Said & Done: Old joke inspires camel contemplation

  • Though Paul Seamans doesn’t have personal experience with camels, some doggerel and Mark Twain quotes can help explain a camel’s nature. Courtesy photo/Creative Commons


Published: 11/9/2018 3:00:29 PM

I have no idea why anybody ought to believe the story within an often recited joke. I first heard it a long time ago, and it has stuck with me for many years.

It seems that a British Army officer, a camel corps recruit, had taken his camels on an extended desert maneuver. During the trek, several of the beasts had died for want of water.

Returning to base, the young Englishman complained that his dromedaries hadn’t lived up to their billing. They had run out of steam days before they accomplished their mission.

“Did you brick ’em?” his sergeant asked. His subordinate had never heard of “bricking camels.”

“Lad,” the sergeant said, “You keep your eye on those animals while they’re drinking. Just about the time you think they’ve drunk their fill, walk up behind them with a brick in each hand. Take aim with their tail between the bricks and ‘whack!’ When they feel that, they’ll suck up enough water to last ’em another week or so. That’s where you went wrong, soldier. You didn’t brick your camels!”

It was not the camel’s tail that suffered the punishment, but rather nearby anatomy that would be crude to mention in a family newspaper. Ouch!

Aside from this joke, my experiences with camels have come by way of Literary Safari. My Sahara oases have never been more than curling up in a bed with a good book to read.

There are two kinds of camels, each with its own description and name. The camel that advertises cigarettes is one-humped, called a dromedary; the other, a two-humper called a bactrian, would suck up water from the river.

Some doggerel I once memorized might help explain a camel’s nature.

“Across the sands of Syria — or possibly Algeria —

in some benighted neighborhood of barrenness and drouth,

There came the prophet Samuel upon the camel — the only cam-u-el.

A bumpy, grumpy quadruped of discontented mouth.

The atmosphere was glutinous, the camel was mutinous.

He dumped his pack from off his back

With horrid grunts and squeals.

He made the desert hideous with strategy perfidious.

He tied his neck in curlicues,

He kicked his paddy heels.”

In his book, “Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain asserts that “when a camel is down on all his knees, flat on his breast to receive his load, he looks something like a goose swimming, and when he is upright he looks like an ostrich with an extra set of legs.”

Twain had limited, but enough experience with camels. He claimed that a camel “would eat a tombstone if they could bite it. ... I suppose it would be a real treat to a camel to have a keg of nails for supper.”

On his Egyptian trip, Twain preferred a mule or a horse to a camel. He is an authority we can go with.

Paul Seamans is a permanent resident of the Charlene Manor nursing home. Some of his columns have been previously published.

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