Fitzalan at the garden party

Lucy was on her first gin of the day after gallons of coffee; we had just ordered beer. Still, we waited for news of our imminent audience with the Kabaka, Freddie Mutesa. Apparently for the last two days Pip, Anna, Duncan and Lucy had waited for a summons from The King of the Buganda, the children watching television in their grandparents’ room.

Various rumours had surfaced: The King of the Buganda was still in London. He had gone to America to see his fiancée before coming out to Uganda, he was going to invite everyone in the next hour or so to the palace, therefore everyone should stay put.

There was misinformation and rumour; there was no concrete communication one way or the other.

It was the African way, waiting is expected; patience is not so much a virtue as a necessity. We waited for the real Major’s sake, he wanted us to make ourselves available and, as he had organised the trip, we were beholden to him.
‘I had four things to do today, including going to the bank,’ Pip complained bitterly.

As a newcomer, I was unable to share the angst and frustration of my compatriots.

‘Number one is: be a geek at the Speke,’ Duncan teased.

He was being helpful, as ever, trying to amuse everyone but he was equally bored with hanging around.

‘I’m fudged off we’ve been jerked around and I’m fed up waiting for the lighter to come around,’ Pip grabbed the lighter from on top of Duncan’s packet and lit a new cigar, giving Duncan a stern look.

‘Won’t anyone tell you what’s going on?’ I asked, ever the naive observer.

‘It’s a need-to-know basis,’ Duncan informed us eyeing Pip, waiting for him to put the lighter back on the table.
‘And I need to know what’s going on,’ Pip grunted, placing the lighter firmly next to his cigar box out of Duncan’s reach.

‘And they’re not telling,’ I noted despondently. I had my own lighter, which I put back in my jean pocket once I had lit a Prince cigarette.

It was hot on the street, but I had slaked my thirst on coffee and beer; having a cigarette was just another thing to do while we waited.

‘That’s a pleonasm,’ Duncan announced apropos nothing. He sat back in his chair, his long legs crossed, and his right ankle on his left knee, nursing a cold glass of Bell beer in his lap.

‘What?’ I tried to convey the irritation of his remark in my reply, at the same time looking askance.

The others looked languidly at Duncan; I was not sure of the relevance of this word that I had never heard.
‘A redundant expression,’ Duncan looked at me accusingly; my lack of knowledge seemed to amaze him.

‘I see, thank you.’ I was hurt but tried not to show it. Instead, I drew on my cigarette and took a gulp of beer from my glass. The props of the company were cigarette in one hand, glass or coffee cup in the other.

‘Like most of your expressions.’ Duncan had seen the weakness and he went in for the kill, he wasn’t the type to take any prisoners, conversationally.

‘I thought it was a tautology not a pleonasm,’ I tried desperately to counterattack.

‘That shows how much you know.’ Duncan was keen to show his superior knowledge of English and, in turn, my ignorance.

I, for one, was impressed.

‘Well?’ I asked keenly, leaning forward to listen better. There were loud conversations going on to drown the sound of passing traffic.

‘A tautology is the use of words that say the same thing, like pristine clean or…’

‘I don’t like my coffee too hot, could you pass the milk?’ Pip thankfully interrupted Duncan; he had a habit of going on about nothing for a long time.

Pip knew how to diffuse such situations after only two days with Duncan. Lucy passed him the milk.

‘Where is everyone?’ Duncan asked, taking the hint.

‘The king, where is he? My kingdom for a horse, my horsedom for a king,’ I said as brightly as I could, I was feeling frivolous and I didn’t care who knew it.

‘You’re shrewd like the Reverend,’ Duncan said, nodding his head meaningfully and pointing to an imaginary dog collar at his neck. He had met the Reverend at the airport, and he felt that the priest was a very shrewd man, but he wouldn’t tell us why.

‘We have to wait until Ronnie is ready,’ Pip informed us. We were not as well versed in international politics as he was.

‘Why is Ronnie involved in all this politics?’ Duncan’s thirst for knowledge, generally led to a stream of questioning.
‘President Truman said it was best to have enemies inside your tent peeing out then to have them outside peeing in,’ Pip noted; we all smiled. We had almost lost interest in meeting the Kabaka because we had been kept waiting so long to see him.

‘I had an argument with David, the driver. I must be approaching the time of the month. I’ll need plenty of water and coffee.’ Lucy noted dreamily to no one in particular.

‘He likes to be called Dae Woo,’ Pip told us. ‘On account of his car, his Daewoo.’

‘Daewoo and his Toyota?’ Duncan squinted into the sun at Pip. ‘It’s a Toyota not a Daewoo!’

‘That’s another tautology – aren’t they both cars?’ he paused for the raucous laughter, but none came. ‘Besides he owes me cash, I paid him for the ride here and he asked for extra to get some fuel and I haven’t seen it back yet.

Duncan stared open mouthed, looking towards the spot where Daewoo would park his taxi, a privileged spot on the rank. Duncan’s eyes looked as if they were searching for his return, but his face had an incredulous: ‘Would you believe it?’ look. Both the expressions of pining and being wounded made him look confused and hurt, or just vacant.

‘When was that?’ Pip asked, flicking ash in the vague direction of the ashtray. He had his elbows on the table, sitting hunched as if ready to leap up at the slightest notification of the Kabaka’s arrival.

‘Yesterday, when we went to get Mike and Hattie from the airport,’ Duncan replied, as if it had nothing to do with Pip when it happened, but that the mere solicitation of some support in the matter was the main thing.
‘That’s no time, you’ll get it back,’ Pip was laid back about it all, he had got to know David ‘Dae Woo’ over the previous few days.

‘For sure,’ Duncan hissed sarcastically; he was horrified that Pip was not on his side. He didn’t trust anyone.
‘Stop being the paranoid tourist for one minute,’ Pip spoke reassuringly, ‘David’s our driver for the three weeks, he’ll be driving us around town during our stay, he’s not going to jeopardise all that work for the sake of a few thousand shillings.’

‘He might,’ Duncan sounded wounded.
‘He won’t,’ Pip assured him.

‘Anyway, the drive back from the airport to collect the others was an experience of horror as he weaved his way along, he drives like he hasn’t got a licence to lose,’ Duncan warmed to the theme. All attention was on him.
‘Have you noticed how the taxis never have any fuel in their tanks,’ I began, wanting to be included in the conversation. ‘They drive around almost empty, then use the fare to top up the tank.’

‘Let’s go back to the Reste Corner, I can get some rest.’ Duncan ignored me, rudely.

‘Last night the sound of generator humming drove me mad, although it might be the Lariam.’ I was determined to be included in the conversation, I was new to Africa, but I had a voice, I was not going to be invisible.
‘Not another diary of a Lariam eater. I’ve only heard fifteen thousand people complain of the effects of Mefloquine and half of them haven’t been out of Greater Manchester.’

Duncan was as cruel in his damnation as he was over-optimistic in his statistics and I loved that in him.

‘The boys have a fever,’ Lucy announced; she was to be the fifteen thousand and first.

‘Listen, I’ve been on it for two weeks before we came out here,’ Pip interjected; he had held his tongue for too long. He was the seasoned traveller and Duncan’s complaining, and whining was becoming too much.

‘My point exactly, It might seem like longer before we all wake up,’ Duncan said as he snapped open his packet of cigarettes and helped himself to one, leaning over the table to retrieve the lighter from on top of Pip’s cigar box.

It was never clear whose lighter it was but they both lay claim to it all the same, a constant to-ing and fro-ing from dawn until dusk.

‘It’s had hardly any effect on me,’ I ventured, the third attempt to get someone – anyone – to listen to me.
It didn’t matter whom.

‘I’m mildly loquacious,’ Duncan muttered after a draw on his cigarette, ‘but I’m still listening.’

‘Anna’s kids have head lice as well,’ Lucy sighed; she was a half-hearted reporter, not too fussed about how she broke the news but still feeling she should deliver it.

‘That’s why I had my head shaved,’ I said seriously.

‘Really?’ Lucy realised as she spoke that I had not meant what I said and the whole table smiled; I really hadn’t expected her to be so gullible.

‘No, not really, I was kidding,’ I admitted sheepishly.

Before I left, I visited the barber and he had persuaded me to have a ‘number four’, which was a severe hair cut with a small hedge trimmer.

I thought it would keep me cool, but in fact it just left my head more exposed than before and I was therefore more open to sun stroke.

‘Ha, ha,’ she looked daggers at me.

This was the start of my first full day with the family. I had met Lucy briefly before at the Major’s house. We had got on well, but already, in Africa, I had made her a potential enemy; the next three weeks could be awkward if I didn’t try and make up for her embarrassment.

I had to try harder to win influence and befriend people.

‘Will someone please buy Duncan a lighter?’ Pip grabbed back his lighter, giving Duncan a withering look, lit his cigar that had extinguished itself, puffed luxuriously and then he smiled to show there were no hard feelings. Lucy and Duncan both wore sunglasses, so it was disconcerting to talk to them, never seeing their eyes.

‘You look very South African with your hair cut, Mike, you’ll have to watch out, they’ll think you’re a mercenary,’ observed Duncan.

He was ever observant, and he was also good at setting people up for a fall; a joke at someone else’s expense was all part of the entertainment. He could be charming and friendly too, so you never knew where you stood.

‘You’ve also got the South African look with those sunglasses,’ I noted with a cheeky grin. 

He no longer looked South African, but I could read his eyes, which was the most important thing; his eyes always seemed to narrow before he went for the satirical kill.

‘Where are we going to eat lunch?’ Lucy asked. ‘I’ve worked my way through this hotel’s menu three times, already.’ She had been out for a week and already the novelty of the Speke’s bar snacks, and pizzas had worn off despite their quality.

‘We could try Fang, Fang Chinese restaurant. I saw it on the corner when we drove into town. Still, I haven’t eaten Chinese for ages,’ I suggested.

I was new in town, but the restaurant looked well established and the name sounded good. We subsequently tried the place and I have to say, it was the best Chinese outside China.

‘Fang, Fang, no thanks. If we’re going to a Chinese it will have to be a good one,’ said Pip.

He drew on his cigar as if he was part of the cognoscenti when I knew that he’d only been in this part of Africa a few more days than I had.

The King of the Buganda – Part II

‘Fang, Fang does look good, you haven’t seen inside. You can’t judge it until you’ve tried the food. Lots of places don’t look good from the outside,’

I was slightly upset that he should condemn my choice of restaurants out of hand. Still, I reached for the lighter and lit a cigarette; I hadn’t bothered with Duty Free and had bought a local brand in the hotel bar as soon as I arrived.
‘Fang, Fang could be good,’ I insisted, not unreasonably. I made no attempt to return the lighter to either Pip or Duncan’s packs. I left it on the table next to my beer bottle.

‘No thanks, not there,’ Pip insisted; he could be stubborn.

‘But how do you know it’s no good?’ I wasn’t to be fobbed off. If there was a solid reason for his intransigence, I could understand, but it seemed he was just being bloody minded about it, which I couldn’t understand.
I couldn’t win the argument, but I could take the lighter with me.

I slipped it into my top pocket and envisaged the accusations that would follow my imminent departure to the bank.
‘I’d prefer something more African, this isn’t Kowloon, or Hong Kong,’ Duncan reminded me with the supercilious manner that would become ubiquitous.

‘The Ethiopian, then? The one we saw as we drove from the hotel.’ I had tried Ethiopian food once before in Washington DC, and I liked it. The Ethiopian was close to the Reste Corner, a traditional hut with a barbecue on the side.

‘The one on the road just before the Reste Corner?’ Duncan asked.

‘Yes, the one set back from the road behind the bamboo fence,’ I elaborated. I had pointed out the sign that very morning on the way down and had suggested we visit sometime.
‘The one with the thatch roof?’ Pip asked. He must have known. He was trying to get a reaction from me.
‘Yes,’ I was exasperated by their deliberate procrastination.
‘Fine, but they have small portions,’ Duncan noted, then he half smiled. I hadn’t as yet seen his teeth, but they flashed, the bad taste of the joke appealed to his eccentric humour.
‘That’s in poor taste, I fasted for a week to raise money for the famine in Sudan this year.’ I failed to find black humour amusing.
‘Fang, Fang it is then,’ Duncan decided, he was trying to annoy Pip.
I didn’t mind, as long as he left me alone. He was fair, he spread his sarcasm, and banter; it was friendly teasing and I think Pip and I would have felt left out if we had not been included.
‘Or the Tai Singh?’
I was always offering options.
‘Eat in Tai Singh?’
Pip was dismissive of the idea.

‘In Thai Singh – very good, Pip,’ Duncan said in a voice that revealed he didn’t mean any such thing. Taking another draw on his cigarette, he looked across the road to the gardens of the Sheraton, raising his eyes heavenward.

‘It sounds enticing,’ I added to cause him further pain.

‘I feel like going home, it’s the Hampstead of Kampala,’ Lucy sighed.

She was not enjoying the conversation, the location, the heat or her condition.

‘I went there and there were big black gates,’ Duncan added encouragingly; he was pleased to be off the subject of food for five minutes. ‘A geezer with a Russian machine gun was outside. “What do you want?” he asked. “Lucy,” I replied. “I think they have gone,” he told me without checking. I couldn’t be bothered to argue.’

‘No one bothers to argue with a guy with an AK-47. He’ll fill you with lead sooner than you can say “Remington shotgun”,’ I explained.

 These were deterrent weapons, designed to kill outright; they weren’t like a .38 that might give you a chance to survive. You’d have to feel very lucky before you messed with anyone carrying such weapons.

I had fired weapons of this calibre at the Royal Marine Commando training camp at Lympstone: An S.L.R. rifle, the equivalent to a Belgian FN, 7.62mm round, and a Sterling machine gun, basically an updated 9mm round, both made a mess of the target. I had also fired my personal favourite, the 9mm Browning automatic, which is basically the European equivalent of a Colt .45 pistol, favoured by U.S. Marines.

‘I’m very reassured by the pump action shotguns with all the news reports in the press,’ Lucy noted in her languid fashion.

The King of the Buganda – Part III

She gave the impression that nothing much fazed her. She was looking over to the guard who stood near the foyer of the hotel, an automatic pistol in the belt around his waist and a Remington pump action shotgun held in his right hand. Three nights ago, a bomb had gone off opposite reception, a small device that damaged the telephones. No one was hurt and no one claimed responsibility.

‘The guards outside the bank help to reassure the anxious traveller.’

Duncan’s sarcasm was never far from the surface. His humour eased the tension. It was more than a little unsettling to have so many armed militias around the place; we were not used to it. There was always the danger of being hit in the crossfire.

‘I always draw out more money when the guards are about.’

‘They’re always about; isn’t that a pleonasm,’ I suggested quietly.


‘Nothing,’ I replied sweetly, I was beginning to get the feeling of ‘internalising’ my humour for the sake of better relations.

There were more security guards present at certain times of the day, the busy period at lunch time or when a security van drew up outside. I remembered such a delivery of cash that we had seen in the morning, it was like a scene form a Hollywood film.

The bank was only a few metres away from the hotel and there were possibly twenty soldiers with shotguns and rifles that arrived in new Japanese pick-ups to surround the armoured car, which had a turret and machine gun on the top.

Only desperate or crazy bank robbers would dare to mess with such an entourage. Any attempted robbery would be a complete blood bath.

‘Where’s the old man?’ Pip asked.

‘He’s still being interviewed by the Central Broadcasting Service. They’re using a private room and we’re not to disturb him.’ Lucy said.

She was looking hopefully for a light for her Silk Cut and I gallantly used the shared lighter to put her out of her misery. I subsequently placed the lighter as near to the centre of the table as I could to enable Pip and Duncan to fight over it – ever the considerate one.

‘Trying to gain an audience with either The King of the Buganda or the Major was an equally difficult operation
‘That was Mama Rose and her friends, she’s an old friend of dad’s,’ Lucy explained, sipping on a restorative gin and tonic. It seemed to be doing the trick and they used to call gin mother’s ruin – how little they knew.

‘He was being interviewed by another one of the papers. The Monitor, I think,’ Duncan mentioned, leaning over and grabbing the lighter although he had no intention of lighting a cigarette.

‘Headlines like “Mutesa poisoned, Major confirms”, don’t exactly win friends,’ Pip piped in.

He was gently reminding us of the Major’s comments in the press regarding the Kabaka’s death in London almost thirty years ago under mysterious circumstances.

He hadn’t noticed Duncan pocketing the lighter as he was so busy stubbing out the last inch of his cigar in the ashtray.

‘He’ll have to be careful what else he says,’ Lucy warned, clearly worried about her father.

Lucy was understandably concerned about what her father might say and the political or direct consequences of his expressing an opinion or revealing facts that may well be embarrassing to the government.

‘That’s what Mama Rose and all the visitors say when they come to see him,’ Duncan told her. I listened; I had much to learn.

‘Dad says that he has to answer any questions frankly and truthfully.’ Lucy was torn between admiration and concern.

‘I think he’ll be all right, most of the Ugandans in Kampala are Mugandan and loyal to the Kabaka,’ Pip assured Lucy.
The rebels who were letting off the bombs seemed to have no argument with the Kabaka.

‘I hear one of President Museveni’s ministers is going to pay a courtesy call,’ Duncan added, and I wasn’t sure whether that was to reassure Lucy or worry her further.

‘Where’s Hattie?’ I asked, trying to change the subject. I was her guest and I hadn’t seen her since our arrival at the Speke.
‘Shopping,’ they all answered in unison.

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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *