It was a cold rainy day in November 1973, one that I will never forget. As an 11-year-old boy I had the day off school so that my father could take me to the dentist. I remember sitting in the waiting room on a rickety red chair fumbling through the pile of old magazines on an adjacent table. I even remember reading an article on the rules of American Football and another about Bobby and Jackie Charlton growing up in the North-East of England. Shortly afterwards a slate grey rubber mask was placed over my mouth, the smell of gas hit my nostrils and seconds later I was out of it. I awoke to the news that I had had five teeth extracted, there was blood all over my shirt and I felt – and was – physically sick many times over the next day or two.
I made a vow to myself that day that I would look after my teeth every day for the rest of my life so that I would never have to go through anything like that again. It is to my eternal shame that I stuck to that promise for the next 42 years. Regular and effective brushing and the use of mouthwash certainly helped and in all that time I barely suffered from any kind of toothache. 42 years does however take its toll and I had been aware for a long time that a trip to the dentist would one day be inevitable; a few years ago I walked past my local private dentist, stood at the entrance thinking about entering and then completely bottled it.
Two months ago part of a tooth simply fell off, a week later a quarter of one of my wisdom teeth also crumbled away and I was getting a lot of pain down the right-hand side of my face; something had to be done about it so I plucked up courage and made an appointment at the very same dentist which I had almost visited years earlier.
I barely slept the night before my first examination but when I did, I went from nightmare to nightmare; the following morning I had even remembered them all and wrote them down, these are not made up for dramatic effect!
I was introduced to my dentist and it turned out to be Jimmy Carr – I was his first appointment since he had changed his career from comedy to dentistry.
I was frogmarched to a firm of solicitors to sign a disclaimer in case anything went wrong with my dental treatment; the firm turned out to be taxicab office in the car park behind my local chip shop.
In one dream a grey T-shirt I had been wearing was completely soaked in sweat. As I awoke, so were my bedsheets.
I had a heart-attack whilst in the dentist chair and awoke to a ridiculously fast heartbeat.
The dentist asked to look in my mouth but my jaw clamped shut and would not budge. A set of clamps and a torque wrench were used to prise my teeth open but instead they just cracked and fell out.
I dreamt there was a TV in the waiting room and that famous Marathon Man scene with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier involving dental torture was playing on a loop.
The same magazines were available on the table in the dentist waiting room as 42 years ago; the one on top had a picture of a smiling Jackie Charlton on the cover.
My entire face broke out in cold sores.
The day arrived and I have to say I was incredibly nervous not only about the anticipated recommendations of treatment I would need but also about the undoubted admonishments for being so stupid in not dealing with things sooner. A lady came out of the treatment room with a big smile on her face and she said to the receptionist ‘Well, I have never hugged my dentist before’. Surely that had to be a good sign and indeed it was. I explained my recklessness over the last four decades together with the more urgent problem that needed a quick solution. My dentist, Narinder, listened to everything without judgement and gave me all the time I needed. Clearly I was not the first grown adult to come to her for much needed help and she instantly put me at ease with her respectful, calming and often fun demeanour.
I was examined with x-rays and she made notes of where any fillings would be required and I was given a course of antibiotics to alleviate the infection that was causing me the pain. The very fact that she said ‘I’ve seen a lot worse’ was at least some comfort.
A few days later I was given my first ever filling; there truly was nothing to be afraid of. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I could take up having fillings as a new hobby but it was nowhere near the experience I thought it would have been. Later in the week I had six further fillings within the space of 24 hours, this was less pleasant but easily manageable. After a final eighth filling and an appointment with a hygienist we started work on my main problem tooth which involved root canal work and a crown. I asked Narinder why I had to wait until all the fillings were done before the urgent work could commence. She replied that the antibiotics needed a week to take full effect – fair enough – but she also said that other people come in for urgent work, have that done and then don’t bother coming back for the fillings that are clearly required. Shame on them (gulp!).
Exactly 3 weeks after my first appointment everything was complete and I feel like I have a new mouth. The whole team at Pearl Dental treated me with the utmost respect and care. There was no sign of Jimmy Carr or Dustin Hoffman and I didn’t have to sign a disclaimer in a taxicab office for when things go wrong. Narinder received her second hug from a patient in 3 weeks and I will never again be afraid of the dentist. If just one person reads this and is encouraged to face their fears – dental or otherwise – then my work here is done.
When my daughter Bethany came home from school one day, aged around 12, she told me the class had been working on some logic riddles. She launched into an excitable monologue for the next 15 minutes – Bethany always could talk for England so this was an abridged version – so when she paused for breath I told her one of my favourite logic riddles; it goes like this…
“A man lives on the 20th floor of a high-rise tower block. When he goes home from work he gets in the elevator, exits at floor number 12 and walks the remaining eight floors to reach his apartment. Why?”
I told her she could ask me as many questions as she wanted but I could only answer yes or no.
She thought about it for a while and asked some typical questions:
Was the elevator broken?
Did the elevator only reach floor number 12?
Was it part of his exercise plan to walk eight flights of stairs every day?
Was he visiting somebody on floor number 12?
Of course the answer to all those questions was no and eventually, after a little prompting, she arrived at the solution. For those of you who don’t know the riddle or have not yet worked out the answer, the reason why the man gets out at floor number 12 is because he is a dwarf and he cannot reach beyond button number 12 in the elevator.
Bethany really enjoyed the riddle and asked me if she could pose it to Craig, her older brother, when he arrived home. ‘Of course you can’, I replied. A little while later Craig came in the room and Bethany, full of enthusiasm, said to him ‘Craig, I have a riddle for you’. He got himself a drink and sat down with her so she started.
…… “Right, this dwarf gets in an elevator….. Oh no, wait ……”
To say I was excited about going away for a week to a forest was an understatement. It was only a two hour trip to Cropton in North Yorkshire but every 5 minutes I thought it would be funny to ask “Are we there yet?” by popping my big head over the back seat. I quite like having a sneaky lick of Dad’s ear while he’s driving at 70 mph on the M1, oh and depositing a bit of my gourmet-class dog drool to create a puddle right where Dad likes to rest his left elbow. I offered to help drive but Dad said my lack of opposable thumbs would be a disadvantage when taking the steering wheel… that and the fact I don’t have a licence.
The forest cabin was brilliant I particularly liked the hot tub but Mum wouldn’t let me in with her, there was some rule about it apparently.
An Indian takeaway meal was delivered to our door and Grandma Becky could barely muster up the energy to go mental like she usually does when someone has the temerity to knock on the door at home, I think we had already walked the legs off her by then.
On the first night I couldn’t settle and kept knocking on Mum and Dad’s bedroom door until they let me in. I then took up my position right in the middle of the bed between the two of them. I want a duvet from now on. I slept with my long legs resting over Mum; Dad slept with his arms around me. When Dad woke up he surprised himself at his unconscious display of ‘bro-love’ and quickly turned around.
Day 2 – Whitby and River Fun
Glorious sunshine welcomed the first full day so we went to Whitby with the intention of taking a walk in the dog-friendly parts of Sandsend beach. Unfortunately we hadn’t allowed for the fact that other people were also on family holidays and everywhere was packed with no place to park up so Dad took us directly into Whitby. There were loads of people and I was a bit nervous at first but I thought I hid it very well. Becky demonstrated her nose-stamping technique which she had perfected in her early years at Centerparcs – I don’t know where or what Centerparcs is but she told me I’d find out someday soon. Nose-stamping involves pressing her nose against people’s legs as they walk past without them knowing until later on in the day when they discover a mirror impression of a Becky’s nasal features.
We had fish and chips from the Quayside takeaway because the wait was only 25 minutes instead of 1 hour at the world-famous Magpie just down the road. Whilst tasting the wonderful fish batter Becky said to me, ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’….. No, I have no idea what she was on about and carried on devouring. Returning to the car from the harbour involved a long and winding road back up the hill rather than a more direct route of around 200 steps; Dad said this was for Becky’s benefit, but was it really?
In the car on the way back, Dad took a sharp turn and I unbalanced and landed on a sleeping Becky, she called me a “Clumsy Oaf”. Care was required driving across the moors, there were loads of sheep roaming around in and amongst the roadkill. At one point we slowed down so that I could pop my nose out of the window to take a closer look and I came to the conclusion that if sheep are supposed to be moderately intelligent then I must be Stephen Hawking; good grief, they are thick creatures.
We had a bonus stop on a riverbank for a bit of fun at Castleton on the River Esk. It was my first sighting of a shallow river and after dipping my toes for a few minutes I dived off a semi-floating log thinking it was only a few inches deep on the other side, it was probably a couple of feet and it was quite a shock. I now know why Labs have webbed feet. Becky drank so much of the water she that it ended up more like a stream than a river, the fish and chips must have made her thirsty. Some people came to warn Dad about parking near to an entrance and said that the farmer gets very cross if he can’t get his tractor through. He then told a story about a young couple that decided it was a good place for a picnic and outrageously sat in the small clearing on a summer’s day munching on some sandwiches when the farmer came along and was livid with them. Just behind the guy telling the story we noticed his wife setting up two director’s chairs and unfurling a picnic blanket – pot… kettle…. black. Shortly after this ‘misunderstanding’ we decided to leave but Becky couldn’t climb the small uphill mud track to get back out and had to be rescued, Mum lifting her collar and Dad with two hands under her wet and muddy back end.
Day 3 – Cayton Bay
Mum decided to take me and Becky for a walk early the next morning. She got up at 6:30, pottered around, fed us then checked the time; it turned out to only be 5:30. Becky’s body-clock is all over the place. We left Dad dozing and went for a long walk in the forest for 90 minutes, got lost and had to retrace our steps. In a repeat of an incident yesterday, Becky managed to fall into a deep puddle and had to be yanked out, she was a right mess.
Cayton Bay is a dog-friendly beach and at last I was able to set foot in the ocean. I met loads of doggy pals but one little yappy thing decided to chase me around and my only option was to go bombing into the sea, a move I regretted and didn’t repeat. On the steep walk back up the track from the beach Dad pretended he was going slowly because he was worried about Grandma Becky getting exhausted. As it turned out, Becky beat him to the top by about 45 seconds, I laughed my jowls off!
We had a very late lunch at the Bull pub in Gristhorpe near Filey, Mum typed in “dog-friendly pubs” into Google Maps and it returned with this little beauty. On the way back to Pickering we came across a farm shop to get something for a late supper but Dad left me and Becky in the car with the windows half open and locked it. I thought it would be fun to set the alarm off so Mum had to come back out of the shop to switch it off. Two minutes later I did it again so in order to avoid a telling-off me and Becky put our best cheeky smiles on after she came out again.
Day 4 – Robin Hood’s Bay
We spent a long time in the car today, partly navigating through very thin winding roads around the North Yorkshire Coast and partly trying to find somewhere to park. Eventually an opportunist pair of very nice hippies decided to ‘make a few bob for themselves’ by renting out their back garden to use as a car park at a fiver a time. The man actually had a bit of pork pie stuck in his 12 inch grey beard but we hadn’t the heart to tell him and, as tempting as it was, I hadn’t the nerve to tidy it up for him.
If Cayton Bay was good yesterday then Robin Hood’s Bay was fantastic. The beach wasn’t very big and it was full of holiday-makers – many with dogs – but we had a great time. Becky got into the swing of things and showed me how to chase into the sea after anything that Dad decided to chuck in. Normally a grumpy old Grandma, today I caught a glimpse of what she must have been like as a puppy. Although it wasn’t nice to think about it, Dad said that if today turns out to be the last time she sees the ocean then she isn’t going to die wondering.
Unfortunately Becky suffered a bit of burnout and Dad had to carry her up some steps from the beach as all the people around kept saying “Aw, bless her”. It was a fair old walk up the steep hill back to the car and Dad was huffing and puffing a bit by the time we got there.
Each day of our holiday has ended up with Mum and Dad relaxing with a beer / glass of wine in the cabin’s outdoor hot tub. I liked to pop out from time to time to make sure they were OK and we all watched the swallows work the thermals. I have to say it was a beautiful sight until one of the blighters crapped right on my head. Dad told me it was a sign of good luck but I beg to differ.
We celebrated the last night with a Chinese takeaway which Dad fetched from Pickering. It has to be said that I do love a prawn cracker.
Day 5 – Epilogue
When we arrived home – after Mum and Dad had rather cruelly laughed at all the Bank Holiday weekend traffic jams around York heading in the opposite direction – Becky was reeking and had to have a bath; for the first time in her life she appeared to enjoy it. Afterwards the bath was a third clogged up with Becky fur, a third was disintegrating mud and the remainder consisted of a Cayton Bay beach takeaway. I hid behind the door in case I was next in line but kept peeping round to see what was going on. I think I got away with it (for now), Becky’s tight perm has now returned.
Mum and Dad keep talking about “Stan”… I dunno what they’re on about but my canine instincts tell me there is something afoot.
Last night whilst taking my elderly dog Becky for a walk – more of a dawdle actually – I stood for a while chatting to a neighbour. It was a quiet road until two seemingly jet-propelled cars bolted past us with no more than two or three feet between them. The driver of the white car following was beeping his horn and flashing his lights. The red car in front had to stop at the give way sign just 20 yards ahead of us at which point the white car overtook and pulled in front of the red one preventing him from going forward. Let’s call the driver of the white car, “Mr White” and the driver of the red car “Mr Red”, which is quite apt as he turned out to be ginger.
Mr White got out of his car, slammed his own door and came running towards Mr Red who made the right decision in reversing his car at breakneck speed to avoid a confrontation with a white-shirted angry gorilla heading in his direction hell-bent on violence. A professional boxer at a pre-fight weigh-in would have paid good money to recreate the look on this guy’s face. I said to my neighbour friend, ‘It looks like I’m going to have to get involved here’ with all the conviction of a first-time bungee-jumper. As I took a step or two towards Mr White he was still hurling abuse at Mr Red then seemed to halt in his tracks. He looked at me and asked what I thought I was looking at – perhaps not exactly in those words – to which I replied, ‘I’m just going to act as a witness in case you beat this guy up’. At this point Mr White slowly started to walk backwards to his car and I have to say I was quite relieved and just a little proud that my clearly impressive and athletic physique had scared the guy so much he felt he needed to retreat; either that or possibly that he was not prepared to waste any more of his valuable time ‘duffing up’ a 52-year-old man who has never had a fight in his life.
We suggested that Mr Red just hang about for a few minutes until he drove off. This is when Mr Red told us what had happened a few minutes earlier. It seemed that Mr White objected to the fact that Mr Red stopped suddenly on a main road in order to let an ambulance pass. Mr White had to brake hard to avoid crashing into the back of Mr Red, a task made much more difficult by the fact that he was holding a mobile phone to his ear at the time.
At this point Mr White decided he had not finished, he turned his car around and screeched all the way back to pull alongside Mr Red with just inches between the two drivers’ doors. It was then we realised that Mr White had a little boy, probably around three or four years old, in the passenger seat who I assumed to be son. Well what a fine example he was providing. If my neighbour and I were the judges, juries and executioners then it would have been all over bar the shouting – “Send him down and throw away the key!”
Could there have been more to this story than meets the eye? Well yes, it seems that Mr White became so aggressive for one reason only; Mr Red had told him to ‘F*** off’ when their altercation first started and Mr White’s final words to Mr Red were “Nobody tells me to f*** off and gets away with it, now f*** off”.
I apologise for the bad language implied in this story but it was integral and used within the context of a direct quote.
As for Becky, well she just lay down on the path and yawned a few times throughout the entire episode. She would probably have been as useful in a fight as me!
Morocco, a North African country benefiting from all year-round sunshine which should have provided a guarantee of warm weather even in November. With hindsight, the rain we experienced alighting the plane should have acted as a portent of things to come. It was just our luck that the polar vortex which brought unseasonably cold temperatures in America caused the North Atlantic sea temperatures to dip by 2° and forced the Jetstream to travel in a more southerly direction. With the Atlantic sea temperatures off the east coast of Africa for some reason 2° higher than normal an area of low pressure was formed which headed to Morocco and ultimately caused severe flooding. Nope, I’m not a meteorologist either so don’t expect me to explain any of that, suffice to say that water played a large role in our holiday.
Agadir Airport was less organised than Derby County’s defence in the 2007-2008 Premier League season. We queued at passport control for over 30 minutes, our hopes were raised when a new desk opened so we did the thing that all English people do and switch allegiances from our current queue to the new desk. Feeling rather smug of this wonderful decision our previously raised hopes were significantly dashed when the passport control officer got up to find a more comfortable chair, then as he was about to call the next person over he changed his mind and disappeared for a snack as he saw an EasyJet plane pull up right outside the main doors closely followed by an army of Liverpudlians scrambling to get out of the rain. Needless to say the people in our original queue were already through passport control collecting their luggage.
The taxi to the hotel was an experience to behold. What should have been our first view of a country we have never seen before turned into a terror journey more akin to a theme park. With the rain lashing down outside the driver had one hand holding his cell phone to his ear and one constantly reaching across and wiping the passenger window, how the hell he was controlling the steering wheel at the same time I can only imagine. The roads were more like rivers and we might have been better off in a boat. The taxi fare itself seemed relatively cheap in comparison to English prices but looking back after becoming more familiar with Moroccan ways I realise we were totally ripped off. Moroccan taxi drivers must love airport runs.
This seems an appropriate time in the story to give you advance warning of the best pun joke you are ever likely to read. If I told it to you right now then the rest of this story would pale into insignificance but rest assured you will not be disappointed. Read on.
It seems to me that Agadir contains some very nice hotels, some very nice restaurants, a two-mile beach with a lovely walkway and yet everywhere seems to be connected by underdeveloped paths of rubble. It is like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Moroccans appear to be gentle, pleasant people who speak the universal language of ‘smile’. Taxi drivers also smile but in a more aggressive manner as they barter their way towards world domination. Prior to arriving in Agadir we had read that the red taxis were very cheap, the maximum anyone should be charging was 20 dirhams (dhs) to get anywhere in Agadir, this equates to about £1.50. This was backed up by staff at the hotel and travel advisers but the taxi drivers know the game and come up with all sorts of reasons to increase the fare. One guy claimed it was with “double tariff” because it was Sunday night, another tried to charge us over the odds by placing his hands in the air and telling us it was night-time and dark and therefore more difficult to drive. In the end I would argue the toss, get the price down a little bit and in a somewhat ironic twist I would end up providing a tip which equated to the amount he was asking for in the first place.
The television in the hotel only had two English speaking channels, the first was the BBC World News and the second was MTV which seemed to play the same two songs on loop: ‘All About That Bass’ by Meghan Trainor and some song about Big Booties featuring Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Pop (yes, I know it wasn’t really Iggy Pop). I will never be able to hear those songs again in my life without thinking about Morocco or booty.
One morning we had a very long walk to the Marina, 90 minutes there, 90 minutes back. The first time we did this I wore some pumps, they were completely the wrong footwear for such a trek, this resulted in me seriously moaning about my sore feet. To be fair to Angela she did offer some sympathy and for a while did reduce her pace from ‘breakneck’ to ‘speedy’. I grumbled for a while afterwards and when we got to the room I gently peeled off the offending and offensive footwear to examine the serious damage that had been inflicted – it turned out there was nothing wrong with them and I was suffering from the podiatric equivalent of man-flu.
It is now time for some short Moroccan bite-sized snippets:
Moroccan Rosé wine – delicious!
We went to an Indian restaurant called Bollywood, it was very nice but they did sell camel and pigeon curries.
There is one ‘English Pub’ in Agadir. We thought it would be quite good but the only thing English about it was the wall-to-wall TV’s showing European sport and sticky wooden table tops. There were no English people in there either visiting or serving and it was completely devoid of atmosphere. We did a runner without even buying anything.
Angela asked me where the toilets were on the first night in the hotel bar. I said ‘Go upstairs and do a David Cameron next to the hotel singer murdering Unchained Melody’. She asked what that meant and I replied ‘just go a little to the right’. Well I thought it was funny.
Little Norway, a very nice little restaurant, I added these phrases into my trip advisor review, ‘T-bone steak the size of the back-end of a bull’ and ‘chipped potatoes presented like a Jenga stack’.
Whilst walking on the beachfront we were approached by a shifty-looking little Moroccan who sidled up to me and said in a quiet voice “Want to buy some stuff?” Now I was tempted to have a little fun here, I have stuff in my kitchen, stuff on my desk, stuff on the table, stuff in the garage and stuff in my loft. Why would I want more stuff? I am not so naive that I didn’t know what he was talking about but I realised the conversation would have somewhere been lost in translation and decided to cut my losses with a very polite “no thank you”.
Whilst sipping a Coca-Cola in an empty beachfront bar I decided to call home to see if everything was okay. The first thing that Bethany said to me was ‘Craig is an idiot.’ A short time later in the same conversation she said, ‘I take that back, Craig is a “f***ing idiot.’ I cannot recall what prompted this but I’m willing to bet it was something and nothing. Later on I spoke to Craig who was cooking bacon sandwiches at the time. I must have mentioned ‘bacon’ out loud on a number of occasions during that chat to Craig and wondered why Angela was cringing a little on the other side of the table …… in a Muslim restaurant. Oops. Naturally I meant no disrespect.
I had brought the wrong earphones with me when I packed so we went to an electrical shop to buy some more. The sales assistant didn’t speak great English so trying to describe what we wanted became an exercise in mime. He eventually realised what I was after but he couldn’t understand why I didn’t also want one with a microphone, he must have asked about 10 times. Later I realised that the whole misunderstanding was my fault because I apparently do not live in the real world full of smart phones. My poxy little Nokia phone supplied by my employer is as outdated as my Sony Walkman.
I have not forgotten about the amazing pun joke, it really is a beauty but I will keep you in suspense just a little while longer.
Most evenings we ended up back in the hotel bar, sometimes earlier, sometimes later in the evening. Each night there was some musical entertainment; I have used artistic licence with this term. Singing to an audience of around three or four couples the equivalent of a pub singer did his very best. If he had been at a Working Men’s Club I frequented in my youth in Bradford (the one just behind the chemical plant) he would have been pelted with scotch eggs, quarter pork pies and dripping sandwiches before you could say “I’ll have a pint of Tetley’s”. He tried to get one guy to sing along to Pretty Woman by thrusting the microphone into his face but if he had come near me it would have been shoved down his throat. He sang some Bob Marley which was borderline acceptable but I now wish I had bought some ‘stuff’ the previous day to get through the experience. Not long afterwards we realised we were the only ones left and made a swift departure back to our room with a bottle of Moroccan Rose wine.
There is a large hill behind the Casbah near the marina at one end of the beach in Agadir. An Arabic inscription written into the hill is illuminated at night; we discovered from a taxi driver that the words translate as “God”, “Country” and “King”. We reckoned that if there was a similar inscription in a Cornish hill the words would read “Pirates”, “Cream Teas” and “Pasties”.
Whilst walking on the beach we stumbled across a very large rope, around 6 inches in diameter which surfaced above the sand, headed to the sea and submerged back under the sand about 30 feet later. Angela said ‘What’s on the end of that rope?’ I replied with the only answer possible, ‘A very big bar of soap’.
More Moroccan bite-sized snippets:
Have you ever seen mushroom or pizza flavoured crisps? I have now.
A sure sign of desperation is a tramp ‘hand-me-down’, this is when you see a tramp sifting through rubbish bags which looked as though they had already been discarded as inferior by other tramps.
I decided that the second sign of madness is talking to a road sign. Angela and I were returning from the supermarket when I moved behind her to avoid walking into the road sign. She didn’t notice and turned to me to say something only to find herself talking to the post. I laughed and said she was going mad, she replied that she got more sense out of it.
The closest you will get to serious Moroccan gang culture is when you get a bunch of taxi drivers sat around smoking, waiting for business.
It is very difficult to get an alcoholic drink unless you’re having a meal or are in a hotel.
We reckoned that 50% of all Moroccan men are called Said, pronounced ‘Sa-eed’. Even a donkey we saw was called Said. There are dozens of stray cats everywhere; the happiest ones seemed to live near the bird sanctuary. We thought all the cats are called Said too.
On a walk back to the hotel after an evening meal we stopped in at a bar connected to a hotel called Zanzibar. We sat down at a table and saw that everything was dark and the décor was all black. There was wall-to-wall European football on TV everywhere you looked with louder commentary than actually being in a stadium, then Angela said she didn’t like it so we made excuses and left. On the way out she said ‘I can’t even understand how you could like it in there’…. Hmm, now let me have a think about that…
On Thursday we took an organised day trip to Marrakesh. Three and a half hours in a minibus each way from Agadir didn’t take away from the experience, it was something I’m glad I did and will take away some memories but one I’m unlikely to repeat. We saw snake charmers and monkeys in nappies, fortune-tellers and women who tried to grab your hand and draw henna tattoos on the back. We watched two snakes, one dancing and being put around a man’s neck and the other in a more human form bullying him out of cash for the privilege.
If we thought the street hawkers in Agadir were persistent they were nothing in comparison to the professionals of the Marrakesh street markets, ‘souks’. You only had to vaguely glance in the direction of something for a stall owner to be over you like a rash. There are also many professional beggars, some women even borrow babies for the day, make them up to look poorly and plead with tourists for cash. One young girl looked at us with big puppy-dog sad eyes trying to sell a small pack of hand tissues, ‘pleeeeez, sir, pleeeeeeez’ – it was hard to say no sometimes but we were advised that’s the best thing to do.
We visited a pharmacy where a very funny guy explained about all the different Moroccan spices and oils. One of main things I wanted to return to the UK with was a collection of different spice bags and we weren’t disappointed when buying curry leaves, Moroccan mixes, harissa and Saffron which is just way too expensive to buy in the UK. Whilst sat down waiting to pay for our purchases one of the assistants offered to give me a neck and shoulder massage with a blend of argan and eucalyptus oil. Now I’m one of those Yorkshire guys who doesn’t feel too comfortable about being touched in any way by another man unless he’s a doctor (and even then I don’t think that classifies as being “comfortable”) but before I could say no it had already started. Two minutes later it was over so I politely thanked him but then he added insult to injury saying I should pay him directly for the massage rather than pay at the counter. ‘How much?’ I asked, ‘Whatever you think is right’ he replied. It was tempting to consider actually charging him as I didn’t appear to have much choice in the matter but in the end smiled and offered 20 dirhams just to get away.
We visited the palace in Marrakesh (Palais Bahia) and were given 20 minutes to look around and take photos but were back at the meeting place about 3 minutes later as we realised every room was identical… impressive as empty rooms go…. but identical.
A really nice lunch had been arranged for us in a posh hotel as part of our tour. As usual there was a buffet with lots of different things to select. Everything was nice but the best for me was a beautiful circular portion of fish. I’m not a great lover of fish unless it is completely encased in batter and deep-fried or it comes out of a tuna steak tin but this fish was so good I felt compelled to ask what type of fish it was. After some translation discussion I found out it was Conger eel. Gulp!
In the souk I wanted to buy a small tagine shaped pot to mix up different spices. The seller wanted 40 dirhams for it (about £3.50) so I haggled and eventually agreed on 25 dirhams. A short while later I found virtually the same item selling for a fixed price 10 dirhams. In another shop we saw an amazing demonstration of woodworking and some high quality hand-manufactured items such as honey stirrers, magic boxes, puzzles, jewellery boxes, skewers etc. We decided to buy a really nice box of dominos and in the end settled on a middle-sized box for around £18. They were quite lovely, the box was passed to his friend for packaging up and we thanked him and left. When we got back to the hotel we found the box of dominos had shrunk considerably in size on the journey home from the one we were sold!
Having experienced a deluge of rain at the start of the holiday and thinking we were over the worst, it came back with a vengeance for the last couple of days. We found out that rain of this intensity had not been experienced in Morocco since 1967. There had been floods nearby and very sadly a number of people in the poorer low-lying areas lost their lives. In those same areas however the locals have water tanks which last week were becoming empty, after the downpours this week those same water tanks were full to the brim and enough to sustain a family for 4 years. There were reports of 7m high waves, and that was just the hotel swimming pool. Parts of the hotel were leaking which is understandable to an extent. The water is not collected in buckets though; someone just puts another rug down.
Whilst effectively trapped in the bar for the last couple of nights (not such a bad thing I hasten to add) we played dominos with the somewhat miniature box we bought from the Marrakesh souk. We discovered there were 28 different patterns and any serious domino player would instantly be able to recognise and memorise them all from the back. If we get to use them a lot then it might be just as well to select them face up. I accidentally knocked a bottle of Flag Special beer over, I tried my best to catch it and lick it off the table but within seconds one of the bar staff arrived with a cloth smiling and kept saying ‘It’s OK, don’t worry, it’s fine’ and then the wonderful line, ‘Our home is your home’. It’s one of the many things that left a great impression of the Timoulay Hotel and the Trip Advisor review was sufficiently complimentary; I was informed that it had been read almost 4000 times in the month after it had been posted.
On the day we left after checking out we sat in reception for around three hours before leaving for the airport, the rain was lashing down outside and to all intents and purposes we were prisoners. The taxi driver to the airport must have made or received over 20 calls in our 30 minute trip. He was shouting all the time and I reckon he was running another business. He could have been a Moroccan financial market trader, “Sell, sell, sell”… “Buy, buy, buy”. There was so much water on the roads on the way to the airport at one point we drove through a puddle almost a foot deep and cars were parked up while people took photographs of rivers where there used to be roads. At the airport we hit the wrong queue yet again in a curious moment of déjà vu from the arrival queues 7 days earlier. Even so we were seated on the plane an hour early with the indication from the airline staff that we would be able to depart earlier than expected; it turned out we had to wait an hour on the plane anyway for about three late passengers to arrive. I can tell you they were not the most popular people on the plane after sauntering their way across the tarmac.
I cannot leave you in suspense much longer so here it comes, the funniest pun joke in the world ever – fact! It was funny because I don’t think it was intended. Angela ordered a cocktail in the hotel bar, it was an ‘Americano’. It was made of Campari, vermouth, a splash of soda water and two segments of fresh orange. Angela said ‘I’m not sure I like this very much, it’s quite bitter – it tastes like pith’ – boom boom, I told you it would be good. I ‘pithed’ myself laughing.
In a somewhat ironic twist of fate at Manchester airport we were virtually the first passengers off the aeroplane, near the front of the passport control queue and our cases were the first on the baggage belt. We were out of the place while others were still trying to get through passport control. What a bonus. Whilst on the M62 Angela phoned ahead to the Sultan Mahal to order a much-needed Indian takeaway on the way home.
As expected, having left the grown-up kids in charge at home, we returned to something resembling a council waste dump. The carpet was the same colour as the dogs and it clearly had not had any attention from the vacuum cleaner. There were bits of rubbish all over the place and we even found a pair of Craig’s underpants behind the TV; we decided not to ask him about that one but enjoyed telling the tale and letting others make up their own stories. On the plus side the house was still intact, the dogs were still alive and the television set still worked – we couldn’t ask for anything more.
To summarise the holiday in a sentence, Angela had read that Morocco has 360 days of sunshine and although it was on the whole very enjoyable it somehow didn’t seem fair that we got the other five.