Chapter 10
Making music

10.1 Sunday services

Elsewhere, I tell of our entertainment of and by European Government folk stationed in Ilesha and also within reasonable distance of our small mission house in the Northern work. I also tell of the effect of Nativity plays on the chiefs and people as well as the spiritual lift experienced by our white guests as they attended such plays and our very simple church services.

Dr Hunter had organised a Sunday evening English Service for hospital staff. When I came, in discussion we agreed to widen this to include outsiders. The clamour to improve their English led many teachers to join in this service and , when the Ilesha Grammar School got under way, we decided to transfer to our big town church for, many boys wanted to attend. They saw it as an extra free class to hear English spoken as it should be. When the Hospital got its new electric light plant, we transferred the old one to Otapete, the town church, and brightly lit services increased the numbers. My hopes to raise the tone and indeed the purpose of the congregation from that of improving English to hearing the Gospel preached, began to be realised. I was disappointed that very few of the Europeans, other than missionaries, seemed anxious to attend. But, during the war, when the RAF had a camp twenty miles away, the CO put on a liberty van and many soldiers came regularly. So it became the desired opportunity for Evangelism and not only the troops enjoyed and benefited.

10.2 Making a wooden leg

The Headmaster of the biggest school in Esa-oke was a man named Lawanson, a kindly, progressive teacher, who served his church and town well. He did his best to urge Joyce to add Esa-oke to the town and villages where we were planning to station nurses and run small dispensaries. He had been tremendously impressed with the success at Imesi-ile. Years later, we were able to send an Esa-oke girl for training as a midwife and she did return to Esa-oke and Lawanson’s dream became fact, but that was much later than this story.

One night there was a bad lorry crash and several badly injured men were carried into the hospital. One had a badly scarred and swollen face. It took some time before Joyce recognised him as Lawanson, the headmaster. The leg injuries of his companion, Gabriel were very serious and it was obvious that the only answer was amputation. Poor Gabriel suffered not only the pain, but even more the shame of having to face life with only one leg. Probably most Africans in such circumstances would prefer, and indeed would pray that they could die. But Gabriel lived and, in time the stump healed over. With crutches he persevered, but suffered silently. Now, there was just no place in Nigeria, certainly not before World War II, where we could send him to have an artificial leg fitted. Anything we could do for Gabriel must be done in our own house.

From a length of iroko, which is a hard wood and can resist the onslaught of white ants seeking after softer wood which they may devour, our circuit carpenter under frequent supervision such as I could give, fashioned a calf and ankle. Then we made a piece, as nearly like a human foot as we could get and, by mortise and tenon, joined the foot to the ankle and leg. We decided that at that stage we would not attempt any hinging to give greater movement so we fixed the foot at a right angle. Next came the big task of connecting our handiwork to Gabriel’s stump. Again, under close supervision, a blacksmith undertook something new and formed a bucket, which would fit up on the stump. With padding and bandages we fitted it until Gabriel said it did not hurt. It was not difficult to lace the bucket top to a belt round Gabriel’s waist. It worked, and Gabriel soon learned how to walk once more. With a shoe and a sock, attached to the wooden leg with tacks, a pair of long trousers made the legs match and, with a great smile, Gabriel faced life once more.

To out utter astonishment, Gabriel went missing one day. Secretly, he was determined to walk the twelve miles to his home at Esa-oke. He did, and no pain or discomfort could mask his smile of triumph. Gabriel never returned to Ilesha again. Soon after his long walk home, he was stricken by small-pox. He did not last long before joining up with another Gabriel, a musician in the Church Triumphant.

10.3 The baby Austin

It was sometimes difficult for us to arrange our timetables. We both needed transport at the same time, but in opposite directions. When the opportunity arose Joyce took it. The Agriculture Officer in Ilesha was due to go on leave. His wife and he had lovingly cared for their Austin Seven with its folding canvas roof. We decided to buy the car. The price of 26 pounds was agreed, and Joyce became the proud owner of the second car. The sense of independence this gave was of considerable relief in her timetable and mine.

The Baby Austin was the cause of much amusement to the Africans. It was given two names. One, ‘Ehoro’ was complimentary for it means ‘A Hare’. It did dart into passages between houses hitherto unavailable by any other travel aid bigger than a bike. The alternative name, favoured by the more humorous and perhaps younger element was, ’Pungalo’, which means a little empty, can. It really was not all that noisy and, in any case it did have a horn to give warning of danger in the vicinity. Anyhow, we let the funny people enjoy their comments and went on using the little car for years. This saga is not divided into chapters in chronological order but includes feats of interest during a remarkable life-span.

One of the advantages was that it ran on practically no petrol. The tank held four gallons and when Joyce enquired if it needed more petrol, I would happily answer that I had put in a tankful last month. It is perhaps the wrong place to insert this act of generosity, but talking of petrol reminds me of the time we went on leave and offered Dr Crosby one of the hospital doctors, the use of the Baby Austin for off duty runs. When we returned to Nigeria we were sorry to hear that he had not used the car at all. We had forgotten to tell him something very important. He had tried to start the engine but couldn’t. He consulted a handy man with lorries, but even though he was proud of his mechanical triumphs, he failed to get the little car to show any sign of response. They examined the petrol situation, the tank was nearly full. They got boys to push it, the plugs were sparking, but nothing else happened. The simple reason was that they did not know we had to turn on the petrol by means of a push-pull cock right under the tank. We regretted that he had not been able to use the car. We also regretted our silly omission to tell him about the tap.

Things sometimes went wrong for us also. I am no engineer and probably give the wrong names in the following:- I once called in the man who was handy with lorries, to tighten the bolt holding the manifold cover. He undertook to drill and tap so as to increase the hold of the bolt. He did drill and tap and made it tight, but water leaked into the cylinder head because he had drilled too deeply. The result was circulation of oil mixed with water. We tried solder, Hallite and other possible remedies, all to no avail. One day I had a brain wave. Removing the bolt, I plugged the tiny hole with a very small piece of a matchstick and tightened up the bolt again. The water swelled the matchstick plug, the movement of the oil inside polished the end and, in time, carbon covered the lot. We travelled thousands of miles on that match.

Apart from the advantage of being able to dart up narrow passages, we were able to go where larger vehicles could not fit between forest trees, or in the North, over flat country with no roads, provided the elephant grass was not too high. Joyce adapted her medical loads, enabling her to carry Stephen, plus the supplies most often used in her clinics. We were guilty of overloading, but it always got there until one day, when an ostrich sat on the radiator.

It happened that Stephen and I were both there. I was driving, with Joyce by my side. We drove over many miles of country where a big bush fire had recently consumed the elephant grass. In one of the larger villages we called and helped a number of sick people. The chief showed his gratitude by presenting Joyce with a turkey. She tried parking the bird in the small floor area of the passenger seat, but the turkey took strong exception to this indignity and tried to nip her legs. Finally she announced that she would drive and I could see for myself what it is like to cope with a rebellious turkey. We changed places and, admittedly, I enjoyed less being driven with my hands grasping a turkey rather than the steering wheel. We approached an area where the bush fires had not done their work. Joyce drove along the narrow trail with the elephant grass rising like a cliff to eight or ten feet on either side. Suddenly there emerged from the grass a flock of ostriches. They covered the narrow trail completely and, not that it was necessary because of the rattles and noises of the Baby Austin, Joyce pressed on the horn. All but one ostrich disappeared into the high grass but that one, perhaps with a hearing problem, strode on stolidly before us. Horn blowing had no effect whatsoever. To demonstrate her intention of passing out, Joyce increased her speed, but the ostrich didn’t. Suddenly the ostrich stopped, but she couldn’t. He sat firmly on the radiator with a great flop, but only momentarily. The ostrich was gone into the bush and only dust and feathers filled the air. We never saw that ostrich again, but I could have recognised him without difficulty; the radiator was almost red hot.

Another of the funniest and happiest remembrances of the Baby Austin was the day we invited two very important men from the North to have lunch with us. Now the Emir of Bussa was, perhaps understandably, at daggers drawn with the Emir of Kaiama, because the latter’s new and less important emirate was carved out of Bussa’s territory. Both men were visiting Ilorin, fourteen miles from where we lived at Afon. We could not invite one and leave the other, so we invited both. They accepted and their lorry deposited these two enemies, complete with their retinue, at our door. All went very well from the hospitality point of view, but as we were eating, a runner arrived to announce that their lorry had broken down so, enter the Baby Austin. But what about protocol? If we offered one the front seat beside the driver, the other would be offended. They were both Emirs. They solved the problem with us. We had to lower the folding canvas roof so that their high turbans could be worn at the correct angle. They both got in and, without any aid from a shoe horn, sat erect in the tiny back seat. Joyce sat in the passenger seat and, slowly and respectfully the Baby Austin covered the fourteen miles of dirt road. In Ilorin, there were no waving crowds lining the streets but there were many gasps of astonishment from those we passed as they saw the voluminously robed Emirs, side by side in our little car. I would like to call it the ‘peacemaker’ but their rivalry continued.

I have related the story of Gabriel’s wooden leg. The tragedies, which occur on the world’s roads, are so common in West Africa, sometimes due to illiteracy. For example, a notice painted on the side of a lorry “Load: 3 tons or 35 passengers” is useless to any driver who cannot read it. The usual practice was to pack on the 3 tons and then allow 35 passengers to sit or hang on to the load. Thus, grossly overladen the driver could not steer accurately and risked broken axles daily.

10.4 Infectious diseases

In a country with very few hospitals the method for dealing with persons suffering from infectious or contagious diseases is very different from the UK. Here patients with notifiable conditions are put into isolation wards or units, in West Africa, such sufferers were sent to a grass or mud dwelling remote from the town. Our hospital in Ilesha had neither the space nor staff to cope with smallpox when there was an outbreak in the area. The Government Medical Services organised mass vaccination and the local vaccinators worked through schools and in the public market places. Their method sometimes caused anxiety when, without any sterilisation, the same needle was used to scratch the arms of many, usually terrified children and adults. The possible danger of this possible danger of this process was pointed out to one vaccinator with the suggestion that simply holding the needle in the flame of a match could help. The practical vaccinator’s immediate enquiry was “who will provide the match?” With hundreds of vaccinations per day, he had a point.

The isolation camps usually were extremely crude. Food was provided but there was nothing of occupational therapy and no visitors were allowed. We have been to some because of Joyce’s medical standing. I likened them to concentration camps, but the output was a restored human and not a corpse.

Leprosy was another instance. South Western Nigeria had not as high an incidence as the Eastern Provinces. There, our own Mission had the splendid Uzuakoli Settlement where Dr Frank Davey, the renowned expert on leprosy was in charge. His earlier experience was gained in India. The Church of Scotland too, had its large and well established settlement at Itu in the Calabar country.

In Ilesha, Dr Hunter had applied for and obtained permission to use land for a Leper Colony about 100 yards from our hospital boundary. When I was appointed to Ilesha, he was glad to hand over the lepers to the Church for any spiritual or educational work we could undertake. I took this on, but came up against an unthought-of problem. I could not get any of our large staff of teachers to help. They were afraid, and despite Joyce’s efforts to reassure some of them of the absence of risk with a contagious disease when normal care was taken, I got no volunteers from the staff of trained workers. There was however one man quite willing to act as interpreter and helper: our own house steward, Stephen. He was a Kukuruku but his knowledge of English and Yoruba was, by now, sufficient for this work. Incidentally, the project was good for our language studies also and the first time I preached without an interpreter was at the Ilesha Leper Colony.

I quote this paragraph from our Prayer Manual.

Africa has about five million of the world’s sixteen million leprosy sufferers. Although multidrug therapy is now an effective way of dealing with it, there is still need to identify it early and to break down fear and prejudice in society.

We did not have any lepers with grossly deformed hands or feet yet, some were unable to carry out any construction or hand work. The hospital continued its regular injections and treatment and the unit became a more comfortable place of residence and for some, the place where they learned to read and began to understand the teaching of the Christian Gospel.

10.5 Music and musical instruments

In things musical, I have always been a sort of jack of all trades but master of none. I fear, selfishly, I have aimed at what gave me the most pleasure and did not aim sufficiently at perfection. A series of piano teachers did their best until one discovered that I was not even looking at the music but was producing, from memory the work I had been told to prepare. She banged the music and shut its pages and let me go the lazy way I preferred. From that moment of release, I enjoyed her lessons.

The result was that I was able to play tunes from gramophone records and, of course hymns from Sunday Schools and Church as well as our frequent evenings at home, round the piano. The ‘wireless’ was still a long way off. But, despite the joy of an ever increasing ability to harmonise, sadly I paid the penalty of decreasing ability to read an accompaniment when a piece was put before me. Several times during later years, I have tried to recapture this ability and have paid for lessons, but without success. However, the great pleasure of being able to play continues even if mainly for my own enjoyment.

I was always ready to have a go on any kind of instrument. An early undertaking was a harmonica tied to the handle of a right angled walking stick, the ferrule of which I stuck into my shoe. This enabled me to hold the stick rigid between my knees and leaving both hands free to play the piano whilst my mouth was level with the mouth organ. I often performed in this way and, if I got an encore, I changed the setting and, playing the base notes with my nose, still had two hands for the keyboard. My mother used to worry about this and feared I would develop a boxer’s nose as well as a crooked mouth from the harmonica. Happily I persisted and developed no facial deformity.

Talking of encores; they were very popular in those days. They increased the value of an evening out, by making it last longer, all of sixpence (back seats, shilling for the front). In these modern days, we can’t win. In Radio or TV we take what we are given; encores are useless. Although one notices the quantity of Repeats shown on our screens, not necessarily because of the generosity of the BBC, quite the reverse. These programme fillers save the authorities a lot of money, and are often the load of rubbish, which we turned off when they first appeared on our screens. Hats off to the good old ‘Proms.’ One cannot miss the rapture on the faces of those who already have stood for a couple of hours, when they succeed in getting ‘Rule Britannia’ several times as a result of their clamour for an encore.

I must get back to where I began to wander. Failure to read music at sight, was not the only disappointment I had in things musical. I have already told of the accident to the carrier resulting in the breaking of my portable gramophone away in the African bush. I also related how I carried my banjo throughout a three month visit to the United States and Canada. I also took my banjo and violin to Nigeria. Opening the violin case on the first occasion I was urged to “play something” I was horrified to see that the instrument had been overcome by the tropical heat and, literally, it had sat down, flattened. I hurried to my banjo case and here again, the glue had melted. Foolishly I discarded both. With today’s prices on the home market for such items, new or second-hand, I only wish I had held on to both until domiciled in a cooler climate.

This obviously is the place to write of the sad end and final passing of the piano which had fallen from the ship’s hoist and reached the wharf with a thud. It had served so long and so well after extensive repairs, even if of a Heath Robinson type. It stood in the corner of my verandah. We went on leave and, six months later returned and found the piano still standing where it was when we went away. During our absence it had been attacked by termites and, without leaving any external signs, the white ants had eaten all the soft wood interior. They had left the walnut veneer as their shield against light, for white ants only work in darkness. It was sad but ludicrous to be able, literally, to stick my finger through the veneer into space. Exit one banjo, one violin and one piano; heavy loss indeed.

We bought an upright piano next leave. I got it for 6 pounds in an auction, made a case for it and it withstood the hazards of export, finally filling the same spot on the verandah, vacated by its white ant eaten predecessor. While on pianos, I have been glad to learn the D.I.Y. ability to tune these instruments and, in many countries as well as a few in Nigeria, have had the pleasure of being able to make playable again pianos which reluctantly had been written off by lonely people living in isolated outposts.

10.6 The Ilesha brass band

During one of our early furloughs or leaves, we were visiting Joyce’s sister and her husband in Devon. We were invited to the home of Major and Mrs Windeatt. We talked much about Africa and of the usefulness of objects, which had often lost their interest in England. After tea, we visited their large garden. In the garage, balanced on the rafters was a full size Army bass drum, which had belonged to the major’s old, regiment. Jokingly he asked me if I had any need for a drum out there. We laughed and I told him that apart from the Nigerian Regiment and the Nigerian Police I knew of no private nor any other official band. It made me think; what about starting a brass band in Ilesha where we lived and worked. An absurd thought but funny. Then, being serious, who could I get to teach able young Africans to play any instrument and, anyhow, where could I get the funds for the purchase of some? Well, I thought “I know where I can get a drum”. Later, I went to see Major Windeatt again and, when we returned to London, his drum was no longer on the rafters of his garage but on the roof rack of our car.

We set about enquiring from churches where we learned there used to be a brass band, but could not track down any of the instruments. A couple of visits to the specialists, Boosey & Hawkes, in London were most helpful. We bought simple instruction manuals and learned what they regarded as a minimum list we should acquire in brass: trumpets or cornets, trombone, euphonium and possibly a tuba. In woodwinds, a clarinet, flutes and then to add to our large bass drum, we would need a side drum.

We went back to Nigeria after leave. Our Band still consisted of a big drum a sheaf of instruction manuals and high hopes during daylight and fanciful dreams at night of progress. I contracted our Resident Magistrate who, in political terms was Number One in responsibility for the affairs of justice of the Province and leading guide of the Native Administration (the people’s African Chiefs). He was interested and, as a music enthusiast, promised to give the idea all the support he could. Some time later he told me that he had managed to trace a few discarded Brass items, which I could get from the Police Band. These included one Euphonium, one Tuba, a couple of cornets and a clarinet in poor condition. We also got a few from the Army. Now, national bands like Police and Army would condemn instruments, which in my opinion had still some life in them. So, as a hungry tramp will gladly snatch a bone or some stale bread cast off in the rubbish bin of some restaurant, I was ready to be a scavenger and take anything I thought I could use and return the unusable to the rubbish bin.

We had books with the know-how and we had the basic material, but there remained two urgent requirements, a bandmaster capable not only of conducting but of being able to teach the correct use of each instrument, and of course, enough young enthusiasts from whom to select the members of the band. When I mooted the idea amongst the young men in the churches there was an immediate favourable response, but no teacher emerged. Slowly I learned how to handle a trombone and then the euphonium, which is a junior member of the tuba family. I chose this because its wind requirements are much less than the big brother. Fortunately, as a youth, I had been both a Boy Scout and later, in order to help out an inner city Boys Brigade, some of my pals and I had joined the Brigade to swell up its numbers. I had therefore acquired a little knowledge of lip position and how to blow into an old fashioned bugle in the hope of getting a variety of sounds. This made the attempt at learning and teaching the cornet or trumpet much easier. After a lot of practise and several months, I felt ready to show the aspirants what I had learned. I made no progress whatsoever with the clarinet and, like a bad workman, tended to blame the instrument. Anyhow, the idea appealed to one youth and he made much more progress than I had or could. I was much happier with a tin whistle than a flute. My dignity, however, was saved by the mere fact that no flute was ever offered to our band and we certainly did not buy one. So James Galway still goes unchallenged.

Our house in Ilesha was the only European residence in the town, our hospital and the few remaining residences were outside the town boundaries. This fact was much appreciated as a complimentary welcome by the earlier missionary resident. It was later discovered to be the site of a large refuse deposit. I hope that fires had had a cleansing effect on the refuse. I later had to risk undertaking a scheme to underpin the foundations where sinking caused anxiety, obviously where there was more soft rubbish than the original builders ever suspected. The house was large with mud walls two feet thick. The upper floor provided all our living rooms requirements. Downstairs was a large waiting room, offices and storerooms and in our day three rooms for dispensary and medical facilities. The kitchen was a separate erection of corrugated iron sheets in order to keep smoke and smells outside the living quarters.

On Tuesday evenings we had band practise in the Waiting Hall downstairs. This was more convenient for me as the alternative rooms would have to be in our large church and school complex a few hundred yards from us. I was able to hear the sounds during practise and, if there was evidence of difficulty, I could go downstairs and help to put things right. One week, we had a visit from the Chairman of our District Synod and his wife. They would arrive before we could get home from another engagement. We had written to explain this and the steward would supply orange juice and also carry up tins of hot water for their baths. We had forgotten it was Tuesday and to warm them about band practise. When we did return they did tell us of strange noises and assumed that our neighbours were slaughtering an animal just over the wall, a common occurrence where no law confined such undertakings to a Slaughter House. Our visitors listened with interest, then amazement when, after the usual warming up period, the animal being slaughtered changed from weird noises to ‘God Save the King’.

That gives a clue to the progress already made. I mentioned elsewhere, that any applicant for a job as a teacher, was surer to get a job if he could play the harmonium. One day, a qualified teacher walked into my office seeking employment. I was amazed to find that he had been a bandmaster at home in the church of Scotland Mission near Calabar. He got the job. Band practise was moved to our school compound the band grew and we got the length of performing at functions. It was very gratifying to see what that chap could get out of the members and their instruments. I can still see old Sam from the Bookshop, playing the tuba, cheeks distended a bit too much but thoroughly enjoying the deep notes he could produce. These were so loud that we had difficulty in preserving a balance with too few solo cornets etc. I still have a cutting from the English ‘Daily Mail’ with a descriptive article under the large print heading ‘Brass Band on the Mission Field’. That was us.

Apart from harmoniums, details of which will follow, I think the only other instrument I need include is the Piano Accordion. A Nigerian teacher asked us as we were preparing to go on leave, if we could buy for him a good, second-hand Piano Accordion. I promised to try. In a overcrowded junk shop in London, I got one for 4 pounds 10 shillings. I so enjoyed trying to play this during our leave that I was determined to buy one for myself. So I came to own and use in public, yet another instrument. On our retirement to England, I led our carol singers every Christmas with this very portable music as we went from door to door collecting for the National Children’s Home. Each evening ended as twenty five young people descended on a pre-arranged house where we enjoyed hot mince pies and many other dishes as well.

So it will be seen what I meant when I wrote about being a ‘Jack of all trades in things musical’. I have dealt with ‘my music’ thus far. I hope there will be more to follow for, after all, and I do mean “after all” I do hope to take up the harp and to enjoy playing it for a very very long time.