In The Holidays

Entry by: kevley

3rd July 2015
Foreign Sketches

One day, my wife mentioned that I needed a holiday.
She said I was getting run down and needed one. She said we both needed to get away and chill out on a beach for a couple of weeks.
I replied that I did not like the sound of that. That it wasn't me.
She smiled and said that is exactly why I needed to do it.
I said I would think about it. But I didn't. I didn't intend to, I went back to my work, and worked, worked, worked. When they rung me up to go up and do extra shifts I always said yes. When I had days off, I rung them to see if they needed me.

My wife kept asking if I'd decided where I wanted to go. I said I was still deciding.
She brought brochure home. I told her I would have a look after work. After my bath. Tomorrow. Whatever excuse I could think of.
They did some new rotas at work. I was done for 2 weeks holiday. People started asking me where we were going. That is when I regretted marrying the girl form the office. She could arrange things behind my back.
I started to take an interest then. I asked her where we were going. If I went.

She smiled again, and told me I was definitely going and I would find out when I got there.

I knew I was beaten. We went on holiday only last year, I claimed.
That was our honeymoon. Five years ago.
This time the smile was gone, and she was glaring.
I thought about mentioning the cost, but decided against it. I earnt all that money and harldy ever spent anything, so I assumed that had stayed within our budget.
The cat? I asked hopefully.
Her sister would look after it was her reply.

As I warmed to the idea, she started to tell me more about it.
The North African coast.
A four star hotel.
Where most of the staff spoke English, and I would be able to get fish and chips. And Sky Sports. She had checked.
A beautiful beach.
The sea.
Not much to do all day.
But that was the point, she kept telling me.
She got us both the latest e-readers, the ones that were best for reading in bright sunlight, and chose a selection of books for us both.
I haven't read a book in years, decades, I protested.
Now is the ideal time to start.
What sort of books had she got for me, I wanted to know.
The history of the country we were going to.Murder stories - on which my favourite TV shows were based.

The days quickly passed.
Counting down until the holiday, before it was my last shift.

Naturally, my wife had packed for me, and booked the taxi to the airport.
I only had to get up and dressed, which I did.

We got to the hotel easily enough. Three hours on a plane, 90 minutes on a coach.
Lots of waiting in between, so I was glad of the e-reader.
I slept well the first night, which surprised me.
I was starting to unwind and relax so on the fourth day I saw a German girl sketching, I suddenly thought that is what I want to do.
That is what I wanted to go back to doing.
Maybe it was having nothing no to do, but I had been having a lot of memories from childhood and school, and my wife was telling me that I didn’t need to go back home and work so many hours, and was that job what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Watching that German girl sketch her brothers on the beach made me think that at school I had always been drawing.
In the school holidays, when my friends were playing football and cricket all day I would walk through the fields and up and down the country paths sketching what I saw – stiles, fences, trees, flowers. Anything that caught my eye and imagination.
I did a couple of quick pencil sketches with what was lying around in the hotel reception and soon yearned for better materials. For colours.
I asked the travel rep about where was the best place to get art materials.
She said take the bus into town and there would be stalls in the souk. Mainly children’s stalls where I could get basic colouring pencils, sketch pads.

I was a bit dubious about 2 things: leaving my wife on the beach, and riding on the bus, a white man, alone.
She said that she would keep an eye on my wife, and that she would introduce me to an English speaking waiter who often acted as an unofficial tour guide. For a small fee. .

The next morning, I met up with the waiter. The travel rep spoke to him for a few minutes in Arabic, and then told me - in English - that he understood where I wanted to go. She said it would be better for safety reasons If I didn't carry any cash and so I handed it over to the wait who put my money - fifty quid - in his wallet, then he lead me to the bus stop.
This was just before 11.
He was an Arab, and he looked, well, like an Arab. Short black hair and a short black beard. He would have been a bit younger than me, suspect.
He was dressed in a long white robe, with pockets deep enough so that his wallet -and my money - disappeared from view.
Nobody will know it's there and mug him, I thought. His English was just about passable, but I soon realised that he didn’t want to speak much.
Well, not to me that is. On the bus into town he had a long conversation with an older woman.
It was all in Arabic, so I have no idea what it was about.
I caught his eye part way through and he gave me a toothy smile and said “auntie “ as he gestured to the woman, so I assume that is who she was.

We went round the market in town, the Arab and I. He understood well enough what I wanted and led me straight to a stall that was selling children's toys.
He spoke to the owner and they seemed to know each other.
Brother? I said to him, as the stall owner seemed to resemble him.
Cousin, he replied and then took me round to the side of the stall and pointed to an area that had sketch pads and crayons, cheap colouring pencils.
I looked through them - none of them had price tags on.
Are they expensive I asked the waiter?

He just smiled at me, and so I selected a couple of sketch pads - the one that had the best quality paper, and A4 and A5 - well, what I thought were those sizes.
I passed them over to the waiter, who had started having a long conversation with his cousin.
He smiled and held them for me, whilst I looked through the pencils. They were mainly in cardboard boxes or just stood up in pots.
I looked instinctively for the tins of the major names of European art materials, but there were no sign.
I picked out a few of the ones in the tubs and tried them on the back of the smaller pad the waiter was holding for me.
They seemed to be reasonable, acceptable quality.
I decided to forsake the sets and just buy the colours I wanted separately.
I wasn't going to do any great masterpieces whilst here I knew that. I wanted something to pass the time. Whilst I sat on the beach, watching the waves come and go.
I picked out ten or so, the major colours.
Then I looked through again, and got another 6 or 7 - my eye was drawn to the lighter colours, and I could see myself using quite a few different shades of blue, and yellows.
I was already noticing the different patches of the beach, where the sun caught the sand, the subtle shades, and I didn't want to just have dark and light yellow.

I then realised that I would need a pencil sharpener.
I thought I would gesticulate the action - make a hole with my thumb, put a finger in and twist it around - then realised I didn't know if that could be an obscene gesture amongst the Arabs. I thought I had better not risk it.

I attracted the attention of the waiter and his cousin by I held a pencil up, and then pretended to break off the tip. The cousin immediately got my point and reached out to the other side of the stall and produced a pencil sharpener.
I smiled at him and took it in my hand.
Thinking this would be easy, I pointed to the back of the pad where I had tested the pencils and made an action that I was sure he would take to mean that I wanted an eraser.

He looked confused at me and asked the waiter something in Arabic.
The waiter looked at me, expecting me to say something.

I would like an eraser. So that I can rub out the pencil.

He looked quizzically at me and I knew that he didn't understand.
I repeated it as slowly as I could. Then spelt it out. E-r-a-s-e-r.
He looked even more confused this time.

He pointed at my watch, and I got the hint.
He took my money out of his pocket - showed me a fiver, and gave his cousin it.
I thought it was a bit much for what I had got - especially as I didn't have an eraser.

He led me away from the bus station, and into a courtyard.
There were many more men there, and they greeted him and shook his hand.
Some even shook mine.
Pray, he said, and I realised that this was a mosque.

He led me into a shaded corner and pointed to a chair.
Draw, he said and left me to go and join the others who were lining up in rows.
I noticed a cool breeze blow across my face as I opened the larger sketchpad and started to draw based on the patterns of the carpet.