Calabar Then & Now

Ewart “Fatz” Walters attended Calabar from 1952 to 1958. He currently resides in Ottawa Canada where he is a senior Federal public servant as well as the publisher of a monthly community newspaper, The Spectrum, which is available at blackottawa411.com .

Ewart can be reached at spectrum@storm.caThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Calabar then and then!
by Ewart Walters

 

First you have to understand the landscape at Old Calabar, as we called the Slipe Pen Road institution. This was a place with a Tuck Shop run by Mother B, a lady who had been there forever (even my uncle knew her!) and from which I gained my first introduction to the joys of coffee strips and or cocoa-bread and patty. There was a 25 metre swimming pool between the dormitory and Studley Park Road. The dining room was part of the Calabar College main building, the one with the big clock on the front facing Slipe Pen Road. To get to the cricket field you had to go down Studley Park Road to Chetolah Park and there it was in its sand and police-macca-infested glory. Oh yes, there was an occasional blade of grass. I believe there was a smaller field west of Mother B’s domain. It too was resplendent with sand and police macca.

The chapel was a neat little building nestled strategically under a Bombay mango tree behind which was the headmaster’s house. Needless to say, the headmaster’s house AND the mango tree were “out of bounds.” As was a nearby coolie plum tree if I remember right. Looking east across Slipe Pen Road from the mango tree there was a Texaco service station (I guess in those days they were still gas stations) where there was a level with which you actually had to pump the gas into your gas tank. There were two or three bothers who by their ruddy countenances we called The Reds who owned and rode motorbikes who lived in that area too. Looking south from the mango tree was the Salvation Army’s School for the Blind.

Looking skywards from the mango tree…. were the sweet reasons it was out of bounds!

So, that was what we left for the salubrious climes of 61 Red Hills Road. Don’t know if you remember the old song “Gimme land lots of land neath the starry skies above…” That is what we had there. From the main gate with the cow catcher the premises was about what you have now, although many building have been added and what was then the Theological College is now part of the school (the first large building on your right as you enter). The playing fields began south of the Room 8 and dormitory block and there were two fields below which was barbed wire fencing. But the land south of the barb wire was still Calabar land and the scout troop often went into that wilderness for week-end camping when we did not go to Kintyre or Doncaster for in those days we were a (dry-land) Sea Scout troop. The land, lots of land, was not overrun with police macca, but now we had marauding armies of sand-flies to deal with along with the mosquitoes that made us start burning those horrible smelling coils of green stuff they called mosquito destroyer. And we had scores of John Crows always flying in the skies. More on that anon.

The new Calabar was blessed with several coolie plum trees but no mango trees of any variety. There was no chapel, no swimming pool, no cricket pitch. It was us boys, mostly the boarders, who excavated the cricket pitches and helped carry cement for the construction of the swimming pool, this time an olympic size pool of 50 metres. I remember a fair damsel turning up at poolside with her elder sisters one day and my shy, no terrified, response – for I had long worshipped this damsel, from afar! – was to dive the entire length of the pool, in the other direction! Such is the stuff of young adolescence.

Food at Red Hills Road was something else. At the old school, the boarders got a brew the servers called tea, but we were never quite sure what the heck it was, in any event it seemed to have been boiled rather than drawn and it was served in big white enamel jugs. Margarine, not butter, graced the bread. At the new school, the tea, under the direction of the matron – a tall angular woman who had enough masculine appearances to attract the nickname “Man Matron” – seemed to get better, at least it tasted like it was drawn.

But the big new thing with the food was that we were now getting chicken for dinner. Chicken! At least, that is what they said it was. We were not really sure, for it somehow did not taste much like the chicken I was used to. And I had never seen those strange parts before. Indeed, we wondered, aloud, whether our good gastronomical fortune had anything to do with the ever-present, but apparently dwindling, flock of John Crows! Eventually, we were offered an explanation we eagerly reached out to accept, the rejection whereof was quite unpalatable. It was necks and backs. Chicken necks and backs, which were just coming into popular use and were now available from HI Lo, the first and only supermarket in Kingston.

At both old and new locations we boarders were required to have possession of a signed document called an Exeat whenever we were off the premises. Apart from visits to the barber, or visits to King Street to meet parents or elsewhere in the city for movies or visiting relatives or whatever, we would sometimes just go for a Sunday afternoon walk, which, in the new school, usually meant along Dunrobin. Our headboy at one stage was my cousin Maurice “Zunto” James, shot putt and discus champion, good swimmer and solid boot at right back on the football team. Did I say solid boot? He was the possessor of a hefty pair of feet. Hefty, heck! The man foot dem did well big! And so it was, as the story goes, two small boys returned late one Sunday from their Sunday afternoon walk. When challenged as to why they were late they replied (so me get it, so me sell it, so help me) that they had gone for a walk around James’s feet.