April 19, 2013

The long way down Knuckle* Hills.

*Ngong in Swahili

Today I thought about Uncle Gus, which made me think of Kenya and Tanzania. That thought led me to stories about Kenya and…to this ramble. So passed a sunny afternoon.

A few years ago I was delighted to accept a kind invitation to go to Kenya and spend a week with Uncle Gus. One of the reasons I was keen to go was that he and I had long shared an obsession with the (officially still unsolved) murder of Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, who had been part of the HappyValley Set in Kenya. Uncle Gus wheeled out heaps of Old Kenya Hands for me to quiz on their first-hand knowledge, memories, and local folklore about all the protagonists in this classically Colonial murder.  All the ingredients are there - sex, booze, money, scandal, screamingly mad eccentrics and an unexpected insight into the Colonial justice system. It's also a fascinating peep into the mindset of those crazy brave souls who took off across the sea to make new lives in strange lands.

I just love those long-ago attitudes - harvest ruined by lack of rain? Buck up!  

Husband given you syphilis? Buck up, plant coffee, adopt a deer and ride for days alone round the perimeter of your lands.

Lost your entire inheritance in a bet? Stiff drink, buck up and shuffle the cards again.

Lover unfaithful? Buck up, follow him to Paris and shoot him (read up on the wonderful Alice de Janze. They simply don't make them like that any more.)

I had a lovely time and spent several happy afternoons drifting about the Muthaiga Club. To this day, cameras are banned in case members are snapped with someone they shouldn't be with. No money changes hands - everything is signed for on a chit and accounts are settled depending on the harvests. I shamelessly eavesdropped on a classic exchange between two old boys in the foyer. One covered in red dust, just driven into town, the other in pressed khaki, grasping a large gin, waiting for him.

"Super to see you. How's the wife?"
"Bloody cancer. Doc's not too hopeful."
"Rotten luck, old chap."

Everyone I met had a pragmatic, almost casual attitude to death. They all had first or second-hand experience of carjacking, shooting, attacks by animals, theft, crazed hippos charging, and rape.  Uncle Gus and I drove his old jeep up to Lake Naivasha one day to visit the Djinn Palace, Josslyn Hay’s old haunt.

On my last day Uncle Gus a guide and I went on a riding safari into the Ngong Hills.  My horse definitely had racehorse blood. Our safari was supposed to take an hour. It lasted four. The guide got lost. Recent rains had caused sudden growth so all the paths had disappeared. My horse jumped a gorge and left my Uncle and guide on the other side as we galloped away, crashing through spiky
undergrowth, caught by trailing thorns. I wasn't even carrying lipgloss, much less a mobile phone. It turned out I was no longer made of the stern frontier-smashing stuff of yesteryear. Somewhere along the way I had become a small girl on a sodding great horse who really, really wanted to go home.  It didn't take that long to find me, covered in scratches and sunburnt.  When I finally dismounted in the yard, my knees buckled with either shock or relief.  Uncle Gus stuck a filthy great sundowner in my hand and they all looked the other way while I bloody well bucked up!  :<>

Smashing weekend.


Sonia said...

It's all so scandalous and scintillating! Thanks darling Ms Edna, once again you've made my Sunday morning coffee time enjoyable x

Ms Capshaw said...

What fun! I have never heard of this! Where have I been?? Thanks so much for the introduction. I am off to Amazon...

Anonymous said...

Oh Dash, just when I think I must really get some moe work done and concentrate on my objectives, you come out with yet another bunch of amazing posts. I had to pour myself a glass of wine to read...
Wonderful stuff! Thanks