Hi everyone. Not long to go now before we set off on our European and perhaps world adventure!
August 9, 2014
Well, that’s another box ticked on the Bucket List: I’ve conquered Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. This peak was selected by youngest son Scott as our target for the 2014 version of “The Munroamers”, an annual visit to the mountains of Scotland to conquer a selection of those over 3000 feet (914 metres). It’s a Boys Only affair, featuring myself and our 4 boys George junior, Gavin, Greg and Scott. This was our 10th year and included only 1 mountain on day 1 and our usual walk on the last day before driving home. The whole adventure had been reduced from the normal 3 days to 2 because of continuing commitments on the part of the boys – well they insist on having jobs and partners and children and stuff like that!
So on Friday 1 August at 5.30 in the morning, Scott, Greg and I were in the kitchen making egg and tuna mayo rolls and filling flasks with tea in preparation for our challenge far away above Fort William. An hour later, we had picked up George from his house and were cruising out to Perth in my Audi, the car filled with the chatter of…….. me! George was still waking up, Greg was texting as usual and Scott had quickly gone back to sleep as he’d only had 10 hours kip the night before, simply not enough he claimed for a growing 24 year-old!
Where was Gavin I hear you ask? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, dear second son had rather f*&!*ed up on the arrangements this time round and would have to miss out on Day 1. No, he hadn’t forgotten to book his day off from work, indeed he’d booked it well in advance as I always ask the boys to do. No, he’d simply suffered an aberration and convinced himself that we were to attempt Ben Nevis on the Saturday and not the Friday so had cancelled his Friday day off after booking it! When his error was pointed out to him by one of his brothers, he asked for the day off to be reinstated but his duties had been organized by then and he had to work at the High Court in Aberdeen. This is not typical of son Gavin and I can only assume that being a father for the past 12 months has reduced him to a quivering wreck like it did for me!
But the rest of us reached Fort William safe and sound, drove down to the visitors’ centre, used the facilities (well you have to before you go out on the mountain!) and set off on our adventure. When I say adventure, it wasn’t quite the most exciting mountain we’ve ever climbed and indeed it was really a bit boring walking up a broad path along with about a million other people in the pissing rain. Fortunately the social side of our Munro-bagging more than compensated for the poor weather and unattractive terrain. By switching between partners on the way up we were all able to catch up with each other just the way we had always planned it. The boys all took turns dropping back to talk to their rather slow, plodding Dad and I was up-to-date with all their news by the time we approached the snowfield just below the summit.
Four hours after setting out, we strolled over the last few metres of the small upper plateau and reached the trig point at the summit of Britain’s highest mountain. We were happy indeed and not really as completely exhausted as we have been in previous years at the top of other mountains like Ben More for instance. As we sheltered in a ruined cottage having our lunch and celebrating our success, the clouds began to rise above the summit and the sun began to peek through the slowly-disappearing mist, bringing even more smiles from the intrepid Burtons.
The long trek down to Fort William was wonderful. Our descent was in glorious sunshine warm enough to reduce us to tee shirts on top and necessitate the old man searching in his backpack for a hat to protect his balding head. Greg delighted us by attempting to slide down the snowfield on a plastic bag, George kept us chuckling with a theory about Ryanair raising even more money by asking for £20 or a full-force punch in the pus as you enter the aeroplane, while Scott seemed not to mind having spent so many hours unable to check himself in the mirror! Through the magic of technology poor Gavin was able to keep up with how we were doing and frequently texted to remind us that we were “lucky b****ards”. He did however manage to get away from court just after three when we were about halfway down and was speeding through the north of Scotland from East to West to join us at the hostel we were to be staying in.
Once settled in at our digs, I had a wee nap while the boys did their thing and when I awoke at about seven Gavin was there in the room. It was lovely to have all my boys around me again and I knew the evening would be brilliant which it was. We ate 200 metres along the road in a very nice hotel, drink was taken in abundance and we were all in bed asleep by 11.30 (along with 2 Frenchmen and 1 Frenchwoman!). 4 double bunks per room you see! When the alarms went off at eight the next morning only the Burtons remained, the three Gallic visitors having fled the nest. The boys immediately pointed accusing fingers in my direction, suggesting my snoring (I don’t snore!) and other night-time sounds had driven them from the room at the crack of dawn! How could they?
The boys went and bought breakfast stuff down at the local store and I prepared bacon and egg rolls for five, well four and a half actually as George is still a veggie! We bid farewell to the Chase the Goose hostel and drove back to the visitors’ centre then on to the car park at Glen Nevis from where we walked into the Glen and back, a round trip of 6 miles or so. My legs were a bit sore, especially my left knee which simply refused to bend properly, but I managed the experience ok and kept up with the boys most of the time.
At the far end of the glen we emerged out into a meadow below a spectacular waterfall and stopped at the interesting chain bridge, a place I had been last year when acting as guide for some German tourists. We played around at the bridge for half an hour but were eventually chased away by a plague of Highland midgies, returning to the car park seemingly unscathed. I say “seemingly” because the extraordinary damage these little horrors had done to my exposed lower limbs was to come to light back in Dundee. We said au revoir to each other amidst copious hugs in the car park, promised to attend Munroamers 2015 wherever it might be and then set off back to the East coast, Gavin with Greg, and George driving Scott and I back in the Audi.
Safely back home, Scott made me my tea before going out on the town with his mates. I slept all evening and all night, waking at 10.00 on Sunday morning and reaching the loo about 10 minutes later, having performed a decent impression of Sir Douglas Bader at his best! Once seated I looked down and noticed my legs. Oh my God, I’d been eaten alive!! That’s when the itching started. Five days later it has stopped and I now walk with only a slight limp. The left knee still hurts but otherwise I’m in one piece. The boys of course are all fully recovered.
Was it worth it? Definitely! Roll on the next Munroamers!
July 27, 2014
Hey, everybody, we’re still alive and kicking,: it’s just that we’ve been so busy since we came home that we literally haven’t had a minute to catch our breath. And what about the weather in Scotland? – scorchio, scorchio! Brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the mid-twenties day after day is not what we’d call typical Scottish weather, but that’s exactly how it’s been recently. Tee-shirts and even sandals without socks! Yes, Really! On a couple of days in the past two weeks it has actually been hotter in Dundee than in Barcelona! Now there’s a turn-up for the books!
Football. I’m no longer going to be a Barcelona fan. Reason? They’ve gone and bought Luis Suarez, thereby breaking the principles within which they compete. You can’t be “Mes que un Club” if you buy a nutcase guilty of biting opponents. It’s just not on and Barcelona I’m ashamed of you! But, congratulations to the Germans on a terrific set of matches in the World Cup Finals, culminating in a cracking victory over Holland for whom I feel really sorry after a third defeat in the Final in 40 years. One more rant – Thomas Muller, you’re a great player and Mary fancies you to bits but you must stop diving as simulation is ruining football and it makes you a cheat pure and simple.
Scotland is of course the focus of much attention just now as the Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow and elsewhere, causing much excitement to the floods of visitors keen to watch a bit of high-class sporting competition. The coverage on TV is particularly comprehensive, giving you a wide variety of sports to watch at different times throughout the day. I’ve taken in some table-tennis, weightlifting, judo and even a couple of games of rugby 7s which I found surprisingly exciting for someone who considers the round ball to be the only serious game to play. There’s also a lot of swimming of course but I still have a problem really getting into that form of watery competition although I was enchanted with the Scottish lad who won the 200 metres breaststroke. He genuinely couldn’t believe he’d just won the gold medal! It would’ve brought tears to a glass eye!
Coming back for the summer means a chance to spend quality time with the grandchildren again and how they’ve progressed! Ben and Artemis are the joy of my life and I seem to have a permanent smile on my face when they’re around. Mary is the same, especially with Ben for whom she’s taken to buying all sorts of little presents including a sunhat, a “that’s not my tractor” book and a plastic dinosaur with moveable jaw! I suppose she’s compensating for getting totally carried away when we were out in Balgay Park with Ben flying his kites and allowing it to zoom up into the top branches of one of the tallest trees in the park where it currently remains a week later. My rescue attempt was none the cleverer as the small branch I was throwing up at the kite got stuck itself and when I threw a large stone at it instead, the branch dislodged itself and hit me on the head!
Scott got back from his European adventure last night. All we care about of course is that he is safe and well, but it was nice to hear that he had had a wonderful time going round Europe in the train, visiting all the places he wanted to visit before he settles down to life as a serious student in Primary education which starts in mid-August. We obviously haven’t heard all he has done (and probably won’t, thankfully!) but we’d been keeping up with the fun via the photos he kept putting up on Facebook. By now you all probably know that he does a Messi goal salute (back to camera, head tilted up, arms raised, forefingers pointing skywards) at all the famous landmarks he visits so, in addition to the superb poses he captured in Oz and New Zealand last year, he has added several more from great European cities and landmarks. Here’s a couple!
The last two weeks have been particularly manic as we have had our visitors over from Catalonia. Guillem, my pupil back in Vilanova I la Geltru, his 10 year-old girl cousin Gao, plus their grandparents Ramon and Rosa have been our guests for the last fortnight and what a brilliant time we’ve had. Of course, when folk come to stay, you find yourselves going to lots of local places you totally ignore otherwise so it was nice for Mary and I too to see what this part of Scotland has to offer. As well as all the best things to see in Dundee, we managed trips to Pitlochry, Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Stonehaven to see their Highland Games. Uncle Gerard chipped in with two Friday trips and lunch for the grandparents, while we managed to cope with three days looking after grandson Ben as well. Don’t ask me how we did it, but we did, and it was great fun. It also acted as an immersion course in Spanish for us and our ability in the Castilian tongue has really taken off.
We’ll be relaxing now for three or four weeks before flying off to Holland to spend a week with our good friends Tom and Margaret. It’ll be good seeing a place we know nothing about nor have seen before. When I say relax, I am of course forgetting next Friday when I take my four boys up Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Great Britain. We try to do a mountain or two every first week in August but we can only manage two days this year as they are all extra busy. Just as it should be!
Gavin and Eve brought over my granddaughter Artemis yesterday and we all went to the wee zoo at Camperdown Park, just a couple of miles from our flat. It was the loveliest of days and, while both the otters and the meerkats tried their best, it was my wee darling who stole the show! I leave you with a photo of the bonniest bairn in creation.
June 28, 2014
We’re home! We got back yesterday evening, two days later than we had planned, but I’ll tell you about that later. The main thing is that the fates have kept us safe and well despite a two-and-a-half thousand mile trek from Vilanova I la Geltru in Catalonia to Dundee in north-east Scotland. It feels good but it feels very, very different from our other life in Spain although we’ve already spent a short time with Mary’s mum, uncle Gerard, Scott, Gavin, Eve and the truly gorgeous Artemis our granddaughter, and that has helped us settle. We’ll be seeing George, Fiona, Daniel and grandson Ben tomorrow. You don’t always realize how much you miss your family, do you? Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.
When I last posted 6 days ago, we were still on the ferry. That crossing proved a very relaxing period and set us up for our drive to Bath where we stayed the night with Kate and Dave, the couple from whom we bought the new caravan. Our hosts were brilliant to us, feeding us tons of barbecued food in the company of their daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren before walking us around their home town and sharing a pint with us in the town centre. Listen folks, if you ever get the opportunity, then head for Bath where you will marvel at the impressive architecture and beauty of this west country town. It is absolutely gorgeous and we enjoyed it under a blue sky and midsummer sun which battled not to go to bed until we’d seen all we wanted.
After a good night’s sleep and a cracking breakfast on Monday morning, we bid farewell to the Bunclark family, climbed out of the bowl which holds Bath at its bottom and headed for the Midlands. Predictions of horrendous traffic and hour after hour of sitting in the car park that the M6 can sometimes become proved wildly exaggerated and other than a slow 10 miles due to a minor accident on the inside lane we made steady progress up through Birmingham and Manchester before swinging off to the East just short of Wigan and arriving at our next stop in Leigh at about two o’clock.
We had been invited for a late lunch by a couple we had met at the campsite late last year. Terry and Elsie dished up a fantastic homemade lunch for us and we spent a lovely couple of hours catching up on what they’d been up to since they left Vilanova. When we went to leave, we discovered a slightly worrying clunking sound I had been aware of over the previous couple of hundred miles had definitely increased in volume and frequency, but as the car was running perfectly well and there were no warning lights on the dashboard I decided to carry on up the M6 to Mike and Het’s in Kendal.
The Audi saw us all the way there, although I was aware that every time I decelerated, the clunk came back with a vengeance. Nonetheless we got there, to our friends’ house just outside Kendal. Not that we could thank Victoria for any help in the matter! Our previously wonderful Satnav girl decided the journey had been all too easy so, five miles from our destination, she sent us up a country lane towards the village of Sedgwick. Oh, it led to the house ok, yes, spot on. It was the six-foot wide lane with ten foot hedgerows either side and the two bridges we had to drive under hoping the Magic Caravan would fit through that made this section of the trip “interesting”! When we arrived and told our hosts how we had come there, they refused to believe us.
My friend Mike found the clunk coming from the Audi quite alarming as I manoeuvred the caravan onto his sloping drive and we resolved to take it to the nearest Audi dealer the next day. Fortunately we have a healthy attitude to adversity these days, so we decide not to get stressed by our problem but settle down and enjoy being with our friends. As the weather continued to be quite splendid, that evening was spent outside on the patio at the back: good food, good drink, great company!
Typically, Mike and Het had planned to show us parts of the Lake District during our 2-night stay with them so we followed the plans but only after we visited the Audi dealer at Grange-on-the-Sands at the northern tip of Morecombe bay. As we arrived, a dark cloud momentarily blotted out the sun. When we went in the blackness overwhelmed me. A quick examination under the bonnet and a close listen to the clunk led to a provisional but spookily accurate diagnosis of a failed clutch flywheel and a warning not to drive the Audi any further. Then came that awful moment those who have had a car inspected will recognize perfectly. the guy comes over, way too cheery with a look of abject pity on his face, and delivers the bad news as gently as he can. The bill would be into 4 (four) figures. Ouch!
All things considered, there was absolutely nothing that can be done. So we left the Audi with them, knowing they couldn’t repair it until at least Thursday but consoled that our friends immediately offered to let us stay with them for as long as it would take. Thank you so much, Het and Mike! The four of us then took a corporate decision to forget about our car and just have a great time over the following 3 days. And boy, did we?!
Mike drove us straight up to the copper mines next to which was his family’s mountain refuge when he was young. To get there he had to engage off-road 4-wheel drive and bump us up a potted track with holes and rocks aplenty. It was our kind of country and we loved it, as we did when we went back to the village where we had had an excellent lunch in the Black Bull Inn (I think!) Back at their house it was a few drinks, plates of ham sandwiches and a further catch-up, although Het gave in to my petted lip and let me watch some footie. Wednesday was even better, with a drive down to Morecombe, up to Hawkshead and even a short crossing of the lake on the Windermere ferry. On the way home, we chanced on Carnworth station which I begged to visit when Het pointed out that the excellent film “Brief Encounter” had been shot there. Terribly, terribly nice!
Looking at things positively, we were with very good friends, a roof over our heads, food and drink on tap, Mike acting as a full-time chauffeur and in the heart of some of the best scenery in England. Not so bad, eh? I believe we actually forgot about the mechanical misfortune!
Thursday was just as good with visits to Sunderland Point and Heysham village; panoramas, estuaries, graves, churches, pubs, gardens, woods and even a rope swing! We had the lot! It was a source of great delight that Mike and Het appeared to be having just about as much fun as Mary and I were, despite them living in that area. Or if you weren’t, thanks for pretending you were, you guys! One thing about all of this visiting places seemed to be that all four of us were sleeping like logs at night and even Mary was having to give up and put her Kindle down after just a couple of hundred pages!
On Friday we were treated to a full English breakfast before Mike drove me back to Grange to pick up the car. I tried to pay the bill with twenty-pound note serviettes but they were having none of it and the debit card was duly bled dry. After stopping to fill up with diesel, I drove back to our hosts’ house where we hitched up the Magic Caravan and waved goodbye to our guardian angels, Mike and Het. We genuinely cannot thank you enough for your warm hospitality and we sincerely hope to be able to return the gesture in the near future.
Our journey back up to Dundee was pleasant and totally uneventful. We completed the trip from Vilanova to Dundee at 6 p.m. on Friday without a single drop of rain having fallen on the windshield of the Audi anywhere en route. No wonder my humour is dry! The sun shone on us from start to finish and the car never chugged once. Don’t forget it never actually broke down: I only took it to the garage as a precautionary measure.
So here we are, back home with Scott for the next three and a half months. Summer will be interesting, not least because it will finish with a vote for or against independence for Scotland on the historic 18 September. Guillem, his cousin and his grandparents are coming to stay a fortnight with us very soon, we hope to get to Tom and Margaret’s in Holland later on, I’m walking up Ben Nevis with the boys on the first of August and I might even have a week’s guiding work up the hills, having already turned down an offer to start this very day!
Adventure 2 is over, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed it!
June 22, 2014
I am writing this on the 8.30 ferry out of Caen heading for Portsmouth. We booked a cabin for the crossing and that’s where Lady Burton is just now, in the shower and probably doing girly stuff. I’m on deck 8, at a table having polished off a full English half an hour ago. The sun is pouring through the large windows, warming my skin and just making me feel good after a 6 a.m. start from our campsite in Saint Aubin sur Mer where we stayed last night.
OK, we admit it. We’ve broken the bed in the Magic Caravan! Unfortunately, the reason for its collapse is entirely due to the pull-out slats having broken free from their fabric links allowing them to move so that they fall off the supports either side. Boring, isn’t it? I’d love to tell you different but there you have it.
On Wednesday we left Pamplona and drove north to the corner, squeezed past the Pyrenees and entered France. A long boring drive across Les Landes took us past Bordeaux and then up the Gironde estuary to Saint Palais sur Mer, a place we’d been to twice before. On Thursday we visited the town, looking in on Erwan Ansquer’s family restaurant and giving in to a dip in the sea at 6 in the evening. It was certainly colder than the Med but we managed a 10 minute splash around before returning in time to watch the demise of England in the World Cup.
Tired out with the driving, we changed plans and drove only as far as Angers on Friday for a simple overnight stay. I did however remember to take a photo of the cheeky wee salad we had for tea.
The final drive through Northern France and right up to the English Channel was done yesterday. Our campsite was a huge Yelloh Village site with all mod cons but we left it behind in the early evening and headed for the beach front to have a look at one of the places the allies (mainly Canadians) crossed to on 6 June 1944. This walk proved really interesting but in addition we saw 2 separate concerts as it was the Longest Day and therefore La Fete de la Musique in France.
Back at the Magic Caravan, Mary busied herself while I watched Germany take on Ghana, a cracking good match by the way. And that was it. Early to bed by our standards, a fitful sleep and an early rise.
We are now approaching the Isle of Wight: it’s got white cliffs too. Next blog will be from Dundee …………… Maybe!
June 18, 2014
And then it was time to pack up and leave, only this time we had to undo the new caravan, load it up for storage, book and pay for it to be towed away, replace it with the Magic Caravan, live in it again for a couple of nights then tow it back to Scotland. Simple really! Just as we set to work on our tasks, God decreed that summer should arrive in Catalonia, meaning temperatures climbed steadily up beyond 30 Celsius, stayed above 20 all night long and chased us all into the shade for the greater part of the afternoon. We began to understand the concept of siesta.
To make things even more interesting, the mosquitos came back from their holidays and they were joined by a variety of crawling, flying, buzzing friends. One in particular interrupted me while I was typing the last blog post under the awning at about 8 one evening. I kept hearing little clicks like things were being moved and started to suspect a cheeky wee mouse might have checked in. But, turning towards the caravan door to alert Lady Burton as to my progress with the blog, there on the blue carpet was an unexpected visitor, one I had not seen before and one whose presence alarmed me somewhat.
It was like that evening in Waterside, our old house in Monifieth, about 5 years ago, when I went out to get something from the boot of the car parked in the drive and there, 2 metres from the rear end of our Corsa, stood an adult fox. Staring at me! My brain immediately posed the question: is it scared of me or am I supposed to be scared of it? I didn’t know the answer at the time so walked slowly backwards into the porch of the house, called Mary and Scott to come see and watched the beast jog casually round our cul-de-sac before heading back past the house and down into the 7 arches area of the Dighty burn.
So, I bent to observe this new “visitor” at closer quarters and saw that it was a huge beetle about 3 centimetres long, blackish-brown with a set of tusks/antlers/bazookas on its head. Mary fetched the iPad, we captured it for posterity and then it crawled below the chest of drawers and we went back to reading (Mary) and writing (George). A paragraph or so later, there it was again right in the middle of the blue carpet so I bent down to have a second look. That’s when it let me know it could fly! Vertical take-off, armour-covered wings, loud buzz, the works! I could fly too……. and did, up the step and into the caravan, knocking Mary out of the way and closing the door behind me rather niftily.
Are you with us here? Prisoners in our own caravan for the first time since 2 nasty geese sent us scurrying for cover in Neckargemund (see “Goose on the Loose!” Day 48 of the adventure). Eventually of course I had to go back out, use the upside down container with something slid underneath method and release our “friend” to the wide-open expanses of Vilanova Park. Mary was quick to consult Mr. Google who suggested our visitor had been a rhinoceros beetle whose appearance is quite alarming but whose demeanour is fairly innocent and highly unlikely to pose any form of threat to us. Well, how were we to know?
It just so happened that one of our favourite places, La Cantera (the Biker Bar), decided to celebrate being open for 15 years and we went up to see what was happening last Sunday. We’re glad we did because not only were the bikers out in force with all their wonderful machines, but there was live music and dancers recreating 50s USA. We sat with two friends from the campsite, Chris and Lise, and were well entertained for an hour or so, even joining in at the end. Typical!
So, on we went with the packing. The awning on the Bailey was taken down, washed and folded away over 2 very warm days, the carpets and groundsheets were taken up and gradually all the trappings of our exterior life outside and under the awning were carefully fitted into the big caravan. Our possessions were divided between the 2 caravans according to our needs, I went up and paid for the storage and signed a contract with the owner of the farm and I arranged for the Vilanova Park guys to come on Friday 13 to tow it up the road. After a Spanish blip or two (“Manana” “Did we agree Friday?” “Sometime this day…. I think”) the new caravan was towed away after I had positioned it perfectly for pick up, using the astonishingly brilliant motor-mover which allows you to move a ton and a bit of caravan to the precise inch with a remote control! Personally I think it’s a form of witchcraft!
We then manhandled the Magic Caravan back onto the pitch where we set it up again just like the pre-Easter days, except no awning as we were to be leaving in 3 days. Although things were tight inside and we had a short issue regarding bumping into each other a lot (I think Mary was doing it deliberately), we soon reverted to our previous existence and there was no harm done at all. By now we had both finished our employment and were free to enjoy the last few days in Vilanova. Swimming became a daily treat – or maybe it could have been a necessity – as the temperatures continued unrelentingly, chasing us down to the beach or into the upstairs pool on the campsite. You could now walk almost straight into the Med with hardly an Oh! moment and you were dry 5 minutes after coming out.
On Friday we celebrated with 6 other Dutch football fans as the “Oranje” stuck 5 past the bewildered world champions. And didn’t Spain go quiet the following day! All of a sudden the people we know who live here became Catalans again and not Spanish! Strangely enough we got to know quite a few new folk during the last 2 weeks as the Irish came to town, bringing with them their own inimitable brand of opinion and humour. Sure it’s a lovely place, the Spain!
Saturday saw us take the Scousers, Rob and Carol, to the airport for their flight back to Liverpool for the summer, and then we spent a couple of hours in town buying souvenirs and things for the grandchildren before I insisted we go home to check everything was in working order for watching the England-Italy match at midnight that night.
We decided to go out with a bang so spent the afternoon and early evening of Sunday, our final day, with another Dutch couple, Rob and Vera, at the Gay Pride parade in Sitges. Now let me tell you, this is something different! It was eye-popping to see so many gay people openly parading up and down the promenade, quite obviously proud to be what they are. It was brilliant and a great advert for “live and let live” philosophy. We four of course ended up having our photos taken with some of the more “interesting” people on show but in many cases we were not quite sure if we were embracing a man or a woman! We went into the bar on the way back to the caravan to say cheerio to the members of staff we have gotten to know so well while we’ve been here, Pili, Naty, Nelly and Joel.
And on Monday we hitched up and left after saying goodbye to a veritable throng of well-wishers mainly Dutch. Walter came round to check I was doing everything correctly and give me some last minute advice like the old sage he thinks he is. He ended up insisting I detach the battery on the new caravan before they towed it away. I must admit he’s a bit of a father figure for me out here and I know if I need to learn how to do something then it’s Walter I will consult. Joke his wife had promised me a game of golf before I left but unfortunately I was so busy that we simply couldn’t fit it in. We’ll try again in the autumn.
Just before ten o’clock we hugged, kissed, waved and drove away leaving them to enjoy the sunshine in peace. Our journey north through Catalonia and Aragon was excellent, we entered Navarre around four o’clock and we were parked up on the campsite in Pamplona by five. Food then football then a glass of wine then 9 hours in the land of Nod. We were both on great form this morning and decided to drive into town to see the place made famous throughout the world by its amazingly brave or reckless bull-runners. As is often the case, we expected little and got a lot! Pamplona is pretty, spacious, well laid out, friendly and welcoming and has in its cathedral as good an exhibition on the development of Western thinking as you will find anywhere.
Unfortunately it’s past my bedtime so I’ll finish this post………. in a totally different country! Yes, we leave for St. Palais-sur-mer tomorrow morning, a 250 mile journey from Pamplona up to the top right-hand corner of Spain, sneaking into France, up to, around and beyond Bordeaux then a left back towards the Atlantic coast, Royan and finally our destination.
Nope! I woke up at 6.30, couldn’t get back to sleep (it was too sunny!) so decided to insert the photos now and post this just before we leave for France. I leave you with 2 snaps from yesterday.
June 3, 2014
As the end of May approached, it became noticeably warmer once the sun was up with the temperature climbing quickly into the twenties and staying there until sunset. However, even then, we could feel that it wasn’t cooling down very much after dark and a check of the forecasts showed that the average overnight temperature was now between fifteen and a roasting, stop you from sleeping seventeen. As always in warmer climates, the days have become punctuated with the sudden arrival of banks of unfriendly-looking clouds and the low growl of thunder in the distance. We have experienced one or two heavy downpours recently but still no real need to look out a raincoat and wellington boots!
Mary to her credit has religiously attended school Monday to Thursday, bringing in some spending money to keep the wolf away from the caravan door. It’s reached that time of the year when the work is more or less finished and assessments are the business of most days and even I have put young Guillem through his paces with a 35 question oral test which thankfully he managed to pass despite the odd blip. His progress has been hampered by the fact that he only sees me once a week for a couple of hours of English at a time but he’s come on over the past 6 months and I’m confident his 2-week stay with us in July will give him a boost in his language.
On that subject, Ramon decided it would be appropriate for us to meet up with the rest of his family and get to know each other so we were duly invited for lunch one Sunday down at their flat in town. Now Sunday lunch in Spain is quite different from the old traditional English version! We were picked up at twelve and driven to their house where we spent a couple of hours chatting over a large selection of nibbles including homemade tortilla and some very delicious black pudding. Then the other guests arrived: Ramon’s Mum and Dad from north of Barcelona and his sister with her husband and their adopted Chinese daughter Gao. They’re the ones who own the restaurant in the Gotica district.
With the arrival of Guillem’s grandmother, everyone else was thrown out of the kitchen and she set to doing what we were told she did best – cook! And boy was she good at it! Prawns in garlic followed by some of the tenderest beef we had ever tasted backed up the earlier starters and by the time pudding came round I think we were all struggling a wee bit. Guillem got a belated Easter cake plus some other chocolate delights as well and we helped them work on this treat while getting to know a little bit about Gao who is 10 years old and will be coming to Dundee along with Guillem and the grandparents. Throughout the afternoon and early evening we blethered away in a variety of 4 languages, mainly French and English but a fair amount of Castilian Spanish and a whole load of Catalan predominantly from the older couple.
Just in case you think that all we do is eat and drink, I can assure you all that that is definitely not what it’s like over here: it’s just that these occasions are interesting enough to put on the blog so you get an impression of what happens to us. Most of our days are fairly standard with housework and shopping and such like taking up some of our time but you know what we’re like. We try to keep chores as brief as possible so that they do not become the main activity in our lives, leaving us free to experience new things, learn lots, make new friends and of course enjoy our adventure.
Mary still has classes to prepare for most of the week while I am kept really busy working on my writing and planning ahead for the future. We now have our return journey sorted, the ferry is booked, the campsites in Pamplona, St. Palais and Caen reserved and we have also arranged three nights with friends as we make our way through England back to Dundee. We’ll be staying one night with Terry and Elsie from Leigh near Wigan. They were with us on that classic night last Hallowe’en when we had a party and I surprised the life out of Mary by producing Scott from behind a mask! We’ll also be having two nights with our close friends Mike and Het up in the Lake District. We were actually to be going to the Dent Beer Festival with them the last few days in June, but Scott’s leaving date for his European adventure means we wanted to get back and share some time with him before he catches his flight to Amsterdam.
Speaking of which, we’re going to be flying to Amsterdam ourselves in mid-August to spend a week in Holland at the invitation of our friends Tom and Margaret Bakker who live in the North. We are really looking forward to this visit as we have become quite close to this couple despite the age difference and we have spent many, many happy hours in their company. It will also be only our second time over there after we started our big adventure in August 2012 with a week in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Etten-Leur. If you don’t remember, just check out the early days of the Blog at:
Tom and Margaret have only just left for home a couple of days ago and we had them round for dinner the evening before. They’ve just texted to say they’ve reached home safely so that’s good news. After all, driving home isn’t quite nipping down the carriageway from Perth these days and it’s a long haul up through France and England after we’ll have driven 300 miles north to the Spain-France border at St. Jean-de-Luz. Even although that Dutch couple have gone, we’re still assured an invite to the famous “Happy Hour” thanks to another Dutch partnership, Walter and Joanna (Joke for short) who live on the end of the row behind us. These two speak brilliant English (as do Tom and Margaret) and Walter’s dry humour is indeed something to savour. He reduces me to tears of laughter almost every time I’m in his company.
On Friday past we spent the day inland in the town of Vilafranca les Penedes, famous as the centre of the internationally-renowned wine growing region of that name. The weather was excellent, I had a brilliant “menu del dia” in a restaurant on their Rambla and we passed the afternoon (Mary doesn’t work Fridays) strolling around their quaint old town streets admiring the modernist architecture of the buildings. We also found a statue dedicated to the “Castellers”, the townsfolk who practise the Catalan sport of human tower building. Check out this link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castellers_de_Vilafranca
Then, out of the blue, we received an invitation from Beti and Ramon to attend the Vilanova Wine Festival with them on Sunday, so we took the bus into town and met them on the Rambla where we spent a couple of hours finding out how things work at a wine festival. There was lots to see and do and Ramon helped me buy my own glass in a cradle worn round my neck and suggested the best wines to try. Mary and Beti weren’t drinking so they played with Guillem or sat down for a coffee at one of the series of cafés along the traffic-free avenue. At one point we wandered into the Placa de la Vila and stumbled across some tightrope walkers showing off their skills and giving the children lessons. Guillem joined in enthusiastically and quickly went from full body support to just one hand. Impressive!
To round off a great day, Ramon treated us to a meal at a posh restaurant right down at the beach. The food was exquisite, but listen, the view was absolutely to-die-for and luckily Mary had the presence of mind to take a photo. Enjoy!
Right, that’s us up-to-date. The next two weeks will be all about preparing to come home for the summer so we’ll be busy with the 2 caravans most days although I want to get “Wee Georgie” off to the printers’ before we leave. Oh yes, and of course there’s the little matter of the World Cup in Brazil!! This time round I feel obliged to support Spain, not because they’re the holders but because we’ve spent most of the last 16 months living here. At least that’s my excuse! Who will you be supporting? Let us know. Bye!
June 2, 2014
Slowly but surely we have been getting to know the ins and outs of our new caravan, appreciating to the max the wonderful extra living space that we now have. I doubt if I’ve ever heard Mary so enthusiastic about anything we’ve ever bought before, with perhaps the exception of that set of tea towels I bought her for her birthday a couple of years ago! Now we can sit (or lie!) in separate rooms, we can be in the caravan at the same time without seeing each other or asking the other to move to let me past, we can use the loo in comfort and we can even have a shower without going to the toilet block.
It’s strange but we’d never really missed these basic comforts when we lived in the Magic Caravan. Somehow or other we must have simply adapted to the constraints of our situation, just like we adapted to having a hugely reduced income when we started the adventure. It certainly shows you how flexible we can all be if we decide to alter our lifestyles and do something more fulfilling. In truth, modern caravanning is nothing like it was way back in the 50s and 60s when gas mantles provided naked flame light in the rooms and middle-of-the-night sprints to an unlit and unheated toilet block were standard. No, no, Mary describes our new dwelling as like living in a hotel, so plush and well-appointed are the trappings of the Bailey Pageant Burgundy Series 7!
I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed though. It’s still like being in a war zone when it rains! Not that it rains very often over here, but when it does, as I’ve told you before, it briefly tries to make up for all those dry days at a stroke. It starts with a mild plink-plonk above your head, picks up tempo to a rather interesting light drumming, takes it up a couple of notches to a “that sounds heavy” level then lets you have both barrels like the last line of a Green Day chorus until you can’t hear yourself think! The noise is quite surprising, a bit like if you’ve ever sheltered beneath a corrugated iron roof to escape getting a soaking. I did that last summer up in the mountains around Glencoe with my group of Germans when I was working for Rob Roy Tours. Not that we could escape getting drenched up in those parts. It wasn’t so much a hike that day as a paddle! Scotland at the height of summer, eh?
So, back to May in Vilanova. Our Dutch friends, Tom and Margaret, decided to throw an afternoon get-together to say farewell to all their friends on Sunday 18. This coincided with Scott’s arrival later that evening at El Prat airport, Barcelona, which meant that, while the assembled company got stuck in to drinks and snacks and quietly got merry, Georgie boy sunk a whole deck of Fanta Limon Zero as he doesn’t drink and drive, unlike some out here. I wasn’t feeling at my brightest that day, having slightly overindulged the previous day while watching a feast of exciting football from around Europe.
Although both the Scottish and English Cup Finals were up for grabs (well bottled Dundee United!) and three of our tangerine-bedecked lads, Gavin, Greg and Scott were at the final in Glasgow, all eyes and ears over here were firmly fixed on the winner-takes-all clash at the Camp Nou where Barça needed to beat the visitors Atletico Madrid to steal La Liga from them on the last day. Despite going a goal up, the Catalans could not however thwart the wonderful exuberance of Simeone’s cracking good team and an equaliser was enough to hand a well-deserved title to the Madrileños! The locals were gutted of course but there was a surprisingly large contingent of Atletico supporters in the bar and they celebrated in style while the beaten men cursed and dragged themselves back to their homes for a cosy evening of spite and bile!
I must correct a terrible oversight from earlier in the month when I failed to mention how delighted I was that my old favourites, Dundee F.C., won the Championship title on a day of ridiculous tension and more than a tincture of controversy. While Dundee were holding on to a 2-1 lead over Dumbarton at Dens Park and thereby securing the title, their challengers Hamilton Academicals kept their hopes alive by hammering 10 (yes, ten!) past a beguiled Morton who had defied all the odds by defeating Dundee two weeks earlier. As I listened to the goals raining in at Greenock, I knew, as did everyone in Dundee and beyond, that an equaliser from Dumbarton would send Hamilton into the Premier League and force Dundee to try for promotion via the play-offs.
Thankfully, Dundee held on and the celebrations on the pitch were unrestrained and so well-merited. It was brilliant that my eldest, George, got to see the second half live and even better that my grandson Ben was with him at his first ever football match. And to make sure the day was almost perfect, George ensured that the wee man joined the pitch invasion at the end and gave us this classic photo!
So, there we were, sober as judges at Tom and Margaret’s farewell “do”. On two occasions our hostess had come over and whispered in my ear, asking me to go and get my guitar and give the assembled guests a tune and on both occasions I had responded in the negative. But when she asked for a third time, well, God bless her, I crumbled and fetched the said instrument of torture. In fact it was a really good move because, as sometimes happens when I play for a group of guests, I chose the songs they wanted to hear luckily and the whole party quickly warmed up and moved to a new level. By the time we were roaring out the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”, the pitch was jumping and we almost took ourselves over the edge with a second rendering of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by your Man!” Just wonderful, so it was!
At eight o’clock we zoomed off to the airport where we picked up a smiling, happy Scott before driving back to Vilanova Park where we caught up on what’s been happening in his life over a chicken-and-chips takeaway. Delicious! Scott was very impressed with the new caravan and elected to sleep on the bench bed rather than slink next door and spend the night alone in the Magic Caravan. This proved very helpful to us as he was able to report on how comfortable the make-up bed was at the end of his stay.
We quickly resolved to spend the next 2 days locally and enjoy the good weather, given that the forecast was not the best. The first day, after we had deposited Mary at her work in town, we came back to the campsite and had a “no holds barred” tennis challenge. Scott raced to 4-0 in the first before the old man took control and ran out victor by 7 games to 5. Set 2 was a more straightforward stroll in the sunshine for yours truly and it was just a pity that the 6-3 win was not celebrated by the traditional leap over the net. Not nowadays dear readers! Still, I think the wee man was quite impressed that I can still move (a little!) around the court and he admitted he had not expected me to return some of his shots which he thought would be winners. It’s nice to know I’m still alive!
On the Tuesday, Scott came with me to pick up Guillem and then wandered around the Rambla by himself until Mary finished work. They then spent a couple of hours in town before I picked them up in the Audi after I’d finished at Guillem’s. That evening, we decided to hit Barcelona reasonably early next morning but for a change I said I would drive into the city to save us time with it being Scott’s last full day for this visit. And that’s what we did on the Wednesday, me driving us into Barcelona and straight up the Tibidabo hill for a reportedly splendid view of the city from above. That is, assuming that there isn’t a thick fog! By the time we were at the top of the hill I could just about make out the side of the road! There was unfortunately no alternative but to turn and drop back down below the cloud by which time the view was more at block of flats height and the vista was gone. Mary and I will no doubt get to admire the panorama on a future visit but for the moment, sorry Scott, maybe next time.
All was of course not entirely lost. We called upon the assistance of the lovely Victoria, roused her from a winter slumber, gave her a few moments to literally recharge her batteries and then asked her to take us as near to Park Guell as she could. She obeyed like the good girl she is (are you listening, Mary?) and soon we were in an underground car park at the bottom of the hill. From there it was onto the outside escalators and back up the hill without a car to worry about. With the weather holding we had a very enjoyable couple of hours in Gaudi’s famous park but left in plenty time to get back to Vilanova in time for Mary’s class. After work she joined us at the bar and we had a good, family chat outside on the terrace until near bedtime.
In the blink of an eye, we were waving farewell to our youngest at the airport (again!). We think Scott enjoyed his second visit to Vilanova Park and his gypsy Mum and Dad and he has absolutely promised us that it will not be his last either! We love you being here with us, Scott, and we sincerely hope it won’t be too long until you come back – mainly so I can whip you at tennis again! As we drove back on the C31 to Vilanova the sun came out again and stayed out (except at night times) for the following week, just to remind us of one of the reasons why we’re here.
The following day was a duvet day for both of us but I soon got into the zone and back to work on finding and inserting old photos of Dundee into my memoir “Wee Georgie”. This part of the final preparations for publication has been much more difficult than I could have ever imagined as I have to ask permission for use to the owners of every photo I want to have in the book, except for family photos of course. So far the search has been successful with D C Thomson’s, Retro Dundee, Dundee City Archives and a private collection by Norman Moore all giving me access to their wonderful photos of Dundee in the late 50s and early 60s. Here’s a sample.
I hope to finalise the permissions in the next few days and then I’ll send the text file and photograph files off to Great Yarmouth Printing Services who did “Socrates the sprinting snail of Sorrento” for me in December. I have been in contact with the head printer there and we’re closing in on a definitive version and format for publication. It’s getting quite exciting, I must admit!
Well, that’s Scott’s visit documented so I’ll stop there and send you a report on the rest of May tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed today’s contribution. Stay happy and try to find time to enjoy yourselves. We certainly do!