Thursday, March 01, 2007

Virgin territory

Exotic gardens often conjure up for me images of far away places. When I was a child my father had often told me tales about his army service in the jungle of Malaya during the battles of the early 1950’s.

He would show me, a five year old, by pointing out on my globe atlas just how far away Malaya was; and he then would show me the other countries he had passed through whilst travelling home to England. I’m sure that those were the tales that helped to develop my rather vivid imagination. In the days before television broadcasts were able to show us that strange world, he brought those far away places right into the home through his stories.

Dad told me all about the rubber tree plantations and of how the native people would harvest the latex produced by the trees; by cutting grooves into the bark of those trees thereby allowing the latex to drip into a collection vessel tied to the tree trunks. To this day it is the first thought that enters my head when ever I see a rubber tree.

Whenever either we bought or won a coconut at the fairground, he would tell us about how they grew and how the Malay people harvested the crop by using makak monkeys to scale the trees and loosen the nuts; those nuts were opened by a Malay with his machete allowing the refreshing coconut milk to be drank direct from the nut.

Opening a tin of pineapple for Sunday tea, was I also knew was nothing like the taste of fresh pineapple ripened in the earth.

Dad kept an old machete which he utilised to chop firewood for the coal burning fire in our home, but Dad also demonstrated how to hack your way through the jungle with it.

A couple of years ago, Carol and I re-visited Thailand where we took an excursion to the Thai jungle. Situated just a little north of Malaya it was an environment that really seemed to be so familiar to me from those childhood tales. Passing through coconut plantations we watched as both men and their monkeys scaled the tall coconut palms. Refreshing ourselves with coconut milk and more often the finest pineapple we had ever tasted brought the memories and descriptions back to me. There too, were the rubber plantations exactly as described in those long gone days.

The plantations soon gave way to forests, and they in their turn turned to jungle. Dark dank and impenetrable with a few paths and occasional clearings for villages or at water holes

Dad had told me about the blood sucking leeches the soldiers encountered in his day, which they had had to remove with the heat of a cigarette end. Watching those leeches appear as if from out of nowhere when attracted to the bodies of the tourists was a real eye opener during our own visit. Though at least we were at leisure to repel them with a stick, before the leeches managed to attach themselves to us. Just as well as I don’t think there were any smokers in our group.

The Thai guide also pointed out termite mounds to us. He said that his father had taught him that termites only infest rotten timber and that they helped the environment by rendering that rotten wood into soil. Soil which would then be incorporated into the land they cultivated around their village homes. A far cry from the chemical wielding western approach to those ‘pests’.

I bought myself a hat, a green canvas trekking hat, partly because it was very practical folding easily and is comfortable to wear, with it’s wide brim to shade the sun and keep the monsoon rains off, and a strap to secure it in a wind. Though mostly I bought it because it looks a lot like the hat dad wore in his youth during those army days.

In the heat of summer when I am gardening with a pick on our Spanish finca, the hat now shields me from the burning sun. It reminds me of those dark jungle places with their exotic planting, strange animals and insects. It also reminds me of those childhood tales told by my Dad, my own hero who was one of the original Virgin soldiers.

1 comment:

  1. Look how young they look! Faces full of so much promise! Fascinating reading...what an interesting life you've had (and more to come!)...for your dad to share like that is such a good lesson. Enjoyed it!