Hi everyone. Not long to go now before we set off on our European and perhaps world adventure!
March 5, 2014
The highlight of the month of February was undoubtedly the arrival on the tenth of my brother Joe and his wife Morag for a week’s holiday with us, which would include my birthday as well. Mary and I were really excited by this visit and we looked forward to it impatiently. When we’d picked them up at the airport we immediately launched into 3 or 4 hectic days’ running around seeing things, eating out, having the odd glass of wine, going for walks and generally bonding with each other again. What a great time we had! As they arrived on a Wednesday, I took them to the weekly communal meal up at the restaurant and then through to the bar where they met some of our new friends before Mary joined us off the bus from her work in town. Unfortunately, Mo was a little off-colour and flagged before eleven so we settled for an early night but with the promise of a walk up to the Watchtower at nine the following morning.
As arranged, we set off on schedule the next day and did the longer version of the walk up to the North then back across the crests to the Tower where we sat and had a bite to eat. The weather was kind to us and they enjoyed the views out over the Med I had been writing about for so long.
Thursday was spent in Vilanova, showing them the town we live near, and we took in the Rambla Principal and the beach where we had an extended photo-stop at the “cow”, a shoreline depiction of the story of the cursed Pasiphae hiding in a mock cow to couple with a bull. Back at the campsite Mo cooked dinner for us in their chalet before we all went up to the bar for the live jazz music they have every Thursday. Again it was not a late night like the kind we used to have in Dumfries but we planned to be off early next day.
Friday was a trip back to Montserrat, this time not only to see the Monastery but to walk some of the mountain paths. Once again we were blessed with brilliant weather, making the whole thing even more enjoyable. Luckily we were in time at the monastery to hear the famous boys’ choir sing their one o’clock prayers and the four of us sat entranced listening to what sounded like angels’ voices.
Back outside we set off up the mountain on foot, having come to Montserrat one day before the funicular railway opened for the season. How’s that for planning?! This was however entirely to our great advantage as the walk up to the Santa Creu (Cross) looking east towards Barcelona was excellent and we were rewarded with the most beautiful of panoramas all the way round to the snow-capped Pyrenees barring the route North into France. An hour later saw us at our target destination Sant Joan and the hermit’s cave where Joe and I left the girls behind as we explored the narrow ledge of the access path before chancing on a flight of stone steps hewn from the rocks which led us back down on a dizzy descent. Halfway down, dear brother launched into a fantastic rendering of “Nessun Dorma” which resonated around the crags and drew applause from a young woman standing a hundred feet above us. Not knowing the words I joined in for the final “vincero” and that’s probably why she clapped!
While I drove the 50 miles back to the campsite, our visitors had a snooze but I had to keep Mary awake to look out for me as the sun was coming from due west, the direction in which we were travelling, and at times it was almost impossible to see the road. I made the tea that night then Joe lectured me on why I absolutely had to vote “Yes” next September. He’s quite convincing when he gets going, you know! Saturday lunch turned into a feast when we chose a cute little Catalan restaurant for the “menu del dia” and ended up with some wonderful and quite surprising food, including Joe and Mo sharing a “Fideua Negra” which was a seafood platter on a bed of delicate, tiny, black pasta, the black coming from being cooked in squid ink! Fifteen minutes after we started our meal in the near-empty restaurant, they were queuing three deep at the door so we knew we were onto a winner.
On Sunday after mass, we surprised our visitors with a trip to the Biker Bar which they enjoyed despite the sudden cold which had descended on the area. We then took them to Calafel for a snack before returning for a short nap prior to the event of the day which was to be a birthday celebration dinner in town. We had picked a restaurant of reasonable local and internet repute and indeed were by no means disappointed in the fare on offer. The opening shared starter was as good as anything I have ever tasted… despite containing baby octopus, squid and other stuff from the depths of the ocean! The follow-up courses were all a delight and Joe’s pudding almost defeated him.
Digestifs of varying types were consumed, Joe and Mo insisted on paying the bill and then we jumped in a taxi back to the campsite where we finished the evening off in the bar. Great day! Thank you bro and sis-in-law.
Monday saw me turn 61 (I know, I can’t possibly be that age!) and I was regaled with all sorts of goodies from both friends and family. Birthday wishes came via Facebook and Twitter from the boys and if I remember correctly I actually managed to speak with all four of them at some point on that day. I was also able to see the grandchildren briefly which cheered me immensely. But no time to rest as Mary’s sister Claire and her eldest son Andrew flew in in the afternoon for a quick 2-nighter with us. I took Andrew up to play table-tennis with Mike and I while Mary started to catch up on what had been happening in Newcastle over the past 2 months. They then went swimming at the indoor pool while I took Mary to and from work, leaving us all to gather up at the bar after tea to raise a glass to this old codger! I slept that night in the spare room in the chalet to let Claire and Andrew sleep in the caravan with Mary. Poor boy!
Joe and Mo had a day away in Barcelona on Tuesday, allowing me to take Andrew to the Camp Nou for the tour of the stadium while the two sisters went round the town.
I made tea for Claire and Andrew then Mary and I went off to work. When we returned at nine o’clock we shared a bottle of wine and I once again stayed at the chalet.
In a flash it was time to take them all back to El Prat for a flight back to Newcastle. Thanks for coming, guys. We enjoyed your visit immensely. Please do come back! (And thanks to Claire and a nice Customs Officer, look what we had for tea!)
March 5, 2014
OK, I know some of you will laugh at this but I have genuinely been so busy over the past month that I’ve hardly had any time to sit down and tell you what’s been happening! Stop laughing now! No, I mean it and hopefully by the time you get to the end of this post you’ll be starting to agree with me. Well, here goes with February’s report.
We started off with the feast of St. Anthony Abat here in Vilanova, a relatively important day given that he is the patron of the town and the biggest church is named after him. So, when we came out of mass at 11.30, there were crowds of people gathering to celebrate and we were treated to an authentic Catalonian parade with traditional everythings all around. There was a strong horse theme going on (why, I can’t remember) and this was illustrated by the number of models of horses on show including some terribly cute wicker ones which the children had built around themselves: you’ll see from the photo that they were a sort of slip-on ponies. We particularly liked the Giants which reminded us so much of the duelling giants from the hey-days of “It’s a Knockout!”. The two in the photo were later to be seen dancing around the streets of the town centre, led by bands of folk playing traditional instruments and those trumpets we associate with Mexicans in cowboy films.
As a general observation now that we have seen bits of Carnaval which has been taking place over the past few days, the people from here really go in for dressing up and celebrating in a big way and that day in town turned out to be only a taster of what we were to see later. We have been particularly impressed by the participation of the children of the town, often leaving us to believe that 90% or more of them seem to be taking part in some form or other. And not a derogatory comment to be heard from those just watching! It is quite heart-warming to see the enthusiasm being shown by the youngsters as they dress up and parade around the streets, with a hint of genuine innocence you often feel has been sadly lost back in Britain
I don’t know if I mentioned to you before but when we came back to Spain after Christmas I decided to bring my guitar with me. Both Mary and I had been missing those impromptu sessions when out would come the guitar and a procession of old favourites would be bashed out on the steel strings (the lightest possible gauge now to save my ruined fingertips!). So guitar and case were checked in as a special hold item, survived the flight back here and now grace a corner of the awning. I’ve been quietly practising on my own, just getting used to playing the songs I’ve known for so long, but it still amazes me how the brain sends the fingers to the correct frets time after time, even though I may not have played a particular song for decades! Recently, my morning practise sessions have been reaching the ears of the neighbours sat out in the sun but I’m pleased to reveal that the comments have been positive so far.
February has been a month of ups and downs on the sporting front. I started the month with both trophies, the Vilanova Cup for tennis and the Copa Vilanova for table-tennis. Over two consecutive days however I managed to lose both, taking a bit of a hiding from an in-form Mike over the table and losing out in 3 sets to Fred up at the tennis court. During the latter, I unfortunately (and for the first time in my life) tweaked my left Achilles and walked about with a pronounced limp for several days before it eased off, but that put pay to tennis for a couple of weeks. Towards the middle of the month I ventured back to the table-tennis and won in 3 sets against Mike who also unfortunately twisted his back during the game, so there was no more of that game for a week or so.
Ten days ago I ripped the Vilanova Cup back from Fred’s grasp again with a 2-1 win despite losing the first set 7-5. Playing with Fred and Mike is amazingly good sport as there is little or nothing between each of us in ability or mobility, so the outcome of every match is totally unpredictable. I suppose the only difference is I look good! The 2 trophies are now on display on a new set of shelves we bought for the awning, alongside a photo of Artemis’ christening, a crocheted Socrates, an aluminium Socrates (birthday present from Mike) and another birthday present, this time a mug with Judith the BBC Scotland weather girl on it, courtesy of Mary. More of that later!
It just so happened that Fred, Kevin and Dick and Lynn were on their way up to their favourite Sunday lunchtime haunt, the Biker Bar, and Mary was a bit under the weather that particular Sunday, so as she “Vaunted to be Alone!!” I jumped in the car with Kevin and away we went. I was intrigued to see the place they all talked about so much, not really knowing what to expect. Having pulled in off the main road through the hills to the North, we drove down a dirt road and parked in a field, before walking through a subway under the road we had just turned off. There before me was an eye-popping scene of a wooden café with music blaring out (Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” of course) and dozens and dozens of glistening, sparkling motorbikes parked in front. After a coffee outside at one of the many tables available, Fred and Dick gave me a short tour of the bikes, explaining which was which and why one might be better than the other. It was the briefest of lessons, a tiny insight into the world of biking, and I do remember learning that Harleys run on a rubber band! Apart from the obvious biking leathers, there were people in 1950s costumes, big moustaches, women in very tight jeans and a whole host of mini-bikers , some with their own mini-bike from a generous Mum and Dad.
From the biker bar we drove back down to the coast at Calafel where we enjoyed a pleasant stroll along the beach and a cup of coffee out in the sunshine. The weather was truly magnificent for early February and I had to pinch myself a couple of times to remind myself that it wasn’t the summer. Calafel made such a good impression on me that I took Mary there the following Thursday and we booth took our later visitors back there as well.
On the second Friday of the month we drove our friends, Jennifer and Ernest, to Montserrat as they hadn’t managed to see it before. Both were awe-struck at the fantastic views from halfway up the mountain and we also took them into the Monastery, Church and up to the shrine of the Black Madonna. Being devout Christians, they both enjoyed the visit greatly and we shared in their happiness. I took the opportunity to check out the many walks which leave from the square outside the Monastery and head off up to the top of the mountain via two or three outstanding viewpoints. This was because I knew we were coming back in less than a week!
When we woke up on Wednesday 5 February, it was to discover that the plug had finally been pulled! Yes, BBC was no longer available by satellite in this part of Spain! Some people were in utter despair, some decided they were going to have to quit and return to Blighty, while some went into denial and helped spread unfounded rumours of Auntie’s imminent return. But they were to be proved horribly wrong and, while some parts south of Cataluña can still get a signal using a very big dish, here the cut is clean and permanent. To make matters worse, ITV and Channel 4 followed suit 7 days later and, for the TV fanatics out here on the campsite (of which there are several) the misery was complete. Although I’ll miss MOTD on a Saturday night, we have terrestrial Spanish TV and I’ve repositioned the dish to give us all the German channels again, so we’re still pretty much spoiled for stuff to watch. Thank God we don’t just understand English!
Another big moment this month was when our youngest, Scott, phoned to say he’d passed the interview and been accepted onto the Primary Teaching Training Course at Dundee for next academic year. We were awfully proud of him, as were all the family, and this had the effect of focussing Mary and I on exactly what we were going to do after the summer. With Scott needing the flat, we have therefore decided to come back here for another year, probably in late September after Voting Day. We hope no-one will be disappointed at our decision and would like your continued support in our adventure. You only live once after all!
Joe and Mo arrived for a week with us from Wednesday to Wednesday and you can read about their visit in tomorrow’s separate post.
I think we slept most of the rest of Wednesday after they flew off home, but while I was driving Mary to work in town, the sun, which had gone for a holiday of its own over the previous 4 days, decided to come back out and out it stayed for the following week! Sorry you didn’t see as much of it as you might have expected, dear visitors. That’s something we really can’t organize for you! Inspired by its return, I launched straight into putting together a book-signing of Socrates the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento. Fliers were quickly printed, distributed around the campsite, pinned up in the shop and spread by word of mouth, announcing a book-signing with drinks and nibbles down at our pitch for the very next day. I had 25 copies still with me and hoped to shift a few to put me back near break-even point.
The following morning Mary and I put together some tasty treats plus copies of the printed publicity I’d used back in Dundee. At eleven o’clock the first customer arrived. By five o’clock, I was sold out! I had also printed copies of odd chapters from my campsite romp “Vamos!” so friends and neighbours were invited to sit down with a glass of wine and read some of the samples. The roars of laughter suggested they quite liked my observations on camp life as well, or maybe they’d just drunk too much of our wine! I finished the day with Mike, Het, Tom and Margaret (our Dutch friends) outside the awning, guitar in hand, strumming away at whatever they asked me to play. This was truly successful day and I was sorry I couldn’t fulfil all the requests to buy a copy of the book over the following few days. Never fear! Greg is bringing more out with him in a week or so.
To end the month, the region dived into Carnaval with all of its heart and soul, giving us spectacular parades and shows to see as well as some very unusual sights. Last Thursday was “Meringada” a traditional street-fight involving both adults and children covering themselves and their surroundings in Meringue cream fired from piping-bags twirled round their heads. I was able to take in the event but Mary missed most of it as she had to work. The whole thing was very messy as you can see.
The next evening was the annual Carnaval parade of floats through the town centre which we attended with French pals Gérard and Cathy and Bob the Scotsman from Paisley. We had a great laugh that evening although our French friends left early as it started to get cold and they were leaving for home the next morning. We even managed a beer in town, a rare thing for me as I almost always have the car.
On Sunday we intended going to the “Parade of the Debauched” in Sitges but cold weather and happy hour at Tom and Margaret’s changed our plans. Once again “Happy Hour” with the Dutch lasted a total of seven hours but boy did we laugh! We also missed the yearly sweetie fight (the Comparses) but we didn’t really fancy spending a couple of hours getting showered in sticky sweets on the cold pavements.
Yesterday morning, Mike, Tom, Mary and I headed up to the Watchtower for breakfast to kick-start the week and as usual the walk was very pleasant although it was much windier than of late.
By late evening that wind was beginning to feel like a hurricane as the Mistral swept in with frightening ferocity, rocking both Magic Caravan and awning and keeping us awake most of the night with a series of bangs, knocking, flapping and screams. Luckily the only casualty visible this morning was a dented Satellite dish whose securing pegs had been ripped out of the ground, throwing it sideways onto the road. Ouch!
Tonight I drove Mike and Het into town to see the Parade of the Giants but we were to be disappointed when only two huge bakers came dancing down the Rambla. Still ,we had fun and were able to pick Mary up after her work as well.
Right, that was February! Remember to read Joe and Mo’s visit tomorrow. Enjoy!
February 1, 2014
Today is an important anniversary for us because, exactly one year ago, we arrived for the first time here at Vilanova Park. We had just spent January 2013 coming down from Genoa to Ventimiglia, across into France and then west along the entire south coast to a final overnight stop outside Perpignan before hitching up and driving through the gap in the Pyrenees into Spain, or more precisely, Catalonia.
What we knew of our destination was restricted to a photo of a swimming pool on the back of a Caravan Club booklet offering 3 weeks for 200 Euro if we booked a sea crossing with them. That was a fair deal and one we took up, making Vilanova Park the first and only site we pre-booked on our European Tour. It also made it the venue for my 60th birthday, so we were hoping it would be a pleasant place for us to celebrate with the boys who were going to fly out to be with us.
Let me paint you a picture of the previous sites we had stayed on in Italy and France prior to our arrival here. On November 1 (Mary’s birthday) we were in San Marino, busy at the weekend with a good restaurant. On Sunday everyone left, and we were pretty much the only ones on the site on that Monday. 500 kilometres south, Manfredonia was in the middle of nowhere with 2 other caravanners and a restaurant open one night per week.
Across Italy to the Med, and Pompeii had other guests but no facilities and the streets around it were out-of-bounds after dark, which was 3.30 p.m. Rome’s site was a nightmare to find, had the most beautiful toilets in Europe but only 3 other people and it rained constantly. North to Assisi and the scariest site ever, on top of a mountain, completely alone, freezing fog and temperature never above zero. Siena wasn’t much better and we were the only ones there on a site with no facilities. Montopoli in Tuscany was deserted as well. In Deiva Marina in Cinque Terre we were alone again on a huge site with nothing but freezing toilets and a stream to drive through to get on the site.
After Christmas and a week in Turkey, we resumed with 2 Italian sites hidden away in some obscure corner. Again there were absolutely no facilities and we were the only guests. In San Remo we at last found a site with lots of people, a bar and a restaurant so that was a pleasant change although it was rather expensive. The 3 French sites were small and hardly anyone else was parked up except us but we appeared to be back in civilisation and the weather had improved to the point of being pleasant.
Bearing all that in mind we drove into Vilanova Park with fingers crossed. We were greeted by a guard at an automatic barrier, ushered into a bustling reception area where we were checked in and given several leaflets, a map of the site and a carrier bag with the campsite printed on it. Our eyes opened even wider when we were escorted to our pitch on G block and left to settle in, surrounded by dozens of other caravanners, mostly English-speaking. We staggered back in amazement upon inspecting the facilities to find a beautiful restaurant and bar busy with customers, many of whom were watching live football on a large TV. The rest, as they say, is History!
We stayed 3 weeks, celebrated my birthday with the boys and Karen, welcomed Mum and Kate for a short stay, flew off for 3 weeks to Oz to see Scotty, came back here for three weeks, went off around Spain to finish the Adventure, but came back and had another 3 weeks! By then we knew we were coming back to live here, so left the Magic Caravan here in storage and drove the Audi back to Scotland for the summer. We came back here on 7 September 2013 and have lived here ever since, except for a wee holiday back to Dundee for Artemis’ christening.
So you can see that February 1 last year was hugely significant to us in terms of what has happened since and indeed what will happen in the future (although that has still to be decided). Vilanova Park may not be perfect but we can assure you it is by far the best site we have found anywhere in Europe. It has the best facilities, best staff, is best-maintained, has the best security, has the best transport links, the largest amount of fellow guests and, believe it or not, is the cheapest site we have stayed on! The weather is of course brilliant but I won’t put that down to the site management themselves!
As my 61st birthday approaches, we can announce that we will be sharing it here with Joe and Mo (my brother and his wife), Mary’s sister Claire and her son Andrew, all of whom are flying out in mid-February to see if all the above is true. Our previous guests (George, Gavin, Greg, Scott, Mum, Kate, Renée, Teresa, Becky) all seemed to have a great time on the site and indeed Greg and Karen will be coming back for another dose of Vilanova life in March. All we can do is encourage any of you who have a few days holiday to jump on a Ryanair or Easyjet flight to Barcelona El Prat, book a Lifestyle Holidays chalet here for £20 a night and try it out. You won’t be disappointed!
God bless the first of February!
January 22, 2014
In no time at all we were back into the swing of things here in Vilanova, me doing nothing and Mary working all the hours God sent her (Well we need the money, don’t we?). We arrived on the feast of the Epiphany (la fiesta de los Reyes) to find Spain celebrating Christmas by closing for the day. Thankfully Mike and Het had foreseen this circumstance and arranged to share their evening meal with us so, after a quick afternoon nap, we found ourselves in their caravan tucking in to a lovely pork joint. Drink was also taken I believe.Two days later and it was us returning the compliment by having them over for tea that night as we did not want them to have to cook the night before flying back to Blighty. I launched into my signature mince and tatties presented together as a Shepherd’s Pie and I was delighted when our guests scraped the patterns off their plates (not Willow Pattern unfortunately). Mike and Het took the opportunity to have me sign their copy of “Socrates” and also the copy they had bought to take home to their grandson. I was happy to oblige.
The following day as planned we drove our friends to the airport just as they had done for us before Christmas. For the next few days over the weekend we kept a very low profile, just getting on with our own business. The only socialising we did was a night up at the bar with Fred in the company of Jeanette who had flown over again from Copenhagen. The weather then turned a wee bit sour with a couple of days of rain but the temperature never dropped below 10 degrees during the day so there was little to complain about.
On the Tuesday I had my work again, picking up Guillem from the school bus, letting him play in the park with his friend then walking him home where we got stuck into his homework in French . We then had an hour’s English before his Dad Ramon produced our tea. I finished at nine o’clock which coincided with Mary coming out of school so I was able to go and pick her up at the market in town. That same day however, our French friend on G Block, Claude, the husband of Chantal, was taken into hospital and what followed took up the rest of our week.
The next day I was called from my bed just after nine to drive our next-door neighbours Robert and Margaret into Vilanova for their doctor’s appointment but that included waiting for them to get the prescriptions they were given from the chemist’s, so my morning disappeared. On my return I enquired as to how Claude was doing but a tearful Chantal told me he was going downhill fast with all sorts of complications that a 74-year old would find difficult to withstand. To help out I offered to drive her and two others to the hospital about 5 miles away so that’s where I took them after dropping Mary at her work just before five. The news came back later that Claude had stabilized although he was still in Intensive Care.
Friday morning at eight o’clock my French friends woke me with the sad news that Claude had passed away late the previous evening. This came as a bit of a shock for us as you can imagine. His widow asked me if we could accompany her to the funeral parlour soon afterwards to translate from Spanish or Catalan into French so that she could make all the necessary arrangements for poor Claude’s cremation. So we found ourselves in a totally unreal situation, sitting listening intently as the Spanish undertaker’s assistant explained how to fill in all the forms etc. before we told Chantal in French what she would have to do. This was certainly a long, long way from the Speaking Test scenarios we had dealt with as teachers back in Dundee.
That afternoon (a gloriously sunny and warm day by the way) we went back down into Vilanova to catch the tail end of the celebrations of the feast of St. Anthony Abat, an annual parade and displays centring on horses, but we had missed everything. Instead we headed for the port and beach. We spent an excellent time down there, cheering ourselves up with a stroll across the sands, a seat out by the harbour watching the waves coming in and then a coffee and cake at the seafront café we particularly frequent.
We had a long lie Saturday and then smartened ourselves up in preparation for the funeral service down in town. We drove in convoy with 3 other cars out of the campsite and down to the funeral parlour where we were conducted into a lovely chapel of repose. Therein we were able to pay our last respects to Claude whose open coffin was placed to the side of the dais. He looked very peaceful in his smart clothing and he had lost his beard and moustache, making him look younger than previous. An hour later the lid was closed and a funeral service was conducted by a Catalan priest. We had chosen a Catalan speaker as opposed to a Spanish speaker as we thought the French families would be able to follow the service more easily and we were proved right as we managed to hold onto what he was saying. At one beautiful moment he invited us to join in the Lord’s Prayer and we did so, in Catalan, in French and in English simultaneously!
As fate would have it, the couple who had driven Chantal to the funeral rooms were not going to the cremation so I found myself driving to Sitges behind the hearse with the widow in the passenger seat of the Audi and Mary in the back. Chantal remarked en route how people wear all sorts of clothing to funerals nowadays in France, all except anything red. Guess what Mary had on?! I’m sure Chantal hadn’t even noticed but Mary swiftly removed her coat as soon as we reached the crematorium and chucked it in the boot. Saved! The cremation was no more than a final chance to say “adieu” to Claude who was for a last few seconds visible in the open coffin, then the lid was shut and we were asked to leave. Back at Vilanova Park we were invited for a drink but declined, to give the family their own time together.
As you can imagine, Sunday was a serious day of rest although I spent a bit of time in the bar with a new friend who had been working on enhancing my old photographs of Wee Georgie and Family, using some sophisticated Photoshop equipment. What a great job he did, even rescuing Joe on his First Communion day photographed with Grandma as you can see below almost completely erased due to damage over time. You’ll see the cleaned-up version in my autobiography.
I’m off to the communal meal tonight onsite while Mary is working then we’re having a get-together with Chantal and her family tomorrow followed on Friday evening by dinner with some other friends Jennifer and Ernest (important to be him!) so the social whirl continues unabated. Phhewww! We also have a group hill walk of 10 kilometres on Friday afternoon.
As a treat I’m leaving you with the most beautiful child ever, my granddaughter Artemis!
January 11, 2014
Socrates, the sprinting snail of Sorrento is now available with illustrations as an e-book on Kindle, Kindle Fire, i-Pad and other Tablets at less than £2 from Amazon. If you have already bought it or downloaded it for free, you will hopefully receive the updated version in the next few days as they say that’s what they normally do. I have informed them of the changes.
I am making good progress with the photos for “Wee Georgie” and have been playing around with placing them in the text. If anyone of my followers has a photo of Dundee taken between 1953 and 1965 especially around the Dudhope Crescent area and South Road area including Charleston and Early Menzieshill and Lochee, please send them to me for possible inclusion (but only a couple at a time, please!) Don’t forget to ask your families, friends and neighbours.
January 7, 2014
“And so it came to pass that George led his wife Mary out of the strange town and back to the place from whence they sprang. They were led there by a bright light in the sky with “Easyjet” written on it which took them to a place called Newcastle where they boarded a huge iron donkey. When they arrived at the town of their birth, all the inns were full and they could not even lay their heads down at their old dwelling-place, but they found a stable spot next door thanks to a generous uncle and there they remained.
And it was there, with the whole throng of jigsaws looking on, that Mary’s time came and she brought forth a Xmas present which she wrapped in glittery paper and laid under the coffee table. Outside, the news spread rapidly of their arrival and two wise queens (Mum and Alison) hurried to meet them, bringing gifts of milk and bread on which they feasted along with a fish supper! And a heavenly choir of Christmas Number ones rang out through the BBC singing “Last Xmas I got really drunk, but the very next day I fell in the Tay, this year I stuck to the beer, I only drank Carlsberg Special!”
Right, here’s the modern version. The Saturday before we returned to Scotland, all the pals had a pre-Xmas dinner under Fred’s awning. It was a rowdy affair with buckets of food and drink, a Danish Secret Santa and a viciously competitive game of Settlers, won by my partner Het whom I abandoned halfway through due to Spanish tummy.
Now, how I got involved I’ll never quite know but there I was on the Wednesday and Thursday before we left, sitting in Mary’s classroom dressed as Santa Claus giving out presents and certificates to the pupils! Great moment when they crowded around me for the big photo and one wee boy whispered to his pal “Mira, su barba es falsa!” No need for a translation there I think. On the second night I even stayed behind to talk to the parents….. and what did I get for my efforts above and beyond? A parking ticket! Yes, I was nicked for overstaying my welcome. And it wasn’t even a sleigh!
On the first night we missed the usual weekly meal up in the restaurant as we were down at the school, but I kept the suit on to drive back up to the campsite where we surprised the diners with a visit from Santa. Much fun was had by all and even the staff joined in!
Eventually we flew back on 20th December to be at the christening of our granddaughter Artemis that Sunday. The day went very well up in Arbroath and Eve’s parents did us proud with a wonderful spread. The whole family was there including the boys’ mum Isobel and her sister Dorothy so all sides were fully represented. Young George was the godfather and Nellie’s wife Lyndsey the godmother. The star of the day was passed around a million times but took it all in her stride, crying only when I personally tried to hold her. What? I hope you’re not laughing!
The next couple of days in the run-up to Xmas were ridiculously busy as you might well expect but I was concentrating by then on getting my book some publicity locally. It was truly a wonderful moment to have in my hands a physical copy of the book with my name on it and I was very proud of it. Eventually, a week later, there was an article about me in the Dundee Courier coinciding with me doing a book signing at the Nisa supermarket just down the hill from the flat. The day went very well, I met several old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and I sold 25 copies of “Socrates”. By the end of the holidays that figure would be 33, an unanticipated bonus.
Christmas Day was mass in the morning, followed by a short visit to Mum and to Alison, then back up to Eve’s parents for a buffet. By then, Scott’s Canadian friend Simon was with us, having come north from Cambridge where he is studying. A couple of days later we took Simon to St. Andrews and showed him around the beautiful University town and of course its golfing icons.
We continued to visit as many folk as we could, squeezing in some priority time with our grandson Ben (boy, has he made progress over the last few months!). On the Saturday between the 2 festivals we had the traditional Kelso AFC smoker night out, this time with everyone in Blues Brothers garb. Naturally yours truly walked off with the prize for “Best Dressed” although some suggested it was “Best in Show!” Anno Domini is inevitable however and by half past nine I was safely curled up on the settee snoring my head off. I even missed MOTD!
One day George and I took Ben to the soft-play centre “Pirate Island” which is always a bit of a laugh as we adults scamper around trying to keep up with Ben who runs around in perpetual motion mode. I still managed to meet other friends and ex-colleagues there so had a busy few hours. However I found time to properly catch up with my first-born and find out where his life is and where he wants it to go next. He seems focused but like so many parents is suffering from so many sleepless nights over the past 2 years. I’m sure we all recognise his situation, or at least thank God we were spared it. I wasn’t!
The best moment was at the very start of our visit, just after we had stepped off the plane in Newcastle. Greg called to tell me he had just been informed he was to be taken on full-time permanent at the packaging factory in Montrose where he had been working for the previous 3 months. After news like that I needed no further Christmas presents. Well done my boy. I am hugely proud of you and your perseverance.
The last few days were a bit frenetic and before we knew it was time to pack up and come back to Vilanova. Not before I took Ben to Toys ‘R Us and bought him some Thomas the Tank Engine stuff. Nice that was! (Am I sounding a bit like Yoda?) We saw everyone one last time, hugged, kissed, made promises we can’t keep, hopped on the train and went back down to Newcastle for tea and a bed at Dorothy’s. The next morning we took an early taxi to the airport and had a trouble-free flight back to Barcelona. Mary found it especially exciting…….
Het and Mike picked us up at El Prat, delivered us safely back to the campsite then gave us dinner as all the shops were closed for the feast of the Epiphany which is Spain’s real celebration of Christmas. These two have become close friends over the year just finished and we’re sure that that will continue to be the case for many years to come (unless I never get the Vilanova Cup back from Mike!) This morning I had breakfast outside the awning as you can see and it felt really surprisingly good to be back.
So that’s it, we’re back and Mary was at work tonight as usual. Thanks everyone for a great Xmas break. We had a ball. Pity it didn’t snow though!
I leave you with a cracking photo of my grandchildren and some supposed adults!
December 19, 2013
I am delighted to announce that I have today fulfilled my ambition of having a book written by me on sale. It’s only a wee book about a snail and it’s only on sale in one shop in Dundee but it means the world to me. Thanks especially to Lainey my illustrator, brother Joe for his editorial skills, Dick who has printed the book for me down in Great Yarmouth and all who encouraged me to try to do this. Even if I only sell one it will have been worth it! Thank you.