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The Lady’s Honour

Egyptian Tales
1. Shopping with a Boy Racer
2. The Maid
3. The Soldier
4. Hunting for a Home
5. First Egyptian Christmas
6. The Lady’s Honour
7. Who’s Who
8. Street Kids
9. A Thief or Two
10. The Bank
11. The Importance of Walls
12. The White Gecko
13. Black Adam Part 1
14. Black Adam – Part 2
15. Israel Part 1
16. Israel Part 2
17. Israel Part 3

Egyptian Tales – Episode 6

Eleanor was an English Designer. She worked at Mr Omar’s factory in the heydays when the company had a chain of successful retail stores with a catchy name. Unfortunately, that name included a word that was unacceptable to the Islamists and the name had to be changed, despite the fact that it had not, as Rick so eloquently put it, “led to nudity or fornication in the aisles’.

For Eleanor however, it was the last straw. Women who had her sort of job worked very, very hard in a difficult, frustrating environment. There were all the normal problems of the job itself with lots of uniquely Egyptian problems added. So Eleanor had come to the end of her tether and was leaving. Rick and Gavin had not been there terribly long at that point but it was obvious that she had a really pivotal role in the company because everything that was sold required a designer-pattern maker and every garment sold was different from any previous one the company had produced. They never sold the same T-shirt twice. Each one needed new patterns and new grades and so on down the manufacturing line.

The entire design and pattern-making operation had relied on ex-pats because there were not the local skills within the organisation to do such jobs and it was only niggly people like Rick who said, “This is bloody ridiculous that you have to rely on foreigners to do this. Other Egyptian companies manage to dress their customers in garments that fit. We need to do the same.” Of course, lots of the international company buyers took comfort from the fact that they could converse in English with the designer, pattern maker and grader and could ring them up and say, “We need an extra two centimetres here” or whatever was needed. So, some aspects of this policy was strategic but now Eleanor was leaving.

For a couple of years prior to Rick’s appointment there had been a computer technician employed. He was an Australian of Dutch descent, named Janus. His job was to keep the computer running and to make adjustments so that both the computer and the system were easier to use. It was obvious to Rick that Janus wasn’t keen on training people. He wanted to keep the knowledge to himself, which in his mind would clearly make him indispensable. Well, from Rick’s point of view, that just put a big cross on his forehead. Nevertheless, Rick and Gavin wanted to learn what they could from Janus. That meant spending time with him, chatting to him about things and people so they could shortcut their own learning about who, in this labyrinthine company of two and a half thousand employees, did what and how. Rick noticed that when Janus was with Europeans he was very derogatory of the Egyptians, painting himself to be a hero, and posing as more knowledgeable than he actually was. In the light of what happened, inviting Janus to accompany them on a mission to persuade the gentile English Eleanor to stay on, was a rather questionable decision.

This view is just part of the long curved bay that is the Corniche of Alexandria.
(Taken 1998/99)

The Scene for the drama that followed was the famous Cecil Hotel on Alexandria’s Corniche. Built in 1929 when Alexandria was known as ‘The Paris of the Orient’, it became the setting for Lawrence Durrell’s classic book, “The Alexandria Quartet.” Palatial, ornate and with a ‘Who’s Who’ guest list that included Winston Churchill, El Capone, Field Marshall Montgomery and Agatha Christie, the Cecil has a fascinating history. Designed by Alessandro Loria, a Jewish Egyptian architect, for Metzger, a wealthy French Jew, it was confiscated in 1957 by the new revolutionary government of Egypt. Along with so many of Egypt’s elite foreign and Jewish residents, the Metzger family were summarily forced into exile with nothing more than a couple of suitcases. A major factor in these evictions was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and it’s growing strength and assertiveness, leading to its invasion of Egypt in the Suez Crisis of 1956. As for the Metzger family, fifty years of battling followed the loss of their palatial home and income until finally in 2007 the lengthy and agonising court battle was over and the Cecil Hotel was returned to them. They sold it to the Egyptian government for an ‘undisclosed amount.’

Unfortunately, as often happens when we become familiar with somewhere, I didn’t take any photographs of the magnificent Cecil Hotel but try this link.

With its elegant rooms and furnishings, ornate details and beautiful tiled floors, ‘Lunch (or dinner) at the Cecil’ was always a cool and calm haven from the inevitable dirt and hustle of this crowded city. It had one of those wonderful lifts with the concertina metal doors that you can see through as you pass from floor to floor. During our time in Egypt, and still popular today, was a rooftop Chinese Restaurant whose food was a welcome change for our tastebuds. It was to the Chinese Restaurant that Rick and Gavin, accompanied by Janus took the gentile Eleanor.

As this series is demonstrating, Rick is prone to the odd bit of swearing confined to the four common words considered swearing in English-speaking circles. Two of those words are not considered swear words in New Zealand these days, they are just part of the lexicon, a fact that can shock more conservative visitors from overseas. “You think I swear?” Rick proclaimed when relating this event to me. “What I say is nothing compared with what came out of Janus’s mouth!”

Now Gavin’s ability to persuade women to do what he wanted was legendary, certainly in his own mind at least. So he and Rick decided they would take Eleanor out to dinner but why? Well, she was also crucial because their target at that time was to do a hundred million US dollar turnover for the year because if they did that, Svi’s company, by whom they were employed, got a big fat bonus. This had been agreed to by the factory owner, Mr Omar, who reckoned Rick and Gavin were “f***ing dreaming” if they thought they could do a hundred million. Rick and Gavin knew it was possible but a disruption in design and pattern making would be a body blow so they desperately wanted Eleanor to stay.
“We wanted her to stay,” says Rick, “because she was bloody good at her job and worst case scenario we wanted her to stay long enough to orientate a new person to take over but preferably, to upskill a couple of local people, although not everybody shared my enthusiasm for that.”
So they took Eleanor off to dinner at the Chinese restaurant on the roof of the Cecil.

They sat right against the parapet looking out towards Qaitbay and the former site of the legendary Pharos Lighthouse. It was a beautiful, tranquil day. With the arrival of dinner, Gavin and Rick were all set to persuade Eleanor to stay with the job for long enough to train a couple of local replacements. Janus, however, was ruining the desired convivial atmosphere with his constant profanities. Eleanor was clearly uncomfortable.

The Fort at Qaitbay, where the famous Pharos Lighthouse once stood.

“Stop swearing!” Gavin demanded more than once. “You can see it upsets Eleanor, cut it out!” But Janus didn’t stop, letting forth string after string of obnoxious curses during every attempt at conversation. Suddenly, to Rick’s horror, Gavin leapt up, grabbed Janus by the throat with one hand and a handful of his trousers at the crotch with the other and hoisted him, bent over backwards onto the parapet, pivoting dangerously five floors above the street below.

Gavin was giving the impression of being furious. He was enraged and obviously determined to drop Janus. Rick leapt up to intercede on the miscreant’s behalf though personally, Janus would have solved one of Rick’s problems by landing on his head yet there was Rick begging for his life!
“He won’t do it again, Gavin! Don’t do it! Don’t drop him! ”
Whether it was the urine on Gavin’s right hand where he was holding the crotch of Janus’s trousers or he just changed his mind, we can’t say but he brought Janus back in and didn’t throw him off, which upon reflection, says Rick, was a very good thing.

Clearly Gavin’s effort to protect Eleanor’s delicate sensibilities from the profanities of his fellow Australian put rather a dampener on the proceedings and the dinner limped on to a disappointing conclusion after which they all went their respective ways. Not surprisingly Eleanor didn’t stay. She probably thought she’d either have to put up with some foul mouthed idiot or some idiot who wanted to throw people off buildings to protect her honour.

One of the ornate buildings on the Corniche.

Either scenario was not as attractive as a return to England. So Eleanor left and the big fat bonus appeared to disappear over the horizon with her. Being experienced, in both business and human nature, Rick is hard to fool. It transpired (eventually) that in fact the disappearance of the bonus was due to a deliberate delay (on the Egyptians’ part) in invoicing in the final months of the year along with the passing of some sizeable credits, which were subsequently reversed when any danger of the bonus being earned, was past.

Note: Most names have been changed in this series to protect both the guilty and the innocent.

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