It must have been early in 1998 when I joined HMS BATTLEAXE in Gibraltar having sailed there from Portsmouthon in RFA TIDESPRING – anyway it was the year of the “Great Storm,” for when the big weather that Michael Fish said was not going to happen – hit England, I was half way across the Bay of Biscay. It was a bit rough at sea that night – but not so rough that either the bar was closed or that we didn’t get a good night’s sleep. In Gibraltar I transferred from the tanker to the frigate and after a couple of enjoyable days on “The Rock” we sailed east for Suez and down the canal with an overnight stop for some of us in Cairo. Those of us who left the ship in Alexandria boarded the bus for our hotel in Cairo – the canal was never out of sight for long and it was curious looking through the bus’ windows across the dusty dunes of Egypt to see ships apparently sailing throgh the desert. First stop in Cairo was a hotel for dinner and the inevitable belly-dancing routine. Oh dear! There are always those (like me!) who would do anything to avoid being dragged on to the dance floor to be instructed in the arts of tummy wriggling, and there are those who rejoice in it and there are those who, after a few Egyptian ales, need no invitation whatsoever! After the local gourmet delights it was on to our overnight stop and a few more ales at the pool-side bar. I was absolutelt stunned (“stunned” old fashioned word now replaced by the modern “gob-smacked”) on waking in the morning to see the Great Pyramid of Giza looming at me through the bed room window! I had no idea that they were so close to the centre of Cairo and that we were only a mile or two away from this great Wonder of the World. So after breakkers, back on to the bus and then, there we were at the foot of these truly amazing structures with the Sphinx just close by. It’s one thing to see the pyramids in pictures or on the tv, but to stand there, and touch them and climb on them was simply amazing. There was, of course, the inevitable camel ride at inevitably inflated prices, and the sellers of baubles, bangles and bright shiny beads and (dirty) post-cards. But you know, however worldly wise one is, one would have to be a demi-god not to get ripped-off by someone in this – probably the longest surviving tourist spot in the world, and sure enough I was taken for a tenner when I listened too gullibly to a yarn spun to me by some passing arab. From Giza via a shop selling tourists papyrus with ancient-Egypt style puictures and hieroglyphics to the National Museum of Cairo where we met Tuntankamen and his treasures. WOW! Words simply cannot describe the splendour and the majesty of the Pharoah’s sarcophogus and the funerary treasures that were buried with him. Power and glory emanate from every piece; whilst precision and craftsmanship speak of the honour and devotion that was lavished upon the King, and the whole ensemble speaks of a people and a civilisation deeply rooted in the Spiritual and the hope of Eternity. Even talking about it fair wants me to go and view again Jack Hawkins in “The Last of the Pharoahs.”

Thinking of films. It wasn’t long after we rejoined BATTLEAXE and set off down the Red Sea that the chaplain managed to arrange a ‘flight deck movie.’ A large white sheet is hung over the hangar door, and every one settles down on the flight deck to watch a film – and if the pusser has anything about him, the ice-creams are served half way though. It was a lovely warm and tropic night; the ship was making a comfortable 16kts and the sky was so cloudless and moonless that the stars themselves were casting shadows. It was time for the main feature….yeah…TOP GUN!

Can’t say that I’m a great fan of Tom Cruise, but I went to see him last week in the new move “Valkyrie,” the story of Count Von Stauffenberg and the 1944 bomb-plot against Hitler that so spectacularly failed. But more of that next time. Meanwhile here I am at home at Dunpreachin and waiting for a call to return to hospital for the next lot of surgery. I’m hoping it will be next week. Meanwhile I’m relatively pain free (Deo gratias), comfortable and in good spirits.