I’m still not sure how I ended up co-working in an ex-hippy haunt in Morocco. One friend was more amused by the work aspect than the hippy bit. But the moral of this story is that what might sound a bit weird on paper might make perfect sense if only you suspend scepticism and go off and do it.
There is much to be said for the freelance life, not least that you can do what you bloody well like a lot of the time. But doing what you bloody well like can mean going to bed at 3am, getting up at noon and spending more time viewing adult entertainment on your laptop than is probably healthy.
However, less healthy than viewing adult entertainment on your laptop is looking at a wall for hours on end, or out at the Manchester weather. LS Lowry found inspiration in Mancunians bent double against the rain, but he wasn’t actually freelance, working by day as a rent collector.
So, having belatedly realised that I don’t have to spend my immediate future combining writing with staring at people smoking spice down the alley opposite my living room window, I booked up for a week in a co-working joint in the Moroccan fishing village of Taghazout - where hippies rolled up in the 1960s, surfers arrived in their VWs in the 1970s and web developers, bloggers, lawyers and a nice Canadian lady with a website about kidney problems have now been crumbled into the mix.
Taghazout is a ramshackle little place on a 5km beach, which had hardly anybody on it for most of the time I was there. You can go for a paddle, a run, a camel ride or hire a jet-ski or surfboard. You can take a day trip to the port city of Essaouira, with its fortified medina, hassle-free souk and wind that blows so hard you need a blowtorch to light your cigarette. There are oranges as big as your head and tomatoes that actually taste like fruit. But enough ink has been spilled on bad travel writing of the ‘sangria sunset’ ilk, so I’ll shut up and write about co-working and co-living instead.
Before touching down in Agadir, the concept of co-working eluded me. Why, I wondered, couldn’t people wanting to work in flip-flops just book a cheap room on a beach, pitch up with a laptop and start making digital hay? Well, for one, your average cheap room on a beach is unlikely to have high-speed internet. My connection in Manchester often has more in common with loading tapes on a Commodore 64 than the connection at Sundesk, which was like quicksilver in comparison and never once wavered in seven days. But it was the dynamics of co-working which fascinated me most.
Having quit her job in high-end hospitality a few years ago, the lovely Magdalena left Germany, moved to Taghazout, fell in love, bought a dilapidated building a couple of streets back from the beach and converted it into a charming three-floored guest house. Magdalena knew then what I didn’t know until recently, namely that more and more people were carving out careers that didn’t require them to be tied to an office, or at least not one in a concrete block in a maddening city. Some of the people I met at Sundesk had been running their businesses on the hoof for over a year.
But these so-called digital nomads (the term makes me shudder and I vow never to be one, even if I end up hot-desking with Bedouins in the Sahara), still being business people and professionals, require discipline and routine. So while Sundesk has a balcony overlooking the sea, with a sun deck on top, it also has an office on one floor, containing desks and chairs and a coffee machine.
This set-up suited me perfectly, because, being somebody who writes rather than somebody who builds apps and such like - and routine being an alien concept to me - it meant that I had the balcony overlooking the sea almost to myself, on which I could loll about with my hands down my shorts, read the odd chapter of a book and type the odd sentence, before deleting it and starting over again.
Not that I would describe myself as anti-social. Indeed, the idea of being locked up in a draughty garret in the middle of nowhere, in the tradition of the tortured artist, doesn’t appeal at all. And my co-workers at Sundesk - a sprinkling of Germans, a couple of Poles, an Irishman, a Frenchman and a Canadian - were a friendly bunch (although I was reminded of the irony that in a room full of lots of different nationalities speaking English, I am always the most difficult to understand).
But the co-working dynamic allowed me to dip in and out, as I like to do in life – chat a bit of nonsense over breakfast, wander off for a massage, sit and marvel at surely some of the most tuneless calling to prayer in all of the Islamic world, before returning to the balcony and cranking out a few hundred words in peace. And because everybody else is working, and that’s what you’re there to do, a vague sense of responsibility stops you from jumping on a bus and heading to Marrakech.
Sometimes, I wondered about those creative people obliged to be at a certain office at a certain time for five days a week, to sit at a certain seat, to do certain things as prescribed by certain managers who have no understanding or interest in finding out what makes creative people tick. And then I'd slip a pad and paper into my shorts and toddle off for a wander on the beach.
In summary, I’d highly recommend a spot of co-working and co-living by the sea - or a lake, or a mountain, or a forest, or wherever in the world that sea, lake, mountain or forest might be. I’m thinking about signing up to Airbnb, allowing someone else to watch people smoking spice down an alley for a few weeks and heading to Bali. It sounded weird until recently. But then I went and did it.