Saturday, 29 May 2010


We're in Salah-ad-din's castle, somewhere in the middle of the middle of nowhere in Syria, or so it seems.  I'm hanging out over the metal casing that was once a drawbridge across a vertiginous drop of about 200 feet trying to take a picture of a pinnacle that was chiseled out of the rock and fashioned into a plinth for the once-upon-a-time drawbridge to rest upon before landing on the other side of the chasm.  I have my eyes shut and my stomach is doing little springy jumps like one of those Iron Curtain gymnasts on floor exercises.  It should be trailing a ribbon and sporting jaunty little flipped out hand gestures.  Naturally the photograph is an asymmetrical composition of blue sky and jagged boulders.  Feeling I deserve a gold medal for bravery, I nevertheless inch back from the edge, shaky and sick, and spring forward on the uneven, but safely flat interior of the castle.  5.0  Good try Marion. 

The courtyard is field of waving grass, thistles that would put a shortbread tin to shame, tiny little poppies like paint splashes across the landscape awash with miniature butterflies.  Idyllic.  If you discount the trembling knees.  Still, let nobody say I don't have guts.  Seeing a stairway hacked out of the walls of a building I climb, past enthusiastic thistles, and up on to the roof where there are several open doorways.  I walk up to one intent on exploring and see...

another two hundred foot drop.  Or two hundred and twelve if you could the fact that I'm now standing on a roof.  I flatten myself against a wall (first checking to make sure it's stable) and take a few deep breaths.  Time to go down, I think.  And then I look down.  It was a lot easier getting up the stairs than going down them, especially in flip flops.

Castles, I realise, are not ideal for people with a fear of heights, I say.  Aloud.  It's alright.  My friend Eva is off exploring another part of the complex and I'm the only person there.  Nobody to hear you fall, whispers a voice in my ear.  Definitely time to go back to the car.  Especially after I foolishly climb another tower and the handrail comes out of the crumbling limestone and shakes about in my hand like a balloon animal.  I clatter, flip flop flip flop flip flop across the cobbled ramp until I reach the shadowy entrance hall and throw myself on the dusty chair.  A woman tries to sell me soap that smells of old washing up water for the equivalent of two pounds fifty a bar.  La shukran, I say.  Ana bitkhaf, ma b'hib al murtafah (which I hope means no thank you, I'm afraid, I don't like heights (though why that means I don't want to buy soap I don't know)  but probably sounds like a retarded chimp after two beers.

I text Eva:  'I'm sitting down, Afraid of heights and need a rest.'  (Bear in mind, I'm texting - my iphone to her iphone though we are both in a crusader castle in Syria, close enough toshout at each other.  Probably)

'I fell off a wall.  I'm limping back  I need a walking stick,' comes her response.

I think of her lying on her back amid the thistles texting and burst out laughing. (Sorry Eva)

An old man tries to sell me postcards.  And a guide book in French (why?)  I hear him ask the woman in the hijab if I speak Arabic.  A little I answer, like the aforementioned drunk chimp, and add that my husband (newly reinstated from imminent divorce complete with wedding ring) is Lebanese (he's not).  He gives me the card of a nearby hotel that I might want to stay in with my husband.  No thank you.  I say.

Your husband bring you to my hotel next time.

No thank you.  I repeat.

He offers me the guidebook again, having taken it out of the cellophane.

No thank you.  I smile, but it's wearing a bit thin now.

With your husband...  he presses.

My husband won't be coming.  Mata, I say finally in exasperation as Eva struggles in over the cobbles dragging her foot behind her like a sailor minus the wooden leg.

What does that mean, she asks as she takes my arm and we begin to descent the 30.206 steps to the car park.

That he's dead, I say.

She starts to shriek with laughter and I join in until I double up and can't move.

Oh God, she gasps, finally when she can speak, we're those women, aren't we?  Old biddies on a self improving holiday...

Indeed.  Mentally killing off my ex-husband really did make me feel better.

This would be more like it...

but of course.  I bought the bras first.

Not the first thing that pops into your mind when you think...Syria

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

May to December

I'm in the park with warmLuke.  There are a crowd of school kids who look like they go to St Debenham's with my daughter in what seems to be the international uniform for sex perverts of floaty crop top with visible bra, bare midriff and cut off jeans, showing the lower buttock cheeks clad in black tights, Ugg boots, and Brigit Bardot hair (obviously we're talking early Bardot, not animal-lover...)  One of them with pre-Raphaelit blonde ringlets and apple cheeks who is much too pretty to dress that cheap, is engaged in a very physical game of touch rugby with several flobby haired boys called Tarquin and spends most of her time being thrown to the grass as one or another leaps on top of her.  It's like gang rape masquerading as a sport, except she's giggling.

'Would you seriously like your daughter to go out looking like that?'  I ask Luke.

He shifts uncomfortably on the grass - not unsurprisingly - it's lumpy - and scans my face for the right answer.

'No, you wouldn't.'  I supply.

'But surely it's harmless, they just want a bit of attention...'

'Yeah, the wrong kind of attention.  That girl can't be much older than 13.'

Still neither of us can stop looking and we watch like it's on pay-per-view as girl after girl turns up in exactly the same outfit, with minor variations, and some of the Tarquins peel off leaving Lolita with only five animals, I mean boys, hunting her. 

We finish the tortilla and the wine and the strawberries dipped in melting chocolate that I will polish off later in bed, eating from the jar with my finger, and with nothing else to do - neither of us bought books - he puts his arm around me and gives me a kiss.  It seems rude not to reciprocate.  Until from the circle of junior tarts I hear one of the kids shout:

'Vintage porn... get a room!'

And though I laugh, I can just imagine Tarquin saying to Giles:  'Would you like your mother to go out looking like that?'

And so, very quietly, we gather up our stuff and go home.