A Short History Of British Coinage

Here is something for you to watch and digest while I am away. My friend Antony sent me this 10-minute You Tube film that gives an easy to understand history of British currency since the time of Queen Victoria, to the modern day. It covers the change to decimal currency in 1971, and explains very clearly why all our coins are the size, shape, and colour they are.

If you are writing historical fiction, you may well find this to be a valuable resource.

And it also explains why I still use terms like ‘A quid’, ‘Ten bob’, and ‘Three half-crowns’.

And if you ever intend to visit Britain as a tourist, it will help you understand the coins in your pocket.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Six)

This series has been in many more parts than I had intended. The memories came flooding back! I will make this the final entry, even if it runs a little longer that the others.

We decided to take a trip by sea, in a glass-bottomed boat. It was reasonably priced, and offered the chance of seeing lots of colourful fish, and the opportunity for snorkelling in the clear water. This last part would only apply to my wife, as I cannot swim, so would be staying on board. We ordered a taxi to take us along the coast, to the recommended place for these excursions. We soon found one leaving about thirty minutes later, and had a coffee as we waited. They didn’t cram too many on board, and we left with the three crew, and a total of ten passengers. Once they had found their chosen spot in calm waters, they dropped anchor, and opened the internal cover on the glass bottom inside. It was a great view; looking down into the crystal clear water to be able to see all the way to the sea-bed was a magical moment. One of the crew jumped over the side, clutching large lumps of bread. Immediately, hundreds of colourful fish of all sizes appeared, nibbling the fast-dissolving bread from his hands. Up on deck, another crewman was dishing out the face-masks and snorkels, and soon everyone (except me) was in the water. They paddled around quietly, occasionally looking back at the boat to give me an enthusiastic thumbs up. Although I didn’t go in the ocean, I really enjoyed the trip, and my wife declared that it was a highlight for her, being able to interact with the fish in the warm water. I had my doubts about how natural this was, as the fish were obviously so used to being fed every day, they seemed to be waiting in queues for the bread. However, I kept quiet, as I was not about to cast any shadow over what had been a very enjoyable morning for all concerned.

Back at the hotel, we decided to relax on some loungers in the gardens. It was there that we had an animal encounter that I did not enjoy at all. Lying back against the cushion, I was thinking how wonderful everything was there. The lush vegetation, the white sands, blue seas, and palms. Turning to straighten the back rest, I saw the most enormous spider firmly attached to it. The thing was the width of a dinner plate, with long legs, and a bulbous body. Not a fan of spiders, and never having seen one this large, even in a zoo, I have to confess that I was up and running in a heartbeat. My wife laughed at first, then discovered a similar arachnid under her own lounger, and jumped in alarm. I ran to get a waiter, explaining that we were infested with terrifying spiders. He wandered over, and picked them up as if they were soft toys. Walking over to a planted area, he flung them deep inside. He said we should not worry; they weren’t poisonous, and had never been known to bite anyone. They liked the shade offered by the loungers, and were often found there. For the rest of our stay, we didn’t sit on any outside furniture without giving it a close inspection first.

That evening after dinner, there was a show at the hotel This was offered free of charge, and staged in the outside area, near the pool. There was some traditional African dancing and singing, followed by some musicians playing unusual instruments, and small drums. After the interval, two men appeared with assorted snakes. They asked guests to hold them or stroke them at first, later displaying very dangerous snakes, at some distance. I was sure that the poison sacs had been removed from these reptiles, or perhaps they had been drugged, as the men waved them around rather carelessly. Then a large chameleon was produced. I have always been fond of these bizarre lizards, so when he offered it to be held, I volunteered. The strange animal walked up my arm, with its distinctive jerky gait. Reaching my collar, it climbed onto the top of my head and sat there, eyes swivelling around, a look of disdain on its face. I shouldn’t have really approved of this show, but I did love that moment with ‘my’ chameleon.

We spent the next day doing little but relaxing. The day after that, Mahesh was arriving to take us out again.

Mahesh arrived as arranged, and drove us into the old town. He showed us the 16th century Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese. This formidable castle was very interesting, and housed a number of buildings within an enclosed compound. We then walked around some of the oldest parts of the city, unchanged in centuries. Most of the residents there seemed to be of Arab origin, with some who were obviously Indian, but few Africans. We went back to the car, and he told us that we were going to his club for a late lunch. A short drive took us to this colonial-style building, set in manicured gardens. The main area housed a bar and restaurant, and outside were tennis courts, and a cricket pitch. It was cool and relaxed there, and he was obviously well-known. This was of great interest to me. Almost all the members we saw there were Indian Asians. Except for the manager, all the staff were African. Before independence in Kenya, it would have been all white members, with Indian staff. Africans would hardly have been seen there, except those doing the menial tasks. Yet here we were, with the Indians replacing the whites, and the Africans now doing all the service jobs. I began to realise why there was animosity to the Asians in Kenya, and why their money-flow was controlled. Independence had done little for the average African. They were still doing the same jobs as their fathers, and grandfathers before them. We had a polite lunch, and Mahesh even ordered alcohol for us; beer and wine were served, and brandy after the meal. He insisted on paying again, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable about that.

Back at the hotel, he asked to take us out again the following day. He said that he wanted to show us his temple, so we could hardly decline.

The Hindu temple we visited the next day was dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. It was colourfully painted, and displayed many statues of Ganesh in different sizes, and in various poses. We were welcomed inside, and introduced to a religious leader, who once again treated us like very important guests. He showed us around the building, explaining some basic facts about the Hindu religion to us. Inside, it was a very peaceful place, a great contrast to the street outside, which was crammed with stalls, and bustling with traffic. On the way back, I asked Mahesh if we could get some gifts for his wife and children, to show our appreciation for his hospitality. He would have none of it, and said it was kind of us to offer, but unnecessary. We secretly resolved to send them things from London, once we got home. And we did. With only two days left in Mombasa, we thanked him profusely for his kind hospitality. Having such an attentive local man showing us around had made all the difference. We felt privileged to have been away from the crowds of tourists, and to have seen something of the real life lived there. We told him that we would spend our last full day relaxing on the beach, before the flight back to Nairobi, and our connection to London, the day after that.

His last act was to insist on getting us to the airport. We told him that travel was organised, but he would have none of it. He took the number of the company rep, and phoned to cancel our arrangements. He then sorted out a personal driver and car, to make sure that we arrived at the airport in time, and unstressed. He gave us some small gifts and papers to pass on to his brother in Wimbledon, and said his farewells.

We still had a fair amount of Kenyan money to get rid of, as it was of no use to us back home. We bought some expensive souvenirs in the hotel shop, and paid extra for a la carte meals in the hotel. We also dished out generous tips to our room boy, the maids, and any waiters that we knew well. The driver from Mahesh arrived in good time, and we were sad to leave the lovely coast, and comfortable hotel. We gave his driver a ridiculously large tip, as we still had too much Kenyan money, and caught the internal flight to the capital.

Once at Nairobi airport, we had a delay of around two hours, before catching the flight back to London, via Rome again. We managed to change up almost £50 at the airport, using the original receipt from the first hotel. They must have thought we were very cheap people, as it seemed that we had only spent £30 in all the time we were there! The balance of the money we put away, deciding to ask our neighbours to send it on later, or give it to a charity in Kenya. We then went to board our aircraft. Unknown to me, my wife was still carrying the Maasai machete in her hand luggage. This was detected, and an alert raised by staff. The next thing we knew, we were in a room, being asked by airport staff and police to explain why we were carrying a ‘weapon’ on to a passenger aircraft. We were also searched, revealing almost £150 in Kenyan money, that we were supposedly ‘smuggling’ out of the country. We had no answer to the money, though the machete was easily explained. After almost an hour, we were getting worried, and expecting to be in serious trouble. The staff from the airline arrived, to tell us that we could carry the machete home as a souvenir, but that it would be stored in the captain’s locker, until we arrived in London. The plane had been held, until we could sort out the currency issue. Soon after, an important-looking policeman appeared, holding the cash. He explained that we should ‘donate’ this money to orphans in his country, and if we agreed, we could go. Naturally, we said yes, thanking our lucky stars that local corruption had saved us from detention in a foreign land. We apologised to the other passengers, who all looked at us as if we were some sort of international criminals, and we took off for the return to England.

Despite the tense end to the trip, caused by our own stupidity, I hasten to add, it was a memorable holiday, and one that I would recommend. If you ever consider something similar, get a decent camera, with a telephoto lens. My wife was the photographer back then, and she took just a 50mm standard lens with her basic SLR. As a result, all our photos were less than memorable. And avoid machetes.

So that you know, I changed the name of Mahesh, just in case…

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part One)

After the early death of my then mother in law, my ex-wife was left some money in her will. It was a generous, if not life-changing amount, and she decided to spend it on a holiday. As it was enough to be able to choose somewhere sufficiently exotic, we could examine the possibilities of travel further afield. The short list was soon drawn up. India, Egypt, South America, and Kenya were all at the top. I was quite keen to visit the USA at the time, and to explore the battlefields of the Civil War. However, it was my wife’s legacy, and only right that she should make the final decision. She settled on Africa, and a trip to see wildlife in Kenya. It would be a two-centre holiday, with time spent in Nairobi, before moving on to the coast at Mombasa. Some excursions would be arranged beforehand, and others chosen after arrival. We would have to visit during the summer, as my wife was a lecturer, so had over six weeks off at that time. We settled on mid-July, and made the booking. We were going to fly to Nairobi (via Rome), and stay in a nice hotel on the edge of the city. We included an overnight stay at The Ark, a purpose-built hotel and animal viewing area, similar to the more famous ‘Treetops’. After eight days in this region, we would fly on to Mombasa, to enjoy the coastal area, and warmer weather found there. It was all arranged, and we began to get quite excited about our forthcoming safari adventure.

We lived in Wimbledon at the time, and our next-door neighbours were from a Kenyan Asian background. Their brother still lived in Mombasa, where he owned a large car dealership. We were very friendly with them, so naturally chatted to them about the holiday, and they were happy to give us some tips and pointers. Back then, Kenya was not a very democratic country. Daniel Arap Moi had declared himself president for life, and the currency was not traded; so the Kenyan Shillings were only available in the home country, at rates inflated for tourists. Our London neighbours devised a plan, where we would be able to get much better rates, and help their family into the bargain. On our arrival in Nairobi, we would be met by a business acquaintance. He would come to our hotel, and give us a substantial sum of Kenyan money. For the sake of appearances, we would change up some of our travellers cheques at the hotel too, so that we had a receipt for a transaction. On our return to the UK, we would give our neighbours the amount of money agreed. In this way, their brother was able to get some money out of Kenya, and have some savings over in England. It was illegal in Kenya, but the UK government were not at all interested. So, we agreed to help out, knowing that it would make our holiday very cheap in terms of spending money once we were there.

The flight was long and tiring, mainly because of a long delay on the ground in Rome, waiting for the time when dozens of noisy and excited Italian passengers were to board the aircraft. As we were flying due south, there was no time delay to deal with, and we arrived as expected, in the mid-afternoon. Although we had booked with a large company, our trip was mainly as independent travellers, with a guide arranged for some trips, and the services of a representative on call, if we needed them. We were met by a driver at Nairobi airport, and we were the only passengers in a small mini-coach. The hotel was modern and comfortable, with the city in sight some distance off. The reception advised us that it was dangerous to walk into the centre, and recommended that we take a taxi at all times. We changed up some travellers cheques, booked a table in the restaurant of the hotel for later that night, and retired to our room for a nap, as we were both very tired after the journey. We were woken about two hours later by the telephone. The reception said that someone was there, asking for us. He had thought this to be most unusual, and asked if he should be allowed up. I asked them to show him to our room, and as I suspected, he was the ‘money-man’, a salesman from the local branch of the car dealership. He introduced himself, and handed over a small zip bag. Once he was sure that we were satisfied, he said his farewells, and left. He was visibly uncomfortable, and seemed unhappy doing this task. We counted the bagful of cash, and were surprised to find just over £1,000 worth of Kenyan money. We had been asked to give £200 for this in sterling, once back in England. This meant that we had a rate of five to one, instead of less than one to one exchanged by the hotel. We were cash-rich, for the first time in our lives. The meal in the hotel that evening was surprisingly good, and compensated for the overcast weather; hardly the blazing African sun we had anticipated. It was to turn out to be indicative of many very good meals during the whole holiday. Kenya remains as one of the few places that I have visited, where I never once got an upset stomach, despite eating in a wide variety of places, including open-air restaurants, and small cafes. Flush with our new wad of cash, we paid for the meal immediately, and even left a generous tip.

The next morning, we decided to take in the sights of Nairobi. As advised, we took a taxi, as there were always plenty waiting outside the hotel. The reception also told us the approximate cost, as the meter was either not switched on, or unreliable. The driver first told me not to lean my arm on the open window. He said that if he had to stop, there was a good chance that someone would steal my watch, by ripping it off my wrist. He also told us to keep our camera slung at the front where we could see it, and suggested that my wife sling her bag around her body. On the short journey into the city, he drove straight through the first red traffic light, causing us some alarm. Realising our concern, he said that he would not stop at any lights or stop signs, in case someone came out of the bushes to rob us. We had only been in the country a short time, and we were becoming very worried by all these warnings. When he dropped us at the main shopping street, he went on to say that we should not offer large denomination notes, or produce any wallets. He said that we should carry small amounts in our pockets, and never accept the offer of tour guides, or go off with anyone who wanted to show us something. As we got out of the cab, we were wondering what we had let ourselves in for.

Holidays and Travel: Tunisia 1975

Between the ages of 11 and 23, I had been abroad. I had been on school trips to France, to Calais and Paris. I had later ventured further south, to the Atlantic coast of France near Biarritz, and on another occasion, to Perpignan. Including a short visit to Figueras, in northern Spain. That was the sum total of my travels. This had all been done by ferry boat, then train, or in some sort of motor vehicle. I had never been in an aircraft up to that point.

By early 1975 , I was seeing the girl who would later become my first wife. As her father had always worked for Thomas Cook, she was unusually well-travelled, and there were few places she had never visited, albeit mostly as a child, and on cruise ships. She suggested that we go on a week long holiday over the Easter period, which fell sometime in March, and coincided with both our birthdays, which were only two weeks apart. Looking for somewhere hot at that time of year, she settled on North Africa as a destination, as it could be expected to be warm and sunny, even that early in the year. I sorted out a new passport, and pretty much left the rest to her. As we were both living with our parents at the time, the prospect of a week away, in a room together, was doubly appealing. She booked us in to a hotel in the up and coming resort of Sousse, one of Tunisia’s most popular beach resorts. It was a package holiday with Thompson, including flights from Luton Airport, as well as breakfast and evening meal at the resort.

I knew very little about Tunisia as a holiday destination, but a great deal about it as a place of history. Once called Carthage, it was the homeland of Hannibal, and had been the great adversary of the Roman Empire in its day. During the Second World War, it had been part of the Desert War theatre, and had been the site of numerous battles. It was also associated with French colonisation, and the Foreign Legion, things that I had also read about at some length. All that was long forgotten it seemed, when it was later to become more famous as the filming location of Monty Python’s, ‘Life of Brian’. Looking at the travel agent’s brochure, the palm trees on the beach, and the exotic looking pools in the grounds of the hotel complex, certainly made it seem to be a desirable destination for a holiday. I was suitably excited, and counted down the days until we left. I was a little nervous of the prospect of flying, but my girlfriend assured me that it would be OK. Even though foreign travel was commonplace by this time, North Africa was still considered to be somewhere exotic, and a cut above the usual sun spots of Eastern Spain.

Luton Airport was a disappointment. At that time, it appeared to be little more than a large shed, catering solely for the charter holiday market. It lacked the swish atmosphere of airports that I had seen on TV, and in the films, and I felt a little cheated by my first experience of an International Terminal. I had no idea about how to travel to this type of holiday, and arrived wearing a formal suit and tie, believing that one should appear smart and businesslike when embarking on such adventures. I had also packed a suitcase full of clothes of all types, including numerous pairs of shoes, and lots of long-sleeved shirts, and smart trousers. I felt sure that it would be normal to dress smartly for dinner, and my concept of how to look and behave was firmly rooted in British Colonialism, and the newsreels and films that I had seen in my youth. As soon as I was seated on the aircraft, I realised my mistake. I was smarter than the pilot, and looked terribly out of place.

At least the prospect of flying in a jet soon took my mind off of anything else. In those days, it was permissible to smoke on board, and we had purchased cheap cigarettes in the duty free shop. We had smoking seats, and as soon as the lights went out, I smoked constantly, until our arrival at Monastir. I found flying to be a terrible anti-climax. I had imagined a feeling of zipping through the sky, hanging on for dear life, as the aircraft reached fantastic speeds. Although I did find the take-off somewhat disconcerting, once we had stabilised, the flight was very dull, when the excitement of being in the clouds had worn off. I liked the free meal, hot drinks, and the chance to buy things from the hostess, but mainly, I was bored. I have flown many times since, and generally retained this impression, not really liking flying at all.

As I was not sitting near a window, I also lost the chance to see anything much from an aerial vantage point. I could hear others discussing coastal formations, and speculating about our current position, but saw little from my aisle seat. I didn’t like having to use the aircraft toilet, finding it claustrophobic, and being greatly put off by the constant queue outside. When the announcement came that we would be landing soon, followed by the seat belt light illuminating, I was relieved that it would soon be over, and we could get on with the holiday.

The arrival at Monastir Airport did not disappoint. It was warm and sunny, and had a foreign smell about it, something that you could not identify, but you just knew it was different. Apparently, Monastir was the home town of the President of Tunisia at the time, so the airport was modern, clean, and very impressive.( As was the town itself). There were few tourists or travellers around in the terminal, giving the place a spacious and airy feel as well. We had not been able to obtain Tunisian money in the UK, as it was not a traded currency. We got some at the airport, exchanging travellers cheques at the cash desk, another first for me. Even the money was exotic, with Arabic script, and pictures of unknown statesmen. Foreign money has always appealed to me; it seems more colourful than ours, and you used to get what at least seemed a lot for the pounds handed over; certainly notes of large denomination, anyway.

We were met by a friendly and efficient Thompson rep, who had not been doing it long enough to become jaded and indifferent. She arranged a smooth transfer of the group and our luggage onto the coach, for the drive to Sousse. Once out on the road, I started to feel like I was really abroad. This was nothing like being in Europe, with the ramshackle roadside shops, donkey carts, and blaring horns of the taxis and cars; the local people dressed in one piece outfits resembling the habits of monks, and the entire area seemingly under construction, in varying stages of completion. We could see the coast as we drove, and the blue sea and sandy beaches instilled the holiday spirit, together with the palm trees everywhere, driving home the point that we had arrived somewhere very different.

Once we got to Sousse, we turned onto the long peninsular that led to our hotel, and I was amazed at the number of hotels fringing the beaches there. I had possibly imagined that we would be staying somewhere isolated, surrounded by mysterious deserts. The reality was a continuous stretch of high and low rise tourist developments, stretching as far as the eye could see. The coach turned into each one in turn, dropping off some passengers here, some there, until we were in the last small group remaining. Our hotel was the last in the line, and we got a shock as we entered the driveway leading to it. It was simply massive. Not one, but three separate accommodation blocks loomed ahead of us, and extensive grounds surrounded the entire complex, with a beach frontage seemingly as far as the horizon. There were a couple of large swimming pools, archery butts, tennis courts, even horse-riding facilities. I later discovered that the place could hold over a thousand tourists at peak time, though luckily for us, it was relatively quiet, even though it was Easter. The reception was cool and clean, and the staff formal, but efficient. We got the key to our room, on an upper floor, with sea view, and balcony, as promised. The rep told us that there would be a meeting that evening, where she would tell us all about the place, and what was on offer from Thompson.

I was suitably impressed with the room. At that time, it was certainly the best that I had ever stayed in. It was clean and airy, with a very good view, and for someone like me, new to the experience, it felt almost luxurious. The public rooms in the rest of the hotel were of a similar standard, with large restaurants, numerous bars, and an indoor pool for those who preferred it; even a gym, when such things were unheard of. I was happy, and convinced that we had struck lucky. Thirty-eight years later, as I write this now, I could not think of anywhere worse to stay. But then, I knew no better.

Even that late in the afternoon, the temperature was pleasantly warm, and I changed out of my suit, donning something more suitable for the location. The suit, formal trousers, and shirts, were destined to remain in the wardrobe for the duration of the trip, as they were completely redundant in that setting. The meeting with the rep gave us a chance to examine the rest of the tour party. I was surprised to find that they came from all over the UK; for some reason, I had expected everyone to be from London. The hotel’s other guests were from various countries; some French, mostly German and Dutch. The tour guide explained all the facilities in the hotel; how to book them, when to turn up for meals, and how to get the free bus from the hotel into town and back. She then settled into the real business of the meeting, selling excursions to places of interest. After listening to her lengthy presentation, we decided to buy the trip to El Djem, and Sfax. Sfax was one of the former French colonial towns, and El Djem was home to one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres outside of Italy. This would involve a very lengthy coach trip, and was not something we wanted to chance independently. As the only other places we wanted to visit were the Old Town in Sousse, and possibly Monastir, we decided that one trip was sufficient. After all, we were only there for one week, and the first day was almost over, with dinner time approaching.

Dinner was more than acceptable, with a choice from the menu, and waiter service. This was before the days of identikit buffets, served the same everywhere, and more in the French style, with bread served with the meal, and mineral water brought as a matter of course. The next day, breakfast was a Continental affair, with pastries, cheeses, and sliced meats. At that time, I considered this to be quite unusual, and took to it readily. By the end of the week, I was longing for  a traditional English breakfast, having tired of fruit, ham, and croissants. Another sure sign that I was new to all this. Later that week, we also had a free show at the hotel, with dancers and musicians in traditional dress. It was entertaining, for about fifteen minutes, but I soon became bored with that too.

That holiday was all about being outside, soaking up the unusual street scenes, noisy markets, and architecture unchanged since Biblical times. Or sitting on the wonderful sandy beaches, watching the waves, reading a book, and relaxing. We did not become part of the ‘pool set’. I do not swim, and my girlfriend, though a strong swimmer, preferred the sea. I did have my first taste of the infamous ‘sun-lounger claiming’ though, with Germans and others up before first light, draping towels over the best spots. I had no interest in playing that game, and we would wander down the beach, easily finding a calmer spot to enjoy. Trips into the old Souk in Sousse rapidly became tiresome. The constant hassle from vendors, and the haggling, at first amusing, soon changed to outright arguments. I also had my first taste of the Arab obsession with blonde women, something I was still encountering fifteen years later, on a trip to Egypt. The locals thought it was acceptable, to not only stare, but also to touch her hair, and make lewd gestures. I had to spend much of the trip fending off unwanted admirers, stopping short of a full-on fight.

In the hotel complex, there was none of this, and the atmosphere was always calm and professional. We decided to get a local coach to Monastir. This was not as developed for tourism as Sousse, and had a few luxury hotels, patronised by well-off French visitors. We found one with a rooftop pool and terrace, and spent a pleasantly hot afternoon, sipping drinks in the dignified surroundings, wishing we had thought to book into somewhere so nice. Monastir was unusually clean, with attractive modern architecture, much of it still in the Arabic style. The seafront and beaches were much more upmarket than we had seen around Sousse, and we left the place with a feeling of regret, that we had not stayed there instead. I somehow doubt that this town is still like that today, given the level of tourist development in that country.

The trip to Sfax and El Djem necessitated a dawn departure, and we had a sleepy breakfast, with the sky still dark outside. I do not know how far it was in miles, but it certainly took a long time, in the rather ancient coach, which picked other tourists up along the way. The roads were also not that great, and we were frequently stuck behind many slow-moving vehicles. The countryside outside of the holiday resorts was mostly desert, with small villages and towns that looked unchanged from the wartime newsreels I had seen as a child. As we approached El Djem, it was all worth it. Standing high in the desert ahead, was the almost complete amphitheatre, as magnificent to my eyes as The Colosseum, and only missing around a quarter of the outside wall. We had access to the whole thing, and could go or climb anywhere, inside and out. Although we had the services of a local guide included, I don’t remember anything he said, as I was so excited to see this wonder. http://www.tunisiaonline.com/el-djem-colosseum/

Lunch, provided in a small local cafe, was another new experience. Everything was covered in flies, where it had been prepared in advance, and then left out, pending our arrival. Despite being hungry, we decided not to eat anything except some fresh bread, and we were pleased that we had brought some cakes and pastries from the hotel. The toilet in this establishment deserves a special mention. Even to this day, I have never seen anything so disgusting, and I have seen many. Despite badly needing to pee, I could not bear to stand inside for more than a few seconds. The ‘unisex’ facility had presumably never been cleaned, and had suffered from years of both local and tourist stomach upsets, piled up the wall, in what looked like a scene from a horror film. Almost 40 years later, I can still recall that horrible place, and I try not to. I am not ashamed to say, that I walked around the back of the cafe, and relieved myself against a significantly cleaner tree.

Pleased to be away from our lunch venue, and back on the road, we were told by the guide that we would be having dinner in Sfax. To our surprise, we were still hours away, and as we were not due to arrive until mid-evening, the addition of this place on the trip seemed rather pointless; even more so, considering that it was further away from our hotel, and not really on the way back. The town was actually attractive to behold as we drove in. The colonial architecture was virtually unchanged, and the centre was reminiscent of what I had seen in pictures, and on film, of the old part of New Orleans. We were driven to a nice restaurant, a world away from the place where we had been for lunch. Crisp white tablecloths, nice cutlery, and a set meal of high standard, it was all well-received by the group. There was no tour of Sfax, and we set off after dinner, to return to Sousse. It was already dark, so we completed a long and boring journey, arriving late, and ready for bed. It was all worth it though, at least to me, as El Djem was a delight.

The last two days in the resort were marred by cloudy weather, although it was still very warm. Arriving at the airport for the flight home, we had to quickly change back any remaining notes, as they would be worthless in England. Of course, the return exchange rate was not favourable, and no loose change was accepted. This was deposited in a charity box nearby, hopefully for distribution to a good cause. Taking my second ever flight, outbound to Luton, I reflected that it had been a great experience overall, with Monastir and El Djem the highlights, and the lunchtime cafe representing a new low. I had enjoyed my first taste of another culture, and the sight of a desert for the first time too.

For a reasonably small cost, it was a great little holiday. But then I was only 23 years old, so what did I know?