Monthly Archives: January 2013

Camels and Bowler Hats

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The latest tragedy in Pakistan makes me very sad. Sadness doesn’t fit very well with me, so I shall endeavour to cheer myself – and you – with a rather different vision of the place as it was just over eighty years ago.

My grandfather was a journalist and intrepid airman who flew to India in 1932 with a chap called Neville Stack, on one of the earliest flights to make the distance. One of their many refuelling stops was at Gwadar on the coast of Balochistan, of which Quetta is the provincial capital. Here’s what he said about the place.

 images-1Baluchistan, on the edge of the desert, is the abode of quiet, friendly, peaceful people. There is a telephone at the block house which is all that is to be found at the aerodrome. It was possible to telephone to the village for both fuel supplies and food.
 
By 7pm two camels richly laden with choice viands and cool wine arrived for us. The riders astride them habited in Baluchi flowing robes looked very solemn and not a little droll in bowler hats of antique period. These they raised gravely to us in western salute. Then without speaking they descended, barracked the camels, laid out tables and chairs they had brought, spotless tablecloth and table napery, laid a first-class meal, waited on us with perfect manners, and when it was all over packed everything away back on the camels and tendered the bill as if we had been at Quaglino’s. Mounting their camels and with another grave doffing of bowlers in parting salutation they rode silently and mysteriously away.
 
We were alone with the desert. I had seen much of deserts and had slept beneath desert stars and desert moons for three or four years of the War. I am always fascinated by the prospect. 
 
My grandfather William Courtenay, second from left

My grandfather William Courtenay, third from left

It was still unbearably hot even in the cool of evening. We all managed to bathe in the plentiful supply of water brought out to us, and remained smoking and yarning till far into the night with our shirts hanging outside our shorts, Eastern fashion, for coolness. Stack regaled us with songs on his ukelele, and the situation was rather incongruous as the pale moon cast her light on the scene below and music from the ukelele to the strains of the ‘Persian Kitten’ floated over the desert.

 After midnight we turned in to enjoy delightful sleep on the hard desert beneath the wings of the monoplane which protected us from the heavy dew of the night. The desert can lull you beautifully to sleep.

 

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I don’t presume to understand the difficulties modern Pakistan has faced to get where it is today. 1932 was a colonial aeon ago, I know. But humour me on this sad day. Close your eyes and smell the desert winds and picture the bowler hats and send positive thoughts to a land in mourning.

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Parties, Parties

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partyHAPPY NEW YEAR to you all, and Happy Christmas to you Russian Orthodox lot out there too. I’m sorry I’ve been so rubbish at blogging lately. Wrapping and unwrapping presents has occupied the entirety of my creative brain for nearly a month, not to mention thank you letters and coaxing mini mince pies out of their teensy foil cases without breaking the pastry crust which, I might add, is practically impossible. Did you all have a huge New Year’s Eve party? Where was my invitation? Hmm?

Here is an old poem of mine to reflect the party season. It was requested specially by a friend enjoying her birthday today. Happy Birthday, hon. Hope your celebrations aren’t anything like this.

Simeon’s parties were frightfully gay, renowned for their polish and poise,
Peanuts were absent and Twiglets outré; just champers, the girls and the boys.
Invites were more often latish than never, but Simeon showed no compunction,
For only the in and the rich and the clever would feature at any such function.
He handled his guests with the elegant hauteur which only a phoney could feign
(Provided the guest was a New Labour voter and drank only vintage champagne),
And such was the pitch of the elegant chatter that guests would be filled with delight
That their habits and hobbies and feelings should matter to Simeon, host for the night.

 

It was later than late when she came through the door, her repartee sharpened and burnished,
She took in the marquetry parquetry floor, the quarters so properly furnished,
Unsure of the reason behind her inviting, beyond the potential resumption
Of Simeon’s favours and consequent fighting with women who had the presumption
To trespass on territory rightfully hers, by blood and by line and by longing,
She’d murder her personal shopper or worse to resume her most rightful belonging.
With shoulders set straight and her knees on display, she clutched on her Soave with suavity,
And walked in with thoughts in decided array, in purposeful search of depravity.

 

Gussy the stockbroker offered her punch, and grinned with intential leching,
While lesbian Lilian tried to fix lunch and told her her blouson was fetching,
She elbowed her way past asparagus tips in determined pursuit of her quarry,
She’d offer him languorous kissable lips and tell him how dreadfully sorry
She was on the news of his boardroom defeat – he really deserved all the laurels,
And she’d never accuse him again in the street of favouring brains over morals.
The press of the room would account for the touch – then she’d lean up against him confessing
Her palpable need for a favour, not much, which required him to help her undressing.

 

They sat, a selection of sizes and styles, the exes all patiently waiting
For Simeon’s signals, his summons, his smiles, their appetites anxious for sating,
She eyed them for battle while chewing a nail and arranging her breasts to display them,
Prepared to resort, if bravado should fail, to discourage, disparage or pay them.
But too late! For it seemed that on Simeon’s arm, a vision of ravishing beauty
All dripping with diamonds and “Darling!”s and charm was fast making off with the booty.
She watched with dismay as they mounted the stair, enrapt in each other’s attention,
Her poise disappeared and she clutched at her hair, and bellowed a word I can’t mention.

 

Mutiny! Riot! The party scene ends, in shards of surprising unsorrow,
The exes converse like the closest of friends and arrange to have dinner tomorrow,
The guests laugh out loud in united abhorrence of all that their host has created,
They stop talking Wagner, Derrida and Lawrence, discussing instead how they hated
The primping and preening of cash-rich careers, the choking society rigours,
And wishing for Twister and Scrabble and beers, and pizza to ruin their figures.

 

Simeon’s parties are no longer graced by the guests that he wants to invite,
They are filled with the dull and the square and the chaste, and it serves him jolly well right.