I never liked The Levant Trilogy, Olivia Manning’s series of three novels about Guy and Harriet Pringle, who fled the fall of Greece to land up in Cairo during World War II. I found her characters thoroughly irritating and self-absorbed. Given that one of the two main characters was based on herself, I’m sure this isn’t how Manning intended them to come across. But then Manning was described by her biographer as holding an “uncontainable grudge against the world” and seems like a particularly unattractive character, too.
Despite my dislike, I recently bought the three books that make up the trilogy again when I saw them in a secondhand bookshop, not because I want to read them again but because of the beautiful covers that marry sphinxes, pyramids and temples with barrage balloons, search lights and tanks in an almost art deco fashion.
The Levant Trilogy is preceded by The Balkan Trilogy, which covers the Pringles’ time in Greece. I also love the covers that Penguin gave its paperback editions of these books and the way they join together to form a whole image.
Marleen de Meyer of the University of Leuven and the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo emailed this week to draw my attention to a bit of graffiti she’d found in a Giza tomb. It reads ‘1860 S. Shepheard Eathorpe’. This has to be the work of the Samuel Shepheard, founder of Shepheard’s hotel, Cairo. Eathorpe is the address of his home in England, which he departed Egypt for in 1860. This defacing of a monument must have been one of Shepheard’s last (and least welcome) contributions to Egypt before retiring.
The tomb, says Marleen, is G6020 and belongs to a man named Iymery; it’s located in the cemetery field to the west of Khufu’s pyramid. It is published in Kent Weeks’ Mastabas of Cemetery G6000 (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1994). The photos here are courtesy of Marleen.
No, not the British fashion designer, the other one, the archivist at Thomas Cook. He’s just been in touch with the sad news that after 23 years he has been made redundant. With his departure the archive will likely be much less accessible than before, not least because Paul is the only person who knows what’s in it. The Thomas Cook Archive is a wonderful thing, an extensive repository of the history of tourism, the equal of which I doubt exists anywhere in the world. At the company headquarters in Peterborough, north of London, from his desk just off a corridor (itself an indication of the way things were going), Paul has presided over a storeroom absolutely stuffed with journals, letters, diaries, contracts, posters, tickets, plans and schedules, not to mention crockery and cutlery, uniforms, an ancient Egyptian statuette (once used as a doorstop) and much, much more. Paul made sure all this was accessible to historians, researchers and authors from around the world, myself included. There is a lot of material in the archive that relates to Egypt and my two books, Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile, would not have been written without Paul’s help.
The archive is currently closed and while it will re-open at the beginning of July, after Paul’s departure in June, there are no plans to appoint a professional archivist as Paul’s successor. The archives will be managed for the foreseeable future by internal marketing staff, which means it can only be a matter of time before the whole lot is sold off.