Hello world!

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Hi everyone.  Not long to go now before we set off on our European and perhaps world adventure!

Our new home for the next nine months

The front cover of my first children's book .

The front cover of my first children’s book .

Day 3/11: The Houghtons are here!

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We woke up on our first morning back here full of purpose and determination and believe it or not we actually cracked on quite well with setting up. The first big nervy job was to move the caravan into its correct position on the pitch, requiring a 90 degree turnaround and a fair bit of wiggling into just the right spot. It meant I had to reconnect the battery, hope it was still full of juice (it was!) and for the very first time use the remote device to fire up the mover and slowly shift our ton plus, 7 metres plus caravan into position. I am pleased to report that we succeeded far more easily than we had anticipated! Quel relief!

Once it was balanced on its legs, again without too much hassle, water and electrics were taken care of before we launched into the second major task of the day which was putting up the awning. With a bit of help from Scouser Carol (very willing but makes a leprechaun look tall!) we only took a couple of hours to complete the job, although as usual my Dutch pal Walter from Rotterdam came round to inspect that we had put the thing up straight. As a reward for a job well done, he let me have a go on his new mobility scooter which turned out to be quite nippy and a delight to zoom about on as you can see here.

Born to be Mild!

Born to be Mild!

In the late afternoon we were surprised and delighted when our good friends Fred and Jeanette suddenly appeared at the pitch. It was brilliant to see them again but how’s this for a coincidence: having arrived late the previous evening, a couple of hours after we did, that made it 2 years in a row Fred had arrived the same day as us with no prior contact or arrangement, even though the dates were 13 months apart. Cue spooky music. Either that or he’s stalking us, but that’s not really Fred’s style. Later he was keen to show off his brand-new Italian motorbike which he got as a replacement for his beautiful yellow Honda from last year, claiming it was just too slow at 160 mph!!

I’m glad we fixed up the awning and its flooring when we did because that night we were treated to one of those dramatic thunderstorms which deny you any sleep as regular claps of crackling thunder just overhead punctuate the constant drumming of ferocious rainfall on the caravan roof. What a spectacle! All was fine in the morning though and everything had passed the meteorological test with merit. We were now free to descend on Simply, our favourite supermarket, and stock up for the following few days. That Saturday evening we snuggled down to watch Disc 1 of the Scandinavian crime series “The Killing” and it got off to a good start in the first 2 episodes before the Sandman came calling.

The classic arrival photo1

The classic arrival photo1

Sunday was a day for getting tidied up in preparation for the arrival of Mary’s sister Alison, her husband Dave (he shot the back cover of “Wee Georgie”) and their 2 teenagers Sarah and Steven. I duly picked them up at El Prat airport on Monday just after one o’clock and they were soon settled into their Eurocamp chalet about 250 metres from our pitch. We showed them round the campsite, took them to Simply for their week’s shopping then left them in peace to get to know the place. Tuesday was a stroll around Vilanova and an evening barbecue at their place followed by a brilliant family game of Switch, the best card game ever! Yesterday was a day at the upstairs pool and then the Wednesday meal up at the restaurant where they met many new faces and got their eyes opened in places! They’re down at the beach today enjoying the wonderful sunshine and 25 degrees we have been promised for the rest of their stay and beyond. That’s Vilanova news up to date.

Happy Holiday!

Happy Holiday!

George, Fiona, Daniel and Ben appear to be having a great time on their holiday to Florida so should come back to their busy lives at least a wee bit refreshed and in fine spirits. I’m so glad Ben seems to be coping with the flying and the new locations: he’s that bit older now (almost 3!) and is probably having a ball. We saw loads of Ben this summer and he was an absolute gem from start to finish. We are really missing him this trip as we are our wee darling Artemis who came to visit Granddad George and Mary (she refuses the Granny epithet!) just before our return. We’ve had no panic calls from Gavin in Arbroath, Greg in Montrose or Scott back at the flat so we have to assume they are surviving after a fashion. They’re all good kids and never fail to make me prouder and prouder of them.

Well, that’s about it for the moment, readers. Keep in touch one way or the other and don’t be frightened to send us texts as they cost us nothing to receive. God bless!

Arry at granddad's.

Arry at granddad’s.

Ben at the Ouch Tree!

Ben at the Ouch Tree!

 

Day 3/10: A New Beginning

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The third year of our Great Adventure almost didn’t get started last Monday when we prepared to leave Dundee before ten in the morning. Goodbyes to Scott, breakfast taken, snacks prepared, bags packed by nine-thirty seemed promising enough and, with the help of the lift and the Audi parked at the back door to the block, we were in the car with fifteen minutes to spare and I proffered our now traditional quote “Let’s go to Spain”. But when I turned the key there was nothing! Unbelievably and for the first time since I bought her almost 3 years ago, the Audi failed to start!
Even more worrying were the flashing symbols on the dashboard telling me my “Electronic Stabilization Programme” was goosed as was my ABS and my particulate filter! This was indeed Armageddon! Back up in the lift we travelled with faces like torn scones and help was sought from Mr. Google. There was a suggestion that it was only a flat battery causing all these alarms to go off but we were nothing if not pessimistic as we agreed to call out Saga rescue in the form of the AA, the first time in our driving life we had ever had to do so.
A yellow angel appeared within the hour and quickly confirmed the problem was not terminal but merely battery level too low. You could have heard our sighs of relief over here in Spain. The AA man assured us that the fault lights were not reporting major malfunctions but just responding to lack of juice, so he wished us “Hasta la Vista” and sent us on our way only two hours behind schedule.
Despite the false start we made excellent time southwards and, thanks to the lovely Victoria whom we once again pressed into service to keep us right, we reached RVI (the Royal Victoria Infirmary) in Newcastle in time to have a blether with Uncle Brian who has been poorly of late, before he was discharged back home with Auntie Pat. We were absolutely delighted to have seen them and have the opportunity to wish them well in the weeks to come. Back on the road, it took us another hour and a half to make it to Terry and Ellen’s in Leeds, our regular stopover when driving to the continent.
As always, the family hospitality was first class and my Dad’s brother and his wife were wonderful to us. We had a great catch-up before retiring for the night and Ellen sent us on our way late on Tuesday morning with a full English designed to keep us going for the whole day. It did! Thank you both for your unfailing kindness. We took the A1M down to London, snaked over the Dartford bridge and cruised the M20 to the Tunnel at Folkestone, although Victoria was naughty and took us initially to the International station at Ashford. Please note that, no matter what your Tom-Tom may advise, only leave the M20 at junction 11A and absolutely nowhere else: if you do so, you can’t go wrong, I promise.
With the usual smooth, simple and trouble-free crossing, we were speeding through the countryside of north France by eight in the evening (their time) and reached our first stop, an Ibis Budget hotel in the wee town of Laon just before ten o’clock. Two minutes later we were sound asleep, slept like the innocents we are (!) and were up and ready to rock and roll at nine the next morning. Except that the Audi decided to repeat Monday morning’s performance, leaving us trying to roll-start the car in the car park without success in the torrential downpour written into the script by a God with a weird sense of humour.
Seeing me come close to drowning, a cleaner came out and marched me 500 metres to the equivalent of our Kwik-Fit/Halfords and got me a loan of a pair of jump-leads at the price of my driver’s licence. We finally got the Audi running again and took it back to the car shop where they gave it the once over while Mary and I sat a few metres away in a McDonald’s having cheeseburger and chips for breakfast! Quite tasty that was as well. The diagnosis was as expected and I had to stump up £100 for a brand-new powerful battery which will reputedly outlive both of us. We’ll see!
The rest of Wednesday was a long drive round the bottom of Paris then down the A10 to Clermont-Ferrand our second stop. Motorway tolls came to 40 Euros on this stretch so don’t forget to factor those costs in when planning your route through France. We stayed the night at another Ibis Budget hotel in Sud-Aubiere to the north of Clermont-Ferrand (the third time we’ve stayed there) and found it as before perfect for our needs. We can recommend this chain of budget hotels to all you Francophile travellers: 40 Euros a night, en suite facilities, TV, vending machines for tea/coffee and snacks and free Wi-Fi.
The last leg was similar to last September, a long but easy drive down the A75 (toll-free), over the spectacular Millau Viaduct, downhill to Béziers, west to Perpignan, then through the Pyrenees to Spain, an hour and a bit to Barcelona and a final half-hour to our second home, Vilanova i la Geltru. Victoria displeased me a tad by insisting I drive through the centre of Barcelona at rush-hour instead of our usual route round the back of the hills via Vilafranca en Penedes, so here’s another Tom-Tom alert to ignore instruction if your setting is “fastest route” as you approach Barcelona from the north. Where the carriageway divides, stay right in the direction of Tarragona and you’ll avoid Barcelona altogether and you won’t lose any time either.
Excitement peaked as we turned into the drive of Vilanova Park campsite and found ourselves expected and welcomed by familiar faces at reception. When we reached our pitch on F block, there she was, our lovely new caravan, facing the wrong way but still looking great. We quickly levelled her off, spoke to a couple of old friends who came down to welcome us back, then it was early to bed with no intention of rising before 10 the following morning. We discovered we could sleep for Scotland!

Post-Referendum

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Well, that’s it then. We voted and the “No” side won by 55% to 45%. We’re staying a part of the UK and agreeing to let Westminster run things for us, yes, you know, that Tory Government that ignores everything which isn’t in the south-east of England. 2 million people up here voted “No” last Thursday and I still don’t know where they all came from! 2 million people who were simply too scared to give independence a try, who believed all the scaremongering and everything they heard and read in the media.

The BBC were utterly despicable in their biased coverage of the campaign but thanks to the wonderful power of social media the truth was spread throughout the land almost as quickly as the deceit was broadcast. Many eyes were opened, including my own. Scotland has been politicized by the referendum process and people have been encouraged to find out truths for themselves rather than rely on traditional media sources. So, enough of that for the moment, although we can’t wait for all the new powers we’ve been promised! (We won’t hold our breaths).

Mary and I are quite excited again at the prospect of driving back to Vilanova soon. Theoretically we should be leaving tomorrow so as to arrive by the 25 September, but that has had to be put back because of the launch of my memoir “Wee Georgie” which goes on sale in Waterstones of Dundee tomorrow morning. I was surprised but delighted that they accepted my book for sale in their store as all the advice I’d read suggested it was a waste of time trying to get them to accept the work of an independent author such as myself. However, the content and the very professional appearance of the printed book must have impressed their regional manager enough to persuade her to give the work a go, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have my book on display in the country’s leading bookstore.

I intend to see how the book sells for the next few days, maybe try to arrange a signing in the Dundee store, organize for someone to look after my online sales at the website and then we will probably head off to Spain. So we could be back in the caravan any time between 1 – 10 October, knowing that Mary’s sister Alison and her family are booked to stay at Vilanova Park for a week from the 13 October. Greg and Karen have just returned from another 10 days there as well and have reported temperatures above 30 degrees and the high season just coming to a close.

I’ll leave you with a photo of my books in Waterstones, but take a glance at the face on the shelf behind. Yes, it’s Scotland’s guru himself, Alex Salmond, the man who persuaded 45% of us to vote for self-determination.

Bucket List: tick!

Bucket List: tick!

 

August Report

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Well there was me thinking I’d done Ben Nevis so could pretty much relax for the rest of the summer and get ready to drive back to Vilanova after the Referendum towards the end of September. But no! “Could everyone change bus, please?”
First of all, my wee sore knee on the third of August turned into a very big sore knee by the time we were flying off to visit Tom and Margaret in Petten, Holland on the nineteenth. The day before we left, I had to get the doctor to send me up to one of the hospitals for an X-ray and I’m now waiting for an MRI scan on the knee. I suspect plain, old osteoarthritis will be the diagnosis. I was warned often enough that I should stop playing football before it took its toll on my joints but I’m afraid it was just too much fun!
So this year’s Munroamers really did for me but we had a laugh all the same. The boys went back to their partners and their work and Mary, fresh back from a great weekend with her side of the family at the scout camp in Powburn, North England, helped me look after wee grandson Ben each Wednesday and Friday until our holiday. We have a grand time with the wee man but he doesn’t half run me ragged some days as you can see.

I am NOT sleeping!

I am NOT sleeping!

Scott meanwhile started his new life as a Primary Teacher student at Dundee University. Although this might come as a surprise to some, I can assure you he takes these studies very seriously and is genuinely hoping to qualify next summer knowing he has a 1-year totally guaranteed job somewhere. Is that something else we Scots do better than most? Scott also chose this moment to bid farewell to my beloved football team Kelso after 7 good years in the lower divisions and sign for Barnhill, a team newly-promoted to the Midlands’ Premier Division. He has made a good start, even scored 2 goals and has high hopes of keeping his place in their 1st XI.
The weather forecast for our week in the Netherlands made grim reading and unfortunately it was reasonably accurate, but with hosts like the irrepressible Tom and Margaret Bakker, it was always going to be a fantastic affair, and so it transpired. We cannot thank our friends enough for the terrific 7 days they gave us in their beautiful country and we learned so very much about the Dutch maritime engineering feats. We were left awe-struck at the enormity of the Deltaplan for south-west Holland designed to ensure that the devastating storm of 1953 is never repeated, the incredible 32 kilometre Afsluitsdijk between Noord-Holland and Friesland annexing the Zuiderzee, not to mention the amazing polders, the reclaimed land below sea-level.

Tom and Margaret

Tom and Margaret

Even the water's orange!

Even the water’s orange!

Tom drove us miles and miles and miles around the whole of the Netherlands, ensuring we saw the best of his country, but he didn’t take us to the mountains as I had requested!! His wife Margaret (Greeta) was a domestic goddess in the kitchen as well and we ate and drank like royalty. This holiday was very different from others we have had but it surely must have been one of the most enjoyable ever. The only blot on the landscape was my silly knee which went from bad to worse, slowing me down when we went walking, making cars and stairs unbelievably difficult to manoeuvre into and out of. I even had to resort to using their stair-lift one evening when the pain was at its worst! I must admit that for a couple of days I felt seriously handicapped and began to wonder if I’d done myself a permanent injury. As luck would have it, it all began to ease over the last 2 days once I’d started popping Ibuprofen by the bottle and now I can walk again without limping.

They have great beaches as well!

They have great beaches as well!

One of the big surprises on our visit was to discover that there was place just a mile from Tom and Margaret’s house near some huge dunes called “Camperduin”. We Dundonians know all about this of course as we have Camperdown House in Camperdown Park, given as a reward to Admiral Duncan of Dundee who defeated the Dutch fleet at the battle of the same name in October 1797.

There you have it!

There you have it!

Three days after we got home, our gorgeous granddaughter Artemis celebrated her 1st birthday with her mummy and daddy, Eve and Gavin, as well as the rest of the 2 families. We had a lovely afternoon at their house in Arbroath on Saturday and it was good to see all the members of that next generation mingling on the lawn. It was also lovely to see Isobel, the boys’ mum, get to the event despite being in a wheelchair and I know she really enjoyed herself with her boys and grandchildren. God bless her.

Some of the guests at Arry's party

Some of the guests at Arry’s party

So, was it time to actually relax? Frankly no, as now I had to get my finger out and try to get “Wee Georgie” published. Just before we left for Holland, I had received the first draft hard-copy of my memoir and what an exciting moment that was! That sent me on a mission round the town trying to persuade people to give it a try. Surprisingly it was the biggest of them all, Waterstones, who took a look and deemed it good enough to sell in their Dundee store. The book will probably launch on Monday 22 September, the same day as I have a full-page article in the local newspaper, the Courier. That publicity should get me off to a good start and, although the shop is only taking an initial 10 copies, I think they’ll have to ask for more quite quickly, given the amount of friends and family showing interest in it here in Dundee.

I was scared to look

I was scared to look

Mary has been a gem, helping me create a website for my books. It is called of course http://www.socratesthesnail.co.uk and has all the information about me, my books and my future projects. You can also order copies of “Wee Georgie” and “Socrates the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento” by using the Paypal button and I suggest you use this if you cannot physically get down to Waterstones bookstore on Commercial street in Dundee. Please ask if you would like your copy to be signed.
Well it looks like the Referendum on Independence for Scotland is going to be a very close-run affair on Thursday 18 September. For the first time, just yesterday, the polls put the “Yes” campaign ahead of the dissenters and that has caused a great deal of panic from those in power at Westminster. They’re all coming up to Scotland tomorrow to woo us with the promise of greater devolved powers for the Holyrood parliament but Alex Salmond believes their case has just collapsed and is in no mood to thank them for the scraps from their table. So, I still don’t know if we’ll be Scottish or British the next time I post on the blog!
Don’t worry, readers. We’ll still be us!

Beware! Frogs crossing!

Beware! Frogs crossing!

The front cover: Joe, me and Auntie Lizzie

The front cover: Joe, me and Auntie Lizzie

“Because it’s there!”

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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!

Here we go!

Here we go!

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.

Where's the sledge?

Where’s the sledge?

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.

We made it!

We made it!

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.

Scott and Greg. Typical!

Scott and Greg. Typical!

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.

Munroamers 2014

Munroamers 2014

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.

Boys will be boys!

Boys will be boys!

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.

Ouch!

Ouch!

Was it worth it? Definitely! Roll on the next Munroamers!

July Catch-Up

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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.

Scott at Berlin Fanpark on the night Germany humped Brazil

Scott at Berlin Fanpark on the night Germany humped Brazil

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!

"I have you now, young Burton!"

“I have you now, young Burton!”

 

 

Grass Wars!

Grass Wars!

This is how you do it, Mary!

This is how you do it, Mary!

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!

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

 

Pilatus, Switzerland

Pilatus, Switzerland

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.

Our visitors at Greyfriar's Bobby in Edinburgh

Our visitors at Greyfriar’s Bobby in Edinburgh

Where they slept!

Where they slept!

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.

Are you talking about me?

Are you talking about me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2/294: Dundee

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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.

Royal Crescent, Bath

Royal Crescent, Bath

Mary, Dave and Kate

Mary, Dave and Kate

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?!

Mary with our hosts, Mike and Heather

Mary with our hosts, Mike and Heather

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!

When the train arrives, will she get on?

When the train arrives, will she get on?

A hole in the ground

A hole in the ground. Spot Me and Mike.

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!

I'm the King of the Swingers...

I’m the King of the Swingers…

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!

How true!

How true!

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!

Barcelona and us

Barcelona and us

 

 

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