Birthdays make you reflect on life. At least that is the case for me. For most of my adult life, I never expected to live until I was 60, let alone 71. Now I have reached that age, I wonder if I will see 80. But I very much doubt that.


Well, I was a smoker for over 40 years. And a hardened smoker. Strong cigarettes, up to two packs a day. I gave up in 2012, but that was almost certainly too late to do much good.

I worked shifts in stressful jobs. Irregular hours, bad diet, difficult jobs that required putting yourself second.

Since I turned 30, I have liked to drink. Mostly red wine, but at one time, a lot of red wine. I might be down to one glass a day now, but the damage has undoubtedly been done, as it was with the cigarettes.

Two divorces, the loss of savings and equity, the emotional carnage that comes with broken marriages. Starting again from scratch. More stress.

So it is March 2023, and a time for reflection.

Would I have changed anything? If I went back in a time machine, would I do it all differently?


I enjoyed every cigarette I ever smoked. I knew they were bad for me, but I didn’t care.

I enjoyed every glass of wine that I ever drank. I knew it wasn’t that good for me, but I didn’t care.

I enjoyed those stressful jobs. They did some good for society, and made me think I was making a difference.

The divorces had to happen. The marriages could not have endured.

Whatever finally does for me, it will have been my decision.

And there will be no blame, no regrets.

Life Expectancy

When I was young, the assumed life expectancy was supposed to be 70 years old. (For men) As it said in the Bible, (somewhere) ‘Three Score Years, and Ten’.

I soon began to make decisons and lifestyle choices that were destined to reduce that number significantly, in my case. I started smoking cigarettes at the age of 16, and by the time I was 18, I was considered to be a heavy smoker. That carried on until I was 60 years old, 42 years of around two packs a day, every day.

And I also liked a drink. Beers at the pub, wine at home, and the more-than-occasional gin and tonic, or a nice cognac.

At the age of 27, I started working shifts, in an exceptionally stressful job. I did that for another 33 years, until just shy of my 60th birthday. In between, I moved house more times than I care recall now, and got married and divorced. Twice.

Then I got married again.

I didn’t watch what I ate too closely, and often worked 60-72 hours a week. I tried most recreational drugs known to mankind at one time or another, and adopted the ‘James Dean’ philosphy of ‘Live Fast, Die Young’. I expected to burn out. Not only expected it, there was a time when I actively sought that untimely end.

During my time as an EMT, I became closely acquainted with death, in more ways than I ever thought possible. I came to the conclusion that if I lived past the age of 55, it would be little short of a miracle. So when I celebrated that 55th birthday, I had to take stock. Perhaps I would live longer despite everything?

It dawned on me that it was possible to live to that Biblical age of three score plus ten, even for me.

Then I got to 60. I stopped smoking cigarettes, and retired to the countryside. I began exercising regularly with my dog Ollie, and relaxed at long last. But after many years of taking Statins for high cholesterol, I got bad news from my new doctor. Muscle wastage, and mild liver damage. All caused by reacting badly to Statins. I had almost no strength left in my upper body, and the muscles in my arms and chest were shot for life. I came off those tablets, and had to live with my record-breaking high cholesterol levels.

I thought that I had finally reached my high water mark, and the cholesterol would kill me within a year. But no.

So here I am at the amazingly (for me) old age of 68. I find myself in the middle of a lethal pandemic that is daily taking the lives of tens of thousands around the world.

But other than being ‘very sleepy’, I have no symptoms.

Maybe I am immortal after all.

Vaping v Smoking: My conclusions

I have been asked to write an update about using electronic smoking products, as opposed to smoking ‘real’ cigarettes. So, Madelyn, this is for you. (And anyone else who is remotely interested.)

In 2012, Julie and I both gave up smoking. That’s not strictly true, as we actually gave up smoking real cigarettes, and switched to the electronic alternatives instead. Less chemicals, no carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. Few (if any) cancerous by-products, and absolutely no odour on our clothes, or in our house. Our main reason was financial, we make no secret of that. The cost of tobacco cigarettes was getting out of proportion, and exceeding our ability to justify spending such a large part of our income on them.

After a couple of years, we switched from the electronic cigarette ‘lookalikes’ to vaping machines that use separate fluid. The main reason for this was because the smaller batteries were unreliable, and there was a lack of choice in the range of flavours. However, this also brought an unexpected reduction in costs too, making it even cheaper to keep away from ‘real’ smoking.

So just how much do we save? Is it worth switching to vaping, purely in monetary terms? To show just how much you could save, (and without going on about the additional health benefits) I will give an example of one typical year. Of course, you have to allow for the setup costs of buying the vaping devices. But once they are out of the way, daily costs are minimal, compared to the equivalent for cigarettes. Here is one year, broken down purely in financial terms. I am allowing for two of us using vaping devices here. If you are one person, you can halve these figures.

Conventional cigarettes. (UK prices for Marlboro Red/ Lucky Strike.)

Approx £9 per packet. ($11.27 US) This is the lowest estimate, at current prices.

Me. Ten packets weekly.
Julie, Six packets weekly.
Weekly cost. £129 ($161.62 US)
Annual cost. £6,708 ($8,404 US)

Vaping. Prices based on buying online, from Amazon, and other online retailers.

Kangertech Evod Mega devices X 6 units (Three each, so we have spare batteries)

Cost £19-£26 each, depending on retailer. Say £22 ($27.50 US) each for the sake of this post.
Total. £132 ($165.37 US)
Fluid to fill devices at around £1.50 a bottle.
Me. Three bottles weekly.
Julie. two bottles weekly.
Weekly cost. £7.50 ($9.40 US)
Annual cost. £390 ($488.51 US)
Replacement heating coils for vaping devices.
We use around four each week, between us. They cost £1.20 ($1.50 US) each.
Weekly cost. £4.80 ($6 US)
Annual cost. £249.60 ($312.65 US)

Total cost for vaping in one year, for two people. £804.97 ($1009 US)
Divide by two for one user. £403 ($505 US)
Second and subsequent years. Remove the initial cost of vaping devices by deducting the £132, and annual costs come down to an average of £673 ($843 US) for two people. So, the saving is easy to work out.

First year saving. £5,903 ($7,394 US) For two people
Second and subsequent years savings. £6,035 ($7,560 US) for two people.

I think that the sums are right, but feel free to tell me if I have made an error. Even if I am out by a little, you can see that the cost differences are immense. If nothing else, you will have a great deal more money in your pocket. You may still have to face being addicted to nicotine, but you will not be inhaling hundreds of other poisonous cocktails present in the normal cigarette smoke. You will also have something to hold, something to put into your mouth, and a device that fulfills the secondary desires of most smokers, as well as the primary one. That of inhaling nicotine in vapour.

For my wife and I, it has been a success story. We have not had a cigarette since September, 2012, and see no reason why we would ever go back to them. It is not, ‘Not Smoking’, I make no claim for that. But it is without doubt safer smoking, and incredibly cheaper too.
There are hundreds of devices available, in many styles and sizes. I only mention the brand we chose for cost estimation purposes.

Dying for a cigarette?

My earliest memories are of people smoking. Stinging smoke in my eyes, an ashtray on every flat surface. By the time that I was old enough to think about it, I didn’t hardly know anyone who wasn’t a smoker. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, many of my cousins, and all their friends and neighbours. Customers in shops, and shopkeepers and assistants too. Most of the teachers at school, a large section of my fellow pupils, and any man I ever met over the age of sixteen. They all smoked.

You could smoke on the top deck of a bus, in the smoking compartments of trains, and in any seat in a coach. The cinema was fair game too, though theatres had generally restricted smoking to the bar only, and during intervals. Restaurants provided ashtrays on every table, large stores employed people to sweep up the butts discarded on the floors, and nobody ever complained. Cigarettes were relatively cheap, as were matches. It was part of growing up, a rite of passage, as well as a huge industry.

Advertisers had been urging us to smoke for decades by then. Once commercial TV arrived, smart and glossy adverts urged us to try different brands. Almost sixty years later, I still remember some of the tag-lines. ‘You’re never alone with a Strand.’ ‘Consulate, cool as a mountain stream.’ Sponsorship followed, with F1 racing teams like JPS being financed by tobacco companies. Then there were the films. From the earliest days, smoking in films was portrayed as sexy, manly, or just a good way to chat someone up. Studio stars had portfolio photos taken, showing them lighting cigarettes, or sitting swathed in swirls of smoke. Soldiers in war films prized their smokes above all, with product placement for brands like Chesterfield and Lucky Strike accepted as fact. Lovers were shown lighting up after sex scenes, as if the post-coital cigarette was the reason for it all to begin with.

Almost everyone smoked, and nobody seemed to care.

In 1967, I was taken to see my GP. I had very swollen eyes, a result of my first experience of hay fever. Not only was this kindly old man smoking as I entered the consultation room, he offered my Mum a cigarette as she sat down. By the time I reached the age of sixteen, I had resisted the urge to try smoking. Still at school, I had little or no disposable income, so the prospect of spending what I had on cigarettes did not even occur to me. The following summer, I got a holiday job. I was on full-time wages, and finally had some real money in my pocket.

On payday, I went into the local shop, and bought twenty cigarettes and a box of matches. There was no question of not selling them to me. I had been sent out to buy cigarettes for my parents since I was seven or eight. I used to be allowed to spend the change on sweets, so always looked forward to being asked to run over to the shop. I lit my first ever cigarette, just over six months short of my seventeenth birthday. I expected to cough violently, and to not know how to smoke. I thought it might taste bad, feel hot, or be otherwise unpleasant. But it wasn’t. It was easy. I felt a little light-headed, but in a good way. I just had the one though, then put them away in a coat pocket.

A year later, and I had left school to take a full-time job. I smoked all the time by then, trying different brands to settle on the one I liked best. My parents had seemed relieved when they saw me smoking. To them it was perfectly natural, and it didn’t worry them in the least. I had joined the smokers, something that they had all been waiting for me to do.

Over the following decades, I smoked without thinking. I met my first wife, who also smoked, though only casually. My second wife had just given up when we met, but had no problem with me smoking at all. I could still smoke almost anywhere. Even the receptionists in the hospital smoked, as they booked patients in. Doctors would sneak into the staff room, to join the heavy-smoking nurses for a much-need cigarette break. But the tide was turning. Cinemas had brought in the ridiculous ‘right-hand’ system. All the seats on the right of the auditorium had smoking allowed, but not the left. That meant I would be sitting less than four feet away from a non-smoker during a 2-3 hour film, puffing away happily. On aircraft, you had to request a ‘smoking seat’. These were always the few rows at the very back. This still meant that a non-smoker was only one seat away from a person who might be smoking a cigar or pipe, as well as those using cigarettes. But duty-free cigarettes and cigars were sold to aircraft passengers, so there was a vested interest. Restaurants introduced ‘smoking tables’, again close to non-smokers who had to suffer in silence, most of the time.

Soon after, the anti-smoking lobby was gaining ground. Sides were taken, battle-lines drawn. Some of those same doctors who had sneaked into the staff room for a smoke in their youth, were now making television programmes about the hazards of tobacco smoke. Gory photos of cancerous tumours and diseased lungs were all over the media. And then there was the cost. Successive governments had increased the taxes on cigarettes, knowing that they could milk the nicotine addicts of their money, like so many cash cows. But I had a well-paid job, so I continued to buy my expensive Lucky Strikes. When I eventually met Julie, in the year 2000, one of the first things I told her was that I was a heavy smoker. By then it was important to get that fact across as soon as possible in any relationship. Fortunately, she told me that she also smoked, so that problem was solved.

Twelve years later, with retirement looming, I realised that I could no longer afford to buy cigarettes. They had increased in price to an extortionate £8.80 back then, and cost even more now. I could easily do the sums. Ten packets a week = £88. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and you get £4,576. That was more than one of my two pensions, just for cigarettes. So, we both gave up. Well, not exactly gave up. We switched to e-cigarettes, called ‘Vaping’ in some countries. It’s a fraction of the price, and is currently thought to be 95% safer than smoking. Very little in life is 100% safe, not even tap water, so it’s a fair gamble.

But it might all be too late of course. The damage could have been done all those years ago, as I sat enjoying my Lucky Strikes. Ask any smoker, and they will tell you it’s mostly about habit. Answering the phone? Light a cigarette. Driving in traffic? Light a cigarette. Enjoying a beer, or glass of wine? Better with a cigarette. Stressful day, or an argument with your partner? A cigarette helps. The first cup of coffee in the morning, or that last hot drink at night. Start the day with a cigarette, and round it off with one too. Just eaten a nice meal? Time for a cigarette. Leaving the house? Pat down your pockets, or check your handbag. Make sure you have those cigarettes and lighter on you. The habit is stronger than the addiction for most of us. And I say us, because I am still a smoker, albeit one of a different kind. I don’t preach, or take sides. It is what it is, for whatever reason it began.

But the next time you hear yourself say, “I’m dying for a cigarette.” You probably are.


I know, it’s a made-up word. Don’t worry, it was intentional.

This is the time of year when many people decide to face the coming twelve months with firm resolutions. They can be the usual things, losing weight, quitting smoking, or doing more exercise. They might also be more serious; falling in love, getting married, finding a new job, leaving an old job, or going off to university in September.

Statistics would have us believe that this is the peak time for the signing of new gym memberships. Clubs and hobby associations also enjoy a lot of seasonal activity, as well as dance classes, yoga schools, and Pilates groups. Weight Watchers and other similar organisations can anticipate a flurry of new members every year at this time too. Suppliers of cycles, exercise machines, new gym clothes, lifting weights, and running shoes can all expect to see an increase in sales.

“Do you make resolutions, Pete?” (I hear you ask) The answer is a firm no. I have discovered that nothing will make me want to do something more, than having pledged to myself not to do it. And nothing will make me want to do something less, than having agreed to do it on a strict regular basis. In the past, good resolutions have lasted for periods from as short as a few hours, to less than a month. Once the failure is apparent, it is followed by a sense of guilt and frustration that makes everything worse than it was before I gave up whatever it was, or decided to do whatever I didn’t do.

Let’s face it, January is a bad time to stop doing anything. Bad weather and dark evenings make outdoor activities unappealing, at best. Trying to cut down on food when it is cold and bleak outside is just not going to happen. The same applies to hardened smokers, hoping to give up. The party season has filled them full of nicotine, then they have to go back to work after a long break, coping once more with commuting. Traffic affected by weather, trains cancelled, and the prospect of another year at a job they would probably sooner not be doing. The worst possible time to try to stop, surely?

Deciding to do something, whatever it is, telling everyone that you are going to do it, hyping yourself up to get on with doing it, and then not doing it at all. This is not good for your well-being, self-esteem, or peace of mind. Yet year after year, as long as I can remember, so many people do just that, every January. Maybe we should change the socially-accepted date for this to sometime around the end of July. It is usually nicer to be outside, the brighter weather makes everyone feel happier and more positive, and summer salad foods are in abundance. January was never going to work, was it?

Instead of resolutions, I have ‘might dos.’

I might clear out the garage in 2016. I might finally get around to planting some nice flowers and colourful shrubs in the garden. I might wash the car more than once a year, and I might just clean the windows more often than I do. I might get to see more of Norfolk, taking Ollie further afield on a regular basis. I might decide to stop volunteering at the windmill, if visitor numbers stay in single figures. I might decide not to post so much on this blog. I might take a lot more photographs this year, (weather permitting) and even learn how to use Photoshop Elements. I might write more fictional stories. If and when we have a decent summer, I might walk for much longer with Ollie, extend to four hours instead of 2-3. That would help me lose more weight.

That seems like a lot of might dos, I know.

Of course, there is always the chance that I might not do any of them.


Electronic Smoking (7) Update 2014

Since September 2012, I have not had a cigarette. A ‘real’ cigarette that is, and neither has Julie. I have written many posts and updates about using the electronic alternatives, known as ‘e-cigs’, or ‘vaping’. As a way of giving up actual smoking, this method has become incredibly successful, and current figures estimate well over one million regular users, in the UK alone. Even such luminaries as the head of the Cancer Research Foundation have been prepared to go public with their view that it is not dangerous, and should be encouraged as an alternative to cigarettes and tobacco. These devices contain a glycerol liquid, with nicotine added at varying strengths, chosen by the consumer. They do not address the problem of addiction to nicotine, and do not attempt to do so. What they offer, is a far better alternative to normal smoking, and one that is considerably healthier for the user, with no notable side effects for anyone nearby.

As a result, many establishments allow the use of these in public areas. Even though some may look like normal cigarettes, the coloured lights that glow when the mixture is heated by the battery, and the fact that they have no odour, make it clear to anyone who sees them being used, that it is not an actual cigarette. Some of the devices are made to look nothing like conventional cigarettes or pipes, making it even more obvious that tobacco is not present. I have written before about the way that these e-cigs have enabled me to stop smoking. As a heavy smoker for over forty years, I never once felt that it would be possible to give up; but I am proof that these things work, as are many other successful quitters.

Ideally, I should have weaned myself off them altogether by now, and not be using anything. For that, I have no answer. At the moment, I am happy to continue using them, as they provide all the ‘benefits’ of smoking, at much less cost, and do not pollute my home environment, as well as being a lot healthier of course. There has been a lot of recent publicity about government regulation of these products. By 2016, they will only be available in shops with pharmacy counters. They will be treated as a medicine, and regulated in the same way. There may well be some taxation, so that the government can recoup the lost revenue from tobacco taxes. No doubt the powerful tobacco companies lobby in parliament will try to make it a lot more difficult for us to switch to them, and kick themselves for missing the profit train that they can see.

Today, the Welsh Assembly announced that they would soon be introducing a ban on e-gigs of all kinds, in public places. This puts them into the same category as normal tobacco products, and adds the same restrictions. Their stated reason for this, is that seeing the smoking of these will make people want to smoke real tobacco, so it is in the interests of public safety. If this goes ahead, the rest of the UK will soon fall into line, and also bring in the ban. This will be another move to make it more difficult to switch from real smoking, to the electronic alternatives.

Given that leading health experts have gone on record as approving the use of e-cigs as a desirable alternative to the use of tobacco products, how can this make any sense? Is it not much more likely that the pressure of the tobacco companies, with their large employment and investments, is leading to this controversy and regulation? I am sure you can decide for yourselves.

Holidays and Travel: Marrakesh 2009

The previous holiday post was about a trip in 1975. This is hardly in any sequence, as it is 34 years later. I decided that chronological order was too obvious, so thought that I would mix them up. Hope nobody is disappointed?

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, and 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 drivers, 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, or 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 next visit would be a lot easier, as it was only yards from the hotel, after all…

The next day, we went to look at the Koutoubia, and the gardens that surround it. Due to the celebration of Ramadan, the whole area was full of sleeping worshippers, resting during their time of fasting, and awaiting the call to prayer. We did not go into the Mosque, but walked around the gardens, which were dry in the heat. We then went to explore the extensive market, set around the main square. This is a maze of tiny stalls and shops, most of which are selling the same things: souvenirs of Morocco, and different types of clothing. There were also spice and juice stalls, and a range of fruit sellers as well. The dreaded mopeds were much in evidence, buzzing in and out of the passages between the shops, occasionally bumping you, as they tried to wriggle past. It was all much as you might imagine. Exotic at first, with endless haggling, shop owners pestering, until you soon tired of it all. We retreated to the oasis of our hotel, to relax by the pool with a cold drink.

The following morning, we took an open top bus tour, supposedly the best way to see the sights in and around the city, with some stops further afield, in what was essentially a palm-tree desert. This was actually very amusing. There were so few tourists, the bus was presumably running at a loss. As a result, there was no guide commentary, and the headphone commentary, advertised on the side, was also notable by its absence. The young lady supposed to be guiding, spent the whole time downstairs, talking to the driver. We were left to work out for ourselves what we were seeing, with the aid of a map in the tour brochure.  We did make the most of the hop-on-hop-off facility though, so managed to see a fair bit of the area. The bus returned when it was supposed to at least, so we were thankful for that. The older parts of the city, within the walls of the medieval Medina, were a real delight, and exactly what we had hoped to see. With the lack of tourists, life was going on much as normal, so we were able to see the place as it should be seen, and not just as one giant gift shop.

The hotel staff had recommended two places to visit in the evening, as an alternative to eating in the hotel. One was a swish-looking courtyard restaurant, some distance away, in the ‘new city’. This restaurant also featured in our small guide book, and was advertised in a ‘Marrakesh’ magazine we obtained. The other, was an evening of folklore and entertainment, at an all-inclusive price, with collection and return to the hotel included. We reserved both, though we had serious doubts about the evening of folklore, at a place called ‘Chez Ali’. The staff were insistent that it was a great evening, with unlimited food and drink, and lots to see and do. I imagined a large restaurant, with dancers and musicians. We went to the nice small restaurant first, having negotiated a return taxi fee, with a Mercedes driver who constantly parked outside the hotel, and who was recommended by the staff. (Undoubtedly on a commission) The place did not let us down. After a journey at breakneck speed, across most of the city, the taxi dropped us off, arranging to collect us later; the staff would call him on a mobile when we were ready. The restaurant was excellent. We had drinks in the courtyard before going in for our meal, the interior set off by an indoor pool, and beautiful lighting.  With excellent service, and first-rate food, it was the ideal romantic evening for a honeymoon night out. The prices were about the same as they would have been in London, as was the taxi fare. We got back to the hotel in time for a late drink around the pool, and reflected on a marvellous night out.

Two nights later, we were collected by minibus, to be taken to Chez Ali. We were the only passengers, and discovered that the driver would also serve as a guide, wait for us during the evening, and collect us after the entertainment. Another long drive began, this time into the desert, away from all built-up areas. After some time, we asked the driver how much longer it would be, and were surprised to hear that it was still at least fifteen minutes away. We spotted what could only be our destination, lit by rows of coloured lights, a good five minutes before we arrived. The size of a small town, Chez Ali was actually a huge complex, surrounded by old walls, and entered by a long driveway. As we got to the car park, our hearts sank, as we saw dozens of coaches, and umpteen minibuses, all jostling for space, to drop off hundreds of people. It was like going to a football match, to have dinner. The driver told us not to worry, that it would be very nice, and that he would guarantee that we got a very good place. He was obviously in the know, as he was soon chatting to the door staff, and whisking us along, via a ‘photo opportunity’, to our tent, where we would be served the meal. What followed, was a far from pleasurable experience, only saved by our sense of humour.

Inside the place, there were dozens of tents, all lined up along something resembling a ‘main street’. There were literally hundreds of harassed staff, suitably dressed in various versions of traditional clothing. Musicians played to welcome us, and our guide took us into a well-lit tent, the size of a circus big top. The first problem, was that we were not part of a group. It appeared that it was very rare for couples to book this trip, and all the other tourists, from every country in the world, seemingly, were in large groups of twenty or more, some much larger. As the only couple, we were taken to a table at the head of the tent, and seated separately from the others.  everyone looked at us, with that look that is a cross between ‘are they celebrities?’, and ‘who do they think they are?’. The food and drink arrived. It was an enormous bowl, containing meat that we thought might be chicken, vegetables roasted to extinction, and piles of rice and potatoes. It was pretty repulsive, and we felt the need to record it on video. We had to eat some at least, and some bread, as we had saved our appetite all day, for the anticipated feast. The fruit, brought as a dessert, looked like what was left after the market had closed, and packed away for the night.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the entertainment began. Groups of musicians, dancers, and singers, did the rounds of all the tents, repeating their party piece for each one in turn. By the time it got to us, we had already heard it, from the tent next door. It was also all so loud, it was impossible to hear yourself think. This was not a terribly expensive excursion, so it may sound churlish to complain. It was just that it had been built up to us as something very different, so we were disappointed; but at least we were laughing! After the food was cleared away, we followed the crowds towards a large open area, with tiered seating. It was completely dark by now, so the dramatic son-et-lumiere that followed, was surprisingly effective. There were various tableaux of historical re-enactments and parades, culminating in a display by riders, dressed as Berber tribesmen, firing guns as they rode their ponies around the arena at breakneck speed. It might have been worth the trip, just to see the historical events in the arena; might have been, but not really. We were pleased to be making our way back to the hotel soon after, happy to put the whole evening down to experience. One we would not be repeating.

The last couple of days in Marrakesh were spent peacefully relaxing around the hotel, which had returned to its former state of calm, after the weekend invasion by the trippers from Europe. That had not turned out to be at all bad, as there were still not enough guests to make the hotel feel crowded. The evening before we were due to leave, we went to the market to engage the services of a horse and carriage, for a gentle tour of the old city. We had been advised to haggle, but I took just one banknote, worth slightly less than £18, and said to the driver (in French) ‘ this is all we have left, we go home to England tomorrow.’ He accepted this tactic, and we set off, for almost an hour of gentle driving around the area. This was definitely the way to see the place in comfort, and far better than the bus, or walking. It was also the perfect romantic ending, to a memorable honeymoon.

I have no connection with the hotel where we stayed, but I will add this link to their website, so you can see for yourselves, just how nice it is. If you are ever considering a trip to Marrakesh, it is one to put on your list of possibles.     (Flash player required to view link)

Smoking and drinking

Some of you may recall my posts about using ‘electronic’ cigarettes, a form of nicotine replacement therapy, to give up smoking. I also posted about giving up drinking, or seriously reducing my intake of red wine, around New Year. Well, here is a very short progress report. I doubt anyone is still interested in something so personal and mundane, but it will serve as a reminder for me, at a later date.

We are both still off the ‘real’ cigarettes. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but I confess that the nicotine addiction has not been conquered at all, and we both still use the electronic replacement on a daily basis. There must be some benefit to not actually smoking, and I hope that this will be proved, with time. The money saved is beginning to notice, and has run into many hundreds of pounds already. I am also happy to report, that I have not so much as looked at a packet of cigarettes since last September, and anything I have seen about smoking them, has been on the News.

I now come to drinking alcohol. Since January 1st, I have drunk one bottle of red wine. Not bad, when you consider that I usually consumed at least four bottles a week, prior to that date. I have also had no other alcohol, so no beer, or spirits. This is a cost saving approaching £20 a week, so has so far amounted to at least £100, and it is only February 1st. The one bottle I did drink, was on a ‘meal deal’ offer, so was technically free!

I am not smug about it. I would not pontificate on the subject, or urge others to follow my efforts. It is merely a statement of facts. I am lucky that I have not slipped back into smoking, and I confess I would really like to go back to drinking most nights of the week. However, I need the money, and will benefit from the heath aspects, so I have to stick with it.

The return of my senses

Since giving up work, and retiring to Norfolk, I have noticed something quite strange. This was almost immediate, and happened without warning. My hearing returned. Not that I was deaf, you understand, just unaware how much auditory capacity I had previously lost.

Over ten years of working in Police Control Rooms had meant that I had to wear a headset for 12 hours a day. This was a dual-purpose item, used for radio transmissions, and answering telephone calls too. It was never turned off, so even if other operators were talking, you always heard everything that went on. Meanwhile, you could hear all the talking and shouting across the room, and the noise of the telephone ring signal in your ear, despite whatever else you may have been doing. Other than the occasional headache, I was not really aware of any damage that this may have been doing to my hearing; though on reflection, I was turning up the TV at home by a few notches, and finding myself straining to hear things, from time to time.

There was also the cacophony of London life to deal with. Intrusive sound from neighbours at all hours, roadworks and utility companies digging, traffic sounds, and helicopter flights that would do justice to Saigon in the 1970’s. All part of living so near the centre. I had to suffer it, although I was aware that it was getting worse.

Then I moved to Norfolk. I had removed the headset for ever, traffic was a thing of the past, and there was nobody shouting, at least not visible with binoculars anyway; my neighbours were so quiet, I presumed the houses were empty. Within a few days, I started to hear things.

Not things that were not there, things that were. Rustling of leaves, buzzing of insects, wing beats of small birds, footsteps on gravel drives. The TV volume went down from 25 to 16, reading a magazine seemed noisy, as the pages turned, and I could even hear the difference in the size of raindrops. Hearing is a wonderful thing, and I feel so lucky to have it back.

Recently, as you may have seen in other posts, I gave up smoking cigarettes. This has started to bring back another long lost sense, my sense of smell. As long as I can remember, I could only really smell the most extreme things. I could certainly notice the smell of a dead body, left untended in summer heat for a few days, during my time in the London Ambulance Service; and If I was unlucky enough to step in some dog mess, I would notice that pretty quickly too. However, most everyday smells were lost to me. Fresh bread, sweet smells, perfumes, (unless over-applied), flowers, and even newly cut grass, had all been erased from my nasal functions.

Now, it is beginning to return, and not always for the better. I can now smell Ollie the dog, and wish that I couldn’t. I can smell someone smoking a cigarette on the other side of Tesco’s car park, giving me some idea what I must have smelt like for the last 44 years. I have also almost stopped sneezing. My constant sneezing fits were well-known to friends and colleagues alike. They could go on for a considerable time, often at inopportune moments, and were most embarrassing. They seem to have diminished, presumably having been a side effect of smoking.

So, I can now smell when my dinner is almost cooked without having to physically check on it , and hear the postman on the gravel outside, long before the letters come through the box. Small progress to some, a revelation to me.

Electronic smoking (3)

Tomorrow will see the completion of my second full week on the Electronic Cigarette. Amazingly, I have not slipped back to tobacco cigarettes, and have not missed them at all. I have spent a total of £25 on the cartridges, and have enough left for another week, at least, so the financial savings are still evident, almost £140 in the bank!
The craving for the nicotine has not diminished though. If anything, I have got used to the extra strength of the cartridges, so find them less satisfying than when I first tried them. Despite this, my tangible success had given me the inspiration to continue, and I have no intention of returning to ‘real’ cigarettes. We are already noticing the absence of smoke smells in the house, even more so, since Julie has started to use the replacement cartridges too. There are still issues with the battery life between charges, but we can remedy this by buying additional batteries from the manufacturer.

So far, it is a success story, and one that I can really recommend to anyone who feels that they can never give up smoking.