Green and yonderly, I proved the existence of Guardian Angels. This will be one of several posts of my student wanderings around Morocco.
It was London, a hot Sunday afternoon and every shop was shut. We tramped on, looking for anywhere that might sell a pair of swimming trunks. I had packed everything, two T shirts, two pairs of shorts, three of underpants, a towel and a toothbrush. All of it was neatly rolled up in the sleeping bag attached to my shoulder. But no swimming trunks.
We were on our way to Morocco, seduced by a tabloid expose with its tales of sex and wild orgies. It was all happening in a youth hostel on the outskirts of Marrakesh. We were students and it was 1970. The Paris train was leaving within the hour and hope was evaporating, when suddenly I saw it - a second hand shop. And it was open.
Terry was sceptical. “They won’t be selling second hand swimming trunks.”
Terry was wrong. Five minutes later I was holding up a pair of knitted trunks, navy blue and made from wool. They looked like a large tea-cosy, a badly made balaclava, but Terry was looking at his watch, and so I paid my 50 cents and stuffed them into my sleeping bag. On the train I forgot all about them, not knowing that they were biding their time.
Northern France is green but boring. For us the adventure began at Gare d’Austerlitz and the overnight train from Paris to Madrid - then on to Algeciras. From Algeciras, Africa was but a ferry-ride away.
The carriages were heaving with Moroccan and Algerian seasonal workers, taking themselves and their savings back home. We squeezed our way through a writhing mass of song and flesh and sweat, looking for the tiniest space that would allow us to both stand and occasionally breathe. Even the toilets were occupied and need was rationed by the reluctance to cause offence.
The singing never stopped; the red wine flowed and everyone around us insisted that the strangers in their midst would share their joy and wine. The lesson I learnt, as a pretty immature student who had never been abroad before was to trust in the goodness of strangers. That lesson was reinforced, time and time again as the journey progressed.
In the distance you can see Gibralter, and beyond - North Africa.
At Algeciras the sand gleamed as hard as gold; the sea glittered, and we looked ridiculous, two pale, underfed students adrift amidst lithe and beautiful Mediterraneans, haughty and bronzed. I scrambled into my second-hand trunks. My body looked as though it had been interrupted by a large hornets’ nest, knobbly and strangely blue. Woollen trunks; why had I bought them, what could I do? I looked straight ahead and ran as fast as I could into the sea, until only my head and neck showed.
It was the moment the trunks had been waiting for. They were alive, morphing into a coarse slime that edged slowly down to my knees. They were sucking the Mediterranean dry. I wondered how long I’d be able to carry the weight. Worse - how I was going to return to the beach wearing swimming trunks now down to my calves. I swam for what seemed like hours dragging a weight of wool behind me until eventually the beach began to clear and I made my escape. Terry had gone some time ago.
Next post: I recover my cool in Morocco