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.