Daily Archives: 2 January 2021

Glaswegian Goodwill Tour in Tangier

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 62-64:

Tangier in 1956 was an extraordinary place, my first taste of Africa and the world of Islam. Morocco had been, until very recently, a French colony, but Tangier was under tripartite administration between the British (the post office), the French (police and law courts), and the Spanish (general administration).

There was a vigorous independence movement called Istiqlal, which rioted elsewhere, but the Tangerines are known for their civility and tolerance, so Tangier was spared the rioting, at least while we were there.

My parents played the tourist out of the El Minzah Hotel, but I could not, like them, retire to bed at ten p.m., so I would steal back out and explore the bars and dives of the port quarter. It was here I met the Marine Commandos.

There was a British warship moored in the outer harbor on what is called a “flying the flag” mission. The idea was to spread pro-British goodwill along the African coast. It was in a dockside bar that I came across a group of Marines who were having terrible trouble making themselves plain to the bar staff, who spoke only Moorish Arabic and Spanish.

I tried to help and was promptly press-ganged as unit interpreter by the senior sergeant. They were all from Glasgow, from, I believe, Gallowgate, or the Gorbals: about five feet tall and just as wide. The problem was not between English and Spanish. That was easy. It was between English and Glaswegian. I could not understand a word they said. Eventually a corporal was discovered whom I could decipher and the three-language enigma was solved. We moved from bar to bar as they spent their shore leave and accrued pay on pints of beer and triple-scotch chasers.

Another problem, and quite a big one on a goodwill mission, was that they tended to leave each bar looking as if a bomb had gone off. I solved this by suggesting a gratuity for the staff. Contrary to rumor, Glaswegians are not stingy. When I explained the Tangerines were dirt poor, the Marines chipped in generously. But I explained to the bar staff that the extra money was the house-repair budget. Smiles all around.

Each morning, I was decanted from a taxi outside the El Minzah at about five, just in time for a short nap before joining my parents for breakfast at eight. On the third day, the Royal Navy warship weighed anchor and cruised off, taking the commandos to continue their friendship-building mission somewhere else.

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Filed under Britain, France, language, Maghreb, military, Spain