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 .

Scottish Summer

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It is absolutely hammering it down outside and the sky is a uniform grey: uniform, not even 50 shades. This morning there were six or seven families in various types of tent pitched out on the large expanse of grass that makes up the middle of our little caravan park, the 5 roads, here in Alyth. It’s just turned 13.45 and they’re all gone. It won’t be because they have to work tomorrow or get the kids to school because it’s a public holiday and it’s still the summer holidays from school. No, it’s because of the rain. We’ve been here a week and it’s rained every day at some point, even on Tuesday when the temperature peaked at 27 degrees, the hottest day of the year.

To be brutally honest, the weather doesn’t bother us all that much, given where we live most of the time. But we do feel for all the people who spend their lives in Scotland or all those who visit our beautiful country. We’ve met 3 couples from the latter category here on this campsite and they have spoken with resignation about their visit. The first two stayed one night each on their respective tours, both couples sleeping in a wee tent next to their cars. Both had breakfast in those cars as the rain battered their flimsy accommodation to the ground. They both agreed that Scotland is immensely beautiful ……… if you can see it through the stair-rods. Brave faces were to the fore but we could see they were being sorely tested. God bless!

Mary’s Mum is apoplectic about how awful the weather has been. If she can’t get her sheets hung out on the drying-green then it is officially a state of emergency at her house. Given that she finds things to wash which others simply do not perceive, you can take it that she finds herself glued to her Tablet, examining the weather on a half-hourly basis and making advance plans for the next whites or coloureds wash with military precision. She soldiers on with admirable stoicism but we can see how the weather breaks her heart.

The rain has just gone up a further two levels of ferocity here and we are extremely thankful that the Magic Caravan continues to be 100% waterproof. I must admit that we did have some qualms about spending 6 weeks in our first-ever caravan after it has been sitting out at a storage site in Birkhill to the north-west of Dundee. But we have to say that it took no more than a rub down inside and out to restore it to presentable level and once hooked up to the mains we were delighted to find that everything still worked, lights, sockets, fridge, water-pump etc. I have given it a replacement fully-charged battery with new terminals and all is now well with the internal 12v system which should stay topped-up once I have attached the solar-power trickle charger I bought at Maplin’s.

At the 5-Roads campsite

          At the 5-Roads campsite

We arrived here a week ago today after an excellent 8 days in Tayport at Mary’s brother’s house where we looked after their amazing cat Zak while they holidayed down in the Lake District. We enjoyed ourselves on the other side of the River Tay from Dundee and the view back towards the city as we would drive along the coast road from the bridge to Tayport ranks as one of the best we have seen anywhere. Strange how you can travel all around but still be moved by the beauty of a place where you have spent the vast majority of your life. The only near-equivalent I could conjure up was the view of the St. Lawrence River from the Olympic Stadium in Montreal but even then the Tay with the two hills of Dundee in the background wins hands down. Stunning!

Dundee seen from the Tayport road

Dundee seen from the Tayport road

Catching up with the family has taken up most of our time since our return to Scotland. We started with two nights at Scott’s flat in Falkirk after we left Mike and Het’s in Kendal, that being the final stage of our journey home. There then followed 1 night at Mary’s Mum’s (luxury!) then meeting up with George and family for lunch, tea with Greg and Karen in Montrose and a brief stop-off at Gavin’s in Arbroath on our way back to Tayport. We actually went to see where Karen works, a popular stately home near Montrose called The House of Dun and, after a cup of tea at Karen’s café, Greg took us around the ornate gardens which were really beautiful. I think we’ll be going back to visit the interior at some point next month.

Lord and Lady Burton

               Lord and Lady Burton

Out of the blue we found ourselves invited to a wedding reception at the famous Invercarse hotel in Dundee following a conversation between Lady Burton and the new groom, her ex-French Teacher Brian Gould. We had an enjoyable evening dancing both modern and Scottish and we caught up with uncle Gerard who was in attendance along with a smattering of old Dundee teachers.

The groom, Lady Burton and a tramp!

     The groom, Lady Burton and a tramp!

I did the driving that night, mainly because I’m being very good following a spate of high blood-sugar tests. The good news is that my full blood tests came back on Thursday and showed readings lower than last year and such as to cause no concern to the doctor. This was a great relief to both Mary and me and suggested I’m behaving myself (at last!).

On Friday we had my cousins Stef and Renée over for fish and chips in the awning and the weather was kind enough to at least not rain while we were actually eating! They will be reciprocating this evening with dinner at their house in Blairgowrie where we will also get a chance to catch up with their lovely children Ricky and Teresa, both adults and doing well. Yesterday Mary went off in the car – strange, that sounds like she exploded! – to meet with some old school chums in Dundee and three hours later I took the bus to Dundee to meet up with George, Ben, Gavin and Arry to go swimming at the Olympia pool where Scott used to be a lifeguard. I had a wonderful time with our grandchildren, splashing around, getting zoomed around the Rapids, buffeted by the Wave machine and enjoying the thrills (or should that be terror?) of sliding down the green and red flumes. I think I found them fun but maybe my heart thought different!

I’ve firmed up several details for the next few weeks. Next Friday we’re off up the mountains as we always do in early August. Not Lady Burton of course, as the “Munroamers” as we call ourselves is strictly male-only and includes only me and my 4 sons. Unfortunately only three can come with me this year, Greg being the odd-man-out as it’s harvest time on the Estate where he works and he’s needed there. I’ve booked a big static deluxe caravan near Comrie for our accommodation and we’ll be within spitting distance of Ben Vorlich, Stuc a Chroin and Ben Chonzie which are our three target mountains for 2016. On Monday, Mary and I are off up north to visit brother Joe & wife Mo at their house on the banks of Loch Carron. This is becoming an annual pilgrimage and we never fail to have a great time catching up. A small libation may even be taken!

We’ll stay there until Thursday morning then drive back to Dundee for one night before heading to Powburn in Northern England for the annual get-together of Mary’s family at the scout camp. This year, for the first time, we’re going to be taking grandson Ben with us as he’s nearly 5 and will be starting school a week later. But instead of coming home on the Sunday as usual, we’re driving back over to Kendal to help Mike and Het celebrate their joint 60ths! Ben will be there too and I’m sure we’ll have a ball. When we get back to the Magic Caravan on the Monday, we may just have a rest!

Aunt Ellen called two days ago to inform us that uncle Peter (Dad’s wee brother) had passed away in Cardiff at the age of 80 after being ill for a while. I have fond memories of Peter grabbing me around the waist and lifting me up to the ceiling in Grandma’s house in Leeds when I was a wee boy in the early 60s. Our thoughts are with his wife aunt Anne and her children. RIP uncle Peter.

Peter was the brother furthest to the left in the photo on page 73 of “Georgie”, a photo of Dad’s Mum and Dad and all of his siblings. I think uncle Terry and auntie Pat are the only two survivors of that splendid photo. The two memoirs continue to do well both at Waterstones and online at Amazon. I am busy having “Wee Georgie” reprinted yet again (200 more this time) and I suspect it won’t be the last. I have a signing at Waterstones in Dundee on 13 August, my third such event and once again they asked me, not the other way around. Slowly but surely I am beginning to feel the urge to write again so you never know what I’ll be telling you in the next post. Disappointingly, book 2 of Socrates the Snail remains frustratingly unillustrated and I can’t seem to find a reliable artist anywhere who can meet a deadline. Do you know anyone who might do the job for me?

Well that’s us up-to-date today. It hasn’t actually stopped raining but at least Ginger baker is no longer practising his favourite drum-solo on the roof of the Magic Caravan. I leave you with Arry and Ben post-swim. Wonderful, but then again I AM their granddad!

Uber-cute!

                Uber-cute!

Just at the last second before I posted this, I’ve received the first photo of Fred and Jeanette’s new motorhome. I wish them all the possible joys in their new abode!

Absolute luxury!

                Absolute luxury!

Home Again

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Preparing to leave.

                       Preparing to leave.

Once again, we’re back home for the summer. Well not exactly “home” as that implies we’re back in our flat which we aren’t. That’s because it is still being rented out, so we’ve come back to Scott’s flat in Stenhousemuir. We’ll only be here a couple of nights before moving to Mary’s brother’s house in Tayport while they’re away on holiday. Then we plan to have 2 weeks in the magic caravan on a site in Alyth. That’s the theory anyway!

We left Vilanova last Friday morning and drove up into France before heading inland at Béziers on the A75. This road passes over the famous Millau Viaduct, the highest in the world, which we’ve crossed 4 times now. It’s a splendid sight indeed and we managed an on-the-move shot for you to see.

Nice, eh?

                       Nice, eh?

After that it was up, up, up to 3500 feet and back down again leaving us at our first stop which as usual was the Ibis Budget hotel in Clermont-Ferrand. We use this hotel whenever we can as it’s ideal for travellers with lots of facilities all within walking distance of it. This time we decided to have our evening meal in an Irish pub a short distance away and it turned out to be a great choice as both the food and drink were excellent and the prices, while dearer than Spain, were not ridiculous.

After a good night’s rest, we filled up with diesel and headed for Paris (not the city, just the region) which always holds a few surprises for us the nearer we get, as the traffic slowly but surely builds up the closer you come to the city itself. But, having somewhat stumbled via the navigator on Mary’s iPhone onto a big Route Nationale, we crept into the outskirts at Creteil (Thierry Garnier and his family weren’t in!) – that will only be funny to someone who studied French with Tour de France book – slid underneath the runway at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, before bolting away from the chaos to much quieter roads leading north out of the French capital.

Our second Ibis Budget hotel was in the little town of Noyon, about two hours from Calais, so just about in the perfect spot to stay before crossing back to the UK. It even had a McDonald’s opposite it which made choosing where to have tea an awful lot easier than it could have. One triple cheeseburger and chicken wrap later (guess who had what!?) I was in the room watching the Germany v Italy quarter final game while Lady Burton surprised us all by reading a book!

After a spot of continental breakfast on Sunday morning, we had a very pleasant drive up to the Tunnel Terminal at Sangatte where the hordes of refugees throwing bricks, as prophesized by our neighbours back in Vilanova, totally failed to materialize, leaving us to peer through the miles of scary razor wire to see if we could clock even one such person. No luck – they had obviously packed their bags and gone home! Half an hour later and we drove back onto British soil for the first time in 10 months. The Audi remembered to stick to the left which was just as well because I barely gave it a thought.

Our first task was to drive to Ashford International Train Station, which you should all note is NOT the Tunnel Terminal, to seek out one of Mary’s colleagues from Global Connect in Vilanova. She was meeting us there to collect her dismantled bicycle which we had brought to her in the back seat of the car (yes, honestly!). So, she got her bike back and we got a thank-you card and a bottle of wine. After the bye-byes, Victoria steered us back to the M20 which led us to the Dartford tunnel underneath the Thames.

Now, this crossing has changed recently. You probably know the tunnel is North only these days while the traffic heading South uses the Dartford bridge only built a few years back. But you might not know that the toll-booths have gone! Before you start celebrating a saving of £2.50 on the crossing, I should point out that you still have to pay, except now you do it online or at one of those pay-points you see in shops and post-offices. You can pay in advance as I did or pay within 24 hours of crossing, after which they slap a nice big fine on you. I even bought 2 crossings as they last up to a year from the date of purchase and will probably use it when we go back.

Once the Dartford tunnel and the horrendous M25 were behind us, it was plain driving up the M11 and A1M to Leeds and Terry and Ellen’s. We got there on the stroke of five, at the exact same time as cousin Angela and her family whom I saw greeting cousins Gillian and David and family. My God, they were all going to have dinner with us! What a splendid surprise that was and we had a great catch-up at the dinner table. Uncle Terry was looking 100 times better than when we’d seen him last September and he told us he is getting over his various challenges slowly but surely. Auntie Ellen was as ever quite wonderful and she served 14 of us with a feast fit for a family of Burtons.

The Brexit vote dominated the conversation and we were delighted to learn that the family were like us sad and embarrassed by the result to leave and even more so in the immediate aftermath when it emerged the Brexiteers didn’t have a clue what to do next! Let’s hope common sense takes over and some really intelligent people find themselves at the helm of our country because we are going to need true statesmanship from now on and an end to the self-seeking, arrogant so-called politicians on all sides who are happy to bring the country to its knees as long as they do well from it. Rant over!

A good sleep, a slap-up breakfast and we were off again, but this time a relatively short distance to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales near Skipton where we had arranged to meet our dear friends Het and Mike Farrington from Kendal. It was brilliant seeing them again back here and we had a lovely time walking around 2 particularly popular spots in that area as well as enjoying a picnic they had kindly prepared for us. The weather held for most of the afternoon but then turned decidedly British towards four o’clock, calling for waterproofs and coats, but it failed to spoil a delightful afternoon in the English countryside.

Malham Cove

                     Malham Cove

The other place, whose name escapes me!

The other place, whose name escapes me!

Same place

                       Same place

We finished our walk with a cup of Yorkshire tea bought at a nearby caravan café and we all seemed to be well happy with our day as you can see.

Me, Mary, Mike & Het

                       Me, Mary, Mike & Het

That evening, our hosts served us up a delicious healthy meal, sensitive to my new regime. They were there at the campsite the evening I took a wobbly so they knew what it was all about as regards my diet these days. Well done, my friends. We gossiped until our eyes were all closing then got off to bed for a welcome sleep and long lie. The following day we went for lunch in a place called Staveley at a café where Mike’s sister works. Incredibly, this is the exact same place Mary’s brother Bruce and his family are coming on holiday next week!

The bridge over the Kent

           The bridge over the Kent

After a short stroll we headed back to Kendal where the girls went shopping in town while Mike and I checked out a couple of hostelries. We chanced upon a rather cheeky pint of Theakston’s IPA which was so good that even Lady Burton had a half-pint when the girls eventually joined us. Mike and I also strolled around Kendal while he pointed out all the damage caused by the terrible flooding of last winter. I’m glad to say the town has recovered well and most of the damage has been put to good. We stopped by a huge bike shop to let him have a look around and I spotted a strange sight which Mike assured me is a perfectly functioning bicycle. Does this look OK to you?

No front fork?

                  No front fork?

Then it was back to their house, a few laughs, dinner (Mike burned the Yorkshire puddings which could then double as Frisbees!) and bed. The following morning was seriously downbeat, a late full English breakfast, a couple of hugs then back on the road, this time to Scotland.

A glorious sicht!

         A glorious sicht!

So that’s it. We’re back for 2 months, culminating in Greg and Karen’s wedding on 2 September. We’ll be busy no doubt but the time will fly in and before we know it we’ll be back on the road to the other place we call home. Exciting, isn’t it? I leave you with something that made us smile while down in Yorkshire.

A woolly jumper!

                      A woolly jumper!

 

 

Day 4/297: Yabba-Dabba-Doo!

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When I was a lad I liked to watch “The Flintstones”. The adventures of stone-age couples Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their friends Barney and Betty Rubble in the town of Bedrock were often the highlight of my week on TV. But one of the best things about that series was the absolutely brilliant theme tune that came with it. I’m sure almost everybody of a certain age (my age!) can easily sing all the words as well as picture the opening and closing title sequences. Here, I’ll start you off “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they’re a modern, stone-age family ………..”. Fred being put out of the house by Dino the pet dinosaur and then hammering on the door, shouting for Wilma to let him back in is etched on the memories of a whole baby-boomer generation. “Yabba-dabba-doo!”

For all the time – years and years – that we watched the series, we’d sing along with the title song and laugh ourselves silly at Fred’s two feet powering his car. We hardly noticed that Wilma and Betty‘s cartoon characters were very feminine in both appearance and demeanour yet both lacked “pointy” chests, because the whole thing was sanitized for the targeted audience. Yes, this was an age of innocence. We simply chuckled when the two wives used violence towards their inept husbands just like we did when Jerry would slam Tom into a concertina shape by dropping a heavy weight on his head.

The last line of the song “Meet the Flintstones” was “You’ll have a gay old time”. And that meant to us that we were likely to have a “merry” time watching the show. That was because the word “gay” had not yet reached us with its transformed meaning of “homosexual”, even though it had been used as such for a while before the 60s. This synonym for “carefree” or “colourful” underwent a cataclysmic transformation via Flower Power and the hippies in California certainly by 1967 to emerge with its main meaning changed to denote sexual orientation and alternative lifestyle. Suddenly, having a “gay old time” took on a dark side and we walked one more step away from innocence.

So when Mary and I, along with Dutch neighbours Marianne & Theo and their daughter Marike, went to Sitges Sunday past for the annual Gay Pride parade, we knew exactly what we would be seeing. To be fair, the whole thing was definitely “merry”, the atmosphere was totally “carefree” and the floats and participants were wonderfully “colourful”, but there was no doubting that we were enjoying a “gay” afternoon. And it was fantastic!

Pink is this year's black

                     Pink is this year’s black

As we watched hundreds and hundreds of gays parading up and down the seafront at Sitges, their spiritual centre some say, we were struck by the complete joy on their faces, the kind of joy that can only come from being somewhere that you are comfortable to be and with people you are comfortable to be with. There was no repression here I assure you! This was loud and proud, the gay community from all over Europe strutting their stuff in front of a rapturous crowd of spectators and followers. The costumes were beyond extravagant, the make-up elaborate and the attention to detail amazing as float after float of gay revellers paraded up and down the strip.

The wardrobe must be huge1

      The wardrobe must be huge!

Some were organized according to different nightclub venues while others had come together under a particular banner. It was noteworthy that the word “Orlando” figured frequently on banners, reminding people that this community refused to give in to the wanton violence their likes had suffered just a week before. If the gunman’s target was to drive gay people into hiding, then this was a stark reply of defiance. It was very hard not to see their point.

Best in Show!

                  Best in Show!

There was also a maximum of humour present in the proceedings and how could there not be? Some of the costumes were frankly way over the top and verging on insane but it was clear that the wearers were all dressed up to have a good time and welcomed us “straight” guests in a totally friendly and unthreatening manner. They were the ones with the slightly patronizing looks as we thronged to get our photos taken with them, they were the ones “at home” in Sitges and to all intents and purposes they were in the majority. Sitges is the only place on the planet where Lady Burton and I have felt ourselves to be in the minority or felt like a guest in someone else’s patch. Even when seemingly the only British people in deepest Italy over the winter of 2012-13, we felt part of where we were, capable of blending in and becoming one of them. But not here! No, the feeling was absolutely that this place is a gay community and that we are invited to observe.

Hey you, up there!

                           Hey you, up there!

That’s not quite true actually. A couple or three years ago Joe and I did an audition for a short-lived BBC game show based on the Sudoku puzzles and we made it to the televised part down in Wood Lane studios. Mary was allowed to come with us so she and I travelled down to the capital on the train then took the Tube to our hotel. Unfortunately our stop was shut for repairs so we had to go past to the next stop which was Shepherd’s Bush. It was Sunday night about nine when we got there.

 

We crossed to a bus stop, asked which bus would take us back to our hotel area and waited. It took us no time at all to realize that we were the only white people in the immediate area. While that in itself was no cause for concern really, our unfounded surprise and slight anxiety was heightened by the type of person zooming by in cars or looking “shady” on street corners. We felt REALLY in the minority there and, while no-one said “Boo!” to us, being the only non-coloured couple in that area at night with one big suitcase at our feet left us agitated and not a little fearful. The taxi we eventually got to take us to our hotel when we gave up waiting for the bus only actually stopped because I threw Mary in front of it in desperation!

He was gorgeous1

                 He was gorgeous!

Back in Sitges, I puzzled over several of the lovely ladies passing by. Were they? Ladies I mean. Mary was much better than me at pointing out why the person was obviously a transvestite male but I in my innocence found it really quite hard to tell. Two of the ones I got a hug from were real stunners and I found myself hoping that they really were females, so comfortable did my arm feel around their waists. Or maybe I was just feeling a wee bit gay myself!

I quipped to Mary as the parade went by that the men all looked particularly cool and contented together, a sharp contrast to the stressed faces we often see on heterosexual couples with kids on the campsite. Is it the kids or is it the couple? Hard to tell, but the Sitges crowd had none of it and I’ve rarely seen such overt joy being expressed on the streets. Of course a lot of it is because the parade is Showtime and the participants go to extremes to show themselves off and it was interesting that the 3 guys from Wales we engaged in conversion were keen to point out that, while all 3 were gay, they didn’t normally wear the pink dresses they had on!

They'll keep a welcome in the valleys....

            They’ll keep a welcome in the valleys….

So much for Sitges Gay Pride 2016. We’ll be back next year.

After the parade, we all walked up the hill past the church then down the other side in search of a restaurant Marianne and Theo had already been to. When we saw that a menu plus drinks, water and bread was only 14 Euros a head we took the decision to have dinner to celebrate our Dutch companions’ 30th wedding anniversary that very day. Congratulations guys! We had a lovely dinner together then strolled back through the town as the sun was going down, giving us the opportunity to see the gay community enjoying their evening in the bars and restaurants. If you haven’t experienced any of this lifestyle, we recommend you come and see it for yourselves as it’s quite an education and goes a long way to emphasize the latent prejudices/discomfort you may have lurking inside you.

5 Crayola crayons + fans

                     5 Crayola crayons + fans

One other thing you will observe is how confidently such outdoor events can usually be arranged here in Spain. The weather for the parade was absolutely perfect and there was no need for anxious looks to the sky to check for approaching rain or clouds. How unlucky we are to live in such a beautiful country as Scotland yet so seldom have the opportunity to see its magnificence under a clear blue sky and in warm temperatures. Pound for pound I’m certain Scotland is a much bonnier country than Spain but when it comes to the weather there is no competition and that’s why so many ex-pats are out here.

That may well change of course, maybe even in the near future, if the vote to leave the EU wins the day later this week. I hope we Remain for many reasons but mostly I fear the motivations of those who wish to quit. Their emphasis on uncontrolled immigration smacks of rampant xenophobia in my book and it’s not as if the Remain voters don’t know there is a problem with this. Of course there is, but to blame all our recent ills on the immigrants is just not reasonable. Yes, a solution to mass immigration needs to be found and not everyone should be allowed in, but how can we send women and children back to countries ravaged by war? Do you really think they take their lives in their hands crossing the Med to seek out a cushy life with us?

Their other motivation is of course financial and the Leave supporters seem to want to blame membership of the EU for all the forced austerity of recent years. It’s astonishingly convenient that they seem to have forgotten that it was the greed of the banks that led us into that mess, a mess cleaned up with your and my money, a system bailed out by the taxpayers. How many of us remember their humility and profuse apologies for screwing up the whole country (and the world!)? No, I didn’t think so. Will you be getting a 7-figure bonus at the end of the year? Guess who will still be getting one? Big business wants out so they can escape the systems put in place by Brussels to protect workers’ rights, allowing them then to exploit workers even further and line their pockets even more.

And if they want their country back, what will that be like? Personally I don’t remember life being all that marvellous when I was a kid and I even wrote about it. My parents worked very hard, earned very little, had no luxuries and holidayed in Arbroath or Broughty Ferry. Mum was never, ever abroad in her brief 66 years of life, my parents never had a car and they were at best stoically happy, contented with their lot no matter how poor that happened to be. As long as they kept their heads down and caused no trouble, paid their taxes and got up for work, they felt they were doing their bit. Interest rates on savings were a whopping 15%, but that’s no use if you ran out of money the day before payday every week like we did.

OK that’s the rant over. Hope you liked the photos from Sitges!

Mary & Marianne. No, they're not!

Mary & Marianne. No, they’re not!

Day 4/290: Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

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After giving one of my classic explanations to illustrate a technical point of the French language (you know, the language that doesn’t have a word for “policing at football tournaments!), one of my first year pupils woke up with a start, saw me looking at him and decided to play the old “distracter” card by asking a question, whether connected to the lesson or not. Most of my pupils were well-versed in this technique and used it on me frequently, knowing full well that, if I was bored by the lesson myself, I would deliberately take the bait and answer things like “Sir, did you watch the Rangers game last night?” or “Mr. Burton, does your son work in Jamal’s store in Kirkton?”.

Anyway, I’d just finished what I assumed was an inspired explanation of the present tense of –ir verbs when Jordan shot his hand up immediately I caught his eye. I anticipated some deeply-thought analysis of the verb system and expected a question like “Sir, are there many exceptions to the basic paradigm?” but that’s not quite what I got. “Mr. Burton sir, sir, have you ever been abroad?” “No son, I’ve been a man all my life!” I quipped. A sea of puzzled faces stared at me and at each other, trying to fathom the hidden wit therein. No-one got it. So I had to explain it to them, by which time even I didn’t think it was very funny.

This classic tale of opposite perspectives within the classroom will hopefully illustrate that the chances of actually knowing what a pupil thinks of your lesson are close to nil for a million reasons. It’s best to think of it in terms of priorities. Where on that list in a teenager’s head lies my French lesson? : after “Can’t wait for the bell to ring”: after “I’m starving”: after “Hope Celtic win tonight”: or even after “God, I would love 5 minutes with Charlene Kerr”. You can see that your lesson would have to be awfully interesting to drag their hyperactive minds away from their stomachs or from below their waists.

As teachers, we never knew the half of what was happening in their lives outside the classroom and to be honest it’s maybe just as well. For example, I had been using memory training techniques with some success with a group of detached 4th years, struggling to keep them on track and to apply themselves in a disciplined manner, something they clearly weren’t used to. For all that, they genuinely appreciated my attempts at trying to interest them and a really good rapport had grown up between them and me. I continued to play the friendly-but-still-the-boss role and they knew I was their teacher and not their pal, so we got on well, as long as I worked them on Mondays and Thursdays but played language games with them last period on a Friday. Well you would, wouldn’t you?!

So, having taught them how to picture something in their minds to help remember what a word meant (Picture a fisherman peeing into a river = “pêcheur [the French for fisherman]), we stumbled upon the word for a lobster. I felt they were ready to try and conjure up their own images so proudly announced “OK guys, can someone come up with a picture to help remember that the word for a lobster is “homard” (pronounced OMAR)? Pandemonium! The whole class fell about roaring with laughter. I frantically searched my words to find out what I had said that was so funny. Nothing. I gave in and asked them what was making them laugh. No response but the hilarity continued. I asked again. Wee Kenny at the front sobered up long enough to say “Sorry, Mr. Burton, that’s dead funny but we just can’t tell you why!”

To get to the bottom of this, I resumed the lesson and waited for the class to dismiss at the bell before calling Kenny back just as he was leaving. Alone with him, I asked again what their secret was. Kenny repeated that he couldn’t possibly tell me what it was, but I pleaded with him and promised not to be angry or upset with the reason. “Alright, Mr. Burton, I trust you so here goes. You know some of us watch porn at home?” I nodded as if he had said “cartoons”. “Well, there’s this black guy with the biggest thingy ever on some of these films and his name is Omar! We were all imagining a lobster with its claws snapped shut tight on his most famous bit! Sorry, Mr. Burton, but you said you wouldn’t get angry or tell on me.” I reminded Kenny that we had a deal, we shook hands and he left the classroom still laughing to himself.

You know what, I bet you to this very day no-one in that class ever forget the French for “lobster”!!

People often ask “Did you have a lot of funny moments when you were a teacher?” and the obvious answer is “Of course, many, many crazy things happened.” So I’m going to tell you the funniest thing which occurred not that long before I retired in 2010.

One day I was in the school office at St. Saviour’s High School, filing some reports when an old man buzzed at the by-then-always-locked front door. I pressed the button to let him in and he came over slowly to the sliding hatch window of reception. He was accompanied by a little old lady whom I took to be his wife and they both looked upset if not quite devastated. “How can I help?” I asked. “We need to speak to Danny,” he replied “There’s been a tragedy!” “Danny who?” I asked. “Danny Martin in 4th year”. This set off the alarm bells in my head. Danny, a lovely boy of average ability, had lost his mother only 2 years previous and had required a lot of support to get him through what was for him a hugely difficult period in his life.

Quick as a flash I ushered the couple into the Administration corridor, sat them down in the thankfully empty Boardroom, offered them a cup of tea then excused myself and left in search of Danny’s Guidance teacher Frances. I caught up with her in the library and told her she would need to go and fetch Danny from class and bring him to the Boardroom where his grandparents, who now looked after him, were waiting with what purported to be bad news. I returned to the Boardroom and tried to get an idea of the level of the “tragedy” but neither of the two would say anything other than how horrendous it all was and how would Danny get over this second hammer-blow.

A knock on the door told us Frances had found Danny and brought him to us. In he came, face twisted in anguish even before he heard the news. “Grandad, grandad, what’s happened? Tell me what’s happened” he pleaded. “Oh Danny, Danny it’s awful. It’s a tragedy!” sobbed his grandmother. “Tell me, tell me” Danny repeated. “Oh son, son, “ said grandad. “we’re so sorry. The dog’s eaten the f***ing parrot!!”

Frances and I dived back out into the corridor and attempted to stifle the roars of laughter welling up from inside. I clapped my hand over my own mouth and rushed into my office throwing the door behind me. Frances unfortunately had to sober up at once and go back in to console the now weeping Danny and his distraught grandparents. She put on a good show but admitted later it had been a real struggle. By the time I had recovered enough to go back into the Boardroom, Danny had been led away to the toilet to dry his eyes. I tried my best to give words of consolation to the old couple and it was the Grandad who finished me off with “And it was a right good speaker as well!” I excused myself a second time, claiming I was urgently needed elsewhere and never actually managed to return to see them off the premises. Oh brother, were my sides sore by the end of the day!

You can tell from these two tales that school wasn’t all boring and repetitive, although don’t ask me to go back into the classroom now I’m retired. Oh no, I’ve done my stint, come out of it relatively intact with most of my marbles and have no intention of ever repeating the dose. I leave that to Lady Burton nowadays whose services are clearly much sought-after out here in Vilanova. Mary has done 3 different jobs this year, sometimes working long hours for little reward financially-speaking, but has really enjoyed the experience and is delighted that both the language school “Global Connect” and the Prysmian factory have asked her to continue for the next session starting in early September.

As you know, Greg is getting married to Karen on the second of September but Mary is due to start induction at Global Connect about the sixth so it looks like we’ll be setting off on the road back to Vilanova almost immediately after the wedding. A pity, but needs must! But before that we have the journey home via the Tunnel this time, staying in all sorts of places and circumstances (Falkirk, Tayport, Alyth to mention three) catching up with the family, doing a couple more Munroes with the boys, Greg’s Stag, Karen’s hen Party, Arry’s 3rd birthday then Greg’s wedding. I don’t think we’re going to have much time to catch our breath you know but better that than be bored.

For the last two weeks of July we’re hoping to stay in the Magic Caravan on a site in Alyth recommended by cousins Stef and Renée. This will mean giving the wee caravan a bit of a once-over to make it totally fit for habitation but we’re looking forward to that and can’t wait to get it back to the condition it was in when we were touring Europe3 years ago. Our wonderful “Magic” caravan has been having a rest for the past 2 years on a storage site at the back of Birkhill just north of Dundee. Every time we’re home, we pop in to check it is ok and just sit down for a few minutes to remember how fantastic that tour was. Will we ever do something like that again? Who knows? This is George and Mary after all!

The famous Magic Caravan

The famous Magic Caravan

Just in case I scared you all with tales of blood sugar levels off the charts last post, I should let you know that the regime seems to be working most of the time and I feel fine, although I still think my levels aren’t under control quite yet. But don’t worry, I intend to get a full set of bloods done as soon as I get back to Dundee and we’ll see what the results tell us needs done. In the meantime, I have little or no commitments apart from one more night with Guillem, so if I don’t feel up to anything in particular, I can just stay put and watch the footie which has so far been interesting if not actually enthralling. Events off the field seem to dominate at the moment but I have no intention of stating the bloody obvious as far as English hooligans are concerned. And let’s not forget the despicable behaviour of some Russian fans as well. Pathetic!

The weather is worthy of a mention at this point as it’s full-on typical Spanish Scorchio now with few clouds, blazing sun and ever-increasing temperatures. It’s really off-limits to be outside between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. this month and factor 30 or stronger is a must. You should see the state of the Brits out here in force on holiday with kids who should be at school. Their massive amounts of skin get totally frazzled in this heat then they go and hide their sunburn under a football top. Can’t remember if I’ve told you this before but the Brits are the only people who wear football tops on holiday (other than the obvious kids wearing Barça tops with Messi 10 on the back). I saw a Dutchman with a colourful Feyenoord top the other day but in general it’s only Brits, predominantly English and Irish, who wear what their kids are wearing. How weird is that?

El Prat!

El Prat!

Friends Mike and Het are back home in the Lake District for the summer. I drove them to the airport last Thursday and we promised we’ll try to have a couple of nights with them on our way home at the beginning of July. If it’s as much fun as the last time, we’re in for a treat (but let’s not repeat the new Audi clutch for £1400. Ouch!). That leaves pretty much Mary & I and Walter & Joke as the only ones of our group of friends still here, although Darren, Bob & Sandra are still around as well. Scots Annie has moved in to Sandra’s caravan on F23 at the bottom of the road and we gave her a wee hand to settle in. Joke and I had our final game of golf last Thursday but neither of us played particularly well, probably because it was so very hot out there. We were on our knees by the end of the round which made my round of 66 seem not too bad actually, especially finishing with 5 consecutive 3s after hitting each green with my tee shot. Not a single birdie though.

As Mike was going home last Thursday, he finally persuaded me on the Saturday that Mary was away back in Scotland to give the “boules” tournament a go. I got paired with a Dutch woman and we lost all 3 games. He asked me to try again on the Wednesday and I ended up paired with our friend Kate from Stornoway. Would you believe it, we won all 3 games then won the final! Beginners luck of course. I tried again on Saturday past, got to the final again, mainly due to the other 2 in my team, but we got reamed 10-0! Back down to earth with a bang! Mary must be my lucky mascot as I’ve reached the final both times she has come to watch.

For the first time in her new career, Mary had a works’ night out on Saturday, spending the evening eating tapas and drinking outside in a wee square down in the old town. The whole thing was paid for by the Global Connect people and she had a really nice time with her colleagues. I was very happy for her and left her to finish the evening properly and get a taxi home rather than “queer her pitch” by going to collect her in the Audi.

She even got flowers!

She even got flowers!

Day 4/280: Come what May

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Another “first” for us yesterday morning when we drove to El Prat airport, Mary got out and I drove back to Vilanova alone! Yes, she left me! Fortunately this was not a permanent parting of the waves but merely a weekend trip for Lady Burton back to Scotland to attend a celebration of Auntie Marie’s 70th birthday along with the rest of her family. Hopefully it will be one of many surprises for Marie today in Dunfermline as we’ve kept Mary’s appearance a secret since we sent the RSVP saying she was stuck in Spain with her work.

Another big surprise for our favourite aunt may be to discover that husband Ian and son Mark will actually have stopped crying, something they have abjectly failed to do since their “beloved” Dundee United got exactly what they deserved for selling their best players to Celtic. Being officially relegated to the lower echelons of Scottish football, after losing to my team Dundee at Dens Park, was only the icing on the cake. On a hugely positive note however I am delighted to read that a former pupil of mine and a member of my under-14 team in the 80s at St. Saviour’s High School (holds back a tear!) has become the new manager of the relegated team. Raymond McKinnon was a star player for me at that time and we have kept in touch ever since. I just wish he could bring himself to call me “George” and not the oh-so-formal “Mr. Burton” which he tells me he feels obliged to use. Nice boy, Raymond.

Dundee United's new manager Ray McKinnon

                                                                     Dundee United manager, Raymond McKinnon

So, here I am, wifeless, in a caravan on a campsite in Spain on the weekend of the Vilanova “Temps de Vi”, their annual wine-tasting festival. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Except that, due to a rather unexpected blip in my blood glucose levels, I am on the wagon! No joking! Yes, a couple of days of feeling “strange” prompted me to go and have my sugar levels checked, something you can do for 5 Euros at a chemist’s via a “prick test”. Ok, I’ve set that one up for you, so have a good giggle and then get back to reading the blog. Well, surprise, surprise. My numbers were way too high so I had a low-key day, no alcohol, early to bed and then did a fasting blood test Thursday morning. Would you believe it, the numbers were even higher!

Common sense directed me straight to the doctor’s surgery in town where I was put back on Metformin, the tablets I’d abandoned last summer because they were wrecking my constitution (that’s the politest way of describing their effects!). Only this time I have to take just one tablet, not the 4 that did the nasty on me. Strict non-carb diet and no alcohol were the doctor’s other instructions delivered from behind her glasses with just enough scowl to tell me she meant it! Now if that had been Judith the weathergirl! I’ve to retest my glucose levels in a week or so and hopefully normal service will have been restored. If not it’ll be back to the doctor’s for an “analyso completo”.

So what’s been happening recently? Well, since Gavin, Eve and Arry’s visit, things have been quite busy on the campsite with a sharp increase in squads of holiday makers from all over. We’ve had the Dutch (very direct), the English (noisy), the Scots (some lovely, some plucked from zombie movies) and of course the Irish. This latter group clearly hails from a land with no books or TV as they have a quite inordinate amount of children in tow. One Mum I passed on the way to the shop noticed the obvious look of bewilderment in my eyes as she fought in vain to keep 8 ragamuffins (all under 10) in check. She blushed as I failed to hold back an exaggerated smile and quipped apologetically “Don’t worry, they’re not all mine!” then pointed to a set of ginger-haired twins trying to catch one of the campsite cats. “Those two belong to my wee sister!”

One Scottish family we met from Glasgow were charming indeed and not like Zombies at all, especially the two wee girls Sofia and Noemi, a couple of really cute little poppets who reminded me sharply of granddaughter Arry. So charmed was I that I searched in one of the cupboards and unearthed a reasonable copy of “Socrates the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento” which I signed and dedicated to the girls.

Socrates at the campsite

                Socrates at the campsite

The elder of the two, Sofia, took to the story immediately, so much so that, when they left to spend their last night in a hotel in Barcelona, Dad Anthony simply had to send me his photo of Sofia on the bus, deeply engrossed in the adventure. No sooner was she home than it was in her Primary School for all to read! Anthony even managed to quickly read the story on the flight home and seemed almost as impressed as his daughter.

Shhh! I'm reading1

Shhh! I’m reading!

The main theme this month has undoubtedly been Work. I’ve hardly seen Lady Burton Monday through Thursday due to her substantial commitments to “Global Connect” language school, “San Jordi” Primary school and the Prysmian factory. She has even had to go in on Fridays for In-Service type meetings with her boss and the other teachers. But her efforts are now being amply rewarded and I don’t just mean with filthy lucre! She has been offered work at “Global Connect” for next session starting in early September and the bosses at Prysmian have asked for the classes to be not only continued but actually increased by 2 more hours. I am so proud and impressed with what Mary has achieved out here and I know it’s not everyone who could come out here and adapt so well to the very different circumstances that prevail in Spanish Education circles.

One further sign of her growing confidence is that I’ve been able to stop driving Mary to and fro umpteen times a day to her various classes. That’s because she’s finally got in front of the wheel and now drives herself down into Vilanova town and back up when she finishes. We’ve chosen a big car-park opposite the St. Antoni-Abat hospital for her to park in and this leaves her with a safe walk through the hospital grounds and down a couple of streets to the top of the Rambla where the Global Connect offices are situated. The driving was never the problem in the first case: it was always about finding a place to park, something I also have trouble achieving.

So there we have it. I’m a kept man! About time too! Well, not exactly, as I still have my Monday evenings with Guillem at his house. But I’ve also been doing a couple of airport runs for those who wish (no, I didn’t charge Mary!) and I also did a few hour-long lessons in French with an English girl who wanted a fast-track introduction as she has a job as a skiing-instructor in the Alps. That was quite fun for me too and a brief reminder of what I used to do. Both this girl Hayley and Guillem’s dad Ramon have expressed their satisfaction with what I teach and how I teach it, so maybe I haven’t totally lost whatever I used to have.

As I told you way back, the party scene on the campsite is nothing like it was last year (Thank God!) but we’ve still managed a couple of good evenings with various friends and acquaintances. As a way of saying “thank you” to Betí for her splendid dental skills, Walter the Burgermeister and wife Joke (pronounced Yo-Ke) asked me to arrange a night out for the 6 of us in a bar in town. We had a great night out on the eve of Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Cataluña and wee Guillem was there too. We tried a few beers, played cards and darts and avoided the torrential downpour that threatened to spoil the Fiesta for the revellers. As if it could! I of course remembered to nip out and buy Lady Burton a rose as is traditional for the girls on Sant Jordi, but I have to tell you that she failed to reciprocate with the usual book which all the men receive!

We also had a fine visit to the Biker Bar one Sunday morning in the company of many friends but also with Ramon, Betí and Guillem who, despite being residents of Vilanova, had never been to the famous ranch-house. With so many of us there, large jugs of beer were the order of the day and even Mary tried the amber nectar, something she hardly ever does. I took along a tennis ball so Guillem and I could have a game of “Catch” to keep him occupied and he appeared to enjoy himself.

We’ve seen quite a lot of our friends from Kendal Mike and Het who are pitched up on Section D at the top of the campsite. Mike and I walk up to the tower if possible on Monday mornings and I once managed a game of table-tennis with him and others on a Thursday. He plays in the site Boules tournaments Wednesdays and Saturdays but I’ve so far resisted his persuasive powers to join in a game I don’t quite “get”. We had a cracking good sing-song evening up at Mike & Het’s about 2 weeks ago and met quite a few new faces, French, Dutch and English, all of whom seemed to enjoy belting out songs from the 60s and 70s, including a couple of Kinks numbers I’ve only learned recently.

Mike, Kate, Mary, Dave, Het

Mike, Kate, Mary, Dave, Het

It was at one of the evenings with Mike & Het and Kate & Dave who sold us the caravan that I began to feel a bit queer and before I knew it I was laying in Kate’s spare room having a snooze. I was well enough when I awoke to join in, but I kept the alcohol to a minimum. It was a good evening apart from my wee “turn” although we took it in turns to bang our heads off the low-hanging light over the table. Here’s Mary trying to outdo us all!

The Lady of the Lamp

The Lady of the Lamp

To keep fit I’ve been playing both tennis and golf. My tennis partner is Darren, a London boy, two up from us. He comes here with his elderly Mum and his sister Cindy and they recently had 3 weeks in Miami to celebrate his Mum’s birthday. As you do! At the moment we only play 1 set but will gradually build that up after the summer as the temperatures begin to cool down. Oh I haven’t said the obvious i.e. the real hot weather is back to stay and we spend short spells out in it before seeking the shade of the big tree on our pitch. God knows how you survive out here in July and August!

The golf has followed on from the regular foursome I was part of when Fred, Dick and Jeremy were here. As they’re long gone, I’ve hooked up with Joke and we play on a Thursday afternoon at 1 o’clock when the course is nice and quiet. She hits a mean ball herself, averaging around 72 for the 18 holes (albeit par 3s) while I have improved a lot and already have 2 rounds of 60 to be proud of. On the last round I hit my tee-shot to 1 foot away on the hole that Fred aced back in March. My ambition will now be to break 60 but that could be a while yet ….. if ever!

The Krankies!

The Krankies!

Two Tuesdays ago Mike and I decided to really stretch our legs by walking past the tower and on to the Puig de l’Aliga which sits behind Montgros and above the next town to us, Vilafranca del Penedes. With blue skies and soaring temperatures we headed off at nine o’clock and plodded up the hills to the peak at 1500 feet then made our way slowly back. We didn’t actually realize the total distance would be 14 miles (23 kms) and we were well knackered by the time we got back around 3 p.m. I think I may have overdone it a bit that day and I haven’t quite been 100% since, so no more long walks in the near future.

Mike at the top

Mike at the top

But I needed a seat!

But I needed a seat!

I’m very happy to announce that Greg passed his driving test at the second time of asking, securing his job on the estate where he works. And he already has his own car, a wee Fiat Punto we all helped him buy. Congratulations Greg and enjoy your new-found freedom! It’s only 3 months until Greg ties the knot with Karen and that will be the highlight of the summer when we get back. Speaking of which, we still have some weeks with nowhere other than Scott’s flat to stay, so if anyone in or around Dundee has a room or a whole house they need looking after while they’re away, we would be delighted to help you out and could even donate to your holiday! But let us know soon please!

Funny little coincidence no. 106: I’ve just paused to reread the last paragraph and noticed that the word count is 1953, the year I was born! It’s now 1979 George’s birth, no 1986 Greg’s birth, no 1990 World Cup in Italy Nessun Dorma!! I think I’ll go and lie down in a darkened room for a while now if you don’t mind.

Before I go, I should mention another tick on the Bucket List when “Wee Georgie” started to appear in the local Dundee Courier as the daily serial. Originally this was what had been planned for the book but of course getting it on sale in Waterstones changed all that. However the new exposure to the public has had great effect on my online sales which have jumped to new highs both in paperback and on Kindle. “Georgie” and “Wee Georgie” have recently been nos. 1 & 2 on the Scottish memoirs list of best-sellers. I’m also really pleased that all those older folk who don’t get down the town nor use social media now have the chance to read my books just by buying the local daily newspaper. Thank you D C Thomson.

Coincidence again was to the fore last week. By the way, on the golf course in Spain, we had noticed that a wayward shot flying towards an unsuspecting head would be accompanied by a shout of “Hola!” causing us to respond in kind. All very well until a Spanish acquaintance informed us that they’re actually shouting “Bola!” meaning golf ball! That explains the strange looks we were getting! But back to coincidence. After a French lesson with Hayley down at her Mum’s chalet I cut back through a particular section of the site and made for the ramp which leads to our section which is F. As I passed the end motor home, a guy walked round from the back. I glanced his way, looked away, looked back, looked closer and shouted out “Gerry!” It was none other than Gerry Carolan who was also a Depute Headteacher like I was in St. Paul’s Academy Dundee up until I retired in 2010.

Well naturally we settled down with Mary and his wife Moira (ex-Science Teacher at St. Paul’s too!) for a great catch-up on how things had been since. They’re both retired now and take every opportunity to get away in the motor home. Gerry said he knew we were out in Barcelona but had no idea we lived on Vilanova Park as he didn’t use Facebook to communicate. Unfortunately they had already been here a week without meeting up with us and they left the following morning. However, they’ve promised to come back when they can and we look forward to seeing them again.

I watched three cup-finals in the one weekend recently and I must admit the Scottish one was the best by a mile. A great game with the result in doubt right up to the whistle, but it was a pity it all went pear-shaped at the end with the encroachment onto the field of play and the violence which followed. The Non-Scots out here could not believe their eyes and ears and I did for once feel a bit embarrassed by it all. On the other hand, the FA Cup Final was mince and it was shocking to hear that the winning manager Louis Van Gaal got the sack immediately afterwards for his efforts. The Copa del Rey on the Sunday wasn’t all that great a spectacle either but it was nice that the Blaugrana of Barcelona took the trophy and completed a Liga and Copa double.

We’re already preparing to come home and have done some quite good spring-cleaning. Mary finishes work about 23 June and we hope to have perhaps another week here as a bit of a holiday before setting off. The caravan will go back into storage up the road at the farm and we’ll be driving back in the Audi. Looking forward to a fish supper!

 

Day 4/256: Y’know wot I mean, Arry?

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One of our greatest wishes was fulfilled two Sundays ago when son Gavin and his wife Eve stepped off the plane at Barcelona airport in the company of our only granddaughter Artemis (from now on known simply as “Arry”).They were likely very excited at the prospect of 6 days of Spanish sun on our campsite at Vilanova Park, but I doubt if their own expectations came anywhere near the sense of anticipation Mary and I had as their arrival approached. Living out here 10 months of the year, people are always asking if we miss the family. Of course we do, and our two grandchildren at least as much as our four sons. So we absolutely couldn’t wait for the Arbroath Burtons to find time off work to get over here and check the place out.

Our first surprise was when they walked through the arrivals lounge where I was waiting for them. Because they didn’t just have a big case, a big kit bag and a cute little case for Arry. No. Gavin was also steering an airport trolley laden with a child’s buggy and a full-sized child’s car seat. Safety First indeed! Hugs and kisses exchanged, we squeezed their belongings into the Audi, strapped the bairn into the well-travelled seat, found room in the back for Gavin and Eve too and drove off back down the road to Vilanova. The sun was out and it was cosy despite a stiff breeze, helping to immediately lift everyone’s spirits to holiday level. As usual I employed the tactic of talking to the adults first while acknowledging Arry’s presence from time to time to give her the chance to settle to her new situation. It worked fine and the wee pet was soon fast asleep!

She's just resting her eyes

She’s just resting her eyes

Once checked in and inside their chalet, they were delighted to discover that the grandparents had stocked the cupboards and the fridge in advance, meaning that a welcome beer was called for. The rest of the day was a chance for them to get to know our caravan, the facilities at the park and meet some of our friends from all over. Gav and I watched some football up at the bar while Mary took Eve and Arry around the campsite, showing off the swimming pools and play-parks. We had planned to have tea together but the need for a catch-up sleep rather dictated events and our guests were early to bed having grabbed chicken and chips at the takeaway.

Monday is a long working day for Lady Burton but I had the day off from my lesson with Guillem so it was left to Granddad to show them around and take them where they wanted to go. Lidl was high up that list and I think they were really quite impressed both with the food and drink and the prices. Much cheapness! Before tea we drove down to the beach and paid a visit to the Cow out on the breakwater, which also gave Arry the opportunity to check out her new “Frozen” bucket, spade and rake. With only a little help from Mum, she was able to produce two or three excellent sandcastles but we didn’t spend too long down there as the breeze was colder than you might think.

After tea, Gavin and I came round to the caravan to watch a live stream of the hugely important Dundee v Dundee United derby game with the latter’s continuation in Scotland’s Premier Division dependant on the outcome. Although happy that my team, Dundee, came out on top by two goals to one, I was also quite sad that the other half were officially relegated to the Championship for next season and maybe longer. That I suppose is what you get when you sell all your best players to a rival team in your own league, one reason I have little sympathy for United’s eventual freefall and none at all for their supporters who tortured our fans for years when we fell on hard times. Things have now turned full circle and, to coin a description used over the past 20 years by United fans to mock their neighbours from across the road “Dundee are having a party, the United fans are in their beds!”

Tuesday stayed fine and we all had a swim. However we opted for the heated indoor pool, none of us willing to brave the fierce chill of its outdoors counterparts. It was hot but not that hot! Wee Arry had a ball in the pool and displayed great energy splashing around in her uber-cute Peppa Pig wings. Typically, I managed to attract the unwanted attention of a young French boy who somehow thought I wanted him to depth-charge me from the poolside every time I looked away. I have no idea why he did this but my fierce stare and surprisingly fluent use of a couple of French swear words seemed to do the trick. Arry and we continued to get closer as she became more confident that we weren’t a couple of child-snatchers! I managed to get her to come away with me in search of pine cones and butterflies (standard kiddies interest objects) but she suddenly decided she hadn’t seen her Mummy for over a minute and trotted back to the chalet.

After dropping Mary at the Prysmian factory on Wednesday morning at nine o’clock, the four of us took the train to Barcelona Franca station from where we were only a couple of hundred metres from the entrance to ……. the Zoo! The sun was still shining that day and we had a lovely time looking at the animals. Unfortunately, after a wee tantrum, Arry decided to have a nap, a fairly long nap, meaning she missed some of what was on offer, but she was awake not long after our lunch and able to see the big cats, the giraffes, rhinos and elephants. On the train home, she and I had a great game of “Is that a bus?” in which she extended her replies from “No, granddad, that’s a car!” to “No, granddad, that’s a lorry!” and even “No, granddad, that’s a train!” She must have thought I was awfully stupid!

Stripey horses?

Stripy horses?

Vultures, my favourites. Not!

Vultures, my favourites. Not!

We treated ourselves to a set meal up at the restaurant in the evening and it was then that Eve became aware of the children’s disco outside. A quick investigation with child sold the whole concept to Arry who spent the next hour dragging each of us in turn out onto the dancing area where she strutted her tiny stuff like a professional. Granddad was called into service to gyrate – slowly – to the song “Lollipop” and that was it for the rest of the holiday, a constant “Granddad, you do lollipop and I dance”. As a direct consequence, her exertions provided her parents with an unexpected lie-in when she slept a solid 10 hours or so. I think Eve and Gavin are now hoping a neighbour will start up a child disco EVERY night once they are back in Arbroath.

Classic family pose!

Classic family pose!

We left the visitors to themselves on Thursday until I had tea with them and we headed back to the disco for Arry’s sake but, tragically, we were too late and had to amuse her ourselves. Mary and Eve got her to bed later and then Mary babysat, giving the grateful parents an hour to themselves at the bar. I meanwhile swanned off to a wee get-together of some of my friends, had a couple of wines and passed myself off as a Frenchman to an English mother and her daughter who is now seeking me out for French lessons! Isn’t life sometimes surreal?

The road is so comfortable!

The road is so comfortable!

Friday was the last day’s holiday for our family so we spent it together doing family things. Arry by now was my best friend, illustrating this by waving bye-bye to her parents and leading me round to our caravan where she spent an hour investigating the awning, the caravan itself, our beds, both bench-seats and the cats outside. Even the arrival of a spot of rain did nothing to curb her new enthusiasm and that evening she was rewarded by another session at the wee disco. We even got there on time! She danced and she danced, affording us all the opportunity to take photos, shoot video and generally grin at her doing her moves. A great night was had by us all and we finished with a drink back at the chalet.

See you, granddad!

See you, granddad!

Honest, it was her idea!

Honest, it was her idea!

Dancing Queen

Dancing Queen

Waiting in line for a lollipop

Waiting in line for a lollipop

Saturday was a rainy, early start as we had to be back at the airport for nine o’clock. Gavin’s determination to leave the chalet in pristine condition ensured we were at the airport by nine-forty however and we had to keep the farewells to a minimum to let them get checked in and away. Gavin later admitted they just made it and were the last on the plane. On the way back to Vilanova, I took Mary to Gava shopping centre and let her spend some of her hard-earned cash. She did, and she was very happy doing it. I sat and listened to a school band in the Centre and just relaxed. That was nice!

We loved that visit from Gavin, Eve and the gorgeous Artemis. We are missing them already, but looking forward to getting together when we get back to Scotland in early July. Until then we’ll have to make do with the photos we took and the memories we have. Thank you kids! Thank you Artemis! I’ll stop now as I think there’s something in my eye.

Bonding

Bonding

 

Top of the Charts!

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This is another of these posts designed for all my readers who don’t use Facebook (with a teeny apology to those of you who do).

I was told to expect a peak of interest in my books once “Wee Georgie” started in our local newspaper The Dundee Courier as their daily serial. That was on Monday past and it seems that what I was told may well be happening. This is a screenshot of today’s bestsellers list of Scottish memoirs at  Waterstones. There are 103 books on that list and it shows “Wee Georgie” at no.1 and the follow-up “Georgie” at no.2. “Wee Georgie” is also no. 25 out of 1163 books on the British memoirs list!

This is all the more impressive as the books are only on sale in the Dundee Waterstones while the others are available all over in all Waterstones’ stores! I am indebted to the great people of Dundee and surrounding area for their massive support for my work.

Thank you all.

The old 1-2!

The old 1-2!

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