Both cities featuring prominently in all three of my stories, Durra Durra, The Merry Millionaire and Pomp and Circumstance, Bath, I’ve known since my childhood, Cairo, I’ve yet to see. As a result, it was fairly easy to navigate my characters around the former, Somerset city. Cairo, however, was an entirely different matter.
The street names of Bath remain unaltered since John Wood, senior and his son first laid out its conception in the mid eighteenth century, since the popularity of Bath as a spa town had grown so great, new streets and houses were needed to accommodate its fast growing population.
As a child, my family always took our summer holiday in Bath, since my mother’s mum, dad and two sisters lived in the city. I recall always being ribbed by boys at school, who, when I said I was going to Bath for my holiday, would taunt me about my lack of cleanliness, inferring I only had one bath a year. Although I could probably show you around Bath with ease even to this day, when writing my stories it was essential I took my characters down the correct street, up the right hill or along the correct passage, or alleyway.
Therefore, referring to a map of Bath was essential.
In the case of Cairo, however, I was faced with entirely different issues.
After the 1952 rebellion, when King Farouk was ousted from the throne of Egypt, the leadership of the country changed to a presidency, the appearance of the Cairo street map changed enormously. President Nasser wished the imperialist reference to Egypt’s past be eliminated, in the same way several Pharaohs did to their predecessors during Egypt’s ancient past. Street names changed, and squares and bridges became commemorated to significant dates during the revolution.
Nonetheless, since the protagonists in my novel, The Merry Millionaire, Ronald Fry, and his protégé, Mervyn Watson, spent two months in Egypt; the majority of the time in Cairo, and in 1937, it was important that, as they moved about the city, they went along the correct streets, crossed the right squares and used the right bridges.
It was here then that I was blessed to find a detailed map of Cairo dated 1933, as a result, I could move my characters about with the confidence they were on the right road, square or bridge.