We were making preparations to go on leave to the UK, but this time it was different. Dad brought out the crates from the garage and started to repair these.
Flight and quarantine accommodation was arranged for Petro the dog, the cats Piza and Gopi The Third. Sadly, just before our pets were due to fly, a wild animal killed Gopi.
Our servants Ogano and Okero wanted to come to the UK. The thought of two servants each with four wives, and numerous children, living with us in suburbia would give ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ a new meaning. My father gave them several thousand shillings and train tickets to their hometown of Kisumu.
The heavy crates were sent ahead and after saying a fond farewell to our friends in Kampala, we boarded the train to Mombasa.
In Mombasa, we stayed a day or two before embarking onto the ship, so my sister and I spent the day swimming and sunbathing at Nyali beach. On returning to our hotel both of us were sick (as a dog) with sunstroke. I had never used sun protection before and this was the first time I’d been burnt. Not the sort of souvenir you wanted from your last days in East Africa.
As the ship entered the port of Aden, little boats would came along side to sell souvenirs. Amongst the boats were boys who dived into the harbour to retrieve coins thrown by passengers.
We had friends ashore and spent part of the day just outside of the town on the beach. At this point in history British troops were battling the NFL (National Liberation Front) and FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen). Soldiers were patrolling the streets and for some reason this didn’t seem to worry my parents enough to stop my siblings wondering by themselves. We rendezvoused and returned to the ship, next port of call was Suez.
At Suez, my mother and I jumped ship and took off for Cairo. We visited the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities to see Tutankhamen lying in state, it was impressive. I have subsequently seen it twice more, only to find the exhibits becoming a bit dilapidated by theft and lack of care.
We had a quick look at one of King Farouk’s former palaces and some of the hundreds of classic cars he used to own. Nasser was the driving force that overthrew him in a coup and in 1953 Egypt became a republic.
Next stop, the Great Pyramid of Giza, which involved, to the horror of my mother, me being snatched and placed on a camel, then a back-breaking walk into the centre of the pyramid. Later in life, I repeated the experience and with much effort managed to climb to the top of the Great Pyramid.
Then it was time for quick refreshments at the Cairo Hilton, then a mad dash to Port Said to catch the boat. Later my sister told me she thought we had missed the boat at Suez before it proceeded through the canal.
We experienced a pleasant cruise across the eastern Mediterranean Sea before a night passage through the Strait of Messina. I watched lava spew from Mount Etna like fireworks into the night sky. This was not the first active volcano I had seen on previous voyages. We had sailed around the island of Stromboli, as well as took a drive up to the lip of Vesuvius.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my dad’s employers, was paying for our voyage to the UK. If we chose to disembark at Naples, the money saved could be used to drive across Europe. The catch was we had to arrive in the UK at the same time as the ship. Our car was lowered onto the docks and we set off.
Our route took us to Rome, Florence and Lugarno where we crossed into Switzerland. As we drove towards St Gotthard Pass, my mother saw people skiing and asked dad to pull over. Mum stepped out of the car and declared, “let’s have a snow fight” and put one foot forward. Her leg plunged deep into the snow right up to the hip and the rest of her would have followed if dad hadn’t grabbed her. She had just stepped off the side of a mountain.
We were stopped at the Swiss-German border, apparently my passport was not in order. I was born in a country that didn’t exist anymore ‘Tanganyika’, ironically it was a former German colony. Rather than go on without me, the family turned around and headed to the nearest consulate for the necessary paperwork.
Having succeeded in entering Germany, we proceeded to the nearest exit, Belgium via Cologne.
Taking a break for their children, our parents went sight-seeing in Brussels. On returning to the hotel arm-in-arm, a woman tried to wrestle my dad away from my mum. My mother hung on to him only for a repeat performance by another woman. It slowly dawned on them that they were walking through the ‘Red Light District’ and the local prostitutes didn’t like the idea of any outside competition.
We drove on to Dunkirk and took the ferry to Dover, we were finally in the UK. After moving into a rented cottage, we visited our pets who were still in quarantine.
I was in a strange land, the population spoke in a funny way, the climate was cold and I was the only teenager in Britain donning shorts.
This brings my journey from Kongwa to London to a close, but not to an end. In October, I will return with more travel stories.