Back in Blighty, to Disaster, Rain and Frustration!

Well, we're home again, our English home, that is! It's been lovely to be re-united with our family, and how 'Little Coco' has grown! He's like Pinnochio was at the end of the Walt Disney classic; he's a 'Real Boy', even though he's only 16 weeks.

The disaster is the result of my idiot memory! If I'd remembered how the remaining upvc was to be allocated from when I left it standing on the landing in August, I wouldn't have cut the wrong piece which left me a 45 inch piece short of finishing the rear windows. Of course, when I went back to the place which sells it, it was Saturday morning; and they were closed. Never mind, Monday would do. I wanted to get the rear windows finished before our friend from Luxor (Beverley, who now  lives back in Dumfries) came to stay for a few days. It wasn't to be, though!

Here's the place:

I started the morning with good intentions, did I tell you before that our bins (trash cans, to our readers from across 'The Pond') have been stolen? Well..........we should have two 'wheelie bins' one for general household rubbish, and the other, which has a separate compartment within it, for different recyclable items. They empty one bin each week, alternating between the rubbish and the recyclables. I HATE IT!!!!!!!

Once upon a time, the binmen had a relatively strenuous job, heaving bins full of ash and general household detritus out of the backyard and lifting it up to empty it into the waiting truck. Nowadays, they wheel the bin (that's on condition that it's been put in the correct place by the householder, and the handles are pointing in the right direction with the bin lid fully closed, of course) to the back of a fantastically engineered and expensive 'refuse collector' truck, hook it onto the waiting contraption, and press a button! Because we are all being entreated to 'save the planet' by recycling, we now are required to separate all the differing types of garbage into different bins and boxes. Cans should be washed out, cardboard flattened, cellophane removed from window envelopes and tops removed from glass bottles, the list seems endless. And we don't get paid for relieving the binmen from these, their arduous tasks! No, in fact, our payments to the Council (whether rates, community charge, council tax or whatever they wish to call it) seem to rise exponentially, partly because of the cost of the fancy and extra bins, along with the fleets of fabulous new and complicated trucks, all of which must cost a king's ransom!

Seeing as we don't have bins any more, we've been slipping the odd bag or two into my mother's bin, or my sister's,  but it's very unsatisfactory. Freda won't hear of paying £20 each for new bins, just for them to possibly be stolen again!

Feeling soft in the head, I decided to do the local authorities job for them, just this once, and separated and prepared all the rubbish, and then put it into Benjamin's car to take to the dump. I really felt quite 'public spirited'!

On arrival at the 'Waste Station' I politely informed the 'operative' that I had "A bag of glass bottles and jars, cleaned. A bag of plastic milk cartons, some flattened pizza boxes and two bags of general household rubbish." There are 15 large skips (dumpsters) standing around the edge of the yard. From past experience I know that there are some for ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals, wood, electrical items, TV's and computers, obviously there are skips for allsorts.

I was utterly lost for words, absolutely astonished, when the operative said, "Put it in number one, mate."

All that enormous expense, and criminalising of people using the wrong bin for the wrong items, the 'bin police' of the popular press, the concealed spy cameras! All for this man to say, "Put it in number one, mate."

My disbelief was not helped by my mother's retelling of my brother's tale of being sure that he saw the binmen empty all of the communal recycling bins at his block of flats, into the same truck.

They're having us on, aren't they? This is all just another cunning plan to relieve Mr Joe Public of some more of his 'hard-earned'! It makes me want to vomit!

Dot dot dot, dash dash DASH !

Well, not quite yet, eh? First of all, I've got one or two little things to share with you, Dear Reader, and none of them are concerned with Morse Code in the slightest!

How about starting off with 'Road Safety' and 'Health and Safety at Work'?

This is Ibn Khaled El Walid Street, also wrongly called the Corniche by some people, it's the road that runs south of the Corniche El Nil and past the Sonesta, Lotus etc. As many of you will know, it's a busy road, with lots of tourist coaches flying backwards and forwards. But that's no real reason to stop car drivers leaving their charges all over the place while half of the road is blocked by lopped off palm fronds, is it?

Then there's the nutter up the palm tree:

Yes, that's a bit of old string around the tree, fastened to what looks to be a length of coco matting around his waist. That chopper looks rather fierce as well. Does he have his tree climbing certificate, I wonder? What about 'Employer Liability Insurance'?

Believe it or not; we've had two guests this past week! So I've been up with the larks, sorting out the famous 'Our Luxor' breakfasts. I'd forgotten how pleasant it can be in the early mornings; watching the balloons floating about as I clean all the surfaces and try to keep out of Freda's way as she sets the tables with all the delights.

While the sun comes up, the light seems to be different, as do the colours (even to someone as colour-blind as me! What do you think of the colour of the mountains here:

I'm sure they aren't usually that colour.

As I was on the way out the other day, shopping for the guest's breakfast, I think, old Mr Mohammed stopped me. "Ah, Mr Edward, see, see all the men from the Engineers Department of the Council? They are here about your neighbours, they're building another floor without permission! Perhaps these men will make them tear it down again?" (His old voice sounded full of mischievous glee.) Of course I knew that they were building; last week they put in two flights of stairs leading onto the roof, and cleared all the rubbish which they'd spent years collecting. After craning tons of sand and cement and a load of bricks up onto the roof over the past few days, that morning they had started laying bricks around the perimeter.

When I got back, the engineers pick-up trucks were gone, so I imagined that they had stopped the work until the permissions were sorted out. Silly boy!!!! They must have been paid off, as this was the view when I had mounted the stairs:

Yes, still bricklaying! Today, two days later, they've been soaking the new walls with water from a hosepipe. Both on the inside and the outside, what's all that about then? They're up to about hip height, and all the way around. But the actual building work seems to have stopped now. All the bricks and sand and cement have been used, so we'll just have to bide our time and wait and see?

To get back to the post's title, we're going to have to DASH around for the next few days; getting everything cleaned again and then put away till next year. Why? Because we're going to our other home on Monday! For Christmas! Six whole weeks with our family!

Because we won't be having much in the way of Egyptian food over that time, we decided to have some falafel for our supper tonight. Seeing as the new potatoes are out here, we thought that we'd try them with the falafel and fried aubergine.  What do you think? Will they go well together?

Yes, they did! The potatoes were lovely, with a few knobs of butter to make taking the anti-cholesterol tablets worthwhile, and a bit salt to justify the ones I have to take to keep my blood pressure somewhere near normal. The falafel was from our mate Osman, of course, and was up to his usual standard.

Well it's coming up to hot-chocolate time, I think. So I'll wish you a good night, with God's blessings! TTFN.

Tap Tap Tap Taaaap Taaaap Taaaap Tap Tap Tap

Who knows Morse Code in these superfast digital times? Not many, I'll warrant! OK, who can even have a guess at what the title is on about?

Yes, Smythe-Harrington Minor, it is the SOS or 'Save Our Souls' as some would have it. It's the internationally recognised distress signal. If you remember; it's what Peter Ustinov's Hercule Poirot tap tap tapped on the bathroom wall when he was confronted by the serpent aboard the Nile steamer 'Karnak', in that fabulous film of Agatha Christie's 'Death on the Nile'. (To say that it's one of my favourites would be something of an understatement.)

But, what else?

It's certainly nothing to do with the policeman in that dreadful TV series set amid the 'Dreaming Spires' of the old university city of Oxford; Detective Inspector Endeavour Morse! I could never be bothered with that, although Freda used to enjoy it.

No, I was really just trying to get across to you, Dear Reader, something of the depth of the frustration engendered in us by the number of taps, and the number of tap shops, we searched through while trying to find one suitable for our new handbasin. (And which didn't cost more than the rest of our guest apartment in its entirety!!!!!) You've no idea of 'heartache' or of 'losing the will to live' (or of having an aching bottom from travelling over Luxor's hundreds of speed-humps on a caleche) until you've spent four or five evenings searching this town for the 'right' tap! I'm not sure about Freda, but I was actually dreaming about taps, they were either beckoning me forwards to forbidden delights or coming screaming at me with gnashing teeth where the stream of water should have been! (Remember the 1995 movie; 'The Langoliers' anyone?)

Eventually, we came across a shop which we had never seen before, and after traipsing all around Luxor and Karnak etc, would you Adam and Eve it, it was only about 500 metres from the very first shop we'd looked in; Ahmed Hashem's. There it was, staring right at us! The shop man had to take it off the display, as the only other one in stock was the wrong colour.

It only remained now to find some sort of 'counter' (there's that blinkin' word again!!!) on which to mount the new handbasin, along with it's shiny new tap, of course. We'd seen one or two 'ready-made' offerings on our wanderings during the previous few weeks, but nothing which was either the right size, colour or within our much depleted and ever-shrinking budget! "I'm sure you could knock something up, if you really tried". (I heard the words before she even thought of them!!!! It's taken me over 40 years to develop this level of 'second sight'.) "On your bike, Missy" I thought, "I've slid down this bannister before!"

I made a detailed, three dimensional, drawing of what I thought was wanted, and took myself, and it, off to the little carpenter's shop on Youseff Hassan Street "Shop local!", I thought. After about 10 minutes of trying my best to communicate with these 'beings from outer space' (well, they might as well have been, I mean, you show a tradesman a simple drawing of an article in the medium in which he works; you shouldn't need many actual words should you?) I gave up! I went back when I managed to collar my Egyptian (English speaking tour leader) mate to interpret for us. It transpired that neither the local carpenter, nor any of his men could work from drawings????????????????

Now you might remember Taha, the carpenter from Karnak who so tragically drowned in the Red Sea? Then his younger brother Abdu, who took over the business, and whom I fell out with over an outrageous price he gave me for extending the roof terrace canopy? Well, I didn't really want to go 'cap-in-hand' to him again, did I? 

I had a nose down to the furniture manufacturer at the Sharia Karnak end of the street where Alfred the ham man is. I dealt with him via Mustafa the A/C man, when he cobbled up the wooden frame for the first hole-in-the-wall air-conditioner unit. "No problem, Mr Edward; in zan wood?" Now, I know that zan wood is very expensive, 'cause it's hard and close grained, "No no, " says I "just cheap rubbish!" He wouldn't have it, he'd only do it in zan, and there would never be any comeback simply because of the good quality of the timber.

Next, I was on the verge of buying the wood and tackling it myself! Horror of horrors!!!! So it was a trip to Zawaggy, to see young Mina, the timber merchant's son. I was dreading this; it meant selecting and buying the wood, then taking it to some woodworking shop to have it all machined to size, and all that before I even got it home where I could make my skew-whiff cuts! (Colloquialism: Skew-whiff = off centre, out of true or out of line)

The wood was going to cost 220le, and I just thought that I'd quiz Mina about someone to make it up for me; nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh? "I'll do it for you Mr Edward" For a minute, I thought we were 'cooking on gas', but then he figured out the price! It was less than half of the price of one made in zan wood, but still almost twice as much as I had calculated to be a reasonable price. Dejection set in!

Abdu seemed genuinely pleased to hear my voice on the phone! What a surprise. I had just about expected him to hang up on me, to be perfectly honest. Never mind, to cut a long story short, we agreed the price with very little haggling, and he promised to deliver it on a certain day, and everything went (almost) to plan. The only problem was that Freda HATED it! As you can imagine, I was a bit 'put-out' to say the least. Back it went to a rather non-plussed Abdu, for some slight modifications and a complete colour change! Eventually, it passed muster and I was allowed to get on with fitting it all together. Thank heaven for silicone, to stop those fiddly little leaks here and there.

Well, here it is, in all its glory, I'm sorry that it's not well photographed, but it's quite difficult for a fat lad to get a decent picture while he's squashed into a corner!

No, the inside isn't really yellow, it's just a trick of the camera or the colour-blind cameraman!

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

That was Daphne Oxenford's catchphrase on 'Listen With Mother' many years ago. The next time I heard of her was when she played the village postmistress in 'To the Manor Born', alongside the incomparable Penelope Keith and the very dashing Peter Bowles. I'll bet she could relate an interesting saga or two.

That's what we in the literary business call 'a clue'! And here's another:

And yet another!!!!!

Yes, Dear Reader, it's the 'Saga of the Guest Bathroom'!

It started when we had no guests, and nothing to do except annoy each other because we were getting bored. Freda is an artist when it comes to gentle persuasion, and, like all dutiful husbands, I've fallen for it for the past 40 years. First it was 'just' the tiles behind the sink in the kitchen, then it was the sink itself, and then............well, you know the rest.

Now then, I've had my own plans for the bathroom in the guest apartment for quite some time. But I don't insist on having my own way, as it tends to generally upset the apple cart.  Shwy-er shwy-er (slowly slowly, or softly softly) as the Egyptians would say. I'm not quite as daft as I look, you know, or as green as I'm cabbage-looking!

So, what do you think of these two pictures of our guest bathroom? It has certainly served its purpose over the past 6 years, it's relatively user friendly with its pedestal handbasin and mirror, it even has a little shelf for bits and bobs. But no 'wow' factor, something is missing!

After consulting her interior design books and winding up her interior designer's brain, Freda decided that the pedestal handbasin was ugly and 'old hat', and it had to go to be replaced by a modern, eye-catching 'something'. Eventually, the something was revealed as a 'counter-top' handbasin. (How I hate that expression 'counter-top', it's as if you were going to have your handbasin, which in our case is next to the toilet, on public display in a shop. After all, that's where you'd find a 'counter', is it not? A surface onto which you would 'count' a customer's money, or change, when selling something? Stupidity, I say!)

The hunt was on! As Luxor slowly modernises, there are more shops selling the necessities which are needed to provide pleasant accommodations for modern living. Ahmed Hashem is no longer the only worthwhile bathroom shop in town, although that is where we started to look. There was one handbasin there which caught my eye as soon as I saw it. It was square, and tapered towards the bottom, it just shouted "Buy me!". But, never mind, we all know that Freda will not be rushed in to anything, shwy-er shwy-er, steady as she goes!

Actually, this whole operation has taken so long that I cannot reliably recall the exact sequence of events any more! Suffice it to say that after visiting all the other bathroom shops in Luxor, we eventually plumped for this square 'Ideal Standard' handbasin, even though it cost a small fortune. Mr Ahmed wanted me to take the one from the shop, assuring me that it would prove to be very difficult to obtain another. But I didn't want my guests to be confronted with a lovely new, and expensive, square handbasin which had black marks around the top edge, funnily enough! After much cajoling, he promised to order another from Cairo, al hamdulillah! (thanks be to God).

It would be delivered on the following Monday, insh'Allah, (God willing.) I arranged transport and toodled off to the shop, money in hand. Mr Ahmed was just going out the door, "Ah, Mr Edward, I'm just going to pray. I'll only be five minutes." How dare he tell such a bare-faced lie about praying? It's beyond me, but I waited anyway. He returned after about 20 minutes. "I've come for the sink," says I. "Oh, it didn't arrive yet Mr Edward, the truck broke down at Minya, perhaps tomorrow, or after tomorrow?" Why on earth couldn't he have said that before he made me wait while he went to pray??????

A similar sequence of events, with only slight differences, occurred several more times, and each time he tried to persuade me to take the display model from the shop; yes, he knew it was marked, but he'd give me a good discount! (????) I stopped actually going to the shop, telephoning him on his mobile instead. At last, his answer was that it had arrived and was waiting for me to collect it! I was there like a shot, but he wasn't, and no-one else knew anything about it. I didn't know whether to be deflated or enraged! Finally, I decided to search the shop myself, and found it. It was lying on the floor, and the top edge was covered in 'Ideal Standard' tape. "It's the same one," I thought, "and that thieving little swine has just stuck this tape over the top of the damage!!!!!" I was livid! I've no idea what the bathroom and tile seeking Egyptian families thought of this little, fat and red-faced, Ingleesi as he sat on the floor in the middle of the shop picking away at the super strong Sellotape on a handbasin.

By the time Mr Ahmed returned, I'd got all the tape off, and realised that it hadn't been another of his tricks, but that the tape had been put on at the factory to protect the edge while it was being transported. Deflated, this time, I think!

So, that was a major advance, next we would need a tall tap (faucet). Mr Ahmed had just the one! As he is the main agent for Ideal Standard, that was the manufacturer, and it was only 3889le, how spiffing, 400 nicker for a tap? The man is certifiable!

If you're like me, than you won't be 'sitting comfortably' any more. My bottom is aching, along with my bad knee, so I'm giving up for tonight.

Look out for the next instalment, where (among other eye-popping revelations) Freda wants to kill the carpenter!!!!