11 JANUARY 1992, Page 27

Happier in the hills than in the valleys

Denis Hills

A NICE PLACE TO LIVE by Pamela Scott, edited by Philip Mason Michael Russell, £14.95, pp. 207 Pamela Scott sailed as a child for Kenya in 1920 with her mother, sister, a Cockney maid and a nanny, to join her father, Lord Francis Scott, son of the Duke of Buccleuch, who was about to open up undeveloped land near Njoro in the Rift Valley. She readily adapted to the outdoor settler life and at 18 was put in charge of the farm, called Deloraine. Forty-five years later, when she sold its 5,000 acres, 1,700 head of cattle, dams, paddocks and fane- ing, it was being run successfully by trained African staff and workers. Pamela didn't marry. She stayed on in her own compound until illness forced her into a nursing home. Her book, capably edited by that old India hand Philip Mason, portrays with humour and modesty a white settler's life in one of Africa's most beautiful and invigorating spots. In it she describes the hardships of pioneer farming and the inevitable changes brought about by modern technology, native education and political indepen- dence. As a hard-working woman busy with her animals, Pamela admits that she used to feel gauche at smart parties and dances where people greeted her with 'How are your cows?' — 'I felt as if I had dung in my

hair.' She preferred Masai dances, with their vigorous leaping and stamping under the stars. She loved riding — she had at least 50 falls — and hunted reed buck with foxhounds brought from England. She learned how to doctor, brand and castrate cattle (a helping herdsman would some- times put a severed testicle in the fire, then pop it into his mouth, and eat it). She supervised the repair of machinery, fences and dams, and kept the accounts. Her labour force was a mixture of Masai (who were her favourites), Kikuyu and Luo. Masai looked after her cattle; they did the milking, herding and guarding at night, but refused to dig or carry. Pamela never locked her house; nothing was stolen. The worst plagues, she says, were locusts and ticks. The locusts came in their millions, chewing up a maize field in half an hour; 'the only good thing about a locust was that at least you could eat it' (fried with salt, the present reviewer found they taste like crumbly biscuits). She has a note on the honey guide — a small dark bird whose chittering leads you to a cache of honey (Africans, I found, prefer the part of the honeycomb with grubs embedded in it and would give me the rest). Pamela deplored the government policy of uprooting native trees and planting commercially profitable conifers, which rendered the land sterile for other plants and drove away animals and birds.

The author has no time for the Happy Valley crowd — they gave nothing to the country except a had name. Her treatment of the Mau Mau emergency is cursory, and too laconic to convey the full flavour of its horror and barbarity. 'I cannot say that I was ever seriously frightened', she says. She posted a Masai to sleep on her verandah and kept a small loaded Beretta pistol by her bedside. Mau Mau insurgents, she points out, had their grievances. Only about 30 Europeans were killed, whereas 10,000 Kikuyus died. But the obscenity of their oaths put them beyond the pale. In 1964 she became one of the earliest Euro- peans to take Kenya citizenship ('All my interests were in Kenya, and I felt that I was a Kenyan already'). It is said that Pamela was a strikingly beautiful woman — but it was not advisable to take any liber- ties. Lady Francis Scott, her mother, a daughter of the Earl of Minto, later Viceroy of India, was unable, however, to adjust happily to Africa. She was un- practical CI doubt whether she had ever sewn on a button ... or even washed her own hair'), suffered from acute depression and died in 1938.

My father told mc [says Pamela] after she had died that he was afraid that he had done a cruel thing when he brought her to live in Africa.

Lord Francis Scott himself, though handi- capped by a war wound, continued to be active in Kenya settler politics and became Leader of the European Elected Members after Lord Delamere died in 1931.

Pamela's sister Moyra married David Smiley, an officer in The Blues. English newspaper readers will remember their son Xan's excellent despatches on African affairs before he was sent to Moscow and later Washington. Xan once found me pig- ging it in my van in a Nairobi garden. I wonder if he pines for Africa. Karen Blixen wrote from the Ngong hills:

Up in the high air you breathed easily . . . You woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

Looking at the winter mist over the Thames, and a sky like grey flannel, I dream too of brilliant sunny days high above the Equator, and waking to the whistle and trumpeting of Kenya's multi- coloured birds.