Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday 1st December 1940

Weekend leave but actually I stayed in camp. Yesterday evening I went to town with Tom Gibbon, Bob Andrews and Stan. As he had been here some time, at the Base, Tom was able to show us around. After tea we saw a quite good flick at the Misr, in Sharia Emad-el-Dire. When we came out the night life in Cairo was in full swing still – all shops open, although it was about 9:30p.m. I had a pleasant half hour at the hairdressers. Haircut, two shampoos, moustache trim and face massage. It made me feel fine! To my startlement, the very through barber stuck his scissors up my nose and cut the hairs there!

Later we found a low cabaret. Admission three akkas, beer 4 1/2 akkas a glass. The girls there were more or less harpies whose job was to get the soldiers to spend all their money on buying them drinks. They were chiefly Arab, with perhaps a few Greeks. Unfortunately the “floor show” was practically over when we entered. The room was full of tobacco smoke and soldiers. An orchestra played seductive rumba music. A large, scantily-clad, glittering Arab girl was dancing. Castanets on her fingers, clicked, the music throbbed, her body swayed rhythmically. A notice on the wall said: “If Patrons Interfere With The Artists The Police Will Have To Take Action”. We sat at a table with our beer and I devoutly hoped that the Artists would not interfere with me!

We did not stay here long; went on to the Nile for supper. It wasn't so good tonight; the cafe was full of noisy soldiers, many half drunk, so that the orchestra could not play. We got back to camp at about 1a.m.

Awoke at 6:45a.m. and had a cup of tea from the chi-wallah. It was grand for Stevens, Gayler and I, all “on leave” to lie snug in our blankets whilst the rest fell-in for roll call. We got up at breakfast time, 7:45a.m. Bob, Stan, Tom Gibbon, Ken White, Ron Hadlow and I all visited the Pyramids this forenoon. There we met Stevens and Gayler, so all went on together. Loquacious guides surrounded us and eventually one old Arab led us into the Great Pyramid.

Weird old place of galleries and low tunnels and precipitous staircases. There were frequent halts for argument whilst the guide tried to extract more piastres. Later he guided us up the outside. I'd never known one could climb the pyramids! It looked a horrific climb from below, the stone sloping at an angle of 55 to 60 degrees to a height of 450 feet, but it seemed quite safe in actuality, just a scramble over great blokes of stone. A very energetic job though! Used my camera for the first time today, on this ascent. We are, I believe, the first EY men to go right to the top!

Stan and I left les autres afterwards and had lunch at a pleasant cafe on the main road. (A great advantage of being in Egypt is that, unlike the scheme in Palestine, good class cafes etc are in bounds to all ranks not just to officers or sergeants.) We had excellent coffee, omelette, salad and chips, with bread and pure white goat's butter.(Lovely to dwell on luscious food after the muck we've had to eat in the desert!)

Later we hired a couple of donkeys and rode to the Sphinx, about a mile from the Pyramids. Two “donkey men” went with us and made the trip irritating by constantly whining for piastres, cigarettes and tobacco. We left them for a moment to get a close-up of the Sphinx and – there they were, prostrate in prayer! “Look at the scoundrels,” growled Stan, “Praying for piastres”. As soon as we returned they began all over again but wearied by their poor technique we gave them bugger-all. “Ingleesi – good” they crawled. “Very strong, very good. Mussolini – no-good”
“Arab no-good, donkey wallah no-good” I told 'em. “We qwise”, they said, hurt. “Aw, shut-up!” yelled Stan.

We walked back to camp at sunset. It had been a fine day, very interesting, a grand change. And the weather – just like an English summer's day. At sunset, it was like an English July evening at about 9 o'clock. Crouching in conspiratorial attitudes at the dim-lit dining table, Stan and I listened to instructions for finding a “pretty good” cabaret in Cairo. “What are you talking about?” asked Denny Search, just back from Base. “Cabarets,” Stan leered, “The Can-can, Denny!” “Gee!” squeaked Search, “You're getting low aren't you?” “Yes, boy,” I whispered, “Our morals have gone right to pieces”.


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