During the last gasp of the British Empire in Swaziland, South East Africa, in 1969, 11-year-old Ralph witnesses his mother's adultery with his father's best friend. His parents divorce and Ralph is sent to boarding school. His father, Harry, not only loses his wife and best friend, but also his position as Minister of Education with the coming of Independence, prompting his rapid descent into alcoholism. Now 14, Ralph returns home to discover that his father has re-married an ex-air "hostess" named Ruby whom his father has known all of six weeks. As round a peg as you could find in this square holed society, Ruby ridicules the petty snobbery of the restless colonials whose chief amusements are gin, adultery, and their foppish slang of "toodle-pip" and "hobbly-jobbly" -- that Ruby identifies as sounding like "Wah-Wah." Although Ralph is initially wary of Ruby, he bonds with her as his father's drinking escalates and becomes dangerously out of control. It's this chaos that stokes Ralph's inner turmoil, and eventually forges his creative mind.