Friday 12 July 2013

What we didn't do in Morocco

We were going to do so much.  James fancied quad biking over the dunes.  I fancied galloping over the sands.  We both had our eyes on camels.  We were going to haggle for stuff in the souk (we’re the perfect tag team, me and my boy).  We were going to hike in the mountains, visit Berber villages (not in a nasty tacky touristy way of course – hmm), scramble up waterfalls, ride mules up precipitous tracks, eat strange and wonderful things, lie on our backs and stargaze.  We had plans. Lots of plans.  All the things that we never normally do on holiday. 
James: ‘Mum?’
Me: ‘Yes?’
James: ‘I don’t feel too good.’
Poor James. Sick on holiday. It’s grim, huh? 

So we didn’t do anything really.  We just waved off Rachel and Gabriel onto their adventures and…lolled.  We watched the sea, the stars, the clouds, the mist.  We listened to donkeys and the crash of the waves.  We saw chameleons change colour as they slowly climbed from shade to sun.

Then we left the sea and drove to the mountains, to a beautiful kasbah high in the hills.  And here we watched storms brewing, lightning crackling over Marrakech.  We listened to crickets – or were they cicadas? – and the cry of the muezzin rising up from the village in the valley below.
And we listened to Rachel and Gabriel’s travellers’ tales – of snake charmers, of muleteers, of sweet tagines, of the £10 cup of tea at Richard Branson’s hotel. 

‘It’s not fair,’ said James.  ‘It’s just not fair.’  He thumped his fist into the bed.
‘Hey, it is what it is,’ I said.
‘Don’t start,’ he growled. 
‘But really,’ I said. ‘It’s not what we expected but it’s fine, isn’t it?’
He rolled his eyes. ‘But I feel bad for you, Mum, not just for me.  You wanted to go into the mountains.’
‘Sure,’ I said.  ‘But I equally like not going into the mountains.  All I really wanted was to spend some time with you.’
He smiled.  Wanly. 

But really.  It didn’t matter.  Of course I hated that he felt rough. I’d have taken it off him in an instant if I could.  But as for the rest, whatever.  We have these ideas of perfect holidays, perfect weeks, perfect days but truly, all we can have are perfect moments.  Okay, so sometimes it feels like a bunch of them join up together and dance but really, that’s just illusion.  A trick of time. 

Sure, I didn't miss the irony.  I'd spent an arm and a leg (well, I will have, when the bill comes in) and really we could have just laid on the lawn back home and paid off debts instead.  But hey...

I loved so many moments in Morocco.  Soft warm air on skin.  The surprise of a toad slapping my bare calf as I walked in darkness – both of us undoubtedly as surprised by the encounter as the other.  Ripples ribboning on the pool.  Desultory conversations with James – neither of us talk that much (there’s not much need).  The feel of my skin after having a wonderful hammam.  The crunch of an almond biscuit and the sweet assault of mint tea on the tongue. 

It wasn’t the holiday we planned but, in its way, it was perfect.  

The cafe at the end of the world...

So we drove for hours from the airport, through scrubby desert, past villages straggling either side of the heat-shimmered road. Watermelons. Goats in trees.
‘Are they for real?’ said Rachel.
‘The goats? You know, I’m not entirely sure,’ I said.
‘Taxidermied more like,’ I said. ‘Superglued to the branches.’
‘Oh God.’

The road became a track and the track became a dust devil. Every so often we lurched off to one side, narrowly avoiding a truck carrying watermelons.
‘Oh yum,’ said Rachel. ‘I love watermelon.’

Then the dust became sand.  A beach, stretching either way to infinity. Haze on the water.  Camels.  Horses. Donkeys. Dogs. Comatose cats. A sidling of buildings.  Big waves.
‘It’s the beach at the end of the world,’ I said.
‘Don’t say that,’ said Rachel.
‘I like it,’ I said. ‘It’s…desolate.’
And it did indeed possess a stark beauty, Sidi Kaouki. A Berber village named after a marabout, a wandering holy man. 

‘Dad would hate it,’ said James. 
I looked around and had to agree.  There were groups of men hanging around, selling camel rides, or bracelets or who knows what.  But they weren’t remotely aggressive or pushy.  I pointed this out to James and he shrugged.  ‘I was thinking more of the poo,’ he said. 

So we walked along the beach, away from the camels and the surfers.  And we walked and walked and the landscape became even more lunar, yet more desolate. And I loved it even more.
Eventually we were stopped by dogs.  A pack of curs, skinny, curious, bit of this, bit of that dogs.  The kind of mongrels you just don’t see in the UK any more.  They ran up barking.
‘They’ll be fine,’ I said.
‘They’ll have rabies,’ said Rachel firmly, turning back.
So we picked an alternate route over rocks.
‘Is that some kind of café?’
Perched up on the rocks, there were cushions piled on benches.  Wind chimes made of shells blew in the wind. A vast spine arched over the ledge behind, alongside a skull, horned. An ossary café? A bone bar?

We sat down and a woman emerged, bringing olives and flatbread, placing a short menu of local fish in front of us.  And we drank mint tea and watched the waves crash against the rocks.  And the woman threw a bucket of fish scraps out onto the rocks and there was suddenly a moithering of dogs. 
‘Ils sont sauvages,’ she said with a shrug.

Les chiens sauvages a la fin du monde. How perfect.  

How do you holiday?

‘Can we have a proper holiday this year, Mum?’ said James.
‘Huh? A proper holiday?’
‘Yeah, you know…one that isn’t some last minute panic.  A proper, thought-about, planned, booked holiday, where we don’t argue, where nobody’s stressed… Abroad. Somewhere hot but with air conditioning.’
Chilly Cornwall

We have a bit of a problem when it comes to holidays.  I love doing and seeing things that are a bit different, out of the norm, a little extreme even.  I dream of the Himalayas, of galloping on camels across deserts, of flying for hours and getting off the plane in a place so very different from rural Somerset that it takes my breath away.  Adrian, on the other hand, is a cautious traveller.  

Every time I suggest a destination, he cites excrement, war, terrorism, plague, sodomy, open drains, raw sewage, excrement, kidnapping, torture, excrement, stomach bugs, sunstroke and…excrement.  Whenever he suggests a destination I yawn.  Unfair?  I give you Belgium.  Not that I have anything against Belgium per se.  I mean, Belgium does great chocolate and I’m sure the beer is superb. It has some very pretty cities. Good frites.  But, for a summer holiday? 

Chilly Northumberland
‘Well…’ I say to James. ‘Where would you like to go?’
‘Morocco,’ he says. ‘But Dad won’t like it.’
We look at one another and sigh.
‘He won't. Definitely not. We could go kayaking in Poland?’ I try. ‘Or how about snorkelling in Croatia?  He’s keen on Croatia.’
James shakes his head and a look of resignation comes over his face. ‘I really would love to go to Morocco.’

And I think about how he’s fourteen and time is running out.  How many more years are there when he will want to go on  holiday with me?  And then I thought about how I'm always jetting off here, there and everywhere for work (as is Adrian) and poor James is stuck behind and, bless him, never complains (though maybe that's because he's not too keen on having colonics in Italy or pretzeling himself in Spain). And I think about our past holidays which have been fine but a bit haphazard, a bit last-minute, a bit flung together on a wing and a prayer. And I look at my credit card and think...sod it. 

Sweltering Spain.
And then it hits me.  ‘How about if just you and I go?’ I say.  ‘And then maybe you and Dad could go to…’
‘Germany!’ he says, eyes lighting up.  ‘We could go to bars and war museums.’ He knows his father so well.

And I thought Adrian might baulk at this idea but he grasped it like a drowning man. With unseemly haste, actually.  

So I told my friend Rachel what we were doing and she looked wistful.
‘I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco,’ she said.  ‘But Charlie’s never been keen.’ 
‘Well…come with us,’ I said. 

A glint came into her eye.  ‘You know what?  I will,’ she said.  ‘I’ll bring Gabs.’  Gabriel.  My godson. Adorable, edible child.

So that is how we came to find ourselves getting off an airplane in Marrakech.  J

Okay, so it didn’t quite pan out the way we planned (more anon) but still…sensible, huh?  So, tell me, do you always  holiday en famille?  Do you compromise furiously? Or do you split up and do the things you all really want?