Platform Parties

The Good Old Days of Platform Parties From the end of WWII until the Kenyan Emergency was declared there were around 40,000 expats in Kenya at any one time, mostly from the UK and mostly on contracts that included ‘passages.’ Some of these expats working for the administration had longer contracts, but even the shorter ones had mid-term home leave and in the times before jet travel all this added up to much coming and going by sea via Suez. Any younger reader who might imagine the eight-and-a-quarter hours in a jumbo jet between Heathrow and Nairobi as being vastly preferable to a fortnight on a passenger liner making the same journey should think again. I intend writing about the prelude to these delightful voyages and comparing the first step with the modern equivalent of two or three hours in a smoky, isolated, departure lounge divorced from your friends and well-wishers. It had become the custom for all expats going on home leave at the end of their three-year contract to have a farewell party at the popular and flourishing Nairobi, East African Railway and Harbour’s station restaurant and bar, which had a deservedly good reputation. It was the ideal place to wish farewell to the departing expats by the remaining expats. The 6 pm overnight train arrived at Mombasa promptly twelve hours where they would board the British India Line ships, which would carry the expats to the London docks. These ships were all named after a castle – whether or not the preceding town could boast a castle – the Cape Town Castle, Braemar Castle, Uganda Castle...
The Oldest Blog

The Oldest Blog

I am pleased to say that reactions to my blogging efforts have been favourable but I have noticed an undertone of veiled criticism in so much as the average reader of Old Africa is naturally interested in the period of African history when European discoveries and settlements began, when great-great-granny from Guildford jumped ship in Mombasa and helped Captain Owen haul up the Jack. On the other hand I am more conversant with what has occurred since I arrived on the scene in the mid-fifties at a time when many of the real pioneering settlers were departing. I have therefore devised an idea to solve my little problem. I have chosen for my topic a time in East Africa before even the Nilotic lot had wandered down the shores of the Nile and before the Zinj lot started hunting and gathering North of the Zambezi. Although I have only driven the Turkana Bus on thirteen occasions, I have been responsible for over 30,000 people having taken the Safari and I have spoken to 99% of them immediately before they departed and immediately after they returned. I have noticed that the ambience of the southeastern Lake Turkana area seems to have quite an effect on most of them. Their feelings are best described as an affinity with the infinite. Therefore, I wanted to devote this blog to two questions connected with early man – the one being spiritual and ethereal, the other factual and material. I soon discovered the human brain – or at least my brain – has not yet developed to a state where it can comprehend the...
A Patriotic Failure

A Patriotic Failure

In early November 1963, the Nairobi City council woke up to the fact that they had four weeks to prepare the city for independence celebrations and there were very few people left in Kenya with experience of such things. I found myself roped in on some sub-committee to arrange for a new prototype Toyota Land Cruiser to pull a farm trailer in a float parade with a beauty queen sitting on a throne surrounded by flowers. A part of the job was that it was my responsibility to arrange the selecting of a suitable national beautiful female. The ensuing arguments about how to make such a choice will perhaps one day make another blog by itself! My modest success in that endeavour resulting in my being asked if I could think of any appropriate activity to help entertain the royalty and heads of state anticipated at the post independence day, Jamhuri Park, arena events. As a small child I recalled watching the UK Masonic school children on the occasion of some UK coronation or jubilee, matching on to an arena, each child wearing either a red, white or blue-fronted overall and as the band played ‘God save the King’, they all turned to their left and a giant Union Jack appeared covering a quarter acre of arena made up of hundreds of children in the appropriate colour in the appropriate lines of the flag. I stupidly volunteered to attempt to organise a similar effect with hundreds of Kenyan schoolchildren making a Kenyan flag by their being positioned in the right order at the Jamhuri Park Uhuru celebrations. I soon...
In Praise of Overlanders All

In Praise of Overlanders All

In noting with interest my fellow bloggers’ fascinating overland experiences, I was reminded of my overland days. In the 1950s we ran an overland campsite in the grounds of our current Hardy, Langata house, dealing with two or three north or southbound truckloads of overlanders every week. We also had shares in a company bringing eighteen overlanders a month from South Africa to Nairobi from whence we flew them to London via Cairo. I have done three London-Nairobi overland trips and have inspired my wife, son, daughter, a brother-in-law, three cousins and countless friends to make the same journey. My first trip was in the early 1950s only a few months behind that infamous almost criminally negligent one with four people and their equipment in a Mini Minor which hadn’t even been prepared, and on which half the participants died of thirst while broken down in the Sahara. Compared with the experience of the modest Martin Moulder and his partner, currently residing in Karen, I am a non-starter. He arrived in Nairobi on horseback from South Africa and has literally spent all his life on overland travel and must have made over 100 Trans-African trips. I have found overlanders the most interesting of travellers and it is a fact that all who enter Kenya overland after months on the road, as opposed to those who arrive having taken only eight hours to get here, invariably fall in love with Kenya and will only return to their lands of origin as a visitor. This holds true from Lord Delamere, who first came to Kenya overland from Somalia, to the latest...
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...
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...