This is the only explanation I can think of for the train that took us from Damascus to Amman - the so-called International Train. This is a collection of ex-Budapest Metro carriages with their doors jammed permanently open, and pulled by an old Romanian diesel. Most of the passengers are Syrian secret policemen and it takes 10 hours to complete a 200-mile trip.
Mind you, Chemin de Fer de Syrie is not the only Arab organisation which operated by the Dadaist Manifesto rather than the rules and regulations as laid down by Companies House. Witness, for example, the travels of my hats.
To prepare for this journey, because I was visiting an area that is both the cradle of our very civilisation and now a contemporary hotspot of gigantic geopolitical significance, I of course spent most of my time thinking about what I was going to wear on camera. Finally, I decided on a lightweight tropical gaberdine suit in a sort of stone colour, a three-button, grey Gap top, some very nice suede walking boots from K Shoes and, literally to top the whole ensemble off, a jaunty canvas hat with just the cutest turned-up brim, rather like you might see a trained bear riding a trike in a circus wearing (except you would not go and see anything so barbaric, I hope).
This hat was one of four in different colours that I had bought in Mallorca. I took two of these hats with me but they got left at the Royal Jordanian check-in desk at Heathrow, so I arrived hatless in Gaza - or near there, anyway. Frantic phone calls to England resulted in my two spare hats and the original hats (which had turned up at Lost Property) all being express- parcelled to arrive the next day in Damascus. Except they didn't.
You see, DHL, Fed-Ex and the rest do not operate in Syria; you have to use a local company instead. So the result was the next we heard of the hats was that they were in Dubai and were planning to stay there for a while as the next day was a Friday (the Arab Sabbath) and the day after that was Islamic New Year's Day.
It feels weird having a Sunday on a Friday, though interestingly - rather like Australians having roast turkey in 100-degree heat on Christmas Day - Arabs have a meal of roast beef and soggy vegetables and then fall asleep in front of the football on the telly after they get back from the mosque on a Friday.
While they were in Dubai, my hats went on a Jeep safari to Wadi Hatta and took a half-day excursion to the Jemeira Mosque.
I told the hats to meet me in Damascus. They went to Aleppo and spent an action-packed few days staying at the historic Baron Hotel and visiting the world-renowned Citadel. We finally all met up in Amman, Jordan.
Actually a lot of my possessions have been to places I haven't. As a frequent international flyer, my baggage has often gone spinning off around the world on its own. When I went to Sydney, my Samsonite went to Hawaii. When I returned from America, my clothes decided to make a weekend of it in Barcelona, and while I got home safely from New Zealand, my suitcase decided to make a new life for itself in Bangkok, where it married a go-go dancer and now runs a bar in Patpong Road.
My mobile phone has been to Slough and back by itself. It happened like this: my wife and I have been walking along the River Thames in day stages.
On this particular day, we got a bus to a pub called the Bells of Ouzeley near Old Windsor. A minute after I got off the bus, I realised I had left my mobile phone on the seat. I went into a complete flap, but my wife suggested calmly that we just ring my phone from a pay phone. After a while the driver, hearing his bus ringing, managed to stop in a layby and find out what the noise was. He said he was going to Slough but he would be back past the pub in two hours.
So we waited at the stop until the bus came over the horizon, with my Nokia 101 sitting in the front seat looking rather dazed. What had it seen? Of all it had witnessed, which humanity would never see, it brought no account.Reuse content