Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thursday 4th March 1943

A grey, rainy day. The Colonel did not make an inspection but they got everything just the same. On account of the rain however, the bottom end of the tent and most of the windows were left closed. In any case, it didn't worry me much as I was out of the ward most of the morning, filling the stoves, getting kerosene and the laundry and what-not.

I waited outside the hospital kitchen with an orderly. We had come to fetch the food for lunch. “Ward 9!” yelled a cook, and in we went. “Ward 9?” I heard a chuckle behind me, “They're all magdnoon in that ward!” I turned around rapidly and saw an apologetic, embarrassed look flash across the face of the man who had spoken. He needn't have worried. “Yes,” I agreed heartily, “We are all crazy in number 9.”
Oh, there's quite a distinction about being in Ward 9! Everyone knows it!

Last night, just before bed time, Taffy began whistling Ravel's “Bolero.” He whistled tunelessly and probably unconsciously, for 10 minutes or so. By the time he finished, I also had finished – 32 lines of staccato verse entitled “Wheels.” It was easy to write, with the cadence of “Bolero” throbbing rhythmically in my ears:

...“Then, force flows slowly and a wheel
a symmetrical wheel of steel
moves, moves gently, relentlessly...
... With movement of shafting shift
change, the range will swiftly lift
and leap
as steel bites deep
grinding and grating
This is the palan
of the great machine,
while each wheel, to axis bound,
flies for ever round and round”

The main thing is, I'd had no ideas for about three weeks. Now I'm writing again!

N'Souki and Joe Louis are both in their beds nowadays, very quiet. The mad sergeant next door is still diss. of course. Which leaves gibbering Ghandi as the sanest of the blacks! He's pretty lucid at present, actually, and even helped Sister yesterday by translating into English some of N'Souki's remarks on his sick headaches! However, everyone is pleased that Ghandi's sane spell has not detracted from his grimacing, eye-rolling, giggling and other play acting. Today he was taken out to talk to the nigger sergeant next door. (Ghandi made a dignified exit complete with comic-opera cap and scarlet cigarette holder at a defiant angle.) He spent a couple of hours consoling the sergeant and then came back. In the middle of the ward he and Hamad did an impromptu tribal dance – yes! Africa danced with Asia! And I could see Ghandi's extraordinary face all the time...

My God! He's worth putting in the films. He won't be though. The old sod wouldn't even let me photograph him, as he reckons a camera has the evil eye.

The latest acquisition to this ward is Ed Din, a Syrian Jebel Druse Arab from Hamad's unit. I have called him “Playboy” Din on account of the amorous and alcoholic pursuits he specialises in (by his own account) when not in a magdnoon hospital. Hamad, needless to say, has already grasped this new word, “Playboy.”


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