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 ours was another green Peugeot 403 with a large EAK sticker on its boot. I doubt if that particular car ferry line has ever carried even one East African car before. And from my personal knowledge, no other Peugeots have ever left Kenya to end up on the Normandy ferry. So what must the chances be against their being two similar cars on the same crossing?
Another time, we had only been on the A2 for ten minutes when a smart new Black Bentley roared past us with a number sequence something like ROG WIT 001. It was Kenya’s famous international singer! Halfway to London we pulled off the A2 for a snack. There must have been 100 or so cars in the car park. To my amazement the car door alongside us had our Kenya Safari company’s unmistakable sticker on its door. Admittedly, we do dish out 300 to 400 a year as souvenirs to clients, but what were the odds of parking alongside a car whose owner would know us?
On one occasion I remember sitting in an Alpine ski-lift on another UK leave with the children, this time in Switzerland. They heard a family two rows ahead who used some common Kenya expression. Sure enough, although we had never spoken to them before in our lives, they were also on holiday from Kenya and lived only half a dozen miles away from us in Nairobi.
Finally, here’s an almost eerie coincidence. This time I was on my own manning the Kenya stand at the Earl’s Court world travel market. I drove down to the West Country to spend the night with a family who had had been on safari with us the previous week and had given me their address knowing I would be in the UK shortly. I arrived in Taunton around 5 pm and I headed off for Egloshayle, the village where they lived. I got completely lost and three hours and 100 miles later on a completely dark moonless night, I think I might have crossed Bodmin Moor from West to East. I was crossing and re-crossing the Cornish lanes, all of which were identical with no signposts and many junctions. To add to my confusion, every lane was flanked with a twenty-foot hedge growing behind a four-foot bank and a three-foot stone wall.
Enough was enough. At the next sign of life I passed I was determined to stop driving and make a few more inquiries about the directions I had been given. I pulled in to a tiny car park. I saw a dim light on a tall lamppost with an arrow pointing to a restaurant up a long flight of steps. I noticed a bed and breakfast sign and decided to have a meal and put up for the night. After the meal, which was fair but not exceptional, for some strange reason, which I do not understand to this day, I found myself making a stupid little joke. Possibly the reason for it was a reaction to my lifestyle in Kenya where, as a safari leader, I had to put up with the most unreasonable complaints from clients. My joke was that I was that I was going to pretend to be displeased with the service and food I had received. Pretty pathetic but it worked. The proprietress rushed up to my table in a flurry, voicing profuse apologies at having not greeted me personally. Naturally, I enquired about what was going on in her life.
“I am off on the coach to London tomorrow to catch the overnight flight to Nairobi – I am taking a safari,” she said with a friendly smile.
“Oh! Who with?” I inquired politely.
“I don’t know. It’s a Kuoni package,” she said. “It is called the Dick Hedges Safari.”