Sunday, 19 February 2017

Morocco and starry skies

Ah, Morocco! A fairly run-of-the-mill package holiday destination now, but years ago the very name of this North African country conjured up lurid images of Arab-French exoticism and danger. I have long said that the 1942 film Casablanca (starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and a host of other memorable actors) is my firm all-time favourite, with stirring romantic scenes that have become legendary - not to mention a song, As Time Goes By, and a defiant, lump-in-throat rendition of La Marseillaise that closes down Rick's CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain. And some older readers may recall Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1969 hit, Marrakesh Express. Or maybe it's only couscous on the plate that nowadays brings Morocco especially to mind.

For me, my first awareness of Morocco as an exotic and dangerous place was a TV series of the early 1960s. Vague memories of it popped into my mind just the other day. I'd found it enthralling, but I could never watch the whole hour of it, and in those long-gone days there was no way of recording any TV programme - unless, I suppose, you could somehow film the TV screen with a cine camera and a tape recorder. But that needed professional expertise and equipment. I had to miss half the programme because Mum and Dad had packed me off to an evening kid's club, and by the time I got home again, the first half was already over.

There was background. Mum had an old friend, and her young son and I were supposed to be great friends. Well, we sort of got on, but he was in every way a brighter spark than me, and I was comprehensively outshone. I found this irritating, but not so much as to make me say anything. I ought to have. But I was a compliant child, and didn't like to go against whatever the grown-ups had arranged. I was only ten, after all. Anyway, Mum's friend wanted her son to attend this kid's club, and I was there to join it with him and keep him company. Imagine how reluctant I was! But there was nothing to say, and I did as I was told. I felt like a fish out of water. It wasn't for me at all.

I wasn't happy or at ease in other children's company - I had put a stop to having birthday parties from age eight onward, much to Mum's social embarrassment, but my tearful pleadings had prevailed. Within a couple of years, however, Mum and Dad had reasserted their 'We know best' ascendancy, even though it must have been very obvious that I wasn't going to enjoy being made to attend a club that had Rules and Organised Activities, and Strict Persons In Charge. But I was unable to stop it.

I endured an hour and a half every week of that nonsense until Dad's promotion (and transfer) meant moving far away to Southampton. This was Deliverance for me. I quit that club with an inward glee and relish that would have offended if visible.

There was just one consolation. Actually two. I set off in daylight, but came home in darkness, under a starry sky. Light pollution was minimal in Barry in the early 1960s. You could see thousands of stars. And, because I was walking on my own, I could dawdle a bit, and stare upwards at the constellations until my neck ached or I was giddy. A child of 2017 doesn't normally have this privilege. They would never be allowed to go off alone in the evening, to walk deserted streets in the dark. But then I could, and I loved it. I dawdled mostly going to the club, not wanting to get there. It got to be a habit, and I was reprimanded more than once. I didn't care - how nice it would be if one evening I was told they'd had enough, and I was not to come again! So I worked on it. No success, though.

The other consolation was the chance to use one or other of my battery torches. I was fascinated by torches, and usually got a new one every Christmas. They didn't last long. The Ever-Ready batteries used then tended to leak, which quickly corroded the metal bits inside the torch, so that after a time the torch wouldn't light up. I had no idea how to put that right, nor what the scientific principles were that made torches work at all. If the battery didn't leak, it would run out of power after a few nights, growing dim, until all you had was an orange glow. On some homeward journeys it was a race against time to reach the back door of the house, and unlatch it, before all power went. The back door was in a narrow and utterly dark back lane - very creepy - and, being a timid child, I hated being caught without light in such a place. I didn't fear murderers. I was afraid of prowling savage dogs. I'd read plenty of stuff about phantom beasts too.

Dad's promotion and our moving to Southampton also meant I was able to quit another heartily-disliked institution that I had been signed up for against my will - the local baptist church's Sunday morning children's service. What had Mum and Dad been thinking of? I wasn't religious in any shape, manner or form - however quiet and reserved (and even fey) I may have seemed at the time. I wondered why my parents had believed I could ever enjoy the dull church services. What were they thinking about? It felt like a punishment. Besides, even at age ten I saw clearly that the world had flaws, that people made threats, and stole things, and could be cruel and very nasty. Adults and children both. And some of them were professed believers in God. I was already disillusioned, and couldn't take it on trust that all church-going people were saints with the highest motives.

It seemed (to my simple mind) that if all the people who were meant to be Wonderful Human Beings - but were actually very unpleasant - could end up in heaven just by saying the right things, or pledging themselves to the right beliefs, then Heaven must be full of horrible people. And you'd be meeting them again Up There for eternity, without escape! This made Going To Heaven a truly fearful prospect. I never articulated any of these thoughts, but they put me in a frame of mind where church-going felt like a waste of time at best, and at worst the gradual closing of a prison door. And yet there was no getting out of it. I went only to please my parents - taking along my little brother, who kept his own thoughts to himself. I guessed that my parents wanted us out of the house. Quite why was only dimly perceived.

Back to that TV programme that I could only catch the last half-hour of. Here I was, in February 2017, trying to recall it in better detail. Particularly the name. Fifty-five years afterwards.

I remembered only that it was exciting, dealt with smuggling or something like that, and had a one-word title that began with C. And that watching the programme came to an end when we moved to Southampton in the summer of 1963.

The dates might help. The winter of 1962/63 was a severe one, and I would never have been allowed out in the dark on slippery pavements. So I must have been watching it in spring 1963. An adventure series whose name began with C. Set in Morocco, and about smuggling. I quickly found what I was trying to recall in Wikipedia. It was Crane. Somebody must have done an extraordinary amount of research, to put together the article - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crane_(TV_series). Astonishingly, there were even some photos to be found on the Internet, though how and why taken defies conjecture:


There's more information at http://www.cherishedtelevision.co.uk/crane.html, and a brief end-of-story YouTube clip too, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n59MFdTu8jw.

Well, I'm glad that I tracked all this down. Another piece of ancient personal history disinterred.

A pity that there are no box sets to watch, as with another contemporary TV series, Danger Man...

1 comment:

  1. It was four days after my fifth birthday when I was sent to a non family birthday party, my reaction was extreme enough that I never had to go to another ever again!

    Childhood memories have mostly been blanked off but you do your best to open up cracks, I too remember seeing this and the exotic location from a time when the world seemed larger...

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