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

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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.

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

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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

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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!

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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.

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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

 

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

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Above:   scenes from the play

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Above:   scenes from the play

 

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

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

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Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. college classrooms

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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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)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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

Robert Stafford and friend, back garden of House 1

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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…

 

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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

 

 

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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.

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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.:

 

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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.

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

 

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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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.

 

 

 

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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:

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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:
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

 

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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

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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 !

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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

 

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

 

 

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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.

 

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

 

 

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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.

 

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:


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

 

 


 

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


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

 

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:

 

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

 

 

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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.

 

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


Dave Stafford
and John Stafford in the Land Rover

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

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

 

 

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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.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

Views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

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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

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

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

 

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

More monkey business…

 

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Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Monkey sitting on the hood of the Toyota…

 

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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

 

 

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Mombasa, Kenya:

 

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

 

 


 

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya Coast

 

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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.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

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

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Robert Stafford and John Stafford at the beach.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

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

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

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

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

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

 

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

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

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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The Kenya Highlands By Train:

 

Views from the train windows…

 

 

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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

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

View from a distance.

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Fields of tea bushes.

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands

 

Tea Processing Facility

 

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Processing tea leaves.

 

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Processing tea leaves.

 

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Tea bushes at the plantation..

 

 


 

 

UGANDA:

 

Murchison Falls National Park – Northwestern Uganda

 

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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

 

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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.

 

 

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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

 

 

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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.

 

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Arriving In Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

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

 

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

 

Shirley Stafford with camp sign – Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

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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!

 

 

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


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

 

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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

 

 

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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

It was 45 years ago today…

DECADE BY DECADE – THE LIVE CONCERT EXPERIENCE / OVERVIEW

EPISODE 1:  The 1970s

 

It actually was – 45 years ago TODAY, literally – today – May 28, 2018 – or for me. in this first of a number of upcoming concert reminiscences – it was actually, May 28, 1973 – and as my first blog of 2018 (finally!) and the first in a series of blogs about live music, concerts, tickets stubs, setlist.fm, and associated items – this one kicks off with a doozy:

The mighty Led Zeppelin – performing live at the San Diego Sports Arena !

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San Diego Sports Arena

The first real ROCK CONCERT I ever went to – I was 15 years old, a sophomore at Grossmont High School, in La Mesa, California – an incredibly gawky, awkward teenage boy with long, straight hair half-way down my back, six foot six of far-too-skinny raging metabolism…and there I was.  Standing up there in the CRUSH at the foot of the stage of the San Diego Sports Arena, waiting for Led Zeppelin, my favourite band – to walk onto the stage.

It was all new to me.  I’d never been in a crowd that large before – never.  I’d never smelled that much…herbal scented smoke before.  I’d never seen the sight that became commonplace for me over the next several years – at the Sports Arena in particular – the sight of dozens of Frisbees flying back and forth, criss-crossing across the length and breadth of the place – and the wonderful haze created by that same scented smoke that cast a mysterious fog over the entire proceedings.   And quite possibly, over my state of mind.

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San Diego Sports Arena – Seating Chart

People playing, talking excitedly, yelling – cheering – bouncing giant beach balls back and forth, mixed in with the endless frisbees…and all the other fun stuff that people do to pass the time while they wait for their favourite band to come on.  This is one of those experiences that you look back on, and you can quite clearly recall the real sense of excitement that was in that place on that day – this wasn’t just any concert – it was Led Zeppelin – all the way from Britain – to play for San Diego!

 

During the show, I saw a few MORE things I had never seen before – like an attractive girl sat on her boyfriend’s shoulders, proudly displaying both of her bare breasts so that Led Zeppelin, presumably, could have a look at them – along with the other 35,000 people in the audience, of course.  This was a girl – who was NOT shy.  Another first for me.

 

For a 15 year old boy, a boy who was already a guitarist, already trying to be the “NEXT Jimmy Page“, already learning Zeppelin songs and riffs – many of which, I still play to this date – 45 years later – I kept trying to “be” Jimmy Page for a number of years, when I finally decided it might be better to try to be myself on the guitar rather than copy someone else – even someone as talented as Jimmy Page.

 

But as a formative influence – along with Eric Clapton, Robert Fripp, and others – you can’t beat a bit of Mr. Page – a very interesting and very capable guitarist, musician and writer.  If you think too, about the development of Led Zeppelin, just as one example, from the relatively simple chord patterns of  the songs from Led Zeppelin I, say, something like “Communication Breakdown” to the incredibly complex guitar parts that make up the opening track on the band’s fifth album “Houses of the Holy” – the truly remarkable “The Song Remains The Same” – still a personal favourite of mine even after all of those years.

Meanwhile…back in 1973 – there was the long build-up to the show, the endless waiting outside which, eventually and suddenly, became a mad sprint to try to get as close to the stage as possible before everyone else did – once let into the Arena (reserved seating at rock concerts being more a thing of the future, back in 1973) – and then, finally settled in your “spot” inside, the noise and the tension, the sound of the crowd mounting with each passing moment…

 

HousesOfTheHoly-AlbumCoverIt was all incredibly exciting…and finally, when the band did hit the stage – it was another first for me – the first time I had ever heard a real rock band, a PROPER rock band, mind you – the mighty Led Zeppelin no less, in their prime, in the year 1973, touring behind their just-in-the-shops fifth album “Houses Of The Holy” – I’d never heard a proper rock band play rock music AT VOLUME.  And it was…LOUD.  To this day, 45 years later exactly…I am not sure I’ve heard a louder band.

 

Except perhaps – for Led Zeppelin themselves when I saw them again – twice – in 1975!!

Each year, the PA stacks at the Sports Arena seemed to grow ever larger. the number of and the size and power of the speakers increasing each time, the power behind the systems getting to be more and more each year – so it seemed to me, that if anything, that bands got LOUDER as the 70s went on – until the PA systems sort of began to plateau as Super Huge Size – where they all pretty much sound the same – from a distance, anyway.

 

Led Zeppelin IV-Album Cover

But – intense volume aside – I was hooked.  Seeing this show – set me up for a lifetime of concert going – and what a way to start!  Seeing my favourite band, playing amazing live versions of the songs that I loved – was such a positive experience for me – and after seeing Zep, I embarked on a journey that now, when I look back on it over the long, long span of time – 45 years ago today – when it all began – I just feel so, so thankful, fortunate – even lucky – to have had those concert experiences.

 

 

This series of blogs then, of which this is the first – will attempt to document my concert-going experiences decade by decade, until such time as I reach the present day.  Having the analytical and basic set list / concert listing tools available via setlist.fm has been so incredibly useful when it comes to bringing these memories alive, I would encourage you to go and have a look at the list of my attended concerts at setlist.fm to see the full list of concerts attended not only in the 1970s, but from 1973 to the present day – an invaluable resource to me throughout the process of preparing and formulating this series of music blogs.

Earlier this year, I had my 60th birthday, and for some unknown reason, during that week, I started looking into just what concerts I HAD been to, and what they were, when they were and where they were.  I had no idea that this vague thought I had had – “I wonder how many concerts I’ve actually been to over the years…” would lead to the experience that it has – which has been extremely eye-opening for me in so many ways.  This “thought” eventually culminated in the completion of my list of my attended concerts at setlist.fm as well as the completion of cataloguing and photographing my quite substantial collection of concert ticket stubs, which will be presented photographically along with these live concert experience blogs.

So while it started in 1973 – it still hasn’t ended, and later this year (2018), it will be more shows from the incredibly powerful King Crimson live, one of the most remarkable progressive rock groups spawned originally during the 1960s – when Led Zeppelin was also born (1968 was a good year to start a band).   I am very much looking forward to seeing and hearing Crimson again – each year, they come up with more and more “unlikely early repertoire”,  not to mention some pretty credible new repertoire – to absolutely amaze and delight me and the other long time fans of the band.

So – the act of listening has moved forward through time with me, I continue to engage with artists old and new whose music I respect or revere even, and I am all the richer for it – there is nothing on earth, for me, as exhilarating as a quality live performance by musicians who are committed fully to their craft.

I simply love live music, and really, there can never be enough good concerts each year – there is always someone that I missed out seeing “back in the day” or newer artists that I want to check out live – there is always something going on.  I feel very fortunate indeed that I have been able to see so many great concerts.  Moving to Britain was also a hugely fortunate thing in terms of me being able to see bands performing live that did not regularly play in far-off San Diego, California (where I lived for the first half of my life) and so many bands that I never got the chance to see when I lived in California, I have not only seen but in some cases, I have been able to see performing live several times.

This includes bands or artists such as:

…and the like – all bands or artists that I never did see when I lived in the United States – and I spent the majority of my adult live, utterly convinced that I would never, ever get the chance to see some of these remarkable musicians and performers – and yet, somehow – it has happened!  Much to my ever-lasting astonishment and delight.  So I’ve managed to make up for a lot of gaps in my musical education just by merit of living in Central Scotland!

Building Up The List Of Concerts Attended

Thanks to some modern / technological innovations, even the act of “figuring out” what shows I have attended over the years, is supported and made possible – in the main instance, I began, that same week of my 60th birthday, to use a tool with which many of you may be familiar – the website known as “setlist.fm”.

setlist.fm is, simply put, a remarkable web site dedicated to preserving the memory of musical performances, but doing so in such a way that each user – that’s you and me – anyone – everyone – can easily find the concerts they attended, and “add them” to the list of shows that they have personally attended.  It also allows for setlists to be built, too, so that the songs that were played at each gig, if they are known – can be input, stored, and then viewed by subsequent users.

It also gives us the opportunity to rectify errors that have been made historically, or clarify points about a performance or performances or artists or any number of details about an event.  So with this kind of capability, I find that setlist.fm is really the ideal tool for building up your own personal history of concert-going, which is also then of course. possible to share with others, too – since each profile is public.

It also gives you a lot of insight into your own experiences of concert-going, that you would not have been aware of.  For example – this blog, is focusing on the 1970s – when I first began attending live concerts – and in the seven years of the 1970s that I was actively going to concerts (1973 – 1979), I am able to determine from setlist.fm that I attended at least 55 concerts in that first seven year period (I only began going to live concerts in 1973, so of course I have zero concerts for the years 1970, 71, and 72).  You can also view programmed statistics that can tell you a lot about your own experiences – and, the experiences of others, too.

The featured image (see below) for this blog is a photograph of the surviving concert ticket stubs – my own personal collection – of at least some of the ticket stubs that I managed to save out of the approximately 55 shows I attended during the 1970s.   I wish now that I had kept all 55, but if you think about it – it’s a small miracle that even the handful of survivors DID make it across 45 years, a continent, and an ocean – to be then collected and photographed as part of the preparation of this series of blogs.  Each decade brings a different set of bands, and a different set of ticket stubs from my own personal collection to accompany the blog for each specific decade.

As one example of how that can turn out to be interesting – when I was busy working on my own list of attended concerts at setlist.fm I began to notice something – that a certain other user, with an initially unfamiliar username – seemed to always be shown as someone who had attended many, many – an unnaturally large number of – the exact same San Diego and surrounding area concerts that I had attended.  I mean – this person was ALWAYS in the list.

I began to wonder if this was someone I knew, perhaps someone who I had gone to school with or even had been in a band with, perhaps – or any number of possibilities. After about a week or so of continually seeing this person’s username, every single time I entered another concert I had attended in or near San Diego, California – that I sent them a message, explaining who I was and asking them whether I knew them, since they had so obviously been at so very many of the same live shows that I had been to.  Curiously, a day or so after I wrote to them, I found that they had actually written to me a day or two before I contacted them – but I had not noticed the email for some unknown reason.

UK-TrioAs it turned out, I didn’t previously know this person, but as we corresponded, and started talking about some of our shared concert experiences via email – including some truly and memorable events, such as the day we were both at Licorice Pizza records in San Diego, where we met the band U.K. – on one of those “in-store” appearances, on the day of their concert that night – where they were actually opening for the mighty Jethro Tull.

 

For people like my new friend (who still lives in the San Diego area to this day) and myself – it was a rare chance to meet and interact with some of the musicians who we admired.  And it did seem strange to me, to have shared so many extraordinary experiences with someone that I have never “met” – but in fact, I pretty much feel like we’ve been friends for years – possibly because of those vintage, shared memories – who can say?

JohnWetton

For me personally, getting the chance to meet a former member of King Crimson, the late John Wetton – certainly one of the most innovative and remarkable musicians of our time,  an amazing bass player with a unique and very beautiful voice – speaking with John Wetton was a very interesting and enlightening experience for a young, hopeful musician such as myself.

 

 

So one of the stranger “side-effects” of the setlist.fm experience, in my case was the strange but rather interesting fact that I had spent time with my new pal, in the same room, talking to the same people – even, in the same conversations – and yet, we did not know each other!  And to meet someone now, anyone, who attended some of these same unique gigs that I had been to, after a forty-five year period where there was no such person with whom I shared these experiences to speak to about them – it’s truly remarkable.

 

Unique Musical Events In The 1970s – and at no other time

We have gone on to discuss the long-forgotten details of events such as Robert Fripp‘s amazing appearance at a small Tower Records store (on El Cajon Blvd – now long gone – but – another strange memory – it was right next to the North Star Motel – which is not in itself remarkable, but, “North Star” is one of the standout songs from Fripp’s album of that time, “Exposure” – and that amazing live introduction to Frippertronics, is what set me on a long journey to become a looper, and later, a looping ambient guitarist – I fell in love with the process of looping electric guitar that day – a truly memorable event – and now, I have a new friend with whom I can share the detailed memories of these very special events.

So from a list of concerts on a special web page – you can learn and experience a lot more than what you would think a list of concerts might do.  It was an immensely satisfying task, and I probably did the bulk of the list over a three to four week period, after that, I continued to add just the odd show here or there – ones newly remembered, or ones where I had been missing details – until I finally reached my current total – and it has stayed somewhere around that total (currently as of May 28, 2018 – 209 concerts by 129 different artists!).  That in itself was a surprisingly large number – I had really not expected it to be that large.

 

TheBeatlesIn this blog, I want to touch briefly then, on some of the highlights of the 54 or 55 shows that I attended during the 1970s, which were mostly a mix of rock and progressive rock – I was heavily into and heavily influenced by prog, as it is known, and I was so, so fortunate to live in the times that I have lived – I was born at the end of the 50s, and grew up in the 1960s with the music of the Beatles as the soundtrack to both my childhood and my adolescence.  As the 1970s approached, I broadened my previously-held view that the Beatles were the only band worth listening to, and I began to hear other kinds of music being made, by a whole new kind of musicians – many of whom, were extremely was too young to go and see the Beatles live,influenced by the Beatles themselves !!!

 

 

 

HendrixI was too young to go and see the Beatles live,and just a bit too young to go and see Jimi Hendrix, both of whom played San Diego back in the day, those two bands being my very favourite two bands of the 1960s/70s – a real shame, but – I could NOT have been more perfectly placed on the timeline of my life, to experience fully and enjoy thoroughly, the music of the next generation of rock – the Led Zeppelins, the earliest and best of the proggers, Yes and Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and the like.

 

 

That unique gathering of incredibly diverse and powerful progressive rock titans, was a once in a century event, and I was the perfect age (15) to begin enjoying these amazing rock and progressive rock as they made their way around the world, stopping at San Diego often, and therefore entertaining me with often, repeat performances year after year.  Starting out with Yes, then moving rapidly upwards and onwards through Genesis (with and later, without Peter Gabriel), Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Strawbs, Roxy Music, E.L.P., U.K. , and Utopia.

What an incredible time to be young and to be able to go and see these amazing progressive rock acts performing – all in the same seven year period – and then, also, onwards through time in the 80s and 90s, too – adding King Crimson to the mix in 1981 – 1984, and again, in the 1990s; and then finally, fast forward to the present day where I was able to see Van Der Graaf Generator multiple times (in both quartet, and in trio format) as well as the absolutely astonishing Thijs Van Leer performing with his band Focus – a band I loved dearly in the 1970s, but did not get to see until much, much later.

I did in fact, manage to almost make up for not seeing the Beatles, by embarking on a side plan of trying to see all four Beatles playing solo concerts – so at least I could hear my biggest musical heroes of all time, singing and playing their instruments live.  I was not disappointed, starting out with my first ever trip to Los Angeles (first time I drove to LA myself) to see the great George Harrison, who put on an absolutely amazing show, that began with the Ravi Shankar Orchestra (my introduction to live Indian music – another great love of mine that I have continued to pursue whenever it was possible) and continued with getting to see and hear George playing a fantastic selection of both his own solo records and songs previously played by the Beatles.

Then, next up, in 1976, I was able to catch Mr. McCartney, on the famed “Wings Over America” tour – which was another totally memorable experience, and the selection of solo numbers and Beatles songs that Paul chose to play, were unique; quite different to George’s choices, and wonderful to experience.

Then followed a long, long gap until I did eventually manage to see my third and final Beatle – the remarkable Ringo Starr.  Again – a performance of solo songs and selected Beatles songs – but truly enjoyable, and the concept of the “All-Starr Band” worked brilliantly – Zak Starkey was the main drummer, with Ringo sometimes joining him on double-drums when the singing duties allowed him to – and with a guitarist of the calibre of Todd Rundgren on hand, no less – well, it was a great night of fun, exciting Ringo and Beatle music.  I will cover these events more specifically when I reach their performing decades (which turns out to be from 1989 thru 2018 – as the “All Starr band”) – but with the sad, sad exception of John Lennon – when in 1980, events took away everyone’s chance of seeing John play live – forever – I did, in time, get to experience first hand, the music of three fourths of the greatest rock band of all time – the boys from Liverpool – the amazing Beatles!

 

The Journey Continues…

However – returning to my journey through the featured decade of the 1970s – I truly feel now that I was indeed, very, very fortunate, the whole decade was so perfectly timed for me – in hindsight, I would not change a thing about it – and although I have always regretted not seeing the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix on the live stage – in another sense, I don’t regret it – because by being too young to go and see those bands – that made me land at the perfect age for that absolutely unique and wonderful decade of true Progressive Rock – from 1967 to 1976.  That was the golden era, the sweet spot, where the impossible-to-exist thing that Prog was, existed in spite of that truth – and I landed nicely near the tail end of that era – beginning my own “concert journey” in May 1973 – exactly 45 years ago today.

Now – at the beginning of this episode, I spoke a bit about my experience at my very first concert, the Led Zeppelin show at the San Diego Sports Arena held on May 28, 1973.  That was however, only the first in a long, long string of shows that I went to – all of them in San Diego I think with one exception which was the George Harrison concert I mentioned earlier – held at the Forum in Los Angeles.

But it was not just limited to Rock bands like Led Zeppelin or Prog bands like Yes and Genesis – there were other experiences, and right off the mark, I went to see one of the finest “southern rock” bands that ever existed – the absolutely brilliant “Allman Brothers“.  Little did I realise, that just a few years later, I would be performing one of their best songs, the lovely “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” with my own band, Slipstream – and that was one of the songs that the Allmans played that night at the Sports Arena.

 

Diversity In 70s Rock:

Actually, when I look at the full list of concerts attended, I actually started out with an incredibly diverse set of bands – they were NOT all of the same genre at all – and I think that is a contributing factor to me liking so many different kinds of music over time.  Those first few shows looked like this:

May 73 – Led Zeppelin (what can I say – it ROCKED!)

September 73 – Boz Scaggs / The Allman Brothers (white soul followed by the precision jamming of the remarkable Allmans – sadly, sans Duane – but they were still incredibly powerful live at this point in time)

March 74 – Yes (Tales From Topographic Oceans tour – quadraphonic sound – classic line up Rick Wakeman still in the band)

June 74 – Steely Dan (with, weirdly, Kiki Dee opening – what a strange combination) – this remains, to date, one of the most astonishing musical performances I have ever seen or am ever likely to see – the sheer musicality of this gig was absolutely mind boggling – including two amazing guitarists in Denny Dias and Jeff Skunk Baxter – not to mention the insanely talented Donald Fagen on grand piano and – gasp – a synthesizer!

November 74 – Ravi Shankar / George Harrison – please see my comments above.  A mind blowing introduction to live Indian music, followed by my favourite Beatle on lead guitar, slide guitar, and beautifully hoarse vocals – which did not bother me a bit – because I was hearing my favourite Beatle playing slide guitar – and I feel that in some ways – George was the master of the slide – in his own style and in his own way – not in the “Duane Allman” super technical slide playing way – but in a beautiful, careful, lovely way that set George apart from all other slide players.  I loved seeing George and I loved seeing Ravi – a brilliant day!)

January 75 – Genesis (The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway Tour with Peter Gabriel) – Part of me still can hardly believe that I got to witness this unique musical event – a full four album sides performed without a break – and this then-brand new work was stunning both musically and visually – I had thought that Yes were amazing live, but Genesis were very diverse in their approach to songwriting and quite different – Yes does not have any tunes quite like “Broadway Melody of 1974” or “The Waiting Room” or “Anyway” or “The Light Dies Down On Broadway” – and it was an eye-opening experience for me – realising that there was more to Prog than just the music of the mighty Yes – much, much more, I found out later on…

So from this half-dozen standout shows that I saw in the first couple years of concert going, when I was 15, 16, maybe 17 years old – absorbing musical ideas like a giant sponge – I learned an awful lot from watching rock and prog guitarists play – and solo extensively sometimes – and it was the best possible “music school” I could have gone to – of these half dozen first shows, the diversity of type of music is nothing short of remarkable:

Heavy Rock (Zeppelin)

White Soul (Scaggs) / Southern Rock (Allmans)

Progressive Rock (Yes)

Intelligent Pop (Steely Dan)

Classic Rock (George Harrison)

Progressive Rock / Unusual (Genesis with Peter Gabriel)

Then, if you continue on looking at how my 1970s concert experiences progressed, the musical diversity just goes off scale – taking in many different and unique artists; witnessing live concerts by the amazing Frank Zappa (with Captain Beefheart opening)  or the amazing German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk (with British folk-rock legends Strawbs opening – and that was actually, who I was there to see!) or progressive rock giant Todd Rundgren‘s Utopia (the RA tour) or from Britain, Be-Bop Deluxe (featuring guitarist Bill Nelson) or 10cc (featuring guitarist Eric Stewart) or Peter Gabriel (formerly of Genesis) or 60s classic rock greats The Kinks or new wave artists Blondie or the art-rock genius of Roxy Music (featuring guitarist Phil Manzanera) and onto the truly unique musical events such as the aforementioned Robert Fripp at Tower Records “Frippertronics” demonstration – Robert Fripp of King Crimson, playing his guitar through a pedalboard, into two Revox reel-to-reel tape decks, and demonstrating the tape-loop technique introduced to him by Brian Eno back in the UK.

You want diversity – musical diversity – genre diversity – then the experience of those seven years, from 1973 through 1979 – included enough eye-opening musical, technical and performance diversity that for me, well, I do not believe that I could have HAD a better musical education, and as you may notice, the single recurring theme in the artists mentioned in this blog, in particular, in the set of bullet points just above, and in the previous paragraph – and that is – bands with amazing, technically and musically proficient guitarists.

 

Awesome Guitarists – one motivator for attending so many concerts

I was a guitarist then, and I am still a guitarist now;  so it’s only natural that I would follow and enjoy music by the world’s most talented and capable guitarists – and the list of guitarists, contained just in the bullets above and that paragraph of diverse artists – is staggering in itself:

It’s interesting to consider what an effect seeing that many astonishingly talented and brilliant musicians, witnessing the different musical approaches and technical prowess of these amazing players – had on me, as a guitarist – I think that I absorbed a lot, and it was only years later that the eventual effect of this was felt – I became an amalgam of my own influences, when I listen to myself play guitar now, I can hear the influence of many of the guitarists in the list above – and those influences will stay with me forever, because I absorbed them, mostly, during my teenage years (I turned 20 in 1978 – near the end of my 7-year 1970s concert experiences) when my brain was still pliable enough to do so.

But even years later, I will recall things that I witnessed certain guitarists doing back in the 70s or really, at any time I’ve seen a great guitarist – and I will bring back whatever I can from that memory, into my current performance.  It’s extremely beneficial to have these particular experiences – because seeing these guitarists, in these intensely creative bands – has had a profound effect on both me personally (in terms of the awe and respect in which I hold many of these artists) as well as on my guitar playing – I aspired for many years, to learn and adapt and modify these incredibly diverse guitar influences, into my own playing – and eventually – my own style began to emerge – but, it’s still based on those early experiences.

If I had not spent many, many hours wearing out the vinyl of my copy of Led Zeppelin III, or any other classic 70s album that I loved, studied and tried to learn to play – including songs from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” by King Crimson – and over on the piano, too, I was learning and absorbing music by Van Der Graaf Generator, Peter Hammill, Todd Rundgren, Peter Gabriel – so there was an entire second side of influence, through piano-based songs – I even learned Tony Banks songs (such as “Anyway” for example) – with the help of my best friend Ted Holding, may he rest in peace – songs and bits of Keith Emerson and so on – anything to enrich the pool of musical ideas that I could then draw from for the rest of my life.  Mostly on the guitar, but – a significant amount of time was invested in learning piano and keyboard based songs – which I think helps to round me out as a musician – I am not “just” a guitarist (thankfully!!).

I had an absolute blast in the 70s, and if there is anything to regret, it would simply be that I did not go to MORE concerts during the 70s (and 80s and 90s for that matter) – my experiences would then just be all the richer for it.   I am not complaining by any means – I could not ask for a richer experience than this one – I am just greedy, I loved seeing these bands and artists playing their music, and I simply want more – there can never be enough good music in one’s life.  Never!

 

Forward…into the future!

So in conclusion – for me, the 70s were an absolutely unique and utterly amazing time, when I got to see some of my very, very favourite players and bands – from the mighty Led Zeppelin to the amazing Steve Howe of Yes (the man who could jump from guitar-to-guitar-to-pedal-steel-guitar-and-back-to-guitar-again mid-song, mind you – mid-song!) to having my mind permanently opened by the power and mystery of Steve Hackett‘s amazing guitar parts for Genesis“The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” to seeing Frank Zappa play in his unique, groundbreaking guitar style – there is nothing on earth like Frank Zappa, there was only one, they absolutely broke the mould that time.

Moving from the classic rock of Led Zeppelin, on up eventually, to the end of the 70s with Blondie and the emergence of New Wave, it was an amazing musical journey – I learned a lot, but I also had an enormous amount of fun – and I realise now that for me, that my idea of “fun” is quite different from that of most people – I have a lot more fun when I am watching and listening to an incredibly talented lead guitarist, playing as part of an incredibly talented band that has worked out an amazing repertoire of impossibly beautiful, and possibly technically demanding songs – now – that’s MY idea of fun!

Until next time then –

 

 

Dave Stafford

May 28, 2018 – 45 years to the day from the day of my very first concert experience of seeing Led Zeppelin live at the San Diego Sports Arena – it now seems, that in some ways, that it all just happened yesterday…

 

 

Next time on Decade By Decade – The Live Concert Experience / Overview:

The Dreaded 80s – Not as bad as we remember

 

1970s Concert Ticket Stub Collection (courtesy Dave Stafford)
Dave Stafford - Concert Ticket Stubs - 1970s

Concert Ticket Stubs – 1970s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the stupidest policy in the universe

 

RECOGNISING STUPIDITY WHEN I COME ACROSS IT

like my late father before me, I find that there are certain aspects of life that are just so stupid, that you can’t help but become agitated and very outspoken when one of these “stupidities” comes to light.

I actually have a real knack for recognising stupid issues, and that realisation came home to me in a quite surreal experience I had at a Guitar Craft course held in Ojai, California back in the 1990s. It was a very good course, with mostly good weather, and we got to listen to Robert Fripp rehearse his Soundscapes, not to mention hearing an early DAT of the then non-existent King Crimson album “Vrooom”, which of course preceeded the album “proper” which is the even more awesome “THRAK”.

but i digress, the incident that confirmed to me that I do have a real knack or propensity, if you will, for seeing stupidity for what it is, and usually, confronting it head on….started like this:

A GUITAR CRAFT STORY

The course was in a lovely, big house on a lovely big green hilltop, a grassy hilltop lawn that of couse, being in California, was fully equipped with sprinklers, which went off automatically at pre-set intervals, to keep that hilltop lawn watered and healthy and looking good.  That is absolutely standard practice in southern California, because, if you don’t water…your lawn, and / or your plants, turn brown and then die.  California, after all, is basically, an artificially-irrigated desert, with water piped in from other states! – from many hundreds of miles away.

part way through the course, on a rare rainy day, where it was raining pretty hard, but in that warm kind of unconvincing California way…   I believe it was just before lunch, and the whole group, including Robert were sitting in silence (as you do quite often at Guitar Craft) and of course, if you are not quiet inwardly (as I often wasn’t) your attention may start to wander, and I confess that at this point, where a long, uneasy silence was waiting to hopefully, become a proper silence…I was looking out the window, watching the rain and looking  at the plants and the lawn.

the silence went on and on, and after an uncomfortably long time, suddenly, Robert spoke: “can anyone” (he said, addressing the entire course) “give me an example of real stupidity that is going on here, right now” and he sort of, gazed up and around the room.

confused silence was the first response, while people tried to think if perhaps, THEY had done something stupid earlier on, and now here was Robert Fripp calling them out?  You could sense some rising panic in some of the faces…but no one answered.

then, the answer smacked me right in the brain, that Stafford tradition (my Dad would have been so proud of me!!!!) came back and I blurted out “the sprinklers”.  “The sprinklers are on, watering, while its pouring with rain”. I added.

“Thats right, the sprinklers” Robert agreed.

And of course, thats pretty much the only time that I had the answer when the gathered elders of Guitar Craft did not, so I was pleased that I’d seen it so quickly.  And no one except Robert had a clue, it is just one of those things that people born in California, are used to seeing, all the time, all of your life.

And, it IS a pretty stupid thing, to have your sprinklers busily overwatering your lawn, and indeed, the combination of a substantial rainfall and the powerful large radius-coverage sprinklers running at the same time, could and often did turn your lawn into a green soaking wet sludge –  serious over watering can occur.

I have told this story before, in a more abbreviated form, and I apologise if you have heard it before – but it was necessary for me to restate my “credentials” as a more than “averagely aware of stupidity” kind of person.  I see stupidity in many designs, processes, and even in well establish practices, where people are doing activities in a particularly stupid way, when a much better way is or at least, might be available.

for example – sprinkler systems that can be overridden and can be programmed NOT to turn on, in the case of rain.

clearly, the owner of that nice house on the hill in Ojai, was unaware of this possibility, and because of that, would be always overwatering his lawn and plants when the sprinklers regularly came on while it was raining!

Stupidity at work, in the universe…a perfect example, and both Robert Fripp and I, while looking out the window at the garden in the pouring rain, had realised what was going on just outside the room, while the other fifty five people were only thinking inside the room, or, hadn’t noticed  or, hadn’t realised – that a really stupid thing was going on, right then and there – but outside, not inside!

It’s a day I’ve never forgotten, not only because I knew the answer when RF was the only other person who did, but because it was a great course, and my “Stupidity Detector” was clearly working better than it ever had done before.  A very useful tool, being able to recognise stupidity when you see it – and, if you look around, you will often find that its … EVERYWHERE!!

So what does this long and somewhat tedious Guitar Craft story have to do with today’s blog?  Not a lot, really, except perhaps, to establish that I have this knack, this ability to spot stupid practices, and that, coupled with some forty years in the business world, makes me the Customer From Hell, when companies have to deal with me.

THE ISSUE IN QUESTION

Today’s blog, however, is not about a gentle, somewhat forgivable stupidity such as watering your lawn while its raining…no, today’s blog is about something much, much stupider than that – and therefore, a hundred times more irritating because the stupidity actually has a real, negative effect on you.

I am writing today about a very specific “policy” that a particular music store has, which is, in short:  supplying the wrong type of power supply with almost every guitar effects unit they sell: a European power supply with round pins that cannot be plugged into the wall in the UK! (where we use flat pin power supplies only). To me, this “policy”…is right up there on my “stupidity radar” – supplying a useless power supply that could only work in Europe…in the UK.

a) it is a policy that makes NO logical sense – and the stream of useless Euro power supplies arriving every few months – utterly useless

b) I am sick and tired of ARGUING about it each time I make a purchase – and, an important point here – having to ask in the first place is bang out of order – when it SHOULD HAVE BEEN in the box when it arrived!!

Life is literally too short for me to waste my time railing against such a stupid thing – and they, unwilling to do as I, the customer politely asks again and again – well, the most recent sale they made to me – will be the last bit of business they get from me…I need vendors that will work with me on this.

Not, fight me tooth and nail when I try to get a useable power supply for my effects unit – that I have already paid for (it is part of the effect units’ purchase price)

Meanwhile, I have grown so frustrated with this “policy” over the past six or seven years (!!!!!!!) that I have recently reached the point where I told them that, if they were unwilling to continue to make the situation right, each time I make a purchase of an effects pedal from them (containing a European supply), that they will no longer get my repeat business or any of my business, because I refuse to participate in this specific power supply stupidity any more!

ANALOGY

I’d like now, to ask you a few simple rhetorical questions:

Note: today’s “stupidity” only occurs in the United Kingdom to my knowledge.  It does not occur in Europe or elsewhere that I know of.  This is important to remember.

 

So – UK residents only, then – when you buy a new toaster (or any small appliance) do you expect it to have a UK style plug (flat blades, three pronged) attached, so you can plug it in the moment you get home, and have some nice toast with your cuppa tea?

when you buy a new iron, do you expect it to have a UK style plug attached, the correct flat-bladed UK style plug, so that when you get home, you can plug that iron in right awaty, and get your three week backlog of ironing done in a jiffy?

when you buy a new hair dryer, do you expect to be able to plug it into the wall, and dry your soaking wet hair right away, without waiting?

when you buy a new alarm clock, do you expect a UK style plug attached right to it, so you can plug it in straight away, set the alarm, and then get woken up ever so gently to the quiet strains of Rammstein’s “Zwitters” blasting out at 6:05 a.m., at volume 10…?

when you buy a new Hoover, you expect it to have its UK style flat bladed plug already attached, so when you get home, you can plug it in straight away, and hoover your dirty ole carpets to yer heart’s content?

If you got a new set of hair straighteners, you would definitely want to go hone and plug them straight into your UK 230 volt wall outlet, so you can then wait for them to heat up, and straighten your hair to PERFECTION??

Let’s go large now, you finally bought that brand new washing machine you wanted, and I just know you will expect that it will come with a UK style plug already attached, so you can plug it straight into the wall outlet, hook up the water, and wash all those dirty clothes that have piled up everywhere??

I think you can see the everyday truth in the above statements.  Nothing tricky about them – just ordinary appliance purchases and expectations.

 

You may have gathered that I am making a point, and I am, and yes, OK I have rather belaboured that point (apologies)…but there is a reason for the many, many examples of ordinary electrical appliances both small and large – so that we can establish that for any electrical item that you buy in the United Kingdom, you have developed the perfectly reasonable expectation that the moment you get it home, whatever it is – you can plug it in, and start using it immediately.

however.

What if that were NOT the case? What if, you brought that toaster home, and it didn’t have a UK plug on it, or with it, so you couldn’t plug it into your common, ordinary, garden UK 230v outlet – in fact – you couldn’t plug it in anywhere in the UK.

First of all – that would make you feel very frustrated, because, you couldn’t feed that horde of screaming children waiting for their morning toast.  You would all starve, or at least you’d be eating untoasted bread which is almost as bad – when you want toast. and it goes on for days and days and days – no toast, and a useless, cold toaster.

That scenario is pretty unpleasant, but let me take this story one step further.  Let’s say that on that same day, the day you got home, took that toaster out of the box, and THEN realised that you couldn’t plug it in…that you rang up the store you bought it from, and asked them to please provide a proper UK plug, and they said, yeah, OK we’ll do that, you will get it in a couple of days.

Three days go by, with no toast made, that toaster not lighting up at all.  The toaster is dead.  The promised UK plug does NOT arrive.  You ring the store again, they say they will send the plug…so now three weeks have gone by and you still have no working toaster and no plug from the store…

After many calls, much argument with the store, pleading, cajoling…You reach the three month mark…THREE MONTHS WITHOUT TOAST…and finally, you get a UK style plug for your toaster delivered, finally sent by the store at long, long last.

And if the children haven’t all starved by now, they finally get some toast – but you’ve been through three months of hell trying to get the store to make things right for you, and you really begin to question your sanity.  You have argued calmly that it should have had a UK plug all along, but, the store seem unconcerned, and they also seem bent on supplying the NEXT item you buy from them…with ANOTHER useless Euro style plug.  Repeat of same scenario above.

Now, I could build a similar scenario for each and every item above, but it would take far too long, and I think the toaster example is a good enough example.

Three months without being able to plug in your new toaster?  Can you imagine?

 

Now – with the above everyday analogies, I’ve set up the background here, I’ve created practical examples of how it would feel if you got home to find that you could not plug your new toaster in, and then, the store you got this rather useless appliance from, took over three months to make it possible for you to plug it in and finally have some toast.

How would that make you feel?

 

IT’S BEEN MY EXPERIENCE…THAT WHEN THE ROW GETS SERIOUS…

A CERTAIN SILENCE WILL FALL.

 

How would that make you feel??

 

Now – that is a question.

Unfortunately, I can answer that question. I can provide in fact, a first hand account of exactly this “toaster experience” but with something else in the way of “small electrics” that I regularly purchase: effects pedals for guitar.

For the past several years, I’ve been purchasing the odd guitar pedal or two, and often from one of my favourite stores, DV24/7.  They were, and are, a good store – they delivered quickly, they always had the lowest price, and eventually, they got all of my business.

Until a few days ago, when I reached such a point of impatience and sheer frustration with their attitude regarding the power supplies for said guitar effects – that I’ve told them that I will be taking my business, my REPEAT business, to another guitar store.  ANY OTHER STORE. One that will truly want AND truly appreciate (not just say that they appreciate, but ACTUALLY appreciate) my repeat business. GAK, Dolphin, I really do not care. Just – no more Euro power supplies.  Please.

 

I must have at least six of these useless Lumps Of Plastic with round pins sticking out of them, cluttering up my storage area at home. They are worthless in the UK, sadly, they would be quite handy for any number of young guitarists in Europe.  I have enough for a whole Euro power pedalboard.  In Europe.  Where I don’t live.

They are doing me not one whit of good unless you think it’s perhaps, a good reminder from myself to myself to say NEVER AGAIN to accepting a Euro style power supply for any UK-purchase / UK-use electrical appliance or guitar effect pedal.  Ever.

 

DV24/7 refused to listen to the pure logic I presented to them regarding this very, very stupid “policy” of theirs – which is this:

Each effects unit they sell IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, comes supplied with a power supply (as intended by the manufacturers – who meant for the correct-country power supply to come with each pedal, it is included in the PURCHASE PRICE!) but with a twist; its a EUROPEAN power supply that DV24/7 regularly send to their UK CUSTOMERS.  That cannot be plugged into ANY power outlet IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.  Now – where, exactly, is the logic or sense in THAT?

Answer?  There is no logic present in this odd policy of supplying useless / wrong power supplies with each effects pedal sale.  If I just shelled out £400.00 for a really nifty pedal, it had darn well come with the CORRECT, USEFUL POWER SUPPLY.  That will plug into one of the many UK OUTLETS that I have in my UK HOUSE.

TALK ABOUT SPOILING YOUR ENJOYMENT!

So,  you’ve finally decided to buy your first Eventide H9, a truly powerful and exciting new guitar effects device – you order it from DV24/7; it arrives in a day or two..

but…BUT…it comes supplied with a EUROPEAN power supply.  So all that anticipation, all the excitement – dies, because you cannot PLUG IT IN.  So you then get to LOOK at it, but not use it, or hear it, for several days or even weeks, while you impatiently wait for the store to send you the right, usable power supply. After the fact, after the purchase….”oh please, kind sir, may I have a UK power supply so I csn actually USE my guitar effect??”.

 

Now, the first few times this happened, I would just ring or email them , and say “can you please send me a UK power supply for this REALLY EXPENSIVE pedal i just bought from you?”.  And – generally, they would.  I just had to ask.  (Not my job, really, but, whatever).

And I would then have to wait, a few days, a week, whatever, and the power supply arrives – so I can FINALLY plug in my brand new effects pedal.  Finally use it, finally hear it – at last. But it is just not the same, as being able to plug it in the moment it arrives…nope.  A third-rate experience at best.  Sheer frustration and mounting anger at the worst end of the “DV experience” 🙂

After this had gone on for some five years, let’s say, they started resisting me when I would insist on the proper UK power supply, and then finally, just a couple of weeks ago now,  their salesperson told me, in an email, no less “you will have to accept that some of these effects (read: all of these effects) will come with a Euro adapter, and we may then provide a UK plug adapter with the Euro power supply”.

And, that, dear reader, was the wrong thing to say to me.  my reply was “Salesperson’s Name Here, I must certainly do not “have to ACCEPT” anything – “I am the customer, and, you’ve set a precedent with me, i.e, you have been supplying me with the proper UK adapter, AFTER each effects sale, with NO ARGUMENT, and at no charge for several YEARS NOW – and now, you are reneging on that, and saying that I MUST ACCEPT Euro plugs, and a crappy plastic ‘plug adapter’ to go with it ! – no thank you, and furthermore,  I refuse to trust my really expensive device to a £1.79 plastic UK plug adapter”.

So because they instigated this new “policy”, where they no LONGER supply the proper UK power supply at request or at no charge…which they had done for about five years out of the six OR seven years (or more) I’ve been buying from them, I’ve had enough – more than enough of their attitude – and if it costs them money, to supply what should have been in the box all along – well, that is NOT my problem.

I was a good, repeat business customer, a good one – but over the past two years, I’ve had to argue, argue, argue, and eventually they would reluctantly send me a UK power supply for the device I had just bought.

I got really tired of the whole subject.  I even called the UK store manager in Romford, and had a long talk with him about..about just how incredibly STUPID (THERE IT IS….THE ‘S’ WORD) the policy of sending Euro plugs (aka, something that in the UK, MAY AS WELL BE A LUMP OF USELESS PLASTIC WITH SOME ROUND PINS STICKING OUT OF IT) – and he agreed it wasn’t the most brilliant policy, but I thought we had reached an agreement, that they would continue to supply them to me when I ask for them…but I was wrong.

not so.  In fact, after the last conversation with the boss, it was then that I waited THREE MONTHS for a UK adapter to arrive for my Ground Control Pro. Almost as if he had told them to drag their feet…

 

But not long after that, the real arguments started, and the salesman started telling me what I “MUST ACCEPT”.

That was the signal for me to end my relationship with DV24/7 (except of course, in the event of me needing to use one of my many, many, three year warranties that I have with them for a number of my effects devices).

So the income and the profit from sales to me have how stopped, permanently, they claimed, in an email that they “valued my repeat business” but basically, I would have to accept Euro plugs with UK plug adapters…so from that threat, I could tell that clearly, they do NOT value my repeat business at all.

If they did, the precedent set six or seven years ago, would still be in place, and I would still get a proper UK power supply for each device I purchased.  But – no more

All the other stores, I will be completely honest with them going forward:  I will EXPECT a UK adapter with each pedal I purchase – or, I will give the business to the vendor who will happily say “yes” to that humble, simple request.

 

WHAT THE MANUFACTURERS MEANT TO HAPPEN

(and what they supply to MAKE it happen in the different markets)

 

As if the all of the above wasn’t enough, now, please consider this:

Each manufacturer, for example, Eventide (USA based) or Electro-Harmonix (USA based) has included in the price of their effects pedal, a working power supply for that device, which should be different for each non-USA country it is sold in.

So let’s imagine that you bought a pedal from a well known online store in the USA, and you LIVE in the USA.

Let’s say it’s that Eventide H9 I mentioned earlier.  You would receive that H9 in a box, with a US style two-flat-bladed-plugs-bearing power supply.  You open the box; you plug that two prong flat bladed US style plug directly into the nearest 110v US outlet in your US home – And you are instantly delighting in the beauty of the H9 experience.

So let’s now imagine that you bought a pedal from a well known online store in Germany, and, YOU live in Germany…or anywhere in Europe except the UK.

Let’s say it’s that Eventide H9 I mentioned earlier. You would receive that H9 in a box, with a Euro style two-round-pins-plug bearing power supply. You open the box; you plug that two round pin style plug  directly into the nearest 220v German outlet in your German home – And, you are instantly delighting in the beauty of the H9 experience.

Repeat above  paragraph for Japanese market.

Repeat above paragraph for South American market.

Repeat above paragraph for any non-UK market.

 

Finally – let’s now imagine that you bought a pedal from a well known online store in the UK, and, YOU live in the UK.

Let’s say it’s that Eventide H9 I mentioned earlier. You would receive that H9 in a box, BUT, much to your everlasting astonishment – instead of the 3-flat-bladed UK style power supply you expected (just as with your toaster, your hair dryer, your washing machine, your hoover…) but instead, to your ultimate dismay – you find, inexplicably, that you have instead been sent – a Euro style two-round-pins-plug bearing power supply.

You open the box; you remove the wrongly supplied Euro power supply in disbelief, which you cannot plug in anywhere in the country you live in – And, you now have no idea what the H9 SOUNDS like, because you cannot plug it INTO THE WALL as you can in every OTHER COUNTRY ON THE PLANET.  And – you DO NOT GET TO DELIGHT in the beauty of the H9 experience.  Not for days or weeks or latterly, apparently – ever.

Eventide MEANT for you to get that box, open it, plug the RIGHT power supply into the proper outlet, and play your guitar through their pedal. Immediately.  You PAID for that, you paid for the good experience, the one where you get to actually use the pedal you just bought.

No..not here in the UK.  Instead…you get argument.  You spend literally hours, emailing, calling the DV24/7 boss AGAIN to complain.

THE LAST STRAW

There is one remaining wee story to tell.  And that story is about a device that I bought from DV24/7 … LAST YEAR.

I bought a new Voodoo Labs Ground Control Plus MIDI controller from DV24/7 in late October or early November – the actual date isnt really important.

 

you’ll never guess, to my amazement…it TOO, like the Eventides and the Electro-Harmonix pedals before it, the Ground Control Pro arrived…with a Euro style round pin power supply – with a twist, it was an AC adapter (rather than the much more common DC adapter), with a higher current requirement than most pedals have.   Still useless though…I did say “Euro” and “round pins”.

So standard procedure, I rang up or emailed DV24/7 and said “please send me the correct voltage Voodoo Labs UK power supply for my Ground Control Pro”.  I got argument and stalling.  I rang the boss yet again, applied pressure verbally…he promised they would send the adapter.

still no adapter.  Christmas passed.  I cajoled, I asked nicely, I became irritated…no result.

New Year passed.  I wrote again, this time simply saying “appalling customer service, making a good, repeat customer wait OVER THREE MONTHS for a lousy power supply that costs £2.00 to produce in Asia…you ought to be ashamed”.

Nothing.. No response to my emails anymore.

 

then, tonight, on January 20th, having waited thru November, thru December and thru most of January with no power supply – when I got home, a small box from DV24/7 had been delivered to my neighbour.  I went to retrieve it.  Finally – and, by the way, NOT a Voodoo Labs supply at all, but the cheapest of the cheap generic type adapter, BUT the right voltage 9 volts AC at 500 ma – so theoretically usable with the Ground Control.

The adapter was promised over and over, the salesman promied, then his BOSS promised it, and it didn’t arrive.

I doubt it was my “you ought to be ashamed” message that finally caused it to ship to me – but it should have been.

They still owe me a power supply for an EHX pedal I bought recently. But we shall see what happens with that one.  But, I won’t expend the least bit of effort on DV24/7 any more, no more chasing down a power supply EVERY SINGLE TIME I BOUGHT SOMETHING.  For SEVEN YEARS.

 

A SIMPLE, SIMPLE SOLUTION EXISTS

DV24/7 have some internal “problem” where some their stock that is to be sold in the UK, comes from Europe, and it has Euro plugs in it.  But guess what – the manufacturers make at least four different adapters, that are supposed to be sold in the US, the UK, Europe, and Japan.  So – you, as the distributor of these products, are supposed to be SMART ENOUGH to order the right boxes with the right adapters for each country you are selling them in.

A quick example of a smart policy:

You are a big music store with stores in Europe and in the UK.  Sales are roughly equivalent in both areas, so, instead of buying 1000 boxes of EURO Eventude H9s, you order instead, 500 boxes of Euro H9s (which you sell in EUROPE) and 500 boxes of UK BOXES, (which you sell IN THE UNITED KINGDOM). Simple.

Under my clever scheme (see above) the customers in BOTH Europe AND the UK END UP WITH THE CORRECT POWER SUPPLY when they receive their order. Rejoicing. No more phone calls.  No more emails. No more arguing with customers.  No more customers so traumatised by their never-ending NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE AT DV24/7 that they finally just say NO MORE.

NO MORE.

 

Now – clearly, their purchasing department wasn’t smart, and all their pedals are in EURO boxes.  So this won’t ever end, with DV.

BUT INSTEAD of them making their problem by MY problem, and pawning off their unwanted garbage/Euro Lumps Of Plastic onto UK customers who DO NOT WANT THEM…instead of you making your problem be my problem…why don’t you just SOLVE the problem, and buy the boxes with effects with UK power supplies in them, to SELL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM???

by the way:  I ***HATE*** it, when companies, or people, make THEIR PROBLEM be MY PROBLEM.  I refuse to allow that.  My time is too valuable, too precious to waste on the “Euro round pin power supply game”.  It is a game that sucks, I can tell you that much for free.

THE REAL INTENTIONS OF THE EFFECTS’ MANUFACTURERS

Remember, the manufacturers, WANT YOU not only to get a power supply with your device, but, they WANTED for it to have a power supply with it, that meets the following  criteria (you PAID for all this – it is included in the effect’s price!!!!):

a) fits the outlets in your country

b) supplies the right voltage and has the correct current handling requirements for your device and your country’s power outlets

c) you PAID FOR THAT privilege, to be able to plug right in and enjoy your purchase – whereas, I got to LOOK at how nice my new effects looked, for many days, while I waited for the “afterthought” correct UK adapter to arrive – and, looking is not HEARING or ENJOYING, is it?? and

d) they did NOT intend for you to receive the WRONG PLUG type, that does NOT plug in, in your country, and is, to a UK customer anyway, a useless LUMP OF PLASTIC with two round pins sticking our of it.

 

CONCLUSION (?)

 

i rest my case.  As Bryan Ferry once said “don’t let this happen to you!!”

I told you I could find the STUPID stuff.

 

 

 

peace and love and UK POWER SUPPLIES FOR ALL!!!!

 

Dave 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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