NOTE: For many years Lord Provost McTinn of Glasgow travelled the globe from one great capital to another. It was long rumoured that throughout his travels he kept a journal in which was recorded, in minute and sometimes disturbing detail, his most intimate experiences with important and powerful leaders of the world. The journal is believed to have comprised some two dozen 120-sheet Big Value Jotters which, we now know, had been gifted to him by the SCWS from their now defunct Stationery Department at 398 Paisley Road, Glasgow, on the eve of his departure for Ottawa. As well as brief day-to-day entries the journal contained longer and more finished passages, whole chapters of autobiography, in fact, which were clearly intended for the public, either in the form of published memoirs, or lectures, or, maybe, after-dinner speeches. Sadly all two dozen books of the journal disappeared following a mysterious burglary at McTinn’s home shortly after his return from Jidda. Although gold and silver swords, an Arabian jewelled dagger and other gifts and valuables said to be worth well in excess of £900,000 were on the premises at the time and ready to hand, only the notebooks were taken. To this day the thief’s identity remains unknown. His, or indeed her, purpose in wishing to lay hands on this substantial historical document, has been variously conjectured. If, however, suppression was the object it has signally failed. Extracts purporting to be from McTinn’s journal, some of extremely doubtful authenticity, let it be said, have popped up in the Far East, the Middle East and the Near East, in the Mid West, the North West and the Far North, as well as in the Deep South and, more recently, on the South Side. Many of these unauthenticated texts are mere crude pornography. For example in the Port Said edition the Prince of Mecca flagellates McTinn with a sjambok. And again, in an account emanating from Milan (M XXI ms.7) McTinn, in the nude, plays the organ in the Papal Chapel while the Pope flagellates himself. The fragment published here is the Mecca version (Z IV ms.l) which has been scrupulously collated with all other verifiable editions. In the absence of internal evidence to the contrary, and with no better data to go on, I think we can safely accept this as being as close to McTinn’s original text as we are ever likely to get.
THE SAUDI PRINCE was full of breeding, with a royal dignity of head and shoulders. Such was his colossal stature that one could only marvel at the manner in which he put up with our trade delegation - such pygmies we must have seemed to him.
But by rights I ought to begin with the Mayor of Jidda, a tall, graceful, vigorous man with whom I at once struck up a terrific bond of friendship. He played backgammon with my wife in the guest tent and was fond of reciting lengthy passages from the Koran, the whole of which he had committed to memory in boyhood. It was through the Mayor of Jidda that my Arabian adventure really got underway.
One morning he had me kitted out in the regalia of Sherif Fauzan ibn Tikheimi, his bosom friend, with ceremonial dagger and all. The hilt of that dagger was studded with priceless jewels, and it was only with the greatest reluctance, not wishing to offend, yet fearful I might lose it, that I was persuaded to carry it about my person. They packed me off, with a specially padded saddle under me, on Biseita, the Mayor’s favourite she-camel, to ride the lonely velvet sands of the Wadi Murrmiya.
Bedouin tribesmen bowed their heads as I passed. The Bedouin, let me tell you, are a hard and pitiless race. They are wholly imbued with the spirit of the desert, harsh and repellent, and cannot act otherwise but in accordance with that spirit. Their chief delight would seem to be directing strangers to wells which they know to be dry, and even to wells which do not in fact exist and have never existed. To succour the afflicted seems to the Bedouin a monstrous aberration: their natural disposition is to finish you off and take your belongings. Yet how different, how very different, it proved to be in my case!
When I lost control of Biseita in the Wadi Fura and was pitched headlong into the sand, I thought my hour had come. The carrion crows hovered above me and I resigned myself to death in the wilderness, far from family and friends.
And as I composed myself for the final ordeal my whole career passed before my eyes as in some wondrous vision. With the hand of death clutching at my throat, it was that vision alone which eased my spirit and sustained me. All things were suddenly made crystal clear. Yes I had made mistakes, and they were not hidden from me, but my successes far outweighed them. In the scale of eternal values I would be vindicated. My decision to become the roving ambassador for our fair city had been the correct one. That above all was what cheered and comforted me and enabled me to endure. I had chosen the right course rather than the easy one. I had kept faith with destiny. In my terrible anguish that vision consoled me. I knew my pre-ordained task would be fulfilled.
Those who scoffed when I resisted their urgings to confine my duties to a narrow sphere - they would be cast down. And the mud-slingers who said I was taking long holidays at the ratepayers’ expense, and free-wheeling round the world simply to amass a personal fortune out of gifts received from high dignitaries in Rome, Milan, Ottowa, London, Warsaw, Kabul, Mecca, Medina, Jidda, Peking, Shanghai, Canton and all along the Great Wall of China - these detractors would be scattered and confounded and put to shame.
My mission was to salvage and restore the broken and blighted image of our town. Consider the disrepute into which we had fallen before I began my travels. Even the Bedouin bandit who came to my rescue in a red Toyota truck - yes even he, Abd el Shimt Bataab, porn merchant, even he had heard of us. He even believed we must be descended from a tribe of professional robbers of pilgrims - a tribe banished in ancient times by a false Emir and blood-brothers to the Bedouin. It was due entirely to this mythical Arab connection that my life was spared. (Not that it saved Sherif Fauzan’s jewelled dagger, signed by Mufaddhi, the greatest swordsmith in all Arabia; it was stolen from me as I slept, after a feast in my honour at a watering-place called Abu Markha.)
On arrival back in Jidda a most fantastic reception awaited me. Scenes of wild delirium all around. Wherever I stopped a sumptuous banquet was immediately prepared.
The story of my desert travail had gone before me. Without in any way desiring it, and indeed completely unknown to me, I had become a hero and celebrity overnight. Everywhere I went people kept rushing up to me with tears in their eyes and showering me with gifts of money and victual. “No!” I yelled, “I am not the Prophet!”. But my words were drowned in their tumultuous acclaim.
As we neared the centre of the town the crowds grew even larger and soon there were tens of thousands flocking round me. The Prince’s soldiery had to fend them off with whips. But the more bloodily the soldiers lashed out, the more fervent these zealots became. At length some live ammunition was distributed among the troops, and I was whisked away to the Royal Palace. There I was reunited with my dear wife. It seems she had abandoned all hope of ever seeing me again, and such was the shock occasioned by my sudden appearance before her, that she fell away in a swoon. My friend and colleague Bashir Kahn, who was part of the delegation, openly wept. The Mayor of Jidda, alas, was absent from the gathering: I learnt later he had been called out urgently to help quell the rioting. Indeed intermittent bursts of machine-gun fire could be heard during the whole of that never-to-be-forgotten night.
Somewhere in the courtyard, Abdul Pasha, ancient laureate of the Saudis, intoned his First and Second Hymn to the Prophet. This bold work was composed in the first instance to commemorate the arrival of our trade mission. It was now greatly expanded to take in the whole of my desert adventure and triumphal return to Jidda.
Princess Mieff, a most gifted lady, graciously undertook to render the whole of this very long poem into English. You can imagine how deeply affected I was. But judge of my feelings when she bent down and whispered that at any moment now I was to have bestowed upon me the highest honour in all Arabia. My head was spinning.
I could not think what was happening to me as I was led away, dazed and bewildered, down long meandering corridors and up huge flights of steps. I caught a glimpse of Bashir deep in business negotiations with some sheiks. I noticed too that my dear wife seemed not yet to have recovered from her little upset and was sprawled out on the floor of the courtyard with nobody paying the least attention. At last we stopped at a massive gateway which looked to be constructed out of solid gold. And I realised at once what was happening: I had been summoned to the Royal Presence.
The Prince was striding towards me, the last word in breeding, a royal dignity of head and shoulders.
“I want you to tell me everything” said the Prince, taking me by the elbow and ushering me to a couch. “You must leave out not a single detail. So far I have heard rumours merely. If half of what I have heard is true, you may rest assured we shall not be displeased.”
I did as the Prince bade me and left nothing out. By degress I came to the part about my wondrous vision in the desert when I was exalted and saw myself elect and justified in all my transactions and decisions, both public and private. I recounted every little thing I could remember, exactly as it had occurred, without embellishment or deletion. Finally I told of my deliverance at the hands of the porn bandit Abd el Shimt Bataab who, on discovering the name of my native place, hailed me as a brother of the true blood, one of a lost tribe of the Bedu, and had me escorted safely back to Jidda amidst unheard of and amazing scenes of mad joy. During the whole of my narration the Prince sat very close to me on the divan and from time to time placed a hand on my knee and in a low, croaking kind of voice kept saying something like “It is the will of Allah, it is the will of Allah”, to which I thought it prudent simply to nod my head and go on with the story.
When I had finished, the Prince took several long, deep inhalations of air and threw himself back amongst the silken cushions. He lay with his back to me for a long time. I could not think what was expected of me. I had heard stories of his delicate health.
I was beginning to wonder whether the Prince had had a seizure, an epileptic fit perhaps, for his body jerked about violently for some minutes in a most disquieting manner, and then his whole frame seemed to be convulsed, and I was in something of a quandary as to whether I should summon help.
Then, as suddenly as it had overtaken him, whatever it was, it was gone, and I found the Prince staring up at me with cold, almost malevolent eyes, as if he held me in some way responsible for what had happened.
Without a word he sprang from the divan, pulled his robes around him, lit a cigarette, and began to pace restlessly up and down.
“I must humbly beg your Royal Highnesses’s pardon” I said, “if anything I have done or any word I have uttered has been offensive to you.”
I bowed my head very low and slid onto one knee. There was a long time during which my head remained sunk low. The Prince came round to where I was kneeling and stood over me. I could feel he was to some extent mollified now, seeing me in that respectful posture.
“The Golden Sword of Mecca” said the Prince, “is never lightly bestowed, nor is the Silver Sword of Jidda granted to the unworthy.”
“I am at your feet, your Royal Highness” I said. “Show me in what way I may prove myself worthy, for I know not, being a stranger in your beautiful country, and I fear I may have erred unwittingly or in some way caused offence without intending anything of the kind.”
“This Abd el Shimt Bataab” said the Prince, “he is well known to us. A purveyor of shameless and dissolute filth, a pernicious renegade and transgressor of Shariah law. He has been condemned by the Wahhabi, which means you are not permitted to sleep with him, eat with him, converse with him or give countenance to any communication regarding him which is not couched in terms of the most bitter disparagement.”
The Prince was up so close to me that the folds of his gamboz, which he wore with superb style and dignity, ruffled the hair on my bowed head, and I became aware of a most delightful aroma enveloping me as I knelt there on his silken olive-green carpet.
“He has crossed and re-crossed the desert many times” the Prince went on, “from the mountain fastnesses of Taif to Dhahran, to Jidda, to Riyadh and even to Mecca itself, with his caravan of red Toyota trucks which contain filthy videos. I suppose you lay in his private tent? I suppose he regaled you with some films?”
I gave my head two quick little shakes, not looking up, to signify total and unreserved denial.
“There are other considerations, of course” the Prince continued. “By the code of Hammurabi the trafficking in such merchandise condemns him. But there is more. Abd el Shimt Bataab is a nomadic pastoralist who preaches against oil and settled agriculture. Wherever he appears there are disturbances and people leave their little wooden huts and once again take to the camel and the tent and go roaming the desert to evade the tax!”
Yet again I shook my head rapidly two or three times, and I gasped, and I squirmed, hoping by all this to convey to the Prince my sense of shock and outrage.
“It’s all right” said the Prince. “My Chief of Police, Gasim Fuad Bey, is hot on his trail. Abd el Shimt Bataab’s reign of savagery is near to its close. What concerns me more —” and here the Prince raised my head in both his hands and stared penetratingly into my eyes - “is you! This blood-brother connection you speak of. That’s what worries me. It may be nonsense of course. And yet - from what I’ve heard of your town and townspeople... If you are of the banished tribe of the Bedu, a tainted race, you are by nature rebellious. The high ideals of wealth and luxury, grace, breeding, culture, leave you cold. The very concept of authority and power and the law makes you boke. I could not in all honesty advise anyone to invest money in your schemes. It would be nothing but aggravation.”
My mind was racing. Clearly our rivals had stolen a march on us. Flagrant untruths had been disseminated among the sheiks. The good name of our city had been dragged through the dirt. We had been depicted as anarchists and revolutionaries out to shatter the very fabric of the State itself. These absurd calumnies had obviously reached the ears of the Prince. How was I, a long-standing member of the Labour Party, to convince his Highness of the sheer bliss I was experiencing, and the thousand and ones sensations of voluptuous joy which coursed through me, as I knelt there on his silken olive-green carpet?
After a hasty invocation to the Virgin Mother of Good Counsel, that she might lead me to say and do all the right things at that critical juncture, I began in this wise:
“Your Royal Highness, may I be permitted to attempt to rectify what I very much fear has been a gross misrepresentation of the true character and natural disposition of my people? You surely know that there are unprincipled types going about, who, for their own ends and objects, would like to see us vilified and muddied in your gracious Majesty’s esteem. No doubt they have tried to portray us as a gang of footpads and firebrands. But let me assure you the truth is very different. In all my travels it has seldom been my good fortune to meet with anything to equal the unique supineness of our national character. The nearest I got to it was among the Dahomeans on the Guinea Coast and in certain of the Witoto clans of North Western Amazonia. We are an abject people, my Prince, utterly craven and base, emasculated of all spirit and made tractable and stupid on a massive scale. Our jails are hell-holes -”
“Ah!” interposed the Prince. “I see a contradiction here. I am told your jails are overflowing. How is it, if your people are so docile, they have to be locked away in such large numbers?”
“Because” I replied, the truth blowing into my mind like the Gift of Tongues, “life on the outside is just as bad. Our wretched discards no longer care very much one way or the other. DHSS poverty kills. Those who do not actually perish in the flesh will, most infallibly and in due time, perish in spirit. Unlike your Benignant Royal Highness, we do not just chop limbs - we butcher the soul!”
“Sorcery?” inquired the Prince.
“Education” I replied. “Compulsory education. It is very important. You have to catch them young, if you see what I mean.”
“You have specialists in that work?”
“We do, we do. They are absolutely indispensable. We manufacture them in our schools and universities. Afterwards they go into the community and take jobs in the media or public relations or teaching or medicine or politics or art or anything you care to mention and go right on furthering the good work: dealing death to the human spirit and freeing us forever from the pernicious frivolity of revolt. You could take the Labour Party as a pretty good example of what I mean. Or Jimmy Reid. Or Margo MacDonald. You never saw two like that for sinking the human spirit. In drama, in literature, in art they abound, keeping the people meek, keeping the world safe for authority.”
“Yet for all that” said the Prince, fondling my hair, “some not so meek slip through. This John MacLean I’ve been hearing about. Maybe not an Abd el Shimt Bataab, but very dangerous nonetheless. How can I be sure there are not others just like him waiting to pounce? How can I be sure your people are not more cunning than abject?”
“I’m glad you brought that up” I put in quickly. “That little episode in our history only serves to illustrate my point more forcibly. When the rebel was convicted and sent to the hell-hole, the mob, if you recall, followed him to the gates of that place in their tens of thousands. And when the gates of the hell-hole were slammed behind their hero, what did the mob do? I’ll you, my Lord Prince. They scuttled off home to get their tea, in their tens of thousands, and left their hero there to rot. They just slunk off home, quietly and orderly, like the good citizens they were - back to the peeces of bread and lard, back to a khaki uniform or a bench in the munitions factory, back to redeem the alarm clocks MacLean had urged them to pawn, back to the TB and the rickets and the highest infant mortality rate this side of Calcutta!”
“Incredible” said the Prince.
“Not in the least” I went on. “Nothing could have been more natural. None of this was any hardship to them. It was MacLean that was their hardship, and we had relieved them of that. We had given them back what they most desired in their heart of hearts: the right to grovel. Now they could return, with an easy conscience, to their old obsequious ways: for to duck and bob and bow and scrape was all their love. We even took their space and cleared them out to ghettoes at the far perimeter: we ordered them out and they went, like frightened sheep, so that developers could make a bundle. What fervour of subservience was there!”
“In such an uncouth race” mused the Prince, “I’d have expected bombs.”
“Bombs!” I exlaimed, or rather spluttered, my head muffled in the Prince’s costly robes. “Did you say bombs?”
“Yes” said the Prince airily, “bombs. Government buildings going up in smoke. Policemen stretched out dead in the street.”
Such was the consternation engendered in me by these last remarks I was struck dumb. I suddenly drew back from him and felt myself trembling from top to toe as I knelt there. For a moment I thought I was about to vomit.
Then, in a wonderfully soothing voice, the Prince said: “It is nothing, my little friend. Nothing. What have we to fear? We are leaders of the world, but safe here in the Palace of the Prince.”
(Perhaps I should advert here to the fact that, from this moment onwards the Prince used this mode of address when we were en tete-a-tete together, but somehow it managed to get out and very soon the fawning sheiks, who seethed with envy on account of my position of influence with his Royal Highness, and all the numerous Palace retainers, were referring to me as “the Prince’s little friend” which pleased me mightily and endowed our trade mission with much glamour and prestige.)
“My dear Prince,” I resumed, once I had collected myself, “you do our dear old proletariat a grievous wrong. The only blood they’ve ever spilt is their own.”
“A neat solution” said the Prince.
“Very neat” I added quickly. “And what’s more, you can rely on the Labour Party to keep it neat. That’s what we’re here for. We are against all forms of simplistic (that is to say direct and effective) action - especially when perpetrated for political or economic gain. We don’t mind people protesting about dog shit on the pavement. That is perfectly proper and democratic. Canine control is a legitimate issue. To put it in a nutshell, your Royal Highness: We have the people by the balls! Just trust us. If Capitalism goes down the stank, the Labour Party goes with it. If privilege is swept away, how are we to get ourselves knighthoods and OBEs, amass fortunes, become landlords and send our children to private schools? It doesn’t bear thinking about. All we ask is a little trust. Look at it this way: we, the Labour Party, speak for the people. What is the result? The people stay dumb. We act for the people: and the people stay impotent. We think for the people: and the people stay children. The system is fool-proof.”
When I had said these things the Prince once again took my head in both his hands and drew me close to his person.
“You have spoken well” said the Prince, “and your words have pleased us. Henceforth we shall look kindly upon you and upon your mission. Your people have found favour in our eyes, and they shall be to us even as our own, for verily your people and my people have much in common.”
At that moment I underwent a most beautiful experience. It was indeed as if all the cares of the world, and all the toilsome burdens of office, had been lifted clean off my shoulders. It was as if all the baffling perplexities of life were dissolved in that moment of languorous ease. A secret voluptuous tremor passed through me, and with it a feeling of the most intense, the most sublime gratification.
Kneeling there I bethought me of the Wanderer in Holy Scripture who, at his journey’s end, exclaims: O yea, it is good to be here! I have travelled too long in strange lands. In a word, I found myself in a state of delirious contentment: as if I had eaten of the lotus flower and time and the world had faded from my ken and I and my Calypso were one!
O yea, I have wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, and endured the unendurable for our fair city, but there were moments, and this was one of them, when the reward was of such magnitude as to make all my pains and travail seem as nothing.
I listened to the interminable drone of the good Abdul Pasha who was closetted nearby, on a stool, in the Prince’s private elevator, as he intoned the First and Second Hymn to the Prophet.
All night the machine guns chattered away and one heard the odd shriek and cry of pain coming up from the street. Doubtless Abd el Shimt Bataab was now captured, and the chief of police, Gasim Fuad Bey, would be pouring the wealth of Arabia, in boiling little driblets, down the rebel’s throat.
At that moment I was under a spell which nothing could break.
Towards morning two deaf and dumb eunuchs fetched us the cardamon-flavoured coffee in a brass pot with a long spout. The playful Prince lounged at his ease beside me, and with charming and astonishing eclat blew smoke rings into the air.
I fell to thinking of all I had come through to reach the citadel. The days and nights I battled through the simoom, the snake bite at the Wadi Itm, the fever, the thirst - and here at last my reward. I thought of the trust that had been placed in me by merchant bankers and high-grade entrepreneurs at home. And I was easy in the conscience, knowing I had faced my obligations in their totality and discharged my functions as Provost/Ambassador with zeal right to the end.
Suddenly the Prince took a powerful grip on my arm just above the elbow. “My little friend” he said, “let me prophesy. I see a time coming, and that time not far off, when your city will become one of the great capitals of the world. Business confidence will be restored and high finance will flourish. There will be huge redevelopments. I see sun-tanned men in Cadillacs coming from the east and west to see wonders of high art and extravagant culture. And they will put money in your purse till your purse bulges and overflows. And you shall be a city of tycoons and whizz-kids and high rollers.”
“That’s it!” I shouted. “That’s it! That’s what we want!”
“But the dead ones” the Prince continued, “the ones you have thrust from your bosom, they shall be nowhere in sight. They shall neither see, nor touch, nor even smell this money. Nor shall they benefit from it in any way whatsoever, unless, perhaps, as the coolie benefits from the burden strapped to his back.”
O yea, it is good to be here.