Every few years my father was entitled to a ‘long leave’, this was for the family to visit the UK. For some reason, this entailed long sea voyages as opposed to flying. Unlike my siblings, I had never flown during my life in East Africa, I had made the sea journey at least nine times. The Union Castle and British India Steam Navigation Company were the most preferred passenger liners.
This involved departing from either Dar es Salaam or Mombasa sailing along the African coast to Aden (then a British protectorate). Then we left the Indian Ocean, to traverse the Red Sea, before entering the Suez Canal and exiting into the Mediterranean Sea. We either sailed directly to Gibraltar, then on to London or stopped at a southern European port and drove to the English Channel.
One particular voyage was more memorable, it was on the BI ship SS Uganda (as a point of interest, she served as a hospital ship during the Falklands war in 1982).
We had reached the port of Suez and here the Gully Gully Man would come on board. He was a magician who entertained the passengers as they traversed the Suez Canal. The children’s show always involved conjuring tricks with baby chicks and eggs (regardless of the danger of ‘bird flu’, let alone ‘animal rights’), they would appear and disappear at the Gully Gully Man’s will. All the children wanted to have baby chicks and all pleaded to their mothers with no avail. After putting the magician ashore at Port Said, the ship sailed directly to Marseille. Here we found our new car waiting for us on the quayside, dad had the Peugeot 403 taken onboard. We completed the voyage to London via Barcelona and Gibraltar.
While in the UK, my father was stopped for a minor traffic offence. As dad rolled down the car window, he thought if he spoke Swahili, he could plead ignorance and get away with it. To my father’s horror, the policeman replied to him in fluent Swahili.
We stayed with family while waiting for my siblings to break up from school. They were to return home with us on yet another memorable sea journey.