Sunday, November 30, 2008

Monday 5th October 1942

During last evening, Bob and I descended into petty crime and our financial situation improved accordingly. We now have a fair supply of soap, matches, razor blades, cigarettes and tobacco. I also have a fresh bottle of ink. We went on parade for pay this forenoon and drew £7 between us – and we have not yet been drafted! Or suffered from any Base bullshit!

It happened like this. We went out last night, with only a few piastres in our pockets, after abortive attempts to borrow money. When we reached Cairo we had two coffees at the usual place – 3 piastres – and went on a no. 13 tram towards the Citadel, through the native quarter. Bob had a brand new pair of boots in his kit bag. “Can't we sell these?” he said hopefully. “”Yimkin”, I said.

However, Bob addressed an Indian soldier who hung precariously beside me on the step of the tram, whilst we jolted through stinking streets. “You want buy boots, Johhnie? Teaki!” The Indian showed many teeth. “Me get plenty boots from Army! Inter mascine?” “Awa, mascine,” I said gloomily. The Indian pondered. Presently he said, “You go Citadel? Me also. Maybe I find you Egyptian, buy boots.”

So when we got near the Citadel we alighted. The Indian at once approached a dirty looking Arab, who looked as though he hadn't got ten millienes for a piastre, and said something to him. The decrepit Arab looked interested, began to follow us. Our Indian friend led us to a patch of bare ground – right beside the main road(!) - where we squatted down, native fashion.

The boots were cautiously produced and examined. “Now we have conference,” said Johnny. “Kam?” asked the Arab, impassively. The ensuing discussion began to attract too much attention, so we decided to do nothing until nightfall. The four of us strolled down the road and began to examine the exterior of a mosque. It was by no means a “perfect crime;” we must have looked a suspicious crowd – an Indian, a disreputable Arab, and two English soldiers carrying kit bag and pack respectively. However, we were desperate, and it was our first attempt at this sort of thing.
Eventually we strolled far into the native quarter and up a narrow lane, where a second – and more rascally looking – Arab became interested.

We were too conspicuous however. Heads appeared at windows, urchins hovered around us. A third Arab now joined us, wearing atrocious English clothes and with vile smelling breath. He took command, with the second rascal, over-bearing our original, more timid client.

“Dangerous here,” he said excitedly, “Someone here tell police!” “You take us in house,” I said. “All right, Come.” We reached a dingy doorway. The third and first Wogs went in with Bob. They tried to keep me outside but a woman began shrieking abuse within and I heard Bob shout, “Where are you, Steve?” so I pushed in, past several protesting Arabs.

Hell of a din inside. The occupants of the house seemed very disturbed at our entrance. All was dark. we were led along a passage, up a ram-shackled stair and into a dark room. There was no furniture, when we struck matches, so we squatted on he stone floor. Presently the Wog returned with an oil lamp. “Shuft!” he said, anxiously, “Igri!” The noise of angry voices all over the house, continued. The timid Arab looked wistful. We showed the third Wog the boots, also Bob's gym vest and gym shorts, and my spare pair of khaki shorts and the pyjamas I scrounged from hospital. He took a look at it all, fingered the boots. “Alright! I give you money!”
The protesting cries increased. “It dangerous here,” said the Wog, “Police! Come!”

We packed our wares up, went down into he street and away along some narrow alley-ways. The Indian and the first Arab disappeared. We were sorry to lose the Indian, as he deserved some commission. It was quite dark now, but a crowd of boys still followed us. So, coming to a main road, we leapt on a tram – the second and third Arabs and Bob and I. The conductor came along for tickets. “Ana mascine!”. I said. “Gibbit cigarette” said the conductor. I did, and there was no more talk of fares.

Eventually we reached an empty road in the vicinity of some gardens and, undisturbed now, made our final bargaining. They gave us 150 PTS, for the boots and clothes. We could have got more, probably, but we were in a hurry, having wasted so much time. (Besides, ex-convicts have often told me, you never get more than one third of the value of your stolen goods from the “fence”!) We noticed that the third Wog hid the gym vest hastily in his clothes before the second Wog saw it – so that it wouldn't come into the sharing of their spoils later. Thief robs thief!

Before we came away, the third Wog told us his name. “Any time you want sell things, come to my house,” he said. We agreed – but his name was terribly hard for an Englishman to remember!

So, eventually, tired but light of heart we reached the Citadel and put the remainder of our kit – ie my photographs and books – in the regimental store. Most of the money was Bob's but he lent me 50 pts, kept 50 pts. for himself and spent the remaining 50 pts on the evening's entertainment. We came back from the Citadel by taxi, had supper, and bought mass tobacco and cigarettes. Then we went to the last house at the Metropole and saw a merry, clever film called “Appointment for Love”
“Does your conscience trouble you?” asked Bob. “Does it hell!' I said, “I've seldom had a more enjoyable evening! What about you?” “Same,” said Bob happily, “ill-gotten gains!”

We arrived back at camp 25 minutes over time, but were checked in OK. Reveille was at 5:45 this morning, only four hours after we got to bed. We went on roll call. Our names were not on the troop roll so we said nothing. We were detailed for fatigues but said we were on draft. “Alright then,” said the NCO “You'd better be, that's all.” “Oh, but we are on draft, really!” we said sincerely.

However, a long draft list was now being called out but our names were not mentioned. So we again said nothing. We missed the other three ordinary parades today. Just went to pay parade. Our names were called out there, alright!

So we have had a very pleasant time. This afternoon we took the long walk to the dear old “Beacon” hut. Bob wrote letters and I read a 17th century cloak and sword romance by “Q” (“The Splendid Spur”) until I fell asleep in a pleasant arm-chair. Reading “Q” again, reminded me of the time, many summers ago, when I sat reading his “Nicky Nan, Reservist,” in a field near Rothley, Leicestershire, and heard faint music coming from across the meadows. Was it, “Smile the while...til we meet again,” or perhaps “The Missouri Waltz”? Something like that.

We had tea here. I have spent the evening on this diary, whilst Bob, beside me, has been reading “Gone with the Wind”. We'll have a cup of tea presently, and then, I think, go early to bed.

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