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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Precious memories

The Star
Wednesday February 17, 2010

Precious Memories

Story and illustration

Magic moments that live on in the catacombs of our mind.

ON A cold winter night in January of 1959, two thickly-clad figures could be seen making their way slowly down the approach road to Kirkby College, Liverpool. The road was virtually deserted. It was past midnight and well past lights out.

The road leading to Kirkby College, Liverpool

Towering trees which lined the road stood stark naked like silent sentinels, while the fish-and-chip stall and a farm house beyond it were just murky shapes.
A few metres from the college gate, the pair caught sight of something which made them stop dead in their tracks. Under the golden pool of light, cast by a solitary street lamp, stood the hulking figure of the warden.
“Mr Struthers,” a voice whispered.
The figures made a quick about-turn and started to pace back and forth along the icy road. They wrapped their scarves tightly round their necks to protect themselves from the biting wind and their gloveless hands dug deeper into the pockets of their gabardines.
The low-hanging fog and the darkness of winter, they fervently hoped would render them unrecognisable. The warden finally stalked away. The two figures made a dash for the college gate, made a quick right turn and vanished into Block 9.
In the silence and comfort of the recreation room, they warmed their numb hands over an electric heater. For both figures, my friend Seripala and I, it was not the end, but the beginning of our troubles.
I remember well that particular evening. Earlier in the evening, young men and women could be seen heading for the gym hall to seek warmth and company from the darkness and dreariness of winter. It was the evening of the informal dance.

Young Kirkbyites at the College informal dance. Can you identify those in the photo?
Photo courtesy of Johnny Khoo. Forwarded by Mimi Foo.

“Shall we go to the dance?” I asked Seripala.
Stroking his goatee, he mulled over my suggestion.
“Er…er... I think I prefer to go to the Jacaranda Club,” he replied with a faint smile that flitted at the corner of his mouth.
“Like to go?” he inquired with his trademark smile.
“Okay,” I replied.

Quiet escapade

After an early dinner, we slipped quietly out of the college gate. We took a bus to Liverpool and soon, I found myself trying hard to keep pace with his long striding steps. We made our way along unfamiliar roads flanked by indistinct buildings and came to a stop at the entrance of an inconspicuous building.
Seripala whispered something to the doorman and we were ushered in. The moment we stepped into the building, the metallic rhythm of steel band music reached our ears. As my eyes adjusted to the dimly-lit surroundings, I realised we were standing on some kind of landing.
A short flight of steps led to a cellar which was filled with a seething mass of hip-swaying bodies. To the left was a small counter that served light refreshment. A mural adorned a wall, only its black and white outlines now visible in the dim light.
We pushed our way past the milling crowd to the centre of the room. Soon we found ourselves dancing with two English college girls to the rhythm of a Calypso music provided by a Caribbean Steel Band.

There was no room for any fancy footwork and the din made it impossible to engage in any extended conversation. So we “danced” in silence, hardly moving from our spots. Caught in the excitement of the moment, we soon lost count of time. Then above the din a voice next to me said: “Hey! It’s nearly 12!”
We shouldered through the crowd, grabbed our gabardines and headed for the nearest bus stop. The last bus to Kirkby College screeched to a halt. 

The bus screeched to a halt

Talking and laughing in childish exuberance, we scrambled up the bus and plopped ourselves in the vacant seat behind the driver.
We had hardly settled down when the not-too-familiar figure of a college lecturer boarded the bus. Without even glancing at us he strolled calmly to the back of the bus. As the bus hummed its way towards its destination, we sat in complete silence as both of us had the uneasy feeling of someone watching our every move.
After what seemed like an eternity, the bus finally came to a halt at the college bus stop. We sat and waited for the few passengers at the back to disembark. I stole a glance at the disembarking commuters.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the lecturer. He was standing next to our seats. His eyes were fixed directly at the open door and the darkness beyond. I heaved a sigh of relief as there was not the slightest sign of recognition. Then, above the silence of the cold night air came a crisp voice: “See the warden, tomorrow.”

As we stood in the recreation room and warmed our hands over the glowing electric heater, I wondered how the lecturer knew we were from Kirkby College. Then it dawned on me that like typical “freshie hobos”, we were na├»ve enough to don our college scarves!

A lesson in charity

The next day, we found ourselves outside the warden’s office. We tapped lightly at the door and without waiting for an answer, stepped into his office. The warden peered at us over his thick-rimmed glasses.
“Yes, what can I do for you, young men?”
We explained to him about the night’s incident and waited anxiously with bated breath for the expected long lecture. It never came. Instead in a slow, calm voice he said: “Young men, you can enjoy yourselves, but be careful. The English girls can be naughty, you know.”
With those sagacious words of advice, he waved us out. As we left his room, we realised that behind the table sat a big man with a big heart.

The warden ( Mr. Struthers ) standing on the right, welcoming us
to Kirkby College

Our trips to the Jacaranda Club came to an abrupt end though, as Seripala had somehow decided to take up ballroom dancing lessons at the Victor Sylvester’s Dance Hall. However, we filled our free time and weekends with other interesting activities.
Seripala, who was well-known for his culinary skills, would often prepare his signature dish – spicy fish curry. I remember the cold winter nights, well past lights-out, when the aroma of freshly-cooked fish curry would waft across the long narrow corridor of Block 9. Ravenous, pyjama-clad bodies peeped from half-opened doors and in zombie-like fashion would sniff their way to our bolted room. Then, there were the weekend trips to the brightly-lit town of Blackpool; the horse race at Aintree and the GP on the Isle of Wight.
I remember that particular trip because on the return journey aboard a ferry, a stranger had walked up to me and said: “Your countrymen did very well.”
I nodded. I knew he had mistaken me for a Japanese. I also remember the winter days when we would join our English family at Goodison Park to cheer for Everton and that special trip to Old Trafford in Manchester to watch the game between Everton and Manchester United.

With so much fun and activities, the years slipped by, unnoticed. Suddenly, we found our two-year stay in Kirkby College had come to an end and it was time to bid farewell to our friends.

At St. Paul's Hill , Melaka during a school vacation
From Lto R: Seripala, Chwee Seng, Joseph John

On our return to Malaya, Seripala and I were posted to different parts of the country. We met once during the school holidays and then lost touch with each other.

Seripala with Johnny Khoo at Cameron Highlands
Photo courtesy of Johnny Khoo

Years passed.

One morning, while scanning the local papers, my eyes fell on a news item about a Kirkbyite who had passed away in a foreign country. I saw the name. It was my good friend, Seripala.
I choked back the lump that rose to my throat as memories of our Kirkby days came flooding back.
Today, 50 years on, I still cherish that friendship and remember with nostalgia the magic moments that we shared, especially that unforgettable night at the Jacaranda Club

Some interesting facts about 'The Jacaranda' ( source: Liverpool Echo )

The Jacaranda, or the Jac as it is popularly known, has a rich history linked with The Beatles. It was founded in 1957 by Allan Williams, the Fab Four's first manager and "the man who gave them away".
Williams leased an old watch repair shop which he converted into a coffee bar. He named the venue the Jacaranda after an exotic species of ornamental flowering tree.
The Jac, as it became known, opened a year later in September 1958 and John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and Paul McCartney were frequent customers.
Asking for the chance to play at the club, Williams instead put them to work redecorating, with Lennon and Sutcliffe painting a mural for the Ladies room. The Beatles finally began playing at the Jac and in the summer of 1960, Williams secured a number of bookings for the group at other venues.
In 1961, Williams and The Beatles parted company over money and in 1962 he famously told their new manager Brian Epstein: "Don't touch them with a bargepole, they will let you down."Prior to its closure, the Jacaranda was known for its basement vault booths, chandeliers and a belting Wurlitzer jukebox.
The walls were covered with pictures of The Beatles, Cilla Black and Epstein, alongside posters for seemingly every Beatles-related movie, play and revue.

Nestled among them is the celebrated 1956 school picture of pupils at the Liverpool Institute, in which can be seen McCartney and his brother Mike, George Harrison, newsreader Peter Sissons and various members of Gerry And The Pacemakers,Remo Four and The Quarrymen.

Related articleClick below link and scroll down

Moments to savour

1 comment:

  1. Bob, Harry and Ben thanks for your update on the Jacaranda Club and sharing the photos.