14 December 2014

Festive Oops!

This evening someone asked me if I was glad to be back. I said not exactly glad but it was nice to be back.

I probably shouldn't have followed that up with; 'Cant wait to go back, mind'

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14 November 2014


A baby arrived at my house. I had to play with it. It was snotty

House ran out of water so had shower in one inch of cold water in a bucket

Played new game invented by Hannah to help learn verbs

Got called to the hospital to see friend.

Made mac cheese

Watched Attenborough in minute instalments (terrible Internet)

Heading for 2nds on the mac cheese :)

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30 October 2014

Une semaine française

I was going a bit stir crazy before my week off and I wondered if just the 7 days would sort my head out

The journey from here was a pretty gruelling two day affair via 5 airports

I slept til 1pm nearly every day. Activities included; the aquarium, the beach, the shops and dozens of games of cards

I hung out with my boy, made cakes, ate and drank things unavailable back here, got smashed up by big waves and met some of his local friends

He designed the logo for my emerging business; Kumquat

Nearly missed my flight on the way out of 'Ritz as nothing showed up on any of the electronic boards and by the time I went I find out why was going on I was told check in was closed.

Those crêpes the boy made for my breakfast kept me going and I feel quite the human again since getting back!

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14 October 2014

Drudgeon required

As all good 'IT Crowd' viewers will know, a drudgeon, if there were such a thing, would be a menial worker.

I need one.

Who would like to work for me for no pay and little recognition?

It's tempting huh?

I need someone who would hold my stock, receive orders and post items out within the UK. I would obviously cover all postage costs.

I'm not expecting a flood of volunteers but I can guarantee that I am an exacting boss who expects a prompt response and has a punishing attention to detail when it involves customer service.

Roll up! Roll up!

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Visual history

Here follows a bunch of pictures I've taken recently that you may have missed;

Coasters or hot mats upcycled from mlhfa.

Upcycled sardine tin

String basket

Posh sack

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3 October 2014

I made a bag. I liked it.

If this latest project has taught me one thing, it's that I need a sewing machine!

I spotted cartons of tea wrapped in this rather cool hessian a few days ago and I was in there asking if they had any old ones before thinking.

Surprisingly they gave me three without asking for money. I know where I'll be buying my tea in future!

I sewed on a denim patch that I had created a few weeks previously, using painstakingly cut out stripes from a mlhfa.

It took a good few hours especially the handles and lining in light blue, repurposed mlhfa but I'm pretty pleased with it.

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19 September 2014


It's all about winning the little battles.

Yesterday we went to negotiate an order with the man who sells building materials and then on to the metal worker's to ask him to put together an item we had designed.

It honestly takes nerves of steel to walk over to a pile of breeze blocks (no, I didn't think it was spelt like that either), sand and cement when there are half a dozen blokes staring at you from the other side of the road, intrigued by a) women and b) foreigners looking at what is something that only men concern themselves with. It couldn't have generated more interest or made us feel more awkward if we'd sauntered over in bikinis. Ugh. As soon as we are there, a man appears to ask what we want. Then begins the ever so familiar nonsense of saying what we want and being offered something entirely different. We want the largest blocks. 'Hey! Hey! Look, there are smaller ones here.' We know and like we have just stated, we want the bigger ones. Between one side of the road and the other, the price per block changes from 4.5 dhirams (30p) to 6 dhirams. Well why wouldn't it? We got them for 4.5. Yes, yes, one bag of sand, just get out of my face. There's now two or three other guys around us suggesting prices. We go over to the the shop area (man sat at a beaten up wooden table in a garage). We add a bag of cement to the list and find that our goods have been loaded onto the back of someone's pick up and we are being asked if we will pay 40 dh (£3) for him to drive it the two minutes to our house.
- No thank you, we have a friend collecting them later.
- But he will take them for you and you can just pay 30 or 40dh.
- But our friend will do it for free.
- But this man can do it for you.
- why would we pay when we can have it for free?
It's not as if transport is part of the deal and we are cheating the system. We now have 6 men crowded round us which is really uncomfortable.
5dh is then added to the bill. Why?
- Because the man lifted and carried all your things.
- But I never wanted him to in the first place
It gets scrubbed off the bill

Next the metal worker...but wait! En route we are followed by a young lad of about 14 shouting 'Boum! Boum!' A kind sexual jeer. We ignore him for the first couple of times. After a few streets we turn round and tell him enough is enough. A street later we pull out a mobile and mimic taking a photo of him and he scarpers! But victory is not yet ours. We walk a block and hear 'Boum Boum' yelled at us again. When he continues following us, we duck into a shop and ask a man to help us because boys are shouting rude things and following us. He kindly comes out and again the boy legs it before the man can speak to him.

And on to the metal worker..!

This is how we do a simple task and get to the end feeling like we've climbed a mountain and deserve some kind of award!

Thankfully the metalworker was lovely but that was pretty much because we had been introduced to him before by a mutual friend who had earned his respect.

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8 September 2014

Creativity un/in-spiration

Yesterday; all the time in the world. No inspiration

Today; 2a.m (so technically tomorrow). Mind going crazy with ideas

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27 August 2014

Best of blue

Chefchaoun is beautiful. We had two nights in a hostel in the old medina and really slowed things down after a busy summer

We shopped for the new flat we will be moving into when we got back. Following my motto of style over content, we bought beautiful but unnecessary items such as lamps for candles, bedroom throws and antique (looking!) shelving

The hostel owner was a character! Brusque, loud and rather aggressively mothering. Our favourite eatery was on the terrace of a tall building overlooking the whole town. The meals at 85dh were big enough to share and, of particular satisfaction to me, the customer service was good!

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With a location whose name suggests good cuisine we would like to recommend avoiding Lala Mesouda who has about two available items from the menu and still brings you the wrong thing. The vinegar and cabbage based salad is...memorable. Unfortunately.

In a stunningly beautiful location, this restaurant manages to combine clutter, claustrophobia and jarring styles of decor to help you feel miles away from from anything refined or well-designed.

The smell of burning increases anticipation for the next course. The omelettes (it was that or soup) were several minutes apart and came with cooked but cold tomatoes. Only one omelette came with what you could call flavour.

Mind you, it was better than yesterday's Italian that had broken glass in it.

Thankfully we had a fabulous meal last night where we will return to this evening!

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18 August 2014

Not many days like today

Woke in the red/orange sands after sleeping under the stars.

Rode camels back into Merzouga, packed and had a quick dip before heading back out and on the road east.

Got very close to the Algerian border but couldn't cross on this trip.

Had a spot of lunch with nomads (real ones, not ones put on for tourists!)

Drove through a bit of a sandstorm

Now heading north...

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Fun times

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15 August 2014

The one-donkey town

Akka, in the ante-atlas is a tiny, linear town where the wind blows up a mini tornado of dust at one end of the street and men practice an air of lassitude outside a little cafe at the other.

The heat is unspeakable.

The landrover has its bonnet up to cool down and I'm downing my once-annual Coca-Cola to boost fluids and sugars.

Last night we enjoyed spontaneous hospitality near Guelmim and the night before we went to our friend's oasis. I quickly made friends;

Hundreds more km to go...

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9 August 2014

Not a bad day

Got covered in mud from a fight, got feet nibbled by fish in desert salt pools, swam in the freezing cold sea, got sand blasted by high winds, saw theTropic of Cancer, met a stray dog and named her Fenwick (because she had ears like a fennec fox), ate pea soup.

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15 July 2014


I've just made up a portfolio of my creative projects but these beauties were made after the event.

I'm rather chuffed with these upcycled tomato paste tins! (Click to enlarge)

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27 June 2014

Hope does not equal naivety

Something rose up in me last night when discussing the business I want to get going here in the desert. I was told it would be long and difficult and frustrating. I knew it was logical, likely and pragmatic but it didn't sit comfortably. I often find myself disagreeing with the obvious. Is this naivety on my part to think that my path could be smooth when others with more experience and know-how have struggled ? Is this the kind of blind optimism, like Tobias Fünke in Arrested Development who describes a doomed plan as having always failed for others but; 'it might just work for us'?

Perhaps it will be exactly as it has been for others. Red tape, jumping through hoops, everything in triplicate, months of waiting, hurdles at every step... If so, then I will accept that this is his will but I don't want to start with an expectation of unavoidable struggle and discouragement.

It took me a few hours to come up with a statement that expresses an acceptance of God's will, an open-eyed understanding of circumstances and a belief that my path shouldn't be overshadowed with fear before I take a first step.

I will accept whatever circumstances The Lord allows me to go through but I refuse to define my expectations by the disappointments of others.

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On courage

Today i am thinking about all my friends who have told me I am brave to decide to move to Africa...

....as I courageously marinade cheap, fresh tuna in mustard, soy sauce and oil

...as I, with no thought to my personal safety, cover huge chunks of turkey filet in home-made sticky satay sauce

...for our barbecue on the beach with local friends later this afternoon.

This is courage.
This is altruism.
This is commitment to language learning.

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18 June 2014

Pretty continues

Upcycled plastic bags with bougainvillea petals and other desert flowers folded and sewn into cute little purses

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11 June 2014

The Office

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5 June 2014

I met Henry...

...on the transfer bus to Luton Airport. He was reading Murakami so I judged he was worthy of conversation!

He owns a shop ( www.52meters.com ) and was interested to hear about my upcycling. Seems I've been a bit lax at posting pictures recently so this is for you Henry and anyone else who's interested;

Girl's bedroom;

(Korean) shower room

Child's bedroom

Arabic lounge;

Arabic kitchen;

Hallway. Ready for rain;

The night before holiday;

All dioramas made from sardine tins and nearly all up cycled materials

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28 May 2014

UK tops the bill for;

Being able to drink water straight from the tap

The number of hours of consistently rainy weather

Supermarkets where you go in and recognise what stuff is

Chinese & Indian take-always and other world cuisine

Green things

Art appreciation

The belief that 20 degrees is really starting to warm up

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18 April 2014

Salty sea dog pies

She asks me what I want for lunch and I say 'pie!' knowing that's not going to happen. So I tone it down to 'a duck egg.' Then I say 'or...... egg pie but with crumble topping, ooh and cheese in it and a tiny bit of white sauce and, and tuna!'

I'm out of bed and in the kitchen while (in my mind) she lies back, grinning and folding her hands thinking; '...and that's how you get lunch made for you.'

In the time it took to boil two duck eggs (4minutes), the bechamel sauce is done and the herby crumble topping is done. And thus were the salty sea dog pies born.

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I just want a burger!!

Here's a story of a crazy Saturday when all I wanted was a burger.

I've discovered a great little eatery masquerading as a normal pizza joint. The food has been great every time I have gone and the burgers are JUICY!

Having not seen a particular friend in several weeks, we thought it would be agreeable to take her there for lunch and have an hour or two catching up.

Our friend arrived in a car with a guy and we got in, did a dramatic u-turn away from where we wanted to eat and sped off up the road, cutting corners and burning red lights.

The driver hands me his phone saying someone wants to speak to me. The man on the 'phone says; ' You will come to our school. We celebrate poetry. You are very welcome.' No burger then, I think.

We arrive at a swish building full of people dressed to the 9's. We are in jeans and I haven't washed my hair since travelling the week before because I got home to find the water heater was dead.

We sit round a cramped table. I try to make conversation in Arabic with the lady next to me; 'Are you all teachers here?' 'No.' End of conversation.

We finish the salad and along comes the whole goat. I'm not good at eating flesh off animals that still have eyes that can glare at me in an accusatory manner. Its teeth clunk on my glass as it is placed on the table. We eat. I attempt conversation; 'Are you from this town?' 'No.'

We are put in another car with two guys we don't know and our friend. She says we are going somewhere else now. To my mind this is unnecessary clarification. What I want to ask is what on earth is going on. I resist, as conversing has not worked too well for me so far today.

We arrive at an event to celebrate poetry. We sit for 40 minutes after its programmed start time waiting for...who knows, really? We politely enjoy two hours of poetry, song and dance in an Arabic we do not understand.

Attempt to leave #1:

A poet is signing books and people are milling around so we decide to slip out. Our friend begs us to stay ten minutes until refreshments are served, 'just for me?'

Attempt to leave #2:

After half an hour, at least, we gather our things but our escape route is blocked as someone comes and asks me to recite a poem. There are a good 250 people there. Well, it's not a burger but of course I want to read poetry. They get some TS Eliot.

Attempt to leave #3:

After I've sat down and people have mostly stopped staring at me, we stand and edge towards the door. Our exit is arrested by a gentleman who says we cannot go now because 'we have a song we want to dedicate to you'.

We give up on making our own choices, any prospect of a burger and end the day shaking our heads, laughing and wondering what just happened to us.

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21 March 2014

The land that customer service forgot

Spitting feathers!

We are told the bus leaves at midday, then 11:30, then 10:30. The next day we are told it leaves at 11:00. It's gone 12:00 and there's no sign of movement.

We see all the bags loaded except ours. We go and ask why. We are told we have to take our own bags. They have already charged us double for our luggage.

We load our bags and get on the bus. Two men are sitting in seats 13 & 14. Ours. We point this out. One of the guys says there are no numbers on the seats. We point to the numbers on the seats. He says he knows but he's found his place.

We get off the bus. We are told to get on a different bus. We point out that our luggage is on this bus so no, we are not getting on another bus. No-one is really listening.

We try ask what is happening. We are ignored. Ten minutes later we ask again. We are told to wait. Ten minutes later I ask again. I am ignored

The driver starts to shut the door to the bus. I stick my foot in the door and repeat 'no'. Loudly. I resist because my travelling companion is uncomfortable with my barely contained rage at their ineptitude and rudeness.

We stand for another ten minutes watching the man trying to sort out the problem standing and chatting with his mates.

We get on the bus. Bristling. They get us two seats together. I blog to process so my travelling companion doesn't have be on the receiving end of my outrage.

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13 March 2014

Twin tub


There is something rather romantic about doing your washing in a twin tub. Last time I used a twin tub was the early 80's.


You patiently wait while the first side fills with water by a tube from a tap on the wall. Time to make a brew while you wait.
Then you add your soap powder and set for a few minutes to spin. When that's done you transfer small amounts of clothes into the spinner and rinse with water from the hose. You stand there thinking how nice it is to just take your time over a job instead of pressing a button and rushing on to the next thing. You fluff up the clothes and hope the spinner works. You squash down the clothes and hope the spinner works. You repeat the above two instructions about half a dozen times. The spinner works. You tell yourself a slower pace of life is good thing. You hang up those clothes and start rinsing off the next small amount of clothes. You continue battling with the spinner for several more small loads. You drink some of that cold coffee you made. You hang out the last of the clothes and start on the second load. You wish you could somehow be doing something else at the same time. You crouch down to avoid leg cramps.



Wrinkly hands, overly damp clothes, a whole morning gone, wet floors & questionably clean clothes.


There is nothing romantic about using a twin tub.

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11 March 2014

Not too shabby!

Not an absolutely awful place to sit and do language drills...

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Out of the classroom

Having a couple of weeks further south to get some non-classroom language learning (LAMP method)

It's going really well! Hard work but worth the effort.

In this culture where we can naturally spend a lot of time hanging out and chatting, we have decided to find a story that we could learn and memorise. We are about half way through and so far we have a guy who was travelling between two cities here but was set upon by thieves, all his stuff taken and badly beaten up. Someone has just approached him - a religious Christian - but I don't think they are going to do anything for him because they don't want to get their hands dirty. I think I can see someone else on the horizon who might help...

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20 February 2014

A rum couple of weeks!

I attend a Moroccan wedding that is so utterly different from other weddings I've been to down here that I'm nigh on scandalised to see the bride
1) smiling
2) in public
3) with the groom

I recreate the fresh cream Belgian bun experience for Sarah who has come out to see me for a week and with whom I share many a fresh cream Belgian bun story

Hannah decides to mutate into a cat with limited success

I meet a waitress who screams when I speak to her in Arabic (not as common as you'd think!), tells me she likes me, exchanges numbers, invites me to meet her family and have Friday couscous, shows me the family goats and offers me one when the next kids are born! A doe is currently pregnant. I cuddle a baby goat who sighs deeply and falls asleep on my neck.

I turn 42 and celebrate this milestone in maturity by horsing around in the desert with palm branches.

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