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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 3/224: Valencia

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At the end of April, I decided to spring a surprise on Mary by whisking her off somewhere for our anniversary (17th would you believe!). Some of our friends had recently been down to Valencia for a couple of days and had brought back good reports so, as it was far enough away to call it a trip, but not so far as to require whole days of travelling, I plumped for that. Valencia is Spain’s third city so I reckoned we’d find plenty to keep us amused over the two days we’d be there.

I had the internet to thank again for making it possible for me to find appropriate trains and a reasonably-priced hotel that wouldn’t break the bank. I managed to find a ten o’clock fast train to Valencia, a modern hotel just a couple of miles from the old town and a slower train back at five o’clock on the Sunday. The whole thing came to less than £120 so I reckoned we were getting value for money as well. The internet also provided me with all the information I would need to ensure we packed in as much as we could into the 28 hours we’d be there. Mary of course remained clueless about my intentions.

The day before, I had a quiet word with Tom, our Dutch friend, and asked him to drive us to the train station for the 10 o’clock train the following day which was actually a Saturday and also our wedding day, the 2nd May. Tom as usual agreed without a thought and so the whole plot was ready to be hatched. We then decided to call all the pals over on Friday evening to celebrate our anniversary but I was careful to take it easy on the wine, knowing it would be a fairly early start the next day. I hoped Mary would do likewise and not let her hair down! As usual we had a brilliant night and the guitar even came out for a while, attracting a group of young Spanish kids who danced on the road as I played!

It got slightly awkward when the new Dutch lady just behind us came over and asked if we could repeat the dose, guitar and all, the next evening when she intended to have a party to celebrate her birthday. I was forced to accept her invitation in front of everyone and promise to play the guitar for her just so Mary wouldn’t get a sniff of what I was planning. I knew that when we got back I was going to have to apologize for not turning up!

At 8.30 on Saturday morning, I got up, made a cup of tea, woke Mary up, wished her “Happy Anniversary” and told her she had about 40 minutes to get ready for a night away from the caravan. The panic was a wonder to behold! Clothes and girly stuff was crammed into a wee case along with hair-dryer and straighteners and, give her her due, she was ready just as Tom drew up outside. On the way to the station in Tom’s car, I told her where we were going and she was absolutely delighted. The tickets I’d printed two days before worked a treat and we took the 10.01 express to Valencia!

It took just under 3 hours to get there and we quickly worked out how to get to the hotel using the Metro which was impressively clean, unsmelly and simple to negotiate. When we found the hotel, just off a magnificent roundabout and thoroughfare, it was way better than I had expected, modern, quite plush with really comfortable spacious bedrooms. After a bite to eat at the Burger King nearby, we were back into the Metro and a short ride down to the old town. We spent the whole afternoon and early evening there, wandering around the narrow streets, visiting the wonderful cathedral (we even saw what was claimed to be the Holy Grail there!) and just sitting at a café in one of the many squares watching the world go by. I’m glad to report that Mary loved it!

Our last visit was to a famous church, Santa Maria de la Pilar, which we eventually found despite its almost invisible entrance, and when we went in, Mass had just started so we settled down and gave our feet a break while we tried to follow the Spanish. We got back to the hotel about eight at which point we opened a bottle of “Tres Erres” wine which I’d hidden in my bag and raised a glass to ourselves. By half past ten we were both sound asleep!

Great place to have Sunday lunch!

Great place to have Sunday lunch!

Incredibly, Sunday was even better because we visited the renowned Cite de las Ciencias and the other ultra-modern buildings which stand down in the river bed. It would appear that many years ago Valencia was victim to a devastating flood which destroyed a good deal of the city and cost millions. Pragmatic to a fault, the city fathers decided that would never happen again and drew up plans to divert the river around the city! What a brilliant solution! They did exactly that but then, flushed with success, set about creating special things in the now dry and fertile river bed. Where we were visiting was just one example of their clear thinking on town planning. Dundee, I hope you’ve been listening because you definitely weren’t in the 60s!

Aquarium and Botanic gardens

Aquarium and Botanic gardens

Our Sunday in Valencia was fantastic, except that the temperature surprisingly rose to 25⁰ as expected but then just kept rising. By one o’clock it was 34⁰ and as we made our way back to the station, one of those green cross signs outside a chemist showed it was now 41⁰! Phhewww! Scorchio! We decided to go and hide in a café to await the 5 o’clock train home. I knew this train was going to be an hour and a half slower getting to Vilanova but I did not realise just what a trial that would be, especially as the heat began to bring on one of Mary’s migraines. This train was crammed, stopped everywhere, at one point went BACK 20 kilometres and didn’t get us to home until about ten at night by which time we were both very tired. Having some of the Tarragona Young Mental Fleet for company on the train didn’t make the journey any easier!

Anyway it did little to spoil our enjoyment of a great weekend in Valencia and it goes without saying that we thoroughly recommend a visit there at the earliest opportunity. It was fresh, clean, well-presented, lovely weather verging on too hot, friendly, easy to get around and there were no rip-offs at least in the places we visited. Mary’s final assessment upon reflection was that it was probably even better than Barcelona, if only because there were fewer people in the streets. The cathedral was not to be missed although the Sagrada Familia remains our favourite by quite a long way.

Since our treat we’ve settled down to a very quiet existence, punctuated by the odd trip out, usually with Tom and Greeta. We’ve had 2 trips into the hills around the Garraf Nature Park between Vilanova and Barcelona, a couple of great lunches, and coffee at a very expensive restaurant on the seafront in the village of Garraf, one frequented by the Barcelona football team, Messi and all! The rest of the time has been spent soaking up the brilliant weather we get in May, going for a swim in the sea and enjoying afternoon siestas.

We had another Sunday lunchtime up at the Biker Bar with Tom and Greeta, but this time the two male old farts gave in to temptation and bought themselves a genuine “La Cantera” t-shirt which they immediately donned to allow the standard naff photos to be taken. Here’s front AND back!

two fierce bikers1

Two fierce bikers!

That's not so scary1

That’s not so scary!

I have been in a particularly fertile period of writing lately and suddenly, after a fortnight of intense concentration, I find myself closing in on the last couple of chapters of the follow-up to “Wee Georgie”. I have enlisted the help of some former classmates to jog my memory of S1 and S2 at Lawside Academy, as well as contributions from brother Joe and Uncle Gerard. The first book is still selling at Waterstones but the big news is that I have uploaded it to Amazon both as a paperback and as an e-book for Kindle. It is already selling in USA and Australia so fingers crossed that the word gets out in these parts of the world. On the back of the success of “Wee Georgie”, Waterstones have already promised to take the next book and I’ve asked them to sell both the volumes of “Socrates” as well.

Last Sunday we were invited down to Ramon & Beti’s to have lunch with their family again and finalise the arrangements for the two kids, Guillem and Gao, coming back to Dundee in July like they did last year. As always it was a splendid time and I even managed a quick swim in the swimming pool which is for their block of flats. Sorry no picture! Gao’s Mum Rosa is going to fly with the kids to Edinburgh, have the day there after I pick them up then fly back alone in the evening. Guillem’s Dad Ramon will do something similar on the day I take them back to Edinburgh for the flight home. The kids are booked in full-time at Dundee University’s Sports Camp just down the road from us so we won’t be as inconvenienced as you might think.

The kids and us

The kids and us

The Sola family

The Sola family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, we’ve booked our ferry from Cherbourg for the 18 June so will be leaving Vilanova about three days prior to that. We’ll be asking Kate and Dave in Bath and Mike and Het in Kendal to put us up for a night on our way back through the UK, so with a bit of luck we should be back in Dundee in time for Mary’s Mum’s birthday on 21 June. You never know, we might even stick to our plan!

Happily, Mary’s sister Dorothy, her husband David and the two kids Beth and Zack arrived yesterday to spend a week at Vilanova Park and I’m pleased to report that the weather is excellent, so I hope they have a great time. I brought Guillem to play with them last night and they had a ball! I am writing this outside in the sunshine while they’re all down at the Vilanova beach and seeing the Cow statue! Yes, it’s a cow not a bull.

Beth, Zack & Guillem

Beth, Zack & Guillem

I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying yourselves as best you can, but do remember to take a break now and again and let your batteries recharge. By the way, watch out for June’s special travel edition of The People’s Friend. I’ve an article in it about Barcelona’s unfinished Gaudi-designed cathedral, the Sagrada Familia. I even got paid for writing it! Woo-Hoo!

Day 3/197: Traditions

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Over the past 2 weeks we’ve witnessed 3 events which encapsulate genuine Catalan traditions, so I’ve decided to let you know all about them. All three of them revolve around the annual celebration on 23 April of the feast of Sant Jordi (Saint George), the patron saint not only of England but Cataluña among others. It’s the same Saint George legend as exists everywhere else but I suspect their way of recognising the feast day is quite unique, so prepare for a bit more than the odd dragon.

Medieval Tesco

Medieval Tesco

With the weather continuing to be warm and sunny (for once just like you guys in Britain we’re told) we decided to head off last Sunday to the town of Montblanc nestled up in the hills above Barcelona’s other airport, Reus, the birthplace of its famous son, Gaudi, the designer of the spectacular Basilica Sagrada Familia. I hope you don’t mind if I digress a moment here but the People’s Friend have been onto me again and asked for 500 words on the Sagrada to put into some kind of summer travel special they’re doing. I’ve just finished it yesterday and Mary approves of what I’ve written which is my own little Litmus test that it reads well. This time, I’m also getting paid for it, so even better!

Right, let’s get back to last Sunday. Montblanc is the centre of the Sant Jordi legend in Cataluña as it is claimed that it was here that the knight slew the dragon. So there is a full week of medieval events and happenings in this little town and naturally a lot of it takes place at the weekend when folk will be able to attend. This explains our decision to attend on Sunday and not the actual feast of Sant Jordi which was last Thursday. Our Dutch friends, Tom and Margaret (Greeta) were our company for the day and guess who agreed to do the driving? The answer’s a Dutchman!

That decision was always going to prove interesting as Tom isn’t exactly the world’s best navigator and depends hugely on Greeta to keep him right, so when he took the left turn towards Valencia at the motorway toll, I made a mistake by keeping quiet instead of advising him that Montblanc was inland and in the direction of Lleida. When I eventually asked him if he knew the road there, he immediately asked Greeta where the map was and left me to find the best way back round, but there was a perfectly easy route via Reus and that’s how we got to Montblanc. Exciting though! Greeta couldn’t stop laughing!

George with his dragon!

George with his dragon!

Parking proved much easier than expected and we were soon at the town walls where we mingled with hundreds of locals all in medieval dress. The children were especially cute in their smocks with Saint George’s crosses and it was obvious the stalls would be doing a roaring trade in plastic swords, shields, chain-mail, fluffy dragons and wonderful knights’ helmets. (Don’t worry Ben, we got you something!) Inside the walls we walked the narrow streets as the sun tried to burn holes in our heads and thankfully I’d brought the old Panama hat as protection. The restaurants were particularly medieval, offering roast pork of all varieties with toasted bread and not a piece of cutlery in sight.

No smile there then!

No smile there then!

Two hours into our visit we found a queue much shorter than the others we’d given up on and were soon tucking into our own lunch at a huge wooden table. Wine was served in terracotta mugs to wash down the sausage and cheese and as usual the bill was ridiculously cheap, catering for my Scottish roots!

Four friends

Four friends

I like my grub!

I like my grub!

We set back out round the streets one more time until we all started to get a wee bit weary and then it was a final walk to the car park and the journey home. Except that I navigated us back a more direct route and this gave Tom the chance to pop into the town of Coma Ruga and show us the warm spring which leads to the sea and then the carp which nibble at your feet should you give them the chance. Mary and I did exactly that and were treated to a feet cleaning session from surprisingly large carp, although I did warn them that my feet came with a serious health warning. They ignored my advice and nibbled on! Back at Vilanova Park, a quick 40 winks was followed by tea with our Dutch friends and a chance to review what we all agreed had been a splendid day out!

Los Dentes de la Mar

Los Dentes de la Mar

Last Wednesday, we did an airport run for an Irish family at 10 in the morning then decided on the way back to explore the hills above Castelldelfels. That turned into another bit of an adventure once we’d hairpinned it to the top and down the other side into the valleys you normally never see. The narrow roads gradually turned into VERY narrow roads, sometimes just tracks, and soon I had to admit we were a bit lost! Obviously we did get out without falling into the hands of a band of Catalan woodsmen but I tell you there were moments up there …….

Bottom right to bottom left via top middle

Bottom right to bottom left via top middle

The following day was the actual feast of Sant Jordi which we spent on site until late afternoon when we had to go and pick up Guillem for the first time since our return. But instead of straight home and on with the lesson, we parked up in Vilanova town and took a stroll down the Rambla with him, affording me the opportunity to buy Mary the traditional single red rose (believe me, ALL the girls and women had one!) and her the chance to find a suitable book to give me in return, as Catalan tradition demands. Her choice was a Spanish translation of Georges Simenon’s novel “Maigret on Holiday” which I will read slowly to improve my language. Mary then went off to the library while Guillem and I went home to get on with the lesson. All of us ended up having tea with Beti and Ramon at the back of nine when they came back from work.

Man at Matalan

Man at Matalan

Today, Sunday, Tom and Greeta drove us into town at eleven where we settled down at a front table on the terrace of one of our favourite cafés in the Plaça de la Vila to watch a display of traditional Catalan human tower building from the Castellers. And are we glad we did, as we were treated to an absolutely splendid three hours of amazing performances under a warm, and at times hot, sun. This has to be away up there with one of the best days we have ever had since we chanced upon this wonderful town just over three years ago. Is it really that long?

My, my, my what a beautiful day!

My, my, my what a beautiful day!

Picture this. Each of the two teams (the reds and the yellows) numbered about one hundred Castellers ranging from older men carrying quite a few kilos to young, strong lads built like caber-tossers to super-fit eye candy young women to tiny, tiny wee poppets in crash helmets. At a given signal, each team would try to build a certain type of human tower, either three, four five or six to a level, narrowing off to a single nymphet who had to climb to the top, raise one arm then slide down the other side and allow the whole tower to dismantle itself from the top.

The only way is up!

The only way is up!

Thankfully there were no accidents like we’ve seen from time to time on the TV but I can guarantee you that my wee granddaughter Artemis will not be joining any Casteller groups in the foreseeable future! The atmosphere in the square on such a lovely sunny day (it’s pouring it down now – Scouser Carol will be happy: she said it would!) was brilliant and we had a great time watching the tower-building whilst enjoying a coffee, lemonade and some tapas. I loved being able to get right up beside the tower builders and check out exactly how they support each other. The base for each tower is particularly interesting. It consists of what looks like a circle of big lads but is actually more akin to a sixteen-point star of people maybe eight deep, all pressing inwards to create a solid foundation for the tower. The climbers, in reverse order of size, go under the base and climb out from the middle, from where they gradually build their tower. Wonderful!

The King and Queen of Montblanc

The King and Queen of Montblanc

I’ve nothing further to report today folks so I’ll let you get back to your much more interesting lives back at home. Ha, Ha! Missing you already! I leave you with Mary’s medieval meal!

Where do I begin?

Where do I begin?

Day 3/185: Busy

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All was going really well with looking after grandson Ben in Dundee until a fortnight into our month-long stint when George announced that the wee man had caught Chicken Pox! To be fair it didn’t upset Ben very much but it meant we couldn’t take him to the playgroups and swimming in the mornings and worst of all had to keep him away from his nursery in the afternoons. This change in fortunes caused us to have to rethink our weekly schedule to ensure that not only was Ben comfortable and happy but also that there was enough to keep him occupied and busy.

Ben at the observatory

Ben at the observatory

Thank God for Pingu! Without that loveable little penguin and his family on catch-up TV, the mornings might have been a bit of a challenge, but Ben was delighted to spend the first half-hour of the day in our flat watching a whole series of Pingu cartoons, giving us time to waken up and get the rest of the day organized. As long as we kept him away from other children, all was well, but every time we took him to the park he naturally gravitated towards the other children and I had to keep warning various parents that he was still contagious. To keep him humoured, I taught Ben a pastiche of a song from “Joseph” which went “Benjamin, you spotty boy, you have got the chicken pox!” We both loved spontaneously bursting into song with this rather silly ditty and it kept a grin on his face and mine.
By the end of the month we were tired but happy. We had been to Camperdown zoo again, visited various acquaintances and even watched the eclipse together using Grandad’s patent cardboard box with hole in it. Mary for her part now knew 3 series of Pingu off by heart! Gavin brought over Artemis ,our granddaughter, two days before we flew back here and we had a grand time with her. With all four boys so busy getting on with their lives, it is a godsend to have the grandchildren to bond with and they both appear to have many adventures ahead of them. Speaking of the four boys, here’s a quick update on each of them in order of entry into the world.
The eldest, George, was dealt a blow when his job disappeared all of a sudden. Fortunately he seems to have survived the cull and should still be employed by a sister organization. Scary though! Gavin is approaching the end of his 4-year Law degree whilst still working full-time at the High Court in Edinburgh and trying to find time to be Dad to Artemis. It is a juggling act which has stretched him to the full and we just hope that it will all be worth it in the end. Fingers crossed! Greg is cool and working full-time constructing polytunnels. But the good news is that his partner Karen now has a job pulling pints in a hotel in Montrose where they live. Ker-ching!
Scott gets a paragraph to himself as he has had a difficult time of late trying to cope with the 1-year Primary Teacher Diploma which is mega-intense. Eventually he decided that this type of claustrophobic teaching was not for him and he, sensibly we think, resigned from the course. He was instantaneously much, much happier with his lot and quickly returned to being the obnoxious, over-fussy little bugger we love so much. He will shortly return to his old job working at Dundee University in the pool and gym, with a view to gaining further qualifications in the area of Sport and Medicine, the subject of his degree.
On Palm Sunday after mass, Mary’s mum gave us a lunch and a chance to spend some time with Bruce my brother-in-law. He’s a good lad is Bruce but, like our 4 sons, seems to be eternally put-upon by the demands of work, wife and children. I suppose they will all survive just like we did when every minute seemed to be filled with appeasing someone else’s desires. At 40 I was running a Department in a secondary school, keeping a home and 3 boys under 13 years of age and had neither wife nor parents to help, but I managed somehow and even came through it with my sanity intact (well, I admit some would disagree with that!). I put it down to playing football every Saturday, the perfect escape from real life. Gavin, are you reading this?
That Sunday evening , Mary, Scott and I had the pleasure of hearing Alex Salmond talk about his recently-published book at Dundee University. It was an interesting couple of hours topped by him signing the copy we bought and then accepting a copy of “Wee Georgie” in return. A bit of a “coup” that was! The book’s sales continue unabated by the way and I am close to selling out the 500 I originally had printed. Then it will be decision time again: how many will I have printed second time around? Waterstones seem to think it will continue to sell for a long time to come and were a bit panicked when I gave them a batch of 30 just before we left and told them that would be the last for the foreseeable.

Big day for Alex meeting the Burtons!

Big day for Alex meeting the Burtons!

On April Fool’s Day we left Dundee through a scattering of snow, drove to Edinburgh airport, said our goodbyes to Scott and left him to drive back home while we made the hop from Edinburgh to Barcelona, emerging into brilliant sunshine and 20 degrees of heat. Coincidently, Dundee Sandra’s pal Amanda was on the same flight as us and we gave her a lift to the campsite when Fred came to pick us up in the Audi. We slept the afternoon away and our friends Ernest and Jennifer cooked us tea as they had promised a month or so earlier. On Good Friday we did Stations of the Cross in a wee church at 10 in the morning outdoors then on Easter Sunday we attended mass in the modern church little Guillem goes to. We surprised him soon after by turning up at his door just as the family were leaving for their own Easter celebrations and he was delighted with the Easter Egg we had brought him all the way from Dundee!
That very evening, Mary’s sister Claire, her husband Scott and the 2 boys, Andrew and Sam, arrived here to spend 5 days with us. We had a brilliant time with them, showing off Vilanova, letting them have a day away in Barcelona, plus swimming and playing tennis and table-tennis on the campsite. Highlights included a trip for all the guys to the Camp Nou where we watched Barça beat Almeria 4-0, and a visit to Montserrat for the girls and Sam where I did the driving as usual. I think they left on Friday with some regret and a good impression of life here at Vilanova Park.

The Cross Sam and I walked to.

The Cross Sam and I walked to.

Claire and Sam at Montserrat

Claire and Sam at Montserrat

In front of the funicular.

In front of the funicular.

We’ve spent the weekend resting now and catching up with our own stuff. I’ve had some problems with the charger and battery in the caravan but they appear to be resolved for the moment. Mary and I are determined to do Aquagym 3 times a week at 10 in the morning to help us get fit and we will continue to walk as much as we can. Maybe I’ll persuade her to come and have breakfast with me at the watchtower on Tuesday mornings? Was that a flying pig that just went by?

The ex-First Minister with Wee Georgie!

The ex-First Minister with Wee Georgie!

Day 3/150: We much prefer the cold!

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I’m writing this post in the living-room of our flat in Dundee. We’ve been back home here for over a week due to a cry for help from eldest son George and his partner Fiona who have lost their childcare (Fiona’s Mum) to the wild beauty of Australia and New Zealand. While we would probably prefer to be in Vilanova for the month of March, we are consoled by this extra opportunity to share quality time with grandson Ben and the chance to see the boys for an early spring catch-up.

Such a catch-up took place last night when all four sons came round for beer and curry, a match on the TV and conversations unrestricted by the presence of significant females. I include myself among the quintet of tongues unleashed! We had a cracking good evening while Mary was having fun with her Mum and sisters in Edinburgh (a Mothers’ Day treat). For a change I actually prepared the curries – two chicken Rogan Josh, two chicken Korma and one vegetable Madras – but forgot all about the existence of boil-in-the-bag rice, leading to a minor disaster with the boiled rice, despite extensive rinsing.

The evening consisted of food, drink and each family member in turn asked to report on their previous six months and their hopes for the following six. The five of us told it like it was and we all enjoyed the experience, learning a wee bit more about sons/brothers/Dad. The actual details are of course not for public consumption but I can tell you that I’m very proud of all four of them, just as any father would be.

Last week was pretty much a total blur of picking Ben up and dropping him off at the various groups he attends. He has nursery Monday-Friday from 12.15 until 16.15 but also does kids’ gym on Monday, swimming lesson on Tuesday and two different playgroups Thursday and Friday. It’s an action-packed week which I’m not totally convinced of but Ben seems to be coping well and making progress in all aspects of his development. The only problem is my own energy levels which call for regular down-time and even the odd afternoon nap! I think I’d be struggling without Mary’s help to be honest as we’ve both been weaned off getting up early and having daily schedules to follow.

Evenings have been spent in front of the TV watching football or one of the series we can access on Netflix which Scott subscribes to. Mary and I are presently halfway through series 3 of Spirale, the English title of “Engrenages”, a splendid French police crime drama. It has English sub-titles, but we enjoy trying to follow it without looking at the translation. Scott watches the American political thriller “House of Cards” starring the peerless Kevin Spacey and I must admit I find myself listening in even when I’m not supposed to be. Mary just gave me a belated birthday present of Series 3 of “Game of Thrones” but we’ve promised to be good and keep it for our return to Vilanova.

On the book front I’ve expanded the network of places where “Wee Georgie” is on sale from one to four, adding two supermarkets and one local shop. To-date I’ve shifted 350 of the initial 500 units and have earned about £1000 of my investment back, give or take a few bob. The website is seeing more sales now and that’s where I hope to see progress. I’m doing a book-signing at the Nisa supermarket in the west end next Saturday, the day before Mothers’ Day, but I’ll probably also sign at Waterstones and the Nisa in the east end as well.  When we took Ben to a playgroup in the district of Menzieshill last Thursday, I ended up invited to talk to their Women’s Group and sold another 6 copies of the book. We also had to pop into the Dundee Central Library to give them an invoice for the 20 copies they bought from me. How surprised was I when Shona, the lady in charge, told me that my book was the most borrowed non-fiction title in Dundee last month!

But the really exciting news was when the receptionist at the Menzieshill Community Centre flicked through the copy she’d just bought and announced that she knew Frances McKay, my first girlfriend as mentioned in the chapter entitled “Girls”. I was over the moon when I heard this revelation, especially when I was told she still lives in Dundee. I asked the ladies to put the word out that I’d love to meet up with Frances for a sentimental tea and biscuits and hopefully I’ll get my wish. OMG, I’m excited just thinking about that. I haven’t seen Frances in over 50 years!

I really ought to tell you about the weather. Yes, it’s cold and coats, hats and scarves are pretty much “de rigueur”. And we’ve had snow, not lots and lots of it, but enough to leave us with a Christmas view from the windows of the flat. Meanwhile, we’re told temperatures in Vilanova have soared well into the twenties! Are we jealous? You bet we are! But we are probably feeling like the worst of the winter is over since we’ve begun to notice the odd snowdrop and crocus peeking out from the cold earth.

An old man felt unwell during mass today and I sort of half-know his daughter who was seated next to him. A nurse came to give assistance but I went over to support both him and his daughter as we waited for the medics to arrive. She said he had angina and low blood pressure and he was yawning constantly and trying to fall asleep, so I got him slowly into a conversation on the prospects of Dundee United getting past Celtic later on today. That kept him going until help arrived, but I was amazed at how the people around him kept on standing up and sitting down and singing the hymns and saying the responses out loud while this old man sat among them wondering if his time was coming. It was very surreal, believe me!

Last Wednesday morning, the only morning we didn’t have to take Ben somewhere specific, we drove up to Arbroath with Mary’s Mum to visit my daughter-in-law Eve and my granddaughter Artemis. We had a very pleasant couple of hours watching the two cousins playing and I was especially delighted that my 18-month wee girl called me “Granddad” almost as soon as she set eyes on me. I was welling up, big Softie that I am!

That’s us up-to-date now. Sorry I haven’t included any photos but it just goes to show how we don’t take many shots of “normal life” back here in Dundee. Well, here’s one I took of Artemis up at her house last Wednesday. She’s lovely!

50 shades of Arry!

50 shades of Arry!

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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