You Must Have Proper Attire

No, I didn’t wake up at 5 am to watch the coronation, but I am otherwise an Anglophile through and through. It’s literally in my blood. If my ancestor had been born first instead of like fifth back in the 14th century, this might be my castle:

Berkeley Castle. A great day out in Gloucestershire
Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, England. Our branch of the family dropped an “e” so as not to be associated with an unpopular colonial governor of Virginia.

I love scones, fish, chips, gin and tonics, British accents, tweed, plaid, gardens, horses, calling everything “bloody.” I especially love how the British end all their assertions with questions.  It makes everyone sound so polite, if a little too female/lacking in confidence, even if they are insulting you.  “That’s a rather ugly baby, isn’t it?”  “You’re an absolute disgrace to humanity, aren’t you?”  It’s just adorable, isn’t it?

A big reason why I love the British is probably because Kenya is their former colony and, as such, continues to bear their mark.  From (Black) Kenyan judges wearing actual (white) powdered wigs in court to tea time at 4 o’clock to roundabouts at every intersection to all the desserts looking like heaven and tasting like cardboard—it’s all so charming even when it is maddening and also very colonial.  And to be clear, I am not endorsing colonialism.  Colonialism was bad.  But as colonists go, the British were the best of the lot. Which admittedly is like saying Ted Bundy was the most attractive serial killer or thyroid cancer is the best kind to get.

On top of that, there are still a ton of actual British people running around Kenya.  Some of them are British-British, but many others are white Kenyans, descendants of the large settler population who came during colonial times.  The white Kenyans are still a rather insular community, notorious for their bed-hopping, fondness of drink, wild parties, and yes, in some cases enduring racism.  This is the stereotype anyway.  But if you’ve seen Out of Africa, you know what I am talking about.  And if you are like me, even while objectively speaking, you absolutely don’t in any way endorse colonialism, as I hope I have made clear, you could sure do with some camping under the stars with Denys Finch-Hatten and some safari-themed fashion.  This is a romantic view of the past that the Kenyan tourism industry expertly taps into, as is evidenced by the exquisite decor of the game lodges and all the western tourists sporting desert boots and khaki pocketed vests, as if anyone dresses like that in any real-life context or needs such attire to sit in a Land Rover and look at elephants.  Honestly, you can just wear a bathrobe and slippers on safari, it’s not like you need to camouflage yourself or go hacking through the bush with a machete.

Our family encountered the white Kenyan community soon after arrival in Kenya in 1983.  On first glance, they seemed a natural clique for us to break into.  To state the obvious, they were white, English-speaking, and middle-class. But looks can be deceiving.

Mom and another missionary mom decided that we girls should take riding lessons from a white Kenyan lady name Bunty near where my parents were in language training.  Bunty no doubt had a legal name that had multiple parts and some hyphens, but upper-crust British people love to give each other precious, somewhat infantile nicknames to be used throughout their lives.  I don’t recall being asked if I wanted to take riding lessons; I in fact don’t remember being asked my opinion about anything, a jarring realization now that I am a mother and inundated by my children’s opinions, to which I unfortunately have too often catered.  However, in this case, I was thrilled at the prospect.

We all showed up at Bunty’s barn thinking we were ready to go, in jeans and sneakers, as if it were a trail ride at the Grand Canyon in the massive sofa they call a western saddle.  Bunty looked at us with disgust.

“Where are your helmets? Where are your boots?  You cannot ride without the Proper Attire,” she declared.

Although she ostensibly gave lessons for a living, she had no extra Attire on hand nor any suggestions about where we were to find any.  And Kenya in the 1980’s was not much of a consumer paradise.  You couldn’t just run down to Target and buy Attire.  You could not even buy toilet paper that wasn’t sadistic and injurious.  Where on earth were we to get bloody Attire, I ask you?

Mom and Aunt Vivian (we kids called all the other missionaries Aunt and Uncle. Even the ones who were mentally unstable.  It made everything seem more homey) went on a massive scavenger hunt to unearth the hidden treasure of White Kenya.  They hit secondhand stores and flower shows and dog shows and teas.  I’m surprised they didn’t crash a wedding or two.  And everywhere they went, they inquired about Attire as inconspicuously and un-Americanly possible.  Most of the time they were treated cooly but cordially, but at one flower show, a white Kenyan lady said what no doubt everyone else was thinking.

After hearing their query out, she looked down her nose and responded in her snootiest British accent, “Do I KNOW you?”

“Well, no, but we’re in need of some Attire and…” my mother replied.

“MY, you Americans are BOLD,” the lady said with authority.

These folks probably stockpiled equestrian gear in massive, underground chambers, but they weren’t giving up the goods. Not to any bloody Americans anyway.

I don’t exactly know how, but Mom and Aunt Vivian eventually located some boots and helmets. Not enough for the three of us to take lessons simultaneously, but we could make do.  If I wasn’t thrilled to take riding lessons before, one look at that black velvet helmet with the satin bow on the back sealed the deal.  It was several sizes too big and had to be lined with newspaper to approximate the size of my head, probably rendering it useless as a safety device.  Fortunately, that was never tested.  But I could have worn that thing 24/7.  An Anglophile was born.

We returned to Bunty Properly Attired.  She was no doubt surprised to see us after sending us on what she believed to be an impossible quest, much like Cinderella’s stepmother who thought surely there was no way Cinderella could find Proper Attire in time for the ball.  But thankfully, Bunty did not allow her daughters to rip our outfits to shreds and instead deemed us all suitable.  She reluctantly let us climb onto her horses, and away we went.

In my memory, I had enough riding lessons from Bunty to become an expert equestrian. And also a real British person. I believed I had galloped and jumped and didn’t ride for years after that to disprove this theory. Once I did rest my backside back in a British saddle again, as an adult, it was soon obvious I had learned very little from Bunty. 

But I do love Attire.

2 thoughts on “You Must Have Proper Attire

  1. HaHa, I took riding lessons also, from a very down-to-earth British lady in Rhodesia called Miss Codrington. She was a practical woman and allowed me to ride in jeans and sneakers.


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