Today's Conversation Pieces

Christopher Fowler

Morocco Is Timeless Yet Fast Evolving

Travel has become more complicated since Brexit. Now that the UK is designated as a 'third country' we have different entry requirements and are checked separately. For many travel is no longer the get-up-and-go experience of the past but an elaborate and expensive maze of paperwork. Officials in other countries, it seems, are infinitely more courteous than ours in Heathrow and Gatwick. Perhaps because they get a decent living wage. Given all that happened over the last two years we decided to high-end our Moroccan trip at the frankly fabulous Ksar Char-Bagh, with just fifteen rooms set amid sculpted grounds. A fine example of 'Louche Moderne', the hotel chef will cook whatever you feel like eating and make it sensational, adding oranges, cinnamon, lavender and a host of fine épices. Given that Morocco's past tourist reputation had been built on cheap hashish and furtive sex, it's heartening to see how sophisticated it has now become in ways that don't harm its traditional values. The fine dining involves original fusions of Arabic and European influences (see the turnip/turbot combo above) although I didn't try the camel burger. Modern technology has been discreetly built into the medina's old buildings and is used by everyone, but people still stop to chat to strangers. The new Moroccan airport is airy and spacious, but to get out of the country involved no less than five stages of document-checking. Iif you haven't been for a while it's time to re-evaluate this lovely country.

The Right Woman For The Job

I was just putting the final touches on the latest draft of 'Word Monkey', the last part of a trilogy that began with 'Paperboy' and continued with 'Film Freak' when I discovered Deborah James, 40, the journalist and podcast host who is now in the final stages of bowel cancer. I'd read that she had raised a staggering amount for cancer charities but had not realised the extent of the good she had done through 'You, Me & The Big C', the top-rated one-hour broadcasts on living with the disease, how it affects sufferers and their loved ones. The husband just binge-listened to many of the episodes, and learned a lot that was useful and even heartening. The stories build an overall picture that shows the universal emotions that connect us, showing that no-one needs be alone. The series is very middle class, very BBC, but the finest example of what Auntie does best, and what we would lose if the Tories manage to wreck it. As someone who is on the same trajectory, I'm sure Ms James has done lasting good by deep-diving into a subject that has too long been shied away from, and asking the awkward questions no-one else asks. I'll be trying to do something a little different with 'Word Monkey', and I suppose as a gay man (if one has to be classed as anything at all) the content will inevitably be less children-oriented. It's more about writing and very much its own beast.

Revenge Of The Fishwives

...And it's the Silly Season, so the Fourth Estate is having a ball with the Wagatha Christie libel case, which continues to provide marmalade-dropping moments as two footballers' wives continue to believe so deeply in their own self-importance that spending a fortune in a very dirty laundry-airing court case is actually deemed worthwhile. What have we learned so far? That the press's worst prejudices about class surface in matters of libel - the women are repeatedly referred to as 'fish-lipped fishwives, but are frankly doing nothing to help their case. What else? That when having a one-night stand with a pop star you should describe his dangliest part as a chipolata. That agents are liable to accidentally drop their mobile phones in the North Sea (now rechristened the 'Who Is D Jones? Locker') just after being subpoenaed, somehow not reckoning that What'sApp keeps records. And that the next most stupid thing you can do next is to put Wayne Rooney on the stand. Which they're now about to do. Can't wait, already looking forward to the TV series.  


Stu-I-Am (not verified) Mon, 16/05/2022 - 15:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think I'll limit myself to the meat portion of your observations. I have eaten camel meat, although initially unbeknownst to me. All I can remember about it however, is that it didn't taste like chicken. Now as for the 'dangliest part' of English singer Peter Andre's anatomy being described as a chipolata --- I assume it would have to be a British chipolata --- a slightly thinner version of its plumper continental cousins.

Alan R (not verified) Mon, 16/05/2022 - 15:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Once I may well have been attracted to cheap hashish and furtive sex - but now I'm far more attracted to the beautifully presented and photographed plate of food you feature here today. I checked out Ksar Char-Bagh on the web and it looks stunning. So glad you both were able to travel and to have the opportunity to recharge your batteries. I hope it gives you even more motivation to get Word Monkey over the line. We wait impatiently.

I found a slap in the face, a log on the bed, a one-night stand chipolata thingy, and a footballer drop kicking a dog drifting across my tired mind while recovering in bed from Covid. I started off not giving a shit (?) and found that I cared even less as I recovered. But now my interest has peaked waiting for Wayne Rooney to try to remember his name and birth date. I may even get out of bed for that one. Or not.

I can smell the food on that plate. That would be worth getting out of bed for.

Jo (not verified) Mon, 16/05/2022 - 22:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's good to see that Morocco has at last caught up and is able to serve a turnip/turbot fine dining experience. And thank goodness for fabulous hotels with modern technology and Netflix, just like we have in London. It is such a relief to travel and find that at last these people have the same values as us. On a similar note but admittedly smaller budget I prefer the Costa Del Sol cos you can get a decent pint, fish and chips and, if you pick the right place, Eastenders on satellite. Just like being at home.

Jan (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 08:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Deborah James has done a pretty wonderful thing she's been both brave and funny and along her way has likely saved a fair few lives.

To be brutally honest it's a difficult thing to adjust to when you first start dealing with patients who have had bowel surgery which means they will no longer ever produce or evacuate stools in the normal way. (I did try to tell/warn you this would be a bit graphic) Emptying the bags containing semi digested food waste into cardboard bowls then learning to change the bags over on the body. In a weird way a sort of second belly button is created and that's the new point where waste leaves the alimentary tract. It's all pretty difficult, just very odd.

Cos the patients I work with tend to be very elderly they often don't want to get involved with this stuff at all and some folk simply don't have the dexterity. Serious conversations along the lines of "Do you really want to get yourself home and out of here?" " Yes course I do" "Well best you learn to do this then" happen very frequently. Course people DO adapt and in case you are wondering there's no terrible smells it's more a semi digested vegetable soup smell and the waste matter is of about the same soupy consistency. Because specialist surgeons tend to do this sort of operation in batches walking into a bay (part of a ward) with a group of patients who have all had recent bowel operations is a whole new experience I'll tell you.

Folk adapt in time and get on with their lives. This woman though by a combination of humour, tenacity and I hate to say it but guts! Well she's done a great service to others it's certainly not just about the cash she's raised although that's staggering in itself.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 12:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you, Jan.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 12:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The thank you was a bit abrupt. There is much that we don't understand, and it helps when we do.

Jan (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 16:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No offence taken Barbara. This isn't easy stuff to write about or read and I daresay what I have contributed will produce a fair amount of distaste and eye rolling as to the details.

This lady though Deborah James was so open, honest and fearless really with the very personal stuff she shared you've got to give her credit. Top lass really and fairplay to Prince William in sorting this sudden Damehood out for her.

It would have been very easy to add something a lot more unpleasant about the two women engaged in this pointless court case @ the High Court. Lots of subject matter comparison certainly came to mind.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 16:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks, Jan. Many years ago I went thru my best friend's year long battle with ovarian cancer and a few years later, my Dad's descent into the place known as Alzheimer's. People don't talk about things for whatever their reasons, but from my own experiences it helps to understand and it certainly helped me to cope. I have no regrets about being a part of both situations.
I had to look up Wagatha because I had no idea what Chris was talking about although I did know the term "Wag". We have our own bits with the "Housewives of _____________" (fill in the blank since there's more than one series), but I don't pay any attention. There is more to life than this.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 17:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

So much of life is painful/unpleasant/embarrassing and we tend to keep it private because we don't see any necessity to talk about "private" matters in public.The result is that many people feel that they are going through these situations on their own, a very isolating sensation. People who are willing and able to publicise these situations are blessings to their fellow sufferers. They have to bring to the operation something more than just the publicity, however, and it sounds as if MS James has done exactly that, made the information positive and ... entertaining?... as well as helpful. Your explanation, Jan, didn't hurt either. The people who bring patients to a point of acceptance of their situation are vital to people's future.
That sounds prissy but it is all important: acceptance, co-operation, feeling comfortable in company, all of it. Cheers to them all.
We just have a legal fight over the ownership of one of Judy Garland's dresses from The Wizard of Oz.

Joel (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 18:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ jan, barbara and helen...thank you for your thoughts and x of mine, who is 41, just went through a bowel issue, and now has a colostomy bag...i also have worked in the medical field, so totally understand the mechanics of changing the bags, and the limitations they impose on daily life and relationships... i did ask him how he felt...but stopped short of probing too far...he is/was sexually active, and i have heard from people who have them, that their self image really took a beating...difficult enough if you have a steady spouse/partner, but if not, (cheap hash and furtive sex), it can be fairly devastating...he did say recently that if things have gone well (the healing of whatever was wrong, wasn't cancer), the doctor is going to repair his guts, and remove the bag...funny how it's still shocking to me when a young person has a serious medical issue...being empathetic, sympathetic, and listening without interruption is what i can do...oh, and chris...the photos are fantastic.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 19:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have often thought about the title of a Peter Sellers film - "Being There". That always kind of said it all for me. Just being with the person that matters to you, so that they know they aren't alone.
Helen, I looked up the dress business. All those years up on that shelf in a white plastic garbage bag, and now the law courts are headed over the rainbow, once again.

A Holme (not verified) Tue, 17/05/2022 - 19:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

An eruption of a section of my bowel a few years ago due to to Crohn's left me 'on the bag' for 22 months. Seeing an inside part of your body on the outside is always disconcerting. A sure fire remedy for the 'soupy consistency' - and indeed any of life's buggeries - is eating a large quantity of Jelly Babies every day. Bliss.

Joan (not verified) Wed, 18/05/2022 - 00:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I also had to look up Wagatha Christie, I guess all we get is the sordid details of the Amber Heard vs Depp Trial. It is more than enough I think!

Jan (not verified) Wed, 18/05/2022 - 07:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mr / Ms Holme you have been very lucky and at the same time it's likely you might have just made a pretty important contribution to both cheering up and at the same time alleviating and adjusting the "bowel care situation" of a few elderly folk staying in a Dorset community hospital post colostomy operation. I wish I'd know this a decade ago you are like an oracle. A light bringer.

Next time I am doing colostomy bag folding, closing and clasping - a peculiar sort of rubbery/ plastic bag origami - I can throw in the question "Do you like jelly babies then? I might just have a bit of good news for you..." Holme the joy bringer! Thanks and I mean it truly THANKS!

To move along a bit from all this stuff I 're read the 2nd bit of Chris's post about this seriously expensive libel issue at the High Court.

To be honest there's a bit of me thats fascinated by it all. Till Mr F mentioned it I hadn" t thought of this in terms of "class" two ordinary women who in a different life could be arguing outside a school gate having dropped their kids off or having a row in Tescos.

No I hadn't seen it like that @ all. Instead there's a lot of snazzy dressing going on whilst the High Court ponders it's way through this squabble between two daft tarts who are probably going to spend a great deal more on this having their day in court series of outings than Ms James efforts will end up raising for her cause.

Are they contributing considerably to the "gaiety of the nation"?
Providing a welcome distraction from war and a seriously deteriorating financial crisis? Are they in fact worth their weight in gold? And don't don't be having a pop about me calling them a pair of daft tarts. This contribution is from someone who considers herself to be an even dafter old tart..... Johny Depp Amber, argumentative dress collectors of the world we salute you!

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 18/05/2022 - 11:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What a great thread! Brightened up my day despite some of the subject matter.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Wed, 18/05/2022 - 12:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jan, whether you see this or not, thank you (again)! When I read the jelly babies comment I laughed. Someone who found a way to deal with a not pleasant situation with humor. Your last paragraph was great! The whole hoopla does put one's mind somewhere else.

SteveB (not verified) Thu, 19/05/2022 - 15:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I feel hungry just looking at the picture of Moroccan food!
Yes I completely agree about Deborah James, and her husband seems a pretty great guy too, just like yours ;-)

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Fri, 20/05/2022 - 16:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A fellow activist in the community is distributing badges with "Be the Stigma" on them. He has started a group for mental health sufferers, another health problem that many people don't like to own up to, or discuss. In fact "stigma" sums up a fair bit of the feeling people with a mental health diagnosis experience. As a long time depression/anxiety sufferer, on maximum doses of anti depressants which I will never be able to stop, I have pinned one of his badges to my handbag. Standing up for a stigmatised illness, whether physical or mental, can help other sufferers talk and find both comfort and courage.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Fri, 20/05/2022 - 17:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Liz, suffering that way in a very, very mild way myself and having a family member seriously affected, I salute you activists. It helps to know that there are many "normal" people who share a condition you don't like to talk about.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Fri, 20/05/2022 - 18:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Liz+Thompson and Helen + Martin Liz/Helen: There is little question (backed by a good deal of research) that stigma affects an individual’s intentions and behaviour to seek professional help, insomuch as a person considering treatment may be discouraged from doing so because of the anticipation of potential discrimination. They may fear being labelled with a diagnosis that puts them in the stigmatized group which unfortunately, all too often, results in them being denied equal life opportunities such as employment and housing, discrimination by the justice system, and suboptimal treatment by the general healthcare system. In fact, many individuals with mental challenges have said that the experience of stigma because of them are often worse than the conditions themselves. A true public health problem and societal failing that is unfortunately universal.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 24/05/2022 - 23:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Could not resist posting this. A gentleman has developed a new form of wet wipe which is both convenient to use and degrades to nothing in 14 days (presumably from time of exposure to the atmosphere) if disposed of in the garbage. He also recommends them for the removal of makeup.