McGregor of the Suez Canal - probably the most famous of bum boatman

During a homebound passage through the Suez canal in 1953, I had been hoping to see a bum boatman about whom I had heard a lot, an Egyptian who called himself 'Jock' Macgregor (spelling maybe McGregor). I was a cadet in the Merchant Navy and learned from the crew that he claimed he was the son of a Scotsman, yet he looked decidedly Arabic and his complexion was close to that of the ace of spades. He was known as such to countless British seamen and passengers who passed through Port Said from about the late 1930s (?) onwards at least until the 1960s, being an entertainingly humorous salesman. He dealt in all manner of exotic souvenirs and goods, from carpets to leather pouffes, Egyptian ikons and decorated boxes, dirty postcards, pith helmets, possibly Spanish fly, and maybe even shamanic blood-letting bowls (who knows what they were). One could sometimes barter ships'tobacco for goods.

His enduring fame came from the many references he used to show prospective buyers, having collected masses of them from customers through the decades (whether satisfied or not, whether joking or serious). Neatly all of them called him such things as a swindling scoundrel ***, with many outrageous adjectives attached. He was most successful and his nautical fame came and flourished. Though unable to read, he had soon come to understand what they had written and showed the worst samples of these colourful, saucy and racist introductions to prospective buyers. The Third Officer told me Macgregor even wore a kilt on occasion, so I watched from him among the bumboats that threw their grappling lines as soon as the ship lost enough way. (Eventually he did come to our ship, but without Scottish apparel, and I bought a fine pair of leather sandals from him).


Suez salesmen from boats
Suez canal boat salesmen approach a vessel

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