Social Distance

On the beach
she builds a fire with gnarly driftwood
and sits a copper pot above it.
Stirs in sea creatures like a witch.

Hot chillies and pinches of spice:
ginger; turmeric; paprika, for flavour.
She knows the aroma will drift
on the sea breeze to sunbathers
at the swanky hotel

who lie sweating under palm umbrellas
sipping coloured cocktails
brought to them by young men
in uncomfortable clothes.

In the midday heat a couple strolls
hand in hand towards the woman

who stirs her pot in the shade of sarongs
that hang from a line behind her.

She sells them ladles of soup
in mismatched bowls.

They sit on rocks by the aloes
to slurp and agree
it’s the best fish broth
they’ve ever tasted.

When bowls are empty she points
to her line of bright sarongs
Only 40 she says,

The woman says ‘they’re pretty’
and the man pulls just 20 from his fat wallet.

The old woman yields and watches

them sashay
back along the beach,
back to the sunbeds,
where they’ll try and tan
without burning,
or turning as brown as her.

She wipes her dusty hands
on a rag and casts the dregs of soup
in an arc across the sand,

back in her hut
she eats boiled rice and stale bread,
then drops her skinny frame down
onto her single mattress.

At 10 she hears the music from the hotel start.
Singing and laughter cling to the wind.
She snuffs her candle and tries to sleep.

They may dance until dawn
but she will be heading to the market then.


Missing the News

Me and my husband on our camels, Cappuccino and Tarzan

Me and my husband on our camels for the day, Cappuccino and Tarzan

My husband and I had a holiday in Essaouira, Morocco recently. Essaouira is a wonderful bustling place, with a colourful old Medina lined with tiny shops overflowing with goods of all sorts.  It also boasts a long, golden, sandy beach, where local boys practice football and gymnastics, girls paddle, tourists lie prone soaking up the sun for hours (yep, that was me), or take to the water on boards of all shapes and sizes. At the far end, away from the town, camels and horses line up awaiting their next riders, while their owners sit and chat and smoke.

There are hawkers patrolling the beach selling all sorts of tat, but also brandishing trays of cakes. One particular gappy-toothed chap was certain I knew him and every day approached my sunbed with

hello ma’am, you remember me? You want happy cake today?’

and when I refused offered me

just weed?’.

I still don’t know who he mistook me for, I can only assume I look like an ageing hippy!

The tiny Riad where we stayed was right in the Medina and looked very unprepossessing from the outside, but inside, it was a glorious gem, with all the luxurious trappings you could imagine, even a Jacuzzi.

Anyway, it was all very lovely, we did the touristy things; had a hammam (owww..), rode a camel, saw the sights (including where they filmed a bit of Game of Thrones) and took full advantage of the lovely restaurants and beach.

But all this aside, one thing that made this holiday very special was our complete separation from technology and the outside world for a whole week.

I did take my phone with me for emergencies, but it remained switched off for the entire time.  My laptops and ipad stayed home alone. For once there was no TV in the room, and we couldn’t read the headlines on the newspaper stands. So for a whole week, we were cocooned in our own little world of eating, sleeping and having fun.

Naturally, while we were there we witnessed some poverty and were reminded of really how privileged we are, but generally Essaouira is less down at heel than other places we have visited. So all in all, it was a treat to have a break from the daily bombardment of misery, suffering, and arguments that is fed to us daily through newspapers, TV, and websites.

Nonetheless, I believe that it is absolutely right and proper that we should all take an interest in the world and it’s complex problems. Ok, it’s often distressing, and worrying, and I don’t necessarily understand it all, but it wouldn’t do at all if we all buried our heads in the sand and said

it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t affect me’.

Of course, it matters. It will affect me. History teaches us that ripples, from whichever corner of the world they originate, will eventually reach us. Whether it be close-to-home decisions in parliament about taxes and austerity, or news from the faraway places where injustice and horror reign, we can be sure that there will be an impact, one way or another, on our lives.

So yes, a break from all that is brilliant, but I don’t understand those who can live their entire lives unconcerned and disassociated from society. After all, we are all global citizens these days.

Surely a world in which we were all blithely going about our own business without a care would soon founder? And wouldn’t those self-absorbed individuals be a bit of a bore?

I should mention that I always take the news with a pinch of salt. We are all aware of how stories differ from one media outlet to another, so what is factual and accurate often takes a bit of unravelling. But by being engaged and interested we can form our own opinions and take our own paths accordingly, perhaps add to voices to improve conditions for everyone, and maybe even throw our own stones:

‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’ – Mother Teresa

A stroke of the hand

I guess I was busy trying to look elegant lying on the sunbed at an awkward angle so as to keep my limbs in the shade, as I don’t remember seeing him approach.  Or maybe my husband had hissed to me

‘keep your head down, hawker approaching…’ and I’d shut my eyes, pretending to be asleep behind my sunglasses.

Either way, initially, I felt his shadow rather than saw him, so jumped when he touched my hand.

We were chilling on the private beach of a swanky hotel, feeling posher and much, much, more glamourous than we actually are.  We knew he must be a regular, because the security guard had let him on to the hotel’s patch of white sand where the fancy thatched sun shades stood in a uniform row.

‘Hello!’ he grinned, revealing his sparse, though pearly white, teeth. ‘Where you come from?’

Propping myself up I could see he was one of the locals.  A blue check dhoti was coiled around his hips, exposing his skinny knock-kneed legs.  On his top half he wore what had once been a smart short-sleeved white shirt with a grey business like stripe.

He took my pale small hand in his rough dark one and shook it vigorously, but then, strangely didn’t let go, just held it loosely in his, stroking it from time to time with his other hand, while he addressed my husband, asking him about England, and how long we were staying in India, our names, and that sort of thing.

During our holiday, Ali became a regular visitor to our sunbeds. He was a fisherman, who went out in his tiny boat early in the morning, and joined what seemed like a thousand others for night fishing.  We could see the lights of their boats bobbing on the waves, looking like stars that had fallen from the sky. It wasn’t lost on us that they were out making a hard earned living, and catching their next meals, while we ate enormous and elaborate dishes in the fancy restaurant.

P1020027During the day, Ali wandered the shore talking to tourists, and occasionally throwing a line out from the rocks to catch the odd fish. He showed us how to dig in the sand to find crabs, no bigger than the nail on my little finger, to use as bait. Amazed us with the dexterity of his big fingers tying the poor things on to the fishing line, and amazed us more by catching a fish within a couple of minutes of slinging the line out. He was chuffed at our reaction and was more than happy to pose proudly for a photograph.

He had surprisingly good English, but his sentences tended to be shaped in a back to front yoda-like way.

‘go on a trip, you want to?

Yes, he was of course, trying to make a few rupees out of us, which we didn’t mind at all, it was understandable.  To the locals (and probably other guests) we must have pots of money to be able to stay in such a place. They didn’t know that we’d saved for a couple of years for our special treat, and were still on a very tight budget. Nonetheless, we were certainly better off than Ali, so we booked the trip through him knowing he’d get a cut of the, what in hindsight, must’ve been meagre profits.  He assured us we wouldn’t be disappointed, and we truly weren’t.  We were treated like royalty and had a wonderful time.

Each time we bumped in to Ali he held my hand and stroked it. I found it a little disconcerting at the time, yet I can still feel his gentleness, and the warmth of character that his touch conveyed.  Though he asked us to bring some old clothes for him and his family ‘next time’ I doubt we’ll return again soon, but thinking back to our couple of weeks in the sun, I’ll always think of that cheery chap, who brightened our days with his smile.

Beam me up

Just back off me hols.  Yep, we’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks in Kerala, India.  Splendid grand hotel with wonderful staff (The Leela, Kovalam), yummy food, fantastic pool, and beautiful scenery.  Who could ask for more.

Me.  I could.

Like everyone else I love being on holiday.  Not a care in the world, the only decisions to be made is whether to lie by the beach or pool, or what to choose from the buffet that won’t add on immediate pounds and make your wobbly bits even more wobbly when you lurch on to the sunbed in your cossie.  I don’t even mind getting a bit burnt here and there, or even being covered in bites that keep me awake.  What I really don’t like about holidays though is the getting there and back.

Despite being fairly well travelled, I still loathe airports.  The endless queuing. Firstly. to book in.  Will we get nice seats? Together? Will we get seats? (The last question being the direct result of being victim to the scandalous overbooking that apparently all airlines undertake.  We were fortunate that through bribery that particular airline managed to persuade some other passengers to relinquish their seats to us.  Others in our group weren’t so lucky.)

Then of course you wave your bags goodbye, wondering, as they trundle off, if they’re ever to be seen again, and if so, will they be in one piece.  We always pack spare keks and swimwear in our hand luggage… just in case.  I figure, at least, if I have swimwear I’ll be able to sink myself in a nice cool pool while I’m waiting for the rest of my carefully chosen accoutrements to arrive.

Through into departure lounge via the queue for security.  I always beep.  Why do I always beep? No idea.  I take off my belts, bangles and shoes, but still I beep.  Is it my underpinnings, being of the wired variety? Do other ladies that have wired underpinnings beep?  Surely I’m not the only one.  Suffice it to say, I beep, so I need patting down by a severe looking security woman.

After patting me down and finding nothing, one unfortunate woman in an airport in Nepal, chose to search my handluggage.  Poking about with her bare hands she managed to find a very squishy manky banana in the bottom that I had completely forgotten about.  I will never forget her look of disgust as she pulled it from the bag.  She didn’t search further, just waved me on.  That’s the ticket!!

Anyhoo, eventually through security.  There is the interminable wait.  There’s only so many times you can walk round the shops in a departure lounge.  Who buys stuff in there anyway?  I’m always puzzled by the luggage shops. Isn’t it a little late for that?  So we sit and people watch and eat uninspiring sandwiches until we are given the gate number and cheerfully told it’s a ten minute walk away.  En masse down the walkways, rushing as if they might leave without us when we know we’ve still got more than another hour before there’s even a chance the plane will be fully boarded.  I’m worn out before we’ve started.

Then there’s the almighty rush to board.  Everyone pushing and shoving, fighting for space in the overhead lockers.  Only then can you claim your seat.  You know, the one next to the very big person/very chatty person/snorer/dribbler/drunk/weak bladdered…the one in front of the kid whose up for spending the next five hours kicking the back of your seat whilst either whining or screaming.  The one with the air hostess who believes in service with a sneer, not the nice one who works the other side of the aisle.  God I hate planes.

Then take off. I still white-knuckle at every take off.  I try to go to a happy place, honest I do, but there really isn’t one that can include those scary engine noises and the sicky feeling as the earth drops away.

Settle in, get into a film maybe, and the food comes.  The little tray of horrors. Everything crammed on it like a jigsaw with spillage.  You eat what you can and are stuck with the table down across your knees when the bloke next to you decides he ‘needs to go’. Great.  If anyone has found a way of successfully dealing with that scenario please let me know.

Meal time over, you try and nap.  It really is impossible to get comfy in a plane seat.  Try as you might, your legs are never right…. straight out under the seat in front and your bum falls off the not wide enough seat. It’s not wide enough widthways to curl up either.  You try some sort of in between thing with your head propped on your hand, and, despite the kicking in the back, just about manage to nod off, when the bloke next to you wants another wee.  Shouldn’t have had that third beer should you mate.

Eventually, the pilot lets you know that you’ll be landing shortly, but first we have to go ’round and ’round for half an hour because there is a queue.  Who’da thought it?

Despite the warnings to ‘remain in your seat with your belt buckled’ everyone unbuckles and stands up the minute the wheels touch the ground, and there is the usual push and shove to get off the plane.

For our trip to India, there was a three hour wait before starting again on another plane.  What can I say, it was great to arrive, and even greater to eventually see my luggage clunking on to the carousel.  It was also great to forget the prospect of the return journey, if only for a while.

So yes, I would ask for more.  I would ask for one of those machines like they have in Star Trek, that will beam me to my destination (with my luggage!) in the time it takes to say ‘chicken or fish’.  Come on, this is the twenty first century, surely someone has invented it by now?

A very cakey holiday

So here I am back from my little trip.  Two weeks holiday.  Gone in the blink of an eye.

I’ve been to both India and Nepal in that time and seen some breathtakingly wonderful things.  Also some breathtakingly weird ones.

The Taj Majhal.  You know the Taj Mahal don’t you.  I did.  I knew what it looked like, what it was for.  I knew the backstory.  I’d seen Princess Diana sitting on a bench all lonely.  I’ve seen it on TV documentaries and in magazines.  I knew it.  I knew what to expect.

DSC_0128Apparently, no I didn’t.  The Taj Mahal is possibly the purest most perfect construction I have ever had the privilege to set eyes upon.  It was misty on the morning we visited. The whiteness of its marble glowed through the gloom, ghostly and ethereal. A perfectly iced cake. The size of the thing is overwhelming…yes, monumental.  Up close, the marble glistens with colours and striations unimaginable from a distance. To think that the main building was designed and built in just eight years.  Puts our cathedral builders to shame. I’ve already told Chris that I’m expecting an equally impressive memorial.  He’d better get cracking.

You emerge from the visit feeling as if you’ve been to another dimension, especially given the melee of people, animals, vehicles, etc that meet you at the exit.  Cows, pigs, monkeys and Camels amongst the motorbikes and rickshaws.

Everything in India seems to be done in the open. Haircuts, shaves, dental work, shoe mending, clothes sewing, cooking, eating and all manner of ablutions (don’t even ask) done at the side of the road for all to see.  Now, this wouldn’t suit us all.  Not me anyway, I like my privacy (and safety), but our lovely local guide assured us that

‘India is fun to live in, no health and safety rules and regulations.  You can do what you like, when and where you like.  You can drive anyhow you like.  Everybody gets on and goes about their business as they like’

Well, doesn’t sound too bad. And I witnessed an extraordinary acceptance, by most individuals, of life and living and their place in the world that we in the West just don’t have.  This may be to do with religious belief –  Hindus and Bhuddists both believe in reincarnation and that this life is just a path to the next.  I’m sure we could learn more than a little from both.

Nepal was different.  Calmer, less cows in the road.

I didn’t really know the meaning of magnificence until I saw the mountains there.  Everest from a teeny tiny DSC_0695plane.  Just sixteen of us, all with window seats, all invited to the cockpit to view the vista from the front.  The mountain range went on and on.. glistening below and beside us.  More icing.  More cake. (I must have been hungry a lot – everything looking cakey).  I now am the proud owner of a certificate to say I’ve taken the Everest flight.  Ok, not quite the same as climbing the thing, but as it says on my bought-on-the-plane-never-to-be-worn tee-shirt:

‘I didn’t climb Everest, but I touched it with my heart’

Then there was the splendorous Annapurna range with orange tips at sunrise (Jaffa cakes??) worth getting up at 4:30 for.

These are but a couple of things from my brilliant adventure.  I won’t bore you with more right now. Soon though.  Off now to find cake.