Jim Dow's book on life in East Africa as a schoolboy and journalist
Extract from Jim Dow's book on life in East Africa
as a schoolboy and journalist
CHAPTER 3 - THE RABBLE WITH A CREW CUT
My diary for Monday, January 15, 1951, says matter-of-factly: “At night I left for Nairobi (Prince of W) by train. Yippee at last.”
I slept quite well on the slow, shuddering steam train as it wound its way inland from the coast and this was despite the fact that I had plenty of mosquitoes to keep me company. In the morning we arrived at Morogoro and I just followed the crowd as we disembarked and headed for the breakfast hotel in the centre of the small town at the base of the Uluguru Mountains.
I was not clutching an itinerary or timetable which set it all out for me. Like the other rookies, I just followed the senior boys who had done it all before and appeared to know their way around. Keep close to them and we will get to school some day.While they looked on us as newcomers with a certain amount of disdain and misplaced superiority because, well, we were newcomers, I cannot recall anything other than help and co-operation on the journeys to school.
In fact, we all approached it with an amazing amount of naivety; I was regarded as one of the more experienced of the newcomers in that I had been in Africa long enough to get my knees brown, but I’d hardly been beyond the beach at Dar es Salaam and this trans-Africa safari was every bit as new to me as it was to the other tyros on the trip.
Many of them looked as though they had just stepped off the or plane from England on their first adventure away from home, and here they were, wide-eyed and whiter than white, trekking across Africa, blindly putting their trust in strangers.
The destination that first morning was the Acropole Hotel, where we bought ourselves breakfast. We were already building up a cocky confidence. It was certainly the first meal I had ever bought myself and it does give you a feeling of power. Unfortunately, that power was running out already because funds were getting low.
I suppose Dad thought that all would be found for us on the trip to school and that the pocket money he gave me for the journey, five shillings, was just for the odd little frivolity and emergency. In fact, we had to pay for all our meals and we were hungry and thirsty travellers.
I did have other money on me: this was the tuck shop money for the entire term and I was to hand it to my housemaster as soon as I got to school. I was warned by Dad in no uncertain terms that I would be in big trouble if that envelope did not reach the housemaster intact.
I learned that the next leg of our journey was by bus to Korogwe, which is in the heart of the sisal country. My diary laments that I left my hat in the Morogoro hotel - Dad was so pleased that he had been able to kit me out fully according to the list supplied by the school and I was an important item short already.
Most of the road to Korogwe was just a wide track through the jungle. It was hot and humid and bumpy. We did 146 miles, taking about eight hours. We had a couple of stops - the half-way break was at a place called Mziha, where they did a pretty good lunch and we did our best to slake our thirst.
The next stop was Handeni, which had been the scene of some skirmishes between the British and the Germans in the First World War and there is a small cemetery there containing the British fallen. It was always hot and dusty there and we were always thirsty and hungry. Handeni was the spot where we used to buy sugar cane and munch our way through it during the last quarter of the journey. The price we paid was the runs at night.
By the time we reached Korogwe we were a dust-covered, shattered, dispirited bunch looking for a toilet. I had an added problem: I had no funds. Apart from that envelope, of course, but I was not about to incur Dad’s eventual wrath by breaking that open.
There was only one answer: phone home. The problem was that I did not have enough money even for the phone and in those days I knew nothing about reversing charges. But, if nothing else, I was resourceful. I went to the local telephone exchange and told the African in charge that I had to telephone my father in Dar es Salaam.
I told him that I did not have any money but my Dad worked for the telephone company. Please can you put a free call through to him? He must have taken pity on me because it was against all rules and regulations but he was good enough to put me through, and with tears welling, I told Dad of my plight. Yes, of course, open the envelope - you didn’t have to phone but it’s great to hear from you. How are you getting on? Are you not there yet? What do you mean - you don’t get there until Friday?
Korogwe a couple of years later became the venue for a famous football match. On the way back from school we had time to kill in Korogwe. We saw a group of Africans playing football and we suggested a challenge match. Eight of us took on eight of them and very soon quite a crowd gathered.
We were fit young bucks and were soon starting to run them ragged. After 20 minutes we were five goals up. After an hour we were losing 10-6. We were not as fit as we thought. I started to notice that I could no longer leave the full back in my dust - he was starting to catch up easily. And their wingers were leaving us panting for breath.
After 90 minutes and several goals against us later we staggered off. I suddenly recognised a face in the crowd. It was the guy who had started the game at full back - here he was smiling and refreshed as a spectator on the touchline. Other team mates were having the same experience. Then it dawned on us - when a player had had enough he sneaked off and was replaced. We never caught on, but we reckoned we had played 20 of them that afternoon.
After that frantic phone call I had made to Dad while having a cash-flow problem at Korogwe Dad had reacted to my SoS and after the overnight journey on the train we arrived at Moshi and I was met by Ernie Gresham. He was “telephone engineering” so he was OK and Dad had asked him to look out for me. I had an evening meal at his house along with his wife Betty and this homely touch was just what I needed because, tough guy though I felt I was, I was still a wee chap far away from home in a strange land with a mixed bunch of kids I barely knew.
Moshi was to become my favourite stop on those many journeys to the Prince of Wales School. Moshi is Swahili for “smoke”, and we believed the town had been given that name because it had been a busy railway station. In fact, as I learned later, the explorer Joseph Thomson had visited the Kingdom of Moshi in 1883 while on his troubled trip into Masailand, so the name was there long before the railway line. The smoke that was “moshi” is more likely to have been the moving mist that often scarfed the summit of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, which looks down on the town.
Moshi nestles at the foot of the majestic, snow-capped Kilimanjaro. I thought I had left all the snow behind in Scotland yet here it was in the middle of Africa and I found that hard to believe.
I was not the first one to grapple with incredulity when it came to Kilimanjaro. A German missionary, Johann Rebmann, in May 1848 had been the first European to see Mount Kilimanjaro. He learned that Kilimanjaro was Swahili for “mountain of Greatness” although the local Wakamba tribe called it the “Mountain of Whiteness” which is much more descriptive.
Whatever they called it the geographical establishment back home in Europe were not convinced and did not at first believe that so much snow - any at all, in fact - could be found so close to the Equator. To this day there is a glacier on the mountain named after Rebmann and it should have in brackets: “I told you so.”
The snow was still there to greet me and remind me of home just over 100 years later - I was well behind Johann Rebmann but I was a year ahead of Gregory Peck, who lay wounded on the slopes of that majestic mountain and thought of the time he had spent with Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward in the film of the Hemingway novel, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
My Kilimanjaro starring role was in an outdoor swimming pool which was at the base of the mountain and was filled with water from the melted snows of Kilimanjaro. And it was freezing. This was too much of a test for most of my companions, many of them born and bred in East Africa, but when you have swum in the North Sea at Dunbar on the East coast of Scotland you have no problems with a dip at Moshi.
The final leg of the school journey was by train from Moshi to Nairobi, and on the way there we stopped for lunch at Voi, which was where the line from Moshi joined the line from Mombasa. I knew all about Voi, having been an avid reader of the classic Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Lt. Col. J.H. Paterson.
When the builders of the railway line reached Voi from Mombasa in December 1897 man-eating lions seemed to be everywhere, hungry and audacious. One description is that they “infested” the area, and in 1899 near Voi one particularly bold lion made a night raid on a tent occupied by a road engineer named O’Hara and his family. The hungry lion killed O’Hara while his wife and two children slept beside him.
The book by Paterson, first published in 1907, is the story of the building of a section of the railway from Mombasa to the interior of Uganda. The man-eaters were two lions who picked off railway workers - at least 28 of them - at Tsavo, not far from Voi, over a period of nine months and succeeded in stopping work on the line for three weeks. Colonel Paterson hunted them both down and shot them.
Passing through Voi and over the Tsavo Bridge that had been completed only after the man-eaters had been disposed of only 53 years ago was a thrill for me - nobody seemed impressed but for them it was either old hat or they had not been lucky enough to have read Col. Paterson’s gripping account of his hunt for the man-eaters.
On the return trips from Nairobi to Dar the timetable was different and we had dinner at Voi station at a long table with starched table clothes in the semi-darkness offered by swinging oil lamps. One roar from outside and I would have been swinging on one of those lamps.
This final stretch from Moshi took us across the Tanganyika border and into Kenya - the excitement was starting to build up among the rookies, and I was no exception. During all those months in Dar es Salaam getting to Nairobi had been the big ambition - once I had passed the exams it loomed closer and I really felt I was going places. This was, after all, the biggest city East Africa and that’s where the train was heading.
Not at any great speed, I hasten to add. Nairobi is 6,000 feet above sea level so it is quite a climb. The train struggled at times up the gradient and we used to get off and walk alongside, full of bravado. Sometimes we would walk behind then run like hell to loud cheers to get on board again. Had the gradient eased or had we tripped and the train shown a sudden burst of speed we would have been left behind in the middle of Africa.
We arrived at Nairobi at 10 on the Thursday morning to be met by the Prince of Wales school bus. The school had been founded in 1931 for the sons of white settlers and administrators and it was run along the lines of British public schools, the good and bad of which I would soon find out.
The bus slowly left the railway station and made its way to the outskirts of Nairobi. The newcomers in our group sat with noses pressed against the dust-covered windows as we waited to see what could be our second home over the next few years.
I was not disappointed - the bus stopped at a magnificent, imposing structure - tall pillars, the school clock, the quadrangle, the white buildings, the flagpole. I’d been smitten by the public school concept after reading so many boys’ adventure books set in public schools and here I was arriving at my own boarding school.
The bus drew up near the school quadrangle. I got off slowly and looked at the vast building and wondered where my dormitory was.
I soon came down to earth. I was a newcomer, remember? That meant in Prince of Wales parlance that I was a rabble. Translation: I had no privileges. I was in Junior House and that was well away from the main part of the school. And it was made of wood, one long dormitory with beds on either side,
Take off your shoes before you enter the dorm, find your bed, unpack and get on with it. That first night the last few words I entered in my diary were: “”I’ve lost my fountain pen.” I was doing well - the hat on the Tuesday and the pen on the Thursday.
I soon learned that I had to come to terms with a new social order. Outside the school it was all basically straightforward - the Europeans were the rulers, the Asian were somewhere in the middle and the Africans worked for us. I did not feel too comfortable with that but accepted that this was the way of East African life. I was very much a conformist and it did not occur to me then that this should be challenged.
Inside the school as a rabble in Junior House I was the lowest form of life. Above me were guys in intermediate. Above them were the older boys in the school’s houses, with names of heroes no doubt expected to act as our inspiration - Clive (of India fame), Scott (of the Antarctic) not, as I was sorry to discover, Sir Walter, Rhodes (Cecil inevitably), Hawke (still to find out), Grigg (Sir Edward, the Governor of Kenya who laid the foundation stone for the school in September 1929). and Nicholson, named after the school’s first headmaster, a Royal Navy captain who was said to have achieved the “distinction” of being torpedoed in both wars. Sounded to me like a man not to stand next to on the bridge.
A higher echelon in the houses were the house prefects. Their top man was the Head of House and that put him among the elite of the School Prefects. The most senior school prefect was the Head of School, the ultimate.
So I was away down the pecking order. There was, however, one caste lower than me - day boys. They did not board. They went home at night to stay with their Mummies and Daddies while we had to rough it with the rigours of boarding school life. They were known as “stinkers”.
One stinker for a short spell, I can reveal, was Sir David Steel. He was also a “pongo”, which is a derogatory name for a still-wet-behind-the-ears arrival from Britain, and with his puny, white legs, swatty disposition and dark brown shorts which were too long he was a definite pongo. A pongo stinker - a helluvah start to life, but it was obviously good grounding for a splendid Parliamentary career.
Within that hierarchy, there was another major division, nothing to do with race but with nationality. Without doubt, the dominant nationality were the Afrikaaners. I was the only Scot that I could find - I did meet one or two later - and there was a sprinkling of Italians, Germans, Greeks and, just as foreign to me in those days, English, plus one or two Belgians, but it was the Afrikaaners who held sway.
Not only did they outnumber everybody else - they also had their own language and had no hesitation in speaking to each other in Afrikaans when you were in their company. Many did not like that, especially the English, but the English themselves were divided into two camps - the sons of Kenya settlers who originated from England but in the strictest terms were white Kenyans, and the sons of English people who were working on contract in East Africa and would eventually go home (I was a Scottish version).
It was into that maelstrom of pre-puberty and adolescent masculinity that I was plunged, and you either skulked around in the background and saw out your years in what you regarded as safe anonymity or you got stuck in there and showed that you were not just part of the crowd.
I reckon I had four weapons.
First, I was Scottish, and, despite the fact that Scottish explorers had been stretching their legs and spreading their accent across Africa for some time, at the Prince of Wales School in Nairobi in 1951 I was the explorer, the Scottish stranger in their midst. A curiosity is perhaps taking it a bit too far but it made me that bit different - especially when I was soon inevitably nicknamed “Haggis”.
Second, I had a sense of humour. I preferred to laugh or make someone laugh than to shout or cry.
Third, I could show them a thing or two on the sports field. I soon made the football first team and eventually got my school colours. I also proved to be pretty good at the other games, some of which I was learning for the first time, such as hockey and rugby. Ability on the sports field helped immensely to keep you comfortably placed in your relationships with the hierarchy and the dominant groups.
And, fourth, I could be a team player. That is another way of saying that I was able to recognise and pay respect to authority. I did not try to buck the system. Coward? Sure, there was a lot of authority above me and this was a big boarding school where you had to struggle for some sort of place. So I was willing enough to be assertive when I had to but I realised that it was better to toe the line. I knew that each term would bring more seniority and there would be less and less line to toe.
But in the meantime I had to live with the fact that being a rabble was bad enough; being a rebel rabble would be inviting disaster.
Not that I did not occasionally transgress. There were so many rules that you could not help break some of them. You were not allowed, for example (unless you were a teacher or a School Prefect) to take a short cut across the grassed quadrangle. It was a tempting short cut, especially if you were late. And you did not dare wear your shoes on the highly-polished floors of the dormitories - unless you were a prefect or above.
The punishment for most offences: the cuts. Explained further: you were caned on the backside by a prefect. Depending on the severity of the offence you got two, three or four strokes; six was always there as the ultimate thereat but I cannot recall anybody receiving the maximum.
And they were called the cuts because that was exactly what they often did to your backside. It depended on the skill or the enthusiasm of the inflicter. If he could hit the same spot each time he would draw blood. He had succeeded in giving you the cuts and had done his job effectively.
I got one dose of three and two of two during my time at the Prince of Wales. The dose of three was inflicted on me only eleven days after I arrived at school - I cannot remember the offence but I do remember that it was a mild one and I suspect it was the policy to give a fair number of rabbles a dose of the cane early on just to remind them of who was boss.
I accepted it as part of the learning process, the initiation ceremony; I suspect it was a bit of a psychological shock to many others who were away from home for the first time and were already finding it difficult to adjust to their strange new surroundings.
To receive your punishment you were ushered into the prefects’ room - most of the prefects were usually present - and you were told to bend down and, with both hands, touch the rugby ball on the floor in front of you.
Then you were caned. The prefect either stood close to you and raised his arm but some actually took a three-yard run at you to inflict the maximum pain. The prefects watched closely to see how you reacted - if you blubbed the whole school would eventually know. Some guys must have had leather backsides because they marched out of the prefects’ room with insolent smiles on their faces. Others blubbed effusively. I remember I kept a straight face but there were no smiles - if I looked too cocky or unruffled they might try harder the next time. The prospect of the cuts always scared the hell out of me.
In the same week that I had my dose of three cuts I suffered another dose of humiliation. One evening I was summoned into the prefects’ room and told I was in charge of the gramophone, which meant having to put the records on and wind it up. One of the records was called, or had the refrain, “I’m a hula hula hula girl”. I was ordered to dance to that tune time and time again, gyrating and twisting like a worm on a pin while they laughed and yelled. To protest too much or give the hint of insolence invited the cuts so I preferred the indignity of the hula hula girl any time.
The diary for that day states: “In the morning I had prep and swat. I went to the library. At night I had to dance for the prefects.” I made it sound like an every day occurrence, like the sort of thing any twelve-year-old would do at the end of a school day. That humiliation and the fact that I had the cuts in only my second week at school made demands on my resilience and, fortunately, I had plenty. Somewhere deep down a voice must have been saying to me: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” And I didn’t.
There were other little chores expected of the rabble. I had to make a prefect’s bed and change his sheets once a week. I also had to do my weekly stint of washing his jockstrap. (The temptation to put itching powder in it was always resisted by me, the devout coward; others did not have the same will power and we all enjoyed the hilarity that followed, safe in the knowledge that we would not suffer the cuts that would inevitably be the outcome for the perpetrator).
We had to take turns at doing the week’s trades - setting the tables at meal times and tidying up afterwards. This meant getting up at 6:30 instead of 7 and having to move pretty quickly after the meal to keep up with the timetable.
The entire routine revolved around learning, either in the wooden classrooms or at prep in the common rooms, and sport. And, of course, food, of which we could never get enough. I arrived at school as a slightly pampered wee lad who was able to turn his nose up at certain vegetables. Not at the Prince of Wales - you were hungry enough to eat any vegetable that they put in front of you and my liking for vegetables of any kind remains more than half a century later. But all the bread we were offered was brown bread (unless you were a prefect) and to this day I can’t stand brown bread.
Each weekday morning started with the assembly in the school chapel. Before the morning service got under way the headmaster would make various announcements. The Jews and the Catholics were not allowed to attend what was a religious assembly and no doubt did not want to; they had to huddle outside the front door to hear what the headmaster had to say then they would shuffle away like Pariahs while we got on worshipping our God.
Every Wednesday there was a shopping lorry. This took about 20 of us into Nairobi for the afternoon. To be accorded this privilege, this brief bout of freedom, you had to fill in an application form stating exactly the purpose of your visit to the town - a haircut, a birthday present, a personal purchase. Your request was not always granted - it was often just a skive anyway but as long as you did not make too many outrageous requests you were seldom knocked back.
When you were in town you were still officially at school, representing the school, so you had to be on your best behaviour. The man to watch out for was the gym teacher, Johnny Riddell, a Scot. If he caught you with your hands in your pockets you did twenty press-ups on the spot. He caught me early on and I did twenty press-ups on the pavement outside the post New Stanley Hotel in the centre of the city. I got to know that pavement well - years later on that same spot as a reporter with the East African Standard I interviewed William Holden and Mary Pickford. And at a table about 20 yards from that spot Edward G. Robinson made clandestine plans for a meeting with my Dad. More about that later).
I had worn spectacles since I was about 18 months old so you would think I would be able to look after them. Far from it. Constantly losing or breaking my glasses was one of the hazards of my young life. I did not need them for playing sport and, of course, did not wear them swimming, so they were often left behind the goal post or lost in the sand.
Losses and breakages meant money. Mum and Dad had bought me rimless plastic spectacles and I thought I looked pretty nifty in them. They cost £6, which was a lot of money in those days. I had to get them repaired not long after and Dad had made it clear to me that he was not at all pleased with this carelessness.
The next term at school the glasses suffered what turned out to be a terminal accident. I took them to the optician in Nairobi – three cheers for the shopping lorry - and he said he could patch them up but I would have to get a new pair. Panic. I couldn’t write home with the news.
That was when I showed a bit of entrepreneurial flair which has seldom visited me since. I decided I would raise the money myself. First of all, I held a raffle. Mum was always sending me goodies - the latest was a large, sumptuous cake. This was the first prize in the raffle. And the second was a bottle of tomato sauce - we did not get that at school and Mum had also sent it to me.
That, believe it or not, raised half the money. To bring in the rest I started a library - I was proud of my collection of Sexton Blake books and I had many others - so I loaned them out for a small fee each week. It all worked amazingly well - most of the guys knew why I was doing this and there might well have been a bit of sympathetic support but few of them had more money than I had. I had noticed that the “stinkers” took out a lot of the books - perhaps they told their parents when they went home about my fund-raising efforts and they decided covertly to help.
The outcome was that I comfortably raised the £6 and was able to buy myself a new pair of plastic spectacles. I somehow let this information slip when I went home at the end of the term and got Hell from my parents for not telling them. I felt I could not win - but I think they must have been secretly proud of my efforts.
During my time at the Prince of Wales the Emergency was declared in Kenya (October 20, 1952) as the brutal Mau Mau terrorists organisation pressed its claim for an independent Kenya. The State of Emergency ended in January 1960 and during that terrible conflict thousands of black Kenyans were killed by both sides and 32 white settlers were killed by terrorists – and the sons of some of the butchered settlers were at the school.
The Emergency inevitably meant tight security at school and it was not unusual to find in the morning that all of the African staff had been taken by the police for questioning after some terrorist activity, usually a murder. The situation at the school was described thus in the school magazine: “Security precautions against terrorist activities are being carefully maintained. A post of regular police has been established in the school compound for some time now. These, in conjunction with the school watchmen, maintain day and night patrols. In addition, mobile patrols, composed of members of staff, do duty at night. Many of the buildings are now surrounded by barbed wire fencing so that, altogether, we feel reasonably well-protected.”
We noticed the change and felt the tension on our shopping lorry trips into town. Most of the whites, men and women, were carrying firearms and more police than usual, all heavily armed, were in evidence.
For those of us whose homes were outside Kenya there was little to worry about the safety of our parents, who were certainly concerned about or safety as atrocities against blacks and whites continued to dominate the headlines.
For others, there was a two-way worry. Those who lived on outlying farms in Kenya were principal targets for the Mau Mau. While naturally concerned about their own safety they were worried about their children at the Prince of Wales. So it was a trying time all round.
I saw at first hand the tragedy of it all. One of my mates was Sergio Beccaloni, and on one Sunday night he was quietly summoned from the school dining room by the headmaster. There was a stunned silence from us all as, instinctively, we knew tghat it was bad news. Sergio’s father had been brutally slashed to death at his farm by the Mau Mau.
Fortunately, that was the only serious incursion the Emergency made into school life, although a teacher was occasionally conscripted into Emergency service and the Headmaster would now and again make an announcement about an ex-pupil who had been killed while on active service.
One letter from the headmaster to parents stated: “I regret that five members of my Staff are to be seconded for important Emergency duties. I think we shall be able to recruit some well qualified ladies so that we can keep class-room teaching going; but we shall sorely miss the vigour of these five men and the help they give in all manner of activities.” It was a false hope - I cannot recall any ladies at all coming to brighten up the scene.
We were used to teachers being seconded for Emergency duties - or, as we put it, to fight the Mau Mau. Security was important. The Headmaster took his instructions from the police as regards what one letter to parents called “Boarders Leaving the Compound”. Boys will be boys and rules are there to be broken out of sheer devilment if nothing else but there was no display of bravado as regards security rules - no sneaking out to the bright lights of Nairobi. We were only too well aware of what the Mau Mau could do and we kept well within the confines of school. Besides, the Headmaster was also a formidable figure.
I was never likely to become the Brain of Britain but I was certainly better than my initial class of 1C and two terms later I was in 1A . I was in an A class for the rest of my time at the school.
It was always important to be part of a team and I found myself very much a team player, a willing participant.
I became a member of the school brass band, graduating from the cymbals to the big base drum then the side drum. This meant regular Saturday appearances at the school parade and also on other ceremonial occasions.
I became a member of the Combined Cadet Force, ready to fight for King and country (it became Queen and country during my time at the school). I also joined the school choir, the philatelic society and even managed to get myself appointed as an Assistant Librarian - all part of the team spirit with a decided touch of individualism.
All of this looked pretty good on your school report, of course, but I remember one particularly glowing report from the Headmaster was accompanied by a letter to parents from him which began thus: “The influenza epidemic disorganised work, games and other activities for the first four of five weeks of term. Since then, some unfortunate individuals have had much shorter and milder illnesses, but in general the health of the boys has been good for the second half of term.
“In addition to influenza among members of Staff we have had other misfortunes and teaching has suffered accordingly. Because of this, it has often been difficult, or well nigh impossible, to arrive at a correct evaluation of the work of the boy; and I fear that some end of term reports will contain marks or comments based on slender evidence.” So a crumb of comfort for those who brought home a poor report but if you flourished a glowing report at your inquiring parents there was that sting in the tale about “slender evidence”.
On Queen’s Day, October 11, 1954, the annual day for pomp and circumstance at the school, the guest of honour was Michael Blundell, who was Minister without Portfolio. In his address he told us we that we could divorce Africa from the events of the world.
He stated: “In this struggle between what is right for Man and what is wrong, Africa has a vital role to play. This Emergency of ours is merely an indication of what is going on everywhere, very often openly in other continents but certainly secretly and latently all over Africa.”
Prophetic words from a man who also had a vital role ahead of him. He was six years later to form the New Kenya Party which recognised the need to join the African in an independent Kenya. He was regarded by most Europeans as a traitor to his kind, but he was actually a brave man ahead of his time.
I was to hear him speak again more than six years later when, as an East African Standard reporter, I covered a meeting in Nyeri as the political situation started to heat up in the long run-in to internal self-government and independence.
But when I heard him that Queen’s Day in October I had nine days previously received that telegram from Dad telling me that I was starting as a sports reporter with the Tanganyika Standard on January 4.
I was well-prepared. Earlier that year, in what was a legacy of that first year I had spent in Dar es Salaam with no schooling, I had realised that I was far behind with my three science subjects and had no chance of passing them in the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate examinations at the end of 1954.
I managed to persuade the Headmaster, Philip Fletcher, that instead of going to science classes I should be allowed to repair to the library and teach myself shorthand. This was a highly unusual request, to say the least. It meant putting a lot of trust in me and letting me get on with it. He gave me permission, not without hesitation, and I recall on several occasions thereafter the silence of the library being disturbed by the door being slowly opened and Mr Fletcher peering in over his spectacles just to check that I was there. I certainly was - I had invested in Teach Yourself Pitman’s Shorthand and was diligently applying myself to the task.
I practised taking down the words of popular songs - Kitty Kallen’s Little Things Mean a Lot, a nice, slow ballad, was my first exercise in shorthand and I thereafter started to practise on the radio news.
By the time I heard Michael Blundell on that Queen’s Day I was able to take a few notes in shorthand for the house magazine, the Clive House Chinwag, which I had started that year. It was handwritten by me each week with one of the lads drawing a cartoon or two to brighten it up and I covered sporting events and general school activities such as the speech by Michael Blundell and an earlier one by Dr L.S.B. Leakey. After it had been approved by the House Master, the magazine was left in the common room for all to read. And it was well received.
So my first shorthand reporting job was Michael Blundell in the Clive House Chinwag. I was getting ready for my entry into the newspaper world when I left school at the end of that year.
There was, however, a little unexpected hurdle ahead.
Dad had followed up his telegram with a letter in which he told me more about what lay ahead with the Tanganyika Standard. I was to get a salary of £20 a month for the first six months then move on to £25. When I got home I would have to meet the Managing Director of the Tanganyika Standard and, although the job was mine, I would still have to make a good impression.
Dad’s letter went on: “So, lad, you have got a start. Your Mum is highly delighted and, of course, so am I. Kelman (my younger brother) tells me you have got a fancy haircut - well, all I can say is don’t come home like that as you will have to meet this man.”
My goose was cooked! On one of the shopping lorry trips into Nairobi I had been foolish enough to get myself a crew cut, which was the rage of the time (quite unlike me, in fact, to run with the herd). But I felt I cut quite a dash with my rimless specs and my new hair style.
Now I was soon to go home to face Dad and the Managing Director of the Tanganyika Standard with this way out, trendy hair cut. How long does it take for a crew cut to grow out? Could I get away with a hat?
I was in despair. I had the ambition. I had launched a handwritten house magazine. I had already reported the words of a leading Kenya politician. At the age of 16 I had shorthand.
But I also had a crew cut.
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