This time of year always gets me thinking about our emigration. The 13th of December 1971 is the ‘official’ landing day for our tribe in South Africa but a thought crossed my mind about the actual journey.
Today, the 10th of December is the day we left behind the cold, familiar world of Milton in Glasgow. I was five and (almost) a half years young. The world as I knew it was dark, icy and busy with family. I don’t recall leaving our upstairs tenement house, nor any packing of clothes, or selling of furniture. Nor the taxi trip to the station- it must have been a couple of taxis, at least. I do remember being at Glasgow Central Station amidst a frenetic goodbye from cousins, aunts and uncles and boarding a sleeper train. Maybe this is what triggered my love for trains, perhaps. But at this point I can’t recall if I had any idea of where I was going, then again don’t think any of us did. All we knew is that we were going to ‘Sunny South Africa’ where my dad would be guaranteed a 3 ( or 4?) year work contract. In a rapidly shrinking work opportunities-city, it made sense for my folks to take care of there 6 and 3 quarters size brood, in a far away land with sunshine! A bargain! But I digress…
I don’t recall how many sleeper compartments we had, nor who I slept beside but I do remember the clackity clack of the train, the twinkling ‘exit’ sign lights and my first encounter with a chamber pot. Fascinated as a curious 5 year old can be, I don’t recall actually using it but more interested in how it got emptied.
On arrival in a bustling London station, I remember the vision of a huge pile of suitcases on wheels and a flapping coat trying to control the worldy belongings of our entire family. The blue cover of the record player was at once familiar for me because Cliff Richard sang ‘summer holiday’ on it and this was kind of what this trip felt like.
Details in between are very sketchy but the next clear phase of my young journey was an indoor swimming pool with coloured lights surrounding a man sitting at the bar. In the pool!! My eyes bulged when I saw this and in some dusty part of my memory I think Hawaiian music was playing. This pool was in a 5 star London hotel which we were to spend the night of the 11th of December due to the maiden Boeing 747 flight to Johannesburg being cancelled. I think we had 3 bedrooms between us but another exciting memory is the huge silver domes that covered our food on tableclothed trolleys that we wheeled to us. The life of luxury…
My mum must’ve had swollen feet and several anxiety attacks being 7 months pregnant and all this adventure showing up. But I remember her smoking away on the airplane which in my, short 5 year legs memory, seemed to be so roomy. We stopped for fuel at Los Palmos ( I think) where it was so hot my nostrils felt blocked and I was fascinated by a huge wooden fan slowly chopping the air on the roof.
My next memory is not the airport in Johannesburg but the fountain at a white hotel ( the Lido) where I think I paddled in my panties ( or knickers) free from the very heavy and hot kilt that my mum had made for all us girls. It was also the first time I experienced Coca-cola .. in my own glass bottle and I remember being impressed.
The 13th of December had us sleep over in a one star hotel in my future home town of Ver een ig ing ing. The National hotel was somewhat different from the London luxury and I heard my first ever cricket chirping! The tiny basin in the rooms had my-size Lux soaps and eating in the dining room and being served was an adventure for this young bairn.
The three days of journey were always kind of remembered in separate bits. Today I went on the journey again as a 52 year old accompanying my 5 year old self, who was full of wonder and awe. The destination almost forgotten but what a joy I felt, piecing the sepia bits together and stepping back in time for the journey that got me here.