A Life Well-Lived: John Stafford

This is not a music related blog, I will return to music-related blogs presently, but sometimes plans change…and life – whether we will or no – drives those changes.

 

Please be sure to view the Stafford Family Snapshot Gallery, containing vintage photographs of many of the locales and events described in the text section of this blog -the Gallery appears at the very end of this document – after the purely text version of this blog which follows here.

Two nights ago, I learned the very sad news via my sister in law, that my older brother, John Wesley Stafford – born December 5, 1955 – flew from this earth this past Wednesday night – I’m happy though to report that he passed away peacefully in his sleep – which is, if we are honest – very probably is how we would all like to go.

 

This event, was the culmination of a very, very long struggle that John engaged in and endured for over thirty years – with a very severe and debilitating case of Parkinson’s Disease. This is surely one of the cruellest of diseases (in a similar way to Alzheimer’s possibly) in that, it makes communication very difficult indeed, and that negative aspect of Parkinson’s only seems to get worse as the disease progresses.

But thankfully – John’s struggle is now ended, and only quiet remains.

I wanted to take a moment to share some of my personal and favourite memories of my “big brother” John – as kids, for a long time – it was just the two of us kids until some years later my younger brother Robert arrived. We spent the better part of our childhood together, and I have so, so many happy memories of those bygone days – I will just share a very few of the memories (if I try to do more, this blog would run to 40,000 words or more) that for me, truly evoke “who John was” in this life, to the best of my ability.

I’ve created an historical background that leads up to about 1967, when my parents took their three sons – the eldest, John, myself, and Robert – to East Africa where they had had the opportunity to take up a US-Aid funded contract to “teach teachers how to teach”.  Robert was one year old in 1967 when we left, so remembers very little of our four years in Uganda, but John and I were young boys when we moved to Uganda – and those four years are not only my fondest personal memories – but they also coincide with my best times with my big brother, with whom I shared an entire four years sojourn and East African adventure.

Since the four years from 1967 – 1971 were so important to both John and myself, growing up in a very different place to our birthplace of San Diego, California – I have concentrated my memories of John to mostly – our four years experiencing the absolutely staggering beauty of East Africa and have tried to capture some sense of the wonder of East Africa in the late 1960s and the stunning vistas, views, wildlife, and scenery that amazed, astonished and engaged us both – captivating our young imaginations – and the memories of that time remain strongest for me despite long passage of time since then.

 

In order to keep this already-too-long blog as concise as possible given that massive vista of our magical experiences in East Africa, I then severely condensed the additional remarkable places we were also so very fortunate to get to visit “in-between” our trips to Africa – the four years was interspersed with a three month “break” back in San Diego, and the air travel back and forth allowed the family to make at least, brief visits to some of the most important parts of Europe – above and beyond the extraordinary experience of living in Uganda as a young person, and being able to tour extensively and to deeply explore not only Uganda itself, but also, the East African neighbouring countries of Kenya, and Tanzania / Zanzibar.

 

For the sake of brevity – I actually end the story in 1971, which is when – not documented below – we returned to California for good – and life just moved on in a more ordinary fashion from 1972 onwards – time taken up with school – and university for John – while I moved into the arts via music playing guitar and piano in bands from an early age.

 

The story begins then, with some historical background to bring us up to the time when the family moved to Uganda for the most amazing four years of our entire lives.

 

 

EARLY TIMES / HISTORY

 

Since many of you will never have met John, I will preface my memories of him and of our childhood together, with some historical background – which is really actually essential to understanding the memories I will offer up after this historical introduction to John Stafford.

The first born child (first of three boys in the family) of E. Wesley Stafford and Shirley Jeanette Williams Stafford, John arrived in early December of the year 1955, born in San Diego, California (as all three of us kids were).

Wes and Shirley were delighted with John, who very early on showed real aptitude at anything involving unexpected and surprising amounts of intelligence – and it’s safe to say that of the three Stafford boys – while my younger brother and I have our modest talents (and I am absolutely certain Robert would agree with me on this point) we could never hold a candle to John’s intelligence, and his quick and perceptive mind – and indeed he was one of the most talented and capable thinkers I have ever met or known throughout my life.

This was demonstrated early on when John began reading well before attending school – at the age of four – (no doubt encouraged and aided and abetted by Wes & Shirley who both happened to be teachers / educators) and he devoured books (as did all three of us in our own time) and I’m sure was always reading a few years “ahead” of the level he “should” have been reading at for his age.

He loved school (far more than I ever did!)  – and from what I can recall, he always always got incredibly good grades – in the U.S. this was known as being “a straight ‘A’ student” – and that was definitely John all over. Good grades, always succeeding, and working way ahead of the curve.  A success story waiting to happen – and happen it did.

As he continued to do throughout high school and then during his time at the University Of Southern California (UCSD at La Jolla, California) where he graduated – as expected – right at the top of his class.  He clearly loved school and learning – again, far more than I did lol – and just exceeded all expectations from the very beginning.  His brain was simply impossible to compete with, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never, ever get “straight A’s” – my brain is wired a bit differently I guess – being a musician, but John’s brain was pure intellect, knowledge and engineering creativity.

For me, growing up a few years behind and kinda…, in John’s “wake”, as it were – I found it pretty much impossible to compete – I couldn’t get the grades, and early on in my teens, our paths really diverged…I became a guitarist and pianist, and he went onto a brilliant and very long career in computer engineering – at that time, a very new and bleeding edge kind of career.  But I didn’t really feel in competition – he was good at what he as good at – very good – and I chose a different path – that’s just the way of it, really!

John didn’t even need to look for a job, while still at University, well prior to him even graduating, the larger tech companies of the day such as Burroughs Corp., Hewlett-Packard and others came to UCSD – and to all of the best universities and colleges – looking to hire the brightest and best students to work in the new and burgeoning field of Computer Science. John eventually took the best offer he got, which happened to be from H.P. – and ended up working there for his entire working life!!!

I don’t know a lot of the details of what he worked on during the 25 years-plus that he did work for Hewlett-Packard but I do know that he was very involved in some of the earliest “machine languages” one of which was Fortrans.

I did, later on,  as an adult, speak to John on many occasions about the work he did at Hewlett-Packard, and he was always incredibly engaged and excited about the complex and fascinating work that he did.  The issue for me though, was that while we could talk about it to a reasonably complex level of detail…a huge percentage of what John would explain to me – with every precise, exact detail intact – just went straight over my head.

I myself worked for many years in the IT field, but I was more of the “PC / Windows” generation, while John had a deep knowledge of the lowest level machine operations – I got the impression that Windows and other operating systems were of no real interest to him, he wanted to work with the nuts and bolts of computing from an almost conceptual viewpoint (which at that time, I could barely conceive of or imagine)  – for him, it was computer science all the way down to the ones and zeros.

That world – was – and still is for the most part – an utterly unknown; an almost completely mysterious place to me – it may as well be magic, the way machine language works – but for John, that was his comfort zone and later innovations like Windows and other operating systems – just didn’t seem to impress him all that much.

He was really passionate about his work and loved working with computer hardware as well as the more esoteric and conceptual work involving machine language and similar concepts – and would also, endlessly take apart and build computers physically, so he could work down at those mysterious and magical lower machine levels, a place where few humans dare to tread – John Stafford was completely comfortable there, and seemed less comfortable out in the newer world of “user friendly operating systems” and “applications”.  That was almost like “cheating” – that made it too simple for him – too easy, and not challenging enough, I think.

Without the work that John helped to pioneer and build up during his time with H.P. – modern computers would not be where they are today.  In those early days, innovation was the order of the day, and the work done on early machine languages back then, absolutely paved the way for the modern computers of today.

I’m exceedingly proud of my brother for his contribution to the practical aspects of computer science – he put his university knowledge to practical use immediately and had a long and prosperous career at H.P. – until he had to take early retirement in his 50’s due to the complications of living with Parkinson’s Disease. I am quite sure he would have worked there until fully retired had he been unaffected by the Parkinson’s – and how often does anyone ever, get to have one great job their entire lifedoing the same work that they love, at the same company for so very many years?

I think I’ve just barely managed 12 – 13 years total – my longest duration stints at any one employment – at just two of my “day jobs” with quite a few shorter duration bouts of employment in between.  I wanted to work at my first job forever, but it was not to be, and I really admired the longevity that John had with H.P. –  as well as envying him for getting one great job and being able to stick with it, grow and mature with it – from straight out of university in his early 20s until forced to retire before his time by a cruel and on forgiving disease.

I really wished that I had had that continuous steady progressive employment with a single excellent employer but it was never to be in my case. Somehow – John managed to do the impossible and work at one single job for his entire working life!  I find that to be both admirable…and extraordinary.

After retiring, the worst of John’s struggles continued and began to make his life very hard, and life became more and more difficult for him as the years passed. The progressive nature of Parkinson’s Disease meant that as time passed, John’s struggle became more profound and ever more difficult,  until eventually he decided that he would move into as assisted living complex where he could have some help with coping with ordinary tasks that had gradually become too difficult or even possible to perform.

Which…brings us to the present – a peaceful night of sleep and just quietly slipping away – free at last from the stranglehold that Parkinson’s had on both his body and that brilliant innovative mind.  It must have been so very, very frustrating to have such a wealth of knowledge, skill and experience and not be able to take any valid action to prevent the progress of Parkinson’s – I can only put that into musical or lyrical terms by way of a poetic description – by quoting something Peter Hammill once sang “The body becomes a constant traitor…but the spirit survives”.

I imagine that is something like how it must have felt – your brain is still the same sharp instrument it was 30 years previously, but the effect of this horrible, progressive disease turns your own body against you and betrays you, lets you down and forces you into a helpless, debilitated state – and you are powerless to do anything about it.

That can’t have been easy.   But John persisted, he kept going and I admire him for that – he never gave in, he always fought hard – and tried very very hard, to keep his independence and individuality for as long as he possibly could.  I salute that spirit and quietly admire his determination.  He was still the same brilliant young man I had known growing up, and I have rarely met anyone with such a rare, keen and unique intellect.

But John also loved to laugh, he took up the acoustic guitar later in life so he could play the folk music he had always loved – early on, it would have been the music of Simon & Garfunkel (no shame in that !!) – and, from a later time, he especially loved the music of the very well respected folk musician John Stewart (who later worked with Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks) – Stewart himself was also from San Diego, as the whole Stafford family is.

So while John was very much about computer science, machine language and other pretty technical work – he also had a very normal human side spending time with his beloved books, projects and music and living a quiet life at home.

MEMORIES OF JOHN – CALIFORNIA:

From the history of John’s arc through the world I would now very briefly share some of the many, many memories I have of John – particularly those memories of our childhood together, which amazingly and magically for us – included a four year journey to East Africa where our parents had volunteered to teach teachers how to teach, which was from 1967 through 1971.

John, being the eldest son, would have been around 11 or 12 years of age when we moved from San Diego, California to a Teacher Training college some fifty miles west of Kampala, Uganda, near the small town of Mityana.  Which was the end of the paved part of the road – the road turned from tarmac to dirt as you left Mityana heading west – and in 1967 – you wouldn’t find any more paved roads on your way westward – until you turned around and drove back into Mityana where the paved road ended – and you could then ride in luxury, for a full 50 miles – into Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.

John would therefore have been about 15 or 16 when the family returned from Uganda to San Diego where both of my parents then resumed their teaching careers – our mother Shirley teaching kindergarten for many years, then later, pre-school age kids, while our dad Wes taught the sixth grade for most of his life after our return from East Africa.

Before we moved to Africa for four years – we were about as typical of a sort of (lower??) “middle class” American family. Two parents, and two boys (Robert my younger brother was a bit of a “late arrival”, being one year old in 1967 when we moved to Uganda) and I have nothing but fond, happy memories – growing up, going to school and playing on a street called “Mineral Drive”, in the then pretty new suburb of San Carlos – one of the many, many suburbs and outlying parts of greater San Diego.

John had the chemistry sets and all things science, where I had the piano, music and my beloved Beatles, whose records I started collecting at about age eight or nine, not too long before we moved to Africa.  Sure – I had chemistry sets too, but John was the master of not just science tools but also built amazing electronic kits obtained from Radio Shack or via mail order.

I can remember being astonished and delighted when he would build a “breadboard” electronics project using nothing but diodes, resistors and maybe one of those new “transistors” that were starting to become available to ordinary consumers (and John would have been one of the first customers to seek out transistors I feel quite certain!) in the 1960s

While John looked to Radio Shack for electronic components and increasingly difficult and wonderful electronics circuits to build, a little bit later on, at age 13 when I returned to California – I viewed it more as the place where $25.00 (a huge sum of money to me in 1971) would buy my very first band a “real microphone”.

I remember that both myself and the drummer in the band , Brian Monaco, each bought one of these amazing Radio Shack microphones, which then got plugged into the second inputs of the tiny Sears or no name amplifiers we used then – plugged in next to where your guitar was plugged in. We were the main two singers – so we had to be heard!

Heady times… your first rock band, going “pro” at age 13 with your $25.00 boom microphones.   Amazing 1972 tech.

John’s pursuits were always much more serious, and much more difficult, then the relatively simple challenges I set for myself as the lead guitarist of the “Stafford-Monaco Band” of 1971, and I literally could not get my head around the idea that John could build working electronic devices – using only discrete components, a breadboard and his trusty soldering iron.

He even made audio devices that used tiny little speakers to produce sound.  He created circuits using LEDs that would flash in sequence…he was endlessly creative with his little circuits, which stood him in good stead later when he was in school and studying computer science at university.
It was all a bit beyond me, I loved the crazy devices he built and played with – but for John – it grounded him early on in good engineering practices – which came in very handy indeed for not only his university studies in computer science; as well as, later on – giving him practical “build skills” which he would then use for the rest of his life – both at home dismantling and re-assembling computers and other electronic equipment “for fun” – but also in his daily work at Hewlett-Packard for many, many years.

[END OF HISTORY SECTION]

A Moment Of Transition – The Road To East Africa

The above account is a bare bones history (believe it or not – that is really bare bones – barely scratching the surface!) just to provide the tiniest idea of John Stafford the man.

I’ve tried to do him justice from the historical perspective but it is literally impossible to “catalogue” an entire man’s life in a few blog paragraphs so I have given up while I am ahead.
I hope my historical preface goes some small way towards painting enough of an account of the basic occurrences in John’s life – and I am using that history now,  as my “launching point”  to move John’s story onto the core / formative years of 1967-1971 – for both John and myself – concentrating on my memories of our time together living at Busuubizi Teacher Training College, near Mityana, Uganda for four years.
In actual fact, we both spent our final two years in Uganda “commuting” between home and Kampala, Uganda’s capital, so we could attend an American-run school there – and while doing so, we each stayed with a different American family living on the Makerere University campus in Kampala – so our 1970-1971 was actually split between living at Busuubizi T.T.C. on the weekends, and staying at Makerere from Monday through Friday to attend school.

That was actually a brilliant thing, because it gave John and I a chance to interact with a lot more kids of our own age, who happened to be a very, very diverse group of young people from all over the world – and I firmly believe that that experience, formed the tolerant views on both the human experience and on the topic of diversity, that both John and myself believed in all of our lives.  It was an incredibly positive experience, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences – or the unique, remarkable memories that follow – for anything in the universe.  What a time we had – John and I !!!

AFRICA 1967 – 1971

Without a doubt, my best and most cherished memories are of growing up with my big brother John in the incredibly beautiful and strange, magical environment of a very undeveloped and mostly untouched by outside influences – Uganda of 1967.

We also had so many opportunities to travel with our parents, by car usually;  but also by train sometimes – to the other two East African nations – Kenya to the east, and Tanzania to the southeast – so at an early age we had the rare and wonderful privilege of seeing East Africa in a very “un-spoilt-by-humans” condition.

That “un-spoilt” time was never to come again – with the advent of one Idi Amin in Uganda – which actually happened while John and I were staying at Makerere University in 1971 – changed Uganda – and East Africa – irrevocably and forever – and not for the better.  We were so, so fortunate to have happened to go there before that difficult time of severe political upheaval and unrest.

I have a disturbing memory of creeping up towards the front gates of Makerere during the civil unrest during Amin’s takeover of the country, and seeing an enormous armoured “recoil-less rifle” parked at the University gates – thankfully with the gun’s muzzle pointing outwards.  There was a six p.m. curfew in Kampala, and it was definitely an unsettling end to our otherwise idyllic four year stay in that most beautiful of countries – pre-1972 Uganda.

TANZANIA AND ZANZIBAR

 

Trips to several National Parks in all three East African countries afforded us not only multiple opportunities to observe wild animals and (for myself and my dad, especially) birds – but also, we had the truly rare opportunity to visit Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania – the birthplace of humankind – where we saw the skull discovered by Louis B. Leakey and Mary Leakey, who had made the initial discoveries of the then-earliest known humanoid remains – so far in the last that our young minds couldn’t really quite grasp the distance in time of these ancient ancestors of ours.

Seeing that skull really sent the mind reeling…all those years, all that time from such humble beginnings to techno sophisticates that mankind has become in 2020 and beyond. What a thing to witness, John and I were in awe of the Olduvai Gorge archaeological site and it sparked a life-long fascination with the subject for me.

Also in Tanzania, we visited the remarkable Ngorongoro Crater which to me, seemed like the most beautiful place on Earth. I’ve never forgotten that visit, staying in a small hotel above the crater’s rim, with the most beautiful exotic flower garden I’ve ever seen – and on the morning before our trip down into the crater – in a Land Rover since the road was too small and treacherous for cars) I will never forget how incredibly beautiful the morning sunlight shone on those amazing beautiful flowers – and then I noticed something even more astonishingly lovely – the fluorescent plumage of light-dappled Sunbirds (Africa’s equivalent to the hummingbirds of the Americas) as they fed on the nectar of the flowers with their delicately curved beaks.

The road leading down into the crater proper (a dirt road, of course, being Africa in the 1960s) was so narrow and so difficult to navigate, that by law – Land Rovers only – would only be allowed to descend into the canyon in the morning hours, then later in the afternoon, no more descending vehicles – and only then, ascending Land Rovers were permitted. Had two way traffic been permitted – no one would be going anywhere on the tiny ridiculously narrow, steep and very dangerous “road” – which looked more like a wide footpath than an actual “road” – and we were used to narrow small difficult dirt roads.

So – we drove down early in the morning, visiting a Masai village at the bottom of the crater, seeing the lake and the masses of wild animals living there in huge herds…what an amazing day that was. John and I were in seventh heaven – so much to discover and learn!!

Other memorable trips were taken in Tanzania, including a visit with friends in Dar-es-salaam where I can recall getting up very early and going out onto the sand in the freezing cold dark early morning to see the bird life that lived along the shoreline. I remember going to look at the famous Makonde sculptures which were absolutely fascinating examples of local Tanzanian artists skill as sculptors.

On another day,  a short boat trip over from Dar-es-salaam, to the former Portuguese colony island of Zanzibar – and the unusual and unique Zanzibar City…I still have a beautiful carved wooden “Zanzibar chest” that Wes & Shirley brought home to California – Shirley gave it to me to put into my house in the US and it then subsequently travelled to Scotland with me in 2005 – so I still have a beautiful piece of art made in Zanzibar in the late 1960s – still, even now in 2020 … a memory of that single day’s visit to Zanzibar so many years ago.

On the way home, leaving Dar-es-salaam behind and heading north towards the southern Kenya border, as we drove past the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro, we had to stop in the road to allow a tortoise to slowly cross – which you don’t mind at all when you have such an amazing view of snow capped Kilimanjaro from the plains of Tanzania below – unforgettable moments and scenes from the life that John and I shared with our parents Wes & Shirley.

 

Tanzania is an amazing place and I wish we could have seen even more of it – but what we did experience – was absolutely remarkable.

KENYA

We only ventured down to Tanzania once I believe, to visit Olduvai, Ngorongoro and also to visit our friends the Stades who lived in Dar-es-salaam – the capital city of Tanzania. Tanzania was quite some distance from Uganda, but nearer-by Kenya was the country we visited the most after our many, many tours around our home base country of Uganda.

For example, we made several trips to Mombasa where we would spend a week swimming in the warm beautiful waters of the Indian Ocean, and also of course visiting as many National Parks as possible in all three countries for more and more animal and bird life experiences. We all became keen observers of wildlife and keen photographers too….what a place to grow up!! We were so, so fortunate.

My most precious memories of John and the family in Kenya – well, besides the amazing “Coraldene” resort we stayed at on our wonderfully restful and relaxing Mombasa trips to “the beach”…

…were of photo safaris taken in the west of Kenya, near the Kenya highlands… to places like Lake Naivasha (where wild monkeys ate all of the food in our campsite while we were away on a boat on the lake!!)…

…to the unbelievable sight of over one million Lesser Flamingos (along with smaller numbers of the Greater Flamingo as well) on nearby Lake Nakuru – one of the Bird Wonders Of The World surely. To see a million of anything (except stars of course, or grains of sand) is remarkable enough – but to see over a million large, pink flamingos all huddled into a gigantic mass of noisy gregarious bird activity, was an unbelievable and unforgettable sight that I have never forgotten no matter how much time has passed.

Another amazing journey was a rare trip by train through the Kenya highlands. We took the train, if memory serves, from Kampala in Uganda all the way across Kenya to our destination – Mombasa and another visit to our beloved “Coraldene” (where I saw one of the first live bands I’d ever seen) – the Kenya highlands being one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on Earth, having been created by the massive Rift Valley which is a huge geological “fault” on the African plate; which pushed up the highlands and made them into the beautiful thing they were then and are still today.
Going by train was amazing, a lovely, slow, deliberate climb up and up and up the escarpment until you reached the breathtaking highest parts of the “pushed up” land mass – and I remember we would open the train windows and gaze out in wonder at the astonishingly beautiful highland hills and villages as the train slowly made its way across the magical and almost unbelievable landscape – none of us had ever seen anything like it.

At one juncture – possibly on a different trip to Kenya (we went to Mombasa to our warm Indian Ocean beach haven many, many times over the four years we lived in Uganda) we took a day to visit a large tea plantation – tea growing being a huge industry in the highlands because tea grows well at higher altitudes (and the Kenya Highlands are definitely great for tea growing) and it was an interesting day walking around and seeing the tea in different stages of growth and processing.

 

Of course when visiting Kenya you had to visit the capital city, Nairobi which was considerably larger, more modern and more cosmopolitan than Uganda’s more traditional capital city Kampala. I don’t remember a lot about Nairobi – my memories tend towards wildlife (particularly of bird life in East Africa, my own personal passion for ornithology which is still with me today in 2020) and our visits to the National Parks in all three countries.

The National Parks in Kenya were no exception – amazing huge tracts of wild land teeming with huge herds of wildlife, from every imaginable kind of antelope to zebras and giraffe and buffalo and even sleek, beautiful cheetahs (my favourite big cat due to its amazing speed and agility) and lazy lions and lumbering hippos lounging in rivers…for John and I, to get to experience all of that amazing wildlife at such a young age – I am certain that those experiences left us both with really positive attitudes towards conservation and caring for both the wildlife and their environments – which are, of course – the National Parks.

UGANDA

 

Then…there were the trips around Uganda itself. These might range from a day’s drive with Dad if he had to visit a remote school somewhere miles away for some reason, to planned photo safaris similar to the ones taken in Kenya and Tanzania.

Uganda has several absolutely amazing National Parks from the stunning Murchison Falls in the north west, where the entire Nile river was forced through a 23 foot (?) gap in the rock – creating an amazing waterfall in the river – to the beautiful scrub land of Queen Elizabeth National Park (what else – Uganda being a former British colony) a stone’s throw across the Ishasha river from the Congo.

Wes & Shirley loved to tour around the country in our small Toyota station wagon (capacity four so not a “large” station wagon by any measure); and we took so many trips to so many amazing places during the four years we lived in Uganda – we travelled far up north to Moroto, which was basically an inhabited scrub/desert just south of the Sudan; where the locals feared that our cameras might be stealing their souls – they would leap off the side of the road into the bush if they saw you point a camera at them. What a remarkable time and place!

I remember our first trip to Murchison Falls National Park…we arrived in the late afternoon and the sun was streaming into this tiny village making the whole world go an indescribably beautiful dark orange-y brown colour that was something I’d never seen (before or since…unforgettable, beautiful light) – the most beautiful late, late afternoon early evening “light” I have ever seen in my entire life…we got out of the car to stretch our legs, and to ask where the campsite was that we were going to pitch our tent in for the night.

As we were standing there, suddenly – in complete silence mind you – three enormous giraffes came casually strolling into the Park village and walked right past us and our car – leaving us open mouthed in wonder at the prehistoric grace and huge gait of these enormous 18 foot tall animals, and they have such beautiful (and wonderfully large!!) gentle faces with those huge, liquid brown eyes…

They glanced down casually as they slowly strolled past us while the four of us just stood there awestruck at the sight of those three graceful, ancient creatures making their way unconcerned by humans or cars or Park villages. That is the largest animal I’ve ever been that close to – and until you can get close to wild giraffes, you really do not realise quite how tall, how broad and just how BIG they really are!!!

 

Incredibly beautiful wild creatures – walking past us as we stared up…waaaaay up at their beautiful faces with those impossibly long eyelashes…the astonishing beauty of nature. To a 12 or 14 year old child – that’s an amazing experience. John and I got to experience almost literal “heaven on Earth” in the incredibly beautiful, un-spoilt wilds of late 1960s East Africa…lucky beyond belief and an unforgettable, life-changing experience.

Later that night, Dad drove the family our dusty Toyota into a big empty field which was, apparently, a “campground”: amenities = zero, resources = one big empty field:

saf14

(Photo of the actual campsite at Murchison Falls that I am describing here – borrowed from the Stafford Family Snapshot Gallery and Timeline that follows the main blog entry below).  Dave Stafford, John Stafford and Robert Stafford work together to set up the main tent for Wes, Shirley and Robert Stafford to sleep in.

We parked along one edge of the crudely cleared campground, and set up our usual “no budget” camping / sleeping arrangements for our one night camping in Murchison Falls National Park.
Our younger brother Robert – who would have been about three years old at this time – slept with our parents in the big tent that we pitched about ten feet away from the parked Toyota station wagon. John and I – slept in the back part of the car with the seat folded down so we could stretch out our legs. I chose the side of the car at the very edge of the campground, while John slept on the campground side facing into the rectangular field.

As the evening progressed, a couple of other brave campers arrived in their vehicles and set up camp at different points around the edge of the campground, including a VW Camper Van with a huge bunch of bananas strapped to the van’s roof. This becomes significant to this incident shortly – bear with me – so Shirley would have prepared a meal for us and as it was now rapidly getting dark, we all went to our respective designated sleeping quarters for the night – Mom & Dad with Robert zipped up securely in the big tent, and John and I locked safely in the back of the Toyota wagon, bundled up warm in our sleeping bags.

This was African camping “1969 style” – cheap, effective and the most economical way to experience touring around Uganda on photo safaris or just as a way to avoid expensive hotels while visiting the various National Parks or just driving around the country (which was just as amazing as the parks in its own way) – we were a family that camped a lot over the years and it’s a great way to enjoy nature – and it’s a lot cheaper and is much more rewarding than hotels ever could be – a chance to see some nature and enjoy the fresh air and the great outdoors – it’s brilliant.

About two hours after we went to sleep, we were very, VERY suddenly awoken by a very sharp, powerful shock of the entire car suddenly moving – which it had. I remember being pretty frightened because I’d been jolted awake by the violent sharp shock to the exterior of the car…and being somewhat terrified – since I had just woken up and I had NO IDEA yet of what on Earth was going on – I remember whispering to my big brother who was in the sleeping bag next to me…”John…I think there’s a lion right outside of the car”.

I then tried to look out of the car window – out what had been a clear view out the car’s window of stars and dry grasslands – but my former view of the Ugandan brush land at night was gone – instead – the entire window had gone pitch black, like a total eclipse – I could no longer see the land, the stars – nothing – just a big mass blocking my view completely.

I don’t remember what John said in reply to my terrified whisper but suddenly – the car moved again – bouncing back to its original stable state – because the elephant that had leaned up against the car and caused the initial motion of the car that woke John and I up – had decided to move away so he stopped leaning against the car and walked away.

I could suddenly see out the window again and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief – it wasn’t a lion, it was a hungry elephant – and we surmised the next morning – based on the fact that the same or another elephant had taken the entire bunch of bananas (about 60 bananas – a huge bunch of bananas) off of the top of our neighbouring campers VW Camper Van (and had presumably eaten them all – they were GONE in the morning) and then – no doubt thinking that all cars might have free bunches of bananas strapped to their roofs – the elephant had walked across the campground and leaned up against our car (meaning the side of the elephant was pressed up against the window glass about six inches from where I lay sleeping) hoping to find more bananas…but, finding nothing – stopped leaning against my window and walked away – maybe to try a third car I will never know.

Of course, the elephant had no idea there were two slightly terrified kids sleeping in the car/banana restaurant he had discovered. I’m glad our car wasn’t configured as a giant mobile banana dispenser – because the elephant literally walked up, slammed his body against the side of the car, stayed there for a moment while seeking free food, and finding nothing – pulled himself away to go try his luck elsewhere.

That was a night to remember!! These were the kinds of amazing experiences that John and I were so, so privileged to be a part of. Amazing things happened during those four years – I mean on a single day – we’d encountered three giraffes at very close range just walking through the village so casually – and then a few hours later – an elephant gave us the fright of our lives until we understood what was actually happening. A hungry elephant looking for more bananas please!

At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Near Mityana, Uganda


Of course, there were much more mundane episodes and memories, being children still, we both loved fireworks which you could purchase easily anywhere in East Africa (cheap firecrackers from China mostly – no restrictions back then) and we also both built plastic models of ships and planes as many children do whilst living at home at Busuubizi TTC – the teacher trying college near the town of Mityana some 50 miles west of Kampala.

One day we decided to take an old battleship model we didn’t want any more… we took it down into the forest about a third of a mile from our house (“forest” is what Ugandans call what Western people refer to as “jungles”) where we proceeded to stuff the model full of fireworks…then set it alight to watch the fireworks utterly destroy it. Strange ideas little boys get some times when they have unauthorised access to dangerous fireworks !! Who knows what prompted that – but it was FUN!

 

KAMPALA AND LINCOLN SCHOOL

During the last two years of our four year stay in Uganda, both John and I “commuted” between home and Kampala so we could attend school there – Lincoln School was American built and run, initially for the children of the various Embassies in Kampala, but eventually, anyone could attend, and we had a blast in a truly diverse multicultural environment of the school – my best friend was Predrag from Yugoslavia and I had friends and classmates from all over the world – from Norway and Sweden, all over Europe – every foreign national who was attached to an Embassy from any country in Kampala via their ambassador parents, ended up attending Lincoln School.

I recall lots of field trips and amazing school projects, and a great teacher called Mr. Van Dusen who drove us around Uganda to see African drummers tune up their drums with flames and then perform…. it was amazing. He also took us to see the remarkable Nyera rock paintings near Mbale in eastern Uganda which was a new and thought-provoking experience for John and myself.

I got my first electric guitar during 1970 (or thereabouts) and took it to school to demo for my pals. I can remember going to dances at embassy homes, and on one occasion – thirty kids on a large boat sailing on Lake Victoria – dancing the night away to the sound of a brand new hit song by a band called “The Doors” – “Light My Fire”, and I can remember saying it was really hard to dance for that long – the song seemed super long compared to most – and after five or six minutes I was exhausted! But how surreal to look back at now, so many years later – dancing as a young teenager to the Doors on a boat on Lake Victoria in Uganda in 1970 – that is absolutely bizarre and impossible – but it happened.

THE REST OF THE WORLD

My parents four years’ time teaching in Uganda was actually two two-year stints with a three month gap in between where we travelled back “home” to San Diego, and just stayed with friends until it was time to return to Uganda for the second stint. So my parents very cleverly worked our travel out so that on each transit between California and Uganda – they arranged for us to visit an amazing variety of places which to John and I, was even more amazing than living in Uganda for four years – at a very early age, we had experiences that many can only dream of.

So after the first two years – on the way back to California – we visited other countries.

On returning to Uganda after our three month break in California – we visited more countries.

And finally – on our final return from Uganda to California for the final time after the entire four years was up – we visited still more countries.

So we had three chances to stop off in various countries in Europe and we had even more amazing experiences whilst doing so. I’ve decided for purposes of this memory of John Stafford, to limit my detailed memories to the best and happiest times of our shared holiday, which roughly coincides with our time living in Uganda from 1967 through 1971.

In passing though, I wanted to make a brief list of the other places that the family had such wonderful opportunities to experience and visiting and spending time in those places, added more wonder and beauty to what was already the best and most wonderful childhood three brothers could have – Robert was very young (he was one in 1967 when my parents took the family to live in Uganda) but for John and I – it was the most amazing childhood imaginable.

Along with living in East Africa – these additional experiences in Europe only added to our cultural and historical educations – and changed both John’s life, and my life – forever. These memories now, are even more precious to me than ever before – and sharing them with my big brother John was a great way to grow up.

We looked out for each other, and helped Wes & Shirley look out for young Robert too – as families do. I feel so incredibly fortunate that I got to share these experiences with John and my family – and I know that those experiences enriched my own life so, so much – and I am sure that John cherished those memories as much as I still do.

A very, very brief listing of our rest of the world touring follows – in no particular order – and, no photos in this section of the blog – with some very brief notes on any notable experiences in those amazing places that John and I were so, so lucky to see and visit and experience.

Rest Of The World Tour – In Between Tours In East Africa

On the way to Africa initially – in 1967 – departing from JFK in New York City (where we had six weeks of training – and immunisations every Monday for six weeks) we stopped very briefly on the West coast of Northern Africa – essentially refuelling stops – but, our very first footfalls on African soil:

Liberia

Nigeria (??)
Or possibly, alternatively:
Senegal (??)
Liberia
I am absolutely certain we stopped in Liberia, but not sure on the second fuel stop – memory fail.
During the other three trips travelling between Uganda and California, we also visited:

London – United Kingdom (twice)- London only

Amsterdam – The Netherlands – including a very sobering and thought-provoking visit to the Anne Frank House – a beautiful city which I have returned to as an adult.

Athens – Greece – (twiceincluding but not limited toa visit to the Parthenon and a day trip to Delphi – Greece is an amazing country with so much culture and history – we really loved it there and from Athens, we also went on an amazing Mediterranean Cruise – a week on the Mediterranean – visiting several different Greek islands including:

Crete
Delos
…and possibly three or four others now lost to my fading memory, plus:

Ephesus – Turkey

…which was part of the same week long cruise – the ship visited five or six islands plus stopping at Ephesus for a day.

Jerusalem – Israel – the Garden Of Gethsemane is absolutely beautiful – old, old olives trees like we had never seen – also Bethlehem

Nicosia – Cyprus (to ease the transition of going from a Israel to Egypt in the very very tumultuous political situation in the Middle East in the late 1960s.)

Cairo – Egypt – including the Cairo Museum (mummies of Egyptian kings and queens), the Sphinx, and the Pyramids of Giza – including an absolutely unforgettable trip inside the Great Pyramid…an amazing, haunting unforgettable experience. To be deep inside the Great Pyramid….shivers.

Regina – Saskatchewan – Canada – to visit with Canadian friends who has been our next door neighbours at Busuubizi T.T.C. for the first two years 1967-1968.

Seattle – Washington – United States – to visit our grandmother, who had moved to Washington some years previously with her then new husband Harold.

 

As well as friends made in Uganda, there were also the thirty families were chosen for the US Aid funded program that took me parents to East Africa to teach – under a program called “Teacher Education in East Africa” (or “T.E.E.A.” as it was more commonly referred to) teaching student teachers “how to teach” – we made many, many friends among those 30 “T.E.E.A.” Families – which were initially dispersed across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania in 1967 when we first went.

Some of those families and individuals returned after just two years, some did four or more and a few…just stayed and lived their lives our living and working in East Africa.

 

We remained in touch with several of those families, as well as the non-“T.E.E.A.” friends such as our Canadian neighbours that we later stopped off to visit in Canada as noted above.

 

Completing the list of countries visited, of course, are the three East African countries that we spent four astonishing and rewarding years in:

Tanzania – including Zanzibar

Kenya

Uganda

 

Looking back at these childhood memories spent with my “big brother” John after all these years – I know in my heart that despite the long protracted struggle with Parkinson’s that John had so much difficulty with, a struggle that he ultimately – but unavoidably – lost a few days ago…that his life was a brilliant one, and I am so proud and so glad that I got to share so very much of it with him; most especially, during the four very special years that our family had living in what can only be called a paradise on earth, in a natural, un-spoilt land full of wonder and beauty.

 

The people living there then, in Uganda, showed us the most incredible kindness, their spirit of generosity (when they themselves, had little or nothing to call their own), the welcome that they gave us and the mutual respect that grew between us – is unparalleled in my later experience living outside of Uganda in the many years since.
We had never encountered a place so beautiful in every way, populated by such gentle, kind, generous people, with a hunger for learning and knowledge and understanding, as we encountered during the four years that the five of us lived at Busuubizi Teacher Training College near Mityana, Uganda.

 

Finally…  because I had the same experiences – for the most part – that John did, during that amazing time – I know, I truly, truly know – deep down…with the greatest and most positive certainty, that the life of John Wesley Stafford, 1955 – 2020 – was, without a shred of doubt – an amazing life well-lived.

 

 

Dave Stafford

 

February 29, 2020 / March 1, 2020 – March 2, 2020

Central Scotland


 

Photo Gallery – John Wesley Stafford & Family

Family Snapshot Gallery – 1958 – 1972

TIMELINE:

San Diego, California: 1958 – 1965

ShirleyJohn&DavidWilliamStafford3MonthsOld0003

Shirley, David and John Stafford
– 1958 – photo by Wes Stafford.  John is age two, Dave is age three months (approximately).  Shirley Stafford looks supremely happy and amazingly beautiful in this photo – radiant, I would say.  Photo taken by the proud father, Wes Stafford.

WesShirleyJohn&DavidWilliamStafford2YearsOldDec19600002


Shirley, John, David & Wes Stafford
– 1962.  John is age 7, Dave age 5 (approximately).

John&DavidWilliamStaffordAgeUnknown


John Stafford & Dave Stafford

“Professional Portrait” – circa  1965 – 1966.  John is age 10 or 11, Dave is age 8 or 9 (approximately).


East Africa: 1967 – 1971

Preparation: New York City – Summer 1967

pre01

New York City, NY – Summer 1967:

In New York for six weeks training, weekly inoculations (something I absolutely dreaded and which gave me a lifelong fear of needles) and preparation for the “culture shock” of moving from the U.S.A. to Uganda – a ferry trip (possibly to Staten Island to see the Empire State Building?)  – with a pensive looking John Stafford – age 12 (or possibly 11) – holding his one-year old “baby brother” Robert Stafford on his lap.

We always joked later, that moving to New York City for six weeks, was far, far more of a “culture shock” than moving to Uganda ever was – and there is a lot of truth in that idea – New York was a… very different kind of place compared to what we had been accustomed to living in Southern California – New York City has a much more frenetic, fast-paced feel to it, especially when compared to the perhaps, more relaxed California lifestyle.  Culture Shock indeed!

pre04
Unknown event – New York City:
Summer 1967.  Unknown boy in string tie (left) with John Stafford (right) looking very, very serious in his bow tie – clearly, both boys had won blue ribbons – for what event, is lost to the mists of time.

jad03

Central Park Lake – New York City – Rowing:

A visit to New York City’s famed Central Park, where Wes Stafford rowed us around the lake – Dave Stafford and John Stafford standing on the lake shore.   Summer 1967.

 


 

Living In Uganda – 1967 – 1971

 

 

Mityana & Busuubizi Teacher Training College

 

Mityana – nearest town to Busuubizi T.T.C.:

 


Mityana, Uganda:


Dave, Shirley, Robert
& John Stafford at Mityana – the small town approximately three miles from Busuubizi T.T.C. where we lived – Mityana was located on the main 50 mile stretch of paved road that ran from Kampala in the centre of Uganda, fifty miles west to Mityana – where the paved road ended for good if you were heading further westward…

Busuubizi Teacher Training College near Mityana, Uganda

 

The College

 

Left:  Father Perrault introducing an afternoon student performance

Right:  Busuubizi T.T.C. student musicians performing

 

ttc07
Above:  Sign Describing the Busuubizi T.T.C. student’s play being performed

ttc05
Above:   scenes from the play

ttc06

 

Above:   scenes from the play

 

ttc12
Above:  Father Perrault’s rather untidy desk at the Busuubizi T.T.C. Teacher’s Staff Room

ttc09
Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. student dorm rooms

ttc10
Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. college classrooms

 

 

ttc11
Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. fourth year student teachers group portrait

 

 

ttc16
Above; On the set at Uganda TV – Kampala, Uganda – Live Television College Debating Team Competition

 

ttc18
Above;  The Busuubizi T.T.C. Debate Team on live TV

 

 

 

 

ttc17
Above;  The opposing Debate Team from a nearby rival Girl’s College – who easily handed the Busuubizi T.T.C. Team a resounding and very humiliating defeat – crushed on live TV

 

 

Busuubizi Teacher Training College near Mityana, Uganda

 

At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – The Stafford Residence(s)

 

hou08

Housing – In The Beginning – “House 1” (Stafford Residence ’67 – ’69):

External views of one of the two former nuns’ quarters that served as home for the Stafford Family while living at Busuubizi T.T.C.   For the sake of this narrative, I will henceforth refer to this as “House 1” – please see below for the rather convoluted history of where we lived during this time.

 

hou05

Housing – In The Beginning – “House 2” (Martin Residence – ’67 – ’69):

Both houses were really lovely, old well-built red brick houses – very large by Ugandan standards – originally designed to house many nuns – they were large and spacious – both of them perfect for a family with children – as both the Stafford Family and our first neighbours (first two years only), the Martin Family from Canada – both had children, with Ritchie Martin actually being born during this first two year period living at Busuubizi T.T.C.

 

 

hou04

And Then There Were Two – “House 1” & “House 2” – Full History:

Photo of both of the former nuns’ quarters that served as home for the Stafford Family while at Busuubizi T.T.C.   What actually happened was, that for the first two years, we lived in the house shown on the left (aka “House 1” – from ’67 – ’69) in the above photo – while our neighbours from Canada – Dan & Marilyn Martin, with their two children – lived in the house shown on the right (aka “House 2” – from ’67 – ’69).

That was the Stafford Family’s housing situation then, for the first two-year period running roughly between from 1967 – 1969;  of our stay at Busuubizi – the Stafford Family living in House 1, and the Martin Family living in House 2.

Then, after we had our three month break back in San Diego at the two-year mark of our T.E.E.A. contract (which had initially been for just two years, but, we had applied for and been accepted for a second two year contract to run immediately after the first)  – and, at the same time – with the Martins returned to Canada permanently at the end of the ’67 – ’69 period (since their teaching contract with the Canadian government had come to it’s final end) – when we came back from our “break” in the U.S., we decided that we would move from “House 1” – into “House 2”

Not that the houses or back gardens were terrifically different, but House 2 was perhaps, slightly more “well-appointed” inside, and it had a vegetable garden which House 1 had not had – free food is always a nice thing to have growing out back (though, House 2’s garden was not quite as large as the back garden at House 1 but it was definitely an improvement in enough other ways that it didn’t matter – it was a “minor upgrade” overall shall we say.

 



Busuubizi – Flora – The Beauty Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

Some examples of plants and flowers that were already growing at the two red-brick houses when we arrived at Busuubizi in 1967.

 

flo11


Busuubizi – Flora – The Beauty Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

More spectacular flowers that were everyday adornments to the front, side and back gardens at the two red-brick houses at Busuubizi.

 

flo12


Busuubizi – Flora – The Beauty Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

This one is, I believe, a “passion flower” (or possibly “passion fruit” flower – I am not a botanist and I won’t even guess at the names of most of these beautiful plants / flowers) – which were quite common in Uganda but I always admired it’s delicate construction and beauty – a lovely, almost ethereal flower.

 

flo07


Busuubizi – Flora – The Astonishing Size & Growth Rate Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

Moving now into more generic photographs of the back gardens of the two houses, this photo of some sunflowers – that we grew from seeds – demonstrates not only the incredible growth rate of plants in the excellent year round growing conditions in Uganda – with it’s alternating “dry” and “rainy” seasons, causing the plants to grow very quickly, become very green, full, and lush – and in the case of these sunflowers grown from seeds – very, very TALL.


Dave Stafford
– boosted by Wes Stafford in order to attempt to reach the top most sunflower (and not even getting close, despite Dad’s assistance) – actually provides us with a rough estimate of the overall height that these gargantuan sunflowers had shot up to – Wes was six foot one inches tall, and with his arms stretched up holding my feet to steady me, would have represented about six foot plus perhaps 20 inches.

I would have been about 5 foot 7 or 8 at this point, and I am in standing position too – so that brings us to a subtotal of approximately, 11 ft 27 inches – call it 11 ft 24 inches so 13 feet – and you can clearly see that the tallest sunflower is still towering over my head by another four feet at least – which would put the overall, very approximate height of the tallest plant here at about 17 feet or taller – which is absolutely extraordinary.  The tallest sunflowers we had ever seen or grown back in California might have reached seven or eight feet – possibly 9 or 10 foot in extreme cases.   But with the voluminous rainfall and sunny seasons in between, these “ordinary” sunflowers – became true giants of their species – an amazing thing to witness – and at such close quarters, thanks to my Dad, Wes Stafford.

 

Photo by John Stafford

 

yar02


Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1 Back Garden:


John Stafford
playing on one of the amazing super high rope swings that Wes Stafford invented and managed to hang from the very, very high branches of a very large, very tall tree growing in the back garden at House 1.  We had an absolute blast with these “super swings” – which had enormous “travel” and actually allowed you to get pretty dangerously airborne!  Fortunately, we never pushed this too far, and never had any injuries or problems – not sure modern Health & Safety would approve – but those were innocent times, and we were a lot safer in many ways than you might be now in similar circumstances.  A great innovation in swing-making by Wes Stafford.

 

 

Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:
Left: A “play house” constructed by the two young men pictured, built in the back garden for Robert Stafford to play in – at House 1.

Right: Dave Stafford and his beloved Hammock – with Robbie Martin and Robert Stafford, who loved to get a free swing in the hammock (the super high rope swing being far too advanced and dangerous for these two much younger children) in the side yard of House 1.

 


Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:

 

Left:  A rather long snake skin brought to us – unfortunately – at House 1 (to see if we wanted to buy it – we decidedly did not – but, they allowed Dad to take a picture of it before leaving after their unsuccessful sale attempt.


John Stafford
and Dave Stafford with a very large Python skin – which was about the same length as our entire high-tech aluminium-siding-constructed “garage” (a tattered metal lean-to that just barely fit our tiny Toyota wagon in) visible directly behind the displayed snake skin – so that was a pretty long snake – perhaps, approaching 20 feet in length.  It is my understanding that they can grow to even greater lengths over time, but this was certainly the longest snake we had ever seen!

Right: A view of another high-tech piece of equipment that demonstrates the fairly basic nature of our accommodations at Busuubizi- our fresh water tank located in the back garden of House 1.

 

yar09

Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:

Robert Stafford and friend, back garden of House 1

 

sky02


Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:


Robert Stafford
in his rain gear, braves a nasty downpour just to be able to go out and play – now that is determination.

 

 

sky06


Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:

More of Robert Stafford’s very rainy day – now adding the umbrella to his rain defence equipment.

 

 

 

sky07

Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:


Possibly my favourite photo of Robert Stafford from this period, a beautiful shot taken through the window pane, and the expression on Robert’s face, as he is just about managing to avoid getting thoroughly soaked has a maturity and knowledge behind that belie his then very young years – from almost any viewpoint – this is a beautiful photograph of a child defending himself against the elements – and just about winning.

 

 

yar04


Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 2:

Robert Stafford and Wes Stafford, mowing the rather large back lawn at House 2
House 2 was just somewhat superior in terms of both the house’s interior and the usefulness of the back garden  – and that, then was the Stafford Family’s housing situation then, for the second two-year period running roughly between ’69 – ’71 – of our four year overall stay at Busuubizi.

To complete the rather convoluted tale of who lived in which house “when”:  after the Martin Family returned home to Canada for good in 1969,  another Canadian educator – Les Norval, a bachelor at that time – arrived (to replace the now departed Martins, of course) – and since we had already vacated House 1 on our return from the US after the first two year stint and now lived in House 2 – Les then naturally moved into what had been “our” original home – House 1.

f+n11


Busuubizi T.T.C. – Les Norval, Educator / Neighbour / Friend ’69 – ’71:

A snapshot of Les in the staff room at Busuubizi T.T.C. proper.  A gentleman in the truest senses of the word, and a scholar and educator –  and, a great and true friend to all five of the Stafford Family during our final two years at Busuubizi.

Les was an incredibly kind, gentle and generous man who remained friends with all of us for many, many decades even after we had all returned back either to the US in our case or to Canada in his.

Les was also, an amazing neighbour and friend to all of us.  I remember one day, out of the blue, he just gave me a dozen or more 7 inch 45 rpm records – singles – that I still have to this day – some of them with “Les” scrawled on them with a black marker – and I can thank Les for an early appreciation of some pretty important music and bands that was contained on those records that he knew I would love.

He was so generous and kind that he realised that these records would mean even more to me than they had to him (since I was already at that age, a huge, huge fan of many types of music) – and he just said “here, here are some records I think you might like – please take these” – and I was flabbergasted, but I immediately played them all on my portable Phillips battery powered record player – which for one thing, led to me becoming an instant fan of the Beach Boys (one of the singles he gave me was “Break Away” – a Beach Boys tune I adore to this day) and also of a number of other bands – what a nice person!

So for the second two year period – Les lived in House 1 and the Stafford Family lived in House 2.  Simple!  So straightforward – but, it made sense at the time and it was a good decision.

I loved living in both houses – and best of all – behind the houses – there was nothing.  You could walk straight through your back garden (either one), and out into the grassy, scrub like top of a small hill.  A five minute walk down a narrow dirt path, led you to the edge of a patch of forest that filled a small valley directly behind the two houses – and then you would continue to descend on down the dirt path until you suddenly entered into the forest – and it got darker and darker until you reached the bottom – where small stagnant pools held abundant insect life and a lot of really, really beautiful butterflies, dragonflies and the like.

 

fau21


Busuubizi – Behind The Two Red-Brick Houses – Down The Hill – On The Forest Floor:

The above photo is an actual photo taken in the small strip of forest I’ve just described that ran through the valley or depression at the bottom of the hill that our two red-brick houses “backed onto”.  John and I both spent many hours in the forest, just sitting and listening to the sounds of insects and bird song, and watching amazingly beautiful insects, including butterflies like this one, as well as dragonflies, and many, many other insects.

The forest (what Western folk refer to as “jungles”) is a quiet place usually, and I can remember being down at the very bottom with the butterflies, in almost complete silence at midday – with the midday sun far above, almost completely hidden by the canopy of the trees some hundred to two hundred feet above my head…

 

flo10


Busuubizi – Behind The Two Red-Brick Houses – Down The Hill – More From The Forest:

Another actual photo of the same forest, this time showing the base of a tree and some mushrooms or toadstools growing on or next to the tree – and the lovely dappled, sunlight as it was filtered by the canopy of trees many, many feet above our heads.

It was a spectacularly beautiful, peaceful place and no one ever really went there except for John Stafford and myself.   We never ever saw anyone down there, although very occasionally,  we could hear logging crews cutting wood in the distance – but that was very, very rare.

If you continued on, from the forest floor upwards again, using the same dirt path – it would then begin to climb – up the next hill – and you would quite suddenly again, emerge into sunlight – and then climb up a very similar, grassy / scrub hill much like the one just behind the two houses – until you reached the summit of the next (uninhabited) small hill that was covered in wild, beautiful trees and tall grass.

You really didn’t see much wildlife except for insects and of course, birds – birds were everywhere, and African bird life is another topic for another blog at another time – an amazing subject, and much of my spare time in Africa was spent studying birds, observing them, listening to them – and gaining a lifelong respect and love for those amazing flying descendants of the dinosaurs – birds are astonishing creatures.

Snakes were everywhere – but, you never really saw them.  Only once in four years did we see a wild snake near our house – on that same grassy hill leading down the forest (I didn’t see it – Wes Stafford and John Stafford were walking down the path with visiting friends from the U.S. when they suddenly noticed a poisonous cobra “standing” up in the grass a few feet off of the pathway.  Not threatening at all, and they simply had a look – then walked past him and continued on down into the forest where John and Wes were leading them.

I was also aware of another type of snake (also, which I never saw!) – the green mamba – which is an all-green snake that likes to hide in bright green banana trees and other bright green trees – a very poisonous and deadly snake – and I am quite, quite certain that both John and I would have walked within a foot or two of these and never, ever have known it – because their camouflage is so perfect, they blend in so well into the bright green foliage (evolution designed them to disappear into the plants and trees to give them the advantage of surprise when hunting prey).

So, when you were just walking along, or riding your bikes as we both often did along these tiny dirt footpath /trails that wound everywhere across the landscape (since humans had walked there before) – you would just be utterly oblivious to any snakes at all – the brown coloured ones would be camouflaged by the grasslands and scrub, while the green mambas had the perfect cover and camouflage provided by the banana tree or other bright green trees – of which there were very, very many indeed throughout the Ugandan natural environment.

Blissfully unaware of any dangers – John Stafford and I walked very far afield – I know I was sometimes five or six miles away from the house (unbeknown to Wes and Shirley Stafford – who probably thought we were just beyond the back yard) …. but we never ever, came to any harm at all and were absolutely perfectly safe for the entire four years out there in that wild, untamed and incredibly beautiful natural environment of Uganda in the 1960s – no mishaps, no close encounters with any dangerous animals or snakes (and the snakes I am sure, were EVERYWHERE – but – you never, ever saw them thanks to millions of years of excellent evolution – giving them the most perfect, amazing camouflage imaginable – specialisation in action.

In this part of Uganda, it was a pretty “standard arrangement” that the tops of hills would be grassy, with trees, and the valleys or depressions, would fill up with forests – with the trees reaching up between the variously sized hills ever seeking the sun – but it made for an enchanting landscape to view and especially, to explore – and both John and I, spent many, many days and hours – separately sometimes, often, together – exploring the forests and hilltop environments common around Busuubizi.

 

 

 


 

A Brief Interlude…

 

A Truly Remarkable Gesture

 

 

yar05

Welcome home!
Prepared decorations / greetings loving prepared and created by Busuubizi T.T.C. students in anticipation of the return of their beloved “Mr. Stafford” after our return from a three month “break” in our hometown of San Diego, California at the end of our first two year contract in 1969.

f+n12

Welcome home!


I cannot express the surprise, delight and wonderful feeling that seeing these painstakingly-created designs made of stones, flower petals and other natural object – and laid out on the pathway leading us to our own front door.
After the long, long flight and journey from San Diego all the way back to Uganda  – to return to Busuubizi to this remarkable, unique, artistic and resounding “Welcome Home” is just one of many, many examples of the kind-hearted, gentle Ugandans as they expressed their admiration and gratitude for the work that their favourite teacher, Wes Stafford was doing at the College – we were touched greatly by this amazing display of welcome and friendship and true generosity of spirit – the people of Uganda were among the most gentle and kind that I have ever encountered anywhere in the world.  What an incredible “Welcome Back” that was !!!   Absolutely amazing.

 

 

 


 

 

Busuubizi T.T.C.: 

 

At Home / Indoors At Busuubizi T.T.C.:

 

hou03

hou07


At Home / Indoors At Busuubizi T.T.C.:

Views inside of the house – with Shirley Stafford seen in these two photos – working constantly on projects and in the photo at right, making clothes for the three of us boys on the old fashioned cast-iron “treadle” sewing machine she brought with us – since we did not know if we would be assigned to an area with electricity or not – she reckoned correctly that with foot power – she could sew by candlelight if need be.

Talk about being prepared – what a remarkable woman Shirley was and is !  Extremely intelligent and very, very capable – and an amazing teacher, too.

 

 

 

fam02


Wes Stafford & John Stafford
in the dining room – event unknown – circa 1968.

fam04

Christmas In UgandaWes, John, Robert, Dave, Shirley Stafford – circa 1968.

fam03

Shirley, Dave & John Stafford – Unknown Location – Uganda – circa 1968.

 

 

 

 

fam06


Wes Stafford – Dave, Shirley
(seated) and Robert Stafford (foreground)

Photo by John Stafford – Family Camping Trip – Unknown Location – Uganda – circa 1968.

 

hou10

Dave Stafford and Robert Stafford in dining room at House 1 – circa 1967 – 1968

hou02

 


The bathroom at House 1
– and our incredibly tiny,  hot water heater – located in the bathroom, it was the ONLY source of hot or boiling water in the entire house – meaning that if, when trying to cook out in the kitchen, Shirley Stafford needed hot water – she had to take a pan from the kitchen, walk down the hall from the kitchen to the bathroom, light the pilot light if it wasn’t lit, start up the water heater – and eventually, get enough hot water for her needs – and trundle back up the hall to the kitchen – every day, numerous times a day – for four years!

Yet – she never complained once to my memory – and she tackled this much less convenient, more difficult, and much more basic lifestyle with only the basic comforts of brick walls around you – with incredible grace and competence – she was totally comfortable working in this decidedly less modern environment.

hou06

Robert Stafford in the bath, as usual – laughing like mad – a very happy little kid!

jad02

At Home / Indoors At Busuubizi T.T.C.: 

The matching Stafford brothers – Dave and John –  at home – house 1 – living room (attire handmade by Shirley Stafford on her cast iron treadle sewing machine) –  Dave and John grinning at the camera, at home at Busuubizi.

jdr01

 

The three Stafford brothers at home at Busuubizi – John Stafford reading to Robert  –  at home – house 1 – living room – circa 1968.

jdr03


Watching our tiny TV set, television in Uganda was still in it’s infancy in 1967 / 1968, and had
just onebroadcast Television Station, named “Uganda TV” (rather predictably) – which broadcast in glorious black and white only.


At that time, they had just five or
six hours of programme available (and, not always reliably available – outages were commonplace and sometimes lasted for hours – but generally available) each night – that was the full extent of “Uganda TV at the time!


But, it was definitely better than nothing – at home – House 1 – living room – circa 1968.

jws02

 

John Stafford at Busuubizi T.T.C  posing for a portrait outside House 1 – circa 1968

 

jws01

John Stafford in his bedroom at House 1 – he was a big fan of the author Charles M. Schulz’ “Peanuts” characters – as were we all – and John had this amazing collection of super-sized “Peanuts” drawings on his bedroom wall – pure class ! – House 1 – circa 1968

dws04

 

Parallel Universe: an eerily similar pair of images to the two photos of John Stafford directly above: 

This time, of Dave Stafford at Busuubizi T.T.C  posing for a portrait outside House 1 – circa 1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

dws05


Dave Stafford’s
bedroom at House 1 – where there is a slight indication of a possible – very slight – fondness for bird life and ornithology – just a couple of small hints are visible in this photograph… – House 1 – circa 1968

fam01


Fourth Of July – American Embassy Sponsored Annual Picnic – Kampala, Uganda:

Left – Wes Stafford – drinking beer (a VERY rare sight indeed!) – with Dave Stafford & Robert Stafford – Photo by John Stafford – circa 1968 – 1969.

 

 

 

dws06

Fourth Of July – American Embassy Sponsored Annual Picnic – Kampala, Uganda:

Right – Dave Stafford – sack race – looking under enthusiastic – since that activity did not involve birds or music – sports not being my thing, really – ever.

 

A Brief Interlude / Sojourn In Kenya (Mission Of Mercy Visit):

 

Manor House Boarding School, Western Kenya:

 

jad01

Dave Stafford and John Stafford in their Manor House school uniforms – photographed by Wes Stafford on the grounds of Manor House circa 1968.

Two very rare shots of John Stafford and Dave Stafford wearing their “school uniforms” – during an abortive, ill-fated attempt to send us to a British “boarding school” in western Kenya, which was called “Manor House” – an educational experiment which failed miserably – it was simply not for us – and why we might need to learn Latin or Horseback Riding, I never did understand…

John and I barely managed to last just one semester there – about three months – and
then it was back to Uganda for more home schooling again (we did home schooling / correspondence courses between 1967 – 1968) until ultimately, finally, in 1969 – when we were able to attend the American school in Kampala, Uganda.

That ill-fated attempt at attending a “boarding school” – quite an alien concept to Americans (although perhaps millions of British people emerged relative unscathed from such institutions – or did they??)  would have been during late 1968, with our later attendance at Lincoln School in Kampala, for the final two years of our stay – being much, much more well-suited to our needs than the rather tradition-bound and peculiarly English school that Manor House was – a most unpleasant place!

 

 

 

 

jdr02


Dave Stafford
with visiting little brother Robert Stafford – and John Stafford, again in their Manor House school uniforms – photographed by Wes Stafford in the dorm room at Manor House circa 1968.

 


Friends & Neighbours – Both Near & Far

The People In Our Lives – 1967 – 1971:
ttc15

At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Friends & Neighbours:

Father Perreault, the head and director of Busuubizi T.T.C. one of two French Canadian priests who dedicated their lives to the College and to their excellent programme for student teachers – teachers being a desperately-needed resource in the young, growing nation of Uganda during the 1960s.

Father Perrault, pictured here with an unidentified visitor or educator / colleague, came to a disturbing and truly tragic – and violent – end, at the hands of Idi Amin’s out-of-control military in 1971.

After some 40 plus years living and working at Busuubizi T.T.C. and helping to nurture both the college itself as well as mentoring and sending off thousands and thousands of well-trained teachers every year for those 40-plus years, decided that the time had finally come to return home to Canada for some leave.

He had never taken leave in the entire four decades he lived and worked at Busuubizi, and I am sure he looked forward to the prospect of returning home to Canada to the land of his birth and his family.  That was, however – never to happen.
In an incredible tragedy that we only learned about much, much later on after it originally happened – Father Perrault had travelled from Busuubizi to Uganda’s only airport at Entebbe (where, it seems, a lot of bad things have happened I am afraid to say) and for some unknown reason – was accosted by soldiers, who shot and killed him for absolutely no reason – and, I have been unable to verify this, but we were told at the time, that, realising they had just killed a harmless, innocent Catholic priest – the soldiers threw his body into nearby Lake Victoria to hide the evidence of their hideous, unprovoked crime.

This was my first real personal experience of violent death, of someone I knew well and had known for four years as a good, good and kind, gentle person – like his assistant headmaster Father Landry (see below) – these men were there for the purposes of good, for education, to help and nurture people and raise the level of education for all Ugandans – for enlightenment.

There in Uganda for life, giving up their home in Canada and coming to East Africa – there for the very best of reasons – dedicated, caring about Uganda and it’s people who often lived in poverty which can many times, be attributed to a poor education.
Fathers Perrault and Landry, worked very, very hard, for a very, very long time – so the injustice, and the horror at what Amin’s soldiers did to Father Perrault – haunts and horrifies me to this day so many, many years since.  One of the saddest events of my life, happening near the end of our time in East Africa – which, while not cut short – our eventual departure in 1971 some months after Amin took control of the country – certainly meant that it would be a final departure for us, and we would not return to Uganda while such political unrest – under the rule of a cruel despot – was in power – and the subsequent damage Idi Amin did to Uganda has been sadly, well-documented since then.
If you are not familiar with the more recent history of Uganda – suffice it to say, that decades after Amin was deposed and left the country – the damage he did, laid waste to a once beautiful land; destroyed and decimated wild life; violated the National Parks and game preserves which were used as food supplies – and generally set back Uganda 50 years – compared to the excellent forward progress made under the previous leadership of President Milton Obote – since (and before) Uganda had obtained it’s independence from the United Kingdom (I believe in 1962) and part of the great strides made in growth, education and improvement can be directly attributed to the quiet work of men like Fathers Perrault and Landry – men of peace, educators – kind, gentle people who deserved better treatment than received.
That forward progress ended abruptly in 1971 – while John Stafford and I were staying at Makerere University in Kampala at the very moment Amin took over Uganda from Obote (who was out of the country when the coup happened) – and we then spent a few last uneasy months quietly packing up in preparation to return to the U.S. for good – thanks to Amin coming into power right near the very end of our four year time in Uganda.
Father Perrault – may he rest in peace – was a good, good man and an excellent education, and the work that he and Father Perrault did – assisted by people like Wes Stafford, the Martins, and Les Norval – was invaluable in that forward push for education and enlightenment that flourished so brightly in Uganda between 1962 (and before) but ended forever in early 1971 when Amin seized control of the country forcibly and announced that he was now the President of Uganda.

ttc14


At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Friends & Neighbours:

The remarkable Father Landry – French Canadian priest and educator, one of two French Canadian priests who dedicated their entire lives to building and running Busuubizi Teacher Training College – which began life as part of a Catholic mission effort – and was still being run by two remarkable French Canadian priests of whom Father Landry was one.

Father Landry was a regular visitor to the Stafford house on many evenings – since he and Wes worked together so closely at the college, they had become good friends. Many a night was spent in uproarious laughter and fun when Landry visited us – not your typical priest then, and he liked a drink and a laugh as much as the next man – a great guy to work with and Wes had a fantastic working relationship with both of the the Catholic Fathers and joined in with assisting them with the growth and expansion of the their Teacher Training programmes.  A remarkable, unforgettable character and a huge part of our daily lives for the entire four years we lived in Uganda – a good man.  I have the fondest memories of this kind and gentle, and very funny man.

f+n17

At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Friends & Neighbours:

Friends from Canada – our only neighbours at Busuubizi during the 1967- 1969 period (they returned home to Canada for good in 1969) – then living in the house next to ours (there were two large brick houses built along the dirt road that leads up to the actual college – both formerly nun’s quarters – they lived in House 2 – see above under “Housing”)

Marilyn Martin & new arrival Ritchie, Dan Martin & son Robbie – who lived in the “other” former nun’s quarters next door to the Staffords for the first two years we lived at Busuubizi – circa 1967.

Left- Marilyn Martin with Ritchie & Robbie Martin and unidentified helpers, House 2 back garden – circa 1968 – 1969.
Right – Various Martins and Stafford relaxing in the Martin’s back garden at House 2 – with John Stafford visible at the far right.

f+n04

Other Friends Farther Afield:

Left to right: Dave Stafford (with George Harrison-inspired Beatle haircut), the young son of Paul Mayerson (not pictured), another teacher friend from a nearby school some short distance from Mityana at a place called “Nambutamba” – which is where this photo was actually taken, and John Stafford (with sensible, non-Beatle-inspired haircut) – playing Frisbee at Nambutamba – circa 1968 – 1969.

f+n21

Other Friends Farther Afield –
Old Friends:

During one of our visits to Kenya – foreground, George Fleming – fellow teacher and good friend of Wes Stafford (George and Wes had worked together at the same school in the U.S. prior to applying to T.E.E.A. – and out of 30 families in the entire US who were selected to participate in the Teacher Training programme – both Wes and George Fleming – from the same school in the same city were accepted.

We were assigned to Uganda, while George and his family were assigned to work in Kenya. The Stafford Family visit the Fleming Family at their home in Kenya – in the centre – Shirley Stafford & Robert Stafford – at the back, George’s wife and children – circa 1969- 1970

f+n14

Other Friends From Near And Far – Visitors & Visits:

A single American woman on a T.E.E>A. contract just like ours – who travelled to Uganda on her own as one of the 30 selected to participate – Vera Washington – another T.E.E.A. educator working under the same US Aid funded programme that my parents were contracted under, came to visit us at Busuubizi one day – and seems more than delighted to re-acquaint herself with young Robert Stafford.

Vera was a dynamic and remarkably individual with a big heart and an infectious laugh – really funny and really fun to be around – one of the nicest people we knew within the extended T.E.E.A. “family”.  Circa -1967 – 1968.

 

 

 

f+n13

Other Friends From Near And Far – Visitors & Visits:

 

More T.E.E.A. educator friends – this time, the Stades, came all the way from Dar-es-salaam by car – a two day journey at least – to visit the Stafford Family at Busuubizi.  From left to right:  John Stafford (with binoculars), Dave Stafford (with walking stick) Ramon Stade (his wife, Pat Stade – is not shown) with infant son in his backpack, and Wes Stafford with Robert Stafford being held aloft, outside the Girls Primary School just a few hundred yards up the road, towards the college proper – setting out on a long hike to visit the forest and countryside beyond Busuubizi T.T.C. proper – perhaps, two or three miles of walking in an afternoon – a nice visit from a really lovely family.

Later on, when the Stafford Family was travelling on one of many, many photo “safaris” to Tanzania – we stayed with the Stades (who were based in Dar-es-salaam) – just as they stayed with us when they came to visit in Uganda – when we were visiting Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania, and the island of Zanzibar.

This is the advantage, of course, of being acquainted with or friends with, 29 different American families and individual teachers, who were living strewn across all of East Africa – was that wherever you were travelling, visiting or going on photo safari – you could just about guarantee that you could stay with a friendly family for a night  or two – while you went about your travels – again, as with camping – avoiding costly hotels and other expensive places to stay – and having 29 friends across three countries is a great unofficial “travel network” to say the very least – an excellent arrangement.


Other Friends From Near And Far – Visitors & Visits – The Nickels – Kampala, Uganda – 1969 – 1971:

Kampala, Uganda – at the Makerere University home of John and Evy Nickel (John was a teacher and lecturer at the University), who graciously hosted me and allowed me to stay with their family during the week – returning to Busuubizi every weekend during the summers, of course – so that both John Stafford and I, could attend Lincoln School in Kampala – during our final two years in Uganda (John stayed with a different American family who lived on the other side of the Makerere University campus).

Seated from left to right are Tony Nickel, Linda Wurster, Dave Stafford and an unidentified friend of Linda Wurster (I really liked Linda a lot – as you can see from my body language lol!) – and the Nickels’ two prized poodles, Penny and Dolly – with Tony and Linda.

 


Busuubizi T.T.C. – Outdoor Scenes

oad09

Nearby Busuubizi:

The old signpost and sign pointing towards Busuubizi, a turn off from the main paved road that runs from Kampala to Mityana – just before you arrive in Mityana, you would turn off to the left towards the college.

Wes Stafford put up a new sign (featuring distances now indicated in the brand new metric system just adopted in Uganda – following suit with it’s old mentor the United Kingdom)  towards the end of our stay in Uganda, and then carefully dismantled the old sign – and later, shipped it home – he brought it back to San Diego, cleaned it up and it hung over our fireplace for many years during our time in California after returning for good from Uganda in 1971 – a wonderful keepsake / reminder of our time at Busuubizi !

 

oad08


Kanene – The Sacred Tree / Approaching The Turnoff To The Final Road To Busuubizi:

Starting from the paved road that runs from the East to the West from Kampala (paved for just 50 miles – with the pavement ending – for good – at the western end of Mityana town), you would take a left turn to the South, onto the “connecting road”  – a large, well maintained dirt road (seen above) that ran about two miles down to where another left turn, would take you onto the Final Road To Busuubizi.
Turning left at “Kanene”, the large, hollow,  sacred tree (seen above) and take the smaller dirt road just a short distance – perhaps a third of the mile – passing the two former nuns’ red brick residence houses that became the Stafford’s homes – on your right, until you reach the College itself at the end on the left side.

 

oad04


The Final Road To Busuubizi:

The dirt road that ran from a row of shops at the start of the small dirt road that ran from the “connecting road” that ran between Mityana (and it’s paved road) and the turnoff to the left for Busuubizi T.T.C. – which is the road you see in this photograph.

 

Wes Stafford and Robert Stafford are working on clearing the road (Wes is standing almost directly in front of our house, which is out of shot just behind him) – and Dan Martin, our neighbour – can be seen leaning on a shovel at the far right.
These road works, were part of the preparations for a forthcoming visit by the Archbishop Of Uganda to Busuubizi T.T.C.
The large tree at the back of the photo seen here is another view of “Kanene” – this time – from the “Final Road To Busuubizi” viewpoint – looking BACK towards the “connecting road”  (alternately – you can see it from the “connecting road” viewpoint, in the image directly above this one – please see “Approaching The Turnoff To The Final Road To Busuubizi” directly above this entry).

The tree is at the corner where you turn left to go up to the College, at the very start of the “Final Road To Busuubizi” – the smaller dirt road that runs from the Mityana to Busuubizi “connecting road” up to the college – this ancient tree, named “Kanene” – an old, hollow tree that the Ugandans had a deep respect for (and fear of) due to it being haunted.  According to the local people, not only was the tree itself haunted – everyone around lived in real fear of “Kanene” – I believe due to the notion that evil spirits inhabited it, and could roam free at night and cause people harm – and dared not touch it or go to near it – especially at night – ancient “Kanene”  was treated with real respect.

 


The Final Road To Busuubizi:

Left: Robert Stafford, helping with the preparations for the Archbishop’s visit.
Right: Cows passing by on the road to the college, past House 1 – as they did nearly every single day.

 


The Final Road To Busuubizi:

Left:  Primary school boys, in white or pink “uniform” shirts – help with the preparations for the Archbishop’s visit.
Right: Handmade sign made by the students to welcome the Archbishop Of Uganda to Busuubizi Parish.

 

sch06

Welcome And Celebration – Archbishop Of Uganda:
Nervous musicians perform for the Archbishop on his arrival at Busuubizi T.T.C.

 

 

 


Nearby To Busuubizi T.T.C.

 

Termite Works On A Grand Scale

 


Termites Building Big In Uganda:

We were always amazed at the incredible size of African termite mounds – and these were not the largest we saw. Two very tall termite mounds very near to Busuubizi T.T.C.
Top left:  Dave Stafford climbs to the top of a very tall termite mound
Top Right: Dave, Shirley, Robert and John Stafford pose in front of a termite mound
Bottom: Typical burlap “trap” – made by Ugandans just before the rains began – because they knew that when the rains come, that flying ants – which are considered a delicacy – would all fly from their nests to mate on the wing – only by trapping them with these home made traps, the ants would fly – and then crash back down – earthbound – and then the Ugandans would come along and eat the ants – grasping the wings, and biting the (apparently) delicious insect bodies with their back teeth – they were absolutely delighted to capture these and eat them by the hundreds – and there were thousands and thousands of them flying every rainy season.

Not for the faint of heart – I wouldn’t try them, and no one in the Stafford family ever tried such a thing – a very different cultural aspect of living in a very different country.

 

 

ter02


Termite-Hill Inspired Architecture: 

A few miles from Busuubizi, while we lived there during 1967 – 1971, an architect designed a church which was built during our time there – that from a distance – looked exactly like a termite mound that had been split apart into three sections.

This new church was an absolutely brilliant architectural triumph, and was a striking addition to the rather wild environs around Mityana – you could see it for miles as the photo (taken by Wes Stafford) above demonstrates – and it was forever known as the “termite mound church” – a remarkable building not far from where we lived.

 

 

 

jdr04

Unknown location, UgandaClimbing

 

Clockwise from top left:  Dave Stafford, John Stafford and Robert Stafford doing a bit of climbing.

 


 

 

STAFFORD FAMILY PHOTO SAFARIS – 1967 – 1971:

 

TANZANIA:

 

Olduvai Gorge, Archaeological Site, Tanzania

 

old01

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
Arrival – at one of the most ancient sites on the planet.

 

 

old09

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
A selection of Stafford Family snapshots from a trip to the place where the earliest humans were found in the 1960s by Louis B. and Mary Leakey:  Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania – a place that when you walked down into it – you could literally “feel” the weight of the age of the place – millions of years of strata laid down in layers for future generations to discover their earliest origins – as we did in the 1960s thanks to the amazing discoveries made at Olduvai Gorge.

 

old05

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
You can see the “strata” or layers in the rock – each one representing a huge chunk of geological time…

 

 

old02

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
Incredible views from above the Gorge – which you have to climb laboriously down into on foot – but, absolutely worth it – one of the most fascinating and revealing archaeological sites in the world, and it was a huge privilege to get to visit such an ancient and important site – from the time of the dawn of mankind.

 

 

old06

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
An incredibly close up and detailed view of the different strata or layers in the Gorge.

 

old03

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
In the late 1960s when we visited Olduvai Gorge, it was a different age and people were much more trusting – at the site, ancient bones (no doubt, mixed with more recent bones or possibly bones from almost any era depending on where they are found at the site – and as we walked down into the gorge, and when we looked around on the ground – we were amazed to see fossils and bones literally almost everywhere you looked or walked – hundreds and hundreds of them,  many lying right on the surface of the earth or only very shallowly buried or covered with loose topsoil  Fossils everywhere – bones everywhere – an archaeological paradise for the professional team that ran the site.

 

old07

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
A staff member picks up a set of embedded or fossilised bones to show us what can be found in ample quantities throughout the site – making it one of the richest and most interesting sites containing fossilised remains in the entire world – it was an absolutely amazing thing to see in the bright heat of the Tanzanian day – with the sun beating down and the bones bleached to purest white by millions of years of sunlight pouring down on the barren gorge – an astonishing and humbling experience.

 

 

old04

Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:


Robert Stafford
looking for fossils and picking up items to examine – the youngest archaeologist in the Stafford Family.

 

 


 

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 

ngo01

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


John Stafford
and Dave Stafford at the gates of the Ngorongoro Crater conservation area. 

 

 

ngo02

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:

 

Robert, Dave and John Stafford at the hotel grounds above the crater on the morning of out trip down into Ngorongoro.

 

 

ngo03

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


Robert Stafford, Dave Stafford
and John Stafford – preparing for the one-way trip downhill, via Land Rover, during the morning when the single dirt track road down into the Crater’s “direction” is down – and then at a designated time in the afternoon – the specified “direction” of traffic changes from “down only” to “up only” – as two vehicles cannot possibly meet or pass each other on the impossibly narrow and very treacherous, “Land Rovers Only” access road to the Crater floor.

 

 

ngo05

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


Dave Stafford
and John Stafford in the Land Rover

 

 

 

ngo07

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania: 

Our drivers and guide preparing for the descent, while Stafford Family members prepare for the tour of the Crater by Land Rover.

 

ngo04

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania: 
One of just two surviving family photos of the Crater bottom itself – a massive space with an enormous amount of diverse wildlife, enclosed by the sloping walls of the crater itself.

 

 

ngo06

Ngorongoro Wildlife:

The other surviving photo of the actual Ngorongoro Crater bottom – including this brilliant photo of some of the wildlife that lives in the Crater.

 

 

 


The Road To Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

 

kil03

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

The approach to Mount Kilimanjaro when driving north from Dar-es-salaam towards the southern Kenya border.

 

 

fau10

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

As described in the main body of the blog above, this is the tortoise that we had to stop for – to wait for it to safely cross the road – before we could continue north as we were departing Tanzania on the road to Mount Kilimanjaro and then, onto the southern Kenya border to pass back north into Kenya – on our eventual way back across all of Kenya to our home base in Uganda.

Dave Stafford and Robert Stafford watch the last moments of the tortoise’s slow traverse of the paved highway.

 

 

kil06

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

Views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

kil07

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

kil09

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

kil01

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

Remarkable telephoto lens images of Mount Kilimanjaro taken from the Tortoise Stopping Point on the main paved road that heads towards southern Kenya beyond Kilimanjaro itself

 

 

kil05

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More telephoto lens images of Mount Kilimanjaro taken from the  Tortoise Stopping Point

 

 

kil08

The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More telephoto lens images of Mount Kilimanjaro taken from the  Tortoise Stopping Point – my favourite of these remarkably good quality photographs – especially given that they were taken on a 1960s model Yashica slide film camera with an inexpensive telephoto lens – about 52 years ago at this point in time (March, 2020).

 

 


 

 

Tanzania And Brooding Socialism

 

ngo08

Communism In The Late 1960s: 

Possible evidence of Communist Chinese influence on Tanzanian culture:  the Five Year Plan bar as photographed by Wes Stafford – somewhere in Tanzania.  My Dad thought this was hilariously funny – and it is quite an incongruous name for a local Tanzania bar!

 

 


 

KENYA:

 

Unidentifed Wildlife Refuge & Care Facility, Kenya

 

fau17

Animal Magic:

At a home for orphaned wild animals in Kenya, John Stafford takes his turn to pet a tame baby rhinoceros – while Shirley, Robert and Dave Stafford look on.

 


 

 

Lake Naivasha – Kenya

 

fau20

Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Monkeys help themselves to our lunch, which we discover on returning to the camp after a short boat trip on the lake.  Beautiful creatures, and we were laughing so hard it wasn’t even irritating that we now had no lunch to eat – only in Africa could such a thing happen.

 

saf16

Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

More monkey business…

 

saf18

Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Monkey sitting on the hood of the Toyota…

 

saf17

Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Dave Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford and John Stafford at the Lake Naivasha campsite. Photo by Wes Stafford.

 


 

The Mombasa Coastline – Kenya

 

Fort Jesus, Kenya Coast

 


Fort Jesus:

Whilst on holiday at Coraldene in Mombasa, Kenya, the Stafford Family took a short trip north up the Kenya coastline to visit an old Portuguese fort – Fort Jesus – Kenya.
Left:  Robert Stafford and John Stafford pose in one of the fort’s windows.
Right: Dave, Robert and John Stafford – literally tickling Robert with our fingers, behind his back – so you can’t see us doing it in the photo – but we are. Robert was quite ticklish – so we would sometimes resort to ticking to get him to smile for the camera – and it worked better than we had hoped on this occasion – you can see both John and myself quietly grinning at Robert’s delighted laughter – I love this photo of the three Stafford brothers.

 


 

Mombasa And Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya Coast

 

Mombasa

 

 

cor24

Mombasa, Kenya:

 

Dave Stafford, John Stafford and Robert Stafford pose at the Mombasa sign – 59 feet above sea level.

 

 


 

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya Coast

 

cor28

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean – and the impossibly beautiful, warm tranquil beaches and warm waters of the Indian Ocean at Coraldene – heavenly beyond belief.

 

 

cor29

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean

 

 

cor22

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean – Low Tide – headlands to the south jutting out into the Indian Ocean.

 

 

cor23

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Robert Stafford and John Stafford at the beach.

 

 

cor32

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

Robert Stafford and John Stafford with the help of others work together to bury Dave Stafford in the sand.

 

 

cor33

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

John Stafford continues the work solo,  to bury Dave Stafford in the sand.

 

 

cor34

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

John Stafford and others succeed in burying most of  Dave Stafford in the sand – the end result shown in this photo above.

 

 

 

cor20

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

John Stafford building sandcastles to amuse himself with the help of others

 

 

 

cor06

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

John Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford and Dave Stafford at the beach. Photo by Wes Stafford

 

cor05

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

John Stafford, Dave Stafford, Robert Stafford and Shirley Stafford at the beach. Photo by Wes Stafford

 

 


 

 

 

The Kenya Highlands By Train – Amazing Journey Through The Rift Valley

 

The Kenya Highlands By Train

 


The Kenya Highlands By Train: 

Another Stafford Family trip, this time, an absolutely amazing journey – on an old British sleeper train – from Kampala in Uganda up through the Rift Valley escarpment and into and through the amazing, steep, rolling hills, tea plantations and unbelievably beautiful scenery of the Kenya Highlands.  Robert Stafford having a lot of fun on his first ever train trip.

 

 

tra02

The Kenya Highlands By Train:

Kikuyu Station Approaching – unforgettable views from the slow-moving, relaxed-pace train trip – much of the way was a very steep gradient and the train often travelled at remarkably slow speeds – which gave us all the time in the world to gaze out in wonder at the unique and lovely Kenya Highlands slowly passing by.

For myself – an absolutely unforgettable journey like no other I have had before or since – an utterly unique experience.

 

 

 

tra03

The Kenya Highlands By Train:

 

Views from the train windows…

 

 

tra04

The Kenya Highlands By Train:

Views from the train windows…the British designed vintage train moves slowly up the escarpment over the Rift Valley and then across the Kenya Highlands.

 

 


 

 

The Kenya Highlands By Train – Visit To A Tea Plantation


Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands

 

tea06

Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

View from a distance.

 

 

tea05

Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Fields of tea bushes.

 

 

tea03

Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands

 

Tea Processing Facility

 

 

 

tea02

Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Processing tea leaves.

 

 

 

tea01

Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Processing tea leaves.

 

 

 

tea04

Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Tea bushes at the plantation..

 

 


 

 

UGANDA:

 

Murchison Falls National Park – Northwestern Uganda

 

saf12


At The Falls – Nile River – Murchison Falls National Park:

Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford, John Stafford and Dave Stafford taking a well deserved rest after hiking with Wes Stafford up the river to this vantage point.  Photo by Wes Stafford –  circa 1968 – 1969

 

saf14

Camping At Murchison Falls Wilderness Campsite:

The Notorious Nocturnal Visit From A Hungry Elephant – Seeking More Free Bananas On Top Of The Stafford’s Car:
And not realising, that Dave Stafford and John Stafford were sleeping in said car, when said elephant decided to lean up against the car – hard – looking for more bananas like the elephant had just found and presumably eaten, on top of another vehicle farther down the campground – and no doubt, the elephant “made the rounds” that night, probably checking out the tops of every car in the campsite looking for more delicious, free bunches of bananas.

And then…probably not finding more – but of course, utterly unaware that when he leaned against that particular Toyota station wagon, two very, very frightened boys in their sleeping bags – while Wes Stafford, Shirley Stafford and Robert Stafford were sleeping peacefully and undisturbed in our large tent that was pitched perhaps ten feet from the car – that he frightened the life out of us!

I’ve never forgotten that night, and the fright that John Stafford and myself got – but it turned out fine in the end – he only stayed there, leaning against the car windows – for less than a minute – and once satisfied that there was no food on top of this particular car – he moved off in search of more free bananas on other vehicle roofs – and John and I could start to breathe again.
Please also see the main text above where the initial version of this story was recounted.

 

 

saf23

Right Of Way In Uganda – It Belongs To The Elephants:

 

The Stafford Family were always happy to see these semi-humorous but very serious “Right Of Way” signs – which were remarkably common in National Parks – advising motorists to yield and wait for any elephants (or indeed, any wild animal) in the road to move on their own accord – and elephants very often did stand or sit in the road – and sometimes, would not move for hours – which meant that any cars approaching either had to turn around and look for an alternate route around the obstruction – or, wait.
I can remember waiting not only for elephants, but for ostriches, baboons, buffalo, antelope and any number of wild animals to decide to get up and walk off of the road – it was a common site to see cars stopped on the road in National Parks – patiently waiting for animals to wander off of the road so they could then proceed.  I applaud this approach and very much approve of this viewpoint – the animals were here before us, and will probably be here long after we are gone – they SHOULD have the right of way – in all things – all animals – always.

 


 

Queen Elizabeth National Park / Ishasha River Camp – Southwestern Uganda

 

 

saf28

Right Of Way In Uganda – It Belongs To The Elephants:
See above for the rationale and implementation of these Right Of Way signs – here is the Queen Elizabeth National Park “version” of the Right Of Way sign very similar to the photograph above of the Murchison Falls National Park “Right Of Way” signs – it made me feel very happy to see Uganda protecting it’s precious wildlife resources even back then in the late 1960s.

 

saf04

Arriving In Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

John Stafford, Dave Stafford, Shirley Stafford and Robert Stafford – Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

saf05


Arriving At Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park – Near The Congo Border:

 

Shirley Stafford with camp sign – Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

saf06


The Ishasha River – The Congo (Later Renamed “Zaire”) Visible On The Far Bank:

 

Wes Stafford, with trademark beard – with Robert Stafford – walking along the bank of the Ishasha River, which was literally a few hundred yards from the self-catering huts at Ishasha River camp – extremely basic accommodations but good enough for us – a roof over your head is all you want when travelling on the dusty roads of wild Uganda in the late 1960s.  Comfort!

 

 

saf26

Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park – View From The Access Road:


Dave Stafford, John Stafford
and Wes Stafford – Photo by Shirley Stafford.

 

 

saf24

Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park – Self Catering Accommodations:

 

John Stafford with Robert Stafford, and Dave Stafford, with the dusty well-travelled Toyota station wagon parked out front.  Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

saf20

 

saf22

Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park

 

Two views from our accommodations looking out over the plains to the east of the Ishasha river – where commonly, lions climb trees and sleep in them – and, on one occasion – we saw a hippo, on dry land – running – at full speed – far, far inland and far from the river where one would expect hippos to stay – and I have never seen such a large animal, sprinting at such a speed – clearly, the hippo was panicked, and was running straight across the plains – very similar to those in the photos above – towards the Ishasha River – perhaps two miles away – and the safety and protection iot would afford him.
The five of us, pulling the car over to the side of the road – got out of the car to see this poor hippo racing past perhaps a quarter mile in front of us – heading for the safety and security of the water.  At the speed he was travelling – I am absolutely certain that he made it to the river without incident – and there was nothing chasing him – he was just clearly spooked or frightened or perhaps had wandered too far from the river and become disoriented or lost – we will never know – but to see a hippo running – when normally, they barely move and just float in the water all day – was an amazing and unique experience that you could ONLY have in East Africa – and it is a sight I can still visualise now in my minds eye – the huge, dark body of the hippo as it ran at what must have been at least 20 mph – he was gone in about two minutes – towards the river.  What an amazing sight!

 

 

saf09

Queen Elizabeth National Park – On The Road:

 

Robert Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Dave Stafford and John Stafford at the side of the road. Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

saf10

Queen Elizabeth National Park – On The Road:


Ominous rain clouds in the distance – beautiful and thunderous skies are very common all across East Africa, and we saw some of the most spectacular and unusual weather phenomena and the most amazing downpours and storms that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

 

saf11

Queen Elizabeth National Park – On The Road:
The sun is out again – and in the far distance, a stately, tall giraffe wanders…

 

 

 

saf21

Uganda’s Famous Equator Markers – Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

On every significant roadway, whenever and wherever that road intersected the Equator – the Ugandan Government had seen fit to install these remarkable “Equator Signs” or markers – and in the East, in the centre of the country and in the West as we were when we encountered this one – we very often found these signs on various roads.  For a kid, it was quite a novelty to stand with one leg in each hemisphere – that was a remarkable and unique experience that you could only really have in certain places on Earth.

 

 

saf07


Uganda’s Famous Equator Markers – Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

John Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford and Dave Stafford stand in the Equator sign as so many other tourists have done since the time they were first installed in the early 1960s.  An excellent idea and definitely a hit with kids, and tourists – alike.  Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

saf08

The Height Of Fashion – Queen Elizabeth National Park:


Dave Stafford
and John Stafford in matching handmade shirts sewn by Shirley Stafford – seen here with the coolest 1960s sunglasses I have ever seen along with Robert Stafford – and we are all clearly uncomfortable with the light levels – which must have been extremely bright that day.
Poor Robert has his eyes firmly shut, but Shirley remains coolly unaffected – protected by those amazingly stylish and awesome shades – and smiling very happily because she doesn’t have to squint like the rest of us clearly are – brilliant!
Photo by Wes Stafford

 

 


 

Moroto – Northeastern Uganda – Just South Of The Sudan

 

 

saf27

Welcome To Moroto Sign – Northeastern Uganda:

 

Wes Stafford standing next to the “Welcome To Moroto” sign, you can see by the dust how dry, arid and desert like the northernmost reaches of Uganda are – a completely different climate and atmosphere when compared to the other parts of the country we had visited – mainly in the north and south west parts of Uganda.
Anywhere to the southern part of the county, the climate was so wet and the foliage and plant life so lush, green and rich – that visiting Moroto was a real shock – a much more similar environment to somewhere like the Sudan (which was not that far to the north of Moroto – which is near enough to the southern border of the Sudan) and it seemed very, very alien and strange – but fascinating to us, realising that there could be so many diverse and in fact, incredibly different micro climates and, types and distribution of vegetation – in a small country that is about the size of the American State of Missouri – you could drive across Uganda in a day, and probably do a circuit around it in three days – but in that small geographical space – was a unique and incredibly diverse array of almost bewildering natural – and very different – physical environments.

Photo by John Stafford

 

 


 

John Stafford – 1955 – 2020 – rest now.

 

 

                                                              …let it all go

JohnStafford-GreekIslandTour-WithFamily-Circa1969

John Stafford – Centre facing the camera – Greek Islands Cruise – circa 1969

the beatles – in the beginning

I have been remiss.  While I have written at length about so many great bands and artists, and – OK, I have mentioned the Beatles at times, but what an omission – this band dominated my musical world for six years, from the age of 9 through 15, for me, there was only one band, and that was John, Paul, George and Ringo – my beloved Beatles.

So when I had an unusual request arrive in my email inbox the other day: a nice lady in Las Vegas, asking me if I would be interested in writing in my blog, about the Beatles – well, how could I refuse?  In fact, it struck me, why on EARTH have I not dedicated a single blog to the four lads from Liverpool who started it all for me?…(and, for so many others, too!).

Oh my God, I thought, I can’t believe that I’ve done a hundred plus blogs in just over a year’s time, and I’ve never dedicated one to the Fab Four!!!

That is a grievous error on my part, and this kind soul who asked me so innocently if I would write about my favourite group of all time – she will eventually end up with more words than she ever, ever dreamed of.  Just – give me a few years, and I will make this up to you all – and, I will add to her ever-growing collection of Beatle memories (what a job – I’d love to collect Beatle memories as part of my “day job”!).

Strangely, though – Las Vegas has been on my mind of late: because one of my strongest wishes in terms of my ongoing relationship with the Beatles, is to visit Las Vegas for the sole purpose of attending the Cirque du Soleil‘s remarkable Beatles “LOVE” production.  I really, really want to see and hear this musical and visual spectacle (and I absolutely love the innovative “Love” CD that George and Giles Martin worked so incredibly hard on) – it’s a great album, it just is – an uncanny juxtaposition of some of the best songs ever recorded by anyone -the music of the Beatles, totally reinvented for the purpose of supporting the Beatles “LOVE” production.

This also provided us with the first alternative remixes of Beatles tracks from an official Beatles source (most fans were delighted, some cried “blasphemy” – but I am firmly in the former category) – I approve of the alternative approach of these remixes, Giles Martin especially worked very hard to create something really unique and wonderful from there tracks; so, in 2006 – George and Giles Martin  gave the world 80 minutes of new Beatle music – which is simply brilliant.

If you watch the 2008 DVD documentary video about the making of “LOVE”; it looks like it’s going to be an amazing live performance (and we already KNOW the music is good…) – so, hopefully, one day, we’ll travel to Las Vegas and check it out.

But already – I digress.  Back to the business at hand, by all means! 🙂

 

Consider this then, to be the beginning of a series of articles about the Beatles, as a group, and possibly, also as solo artists, although that’s another story – however, I do reserve the right to write at length about my favourite Beatle, George Harrison, at great length; out of sequence; at any time in his life – because George was the quintessential Beatle to me – he had it all, that wry humour, a winning smile, advanced prowess with the lead guitar, the most beautiful slide guitar sound of all time – truly amazing slide guitar sound and technique – George was just an all-around cool guy…may he rest in peace.

However, George will be the subject of a future series of Beatle-related posts, this time, however, I am writing about the Beatles as a group – and I intend to begin at the beginning, and just see where we travel to.  or, possibly, as George said: “arrive without travelling…”.  Sigh.  Note – I only just realised, from reading the wiki entry for the song, that the bansuri (Indian classical flute) player on “The Inner Light”, is none other than the remarkable Hariprasad Chaurasia, one of my favourite Indian musicians – a brilliant player – imagine that, I had no idea!

But now it’s time, finally, to talk about the Beatles .  And when it comes to the Beatles , well…

 

It all begins with memories.

One of my earliest memories of all, is a memory of standing in the front yard of my house on Mineral Drive, in San Carlos, a suburb of San Diego, California, in about 1965 or 1966, as a young child, and hearing “Nowhere Man” playing on a transistor radio, and feeling utterly transfixed and transported – frozen in time, almost mesmerised, while this heavenly music played, sounding literally like musical magic…  (which, in my opinion – it simply is).

the memory is kind of…mixed up in my mind, I mainly remember the incredible sound of the vocal harmonies (although at 7 or 8 years old, I had no concept that that sound was “vocal harmony” – that knowledge came much later) – but, that sound is mixed up with bright, bright sunshine, on a late afternoon, with late afternoon shadows behind me from the house, but bright, bright sunshine in my eyes – standing there, looking out at the street – and just listening to “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles.  What a beautiful, mournful, wistful, heartbreakingly beautiful sound.

To this day, “Nowhere Man” gives me shivers – without fail, when they hit the chorus the first time…it’s the sound of heartbreak, the sound of sympathy, the sound of empathy, the sound of joy at hitting a perfect harmony…a song so complex, so far ahead of it’s time – what a beauty – and I think this song encapsulates the beauty of the song-writing and singing of John Lennon in particular, who just excels on this tune – until that amazing dual lead solo comes along, that is, when the good George joins in with John to absolutely steal the show with their amazing, concise, super bright guitar solo or I should say, duet – ending with that magical-sounding harmonic – a great piece of guitar playing from both players, if you ask me.

Of course, at that age, I already knew who the Beatles were, I had been aware of them probably since I was about 5, but it wasn’t until a couple years later, when I recognised “Nowhere Man” for what it was, a beautiful, yearning, shiver-inducing slice of perfect pop music.

like so many kids did in the States, I watched the Beatles cartoon as a young boy, and I saw the Beatles themselves on our tiny black and white television, although I was just a little too young to see the live performances on the Ed Sullivan Show (actually, I probably did see it, as I imagine that my parents watched it); they did watch the Ed Sullivan Show show regularly at least in it’s later years, not sure about in 1963 – but I would have only been five at the time (1963), and I have few memories from before kindergarten (i.e. about age 5).

the Beatles performed live on the Ed Sullivan Show for the final time on august 14, 1965, but, for a few years following that, they would regularly send Sullivan other video artefacts, like the much, much more sophisticated colour videos that the Beatles shot and sent to the show (since they could not possibly schedule live performances at the time, their schedule was absolutely insane – so they sent their data instead!).

I remember in particular, the video of “Rain” (which was shown along with three other later tracks, “Paperback Writer”, “Penny Lane”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”) – [apologies for any annoying ADVERTS at the beginning of any or all of the preceding video links] – and specifically, with regards to “Rain”, I can recall being absolutely gob-smacked by the increased complexity of that song, Lennon’s beautiful, dreamy vocal – and George looked so, so cool with his Gibson SG, too.   And why were they all wearing sunglasses, I wondered?

It was years later that I found out the answer to that one:  “tea”.  They had been…having “tea”.  Lots and lots of “tea”. 🙂

 

When I was about 8 or 9 (so, 1966 / 1967), my parents started allowing me to buy long playing vinyl albums for the first time.  I may have had some 7 inch singles of a more juvenile nature, but my first actual LPs were Beatles albums – starting, strangely, with, “The Beatles Second Album” and then, “Meet The Beatles”, followed by “Beatles 65” and later on, the truly awesome “Yesterday And Today”

– of course, being an American, and living in the U.S. at the time, meant that I had the doubtful “joy” of owning the somewhat inferior US pressings, courtesy of Capitol Records, USA – fewer songs, and incorrect running orders, changes to the original albums not sanctioned by the Beatles at all.   these four Capitol albums were, for a number of years, the only albums I had – and I really didn’t ever have the money to buy them all until I was an adult – so sadly, I never owned “Rubber Soul” or “Revolver” on vinyl (perhaps my two favourite mid-period records!) but eventually did on CD, (nor did I ever own most of the other early to mid period albums – “Please Please Me”, “With The Beatles”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Beatles For Sale”“Help”, and many others – on vinyl) – I think “Sgt. Pepper” and then the “White Album” were some of the first “later” Beatles albums that I finally acquired, and eventually, as part of the remastered box sets that finally “set the record straight” for beatles recordings, with the beautiful stereo and mono box sets – finally, I had the bulk of the Beatles output.

I have just now, during the research for this blog, supplemented that CD catalogue by ordering both the “US Albums” box set, as well as the two-double-CD remastered “Live At The BBC” discs – can’t wait for those to arrive – Vol. 2 is all previously unreleased material, so more LIVE Beatles on the radio is a good, good thing…more “new” Beatles music – especially excited about hearing the “new” music from Vol. 2.

Regarding Capitol’s uh, “adjustments” to the Beatles catalogue without their consent, I remember reading the John Lennon interviews from Playboy in book form, wherein he was aghast at being handed the U.S. albums to discuss by the interviewed, and explaining to him how very hard they (the Beatles and George Martin) worked on presentation, running orders, and so on – only to have Capitol America just ignore it all, and release inferior, shorter “versions” of Beatles albums – to make MORE money – fewer tracks, more records sold for fans to get all the tracks – simple arithmetic, probably made them millions – Capitol I mean, not so much the Beatles.

 

It wasn’t until the Beatles full catalogue were first released on CD, that I finally became truly familiar with the real Beatles catalogue, which took some real getting used to since I was so, so accustomed to “The Capitol Albums”.  However, now, even though I do own Vol. I of “The Capitol Albums” mainly for sentimental reasons, I vastly and totally prefer the British releases – with the correct running orders, and songs all intact – plus the singles – which in the US, were sometimes added to albums, too, I believe – rather than mirroring the British releases.  I can recall, too, that the VERY first compact disc I ever bought, ever, was “White Album” – bought from the Price Club for $20.00 – what a way to start your CD collection!  For me, it was almost like hearing the album for the first time, the lead guitars on “Good Morning, Good Morning” practically LEAP out of the speakers, while George Martin’s impeccably-arranged horn section on George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle” came through the mix with a hitherto unheard brightness and clarity – sounding fantastic!

I am well aware I’ve not really spoken much about the band’s individual talents, from the rock-solid drum beats invented by Ringo Starr, to the absolutely remarkably talented Paul McCartney, possibly the best melodic bass player of all time, and an absolute innovator on the bass guitar (not to mention, what a voice!!!) – so many “firsts” for Paul, the high register passages, the strange note at the end of “And Your Bird Can Sing”, the “sticking” or repeated bass line in the outro of “taxman” – Paul is simply an amazing and extremely innovative bassist – and when you matched him up with the rock steady, unflappable Starr – you had the best rhythm section in rock music – with two genius guitarist, songwriter, singers on the front line with them.  what an amazing group – literally the first, and the best, at just about everything.

 

Of course, we now have the much more recent (2009) “Stereo” and “Mono” ultimate remasters box sets, which truly are incredible – and I am so, so glad that they did not mess with the catalogue in terms of the albums themselves, and the two aforementioned box sets really get it right when it comes to preserving the legacy of the Beatles amazing catalogue of music – and, bonus of all bonuses – in stereo and in MONO, too – and I personally especially love the “Mono” box set, even though it’s not for everyone – I’ve never owned the mono mixes; I’d heard a few of them, most of them came as a surprise to me – some amazing variations from the much more familiar “Stereo” versions.  But – as I am want to do when I get excited about the music of the Beatles – I digress.

 

The next phase of my earliest Beatle memories come from an unlikely time and place: Uganda, East Africa, where between 1967 and 1971, I lived with my parents and my two brothers– my parents were both teachers, and my father had won a place on a US Aid sponsored opportunity to move your family to Africa for two years to teach (in a program called “TEEA” – Teacher Education In East Africa) – basically, teaching teachers how to teach – which was then extended to four years.

 

My schooling during those years was a bit erratic, but my next early Beatle memory is of me, having no way to copy the lyrics from the AMAZING poster included in the Beatles most ambitious album to date, the “White Album” – I was boarding in Kampala, at Makerere University, with an American family (so I could attend school), and they had the album – which I played all the time – but my specific memory is of  writing out, by hand, ALL of the lyrics, of all of the songs, onto yellow foolscap paper – because I WANTED THOSE LYRICS !!!  I believe that somewhere in a box of keepsakes, I may still have those handwritten yellow sheets from 1968!

 

At age 10, I was not really aware of copiers, and in Kampala, Uganda, in 1968, they would not have been commonplace – so the only way I could “take a copy” of those lyrics, was to write them out longhand – which used up an enormous amount of paper, and my right had ached horribly from the effort – but I was determined, and after a couple of days, I had them all – and since it was a long time before I actually owned a copy of the “White Album” – I would often read those mysterious words from my yellow lined paper, hearing those beautifully picked electric guitars in my head, even after we returned to California from Uganda:

“She’s not a girl, who misses much….”

Next time: we will discuss the joys and frustrations of trying to learn, and perform, and occasionally record, the music of the Beatles – beginning with the very first proper band I was in – just about every band I was in from that time forward, played at least one Beatles song – at least, up until I got into Guitar Craft, Looper’s Delight and looping – but that was my strange career choice, to become an ambient looping guitarist; the time I am talking about, I am still at the tender age of 13, so with only a couple of years of self-taught guitar (and I later found, I had not done a particularly good job of teaching myself!) experience, I was finding that it was quite difficult to learn, remember, and play even the simpler Beatles songs – and it was during this time that my admiration for the skill of George Harrison in particular changed from admiration, to admiration and immense respect – that tricky little, bendy lead solo in between the verses of “Ticket To Ride” was at the time, one of the most difficult riffs I ever had to learn.

With just a couple of years of playing chords, I was not yet a lead guitarist, but learning that incredibly difficult riff, and then, learning more and more Beatles songs, also truly helped my own playing – when you imitate the best, you can’t help but sound good sometimes 🙂

So until then, I will leave you with that shiver-inducing refrain, the one I heard that day back in the mid-60s, that probably changed the course of my life for ever – because I seriously doubt, that I would EVER have become a musician, if it weren’t for the inspiration that the Beatles, as a group and as individual musicians, too, provided to me, all the time, through their amazing music:

 

“nowhere man – please listen

you don’t know – what you’re missing

nowhere man – the world is at your command…”