Friday, 9 October 2009

25 August 1942

The Tjitandu was a troublesome river during the rainy season, often causing serious floods in its lower reaches, where Langen was situated.  As protection for Langen and other neighbouring low lying Estates an earthen dyke had been thrown up along the south bank for a distance of 9 kilometers but even this precaution was on occasion not proof against the forces of the water and a break in the dyke would result, with serious consequences not only to the gardens  but imagealso to native kampongs and to the railway.   I had only been a week or so on Langen when such a break occurred but fortunately this took place near the east boundary and actual damage to garden was slight.  Much more serious was that in, I believe, the beginning of 1931 when the dyke gave way about the middle of our river boundary.  I was garden assistant on Straits of Java Division at that time and my young garden in the south east corner of the Estate was flooded to a depth of 4 feet of muddy water.  I had to go out with the gang of native labourers to secure the wooden bridges which spanned the big drains crossing the roads at intervals and I floundered up to my arm pits in water from 7 am till noon with snakes of all kinds, which had been driven out of the undergrowth by the encroaching water, swimming literally in dozens past my nose, sometimes uncomfortably close to that organ.  The instinct of self preservation was however too strong upon  them and they were not interested just in a mere man.  Later on, when I walked, or rather swam, along the southern boundary, which was marked off by a high hedge of lamtoro trees, these trees were simply festooned with snakes which had at last found something to hang on to.  On that memorable occasion my favourite dog, Lockie, a dachshund of somewhat doubtful parentage, accompanied me the whole time, swimming like the other which is the natural prey of his breed, with, an occasional helping hand under his chest from myself.  And as luck would have it, on that day he actually found an otter in one of the major drains and a terrible fight ensued in which poor Lockie was more under water than above it.  The other won, that is to say in as much as Lockie eventually decided that on this occasion discretion was the better part of valour and retired from the fight.  The houses on Langen were, for the most part, well and solidly built, high in the roof and with thick brick walls, a construction which ensured their being as cool as was possible under the circumstances.  The heat and humidity were indescribable and I do not exaggerate when I state that for 5 years my body was never dry.  The atmosphere lay on one like a heavy, damp, woolen blanket and it was very seldom, hemmed in as we were by high rubber trees, that we experienced the relief of a breeze.  My first house consisted of four apartments, dining room, sitting room, bedroom and a verandah open on two sides, except for a low balustrade, kitchen, store room, bathroom etc were outbuildings built in a  row and connected with the house itself by means of a roofed over passage which ran from the rear door of the dining room.  it was in this house that a thing, for which I have never been able to offer any natural explanation, occurred.  The servants leaving every evening after dinner, I was always alone in the house from about 8 pm till 5.30 next morning when  my ‘boy’ roused me by knocking on the window of the bedroom.  Last thing at night before going to bed I used to check up on all doors and window fastenings.  One morning, on emerging from the bedroom into the dining room to open the rear door for my ‘boy’, I was amazed to find one of the four chairs placed round the dining table lying flat on its back on the floor, just as if it had been placed carefully in that position.  I well swear that the chair was in normal upright position when I went to bed the night before and that nobody could have entered the house during the night.  Also, I had not been disturbed by any noise.  I should add that the chair as quite intact when examined.  So, what is the explanation?  I was puzzled then and still am.  Servants were soon engaged for me, a house boy, a cook and a garden boy.  My boy was an elderly Javanese named Resodikromo, or Reso for short, and he served me faithfully for my 5 years on Langen.  Cooks and garden boys were more like a procession during that period.  Some cooks were bad, others not so bad, sometimes Soendanese, sometimes Javanese.  How they ever managed to turn out anything eatable at all from the very primitive kitchen and appurtenances thereof is a mystery.  Along half of one wall of the kitchen ran a sort of tunnel of brickwork about 10 inches square, open at one end communicating with a chimney at the other, and with three or four circular openings in the roof of the tunnel on which pots and pans could be set.  Billets of wood were inserted at the open end and, when set alight, the flame was drawn by the draft along the tunnel. The circular hole nearest the the mouth gave, of course, the greatest heat and each successive hole a lesser degree so that cooking in all its stages could be dealt with.  Primitive indeed but immensely practical.  Holes not in use at any time were simply covered with a piece of tin cut to fit the apertures.  There was of course no lack of firewood as diseased trees in the gardens were being continually uprooted and firewood, in the terms of my contract, was free, like the house and garden boy for whose wages an allowance of 12 guilders per month was granted.  We usually paid 8 guilders and so were 4 guilders to the good in that respect.


Out today from 2.40 to 4.30 pm. Run round, ball game and jerks.  This morning got 2 Davros cigarettes from a jay sentry.  Gave one to Mingail, my neighbour, whose birthday it is today, his 33 rd.  The Director personally brought to him a photo of his baby girl, aged 2, but apparently nothing else was, allowed in.  In connection with the cigarettes I got this morning, my neighbours ascribe this to my usual luck.  I protest that it is not so much luck as merely adhering to the maxim that if you don’t ask for a thing it is practically 100% certain that you will get nothing, whereas if you do ask, there is a fifty fifty chance of your getting something, even though it may by only a kick in the pants.

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