In my letters I referred only briefly to the journey back from Diego to Mombasa on Wednesday 7th March. It was again by BOAC flying boat. This was a plane which flew fairly low, and the part of the trip I found interesting was that up the East African coast – “Vast areas of bush and palms with isolated villages and huts, interconnected by winding footpaths and tracks – really quite interminable; swamps and estuaries and islands, with the shadow of the plane moving over this toyland which used to be darkest Africa.”
The first thing I noticed about Mombasa was the standard of the shops. “After Diego, with its shops small, dirty and empty except for shoddy local produce, this is a fairyland. Large clean European stores and shops, even with European assistants in many of them, and every type of luxury on sale. Everything from food and patent medicines to shoes and dresses seems to be in abundance.” I compared myself to a country boy on his first visit to town, looking goggle eyed in every shop window. I wondered how it could come about that a British colony could be living so much better than the mother country in wartime. This did not prevent me letting myself go gastronomically, whilst complaining about the high prices, “everyone in Kenya being rich”. I instancing a glass of milk costing 6d (2.5p), milk shake and iced coffee 1s 3d (6.25p) each, fruit salad 1s 6p (7.5p).
I found myself back in the same 451 Radio Maintenance Holding Co mess as before leaving Mombasa for Diego, in fact back in the same room, still with the same minor structural (glass and lock) defects as when I had left it thirteen months earlier. Nearly all the faces had changed, though, but the earlier ones had mostly been replaced by familiars from Madagascar. Even Oruko, my boy in Madagascar, was there – “I was so startled to see him that I accidentally shook hands with him, part of my bad training in civilian circles in Madagascar. Fortunately, no one saw. He was shaken to the depths of his soul.”
“It is unusual to find a colonial who exhibits any rationality when discussing the colour bar. The problem has lost all interest for me by constant repetition – East Africans will never change their views anyhow. It goes to the extent that white Seychelles girls, of whom there are many in Nairobi, are not admitted to Nairobi hotels because it is known there is colour in most Seychelles families, even if it does not show. The smallest trace of colour puts these unfortunate people outside the pale and the master race has developed a snobbishness and an accent which are trying to me.”
Fortunately, the Commanding Officer, Major Bartlet, was an easy going individual rather like a benevolent uncle. His was the first East African mess I had encountered where there was no requirement to change into longs for dinner.