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None of us children slept much the last night and we were on deck at dawn to watch the ship gliding inside the breakwater at Port Said. Sadly, on my first visit, when I was ten years old, I had no chance to see the carpet-sellers displaying ‘antique’ prayer mats made in Axminster or to watch the gully gully men making their pitch on deck and plucking baby chicks from the pockets of unsuspecting Australians; for I was travelling with the wife of a senior customs official and our ship had hardly dropped anchor before a sleek green launch was nosing its way through the bum-boats to come alongside with faultless boat-drill and take us off.
My Rugby headmaster, Dr W. W. Vaughan, had told my mother, in my hearing, that I had not the slightest chance of entering the Diplomatic Service; I had no vocation for the Church like my great-uncle Charles, the King of Hanover’s domestic chaplain; nor was I attracted to the law like my great-uncle Hindley, a fellow of Eton and of King’s College, Cambridge, and reputed, in his time, to have been the cleverest boy in the school except for W. E. Gladstone, the future Prime Minister. Apart from my uncle Claud who had been an unsuccessful stockbroker, I had no family connections with the City.
I spent that last summer vacation with my parents in Egypt, travelling out as cheaply as I could as a deck passenger in a Lloyd Triestino cargo ship via the Dalmatian coast, Athens and Rhodes. In a multi-cultural society like Alexandria, people were more conscious of the worsening international situation than we were in England. Adolf Hitler had yet to remilitarize the Rhineland but Mussolini was already flexing his muscles. Our house was opposite the summer residence of the Italian Ambassador.