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 .

Who’s a pretty boy then?

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Sorry, folks, I forgot to post the story before we went out to dinner at our friends’ last night. Enjoy the tale of the parrot. (To protect the identity of Eric the parrot, I have called him Walter!)

Indemnity clause: No parrots were harmed in the writing of this blog!

VAMOS! 

CHAPTER 5

The great attraction of G Block was Helmut’s parrot. A prolific talker of several languages, Walter (as his owner had christened him) always had a greeting of sorts for anyone who bothered to address him as he sat shifting from leg to leg on the perch specially mounted for him on the A-frame of Helmut’s caravan. Whether the visitor was young or old, blond or brunette, Dutch, German, French or English, the green and blue bird could pull out a phrase in the appropriate language to entertain and amuse those who passed by.

-Das Wetter ist wunderschön.

-J’adore les escargots!

-Come on, you reds!

Children in particular were fascinated by Walter’s language skills and would crowd round while he imitated a mobile phone’s ringtone or wolf-whistled at a lady on her way to the shower block. The biggest roars of laughter were reserved for the moments when he would make a sound similar to someone breaking wind, a huge favourite for small boys obsessed with all things below the waist. Walter was well-rewarded for his talent and could count on his audiences arriving laden with various edible rewards. As a discerning parrot, he favoured cashew nuts (salted and roasted) and prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps, especially those ribbed ones which he found irresistible.

Walter appeared to have a system of recognizing accents which on occasions helped him produce what could be taken as appropriate responses to comments directed at him. In so doing, he became very gifted at responding to questions in the language in which they were delivered. And so, the harsh Teutonic rasp of an aside in German would be met with a reply in the same language, based on the timbre of the original comment.

-Wie heist du, Papagei?

-Oma ist dick!

While the reply therefore did not always match the question, Walter had an outstanding record with the language match.

As is often the case however, there was a dark side to Walter’s language skills and adult males were the ones most likely to meet the other Walter once the sun had gone down and the children had left the pathways of the campsite. You see, over several seasons spent at Mirabella Park, our illustrious parrot had fallen foul of dozens of holidaymakers the worse for wear after a whole day drinking the ridiculously cheap Spanish beer and vino tinto available at the bar or in the site shop.

Now when these inebriated passers-by decided to verbally abuse poor Walter as was often sadly the case, the parrot failed to grasp either the meaning or the mocking tone of their comments and simply added these utterances to all the others it had learned to repeat. Thus, a child’s name had the same value in his befeathered brain as a string of profanities. They were just sounds. Sounds which brought him endless supplies of cashew nuts and crisps.

It was therefore quite unsurprising that, of a balmy evening, well-oiled men of any nationality might find themselves the target of a torrent of abuse delivered dispassionately by the resident parrot as they staggered past Helmut’s caravan. Jock himself had recently been the victim of such a tirade conjured up by Walter’s clever recognition of dusk, an adult male and a Scottish accent. As the former PE teacher greeted the parrot with a perfectly friendly “How’s my wee pal tonight?” he was rocked back on his heels by the bird’s acerbic response:

-Fuck off!

The parrot tended to finish his utterances by cocking his colourful head to the side and stare straight ahead at the recipient of his comment, assuming an unusually cute posture which went far to repair any damage done by what he had just said. This was terribly important as very few of the passers-by seemed to realise that the bird had not studied the intricacies of grammar and therefore of course had no idea of what it was actually saying. Walter chose a memory, repeated some sounds and received some nuts for his trouble. The humans would say something, hear the parrot reply and analyse the content for meaning, reacting to whatever they took from the comment. This clearly indicated who was the cleverer!

One of his favourite phrases was “I love you, Anke” delivered to a certain rather rotund and somewhat apoplectic Norwegian lady. Unfortunately this large and very rich Scandinavian had experienced repeated misfortune in her past love affairs but was pleased that someone, even if it were a parrot, was still happy to express his feelings for her in public. Like some of her previous suitors, Walter exploited Anke’s delight and profited to the tune of an endless supply of cashew nuts.

You might imagine that a bird, exposed daily on a perch from morning until past dark, would be likely to have problems from the resident cats on the campsite and, in truth, Walter had had the occasional brush with them, especially as he rather took the attention away from them and ate considerably finer and more regularly than they did. Forced to find their own food to survive, the cats had become excellent mousers, but often went hungry when the mice, tired of being slaughtered, temporarily moved into the sawmill adjacent to the campsite for some respite.

Helmut liked his pet and quite enjoyed meeting all the people attracted by its amazing talent. Walter, for his part, liked his owner and found no reason to spread his wings, as yet unclipped, and move on to pastures new. Only once had he wandered off, or more accurately flown off, to check out the other birds in the local town, Vilarota, a kilometre away down the hill. In the town square, Walter had found himself surrounded by Spanish pigeons, some happy and some less happy to make his acquaintance. After a few moments below a wooden bench, the now smiling parrot had headed back to Mirabella Park and spent the rest of the day entertaining the passers-by who were quite ignorant of the reason for his unusually good humour.

The result of this single dalliance with the town’s female birds was the appearance later that year of two pigeons with yellow under wings, green wingtips and blue and green markings down their backs. Thus these unexpected offspring managed to maintain their father’s reputation of being the centre of attention wherever they went.

Day 2/200: They just keep on coming

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The month of March started with the trees on our pitch being chopped down! This had been explained to us a month earlier as necessary to allow a car to park safely alongside a caravan, especially during the high season. Having waited 3 weeks for the “tree fellers” to arrive, when they eventually did, there were only two of them! Roused from my kip, I had to look smart to get dressed and move the car to a safe spot while the chainsaws whirred and screamed into action, removing in a matter of minutes any trace of the three pines which had taken ten years to grow. I rather felt sorry for them, but my pity was tempered by the thought of the unbroken sunshine we would enjoy from now on!

Not picking cherries!

Not picking cherries!

 

The severest of trims

The severest of trims

Mary and I have continued to work at our respective jobs. At the moment she does a class from 5:15 to 6:30 Monday to Thursday plus a one-to-one conversation class on Wednesday from 7:00 to 8:30. She also has her own Spanish lesson from seven until eight on Tuesdays while I’m with Guillem. My young charge is making progress with his English (the fourth language he has learned!) although he finds some of the pronunciation quite difficult. Nonetheless, for an 8 year-old, he is doing very well and has picked up my Scottish accent in rolled R words like “purple” which he says just like any Scot would.

On the first Sunday of the month, Tom and Margaret from Holland hosted an afternoon of song and drinks for our friends, including Mike and Het plus Cliff and Kaye from further down the lane. The others stayed in their own awnings and enjoyed the music as I strummed my way through whatever songs they wanted me to play or sing. Much fun was had by all, although I think they were slightly taken aback when I let loose with “Ernie, the fastest Milkman in the West”! Our two Dutch friends certainly cast me some puzzled looks! Kate and Dave from Bath had recently returned from the UK so it was nice to see them again as well. Several other people stopped by for a wee listen and the noise didn’t seem to bother our Danish neighbours round the back who were hosting a lunch for six not 10 metres away.

I love to boogie!

I love to boogie!

 

Monday 10 March saw Greg and Karen make their second journey over here to Vilanova, having come originally last February to help celebrate my sixtieth birthday along with George and Gavin. They had been talking non-stop about coming back ever since that visit and were desperate to see the place again, but best of all they were doing it out of their own pockets now that Greg has a full-time job in Montrose. He was clearly very proud of the change in his fortunes as were Mary and I. The day they arrived we went shopping at “Simply” (for Karen) and in the evening we ate in Kate’s awning along with Mike and Het, tucking into a huge homemade lasagne which disappeared down our throats in minutes. Yummy!

The Return

The Return of the Two

 

On Wednesday we ate with twenty others at the communal meal up in the restaurant then enjoyed some Champions’ League footie in the bar. Although the youngsters were weary, we did have a wee game of “Switch” with Greg and Karen before bedtime when we left them to enjoy their Lifestyle chalet. The kids then had a day alone in Barcelona at the zoo while we did our usual thing. Over the next couple of days I was able to take them on short drives to the places of interest near Vilanova and hopefully they learned a bit more about where we live. They also had an afternoon down in Sitges which they found “interesting”. Generally they had picked a good time to come out as the weather was really warm and sunny and they gradually turned redder then browner as their holiday progressed.

Sadly, the time came for our good friends Fred and Kevin to start the journey back to the UK for the summer. We’ve had some smashing times together over the winter and I’ve especially enjoyed my wonderful games of tennis with Fred, but at least we can look forward to seeing them again back here in the autumn. Have a good summer, guys!

On the Friday, Kate and Dave once again were the hosts of an al fresco event, this time to celebrate Kate’s birthday (not her 21st I’m told!) but one day in advance as they were zooming off to Benidorm on the actual day of her birth. I stuck to lemonade for most of the afternoon as I had to drive down into Vilanova after 6 p.m. to buy tickets for the Barça supporters’ bus on Sunday. Or so I thought! At some point during the proceedings, Lynne and Dick (the printers of “Socrates”) decided I could go down into town on the back of Dick’s 400 c.c. scooter! Well, not having been on a motorbike in 40 years, I did not quite jump at the chance, but at 6:10 there I was, dressed in my leather jacket with Lynne’s helmet on, clinging on for dear life as Dick sped us out of Vilanova Park and down into town.

Mary, Mike, Kate, Het, Dave

Mary, Mike, Kate, Het, Dave

 

Cliff & Kaye, love's young dream!

Cliff and Kaye, love’s young dream!

 

And what did I think of my unexpected bike ride? Well it was absolutely brilliant, great fun yet safe as houses. I enjoyed the experience immensely and started looking out for similar bikes on the Internet. I’ve actually found the same bike on sale in, of all places, Great Yarmouth where Dick lives! He’s promised me he’ll check it out on Gumtree when he gets home in a couple of days.

Born to be wild!

Born to be tame!

 

Lynne and Dick aren’t the only ones who have now left for home. It seems that a lot of people choose now to return to their native lands and it’s sad for us that Mike and Het decided yesterday to up sticks and head home a few days early as Mike was suffering badly from the thick yellow pollen which falls off the pine trees at this time of the year. We are hoping to pop in and visit them in late June on the way home.

In a blue & red dream

In a blue & red heaven

 

On that Sunday, Greg and I along with Lynne and Dick, caught the Barça supporters’ bus to the Camp Nou to see the game against Osasuna. Lynne isn’t a real football fan (although she sometimes goes to see her local team, Norwich, getting beat!!) but she wanted to experience the occasion of a Barcelona home game in La Liga. Greg of course was wetting himself with excitement at finally seeing Messi and co. strut their magic on the hallowed turf. And didn’t we choose the right game?! It ended 7-0 for Barça, Iniesta was unplayable at times, Messi chipped in with a hat-trick and the football was absolutely mesmerising! We had a great afternoon and Mary and Karen had mince and tatties waiting for us on our return. Perfect!

Lynne loved being up so high....... Not!

Lynne loved being up so high……. Not!

The following Wednesday, all four of us were up early, in the car and off to the Port of Barcelona where Greg and Karen got out and made for the Ramblas while we drove over to the “Norwegian Star” cruise liner to pick up Uncle Brian and Auntie Pat, fresh from a week’s cruising the Med! It was wonderful to see them here in Barcelona ready to spend 5 days with us at Vilanova Park, yet again in a Lifestyle chalet (incidentally, the exact same one where Joe and Mo had stayed last month!) They even had Greg and Karen as next-door neighbours! On the drive back to the campsite, Brian, quite infamous in the family for his deep love of a bargain, broke out with shouts of joy when we passed a billboard announcing Lidl was only 1 kilometre away! After that, the grin never left his face!

As always, we treated our guests, now four of them, to the communal meal up at the restaurant before moving to the bar where we introduced them to some of our friends. The following day we did a tour of Sitges where it was bright but breezy, before dropping Mary off at work and inevitably shopping at the aforementioned Lidl. Brian was in his element and I have to admit it wasn’t nearly as awful as I keep making it out to be! Their 5 Euros bottle of gin and bottle of false Bailey’s certainly struck a chord with us! That evening we were meant to be having a social “do” at Ernest and Jennifer’s but, as Het still had a sore mouth due to the last of her dental surgery, we postponed it for 24 hours so I made us all a meal down in Pat’s chalet.

A gay day in Sitges

A gay day in Sitges

Bye-Bye kids

Au revoir, les enfants!

 

Next day it was “bye-bye” to Greg and Karen again at El Prat airport where the hugs were tight and more than brief. We left them and sped back to Vilanova where we picked up aunt and uncle then drove them to Montserrat for a day out. It was only on the windy mountain road up that I realised Pat does not have the greatest head for heights but we just had to keep going and reassure her every so often. Our timing was perfect to the minute to hear the boys choir again, then we had a bite to eat, went back to check out the basilica and the Black Madonna then strolled along the main road looking out over the valley. We laughed loud at Pat crossing the road to stay on the side where she knew it was solid below her feet, and even louder when Mary went to the loo and missed the steep funicular railway in action, the only time we saw it move!

Pat & Brian at Montserrat

Pat & Brian at Montserrat

Brian alone. Pat stayed on terra firma!

Brian alone. Pat stayed on terra firma!

Tea was mince and tatties before we all went round to Jennifer’s with Mike and Het and spent the rest of the evening chatting away and getting to know each other. Brian and Pat fitted in brilliantly with the company, dear uncle confirming beyond reasonable doubt that he could indeed speak for England! When Brian and I set off home there must have been an earthquake as the pathways appeared to be swaying somewhat! Needless to say, we were a bit slow the following morning and it was afternoon before we ventured down to the beach to see the Cow sculpture. Later on Brian and Pat treated us to dinner in the posh part of the restaurant.

Het & Pat at Jennifer's

Het & Pat at Jennifer’s

On Sunday we all went to the Catalan mass at St. Anthony Abat then I drove everyone up to the Biker bar for coffee. Both our guests admitted they’d never seen anything quite like it before and I was delighted they enjoyed the experience so much.

Among the bikes

Among the bikes

We came back via the reservoir road which was delightful in the warm sunshine. I made us all Chicken Parmesan for tea down at the chalet and to round off the day, Brian and I went up to the packed bar at nine o’clock to watch “El Classico”, the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. What a game that turned out to be, Barça stealing the victory by 4 goals to 3 including another hat-trick from the one and only Lionel Messi.

On the Monday morning, for the umpteenth time, we drove back to the airport and waved off our guests who seemed to have had an exciting 5 days with their gypsy nephew! Mary and I drove home and collapsed into bed where we slept the afternoon, exhausted after looking after visitors for a full fortnight.

So, who’s next? Let’s not forget we’re coming back to Scotland for 10 days over Easter and hope some of you will find time to come and say hello. Mum is putting us up for 5 nights from the tenth of April then we will be drifting between Uncle Gerard’s flat, cousin Renée’s new house in Blairgowrie and Alison, Mary’s sister’s house in Dundee. We’ll be flying back here early on the morning of Tuesday 22 April as we’re both working that night!

When our Norwegian neighbours left last week, who should arrive to take up their pitch but a Blackpool couple, Brian & Dominica , who were accompanied by their pet, Eric the African grey parrot. This bird is well-known on the campsite for its amazing ability to talk and copy sounds like phones ringing, wolf whistles and reversing lorries! It most certainly keeps us entertained of an afternoon. So famous is the bird that I had already written it into a chapter of my campsite romp “Vamos!” before I even met it and as I’ve never let you read any of that book I’ll post the chapter about the parrot as a bonus tomorrow.

Our next-door neighbour, Eric the Parrot

Our next-door neighbour, Eric the Parrot

Please let us know if you find our adventures a bit boring and we’ll try to do more exciting things!

Day2/180: Joe and Mo in Vilanova

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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.

Breakfast al fresco

Breakfast al fresco

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.

Cow with girl inside

Cow with girl inside

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.

Entranced!

Entranced!

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!

Santa Creu

Santa Creu

Mean mean girls!

Mean mean girls!

Can't last the pace, eh bro?

Can’t last the pace, eh bro?

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.

Once you've tried black....

Once you’ve tried black….

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.

I said "almost!"

I said “almost!”

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.

Dos Hermanos

Dos Hermanos

 

Mo and Joe

Mo and Joe

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.

A happy boy I think!

A happy boy I think!

Something to aspire to!

Something to aspire to!

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!)

"..Great chieftain o' the puddin' race!"

“..Great chieftain o’ the pudding race!”

Day 2/179: February Report

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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.

Ride a cane horse...

Ride a cane horse…

Doesn't Mary look small!

Doesn’t Mary look small!

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!

Top shelf!

Top shelf!

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.

A Harley trike

A Harley trike

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.

The bikers, plus another one, Chris.

The bikers, plus another one, Chris.

Do I look stressed?

Do I look stressed?

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!

Our guests in the church square

Our guests in the church square

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!

Here come the Burtons!

Here come the Burtons!

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 customers enjoy a glass and a read

The customers enjoy a glass and a read

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.

Tom and Margaret work on their English

Tom and Margaret work on their English

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 market square battlefield

The market square battlefield

Are those two a mess or a meringue?

Are those two a mess or a meringue?

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.

Mary with some pupils

Mary with some pupils

The Auld Alliance

The Auld Alliance

Carnaval is for everyone!

Carnaval is for everyone!

Getting a bit too close to the action!

Getting a bit too close to the action!

Just one of the many floats

Just one of the many floats

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.

Asylum-Seekers Annual Hike!

Asylum-Seekers Annual Hike!

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.

Giants on the Rambla

Giants on the Rambla

Ryan O'Neil and Mia Farrow!

Ryan O’Neil and Mia Farrow!

Right, that was February! Remember to read Joe and Mo’s visit tomorrow. Enjoy!

Day 2/147: Anniversary!

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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!

It's in the bag!

It’s in the bag!

Day 2/137: Adieu, mon brave

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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.

Tea in the awning

Sign here please!

Sign here please!

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.

Outside the Cathedral in Dundee

Outside the Cathedral in Dundee

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!

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The hairy bit is her Daddy’s arm!

News flash

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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.

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