I had to undergo surgery on a hernia, this was something new for me to boast about. So, for the next couple of months, I would walk up to complete strangers and ask them “do you want to see my opelayshun [operation]?” When they said yes, I would lower my shorts to show them, this continued right up to our return to Dar es Salaam.
The whole family, plus a new car, boarded the SS Stirling Castle of the Union Castle Line bound for Dar es Salaam. It usually took about three weeks to sail between the UK and East Africa via the Suez Canal. Inconveniently the French and British had decided that was the moment to invade the Suez Canal Zone, resulting in its closure. It wasn’t a good idea to join them, so the ship took a slight diversion. Well not so slight, the new route took us via the Cape of Good Hope. My parents hoped their finances would stretch that far as it would take us twice as long.
Sailing along the west coast of Africa we came across the quaint tradition of ‘Crossing the Line’. This involved a meeting with His Majesty, King Neptune as we crossed the equator. The ceremony involved a soaking, being covered in flour and a man pretending to be a barber who tries to shave you with a giant wooden cut-throat razor. For one who had just had an ‘opelayshun’ this could be scary. You do receive a certificate, but sadly it does not help with future career prospects.
There is always a fancy dress competition on our sea voyages. My mother was brilliant at making magnificent costumes out of crepe paper. After she made my brother’s and sister’s costumes first, she would run out of crepe paper or time for me. I would be left in the most embarrassing predicaments. Once, two cardboard squares were attached around my naked waist with a piece of string and feathers put on my head. This little Indian struggled to keep his modesty and failed. On another occasion, I was dressed as “peas in a pod” and had green balloons attached to me. The problem was people kept bursting them with their cigarettes. I was more pod than peas.
The swimming pool was left shallow for the little ones to splash about and later filled for swimmers. I was watching a group of boys swimming and one approached me to ask if I could swim. Not wanting to be out of place, I replied I could. At this point, he and another boy picked me up and threw me into the pool. When I went under for the third time, they realised the truth and dived in to rescue me. However, I rectified this by the end of the voyage and became a proficient swimmer.