Photograph of Janet Collyer

Janet Collyer

Born: 14th August 1958

Kampala, Uganda

Date of interview: 12th September 2006

Map showing where Janet Collyer came from

And where and when were you born?

I was born in Hampstead in London in August 1958.

And where were you brought up?

When I was about two, my parents went back to Uganda, and I was brought up there.

And can you remember what your very first memory ever, as a child is?

My very first memory was getting a rash, all round my face. It just came and went, and, they thought it was because I'd been sitting round the back of the house, thought I'd been bitten, it turned out it was just too much sun.

And how old were you?

I must have been about three or four. It was quite a scary rash, 'cause it made my face all grey and ashen.

So, what happened about this rash?

They said it was the direct sun which was very strange, 'cause I'm from Africa so the sun is there all the time. And they just put camomile lotion on it. And it, when I was older they gave me what I now know to be steroids, and that seemed to clear it up ... so it just kept coming back whenever it felt like it, until I had my second child and then it stopped ... never to be seen again.

So your parents were both Ugandan, so what were they doing in London that you were born here?

My dad was a mature student, not very mature, maybe in his mid twenties, and he had come to do an engineering degree at Imperial College ... and a year into that degree my mum came, and she was going to do a teacher training diploma and then she fell pregnant and, so I became the hobby. So once he finished his degree and did a bit of work experience we went back.

And were you the oldest, have you got brothers and sisters?

Yes I've got four sisters and a brother, I'm not the oldest, my other sister's three years older than me, big sister, and she stayed with my grandmother ... and then I've got a brother who was born a year after me also ... and then a sister who is seven years younger than me and twins who are ten years younger than me.

And where did you live in Uganda?

Quite a few places ... First we lived in a ... school. My mother was teaching. And I'm not quite sure what my dad was doing, it was a boarding school. And then we ... and that was about eighty miles from the capital. And then ... we moved to the capital, and my dad was working in the Ministry of Works. And moved around there really for the rest of our, the rest of the time.

And was your mother still teaching ... or?

No she, she stopped and did ... she used to do voluntary work, so with Save the Children Fund and the polio clinic and things like that, still in the area of teaching but maybe she'd do three hours at the polio school, I used to, it was a school where children with polio went and they would have intensive therapy you know water therapy, physiotherapy, and they'd give them three hours of education a day and so she'd do that, and sometimes and various other things like Girl Guides and ... so she was always at home, when I was at home.

How did your, do you know how your parents met?

No I don't, actually I'll have to ask them. I [inaudible] my mother saying that if my father used to move in very high circles cause his father was the Prime Minister and then he was murdered ... and the family had to sort of fend for themselves and so she said that she wouldn't have met my dad otherwise because he'd have been moving in circles way above her, but I never thought to ask her how they met so I'll have to ask her that.

[speaking at the same time] So this was your grandfather who was murdered, so what was that about?

He believed in ... he used to, he himself wasn't educated, so he couldn't, he could barely read or write, but he believed in education of ... boys and girls, so he donated land to what now is the main university in the capital. And people felt that educating the masses was not a good thing and so it wasn't very popular. So that's what I was told, I think there were possibly some other things, but someone just ... stepped up to him as he was going to church and shot him.

And was your grandmother alive?

Yes, yes she was.

And do you remember her?

Oh yes she lived 'till she was about ... at least ninety. Yes.

And tell me a bit about Uganda, the geography of it.

It's landlocked, it's got a very big lake in the South, called Lake Victoria, which is the source of the Nile, so it's ... the explorers, I think it was Stanley or Speak[sp] or someone like that or Livingstone, one of those, sort of trekked up the Nile from Egypt and trekked all the way up and when they got to Lake Victoria they sent a letter which arrived I think three months later saying 'I've found the source of the Nile.' So it's very green it's got lots of water ... not very big only a population of about fifteen to twenty million ... so, and that's doubled in the last fifty years.

And are there many large cities, or is it mostly ... rural?

It's mostly rural, there, you know I mean it's probably the size of ... Wales maybe, North to South, it's maybe about two hundred miles East to West, maybe three hundred so it's not very big.

And coming back to your childhood, what's your next sort of memory that you recollect as a child?

... Next memory is going to a nursery school ... called Aunty Claire's nursery and they would give us books that were maybe half, about the size of the palm of your hand, maybe a third of an A4. You have these books and she'd have written all the numbers and all the letters in them, just traced it ... and then, what I remember is that you'd write AAAAA, and then BBBBB, and then you'd close the book and then do the next ... the next day. I used to think I wish I could just keep going writing all these letters and numbers. And now I think about it, the, the owner of the nursery and her staff had sat down and written, in all these books for all these children, and yet I felt that they were really excited about what they were doing, so that was, that's a memory I had.

How old were you when you went to nursery ... was it nursery school?

Nursery school it was like kindergarten. Yes I must have been, maybe three, it was very soon, when we moved from the boarding school back into town was when I went and I maybe did about two years before school.

What, what language were you speaking at the time?

English at the nursery school ... yes all the education was in English. At that school, it wasn't the case in all the schools, even today, especially the rural schools they teach them in the vernacular language, change to English when they're about six.

So what would the vernacular language be?

Depending on where you are in the country there's, I mean there are probably six or seven languages, main languages and then maybe five or six ...

[speaking at the same time] It's quite surprising for the size of the size of the country.

Yes, yes and maybe five dialects of each one. So my mother can speak, both, lots of languages, she can speak, she can be understood in the East of the country and in the West, she's had an ear for languages so she'll pick it up.

And did, did you speak English at home?

Yes, we spoke both.

And what, do you have an, a Ugandan name.

Yes, yes I do

And wha, what is it?

Its, I'll say it and then spell it it's Nkabidwa.

And what was your maiden name?

Kiwana, which is K-I-W-A-N-A.

And that would have been your father's name, would it?

Yes, yes.

So, after nursery, was this a paid nursery school, did you have to pay to go there?

[speaking at same time] Yes, yes it was paid.

And then you went onto primary school?

Yes, went onto primary school and that was paid but it was subsidised by the government so, you pay, you were paid, it was fairly cheap.

Is that the system is it typi ... you have to pay for education do you?

Yes, yes - now you don't now it's free up to the age of eleven or twelve. And then you pay. But you can still pay. There's still a private system.

And what did you, was this a mixed school?

Yeah mixed boys and girls.

So what was home life like?

We used to play quite a lot, in fact we weren't allowed in our bedrooms during the day. I'd go to visit friends and they were allowed in their bedrooms during the day, which, so you'd either read or play in the garden.

Why was that then?

I don't know, don't know why. It was just a house rule that you don't, sit in your bedrooms, 'cause it was socialising or whatever, I don't know or knowing where we were or what we were up to.

Why did you move about so much?

It was my father's job, so ... it was only about twenty miles away but it was far enough away that it was a different school ... I think we were ... I don't have much memory of it except the house that we lived in then had two stories, well the other houses I'd been in were bungalows and this was two stories, so I remember that, a lot.

Was that ... unusual?

Two storeys. Not really, I think we'd just, had different, maybe the houses we'd lived in were government houses and they tended to be ... bungalows.

[speaking at the same time] These were houses owned by your father's, well the government he was working with the government, so came with the job?

Yeah, yeah so his civil servants got, they did, they got housing.

Did everybody in the family get on well then?

My father's family did, very much. My mother's family didn't figure as highly. I think they were, she's one of the older ones in her family, so and in fact all my, almost all my cousins are either, on her side are either my age or a lot younger. And also I think my father's family was just much more dominant in our lives.

So as you were growing up and becoming a teenager, where were you living then?

We, still in the capital we moved ... my father was getting, he got quite a lot of promotions and he ended up being the Head of what was called the National Housing Corporation so it was within the Ministry of Works but, it was what they called a sort of half ... not quite a quango but you know half state, half private. This job was to build housing that wasn't government housing so the town planners would come up with plans and then the National Housing Corporation would build them, as part of building houses, houses for workers. So he was Head of that. And when he came out of that we moved, moved house ... to a much much bigger house again within the capital.

I remember he, he had a secretary and she did shorthand really really quickly I remember that. And she used to be able to sit in meetings and she'd record everything that was said and then she'd type it all up, so she taught me how to type. And she was also the Sunday school teacher so we'd meet her on a Sunday, so I remember that quite a lot. I used to wonder why my father didn't do his own letters, as he could type, everything that he did would be typed, so I hardly ever saw him write anything, and I saw [inaudible] what I remember of him was his signature ...

Did you visit him at work then?


And this was in ...

School used to finish at four, and the system there was that he, he had a driver so sometimes we'd be picked up from school, he wouldn't be quite ready so we'd be taken to the office to wait for him and then get home maybe for five thirty six o'clock. And sometimes if he was going to go out visiting sites we'd go with him to the building site and then get home but it was always before dark and it gets dark around seven, so I remember we it never felt like we'd be home late ...

What did you think about those visits to his place of work?

I thought it was quite fun, actually. It was right up at the top of a, maybe twenty storey building so they had balconies so we'd go up and look at the balcony and that's when the secretary showed us how she typed and changed ribbons and all that sort of thing.

What sort of relationship did you have with your parents?

I was much ... very close to my mum. She was always there ... which was good and she seemed more gentle. 'Cause my dad was more autocratic and ... would just say 'No' or 'Yes' and wouldn't necessarily explain the reasons whereas Mum would explain ... everything, and she was always, like the one time, there was one time when she went off on a Girl Guide trip to Japan. And that was really strange, to wake up and she wasn't there, and to go to bed and she wasn't there.

How old was your father when his father was murdered?

He was about ... he wasn't quite ... I think he was in his late teens. In fact that's why he ended up being a mature student because then he, it was late teens or early twenties and ... yeah I think it was early twenties and he was at the university. And so he left school to, because he was one of the older ones of the family who left school to, basically look after his mum and ... siblings. And I think that's why they ended up being very close. Because they'd always had to get together. [pause] A lot of people who were friends would have just disappeared at that time because they weren't really friends they were ... what happens when you're a certain status you get people surrounding you that ... really only round you for ... the status rather than friends. And he had ... he dropped out of school at that point so that he could work and put his younger siblings through school, and that's why he, when he came to do the degree he was really finishing off ... something that he'd started, maybe [pause] ten years earlier. So that was in the mid '50s.

So at that time he had, was able then to finish?


And, it sounds like quite a privileged life, in terms of, the country. Did you feel that, at the time?

No, no, no that was really, I think a lot of that's down to my mother. We certainly didn't feel privileged ... at all I thought there were lots of people that were a lot more privileged, who don't have to wake up in the mornings who don't have to wash up and do kitchen rotas and all that sort of thing so, but looking back yes, yes it was. [pause] It was.

And how did you, what happened in schooling then as a teenager?

So after primary school finished in year seven, then the options for school were, for secondary school were, the best schools were boarding schools. It was just the way it, the system was because many of the school were set up by, at least in where we were were set up by missionaries and they tended to be boarding schools because ... no they weren't just for education it was for the whole person. Including Sunday chapel and things like that. So ... And we, there's a girls school that one of my aunts had gone to, so my sister and I went there. And my brother went to the school my father went to which was, it was a boy's school but by then it was mixed. As a boarding school and that was quite a shock. That's probably when I started to realise that have ... we do have, we are privileged. But until then I hadn't really, really felt it. That's what you'd get, because you still had to pay but then it was, I don't know what it was but it wasn't a lot of money. But it was a government school so pretty much you were just paying for your food.

And how did you feel going, and how far away was this from ... ?

Not too far maybe about fifteen miles.

But you were there throughout the term?


So how did you feel about leaving this ... quite close knit family and your mum who you were close to?

I didn't like it at all and I never really enjoyed it, and that's ... I never really felt that I wanted to put our children through boarding school because, it's very exposed especially I think an all girls school. It's very very insular.

And were all the students were they black ... Ugandans?

Yes almost, almost entirely. Yeah. And most of the non Ugandans would leave. So up to the top of primary school it was very international, depending where you went but for secondary school it ... most of them would go, if they were not Ugandans they'd go abroad to school. So it was almost from all parts of Uganda as well so I met a lot of people from, who were, there's me coming fifteen miles and they'd come two hundred miles. On a bus, so they'd say goodbye to their family and jump on a bus. So they'd be luck to get one visit a term.

So when did you finish secondary school, the boarding school?

That was six years of that, so, 1976.

And what did you do next?

I then came to university here, and we finished in because the calendar year's the academic year. So I finished my A Levels in November and then had seven months of just dossing around really. And then came in July to start university in September.

And where did you come to?

So I went to Girton College Cambridge. I think they, I came early because they were running a summer school for people who were doing engineering and sciences because they said they had worked out that the maths teaching was very variable, and so they offered a, must have been, wasn't very long maybe two or three week summer school where they'd bring you up to speed on maths. Or bring you up to the same level, really. So I came for that and there wasn't, it was a bit expensive to travel, so I stayed on and started university in October.

So did you, what how did you come to this decision to do a degree to do a degree here, in the UK?

It's kind of one of those things that happened to me. I wasn't really sure and my sister did her degree in Uganda, my elder sister. So I thought you know that's what I would do. But by then the situation was really quite dire, so the time I was at secondary school the situation in Uganda was getting worse and worse and worse, and security was ...

Do you mean the political situation?

[speaking at same time] The political situation. And it meant, you weren't secure at night ... and there were a, it was just, there was a lot of, there was guerilla warfare going on, in the rural areas, and so, my mother who was on her own by then, felt that the safest thing to do was to or the most stable thing was to educate us out of the country so that there wouldn't be disruption.

And did you you chose to do engineering. Why was that?

Because I hated writing essays. And I just found, and I still do find words very, very difficult. I write an e-mail now and it takes me nearly ten minutes to formulate ... maybe twenty sentences ... to do it and it's just ... it's writing blindness, you know it's almost like some people read and they can't see what they're reading I find the writing is, is really painful so I ... and I could do it but it really was ... effort. And so I ... thought engineering I could get away from writing much, it's maybe not quite, the place ...

Was it anything to do with your father's career?

Maybe a little bit but not much, not much. In fact my other sister, Maria she had ... there was a big fuss I remember when she chose her A Level subjects it was Physics, Chemistry and Maths. He was not at all happy with that cause he thought, he thought she'd be much better off as a Doctor. And at one point there was a very heated discussion and one of my uncles was trying to mediate. And ... and it's typical of my father's family they just all support ... the other without asking too many questions and at one point the, the uncle said 'By the way what's the combination that she wants to do that you don't want her to do?' And he said 'oh some stupid combination' which happens to be the one he did. And he said 'OK so the stupid combination' and there's my sister thinking 'it's what you did!' [laughs] and ... so he wasn't keen and I think it, I was, I was though, I was fascinated by it, 'cause having visited his sites and seeing buildings go up and all the scaffolding and how they decided where to put the windows and so on and so I did find just engineering in general quite interesting and not writing essays was a big bonus.

And ... it's and even now, not very common for women to take up engineering. it was regarded as a men's, a man's career. Did that occur to you or anybody else, was it part of the objection that your father made of your sister?

Possibly. He never really explained it. Never, think he just felt that, I think by then things were starting to get you know very dangerous and he felt that medicine was a career you could pick up and take anywhere, whereas engineering, he felt wasn't, even though he had picked it up and taken it everywhere. But it wasn't a male thing in fact he used to, he was very, he as almost stricter with us than he was with my brothers, saying you've got to be able to not rely on men to support you, so it wasn't that he didn't want to educate, in fact he was, he wanted her to be highly independent and not have to worry about ... men.

So it was quite a pragmatic approach really wasn't it?

Mmm ...

And how old were you when your father died?

About fourteen.

Was that a sudden thing or ...

It's one of those things we never really got to the bottom of it, but it looked like just a car accident. But it seems that there was a bit more to it than that. And ... so, his car was sort of in, taken away very quickly by the police, and he was delivered to the mortuary and ... fully clothed. And it used to be that especially if you had an accident in the rural areas that the local people would come and you know maybe take your watch and take your shoes or anything of value. He was completely ... intact in that sense. So it does appear that it was, it wasn't a real accident. It's something that we, as a family just don't talk about ... very much.

And my mother's, one of the things was at least we got a body to bury because many people didn't. One of my uncles he just disappeared one evening, and was maybe twenty years later that someone showed my aunt where they'd dumped his body, it was in a big reservoir, was about a hundred miles from the capital ... and so he never ever had a grave so in some ways we were lucky that we did. And that was quite ... quite a shock he'd just brought my sister back to school she'd had 'cause she was doing these...[laughs] wretched A Levels, wrong A Levels, and so they used to get allowed out a lot more, so she'd gone out on a Saturday you could leave at dawn, and you had to be back by dusk. So he'd just brought her back, about, just in time between six thirty and seven, I remember talking to him at the school gate because the gate closed at seven so it was oooh you know how are you and so on and then off he went. And that was, that was the last time I saw him and he um ... I've lost my thread now, what I was saying there.

Well we were talking about, that you were about fourteen at the time, so your older sister was seventeen.

She was seventeen, yes so she was doing her A Levels.

And this must have been a terrible shock to the whole family.

Mmm ... [pause]

And how, was this to do with the partly to do with the political unrest you were talking about?

Yes. 'Cause he'd been ... he'd been doing through a lot of change 'cause he'd been effectively sacked from his job. And not for an underperformance it's just they wanted to give the job to someone else. There was a lot of procurement in the job, you know you're building, huge estates it's like building something the size of Lower Earley, so there's a lot of ... lot of payments to be paid and a lot of, and you know, someone else wanted that job. So he said 'fine you know, I'll leave it' but they had actually gone through the process of sacking him rather than letting him leave it. He'd just started up his own engineering consultancy so he was just building that up ... and you know even then there were the odd phone calls that used to come to the house so ... people ... just at the house and for no real reason.

Was this a change in government at the time?

No. It was still, you know the same government. Well there was a change in government every four years before. There was a military coup. Well not four years before no I ... Yeah I guess it was four years before there'd been a change of government. So the overthrown the military government had come in and they'd gradually started to dismantle the things that they didn't like. It was a time that the Asian community was being sort of forced to leave the country. He was just part of that. He had a lot of friends from the Asian community 'cause that was the business community. And so the people he dealt, many of the people he dealt with in business were from there. And my aunt, my uncle who died he was a minister in the previous government. So when it was overthrown he'd fled, and then my aunt and her five children I think she had then had all come to live with us. It's just something my family my father used to do ... just open their house and we'd all double up in bunk beds so that they, until he came back, he came back about a year later. 'Cause he was going on assurances. But then a year after that he had, he had died. So um ... it was quite a turbulent time.

And did the, the young people at the time, did you feel afraid?

Again, not as afraid as we could have been, I think my parents both of them did a really good job of just shielding us from a lot of it. Being at school, you'd hear it 'cause you'd hear 'Oh so and so's father's disappeared', so you, 'Where's so and so oh their father's disappeared so they can't afford the fees anymore' so they'd be gone. And so you'd see some of that, but no at home we didn't really, didn't really feel it. And when my aunt came to stay with us, with the family, again, we were probably more exposed because effectively we were harbouring someone the government had an interest in, not a positive interest in, and my father was saying 'Oh we just need to stick together and it'll all work out and we'll find a way.'

Did it cause financial problems for you when he died?

Again, not that I noticed, and I don't know why unless he really, provided. He must have just really provided for us. Because we didn't notice he had a lot of insurance policies. And he'd put a lot of effort into making sure that things were ... OK. And so we didn't really notice as children we didn't notice a difference ... in our standard of life at all. In fact my mother was here recently I meant to ask her how did she do it because she wasn't working. And for at least a year after he died she didn't do anything. She just sat at home and wore black. And ... didn't drive, didn't go out visiting, and she came to my confirmation service, and left as soon as it finished and didn't go to the reception and went back home but otherwise she just stayed at home. I remember 'cause she'd buy, her clothes would wear out her black clothes and she'd buy more black clothes. I think she started driving two years after ... afterwards.

And then she started to go out more did she?

And she started to go out. And, we stayed on for two more years, nearly two years, and then she bought a house from a family friend who was leaving the country. And we came back from school and she said, 'Right, we've got a new house.' And then she changed, she sort of got out of herself and started doing things. I don't really know how we survived financially for those two years but we did. And I didn't feel I was getting anything less ... for it.

So you came, what were you thinking England, UK, Cambridge would be like, before you actually arrived? What were your sort of ... thoughts on what it would be like?

I was fairly open minded actually I knew it would be cold, but I was quite looking forward to not being at my boarding school, 'cause I just really didn't like it at all, and so it was just exciting.

And did you fly, to the UK?


So where did you take off from and where did you land?

I took off from Entebe which is the international airport, the main international airport and then I arrived in London, and a family friend ... of my father's, picked me up from the airport and took me to his family house, where his wife was Ugandan the children were Ugandan. And my memory was, oh television all day. It must have been in about a few days, we were just sat, ate scrambled eggs and watched television. And then I went off to this summer school. And afterwards I stayed with family again, friends, who had been in Uganda, friends of my parents.

So apart from scrambled eggs and television, what were your other early impressions of the UK?

Calculators. We had this introduction to maths and we had calculators. I'd never seen [inaudible] my slide rule. So that was an impression, I think the other impression was the early dinners. So at home we used to have dinners quite late, and it was partly because when my father was alive we'd used to wait 'till he got home to eat so it'd be eight nine o'clock. And here people eat at six so the first time I had something at six, I thought I'd maybe get something else ... and I realised no that's it that's the end of ... food. You might get a slice of toast if you're really lucky at ten o'clock, but otherwise that's it. That was the other thing. And I think the third thing was ... how young people were when they left home. Had sixteen year olds living away from home. And that surprised me.

Do you mean setting up home, for themselves?

[overlapping with interviewer] Setting up home, yes.

This wasn't, something you'd ... ?

No. In Uganda people just couldn't afford, it was very rarely could they afford at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen to set up home. And live away from home.

So what about social life at university?

Socially it was very nice I made some really good friends, that I still keep in touch with. I found the work really hard. And I think it's probably the first time in my learning career that I felt I was struggling to keep my head above water. So that wasn't fun. [pause] And I felt ... it was quite hard work just getting, 'cause I was a long way, about four miles from the college to the faculty. And that was quite a chore every morning, getting up and cycling four miles in the snow and the rain. And we used to get real snow then. And I remember trudging back one day and had to go to a building on the ground for some reason, and the snow was up to my thighs, so I was trudging through this orchard, to get to, think my lecturer lived in that building and I had to get there for a tutoring session, trudging through this white field, and it just felt like really hard work.

And how did you find the cold?

Quite difficult at first. Quite difficult. But living in college accommodation, once you were inside you were very warm. So it wasn't too bad it's just whenever you ventured out you got cold.

What did you bring with you when you came?

A few jumpers and an anorak. So I had to buy, one of the things I had to do when I was here was buy a winter coat. Which was, I thought I'm not having a duffle coat which actually would have been the wisest thing to have. And I got introduced to jumble sales where you could get some perfectly good winter clothing for not very much.

Were they, your fellow students doing engineering were they a male-female mix?

Not too bad because I was in a girls college I was tutored, there were three other engineers two of three of the engineers were there, so Girton was half the engineering contingent in my year, or women, so we were tutored together so we didn't feel ... different. Our tutor group I mean we had more tutoring in the male colleges than in our college because Girton just didn't have enough of the right engineering fellows they just tended to be men. And in the classes we weren't treated any differently at all. The only one that was treated differently was a girl who used to change her hair colour all the time. And so she got a lot of ribbing and we didn't have any real trouble at all.

Were you considered as equals in ... ?

Yeah, very much so. In we worked, in fact one of the things we had to do was work in industry to find ourselves summer jobs in the industry, and so my first summer I went to Rolls Royce in Derby, and I can't remember how I got that, 'cause I don't remember being interviewed.

What about racially?

Very ... hardly any at Cambridge, um ...

Were there many other black people at university?

No, almost as many as there were women engineers, about forty, women engin-, women, maybe in the black communities maybe about forty, forty or fifty, it's not very many, I know that because they did a count. It's one of the things the university did was to count how many sort of African students it had. And it came up with forty. And ... but no there really wasn't any.

The first time I really did experience racism was when I went to work. I was looking for accommodation in Bristol, in a shared house, and I encountered prejudice there, but I didn't in Cambridge.

So it, you graduated, and you were just talking about your first job.


So where was that then?

In Bristol, so I ...

For a company?

For a company, an American company. And the reason I I applied for ... I got most of the jobs I applied for so I had about four or five job offers, all in engineering, and all except this one were in sort of G, C Marconi pleasant type places which were very good places to go then, not so good now I think I'd have been out of a job if I'd have gone there. And this one was because, I went to speak to them because they had offices in Singapore, it wasn't even electronics I'd applied to I'd applied to Schlumberger which was oil, and the person who interviewed me, said he was the [inaudible] director and he'd come up to the university to interview so they were running interviews in, one of the hotels, and he said 'I'm terribly sorry, we shouldn't really be interviewing you for this job.' So I said 'Oh, why not' and he said, 'Well, we don't send women into Singapore. Its just, it's not, you know single women aren't welcomed by the government. So we shouldn't have really been into, but since you were on the list I thought I'd better see you.' He said 'But I've got another company a small electronics company and they've got an office in Bristol would you like to go and work for them?' So I said 'Ohhhh, I don't know.' So he said, 'You could get to America that way' because I was thinking maybe I'd go and end up working from Singapore to America so I said, 'OK I'll go and have a look at them. And that's how I ended up in, in Bristol.' And it's ironic that, this HR Director, I still keep in touch with him, then he phones me and says, 'Do you know anyone who could do this job?' 'Cause he's a headhunter now, he says 'Oh I've got to find someone the person I hired for them disappeared, you know decided he didn't like it and then he walked off so I've got to fill this place really quickly can you get someone?' So we still keep in touch but our first meeting was really not ... not auspiscious at all. [laughs]

In the meantime, what, you'd been back to visit Uganda, and, what was happening with the political situation? You'd left it being quite in turmoil ...

Yeah ... So one of the reasons I was struggled in university is that there was even more fighting, and when I went back, just after I'd finished my degree, that was ... 1980, they'd just had a new government that appeared to be better than the old one, again it was still military. And it was peaceful but it was still very dangerous, and you'd had people over a decade who'd been living in lawlessness, so you know the ten year olds had become twenty year olds, and so it was still turbulent and it had another six years before it really started to settle.

But thorughout it, my mother had almost got second wind because she had the three of us, my sister and brother as a big group, and then the baby group which was my younger sister and the twins, and she just threw herself into getting them through school and sorted out, and so though it, things were tough, she was finding ways round, making it happen and so they all, got them all through school, educated them in Kenya which is the country next door and which was more stable. And so in terms of what I remember is how my mother was coping, because she decided, when she came out of mourning, she thought right I, she tried farming, and investing in farm, but the distances were too far, and she wouldn't be back in time, and she was late getting the children from school, she thought I can't do that, so she decided to go into property. And has been doing that ever since. And so she each time I got back you could see she was more and more settled in what she was doing.

So your plans were, you would have been happy to have gone to America, or anywhere else in the world?


What, why did you stay in England?

Well I did get to America [laughs] after about a year, year eighteen months, a company I was with in Bristol, sent me to America but in between I'd met Keith, my husband. So I still went to America but then he persuaded me to come back. And that was it. And I worked in England ever since.

And how did you come to be in Reading?

Keith was working in Wargrave, and my company was in Reading. So, just up at the Shire Hall, when it was still called Shire Hall, the council had rented out one floor because they couldn't fill it, having built it. It's a very lovely bulidnng actually, very lovely, lovely air conditioning. So we moved, and within a year, Keith had changed job and was working in London, and my office had moved to Swindon, but we decided to stay here.

And what was your first impression of Reading as a place?


So what was it like when you first came to live here then, in 19-, would that be eighty some ... ?

1988. What did it look like it looked very much like Bracknell, very much post war, functional. The biggest thing about it was the train to London every five minutes.

What about the people in Reading?

The nearest town we'd been to before been frequented was Oxford. So Oxford and Reading was like chalk and cheese. Oxford was interesting and Reading, didn't seem that, that vibrant. Didn't seem that, even The Hexagon wasn't interesting. And that was it for the theatres. But then when we looked a bit harder and found that the theatre on Mount Pleasant, and the one near Shire Hall. You could find everything you needed if you looked but it wasn't, handed to you on a plate like it was in Oxford.

So you'd had your first child, and you were still at work, and you settled in Reading, and you didn't like Reading much, but how long have you been living in Reading now Janet?

Oooh, eighteen years. Eighteen years last August, this August just gone.

And ... Why did you stay?

It just felt we'd been chasing, we'd moved three times in five years, and we just needed to stop and settle and try not to change 'cause once we had Nassali our daughter, things like who's going to look after the child, what happens if you get a burst pipe, it's just the you need the support network around, and when it's just the two of you you could just pack your bags and move on, but, with a child, it's what about school, and nursery school, how do you find out about it and so on and so, we stayed here because it would be more stable for, for Nass.

And how did you find it having a baby, a young child without the family around you and the support of, your quite large family?

Sometimes it was very lonely, very lonely especially if she was ill. So ... but Keith's parents helped us an awful lot, especially after they retired. They would drive down and come and help, even though it was eighty miles. They would just jump into the car and come and help. It was wonderful, and ... my sisters who were then quite a bit older, they would come down from London.

So in the meantime you have another, a son, and your mother comes to visit and ... how old is your mother now?


She still lives in Uganda?


But her family are ...

So four of us are here, and two of us are in Uganda, so my sister and my brother are in Uganda.

So where, you've been eighteen years in Reading now, and quite a long time in the UK, where do you think of as home?

Home ... That's, er ... I don't know. When I go to Uganda I feel, that's home. If my mother wasn't there I don't know that I'd feel quite the same. I don't really have a sense of home. It's just where the family is.

So, would you ever move permanently back to Uganda?

Probably not, not unless there was a big change. But certainly would we have a base there, yes. It depends, I mean we've still got a few more years before our son stops being dependent.

So how do the children feel about their Ugandan heritage?

Nassili, the eldest, she feels quite, stongly about it. She's made an effort to keep in touch with my family there, and two years ago she visited on her own ... completely on her own, catching a flight, and changing in Amsterdam and going off and then changing in Nairobi, so she's done that. My son isn't so sure, I think he's just happy to be where his parents are, so he's happy to visit but not on his own. I think he feels he's more of a Reading lad.

Janet, I too stumbled on this interview. I remember walking with you to French classes at Shimoni after school and not being allowed to eat anything because we were still in school uniform and would bring shame upon Nakasero!

Denise, 25 November 2009

Hi there reading this has brought back old memories. I see Ali Oduka sent a message I remember him, he was with us at Nakasero - its such a long time ago . I've been livng in South Africa now for longer than I've lived In Uganda - 26 years...

Alice Barlow-Zambodla, 14 August 2009

Hello Janet.(Hello Ali if you look back at site) I recall at Nakasero being 2nd in the class...2nd to you! I came across class photo on facebook nakasero group. Sad what Uganda went through in the 70's. We left of course - back to Belfast (Fyring Pan into Fire?!) I did Engineering too and mean to arrange a trip back to KLA 'someday'. Best Wishes Stephen Drennan

Stephen Drennan, 23 July 2009

My name is Ali Oduka. We studied together at Nakasero Primary School in the 60s finishing in 1970. I found it very pleasing to hit your site and thereyou were, it really amazing. I last saw you in 1970. Im regularly in touch with your brother and we discuss the good old days. Well Im still in Uganda and working as an independent TV Producer. I have 5 children oldest is 29 and youngest 17.
Greetings to your family.
Ali Oduka

Ali Oduka, 12 May 2009

Dear Janet,
I was trying to trace your sister Maria and typed in your name and this came out. Hello -though you won't have a clue who I am. I was a class above Maria in secondary school. I worked as a newsreader for Radio uganda and television in the early 80's. I now live in London with my youngest daughter- age 16. the rest have flown the coop. It isgood that you have your children clued on to their family history. So many of us metamorphosise and forget our roots. Anyway say hello to Maria. Strangely, in the photo, you are wearing the blouse I have on now. Bye. M.I.Masaba.

Mary Irene Masaba, 4 December 2007

i am alistair's friend adam and i think this is an intersting interview and its good to find out about his parents heritage. uganda seems like a nice place, i dont know about holiday resorts or houses there.

adam, 18 April 2007

hi im one of alistair's friends from school. its cool that you have a website. Uganda sounds quite cool. i might visit there some time.

Gaz, 18 April 2007

Janet,I stumbled on this interview,and felt quite nostalgic.
I was in the same class with your big sister,Maria,and I sadly remember the day of your Dad's passing.My name then was Sarah Musoke.
Good to know that you are doing well, and incidentally you look exactly the same way as when I last saw you in High School!!! What do you eat?!!!
Greetings to Maria,when you get in touch.

Sarah Matovu, 16 April 2007

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