TOURIST IN AFRICA
Childermas in England—Mrs. Stitch in Genoa— Gully Gully in Port Said
,neeember 28, 1958. On the third day after
HOLY we commemorate the massacre of the ri°1Y Innocents. Few candid fathers, I suppose, can regard that central figure of slate in reughers painting in Antwerp without being touched by sympathy. After the holly and sticky gWeetmeats, cold steel. I declare smugly that at fifty-five I am at the !tine of life when 1 have to winter abroad, but in Ituth I reached that age thirty years ago. Even when I thought I enjoyed fox-hunting my enthu- sIasm waned by Christmas. I have endured few English Februaries since I became self-support- ing. February, 1940, found me a probationary temporary second-lieutenant in an asbestos chalet on the English Channel; never again, I resolved. February, 1941, was far from luxurious, out it was warm, in a densely crowded troopship steaming through the tropics on the great detour gYPt; but in 1942 I was in a Nissen but on a Scottish moor; never again. In those days the P°liticians had a lot to say about Freedom. They met—few will now recall—and guaranteed every- one Freedom from Fear. Did they also guarantee Freedom from Religion? Something of the sort, I think. All I asked in that horrible camp was , 'reedom to travel. That, 1 should like to claim, is Ihat I fought for, but I did far too little actual ughting to make that boast effective. Then when the war was over the politicians did what they could to keep us all wired in; but i escaped regularly. Nowadays, 1 suppose, if such things were still required, I could get a doctor to certify that I needed to go abroad for till' health. I begin to stiffen early in December. s tu°Ping, turning, kneeling, climbing in and out °La modern motor-cars, which are constructed solely for contortionists, become increasingly Painful, By Christmas I look out on the bare tees with something near melancholia. Childermas is the Sabbath of ca/ard. I have lust looked up this popular word in the dictionary and have learned, as no doubt the reader already knows, that its roots come from 'hypocrisy' and cant.' It is therefore peculiarly apt for the emo- t100s with which the father of a family performs r the jollities of Christmastide. It is at Childermas, asa rule, that I begin to make plans for my escape, for, oddly enough, this regularly recurrent fi of claustrophobia always takes me by surprise Its; I am told, the pains of childbirth often setV this mothers. Writing now in high summer (for lug is not the diary as I kept it. I am trying to make a book from the notes I took abroad) it ,Seenis hardly conceivable that 1 shall ever want ' leave my agreeable house and family. But I 340, next Christmas, and. no doubt I shall once in°re is myself with no plans made. a It s not so easy as it was thirty years ago to "d a retreat. Tourism and politics have laid
waste everywhere. Nor is fifty-five the best age for travel; too old for the jungle, too young for the beaches, one must seek refreshment in the spectacle of other people at work, leading lives quite different from one's own. There are few more fatiguing experiences than to mingle with the holiday-makers of the Jamaican North Shore, all older, fatter, richer, idler and more ugly than oneself. India is full of splendours that must be seen now or perhaps never, but can a man of fifty-five long endure a regime where wine is prohibited?
I have worked for eighteen months on the bio- graphy of a remarkable but rather low-spirited friend many years older than myself. I have read nothing and met no one except to further my work. Old letters, old dons, old clergymen— charming companions, but a lowering diet when prolonged. Last year I went to Central Africa but saw nothing. I flew there and back and spent a month in purely English circumstances cross- examining authorities on the book I was writing. Africa again without preoccupations, with eyes reopened to the exotic. That's the ticket.
January, 1959. Ticket? Not altogether easy. This is the season when the ships are fullest The wise man sails before Christmas. A visit to the Union Castle office in London. They are able to offer a cabin in the Rhodesia Castle at the end of the month. She is a one-class ship sailing on the eastward route through the Suez Canal, stopping at several places I knew in other days and will gladly revisit, and reaching Dar-es- Salaam on February 20. On March 27 their new flag-ship, the Pendennis Castle. leaves Cape Town on her fast return voyage to England. That leaves me exactly five weeks in which to wander down by land.
I am told I shall need an inoculation against yellow fever and that under the new medical organisation this cannot be given by one's own doctor. Instead one must visit a city. In London a nurse was giving, it seemed, some thirty shots an hour at a guinea a time. 1 purchased my certi- ficate there. In the course of my journey I crossed many frontiers .but no government official ever asked to see it. The only person to show any concern for my health was the ticket clerk at a tiny airfield in Tanganyika.
Medical authorities seem to have grown tamer lately. I remember great annoyance at the hands of the captain of a Belgian lake steamer crossing to the Congo in 1931: he. sent me ashore under a blazing sun to find a doctor on a golf links who, as the hooter was sounding for departure, certified my immunity from a variety of con- tagious diseases. As for the nineteenth century. which is popularly supposed to have been so free, readers of Charles Waterton may remember that in 1841 he was shipwrecked on a voyage from Civita Vecchia to Leghorn and with his fellow passengers obliged to transfer to the ship with which they had collided. When they reached Leghorn they were refused permission to land by the quarantine authorities on the grounds that their original bill of health had gone down with their ship. Only the impassioned intervention of Prince Charles Napoleon saved them from twenty days' incarceration. It is wrong to repre- sent bureaucracy as an evil contrived solely by socialists. It is one of the evidences of original sin. The great alluring false promise of the socialists is that the State will wither away.
When I tell people of my movements they say either : 'Not a very pleasant time to be going. Everything will be very disturbed after the Accra Conference,' or 'A very interesting time to be going. Eveiything will be full of life after the Accra Conference.' No one, when one is going to Paris, warns one of the dangers from Algerian terrorists or envies one the excitements of UNESCO. As a defence I pretend to an interest in archaeology. 'I want to have a look at the Persian vestiges in the off-shore islands.' I like showy ruins and am moderately knowledgeable about European architecture, but I can't distin- guish periods or races in Mohammedan building. 1 mean to go to some of these 'off-shore islands' (what is an in-shore island?) if I can I am grate- ful to them for turning many conversations from the 'colour problem' and African nationalism.
January 27. A friend in London gave a dinner party to wish me a good journey and kindly assembled people she thought 1 should like to see. 1 was put in mind of Swift's observation : 'When we are old our friends find it difficult to please us, and are less concern'd whether we be pleas'd or no.'
An odious and graceless thought; a wintry thought; high time to be off.
January 28. It is satisfactory to leave for the tropics in bitter, dingy weather. Sometimes I have left in sun and new snow and felt sorry to be off. I am taking the train to Genoa and boarding my ship there. At Dover no one looked at our lug- gage or passports but we were none the less herded into the ritual procession round the customs shed. Why can't the train draw up along- side of the ship as at Calais? There are lines laid to the quay. The great majority of the passengers carry their own bags and have a long, unneces- sary march.
Ticket troubles at Calais. [he train comprises miscellaneous sleeping cars bound for various destinations; only one for Rome and that full. 1 have to travel in the Simplon-Orient which leaves Paris later than the Rome Express without a dining-car and shall have to change trains in the early morning at Milan. The conductor and guard assure me that they have information that nil sleepers are engaged on the Rome Express.
Paris at the cocktail hour. How gaily 1 used to jump into a taxi and visit the bars while the train, crawled round the Ceinture. Nowadays, hard of hearing and stiff in the joints, I sit glumly in my compartment. At the Gare de Lyon there is an hour in which to try and change to the Rome Express. Clearly a case of 'oil est le Cooks homme?' The wagon-lit office is shut but a Dickensian figure in the peaked cap of a travel agency lurks near it. He falls into a hoarse disquisition about a rebate I can get by avoiding Swiss territory, if I get the chef de train —`chef de train, mind—conductor won't do'— to endorse my ticket and send it to the issuing , agency. I persuade the Agent that this is not the primary problem. He pads along with me to the platform. In the hazy evening the station is an ant-heap of sleeping-cars scurrying in all direc- tions. My car has disappeared with my luggage. We find an empty berth on the Rome Express, then that car too wanders abruptly away into the darkness while I am talking to the conductor. `Oh, so you speak French, eh?' says the Agent resentfully as though I had been imposing on his good nature under false pretences. No porters in view—'Ah porters, now, you don't see many of them these days.' The Agent, who seems as rheumatic as I, limps off to find one. I stay at the Rome Express platform where my sleeping car presently returns and is immediately over- run by Indians, men, women and children all beautifully dressed and talking volubly in English. They fill corridor, steps and platform. Five minutes to go and the Agent appears among them with a porter and my baggage. 'What haven't got. that's your tickets. 'Conducteur wouldn't hand them over.' He indicates that our transactions are finished. His tip is bigger than he expected (or deserved) and he leaves me with a faint hint of geniality. Precisely at eight the conductor from my first train comes swimming through the surge of Indians with my tickets. The train moves and suddenly all the Indians start tumbling out of it, leaving one dapper, waving, sweetly-scented couple.
1 wonder what Cooks-homme's history is. His French sounded very French to me; his English was the kind of cockney one seldom hears nowa- days in London. Most of what I said struck him as densely obscure. An English soldier left over from the First World War perhaps, who had married a French girl and settled down with her? A Frenchman who had worked some years in a British colony and picked up the language of his mates? As happier men watch birds. I watch men. They are less attractive but more various.
Man-watching at dinner. The second service is Pleasantly unfrequented. A striking figure sits opposite me, hirsute and swarthy; a Syrian re- volutionary? an unfrocked Coptic clergyman? He addresses me :n English. f take a shot and he admits to being a Sikh, who cut his hair and shaved his beard in Detroit. He is now growing them again but they will not yet have reached a suitable length when he meets his family. How will they take it? I mention the assembly of Indians at the station and surmise they were diplomats. There are no diplomats in Detroit, the Sikh says', everyone works hard there. Then he gives me a detailed account of his sufferings from the avarice of French taxi-drivers. I tell him he will find things worse in Naples, where he is going. He is stopping on the way at Rome. is that a good place? He knows nothing what- ever about it except that it is the capital of Italy. He has never heard of the Caesars, of the Popes, of Michelangelo or even of Mussolini. He is an engineer and, I suppose, about thirty years old and quite well off.
January 29. Genoa shortly before eight. I have a friend whom I have more than once attempted to portray in fiction under the name of 'Mrs. Stitch.' Mrs. Stitch was wintering in Rome and I had told her I was coming to Genoa on the re- mote chance that she might join me. The main reason for my anxiety to get into the Rome Ex- press was that I should be at the hotel at the time I had told her. Just as I finished shaving after my bath she turned up with four hats, six changes of clothes and a list of complicated chores for her friends, for whom she habitually recovers lost property, books, tickets, and collects peculiar articles of commerce.
Her first business was at the railway station which, for a reason that was never clear to me, was harbouring a coat of unlovely squalor abandoned somewhere by one of her more irre- sponsible cronies. Without authority or means of identification Mrs. Stitch cajoled a series of beaming officials and possessed herself of the sordid garment. 'How different from the French,' Mrs. Stitch said, 'they would never have let me have it.' I sometimes suspect that one of the rea- sons she gets on so badly with the French is that she speaks their language well. In Italy she 0 'lien to rely purely on her looks and always gets ill Won way without argumentbon Breakfast in the station. The one perea4 tepr dissension between Mrs Stitch and me is that,, dust like to eat in marble halls under lofty ehandeb all r while Mrs. Stitch insists on candlelit garrets II tiste cellars She thinks my preference hopele-'11 dust middle-class and tells me I am like Arnold l3 Puli nett. Mrs. Stitch's greatest difficulty in Italy fies} that there are singularly few quiet. mu T restaurants, the smaller they are. the noisier $ lilar the more brilliantly lighted. The railway sta1i tat( at Genoa provided 9 happy compromise . gra, luncheon we found what Mrs. Stitch wanted. lifts Olivo's on the old quay. At dinner at Pichlr fat} the new quarter the cooking was admirable I'Ll sort the light blinding. On the second day we d hot out to a gay little beach restaurant at N It I was never able to get her into the restau boL of our hotel and wistfully caught only an 00:3' Cal .sional glimpse of its sumptuous Victor-Emil-1,10th I., trappings. The cooking of Genoa. like its arch' litt!
tecture, is mild-flavoured and wholesome. thi, From this generalisation I exclude the Caolf' 1 Santo which for the amateur of cemeteries is Oni la 1 of the wonders of the modern world We we, II , there at once and emerged after two hours doidi Sr,, by its preposterous splendours. When 1171 tod Genoese lost their independence, the eller! she that had once taken them on piratical haze..., the into unknown waters and the remains of thclf v h accumulated wealth were devoled to the pri`'` tie; commemoration of their dead.IA We are accustomed to the grandiose tombs °1; the monarchs and , national heroes. In Genoa (01 re, more than a hundred years professional ,ilw, h1 mercantile families competed in raising parel, se: domestic temples. They stand round two grea, tai quadrangles and extend along the terraced hill' 'II side beginning with the strong echo of Calltiv3 lel and ending in a whisper of Mestrovic aliw syt Epstein. They are of marble and bronze, ma Ili draped figures symbolic of mourning and hob stand and intricately contrived. Draped and ha' draped in unembarrassed intimacy with portrait' tilsculptures of uncanny realism. There stand tit dead in the changing fashions of a century. I *, rflea whiskered, frock-coated, bespectacled, the hn "°1flen in bustles and lace shawls and feathered °°11nets, every button and bootlace precisely Produced, and over all has drifted the fine grey dust of a neighbouring quarry. 'He's taken silk all right,' said Mrs. Stitch before a gowned bar- rIster. and indeed that is precisely 6 the effect of the "44 that has settled in the hollows of the Polished white marble. All appear to be lined, fled and clothing alike, in grey shot-silk. There are tableaux almost vivants in which 81.1,4 Marble angels of consolation emerge from bronze 161; For lates to whisper to the kneeling bereaved. In one i.l.,.°1111 there is a double illusion; a marble mother lifts her child to kiss the marble bust of his father. alher. In .the 1880s the hand of art nouveau rens the sharp chiselling. There is nothing _ after 1918 to interest the connoisseur.
bourgeois as a museum of mid-nineteenth-century Campo art in the full, true sense. that the Santo of Genoa stands supreme. If Pere nh la chr Chaise and the Albert Memorial were ob- ,1,te.rated the loss would be negligible as long as '''ls great repository survives rurtunately it was untouched, or apparently so, to the bombardments of the Second World War. It was reported in 1944 that the city was 'flat.' Some fine buildings were irreparably lost but today, apart from an unexploded British naval shell that is gratefully exhibited in the Cathedral, ere is little evidence of damage. I remember, When Italy declared war on us in 1940. a poll- lelan exultantly proclaiming on the wireless that 01' should soon add notably to the ruins for which rof teal country was so justly famous. (It is worth calling that before the surrender of Rome the rely nghsh wished to destroy it and we were pre- ellled only by our American allies.) He did not take account of the Italians' genius for restoration. They do not, as do those in authority in England, regard the destruction of a good building as a ‘''eleome opportunity to erect something really 1181Y in its place. They set to work patiently exercising the arts of their ancestors. The palaces and churches of Genoa were, it seems, in ruins to 1945• Now, walking the streets with Augustus Hares guide book of 1875. Mrs. Stitch and I '°1-Ild see almost all that he saw, as he saw it.
did not know Genoa before the war. I went 1, ,"rcalgh by owl-light countless times but the 'ain runs underground and one gets no glimpse °I: the city's beauties. It is a place much neglected thY English and American sightseers who hurry rough on their way to Rome and Florence and enice. Genoa cannot be compared with these. " has no stupendous works of art and is haunted by fewillustrious ghosts. It is stately and rather ps `,relsalc and passes' almost unnoticed in the in- ieIrt1Parable riches of Italy. In another country would be the focus of esthetic excitement. Oil that is interesting, apart from the Campo 1.4.1110. lies in the little triangle between the two may ystations and the water-front. There ode "1_,41' see two streets of palaces and some thirty illurches displaying every phase of architecture r°111 early medieval to late rococo. The palaces are s all, I think, in public hands or divided into a , "lees and flats. The shipping agency, where I vent to verify my sailing, is housed in a delicate eighteenth-century building whose gates lead into a cortile with beyond it, through the further 'tech, a hanging garden rising into the sunlight on elaborately sculptured terraces. The two im- portant streets, the Via Balbi and the Via Nuova, unpleasantly renamed Via Garibaldi, are narrow and deeply shaded except on the roofs and upper storeys where at dawn and sunset the pediments and cornices reveal their strength. The doorways are immense and through them beyond the quadrangles and open staircases there is often a bright view, on one side of the sea, on the other of the mountains. Steep populous alleys lead down to the harbour, but they are clean and sweet. The people are as polite as Romans. There are no child-beggars, only the traditional, black-robed, bead-telling old people on the steps of the churches. The Genoese of the old city go to bed early. After dinner one can promenade the empty streets, finding at every corner a lamp-lit shrine and meeting few motor-cars.
The chief hotel in Genoa stands near the rail- way station. Luggage is carried there through a tunnel under the trallic which during the day is thick and fast. It is as good an hotel as I have found anywhere. As I have said. I was not allowed to try the cooking; everything I did try was first-class, in particular the two concierges. When one is travelling one's comfort depends more on concierges than on cooks or managers or head waiters. These functionaries are getting rather rare in England and are quite unknown America. Outside Europe they tend to be ras- cals. There is in England a Corps of Commis- sionaires, who have their own burial ground at Brookwood. They are uniformed and be- medalled touts who, as far as I have ever seen, do nothing except collect tips. But concierges have to be polyglot, omniscient, imperturbable as croupiers, patient as nuns, and endowed with memories as deep and accurate as librarians. Mrs. Stitch has some of the requisite qualities. but not all. I should be the worst possible man for the job. The concierges of Genoa romanti- cally assumed that my meeting with Mrs. Stitch was clandestine and showed exquisite tact in defending our privacy and concealing our identities from an inquirer whom they took for a private detective. I should like to believe that there is an international corps of concierges, a Sovereign Order like the Knights of Malta, and a splendid cemetery where they can all lie to- gether at the end, but I am told they never resort together and mostly retire quite young and rather rich and blandly fatten ducks in remote, soft valleys.
Mrs. Stitch and I took our sight-seeing easy. One night in a wagon-lit did not work in me any miracle of rejuvenation. I was not yet good for more than two miles a day nor could I eat more than a spoonful or two of the delicious confec- tions of fish that were put before us I was the same seedy old man who had groaned up to Paddington. But my eyes were opening. For months they had ceased to see; I had moved like a blind man through the lanes and hamlets of Somerset and the familiar little area of Lon- don that lies between the London Library and the Hyde Park Hotel. I needed a strong draught to quicken my faculty and 1 found it in the Counter-Reformation extravagance of the Gesu. That picked me up and I was ready for the subtler beauties of the Cathedral.
My hope, not I trust wholly presumptuous, in publishing this diary is that the things which amused and interested me on my little tour, may amuse and interest some others. I do not attempt to guide them by enumerating all the objects to be seen, nor even all I saw. E. V. Lucas's 'Wan- derer' series of descriptions of famous towns, which give so beguiling an air of leisure, of the sensitive eye freely roaming, of mature medita- tion, of unhurried feet pottering. of the mind richly stored with history and anecdote, were in fact, his daughter has revealed, the fruit of break-neck speed and frantic jottings of the kind most ridiculed in less adroit tourists. During these two days in Genoa I hobbled along beside Mrs. Stitch, popped into places that looked interesting, sat down as often as possible and stared hard; and my vision cleared. I was not to see much of architectural beauty during my tour but I brought to other spectacles eyes sharpened on the stones of Italy.
One little puzzle I met which has often exer- cised me since. For centuries the most illustrious relic in the very rich treasury of San Lorenzo (it claims also the ashes of St. John the Baptist and has furnished them with superb vehicles for ex- position and procession) was the Sacro Catino. It is a large dish of green glass, broken and put together with a small piece missing, and hand- somely mounted. It is displayed in the treasury still but the sacristan makes no claims for its authenticity. It has an old history. In 1101 Genoese and Pisan crusaders sacked Caesarea. The loot was enormous but the Genoese happily surrendered all their share in exchange for this dish which local pundits assured them was used by Our Lord at the Last Supper for washing the apostles' feet. More than this, it was cut from a single prodigious emerald which Solomon had given to the Queen of Sheba.
The Genoese bore it back in triumph, en- shrined it and protected it as the greatest pos- . session of the republic. Twelve knights were appointed to the high honour of holding the key 01 its casket for a month each, year after year. In 1476 a law was passed making it a capital uitence to try alchemical experiments with it. So it was guarded and venerated until the Revolu- tion. In 1809 French free-thinkers captured the City and bore the Sacro Catino off to Paris with Other treasures. In 1815 it was restored, but on the road between Turin and Genoa someone dropped it and broke it and plainly revealed that it was made of glass. By an inexplicable process ui the human reason the Genoese at once decided that it was totally spurious. If it was not the Queen of Sheba's emerald it was not Our Lord's basin No knights guard it now. It is displayed to profane eyes as an (thief de vertu among• the silver altar fronts and the Byzantine reliquaries. ah beautifully arranged and lighted as though the Victoria and Albert Museum.
After luncheon on the second day I covered nlY suitcases with the gummy labels of the steamship line and lay down to read After half ar hour I was disturbed by a series of strange noises. cracklings and rustlings. Every one of the whether attached to leather or canvas, was detaching itself and rolling up into a little cylinder Rum.
Farewell Mrs. Stitch. She returned to Rome With the gruesome coat on her elegant arm.
January 31. The Rhodesia Castle is a clean, seaworthy. Punctual ship with a swimming-pool, cinema- seri en and all modern amenities, but no preten- sions is to grand luxe. The food was abundant and seductively named and seemed to cause general satisfaction. I cannot say much about it. I was treating this voyage as a cure. A ship is one of the few places where one can play the ascetic Without causing annoyance to. anyone else. ite2ordingly I subsisted chiefly on fruit an d cold barn. I never entered the bar where the jollier Passengers foregather:N..: and eventually landed in Africa lighter and very much more agile than had embarked.
The ship was quite full and I was lucky to get cabin with a bathroom. Not that I can find Much use for a bath at sea. A ship is as clean as hospital; except after days on shore washing is formality; for the first days of hot weather the freshwater shower is a pleasure; after that the Cold water runs hot and one breaks into sweat anew as one tries to dry. But throughout the voy- age I compared the privacy and spaciousness of this journey with the squalor of my flight the Year before.
At the time of writing (July, 1959) there is a correspondence in the Times about the horrors Of third-class air-travel. I had gone to Rhodesia first class. Perhaps we were objects of envy in our expensive quarters, but we had little compassion to spare for the second-class victims forward. We had our own bitter troubles. It was impossible to sleep and very difficult to get to the lavatory. After dark it was a strain to read by the little spotlights. All of us, rich and poor alike, were periodically turned out to wait for refuelling at airports which ingeniously contrived the utmost gloom with the utmost restlessness. There was nothing to do but drink. It took days to recover.
February 1. Sunday. There are three priests on board, Dutch, Italian and Irish-American, on their way to different mission stations. Also two parties of nuns. Catholic and Anglican. The Anglicans are put out that they are denied Com- munion, but they hear Mass regularly. The An- glican nuns were unmistakably English spinsters. None of them had developed that round cheerful face whose expression varies from serenity to fatuity, which one sees everywhere in Catholic convents. These Anglican sisters are universally respected in Africa for their good works. They did not seem notably joyous. But who am I, of all people, to complain about that?
Most of the passengers came on board at Lon- don and have made up their bridge fours and dining tables and generally got acquainted, so that I am able to study them in solitude. I had expected a predominance of elderly people of the kind one finds on the banana boats in the West Indies, making the round trip for their rheuma- tism or bronchitis. There are some of these, but very few. The great majority are the young, re- turning to work; not adventurers seeking a for- tune; not, at this late age of Africa, empire builders; but the employees of governments and big commercial firms taking up secure posts as clerks and schoolmasters and conservators of soil; sons of the Welfare State;, well qualified, well behaved, enjoying an easy bonhomie with the stewards. Many have young wives, children and infants in arms.
A printed notice proclaims : 'The Captain and his officers will wear Blue Mess Kit White Mess Kit Blue Uniform White Uniform at dinner tonight,' with the inapplicable words struck out, but few take advantage of this hint. Mine is one of a dozen dinner jackets worn in the evening.
The library is reserved for adults. It is also free of wireless. Instead of a single, fatigable orchestra most ships nowadays have loudspeakers every- where and the succession of gramophone records is only interrupted by announcements—Test match scores, geographical and meteorological information from the bridge, news of the ship's recreations. (One exhortation on this voyage was enjoyable: 'At 12.45 today a passenger was observed throwing a basket-chair overboard from the verandah. If this is an expression of dis- satisfaction the Captain would like the oppor- tunity to put things right.') The library is a place of refuge. It is also well stocked with some thou- sand books of which I possess a dozen only and have read a further two dozen. The steward tells me that the Line employs a professional librarian who visits every ship at London and Southampton and distributes books. He must have a peculiarly difficult task, and he does it admirably. Every taste finds some satisfaction. For me a voyage is the time to read about the places for which I am bound and to study the best-sellers of the past ycar. I got through two books a day and never found myself without something readable. February 3. The Mediterranean is cool and calm. Clocks go on an hour. Sir Harold Nicolson has said that he resents this shortening of his life. I find it exhilarating; the gift of a whole precious hour totally free of delinquency and boredom. Odd that traditionally the voyage west, where days and nights get longer and longer, should symbolise the expedition to the Fortunate Isles.
February 4. Port Said at dawn. Over a hundred dauntless passengers left for the gruelling dash to the Sphinx and to Suez. I did not land. The officials who came on board wore khaki service dress and Brodrick caps. No tarbouches to be seen. The touts have discarded their white gowns for shoddy western suits, exemplifying the almost universal rule that 'Nationalists' obliterate national idiosyncrasies. Even the `gully-gully' man wore trousers.
I have often wondered about the history of these performers, more comedians than con- jurors, who, as far as I know, are peculiar to the Canal. Few tourists in these days go shopping in Port Said or sit in its cafds. (1 remember the days when everyone going out, male and female, bought a topee at the quayside and those return- ing to Europe from the tropics threw them over- board in the basin to be scavenged by Arab boat- men.) So nowadays the 'gully-gully' men ply be- tween Port Said and Suez, boarding the ships and giving performances on deck at advertised times. I first saw them in February, 1929, when perforce I spent some weeks in the port. Their repertoire is as immutable as the D'Oyly Carte's. The craft, I have been told, is hereditary. The man who squatted on the deck of the Rhodesia Castle must be the son of one of those whose attentions in 1929 became rather tedious after long repetition; or perhaps he was one of those tiny children whom I mentioned in a book called Labels. 'There was a little Arab girl,' I noted, 'who had taught herself to imitate them perfectly, only, with a rare instinct for the elimination of essentials, she used not to bother about the conjuring at all, but would scramble from table to table in cafds, saying "Gully Gully" and taking a chicken in and out of a little cloth bag. She was every bit as amusing as the grown-ups and made just as much money.'
There is a distinctly military tinge about the gully-gully ritual, which dates perhaps from 1915, much facetious saluting and the address: 'Oh, you, officer, sir,' when chickens are produced from waistcoat pockets. There is also the invocation of the name of Mrs. Cornwallis-West derived from a remote and forgotten scandal. But who began the art, when? Most Oriental and African conjurors assume converse with the supernatural. No doubt Egyptian conjurors did a hundred years ago. Some unrecorded Charlie Chaplin or Grock of the waterfront must at abput the time of Aida have first hit on the idea of introducing farce; perhaps the literal progenitor of all gully-gully men. I wish I knew.
All day in the Canal drifting past the dullest landscape in the world, while the passengers hang fascinated on the taffrails and take spools of snapshots.
I remember once seeing a soldier of the French Foreign Legion desert, jump overboard just before luncheon, and stand rather stupidly in the sand . watching the ship sail on without him. Once, much later, during the last war, I remember a happy evening on the Canal dining with two sailors whose task was to employ numberless Arab bomb-watchers. When they reported an enemy aeroplane and a splash traffic was stopped until the missile was found. The clever Italians, I was told, dropped blocks of salt which dissolved, leav- ing no trace. Divers' worked for days in vain searching for them and the Canal was blocked as effectively as by high explosive. But there was nothing of interest during this day's journey. All one could see was a line of behinds as the passen- gers gazed and photographed nothing.
The Captain tells me he finds the Canal the most interesting part of his voyage.
The weather grows pleasantly warm; not warm enough to justify the outbreak of shorts which both sexes, from now on, inelegantly assume.
ADEN, MOMBASA. KILIMANJARO