Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Thursday 8th January 1942

Although Jack and I, both hardened cynics where the Army is concerned, have often derided the Army way of rehearsing things, we ourselves today carefully rehearsed our forthcoming move from Jerusalem to Jericho. The whole show was a complete rehearsal except that we did not in the real Army style, carry kit, or march! With little difficulty, we found a Jericho-bound bus – at Damascus Gate. It was an Arab bus; we were shown importantly to a comfortable back seat which we shared with three very young Arab girls, who giggled the whole way, occasionally used English phrases (with a Park Lane drawl!) presumably for our benefit, and flung themselves against us in a heap each time the bus hurtled around one of the giddy bends that lie along the road to Jericho. School girls must be the same the whole world over!

Soon we were ambling gently through the Jericho I'd always longed to revisit. So deliciously green! The houses so clean; the Arabs so differently friendly, un-servile and washed! Lord knows what the trees and shrubs and plants were on either side between the pretty little white houses, beyond the hedges. We did not know them, but we did recognise oranges, bananas, lemons and date palms. And – growing wild in a hedge we found half-ripe BLACKBERRIES!

We came to The Winter Palace Hotel, which was just as I'd mentally photographed it when I rushed past in M1, eighteen months ago. Oh my God! My imaginings were not disappointed! Inside there were wide corridors. It somehow made me think of a Swiss holiday resort, don't know why. It was not Yehudi! We drifted along the spacious hall towards the dining room; as we got nearer we could hear the tinkling of a piano. A pretty tune which I didn't know. “I'll always remember this,” I said happily, meaning the moment. There was a bar at one end of the large dining room; warm sunshine streamed in through an open side door; beyond this door was a garden full of lovely blue flowers. Lunch was due to be served in ten minutes...

“The war might be a thousand miles away,” I said. “Yes,” said Jack, peacefully abstracted, although I half expected him to drawl, “Well it is literally about that distance at the present moment, anyhow”.

Whilst we were waiting for lunch I went to the reception desk. Could I book a room for two. Yes, they had one vacant! Imediately booked it for six days, full pension, commencing tomorrow. We had been told that prices were “sky high” here but the full charge was actually 9,240 mills, really not bad. I was shown the room. It opened off a long wide corridor and was full of sunshine. I looked out of the window, saw a bit of roof, flowers, trees, wilderness, grim, dark mountains.

Before returning we strolled to the end of the town, then climbed on a mound and looked hopefully beyond and upward towards a sand coloured mountain, surmounted by some sort of a building, modern in appearance. About half way up were the incredible cliff dwellings with three domes, terraces and a track. We pointed these out to an Arab boy. “Yehudi? Arabi?” “La. Nasrami,” he answered. “Inglesi?” “La,” he replied and uttered a few words we did not understand – which is not surprising as our knoledge of Arabic is small.

In the road below a taxi halted. There were four Arab passengers and two vacant seats. “Jerusalem?” queried the driver. “Sure!” In we got. It was far better than a bus but cost very little more. The car fairly ate up the steep hills and difficult bends to Jerusalem, keeping in top gear and at a speed of 40 K.M. or more nearly all the way. I forgot to observe the make of car. The driver certainly pulled it round the bends fine, but it picked up beautifully what little speed had been lost, each time.

Well, we didn't know the names of half the greenery we saw in Jericho; we didn't know the name of the blue flowers, we didn't know who inhabited the cliff dwellings, the make of the car or the piece of music from the piano. We didn't even know the name of the mysterious officer in Essex Yeomanry uniform with EY badges and buttons, whom we saw in a Jerusalem cafe, this evening.*

But, we enjoyed ourselves, despite our ignorances!

“In other words,” said Chenery from his bed, when I commented on this just now, “We're bloody well finished, done for and zift but maalesh!”

*(20-4-42 I met this same officer again, on April 19th in Cairo, and had a conversation with him. Although he wore our insignia he was actually in Intelligence.)

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