taught me how to drop one and eventually by the time they had laid down the mantle, I was able to ski on one ski from a dry dock start! This happened of course, over a period of time, not just one lesson!

1

Middle Island, 1973

And if one student wasn’t enough, they were simultaneously teaching our mutual friend Carol and Gerhard’s girlfriend of the time, Julie.

Lis and Gerhard were driven by an encounter with a fellow water-skier – Frank Fletcher. Frank had been part of a water ski team in the U.S.A. and was keen to start a similar group in Hong Kong.  Lis and Gerhard were obvious candidates, along with a couple of other long time water-skiers – Danny Wilson and Scott Redheffer. To make up numbers, although novices at it’s conception, Carol, Julie and myself were co-opted into the team. Frank’s initial goal was to put on a water show at Repulse Bay as part of the Festival of Hong Kong 1973 – we had six months to work cooperatively and pull it together.

Capture-ski

 

Article from the South China Morning Post – 27th November, 1973

Who Let The Dogs Out?

My recent trip to Hong Kong culminated in a junk trip – sadly curtailed due to the arrival of a Typhoon but nonetheless a great day out and reminiscent of many such days spent on junks and boats whilst living in Hong Kong.

My earliest memories of days out on the water, were with my family. In 1962, my Dad bought our first boat – a cabin cruiser which he named, ‘Peregrine’ after the Peregrine Falcon, the fastest bird and a symbol of speed and power. A tag he assigned to our speedy outboard motor boat. It certainly felt fast as we ventured off the mooring and out of the harbour area as my Dad would push the throttle forward, forcing the speed higher until the nose of the boat rose and bobbed above the water. My sister and I loved to sit at the back of the boat with the wind blowing our hair, and watch the frothing brine left in our wake.

Capture-boat2

Google Images

Sundays were boating days. My Mum would pack a Styrofoam ice box with goodies for our lunch and we would set off in the car for the long journey from our home at Mt Nicholson Gap, out to Hebe Haven where the boat was moored. This meant traversing Hong Kong harbour on the Vehicular Ferry, as there was no harbour tunnel then and this was the only means of getting a vehicle across to Kowloon . On arriving at the car ferry pier in North Point, we would join the line of vehicles waiting to cross and gradually snake our way onto the next available ferry, guided by the uniformed men of the Hong Kong and Yaumatei Ferry Company. A Popsi man and other vendors would cruise by the line of cars, trying to secure a sale from the idle passengers. Once on the ferry and underway, my Dad would take us up to the bow so we could watch the multitude of vessels zig zagging their way across the harbour.

Ferry passage completed, the next part of our car journey was on the road that twisted and turned out to Hebe Haven. Once there, my Dad would hail a sampan man (or woman) who would transport us across the short distance from the pier to  where the boat was moored.

 

The word sampan, is a Cantonese term literally meaning three planks, which is pretty much w

Sampan 1

Google Images

hat they were – one plank for the hull and one for either side of the boat. The owner of the sampan would stand at the back of the boat and using a long, single oar which he or she pushed backwards and forwards, would ply a path through the channels between the moored craft.

Always fastidious about safety, my Dad would check the life-jackets, before we set off to find a quiet bay at which to anchor and there we would spend our day, my sister Fiona and I enjoying swimming in the clean, clear waters, donning masks and snorkels and exploring or jumping off the roof of the boat, whilst our parents relaxed, read the Sunday paper and enjoyed the sunshine. My Dad sometimes joined us in the water and would spend time clearing the barnacles that had adhered to the hull of the boat. At the end of the day, we headed back to the shelter of Hebe Haven harbour, hailed another sampan and returned to the dock.

Hebe Haven now houses fancy clubs and marinas but then it was primarily a dockyard, there was one Chinese restaurant that overlooked the harbour and that is where we headed at the end of our day whilst ‘Peregrine’ was left to be washed down and tidied up by our boat boy. All pleasure boats moored at Hebe Haven and other similar harbours throughout the colony, were looked after by boat boys. They did the job of cleaning the boats, seeing to any repairs and securing them in the event of inclement weather. This service wasn’t really optional as choose not to use their services and who knows what fate might befall your boat as I gather some owners found to their cost!

Whilst our parents ordered our meal at the Chinese Restaurant, Fiona and I would be lured to  the boatyard where invariably there would be several junks in various stages of construction. The ribs of wood, expertly honed and curved to form what would become a hull – always fascinating, and the smell of the wood shavings that littered the floor – so aromatic!

On one occasion, on our wanderings, we came across a cage in which at least half a dozen puppies were incarcerated. They jumped up on the grid of the cage as we approached, craving our attentions, enjoying our gentle pats and gnawing on our fingers with their needle sharp teeth. Convinced they belonged to the restaurant and were destined for the cooking pot, after giving each one a name, Fiona and I surreptitiously opened the cage door, releasing them. Confident  they were free from the fate that in our  minds, had lain ahead, we hightailed it back to the table where our parents were sharing a jug of shandy, just as our meal arrived and, sitting on crossed fingers, hoped nobody would be asking, ‘Who let the dogs out?’

‘Peregrine’ was later replaced by ‘Peregrine 2’ – a larger version of its predecessor and a little bit faster! When ‘Peregrine 2’ was lost in a typhoon some years later, it coincided with my sister and I partaking in other activities on Sundays  and so there never was a ‘Peregrine 3’.

Scrum Bum or Slick Chick?

As we grew older, and my friends and I started to go out on weekend evenings, independent of parental supervision, the conundrum that dominated conversation on Fridays at school, was what to wear!

Depending on the occasion, should we dress up or dress down? If I remember correctly, it was my friend, Taryn who first coined the phrase, ‘Scrum Bum or Slick Chick?’ which immediately became part of our teenage parlance.

Our early haunts were ‘Thingummys’ and ‘Pit Stop’ in the CBD. ‘Thingummys’ was a tiny little place down a flight of narrow stairs accessed on Wellington Street. Once inside, a small bar area commanded one end of the room, opposite the dance floor at the other end and a few tables and chairs were squeezed into any remaining space. Now I look back on it, I’m sure it wouldn’t pass current day fire regulations. The only access I recall being the narrow flight of stairs. Had there been a fire, I doubt anyone would have survived! It was very popular though, dozens of us wedged ourselves in there on a Friday evening to chat and dance the night away, shoulder to shoulder (literally). ‘Pit Stop’ opened a bit later and for a while became the preferred venue – only a few hundred metres away from Thingummys but not as intimate! In keeping with it’s name, the walls of ‘Pit Stop’ were adorned with motor-racing memorabilia and paraphernalia.

Capture-Disco

Google Images

We later progressed to ‘The Bull and Bear’ which opened on the ground floor of Hutchison House in 1974. It was reputed to be a pre-fabricated British Pub with every last screw having been imported from U.K. – goodness knows why, nothing wrong with H.K. hardware but presumably it’s Britishness was part of the attraction? The ‘Go-Down’ was another later favourite. The Bistro cum Wednesday night Jazz Club, was in the basement of Sutherland House. Access was via a laneway between Sutherland House and the neighbouring building and again down another flight of stairs. Not so narrow in this instance, but it’s mood lighting and artwork lining the stairwell, was instrumental in drawing you into the ambience of the retro bar and bistro.

It wasn’t the ‘Go Down’ itself that we frequented however, but the ‘Back Bar’ – a small room tucked away, (as you would expect), at the back of the Bistro. In the ‘Back Bar’, our source of music was an old juke box. Amongst some of the trending music of the time, there were also vinyl records dating back to our parents era. So an eclectic mix! Something for everyone, though it was only the youth that ever ventured into the ‘Back Bar’. It was rustic and often used as storage for the venue’s crates of beer. We loved it though and many a happy hour was wasted away there.

juke box

Google Images

On Saturday mornings we would reconvene in Central – either by the water dispenser in the salubrious Lane Crawford department store or in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. In these days before mobile phones, we had to be sure we knew the meeting arrangements before leaving home but rarely were any of us inconveniently late or at the wrong venue.

Saturday mornings were for shopping – we’d trail up and down ‘The Lanes’, two parallel streets that ran between Queens Road and Des Voeux Road. ‘The Lanes’ housed market stalls selling cheap and cheerful seasonal clothing, handbags, costume jewellery – a bit of a shopping Nirvana to suit our teenage purses. Jeans had become a fashion statement with shops like Bang Bang and Texwood opening up, so those too, were frequently on our shopping agenda. Occasionally we would pick up a sticky bun from the Bluebird Café which occupied a prime position on the corner of Queens Road and Pedder Street, long since replaced with a branch of HSBC. Shopping over, we would end up at the Hilton again where we would often visit one of the girls, father’s shop. Indra’s father owned a high-end Gentleman’s Tailor Shop on the ground floor of the hotel. If he was in the shop, we would be treated to an ice cold Coke from the fridge and generally made a fuss over.

We also spent many an hour in ‘Cat Street’ – the Hilton coffee shop. Chatting at length over  a cup of stewed coffee. This was usually followed up with equally lengthy telephone conversations when we got home. My Mum always wondered how we had so much to talk about!

The Hong Kong Hilton, again long since replaced by the multi-storey commercial office complex , Cheung Kong Centre, was a Hong Kong icon.  It presided over the corner of Garden Road and Queens Road Central. During it’s tenure, it hosted many international celebrities and prominent colony functions, having first opened in 1963 under difficult circumstances.

Capture-Chicago Tribune-07.06.63

 

Article from the Chicago Tribune, 7th June, 1963

Many will remember Happy Hour at ‘The Dragon Boat Bar’ – the  bar, literally fashioned in the shape of a Dragon Boat, the Italian resident band at ‘The Den’ or the welcome News Years Day breakfast at ‘Cat Street’ after a night of partying.

It was a favourite amongst both tourists and Hong Kong residents and it was a sad day when it was knocked down in the mid 1990’s.

HK Hilton

Google Images

Reunion

– the act of returning to a unified whole

Early last month, I headed off to Hong Kong for the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of my old secondary school – Island School, which opened it’s doors on the 19th September, 1967. My cohort were the first to go all the way through the school, from Form One to Upper Six. The school operated out of an old British Military Hospital with limited resources, but unaware of the adversities and challenges that presented, WE were in at ‘the beginning’ which seemed to create a special bond between us. ‘The originals’.

I first learnt about the planned 50th Anniversary celebrations, back in 2016 via the Alumni website and subsequent email communications from them.

As the months passed the momentum for a massive reunion built up with lots of my classmates committing to go.  A new ‘Whats App’ group was created and pretty soon floods of comments, suggested itineraries and enthusiasm dominated every day communications in our household.

Flights were booked, hotels were identified. Those still living in Hong Kong planned peripheral events around the official ones in order to maximise our time together. My husband Dave, planned to come with me so we could have a few days holiday together before the celebrations began.

The months became weeks, the weeks became days. Excitement built,  until the day of departure finally arrived. We were up at 4 o’clock that morning in order to catch our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. The adventure started at the airport when we met up with Karin and Mandy Dewar, also headed for the celebrations. Both Karin and Mandy each sporting as big a grin as my own.

20170605_064143_001

5a.m. Perth International Airport – about to board!

From day one it was fabulous. Dave and I really enjoyed our time together even as the flurries of ‘Whats Apps’ deluged my phone daily. After a lovely four days, during which Dave was able to meet some of my old friends, he returned home before the next few days of nostalgia and fun began in earnest.

People flew in from all over the world for the events, it was such an amazing atmosphere. Each day was packed with get-togethers be it dim sum, brunch, cocktails, dinner, the grandeur of the Gala dinner, a junk trip – we just seemed to go from one thing to the next, soaking it all up and not wanting to miss a moment.

 

 

The wonderful thing about it all was that it was so easy – we all just slotted back together so comfortably as though it had only been yesterday we’d been hanging around Greg’s tuckshop, and that forty plus years hadn’t elapsed.

IMG-20170617-WA0007

The ‘What’s App’ messages said it so much better than I can……

Capture

Capture2Capture5Capture6Capture7Capture3

IMG-20170612-WA0027

When it came time to say our goodbyes, I felt very emotional. I’d just experienced the most special of times, I’d lost my voice from talking so much, my jaw ached from laughing so much and I had re-discovered a bunch of really great people.

I returned home, tired but exhilarated. Everything had gone so well, even the typhoon that arrived on the last day, didn’t hinder our enthusiasm. The trip had surpassed all expectations.

What is that synergy that people who’ve grown up in Hong Kong share? Is it the international and intercultural diversity and acceptance that we grew up without even being aware of? Or is it the city itself, which exudes energy, drawing you in?

After my morning swim today, I listened to the bunch of teenage girls in the leisure centre’s changing room – a cacophony of high pitched voices without any discernible words except for the odd modern vernacular, ‘I, like…..’ or ‘it was like…..’ that punctuated their conversations. I wondered if they would come together after almost half a century and still feel as at ease as they are today. Somehow I think not.

To First Pagoda and Beyond

I used to love to run, even into adulthood I would run the various tracks around H.K. island. So school runs to ‘First Pagoda’ and beyond to ‘Second Pagoda’, were always fun.

The Pagodas were landmarks on our school Cross Country runs along Bowen Road. Not really pagodas in the true sense of the word but rather pavilions with pagoda style roofs. They provided shade and rest spots for walkers.

Sometimes we would run down the concrete steps at the side of the school, down onto Bowen Road or for a longer run, we would start from the main entrance of the school.

We started with runs to First Pagoda before advancing to Second Pagoda runs.

Second Pagoda runs stretched the course several hundred metres further. Second Pagoda was the turnaround point taking us back on the course to school via First Pagoda once more.

For the less enthusiastic, First Pagoda provided a stopping point whilst the rest of the class ran onto Second Pagoda. They would then join the back of the main group on their return, for the last home stretch. In latter years, for some this also meant an opportunity for a ‘sneaky fag’. They thought, in fact we all thought, the P.E. teachers didn’t know anything about these pit stops but years later, we found out of course they did!

I was a member of the school’s athletics team which involved training sessions after school, particularly leading up to competition time. Fitness training was a sprint up the steep incline on  Borrett Road which now leads to the current school buildings. In groups we would line up at the bottom and Mr. Connolly, our athletics coach, would set us off in waves, up the hill. The walk back down, was our recovery before setting off again on the next sprint.

One time after the Heats day of a competition, I turned up at one of these training sessions, with very stiff legs, sure in the knowledge that I would be excused from training that day. But oh no, Mr. Connolly sent me off to run three laps around the school! I was horrified, but of course by the end of the run, the tightness and soreness had eased as he knew it would.

We practised our relay runs and baton handovers, running around the school too. So resourceful!

At the school’s first Inter-house athletics competition, I entered the 100m and 200m events. Based on that performance, Mrs. Poland, our P.E. teacher, thought I would do well in the 400m in the upcoming Inter-school competition. I wasn’t so sure as the 200m had been pretty tough.

For the Inter-school competition, all participants had to register with the Education Dept. We had to produce two passport photos and proof of date of birth. There were three grades of competition – A, B and C. Participation for the girls was based on age – you could go up a grade or two but not go down if over the cut off age of the grade below. In the boys competition however, it was based on height. Once registered, we were issued with a photo ID card which had to be shown on the day of competition or else we were not permitted to participate.

Heats day duly arrived and with some concern, I watched the boys 400m heats which took place before mine. Not one, but several of the Chinese boys participating, crashed dramatically over the finish line, one even vomited, through sheer exhaustion or what I’m not sure. Whatever it was, it didn’t do a lot for my nerves. Aided by the new spikes my Dad had bought me, my race however, went according to plan – it was a good run and thereafter, 400m became my event of choice.

In about 1970, Island School Athletics really reached the dais with the arrival of Glen Horsted from Australia. He was a running machine – unbeatable! His legendary records stood, unreachable for many years past his vintage.

The Early Years

On the 19th September, 1967, the very first day of Island School, I was on a ship somewhere in the South China Sea en route to Hong Kong. We were returning from my father’s contractual leave. With us were great family friends, the Luxtons, also returning to Hong Kong after leave in the UK.

Carol Luxton and I therefore missed the first few days of the new school term. Once settled back into our flats, together we went for our school interviews with the Prinicipal, Rev. Geoffrey Speak. Carol went in for her interview first. As she came out of the Principal’s office, she whispered to me “1D”.

Although mixed ability classes, the four classes in our year group, were labelled A, B, C & D. D did not denote the bottom group! Later the class names changed to the House names that are still in use now.

I duly went in for my interview. I don’t remember much about it except for when Rev. Speak asked me if I had any preference for which class I went into, I was happily able to announce “1D”.

Our form tutor, was Mrs. Fletcher who also taught us Needlework – the girls only. We were yet to reach the novel idea of boys doing Domestic Science and the girls Woodwork and Metalwork.

I owe my ability to iron shirts correctly and sew on a button correctly, to Mrs. Fletcher. At home, the Amahs did those tasks for us so we never learnt them through necessity!

One of the first major Needlework tasks we were set, was to make a pair of Baby Doll Pyjamas. We all worked off the same pattern, producing identically styled Pyjamas with big, puffy gathered sleeves and puffy pantaloons. Although the pattern was the same, the finished products didn’t all look the same – some of the class being more skilled than others of us. My friend Lis, was one of those with more talent than most – she had perfectly spaced gathers and even pin tucks on her gathers!

Baby Doll pyjamas

Pattern: Baby Doll Pyjamas 

Before the commencement of the project, it was our responsibility to purchase the fabric – Mrs. Fletcher provided the dimensions required.

At the time, I think my friends, Carol, Lis, Julia and I were so busy with our swimming club activities, we forgot to purchase our fabric, only realising on the morning it was required. The lesson was timetabled for the afternoon and we knew we would be in trouble if we turned up without our material. So we hatched a plan to taxi down to Cloth Alley in Central at lunch time, to get what we needed. We must have had enough money between us to make the purchase but it was probably very inexpensive anyway. Our taxi driver waited for us on Queens Road whilst we bolted down the alley, selected our fabric, ran back up the alley and jumped into the waiting taxi. Thanks to his rather reckless endeavours, hastened along with our chants of “Faaidee Pangjau”, the taxi driver got us back to school just in time for the lesson. Mrs. Fletcher was blissfully unaware. Had she known, we probably would have been chastised for leaving the school premises without permission! Without doubt, a far worse crime than forgetting our fabric.

The extra-curricular timetable was varied. All students were expected to enrol for at least two nights per week of extra-curricular activities.  Enrolment evening was a major exercise that took place in the school hall with the whole school present. Teachers sat behind desks with registration lists for whichever activity they would be overseeing. On the very first of these evenings, Mr Harding (snr) was coordinating everything. He explained what we were required to do and then set us off on task. On entering the hall, I had been separated from my friends and was anxious to find them. As soon as we were given the signal to move, I sprinted across the hall towards them. Apparently in my avidity to be reunited with my friends, I missed Mr. Harding saying we were not to run. It took me a few seconds to realise the ferocious, hostile holler booming across the room was directed at me. Mr. Harding pulled me up onto the stage, made the whole school stop and look at ‘This girl who has no regard for what she has just been told!’ I was eleven, it was cripplingly embarrassing. He then sent me to my classroom where I was to stay until dismissed. I sat there for a good hour before my friends came to find me after the registration process had finished. Clearly I had been forgotten about but much to my relief, they managed to find another teacher, to dismiss me. The drama didn’t end there though as Mr. Harding castigated me the following day for not having enrolled for any activities. The injustice of it! I had an aversion towards him based on fear, from that day forward. Thankful that I never ended up in one of his classes, I succeeded in giving him a wide berth for the rest of his time at the school.

Mrs. Fairey, the music teacher, who had not only been the teacher who had dismissed me the previous evening, saved the day again.  I was able to make a late registration with her for Choir which was one of the after school activities. She was a real ‘Fairey’ Godmother.  She welcomed all students into the choir whether they could sing or not. She believed everybody could sing, you just needed a tune to sing along to.  A very different experience from one I had at another school when the music teacher had the whole class sing whilst he came around and listened in to each pupil, discarding those whose voices he didn’t think good enough for the choir.

Despite my unfortunate experience at the initial extra-curricular acitivities registration evening, I went onto derive many hours of immense pleasure from the program and indeed all my continuing years at Island School.

 

50 Years

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Island School, the flagship of the English Schools Foundation. In September, 1967, the school along with it’s twelve starting teachers, opened it’s doors to 200 + children  – the sons and daughters of Hong Kong expats.

Island School was the inspiration of Rev. Geoffrey Speak who headed up a working party established to resolve the burgeoning issue of a short fall in school places. Prior to the concept for Island School, he had researched the possibility of setting up a weekly boarding school on Lantau island. An idea which never came to fruition.

The idea for Island School however, a secondary school on Hong Kong island was a winning stroke.

King George V School (KGV), the only school serving the families of HK expats, was by 1966, bursting at the seams, despite the construction in 1964 of the ‘New Block’ to house the growing student numbers. The only alternative for these children reaching secondary school age, was for them to return to their parents home countries to attend boarding schools.

In addition to the increasing demand for places at KGV,  before the days of the Cross Harbour Tunnel (not constructed until 1972), for children living on the island, the daily weekday commute to and from KGV, situated in Ho Man Tin on Kowloon side,  made it a very long day.

The advent of Island School, based in mid-levels, was therefore welcomed by parents, and supported by the Dept. of Education in the form of subsidies.

Rev. Speak, previously the head of St Pauls College, assumed the role of Principal of Island School and Secretary of the English Schools Foundation, then in its infancy.

In early 1967, the British Military Hospital on Borrett Road, had been de-commissioned by the British Government and handed over to the Hong Kong Government. Thus, this became home to the new school.

The grand old building with it’s wide balconies, archways and architectural symmetry, commanded spectacular harbour views. In 1973, the school moved into new, purpose built premises up the hill but it was this old building that remained a favourite with the ‘Original Islanders’.

WholeSite

Old and New standing together (Google images)

The building consisted of three parts – two three storey wings  linked by a central tower presided over by a grand stairwell on either side. The layout lent itself well to the schools needs, the central tower providing accommodation for the school offices, staff-room, some craft rooms and most importantly for those coming straight from primary school, the tuck shop, run by Greg (everyone knew and loved Greg!). Crowned on the top floor by the school mini-zoo. The classrooms and main school hall, were housed in the two wings. It was a quirky old building, we believed it to be haunted, and in the humid months of Spring, the walls would drip with condensation which was always cause for trepidation!

Our playground surrounded the buildings – the road on one side and gardens on the harbour side. P.E. lessons took place in the main hall or in the ‘playground’ outside the main entrance which was actually Borrett Road – fortunately quiet in those days although we did on occasion have to stop a class to let a car or delivery truck through. On days when we did athletics, our running track circumvented the building. Cross country was a run along Bowen Road to the ‘first pagoda’ and then later we progressed to the ‘second pagoda’. Our teachers were incredibly resourceful and I don’t think anyone of us felt we missed out on anything for the lack of facilities.

Rev. Speak introduced the pastoral house system which is still operational today. Our base class was our house, we remained in this unit with the same teaching staff (as far as possible), for our entire school career. Affiliation to the house unit became very strong, it became a ‘family’ unit.  I was followed into Nansen house by my sister, two of my own children and my niece.

Rev. Speak also pioneered the extra-curricular program which all students were encouraged and expected to participate in.

Each of us were given a five digit reference number. The first two numbers denoting the year in which ‘O’ levels would be taken, the third number denoted the house you belonged to (Da Vinci 1, Einstein 2, Fleming 3, Nansen 4……) and the final two numbers, were your place on the register. Ask any ex Island School student and I would think 9 out of 10 would remember their reference number.

In those early years, we were a small school, none of the facilities, or even smart uniform, tradition nor history of course of KGV, and were often looked upon as the poorer relation. But not for long, as the proverbial Ugly Duckling was about to mature into a beautiful swan.

72440

 

Club Life

November in Hong Kong is one of the best times of the year, the hot humid weather of the summer months, stretches into October but by November, the humidity has abated and temperatures drop to a comfortable level.

Thus my mother would take me out in my pram each day in order to partake in the cooler fresh air and get some exercise herself. She would walk down the steep incline of Leighton Hill Road into the valley and to the Hong Kong Football Club. The return journey, pushing a pram up the hill would certainly have kept her fit!

The Hong Kong Football Club became the centre of their social life. It was here my mother and I would spend our afternoons, along with other young mothers and their offspring. Each of the women were far from home and through these afternoons spent at the Club, a support network and lifelong friendships were forged.

Although it started out solely as a rugby football club, the Hong Kong Football Club was also home to soccer teams which played in the local leagues. Hockey was played throughout the colony, predominantly by the Pakistani and Indian communities but there was no team at the Hong Kong Football Club. My father, a keen hockey player, along with friends and colleagues, the Chamberlain brothers, changed this by forming the first HKFC hockey team.

Hong Kong Football Club – Hockey Team 1st XI circa 1958. Howard Chamberlain, seated 1st on left next to my father. Howard’s brother, standing far right.

And so the Football Club became a second home as mid-week training nights and weekend games meant time spent at the Club. I grew up playing in the grounds, attending birthday parties there and some of my earliest childhood memories are of Sundays spent at the club. My love of the hibiscus plant dates back to then as the hedges that encased the grounds would be full of red flowers. I have them in my garden now, planted there as a reminder of Hong Kong.

It also became a convenient stop on the way home from the office for my father and other residents of Leighton Hill where a cooling beer and a game of liar dice in the men only bar would provide respite from the days work.

stained glass windows

‘Stained Glass Windows’ – HKFC Masquerade Party. All costumes made by my father.

My parents attended the many social functions at the Club; New Years Eve Balls and Masquerade parties, my father often getting coerced into making the fancy dress outfits for their group of immediate friends as he had a talent for crafting innovative costumes.

As a family, we would drive out to the south side of the island to the beaches of Middle Bay and South Bay. Through friends, my parents were introduced to Stanley Fort Beach. This was a private beach for members of the Stanley Club. There were often beach barbecue parties organised by the Club. My parents joined the Club and were active participants of the beach barbecues. The Stanley Club also housed an extensive library. One evening a week, my parents would go out to ‘Library Night’. They did go with books in hand and returned with different ones but I think it was more of an excuse to get together with friends. Years later, with our own families in tow, my sister and I continued the tradition of ‘Library Night’ every Friday night at a different club, no books in sight and no excuses for the fact that we just wanted to get together. Indeed our children, now grown, still talk about ‘library night’ in Hong Kong.

Stanley Beach 2

Stanley Fort Beach

Stanley Beach

Stanley Fort Beach 2

 

Club life was the centre of life for all expatriates living in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Club in the CBD, was, and still is, the business mans club. Membership was only afforded to the most influential people, the Taipans of the colony – senior government officials, senior local businessmen, the chiefs of the major trading firms and banks and other leading professionals.

Also in the CBD, was the Hong Kong Cricket Club on Chater Road, an oasis in the centre of the busy heart of the city. Established in 1851, the Hong Kong Cricket Club was one of the first cricket clubs outside England. Although a private club, primarily for cricket, it did also stage important events which were open to the public and on a Saturday morning, the Cricket Club would open its gates to hundreds of young children.

Children from all over the colony, dressed in white shorts and shirts, the boys with red and white striped caps, would amass to facilitate themselves of Billy Tingles exercise classes. Split into groups, there would be children doing jumping jacks, running races and such like, as they rotated around a circuit, completing all the exercises on the programme for that particular morning. There would be team games too, his mantle being competitive but fair play. The morning would culminate with the reward of a fizzy drink – Sunkist Orange, Coke or 7 up and a cold, rock hard Kit Kat bar issued straight from the freezer to prevent melting chocolate sullying the white uniforms.

Billy Tingle was a legend in Hong Kong. He had started out as a boxer in his native Australia. With success under his belt, he was able to travel to competitions in Asia, ending up in Shanghai where, nearing the end of his professional boxing career, he turned his attention to what would become his calling, education. He was interned in Shanghai in a Japanese POW camp during WW2 and after liberation, was part of the exodus to Hong Kong, arriving in the colony in 1949. In Hong Kong he made himself responsible for affording the opportunity of access to physical education to as many children as possible. His was a peripatetic role, in addition to the Saturday morning sports institute sessions at the HKCC, he took his sports classes around various primary schools and also taught hundreds of children, including myself, to swim at the LRC. Anyone of my generation who grew up in Hong Kong will have fond memories of Billy Tingle. He touched so many young lives. Even after he suffered a stroke in the late 1960’s which left him without the use of one arm and impaired speech, he would be surrounded by children as he came to the LRC for his daily swim in the pool where he had taught so many.

As we grew older and my father stopped playing hockey, we spent more and more time at the LRC – the Ladies Recreation Club.

The Club which opened in 1884, was the brainchild of a group of expat women seeking to establish a sanctuary where ladies in the colony could venture for ‘the purpose of health and recreation’. Over time, the small piece of ground allocated to them on Old Peak Road, has seem many metamorphoses in terms of expanding facilities, both sporting and dining. Now they even allow men on the committee! Unheard of in earlier years.

My sister and I both had swimming lessons twice a week at the LRC and soon, as it did for many others, it assumed that role of second home. Long summer holidays were spent by the poolside or on the tennis courts. We would regularly emerge from the pool with prune like fingers from having spent so long in the water and over time, favourite swimsuits would fade from the constant exposure to chlorine. When teens, we would go on excursions with big groups of friends, to see the latest movie showing at the Queens Theatre in Central, on the corner of Queens Road Central and Theatre Lane, walking in a long snake, down the steep incline of Old Peak Road, past the Botanical Gardens, into the heart of Central.

LRC

Hanging around at the LRC

In 1967, my sister and I became founding members of the LRC Swim team. Training nights and competitions, dominated the next few years of our lives. After school, along with friends, we would walk from our school on Borrett Road up to the LRC for swimming training. Sometimes if we were feeling particularly lazy or if it was a hot day, we would flag a taxi down, willing to share  the $3.50 flag fall rather than climb the steep steps from Magazine Gap Road, up past the lower tennis courts to the family clubhouse.

My mother took on a part-time job as assistant secretary at the Club, in charge of the pay-roll for Club employees, later being promoted to full time secretary. So she was always there when we arrived from school and my father would join us after work, himself becoming involved in the training of the Swim squad.

We spent many, many happy hours at the Club. As so often happens in expatriate communities, living far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, the families of the Swim Squad became our extended family.