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Round the Bend: Pages 61 through 63

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 61 through 63

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

    ```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)



    return route. We thrashed out an agreement on these lines. He told me that he would send a copy out to their office in Batavia and I should probably receive instructions in Diento to go on there for whatever freight load they could get together for me.

    I started almost immediately, in the new Airtruck. I'm not going to say much about that first hurried journey through the East; this isn't a travel book. It took me a week to get to Diento, flying seven or eight hours every day and servicing the aircraft in what was left of the day. We got good weather all through India and Burma, but we struck a lot of monsoon rain in what they call the inter-tropical front as we went through Malaya; it got to be fair weather again by the time we reached Diento.

    I never saw anything of all these countries, hardly, on that trip. I was working all the time when the machine was on the ground, and it was dark each night by the time we could drive in from the aerodrome to a hotel. I got just tantalizing glimpses of brown men and pretty Chinese girls in flowered pyjamas, enough to make me realize what I was missing.

    Diento was a huge refinery town of over twenty thousand employees, many of them Dutch. It had a good airstrip, and I put down there about midday after flying in from Palembang. The strip wasn't much different from any other aerodrome in any part of the world, but the grass was a bit darker in colour. The cars and trucks and roads were all the same. It's a funny thing about the tropics, I have found. You go expecting everything to be quite different, and there's so much that's the same.

    My passenger was a young Dutch-American scientist; he knew all about Diento, because he'd been there before. They sent a truck down for the laboratory gear and his boss came down to meet him in a car. We waited to see the stuff unloaded and safely in the truck, and then I went up with them in the car to the refinery offices. That was a big place. It stretched for miles out into the bush and along the bank of a river, rows and rows of storage tanks, and pipes and cylindrical towers and all sorts of things. Full-sized ocean-going tankers came into Diento to take the oil away to ports all over the world.

    As I expected, in the office they had instructions to send me to Batavia about a hundred and fifty miles farther on; they thought


    there was a small return load waiting for me there, but they didn't know what it was. I would have gone back to the aerodrome and got off there and then, but the Dutchmen wouldn't hear of it. They insisted that I stay the night and have a party with them and relax, and after all that flying I was quite glad to. They had a club by the riverside and they gave me a fine bedroom in that. There was a swimming pool and pretty girls out of the offices in it, and a concert and a dance after dinner, all by the riverside with sampans going past, and lights over the water, and flying foxes wheeling overhead in the velvety darkness, and a huge tropical full moon. I drank more Bols than I wanted to, but they were so kind and so pleased to see a strange face, one couldn't refuse. I got rather tight, but so did everyone. A good party.

    They sent me down to the aerodrome next morning in a car. I made a check over the machine, cleaned filters, drained sumps, swept out the cabin, and refuelled. Finally I took off at about ten-thirty for the short flight down to Batavia across the Sunda straits, and found the aerodrome, and came on to the circuit behind a Constellation of the K.L.M. The Dutch pilots were all speaking English on the radio to their own control tower, which seemed odd to me. It certainly made everything very easy, because I couldn't speak a word of Dutch.

    I landed and taxied to the parking position, and locked up the machine and went to the Control and customs for the necessary clearances. It all took a long time because Java was in an uproar with a full-scale war going on against the Indonesian Republicans, and there were military officers in all the offices wanting to see every sort of document. The K.L.M. people had been warned to expect me and were very helpful, and got me through the various offices as quickly as anyone could, and laid on transport for me, and took me into town to the Nederland Hotel.

    The hotel was crowded out with military, and the best that they could do for me was a dormitory room with three other beds in it, and other chaps' gear lying round all over the place. I was used to that sort of thing; we'd had it at several other places on the way. I dumped my stuff on an empty bed and saw the room boy, and went down to the dining room for lunch. I had


    been warned by the K.L.M. chap that most offices took a siesta in that hot place after the midday meal; a suitable time to get to the Arabia-Sumatran office would be between three and four. I took the tip, and went up after lunch for an hour on the charpoy myself.

    There was another chap in the room now, lying stretched out on the bed under his mosquito net, naked but for a short pair of trunks. I couldn't see him very clearly through the net. I said conventionally, "I hope none of this stuff's in your way."

    He turned and looked at me, and then he sat up and lifted the side of the net to see me better. I stood there gaping at him for a moment in surprise.

    It was Connie Shaklin.