I decided to start this before I went back to Morocco, so that my initial memories are untainted by new impressions. I was eighteen, in between the sixth form and art school and I have used the experiences I had in many pieces of writing since. My mother had taken out an insurance policy to send me to secretarial school if I couldn’t do anything else, and when I got into college she asked me what I wanted to do with the money instead. Travel, of course. I had been to Poland and Austria with my father, but I was hankering after something really different, and when I saw this holiday advertised in a teenage magazine I simply drooled. Three weeks, driving through France and Spain in two Land Rovers, travelling round Morocco, and then returning by train. This was 1967, and Morocco was not yet a tourist destination. Pure adventure.
I remember seeing my first group of date palms, and being slightly surprised that they really existed. Being the only one of the party of twenty-one who spoke reasonable French, which, as the product of an English Grammar School, was rather a surprise. Being the least fussy about food, as I was prepared to try anything. Fifty years later, a lot of my memories are just snapshots. We camped, and made the mistake of setting up our tents in a wadi. I assumed the expedition leader knew that people could get washed away in the middle of the night, the way my geography teacher had told me, so I said nothing and admired the lightning in the Atlas Mountains several miles away until we noticed the water around our ankles… It rose quite quickly, but slowly enough so that we were able to get everything out and up the bank onto dry land. The following morning our campsite was under 12 foot of water. I saw scorpions and lizards, and the lure of travel set in from then on.
Unfortunately I cracked a rib a couple of days before leaving for Morocco this time, but I still went. So now I’m back, and the riad that I stayed at was in the heart of the kasbah. Very little had changed, other than a lot more motorbikes which are ideal for the narrow streets – so narrow, that no vehicle could stop outside our hotel. I’d expected Macdonalds and Burger King, but no. It’s still mint tea, couscous and tagines, although the lizards and scorpions failed to put in an appearance. I had to make do with Colin the cockroach instead. I was going to write a lot more, but I’m dosed up on painkillers so this will have to do. Wherever I go, I try to bring back just one beautiful thing. And so many times, they’ve been the inspiration for something else. The Turkish carpet I bought in Yalikavak, which became the magic carpet Nimby in Back to the Divide. The extraordinary shoes I bought in Ukraine, which featured in Beware of Men with Moustaches. The wooden elephant I bought in Zambia, which I had in front of me when I wrote Hunted. So here is the desert rose I bought on my first trip to Morocco, all the those years ago, and from earlier this month some unidentified crystals from the Atlas Mountains. If anyone can identify them, I’d be obliged.
|Marrakech - just the same as ever. Apart from the football shirts.|