About 1963 we moved to Nyali, which is a district on the mainland, immediately on the northern side of Mombasa Island. Nyali was connected to Mombasa Island by a pontoon bridge. It was quite a feature of the town, I think because it had such character, since it could adjust to the fairly considerable tide that occurs in the creek. At one end there was sufficient height so that the Kenya Meat Commission ship could pass underneath on it’s way to the meat factory at the top of the creek. The creek was quite deep and it was rumoured that sharks would follow the KMC ship on its passage to the meat factory. Whether it was true of not, I never sailed or swam in the creek when the KMC ship was around.
When the new bridge was built in the late 80s or 90s slightly further up the creek, the government sold off the land that formed the approach to the old bridge. This turned out to be very short sighted. Within a short space of time, the land had been developed and the volume of traffic increased dramatically. As I write this in 2016 the government is under pressure to put in a second bridge, on the sight of the old bridge, to relieve the congestion.
This bungalow in Nyali was larger than the one in Tudor and was distinctly an upward move, I think. We lived there for around the next two and a half years, and I remember our time there with great affection. My father built a tree house in the garden which could only be accessed by a rope ladder, so we were able to draw up the ladder and pretend that we weren’t coming down when it was time to come in for tea. The house had air conditioning in the master bedroom and it was a delight for David and I to come in to our parent’s bedroom first thing in the morning and get cool, since it got hot from the moment the sun rose. On a subsequent visit to Kenya in 2010, I went past the house, and was very sad to see it derelict with goats grazing on knee high grass in the front garden. I knew then that it wouldn’t be long before it was knocked down and developed. Looking at Google maps, there is a large ugly office or block of flats behind the house, and the garden is completely devoid of greenery.
My impression is that we were quite safe in the Nyali neighbourhood and consequently I feel David and I had a fair degree of freedom as children. There was little traffic so we would cycle our bikes along the murrum roads and go to ‘Nyali Stores’, which was the local ‘duka’ (Swahili for ‘shop’) or visit friend’s houses nearby. Certainly as white children we were treated very well by the local Africans and we never felt in any danger at all. I must have been six or seven years old, when on one occasion my friend Tommy and I cycled too far from home and ended up a couple of miles away in Frere town, which had been a settlement for freed slaves. Although slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807, it lingered on in East Africa for another 70 years, fuelled by Arab traders who took the slaves to the main trading point in Zanzibar. The original community of freed slaves in Frere town was eventually resettled about 30km to the west of Mombasa in the 1930s. By the time we were living in Nyali, the district was called Kisimani and was a typical African village. Tommy and I got separated somehow, although I suspect he was just the other side of a mud house. Some kindly Africans pointed us back in the right direction and we managed to make it home again. I am not sure if we told our parents of our escapades or not! On other occasions we would cycle to a nearby disused open mine, which was great fun since there were lots of hills and circuits to ride around.
Tommy Davidson and I were great friends; I think he was the first ‘real’ friend I had. There was one defining moment I experienced with him, which made us convinced that there was a heaven and an afterlife. We found a dead bird in the garden and so we did the decent thing and buried it. The trouble was, being typical boys; we decided a day or so later to dig it up! When we came to dig it up it had gone! Vanished! It clearly must have gone to heaven. It was many years before I realised the simple truth was that we had dug in the wrong place!
The house at Nyali
We moved house again around 1965. However, we only lived here for a short time, a year to 18 months at most. It was built on two floors and featured a much larger garden. One of the main attractions was the pool, although unfortunately there was no filtration system, nor any way of filling it. Someone had built the outhouse for the pump, but not installed any machinery. So I used it as a ‘den’, with Tommy Davidson! When we moved in, the water was thick with green algae, there were probably frogs in it as well. The other downside was that the main drain was situated on the pool wall, about two feet from the bottom, meaning that when you emptied the water, you had to use endless buckets to finish the job! However, it still was a pool, and in that hot weather it was indispensable. It took a very long time to fill via the garden hose, and so we would leave the water running over night to do this.
My mother had acquired a 1948 Morris Minor, which I christened Bessy Brum-Brum, because she made ‘brum-brum’ noises. The car that is, not my mother. Although in truth my mother probably did make ‘brum-brum’ sounds in an attempt to encourage Bessy up hills. Since the car only had a five horse power ‘Qualcast’ engine (the type that are used in lawnmowers these days), she did struggle up the ‘dongas’ (hills in Swahili). In Nyali, the houseboy built a car port for her, with a roof made of ‘makouti’ (dried palm leaves), but it fell down in a monsoon rain.
Anyone could have stolen Bessy, the boot didn’t lock, and you could climb into the car via the boot and start the car as the ignition key didn’t work. You had to start her by pulling a button on the dashboard. If she is still on the road she would be worth a lot of money as a vintage car today. The previous owner frequently used to drive her from Kampala in Uganda to Mombasa, which would have been a serious feat in any car, let alone in Bessy! Great shame we didn’t keep her – I can’t image what she would be worth today as a classic car!