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Come across our old friend Mahmud and his camel, Almaz, Mahmud tells us that he has been manning this observation post for nine or ten years, but nothing has happened and he hasn’t seen anyone, so there’s nothing to report, except, he adds, that, after a few years of staring across the desert, he became blind.  Juan asks him if he would like to be replaced, Mahmud says that Juan will have to speak louder as the sandstorms and hot winds have damaged his hearing.  Juan shouts the question again, several times, when Mahmud gets it, he replies that he is perfectly happy to stay here, at least for another few years, as, if anything did happen, he would not want to miss it.  Juan asks Mahmud if he ever gets lonely, but Mahmud explains that he taught Almaz to play chess, which keeps his wits sharp and, and they play chess until the moon rises, the sand dunes glint silver and rivers of stars flow over the arc of the desert.

I wonder if Mahmud has been doing this job for too long.  Juan shouts that, even though Mahmud is blind and deaf, if something did happen, he would be able to smell it happening, but Mahmud says that the scorching desert heat dried up his nasal passages and he cannot smell anything at all.  I shout that he is lucky, as his camel stinks, but Juan, trying to be positive, yells that, if anything happened, at least Mahmud could feel it, but Mahmud says that, after years of exposure to the desert sun and the rasping of millions of storm-flung grains of sand, his skin is so damaged that he can’t feel a thing.  Mahmud is one of our top agents and it would not be professional of me to ask him what he is expecting to happen or how he is going to know if it happens or, indeed, if it might not have happened already. Juan offers Mahmud some Special Reserve but Mahmud says that the malt would sear his taste buds and, as the sense of taste is the only sense he has left, he declines the offer.

After offering a few toasts to Mahmud’s success, we yell at him that it has been a lot of fun, but that we are draffishly behind schedule and, promising to come back and visit him in a few years time, we head on into the great unknown, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary