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Shalom and Sheiks: 25 - Assailed By Guilt

John Powell, on a visit to Cairo, takes pity on a man who in desperation is selling off the family jewels.

To read earlier chapters of John's sparkling autobiogrpahy please click on Shalom And Sheiks in the menu on this page.

Cairo was bustling with British troops either stationed there or on leave. Day and night they were catered for with both entertainment and sport. Cinemas (the only buildings air-conditioned in those days), bars, cabarets, brothels, dances, did a roaring trade. The cash registers tinkled away in such places as Tommy's Bar, Groppi, and Johnny's Bar. Those venues of lesser standards such as The Shooftee Inn, The Bucksheesh Bar, patronised by the other ranks, were always crammed to overflowing.

For the officers, free access was given to the Gazira Sporting Club with its swimming pool, tennis courts, squash courts, library, bar, restaurant, horseriding, golf and also the lounge for playing cards, where at afternoon tea-time, a trolley, heavily loaded with mouth-watering gateaux, was wheeled about for the patrons.

Swimming pools were popular, and while the locals were having their afternoon siesta, trying to snooze on a burning, hot mattress and keeping cool by evaporation in front of an electric fan, you would find the Englishmen out in the heat, burnt red in the face and on arms and legs from the sun, playing tennis. Noel Coward's song, 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out In The Midday Sun', required no further proof as to the lyrics being true. I gave the Gazira Sporting Club the briefest of looks, for my time was limited.

My next call had to be to the famous Shepheards Hotel. As I walked towards it I had a personal experience of the poverty that existed when I was stopped by an Egyptian, who asked, apologetically, whether I was interested in buying a gold ring with a diamond, or whether I knew of an officer who would be.

Coaxing his reluctant story from him, he told me how his once prosperous family had fallen on hard times through sickness and then their business went bankrupt because of it. They were now suffering such misfortune that they were obliged to start selling the family jewels. He showed me the ring, but I only had five pounds on me.

By now he had pulled out his handkerchief to mop his eyes, which were flowing with tears. He was obviously in great distress; one cannot fake such tears. In the end he accepted one pound as, at least, it would buy some bread. The ring fitted me perfectly.

As he left, I thought of the poor woman outside the station, to whom I had given nothing and now, assailed by strong feelings of guilt at treating him so shabbily, I called after him and gave him another pound.


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