Memories of Kenya & The Bolter by Frances Osborne
I have mixed memories of my life in Kenya from 1961 to 1982. On the plus side are my happy recollections of the coast with its golden beaches, the grasslands teaming with wild animals, the lush green highlands. On the minus side I was always a stranger in a strange land. I missed my family and friends in England and in spite of a privileged lifestyle wanted to live in England. In fact, one of the happiest days of my life was when I returned to Europe for good.
Although Kenyan life was not one I embraced, I enjoy reading about the country. Karen Von Blixen’s Out of Africa and Elizabeth Huxley’s Flame Trees of Thika are two of my favourite books. I also found The Lunatic Express about the building of the railway interesting, and shuddered at the thought of the man eating lions the workers encountered in – if my memory is correct – Tsavo on the way from Mombasa to Nairobi.
I am now reading The Bolter the biography of Idina Sackville by Frances Osborne, about which Valerie Grove of the Times writes: ‘A corker of a subject, Idina’s behaviour…probably inspired The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. Osborne’s richly wrought descriptions of glittering Paris nights and lush mountainous landscapes of Kenya’s Happy Valley are fabulous…A breakneck-paced, thoroughly diverting story.’
Apart from the account of Idina Sackville’s life are evocative descriptions of Kenya – the land, its people and settlers.
Idina and her second husband, Charles, won a 3,000 acre farm in a government lottery. When they reached their land: “…ahead of them the Aberdare Hills rolled dark green in the setting sun; from them fell ice-cold brooks, swollen by the recent rains. Below these their virgin farmland glowed with luminescent grassland and thick, red soil.”
Although the land had been developed by the time I lived in Kenya, there were many such views in the Highlands and always the rich red, fertile soil. When Idina settled there “Each bush throbbed with creatures large and small. Elephant, giraffe and antelope rustled through breaking out and swaying across open land. Leopard and monkey hung from trees reverberating with birdsong….at night when Idina and Charles sat outside they were surrounded by lookouts watching for wandering elephant, big cats or buffalo – its long, curved horns the most lethal of all.”
All this I can relate to but if I regret anything it is the golden Mombasa beaches on the undeveloped, idyllic south coast where we rented a house during our children’s school holidays. We played in the surf, swam in the warm sea and searched for shells at peace with the world.