Season’s Greetings

Season’s Greetings

There is a common misconception that Christmases are not as enjoyable as they were in the past. In any case celebrating Christmas in the tropics never has been and never will be as good as celebrating it in the Northern Hemisphere.  Of the many abilities of the early expat settlers to East Africa, creating social clubs and staging pantomimes are amongst their best. Every settlement, however far flung, found itself with a cozy clubhouse a veritable ‘common room’ of social activity and often with a nine-hole golf course laid out around it. Every Christmas an amateur dramatic pantomime would be staged of extraordinary excellence, a traditional social custom which peaked in the 1960s and continues to this day. The inhabitants of the United Kingdom and other countries of the northern hemisphere assume that Christmas is just not Christmas in the tropics. I would beg to differ, particularly in the tropical Commonwealth countries, and suggest that the potential for enjoying Christmas celebrations is equal if not greater in these countries than those in the northern hemisphere. Consider first the opportunities of celebrating the original religious masses for Christ on his birthday. The vacant spaces in the lines of cathedral and church pews and the availability of kneeling hassocks is sadly plentiful in both places. The opportunity of joining in the singing of Christmas carols is also equal. Should you wish, as most of us do, just to tune in to ready-made Christmas by switching on the ‘box,’ the number of channels is the same. Of the hideous commercialisation of Christmas we in the tropics are slightly less guilty because there...

Safari Rally Part 2

Two generations have passed since 1953 when the East African Coronation Safari Rally was born. That first race was named for the coronation of the beautiful young Princess who went to sleep in Treetops one night and woke up a Queen. All that seemed necessary for this delightfully casual motor rally was for competitors to get a Nairobi official to sign when they left Nairobi. Then they had to get the signatures of the Mayor of Kampala and the Mayor of Dar es Salaam to prove they’d been there and the one who did it in the shortest time would be the winner. Nobody won the first race as they all took a longer time than was allowed. That first Rally grew to be the East African Safari Rally. Fifty years ago the Safari Rally was at the height of its popularity. In those days a whole generation of schoolboys from the far distant locations of the new Republic of Kenya became avid rally spectators. Of the 16 public holidays in the new constitution, the Easter holiday was by far the favourite because that’s when the Safari Rally was run. The eager onlookers would awake early and troop towards a nearby hilltop to cheer for the Safari Rally cars as they passed. The more popular the competitor, the louder the cheers. Despite the international competition, the leaders were always local Kenyans. For three days the names of the leading drivers would feature in banner headlines on the front of the broadsheet East African Standard and the new tabloid publication The Daily Nation. My holiday safari company was commissioned over the years to...
East African Safari Rally part 1

East African Safari Rally part 1

If you ask any male from the developed world or Kenya over the age of eighteen, “Can you drive?” he will probably be irritated with what he considers a totally unnecessary question and will reply that of course he can and he will think to himself, and better than most. This presupposes that both the questioner and the questioned will automatically assume driving ability is a macho necessity and all drivers, even those who have just paid a bribe for their driving license, are amongst the best drivers in the world.  I believed I really was amongst the best drivers in the world! I had been driving since I was thirteen years old, when I helped park up my father’s fleet of five-ton tipper trucks every evening after the drivers had clocked off. At eighteen years of age I was driving tank transport across the British Zone in Germany on the one and only motorway in Europe at that time which was the one autobahn Hitler managed to construct before his war. Before I was twenty-one I had raced vintage cars at Silverstone and motorcycles in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. I had driven from Nairobi to Capetown return on three occasions, and also from East Coast to West Coast of the United States on two occasions. I thought it was time I show these local drivers a thing or two so I found myself a co-driver for The East African Safari Rally and entered the 1964 Safari Rally to prove my ability.             My boastfulness and confidence were suitably shattered and deflated before I was halfway round...

Just Coincidence?

I have reason to believe the phenomenon I am about to describe is not peculiar to myself as several of my contemporaries have found it so. I wonder if it was also so in settler days and if any other geriatric Kenyaphiles have experienced it. Mine is an extreme example but a degree of the same thing is common. My family and I shipped our car from Mombasa to Karachi and drove back to the UK with our two children via the Kyhber Pass, Turkey, Greece and Northern France. On the longer cross channel ferry route from Normandy to Southampton all the children on board, ours included, had disappeared. My wife and I were waiting in a queue for the duty free shop which had just opened and talking to two young children who had made friends with our two. Deciding we wanted our binoculars off the front seat of our car which was in the car deck, we gave the keys to the two stranger’s children asking them if they would pop down to get them. “It is a green Peugeot. We were one of the last on so it is near the stern of the ship and you can’t miss it because we have a large EAK (East Africa Kenya) sticker on the boot.”  A quarter of an hour passed and the children returned without the binoculars. “The key doesn’t fit the door.” One could hardly be annoyed at their incompetence, but I was a little irritated as I walked off to fetch them myself. I descended to the car deck and found that two cars behind...

When a Little Bribe Benefited Everybody

Anybody who ran a car in Kenya during the 1950s or 1960s will recall the name ‘Hassanali,’ because that was the name of the Asian parts dealer in River Road, Nairobi. He sold large amounts of spare parts for motorcars at half the price the main vehicle agents sold them. The main agents advertised profusely to persuade car owners to buy only ‘genuine parts’ and reject the non-genuine, pirated parts. Most of the local new vehicle outlets in Kenya were owned by and affiliated to the overseas manufacturers and they insisted on employing expat parts managers assuming that African managers would succumb to Hassanali’s inducements to encourage them to buy locally from him. There were, however, parts mangers like myself who realized that Hassanali’s spare parts were not pirated at all; many were the identical part that went into the new vehicles. Most of the British manufacturers like British Ford, Austin Morris, Vauxhall and the Rootes Group as well as many of the German, French and Italian manufacturers did not manufacture their own pistons, for example, and would all use Hepolite. It was Hepolite pistons that Hassanali bought. The overseas vehicle manufacturers marked up the cost price of their spares to ten times the amount it cost them to produce them. If anybody was mad enough to assemble a car from spare parts, it would literally cost them much more than ten times the cost of the vehicle! Nobody criticised the manufacturers from doing so. The main overseas agents stocking spare parts for their vehicles had to keep 100% availability to maintain the vehicle’s reputation. The slow selling body...
Graduations in Kenya

Graduations in Kenya

Have you ever been to a graduation ceremony in Kenya? I who claim to have done most things there are to do in Kenya had not until last week, and even then I only got as far as the main entrance to the Catholic University for Eastern Africa. Graduations from places of higher learning to those who are not directly involved are only a paragraph on the back page of the Daily Nation newspaper, describing an extra large traffic jam within a six mile radius of the place of learning in question. Last week I had reason to go to my nearest ATM, which is situated a half-mile down the worst surfaced road in the world. Fortunately, there are normally very few vehicles on this stretch of road on which it is inadvisable to travel at more than five miles per hour. There were around 2000 students graduating from the university and each of them had invited a dozen or so family and friends to attend their graduation, say at a minimum two car loads per student. This meant that on this day, traveling down this half mile of so-called road in the direction of the university there were about 4000 cars. Add to this a conglomeration of pedestrians mixed with about 3000 passengers who had abandoned their buses to join the cheerful pedestrians who for a change were overtaking cars. I was not surprised to see buses from every high school in the Nairobi area. Neither was I surprised to see giant coaches from as far distant as Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret, but I was amazed to see...