I couldn’t help reflecting on other long road trips. Most went smoothly but one in particular was unforgettable. In 1963, while living in Singapore, my husband decided that we should have a week in Penang. If memory serves me right it was 132 miles away and he drove with only a couple of short breaks in eleven-and-three-quarter-hours, mostly through secondary jungle. The road was about two car widths and mostly unpaved but it was fairly straight. We had an 8mm camera, so enjoyed filming as we went.
I was a little disturbed by a story told by a friend about another friend’s encounter with an elephant on the same road. The path of their small car was blocked by the animal, which stood swaying and staring but showed no sign of walking away. The road was never busy and after ten or fifteen minutes they were still alone with the elephant. Out of patience her husband leaned on his horn, whereupon the elephant turned round, backed towards them and sat on the car bonnet!
Our own journey took a bizarre turn when the road was blocked by a crowd of hysterical waving Malay men, young and old. Their kampong was a little off to one side almost hidden by the trees and the womenfolk clutching babies and toddlers. When we slowed down, running over several flip-flops that were thrown under our wheels for luck (thereby saving their own skins) the crowd parted to reveal an enormous snake coiled. Its girth must have been well over twenty inches and it was covering most of the road. It was obviously dead but they wanted us to run over it. Husband, Michael, had experienced jungle warfare in the Emergency and spoke their language. He was still a serving officer with a commanding air, so in spite of their furious protests he managed to edge round the snake without damaging women, children, car, or it any further!
We had started out from Singapore much earlier than planned because our five-year-old daughter was excited about the holiday and had not fallen asleep until after 3 am, so Michael wrapped her up and put her in the car. Wedged with luggage and well cushioned she slept until the enraged screams woke her up. I don’t know how much she remembers but, unlike me, she didn’t seem fazed. She always did have complete faith in the fact that Daddy was in charge and could overcome anything or anyone. I shared that feeling to a large extent but then – mothers are supposed to worry.
Now the one thing that annoys me most is that the camera was within reach and I didn’t take one shot!!