Kenton College Prep School 1957 to 1961
My early schooling was at a day school in Entebbe, Uganda – where I did well and from what I remember, we had some excellent teachers, including a Mrs Coyle.
I started my journey into institutional life when I was 8. When one spends most of the formative and teenage years away from home and family, this can be a difficult period, and assumes a great importance in later life because you have to learn to survive, and the survival techniques learnt tend to shape your character.
When I was a pupil, the headmaster was The Rev C.E.Birks. The school was a Prep School catering for boys from the ages of 8 to approx 13. It was situated in about 35 acres of land and had excellent sports facilities. At the time, the school was for boys only, and it was established for the education of sons of the “Colonials” from surrounding countries still under British rule or influence – Uganda, Kenya, Rhodesia, South Africa, etc
From memory, the school uniform consisted of grey shorts and jacket, with long grey socks with a purple stripe, and a tie with the same purple “motif”
As was the norm with schools at the time, the pupils (about 100) were split into different “Houses” – or teams. Bongo, Oryx and Kudu were the three names I remember, each being a type of African buck or antelope. I was a Bongo man!
Which brings me to one of my lasting memories – which was the train journey from Kampala in Uganda to Nairobi in Kenya.
This was a fantastic trip: there were always at least 10 boys – under the control of one adult (usually a teacher) – and we slept in the train because the journey took about 48 hours. The countryside and scenery was pretty amazing – much of the railway followed the Rift Valley – and we could see elephants and a variety of animals in the wild – sometimes very close to the train because there were no boundaries. We passed through a number of towns and villages on the way, where we could get local food and other items offered through the train window.
Kenton was a happy school for me – I did not feel out of place and all the boys shared the same background and/or “social standing”: we were all pretty much equal. As was common place in schools at the time, we addressed each other by surname. And of course we all missed home and our parents, but this was unavoidable, and so we made the best of it.
My particular memories of my time at Kenton were:
- Dormitory Farting. We slept in dormitories and as you would expect with a group of boys together there were competitions as to the loudest/longest fart. One boy was the outright winner, and his speciality was setting light to the offending gas. His name was Boucher. He was from either Rhodesia or South Africa, and good at cricket, and I believe he was related to Mark Boucher, the wicket keeper in the 1990s for the South African Test cricket team.
- Good Friends I had a number of close friends but the closest was Simon Hart. We were vying all the time for first place academically and sports-wise. He had an older brother, Robert, and I remember staying with his family for a few days in their wonderful home in Nakuru. Simon only had one flaw – he picked his nose (ok, we all do…) but then he ate the proceeds.. Another good friend was Nick Browne, whose father was “high up” in one of the East African Oil giants (Shell or BP) and was therefore well connected. This led directly to me experiencing a few days with the Madhvani family – millionaires from India – who controlled the soap industry in Uganda. Their lifestyle was different to anything I had experienced before and their “ranch” near Jinja was probably on 500 acres, with cars available to drive for anyone – even the children.
- Firework Tragedy There were two brothers at Kenton with me called Pakenham Walsh, both really nice boys, quietly spoken and popular. Every November 5th the school put on a Fireworks display, and any parents who were able to come were invited. One particular Guy Fawkes night, a spark landed in a box containing rockets, igniting the entire box. One of the rockets struck the boy’s father, Mr Pakenham Walsh, in the head. Unfortunately it was fatal: I had only been a few yards away and had witnessed the tragedy at first hand.
- Roller Skating and Marbles The school had a large tarmacked courtyard, which was excellent for two things: one was the game of British Bulldog using roller skates and the other was playing marbles. I became pretty good on the skates, and enjoyed playing marbles (some times called “nyabs” but I have no idea why)
- Snakes Antlions and Chameleons In such a large space inside the school grounds on the outskirts of Nairobi, there were bound to be some dangers: the snake that was the most dangerous was the spitting cobra and there were occasional sightings, but generally speaking they avoided human contact. An interesting insect which could be caught and put into a container filled with sand or loose earth was the antlion. As boys we used to collect antlions, which then made their conically shaped traps in the soil, and we waited for the next unfortunate ant to fall into the cone. And a chameleon was a fascinating creature and could be easily caught, and kept as a pet.
- Corporal Punishment As was common at the time in Boarding Schools, corporal punishment was the ultimate deterrent. At Kenton College, this was usually administered to the backside by a master, either with a gym shoe or a cane. The resulting “weals” or bruises were a source of pride rather than shame, and afterwards displayed to one’s fellow schoolmates. It did happen to me on occasion, and in my opinion, did no long-lasting harm. If you “crossed the line” at school, and were caught, then a caning was on the cards, and you knowingly took that risk. It was preferable to being expelled.
- Entertainment This was the 1950s and before TV, and so entertainment was organised within the school – with Plays and Theatre productions and singing. I remember that I had my first part in a School Play and sang solo one verse of “In the deep mid- Winter” for one Xmas Carols concert – my introduction to amateur Theatre!
- Test Match Cricket My favourite entertainment was provided through a small transistor Radio given to me by my parents – it could receive the Test Match cricket live commentary, and so late at night I could listen to how the England cricket team were doing on the other side of the world. Cricket was very important to most of us……
- School Trips We did not make many school trips, but one that stands out for me again involves Cricket. In about 1960, the MCC was touring East Africa, with “Fiery” Fred Trueman in the team, one of England’s greatest fast bowlers. The match we were lucky enough to see was against a local Kenya side. I remember the Home team were down to the last batsman and Fiery Fred was bowling. The Number 11 was a tall Sikh, wearing the traditional turban: the first ball was despatched for a mighty Six. The second ball very nearly removed the turban, and the third ball (a yorker) shattered the stumps.
- Cubs and Boy Scouts The Baden Powell legacy was very strong in Colonial Africa, and I had been a “cub” before I joined the school. where we had a thriving Boy Scout group – the next level up. This was fun and something to do outside the normal school curriculum. Apart from learning how to start fires and experience basic survival training, we also tried to master campfire cooking…