Morocco – Renewal Progressing Part two of this posting

I am at the start of my 2nd week of renewal, I find myself stronger but there is a fuzziness at the back of my head and I think that will be there for a long time.

We were up early that Saturday morning and we went off to the weekly souk (market).  The French have a word for the sights that confronted me that morning, “incroyable”.  Hectares of land laid out with thousands of tented stalls, some big, some small, with guy ropes to tents stretched all over the place to trip the unwary shopper.  Before you even get into the souk there are merchants selling 2nd hand children’s bikes, 2nd or 3rd hand mobile phones, parts for scooters and bikes, 2nd and 3rd hand pairs of shoes, with a cobbler next door who will re-heel, re-sole and possibly re-upper your bought pair.  Under the archway of the souk and into a wonderland.  But first of all hire yourself a boy with a wheeled cart.  He takes the place of a supermarket trolley but better.  You tell him you want oranges and he will sort out the best and the same with vegetables.  He stacks them neatly in his cart and follows you to the next section of the souk.  Everything is sold in reals which went out of currency in 1921, your barrow boy converts rials into modern day dirhams.  Our boy is able for this, he is doing a physics degree at Marrakech University.

Souk Sebt 5 Souk Sebt 6 Souk Sebt1 Souk Sebt2 Souk Sebt3 Souk Sebt4

The vegetable market comes on you immediately after wading through stalls of knick-knacks, acres of tented stalls with prefabricated iron frames.  The produce laid out on the floor in piles, vegetables you could name some you couldn’t.  On the fringes of the vegetable souk are the spice stalls, selling spices out of large sacks or from towering piles on plastic trays.  Spices I recognised, spices I didn’t.  All merchants sit cross-legged on the floor in front of ancient weighing scales.  There seems to be set prices for everything set by somebody or some unknown tariff.  No fiddling of weights here, no undercutting of prices.

We sit at a bench where a man has a small table and gas ring.  He sells lentils cooked in a broth with flat breads to mop up the juices.  No way of cleaning the dishes and cutlery and he has not much of these.  But has soon as one man finishes his bowl it is refilled for the next, spoons are dipped in to a suspicious looking bucket of used water to clean them.  I have to say the lentils were excellent.

At my back were two men starting to hack at a beast they had cajoled into happiness.  The halal method of killing by Muslims requires you to have taught the beast that it wants to die and once docile and given food and water, the two veins in its neck are cut and its blood drained out.  There was buckets of blood all over the stall and the beast was now officially dead and its quartering allowed to take place.  Customers at this time of day are mostly men.  It was 8.00am and these men had gathered at 4.00am when the animal market opened.  Sheep, cattle and goats are sold to buyers for fattening up and selling for slaughter at a later date.  Some animals are killed on the day.  There is a small slaughter house but a lot of animals, so some are slaughtered in the open like this.  Woman normally visit after lunch when they have completed their household tasks and perhaps are lucky to miss out on this phase of the day.

As we passed through the spice ring the small slaughterhouse was in full swing and pieces of meat of all description were on sale.  Not an ounce of the animal is wasted, from the tip of the tail to the end of its horn, every piece on display, a price for every piece.  There was a stall selling the hoofs of cattle, another selling lovely bits of meat with teeth sticking out of them, grey turgid flanks of tripe, tails going for big money.  Men hacking away with large axes at carcases still warm from the assassin’s knife.  Piles of sheep’s heads all awaiting the jingling purses of the impecunious housewives who would shortly be arriving.

Dragging ourselves away from this blood drenched killing ground and the blood spattered vendors we eventually come on the chicken stalls.  Thousands of chickens gathered in coups, awaiting the knife of the seller.  A live chicken picked by hand, feet bound, a flash of steel, a spurt of blood, left on a spike for a few seconds as blood drained away and into a machine that removes all feathers of the lifeless bird.  Another flash of steel and a tumble of guts and the oven ready chicken is on the counter ready for sale after passing through the hands of at least six men in a matter of seconds.  The operation works like clockwork and so quickly that the killing hardly registers.

Daughter No 2 points out two of these birds ably assisted by her barrow boy who ties their legs and feels their stomachs to ensure their egg laying capability and so for these two birds it is out of the frying pan that is the coup and into the heaven that is her sanctuary at home.  These birds are a gamble but the boy takes her to another section selling big egg laying brown hens slightly dearer than the rescued brace.  Alongside the hens are rabbits, ducks and young turkeys.  I got the job of barrow-minder whilst the buyers scanned the ranks and two more henswere put into the barrow on top of all the food we had bought.  One hen almost crushed by the roll of a massive watermelon as the cart turned a corner.

We pass the medicine man sat at a corner with all his potions laid out before him which so he says will cure anything for a few dirhams.  You can go and sit with him and ask him to send a djinni at somebody.  Djinn are good or evil spirits, mischievous spirits that can bring good or bad on people (the anglicised version is genie).  The muslim people all believe strongly in these spirits but never talk about them.  My daughter has tried to discuss the feelings the people have but they remain quiet when spoken to.

So home we go with four live hens and 50kgs of vegetables and fruit all for about €20.  We dump our stuff and call for Brahim to put the birds in the sanctuary and off we go into Marrakech for  grandchild 2 and 3’s last piano lesson with their tutor.  This lovely architectural student has been singled out by the Simon Rattle organised  Berlin Philharmonic.  She is a young and lovely 22 year old who has got her ticket to ride on the international stage and to see the world.  She will find it easy , she speaks several languages and can mix with everybody.  Her architectural degree put on the long finger and she is relishing the prospect.  This magnificently gifted pianist calls me sir and hopes I am enjoying my holiday.  I am humbled.

On the way home we call at the village barbers for a much needed coiffeur.  His dexterity with scissor, comb and cut-throat was even better than the men who killed the chickens in the souk and within minutes transformed a hairy old man into a suave, debonair senior citizen as a line of customers watched in awe.  My daughter gave him 20 dirhams (€2) after he had said “give me what you think” his regular customers give him 2 dirhams (20 cents).  He was overjoyed yet his work was worth 150 dirhams (€15).  I have paid that in Boyle for an inferior cut.

An afternoon by the pool, another thunderstorm which makes the exterior tiling glow.  A long and large Ricard with ice and water, a few assembled tit bits and my day was done.

atlas2I awoke next morning to a glorious crisp day, the sun shining brightly but the temperature at 15C.  The rain of the night before seems to have cooled everything off and in fact had cleared the haze of the sun and the Atlas Mountains  have suddenly appeared as if by magic. 
Their snow covered slopes shining in a majestic glory.  They seem to be at the bottom of the garden but are probably 40 miles away.  This melting snow provides Marrakech and its hinterland with its water throughout the year.

It is promised 28C today and we are heading towards them today to a large lake in the foothills of those historic peaks.  Restaurants line the lake shore and one of them has a lunchtime date with us.lalla takerkoust

However before we set off a neighbour visited, a retired French film director who directed the series of erotic porn films “Emanuelle” in the 1970s.  He came to invite us round for drinks on the following day with his house-guest a famous Hollywood star of yesteryear, who appeared in the series of Hart to Hart on British Television in the 1980s, Stephanie Powers.  Life is certainly trading up for me.  International piano players, soft porn film directors, earls of England and Stephanie Powers.

la paillotteOur trip to the lake was aborted after two hours, the overnight rains having washed away the road in parts.  We had a Toyota 4×4 but even with that the journey became too hazardous.  So it was back to the suburbs of Marrakech for an excellent lunch in a another French restaurant, La Paillote, in sun drenched gardens shaded by olive trees and parasols.

 

A diversion on the way home to Carrefour, a branch of the large French supermarket chain where it seems every man and his dog shops on a Sunday afternoon and those that are not shopping come to sight see.  It was shopping in hell blasted by loud indescribable music in the middle of what looked like a football crowd.  Glad to be home, hot and a little bothered by my shopping experience.  I visited Mr Ricard’s house once again and I was in bed for 8.30pm and a long long sleep.

Today is a Bank Holiday in Morocco as in the rest of the western world.  Today I do nothing  but dream of my inter-reaction with the Hollywood bimbo this evening.  A lovely balmy, breezy 26C in which to do nothing but a little reading.  However after 10 minutes I was disturbed by the future Earl of England and his sister.  They had been brought round by their mother, a very nice titled lady.  William had brought his cricket gear and before I knew it I was batting and the future earl bowled me out.  Then his elder sister who had a lot more hand/eye co-ordination proceeded to knock my bowling to all points of the compass.  My excuse was that the wicket was a bad one and that I was a little rusty having not played in earnest for 45 years.  Still it was a lovely interlude re-enacting the sport I loved with kids picking up the game.  A page out of Wisden almost.

A beef and pea tagine with a side dish of lentils and salad and slices of a variety of melons washed down with my favourite gris under a parasol at the side of the pool.  The whole topped off with a two hour siesta filled the afternoon whilst kids in abundance did everything kids do without the encumbrance of adults or discipline.  Future earls and ladies in waiting wrecking the order and loveliness of the house so that post siesta arrival made the house look exactly the same as it did at 7.00am this morning prior to the arrival of the staff to do their most necessary duties.  Chaos abounds pleasantly with the afternoon sun.

Morocco – Renewal Renewed. Part 3 of this posting

gris

La Perle de Mogador – my tipple of choice for the fortnight

ricard

M. Ricard – my other tipple of choice for the fortnight

The heat, the dust, the goodness of the people, the greenery, the gris, M Ricard, the regimented chaos of Marrakech have all dragged me out of my ennui and tristesse.  I am pretty much a new man.

It is Day 11 of my trip and everybody is back at school or work leaving me with a sick child and the two ladies of the house who go about their work diligently.  These ladies work to survive, their scooter has broken down and they walk an hour each way to and from their village.  Daughter No 2 sometimes picks them up but it is not possible some days with school and work beckoning.  Our meeting with the Hollywood bimbo did not take place last night.  By the time the soft porn duo and Miss Powers returned from the mountains we were not conducive to pleasant company and told the trio it was rather late and set up again for the morrow.  I was certainly not arsed, my own company is far better than company thrust upon you.

So myself and sick child slowly wheeled ourselves through the day.  I have just finished a David Lodge book “Paradise News” which had so many situations pertaining to my life.  Very entertaining so I immediately started on one of his earlier works “Out of the Shelter” because I thought it might do the same again and it did.  Reading in the heat of the day is so relaxing and it is the fifth book I have read in 11 days.

Two and a half days to go before heading for home, back to my reality.  This place although close to paradise with its greenness, its sunshine, its cooling pool, its wonderful food just feels almost temporary, almost a staging post for the next  paragraph of my life.  At home I know I can direct myself, can eat when I want to, can live my life without being a burden on others.  I am too old for adventure but it is nice to get a snap of it.

As I reach my last days here, I realise I have probably spent two days longer than necessary.  The sights to see have been seen, the adulation from grandkids has waned, I am now part of the furniture.  The adults have to work and cannot spend too long trying to entertain me.  To be fair I do not need to be entertained.  Lonely days reading and writing in a cool house with little trips onto the patio for sun ration or a walk round the pool area is sufficient.  I am sustained by a breakfast of eggs and flatbread, fresh orange juice and coffee.  Then a lunch of a kind you could not expect in a restaurant supplied by the two ladies of the house, Fatimzara and Hafida.  The simplicity of its ingredients blending to make a complicated luxurious feast.

The days have flown.  I am now on  my third David Lodge book “How Far Can You Go”.  In all his books I have read he faces the dichotomy of modern life and the Catholic Church and he makes me appreciate that I was not the only one fighting through this sacerdotal jungle.  A jungle thankfully I have left far behind.  Which is a shame really because now that I am on open land I realise I have little future to enjoy my life in the main having spent my time hacking away at branches and tall bamboo.  It is a pity I did not read his books forty years ago when they first came out.  It would have saved me a lot of heartache.

It is a perfect life here, my endocrinologist’s heaven.  She tells me to eat in a space of eight hours in a day and fast for the next 16 hours.  I have breakfast at nine, lunch at 1.30pm and do not eat again until the next day.  A healthy regime bolstered by the sun’s vitamin D but I yearn for Boyle’s 15C, isolation and disembracement.  My own form of self-sacrifice.

The re-enacted second arrangement for  Miss Stephanie Powers’s introduction was again demurred by my hostess.  Their day had been long and hard, so why extend it to meet a bimbo who despite all her razzamatazz was probably well past it in terms of looks, intellect and presence but we will never now know.  And Mr Directeur will have certainly taken the hump and might not now be as forthcoming with his introductions to the world of pornish art.  Not that that will worry mine hosts wrapped as they are in the 21st century world of expansion or me in my post-colonial Boyle.

Boyle is where my heart is heading, I have my own mountain to climb, my own thoughts to clear.  I look forward to it and also my visit to Belgium and Macronised France in a short while.  Things military add to my knowledge on the conundrum that was the Great War but I do not think that if I submerge myself wholly in that knowledge will the conundrum lessen.  That is just a thought considering that Great War really started with the Agadir Incident in Morocco in 1912.

My last day dawns hardly, it is light but the whole countryside is covered by low, low cloud and except for it being 19C you would think you were in early morning Boyle.  Probably God’s way of acclimatising one.  I have given my dues to the staff and we are on our way to lunch at another French gastronomique, Le Baratin (which roughly translates as ‘The Gobshite’).  The place is littered with them.  I think you could say Morocco has taken over the title of food capital of the world.

Gazpacho de Tomate surrounding an island of crabe and avocat is my le baratinstarter, followed by rognons de veau in a Dijonnais sauce and a puree of pomme de terre.  Excellent, can you see how my French has improved in just a few days.  A visit to an art gallery displaying naive Moroccan art and then a supermarket for last night booze.  On my last night we are having drinks with a Spanish couple opposite.  The party conversation will consist of French, Arabic, Spanish and English sentences with me muttering in a language that nobody can understand but I did manage a bet that Le Pen would beat Macron with the Spanish gent.  However all I was doing was using up the last of my dirhams.  Early to bed hopefully leaving the oasis at 7.30am for my 10.30am flight.  I will be sorry to leave but glad to arrive home.

IMG_8252

Bizarrely, my daughter found these bags in one such shop a couple of weeks ago. Her daughters are called Daisy and Polly and her sister is called Clare. What are the chances?

My lasting impression of Morocco is the extreme poverty trapped as I was in the opulent ex-pat bubble made their poverty worse.  People who work are on 80-100 dirhams a day (€8-€10) and are mostly in an urban environment, in the country, where the oasis is, employment is rare with men picking up odd jobs in agriculture and women making cane and raffia items and selling them for a pittance to roadside shops.  There is no benefits system, so no work, no money.  Villages become collectives and the people share as much as they can.  There is more a sense of a commune than in any place I’ve seen and somehow it works but they just get by.  Nobody has money in their pockets.  The town is littered with sub-Saharan people driven out of their own countries by even worse poverty, the young women prostitute themselves, the men and boys beg and often worse.  The police are everywhere keeping everything in check.

 

 

triporteur

A triporteur

The road to riches is by walking and if lucky eventually  buying a bike and then a hand-cart, then a donkey, then a horse, then a cart, then a scooter, then a triporteur and at that stage you are a made man.  A triporteur is a three wheeled motor bike with a trailer for a pillion passenger and that can carry people or goods.  Rarely an entrepreneur jumps out of the pack and gets himself a car.  Most dwellings are just mud shacks and thankfully it does not rain often because the roofs are very flimsy affairs.

The great sadness is that Morocco is full of multi-nationals putting up all inclusive holiday resorts for tourists who never go out of the compound gates and therefore never experience the delights of the place.  The money spent never filters down into the local economy except to pay the pittance level wages of those who work there.  But for the middle class Moroccans and the wealthy French life is good. Too good.

It is an exciting place for young professionals in the IT sector which seems to be booming but my heart goes out to the poor who are always happy, honest, decent people with not a pot between them to piss in, constrained as they are by their Islamic doctrines.  The star of my two weeks is the village barber who cuts hair to better than European standards for two dirhams a head, totally adept with razor and scissor, a remarkable young man.

Morocco – A Renewal Process Part 1 of this posting

It was late April, a month after my Malta trip, I was approaching the end of the tunnel I had been in since Helen died on Christmas Day.  The weather was warmer, I had met a few people.  The lows of the past few months were slowly being replaced by smiles and bits of jokes.  Daughter 4 had visited twice, we had eaten well and drank even better.  I had booked another trip, Daughter 2 was calling from Morocco and I was looking forward to it with anticipation.  I felt comfortable in myself, tears were getting scarcer.

I left Knock Airport at 12.30pm to a cool 11C, arrived at Gatwick on a slightly warmer 12C and landed at Marrakech at 9.00pm to a blast 0f 25C and a warm greeting from Daughter 2 and Grand-daughter 2 with hugs and smiles after I had trundled through the ancient custom shambles that is Moroccan protocol.  Security 10%, burocracy 90%.  I suppose it gives jobs to people that would normally be unemployed.

The new airport terminal at Marrakech Menara is the most beautiful and spacious that I have ever seen and it makes a statement to the world of where Morocco wants to be in the years to come.  It is not only beautiful architecture on the interior but magnificent on the outside.  It greets arrivals and departures equally and importantly is designed by Moroccan architects and built by Moroccan contractors.

30 minutes later, by an illuminated pool, we are drinking gris cooled by cubes of ice.  A French idea brought to Morocco which would make the avid traditionalist wince but here it seems to work.  Local flat bread, cheese and olives are washed down and a welcome bed is made available after my 2,000 mile journey.  By the way gris is what it says it is, grey.  The  juice of the grapes removed very early on from the skins in the maceration process giving a colour nearer to white than rose wine.  This wine can be found in southern France around Marseilles but it makes a claim for fame in Morocco.

I awoke at 7.30am to blazing sunshine and a cool 25C surrounding this oasis of greenery.  Turkeys gobbling, ducks quacking and peacocks screaming out their matinal war cries.  The hens would have joined them but the last of them and two turkey chicks had been killed by a new pup the day before I arrived.  Feral aligned with beauty, I think, is what Morocco is about at the moment and I saw many examples of this which could jar on the sensibilities of the naive European.

A trip to Anima Gardens was planned.  30 Kms south of Marrakech, laid out by an Austrian artist, Andre Heller.  It contains the finest collection and display of plants I have ever seen.  Thousands of blossoms and coloured plants interspersed with sculptural artefacts.  The flowers on the cactus plants probably the most beautiful of all.  It would be worth a trip to Marrakech just to see these gardens alone.

anima 2 anima 1

anima 3

Suffused with beauty and natural aromas we headed for town for lunch at Le Chouet, a French inspired peaceful rendez vous, almost vegetarian, with courses interrupted by amuse bouche of high quality all washed down by Mogador gris.

le chouet

Replete, it was back to the oasis over rutted dust tracks, passing high quality estates.  The affluent round here build their walled desmesnes before civilization arrives in the form of urban sprawl and at some stage in the future it will have to fit itself around these well-heeled prospectors.

Late afternoon and evening round the pool whilst the kids, as agile as fishes, did aquatic gymnastics.  More gris, conversation, olives, various salamis were tackled and an early bed for me at least.

pool

The following morning a hopeful drive into town to solve a telecom problem was foiled by large queues but breakfast at Le Grand Cafe de la Poste dissolved our worries and it was decided to call back to Maroc Telecom on Friday when most of the population would be at prayer.  Le Grand Cafe, a relic of the 19th Century, served me the finest omelette aux fines herbes done in the “Parisienne ” style and washed down by freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee.

cafe de la poste 1 cafe de la poste 2 cafe de la poste 3

I did not want to leave, looking at my fellow customers and the boulavardiers was enough entertainment.  The French-speaking sub-Saharan girls who come to Marrakech from Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and the Cameroon to earn a bob or two and hoping to snare a fat business man between meetings for a quick bout of hokey-cokey, are very busy.  These girls are tall and thin and darker than the Moroccan lady who tends to be a little plumper and wears muslim dress in all its variety.  The sub-Saharans dress for the climate wearing the skimpiest of clothes with plenty of bling and ply their trade from an early hour.  The police do not seem to mind, the business men are numerous and seem happy with the deal but the Moroccans spurn these girls and shopkeepers put them to the back of the queue at all times.  In a way I feel sorry for them. This life for them must be far better than that they have in their homeland.  They seem to supply a need and I hate double standards.

A couple of families have got together to home-school their kids and they employ teachers to control a syllabus that seems far more advanced than the Irish or English model.  I meet one child – an English earl to be ploughing along with my own kith and kin in an ancient farmhouse on a hillside 20 miles out of town.  As these children reach 12 they are farmed out to boarding schools in England or to the American school in Marrakech.  They slip easily into the 2nd level system as they are far in advance of their peers in training for the International Baccalaureate.  Two of my grandsons, twins, are seven years old and they have a reading age of 12.

The following days are spent writing in the shade by the pool, dazzled by the brightness and beaten by 28C which with no humidity is more comfortable than you think.  I sleep well probably making up for the dark days when I hardly slept.  I now know I am well on the road to recovery.  The words flow.  I am no longer stymied by something I cannot see.  Helen is still with me but beside me, no longer blocking my path.  If it can be said with gratitude, I am now almost happy.

A daytime starts around 7.00am, the sun already up and about in a clear blue sky with wispy clouds in the far distance above the Atlas mountains.

atlas 1

There are two ladies in the house, Fatimzara the general factotum and Haffida the cook.  It is she who brings breakfast at about 9.30am, omelettes, olives, cheese and flat breads, orange juice and coffee.  Lunch is large about 1.00pm, the main meal of the day.  For example yesterday was a delicious meatball tagine, spiced green beans and carrots, a tomato and onion salad and more flatbread.  With the women gone about 3.00pm, the evening is a sprawl of tasty bits, left over lunch, cheese, salami etc washed down with my normal preprandial and a couple of glasses of gris or sometimes red wine, both suitable companions for the snacks.

Bed is early before 10.00pm with the odd unexplained late one which results in a gingerly awakening slightly later than normal.  People who work go off about their tasks and I write, nod off or read.  All tasks perfectly suited to the climate.  I face the prospect of the Manchester United v Manchester City football match tonight.  There is no television set in the house but grandson No 1 of the family is going to fetch it up live on the computer.  Everything these days is in the realm of a 12 year old.

The last day of my first week was spent in Marrakech following daughter No 2 on her daily business, legal, commercial and familial.  Daily life for the ex-pat in the country is slow and chaotic, in the town fast, chaotic and bureaucratic but it all seems to work somehow.

le petit cornichonWe ate lunch at a very good French restaurant, Le Petit Cornichon, that specialised in a daily set menu with choice at each course.  Simple food fantastically well cooked.

 

The amazing thing to me about Morocco and Marrakech in particular is its young well educated, urbanised demographic.  Totally unable to travel the world unless sponsored by an international company.  Moroccans cannot as a rule get a visa to travel.  So educated youngsters fluent in several languages take jobs as waiters and secretaries.  To compare these young, very able people to the scrotes in England who apply for work and expect to be employed because they are there is a no brainer.  The young educated Moroccan could work and live anywhere in the world and be successful.  Watch out for yourselves you western world youngsters, time is not on your side.

Another last thought before I close this post and it is the Marrakech world of prostitution having done a little research and seen some glaring examples today.  It seems there are some brothels containing Moroccan and therefore muslim ladies which are very discreet.  These ladies do not ply their trade in the open like the sub-Saharan ladies, but remain hidden behind curtained windows which claim to be hammams (bath houses) and cafes and cater for the more robust likes of men.  Size and shape is a must for customers but it seems like all shapes are catered for.

It was Friday afternoon as we returned to the oasis, little traffic on the road.  Mosques big and small, full of seated males in their mainly white djellabahs (I hope that is the correct spelling of these long one piece garments).  The women are invisible, where they are I do not know but presume in their various kitchens cooking for their returning but holy menfolk.

If only Morocco could shake off the entrapment of Islam which seems to me to be about disempowerment and the removal of choice and leave their religion to personal consciousness, they would zoom in the world.  The religion of Islam started 600 years after  Christianity put its black mark on the world and Islam seems in many ways to be 600 years behind the western world in so many things.  Just as so many of us have eschewed the bonds Christianity imposed let us hope the people of Islam do the same only quicker.

The morning was hot, the wind got up, the dust covered everything, rain was forecast for 2.00pm and on the dot down it came, one massive deluge which freshened everything up.  Underfoot the paths and roads were so hot the surfaces dried in seconds and within 30 minutes the deluge was non-existent.

I end my first week at the oasis listening to the children playing.  8 children playing the games children play all over the world but they are speaking a language only they understand.  A mixture of Spanish, English and Darija, the local brand of Arabic, with a few French words thrown in for good measure.  This is the world of tomorrow.

A Trip To Malta

Helen, my wife, had died on Christmas Day 2016.  The late winter and early spring of 2017 were real hard days for me but by April the corona of light that signifies the end of the tunnel, the dispenser of gloom and despair was growing larger by the week.  Helen was still there and I suppose it will be ever thus but the pain was gone.  There was still a little emptiness but the emptiness that was once 24/7 is now only there for an hour or so a day. Travel plans were made and three of us military history mates went off to the Med in search of graves of long gone soldiers.  Possibly a strange thing to do with death still raw but at least these brave lads had gone 100 years ago.

Malta was a strategic spot.  He who owned Malta owned the western Mediterranean and since 1814, after the Treaty of Paris and the demise of Napoleon, the British fleet asked the French navy to disperse and Britain had run the rule on who should and should not pass by, ably backed up by that steady rock where sea meets ocean at Gibraltar.  Certainly since 1879 when the Suez Canal was opened, Malta’s position in world affairs strengthened.  All oriental traffic on the way to Europe passed its gates.

Churchill’s expansionist policies in that historic sea in 1915 meant that many wounded soldiers were sent home from Gallipoli, some wounded so badly that Malta, the first stop on the way home, was their last stop.  This theatre of war was followed in 1916 with the mission of the 10th Irish Division to help the Serbians, who were being badly battered by the new found bravado of Bulgaria, who had unwisely entered the war in late 1915 as an ally to the Central Powers of Germany and Austria.  The 10th Irish Division  included the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers who had just escaped wipe out on Gallipoli having lost 645 men out of 780 who had landed after 54 days on the peninsula.  The 135 Ranger survivors had been withdrawn to Lemnos, an island in the Aegean 60 miles from Gallipoli which  had been the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force’s HQ.  There they were re-upholstered by drafts from Britain and within two weeks had sailed for Salonika, in northern Greece, to meet another Gallipoli at Kosterino, which is in modern day Macedonia.  Where on 12th December 1915 they faced three brigades of Bulgarian infantry with associated artillery.  All the Rangers had was a few machine guns and their Lee-Enfield rifles.  12,000 men against 1000, poor paddy did not stand a chance and must have wondered what the hell he was doing there stuck on this freezing cold mountain slope when a year before he had enlisted to help poor  little Catholic Belgium and not the semi-christian bluffers of Serbia in their fight against muslim/orthodox Bulgaria.

The remnants of the 5th Battalion were again withdrawn and re-re-upholstered and moved eastward to a quiet place, the Struma Valley where mosquito and not bullet was the main enemy and very shortly the battalion of 980 men were reduced to 250 as malaria took its toll on the bemused soldiers.  Most were treated in Thessalonika but the worst cases were sent to Britain, however a few cases worsened on their Blighty trip and were off-loaded in Malta where some of them died..

So we were there to find these men, we knew who they were and where they were buried, some in Pieta Cemetery on the outskirts of Valetta, the others in Malta’s main cemetery, Adolorata, some 10 miles south west of Valetta, an enormous graveyard covering a vast extent of hillside.  The climb from the gates at the bottom to its summit, on a slope littered with chapels must have been all of 130 metres in height.

In Pieta Cemeterywe found:-

  1.  Major Noel Campbell Kyrle Money aged 36, formerly of the 22nd Punjabi Regiment who had been on home leave in England when war broke out and he became attached to the 5th Battalion on 24th August 1914 at Richmond Barracks in Dublin and made CO of B Company.  He landed on Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and was effectively second in command to Lt Col Jourdain for most of that campaign.  He did sterling work at the Farm, the retreat from Chunuk Bair, where he personally rescued lots of wounded soldiers, and on Hill 60 on 20th/21st August at the capture of Kabak Kuyu wells for which he was awarded the DSO posthumously.  On 2nd September a Turkish shell exploded over Battalion HQ wounding 13 soldiers and a shrapnel bullet entered his head.  He was immediately taken to a hospital ship but died at sea on 6th/7th September off Malta without regaining consciousness.  Lt Col Jourdain commented afterwards that “his work had been an unbroken spell of hard and good work for the regiment which he loved so well.  No words can express the value of the work he had done and the standard of excellence to which he had brought his B Company.  The loss of this officer to the Battalion was irreparable”.  He is buried in Grave B.IX.1
  2.  Capt Archibald Swinton Hog aged 47 of Newliston, Linlithgowshire, Scotland who died on 20th August 1915 of wounds received at the Farm on Anzac on 12th August.  He had taken a bullet in the neck taking out his bottom jaw.  He was immediately put on board a hospital ship which had to re-coal in Malta.  Whilst on board ship in Valetta harbour and whilst watching a game of chess between two fellow officers he was amused by the lack of skill displayed by one of them and burst out laughing.  The laughing unfortunately disturbed an artery in his neck which had been scratched by thje bullet, the artery haemorrhaged and he died in minutes.  He had joined the 5th Battalion at Richmond Barracks in Dublin  from the Reserve of Officers on 28th August 1914.  Left Devonport on SS Bornu on 9th July 1915 and landed at Gallipoli on 6th August.  He had been commissioned 2nd Lt in the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers on 29th November 1890, Lt on 21st April 1893, Capt on 29th November 1896 and had retired from the army on 5th June 1907.  He had served with the 1st Battalion in South Africa 1899-1900 was present at operations at Colenso, Spion Kop, Tugela Heights and Pieters Hill (Harts Hill), also at operations in Orange Free State, Transvaal. Natal aand Cape Colony.  He had received the Queen’s South African Medal and five clasps, the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He is buried in Grave A.XI.6
  3.  2969 Pte A Knowles who was born in Doncaster where he lived but he had enlisted at Pontefract.  He had died on 28th April 1917 in hospital in Valetta of malaria he had contacted in the Struma Valley in Salonika.  He had fought throughout the Gallipoli campaign and survived Kosturino.  He was one of 250 men from the York and Lancaster Regiment made up mainly of men from the mining industry who had become attached to the Connaught Rangers in September 1914.  He is buried in Grave C.XIII.4.

In Adolorata Cemetery we found:-

  1. 4/5063 Pte Peter Brady who was born in Nenagh, Tipperary but he had enlisted in Boyle where he lived and had joined the 4th Battalion whose HQ was at King House pre-war.  He had arrived in Gallipoli as part of the first draft on 8th September 1915 but was wounded by shell fire on 10th September and shipped out to Malta where he died in hospital on 22nd September 1915.  He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 655.
  2. 4822 Pte James Callaghan who was born, lived and enlisted in Sligo .  He was 18 and the son of Mrs Ann Callaghan of Lower Barrack Street, Sligo.  He died of wounds received in Salonika whilst being treated in hospital in Malta on 19th November 1916.  He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 695.
  3. 4/6105 Pte P Connor who was born in Ochilbeg, Co Galway but lived in Balinasloe in Galway.  He died on 31st March 1917 of malaria contacted in Salonika whilst in hospital in Malta.  He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 700
  4. 629 Pte Peter Magan who was born and lived in Killashee, Co Longford but he was one of the first to enlist in the Connaught Rangers when war broke out in August 1914.  He was the son of Manten Magan of Killashee.  He had landed in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and was wounded by shell fire on 10th September and was shipped out to Malta where he died from his wounds on 22nd September whilst on board ship in Valetta Harbour.  He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 655
  5. 575 Pte John McSherry of O’Hamlish Co Sligo but enlisted in Govan in Scotland in August 1914 again one of the early enlistees.  He had landed in Gallipoli on 6th August 1915 and was wounded on 21st August 1915 on Hill 60 defending the wells at Kabak Kuyu and shipped out to Malta where he died of his wounds on 3rd September.  He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 655.
  6. 3878 Pte John Quaile was born at Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim where he lived but he enlisted at Oranmore, Co Galway.  He was 26 years old and the son of James and Annie Quaile of Cloonshebane, Carrick on Shannon.  He had come out in a draft to Thessalonika but died on 5th August 1916 of malaria contacted in the Struma Valley whilst being treated in hospital in Malta.  He is buried in Grave E.EA.A 689.

The bedrock at the top of the hill in Adolorata was only about two feet below the surface so the graves were very shallow and three men at a time who had died at the same time were put into the graves.

We found them all, photographed their graves for our data base and remembered them all in our own little way, so that after over 100 years they were not forgotten.

Malta itself did not impress me.  I christened iy Blackpool on Med.  Costa Coffee, McDonalds and quasi-Irish themed pubs proliferated, selling a brand of Guiness that a self-respecting Irish man would throw down the sink.  However the small island of Gozo, six miles off the northern end of Malta was a different country with different people and I could happily spend a week there even without its main attraction the Azure Window which had collapsed into the sea the week before our arrival.

I was still morose, I had not shaken off Helen’s death and I must have given my companions a hard time but again like the scattering of Helen’s ashes, it was a necessary thing to do.  A reinvention, a catharcism but a not pleasant exercise.  I came home re-entered my burrow and eventually shook off the cloying feeling of deadness that had surrounded me for 83 days having celebrated my 44th wedding anniversary on the island on 17th March which had been been ridiculously celebrated having been sponsored by brewers to sell more beer.

Next step Morocco on this long journey of renewal and re-invention of a life once lived but lost some months back.  I am getting there, but slowly.

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