14 - Moving On

Dynamite sent this copy of Life from America
- whose side were the Americans on?

The memories of Cleopatra Stewart, Company Wife to Spencer Stewart, mother of Robin and Richard and the impressions of her seven year old daughter Robin.

Ahmadi, Kuwait, June 1967

During the war we were isolated in Ahmadi - not even Clara drove over from Kuwait town, saying she and Delbert were too busy at the Embassy. His stepson Boyd thrived in the excitement of managing the Artemisia Club. 

I always said the war would be a minor thing. It ended on the 10th June - having started on the 5th. Incredible. Six days. The Israelis had destroyed hundreds of planes on the ground and captured enormous swathes of ground. 

Gloria-Jane said,

‘How unlike what we and our parents lived through – more like six years!’

Spencer's Arab colleagues were stunned,

'There's relief that it's over, that there's a kind of stability again, but so much pain.'

We were to stay in Kuwait for the summer, and Richard would come out from school. I'd been so busy looking after the Refugee Women, and had loved knowing that Spencer appreciated what I had been doing. Now it was all over he just wanted to talk about work. 

'Quite a few Arabs in the refinery are on strike.'

I said, 'It won't last,' and it didn't. 

'Peggy, the refinery's surrounded by Kuwaiti soldiers who seem to think the British might blow it up.' 

'They'll go away.'

'There's an oil embargo but it doesn't seem to affect Kuwait.'

'That's good.'

'People think the British and Americans are against the Arabs.'

'Have you seen the cover of Life magazine?'

'What shall I do, Spencer?' He looked at me. 'Now the war's over? I feel invincible. I could do anything.'

'Something serious Peggy – committees, that type of thing, you know, like Sylvia Simpson and Cynthia Alderton?'

'I already do the Deanna Tyson Society, we sent the bishop off last time with ever so much money.'

The bishop took the money because the Kuwait government, quite rightly, didn't feel their people needed charity. 

'Spencer, what’s important is doing what you're good at. And Delbert and Clara and the Refugee Women have proved that I'm good at making people happy.'

Yes, I'd sort things out between Genevieve and Boyd. I had started teaching her to swim, so she would spend more time at the Club. But she wasn't sure. She didn't like his businessman look at the Club, and she'd loathed his sexy medieval outfit.

‘What kind of man wears a lace-up waistcoat?’ she exclaimed as she finished a lap of the pool. I looked down at her from the side, trying not to let the ash from my cigarette fall on her. 

‘Most of the men were wearing tights, Genevieve.’

‘But some of them looked great in tights. Did you see Dynamite’s legs?’

She pushed off for another lap.

I didn't want to think about Dynamite, he had left Kuwait anyway, but now I knew he wanted me and not Genevieve, I had to protect her. I walked along beside her. 

‘He’s just a fly-by-night Genevieve, you need someone more stable, someone who’ll be here for you. Of course Dynamite does look good, and when Gloria-Jane saw him on that diving board... Well, you know what Gloria-Jane’s like, especially when Melvin’s facial hair is in.’

To my surprise, Genevieve asked, treading water,

‘How far would you and Gloria-Jane go? As far as adultery?’

She had some difficulty even saying the word. I laughed and told her Gloria-Jane wasn't my type. 

‘Cleo, you're like a mother to me.’

‘I was 14 when you were born!’

I was indignant. So was Genevieve, about the adultery.

We stared it out, and then I forced a laugh.

‘Oh heavens, Genevieve, how ridiculous. You don't need to be so protective of Spencer. He’s not a total angel.’

I called Boyd over to admire Genevieve's swimming progress. But he was gazing at me. I hadn't made any effort – calf-length pale pink trousers, yellow belt and a soft old pale green shirt tied above my waist, my hair protected in a flowery cotton scarf. I stubbed out my Rothmans in a plant pot.  

‘Isn't Genevieve adorable?’

‘Well, yes. Yes, she’s charming. Yes. Cleo, I was wondering where you got your necklace.’

I realised that as usual I had my hand at my throat, rubbing the sails of the dhow.

'Gloria-Jane got it from the gold souk in Kuwait town. Sometimes I think I'm going to polish it away!'

I giggled pointlessly.

'It's my only gold, apart from my wedding ring.'

'Could you come with me to the gold souk? I don’t trust my taste.'

'I'm shopping in town with Genevieve and Gloria-Jane next Thursday; we'll meet you there.'

'Oh no. Just you.'

Clearly he wanted to get something for Genevieve's birthday the following week.

'Heavens, how exciting.'

'I certainly hope so.'

He made his voice go chocolaty. Hilarious. I wondered how Spencer would sound doing that. Genevieve climbed out and joined us on the terrace, fiddling with her hair, which was beginning to straggle, so I lent her my cotton scarf and simply pinned mine back. Must have looked rather odd, but then there was no-one I needed to impress. 

I swim underwater. We’ve got a film of me when I was little and my brother counted the frames and I’m under for 80 frames and up for 5 for a breath. My brother thinks it’s really funny. I can swim nearly a whole length under. I go right down to the bottom and swim just above it, it’s really deep in the deep end. I swim with my eyes open – the water is soft and clear. I bring up things I find, hairbands and clips and money and leave them on the side. It’s so quiet down there in the deep end, you can hear your ears but nothing else. I turn upside down and look through the water to the sky. The people swimming above mostly move in a stop-start way. I’m more like a mermaid or a water snake, smooth through the water. In the shallow end it’s much busier and if sometimes I bump into people and frighten them. I try to swim round them in curves. I would prefer not to go into the shallow end but it’s important to turn against the end of the pool. In the shallow end you hear the noise, muffled and mysterious, booming down to you, of people talking. They stand and talk. Sometimes I understand what they’re saying, but I don’t try to. It’s my own world. I don't have to forget anything. Don't have to forget Vaughn's parents not being his parents. Don't have to forget the rape thing. Don't have to forget the man in Mummy's bathroom. I come up for air before I get right into the shallow end so that I don’t have to come up when I’m where the people are. My blue cool sun filled life under water.

'It's sad the souk is so modern,' I said as Boyd drove us into Kuwait town.


'Gold should be about romance, shouldn’t it?  The mud walls, the little streets weaving in and out, the colour, the noise, it must have been wonderful. Now it’s tarmac and concrete and glass and marble. All these hard surfaces and each shop separate from the next. Air conditioning and closed doors. Cars everywhere, the roads getting bigger and bigger.'

'Have you been to the souk in Marrakesh?'

'No, but it sounds wonderful.'

'Nightmare. It's unsanitary, you get lost, always someone following you. Give me modernity every time.'

'Ahmadi,'I said, 'that's new, so the clubs and the life there should be modern, like the USA in the desert, or a new British colony, but Kuwait town was here before the oil. Like the area where the dhows are made, they moved it out of the central quayside so you don’t find it unless you look. When I took the children there, they...'

I was boring him.

'Now, isn't jewellery a more interesting subject for a beautiful woman than history? I'm not saying who it's for.' (Chocolaty voice). 'Just help me find the best thing here.'

I thought one of the animals – a camel, a cat – or a G in a gold circle would be right for Genevieve. But Boyd would prefer something abstract, elegantWe were a very welcome sight as we moved from shop to shop, greeted with choruses of offers of bargains and tea, urged to sit, to stay, to browse. 

‘Sorry to be so blunt, Boyd, but how much...?’

‘The sky’s pretty much the limit.’

I left the cabinets of little pendants and turned to the necklaces  - spectacular golden hexagons and circles and lozenges linked into heavy chokers. I tried them on, Boyd fastening them when the clasps were fiddly and arranging them so they fell just right. I found it in the smallest shop of all, the gold quite dark and the hexagons an intricate shape which looked solid from a distance. It was too heavy on me, but on Genevieve it would be perfect.

‘It’s a Cleopatra-style choker, like Elizabeth Taylor in the film.’

Lucky old Genevieve.

While Boyd negotiated over the price I sipped hot sweet tea and pretended not to hear, but when he opened his briefcase I spotted the headscarf I'd lent to Genevieve at the Club, neatly folded. He was carrying round bits of material just because they'd been on her head. Heavens. I was SO good at matchmaking. 


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