Ronald A (Ron) Bullock
Ten years at University of Nairobi (and its predecessors). Formally retired 1996,
after 26 years in the Dept. of Geography, University of Waterloo, Ontario.
Various projects in Kenya in the 1960s and 1970s, Nigeria in the 1980s, Zimbabwe and
China in the 1990s and 2000s. Quit my last China project in July of 2002. Now really retired, and
living in Ontario, Canada.
Recollections of School:
I was surprised to see from the recent photos that Junior House is still in use, and, in the
clip from the Impala, that they had been anticipating replacing both it and Intermediate in 1957
or so. That must make some kind of record. I don't imagine that they still build crystal sets
there, but we certainly got a lot of pleasure after lights-out from listening to Cable and
Wireless, which, of course, was broadcasting from its station next to Rhodes/Nicholson. Less
happily remembered were those awful 6 am punishment runs round the playing fields, passing C&W
on the way. My only other memory really was the fun we used to have in evening prep during the
sausage fly season. Oh - and I nearly forgot those dreaded trips to the san for shots and
pull-your-pants-down-please! (I find in retirement that the term "second childhood" is laden
with more meaning than I ever imagined!)
I remember the mud and the cold were awful during the rains. And how cold those terrazzo
floors got in the main block, although the parquet floors of the dormitories were a welcome
relief. The flight along the short balcony to the bathrooms, too often supplemented with a
cold shower when you got there if you happened to have crossed one or another of the prefects,
is another chilling memory. But in warmer weather, it was wonderful to get your mattress out
onto the balcony and lie and watch the shooting stars during the annual passing of whatever
meteor shower it was that went by at that time of year. Sunday afternoons would generally be
spent in the garden with someone's wind-up gramophone playing whatever passed for the pops in
those days. Or maybe on a secret pushy ride over the valley to you-know-where. There was even,
occasionally, a good excuse on those days when Vic Preston was competing in the cross-country
picky races over St Austins way.
I don't really know if the food was good or bad - merely that we were always ready for it,
although I never quite understood those who scrambled to get the few available lard sandwiches
at teatime; ugh!
It was during my first term that we heard dark rumours of two senior boys getting six from
Flakey and then being expelled for having held up the train. I was never able to verify the
details, but perhaps someone can at this late date shed some light on the mystery. It seems
they had greased the line with butter, which caused the Uganda mail to grind to a halt on what
I believe was the steepest rail gradient not only in Kenya, but in the empire (1:52 if I
remember correctly). Even when they got the rails cleaned up, it seems the train had to reverse
back into Nairobi station to get a good run at the hill - 36 hours late, I heard. And whilst
talking about the old alignment, the up-country types will probably remember how the down train
used to stop outside school to let us off, and how miserably we dragged our bags or trunks up
the hill to our respective houses.
The end of term ride was of course a happier occasion, but how slowly those trains pulled
towards the final home-coming. So slowly that around Muguga you could get off and take a walk,
and if, as it sometimes did, it actually stopped, you could have a quick game of strip poker
beside the tracks. No diner on those trains, but I remember an hour's stop in Nakuru, during
which the well-heeled grown-ups headed to the Railway Hotel (or was it the Nag's Head) and we
ate our sandwiches. Or on some other schedule, the stop was at Timboroa, where there was also a
dining room, and African vendors would flog fruit or gum or anything else that would sell. I
remember someone on one trip putting a lighted squib on the guy's upraised tray with devastating
effect. The great thing on those trips was to get assigned to one of the old corridorless
carriages, particularly the end one, a sort of stateroom with windows all round and a private
bathroom (or perhaps just a loo, I suppose). While the train was in motion, you were quite free
of the escort's supervision. Funny, they never seemed to put the girls on the same train. But
then I probably would have lacked the courage to take advantage if they had!
Mostly, it's the people that I remember, and some of the events, amusing or not so amusing, with
which they were associated. Some, I'm sure, I have forgotten; others are simply unlamented, but
a few reminiscences follow.
There are those I remember only faintly, like the notoriously irascible Baldy (Mr. Lamont), whom
I was glad to have no reason to notice except for his bumper sticker. "Better five minutes late
in this world than twenty years early in the next". At the time, I wasn't sure I agreed. Another
was Dudu (Mr. Knight), who seemed anxious to kid us that he was six inches taller, as he bounced
around the school. And who was it whose walk gave the impression that his feet were fighting a
losing battle to catch up with his head? Others are a little more clearly in focus.
I think of M'korbe (Mr. Atkinson) as among the more benevolent characters. I only had him for
one term, but I remember him trying to organize our seating in the hall at the beginning of
term. Scott, and I suppose Clive, had already been settled in the rear seats and there was an
awful din outside. Above it all, we heard M'korbe trying to regain control as he stammered:
"Stop", he said, "m-m-m-mst-o-o-o-op, h-hm-m-m-st-o-o-o-op - SHUTUP!"
This would of course have been in what somebody has called the "temporary" hall, down the hill
towards the railway. I didn't know they built a new one, but I do remember the installation of
a new stage. It was inaugurated with one of Jasper Maskellyne's splendid magic shows, during
which he tore huge splinters from the new stage as he demonstrated that the swords he was about
to thrust through the woman in the box were indeed real. I couldn't see Flakey's face, but I bet
he was puce - or, perhaps, unusually grey!
Mr. McCallum was my 4th form math teacher. Somehow, and it has always been a mystery to me, he
used to get terrific results from us in School Cert. His classes always seemed like bedlam, but
we enjoyed and we apparently learned. One day, he tapped his chalk in the board vigorously and
shouted "Eyes here! Eyes here!" To which our irrepressible clown, Peter Rushworth, replied "I
think it should be I AM here sir!" McCallum could always see the funny side and I think we loved
The form master in my 3rd year was "Stalkie" (Mr. Chadwick), sometimes also known as "Chaddy". He always seemed a bit odd to me and
I believe I was rather frightened of him. We never really got on. One famous day, after I had
returned from the family's leave in UK and as I was walking down to assembly a few days into the
new term, I was struck by a series of books, which I had forgotten had been left in his
cupboard. An absolutely furious Chaddy was now flinging them at me from the classroom verandah,
accompanied by a torrent of abuse. Another day, he took the tea chest, which we had for garbage,
and emptied it on the floor. He climbed in and squatted down in it. He was in his tank in Italy
in 1943. He told of how, somewhere in the Po valley, the Gurkha infantry accompanying his unit
beheaded a group of German prisoners after a sniper had shot their CO, although the unit had
supposedly surrendered. I guess we didn't always appreciate the things that some of our teachers
had been through - and which no doubt had lasting effects on some of them.
I don't remember much about Mr. Duff, the quiet Australian, but he was another veteran of WWII,
who once told us he had been part of the fighter escort for Enola Gay. I expect there were
others who didn't mention their wartime experiences.
One who did was Bertie (Mr. Lockhart), my favourite because I was into music and, I suppose,
because there were no assignments and he was the only teacher with whom I had a purely voluntary
relationship. Bertie was a met officer on an aircraft carrier and told me once about the
terrible responsibility of having to advise the captain on a route to Gibraltar from the north
Atlantic. It was a question of which was the worst danger - a great storm on one approach, or
submarines on the other. I don't remember which he opted for, but they got to Gibraltar, where
the Captain came steaming in based on his memory of the place rather than on his charts.
According to Bertie, they had built a new breakwater across one end of the harbour since he had
last been there. The carrier was thrown into a sharp turn, full engines astern, and sank a
merchantman. The Captain was assigned as harbour master and told to clear up the mess. I can't
vouch for Bertie's story, but he told it with great verve and humour and that twinkle in the
eye, which I think we all recognized as symbolic of the great joy he took in life.
I didn't have Goldy (Mr. Goldsmith) until he was my form master in 5Arts. He was noted for a
variety of mannerisms, mostly having to do with rippling fingers through his matador-style hair
and flicking his matching moustache with thumb and middle finger. Beyond these, we noticed that
he would say "you see" every two seconds, or so it seemed. It got so formalized and abbreviated
that it became little more than a grunt, an uh-he. We got to counting how often he did it in a
class. I know when my turn came, I counted something like 35 y'sees in the 40-minute period and
reported to the class when we were done. I was quite mortified when during the next class, he
said "Oh. I must stop doing that mustn't I - 35 times yesterday was it Bullock?!"
But Goldy was a good sport. We had a fellow in our class who, for some no doubt quite unjust
reason, got under everyone's skin. He sat in the back corner under the manhole giving access to
the rafters. Some group decided to "fix" him. During break one day, an empty ink can was filled
with water and suspended from the rafters over his head. A string ran outside, along the wall,
and in through a hole bored (or carved, actually - this was one of the great assets of those old
wooden classrooms) in the wall beside Peter Rushworth's desk. Part way through History, Peter
yanked the string and the whole thing worked! The fellow was soaked. Goldy's rather unexpected
reaction? In his somewhat clipped voice, he said "Oh jolly hard luck Smith! I think you'd better
go back to the dorm and change." Nothing else was ever said about it and we just knew that Goldy
was on our side regarding this aggravating fellow - whose name was not really Smith.
It was also in the fifth that I had my introduction to Dougal ( Mr. Gammie). He taught English
and was notoriously capable of falling asleep during class. And given our conspiracy of silence,
one time we clocked him at close to ten minutes. But give him a chance to recite Beowulf in the
original and he was in ecstacy; such ecstacy one day, that, as he paced up and down on the
classroom dais, he backed off the end. We had been expecting some calamity such as this for
quite a while, but it seemed to come as a total surprise to him. He made a brave recovery, but
it was some time before he regaled us again with the totally unintelligible Beowulf.
Johnny Riddell is remembered for many things. I suspect he was a friend of Dugal's, though it
is hard to imagine two less likely drinking buddies. One night, when I was in intermediate dorm,
and at about 2 a.m., the pair of them came rolling home totally sozzled. So much so that their
antics wakened the whole dorm. They staggered into the mini-quad in Scott, where Dugal lived,
and treated us to a monumental peeing match, the like of which was never seen before or since.
I have sometimes wondered whether we were the only witnesses to this event or whether there
might have been other consequences behind the scenes.
My last year is something of a blur, except for Jawbones (Mr. Walmesley) and his field trips,
usually around Ukambani. The discomfort of bumping along on the floor of that awful old van he
owned was more than compensated by the happiness of a whole day away and the discovery of the
joys of outdoor education. I met up with him again some twenty years later in Canada. He had
left New Zealand to come and teach in Huntsville, a couple of hours drive north of Toronto. He
saw my name in the university calendar and called to inquire if I was that young lad he
remembered from Nairobi days. He probably thought of me as one of his successes, and though my
future life actually unfolded through a long series of accidents, I saw no reason to disabuse
him. My wife and I went up to see him and his wife. For some reason it was a surprise to find
him married. They had a lovely old house with a garden sweeping down to the river, where he had
a boat moored at his dock. Huntsville can be nice in the summer, but is rather frigid for too
many months of the year and I think a winter or two up there was more than he could take. He
soon returned to New Zealand, since when I have heard nothing of him.
I know I have said nothing of Flakey (Mr. Fletcher, Headmaster). I suppose I should, despite
very mixed emotions. It was through Bertie and the choir that I first came into closer contact
with him. Until then I had seen him only as some remote and rather odd character who had a
reputation for not wanting to hear any but religious music and for having an antipathy toward
females; but above all who had the power to give you six! I have no idea whether there was any
basis of truth for these stories. Certainly there was one occasion when, passing by, he told the
Scott prefects to turn off their gramophone. We also knew that we could rapidly drive him from
the House dance by putting up one of the girls to go and ask him for a dance. Given these facts,
I have sometimes marvelled that his sense of duty, which so conspicuously deserted him on the
dance floor, nevertheless enabled him to deliver, just once to each class in their school
career, and for a full two hours, that excruciating annual lecture. That lecture to which we
went in such high anticipation, but about which no more need be said.
In the choir he was a perfect menace, everlastingly creeping up behind you and in the most
menacing of whispers, growling with his beery breath, "you're flat!" or "you're sharp!" God
knows if we were, or whether he really knew the difference, but it was very intimidating. On
another occasion, Flakey stuck his nose into Scott prefects' study (or perhaps it was Munya
who did this - Mr. Cobb, Housemaster) and threw open the lockers. Had he been tipped off? In
any event, this exposed the still, which I think it was Peter Powles was operating, and the
fermenting bananas and strawberries. That caused quite a furor!
I had Flakey for one term of math. I had been quite good at math up to that point, but alas,
calculus proved my undoing, despite his reputedly good teaching. The one thing I remember from
this time, however, was his rather intriguing approach to problems - "Wouldn't it be nice
if....." he would say, musing along the blackboard with his chalk. "Oh but it does!!" But
essentially Flakey was a totally remote being as far as I, at least, was concerned. I remember
only a certain fear, tempered by a certain respect. It was enough and I stayed clear as much as
possible! This was not always easy when you recall that another of his admirable attributes was
that he could recognize and name every boy in the school within a very short time of their
So I come to my last night at school. I had been a bit anxious when I found myself posted,
in my last term, as a prefect in Intermediate - housemaster none other than good old Chaddy,
my erstwhile nemesis. To my great surprise we got on quite well until my last night there. We
were all ready for off the next day. Our trunks were ready packed and at the foot of our beds.
My bed was right beside the entrance from the dormitory to Chaddy's adjoining apartment. That
night he decided on a late night check through the dorm. Maybe he did it every night for all I
know. He was for some reason at this time confined in a cast from his armpits to his
unmentionables. Was it really my fault that in the dark he should measure his length over my
trunk, which, after all, was merely where he had instructed that it should be? He certainly
thought so. That night I heard more of the English language than all my years at school, or on
the street, had so far taught me. It was my last lesson at the Princo and I must say it has
served me well over the years!
So those are some among my rather selective memories. I do not claim that they are accurate.
Good memories rarely are and I never anyway like to let the unembellished truth get in the way
of a good story. No doubt we each know a different truth and possess a different recollection of
people and events. That's fine, just so long as we do remember.
(Registered - 30th November 2002)
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