Post date: Oct 24, 2008 6:10:47 PM
He worked at night. He stopped by briefly or telephoned to say that he had arrived at his nearby beach cottage. My friend and roommate, Janice, and I bundled up my three-year-old son put him in my car, and deposited him in a bedroom. Some nights he put in appearances at workers’ dances, did visits, entertained close associates and visited the pig woman or made appointments with architects. “I have to go to look at the new housing development.” And we would drive out in the dead of night and inspected units for middle income housing; or someone stayed and had to be entertained.
“You see what they building down there and calling it a National Insurance Building?” He came in a huff and a puff one night, “That look so bad! Call Ian Morrison and let him put some white cement on it.”
Ian Morrison was a young draughtsman who worked in white cement and wallaboo poles. Most times it was to unwind after a hard day, to eat, to converse and to drink. He always cooked. One night when we slept over he had entered a horse show and needed help because of his belly, to put on and take off his boots. We dressed him that morning, even though we thought little of his riding skills and sent him off in splendid equestrian splendour.
“Don’t mind you all,” he said “Johnny is a judge. He has to let me win. I am the Prime Minister.”
The Johnny was a polo player who played at Cowdry. Janice’s first reaction to any given situation is to laugh. The nature of Carlton, his best friend, is to jeer.
“The problem is that you all have no sense of humour.” He said.
He would be asleep in a chair and there would be someone next to him who talked and pretended that he was not asleep. He became so good that he raised one hand above his head while he slept and when he awoke he would insist that he had been listening. Again in Morgan’s:
“He would appear to fall asleep at meetings and the person who was trying to detail a proposal would hesitate thinking he was not getting his point across - until he would suddenly be interrupted by - “Why? Explain that to me.”… Errol Barrow, The Prime Minister, his Life and Times by Peter Morgan
“All the time Errol sleeping on your ass,” was how Carlton put it and Janice laughed. “By the time you get to the end of the joke you forget the beginning. He cannot tell a joke if you paid him.” He told never-ending jokes that were no laughing matter. There were great joke tellers like the Philadelphian, his friend, but he had to out do them all. By the time he got to the end of the joke we laughed at the futility of it all but this was the Prime Minister. He finished his jokes unbeknownst to his audience, paused for laughter, if there was none he started to laugh and his audience laughed.
“Johnny has no sense. If it were his mother she would have let me win.” Midmorning, he arrived back panting from the horse show. The mother spoken of was the daughter of Lord Beaverbrook, who put down a polo field at her plantation. Later the mother became angry with him because she was writing a book and he fed her one of his many-times-told stories that he was the first British officer in Hitler’s bunker; she believed him only to find out this was one of his whoppers.
“But I just could not give him more than third prize.” Johnny said.
He ignored Johnny until his ego healed. Since his death a photograph of him on his horse has been portrayed in Morgan’s book, as the great sports man and rider as:
“The Prime Minister on the polo field.”
One of the first things he did was to take Jeannine, his new girl friend horseback riding. Not for long because he soon fell off, hurt his back and that was the end of his equestrian days; of course he told no one that he had hurt himself from a fall from a horse. In his first election he had created an image of the great horseman when he had sat on a horse’s back and walked it through the streets of the city.
“Had I not been The Prime Minister, I would have been a cook on the Queen Elizabeth ship.” He said. He cooked well but his dishes were unhealthy and not for the everyday diet. His figure was living proof. He soaked his shrimp in lye to make them crispy; loved pepperpot, salt beef, pig tails and plenty of pork. His cure-for-all illnesses was split pea soup with pigtails and at five in the morning he began to cook his medicine. His favourite soft drink was red Ju-c and his alcoholic drink was gin and kola tonic.
Kampala, his beach house was a wooden cottage and along with three or four others made up part of an hotel complex. The management of the hotel sold off the cottages. He bought the one next to the beach and called it after the capital of Uganda, which he said, was the most beautiful place he had seen. The cottage had a large comfortable veranda a huge kitchen and living room and four comfortable bedrooms. His bedroom was at the rear. Through the side door of the kitchen to the west of the balcony and through an archway off the car park was the beach twenty yards away. The furnishing was simply rattan. On the western open veranda, in a freezer, he kept his excess meat and sea food. The kitchen was well equipped.
He was also a singer. The Penthouse was a small bar where the owners were friends. With the casuarinas trees swaying in the wind, the ever so small waves lapping the low shoals of the reef and the long sandy bay in the background, the professional singer’s voice harmonized with the elements. He was an honoured guest and whenever he liked, he rose to sing - always the same two tunes in the same order.
“La Mer!” His French was more horrible than his singing but they said, “Encore!”
He was also a photographer who spent half an hour to adjust aperture and speed.
He had many bed partners. There was the maid who kept his pigs. She had a husband. He helped her. She did well; it was political and fair exchange. A cousin of a Nobel Prize winner in economics had her function; she worked at Cable and Wireless and supplied his overseas, telephone calls. Every week on Saturday, until he died, he headed out to her house with six gingers, six Juc’s, a bottle of Kola Tonic, a bottle of gin and a piece of pork. When he travelled abroad, he brought for her: six queen size panty hose and a bottle of L’air du Temp.
“I cannot believe that I am living with a man who has an outside woman who wears Queen-size panty hose.” His now live-in lover, Jeannine said.
His wife demanded scarves from Hermes. Her drink was Campari and soda. They hated each other. Every year there would come a time when Lord Sholto Douglas arrived. Sholto, was Air Commander in Chief of the British Zone of Germany and his commanding officer during the war, later he was chairman of BOAC. No matter what, no matter how, no matter the amount of venom that flowed between the couple, even when the separation papers were drawn up and they had not lived together for years, they religiously dressed-up and pretended for a one night ritual dinner.
There was Donnie and Dimples, the Jamaican best friends. Donnie was the wife of the Commissioner of Police and his friend. They had an affair behind her husband’s back and he had an affair with Dimples behind Donnie’s back. The two women stayed at the beach house and sometimes brought their husbands.
Pat was another. She was the daughter of a man from his constituency and a party member and organizer for the area. She lived in the States. Her younger brother became his favourite. There was the airhostess he met on a flight who ran after him and tried to breathe life into an affair that existed only in her imagination. He met her a few times, at her insistence, when he found it convenient and she milked the occasions for all they were worth and when she could not get him; she married Pat’s younger brother.
Nina Simone, the singer, wrote in her book that they ran through the canefields naked together and were going to be married. She had telephoned to complain about her accommodation. He invited her to the ever-other-Thursday-cocktail party he held as a promotional gimmick whereby hotels invited important guests to his official residence. He fastly installed Nina in his beach house and just as fastly began sleeping with her. He informed of his deed with a pride that was short lived. Her demands and off beat behaviour proved too much and he eased her out by transferring her to the beachhouse of his friend. Janice and I moved over to use the empty cottage in the front yard for our evenings and weekend beach frolics from where we were asked to keep the ever-expansive singer from expanding. Nina confronted people who came on the compound with her naked body.
There was his woman of long standing with the most beautiful face. She was first married to one of his friends, a lawyer with whom he shared chambers and then married to his sailing partner and once editor of the leading daily newspaper. He appointed her to governing bodies, the senate and as High Commissioner to Canada and believed that she was dying. She was with him the day he died.
There was pathetic Miss Jones. She looked like a drowned rat and lived in the past of her childhood when they had an affair. She was pale and washed out, ugly and pitiable yet he allowed her her illusions.
“I am going to take Ava Gardener to Bath!” He said.
Bath referred to a small wooden beach house on the rugged east coast. He invited the famous actress; she accepted and did not show up. When Jeannine, who claimed to be the last white person to board the last airplane out of Kinhasha, fell in love with him, called him her teddy bear, and thought he was good looking only his tummy. I told her:
“You spent too much time in the Congo.”