2014 in review

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Here is a summary of the blog for 2014 which WordPress sent me this morning. I thought it was interesting enough to share with my readers.   Meanwhile, back in Dundee, it’s cold as you can see from the photo taken yesterday at 2.30 p.m. as we prepared to go shopping. A Happy New Year to you all and thank you so much for all your support. (Dot, I’ll look out a Golden Pen for you!)

The battery was flat as well!

The battery was flat as well!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Vamos! Chapter 7: Secret



Tommy’s mother was dead. Recently dead. Very recently. She had passed away during the night after another exciting evening of “Strictly Come Dancing”, “Coronation Street” and her usual bottle of knock-off gin. Now she was laid out in the back room of the chalet, stiff as a board. But her son was not pole-axed with grief at her sudden demise: nor indeed was his wife Angela. No, far from it, both were too busy sitting round the living-room table puzzling how exactly they were going to dispose of the corpse.

-No, Ange, we can’t just dump ‘er in the bin. Someone will find ‘er, that’s for sure, and then we’ll ‘ave to face the Spanish bizzies. No, we’ll ‘ave to be cleverer than that. I’m beginning to wish we ‘adn’t brought ‘er ‘ere in the van in the first place.

-Well don’t blame me, Tommy Mitchell. It was your idea, wasn’t it, to bring ‘er ‘ere with no passport or nuffin’ just to get away from a shitey shopliftin’ charge.

-But, Ange. I really thought she’d be sent down this time if she went to court. Remember, she did break the security guard’s nose with that frozen chicken she whipped out from under ‘er ‘oodie. They were going to do ‘er for GBH!

-I still can’t believe, Tommy Mitchell, that you put your own mother, your own flesh and blood, under the bench seat of a caravan and drove ‘er all the way from Elsmere Port to bleedin’ France without lettin’ ‘er out for a pee or nuffin’. That’s cruelty that is! And now look at ‘er. Stone dead, that’s what she is, and ‘oose fault is that now? I’ll tell you ‘oose fault that is, I will. It’s your fault, Tommy Mitchell, that’s ‘oose it is. You’ve killed your own mother!

-Now that’s not fair it’s not, Ange. You knew as well as I did that she’d eventually drink ‘erself to death, so you did. It was only a matter of time. I just didn’t think it would ‘appen out ‘ere in Spain. Now we ‘ave a illegal alien to get rid of, so we do. ‘ow are we gonna do that then, tell me? Go ‘ead, tell me then!

-Hey, listen ‘ere, soft lad! Don’t you go expectin’ me to get you out of this mess. You brought ‘er ‘ere, now you get rid of ‘er! And you better do it pronto, amigo, cos I swear on me own mother’s life, that old cow is startin’ to stink!

-You never liked my mother in the first place, did you? I know she ‘ad ‘er faults, I know she liked a drop of gin, I know you didn’t like ‘er shopliftin’, at least you didn’t like ‘er getting caught shopliftin’.

-Look ‘ere, Tommy Mitchell. You just get that corpse out of our chalet, and I mean today, or I swear I’ll take a axe to ‘er so I will.

-Alright, alright. Keep your ‘air on! I ‘ave an idea of what I can do anyway. Where’s the key to the Suzuki?

-Where’s the key to the Suzuki? Are you stark ravin’ bonkers, soft lad? I suppose you’re goin’ to sit ‘er on the back and take ‘er for a spin!

-Actually, Ange, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do!

True to his word, Tommy slunk through to the increasingly whiffy back bedroom and proceeded to force his mother’s corpse into a set of leathers which he tightened up as best he could to cover the entire body. After slipping the deceased woman into a pair of biker boots and covering her head with his favourite tinted visor helmet, he finished the masquerade with a pair of leather gloves which he craftily joined together at the wrists with a belt. Mum was ready to go for her first and last ride on the Suzuki!

To get her on the bike, Tommy first backed it all the way to the bottom of the decking stairs. With Angie’s help, his mother was then carried quickly out of the chalet and placed astride the motorbike supported until Tommy took his position in front and slipped the joined arms of his inert parent over his head, past his shoulders and finally round his waist. Meanwhile, Angie did as requested and attached her ankles to each side of the bike using a couple of nylon ties and then used a third to secure the front of her mother-in-law’s helmet to the back of her husband’s leather jacket.

Tommy checked all was well by edging forward on the bike and both were relieved when mother clung on diligently and appeared to all intents and purposes to be simply holding on as any pillion passenger would. Angie waved them off with a final warning that this was Tommy’s idea and she would have nothing to do with it if they were found out. As he expected nothing better from his fiery partner, Tommy accelerated away up and out of the campsite turning sharp right at the exit and heading out over the flat, rough terrain in the direction of the hills to the north of the town.

Two hours later he returned alone to announce that his mother had been laid to rest 30 metres down at the bottom of the reservoir set in the foothills, firmly ensconced below with the help of a bag full of stones tied around her neck!

-Did nobody see you, then? Are you sure? What if somebody did? What if the old cow floats back up?

-Of course nobody saw me, you pillock! I was careful, wasn’t I? I was only throwing me dead mother into a Spanish reservoir after all, wasn’t I? Why would I not want anyone to see that? Christ! I could’ve sold tickets, couldn’t I? Angie, gimme a break, will you?

-So you ‘ad no bother getting’ rid of ‘er then?

-Well, once I’d actually got ‘er detached from me flamin’ jacket, that is! Do you know ‘ow strong those nylon ties are? I ‘ad to lift ‘er arms over me ‘ead and unzip me own jacket to escape! Then I ‘ad to bite the bloody ties off ‘er ankles and that wasn’t easy with ‘er leanin’ all ‘er 20 stone over on top of me. But once I’d lifted ‘er onto the wall and tied the Mercadona bag full of rocks around ‘er neck, she was ready for the off. I just ‘ad to pull the leathers off ‘er, give ‘er a farewell kiss and tip ‘er over. She sank like a bleedin’ stone so she did! Oh but I did keep ‘er teeth as a sort of souvenir like. ‘Ere, stick them in the bedside drawer will you?

-Oh you really are disgustin’ Tommy Mitchell. Imagine takin’ a woman’s teeth out and keepin’ them for yourself. ‘Ow could you? You’ll go to ‘ell for that so you will.

-And I suppose I won’t go to ‘ell for sendin’ me mother to the bottom of a Spanish reservoir, will I?

-That’s not the point is it? A woman’s teeth is a personal thing so it is. It’s ‘er dignity what counts. She may be dead but she still ‘as feelings, ‘asn’t she?

-Well actually, Ange………….



Christmas Post


Many of you will have gathered that we are back in Dundee. Even if we hadn’t intended to spend Xmas and the New Year with the family, we would have been back anyway, as I’m sad to recount that Auntie Cissie passed away in her sleep on Monday 15 December, aged 93. Despite being sad at her passing, I think we’re all a wee bit relieved that she is no longer worried or frightened about where she is or what’s happening to her. She looked a bit lost once she was no longer in her own house, even though she had her furniture and familiar objects in her room at Northlands in Blairgowrie.

Cissie outside her house in Coupar Angus

Cissie outside her house in Coupar Angus

We bury Cissie tomorrow. She’ll be laid to rest in the new cemetery in Coupar Angus where she lived for most of her life along with the other maiden aunt in the family, her older sister Lizzie. Both these aunts played a significant role in my upbringing right from just after my birth when Mum had a stroke and couldn’t look after me. Cissie in fact outlived her six siblings by quite a margin, being the youngest of the Casciani family and also having led a sober, restrained life avoiding all extremes of behaviour and habit. But she was still a whole load of fun, loved by everybody and always ready to lend a helping hand if required. Her real name was Helen, but her brother Patrick used to call her “my wee sissums” when she was a child and the name morphed into Cissie then stuck.

And that will be that. My Mum’s entire generation will have gone, Julie, Lizzie, Mary, Katie, Pat, Peggy (Mum) and Cissie along with two I never knew, Jeemy and Joey. And all their partners too! The inevitability of death has even crept into my own generation already with the untimely passing of cousins Joe, Tony and Mary. I guess I’d better get on with living life while I still have it.

As fate would have it, Auntie Cissie passed away on the same day I was due to play Santa Claus for the schoolchildren at Times English School, the first of two evenings I had committed to. I was therefore wearing a bit of a painted smile in the school that night, but the joy on the faces of the little ones at seeing Santa lifted my spirits immensely and the whole thing proved perfectly enjoyable. I was out by seven and able to drive round to the train station to pick up Mike and Het on their return from a brief visit to their families in England. I also went back for Mary at nine when she finished the last of her three classes she’d been asked to do and we had tea back in the caravan.

"You better watch out...."

“You better watch out….”

We repeated the act on Tuesday but only after driving Dutch friends Tom and Greeta to Terminal 1 for their flight back to Holland for Xmas. And on the way back from the airport we of course had an unexpected adventure. Just as we passed through the toll barrier at the end of the tunnels, I spotted a guy in a Hi-Vis jacket next to a caravan with a British registration. I pulled in in front of him and offered assistance, only to discover that he and his wife were on their way to Vilanova Park and had broken down just 15 kms from their destination. When we could make no progress with the car, I offered to hitch up his caravan and take his wife to the safety of the campsite and send someone to take a look at the vehicle. That’s why we found ourselves towing a caravan (with no electrics!) along the C32 with a stranger and 2 dogs on the back seat.

We got there safe and sound, sent a mechanic from the staff to check out the problem then we all helped get the caravan set up on the pitch they had booked on G Block. The husband arrived a couple of hours later minus car with knackered gearbox but they soon got into the swing of things Vilanova style. I felt damned righteous by the time I’d entertained the kids back at the school again and reckoned that might help atone for a whole bundle of naughty things I’ve done in the past!

On Wednesday we packed our bags for the flight home and filled our one checked-in case with all the Xmas presents we’d bought for the family. Then, at six in the evening, I donned the Santa costume for a third time to take part in the carol-singing I had organized with my friends. A dozen or so of us went around the site singing carols in 5 languages, English, French, German, Spanish and even Catalan, although that version of “Jingle Bells” was one taught to me by Guillem the previous Thursday and as you can imagine dealt with matters fascinating to an 8-year old!

The Vilanova Singers

The Vilanova Singers

We all then attended the Wednesday meal up at the restaurant and it turned out to be an excellent Xmas occasion. Everyone wanted their photo taken with Santa and our choir (The Vilanova Singers!) did another set at the end of the meal. On our way back to the caravan, Mary and I were called in by Norwegian neighbours Mae and Jon who had missed the earlier singing, so we agreed to duet a rendition of “Away in a Manger” which brought a smile to their faces and ten charitable Euros from their pockets! All the money collected was added to the box up in the bar for a little girl who has a lesion on the brain. Poor soul!

Clockwise: Mary, Santa, Chantal, Lise and Het

Clockwise: Mary, Santa, Chantal, Lise and Het

Up with the lark on Thursday, Mike got us to the airport in loads of time and we were in Edinburgh by two in the afternoon. No hitches until we got to Haymarket where we had to wait almost 3 hours to catch the train to Dundee due to cancellations. But on a positive note Gavin was on the same train and we had a grand catch-up on the journey home. The weather was quite reasonable on our arrival so being back in Dundee wasn’t the total shock it could have been. That evening we saw both Mum and Uncle Gerard but later we spent it quietly discussing things with our son Scott.

Next day we were up early to drive Scott to school (his last day as a trainee teacher) and then we drove to Blairgowrie where cousin Stef took me to the funeral rooms to see Auntie Cissie before they closed the coffin. She was absolutely beautiful, in her own clothes, hair in a clasp and rouge on her cheeks. Not scary at all, just Auntie Cissie as if asleep and untroubled. God bless her. I’ve been asked to say a few words about her at the requiem mass on Xmas Eve and I hope I can acquit that duty with merit. She’ll no doubt be listening!

George and Ben came over for an hour on Sunday so it was brilliant seeing both of them again. That was after Scott and I had escaped from mass early to get down to the Hawkhill Tavern to see Dundee United beat leaders Celtic 2-1 live on the TV. I have always delighted in seeing both Celtic and Rangers come a cropper in games and you’ll recall that last season I was with Fred, Bob and Emile at the Camp Nou to see Barcelona stick 6 past the green and white hoops. It looks like the other ones (those in blue) are still struggling fiercely to stay afloat despite a ridiculous amount of difficulties both on and off the field, but it’s Ally McCoist I feel sorry for, having to watch his beloved Rangers wallow in such shameful circumstances. I honestly think it would be better if that club disappeared completely and their Glasgow rivals went and played elsewhere.

Speaking of Glasgow, how terrible is the news of that bizarre incident in the centre of town yesterday when an out-of-control bin lorry mowed down a load of Christmas shoppers, killing six and injuring even more. Following on from the helicopter crash there last New Year, once again the proud people of Glasgow will have to call upon their famous spirit and big hearts to see them through another devastating tragedy.

Ok, let’s cheer things up a bit! “Wee Georgie” has done us all proud, selling like hot cakes in Waterstones of Dundee to the tune of almost 150 copies. This is way beyond my wildest expectations and gives me the boost I need to continue churning out the pages of the follow-up, as yet without a title. I recently read the eight or nine chapters I wrote a couple of years ago and I have to say I found myself laughing out loud at certain moments, especially at the more outrageous things that happened to me and the rest of the family. No sneak previews however: you’ll have to wait until next Christmas which is my target date for publication.

By the way, I’m posting up a Christmas gift to you all, a chapter from my Campsite romp “Vamos!” Hope you like it, but try to read it with a Scouse accent.

It only remains, dear readers, to thank you for your support with my adventures in writing this year about to end and to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2015. Cissie now knows all the answers, the rest of us are still scratching our heads.George, Ben and Cissie

George, Ben and Cissie

Day 3/68: Exodus


And then it went a bit quiet. You know what it’s like: you’ve had a belter of a time over a period of days, due mainly to a coincidence of events you had never really organized in your head, and then it all stops. Suddenly there are no more birthdays , no more anniversaries and no more flimsy excuses to get together with friends and have a wee bit of fun. You find yourself standing outside the caravan trying to remember what you were supposed to be doing that evening, then realising that there is nothing on the cards. You slink back to the safety of the caravan, slide a DVD into the side of the telly, sit back and have a quiet night in. Weird!

But it doesn’t last long around here! There are just too many people happy to still be alive and determined to enjoy every minute that the Good Lord has granted them. They have no time for “what should have been” or “if onlys”. No, they are hell-bent on going out with a big grin on their faces, happy in the knowledge that they have lived life to the full and have few regrets about how they have done so.

We’re not at that stage of course (at least I hope not) and still see this period of our lives as a good decision we took some time in the past. And why not? The boys are all sorted one way or the other, and the rest of our family and friends have their busy lives. Greg at least keeps me up to date on how he and Karen are doing. Did you know he has started a new job preparing polytunnels? No, it appears Dundee can do without us for a while yet. That’s OK but we would like the odd phone call  or email,it’s true. Have you forgotten that Skype calls are free? Even calling from a mobile won’t cost you an arm and a leg like it used to do.

So all we can do is keep updating you back home on what we’re doing from day to day and hope that this information fills the gap in your knowledge of our life. This blog has proven to be absolutely invaluable from that point of view, sending our news all around the world to the many people both at home and abroad whom we have met on our travels. I am really flattered to discover that there are a couple of people we met randomly on campsites during out tour of Europe who have followed our adventures ever since, making the odd comment and letting us know that they are aware of what we are doing from day to day.

In the world of writing I’ve made a bit of progress. Socrates 2 is now at chapter 9 of 10 and I am relatively happy with what I have written although Mary threw a fit at Chapter 8, saying that my description of how something had happened to Socrates was completely unacceptable! This served to reinforce to me that my decision had been correct in the first place, as provoking such a reaction in my readers is exactly what I want to do.

“Wee Georgie” continues to do very well in Waterstones. My last box of 30 has sold out very quickly (in 10 days) and Scott had to take down another box of 30 to them just 2 days ago. I have also offered to do a signing for them in the bookstore over the last weekend before Xmas which may coincide with an article in the Courier Weekend Magazine entitled “Firsts and Lasts” where I describe the first and last times I did various things. If I say so myself, it’s probably worth a read.

Let’s talk weather, as you have probably heard about the bad weather which has swept up the coast from the Atlantic, crossed the Med and beaten the hell out of northern Italy. Well, to tell the truth, we have not in the past 2 years seen such a run of poor weather here in Vilanova. Since the start of December it has rained for several days and the temperatures have dropped considerably, especially at night when single figures are all we can expect. The difference is that, during the sunny days, the mercury rises up to 17/18 degrees by about 2 in the afternoon, good enough to sit outside and way too hot for a nap in the awning. But once the sun goes to bed, the temperature drops like a stone and we have to put on the heating in the caravan.

When we bought the new caravan it wasn’t totally perfect. There was a particularly bouncy floor just in front of the high usage area at the entrance and off to the left between the benches. Fortunately I have a plethora of friends out here who plied their trade before retirement as various kinds of engineers, giving me the absolute best advice as to how to cure the problem. Today I have added an 80 x 40cm piece of plywood under the spongy area, propped it up with a couple of pieces of wood and a scissors jack and glued the plywood to the underside of the floor. Result? No more spongy floor. I am immensely proud of what I’ve done there, lying on my back underneath the caravan, metal cross member hard against my chest and fat gut, forcing me to stretch my arms to the limit to reach the middle of the caravan floor. And don’t even ask if there were any spiders down there!

“F” block is emptying for Xmas. Carol and Rob are back in Liverpool, Mike and Het left yesterday for the frozen wastes of the Lake District for a whistle-stop visit, Sandra is back working in Dundee, Jeanette is back in Copenhagen and several other foreign neighbours will be celebrating the Nativity in their own home towns. Maybe next year we will give staying here over Xmas and the New Year a try, but as you already know, we are coming back to Dundee on Thursday 18 December for a 3 week holiday. The TV suggests that Scotland is being battered by some really fierce weather just lately, so we will be looking forward to some interesting days in Balgay Park with grandson Ben once we are home.

How can I even begin to describe to you our last evening at Fred and Jeanette’s before she flew home? It started calmly, warmed up slowly, kicked into gear when the board game started and then burst into frenetic life as soon as people were put on the spot and asked to explain something without actually speaking. I by then had taken the Question master role and I was remorselessly harangued by a procession of “excitable” party-goers who all claimed to be superior to me in some way or other as they sought to win the argument and gain an advantage on the board. It was boys v girls and I am sorry to report that the girls failed to get on the score sheet throughout the entire night. The food was wonderful, the drink abundant, the games hugely exciting and the company just about as good as you possibly get. It’s a pity I can’t include video clips on the blog because the footage shot at the party by Jeanette is absolutely priceless!  Mary would like some play doh for her Christmas this year!

We have no more free evenings, one reason why I am posting now instead of next week. Tonight we are off to Ramon and Beti’s for tea to say a Xmas cheerio, Sunday we are having Jennifer and Ernest round for some mince and tatties, Monday and Tuesday I’m Santa Claus at the Times School and on Wednesday all the Brits on “F” Block are going carol singing around the campsite before having the communal Wednesday evening meal together at the restaurant. Should be fun! I’ve printed off carols in 4 languages for us including “Away in a Manger” in English, “Stille Nacht” in German, “Noel Blanc” in French and “Navidad (Jingle Bells) in Spanish. We’ll take a bucket with us and try to raise some dosh for a good cause.

I leave you with a thought. Why not phone us, even just to say “Hello”. We’d like that.

Feliz Navidad! Bon Nadal!

Feliz Navidad! Bon Nadal!