Monday, October 17, 2011

The Kenyan Shining



If ever anybody wanted to make a Kenyan version of The Shining, the Panari Sky Centre would be an ideal choice for the setting.

Looks very shiny and modern, right? In many ways, it is, but step inside past the glass and steel, take the elevator to the second-floor entertainment complex that includes an ice rink, children's center and a closed-down cinema, and you will see what I mean.

We went skating on Saturday to find a handful of people describing forlorn and awkward circles on the melting ice in a barn-like room decorated by sad loops of tinsel that gave the vibe of Christmas in an old folks' home, where the pensioners nod off over their pudding and dream of better days. Outside the rink are two empty glass counters where once you could buy tickets for the two cinema screens, whose entrances look more like the doorways to confessional booths.

In the deserted kids' area you will find: an unbounced-on bouncy castle; a bucking bronco whose flaking plastic skin makes it look like it is suffering from foot-and-mouth disease; a huge plastic fountain, sporting a spooky eagle, where spotlights without bulbs hang limply over an empty basin full of dead flies; one of those machines where you try to pick up a cuddly toy with a crane - except the threadbare toys stare hopelessly out at you with dead eyes, pleading for release from their years of captivity; and a candyfloss salesman who looks like he has to live on his wares, so rare are customers.

Admittedly, the Panari doesn't have the long history of the Overlook Hotel, and most of the ghosts would be of the customers who never came rather than those who indulged in sex, drugs, murder and the occult, but it is a wonderfully creepy location.

I think I feel a short story coming on.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Cyclist's Tricep 1, Nob End Motorist 0

I’ve often been cautioned against cycling in Nairobi, usually taking the form of the question “Are you a complete mentalist?” when I say I use my bike to get around. Despite these concerns, I’ve never found it to be as dangerous as people say and never had a collision – until today.

I was merrily cycling along a quiet back road in Kilimani when a nutbag in a 4x4 zipped past and slapped his wing mirror into my tricep. I heard the sound of his wing mirror smash as I veered into the gutter and fell off.

He clearly knew he had hit me, and accelerated off. Once I’d checked my arm wasn’t broken (it’s fine), I vowed revenge in a manly fashion to a startled gaggle of young white girls nearby and chased him with the intention of remonstrating vigorously (i.e. punching him in the coupon). Over the brow of the hill, I saw his car at the next junction, where it had collided with another vehicle. In his attempt to flee, he had gone onto the wrong side of the road then tried to force his way back in when confronted by an oncoming vehicle.

In true Kenyan fashion, a mob of outraged bystanders had formed, and were giving the guy pelters for hitting me then the other car. He brazenly tried to say he hadn’t seen me, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and then offered to pay for the damage. Considering the damage to my arm was zero, and the damage to his car was a broken wing mirror and a dented front right fender, I felt justice had been done, and cycled off leaving him to the growing crowd of wananchi wanting to have their say.

The offence wasn’t serious enough for a lynching, so I think he is probably ok. He’ll know never to mess with a Scotsman’s tricep again, though.