Antony Williamson's visit to the School - June 2002
Visit to the School - June 2002by Antony Williamson (Grigg 1956-1959)
June 2002 saw me in Nairobi after an absence of some 32 years, for the 65th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Kenya Regiment. After a week or so at Watamu and on safari in Tsavo East, it was back to Nairobi for the Regimental Curry Lunch and P.U. Since I had a morning to spare and was staying at the Mayfair Hotel (now Holiday Inn and highly recommended if you are in Nairobi) a visit to the old school was mandatory.
Mark Young (ex-Grigg and now a veterinary surgeon here in Western Australia), Mark's wife Ferrie and I made our way up what used to be Sclaters Road and is now Waiyaki Way. Some of the old landmarks were still readily identifiable, others changed beyond recognition. Westlands shopping centre is now a seething mass of humanity, everyone trying to sell anything from roasted mealies to high fashion and luxury cars. Abject poverty and extravagant consumerism side by side. The place was decidedly seedy, with garbage lying uncollected in the streets and a burst sewage main, and alive with spivs, con-men, general layabouts and mwivis. The roads are pot-holed and driving standards are abominable, all pointing to the corruption for which Kenya has become infamous. The new Kenya government will have its hands full trying to sort out the mess.
St Mark's church in Westlands still stands, but the old railway alignment has disappeared under streets and houses. Some of the old-style bungalows are still there, but blocks of apartments are squeezing them out as land values increase. The Aga Khan High School still operates and is presumably still run by the Ismaili community. The British Military Hospital is now a barracks for the Kenya Army, and the Scott Labs are still there but not under that name. Off to the left, Loreto Convent, St Austin's R.C. church and St Fairy's are easily identified..and of course that tantalising glimpse of the Boma across the valley.
The main entrance to Princo is much as it was as I last saw it. The wrought iron gates made by the boys in 1967 are still there, but these days an askari guards them. Security is a bit of a problem in Nairobi these days, and any premises of consequence have private guards, some of whom wear some very maradadi uniforms. The jacarandas still line the main drive, but the bushes which provided such excellent cover for exponents of Crown Bird and Four Aces are now no more.
The staff house first on the left as we went up the drive was an indicator as to how people in Kenya have moved towards self-sufficiency. 'Link' Seldon never grew mealies in his front yard.
At first there is a sense of shock at things like mealies in 'Link's' garden and ngombes grazing on the playing fields, but there must also be a realisation that Kenya is a Third World country and resources are limited. The shillingis set aside for education are precious, and go mostly to paying the teachers' salaries. Maintenance of grounds and buildings is not always a priority.
The main building is little changed, but the Head Teacher's office has sturdy iron bars on the windows and door. I wonder how 'Jake' Fletcher might view the appellation 'Head Teacher', as opposed to Headmaster, not to mention the fact that somebody, anybody, might dare to break into his office. Unthinkable!
We were greeted by a very cheerful lad, whose uniform was little-changed from my own, who went off to find the duty teacher. Next big shock..the duty teacher was a woman!
In my time, women were mostly matrons and secretaries, and I can recall only two women teachers on the regular staff, Mrs Cook and Miss Ridley (a.k.a. Agatha) Then there was Mrs Burton who occasionally taught French and a Miss Horsfall, who taught science briefly before heading off to a hopefully more rewarding career in agricultural research. Her surname was too redolent of equine nether regions for her to be taken seriously by adolescent boys and her class control suffered as a result.
If I remember rightly, women teachers were kept somewhat in the background and had little role outside of their teaching duties. They certainly would not have been left in charge!
The duty teacher received us with the warmth which is so typically bestowed on Wazungu who are visitors as opposed to tourists in Kenya, and she gave us a free rein to have a look around. The wartime 'temporary' wooden classrooms have been replaced with more substantial stone buildings, except for the one nearest to the hall, which has been retained for its historic significance and which was the block in which I started my Princo career in Form 1b, under Mr Bill Wright, who kept us entertained with his stories of fighting the Japs at sea in the Pacific. We also picked up quite a bit of Maths along the way. In second term of '56 I was promoted to 1a, next door, where Colonel Loftus held sway. He was a gentleman of the old school, commander of a battalion of yeomanry at Gallipoli and eventually the oldest serving teacher ever when he retired at the age of 94. The Colonel's pet hate was farting. The slightest suggestion of flatulence and he would turn scarlet, and 'GET OUT, YOU LOUT!' would ech
o around the compound. The C.C.F. armoury is still there, as is the toilet block, which now as then is the most malodorous place in the country.
So, where are all the great men, those Masters of more than 40 years ago? Men of scholarship and character...Dougal Gammie, Grumbleguts Burton, the impeccably dressed Mike Saville, 'Fritz' Goldsmith, R MacLellan-Sim, that great artist who captured the Kenyan landscape so brilliantly. Whiskers Watson and Link Seldon, Ken Fife, WillieMac and Happy Jack Heathcote. The redoubtable Pegleg Horley and Teddy Boase, who gave such life to Latin and Cricket, almost in the same breath. P.V. Caswell and Freddie Hill could both be relied on to liven up their lessons with tales of their World War II flying exploits, and Charlie Hurst was always good for a laugh, as was Samaki, who told the worst jokes ever. I inquired after John Say later in the day at the Kenya Regt curry lunch and was told that he is alive and well, living in the UK and still sailing.
The Hall has been widened since my time, and the swimming pool considerably shortened from 25 yards to 20 metres, the difference in length now accommodating what look like training pools. My photos on this site show that the valley is now an up-market housing estate.
The science labs are still as they were, as are the workshops. Bertie Lockhart's music room is now silent and a store of some kind, and the mabati gardeners' sheds have long been replaced . Outside the workshops in all its glory was the old cast-iron roller for the cricket and hockey pitches. Was it dragged by bullocks or pundas, or did we boys pull it? Some memories fade, but not the recollection of carrying the tiered seating from the pool to the rugger pitch and back again. God, they were heavy!
The Grevillia robusta. trees just past the workshops are still there. I remember being out for a smoke one night in the company of Barry Coppard. Headlights loomed from the direction of Junior. We dived into the trees, Crown Birds rapidly stompied . We had just lit up again when a second set of headlights came up the murram track, a black Consul, KFB 9. JAKE!! On one of his patrols. There was no time to take a dive or to stompie this time. We froze. Jake passed by unawares.
On then to Grigg-Hawke. The bluegums have all gone now, and Hawke was in the process of being re-roofed with mabati. The dining room was being used to store building materials, and the whole place looked rather decrepit and forlorn. Grigg is now known as Kirinyaga House. There were two rooms in particular that I wished to see again.the boot room where we were so mercilessly caned and my old study. Both were well and truly locked and barred. My study had the word Golgotha scratched into the door. Seniors' studies were no place for Rabble in my day...
The quad is much as it was, minus the tortoises that enlivened that dreary compulsory rest period with some lively (for tortoises anyway) copulation, Dhobi is very much a do-it-yourself occupation now, and clothes lines adorn both sides of the quad..
Back down the road past Junior House, now being rapidly demolished by termites, to Inter and the San., which brings back memories of Sister Welford and Sister Armstrong-Moran, angels in starched white, both of them. The latter was rather unkindly nicknamed Ma Bulldog, and was possessed of the most execrable kitchen Swahili anywhere in the Colony. There was a young Kikuyu orderly named Muthaiga, probably only a few years older than us boys, who was something of a Nationalist firebrand. This was in the days when the Uhuru movement was just getting into motion, and Muthaiga was a devotee of Tom Mboya. Needless to say, we boys did not share his enthusiasm, and we engaged him in lengthy political debate and argument. When Ma Bulldog had had enough her voice would drift down the corridor.."Muthaiga, hapana standing there fanya-ing nothing, get on with yako's kazi."
Muthaiga's English, as it happened, was perfect.
The road past the Staff flats attached to Clive/Scott was the Holy of Holies, never to be trodden on by adolescent foot. For the first time in my life, I walked down it. I had in the past run up it as it formed part of the cross-country course. I was conned into cross-country by George Outram, who discovered me and a couple of cronies in the valley on some nefarious excursion, probably connected with Crown Bird (how I loved them!) or looting sugar cane from the shambas. We convinced George (we thought) that we were practicing for cross-country. George made sure we were signed up. Cross country and Crown Birds did not go well together, and eventually Crown Birds won the unequal struggle for my health and well-being.
The sacrosanct precinct is now much more lively, festooned with TV aerials and the inevitable clothes lines, although it is probably still out of bounds. Some things never change. The late Teddy Boase would love to see the Oval still much as it was in his day, with the snick of leather on willow very much part of the Sunday scene. However, the pavilion is now someone's dwelling, with the inevitable clothes line out the front. Teddy would not like that!
Back to the front of the school, pausing to photograph the oak tree planted by Alan Martin outside Scott in the 1940s. There is still much there to bring back memory. The clock never worked. It still doesn't. The bell still has that tinny clang, and the Scott (now Marsabit) boys still wait on the corner to be picked up for their Sunday-out. The candlenut tree by the Oval and the flame tree on the northern side of the athletics field are still there, but the maintenance of the grounds is now the task of the school cattle herd rather than of Long John Sylvester and his sickle.
No one who was at school in 1957 will ever forget the day Bobs Harries dropped off in the car park a truckload of pineapples, which we were expected to buy or sell to swell the chapel fund. Manna from heaven! Every single bottle in the school was saved, scrounged or stolen and used to make pineapple pombe. We were inexpert brewers, to say the least , and soon every opportunistic wild yeast did its worst. Bottles were exploding all over the place..in lockers and studies, under floorboards of boarding blocks, just about anywhere it was possible to stash them Prefects formed raiding parties and stormed Gestapo-like into suspected places. Jake made threats at assembly. The whole place was in uproar. All the fuss was actually to no avail.the stuff was indescribably foul and undrinkable.
And so, time to leave. It was a pity we had not more than an hour or so to spend in the old place. There was so much left to see. There is still very much a sense of belonging and of tradition at Princo, and the people we met expressed their delight that we had renewed our connection. The place has changed in so many ways, but the underlying ethos is still there. We were received with great courtesy and warmth by staff members and boys. The Housemaster of Marsabit invited us to have a cup of tea and to look at the old photo albums, but that will have to wait until next time. We had to head off to the Kenya Regiment Association and old rafikis, but that is another story