Maurice and Norbert

Added on 21 October 2008
With my holiday to America resulting in cataclysmic failure on all fronts - no adventure, no Patriots’ games, no romance, no movie-type situations, no car chases, aliens or right wing fundamentalists - the next time I went on holiday to somewhere other than Millport was on a walking holiday in the High Atlas in Morocco. While on the one hand I was more or less guaranteed not to see the New England Patriots, on the other, since I went with a group, at least something was bound to happen. Even if it wasn’t adventure, romance or a movie-type situation.

The High Atlas looked a bit like Scotland in places. I mean, the Highlands, rather than Bishopbriggs. Greener than expected. There’s the smell of a certain spice - obviously it would help if I could name that spice, but I’ll have to be Ewan & Charley here rather than Michael Palin - that still reminds me of sitting at the foot of a hill with the group, eating couscous and vegetables and a scraggy bit of goat.

My main memory, however, is the spiders. There were a quite a few large spiders. Some of them had names. I particularly recall Maurice and Norbert.

I used to be arachnophobic. Well, when I say used to be, more accurately, I’m no longer as arachnophobic as I was. Kids will do that to you. One day you’re scared of spiders. The next day you have a daughter. You say to yourself, what am I going to do when she comes running into the room screaming her head off because there’s a spider in her room? Say, deal with it, you’re two, how hard can it be? You have to suck it up and not be a big enormous jessie, that’s what.

Morocco was in pre-kids days, however, so I hadn’t given myself a talking to yet.

The first night in the mountains, I slept on the roof of the house we stayed in. This was because I would rather have encountered a spider in the open than in a confined space with other people. Sleeping outside in the mountains was a freezing, damp, miserable experience. I think I almost died. The next night I decided I was going to face my fear and sleep inside.

We spent the day walking in the hills, before arriving at a small village some time in the afternoon. The party of around twenty would be split between two rooms. I walked tentatively into the first to stake my claim on six feet of floor space. This was when I met Maurice. Maurice was on one of the walls. He was a very large brown spider with long legs and was unusually welcoming. ‘Come in,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you sleep in here? It’ll be fun. I might walk across your face in the middle of the night... and I might not.’

Having made visual confirmation of my worst fear I slept outside every night. I got used to it. One night when we all slept on the side of a hill and fifteen of us had to be medivaced to Marrakesh was memorable, but other than that it went pretty well.

Near the end of the trip, and after another reasonable night’s sleep under a blanket of stars...(a blanket of stars, yep, I’m going for the Pulitzer), I went downstairs to my bag. (I was letting my bag sleep inside.) Norbert was on the wall above my bag. Unlike Maurice, who had been large and kind of cuddly, Norbert was a big, nasty, brutish, black, fuck-off spider. Whatever it was that I’d gone in there to get from my bag, I decided to leave for the time being. I walked out the room, but then changed my mind, turned and walked back in again, thirty seconds later.

Norbert was gone.

Standing in the middle of the room, as far away from each wall as possible, I searched everywhere. He was nowhere to be seen. There was only one logical conclusion. He had fallen into my bag.

To this day, I still haven’t unpacked it. Sixteen years now. I’m going to give it another five, as he’ll probably have been able to sustain himself for a while on the sandwiches and fresh fruit that were in there, and then I might get one of my kids to open the bag as a science experiment.

Tomorrow: what happened when Maurice came looking for Norbert?