LITTLE ADEN -
MEMORIES OF AN 11 YEAR OLD
I don't know why I have suddenly rekindled my interest
in Aden. Perhaps it is a mid life crisis I am going through.
Perhaps it is because when people ask me "where were you
born" and I answer "Aden" I see a blank look which
means either "where the hell is that?" or "did he say
he was born in Eden?"
The more likely reason is that from about the time of
my 40th birthday in January 2001 I have been thinking more and more
about my birth place and have built up a strange yearning to go back
there for a visit. Why, I don't know, there's probably nothing left
that I would recognise. Maybe I have to reconfirm who I am and to
where I belong. My father was born in Broxburn (a small town in West
Lothian, Scotland), my mother was born in Bridgend, a small village
in West Lothian, Scotland), and I was born 4000 miles from there in a
foreign land, and spoke with an English accent until one day in June
1978, my girlfriend asked me "which part of England are you
from?". The place holds deep memories, in fact I have few good
childhood memories from many places other than Aden. ( I intend
writing about my boarding school exploits in another forum). So
there you have it. Barren, hot, dry, inhospitable, scary, beautiful
Aden. This was my home for the first 14 years of my life.
My story probably starts in 1950-something when my
father accepted a job working in the British Petroleum refinery in
Little Aden. From that moment on my fate was sealed. I was born on
19th January 1961 in Little Aden hospital. At the time the place was
the Peoples Democratic Republic of South Yemen, but thanks to the
slowly diminishing British Empire, technically I was born in a little
part of Britain called Aden (Colony).
As a toddler I don't recollect much about daily life.
My first vivid memories are probably of the British army before the
evacuation. My dad had a cine camera which was probably top of the
range for the day. I got all his stuff converted to video for his
60th birthday. We have watched it several times and there's some
brilliant footage of an army open day in one of the camps on the way
to Bir Fukum. From my point of view, the road to Bir Fukum was the
road where you went "straight on" instead of turning left
to go to the BP club. To a 7 year old this road represented a journey
into the great unknown and a great adventure. The mountain pass you
go through is very imposing and I almost felt as if it let to another
world. I remember climbing all over a tank and the soldiers had made
the camp into a fairground with stalls and free rides in army jeeps.
Part of the open day was a fly over, and to cap it all we got our
photographs taken with these cool dudes in army uniforms. Of course,
none of us kids ever asked why these people were there, hanging about
in the mountains. It's not something we worried about.
Like I say, early on my memories are vague. It's a
mixture of coffee mornings, beetle drives, curry lunches, lassie
films at the weekly cinema in the BP club, Tin Tin, Zorro and Casey
Jones on the black and white telly in the house and constant wall to
wall sunshine. It must have rained once because I can remember being
at the school and being unable to go out into the playground because
there was a huge puddle. Once in so many years!
In Aden the weekend was Thursday and Friday. One of
life's few constants was the Friday feed in the BP club. Dad had
curry with all the side dishes (which sadly many of the curry shops
nowadays don't do), mum had the lobster theremodore and I always has
the bangers mash and beans.
I don't remember being evacuated. It was 1968 and I
would be 7. I have seen the cine film of my mother and I standing in
the queue to get into this very ancient looking aeroplane with
propellers. The men were left behind to get on with the oil refining
process and I was bundled back to this cold place called Scotland
where I was forced to spend time with people who spoke with a
different accent from me!
Fortunately that was temporary, and soon we were back
where it was warm and I felt I belonged. I was 8 and was soon to have
my short life turned on it's head. In Little Aden, there is education
provided up to a point. This point came in 1969. I went to boarding
school. New Park School in St Andrews to be precise. In reality, this
meant that I had to fly unaccompanied from Aden to Edinburgh via
Jeddah, Beirut, Geneva and London three times a year (unless my folks
were on holiday in Scotland anyway). When I say unaccompanied, I mean
no adults. At the end of the school holidays it would be common for
there to be a dozen kids on the same flight out of Aden (in the early
days). Soon I was in an established pattern of coming
"home" for holidays. Sadly the thing I never got used to
was leaving Aden at the end of the holiday. Flights out seemed to be
early in the morning, hence an early alarm call. To this day I don't
like getting woken up early for a flight. The sight of the suitcases
and the dark outside bring back some terrible memories of being 9 and
scared of being on my own.
Around this time was when the British left the locals
to get on with it, and this coincided with my most vivid memories.
There's probably a book in this somewhere, however here's a brief
summary of my best times in Aden between 1970 and 1975.
I lived in 3 different houses in my time. The first
was before I remember, the second was a street called 1 Hampshire
Crescent. This must have been early 1970. I recall an old guy (christ
he was probably about 45!) opposite. We had no toys, but he had built
a house out of used fag packets. We played with it for ages. Latterly
we moved to 15 Marine Drive. This was a magnificent road which
skirted the curved Ghadir bay and had a great view. I don't remember
when it stopped being called that but I remember my air mail letters
from school had to be changed to 15 Kornish-Al-Ghadir. It was still
the same place when I had my next holiday. The residential part of
Little Aden wasn't huge. You could walk from one end to the other in
15 minutes. For a young person I seemed to know everybody. Even if
there weren't kids around there were always grown ups who would take
As a child in Little Aden I had expectations. I didn't
appreciate what was done for me until over 20 years later, but there
must have been a committee made up of mums and dads who decided
on different events over the holidays to keep us kids occupied. When
I got off that plane the first thing I did after I woke up was ask to
see the list of events and find out when the fancy dress party, the
beach BBQ, the dhow trip, the sandcastle competition, the swimming
gala, the car treasure hunt, the quiz night (which included a kids
section) and the various discos were. The list of events also
included the organised film show and the special sporting events. I
have mentioned the Lassie films already. I can't remember most of the
others, but one fond memory is of seeing Jason and the Argonauts for
the first time. There was also organised badminton and golf among
If somebody reading this was one of these people who
organised all these events just for my enjoyment then I want to thank
you from the bottom of my heart. I had a ball.
Inbetween these events, I conducted my social life by
going the BP Club beach daily which was a safe area surrounded by
fences and breakwaters to keep undesirable fish and big waves out.
Sadly it only kept undesirable BIG fish out, so we still had to swim
with conger eels, barracuda, sting rays, stone fish, jelly fish, sea
slugs and cray fish. But we were hardy and young and didn't know what
we were doing. We had a ball there every day, swimming without a care
in the world. We had beach BBQ's with water fights, we had sand
castle competitions and in the early days the beach was full of people.
By the early 1970's I got the impression that
the BP club beach was run down. The shop that sold Iced lollies and
coke always seemed to be shut and I suspected that there were big
holes in the protective fences. This must have been a gradual process
because I can't put it down to a single event. Possibly it was
because there was a swimming pool open for use by merchant seamen
which we were allowed to use. I remember vaguely on several occasions
arriving at the beach and seeing no people, then deciding to go to
the "Seamans mission" instead. What I don't know is whether
people deserted the beach because it was run down or because there
was a better option (what is probably more close to the truth was
that more people were leaving Aden following independence but that
was something that went right over my head as an 11 year old - after
all this was my home, why would I leave?)
So what was the food like? Apart from the BP club
there was nowhere to go for a meal outside the BP club unless the
parents made their own entertainment. I wasn't responsible for the
purchasing of food, but I was there when the fishman came to the back
door once a week with his stinking offering covered in flies. To my
horror my mother always purchased something. It was the same in the
car park outside the BP club when the fruit and vegetable man came.
Through the flies, my parents found enough to bring us sustainance.
Two other memorable incidents spring to mind. I remember buying mars
bars and asking my dad why the chocolate was white. He said it was
the heat. Yeah, right! I also remember having to open a packet of
corn flakes and spreading them out, picking out the cockroaches
before putting them back in the packet as if nothing was wrong. It
was what we did. It's against this backdrop that the Little Aden
parents excelled themselves by making edible meals and bringing us up
on as normal a diet as possible.
Many people had a servant. Others had an Aiya. The
servant did the cooking, the aiya did the cleaning and ironing. If I
remember right, most houses had servants and, coincidentally each
house had a servants quarters built in. Some people had cooks who
didn't "live in" and some just had servants who appeared at
random, and I'm sure I wasn't the only child who was babysat by
someone who didn't speak a word of english. As a small child, I was
oblivious to the working and living conditions of these people. What
is memorable for me is the heat in their quarters, which adjoined the
garage. No air conditioning. Also, they all had outside toilets with
no flush, no bog paper and it always stank. Sometimes the quarters
were occupied, sometimes they were empty. Their names were invariably
Mohammed or Aisha, and no sooner were you attached to one then they
moved on. Some were magnificent cooks. My parents tell me that
certain dinner parties were legendary. In fact, some of the cooks
would team together for a big one. Given the lack of food for sale,
it's amazing that many people were still able to have the roast and
Yorkshire pudding once a week!
So what of the troubles? As a kid I am sure that my
parents shielded me from some of the realities of life, after all,
once I was 8 I was only coming home (I still don't have a problem
calling it home) three times a year for an average of 12 weeks. All
houses had verandahs and all verandahs had trellace work all around
it. When I asked my dad, he said it was to stop a grenade. Seemed
like a good idea to me. There must have been incidents, but the only
one I witnessed was well after the army had left. It was on Marine
Drive and a group of local militia driving along the road in a truck
shot a dog that was not exactly a pet, but it was known to most of us
kids. It lay for ages before it died. We didn't know why they did it.
For being in a country in which walking 10 yards from A to B must
have been so dangerous at times, we were oblivious. I remember an
alley way just beside our house in Hampshire Crescent and seeing an
albino arab throwing conkers at us. We got our gang together and
chased him. He got his gang and we had a set-to on some piece of
waste ground for no Particular reason. Nobody won, yet we always
looked out for him after that.
It's easy to accept now, but in 1973 Aden (me aged 11)
there were no pet shops. I was a cat lover, and I and my friends
Edwina and Eleanor regularly befriended cats from neighbouring
houses. What you need to understand is that when we were on holiday
in Aden, there were numerous occasions when other families were
having their holiday in the UK leaving their houses unoccupied,
therefore their whole garden was available to us kids. Since nobody
had an official pet, we knew where the "action" was. I had
a cat called Tortie (original name for a tortoise shell cat - eh).
The amount of kittens this thing produced I wondered if it had been
spawned off a rabbit! A couple of houses down there was another
litter of kittens and we befriended one we names roary, because every
time you picked it up, if it didn't shit on you, it roared at
you. We had air conditioning in the houses and there was an
outhouse at the back which you could open and at any one time there
were up to 10 cats in there sheltering from the heat.
When we were not playing with cats we were always
looking for somewhere new to explore. In those days everywhere was
dangerous a place to explore so we had to wait for an adult who was
willing to take us to those exotic locations. I'd like to personally
thank the following grown ups, without whose expertise and
encouragement I would have achieved nothing.
Phillip Preston, Dudley Hall, David Wiles, My dad
It's probably not possible for anyone to appreciate
this paragraph unless they have been to a seaside resort (Blackpool,
Scarborough) and tried to purchase a small bag of seashells. In Aden,
if you went looking for shells at low tide, you could find the most
sexy shells ever. We're talking about razor shells with both halves
intact, scorpion shells, sea urchins and the piece de resistance the
cowrie. While the first two mentioned could be found lying on the
beach, you had to place your hand into the unknown to get the cowrie.
In a world where, as an 11 year old you could get your hand bitten
off by a moray eel, this was a very special adventure. The cowries
were alive and you left them out in the sun to die then picked them
out with a toothpick. Our house was decorated most beautifully with
shells including sea urchins. With hindsight I think we took them for
granted. Today my mum and dad still have sea urchins in their house
they brought home from Aden, I only wish I knew then what I know now
about shells and how rare they are.
As a young kid growing up, there were always two boat
trips laid on. The dhow trip was always one of the highlights of the
holidays. There was always at least one organised for the family. I
never really knew what my mum put into the cool box which was chucked
onto the boat. I should explain the word boat first. We're talking
about a pile of wood hamered together. These things never looked
seaworthy but when I think about it, the best times were when it was
windy, and the spray from the sea was coming over the top of
the boat. It seemed to me all the kids enjoyed it, yet the adults
always had a wee green look, about them. On nearly all occasions, the
dhow trip included a trip into the blue grotto. This was an island
which was just a cave. There were bats ( who cleared out when they
heard the boat's motor), and sharks (who the crew scared away by
plunging large stones into the water suspended by ropes). It was in
this atmosphere where we were now expected to "swim", which
we duly did.
The second boat trip that was arranged was on a more
modern launch called the Al-se-ma-ma. The good thing about this trip
was that there were more kids and less adults. Although I never knew,
I suppose the parents drew straws as to who would "supervise
" the children. The Al-se-ma-ma was a seaworthy launch and
basically the captain just pointed the thing towards the open sea and
pressed "go". We sat on the front and got the white knuckle
ride of our lives. Wet, scared and in need of a clean pair of pants,
we loved every minute. When he stopped, we had a buffet (or is it a
smorgasmord), then we headed back. He had a net which he dragged
behind the boat and we all had to cling onto. It was a shorter trip
than the dhow trip, but again, it was one of the highlights.
After that, we retired to one of the Yemen's many
uninhabited beaches for the picnic. For people in the know I would
say that the beaches we visited were just north of Bir Fokum.
Deserted yellow sands, blue sea, coral, mountains, sunshine and
plenty to eat - you would be forgiven for thinking that this was
paradise. We spent all day in this wilderness without a care in the
world and when it was time to go home we all left with heavy hearts.
How could we forget the flying fish, which on one occasion actually
leapt into the boat, the giant manta rays, and the porpoises who
seemed to follow us everywhere.
Snorkelling and spearfishing
I was never mega-adventurous but I had a pal (Jeremy
Wiles) whose dad had a boat and took us out in Ghadir bay
snorkelling. I have since been snorkelling elsewhere but I have to
say this was very scary. The only fish we wanted to skewer was a
parrot fish, yet most of the fish we saw were either ugly or very
scary. I remember the final time I went spearfishing was one day when
Jeremy's dad left us on the breakwater which runs from the swimming
pool at the seamans mission. This was unchartered territory for me,
and is the only time in my life when I have come face to face with a
shark. I have no idea what type it was or how big it was. I saw it
from about 20 yards and that is the last time I swam in the open sea
Each summer holiday there were always two ambitions.
First was to climb what we called "observation tower". This
was a hill on Ghadir Bay near the hospital. The second was a mountain
which we called "Shamsan". It probably has a more arabic
name, but to a 12 year old I could sometimes see this huge mountain
through the heat haze on a clear day and I knew that people had been
up it, but we always had the same problem - whose dad would take us?
I climbed observation tower several times over the
years. This must have been an old army look out, but the view was
worth the many many steps (If anyone knows how many, E-mail me
firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll modify this part of the article).
My eternal regret is that I never ever took my camera up to the top.
I long for a photograph over Ghadir Bay with my house in it.
To the best of my memory I only ever climbed Shamsan
once. It was with Philip Preston who took a car full of us with a
picnic. A trip into "Big Aden" was a treat in itself, a
drive though Malla, up through the Crater Pass and basically, for us,
into the unknown. I wish I had a more vivid memory of the climb, but
I remember clearly the wind up the top and the overwhelming feeling
when I saw the view. In world terms it's probably not a very big
peak, but it certainly was the highlight of that particular holiday.
The forbidden zone
As a young teenager I suppose we all do things our
parents would not approve of. My only major discretion was to build a
tree house and to borrow my dads matches to light a small fire in the
tree house. Needless to say, the whole thing caught fire and I have
to thank our house boy Saeed for putting it out. The only other thing
me and my friends did was to explore the hills which I suppose
separated Little Aden from the ports where the tankers came in. In my
terms these were mountains right beside my friend Kevin Morans house.
Close by there was a disused building which we called the "white
house". It was easy to get onto the roof. We used this as a
base. Further on and round the corner overlooking the "golf
course" there was a cave. We always called this the hyenas cave
(or was that the older boys trying to scare us). I never ever saw a
hyena, yet none of us ever progressed past the first bend! Further
on, there was a no-go zone. It had signs up, and was probably used as
a shooting range at one point, but there seemed to be a lot of clay
around. We sometimes went that far, but it was seriously quiet
&ldots;and what about those hyenas! We were probably more at risk
from the scorpions which funnily enough we used to catch with our
hands an put into jars and make them fight each other.
What does a youngster in the early 70's do when he has
no Gameboy, Playstation, television or video recorder? I'll tell you.
Invite your friends along for a crab race.
On Ghadir Beach lived at least 3 million hermit crabs.
We made a crab-run out of lego and sometimes we had up to 300 hermit
crabs in my bedroom at one time. We would always release them the
next day before they became dehydrated, but there were always a few
that "got away". I remember my mum shouting "what's
that clicking noise in the corner of my room?". Sure enough, one
had escaped. Good times, though.
Can I end by mentioning those who I would like to get
in touch with. Not all are close friends and some may not even
remember me, but if you are a parent of, or a son (or daughter) of
the following, could you please get in touch.
Russell Titmuss Nigel Stoneman
Jeremy Wiles Penelope Wiles
Kelvin Micheal Adrien Michael
Andrew Morgan Richard Morgan
A good friend called Jane Davies ?
Someone at the British embassy called Bedria
Anyone else who may have photograph of those above or
their parents, or any scenery photographs from Little Aden, Big Aden,
the Seamans mission, the BP Club, Bir Fukum, the golf club, the
community centre, even the hospital or the cinema. I'd even take a
photograph of Khadris, or a photo of the vegetable man who frequented
the car park of the BP club.
Basically, I lived there for 14 years and hardly took
a decent photograph of the place or my friends.
Contact me at email@example.com