Dave Lanning travels to Tunisia with the cast of ATV soap Crossroads in 1967
WITH a most unlady-like bellow of displeasure, Lotus, the 11-year-old mare camel, totters rear-end-first on to her cleft hooves and trots off with a sheik, rattle and roll in the general direction of the Gulf of Gabès.
It takes a masterpiece of manipulation by her cheerful little Tunisian keeper to prevent Noele Gordon and I, dubious passengers both, from ending up in the lazily-lapping Mediterranean.
Honestly, there’s simply no holding Lotus since she became a star!
Talk about tantrums. Until now she has been perfectly happy with a dollop or two of cactus feed a day and a gallon of water a week. But the Crossroads team have moved in on her native island of Djerba, 197 square miles of date palms, olive trees, sun and scorching sands off the coast of Tunisia.
And Lotus has been discovered. She will be appearing on British television, as part of the background scenery as Meg Richardson, Carlos Rafael, Marilyn Gates, and Geoffrey Steele reconnoitre the possibility of setting up a new motel headquarters for Crossroads on the island.
Until now it’s been quite an event if Lotus has ended up on a holiday snapshot. Now she’s in the big time, and the other 250 camels on the island are very proud of her. So please excuse her star temperament…
The “Sheik” who nearly ended up among the waves is me, Lanning of Arabia, all dolled up in Arab gear.
Not my normal travelling gear; but when you join this free-wheeling Crossroads excursion into the exotic, their astonishing enthusiasm becomes contagious. You just can’t help getting with it.
Consider the activities of the four “regulars” from the daily adventures in Crossroads, which until that buried bomb brought disaster, was set in the not-nearly-so-exotic Midlands of England…
Noele Gordon (Meg Richardson) is developing a tan while you watch. This isn’t far off her own idea of paradise. She’s a fitness fanatic; and this is the place for the outdoor life. With only 50 yards of white sand between her chalet and the sea, she’s in swimming before breakfast every morning.
There are majestic Arab horses on the beach for her to ride. And, as an enthusiastic gardener at her impressive Ross-on-Wye home, she’s going into ecstasies about the abundant, purple bougainvillaea and roses which magically appear out of the sand.
Lew Luton (Geoffrey Steele) has gone sartorially overboard for Arab clothing. His personal wardrobe is straight out of swingingest Carnaby Street. But out here he isn’t seen without his loose-flowing djibba.
Tony Morton (Carlos Rafael) is all wrapped up in Tunisian food, which is only what you’d expect from the famous Crossroads chef. I didn’t know, but Tony is an accomplished cook.
In the series, he concocts most of the dishes and recipes himself. Refuses to take short cuts or use substitutes. If he’s got to make an omelette, he makes an omelette, not something that looks like one.
Here he spends most of his time in the kitchen, engaging in wild bouts of gesticulation and translation, trying to find out exactly what goes into brik, a local delight, which is an egg done in herbs, and wrapped in a huge potato crisp.
His comment: “So all the hens on the island are brik-layers!”
Sue Nichols (Marilyn Gates) is lapping up the sun (a mere 85 degrees today) in her coral pink bikini. She wears a flamboyant, Arab-looking beach coat, too.
But not purchased in Houmt Souk (market quarter) down the camel track. Oh no. She found it in a Birmingham boutique, where it was advertised as a way-out mini-skirt and has “sort of adapted it, luv”.
Sue has been posing Twiggy-like under the palms for local cameramen, giggling virtually non-stop, and wondering why some Rudolf Valentino-type hasn’t galloped up on a stallion and whisked her away into the desert…
In between all then fun, games and frolics, they’re working conscientiously on the first programme of Crossroads in Tunisia, starting on your screens this week.
Me? I’ve winged into the happy-go-lucky set-up from still-chilly London, not knowing quite what to expect. And certainly not anticipating making a true pal in Lotus the Crossroads camel, who has been following me around the beach (where she plies for hire) like a puppy, ever since the word got around that I could get her name in the paper.
Noele explains: “Camels don’t get much limelight here. After all, Dave, you can buy one for about 75 dinars (£50) [£890 in 2018 allowing for inflation]. They go on working for 20 years. They’re very common and there are only about 20 cars on the entire island.”
So a motel in Djerba, it would seem, is something of a misnomer. Crossroads “cam-tel”, perhaps, would be more appropriate? But who wants to split hairs, up here on a camel’s back? Enough to admit that Djerba is the ideal venue for any sort of caravanserai, ancient or modern.
What of the food? Well, Carlos is mightily impressed and that’s good enough for me.
He recommends the schakouka, which appears to be a vegetable chop suey; or fish-wise, poisson complet, grey-blue mullet or sea bream, dished up with peppers, tomatoes, eggs and various salads. All this… and local wine at about four bob a bottle. [20p in decimal; £3.50 in 2018 allowing for inflation]
By day, my Crossroads friends are filming — on the beach, among the sheltering palms, at a medieval fort, built by the Spaniards in 1284, and — a snorting nudge between the shoulders reminds me — with long, tall Lotus, who, for connoisseurs of camel behaviour, rises from her haunches back legs first, and lowers front legs first!
Downright awkward, both ways; both manoeuvres almost have you headlong over her wickerwork muzzle!
Crazy, busy, fascinating. Like Sue Nicholls says: “Crossroads has never been like this before!”
Tonight we have a rendezvous at the glamorous, white-domed Hotel Tanit, where an Italian group play Beatlesquc music until midnight, and where Sue and Lew have promised to teach me an extrovert new dance they’ve invented, aptly called “The Hump.”
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll slip out of my Tunisian gear, grab a shower, don a conventional suit, and prepare for the evening festivities.
The only problem is Lotus. She’s become rather attached to me. Won’t let me out of her sight. And you simply can’t take a camel to a dance, not even in Djerba. I’ll just have to shake her off, somehow.
Pssst! Wanna buy a camel?