Saturday 30 April 2011


As a regular visitor to Morocco, I have often been to the Argana café/restaurant. With its position next to the Souk and with two terraces overlooking Djema El Fna Square, plus an excellent menu of really good food at really reasonable prices, it is popular with locals and tourists alike.

On the ground floor is a pastry shop and then there is a wide sweep of marble stairs leading to the first floor and another to the second-floor. Both these floors have plenty of seating both covered and terraced and so it has a large capacity. All the times that I have been there it has been pretty full. And it should be mentioned that it is spotlessly clean, which is not always the case in Marrakesh.

I have very fond memories of the Argana.

The first time that John and I visited Morocco together was at Christmas-time a number of years ago. We first stayed at a secluded hotel in the Atlas Mountains and then travelled down by taxi on Christmas Day for our second destination of Marrakesh. It was beautifully hot day, nearly 30°, and we ended up on the first-floor terrace of the Argana for lunch.

It was there that we surveyed, in sheer wonderment, the diverse activities going on in the square: transvestite belly dancers, snake charmers, drum players, medicine men, henna artists and much more. So much entertainment that I had never seen before. I think John had kebabs and chips but I know I had Salad Nicoise. Fed up with the cold weather and over-commercialism of Christmas back in England, it was deliciously different way to spend Christmas Day.

The weather changed in Marrakesh after that day. It became colder and it rained a lot, so swimming outdoors was out of the question. And it was this that prompted me to visit a hamman (the Morocco version of Turkish baths) for the first time and I discovered, to my delight, but although it was a scary experience stepping into a dark, humid cavern, it was absolutely fantastic to be scrubbed and massaged, covered in mud, and almost drowned when buckets of water were chucked over me. Not surprisingly, I went every day after that first visit.

With my wet hair covered, turban like, with a large Moroccan scarf, I would meet John afterwards at the Argana, sometimes with people I had met at the hamman, for a delicious hot chocolate and, of course, it being me, a ciggie.

These are memories that I will never forget.

But on Thursday, some misguided, delusional, fanatical man or woman, placed a bomb in this lovely cafe and blew it up. How clever! Didn't even have the guts to stay there to be blown up him or herself.

What a contribution this person has made to a world that is already facing countless difficulties! What great act of heroism this was! How admirable to kill and maim dozens of people, leaving families and friends distraught and grieving!

Well stuff them. Stuff all terrorists. I am disgusted. And of course, John and I will be going to Marrakesh again soon. And if the Argana is in any way open for business, we shall be going there. Do what you will, terrorists, you will never win.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Maalem Aziz Bakbou with the Armenian Navy Band and Daniel Zimmerman

This Flickr slideshow has the photos that I took last year in Essaouira of Maalem Aziz Bakbou with the Armenian Navy Band and Daniel Zimmerman:

John was at Place Moulay Hassan recording a different band, so we have no video of the Armenian Navy Band, but he left his audio recorder running (attached to our bedroom balcony!), and he's put together this video with one of their numbers along with some of my photos:

P.S. This was the first time (i.e. at last year's festival) that I'd ever attempted to take photographs at a live concert with moving subjects. In fact, I hardly ever take photos generally and you might well say that it shows!

The camera I used was a small Lumix DMC-FS6, which was the subject of much teasing by the professional photographers with their enormous cameras. I hardly knew how to operate my little 'tourist' camera at first so was really learning on the 'job'. But I have to say how surprised I was that I loved the whole experience of being both close to the performers and close to the crowd, trying to capture as best I could what I was seeing first hand.

Some of the photographs on show here are particularly amateurish and slightly out of focus, as you'd expect. However, there are some, paricularly of the dancers, that I'm really pleased with. I certainly hope that the collection give a flavour of the performance.

If I get a press badge for this year's festival, I hope to use a better camera and am already practising, which I'm finding a lot of fun. I should really be spending more time on my second novel, but the fesival is so important for me and I want to do a better job if I'm given the chance. Fingers crossed and all that.

Monday 11 April 2011

Maggie on duty at Essaouira 2010

Here is a short video of me taking some photographs at the Gnaoua and WOrld Music Festival in Essaouira last year. John recorded the video from our balcony, but I took the photos that are merged in with it.

Wednesday 6 April 2011


There is a large board outside the Thomas Tripp Pub, on Wick Lane, close to the main shopping street in Christchurch, which describes the food as award winning. I just wonder what type of award it was. Possibly, for the worst food in Dorset.

John and I spent a dismal lunchtime in this cold, unwelcoming pub just a few days ago. We should have realised our mistake when we were told that they did not serve fizzy water or have an espresso machine. However, we were too hungry and tired to try elsewhere.

John's meal was marginally better than my own. It consisted of frozen cod, fried probably in a coating of meanly thin processed breadcrumbs, tasteless chips and an unappealing salad.

But my meal was actually inedible. It was supposed to be bacon, liver and mashed potato. What eventually arrived was a bowl of greasy gravy with packet mashed potato plonked in the middle. There were a few small pieces of tough bacon, thin slices of cheap, tough liver and strips of the outer layer of an onion swimming in the gravy. I don't even want to try to remember the taste.

Yes, award winning indeed!

P.S. I forgot to mention that the pub offers live music in the evenings. But the only 'music' that we heard was the sound of the side door banging merrily away in the wind.


Come gather ye people all over the land
and don't criticise what you don't understand – Bob Dylan

What I don't understand is why Bob Dylan has agreed to have his lyrics censored by the Chinese authorities before his concerts in China. Because I don't understand, I won't criticise but surely it goes against the spirit of his protest songs. What do you think?

Sunday 3 April 2011


Last week, we spent a few days in Christchurch, Dorset because it's a beautiful place, particularly its beaches and views, and we wanted to see whether we'd like to move there because one of our dreams is to live by the sea - probably the same dream that the majority of the population have.

And my choice of hotel was The Christchurch Harbour Hotel so it was all my fault.

The first problem with this hotel was that it was not in the right place. To be precise, it was 1.8 miles not in the right place.

My map of the area is in the form of a booklet and the section on Christchurch is on several pages. If I'd had a copy of a map just of Christchurch on one page, just like the one we bought belatedly at The Tourist Information Office, I would have seen quite clearly that the hotel was not on the waterfront close to the centre of the town but actually on the waterfront of Mudeford harbour 1.8 miles away.

Therefore, instead of taking a casual walk to the centre and the surrounds to get a real feel of the place, we had to drive or take taxis to get in and out.

Now, don't get me wrong. Mudeford Harbour is a beautiful place, with walks along the beach and several good pubs around. But it's not the right base if you want to get to know the town well.

The hotel itself is an imposing white building, partly old and partly new, although you wouldn't notice that from either the outside or the inside. And it has spectacular views of the harbour at the back with terraces which lead down to the water's edge.

This is the view which we would have seen from the large dining room were it not for the fact that the terrace was being re-laid with wooden flooring. So what we actually saw were noisy builders at work. Rather pee-ed off that no mention of this was made when we booked.

It also meant that instead of the soothing sound of water lapping against the shore, we heard, both in the dining room and bedroom, that wonderful sound of banging, drilling and sawing plus the cheerful banter of men at work/lounging around having a fag break. (Which was very naughty of them 'cos even the terraces are no smoking.)

Our first bedroom was a great disappointment: too enormous, too impersonal and too cold (the radiator didn't work.) Plus, and this was very important, there were only two single beds which were acres apart. Therefore, the pleasure of the views from the windows (which didn't open properly) were negated. To add to this, a couple in the room below were talking so loudly that I felt like an eavesdropper. (And it wasn't even an interesting conversation.)

So, whilst John was searching for access to the beach, I used my great negotiation skills (start off quietly, resort to firm assertiveness if necessary) to secure another room. This one was smaller, with windows that opened, a view of the harbour if you stood on tip-toes over the wall in front, and a double bed. Now there was just the background symphony of the builders at work without the distraction of intrusive conversation.

I must say, however, that the hotel itself (probably a four or five star one) was impeccably clean and the staff were very friendly and helpful. However, the decor of dull moss green walls and modern attempts at art deco just didn't work for me. Wierd and unpleasing to the eye is how I'd describe it.

On the plus side, the swimming pool in the spa area was large enough to accommodate three or four swimmers and the jacuzzi was a welcome indulgence. However, I decided not to book in for one of the beauty treatments that looked so appealing on the website. This was partly because the prices were excessive and partly because the area was not a place I wanted to linger in. Too cold and impersonal. Instead, I booked myself a couple of treatments at the Tony and Guy Salon in Christchurch. (The beautician, Holly, was an absolute delight, and my soothing leg and eye treatments were a dream.)

Breakfast in the dining room was a noisy affair: the tables were too close together and the noise of people talking and babies crying echoed around the vast room. In fact, it was hard to hear the workmen outside. We chose the continental breakfast and the coissants, pastries and marble cake (jummy) were excellent as was the bread and coffee. The toast, however, was like limp cardboard.

On our last evening, as John and I sat on the bench close to the water and the Captains Club Hotel, a stone's throw from Christchurch town, listening to the roar of the sea beyond the headland and gazing up at the stars, we were both in agreement. Should have booked in at the Captains Club Hotel. Shall do next time.