18th July 2014

These short photo essays are from another world. Shot thirty years ago on something called film. Taken over a couple of years that involved - retrospectively - significant exposure to different cultures and ways of being. Some I enjoyed, some I respcted, some I despised but overall I saw further than I knew at the time. These images remind me of that.

Wending my way back from Africa, one of the first places I visited was Cairo. As a servant of empire, one could trade in the business class ticket for an economy that stopped off at different places. I am not sure now, how I managed to make that happen, or even why I chose to do so. But in one of my first opportunities to plan for myself was realised, I only did half a job. I booked the flights. Everything else was left to chance. So landing in Cairo in January 1987 I considered my job well done. Until I realised that there was no-one there to meet me.


As my connecting flight to Istanbul was five days away, this was not a good thing. A young boy in shorts and a rucksack. Homeless in Giza and night drawing in. My taxi driver, on the way from the airport told me his cousin had a very good hotel, very cheap. He was a disarmingly honest sort of fellow, so I agreed.

As we drew up at the bedsit in the backstreets, his parting words were..."and now we kiss". 'Er, no actually, we don't" I gently resisted, wondering what kind of catamite hell was waiting for me inside. "Yes, Yes, We are friends, are we not?" Realising that my chances of explaining the finer differences between friendship and a chance acquaintanceship might fall on deaf ears, I reluctantly agreed to his definition. "And friends kiss", he concluded with slightly fervent logic. So, slightly light on options,  I fell back on loquacity, demanding the cost of my fair and fumbling with my wallet whilst fervently hoping that that was all the fumbling due to take place; shook his hand and clutching my rucksack, allowed him to take me in to see his cousin.

Who, to be fair, was a very decent man, with a family and all the trimmings of normality that I could cope with at the time. I am not saying that I would recognise him if I passed him in the street today but he allowed me to maintain the momentum of my adventure without loss or fear of intimacy. I explored the untidiness of Cario and the squalor of Giza. I visited Tutankhamun's tomb in Luxor and his resting place at the Cairo Museum. It was January, it was devastatingly hot but most of all it was largely unloved. There was little genuine respect for the past but then again, the past does not protect you from injustice or feed your family. I doubt it did any better in the days of Ptolemy or Saladin. There was only one benefactor - the tourist.

A few years later the Egyptians began to bite the hand that fed. Tourists were gunned down on the steps where we had sat and had lunch in the shade of history. The smouldering bigotry of ignorance burst into flames of intolerance and the world ceased to care for Egypt.