Trip to Nigeria 1951
A Diary by A. Margaret Jefferies (1912-1992)
The Journey. 1951 Saturday July 21st.
Arrived at Airways Terminal Victoria at mid-day, checked in and had lunch on premises:-
2:00 Boarded coach for Heath Row airport. Passed through customs and were on board B.O.A.C. Hermes “Hours” by 3:00.
Just as we were comfortably settled we were told there was a slight mechanical defect which must be seen to before taking off, so we disembarked and a coach took us back to “Departures” where cups of tea were served.
Passengers who went to greet friends in Spectators' Enclosure saw the Duke of Edinburgh arrive, met by Prince Charles.
Re-embarked, but found two passengers missing and had to wait while they were rounded up. They had been watching the unloading of Prince Philip's luggage which filled 2 vans so evidently he exceeded the regulation 66 lbs.
Took off about 1.5 hours behind schedule. Fastened seat belts for take-off and stewardess distributed barley sugar and later, when we were airborne, iced lemon squash.
Passed over Epsom and crossed coast just east of Brighton which we identified by its two piers.
Reached French Coast near Dieppe. Very good visibility all the way over France. Picked out rivers Seine and Rhone looking rather like wide satin hair ribbon. Saw Marseilles to east as we crossed the Mediterranean coast.
Flew over a corner of Sardinia, but clouds obscured it. On to N. Africa as sun was setting in spectacular shades of electric blue, green, and flame.
Flight very smooth indeed. Less sick-making than a motor coach. Seats well sprung, upholstered in blue, mine immediately behind wings, travelling backwards and facing passengers seated behind us, across a fixed table. Other seats faced back of seats in front and had folding tables. Powder room at tail of aircraft had cleansing lotion, make-up base, colognes, hand lotion etc. provided for our use, Elizabeth Arden.
Afternoon tea was served and cigarettes distributed by stewards at intervals.
Dinner, preceded by sherry, was served after dark.
Wine was served with the meal.
Landed at Castel Benito Airport, Tripoli, about 10:30.
Italian and Arab waiters served tea, biscuits, and wine.
Took off after an hour's stop for refuelling for hop over desert to Kano. Take-offs and landings much smoother thanI had imagined; we felt no discomfort from change in altitude, though some passengers yawned widely or swallowed violently to relieve ear pressures.
Lights were extinguished in aircraft for night flight but most people slept little owing to sitting-up posture and vibration.
Morning tea dispensed at 4:45. Landed at Kano Northern Nigeria for breakfast at 5:30. Black stewards waited on us with more zeal than efficiency. Had not realised that black men's hands have pink palms and finger tips and that the soles of their feet are pink.
After breakfast, sun had risen. Bright morning with cool breeze. Rest House had some attractive flower beds with zinnias and petunias as well as native plants and shrubs. One shrub had vivid flame red flowers and looked rather like a Christmas tree with bright red luggage labels tied all over it.
Took off at 7:20. Visibility good at first. Saw Niger and its confluence with Kaduna river then clouds thickened. Clear over Lagos Airport and we landed with no delay, ¾ hour ahead of schedule. We had flown at about 12,000 to 13,000 feet, but pressure inside aircraft was no more than 3,500 feet.
1951, Sunday July 22. Arrival.
T. had set out in good time to meet me and arrived just as the aircraft taxied in. He filled in an immigration form for me to save time so that I got well to the front of the queue through the Customs. The African Customs man looked suspiciously at my travelling case and made me open it for inspection. He showed great interest in the contents of my bottles and jars and seemed to suspect that the Cosmedia lotion might be whiskey. I was tempted to offer him a taste.
The steward boy, Ronson, and the new car (Vanguard Estate) were awaiting me.
It was a 16 mile drive from the Airport right through the town of Lagos.
Arriving at 22 Cameron Road, Ikoyi, we found a reception committee lined up to welcome us. It consisted of Godwin, a steward boy at the Rest House, his wife and three picaninnies. They live in part of our boys' quarters as the Rest House does not provide quarters for the boys there.
Ronson made us coffee and beamingly produced a bunch of bananas as his dash (i.e. free gift) for me. He was resplendent in the new uniform he had ordered for my arrival – white drill with brass buttons. He is well under 5 feet and not unlike a chimp to look at.
Picture 1...The staff off duty. Ronson, Sammy.
The Drive through Lagos.
African pedestrians expect to receive audible warning of the approach of a car, so we proceeded, hooting loud and long. They hop and skip nimbly out of the way without dislodging the loads on their heads, and with an alacrity which is refreshing after the stolid indifference of English jay-walkers.
It seemed to be a feast day and the citizens of Lagos were out in their best bibs and tuckers, highly coloured and of infinite variety.
The men wear loose cotton robes called RIGAS. Some of these are in most beautiful colouring and patterns. They may have matching cotton trousers, or white ones dazzling enough to serve as a Persil advertisement. With these garments the appropriate headgear seemed to be either a red or black fez, or a sort of Victorian smoking cap embroidered in gold or silver thread. One or two had large coloured umbrellas, a really important man has a servant to hold his umbrella over him.
The women are fond of blue. The local indigo dyes give a very pleasant shade. They wear loose shapeless blouses, and a length of material wrapped round a la sarong. Whole families will dress alike. Bright head scarves are made into intricately draped head-dresses. Yoruba women wear high crowned straw hats that can be adapted to carry their personal effects when necessary.
Their skill at carrying loads on their heads is incredible to a European. We passed women balancing bottles, oil drums, folded umbrellas, palm fruit, bowls, baskets, and bags. One African belle was dressed in a fashionable European frock, navy wedge-heeled shoes and a perfectly matching handbag, which she carried on her head with the handles drooping artistically over one ear.
The roads were narrow and busy. Besides the pedestrians, there were droves of shiny bicycles, very solid, upright, and respectable like English policemen ride. A three speed gear and a chain case are essential for snob appeal rather than practical use, T. says.
We passed lorries loaded with Africans bearing inscriptions such as “Help us, O God”. These are known locally as “mammy wagons” and seem to be the equivalent of Green Line buses. The passengers are said to be adept at getting in and out in a hurry if the pious mottoes prove ineffective and they just get ditched, so the injury rate per accident is negligible. T. says the worst drivers in Lagos, however, are the Europeans.
We stopped at Government House to sign the Governor's book, which is the practice of all new arrivals from the U.K. . A magnificent sentry saluted us as we entered.
Picture 2. Broad Street, Lagos.
The House, 22 Cameron Road, Ikoyi.
Picture 3, 22 Cameron Road.
Stands in about an acre of compound, which consists mostly of grass, trees, and bushes. The soil is almost pure sand. We have an avocado pear tree, mangoes, breadfruit, flame of the forest, magnolias and hibiscus.
The front door opens into a hall with red tiled floor, leading to dining room, butler's pantry and two store rooms. There is a fridge in the passage leading to the pantry. A covered corridor leads from the pantry to the cook-house, which has an old cast-iron wood-burning range. Ronson sometimes uses it for his own cooking, but we would not relish a meal cooked there until it had had a very thorough spring-clean.
Hardwood stairs – polished and un-carpeted (there are practically no stair-carpets in Nigeria) lead to lounge with windows on three sides, wide open all day on to balcony. A large electric fan hangs from the ceiling. The floor is polished hardwood.
There is one large bedroom and a very small dressing room. The bedroom has openings in the verandah on two sides – slotted doors – and a large built-in wardrobe in which electric lights burn all the time to keep the clothes dry and prevent mould. The mosquito net is furled up over the beds in daytime and the boy lets it down each evening before dark.
Large bathroom with electric geyser, and further on an earth closet emptied every morning. The usual offices have concrete floors like the verandah.
The government provides furniture. Mahogany dining table and chairs and sideboard, writing table, some chests of drawers, two beds, dressing table. Hardwood armchairs with drab covered cushions, a bookcase and several occasional tables.
Like most government buildings in Lagos, the house could do with a good coat of paint, but is pleasant and spacious to live in.
Picture 4, Cameron Road
This is the rainy season and it is cooler than England when I left. Temperatures from 75 to 80F with overcast skies, and little drop in temperature at night. There are occasional heavy showers but no continuous rain. Atmosphere is humid, and leather goods, books and papers very soon go mouldy. Characteristic smell is a combination of dampness, mould, insecticide and palm oil. It is not as unpleasant as it sounds. Mosquitos not very plentiful here at present.
Picture 5, The creek from Obalende bridge
1951, Sunday afternoon July 22nd.
Visited Lagos yacht club and Victoria Beach. Beach has huge breakers and is not safe for bathing because of strong undertow. Europeans splash about on the edge, Africans stay on dry land, Syrian youths go swimming to show off. There are about 50 drownings a year, mostly Syrians.
Beach is sandy with patches of cactus here and there.
There is one good bathing beach, Tarkwa beach, which can only be reached by boat.
Picture 6, Yachts at Lagos Yacht Club
Picture 7, finishing/starting marker
Picture 8, Yacht from beach
Picture 9, Another view of yacht from beach
1951, Monday July 23rd.
Cooler than at home. Rain most of day.
Amused ourselves in evening watching house lizards (geckoes) stalking and catching insects.
Large king lizards live in garden and on balcony. The males are about 18” long with orange heads, grey bodies, and blue tails. When they are angry their colours get brighter. The females are brown with green heads and yellow markings. Each has his own territory and chases away intruders. Sometimes they fight, knocking each other with their tails. Some people in Abeokuta had a tame lizard which would come when they called Freddy. But one day Freddy had a fight and got killed and the victorious lizard who usurped his territory is quite untameable.
The little geckoes who live indoors are practically colourless and transparent. They hide in crevices in the walls all day and come out in the evening. They like human company and choose the main living room of the house for their territory. If the house if left empty even for a short time they go away.
A third variety is the SNAKE LIZARD. This has a snake's body about a foot long and four legs like a lizard. The boys say it bites and are afraid of it.
Picture 10. A King Lizard
Picture 11, another lizard.
One day perhaps we will get a good photograph of a lizard. The trouble is they won't stay long enough to pose. We are trying to tame them by gifts of biscuit crumbs.
1951, Tuesday July 24th.
IKOYI is the European residential district of Lagos, on an island in the Lagos lagoon. Reminiscent in places of English parkland or residential parts of Bournemouth. Houses stand well back from the road in large compounds. There are a few blocks of flats and new houses are now being built very much closer together. Commercial people, especially Syrian traders, have the most magnificent looking houses, some resembling large houses at Sandbanks. Government houses, unless newly built, all look in need of painting. Climate is unkind to exterior decoration and to be smart a house needs repainting after each rainy season.
On the edge of the lagoon, the Health Dept. have drained a mangrove swamp and laid out a public park, with flower beds and a large variety of trees:- mangroves, various kinds of palm, flame of the forest, breadfruit, eucalyptus and brobab. Many trees have creepers and parasite ferns.
Land crabs, blue with red legs, live in the sand on the banks of the irrigation canals. When you approach them they either burrow into the sand or run away at great speed. The Africans trap and eat them.
1951, Wednesday July 25th.
To Yacht club where T cut his foot badly while launching boat, and had to go to Creek Hospital for it to be stitched. This will probably mean postponing next week's trip to Ilorin.
1951, Thursday July 26th.
Visit from Hausamen, who sold us a crocodile handbag £2.5.0 and a round straw mat for the floor.
These are men of the Northern tribes. They go around hawking native handicrafts and jewellery. Their wares are carried in bundles on their heads and they unwrap and display them on the front verandah – carved ebony from the Belgian Congo, cloth from Kano, beads from Bida, brass masks from Dahomey, handbags of crocodile, deer, and camel skin, etc. They have an endless flow of patter in Hausa mixed with pidgin and the first price they quote is about four times the amount they are content to get. They wear white caps and long white garments.
A group of them squat outside the Rest House to waylay passers-by on their way to and from chop. Some of them are devout Muslims and after lunch are usually found washing their feet and turning towards mecca to say their prayers.
The Hausa language is said to be the easiest of the three main native languages for Europeans to learn. It has a lot of derivatives from Arabic and Hindustani. Ibo and Yoruba are true languages and vary very much from district to district.
1951, Friday July 27th.
T's foot more comfortable and he was able to go to Rest House for meals, after having yesterday's chop at home on a tray.
Rest House meals.
To a visitor straight from England they seem very good, though residents complain of monotony. For £12 monthly, breakfast, three-course lunch and dinner are served every day – roughly 8/- per person per day. Menus are typically English and real English stodge is often served up as pudding. Today's menus are a good example.
On Saturdays and Sundays there is a choice of local fare – curries, groundnut stew, or palm oil chop – as an alternative to cold meat and salad for lunch.
The word “chop” can mean “to eat” or “a meal” or just “food”, so Palm Oil Chop is food with Palm Oil. It usually consists of pieces of chicken in palm oil sauce accompanied by rice, shredded coconut, ground nuts, pineapple, orange slices, red peppers and chilies.
Black stewards wait at table. Compared with some English waitresses they seem pleasantly cheerful and willing, but when there is a crowd they are easily flustered and service gets very chaotic.
The men say the barman, Thompson, comes from a cannibal district and they wouldn't like to meet him in the Bush when he was hungry. Cannibalism is still practiced in remote districts.
Passed a shop sign which said “BLACKSMITH, AND DOCTOR OF MACHINERY.”
1951, Saturday July 27th. (sic – actually July 28th, ed)
Shopping in Lagos.
Today I achieved a life-long ambition – to go to shop with a little black boy trotting behind to carry my purchases, a la elegant lady of Queen Anne's time.
T's foot was improved enough to allow him to drive, but he sat in the car leaving Ronson and me to do the shopping.
Besides the African shops, many of which are owned by women, there are some departmental stores. Kingsway, owned by united Africa Co., U.T.C. (Swiss) and C.F.A.O. (French); a C.M.S. bookshop; a grocer and hardware – G.B.Ollivant and an ironmonger Gottschalk, besides chemists and Syrian-owned shops selling textiles and fancy goods.
Food prices are high – sugar 10d per lb, biscuits from 4/- for a 1 lb tin and bread 1/- a loaf, but household goods cost much the same as in England, sometimes a little less.
I bought sheets at a Syrian shop where the assistants were sleek Syrian youths who all looked like Stewart Grainger. The department stores have black assistants.
In our absence T. bought a wristwatch for 30/- from a Hausaman.
1951, Sunday July 28th. (sic, actually July 29th, ed)
T. killed a snake lizard and a snake in the creeper at the front of the house, and so gave orders for Sammy the garden boy to slaughter the creeper as we didn't want them crawling in the bedroom windows. The snake was about 18” long, thumb thickness with a dark brown back and light stripes underneath. We were told afterwards it was probably a grass snake and harmless, but the boys were very glad to see it killed.
Sammy keeps the garden swept and tidied, and cleans the car. He is about 18 and speaks no English except Yessir and Yessum. He seems quite a good worker and sings as he works. Sometimes his song is a rhythmic chant accompanying his raking, sometimes he sings in a choirboy falsetto and sometimes renders his own variations on “God Save the King”. His favourite working dress seems to be a ragged shirt which only hangs together by a miracle.
He cuts the grass by swishing light-heartedly at it with a home made machete, consisting of a piece of hoop-iron worn thin and sharp with some rag bound on the end to form a handle.
Music while you work.
African workmen are said to work much better to music and often chant a rhythmic accompaniment to their labours. Gangs of convicts employed to cut grass on road verges are accompanied by a man beating out a rhythm on a triangle. It has been found profitable to pay a man specially to provide music for a gang of labourers at work, as they work much more quickly.
1951, Wednesday July 31st (sic, actually Aug 1st, ed) – A visit to the cinema.
Went to see Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne in “It's Not Cricket”. The supporting programme included a newsreel, a comedy short, and the last installment of a blood-curdling serial.
Lagos cinemas are all open to the sky. In the two-and-sixes you sit up on a balcony on wicker chairs, with an awning overhead. The groundlings in the ninepennies sit on hard forms and have no shelter from the rain. Their reactions were the same as their white counterparts in England. They warned the hero of impending peril and applauded when right triumphed over wrong.
If you get bored with the show you can gaze up at the night sky overhead and try to pick out the constellations. I was told that sometimes lizards run across the screen with ludicrous effect at tense moments, but saw none at this performance. Perhaps they prefer love scenes to comedies.
1951, Saturday Aug. 3rd. (sic, actually Aug 4th – ed)
Tea with the McBains (Mrs. Spragg's sister) at Yaba, which is the other side of Lagos. Their house has an imitation fireplace. We gathered round this and consumed tea and cake and might almost have been in England. The McBs said they woke up one night and found a thief man in the bedroom. He managed to get away, but had taken only a few oddments, most valuable of which was a pair of sandals.
They gave us plants and pink hibiscus cuttings for the garden. Wendy looks well and seems to thrive out here. She goes to school now she is four.
On the way home we passed a Methodist funeral procession in which the clergy and choir wore cassocks and surplices. The mourners were dressed in white. Funerals here often end up like an Irish Wake in dancing and drinking. Apparently if an old person dies it is considered proper to rejoice as a thanksgiving for longevity, but if a child or very young person dies it is an occasion for mourning.
A funeral here must take place the day after death and often posters are put up announcing “A Funeral will take place tomorrow” and giving particulars to let all friends know in time.
Some coffins are elaborate but are used only for conveying the body to the grave, and then returned empty for future use.
1951, Monday Aug. 5th (sic, actually Aug 6th – ed) August Bank Holiday.
Walked along beach to fishing village and saw native canoes drawn up on beach. These are hollowed out of a tree trunk and are the same as used for centuries. Some are decorated with carved patterns painted white, yellow and brick red. T.'s first walk since accident. His foot healed remarkably well as wounds turn easily septic here.
Picture 12. Fisherman's canoe.
Picture 13. Fisher lassies.
TOUR TO IBADAN and ILORIN
1951, Sunday Aug. 12th.
With the Symes family and J Clayton we set out after lunch for Ibadan. Drove on tarred road through forest. Reached ABEOKUTA just over fifty miles out of Lagos in time for afternoon tea with Mr. and Mrs. Rose who have a bungalow with magnificent views over town and rocks of Abeokuta. The rocks are in a peculiar formation and one of them is looked on as a very powerful juju. The Rodes showed us a letter from Ronson written after the previous trip to thank them for their hospitality, including “I hope madam and master continue to live in peace together as we do here”. There was a banana tree in their garden with hundreds of green bananas on it.
Before Ibadan the forest becomes less dense. We arrived in time for dinner at the Rest House.
Visited the Trading Companies' shops to buy food for the journey, but saw little of Ibadan itself as the main road by-passes the town.
It has only a few white inhabitants but the largest negro population of any town in the world and is the biggest African city after Cairo. There is a University and a Forestry and Agricultural Research Centre.
In a broadcast recently an English visitor commented on the great number of taxis and cars on the streets of Ibadan, but quoted the following news item from the local paper: “Last night the Ibadan Taxi Drivers' Association met and sacrificed goats, ducks and dogs to Ogun, God of Iron, and prayed to him to prevent accidents” cf the mottoes on the mammy wagons. The African is not mechanically minded and in dealing with the marvels of modern engineering he apparently feels, and with reason, “The arm of flesh will fail you – Ye dare not trust your own”. He would probably recognise this quotation as the African seems to have a wider acquaintance with hymns than the average European.I saw a notice of the formal opening of a new branch of a large bank which announced that a hymn and a prayer would open the proceedings, and was told that this was the accepted custom for any large new business venture. The African does make an attempt to serve both God and Mammon, whereas the European is content to serve only Mammon.
Beyond Ibadan the tarred road ends at the 150th mile out of Lagos, and the laterite begins. Laterite roads are red from the crushed rock with which they are surfaced. They are good for driving on when kept in repair, but are very dusty. In an open car one would need complete Edwardian motoring costume – dust coat, veil and goggles. It is impossible to drive nose to tail over laterite roads, as the vehicle in front raises so much dust it would be like driving in the London fog.
Picture 14. Rooftops of Ibadan, Nigeria.
A Village Market.
On the road to Ilorin we came to Gambari, where it was market day, and stopped to try and buy bananas in the village market. This caused a huge sensation. The whole village gathered around our cars and the reception made us feel like visiting film stars or royalty. Anabelle and Martin Symes attracted a lot of attention. Possibly the villagers had not seen white children before. We made a tour of the market accompanied by a milling crowd and two drummers. We saw strange and exotic vegetables and fruits, scarlet peppers and green plantains; cosmetics for black beauties – face powder coloured with indigo “Made in Paris” and silvery antimony for round the eyes. A blacksmith was busy forging native hoes and a tailor sat at his treadle machine. There was a new bride in a veil which looked like a green silk damask tablecloth embroidered in gold thread. A wag who could speak some English offered Mr Symes a bride for £200, but he answered that for that sum they could have the one he's already got. This, being interpreted to the multitude, was received with shrieks of mirth.
We bought some decorated calabashes for 1/6 each. These were carved with patterns and Yoruba mottoes filled in with pencil. Mine said “ADE LE BARE. APE JOJO”. We still don't know what it means. Various translations were offered including “Reach home safely” “This is a good calabash” or “Jolly boys”.
As a final send off a man danced a pas seul in front of us to drum accompaniment before we got back into the cars and drove off to a chorus of “D'ABO, goodbye, Hallo” from the children.
Picture 15; Gambari – Market Day
Picture 16; Buying calabashes at the market.
1951, Tuesday Aug 14th ; Village fish ponds.
The staple diet of the Nigerians is gari, a kind of paste made from grated and processed roots of cassava. This contains a little protein but is mainly starchy and lacks vitamins. The people as a whole are not well-nourished. They are undersized and lots of children are rickety, and so an attempt is being made to get more animal protein into their diet. One of the ways of doing this is to help the villagers to establish their own fishponds in suitable places. With the co-operation of the District Headman two new ponds have been made under Europeans' direction at Paiye and Ballah. The object of the trip was to inspect these and survey two possible sites for new ones in other villages.
VISITS TO PAIYE and BALLAH
We drove out to Paiye where the District Chief, Dauda Paiye, a tall fine-looking man, received us ceremoniously. Where a European politely removes his hat, and African removes his shoes. We noticed Paiye was wearing embroidered heelless slippers. His servant removed these and he squatted down in front of us and touched the ground with his knuckles. After a few polite remarks had been exchanged he rose up, his servant put on his shoes, and he and his retinue conducted us to see the pond.
When we got back to the cars Paiye looked covetously at our Vanguards and wanted to know how much they cost. His present means of transport is a black horse with elegant trappings which was waiting for him under a tree near the Court House.
Taking ceremonious leave of Paiye we went on to Ballah village, but were disappointed to find that Dauda Ballah could not be there to receive us personally as he had gone to Ilorin to see his brother, the Emir. We left for him two enlarged photographs of himself taken on a previous trip.
We had a picnic lunch at Ballah Rest House, a very pleasant one. It was luxuriously furnished for a Bush Rest House, having an Egyptian chemille tablecloth. blue with white kittens on it, and a sofa covered with an Indian embroidered spread. The views from the verandah were pleasant and suggestive of England. The compound was very well kept with flower beds and decorative trees. Nearby was the village school, also surrounded by flower beds, and Dauda Ballah's own house, which is a little apart from the village.
Dauda in Hausa (Dawido in Yoruba) is our name David and means literally “King”. It is the title given to a district chief. The District Head in the Western Provinces is second only to the Emir. It is not entirely a hereditary office. The Dauda is appointed, and is approved by the British Authorities, but is a man of high birth. he receives a salary, but is personally reponsible for the welfare of his district, and the care of the poor and infirm. T. knows one chief who is an ex-tailor.
Picture 17: Dauda Paiye on his horse.
The Town of Ilorin.
After tea we went down to look at the town of Ilorin. The Emir has an imposing white palace behind a high red wall. In front of this is a very large market square. Ilorin night market is famous. There is a certain amount of activity all day, but the peak period is after dark, when the stalls are illuminated. Ilorin is proud of having electric lighting in its square.
Near the main gate to the Emir's compound is the Town Well, where we watched women drawing water. They had shallow calabash bowls tied on to yards and yards of plaited rope. They let these down to an enormous depth, and as they hauled them up the water splashed out so that there was only about a cupful left by the time the calabash reached the top. After some long time they get enough water by this method to fill their big water carrying gourds and make a dignified exit with these balanced on their heads.
Picture 18: Ilorin. Town well and Emir's gateway
Picture 19: Street market with spinners at work.
We did not feel inclined to wait for dark, so set off for a tour around the market, again attracting quite a crowd. I bought a necklace made of long multi-coloured glass beads, which are said to be Venetian and are the old trade beads, brought in by European pioneers a long time ago.
I also bought a man's embroidered cap. This was a cheap one, and would be the equivalent of the British workman's cloth cap. It is made of an old sugar bag embroidered in shiny green and orange rayon. Others were left white and quilted. Some bore the words “Tate and Lyle” or “Fine Sugar” revealing their origin. This adds to their value and they fetch a higher price than unstamped ones. Men of substance wear caps of velvet or felt embroidered in gold or silver thread. There were none of these displayed in the market. Probably they are made specially to order.
It is not only the proletariat who like an English trademark. We met a village headman, whose white robe was draped to display a large blue stamp “20 yards. Made in England”. He probably thought this added more distinction than the beautiful hand embroidery at neck and hem.
Picture 20: Malete Rest House.
1951, Wednesday Aug. 15th ; Malete and Elemere.
We went to the village of Malete to survey a site for a new pond. Chief Malete, dressed in a white robe and green cap, welcomed us. He was accompanied by his chief councillor who wore a dark blue velvet toga and a massive silver wedding ring, and the village policeman, a smart figure in navy tunic and shorts with a scarlet cummerbund matching his fez. Six villagers were told off to come and carry the equipment, and the chief, elders and the policeman led the way to the site.
The surveying methods were a bit Bush by European standards. They set up a plane table and with the aid of a home made level two African fisheries men plotted contours under T.'s direction. The bush had grown up considerably since the first expedition and the markers were not easily visible, but the whole expedition, villagers, and European wives and children all joined in locating and indicating the various points with much waving and shouting.
The atmosphere was much less enervating than in Lagos and we enjoyed our morning's open air exercise. We saw a bishop bird, scarlet as a geranium and about as big as a sparrow, which I mistook at first for a flower on a tree-top.
Our operations took some time and at midday a small girl from the village brought the workmen's dinner. She carried a gaily coloured raffia tray on her head containing individual portions of gari wrapped up in green leaves. She distributed these with salaams. They looked quite appetising to us in our hungry state, but they were only for the labourers. The Chief, the important people and ourselves had to wait till the business was finished.
We went back to our picnic meal at Malete Rest House early in the afternoon, and then took Chief Malete and his policeman to Elemere, the next village. A chair was placed in the back of the Kit car for the Chief, but he left that for his policeman and elected to ride in the back of our Vanguard.
Chief Elemere accompanied by his policeman and retinue came out to receive us. The polite exchanges between the two chiefs took some considerable time. At length we all set out for the site. There were a lot more spectators than at Malete. All the men of the village turned out to see what was going on. It was market day and we must have brought trade to a standstill. We formed a single-file procession about half-a-mile long across cultivated fields.
These fields were ridged something like a potato field but with wider ridges. This we were told was all done by hand with native hoes. A villager at the site was given a spade to dig holes to test for clay. After a few spadefuls he abandoned it and set to work to make the holes with his hoe much more quickly and effectively.
The Malete policeman came and looked at my watch, set his own by it and then went to check the watches of his colleague of Elemere and the two chiefs. Having set the official time for two villages,I only hope my watch was right, but it wouldn't matter very much if it wasn't. Time is not of much account here. The opening lines of Walter de la Mare's new poem “Winged Chariot” might almost be an African's question to a European:- “Why this absurd concern with clocks my friend?
Watching time waste will bring no more to spend, Nor can retard the inevitable end”.
We walked back through the village market and made amends for our dislocation of trade by buying some lengths of handwoven cloth made at Alappa, a nearby village. A double width of 22” cloth just over two yards long cost 14/-. According to the Gazeteer of |lorin, the best cloth is woven to order, and the comparison between the ready-made cloth in the markets and bespoke cloth corresponds to that between a cheap reach-me-down and a good made-to-measure suit in England. In 1930 an African was willing to pay 30/- to £2 for a similar-sized piece of cloth woven to order. It would no doubt be much more today, so ours must have been very utility.
We took leave of Elemere and drove Chief Malete and his policeman back to their own village.
The day ended with dinner at the house of Mr Calder, the local fisheries officer, a retired D.O. who is Scotch and has lived in the tropics most of his life. He regaled us with his national beverage and records of Scottish dance music repeated over and over again. “This”, he said, “my friends here call real savage music.”
The dinner table was magnificent. Black stewards love an excuse to put on a good show and display their skill at folding table napkins and arranging flowers. There was a big bowl of zinnias and other red flowers in the centre, a pattern of scarlet petals all over the table among the shiny cut glass and silver, and it seemed sheer vandalism to unfold the intricate table napkin mountains and remove the scarlet blooms that crowned each one.
A white-uniformed steward waited on us wearing a magnificent sash in Ogilvie hunting tartan. He had evidently been trained never to have a guest with an empty glass.
We had a huge turkey, who we were told had died happy, as half a bottle of gin was poured down his throat before he met his end. He was accompanied by sauces and stuffings and various sorts of vegetables, and followed by jelly and strawberries (tinned of course) and cream, coffee, and liqueurs - Crème de Menthe which our host insisted we must lace with brandy. I found this improved it making it much less cloying and sickly.
At the end of the evening the cook came in to make his bow to us. He was dressed in a toga of lurid jungle print in orange and brown and black. His broad grin showed his teeth filed to sharp points and he looked as if he would be quite at home presiding over the cauldron at a feast of “long pig”. All the boys were Hausas and their master talked to them in their own language. They seemed to be trying to stem the flow of spirits. “They are always bullying me” said our host. “IfI let them have their own wayI should be a teetotaller”.
Mr Calder showed us a magnificent leopard skin which he had had mounted on to brown felt to make a rug. This was a parting gift to him from the Pagans of the Plateau district when he retired from being their D.O. In this last term of office before his retirement only 2 or 3 years ago, he said he had had three men hanged for cannibalism.
Picture 21: Jock Calder; fisheries officer, Ilorin
Picture 22: Ilorin Poultry Market. Live fowls are carried in the skips on the owners' heads.
1951, Thursday August 16th. Strange Beasts.
Coming back to Ibadan we stopped en route to look at the reservoir at Ogbomosho. Two fishermen told us they had just seen a crocodile there, but though we spent some time looking for him he was as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster and wouldn't appear to us. The fishermen, plus one wife, travelled back to Ibadan in our car. On the way we passed a man driving 4 ostriches along the road.
1951, Friday August 17th. Mosan Village. Palm Oil.
After spending the night at Ibadan Rest House we set off on the last lap of our journey back to Lagos. Just over half way we turned off the main road to a village called Mosan, where there is a palm oil mill and a fish pond. The mill was not working when we arrived as its small supply of palm fruit had already been treated that day. A local headman disapproved of the mill so that the villagers were reluctant to bring in their palm nuts to be processed, and it was idle for a good part of the time. The women have their own bush method for extracting the palm oil, which is very slow and laborious, and use of the mill would save them hours of hard work for a small payment.
Besides its use by Europeans in soap manufacture, palm oil has a myriad uses for the African. It has definitely antiseptic properties. the more bush and rancid it is the better apparently, and it is used in the treatment of injuries, besides being a lubricant and a food ingredient.
We walked through the village accompanied by the usual throng of children. one of them. a cheerful little urchin of about 8 or 9 was instructed by his elders to act as guide to lead us to the fish pond. He flitted on ahead of us, the loose sleeves of his indecently short robe flapping like wings, so that he looked like a little black hobgoblin or Puck.
The fish pond didn't look a very flourishing concern either. It was covered in green slime and all the fish population we saw was one very dead talapia, about as big as a sardine.
Back on the main road we stopped to look at the rice mill. This was a much more cheerful sight. It was in a large barn-like building full of chattering women. Its object was to remove the outer husks from the rice grains. Each woman fed her own load of rice into the machine and carefully watched to make sure of getting the right lot at the end. Apart from its practical use the mill makes a good social centre where the women can meet their friends and gossip.
As well as the large pan of rice on her head nearly every woman coming to the mill carried a piccin strapped on her back. These little black babies with their woolly topknots are lovely, though to European eyes their beauty is marred by the barbarous habit of slashing their faces soon after birth in patterns according to the markings of their tribe. The little girl piccins, however tiny, wear jewellery, invariably ear rings, often necklaces and bracelets. This is the quickest way to tell girls from boys at first glance. I was told that their trinkets are often of solid gold or silver. On the arm of one small mite I noticed a man's wristwatch on a wide chromium strap. It was not only going, but told the correct time. Unlike their bigger brothers and sisters the babies seemed scared of us. I suppose it is quite natural for a white person to look like a bogey, to a black baby.
Diversions on a Journey.
Driving mile after mile through unvarying scenery can grow monotonous and we found two ways of relieving the tedium of a long journey..(1) waving to the populace who usually responded with appreciation and (2) collecting mottoes on African transport vehicles.
This page (section, ed) is reserved for our collection, English and Latin only, though no doubt the Hausa and Yoruba would be even more amusing if we knew what they meant.
Help us O God
Wait and see
The Lord is my Shepherd
Goodwill and Speed
Trust in God and do the right
Dum Spiro Spero
God is Good
In God's Care
Charity begins at home
and on Taxis
and on Bicycles
1951, Wednesday August 22nd. Genuine bargain.
Yesterday the Hausaman who had sold me the crocodile bag and other things at various times offered me a bag made of black and cream deerskin. Having already got the crocodile bag I was not interested, but he was nothing if not persevering.
“Madame my good customer. Yesterday I lose £7 for races. I need customer. Madame give me price.”
“No, I have plenty bags”
“Not bag like this. This good good bag. I sell cheap price”
“What do you call cheap? 15/- ?”
That put him off as I thought it would. he laughed scornfully and departed.
Today he waylaid me with the same bag as I came out of the Rest House.
“What madame's last price?”
“No. yesterday you say 15/-. Today you go up”
“Madame, good business lady, but 15/- small small for good bag. What your last price?”
By this time we were getting into the car. He appealed to Ted.
“Sir, you give me better price”.
“15/1” said T., jokingly.
“Take it”. The bag was thrust in through the car window and T. dashed him an extra 1d for luck, making 15/2 in all.
It is beautifully made and is a much better one than the crocodile bag for which I paid £2. I have Monday's winners to thank for this bargain.
Picture 23. Beginning Young. Small peanut vendor giving change on Victoria Beach.
1951, Friday Aug 24th. “What is life without a wife?”
When Ronson brought my morning coffee he was obviously bursting to say something. Presently it came out.
“Please madame, in my country wife take plenty money”
“In England, too, wife take plenty money, Ronson”
But he was dead serious.
“Madame is kind. Madame speak for Master. My bride's father ask for £27. That plenty money. I only pay small small money for one time. NowI pay £18. Madame speak for Master to lend me £10, then my wife come to this Lagos. Madame come back for Master after leave and she see my wife.”
I had already gathered that he hoped to go home during Ted's next leave and return with his bride, and that before the marriage was finally achieved he had other financial obligations as well as the price agreed with the father. The bride's mother and family would expect a dash, the bride would expect at least £4 for her trousseau, and he would have to stand drinks, smokes etc. to the whole village.
I pointed out that as his bride-to-be was so very young they should not be in a hurry to get married and it would be better to save up out of his own income and start off free from debt. At this he looked very downcast but was not defeated. If he couldn't have a wife he would have a consolation prize. He changed the subject.
“I think madame go home for October. In England be plenty good shoes. Please madame send me for Christmas shoes size 6 with rubber soles like master's sandals, but shoes for tie up.I show madame.”
He trotted off to his quarters and returned and returned with a pair of brown leather walking shoes. “Like these, madame, but with rubber soles. Leather not good” As he never wears shoes except for ornament when he is all dressed up, he probably finds leather too hard and too slippery.
In off-duty hours when really dressed to kill he wears a pair of shorts in flame red moyjashel, a white shirt with the inscription “EVER JOLLY” written in blobby marking ink on the breast pocket and tennis shoes. The shoes are freshly whitened, the shorts pressed and the shirt laundered for every time of wearing.
In spite of his lack of height he walks with dignity and is able to assert himself. He has Sammy trained to spring to attention and say “Yessir” when he addresses him.
I have never seen him wearing native dress.
Gari is the “staff of life” for the W. African, like bread to the European. It is made by grating cassava (sometimes with yam). The grated cassava is left to ferment for two or three days, the moisture is pured off and the dry granules rubbed through a sieve. The sieved fu-fu is then put in a pot with a little palm oil and heated. it is eaten either as a thin gruel with water or as a thick paste made with boiling water.
C&I (Commerce and Industries, ed) have an experimental grating machine and cassava grated on this machine was given to three different women to be made into gari. The three results were quite different. We tried them on Ronson. Sample A he found no fault with, sample B made by a woman from Sierra Leone according to her own native method, he said was very good indeed, sample C he said “no good, throw it away”. This confirmed the written report of one of the office messengers who said A and B made satisfying meal inducing repose and pleasant dreams. C bad to eat inducing bellyache.
1951, Tuesday Aug 28th. Mosan revisited.
We made a further visit to Mosan. While the men went into conference at the Palm Oil Mill we walked down into the village, carefully avoiding the rice grains spread out to dry in the main street. On the way we stopped to watch a woman sieving fu-fu, the intermediate stage between cassava and gari. She used a primitive sieve made of cane and it looked a very tedious process.
Standing a little apart from the others was a house which bore a poster telling the world in Arabic. English, and Yoruba that here lived a Cairo-trained astrologer of extreme wisdom. Among others he earnestly urged “moneymen, sickmen, journeymen, men in old age, bachelors, women without issue” to consult him.
The houses are rectangular, built of red mud with palm thatch.
1951, Saturday Sept 8th. Football match.
The African is just as keen a football fan as the Englishman. We saw a match today between the railway and the Public Works teams. They play in bare feet, are very quick and have wonderful control over the ball with their flexible toes. The referee was a European, Father Slattery, a Catholic missionary. The spectators are said to get very excited sometimes surging right onto the field and having to be chased by the police, but today they were no more obstreperous than an English crowd. We sat in the two-and-sixpennies and our neighbours were, of course, the well-to-do types but their shouts seemed most refined, even pedantic, compared with the remarks you would expect from an English crowd. “Well done”. “Oh, please use your head”. “Do not give him a chance now” and not one swearword, perhaps they didn't know any in English.
1951, Sunday Sept 9th. African cemetary.
I visited the Lagos cemetary expecting to see some amusing inscriptions, but found they were more restrained and dignified than in many English country churchyards. Some were in Latin, most were texts from the Bible or lines from hymns, with one or two quotations from English poets. Some of the tombs were very elaborate and had statues of the deceased. There was a life-sized nurse, seated; the head of a judge with black face and white wig; and a lifelike reproduction of John St Matthew Daniel “an industrious financier and philanthropist and devout Catholic worshipper”. He stood on a square plinth flanked on one side by a kneeling angel and on the other by his patron saint in white marble. He wore a Palm Beach suit, black shoes and a black trilby hat and carried a walking stick. His expression was benevolent and he looked a very charming old gentleman. His plinth was simply covered in lettering. The front gave his name and details of his life; one side pious quotations; the other the list of his twelve children who survived him, and on the back was the following verse:-
“Live in the present, for the One who lends
Has taken back the past he lent
With all its tears and laughter, therefore friends
Live in the present.
The present is a loan that each man spends
And a new loan receives when that is spent.
Nor can we tell when this strange present ends
And when begins, wherein the future's blest
And with the past made one: for us fate sends
No choice, but all men, well or ill content,
Live in the present.
Another man was described as “a zealous patron of the Baptist Church and sole agent for Singer Sewing Machines”. One tombstone was crowned with two blue and white roses in, I think, Italian pottery of pleasant design, and another with a charming statue of a little dog. Unfortunately the inscription on this was completely obliterated, but the owner was evidently following the old crusaders' tradition in leaving his favourite dog on his tomb.
1951, Thursday Sept 12th. (sic, actually Sept 13th, ed)
Picture 24. Piccins with ram off Lagos marina waterfront.
Holiday for Moslem Festival of Guatu Beriam. The Moslems all turn out in new clothes, have a long prayer session, and then sacrifice rams, followed by feasting.
1951, Sunday Sept 16th. Nigerian Politics.
Godwin has borrowed a gramophone and records and we have a free concert from the boys' quarters. One particular favourite, played over and over, was an African number with spectacular drumming and a tune even a European could recognise. I asked what it was and it turned out to be a song in praise of ZIK, Dr Azikiwi, the political leader, head of NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons). He is an Ibo, like “the boys”, and a fierce nationalist. He wants a united Nigeria, combining all tribes, and is anti-European. The main opposition to his party comes from the ACTION GROUP of strong Yoruba influence, which is less anti-British and seems to advocate regional autonomy for Hausas, Yorubas, Ibos, and other main tribes.
1951, Tuesday Sept 18th.
Today we forgot to take a key when we went to our evening meal and had to send for Ronson to let us in. He was wearing a blue toga with red spider webs all over it, so evidently he does wear native dress when off-duty.
1951, Saturday Sept 22nd.
The house is swarming with workmen. Electricians rewired the radio points, a P.W.D. man came to measure up for extension to the garage – labourers were busy digging drains for waterborne sanitation (remember the earth closet – ed)
Our fellow men in Lagos.
The Europeans are for the most part friendly, though I am told it is possible to feel very lonely in Lagos as in all big towns. In the smaller stations the white people are only too glad to get together and make friends, according to all accounts. We find lots of the people we meet have travelled all over the place. A good many of them used to live in India. One great advantage of Rest House meals is that you meet all kinds of people and it is easy to find some with whom you have things in common. We often had people in to play bridge or just drink and talk. Lots of them liked to come in for a cup of tea last thing at night. Contrary to popular belief, the Englishman in the tropics does not live exclusively on spirits and malaria prophylactics.
As a general rule white people are either fascinated by Africa or simply loathe it. There are not many neutrals.
There is of course a certain amount of colour prejudice and the white population of Ikoyi tends to keep itself to itself and not mix with the black. I found this a pity as I should have like to have met more educated Africans. The few I did meet seemed altogether pleasant and reasonable. Collectively the European women seem rather suburban in outlook. Social climbing and keeping up with the Jones can be all-important, but individually I liked most that I met, very well.
Tropical Africa is a region for Mary, not for Martha.
I can't help thinking that it is better for themselves and for Africa, if all people with a strong unshakeable colour prejudice were to keep out. Gratuitous rudeness on the part of white people, gives the rabid nationalist a legitimate grievance and may make otherwise reasonable types into rabid nationalists themselves, thus driving yet another nail into the coffin of the poor old British Empire.
An assistant in a bookshop who had been to England, one day asked me “whi is itI find that in your country English people can be so polite and charming, and in my country just the opposite?”
1951, Thursday Sept 26th. (sic, actually Sept 27th, ed) The Mountain fish.
This morning Ronson came and said “Madame,I have news. A beeg beeg fish, a mountain fish, be washed up for beach. I follow Master and madame go for see it.”
After lunch we set out for Victoria beach and found Ronson and Sammy waiting to get in the car. The Five Cowrie Creek Bridge had a quarter mile traffic jam, Africans in cars, taxis, on bicycles and on foot had turned out to see the wonderful sight from all over the town.
However, when we got there, there was almost nothing to be seen. A 50 ft whale had been washed up, but now what was left of it was drifting out to sea practically submerged. A few bold swimmers were going out with knives and cutting off bits of blubber. It made an excuse for an outing and Sammy obviously enjoyed his car ride.
1951, Saturday Sept 29th. Cup Final.
This was a great event attended by the Governor's Deputy – the G being on leave – and the local Oba, in state.
Immediately behind us sat the famous ZIK with wife, a girl friend, to whom he explained at length the finer points of the game all through the match.
It was an exciting game. When the whistle went for time the score was even, 2 all. There was a twenty minute extension during which Railway scored the winning goal. Their victory was a well-deserved triumph of brains over brawn. The Plateau team were taller and heavier and looked quite a different type, possibly Pagans. Their supporters among whom we found ourselves, looked a real tough crowd, including mining types. The audience was orderly and good-humoured, though policemen with truncheons were there in force.
Picture 25, programme for Nigeria Football Association 1951 Governor's cup final
Picture 26: The cup final teams on the programme, large file
The Police band gave a good show at half-time. They looked very smart in Navy uniform with red zouave jackets and Jarbouches. They gave a display of marching and piping.
Picture 27 .. Cartoon “Warning to those unable to say “no” to a Hausaman.”
1951, Sunday Sept 30th
Visited fishing village off Victoria Beach in morning. The houses are made of palm frond ribs and thatched with palm. The sea is encroaching and the village is retreating. Some huts have been washed away in the short time I have been here.
Picture 28. Main street of fishing village.
Picture 29. Lagos, RC cathedral. Lagos has a Protestant and a Catholic cathedral. This is not the oneI went to.
Went to evensong at Lagos C. of E. Cathedral. The congregation was mostly black. The choir and organist were black, and the service was conducted by an African clergyman, headmaster of the C.M.S. school. A white parson read the lessons and another black parson preached.
The cathedral is a traditional European building. The interior is light, with decorations in blue, gold, and pale green. Behind the altar is a modern carved oak figure of Christ, above which is a carved crown illuminated from the inside. There is a matching carved oak screen and a carved font.
The service was straightforward C. of E. and all in English.
1951, Thursday Oct 4th (Ted's 42nd birthday – ed)
Tonight we had a “small chop” party. Present:- The Symes, the Boothroyds, the Claytons, the Battens, Baskerville, John Port, Chris Spears, Oliver Marion, the Irvings, Tony Luf, Wendy Hasten, Mackenzie.
1951, Friday Oct 5th.
Jose Doherty took me to meet BEN ENWONWU an African artist who lives at the other end of Cameron Road. He is a native of Onitsha and has a beard. He is planning on a one-man show for Paris, London, and the USA next year and has promised to invite me to his London show. I wished I could have afforded a picture. There were portraits of Hausas, Yorubas, and many different African types, dancers, full of movement, and scenes mostly in Benin Province. An unfinished portrait of the Oba of Benin in full regalia showed the Oba looking most shirty. Ben said he didn't approve of artists and didn't want to sit. We could well believe it from his expression.
(ed's note, see e.g. www.ijele.com/vol1.2/enwonwu3.html))
Work on our own mod. con. proceeds apace and is nearly finished. The foreman promised today “Madame shall use it before she go”.
The Battens took us to the R.E.M.E. sergeants mess at Yaba for the evening where we talked and played snooker and darts. The R.E.M.E. were excellent hosts and made us very welcome. They are pleased to have visitors. A Cockney sergeant-major made us feel at home and a Scotch sergeant-major bewailed their lack of feminine society and gave us a dissertation on spiritualism. He said it was a demoralising life for a very young man there. They seem to have fewer social contacts than the civilian expatriates.
1951, Sunday Oct 7th.
The black foreman was as good as his word. Today we used the mod. con. though there is a certain amount of finishing-off still to be done, and holes in the wall to be made good.
Flight to Tripoli.
1951, Monday Oct 8th.
Lunched at airport. The African doctor from the Rest House was there to inspect the kitchens and insisted on standing us a sherry. Took off according to schedule, and had pleasant if somewhat noisy flight to Kano, owing to boisterous small children. Delayed for a few minutes at Kano to wait for 2 missing passengers, a Mr. and Mrs. Evans from Jos who are the only other people taking the Malta-Rome route. They had been sent to the hotel in Kano to wait, and had been forgotten.
Arrived at Castel-Benito in the middle of the night. The London passengers were told they would have to wait there until the morning owing to fog. Poor Mr and Mrs Evans had been forgotten again and no hotel reservation made for them, so they were parked in the R.A.F. camp which was far from luxurious, and I was driven in a shaky little bus with an Irish and Cockney sergeant 20 miles into Tripoli. The Irishman saw me safely into the hotel and I got to bed at 3 am.
Picture 30. Tripoli.. Albergo del Mehari.
1951, Tuesday Oct 9th.
The Albergo del Mehari (Hotel of the Camels) was a grandiose place. The bedrooms were small, and were arranged around several square or round courtyards with gardens and fountains in the middle. These were very attractive. The place had been built at the order of Mussolini for the Italian equivalent of the “Strength through Joy” movement. It was disorganised at this time because the kitchens and restaurant were being decorated and they would serve no meals but breakfast.
Mussolini had done his best to develop Tripoli as a holiday resort. The waterfront was beautifully laid out with gardens and avenues of palms and flowering trees and fountains.
It was about a mile and a half from the hotel to the centre of the town. I went in an Army bus by stint of attaching myself to some British Army wives. I wandered round the shops and came back in a horse cab, called a garri, all along the Front.
The garris are drawn by horses wearing scarlet plumes and tassels and driven by Italianate Arab drivers in red fezes and jackets. My impression of Tripoli was coloured red, white, and blue. The red of the Arab fez, cona everywhere in the streets, the white of the buildings of the ex-Italian empire, and the blue of the sky and sea. The quality of light was far more intense than anything we see here.
In the afternoon I got a garri driver to take me all around the town for 100 MAL. (1 MAL – Military Authority Lira = ½ d), and met the Evans again who said they had paid 200 MAL for a similar journey.
I didn't like the Arabs as well as the black West Africans. They do not laugh so much and seem more sinister. They are also dirtier and keep their poor womenfolk in utter subjection. Despite the heat, the women in the streets were muffled up in voluminous off-white wool burrowses, covering even their faces. They looked like bundles of rags.
Met some very pleasant English people in the evening who were glad to see some compatriots as the hotel was overrun with Yanks and their camp followers.
1951, Wednesday Oct 10th.
Left at 10:30 am for Malta. Should have left at 3pm on the previous afternoon, but plane was delayed by weather. As we were nearly a day lateI decided to go straight on to Rome so as to have as long a time there as possible, hoping to visit Malta on a future trip.
We stopped at Malta for refuelling. The day was beautifully clear and we got an excellent view of the island as we flew over. It looked as though it might be a bleak wind-swept place. The Evanses elected to spend the night at Malta at the Hotel Phoenicia. We had lunch as we flew over Sicily on the last stage of the journey to Rome.
The drive from the Ciampino Airport into Rome was along the new Appian Way. This was rather spoilt by huge advertising signs all along its length. These looked incongruous against the nearby remains of the Roman aqueduct and other ruins.
Arrived at the Hotel Esperia in the Via Nazionale in time for afternoon tea, which I had with an English couple who travelled from Malta with me.
Spent the evening studying maps and guides to plan where to go in the next 2 days. Had an excellent dinner of minestrone, veal cutlet with very crisp chips and beans, cake and fresh fruit. Had a comfortable bedroom with a most palatial bathroom attached, which was larger than the bedroom itself.
The receptionist and waiters can all speak English. The liftman and chambermaid have taught me a few words of Italian. The manager sits in an office with glass doors opening immediately out of the hall. Most of the time he leaves the doors open and comes out to greet each guest personally in its own language, hpes they are comfortable and urges them to ask for anything they wish. The manager of a comparable English hotel would be too busy and too high and mighty to waste so much time merely on being polite to his customers.
1951, Thursday Oct 11th.
After breakfast, went to a local hairdresser for a shampoo and set. He couldn't speak a word of either English or French, but did a very good job. The set was perfect while it lasted but was rather ephemeral because of my lack of perm. Spent rest of the morning in buses and on foot getting a general idea of the town. The shops are all small. There are no large department stores. They have a very Bond Street air about them, and very Bond Street prices for the most part, though decorative pottery and basketwork were comparatively cheap. There seemed to be very few ready made clothes for women, but lots of shops selling nothing but materials by the metre. Roman women must have all their clothes made to measure. Walked the length of the Via Condotti, the Bond Street of Rome, described as “a perfect paradise for ladies, a perfect hell for gentlemen” and bought an ashtray in pottery ar a present for T. because of its appropriate motto “Casa senza donna, barca senza timone”
“A house without a woman is a boat without a rudder”.
Rome is a very beautiful city. Every principal street seems to end in a square surrounded by decorative buildings and containing a fountain. The fountains are all in action and look very clean and well kept. I liked especially Piazza di Spagna, which has the inevitable fountain, a low built one, Fountain of the Baraccia, backed by the flower market with its stalls shaded by huge white umbrellas. Behind the flower stalls a very wide flight of stone steps leads up to a rather Eastern looking church with two domes. St Trinita dei Monti.
We went in the afternoon to the Colosseum to a concert of operatic and orchestral music by Mascagni. We sat down in the arena opposite the door through which the lions came to eat the Christians. The choir and orchestra, decorous black clad men and women, were arranged on a platform to be a little bit higher than the audience, but still below the level of the tiers of seats where the Emperors, worthies of Rome, and the Roman proletariat used to sit to watch the show. Round these circles where the seats of the audience had once been, flares were lit and the only other lighting was from electric lamps floodlighting the performers.
It was more a feat for the eye than for the ear, as the Colosseum is not acoustically perfect, being open to the sky and very large. Some of the softer passages of the orchestra were almost lost. The choir and soloists had powerful Italian voices which came over well. As we listened, the sun set in shades of coral and blue-green, behind the mellow old Roman brickwork and the yellow circles of flares, at first almost unnoticeable, seemed to grow more intense. As a finale, just as choir and orchestra reached their last chords, coloured Bengal lights were lit in the tiers above them so that they finished against a curtain of rose, purple and green smoke.
1951, Friday Oct 12th.
Went in a sight-seeing coach to the Vatican. On the way we stopped to look at the Pantheon, the old pagan temple of the time of Hadrian, now used as a Christian church. It is a round building with a dome having a 30' wide opening at the top to let in light and air. It also lets in the rain, so the floor is made slightly convex with drainage holes to let the water run away. The dome of St Peter's is said to be a copy of the Pantheon dome.
We passed more beautiful squares and fountains. I would have liked to stop and throw a coin in the Fontana de Trevi as this is supposed to ensure returning to Rome, but the coach did not stop and I thought I would miss if I aimed it out of the window.
I was disappointed we did not have time to join St, Peter's. The Vatican Palaces are so vast and so full of treasures it is impossible to describe them. The things that I particularly remember are
the spiral staircase in the entrance hall. This is quite modern and is made of pale green marble with bronze decorations. Although it looks all in one piece it is really two staircases and the ascenders and descenders never meet.
A model of the Good Shepherd and his sheep in solid gold, presented to the Pope of the time by the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. The little gold sheep were charming.
The Sistine Chapel. because it seemed so overwhelming. Every inch of the ceiling is covered by famous paintings by Michael Angelo and others. I would have liked an area of plain distemper round each one in order to take it in, but no doubt this would ruin the general effect.
A tapestry designed by Raphael, one of a series depicting scenes from the Gospels. It showed the Supper at Emmaeus with Christ and the 2 men sitting at a table covered with a white damask cloth, and a cat and dog waiting for scraps in the foreground. Viewed from one side the table seemed to point straight towards you. As you walked by it seemed to turn with you and viewed from the other side still seemed to be pointing towards you.
There were miles of museum galleries, intrinsically beautiful apart from their contents, and rooms decorated for Popes by famous artists of the last five centuries.
After lunch, not feeling like more concentrated sight-seeing, strolled along to look at the remains of the Roman Forum in a leisurely manner. A Mr Aarons, a butcher from Cricklewood came with me, pleased to find someone who talked his own language, and we finished up at an orchestral concert in the Theatre Argentina.
Last of all, after dinner, we walked around to the Station. Rome Station is a most attractive modern building all white concrete and plate glass – Mussolini's influence again.
1951, Sat Oct 13th.
Pleasant flight home only marred by travelling companions – Yanks, who were swearing at British Airways and everything English. B.E.A. got us in through dense cloud 10 minutes ahead of schedule despite their swears.
Picture 31... card of St Martha on the Hill, Guildford by W Karn
“With every good wish for a very happy Xmas and peace and prosperity in 1951 – from Doris and W Karn”.