AFRICA 1959: Introduction

I was one of the fortunate students: I had “scraped a place” (that is, I failed to get a scholarship) at a college in Cambridge; the place’s tenure was to start in 1957, two years after I left boarding school. Those two years had been spent getting my compulsory military service out of the way, time well-spent for I learned enough Russian to be able to carry on studying it at Cambridge. I was fortunate for a number of reasons: the priviliged life of “Oxbridge” undergraduates; the extra advantage of having it on my CV when I applied for jobs; . . . and the “long vacs” – longer holidays than those enjoyed by students at “Redbrick” universities. My first long vac, 1958, was spent with my good friend Tony Kemp, hitch-hiking round Germany and then teaching English at a camp in Turkey. (See Travels: Germany and Turkey),

My most memorable “long vacation” was that of 1959: my first chance to return to East Africa since we left in 1943. This involved signing up for a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, and earning enough money to get to Uganda and (to visit cousins) to Kenya.

While in Africa that summer I kept a handwritten diary and when I got back to England I typed it out. Here, I quote it just as written, except that some abbreviations are dis-abbreviated. The punctuation, capitalization and so on are  generally unchanged; this explains the ‘telegraphese’ style. The diary ends on September 12, about 3 weeks before we flew home.

My comments, and speculative explanations, from the time of writing (2019) are in italics. Re-reading the original text 60 years later I am from time to time ashamed at my racist comments, but I am leaving them unchanged, for they are counter-balanced by more objective and sympathetic descriptions. Anyway, that is how I was; I think I may have changed for the better since then.

The following winter I signed up for an offer that was advertised in the students’ newspaper: inexpensive travel to Johannesburg in 1959 and the provision of job in South Africa for whoever wanted one. Tony was not interested, so I put an ad in the same paper for someone to come on the same plane and then, half-way through the three-plus months, to hitch-hike with me to East Africa. This was a good opportunity for me to return to Uganda, which I had left in 1942, to see it with (almost) adult eyes; and I did not want to travel alone. Philip Woodcock was the only person to reply, so it was with Philip that I shared my African experiences. He was an ideal companion: level-headed and tolerant both of me and of the sometimes trying circumstances. It was Philip who advised me in my purchase of a “good” camera, which I used that year for two rolls of colour film and several black-and-white. Selected photos and cuttings from my scrapbooks are included in this “diary.” Many have not survived well: the rolls of film suffered from being carried across Africa before being printed in England, the colour slides have deteriorated from sixty years’ st dust and fading. Also included are computerized versions of the slides that Philip copied for me. Included are cuttings from papers and brochures, much damaged by time.

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