As I’m sure many of you have experienced, travel has become much more difficult in the last two years. We’ve been forced to quarantine, due to travel, twice this year – once on our way to Germany and once on the way back home to the UK.
To quarantine in a mobile home is easy, as long as you can find someone who will let you stay on their land and we were very lucky twice. We spent our German quarantine in Freckleben, a tiny village between Magdeburg and Leipzig. The authorities require an address – ours was Auf dem Schloss 1 (no.1 The Castle).
A grand title, but really it was just a meadow and a well. The weather was hot and we had 10 days to just stop and count the bugs in the grass, of which there were so many as I hadn’t seen since my childhood!
Freckleben is a village that time forgot. As we approach it, we drive through miles of 21st century landscape – huge fields and hundreds of wind turbines – until the road takes a turn and drops down into a crack in the landscape where the nights are pitch black and grasshoppers and jackals are our neighbours. I rig up a shower from the well – the water comes from 11m depth and is only 8 degrees – brrr. Perfect for those hot summer days!
The quarantine finishes in time for us to take part in the yearly summer festival at the castle, with entertainment that hasn’t changed for generations. Children climb on a wooden horse on tracks and, winched along by their parents, they try and spear hoops off poles. There’s a bowling alley where the main price is a local sausage, and a large effigy of a bird provides hours of entertainment for those who try and shoot at it from 25m distance to determine who is going to be this year’s Schützenkönig. Whoever wins, has to pay for a round of drinks at the end of the festival and will be collected to next year’s event by horse and cart. This year’s winner is someone from another rivaling village – Shock Horror! But, as someone points out, the good news is that he has to pay drinks for all the locals.
We were welcomed by the locals and fell in love with this quirky little village – for a few days, we even seriously considered investing in a cultural center that had fallen into a deep, 30 year long slumber. In the end we felt the task was too great – and Frank doesn’t think his German is up to living there.
On our way back to the UK, friends of friends offer for us to stay at their orchard near Cambridge. Yet again, we stay at a place that has its own special magic. The orchard is in fact only a small part of the land, with extended fields and forests. There are various outdoor buildings in one of the forests – a large open-air kitchen and dance space – and a magical clearing for tents. The trees in the orchard are in need of some TLC. We take on liberating one apple tree per day from the stranglehold of brambles and hawthorn. This is hard graft but very satisfying.
All in all, I’d say that to step out of our lives for 10 days and stop in one place, allowed us to get in touch with the plants and animals around us and was a really good experience for us. It brought an extra quality to this summer’s travel.
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After a lapse of travelling, due to Covid and house renovation in Cardiff, I thought I’d pick up my pen…particularly as we find ourselves in East Anglia.
For me it’s been an extraordinary voyage of re-discovery – I was a boarder at a Grammar School near Ipswich from ‘57 to ’65. Most people, when I say I went to Boarding School, assume that it was a Public School. It was, in fact, state run and catered for an unusual mixture of inner-city boys (Londoners), sons whose parents were in the armed forces and the diplomatic corps and who had often been to 3 or 4 other secondary schools before ending up at Woolverstone Hall.
My dad lived in France and I was born in London, so I somehow fulfilled the necessary criteria. My other connection to the county of Suffolk, and indeed only a few miles from the school, was via a beautiful little village on the river Orwell, Pin Mill where, 8 years earlier, my folks were moored in an East Coast (Thames) Sailing Barge.
I’ll never forget, on the occasion of our first cross-country run from the school, when I recognised the shore line and announced that round the next corner we would see the Butt & Oyster, a wonderful old riverside pub. They either thought I was bonkers or psychic…The school later became Ipswich High School for Girls and on our brief visit I took a photo of one of their mini-buses, on the back of which was an aerial photo showing the ingenious use of Ha-Ha s, which by a series of stepped-down terraces, made the river appear to be at the end of the descending gardens…when, in fact, it was nearly half a mile away!
Later that week, on a visit to an osteopath in Ipswich, we parked up by the quayside and chanced upon a barge similar to ours and that could also have come from the grain merchant R & W Paul, one of the only remaining old docks buildings nearby.
Like so many other ports, their original hearts have been ripped out and replaced with soulless wine bars and eateries. Extraordinary to think that boats like that had 4,200 sq. ft of sail and could be ‘handled’ by just 2 people, plying their trade up and down the East coast. It reminded me of one of my Dad’s favourite stories, when welcoming a Barge captain aboard The Serb, who was to guide us down to London for the first time. My Dad asked him where his charts were and got the retort ‘What d’you need them for, you keep the land to your right!’ What he failed to mention was that he knew every single sand-bank, tidal race and wreckage buoy on the way from Pin Mill to the Thames estuary…! From Hammersmith, we sailed across the Channel and were moored in the centre of Paris for a while. Sadly, on another cross-channel trip, she sank with my Dad s first exhibition of paintings on board – along with ALL our worldly goods….
As a kid, I’d covered a 15-20 mile radius of the school by bike, as well as being taken to many churches to sing and athletics, rugby trips to other schools in the area…but it didn’t quite prepare me for the huge landscapes, skies and varieties of architecture of neighbouring county, Norfolk. I would happily return to spend longer and discover more…
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One morning, Beth, a journalism masters student at the Cardiff University, knocks on our door. She wonders if she could write an article about our way of life.
It seems important right now to contribute to a positive image of travelling people’s lifestyle, when government seems hellbent on criminalising anyone who’s not in a house of bricks and mortar.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (this link will take you to the government web site where you can see the bill and watch its progress through the various stages) has brought people out in protest due to its draconian rules on the right to protest. What not many people know is that it also has sections that will hugely impact on travellers’ rights. If this bill goes through, government will have the power to impound the vehicles of anyone sleeping in them by the roadside, of charging thousands of ££ in fines, and even to put people in prison. Impounding a traveller’s vehicle means removing their home from under them! What for – so they are left living on the streets without shelter?
This is dangerously close to getting apporved. Of course, once it’s approved there is room for interpretaion of it, and may or may not be implemented. I can’t really imagine they would impound a European holiday maker’s Motorhome if they are caught sleeping in a lay-by, and neither a lorry driver who is taking a break. But they will basically have a tool to use, and with the government’s intentions in plain sight, I think the first people to suffer from it will be traditional travelling folk. Here’s a video from someone who can explain this much better than I do, plus some links to follow up and make your voice heard. You will also hear in this video, that the other change in law will be that, once having been told to move on, travellers are banned from that location for 12 months. There is a shortage of dedicated spaces that travellers can move to. The whole situation leaves a lot to be desired already, and it’s about to get much worse.
Back to our trainee journalist. We were in two minds about sticking our heads above the parapet, so to speak, but if not people like us – who are in many ways privileged and, although hugely affected by the impending changes, are much less vulnerable than many other travellers – who else is going to speak out about these changes?
We thought a positive article about the lifestyle of a travelling couple may change people’s attitude and remove some of the fears and prejudices.
Beth wrote a lovely article about us, and a few days later, her Colleague Joseph turned up and complemented the article with a video. First it got published in the Cardiffian, the newspaper connected to the University, but soon it was picked up by Wales Online and from there it went into a national paper whose name I don’t want to sully my blog with.
We sat and waited for the backlash. Is the police or the Council going to move us, are people going to accost us? Nothing of the sort, so far! On the contrary, the one big change it made is, that now lots of people are talking to us when they pass by – somehow the article has broken the ice, or the British Reserve. “It says in the article you’d like us to come and talk with you, so we are here” they say, by way of introduction. Many of them must have previously walked past us, studiously looking the other way, maybe so as not to disturb us.
We love the change – it’s like being elsewhere in Europe now
Thank you to Beth and Joseph
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One day, when parked up in a car park by the riverside on the edge of Cardiff, a man knocks on our door. He’s part of the local “keep an eye on your neighbourhood” group and he wants to know what we are doing in this car park.
I love talking to people, so I never have a problem with anyone knocking on the door to make a genuine conversation. It’s a shame though that in this case it starts on a hotbed of negative assumptions. While I’m pretty quickly able to convince him that we don’t leave rubbish, don’t do drugs and are quiet and considerate people, he still has misgivings. Even the fact that we clean the car park on a regular basis of debris that others just throw out of their car windows, doesn’t allay his fears.
What if our presence invites those other travellers that are real trouble, the ones that leave a terrible mess and take ages to evict, he says?
I sort of get where he is coming from, as I’ve seen how some places look once people have been, with no care for their environment. But I don’t agree with his conclusions.
Here is another way of looking at it:
1) Our presence in a car park means that:
a) We pick up litter on a regular basis
b) Others feel less inclined to engage in undesirable night activities (no-goodnicks feel watched by us)
c) If another mobile home were to turn up and abuse the place, we would knock on their door and challenge them on it.
So actually, having a caring traveller in a car park is a good thing!
2) Where else do you forbid something to everyone, just because a minority does not behave sociably? For example, would you forbid owning dogs, just because one dog owner lets their dog shit on the pavement? Would you forbid all front gardens in a road, if one garden is not kept to specifications? If one child of yours misbehaves, do you punish all your children?
When looked at it like this, I hope you can see how travellers feel discriminated against.
What is really behind the fear of accepting someone in your neigbourhood who leads a life different from yours?
In this day and age of climate emergency, shouldn’t we be welcoming people who choose to live a simpler life, with a lighter environmental footprint?
Considering the fact that life in a mobile home is also much more economical than owning or renting a house, this life style sometimes becomes a creative and empowered alternative to being homeless for people who fall on hard times. Shouldn’t it be in society’s interest to cater for people (by providing simple dedicated spaces, or allowing car parks to be used) who, by choice or necessity, are travelling folk?
I visualise a more welcoming solution. Dedicated spaces in every town or city, maybe simple facilities, and a basic ‘rent’. Like a car parking fee, not like a camp site. One could even specify that people need to move after a certain period of time, to avoid people settling (although this would only work if there were enough sites to move to).
The British don’t have this kind of negative attitude towards boat people. Somehow, living on a boat is more accepted, more romantic maybe? What’s the difference – the wheels?
In France, these places are called Aires. Here in Cardiff, there is no such dedicated space, but we’ve been fine on the car parks – we have largely been met with tolerance, even bordering on friendliness. The Police, the car park wardens and anyone else in a position of authority have been very friendly (we make a point of making contact with them, to allay any possible fears). Any trouble we had came from people who live nearby. That’s sad, don’t you think? How do we negatively impact on their lives, I wonder, that they would feel the need to get us moved on?
We enrich the neighbourhood, we bring live music and laughter (at reasonable daylight hours, not night parties! We go to sleep when the sun is down!). we’re also always willing to lend a hand where help is needed, as those who’ve followed our blog know.
Travellers have an age-old profession of bringing the arts (music, dance, performance), being seasonal helpers, and also being a carrier of news. We meet lots of people, and sometimes we are able to put people in touch with each other when we realise they share a common concern or project. We are a live version of Facebook!
If you pass by, do knock on the door for a chat!
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It’s 7 years ago that Frank and I tied the knot, in a small informal ceremony in the company of our children. Seven years on and we’re still deeply in love.
One of the many things that make it so special for me is that we never go to sleep in a huff with each other, never share a bed on a discordant note. We speak about what troubles us, we listen to each other and find harmony. We’ve sailed through calm and stormy times around us this way, but never lost sight of each other. There are no unresolved upsets between us.
You are a golden soul, my precious husband, and I consider myself so blessed to spend my days in your presence. I’d say YES again, no hesitation!
We celebrated the day with a special, home delivered Georgian Feast.
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This morning, we woke to Ice on the windows of our Emma. Inside!
It’s a beautiful morning here in Cardiff, but too cold for our daily swim in the Taff, so instead I swing myself onto my bike and cycle, despite the frozen Gel pad saddle and gears, through Bute park to the shops.
The river gives off clouds of steam, especially near the weirs where white water crashes down the usually gently moisted slope. It’s been raining for days on end, storm Christoph has meant people elsewhere in the UK having to sandbag, or even evacuate, their homes. Every evening, I anxiously watch the online flood warnings so as to move Emma away from the river car park if needed, but somehow the Taff is not on the list of flood warnings, and indeed although high, I have seen it higher before without any problem to the car park.
It’s been a year of sorting through stuff in various houses – Paris, Devon and Cardiff. A year of engaging in old, dusty matter, to shift what is no longer needed.
There is light at the end of this particular Tunnel. Soon we will be able to fold our life back into Emma and live by the daily rhythms that this more simple life dictates; finding wood, chopping it, lighting the fire, find water if needed, clean the van if needed (which doesn’t take nearly as long as cleaning a house!) practise, busking, cooking, reading etc.
Doing a clothes wash is a more exciting event which takes best part of a day and involves meeting new people, from finding a launderette to having everything washed and dried, rather than chucking a load into the washer at home while doing another 15things at the same time.
I look forward to the simplicity, despite the ice on the windows – inside.
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It’s been a while since my last post. Life hasn’t stopped however, it’s just taken a turn that invited me to spend some time on a ‘retreat’ from sharing our lives with you all.
In case you were worried by the long silence, Frank and I are still on our extended honeymoon, now in its 5th winter, we’re still madly in love with each other and travelling in Emma, our lovely home on wheels.
This winter, we went to the South of France where I’ve been taking a series of Bandoneon lessons with Fernando Maguna, an extraordinary teacher of this fiendishly difficult instrument. It is a gift to myself to immerse myself in practice and lessons, and it may well be the reason why I have gone quiet – by the time I have finished my three hours practice every day, I really don’t feel like touching another keyboard. My mind is scrambled by the intricacies of music, perched on the rocky foundations of navigating the four ever-shifting keyboards (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask a bandoneonist next time you meet one!). I’m making great progress in building up practice stamina, however actual progress on the instrument is painfully slow. I know, I have a strange notion of what constitutes a gift
We’ve mainly spent time in the region between Marseille and Avignon, an easy train ride away from my weekly lesson. Frank went away to India in December (in search of healing for his wheezing lungs which have not got better since July!) to subject himself to an Ayurvedic cure from which he returned somewhat stronger but unfortunately not fully healed. After his return, we took off to explore the French Pyrenees west of Toulouse and down to the coast. We shivered in sub zero temperatures and boiled ourselves in wild hot springs, we saw beautifully frosty forests and met people and communities with Living Projects ranging from Amazing to Downright Crazy.
Throughout our journey this winter, we’ve been on the lookout for a place where we might like to establish a foothold in Europe, to dock onto a community for the winter months in years to come, but nothing yet has come even close to the treasures we know we have at home!
The Tango Music and Dance calendar for 2019 is filling up and I’ve spent some time doing online work for it, although I know I’m pitifully behind. The computer keyboard has truly been neglected this winter… but below is a first schedule and I promise to try and update relevant pages on the website etc., in the near future.
So before I disappear back into my musical retreat, I wish you all a very good start into the year. Let’s hope it will turn out to be an amazingly positive one. Crisis is an opportunity for positive change!
Over and out…. (back to Bando)
February 9th: Teaching a day of workshops (various levels) in the region of Avignon in Sorgues, at Adelaide’s Tango Studio called Media Luna
February 17th: Teaching a two hour beginners workshop in the region of Avignon, in Chateauneuf de Gadagne at a Cultural centre called Akwaba (link to follow)
March 29th-April 7th: Teaching at the TangoLab in Proitze
May 9th-12th: Hosting the 3rd International Bandoneon Days in Staufen, South Germany
Spring 2019 (dates to come!): Workshops and / or classes & private lessons in Totnes and possibly other places in the UK
June 29th-July 7th: A week of Tango teaching with Ines Moussavi on Vis, a beautiful Island in Croatia.
July 19th-27th: Teaching at the TangoLab in Proitze
August 5th: Teaching a workshop in Plymouth to the French visitors from Bretagne ( I will check if this is open to others too)
August 14th-16th: Orquesta Tipica Workshop in Devon
August 16th-25th: Tango Mango (already fully booked!)
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We’re up at dawn and go for a quick dip in the sea, with the guys from the military looking on with incomprehension. Who would chose to jump into such cold water? Their faces seem to say.
By the time the sun rises, we are already on our way. We stop for breakfast somewhere high up on the cliffs. Just when we’ve sat down to a plateful of scrambled eggs, a boy appears, satchel on his back. He starts to talk to us in Arabic. How I wish I could understand more. But it is clear that he wants money from us. All through Morocco, we have searched for ways to deflect this energy of begging into a more positive contact, a more fulfilling and lasting exchange. This time, it is hard. The boy is in some kind of distress. I don’t understand what he’s saying. We offer him food but he declines and wants money. He starts crying. He says something about his parents, or his family, and something else about his school. My guess is that he has to pay for something in school that his family cannot afford. Or maybe he’s putting on a really good show of distress. If we had more language between us, I’d be able to react more adequately. From everything we have seen in the last months, it doesn’t make sense to just give him money. Let’s say, it is as I seem to have understood. He needs money for school. Lets say we give him some and he delivers it. What does that solve in the long run? Next time he needs money, it’s the same story. Also, how do his parents feel if as a foreigner I help out with something that they would like to be able to offer themselves?
It could also be that he was a refugee, but in that case I would have thought he’d gladly accept the food.
Eventually he walks away. As soon as he’s gone, I see other solutions to this situation. I should have offered to come with him to the school, or to somewhere where there’s an adult who can translate, to find out what really is the matter. This would either have called his bluff, and/or I might have been able to really help him in some way. I feel so sluggish sometimes. All my creative thinking goes out the window when in a situation!
I look out for him as we travel on, but cannot see him anywhere along the road.
Before we head for Tangier, we stop off once more in Tetouan. The old medina is calling us once more, to stock up with spices and dried fruit, and to immerse ourselves one more time in the beautiful chaos, full of colours, sounds and smells, that makes the Moroccan markets so inimitable.
We get lured into a beautiful ancient Pharmacy, with shelves upon shelves of jars full of mysterious herbs and spices.
Our last stop in Morocco is not far from Tangier harbour. We have arranged to meet up with a lovely young German family we met in a campsite some weeks ago. As we follow a bumpy road through the hills for the last 20 miles to Tangier, rain settles in properly, running down the roads and turning any earth patches into mud bogs. The landscape could be northern Spain, or even Wales, witha bit of imagination…
We park up next to the family’s 4×4 and invite them for a meal chez restaurant Rozelaar. We talk about our travel and share plans for the future. Their older child, a boy of 6 years, wants to go to school, so it’s time to settle down and they are heading back to Germany to buy a house, having traveled for a couple of years. It’s nice to see their happy anticipation for this next chapter in their lives.
Despite the rain and windy gusts, Frank and I take a little trip to the local market. We get chatting to a street vendor and the conversation turns to the King. Just as we have heard it all across Morocco, there is a strong support and admiration for the king from this man. He tells us that just the other week, the King came by in a car, just him and his cousin, no bodyguards.
We want to write a letter to the King.
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We steer out of town. Once more the sea is calling us, but this time it’s the Mediterranean. Park4night tells us of a spot in nature, in a valley towards the sea. Little do we know that to get there, we go along one of the steepest roads yet and, by what I can glean in the moonlit night, one of the most spectacular valleys. We have to come back this way one day, in daylight!
After about an hour of zigzagging to the point of total disorientation, we arrive in a quiet spot, a dry riverbed by the looks of it, but we think we can risk it, it hasn’t rained in a while…
We have a quiet night, only broken by the occasional snuffling of some animal outside, maybe wild boar. The next morning, we discover we have parked amongst lavender fields. A little stroll towards the river takes us past some people loading earth from the dry river-bed. We greet them when we pass and only get a scowl in return. This is very unusual for Morocco, and it makes us think that they must be up to something shady.
We drive on down to the sea by Oued Laed, where we spend the rest of the day chilling and catching up with writing and admin.
We get chatting to a couple, who have traveled the world with their large 4×4 vehicle. They say it’s quite easy to travel on through Mauretania and all the way down to Senegal. Hmmmm, maybe some time. But we’d need more time than our normal 6-8month window of traveling. They’d taken a couple of years to travel down to Senegal and then take a ferry (with their vehicle!) to Argentina and made it all the way up to Alaska. They spoke about their 25 year old daughter, who is married and with child and a good job, who accused them of having abandoned her. It’s not easy for the children to understand their parents’ travels, we have found that too. This kind of traveling is not a holiday, as some might think. In fact, we work more than we would at home. In my case, there is all the administrative work related to organising the various events I run in a year (amounting to about 20 hours of desk work per week), plus about two months per year of teaching workshops and at festivals abroad. There is the daily physical routine of yoga to maintain our bodies for the times when an intense phase of dancing and teaching hits us and there is my daily instrumental practise. Then there is writing the blog, which in the case of Morocco may one day make it’s way into book-form. We also get involved in farm work wherever help may be needed, mucking out, mending walls and fences, cutting hedges clearing the undergrowth, planting, hoeing etc.
Frank makes a lot of marmalade, which gives us an opportunity to reciprocate the locals’ generosity with something home made. In Europe he also gets quite a bit of massage work. The van is ideal: the massage table fits perfectly and a quick blasting of our wood burner cranks the temperature indoors up to over 25 degrees.
Living in the van is also connected with some daily physical activity, such as finding and cutting wood, sourcing water etc. It’s a different life, but after 4 years of living it, I wouldn’t call it a holiday by any description. Yes, we are in a camper van, yes, we travel, but that is where the similarities stop.
I’m not complaining though. It’s fab. Today, my office looks out over the sea, tomorrow I hear the frogs croak by the side of a little stream, or I’m overlooking a peaceful campsite. When I’ve had enough of sitting still, I take the bike and ride along the promenade, feeling the spray of the sea in my face and the wind in my hair.
This particular beach is under army surveillance. In fact, the next few days show us that the whole of this coast is heavily guarded by the military. We get talking to a soldier early one morning, who tells us they are on the look-out for drug traffickers and for emigrants attempting to cross the sea.
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(This chapter continues from two chapters ago…)
It is a bright and sparkly morning and after our Yoga session inside the van, we take a stroll down to the house, marmalade in hand. The dogs and the geese make a real racket when we approach, and the woman I met the day before waves us into her courtyard where she has prepared a lovely breakfast for us, with fresh bread, scrambled eggs and olives from her own garden. We have our limited conversation on the topic of our respective families. How I wish I could speak a bit more Arabic! We spend a lot of time just smiling at each other and showing each other photographs, but somehow we manage to exchange quite a bit information about our lives. The 21-year old daughter is at home, meticulously sweeping the yard with a broom in one hand while holding her mobile in the other, on which she receives a constant flow of messages from her fiancé.
It is ok to speak about this in the presence of the mother, and it ellicits a happy smile in the daughter, so I presume all is going the right way for everyone in this family, and it’s not long until the marriage.
When we leave, we are showered with gifts – Olive oil, freshly pickled olives, Beldi Lemons and we ‘retaliate’ with a jar of Frank’s marmalade. We invite the mother and daughter to come and have a look at our van and they extract a promise from us that we come and visit again next time, insh’allah.
On our way to Chefchaouen we stop once more to buy more pickled olives and beldi lemons from a family with a roadside stall. We chat for a while in the morning sun before heading off again. Just as we’re saying good bye, they bring out a litre of Leban beldi as a gift.
We have two important missions today: Frank needs to find somewhere to watch the 6 nations Rugby match and I want to buy myself a shorter, more westernised version of my Jellabah in Chefchaouen, one which won’t look too strange once we come back into Europe.
We find a place to park Emma in town and go and explore. It’s amazing how much less energy it takes to go to a place that you’ve been to before. When you know a few things already, such as where to park, and how to get to the town centre from there. There’s something to hold on to, a familiar structure that allows you to economise with your senses and go about your business with more clarity. And yet, straight away, the mind looks for new things. We choose a different route up into town, one that leads through some back streets. We pass the workshop of a very skillful carpenter working on various Andalusian designs. He kindly takes the time to show us the various patterns. Some of it is highly decorative writing. i find it impossible to see the letters, even after a few months of reading practise…
We then head for the top of town to the cooperative where we bought or first jellabahs. However, I don’t find what I’m looking for there, so we stroll back through the old town. I see two jellabahs that I like but only buy one.
After a delicious lunch, Frank settles in to watch Rugby in the van and I head out to buy vegetables – and the other jellabah that I saw but didn’t allow myself to buy earlier. Maybe I want to hold on to Morocco…
It is dark by the time we leave. Frank has seen his two games of rugby, and I, the Minimalist, have managed to obtain two extra jellabahs, in addition to the one I already owned!
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