A SHORT BUT POIGNANT BIOGRAPHY
They had some strange effects there, sir, I can tell you! But dustbowls weren't in it. Why, on a bad day even the punkahs could set a sandstorm going... that was your new-fangled chaos theory in practice, I say, eh? By the way, the dust is finer there because people have been around to walk about on pilgrimages etc. across the earth, rocks and gravel so much longer than anywhere else in the world, grinding it all down to the finest of grains possible. Well, what with that and all the flies and fleas, old Poncy went clean off his chomp and drank a pint of quinine. Then he galloped off braying and shouting Accha! and Shabaz! on his humped mount and went clean through the State Governor's new greenhouse... without opening the doors, I might add. Ho! Ho! The greenhouse effect, I tell you!
On a more nostalgic note, I remember old Camel Poncy - as he came to be known - from his days as acting C.O. of the Quartermaster Brigade. Stiffest blithering upper lip in the whole service... and to tell the truth he had almost no lower lip to speak of... or to speak with for that matter. No, his elocution lacked diction, you might say. Still, I couldn't help feeling akin to him in his more brilliant moments, such as when he was giving a deadly imitation after dinner of the pompous Governor General falling off his horse and the very man walked in and caught him red-handed and red-faced. They put him on sentry duty at the Red Fort to cool off for a week or two and that took some of the shine off him. It was iced gin and tonic weather all the year round in those parts.
Obviously, that was before he let that consignment of regimental supplies fall into enemy hands... you see, Pathan raiders from across the border killed our guards and took it off very smartly in the belief, apparently, that it was our Maxim gun ammo. But as it turned out it was all just regimental stores; tins of bread-and-butter pudding and roly-poly, dried steak-and-kidney pie and that sort of thing. But the point at the Court Martial was that Ponsonby must have been slack on disciplining his men because he was too busily obsessed with the social welfare of his camels. Y'see, the climate had apparently got right to him and he had taken to crooning to them when they were on heat. He was demoted to Lieutenant again.
It didn't help, I might tell you, that he had turned up at the Cummerbund Club on Lady's Night wearing a dashed odd gun-helmet... as patented in 1917 by a Mr. Alfred Bacon Pratt, Ponsonby's previous aide-de-camp. The helmet was designed for the camel rider, looked like a cross between a topee and an Imperial spiked helmet but with a built-in gun, the barrel pointing forward from just above the forehead and the sights hanging down in front of his eyes, suspended by a carefully-adjusted set of wires. The trigger was worked by blowing through a hollow tube held in the side of the mouth like a cigar.
Well, he had a few pink gins and then one of the chaps irked him, scoffing at it as a 'madcap invention'. That hurt old Camel Poncy's pride because he swivelled round on the bar stool there and then and discharged the apparatus right into the Regimental Silverware and Glass cabinet, by Jove! The recoil blew him off balance and snapped his head backwards across the bar to shatter a statuette of the Commanding Officer's sister (the ugly one, that is... it had been presented to the bar reliquary one drunken night by the C.O. in person and had thereafter to be prominently displayed).
The only thing High Command could think of to do with him was to pack him off on a four-year stretch, toasting on the dry and rabid plains near Secunderabad with his old Camel Training Corps again. This was attached to the 1st Heavy-Armoured Cash Register Division. I don't know whether it was the riders or the camels they were training, mind you. Of course, Poncy was wholly barmy at the end. He was always galloping his Hindi camel corps troops three times round itself or around any temples, troops of holy monkeys or heaps of dried cow dung they came across.
There it was that poor old Camel Poncy gradually succumbed to the beverages... not drinks in any ordinary sense, mind you. Not tea, not even sundowners. Oh no... excessive amounts of boiled water, y'see. A gallon of it was his 'stirrup cup', always taken before mounting for the morning's ride. They say that some babu in his corps convinced him of the idea of karma and that people can have been different animals in a previous existence. Well, Poncy had always been very keen on his particular job and he took to pondering why he had ended up in the camel corps. He came to believe he was a reborn camel himself and, in the hot weather one year when the monsoon was damned, damned late, he took to drinking huge amounts of water before sun-up once a fortnight. He revelled in it, though. He'd even joke about himself sometimes saying "If Ah wussn't a camel, then Ah must'haf been an ass".
Sad story, though, chaps. The last I heard of Ponsonby was that he'd been sighted in Bournemouth pushing a large stuffed and mounted camel on wheels at the local gymkanha during his lengthy residence in forced retirement lodged at a refined institution. Oddly enough, believe it or not, the place was called the Glass-House Retreat Hostel.