We Design them to Break

We Design them to Break

Arriving in Nairobi overland in the mid 1950s, I got a job as spares manager with Rootes Ltd, a British motor company that manufactured Commer, Humber, Hillman and Singer cars. Our average monthly sales were one Commer van and two private cars. Some time later a consortium of British motor companies importing vehicles to Kenya flew me back to the UK to discuss the issue of spares with the manufacturers. In my hand luggage I carried the cracked front cross-member of a Commer van, a broken half-shaft from a Land Rover and close-up photograph of a cracked Bedford chassis. In Durnstable I showed the photo of the cracked Bedford chassis to the top brass. “You come from Kenya don’t you?” they asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  “That’s it then! You are overloading like all Kenyan users do.” “Impossible!” I answered. “We only carry 18 tourists. That’s under one ton in five-tonner.” “That’s your problem then, underloading.” They told me the required more weight to stop vibrations damaging the chassis on bad roads! Next I went to Coventry, the home of Land Rover. I showed their top designer the broken Land Rover half-shaft. “How come one Land Rover driving from London to Nairobi suffered seven broken half-shafts?” I asked. “We designed them to break to protect the differential.” “How come a thousand Land Cruisers on East African roads have never broken one?” “I was designing motor vehicles when Japan only made toys for Christmas crackers,” answered the Land Rover designer.  Finally I visited the dingy Coventry office of the Rootes and presented them with the cracked front cross-member from the Commer...

The Oriana Wilson Trail

Emma Taylor, an Old Africa reader, is looking for help from other Old Africa fans. Her friend is researching the life of Oriana Wilson, the widow of the Antarctic explorer, Dr Edward Wilson who died with Scott in 1912. The Antarctic may seem rather a long way from Africa, but Oriana was a great traveller herself and letters show that she visited East Africa in 1934, and specifically Kenya in March of that year. Emma was wondering if anyone has any information about Oriana Wilson’s African travels. A letter of March 7th 1934 proclaims she is ‘In Kenya’ and one from Apsley Cherry-Garrard to a mutual friend in New Zealand postmarked May 1934 states: “Mrs Wilson seems to be getting on better in Africa where she wrote just before going northwards to Beira and I think Rhodesia…” This suggests she was travelling quite extensively in the continent. However, as she destroyed much of her own correspondence, it is difficult to flesh out the details of her travels and the people she met. Much depends on the recollections and letters of others. Oriana Wilson created many close links and friendships in New Zealand from 1901 onwards, and was much respected in the Commonwealth, especially for her war work during the First World War. Possibly she had introductions to similar settler and pioneering families in East Africa, too, in her search for fulfilment and adventure in the years following her husband’s death until her own in 1945. If anyone has any information on the ‘Oriana trail’ through East Africa, contact us...
Work Permits Galore

Work Permits Galore

I thought the attached photo might be of interest to any unfortunate expat who is having difficulty being granted and/or affording a Kenyan work permit at the present time. The attached photo was taken in Nairobi’s Industrial Area 50 years ago. Yours truly is sitting in the center front row, being one of half a dozen work permit holders. The picture is of the staff of the workshop and parts department of a motor vehicle importing company on Factory Street. There were five more mzungus at our Victoria Street head office, the managing director, his personal secretary, the chief accountant and two car salesmen, making a total of eleven work permits issued for thirty shillings a year each, automatically renewable. The company was selling on average two private vehicles and two commercial vehicles per month. There must surely be some judgement to be made and some moral to be drawn from this state of affairs, because for the years immediately following Kenya’s independence, some main agents succeeded in selling 200 cars a month with a workforce that was restricted to one or at the most two work permits per...
Navigating the Nile – Part 2

Navigating the Nile – Part 2

As I found more of my dad’s notes, I discovered some other interesting facts concerning the amazing Nile River, which flows north while going through the various African countries from its source in Jinja, Uganda. It made me think that when we take time to discover the course of God’s creation, its hard to deny he exists when his presence is evidenced through countless wonders in creation like the Nile, the only major river in the world to flow north. Before leaving Cairo, the place of pomp and bygone Pharaohs, my dear dad wrote this observation: “The Egyptians must have spent most of their lives preparing to die!” My father and older brother Calving viewed the ornate tombs of the ancient rulers of Egypt, but I was too young to appreciate such a visit – sadly. I wonder how many of us are preparing for our future and final destination? It’s vital to live each day to please God our heavenly Father, the maker of heaven and earth. As we traveled on the riverboat Nasir, we occasionally disembarked to do some sightseeing and visit the local people. We enjoyed seeing hippos and crocodiles, but had to be careful not to get to close to the hippos’ ‘spot’ as they are very territorial and aggressive. Due to shallow waters at this point of the Nile, we had to get off the Nasir so it could be winched from the sandy bottom where it had grounded. During this leg of the journey I came down with the mumps. I had to be quarantined because of the infectious nature of the disease. I was confined...
Two to Loo

Two to Loo

I hope the following anecdote will be of interest to Old Africa readers. Firstly, because it did happen in Africa about 50 years ago in the Northern Rift Valley province and secondly because I use it to bolster one of my obsessions; after a lifetime spent in being responsible for around 40,000 people on tented, photographic safaris, I am of the opinion that photographic safaris under canvas, recapture the atmosphere of the best traditions of ‘Old Africa’, whereas packaged safaris to the lodges do not! In the time I am writing about, there was one lodge in Samburu and three in the Masai Mara. I don’t think Samburu is too bad still but somebody told me the other day that there are now 150 different, permanent accommodations in the Masai Mara. In the same way that different people have different pain thresholds so do they have different whinge thresholds. A classic example of this phenomena happened to me some time ago in Northern Kenya. I think it must have been in the early sixties because that is the time we stopped doing safaris for Thomas Cook and started doing them for Kuoni instead. The gentleman in question was a Thomas Cook client. He was also as I remember a key civil servant connected in some way to the Reading local government department. I came across him taking a photograph in broad daylight not of a leopard in a tree, nor a rhino visiting camp, but a close-up of the zip on the toilet tent. On closer inquiry I established that the gentleman found it his duty to send a...