I happened to mention, in passing, that I had to go to Egypt for a few days, and mother said she thought she might come along as she'd never seen those pointed things and thought it was about time she did.
"The Pyramids?" I suggested.
"Of course the Pyramids," she said. "I certainly don't need to see those other pointed things, do I? We've got one right here in London, haven't we? Used to belong to Cleopatra."
"Obelisks?" I asked.
"You're so clever" said mother, and started to pack.
I wasn't sure that this was all that terrific an idea. Looking at Pyramids and obelisks and tombs involves a certain amount of walking, which was something mother found troublesome. Ever since her accident, that is.
She'd been an actress for most of her life until that fateful day when, appearing in a production of "The Curse of the Werewolf" at the Basingstoke Repertory Theater she'd fallen off the plaster mountain and broken her hip. I pointed out that a game leg might slow down her sightseeing a bit but she brushed me aside.
"I can always sit down," she said. "I'm sure they have places in Egypt where you can sit down."
They do. One of them is the Hilton Hotel in Cairo. I like Hilton Hotels. Little slices of America all over the world; you know what you're going to get for your money. The faucets deliver the water at the correct temperature, the rooms are clean and comfortable and you can get a hamburger whenever you want one. Mother thought it was pretty nice, too.
I found her in the American Express office in the hotel lobby. She was telling the pretty Egyptian girl behind the counter all about Egypt.
"And the Pyramids, you know, are 2,000 years old."
The girl smiled politely.
"Five thousand, in fact," she said.
"Are you sure?" asked mother, in the tone of one who has serious doubts about the comprehensiveness of the Egyptian educational system.
I pushed myself forward.
"Five, mother. At least five."
Mother beamed. She knew where I'd been to school.
"You're so clever," she said, then turned to the girl. "Well, we'd like to see them, please. And anything else of interest."
The girl smiled. "There's the Sphinx."
"That'll do nicely," said mother.
The bus was very smart. It had "American Express" painted on the side. Mother, with some dramatic flourishes of her cane, negotiated the steps and we settled into the front seat. The front seat was a mistake. In fact, any seat was a mistake.
Cairo traffic moves very fast. Very fast indeed. A determined lawlessness rules the road. Stop signs are there to be ignored. If you dare to come to a halt at a red light, the drivers caught behind you will, as one man did, lean on their horns and shout rude things at you.
This, for a nervous visitor, is unsettling. The authorities obviously have tried to contain this antisocial behavior by placing a policeman at each intersection. These poor men seem unsure of their duties but fill the time by smiling graciously into the middle distance while making small, meaningless gestures at the traffic thundering by.
"Aren't we going fast?" said mother. "And why have you got your eyes shut?"
After a while the noise of the city faded behind us. The bus stopped lurching back and forth and settled down to a steady 80 m.p.h., allowing me to regain sufficient courage to open my eyes and take a peek out of the window.
In the distance the Pyramids loomed. Not many things in this life loom, but the Pyramids do. Their size almost defies description. Forget the Sears building or the Empire State or any proposed edifice from the office of Donald Trump. There's not a structure in the world that can touch them for sheer monumental grandeur. We are talking big .
Standing in the shadow of King Khufu's ego, your eye is incapable of encompassing the whole. You can't see the summit, you can't determine where the corners turn--in fact, all you can really make out are the vast, two-ton-and-up blocks of ocher stone that terrace up like a giant's staircase.
"I'm not climbing up that ," said mother.
I pointed out the sign that told us, in 12 languages, including English, that she wasn't allowed to anyway.
"Thank God for that," she said. "Now I think I ought to sit down somewhere."
Hoisting mother onto one of the lowest of the two-ton stones was more than I could handle, so we looked around for something smaller on which she could perch.
Fifty feet away, across scorching, broken ground, was a man with a camel. He was grinning encouragingly in our direction.
"I could sit on that," said mother.
We picked our way over what remains of King Khufu's personal cemetery. Close up, the camel looked bigger than he had from 50 feet away and not nearly as friendly as his owner.
Noting our apprehension, the man tugged on the halter. The camel groaned, buckled its knees and settled slowly onto its stomach. Mother shook her head.
"I don't think I want to sit on it after all," she said.
"Is OK. Quite safe. He very nice," said the man.
"Oh," said mother. "Well, then, perhaps I could just lean up against it?"