Michael Fitzalan Major Bruton’s Safari

Major Bruton’s Safari

Set in Uganda, this East African adventure brings into sharp focus the wonderful warmth of the people. Preparations for a coronation lead to a family visiting Uganda. The family, travelling to Africa as a group for the first time, know that adventures and disasters await. It is not what life throws at you but how you deal with it that counts. This is a humorous and warm account of a family’s frustration and bewilderment. From being stranded in Lake Victoria with no fuel to being buffeted in a tropical storm near Murchinson Falls, the Bruton family embraced adversity with humour and tenacity.

This book is probably the funniest account of travels abroad that you will ever read. With laughter comes drama and adversity, perhaps too, the key to a mystery that has kept Scotland Yard baffled for over forty years. . .To my travelling companions in Uganda, you know who you are and my travelling companions in life, we’ve come so far. With thanks to all the family for a wonderful trip.

Dedicated to the memory of the Major, he made it all possible. After my mother died, the family adopted me, and I was invited onto their trip. Like all good fiction I have exaggerated, transposed and transformed events to make for an entertaining read.None of this is real or true except in my head. Their humour and patience speaks volumes about their strong characters and their warm hearts.

Chapter 1 

The Hotel Reste Corner – Day 1 

I woke up in the room, which I shared with Major Bruton, to find the first rays of sunshine struggling through the slats of the wooden shutters outside the window. The single bed was far too small for me, and I found myself enviously eyeing the Major’s large double bed, which lay between the window and me. His bed was empty and my back ached. Major Bruton’s Safari

Perhaps, I could lie on that commodious expanse for a short while just to stretch out. Surely, I reasoned, he would not mind if I slipped between the sheets and unfurled myself for an hour or so? I had been curled up like a cat all night and my spine was suffering, there was no way that I could stretch my legs out fully without them dangling over the end of my small bed. 

The Major had arrived two days before me and had bagged the biggest bed; in fact, he had booked the hotel and the room next door had two equally small beds. The only other option was an old sofa in the sitting room, which I had found uncomfortable to sit on the previous evening. I was so exhausted that I could not be bothered to move.

It was warm in the room, a sheet and blanket covered me, it was cosy and despite my foetal position and the dull ache at the base of my spine, I was very comfortable. 

The mattress was too soft, but I enjoyed being prone. I had already had more of my share of sleeping slumped in a chair to know that I was comparatively well off. An eight-hour flight from London to Entebbe followed by a late-night drinking whisky left me with little strength. I rolled over and faced the cupboards where my paltry possessions lay hung on wire hangers or still in my flight bag. 

Bruton was older and larger than I and deserved the bed; Cambridge educated; he was also wiser. I was going to be relying on him an awful lot over the next month, if I made it through the month. Intelligence deserves a certain privilege of its own. Major Bruton’s Safari

Tempting as his empty bed was, I could not steel myself to crawl across the room and lie down on that inviting expanse of cotton sheets and well-sprung mattress. The boss was awake and up, I reasoned, so I should be, but I was too tired to care about that. 

I could have dozed all day to recover from the flight, but for the pang of hunger deep in the pit of my stomach; the last meal had been lunch, the previous day.

I hurled my sheet back; the room was warm, although the source of heat lay behind the horizontal slats of the wooden blinds; the sun made the room bright giving me further compulsion and compunction to leave my cramped corner. 

The windows were pinned back to the outside wall and yet there was no breeze, the air was warm and still. I wondered idly what time it was as I struggled out of bed and pulled on yesterday’s clothes, a pair of jeans and a dark blue, short-sleeved linen shirt, enough to cover my modesty with the roommates. My underwear had already been secreted into a duty-free plastic bag for boil-wash on my return home. 

It was breakfast time in my stomach and night-time in my head, the fogginess of jet lag meant that I walked as if still in a dream. I knew there was a towel for me in the bathroom and an invigorating shower was top priority even before food to ease my tired muscles and to wake my soporific brain. 

I had learnt years ago that hot coffee and a sleepy disposition did not mix; and nor did tongue and teeth while eating when half asleep. I had no desire to bite my tongue at this stage; I should have done that before I had agreed to join the safari. 

Nicotine withdrawal was also kicking in, the desire for a cigarette was growing and that I knew I could manage even before shower and breakfast, but I still preferred to wait for the first cigarette of the day. In the cupboard I found a pair of clean jeans, socks, underpants and a polo shirt to wear after I had bathed. 

On opening the door, the sound of the shower greeted me. I had been ‘Pip’-ed to the post. There was nothing for it but to walk into the living space and have that cigarette. A pack of Prince Filters lay where I had left it, enough cigarettes inside to reassure me. It was always a problem, running out of cigarettes. I wasn’t sure but I thought I could hear singing coming from the bathroom. The malt bottle and empty glasses also lay on the table along with the ashtray full of Marlboro, Prince and cigar butts. 

The window had been left open to let the stale air out and a warm, crisp, clean breeze blew in. The faint smell of stale cigars filled my nostrils, but it was infinitely preferable to the smell of stale cigarettes that it obscured. 

I tossed my clean clothes on the empty chair next to the sofa and sprawled out across the cushioned armchair by the window, grabbing my cigarettes and the lighter on the table. Just as flame touched paper and I took a long draw, Duncan came in, similarly dressed. 

The absence of socks and shoes telling me that he too was awaiting his ablutions. 

‘Morning, Duncan,’ I said cheerily; mornings suited me. I had met Duncan only a few times, but I knew him well enough not to say, ‘good morning’, as he would only ask what was good about it. He had been an actor in New York and while there he had affected a mock persona that was every entertaining. He combined grudging tolerance of all around him with general ennui.  

‘Is it really? To me it feels like the middle of the night, but it’s light. Either I’m in Norway or I had too much malt last night,’ drawled Duncan distractedly. Major Bruton’s Safari

His affectation was meant to make you feel he was thinking of something else like a count thinking of his evening’s entertainment whilst talking to his servant about domestic affairs. 

Duncan was handsome, in an unkempt sort of way; he was tall and thin, and his hair was always ungroomed. He gave the impression that he couldn’t be bothered to eat or comb his hair. The fact that he was waiting for the shower testified to his cleanliness, but he ate the bare minimum in order to sustain life. 

‘I still feel a bit groggy myself, but it’s due more to jet lag than to the malt whisky,’ I said sheepishly, remembering that it was only the imbibing of copious amounts of alcohol that had enabled me to pass out in the child’s bed on which I slept. 

‘I believe you,’ drawled Duncan. He was the master of irony and sarcasm, he did it to amuse. Anything he said meant exactly the opposite way than it sounded; he would have made an excellent secondary school teacher, but the world of antiques had beckoned but only after many years of acting. 

‘I only had two glasses,’ I complained like a truculent teenager. I was a teacher, and I was going to defend my sobriety; it doesn’t take a lot for someone who hardly drinks to fall foul of the soporific qualities of alcohol, particularly after a dehydrating flight to a dehydrating climate. 

Of course, he did not believe me. 

‘With Pip measuring out the glasses that’s the equivalent of quarter of a bottle,’ he noted. 

Duncan was unimpressed with my protestations and generally unimpressed with anything that life might show him. It was all an act; he played to the gallery even when it was empty. 

‘He’s always generous with his Scotch.’Major Bruton’s Safari

I recalled nights past, staying at his house in Frome. Pip was the most generous host – wine, whisky and fine conversation, a combination that everyone enjoyed, but Sundays was always half-lived. The only extra that was needed was a generous supply of Alka Seltzer or Resolve. 

‘Is he still in the shower?’ Duncan asked peevishly. He was not really upset, he was always acting, it was part of his charm; he entertained you with his words. Obviously, he was witty, clever, razor sharp and acerbic. 

His face wore the expression of someone seriously aggrieved. I knew it was an act and I smiled to myself; this was Duncan’s way. He kept everyone in stitches with his act, the aggrieved cynic. I wasn’t sure but I thought I heard him tut, but he might just have been clearing his throat. Of course, I assumed it was as dry as mine was after all the drink consumed. 

‘I suppose so, I’ve only just woken up,’ I replied wondering whether Duncan’s question was necessary.

There were three of us in the hotel chalet and as both Duncan and I were in the sitting area, it was quite obvious that Pip had to be the one in the shower. 

‘He must be,’ Duncan decided vacantly. Major Bruton’s Safari

He acted terribly put out, but it was only acting. 

I was not feeling too well, and I put it down to over-tiredness and the effects of the drink the previous evening. I was sure that I had not drunk too much alcohol.

It could well have been the effects of the malarial tablets we were taking; Lariam being rumoured to have damaging side effects, but even if they had, those would have been preferable to the fatal strain of malaria that was carried by the mosquitoes in that area. Major Bruton’s Safari

I later learnt that Duncan would carry on an internal dialogue out loud. It was always entertaining and amusing. So, his question was not addressed to me, he was merely reaffirming that Pip was still in the shower. 

‘I’m here and the shower’s running so it’s a pretty safe bet,’ I responded in similar character.

I tried to keep any irony out of my voice, but Duncan raised his eyebrow and looked at me quizzically, wondering whether he should challenge my cheekiness.

He decided it wasn’t worth the effort. 

‘He always takes so long,’ Duncan complained; he loved to complain, it was his one and only hobby – no sport, just smoking and moaning. He did not really mean it at all; it was part of his dry humour. 

‘You’ve only been here two days together,’ I pointed out for fairness sake. 

‘Two long days,’ Duncan moaned, sighing loudly for dramatic effect, but his eyes twinkled mischievously as he exaggerated the toll it had taken on him. 

‘Duncan, I’m surprised’ I scolded him. 

I, too, could act. Major Bruton’s Safari

‘You haven’t heard his snoring,’ he spat in mock disgust. 

‘I shared his room and didn’t hear a thing,’ I replied. 

I knew Duncan was teasing me, but I was still fiercely loyal to Pip at that stage, but it had little influence on Duncan. I would have to admit later that nothing wakes me when I’m asleep. 

‘I need some coffee, badly,’ Duncan complained, rolling his eyes, before negotiating the chair with my clothes on and skirting the steel-framed, glass-topped table in front of the sofa. 

The autosuggestion that my smoking provided was too much for him and he too lit a cigarette before flinging himself on to the sofa. Everything he did, he did to amuse, it was subtle and dry but there was not a spoilt or ungrateful bone in his body. 

‘Pip will be out soon, you can go next,’ I offered graciously. 

‘There’s no telephone here, otherwise I’d order some down’. He acted as if he had not heard my kind offer. Maybe he hadn’t. 

‘Did you sleep well?’ I tried again. Major Bruton’s Safari

‘Eventually, it was quiet at first, but then I could hear you two snoring all night.’

‘I can see mornings are not your ideal time of day.’ I joked. There was no hysterical laughter in response. 

‘Nor are nights, when I actually got a little sleep, it was like being down at the watering hole with the wart hogs.’ 

‘Sorry,’ I apologised, there was little else I could say, and I was being sincere. 

‘I should think so too,’ Duncan retorted drolly. Duncan was using his tetchy voice, actor that he was. Duncan drew on his cigarette and looked daggers at me but drew none. I laughed and he smirked but tried to look deadpan and serious. 

‘I’ll get a peg for my nose,’ I suggested, trying to make light of the situation and trying to get Duncan to lighten up a little himself.

All I did was provide him with more material. Funny people like him need a straight man as a foil to their jokes and I was a willing candidate. 

‘Good idea and one for Pip, he was hacking away,’ he leant forward and flicked his cigarette ash dismissively, staring at me sulkily. All acting, over-acting badly in fact, I could not control my laughter.

‘It must be the cigars,’ I suggested just as mischievously. I was determined to act in a civil way even if Duncan refused to. My back ached but I was on holiday. Major Bruton’s Safari

‘He’s been doing it for the last two nights, just to keep me up,’ he noted sardonically. Duncan’s petulant expression had set on his face, and it looked like nothing would remove it. 

‘Have you spoken to him today?’ I asked lightly. My determination really was admirable given the circumstances. In my stupor, I was able to remain calm and charming. 

‘Not yet, I heard him go into the shower about an hour ago,’ Duncan ‘s mock impatience was evident in his resigned voice. 

‘He’ll be out soon,’ I intoned reassuringly. Major Bruton’s Safari

‘That’s what I thought twenty minutes ago. I know there’s a lot of him, but does he have to take so long in the shower?’ he asked incredulously. 

He pretended that he found it all too incredible to bear and I couldn’t help but laugh at his words. That reaction was greeted by a look of mock disbelief in Duncan’s eyes. 

There was a glint that told me that he might well be acting all this out. I’m sure Duncan did not feel too good in the mornings, but he exaggerated his feelings for dramatic effect. 

Pip came out of the bathroom and went straight into his bedroom to change. Duncan disappeared, leaving me to stub out my cigarette and wonder how long it would take him to have a shower. 

As it turned out Duncan took a good twenty minutes, which allowed me to read. I heard the bathroom door open and that was my cue to go in. 

Feeling that I would never eat, but too weak to care, I stepped into the bath and under the shower. I turned on the hot tap; the water was warm and invigorating. 

The cigarettes that I had smoked while waiting had done the trick, numbing my appetite. The shower spurted and my stomach acids gurgled. 

It was bliss to be under the solid torrent of hot water. 

It was an old-fashioned shower with a watering can nozzle that spread the water evenly over my head and shoulders. I brushed my teeth as I showered and then dripping on to the bathmat, I carefully shaved my face. 

My clothes hung ready on the hook on the back of the door. Once changed, I walked into the lounge area to find Pip sitting at the wooden table, smoking cigar in hand. He was pouring over a large-scale map of Uganda. 

Four open guidebooks at each edge, weighted open by a cigar box, a tumbler, a closed book and a squat candleholder. Major Bruton’s Safari

He could have been transported to a canvas tent and then he would have looked even more the great white explorer, fighting off malaria to find the true source of the Nile. His dark hair was long at the back and receding at the front, he was jovial and enjoyed life; his brown eyes had a mischievous twinkle in them. 

They masked a sharp mind; Pip was a computer expert at home having graduated from Cambridge, and his ceaseless research meant that he had already assessed the opportunities that presented themselves for exploring the country. 

More impressive was his mastery of the most important phrases in Mugandan, the language spoken by the Bagandans (endonym: Baganda; singular Muganda). Traditionally composed of 52 tribes – although since a 1993 survey, only 46 are officially recognised – the Baganda are the largest ethnic group in Uganda, comprising 16.9 per cent of the population. He was forty years old and therefore the senior partner in our small firm of friends. 

Duncan, his dark hair still uncombed, sat on the sofa reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island.

His long legs crossed, a spent cigarette in the ashtray nestled on the cushion beside him, his pack of cigarettes and lighter fighting for room on the cluttered coffee table. Major Bruton’s Safari

The atmosphere of a typical bachelor flat pervaded his part of the living space. Magazines and books tossed on the coffee table, whisky tumblers and water glasses, three ashtrays, all full, two mosquito coils, their rings half burnt, leaving ash on the dinner plates below and three candles and two-night lights vied for space. They both seemed happy in their respective preoccupation, so I walked quietly across the room and folded myself into the large armchair by the window. 

The shutters in this room had remained closed to keep out the insects, not that it was much of a deterrent as the windows were open.

There was a general preoccupation with the shutters throughout our rooms, all of them needed to be kept closed day or night, and it seemed as if they might provide an impenetrable barrier to the animal and insect world outside. 

Admittedly, lizards might find it hard to squeeze through the horizontal slats, but the flies and mosquitoes could slip through easily. It was our own Maginot Line – it looked good but if you went around it, the line was pointless. 

With three grown men and the heat of Africa combined in a small space it was not practical to have the windows shut for too long. I grabbed my Prince and the striking of a match made Pip look up. He took a long draw on his cigar and as our eyes met, he smiled warmly. 

‘Hello, Mike, how are you?’ he asked. 

‘Fine, and you?’ I was glad to be taking part in a polite exchange. 

‘I can’t complain,’ Pip never did, unless strictly necessary. 

‘Did you sleep well?’ I was enjoying this exchange. 

‘I was up until about two looking at the maps and guides and drinking whisky, but I got off to sleep quite well, although I do think that the Anopheles mosquitoes were out in force last night. 

Pip was a big man, tall, broad shouldered and long legged, but his love of food over forty years had expanded his waist a lot. He had made, therefore, a promising and irresistible target for the mosquitoes, one of the largest blood banks that they had come across.

Duncan and I were both relatively slim and our blood did not have the same sweet smell as Pip had. Although he had the largest bed, it was nearest the window. 

‘I think I heard them once or twice,’ I admitted. I had woken once to shift position and I had heard them buzzing about the room, lying in my bed, wondering which of us was going to get malaria, but sleep had overcome me. Duncan looked up from his book with an exasperated look on his face. 

‘Are we going to breakfast or what?’ he asked, ever churlish in his demeanour. Subtlety was not his style. I dared not laugh out loud; I internalised the humour.Major Bruton’s Safari

Pip and I looked at Duncan surprised to find him still there as we had forgotten his presence. 

‘We could move along, shortly,’ Pip answered with good nature and patience. 

Duncan was trying to bully us into doing what he wanted, and Pip was having none of it. 

‘Good, the mosquitoes weren’t the only noisy creatures last night!’ exclaimed Duncan; he looked from Pip to me and then back at Pip again. 

Pip ignored this and closed all of his books stacking them neatly on the desk. He might have found Duncan amusing as I did, but he wasn’t going to admit it.

‘What have you been trying to find?’ I asked, intently interested in Pip’s studies both through the night and this morning. It seemed to me that he never relaxed fully, such was his thirst for knowledge and his natural curiosity. 

‘I thought we’d go on a safari while we’re here and I was looking at the various parks.’

Written by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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