Do Not Disturb!

Featured in Only in Africa – April-May 2007 A left turn off the pathway from our verandah passed between tall parallel kei-apple hedges. A little further on the hedges widened to enclose a sheltered spot. In the centre, facing east, the structure coyly referred to in that era as “The Little House” stood resplendent. Indoor facilities had not yet reached Tambach, the remote administrative centre where, between 1949 and 1953, my father, John Raymer, served as Principal of the Government secondary school and teacher training college.  This classic upcountry long-drop toilet (with the inevitable yellowing bound copies of the Daily Mirror hanging from a nail in the wall) was a pleasant place in the morning with the sun streaming through the open door and a colourful flower bed opposite to contemplate.  Footsteps could be heard from afar, allowing the user ample time to warn anyone approaching that the little house was already occupied. My father retired daily to this haven after breakfast before departing to conduct morning assembly.  House rules and the tyranny of the timetable dictates that he be undisturbed during his occupancy of the little house. On the morning of February 6, 1952, I dawdled over a slice of toast at the breakfast table. Father was we-know-where and Mother was in the kitchen seeing to the day’s meals, when a vehicle pulled up sharply at the front gate in a cloud of dust.  I ran outside to investigate this unusual occurrence.  The Police OCS leapt from his official Land Rover.  “I’ve just heard on the Police radio that the King died last night,” he said breathlessly.  (In those days of rather primitive technology, radio reception halfway down the Kerio Escarpment was so poor that nobody else in Tambach kept a radio set). Rising to the occasion, I promised to tell my parents this shattering news.  Surely, I though, such important news must merit a slight relaxation of normal household rules? As the OCS drove off, my small legs carried me swiftly past the verandah and left up the kei-apple walk, ignoring the warning sounds up ahead. I rounded the corner. There, enthroned in the morning sunlight, sat my father, colonial khaki shorts at half-mast.  “Daddy, Daddy!” I gasped, the bearer of momentous news.  “The King’s dead!”  “B—– off at once!” he snarled. Dee Raymer, Machakos