Although I thought I had done as much as I could to make everything ready for the family’s arrival, things were still fairly primitive. There was the persistent rat, or rather family of rats, which kept swimming up through the pipes into the bowl of the toilet.
It could be somewhat disconcerting to see a large rat popping up into the bowl just as you were about to sit down. Kong Miew had virtually to dismantle the sanitation system before we tracked down their nest in the septic tank. Then there were the smaller insect pests.
A few nights after the family arrived, I was awakened by a piercing scream. Something, Olive said, had run across her face and chest, in the darkness. She had brushed it off and it disappeared. I thought it might be a snake or a rat and I searched the bedroom thoroughly by the light of my torch, but I found nothing.
I tried to persuade her to get back under the mosquito net. She was still uneasy, however, and to put her mind at rest, we stripped the bed. Under her pillow was the biggest centipede I had ever seen. It was a vicious red creature with a bite which could be extremely poisonous. It was lucky that she had brushed it off in the direction it was crawling, since if brushed off backwards centipedes can sometimes leave a nasty weal on the skin.
It became a drill every night thereafter to search all the beds very thoroughly and to spray insect repellent under the children’s mosquito nets, before they went to bed; and then, after they were settled in, to tuck the net in firmly all round, so that nothing could get at them.
And it was an absolute rule that all shoes must be examined in the morning before being put on, to check that there were no scorpions or centipedes in them. I had been bitten on the ankle by a scorpion a month or two earlier, and it had left me with a painful and badly swollen leg for a few days.
The girls lived charmed lives. Like everyone on the estate, they were given Paludrine every day. This kept malaria at bay. During our stay in West Africa, Catriona and I had both suffered bouts of malaria which tended to recur when we were back in UK, and Olive had attacks of dengue fever and phalaria.
However in Borneo, in spite of the primitive conditions, we all remained remarkably healthy. The children’s only problem was the odd tummy upset. Olive dewormed them every few months. There were also, of course, the odd insect bites and stings, which Olive treated with the tube of Anthesan which was never far from her reach.
The family settled down quickly to their life in the jungle. It became a routine for them to walk up along the riverside path through the wood, to meet me in the office in the late afternoons. It must have been an amusing sight for anyone passing on the river to see the procession walking along the river-bank: Olive in the lead, followed by Catriona, Fiona, the two bull-mastiffs, the horse, and finally the two geese taking up in the rear.