Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt


The gangsters hadn't heard of Brexit. 'What is this "Breaks it"?' they asked my friend hours after kidnapping him at gunpoint. At dusk my mate had been driving in Nairobi, with the Wings song 'Band on the Run' playing. He pulled over to answer his mobile when a man appeared at his side with a pistol. After letting him and two others get in, my friend was directed to an insalubrious Nairobi postcode, frogmarched up five floors and then beaten on the arms and knees with a golf putter.

Big Gangster emptied his pockets and went carefully through his iPhone emails, messages and contacts list. 'They got to know where I worked, where I lived, everything.' Middle Gangster spurned his battered leather wallet, together with his 1956 Omega wristwatch, because it had a wind-up mechanism. Wee Gangster went off to the ATM with his debit card and Pin to steal cash up to the limit. When they demanded more money my friend offered them a cheque. 'You are very polite, very intelligent,' Big Gangster observed.

In Kenya we have M-Pesa, digital money you can send over the phone, so towards midnight they demanded he call his family and friends to ask them for cash. He could not let on where he was and he made up a story about a staff member's wife who had fallen sick in the village and urgently needed help. Incredibly, these late-night calls yielded a largish sum, which my friend then forwarded to the gangsters' own telephones.

'I knew by now they weren't going to kill me. I didn't panic. I was calm and they sensed it. I tried to deflate their anger, didn't ask too many questions. If I had a gun I'd get myself into trouble. I figure you're better talking your way out.'

My friend gently asked after their families and commented that he thought that educating the young generation was very important. Big Gangster agreed, declaring that he was a university engineering student and had to get up early for lectures. Middle Gangster said his sister was a lawyer -- and assuming my white Kenyan friend was British, he suddenly demanded to know about the UK's constitution. After asking for a headache pill to reduce the pain of his bruised knees and arms, my friend attempted a brisk history of the realm's unwritten constitution, making reference to the 'rule of law', the 1689 Bill of Rights and so on. …

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