Thursday, 17 September 2009

23 August 1942

Today 9 years ago Ineke and I became engaged.  Yesterday we were out from 2.15 to 4 pm.  Exercise started with a run round the exercise yard, this time in the South East triangle where we have not been for some weeks.  There was no compulsion to keep on running but I was rather bucked at finding myself able to carry on until the order was given to halt.  We must have covered 3 kilometers at a conservative estimate.  I should have died at the very thought of running such a distance 5 months ago.  My rib is still somewhat painful but my performance of yesterday I have proved to my own great satisfaction that there can have been  nothing seriously wrong.  After the run, we had 20 minutes fairly strenuous physical jerks and then one ball game.  Chatting with my neighbour, Mingail, yesterday evening, I was interested to learn that he has been actual eye witness of the far famed Indian Rope Trick, Mingail is a Jew and hails from Calcutta.  He saw the trick performed at a place, called Hardwa, in the United Provinces, where it takes place only once a year in connection with some Brahmans festival.  He was one of a crowd of some 5000 spectators and described how the fakir showed to the audience a length of rope about 6 or 7 feet in length and introduced the small boy who was to assist in the act.  After a lengthy discourse on what he was about to do a description of what they were to see, turning around as he spoke and gazing intently of the spectators who were grouped in a huge circle round the open space where he performed, the fakir handed the rope to the boy.  In response to an incantation, the rope straightened itself and became apparently rigid with one end resting on the ground.  To a running commentary on the boy’s action mingled with unintelligible incantations by the fakir, the boy climbed up the rope about a foot at a time until, on reaching the top, he vanished from sight while the rope became limp and fell to the ground.  The boy appeared some time later from among the spectators.  Mingail could give no explanation.  Religious books are being issued this morning and I have received ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, in Dutch, and which I can keep as long as I like.  This book in particular is for Protestants, Catholic get ‘The Catholic Church’, also in Dutch.  This is due to the efforts of the Indonesian prison director, who seems to be a very good man.

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On the occasion, I did not naturally, follow the example given by the Dutch people but waited for the fried eggs I had ordered.  When they were at last served I was rather handicapped by having no second plate on which to put my bread but made a satisfactory meal in spite of the difficulty.  We reached Batavia on 21 November 1926, a Sunday, and again I looked anxiously for  the H & C representative and again I looked in vain.  This time I had no qualms about going to the hotel and, with Hodson’s assistance, I was soon in the Hotel der Nederlanded in Batavia.  The port for Batavia is Tandjong Priok and the 10 kilometers road between the port and the city must be, I imagine, one of the finest in the world being macadamed, wide and perfectly straight over long stretches and bordered each side most of the way by the picturesque flamboyant trees which were then in full boom so that we seemed to be proceeding along an avenue of flaming torches.  Hodson left me while he went out to look out some of his pals from whom he could borrow some money.  He had given me a fairly broad hint as to his financial embarrassment but I was then too much of the canny Scot and too suspicious of everybody in this strange new world to offer assistance.  It was then, while Hodson was absent, that I perused one of his poetry books which he lent to me.  That evening I dined alone in the large dining room of the hotel, feeling desperately self conscious.  My condition was not improved on my observing that I was an object of amusement to the native waiters in my immediate vicinity.  I can hardly blame them in retrospect but at that time I was not in the mood to feel disinterested.  It was appreciatively warm that evening, as it usually is in Batavia, and I had as yet no clothes suitable for the tropical climate.  I wore a rather heavy thick pair of dark flannels and a lined tweed sports jacket which, with the heat, made me feel as if I was indulging in a Turkish bath at full pressure.  The perspiration was dripping off the lobes of my ears and the point of my nose into the soup and my hands were so wet that spoon, knife and fork kept turning and slipping out of my hands.  It was without exception the most uncomfortable meal of which I have ever partaken.  The next morning I presented myself at Harrisons and Crossfield’s office and, as before in Singapore, explanation and apologies were profuse as to the failure to have me met at the boat as had been arranged.  Mr Graham, one of the younger members of the staff, took charge of me and after showing me something of Batavia in a taxi, put me on the train for Bandung, with instructions to proceed to the Preanger Hotel there were a Mr Fenton, one  of the assistants on Langen Estate would be waiting for me.  All went well from then on.  I duly met Fenton, whom I liked at sight, and who, I am glad to say, is still one of my best friends.  We were to stay a day in Bandung for the purpose of giving me the opportunity of buying furniture, cooking utensils, crockery etc for my house on the Estate and in this matter Fenton was most helpful.  I should explain that one of the conditions of my contract was the allowance of 250 guilders for furnishing, with the condition that the articles purchased would remain the property of the company.  I had fully expected that I should have this full sum at my disposal and was therefore very much surprised when Fenton, rather embarrassedly, informed me that a bed costing 100 guilders, and a food cupboard of 25 guilders, had already been purchased for me on the Estate.  Fenton later admitted to me that this transaction, strictly unethical as it was, had been arranged between the manager and a then favourite assistant and was really nothing less than a barefaced swindle.  He could not, naturally, air his opinion then and I myself knew no better, although it did seem strange to me, especially the 100 guilders for a bed.

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Out from 2 to 4 pm.  A run of 6 times round the yard, physical jerks and two ball games.  Hot tea, without sugar, available as has been the case for the past few days.  A capital supper – stewed potatoes with gravy and sliced cucumber with a nice tender piece of meat.  Very tasty.  Exchanged ‘William Pitt’ yesterday with Mingail for ‘Bindle’ by Herbert Jenkins and the latter today for ‘Calico Jack’ by Horace W C Newtie, a story of the music halls of the Gay Nineties.

2 comments:

RedRedCompletelyRed said...

Wow, what a story! You have a lovely way with words, and I'll definitely come back to read more.

-Astrid

Pilland said...

Interesting indeed!
Best wishes from an Estonian living in Italy.