Pearl Hood's Book (Early Years)

The following is a transcription of 11 pages of handwritten notes written by Pearl Hood shortly before her death. Obviously intended as part of a larger autobiography which she was unable to finish, it does contain details of the earliest part of her life (and of her parent's early married life), about which there is very little other information.


Several times during my life friends or acquaintances have said "You ought to write a book". I don't really know why because I am not famous, I haven't done anything very clever, but at last I have decided to put down on paper some of the events of my past sixty-five years.

I certainly was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. When my parents married my Dad was earning the princely sum of thirty shillings a week. When I made my appearance into this world two and a half years later his wages had increased to thirty-five shillings. Seems impossible doesn't it, but it is quite true. In the first year or so of their mariage they used to have a super night out once a week - a drink in the "local" dock port at fourpence for Mum, half of bitter a tuppence for Dad, a couple of seats at Croydon Empire (sixpence each) and a visit to the fish & chip shop afterwards for two portions of two & one (a tuppenny piece of fish & a penneth of chips each) - grand total two shillings, or in present coinage ten pence.

When I started to walk it was discovered my ankles were so weak that I needed to wear boots with special supports. When I was four years old Mum was advised to let me have dancing lessons to strengthen my feet so I was duly enrolled at the Ambrose School of Dancing Redhill (by now Mum and I were living with my grandad because Dad was with the British Expiditionary Force in France). As a matter ____(?)____ I was the first pupil on the Ambrose sisters and had my lesson in their back room. They said I brought them luck because within about three weeks they had so many pupils they had to hire a hall. After a few months we gave a Dancing Display at the small hall of Redhill Town Hall. I did a short solo (I still remember the first half of it) and later joined with a number of other girls to do the Highland Fling. This would have been more successful if I hadn't been so chubby. As it was my legs found if difficult to keep up with the music - but by sheer perserverance I finished with the music.

When Dad was demobbed he went back to his job in the telephone exchange. One day he heard of a position as Chief Telegraphic Engineer in the, as then, practically unknown country of Uganda. The pay being excellent he applied for the post and got it. He sailed from Tilbury docks in May 1920. He soon got lonely so he & Mum decided she would join him & after much indecision eventually took a chance on taking me too. So in May 1921 we set sail. Owing to a coal strike we had to go first to Antwerp. We were there three days coaling. My Mum was the world's worst sailor (if she went to a cinema and saw a rough sea she felt sick) and as luck would have it we went through the Bay [of Biscay] when it was the roughest it had been in years.

The fantastic change after the Straits of Gibralter was very welcome to her. We stopped at Gibralter and young as I was I can remember being overawed by the magnificent Rock. From there to the beautiful Bay of Naples. Unfortunately Mum couldn't afford for us to go ashore so we didn't see Naples & die (or smell it) neither did we see Pompeii. Next stop Port Said - lots of natives coming out to the ships in small boats selling beads & souvenirs, kids diving for coins, lots of noise & excitement for a six-year-old. Through the Suez Canal (in those days very peaceful). We stopped at Port Sudan. Mum went on deck and promptly got sun-stroke. She was dreadfully ill and I found out afterwards it was touch & go whether they left her behind under six foot of sand. One of the passengers felt sorry for the gawky mousy haired kid (me) & took me to a lovely sandy beach. I played there very happily, quire unaware of the drama in Mum's cabin. She must have been tough because she pulled through thank God. Next stop was Aden (more coal) then at last Kilendine the port for Mombasa. Believe it or not that voyage took five and a half weeks, and what was more Mum didn't have one square meal the whole time. The Union Castle Line must have made a packet out of her.

Dad met us and took us the rest of the way. It was a long journey in those days - the best part of a week I think. First we had to go on a train and what a train! Our carriage had seats backing on to the outside walls of the coach so that when you sat in them you were sideways to the engine. These seats became two single bunks at night with another bunk which let down from the wall above on each side. At one end was a door to a loo and wash-room. At the appropriate times the train stopped at a station with facilities for a meal. It's funny, I can remember this but have no recollection of what the food was like. Sometimes when there was a big slope up for the train we went so slowly it would have been possible to get out and pick flowers. In fact there was a story that one man did get out & start walking & beat the train to the next station. The engine burned wood and when supplies were getting low the fireman would get some more from huge piles which were at regular intervals alongside the track.

The sight which I enjoyed most was of zebras buffalo impala ostriches etc by the thousand. Sad to think that now so many species of wild like are in danger of extinction because of man's greed. Another very impressive sight was Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We stopped off at Nairobi for one night. I know it was nice there but have very little memory of it.

On we went to the edge of Victoria Nyanja. Until then neither Mum nor I had realised a lake could be so large. After we had been on the boat for a while we found we were out of sight of land. Fancy that and it ws only a lake! Incidentally I saw a film about ten or fifteen years ago in which some of the characters had some scenes on a lake steamer in Uganda and I swear it looked like the one we went on. When we landed the other side of the lake we still had a short journey by road to our bungalow in Kampala.

The first thing my father insisted on when we reached the bungalow was that I must see the monkey he had for me. The little animal had a sleeping box on top of a short pole in the garden. By the time we went to look at it night had fallen so Dad shone a torch into the box. The poor little thing was frightened and clawed out blindly. I was looking into the entrance and caught the full brunt of his claws - down the left side of my nose and missing my left eye by a fraction of an inch. Dad wanted to shoot the monkey, but I cried because in spite of the scratch I had fallen in love with Joey, and Mum pointed out it wasn't his fault so his life was spared. I had many happy hours watching Joey's antics.

The following morning Mum was told that in the event of an uprising she must take me straight to the fort. This scared her out of her wits. Then Dad got ready to go to work. She told him he musn't leave her alone with the seven coloured servants because she couldn't speak a word of their language. He explained that his work had to be done and left rather hurriedly.

Soon after breakfast the house-boy came in. Mum took one look at him, said 'later, later', and hoped for the best. Unfortunately that is the sound of a word which means 'come', so every __(?)__ she said that (pointing to the door) he went out, then came back in again. A neighbour came in to welcome us and was able to straighten things out.

Our bungalow had a large lounge-dining room, a couple of bedrooms, and a very large verandah. In those days there was no such thing as plumbing so we had a hip bath and the head house boy & his help had to heat the water in the kitchen (which was a separate building across the compound next to the boys' quarters), then carry it in petrol cans to the bath. The lavatory was very primitive, set even further away across the compound with a high circular fence round it. I think the fence was called kijjicati (spelling probably wrong!).

In our garden we grew limes pineapples and pea-nuts, also very showy flowers. Climbing round the verandah we had a huge bouganvillea growing, The Hotel Imperial used to send to us for huge branches of it to decorate for special occasions.

Being the only white child I came in for all kinds of presents including a baby elephant, which I adored but about which my parents were not very happy, because the little thing needed so much milk. The natives were highly amused when I used to bargain with them for fruit, basket work and pottery - I'm sure they thought it was well worth letting me have the things very cheaply, just to hear me prattling away in Swahili (like most children I picked up the language very quickly).

We made quite a number of trips up country passing coffee shambas, going through beautiful country, seeing butterflies as large as plates, and many other interesting sights. When we went on trips we would stop at the Government rest-houses (very basic) where we could have a meal or rest. The loos were usually a hole dug in the floor of an out-house with a trunk of a small tree suspended horizontally above to sit on.

After a few months my parents found I was getting one attack of malaria after another. In the November, five months after our arrival, the doctor said that if I stayed in Uganda I would get 'black water' which was fatal.

The next morning my Dad went down to the travel agent and booked passages for Mum and I to return to England. Our departure was to be about a weel before Christmas. My Grandad had sent out all sorts of things for Christmas including the dried fruit for a pudding. Mum made the pudding and gave it to the cook to boil. Unfortunately he thought it was just any old pudding and served up for lunch the same day after only cooking it for a very short time. Of course it just flopped out of the basin. Mum shoved it all back in, and got Dad to explain. Eventually, just before we left Kampala we had our Christmas celebrations. The fellows from Dad's club got a branch of a tree that was something like the shape of a Chistmas tree and the wives decorated it as best they could. Everyone did their best to give me a Christmas as near normal as possible.

The day we were leaving as usual at the last minute I needed to spend a penny. I trotted out to the lavatory, then we all set off for the lake steamer. Afterwards we found that within minutes of my leaving the lavatory the natives found a Black Mamba snake in the roof of it. Black Mambas as absolutely deadly the poison works so quickly. My lucky day.

Mum & I got to Mombasa on Christmas Eve - a very strange Christmas. We sailed back in the Carisbrooke Castle. She was a terrible ship. The least little sea sent her rolling. Apart from that we both got smothered with bites, The verdict of the doctor was - bugs! We had to be moved into another cabin while the original one was fumigated. I believe it was the last voyage for that ship.

My Mum refused to go through the Bay again so we disembarked at Marsielles to travel across France by land, then the Channel crossing. With us were our next door neighbours from Kampala Mr & Mrs Jack Read. When we reached Paris we had to go across the city from one station to another so we went by horse drawn carriage (I think the grown-ups thought it would be more exciting for me). Now I had with me my doll. It was as large as a baby, shaped like a baby with dimples and shortish hair, and dressed in six-to-twelve months baby cothes. When we got in the carriage the cabby put a travelling rug round the doll which was being carried by my Mum. We realised he thought it was a real baby and would try to charge for it, so when we reached our destination, Mum handed the doll to him before getting out herself. He was so surprised he nearly dropped it. Fortunately he had a sense of humour and was very amused.

When we landed in England it was snowing and the temperature was way down. Only a short time before we had been unable to go out at mid-day because of the heat. Mum soon bought me a white fur coat to try to keep me warm.

Six weeks after we landed my dancing teachers had their annual Display at Redhill Town Hall. I danced a solo which I had learned by correspondence whilst in Africa (the Misses Ambrose sent regular lessons to us, which Mum used to teach me).