2016-05-31 Tue


My mother’s birthday. Sixty years ago today the New Australia pulled into Port Said on its way towards the Suez Canal. Our ship was the last passenger ship through the canal, or the last migrant ship, or something like that. The Suez Crisis was coming to a head.

I had no inkling of this, but I do remember the brown-skinned boys swimming in the harbour below the ship, yelling at the passengers to throw coins into the water.

The boys would swim off and retrieve the coins, or so I thought.

Trickery ran amok on both sides:

(1) I learned later in life that metal coins do not plummet to the bottom like a rock; they shilly-shally relatively slowly and therefore are easier to grab than you might think.

(2) The little boys (young men?) ignored Pennies and Half-Pennies. They made it clear by their actions that they would dive after silver currency – Sixpence, a Shilling, a Florin or a Half-Crown

(3) Naughty men on our ship would take a half-penny and wrap it in cigarette box aluminum foil and then toss the coin to the outer reaches of the pool of boys. The boy who retrieved it would splutter in disgust at the trick on finding that he had dived for a half-penny and some garbage.

I suspect now that the boys made what would be to them a decent bit of usable cash from this business. I suspect that a florin would buy a great deal of food there at that time.