Monday, August 04, 2008

Tuesday 13th February 1940

Yesterday, I commented on the warm weather; but I awoke this morning at 4a.m.; felt cold and heard a thin bitter wind whistling overhead. A weird word came to me – “Mistral”. That was the name they give to a sudden squally wind which occurs in the Mediterranean Sea. I’d read of it in books. My God! What a bitter cold wind! Unbearably icy, it whipped the sea into foam-topped waves, flinging spray high into the air.

A party had been arranged for a bus tour and among the lucky ones were Ling, Payne Dean and I. Lovely to get off the ship, where everywhere was cold, and into a snug bus, where we could smoke in comfort. The bus rattled through town and then, to my delight, rumbled up zig-zag roads over the gaunt hills which lie beyond Marseilles.
Lovely scenery – rocks and hills and steep slopes dropping away below the road. A wilderness for many miles, then suddenly we reached a fertile, shaded valley. Cultivated fields, exotic small houses – obviously a visitors resort.

We now reached a little town on the coast, the name of which I’m not certain about but Stan Ling thinks it was called “Cassin”. Crowning joy, they let us dismount from the bus here for a few minutes. I bought “un Anglais papier” – The Sunday Despatch” – and then Stan Ling and I had “deux café au lait”, at Le Café Andre. Then, smartly, we marched across the little square back to the bus. “Halt! Get Mounted!”

We got back to the comfortless ship and harbour, feeling we’d at least had a happy morning.

The ships sailing was postponed until tomorrow – owing to the weather. Cheerless life – and yesterday I didn’t care how long it lasted! Even in the mess deck it was not ever warm. And one had to leave it’s shelter and cower on the icy weather deck each time one smoked.

“What would you call this sort of weather?” I asked a cheery sailor.
“Fucking awful!” he said promptly and succinctly.
“Is it what they call The Mistral?”
“Yes, it is a bit of a mistral,” he agreed thoughtfully, “The mistral ends quickly though. It springs up out of a clear sky and dies down after about six hours”.

My birthday today! Fully clothed I was in my hammock by 9p.m. and asleep, snugly, soon after.


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