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The First Seventy Years: 39 – My Ambition Achieved

Eric Biddulph begin a new life in Malawi.

To read earlier chapters of Eric’s autobiography please click on

The first priority was to place the house on the market. The sale was completed fairly quickly. A far bigger task was sorting out the destination of our possessions. Some we sold. The key items we would need in Malawi had to be packed ready for shipping. Some of our large furniture was put into store. The garden shed was dismantled and re-erected at the bottom of Mary's parents’ garden in Nottingham. This was filled with all objects that could be stored outside. Finally, the remaining items that were of some use to both sets of parents were handed over to them for the duration, initially two years.

In retrospect I realise the move overseas was to prove traumatic for my daughter. After only a year at school in Leicester and having made new friends, adapting herself to a new environment, I was now forcing her to go through the experience yet again. The cultural change this time would be much greater.

My one-year-old son, on the other hand, was only just beginning to become aware of his surroundings. The world was emerging before his eyes. Everything was new to him. As a consequence, Malawi was his world. In contrast, my daughter had to find new friends, build up new relationships and adapt to new teachers.

We were booked on to a BOAC flight to Nairobi and flew out of Heathrow Airport on the evening of 18 August, 1970. I had hired a car for the journey down to the airport. A request had been made for a car with adequate space to carry a pushchair. What I was given was a VW Beetle. It proved to be a nightmarish journey, with the pushchair taking up a disproportionate amount of interior space.

We were then confronted with an attendant informing us we were over the weight limit. The man standing behind us overheard and, realising our imminent problem, told the attendant that we could have his baggage allowance because he only had hand luggage. Ironically, he left the aircraft at Frankfurt.

I remember observing the rolling landscape of the Sudan and Northern Kenya. A few years later that initial sighting of the African savannah was re-kindled when I read the late Julius Nyerere's writings in which he wrote, "Much of the African landscape is a natural and continuous entity. It suggests a single nation rather than a multitude of states whose boundaries have been arbitrarily decided by Europeans."

After hanging around in the departure lounge for several hours at Nairobi Airport, we eventually boarded an ageing De Havilland Comet owned by East African Airways. A couple of hours later we landed at Chileka Airport, Blantyre, Malawi. I recall those first moments on terra firma as if it was yesterday. "I really have achieved my ambition," I was thinking to myself. “I am on the African continent. I am going to live and work here."

I had suffered a bout of travel sickness as we came into land so I was somewhat disorientated when a voice said, "Mr Biddulph, my name's Vic Newcombe. I've come to meet you. I will be your mentor for the next few weeks." Little did I realise at the time that Vic would turn out to be someone with whom I would have a close relationship in Malawi and for some twenty years afterwards in the UK.

Vic took us to his home, a bungalow owned by the University of Malawi. He introduced us to Yvonne, his French wife. My daughter's imminent problem of adaptation was already in evidence within Vic's family. His son Simon was a teenager attending St Andrews Secondary School in Blantyre. The school was expressly for the children of expatriates.

Simon was clearly unhappy with his situation. I observed him for several months sitting alone at the side of the road staring into space. He was eventually sent back to England to finish his education at a state boarding school.

The Newcombe household contained a monkey, Cheeko. He was very playful, jumping around the living room sometimes with charm, but more often than not leaving a trail of devastation. On this first visit he jumped on Mary's head, scaring her to death. He was eventually returned to the wild after it became clear that he had strayed beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

We were taken to our three-bedroom ground floor flat, which had been allocated to us.


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