Day 2/84: Winter’s Coming!

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I’m seriously thinking of asking Spain for my money back! Well, when we decided to move here for the year, we assumed that we would be enjoying wall-to-wall sunshine and warmth all of the time, with the odd temperature dip down below 20 degrees. After all, this is Vilanova, isn’t it? You know, Vilanova i la Geltru, near Barcelona, in Catalonia in Spanish Spain. Now, when we think of Spain, we usually think of sea, sand, sun and sangria. We don’t often think of shivers, sleet and snow, and while we have only had the first of those three, it has come as a bit of a shock after weeks and weeks of unbroken sunshine and temperatures of 20+.

Sunset over the pool

Sunset over the pool

For the past week we have experienced sunny, crisp days with highs of 15 degrees, but as soon as the sun goes down round about 6 p.m. the temperature has been dropping rapidly, even reaching only 3 degrees one early morning. The locals are all complaining, saying this cold snap is very unusual, just as they said the brilliant October and November were much warmer than normal. Folk will quite likely put all of this down to global warming or something else from the Doomsday Book. I see it as quite acceptable, especially when it gets the Spanish women into their tight jeans and knee-length boots! Not that I stare of course!

Xmas inside the Magic Caravan

Xmas inside the Magic Caravan

Mary, God bless her, has undergone three sessions at Betti the Dentist and is no longer in discomfort. Her infection has been chased away and her root canals (the longest Betti has ever seen by the way) are fit for transportation to Venice. Mine have been fine thankfully so I guess that must have been money well spent. Considering that my visit to the dentist bagged me a weekly job looking after Betti’s son Guillem, I have little to complain about. I have now looked after him for the past 3 Tuesday evenings, picking him up from the school bus in town, supervising his play in the park with his pal Max, walking him back to Betti’s flat, doing all his French homework with him, teaching him some English then making tea for both of us before his Mum and Dad return home at about 8.30. I really enjoy it and look forward to Tuesdays quite keenly.
Mary is well into the swing of things at the Times English School on the Rambla Principal in town. She has her groups of young kids each week from 5.15 to 6.30 Monday to Thursday and is about to start some adult 1-to-1 conversation classes next week. Once a week she herself gets a Spanish lesson at the school and is making good progress. We now both fearlessly start conversations in Spanish with the locals in the shops etc. confident that we now have enough to get what we want. We no longer worry about taking the wrong train or coming out of a shop with something we didn’t mean to buy! We can even argue or take things back to be exchanged!
Normally, on working days, I drop Mary at the Market a few metres from the Rambla at about 4.45. I then do shopping or drive straight back to the campsite and make the tea for that evening. When she’s finished, Mary gets the local bus near where I drop her off and is back on site by about 7.15. Although it’s dark when she leaves the school, there are plenty of people about as the working day is still running, given the long siesta break they still have. On Wednesdays, when we have the group meal up at the restaurant, I usually go back and pick her up in the Audi, as the dinner starts at 7.30 and we need time to change into something smart for the evening.
We really like the Wednesday dinners. Our friends, Terry and Elsie, organized them until they left last week then our other pals, Lynn and Dick, organized last Wednesday, and now another English couple have taken over. Although it’s mainly English speakers who attend, we’ve got the French involved now and do any translating that’s necessary. Great fun speaking all these languages you know. One morning this week I came back to the Magic Caravan with our baguette from the shop and realized I’d already spoken 4 different languages! And it was only 09.50! I’d had a short “isn’t it cold?” in German with a neighbour on the way to the shop, I’d spoken Spanish naturally in the shop itself, I’d given my French friends some advice on Internet access on the way back, and I’d said “Good Morning” to Fred at the toilets! In truth I used a 5th language when Mary greeted me from the downy with “It’s affy cauld!” Fred continually torments me with the notion that, years from now, there’ll be a whole community of people in Vilanova going around saying “See you Jimmy” and “We’re all doomed!”

Las Cascadas, Barcelona

Las Cascadas, Barcelona

Our Fridays are eagerly awaited as neither of us works that day so we have a chance to go somewhere if we want. Unfortunately the past 2 weeks Mary has had dental appointments around midday but we’ve still spent the rest of the afternoon in town when she’s finished. Three weeks ago we went to Barcelona to check out an area we hadn’t really been to, over on the north side near Franca station and the zoo. The weather was superb that day and we had a lovely time in the big park next to the zoo, lunch at a kiosk in the park, a visit to El Arco de Triomfo (not as good as yours Paris!) then an exploration of old Barcelona around the cathedral, taking us back to the Ramblas. Later Mary celebrated by getting a fringe!

Recognize anyone?

Recognize anyone?

Many of our friends have left for the winter, promising to return after the New Year or slightly later. Mike and Het went home a fortnight ago to see the grandchildren but they’re back here again and will be staying over the holiday period. Kate and David have gone, although they are now languishing in Tenerife, while both the Dutch couples who last played Settlers with us have also returned to the land of clogs. Lynn and Dick flew home today, leaving Fred and another old friend Kevin to look after their Motorhome and awning.

Not an alien - just Lynn's ironing board!

Not an alien – just Lynn’s ironing board!

However, they left taking with them prints of Lainey’s drawings and a copy of “Socrates” which Dick is going to turn into an actual book next week, he being the owner of a print works in Great Yarmouth. Meantime I have purchased 10 ISBN numbers required to be on a publication for sale in a shop and it is beginning to look like “Socrates the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento” will be in the shops in Dundee and elsewhere before Xmas even. Mary and I are beside ourselves with excitement at this development, as is my illustrator Lainey (Elaine Matheson-Falconer), because Dick will send me the first copy for approval and if it’s OK he’ll run off as many as I want and send them up to Dundee by express delivery. Guess what you’re all getting for Xmas?
Fred and I continue to fight it out every 2 or 3 days on the tennis court but I fear he has recently had the Indian sign over me and I have tended to come off second best in most of the recent encounters with him. However with a bit of luck we are both improving, both with our fitness and with our swiping of the ball. As of today, we even have a trophy to play for, the Vilanova Cup, to be kept by the winner of each of our matches. Hope I get to keep it at least once! Be gentle with me, Fred!

The Trophy!

The Trophy!

Mike and I also go out for a morning walk every once in a while up into the hills behind Vilanova Park. That helps keep the legs moving, as we tend to do 3-5 miles at a time and quite often up the steep slope to the Watchtower. We also play table-tennis when we can and we now have 3 or 4 other folk to play against so that’s still a lot of fun.
Sadly our printer died this week after coughing its last drops of ink over its own circuits, causing instant brain failure. I laid it to rest in the big green bin opposite the toilet block. But now we have an all-singing all-dancing wireless printer which is a miracle of technology and will probably make our meal at night if we ask it kindly. Two evenings work with Guillem more than paid for this beauty and Mary now churns out endless worksheets for her kids after scouring the Internet for good ideas. We can even send documents and photos for printing from our i-Pad, no wires attached, nothing. I think it’s white magic of some sort. If it can do that, then before long we will surely be sending ourselves around the globe via transporters à la Star Trek. Beam me up Mary!

Mean Machine

Mean Machine

It was Ben’s second birthday today. He’s now 2 (in case that wasn’t obvious!). We spoke to him on Facetime tonight and he looked all grown-up and no longer a baby in any way. Ari’s also 3 months now and she’s come on a treat (although she can’t play the piano yet!). Both sets of parents appear to be coping with the little people in their lives and long may that continue. Greg is still working in the packaging factory and there is still the possibility that he will be kept on permanently after the turn of the year. Karen is still unemployed but fingers crossed there. Scott has taken on voluntary work in his old primary school S.S. Peter and Paul under the watchful eye of the Headmistress our very own Debbie Gallagher and he has filled out his application form to train as a Primary Teacher next session. Good luck Scotty.

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Ben (George but shrunk!)

Heavens! This post is beginning to resemble “War and Peace” so I guess I’d better stop prattling on about stuff over here and let you all get back to surviving the winter. Being over 60, I’m due a Xmas bonus, am I not? Don’t forget, we’re flying home on 20th December in time for Artemis’ christening two days later.

3 months and counting!

3 months and counting!

Let the bells ring out…….!

 

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Day 2/74: Happy Birthday, Socrates!

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Exactly one year ago today, we went upstairs in the Regina Hotel, Sorrento, to the rooftop dining room to have breakfast, and there, on the outside of the window next to our table, was a snail. Little did we realize at the time that this little creature was about to play an unexpectedly large role in our lives and become the focus for much of my writing which, up until that point, had been about me as a child and the daily blog of our adventures in the Magic Caravan.

The original photograph

The original photograph

As Mary’s niece, Beth, had just won a competition to name our wee caravan, I decided to add a paragraph or two to the blog that day, telling the story of how we had met a snail called Socrates that morning and of how he had been able to move very fast up the window and onto the roof where he was going to have a holiday. That made him Socrates, the sprinting snail of Sorrento. I hoped that Beth would like this story which I wrote in a style quite different from “Wee Georgie” the first part of my autobiography.

Well, the response I got was amazing, but not from the children in the family. It was the adults following the blog who wrote enthusiastic comments about my wee snail, begging me to add more to its adventures on the roof of the hotel. I was surprised by their reaction but on reflection thought that there might just be the germ of an idea for a children’s book so, a few days later, I sat down and bashed out the first chapter of the tale, using Beth’s paragraph as a sort of prologue.

The rest, as they say, is history and I finished the 10th and final chapter of the book just after we returned home from our own adventure in June 2013. Once again I fell on the advanced editing skills of my brother Joe and once he had wielded his razor-sharp knife over the 30 pages of my story, it was ready to meet the world. Mary’s uncle Ian encouraged me greatly to offer the book for publication, believing that it might be a success, and in the end I agreed to this, but decided to self-publish on Kindle rather than wait a year to be told “No thanks” which was what had happened with “Wee Georgie”.

The Kindle Book Cover

By mid-August “Socrates, the sprinting snail of Sorrento” was available on Amazon Kindle as a children’s e-book and to-date I have sold about 100 copies throughout the world. I am quite big in Japan where I have sold 3, although “sold” isn’t quite the correct word as the 3 were downloaded on a free day when I offered the book for nothing. Most have been bought in the USA on free days as is the case in the UK. I believe I have amassed 33 pence in royalties.

The next stage was to find an illustrator so that I could put the book into print as, in general, children’s books don’t really work without pictures. This I have done and I can announce here and now that I have most of the drawings sent to me by Lainey, an Art graduate from Dundee who kindly agreed to illustrate the book for me. Sorry but there will be no sneak previews of the artwork in the book as we hope to have it ready printed and in the shops before too long and maybe even before this Christmas! I have chosen a local Dundee printer, “Urbanprint “on the Perth Road, to produce the book, having already examined the quality of their work and been very impressed by what they can do.

I can also let you know that I have written chapter 1 of book 2 of the snail’s adventures but the content remains a secret at the moment and I am unlikely to publish the new material on the blog. Hopefully the second set of adventures will meet with your approval as much as the first book did.

That, my dear friends, is the story so far, a year on from that fateful breakfast in the Regina Hotel. If you have one to hand, I would ask you to raise a glass to the sprinting snail of Sorrento.

Happy birthday, Socrates!

Day 2/68: Scott in Barcelona

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Surprisingly, after our late night visit to the Camp Nou, Scott announced at breakfast that he wanted to go back into Barcelona to see the sights. This took us by surprise but we reacted quickly to his suggestion and drove down to Vilanova where we parked the car near Simply then walked the couple of hundred metres to the train station. Mary suggested we buy an all-day ticket each to see us to Barcelona and back plus Metro and buses while we were there. These tickets proved well worthwhile although we did have a bit of difficulty at Sants station as we hadn’t quite understood exactly how they worked. (Isn’t that right, Mary?)

Nonetheless we soon found ourselves at Playa España with the intention of climbing the hill to the Olympic village at the top behind the national museum. First thing we encountered was an enormous queue of extravagantly-clad young folk waiting to be admitted to the 19th World Manga Exhibition. What a sight they made: fairies, goblins and exotic creatures mingling with menacing wizards and furry animals. This was however not an event for young children as some of the teenage girls were quite provocatively dressed leaving almost nothing to the imagination. I personally found it quite interesting although Scott told me they were all freaks and I was an old perv! Well, you have to look, don’t you!

"For these are my Fountains...."

“For these are my Fountains….”

While mother and father chose to use the lovely outdoor escalators to reach the summit of the hill, Scott insisted on climbing all the huge flights of stairs as part of his daily fitness routine. His way was sometimes barred by crowds of Manga fans (mostly girls) but I’m sure he didn’t stare as a well-brought up boy wouldn’t. Atop the hill we paused to appreciate the sight back down through Roman pillars and Venetian columns to the Bullring (now a shopping centre) while we were well entertained by a brilliant Spanish guitarist who finger-picked his way through a whole series of classic numbers.

Downhill to Playa España

Downhill to Playa España

Father and son

Father and son

Behind the museum and refreshed by a sandwich and cold drink, we explored the Olympic village including the main athletics stadium (now the home of FC Espanyol, the other football team in Barcelona), the roman atrium, the Olympic monument and the famous swimming pool where THAT diving-board used to be. Pity it was dismantled years ago. While Scott and I went in to see where it used to be, Mary checked out the timetable at a bus-stop nearby and proudly announced on our return that we could take the 125 bus down to the Marina. What a stroke of good fortune, and well done Mary!

30 minutes later, when we found ourselves back at the same bus-stop, having gone down the hill, toured a container depot, ridden through 2 very dodgy housing estates and come straight back up the hill again, my dear wife was not quite so popular with her two most-loved ones and Scott had that look on his face again, you know, the one he wore permanently from the age of 14 to 17. I tried to explain away Mary’s error of judgement and we promised not to remind her of her faux-pas……… at least not too often!

A short Metro journey later we were at the Playa Cataluña where Mary and Scott strolled through the masses of pigeons in the huge square while I took a detour at a respectful distance from our winged friends. Spanish birds are exactly the same as British birds as far as my phobia is concerned: flapping in either language sends me racing for cover! We had a pleasant stroll down the Ramblas and dipped into the food market halfway down before crossing to the harbour beyond Columbus’ column and wandering through the Mare Magnum commercial centre where we almost had tea but changed our minds at the very last minute. The waiter was a bit puzzled but I blamed our decision on Scott’s dodgy temperament and we exchanged tales of woe about our respective offspring, allowing us to leave with no harm done.

As usual I fell asleep on the train home but was wide awake to pop into Simply and buy the tea. Up at the campsite we put our (sore) feet up and chatted all evening about what’s been happening to all of us. We told Scott everything that has been going on and he told us snippets of life in the flat, enough to allay our fears……. just! Bed soon beckoned but not before I’d installed the fan heater in the awning to stop the wee soul from succumbing to the freezing night-time temperatures of Vilanova……. all 19 degrees of it!

We had planned to have a quiet day on Sunday but once again Scott was raring to go. So was I, but only to the loo! After a short family discussion I resolved to drive Scott and I into Barcelona (a first for me) where we would do the Camp Nou Experience tour and then visit the Sagrada Familia. Having observed the route taken by the supporters’ bus on Friday night I simply followed that and ended up parked right outside the bus park and 200 metres from the stadium. Clever old me!

I lift the trophy... again!

I lift the trophy… again!

The tour of the stadium was brilliant for Scott and he revelled in all the sights and sounds of the history of FC Barcelona. As it was my 4th time there I wasn’t quite as enthralled, although the new corner dedicated to Lionel Messi and his many personal achievements was pretty amazing I must admit.

Fill these boots

Fill these boots

The boy has balls!

The boy has balls!

A million photos later we left the Camp Nou , walked back up the hill past the car and took the Metro to the Sagrada Familia. As usual there was a long queue waiting to be admitted but we were inside within half an hour and spent the next hour or so in Gaudi’s masterpiece, a veritable Enchanted Forest of a Cathedral and the best you’ll ever see. Absolutely breath-taking it is!

Enchanted forest

Enchanted forest

The melting cake

The melting cake

Two million photos later Scott and I dragged ourselves away from the sumptuous sculptures and carvings, said Adios to the melting cake of a basilica and plunged back into the Underground where we took a Metro train back to the car. 30 minutes later we were safely back in Vilanova Park where Mary had tea waiting for us. Now there’s a first!

Believe it or not, the following day, we didn’t go to Barcelona! My feet were absolutely delighted, but I didn’t let them off lightly. By 10 o’clock, Scott and I had walked the 2 miles uphill to the watchtower (cue Hendrix!) and he was able to take in the stunning view back over Vilanova i la Geltru to the Med. Naturally he did a Messi!

That's Scott, not Messi.

That’s Scott, not Messi.

The rest of the day, mother and son assured each other that all was well and there was nowt to worry about. After we dropped Mary off at her work, Scott and I went to Simply at his request where he chose the tea for his last night. With Mary safely back home from school we tucked in to chicken fajitas, a Scott speciality and we all agreed that they were tasty indeed. The evening was spent in conversation, with a couple of games of cards to break the hours up, but it was an early night for everyone as someone had a flight to catch the next morning.

In case you’re expecting a drama, there was none. We got to the airport in plenty time and our duckling flew away.

Quack! Quack!

Day 2/62: Surprise! Surprise!

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As it’s day 62 of our life in Vilanova, I want to tell you all about the last few crazy days. I’ve chosen today as 62 is my lucky number, not because I’ve won loads by choosing that particular figure (it’s a bit too high for most things, including roulette) but simply because it was in 1962 at the age of 9 that I decided to have a lucky number, so it was either going to be 9 or 62 really. I don’t know if having 1962 as your lucky number would be a practical option of course!

Well, haven’t we had fun! At least once Mary got rid of the awful pain in her tooth which took a further visit to Betty the dentist, a lot of drilling and the insertion of an antibiotic pad into the hole. Sounds great, eh? That was on Hallowe’en and we were having a party that evening on our pitch to which all our friends had been invited as long as they dressed up for the occasion.

Hallowe'en's coming....

Hallowe’en’s coming….

Het and Mike helped decorate the pitch with spooky bunting and we bought the odd spider and witch to add even more atmosphere to the event. Mary, who had shrugged off her earlier dental drama, was able to take part fully in our preparations and I knew that by the end of the evening she would have forgotten about it altogether. That’s because sneaky old me had arranged the “mother”of all surprises for her.

One by one and two by two our friends duly arrived in various forms of ghoulish attire. Witches mingled with the Undead while masked monsters tucked into plates of mince and tatties alongside ghosts and wizards. It was indeed a macabre scene, continually reinforced by a procession of similarly-attired children, mostly French, hoping for sweets in exchange for a short song.

At about 9 p.m. as Mary was seated in the centre of the company, a masked stranger came forward clutching a traditional carved-out pumpkin lit from inside. This unknown guest approached our hostess and wished her “Happy Birthday” as others had already done, given that they were only 3 hours premature in their wishes. The figure continued with “Don’t you recognise me?” and, as Mary continued to smile nervously in puzzlement, the stranger repeated “Happy Birthday” but this time added “Mum!” Mary remained so perplexed by this greeting that the figure removed his mask to reveal, you guessed it, our youngest son Scott, freshly flown in from Prestwick and brought to the campsite by my good friend Mike.

Realisation!

Realisation!

Well, you can see from the photos how totally gobsmacked my dear wife was by this incredible surprise. She had been missing Scott so much since our return to Vilanova and I had arranged for him to come over on Hallowe’en to spend a few days with us and help us celebrate his Mum’s birthday. Mary spent the rest of the evening cuddling her little boy while he escaped long enough to talk with all of our invited guests, making a very good impression by the way

Happy Birthday, Mum

Happy Birthday, Mum

.When the company was at its most animated, I produced a basin of water with half a dozen apples floating on top (Is there anywhere else for them to float?) and 3 volunteers acted out the traditional “dooking” for apples, a standard of Hallowe’en parties over the years. I myself had a go and managed to bite into one and bring it out of the basin between my newly repaired teeth with no harm done. Well done to Terry and Dick who also performed the right of passage.

While Mary, Het and Mike tidied up, I set up the inflatable double bed in the awning for Scott and after an hour’s further catch-up with his Mum, that’s where he slept his first night in Spain with us. Boy oh boy, what a night that was!

Breakfast al fresco

Breakfast al fresco

Next day after a nice breakfast outside, we took Scott around the campsite and down into Vilanova itself. Later we had tea then Mike drove us down to the station where we caught the Barcelona Supporters bus to the Camp Nou to see the derby game between Barcelona and their city rivals Espanyol. This was pretty much a dream come true for Scott and, although the game was not the best with Barca just winning 1-0, the occasion was way up there with best moments ever. Even Mary, who had expressed something less than delight when I’d told her we were going to a football match for her birthday, was carried away by the whole thing and loved it all.

Mum and son at Camp Nou

Mum and son at Camp Nou

The best Messi pose ...ever!

The best Messi pose …ever!

We were well impressed with the efficiency with which the officials got the hundreds of buses out and away at the end of the game and, after finding a taxi waiting at the station and nipping in before anyone else could, we were back at the Magic Caravan by half past midnight. Not bad when you consider the game kicked off at 9 o’clock! Before we went to bed we managed to put a severe dent in Mary’s birthday cake but I won’t say who had the most.

I think I’ll stop here for the moment and tell you the rest in another post. Enjoy!