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.
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.
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.
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.
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.