Saturday, September 8, 2012

Removing Libyan Dirt - a short story

Hello family and friends,

This is the first article pasted in Jock's black book. Unfortunately, there is no date or place of publication.
I can only guess it to be in the 1944 - 45 time frame as later articles in the following few pages of the book were dated then.


When "Snowy" and I landed in Alexandria, after several months in the desert, we were carrying a penalty of three pounds of dirt a man. So we hailed a gharry, and made for the Turkish baths.
At the entrance we were greeted by an obsequious being who conducted us into a great hall, where several squatting Arabs stared curiously at us. Thence we ascended a stone stairway, and walked along a short passage to a small, quiet room, furnished with carpets, curtains and two beds.
Upon each of the beds lay a decorative - too decorative - dressing down, and by their sides, a pair of wooden clogs. "Snowy" shied at sight of the dressing gowns.
"You do yourself well, don't you, George?" he remarked to the Arab.
That person obviously understood nothing "Snowy" said, but inclined his head, flourished a dirty hand, and said,  "Quias, George?" (Quias - good)
"Yes, quias, George" I told him. "Now imshi, while we get undressed."
 "Imshi?" the Arabic inquired, an oily smile spreading over his features. "Yes Imshi," I repeated and the Arab went.
We quickly undressed, and donned the clogs, and the gaudy gowns. "Snowy" poked his head out of the door and an old Arab with a wizened, wicked face appeared almost at his feet.

A drawing from the article, by Les Dixon.

"Come, George," the Arab said portentously, and beckoned us after him down the stairs, across the hall, into another small room, in the centre of which was a steaming pool of water, surrounded by a low stone ledge
The attendant indicated we should sit on this ledge and rather gingerly we advanced to it, just as gingerly felt it and to our surprise, it was not hot. We sat down. The old man went out, curtains fell across the doorway, and silence fell on the room.
Minutes passed, while we sweated. Lord, how we sweated! I could feel it running into my ears, into my eyes, down the bridge of my nose, and I looked over at "Snowy" and saw he was losing just as much dirt and weight as I.

I was calculating just how much I could afford to lose, when a horrible scream ripped through the silence. For a second we stared at one another, and then, with one accord, sprang to the doorway, parted the curtains, and looked out. No one in sight. So, after a minute or so, we returned to our sweaty meditations.
Then - again that dreadful scream, followed by sounds of a scuffle, running feet, silence.
"Snowy" looked at me apprehensively. "They wouldn't dare to attack Aussies," he said, without much conviction. What was there that an Arab gone berserk wouldn't attack? We sprang to our feet as stealthy footsteps sounded outside. The curtains was flung aside, and the wizened chap stood there.

"Come, George," he said impressively.
"What was that noise?" I demanded. He shrugged his thin shoulders.
"Man burn," he explained. "Magnoon" (mad). "Come" he said. We followed him across the hall, to yet another small room.

"Wait!" he said to "Snowy", and "Snowy" obediently waited outside, while the wizened man commenced the final part of the business. He gestured to me to lie on the stone shelf on one side of the room, then whipped out a small block of what looked like wood, and began vigorously to rub me.

RHYTHMICALLY back and forth over my sweating flesh he went, until great rolls of grey dirt began to come off my skin, and a luxurious feeling of peace came over me. What heaven it was after those bath-less months in the desert!
It was over too soon, and it was "Snowy's"  turn. I donned my gown and clogs, and clip-clopped up the stairs to the first room we had visited. Presently "Snowy" appeared, rosy and cheerful. "Brings th' muck out of ya'," he remarked happily.
We dressed slowly revelling in the feeling of cleanliness, while the obsequious one re-appeared and hung about, waiting for "bucksheesh". "Snowy" and I took no notice of his sycophancy, and sat down to have a smoke.

We were sitting there quietly, when the horrific scream rang out again.
I looked at "Snowy". "Snowy" looked at me. Together we got up, gave the obsequious one twice as much "bucksheesh" as he expected, and hurried out

That scream still haunts me -

'Young Dig' (AIF) 

'Young Dig' was one of the names Jock used to sign his articles and stories.. he often did not use Ray Davie, particularly in the articles about war time.

I have no idea if there is truth to this story... it certainly sounds like it could be factual!
Until next time,



  1. Replies
    1. Pat, thanks for dropping by and making the first comment on this new blog..I hope to have a lot more stories to come.

    2. What a gift to have had your dad write a journal... I would love to have had one from my father...
      Instead I have an amazing one from my heavenly Father which I will continue to pass down :)