A Gentleman in the Middle East as related by Monica Culen

During the Easter holidays of 1975, our Lebanese colleagues with the help of some local anciens organised a trip to Beirut for an informal group of participants, who, as a historical footnote, witnessed the very last days of peace for the next twenty years in this wonderful country.

Although the justifiably famous oriental hospitality left little time for individual initiatives, our friend William Thomas reckoned, once in the Middle East, it would be a good idea to take one day off and pay a visit to Aqaba, the famous battle ground of Lawrence of Arabia, and to have a short swim in the Red Sea. Somebody however tried to explain, that Aqaba indeed is not far from Beirut, provided your Lear Jet is waiting, in all other cases one would need a car to cross the Lebanon mountain-range, cross the border into Syria and drive south through Damascus to Amman, then further through the Jordanian desert down to Aqaba, all together approximately only eight hundred kilometers in each direction.

William, not impressed in the slightest, chartered a taxi, departed from Beirut at three o’clock in the morning with two other reckless adventurers, paid his visit to Aqaba and was safely back in Beirut late in the evening that same day. Fair enough, but really memorable was the selection of the only two items William found indispensable for this trip: A large bottle of whisky in one hand and an electric travel-iron in the other! “Well you know, hum hum, a gentleman never travels without……….”

We all may have from time to time our moments of Swiss soberness, of Israeli determination, Chinese wisdom or fresh American initiative, but I doubt if we non-British ever will succeed in imitating the original and genuine eccentricity, the brilliant and absurd form of innocent utter madness that an English gentleman is capable of performing.

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