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Nanny Get Your Gun Rumuruti - Car Hartly 1956-7 by Neil McLeod
At the end of term we never knew who would be coming to pick us up.  Sometimes it was mum and we would go home on the bus, or one of mum’s friends, like Anthea Venning, might drive us home to where ever we were to stay. It was never our father any longer, not since the move to Nairobi.  He was away in Eldoret doing government work.  I am not sure that our mother ever learned to drive properly.  There were occasions when she would go off with a friend and I heard that they both had driven the car, but I have never seen my mother drive.
It was Christmas again. Alan and I waited.  Lots of the boys would hang around on the front steps of the school, in front of the wrought iron gates with the name Saint Mary’s School above the portico. This is where the day-boys were dropped off each morning, and collected at night. Now it was the rendezvous point for us boarders who sat with whatever luggage we would take waiting for parents to arrive from all over the colony.  From there you could look down the driveway to the bridge over the Nairobi river which cut the golf links in half, and separated the dark leaved coffee plantation from the rest of the green hillsides.  
The entrance to Saint Mary’s School was off the Musongari Road. The driveway ran across the river and up the hill, past “Saints” to St Austin’s Church with its pointed clock-tower steeple of corrugated iron roofing.  The chimes  had already rung out four o’clock when Car Hartly came to pick us up, an occasion that stands out in my mind. Dressed in plaid shirt and khaki shorts with his hair neat parted on the left, he drove up in a big American pickup truck, the standard for the farmers and settlers. WE had never met before, and it was another act of faith that Alan and I simply acknowledged who we were when asked, and then just got in.  There were guns in the front cabin and it was a long drive from Nairobi to Rumuruti a hundred and forty miles away.  The whine of the tires on the tarmac soon petered out when we came to the outskirts of the city, then we bumped along on the murram roads for hours. The route north took us up past Naivasha with its pretty lake and on into the night which drops so suddenly there on the equator at six o’clock. Moths and fireflies shone in the beam of the headlights. It was a missed opportunity, had I been better groomed in the social graces I could have engaged this fascinating man in conversation.  I surely fell asleep.  
It was very late when drove into the compound and there was our mother to greet us, paraffin lamp in hand as we pulled up on the dry un-gardened earth which was the front yard.  In the thin light I could vaguely make out what seemed to be a large earthen quadrangle skirted with buildings with fences in the distance.  There were trees half way across with other vehicles parked under them.  But all that I remember now from what I saw and became so familiar with in the light of day.  Alan and I had our beds made up and ready for us in an elephant grass sided hut next to my mother’s.  My sister Roida and my baby brother Ewan were in with mum. We were too tired to eat anything but I did have to go to the loo.  
The outhouse was a long-drop just diagonally away from mum’s cottage at the end of a well worn path, far enough away so that the breath on the breeze did not offend.  I was bursting and yet uncomfortable about taking the hurricane lamp and traipsing off in the dark.  The obligatory dudus, the insects, were flying up towards me and the light, purring by and tapping at my face and hands.  Half way to the shack I could make out the wooden siding.  It looked rickety and had knot holes.  There I was alone on the path when it happened.  I got the shock of my life. Lunging at me, out of the pitch black of the long grass, with no roar, just a faint clink, and I was face to face with a big cat. I could feel electricity coursing up and down my body.  It was a cheetah on the end of a chain.  Only later was I to discover that ‘Sugar’ was one of the farm pets. Probably relatively harmless.  But at that moment as terrifying as anything could be to a nine year-old.  I had just about lost everything right there on the path, and continued to tingle right the way through the process of wondering whether anything was looking at me through the obviously patent knot holes that pocked the side of the rough hut standing on the boards. I had a lot to say to my mother about that when I walked back leerily eying Sugar on my return.  Mother had another cheetah in a cage right outside the door to her hut, but more of that later.  In our boy’s hut we just had basins of water to wash out faces and hands and by the light of a candle we got into bed and drifted off to sleep. I don’t recall brushing our teeth.
In a blink it was morning!
For a year my mother worked as secretary to Car Hartley, one of East Africa’s great-white hunters.  He was a tracker and trapper of enormous renown, and most of the zoos around the world, that had East African species, had game that ‘Bwana Car’ had caught.  As corresponding secretary she lived there on the 45,000-acre ranch, in Laikipia near Rumuruti, and would reply to all the requests for specimens and catalogue the orders so that plans could be made to hunt and capture, unharmed, the exact creatures required.  Arrangements then had to be made to transport them by sea or plane to their final destination.  It was exciting and interesting work, and once again she had to get back into the upcountry lifestyle without electricity, living in mud and wattle housing and primitive facilities. 
Car Hartley had chosen a particularly challenging and dangerous line of work, and yet the whole air of the preparations and execution of the safari process was like a troupe of boys playing cowboys and indians.  They experimented with different types of traps and snares.  They invented new ones. Strapped into seats bolted to the front mudguards they would chase large game all over the bush in modified trucks, using long poles with a lasso on the end.  A sort of twentieth century tilting.  Ungainly animals like giraffe or zebra or buck ran madly rampaging this way and that until they were exhausted, eventually their necks were in the noose, then the chase was done.  The risk of getting hurt or worse was a daily feature for everyone on such trips particularly if the mark was a rhino or hippo. These were the days before darts and hypnotics. Special cages had to be previously prepared so that the animals could be crated for transportation.  It was fascinating to see the caravan return at the end of a successful run.  The rain pelting down, and a hotch-potch of assorted animals in odd shaped wooden boxes crowded and strapped onto the backs of the lorries, with tarpaulins draped at odd angles, bringing the ‘trophies’ home. Tired and unwashed comrades had sought their marks for as long as the weather would hold or the list needed filling.  
It was a tough business and Car Hartley was a tough man .  The borderline between poaching and white hunting looks vague at times.  His work did bring the awareness of the world to the presence and the plight of East African wild life.  In that sense he was a missionary.  The Car Hartleys lived in an isolated part of western Kenya not far from Rumuruti. The family had mirgrated here from South Africa as outspanners in the 1890s and established the cattle ranch.  The homestead was a typical rambling bungalow style with thatched roof and stone chimney.  Broad eaves made the verandahs and an insulting parrot was caged by the front door.  His wife, Daphne, was a tiny South African lady, and she had borne him her fair share of children.  She exuded a hard and no nonsense attitude, and was the fist in the velvet glove behind the family, never unkind or spiteful but firm in the distance we felt we should keep.  Their son Michael was around the farm when we stayed their during the holidays.  He had acted in safari films as a jungle boy and liked wearing special high laced tropical boots.  We would have been better off if we had worn similar footwear.  A number of films were made on or near the farm that featured the area and the animals which helped to set the stage for the work of the East African Wildlife Society. Most notable were “Mugambo” with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, and “Hatari” with John Wayne.
Michael Hartley was particularly fond of Nanny the chimpanzee. He would sit with her under the eucalyptus tree below her kennel and she would groom him almost treating him like her baby. The chain that restrained Nanny was tethered to a cable strung between two eucalyptus trees.  She had quite a wide range on her chain, and you could not park to close to benefit from the shade other wise she would have access to the vehicle. We became immune to the sound of Nanny lunging at her chain, it was just one more noise that blended into background music of our new life. Occasionally she would break the chain and then it was Michael that was sent to subdue her and calm her down so that she agreed to be restrained.
On the return of a safari party Nanny excitedly broke her chain and before anything could be done to recapture her, the agile chimp had got into a lorry cab and had grasped a rifle.  Suddenly there was a tremendous commotion with the Watu yelling and laughing, running this way and that as Nanny strode around waving the rifle in the air. It was complete pandemonium! The rumpus seemed to encourage her and she ran towards a group of laughing scurrying onlookers who were suddenly screaming and running away.  No one knew if the rifle was loaded, or what the chances were that Nanny could pull the trigger. The situation was completely out of hand until news of it was brought to Carr Hartley.  He obviously got his son involved and it was Michael who defused the situation and was finally able to  calm the chimp down and wrest the rifle from her.  It was hilarious, but the distinction between comedy and tragedy can be extremely fine.
Our accommodations on the farm were three separate buildings, two mud and wattle huts and the grass-sided bath house. Mum’s house was of two rooms the inner bedroom and the dining room, both with windows.  The kitchen house held the stove, sink and kitchen table, a reasonable pantry, and wonder of wonders a paraffin burning refrigerator. Most people who don’t drive large recreational vehicles are not aware that a low burning flame powers the generator which circulates the ammonia, hydrogen and water refrigerant.  Since we had been living in Nairobi we were familiar with the nicety of being able to keep the cream and the eggs and cheese cool. However, old habits die hard, and the milk and cream that we were brought daily was kept in a jug on the table by the kitchen window standing in a basin of water and covered with a tea towel.  The evaporation kept the milk cool.  One of the regular exercises was the beating of the cream to make our butter. It was an astonishing but time consuming process.  Just about when you think you can not wave the fork any more the whey separates form the curds and the butter forms. Fresh and delicious.
The bath house had three rooms, the bathroom, our bedroom and a storage unit. Beside the bathroom far enough away to avoid the risk of fire, was a stone fireplace with a ramp up which a forty gallon petrol drum was rolled to sit over the fire pit.  It was filled by the river about seventy five yards away and man-handeled all the way back to the ramp.  The trick was to get it started at the right point before rolling it up so that the exit hole was at the bottom for the pipe connection. That pipe went straight through the elephant grass-sided wall to the bath.  It was a luxuary my mother enjoyed, and we would share the bath water after her. We didn’t have baths very often!
There was a lot to see and do on Car Hartley’s Farm.  First of all we had our own pet cheetah right outside our front door.  We called her Rita. She had been rescued and had a broken forearm. It was assumed that her mother was poached and she was found abandoned.  The plaster setting on her leg did not slow her down though, and when we played ball with her she was extremely fast. You also had to be prepared to let her get the ball when you were both charging for it out deference for her claws.  Before long the plaster was gone and she was running full tilt.  Like all the cats on the farm, Rita had fresh meat every day. She was a wonderful pet. One of my favorite photographs is of my mother holding Rita sitting on a tarpaulin.
Across the compound beyond the eucalyptus trees with Nanny’s kennel and all the parked vehicles was the main house where the Hartley’s lived. Built of stone, thatched and elegant, but I never went into it.  At the front door you were greeted by a rather rude parrot, and on the other side of the house by the doors opening onto a lawn area was another caged cat, a young leopard. Just walking by that cage was a frightening experience for this cat was savage.  Close at hand there were other cages with bush baby’s in them, which are very sweet. Beyond their garden area was the hippo pool a barred area of the river with some surprisingly beefy inmates. When they rose up and gave a yawn it never failed to impress us with just how wide they can open their mouths. It would take Captain Ahab to boast of seeing a wider oral cavity, and what huge nasty snaggly discolored old teeth they looked.
The animals are the main event in Kenya, closely seconded by the tribesfolk, and there are so many colorful varieties of each. On Car Hartley’s Farm we had both at close quarters. From the moment we arrived in Koru five years previously, we were discovering more about the local wildlife every day, it was a feature of life in the colony.  Here on the farm we were surrounded by animals.  First of all there were five hundred head of cattle from which we got the fresh milk and the jug of cream daily. From this resource the food for all the carnivores was provided. In the boma in which the cattle were secured at night, there were also elephant, rhino and buffalo, zebra and the warthogs.  These latter behaved like, and after so long probably thought they were cows.  The spoor from these wild species was, it was felt, a factor in decreasing the incursion by foraging leopards and hyenas during the nights.  The local tribesfolk, the Samburu, were pasturalists who had their village on the farm half a mile away from our compound. They supervised the management of the cattle. Over time a number of them had worked their way into support roles in the game capture and export business.
A number of films had been made by the Hollywood production companies which had used the animals and scenery in the area. Parts of King Solomon's Mines based on Ryder Hagard’s book were shot in the town of Rumeruti in 1950, and Mugambo was made on the farm in 1953.  Later Hatari starring John Wayne was shot on the farm in and around the area. The local natives were co-opted to take part in the film-making so there was a natural and longstanding enthusiasm and support for Bwana Carr.
There was an aisle of makeshift cages filled with remarkable specimens which formed the attraction which brought carloads of tourists up to the Rumeruti area on the weekends.  Those cages had to be cleaned out and the animals fed.  Baboons and colobus and vervet monkeys are always a big draw.  You should not stand too close though, for a monkey’s reach is deceptively long and they are devious and quick.  The big cats are always a pleaser, and the lion and leopards were close in the row. Porcupines and anteaters and other unusual buck were held at different times.
The herbivores were just allowed to roam during the day, giraffe and eland wandered around with the two elephants Lulu and Behati, and had free range along with Jimmy the Rhino and the buffalo and two giant tortoises.  Those tortoises were our favorite for they could easily give us kids a ride.  All it took was a gentle nudge to the back toe and the leg would extent and push off.  You had to get you foot out of the way quickly otherwise your toes could get pinched. Just to be clear, the reason why our toes were of concern was that we had the end of our sandals cut off with a razor blade to make room for the toes as our feet grew. This was an economical way of making kids shoes last so much longer.  It did mean that over zealous persistent urging of the back foot could result in a snap withdrawal with our toes being caught under the edge of the shell.
To be fair we tried to ride everything we could, even ostriches which are a rough ride and could only be mounted if you lured them to the fence by tempting them with maize. We have photographs of us on buffalos and the rhino.  Be warned only fall off an ostrich sideways, for the backward flip of their clawed feet can be blinding and packs a powerful wack.