For 20 years I have passed the Jaffrey Sports Club in Lavington, Nairobi on my way to work and back home. Whether early morning or late afternoon, there’s always a good number of people walking round the cricket field.
Now, playing cricket, racing cross-country, or climbing mountains (I have done plenty of all three in my time) I can understand and appreciate. But I used to think walking round and round in circles must be one of the most boring and futile ways to pass time.
But now, occasionally, I join them at Jaffreys. I have reached the age when I can no longer play proper cricket, race cross-country or climb mountains.
I have reached the time when, after a replacement hip and a replacement of the replacement, I now sometimes need to ease the metal hip with a gentle walk.
But why walk around the cricket boundary at Jaffreys? Well, first because it is close to home and, second, because there are so few places to pleasantly and safely walk in Nairobi – or anywhere else in Kenya.
I am now reading again Bill Bryson’s second travel book about Britain, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain. This is a sequel to his Notes from a Small Island which, by the way, has just been featured on the BBC’s World Book Club, and you can enjoy as a podcast.
Reading these books has reminded me that one of the very few things about life in Britain I miss is its countryside and its almost incredible pattern of footpaths. Let me tickle that nostalgia once more by quoting what Bryson says: ‘There isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain. It is the world’s largest park, its most perfect accidental garden. I think it may be the British nation’s most glorious achievement.’
Kenya’s landscape is certainly more large scale, dramatic and arresting than Britain’s – with its snow-capped mountain, its flamingo-fringed lakes, its wildlife savannahs, and its stark deserts. But it is not so artfully worked and, certainly, not as comfortable to be in as the more gentle and placid British countryside.
I love driving around Kenya – the kaleidoscopic road to Mombasa, the steep drop into the Rift Valley, the cornfield slopes beyond Narok, the switchback ride through the Mau Forest – but rarely can you stop, get out of the car and take a walk. The game parks are wonderful places, but usually the only walk you can take – and only in some of them – is with a guide with a gun.
And where can you take a leisurely walk in or near Nairobi? My favourite place used to be Ngong Hills, but I find it a bit too steep now. There are the forest places – Karura, Ngong Road and Ololua – but getting to them involves a small expedition. There is the City Park and the Arboretum… No, Nairobi isn’t a city for leisurely walking.
But close to me is the Jaffrey Sports Club. My wife, always encouraging me to get more exercise, persuaded me to go there last Sunday morning. We did a leisurely couple of laps of the 440 metres boundary track.
There was a cricket match being played in the centre, and I was disappointed to see that more than half of the players were not wearing white kit. Not proper at all. A cricket match should embellish the scenery!
After the two laps I was ready for a curry lunch. So we retired to the Golden Spoon, within the main building, where I enjoyed a splendid curry of chicken strips with ginger, drenched in a typical (so the menu said) Pakistani sauce. On the TV, Pakistan were playing South Africa. Now that is a more leisurely way to watch cricket.
John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]