It has been enticing to wander through these East African childhood
memories, and at the same time rather heart-rending to realise that that
world we knew has gone.
When we were children, even as recently as forty
years ago, the population was under seven million in Kenya. It is now
believed to stand at some thirty two million. And under a benign
Colonial Administration the population had largely bought into law and
order. We children admired and trusted the Africans we came in contact
with, while they in their turn seemed to find us as loveable and
exasperating as our parents did.
The African continues to warm and charm
everyone who comes across him but today it is darkened by a certain
desperation, as many face futures with little hope of decent jobs, let
alone fulfilling their potential.
I enjoyed a great many of the
contributions to this book and Joan Considine and John Rawlins have
certainly done a worthwhile service to all of us by putting these
recollections together. The book would have been a heavyweight if the
quality of writing had been more uniformly high. I was also not quite
clear who the audience for the book might be. Most contributors clearly
thought that they were writing for those of us who were there, while
others described things carefully and translated such words as banda and
shamba, imagining a wider readership.
Michael Hopkins made an important
point with his contribution by showing how tough it could be to make a
living out of farming in Kenya. Several children of farmers remember how
their parents were lured to Kakamega to look for gold: "Eventually,
(Hopkins writes) having found sufficient gold to cover the bottom of a
small aspirin bottle, it was time to give up and go back to the farm."
Presumably this meant explaining things to Mr Gilpin of the Land Bank
who could foreclose at any minute.
Journeys loomed large in people's
memories because, of course, boarding school, so many miles from home
was a big, not to say traumatic, event. My sister used to grow whiter
and whiter as the journey from Kisumu progressed towards Turi, until
eventually there was a scrambled stop and she would throw up all her
Some of the eccentrics described at school should have
made our parents' hair stand on end but they seemed to be blithely
unaware of them. Nicholas Best describes the headmaster of Pembroke
House as being "wildly eccentric" even by Kenya standards.
"For cricket matches at other schools, he piled a basket of carrier
pigeons on to the roof and released them at intervals to bring back the
score." Furthermore, "the pigeon loft had a weather vane of a
master with a cane chasing a small boy. On days when he 'd been out
shooting, the headmaster liked to tuck dead birds into bed with the boys
and then turn his gun dogs loose in the dormitory to find them."
Many of the contributions gave me a pang of nostalgia and sometimes
I could almost catch a whiff of dust or hear the surf at Diani as I
read. I congratulate the editors. I know that for those of us who were
there and for our descendants it will be greatly enjoyed. And for some -
Africans and Europeans alike - who only know East Africa as it is today,
it may even fascinate.