three pairs of lovers with space

TANGIER: A WRITER’S NOTEBOOK BY ANGUS STEWART, 1961-74

 

Angus Stewart (1936-98) was a British writer best known for his Greek love novel Sandel (1968), reviewed here, which was well-received at the relatively liberal time of its publication. Tangier. A Writer’s Notebook, published in London in 1977, is a description of that Moroccan city and a memoir of his time there.

As explained in the first chapter, he spent between four and nine months of every year in Tangier for thirteen years from his visit in 1961. Since he also says in the last chapter that he typed up his notes in the winter of 1974-5, he evidently finished the manuscript in 1974.

Though Stewart was also attracted to females and mentions in Tangier having been briefly married, it is clear from both “Pederast”, an autobiographical sketch he wrote when he was twenty-four, and from the testimony of those who knew him, that he was primarily boysexual. However, he was writing in his real name and in the lifetimes of his parents (of whom his father was a much better-known writer), so it is hardly surprising that he is reticent about describing the sexual dimension of his relationships with the boys he loved. He does, however, give “guilt-free Mediterranean sex” as a compelling reason for living in Tangier, and it seems safest to presume that his close relationships with boys were sexual even when he does not say so.  On this basis, the following extracts include not only everything concerning Greek love but also everything about his relationships with boys.  The only exception made here is the boy Meti, who, despite living with Stewart, is presumed not to have been his lover on the basis that Stewart says he disapproved of homosexuality. The extracts concerning Meti are therefore restricted to mentions of homosexual love.

 

1.Why?

In 1961, Stewart was in England, having just returned there from Mexico:

The 1st edition, 1977

I swung a pair of Woolworth's compasses across an atlas wondering where were the nearest people not like me. This defined as not middle-class, not public school, not Oxbridge and, to complete the externals of flight, not Caucasian either. Two weeks later I was installed in the haouma of Ain Haiani, Tangier, with a camp bed, Primus, saucepan, and a twelve-year-old boy from the jebilet whose fugitive dynamic was positive where mine was negative. The polarization worked well. He had come down from the hills to seek his fortune. I'd left a European city in order not to consider earning an orthodox western living. …

Describing his house in Ain Haiani:

Upstairs a wedge-shaped room just held my camp bed, a borrowed table and chair, and the mat on which the boy slept. A democratic suggestion that we spend alternate nights on the bed was refused. The only time Niñ, as I called him, could be persuaded to use bed and sleeping-bag was when he had flu. Happily it was of brief duration. The November nights were bitterly cold. There was small comfort wherever one slept until the sun rose and strengthened and one could thaw out on the hillside, or pummel blue flesh at Haiani's Well, from which the haouma of Ain Haiani gets its name.

Major Frank Mellor, the other English resident of Ain Haiani, had been in Tangier for nearly thirty years. Now Frank regularly invited me to breakfast with him, when three eggs would be boiled so I might take one back to Niñ who was concocting his own peculiar coffee, thick with condensed milk, Otherwise Niñ and I subsisted as natives.

He had learnt survival young, particularly where and how to buy food with minute sums of money. We took bread sparely spread with tinned fish in the shop to the rocky shore at Merkala and cooked a simple touajen stew, at night. Sometimes he'd be drawn back to the lights of the town, and particularly the Petit Socco, where he'd spent the first six months of his independent life. The boredom of the roadless hills which this ambitious infant had fled for Tangier's beach and cinemas I wasn't to experience for a year, when I visited his home.

In the fourth month I ran out of money; but was back within two. Rain collapsed the house in my absence. Niñ had guarded the key among the ruins calmly as the boy on the burning deck. We removed to the furnished penthouse suite on top of Tangier's prestigious Lottery Building, the highest eyrie in the New Town, at an inclusive rent of eight pounds a month. Briefly I had rented a damp basement boxroom. Supplied was a chewed convict's blanket with black arrows stamped on it. There were to be fifteen other residences, including a room lent me by Niñ who had acquired a Medina house by the age of seventeen on the proceeds of supplying English language, sympathy and hemp to hippies while sleeping with their girls, and nine years before the hazardous establishing of my own.

 

5. Food

My own first experience of cone sugar was in circumstances where there was no offstage. In 1962 I went into the jebilet to stay with Niñ's family. Knowing conditions would be simple, I asked Paul Bowles what gifts would be most appreciated. 'A variety of green teas,' he suggested, which they were unlikely to have in the hills. 'And of course real sugar. The solid kind.' Paul was right: these commodities indeed proved welcome. Unfortunately I'd reckoned neither on the dead weight of the sugar, several cones of over two kilos each, nor on the eighteen-mile overland march to the village from the nearest road, where the bus stopped. It was not difficult to decide whether to unload some of the burden on to my companion.

The 2016 Kindle edition with a cover featuring Stewart's own photo "Dancing boy at an Amara"

The adobe hut, with brushwood thatch overhanging walls no more than three feet high, was one of a group of seven or eight similar dwellings, each surrounded by a perimeter fence of living cactus and cut saplings. Sandy paths ran between these private compounds, down to the well, to a tiny shop the only stock of which seemed to be flour, salt, boiled sweets, olive oil, paraffin and granulated sugar. My introduction to solid sugar's use and characteristics was its being broken with a mason's chisel, and that borrowed. Apart from a sindiq, or chest, the house boasted no furniture at all; not even a taifor, the low, circular table used for eating. What there was were a tea pot, tea, before the packets I had brought were broached, and sufficient glasses, with gilded arches and rims. Otherwise the family owned a vegetable cum kif patch, a goat, and what I suspect was only a share of a donkey. There was just enough space in the single room for Niñ, his parents, and two little sisters to sleep in a row covered with a single blanket. I occupied a raked, mud platform, really a broad shelf, where the simple tea-making and cooking equipment were normally kept.

Cooking was done just outside the threshold, over a mishma fired with charcoal, on which was placed an earthenware dish with glazed interior. Bread also was prepared in the open air, and baked in a tiny, kiln-like oven. The staple foods were lentil porridge enriched with smin, a 'butter which has been buried in the earth, often for a very long time, until it has become deliberately and sufficiently rancid; and bread dipped in warm olive oil. The dress of one of the little girls was an American aid flour sack. Their very pretty faces contrasted depressingly with the thickened ankles of chronic malnutrition. Niñ was similarly affected. Inevitably, if ironically, whenever I bought eggs or a chicken the largest portion had to be eaten by myself. Niñ's father constantly placed pieces of chicken breast on the section of the plate adjacent to me. The rules of hospitality could not be modified by logic, Acting upon the instinct to pass back the meat to the quiet, huge-eyed little girls, or to anyone else, would have been an insult. There was nothing academic about the knowledge. I could sense their communal insistence, pleasure critically poised upon my supposed satisfaction.

Visually the scene was beautiful. Badly hinged, ill-joined boards, the door had been closed against the wind. The flame of the paraffin lamp flickered. Light played across the prematurely aged faces of the married couple; and the pale regularity of the little girls' features, which the excitement of a stranger exploded into giggles, ineffectually smothered by a handful of dress clasped to the mouth, before solemnity returned without parental admonition. Loneliness was sabotaged. The irony of the situation was compounded by the fact that thought had robbed me of all appetite whatsoever. Five years later I was eating more easily among very poor people.

The visit to this family was in return for an unexpected visit paid me by Niñ and his father some months previously, early one evening during Ramadan. Might they spend the night? Of course. But there were elements of farce to follow. Staying with me already were a young English doctor and his girlfriend. The Moroccan countryman's first experience of the English (and probably any Nsara - Christians) at home was arriving in the middle of a cocktail party. Introducing my Moslem guests to the English couple, I made for the kitchen to prepare mint tea, and stopped dead. The newcomers couldn't be offered so much as a cheese straw. The sun was still horribly high in the sky. Until it set, and the cannon boomed from Tangier's harbour, the Moroccans wouldn't accept even a glass of water.

Angus Stewart

'I think we should stop eating these soggy crisps.' Katie suggested.

'Angus must pour the drink back into the bottle as a symbol of solidarity,' said Hugh who, having tried French and Spanish unsuccessfully on the bemused senior djibli, was sensibly admiring the two live hens which had arrived with the Moroccans and now lay bound among the bottles.

'I think courtesy will be adequately expressed by our looking at our watches and remarking sympathetically how far the sun still has to fall,' I said. This I did, but not before Katie asked me: 'Isn't your little boy too young to observe Ramadan anyway?'

… Stewart explained that Niñ was only reticent on account of his father, and gave the boy the spare door key before going out to dinner with Katie and Hugh. Later that evening:

'Your little boy and his father should be back at the flat,' put in Katie. Perhaps her psychology wasn't deep. But then Ruth Sillitoe[1] (whose is) had adopted similar feminine obliqueness in respect of Niñ (laughing: 'So that's why you came to Tangier!' Alan[2] healthily gave him a cigar). I smiled at Katie long and kindly.

… Returning to his abode:

At eight pounds a month the eyrie was a melancholy paradise after my Ain Haiani house had literally collapsed, incidentally necessitating that Niñ and myself spent a week in an hotel of assignation, because he had no papers, and I wasn't abandoning him among the rubble. It was not ideal for simultaneously entertaining Moroccans and Europeans during Ramadan.

… At 3 am., Niñ ‘s father suddenly got up:

My guest commenced to shake the blanket-hidden form of his son none too gently. I watched, intrigued. Moroccans changing, or endeavouring to change worlds, and Niñ was to go far, have a genius for sleep, additional even to the physiological languor accompanying puberty. Or so it had always appeared to a sentimental insomniac. Niñ had slept many fifteen-hour stretches, immovable. Now he was awake arid up with alacrity.

'Angus - food,' he explained in the bastardized Moghrebi we used. 'Father and me.'

I was beyond incredulity. 3.15 a.m.! Then I remembered Ramadan. They must eat again before sunrise. Though I didn't know it at the time, having yet to make the trek, father had a bus journey followed by an eighteen-mile overland walk before him. I knocked on Katie's door. She woke to instant life and understanding as an SRN can. The road to kitchen and bathroom was open. And so two emergency trained Nsara and one natural insomniac sat sipping thick English tea in my salon while a chicken was slain and a tajine rapidly and unfamiliarly cooked by two Moroccan males before the critical rising of the sun.

It could not have been a more authentic introduction to Morocco for Hugh and Katie.

 

9. Meti

Leaving a restaurant one evening, apparently in about 1965:[3]

As I turned gloomily homewards a small figure appeared with the speed and shyness of a bat. It wanted a cigarette. The only coherent word was 'garro'. I hate my own addiction to nicotine. Children greedily inhaling was depressing enough even before the cancer link was proven. I walked on, sad. The bat did another quick loop about me. I swung round with a tension and fury out of any proportion to the occasion or the deserts of an urchin.

A Tangerine boy. An illustration accompanying the original text

'Does your father know you smoke cigarettes!' I asked the small boy grimly.

The boy and I confronted each other beneath the short-circuited neon. The rain still came down. It should perhaps be made clear, as was apparent to me, that the accosting and request for a cigarette meant only that. The child had spied a 'tourist' and thought he'd try for a smoke. Now his eyebrows shot up in alarm, and my jaw slackened equally involuntarily. I was looking down at a strangely beautiful face, made absurd by shock and astonishment.

'La!'' he said; then suddenly smiling, 'No - he doesn't.'

'Come to my house and eat,' I said.

The astonishment on the small face increased. 'Ouaka - all right,' he said.

'Follow me,' I suggested, sudden western guilt outweighing courtesy, 'at a distance of fifty metres.' I had to enter the bright foyer of my apartment block . . . there was the portera . . . supposing we coincided in the lift with the soured Belgian dentist and his lunatic wife returning from some pied-noir gathering! The little boy wasn't wearing clothes: urchin rags in Victorian Whitechapel were robes beside what swaddled him. The boy utterly refused to understand the request. Jesus. Where was the sang-froid of that expensive education? But of course it had been programmed to disintegrate in precisely these circumstances. Then there was the hyper self-consciousness and guilt that accompanies mild depression. I walked with clenched teeth, the grubby little boy insistently beside me, numbed by the dissociation they say shelters the condemned. Only later did I indulge the realization that, by behaving as he did, a true seal of innocence had been set upon the absurdly prosaic meeting. My portera had retired from her glass window into hidden recesses. There were no cynical survivors of colonial rule in the lift.

Meti splashed in the bath, ate a large meal, and stayed four years.

By what is perhaps a certain nicety he was to be raised, or simply enabled to grow, by what I saved financially from British taxes upon cigarettes and wine. While he could not be weaned from cigarettes he never, thank religion, touched alcohol.

With daylight, and before Meti's uncomplicated assumption that he had the right to reside where he chose, my self-consciousness vanished. I closed my mind to the 'nasty' couple of our European neighbours. To be fair even they refrained from much overt objection to Meti's presence in the building while he remained a child.

Like most of the northern Berbers Meti had fair skin, but features one could imagine as modelled by a being with an obsession for proportion and symmetry. Bath soap couldn't spoil the softness of his hair. Shampoo was a luxury the household didn't afford: besides Meti had never heard of it. His brown eyes were large. All eyes can look both hard and soft. Meti's possessed an additional expression, It was less that they lost focus than that they seemed to be looking at something strange and serious very far away. Nobody knows from whom the Berbers, the indigenous pre-Roman, never mind pre-Arab Conquest peoples of North Africa descend. To me Meti's were Phoenician eyes. His teeth had a regularity no dentist would dare reproduce in plastic; and the smile which unveiled them finally proved that the obsessive creator, be he a mindless string of DNA molecules, somehow understood both poetry and drama and was reminding one of as much a hundred times a day. When he grew up Meti's good looks were to have heads turning in the streets. Now, as a little boy, his face was hypnotically over that disputable line which divides beauty from prettiness. I loved him.

In common with most Tangier boys Meti spent six or seven summer hours a day swimming and playing on the giant crescent beach, His body was beautifully proportioned as his face; muscular, antique gold and tough as truncheon rubber. With his bathing trunks off his bum, hips and genitals were pallid as putty. Of his own volition he only swam at the eastern end of the bay, known as the omed because a stream flows into the sea; nearly a mile from the stretch with the beach bars, tourists and Europeans. This was good. I was jealous, concerned and possessive as any mother with an only child. I need not have worried. Meti disapproved of homosexuality.

Meti didn't know how old he was; nor, when I was eventually invited to meet them, did his parents, he was one of seven children. Photographs shown to friends both medical and lay gave the consensus that he was aged eleven.

One summer when Meti was 14 and no longer living with Stewart, but still a frequent visitor:

'Get him on the game, for God's sake!' said a homosexual acquaintance whose call once coincided with one of Meti's. There was no point in explaining that wasn't Meti's scene. This particular tourist's psychology needed deeply to believe that all adolescent Moroccan males were sexually available to Christians through the wallet.

 

12. South

Describing his first visit to the city of Tiznit during the July in which army dissidents’ attacked the King’s seaside residence at Skhirat:

In Tiznit I was arrested. The offence was loitering with intent. Through harebrained, rebellious idiocy. But the episode, must be told sequentially, or lose pathos. Driss, the English-speaking youth, and I had paused on our bicycles outside the Aglou Gate. There was the inevitable rubbish tip. The giant Sudanese still circled behind his tight donkeys, threshing the corn. I was without my camera.

"Tiznit". A photo by Stewart accompanying the original text

Suddenly there was a clatter of hooves beneath the arched vaulting of the gateway. In a cloud of dust, barefoot and bareback, there emerged a radiantly beautiful boy. The donkey he rode with incredible splendour. Pure Tuareg? gasped my irrational mind. Or perhaps a ten-year-old girl's dream after loud, fireside readings from an expurgated Arabian Nights. It was love at first sight. How pretend otherwise? But, a recording animal, the limit of my ambition was neatly to decapitate this apparition with Leica lenses.

We swapped bicycle for donkey. Disgruntled, even a little sceptical I thought, Driss rode off on his bicycle with expressions of politeness.

For a week I was to stalk Hassan about the crumbling mud town. Mann's Aschenbach in Venice trailed Tadzio no more awed, hooked, tremulous; no less innocently. My camera was in an opaque plastic bag, I succeeded in cajoling Haman against a wall in an empty alley. Click. Click. Click, Try portraiting a god with complicated machinery in the noonday blaze of the pre-Sahara in July! One must think, bracket exposure, judge plane and angle minutely, be more sensitive to texture and tone than the finest photo-electric meter. More! But Hassan slid off shyly. After all, a photograph is a single click, not thirty-six.

And Hassan produced a go-between, chaperon, Pandarus - perhaps he was all three: a thoroughly nasty little boy with a skin disease and permanent flow of mucus from his nose, green as spinach soup.

A date was fixed to walk to cool fig groves (no less) a mile outside the city wall. The dappling of light and shade? Water? Even figs! Borrowing confidence from Gide now, Hassan was to carry not a travelling-rug to tuck about the old man's knees, but my camera bag, weighing seven pounds. It would look proper to eyes on the battlements as we wended out across the pitiless, stony plain.

And Hassan didn't show.

I drank a litre of wine at dinner, smoked kif with some old men at the Aglou Gate; then irk a strange state between sulking fury and indomitable euphoria proceeded, knowingly, to the outrageous. Not only did I present myself uninvited at the door of an Arab's house, but did so after dark.

'Shkqut?' a woman's voice inquired sharply front a high window.

'Ana, er-Rhoumi - I, the Christian,' I said gravely.

'Hassan is at the cinema.' came the reply.

Well, it was indeed a small town. And I must be the only Nesrani. I'd never been near this house before. Single-eyed spying had discovered its whereabouts. I murmured thanks.

It was midnight. The moon was huge. Soft dust in the alley still held warmth from the day. A cat fight broke out somewhere. In my pocket was a naboula of the best kif from Ketama in the Rif, but also my patent sebsi (which converts rapidly into an innocent briar). I decided to sit down. I'd reproach Hassan gently from the sand as he came home from the triple feature, eight-hour movie show.

The ambush-tryst was not to be. Whoever called the police, it can have been neither Hassan's mother, nor anyone who had overheard our conversation. I was aware of a large American car drawing up at the entrance of the alley. The police in Tiznit prefer to conserve their petrol and tyres, and simply commandeer one of the town's three taxis at need. Two figures came unhurriedly towards me. The one in uniform held a flashlight on my face. The plainclothes gentleman asked politely for my passport. Kif, which can sway the smoker either to mild paranoia or to great calm and composure, was flowing benignly. I got to my feet and produced a visiting card.

'This is not a passport,' said the plainclothes cop reasonably.

'That's at the hotel,' I said.

The man motioned with his head towards the commandeered taxi.

At the police station was a rather formidable gentleman in a neat suit behind a big desk. The gist of my interrogation was simple. Why was I sprawled leisurely in the dust of a dark alley in Tiznit at one o'clock in the morning?

A stoned state, in even a mildly experienced occasional smoker, can be disguised without difficulty. It also gives insights on literal truth, which now seemed perfectly plausible to me. I had laid ambush for the most beautiful person in Tiznit because he had jilted me. My heart ached; and I was seeking its solace by means of direct action, however idiotic.

Some inner prompting suggested this explanation might be misconstrued.

A few days previously I'd had long conversations with a shoemaker, whose shop was near the point of my arrest. 'I was looking for a man who is making me shoes,' I said. 'He is a Tunisian.' Half lost, but uncaring, I had sat down to enjoy the deliciously cool night air.

They bought it. But what a small town!

'Why were you looking for my father last night?' the sort of the shoemaker asked next day in the town square.

The police drove me back to the hotel, where my passport was checked, and the proprietor, still dressed perhaps as a result of his ownership of the cinema, assured them that I was 'quiet' and 'respectable'.

Three days later came the army dissidents' raid on the king's beach palace at Skhirat. A column of loyal army lorries came roaring across the plain into Tiznit trailing a dust cloud a mile long. Meanwhile I'd found myself in a VIP deckchair, guest of my police interrogator, at the municipal water sports marking the Festival of Youth and King Hassan's forty-second birthday,[4] more politely than in the current assassination attempt on the Atlantic coast. … SM Hassan II's dramatically beautiful subject Hassan did not compete in any events.

Hassan and I had made it out to the fig groves. Hassan walked barefoot across two kilometres of sharp stones, my camera bag bumping against his hip. I'd no sooner persuaded the skin diseased go-between-chaperon-Pandarus that his presence was spoiling the idyll (and paid him to march back and collect two large bottles of Coke) than I was pole-axed by sunstroke, shook, sweated, vomited in a ditch. Perhaps there was some western psychosomatic mechanism at work here. Hassan was most solicitous. There was dappled light beneath the trees, even water, albeit in a conduit. Shivering in 104 degrees' shade I focused on Hassan's incomparable irises. Click. Click. Click. He had tousled hair, neat ears, straight nose, a mouth that was tough in repose, dazzling when he smiled. The eyes were amber, heavy-lidded, thoughtful. His wrists and hands had the girlish slenderness of the Berber, which neither adolescence nor manhood would modify very much. He was thirteen.

My 'sunstroke' passed. Had it been sheer nervous tension? I like to think that had it not been for Hassan I might have remained in that place, bleached bones. But ware the shocks, the curious powers, the aberrant explosions perhaps of the southern sun.

How much it was the magic of Tiznit, and how much a sense that I must deliver Hassan his photos the only practicable way, in person, which drew me back the following year, I don't know. Hassan was even more beautiful. But his big brother had got in on the act, deciding I was somehow big brothers passport to fabled cities. The mucus-dribbling go-between came into his own.

'Hassan says his brother's going to bash him if you speak, to him. But could you give me some money so that Hassan can go to the cinema?'

This is shortening the tale. The infatuation had been so euphoric that I'd gone as far as to negotiate a virtual three months' purchase of Hassan from his uncle, At least my proposal to mail 50 per cent of Hassan's wages weekly to uncle in Tiznit could have been interpreted like that. The Fassi had written a formal letter in Classical Arabic. He knew the situation and hadn't batted an eyelid. Sensibly declining dictation, he recomposed my simple message in, correct idiom. (I photographed the letter before sealing and delivering it: subsequently an Arabist told me it was a masterpiece.)

Hassan had long been keen on the deal. He spoke, read and wrote French in addition to Moghrebi. I'd explained his duties would be to instil possibly only the Arabic alphabet into a contemporary, the determinedly illiterate Meti.

A conference with uncle, alone in the hotel. Hassan was fatherless, his mother happy to be rid of him for the summer holidays and uncle, accepting of myself, agreed to the idea. But brother's jealousy produced a veto. Surely he was better than his little brother? Well, no! Nor was there any such person as Hassan. Not among the savage grandeur of the Draa valley. Not in the cedar forests of the Atlas. Not upon the thousands of acres of wild flowers and citrus orchards of the coastal plain. Nowhere within an empire that once stretched from Tunis to the Pyrenees. Or so it seemed to me at that moment, performing the bland courtesies of a host serving mint tea to Hassan's dignified uncle. And there was nothing to explain.

 

13. Concierges and ‘fatimahs’

Yet few who have ever lived any length of time in the city achieve a complete break. It's a drug more subtly compounded than with the obvious ingredients of sun, sea, superb temperate summers, the friendliness of Moroccans, guilt-free Mediterranean sex, cheap wine, and kif too if one's an inveterate gambler with both liver and mind. Things happen. One doesn't even have to look for them.

 

14. Prostitution

Today's profession is freelance. It is also discreet. This comes about I think because, while Moroccans themselves enjoy, and get, every conceivable form of extramarital sex, it is bad manners to let anyone see you getting, or about to get, it. Homosexuality is accepted probably rather more because the Arabs have practised it for centuries, and because a Moslem girl, as financial asset, must be virgin at marriage, than because some dear old queen told Katharine Whitehorn for a colour supplement that Tangier's local name is 'Queersville-on-Sea'.

"Tangier woman with flowers". A photo by Stewart accompanying the original text

Women solicit lone European males in a most practical way: a light slap, it couldn't be called a grope, on the balls in passing. This is accompanied by a sideways flick of big eyes above the veil, and a scarcely audible, friendly hiss. It happens mostly at the lower, dark end of the Boulevard, and streets off it; but also in the brightly lit, slow moving current of summer humanity, the paseo inherited from the Spanish. Younger, unveiled girls use only their eyes. For obvious reasons they avoid darker streets. In July 1973 a girl of about fourteen said 'Hallo' to me quietly in broad daylight. I'm told, and can believe, this was happening that summer for the first time since Independence in 1956: that it was quite an invasion, probably from Casablanca.

Youths cruise, relying on eyes and wits like the girls; but there similarity ends. A youth will never slap a prospect in the balls; a girl will never loiter. Small boys (there are probably less than a dozen visible professionals) ape their elders, relying on their own private grapevine for information about clients. A youth or a boy may pass and repass the Café de Paris at the height of the paseo five times in as many minutes. He will be equating the level of coffee in a regular client's cup against the possibility of a rival's better timing, If he is leaning against the only tree on that corner it is because he is annoyed with a regular client and demonstrating the fact with guts. The client may neither know nor care that his lover can be arrested and beaten up by his own people. The boy's pride will remain intact; his body repair itself, after a few days.

I must emphasize that the above refers to a very small, tough corps, specializing in the westerner taking two weeks' annual holiday in Tangier for one purpose only. The child who cleans your shoes is not a whore. He may accept muddled cuddling and kissing from an awed student or frustrated preparatory schoolmaster, run a hippie household with thoughtful economy, receive a Deutschmark cheque for life from an immature businessman with mature bank balance who's fallen in love with his eyes or grubby fingernails. He won't do a blow job, or be buggered; but will be home to mum and dad an hour after nightfall, with profits fat or nil, to much discussion about the oddities of Christians - foreigners.

Among the Moroccans themselves the picture is different. When girls can't be found or afforded, boys are used, sometimes very young. This isn't as horrific as it sounds. The children have been trained by and for the indigenous people, or individuals. Their anal sphincters have adapted; persons penetrating them are usually considerate, often loving.

These are the hard corps the tourist sees (or goes with); on the Boulevard, in the Petit Socco, leaning against that tree in the Place de France. The equivalent (slightly older) girls have similarly moved to the richer market for the season. As has been said, they lack the arrogance to loiter. The very young girls are invisible. Paradoxically the only way of meeting one would be through a similarly hard corps' little boy, who would deny the existence of any such person, misunderstand, and probably spit on you.

Girls cost from five dirham to fifty; boys from one to ten; youths from ten to thirty. The actual sum depends less upon supply and demand than upon vendor-client relationship. Rape is extremely rare, regarded with deep opprobrium. The nature of Arab building is like a cluster of beehives; where the bees are whispering women. Again family relationships are close and indissoluble. A girl may well have six tough brothers, not to mention a father and uncles; while murdering a man who's provenly raped your sister will sensibly put you in jail for a week. It's wiser to go with whores while wooing the loved one with, simultaneously, western 'sophistication', Semitic charm, and magical potions bought secretly from the very best benign witch.

"Tangier: a scene in the bread market". A photo by Stewart accompanying the original text

All love-making is discreet. There is honour among prostitutes. I've never known one who would describe precisely what they did with a client. Similarly, and at the other end of the scale, it would be ten times more unthinkable to ask a married Moslem how he performed with his wife (or four wives) than it would be to ask an equivalent western friend.

In 1971 on four successive afternoons, there arrived at my flat: two different pairs of girls, a group of three youths, two Spanish youths, yet two more girls. All were pleasant, untough, polite. The first pair of girls I invited in to tea. The second I asked, 'Who sent you?' On the third day I was asking 'Who is sending you?' The answer: 'A man in the Medina.' Whether this was in fact organized probing, or some friend's practical joke, I don't know. I confess I took none to bed; thinking more about retaining my typewriter and tape recorder, and the work I was doing with the former when the doorbell rang,

X's all-male brothel, specializing in technically crude voyeurism (holes in walls) recently moved to new quarters. The stories about it are legion and legend.[5] I don't propose to rehearse a single one; and must confess to never having visited either premises. I always meant to, but the time, suitably orientated friend, and nerve never coincided. In his heyday X could, at an hour's notice, provide clients with anything from a giant Sudanese Negro to a blond Spanish twelve-year-old with blue eyes and a foreskin. The charge until 1970 was ten dirham to the prostitute and ten to the establishment. Subsequently it was twenty to each. For all I know X may now be dead from boredom. Some say he no longer operates.

In 1971 I did get into a regular Moorish brothel. The guide was the former servant of a deceased nobleman; and I'd known both men eight years. Reasonably the Moroccan wanted ten dirham down. The girls were not paraded, were not naked, were not pathetic, and the youngest was at least sixteen. Four of the seven playfully sipping my glass of not very good mint tea were fantastically beautiful. My remaining flaccid had obviously nothing to do with there only being thirty dirham in my pocket: a lot, probably, with the irreconcilables of visual impact, thought, and unfamiliarity with professionals. Soft kisses over immaculate teeth, deep ones between the twenty minutes it takes to consume even some of a scalding glass of mint tea were worth the five dirham for which the Madame quietly asked. It would be tricky to spend fifty pence so delightfully in my market town.

Tangier today is a sexually innocent, well-run city. The orthodox tourist will be offered model leather camels and phony musical instruments but not sex. At least it will not be thrust at him. Moslem Morocco is in many aspects proud and prim as Catholic Spain sixteen miles away. It hungers for the money of mass tourism with better cause. A tourist's wife and daughters' legs will be looked at and commented upon. But they would be in most parts of southern Europe; and this is perhaps why wife and daughters have suggested a holiday in Tangier anyway. A girl has less chance of being dragged into a dark alley and de-flowered than in Cheltenham or Stockholm. Unless that's what she's come for. Or why she's left Cheltenham or Stockholm.

If that sounds cynical, I'll put it personally. A waif (Niñ, in fact, who shared my Ain Haiani house when he was twelve) went through five very pretty and consenting Caucasian girls (about a month each) when he was seventeen, in the simple Medina house he'd been able to rent on the tiny profits gained from kindness to hippies; married a rather plain English girl from love and lust when he was nineteen; and removed to North America to run his family on a job paying enough for them to live with the dignity they deserve.

"Mother and daughter with their washing". A photo by Stewart accompanying the original text

The middle Tangier period of this odyssey I was able to observe because he had lent me a room in his house where I could smoke and read away from traffic sounds. I was also offered his European mistresses, as part of the process of their being successively cast off, and his little Moroccan boyservant, whom I exploited to discover phonetic transliterations of nursery words like: 'cow, mountains, goats, eggs'. At seventeen Niñ was running his household (including me when present) with a quiet courtesy and concern one might describe as feudal. It was modem Arab-Berber.

There are girls, youths, and a very few small boys, who tour Europeans' homes, or are kept. My anecdotes concentrate upon the last group as more overtly unique to the town; while Moroccan mistresses, one might say, are more overmastering than Moroccan masters. Or so I idly supposed, Again one doesn't speculate about a friend's manservant; and if he's wise he doesn't ask you to lunch with his mistress. In fact one friend did just this, The imitation was dated 'Vat 69'. Dr Dennis Little, a lovable. often extrovert man, who suffered from clinical depression, and knew mania, died a few years later. He would not have wanted this tiny memorial anonymous. Four of his mistresses were present. I had a delicious lunch and free sex, but learnt very little new about Moroccans.

A European naturalist asked me to look after the small boy with whom he'd fallen in love for two weeks while he was away in the Atlas. (X, now several years dead, was never to let this unhappy deviation appear overtly in his beautiful, and vastly popular books: and so anonymity must be respected by me.) The flat I'd temporarily taken had a British Consulate official as one neighbour; the Moroccan equivalent of a High Court judge as the other. I said fine. Mustafa was thirteen, pre-pubertal, muscled solid gold from six hours' daily swimming, not particularly pretty. His bounce and exuberance were alarming. He was bothered that I wouldn't make love to him.

'What do you do,' I asked him, 'if a client won't pay up, or gets nasty?'

Mustafa assumed a look of hatred, whipped off his clothes, threw them in my face, walked out of the door and sat down stark naked on the landing, strategically near the stairs. He grinned at me broadly. The strategic position happened to be leaning against the Moroccan judge's door. Mustafa couldn't read the nameplate: presumably would have been more delighted if he could.

'I understand,' I said. 'Come back.'

Mustafa remained sitting, grinning, shaking his head. 'I dig,' I said. 'You use . . .' But I didn't know the Moghrebi Arabic for 'embarrassment blackmail'. Mustafa's French wasn't even up to 'You embarrass the bloke.' Patently the situation was designed to frustrate philosophical discussion anyway. I closed the door. Mustafa rang the bell within two seconds, dived into his bed, and was asleep within ninety.

I began to understand his appeal for a lover of wild animals.

Mustafa discovered a game. The flat was single room, plus kitchen and bath. When I was reading there would come a knock on the outside of the curtained windows. Mustafa. When I was in the bath, the knock would come on the outside of the frosted window. The game would have amused me too, but the flat was on the third floor, without balcony, and there was a forty-foot drop to solid concrete. I realized that the higher wild animals are more difficult to look after than the lower.

'That's the brand of whisky X drinks,' Mustafa said, naming his proper keeper. And he emptied the bottle down the lavatory. I suggested to Mustafa that to destroy anything I kept in my house with which to entertain friends was bad manners. Instantly the Arab was fully in him, understanding. I refrained from mentioning the cost of a bottle of Teacher's in Tangier: or drawing moral analogy from its name. It was I who was learning.

Mustafa attacked me playfully with an aerosol fly-spray. 'That's toxic,' I protested. 'It doesn't kill humans,' Mustafa said. 'Look, there are pictures only of mosquitoes and beetles on the tin.'

Over and over Mustafa thumped out his full name, patronymic, and address on my typewriter, neglecting only to add 'the world, the universe,' as an English boy might have done. One could better understand his wanting to define who he was. I was alarmed when he played piano chords on the keys of the machine. He was puzzled, then intrigued, when the metal hammers jumped up to jam in an inky bunch.

A Tangier street scene, 1960s

'What's it for?' Mustafa asked.

'My work.'

'This?' He was playing autumn tree with the leaves of the third draft of a novel. 'How much is it worth?' A standard, sensible Moroccan question about any physical object. 'About five hundred pounds if I'm lucky; nothing if I'm not.'

Mustafa stacked up the quarto sheets neatly as I would, but not for neurotic reasons: I gave up trying to adjust a comma: had to pretend to be doing something. 'You mean this costs five hundred pounds?

'No. D'you know anyone who sells Le Petit Marocain?'

'Ahmed sells newspapers.'

'Well, they make several copies of this the same way.'

'How many?'

'Three thousand.'

'How much money each ?

'Two pounds,'

'Two pounds for a newspaper! That means you get six thousand pounds for this?'

Mustafa was looking at the typescript as if it were some dangerous modern western invention. Which is what the novel form is.

'How much money does Ahmed get hawking news-papers?'

'Ten per cent on Christian ones, three on Moroccan ones,' Mustafa said instantly.

'That's about what I get. Go and have a bath.'

Mustafa went off: thoughtful as always; obedient for once. 'But Ahmed doesn't write the newspapers,' he said sleepily from bed,

'I know,' I said. 'Perhaps one day he will.'

A colleague of Mustafa's turned up at a flat I'd temporarily rented from a woman novelist who had gone abroad. It must have been a straight bit of shadowing. At twelve Abdulkader drank, was said to be an alcoholic. (He wasn't: he was simply discovering a new drug like masturbation; and was out of the phase, in the same profession, with a different pride, by the time he was fifteen.) I kissed him because I wanted to, because he was beautiful and knew more about the exercise than I, who also have aberrant phases; if innocent spontaneity can be called that. He had probably timed his arrival to coincide with a Christian's dinner hour. The mistake was giving him a glass of watered wine, showing him the spare room, and forgetting about him. At midnight it's reasonable to forget one's uninvited guests. The woman novelist was not an alcoholic either. She did have one of the most dramatically stocked drinks cupboards I've ever seen.

About 2.00 a.m. I went to the kitchen to cut myself a sandwich. No bread-knife, I knocked politely on Abdulkader's door. Locked. Furious now, less because it's impossible to cut stale French bread without a sharp knife than because of the blind absurdity of a prostitute's defending himself against rape, let alone against me, with a bread-knife, I knocked more firmly. Disgruntled mumblings from the other side of the door. I realize now that the knock must have had the tenor of my parents' on my locked door when I was hiding from school. Happily no such poignant memory consciously hit me.

'Abdulkader,' I lied, 'I'm going downstairs to see the porter who has a spare key to this room.' I opened and shut the apartment door; tiptoed back. Abdulkader had opened up.

'I only want the bread-knife,' I explained, sitting on the boy's bed. It was surrendered, wordlessly. Then I noticed strange lumps under the blanket.

Unsealed and sampled were a dozen bottles, including some tricky to replace — like green chartreuse and Fernet-Branca. 'You idiot child,' I said in English, more to myself than to him.

Pathetically, the only bottle Abdulkader stole was the one that would fit in his jeans' pocket unobtrusively. Heaven knows what he made of neat Angostura bitters. I didn't entertain Abdulkader again until I had my own flat, bare by design as much as from necessity. On that occasion my miniature Sony transistor radio disappeared. It was sheer magic because, on Abdulkader's departure. I had given him a polite, exploratory hug. Two days later he brought it back. 'How?' I asked him. It could scarcely have been concealed between sock and sole where such children sensibly keep money against mugging. The answer was a stout rubber-band about the lower calf.

Norodin (aforementioned) was of a different calibre, aided probably by his being 'lower middle-class'. At seven he was trotting about with an elderly Englishman, and I didn't believe what I was told; at ten he spoke four languages; at twelve some lover sent him to secondary modern school for one term in London (where his English developed a lisp); at thirteen he became my secretary for three months before he got bored with me, and his dynamism and mysteriously acquired passport carried him through the occupations of uniformed pageboy in white gloves at one of Gibraltar's grander hotels to cabin boy on a luxury yacht. Norodin wasn't beautiful. Competent he was. Probably he knew more about the thirty or so Christians he worked for personally during the first fourteen years of his life than they knew about themselves.

As secretary he was invaluable. He could unconsciously allay the suspicions about me of my neo-colon European neighbours, not simply in their own languages but in their thought processes. Norodin, also, had a yapping little dog on a leash. He could politely control my then dubious maid, Hasnah; summon and bargain with a locksmith, unblock drains with his own hands, and return a manuscript to a friend with the safety and concern with which I post my own letters.

Norodin's English lisp made him 'sec-wetary'. But there was little wet about Norodin. He had a tiresome precocity.

"Three musicians with castanets". A photo by Stewart accompanying the original text

'Norodin, you stupid little boy!'

'U'm not a little boy.'

'Big boy, then.'

'U'm not a big boy.'

'Just what are you?'

'U'm lovely boy,' said Norodin comfortably.

Norodin banked so much cash with me during his three months' daily attendance that I could have lived off the interest. Like a good banker, I didn't ask where the money came from; I knew. The day arrived when he announced he must realize his assets because: 'U'm going to Fes with my mum.' I'd eaten the cash and had a hectic hour exchanging emergency travellers' cheques at black-market rate. Norodin got his dirham, and was genuinely puzzled to receive their hazardously acquired interest. The nice thing was that he actually did go to Fes with 'my mum'. At that date the coiled, coloured wax candles he brought back as a gift could be obtained nowhere else in the kingdom. I was invited to choose two from a dozen. Where the other ten rest or have burnt I don't know.

Norodin banked something else with me. For three months a tin of airgun slugs stood on my work table: I think because the weapon belonged to his brother, these slugs to him. At each weekend the tin was lighter. I was never presented with the threatened 'pie of small birds' (probably sparrows). So courtesy required I need only guard instruments of the pies' manufacture; not consume one of the pies.

Norodin understood the conception of a book, read the simpler lurid paperbacks, and had a little French girlfriend whom he felt up at the cinema. He said he had long been bothered by a mystery of cinema. I explained I had little inside experience of the medium. But Norodin's curiosity was simple and specific. 'Why.' he asked, 'are mens always going to bed with girls but never with boys like me?'

He made his final appearance with Driss, a beautiful, pale Berber child with whom I understood he was touring, the homes of a number of single gentlemen, mostly expatriate. Besides his mysterious income, Norodin had a handsome album of stamps in which the various denominations of Britain, America and Germany were most prominently represented. The function of Driss, who had huge green eyes and an expression like a fine kitten caught watchful in lamplight, was unequivocally resolved.

'Put Driss in the book,' Norodin instructed about his protégé. 'But don't say he slips with mens.'

'The plural word is "men'', Norodin,'

I chucked them both out, into the clean winter sunshine. The Charf hill was bright, rounded, its cypresses living green, not funereal. Over the city bats were replacing the swallows, as they do any evening, in an ecological balance others know more about than I. The date was 1969.

 

15. Names

In this chapter, Stewart describes the various foreigners he knew in Tangier, of whom two were well-known pederasts whose descriptions of their sexual adventures with boys are presented elsewhere on this website:

Joe Orton, the playwright (subsequently murdered), I was introduced to by a friend in Tangier's cheapest restaurant, the defunct Florian's.

Michael Davidson briefly visited in summer 1974. I was instructed to present myself; and we had a simple supper together. Michael hadn't been in Tangier since independence – nearly twenty years. Next day we met in the Café de Paris at 3.30. I offered him a brandy because he couldn't believe there was no longer wine in the Socco. He declined; but was saddened by the new fact. We visited the Socco for mint tea, before I escorted him back to an appointment with George Greaves. In thirteen years I had never heard George called 'Georgie' before.

 

16. Another summer

By 1974, Sam Cohen, the agent for the flat Stewart leased In Tangier, was keen to evict him in order to get a higher rent:

The first to attack was Sam himself. He was quiet, embarrassed, even brave. After five years he found the courage to express the unmentionable, He called unexpectedly. The portera, like a grim little wardress, stood beside him. He and I spoke English. As preamble he said that that month's rent had not been paid (a lie). Pleasantly I reminded him that the rent had been paid monthly, in advance, by banker's order for five years. He agreed the sudden error was odd. I offered him a chair. He had been sitting all day. So I expressed the question as to what he had really come about with tilt of head, over-courteous attention.

Another Tangier street scene, 1960s

'Mr Stewart, people are complaining again about your - visitors.'

'Oh! Drunks! I know none.'

'Sir, please, you are too . . . too' (genuinely searching for English word, touching own skull) 'too intelligent not to know what I mean.'

'Oh?'

'These - boys. Little boys.' That's taken Sam guts to utter. My admiration mustn't show. 'The portera is tired of fighting them.' (He means shooing away contemporaries of two schoolboys I'm currently entertaining for English-Moghrebi conversation from the foyer downstairs: 'shooing' can be straight terrorization, as I discover later.)

'I would have supposed the job of a portera was to keep unwanted people out of her building.'

'Mr Stewart, but for you she would have no job!' (This is a linguistic slip: he means 'unnecessary work'.)

'I understand.'

'So, Mr Stewart, I am telling you now' (Sam is genuinely sad) 'either you stop these boys coming to your flat, or I ask my lawyers to terminate your contract. And I am telling the portera that if these boys come again she must call the police.'

This is not funny.

'Cohen. two middle-class Moroccan brothers come to my flat with the knowledge, consent and thanks of their father for English lessons. If you wish, I'll have photostats of their identity cards complete with first name, patronymic, surname, photograph and serial number on your desk and in the portera's lodge within twenty-four hours.'

Sam would back down in bad fiction. He doesn't. Nor do I.

'Mr Stewart' (genuinely sadder) 'I am telling you -'

'I will introduce these people to the portera so she will know who is legitimate and who not.'

Exit Sam and portera. Are they bluffing? Europeans don't want properly nationalistic cops around. That goes for the portera, who would lose face. Sam may be greedy, but I can't believe him evil: i.e. prepared to 'frame' me in an effort to terminate my lease.

What are the facts?

Three schoolfriends of the brothers Thami and Omar have visited me; on one occasion, after a family funeral, a cousin. The boys come in self regulating social groups for coffee and conversation. They use the stairs, rather than lift, are hyper-correct. do not indulge in horseplay on the landings of the building, never mind vandalize it in any way. But they are Moroccans: young, and incidentally very pretty. The hysterical Belgian and his wife below can only rationalize any interest in them by fantasizing sexual orgies. The sane French couple appear to concede a man's right to entertain whom he wills in his own home, and continue courteous and delightful. Being childless, I have almost invariably had a boy friend in Morocco. I like them. Meti was socially acceptable because he worked for me. The upper-class status of Thami and Omar suggested the roles be reversed: it is mutually agreed that I work for them. The problem is insisting they don't bring their friends, cousins or younger brother. This I find socially offensive and well-nigh impossible to enforce. But is this not my house, they wonder? Surely the Belgians have their own house downstairs? I can (and do) explain that the Belgians suppose I am taking them all to bed with me. 'How,' they ask, 'does that affect the sovereignty of a man's house?'

A few days later the Belgian dentist demonstrates how to handle unwanted children, But in the meantime I've 'registered' Thami with the portera, taking him down to the foyer.

'Do you speak Spanish?' she asks him,

'No,' says Thami in French. This is his only European language, Spanish hers. Now she must converse with him in Arabic as he intended. 'Do you visit the Englishman for lessons?' she asks him, scribbling on an imaginary textbook: she herself can neither read nor write any language.

'Yes.' says Thami.

I usher Thami into the lift, thanking the portera without trace of irony. I explain Thami has an older brother who also has permission to visit my list, who is equally muy correcto. She gives her fond little grandmother smile, which is genuinely charming. Whether this, or its obverse, the Belsen wardress, is the real woman I shall never know, The wardress persona comes into being when she's frightened for her job. This polite little boy is no threat whatever.

Three days later I am expecting Thami, on my terrace, kitchen window open to hear the doorbell. I only semi-consciously register the sound of a scuffle on the landings: all the neighbours have dogs. A moment later some instinct prompts me to look over the terrace balustrade. Thami is in the street, shrugging with despair. When I get downstairs, he explains the 'bad' Belgian had hit him and driven him out.

We ride up in the lift, and I ring the Belgian's doorbell. Simultaneously I rap shortly, but so sharply the knuckle is bruised and swollen for two months, caution perhaps against acting instantly upon anger. The Belgian peers round his door, he is pale and frightened only for a few seconds. I could understand why. Five years previously when I'd sacked poor Hasnah, my useless maid, with abuse, but certainly nor violence, she'd been back within minutes with a cop,

Thami stood beside me. 'I am told,' I said now, using the French impersonal coldly, that you've just struck one of my pupils:

Too late I realized that my savage rap, the Belgian's momentary shock of fear, must have its inevitable reaction. The assault was more Latin than Belgian. His wife joined him in screaming, gesticulating abuse. Meanwhile, incredibly, he was endeavouring, to take swipes at Thami, the blows becoming potentially more lethal as his hysterical injunctions to the child to clear out of the building had no effect whatsoever. He continued to stand behind my shoulder, not even wide-eyed, but puzzled clearly by the idiocy of Christians. I would have run.

None of the Belgian's blows struck home. I gently pushed his hands away. He registered incredulity; then hatred. There was that hiatus in which two human beings, or lower animals of the same species for that matter, confront one another upon the brink of physical violence only to think better of it. In this case flashpoint was reached and defused within seconds. I had not been in the situation since was a child. It is statistically odd that I should find myself in it again, more protractedly, later that night.

The Belgians' phone was immediately within their hall. Hysterically, the woman was trying to use it. The word 'police' was now being freely used in the stream of abuse, presumably to panic Thami or myself as chargeable with attacking the Belgians. This, I thought in the expressive American phrase is where the shit hits the fan. But any snap decision casually to ask Thami to leave was blessedly postponed: the Belgian slammed their door.

Thami and I got into the lift. Did he want coffee, or would he rather go home? 'Coffee.' he said. In my flat, he raised the question whether the Belgians were really calling the police, and why. I told him I didn't know. It was then he said his older brother, Omar, had been similarly assaulted, this time by the wife, a few days previously. I told him what I believed to be the human truth about these particular people. They were an exception, a childless couple, the woman mentally unwell, the man soured, burnt-out. They belonged to a generation which believed that the only Moroccans who should come into the building, not just the one flat in eighteen which was theirs, were maidservants. This I had explained before. Thami departed to reiterate the position to Omar; and with the request to continue impressing upon any other relation or friend that they must not visit me. I hadn't the guts to utter the untruth, more effective friends assured me, that I didn't want to know them and wouldn't let them in.

The police didn't come. Almost certainly they had not been called. I half wished they had. Bitterness at the Belgians had set my mind in a very cold and calculating frame indeed. I wrote a brief letter at once to the man. Its burden was simple to grasp. He had now twice made vicious physical assault upon the young sons of a Moroccan friend of mine. I very much hoped, for his sake, that the children did not tell their father about the incident. There was nothing clumsy in my not mentioning the Belgian's wife. Of my using 'father' rather than 'parents' in respect of the boys. A Moroccan would not mention women in this sort of circumstance. I wrote in English in the hope that the sad dentist must either have a temporizing colleague translate the letter; or at worst spend a sleepless night -with a dictionary. The fact that I had never met the father of Thami and Omar struck me as irrelevant. This was war, instigated by the Belgian by physical attack upon children with no rational reason whatsoever. He and his wife had bluffed me unintelligently by pretending to call the police. I would bluff them - with more thought. My ace was the man's incredible stupidity in striking two Moroccan children in any, never mind the obtaining, political climate. He would realize this without being told. Should he not, the translating colleague or some friend might advise caution. I added to my note only that I was protesting that night to Cohen.

The gamble worked. The Belgian left me alone for the rest of the summer. Thami and Omar left me for only three weeks. These were lonely. It was like losing one's pet tiger, manuscript, magnetic compass, wife, D.Phil. thesis notes, radar beacon.

Another Tangerine boy. An illustration accompanying the original text

For me the attraction of the schoolboys was that I had had little contact with this age group of the educated class. I am a romantic. They were tomorrow's Moroccans. I had helped raise Niñ towards marriage and emigration. Meti, the similarly illiterate peasant, into a period of confused, repressed adolescence. I realized well enough that Thami, Omar and their friends represented a haven, which need only be a change, for my own mind. One could not leave a written note for Meti. For four years we talked in pidgin Moghrebi. There had been mutual happiness, on my part sometimes blessed self-forgetfulness, in our attempts to accommodate even to the most basic facts about each other's worlds.

'D'you know someone called Angus Stewart?' the twelve-year-old Thami asked in French with quizzical cock of eyebrow, the first time a contemporary brought him to call.

'He's me, as you know, having just read it on the door.' In western countries, used to a degree of literacy, the simple delight inherent in this achievement is perhaps difficult to understand. It's as though a Swindon kitten were to thank the pensioner in Russian for its meal.

I was sitting on a goatpath where the land falls steeply from the Kasbah to the sea. Elizabeth Longford's biography of Wellington lay on the grass while I sought comfort from the discovery that the acid baths prescribed for the Iron Duke's skin affliction had burnt his towels. My towels were burnt too. Similarly afflicted I'd been ruthlessly soaking my hands in potassium permanganate and they were the colour of kippers. but also resembled kippers split by boiling. Over my shoulder a voice read haltingly: 'The Years of the Sw . . . Sw . . .' 'Sword,' I said, looking round; and pointing to one on the book's cover explained that the 'w' was unpronounced rather like the 'k' in Boukhalf, Tangier's airport, or the girl's name Khemo.

The student proved to be Bachir, a thoughtful boy of fourteen. A taxi took us to my flat, where we made coffee. When Bachir left we arranged no further date. But about 1.00 p.m. next day there was a tapping on my door. 'These,' announced Bachir, 'are my schoolfriends, Larbi, and Thami.'

All were neatly dressed. Thami carried a briefcase: it proved to be the school lunch break. They had evidently elected to use seven flights of stairs rather than the lift, and were to continue to do so. The westerner in me metaphorically closed his eyes and groaned: the natural man automatically asked the boys in. I had no illusions about how my neighbours would regard the visit. When Thami began bringing his mystic and beautiful older brother, Omar; Bachir, a blue-eyed Spanish half-caste, Badruddin, extrovert and pretty as the sun; Thami and Omar their cousin, Abdeltif; Bachir, again, a Soussi with a genius for conjuring tricks . . . even the boys themselves began to suspect tabus were being violated. There was sadness about this loss of innocence. It is a truth of life that while a man may have a single mistress, lover, wife or perhaps merely friend, half a dozen or more of a species can arouse deep animosity in his fellows. This law is exacerbated where the man's neighbours are a childless colonial couple and the species indigenous but, horror, pinky-brown small boys.

Complaint once more spread from the Belgians to the Spanish portera to that much harassed businessman, Sam, agent of absentee landlords. Their common interest was the 'respectability' of the building. It was being invaded. By natives. The fact that the alien species was half a dozen quiet and (I shudder to use the word) respectful children visiting upon rightful occasion was immaterial. Among higher animals, as lower, threat to territorial sovereignty results in confrontation. Had we been lower animals, either the neighbours or myself must have cleared out; with little, probably no bloodshed. But humans, in theory, can defuse such explosive situations with intelligence. And often with humour.

'Cohen?' (I said to Sam on the phone) 'This building is obscurely numbered, and no street plaque exists.'

'Yes.'

'May I put up a brass plate below the chiropodist's reading: "Number—; Rue—; dogs, but no Moroccan children admitted"? (I'd had a trouser-leg raped by a resident poodle a couple of days previously.)

'Mr Stewart, I do not understand.'

He did. The response reflected Sam's politic evasion, rather than grasp of irony.

I thinned the ranks of Thami and Omar's schoolfriends rather brutally. Although two years younger, Thami was the leader of the brothers. 'You and Omar can come for coffee,' I said. 'Do not bring your friends and relations. I don't bring my Christian friends uninvited to visit your father's house.'

Bachir and some of his other friends compromised themselves extraordinarily. The incident made toughness easier for me; but would have been a legitimate cause for the Belgians to complain had they not happened to be out, 'M. and Madame are at the cinema’, the note on their door read. At 10.15 one night Bachir and two companions commenced a shrill whistling in the street below. The downstairs door was by then locked; and as we emphatically had no appointment for that hour I ignored such a summons, turning out the lights. The whistles went on to be succeeded some twenty minutes later by peals of my doorbell. Suspecting the portera, and by now thoroughly paranoid, I hid under the bedclothes; idiotically not realizing that only Moroccans have the patience to ring an unanswered bell for half an hour. Tiptoeing to the door, I opened it smartly. There, totally unabashed, were Bachir and his two companions. It was no time to ask them who had let them into the locked building. Angry and incredulous as any Moroccan would have been in the situation (precisely the folly I'd committed myself in the oasis at Tiznit), I told them to get the hell out. A couple of days later I ran into Bachir on the Boulevard and told him he had behaved insanely and knew it. He was not to visit my flat again: the ban was on his friends as well.

This was sad, but had to be done. Thami and Omar, temperamentally incapable of such idiocy, continued to visit. Meanwhile there had been happier times for the whole crowd. On a couple of days a week my flat became a free coffee bar during the two-and-a-half-hour school lunch break. Songs were unself-consciously recorded and played back. Cricket, with seasoned French loaf and ping-pong ball, was reintroduced on the terrace. Thami and Omar's father owned a substantial confectionery business, cousin Abdeltif’s father was 'a captain of police', Bachir's a real-estate agent, Badruddin's a postman, and the Soussi's, naturally enough, a shopkeeper.

Omar's introduction was delightful. He was bashfully persuaded to pull from about his neck a Koranic text worked in enamel and silver. 'Omar loves God very much,' his friends solemnly explained. Omar blushed deeply; then curled up on the mtarrba with his face in his hands. He spoke little, and was awarded a ballpoint impressively stamped The Sunday Times, as a result of having absent-mindedly borrowed it and equally absent-mindedly returned it. Bachir absentmindedly borrowed a 'superball' of high-density plastic, sometime property of Meti, and allegedly gave it to his little sister. He and Thami had previously bought me three loose finger plasters so the unusual trading ethics were not usefully to be remarked upon. The Soussi sold me a murderously sprung bird gin for a dirham; then threw in the explanation of a conjuring trick as a bonus.

Photo by Bernard Faucon

All the boys except the godly Omar had the disconcerting habit of locking themselves in my bathroom in pairs for the purpose of mutual masturbation, or other sexual entertainment. My only anxiety was that the broken bathroom window gave on to the wing of the terrace immediately adjacent to the objectionable Belgians. Squeaks and giggles would have been unfortunate. But the business was altogether too practised or absorbing for squeaks and giggles came there none. Sometimes impatience would have me approach the broken window from the terrace with warning, reticent coughs. The irritating truth was that I was mildly embarrassed; the boys not at all. I would poke my head briefly through the shattered window, register private games, be vaguely noticed myself, then ignored.

Inevitably this lent dryness of tone to reticence when I said 'Uh . . . look, hurry it up, would you?' before returning to my rickety chair on the other wing of the terrace; or to the bookish Omar.

And so the twice-weekly lunch hours passed until the banishment of Bachir and those who had behaved recklessly; until Thami and Omar were 'licensed' with the portera only to be beaten up by the Belgians, as recorded. Wretchedly one of the night-whistling exiles had been the blue-eyed Badruddin, healthily extrovert where Omar and myself were introvert, and owner of one of the most beautifully fluid slow-motion smiles I'd ever known a boy possess. But I'd begun to wonder about that extrovert nature. One night, unobserved, I saw Badruddin cruising for hire outside the Café de Paris, walking embodiment if one wills of the wickedness of Tangier, in French short trousers and equally innocent-looking tee-shirt. I picked him up myself from confused motives of jealousy; putting him in a taxi with cinema money which would keep him off the streets until he was due home.

Before I left Tangier in midsummer Thami and Omar called on two successive days to say goodbye. Formally 'licensed' though they were with the portera' who was rational in respect of the boys in my presence, she trapped them on the stairs as they departed. Screams of abuse, shouts for her son Manolo echoed up the core of the six-storey building. No wonder the thirty-eight- year-old Manolo appeared repressed and had a nervous twitch. He regarded his mother's ferocity, and indeed this whole affair, with wanly amused helplessness. Calmly Thami's voice was explaining that he and his brother had been visiting Mr Stewart and that she herself had conceded this as their right. It was cool for a twelve-year-old: and the fourteen-year-old Omar would be similarly dignified, though frightened. By the time I had grabbed my keys and raced downstairs the boys had gone; my Janus-faced portera was in her lodge but not answering the bell.

 

[1] A poet and friend.

[2] Ruth Sillitoe’s husband.

[3] Meti was then thought to have been eleven.  He lived with Stewart until he was nearly fourteen, and an incident implied as being a year or two after that can be dated to the first moon landing in 1969.

[4] 9 July 1971

[5] Presumably this is the boy brothel vividly described by Robin Maugham in pp. 155-60 of his novel The Wrong People (1970) about two pederasts of opposite character.  The young and naïve Arnold is taken there by the jaded and much older Ewing, who ends his innocence by making him watch through a peep-hole a slender Berber of 14 being pedicated by a “heavily built Negro.”