Tips for University by a Reformed Homeworkaphobe

I left school at seventeen. I never did so much as a shred of homework that wasn’t punitively extracted of me in ‘detention.’ The education at school was, to me, useless and boring; the thought of taking more of it home with me, after spending a thirty-hour week in small rooms stuffy with hormones and tedium, was out of the question.

But I would bring home with me, always and to varying degrees, guilt and fear at knowing that I had homework: that I wasn’t doing it, I wasn’t going to do it, and I would again be subject to a bollocking for having not done it. It’s not a nice feeling, knowing that you’re due a telling-off, deservedly and constantly.

One can clear this cloud of guilt feeling at university, but there is a right way and a wrong to do it: you overcome it, or avoid it. I went for the latter at school, but it was terrible tactics, attempting to avoid all of one’s teachers when you see them every weekday. But at university, one doesn’t have this problem. Lecturers and seminar tutors don’t have a bollocking-spiel at the ready: if you don’t go, you don’t go; if you don’t read, you don’t read; if you don’t learn, that’s your own fecking problem. You are, formally at least, a ‘responsible adult’ and ‘independent learner.’

These words, independence, responsibility and learning, are foreign until further education. Until then, your responsibility is to learn, whereas ‘learning’ means actually retaining masses of information so that your capacity for regurgitating it may be examined in a series of stressful and stupid examinations—you don’t attain knowledge for yourself, you remember stuff for exams. Your independence is naught, you are given the lessons, the timetables, the teachers; you are told what to do and what to think, where to be and when, and you’re punished for any transgressions.

So university is as much unlearning primary and secondary ‘education’ for examination as (newly) learning how to learn for knowledge, for development, for you; this is difficult, involving a change in the objective sphere of education. But this task is tough on multiple levels, moreso on the subjective, as you tackle for the first time living independently, learning and researching independently, prioritising independently; in short, tackling university independently, without a teacher or a parent to kick your ass into gear or provide that cloud of guilt which spurs some to study.

What follows are the thoughts of a reformed homeworkaphobe approaching his third-year of studying something which interests him at university; points on living, learning and prioritising independently; additionally some personal points which don’t constitute universally applicable advice.

 

LIVING INDEPENDENTLY

Do different things with different people.

Having heard and seen some of the states to which houses and student accommodation can deteriorate, my first advice regarding independent living is to make friends. Don’t stick with your clique from back home or pair off with that dude you met on the open day, meet and speak with as many people as possible. Don’t allow your living situation to regress such that everybody bitches about everybody else, complaining, fighting, stealing and poisoning the food of others, all of which can be nauseatingly commonplace if a balance isn’t struck. And if it can’t be, for it may well go sour with or without your input, do not involve yourself, do not ally yourself and make enemies, rise above the bollocks and work around it. Worse come worse: move. But bear in mind, you may move but you still bring your own attitude with you, make sure it’s one that makes you tolerable to live with.

Avoid inscribing bad habits.

Yes, it can initially be an exhilarating novelty to drink in a bar full of fellow students on a weeknight, to have fast-food and weed delivered to your door, to avoid exercise and sports because, well, nobody is there to tell you otherwise. I’m not for a moment saying don’t do any of these things ever, just know that there is more to be gained from the first-year university experience than savings on Jäger-bombs at the SU and pizza at Dominoes; indeed, there’s much to be lost in habituating the consumption of junk-food, drugs and alcohol.

University life teems with other opportunities; you can join just about any society you can think of, like the Kung-Fu Society, the Beard Society, the Surfing Society, and the Philosophy and Literature Society (examples from my uni). Join a band, start a club, get a training partner or a study buddy—this support can be invaluable in routinising your life and motivating healthy habit formations. (Disclaimer: British university societies are much like British society at large: they revolve around alcohol and you’re likely to have more ‘socials’ than society meetings, beware…)

Help is always at hand.

There are government and university and student organisations dedicated to student welfare, for people struggling financially, academically, personally, etcetera. There are plenty of genuine people about who have the experience to help you—don’t be shy, they’ve seen worse situations.

 

PRIORITISING INDEPENDENTLY

Get your priorities straight.

If your top priorities are beer and the opposite (or whatever) sex, at least make university your number three, because one, two, ten years down the line, you’re going to be prioritising differently: don’t make future-you despise current-you. At university, enjoying yourself should be secondary, or at most equal, to enhancing yourself. What does this mean? That lecture and seminar attendance and reading should not repeatedly fall victim to hangovers and munchies and sheer lack of will.

You are in a superlatively privileged position, able to access the pinnacle of our culture’s knowledge in an institutional tradition the likes of which people around the world would and do quite literally die trying to reach. You could come out the other end a podgy, pot-smoking piss-artist with a few funny stories; or you could emerge an enhanced, humbled and learned human endowed with indispensable knowledge and experience, and yet still have a few funny stories to boot. In a nutshell: you will have to make the jump from doing what you want to do, to what you ought to be doing; if those align, which they seldom do without a mature work ethic, so much the better.

 

Your first year is about winning knowledge, not arguments.

You will go to university with your conceptions of and ideas about how the world is and ought to work, but, if you are fully surrendering to what education is, prepare for them to be shattered into a thousand insignificant pieces. Think of your little brother or niece and how they say things with total conviction—‘I’m running away!’ and ‘They’re disgusting, I’m never having a boyfriend!’—but we know, even if they don’t, that they will grow out of such silly opinions. What makes an eighteen-year-old different? Coming of age seems to me to be a period in which one should challenge oneself rather than others; especially if you don’t know what you are talking about, which you don’t.

What I am saying here is this, that you will invariably laugh at how stupid you were last year, and if you don’t you are either totally perfect or doing something wrong; if you sort yourself out and attempt authentically to learn without politically predisposing yourself to any outcome, it’s wholly likely that you will look back and laugh at your stupidity several times a year, and that’s a good thing.

So, one should go into a lecture ready to be immersed in the viewpoint professed by the professor; one should enter the seminar room not as a political gauntlet, but a philosophical roundtable, around which blossoming critical thinkers can bounce ideas off of one another without fear of consequence. Fellow students aren’t your competitors and still less your enemies—chill, be proud to be willing to learn and be open about what you’re struggling with, if somebody’s immature enough to scoff at your intellectual courage, fuck ‘em!

 

STUDYING INDEPENDENTLY

Again, know that you are stupid.

Socrates said, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” Your first year should be spent revelling in and remedying this stupidity, but knowing that there is no endpoint to knowledge, you will never know everything and indeed will still border on knowing nothing when you’re done. The point is a little more profound than ‘you are destined for dumbness’: it’s about an attitude, a perspective: humility is prerequisite to learning that which you don’t yet know. Christ knows it is awkward and annoying to have somebody in a seminar, who has for some reason deigned to descend to university education, who knows everything already and need not be told anything by anyone. The thing is, one can see through it. If your outlook is ‘I know nothing’ rather than ‘I already know everything,’ you’ll go further than those for whom lectures are tertiary, lecturers are clueless and seminars are for deploying one’s intellectual smack-downs.

DO SOME FECKING READING.

This is key advice, sacred for those who give more than a toss about learning at university, so I implore you to heed it if you would like a challenging experience as opposed to a debilitatingly stressful one. First week, no excuses; as soon as your fall one week behind, you’re buggered. Playing catch-up might’ve worked for GCSE and A-Level, but say you’re knee-deep in Descartes then balls-deep in Hegel, you can’t feasibly race through and cram an understanding of both in a week. Readings, for my course at least, are usually extracts of several works, sometimes with a primary text with secondary materials supporting it. If you read but one of these, enough so that you can explain what you think they are saying to somebody, then that’s enough to ‘wing’ a seminar. If you want to ‘boss’ a seminar: read it through, no notes or underlining, then read it through again, noting and underlining key or difficult passages, then write on a separate sheet of paper what you thought it was on about, what you had difficulty with and what you would like to discuss further.

 

Read widely.

After historic sociopolitical upheavals, the likes of which are unimaginable to our most recent generations, society decided to carve years out of production time so that those who wish to pursue professionalised modes of education can do so. In the past seven years the cost of this time has been raised, in financial and the corollary personal terms, to a degree that precludes many potential students or leaves them and their parents shouldering unmanageable debts—is it even worth it? Well the answer is in your action, the proof in the pudding. Again, it can be a hazy, hedonistic blur of beer and bifters and late-night cramming on Sparknotes; or you could read. It’s hard to sell, and I’m not going to try, just merely say that these three years could be precious, priceless, if you can spend it wisely, reading some of the richest wisdom that has been retained in word form. It might not seem it at first, but is infinitely more rewarding than Twitter, and tequila.

 

PERSONAL POINTS

Write essays that you want to write.

Again, these are subjectively informed suggestions, some might be seeking the highest score possible for their degree; some the easiest essay for, well, their ease; a few others the hardest essay for a challenge. I find picking an essay question that I am interested in, rather than one I already know a lot about and can answer well, was most rewarding in terms of both satisfaction and marks. And sanity.

Get the whack hair-do’s over and done with.

 

Read philosophy and history.

I came to university to learn about politics. I ended up being immersed in a study of philosophy that eclipsed my interest in bollotics and precipitated a total disengagement with its vulgar and distractive manifestations in news media. At university you will be given fragments, tasters, essays and chapters to read; but it’s up to you to pursue a school of philosophy or particular philosopher as if you’re interested; if you keep doing so, you will inevitably find philosophy that interests and suits you—remember beer didn’t taste nice before you started drinking it all the time?

This study will allow you to don the philosophical-historical goggles worn by preeminent human beings: you see the world through the eyes of Saint Paul in the Bible, through those of Plato in Athens; Marcus Aurelius and Cicero of the Roman Empire; you see through Hobbes’ during the English Civil War, Jefferson’s during the American Revolution, Burke’s during the French; through CLR James’ on history’s only successful slave revolt; through Hegel’s during the Napoleonic Wars, Trotsky’s on the Russian Revolution, the list is as exhaustive as it is fascinating.

Which leads me to history: one can discern how ideas influence events, how philosophy affects history. Our ideas bring reality into being at least as much as reality stimulates our ideality; reading the philosophies alongside the histories of an epoch will elucidate this mutual transactivity.

One more suggestion, philosophy needn’t be going balls deep and, for your first year, may be totally out of the question. For example, Hegel, the philosopher on whom I will write my dissertation, has not the knack for pedagogical clarity:

“The infinite is in this way burdened with the opposition to the finite which, as an other, remains at the same time a determinate reality although in its in-itself, in the infinite, it is at the same time posited as sublated; this infinite is the non-finite – a being in the determinateness of negation. Contrasted with the finite, with the sphere of affirmative determinatenesses, of realities, the infinite is the indeterminate void, the beyond of the finite, whose being-in-itself is not present in its determinate reality.”—Hegel, Science of Logic

Balls deep is too deep, one will go into shock. So start by dipping a toe, read a Wikipedia article, watch a video on Youtube; advance to ankle-depth by reading an entry-level introduction; go up to your knees and attend a lecture, then attend another, then find some on Youtube; raise the level gently past the knee by advancing to secondary literature, then perhaps get back to ball-depth by reading it alongside a key passage or two by the author himself.

Meditate.

I bear in mind whilst writing this that not so long ago I would’ve scoffed at this suggestion.

Say, if you spent three years working on a building site, you’d make time in which you stopped physically working completely. It’s a little more difficult on the academic side of things, because your mind doesn’t stop whirring quite like your muscles stop working. But such is meditation: thoughtlessness. Without meditation, I would have burned out so much quicker than I did on days waking up to reading before attending four lectures on different subjects and then sitting down to write an essay; by which time I could either be too frazzled to concentrate, or, because I’ve meditatively calmed my mind, ready to read and write some more. Try just ten minutes, first thing in the morning before breakfast and coffee and phone, focusing on and slowing your breathing, do nothing else. There are plenty of meditation tips and guides about the interweb; Alan Watts is my recommendation.

Make a routine, make it sacred.

Make time by routinising it. I know I have lectures on these days, I’ll do reading at these times on these days, ready for seminars on these days; I’m going to exercise at this time on these days, go to these societies on these days, etcetera. Stick to it like it’s a job, which it is: it’s your job to become a conscientious and competent human being, not one forever ready to shirk the smallest of responsibilities. Keep a diary, keep a calendar, keep one or both handy.

Be wary of political organisations

I’ve come to find it amusing, that an education costing £28,000 can still churn out morons who go about sticking these stickers on university property. I mocked them in a seminar last year, because ‘ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS’ was stuck outside the building, and I had somebody defend it on the basis that “you can’t sacrifice a good slogan” to explain that, in fact, not every cop is a bastard, just the overwhelming majority. Another confronted me outside, rather less compromising, saying that all cops are bastards, to which I replied, “My friends and family are not bastards, actually.”

An apt aphoristic peach from Hegel will make my point: “Mark this well, you proud men of action! You are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought.” And indeed you can become an instrument if your ‘enemies,’ be they UKIP supporters or the police, are assigned to you as part of whatever prepackaged political ideology you were sold by such nutjobs.

 

Education is outside the lecture hall and library.

Learn to cook. Which also means: learn to buy food. If you have a market, shop there, for they’re invariably cheaper than cornerstores and supermarkets. Then learn to cook the food: it can start easy and it’s fun. Then do the dishes afterwards. Then feel exhilarated at becoming a bog-standard adult; it’s really quite something.

Sort your bills now, or pay for it later. You will have to confront these kinds of responsibilities at some point, avoiding them and hoping somebody else will sort it is dishonest—because you know you should do something—and immature.

Learn to self motivate (read philosophy and history). Historical heroes and philosophical giants like Solzhenitsyn and Nietzsche, CLR James and Hegel, will change the lens through which you interpret the world. There will no longer be insurmountable but avoidable obstacles, there will rather lie challenges, out of which you will emerge a better human; eventually you will compare your pathetic excuses for not attending a lecture or writing an essay to the inconceivable feats of humanity’s toughest, and they will inspire and motivate you.

 


If you enjoyed this piece or have a friend starting university this year, please share and share alike on social media.

Little Red Riding Roy

One bright and gay day, Little Red Riding Roy’s mother said to her, ‘You better get your sorry ass dahn your Grandma’s and back ‘ere before the shop closes or they’ll be fackin’ hell to pay.’ Little Red Riding Roy, gesturing to the television, said, ‘But mother, look, there are wolves everywhere lately, surely I can’t go out at this hour?’ With that, her mother clouted her around the ear with the back of her hand.

‘You’ll get fackin’ wolves,’ she shouted over her, yanking Little Red Riding Roy off of the sofa by her pigtails, ‘if you don’t get my fackin’ vodka!’

So Little Red Riding Roy skipped down the stairs, onto the street and onward to Grandma’s. On her way past a pub, she bumped into the Big Bad Wolf.

‘Hey Little Red Riding Roy, what’s up?’

Little Red Riding Roy trembled, more with excitement than with fear, though it would have been impossible to tell between the two.

‘Mother is sending me to my Grandma’s, again,’ she replied, inferring why that might be the case by emphasising the word again.

‘Ah yeah,’ the Big Bad Wolf said warmly, ‘my mum’s been at it again aswell, but she’s stopping tomorrow, like’ The Big Bad Wolf beamed a big, bad smile; Little Red Riding Roy giggled at the joke, which she didn’t find funny, and blushed to the roots of her dishevelled hair.

‘Well—’ she stuttered, intoxicated by the mixture of fear and excitement, ‘I really best be off now, goodbye.’ And she skipped along down the street, away from the Big Bad Wolf, and toward her Grandma.

The Big Bad Wolf pinched a pushang from outside the pub and paced it to Little Red Riding Roy’s Grandma’s house. The Wolf could not find a point through which he could break in, so he rang the doorbell. Two eyes peered through and disappeared from a slit in the blinds covering the front room window. The Wolf rang the doorbell and rapped on the door repeatedly, belying the urgency with which he sought to break into the home.

The Wolf heard the Grandma squawk, ‘Get outta ‘ere or I’m phoning the police!’

He had not one moment to lose. The Wolf turned and walked out of the house and, sneakily running down the adjacent side-alley, scaled its wall and heaved himself up on the roof. Opening the roof window, he lowered himself into a jungle. Bright bulbs shone from the ceiling; tinfoiled shimmered like tinsel. The attic was thick with flowering vegetation growing out of metal roots suspended in midair. It was pungent. More greenery boasted itself inside these few feet of space than in the few furlongs outside of it.

The Big Bad Wolf opened the trapdoor and spotted Grandma at the bottom of the stairs, she was looking out of the letterbox and then concernedly at the iPhone in her hand. The Wolf dropped down from the trapdoor, slid down the banister of the staircase and plucked the phone from Grandma’s hand, pressing his paw over her screaming mouth.

Locking Grandma safely unconscious in the wardrobe, the Big Bad Wolf sat down on the sofa, next to a table piled with plastic bags full of this same vegetation.

The doorbell rang.

The Big Bad Wolf greeted Little Red Riding Roy at the door of her Grandma’s house, giving her a shock.

‘What are you doing here?’ she said, suffused again with the mixture, more heavy on the fear than excitement, ‘and where is my Grandma?’ She looked past his imposing figure worriedly, seeing nothing of suspicion through the door, apart from the Big Bad Wolf stood in it.

The Wolf raised a bag of buds the size of a small pillow. ‘I’ve just been talking with your Grandma?’ he said, his big eyes and bad smile both widening. ‘She’s only popped to the shop Little Red Riding Roy, she said she’s getting some bits and bobs and I need to stay put and keep watch.’ He squinted at her. ‘I’m not sure what she’d say about me letting in a lady of the night,’ the Wolf went on, backing away from the door and raising a powerful paw to guide her into the front room, ‘but I kinda like your pigtails.’ Little Red Riding Roy giggled helplessly.

She walked through the door, failing to hide the smile on her face, straining to calm the butterfly blizzard brewing in her stomach, and went into the living room and sat on the sofa.

‘You know what, your Grandma rocks; how she shat out that she-dragon mum of yours is beyond me.’ Little Red Riding Roy, again, giggled, helplessly. The dose of fear came with double the excitement.

‘Don’t!’ was the most spirited defense of the she-dragon she could muster, more due to butterflies than brains.

The Big Bad Wolf walked towards Little Red Riding Roy—then Grandma’s phone rang. He looked at her, and looked at the phone fizzing on the table. He quickly grabbed it and read on its screen the words, ‘Jay Emergency No.’

‘Who’s that?’ said Red Riding Roy, perturbed by his reaction. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Pfft—nobody worth speaking to,’ the Wolf replied coolly, cancelling the call and sliding into the seat next to his prey. He turned to her, locking her gaze, and said, ‘Your mum might be she-dragon,’ gazing still deeper into her eyes, ‘but she gave birth to an angel.’ Another giggle.

‘You know,’ Red Riding Hood stuttered again, but was willed on by her excitement, ‘you have the nicest voice.’ He edged closer, growling deeply, eliciting another helpless giggle. His eyes bore into hers, radiating wickedness; her eyes absorbed it, reflecting pure innocence.

‘And, you know,’ she went on, feeling herself blush, ‘really nice eyes, too.’ The Big Bad Wolf edged closer still. His big, bad smile appeared again, seething with cynicism; Little Red Riding Roy smiled back, happily, helplessly; hopelessly.

‘And, your smile,’ she started, but was interrupted by the Wolf’s phone ringing again. He pounced upon it immediately, as if he were preparing to do so, and saw on the screen, ‘Jay Emergency No.’

Little Red Riding Roy screamed. The Big Bad Wolf looked up to a man mountain, imposed in the entry to the front room, wearing a balaclava, raising a weapon from his hip. He shot a silenced handgun at the Wolf, who dived to cower beside Red Riding Roy, chancing that the mountain might then show mercy; but bullets riddled both bodies fatally, leaving them in a hairy, bloody, lifeless mess. The gunman holstered his weapon, answered the buzzing phone and informed Jay of the situation.

Grandma awoke to a scream, and herself screamed from within the pitch black of a wardrobe. Jay’s henchman released her. Grandma walked into her front room. Little Red Riding Roy’s corpse sat crumpled over the Big Bad Wolf’s, both bleeding into each other’s hides.

At that moment there was a knocking at the door, or rather, a banging with a fist.

‘I know your fackin’ in ‘ere! Answer the fackin’ door you little shit!’

It was Little Red Riding Roy’s mother.

Two Years Writing: Criticism and Cringe

Time flies when you’re having fun; it flies faster if you’re busy; and flew by for me almost imperceptibly, not having Facebook remembering for me how much younger I looked however many years ago.

WordPress.com, with which I publish this website, assumed Facebook’s mantle this week, sending me this following:

‘Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!

You registered on WordPress.com 2 years ago.

Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.’

Thanks for time-flying with me too, WordPress. Naturally, I looked back at this maiden voyage into writing words as if I’m suited to it; as one would if reminded that it’s been two years since you moved to Torteval or holidayed in Turkey, you wanna know what’s changed.

‘Did I really wear that?’ ‘What was I thinking hanging out there?’ ‘Why oh why did I think that was cool?’ and so on.

With writing, personally anyhow, it’s much the same: ‘Did I really write that?’ ‘What was I thinking to have suggested this?’ ‘Surely I didn’t think that was funny/interesting/meaningful/worth spending any amount of time on?’

One may often react to Facebook remembering for us what we were (doing) so many years ago by cringing. Well, WordPress curled me up into a cretinous, cowering ball and left me to laugh at myself, which I was cringing too hard to do. Why do we cringe in this manner?

I’ve had a think. One doesn’t cringe at the photo in which you look the same as you do presently, doing something that you currently do, with people you currently like, in clothes you currently wear. Usually, the older it is and the more different you are, the sillier you (think you) look, equals the cringier the photo in general. You look back at a different ‘you,’ that isn’t you, this ‘you’ misrepresents what you are now, what you have since become—so you cringe. You no longer tie a blue-haired topknot, or sport those hideously tight white jeans, nor do you preparatively tense your muscles for photographs; you are not that person, you cringe at that person’s having had existence, because it was you, and you are not that same ‘you’ anymore.

If you don’t care for my own experience, and I don’t blame you for its mostly bollitical, scroll down to the list at the end of the article.

Lord knows this has been the same for me with writing. It’s been two years this month since I wrote my first article, for a Guernsey magazine: it was on politics and how people could be more political if they, Christ, ‘1. Read about politics’ and ‘2. Talk about politics’. Though this sincere interest in bollotics stimulated my interest and study at my old desk-job, and eventually a successful application to Brighton and Sussex Universities, I still cringe, hard. Why?

1. Reading about politics: I haven’t read a newspaper since 2015.

2. Talking about politics: if somebody now told me to (cringe), “Get talking about local politics with your friends, family, colleagues and even that not-so-nice-smelling guy on the bus” I would reply that I have better things to talk about, thanks, and what’s your issue with the bus bum?

Spending a year studying in Brightonian coffeeshops has inoculated my bollitical interest: but it worked as does forcing a social smoker to finish a packet of cigarettes one after the other. All the nice ideas you had, your innocence and excitement in pursuing the interest, are enveloped in stuffy, picky clouds of grey. It’s as if after the smoking ban they missed the stale atmosphere in the coffeeshops, so replenished it with conversations about Guardian headlines on Facebook newsfeeds.

‘3. Contribute politically’ But this I still stand cringing behind, I just don’t think you need to be versed in broadsheet to be able to do so. Sometimes the most radically political thing one can do is lead a better life.

I cringe at my pre-university analysis of the prominence given to the 2015 story of cuddly Cecil the lion being poached, at the arguable expense of stories on failed attempts at cross-continental asylum-seeking and migrancy. I cringe because I spent a term studying semiology and methods used by media to disinform and distract which were here not employed; but moreso because I am no longer a person who would be so involved in criticising columns on newspaper websites. I still take notice of the nauseating newsstands, but I can’t quite suffer inflicting a wordy critical nausea upon my miniscule readership just to better articulate what is already obvious: how ridiculous it is to read that the ‘SAS go undercover as beggars to fight terrorism’; to have a guilt-trip charity poster of a starving child stare at me from inside war-torn Yemen, when I’m a citizen of the country which provided the bombers blasting it back into the stone-age, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etcetera.

I wrote an impassioned defence of Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendance to the Labour Party leadership. Simply, I cringe because talking about politics on a Left-Right, black-white, right-wrong binary basis is bollitical infantilism at its patronising purest. ‘We’ve made this Political Spectrum for Dummies on which you can stake your place and have your opinions and enemies prescribed you.’ But, awkwardly, I’m a right-wing neo-fascist because I think that men and women are essentially different and we should stop bombing and otherwise destabilising poorer countries instead of allowing untrammeled immigration; and also a left-wing anarcho-communist because I think that workplaces should be somewhat democratised and the public transportation nationalised. Go figure. Or don’t, is what I’m saying, there are probably better things for you to do.

Saying that, though, I do stand (and cringe) behind it: I wrote that ‘Jez’s more compassionate and, I daresay, principled stances are at odds with British politicians and media’ and ‘The more humanity and normality he radiates, the mainstream media’s attempted counterweight becomes evermore desperate, ridiculous and a lot of people (are at least starting to) see right through it.’ I think truth has been recently realised in these statements: his principles cut through the bollotical artifice and, despite a deranged media campaign the likes of which we didn’t even see for ‘Red Ed’ Miliband, he stuck to his guns in and against his party, through the callous campaign to go on and twat the electoral ball right outta the park, preventing the predicted landslide.

My penultimate political piece was written in November 2015, about the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey in Syrian airspace. Therein is a latent exhaustion with bollotics I will now sketch out, and I suggest you skip the next political paragraph if you’re not interested in geopolitics.

The Syrian War orthodoxy is this, that it was a protest that magically morphed into a civil war. It’s open knowledge that the US-backed Sunni states have fought covert propaganda and proxy wars against the Shia crescent for some time, examples of which include the situation with Iran and the blitzing of Iraq and Syria and Yemen. Then the Islamic State magically appears out of the rubble of an Iraq that was occupied by the US and UK, arising in the cities formerly garrisoned by the US and UK, and is allowed to arm and organise itself without any meaningful action taken by the US or UK, both of which opted rather for making a media scare-storm of it at home. In fact, they furnished it material means by which they secured its ‘Islamic’ ‘state’: namely by allowing it to accrue Iraqi state weaponry and by not interfering with its arm imports from and oil exports to neighbouring countries. Turkey was foremost in respect of this illicit oil trade. Russia put a stop to it. Turkey fired back. Simple as.

Much preferring and eventually prioritising philosophy over newspaper politics has in a roundabout way led me to conclude: that this whole situation is fucked and there is nothing outside the cynical power play of realpolitik at the level of geopolitical strategy. For this reason, I won’t (persistently) pursue thinking about it, let alone write about it. (Say I, performatively contradicting myself by doing precisely that.)

So moving swiftly on. We cringe at yesteryear’s tired trends and burned out hotspots, but not because they are in and of themselves uncool, rather because we ourselves have grown out of and away from them—something in us has evolved. I cringe at my former fascination with fatuously blabbing bollitics, at too readily resorting to tugging heartstrings and at the superfluous syntactical grandiloquence. Yet of these charges I am still guilty, indicating not that politics and pathos and eloquence are dead to me, but that I have changed and therefore my interest in and reliance on them has too. And still, at these words a future me will cringe, but contentedly. I’ll tell you why.

 

  1. You criticise and cringe at yourself more than any other person

The maxim that says you are your own worst critic is doubly true: you are your own critic, but you also criticise yourself on behalf of everybody else too, criticisms that are often overemphasised or purely imagined.

You look back at that photo, at that blue-haired, top-knotted tosspot, and think: ‘Christ, cut it off—preferably at the neck!’ You keel with cringe. But your mum thinks you look cute, your girlfriend thinks you look gorgeous, and it reminds your mate of good times. The critical issues that you take up with yourself are yours alone, not those of other people, unless they say so. I’ve cringed hardest in the last couple days at a piece I wrote back in September 2015, and it was my most popular by a stretch!

You are your own worst critic. Realising this won’t stop it being so, but it will immunise you against the worst ravages of self-doubt in the present and against the still-inevitable cringe in the future. And this I write in an article, on which I’ve spent about five hours, that I have at several points resolved to abandon for the sake of such self-criticism (it is egocentric/boring/contradictory/repetitive/etcetera, and so on, and on, and on).

 

  1. You cringe because you have changed—happy days! 

We cringe because we are not that person anymore. That you might be considered to ‘be’ that same person who wore that god-forsaken topknot or wrote those ill-considered lines is what is bothering about it. We are living, learning beings: we cannot typographically nor photographically freeze the essence of our selves, though we might think we can in that perfected prose or profile picture.

We change. Our prose and pictures, often cringe-worthily, stay the same; looking back at childhood poems or photos that have been printed and posed for posterity, we feel quite similarly. That can be a great thing, if you have now become more authentically ‘you.’ Having had a different look or written in a different way back in the day doesn’t mean that you were inauthentic back then. Had you held on to that topknot because you thought others might criticise you for chopping it (fat chance), or had you pursued a popular path in writing which didn’t actually interest you—that’s inauthentic. Go with the flow: not in a lazy, happy-go-lucky sense: go with that flow which feels right, rewarding and stimulating: go with what suits and feels ‘you.’ Even if that flow happens to produce paragraphs of text that one now deems to be quasi-philosophical over-sentimentalised horseshit, go with it regardless.

 

  1. Cringing is, therefore, good

It’s a truth of tattooing that having trends indelibly inked into your skin will be regretted down the line. This is a more immediate way to understand my point. Usually, we don’t carry the shed skin of our former selves about with us, unless we refuse to grow up. But when you get a naff tat on a lad’s holiday at seventeen, you are condemned to reminisce; you grow, you shed your skin, but it leaves a remainder, a reminder. We should relish these reminders. They are remainders of a self that you’ve since superseded.

So an old photograph or story is like a tattoo: a permanent memento of a shed self that no longer lives and learns as one does presently, so one cringes at aspects of it now considered callow and childish. But we should (also) relish it, for it reveals in our ceding self that person who has surpassed it in the present; we should laugh and rejoice that we are not that person anymore and make damn sure we feel the same about our current selves in the future. Prepare yourself to cringe at the selfie you took this morning in the years to come, as I doubtless will at the words I rattle out this afternoon.

So I’ve read through my two years of writing and I’ve recoiled from the sight of all the dead shed skin. I’ve also realised and revelled in the speed at which I have grown by embracing errors but still letting go of that self-critic just a little; this advice I’ve penned in a piece which this said critic doesn’t quite want to publish, and at which I will no doubt cringe down the line. C’est la feckin’ vie.

Stan the Man

Stan was bored. He’d been sat in a Kemptown coffeeshop all day, listening to humans babbling bollotics, when it was perfectly good weather outside.

‘Dear me, doesn’t she seem in a frightfully foul mood today,’ Stan thought in his royally posh accent. ‘Whatever might be the matter with her?’ He peered beneath the latest edition of Caffeine Magazine she had held before her, in which she so obviously faked an interest.

Francesca caught Stan’s eye, his eyebrow raised, the fawning love he held for her wholly apparent in just one of his puppy dog eyes. She lowered the magazine coolly, as if she hadn’t seen him at all. Stan lowered his head, dejectedly.

‘Christ, I need the loo,’ he thought to himself, ‘somewhat infelicitous of a moment to answer nature’s call, though. I shall have to hold it.’ Stan looked to distract himself, but found no means to do so; there were just people reading papers and talking politics, no one with whom he could make acquaintance, other than a fractious Francesca, who seemed intent on ignoring his very existence.

‘What might I have done? For what crime committed am I deserved this guilt?’ Stan considered restlessly, pathetically. ‘I shall have to make it up to her. But first, lord knows I need the loo!’ 

To get Francesca’s attention, Stan stood up and leaned on the table; he rested his chin on top of the Magazine, looking at her expectantly, and drooled over its pages. Fat flecks of saliva doused its text; Victoria grunted, ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, Stan, what is wrong with you!’

She proceeded to furl the magazine and wallop him around the side of the head with it, for the whole café to see, watching awkwardly looking over their own coffee and craft beer related magazines. Stan sat back down immediately, with a mute whimper.

‘She hates me! She hates me!—And I’m going to shit myself!’ Stan thought in exasperation, though not uttering so much as a murmur to Francesca, who was wiping the specks of salvia from the back of her left hand with a serviette, an expression on her face as if it were something much fouler. ‘Why does she despise me so?’

 ‘It’s coming! It’s coming!’ Stan realised, his usually measured inner-voice shrieking in emergency. He leapt up from his sitting position and leant over to Victoria again, this time resting on her legs.

‘Stan!’ Francesca slapped her magazine down onto the table, clinking the saucer of her coffee cup and allowing it to flop down on to the floor besides Stan, who sat down again fearfully. He trembled before the angry and excellently effective articulation of his name. ‘I can’t take you fucking anywhere,’ she huffed under her breath, blushing with the heat of the stares caused by the trivial commotion.

Stan agonised over Francesca’s outburst rather than trying to resolve his own impending outburst. He stayed sat down and silent despite shivering with urgency. ‘Oh! My dear Francesca’, he thought, melodramatically, ‘for why do you treat me thusly?’

Stan’s stomach dropped, quite further down than what was at that time opportune. ‘I’m going to shit myself,’ Stan thought, more decisively than worriedly, standing up on his shaking legs.

Francesca had composed herself, checked whether she was blushing on her smartphone, and leant forward to pick up her copy of Caffeine Magazine.

Stan shuffled onto the spit-covered mag before she could reach it, and squatted over it.

‘Stan! No!’ She barked at him authoritatively. Stan turned his head, looking Victoria guiltily in the eye.

‘Terrible sorry about this Francesca darling,’ he barked back for the café to hear, shitting onto a page of the magazine discussing the revolution of coffee-beer. ‘But dear, I beseech you tell me, please—why you are mad at me?’

Moroccan Chirps

Morocco. All it conjured when my partner booked flights for a surprise birthday present last November was hash: ‘Moroccan black’ was a term bandied about officiously by shits who’d never been there. That, and mountains. A mate of mine thought it was in South America. So there was much to discover in eleven days there—hash and mountains included.

On our first evening in Marrakech, my partner Seila and I are lost down some side-alley, and by chance meet an exceedingly friendly fellow, like so many in Morocco. Neither standing behind a stall nor wielding Ralph Lauren counterfeits, I judge his eager sociability to be genuine, and accept his invitation to his place for tea. His name is Abdul. Notwithstanding Abdul’s niceness, I’m slightly on guard, being led down a pitch-black alleyway by the first man on the street that hasn’t harried to sell me something. This suspicion melts the instant we enter his home, to the sound of young chirping children and sight of his charming wife, Nahla, in the kitchenette at the far end of the room. The walls are geometrically mosaicked, as is the Islamic style, and two bank sofas frame a small table in the middle of the room. We chat choppily with my third-rate French, Abdul’s English (taught him by an American posted with the Moroccan Army for which Abdul served) and lots of silly-looking but helpful hand gestures. Long story short: after spending a wonderful evening together complete with Moroccan tea, tagine and tokes, we take a liking to each other and Abdul kindly offers to take us to “les montagnes!”—the mountains east of Marrakech, to meet Nahla’s side of the family in a small village. We gladly accept.

The backdrop out of Marrakech affords snowcapped mountainscape, the immediate scenery just desert, sand and rock. Driving to the village, a couple hours east of the city, we pass unfinished projects, similarly morose to those at home, but all shades of the same colour; pale wooden scaffolds wrapped around dusty bricks set in sand, not a high-vis in sight.

We stop off in a small market en route to nab some meat and veg for the lunchtime tagine. The heat’s blistering, but the locals are sporting black bomber jackets and jeans. I feel like it must just be me. My Celtic ancestry would have a week’s worth of sunshine per person per year, from which they’d probably flee to save their reddening hides. My skin scorches; the Moroccans’ are wrapped in the warmest of my winter wears.

The butcher’s bare hands wrestle down a skinned pig, which are hooked upturned and gutted, before heaving a cleaver through a limb. Butchers are (relatively) sterile affairs back home, much less blood and far fewer flies—the smell here is offputtingly rancid. We nab that, then some vegetables at a stall; a few handfuls each of snap peas, potatoes and carrots, amounting to twenty-odd dirham, or about €2. Feeding your guests and family for less than two quid. I can’t buy a cuppa for that in Brighton.

A lonely eeyore just outside the village

Making our way to the village, a stone track leads us around and away from small mountains, large hills, some of which look like heaps of refuse, with the jagged rocks jutting out of red sand, sparse shoots of green interspersed. The odd lonely cactus sits about. On our approach to the monochromic village, the cacti multiply. They’ve seemingly fig-shaped fruit growing amongst their spikes. Spotting more the far side of a fence, made from a thicket of dry thorns, I ask if and why they’re being farmed; our friend Abdul’s surprised that I haven’t tried any, it’s supposedly sweet, despite the spiteful spikes.

We visit his in-laws. We’re greeted at the door by a thin man—Pa-in-law—wearing a brown kufi hat over his bald head, a thin brown djellaba over a loose beige shirt and brown trousers, with beaten leather sandals on his feet. He greets us warmly, shaking my hand gently, patting his heart thereafter. The two huts inside the modest compound are windowless and inside neatly maintained. The Ma-in-law emerges from one, looking a little bewildered at me, and then at Abdul, as if to say, ‘whom are you bowling up into my home with now, Abdul?’ She wears thick trousers and socks underneath her thin, purple djellaba and sandals; her headscarf she wears loosely over her thick, black hair. Sweating profusely in my thin shirt and loose trouser, I wipe my hand before she shakes it gently. Abdul speaks in his harsh and hasty Arabic, shaking the plastic bag full of veg and (also sweaty) meat. She speaks to him in a much softer Arabic, which makes me feel at ease; though attempting to discern the content of a conversation from its foreign form of enunciation is always dodgy; Latvians can sound like they’re angry when happy, Norwegians dismissive when interested. Ma-in-law takes the bag and turns to enter one hut, whilst Seila, Abdul and I enter another—the living room/hut.

Pa-in-law slides off his sandals at the door, quickly drapes a rug over the concrete floor, bare as the walls and ceiling, and places small pillows thereon for each of us. He nabs a tiny wooden table from the corner of the room, placing it before us. I can’t for the life of me cross my legs in comfort; primary school assemblies were for me what SERE training is to the SEALS. I prop myself awkwardly up against the wall, whilst Abdul immediately gets about rolling another spliff, perhaps the fifth of the morning. Despite it being windowless and the day’s heat without breeze, the living-hut was surprisingly cool and well illuminated.

Ma-in-law returns, sliding off her sandals at the door, with the Moroccan rite and staple—tea—before slipping them back on to rush off again. Moroccan tea is as gratefully drunk as it is incessantly served. Moroccans are competitively eager to cram hospitality into each conceivable momentary crevice, the primary means by which they do this is heating water in a teapot, straining green tea and spearmint leaves therein, adding a fistful of sugar and serving it with and without food. Pa-in-law pours a pale tea into my glass, opens the pot and pours the glassful back into it, repeating a couple of times as the tea darkens. It’s undeniably delicious but, for some palates at least, sickeningly sweet by the half-dozenth of the day.

Abdul crumbles some blonde hash from Chefchaouen into his palm, mixing it with the tobacco teased from a cigarette, before putting a smoking paper on top; he places his other palm on top of that and expertly flips over the mix into the paper. He rolls up ‘un joint,’ pronounced in his raspy French, ‘uh joowah.’ French spoke in Maghrebi dialect sounds so cool. Moroccan tea drank with un joint tastes so good.

Ma-in-law, sandals off, comes bearing two loaves of freshly baked flatbread, olive oil and black honey—sandles on and she’s off again. Pa breaks bread on my behalf, passing me a chunk; Seila declines, for she’s gluten intolerant. This he can’t, and no Moroccan did, understand. I embellish her attempt at explaining that she can’t eat it with some graphic gesticulation—it’ll go straight through her!—sometimes the language barrier’s a blessing. The bread is crusty and warm. The olive oil is by far and away the best I’m yet to try, made from the olives picked off the trees out back. The black honey, thick, rich and smoky, vies for my attention.

Ma-in-law, sandals off and in, returns with two freshly boiled eggs and some seasalt; she looks a little concernedly at Seila, sitting still besides Abdul and I ravenously indulging our munchies, placing them before her; sandals on and out. The eggs are abnormally delicious and healthy looking, never have I seen or tasted an egg like it: a thin skin of egg-white covering a deep orangey-yellow yolk, which forms the majority of the egg. The one bite wasn’t enough, despite the loaf of bread at my lap and tagine en route.

Pa-in-law, Abdul tells me, is a farmer and has been tending his ‘animaux.’ I ask about his animals. The conversation is necessarily mediated between Abdul and I, in his broken English and my scrappy French. He is at least as stoned as I am, sometimes plainly neglecting his translational duties, so one must persist. Pa keeps chickens and goats, tending the latter out in the searing sun, I notice without a bead of sweat upon his bony brow, making me aware of how mine perspires so freely in the coolest shade he has to offer.

Pa-in-law, Abdul and Yours Truly eating some tagine.

Ma-in-law, sandals off, comes bearing a decanter and a bowl. She places the pot underneath our hands, pouring the water over so we can clean them before our meal. I feel a little uncomfortable, I feel it pretends to deferral. She clears the table of the teapot. Sandles on: she’s off again.

She’s back in a heartbeat with a tagine. For those who are ignorant as I was, a tagine is actually the Maghrebi name for the dish in which the meal is cooked, like a balti. She places the searing dish on the table, lifts off the cone-shaped lid allowing the steam to billow out invitingly from underneath, revealing and reacquainting us with the spruced and sizzling meat and veg. Ma doesn’t sit to eat with us, she slips on her sandals and makes off again. Waiting for Pa or Abdul to dig in, for how to do so without cutlery was, at least in my frame of mind, a little perplexing. I don’t have to wait long, as Abdul tears a strip of bread, dips one side of it amongst the vegetables, cooked and steamed in and by their juices, pinches an amount, upturns the bread and eats it. I don’t wait a moment longer myself, but Pa still somehow manages to enthuse me to eat. The duty of the guest to oblige being fussed over is as pressing as the duty of the host. Seila asks for and is fetched a small plate and spoon with which to eat the tagine, it not occurring to Ma or Pa that it might prove inedible without bread. I’m continuously proffered meat by Pa, nudging it toward my corner of the tagine with his bread; not eating meat at all often, and having gorged on bread beforehand, it’s a struggle to eat much (more), as tasty as it is. Delicious simplicity; meat, veg, spice, tagine, fire, serve. When I indicate that I can’t eat a bite more—again, one must persist—Pa and Abdul make for the meat that, I now realise, they were abstaining from eating on my account. I realise I may’ve indulged my obligation qua guest too eagerly, but no matter.

Ma-in-law, in and out and in and out, clears the table, washes our hands, makes us tea, then finally sits with us. In this time Abdul has, of course, rolled un joint. Pa-in-law needs to shepherd his goats to graze up and about the mountain, in the midday sun, and offers us to sleep in the living-hut. It’s now heating up a little, teeming with flies and unventilated of tobacco smoke. I thank him profusely, and he shuffles out the door. Feeling additionally doped in my food coma, Abdul asks me to lie down, ‘S’allonger! Existe!’ Exiiiste—that’s the spirit.

We chill for a bit, sheltering from the midday heat, chatting with Ma when Abdul’s understanding and effort aligns and allows. He neglects to translate the odd question to Ma, yet nods, smiling his big toothless smile, his brown and bloodshot eyes looking somewhat engaged, lying back on the pillow taking long draws on le joint. Then he jerks his head back into my gaze, saying, ‘Qoui?’, and we try again.

We ‘existe’, blazing to stave away the day’s blaze, before going on a walk around the village. Abdul knows everybody in the village and is wont to introduce us. They are achingly hospitable and the women cannot fuss enough, though the village has seemingly conspired to rot my remaining teeth with their sugar-soup tea, which I can’t stop drinking anyway. We take tea at a cousin of Nahla’s in a very modest hut; inside there are another relative’s children; it’s all very communal. They stare at me as one would an ogre; my smiles and “Salaam’s” seem to scare more than sooth them. His cousin’s a midget who’s unmarried in her late twenties—tardy by their wedding watches. But Abdul has been a’matchmaking and found found her a vertical match back in Marrakech who she’s eager to hear of and will be meeting at some point in the near future. Abdul’s beaming, giving some dosh to keep them going, saying that he’ll have to get them a dish for the TV next time he visits. The tea is giving me a hypo, the bread a baby-belly and le never-ending joints property in Sark. We get up to have more of a mooch about the village.

The village viewed during our ascent of the modest montagne

Save for the cactus, a few planted olive trees and some smatterings of green shrubbery, the place really looks like so many shades of the same colour, and stunning and serene as such. We stomp and sweat through the tilled but unfarmed land toward a small mountain. Abdul wards me off a villager’s land, as I accidentally trespass over a very neat but almost imperceptible border of stones. It doesn’t take long to hike for the tiny village to become unassuming, a darker shade swept by a brush on a monochromic canvass, one of many melting into the deserted distance. The mountain’s barely relieved by a breeze, I want to take my sweat sodden shirt off but I know I’ll flash fry. We reach the modest summit to some beautiful views each side. Abdul perches atop a rock and pulls a much smaller rock of the same colour from, I note to my surprise, his sock, before he crumbles it to make yet un autre joint.

Yours Truly amongst the cacti

The only noise to be heard is the stone beneath our feet and  breeze about our ears. We spot a couple wild mountain goat—wild’s the word!—quite literally clilffhanging in the distance. We see tamer mountain goat being herded about the slope of a neighbouring mountain by two berobed figures in the distance, no doubt known personally to Abdul. I find an unlikely fruit, bright and pale orange, attached to a brittle, dead-looking vine. It looks out of sync, but very edible; Abdul tells me it’s medicine. What I need is shade.

Abdul enjoying un joint bien merité sur le montaigne

We make our way down dodgily aboard the sharp and slipping stones. Abdul insists I take Seila’s hand, which I’m not able to do without unbalancing the both of us, so he chivalrously takes it, but keeps a pace that only makes their descent more dicey. But we make our way down no problem, having a shaded pit-stop beneath a lonely but friendly tree outside the village, building and blazing a last joint, just to ensure I’m sufficiently cross-eyed before meeting more busied and brilliant women, sun-seared shepherds and terrified toddlers.

We visit the family of Nahla’s sister, Munira, who looks about the same age but is notably thinner and browner, wearing a purple djellaba and thin headscarf covering all of her hear. With a baby about a year old saronged to her back, she busily goes about making some bread and brewing some tea, both of which I’ve a voracious appetite for despite eating myself sick of both three hours ago. Munira’s Dad-in-law who owns the property, Hassan, is a quiet, dignified and thoroughly welcoming man who’s hospitable determination to see me pregnant of bread and diabetic by tea I welcome thoroughly. He has many more animals than do Nahla’s parents, which means both more wealth and work, and a bigger compound with more family living in it. There’s a Dalmatian and a couple of chickens knocking about before the sheep and goats are brought to stable in the setting sun, blissfully baaing away. The living-hut in which we eat and drink has plump pillows, high ceilings, a lick of paint, lights and a smaller flock of flies; plus the toilet’s a hole in the ground, rather than the ground itself as at the in-laws. Abdul accepts Hassan’s kind invitation for us to stay the night there, for which we are grateful.

Hassan’s sheep

Munira’s husband Ali returns home while the twilight is bright. Ali’s about thirty, heavily tanned, stubbly, wearing a cap, a jumper and some jeans. He leaves for work at sunrise and arrives home after sunset, spending all day landscaping in the blistering heat. Despite the arduousness of the day behind him, he greets his children and us warmly and goes about preparing some kif. Untying a rope around a wrapped up sack, he reveals three healthy, pungent cannabis stalks and a brown, parched looking leaf the size of a man’s hand. The leaf is a tobacco leaf, much bigger than I imagined they’d be, which he refreshes with water before ripping a piece off to mix with the kif. Ali spends the next hour, in between sipping tea and talking to us via Abdul, patiently pulling the ‘plainer’ parts of the cannabis plant matter from about the buds, then crumbling them atop of a block, expertly knocks the seeds out of the mix with a gnarly knife. He collects the ground buds into a squared strip of sack, taking the now-dried rip of tobacco, crushing it between his fingers, adding it to the mix to make kif. The pipe we use to smoke it is about a foot long, wooden, with a bowl one side a little smaller than a thimble. Abdul teaches me how to pack: holding it with one hand underneath, you nudge kif into the bowl with the forefinger. He makes it look banally simple; I spill my pipe and burn my finger trying to smoke it. Ali looks at me as to an amateur.

Pa-in-law pops in looking for us in the later evening; Abdul explains we’re to stay here; no offence is taken or seemingly appropriate. He sits and chirps with the famalam. Nahla, Hassan’s wife and another lovely lady of some relation come to the living-hut with us after we’re finished eating (our third tagine of the day) and being fussed over, drinking tea, washing hands and all. The division of labour is rigid: women domestic, men agricultural; both work their asses off. It’s nice to see them sit and socialise, albeit still fussing over Seila, who I forget is oftentimes the only woman keeping company with us men whilst we eat and smoke. Nahla offers to do some henna on Seila’s hands and asks whether we are married. I don’t see what that’s got to do with the price of fish, but I fib the fib I’d been advised to fib and say that we are. Abdul conveys that this traditionally allows Nahla to also tattoo Seila’s feet. So Nahla, baby still strapped across her slender shoulders, retrieves some henna; Seila’s understandably ambivalent having had some forcefully applied to her hand by an overzealous Marrakechian a couple of days ago which burned, so asks what’s in it. We understand it to be the henna plant and oranges. It isn’t erosive but looks excremental. Nahla kneels at Seila’s side, smiling gently, the baby on her back staring me out, as she applies the henna around her foot tattoos. I tell Nahla that she looks so much like her sister, stopping short of saying both are beautiful. We show her some pictures of her likewise beautiful niece, sixteen and an excellent English speaker, from the other day at Nahla and Abdul’s place in Marrakech; she beams at them.

Abdul packs one, two, three, four pipes of kif for himself, I think perhaps in a daze. He realises, and plies me with pipe after pipe to compensate. I note that no women smoke and the older men I ask smoke no longer, Abdul is the only man I know who does, but says only on occasion. I get the feeling that this is a hash-holiday for him, too. Hassan retires, then the ladies put the kids and themselves to bed. Seila’s knackered too, and settles down. Abdul, Ali and I squat in the opposite end of the room, puffing away, and call it an hour later. I bid a hazy farewell to Ali, who, replete with kisses for each of my cheeks, surprises me a little. Abdul settles himself at the foot of Seila and I, persistently passing me packed pipes as I lie back in a contented, dozy daze.

Seila and I both awake intermittently throughout the night to Abdul popping more pipes of kif.

We leave the next afternoon, after a breakfast of bread, eggs and kif. Our trip back to Marrakech is helpfully organised by Ali’s young brother, who’s sixteen year’s old, sharp and handsome, sporting a black jacket, tight blue jeans and black hair curling in a particular way with a neatly kempt goatee. He looks greaser 2.0. He returns on his rackety moped with transport sorted. He isn’t schooled and asks Abdul to teach him some English. So they sit together for the spontaneous language lesson, with a piece of paper, on which Abdul writes ‘Hello’ in old Arabic, what I assume to be modern Arabic, and English. “How are you?” is next. Then, “Are you fine?” which Abdul recites with a comic gusto that the young lad repeats earnestly, concentrating and repeating again. I wonder if this is the English that the Yank taught Abdul or if he’s just as high as I am? He writes the Arabic for the next phrase, then the English, which he recites whilst waving his hands dramatically from his chest: “I don’t care anymore!” I pack up laughing. Abdul smiles nonchalantly, innocently. I try not to laugh, but, hell, it still tickles me to this day.

Hassan and Yours Truly

We say goodbye to everybody, I even manage a handshake from a nipper, though the baby saronged to Munira continues to bore into my soul with her sweet, scared stare. Hassan insists that we visit with our family, several times. He says he’ll slaughter two animals, with gory gesticulation, when we next visit with them. I don’t say yes or no, just chuckle at the thought of my Dad being in this weird and wonderful place, as Hassan kisses my right cheek, then left, then right again, and the left again.

Skyping my parents after our trip, I tell them this and much else about our trip. My Dad reminisces of when, as a child, in the ‘wild country’ of County Mayo, they visited a family: they hospitably slaughtered a sheep for their arrival. I guess the cultural gap is not as wide as we would be led to believe.

 


If you enjoyed this article, I’d really appreciate your sharing it on social media. Peace and chirps, Liam.