Letters from London Pt. 2

February 17, 2013

January 28, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

I’m seriously handicapped by the fact my typewriter is not working – skipping terribly and something amiss with the ribbon mechanism as well – and have about a dozen notes to write today.

Lots of news – finished at Wyndham’s last night and going to Geneva to visit the Toughs, probably around February 6th, then returning to London about February 27th or 28th. I have decided to return to Canada to make some MONEY and I have a booking on the ship “St. John” which sails from London around March 1 or 2 and should arrive in St. John N.B. or Halifax about 9 or 10 days later. It’s a freighter (carrying automobiles only) with accommodation for 12 passengers and the fare is only about $163.00. I’ll send you a telegram when I arrive in St. John and then take the train to Ottawa. Well-paying jobs are few and far between here in London and, strangely enough, the only interesting job I’ve heard about was one with the American Cultural Exchange people in the Congo! No thank you!

I’ll not be in Ottawa for very long – I thought I would try my luck in Toronto. But we’ll see what happens when I get home. Please don’t write to this address anymore as neither Sylvia nor I will be here after next week. In case of an emergency, the Toughs Geneva address is: 53 Route de Malagnou, but I wouldn’t write there unless absolutely necessary as my length of stay is indefinite and mail might miss me.

Dad, could you possibly hold off my insurance premiums until I get home in March as I have had to drop most of my Ottawa bank balance to pay for my passage home.

Really must get on with the other letters now. I’ll try to drop you another note either from Geneva or before I leave London.

Sylvia sends her love.

See you soon, David

Geneva 1962

David’s postcard from Geneva

February 26, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,
Leave for London tonight after marvelous visit with the Toughs. Expect to sail for St. John on Thursday or Friday this week. Got your letter and not to worry as I think I have enough (just!) $$ to see me through to Ottawa. Have fun in Florida, Dad, and I will see you when you get back to Ottawa.
Love, David

February 28, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

Have just wired for $200.00 – sorry!

Awful mixup in ships – “St. John” now not sailing until March 16th and then to Boston, not N.B. or N.S. I might be able to get on a German freighter in Hamburg sailing March 6th for Baltimore. All this of course requires more money – thus the telegram.

Must dash as am writing in the Post Office and there is a queue!

Will try to advise when I have definite plans.

See you soon,

love, David

March 2, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

Well, I went to the bank today and they gave me $200.00 worth of £ after checking with Ottawa, so I guess you got my telegram alright. Many thanks.

My travel plans are now finalized (I think – and hope!) as follows:

I leave London by train next Monday, March 5th, arriving Hamburg in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 6th. My ship, the “Wienertor” is supposed to sail at noon that day but they have wired to say they will await the arrival of myself and three other passengers from London who were also put out by the postponement of the “St. John” sailing. As there will be absolutely no time in Hamburg to arrange for transportation of my trunk from the station to the docks, I have had to have it shipped to Ottawa independently at a cost of about $60.00. It should arrive in about a month’s time.

Now the ridiculous thing about this “Wienertor” sailing is that the shipping company here in London are unable to tell me where it is going! The only information they can guarantee is that it is bound for the east coast of the USA which might mean Boston or New York or possibly Baltimore. If it does turn out to be Baltimore, I might pop down to Washington to say hello to George, and if it turns out to be New York, I will probably spend a day or two with Bob and Joan. In any case I shall return to Ottawa by Greyhound bus from any of the above-mentioned cities. I have no idea of the exact date I shall arrive but rumor has it that the crossing will take about 10 days to begin with.

Did I mention in my hasty Post Office note that all the Toughs send their love to you two?

Well, I guess that’s all for now. Bon voyage, Dad, and I’ll try to get home before you do!

David

The Wienertor

The Wienertor

This is the end of David’s letters from overseas.

After returning to Canada in a very depressed state, he eventually moved to Montreal, where the story line becomes somewhat murky and then very unpleasant; however, David, being David, managed to pull through and find a new life for himself. 

*** This blog will now go on hiatus while photos and slides are assembled and transported so they can be scanned and cleaned to better illustrate and continue the amazing times of Our Mister Nixon. ***

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Letters from London Pt. 1

February 16, 2013

November 12, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

I must confess that it was not until I received your most welcome letter of November 5th that I realized I have not written to you for over a month! Time certainly does fly, as you note, when you were getting settled into a new environment. However, rest assured that I am enjoying the best of health and that I have been receiving your mail and that I have heard from Dominion Life and have satisfied the income tax people here on that account.

Well, things have certainly been happening as far as my work at Wyndham’s is concerned. First of all, about a month ago, a new show called “Bonne Soupe” [starring Coral Browne] opened at the Comedy Theatre which is controlled by the same people as Wyndham’s. I worked all day Sunday helping set up the lights and, I must admit, I found it extremely interesting and not a little exhausting! And our show, “The Miracle Worker”, ended its nine-month run on October 28th and we worked all Saturday night getting those lights out and all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning setting up the lights for the new show, George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House”. Again it was very interesting and lots of fun, actually, because the people I work with are terribly nice. And besides, what with all the overtime I earned over £26 for one week’s work! I like our new show very much but it is extremely long – nearly 3 hours. There is a rumor, however, that this show will be at Wyndham’s for a limited run only – that is, it may just run until Christmas or the new year and then another show will come in, perhaps a murder mystery! Beginning tomorrow, I shall be first dayman (electrics) at Wyndham’s which means that I shall just have to work from 9:15 until 1:00 in the mornings and then the show each night (7:45 – 10:45) which gives me every afternoon (except Wednesdays and Saturdays, when we have a matinee) free to enjoy and see all the many, many things this wonderful city has to offer. It will also give me more time to look for accommodation as so far I have had no luck. Good, centrally located flats are very difficult to find unless you are prepared to pay enormous rents for them. Sylvia and I are getting along just fine in the meantime but she only has this flat until January. Sylvia, incidentally, is suffering from a throat ulcer and must stay off her show for a week to give her voice a good rest – it’s quite a strain on her singing one of the leads in a show eight times a week!

On the Sunday I had off between “Bonne Soupe” and “Heartbreak House”, I visited Brighton on the south coast for the first time (only an hour by train from London). I had a lovely time and am now planning a similar day trip to Oxford next Sunday, all being well. It’s amazing how much of this country you can see in just one day! Well, Sylvia has dinner just about ready and I must go set the table. Please don’t worry about me and I’ll try to write more often in future whenever I can get a spare moment.

My regards to all, David

PS: Sylvia sends her love to you both!

David's shows at Wyndham's

David’s shows at Wyndham’s

December 5, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

Well, here it is another birthday already! And you’ll be glad to hear that your letter, cards and £5 money order we’re awaiting me in this morning’s post. Many, many thanks. This just happens to be my night off so I am meeting Sylvia after her show and we are going out to a very swanky club for dinner where, I expect, we shall have little difficulty in disposing of the £5! We’ll be thinking of you both tonight.

Since writing to you I have also received your letter of November 21st enclosing Bill’s cheque and that marvelous article on Angkor Wat which I enjoyed reading so very, very much – one of the best articles I have ever read on the subject. I was rather surprised to hear that Bill is due to leave for London next week. I knew he was coming, of course, but just naturally thought that he would drop us a line before taking off, letting us know his plans. Oh well, I guess that’s just Bill’s way of doing things. Nonetheless, both Sylvia and I are looking forward to his visit and hope that he plans to stay over the Christmas season.

You’ll be happy to hear that Sylvia is much better now but she has had a rather rough time of it as no sooner did her throat ulcer clear up than she developed a dandy case of laryngitis – neither of which is too pleasant for a person who depends on singing for a livelihood! However, she feels that she is singing better now than ever before so possibly the forced rest did her a lot of good.

“Heartbreak House” is doing very good business at Wyndham’s as well it should because it really is a magnificent play – Shaw himself said it was his best work. And a week ago Sunday we had a show called “Kathleen” at Wyndham’s – just for the day. This is evidently quite common in London theaters where a company will rent one of the big theaters for a Sunday to give a performance.

We’ve been getting a lot of cloudy and rainy weather lately but today has been beautiful with sunshine and clear blue sky. It is not so very cold over here, just damp!

If you are writing to Aunt Clara and Uncle Russell you might mention that I received their card and tell them that I shall be dropping them a line myself before Christmas. That’s all for now and thanks again for the birthday greetings.

David

January 9, 1962

Dear Dad and Russ,

Thanks for the very newsy Christmas letter, Dad – it brought memories to both of us of the Christmases we all spent at the “Y”. You’ll be glad to hear that we, too, entertained and fed some “homeless but not penniless” acquaintances of ours here in London on both Christmas and New Year’s days. The oven was not big enough so Lyon’s Corner House catered with a rather huge turkey, ready roasted, stuffed and garnished! While Christmas was green here, it was bitterly cold – one day, evidently, was the coldest in 90 years! On New Year’s Eve, it snowed all day long which suited us Canadians to a “T” but didn’t go down too well with the Londoners. The snow is all gone now and today was just “heavy sweater” weather.

Bill did not show up, but sent seven letters all at once – he sounds very depressed about his job and life in general, I’m afraid.

About snapshots – rather difficult because I only have 35 mm in my camera and Sylvia doesn’t own a camera but we’ll see what we can do. I’m sure you would change your mind about the beard if you could see it now. London barbers are all expert beard trimmers since about one out of every five men over here have beards now. It’s the style!

Sylvia’s show finishes on February 3rd and she is taking a well-deserved month’s holiday with people she knows in the south of France (Cannes). So far, nothing new has turned up for her so her future is a bit hazy at the moment.

“Heartbreak House” is still the show at Wyndham’s though there is a rumor to the effect that something else might replace it in about a month.

Except for a slight cold which everyone in London seems to have, I’m enjoying very good health. As is Sylvia, now that her throat trouble has cleared up.

Well, I guess that’s all for now.

Love from both of us, David


Off to London by Sea

February 13, 2013

David departed External Affairs sometime in the Spring of 1961 and there is a break in the record until early September, when he booked passage from Montreal to London on the MV Rutenfjell, a Norwegian ship (built Tyneside in 1953). The Rutenfjell was on its way east from Duluth and had a total passenger capacity of four. David’s memories of the crossing were happy – he said it was the first time he had ever boarded a ship by going DOWN the gangplank. It was quite a rough crossing. David spent considerable time on the flying bridge by the wheelhouse, “watching these mountainous waves building and building in front of us, and then, just as it seemed we were about to go under, the ship slid UP the wave and hurtled down the other side in time to catch the next one”. His one complaint about the trip was that, being a Norwegian ship, there was an over-abundance of herring at mealtimes. The Rutenfjell approached London from the North Sea and up the Thames, a view of the city David had never seen. After 13 days at sea, he said he found walking on something that wasn’t heaving underfoot rather odd. 

Once in London, David moved in with his dearest and closest friend, Sylvia Tysick. By this time, Sylvia had long since finished playing in “West Side Story” and had moved on to “Bye Bye Birdie“, where she had the juvenile lead, Kim MacAfee. Sylvia’s character did a lot of singing and, as you’ll see in some of David’s letters, her throat and voice gave her a certain amount of grief during the show. None the less, Sylvia was part of the original London cast soundtrack released on LP in 1961.

Bye Bye Birdie Programme

Bye Bye Birdie Programme

Sylvia, ever resourceful, found David a job in theatre: second electrician at Wyndham’s, a very well known and respectable house in the West End. (David’s prior knowledge of electrics was nil, but he was apparently a quick study.) To work in the theatre, David had to join a union, the National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees. His first show was “The Miracle Worker”, the Annie Sullivan/Helen Keller story.

David's union card (outside)

David’s union card (outside)

David's union card (inside)

David’s union card (inside)


Music, Lights …and an Ending

February 10, 2013

February 14, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

I don’t know if it’s the climate or not but I suddenly realized today that I haven’t written a single letter since just around Christmas! I also received your most welcome letter of February 7th yesterday which makes about three letters I owe you. Incidentally I’m over at the residence babysitting for the Bulls tonight and I brought along my typewriter as I thought this might be a good chance to try to get a letter off to you. I might also add that I will not hold myself responsible for typing errors because, believe it or not, I can only type on FRENCH keyboards now with any degree of accuracy and speed. Both my typewriter and our Telex machine at the Consulate have French keyboards and after typing on them for almost SIX months I know I find it almost impossible to cope with an English keyboard. Irene Bourque, our French-Canadian steno here, has an English keyboard so I do all of the French typing – diplomatic notes, etc. it seems that everything is upside down in the Congo!

Delighted to hear that my slides arrived and that you liked them. On thinking it over, perhaps it would be just as well if you kept them in Ottawa until I return because, as you say in your letter of January 8th, it is awfully small parcel to send all the way to Africa! Did all of them turn out? That is, are there 36 slides in the box? Last week, courtesy of Darryl Pentland and the Canadian Army Post Office, I sent you an exposed roll of Ektachrome colour film. I bought this film from Roger Bull, who got it in South Africa, and it’s one of those films that does not include the processing in the purchase price. Therefore, as it cannot be done here, I would appreciate it very much if you could have the film processed and made into slides in Ottawa. If I remember correctly, this film should include pictures of the Zongo Falls and also of a Sunday drive I took on the Brazzaville side of the river. Last Sunday, the first secretary of the Dutch Embassy and I took off in “I PRESUME” (still going strong!) for a lovely drive about 50 miles UP the Congo River to a charming little village called Maluku. The journey itself was very interesting as we passed through a great variety of landscapes – for the first few miles outside of Leopoldville nothing but rolling green hills as far as the eye could see, then we entered flatter and drier “savannah” type country, then gradually climbed up into the green hills until the road came out on a mountain side away above the river. The road followed the river for quite a few miles then wound slowly down through gorgeous tropical rainforest until it ended at Maluku. We ate our picnic lunch under a grove of palms on a sandy little beach with the Congo River and the hills of ex-French Equatorial Africa for a view.

Before I forget I must tell you about running into Sgt. Bob McIsaac over here – Bob and I worked together in Phnom Penh six years ago! I had him up to the house for lunch yesterday and we had a great time talking over the “good ol’ days”. Unfortunately, Bob had been stationed at Kamina and Elizabethville for the past six months then leaves for Canada next Thursday. In parting yesterday, we both commented that we would probably meet next in Tibet at the rate we’re going!

I am planning to put this letter into a large brown envelope that I’ve had ready at the Consulate for weeks now which contains two envelopes that have special “first day covers” on them. Please keep these envelopes and also the stamps you’ll find inside them for my own little collection. I meant to send them long ago but we have been very busy around here lately changing Consul Generals around which means a very busy time for all hands (and there are so few hands!)

January First-Day Cover as sent to Glen

January First-Day Cover as sent to Glen

On February 1st, Mr. George Hampson, acting Consul General after Mr. Wood left the Congo, decided to give a big farewell party for himself and the Bulls. He was sent here for six weeks from Accra and left Leopoldville to go on to Karachi, if you can follow that. However, the party was a howling success – 500 guests were invited and over 350 turned up. It was held here in the Residence garden so there was lots of room. Mr. Hampson appointed me “Master of Music and Lights”. The “Lights” part was fairly simple because it just entailed stringing hundreds of colored bulbs in the trees of the garden (a beautiful effect if I do say so). “Music” was a bit tougher but I finally solved it by engaging the local Salvation Army’s 20-piece brass band for the evening!! And were they ever good!! They had a terrific repertoire of marches, military airs, old English and Irish folksongs, a few stirring Salvation Army hymns, and American folk songs (“Swanee River” was a real showstopper – most of the Congolese present stops talking and started humming when it was being played! ) To round off the evening’s entertainment I asked (several days previous) if the band could play the Congolese national anthem and O Canada. The Congolese anthem was no problem as most of the members of the band are Congolese, but neither they nor the Consulate find a band score for O Canada. Fortunately a very good friend of mine from the Dutch embassy is a highly skilled musician (piano and recorder) so I invited him over to the Residence one evening with his recorder and while Roger, Marjory, Irene and I croaked through O Canada (all in a different key), my Dutch friend tootled on his recorder until many, many hours and laughs later, he had produced the written score of O Canada for the treble recorder. I presented this to Capt. Munn, the Salvation Army bandleader and, he told me later, for three nights running the native section of Leopoldville (where the Army has its headquarters) resounded to the strains of the Canadian national anthem being painstakingly rehearsed by the band. The band loved it and played it with great gusto and drum rolls and, I might add, note perfect! One other little job of mine was to find a Congolese flag the same size as the Canadian flag to hang in the garden. Unfortunately the Congolese flag is square and the Canadian one rectangular. I solved this by putting a team of seamstresses to work on the morning of February 1 and by four in the afternoon they had produced a rectangular Congolese flag. Some Congolese present that night commented that it look better than the square flag, so maybe I’ve started something!

The weather here continues perfect – not in the least like Indochina. There is quite a lot of rain but it falls irregularly and is accompanied by absolutely spectacular electrical storms. Unlike our storms in Canada, over here there is continuous lightning and thunder throughout the whole storm. It’s a bit nerve-racking at first but once you get used to it they’re really quite lovely to watch. The days are quite hot now when the sky is cloudless but a warm breeze helps to cut the heat and humidity is not at all uncomfortable. The real charm of this climate is that no matter how hot the day, it always cools off at night. With all my bedroom windows open at night and with no air conditioners in the house, I have yet to spend one night in the Congo without a sheet and the blanket over me! The sun sets early here – six o’clock in the evening – but the darkness seems to bring out a whole new world of its own. There are many night-blooming flowers here that absolutely fill the air with fragrance. Right now we are between the full moons and the night sky is crammed full of stars, most of which I’m sure we never see in Ottawa. One thing I’ve noticed over here for example are planets which are surrounded with a halo of light of their own. And, of course, when there is a full moon this place is like paradise, especially when viewed from the terrace of my house in Parc Hembise. On nights like that the sky is a deep blue and all the flowers in my garden are as colourful as in full sunlight. I can see the river gleaming down below and in the distance, the Hills of the French Congo. Last week when a few of us Canadians were sitting at a sidewalk café in downtown Leopoldville eating pizza and drinking a glass of red wine dressed in shorts, sandals, and open-necked cotton shirts, we all agreed that we didn’t miss shoveling snow one iota!!

Well, the Bulls should be home any minute now so I guess I had better close off for now. Please don’t worry if you have to wait a long time between letters – it’s so hard to get into a letter-writing mood over here – but I will try to drop you a few lines from time to time whenever anything exciting happens.

Lots of love, David

March 13, 1961

Dear Dad,

Really no time to write but wanted to get at least a note off to you because we are beginning to receive copies of Canadian newspapers with “stories” of what’s been going on here during the past two weeks or so.

Believe me, Dad, after reading some of these newspaper reports, I am darn glad I gave up the idea of becoming a journalist. I guess I hardly need tell you that the majority of these stories were grossly exaggerated and filled with sensationalism. And, I’m afraid, largely biased against the Congolese and in favor of the UN. Of course, I can’t mention in any letters all we know about these incidents, but rest assured that a great deal of the facts regarding recent incidents have been conveniently omitted or glossed over.

I went to a marvelous band concert yesterday afternoon given by the Salvation Army here in Leopoldville. As well as the Salvation Army band there was a Congolese choral group visiting from a nearby town (Kasangulu) saying beautiful Negro spirituals in French and English. It was a splendid success and a great pleasure to see white people and Africans working together so harmoniously. Naturally, there wasn’t a journalist in sight.

Sally Ann

I hope your holiday in Florida has been enjoyable. I hope to be able to take some leave before long, either to South Africa or Portugal, depending on what decision the department takes regarding our assisted leave facilities.

Must dash now and don’t worry about me at all!

Love, David

It was shortly after this that David received a response to his request for leave: “Request for leave denied. Nixon to return to Ottawa soonest.” Our David was apparently more than just good friends with someone at the Dutch Embassy and may have been indiscreet. Regardless the reason, he was recalled to Ottawa and, a few days after returning to his post in the East Block of the Parliament Buildings, he was summoned to an “interview” with the RCMP.

As David told the story, it was late afternoon and he was shown into an office facing a man at a desk in front of a west-facing window. The blinds were angled so that the sun was directly in David’s eyes, keeping the occupant of the desk in silhouette. From behind the desk came, “We have reason to believe that you are a homosexual. As such, you are a security risk and must be removed from the civil service. You have the option of resigning your position immediately or we will see to it that you are removed.”

With that, David’s career with the diplomatic corps was over. He was one of many hundreds of public servants purged from the early 1950s and on into the 1970s, merely on suspicion of being gay. There were many suicides. David contemplated it. Instead, he left Canada behind and moved to England, to take refuge with his lifelong friend, Sylvia.

To be continued…


Crisis? What Crisis?

February 10, 2013

November 23, 1960

Dear Dad & Russ,

You’ve probably heard about our little war here last Monday night. Fortunately it was an isolated affair and no Canadians were in the least way involved. I happened to be working late at the office that night and because of roadblocks and stray shells, etc., on the way up to my house, I just stayed downtown for the night on the sofa of the Canadian friend who has an apartment close to the office. Downtown Leopoldville was perfectly calm with people sitting out at sidewalk cafés, listening to music, etc.

Afraid I’m too busy to write much more. Seeing Louis Armstrong, climbing a mountain on November 11 with a Dutchman, an Englishman, a Portuguese, an American girl, and other bits of news will have to wait. Incidentally, I’m getting in lots and lots of swimming these days, especially on weekends.

Armed soldiers on hand to keep the peace at Louis Armstrong's concert in Leopoldville, November 1960 (AP photo)

Armed soldiers on hand to keep the peace at Louis Armstrong’s concert in Leopoldville, November 1960 (AP photo)

Nearly forgot – extract from recent letter from Sylvia: “Things couldn’t be better for me in London – have just finished a half hour film in colour to be shown in America, called ‘Hi Sylvie’ with James Devlin who did the lead in Walt Disney’s last film ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ and co-directed by Stephen Boyd who was one of the stars of Ben Hur…” Pretty good, eh?

Bye for now, David

November 26, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

Roger Bull is taking an Air Envelope to External Affairs when he flies to Canada next Monday so I thought I would include this note in the envelope for some fast mail service.

When you see Roger in Ottawa, I wonder if you would mind giving him the following items for him to bring back to Leopoldville.

  1. A pocket lighter – as long as it’s fairly airtight to avoid evaporation of fluid in tropical heat. There are no repeat no matches to be bought in this part of the world at the moment.
  2. A woolen sweater – I think my gray one, the pullover with the shawl collar, would be best. If time permits, could you possibly have it dry cleaned and mothproofed before giving it to Roger?
  3. Cigarettes – a couple of cartons of Rothmans king-size filter tips – large packages – would be wonderful. For a while here we could buy canned DuMaurier and Matinee but, alas, like the matches, supplies have vanished and now we can only get cigars or cigarettes with black tobacco.

Must dash now. I know you’ll like Roger and he will be able to answer any questions you might have about Leopoldville (and my house).

Lots of love, David

[Note: several photos used here have a strange colour to them thanks to local processing and cheap film. “Garland Film” turned out to be best avoided.]


A Villa in the Hills

February 9, 2013

October 17, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

The office is officially closed today (we are celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving Day which we forgot to observe last Monday) so I thought I would take advantage of the free time to try to write you a letter.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring in your recent letters, Dad and I can’t remember if you asked any questions in them. Oh yes, I do remember about the stamps and I will get them off (uncanceled) very soon. I received a large envelope containing letters from Tudi, Nairobi and Sydney (date-marked Bombay!) and also my two drivers licenses for which many thanks. I also noted that you have sent by sea some bed linen and towels. Will probably take a month or two to reach me but I think I can get along in the meantime on borrowed sheets.

Don’t be alarmed at the thought of my having to buy a Jeep because Roger Bull let me have his for the sum of $300.00. This vehicle is a real classic. It is named “I PRESUME”, the words being stenciled on the front of the jeep just under the windshield. There is quite a history behind “I PRESUME” – it was first brought to Leopoldville in 1951, being driven here all the way from Israel. Since that time it has been passed back and forth between members of the American Consulate and the Canadian Trade Commissioner’s office. Before I took it over, it was borrowed by the UN for the use of the Canadian postmaster, Capt. Manck. While it was in the possession of the Canadian contingent of the U.N., a lot of work was done on it so that now it is as good as new and should last me for my posting here. It’s a very African-looking vehicle – dark red with brown canvas top, appropriately dusty and fully equipped for safari with gas and water cans and two spare tires on the back. Mind you, it sounds somewhat like a bomb, especially when driving downhill, but the reaction I get from the native population is superb. Children dance up and down and laugh; men and women stop whatever they’re doing and wave and smile when I passed by. The Congolese are individually very, very friendly and childlike. But they are slightly timid of white people, particularly when a white person goes swishing by in a huge American automobile. I quite often give rides to people I pass by on the road and they seem to love it and are most grateful. It’s good public relations, too, because “I PRESUME” also has “CANADA” painted on both sides of the hood, as well as a maple leaf emblem fore and aft.

First glimpse of "I PRESUME"

First glimpse of “I PRESUME”

Now about my accommodation. I have rented a villa in a lovely residential area known as “Park Hembise” (Ahm-bees) about 7 km straight up into the hills outside of Leopoldville. It is only a 15 minute drive from the office, however, because there was a good, paved road all the way. It is not in the least bit isolated – there is a Swiss family living next door, Swedes across the street and two very close American friends of mine, Mr. and Mrs. Bartholomew  moved into a house two doors away last Saturday. My garden looks into the garden of the Japanese ambassador’s residence on the next street and a few doors down from him some of the Canadian UN officers have a house. While Parc Hembise is quite a distance out of town it is not by any means bordering on the jungle. There are many more houses out beyond the Parc and about 10 km further on there is yet another settlement called the Djelo Binza where many of the Americans and Swedes live. You might say that Parc Hembise is Suburbia As It Should Be – there are no repeat no obvious telephone poles, the houses are all placed at odd angles on the hillside and set in spacious grounds with masses of trees and lovely well-kept lawns, all of the roads are winding and every few hundred feet wooded spaces have been left in their natural state, not to mention the numerous gullies that abound with wild parrots and a million other species of songbirds (one hardly needs an alarm clock – the morning music of the birds is enough to wake even the soundest sleeper). There is also a very good grocery store and a bakeshop in the Parc, as well as two gas stations (Fina and Texaco) so it is not necessary to go into town to do shopping. And the main attraction of life in Parc on bees is the coolness – it is about 300 to 500 feet above Leopoldville, there is always a cool breeze and at night I am mighty glad to have a warm blanket on my bed.

I will now try to describe “Villa Magalette” (Chez Nixon). It is a yellow stucco bungalow with a green roof and white trim. It is built on the hillside with the back of the house facing the road and driveways running down both sides of the house to the parking area underneath the terrace at the front. There is a hedge running along the road to give privacy and the grounds at the back of the house consist of three terraced lawns; the lowest terrace has three huge, “trunkless” palm trees – sort of like giant potted palms – and growing up beside the back porch there is an enormous Bougainvillaea plant which abounds with bunches of bright scarlet and purple flowers. The main entrance is at the side of the house and here, again, is another Bougainvillaea plant. You enter into a hall and on your right there is a small washroom (toilet and washbasin). To the left of the hall you pass through an archway into the living room. This room is the real attraction of the house. Two walls of the room are almost completely taken up with French doors opening onto the biggest terrace I’ve ever seen which runs along two sides of the house. The view from the terrace is magnificent. I can see the Congo River way down below and in the distance the hills of ex-French Equatorial Africa, stretching as far as the eye can see. And at night the lights of Leopoldville sparkle through the trees. The terrace also looks down onto the garden which consists of a large lawn and lovely trees. Back to the living room – the walls are beige, ceiling white, and the floor two-tone gray tiles (all floors are tile here for purposes of cleanliness and as a precaution against termites). In one corner there is a cupboard which opens up into a bar. In front of this there is a small round wooden table, inlaid with ivory, and a chair. In the centre of the room there is a glass-covered inlaid wood coffee table, two large easy chairs with foot rests, and a curved sofa that measures 12 feet across the back!! All throughout the house the ceilings are about 11 feet high with screened events up near the top to keep the place cool. Also, around one of the sets of French doors in the living room there are 12 screened vents covered with white wooden latticework – very attractive. The living room extends into the dining room which, again, is very nicely furnished with table, eight chairs, buffet and sideboard. The dining room windows look out onto the back garden and through the branches of the Bougainvillea plant. In both the living and dining rooms are crystal chandeliers and walls lights. Between the living and dining rooms there is another archway which goes into a hall. A door on the right of this hall leads to the kitchen – very big, with refrigerator, stove, cupboard, kitchen table with two chairs, double sinks and enough space left over to hold a dance. The kitchen door and windows look out onto the back porch with its four arches and Bougainvillaea plant. In one corner of the kitchen a door leads into a pantry which is a small room with shelves and cupboards along one wall. From the hall outside the kitchen door you go through another door into another hall. Opening onto this hall are two large bedrooms and the main bathroom. I’m using one of the bedrooms as a storeroom and occupying the room on the corner of the house with windows on two walls. There is also a door leading from this bedroom into the bathroom. And at long last I have a bathroom that a person can move around in!! I would say that my bathroom as easily as big as our dining room on Kirkwood Avenue. There is even a recess in one wall where I have a white table and potted fern. So much for the main part of the house. Downstairs there is what is known here as the “boys work area”. This consists of a good-size room with two washtubs, ironing table, hallway, shower and separate toilet.

Now about my staff. First of all, let me assure you that a house staff is not a luxury here – it is an absolute necessity. For one thing there is no such thing as a laundry as we know them back home. Also, to attempt to do one’s own housecleaning in this climate would be suicide for a European or North American. My staff consists of a houseboy and gardener. A “boy” incidentally is anyone who works in a house and is no reflection on the person’s age – my “boy” is married with three children, for example. There are good boys and bad boys. I was fortunate enough to get a real prince of a boy. His name is Ernest (of all things) and he arrives every morning at 6:30. I get up around 7 and wander into the dining room where my breakfast awaits me – usually a pot of fresh coffee, scrambled eggs, fruit juice (or fresh pineapple or papaya) and toast. After I leave for the office, Ernest washes all the floors, does the dusting, makes the bed, shines my shoes, presses my trousers, does the laundry and goes on his bicycle to the store to do any shopping I might want done. This comprises the normal duties of a houseboy. Now Ernest, fortunately, is also a qualified and excellent cook and takes great pleasure in his work in the kitchen. Where he finds the time, I shall never know, but when I arrive home at 12:30 Ernest has a huge hot dinner waiting for me. His steaks are superb, seasoned just right, he cooks a chicken that would make your mouth water just to look at it. He also has potatoes, fresh vegetables and a salad on the table and on weekends he usually prepares a large potato salad and a plate of cold cuts for me to eat on Sundays (his day off). I give Ernest 100 francs a week (about two dollars) to buy fresh vegetables and fruit from the native ladies who come to the door each day and he always seems to be able to buy enormous amounts of food and have quite a bit of money left over. A fresh, golden, juicy pineapple, for example, costs about 10 cents here and you can buy about three papayas for 20 cents. Ernest always serves my after-dinner coffee out on the terrace and then he disappears into the kitchen to wash up the dishes. In the afternoons he does the ironing. The other member of my staff is chap named Donatien, a friend of Ernest’s (this is very important here because if you had two boys from different tribes working for you, you might find a war on your hands). Donatien only comes three times a week to do the gardening and general handy-work around the house. He cuts the grass, rakes the leaves, plants gorgeous things in the flowerbeds and planters around the terrace and waters anything that he thinks might need watering. Donatien (who looks like Rudy Vallee in a minstrel show) is not nearly as bright as Ernest but he is a very pleasant happy-go-lucky chap who always has a cheery “bonjour patron” for me in the mornings. You are probably wondering about now just how much I must pay for the services of these two boys. Well, I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I pay them the standard salary for a houseboy and gardener – Ernest receives $42 a month, Donatien gets $20. In other words, my allowance for this post ($115 a month) covers my share of the rent ($50) plus the salaries of both members of my house staff – with three dollars left over!! The one and only disadvantage to this, of course, is that I am getting awfully spoiled – just a clap of the hands and the job is done!

Well, I think the time has come to go for a swim. I spent all day yesterday other place known as the FUNA Club, outside of Leopoldville and managed to turn a lovely lobster red but today is slightly cloudy so I think I can risk a swim without burning some more. The summer is truly upon us now – everything gets greener and greener by the minute and each day is just a little hotter than the one before. So will close for now. Received a long letter from Bob and Joan last week which I haven’t had time to answer so would you please phone them and give them my best.

Lots of love, David


Bedding and Licenses by Post

February 9, 2013

September 21, 1960

Dear Dad,

Just another wee note, I’m afraid.

By the end of the week I hope to be able to give you some news about accommodation. Have two places lined up but won’t tell you about them right now until I know something more definite. Incidentally, if at all possible, you might make some inquiries around town about sending me a parcel of bed sheets, towels, pillow slips and one or two blankets which I am going to need rather soon if I move into a place of my own. I don’t know exactly how it would be best and safest to send these things but perhaps if you were to get in touch with Mr. Benedict at the External Affairs depot on Yonge Street in Toronto he might be able to give you some information. The RCAF have been very kindly bringing our office supplies to us and perhaps if this channel is going to remain open, it might be possible to include a parcel along with another shipment. I think I already mentioned in an earlier letter that bedding, etc., is virtually nonexistent in the shops here because the UN have bought up everything in stock for their personnel.

Must dash now,

Love, David

September 28, 1960

Dear Dad,

A real quickie – I’m sending this off in an airmail envelope tomorrow via Canadian Army postal facilities, so I hope it should reach you without much delay.

Would you please send me, by return airmail, both my Ontario driver’s license and my German driver’s license. The German one is grey linen. I think you will find them in a folder marked “Nixon Car File” on the shelf in the closet in Russ’s room. I know my German license is there and I think I put my Ontario license there before leaving. If you can only find the German one, please don’t worry about the Ontario license, as I think a European license will do just fine. I am taking over Roger Bull’s jeep on Monday next, by the way.

Have terrific news about accommodation but it will have to wait, I’m afraid, until I have a bit more letter writing time.

Love Dave

David's German license, with Ontario license attached

David’s German license, with Ontario license attached

David's Congolese Driver's License

David’s Congolese Driver’s License – note the yellow attachment. One used to have to have an actual liquor license to drink or buy booze in Ontario. This one appears to have served another purpose in the Congo.


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