a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Beetle and I get married


Trains, taxis and limousines
Frederic Raphael Writer
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Meknes... I finished dinner with Moulay Ta-ib about 01.15 in the morning, and I then walked out into the Kasbah – the medina as it was called – and I had been brought by his friend who had left earlier to go home. One fifteen in the morning I was all alone, pitch dark in the maze of the Kasbah. The lady who ran the bookshop had said to me, I just want to give you one piece of advice in Morocco: never make fun of a French Legionnaire's kepi. I thought, it's really quite improbable that I would ever do that, but when I heard marching feet coming towards me in the night, I thought to myself, you know, let's hope it's the French Foreign Legion in a kepi. And round the corner came a sergeant and two or three men on patrol and, of course, they halted me rather brusquely because I had broken the curfew, but again I was an Under Officer in the Charterhouse corps and a British subject and an American subject. So, 'Bonsoir'. 'Bonsoir, monsieur. Vos papiers?' 'Ah. Mes papiers sont á l'hôtel et moi je suis en train d'y aller. Si vous voulez bien m'indiquer le chemin, je serais trés heureux'. 'Bon. Voyez là-bas? La lumière?' Yes, but I don't know how to get out of the... 'Je sais pas exactement comment sortir du Kasbah'. In the end they escorted me to my hotel. 'Bonne nuit, monsieur'. 'Bonne nuit, merci'. Off they went.

Well, I bought a lot of stuff – this is going to go on for ever, is this is too long for you?

[Q] It's fascinating.

I bought a lot of stuff in the souks, for Beetle I bought her a mantilla, a lovely mantilla, and various pieces of brass which had not actually been made in... they had all been imported from India, as you peeled of the piece of stuff from the bottom of the thing, but I'd done it. It wasn't much money and anyway it was the Reverend Harper-Wood's money, and I had quite a sack full of stuff. So in addition to my suitcase and my haversack, I had this sack.

And I sat on this platform at Meknes for the train to go back to Tangiers. Whether it went all the way to Tangiers, it may just have gone to the Spanish border, the Spanish-Morocco border, and then you took another train I think, anyway – much it matters. I sat there and the train eventually came in and there were lots of Arabs with parcels and packages on this platform, and I jumped up and hurried to the train with my haversack and my heavy suitcase in order to get a seat in the compartment. I sat down, oof, got the corner seat and off we went.

And after about half-an-hour I said to the woman opposite, 'J'ai oublié mon sac avec tous les cadeaux dedans', and she said, 'Ah oui! J'ai vue votre sac. Sur le banc?' 'Ah oui'. 'Ah bon'. So anyway, this was supposedly a very tense time in Morocco, but didn't feel very tense. And I said to the conductor of the train, 'J'ai laissé mon sac sur le banc à la gare de Meknès'. So he phoned them when we stopped at a place called Pierrelatte which is an oil refinery and he said, 'Ah oui, monsieur. Le sac est toujours là'. They will put it into a taxi and drive to where you are. I don't know how far it was, it was hours train trip, so it was 60 miles or so. 'Bon. Vous attendez ici, trouvez votre sac, rejoignez le train, etc'. So, I didn't, okay... so I got off the train and it was a long wait and the taxi was supposed to come. Eventually I went back to the conductor and said, will you call them? So he called them and he said, 'Ah, oui! Ah bon, je comprends. Ah oui'. The taxi is still actually at Meknès, but it's taxi 39 and it's got your sack in it, but of course the train was going to leave.

And I had booked a steamer ticket before I had left Algeciras – or was it Gibraltar – to go in the USS Constitution from Gibraltar to Naples on December the whatever it was, second or third, I think, and now it was the end of November. I could see myself missing the boat literally, missing the boat. And I... you know, I, bloody idiot, had left his sack behind that's all! So I sat there and I waited and it got dark and the petrol lights flared on the thing and the taxi didn't come, the taxi didn't come and it was dark and eventually taxi number 39 from Meknes drove up! 'Bonsoir, monsieur'. 'Bonsoir'. It was an Arab driver, of course, 'Bonsoir. J'ai votre sac'. 'Ah. Tant mieux. Où est le sac?' 'Dans le coffre'. Voulez le voir?' 'Oui'. 'Ah oui. Voilà'. 'Oui'. Yeah, there it was, so I put my things in the... the other things in there with it, took the sack out to sit with it so as not to forget it, got into the taxi. It's now half-past-eight, he said I can take you to the border of Spanish Morocco, but I can't cross the border. Will there be a train? Who knows.

So, we're now crossing... whether it's the Sahara or whatever it is, we're crossing the bloody desert in a taxi, pitch dark. I'm with an Arab and he's come all the way from Meknès with a sack of stuff. So as we're driving along he said, 'Qu'est-ce que c'était dans votre sacqui était tellement important?' which was a perfectly reasonable question. What kind of an idiot rents a taxi cab for thousands of... of francs and then takes him on again for another 8,000 francs which was of course, was only about five quid, but it was plenty of money to this Arab guy. 'Oh, c'est quelques cadeaux, c'est sentimental... c'est pour ma fiancée'. I'd never used the word fiancée about Beetle before; I used it to this Arab as we were crossing the desert. So he said, 'Ah, bon'. So we're driving along the main road and suddenly we're turning off down a track. And we arrive at a little village and I think: he's going to kill me, or if he isn't going to kill me he's certainly going to take the sack! And then what the hell do I do even if he doesn't kill me? So I said, 'Qu'est qu'on fait?' 'Il faut que je vois mon cousin. J'ai mon cousin ici'. So we stopped. He did! He had his cousin, so went in and got whatever it was he was going to get from his cousin, rejoined the main road and we drove to the Spanish border.

So I said, how am I going to get to Tangiers? So he got out of his taxi, he walked over to a huge limo and talked to the guy inside and then he said... so I paid him off. There was an old Moroccan guy sitting in the back of this very big limousine, and it's some very, very rich crook no doubt, I mean, he was clearly not hostile to the French otherwise they wouldn't have had him there, and he was going to Tangiers. So he gave me a lift to Tangiers, and I entered Tangiers en beauté, in this guy's limousine, and I caught the ferryboat to Gibraltar and I got on the USS Constitution and I was home free and furthermore I'd sort of reached the end of my, as the French say, périple, I was on my way towards Italy, to Naples first then to Rome, Paris where Beetle was going to be waiting for me so suddenly everything was good.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Kasbah, Morocco, Tangiers

Duration: 8 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014