Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

My nonagenarian father-in-law has embraced East Africa

Late in his life, it has been the compensation for the India he lost as a youth

A few days ago Gerry inadvertently came within 20 feet of an elephant and the both of them pretended not to see each other [ephotocorp / Alamy Stock Photo]


My father-in-law Gerry Taylor is 91 and walks daily on our Kenya ranch among herds of buffalo, giraffe and zebras. A few days ago he inadvertently came within 20 feet of an elephant and the both of them pretended not to see each other. He says he enjoys highland Kenya for its open spaces and endless horizons, the sense of freedom which, he points out, cannot be found in a row of English houses. Late in his life, East Africa has been his compensation for the India he lost as a youth.

Born in Calcutta, Gerry was the son of a British Army officer who worked on India’s railways. He got his matinee idol good looks from his mother, whose ancestors were Indians, Burmese teak merchants and Armenian traders in the great city. The young Catholic boy was schooled by the Jesuits at North Point in Darjeeling, where he was very happy. During holidays his father would take him to Jainti on the Bhutanese border, ‘the end of the Empire’ and end of the railway line. Here in the pristine hill forests, with his tracker Lokhi, he’d hunt for nilgai, wild boar and sambar. Or he went out shooting duck with Tom Smith, an indigo planter in Bihar. He so fell in love with India’s wild places his dream was to work for the forestry commission.

But in 1948 he found himself on a ship with the family to England. Initially homeless, they stayed with Gerry’s grandparents, who kept lumps of coal in the bath, until the Taylors were able to rent two rooms in Ardwick Green. At North Point Gerry had done very well in his exams, but by the time a letter arrived from Cambridge inviting him for interview he had already joined the Royal Navy and was sailing for Malaya and Korea.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in