Travels with Tony 1958-1973

(Anne Rieber insisted that I should write this record)

In 1957 we were a small family living in London in Cecil Road, Muswell Hill.
View from The Hill

We were content to be there.

Tony was working as a Senior Registrar at the Royal Northern Hospital. He had succeeded in the exam to become a member of the Royal College of Physicians MRCP. In a few months he should have gained a post as a Consultant in General Medicine.

At this time there was a bottleneck in the system so that there were too many Senior Registrars and many did not get the consultant posts for which they had been trained.

Three possibilities were open to them.

The first was to become a member of a GP partnership. This was not as easy as it would seem. Many Gps felt a highly trained specialist would not fit in with their practise.

The second avenue was to wait in the hope of eventually getting a consultant post. This was frowned upon as Senior Registrar was seen as a short term post.

The third was to become a consultant abroad.This appealed to Tony as he had wide cultural and linguistic interests.

So it came about that in February 1958 he accepted a post as Consultant to the NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company.)Perzie_1958_325-03
Robin had been born in 1955 and Clare in February 1957.

Khusistan

Clare was less than a year old when we travelled to Masjed Soleyman a village with a nearby oil company camp and hospital.

Khuzestan

We arrived when it was not too hot and were given a furnished bungalow with a large bare garden to live in.

We had already started to learn Persian and went down to the Souk to practise it buying Persian textiles for curtains and table napkins.

Buying meat there was less pleasant as the carcasses of goats and lambs were hanging up in open stalls, quite covered in flies.

In the kitchen the first thing I noticed was a large stoneware vessel. This I was told was the water filter. It was to be used for drinking water as tap water was supposed to be dangerous. Otherwise it was a simple old fashioned space.

I was not expected to spend much time in it as we were expected to employ three local servants.

This was a change which took some getting used to. But the one I most appreciated was the gardener. He used a sort of pick axe to dig the ground which was hard and arid. He planted aubergines and peppers and marigolds.

The children enjoyed being in the garden at first but as the temperatures rose it was impossible to spend much time outdoors. We had a big air conditioning unit to cool the house.

We were visited by travelling traders, one came regularly to sell us eggs. My neighbours taught me to bring out a bucket of water and to put eggs in it, then to buy only those which did not float.  Also when cooking to break each egg separately into a basin to avoid contaminating all with one bad one.

We used to have tea parties with the Persian doctors wives and with Audrey O’Donaghue whose son Clive became a friend of Robin.

Teheran

After a year in Khusistan we were transferred to Teheran.

To me this was a wonderful change.

Teheran was not a city of high rise buildings at this time.

It was a relatively small city without a gloss of modernity.

There were open channels in the streets called Jubes. Twice a day water flowed down them.We could manage well without a car and used the public taxis called Dolmahs by users as they stuffed a few people in going along the same route.

Most shops were small and open to the street and there was also a huge souk with separate areas for different sorts of artisans.

I loved the view of the Alborz Mountains to the north of Teheran and in winter we could visit the ski resort of Ab Ali and we benefited by having normal seasons.

Tehran, Iran

Most foreigners lived in the north of the city but as Tony was working in the NIOC hospital in the centre we rented a flat there not far from the French Embassy.

Before we found it we spent weeks in a hotel which I found very tedious. Chantal was due to be born in April and I lacked the energy needed to keep my two small children from running under the feet of the other residents.

So it was a joy to find a ground floor flat with a small garden and an even smaller pool. Our landlady was called Madame Rosa and she lived above us.

The flat was unfurnished and we bought some items form other foreigners who were selling up at the end of their time in Teheran.

Tony was very happy that he had the chance to design our own furniture and have it made by a local craftsman.

He was an artist manqué though he had a vocation for medicine and this talent was inherited in different ways by my children.

Sadly we had to sell it when our turn came to leave.

My first preoccupation was the impending arrival of Chantal.

There was no difficulty about the place of birth as I could go to the NIOC hospital not far from our flat and a lovely English girl called Janet was my midwife.

All went well thanks to Janet. I found her well 13 years latter when I visited Teheran from Kuwait.

We needed a trustworthy nanny to help with the three children and had become friendly with the Anglican Community in Isfahan.

They recommended Minu Hakimpur, an Iranian girl of good family, who wished to learn English.

This proved to be a great success. Minu enjoyed living with us, her English improved and she loved and cared for the children.

When we left Minu asked if she could go to England with us. She thought that she would in due course study to be a nursery nurse.

We were happy to take her, but a huge obstacle appeared.

It was virtually impossible to obtain a passport and visa without bribery. Tony had a very moral stand and refused to bribe, but eventually he was forced to agree.

So Minu came with us to London and we had another happy year with her.

One day she came to me with a letter she had received and told me it was from Iraj asking her to marry him.

She asked me should she agree or go on to study to be a nursery nurse.

I asked her for some information about him and found that he was like her an Iranian, by race a Jew, and by religion an Anglican.

I said it seem to me unlikely you will ever find so perfect a match but do you like him very much.

Yes, she said and in due course they were married.

At the time Iraj was an Anglican priest and eventually he became a bishop and they had three children: Mary, Martha and Joseph.

They came to England later for a course at Canterbury where we met.

Alas the coming of the Ayatollahs caused the whole Anglican community of Isfahan and Teheran immense difficulties and we did not communicate much because we realised that contact with English people would make life even harder for them.

In spite of everything they survived and the children grew up, Joseph lives in Canada and Mary in Shropshire now and Minu and Iraj in their retirement visit them annually.

Daily life was pleasant. It was easy to shop for fruit and vegetables as traders walked down out little Kutche or street and we could buy vegetables and fruit on the spot from their barrows.

We were near two main streets Khiaban e Shah and Khiaban e Firanaceh, (France) where the French Embassy was situated and also a big Catholic Church where Chantal was baptized. So I did not have to walk far to do my shopping. We also had deliveries from a local farm of their butter and cream and delicious cherry jam.

Image from page 701 of "Russia, with Teheran, Port Arthur, and Peking; handbook for travellers" (1914)

It was a wonderful change from the arid desert of Khusistan.

We had also left the limited oil company friends for a much wider social circle of people from embassies, traders, and not least the British Council.

This was where we met Will and Winifred Roberts who were to become our friends for life.  One day Tony came back at lunchtime very excited saying he had met some wonderful people at the British Council and it had been arranged that I would meet them soon for lunch. He told me Will worked as an accountant for the Council and that they had lived in Iran for a time. They had many Iranian friends as acted as god parents to some of their children who were students in England. They had three teenage daughters. One of them Liz became an artist and eventually married an architect Tony Thompson. They too are good friends and we, Ros and I, see them quite often.

The Roberts lived in a small but beautiful old Persian house in the north of the city which we loved to visit. In the garden was a pool which must have been fed by a mountain spring. One day I jumped into it and was nearly in a state of shock because of the extreme cold.

Among our other friends were Antony and Ada Octapodas. Antony was a doctor and Ada taught me how to make many delicious greek dishes such as Pasticcio and Spanakopita which became part of my standard repertoire.

We liked them so much and were happy later when they came to London for a year. Their daughter Nadia was educated at the French lycée in Teheran and continued at the lycée in London. Their older daughter Ersy married Rick in England and we were all at the wedding in Richmond.

Eventually they went to South Africa and we lost touch with them.

Our cook Mohammed was an agreeable young man who showed me how to make Persian khoreshts and kebabs. He often grilled luleh kebabs minced lamb moulded onto little swords and barbecued. There was an American womens’ Institute which produced a useful book of Persian recipes.

I later bought more scholarly books but this little one provided all the groundwork.

England 1960

We returned to England in the summer of 1960 to our flat in Muswell Hill. It was already too small and we were awaiting Rosamund our 4th child in December.

The most urgent task was to find a house before we went to Borneo for Tony’s next contract.

We had in the past talked longingly of buying a span house in Blackheath. These houses were considered at the top of the architectural tree  in ready made houses, but we could not afford it.New Ash Green

Now one of our neighbours in Cecil Road was a nurse who worked with Tony in the Royal Northern Hospital. She was Clare Rayner who later became famous as a writer of advice in newspapers. She suggested that we look at another development in south London, built by Waites in Forest Hill.

Forest Hill

It was, like Span, built around a central green area with a small wood for common use, the house design was similar but not as elegant as span.

Because of the urgent need to settle we did not look at any other part of London or any other house, but bought the last house in the group on London Road. It was still unfinished.

We were so happy to have 4 bedrooms and a large open plan living space which was perfect for our small children.

Borneo 1961

It was hard to leave our new house in the hands of tenants and travel to Borneo in November. Tony went first by air and I travelled slowly by ship to Singapore with the children. As I was 8 months pregnant it was not easy to look after the children, but there was a charming French lady on board who became my friend and helped to amuse the children.

It was on this ship that I first heard the word ‘bingo’. As we slowly progressed we saw the phosphorescent waters and flying fish of the tropics.

From Singapore we travelled in a small plane to Brunei, a small country in Borneo but the Sultan was one of the richest in the world thanks to oil revenues.

Tony worked for Shell. We lived in a small community between Seria and Kuala Belait. Our friends and neighbours were Dutch, American and English. We lived in bungalows within a grassy area with no fences between the houses. In this way at least it followed the ideals of Span; the architecture was practical rather than elegant. We were raised about a metre above the dusty sandy like soil of the ground. The rooms were cooled by fans, but one bedroom in which the children slept had air conditioning. In the evenings with lights on and windows open huge numbers of insects many of them huge black flying beetles about 3 cm. long passed through our house.

bugging off

The insects were the cause of great misery at first. It was impossible to avoid their bites and in the humid climate many were infected and my legs began to swell, I longed for the birth of Ros but it was about 6 weeks before that happened.

In the middle of the night of 30 December 1960 we drove to the Company hospital. The nurses put me in a side room to wait as it was hours before the baby would come according to the nurses. Later they came back and realising they had miscalculated started wheeling me on a stretcher across the central courtyard saying don’t let the baby come.

I had no way of stopping Ros who came into the world under a dark starlit sky. I later heard that it was good not to be born under bright lights. In spite of the climate which made most babies look pasty Ros thrived and was a really beautiful baby.

We had learned to drive and passed the test while in England so we bought a little car and were able to drive to the little town of Seria and visit a religious book shop where we bought the big Larousse dictionary which I still use here. I like the old fashioned slang which it uses to translate many words. It is a comforting reminder of a time when a dictionary did not include the word computer.

In the opposite direction was the village of Kuala Belait. There was a street of little shops and a large open air fish market. We often bought wonderful unknown fish there and our Chinese cook lovingly prepared them.

Tony was not so happy that after cooking the fish he would take 10 minutes to decorate it.

The Director  of the hospital Keith Sweetman was an Australian. His wife played mah-jong and entertained large numbers with Chinese meals served in the correct Chinese bowls.

Other friends who made life good were Michael and Valerie Quick. But somehow we lost touch  with them after leaving Borneo.

The best thing about Borneo was getting to know John and Doreen Darvell who became life long friends.

John was the Shell Dentist. We found getting a filling not so alarming when we were in his hands, but he was so much more than an excellent Dentist.

Doreen was a nurse in the hospital and both of them were so special that life in Brunei became good.

After our return to England they married and later Doreen became God mother to Tom.

Tony was godfather to Francesca and I to Alexandra.