Birdsong.

Birdsong.

‘If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; if the plague breaks out in a place whilst you are in it, do not leave that place.’

The Prophet Mohammed. Albeit 14 centuries ago.

Here I sit in Tangier surrounded by the call to prayer five times each day, every day of the week.

‘Oh, its so romantic’ they croon, ‘I love that sound when I visit a Muslim country.’

As do I, even though I only understand the repeat in the call where we all hear ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is Great) sung across every neighbourhood of Tangier through megaphones. The rest, beautiful as it may sound, is lost on me.

I was raised in the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion who renounced papal authority when when Henry VIII failed to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1534.

How annoying for Henry and the court in which he served.

I am not religious, but due to the fact that I went to a Church of England boarding school for six years of my teenage life – where we attended chapel each morning, I adore singing hymns.

Sometimes when I’m tired of the news and can’t stand the thought of another talkback hour on the radio, I play hymns on my iPad loudly throughout the flat. I have done, in some way shape or form, since I left school.

I Vow to Thee, My Country all Earthly Things Above! Entire and Whole and Perfect, the Service of My LOVE! The Love That asks no Questions, the Love that Stands the Test; that Lays upon the Alter, the Dearest and the Best…’

I sing that one with gusto in the shower and moments later as I brush my hair. When I’m choosing a shirt for the day, I sigh at ‘dearest and the best…’ whilst dealing with too many choices – blue, white or coloured today?

Sometimes Allah Akbar sounds as I’m just warming up for that all important morning burst of Jerusalem, an absolute favourite, which I sing as I whoosh the kitchen curtains open whilst coffee brews on the stove:

And did those feet, in ancient time, Walk upon Englands mountains green? And was the holy lamb of God, On Englands pleasant pastures seen?’.

There is no denying that religion plays a role in all of our lives, whether we are from a religious household or not. It is written into our daily manuscript, even if we cant see it.

As a little girl, Mrs Baulch would drive my sisters and me to Sunday School at the church hall in the little town just twenty minutes from home. I didn’t so much enjoy Sunday School because I was too curious and chatty.

But how does God not fall out of the sky?

Did Jesus really come back to life? All the people I know who died, I think they are still dead?

Said ten year old me.

I was confirmed as a fifteen year old; mainly because if one chose to be confirmed, one was granted a visiting weekend with ones parents. The chapel in which I was confirmed was an A Frame building with sweeping views across the high country of Victoria, Australia, during a year called ‘Timbertop’ where we saw our parents for just one day throughout the entire school term.

School holidays aside, we saw them a grand total of four days in the year. I couldn’t be confirmed quick enough, even if I did have a load of questions for the Boss in the sky.

That year played a really important role for me – particularly, as being fifteen can be a difficult time for children making the shift from being a ‘child,’ as they walk the daunting path towards adulthood.

We’d hike for miles during the week and would complete the school curriculum on the weekends. On those long hikes, we’d also sing hymns (no snap chat, no tik tok and no instagram).

In 1994, if you happened to be atop a peak of any given mountain in north eastern Victoria, Australia, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a group of pubescent fifteen year olds thrashing out the worlds to Hymn 510 from their school prayer book, rosy cheeks and all:

Father hear the prayer we offer, not for ease that prayer shall be, But for strength that we may ever, Live our lives courageously!’.

Really, I was determined to steer away from COVID19 in this weeks pinningmywords – I think I’m reaching ‘CO- tigue’ but there seems to be no escaping it.

I’ve also been reading a lot about Spanish influenza, the last pandemic to practically close the world down – and with it being a wartime flu, it too became a global problem, particularly with increased travel taking place as soldiers returned from the trenches to their home countries all around the world.

To travel in these times is now impossible, with borders closed and flights grounded, but to even travel in a taxi, or any public transport will only see a further spread. All the more reason to stay at home and isolate with those around you. Just as we did in 1919.

Unlike 1919, this has become a time of heightened connectivity with those we love. In the old days, up until just a month ago, I rather dreaded picking up the phone in fear I’d catch someone running out the door, or on the school run, or heading into a meeting. These days, we are all ‘here’ and grounded by the same circumstance wherever we may be in the world. There is something comforting in this and I have spoken to more people in the past weeks than I have in my entire life.

Or, so it would seem.

Every news hour on the BBC is filled with stats and opinions, predictions and contradictions. The headlines are driving me crazy,

Charles, heir to throne tests positive! Did the Queen share tea with him?

Boris, positive with killer virus!

We’re at risk of losing our way in this as we drown in sensational headlines and throw common sense out with the rubbish. This is why I find common sense, and if you need them, the words of the Prophet Mohammed and anyone who wrote beautiful poetry and scripture well before COVID-19, pretty spine tingling – if we know there is a virus out there, don’t go near it, just as if we are in the area in which the virus has spread, don’t leave that area.

This to me seems utterly commonsensical, and maybe it was these guiding words which saw our border to Morocco slammed shut with very little warning. Within forty eight hours everything was closed, including schools and mosques, and we just had to adapt.

That, I would say, is containment, and until we have a vaccine, we have no option other than to do what we can to keep it at bay. I’m not suggesting it has been an easy shift to make; there are stories of unrest and discomfort, there are ever present fears for what the future holds and quite rightly, people are scared.

But this fear is only enhanced by the media writing some pretty irresponsible articles which has seen our ability to see light from dark, fly out the window – just like my cardigan did once from the clothesline during a strong easterly.

This morning I woke early and decided to change things up a little bit. No radio and no mainstream media, just a day of reading and writing with an hourly update with the national newspaper as a means of checking the world didn’t end between cups of coffee and poring over publications and tapping on my keyboard.

When I first opened my emails earlier today, I found one from a friend inviting me to join his poetry exchange.

How serendipitous I thought, licking my lips with glee. It was only last night that I drifted off to sleep following half an hour of reading the 13th century works of the Persian Muslim polymath, Sa’adi.

In a time where we are housebound and days are shrouded with negativity on our news outlets, a poetry exchange and a chance to be enlightened through the writing of others, couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Sa’adi’s poem, Bani Adam (Human Kind) drives us to understand our current challenge as we visualise (if we possibly can) the common constitution of humanity and it’s inevitable fate, and the way in which that realisation unites us, no matter what our belief system. In Bani Adam he writes:

Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasily will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot remain.’

I’ve always been curious about scripture, and in this time of daily isolation I am going to attempt to return to my life as a little girl, where I read books and travelled to far away lands in my bed and under torchlight at night. There is no one to tell me to turn the light off now that I’m forty, almost forty one, and there is no limit to what I can access through technology.

My school reports were always littered with phrases like ‘bookworm’ ‘a bit of a distraction’ and as I grew older, that chatty bookworm became a (perhaps self professed) ‘social and curious butterfly’ who didn’t read nearly enough. I was too busy doing everything at once and had forgotten how to say ‘no’. Having said that, I have never stopped asking questions and exploring writings from varying cultures, generations and situations.

I used to dream of the day where someone would say ‘yer can’t go out today, there’s a flood on the road and the bridge has collapsed. Sorry, love’.

Well, the bridge has collapsed and now I’ve been granted days, weeks and potentially months to learn and relearn, all the things I was taught before the world became so fast, and so easy, and everything would happen with the click of a button.

Following two weeks of suspended travel in and out of Morocco, the air is incredibly clear and the silence, almost deafening. The only fight for airspace is between newly arrived migrating storks and our ever present flocks of seagulls. The birdsong is magnificent and it fills the air during eerily silent days; little birds chatter and dance on my balcony as their huge cousins swoop in sync overhead.

Off I go to make a sandwich for lunch and I think I’ll sing along to Jerusalem whilst searching for a poem to present to my new poetry exchange.

In the meantime and whilst I’m at it, I decided last week to make a contribution to: https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/03/297684/moroccos-state-of-emergency-through-an-australian-expats-eyes/

If you haven’t already read it, it might bring a bit of light relief to your day. Or, you could just sing a hymn at the top of your lungs – no one is listening I promise. And if they are, just pretend you’re a pubescent teenager on a mountain top and it’s 1994.

In hindsight, there was not a worry in the world up there.

Will you go home?

Will you go home?


Up we get, thats the way, big stretch.’

‘Now, make your bed and I think we’ll wash your hair today.’

‘Ok?’


And in case you’re wondering, no, I haven’t suddenly taken up a position in a nursing home or found a lover in the form of an old age pensioner. Rather, this is what has become of me in these COVID19 times.

I talk to myself, more than ever.

Once I’m up and I’ve made the bed (with a pat on the back) I make my way into the shower. BBC Radio 3 has me humming along to the glorious tunes of the proms, before I find a suitable outfit for the day – one that will be comfortable for the commute around the flat and maybe even for a little ‘treat trip’ to the pharmacy or the barcal.

Both the pharmacies and the barcals (these are tiny little shops stacked full of canned tuna, olive oil, loo roll, chocolates, milk and more) are my lifeline now. Some even have wine. These are my favourites, and there are two within my block.

Just over a month ago, we were sitting around the dining room table at a house here in Tangier. ‘I mean, its like a wet market and the people in the area are catching this virus.’

‘No,’ came a response, ‘I think they actually eat bats.’

‘Oh dont be so AWFUL,’ came a cry from the end of the table (in the same moment I snuck in another spoon of delicious pasta), ‘no one would eat a bat!’

The conversation rattled on around that table in Tangier – a long way from Wuhan. At the end of dinner, we hugged and kissed each other goodnight before jumping into taxi’s, we were full of pasta and completely unaware that nights like these were soon to be something of a dream. A distant memory.

Once I’m dressed for the day, I make my way into the kitchen and turn on the iPad, desperate for news and updates. Where are we today?

Actually. What day is it?

Morocco was quick and incredibly efficient when it came to dealing with this virus. Borders shut down over a 12 hour period and cafes, restaurants and all non essential services (wine?) quickly followed. There was no panic buying, no shortage of loo roll and all schools, mosques, hammams, gyms, public spaces – EVERYTHING shutdown and everyone quickly had to adapt.

Each morning as I tune into the BBC and load the coffee pot onto an open flame, I listen as the numbers in Italy and Spain become more and more desperate and prolific.

First it was China and then it was cruise ships. The spread seemed so far away from all of us and we all went about life as normal.

Fast forward two months; here in Tangier, taxi drivers are out of work, servers in cafes are out of work, families in the medina are living together every hour of every day. Our normal has become utterly abnormal. We too, are in a paranoid lockdown a long way from where it all began. The roll on is prolific, but here we don’t panic buy and loo roll is freely available.

‘ Surely you’ll go home’ they all said.

‘Home?’ I asked, only the slightest bit perplexed.

Shall I travel to Marrakech on the train and wait in a queue at the airport for days, praying that I might miraculously find a seat on a flight? That’s five hours on the train potentially infected, five or more hours in a queue potentially infected, and then 28 hours in the sky (including a stopover) before arriving home to fourteen days of isolation.

But, I’ll be home. Potentially infected and in quarantine with both parents (aged 65+) and my precious nephews and their families – all doing their bit to be safe and healthy in these times.

No, I’ll stay here thanks. Let’s contain this bugger.

Every morning I find myself in my kitchen with my cafeteria warming up on the stove as I dream of my beloved Italy, whilst more casualties from within her borders are reported on the BBC.

I found Italy as a nineteen year old and returned more seriously as a twenty something year old. Tuscany called, and for summer upon summer I worked alongside my dear friend Charlotte who grows the most delicious grapes which are turned into headache free wine. Her home, Potentino, is a haven built on Etruscan ruins and as my coffee spatters from the cafeteria each morning, I think to myself ‘why them?’.

I don’t have the same love for Spain (all that lisping when they speak), but I also wonder (during the same news report) why them, too?

Last night I arrived home following a quick trip to the shops. As I stepped into the lift, I was taken straight back to my life in Paris where I sprayed Dyptique ‘Orange Blossom’ throughout the flat each night and each morning. ‘Hmmmm,’ I thought to myself, ‘maybe someone nice has come to visit’ as orange blossom filled my nose and the lift clunked up to my floor.

I was greeted by Twinkle Toes decked out in a black muscle t-shirt with a sequinned skull adorning its front. He was wearing a dust mask whilst folding my socks, a latex glove on each hand. When he heard the door open, he immediately attacked me with antiseptic spray.

Not even my keys were spared.

Squinting and with stinging eyes (some antiseptic actually went right into my tear ducts), I was quick to ask Twinkle why my lift smelt like my Paris apartment.

‘Listen to me,’ he began, as he always does ‘you need to understand what is this virus. It is only dead with alcohol.’

‘ You have no understanding of this. The only way I will kill the virus in this building is to use your product from France, it has alcohol. This is serious, you know…’

The next day I went out and bought him a spray containing ethanol, a rare commodity in a Muslim country. But to be fair, the lift and the entire building did smell delicious.

Twinkle is using every possible measure to keep me and all in sundry safe. As expensive as it may be.

We can all play our part. Whatever that may be.

For now, stay inside and keep washing your hands.

Twinkle said so.

Pictured: my favourite Berbèr carpet fresh in from the dry cleaners tonight.

A spring exile.

A spring exile.

A friend wrote to me tonight from London saying, ‘there are worse things than an enforced spring exile in our beloved Tangier.’

These words meant a lot and to be honest, I hadn’t thought of it like that. I haven’t really had a chance to think about anything as its all happened so quickly.

Over the past two months our attention has been focused on COVID19 and the domino affect its had throughout the world; the spread in Europe in particular. Australians have written to me over the weeks with news that they are doubting plans of travel for the next few months, for no other reason than it’s all just too unclear. And then, ‘just like that’ last week, there was talk of borders closing, flights being cancelled and further countries going into lockdown.

On Friday night at a dinner in the Kasbah, where Italians sat alongside the French, an Englishwoman had just flown in from the States, and a Frenchwoman was planning a shopping trip for the days that followed before jetting back to France, in came the news. The ferry to Tarifa (Spain) would no longer sail and all flights in and out of Spain to Morocco were cancelled indefinitely. In the hours following, an announcement came in that travel between France and Morocco would also be barred. By Sunday, all travel in and out of the country from anywhere in the world, was not about to happen.

Our borders were closed.

This virus is proving to be a pain in the neck. But a bigger pain in the neck would be if you were old and had recently suffered from pneumonia and you were to contract it. Or, if you were currently being treated for cancer, an aneurysm, a brain tumour, diabetes or chronic asthma (I’m not a medical professional and I know the list is exhaustive but these are front of mind as I type with an absent mind). We must do everything to contain this monster who seems to attack our oldest along with our most vulnerable.

Financial markets might suffer a short term crash. Planes will be grounded. Medical professionals will be exhausted. Shops will close. Restaurants, cafes and bars will shut until further notice. Small businesses will groan under pressure, and big businesses will feel the pinch. Parents will also feel the pinch as schools close. This is all relatively sudden, and none of us were actually prepared for the lockdowns that are being imposed by our governments.

But, if we can all do our bit to protect our most vulnerable, isn’t that the most rewarding thing we’ll ever do?

Today in Morocco saw the closure of all museums, mosques, gyms, cinemas, hammams and any public place where the virus could potentially spread its nasty little wings. The government here has looked to our neighbouring EU states and realised that we can’t risk heading in the same direction. No country can, and no country would surely would want to?

I am an avid taxi user here in Tangier – I dont have a car and I delight in jumping into a little shared blue taxi and sailing along the busy streets, winding through back roads and listening as my fellow passengers natter to the driver, as the radio blasts pop or conversation from its speakers. This is a joy I have until now, taken for granted. If people can’t go to the mosque or attend school, why should I be able to travel in a shared car that poses the same risk of spreading the infection? We have to eat and we all need fresh air and, for some, medicine. Therefore, shops and pharmacies will remain open, and the souks (markets) too.

On my doorstep I have everything I could possibly need on foot.

But suddenly I want to go out to a restaurant for dinner. I passionately hate nightclubs, but I’d love to go to one right now. I barely ever go to hammams but I as I write, I feel the urge for a good scrub. That place way out of Tangier, unreachable on foot – never wanted to inspect it more! Heaven knows what I’ll be craving after (possibly) weeks or even months of this – we’ll see. For now I feel very safe and incredibly grateful that measures were quickly put in place to combat a mass spread of this virus in our beloved Morocco.

The borders will open again and the world will eventually return to normal. So many people barely even know they have COVID19- this is widely reported and relatively heartening. In a global sense the numbers are but ‘few’ who have died. Sure, other strains of flu kill more people each year, but this one is quick and we know who, and what, it attacks. I think. Again, I’m not a professional but I know what I’m more interested in, namely those who it will attack and their families who could be left behind. All the things I will miss in a short period of time whilst we do all that we can to contain this little cretin, will come back to all of us who have the fortune of good health.

For now, its back to basics. Let’s make soup. If my oven wasn’t run on a gas bottle fit for a barbecue, I’d maybe make a cake. We can chat on FaceTime and share the hilarious stories of self isolation as we prepare for the weeks and months to come. Oh, I have plenty and I’ll pepper them into my writing as we go through this together.

I’m sitting like a nutter typing this with a glass of wine reflecting on my recent trip to Australia, where the only Corona I was interested in was bottled, cold and served with a fresh wedge of lemon. How times change quickly, but I am so very proud of the way Morocco has taken every step to keep this as contained as possible, and will continue to do so.

The person who inspired the title of this blog is in London and, with the border closures indefinite, probably wont be out here any time soon. He has a wonderful garden in Tangier and he finished his email with the following words which made me smile, ‘if you ever need a walk in my Tangier garden, please do.’

Life will be simple for a while, but a walk in the garden, a chat on the phone and a glass of wine will always be available – just like the old days – as we prepare to return to our busy, wild and modern ‘normal,’ which was so suddenly swept out from under our feet.

My thoughts are with anyone already dealing with a preexisting illness, and are understandably very afraid of this virus.

With much love from Tangier.

Thrill and Suspense.

Thrill and Suspense.

‘Do you know what is this?’ he asked over coffee one afternoon recently, shoving his phone under my nose showing an Arabic phrase translated into English. I smiled at the words ‘thrill and suspense’ under the Arabic squiggles.

‘How fabulous,’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m so mysterious’.

‘This is how you are when you tell the story’ he went on to accuse laughingly. ‘What is this bird, you know the one with the brain the size of nothing and it goes from way to way and the other side when it walks?’

‘An emu?’ I asked, eyebrows raised.

‘Yeah that one, it dead, remember,’ he reminded me, finishing with ‘how long did the story take when you told me he was one day alive and the next day dead…?’.

Oh poor Footloose,’ I think to myself as I realise where I this is going.

This is a friend who I meet for coffee from time to time where we share stories of life, childhood, and the difference in our cultures as well as the similarities.

My family have always teased me for my apparent ability to exaggerate, and it maddens me. Really, it does. I believe that everything I am saying is absolutely as I remember it, and I also believe I’m completely on point when it comes to ‘getting’ to the point.

Alas. School friends, colleagues, and old friends all join the family chorus of saying ‘you sure, Pin?’ when I begin to weave a tale. A sign of a new friend beginning to really understand me, is when they too say ‘are you sure, Pin?’ or, ‘are you about to get to the point…?’.

‘When you tell a story, you do like this’ I was reminded over coffee with Mr Thrill and Suspense. ‘Like, after two hours you still don’t finish,’ he laughed, ‘you could make a movie the way you tell a story.’

‘ Your story is a Netflix series’.

‘ This dead animal with the little head, this story was so long, all I asked was how did it die, and you told the story for three hours’.

His obsession with the animal who goes from ‘way to way with brain the size of nothing,’ began over coffee one afternoon when I found a movie on instagram filmed by my sister CC, which she posted during my visit back to Australia two years ago.

I began to explain the content of the film and within moments, he was shaking in his chair with laughter.

For the record and maybe a bit of context, it goes a bit like this…

‘Of course you’ve an Emu called Footloose,’ I shrieked as the family pet attacked a bottle opener in my hand over lunch (they love anything that glistens and shimmers I was told, as I flung the opener into a rose bush – albeit a minute too late). I’d driven from Melbourne that morning and was excited to reunite with my sister, her husband and my two little nephews.

Later that evening as we settled in for drinks and dinner, crickets cricketing in the distance as the sun slid behind the Grampians; both little boys were settled into bed and CC’s husband Jack in from a day on the farm, Footloose was let out for his evening run. He appeared from around the corner and began chasing me, conveniently in the moment CC had just pressed record on her phone.

The film goes on to show me running for my life, wheezing with laughter and completely losing my mind. In the moment that I thought I’d out run an emu (if that’s even possible) he reappears for another go. Hysterical laughter can be heard as a champagne cork pops.

The video never loses its appeal and I relish in bringing it out from time to time when people least expect it. When I showed it over coffee that day, my friend wistfully asked where Footloose is now and why didn’t I take photos of him on my last visit to Australia?

‘ Well,’ I began…

I continued to explain that Footloose was found not moving one day and his fate was soon determined. He was dead. I‘m sure I told the story in as many words, but, in his words ‘it took over three hours…’. Hence his reference to ‘thrill and suspense’ as he waits patiently for the punchline, on every story I ever tell when we meet for coffee.

As does everyone it would seem, and maybe you’re all absolutely right.

I began writing this piece as a memo to quickly tell you that this week the blog will be short. It all started when I woke up on Saturday morning and decided, before I’d even flung the curtains open, that I should probably travel to Spain on the first ferry out of Morocco and return later that afternoon, therewith a new stamp in my passport.

With all the hype around Coronavirus, I thought it probably safest to nip out and then back in as quickly as I left; that way I am in one place as the world determines what exactly is going on and what the repercussions may actually be. Sadly, Spain was asleep when I arrived and just yawning her way out of siesta when I left. A disappointing, but important trip ‘out’.

I can just imagine Mr Thrill and Suspense reading this and laughing to himself. ‘She wanted to make a small point and explain the week,’ he’ll laugh into his Netflix, ‘but she made a whole blog’.

That I did, and perhaps everyone is right. One thousand words later, it would seem that I actually am hopeless at ‘getting to the point’.

See you next week, this week has been hijacked with some really exciting and fun projects – the trip to Spain aside – all of which will be revealed.

There you are, I’m apparently quite good at thrill and suspense…

Which I think loosely (or Footloose-ly) in English, translates to ‘never getting to the point’.

Pictured: approaching Morocco from Spain, Saturday.

Coffee with Milk.

Coffee with Milk.

It’s October 2019 and I’m in a phase of life where so much is happening.  

Communicating with family and friends across two completely different time zones, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything and I find myself in a slump. 

Not necessarily a sad one, just a place where I feel rather helpless and distant.

That’s ok, I remind myself constantly, we all have little bumps in the road.

One afternoon, I phone my sister.

‘I’m coming home’.

‘No. Not for good.  No, not for Christmas.  Yes, just for a bit. Don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret’. Initially it’s planned as a surprise, but in a moment of clarity I change my mind.

Within a week, no less, I’m phoning almost everyone in my phone book.  All is shared, flight times and details of what will happen in the short month I will spend at home in Australia.  

It’s a long held dream of mine to walk into a surprise party in my honour but sadly, with my attitude to surprises pertaining to me, it’s never happened. 

SURPRISE.  They’ll all shout.  Then I’ll cry and someone will fall madly in love with me on the same night.

My friend (her name is Charlotte) is well versed in this dream, and we quite often find ourselves wailing with laughter at my more than idiotic delusions about what dreams are made of.

I land in Melbourne one morning late in November, where a taxi whisks me out of the airport and straight to Mum and Dads cozy little Melbourne pied a terre.  On arrival I’m given a welcome only a mother can give.  Fully, widespread arms tightly squeeze my less than emaciated body, I’m huge actually, and my heart is bursting at the sight of her.

There is nothing like the smell of ones mother, and there is also nothing like the love that a mother has for her child.  Even when the child is 40 with a penchant for big ballad singers, and who lives in a land far away with no actual relevance to anything currently going on in her mothers life; bar the fact that it makes the daughter incredibly happy.

Following a steaming hot shower and an almost Olympic worthy gymnastic routine of removing my heart attack socks (I refuse to fly without them and I marvel at my ‘skinny’ ankles as I tear them off), we go immediately for breakfast together where I devour fresh avocado on toast with smatterings of feta and olive oil.  (Did I mention that Kenya is the seventh largest producer of avocados in the world, see my last blog – I do my research in moments of sheer procrastination).

‘Mum, it’s so good to be home, truly it is,’ I tell her between mouthfuls.

‘God, I’ve missed you,’ we say in unison, smiling.

The waitress asks if we’d like another coffee.

‘Yes, please’ we respond, again, in unison.

If you read my last blog titled ‘England Cake,’ you’d have seen a reference to mistakes that can easily be made with language.  Remember the waiter having to leave the room laughing with his legs crossed?

I order a second cafe latte, Mum does too, and I laugh as I recall asking a waiter in Tangier for a coffee with milk, full of confidence and thrilled at my new found confidence in darija.

‘Ahff-eck wah-had kahwah -wah (h)alib’ (for any darija speakers, please excuse my phonetics).

‘I would like coffee with milk,’ I thought I was saying.

What I was actually saying (for a good few months when I first arrived in Tangier) was, ‘may I have a man’s main reproductive organ with milk?’.

Kah-wah pronounced almost snorted through the nose and out again is ‘coffee’ whereas KAH-L-WAH, with a short (but still there) L is understood as ‘mans front bottom’.

In the moment it’s a huge relief to be with Mum in Australia, ordering coffee with milk in my mother tongue.

We pull out our diaries and madly plan the weeks ahead.  I’m home for almost three, which swiftly becomes four.

The second coffee arrives just as we’re finalising diaries.  ‘So, we’ll be here, here, here, here, here and here and here and here and here and then here, and there, and then here,’ we agree, nodding furiously — a bit like Mr Bean in one of his finer moments.

Happy with synchronised dates, we part ways. Mum has a full day of things to do and I am determined to stay awake until well after nightfall.  My head is almost on the table as the jet lag kicks in and I stand to brave the street outside, walking straight into the husband of one of my oldest friends.

They both came to Tangier for my fortieth birthday last summer on a visit I’ll never forget.

Stu arrives moments later, Stu was also in Tangier last summer for my 40th birthday lunch. He drives me to an old favourite watering hole where we sip on a negroni and discuss all that’s either happened or we wish to happen.  We do that — he too is privy to things such a my dreams of love, handsome princes and surprise parties.  He understands me in a way that only life long friends can.

That night Mum (who understands me better than anyone) and I have dinner together.  I’m exhausted after twenty four hours in the sky and can barely keep my eyes open as we crunch through my favourite salad and sip on delicious wine.

Jet lag aside, we chat for hours before I land my head on a fresh, feather down pillow and fall into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.

During the days and weeks that follow I reunite with my beloved Dad and sisters; along with their husbands and my beautiful, much loved nephews of which there are now five.

Cries of ‘hello Aunty Pinny,’ make my heart swell when their little arms wrap themselves around my legs at the breakfast table, or as I arrive at each destination.

Dad gives me the keys to his car and I travel the length of country Victoria – I’m in the Grampians one day and beside the sea the next.  We are all so proud when Dad launches his latest book, regardless of an aneurysm almost launching him into another place just twelve months earlier.

Fire has been ravaging towns and farms across much of Australia in the months leading into my trip, and its hard to believe they are still going when I arrive — there is no evidence across the Melbourne skyline, but the evening news reports devastation across acres and acres of land.  It’s heartbreaking to see, but we are unaware that the worst is yet to come.

Landing in Tasmania, half way through my trip and with Mum and Dad at my side, I meet my newest nephew Archie who was born almost a year following my last visit.  He is all dribble and smiles as I squeeze him half to death, only letting him go in the moment when he needs to be strapped into his car seat in order for us to leave the airport.

I’m amazed at these children.  Maybe I’m biased because they are ‘mine’ but they treat me like and old friend.  They are utterly breathtaking in their approach to this stranger who looks like and sounds like their mother, but isn’t their mother.  I’m chuffed at the welcome I receive with each visit.

My journey back to Australia was incredibly special and one where memories were made as I reunited with as many friends as possible – but sadly, there is never enough time for everyone. I draw the line somewhere along the way, booking a ticket back to Morocco which will see me arrive in time for a North African Christmas.  A pre Christmas trip to Australia is much easier, with everyone still around finishing up the year as the school holidays make a swift approach.  

My nephews and godchildren are all growing at the rate of knots, but their parents – my friends, and all of my friends, along with my sisters and my parents, never change.  Thats the beauty of it all, we can all just slot back in as if time has never passed.

And, we did just that.

I land in Tangier on Friday at the end of the week leading into Christmas.  Rain falls in a sideways fashion as I step off the plane and bump into two friends who have just flown in from London.

‘The fires, Pin, they’re horrific’ they say, worried for those I’ve just left behind.  I look at the news as I wait in the passport control queue.  Overnight, they have worsened (and only worsen in the weeks that follow).

It’s heartbreaking to watch, and it seems there is not one person in Australia who hasn’t either been touched directly by the devastation, or has a friend or family member who is.

The most heartening thing is the way in which our nation bands together to help, whether it be literally on the ground or in other ways.  I loath reading online vitriol, but find comfort in the words written by sane, pragmatic thinkers.

I appreciate pragmatism.

Life in Tangier quickly returns to normal as my jet lag subsides and Christmas and New Year come and go during a fun and heady couple of weeks.  I am spoilt with brilliant hospitality and am sad that I cant repay it as quickly as I’d like to.  The loo is still missing from the bathroom during one of the busiest and most social times of the year.  I am thrilled when it’s finally fixed one day in mid February.

As I finish typing this with ‘Epiphany’ by the Piano Boys as my soundtrack, Twinkle walks in the door.  He’s been shopping and I delight in a bottle of bright blue cleaning product – he knows that I love anything with promise of an ocean fresh scent.  I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

‘It smells like a bitch’ he tells me, pointing to the waves crashing across the label, weaving their way around Arabic letters which I can only assume spell out ‘Ocean Dreams’ or something similar.

He will be forty next week, and the talk of how the celebrations will play out has been non stop for weeks.

He too has a long held dream of a surprise party held in his honour.  His cheeks flush pink and his eyes sparkle as he comes clean with me about this dream whilst humming to the music as he tips blue poison, fresh as an ocean, into a bucket full of piping hot water.

I will finish on that note as I’ve just seen a headline which states that senior health officials in Britain are advising people to wash their hands whilst singing ‘God Save the Queen,’ as a means of not contracting Coronavirus.

I madly re-read this piece and I can’t help wondering if it works? I assume it’s probably fake news and go off to prepare for dinner with one of my dearest Tangier friends, who celebrates his birthday today.

It’s not a surprise.

England Cake.

England Cake.

I’m walking through the streets, almost home. The mobile phone sellers are chatting to each other from store to store, the tobacconist smiles as I walk by, and the fish monger is getting ready for a nights trade.

It’s the perfect Tangier evening, my basket it laden with goods and I stop in to see ‘No Teeth,’ the man who has no teeth and sells wine in a tiny shop on the corner.

We go through the ritual in Arabic ‘Good evening, how are you, all is well, thanks to God.’

‘I would like from you one bottle of red wine, God willing.’

‘Thank you.’

No Teeth slams his fist on the counter and announces the price. He always does this, as if its the first time we’ve ever brokered a deal over a bottle of wine. Then, he cackles through his one tooth. Always does. I love him.

The front door to the building is a struggle with all my shopping, and Mohamed the street guardian shuffles over to help me with the key.

‘Shoukran bzaf, Mohamed’ I smile, thanking him in darija and handing him ten dirhams before I walk inside and call the lift.

It’s quiet, save for a few toots from cars down on the boulevard, as I make my way to my front door. The light is on in the entrance, Twinkle’s been and I thank him (to myself) for being so sweet and leaving the light on.

He was missing for a while and returned after a couple of weeks with tales of a car hitting him and a stolen phone. I’m never sure what to believe, but I find happiness in his return.

I’m also happy that my loo is back after a three month absence. I returned from Australia and found it sitting on the kitchen balcony.

When I phoned Twinkle, full of jet lag, to see what was actually going on, he quite simply told me ‘he’s finished, not a good one…’ before telling me that I’d have to use the kitchen loo (perfectly fine) until ‘he is replaced.’

Everything in Twinkle’s world is ‘he’ or ‘she’. A cardigan once flew off the clothesline in a furious wind from the east.

‘Twinkle,’ I asked slowly, ‘have you seen my blue Zara cardigan?’.

‘She’s there,’ he responded triumphantly, leading me out to the balcony overlooking the neighbours terrace. There ‘she’ was, lying like a damsel in despair, sodden in a corner alongside a bag of cement.

‘She’ never came back.

I switch on the lamp before I unload my basket and shuffle around the kitchen. Coffee in the tin, salad in the fridge, tomatoes in the basket separate from the avocados. Tuna in the pantry, pasta too. I pour a glass of wine and open the french doors that lead out to the kitchen balcony, just as the evening call to prayer begins in the distance.

Lights sparkle and Spain smiles in the distance, a cool evening breeze brushes my face.

‘I love you, Tangier,’ I murmur as I turn on BBC Radio Four Extra.

I’ve got a whole lot of Desert Island Discs to catch up on.

***

‘What dat?’ Twinkle asks, as I tip a huge Christmas cake into a cake tin late last year following a trip to Gibraltar.

‘It’s Christmas cake,’ I tell him, ‘do you want some?’.

‘Ahhhh, England Cake,’ comes his response, ‘I love England Cake’.

He then goes on to tell me that Christmas will fall on the 24th of December, not the 25th as per every other thousand years before. ‘No, it’s always on the 25th,’ comes my response, eyebrows raised.

He’s already in the other room moving furniture muttering how it goes back a day each year, just like Ramadan goes back each year.

When Moroccans are furious, they shout. It’s not uncommon for me to be lying in bed at night and for Yousef and Younès to have a huge bust up on the street below. I love it because from the safety of my bed, I can pick phrases such as ‘I am’ ‘look, listen,’ and that’s about it. But it’s pure theatre listening to the language when it’s used in a verbal biff up – very different to ‘Oi, Shane, fuck off will you.’

Even when Moroccans are not furious, it can often sound as though they are furious – Arabic (with Darija being the local version here in Morocco) is a beautiful and terribly theatrical language, all guttural and animated.

It is also a language where one must be incredibly careful – two words with entirely different meanings can sound very similar. Did I tell you about the time I ordered a coffee with milk, all innocent and confident, only to see the waiter keel over laughing, having to return to the kitchen with his legs crossed?

Feel free to email me if you’d like, I’ll tell you what I was asking for.

It’s late afternoon not long ago – and unseasonably warm. I’m just in the door from lunch and back to my computer to try and finish a blog post which has seen me in a sort of ‘writers dystopia’. I’m loathing adding to it – there is too much to cover and too much time has passed since the last post.

A man is screaming in the street below. It’s broad daylight and I have the wireless playing to drown out the sounds of his impassioned bellowing. I wish I could understand what he is saying for the rant is never ending. I draw the curtains, blinded by the beautiful afternoon sun, before leaning over the balcony to take in his free performance from my vantage point four floors above.

Passers by are delighted, they can’t get enough of it. The man who sits in a chair (all day) outside one of the bars which doesn’t open until at least 10pm, circles him with intrigue. Women place their shopping on the pavement, and young boys appear from the shops rubbing their hands with glee. Hair all gelled back and dying from years at the hands of a GHD wand.

We’re all brought together by one mans furore, my neighbours and fellow bystanders are intrigued for the language, the sheer sound of his impassioned cries down the phone (they’re thick and fast) and his unwillingness to stop.

I’m enjoying the sun and the pure theatre of it all.

Finally, after what feels like an eternity but is probably thirty minutes, he wraps up and walks away. I return inside with no idea of the outcome and open the laptop again – the words on the screen are uninspiring. I turn on a podcast where a young mother is telling the interviewer about the way in which she lost her identity when she had children.

‘Wouldn’t you have found it?’ I ask her, even though she can’t hear me, and I’m suddenly sympathising with the lunatic from the street who is now ten minutes gone.

I am more than aware that this blog has been a long time coming. I decided to return home to Australia in a moment of haste towards the end of last year, and that in itself is a whole other piece, or two, or three. It was an amazing trip where I reunited with my beloved family and friends.

Upon my return, I began making plans for future projects and have been focussed on breathing life into all of them

No pressure, 2020. Winning the lotto would be fabulous, finding love would be but a dream, and seeing the wall painted where the loo was removed, even better. Here’s hoping they can get the blue right.

Until all, or even a fraction of the above, becomes a reality, I’m off to do some further research about avocados in Kenya (did you know that they are the seventh largest producer in the world), and I am curious to know what Miranda Kerr is up to these days?

Is procrastination a disease?

If so, I’m going to cut myself a nice slice of England Cake and put the kettle on. And, I might even get back to that last piece of writing which has been plaguing me for far too long.

I woke up this early this morning and began writing this for you before the sun had even started to rise. I needed to shrug my way out of writers dystopia and back into an inspired utopia.

With love from Tangier.

Letters from afar.

Letters from afar.

About five years ago I was given a book titled ‘Letters of Note,’-  a collection of letters, memos and telegrams of the famous, the infamous and the not so famous collated by a man named Shaun Usher.  To date, it is probably one of my favourite presents ever.  It’s not a small book; A4 in size with a hardcover binding 367 pages and it travels the world with me, with page 103 covered in the smudges of my fingers and constantly bookmarked:

June 27, 1940

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.  One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough and sarcastic and overbearing manner.

It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys and ‘take what’s coming to them’ and then escape of your presence, shrugging their shoulders.

Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say, at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.  I was astonished and upset, because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you.  I said this and I was told, ‘No doubt it’s the strain.’

My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner and you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders and if they are bungled, except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker, you can sack anyone and everyone.

Therefore, with this terrific power, you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible, Olympic calm.  You used to quote- ‘On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme’ I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you.

Besides, you won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness.  They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality – (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving, devoted and watchful, Clemmie.

P.S I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.

There is a letter from a young Queen Elizabeth to President Eisenhower therewith a promised recipe for drop scones, and another from a girl named Amy to her favourite author Mr. Dahl containing a dream, to which he wrote a response promising it would form the content of another book (read, B.F.G) and many others throughout this extraordinary book.  But it is this one from Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, that always speaks to me 79 years after it was written.

My grandmother Posy, along with my dear Mum, always encouraged letter writing with the advice that one must never write anything down that they may one day regret.  In a world of social media and emails, it is all but too easy to quickly type a comment under a photo, or send an email which is not particularly kind.  There is no turning back from that, and some people could use the advice of Mrs Churchill- a particular president and his twitter account being top of the list.  In my humble opinion.

When I was living in Paris I documented that stage of my life through instagram and here in Tangier, I still do.  One night in Paris after a glass of wine with friends (probably more than ‘a glass’ but we’ll neaten it up and say ‘a glass’) a friend wrote to me from Australia, asking if I’d ever thought of writing a blog.  

With a newborn child, the nights are long and I never want your instagram posts to end, I want you to write more.’

Inspired by that thought, I swiftly pulled out my laptop and set up pinningmywords.com.  I’m Pin and I like writing words, that’ll work, I said to myself in the mirror- and there we had it, a daily blog where I wrote about the frustrations of language, my awkwardness in a city of thin people and all my daily observations- and there were many.  But this wasn’t the beginning of my love for writing – I always have enjoyed writing – with my first memoirs penned at the age of ten.  That would have been a riveting read.  

Writing makes me feel less lonely.  When I am sitting in a cafe my laptop provides a level of comfort and through my blog, I have felt connected to family and friends and now, as it grows, with complete strangers.  People write to me and share their thoughts, and that too provides a great level of comfort in a life where I am quite often alone.

In 2005 I embarked on a trip to India.  I’d been there two years before and was thrilled to return.  That was a time where Facebook had only just surfaced, and Twitter was what birds did.  I did have a hotmail account set up by my friend Charlotte (tech and savvy do not belong near my name) and it was through emails that I would communicate with my family from high up in the Himalaya.

Power cut today,’ I’d write, followed by ‘loo overflowed too.’  

‘I ordered a packet of matches on the telephone to the boys who live in the shed down below in the garden, they arrived ten minutes later with a queen size mattress.’

Dad would eagerly respond with news from home that was of great interest to me therewith football scores, not so much.  My grandmother Posy would send long emails full of love and good advice.  I once wrote to her with tears streaming down my face from an Internet cafe in Delhi as I prepared to leave India the next day, ‘I will so miss the sun setting over the mountains of the Himalaya, I don’t want to come home,’ I wrote.

You’re lucky you ever saw the sun set over the mountains of the Himalaya,’ she replied in an email the next morning.

I didn’t go home.  Rather, a visit to friends in London diverted me to Tuscany, which landed me in Istanbul in June, 2005.  The following months were spent with the formidable Josephine Powell – American by birth but in her life, a woman of many worlds.  I wrote about Josephine in a post aptly titled ‘Josephine’ (April 3, 2018) which you can find on pinningmywords.com

Not unlike Winston, Josephine could be an unpredictable character.  I was never sure who I’d find when I woke each morning as I traipsed up the stairs from my divine bedroom where each night, I’d sleep atop a chest of drawers on a goat hair rug enjoying views of an overgrown jungle garden.  Some days she was hilarious, others in quite the mood.  Throughout my time in Istanbul I collated and documented her incredible collection of photographs and artefacts.  Her collection was formed over many years during her travels from Kabul to Rome, solo bar her beloved Belgian sheepdog who accompanied her in her Land Rover.

Recently, I woke on a warm Tangier morning to an email from Dad, where he wrote:

Darling Pin, 

I was checking some of my old memory sticks and found ‘Pin’s Travels.’  You may be able to use a bit of that somewhere.  I hope the attached file works for you – do you remember when you sent these emails, the Turkish computer made all the i’s into y’s, and I corrected all that for you!

Much love, Dad.

As if he’d read my mind, I licked my lips with glee before opening the exact file I’d been searching for in preparation for this blog.  There within lay all the emails I’d sent home in 2005 from my time in the Himalaya followed by my months in Istanbul.  Two highlights are documented below:

Agra, May, 2005

Dear Mum and Dad,

My tuk tuk driver told me today that he didn’t want to asshole westerners as he understood very well the asshole of travel – just he wanted me to have the best day in Agra with no asshole from him.

I almost lost my breath between laughing and asking what he was going to do with my asshole.  After some time I realised he was saying that with him, I would have no hassle.

Much love, Pin 

Istanbul, July, 2005

Dear Mum and Dad,

I just spent almost an hour writing you the worlds longest email where my bottom went numb as I had sat on this chair writing and writing and then the screen started abusing me in Turkish – which I can’t understand!  

Oh, I don’t know if I have it in me to write it all again… basically, it’s been a busy week. Oh, can I be bothered?  The good person in my head says ‘yes Pin just do it’ and the bad one is yelling above all the music in this Internet cafe saying ‘give up’.  No.  I’ll try mark two of the account. 

I have spent the week changing the latches on doors and clearing tree cuttings from the garden below and making curtains for the kilim shelves and fixing the hose that Josephine uses to spray both stray kittens and Yakob, a young intern who comes to help from the University of Istanbul – also known as Big Foot. When I am not being a carpenter and gardener, I am sifting through publications relevant to Josephine’s collection and footnoting in preparation for a book to be published next year.

I have learnt so much about kilims and am becoming familiar with all the regions of Anatolia she collected from – it is so satisfying and I am fascinated.  Yakob leaves next Monday which has put Josephine’s knickers in a twist as she can’t stand him, but can’t use the scanner without him. He is going to take me through all of those things so that I will be able to fill in during his absence. 

We have also got quite a project in typing Josephine’s field notes – she is going to do them with me at some stage which will be so interesting and I can’t wait to start. 

Josephine is a nightmare and dream combined and I just love her. We went and hid in the attic yesterday with the portable phone and went through so many old boxes.  She had been to see the physio that morning and could hardly walk, so on the way down she passed wind and yelled that the doctor had killed her. Then the phone rang, then her cigarette went out, then I nearly put my foot through the water tank and then we went for tea after she had thrown the contents of the attic at Yakob’s head and told him to be rid of it. 

He is a bit hopeless, and spends all day looking at himself in the bathroom mirror. Yesterday, she found a pair of sandals in my bathroom and yelled ‘Big Foot come and get these, you’re the only person who could possibly wear them with your big feet,’ he staggered in saying ‘thank you Miss Powell’. I think he would have thrown them into a bin on the way home. 

We had a really great day in my apartment on Sunday which is also the gallery/studio for all the kilims and artefacts and anything that doesn’t fit upstairs in her house.  I was laughing at her, telling her that I wanted to stick all the promotional posters up around the room from her previous exhibitions – dancing around the room and sticking them up knowing how much she hates it.  ‘Shut up, stop it’ she kept saying with her head in her hands laughing.  

I was feeling somewhat weak and exhausted this afternoon after clearing her garden of all the trees – I really needed some chocolate.  Just as I was heading out the door to the shop I heard, ‘Australia – stop’ and she came at me with a box of chocolates that was a meter long and bigger than her whole body.  We sat on the steps mumbling and making ourselves completely ill.  

I went for dinner with Fi, Andy and Sandy de Crespigny on Monday night which was so great. They were in town on their way to the south of Turkey and then on to Croatia and Prague. I just loved catching up with them again.  On Saturday I went to Aya Sofia, the beautiful mosque that we can see from Josephine’s balcony.  It’s incredible, and I had given you a long description in the email that left me but I loved it, and stayed until dusk before walking home over the Gulata bridge past the fishermen, then through Taxim square and down the cobblestone streets to Josh’s house (the boy who chops down the garden can’t say Josephine hence calls her Josh which I find so very funny). 

Anyway, I am so sorry that this email is rushed and rather disappointing to say the least. Probably riddled with spelling errors and bad grammar but I had gone to such trouble with the last one and am very angry with the computer.  It is almost midnight and I think I might go and get a Turkish Delight and curl up in bed.  I will write a proper account soon – Josh is off to the physio again in the morning so I might get a minute to write a longer email.

Lots of love to you all,

Pin xx

There are thousands more emails like these, and I have spent the better part of the past couple of days laughing at the way I wrote to my parents at a time where I had no other way of reaching them, save for an expensive reverse charge phone call, a letter or an email.  My travels to India and Turkey marked a time where I began to use writing as a comfort – it was a way to escape the chill of the Himalayan air, and everything was a new experience and one that I couldn’t wait to document.  In India, I explored both language and culture in a way that I hadn’t before.  I was 22 when I first visited India, and 24 when I ended up working with Josephine in Istanbul, then aged 85.  With Josephine I wrote madly, inspired by her travels and it was also a way in which I could go out, sit in a cafe and have a moments peace.

I documented every minute of those early travels in long emails to Dad who would correct my spelling and grammar before distributing my letters to friends, family, neighbours, golfing friends and anyone who expressed even the remotest interest.

He would have had a field day on my last post titled ‘The Fast and the Feast,’ (sorry subscribers, you got the unedited version) where I remarked that we must cease the day, when really I wanted to use the word ‘seize.’  I wasn’t trying to say that we should stop this day, rather, that we mustn’t put too much emphasis on tomorrow.  As soon as I’d pressed ‘publish’ I realised my error.  I’ve always had a problem with words – I’m constantly having ‘revolutions’ and rarely ‘revelations’ and I dream of one day sailing across the Specific Ocean.

Josephine urged me to visit Morocco, explaining that it would fill me with the same dreamy and exotic satisfaction that I’d so enjoyed in my travels through India and Turkey.  Thirteen years after I lived with her in Istanbul, her urge became a reality.  I came here and I stayed.  For now. 

Last week in my blog I wrote about a beautiful email that I’d received from a friend I met at Monday book club in Paris, before I left for Tangier.  She wrote about the cast of characters that she’d observed I’d collected in Tangier, which she has come to know through my writing as well as the way she sees my life through photos on Instagram.  This email prompted me to think about the immediacy of today and the way in which we can feign happiness, and rarely project sadness, through a world driven by social media.

I replied to her original email, hoping that she wouldn’t mind if I used her words as an opening for my blog, which I did.  Her response was so fitting for the theme of this piece:

August, 2019

Of course, I have no problem with your use of the email.  I wrote it on impulse as I am reading Byron’s letters. It strikes me that the art of letter writing is endangered. Much of what we know regarding Churchill, Byron, Gertrude Bell is due to the letters they wrote. 

In any case, I have started writing letters. I find letters much more thoughtful and enjoyable. I have begun a long exchange of letters with a friend in California. We hadn’t communicated in forty years. One day, I found a letter written to me in late 1970. In any case, he has led an fascinating life and his intellectual depth is something I relish. That said, we write letters and emails, exchanges of ideas. No phone, no text, no social media. There is no desire to meet. This is a unique experience and thoroughly enjoyable. It has prompted me to focus more on letter writing…

Whilst my life is perhaps more Bridget Jones than Gertrude Bell, I will always be inspired by those who’ve written about their explorations and experiences well before me, and I would be lost without their documentations and letters.  As my friend wrote, the art of letter writing is endangered and most of what we know from a (in my opinion) much more exciting pre instagram past, is purely through the written word.

A dear friend of my family, and someone who has been something of a fairy godmother and mentor to me throughout my life, Jennifer, arrived in Tangier last week.  I’d just begun writing this piece, and out of her suitcase she presented a yellow envelope full of letters that my ‘actual’ much loved godmother had given her to pass on to me.  I’d written all of the letters as a child, with the following being my favourite:

1990

Dear Sally,

Thank you very much for the bag with the tap running. I really love it.  

Another thank you for the writing paper, it is very nice of you.  I got this paper for my birthday and I love it just as much as I love yours.  I have been riding my horse a lot and hope to do a bit of riding with some friends.  I played gold off Saturday and got 100 which is pretty good for a learner.  

Heaps of love from Pin xx

I remember so clearly how terrified I was of riding when I was a child.  I was constantly being thrown off a little brute from one side of a paddock to another, and furious that my three sisters were all naturals in the saddle, just like Mum.  I’d pull on the reins and say horrific things to the horse when no one was listening.

As for golf, I seriously loathed Saturday lessons with a woman called Mrs Morrison at a little country golf course not far from home, and the only reason I went to the lessons was because Mum made me and there was always a chocolate biscuit at the end.  I’d drag the golf club around 9 holes, with the score that I was so proud of, 100, rather telling I’d say.  

But through my letters I presented a cheery happy little person who so loved riding her pony and was thrilled to be averaging 11 shots per hole at golf.  The ‘bag with the tap running’ has left me guessing, as has the fact that I didn’t write to thank my godmother on the paper I so convincingly told her that I adored.

These days, we can filter everything and present our lives in a way that we believe people wish to see it, and rarely share our struggles and failures.  But through letters (apart from those written by me as an 11 year old child, probably with Mum over my shoulder saying ‘be newsy and positive’) more importantly than ever, we need to document a time and a place in our lives that will inevitably shape and inspire future generations.

Today at lunch I spoke to my host about our shared appreciation of  letters and diaries.  I could immerse myself in them for hours.  We all could.  Just as you so generously do with this blog, and for that I am very grateful.  A documentation of musings and moods and maybe just a little bit filtered.  

From Clemmie Churchill’s written concerns to her husband, to Josephine Powells incredible field notes, to a little girl in Australia writing to thank her godmother, and all of our travel diaries and daily documentation’s.  It’s so important to write it all down – not in a short, online burst –  but in the present moment as it actually is.

Otherwise, we are all but passive in a life so precious.

From Tangier, with love. 

Pictured:  Jenny and Jono at Lunch, Tangier 2019.