Life Before Rotary: Derek Reynolds

MY most vivid memory as a young boy growing up in North Belfast in the early 50's was when my father had invited an important visitor to our house for dinner. The gentleman was German and he was negotiating to sell a high-tech printing machine to my Dad's employers, the Belfast Telegraph newspaper. I was dispatched to bed early, but could not sleep. I often had nightmarish visions of Adolf Hitler who appeared to me as the Devil! Around 8.30 pm I made a dramatic appearance in the dining room. Dressed in striped pyjamas and equipped with a toy gun and my father's old tin helmet (ex-Royal Artillery 1939-45) I shouted "You're a German! Bang! Bang! You're dead." Happily, the Teutonic chap had a sense of humour and the vital piece of machinery (named the KLISCHOGRAPH) was duly installed in the newspaper offices in Belfast.
Another drama occurred at the time of the dreaded "ELEVEN PLUS". Although I got through, thanks to copious quantities of Mum's "Nerve Tonic", the expected grades were not achieved at the subsequent Common Entrance Examination for one of Ulster's premier schools, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.
I was installed in Form 1C, but Mum had a quiet word with the Headmaster and by Christmas I was in Form 1B, and by the following September, Form 2A! Perhaps not surprisingly I was then awarded the School's prize for General Progress. The Headmaster opined that "the cream has risen to the top of the milk"!
This perception of progress was almost shattered when I was accused, following an altercation on the School's main staircase, of knocking out a fellow pupil's teeth. Luckily, the charge was withdrawn when it was established that the lad had a mouth full of Mint Imperials after a recent visit to the Tuck Shop. The Vice- Principal nevertheless put me on notice that he did not want to see me re-join "the guttersnipes of the Lower Remove"! Aaah! Those were the days!
During my teens, I was able to gain some work experience at my Dad's newspaper offices. There were some challenging duties such as watching important football matches then taking the sports journalists' reports by taxi to central Belfast to catch the late editions. At other times, I was seconded to the Photographic Library where I could conduct vital research into iconic cinematic figures such as Brigitte Bardot!
Moving on to Queen's University. I took Modern Languages with subsidiary Psychology. The latter, a popular "filler course", took place in a 150-seater lecture theatre in which girls outnumbered boys by about 5 to 1. The next step was to study Personnel Management in Manchester at a particularly fortuitous time (1968), with the team I had supported since the early 50's achieving European Cup glory.
Early 1970 saw me bobbing up and down on the English Channel as a Folkestone-based Immigration Officer. The ferries could take over 1,000 passengers, so it was hard work, even after we joined the EU. Every document was meticulously examined, even the identity cards of endless French and German kids coming to the Language Schools. Still, I did get to meet interesting personalities such as jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli and film actor Peter Finch.
A subsequent transfer to Heathrow resulted in encounters, not just with Swedish au pair girls, but also Rudolf Nureyev, Sam Peckinpah, and Jacqueline Bisset. Some guys have all the luck!
Before, and after my elevation to Chief Immigration Officer, I was posted no less than three times to that "Giant of Africa"-NIGERIA. Perhaps the powers-that-be at HQ had heard that it's former nickname was "The White Man's Grave"! My best friend during the first tour was (you guessed it!) a German. He had worked as the Vice-Consul in both Liverpool and Lagos. He was universally known as "Klaus the Scouse"! A larger than life figure, he had a Dachshund {sausage dog) which he frequently admonished by shouting "Pass auf, Bacchus"! This sounded rude to me, until I realised that he was using the German verb "aufpassen"-which means to pay attention or "Watch It"!
I'm informed that several senior members of Seaford Rotary Club have already suggested that I have enough material for a sequel-if not a series. So, on that note, I shall say "Au Revoir"!

posted: Wednesday, 5 October 2016

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