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 4/162: Es Carnaval!

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Jeremy, Fred and Dick on the first tee

Jeremy, Fred and Dick on the first tee

On Thursday, for the second week running, Fred, Dick, Jeremy and I had a round of golf up at the 18-hole par 3 course on the way to the Watchtower. We kept the same partnerships as last week because Dick and I had won it by 1 hole only and we were all convinced that the same pairings would be the most competitive. And so it turned out! We lost two of the first four holes but squared it by winning the fifth and the sixth then Fred and Jeremy moved up a gear and won holes 7, 8 and 9 including Fred lipping the cup for a 2 on the ninth! The second half was a totally different story however as we raced away with 5 of the next 7 holes to go 2 up. We lost the seventeenth to set up a nail-biter but, while I went through the green with my tee shot and took five to get in the hole, my partner came up trumps with a half in 3 to give us another win by one hole. Roll on next week!

Burton knocks another out of bounds!

Burton knocks another out of bounds!

Handsome lad eating Granny Smith's

Handsome lad eating Granny Smith’s

Yesterday evening, we headed down into town for the Carnaval parade and festivities. For once we were quite early, having parked up on the Ronda Iberica opposite the Hospital and walked right down the Rambla Principal to the Placa de la Vila where the big stage was set up and the fans were already arriving. After a cinnamon tea in one of our favourite cafes, we climbed up the temporary terracing to grab a really good seat with a brilliant view of the square and the stage and were treated to an amazing concert by a group called “Arrivo rocks!”. They performed several well-known classics but with changed Catalan lyrics, all designed to welcome everyone to the Carnaval celebrations. We particularly enjoyed their version of “Born to be Wild” with the clarion call “Es Carnaval!”

The stage in Placa de la Vila

The stage in Placa de la Vila

After the concert, we joined the crowds spilling onto the Rambla Principal in anticipation of the arrival of the parade but had time to go into our favourite Turtle café (they have wee turtles in a grotto out the back) for a sandwich and a coffee. Soon we were back outside as the procession made its noisy way up the packed Rambla. First in line were the firework twirlers spinning wheels of crackling, sparky squibs and forcing the public to move back and seek shelter. Health and Safety? Sorry, no, this is Spain! Then came the equally dangerous “Drac” or dragon in English, breathing flames and sparks right and left, scaring the spectators into retreating once again.

Beware! Twirlers!

Beware! Twirlers!

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El Drac

El Drac

After all that came the procession of floats from various clubs and societies of the town of Vilanova, all dancing around to the pounding music coming from the vehicle at the head of each group. It made quite a spectacle I assure you and it looked like loads of fun to be involved with. Mary speculated on the way home that we should put together a float from Vilanova Park for next year and we might just fancy having a go.

Revellers

Revellers

Revellers in stripes!

Revellers in stripes!

Viking revellers?

Viking revellers?

Back at the campsite, we joined all our pals who had been at the “Fish & Chips” night in the function room and we joined in with the dancing and Karaoke which followed thanks to the organisation of Scouser Dave, our entertainments representative.
Our friends from France, Marc and Judith Schmitt, are arriving here tomorrow for a 4-night break, having persuaded them that they will have loads more fun here at Vilanova Park as opposed to a hotel in deepest Barcelona. We’ve planned a few things for them, what with it being Mardi Gras Carnaval and all that, so we should have a bundle of fun together. I’ll let you all know how it went at the end of next week.

Here’s Mary on the Rambla last night. Enjoy!

I'm loving it!

                            I’m loving it!

Day 4/159: Welcome to Vilanova Park

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Three years ago on Monday past, we arrived at Vilanova Park for the very first time. It was a deliberate move which had been planned way back in Dundee before our adventure began. The idea was to stay on the same campsite for 3 weeks to have a rest and give members of the family the opportunity to fly over to Barcelona to help me celebrate my 60th birthday. Then we would go to Australia for 3 weeks, come back to Vilanova then complete the perimeter of Spain over another month or so before heading back to Scotland with the Magic Caravan. That would be that.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice ‘n’ men gang aft agley” said the Bard in his poem to the mouse and so it was to be, but in a positive sense. The family came out, we celebrated, we did the Australian thing, we toured Spain from Barcelona down to Tarifa (even had a day in Tangiers!) then all the way up to La Coruña then along the top of Spain to Gijon (pronounced – wait for it!– “Hee-Haw!”) But instead of continuing along the top to Santander, Bilbao, France and homeward bound, we turned back South, meandered through Burgos, Logrono, Zaragoza and came all the way back to Vilanova. That’s because we’d made the decision to have another year away and Mary had taken a second year out of school.

The rest as they say is history and we’ve spent all but the past 3 summers at Vilanova Park, 50 kms south of Barcelona. We love it here as you can probably guess but you may not have much of an idea what the place actually looks like. That’s why I armed myself with Mary’s new camera yesterday and took loads of photos of all around the campsite so you will have a better, clearer picture of where we live. The weather over the past 2 days has been unbelievably good and that has helped to give an accurate idea of our environment, so let’s start up at the front gate.

You've arrived!

You’ve arrived!

The site is 2.5 kms up a hill out of town on a wee road the size of Blackness Road but with no kerbs, no pavements and very little lighting. It’s fine in the car but a tad dangerous in my opinion on your bike and definitely not recommended on foot. Right outside reception, safely off the road, there are 2 bus-stops, one for the big coach which takes you to the heart of Barcelona and back and the second for the smaller bus which comes up and down from Vilanova town every half hour. The fare is about 30 pence for an old codger like me and 60 pence for non-pensioners. A trip to Barcelona will cost you roughly a tenner return and the coach itself is the height of luxury as you can see.

The "Mon" bus for Barcelona

The “Mon” bus for Barcelona

The VNG bus to town

The VNG bus to town

Security is top-notch on our site. Not only do you have barriers for traffic which open according to registration plate recognition technology but you have patrols all through the night by guards driving quiet electric buggies like the one in the photo. Outsiders have to pay 10 Euros to come onto the Park and only get a refund if they spend more than 20 Euros in the bar/restaurant. The reception itself is an old hacienda renovated for its purpose and all the receptionists speak several languages while on duty for the very long hours they have to work.

The automatic barriers

The automatic barriers

An electric buggy

An electric buggy

I think the campsite, which is huge by the way and covers hundreds of acres, was originally a wood on a steep hill. It has been deforested, terraced and cut up into what seems like thousands of pitches, mostly for static chalets but with enough for maybe 400 caravans or motor homes. All the roads between the pitches are well tarmac-covered and there are absolutely no dust trails or pebbly tracks to walk or drive on. The streets are well-lit and decorated with various plants, especially palm trees which still have the ability to make me smile like a wee boy seeing one for the first time.

The road to the Lifestyle chalets

The road to the Lifestyle chalets

Campsites in France and Spain are noted for their beautiful swimming pools and Vilanova Park is no exception to that rule. The main pool is up near the bar and restaurant and was done up last spring to make it even more attractive. Don’t kid yourself however! The water may look amazing but it’s really, really cold and takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve developed the knack of having a slow, cold shower to generally reduce my skin temperature so that when I eventually pluck up the courage to slide in, the difference between water and skin is nothing like as shocking as it is if you just go in unprepared. Dive-bombing your way into the water, like you see on the TV, is not recommended and I would risk a heart-attack if I did that, honest! In the evenings, after the sun goes down, they turn on the illuminated water cannons at the far end of the main pool and the sight is quite wonderful. When Ally, Mum and the two teenagers were here in the autumn, we spent some time by that pool and we even had grandson Ben there when he had his day with us, but Ben was no fool and refused to go in. As always, Mum made a thoughtful choice and decided to stay dry as well but the rest of us braved hypothermia and took the water challenge.

The main outdoor pool

The main outdoor pool

The other outdoor pool is on the roof of the indoor pool and affords us spectacular views of Vilanova and the Med from its beautiful raised position halfway up the hill. There is a wee kids’ pool there as well which is useful for getting used to the water temperature before braving the pool itself but I have to say the setting around this pool is magnificent and is a genuine piece of eye candy for those lucky enough to be here. Both the outdoor swimming pools are constantly attended by lifeguards and are open between April and November.

Rooftop pool 1

Rooftop pool 1

Rooftop pool 2

Rooftop pool 2

The indoor heated pool is open of course all the year round and is the venue for the twice-weekly “Aquaerobics” classes attended by the senior citizens and others. These classes are free and I’ve given them a try a few times, most especially when the rather tidy female instructor is in charge. The ladies, who make up the vast majority of the participants, clearly prefer their orders from the young lad with the toned and tanned body, but I can’t see what they find so interesting!

Attached to the indoor pool is the fitness room with all the usual equipment for you to torture yourself with and when your agony is over you can use the sauna to soothe your aching bits, all free to use. Outside there is a fitness area where you can lie all day in the sunshine reading with short bursts of activity in the fitness room or the indoor pool. Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it!

The gym

The gym

For those of us determined to stay fit there are also two lovely tennis courts available free Monday-Friday and luckily they do not get used as much as you might think so you can usually get a game pretty much any time you want. New balls, please! I’ve had a few sets up there either against Fred my pal or one of the many family members who have come out for a break and it’s great fun as long as you don’t overdo it. The problem seems to be how to keep the sun out of your eyes when serving, a difficulty I’ve not really had to deal with back in Dundee! The surface is all-weather hard court and is excellent considering it’s just part of a campsite’s facilities.

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Anyone for tennis?

Moving down a little from the reception, you come to the hub of the Park, which is the bar and restaurant Mas Roquer. The bar is large (seats for about 60 people inside and at least that number outside – remember you’re in Spain!) and, although its prices are higher than in town, it’s still quite reasonable. A decent-sized glass of red will set you back 2 Euros while a bottle of Estrella lager will cost you slightly less. Spirits are much more like British prices but a double of the local brandy (Soberanno) is less than 2 Euros. The bar has a large TV and a drop-down giant screen so you can see all the best footie there including English Premiership and Champions’ League. It is also the venue for Bingo and “Play your cards right” on Monday evenings and live music of various sorts on Thursdays. All this extra stuff is completely free for residents and visitors.

Outside the bar

Outside the bar

The restaurant Mas Roquer is a lovely place to eat and it’s very popular with the Spanish at weekends when they come here from the city. There are 3 menus. As you would expect there is an extensive range of tapas on offer, there are single dishes like spag bol or chicken and chips and there is also a daily set menu of 3 courses for just 12 Euros. On Wednesday evenings this menu is on offer with a bottle of wine per couple, a glass of Cava on arrival and coffee to finish, all for the same 12 Euros. This evening is very popular, especially with the Brits and sometimes there can be 50+ people at table. They even throw in some music and the odd dance! This event takes place in the big function room which also houses regular weddings and First Communions and there are two or three smaller rooms as well. We used one of these for my 60th birthday dinner three years ago.

The function room

The function room

Outside there is a large social area which is very busy outwith the winter season. There is a high stage for live acts (they do the “Keep Fit” from up there too) and the kids can have a dance up until 11 p.m. It’s a beautiful sheltered spot with the main pool as a backdrop and the campsite boutique just behind. Although we don’t spend much time up there, you should see the crowds enjoying themselves in the evenings when the better weather comes round and it stays warm at night. Yes, it’s not always warm in the evenings and can be quite nippy from November to March, probably not tee-shirt and shorts if you catch my meaning, but every month has gorgeous days of sun and blue sky. And it almost never rains here! Since we arrived in September, it has rained on less than 10 occasions.

Want to be on the stage?

Want to be on the stage?

There is a really big campsite shop which opens 9-12 and 17-19 and has just about everything you could want including several British and Dutch items for those who can’t take to Spanish food. The shop bakes its own bread as well, which accounts for much of the weight I’ve put on! Again the prices are higher than in town but way cheaper than Tesco: for instance 6 eggs costs 1 Euro, a tin of Heinz baked beans 90 cents and half a kilo of beef mince about 3 Euros (£2). The beef, chicken and pork here are excellent as are the sausages, cooked ham and veal and nothing has really upset our tummies in the 3 years we’ve been here.

Ye Olde Shoppe

Ye Olde Shoppe

Below the shop is Block G which was the first place we ever had a pitch. The coincidence was that we had come to celebrate George’s 60th and they put us on G60 of all pitches. This block has room for about 80 caravans and is booked by the Caravan & Camping Club UK every year from the end of February until May. Many of our closest friends live on this block including Dick & Linda from Great Yarmouth (they printed “Wee Georgie” first time round) and Fred and Jeanette, him from London and Yorkshire and she from Yorkshire and Copenhagen! That’s quite a mix actually. These two couples have motor homes to live in and motor bikes to play on. The boys go out three or four times a week exploring the hills to the back of Vilanova along with another friend Chris and we sometimes meet up together on Sunday lunchtime at the Biker Bar.

Fred's place

Fred’s place

Well that’s your tour pretty much complete except for our own street which has pitches on one side only as it is next to the wall separating the campsite from the local wood yard. As this then allows unbroken sunshine from dawn until dusk, our street is commonly known as “Millionaires’ Row”! We’ve been on this row for two and a half years and, although some Irish git has stolen our pitch at the end of April (I forgot to book it ahead) and some Danish pastry has nabbed it in September until the end of October we’ve shelled out the necessary fees to secure F22 for the foreseeable future thereafter. At the moment Dundee Sandra lives next door to the right and Henk & Aneka from Holland to the left.

Our street

Our street

There is only one other row on F Block and that’s where our other friends all live on and off. Tom and Margareth are a couple of pitches away, Peter & Elaine are directly behind us and we’ve just had an old friend Jeremy from Leeds (and Australia!) set up next to Peter. Mae & Jon from Norway are further up near Scottish Bob and Durham Joan while Dutch friends Joke and Walter usually take the corner pitch F1. It would be fair to say that everybody knows everybody with the odd exceptions who prefer to keep themselves to themselves as they are entitled to do.

The other row

The other row

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Vilanova Park and that future posts will be all the more vivid in your minds now that you know where we live. I leave you with me and Jeremy yesterday.

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Day 4/151: Rabbie, Tam ‘n’ a Moose.

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We’ve had quite a weekend, readers. Way back before the Christmas holidays we had promised our friends that we would arrange a celebration of Robert Burns round about 25 January to let them experience something akin to what it’s like at a Burns’ Supper. To that end we had come back to Vilanova with 6 McSweegan’s haggises (or is that haggi or even Latin third declension hagges?) and three sachets of Tesco’s finest whisky sauce. With only two other Scots in attendance, haggis and Burns’ poetry would be a first for most of the guests.

Unfortunately, our good friends Tom and Margareth from the Netherlands left the day before (Friday) for a 2-month adventure in Andalusia with their caravan. Their Dutch courage is quite commendable and, after several days of cleaning and storing non-essentials in their kitchen tent which we had transferred to our pitch for safekeeping, off they drove on Friday morning heading for Valencia and beyond, hoping to see Almeria, Malaga, Granada, Sevilla, Ronda and Cordoba plus all the other spots in between!

Mary and I spent a good deal of time shopping Thursday and Friday. The sticking point was the neeps! Turnips over here (nabos) are shaped like parsnips and are white so bang goes the orange colour you need for the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties. In the end we went for a substitute, butternut squash (calabassa) which when whole is shaped like a bottle and the devil to skin. Luckily, down at the market, we chanced on some ready-skinned and diced, taking all the labour out of the preparation. That did us grand! Tatties are just tatties even here in deepest Catalunya so no problem there. Mary upped the ante by deciding to make a trifle for dessert, necessitating several laps of “Simply” supermarket before leaving with Magdalena cakes, two flavours of gelatine, a tin of mixed fruit, something we hoped would be very like custard called “natillas” (it was!), squirty cream and a wee jar of Hundreds and Thousands.

Our good friend Jeanette heard of our plight at not being able to find any Walker’s Shortbread and agreed to make us some of her own recipe. What a good thing that turned out to be! Her shortie was delicious, crumbly yet moist, and far superior to the Walker’s variety. A hasty visit to the English shop in Sitges on Friday brought us not what we were looking for but half-a-dozen tins of Irn-Bru as a special treat and a chance stop-off at Carrefour supermarket near Cubelles proved fortunate when I discovered they stocked tins of corned beef. That meant we were going to have proper stovies after all.

Neither of us slept all that well on Friday night, probably in anticipation of our event, so we were a bit bleary-eyed when we roused at the back of nine and had to kick into action right away. We concentrated on the physical stuff to start with like setting up tables and chairs outside and fitting table-covers. Mary then got on with the job of finishing the trifle she had left to set in the fridge overnight and putting together the Scottish music we had (which was unashamedly White Heather Club type songs and tunes). We reminisced over “Donald whaur’s yer troosers?” by Andy Stewart and the late great Jimmy Shand’s “Bluebell Polka” while Kenneth McKellar’s “My Luv is like a red, red rose” nearly brought a tear to the eye.

The first guests arrived bang on time at 2 p.m. just as I was finishing a huge pan of stovies and was about to put the haggis in the oven. 20 minutes later we had 2 Scots, 5 English, 2 Danes, 2 Dutch and 2 Norwegians on our pitch sitting in the gorgeous warm sunshine enjoying a drink. The tables were lain with all sorts of nibbles and cheeses, there was beer and wine galore and Lyn brought a couple of bottles of Gluhwein which I was sent to warm up on the hob inside. I added a half bottle of red and a sliced orange to the Gluhwein and heated it up nicely before Mary served it in steaming mugs. Yummy!

Fred, Peter, Elaine, Jane & Colin

Fred, Peter, Elaine, Jane & Colin

The first act was my pal Fred, London born (West Ham supporter) but long since an honorary Yorkshireman due to having worked there most of his life. I had asked him on Friday to read “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” but he had returned within minutes to say it was total gibberish and could he have something in English please! I had then explained what the poem was about, helped him with a couple of words and sent him away to practice. Well he must have, because Fred did a fantastic job and delighted us with Burns’ egalitarian masterpiece. The applause was indeed generous.

Fred concentrating

Fred concentrating

Next, in the absence of the anticipated Scottish Annie, I sang “My luv is like a red, red rose” with the guests joining in where they could and then it was time for me to address the haggis which brought further applause (unlike my singing!). The faces on those who had never seen the haggis being sliced open with a big knife were a wonder to behold and I felt we were really beginning to make an impression. Mary and I then whisked out 15 portions of haggis, tatties and butternut squash in whisky sauce and to our delight watched every mouthful disappear down their throats, while some even asked for seconds. Jon from Norway is a vegetarian so having a couple of veggie haggis proved a master stroke.

Note the t-shirt

Note the t-shirt

To allow the first hot food to digest, I called upon Dick from Great Yarmouth, a classic Norfolk lad, to regale us with “To a Mouse”. As always, Dick had a surprise for us, disappearing into the kitchen tent with the words “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be ….. Rabbie Burns!” and reappearing in a See-You-Jimmy hat and ginger hair! This brought the house down. But Dick also then did a seriously good rendering of the Mouse poem and the guests were well impressed with his diction (Dick shone), applauding vigorously. By this point Mary had reheated the stovies and that’s what was served up next. We were very happy when the stovies suffered the same fate as the haggis had.

Dick as Rabbie!

Dick as Rabbie!

After that, it was the turn of our neighbour Elaine from Birmingham way to charm us with “To a mountain daisy” which she read beautifully and with feeling, drawing further enthusiastic applause from the audience. Once the two trifles had been served up, and with the warm sun holding its own in the cloudless sky above Vilanova, I explained to our guests the story of “Tam o’Shanter” before launching into my own humble version of Burns’ epic poem about the dangers of over-indulgence. I’d like to think I did the poem justice and there were congratulatory handshakes all round when I’d finished. Maybe that was more out of relief than pleasure!

Elaine in action

Elaine in action

Our event finished in style when we all joined in the full version of “Auld Lang Syne” which I’d printed out beforehand. The guests then trickled away, we’d like to think happily and maybe a bit more knowledgeable about the great Scots Bard. That left us a few hours to tidy up and we took our time doing so, reflecting on what had just happened, but we were safely tucked up in bed well before midnight.

Thankfully Ramon had texted me to put off picking us up at reception from 11 until half past twelve so, early on Sunday afternoon, we were actually polished up and ready when he arrived with Beti and Guillem. He drove us to Barcelona where we parked up and had a drink in the fantastic Moritz brewery (now there’s a place worth a visit!) before strolling through the streets of the Catalonian capital to Mark and Rosa’s flat, near their restaurant in the Barrio Gotica district. Ramon and Rosa, Guillem’s grandparents were there as well and we had a lovely afternoon catching up in any one of three or four languages while enjoying an excellent variety of tapas-type dishes from the chef. The sea bass with langoustines was a particular success accompanied by fideua marinera which is tiny pasta in sea-food sauce.

Here’s a photo of downstairs at the Moritz brewery. The toilets are down here!

Image result for moritz brewery

By the time we got back to Vilanova Park and down to the caravan, we were both extremely tired and had to have a nap before bedtime! But we agreed it had been a brilliant weekend all round and one we would be happy to repeat next year if we’re still here. Today has of course been down-beat in comparison, just as it needed to be, and other than a wee jaunt out in the Audi to a nearby village called California – yes, California – we have stayed at home. I didn’t have a lesson tonight with Guillem as it was a school holiday and the locals were having yet another fiesta, this time for Sant Pau.

Right. I hope you have enjoyed my description of our weekend. Let me know if it’s the kind of thing you want to read about and I’ll send you material more frequently as our adventures continue.

I leave you with one of the campsite cats, cleverer than all of us!

Purrfect!

Purrfect!

 

Day 4/145: A New Year begins

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Firstly I’d like to wish all my readers a happy healthy 2016. The “healthy” bit is really important of course and the year has begun with the sad passing of a music legend in the inimitable David Bowie and the brilliant actor Alan Rickman whose Sherriff of Nottingham role in “Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves” will stay with me long and vivid. He nailed it totally as he snarled “Locksley!” with the best facial expression ever. As for Bowie, well, “2001 Space Oddity” did it for me but I also have great memories of “Rebel! Rebel!” And “The Jean Genie” blasting out of the jukebox in the Students’ Union in St. Andrews. R.I.P both.

Mary and I flew home for Christmas despite having earlier resolved to try the festive season in Vilanova. I think the lure of her Mum’s Christmas dinner was just too good to miss! We did however gear up for the fun via a couple of great evenings here on the caravan park with our friends, a couple of evenings in town soaking up the atmosphere around the outdoor skating rink in the Plaça de la Vila and me doing my 2 nights’ Santa Claus at the Times School on the Rambla Principal. Unfortunately, at the end of the second night, Mary was told her classes were being transferred to a full-time employee to save money which rather upset her and took the shine off the festive celebrations.

Unjolly Santa!

Unjolly Santa!

But don’t despair. She is nothing if not determined and has already secured new work at the local Richmond International School to supplement her 3 hours at the Prysmian factory on Wednesday mornings. She also has another interview at a language school in early February. If none of that works, she can always get a job as a cleaner at the fish market! Before you all start calling me names like “slave-driver”, I should remind you that all of this is because Lady Burton actually wants to work and not because I insist she does. By the way, I’ve been offered a wee job at the Richmond as well: they need someone to do teacher appraisal in line with Ofsted regulations and they reckon that’s something I could do given my previous employment. I’m thinking it over!

I was lucky enough to get a whole day with grandson Ben on the 23rd and we started it off as we have done in the past by letting him make the scrambled eggs for breakfast. He really enjoys this “task” and does quite a reasonable job of whisking the mixture without destroying the entire kitchen. He even poses for pictures while working!

The blur that is his whisking hand

The blur that is his whisking hand

Grandad rewarded his efforts by taking him on a bus ride over to Broughty Ferry then back into town. We sat upstairs in the front and took in everything from decorated houses and gardens to desperate shoppers rushing around like headless chickens. Oh how we pitied them! The big attraction in the city centre however was the carousel and this provided me with another priceless photo of my wee man in the most kaleidoscopic of backgrounds!

Colourful, eh?

Colourful, eh?

The four days in the run-up to Christmas were mad as usual but we had loads to do keeping all the outlets stocked with both of my memoirs which were indeed selling like hotcakes. No complaints there of course! Scott arrived back from Falkirk on Christmas Eve which brought a great big smile to Mary’s face and we three went to morning mass on the big day before visiting our parents’ graves then getting ready to go to Mary’s Mum’s for Christmas dinner. After the now traditional feast, the rest of the family came over and we all had a nice time together, both young and old. Everyone was there except Uncle Gerard who unfortunately was still sunning himself on a beach somewhere (not unfortunate for him personally of course!).Boxing day was “open day” at our flat so it was all go from start to finish. The 4 boys plus girls plus children came over to join the fun and Mary’s family chipped in with staggered visits just to ensure everyone could get in! Scott’s bedroom took a pounding from a procession of family kids let loose in a room with no adults and a really bouncy bed, leaving the rest of us to enjoy a brilliant catch-up and sample my mushroom risotto and standard chilli con carne. It was a cracking good day seeing everyone, but I have to say, we slept very soundly that night! No pics I’m afraid as I was too busy cooking!

Thankfully, the next few days were much, much quieter, right up to Hogmanay which we spent alone for the first time in years and years. Don’t worry! We weren’t complaining and actually quite enjoyed the isolation. Compared to our calm existence over in Vilanova, Xmas holidays back in Dundee tend to be a huge culture shock to us nowadays and we are often left speechless at how busy everyone is. Yet when we lived 100% in Scotland, it never had that effect on us. But it really does take our breath away: bad enough just in our families but down in the city centre it seems like a complete madhouse!

Crowd scene

Crowd scene

George, Fiona and Ben came over to “First Foot” us on New Year’s day and they even brought a real lump of coal just like in the old days. They both seemed quite cool despite the season and here’s hoping they have a good 2016. It was a pity Daniel didn’t make it over as well but at his age it’s a big ask to get out of bed before teatime! He’s now left school because he was offered an apprenticeship in engineering and decided that was the best way forward. He’s enjoying making things with machines and is learning what the world of work is really like, warts and all! I managed some quality time with Ben and engaged him in some awfully grown-up conversations as you can see below.

Tell me again Ben who Bruce Wayne really is?

Tell me again Ben who Bruce Wayne really is?

I also sneaked off into Scott’s room and introduced my favourite 4-year old to the age old habit (indeed a rite of passage!) of doing a “Harry Worth.

Personally, I can't resist!

Personally, I can’t resist!

On the night of the First, we were all invited over to Mary’s sister Alison’s where we had a wee glass with the family again. Mum at least didn’t have to spend hours tied to the cooker like she’d had to do at Christmas and she looked like she was enjoying herself, although as you can see she stuck to her cup of tea and didn’t let her hair down as much as she could have!

The family doyenne

The family doyenne, Mum

On the second of January, the traditional town rivalries surfaced temporarily again as Dundee took on United. But with the huge change in the fortunes of both clubs, it was the team in the ascendancy in the dark blue of Dundee which took the honours over their tangerine foes now firmly anchored at the foot of the table with relegation almost certainly their fate at the end of the season. Like so many others, I think they only have themselves to blame for selling their top players to Celtic. They opted for money in the bank rather than push for success and now they must eat humble pie by the bucketful. If my own favourites, Dundee, did likewise they would receive no sympathy from me either. Luckily the Dundee derby has none of the genuine hatred associated with its Glasgow counterpart and we all met together as a family with split allegiances for a pint afterwards.

Sons Gavin, Greg, Scott and me. George had gone home!

Sons Gavin, Greg, Scott and me. George had left!

We spent the rest of our stay catching up with whomsoever we could and seeing the grandchildren. I bonded well with Artemis again and we were pretty much best pals, especially when hiding from the rest of the family under beds and in cupboards. I also invented a distracting game called “Is that a bus?” which involved sitting under the dining-table staring out of the window and watching the traffic drive by. Each vehicle merited the question “Is that a bus?” and Arry had to reply “Yes it is” or “No, it’s just a car/lorry/bicycle/snowplough!” She caught on real fast and giggled away merrily on each occasion. I loved it too, but started to flag a bit after the 500th car! Arry likes trains too it seems.

Artemis, Eve and Gavin

Artemis, Eve and Gavin

Maybe I should tell you a bit about the weather while we were over in Scotland. Surprisingly, it was neither really cold nor was there any snow. (Notice how I start with 2 positives. That’s teacher training!) But let me paint a picture for you. You know that rain that you can actually see when it’s blown across your vision by a strong wind? The one that looks like a vertical cloud? Well, that’s what it was like outside our window. Oh no, not just one day. Pretty much every day! Certainly it never stopped raining from Hogmanay until the very instant our return flight left the ground on the morning of the seventh of January. Honest! The weather was quite diabolical: no wonder people stay indoors huddled around their electric fires and radiators. It was quite a thought just going down to the local shops for the rolls in the morning. This photo gives a vague impression of what it was like.

Wet! Wet! Wet!

Wet! Wet! Wet!

We spent our last day in Scotland at Scott’s flat and he drove us to Edinburgh airport at 02.30 on Thursday morning to catch the early morning Ryanair flight to Barcelona El Prat where Fred and Jeanette were waiting in the Audi to drive us back to Vilanova. The flight itself was uneventful but I did manage a really good photo as we flew over the Pyrenees.

Looks beautiful from up here

Looks beautiful from up here

We arrived back to lovely sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures so quickly forgot the dark, dreary, dismal Dundee weather. It’s been sunny most days since but it gets cold again as soon as the sun goes away about six o’clock in the evening. The heating is on in the caravan and it’s jumpers, coats and scarves when we go into town now. I’ve had 2 sessions with Guillem since our return and he’s making good progress with his English (Scottish!) while Mary will start work at Prysmian again tomorrow and get ready for her new job teaching French.

The last word concerns our Internet connection here on the campsite. Lately we’ve been using 3’s “roaming as if at home” deal but we’ve come back to discover that the Park itself has widened its own Internet provision and now offers unlimited decent speed connection 24/7 for 60 days. The price? 30 Euros! We’ve snapped up this bargain and now enjoy Internet provision like in the flat, not as quick but not bad at all. So good in fact that on Saturday night I had a go at getting BBC One via FilmOn streaming and guess what? I had uninterrupted coverage of MOTD (Match of the Day for anyone new to the Blog). I was like a pig in muck, I can tell you!

Well, that’s us up to date I think, readers. Stay healthy, enjoy as much as you can as often as you can, keep positive thoughts to the foremost and have the odd tipple to celebrate just being able to have it!

 

 

 

 

 

2015 in review

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Hi, readers. Just received my annual summary so thought I’d share it with you. Thanks to those who keep visiting even when I’ve been really naughty and not posted for a while. Now that my second memoir “Georgie” is in the shops I’ll have a lot more time to blog after the turn of the year. At least that’ll be one of my New Year’s resolutions! Have a happy, healthy 2016 everybody and please keep visiting the blog when you’ve nothing better to do. One of these days I’m going to make the first year into a book, so let me know what you especially liked in the first 284 days when we were touring Europe. Happy New Year to you all.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Day 4/108: Mary and Launch

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It seems like the right time to let you all know how things went on 2 visits back to Dundee. The first one was very important, as we were celebrating Mary’s BIG 50th birthday with a wee party in the Invergowrie Inn only a couple of miles from our flat. My long-time football buddy and publican friend, Colin Murphy, gave us the lounge for the evening and even laid on sandwiches and sausage rolls (delicious BTW). Mary was quite nervous about the affair but, as always, she carried it off with class and was the perfect hostess. Anyone who was anyone was there and it was brilliant to mingle with so many family and friends. Presents were in abundance and many of them are awaiting Xmas in Mary’s Mum’s house as we couldn’t take them on the plane back to Vilanova.

Does she look 50 to you?

Does she look 50 to you?

On that visit, we managed to fit in some time with both the grandchildren, Ben and Arry, and we saw all 4 of the boys as well as all of Mary’s sisters and brother. I managed to do some work in connection with the new book and was delighted when cousin Renée and husband Stef agreed to run things for me in our absence. Thanks guys! Sampling scotch pies, bridies and butcher’s meat seemed to take up the rest of my time and I’ve been working on my figure ever since. Scott introduced me to the wonders of working out with a big rubber band and I’ve been using it ever since we got back.

it was a bit weird travelling back to Dundee alone on 26 November to launch the new book but Mary just couldn’t get the time off her work. Not only does she do 2 evenings per week at the Times school on the Rambla Principal but on Wednesdays from 9 until 12 she teaches English to senior executives at a factory called Prysmian (which you will best remember as Pirelli) At least I seem to recall their calendars! This aspect of her work is particularly noteworthy and she recently was charged with polishing up the annual speech for the CEO, a speech he had to give in English at a World Prysmian Conference in Milan.

Fortunarely, with no-one in the flat, I was able to stay there for the 5 days I was back, although I spent the first night at Renée’s and the second at Gavin’s in Arbroath the night before the launch. On that Saturday, I drove back to Dundee (thanks a million Mary’s Mum for the loan of the car XX) and scrubbed up to meet the public. The actual event went really well, we sold loads of books and I really must thank all those who took the time and made the effort to come and support me with my work. You will not be forgotten! It was great seeing old school pals, the boys, ex-colleagues and many former pupils come in and buy a copy of one or both the memoirs. Waterstones we’re delighted with the day and called it “a great success!”

That Sunday I had a bit of a shock when I pulled myself up off the settee to make my morning cuppa. This was not what I had expected!

What's that White stuff?

What’s that White stuff?

I spent the next 2 days drumming up interest around Dundee before heading off for a night at Scott’ flat in Stenhousemuir then an early morning drive to Edinburgh airport. Thanks son for giving up your sleep to ensure Dad caught his flight. Since my return it’s been quiet over here but not so back home where Renée and Stef have played a blinder keeping Waterstones supplied with my books as well as catering for orders off the website – http://www.socratesthesnail.co.uk The weather over here during the day continues to excel although it’s a bit nippy in the evenings and we have the heating on in the caravan. But I must add I’m writing this outside dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and the sun is brilliant in the perfectly blue sky.

Just the 3 photos this time due to several factors but I’ll leave you with Gavin and Arry on the occasion of her 2nd birthday back at the end of August.

Perfect father/daughter shot!

Perfect father/daughter shot!

Day 4/66: New Book

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Hello readers. This is just a short post to give you all a heads-up on the forthcoming publication of my new memoir entitled “Georgie”. It will launch at a book-signing in Waterstones of Dundee on Saturday 28 November at 12.00 and I’d love as many of you as possible to come along with your family and friends to help make the event a success. The book will take you through Georgie’s teenage years at secondary school in Dundee from 1965-71 and tries to capture the changes taking place in Dundee and indeed around the world during those years. I think you’ll find me a totally different boy at the end of the book than at the beginning, as is always the case when we grow up.

The new book also goes beyond Dundee and has chapters on Coupar Angus, where I spent so much of my time, Leeds, where my Dad’s family lived and St. Andrews where we spent 3 summer holidays and where Joe went to University. Joe by the way edited the book for me again and he plays a major role in the stories as you’d expect from my only big brother. I’ve managed to include quite a lot of photos, both of the family and of Dundee from that time and here’s one from one of the later chapters to whet your appetite.

A photo from one of the final chapters. Me and Mum.

Me and Mum.

Although the new book is longer than “Wee Georgie”, I’ve kept it at £9.99, attractively-priced especially as a Christmas present. It will be on sale at Waterstones of course but also at the Nisa superstore on the Perth Road in Dundee because those guys have been really good to me regarding selling my books. If you’re in the West End, pop in there and get your copy of “Georgie”. I’ll be doing a signing there as well. If you’re not in Dundee, don’t worry, you can buy a copy of both books from my website http://www.socratesthesnail.co.uk where you can also pre-order your copy of “Georgie” as from today and we’ll deliver it to you as soon as they come in from the printer’s.

Copies of the first memoir “Wee Georgie” have been selling really well this week after a great article about me and my work appeared in the local newspaper “The Dundee Courier” on Monday. I sold 9 copies of “Wee Georgie” yesterday on Kindle, one in Australia and one in Canada, which is a record for me and I’ve sold 20-odd books over the past 2 days. here’s a link to the article if you want to read it.

http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/local/dundee/dundee-writer-george-burton-bowled-over-by-memoir-s-success-1.910650

After much debate I finally chose the new cover in grey to reflect the period of time it deals with (“Wee Georgie”s cover was sepia, remember?) and I was lucky enough to find a photo of Joe and me in deckchairs on a beach, an extraordinary coincidence given the original cover of Joe, me and Lizzie on the first book. The back is another modern photo of me in writing mode with a blurb about what’s in the book of course. Here are the covers and spine.

26847_Georgie Grey Covers and Spine (1)_p1

If you buy a copy of the new book, or get it as a gift for someone, can I urge you to review it when you’ve read it, either on Waterstones’ site or any other. Next year, once it’s on Amazon and Kindle like “Wee Georgie” is, you can get a paper or electronic copy and review it on their site which they always encourage you to do.

Don’t forget you can buy all my books at http://www.socratesthesnail.co.uk In any case, enjoy what you read and let me know what you think, especially of “Georgie”. Maybe see you at Waterstones on the 28 November!

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