Frost Bite.

Frost Bite.

‘Life is so ironic, it takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence and absence to value presence.’

I’m not sure who wrote this, but I stumbled across it recently when I was digging around for my passport number. It made me think about the true meaning of sadness, silence, and absence, and how they actually differ from their opposites; happiness, noise and presence.  

The Venezuela Cafe for Lovers of the Sea is a magical place.  Nestled into a long courtyard below the beautiful gardens of the El Minzah Hotel in the heart of Tangier, palm fronds sway and banana leaves stand to attention.  Kittens hunt spiders in webs laced with mildew when they’re not playing bashfully or fighting over raw chicken handed to them lovingly by an old man, who wears a woolen hat and is in charge of the coffee machine inside.  

The walls of the courtyard are lime washed in the prettiest shade of pink and little grey stools are scattered around the place.  There is a small mosque down the end of the courtyard near the mens lavatory.  

The only lavatory.

The cafe has become a favourite place for morning coffee, especially with winter in Tangier being particularly warm this year.  Young boys play Parcheesi, which in itself fascinates me.  A quick visit to Google explains that Chess is the game of Kings, and Parcheesi, the game of Emperors.  Moroccan pop plays on a tinny sound system resting on the edge of a table where a yogurt pot is fashioned as a leg stabiliser.  

Outside in the street, ancient men sell fish bait, which would probably explain the name of the cafe. We’re a long way from Venezuela in Tangier, but I can only conclude that the lovers of the sea are the fishermen who vie for a handful of bait while I’m drinking my coffee in the courtyard.

The cafe is a place where one can feel contemplative, peaceful and absent from the outside world.  It’s a heavenly, and the name is a constant reminder of the quirks, nuances and surprises I experience each day in Morocco, with both language and people.

Recently, Twinkle Toes told me a story about falling asleep while he was warming some bread.  ‘I had to race into the chicken when I woke up four hours later,’ he advised earnestly, finishing ‘I thought I would burn the house down.’

The chicken, I assumed, was the kitchen, and he giggled when he described the bread reminiscent of piece of black coal when he flung the oven door open.

Last week, still laughing from the chicken and kitchen, the following email turned up in my inbox from Fay, at ‘Love at First Bite,’

Hi Lucy

We can certainly do a unicorn cake for you with confetti cake inside. There are a couple of options with the unicorn cakes depending on which option you would prefer.  Option one – a fondant iced cake with a sugar unicorn on top (see image of similar attached) £88.  Option two – a buttercream unicorn cake with a unicorn horn and piped swirls (see pic attached) £75.  Option three – alternatively we could do two dozen unicorn cupcakes which would be £60 – £2.50 per cupcake.

If you let us know which option you prefer we can get that booked in for you.

Best wishes, Fay

I read through Fay’s helpful options with a smile on my face, knowing from the first line that the email was not meant for me at all – unlike Lucy, I don’t have a four year old, nor do I particularly like unicorns.  I was rather taken with the idea of a confetti cake inside, but concluded it could make me feel a little bit sick.

One person who probably would appreciate a buttercream unicorn cake, or maybe even option three of two dozen unicorn cupcakes, is my oldest school friend Skye, who has a penchant for pink and all things sparkly.

Skye turned 40 on the 3rd of February, and in the lead up to this important milestone, her husband Lachie had emailed to see if I’d come out to Colorado in the guise of her fortieth birthday present.  I agreed, provided I didn’t have to dress as a unicorn.  Or, a Barbie.

On Friday the 14th, I arrived in Denver after a flight to Madrid, a transfer in Frankfurt and ten hours in the sky following.  ‘Eric’ met me in a car larger than my flat in Tangier and the following four hours were spent nattering about all things Trump and the U.S of A.  What Eric didn’t know about the world, wasn’t actually worth knowing about.

Endless diners flashed past blinking neon lights with a cozy appeal, as we made our way  over the pass towards the tiny little alpine town of Crested Butte.  I found myself blinking with exhaustion but smiling in my own little ‘Welcome to America’ moment.  Surprisingly for many, I had never been to the United States, and hadn’t really planned to in a hurry.

I was suddenly a long way from the Venezuela Cafe for Lovers of the Sea, but overjoyed when Skysie jumped out of her truck (also bigger than my flat in Tangier) and we fell into a huge delirious and happy hug.  Eric even got one from her, which led to a happy dance in his double breasted suit teamed with white shirt and red tie, along with black shoes more suited to an accountants office than the bed of snow that blanketed the ground around us.

We had a short drive home and the chatter was non stop.  Skye’s husband Lachie poured a long awaited Pinot Noir when we arrived, and it didn’t feel at all like a year ago that the three of us had last shared a bottle of wine.

That night, I fell into a delightful bed covered in red Valentines chocolates left for me by the ever charming Jimmy, the baby of the family who is now 8.

I woke the following morning to the view out my window which boasted a valley decorated with fir trees stuck like toothpicks into giant cupcakes of white, fluffy snow.  An enormous fat fox lumbered past the window as the sun peaked over the mountains in a stunning, warm hello.

Before too long I had two little bodies in my bed, Jimmy and his brother Archie, who is also my godson, and they quizzed me on life in North Africa.

Is it hot?

Do they speak English there?

Do you like it there?

Can you swim there?

‘Yes, of course,’ I answered to every, single question, before they set off for school.

Each morning, we’ve repeated the same routine and it is incredibly special to be back with the two little boys who I love like my own, along with their parents who have been nothing but the best of friends to me for a very long time.

Life in Tangier doesn’t really require much wet weather gear and I was the butt of all jokes when I arrived with my standard five pairs of white jeans, one for each day, and a big down jacket to be worn over my uniform ironed shirt.  I’ve been teaming the latter with Lachie’s snow boots as I penguin walk everywhere, desperately trying not to acquire an injury that will require surgery.

On Sunday, Skye and I went cross country skiing, something we hadn’t done since our outward bound year when we were fifteen; our faces were frozen stiff and we gasped for breath, not because of the altitude or the freezing air, but because we were paralyzed with laugher for the entire afternoon.  Squeezing into a spare ski jacket over a pair of my pristine whites, we took off and I secretly hoped that I wouldn’t have lost my knack on the nordics, but that was not so.  I found myself clompy and ungraceful as slim limbed outdoors types wearing fanny packs, glided past me on the long, beautifully groomed track peppered with firs.

In this part of the world everyone is alarmingly friendly, and as we crashed at our lunch table after finally making it up to a sweet little yurt that doubles as a bistro, we devoured the freshest tomato soup followed by coffee.

‘Could I please have a cafe latte,’ I asked the woman behind the counter.

‘Hells yes you can,’ came her response, ‘double whipped cream or just clotted,’ she queried with a burst of enthusiasm I found hardly normal.

At this point, Skye took a picture of me looking very much like my great Aunt who had a decent sway back and used to peer down her nose at people.

‘Just milk, thank you,’ I responded gently, confused and perplexed as to how a simple white coffee would require cream, while also wondering how offering such a thing could almost cause her to double over with happiness.

As we walked outside, further belly aching laughter eventuated after we discovered that our nordic skis, the same as everyone else’s nordic skis, had become lost in a neat line of nordicness.

‘Let’s take a picture of us both,’ I suggested, gasping for air as Skye doubled over.  Skye was always a pretty little thing at school with a ribbon in her hair and fresh faced skin void of any makeup.  At forty, she looks exactly as she did when I first met her when we were 13, not a day older.  The picture we took depicted me looking more like a viking than ever, or perhaps the previously mentioned great Aunt with the decent sway back, and Skye, like a small man who might be named Wayne and who drives a forklift for a living.  Her eyes had completely disappeared, as had our will to even try and contain ourselves.

Gliding home, we chatted as we found our feet and pulled ourselves together.  I smiled as we edged closer to the finish – it was just like we were back at school 25 years ago.

Just as happiness will inevitably outweigh sadness and noise will always surpass silence, it is true that it can often take a long absence to truly value the present moment.  Nothing in the world can beat time spent with old friends, and the past week has been magic.

We all just took up from where we left off.

I will be forever grateful to dear Lachie, who made this little gathering happen in our fortieth year.  Last night the three of us sipped on wine and saki as we feasted on the most delicious Japanese dinner, reflecting on many things, and later on in the bar after dinner, we admired the dance moves of an over enthusiastic ski bunny.

As we rumbled up the hill in the town shuttle, I captured a picture of us all, laughing and fresh faced.  It could easily have been taken all those years ago when we first met at school.

This weekend, I will return to the Venezuela Cafe for Lovers of the Sea.  It is inevitable that the kittens will chase spiders in webs laced with mildew, and the boys will play Parcheesi as they always do.  Spring is on its way, so I imagine the sun will shine as I sip my coffee and contemplate entering another decade while reflecting on a really special week.

As Forest Gump said, ‘life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’

Well, if thats the case, this week has been constant Turkish Delights.  My favourites.

Speaking of favourites, this blog is dedicated to my godson Archie.  My only godson, and the most recent subscriber to pinningmywords.

He got me at my own game the other night when I said ‘goodnight, my favorite godson,’ to which he replied, eyes rolling, ‘and your only.  And you’re my favourite godmother Pin.  And my only godmother.’

For now, it’s bye bye Crested Butte and hello, glorious Tangier.

 

 

 

 

 

Let us eat.

Let us eat.

‘People who love to eat, are always the best people’.

Julia Child.

During a long, cold winter in Paris a couple of years ago, I underwent the torturous exercise that was ‘another’ French course.  

Each morning, I’d crab walk down the million stairs from the top of my building to the bottom passage beautifully laid in cobblestones, carefully avoiding a fall (I took many a topple down those stairs), before bursting out the front door and into the cold morning air.  The school was just 100 steps away at the end of my street, and it was there that I made some wonderful friends from all around the world during a month of sing alongs and conjugations of endless verbs.

Two beautiful girls from Uruguay were the youngest in the class, at just 18 years old, and easily the best at all the work.  I envied their young brains – so malleable and willing – particularly when it came to taking in new information.  Mine, on the other hand, was slow and stubborn and most unwilling to learn.

Over coffee one day, one of the girls announced that I reminded her of Julia Child, ‘in the best possible way’.  She went on to explain that my passion and determination for the language and my love of Paris reminded her in equal parts, of Julia’s obsession with butter and French cuisine.

When I asked if my loud sighs and struggles with the language, also a profound Julia feature, were a contributing factor to her freshly drawn parallels, she could only stare into the distance with a smile.

I took that, as the most complimentary version of ‘yes’.

About a month ago, I re-watched the acclaimed film ‘Julie and Julia,’ which tells the true story of New Yorker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) embarking on a daring project where she vows to prepare all 524 recipes in Julia Childs’ landmark cookbook, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Intertwined with Julie’s story is the true tale of how Julia Child (Meryl Streep) conquered French cuisine with passion, fearlessness, and plenty of butter.

From every sigh to wail, Streep was genius in her tenuous portrayal of Julia Child, to the point that I found myself sobbing into a tissue during many moments of the film where Julia’s frustrations were so apparent – everything from her heavily accented French to her competitive chopping of onions were just so brilliant.  It also made me think a lot about the role that food plays in our daily lives.

In Morocco I find myself brought together with (sometimes) the most unlikely of friends, through food and my love for it.  

I don’t typically eat cous cous each day, nor do I eat chicken tajine for breakfast.  The bread is delicious (maybe, thanks to the French) and the olives are always succulent.

Sometimes when I’m walking home at night, I see ‘my children,’ a little gang of the same four boys aged about ten years old, who slurp on soup with me and boss me around before saying their pleases and thank you’s with utter purpose, after I boss them back – reprimanding them for being even the remotest bit ungrateful to the waiters who serve their food.

These boys live in parks and in doorways, and while they will never see a penny from me, I will always buy them food.  Their love and hugs at the end of dinner, fills me with a type of prickles that no amount of money could ever buy.  I hope that they enjoy every minute with me as much as I relish in every second, with them.

During the water crisis, Twinkle Toes arrived one day and gave me another little lesson in British English, where he knocked on the table in a role-play before singing ‘whoisit,’ as one word.  ‘Not sure,’ came my response with a giggle.  ‘You must always say, who is it (whoisit) when you hear the doorbell,’ he warned.  Almost on cue, the doorbell sounded and the kitten raced into a cupboard to nestle into a pile of shoes, utterly petrified.

‘Who is it?’ I queried, not in the mood for a lecture from the kitchen, before opening the door where I found my gorgeous neighbour and his two equally sweet children grinning, as they hung from the bannisters.  

‘Do you have water?’ the father asked as the kitten appeared, wrapping herself coyly around my legs, her tail rigid in the air.

‘No, I don’t,’ came my response, adding ‘do you speak English?’.

‘No,’ came his response, followed by a ‘no’ from each child when I nodded towards them.

‘French?’.

‘No,’ they responded in unison.  In English.

‘Spanish?’ I begged, to which they all responded ‘si’.

‘I don’t speak Spanish,’ I apologised, to which they all responded, ‘don’t worry, we speak English’.

So there we stood, smelly, frustrated and in a linguistic crisis.

‘Do you want a kitten?’ I asked, as my little girl purred in their direction.

On that note, the father grabbed both of the children and whisked them back upstairs.

I guess that was a no, I thought to myself as I closed the door after promising to let him know if I were to hear anything further about the water.

It had become no secret, over the past eight weeks, that the kitten and I were finding it increasingly difficult to live together.  She had chewed the raffia off every, single dining chair, shredded the sheets on each bed, torn the curtains off their railings, taken the hem off every dress hanging in the wardrobe and torn every roll of loo paper, once made up of three ply goodness, into a million little pieces.  Each and every shoe that I own, had a tooth mark firmly embedded into the toe, and my Berber carpets were being used as a shredding board.  

One day, I found her chasing a new set of pompoms around in her bed.  Perplexed, I walked calmly to the wardrobe, only to find a beautiful shawl robbed of all ten.

My ankles were to her, just another target to attack.  Each morning as I made my coffee standing barefoot at the sink, she would launch her teeth and claws around them and no amount of cry’s from me were going to stop her.

The little baby had gone completely mad.  We were living together, day in day out, in my kitchen which now doubled as a prison.  All the doors to each room were firmly shut with little torn up pieces of paper acting as door jams.  Whenever there was silence, I would find myself curious which usually resulted in stress, when I would find her (for example) eating an entire pot plant in a room where she’d managed to push the door open.  Vases of flowers were often found lying spilled across a table, with books saturated and ruined as a result.

I dreaded the day that I would have to finally admit that she needed not to be with me in my flat, rather, in a big house with a garden and another cat to keep her company.

That day came last week, when the kitten saver announced that his barbers brother was a cat lover with a huge house and a loving family, and they were willing to take her on as their own.  They also had another cat.  

We waved her goodbye following one final hug.  Her little claws dug into my shawl as I handed her over, lump in throat fully intact but happy in the knowledge that she would finally be happy too.

Last Friday afternoon, the doorbell sounded.  I sang out my routine ‘whoisit?’ again, not wanting to be scrutinised from the kitchen, only to find the neighbour and his children at the door again, this time with a huge bowl of Friday cous cous.  

Stammering ‘thank you’ in Spanish, and delivering it again in Arabic, the little girl nodded towards the kitten’s bed – still made up and full of pompoms.  ‘She left,’ I explained wistfully, ‘she’s gone to a better home’.  

They looked on sadly, and I returned a look of sorrow.  I suppose the cous cous was an offering developed during a family meeting, where they all agreed that food might perhaps result in a pat of the cat.  Twinkle Toes rounded the corner in that moment and thanked them profusely for their offering, before waving them goodbye and sitting me down with two forks.

‘We can share this’ he announced triumphantly, sipping on his Coca Cola and moving aside whatever it was he was previously doing.  So there we sat, together for our first shared meal in memory of sweet Amira, who he cannot stop scolding me for giving away before he had a chance to say goodbye.

‘She loved me you know?’ he keeps reminding me at any given opportunity.  And, it’s true, she did, he was the only person she ever truly obeyed.  

Each week he would balance a sandwich on his knee, as he took her little paws in his hand, clipping her nails and telling her to ‘siddown’ or he would get ‘very hungry’. 

Last Saturday I travelled to Briech, just under an hour away from Tangier, for a big family lunch at Monica’s mother and stepfather’s beautiful little house in the country.  Richard was at the wheel, Monica entertained us all from the front seat, and Lawrence, Anthea and I sat like children lined up in the back.  Lawrence and Anthea are another favourite couple and just a week before, we’d gathered at their flat just ten minutes from home.

We enjoyed plates of salmon on bread and a hard earned gin and tonic in their precious flat, easily one of my most treasured places in Tangier.  Casting my eyes over endless shelves of books, stretches of wallpaper and groupings of pictures hung amongst beautiful lamps, I laughed as Lawrence poured my drink, ‘you do minimalist SO well!’.  

One night in summer we sat on their terrace sipping wine, enjoying sweeping views of Tangier, ‘that was all farmland 20 years ago,’ they explained at dusk, pointing toward the vast stretches of stacked houses that now form an enormous, expansive urban sprawl.

The road to Briech is also becoming more and more built up (as I was reminded in the car on Saturday), but as we left the aforementioned sprawl behind us, camels lumbered along the road and a flock of sheep caused a road block as their shepherd smoked on a kiff pipe, oblivious to the mayhem the bleating little cretins were causing as they scattered across the road.  Green grass lined the potholed track and the traffic was sparse, unlike the summer months, when families move in droves by car to take their spot on one of the many beautiful beaches along the Atlantic coastline.

As we pulled into the house in Briech, a donkey staggered past our car and his master, a Berber drover, led a cow behind on a thin piece of rope.  We were treated to the most divine lunch, with Monica’s mother and stepfather also Italian, making them the most natural, generous chefs and hosts.

Spoonfuls of risotto were heaped onto plates, the wine flowed freely, a rooster crowed in the distance and two little dogs sat at my feet, their little peepholes for eyes looking up through their fringes, desperately waiting for me to drop a speck of mouthwatering risotto onto the floor.

Not a chance I laughed, as I devoured every, single mouthful.

As we staggered through the courtyard, full and happy after a delectable lunch, I took photos of potted lemon trees, gorgeous blue doors and clumps of pink geraniums.  Their house is a breathtaking little wonderland which is both a joy and a treat to visit.

Waving our hosts goodbye, we began our forward journey back to Tangier along pretty winding roads in glorious winter sunshine, exhausted, happy and promising never to eat another thing, ever again.

Julia Child was right, people who love to eat, are always the best people and over the past couple of days as I began researching this piece, I felt it only too apt that I’d dedicate it to food.  Some of the best people I’ve ever met, have been scooped up to me just like a good spoonful of risotto, or a tajine of cous cous.

And on that note, I’ve got a lunch to run to in arguably one of my favourite gardens in Tangier with a handful of my very favourite Tangerinas.  I just know it’ll be delicious!

Pictured: that donkey, that cow and that Berber man.

The flow on.

The flow on.

‘For last years words belong to last years language, and next years words await another voice’.

T.S Elliot 

And here we are, almost a month into another year.

The week before the Christmas festivities began, I sang Christmas Carols at St. Andrews – the English church – just moments away from the big mosque in the Grand Socco.  The West African men, devout in their Christianity, played drums between rousing versions of Away in a Manger and Good King Wenceslas.  Children squealed with delight at the end of the service when the church patron, who also runs a successful bed business in Tanger, dressed as Father Christmas, spoiling them with little presents dug out of a huge red bag.  

The evening call to prayer could be heard from the mosques around town in the same moment that we spilled out into Rue d’Angleterre.

Humming ‘Christ was born, in Bethlehem,’ I meandered slowly through a sea of beige Mercedes taxies, uniform in their makeup and chaotic in their line up, before turning back to observe St. Andrews from the gate of the Hotel Villa de France.  The English flag flew above the church and the mosque stood proudly in the distance.  Matisse painted this vision in the light of dawn many years before I arrived, but the view remained quite literally unchanged on the eve of Christmas, 2018.  

Save perhaps, for the taxies.

I began writing this a week ago, overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean where magnificent sunlight provided a filter on what can only be described as a perfect winter portrait.  The beach was empty, with the exception of a lone boy flying a kite which danced with caution across crashing waves.

The water at home had been cut for five days, making the flat almost unbearable hence my escape to a favourite beach restaurant for the afternoon.  Piles of washing spewed out of the basket and dishes filled the sink.  Mopping the floors was but a distant memory, and the jackhammer sounding below served as a constant reminder of works taking place on the road being the reason behind the problem. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, and I was beginning to feel somewhere in the vicinity of deranged.

No letter from a local council officer advising that works would take place, and if I mentioned the problem to anyone even remotely Moroccan, I was reminded that I could always go to a hammam.

True, and I realised this could be my reality for as long as this problem may last.  But a hammam would not mop the floors.  Daily baths were had with a salad bowl and a bucket, with water purchased in ten litre plastic bottles from the small general store downstairs boiled in the kettle.

One evening, as I lowered myself into a lukewarm (borderline cold), inch deep bath for the forth day, I cast my mind back to being a fifteen year old where I spent 12 months living in the Australian high country during an outward bound school year inspired by Kurt Hahn.  

We chopped our own wood for daily showers, and if that task wasn’t met, we had to go without.  As part of that year, we went on a week long snow tour in the height of winter, where we wore ancient wooden cross country skis and carried daily rations of food hidden in packs stuffed full of a tent, a trowel to dig a hole for a lavatory, and enough warm clothes to fend off hypothermia.  I recall one night so cold, where we camped atop a mountain and snow fell relentlessly from dusk until dawn.  I slept in all of my clothes along with my hiking boots and my jaw was clenched stiff when the sun came up the following morning; everything was sodden wet.  As the day grew longer, the sun became warmer, and everything dried out as we continued our trek through deep, fresh snow and onwards to the next campsite where we would spend the night.

The smile on my face as the sun burned my cheeks, was one of complete joy. I defrosted,  laughed and sang my way up the mountain with a handful of people who have become lifelong friends.  It didn’t kill me. Quite the contrary, and those memories of that year, remain incredibly fond.

Forgive me if I sound pathetic, but I will practice any mental exercise to make a grim situation better than it actually is, and that lukewarm bath needed a little silver lining.

The first round of roadworks started just as the Christmas drinks began to flow.  Fortunately, on Christmas morning, Father Christmas delivered a warm shower and following this, I joined twenty others in the Tangier home of two very dear friends, Monica and Richard and their gorgeous twin boys.  

Monica is Italian and not known for doing anything in half measures.  The table was set to perfection and the turkey cooked just as I’d always remembered.  Happy cheer was present as ever and the wine flowed and laughter followed.

A handful of my Tangier favourites, Maggie, Nicolo, Frank, Gene, Monica, Michele and Micky formed my table, and I delighted in finding myself bookended by the boys at the end of the table.  At the ripe old age of 11 years old, they looked at me with faces of utter confusion which was followed by hysterical laugher, when I told them that we were the youngest kids at the table.  ‘I mean, I’m only 28 years older than you both,’ I advised as I went in for 17ths of panettone without flinching.  

Alvin the cat sat in the windowsill, staring on with complete judgment as I wiped the crumbs away from around my mouth.

Twinkle Toes was on duty that day as an extra set of hands, and he was puffed up like a pigeon when he saw me walk into the room.  ‘Virginia, you will have a Bloody Mary today,’ he advised, before pouring a delicious mix of tomato-y goodness into a glass.  Virginia was very grateful, already weary.  Christmas Day was just the beginning of what became two weeks of fun and heady festive cheer. 

On Boxing Day drinks were had on a roof terrace not far from home.  With half an hour until I was due at that particular party, I turned the shower on, only to be met with one little drip. 

No more, no less.  

Rummaging through the top drawer in a desperate search for a pair of tights I found nothing, just one pair of jogging tights that hadn’t seen the light of day for months. The laundry basket was overflowing, following Twinkle Toes’ constant reminders that I mustn’t start the machine if the water was going to be cut at sporadic times.  That would, ‘make big boom’.

I took his word for it, and entered into a small wardrobe crisis.  My neighbour explained that we were all in this together and the water was set to be an ongoing saga.  

The flow on (I like a pun) was hardly life changing, just a minor nuisance. 

After finding no tights in the drawer, I burst out the door on Boxing Day night with the same pizazz as a novelty dice out of a newly cracked Christmas cracker, in pursuit of a new pair.  I walked like an Olympic power walker towards the tiny makeshift mall down the road, not daring break into a jog as that is just not the done thing in these parts.  Only thieves run, with the rest of the general populous opting for a gentle meander, or a walk so slow it could easily be mistaken for a glide.  

The man who sells tights knows that I like an XXXXXL from Germany and he always seems to have a pair on hand when I make an appearance.  On this particular occasion, he had a shocking pair in a colour reminiscent of prison issue ‘greenish grey,’ with an extra support gusset that he proudly advised that I’d like.  I swept up two pairs with complete enthusiasm.  

Lucky my dress is below the knee and my boots will hide the rest, I reminded myself.

The Syrian woman, who runs arguably the best take away shop in Tangier, is (understandably) very concerned about the state of her home country.  When her husband returned home recently to visit his brother and extended family, he had to fly into Beirut before taking a bus to the border where he travelled onward by car to Damascus. 

‘Just Americans and Russians use our airports now,’ she explained wistfully.

I enjoy trips to the woman at the Syrian takeaway for her beautiful, kind and calm nature.  Her stories and felafel have become a much enjoyed and and far too regular lunchtime habit.

‘Hello there,’ came a soft, familiar voice just as I was parting with 40 dirhams and my prison issue greens avec great gusset, were being bagged up.

‘Oh hello!’ I exclaimed back to the Syrian woman from the best takeaway in Tangier, blinking only momentarily – she was completely out of context and standing alongside the most beautiful older woman who I’d not met before.

‘This is my mother,’ she explained as she took me into a huge, warm hug ‘you had your big day yesterday,’ finishing with a heartfelt, ‘Happy Christmas’.

Observing her hijab tied neatly under her chin (as always), the cuffs on her shirt purposefully folded back, and her kind twinkling eyes twinkling, I smiled and hugged her back.  Yes, Christmas in Morocco was wonderful, I thanked her before pointing at the tights, ‘no water at home,’ I laughed rolling my eyes.  

My interaction with my Syrian friend was a sage reminder that all was actually quite good on the home front and as I kissed her goodbye, I promised to come for felafel in the new year. 

One thing I observed throughout December, is that not once did anyone mention ‘the holiday season,’ in fear of offending other religions.  Rather, windows were spray painted with white stencilled blasts of ‘Joyeux Noel’ and ‘Merry Christmas’.  The text in Arabic was impossible for me to read, but I assumed it had the same meaning, with the beautiful swirly script painted onto shop windows finished off with bursts of holly and bells.

Taxi drivers were triumphant when the opportunity arose for them to remind me that I was ‘a Christmas person,’ before asking (when it became apparent that I was Australian), if a kangaroo would deliver my presents?

It was a sweet reminder that, by and large, Morocco is a country where we can all live in noisy harmony, regardless of faith or race.  Here, all sorts of religious holidays are observed throughout the year, with Islam being predominant, and not once are the names changed or the reasons behind the celebrations blurred.  Rather, days are recognised from all the different books and regardless of what one might believe or not believe, in Morocco, and as a person not strictly religious, I have learned a lot from people and their devotion to faith.

Sometimes, I feel like a great big heathen, rolling around with baskets in the back of taxis while the driver mutters prayer under his breath following the call heard from the mosque in the distance, but all of this has taught me that, while religion can have its downside, it is also the basis of much routine and a sense of belonging for a vast, balanced, majority.

Twinkle Toes, not the slightest bit religious but the first to say ‘Inshallah’ (god willing) when I ask him to help me with anything, sat me down a week before New Year’s Eve and gave me a stern talking to.

‘You haven’t had a party,’ he scolded, newly confident after working as a waiter for many friends who had hosted me for endless Christmas drinks throughout the festive season.

‘You need to say thank you, write a list,’ he bossed, finishing with, ‘I will dress as Papa Noel, Inshallah’.

The night before New Year’s Eve, forty five people squeezed into my sitting room.  The tropical plant that normally provides a Moroccan ambience in the entrance to the flat, twinkled disco blue with flickering lights provided by Papa Noel himself, and the kitten wore a pink sateen ribbon around her neck.  

Everyone was jolly after a week of non stop drinks and catch ups.  Papa Noel stole the show, handing around snacks that he’d prepared in the kitchen dressed in full red regalia, with a synthetic, novelty white beard covering his black designer stubble.

The following night, on the final eve of 2018, two of my most treasured Tangier favourites, Gavin and Boz, hosted 8 for a  delicious dinner at their wonderful Kasbah house that has become something of a home away from my own Tangier home.  While they spend the bulk of their time living in London, it is always a complete treat to have them both in town.  At midnight, we joined many of our fellow Tangerinas to sing in the new year at Villa Mabrouka, once the Tangier residence of my teen idol, Yves Saint Laurent.

Two nights later drinks were had at the beautiful home of Nicolo, another great friend and Tangier treasure, with lunch at Veeres most glorious house on the old mountain, signalling the end of it all the following day.  

Last years words belong to last years language, and as I swung into 2019, in a new town that a year ago I had no idea even existed in the form that I’ve come to know it, I felt positively excited that I found Tangier.  In just under 12 months, I have met so many precious people from every single chapter of life’s unpredictable and unknown pages.  I am so very thankful for everyone who made my first Christmas and New Year in Morocco so very special – there are too many to name.

The love I have for my family and friends is stronger than ever, and I am now the proudest aunt in the world to five of the most gorgeous nephews and as many godchildren. 

Just like the water stoppage and the joy I felt when it returned to normal two days ago, the flow on from my move here has no boundaries, and for that, I look forward to what this year may hold.  Who actually knows what is ahead, but for the time being I will continue to document my endless learnings and learn from my mistakes, of which there are plenty made in a humiliating fashion on a daily basis.  But right there, lies the way to develop a new voice, for a new year.

Happy, happy new year, here’s to a very safe and enjoyable 2019.  Thank you so very much for continuing to read my pinnings and I look forward to delivering many more as the year unfolds.  

My resolution is to return to two publications per week and you’re more than welcome to hold me to that promise.  But right now, I’ve a real hankering for falafel.

And finally, as the festive season came to a close last week, I need to tell you that I had a wonderful dream where I adopted a donkey.  He was beautiful and strong, and for some reason, I named him Heathen.

Pictured: white doves, the ultimate sign of peace, living in rather questionable conditions at the local market.

 

What a shame.

What a shame.

Twinkle Toes said last week, ‘you’re not wearing lipstick,’ as I left the house ready for lunch with friends.

‘No, I’m not,’ I responded.

‘I know words for lipstick, kettle, machine for washing, and cupboard,’ he proudly added, followed by, ‘I also know, what a shame’.

I held a chair, weeping with laughter, ‘did you just say, what a shame?’.

‘Oui Madame, en French, c’est dommage is, what a shame!’.

I continued to hold the chair, smiling, ‘your English is becoming so good’.

‘I know all the words now,’ he proudly announced, before taking me through a little role play.

‘Madame, do you have a computer with a DVD player?’ to which I replied, ‘no, I dont’.

‘Hmmm, whatashame’ he responded.  I fell about laughing, and he did too.

Now, every time he comes to my flat he finds an opportunity to say ‘whatashame’ as one word, at any given opportunity.

‘Are you in Alaska for Christmas?’ he bulged yesterday.

‘No, I’m here in Tangier, not Alaska. Why would I go to Alaska?’ I asked.

‘Your country,’ he said, pointing at my map of Australia.  ‘Nope, not Alaska, Australia,’ I corrected him.  ‘Oh yes, sorry.  Whatashame,’ he finished, loathing to be wrong.

‘You don’t want there?’ He questioned.

‘Of course I want there,’ I finished.  ‘I miss there a lot. But, I also love here’.

As he left yesterday he remarked that my hair was so tall ‘and better that way’.  I guess he means long, and frankly, I like it that way too.

Thank you everyone for supporting pinningmywords.com throughout 2018.  I had no idea that when I returned  to Australia for Christmas at the end of last year, I would be living in North Africa a year later.  Nothing prepares you for tall hair and changed circumstances, but the one thing in life, is that when it’s good, it’s really good.

Whatashame we cant all be having Christmas together.  But, if I have one ask, it would be for you to keep reading in the knowledge that I love knowing that you’re on the other end of the line.

It means a lot.  A tall hair lot.

Lots of love and good health, keep safe over Christmas, and I look forward to your presence over the next year.

And on a final note, this piece is for my beloved Dad, who in Islam has seven souls, and in my couture, nine lives.  My kitten recently took a leaf out of his book, and the main thing is, he’s here for another Christmas.  Thank you Dad, your arms around new born baby Archie, your precious grandson and my precious nephew, who arrived just in time for Father Christmas, are greatly apprecieated.  You have defied all odds and for that, I think you are truly wonderful.  Tall hair wonderful.  My family is everything to me.

Happy Christmas all, and here’s to a fabulous  year ahead.

With loads of love from Tangier,

Pin xoxox

 

Love Actually.

Love Actually.

I had begun writing a piece over two weeks ago about the Chinese Lunar calendar and the fact that it was recently broken to me that I’m a Goat.

One of my very dearest friends and I spoke on the phone for hours about both being goats and all that comes with it.  She broke the news with the same breathlessness that might come with terrible news of ill health, or something equally as horrible.

Apparently Chinese people will do anything in their power to avoid having a child in the year of the Goat, and just as I was about to press publish on my work, aptly titled ‘Goat,’ my kitten fell off the balcony and fell four floors, landing in the concrete courtyard below.

‘Everything ok?’ I asked, when I saw Twinkle Toes’ number flash up on my screen.  

‘It not good,’ he panted in response, ‘I think he dead’.

‘He,’ is actually ‘she,’ my beloved kitten who has been nicknamed Brexit after surviving the horrible ordeal.

Leaving my delicious Moroccan tea and running out the door of the Gran Cafe de Paris, I arrived home three minutes later to find Twinkle a pale shade of greenish grey in the kitchen.  After a thirty minute wait, the guardian of the building rounded the corner greeting people in the street as he meandered towards me.  ‘Rasheed, it’s a catastrophe,’ I gasped, hurrying him along.

We shuffled out towards the courtyard and he burst open an ancient door with an equally ancient master key, where I quickly fashioned a blanket out of my favourite shawl.  The ‘blanket’ soon became a bloody mess after I scooped the baby up after finding her perched on all fours with a blood nose.

My dear friend Sue who lives around the corner and happens to have been a nurse in a former life, arrived in time to accompany me in the taxi; the driver ignoring the fact that I was carrying a kitten in my arms and not in her cage, and the passenger who sat in the front seat stared vacantly ahead.  In an act of complete kindness, the driver sped through school traffic, dodging the line of taxis outside the big mosque and whisked us to the vet in record time.

After two nights under observation, the naughty kitten arrived home in one piece and has since been spoiled rotten by anyone and everyone.  My pleas to keep all the doors closed when she is not being watched, are now being realised and god willing, she will not repeat any such activity anytime in soon.

I have always loved Christmas, and at this time of year I become very reflective.  As I think about family and friends far away, I dream of nights filled with an endless glass of red wine and my favourite film, Love Actually, playing on repeat. 

I could happily watch this film every day for the rest of my life, utilising the endless packets of Kleenex purchased from my favourite man on the street who has wobbly teeth and is extremely sharp on the money; he is also always grateful for the extra few dirhams given to him for a coffee.

Just before I began writing this, I finished wrapping all of my Christmas presents in newspaper purchased from the old man with a hunchback who staggers around the streets like a packhorse carting news. He is a complete character and he finds me at every cafe or restaurant, greeting me with a perfect cockney accent, grinning ‘ello, and ow are you today?’ and to the next person he will speak in relatively good French, Spanish or Arabic, depending on what he observes as he eavesdrops on his prey.  I love him, and I have a stack of newspapers in my study that I’ll never read, because I can’t, as they too are written in Arabic.

I know that he knows I cant read them.  

Recently, a friend and I dressed up and attended a charity night in aid of a new orphanage being opened in Tangier.  We were the only two people in the room of about one thousand who weren’t Moroccan, and my eyes welled up when a handful of children took to the stage, and further welled up, when we still hadn’t (in typical Moroccan fashion) had dinner as midnight fast approached.

‘Shall we sneak out,’ I whispered, knowing that dinner was miles away and the night was still young.  I was also about to eat Gene, my sweet dinner companion.  ‘Yes,’ he agreed, and with that we whisked back to the Kasbah in a taxi, chatting at full throttle the entire way.  I haven’t forgotten those children and in a moment of serendipity, I received a phone call from the boy who saved the kitten and had sweetly agreed to babysit her for my first night out since she had returned from my kind vet.  As I neared home, he wondered if we could meet for a coffee and quick catch up.

He is so kind to me and is ever patient with my appalling attempts in both understanding and speaking in the local Arabic dialect of Darija.  My questions are always answered with consideration and patience and ‘nah why’ has become his standard response when I say something he doesn’t agree with.  I too, now find myself saying ‘nah why’ when I  mean, ‘no way’. 

In an act of chivalry, he walked me home following our coffee, and just as we rounded the corner from the boulevard, four little boys of about ten years of age came towards me holding their hands to their mouths, whispering ‘manger, manger,’ the French word for ‘eat’.

I shot a glance to the kitten rescuer, ‘can we take them for dinner?’ I asked, not about to take no for an answer.  ‘Yes, of course,’ came his response.

Two of the boys hung off his arms as he marched them towards ‘cheap street,’ my favourite place in Tangier, where I often eat  for next to nothing in one of a handful of tiny restaurants lined up side by side.  The food is fresh and delicious and totally Moroccan.  I had the other two boys holding each of my hands, with one wrapping his spare arm around me in a huge hug, barely able to walk his grip was so firm.

As we approached my favourite restaurant where I eat lunch most days, I shot another glance, ‘are we dining in?’ I asked.

‘Of course,’ came the response, ‘let’s have Christmas dinner.’

So, there I sat with four little boys and the kitten rescuer translating every word.  The waiters arranged baskets of bread, plates of rice and a bowl of mince.  A bowl of warm beans followed and a bottle of coke was donated, along with a huge jug of water.

The children fought, making finger gestures at each other and I asked Monsieur Kitten to teach them some manners, first off, encouraging them to thank the waiter.  Suddenly, everyone was sitting up straight and ‘shoukran bzaf’ (thank you very much) was being bandied around the table.

‘She is the queen,’ they told him, shooting naughty grins in my direction before pouring a huge glass of coke into a filthy cup covered in slobber and placing it in front of me.

I downed every sip and finished their ends of bread which they passed to me; ‘make her eat,’ they begged.  

One was particularly entrepreneurial, taking a baguette from the basket and filling it with leftovers, announcing that he wanted to be prepared for tomorrow.

The boy to my right had his arm around me at all times and planted kisses on my cheeks.  As he left, I gave him a huge hug, planting a kiss on his forehead and asked him to look after himself.  His big, dark eyes looked into mine in a gaze that I’ll never forget.

I’ve seen these children before, and I will continue to look out for them in the future.  

In a life filled with everything I could possibly want, but without children of my own, I have always found complete solace in the children of others.

This week, as I wrapped presents for my five nephews and five godchildren ready for the post the following day, I reflected on the importance of caring for each other at this time of year and always.  And, as I tied the final bow on my palm tree in the sitting room, fashioning a North African Christmas tree, I was reminded again that it all comes down to love, actually.

With Christmas just under a week away I will continue to be reflective, just as other religions reflect at different stages throughout the year.  Each day I am reminded of the religion that rules this country, and as Christmas approaches, I am constantly reminded that is my time to celebrate.  

As I walked home today, the part time street guardian who works just a couple of days a week,  shot me a smile followed by a loud, toothless ‘good morning,’ as he always does, even late into the night.  ‘What is your name?’ he asked, before adding, ‘you have Christmas, you look like a Christmas person’.

I suppose I do.

On that note, I’ve got a film to watch.

Pictured: Amira, the wonder kitten, in a more restful moment.

Butterflied.

Butterflied.

“Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.”  

Prophet Muhammad.

Last week the Islamic world observed the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Over three days, shops were closed, bars with alcohol licences grew cobwebs in their windows, and the streets of Tangier were peaceful, if only the tiniest bit windswept.

‘It’s just like Christmas,’ a friend had warned the week before, ‘no one will be available to work and it’s important that they don’t,’ she went on to add.

Rain fell a lot over the holiday, and when I woke on Thursday morning I peeped through the curtains to find a sky full of sun, breathing a sigh of relief, a tiny piece of normality had returned.  ‘Thrice weekly,’ otherwise known as Twinkle Toes, came on Thursday rather than Wednesday – he had a disco to host at his house on Wednesday night, in honour of his mothers birthday.

The man with just one tooth who sells shampoo, gas and booze in the ‘barcal’ across the road, was back from four days in Agadir.  Fresh faced and cheeks flushed with colour, he was ready to launch straight back into Darija lessons, shouting my order back at me in the local dialect through the tooth, as the boys who stack his shelves giggled in the background at my pathetic attempts to gargle words from a place in my throat that has never been utilised.

Mohammed who minds the street was almost beside himself with joy when he saw the doors open at the barcal; never one to say no to a tin of Flag, I found him celebrating on the street corner as I walked home on Thursday night.  That evening, men gathered around the fruit stand near the carpark and smoked kiff pipes together, free again after three days of family.

Nightfall comes early these days, but thankfully Autumn in Tangier is nothing compared to Paris; it’s warmer, and the days are clear when its not raining, with views across to Spain simply breathtaking.  

This piece had originally taken a different turn; I had written about eating cous cous one night in the family home of the boy who saved my kitten; the kindness shown by his mother and the way in which he translated from Darija to English, and when I had words to say (I was struggling to get a word in either way, but that is another conversation for another day), they were translated back in Darija.

His mother showed me a video on her smart phone of a Clydesdale horse galloping through a field, and I smiled at the randomness of that particular moment.

I’d spent all week penning a piece about hospitality and the rapidness at which Moroccans speak, drive, and deal with each other.  At times, I feel as though I’m witnessing the biggest fight, only to see two men blow each other a kiss before going on their way.  Darija is loud, it’s fast, and it is littered with French and Spanish words in a hangover from a bygone time, pre independence.

Last night, as I was about to press publish on the original piece, the doorbell sounded particularly loudly.  Expecting Twinkle Toes to arrive with a new special light bulb for a huge glass star in the entrance hall, I was in the midst of pouring a glass of wine and preparing a slice of cheese.  

My hair was scraped back in a scrunchie for the first time since I was about 12 years old, and a fascinating documentary about Lisa Brennan Jobs, daughter of Steve, was playing on the BBC.  Moments prior, I’d finally brought in all the laundry from the clothesline on my small kitchen balcony.  Rain was forecast for the morning, and as the chilly nights set in, it’s always a race to get things into the flat before they are too far gone in the evening chill.

The kitten scattered at the sound of the doorbell, as she always does.

Opening the door with not nearly enough caution, I found a well dressed man with a guttural voice speaking to me in Arabic, not Twinkle Toes as expected.

 ‘Hamo…’ he explained after we’d finished formalities and thanked God for both of our wellbeing, ‘Hamdulillah’ we’d said in unison.  

I then responded in broken French that I didn’t actually know what he wanted, ‘I am Virginia,’ I told him, cross that my documentary hadn’t been paused before I stood up from the kitchen table.  ‘What do you want?’ I asked, to which he again responded ‘Hamo,’ and that he was here to see my house and eat dinner.  

‘I don’t know you,’ I explained in French, probably saying that I have never known him, tenses are not a strong point.

With that, he held his hand up to silence me, before making a call on his phone.  ‘No, who are you calling?’ I asked, adding ‘you can only call Rashid, the guardian of the building.’ But, he was well on his way telling someone that ‘Hamo’ (he) was ‘here’ and ‘she’s’ ‘definitely not an Arab’.

Sans headscarf and wearing a pair of dungarees teamed with orange desert boots (colour is not an option with big feet, but they’re rather nice) and a matching woollen jumper, I couldn’t have looked less like a nice Muslim girl –  more like a  presenter of a children’s television program.

As he hung up, he kissed his hand and waved me goodbye with a smattering of words that I couldn’t begin to understand, before making his way down the stairs, ‘goodbye, I’m sorry,’ he finished in Darija, and I shut the door behind him.

Racing straight to my laptop, I pressed pause on the Brennan Jobs documentary.  I’d missed all the juicy bits about the wealthiest man in the world’s daughter, and her struggles with being the child of the man who invented the machine on which I was typing this.  Then, I reached for my Arabic dictionary, searching the word ‘hamo’ with complete urgency.

Who was he, and what did he want from me?

‘Father in law,’ the dictionary explained.

The poor man, who I’d observed had rotten fingernails but a rather nice shirt, had come all the way up five flights of stairs to meet with his son and new daughter in law and see their house, only to find an Australian woman holding a kitten, linguistically challenged, and dressed like a pre school teacher.

Last week I sat in my favourite smoked filled cafe on the boulevard with views across to Spain, and I reflected on the kindness that I see each day in Morocco as I build a life here. I’d planned to write about my endless struggles with language and the kindness always gifted to me by Moroccans.

I have to listen so hard when I’m spoken to in accented French, and I squint like a child at an ice cream stand when Darija is spoken to me and I’m lost, like a mapless explorer in the Sahara desert, when anyone speaks in Arabic.

But no one ever laughs at me- I am encouraged and appreciated when I make any attempt to communicate, as funny as I may sound.

Sipping on my coffee as I planned this blog in the smoke filled cafe, Gloria Gaynor came onto the television and sang ‘I will survive,’ which opens with the only too familiar lyrics ‘At first I was afraid, I was petrified…’ and I suddenly found myself singing along out loud.  An older man sitting at the table beside me smiled, saying, ‘I love this song, it is the favourite song of my husbands sister,’ going on to sing at the top of his lungs ‘At first I was afraid, I was butterflied…’

In that moment, I observed the innocence of language, reminded that I am not alone in the never ending struggle that I face each day with a barrage of words that I have to listen to with complete dedication and determination.  In English, he was only trying to sing ‘At first I was afraid, I was petrified,’ and that Gloria Gaynor ‘is the favourite singer of my sister’s husband’.

As Ben Lee sings in one of my favourite songs, ‘we’re all in this together,’ and as the prophet said, ‘be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it…’

I hope ‘the father in law to be’ found his son and new daughter in law last night, and that they enjoyed a lovely dinner together.

For he, was probably as ‘butterflied,’ as me.

Pictured: a mop drying in the window of a local mosque.

Remembrance.

Remembrance.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

Henry Beston, 1928.

As strange as it may sound, one of my first friends in Tangier was a nine year old cockerel named Birdy.

He was handsome and strong and the most wonderful companion. As a single woman, it might sound rather odd that the line above isn’t used to describe a man that may have crossed my path and showered me with love, rather, an animal who had a brain probably the size of one of my teeth.

Raised on a country property, I grew up with animals but was a late comer in truly understanding them. My sisters were good with horses, I was intimidated by them and frustrated that I couldn’t canter freely across fields with my hair blowing in the breeze like they did in Enid Blyton novels. Rather, I would more often than not, fall off them and be left lying in a tussock with tears streaming down my face.

The house kitten hid in an old dairy near the garden shed, and when I’d try to catch her, she’d race of in the other direction, hissing as she did so.

I loved our dogs but was never really all that enamoured, I’d say ‘sit’ and they too, would run in the other direction.

And, don’t even get me started on the subject of sheep.

When I was older, just before my 30th birthday, I was given a beautiful nine week old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who I promptly named Saffron. Saffron became something of a best friend to me; now that I had my own pet, I learned to love her and care for her like a child.

My heart was broken when she died aged eight, because she had seen me through many trials, tribulations and very happy times; always with a kind and wise head resting on my shoulder. Her intuition was strong, as is the intuition of all animals, they are intelligent and wise, and as Beston wrote, ‘they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear’.

Birdy, as much as he was a cockerel who couldn’t speak English, was always happy to see me when I would drop in for lunch with his constant companion and the man who introduced me to Tangier, Jonathan Dawson. When I stayed at Jono’s flat whilst mine was undergoing a facelift all those months ago, Birdy would race up onto my bed after he’d made his first morning call, which came immediately after the call to prayer in the mosque across the way. His pecks were relentless.

‘They’re kisses,’ Jono would say, and of course I believed him.

Birdy died last week, and while he was loved and revered by so many, I have no doubt, just like Saffron, that he will be happily in heaven with all the other animals who left this earth before him.

Birdy’s death came just a week before the 100th anniversary of the Armistice being signed on the 11th of November, 1918, and, while not too many cockerels went into battle, I have to say in the lead up to Remembrance Day, it did make me think a lot about the role in which animals play in the lives of humans.

When Dad and I visited the battlefields of the Somme just over a year ago, we came across a new memorial outside Pozieres, still covered and one that my father was desperate to unveil and have a look at.

‘You cant just uncover it Dad’ I pleaded with him, half laughing and half wanting to run in the other direction as he drew closer on foot. ‘Yes I can, Darling’ he assured me, ‘it is a memorial to the animals lost in the battle of Pozieres, we must have a look’.

My pleas were realised after we were (thankfully) distracted by a man named Neville who had moved to Pozieres from Bendigo, Australia, to caretake at the memorial, undertaking tasks such as mowing the lawns and minding the covered statues. I was so grateful when we found Neville.

A week later, on Friday the 21st of July, 2017, dogs, horses, ponies and pigeons were amongst the crowd at the unveiling of this new memorial honouring the thousands of animals who never returned home.

Over nine million animals from all sides died during the First World War, not one was a volunteer, and in the case of all the surviving Australian animals, nil were allowed to return home.

Australian WW1 correspondent, Charles Bean wrote, “ the animals came to know when a shell was coming close; and if, when halted, the horses heard the whine of an approaching salvo, they would tremble and sidle closer to their drivers, burying their muzzles in the men’s chests”.

Animals often served as mascots during war, raising the spirits of the troops through their natural affection and innocence. One of the most famous mascots was a black bear from Canada named Winnipeg, who remained with his unit for several months. Later placed at the London Zoo, he made a great impression on A.A Milne and his son, inspiring Milne to write Winnie the Poo. In a general manner, during war, cats are said to have been greatly appreciated and could traverse No Man’s Land without coming to any deliberate harm.

When I traversed the busy Rue d’Angleterre, Tangier, at 10.45 on Sunday morning last week, only a minute late for the Remembrance Sunday service at Saint Andrews Anglican parish of Tangier, I encountered seemingly a thousand kittens stalking the street, while others slept under taxis waiting for their next fare.

Pigeons were shooed from the busy Berber market where women sit each Thursday and Sunday morning wrapped in their traditional red and white Berber dress, topped off with wide brimmed straw hats covered in pompoms.

Upon entering the church gardens which house a divine cemetery, birds chortled in abundant trees and I almost shed a tear, as the sound of bagpipes ushered me into the church.

In 1880, Hassan I of Morocco donated land to the British community in order to build a small Anglican church in Tangier. After the church was built, it was found that it was not sufficient for the increasing number of worshippers, and a new one was built in 1894 which became what we know today as the Church of Saint Andrew.

The interior is designed as a fusion of numerous styles, notably Moorish. The tower is shaped like a minaret and the Lords Prayer is carved in Arabic over the alter.

As I took my seat on Sunday morning, I cast my eyes over the congregation. Pretty hats atop English heads were smattered through the middle pews, and members of the Royal Air force and Navy sat proudly up the front, alongside the Deputy Head of Mission from the British Embassy in Rabat. If my memory serves me correctly, there was also the Commanding Officer of HMS Sabre, as well as a representative from the Gibraltar Defence Police. Regular Sunday parish goers, many of them migrants who have fled various West African countries, nursed children in their laps and we began with a rousing version of God Save the Queen. At 11am precisely, the bugler led The Last Post; always in equal parts as haunting as it is sobering. Almost on cue, the call to prayer could be heard from the mosque in the grand socco, just as the service came to a close.

We remembered them, before spilling out into the church yard where wreaths were laid over the thirteen English headstones in the tiny Commonwealth War Cemetery on the east side of the gardens. Chatter was abundant as the African boys took to their drums, chanting tunes about peace on Earth, and at this point I took a moment to observe the names on the headstones in the beautiful gardens.

The writer David Herbert, has a simple headstone under a tree alongside the path leading up to the church, where inside, a plaque can be found commemorating Emily Keene, famous for introducing the cholera vaccination to Morocco. Major Harry Twentyman, Sir Harry Maclean, Paul Lund, and the writer Walter Harris, can also be found in the garden amongst almost two hundred other names who both lived and died in Tangier, many of whom are fondly remembered by people still living in Tangier.

As I finished my meanderings, I found the graves of Alexandria-born Claire de Menasce and her second husband, Commander Roy Howell RN. De Menasce was the mother of Claude-Marie Vincendon, the third wife of Lawrence Durrell whose brother Gerald, wrote one of my favourite books, ’My Family and Other Animals’ in a stunning memoir of his childhood on Corfu.

The churchyard scene on Sunday could have been lifted from Gerald Durrell’s rightfully adored book. Chatter in English could be heard through the trees, pigeons crooned, and kittens scattered through the bushes as I walked in their direction. Webs woven by spiders in established English trees twinkled with late morning mildew, and the bagpipes played us out of the churchyard, just in time for lunch at Jono’s.

Which, as always, was great fun and the only thing missing was Birdy.

This week as we’ve reflected upon the memory of the men and women who have put their lives on the line in war – all wars, senseless and sad as they are, I have also enjoyed the reminder that in times of both war and peace, animals have remained one step ahead of us – their masters and servants, providing companionship and protection with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained.

Remembering Birdy and Saffron, and all of our furry, fluffy and feathered friends. 100 years on from the ‘War to end all Wars,’ we can only hope for peace in the world, but it is comforting to acknowledge the important role that animals play in our lives, each and every day, just as Durrell and Beston have done in their poignantly written pieces.

Which will also live on.