The Definitive History of the Surname STABLES in Yorkshire

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The Autobiography of Brian Stables (Part 12)


Hong Kong

This is the twelfth part of Brian Stables's fascinating and very funny autobiography, which is written in his own words.

Brian was born in Tickhill in 1929 and emigrated to Canada in 1976. He is currently serialising his life story for us.

He has also provided a superb collection of photographs to accompany his story. Click the photo for a larger image.








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Tank Troup. Hong Kong.














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Val & Brian Stables at the Peninsular Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong. On Val's 20th Birthday. c.1960.

Hong Kong Harbour.jpg (21554 bytes)As with all newly married couples moving into a new home and beginning a new life together there were some adjustments required from both of us, but this we managed to do: together.

Upon arrival in our new apartment we were rather disturbed to discover that the system of the army providing basic furnishings had fallen adrift, our bed was laid against the wall without any legs and there were no chairs or tables etc., we coped by using packing cases ‘in lieu‘as you might say, it was a test of our adaptability but all was well by the end of the week.

We were allowed a house servant, organised through a government agency in charge of employing a local workforce and who took care of all the formalities. Because we both had some prior knowledge of this situation, we ignored the formal method of filling in forms and going through the channels and perhaps being stuck with someone we were incompatible with, we simply put out ‘the word’ through other Amahs, (as the house servants were called).

Within a very short space of time we had a very smart, well dressed lady call at the apartment and enquired if we were the people looking for help, we replied to the affirmative and she politely requested permission to enter to inspect the premises, her questions regarding payment and conditions led me to believe that she was an employer who was looking for jobs for her staff and was ‘vetting‘us to ensure we were a suitable employer. After we had satisfactorily answered all her questions, she said, “OK when do I start?” I was flabbergasted, the woman was well spoken and better dressed than either Val or I, but rallying round, I said “Right now if you wish” and so it happened. Her name was Ying, we became very good friends and never regretted the association, she became our mentor in local customs, we learned a lot from each other, which is as it should be in any relationship. She asked us when we were planning to start a family and was quite put out when we replied that we had not planned anything like that for at least another year.

The next night, and for many nights afterwards she would place a pair of baby shoes outside our bedroom door.

It worked, well not straight away for we kept to our schedule (!).  

...we both knew she was pregnant and we both knew something was wrong, the quack, however insisted everything was fine...

It was just unfortunate that when the time came, Val’s army medical Doctor, who was also a gynaecologist, misdiagnosed Val’s symptoms for far too long, we both knew she was pregnant and we both knew something was wrong, the quack, however insisted everything was fine, and well, he was the Doctor. It culminated in me returning home from overnight duty and finding Val collapsed in bed, it was Ying’s day off, and Val had been on her own and in pain for quite some time, I phoned the medical services and unfortunately the duty doctor happened to be the one who had been attending to Val up to now. He did come and examine her and said, “If she is no better by Monday, bring her to the Hospital”, this was Saturday. Later that day as Val’s condition deteriorated I phoned again; he came once more and said the same thing. I insisted upon her being taken to the hospital immediately. He got moody. I got Barbary.

I got an ambulance and we caught one of the last vehicle ferries over to the military hospital situated on Hong Kong Island.

When we arrived at the hospital, Val was examined and a big panic ensued, a short while later the top surgeon came in, wearing dress clothes and carrying a sheaf of papers, (he had been called from a dinner party,) “Are you the husband?” he asked, I assumed he meant Val’s husband so I said ‘Yes”.
 “Here sign this right now, I will explain later” he said. They were the usual next of kin ‘permission to operate’ forms so I hastily signed and gave them to the Nurse.

It was the following morning before I saw him again and he started chastising me about not looking after Val properly, he continued to the effect that I should have sought treatment for her weeks ago! I explained the situation of how we had indeed been seeing a doctor for about the last three months and that he had kept saying she was fine.

He asked me for details and upon hearing them he apologised, he went on to explain that Val had suffered an ectopic pregnancy and was close to death when he examined her, he had operated and saved her life but as he had been up all night, he admitted he was a bit overwrought. Me too I thought.

Val recovered and the first doctor was posted home almost immediately.

I was allocated to an administrative job... In the event of hostilities I thought I might last at least three hours longer than the guys in my old tank troop.

The Regimental task appeared to be to protect the colony from all the Chinese armies just across the border, exactly how we were going to do this I have no idea, I mean to say, we were one small armoured regiment and the Chinese armies were, (and are today, quite considerable). We were good, but not that good! I didn’t complain, there was not much point anyway, after all we were very comfortably housed and recreational amenities were more than adequate, so I lived for the day and left the rest to providence.

After about a year of wondering when the Chinese were going to attack me, I was allocated to an administrative job and I became involved in looking after the welfare of families, this was another new field for me and I found it very interesting. In the event of hostilities I thought I might last at least three hours longer than the guys in my old tank troop.

Val and I lived on the sixth floor of an apartment block. From our windows we overlooked Boundary street which was the line that divided that part of Kowloon which had been ceded to Britain, ‘to perpetuity’ and the part that was due to be returned to China after a ninety year lease, this situation we now, (2003,) know was changed and it has all reverted to the Chinese authorities.

We overlooked another, smaller, apartment block situated on the opposite side of the road from us; this had a beautiful roof garden, and it was whilst looking at this small gem that I was confronted with another occurrence which, (many years later,) altered my life. This took place there during early mornings.

All around the Orient you will find ordinary people taking part in an exercise called ‘Tai Chi Chuan’, this is often performed in groups, in public parks and whatever open spaces are available. It is a form of gentle exercise that has been practiced by the Chinese for many centuries; I found it fascinating to see one particular man practicing this art in the roof garden opposite. I realise now that he must have been a qualified master, for he practiced with such wonderful skill and artistry, it was hypnotic to just look at him. I watched avidly and have often regretted that I did not take the opportunity to learn more about it at that time. I did take lessons many years later, but it was the recollection of this mans smoothly executed movements that influenced my own style most directly, but that is another story.

The wind was so strong that a freighter in the harbour was lifted out of the water and deposited on the side of the runway at Kai Tak airport.

Typhoon sky from apt window.jpg (13823 bytes)There was a particularly nasty Typhoon that passed over us, and once again I was able to experience ‘the eye of the storm’, this time, thankfully, I was on land and so was able to be a lot braver about it. This was Typhoon Mary, and she was vicious. It was interesting that all the, (four,) typhoons I experienced, (two centers and two edges,) the sky of the previous evening was a beautiful bright burnished brassy gold, so bright it hurt the eyes (pictured right). It was the first typhoon center that had passed over the Colony for many years.

We lived six stories up and our apartment had metal framed ‘storm proof’ windows. We got flooded out. Although the glass remained intact, the frames became distorted with the force of the winds and the water gushed through, I had to open the door and let it escape down the stairs and elevator shaft. The wind was so strong that a freighter in the harbour was lifted out of the water and deposited on the side of the runway at Kai Tak airport. Many people died, and hundreds more rendered homeless mainly due to mudslides where the poorer element of the population lived on the mountainsides.

With all this wind and rain you would not expect that such a thing as a water shortage would be possible, but this was indeed the situation. The colony had expanded its population so quickly through immigration, mostly illegal from China, that the water supplies were less than adequate and water rationing was imposed. The way it was done was to make water available only between six o-clock in the morning until it was turned off three hours later. In a climate like that it was rather inconvenient but we coped by filling buckets and pans.

There were lots of things to do in ones spare time and the night life was non stop, for those with the stamina, (and the money,) there was entertainment twenty four hours a day.

...I was getting strange looks from some of the locals who possibly thought I was a new pimp in town...

During this period, a film called ‘The world of Suzy Wong’ was made in and around Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Val and a couple of her girl friends indicated a desire to visit the disreputable district of Hong Kong Island where a lot of the filming had taken place. This was the notorious waterfront and I was reluctant to take them, but they insisted and on the strict understanding that everyone would all obey my advice to move out when I considered it prudent, I agreed to escort them on a tour of the darker side of life. Unknown to the girls I was getting strange looks from some of the locals who possibly thought I was a new pimp in town and was showing the girls around the place, which is exactly what I feared would happen. All went well until we went into a bar frequented by sailors who, as sailors do whilst ashore, were looking for a good time.

I sat my group down in one of the booths close to the door, glad to be off the street for a while for I had some concern as to how I would handle the situation if I were to receive an ‘offer’ or if we were propositioned or challenged. We ordered drinks and settled down to watch the action.

Everything went smoothly until the girls decided to go to the bathroom. I conscientiously watched them make their way between the tables, and as they passed one of the booths occupied by a group of American Navy types, a big black hand, as big as a dinner plate, reached out and grabbed Val’s backside, she gave a loud shriek and ran into the bathroom so fast I don’t believe her feet touched the ground! My carefully rehearsed evacuation plan was redundant: those girls just couldn’t get out of there fast enough!

...due to Val’s enthusiastic cry of: “Ooh I like that”, as soon as we got in the shop... the price would double in an instant!  

Shopping, (every woman’s dream,) was an entertainment in its own right. The accepted method of purchasing anything, as in all places in the East was by bargaining. Unfortunately, goods always cost me more than they should, due to Val’s enthusiastic cry of: “Ooh I like that” as soon as we got in the shop, whereupon the price would double in an instant!

The men who lived with their families in Kowloon commuted every day to their duties at the camp, which was situated just outside the village of Sek Kong. We shared the place with a Regiment of Ghurkha’s who always brought to my mind the words attributed to the Duke of Wellington, who, whilst reviewing his troops is reputed to have said; “I don’t know if they will frighten the enemy sir, but by God they frighten me”!

Whilst commuting to camp one morning one of the chaps asked if anyone had read the newspaper yet, my copy usually arrived after I had left home and it transpired this applied to the majority. He folded up his copy and, without comment, handed it around, it showed us a report that said our Regiment was going to reinforce the garrison in Aden, (Southern Yemen). This was news to us, and of course we besieged the Regimental office as soon as we could. “I dunno” was the reasoned reply to our shocked enquiries.

Aden was another ‘hot spot’ where the forces were stuck with keeping the peace in the late fifties and early sixties and newspaper reports of ambush assassinations of British Forces, particularly in ‘Murder mile’, the main thoroughfare of Maala, were printed daily.

None of us were keen to go! Apparently the days of living up to our Regimental motto[1] were long gone. Later that day we were told the story was false and we could forget it.

Upon returning home the wives were all agog due to them already having read the paper and we heroes were able to relieve their anxieties by denouncing the story as being false, and so for about a week, everything returned to normal.

A few days after that I found myself on an aircraft bound for Khormaksa airport in Aden. We made a refuelling stop at the Maldives, a group of Islands in the Indian Ocean just off the southwest tip of India.

Val, my lovely Val, now had to arrange for all the closing down of our affairs including our apartment and attend to packing everything up in preparation to return to England on her own. Aircraft were now becoming a more universal, and probably less expensive, method of transportation, so Val also boarded an airplane, but her destination was England. They made stops at Bombay and Istanbul and she was met at Hurn airport by her Aunt Connie and Uncle John just recently arrived from Canada.

She moved back in with her parents and waited for a reunion with her husband much as soldier’s wives have waited through the centuries, always living with the anxiety that this time, maybe it will be her man who would be the one who never does come back.

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[1] The Regimental emblem represents the motto ‘Death or Glory’


Read the next installment: Aden & Kenya
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Off Ting Kau.
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Last modified: May 10, 2010