Hello world!

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

Our new home for the next nine months

The front cover of my first children's book .

The front cover of my first children’s book .

Day 3/135: Though the Carnaval is over ……

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You know the way I’m always teasing you about the weather? How we’re all going around in t-shirts and sandals in February? Well, one morning earlier this month, we woke up to find our skylight covered in something which we took to be sand as has happened on a couple of occasions when the winds have deposited Sahara dust on the coast of Spain. But when I peeked out the caravan window …. Well, how gobsmacked could I be! There was the Audi with an inch of snow on it! No joking, real, genuine cold, white stuff. Illusions shattered!

Where's the anti-freeze?

Where’s the anti-freeze?

It’s been Carnaval time here in Vilanova and, while it’s quite impossible to take in everything that happens for the week up to Mardi Gras, we’ve managed to fit in three visits to the town to join in the festivities. The first was two Thursdays ago when the town celebrated their “Merengada”, an annual meringue batter fight throughout the centre but especially on the market place. Being a Thursday, we had to pick up Guillem at five o’clock but, instead of going to his house, we parked in town and took him to watch the carry-on. He was suitably unimpressed! I suppose he’s just too well-bred to find fun in teenagers (and some adults!) covering themselves in white sticky paste.

What a mess!

What a mess!

The following evening we went to the second “Fish n’ Chips” event up at the restaurant with most of our friends. Unfortunately Mike and Het weren’t there as they had flown back to Blighty for some quality time with the grandchildren. After the meal I entertained the troops with half a dozen songs on the guitar while Dundee Sandra got stuck in to the people in the crowd we didn’t know and sold a dozen or so copies of “Socrates” which I still had in the caravan. I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you?

Rock on!

Rock on!

The next day was Valentine’s Day which we celebrated with a dinner at Fred and Jeanette’s, along with Tom and Greeta our Dutch pals and a newly-arrived Terry and Elsie, the couple from Leigh near Wigan with whom we had lunch on our way up to the Lake District last June. Jeanette as ever provided us with a dazzling array of delicious courses while Fred did the donkey work and kept our glasses full. We had an excellent evening together and for once packed it in at a reasonable hour to save the neighbours!

Sunday saw many of us up and away into town before midday to take part in the “Comparses” which is basically a huge series of sweetie fights through the streets and then in the Plaça de la Vila. It was a wonderful and colourful spectacle up and down the narrow streets on either side of the Rambla Principal, at times finding ourselves like sardines, stuck helpless in a dense throng of revellers in every possible type of fancy dress. The sweets were flying about like bullets and I took a couple to the bonce on one particular corner as I couldn’t duck, so close together were we all. Those boiled sweets don’t half hurt when they bounce off a bald pate!

Just some Carnaval guys!

Just some Carnaval guys!

The scene in the town square was unbelievable with thousands of children and then adults all in fancy-dress singing and dancing and throwing sweets at each other. By the end of the children’s episode, the square was completely covered in sweetie wrappers of all colours and we watched in amazement as a gang of road cleaners then swept them all to the sides in preparation for the adults to do exactly the same, only more noisily and ferociously. These Catalans sure know how to party! That evening Mary and I watched it all again on local TV but the cameras managed to miss two conservatively-dressed Dundonians.

C'mon the sweepers!

C’mon the sweepers!

On Monday we had a game of Bingo up at the bar and Mary shared a Full House with a Dane, scooping half of the 25 Euro pot! By God how the money rolls in! And then the big day arrived. Except, given a once in a lifetime coincidence, we could not decide if it was the big day because it was Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras or if it was indeed the big day because it was my Birthday! I expect it may have been the former, but we merged the two by inviting our friends round at midday for pancakes and Cava. A couple of light showers tried to put a damper on things but we simply moved in to the awning and ate our way through a whole load of food with about 15 guests.

Our French friends, Gérard and Katy, hung around in the afternoon once the party was over and then, at about half past four I drove us down in to the town to witness another appearance by the Vilanova giants. You’ll remember these are 15 foot high polystyrene giants representative of the town, a bit like the hilarious ones who used to do battle on “It’s A Knock-out”. Anyway, we had a great time in town with crowds of spectators and avoided getting smacked by either of the crazy spinning giants.

One of the giants of nearby L'Arboc.

One of the giants of nearby L’Arboc.

Now that I’m 62, I’ve decided to take some days off my rather adrenalin-filled adventure out here, so the last few days have been genuinely quiet in comparison with the head-spinning rush of Spanish Carnaval. I picked up Ernest and Jennifer’s daughter and two grandchildren from El Prat airport last Friday and took them back there yesterday. I had a great laugh teasing the daughter by calling her “Our Beverley” which is how her Mum always refers to her, seeing as she comes from Bradford. I’ve also helped our friend Jem to get two great big wheels off his converted furniture lorry fixed down at the local “Kwik-Fit” type garage. And yesterday I helped Dundee Sandra to disassemble her flooring in the awning in preparation for her departure back home at the end of the month.

To balance that up, neighbour Peter has lent us a good bright light to run off the mains now that the charger has gone in the caravan and the battery gradually runs itself down every few days. We can’t afford to buy a new one just now so we’ll have to make do. Fred has also come to the rescue just recently by diagnosing why our spinner had stopped working and we’ll be able to fix it for little or no cost thankfully. Well done, Fred! The campsite continues to operate like a wee village, with neighbours helping each other out on a daily basis, giving advice, some physical assistance or a loan of some tool or other.

OK I’ll try not to bore you too much but the book stuff has become very, very exciting. Scott told us a couple of days ago that sales continued to be solid for “Wee Georgie” and that they’d asked for another box of 30 books. Good! Then Waterstones revamped their website and I was able to check how the book was doing on the best-sellers lists, using different filters. Once I’d got it down to best-selling Scottish memoirs, I was delighted to see that I was ranked fourth out of 82 books on sale at Waterstones. Then on my birthday I slipped in to third place, on Wednesday second, but on Thursday fourth again. Pity! So you can imagine my utter surprise when I checked this morning to discover I’d made it to Number 1! Yes, “Wee Georgie” is today the best-selling Scottish memoir at Waterstones. Yippee!

This was not in the plan

This was not in the plan

“Socrates 2” has now been edited by brother Joe in his usual brilliant but brutal style, leaving me with a leaner but meaner second children’s story. It is now in the hands of Fred’s partner Jeanette who has kindly agreed to have a go at redesigning my snail and drawing the pictures I’ll need for the book. She’s a lovely artist and I have high hopes that she will be up to the job, if her initial sketches are anything to go by.

Tomorrow we’re off to Barcelona with Ramon, Beti and Guillem for a meal at the restaurant of Marc and Rosa, the parents of last year’s visitor Gao. They have a restaurant in the Gotic district of Barça, near the old cathedral and just east of the famous Ramblas, so we’re really looking forward to our treat. The next day we’ll be picking up Het and Mike at the airport to bring them back here to Vilanova Park, then it will be a busy couple of days preparing for our return to Scotland on Thursday. We’re looking forward to having such quality time with grandson Ben for a full 4 weeks but Mary will also enjoy having Scott close at hand for a while and I’ll keep busy doing promotional work for my books. That starts with selling signed copies at Forgan Book Fair in Newport on Saturday. See you back in Scotland!

Guillem on non-uniform day ... A Scotsman.

Guillem on non-uniform day … A Scotsman.

 

Day 2/118: Happy and sad

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You’ll be wondering where I’ve been! Well, we’re back in Vilanova, but not quite as simply as you might expect, because we’ve come back after Xmas and the New Year, returned to England last week and are now back again in the caravan. The unplanned visit last Thursday was to attend the funeral of dear Uncle Brian who sadly slipped away on 13 January after a short illness. Having been particularly kind to me over the years, especially when things were not going well, there was never a question of not attending, despite that involving a flight to Stanstead, car hire and a drive up the A1M to Newcastle and back.

The funeral  went as well as any such event can go and Mary and I had a lovely time afterwards at Brian’s local pub where we met up with almost all of the English side of our family, including many I had never met before! My brother Joe and his wife Mo had made the hazardous journey down from Lochcarron by bus and car and it was great to hear the news of their latest grandchild, little Mabel Rosa, a second daughter for their son Rory and his wife Lana out in Melbourne. Once again, one leaves and one arrives: it’s remarkable how often that seems to happen. But we’ll all miss Brian, even over here where he made a mighty impression on our friends when he and Auntie Pat came to visit last spring.

Our visit back home for Xmas and the New Year was excellent despite me ending up on antibiotics for a horrendous cough and URI. We started Xmas day early with a drive up to Arbroath for breakfast with Gavin, Eve and Artemis (at 08.00!) where we were treated to our granddaughter opening her presents for the very first time now that she is 16 months old. From there it was back down to Dundee to see George, Fiona, Daniel and Ben and yet more presents being opened. Isn’t it wonderful having grandchildren? After a short nap back at the flat, we all went round to Mary’s Mum’s house for Xmas dinner with the family in Dundee.

Ben, enjoying our laundry basket!

Ben, enjoying our laundry basket!

New Year was slightly different with Mary and I accompanying Scott over to a friend’s house in Monifieth where we spent a couple of hours with the parents. We then picked up Greg and Karen before returning to the flat then off to Mary’s sister’s house for the bells. We had a fine time there but called it a day around 3 o’clock and went to bed. This wandering about was made possible by a totally cooperative Mary who, bless her, agreed not to drink but drive us all around, quoting that it would make up for all the driving I have done over here. She’s an angel you know!

Having given Scott BT Sports as an additional present, I was able to watch the Dundee derby a couple of days later from the comfort of the living-room while the boys all went to see it live, but I did join in with the post-match drinks down the Perth Road with them and all their friends. I was once again proud to observe both Dundee and Dundee United supporters mingling happily together in the après-match banter despite the rather one-sided result. Let’s just say my team didn’t win! One other United supporter I met was my old friend and ex-colleague Erwan Ansquer whom we bumped into at the Central Library in Dundee. It was nice to catch up on his news and to discover that his wife Sandra and the two girls are all thriving.

Me with Erwan

Me with Erwan

Much of the rest of the time was taken up with book stuff which I’ll tell you about later. We flew back at the crack of dawn on 8 January thanks to Scott who drove us to Edinburgh airport at 4 in the morning. Well done, son! Mike and Het were there at El Prat airport in Barcelona to take us back to the caravan park and we had a quiet day before I went off to see to Guillem as usual, as it was a Thursday. The following week, my brother called to tell me that Uncle Brian had passed away while I was teaching Guillem at his home but luckily I was able to use their broadband to make contact with those I needed to speak to. So now we had to busy ourselves with making arrangements for a journey back to Britain.

From the moment we had returned, Mary had been coughing her guts up, seemingly having caught what I had had back in Dundee. This would not go away however and one Saturday, the feast of St. Anthony Abat and a public holiday with parades of horses and riders, I took her down to the hospital to get examined. 3 hours later we emerged with prescriptions galore, hoping this Spanish cocktail would do the trick. Well, it did eventually but my poor darling still has the last traces of that damned cough. Naturally she blames me!

I just couldn't resist!

I just couldn’t resist!

How Spanish is that?

How Spanish is that?

Life here on the campsite has been relatively quiet. We have a new entertainments provider, a Scouser called Dave, who runs the bingo on Monday nights and the quiz on Wednesday evenings after the communal meal. He is busy organizing a fish and chips night for Friday so I’ll let you know how that goes. Mike and Het have recently invested in a full-size awning which I helped erect last week along with several other able-bodied guys while Het kept us provided with hot tea. Tom and Greeta have bought a new kitchen tent from which wafts lovely smells most teatimes, Dick and Linda have returned to their usual pitch next door to Fred, and Carol and Rob are just back from Xmas in Liverpool (or the Wirral as Carol insists!).

Our social life as party people has involved only three get-togethers. The first was a dinner at Fred and Jeanette’s before she went back to Copenhagen. She had asked me to sing a few songs after the meal so I took along the trusty guitar and would like to think I surprised her with my repertoire. I printed off some lyrics too, so all those present were able to join in the singing. Jeanette’s cooking as usual was the highlight of the evening and not the post-meal entertainment. Our second “do” was a spontaneous gathering in Sandra’s awning next door late one Tuesday night where Mike and I were the only males present, six of the girls making up an interesting but very noisy coven! It must have been good because we actually got some complaints.

Two Saturdays ago, we were invited down to Ramon and Beti’s for a meal to celebrate Guillem’s 9th birthday. Both sets of grandparents as well as a couple of aunts and uncles and two or three cousins were there to help with the celebrations and we had a truly lovely time with them all. We gave the wee man a jigsaw as a present but I told Beti it was a present for her and Ramon as I expected it would keep Guillem nice and quiet for a long time!

See you Jimmy!

See you Jimmy!

 “Wee Georgie” continues to surprise everyone (including me!) with its sales at Waterstones and I am always on the lookout for different ways to market the product using social media and the internet in general. After those 2 good articles in the Dundee Courier Weekend Magazine and Scottish Television online, we now await the page I’ve written about my metamorphosis from teacher to writer in “The Peoples Friend” on Valentine’s Day. Make sure to get yourself a copy as I think it’s a good read. I’ve had fun watching the book move up and down the bestsellers’ chart at Waterstones especially when I find it next to or preferably above a more famous memoir such as Maggie Thatcher’s “The Downing Street Years” which I overtook recently. I’m also trying out a couple of other avenues about which I’ll keep you informed as and when.

The big news on the writing front is that I have finished “Socrates 2” and will be sending it to Joe for editing shortly. As Lainey is no longer part of the team, we are doing our own illustrations for the second book so that should be quite exciting too! With a bit of luck we’ll be able to publish sometime between Easter and the summer. My work as a wordsmith will have to be concentrated on finishing “Wee Georgie 2” but that means 50,000 new words so that won’t be happening any time soon.

The future has changed slightly and we’ll be back in Dundee for the whole of March to help look after Ben and to see Scott through the first 3 weeks of his second Primary School placement. We intend to return to Vilanova for Easter weekend and on until late June but that could easily change so don’t take it as set in stone as we are prone to making decisions at the last minute.

Right, I think we’ve caught up on the adventure at last. I’ll try really hard to write you a few lines every week or so from now on but please don’t hold your breath! I’ll finish with the biggest surprise yet, from this very morning. This is genuine!

First time we've seen this here!

First time we’ve seen this here!

 

Wee Georgie gets out there!

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Bonus post time again readers. For all those who don’t use Facebook or Twitter so may be unaware of what’s been happening, here’s an article on Wee Georgie written by Catriona from Scottish Television online. We’re back in Vilanova now and I’m about to write an article for next month’s People’s Friend after a surprise invitation from the editor. You never know….!

“Wee Georgie’s childhood memoirs proving popular with Dundonians”

By Catriona MacPhee on Thursday 8 January 2015

Dundee may be a city on the rise, with new buildings shooting up like industrial saplings all over the landscape, but its history and heritage will always be its beating heart.

The colloquial charm of the Oary dialect, the pure teckle Dundonian sense of humour and the stoic way of life are a particular source of pride in the city.

This could go some way to explaining why sales of new book Wee Georgie have been so high in the city.

It is a book of memoirs from retired teacher George Burton and outlines his early years living on Parker Street in the city centre and then Charleston.

It includes mischief, fun and a bit of danger in some of the best known parts of the city. For those who grew up in the 1950s and 60s in Dundee, there will be few anecdotes that ring a bell.

George says he is delighted with the response and credits a fondness for “old Dundee” with its success.

“The book is designed to let people know just what life was like in those days,” he said.

“I actually started it as an autobiography but the more I wrote the more Dundee became the biggest character in it. I didn’t set out to describe Dundee but that’s what happened.

“Life was a bit different then, it was a lot simpler. There were less big surprises and less fuss made about things. When major events happened in my life or family, it just happened and we moved on, there was no big carry on or outcry.

“People were more stoic and almost reconciled to their fate. I think the difference is down to the fact that there was just no money. Everyone was in the same boat.

“There was no competition between families and everybody got their clothes passed down from their brothers and sisters.”

George has held several book signings around the city over the past week including one that was live-tweeted by Dundee Central Libraries.

Nearly 200 of George’s self-published books have been sold in the local Waterstones and the book is now in the shelves of all the local libraries.

And including online sales, George’s first print run of 500 has now nearly sold out.

Kevin Breen, the branch manager at Dundee Waterstones, said: “Wee Georgie was one of our biggest sellers in November and December. Any book on Dundee sells extremely well anyway as Dundonians are proud of their city and we get great support for local books.

“But this book has done very well and seems to have struck a chord with people.”

George was born at Parker Street, where the student accommodation for Abertay University now stands, and was among those families forced to leave in the late 1950s so the properties could be razed.

George said: “I was born in 1953 and I didn’t know anybody who had a car. I saw my first TV in about 1959 and it was the Lone Ranger. The tenements were built for weavers and mill workers.

“There was a shared toilet and generally things were a bit grubby, but we didn’t mind at all. When we moved to Charleston it was a brave new world. It was unbelievably luxurious. It had a toilet inside it! It was a total revelation to us to get out of the city centre.

“We had some wild adventures, such as my brother tipping me into some stagnant water and me getting my own back by dropping a stone on his head. Then there was the time we were shot by a maniac with an air rifle at Campie. I’ll never forget my mother taking the pellets out of our backsides with iodine and tweezers.

“There were no police searches or helicopters, we just got a slap round the ears and told not play up there from then on.”

George, who now spends most of the year living in Spain, went on to study French language and literature and became head of modern languages at St Saviour’s High School. He worked there for 28 years, latterly as Depute Headteacher.

He retired in 2010 and with enough time on his hands, decided to share his happy childhood memories. Wee Georgie depicts George’s life up to the age of 11.

“After I retired my wife Mary kept nipping at me saying, ‘you’ve always wanted to write a book so get going’,” George added.

“I’m glad I did. After I sat down and started concentrating on it, memories just kept popping up. I’m delighted at the response I’ve had. People have really enjoyed reading the memories and comparing stories.”

Anyone who enjoyed Wee Georgie and has an appetite for more need not wait too long as George added: “I’ve written just over half of book two, which will be my teenage years, i.e. the school prank years. There’s plenty to come.”

You can follow George’s progress at his Twitter page or his website http://www.socratesthesnail.co.uk

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2014 in review

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Here is a summary of the blog for 2014 which WordPress sent me this morning. I thought it was interesting enough to share with my readers.   Meanwhile, back in Dundee, it’s cold as you can see from the photo taken yesterday at 2.30 p.m. as we prepared to go shopping. A Happy New Year to you all and thank you so much for all your support. (Dot, I’ll look out a Golden Pen for you!)

The battery was flat as well!

The battery was flat as well!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Vamos! Chapter 7: Secret

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SECRET

Tommy’s mother was dead. Recently dead. Very recently. She had passed away during the night after another exciting evening of “Strictly Come Dancing”, “Coronation Street” and her usual bottle of knock-off gin. Now she was laid out in the back room of the chalet, stiff as a board. But her son was not pole-axed with grief at her sudden demise: nor indeed was his wife Angela. No, far from it, both were too busy sitting round the living-room table puzzling how exactly they were going to dispose of the corpse.

-No, Ange, we can’t just dump ‘er in the bin. Someone will find ‘er, that’s for sure, and then we’ll ‘ave to face the Spanish bizzies. No, we’ll ‘ave to be cleverer than that. I’m beginning to wish we ‘adn’t brought ‘er ‘ere in the van in the first place.

-Well don’t blame me, Tommy Mitchell. It was your idea, wasn’t it, to bring ‘er ‘ere with no passport or nuffin’ just to get away from a shitey shopliftin’ charge.

-But, Ange. I really thought she’d be sent down this time if she went to court. Remember, she did break the security guard’s nose with that frozen chicken she whipped out from under ‘er ‘oodie. They were going to do ‘er for GBH!

-I still can’t believe, Tommy Mitchell, that you put your own mother, your own flesh and blood, under the bench seat of a caravan and drove ‘er all the way from Elsmere Port to bleedin’ France without lettin’ ‘er out for a pee or nuffin’. That’s cruelty that is! And now look at ‘er. Stone dead, that’s what she is, and ‘oose fault is that now? I’ll tell you ‘oose fault that is, I will. It’s your fault, Tommy Mitchell, that’s ‘oose it is. You’ve killed your own mother!

-Now that’s not fair it’s not, Ange. You knew as well as I did that she’d eventually drink ‘erself to death, so you did. It was only a matter of time. I just didn’t think it would ‘appen out ‘ere in Spain. Now we ‘ave a illegal alien to get rid of, so we do. ‘ow are we gonna do that then, tell me? Go ‘ead, tell me then!

-Hey, listen ‘ere, soft lad! Don’t you go expectin’ me to get you out of this mess. You brought ‘er ‘ere, now you get rid of ‘er! And you better do it pronto, amigo, cos I swear on me own mother’s life, that old cow is startin’ to stink!

-You never liked my mother in the first place, did you? I know she ‘ad ‘er faults, I know she liked a drop of gin, I know you didn’t like ‘er shopliftin’, at least you didn’t like ‘er getting caught shopliftin’.

-Look ‘ere, Tommy Mitchell. You just get that corpse out of our chalet, and I mean today, or I swear I’ll take a axe to ‘er so I will.

-Alright, alright. Keep your ‘air on! I ‘ave an idea of what I can do anyway. Where’s the key to the Suzuki?

-Where’s the key to the Suzuki? Are you stark ravin’ bonkers, soft lad? I suppose you’re goin’ to sit ‘er on the back and take ‘er for a spin!

-Actually, Ange, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do!

True to his word, Tommy slunk through to the increasingly whiffy back bedroom and proceeded to force his mother’s corpse into a set of leathers which he tightened up as best he could to cover the entire body. After slipping the deceased woman into a pair of biker boots and covering her head with his favourite tinted visor helmet, he finished the masquerade with a pair of leather gloves which he craftily joined together at the wrists with a belt. Mum was ready to go for her first and last ride on the Suzuki!

To get her on the bike, Tommy first backed it all the way to the bottom of the decking stairs. With Angie’s help, his mother was then carried quickly out of the chalet and placed astride the motorbike supported until Tommy took his position in front and slipped the joined arms of his inert parent over his head, past his shoulders and finally round his waist. Meanwhile, Angie did as requested and attached her ankles to each side of the bike using a couple of nylon ties and then used a third to secure the front of her mother-in-law’s helmet to the back of her husband’s leather jacket.

Tommy checked all was well by edging forward on the bike and both were relieved when mother clung on diligently and appeared to all intents and purposes to be simply holding on as any pillion passenger would. Angie waved them off with a final warning that this was Tommy’s idea and she would have nothing to do with it if they were found out. As he expected nothing better from his fiery partner, Tommy accelerated away up and out of the campsite turning sharp right at the exit and heading out over the flat, rough terrain in the direction of the hills to the north of the town.

Two hours later he returned alone to announce that his mother had been laid to rest 30 metres down at the bottom of the reservoir set in the foothills, firmly ensconced below with the help of a bag full of stones tied around her neck!

-Did nobody see you, then? Are you sure? What if somebody did? What if the old cow floats back up?

-Of course nobody saw me, you pillock! I was careful, wasn’t I? I was only throwing me dead mother into a Spanish reservoir after all, wasn’t I? Why would I not want anyone to see that? Christ! I could’ve sold tickets, couldn’t I? Angie, gimme a break, will you?

-So you ‘ad no bother getting’ rid of ‘er then?

-Well, once I’d actually got ‘er detached from me flamin’ jacket, that is! Do you know ‘ow strong those nylon ties are? I ‘ad to lift ‘er arms over me ‘ead and unzip me own jacket to escape! Then I ‘ad to bite the bloody ties off ‘er ankles and that wasn’t easy with ‘er leanin’ all ‘er 20 stone over on top of me. But once I’d lifted ‘er onto the wall and tied the Mercadona bag full of rocks around ‘er neck, she was ready for the off. I just ‘ad to pull the leathers off ‘er, give ‘er a farewell kiss and tip ‘er over. She sank like a bleedin’ stone so she did! Oh but I did keep ‘er teeth as a sort of souvenir like. ‘Ere, stick them in the bedside drawer will you?

-Oh you really are disgustin’ Tommy Mitchell. Imagine takin’ a woman’s teeth out and keepin’ them for yourself. ‘Ow could you? You’ll go to ‘ell for that so you will.

-And I suppose I won’t go to ‘ell for sendin’ me mother to the bottom of a Spanish reservoir, will I?

-That’s not the point is it? A woman’s teeth is a personal thing so it is. It’s ‘er dignity what counts. She may be dead but she still ‘as feelings, ‘asn’t she?

-Well actually, Ange………….

 

 

Christmas Post

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Many of you will have gathered that we are back in Dundee. Even if we hadn’t intended to spend Xmas and the New Year with the family, we would have been back anyway, as I’m sad to recount that Auntie Cissie passed away in her sleep on Monday 15 December, aged 93. Despite being sad at her passing, I think we’re all a wee bit relieved that she is no longer worried or frightened about where she is or what’s happening to her. She looked a bit lost once she was no longer in her own house, even though she had her furniture and familiar objects in her room at Northlands in Blairgowrie.

Cissie outside her house in Coupar Angus

Cissie outside her house in Coupar Angus

We bury Cissie tomorrow. She’ll be laid to rest in the new cemetery in Coupar Angus where she lived for most of her life along with the other maiden aunt in the family, her older sister Lizzie. Both these aunts played a significant role in my upbringing right from just after my birth when Mum had a stroke and couldn’t look after me. Cissie in fact outlived her six siblings by quite a margin, being the youngest of the Casciani family and also having led a sober, restrained life avoiding all extremes of behaviour and habit. But she was still a whole load of fun, loved by everybody and always ready to lend a helping hand if required. Her real name was Helen, but her brother Patrick used to call her “my wee sissums” when she was a child and the name morphed into Cissie then stuck.

And that will be that. My Mum’s entire generation will have gone, Julie, Lizzie, Mary, Katie, Pat, Peggy (Mum) and Cissie along with two I never knew, Jeemy and Joey. And all their partners too! The inevitability of death has even crept into my own generation already with the untimely passing of cousins Joe, Tony and Mary. I guess I’d better get on with living life while I still have it.

As fate would have it, Auntie Cissie passed away on the same day I was due to play Santa Claus for the schoolchildren at Times English School, the first of two evenings I had committed to. I was therefore wearing a bit of a painted smile in the school that night, but the joy on the faces of the little ones at seeing Santa lifted my spirits immensely and the whole thing proved perfectly enjoyable. I was out by seven and able to drive round to the train station to pick up Mike and Het on their return from a brief visit to their families in England. I also went back for Mary at nine when she finished the last of her three classes she’d been asked to do and we had tea back in the caravan.

"You better watch out...."

“You better watch out….”

We repeated the act on Tuesday but only after driving Dutch friends Tom and Greeta to Terminal 1 for their flight back to Holland for Xmas. And on the way back from the airport we of course had an unexpected adventure. Just as we passed through the toll barrier at the end of the tunnels, I spotted a guy in a Hi-Vis jacket next to a caravan with a British registration. I pulled in in front of him and offered assistance, only to discover that he and his wife were on their way to Vilanova Park and had broken down just 15 kms from their destination. When we could make no progress with the car, I offered to hitch up his caravan and take his wife to the safety of the campsite and send someone to take a look at the vehicle. That’s why we found ourselves towing a caravan (with no electrics!) along the C32 with a stranger and 2 dogs on the back seat.

We got there safe and sound, sent a mechanic from the staff to check out the problem then we all helped get the caravan set up on the pitch they had booked on G Block. The husband arrived a couple of hours later minus car with knackered gearbox but they soon got into the swing of things Vilanova style. I felt damned righteous by the time I’d entertained the kids back at the school again and reckoned that might help atone for a whole bundle of naughty things I’ve done in the past!

On Wednesday we packed our bags for the flight home and filled our one checked-in case with all the Xmas presents we’d bought for the family. Then, at six in the evening, I donned the Santa costume for a third time to take part in the carol-singing I had organized with my friends. A dozen or so of us went around the site singing carols in 5 languages, English, French, German, Spanish and even Catalan, although that version of “Jingle Bells” was one taught to me by Guillem the previous Thursday and as you can imagine dealt with matters fascinating to an 8-year old!

The Vilanova Singers

The Vilanova Singers

We all then attended the Wednesday meal up at the restaurant and it turned out to be an excellent Xmas occasion. Everyone wanted their photo taken with Santa and our choir (The Vilanova Singers!) did another set at the end of the meal. On our way back to the caravan, Mary and I were called in by Norwegian neighbours Mae and Jon who had missed the earlier singing, so we agreed to duet a rendition of “Away in a Manger” which brought a smile to their faces and ten charitable Euros from their pockets! All the money collected was added to the box up in the bar for a little girl who has a lesion on the brain. Poor soul!

Clockwise: Mary, Santa, Chantal, Lise and Het

Clockwise: Mary, Santa, Chantal, Lise and Het

Up with the lark on Thursday, Mike got us to the airport in loads of time and we were in Edinburgh by two in the afternoon. No hitches until we got to Haymarket where we had to wait almost 3 hours to catch the train to Dundee due to cancellations. But on a positive note Gavin was on the same train and we had a grand catch-up on the journey home. The weather was quite reasonable on our arrival so being back in Dundee wasn’t the total shock it could have been. That evening we saw both Mum and Uncle Gerard but later we spent it quietly discussing things with our son Scott.

Next day we were up early to drive Scott to school (his last day as a trainee teacher) and then we drove to Blairgowrie where cousin Stef took me to the funeral rooms to see Auntie Cissie before they closed the coffin. She was absolutely beautiful, in her own clothes, hair in a clasp and rouge on her cheeks. Not scary at all, just Auntie Cissie as if asleep and untroubled. God bless her. I’ve been asked to say a few words about her at the requiem mass on Xmas Eve and I hope I can acquit that duty with merit. She’ll no doubt be listening!

George and Ben came over for an hour on Sunday so it was brilliant seeing both of them again. That was after Scott and I had escaped from mass early to get down to the Hawkhill Tavern to see Dundee United beat leaders Celtic 2-1 live on the TV. I have always delighted in seeing both Celtic and Rangers come a cropper in games and you’ll recall that last season I was with Fred, Bob and Emile at the Camp Nou to see Barcelona stick 6 past the green and white hoops. It looks like the other ones (those in blue) are still struggling fiercely to stay afloat despite a ridiculous amount of difficulties both on and off the field, but it’s Ally McCoist I feel sorry for, having to watch his beloved Rangers wallow in such shameful circumstances. I honestly think it would be better if that club disappeared completely and their Glasgow rivals went and played elsewhere.

Speaking of Glasgow, how terrible is the news of that bizarre incident in the centre of town yesterday when an out-of-control bin lorry mowed down a load of Christmas shoppers, killing six and injuring even more. Following on from the helicopter crash there last New Year, once again the proud people of Glasgow will have to call upon their famous spirit and big hearts to see them through another devastating tragedy.

Ok, let’s cheer things up a bit! “Wee Georgie” has done us all proud, selling like hot cakes in Waterstones of Dundee to the tune of almost 150 copies. This is way beyond my wildest expectations and gives me the boost I need to continue churning out the pages of the follow-up, as yet without a title. I recently read the eight or nine chapters I wrote a couple of years ago and I have to say I found myself laughing out loud at certain moments, especially at the more outrageous things that happened to me and the rest of the family. No sneak previews however: you’ll have to wait until next Christmas which is my target date for publication.

By the way, I’m posting up a Christmas gift to you all, a chapter from my Campsite romp “Vamos!” Hope you like it, but try to read it with a Scouse accent.

It only remains, dear readers, to thank you for your support with my adventures in writing this year about to end and to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2015. Cissie now knows all the answers, the rest of us are still scratching our heads.George, Ben and Cissie

George, Ben and Cissie

Day 3/68: Exodus

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And then it went a bit quiet. You know what it’s like: you’ve had a belter of a time over a period of days, due mainly to a coincidence of events you had never really organized in your head, and then it all stops. Suddenly there are no more birthdays , no more anniversaries and no more flimsy excuses to get together with friends and have a wee bit of fun. You find yourself standing outside the caravan trying to remember what you were supposed to be doing that evening, then realising that there is nothing on the cards. You slink back to the safety of the caravan, slide a DVD into the side of the telly, sit back and have a quiet night in. Weird!

But it doesn’t last long around here! There are just too many people happy to still be alive and determined to enjoy every minute that the Good Lord has granted them. They have no time for “what should have been” or “if onlys”. No, they are hell-bent on going out with a big grin on their faces, happy in the knowledge that they have lived life to the full and have few regrets about how they have done so.

We’re not at that stage of course (at least I hope not) and still see this period of our lives as a good decision we took some time in the past. And why not? The boys are all sorted one way or the other, and the rest of our family and friends have their busy lives. Greg at least keeps me up to date on how he and Karen are doing. Did you know he has started a new job preparing polytunnels? No, it appears Dundee can do without us for a while yet. That’s OK but we would like the odd phone call  or email,it’s true. Have you forgotten that Skype calls are free? Even calling from a mobile won’t cost you an arm and a leg like it used to do.

So all we can do is keep updating you back home on what we’re doing from day to day and hope that this information fills the gap in your knowledge of our life. This blog has proven to be absolutely invaluable from that point of view, sending our news all around the world to the many people both at home and abroad whom we have met on our travels. I am really flattered to discover that there are a couple of people we met randomly on campsites during out tour of Europe who have followed our adventures ever since, making the odd comment and letting us know that they are aware of what we are doing from day to day.

In the world of writing I’ve made a bit of progress. Socrates 2 is now at chapter 9 of 10 and I am relatively happy with what I have written although Mary threw a fit at Chapter 8, saying that my description of how something had happened to Socrates was completely unacceptable! This served to reinforce to me that my decision had been correct in the first place, as provoking such a reaction in my readers is exactly what I want to do.

“Wee Georgie” continues to do very well in Waterstones. My last box of 30 has sold out very quickly (in 10 days) and Scott had to take down another box of 30 to them just 2 days ago. I have also offered to do a signing for them in the bookstore over the last weekend before Xmas which may coincide with an article in the Courier Weekend Magazine entitled “Firsts and Lasts” where I describe the first and last times I did various things. If I say so myself, it’s probably worth a read.

Let’s talk weather, as you have probably heard about the bad weather which has swept up the coast from the Atlantic, crossed the Med and beaten the hell out of northern Italy. Well, to tell the truth, we have not in the past 2 years seen such a run of poor weather here in Vilanova. Since the start of December it has rained for several days and the temperatures have dropped considerably, especially at night when single figures are all we can expect. The difference is that, during the sunny days, the mercury rises up to 17/18 degrees by about 2 in the afternoon, good enough to sit outside and way too hot for a nap in the awning. But once the sun goes to bed, the temperature drops like a stone and we have to put on the heating in the caravan.

When we bought the new caravan it wasn’t totally perfect. There was a particularly bouncy floor just in front of the high usage area at the entrance and off to the left between the benches. Fortunately I have a plethora of friends out here who plied their trade before retirement as various kinds of engineers, giving me the absolute best advice as to how to cure the problem. Today I have added an 80 x 40cm piece of plywood under the spongy area, propped it up with a couple of pieces of wood and a scissors jack and glued the plywood to the underside of the floor. Result? No more spongy floor. I am immensely proud of what I’ve done there, lying on my back underneath the caravan, metal cross member hard against my chest and fat gut, forcing me to stretch my arms to the limit to reach the middle of the caravan floor. And don’t even ask if there were any spiders down there!

“F” block is emptying for Xmas. Carol and Rob are back in Liverpool, Mike and Het left yesterday for the frozen wastes of the Lake District for a whistle-stop visit, Sandra is back working in Dundee, Jeanette is back in Copenhagen and several other foreign neighbours will be celebrating the Nativity in their own home towns. Maybe next year we will give staying here over Xmas and the New Year a try, but as you already know, we are coming back to Dundee on Thursday 18 December for a 3 week holiday. The TV suggests that Scotland is being battered by some really fierce weather just lately, so we will be looking forward to some interesting days in Balgay Park with grandson Ben once we are home.

How can I even begin to describe to you our last evening at Fred and Jeanette’s before she flew home? It started calmly, warmed up slowly, kicked into gear when the board game started and then burst into frenetic life as soon as people were put on the spot and asked to explain something without actually speaking. I by then had taken the Question master role and I was remorselessly harangued by a procession of “excitable” party-goers who all claimed to be superior to me in some way or other as they sought to win the argument and gain an advantage on the board. It was boys v girls and I am sorry to report that the girls failed to get on the score sheet throughout the entire night. The food was wonderful, the drink abundant, the games hugely exciting and the company just about as good as you possibly get. It’s a pity I can’t include video clips on the blog because the footage shot at the party by Jeanette is absolutely priceless!  Mary would like some play doh for her Christmas this year!

We have no more free evenings, one reason why I am posting now instead of next week. Tonight we are off to Ramon and Beti’s for tea to say a Xmas cheerio, Sunday we are having Jennifer and Ernest round for some mince and tatties, Monday and Tuesday I’m Santa Claus at the Times School and on Wednesday all the Brits on “F” Block are going carol singing around the campsite before having the communal Wednesday evening meal together at the restaurant. Should be fun! I’ve printed off carols in 4 languages for us including “Away in a Manger” in English, “Stille Nacht” in German, “Noel Blanc” in French and “Navidad (Jingle Bells) in Spanish. We’ll take a bucket with us and try to raise some dosh for a good cause.

I leave you with a thought. Why not phone us, even just to say “Hello”. We’d like that.

Feliz Navidad! Bon Nadal!

Feliz Navidad! Bon Nadal!

 

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