Extracts from Chapter 2
I was born in Uganda and start this chapter by recalling my early childhood, including going to boarding school in Kabale.
I loved the hills of Kigezi and especially remember the pretty wattle trees with feathery leaves and clusters of little yellow pompom flowers. The school was in a lovely position half way up the hill with wonderful views and a big garden. There was a simple tree house with a wooden slide in an old cedar tree as well as a see-saw and swing. At weekends, we were taken for walks, sometimes up the hill behind the Cathedral which we called Crystal Hill because of the lovely pieces of quartz which we collected. And then there was a full day outing with a picnic once each term. It was exciting to explore the woods or go down into the valley and cross the river. The smell of eucalyptus and wattle trees still reminds me of those picnics. One rainy weekend, I sat on the verandah with friends and tried to make raspberry jam on a little paraffin camping stove. Some of us pretended we were more mature by making simple bras and stuffing them with cotton wool!
But there was bullying at Kabale Prep School. Some children had older siblings at schools in Kenya which was in the fearful grip of the brutal Mau-Mau conflict, during which well over twenty thousand Kenyans were killed by the British and about four hundred thousand put into concentration camps where they were shamefully tortured by the British. “I’ve got you and now I’m going to torture you,” some of the boys said as they sat astride us, pinning our arms down and using their knees to painfully rub our elbows into the ground. It wasn’t until long after Peter, my first baby, was born that I realised where my fear of little boys of about seven to nine years old came from and why I dreaded giving birth to a boy. That fear was always at the back of my mind during Peter’s early years, and re-surfaced seven years later with David. Thankfully, they did much to bring healing of those memories by never turning into nasty little boys although the fear returned again when my grandsons were that age, especially as they always enjoyed such wild rough-and-tumble games together which I hated to watch.
Once a term, parents were allowed to come and visit us at KPS if they could. In my first term, there was a mix-up over dates and so my parents weren’t able to come and see me. When I was told, I wrote to them, “I dont very much mind if you dont come”. It meant I didn’t see them for eleven weeks, a long time for a seven year old who had never been away from home before.
I was not happy at KPS and pleaded with my parents: “Don’t send Dennis to KPS”. But of course they sent him, aged just six, a term after I started.
We left Uganda when I was nine. My teenage years were spent in Tunbridge Wells in the south of England where I went to the local grammar school until I took my ‘O’ levels at the age of 15. I then went to boarding school for ‘A’ levels.
Being at Queenswood School for my ‘A’ Levels coincided with me beginning to think much more deeply about belief in God and Christian faith. We had the option of studying Philosophy with Mr Thomas who had once been a Methodist Minister. This was, for me, the greatest bonus of being at Queenswood. We were a small group who were so keen to tackle philosophical and religious ideas and theories that he was able to take us through a wide range of philosophers and thinkers from the ancient Greeks to modern philosophers. I read widely and deeply and flourished in an atmosphere where I was stimulated and felt free to question everything and to have all my ideas and beliefs challenged. It was a time of spiritual and emotional upheaval for me which I recorded in some detail in the diary I kept throughout 1962, when I was seventeen.
In January 1962, I wrote in my diary that “I believe there is a God who created matter and life, simply because science can’t answer the origin of matter because there must have been something to start it off. Name “It” God. But what has God to do with humans, their personal lives and personalities? He created matter and life and then the world evolved as it is today without God’s aid. Or did it? Are mutations a result of God’s intervention and hence man? What part has God played in evolution? And is he then creator, directly, of man, meaning him to be in his image and the highest living thing and therefore God is the creator of mind, personality, virtues and all the things which separate us from other animals?” Hugh preached a sermon at Epiphany in which “he compared our wanderings in our spiritual life with that of the wise men; the light is only very small and dim – a star which disappears at times. God will, all through life, appear to have gone at times until we finally reach Christ. Science can’t explain everything such as beauty, as seen in nature and music, and love etc. We must bring, as our gift to Christ, science”.
I wrote in my diary about a longing to pass on to others all that I was enjoying and learning about the wonderful things of life as revealed in Physics and Biology especially. I recorded something Newton had said: “Learning Maths is learning the thoughts of God”.
My tussle between emotions, religion, science and philosophy resulted in what was a difficult period of agnosticism as it meant rejecting so much of what I had grown up believing – the Christian faith which was the basis of my parents’ life. Having considered all the arguments for and against the existence of God, I felt, reluctantly, that on balance, the arguments were stronger against. At the age of seventeen, I wrote an essay describing my thought processes and summarising the arguments.
A month later, I wrote: “I think I might call myself an agnostic – I don’t think God can be proved or disproved, therefore I can’t believe in him unless I experience his presence because if I say I believe because I want to, it means I shall just be inventing God because I want some such deity.”
During my last term at school, in October 1962, I went to London to join with my parents in the celebrations for Uganda’s Independence from Britain. It started on 8th October with a Latin Mass in Westminster Cathedral followed by parties and the raising of the new Uganda flag. This was meant to coincide with taking down the Union flag and raising the Uganda flag in Uganda at midnight, but because they forgot it was still British Summer Time (and not GMT) in the UK, it happened an hour earlier than in Uganda! On the 9th, the actual Day of Independence, we went to a service in Westminster Abbey at which Bishop John Taylor of Winchester preached (as a CMS missionary in Uganda, he had been Principal of Mukono Theological College, now the Christian University of Uganda). The new Uganda flag was processed through the Abbey to a fanfare of trumpets and laid on the altar. “All people that on earth do dwell” was sung followed by a Bible reading and prayers led by Bishop Amos Betungura, a family friend. After the flag had been blessed, it was returned to the bearer with another fanfare and the singing of the new Uganda National Anthem. The service ended with a wonderful peal of bells. I wrote in my diary, “I really have enjoyed these celebrations and it’s meant a lot to me. Once in the Mass and twice in the Abbey, I nearly burst into tears.”
It was December 1962 when I finally left school. I had found the Philosophy lessons with Mr Thomas “very valuable” and felt sure they had “made me into a different person – a thinking being”! But “it suddenly came home to me that I’d really left school and will never go back. I can’t imagine what it will be like because I’ve known nothing but the routine of school all my life.” I had just turned eighteen and wrote: “I don’t like being eighteen – it’s too old and I’m not ready to be eighteen. People expect eighteen year olds to be much more grown up.”
Although the age of majority and being considered an adult was still twenty one, leaving school and leaving home in January 1963 to go to Barbados to teach for two terms with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) did, in many ways, mark my entry into adulthood.