Firstly, the chair must to be adjusted height wise. Then its swivel ability tested, and its headrest position set all in order to show off the quality of the chair. Once seated, it’s run the hand throughout your hair to test for authenticity. This is a habit common to all hairdressers, developed over years of clipping. All accompanied by a mirror smile that any North American scalping Indian would be proud of. Before you can respond to the smile with a look of scepticism the drawer fumbling starts. One pair of scissors after another then appears from a drawer or a pocket snipping with increasing anticipation. All to no avail as the one on the basin in front of your mirror is always selected.
Strong fingers from years of snipping are now stuffing a not so clean seen better day’s towel down the back of your neck to the discomfort of your Adam’s apple.
Your hand by this time as if in a puppet show had popped out from under the cover that has got a quick flapping to remove any clingons. Your index finger is waving from side to side while your other hand strokes your chin to point out that a shave is all that is required not a scalping. This move is met by a lifting of the shoulders.
The favourite scissors are pocketed, and the cutthroat opened with a flick that makes you wonder if a haircut is not such a bad idea after all.
The fact that only a shave is on the cards, puts you at the mercy of whether it is a good day’s business or a bad day’s business. Don’t fear, hold your nerve, what happens next tells you whether it is time to run or stay. After the face preparation and a detailed examination of chin bristle strength if you are still sitting by this stage I doubt if a free trip to Mecca can save you. Standing directly behind you with his face imagery held out of mirror visualization the elasticity of your face muscles are now tested for slackness. In an upward motion using both hands and anything up to six fingers, your face goes through an audition for Coco the clown. The smoothness or harshness of the finger pressure tells you whether it’s a skin graft or not.
Depending on the bristle intensity the first lathering is sometimes preceded by a smearing of Nivea Cream usually worked into the face while he looks out the door. A blob of Palmolive shaving cream is then squeezed from its tube in equal length straight on each cheekbone. This is then worked into lather with a shaving brush last seen on the back pages of Life Magazine when Palmolive and Brylcream were all the rage. You are well advised to keep your trap shut during this stage and your mind off your Adam’s apple.
Now is the time to close your eyes and enjoy the ballet of the blade that glides in time to a set of skidding fingers. Travelling to a formation known only to the shaver in seven to five gliding sweeps with one or two times out for a quick wipe on the back of the non cutting hand the performance halts. Three further smaller blobs on any bristling that escaped the blade ballet and it’s all but over. Some alcohol: a quick wet and dry rub, and its out with that scissors again. Before you have had time to get a wink/blink in there is a snip up each nostril. If you don’t want your ears to produce African bush in a few years time now is time to stand up.
Returning to the hotel I could feel the breath of a camel in Timbuktu on my face.
After thirty kilometres in the wrong direction, a goal on the radio by Gascoigne in the world cup, we arrive in the white town of Essaouira. Set behind its grey ramparts and blue window shutters Essaouira a tourist trap full of wooden carved boxes welcome us.
No camping to be had, so we check into Hôtel du Tourisme: a large old building, with enormous bed rooms that vibrate to the throbbing of a central wobbling overhead fan. The hotel has a flat roof looking south down Essaouira beach. At sixty five dirham, it is cheap and cheerful, providing for an extra five dirham a night guard for Williwaw: We check in.
Taking a walk down the main drag we stop at a café for a beer. Low and behold who turns up but our American professor from Marrakesh? She is on honeymoon with her hardnosed daughter and Abdul who is still smitten by the prospects of a USA visa. The poor bastard tells us he has never seen the sea or ridden a bus. Boy is he going to like the US of A.
Over saunters Kev: who else. After dinner we leave Kev with mother America. If mother America is confused, wait until Kev gets a leg over and turns up in the USA in a few months time. True to form Kevin does not take long to announce that his travelling companion Jez is in bed with some new lover in Essaouira. We decide to retire between our musty sheets, glad to escape any further injections of the soap opera which I am sure we will get blow by blow in the morning.
A grey morning mist rolls up over the ramparts: a grey looking Kev surfaces. Mrs Idaho got the best out of him after all. We are spared any grizzly details by Florence’s insistence that he had promised her that he would bring her to the beach to build an Arabian sandcastle.
Kev is the remnants of the classical independent traveller from the early sixties. He could never be described as a modern day backpacker, no six inch laced up rubber soled walking shoes, no maps, no shorts, no sunglasses, no backpack. His G.P.S. is housed between his eyes and ears. No sun block, no high energy bars, no hat, no camera, no pen, no address book, no address, no inhibitions, no been there done that. He is a thinker, a taker, a giver, a talker, a lover, a wrecker, a smoker, a drinker, a song writer, a loner, a musicologist, a man, a boy, a friend for life on his terms.
Watching him in his faded blue wrap around and his new toe crunching Moroccan leather slippers cross over Othello’s park with Florence skipping beside him with bucket and spade in hand I wonder if he is my umbilical cord to Europe; once cut the trap door to Africa will open.
Some hours later just before the sandcastle walls are surrounded by the ripples of the incoming tide, I join them. Kev has built a version of the Bastion of Essaouira in classical Portuguese architecture. He is fully recovered and is now Florence’s hero.
A Bay Watch charge into the surf leaves me limping badly so I pop back to the Hotel with a promise that we will meet up at the beach bar for a lunchtime G and T. By the time I return Fanny and Florence are in siesta mode so they return to the hotel. I had forgotten that Kev had arranged for the local kif merchant to pay us a visit in the bar with a view to sampling some of the local wacky tobacco.
The bar is a rundown sea front shelter with a box freezer. According to Kev (who has played with the best of them) along this beach which is over ten km long Jimi Hendrix wrote Castles in the Sand. Out one of the bars open air windows on a pitch under pressure of the encroaching sea a barefooted football match is in progress with ball control on display that any football coach would die for.
Kev’s Jim Hendrix shows up. I don’t get good vibes. Admiring Kev’s new babouches he picks one up to sing its praises: the genuine article and all that stuff. The quickness of the hand deceives the eye. Kev’s contact who has being scrutinizing the shoes with more than a passing interest introduces himself with a hand shake. Picking up the shoe I spot him palming a small packet into the toe. It’s a set up: A plant. Caught in the act he takes flight with a torrent of choice f… words. Colliding with his incoming partner, he receives a kick that would have sent him into outer space if Kev had being wearing a set of Michelin X hiking shoes.
That night for the locals on top of the town centres turned off water fount, an unrehearsed version of the human clock written by Kevin is performed to mark our departure.
Fanny drives around cape Rhir to Agadir; a dump even in Moroccan terms. We push on, past a recommended campsite to Tiznit where we check into Hôtel de Atlas. Here in small barbershop I get the best cutthroat shave to date from a twelve-year-old blind boy. An act of faith.
Williwaw greets me in the morning with yet another flat. The girls go shopping as I change the wheel and go in search of a puncture repair outfit. Puncture repairs, as in other parts of the world, is an art form in Africa involving beating with various iron bars and lump hammers the Bejeysus out of the tyre, and the hub.
Normally done by a bloke with bulging, shining, rippling shoulders and Swartzeneger arm muscles how somehow or other avoids belting his toes, or getting hit on the head by the odd rebound. His assistant is usually a youth of slender build that has evolved hands and arms capable of taking surges of tingle shocks beyond the imagination of any pneumatic drill operator. The most popular technique is for the iron bar to be held in position by Mr Frail while Mr Atlas pounds around the rim of the hub to break the tyre seal. Once achieved usually in ten to minutes Master Frail is handed the tube to Mr Frail to locate the puncture at which point Mr Atlas settles down for a smoke.
At this point you become a divided man.
There is a need to keep a watchful eye on your tube, which is disappearing indoors and also on your tools which have a habit of going walk about. The temptation to swap the tube for a look alike or remove its valve for a made in Korea valve or create a second incision is very strong.
One way or the other you can rest assured that Mr Atlas will make shit out of the tube and he will tighten the wheel bolts to the point of re-threading. If you have by any chance rubbed him up the wrong way you will wait till the cows come home for the job to be done.
Checking out of Hôtel de Atlas, we make it as far as Sidi Ifni. This is where the green stops on the map. Even Fanny realises from the yellowish colour (which covers from here to Egypt and down to Sénégal without a speck of blueto be seen other than the Med/Atlantic)) is where the rain evaporates before it hits the ground. She is reassured, however, by a red line on the map down the coast to La Gouira.
We stop in Sidi Ifni because it has a modern pharmaceutical institution called a Chemist. Three small dark spots on the sole of Florence’s foot are causing some concern. They are quickly identified by a set of quicksilver Arab eyes as Irish verucas.
Next store to the chemist over a mint tea Fanny develops spots in front of her eyes. Looking into the whirlpool of her sunglass, she is in a daze of bottomless after burn. Stirring the mountain of sugar in the bottom of her glass to ever-increasing high’s of sweetness she is entranced and entrapped by the sapphire quality of the Chemist penetrating eyes. By the time she rejoins us we have rejoined the red route at Guelmin, squashed a silent snake, and stopped for lunch.
Pitch: number twenty one is in a cornfield that has no difficulty in complying with our map colour of waterless yellow. It’s time to start our malaria tablets, to wear strong impregnable shoes, and to get into the habit of shaking out our sleeping bags in case there is a visiting scorpion other than Fanny. In the morning it will be the Western Sahara, but not before a going over by the Morocco police.
Who is your mother? What is your Father’s name? Where have you come from? The womb: Where are you going to? Mars. How many people are you? It is for your own security. Have you any whisky? A Taxi arrives, out get two Belgians; they have had all their money stolen in Laâyoune, and can’t wait to get home.
You’re; Irish, your wife English. I will take your photo is front of our welcoming camel sign, says our policeman who is embarrassed by our Belgian friends predicament. Click, “you are free to enter the Sahara,” he says. The photo has an unnerving effect leaving us with a “Terra Deserta never to be seen again” feeling. A feeling powerfully enforced by fact the neither of our Bibles mention this part of the world, and the red line has come to a sudden stop.
( To be continued in the Western Sahara which is just as dry as the donations.)
R Dillon. Account no 62259189. Ulster Bank 33 College Green Dublin 2.
Sorting Code: 98-50-10