Memories of Larkin Gardens

Richard Hayter [Right] with his brother, Jimbo,
in front of their home in Larkin Gardens, 1961
Readers of My Johor Stories both near and far, often write to me when they are touched by something familiar in my stories.  I’ve made new friends and had the privilege to reconnect people and let those abroad reminisce about their memories of Johor Baru. 

In January 2015, Richard Hayter, a reader in Leeds, UK, read what I wrote about my early years in Larkin Gardens and he shared memories of a time when he used to live here too.  Along with his memories, Richard also shared a priceless collection of old photos.  Just like my dad, his also enjoyed photography as a hobby and we have fond memories  treasured in photos.  It’s my pleasure to share excerpts of his story:

Richard's family lived in this house in
Larkin Gardens!
As a family we were fortunate enough to travel the Far East courtesy of my father's time in the British Army.  My father was a boy soldier, having enrolled at the Army Apprentices College in Arborfield at the age of 14.  In 1946 he joined the REME as an amourer and served with various regiments until his demob in 1968.  Of all the regiments he was attached to, by far and away, the happiest of his long service were the years he spent with the Gurkha's.  He thought they were the finest of men.

Between 1948 and 1952 he serve at various places in Malaya during the communist insurgency and discovered a passion for photography at the same time.  This passion, similar to your father, never left him and thank goodness because my memory of my childhood is as fresh as yesterday courtesy of a photographic collection of more than 2,000 prints and slides.  Some are of family but most catalogue our experience in what would have been regarded in Britain at the time, as mysterious and exotic locations but which we never thought of as anything other than our home, however short the stay might be.

Richard's mother in front of their home
in Larkin Gardens in the 60s
My father met and married my mother after his return from Malaya.  I was born in 1954 and just 20 months later, we were off to FanLing in Hong Kong, then to Kluang where my brother, James (Jimbo) was born the day after Christmas Day 1957.  In 1958 we were briefly stationed in Blakang Mati, which of course is now an international jet set resort, before returning to the UK for two years, then coming back to Malaya and Johore Bahru in November 1961.  

Problems with changeovers meant that the house allocated to us was not available, so we were put into a brand new home on a new development called Larkin Gardens.  It was so new, the road hadn't been finished and for some days, we had great fun watching the roller pass slowly up and down the road outside our house, crushing and levelling the hard core base.  

The house was a small, neat bungalow in the middle of a plot secured by an unfortunate wire fence with a barbed wire top.  A small ditch surrounded the house from which the water and rain ran off into a storm drain.

There was no garden as the entire surround of the house was concreted, but it made for a play area which avoided two small boys getting dirty.  Something which seemed important to my mother, even though she didn't have to wash and clean up after us - that was done by the Amah.

Steamroller that improved the road surface in front
of Richard's home in Larkin Gardens!
I've never been quite sure why the Army thought it necessary for forces families to have the service of an Amah.  But I suppose the thinking went that travelling to these 'hot and exotic' locations meant that English mothers would not be able to cope with the heat.  Daft really but as a consequence of being mothered by Ah Siu in Hong Kong, my first language by the age of five was Hakka.  

My only recollections today are the various rude words and insults that she would hurl her husband, the gardener, for keeping me entertained with the tree lizards, snakes and strange insects that inhabited the bamboo, hibiscus and other flora and fauna in the cottage garden in FanLing, Hong Kong.

Richard [Right] with his brother, Jimbo, and home helper,
Sadia, in the compound of their Larkin Gardens home
In Johore we were fortunate to be introduced to Sadia who was only 17 but treated us as if we were her own.  We had arrived too late for school and suddenly Christmas was upon us and every day seemed to be a play day with Sadia.  She taught me to tell the time, brush my hair and cleanliness, and life seemed to be sunshine and smiles.  And then it was suddenly over.  Our new house was ready and after only a few months, we moved to Jalan Inche Besar Zubaidah. 

It may be fanciful but I have a recollection of a house a few down from our home in Larkin Gardens, where a man with a green car would wash it virtually every day.  The memory stuck because the car was so unusual to us.  There were few German cars in Britain at the time and the VW Beetle was certainly odd.  Today of course German cars are a mark of quality and engineering excellence.  Either way the memory is there. Who knows?  We may even have been neighbours!

A section of the central market in Johor Baru in the 60s
Our time in Johore was so very brief, but in that short time we saw and experienced so much.  It was a Malaya which has probably disappeared now.  My Google satellite search for places I have lived in overseas, revealed to me a Johore that is unrecognisable from the memories of my youth and the pictures captured by my father. Inevitably with over 50 years of development.

Thanks for allowing me to share these memories and photographs with you.  My father qualified for the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal but due to the stupid and mealy mouthed politicians of the day and stuffy British protocol, he wasn't able to receive it in person.  My mother and I collected it on his behalf in January 2008.  He would have regarded it as an honour to have been appreciated and recognised in such a manner.  Indeed, I can think of no other country who would say thank you to the soldiers of a former colonial power for the preservation of its freedoms. 
. . .

Richard's memories struck a familiar chord because our family was among the first to move into Larkin Gardens when construction was completed.  We have similar photos of our house without a fence then and we also had an Amah or home helper, a young Chinese lady who kept herself well groomed and even wore dressed quite similar to Sadia!  This was just after our younger brother was born and the mah jie who looked after me, had retired.

Fishermen fishing in the Straits of Johor in the 60s
I enjoyed the nostalgic way Richard spelled the word Johore - with an "e" - because that was how we used to spell "Johor" in those days. Incidentally, my dad used to own a VW Beetle when we first lived in Larkin Gardens but I distinctly remember it was blue in colour. Nevertheless, Richard and I were certainly neighbours however briefly in the same residential area even though we might not have lived on the same street.

I'm so glad he has such vivid recollections of his childhood days here.  But I'm sure he would hardly recognise the Johor Baru of today because familiar sites like the causeway, the Istana Gardens, the central market and particularly, Lido Beach, have changed beyond recognition.


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