Bill's Diary 1951 (Part 2)
First edition: 2017
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1951
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1951
Type: Continuation Books
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Woke up at 08:55 to the sound of pigeons cooing somewhere out in the street. Only about five hours sleep but feeling quite chipper, I dressed and went through to the kitchen where Betty was preparing coffee and toast. She looked good although a little tired, but what can one expect with a husband who's always on the go. Long blonde hair tumbled down to her grey knitted top and she wore check slacks. Giving me her wide smile and welcoming her guest with a kiss on the cheek she served up breakfast and I had to complement her on the sauce or whatever it was that she poured onto my toast. It was delicious. When I declared it was time to be off, she told me Matt was still asleep.
"He's been overdoing it I think," she confided to me and I agreed. Matt spends long hours at work and he brings a lot of cases home with him. Just before 10:00, as Matt didn't appear, I thought it best to get away so Betty saw me out and into the car. She handed me a parcel of Top Secret papers that Matt had wanted me to take and, waving to her, I put the car into gear and moved down the street, turning left into Acacia Road and heading West with a clear run to Brentford - stopping briefly to buy a paper. In half an hour the outskirts of Camberley were behind us and as there was nothing of interest on the radio, I spent the time making a few plans. Everything I'd heard about the Uma chap was negative. According to informants he's a ruthless character who let's nothing stand in his way if he can help it, and it looked as if Yours Truly would be about to get in his way. Thought it might be an idea to visit the gym for a workout and perhaps a few sparring matches before leaving the country although judging from what I know about the chap, he'd be no match for me. Too flabby, but it's his cronies who'd be the dangerous ones ... Uma would just give the orders.
Drove through Basingstoke and was in Overton round 11:15, arriving at The Lynch via Southington Lane before the half-hour. Parking in the driveway, I entered through the back door only to be met by four riotous children plus parrot. Kiki flew round my head yelling loudly
"Silly billy, silly billy, silly billy."
"Pipe down Kiki," said Jack. He called her to his shoulder and, managing to extricate myself from Lucy-Ann's bear hug I told them all to wait because I wanted a word with Allie. Found her in the sitting room.
"Bill! I heard you come in."
Always nice to hear her voice. I came up and swung her round in my arms.
"Allie, no more housework for a week at least,
We're travelling away to the mysterious East."
She looked at me.
"What do you mean?"
"Allie, an assignment. Pete's thought it up and now some location work is required. Seeing I'm the most qualified, an all-expense paid vacation has been arranged where we need it most - in a warm country, and my wife plus kids may accompany me, if they want to."
Allie's eyes shone. This was exciting news.
"Bill, that's exactly what we could do with ... just what we need. I'll ring Wogan ... have you had anything to eat?"
Told her I had and spent the next thirty minutes bringing her up to date with Matt's instructions. The papers I had received gave various addresses that could be checked out. Names of associates were also included and there was a rundown of diplomatic procedures that covered permitted protocols commonly used in British territories. I was aware of most having worked in similar countries although Matt had warned me that Uma was adept at utilising legalistic arguments surrounding his operations.
"Don't underestimate him Bill." I remembered him saying that.
Allie was more than happy with the sudden revelation seeing we'd have our time together in what could be called an interesting country. The children would be in a warmer environment, and Matt's instructions, which had obviously been compiled well in advance, stated we'd be using a boat for our main transport as it'd be handy for visiting the various villages. Allie went into the adjoining study to telephone the agency that had supplied us with home security last time we'd been away, and I opened the door to admit the kids. They were gathered in the hallway waiting impatiently for news of what was going on in the grown-ups' world and as they entered one by one, my face was studied to see if I looked happy or grim. After they'd settled themselves into chairs (Philip leaned against the window sill) and Kiki had been told to pipe down, I spoke.
"I'm off again!"
There were groans from all of them except for Kiki who came out with,
"Oh, I say!"
"An unexpected assignment has come up and I've no choice but to accept it."
"Leaving Britain on the 10th, bound East."
Lucy-Ann looked distraught. "BILL! Why do you have to go? Why can't someone else handle it ... you've only just got back from London. It's not fair to keep sending you off somewhere."
"Lucy-Ann," I said. "That's the nature of my job and because of that, I'm able to supply my family with all the necessities of life."
"If we've got you with us, we can do without all the little luxuries," Dinah added to the conversation.
The boys just looked on - suspecting I hadn't finished imparting all there was to impart.
"Suppose, instead of sending you away to Swanage," I said carefully, " Some arrangements were made for you to visit another country ... to make up for my not being with you?" I added.
The children looked at one another, and Kiki made a cracking noise with her beak. They seemed doubtful.
"Bill, what do you mean," Philip asked. "Would you really trust us to go off to another land after all the scrapes we've got up to in past times?"
"We seem to get into trouble everywhere we go," Jack interjected. "Not only in our own country but outside as well ... Austria, Aegean Sea ... "
"Eastern Bloc" Philip contributed.
"Where's that?" Lucy-Ann asked.
South, where we ended up last year.
"There were the Scottish Highlands," Dinah added.
" ... and other places, but Bill always rescued us," said loyal Lucy-Ann snuggling up to me on the couch.
"Go on, Bill," said Jack. "You haven't finished have you?"
Allie ended her call in the study and joined us, sitting down in her favourite chair.
"The receptionist is going to pass our news on."
"Mother, what news?" Dinah asked.
"Listen," I said. "How would it be if Allie accompanied you on your holiday?"
"Aunt Allie, you know we'd LOVE you to come with us," said Lucy-Ann getting up and putting her arms around Allie's shoulders. "You know we would."
"At least one of our parents will be with us," said Dinah. "But what a pity Bill can't come as well. You'd love it if we could all go off together wouldn't you Mother."
"Suppose I came as well?"
"But you can't'" said Lucy-Ann coming back to join me on the couch. "You'll be chasing someone around."
"I could chase someone around whilst I was with you, couldn't I?"
"Bill, what are you talking about? We'll be overseas."
" ... and I could come with you as well."
They all looked at me with Jack catching on first. He always does.
"BILL you've got an overseas assignment and you're taking us with you ... that's what's happening isn't it?"
There was sudden pandemonium as the kids jumped from their seats and inundated me. Kiki flew around screaming excitedly.
"Polly, Polly, Polly! Wipe your feet! Jack, Jack, Jack! Oh I say!"
Allie sat opposite smiling at the floorshow.
"Bill, you'll have to stop being so mysterious."
This was said as I slid to the floor from the couch, trying to fend off four exuberant kids.
"OK, OK," I said raising my hands. "Surrender. Sorry I held back."
We settled down again and the next half hour was spent bringing everyone up to date with what I knew so far and after the subject of travel had been broached there was a mass exodus as the children rushed away to discuss the 'Big Secret' that had come from out of the blue.
Allie and I talked on and soon we'd covered all the main points as far as the family side of things was concerned. I'd be kept up to date with the more sinister side by the office.
"Now all we need do is to pack and notify one or two other agencies," Allie said. 'Lets have fish and chips for tea."
My good wife went to recruit one or other of the kids to fetch our meal whilst I got out my pipe and lit up. Thought about our pending travel and made a few plans then seeing it was Saturday, I went into the study and rang Matt whereupon Betty answered. After a short and lively conversation, she went to get the Man of the House.
"Bill! I was going to ring you, will you be home on Monday evening?"
I told him I would be.
'Right," Matt said. "Look out for Gianni, he'll call in round sevenish with Gordon."
"Jim's been part of the team up north who've been gathering information," said Matt. " ... but he came down yesterday for a spell at the Yard. He'll be able to brief you on the very latest intelligence regarding Uma and his cohorts. Our actual knowledge is limited and some is mere speculation, but you'll be given everything we have."
"Fine," I said.
"We're booking a plane for Wednesday Bill, so you've got a couple of days to get your stuff together."
Chatted a bit longer and then called it a day when the kids returned with dinner. They'd all gone because the girls wanted to get a magazine from the newsagent and the boys felt like a walk. They'd also brought back soft drinks so a very unhealthy but appetizing meal was had by all. Kiki was given a small amount of chips and a tiny bit of fish all to herself on a 'plate' made from a scrap of newspaper. She enjoyed her treat and even picked up a few of the chips in her claws, prefacing each morsel with,
"God save the King."
"He doesn't need saving," said Jack going over to scratch her poll affectionately.
The rapport between those two is quite remarkable and sometimes I wonder how Kiki would fare if something ever happened to Jack. How would she react I wonder? Reasonably early night as the kids suddenly became tired ... probably stuffed themselves too much. Allie and I got into bed and listened to Big Ben strike the hour preceding the 9 o'clock news and after weathering an election speech by Peggy Herbison, we turned off the bed lamps and snuggled down. (21.40)
Filled the day with preparations. The children wanted to start preparing for their trip today so after lunch they spent time filling our supply of cases with clothing, soap, other stuff and books to while away the time. Jack topped up a rather large jar with hemp seeds for his One and Only, and the girls included a few board games. Allie had told them she was inspecting the cases and she did so which resulted in the removal of a few items considered too bulky and extraneous. I'm quite positive one or two of them went back or were secreted 'somewhere' but that wasn't my worry - I was just looking forward to a period of peace and quiet with Allie although, as it was a working holiday for me, I wondered just how many blissful days I could look forward to. We also got a few things together but only those that had to be hunted out - we can finish packing on Tuesday.
'I married a Prince.'
Found the above in my Diary this evening! My response:
'OK ... and I may have married a Princess who relishes reading other peoples' private writings. I'll get her for that. Alison Rose Cunningham will know what I mean (won't you dear)?' (23.13)
Girls visited the library this morning and the boys went fishing over the road. All they got were a few tiddlers and now I'm wondering if Philip managed to lure them within catching distance. We'd probably believe him if he'd told us that's what happened. Dinah rang and asked if they could have dinner in town - she and Lucy-Ann had met a couple of boys that go to their school. Allie winked at me from where she was holding the 'phone and I listened in.
"Why don't you let them shout you?"
Dinah told her they wouldn't stand in their way if the boys offered to.
"I know them both," Allie said to my enquiring look as she replaced the receiver on the cradle. "Pott connection."
"The other belongs to a friend of Henry's and that's all I know."
"Absolutely. You know all my friends are, Bill. Are you trustworthy?"
"I don't know Allie. What do you think?"
I felt like a friendly tussle of words and as we were on our tod, we went out onto the verandah and sat in the swing seat for an 'argument of sorts.'
Just before 19:00 a black car containing Jim and Del pulled up in the driveway and walking round to the back, I welcomed them. Yelled to the boys who were playing cards in the sitting room to go out and sit in the car to keep watch for any people who might approach. I didn't expect anything untoward but the boys, seeming quite thrilled with the sudden intrigue thrust upon them, forgot all about their cards and sneaking outside they shut themselves in to keep watch. The girls weren't back yet and Allie happened to be in her studio so as there were no distractions I showed my colleagues to comfortable chairs in the now empty sitting room and mixed drinks. Haven't seen Del for a while and couldn't help noticing he has a few more wrinkles on his forehead which is not surprising ... he's a hard worker. Pulling out the inevitable cigarette he lit up and accepted the ashtray I shoved in his direction. Smiling broadly, the amiable Italian pulled out some papers and began studying them.
Nice to see Jim again. He's currently unshaven but I was assured it's only a temporary alteration to his features; necessitated by a case, which was brought to a satisfactory conclusion only yesterday. His grey hair's a little whiter but the hazel eyes were sharp as he looked at me and, speaking in his acquired Scot's accent, he laid out some of the plans that had been formulated.
"Basically surveillance," he said and Del chipped in ...
" ... but if there's anything you can pick up on his associates, don't hesitate, Bill. We need information on anyone with whom he mixes."
That sounded reasonable.
"What's this?" I asked as Del handed me a slim foolscap folder containing several papers.
"Just some important extra information and instructions that had to be handed to you personally, Bill" he answered.
I resolved to go through them thoroughly before leaving the country because anything Del considers important, will be just that - 'important.'
We talked a bit longer, had a couple more drinks, and then without any further ado, the meeting was at an end. Del had grounded me on the limitations that protocol insists upon and added a few other guidelines whilst Jim had contributed extra items involving embassies and names of contacts that had been wired to him by Ronnie.
"Where's Dawson these days?"
"Amman ... but keep it under your hat, Bill. He was snooping around Uma's territory to gain some intelligence but it got a little hot for him there so he was instructed to move for the time being."
"He gets around. It was nice to meet up with him last overseas assignment."
"Yes, he's a useful chap and his language expertise holds him in good stead. Tends to make his own rules and because he produces good results when moving round the various countries in our orbit, we don't bother too much about procedures; just let him get on with it."
I thought back to the last major project and recalled meeting Ronnie at Southampton prior to leaving for Eastern Europe. Seemed ages ago although it was only a year or so. That mission ended up with us all there at the end - even Allie.
I led Del and Jim to the door and shook hands with them again.
"If you exchange notes with Ronnie, give him by regards," I ordered.
"We will old chap."
I walked out to the car with them, and the boys seeing us approaching, got out.
"Nothing happened, Bill," Philip assured us.
That's what it sounded like and we all received a shock, especially as we'd wanted the visit to be low-tone. Fortunately there aren't any houses nearby and no one could be seen walking past in the street but I resolved to have a word or two with that bird. Sometimes Kiki uses her talents in in the least appropriate circumstances. Jack apologised for the scare and followed Philip indoors with Kiki flying in front. Del and Jim chuckled like anything when they realised what had happened and with one last wave, Del started up his car and moved out into the street, headed for London.
Kiki was nowhere to be found when I went indoors but I made my concerns felt because I was in no mood for a headache. Jack apologised again for his pet's recent acquisition and whilst refilling my pipe I suggested he teach her the 'Moonlight Sonata' or some other melody that soothes the soul - in fact he could play Kiki some of Allie's records and sit the bird next to them.
"Good idea, Bill, I might try it."
I visualised Jack winding the gramophone and settling down for an afternoon of Kiki-training one afternoon. Allie came in and the girls stomped downstairs whereupon I was quizzed about the latest plans. I gave them a brief idea of what we'll be doing and when I told them a launch had been placed at our disposal there were shouts of delight. They're all good sailors and a boat trip is just the thing to clear away any last dregs of sickness. Allie said that she and the girls would sort through all our clothes again and pick out the kind of items a sailor might wear. The boys said they'd take care of their own because they know what they want and anyway, it'll give them something to occupy themselves with during the next few days.
"Summer stuff," Allie said. "Don't include those heavy jackets I bought you last year."
"We're going to a hot country then," quizzed the ever vigilant Jack with an enquiring look at me, but I wasn't telling them too much at present. Let them store any surprises up. There was a lot of excited chatter as the kids exchanged ideas about where we might end up. Kiki can't stay quiet for long and shortly there was a search for her because she'd hidden herself somewhere and had only came to mind when she interrupted the general discussion with a distant but loud hiccup.
Incredible how the time goes. Couldn't believe Allie when she said it was 23:40 but I suppose the briefing had taken longer than any of us thought. The kids were sent up to bed and although their high spirits told us the 'flu has possibly flown, I think they welcomed the thought of a good night's sleep once again seeing sickness after-effects don't cease all that immediately.
Oct. 9th (Tuesday)
We all slept in and when no one brought us in any breakfast, Allie descended to the kitchen and rustled up an early morning tea. We weren't all that hungry and the kids who'd finally tumbled out of bed, were looking forward to some more packing. It didn't take all that long because the important things had already been found so it wasn't a 'Frantic Packing Day' as such. Practically finished by 14:00 and then the girls got into a boring frame of mind (from the males' point of view) and decided to finish off some frocks they were making in order to look appealing to the inhabitants of any land we might visit. Out came the sewing cases and scissors and soon the floor of the sitting room was covered with patterns and material with Allie, Dinah and Lucy-Ann kneeling beside their individual lengths of colourful cloth, cutting very carefully alongside the paper patterns that had been pinned to them.
We boys looked on with 'disgust' and decided to leave them to it ; said we'd be home round suppertime seeing Allie and I had a date.
"Drive carefully, dear."
"I'm an ex police driver in case you've forgotten," and after dutifully kissing her cheek, I patted the girls' heads and joined the boys who had collected their racquets. Out to the garage and off towards Winchester Street just outside Whitchurch and in a couple of hours we'd separated the men from the boys but the boys, admittedly, got a surprisingly high score. I'd wanted to give them some vigorous exercise so they'd sleep really well and throw off the last vestiges of 'flu. Would like to have taken the girls as well but perhaps their dress-making interest would make them forget they'd ever been sick; they always seem so contented when the last stitch is sewn onto their creations. I beat Jack, Jack beat Philip, and Philip tied with Jack on a replay. Took them both on and got slaughtered but managed to get the extra points needed when we changed ends. Feeling peckish, we called into a teashop on the way home and ended up in a little courtyard at the back sipping lemonade. I watched the boys attacking a good selection of éclairs and macaroons ... I had two, and only two, although I could have done with another couple but adult wisdom said "No!"
"You'll spoil your tea," I told them but they couldn't care less.
"Don't mind, said Jack. We'll eat piles on our trip to make up for it. For the tenth time, where are we going Bill?"
'You like surprises, don't you," I asked. "All I'll say is that you've never been there before."
"Great," Philip announced. "Iceland? Never been there. Russia? Lebanon?"
He was a bit close for comfort there, not that it really mattered but I'd been told by Matt to take things slowly. The kids would find out where we were bound in their own good time. Philip charmed a cat that had been sitting on the wall and when I say 'charmed' I mean just that. The proprietress who reminded me of a picture featuring Old Mother Hubbard that I'd seen in one of Lucy-Ann's childhood books, noticed her pet rubbing itself up against the boy's legs and expressed great surprise.
"Taffy NEVER takes to persons she doesn't know," the woman remarked and I told her that Philip was a 'stranger' to no animal. She joined us and watched as the boy stroked her precious cat and allowed the animal to jump onto his lap so that it could purr away like a buzz saw. The woman was quite flabbergasted and called her daughter out to watch the phenomenon. The daughter who looked about fifteen was also astonished.
"Mum's cat hasn't ever acted like that with a stranger," she informed us.
'She ain't seen nothing yet' I thought, noticing a squirrel leaping from a tree on to the high wooden fence near where Philip was sitting. It suddenly launched itself into the air and landed on the boy's shoulder giving him a start. The women's faces were a picture as they looked open-mouthed at the spectacle of Philip caressing a bundle of fur on his shoulder, whilst at the same time fondling the cat resting on his lap. Unfortunately the species didn't mix. Either that, or the cat wanted Philip all to herself because she suddenly reared up showing her claws to the interfering rodent that immediately made a bound for the fence, although it stayed there looking across expectantly at the new found idol.
The cat wouldn't let either Jack or myself touch her and when we stood up to leave, the daughter picked it up and giving Philip an admiring glance, went back into the dairy to serve a customer. After the proprietress had wished us 'Goodbye' and told us to come again, we went back to the car. The boys opened chocolate bars as we sped back down the road playing some silly question/answer game that Jack had thought up.
Three gorgeous girls greeted us upon our entering the house so we had to admit their afternoon's work had not been in vain. I grabbed Allie for a dance seeing the gramophone was playing our song.
"Fat chance!" said Lucy-Ann coyly as Philip knelt and requested one also.
She disappeared into the kitchen with Dinah. The boys still had their appetites but only Philip asked for a second helping of steak and kidney pudding at teatime. There were a few more holiday preparations made before bed - in fact 'getting ready for a vacation can be just as exciting as the holiday itself' - those are Lucy-Ann's words, not mine.
Tonight was our only opportunity to see Allie's musical friend so just before 8 p.m. we were duly ensconced at the Haymarket Theatre which, according to Allie, used to be the old Grand Exchange Cinema until renovated a short time ago. My darling wife had made a striking picture when she emerged from her boudoir this evening and when we arrived at the theatre more than a few heads had turned. I felt proud to be with her. The new availability of fabrics after our country's period of rationing has permitted Allie to acquire a Christian Dior outfit and after seeing it, Dinah has requested a duplicate; in fact it was more a 'demand' rather than a request.
"For your birthday maybe."
Allie is into the 'Like Mother Like Daughter' vogue that seems to have caught on so Dinah will probably receive the desired article.
There's a nice 'feel' to the theatre and tonight it was well patronised partly due to a healthy number of Basingstoke Choral Society supporters whose name was also included on the programme. We were treated to an excellent performance and surprisingly, it didn't sag at all. The players were obviously well rehearsed and we all joined in with some of the refrains. I've attended few shows of such quality partly because I attend few full stop, but a mental note was made there and then to accompany Allie more often when she indulges. Her eyes were bright as she turned to me during loud applause at the performance's end.
We got up and joined the crowd filing through into the foyer where a man from the society who knew Allie, beckoned to us.
"I rang this afternoon," Allie told me.
We were led down a passage and round into a small alcove at the back of the stage. Stagehands were hurrying to and fro and we could hear classical music strains emitting from speakers situated round and about. Ken, the man himself, emerged from a door and welcomed us both as old friends. He seemed a little taller and a trifle broader but I recognised him all right. He recognized me too and shook my extended hand.
"Bill, Allie, nice to see you both he said in his clipped Scottish accent. Excuse the appearance; I'm in the middle of changing for a party. If I kept every invitation received I'd never get any sleep but this one is a close friend's 30th so I have to pull out all stops. How are you both keeping?"
Ken still has his easy-going and gracious manner but there's also a more confident air about him that was a contrast to when we'd first met so I guess that comes with his recent successes. He and Allie chatted for five minutes with few interruptions from me because it was entertaining just listening to their conversation, which contained many snippets of show business info (mainly from Ken) that journalists would love to have printed.
Five minutes was the time allotted and with many encouraging remarks for his future success, we bid goodbye after another handshake, and an aide showed us out of the side door that led into a back alley. Show business people always seem to be Jolly Nice Chaps and Ken was no exception. Allie snuggled up to me as we made our way along the dark streets lit up by the odd lamppost.
"Glad you went?"
"One of the most enjoyable experiences I've had for ages, and there've been quite a few, especially those when we've gone together," I replied. "We'll have to take the kids to see Ken one of these days."
"If they weren't recuperating we could have taken them this evening," Allie said. "But I suspect they all wanted an early night.'"
We got into the car and as we drove home the forty or so minutes was passed with an in depth discussion of the show then as we neared Overton the talk became plain stupid as we vied with each other to make the wittiest remark. Found myself wishing the trip had been longer because neither of us was running out of material. Laughed our way into the drive and noticing the house was dark except for a light in the hallway, we made out way round the back and into the kitchen where Allie rustled up some tea and biscuits while I went to check our list of arrangements that had been placed on the study desk. (00:10)
Last minute packing. Four feisty children and one parrot shooting round all over the place searching out forgotten items. Dinah much in demand because she did the last wash and was called upon to retrieve lost pieces of clothing from the airing cupboard or drawers where someone's jumper or cardigan had been wrongly placed. Warned Jack that if Allie or I heard Kiki's police whistle once more, he and his pet would be banished from the house.
"Good! You can finish my packing for me," was Jack's bright answer.
Cheek I call it but we heard no more 'pheeeeeeeeeeee's' ... just a plethora of 'Hubbubs.' Hubbub is one of Kiki's newest words, which she may have gotten from me so if she starts yelling that all over the place I may have to blame myself! Didn't bother about morning tea. The girls supplied us with a scrappy but delicious lunch and any last minute packing was all done by 17:00. Allie, with her miraculous efficiency, saw to that while I spent time on the telephone with Del and one or two other department heads who had further snippets of useful information to impart. Fortunately we've managed to get Emily's services. She's more-or-less retired but this loyal supporter of the Cunningham family told us she'll keep an eye on the house, in fact she seemed glad we're keeping in contact. She only does one other house these days and that's for a close friend, but we'll be fitted in all right.
All of us except Allie retired to our bedrooms to see if we could get a little shuteye before the imminent journey and I managed a light nap for at least an hour and a half. Allie had continued with checking our things in her efficient way but I found her beside when I woke suddenly. The kids had managed a couple of hours sleep each and now it was time to go. After getting everything together it was a little past midnight when the house was closed up after being checked over by the boys and myself. Everyone piled into the car with the kids looking a little squashed in the back amongst a few items of luggage that couldn't fit into the boot, but no one complained. Allie took a bag into the front and then, moving out into the road, confident that all points had been taken care of, I headed the car south.
Lively trip, but how could it have been otherwise with those four in the back? Allie and I listened to the children chattering incessantly all the way whilst we fielded the odd question about our destination. We could have told them but thought it might make for a surprise when they found themselves in strange surroundings. One clue had suggested we were probably going to warmer climes seeing the instructions had been to pack their summer clothing. Bypassed Winchester and reaching Eastleigh round 01:30, the kids and Allie were dropped off at the terminal while I took the car to a secure area before joining them. Pulling a luggage trolley we made our way to the airport terminal where the kids demanded sweets to suck on the trip. I gave Jack a ten-shilling note and they went over to the kiosk after being told I'd like some change put back into my hand. By 02.10 we had boarded the plane with all necessary documents and were seated together about halfway down the aisle. I can't recall one moment when the kids were quiet but it was good to hear because it meant none of them were feeling dull and listless which would have been the case if any 'flu germs had still been lurking about their persons.
Engines started up and heads turned to peer out of windows at the lit-up airport grounds. Moving slowly, the plane rolled out into a comparatively darker area with just the odd light here and there that shone down in patches. Reaching the runway end, we turned and then a voice sounded over the intercom asking everyone to check they were all belted up.
A roaring sound sprang up and the plane lurched forward so rapidly, the children fell silent. Through the portholes we watched airport buildings zip by. The terminal appeared briefly and then we sped on for another few seconds before the familiar lightness that informed we earthbound mortals our aircraft was aloft. Rising rapidly above the lights of Southampton we could see other centres visible as clusters of illumination and moving still higher, the lights of more distantly placed towns and villages came into view together with those of cars moving steadily along the roads. A flash of lighting glimpsed on the horizon upset a couple of nearby passengers and I, as one who's in the club, was about to reassure them with a little information gained from my own flying experiences, when a hostess who was sitting nearby got to them before me. The elderly ladies calmed down and our hostess began her flight duties. Rather wished I were up in the cockpit and thought belatedly I could have arranged to call in on the pilots; if I'd contacted the flight club I could easily have gained permission. I might even know the pilots but the other side of it is that I was on a mission and the fewer people who knew of my presence, the better. Anyway, if some passengers were selected to visit the cockpit it'd probably be the kids, although that custom tends to tie in more with day flights.
Kiki was sitting on Jack's shoulder and acting in an exemplary manner. We'd brought her in a container as cabin luggage but after a chat with the steward he said we could take her out if no one objected. No one had and, she'd rewarded them all with a string of parrot phrases intermingled with English that impressed all those who could hear and observe the bird. A young, fairly studious looking man who'd apparently studied ornithology for a year at university was sitting behind Jack and they struck up a conversation. Lucy-Ann had insisted on sitting next to her brother and Jack, being a gentleman, had let her although I think he would have preferred being next to Philip. Philip was in front with me so they could still talk, and Allie was across the aisle with Dinah. Dinah's not as conversation-oriented as Lucy-Ann and I think she enjoyed just looking out of the window to take in whatever could be spotted. The kids still weren't aware of our exact destination but they didn't really mind as it was a challenge for them to keep guessing, although I'm sure they must have gathered in a few ideas seeing people discussing such things amongst themselves can be overheard. The only mention I'd made of the flight was that it's a bit of a one-off due to the number of passengers attached to an archeological organisation who'd specified a seldom-taken route. Perhaps they want an aerial view of some diggings when dawn arrives. Couldn't care less.
When seatbelt removal was given the 'all clear,' four kids had to familiarise themselves with various parts of the cabin. They peered out of a rear window where the seats were empty, hobnobbed in the aisle, visited the washroom, and did whatever else airline passengers do. After a light but tasty snack served to us by the airhostess our seats were let down and we settled in for the 'thrill' of resting several hundred feet up in the night sky. The children had experienced it before of course but one or two neophyte passengers had to be assisted with the technique of adjusting levers and lowering themselves into comfortable positions.
The plane droned relentlessly on over a dark ocean as the kids fell asleep. Allie read some more of her book by the light of a tiny bulb on the seat in front of her before settling down with only a blown kiss - there are disadvantages that come with sleeping in an aeroplane. Allie handed me her book before snuggling in and I read the title - 'Catcher in the Rye.' I'd heard of it but wasn't versed in the novel however there's a distinct adolescent theme about it so maybe my good wife is getting herself ready for the children's slightly later years. We should have no worries ... I trust them all implicitly but must admit it'll be interesting to see what the next few years will bring. One thing that definitely stands out is their ability to cater for unexpected circumstances. They can look after themselves all right, even Lucy-Ann, despite her outward shyness. (03.37)
We dozed more than slept for the darkened hour or so aloft and were surprised upon awakening to be served a very English breakfast round 05:00. We'd been expecting the Continental version. Allie was looking good and the children all seemed fine although Dinah complained of a sore back. Kiki was sitting on the back of Jack's chair nibbling at a large nut supplied either by her master or one of the stewards. Every now and again she'd exclaim "Caw."
We all relaxed and enjoyed looking down on the world. The kids were trying to spot the odd ship far down below as dawn began to light up the seascape. No incidents other than Kiki suddenly taking off and flying to the other end of the cabin. The boys went after her and returning with the errant bird, Jack said that Kiki had been drawn to a little man sitting up front who looked a bit like a bird himself - sort of sparrow features. He told the boys that he was an ex circus performer who used to have a bird act and upon seeing Kiki he'd made an almost silent call to her which it appears she couldn't resist. Jack's pet suitably impressed the man so the boys returned to visit him and Jack indulged in a stimulating conversation with their new friend - one that Philip reported as being a little over his head, but then he's no ornithologist. Wonder what the man would have thought of Philip's own particular powers over animals ... I can well remember the puffins he cast his spell over a few years ago.
Two more hours took us to our destination and the children looked down with interest at the parched land that had suddenly appeared beneath us.
"We're in the East," Jack announced with a knowing air although it was fairly obvious, and the other passengers would have known where they were bound anyway. The children didn't (officially) but the secret was now about to be exposed.
The aircraft lurched suddenly and started circling as it slowly descended. We caught a brief glimpse of high barren hills faraway in the distance and then felt the thud of wheels that rushed us along the tarmac of a lonely looking aerodrome. The children looked out and saw a gaggle of Arab workers trundling a rusty looking ramp out to assist our exit. Others were manouvering a set of steps towards the pilots' cabin. Gathering our stuff together we joined the exodus of passengers with plenty of exclamations emanating from the younger set.
Lucy-Ann eyes went from the sign to look questioningly at Allie and myself as we moved with the other passengers towards a dingy looking terminal - at least it 'looked' like a terminal but, as it was connected to red brick buildings that might have been company offices, it was hard to discern.
"Yes, Şanlıurfa it is but we're not staying here," I told her as a man approached, dressed appropriately in a uniform that resembled chauffeur's attire. He spoke to me directly.
"Selamlar ... Greetings beyefendi, I here ... take you."
The man had an olive complexion with plenty of wrinkles, the hint of a moustache and he wore a peaked cap that was a bit large for him but overall he looked presentable and seemed to know who we were. Once we'd gone through the rudimentary formalities, he led us to a large black car that was parked over by another building. The kids and even Allie were a little overawed at being dropped into such a remote environment but the children recovered first seeing they were fairly old hands at being dumped into strange places. Allie squeezed my hand and said she didn't know any Arabic whatsoever but I told her we needn't worry because there's always someone around who can speak English. We got into the car and the driver whose name was Muhammad started the engine and drove rather slowly along an unsealed road leading from the aerodrome and after passing a rustic building with pointed arches above its barred windows and a minaret sticking up into the sky, we headed for the wide open spaces. Soon the car approached a border and our driver slowed down to take us through a customs check before speeding up once again during which time the kids made some more educated guesses amongst themselves as to our exact location. We raced past dusty verges, stunted trees, long low walls, and the odd shack where inhabitants could be spotted as we tore by.
A very bumpy trip was experienced by all and Lucy-Ann became carsick. Fortunately (or unfortunately) we broke down twice so she was able to get out and sit at the roadside whilst Muhammad took off his coat and fiddled round in the motor to effect repairs. He'd missed his calling; should have been a mechanic because he took no longer than a few minutes to get us going again. I clapped him on the back.
"Good work, Muhammad Good work!"
The chap smiled all over his face at such praise from an Englishman. Through woods and desert we travelled and generally the landscape looked quite picturesque insofar as it was so different to that with which we are familiar. Allie played a few word games with the girls to pass the time and sometimes they became quite loud as they accused each other of not keeping to the rules. Jack got Muhammad to stop the car a couple of times so that he could take some photographs; he's particularly interested in obtaining pictures of rare or threatened species. Years ago when first meeting the kids I remember him swearing to God that an auk had appeared in the sky. A 'Great' auk ... the bird's so rare that it's actually extinct but he'd been adamant. My bird knowledge is reasonable and I was inclined to disbelieve the boy's claim although one must confess to being a little doubtful after finding out just how authoritative the boy is when it comes to the avian species.
This time the feathered creature that had attracted his interest was what he described as a 'Desert Finch.' Not rare he told us, but worth photographing so we waited patiently for him to point his camera at various spots where a flicker of feathers could be spotted - if one looked hard. At least the few halts gave us a chance to get out and stretch ourselves. Allie and I managed to hold a few words of conversation with our driver and I was surprised to find that he knows Ronnie. Apparently they'd met when Ronnie was over here and required transport.
"Small world, Allie!"
She nodded as we climbed back in and set off again. Muhammad drove us into a settlement of sorts that sported green patches with stunted trees scattered around and then he took us past what looked like fruit groves on the outskirts of Jarabulus where a collection of mainly white, small box-like huts came into view. So much dust was thrown up by the moving car that it was useless opening any windows, but we looked with much interest at our new surroundings. In the distance could be seen a ridge with what looked like citadels on top and as we approached a more dense section of the village, a few taller buildings could be seen. Sections of uncultivated land with bushes and yellow-topped flowers added to the view and I noticed we were making good time (I thought) because it was 11:50.
"For shame, for shame."
I berated Dinah good-naturedly and she went red. Before we'd left Southampton she'd taken on the responsibility of reminding us all to change our watches. When Dinah says she'll do something she never lets a person down but we decided she could be excused one little lapse what with all the excitement of our trip to an alien environment. I couldn't care less of course but the kids made up for that as kids do and Dinah had to weather some jeers, mainly from the boys who are always looking for kinks in anyone's armour. Fair enough because next time Jack or Philip makes a mistake, the assurance is they will be on the receiving end.
Watches were adjusted - at least Allie's, Dinah's and mine were. Philip's was in his luggage for some reason and so was Jack's. Lucy-Ann is watch-less at present but I'll remedy that so it was almost 14:00 when we pulled up into the courtyard of a hotel that looked as if it had been newly white-washed all over except for some projections on the roof that were wine-red. We received a very generous welcome, partly I think because we looked English and were possibly well off. The manager himself had emerged with several Arab looking males who wore rather dilapidated uniforms - one sported a peaked cap.
"Welcome to Barira's finest hotel," the manager said to us in broken English, bowing and introducing himself as Tariq. He was tall, fairly portly with thinning hair and the pronounced olive colouring of the native. He also wore glasses that afforded him a fairly educated appearance and he was wearing quite a stylish suit, light blue shirt and a blue patterned tie which gave him a fairly Western look that could have been deliberate in order to fit in more with visitors from our side of the world. I explained to Allie that the briefing had used several very old local names the department often adopted for their own convenience; the movers and shakers stated that things were simplified if shorter versions of titles can be used so, according to the office, this town of Jarabulus is labelled 'Barira.' Couldn't really understand the philosophy but who am I to question the routines of Britain's security forces?
"Who indeed?" repeated Allie nestling up against me looking about with interest at our new surroundings. Kiki had fallen silent as is her wont when entering strange places but it wasn't long before she was once more asserting herself and mystifying the locals that included a gaggle of scruffy looking children who hung round the portal looking at us before being yelled at by an attendant who emerged from a side room. Our luggage was taken into the hotel and we followed it upstairs where the rooms were located. The children's were next door to each other near the end of the landing with Allie's and mine across from them nearest the passage corner. Not a bad place considering where we were; besides us, two other Britishers were in house although they were just in the process of leaving; one looked the executive type, probably in the oil business. He was with his wife, and the other fellow from our home country who was following a porter downstairs, could have been anyone. A lot of money has probably been spent on the hotel to make it attractive to overseas tourists because the rooms are quite large and not only do they have washbasins but each has a shower. The kids explored their abodes thoroughly and everyone crowded into the space beside Jack's bed when a lizard was spotted running up the wall. Philip didn't have a chance to exercise his magical powers though because the reptile suddenly disappeared out of a nearby window.
Kiki received the thumbs-up from our hotel manager after he'd carefully vetted the strange resident; seems she's the first talking bird he's ever seen. After unpacking a few of our more needed items we sat for a while on the verandah and revelled in our surroundings. Everything seemed so different - the flowers clustered about us didn't seem to resemble any we'd seen before and the landscape was so alien. A waiter, whose mission was to spoil us foreigners no doubt, hovered in the background ready to fetch sweet drinks for the children or sherries for Allie and myself. The sun made a beeline for the distant hills and after our 'adventurers' had done a little exploring we all went inside and after dressing up for dinner, we walked sedately into the dining room to find we had it all to ourselves for the first twenty minutes. Spent just over an hour enjoying some food and wine before retiring for an early night. (21:35)