Birthday cake, Marigold style.
Back in Spain after an all too brief excursion to Morocco as we’d promised to meet up with some old, in every sense, friends in Cadiz. They're on a cruise to celebrate a landmark birthday, one even I have yet to reach, and the boat stops for the day in Cadiz.
On the way, we pulled off the road, a few miles past Tarifa, and went for a wander around some Roman ruins. We’ve been here a few times and on a gorgeous sunny day, like today, it's delightful. Baelo Claudia has a spectacular setting.
The Romans obviously, and understandably fell in love with Bolonia Beach in Cadiz province and decided to establish one of their settlements there. With fantastic sea views, this Roman city was ideally positioned for trade with North Africa. You can see over the water to Morocco from here and the sandy bay is seaside perfection.
The site is still being excavated and there's an impressive temple, forum and basilica. There's also a large fish-salting factory as the raison d’etre of the settlement was the fishing industry. Baelo Claudia supplied the popular Roman delicacy, a sort of fish paste named garum, to the whole Roman Empire. It was thriving at the time of Emperor Claudius (41-45 AD), who was such a fan of the delicacy he gave the town his name. As the Empire crumbled, the demand for garum dropped off and by the sixth century AD, Baelo Claudia was abandoned.
Good as it is, it gets better, as entry is free to EU citizens. After Brexit, it will cost us poor disenfranchised Brits 1.5 euros, but, trust me, that's still a bargain.
We know this Atlantic coast well, but have only been to Cadiz on a couple of previous occasions. Not much time for sightseeing now either as time was limited. Our friends tottered down the gangplank – no, not really tottered, they're both in the rudest of health and, as both pointed out, rather more mobile than me, the wretched Achilles' tendon still giving me gip. This is the second time we've met passengers off a cruise ship here. Last time it was M and S, so much more seemly than S and M.
Today, We loaded Zimmer frames into the car and went for a meal together at a restaurant out in the campo, that's Spanish for middle of nowhere, whose name I’ve forgotten and it was delicious. Our friends always refer to themselves by their initials, A and E, accidents waiting to happen. It was A’s birthday yesterday and they wasted ‘rather a lot of money’, in their words, by patronising one of the signature ‘celebrity chef’ restaurants on board. We sympathised. A celebrity patron is no guarantee of a good meal.
We’ve been on a couple of cruises. Alaska was our first, tagged onto an extended trip into the Rockies. We embarked, (yes, I can do the nautical expressions, rather better than Marigold who is stuck on ‘the pointy bit’ and the ‘back end’ when describing bows and stern respectively. As for ‘port and starboard,’ let's not go there!) in Vancouver and all the other passengers, over a thousand of them, were from the good old USA. In the company of our fellow cruisers we have never felt thinner or more intelligent. Cruise passengers appear to graze constantly, snacking away to fill the time between the prodigious meals. Perhaps ten percent of our fellows were in wheelchairs. Not disabled, just too fat to walk. We both agreed, ‘never again.’
A few years later we booked our second, and almost certainly last cruise, this time to the Caribbean. Call it folly, but it was a half price offer and we both said, ‘one more try.’
This time all aboard were Brits. Mostly elderly. In reality, most were probably younger than us, but chronologically speaking, age is just a number and we still think ourselves as being teenagers with added wisdom. The lounges resembled a Chapel of Repose where ‘just closing my eyes for a moment’ swiftly morphed into fast asleep, complete with drooling, snoring all all the other delightful aspects of ‘ a quick snooze.’
Our allocated table for meals was set for eight. Six of the most tediously boring people in Briton were already there when we arrived. After the first course had been served Marigold muttered to me ‘never again.’ My response was ‘what took you so long?’ We took all our meals after that in the self service ‘caff’ on the top deck where we could easily move on if necessary. A notable female comedian’s parents were on board. I won’t name her as she can't help her parents being a monumental pain in the bum. ‘Of course, she's not the funny one in our family,’ her dad told us, ‘I am.’ Deluded doesn't even begin to describe that opinion.
Even worse, we saw that dreadful pair wherever we went. I even resorted to fast walking laps of the promenade deck, hoping his colossal cigarette addiction would cause him to fall behind, but to no avail. They had been damned for all time in Marigold’s eyes with the first thing they said: ‘ooh, you look just like whatersname, don't you?’ After much deliberation, they came up with the name of she whom Marigold closely resembled - Jo Brand. It was all downhill from there.
A few months back, two of our bestest friends, Chris and Pauline, came to visit us in Cornwall. I worked with Chris for many years and, like me, he defies the passing of time magnificently,(yeah, right). He's reached a certain age now and Marigold served up a birthday meal suitable for a man who’d grown up in the 1950s, that true age of austerity.
So, it was to be spam and a wretchedly basic 1950s salad topped with Heinz salad cream which had arrived in the UK in 1948, to start with, then meat and potato pie or a ‘nice fishcake’ to follow with utterly prosaic vegetables - boiled potatoes, peas, carrots and cabbage - as accompaniment.
Bread pudding and custard completed the meal. Do you know, I found I still quite liked spam and could happily eat that meal every night. Nowt wrong wi’ good plain food.
Back in Cadiz we deposited A and E at the foot of the gangplank. The cruise ship moves on tonight and its next stop will be Morocco. Described in the literature as ‘exotic,’ we were suitably scornful when we learned the destination was Tangier, a city we try and get through as soon as possible. A day trip will blow you away, if you’ve never been anywhere more exotic than Rhyl, but for the more discerning traveller Tangier will prove an evanescent encounter.
Yes, I’m being a tad harsh, but only because Morocco has so much more to offer than this fading outpost the tourist board persist in terming gateway to Africa.
Back in the 1940s and 1950s Tangier was home to such literati as Truman Capote, Paul Bowles and Tennessee Williams, but that was a very different era. There are great views of Gibraltar and the ships passing the through the narrow straits, but suggestions this is the ‘new St Tropez’ are well wide of the mark. It's scruffy, not pretty, for a start, not that we find St Trop especially pretty. Yes, the old town is quaint and the beach is good, but scarcely worth the two miles of traffic jam to get in and out. We’ve been a dozen times and not seen Bridget Bardot even once. If you want ‘pretty’ try Collioure or Honfleur, but certainly not Tangier.
Better stop now in case the Moroccan tourist board are reading this, but at least I can show I don't view everywhere in Morocco through rose tinted glasses. Marigold has decided where our next excursion should be. She hasn't told me where it is yet, which is a little unsettling, but our life will never be dull. We won't allow that.