Some time in 1957, His Excellency the Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James
Robertson, went on tour in Northern Nigeria, the tour starting in Kano where we -
I was ADC at the time - spent two days before going on by road to Katsina and Sokoto.
On the first evening in Kano, HE gave a large drinks party at the Residency and all the
great and good of the government and commercial world were invited. Perhaps there
might have been a hundred or so in all.
The party was sticky. Neither the Resident, Tim Johnstone, nor his wife Berice found
that sort of occasion easy to deal with. Although the Governor-General was the nominal
host, the party was in the Johnstone's house and they knew the guests as we could not.
I could see that HE was looking distinctly unhappy at the way things were going - or not
going - and I was at a loss as to how to improve matters. Suddenly there was a bellow
across the more or less silent room, "David, give us a song".
When the Governor-General of Nigeria demands a song of you and you are his ADC,
there is no getting out of it. What to sing though? Opera? No, not the right sort of
occasion, and anyway I don't know any operatic arias. A hymn so that some people can
join in? No, even if I knew the words the audience might not. The Ball of Kirriemuir?
HE would know it but he could hardly be expected to approve of it in the current situation.
Actually, I think I only hesitated momentarily before I launched into Green Grow
"I'll sing you one-O. Green grow the rushes-O.
What is your one-O?
One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so".
And it goes on for twelve verses and I went on, alone, unassisted, to the bitter end, and
I am pleased to say without stumbling over the words.
I can't say that my performance was greeted by rapturous applause from the
assembled company. I think perhaps they were not sure how to react. But one voice
called out across the room -- "Well done David" came the voice loud and clear of my
master. And that was certainly approval enough for me. And I think the party did go a
little better after that.
There is a sequel to this tale. Four years later, newly married, I was posted to Mubi in
the Northern Cameroons. On the first evening that we were there, my wife and I went to
say hello to the District Officer, Derek Mountain, whom I did not know although
I suppose we must have met on some occasion. As we walked into his house, his wife
Anita exclaimed "Oh, it's the man who sang the song". Thus began a great enduring