Updated: Apr 30, 2020
As Charlie sat down at his computer a couple of days after Anzac Day, in late April 2020, he realised that from this stage onwards he'd be telling his own story, rather than that of his parents, except that like most people he had absolutely no memories of his own of his very early years. He'd be depending, therefore, on photos, and a very brief précis from his father, for the barest outline of his first three or four years on the planet.
At the end of the last blog he'd just been born in Owerri, one day before his parents' first wedding anniversary, and had then returned with them to their house in Enugu, where he'd been baptised and Christened shortly before Christmas, with stand-ins acting as proxies for absent godparents. His father suggested that details of his life as an infant in Nigeria were unlikely to be of much interest to anyone 60 years later, but suffice to say they were happy ones.
At some stage in 1959 he had taken his first intercontinental flights (and was enrolled in the BOAC 'Junior Jet Club', the logbook for which was last sighted sometime in the '80s!), flying to the UK and back to be introduced to grandparents in both England and Scotland, apparently crawling up and down the aisle of the plane energetically for much of the journey in both directions (..this was way before bassinets were a thing!). Then in 1960 the Johnsons moved to Lagos, then the administrative centre of Nigeria, and Joe and Pam witnessed the country's Independence celebrations, just as they had Ghana's three years previously, although obviously without young Charlie in tow on that occasion.
When he figures out how to attach photos to this blog there are many happy ones of young Charlie and his parents on the beaches around Lagos, with buckets and spades to hand, to be posted, and it does indeed look to have been a very happy time. For his parents it was a much more social time than it had been up country and lifelong friendships were made during this period. Similarly, photos of the venerable old ship, the 'Accra', of the Elder-Dempster Shipping Line, on which the family sailed home from Lagos to Liverpool in 1961, at the end of Joe's second Nigerian 'tour' with Conch Oil, will also be made available too.
In addition to the three of them, two other family members also travelled on the ship.. the family dachshund, Copper, who, like Charlie, was Nigeria-born, and was the only canine to ever be a part of the Johnson family, and also Roselyn, a brand new Hillman car, who was apparently much cheaper to acquire in Africa and ship back to Blighty than it was to buy a new one in England.
Roselyn turned out to be the first of a number of cars to bear girls' names over the years, which was a habit that Charlie adopted when he eventually got to own motor vehicles of his own. In fact, Carmen, his little KIA Rio, was sitting out front of his house as he was typing these very words in the blog. (Incidentally, for the record, Pam's little Fiat Topolino back in Accra, acquired after passing her driving test there, had gone by the name of Henrietta, and Joe's car there, a Citroën, had a name too, so the car-naming trend had started early!).
Sadly not sailing on the ship were Godwin and Moses, the two trusted stewards who had helped raise the infant Charlie, who instead returned to their homes from Lagos after the family set sail, having moved there to continue working with them in 1960, after the move from Enugu. It is a sadness to Charlie that he has no recollection of either of them, although again a photo will hopefully be able to be posted on the blog of both of them, soon. Daalu!*
According to Joe, the ship docked at Liverpool on the May Day Public Holiday of 1961, five months short of Charlie's 3rd birthday, and his parents' 4th Wedding Anniversary. There are photos next of Charlie in Scottish scenery around Gourock, with his parents and his Scottish grand parents, and then in Sussex scenery with his parents and his English grand parents, at the vicarage in the rural parish they had moved to after many decades in Hastings. There were none that could be found, however, of the family's time after that, which was spent for a short while living in a Conch Oil-owned flat in the Greater London riverside suburb of Teddington, wedged between Twickenham, the home of English rugby, and Hampton Court, the one time home of King Henry VIII and one or two of his six wives.
It's at this stage of the narrative that the adult Charlie, writing this blog in Sydney in 2020, would like to point out that he is not an only child. He respects, however, his sibling's decision to not be in the narrative of the Charlie Johnson Chronicles during the course of his childhood, and will only say that her birth occurred at some stage during the 1960s. In the very popular and successful reality series 'The Osbournes', in the early '00s, viewers were let into the lives of Ozzy and Sharon, the parents, and Kelly and Jack, their children. What not many viewers knew at the time was that there was also a third child, Aimee, the eldest of the 3 siblings, but she declined to be a part of the show and thus was never mentioned in it ever.
Perhaps, like Bobby Ewing emerging from the shower in Season 8 of 'Dallas', his sister may emerge at a later stage in Charlie's story after both their childhoods have passed in the narrative. Charlie would certainly like to write about adult adventures shared together in Turkey, the Caribbean, the Far East, Australia and much else, but at least for the Sixties and the Seventies the narrative will continue without any reference to an expanded Johnson clan.
After the relatively short spell up in Greater London, a move to Mid Sussex occurred, and for the next two years Joe commuted up to the city, while Pam and young Charlie resided at a rented house down a country lane, not far from the commuter town of Haywards Heath. It is here that Charlie's very first memories come from, rather than from the photos, and his parents's stories, which are all he has ever known of his time in Nigeria. the memories of a 3 to 5 year old are clearly going to be pretty vague, but to 61 year old Charlie typing the blog in Sydney some six decades later, they came as a series of disconnected but clear images.
He remembered, for instance, being bitten on the palm of his hand by Copper, the feisty dachshund, when he'd tried to take his bone away from him. This canine correction was no doubt justified, but it did have the effect of putting Charlie off dogs for quite a few decades. The story behind the resulting scar, which had required stitches, has over the decades morphed in the telling of the story, rather like Harrison Ford's famous scar on his chin has.
Other memories include breaking his arm, after a tumble down the rockery in the front garden, and having it in a plaster and sling. It was also where he first met his only English great aunt and uncle, the wonderful Auntie Frida (his grandmother's sister) and her husband, Uncle Lewis, who seemed positively ancient, but who were wonderful company for Pam and Charlie during the day while Joe was in London, both living in a big rambling house nearby.
Charlie distinctly remembered sitting beside Aunt Frida as she peered over the steering wheel of her little sky blue Ford Anglia (like the Police car on 'Heartbeat'), with its inward sloping rear window, on shopping trips in to the town, and which was housed in an old shed near the house, which had wonderful oily mechanical smells, along with a variety of ancient gardening contraptions belonging to Uncle Lewis, which were probably as old as he was.
It was at this stage that Charlie's love of toy cars began, particularly British model toy cars manufactured by Dinky and Corgi (but not the little miniature Matchbox cars), which proved to be a very easy and welcome Birthday and Christmas present from both sets of grandparents throughout the 1960s. As an adult Charlie was told by Auntie Frida that Uncle Lewis, who was 20 years older than her, and who was well into his 80s at this stage, used to love playing "cars' with him, which were inevitably spread all over their sitting room floor.
Seemingly Charlie would issue the command "raise the barrier", and his queue of cars which had been waiting for the railway crossing barrier, which were Uncle Lewis's legs, to open after an imaginary train had gone past, with Lewis providing the 'choo choo' sound effects, after which Lewis would raise his legs and Charlie would ensure the traffic passed under the barrier, in both directions. Perhaps it's no wonder that at one stage after graduating from Uni, some 20 years later, he actually considered looking into traffic flow management as a career!
Being baby-sat by Frida and Lewis, in the form of a sleepover, which is when the trips in the Anglia into town used to occur, used to be the most tremendous fun, and Charlie was spoilt rotten, but in the best possible way. Frida's damson jam and home made scones, her tweed skirts and jaunty colourful berets, Uncle Lewis's 'shooting stick' (a walking stick with a built-in seat), and their magnificent old bathroom, with huge brass taps and a venerable old toilet which looked like a throne, with a wonderful wide old oak seat, are but some of the happy memories that came flooding back to Charlie in Sydney as he cast his mind back sixty years.
Charlie had attended a kindergarten called 'Mrs Bill's', although had no recollection of it, but one other thing that he could clearly recall of those Mid Sussex days was his first encounter with television. 'Watch with Mother', beamed in black & white on the BBC, round about midday, was essential viewing, watched, as the name would imply, with his patient mother!. 'Pinky and Perky', (who were two jovial singing pigs); 'Tales of the River Bank', featuring a variety of riverside-living creatures; and the nattily-dressed rag doll 'Andy Pandy' and his friend Teddy were amongst the creatures whose adventures Charlie and millions of other pre-schoolers around the country used to follow religiously.
However, it was 'Bill and Ben', the Flower Pot Men, and their friend Little Weed, who all lived together at the end of a garden, (but never let on to the humans, whose garden it was, that they could talk), who were Charlie's favourites. It would be about 20 years later, with the assistance of a bottle of ouzo, on a Greek Island, that Charlie would actually be paid to dress up, along with two of his co-workers at the time, to entertain a raucous group of British holiday makers, role-playing those three rôles, but that is a story for a much later blog!
So, that was life in Mid Sussex. In the summer of 1963 Joe was offered his final overseas posting by Conch Oil, once more in the tropics, but this time in a different continent. The Johnsons were off to the Far East. Malaysia had just become independent in September of 1963, and just after Charlie's 5th birthday the family took off, once more on BOAC, but this time on a Comet 4 jet, for initially two months in Kuala Lumpur, to be followed by 21 months in somewhere that both Joe and Pam had had to look very hard to locate on a map.
TO BE CONTINUED.
*'Daalu' means 'Thankyou' in the Igbo language used in the part of Nigeria where Charlie was born, and where Godwin and Moses hailed from.