No Woman, No Sale
The magic of Marrakech stalls,
as our local guide leads all fourteen
of us into a spacious place,
where the floor is a wood arena
and a tortoise strolls around
the perimeter as a warm-up act.
We’re ushered onto long benches,
addressed by the man in charge
who reminds me of 1980s Alexei Sayle,
but calmer, as he soft souks us with his
‘ no obligation to buy just listen to
their story and look ‘ introduction
to a demonstration of hand-woven
carpets made by a women’s
cooperative. Successive waves of
colourful carpets and rugs sweep
over our eyes, twist and fall beside feet,
followed by individual approaches
from different male salesmen, who take
turns to sit next to us. Their pleas
to buy ‘for the sake of these women’
become more desperate as their pitch
continues to fail, right down to much smaller
less colourful rugs, which parallels
the price drop from several hundred Dirhams
or Euros, to ‘only forty’, conveyed as if it would
be little more than buying a copy of ‘The Big Issue.’
The major flaw in their strategy is the absence
of any saleswomen and there’s not even a photo
of the women at work, or of any women.
I worry if nobody buys anything
they might take it out on the tortoise;
notice the salesmen have travelled full circle,
arriving as he completes his second and final lap.
What our guide knows and they don’t,
is we were wooed for an hour before lunch
by a young woman proffering free mint tea
in an Oils and Spices shop, who was brilliant
at persuading people to club together to buy
3 items for the price of 2, and single items
that added up to quite a spend for most
of our group, leaving the rest equally weary
in the mid-afternoon heat of the carpet shop.
We leave, having not bought anything.
‘Alexei’ and his crew are polite but glum.
I make sure I’m the last one out, glance
behind to watch the youngest man walk
over to the tortoise and gently pick it up.
When Ben was stationed at Beeston in
Nottinghamshire, he’d be granted weekend
leave at short notice, and wouldn’t arrive back
in Walthamstow until very late on a Friday.
His wife Rosa was glad to see him, but always
went back to bed; not one for a night appetite,
her share got saved to cook on Saturday.
This left Ben to take his excited son Derek
into the kitchen to watch him fry
fish and chips, properly battered.
The quality of the fish was the best
available, as before Ben had switched
to the meat trade in the mid-1930s, his job
was to drive lorries full of it, on ice, from
Felixstowe to Billingsgate. He’d kept up
good contacts, and his best friend George
had become a cold store manager, so a
detour on the way home was well worth it.
Eight, nine, or ten years old, Derek loved this
wartime treat, would even eat the hardest
cracklings he insisted dad scrape off the bottom
of the pan, despite their bitter taste.
During the times dad was away, Derek collected
small pieces of enemy shrapnel to show him;
some, which hadn’t fully cooled down,
made burn holes in his hanky.