Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Saturday, March 07, 2009

6:1 A Visit with Father Thames.

We closed our apartment and Rosie left for England before me. A few days before I was due to follow her I called Rosie and suggested that she should rent a boat for a cruise up the River Thames. This delighted her enormously, for Rosie had a passion for boats, as I knew, and when I arrived in London, I dumped my baggage with Sing Yuen (Sing) who had been working in London with Greys, an internationally renowned advertising agency, and we all went to pick up the boat. Rosie had rented a six-bunked river-cruiser, large enough to take Sing and her friends with us on a river holiday up to Reading, but she had failed to convey her idea fully to Sing for although a large party escorted us to the boat and we had a sort of picnic, Sing and her friends said they could not go with us because of their work commitments. It was rather of a blow to Rosie, but I did not see any problem in managing the boat with Rosie’s help. The driving instructions were simple: push the gear lever forward or backwards, and the boat followed accordingly; turn the wheel clockwise and the boat turned to the right, anti-clockwise and she turned to the left. After a couple of turns in the pool just outside the docks, I signed on as Captain of the boat - Rosie was my cabin-boy, deck-hand and mate. It was romantic.

I did not even ask for a map of the river as I knew we only had to go upstream to reach Reading where a good friend of mine, Cohn Kaplan, was Professor of Bacteriology at Reading University. I was told that I had to negotiate some 20 locks on the way to Reading, hut locks did not seem to present any problems: you wait outside the (down) lock-gates until they open and the boat(s)inside leave to proceed downstream: you bring your boat inside the lock and tie up; they shut the lower gates and let in water until the water level equals that up-stream; the upper lock-gate open and you exit and carry on. Each lock brought us two or three metres higher in the stream, and the mainstream went past at the side of the lock down an incline known as a weir that was not navigable. We went like this past a couple of locks, once tying up to await our turn while a boat in front of us cleared the lock first. Rosie enjoyed her deck-duties tremendously but was met with a tart retort when she called to the dock-hand as we went into a lock,
“Would you please pass this rope round your bollocks?”
“Not bloody likely,” was the reply. Rosie had meant bollards, of course.

I could see that the lock-gates were shut as we approached the third lock on our journey, so I drew alongside the wharf that was provided to let boats tie up. The wharf level was just alongside the wheelhouse of the boat, so I stopped the motor and stepped out on to the wharf .
“Pass me the rope,” I said to Rosie sitting on the wheel house just a yard or so away.
“Right-Oh,” she said and tossed at me the rope she was holding in her hand. Unfortunately, she tossed the rope upwards instead of laterally and the end of the rope landed in the water between us. After the initial contact with the wharf when I had stepped off, the boat was drifting away from land. I had visions of Rosie merrily sailing down the Thames, riding on the wheelhouse, not knowing how to control the boat in any way. I made a dash for the side of the wharf and leapt over the widening gap of a yard or more. My feet landed on the gunwales, my hands on the roof of the cabin, just missing the railings. I fell back into the Thames with a colossal splash.

Though I was weighed down by my leather jacket I was able to surface immediately and swimming to the wharf I was able to put one foot round the end of the wharf and hoist myself out of the water. It was lucky that I did so because the boat had drifted back to the wharf, driven by the current from the lock whose gates had just opened, and I might have been crushed between the boat and the wharf if I had been in the water still. Rosie jumped off the boat with the rope and asked me if I was all right. I could not answer, because I was in some pain, having wrenched my back in climbing on to the wharf. Rosie was wondering what to do next when a hitch-hiker named Steve Croydon appeared out of the blue, stepping on to the wharf from the bushes alongside.

“Can you help us tie up the boat, please?” Rosie asked him.
“Certainly,” Steve said and helped us tie the boat, fore and aft, while I got back my breath.

I was able to get about, but my back was hurting a bit and I was not confident about continuing the voyage on my own. On an inspiration I asked Steve, having learned his name, if he was free and if he would take us up to Reading, for a fee, of course. Steve said he would be delighted to do so. 1-lewas a part-time labourer, competent with boats, and was uncommitted for the moment. I learned later that Steve’s father was a doctor in general practice, but rather than learn a profession, Steve had decided to earn a living using his hands. He was one of the last of the flower children, I thought to myself. Steve took us up the lock to the next stretch of the Thames near Hampton Court where we tied-up and had dinner after making a quick tour of the place. Steve was a vegetarian for a reason that I had never heard of before. He said that he would eat neither fish, fowl nor good red meat because man obtain such foods by exploiting other forms of life, trapping them or rearing them with an ulterior motive.

I did not sleep too well, but I got up early and made breakfast. When I went to call Rosie to breakfast she looked at me blankly and could not speak coherently. I knew at once that she had had a stroke in the night that was very likely a delayed reaction to the shock of seeing me dive in the river. It was lucky that we had Steve to give us a hand. I went to dial 999 for assistance, called Sing to ask her to come and help. When the ambulance came, I took Rosie to the neighbourhood hospital where the neuro-specialist confirmed that Rosie had had a stroke that affected her speech centre, not too badly as she was already able to say a few words. The specialist then insisted I should have an x-ray and told me that I had fractured some bones in my back. Rest in bed for both of you was his advice!

I arranged with Steve to return our boat to the hirers and went home with Sing. Rosie stayed in the hospital a week, by which time she had recovered her speech entirely and appeared none the worse for wear but I still had some pain in my back and could not lift anything. I decided we should go home as quick as possible, and both of us travelled first class by SQ so that we could lie flat (well, almost) when we slept. It was the first time ever that we travelled First! We asked for wheel-chair service and were whisked through immigration and customs at both ends. Su Min put us to bed in his apartment in Cavanagh Road where we stayed temporarily, as our Devonshire flat had to be renovated. Meanwhile a visit to the radiologist confirmed that I had avulsion fractures of two lumbar transverse processes (my back muscles had pulled so hard on the bones to which they were attached that they ripped the bones out). Rosie had a brain-scan that showed that a cerebral haemorrhage had destroyed an area in her left temporal lobe about two cm in diameter. “A hole in my head,” Rosie said with a shudder.

Few people believed that I had taken a dip in the Thames. It was truly a close call for me, but Rosie had an even closer brush with death when she was in Lucerne. Rosie had learned that the rear door of the bus where we exited did not close if one stood on the step and that the bus did not start if the door was not closed. One day, she changed her mind after leaving the bus and tried to get back on. Rosie just had her foot on the doorstep when the door closed because the indicator (a light beam about knee high) that someone was on the step was no longer interrupted. The bus door closed firmly on Rosie’s foot and the bus moved off dragging her about ten metres along the road before the driver heard shouts from bystanders and halted the bus. Rosie sustained some bruises only, no broken bones, but she surely would have been killed if the driver had not stopped the bus in time.

It took us a few months to regain our confidence and to re-install ourselves in Devonshire Court. We found then that in our absence our family ranks had been thinned. Grandma Yin who had been living alone in Pasir Panjang had passed away, and so also had Sai Soo. My Aunt Ena who had been living apart from her husband was also no more. Aunt Ena had helped to take care of me when I was a child in Kulangsu, and in my teens had more than once taken an interest in me, her last effort being to get me acquainted with Rosie. In the summer of 1989 I decided to take a trip to Puerto Rico, via the Pacific, to attend the World Youth Chess Festival for players of Under-10 to Under-18 as Coach and Manager for Singapore’s young hopeful, Hsu Li-Yang. After the Under-18s, Li Yang and I went on to Tunja, Columbia (drug-barons’ country!) for the World Junior (Under-20s) Championship. It was a great experience for Li-Yang who not many years after became Singapore Champion as well as an International Master. Rosie did not go with me to Puerto Rico. She branched off at San Francisco to visit Su Chong in Calgary, Alberta, where he had settled with a wife (Joanna) and two children (Jacqueline and Alexander). I joined them after Tunja and brought Rosie home.


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