Day 2/137: Adieu, mon brave

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In no time at all we were back into the swing of things here in Vilanova, me doing nothing and Mary working all the hours God sent her (Well we need the money, don’t we?). We arrived on the feast of the Epiphany (la fiesta de los Reyes) to find Spain celebrating Christmas by closing for the day. Thankfully Mike and Het had foreseen this circumstance and arranged to share their evening meal with us so, after a quick afternoon nap, we found ourselves in their caravan tucking in to a lovely pork joint. Drink was also taken I believe.Two days later and it was us returning the compliment by having them over for tea that night as we did not want them to have to cook the night before flying back to Blighty. I launched into my signature mince and tatties presented together as a Shepherd’s Pie and I was delighted when our guests scraped the patterns off their plates (not Willow Pattern unfortunately). Mike and Het took the opportunity to have me sign their copy of “Socrates” and also the copy they had bought to take home to their grandson. I was happy to oblige.

Tea in the awning

Sign here please!

Sign here please!

The following day as planned we drove our friends to the airport just as they had done for us before Christmas. For the next few days over the weekend we kept a very low profile, just getting on with our own business. The only socialising we did was a night up at the bar with Fred in the company of Jeanette who had flown over again from Copenhagen. The weather then turned a wee bit sour with a couple of days of rain but the temperature never dropped below 10 degrees during the day so there was little to complain about.

On the Tuesday I had my work again, picking up Guillem from the school bus, letting him play in the park with his friend then walking him home where we got stuck into his homework in French . We then had an hour’s English before his Dad Ramon produced our tea. I finished at nine o’clock which coincided with Mary coming out of school so I was able to go and pick her up at the market in town. That same day however, our French friend on G Block, Claude, the husband of Chantal, was taken into hospital and what followed took up the rest of our week.

The next day I was called from my bed just after nine to drive our next-door neighbours Robert and Margaret into Vilanova for their doctor’s appointment but that included waiting for them to get the prescriptions they were given from the chemist’s, so my morning disappeared. On my return I enquired as to how Claude was doing but a tearful Chantal told me he was going downhill fast with all sorts of complications that a 74-year old would find difficult to withstand. To help out I offered to drive her and two others to the hospital about 5 miles away so that’s where I took them after dropping Mary at her work just before five. The news came back later that Claude had stabilized although he was still in Intensive Care.

Friday morning at eight o’clock my French friends woke me with the sad news that Claude had passed away late the previous evening. This came as a bit of a shock for us as you can imagine. His widow asked me if we could accompany her to the funeral parlour soon afterwards to translate from Spanish or Catalan into French so that she could make all the necessary arrangements for poor Claude’s cremation. So we found ourselves in a totally unreal situation, sitting listening intently as the Spanish undertaker’s assistant explained how to fill in all the forms etc. before we told Chantal in French what she would have to do. This was certainly a long, long way from the Speaking Test scenarios we had dealt with as teachers back in Dundee.

That afternoon (a gloriously sunny and warm day by the way) we went back down into Vilanova to catch the tail end of the celebrations of the feast of St. Anthony Abat, an annual parade and displays centring on horses, but we had missed everything. Instead we headed for the port and beach. We spent an excellent time down there, cheering ourselves up with a stroll across the sands, a seat out by the harbour watching the waves coming in and then a coffee and cake at the seafront café we particularly frequent.

We had a long lie Saturday and then smartened ourselves up in preparation for the funeral service down in town. We drove in convoy with 3 other cars out of the campsite and down to the funeral parlour where we were conducted into a lovely chapel of repose. Therein we were able to pay our last respects to Claude whose open coffin was placed to the side of the dais. He looked very peaceful in his smart clothing and he had lost his beard and moustache, making him look younger than previous. An hour later the lid was closed and a funeral service was conducted by a Catalan priest. We had chosen a Catalan speaker as opposed to a Spanish speaker as we thought the French families would be able to follow the service more easily and we were proved right as we managed to hold onto what he was saying. At one beautiful moment he invited us to join in the Lord’s Prayer and we did so, in Catalan, in French and in English simultaneously!

As fate would have it, the couple who had driven Chantal to the funeral rooms were not going to the cremation so I found myself driving to Sitges behind the hearse with the widow in the passenger seat of the Audi and Mary in the back. Chantal remarked en route how people wear all sorts of clothing to funerals nowadays in France, all except anything red. Guess what Mary had on?! I’m sure Chantal hadn’t even noticed but Mary swiftly removed her coat as soon as we reached the crematorium and chucked it in the boot. Saved! The cremation was no more than a final chance to say “adieu” to Claude who was for a last few seconds visible in the open coffin, then the lid was shut and we were asked to leave. Back at Vilanova Park we were invited for a drink but declined, to give the family their own time together.

As you can imagine, Sunday was a serious day of rest although I spent a bit of time in the bar with a new friend who had been working on enhancing my old photographs of Wee Georgie and Family, using some sophisticated Photoshop equipment. What a great job he did, even rescuing Joe on his First Communion day photographed with Grandma as you can see below almost completely erased due to damage over time. You’ll see the cleaned-up version in my autobiography.

Outside the Cathedral in Dundee

Outside the Cathedral in Dundee

I’m off to the communal meal tonight onsite while Mary is working then we’re having a get-together with Chantal and her family tomorrow followed on Friday evening by dinner with some other friends Jennifer and Ernest (important to be him!) so the social whirl continues unabated. Phhewww! We also have a group hill walk of 10 kilometres  on Friday afternoon.

As a treat I’m leaving you with the most beautiful child ever, my granddaughter Artemis!

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The hairy bit is her Daddy’s arm!

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News flash

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Socrates, the sprinting snail of Sorrento is now available with illustrations as an e-book on Kindle, Kindle Fire, i-Pad and other Tablets at less than £2 from Amazon. If you have already bought it or downloaded it for free, you will hopefully receive the updated version in the next few days as they say that’s what they normally do. I have informed them of the changes.

I am making good progress with the photos for “Wee Georgie” and have been playing around with placing them in the text. If anyone of my followers has a photo of Dundee taken between 1953 and 1965 especially around the Dudhope Crescent area and South Road area including Charleston and Early Menzieshill and Lochee, please send them to me for possible inclusion (but only a couple at a time, please!) Don’t forget to ask your families, friends and neighbours.

Day 2/122: It’s a Family Affair

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“And so it came to pass that George led his wife Mary out of the strange town and back to the place from whence they sprang. They were led there by a bright light in the sky with “Easyjet” written on it which took them to a place called Newcastle where they boarded a huge iron donkey. When they arrived at the town of their birth, all the inns were full and they could not even lay their heads down at their old dwelling-place, but they found a stable spot next door thanks to a generous uncle and there they remained.

And it was there, with the whole throng of jigsaws looking on, that Mary’s time came and she brought forth a Xmas present which she wrapped in glittery paper and laid under the coffee table. Outside, the news spread rapidly of their arrival and two wise queens (Mum and Alison) hurried to meet them, bringing gifts of milk and bread on which they feasted along with a fish supper! And a heavenly choir of Christmas Number ones rang out through the BBC singing “Last Xmas I got really drunk, but the very next day I fell in the Tay, this year I stuck to the beer, I only drank Carlsberg Special!”

Right, here’s the modern version. The Saturday before we returned to Scotland, all the pals had a pre-Xmas dinner under Fred’s awning. It was a rowdy affair with buckets of food and drink, a Danish Secret Santa and a viciously competitive game of Settlers, won by my partner Het whom I abandoned halfway through due to Spanish tummy.

A smug Het with Boab and Kev keeping the evening sombre!

A smug Het with Boab and Kev keeping the evening sombre!

Now, how I got involved I’ll never quite know but there I was on the Wednesday and Thursday before we left, sitting in Mary’s classroom dressed as Santa Claus giving out presents and certificates to the pupils! Great moment when they crowded around me for the big photo and one wee boy whispered to his pal “Mira, su barba es falsa!” No need for a translation there I think. On the second night I even stayed behind to talk to the parents….. and what did I get for my efforts above and beyond? A parking ticket! Yes, I was nicked for overstaying my welcome. And it wasn’t even a sleigh!

On the first night we missed the usual weekly meal up in the restaurant as we were down at the school, but I kept the suit on to drive back up to the campsite where we surprised the diners with a visit from Santa. Much fun was had by all and even the staff joined in!

Santa al bar!

Santa al bar!

Eventually we flew back on 20th December to be at the christening of our granddaughter Artemis that Sunday. The day went very well up in Arbroath and Eve’s parents did us proud with a wonderful spread. The whole family was there including the boys’ mum Isobel and her sister Dorothy so all sides were fully represented. Young George was the godfather and Nellie’s wife Lyndsey the godmother. The star of the day was passed around a million times but took it all in her stride, crying only when I personally tried to hold her. What? I hope you’re not laughing!

Oh, this is interesting, Mum and Dad!

Oh, this is interesting, Mum and Dad!

The next couple of days in the run-up to Xmas were ridiculously busy as you might well expect but I was concentrating by then on getting my book some publicity locally. It was truly a wonderful moment to have in my hands a physical copy of the book with my name on it and I was very proud of it. Eventually, a week later, there was an article about me in the Dundee Courier coinciding with me doing a book signing at the Nisa supermarket just down the hill from the flat. The day went very well, I met several old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and I sold 25 copies of “Socrates”. By the end of the holidays that figure would be 33, an unanticipated bonus.

My 5 minutes of fame

My 5 minutes of fame

Christmas Day was mass in the morning, followed by a short visit to Mum and to Alison, then back up to Eve’s parents for a buffet. By then, Scott’s Canadian friend Simon was with us, having come north from Cambridge where he is studying. A couple of days later we took Simon to St. Andrews and showed him around the beautiful University town and of course its golfing icons.

We continued to visit as many folk as we could, squeezing in some priority time with our grandson Ben (boy, has he made progress over the last few months!). On the Saturday between the 2 festivals we had the traditional Kelso AFC smoker night out, this time with everyone in Blues Brothers garb. Naturally yours truly walked off with the prize for “Best Dressed” although some suggested it was “Best in Show!” Anno Domini is inevitable however and by half past nine I was safely curled up on the settee snoring my head off. I even missed MOTD!

Best Dressed, sunshine!

Best Dressed, sunshine!

One day George and I took Ben to the soft-play centre “Pirate Island” which is always a bit of a laugh as we adults scamper around trying to keep up with Ben who runs around in perpetual motion mode. I still managed to meet other friends and ex-colleagues there so had a busy few hours. However I found time to properly catch up with my first-born and find out where his life is and where he wants it to go next. He seems focused but like so many parents is suffering from so many sleepless nights over the past 2 years. I’m sure we all recognise his situation, or at least thank God we were spared it. I wasn’t!

The best moment was at the very start of our visit, just after we had stepped off the plane in Newcastle. Greg called to tell me he had just been informed he was to be taken on full-time permanent at the packaging factory in Montrose where he had been working for the previous 3 months. After news like that I needed no further Christmas presents. Well done my boy. I am hugely proud of you and your perseverance.

The last few days were a bit frenetic and before we knew it was time to pack up and come back to Vilanova. Not before I took Ben to Toys ‘R Us and bought him some Thomas the Tank Engine stuff. Nice that was! (Am I sounding a bit like Yoda?) We saw everyone one last time, hugged, kissed, made promises we can’t keep, hopped on the train and went back down to Newcastle for tea and a bed at Dorothy’s. The next morning we took an early taxi to the airport and had a trouble-free flight back to Barcelona. Mary found it especially exciting…….

I'm Mary, fly me!

I’m Mary, fly me!

Het and Mike picked us up at El Prat, delivered us safely back to the campsite then gave us dinner as all the shops were closed for the feast of the Epiphany which is Spain’s real celebration of Christmas.  These two have become close friends over the year just finished and we’re sure that that will continue to be the case for many years to come (unless I never get the Vilanova Cup back from Mike!) This morning I had breakfast outside the awning as you can see and it felt really surprisingly good to be back.

Nothing like a nice cuppa!

Nothing like a nice cuppa!

So that’s it, we’re back and Mary was at work tonight as usual. Thanks everyone for a great Xmas break. We had a ball. Pity it didn’t snow though!

I leave you with a cracking  photo of my grandchildren and some supposed adults!

 

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Ben’s Mum Fiona, Artemis, Scott, Ben, Artemis’ Dad Gavin