Informative image. Pupils of Turi in the 1960s

THE MAGIC OF TURI: Memories of St Andrewʼs School in the late 1960ʼs

Informative image. Picture of Turi pupils in the 1960s

Jean and Ian McAteer

I returned to St Andrewʼs School Turi in July 2010 for the first time after almost 40 years. I was with my family, my wife and three children – on a Kenya safari holiday – my first time back in Kenya since 1980. Iʼm not sure why I had an urge to return – but the visit got me thinking about what it was about the school which was so special, and why it holds a unique place in my heart.

I thought the school may be interested to read my recollections, if only for historical interest or perhaps for some old Turians who enjoy reading about the school. I can see from other descriptions that I am not the only one to have fond memories of my childhood in the Kenya Highlands. I was born in Nairobi in 1958. My father was a journalist on the East African Standard, and we moved around East Africa in the 1960ʼs.  Initially in Dar es Salaam, then Nairobi again, and then Mombasa. By 1967 we were in Kampala, Uganda, where my father was Editor of the Uganda Argus.

My younger sister, Jean, was suffering from asthma at the time, and the doctor advised that the air in Uganda was not helpful, and that a boarding school in the Kenya Highlands may help her  illness. So in late 1967 Jean left for St Andrewʼs School Turi, at the tender age of 7. My parents decided shortly after that I should join her to keep her company (little did they know that the boys never spoke to ʻdamesʼ – and in all our time at the school we barely exchanged two words) so in 1968 I recall being bundled onto a train in Kampala and heading off into the unknown. The journey is a blur – it seemed to go on for days. I recall crisp white bed linen – the dining car with silver service – and the young African children chasing the train as it left railway stations. I remember the excitement of the bunk beds and the clickety-clack of the train sending us into a deep sleep.

I vaguely remember arriving at the school (did we walk from the station or were we in a bus?) and being led into the junior dormitory. Mrs Simian (was that her real name?) was the matron. A fierce muscular oriental woman who I was advised by some other boys was not to be messed with. Seeing her close up I was willing to accept the advice – she appeared terrifying. (Iʼm sure in reality she was a kind person; but young boys like to dramatise things.) I was given an iron bed with a hard mattress in the ʻtrainsʼ dorm, and after a quick supper we were put to bed and the lights switched off.

That first night was horrific for me. I cried for hours, silently in case I was found out. I had a suffocating feeling of being totally abandoned – utter desolation. I wanted my home, my mother and my father. The reality of ʻboardingʼ and being away from home, was sinking in. I had no idea how I would survive. The feeling stayed with me for a few weeks, but nothing compared with that first night. I think that was the night that I ʻgrew upʼ; in the sense that I understood we are all ultimately alone in this world.
I now ask myself the question: how did I come to enjoy Turi? Given I was miles from home, away from my parents at only 9 years old, in a strange and remote environment; what was it that made Turi a positive and rewarding experience for me? How did it become such an extraordinary world; a world full of memories, fun, exciting adventures and a world which I can remember with such vivid clarity?

The answer, as many others have indicated, must lie in the special environment that was created by the leadership and staff of the school. I arrived shortly after Dick Drown became Headmaster. I remember him as a rather severe and imposing figure – however there was also a gentleness and compassion about him. Reading what others have said – it is clear that there was a cadre of  extraordinary teachers and carers at the school at this time. Gwyneth Drown I remember as a vibrant and passionate English teacher – who got us all enthused about the subject.

Miss Greenshields, my first teacher, I adored. I had been struggling academically at Nakasero Primary School in Kampala in a class of almost 30. At Turi I was in a class initially of about 10, and I thrived. I thought Eddie Stephensonʼs History and Geography lessons were brilliant. (We were in awe that he used to play football for a third division team in UK – at least that was the rumour.) Mr Forbes was a generous and kind man who made us all feel special. Mr Tyres was firm but kind – I enjoyed Scouts and rugby. David and Janet Austin were the ʻrebelsʼ – they had a wonderful
freshness and spirit about them – Art was my favourite subject. I can still remember the model yachts we built and sailed on the dam. (We have remained good friends with the Austins, and they still retain the warmth they had then.) I also remember the Leggatts, Mrs Hutchison, Miss Dumble, Sue Hindley and Gill Morris. I now understand why we called the teachers ʻMaʼ and ʻPaʼ – a legacy of the Lavers who had left a few years earlier.

The only teacher I feared was Mrs Tyres. We all amused ourselves by imitating her ʻhum humʼ tic – but when she was patrolling to make sure we had eaten her meals she was terrifying. The one meal I couldnʼt stomach (it made me physically retch) was the curry. Rumour had it this was the remains of all the weekʼs previous meals – cooked up with a curry sauce. One day I had avoided my dose of curry – with some assistance from David Austin – when she caught me. She watched whilst I was made to eat a plate of the awful concoction. After lunch I just reached the dining room door when I vomited it all up outside, in front of a furious Mrs Tyres! To this day I will swear it was not deliberate – me and that curry just didnʼt agree.

There are so many snippets of memories of Turi that will be with me forever. Roller skating with what now feels like Olympic skill around the big hall. How did we do that; how did we show such panache, with such basic roller skates? Swimming in the ʻpoolʼ – if that algaeinfested, slime ridden, freezing pond can be called a pool. Playing British bulldogs in the woods near the dam. It felt wild and exciting – it probably was wild and exciting. Trying to float the rafts we had made in Scouts on the dam – and coming out covered in leeches. We just took it all in our stride. I remember Mr Tyres dropped us off somewhere in the middle of nowhere, gave us a map and a compass, and told us to find our way home. We were ʻrealʼ Boy Scouts, as Baden Powell had intended. (Afterwards I was always mildly amused by Scouts in the UK – who met in a hut and tied knots. Scouting was made for Africa – not the Home Counties.)

After the rains I recall flying ants flitting around like snowdrops on the lawn at the front of the school. One boy showed us how to eat them; remove the wings and pop them in your mouth. They tasted like butter. This was great fun, until some girls (ʻdamesʼ) ran at us screaming, clearly working for the Insect Liberation Front – attacking us for being ʻmurderersʼ. I got some nasty scratches that day.

We also played a cruel game with the safari ants. Grab a soldier ant behind the head so he canʼt bite, offer his pincers the edge of your shorts – and then remove the body. Repeat this brutal act many times until your shorts are decorated by the dismembered heads of numerous safari ants. We would proudly display our efforts to boys who were unfortunate enough to have missed the opportunity.

The school and the grounds was our world. We roamed the corridors, paths and fields with confidence. It was small enough for us to feel safe, but large enough to offer excitement, with numerous secret nooks and crannies. The mysterious Garden of Peace (gone since the boys dormitory was built), the sweet smells of the tuck shop behind the chapel, and the occasional thrill of being allowed into a staff house for Scripture Union readings – it all offered so much for us. I vividly remember the area on the edge of the playing fields, near the railway line, where we created an intricate network of mud roads and buildings for our dinky cars – a wonder of structural engineering; with flyovers, bridges and dual carriageways. One craze followed another as we dreamed up our own entertainment.

There was never enough time – we would always have to reluctantly leave for tea or baths – so consumed were we with our games. I have no idea what games to girls played. For us boys it was marbles, British bulldogs, roller skating, tennis quoits and of course Dinky cars. We tied some string to the front of our cars (the MGB-GT was the object of greatest desire at the time) – tied this to a stick, and then pulled our cars around. This created an opportunity for all sorts of games. We played in the old tennis court area opposite the San, enacting car battles of awesome significance. Once you were rammed and turned over you had to wait until a friendly car righted you, ready again for battle.

It was David Austin, the Art and Crafts teacher, who noticed our obsession with cars. Match this with Kenyaʼs obsession with the East African Safari Rally (as it was then) and you have a powerful recipe. To our amazement and delight, David Austin organised a school-sanctioned ʻofficialʼ Turi Dinky Rally. For weeks beforehand we were in a lather of excitement – getting our cars prepared and ready, practising and discussing tactics. I entered with a friend, Torquie MacLeod. Naturally we were driving for Scotland. The big day came. It felt like there were around 100 entrants; however the records show that there were just 38. The start was in the middle of the large hall. Mr Austin launched the cars down a huge ramp. We tied up our car – and we were off!

The next day and night seemed to pass by in minutes. We drove hard, hunched over, desperately trying not to tip our cars over. Marshals checked to see we took the correct time penalties. The night leg was in torchlight. The finish was exhilarating. We came second overall – still to this day one of my proudest achievements. Jonathan Deane and R. Hamilton (?) were the winners, whilst Paul Kiingi and Emmanuel Katto came third. (I understand that Katto since went on to drive in the Kenya Safari Rally for real.) To hear that the Dinky Rally, albeit in a different format, is still an annual Turi event, makes me proud to have been part of the very first event.

Right: Report in East African Standard on the first Dinky Safari. No story of Turi in those times is complete without a mention of the food. Iʼm sure the food was healthy, and we were well nourished. However it was far from ʻgreatʼ cuisine. We had names for the various dishes -ʻelephantʼs earwaxʼ for the yellow sponge goo pudding, ʻLondon mudʼ for the chocolate pudding
made with very little real chocolate, and Arabʼs toenails (these were not politically correct times) for the rice pudding. The bubble and squeak really was made of left-overs – and Iʼve already mentioned the horror of the curry. And did the hot cocoa actually have any cocoa or milk in it? I also recall endless cups of tea poured out of huge steel jugs.

I also remember the standard punishment for talking after lights out in the dormitory. We were sent into the corridor and made to kneel facing the wall. I have no idea how long this ordeal usually lasted – but it was pure hell. Once Mrs Hutchison, our matron, forgot about me. She woke me up after I had fallen asleep against the wall and sent me to bed – with a tinge of embarrassment – it felt like it was midnight. Bath times were also interesting. Three to a bath and around 60 seconds to get washed. Did we bath once a week? Or twice a week? I canʼt recall. No doubt we had our own special perfume much of the time. Great hilarity also when someone, perhaps Jonathan Atkinson, climbed up the wall to peek over at the girls – the shrieks pierced our eardrums.

I remember the names and faces of my friends and classmates well, even though it was 40 years ago: Torquie and Torrie MacLeod, Mike Ofumbi, Paul and Steve Kiingi, Jimmy Kibukamusoke, Emmanuel Katto, Peter Seth-Smith, Chris Baillie, Tommy Davidson, Jonathan Atkinson, Jonathan Deane, Richard Silk, Andrew Price and Edgar Kikira. Amongst the girls: Caroline Tremlett, Sonita Sondhi, Elizabeth Walters, Alison Flatt and Diana Lindsay. Most I have not heard from – we had no email or Facebook to maintain links – one of the odd things about Turi is how it ended for us all so abruptly. Once we left we were all scattered to the four winds – to start over again in a new school and probably a new country.

It was perhaps this abruptness of the ending of my time at Turi (I left in 1971) that meant I felt I had to return – to reconnect with the place. At the time of leaving I had no idea what the place meant to me – and left without emotion or fuss. Returning was altogether different. Initially I was confused. I only vaguely remembered the entrance off the main road and across the railway line. The electrified fence and security at the gate is sadly a sign of modern Kenya – no such defences were necessary in the 1960ʼs.

The road now runs around the games fields, and with all the new buildings I didnʼt recognize anything. However meeting Mary-Anne Revill on the main steps I soon got my bearings, and from then on was able to navigate my way around. I was delighted to see so much unchanged: the main buildings, some of the wall paintings – the chapel and tennis courts, San and the dining room. The bathrooms and kitchens brought back smells that took me back 40 years in a flash. Seeing the dorm and the spot where I spent that first night almost brought tears – a cathartic moment – I was glad I made the effort to see St Andrewʼs School again.

When I was at Turi it always seemed to be Kilimanjaro that won all the cups (did Mr Tyres pre-select all the athletic Ugandan boys?) and my house, Elgon, trailed in 3rd or 4th. Much to my amusement, I see not much has changed in this respect from the displays in the dining hall. Amused to see that my old house, Elgon, is still unsuccessful in sport. The water tank and kitchens remain as they were; and much to my amazement so does the cork tree by the chapel. In the chapel I found names of old friends on brass plaques.

Little did I realise that my name (and my sisterʼs) was also there – my wife found them. (My father thinks he donated a small amount of money as part of a fund raising appeal.) The chapel and cork tree. I was surprised (and proud) to see the names of my sister and myself on one of the benches. The classrooms and sports fields remain more or less unchanged, although everything felt smaller than I remember – a common effect, given I was a diminutive nine year-old at the time.

And so after 1½ hours the visit was over. We thanked Mary-Anne Revill for her kindness, and drove out of the gates – almost certainly for the last time. Time to go one last time: with my family at the front of the school. Thinking over the experience, and what Turi did for me, I realise that it was no accident it was a good place. It was a good place because of the people; the Headmaster and the staff. For my happy times, and the good education I was given at Turi, I owe those teachers, and all the Turi staff, a debt of gratitude.

Ian McAteer – Edinburgh, July 2010
St Andrewʼs School, Turi. (1968-1971.)