Halloween-Scmalloween

This is a repost from October the 31st, 2012. With everyone suitably seasonally excited today for Halloween, I thought I would offer an alternative view, somthing of a rant, for the benefit of any new followers since I last reposted this in 2014.

What is all this fuss about Halloween? Does anybody remember when it all started here? Shops full of pumpkins, devil-suits, and tridents; parties with fancy-dress themes, gangs of kids wandering about, begging for sweets. I certainly have no memory of it in London at least, until about 1990. It is yet another unwanted American import, alongside baseball caps, (Who knows the rules? Come on, tell me.) rap music, and McDonald’s. Driven by the Marketing men, Supermarkets, and Television, desperate to fill the gap between Summer holidays, and Christmas.

Why do we always fall for this rubbish so easily? Is there no tradition that cannot be sold on, re-packaged for British taste, and successfully marketed, until nobody remembers a time before it existed? What’s next, Thanksgiving? That would fit nicely into the space before Yuletide, and would increase turkey sales even more. We could all wear stove-pipe hats, and big Puritan collars, trying to pretend it was OK to swindle the Red Indians out of their lands for a few beads and trinkets. It wouldn’t matter that there were no Red Indians here, we could just make that bit up. Or maybe we could call them ‘Native Americans’, to make us feel even less guilty.

Nothing has value anymore. There is no special time left. Hot Cross Buns are available all year, pancakes can be bought anytime, then microwaved to save the effort of making them. Tangerines are no longer a Christmas treat, any Tesco will have them in, anytime you want. We have slowly removed everything that we ever had occasion to anticipate excitedly, and to look forward to as the seasons changed. Once we had lost all that, we had to search elsewhere for something to plan for, and along came Halloween. We can now arrange parties, or the appalling ‘Trick or Treat’ parades (Ask them for a trick is my tip!), and have everything from themed burgers, to pumpkin socks. How did we ever cope before?

I would love to take you back in a Time Machine. You would relish the prospect of Buns at Easter, delight at trying to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, and be unable to sleep on the night before Christmas. You would never have heard of ‘Grand-Parents’ Day’, and Halloween would be something that was ‘done’ in America. Brazil nuts and tangerines would appear in December, be enjoyed briefly, and would not be seen again until that time the following year. Baseball caps would be worn by baseball players, and some other people in The Americas, but not in England. If you wanted a snack, you would be happy with fish and chips, or pie and mash.

There is nothing wrong with American cultural celebrations. They even keep some European ones, like Christmas. But the newer ones should stay on that side of the Atlantic. That way those that seek it can travel there to enjoy it, and celebrate the differences in our societies and customs. We might even tell them that we used to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve as part of the Harvest Festival, and that Halloween is a Scottish corruption of that phrase. That would make it ours then, not American at all. Like most things, including many we have since discarded, they were taken to America by settlers. America is doing a fantastic job of re-exporting those traditions, whether we need them back, or not.

Surely it is enough to celebrate the difference in the various traditions and cultures of the many countries and societies in the world, without having to assimilate everything? As the French say- ‘Vive la difference’.

Egypt, 1989: Part Two

The next day, we were collected for the short drive to the dock at Luxor. We had checked out of the hotel, and they had confirmed that we would be back in five days time. There were quite a few cruise ships lined up along the bank. Some were very old, and might have been plying the river at the time of Agatha Christie. One still had paddles at the sides for propulsion, but most were modern. Our boat was somewhere between the two, probably a hangover from the 1950s, with no exterior cabins like the old boats. But it had a large open air covered deck at the rear, ideal for watching the river from.

Our cabin was comfortable enough, with a double bed, private facilities, and a large window, almost at the water-line. Except for the outside spaces, air-conditioning was provided, and there was a comfortable bar and large restaurant. They had even managed to cram in a tiny shop in the reception area. Inside, the feel was suitably old-fashioned, exactly what we had hoped for.

Our bags were whisked away by friendly staff, and we were gathered to be given information about life on board. All meals would be provided, three times a day. Any extras, alcoholic drinks, extra coffee, and other drinks, would have to be paid for, naturally. But we could settle our room bill at the end of the cruise, and add gratuities if we wanted. This meant that we would not have to worry about any spending money all the time we were on board. They even gave an idea of the prices, which all seemed very reasonable. There would be a party on the last night, and we could dress up in fancy dress, with an Egyptian theme of course, if we wanted to. Any gifts or jewellery bought at the shop would have to be paid for separately, as it was a concession.

Excursions would all start early, around 6.30am because of the heat, and breakfast would be served early on those days. As it was between the busy summer season, and the even busier Christmas rush, there were only twenty-four passengers, well under half-full. Luckily, the same amount of staff would be retained, so we could be guaranteed excellent service at all times.

Other than our group of sixteen, there were two small groups of Egyptian holidaymakers from Cairo. I was really happy. Not only did we have the prospect of five great days ahead, we would be spending them on a comparatively empty boat. They also explained that we would travel mostly at night, stopping early, ready to take our trips ashore. When we returned in the late afternoon, we would set off once again, heading for the next place on our itinerary.

Our first day on board would start that afternoon, with the journey to our first port of call, during an early dinner.

Once the boat left Luxor and began its slow journey to Aswan, the real magic happened. Travelling at little more than a walking pace, the feeling of stepping back in time really kicked in. At times, it felt as if the boat was standing still, and the scenery was moving past us, like the old canvas panoramas in early theatrical productions. Across the wide river, traditional feluccas, small sailing boats, carried goods, or fisherman casting nets into the water. The scene appeared unchanged for centuries, with only the modern river cruisers giving any indication of the age. The chugging of our boat engine, and the occasional smell of fuel, were the reminders that we were actually moving south. Otherwise, all was peace.

Sitting on the rear deck, enjoying a cool beer, we gazed at the lush strips of fertile land lining both banks. Devoid of industry, splashes of green in a sandy backdrop made us realise why the Nile was so important to sustaining agriculture along its length. People queued for small ferries, donkeys and camels laden with crops or boxes. It could have been 1920, or even 500 BC. The sight of occasional lorries and cars on riverside roads brought us back to reality, momentarily puncturing the reverie that had set in.

I could have sat there for hours on end (and I often did) watching this scene unfold. I wasn’t reading a book, and only sometimes taking a photograph. Otherwise, I just experienced it. Something I had never seen nor felt anywhere else. During the night, we passed through Esna Lock, a sudden burst of light and noise that jarred with the peace of the day.

When we woke the next morning, we were at Edfu.

Although this is a large town on the west bank, we were only going to see one thing; The Temple Of Edfu, dedicated to the god Horus, the falcon-headed god. This enormous structure was built from 237 BC, and was later buried under centuries of sand, prior to excavation during the 1860s. The building resembles a large fort, with a colonnaded courtyard within. The walls are covered in carved heiroglyphs, depicting various scenes, and a large statue of Horus stands at the entrance. We were told that it was lucky to touch the beak of the falcon head, so of course, we all strained to do this. I can imagine that it must be getting quite worn away by now, if this is still allowed. Like every structure of this type we saw there, it seemed appropriate to wander around on our own, feel the atmosphere, and try to imagine what it must have been like, brightly-painted, and bustling with worshippers and priests.

I have heard other visitors to Egypt describe the experience as visiting lots of temples, each similar to the next, and tiring of looking at columns and sandstone walls. This was not how I saw it. I always felt as if I was privileged to get this small window into a fascinating past, and a civilisation so advanced, at a time when much of the world was undeveloped to any level.

Another peaceful cruise that afternoon, to our next destination, Kom Ombo.

When we woke up, we could see the temple, raised above the river bank, just across from our boat. This temple is dedicated to the crocodile-headed god, Sobek. It was once destroyed by an earthquake, and damaged by Nile floods. It looks somewhat dilapidated, but impressive nonetheless, in a dominant location. Carvings inside show recognisable medical instruments, and there are some fascinating mummified crocodiles on display, once part of the worship rituals. Strange to think that they could have been there since 150 BC. There is also a carved calendar, showing the days of the ancient Egyptian months, which was explained by a guide.

After the tour, we returned to the boat. We were to carry on to Aswan, where we would spend the last two days of our cruise. I was already regretting not choosing the longer cruise option, as I had completely fallen in love with this river, and the amazing sights near its banks.

Aswan is a large city, expanded in modern times and boasting a population approaching 300,000. I had not travelled to Egypt to see large cities. I had come from one of the largest, London, and sought peace and antiquity. There was little of that to be found in this bustling terminus of riverboats, tourists, and crowded markets. However, there were two good reasons to travel here; Elephantine Island, and The Temple of Philae, and we were going to see them both. It was an early start the next morning, for the drive of over sixty miles down to the islands at Philae. On arrival, a serene trip on a small felucca would take our small group to one of the two islands. The Temple buildings had been threatened with flooding after the Aswan Dam was built, and because of this, the temple was moved stone by stone, to its present location.

I remember how peaceful it felt, arriving on the sailing boat, and touring the restored buildings with such a small group. On the return trip to Aswan, we stopped at an ancient quarry, where we could see rejected monoliths and carved statues still partly in the rock they had been carved from. If they cracked, or were damaged during carving, they were simply left in place. That night on the boat, they hosted the ‘theme’ party. We attended, but I have to tell you that we did not really enter into the full spirit of it, as we declined to dress in ancient Egyptian style clothing.

The next morning heralded our last night on board. We were taken across to Elephantine Island by boat, where we  decided to take the steep trip to the Aga Khan mausoleum. Unwisely, as it turned out, we agreed to pay a small fee to both go on the same camel. Jammed into a double saddle with a hard wooden surround, we later suffered badly from being rocked back and forth for a considerable time on the back of the unfortunate animal. Days later, we still had extensive bruising from the pressure of the uncomfortable saddle.

Later that evening, we ventured into the nearest market to the riverside. Aswan is known for fine quality cotton products, and we purchased a tablecloth and napkin set, with the minimum of haggling on that occasion. We watched the sun set behind Elephantine Island, with riverboats and feluccas silhouetted on the water. It was magnificent indeed.

Our last night on the boat was something of an anti-climax though, as we were aching and tired from a long day, and went to bed early.

The next day, we packed after breakfast, and went to the small reception area to settle our room bill. Despite all the extra teas and coffees, numerous beers, and some wine with dinner, our total for the whole cruise was less than £40, around £8 a day. I even got them to check it, as I thought it was not enough. They obviously thought I was complaining, and presented a meticulous drink-by-drink account. When I told them I thought it was too low, they just smiled. It must have seemed a lot of money to them. I added the difference to make it the equivalent of £50, and considered it to be money well spent, including gratuities.

We left the boat reluctantly, and I gazed enviously at the other river cruisers, still conveying tourists. The return trip by coach took just under four hours, including a short lunch break in a rather dubious roadside cafe. The distance from Luxor to Aswan was about 110 miles. It had taken four days on board, less than four hours by road.

Back at the Hilton, we were surprised to get the same room we had left earlier that week. We still had a few days of our holiday left, including the much-anticipated trip to Abu Simbel.

Egypt, 1989: Part One

I have decided to repost my 3-part series from 2014 about a holiday to Egypt in 1989. Parts two and three will follow this one in order.

Please note that many of the places described here have been greatly improved since our visit. Some now have permanent exhibitions, and better access. Some others are closed to tourists for the time being, and may or may not be re-opened. Hotels have been upgraded, and the river boats are generally of a more modern standard.

Egypt was one of those places I had always wanted to see. Old films with Pyramids and Pharaohs fascinated as a youngster, and later exploration in books and TV documentaries left me with a real desire to see this fascinating country. I had just never got around to it. I always felt that if it had lasted for all those thousands of years, it could wait a little bit longer for me to visit. I went to lots of other places instead. Some were changing politically, and needed to be seen as they were prior to that change. Others were cheaper, or just closer, so I took the occasional easy option. But Egypt remained in my mind, as somewhere I always knew that I would get to see. Eventually.

In 1989, I was getting married, for the second time. As the wedding was going to be in late July, we thought carefully about the honeymoon. Travel at this time is not only more expensive, it can also be very hot and uncomfortable. After some consideration, we decided that we would have the ideal honeymoon, in the land that I had always wanted to see. Egypt.

However, we would not be going in July, with temperatures at their highest. We would go in December instead. This time of cold and gloom in the UK is the exact opposite further south in Egypt. Warm sunny days, and calm cooler nights make December the perfect time to see this desert country. It also makes it more expensive, but I had been saving up. We went for a weekend in Amsterdam after the wedding, then returned to normal life, anticipating our ‘real’ honeymoon later that year.

After reading through some travel guides and tourist information (no Internet then) we decided to avoid Cairo. This did mean that we would not see the Pyramids, or the famous museum. On the other hand, it gave us the option of doing different things, including a cruise along the Nile, and a trip to Abu Simbel. We booked with Thomas Cook, and paid for everything, including the excursions. It was an organised holiday, with the chance to go on trips with guides if you wanted to, or do your own thing, if you preferred that. We would fly to Luxor, and spend a few days in the Hilton Hotel by The Nile, before joining our cruiser, for a five-night trip down to Aswan. After the cruise, we would return to the Hilton, and finish the remainder of the holiday there.

In October, with two months to go before the holiday, we began a long strike in the Ambulance Service. As the trip had already been paid for, we decided to still go, and not to let the fact that I wasn’t being paid, or might not have a job to return to, spoil any of our plans. I can’t deny that I was worried though, but that faded away as I sat on the aircraft.

On arrival at Luxor airport, our small group was broken up into those staying at different hotels. We were the only two going to stay at the Hilton, so we were dropped off by minibus with our luggage. Our first impressions of the city were not that good. Half-finished buildings lined the roads, and the whole place seemed to be dusty and run-down. The road leading to the Hilton led nowhere else, and the area around the hotel was studded with industrial buildings, and fenced-off scrub land. Outside the entrance, a group of horse-drawn taxis waited for business; the animals looked to be in a bad way, with all their ribs showing.

Inside the hotel compound, all was luxury. Palm trees, manicured gardens, and a stylish entrance, manned by uniformed youngsters whose only task was to open and close the doors for guests. Staff at the reception treated us like royalty; bags conveyed to our room, checked-in without fuss. The room itself was comfortable but not grand. It had one perfect feature though, a small balcony overlooking the River Nile.

Our deal included breakfast and dinner at the hotel, and all meals on the boat. After a shower and change, we explored the hotel grounds. A huge chess set was laid out, and comfortable furniture surrounded a pool, leading out to the lush gardens bordering the river. It certainly was a glamorous location, at least inside the hotel grounds. The weather was good, warm but not too hot, and the hotel had most things you could want, including a gift shop, cafe, and large restaurant. Dinner was an elegant affair, in an old-fashioned atmosphere. The hotel was not even half-full, so service and food were excellent. There was also the possibility to upgrade to the a-la-carte menu for a very small sum, so we did. We had two days to wait before getting on the river boat, so we resolved to make the most of it. The next morning, we would join the tour to Luxor and Karnak Temples.

We were collected after breakfast, and taken by coach on the short trip via the centre of Luxor. Founded in 1400BC, this city was originally called Thebes. Much of it appeared unchanged on first examination, and even the centre had the feel of a biblical town. Meat hung outside open butcher shops, covered in flies, and the market stalls were busy, with considerable traffic crowding the narrow streets.

Arriving at Luxor Temple, the reason for coming to this country was immediately apparent. The sheer scale and grandeur, the feel of history, of walking in the steps of Ramesses, it was completely overwhelming. Within moments, I was captivated, and knew instinctively that it had been worth all the travelling, and the cost. After listening to the guide for a while, we went off on our own, uninspired by his dry delivery and endless statistics about the height and weight of the columns. Just walking around the complex, looking up at the construction and feeling the atmosphere was more than enough. The main Karnak temple is nearby, along a path lined by what is left of a row of sphinxes that once joined the two main places of worship. The famous Hypostyle Hall, of over 100 ornate columns, and the carved reliefs in the Precinct of Amun Re, are simply breathtaking, and worth the whole trip alone. It was fascinating to imagine them all brightly painted in their heyday, and we could still see traces of some of the colours in the shaded roof areas.

The old town of Luxor didn’t have a great deal to offer. There were some tourist shops of course, as well as numerous market stalls and street sellers, all hawking trinkets and souvenirs. The persistence of some street traders was disconcerting. Outside of any attraction, and on the route back to the main hotels, they would follow you relentlessly, brandishing things in your face, and asking ‘English?’, or ‘German?’, if they went by my wife’s natural light blonde hair. At certain points, the Tourist Police would step in, and the salesmen knew better than to carry on. Although used to bargaining in North Africa, Kenya, and Turkey by then, I was staggered by the ridiculous starting prices stated by any shop or seller there.

Before leaving England, I had promised my friend’s little girl that I would bring her back a toy camel. I had expected to see lots of camels for sale, but I could only find wooden ones, not suitable for a small child. I eventually found a leather-covered stuffed camel in one shop, and went inside to look at it. The shopkeeper pounced immediately, telling me that this was a hand made first-class camel and one of a kind. His opening price was the equivalent of almost £200, which we could only laugh at. When he wouldn’t go below £50, we walked out of the shop. He followed us out, and offered a ‘much better price’. After another thirty minutes, we secured the toy for £8. This was probably still far too much, at least twice what it should have cost, but I was just pleased to get out of there.

We decided to return to the hotel by horse taxi. This involved more protracted negotiations with the driver, until we settled on the fare of around £1, which seemed to be the going rate. When we got back to the hotel, he asked for twice that much. “The rest is for my horse” he told us, indicating the sorry animal pulling the carriage. I decided to make a stand though, otherwise prices would get inflated. I gave him the equivalent of £1 as agreed.

The next day, we had an early start to visit the Valley of The Kings, and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This involved crossing the river by small boat, then a minibus trip up to the first site. Other than a parking area, and a large cafe, there is little to indicate the treasures below the rocky barren ground there. We had a guided tour into the tomb of Ramesses ll, which seemed to be little more than a hole in the ground, with steep steps leading down into darkness. The small group and guide were both compulsory at the time, as there were fears of damage done to the site by the sheer volume of tourists. Once on the staircase, we could immediately see the wonderful colours of the preserved paintings and heiroglyphs. It was amazing to think that the man who once occupied this tomb had died in 1213 BC, over three thousand years earlier. Only one small room was accessible, and it contained the large stone sarcophagus that would have originally housed the decorated coffin and the mummified body within. Even given the short time allowed for the visit, the impact of those moments in that cold chamber, surrounded by colour from a bygone era, stays with me to this day.

After an early lunch in the large cafe on the site, we headed off to see the Temple of Hatshepsut. This monumental building, part of which is built into the rock itself, is part of the large area known as the Theban Necropolis. Her temple is magnificently preserved, and an outstanding sight amid the surrounding hills.

Wandering about this complex, marvelling at the reliefs and architecture, I learned a valuable lesson about walking around in the midday sun. Although I hadn’t felt unduly hot, it was very bright, and very warm. I passed out with sunstroke, finding myself suddenly lying on my back, a group of concerned faces looking down at me. Other members of our group, as well as my wife and the guide, got me into the shade. They gave me water to drink, and also poured water over me. I soon felt better, but resolved to wear a cap every day after that. We returned to the hotel that afternoon, and I was fully recovered by the time we got there.

The next day we would be joining our ship, for the five day cruise down to Aswan.

Re-Post: Honeymoon In Marrakesh (Part 1)

I am reposting this from 2013, as not many of you have seen it. I Have divided the original very long post into two parts. This part is 1480 words. The second part will be posted tomorrow. There are no accompanying photos, as I was still using a film camera at the time.

I got married for the third (and last) time, in September 2009. We had a fairly traditional wedding, though in a hotel, rather than a church. It was a lovely day, and I will always have great memories of it. We decided to go on honeymoon to somewhere that neither of us had been to before. We had to consider the cost, as the wedding had used up some of the budget We thought that a week was long enough, so we could not go too far afield.

Places for consideration that would be new to both of us included Mexico, Cuba, Hong Kong, South Africa, and The Caribbean. These were rapidly ruled out, due to either the long flights involved, or the weather conditions in mid-September. North Africa looked promising, but I had been to Tunisia and Egypt before, which left Morocco as a good option. We had a choice of beach, probably Agadir, or inland, with Marrakesh as the most attractive prospect.

After some perusal on the Internet, and a flick through some brochures, we paid a visit to a large travel agent in Oxford Street, in London. As luck would have it, the agent had just returned from a junket in Marrakesh, and unhesitatingly recommended a hotel in the heart of the city. We looked at her suggestion online, and it really looked the part. It is called Les Jardins de la Koutoubia, as it is directly opposite the famous Koutoubia Mosque. The courtyard location, outdoor pool, and cool-looking terraces inside, all exuded Moorish style and architecture at its most desirable.

We decided to book independently, and get our own flights as well. Unfortunately, we were sorry to learn that Easyjet was the only airline with direct flights to Marrakesh. Other airlines go there, but they do so via other places first, putting hours on the journey. Undaunted, we booked with them, and arranged car parking at Gatwick. Holiday booked, we were suitably excited, and got on with the wedding plans. The hotel had been easy to arrange, and they even offered to collect us from the airport.

On the day, we found that it was not as bad as we had expected travelling with Easyjet, though we did make certain to comply with their notoriously draconian baggage regulations. On arrival at Marrakesh, we were pleased to see the promised good weather in evidence, and we were collected without fuss, for transfer to the hotel. We knew beforehand that Ramadan would be beginning when we arrived, and had expected this might cause some problems with cafes and restaurants being open, and possible restriction of service in the hotel. This was not the case at all, as the touristic nature of the place means that only the locals have to endure the privations of this religious season.

Arriving at the hotel, we could have been forgiven for being disappointed. The small driveway leading to the entrance was full of cars, and some very run-down looking workshops. The few shops looked to be stacked with unappealing goods, and a long wall running along the right side, gave no indication of the city beyond it.

Once through the unprepossessing entrance, all fears melted. It was simply wonderful. The reception was cool and shaded, and was home to one of the largest vases of red roses that I have ever seen. The cloistered courtyard, with the serene pool surrounded by sunbeds and relaxing leather chairs, was an early indication of the service and luxury to come. When we were shown to our room, we were not unhappy either. Everything we could have wanted was there. From a huge bed, to lovely Moroccan decor and fittings, as well as a TV if we desired to catch up on the news, and a balcony looking directly over to the Mosque that gave the place its name.

Also in view were the small but well-tended hotel gardens, and the half-size second pool. The hotel had an extensive underground spa facility housing its third pool, which was surrounded by dozens of candles, as well as lovely mood lighting, all providing a relaxing semi-darkness.

As we had opted for bed and breakfast only, we looked into the choice of the hotel’s three restaurants for our meal that evening. We had a choice of eating outside or in, and for the first evening, we chose the local food, stopping off first in the delightful old-fashioned bar, for a pre-dinner drink. The speciality of the house, the Koutoubia Cocktail, was the first on our list, and delicious it was too. The staff were all exceptionally friendly, and we learned that there would be few other guests until the weekend, when French and Spanish visitors arrived for just two days. The whole hotel felt half-empty, and in a good way, as we almost had it to ourselves; the perfect honeymoon location.

The meal was excellent, and I thought that we should explore after dinner. Leaving the hotel, I decided that the landmark of the Mosque would serve as a beacon, so we could not get lost. I thought that we should turn right, to look for the famous ‘Night Market’ in Djeema El Fna, the main square, which is also the main attraction of Marrakesh.

As someone who normally has a good sense of direction, I let myself down that evening.

Turning right, we entered what can only be described as the ‘Kwik-Fit’ district of the city. Every shop front seemed to be involved in the roadside repair and servicing of some of the thousands of mopeds that buzzed around the place. The pavements were clogged with vehicles, tyres, spare parts, and busy mechanics. The locals gave us quizzical looks, and it was impossible to make progress on the pavements, forcing us into the very dangerous roads.

Traffic is something not mentioned in the tourist guides. If you are considering a visit, then give traffic some serious thought. Crossing a road is almost impossible, and potentially suicidal; add to that the mopeds, and there are seemingly unlimited numbers of them, all appearing to try to run you down. They drive at you along the road, along the pavement, down alleys, across squares, even inside shops. In fact, anywhere you happen to be, or want to go, you will have to contend with moped riders whose one rule seems to be, ‘take no prisoners’.

After some time moped-dodging, we had still not come across the market. I carried on further, into the heart of the old town, passing tiny Mosques, bijou hammams, women-only bath-houses, and some Medresas. (Koran schools) It was a fascinating glimpse of real local life, but time was getting on, and we had still not found the market. We were hot and tired, and Julie was uneasy, as low rooftops and canopies now hid the Koutoubia Mosque from view, losing me my point of reference.

We were saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of a small group of street urchins. Probably no older than nine or ten, they latched onto us, and one of them said the magic words, ‘Night Market?’ I said yes, and they indicated that they would show us the way, by following them at the fast pace of a fit young child. It felt like a route march, and took some considerable time. There was always the possibility that they were leading us along some back alley, in the hope of robbing us, but I was not unduly concerned, as they seemed friendly, and the place did not feel remotely threatening.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably twenty minutes, I saw the reassuring shape of the Koutoubai Mosque ahead, and moments later, they led us into the Night Market. Just to our left, perhaps ten feet away, behind that large wall, was our hotel! We had been within throwing distance of the square as we had gone out, and I had turned right instead of left! They asked for a reward, but as I had only large denomination notes, I gave them some small change, about 30p.

This was considered an insult, and they asked for cigarettes as well. Luckily, I had a packet spare, and handed them over gratefully. (This leads me on to something else about Morocco. It is a place for smokers. Smoking is allowed everywhere, in hotels, bars, and cafes. Some have non-smoking areas, but none were smoke free, at least in 2009. For a smoker, it is a paradise.) The Night Market was impressive, but we were too tired to enjoy it then, and resolved to return the next evening. This visit would be a lot easier, as it was only yards from the hotel, after all…

Reflections On My Father: A Repost

When I wrote one of my ‘Short Thoughts’ about my dad this week, it reminded me that I am now the same age that he was when he died. In 2014, I wrote a blog post about him, and the difficult relationship I had with him. Very few of you have seen it, so I am reposting it in full today.

His name was Arthur, and he was born in Bermondsey, South London, in 1920. As a young man, he joined the army, and was posted to Woolwich Barracks, home of the Royal Artillery. When he was still just in his teens, the Second World War broke out, and he went to the Kent coast, to operate anti-aircraft guns near Dover. After Japan entered the war in 1941, he volunteered for service in the far east, and was posted to India. Promoted to sergeant, and eventually to Regimental Sergeant Major, he enjoyed a relatively comfortable war. He lived in his own bungalow, and even had servants, who lived under the porch. He went big-game hunting, and played both cricket and football for army teams. He was in charge of Indian troops, and he came to have a great respect for them as soldiers.

During this time, my mother, like many young women during the war, was writing to soldiers overseas. He received one of her letters, and met up with her after the war. At the end of hostilities, he stayed on in India for some time. On the voyage home, he stopped in Durban, and developed a great fondness for the life in South Africa. Arriving back in England, he told how he wanted to join the police force there, and start a new life in the sun. My Mum was having none of it, and refused to consider such a wrench from her family. I don’t think he ever forgave her, but he stayed in London, and they married in 1947.

He found work as a maker of tea-chests and boxes. He was always good with tools, and the work was regular, and reasonably well-paid. He was popular with almost everyone, and had a wide circle of friends, as well as a large extended family. At weekends, they would all meet in local pubs, where he would sing on stage, often accompanied by my uncle. My first memories of him are of a man smelling of hair oil and tobacco, with jet black wavy hair, and an olive complexion.

I didn’t take after him, looking like my Mum’s side of the family. He was dark, and looked continental, easily passing as Jewish, or perhaps of some foreign extraction. There was talk of a Spanish connection way back in the family, but I never could confirm that. He was always smartly dressed, and as far as I was aware then, a good provider. But he wasn’t a settled man. He longed for something more, a better life somewhere.

From early on, I was a great disappointment to him. Somewhat spoilt by my Mum, I did not display the aptitude for sports that he would have liked. I didn’t seem to be able to learn to swim, no matter how hard he tried to teach me, and my abilities at football, or any sport, did not reach his standards. I didn’t ever run fast enough, or act tough enough, for his liking.

My white-blond curly hair and blue-green eyes marked me as one of my Mum’s family, not his. I didn’t realise this of course, and as a child, I thought he was amazing. I watched him work on his car, and studied how he drove it too. He dressed me in suits and ties, and I accompanied him on visits to relatives and friends. When he took us on our annual seaside holidays, he played for hours on the beach, constructing ‘cars’ from sand for me to sit in, or helping me build ambitious castles. Yet still, something inside me always sensed his overriding displeasure with me, and I wanted him to like me more.

As I got older, our relationship grew steadily worse. He often argued with Mum, and I only found out decades later, that she had discovered he was having various affairs with other women. I spent a lot of time in my room, reading books and comics, and writing on an old typewriter. In an effort to get me out of the house, he bought me a bike, and taught me how to ride it. As he did so, he hurt his back, slipping a disc. This was to cause him great pain, and necessitate operations later on. He never let me forget that he did that teaching me how to cycle.

By the time I reached my teens, he tried to get me interested in car mechanics, and various jobs around the house. When I showed little aptitude or interest in such things, he became angry, regularly declaring that I was ‘useless’ and that I always would be. There was some redemption when I did well at school, and he seemed genuinely proud of my exam results. I got the feeling that he resented my academic leanings, and comparative success, but he never let on, if he did.

He would get his own back, by making me help him do jobs and chores. Hard manual labour in the garden, or hours spent in a freezing garage, holding tools or torches as he worked on cars. At some stage, I would invariably do something wrong, or with insufficient enthusiasm, giving him the opportunity to once again exclaim that I was useless, and I might as well leave him to do it alone. One particular evening, he added the words ‘I never wanted kids anyway, you were a mistake I was tricked into.’ I let that go at the time, but it always returned in my thoughts.

By this time, he had changed jobs, and had spent many years working in the record industry. This gave him a boost in social status, and the chance to work away from home a great deal. On his return, he would present me with dozens of records, all the latest hits. But this was more about showing his ability to source this bounty, rather than the genuine desire to give me gifts. Once I was in my twenties, we hardly spoke at all. He was always out, often staying away overnight, and his relationship with Mum had deteriorated noticeably.

When I was nearly 24 years old, Mum told me that she had seen our house up for sale in the local estate agent. She thought it must be a mistake, and confronted him when he got home. He told her that he was moving in with a male colleague, and could no longer live with us. As his was the only name on the deeds of the house, he was entitled to sell it, and would give her half the proceeds. Mum asked me not to get involved. She was so shocked by it all, she didn’t even bother to fight him, and awaited her fate once he left.

Despite the disruption to our life at the time, I was actually pleased to see the back of him. As we suspected, the ‘male colleague’ turned out to be female, and he had rather boringly just left my Mum for another woman, without having the courage to tell her the truth.

A few weeks later, he was returning to collect some things, and his car broke down. He phoned the house, and Mum asked me to collect him from Sidcup, where he had left his car. I didn’t speak to him as I drove him home, and he got a taxi back to his car later, when I was out. I never saw him again, and never spoke to him again, after that day.

In 1989, I received a call from his cousin. He told me that my father was dying in a hospital in Northampton. He had Motor Neurone Disease, and was not expected to last the week. ‘You ought to go and see him’, the cousin suggested. ‘Did he ask me to come?’, I replied. ‘Not as such, but I am sure that he would want to see you’, he insisted.

‘I don’t think so Roy’, was my reply.

Ambulance stories (6)

An old post, from 2012. Almost unbelievable, but sadly true.

beetleypete

F.O.I.R.

The above abbreviation stands for Foreign Object In Rectum, and was something that I would use on paperwork, completed during and after Emergency calls, in my time in the London Ambulance Service. Abbreviations were commonly used, to save time, ensure privacy, and because the space on the form for diagnostics and treatment was very small! Other frequently used abbreviations were;  WTASOS (Walked to Ambulance and sat on side). PMCCAH (Patient made comfortable and put in chair at the Hospital), and a personal favourite, MAMH (Mad as a March hare). They are not used these days, as the new forms have various tick boxes and codes, leaving little space for ‘artistic expression’.

In the early 1980’s, the Earls Court area in West London, was a well-known gathering point for the homosexual and lesbian communities in London. There were gay clubs and bars, many of which had been around for decades…

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