John Newmark

High Trees Tales


John Newmark at home in Eastbourne, June 1996.

Tribal trouble

Among the new children one term was a nine year old boy from Nigeria, whose father was a tribal chief and held a position of great authority. The boy, Theo by name, was pleasant, well-mannered, always smiling, but totally ignorant of our way of life, as I discovered that first evening when I was on duty and supervising the children, in Wray's house, preparing for bed. Theo was on the bath list that first night.

Now a bath was a new experience for Theo. Most village children either swim in the river, if they are lucky enough to live near one, or else they pour a bucket full of water over their bodies, usually drawn from a well. Primitive, yes, but adequate. So a hot bath was something of a luxury for Theo and his wide eyes were full of joy as he splashed around, soaking the walls and the floor with pure abandon.

Then came the moment to dry himself. One rule he was yet to learn was to dry his foot before stepping out of the bath and on to the bath mat, even though it was half drenched.

"Place one foot on the edge of the bath." I told him, "and dry it thoroughly."

This he did satisfactorily, smiling at the novelty.

"Right!" I remarked with praise. "Now dry the other foot."

Before I could stop him, he lowered his dry foot back into the water and placed his other foot on the edge of the bath and proceeded to dry that one!

The next day I found myself teaching Theo the delicate art of shoe-polishing. Another new experience for him. First I demonstrated the correct way to open the tin of shoe-polish without pushing one's fingers into it. Then I ensured he knew which brush to use for applying the polish to the shoe.

Indeed, I carefully smeared the brush over the polish without pressing the bristles too deep. Then I applied it to the toe-cap, with a circling movement, smearing the polish evenly and lightly as far as it would spread. Next I picked up the polishing brush and, using it vigorously, brushed the polish into the toe-cap. Theo's eyes opened in wonder when he saw the shoe beginning to shine.

Finally, I put the finishing touch to the toe-cap by rubbing it gently with a soft cloth. Theo was deeply satisfied with the operation and could hardly wait to finish the job.

I left him to it. I had other duties to perform but returned to the performance in ten minutes, slightly nervously and not knowing what to expect. "Expect the unexpected" had long been a familiar cliché after years of living in the tropics , so I was not totally surprised when Theo proudly showed his beautifully polished shoes.

I could not stop laughing!

He had polished not only the outside of both shoes but the inside as well, and the soles, and the heels!


Snakes at school

Very Important Parents

To Rosemary Skinner and her brother, Christopher, I owe a measure of thanks for arriving at High Trees School in good time to allow me to put some finishing touches to my forthcoming holiday. I should explain that my twin brother, George, and I spent our holidays in remote tropical rain forests and other wild habitat, where we made a habit of catching and collecting snakes and lizards, and beetles, and scorpions, and giant millipedes, and poisonous-arrow frogs, and black widows, and tarantulas and a multitude of other creatures all of which we would take to London Zoo, all alive and kicking, on our return to England.

We had planned twenty five collecting trips in all and this was to be our twenty first trip. St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago was our destination. Corin Millais, also at High Trees, had agreed to accompany us as did our sister, Dorothy. So where do Rosemary and Christopher come into the picture?

Answer: they lived in Trinidad!

So when their father came to visit the school on Sports Day that year, I asked him casually if he could recommend a reasonably inexpensive hotel in Tobago, and another in Trinidad.

"Leave it to me," he said "and I'll look around and let you know."

We already had accommodation booked in St. Lucia , a hut in the rain forest.

Both Rosemary and Christopher had excellent Geography reports that term, and our party duly departed for our collecting holiday.

In St. Lucia we shared our hut with two hundred bats, but only for one night. Dorothy suggested alternative accommodation would be highly desirable. So we moved out of the rain forest and into the capital, Castries.

On our last morning in St. Lucia, a volcano on the neighbouring island of St. Vincent erupted, and all local aircraft, including ours to Tobago, were commandeered to rescue the inhabitants of St. Vincent and fly them to other Caribbean islands. So we were now stranded! Mr Skinner had already booked us in to a hotel on Tobago, but here we were, now stuck in St. Lucia.


John & George Newmark

Tobago or Bust!

Over breakfast we discussed the situation, but it could not be resolved. No aircraft were available - they were all on mercy missions.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked around. There stood a youngish gentleman wearing shorts. He was nicely tanned and obviously an English tourist on holiday.

"Mr Newmark?" he queried, smiling.

"I believe so," I answered, also smiling.

"My name is Knowles, and I have two daughters at High trees school."

"Of course!" I exclaimed, trying to remember their names.

"Yes, I know them well," interrupted Corin Millais. "Jessica and Katy"

"Correct," said Mr Knowles.

What an amazing coincidence, I thought. "Are they here on holiday too?" I asked.

"No, and I'm not on holiday either. I am here training young pilots to fly their aircraft," he explained. "But as all the planes have been sent to St. Vincent to rescue the islanders, I have nobody to train today."

At this point Dorothy intervened and explained our situation and how we had booked to fly to Tobago that evening.

"Leave it to me," said Mr Knowles just as Mr Skinner had remarked when I asked him to look for an inexpensive hotel.

So we were truly thankful when, later in the day, Mr Knowles directed us to make our way to a small airport on the far end of St. Lucia, where the pilot of one of the planes taking passengers from St. Vincent to other islands would have room for the four of us and we would be flown to Tobago and transferred to our hotel, thanks to the unsparing help provided by two High Trees School parents quite independently.

That was not the end of the story. The hotel Mr Skinner had chosen for us turned out to be one of the most expensive on the island, as we found out when we came to pay the bill, but we also found out something else, Mr Skinner had paid the bill himself!

And finally, on to Trinidad

But that's not all either, we flew without incident to Trinidad and discovered Mr Skinner had taken his family off to the South of France and left us his own home together with his cook, a couple of servants and his chauffeur, who owned his own Mercedes, with instructions to drive us around whenever we asked!

The house, set in it's own grounds, was magnificent and Dorothy greatly admired the furnishings, the pictures and the object d'art, while we twins and Corin were more interested in the beetles and spiders we found in the garden. Such generosity and we are eternally thankful to High Trees school for selecting parents such as the Knowles' and the Skinners'.


George & John Newmark and something from the school pantry

Birdwatching with Matron

Then there is Mr and Mrs Dalton-Stirling whose children, Michele and Justin were both at High Trees with me. They were living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, so needless to say that became our next destination. The rain forest was calling us!

Our flight was uneventful and we arrived at their home in the posh end of "KL" , amongst all the embassies. Before long my twin brother felt unwell. So, Mr D.S. called a doctor, who duly arrived and pronounced George to have had a heart attack. The doctor arranged for him to be admitted to Hospital, but Mr D.S. personally took him to a much better hospital a few miles outside the city.

Mrs D.S. and the children gathered and packed his necessary belongings and we all travelled with him and deposited him safely into the care of the matron. Fortunately Justin had remembered to pack George's binoculars, and when I visited him two days later he was already sitting on the balcony teaching the matron and half a dozen patients the names of the birds flying amongst the trees outside.

Thank you Mr and Mrs Dalton-Stirling for your very prompt action, and Justin for your quick witted thought regarding the binoculars.

Microscopic Matters

We were invited by Mark Greenfield, aged about nine, to his home in Charlwood. This was quite near to High Trees, and we were going to look at the birds of prey kept by his father, as he knew we were keen bird watchers. There we met his father, Glynn Greenfield, who was one of only a handfull of people in the country who dabbled into the cleaning and presentation of diatoms.

When he learned that my brother and I were off to Thailand to collect for the zoo, he asked if we could bring back a small amount of algae for him to look at.

"No trouble at all." I told him, and in due course off we went to Bangkok and then to a game park 150 miles to the North East. Here whilst delving into a small underground lake, I scraped off about 6 inches of algae from a rock face and dried it in the sun. In the fullness of time we brought it back to England and handed it over to Glynn.

A few weeks later he phoned me with the news that he had discovered many new species of diatom, one of which he said was the most beautiful he had ever seen.

This he named 'Amphipleura Newmarkiae.'

My Latin is improving! Many thanks again to Glynn and Mark.

More on the Way......

John Newmark is currently working on some more material for this section. I see him quite regularly so keep an eye on this page as it will be updated soon. [IMAGE]<

George & John during WW2

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Mark Greenfield

Copyright © 1998 Mark Greenfield
Most recent revision 01 April 1998