On a vast, empty stretch of beach a few miles south of Essaouira in Morocco, there is a woman doing yoga while facing the sea, a warm breeze lifting her hair out behind her as she lowers herself slowly on one leg. She is at peace, until a column of nine quad bikes comes barrelling down the shore, spraying sand and belching smoke as they pass.
This sudden invasion seems both jarring and a little contemptuous, especially from my point of view: I’m driving the fourth quad bike in line.
But I have little choice. Rule 3 of the Seven Rules of Safe Quad-biking presented in the video we watched before setting off was Always Ride Single File; I must go wherever the quad in front of me goes. Rule 7 was Respect Nature, which at this point remains a policy in search of an opportunity.
Anyway, if it seems disrespectful, it can’t be uncommon: we are following in the tracks of other quad bike tours. We will not be the first the woman has seen today.
A few miles on we stop for a break, removing our helmets and hair nets – four old men and their grown children – to reflect on the experience so far.
“Did you see the yoga lady?” I say.
“Yeah,” says another father. “Did you see the dead dolphin?”
“No,” I say. “How did I miss that?”
On the way back through the dunes our quad bike instructor halts the procession to move a baby turtle out of our path. I think: Rule 7 – tick.
As the year turns, this holiday quad-biking expedition makes for an early start on a vague and unofficial resolution on my part: Say No To Marginally Fewer Things. But I’m not sure I’m choosing all the right things, or even any of the right things.
For example, I still refuse to haggle. I consider this to be a moral position, because I have reached an age where mere aversion may wear the mantle of principle. In reality, I’m simply mortified by it. Early on, I decide not to buy anything.
On day three of the holiday we go as a family to the fish shacks near the port for lunch, where the representatives of a dozen proprietors compete enthusiastically for our custom. The attention is overwhelming; by the time I have been talked into a table and chosen some fish, I am puce with embarrassment.
“How much is it?” my wife says when I return from the slab. I make the mistake of telling her.
“You’re joking,” she says. “Why didn’t you haggle?”
“I never haggle,” I say.
“Ugh!” she says. Disgusted, she storms off, leaving me with my three sons. We stare at each other for a bit.
“If I’m honest, I would have paid more,” I say.
After lunch I wander through the medina in a silent rage, stalked by a man who really, really wants to shine my shoes.
“Non, merci,” I say, although looking down at my feet, I can see why he is so keen.
I know what it is like to suffer a foolish and ineffectual husband – for I have been told many times – but I do not think storming off is an appropriate response to my accidental profligacy. If anything, it made the price per head more expensive.
“And even with that, it was still only like, 11 quid each,” I say later, once my wife and I are speaking again.
“I know,” she says. “Actually I was just freaked out by all those dead fish,” she says. “I lost my appetite.”
“The bream was excellent,” I say.
It has become our holiday habit to gather each evening on the little roof terrace of the riad where we are staying to watch the sun set, but at the appointed hour I find myself alone up there. My wife is sleeping; my children are off somewhere, arguing down prices in a time-honoured, mutually respectful manner.
The sky is a deep blue. Gulls are wheeling about among the chimney pots. Just outside the medina walls, drums are being beaten. On the next roof over sits a black and white dog, staring at me.
“Nice evening for it,” I say.The dog stares.
“Yeah, whatever,” I say. The dog and I both turn to face the sea.
I watch as the sun fattens and slowly sinks into the water, winking below the horizon. A moment later the call to prayer begins, echoing from tower to tower. The dog stands, raises its head and howls along with the muezzin. If it seems a little disrespectful, it is also quite common. This dog does the same thing five times a day, every day.