Day 2/233: Les Démenageurs arrivent

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The title today is especially for Uncle Gerard and should remind him of a chapter in Book 1 of the infamous “Tour de France” French text book which revolutionized the teaching of languages away back in the late 70s. It means “The removal men arrive” and is quite appropriate for the content of this post Enjoy!

From the moment we got back to Vilanova Park, the priority was always going to be to prepare ourselves for a move to bigger premises. So, on Wednesday morning, we were both up early (before 9 o’clock!) and starting to pack away the contents of the awning in anticipation of disassembling it and putting it back in its bag. The master plan was to separate all the items into those that would be required here after the summer and those we could take home to Scotland in June.

Let's get cracking!

Let’s get cracking!

Does anyone ever really know just how much stuff they accumulate over a period of time? We certainly don’t have the slightest idea. By Wednesday midday we had discovered an absolute Aladdin’s cave of treasures hiding in pokey wee holes both inside the Magic Caravan and outside in the awning. Why do we have 9 rolls of sellotape! We have 11 rolls of toilet tissue in a loo we don’t use! Why do we have a shopping bag with 18 other bags inside it? Why does our chest of 3 drawers have 2 of them filled with books we have either read or have no intention of reading?

As for clothing, well, don’t get me started. I have 17 t-shirts, 11 of which I never wear. My 6 favourites get worn, washed and worn again. Simple! I have 4 sun hats. Do you get where I’m coming from? I could just about understand and accept the need for two of them. But 4? That leaves me scratching my head – of which I have but one! As for Mary’s clothes, the single heaviest item other than the caravan itself is a suitcase full of Mary’s “winter” clothes. This woolly and thick cotton array is designed to keep one warm when the temperatures plunge. By plunge I mean drop down below 10 degrees and keep heading down till a minus sign appears. The lowest temperature we have ever recorded here at Vilanova Park was 5 degrees………. At 8.30 in the morning in mid-January!

Since last early September I have worn my “No Fear” weatherproof once out here. I have never worn my woolly hat or my gloves. I have never worn my expensive Underarmour. I wore proper socks twice! The only time I have ever had to zip up my leather jacket was a fortnight ago….. in Carnoustie! But just in case, we have brought a truck-load of clothing and other items with us to protect us from the elements. What elements? Remember, since 7 September 2013 it has rained on 13 occasions in Vilanova. So why do we have 2 umbrellas?! Mary even has a pair of wellington boots stashed away in the far corner of the awning.

Ok, rant over: let’s get back to the flitting. But I should mention that Wednesday was the feast of the Patron Saint of Cataluña, Sant Jordi, better known to you as Saint George (dragon and all!). Tradition dictates here that the girls get a rose from their special one and give a book in return, so we stuck to the rules and followed suit. Mary got her roses and I got a book……. in Catalan about Jordi and the dragon!

By any other name would smell so sweet

By any other name would smell so sweet

You’ll laugh at this. Unfortunately it was really, really hot all day Wednesday, making our labours all the more exhausting. I know: you’re smiling now! As things slowly began to take shape, we were forced to take on huge quantities of liquid (Fanta Limon zero for me and Fanta orange zero for Lady Burton). Tea was a farewell to Kate and Dave at Tom and Margaret’s and our hostess did us proud with food and drink in abundance

Margaret, Walter, Kate, Dave, Tom, Mary, Johanna

Margaret, Dave, Kate, Walter, Tom, Mary, Johanna

So we just about survived although I was struggling to stay awake as I watched Real Madrid v Bayern Munich in the Champions’ League semi-final first leg that evening. Let’s just say we slept soundly that night.

We didn't know it was a Tardis!

We didn’t know it was a Tardis!

Thursday morning dawned sunny and hot, letting us know we would not be getting off with an easy flitting. Decorum demanded that we wait until Kate and Dave left before starting to move our belongings the 50 metres down the road to our new pitch. After a succession of hugs and tearful moments, Dave finally got Kate into the car and they headed off towards Toulouse, their first stop on the journey home. Fortunately he’d given me the keys to the Bailey and we’d signed duplicate forms stating the caravan was now ours! Yippeee!

All ready to move

All ready to move

The next job was to move the Magic Caravan down onto the other pitch. As it happened we didn’t even have to reverse the car in or hitch up because we had enough friends/ helpers/ onlookers to push the damn thing down the road and manoeuvre it alongside the big caravan. All that was left on our original pitch was the tent which served as a store for items we didn’t use much but, as both pitches were paid for that day, we decided to leave the tent for the moment and concentrate on settling in to our new home.

I’ll spare you the details here except to say that we worked our wee socks off, had tea in the new caravan, watched some TV which I’d set up and then tumbled into our wonderful fixed bed and pulled shut the dividing door. Bliss! Neither of us actually slept all that well the first night but I’m sure you all know what the excitement and novelty of a new situation can do to your brain.

Our first meal in the new caravan

Our first meal in the new caravan

Since then we’ve plugged away at sorting everything into the 2 caravans according to what will be needed in Scotland and what will stay in Spain. I’m writing this on Monday evening and I have to admit we’ve pretty much got it cracked after only 4 days. The heat has forced us to take more breaks than normal so although we’ve had to slow down a bit yet we haven’t lost heart and we now see the end in sight.

2 caravans, 1 pitch!

2 caravans, 1 pitch!

I must tell you about what Kate left me with and a recommendation to use it as often as I can. It’s an Induction Hob (bought I think from Lidl, Uncle Ian!) and it really is the bees’ knees when it comes to cooking. It works by warming the bottom of a pan using magnetic fields and its power is absolutely awesome! I boiled a pint of cold water in under 30 seconds today! So far it’s the only thing I’ve used for cooking and it sits out here in the awning where I’m typing this post, so no cooking smells in the caravan. It is a brilliant device, electric so included in the price we pay and I can see why Kate and Dave never actually used the cooker/hob fitted in the caravan.

Just so you’ll all understand what’s happening, we’ll be staying here until Mary’s contract runs out on 15 June. Shortly afterwards we’ll pop the new caravan into the storage depot we used last year and we’ll start to tow the Magic caravan up through France and England, arriving back in Scotland in early July. We’ll be storing it up at Birkhill as we did before after we bought it. From then on, any member of the family may ask to use it for a certain amount of time and we will happily allow you to have it entirely free of charge. You’ll need a tow bar on your car of course but you could get someone else to take it to a site and leave it there for you. It will have all you’ll need for a great wee holiday (except the wine!). Please book with us as soon as you have a date in mind.

Well, that’s you up-to-date on our latest adventures. We really must try to do something exciting one of these days!

The view from our new pitch!

The view from our new pitch!

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Day 2/232: Now the Green Blade riseth!

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Having said goodbye to all our visitors for the moment, the end of March was a return to normal life, if our life could ever be called “normal”. Both of us developed quite nasty colds which hung around for a few days, confining us to barracks once on a day when it was thankfully chucking it down so we missed nothing. There were now more frequent changes in the occupants of the pitches around us as those who preferred to spend the winter here chose to pack up and travel back to their homelands as winter faded and the sun began to return to frozen wastes.

Robert and Margaret, the old couple on the first pitch on our road, finally decided to call it a day after 14 years here at Vilanova Park. Declining health and a series of falls and mishaps eventually persuaded them that it was no longer safe to live away from their family, so sadly they were forced to call for the assistance of their son and grandson who came out and helped them to pack up and prepare to leave. This took about a week, during which they sold off or gave away most of the contents of their caravan as well as their tow-car before being driven to the airport for a final flight back to England. God bless them both!

Margaret and Robert

Margaret and Robert

The great bonus of this quiet time was that I was finally able to sit down at the laptop and get stuck in to the second book of “Socrates”. The Muse crept up and enveloped me as April made its debut and the words fairly tumbled onto the page as if a dam had burst. Before I knew it six chapters had emerged into the light of day, six thousand words or so, with the rest queuing up in orderly fashion in my noggin, waiting to be typed into existence.

As always, Mary was my editor and sounding-board and I would pace around the awning anxiously waiting for her verdict on the quality of what I had written. I’m sure you can imagine the delight I felt each time she pronounced a chapter fit to be read and indeed possibly superior to the standard set in book 1. I do believe I could have finished all ten chapters during that fertile period but I had to set aside my keyboard as the tenth approached, heralding our return to Dundee for Easter.

But unbeknown to almost everyone, a major change in our circumstances was about to take place. Unfortunately, our good friends Kate and Dave from Bath had decided to stop touring with their caravan, opting instead next autumn to fly over and hire a chalet. This left them needing to sell their rather nice 4-berth Bailey Pageant Burgundy, a lovely caravan just 5 years old, plus a whole awning full of the trappings of long-stay on a campsite. To cut a long story short, they offered us the caravan, we agreed a price, shook hands on the deal and arranged for us to take possession when they left for home on the 25 April. But more of that later!

Our journey home to Dundee was with Ryanair via Prestwick from where we caught a train to Glasgow Central, nipped over to Glasgow Queen Street and took a second train to Dundee where Scott picked us up and drove us to our temporary digs at Mary’s Mum’s house. As always, she overwhelmed us with love and kindness, feeding us, washing our clothes, even giving us hot water bottles at bedtime and letting us use her car! Thank you, Mum, we both love you dearly.

We had resolved to have a less hectic visit than the chaos that is Christmas time with family, so we took it slowly, concentrating on our nearest and dearest and leaving it to fate to bump into friends we hadn’t seen for a while. I suppose 40-odd years is a bit excessive but when we chanced upon my primary school best friend, Eddie Weir, in Boot’s in Lochee one day, there was a genuine moment of nostalgic emotion between us and we couldn’t stop hugging each other. We immediately made plans to meet to catch up all those years apart, but as usual we ran out of time this holiday and I have had to write to apologize to Eddie for not finding an hour to share a pint or two. We have agreed to meet in the summer and I intend not to break that promise.

The first day of our holiday we caught up with Mary’s family and in the evening Scott and I went into town to attend the engagement party of an ex-Kelso player Liam Feeney, one of the many second generation boys at the club whose fathers were my team-mates. At this event we met up with several of the present Kelso players and Committee members and I was able to have a first-hand account of how the season had gone. It was a bit of a laugh when those who were unaware of our circumstances accused me of spending too much time under the sunlamp!

The very next day, we were up to George’s where we saw both of our grandchildren, Ben and Artemis, plus their Mums and Dads and a very tall Daniel who must have been sleeping in a Grow-Bag for the past 4 months! That afternoon I went to watch Gavin and Scott play for Kelso up in Carnoustie where I enjoyed a 2-2 draw played amidst an occasional dust storm as the topsoil blew off the adjacent ploughed field in the howling gale! The referee, my old friend Calum Race, told me he considered abandoning the game at one point when visibility was reduced to about 20 metres.

The keeper never saw it!

The keeper never saw it!

 

After Palm Sunday Mass, we drove to Coupar Angus to visit our 92-year old aunt Cissie, the doyenne of the family. We found her bright and cheery if a little confused but we could see that she is very frail now and somewhat unsure of herself. On our return we were cheered by Mum’s classic steak pie (bought as usual from the Lochee butcher’s) and I must admit that I doubt if there is a better meal on the planet. I took advantage of being back in Dundee to make appointments at the Diabetes and the Hypertension Clinics at the local health centre and I had a thorough MOT on the Thursday which showed me to be imperfect but still game!

Monday involved me meeting with Elaine (Lainey), the illustrator of Book 1 of Socrates, the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento.  We chatted about the possibility of her illustrating Book 2 as well, but as she has some family issues and might not have the time over the next 6 months, there is just the possibility I will have to buy the rights to the drawings from her and then seek a new illustrator. Any offers? On Monday evening we were invited down to Auntie Marie and uncle Ian’s where we caught up with their side of the family. Ian proudly played us a recording of his granddaughter Nicole singing “Somewhere” from West Side Story which I consider the best I’ve ever heard of her amazing voice and we could hear that her time at the Conservatoire in Glasgow is having a positive impact on the development of her singing.

On Tuesday we had a really good lunch at the Park Hotel with uncle Gerard then on Tuesday evening I managed to have a couple of hours alone with my eldest George down at the Taybridge Bar. He was able to update me on his job, his aspirations for the future, and how the 3 members of his family were doing. While Ben is thriving and sleeping much better at night times, Daniel is preparing for his National Exams at St. John’s High School, the first diet of the new Curriculum for Excellence Exams. Fingers crossed there then! Daniel is however quietly confident and all reports suggest he will do well. No pressure of course, son! Unfortunately George told me that his partner Fiona has to go into Ninewells Hospital on Easter Saturday for a quite serious operation and he was of course anxious on her behalf. Fiona did get through the operation and back home 3 days later but has since had to be readmitted with an infection. Our thoughts are with her just now.

On Wednesday Mary and I drove up to Arbroath where we spent a couple of hours with our daughter-in-law Eve and baby Artemis. Now that she is all of 7 months old Ari appears to have decided that granddad is no longer the Bogeyman so she does not feel the need to screw up her face and scream as soon as I enter the room. Indeed she sat happily in my lap for half an hour playing with her toys and posing coyly for a barrage of photos. Eve’s maternity leave will be up at the end of the first week of May but thankfully her mother Elaine will be taking over the reins, something I’m sure she will be desperately looking forward to. It will of course be a bitter-sweet moment for Eve but after wall-to-wall baby she’ll appreciate becoming an individual again.

Does she look worried to you?

Does she look worried to you?

That next day, Mary took the train to Edinburgh to meet up with sisters Dorothy and Claire and children, prior to a visit to Edinburgh zoo to see the famous pandas. Mary would be spending the night with Claire and kids in Edinburgh followed by a day around the city. I visited Ben at his other grandparents’ house then popped into St. Paul’s Academy to leave a couple of copies of “Socrates” for the school library. Of course I met loads of my old colleagues and friends and the “popping in” lasted the whole afternoon but I was pleased to find most of them fit and well and surviving the daily whirlwind that is teaching in a secondary school. Good luck to you all. I genuinely miss you.

Do I look like I want children?

Do I look like I want children?

From there I drove out of Dundee and up to Blairgowrie where I spent the first of 2 nights with my cousin Renée and her husband Stef. Their daughter Teresa and her daughter Becky (who visited us here in Vilanova at the tail end of last year) came round for dinner as well and we sat at table late having a great catch-up. Good Friday was lazy until I had to drive back into Dundee to pick Mary up at the station and then return to Renée’s. Mary had obviously had a cracking good time in Edinburgh and talked all the way back about what she and her sisters had gotten up to. Cousin Ricky came for dinner that night along with Teresa and her husband Steve so it was brilliant having all that family around the table. All too soon on Saturday morning it was bye! bye! to Blairgowrie and the cousins but we left in the knowledge that Cissie was not doing well and might have to be admitted to hospital, something she, like my late mother Peggy, considered to be her worst nightmare.

After settling in at Mary’s sister Ally’s, Scott and I met up with Gavin to watch Kelso 2nd XI in a league match against Morgan Academy FPs. Later we met up with Mary, bought a carry-out curry and went back to our flat where we stuffed ourselves to the point of bursting. Greg showed up just as we were starting and, but for George, the family was complete again. We noticed as usual that Scott has kept the flat like a new pin, much better than we ever have! Gavin and Greg took the train back to Arbroath and Montrose respectively then we went over to Ally’s house but hardly survived half an hour before the Sandman did his best!

Easter Sunday was a riot of mass, bacon rolls at Ally’s, a visit to George, Daniel and Ben to roll our eggs in their garden, Lochee Park to roll more eggs with Ally, Dave and the kids including Dorothy’s two wee ones, Beth and Zak, then we all had tea at mum’s, one of her famous lasagnes. Back at Ally’s we made final arrangements for our departure before going to bed.

It is in the giving that we receive! Thank you, Ben!

It is in the giving that we receive! Thank you, Ben!

After our hosts were all off to school and work on Monday morning, Scott came over and took us to the bus station where we caught the Citylink to Glasgow Airport and the Travelodge just next to it. When I checked up on auntie Cissie, she had indeed been admitted to the Perth Royal Infirmary (or the Perth D.R.I. as they say in Dundee!) with a urine infection which was causing her some considerable distress, but at least she is now not alone and in good hands.

The Houghtons, Dave, Stephen, Sarah and Ally

The Houghtons, Dave, Stephen, Sarah and Ally

Early on Tuesday morning we took a Jet 2 flight back to Barcelona where our Dutch friends Tom and Margaret were bang on time to pick us up and deliver us safely back here at the campsite. We spent the afternoon settling back in then I drove Mary to her work and did the shopping for the rest of the week. Phewww!

I think I’ll stop there and write you the story of the new caravan tomorrow. You can get too much of a good thing, you know!

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Mary and I in the garden with Ben