Chapter 8
An adventurous life

8.1 “Your car has been shot”

Much depended on the enthusiasm of a village head and his people for the cutting and construction of a road to link up with the nearest main road. It sometimes happened that a scheme was quickly commenced but proved to be harder work than originally imagined and, after a mile or so, a new connection from a main road would suddenly end and the only way to reach the village was to leave the car facing the dead end and walk through the forest.

We came to such a dead end one afternoon and, with the help of carriers, we off-loaded and, leaving the car, walked the few miles into the village. Next morning a man came running into the village shouting “Your car has been shot”. I immediately set out and walked to the car and, true enough, it had been shot and had lots of holes in the radiator, windscreen, lamps and wings. It was a sorry sight. The radiator was drained dry. We concluded our work in the village as quickly as possible and walked back to Ilesha. At the enquiry which followed, the chief had tracked down a hunter who graphically described how, with lamp attached to his cap he was walking in the forest when suddenly he saw the outline of the biggest animal he had ever seen, with two very large eyes. Fortunately he had rammed many old nails and bits of metal down the barrel of his gun. He took aim and fired. He denied any suggestion that he had been drinking palm wine. He was just very frightened.

The insurance company dealt very sympathetically with the matter. Our Mission Accountant in Lagos handled the claim. Now he was a man who rode everywhere on a very elderly BSA motorbike and sidecar. When he wrote to inform me that the insurance was OK, he added this footnote. “Please supply sufficient palm wine to a hunter to make him think an old BSA is a wild hyena”. I never heard of any repeat claim on the insurance company, but do know that Bill, the accountant, soon graduated to a car. As for me, probably mine was the first and only car that had been shot.

The necessity for leaving a car at the end of the cleared end of a stretch of road, reminds me of another incident. As a bachelor, I had often thought of what I would do if I became ill in the distant bush villages. Then I had a nasty night with a pain in the kidney region and decided I must get back to civilisation as quickly as possible. Fortunately I set out early next morning and painfully walked twelve miles to my car. On arrival in Ibadan, I was immediately rushed to hospital, where I had to spend a week.

Things were different now that I had a doctor wife. We had left our car at the road end and walked the remaining ten miles through the forest. Again at night, the same pain got hold of Joyce and I, diagnosing the trouble, ordered an immediate return to Ilesha. However, I just could not face those ten miles to walk, so she organised a team of carriers. By lashing two long bamboo poles along either side of my folding camp bed I was as comfortable as possible. It was a strange world when I was raised by the four carriers, each now bearing an end of the bamboo pole on his head. If I had enough interest, I could now study the forest trees above me. We could often hear monkeys but rarely saw any because of the dense forest, now I could have a better view. But, I didn’t want to study the forest, nor see the monkeys, I wanted to get to our hospital.

As we set out, our companion Stephen, plucked some flowers from bush shrubs and laid them on my chest. Joyce immediately removed them saying, “No Stephen. Not yet”. We reached the car safely and Joyce drove straight to the hospital where she could get some medicine as was best.

8.2 An open door

It has given both of us much pleasure to keep a house with the door wide open to visitors. We enjoyed having members of staff and of the Churches to join us at a meal. As well as conversation and, perhaps, some music to follow, this gave some of our African friends the opportunity to grow more accustomed to some of the strange dishes, which make a European lunch or dinner. On the departure of our guests, they usually summed up in one single word what we try to convey in our spoken thanks for a meal. Their word was always the simple salutation ‘Ekunawo’, which being interpreted means I salute you for spending money. There were of course other and different ways of showing that they had had sufficient. A little food left on the plate, for example would indicate that there was no more room left. One of our important friends in the North had an even more expressive way of showing how adequate had been our hospitality: he made a loud sound which we normally associate with relief of indigestion. On heading this, we knew that he had reached the limit of his capacity.

I had been moved to insert this memoir here because, last Sunday, we were taking services in the Methodist Church, Blandford, Dorset. After morning service, a lady came into the vestry and asked me if I had ever heard of a namesake, David Ludlow. Now, I well remembered that my elder brother had enlisted in the RAF on his eighteenth birthday and had been sent to Blandford Camp. He had attended that very church and here was a lady in whose home my brother had been entertained. She had remembered this when she was a young girl, sixty-seven years ago. I told her that he was indeed my brother, and, to the evening service she brought an old autograph book and displayed the page on which he had written. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers.” Modern versions put it now as “Remember to show hospitality.” What an amount of joy and fun has been added to life through our guests of many nationalities, colours, languages and ages.

In both our homes, as we grew up our parents invited folk in church to join us for Sunday dinner and tea. Several week-day evenings were similarly used. In Dublin, my early home was less than a mile from a military barracks and our church was the official centre for the O.Ds (The Anglican attended worship in the Garrison Chapel, all other denominations came to our Kingsland Park Church). The sight and sound of the Brass Band leading some two hundred, red coated soldiers was always a thrill. Many of the men came also to evening worship and to the social hour, which always followed. A lot of our visitors at home were these soldiers. I can remember those evenings, long before the first world war. Our hallstand would have a variety of glossy peaked caps of the red-coated regiment and of course, the distinctive head gear of Hussar Victor Gedes. He wore a tight fitting jacket in blue with gold braid across his chest at each button level. All the colours disappeared when the 1914-1918 war came. Khaki was everywhere. Puttees, originally introduced to protect the legs from undergrowth scratches, replaced long trousers and leggings. Useful of course but never objects of beauty.

This was the uniform of Harry Staples, a pianist who also often relieved our organist. He inspired me to the extent that I still play a certain classical tune, I never think of it as the work of the composer but always as the Staples tune. Then there was a friend, Swallow, who sang funny songs. “When poor father laid the carpet down the stairs” had a sad ending to the last verse, it related humorously what happened “When the carpet laid poor father down the stairs”. An encore could be about the golden kippers. “Those golden kippers to the door I led, the Tom cat smelled them and he dropped down dead.” This for a ten-year old resulted in shrieks of laughter.

Strangers have entertained us as we entertained strangers. We have done exactly as that girl in Blandford did 67 years ago. She knew her parents guests by name and the names remain, whether in an autograph book or not. We are thankful for our parents who remembered to show hospitality and taught their children by example.

Hospitality is usually two way and in adult life many times we too have been invited out for meals in both African and European homes. A reference like this does not call for details of food provided. Variety depended on a cook’s expertise. We had to depend on the local market and on what was left in the way of tins in our larders.

Generally speaking, missionary homes had a time for dinner and tried to stick to it or close to it. In government officials’ homes, time was no particular object. One of the big causes of this difference was that our missionary homes provided no alcoholic beverages. Soft drinks were usually consumed in ten to fifteen minutes and we then sat down for the meal. With traders and government folk, drinks in variety and quantity took up an hour or even two hours before our hosts would enquire if the cook was ready. Many times we have been invited for 8.00pm but not been asked to sit at the dinner table until 10.00 or 10.30pm. By this time, we used to be ready and wanting to go home. Our two or three orange drinks did not really fill the aching void. Added to this was the tendency to fidget, instead of relaxing. Another difference was our concern to let the cook and steward get to their own home and meal in reasonable time, instead of in the early hours of the morning.

I know that one tends to generalise, but the following incident is probably not unique. In Kano, we were invited out to lunch at 1.00pm. We arrived and sat round talking and wondering when the lunch would be ready. About 2.00pm we were horrified to hear the cook arrive and then the unmistakable noise of a chicken departing this life. In desperation, we resigned ourselves to one and a half hours more before any declaration could be expected. We endured.

Then there was the evening when a former colleague of ours invited us to have dinner with them at a Lagos hotel. We sat and happily talked of old times and then took our places at a reserved table. We noticed that there was no alternative to Table d’hôte, we also noticed with concern, the bill our African ministerial host would have to meet. The minimum, plus cover and service charges, when multiplied by four, was a lot. With no outward sign of alarm, he politely asked to be excused the soup. He was away about fifteen minutes whilst either he got home and back, or somehow arranged a mortgage. The excellent meal then continued without a hitch.

On another occasion we arrived at the bungalow we sought. It was built up on a metal frame, perhaps an effort to spot any intruding termites before they decided to make this their home. Now, in order to reach the stairs, we had to pass under part of this framework. One girder was very clearly marked “Mind your head”. I didn’t, surely a timely warning.

8.3 A network of dispensaries

The medical work in the Circuit had grown to the extent of meeting the need for a resident nurse in the more remote stations where dispensaries were planned. It was difficult to obtain the services of girls as the hospital badly needed all their trainee nurses to meet hospital requirements. However, we went ahead in faith, and built our first dispensary as planned at Imesi-ile. We also built a small house for a nurse to live in, What we have so often proved of faith and preparation, the way did open up to enable us to get Nurse Bernice Faleye to accept the position as the first African nurse in history of the Mission, a single girl, to go out twenty six miles from home and live amongst strangers. Bernice had never been more than a mile or so away from a road. Now she would have to walk twenty of the twenty six miles to Imesi-ile, a frightening thought. There was great rejoicing in Imesi. The Chief assured us that they would look after the girl and her young sister who would cook and clean for her. They did look after them and the dispensary began to prove its use, not to Imesi alone but to the many smaller villages around. School children were checked regularly and women began to come for ante-natal examination, advice and medicine.

One dark night, while Imesi slept, there was a knock on Bernice’s door. It was opened to a man, carrying a storm lantern and a stick. He begged the nurse to accompany him to Ilare, five miles through the forest, where his wife had been in labour for some time but had not responded to the efforts of the local medicine man (witch doctor). Bernice fought with and overcame her fears and agreed to set out with this stranger that night. They reached Ilare safely and, what the man had said was true. The trained midwife/nurse got to work immediately and safely delivered the woman. Two lives would have been lost but for the courage as well as the ability of an African girl on that hilltop Imesi-ile dispensary.

The circuit doctor, my wife, whose inspiration and perseverance had made all this possible, became all the more determined to press on with her schemes. The hospital was still suffering through the small number of suitable and sufficiently educated girls offering as candidates for nurses in training and, consequently the problem of maintaining the required number of their nursing staff. What could be done? Unfortunately the London Mission House was not able to offer any help. The Medical Secretary of those days felt that we should not take on the work of village dispensaries because, he argued, what guarantee was there of continuity. I could be transferred elsewhere and without the travelling doctor, the work would collapse. So, unaided officially or financially, we carried on.

To speak of the apparent reluctance of the hospital to supply nurses for our village dispensaries may sound like criticism. This is not intended.

Could the answer be found in accepting a lower grade of nurse? It was understandable that Dr Hunter would not depart from his present minimum of a Standard VI pass together with success in the hospital entrance examination.

Through our visits over the Northern Border, a story yet to be told, we developed a friendship with Mildred Earl who was in a Government hospital in Ilorin and directly engaged in midwifery training. Her minimum for acceptance of candidates was Standard IV pass. She was very willing to include as one of her candidates our Wendy Awoseyi, a girl our own hospital had rejected because she failed to get her standard VI pass. This scheme worked well and, in two years, Wendy was ready for appointment in our dispensary staff. She was a girl of considerable ability, she could and did pick up the necessary treatment of outpatient work in addition to her midwifery qualification.

We were able to send further applicants to Miss Earl and, in this way, it became possible to open up more dispensaries in long waiting villages in the Circuit and later, in the Northern Provinces.

Infant mortality figures were appallingly high. From her own experience, Joyce found that the death rate in the first five years reached 70could have another child. She enquired how many babies they already had had. One woman answered “Eleven”. Joyce commented that surely she ought to be satisfied, but the woman said “I have only one alive”.

In the light of such figures, despite the Mission House’s inability to help in village dispensaries, we simply could not do other than go to the towns and villages to fight the conditions of darkness and disease which contributed to this frightening infant mortality rate.

We were reminded of our East African saying, “Dirt and Darkness were married to each other and had two children, Disease and Death. Ignorance and Superstition were guests at the wedding and followed the children all their days.”

In due course, the official attitude changed and a missionary doctor was appointed with special responsibility for outreach/

When Dr David Morley was appointed to the Ilesha Hospital, he gave maximum time to the whole problem of infant mortality. He chose to make our first adventure into village dispensary work, Imesi-ile, for the beginning of his Under Fives plan. Every child under five in Imesi was given measles vaccination and regularly checked. Record cards were introduced and complete details of each check were entered.

The World Health Organisation took up David Morley’s plan enthusiastically and very many countries have adopted it. Measles vaccination was urged all over the world for the under fives where there was no immunity. One of the greatest killers of children would itself be slain.

We are proud to think that our Imesi-ile was the birthplace for all this, even though we could provide no guaranteed continuity.

8.4 Animal pets

So far, I have divided my memoirs of Africa into chapters largely based on each Tour of two years (including furlough). I find, however, so often in order to complete a story, I have had to dive into the future, and this may become confusing. So, I will depart from that division and will only introduce dates as required by the special events recorded.

From childhood days, I have been interested in animals, with monkeys as a first choice. They are so nearly human. As already reported, I often regretted, as we walked for mile to mile through the dense forest of West Africa that we could only hear monkeys chattering happily up in the towering tree tops but very rarely were we able to see them.

Much to my disgust, hunters often succeeded in shooting them and monkey meat could be bought in some markets. The story is told of a young assistant district officer who was invited to dinner one evening. Although the meat was new to him, it tasted good and he enquired what it was. On being told it was monkey, he made a wild dash for the door and thus into the garden. He later returned, very white in the face, and apologised for his hasty retreat. Snake cutlet is sometimes served. We have never offered monkey nor snake to our guests nor have we eaten either knowingly.

Occasionally, a hunter would come to our door wanting to sell a small baby monkey. I could never resist befriending the tiny creatures. I did insist, however, that they lived a free life amongst us and, if they wanted to go away, that was their decision and they were free to do so. Several of my monkeys would eat what was provided for them and then would go, swinging from branch to branch but would return later. I had one particularly well-covered monkey, not bare around its sit-upon, as is the coiffure design of some of the species. This animal was fond of us and we were of him. Now the top of our dining table was two or three inches wider than the frame to which it was screwed. So, out of view, we had hung a little bell within easy reach of Joyce. She could then indicate to the steward when we were ready for the next course etc. My friend the monkey caught on to this and sometimes long before lunchtime he would swing his way through the trees, run upstairs and tinkle the bell. We were so amused at this human trick that he often got a morsel to eat. If unsuccessful, the naughty animal has been known to pinch a banana from the fruit dish.

One of our monkeys became very friendly with our kitten. They went everywhere together and even slept in the same basket. He must have been a bit of a nuisance to the kitten for, when the latter wanted to go down the garden, the monkey walked close beside with one arm round the kitten’s neck. One day when we visited the Cairo Zoo we found that in a number of monkey’s cages, there was a kitten. The keeper spoke of the value of companionship for these two animals while small.

Unfortunately, like all the species, monkeys tend to be destructive and wasteful. They will root up a yam or start on a nice ripe banana, take one or two bites and throw the rest away. Also, they can walk unashamedly away, having broken a vase or bowl by knocking it on the floor. Joyce put up with this behaviour problem for a long time, but when our first born, Peter, arrived she declared war. “You have now got a little monkey of your own, so that puts an end to the freedom of the house to your pets”. Pity, I still do like the hairy type.

A friend of ours also had a pet monkey. Like most beds in the tropics, the mosquito net is supported by tapes to a frame rising from the four corners of the bed, to a height of four or five feet. Our friend’s monkey was also with us in his one room apartment and objected to being given a gentle smack because of some misbehaviour. The monkey hopped away and seizing a tube of toothpaste it climbed up and sat on the top of the mosquito frame, unscrewed the cap of the paste and, squeezing the contents out, sent a jet of toothpaste all over us. I really felt the monkey laughed as much as we did, yet retained his solemn appearance.

In my college days, we had one student who had a very long thin face. He was appointed to take a Young People’s Service. Several of us went to support him. He had a special address for the younger children. As he waxed eloquent with his story and endeavoured to get his point home, he wondered why there was sudden laughter in the wrong place. He had leaned out of the pulpit and exclaimed “Do you see the point of my tale?”

8.5 Assisted schools

We had four assisted schools in the circuit. One in each of the four sections where we had a resident minister. Government required not only a high standard of efficiency, but also a good proportion of qualified teachers, before agreeing to give grants. Once a school was fortunate to get on to the assisted list, every possible effort was made by the manager and the headmaster to keep it there. We took the regular inspection seriously and anxiously awaited the Education Officer’s report.

As a spur to high standards, we introduced an annual competitive event in these four schools. Meeting each year in a different school, we had sports events and choir competitions. We always invited some local chief, or an important visitor to chair the closing events of the day and to present the prizes. This annual effort was much appreciated and provided a lot of fun as well as determination to bring glory to one’s school, with a pardonable amount of personal fame. It also gave the three visiting headmasters an opportunity to see the methods and work of their colleague in the fourth school.

These inter-school competitions always came around Christmas time. We could then be sure of dry weather. Harvesting was over and farm work, in which the children took their share, was greatly reduced until the end of Harmattan. This was that dry wind which bore quantities of fine sand from the Sahara Desert and covered all our houses, and the contents, with white dust. It was possible to write one’s name in the dust on a table, even within a few hours of cleaning.

8.6 Christmas

Christmas was a great festival and, with so many Christians and Churches, Nativity plays and carol singing were popular and enjoyed. In our Yoruba Hymnbook the translators wisely had omitted “In the bleak mid winter, snow on snow” etc. Strangely enough, the New Year was an even bigger festival, to the extent that while Christmas was called Odun Kekere (little year) the New Year was Odun nla (the great year or festival). The Watchnight Services in our churches were tremendous occasions and lasted for hours, with several sermons and much singing. There were the solemn moments too, when the slow reading of the names of many who had died during the year were read, often accompanied by loud sobbing in different parts of the congregation. This ceremony was followed by the solemn warning that none of us could tell whether our names might be read at the next Watchnight.

Europeans, as at home, took every opportunity to get together for the Christmas holiday. Our mission house and the doctors and sisters’ houses at the hospital usually had many visitors from Lagos and other centres who enjoyed being able to see a bit of life up country. The sisters usually arranged a big gathering for all the Ilesha expatriates. After morning service, they put on a marvellous Christmas dinner, exchanged presents, played tennis in the afternoon and had tea and real Christmas cake. This was usually followed by party games and records.

Sister Elsie Moody comes to mind. She had great joy in a parcel from her Huddersfield home. It included a Kodak box camera. Now, Elsie never had a camera before and she asked me to instruct her in its preparation and use. I stressed the importance of the viewfinder and of getting the person or the important subject central and, if a group, then to see that all were clearly in the viewfinder. Apart from this, of course, the importance of holding the camera steadily and, when all was in order, to press the release without altering her hold on the camera. I could not think of any hidden tricks other than these in a Kodak box camera. She could not wait until dinner was finished, she must get a family group of the whole party. We obliged and, when positioned, she looked in the viewfinder. Then, frantically sweeping her hand out to the left, she shouted “You’ll all have to move over a bit this way”. I had forgotten to instruct her that in such a situation, she must move the camera and not expect a dozen or more people to shift.