Hi everyone. Not long to go now before we set off on our European and perhaps world adventure!
January 22, 2017
As this title might just suggest, it’s been a busy old time out here just lately. The surprise is that the weather hasn’t actually improved much since I last reported on it and it remains overcast and rainy or clear and cold. The last few days have delivered an icy Siberian blast to Cataluña and, although we haven’t had any snow (yet), we have experienced single figures during daylight and less than 5°C once the sun has set, which is around 18.00. So coats, scarves and even woolly hats have been the order of the day but, once cosy inside them, you can still sit out when the sun is shining.
For the first time we can remember, the possibility of inclement weather has caused us a problem with our annual Burns celebration which is due to take place next Friday afternoon. At present the forecast is for heavy rain that day so we are considering moving it back a week even though preparations are well under way. We have the soup, the stovies ingredients and the haggis, our friend Jeanette is making shortbread and whisky sauce and another friend Elaine who did a poem for us last year is going to do a fruit salad. Mary is busy with the compilation of a music playlist including pipes for playing in the haggis and tunes to accompany the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant. I’ll be addressing the haggis and reciting Tam O’Shanter while other guests will regale us with Burns’ poems. Scots Annie intends to sing “My Love is like a red, red Rose”.
Our weekly golf challenge has started up again although the rain scuppered it this week. Last week, Darren and I triumphed 5&3 against our rivals Fred and Jeremy but, if the truth be told, we only won because my partner played really well while the rest of us couldn’t hit ourselves over the head with our clubs! I personally scored my highest ever total (79) for the 18 par-3s while our opponents just couldn’t put it together at all so Darren’s 67 was easily good enough to see us home. The weather that day was excellent however and we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll around the course. My Fitbit clocked me 5000 steps for the round and, added to the 11000 on Wednesday when Jeremy and I went up the hill to the Watchtower, my waistline is ever-so slowly receding and my weight is staying in check. A hearty breakfast, a salad lunch and a medium-portion dinner seem to be leading me in the right direction and I must admit I feel pretty good. Take a look!
We have come back to discover that Scouser Dave, the guy who organizes the winter entertainment, has had to return to Blighty after a wee heart attack put him in hospital here during our absence. Long-term residents Chris & Lise have taken up the reins and we’re all hoping they’ll soon have the nightly events back up and running, especially the Monday Bingo which so many folk on the campsite like to play. Tuesday is cards night, Wednesday is the meal followed by the quiz, Thursday is live music and Friday is Fish ‘n’ Chips Night with a BOGOF bar.
Tuesday was the feast of Tres Tombs here in Vilanova, a celebration of St. Antoni Abat, the town patron. It’s just another excuse for the locals to have a day off, let off fireworks, dress up and prance around on horses. We’d seen it before but just couldn’t resist going to have another look. Those twirly fireworks are really scary and loud and, because of a total lack of H&S measures around here, you get showered with hundreds of big, white sparks as they pass. We did notice that they don’t appear to be hot however and nobody ever seems to get burned, although they do shelter their eyes when possible. I didn’t take any chances however and just ran away when the fiery dragon approached!
Thanks to one of our friends Jan, I have a new job! There’s a family from England onsite who have taken their kids out of school for 18 months so they can travel around and see a bit of Europe. They are home-schooled but their parents want them to learn Spanish while they’re here. That’s where I come in! Daisy & Annie are 7 and 8 respectively and both are as bright as buttons. Our first 2 hours have been excellent and they appear to really enjoy the way I do things so are looking forward to the lessons almost as much as I am. I of course give them homework for in between the lessons so I’m hoping to advance them fairly quickly to mastering the basics of Spanish. Jan also fixed me up with an English couple who needed a legal document in French checked over prior to the purchase of a house in France, so I did that for them but refused payment. They are however treating me to the dinner next Wednesday evening. Poor Mary’s working!
The big news on the television front is that I’ve finally cracked the satellite problem and can proudly boast to receiving UK Freeview on my television in the caravan. This is a major success for me and something I’ve been keen to do since I read about it a couple of years ago after they pulled the plug on reception of UK TV over here. The trick is to pinpoint a backup satellite they have at 27.5° West (most satellites are so many degrees East), download the channels and then install a code which does a job on the encryption and makes the channels viewable. I’m using Fred’s Technomate receiver which he bought for this very purpose but couldn’t get to work from his pitch: I’ll probably buy it off him now.
Things have been relatively quiet on the campsite itself, what with the bad weather and all, but we have managed a couple of drinks up at the bar now and again, plus a wee late session with Jeremy at Darren’s the other night when our host brought out a cheeky wee bottle of the Macallan! I don’t drink whisky very often but can be seriously tempted by a single malt of that quality. I do hope that wasn’t the only bottle he had in his cupboard!
So, the Donald is now President Trump. Whilst he might not be my personal preference for the man with the nuclear codes, there are plenty folk over here who think he’ll do a good job for USA citizens and industry. They like the Isolationist tone of his policies and think it’s about time the people of the country he governs were made a high priority. This point of view is similar to that of those who chose to vote for Brexit and, again although not my own opinion, the people have spoken and decided they don’t want to be quite so helpful to others elsewhere while there are so many needy at home. They may have a point but must beware of turning their philosophy into stark racism which would eventually endanger all of us. Populism and Nationalism in 1930s Germany grew into something we ought never to forget.
While President Trump is building his wall on the border with Mexico, the rest of us can get on with enjoying our lives and trying to bring a little happiness into the lives of others. The boys and their families do that for us and so they should after us putting up with 4 doses of “The Teenage Years”. They are now all human again and getting on with making a life for themselves and their families. Greg and Karen are settling down as tenants of our flat back in Dundee while Scott and Keira are doing well after moving in together just after Christmas. George is enjoying his new job in Dundee and Gavin has passed his latest exams in his Diploma of Legal Studies on the way to becoming a lawyer. Well done, boys, we are very proud of the four of you.
Our great friends Tom and Margareth still haven’t managed back to Vilanova yet due to health issues. We really miss them and hope they will soon bounce back and brighten our lives over here. The same goes for our other Dutch pals, Walt and Joke, who are still wintering in Rotterdam. Joke has had her hip operation and seems to be recovering well so hopes to be out on the golf course with me before long. I hope so too (Never seen anyone hit a drive so straight and true so regularly as our Joke. What a girl!). I also miss my philosophical chats over a bottle of San Miguel with Walt and I admire the way he conducts himself. Good luck to all four of our Dutch pals.
Prices are on the up in Spain, not as high as the sad lot from Marbella would have you believe, but rising nonetheless. Before Christmas, a litre of diesel was just under 1 Euro but it is now Euro 1.10 at the supermarkets and dearer elsewhere. We haven’t noticed the price-rises actually inside the supermarkets yet but we’re probably spending a wee bit more than we used to. Added to the Pound still lingering around the Euro 1.16 mark and it’s a fact my pension doesn’t go as far as it did pre-Brexit vote. Still, I can rely on Mary working extra classes now and again (she really does!) to keep the wolf away from the door and my new teaching role on the campsite won’t do any harm either.
Last Thursday, just after my lesson with Daisy & Annie, I took part in the first official game of Walking Football at Vilanova Park. There were 6 participants, five Brits and Dutch Norbert, and we managed a sedate 3-a-side which I settled with a cool slot into the corner – of my own goal! – giving Fred’s team a 6-5 victory. Unfortunately Fred will ensure I never hear the end of it so I’ll need to hope we’re on opposite sides until I can get my own back. Having canvassed about 100 caravans, I have promises of participation next Tuesday from 4 more guys, a Dane and 3 Dutchmen all called Henk! How strange is that?
Sorry for the lack of photos on this post. The opportunities just haven’t been coming, but here’s the goats playing on the logs in the woodyard opposite our pitch.
January 11, 2017
Happy New Year to all my readers! It’s already 11 January and Lady Burton and I are back in Vilanova. We flew in last Friday, the feast of the Epiphany, which is the present-giving day here in Spain, precipitating parades and general fun all round. That’s two years in a row that we’ve flown back on the very day, thereby missing the spectacle both in Vilanova and in Barcelona. Mary has since suggested we try to return a couple of days earlier next year to ensure we can participate in the festival and not just hear how good it was.
The weather since we returned has been excellent with clear blue skies and lots of sun during the daytime, allowing the temperature to climb gradually up to 12, 13, 14 or even 15 degrees by mid-afternoon. But it’s a different story when the sun goes down, as the temperature plummets rapidly down into single figures between 4 and 8 degrees by bedtime. Yes there really is winter in Catalunya and we wouldn’t be all that surprised to see a drop of snow before the month’s out. The compensation is of course being able to sit out during daylight hours if we want, even taking off our jumpers if there’s no wind. The neighbours do this a lot but we seldom do as we’re not really sun worshippers to tell the truth.
So, how were the Christmas and New Year festivities for you? We hope you had a good time and enjoyed at least a few moments of genuine peace and tranquility. Ours was a tale of calm over here in the build-up to Christmas, what with Mary working so much and me back on the laptop working on my next project, but that all changed quickly once we were back in Scotland on the 23 December. We flew with Vueling this time, a budget airline owned by Iberia Airways and British Airways. Their prices are in line with Ryanair but they fly into and out of Barcelona El Prat at much more reasonable hours, leaving you feeling human at least.
This Christmas we decided to spend it in Falkirk with our youngest son Scott and it turned out to be a good choice. On Christmas Eve, we found a church not too far away and went to 7 p.m. Mass in a place we had never been before. As we entered the back door, one of the ushers turned round and said “George Burton, what are you doing here?” which rocked me back on my heels. He turned out to be Frank, a former friend of my former friend Abe Gallacher, and one of the original “Lofty Peakers” Munro-bagging group with whom I went out on the hills for several years in the 90s. What a ridiculous coincidence, eh?
After Mass, Scott drove us to a pub to meet up with his girlfriend Keira and her parents Gordon and Lorna. We had a lovely evening with them over a couple of drinks and they were kind enough to invite us over for Christmas breakfast in the morning. So, once presents had been opened on the big day, off we drove over to their house where we enjoyed a full Scottish breakfast, strangely minus the eggs which were somehow forgotten in their whirlwind of preparing both the breakfast and the Christmas meal for twelve I think. Anyway, thank you Keira’s parents for being so generous to us on such a busy day.
Back at Scott’s, I set about cooking the stuff I’d asked him in an email to order in advance for Christmas and Boxing Day. I emphasize “order” not “order and pay” as I found out when I went to pick up the items at his local butcher! Thanks for that, son, I’ll get back the £25 from the money-tree which grows on our pitch out here in Vilanova. At least the one I assume you think grows there. Joking apart though, we had a traditional Christmas meal of prawn cocktail, tomato soup, chicken with untraditional haggis and Mediterranean vegetables (I’ll do that again!), followed by trifle and mincemeat pies. As is always the case, we only had a couple of drinks with the meal as we don’t have the habit of having a bevvy at Christmas. After the meal, Scott went off to see Keira while we slumped on the couch in front of the TV. No games, no children, no sing-songs. Bliss!
Boxing Day turned out quite differently from what we had anticipated. We noted early on that Scott was quite anxious about moving house the next day so we got stuck in and blitzed his flat for hours, including a breakneck trip to our flat in Dundee to deposit items he couldn’t take with him. After a pause for our steak pie meal, we ferried boxes to the new place and pretty much cracked the whole thing by bedtime. Despite all of this, Scott was still a cat on hot bricks the following morning so thank God we were around to keep a lid on things. By 11 o’clock in the morning, Scott’s flat was empty and we were able to get our train to Dundee soon afterwards.
So that’s that. The last of our four ducklings has fled the nest and found someone to spend his time with. We both wish them well and it looks like they’re starting off in a much better situation than either Mary or I did all those years ago. When I think back to the first flat I ever had in 1976 at 150 Hilltown, well, it wasn’t exactly Buckingham Palace if you get my drift! Dark, damp, dingy, dull and loads of other words beginning with “D” would best describe it.
It was wonderful to get back into our present flat again after so long out. It looked and felt great and we were happy we hadn’t let it out again after the previous tenants had left at the end of September. Once again, we were amazed at the brilliant views from the windows of the flat, South over the River Tay to Fife, North round to the famous Dundee Law and East down over the entire city of Dundee to Broughty Ferry and beyond. The West aspect over Balgay Park and Hill is probably our favourite as the hundreds of trees keep changing their colours as the year advances, giving us a new panorama every few weeks. We will never regret buying our flat and have no intentions of ever selling it either.
Mary’s Mum was kind enough to invite us over for tea that night along with other members of the family and I was able to have a wee drink, the last one I would have for a while as, the following morning, I went into town to pick up the car I’d hired online. I got a brand-new Corsa 1.4 which served our purposes perfectly, although Lady Burton found the heated seats by far the most important part of the equipment. Making Mary a second driver would have doubled the cost of the hire so I decided I would go it alone this time. It sure kept me off the drink!
Thanks again to Scott, 29 December dawned as the day we had invited the whole Burton family over to the flat to celebrate Christmas together. They all dutifully trooped in from about midday onwards and by four in the afternoon every single member was draped around the sofa ready for the first ever photograph of George and Mary Burton, their 4 boys, their partners and their offspring. The head count was 13 and what a bonny bunch they made!
It was during a conversation with son Greg and his wife Karen that I suggested it might just be possible for them to rent the flat while we’re in Spain rather than us find a stranger to occupy it. I said this as I’d been worried about the place they had in Montrose, a nice enough ground-floor flat but in a quite dodgy neighbourhood. Well, to cut a long story short, we quickly came to an agreement on the details and they moved in the day we left to come back to Vilanova. The test was always going to be whether or not Greg could get to his work on the estate in Arbroath without undue hassle and I’m happy to report that his first journey yesterday went smoothly and took only 10 minutes longer than he’s been used to.
Back to that get-together of the Burton clan, I spent most of my time of course playing with the grandchildren Benjamin and Artemis. They absolutely exhausted me, especially with their appetite for bouncing games on Grandad George’s bed, but needless to say I was over the moon really and loved every single minute with them. I must have made an impression because both of them asked their parents if they could sleep at Grandad’s house (which lack of pyjamas and toothbrushes prevented) but I was secretly chuffed they had even asked!
A great highlight for me was on Hogmanay when 3 generations of loyal ‘Dee supporters (George, Ben and I) went to the Dundee v St. Johnstone football match at Dens Park. It was several years since I’d been there, other than for Amateur Cup Finals 5-10 years ago, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed the match in the company of my eldest son and my 5-year old grandson (and also because Dundee won 3-0.) We were seated in the west stand and I noted I was situated only metres from the spot (standing of course!) where, in the company of my late Dad Frank, I’d watched Dundee knock 8 goals past FC Cologne in the European Cup in the autumn of 1962. I was nine at the time and that match made me a fervent football fan for life.
Before we knew it, the Bells were striking midnight and for the second year in a row Mary and I celebrated the arrival of the next chapter alone in our flat watching the BBC Scotland programmes and getting all nostalgic. Somehow that’s ok these days and, as much as we loved the wonderful New Year spectacles down in the city square, the trooping from house to house often in the snow, the alcoholic haze and the tortuous sing-songs, it’s our personal preference to bring the New Year in quietly, now that all the boys are off doing their own thing. C’est la vie!
The New Year is traditionally a time to take stock of yourself and make loads of promises about getting fitter and healthier. We are no exception and, while Lady Burton has decided she has lots of nice clothes she needs to get into, so has abandoned the excesses of the Christmas period, I have pledged to eat healthily, take lots of exercise (I was up the watchtower with Jeremy at 10 this morning) and take all my tablets correctly after my latest blood sugar results were less than perfect. It seems that, just because I feel good, I mustn’t stop taking them! Duh!!
So 2017 came in like a lamb and we’ve no idea how it’s going to go out. One thing is for sure: we should expect the unexpected! Maybe there’ll be more than 13 of us next Hogmanay and it’s always possible there could even be fewer of us by the time the Bells strike. Maybe that’s the real reason why we all have to get on with living our lives and trying to bring a little happiness into this crazy old world we live in. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change very, very quickly. Apart from wiping out half the greatest pop stars of yesteryear (Bowie, Prince, Parfitt etc), last year brought us two of the biggest voting surprises of all time, turning the predictions of so-called experts on their heads. Whether I agreed or not, the people of the UK and the USA spoke out and forced change away from the old regime. I just hope they know what they are doing.
R.I.P. Rick Parfitt
The rest of our trip to Dundee was a long list of visits, here, there and everywhere. We had lunch with Mary’s Mum on New Year’s Day, had an evening with Uncle Gerard next door, took Ben to see Renée and Stef, had dinner with Gavin, Artemis, Eve and her parents up in Arbroath and had a night out in the pub with Mary’s cousin Ann, the only time we were in a pub in the whole 2 weeks! The weather remained mild other than a couple of cold days, there was no snow whatsoever and it hardly rained at all, in sharp contrast to last year’s visit when it rained pretty much continuously.
On 6 January we made our way back to the campsite in Vilanova via a hired car, a train, a tram, an aeroplane, a bus and a friend’s car. The journey was faultless (it nearly always is) and in no time at all we were having our tea in the caravan. We discovered that, although the weather here is much warmer during daylight hours, the temperature tends to plummet rapidly as darkness falls and it doesn’t feel all that different from back home in Dundee. Today, 11 January, Mary is back at work and I’ve already done an evening with Guillem. Invitations are going out for our Burns’ Day/Night on Friday 27 January and I’m looking to start up a Walking Football Club among the residents of the campsite for those who love the game but can’t run any more, like me!
Well, that’s the Christmas update complete. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2017 for yourselves and your families and remember to only worry about things you can actually change. There’s no point in stressing over things beyond your influence. You’ll just get older quicker!
I leave you as I often do with my granddaughter.
December 9, 2016
I really must apologise to you all for the gap between my last post and this one, a gap of more than 3 months. Believe it or not, the main problem has been the amount of time I’ve been spending …….. On the blog!!
I’ll explain. With Wee Georgie and Georgie on the shelves and ticking over nicely, and with Socrates 1 sold out and Socrates 2 at illustration stage, I have embarked on a new project to turn the first year of the blog into a Travelogue. This involves taking each day of the 284 days in it, removing personal bits, adding or rewriting other bits and putting them together for the first time in a single document.
So far I have done the first 100 days and accumulated 80,000 + words which is more than either of my two memoirs. I like what I am writing but don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with it once I”ve completed the 284 days. That would be an awfully big book you know and that doesn’t include the photos, all of which I’ve temporarily removed. We’ll just have to see what happens.
My cousin Renée’s granddaughter Becky has drawn the first version of the illustrations for Socrates 2 and over the next few weeks will be making adjustments and finalising them prior to inclusion in the new book which I’m hoping to publish around Easter 2017. She’s done brilliantly for one so young and I have every confidence in her ability to draw what I see in my head. Well done, Becky!
This Autumn in Vilanova has been relatively quiet compared to earlier years but that’s to be expected with me writing and Mary working 20 + hours per week. She has been very busy, such that we haven’t managed our weekly trips on a Friday as we had planned to do. But Lady Burton is quite content with her lot and enjoys the classes she teaches this year as well as the individual lessons with the big managers and CEO at the Prysmian factory.
We’re both in good health (touch wood!) except for a touch of laryngitis Mary had for a couple of weeks which thankfully she is now over. And as she has holidays for the Immaculate Conception here in Spain, we have come to Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava for a 2-day break to escape the caravan. Fortunately the weather is beautiful all this week so we are taking advantage of it to relax and enjoy our time away.
I’ve loads more I could tell you about the past 3 months but I thought I’d just let you know we are alive and kicking out here. We’re flying home to Dundee for 2 weeks of festive fun and hope to catch up with some of you during that time although the priority will be to see the boys and the grandchildren. Ben has started school at Mary’s former Primary School St. Peter & Paul’s while Arry is in Nursery Class at Colliston Primary School. They’re both thriving it seems and we can’t wait to see them again.
I’ll leave you with the view from our hotel this morning. Have a great Xmas, everyone, and a happy, holy 2017.
September 6, 2016
I thought I’d give you an idea of how the journey back to Spain is organised. It’s not rocket science but it does need to be done carefully to keep problems to a minimum. The big difference this year is that I have to drive most of the way on my own as Mary has already flown back so she could start her training yesterday.
Greg & Karen got married up in Edzell on Friday 2 September. We had a great day and everything went really well. We stayed at the wedding hotel that night along with the happy couple and George, Fiona and Ben. The following morning we all had breakfast together then said goodbye to each other and went our respective ways.
For Mary and I, that meant driving straight down to Newcastle so she could catch a flight to Barcelona on the Sunday morning. It also meant we had already packed the Audi with all the stuff we were taking back to Spain so room was at a premium. When we made our usual comfort stop in Lauder just south of Edinburgh, I asked Mary to drive for a bit to let me have 40 winks, but she got right in the spirit and drove the rest of the way to Cullercoats north of Newcastle where her sister and family live.
The next morning I dropped Mary at the airport then had lunch with my Auntie Pat who lives close by in Ponteland. We had a lovely catch-up and she served up a delicious salad just as I had suggested. This tells you it’s back to healthy eating after one too many onion bridies, chicken curries and fish suppers over the summer! After lunch, I drove a further 100 miles down to Leeds to spend the night with Uncle Terry and Auntie Ellen.
They as always made me more than welcome but I was able to treat them to tea in a pub as it would be their 57th wedding anniversary the next day. I also caught up on all their news and was delighted that they are both well and looking forward to moving in to their new bungalow (which they’ve had built in their garden!)
Up with the lark on Monday, Ellen served me up a cooked breakfast before we hugged each other farewell and I headed south in the Audi. But only as far as Doncaster where, with the help of Victoria the SatNav girl, I found the house of the person from whom we had won a new awning in an eBay auction. I chucked it in the back seat, paid up and hit the A1M south. My journey was incident-free and I cruised around the M25, over the Dartford Crossing, down the M20 and into the Channel Tunnel terminus.
Indeed I got on a train 30 minutes earlier than the one I’d booked which you can do if there’s room (which there usually is). I think I nodded off during the crossing but in the blink of an eye I was in Sangatte on the edge of Calais. Yes, that’s the Calais which was being brought to a standstill by protesters moaning about the refugee camps. There were lorries and tractors everywhere and normal movement was impossible but the police sneaked us down wee roads and the wrong way along one-way streets until we could use the further parts of the motorways.
I arrived at my hotel in Laon just after nine in the evening, had the food I’d bought en route and went to bed just after ten-thirty. After a brief chat with Mary to find out how her first day back had gone, it was lights out and Hello Sandman. I slept quite well, waking at six then turning over until eight. Breakfast was a bowl of Cheerios I’d brought with me and I’d even remembered to buy milk in a motorway shop.
By ten o’clock, I’d been to Carrefour supermarket, bought my lunch and tea and filled the tank again. The weather continued to be very poor with a thick shroud of mist hanging over the entire north of France but I was hoping it would improve the further south I drove. The actual route I had perused the previous night in bed was a choice between south-west to Paris, around the edge of the capital then due south via Orleans or south to Rheims, through the Champagne region to Troyes (not the wooden horse one!) over to Auxerre then the Bourges road before taking the free motorway south to Clermont-Ferrand.
I opted for the latter just to stay off the motorways lest I die of boredom. In the end it was a good choice, although it did get complicated and I did get lost twice. But no harm done. I wasn’t in a great hurry and I saw some brilliant French countryside and villages, the strangest of which were called “Billy Le Grand” and “Les Archies”. How strange!
Eight hours after leaving Laon I arrived at the Ibis hotel in Aubière a suburb of Clermont-Ferrand. I checked in, had my tea and I’ve settled down to watch the Belorussia v France World Cup qualifier on TF1. Mary has called to update me on how things are in Vilanova and I can’t wait to get there tomorrow evening. It’s a journey of 415 miles, south to the Millau Viaduct, further south to Béziers, along the south coast of France to the Spanish border in the Pyrenees then down through Cataluña, around the back of Barcelona and finally back to the coast and Vilanova. Phheeew!
What else could I leave you with but a photo of the newlyweds. All my love guys!
August 26, 2016
The next event, after a blissful four days of farniente, was my third book signing at Waterstones of Dundee. When I say we did nothing for four days, I do not include of course the million phone calls to Bell & Bain the printer’s in Glasgow asking where the blazes my books were. I had ordered a 200 copy reprint of “Wee Georgie” two weeks earlier and now I was four days away from a signing and had no copies to sign! Eventually the books were delivered to the Alyth campsite and I had them ready for the Saturday.
The event itself was well-publicised in the Courier and I had about 15-20 visitors which was excellent when you consider it was the third signing event. I had the usual mix of people I knew and those I didn’t, but the first guy to turn up was the biggest surprise. He approached me and asked if I recognized him. I didn’t so asked him to give me a clue. He mentioned a place from a chapter of “Georgie” about fishing when we were young, a wee place on the Coupar Angus – Blairgowrie road called Stormont Loch (or Loch Bog). I knew then I had standing in front of me someone I hadn’t seen for 50 years! He was Ian Hay, the lad we called “Grass” and the boy who punched huge pike in the face to put an end to their suffering. Ian told me he’d met cousin Peter who had told him he was now famous as he was in my book and the man had decided to come and see me in person. Wonderful!
That very evening we had dinner in Dundee with our French friends Marc and Jud who as usual were back in Dundee for some summer time with Jud’s family on Dalkeith Road. It was good catching up with them and they appeared to have recovered from their unfortunate pick-pocketing experience in Barcelona when they came to visit us last Spring. I’m pretty sure however they have no intention of ever going back to the Catalan capital.
The following day, Mary decided to go and spend some quality time alone with Scott in Falkirk so I drove her to Perth station where she caught the train to Stirling then Larbet which is where Scott picked her up. Both she and I had a great couple of days chilling before I was back to Perth to collect her that Tuesday. She came back hobbling on blisters after succumbing to one of Scott’s over-enthusiastic fitness routines which he delights in inflicting on us any time we’re over there. He’s nothing if not committed to his career I must say but maybe needs to take his foot off the accelerator when his parents are around! Either that or Mary needs a new pair of trainers!
That same day was a very important one for our grandson Ben as he started his first day of Primary School at SS. Peter & Paul. Coincidently, this was the same Primary School attended by his Mum, his brother Daniel, Mary, her brother and all three of her sisters and also boasts Debbie Gallagher as Headteacher, she being Mary’s second cousin. George reported that, after a wee wobble when one or two others started to cry as parents were leaving, Ben settled down and had a great time. Well done, my boy!
The next day was lunch on the Perth Road with Mary’s Mum then drinks at Gerard’s in the evening with Marc and Norman Hadden, a former colleague of mine from St. Saviour’s High School. We meet at Gerard’s one evening every year to catch up and reminisce about the good old days. This year was no exception and with it being a full moon and a clear sky, the view from Gerard’s penthouse conservatory over the Tay to Fife was quite breathtaking.
The following morning we prepared for our respective trips: me off to Belfast with the boys for Greg’s Stag do and Mary off up to Aberdeen with Gavin’s wife Eve for Karen’s Hen Night. I left Lady Burton at her mother’s in mid-afternoon and cruised down to Scott’s house in Falkirk where I stayed the night along with Gavin to avoid too early a start on the Friday. As we are clearing out our garage, I also took Scott all his favourite toys from his childhood plus a Buzz Lightyear, a Batmobile and a full set of Pokémon cards. You should have seen his face!
So, it had finally arrived. We were all going off to Belfast for 3 nights to celebrate Greg’s last days of freedom. It was a hugely early start for Greg himself, leaving Montrose at 03.30 to pick up his pal George (yes, another one!) in Forfar then down to Dundee to pick up George and Daniel then over to Edinburgh to meet us at the house of a friend of Scott’s where we could leave our cars. A taxi took us to the airport for a 09.40 flight, a flight that would last a whole 40 minutes! Breakfast included pints of beer for some …… and we were off!
The Flybe flight was the first time I’d ever been on a plane with propellers as opposed to a jet engine but it flew just as easily and got us to a rain-sodden Belfast quickly and without incident. The weather forecast for our weekend was quite horrendous and it certainly started out as expected with heavy rain for most of the day although we were mostly in pubs so didn’t notice it much. Lunch was at Weatherspoon’s, a siesta was taken once we’d checked in to the Premier Inn in the city centre and we had tea at Pizza Express before hitting the big pubs. We found a place called Lavery’s which was a fantastic multi-roomed building with 15 pool tables on the top floor and about 10 bars scattered all around. We watched some of the Man Utd game (they are VERY fond of Man Utd in Belfast: it’s the Georgie Best connection, as per the name of their airport) then hit the drink.
As best man, Scott was the organizer of this Stag weekend and he made sure we were all up and moving by 8 o’clock on Saturday morning. We made a quick visit to a Tesco Express for breakfast and lunch items before heading for the bus stop outside Top Man where we would be starting our “Game of Thrones” tour. Now this series by HBO is probably the biggest thing on the planet at the moment and, as a lot of it was shot around Belfast, Scott had decided it would make a good choice for Day 2. And so it proved, despite the awful weather!
Our guide for the day was a guy who claimed to be a professional swordsman and fight scene choreographer and who told us about the various roles he had played in the series (including one of the men who stabbed Jon Snow at the very end of Series 5!). He certainly knew an awful lot about the scenes and the actors and was reasonably convincing but at the same time there was something about him that had us thinking “Wait a minute ……” Anyhow, the bus, Rooney Tours, took us out of Belfast and down the east shore of Strangford Lough then over the strait on a wee ferry to Strangford. From there we travelled a few more miles to our first stop.
We got out of the bus and went under an arch to find ourselves in none other than the courtyard of Winterfell, the home of Ned Stark and family! Fanatic followers of the series became seriously excited about being in this place while I stayed somewhat philosophical, not recognizing it enough to get my pulse racing. Our guide described the scene in Chapter One which was shot here and explained how the yard was transformed using Computer graphics. He also pointed out the cottage where the brothel scenes were shot which was fairly interesting now that it is a holiday rental!
We moved on to a couple of other locations of dubious interest before lunching back in Strangford. After eating, we were taken outside to meet what had been billed as two celebrities from the series. Indeed they were. But as they were two of the dogs which play the Direwolves it was not quite as anticipated although once again the fans loved it! There was no way of telling if these dogs were the ones from the series but we played along with it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The next stop was at a ruined castle where the group were given costumes and swords to play with. This was great fun and we had a good laugh despite the incessant rain still trying to spoil the day. I got into the mood as well and dressed up in a cloak like the others and started playing with the Greatsword they called Ice. In fact we all did.
That was fun! And on we went to our final destination in a huge forest where we went on a walk to a spot at a bridge where an important scene from the very beginning of the series was shot. This was possibly the most interesting of the places we visited and the guide explained in great detail the scenarios enacted at this spot. Daniel in particular was fascinated by this and showered the guide with extra questions. For those who know the series, this was the spot where Ned Stark and family find the dead Direwolf and its 6 pups.
The bus took us back to a very wet Belfast at about 5 p.m. via several wee villages festooned with St. George’s Crosses, Union Jacks and the Red Hand of Ulster. Suddenly we began to see what we’d all heard about. This was protestant country with nought a tricolour to be seen! The infamous “murials” (sic)included “Hurricane” Alex Higgins the wonderful snooker player and of course Georgie (simply the) Best. When we reached the hotel, we all needed a wee nap before smartening up for a serious night’s bevvying (after a cheeky Nandos of course!). I stayed the course until after eleven at which point Daniel and I called it quits and walked back to the hotel. The others went clubbing, as you would on a Stag. Typical of me, I watched “Match of the Day” in my room then went down to the bar for a nightcap wherein I got into conversation with several other guests such that I was still blethering when the boys began to roll back in! So technically, I was the last man standing!
While the boys had a bit of a lie-in on Sunday, I was down for a cooked breakfast at the back of nine after which I was raring to get on with the day’s excitement. A taxi took us to Colin Glen Park in Belfast at around 12.30 but the driver offered us the “scenic” route and in no time we were cruising the length of the Falls Road, the great Catholic stronghold and the scene of some of the worst violence during the “troubles”. We picked out 10 Catholic churches, a Catholic cemetery, several green and white pubs and tributes to Bobby Sands the hunger striker. Somehow we all felt happy to be in a taxi that wasn’t stopping any time soon.
And so to Greg’s next surprise. I should point out that the whole Stag was a secret to Greg who neither knew where we were flying off to nor what we were going to do when we got there. For the last 2 weeks. we had been saying the whole Stag was in danger as we’d been advised not to go to …….. Syria! I don’t think he took that in though! In any case, once we arrived at Colin Glen Park, we had to tell him we were going to “Go Ape” i.e. climbing around on high structures, walls and zip wires. Scott and I had done this at the “Foret Indienne” in France years ago, climbing around in the high trees attached to safety cables. I’d found this a bit exhilarating to be honest so I was viewing with a tad trepidation joining the boys “up there”.
Hard Hat and harnessed, we were asked to tackle the climbing wall first, a wall slightly taller than the wee one indoors at Powburn. Greg the Stag had to go first, followed by Best Man Scott, setting the rhythm for the day. Both coped as did their old man but not everybody made it to the top. You know who you are!! I was quite proud of doing the first obstacle successfully, especially as it was my first attempt at wall climbing, and clearly all those years of climbing trees when I was “wee Georgie” must have paid off.
Next up was the zip wire, a slide of about 100 metres at a height of 20 feet, not the scariest but still requiring commitment and a wee bit bravery. We were helped by the half-a-dozen primary kids who did it just before us! After them, how could we refuse? There are plenty videos of us doing this but unfortunately no still photographs (well, for a zip wire I suppose that’s standard!) and this blog page doesn’t support video. Then it was on to the obstacle course at low level (only 20 feet up!). Greg went first again followed by Scott then we all got stuck in and made easy work of it. I got by simply by not looking down.
The next stage was a similar obstacle course except at 40 feet off the ground and with more difficult things to negotiate. Gavin was quite unsure, big George was hesitant and I waited to near the end to take my turn. Astonishingly we all got round in some form or other and thankfully the instructor was taking the photos.
Just when we thought it was all done, out comes the instructor with a surprise. We weren’t to use the stairs to get back down. Oh no, we were all to do a 40 feet bungee jump! No Way! Luckily Greg was again first up and just as he was about to bottle it the instructor pushed him off! Mental! Scott needed two goes to summon up the necessary willpower to step off, I jumped with no hesitation, so did young George, Gavin thought he’d bottle it but didn’t and guest George took a full 6 minutes to persuade himself and when he couldn’t, a tactical nudge from the instructor completed the day! Again check out the videos of our jumps on any of our Facebook pages and you’ll see what we actually did.
And that was the adventure bit done and dusted. Back at the hotel we had a couple of beers to celebrate then a wee nap and then out for our final evening. This time it was Greg’s choice and so we ended up in the Nu Delhi Curry House where we sampled some delicious grub. Greg found the courage to make a wee speech, thanking everyone for attending and a special thanks to wee bro Scott for arranging it all.
We finished the revelries with a pool tournament back in Lavery’s before going back to the hotel where we found the bar was already closed! Damn! The rest was sleep, breakfast, taxi, airport, flight, taxi, car and home. Well done boys, it was a brilliant weekend and we looked like we enjoyed ourselves. Roll on the next one (Scott?)!
August 24, 2016
So, after a brief overnight respite at Stef & Renée’s, part 3 started with a drive to Dundee to pick up grandson Ben’s belongings then round to his nursery to pick Ben up himself. Safely tucked up in the back seat with Mary, Ben seemed perfectly happy about going to “the party” although, as instructed, we went out of our way not to mention it would involve 3 nights away from Mummy & Daddy. Apart from a bit of traffic on the Edinburgh bypass and a comfort stop at our usual place in Lauder, we cruised happily down to the border at Coldstream and onwards past Wooler to the scout camp at Powburn.
For those who don’t know, every year Mary’s extended family (minus Mum’s generation) meet up for the weekend at the scout camp used by scoutmaster Scott Gibson, her brother-in-law and sister Claire’s husband. Sister Alison and family, sister Dorothy and family, brother Bruce and children join Claire and family plus Scott’s brother John, his wife (not this year) and two daughters. Lady Burton and I regularly attend this family get-together and for the past couple of years our Scott has managed as well. We have the place to ourselves Friday until Sunday with all the accommodation, cooking and outdoor facilities like archery, climbing, crate-stacking, rope swing and campfire. This year it would be Ben’s first visit and his first long time away from his parents. Fingers crossed!
As soon as we were settled into our allocated room of 2 bunk beds, Ben was desperate to go outside and check things out. The play area is entirely round the back and fenced in with no access to the road (which I have to say seems to be a rat-race for maniacs heading to Newcastle or vice-versa). Safety also demands that the kids wear hard hats when they are using equipment so the first job was to fix Ben up with a helmet.
This helmet proved its worth within 30 minutes when Ben stood up too quickly on the crash mat below the big rope swing and took a smash to the head from young Sam’s feet as he swung by! No harm done though. I then walked him round all the other climbing things and he made thoughtful decisions about what to try and what to leave alone. But all he actually wanted was to be in the company of the other 5 kids and we had a job getting him to come in for tea. Dorothy’s husband David then took us all on a 4-mile walk through the meadows and lower hills of the surrounding area, through muddy fields and stony streams, over stiles and bridges, past cows, horses and sheep. Ben loved it, especially the bits where he got dirty or wet!
Mary was being particularly motherly to Ben (because she absolutely refuses to be grandmotherly!) and rescued him when he ventured into thick mud and found he couldn’t get his foot out without leaving the boot behind. She also adopted Ben’s somewhat slower pace given that he’s only 4 and formed the rear of the group on several occasions.
Once back at the camp, it was cocoa and hot-dogs before Ben hit the hay with Mary selected as resident story-reader. We settled down to group gossip over a couple of beers while the teenagers got together to talk teenage stuff. When general bedtime came, Mary and I were ultra-careful not to make a noise but our wee lamb looked unlikely to waken even if we’d let off fireworks. And so it turned out! Ben slept right through until 07.30 at which point I took him through and dished up a bowl of Cheerios for him. As the others gradually appeared in various states of consciousness, Ben urged them to get ready to go outside and play again and by 9 o’clock he was back out on the rope swing and other equipment.
The Robertson girls moved into catering mode and prepared picnic grub to feed a small army then we were all off again, this time into the valley just up the road from the camp where there is a meadow with a wide stream running through it. With good weather predicted, we intended to have fun down by the water or at least let the kids have the fun while we lay out in the sun. A great afternoon ensued with all the youngsters getting soaked one way or the other and the adults adding to their tans. We even had the delights of an ice-cream van. complete with wonky song, stopping at the meadow and tempting us all with various treats. Dorothy bought Ben a cone with a flake in it (we call it a “99”) and he was in heaven.
The evening meal is traditionally fish and chips and although we ended up in different villages for some reason, the tradition was more or less maintained. After that, the scoutmasters prepared the campfire and the highlight of the weekend began. We all sat around the fire and the kids for the most part led the entertainment with various scout songs, poems and chants. The adults joined in as required and also supervised the toasting of the marshmallows on the end of sticks. Ben was a bit overcome with the noise of the chanting and needed a few minutes away from it all with his granddad before slowly returning to take in the whole thing with wide eyes. I finished the singing off with guitar and “Puff the Magic Dragon”, evoking many a smile and the odd tear (the lyrics, not my voice!).
Ben was out like a light once tucked up in his bunk and that was him for almost 10 hours! We shared some time in the main hall with all the others before Mr. Sandman began to shut our eyes and we just made it to bed. We slept like Ben. Sunday morning was the usual breakfast and a couple of hours playing with the kids outside before everybody took their turn helping to tidy up the camp and packing to leave. Alison’s husband Dave gave the kids a session of archery and we also let them take on the small climbing wall in the hall, but before you could say “Dib Dib” it was time to leave. Ben told me he didn’t want to go home but when I told him we were heading to another party, he eventually got off the rope swing and came quietly!
But we weren’t going home. We really were going to another party, this time on the other side of the country back in Kendal where Mike and Het were having day 2 of a joint 60th birthday party. We waved cheerio to the family members at Powburn drove down to Newcastle, over to Carlisle then down the M6 to Kendal, getting there about three in the afternoon. Our friends were delighted we had made the effort to come and help them celebrate and we had a splendid day mixing with their friends while Ben got acquainted with their grandchildren William and Ollie. When the guests had left and the boys were abed, we caught up with Mike and Het over a couple of glasses of wine before retiring wearily ourselves.
After breakfast the following morning, all we had to do was drive back to Scotland and over to Dundee where we handed Ben back to his parents more or less in one piece. They themselves had had a relaxing weekend child-free in Glasgow and both looked the better for it. Just as it should have been. Quite exhausted we drove back to the Alyth campsite, had tea then went to bed. Just as it should have been!
I leave you with the curious case of Benjamin Burton …….. up a tree!
August 17, 2016
After bagging 3 Munros in 2 days, I slept like the proverbial log at Mum’s. Naturally. The only tense moment was when I had to tiptoe past her lest she attempt to grab every stitch of clothing I had and put it in her washing machine on the grounds that it was “a good drying day”. I think that means the temperature was above zero, it wasn’t raining and it was blowing a gale! So we managed to get away without all my worldly goods getting washed and ironed to a razor-sharp crease and I include here the laptop and my trainers!
And we were off again, this time up the A9 to Inverness then west over to Joe and Mo’s at Lochcarron for our annual visit. We toyed with driving over to Glencoe and Fort William then up the west coast but I was still a bit wrecked from my exertions with the Munroamers so chose the easy but boring route. That’s maybe a bit unfair as you can see an awful lot of Scotland’s best features on the main road north, especially around Dunkeld, Pitlochry, the Drumochter Pass and Aviemore but I was in “just get there” mode so the “oohs & aahs” were kept to a minimum.
At some point or other on the journey, we resolved to learn to recognize trees. We know one or two, like the Horse Chestnut with its Big Hand leaves and the two-tone mottled bark of the Plane Tree but there are so many others we keep puzzling over as we travel around Europe that a working knowledge of the most common varieties would be helpful. Can you tell an oak from a beech from a birch? At the moment, we can’t! So, by Christmas we intend to know our sycamores from our limes and an ash from a monkey-puzzle.
Well, did you recognize what they were? Brownie points if you knew they were birch trees (whose branches made excellent whips as you will no doubt remember from the “Bring back the Birch” campaigns of the 60s.)
We were looking for a place to stop and have lunch when we reached the wee village of Contin (population 675). Now we knew they had half-decent toilets in the village hall there so pulled in for a little comfort break. But what we hadn’t anticipated was the hall doing fully-blown 3-course lunches for the locals and passers-by. Don’t mind if we do, we thought. Well, what can I say. The best vegetable soup I have ever tasted and as tender a roast lamb dinner as to suggest the poor thing had been running around in the adjoining field that very morning. Yummy! And it didn’t break the bank either.
Refreshed by the surprise midday meal, we drove on in buoyant mood through the glens and past the lochs, taking the narrow roads with passing places in our stride (or at least the Audi did!) until we emerged onto the banks of Loch Carron. Now it’s not really a loch in the traditional sense as it’s open to the west and over to the Isle of Skye. It’s more of what you’d call a fjord if you were Norwegian, i.e. land at one end, hills on both sides and open sea at the other end. Whatever it is, it’s spectacularly beautiful in the sunlight, assuming there is actually any sunlight, but when it’s dreich and misty, it’s not quite so enthralling. Miserable might indeed be an appropriate adjective to use. However, that day, we were blessed with fluffy clouds and some blue sky so it was a bonny sight to greet our arrival.
Normally our advent at Joe and Mo’s is a series of cosy hugs and “How are you” variations but this time, as we got out of the car (I kind of fell out), what appeared to be an extra from “Quatermass” came round the corner of the house and headed straight for us. Just as we were about to get back in the car and flee for our lives, Mo’s voice came from inside a huge white helmet with a mesh front, wishing us a hearty welcome. We had arrived just as she had donned her suit and prepared to remove honey from the hive of naughty bees she keeps at the bottom of the garden. What a relief! Not being hugely brave around stinging insects, we quickly moved inside to look for Joe, leaving Mo to do that awfully brave bees thing for which she only got stung once or twice despite full scientist suit, gloves, a mesh face mask and a smoke machine.
That evening, Mo dished up an excellent dinner as always, drink was taken and out came the guitars for the Burton Boys to re-enact the dizzy nights in the Cross Keys Bar in St. Andrews way back in the day. And despite Douglas Bader legs, I was fit enough to do 18 holes at the local golf course with Joe the following morning while Mo stayed at home to practise the saxophone in preparation for her band’s appearance at the Belladrum Music Festival later that week. Lady Burton came with us golfers but eschewed a nice walk in favour of a visit to the nearby cemetery and a nice pot or two of tea over a good book at the clubhouse. I won the golf challenge by merit of being slightly less awful and a huge amount luckier than big brother. I also won the “Let’s see who can lose the most golf balls” challenge.
We enjoyed a splendid, sunny day that Tuesday followed by another great dinner, this time of trout that Joe had caught himself and vegetables from their own polytunnel. The good life! Another post-dinner sing-song followed but it’s not like in previous years where we could drink, sing and play until the wee hours. By 23.30 we were all in bed and probably asleep. The weather turned on Wednesday and we were confined to barracks for the morning before Joe drove us all round to Plockton (or Lochdubh if you remember Hamish MacBeth?) where it was our turn to treat our hosts to lunch. The Plockton Shores shop and restaurant provided us with an amazing lunch, as good as anything we’ve had in the past couple of years in Spain, France or UK.
We had planned a walk after our lunch but the rain decided to dictate events and it was just another heart-stopping drive back to Lochcarron along, up and down narrow roads at speeds only a local could find perfectly normal. In the back, I was quietly white-knuckled! Neither Joe nor Mo batted an eyelid! Our third evening was quieter than the other two but we still managed a couple of songs and Joe played some remastered tapes of songs he’d written and recorded with friends in Crail Castle in the early 70s. Simply wonderful!
After breakfast on Thursday, we waved cheerio and headed back to Inverness and down the A9 again. The weather was nothing short of dreadful, making the journey quite unpleasant, but things improved after a stop at the Ralia Hairy Coo restaurant for a spot of lunch and the rest of the drive back to Blairgowrie was uneventful.