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other parts of the world. About the thickness of a ball-point pen, it is a sandy colour with black speckled markings and consequently it is beautifully camouflaged for its normal habitat.

I was once about to steal the eggs of a bulbul [1] and already had my hand half-raised into the bush where the bird’s nest lay when Carl McCann, who happened to be near when I gave the customary cry, “Bird’s Nest”, which meant that it was for my first pickings, said “Stop. Don’t move. Krait.” I froze, but I was unable to see the snake.

As Carl moved slowly towards the bush with me still holding this statuesque, wobbling pose, he directed my attention so that I could see it. My gosh, it looked just like a twig and would quite clearly have struck me since the snake and I were both on the same stealing mission and the krait certainly would not have been denied.

Carl slowly pushed his “go-everywhere” baton into the bush and under the body of the snake which lay still, its glare encompassing both the nest and us.

Suddenly, with a deft flick of his wrist, he lifted the krait onto the baton and flung it out of the bush and onto the rocks at his feet with force. It only had time to wriggle once before Carl had his size twelve boot on it and the baton-end on its neck, squeezing the life out of the creature.

Somehow, I am glad that I have lived to tell you this story. I never met Carl after leaving school, but after fifty years we managed to get in touch quite by accident and he called me from New Zealand and chatted for about half an hour on the telephone. A year later I heard from his sister that he had died of a long-endured and painful cancer the suffering of which he had not even mentioned to me on the telephone.

Trevor McCann had most of the same skills as Carl but, in addition, he was mad about rock-climbing and would always take his climbing tackle with him on jungle walks. Within sight of the school there are three well-known hills, Polly’s Peak, Plummie, and Spongie. Polly’s Peak is very noticeable because it stands on the horizon, but it was not a great hill to climb. Plummie is like a self-standing hill which rises about two thousand feet from its base in a nearby valley. I climbed it a couple of times but it was sheer hell. On top of Plummie stands a miniature temple where a couple of hermits used to live.

Spongie, on the other hand, is a huge pock-marked rock which rises about two hundred feet and overhangs its base which is already four thousand feet above sea level. Nobody lives there but it is home to the largest bee-hives I have ever seen in my life. They have to be forty feet long, ten feet in thickness and hang eight feet down. The Brothers used to tell us that during the holidays they would leave their leather-straps up among the hives so that the bees “could put plenty of stings into them for the coming year.” Everyone knew it was just a joke because even though there were some rather intrepid fellows among them, they would never have had the “balls” to attempt to climb Spongie, leave alone get among the hives.

Even Trevor was never able to climb its face from bottom to top but he had ambitions and tried, unsuccessfully, to smoke out the bees on more than one occasion. But as far as I know he only managed to climb it by making a lateral approach and could only get chunks of the hives by using a catapult and a hatchet.


Me with “Plummie” in the background — 1972


We didn’t have much time for pets though most of the fellows tried to keep one at some time or the other. The pets which were most commonly raised were birds and the occasional squirrel. The birds were usually bulbuls, Java sparrows, and doves though we did try to keep snakes and Trevor McCann once caught an iguana lizard and tried to keep it, but it grew too fast and was too unwieldy and he soon got rid of it.

The Indian iguana is an interesting reptile which can grow to a length of about eight feet and makes a trainable pet. Stories are told of how, in the early days of the British Raj, iguanas were trained by thieves and dacoits to wear a rope belt tied around their hind quarters and then were set to climb the walls of store-rooms and forts with their owners lashed to the other end of the rope. Once atop the wall the thieves would untie themselves and go and do their mischief.

Snakes were very popular until they started to shed their skins. Then they became listless and were of little more interest to their keepers. Birds were fairly easy to rear and feed but coming from wild stock, they always flew off once they were grown up. Otherwise, a stray or wild cat would have them for a tasty snack.

During the first year I was in Abu, a feral cat, meaning that it looked to have come from domestic stock but had lived in the wild for at least a couple of generations and had gone “bush”, came and deposited a litter of kittens in the fireplace of our classroom. Bro. Barry had decided that he would rear one but it disappeared into the jungle within a few days. The rest of the litter were left to fend for themselves and soon got fed up scrounging bits from the kitchen and wandered off into the bush too.

Now, squirrels were a different matter. We usually picked them up off the ground where they might have fallen from a nest in a tree. Sometimes one of the lads would go looking for a nest and steal the young. You kept your tame squirrel in your shirt pocket — we all wore shirts with flapped pockets on the chest — and fed it with a cotton wool imitation “tit” dipped in milk. At night you would keep your squirrel in a shoe-box, filled with cotton waste and with air-holes for ventilation. I guess you could keep a baby squirrel for a couple of weeks before it gave you a sharp “thank-you” bite and disappeared into a tree.

In 1986, Pirkko, the boys and I visited India and Abu and we were lucky enough to have a bearer bring us a baby squirrel with which I demonstrated the rearing techniques I had used as a boy. The lads were quite fascinated because I had told them stories of rearing squirrels before we went out to India. Kieron, in particular, loved the little thing and dutifully fed it and kept it in a box and wandered around with it all the time. He avoided the “good-bye bite” because he donated the squirrel to one of the servant’s children when we left.


Kieron’s pet squirrel — 1986

The Monsoons.

In India you used to be able to say exactly which day the monsoon would break and in Abu you could almost name the hour. However, it seems that the climate has changed quite considerably and prognostications about weather are now much more difficult to make. In the 40s it was easy and easier still to say how often and how much rain was going to fall — every day and a lot! Once the monsoon broke it came down in buckets and, if it wasn’t actually raining, the whole town and our school were covered in mist and low-lying cloud.

Football was the game of the monsoon season and it was quite incredible to be playing a game, hearing the voices of the players at one end of the pitch and be at the other end not seeing anyone. We turned out for football every day except Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. Then, wringing wet we would go back to the washroom and dorm to bathe and change for study. We hung our damp clothing on lines in what we called the boot-room and tried to stack our boots as near to the “sigri [2] ” as was safe.

The following day the boots would be stiff and, had they been stored too damp for drying in a single night, they would have an inch-thick coat of mildew on them. Anywhere damp stank of mildew. The classrooms were damp and cold and the Brothers’ straps swung more menacingly and stung more painfully than usual. We feared for the bloody strap and its pains, especially during the cold weather

We used to try to humour the masters with false bonhomie if we felt they were going to be short-tempered on a particular day and, as with The Village Schoolmaster in The Deserted Village.

Full well the boding tremblers learned to trace

The day’s disasters in his morning face.

Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee

At all his jokes, for many a joke had he.

When it really was impossible to go out and play football — a water-logged or flooded ground — we would read, play board-games or play mini-cricket.

Mini cricket was played with a six or seven inch bat carved and fashioned out of a short section of a branch of a date palm, and a marble. If, in striking the “ball”, you broke a window, that was deducted from you pocket-money or your parents were billed with the cost the next month.

The school carpenter, almost pejoratively designated as such, because he was in reality a cabinet-maker and an absolute genius, would fix the repair. He stammered atrociously.

“Bo.. bo.. boy, do...do...don.. don… don’t touch my.. my.. too..too. too.. tools” , his stammering making him even more irritated and agitated than he was at having his tools borrowed or touched in the first place.

But he taught us how to make propellers out of wood and pierce the centres with a red-hot nail and then attach them to a stick so that we could dangle them out of the bus or train window and watch them whirr. Later on we began to make three- and four-bladed props out of the sides of packing cases. We had a lot of fun, such were our simple pleasures.

On only a couple of days during the whole monsoon the sun would break out and one of the senior boys would be chosen to go up to the Principal’s office to ask for a “sunny day” holiday. When we had Bro. Comber and Bro. Murphy as Principals, we were usually in luck but, during the whole time J.C.Roe was Principal, we never struck lucky. I don’t know what was wrong with the sod. Maybe he had a bad case of haemorrhoids or something. He was a nasty piece of work and, while keeping a pretty tight hold on the purse strings for the rest of the school, he blew money on his own pet, mostly stupid, projects as though there was no tomorrow.

Apart from his “Folly”, he had had a wide strip in front of the school on the playground, tarred and made into a road. That had wrecked the ground as a playing pitch and when Sports Day came around, we found ourselves running around a really skinny track with almost hair-pin like bends at each end. He set up a rain gauge on the boundary wall and measured the rainfall each day. Who the hell cared how much rain we had had. It was a bloody lot!

The first year he was there he set us to collecting all the scrap-metal we could find, rusted cans and rusted pieces of corrugated iron which had lain down the khud for years and years and were unfit for anything. “It’s for the war-effort” he told us when we were first advised of the project. The worst part about that scheme was that we had to do it the collecting our own free time of which there was precious little. Not one of us could put his hand on heart and say he liked J.C. Roe..


By the time we went home for the Christmas hols in 1944 Dad had, indeed, been posted to Ferozepore. The war was in full swing and things were getting difficult to obtain. I was doubtful as to whether or not I would have a bike to ride. But precious Mum had ensured that I would have one and had bought me a second-hand job until a new one became available. New ones had black handle-bars and my second-hand one had chrome ones. I said to Mum that I preferred to have the “oldie” and that took a weight off her mind. I do remember that she always insisted that I have a bike when I was home for the hols.

We lived in a fine house on the Mall and in front along the road was a horse carriageway like “Rotton Row” in Hyde Park, London, along which each day rode some officers who owned or borrowed mounts. There were several ex-cavalrymen in the town.

One day I rode out of the front gate rather rapidly on my bike and very nearly collided with a mounted army officer in “civvies”, flash cap, breeches and leggings, who berated me something awful. I apologised profusely, but the sod kept up his tirade for half a minute or more before angrily turning his horse back onto the track and snootily continuing his early morning “chukka”. During the whole time the bloke was shouting and getting himself into a frenzy, “Socks” had stood by me and just whimpered with a “shall I see him off ?” type of questioning look on his face.

After getting rollocked by the officer, I went for a short ride on the bike, with the dog tagging alongside me. Then I returned home and started to put away the bike on the verandah. Just then the same bloke who had earlier given me a “rocket” was returning along the horse track and as he passed the house “Socks”, who apparently could not let the opportunity pass, ran out and leapt at the horse, causing it to rear and throw the rider.

It was totally un-characteristic of the dog because he had never attacked any other rider before and I could only believe that he was paying off the rider for his verbal attack on me. The rider, somewhat ashamedly — for, after all he was, in his own mind an expert rider — dusted himself off and was about to start shouting again when “Socks” growled menacingly and caused him to think better of it.

I made a clean breast of the incident to Dad when he came home and described the rider and the horse. I didn’t want any crap flying at a later date.

“Don’t worry about it, son”, Dad assured me, “That’s that bloody idiot, Captain Browne. He doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle leave alone a horse. He just borrowed it for a ride to show off his breeches, and he’s leaving the station soon anyway.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and patted “Socks”. Good boy! I thought later, thank God Dad’s an expert rider and a half-colonel to boot.

There were some officers who were very pleasant and without a hint of vanity in them. One of them was the designer of the “Monopoly” board, a Colonel Monks. He was not only famous but a fabulous artist and cartoonist and I think he must have drawn everyone of the other officers in some cartoon or another. The walls of the mess were full of the cartoons. I wonder what ever happened to them.

“Paddy’s” Bridge — 1972

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[1] A Persian nightingale of the genus, warbler.

[2] A open charcoal-fired stove normally used for cooking.


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