One of the greatest delights about being part of an armed forces family was the fact that you got to move on a regular basis. This meant that there were always new homes to explore as well as lots of new people to make friends with.
The houses ranged from typical forces housing on a base to more unusual locations which included everything from a gamekeeper’s cottage, to a house tucked away in a forest setting in France.
And of course it meant that we had to learn to mix with people from all backgrounds and cultures because they were the ones we were going to be playing with. Quite honestly I cannot think of a better way to broaden your horizons and learn what is now known as “multiculturalism” but back then was known as making new friends and acquaintances.
One of the more interesting houses, set in the grounds of a small estate, was built in the middle of the 19th century and was an absolute delight. Apart from being somewhat higgledy piggledy it had a wonderful huge fireplace and, even better, a secret staircase!
Naturally this led to one or two escapades but the main thing was that we could sneak downstairs into the kitchen and grab a midnight (well nine o’clock) snack without disturbing our parents in the sitting room.
It opened up through a door off the main staircase and rather conveniently ended up in the wardrobe of what was my sister’s bedroom. Naturally we made as much use of this as possible and although I am sure our parents knew where we were for the majority of the time it somehow seemed to us as if we had a secret world of our own.
In fact almost every house had a tale or two to tell. The ranch style bungalow in Pakistan even had us sleeping on the roof during one particularly hot summer spell. The whole day was spent with servants dismantling beds and carrying them up to the roof via ladders and make shift pulleys. Eventually everyone’s bed was up in place and suitable netting to keep off the mosquitos had been rigged.
I can’t remember how many nights we were up there, but I do recall that it all came to an end after there was an earthquake in the middle of the night and some of the beds skittered across to the small parapet at the edge of the roof. At that point our mother declared that the roof was out of bounds – particularly for sleeping purposes.
Rather less adventurous but still highly entertaining was the occasion when my younger brother aged about four decided to flush a toilet bag down the lavatory in the block of flats we had moved into in Paris. It was the summer of 1966 and the Football World Cup finals were taking place in Britain.
Unfortunately, we were a few hundred miles away in France, just outside Paris, but World Cup fever had gripped everyone anyway. Whilst the rest of us were happily cheering on the football my brother and his chief accomplice, Kim, were engaged in testing the power of the French sewage system.
Half a day later, the toilets all started backing up and people decided that enough was enough and so the maintenance staff for the apartment block were hauled away from their televisions and sent out to fix things.
It was a good couple of hours later when there was a furious knocking at our door and a pair of irate French workers demanded to see the Master of the House. My mother informed them that SHE was that person and what was their problem. Had they come to apologise for French plumbing inadequacies?
“Non!” came the firm reply. “We are looking for ze bad person!”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“Ze person who ‘as blocked all ze drains for ze whole apartment block leeves here!”
“Nonsense, that’s impossible. I think you are wrong!” my mother snapped. “Please just fix the drains and let us have proper plumbing back!
The Frenchman narrowed his eyes: “But we ‘ave found ze bad man, and he leeves here!” With a flourish he produced a toilet bag with a name tag on it, and it was indeed ours.
“Tim!” bellowed my mother. “Tim, come here right now!”
Naturally there was not a sign of movement anywhere and so the hunt began for the likely arch criminal and vandal. Sure enough Tim and his henchman (well Hench dog) were found trying to hide in the bathroom and were dragged out to meet their accusers.
The two plumbers/maintenance men stared at the culprits, turned to each other and shrugged.
“We go now, but nevair again is zees to ‘appen!”
My mother agreed wholeheartedly and thanked them profusely for their understanding. But what else could they have done when faced with a four year old and a shame faced boxer dog who clearly knew they were in deep doodoo.
No doubt the plumbers put in a monstrous bill for overtime but at least they didn’t have to watch the English beat Germany in the World Cup final that year! After all France had come bottom in their group and not even got out of the first round. So there was nothing for them to cheer at all.
As for Tim and Kim – the demon destroyers of the plumbing system – they went on to create havoc elsewhere and we moved out of the apartment block not long after anyway! Our next house was right by a royal forest and was the scene of yet more fun and games, but that is for another time!