A New Millennium in Egypt
It’s a new millennium, or is it? I thought that was next year, but hey, everyone seemed to be celebrating the end of the century at New Year. Anyway, I’m back in Egypt with my friend Jenny. Just like me, Jenny couldn’t wait to get back here and we started making plans and checking out flights as soon as we got home at the end of October, this time travelling once more with Egyptair and staying in a hotel in Luxor. Good old Egyptair. We arrived only two hours late after being held up for some unexplained reason at Heathrow, but that’s quite normal.
It was late when we arrived in Luxor and I was worried that the taxi I had arranged to collect us from the airport would be long gone, but the dear driver had checked our arrival time and was there waiting for us outside the terminal. I was so pleased to be here that I don’t even remember driving into town. We had booked a room in a small Egyptian run hotel on the East Bank, the New Radwan on Sharia Manshea near the railway station. If people ask where the hotel is I will say that it’s next door to Twinkies. Everyone knows Twinkies, the most exquisite patisserie in Luxor. The New Radwan may be a little less glamorous than our last hotel, the Sonesta, but it has been recently refurbished and is very clean and comfortable and the friendly staff were very welcoming to a couple of tired and disheveled travellers. With a double room for only LE80 (£4.00 each) a night, I knew straight away that we had made a good choice. The Sonesta last year was beautiful but I always felt a bit uncomfortable telling the locals I was staying there. I could see the dollar signs light up in their eyes! Added to that I felt that my clothes, after a day crawling around the tombs, didn’t quite fit into those luxurious surroundings, where most of the clients wore business suits. I still prefer the smaller Egyptian hotels as they have much more character and it is nice to get to know the staff.
One thing that surprised me getting here late tonight is that it is very cold. I hadn’t expected the temperature to be so low. I hope it warms up tomorrow. Jenny and fell into bed around midnight after unpacking. Neither of us felt like going out into town, which is very unusual for me.
This morning dawned clear and warm, like a glorious summer’s day in England. Perfect! I was woken early by the call of the muezzin ‘s prayer to discover that a mosque is right next door with a loudspeaker on the minaret pointing straight at our window. While some might find this noisy awakening annoying, I have come to love the gentle sound of the day’s first call to prayer, ‘Allah’u Akhbar’, echoing off the rooftops and merging with other calls from the mosques all over Luxor. It’s a great way to wake up and I knew instantly I was in Egypt. I mused that if an alarm clock was made with this sound I wouldn’t mind getting up in the mornings at home. Jenny and I had breakfast downstairs on the paved terrace next to the tiny swimming pool – which was newly built but not yet filled and I could see that the little garden around it had been planted up so that in a year or two it would be very pretty. A standard breakfast in an Egyptian hotel usually consists of bread (in this case, fresh white torpedo rolls), a hard-boiled egg, little triangles of soft processed cheese and individual pots of fig jam or honey. Sometimes there may be thin slices of a hard cheese and tomatoes and often pickled gherkins or carrot (something I’ve never fancied first thing in the morning). The coffee was instant powdered Nescafe, but being somewhat of a coffee snob I’ve learned never to travel without my real filter coffee bags.
With breakfast over, Jenny and I went out to wander around, seeing many local people who recognised us and we were welcomed back by everyone we met. It was one of those mornings of endless cups of tea with the stallholders in the suq, but all we actually bought were bottles of water. After lunch I phoned my friend Robin who now lives here on the West Bank and she met us later in Luxor Temple.
Being only five months since I was last here, nothing much had changed in the temple, which in the early afternoon was fairly quiet. Entering through the massive pylon of Rameses II, we wandered the open halls and colonnades through to the southern end, looking at various reliefs on the way. There is always something in every site that I have never noticed before, no matter how many times I’ve visited and today I spotted an Amarna block with a relief of the Aten, stacked with others behind a metal gate in one of the small side chambers. I wonder how it got there. While Jenny and Robin carried on looking around, I went to take pictures in the ‘Birth Room’. Last time I was here I had looked at the detail of the Opet Festival scenes on the walls of Amenhotep’s colonnade. The ‘Birth Room’ however, is deep inside the inner part of the temple and has a sequence of scenes depicting the divine birth of Amenhotep III, rather similar to those of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri.
The reliefs are very shallow and worn and also pock-marked by later re-use of the temple, so they are not easy to photograph clearly. This room used to be open to the air and much lighter than it is now with its wooden roof. On the west wall, the lower register shows Amenhotep’s mother, Queen Mutemwiya, sitting on a bed with Amun-re, their divine union having been consummated. Amun-re then instructs the ram-headed god Khnum to fashion the baby Amenhotep and his ka out of clay on his potter’s wheel. The scene above shows the queen with Thoth, being led to the birth chamber by Khnum and Hathor where she gives birth to the ka of Amenhotep while seated on a block throne. The goddess Hathor presents the child to his father, Amun-re, who embraces the boy while Mut and Hathor watch over him. In the register above, Amenhotep is suckled by thirteen goddesses. The future king’s reign length is determined by an assembly of deities. This whole picture of divine birth is a royal propaganda myth, told on the walls of the king’s temple in order to legitimise his reign, just as Hatshepsut did before him at Deir el-Bahri. But the scene may also relate to some esoteric ritual of the Opet Festival, in the form of a ‘divine marriage’ perhaps performed annually here to symbolise renewal and strengthen the rulership.
By the time the crowds began to filter back into the temple in the late afternoon we were ready to leave. It was a beautiful evening and the sun was going down over the Theban mountain, setting the river alight with ripples of orange like tongues of flame as we walked around the corner to have a meal together at the Amoun Restaurant.
The Hand of God
Today Jenny and I were up early because we wanted to get to Karnak before the crowds, but by 8.00am the temple was already busy when we arrived. I had recently become very interested in the religious role of ‘God’s Wife of Amun’ so I set off for the northern part of Karnak to investigate their shrines. At least this was away from the more crowded areas of the temples, which became more deserted as I walked past the open air museum on the path towards the Temple of Ptah. There are several chapels of the Gods’ Wives on the left hand side of the path, in various states of ruin, but some still had some interesting reliefs.
During the Late Period the wives of kings are rarely represented, but in Thebes, the female office of the ‘God’s Wife of Amun’, or ‘Divine Adoratrice’ is often seen as supremely important, a figure holding a position of power and wealth even greater than that of the High Priest. The title of ‘God’s Wife’ can be traced right back to the Middle Kingdom, but the office became more prominent at the beginning of the New Kingdom, with Ahmose-Nefertari, wife of Ahmose I, whose donation stele found at Karnak, tells us much about her role. At that time the title was usually given to the wife of the reigning king, her names were written in a cartouche and she was often succeeded by her daughter. Many royal ladies of the New Kingdom were associated with this office, at least nominally, including Queens Hatshepsut, Tiye and Nefertari.
Duties of the God’s Wife were essentially religious, associated with musical ceremonies and titles such as ‘Chantress of the Abode of Amun’, and often with fertility connotations. Her function was to play the part of the consort of the god Amun in religious ceremonies, stressing the belief that kings were conceived from the union between Amun and the Great Royal Wife. The title ‘The Hand of the God’ was also sometimes used when referring to her relationship to Atum in a creation myth – Atum’s hand being regarded as female. The regalia changed through Dynasties XVIII to XX, but usually included the vulture headdress with uraeus and often the shwty plumes, or falcon tail feathers worn by Amun and Min, or sometimes the sundisc and Hathor horns on a modius, a sort of circular crown. In the later new Kingdom a pleated robe with a red sash replaced the earlier slim sheath dress. Her insignia included the sistrum, menat, a variety of musical instruments and the flagellum.
From Dynasty XXI onwards it was always the king’s unmarried daughter or sister who was given the title of ‘God’s Wife’ and the role became increasingly important. Maatkare, daughter of Pinudjem I is depicted as God’s Wife in the Temple of Khonsu at the southern side of Karnak. Her titles were ‘Divine Adoratrice, sole wife of the god’. Henuttawy, daughter of Pinudjem II is also depicted here. It was from this time on that the God’s Wives adopted a coronation name as well as a birth name. During the reigns of the Libyan kings, their sons were given the office of High Priest of Amun and their daughters the title of ‘God’s Wife of Amun’. Some of the daughters of Libyan Chiefs and Egyptian elite were called ‘Chantress of the Inner Abode of Amun’ and presided over a college of priestesses, which seems to have been a kind of upper class convent.
At Karnak, several chapels were dedicated to Osiris and to Amun who was, by the Late Period, associated with him. They were mostly built during the period when Nubian kings ruled at Thebes and were dedicated by the reigning ‘God’s Wives’. The first shrine I came to on the northern path, the chapel of Osiris Neb-ankh (Lord of Life) dating to the Dynasty XXV reign of the Nubian King Shabaka, is in a fairly ruinous condition. Although there is now little remaining of the pylon entrance, courtyard and two inner chambers, the cartouches of Shabaka and the God’s Wife Amenirdis (I) can still be seen on the entrance.
The second structure here is better preserved with some good reliefs. This is the (earlier) chapel of Ankhnesneferibre who was a daughter of King Psamtik II of the Saite Dynasty XXVI and sister of King Wahibre (Apries). We know from surviving texts that this lady arrived in Thebes at only seven months old (in 595 BC) and was eventually installed as ‘High Priest’ of Amun. The next structure is her later chapel which is larger still and originally had a four-columned hall and a sanctuary at the rear. Parts of the gates survive and reliefs of Ankhnesneferibre before various deities can be clearly seen, including cartouches of Kings Ahmose II and Psamtik III. In one of the reliefs she is followed by her chief steward and fan-bearer who is named here as Sheshonq. There are also some lovely depictions of a lion-headed cobra and a strange underworld deity with two duck’s heads.
Next to Ankhnesneferibre’s chapel is another tiny shrine, also a chapel of Osiris Neb-ankh. This is like a little dolls-house, dedicated by the God’s Wife Shepenwepet (II), a daughter of King Taharqa of Dynasty XXV. Said to be perhaps the smallest religious monument in Egypt with a doorway only a little over a metre high leading to a tiny inner chamber, it is difficult to imagine any ceremony taking place here. There are some superb deeply-carved reliefs inside this little shrine with cartouches of Shepenwepet (II) and her sister the ‘God’s Wife’ Amenirdis, (II) as well as a cartouche inscribed for Osiris Neb-ankh.
Bypassing the Temple of Ptah I walked over to the next Osiris structure, an enigmatic little chapel, now just a small single chamber, dedicated by Amenirdis to Osiris De-ese-hebsed, also dating from Dynasty XXV. There were two God’s Wives named Amenirdis, the first a daughter of King Kashta and the second, who constructed this monument, was daughter of the Nubian King Taharqa. I had already seen the chapels at Medinet Habu belonging to this royal lady. Moving on I passed the scant remains of a Ptolemaic Temple of Osiris, no more than a lintel and two door-jambs.
Against the eastern enclosure wall is the largest remaining and one of the earliest chapels dedicated by the God’s Wives at Karnak. This is the Temple of Osiris Heka-djet (‘Osiris, Ruler of Eternity’) which was built by the Libyan king Osorkon III and his son, the High Priest of Amun, Takelot III of Dynasty XXIII. This structure has high walls and I had to find a guard to let me inside through the locked door. Though there was once an entrance gate and a courtyard, these are now gone and I went straight into the first of three small rooms, the two innermost rooms being the earliest part of the temple. High on one wall there is a lovely relief of Shepenwepet (I) presenting an image of Ma’at to Amun and receiving a menat necklace from the goddess Isis, while her successor, Amenirdis (I), receives an ankh from Amun and Mut. There are some very unusual reliefs in this temple, including the only known depiction of a God’s Wife, Shepenwepet, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, complete with royal uraeus, normally a strict prerogative of the pharaoh. Another beautiful and unique dual-scene shows the two rulers, Osorkon and his co-regent Takelot, back to back under two ished-trees, while the gods write the kings’ names on the leaves. There is also an unusual series of seven false doors each one carved inside the other. I loved this little temple, it was just a pity that the combination of shadows and shallow reliefs did not offer a good opportunity for photography.
Trying to work out the sequence of shrines and Gods’ Wives was all a bit confusing, but I made a lot of notes and took pictures to study at a later date. Meanwhile Jenny had been looking at the pylons on the transverse axis and had persuaded a guard to let her through to the tenth pylon, which is normally closed off to visitors, and we met up at lunchtime at the cafeteria for a drink. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at other areas of the temple together before taking a taxi back to our hotel.
An afternoon on the West Bank
After spending our first two days here in Luxor on the East Bank, it was time to cross the river, a journey on the local ferry I never get tired of making. Traditionally and in my mind too, Luxor town represents the hustle and bustle of life lived to the full with the never-ending noise and fumes of traffic and the chaos of the suq where tradesmen and customers alike shout at each other constantly. Long ago I discovered that shouting in Egypt does not necessarily equate with aggression, it’s just the way Egyptian people are, their exuberant nature means that most conversations seem to include raised voices and wild gesticulations. The Arabic language can sound harsh to our Western ears when voices are raised, but when spoken softly it is like poetry. Even on our way to the ferry today Jenny and I were besieged by felucca owners along the Corniche, one after another trying to get us to take an afternoon sail, shouting after us as we went by telling them ‘La shukran’ (no thank you).
Crossing to the West Bank means leaving this frantic way of life behind, at least once we had navigated our way past the ferry dock to find transport. But the village of Gezira el-Bahrat is just as lively as Luxor and there are always a lot of people milling around the dock. I have stayed here a few times and have made many friends and acquaintances so it was not surprising that we were stopped by several people who welcomed me back as we got off the ferry. This familiarity always makes me feel like I’ve come home. The first couple of arabeyas waiting to take passengers to Qurna were too crowded so we walked up the road a little way and ran into Mandour, an old friend, who persuaded us to go to the coffee shop for a drink with him. It never takes much persuading for me to go to a coffee shop to sample the first delicious cup of strong Egyptian coffee of the day. I have known Mandour for several years so we sat outside the cafe and chatted for a while, asking about each others families and catching up on news while watching people coming and going on the street. Mandour told us that he had hired a mini-bus to take a French couple to Abydos on Saturday and invited Jenny and I to join them. As we hadn’t planned a trip to Abydos this time the invitation was a lovely surprise and we happily accepted. Arrangements were made to meet up on Saturday, then Mandour flagged down an arabeya to take us to the taftish. We climbed up into the back of the covered Peugeot pick-up and took our places on the bench seat next to an old lady dressed in the traditional black galabeya and veil. On the opposite seat were two small children, probably her grandchildren, who silently sat and stared at us with round wide eyes until I produced a bag of sweets. After asking ‘Granny’ if this was OK I handed out sweets all round and was rewarded with the biggest widest grins I’ve ever seen from the two children. This seemed to break the ice and it wasn’t long before a couple of male passengers began asking questions, wanting to know if we lived here, did we have an Egyptian husband, would we like an Egyptian husband, and why not, what’s wrong with Egyptian men? Replying that we both had husbands at home thank you very much, didn’t seem to deter them and they persisted with this line of friendly bantering until it was time for us to get off.
The West Bank, ‘Land of the Dead’, is largely a necropolis of the ancient Theban people and a sense of quiet peace always descends on me the further I get from the river. Even the enthusiastic gaggle of children who later followed us around the village, chanting ‘What’s your name?’ could not dispel the calm atmosphere of Qurna on a warm sleepy afternoon. We had met my friend Robin at the taftish and together we went to visit a number of tombs in Qurna and Asasif, first Ramose and Khaemhet followed by Menna and Nakht. The last two tombs, Kheruef and Ankh-hor belonged to stewards of the ‘God’s Wives of Amun’ the ‘Divine Adoratrix’ whose shrines I had looked at yesterday at Karnak. The tombs were interesting to contrast with each other, as Kheruef had lived during the reign of Amenhotep III in Dynasty XVIII and was the steward to the ‘Great Royal Wife’ Tiye, while Ankh-hor held office much later, being steward to the ‘God’ Wife’ Nitocris in Dynasty XXVI.
It was a long dusty afternoon in the tombs and when we had finished we went with Robin to the house on the West Bank where she was temporarily living. I fell in love with the house immediately. It belongs to a European woman and Robin was renting a room while she looked for a more permanent home here. The house is a design by Hassan Fathy, the award-winning Egyptian architect who, in the 1940s, had designed the village of New Qurna as an experiment in the traditional values of local architecture as a response to the European influenced concrete housing that was springing up all over Egypt at the time. New Qurna was one of Fathy’s most famous projects, commissioned by the Egyptian Antiquities Department as an answer to the problem of the relocation of families from the old village of Qurna, tomb-robbers by reputation, who were living on top of the ancient necropolis. Offering a viable low-cost traditional housing for the rural population, Fathy’s village at New Qurna was designed to satisfy the individual needs of each family in the community, each with cool and airy living spaces. Unfortunately the experiment and the new village was doomed to failure as the villagers resisted relocating to their new homes and made every effort to stay where they were. Also, at that time people wanted ‘modern’, which they equated with ‘western-designed’ homes and not the traditional architecture more appropriate to the Egyptian climate and building materials. Like the houses of New Qurna, Robin’s home was light and spacious, with high domed ceilings, decorative window grids and built-in stone bench seating and I thought its elegant simplicity was wonderful.
Later this evening Robin, Jenny and I had dinner together in the restaurant of Mahmoud’s Hotel opposite the taftish, a lovely traditional Egyptian meal of rice, lots of different vegetable dishes and Omm Ali to follow for dessert.
The Hill of the Emblem
The road to Dendera from Luxor follows the East Bank of the Nile northwards towards Qena. There are several small villages along the route, but as we were travelling today with the police convoy there was little time to admire the scenery. We left Luxor at 8.00am sharp with several other coaches and mini-buses as well as a few privately-hired taxis, winding our way through the suburban hamlets before we hit the first checkpoint and then the long straight road towards Qus, the first small town to the north of Luxor. For the first few kilometres the convoy sorted itself out – there is always a race to get to the front, each vehicle overtaking recklessly, often diving back in to the right lane between coaches just before a loaded truck screams past in the opposite direction. This is a two-lane road, but in Egypt everyone drives down the centre until they are forced to one side or the other by oncoming traffic. Drivers with nerves of steel will play a waiting game to see who will give way first and there are horns constantly blaring loudly. Gravel was scattered as the speeding convoy passed a donkey pulling a loaded cart down the edge of the road in the wrong direction and the driver turned and scowled, shouting something as our mini-bus edged past giving the unpredictable animal a wide berth. Our driver didn’t take part in the race to be first, preferring to hang back at a more leisurely pace but he was soon hurried on by a police vehicle for going too slowly, the captain leaning out of his window, waving his arms and shouting at us to get a move on. We sped through small villages, narrowly missing pedestrians trying to cross the road while mothers reached out to grab hold of tiny children and chickens and goats bolted for safety into open doorways. The villagers justifiably hate the convoys as much as I do and I’m never sure if their rage is directed at us tourists or the tourist police, but probably both.
When we reached Qena the convoy split up. Most of the coaches were making the journey through the Eastern Desert to Hurghada on the coast while our minibus and a few other vehicles crossed the bridge over the wide river to the West Bank and drove through the fields of sugar cane to Dendera Temple. Although our primary destination today was Abydos, the convoy stopped for a hour and a half at Dendera, so that’s what we had to do. Our French companions, Katrina and Danny, hadn’t been to Dendera before and they rushed off through the great tall gateway and disappeared into the huge facade of the Temple of Hathor to make the most of their visit, while Jenny and I hung back and ambled around away from the crowds. We had taken a day-cruise to Dendera last October, which didn’t feel like very long ago, so we spent most of our time looking at the various structures in the temple precinct, only going into the temple later to climb the winding staircase onto the roof for an overview of the subsidiary buildings.
Before long we were back in our mini-bus and on our way to Abydos. Many of the coaches had gone back to Luxor and the convoy now consisted of only half a dozen vehicles and a police truck that was in no particular hurry, so it was a much more leisurely drive. We had crossed back to the East Bank, only to cross the Nile again at Nag Hamadi where the bridge crosses a barrage and the river froths and boils around the massive stone supports below the road. We made a brief stop while the police captain bought some fresh fish from a stall on the bridge before driving on past the tall steam-belching chimneys of the Nag Hamadi sugar-cane factory and after another hour or so, arrived at Abydos.
The ancient town of Abydos (Abdju) was traditionally associated with the god Osiris and the religious significance of the site dates back to the very beginnings of Egyptian history when the earliest rulers chose to be buried in the desert necropolis in the sacred cult centre of Osiris. In the myth of Osiris and Seth, after the god was hacked into fourteen pieces by his treacherous brother Seth, Osiris’s wife Isis set out to find the parts of her husband’s body which were scattered all along the Nile. Each piece she found, she buried in a secret place until the body of Osiris could be reassembled. The god’s head had been found at Abydos, according to the legend and this was where Isis finally buried his embalmed body and he once more achieved immortality. Afterwards, Isis remained inconsolable and her grief gave rise to another story that her tears caused the annual flooding of the Nile. Since ancient times the rich and powerful men of Egypt wished to be buried at Abydos where Osiris himself lay and the ancient name Abdju has been interpreted as the ‘Hill of the Emblem’, referring to the grave of Osiris.
Whenever I go into the Temple at Abydos I am again awed by the superb colourful reliefs of Seti I and the fact that they have survived so well-preserved for all these centuries. I can stand and look at them for hours and marvel at the workmanship of each carved hieroglyph and the beautiful depiction of the King and the gods in the long columned Osiris Hall at the rear. I also love the dark interior of the Hypostyle Halls with their tall papyrus columns. But today we had only an hour and a half here and as this was Jenny’s first visit we walked right through the temple so that she could get a brief view of each room, before going out to the Osirion behind. Apart from the handful of tourists who came with the convoy, the temple was packed with Egyptian schoolchildren and I have to say I didn’t enjoy the visit as much as I could have done. No doubt I have been spoilt by the few days I spent at here in March 1999 with Robin, when we had the whole temple to ourselves for hours at a time. The only consolation was that Jenny, as well as Katrina and Danny, really enjoyed their time in Abydos and I was very glad we had been invited to share the adventure.
We arrived back in Luxor in the late afternoon. Our return journey was uneventful and I’m happy to say was more relaxed than the morning drive had been. We were able to enjoy the countryside with the golden reflection of a sinking sun on the ramparts of the hills that form a boundary with the desert beyond.
The Road to Thoth Hill
I swore I’d never ride a donkey again! But somehow today I found myself once more astride one of these overstuffed sofas bouncing through the fields of the West Bank on the way to the King’s Valley road. It was no fault of the poor donkey – Jenny had arranged the trip with Mandour and I let myself be talked into it. We were to ride the donkeys from el-Gezira to the foot of Thoth Hill, and I suppose that was the attraction. For a long time I’ve wanted to walk up Thoth Hill, but everyone usually tells me it’s too hot at the time I’m in Egypt, so just to get an idea of the route sounded helpful.
The spur of mountain now known as Thoth Hill is at the very northerly point of the Theban necropolis and I’m told is an exhausting three hour hike from the road leading to the Valley of the Kings, just past the house which Howard Carter once used. On top of the mountain is the oldest known temple to be built in Thebes, its origins dating to the Archaic Period. Although the mountain is locally known as the ‘Crown of Thebes’, it was called Thoth Hill because three baboon statues were originally found there (representing the god Thoth). The remains of monuments on top of the hill were surveyed as long ago as 1909 by Petrie but a more thorough excavation was done by a Hungarian Mission during the 1990s. There the excavators found a mudbrick structure built on top of an artificial Middle Kingdom stone terrace. Walls with an entrance pylon contained a free-standing sanctuary with three chambers. Many objects were found in the clearance work including foundation deposits and fragments of a limestone lintel and limestone door jambs which were carved with an inscription in the name of Sankhkare, dedicating the temple to the god Horus. It was thought by the excavators that the temple had been astronomically oriented towards the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (at that time) which was associated with the god Horus in ancient times. Further work on the level below the Middle Kingdom terrace revealed, to the surprise of the Hungarian archaeologists, a previously undiscovered stone temple with only a single sanctuary. It is the pottery and architectural fragments found in the earlier remains that date the structure to the Archaic Period. The earlier temple differs in its orientation to Sirius by around two degrees from the later structure, suggesting a shift in the star positions over the intervening centuries and the astronomical calculations involved assist in its dating.
Although I would love to visit this site, it’s a long trek in the hot weather and must be done with a guide who knows the way. So after an hour or so on the back of the donkey, we found ourselves turning off the road to the King’s Valley and along a sandy track leading into the mountains. By this time I was sore and aching but rescue was at hand in the form of the police, who came dashing after us and forbid us to go any further. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for their intervention. As I said once before – never again!
A Traditional Lunch at Karnak
While we were out and about in Luxor a few days ago, Jenny and I met a girl who was staying in a hotel called the Nefertiti, which she said was cheap and quite good. Always on the lookout for decent budget hotels, this morning we went to investigate. The Nefertiti is somewhere down one of the little side streets in the area around the suq and it took us a while to find it. We had a look around and were shown into a couple of the rooms, which were cramped but adequate (I’m being kind here) and probably about the standard one would expect for EL15 (£1.50) a night for a double room. After thanking the hotel manager for showing us around we decided to go up onto the roof for a cup of coffee. There seemed to be quite a lot of floors and as we climbed and climbed up the dark winding staircase to the top of the building, Jenny and I decided that the hotel was not for us. For a start we guessed that it would be very noisy being in the position it was in. Hot and breathless we slumped into a couple of cane chairs and ordered our coffee which turned out to be a cup of warm water and a packet of powdered Nescafe (another black mark). Then I turned around to look over the wall. The whole of Luxor Temple was laid out before us in all its glory in a vista which must be practically unique. We could see right down into the open courtyards and onto the roofs of the chambers – what an amazing view! I gave the hotel a gold star just for that view.
A young friend of mine, Ibrahim, has been trying to teach me Arabic for the past couple of years. His own grasp of English is excellent and we will occasionally spend an hour or two together when he will give me lists of words and phrases to memorise and then test me on them at a later date. Gradually my knowledge of the language is increasing little by little so that I am able to understand conversations and even contribute now and then. People I meet who don’t know me are often quite impressed by my command of Arabic (which is mostly total bluff!). Today Ibrahim’s mother, Hyat, had invited Jenny and I to lunch at the family home near Karnak and Ibrahim came to our hotel to collect us and take us there in a taxi. Their pretty house is quite large and the brightly painted front door is reached through a little garden. When we arrived we were welcomed by Ibrahim’s mother, who everyone calls Haga, a title of respect as she’s made the pilgrimage to Mecca. We were also introduced to his younger sister Sayla who was just as welcoming though a little shy. In the reception room we were brought a tray of tea and we all chatted for a while before being shown over the rest of the house, right up onto the roof that has a lovely view over to Karnak Temple and where the family’s chickens are kept. Afterwards, Haga provided a superb meal of traditional Egyptian dishes and Jenny and I both felt we had eaten far to much by the time we left. What a lovely family.
Being so close to Karnak, Jenny and I decided to walk over there for a quick look around. I had forgotten that the entrance route has been recently changed and part of the surrounding land fenced off which meant quite a long hike around to the front of the temple. It was mid-afternoon and a perfect time to have a look at the reliefs on the Third Pylon as the light was just right to show them at their best. These reliefs are very shallow and it is sometimes difficult to pick out detail, but today they looked very good and I took several photographs of the Barque of Amenhotep III with what is believed to be a tiny figure of the future Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten). After looking around the rest of the Sanctuary area the crowds were beginning to thicken, so we left Karnak to take a taxi back to our hotel.
The Snake Charmer
Jenny, who has a degree in Zoology, loves creatures of any sort and to my utmost horror, had persuaded Ibrahim to take us to see the snake charmer at his home in Luxor. Snakes come a close second to spiders in my list of phobias, so I’m not sure how I got talked into this, except that I’m always open to new experiences in Egypt. Well, most of them!
Ibrahim collected us from our hotel this morning and we went by taxi to a village on the eastern outskirts of Luxor. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we left the taxi and began walking through the narrow streets of the village, along a narrow dirt road which ran between small mud-brick houses. The people who lived here obviously didn’t see many foreigners and from every doorway someone was peering out to catch a glimpse of us. We were followed at a distance by a crowd of raggedy children, not quite brave enough to approach us but curious enough to follow to see where we were going. Eventually we arrived at a very poor-looking house in the heart of the village and Ibrahim knocked on the open door. The snake-man could not have been more welcoming and seemed delighted that we should visit him here. We were ushered into the house, which seemed to consist of only two rooms, one where the family all slept and another opening off the street and where we were seated on long wooden benches. The snake-man didn’t speak English so Ibrahim acted as interpreter. This man is one of the snake-charmers who go around the hotels and cruiseboats entertaining tourists with his basket and flute and although I don’t like snakes, these men always have held a sort of fascination for me.
After we were brought glasses of tea and when the formalities were over, he brought out several small woven ‘Ali-Baba’ baskets. Placing the first basket in front of us he took off the lid and put his hand in to pull out a tangle of several cobras. I shivered and moved away horrified as he offered the writhing mass of bodies for me to hold. Jenny, much braver than I, took one of the snakes and sat gently stroking it on her lap as the snake-man, with Ibrahim interpreting, began talking about his cobras. The first thing he mentioned was that these snakes’ teeth had been removed – though he didn’t say how this was done and I thought it must be cruel. Cobras are among the most poisonous snakes here in Egypt with long hollow fangs in the upper jaw that can lock onto its prey and inject poison from its venom sacs like liquid from a hypodermic needle. A victim bitten by a cobra could be dead within a few hours. The snake-man does not catch the snakes himself, but buys them at great expense from a professional snake-catcher. He told us that because of their value, he takes great care of them. The fangs are removed after the snake has fed and it can go several weeks without needing to feed again. The teeth re-grow in a few days and I wondered at what stage of re-growth these snakes teeth were at. Just in case, I kept my distance, but Jenny was mesmerised by these glossy slithering reptiles. After a while the snake-man’s little son, a toddler, came out from the other room and picked up one of the snakes, shaking it around and holding it close to his face. It would seem that this is a family business.
In Egypt, snake charming is a very old form of entertainment. Cobras are the most popular snake used and as the charmer plays his pipes, the cobra rises from its basket and coiled in the recognisable upright posture, spreads its hood, ready to strike. The snake reacts to the movement of the charmer’s pipe, hypnotised and moving back and forth, looking like it is dancing to the music.
While this was all very interesting, I did not enjoy the visit. However much I dislike snakes, I don’t like to see creatures kept in captivity and I was sure that it couldn’t be humane to keep the snakes like this purely for the entertainment of tourists. Jenny however, with a much more scientific viewpoint, enjoyed meeting the snake-man and his cobras. I guess these people have to earn a living somehow.
The Battles of Rameses III
Jenny and I both woke up this morning feeling wretched. Jenny has had a sore throat for a few days which has developed into tonsillitis and I seem to be in sympathy with her and have a streaming cold as well as a sore throat. Not wanting to waste the day moping around and feeling sorry for ourselves we decided to cross the river and go to Medinet Habu, where I knew we would get lost in the marvellous reliefs and forget about our colds. A strong breeze was blowing as we boarded the ferry and it was quite cold out on the river, but was calmer on the West Bank as we quickly found an arabeya to take us to the ticket office.
The Temple at Medinet Habu was very quiet when we arrived and we were among only a small handful of tourists there, so we took the opportunity to have another look at the reliefs in the First Court, the ‘Hall of Royal Appearances’. The First Pylon is a vast stone structure and originally had a massive single leaf wooden door, which, when opened, rested against a decorative panel called the ‘Shadow of the Door’. The front of the pylon is decorated with the usual portrayals of the King, Rameses III, before the gods, Amun-re and Re-Horakhty and the triumphal scene of King smiting his captive enemies which can be seen on most temple facades. We inspected the four mast-grooves which once would have supported tall colourful fluttering flags. Inside the grooves are dedication texts and each is guarded by female protective deities, with Isis and Nephthys closest to the doorway and Nekhbet and Wadjyt in the outer grooves. The whole massive pylon represents a protective barrier to the temple from the outside world. My favourite scene on the First Pylon, which is shallow and can only be seen properly in the morning when the slanting eastern sun lights the stone, is a little relief of Rameses IV kneeling under the Persea Tree. The god Atum is writing the King’s name on the leaves of the tree and the King is receiving the heb-sed symbol from the Theban Triad, Amun, Mut and Khons.
Although I’ve always preferred the colourful painted reliefs of the religious festival processions of Min and Sokar in the Second Court, the First Court has some very fine and interesting reliefs too. As well as being the temple courtyard, this was also the forecourt of the adjoining Royal Palace where the King had his quarters when in residence. The entrance to the palace area, called the ‘Window of Appearances’ on the southern side is balanced by a portico with seven huge pillars with engaged colossal statues of Rameses III, now unfortunately mostly ruined. On one of the better preserved statues, however, we can still see two of the royal children at the king’s feet.
Many of the reliefs on the walls surrounding the First Court tell of the battle exploits of Rameses III as well as his son, Rameses IV. The King is shown pursuing fleeing Libyans and receiving the spoils of war, including the hands and phalli of prisoners which have been cut off for the soldiers’ reward. These scenes relate mostly to the perennial Libyan wars and several names of the tribal chiefs are included in the texts. These gruesome events are overseen by the king’s scribes who are counting the heaps of hands and phalli of the enemy – an occupation that allowed the defeated army’s losses to be tallied. The King’s soldiers were traditionally rewarded with gold according to the number of ‘trophies’ they brought in and I imagine this could have been open to much cheating. On the wall of the northern portico, the lower register of scenes show Rameses storming a fortress in Amor which is depicted in great detail and followed by the presentation of Asiatic, Syrian and Libyan captives to the Theban Triad. On the Western wall, the outer face of the Second Pylon, yet more captives are shown, this time they are the ‘Sea-peoples’, Shardana and Philistines and a long inscription tells of a campaign in year 8 of the King’s reign.
On a more pleasant note, behind the columns of the southern portico, the king is seen with his pet lion and his entourage setting out to attend the Valley Festival. There are scenes of stick-fighting and wrestling contests which would have taken place during the festival. In the northern colonnade, the details of the Valley Festival ritual are documented on the upper register.
By early afternoon I was fairly worn out looking at all this battle activity so Jenny and I retreated to the Rameses Cafe for some refreshment. Neither of us felt like eating lunch, but we were dosed up with lots of strong hot lemon juice by Salah. The lemon juice must have worked, at least for Jenny, who announced that she was off to walk over the Mountain to take some photographs. She couldn’t tempt me today so I stayed in the shade of the cafe to nurse my cold and stroke the resident cats while she went off to climb a mountain. Where does she find her energy?
The Feast of Eid el-Adha
I had forgotten that today was the beginning of the three-day Muslim feast of Eid el-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to God and the conclusion of the pilgrimage to Mecca for those lucky or devout enough to go on Haj. Last year I was present at this feast in Abydos with my friend Robin, when both the surroundings and the occasion had been a very special and memorable time for me.
Jenny and I realised what day it was as soon as we were out on Sharia el-Mahatta (Station Street) this morning. The street was strewn with colourful bunting and banners in green, red and blue, criss-crossing haphazardly over the road like Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the strong breeze. Traffic was at a standstill with crowds of people milling everywhere on the street; women and children in their best clothes dressed for this holiday which is the most important feast of the Islamic calendar. Food and juice stalls lined the road and barrows full of holiday toys and trinkets attracted crowds of children like bees to honey. Horse races and parades through the streets of Luxor are a special feature of the Feast. In front of the Railway station there were many beautiful horses, standing proud in their elaborately decorated saddles, with plaited manes and brushed tails. There were donkeys loaded up with children parading up and down, looking like seaside donkey rides on an English beach. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
Loud music was coming from every shop doorway. As we reached the end of Sharia el-Mahatta we met ‘Mr Happy T-shirt’ (our nick-name for this character) who is usually only at his post near the old Luxor Hotel in the evening. Every night when we pass him he rushes up with a handful of T-shirts for sale and starts talking excitedly in broken English, a patter so fast that it’s difficult to keep up with him. We often stop to chat and I’ve never known him to stop grinning. The fact that he was here this morning is an indication of how important this day must be for the street traders. We called in to say hello to Ibrahim who was looking after his brother’s jewellery shop today and were invited to help him eat the massive special lunch his mother had sent to the shop from his home. It was just like Christmas Day without the snow and I had the feeling of being caught up in the moment, like when you go to a fairground and catch the distant echoes of a long-forgotten childhood excitement.
Later in the afternoon we caught the ferry over to the West Bank. Salah had offered to take us to Malqata to watch the sun setting behind the Theban Mountain and witness the desert turning gold. I love Malqata, especially in the evening and try to visit it at least once while I’m in Luxor. This is the site of the palace and town of Amenhotep III. Jenny, Salah and I walked from Medinet Habu, through the back-lanes and fields and out into the desert to the French excavation house. When we arrived there was still enough light to take a few photographs of the palace area before walking a little way out into the desert towards the mountains, but the khamseen wind had grown stronger and there was a lot of sand in the air. The French archaeologists were not in residence at present so we went and had mint tea with the French-house gafir, who remembers me from previous visits and is always very welcoming. As the darkness crept in, it was hard to remember that we were only a short distance from Medinet Habu and the village of Kom Lolla. It feels so isolated and remote at Malqata in the evening, with only the swishing sound of the wind in the bushes around the courtyard garden and the distant lonely barking of a dog in a far-off cluster of houses to disturb the peace. And above us as always, the first sprinkling of stars in a deep deep velvet sky.
It was quite a shock arriving back in Luxor late at night with the crowds still wandering up and down the Corniche and the town just as noisy as when we had left it. I am writing this back in our room at the New Radwan Hotel and looking out from our balcony onto the minaret of the little mosque next door. The tall tower is floodlit and the mosque is decorated with strings of lights, prettily lit up like a Christmas tree for the holiday. At midnight the noise is still going on with music and car-horns piercing the night and it looks like we will get little sleep. Quite a contrast to the peace and solitude of the West Bank where there was little evidence of the Feast at all.
Peshedu in the Workmen’s Village
It is the second day of the feast and seems to be just as busy in Luxor today as it was yesterday, so to escape the crowds, Jenny and I went over to the West Bank. Near the ticket office, as we were trying to make our minds up about where to go, we met up with Robin and we decided to visit Deir el-Medina together.
I had never visited the tomb of Peshedu (TT3) before, which is high on the hillside above the village, as it has only recently been opened to the public after restoration. From the entrance there is a spectacular view over the whole of the workmen’s houses. Peshedu was a ‘Servant In the Place of Truth’ (Deir el-Medina), during the Ramesside Period. Like many of the other artisan’s tombs, Peshedu’s burial chamber has a vaulted ceiling and is beautifully decorated in paint on a yellow ochre background with scenes from the ‘Book of the Dead’. Anubis as a jackal guards the entrance passage and the walls of the burial chamber are covered with thick black hieroglyphs and painted deities behind new glass panels. The decoration looked fresh and bright, like it had just been painted. Straight ahead we were confronted by one of the most famous and beautiful scenes from this tomb, which depicts the god Osiris seated on a throne before a mountain while Horus perches in the form of a falcon. In the curve of the ceiling a large personified Wadjet-eye supports a burning torch, while Peshedu kneels below. Another well-known scene was on the right-hand entrance wall (east) in which Peshedu crouches by a pool beneath a palm tree laden with dates. It is interesting that the decoration of the private Ramesside tombs abandons the scenes of daily life seen in earlier tombs for a more formal depiction of the deceased and his family adoring various gods of the funerary books. In these later tombs Anubis is as much in evidence as Osiris.
After a brief visit to the Hathor Temple, Robin had to leave as she had to go somewhere and Jenny and I decided to walk over the mountain again. As we climbed breathlessly up the steep track from Deir el-Medina we stopped to look back and had a fabulous view over the workmen’s village and eventually as we got higher, to Medinet Habu. In the dusty sleepy streets of Kom Lolla, a few donkeys and buffalo grazed lazily on their bundles of fodder, while out in the surrounding fields one or two men worked with hoes on their crops, a timeless scene, just as it would have been in ancient Egypt.
We followed the rim of the hills along the well-worn track that the Deir el-Medina artisans must also have taken, a lonely path but with stunning views at every turn. We stopped often to catch our breath – not so fit today because of our colds and Jenny’s throat is still very sore. The walk is probably only a few kilometres but took us almost three hours because the path weaves up and down as it follows the contours along the edge of the hills. By the time we came down into the bay of cliffs at Deir el-Bahri my legs felt like jelly and I know I will ache tomorrow.
Taking an arabeya back to the ticket office we walked to the Rameses Cafe at Medinet Habu and stayed there to have dinner. We chatted with Salah while he sat smoking his shisha and then Nubi came in for his evening cup of tea and gossip. It was dark by the time we were on the ferry on our way back to Luxor and the reflected lights from the floodlit temple shimmered on the water. I could think of nowhere I would rather be at this moment.
Excavations in the King’s Valley
Yesterday on the West Bank I saw my friend Nubi, who has been working in Giza for Dr Mark Lehner. He has returned home, like many other Luxor-born people, to celebrate the feast of Eid el-Adha with his family at Kom Lolla. Nubi, who often works in the Valley of the Kings and always knows what is happening there, talked to us about the recent excavations of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project directed by Dr Nicholas Reeves. Nubi is always discreet and never gives away information until it is published, but I could tell that he was excited about the recent work there and he hinted at the possibility of a new tomb. Our destination today was the King’s Valley to have a look for ourselves.
Just before mid-day Jenny and I crossed the river and took a taxi to the Valley. We bought a ticket and visited the tombs of Seti II, Tuthmose III and Tuthmose IV mainly because they were the least crowded at the time. By the time we had finished, the Valley was empty of tourists and most of the guards were taking their siesta, so we wandered back down the hillside to the excavation site just beyond the Tomb of Tutankhamun.
The Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP), under the auspices of the Valley of the King’s Foundation (VOKF), began in 1998 to undertake controlled stratigraphic excavation in the King’s Valley and to investigate and record the central area and the relationship between the Amarna period burials of Tomb KV55 and Tomb KV62 (Tutankhamun) and its potential bearing upon other possible burials of the Amarna period. They have so far completed two seasons of exploration and aim to begin a third season in September this year. The area they are investigating is near the tombs KV 55 and KV 62 (Tutankhamun), bounded by the ‘Gold Tomb’ (KV 56) on the west and the tomb of Rameses VI (KV 9) on the east, which has been excavated before but only sporadically. Howard Carter had noted a settlement of workmen’s huts here when working to uncover the tomb of Tutankhamun. The site looked like a scar in the side of the valley, an open wound, deserted and forlorn, but I wished I could get down there with a trowel. What treasures lie beneath the surface still to be uncovered? I have been following the excavations through Paul Sussman’s daily dig-diary which is published each season on the VOKF website and I could feel the excitement building each day. I am especially interested in this project because I am sure there are some Amarna re-burials here, or maybe it’s just wishful thinking because it’s a period I’m fascinated by.
We looked down along the deep trench and into the open shaft of KV56, the ‘Gold Tomb’, originally excavated in 1906 by Edward Ayrton and given the name because of the many gold and silver items found in the tomb. The current excavators are hoping that the tomb may be linked with the Amarna royal family, some of whom, it is suggested, may have been re-buried in the Valley of the Kings at the end of the Amarna Period. Although no wonderful new tomb had been discovered by the end of the 1999 excavations, the team found many ostraca, a votive figure, a great deal of pottery as well as several bags of gold leaf from KV56.
After leaving the King’s Valley we went to The Rameses Cafe at Medinet Habu and met a German lady, an Egyptologist and had a long discussion with her about cartouches and titles. There are always so many lovely new people to meet and so much to learn about here.
Chapels of the God’s Wives
This is our last day in Luxor and at breakfast this morning we couldn’t decide how to spend the day. We’ve had quite a busy couple of weeks, but the last few days with both of us having colds, have been tiring. Eventually we opted to take a felucca trip this morning, a restful interlude which gave us time to think about what to do later.
Down on the Corniche we sought out a felucca captain we knew, Yousef, and told him we would just like to be on the river, not going anywhere particular and definitely not Banana Island. In the end we spent three hours just drifting lazily in the slight breeze, watching the world go by but feeling remote from the activity on the banks. There were several feluccas out this morning and we saw a beautiful old-style cruiseboat. I wasn’t sure if this was really an old boat which has been renovated, or a replica made to look old, but it was very nicely done.
At lunchtime Yousef dropped us off on the West Bank and Jenny and I went to the Africa restaurant for some lunch, a welcome bowl of lentil soup and delicious warm crusty bread. We were both feeling a bit chilled after being on the water for so long. Afterwards we caught an arabeya to the ticket office and bought tickets for the tombs of Neferonpet, Nefersekheru and Djutmose at el-Khokha. I had forgotten just how beautiful these little nobles’ tombs are.
It now seems to be a forgone conclusion that when we’re on the West Bank, we will end up at Medinet Habu and today was no exception. I wanted a last look at the temple and went to take more photographs in the shrines of the God’s Wives of Amun, the Divine Adoratirix that have become a study theme for me on this visit.
There are four chapels at Medinet Habu dedicated to the God’s Wives. The earliest belongs to Shepenwepet I who was appointed by her father Osorkon III during the last years of Theban independence before full Nubian control. Little is left of her chapel, but the burial shaft still gives access to vaulted chambers below – not open to the public however. The next shrine is that of Amenirdis I, the successor to Shepenwepet and daughter of Nubian King Kashta. This is the best-preserved chapel and has many interesting reliefs, though it is very dark inside. A forecourt fronts Amenirdis’s chapel, the four columns now reduced to stumps, but there is still a black granite offering table in situ. Inside the shrine, a free-standing sanctuary surrounded by a corridor whose walls are adorned with excerpts from the Pyramid Texts and reliefs of Amenirdis I and her successor Shepenwepet II (who built this shrine for her aunt), before various deities. The walls are now blackened but little square openings in the roof send atmospheric shafts of light down onto the scenes. The workmanship is really beautiful here.
In due time Shepenwepet II adopted Amenirdis II, a daughter of King Taharqa, as her successor, but her rule was ill-fated as by then the Nubian Dynasty XXV came to an end with the Assyrian invasions of Thebes. The Theban priesthood was forced to accept an heiress from the Saite dynasty of the Delta and it was Psamtik’s daughter Nitocris who became the next God’s Wife of Amun, after being adopted by both Shepenwepet II & Amenridis II. It was Nitocris who completed the chapel for Shepenwepet II after her death, adding to the burial chambers to provide for herself and her birth mother Mehytenweskhet. The fourth chapel is now gone, but is thought to have belonged to Ankhnesneferibre, a daughter of King Psamtik II, who was the last holder of the office of Divine Adoratrice at Thebes and who also took the title of High Priest of Amun. Her beautiful sarcophagus, found in a shaft at Deir el-Medina after being re-used during Roman times, is now in the British Museum.
Over the doorways to these chapels is a kind of threat, written as an ‘Appeal to the Living’, which consists of words to be uttered by people passing by. The text more or less states that anyone not participating in the mortuary cult by repeating the prayers will be cursed by the ‘Mistress of the West’ who will cause sickness to their families. I always bear this in mind, saying a little prayer of my own for the souls of the powerful ladies once buried here.
When the temple closed, Jenny and I once more found ourselves in the Rameses Cafeteria where we said a sad farewell to our many friends here. We stayed for most of the evening as people we knew came and went, stopping briefly for a chat. We even went to have a look at a nearby apartment which is available to rent – a possibility for our next visit. It was late when we crossed back over on the ferry to Luxor, soaking up the what would be our last view of the river for a while.
Another Delayed Flight
An early start to the day for our flight home to England. We had booked a taxi for 6.30am but when we arrived downstairs for breakfast we were told that someone had thoughtfully left a message to say our flight was delayed by two hours. So it became a leisurely breakfast sitting in a warm corner of the garden terrace and drinking far too much coffee.
Our flight was now due to leave at 11.15am instead of 9.15am, so we didn’t need to leave the Radwan Hotel until 8.30am. Having left our arrival at the airport as late as possible the check-in desk was quiet and as I hadn’t bought too many books this time my luggage went through with no problems, thank goodness. This is always my biggest worry. In the departure lounge we waited and waited and in the end the scheduled delay was extended by another two hours, eventually leaving Luxor at 1.15pm. No reason is ever given for these delays with EgyptAir, but it is seems to be a common occurrence and I am getting used to it. The waiting was not too bad however, as we met a nice lady called Janet who lives on the West Bank and knows my friend Robin. We spent the time swapping stories and experiences.
Eventually the plane took off, as always a very sad moment when the aircraft wheels leave the sandy runway and the Theban mountain disappears beneath the wing as we leave it behind. Jenny and I didn’t dare look at each other because we knew we would both have tears in our eyes. The feeling of being in Egypt was briefly extended by the Arabic spoken by the crew and the Egyptian music videos played on the overhead monitors. I’m never sure if this helps or not. The flight seemed to go quickly and within a short time we were already flying over the Italian Alps, a spectacular view with the diamond-white snow still sparkling on the tips of the mountains.
The four-hour delay meant that we caught the last possible train home from Reading by the skin of our teeth, arriving back in Cornwall at 11.00pm after an exhausting day of doing nothing.
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