Day 3/135: Though the Carnaval is over ……

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You know the way I’m always teasing you about the weather? How we’re all going around in t-shirts and sandals in February? Well, one morning earlier this month, we woke up to find our skylight covered in something which we took to be sand as has happened on a couple of occasions when the winds have deposited Sahara dust on the coast of Spain. But when I peeked out the caravan window …. Well, how gobsmacked could I be! There was the Audi with an inch of snow on it! No joking, real, genuine cold, white stuff. Illusions shattered!

Where's the anti-freeze?

Where’s the anti-freeze?

It’s been Carnaval time here in Vilanova and, while it’s quite impossible to take in everything that happens for the week up to Mardi Gras, we’ve managed to fit in three visits to the town to join in the festivities. The first was two Thursdays ago when the town celebrated their “Merengada”, an annual meringue batter fight throughout the centre but especially on the market place. Being a Thursday, we had to pick up Guillem at five o’clock but, instead of going to his house, we parked in town and took him to watch the carry-on. He was suitably unimpressed! I suppose he’s just too well-bred to find fun in teenagers (and some adults!) covering themselves in white sticky paste.

What a mess!

What a mess!

The following evening we went to the second “Fish n’ Chips” event up at the restaurant with most of our friends. Unfortunately Mike and Het weren’t there as they had flown back to Blighty for some quality time with the grandchildren. After the meal I entertained the troops with half a dozen songs on the guitar while Dundee Sandra got stuck in to the people in the crowd we didn’t know and sold a dozen or so copies of “Socrates” which I still had in the caravan. I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you?

Rock on!

Rock on!

The next day was Valentine’s Day which we celebrated with a dinner at Fred and Jeanette’s, along with Tom and Greeta our Dutch pals and a newly-arrived Terry and Elsie, the couple from Leigh near Wigan with whom we had lunch on our way up to the Lake District last June. Jeanette as ever provided us with a dazzling array of delicious courses while Fred did the donkey work and kept our glasses full. We had an excellent evening together and for once packed it in at a reasonable hour to save the neighbours!

Sunday saw many of us up and away into town before midday to take part in the “Comparses” which is basically a huge series of sweetie fights through the streets and then in the Plaça de la Vila. It was a wonderful and colourful spectacle up and down the narrow streets on either side of the Rambla Principal, at times finding ourselves like sardines, stuck helpless in a dense throng of revellers in every possible type of fancy dress. The sweets were flying about like bullets and I took a couple to the bonce on one particular corner as I couldn’t duck, so close together were we all. Those boiled sweets don’t half hurt when they bounce off a bald pate!

Just some Carnaval guys!

Just some Carnaval guys!

The scene in the town square was unbelievable with thousands of children and then adults all in fancy-dress singing and dancing and throwing sweets at each other. By the end of the children’s episode, the square was completely covered in sweetie wrappers of all colours and we watched in amazement as a gang of road cleaners then swept them all to the sides in preparation for the adults to do exactly the same, only more noisily and ferociously. These Catalans sure know how to party! That evening Mary and I watched it all again on local TV but the cameras managed to miss two conservatively-dressed Dundonians.

C'mon the sweepers!

C’mon the sweepers!

On Monday we had a game of Bingo up at the bar and Mary shared a Full House with a Dane, scooping half of the 25 Euro pot! By God how the money rolls in! And then the big day arrived. Except, given a once in a lifetime coincidence, we could not decide if it was the big day because it was Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras or if it was indeed the big day because it was my Birthday! I expect it may have been the former, but we merged the two by inviting our friends round at midday for pancakes and Cava. A couple of light showers tried to put a damper on things but we simply moved in to the awning and ate our way through a whole load of food with about 15 guests.

Our French friends, Gérard and Katy, hung around in the afternoon once the party was over and then, at about half past four I drove us down in to the town to witness another appearance by the Vilanova giants. You’ll remember these are 15 foot high polystyrene giants representative of the town, a bit like the hilarious ones who used to do battle on “It’s A Knock-out”. Anyway, we had a great time in town with crowds of spectators and avoided getting smacked by either of the crazy spinning giants.

One of the giants of nearby L'Arboc.

One of the giants of nearby L’Arboc.

Now that I’m 62, I’ve decided to take some days off my rather adrenalin-filled adventure out here, so the last few days have been genuinely quiet in comparison with the head-spinning rush of Spanish Carnaval. I picked up Ernest and Jennifer’s daughter and two grandchildren from El Prat airport last Friday and took them back there yesterday. I had a great laugh teasing the daughter by calling her “Our Beverley” which is how her Mum always refers to her, seeing as she comes from Bradford. I’ve also helped our friend Jem to get two great big wheels off his converted furniture lorry fixed down at the local “Kwik-Fit” type garage. And yesterday I helped Dundee Sandra to disassemble her flooring in the awning in preparation for her departure back home at the end of the month.

To balance that up, neighbour Peter has lent us a good bright light to run off the mains now that the charger has gone in the caravan and the battery gradually runs itself down every few days. We can’t afford to buy a new one just now so we’ll have to make do. Fred has also come to the rescue just recently by diagnosing why our spinner had stopped working and we’ll be able to fix it for little or no cost thankfully. Well done, Fred! The campsite continues to operate like a wee village, with neighbours helping each other out on a daily basis, giving advice, some physical assistance or a loan of some tool or other.

OK I’ll try not to bore you too much but the book stuff has become very, very exciting. Scott told us a couple of days ago that sales continued to be solid for “Wee Georgie” and that they’d asked for another box of 30 books. Good! Then Waterstones revamped their website and I was able to check how the book was doing on the best-sellers lists, using different filters. Once I’d got it down to best-selling Scottish memoirs, I was delighted to see that I was ranked fourth out of 82 books on sale at Waterstones. Then on my birthday I slipped in to third place, on Wednesday second, but on Thursday fourth again. Pity! So you can imagine my utter surprise when I checked this morning to discover I’d made it to Number 1! Yes, “Wee Georgie” is today the best-selling Scottish memoir at Waterstones. Yippee!

This was not in the plan

This was not in the plan

“Socrates 2” has now been edited by brother Joe in his usual brilliant but brutal style, leaving me with a leaner but meaner second children’s story. It is now in the hands of Fred’s partner Jeanette who has kindly agreed to have a go at redesigning my snail and drawing the pictures I’ll need for the book. She’s a lovely artist and I have high hopes that she will be up to the job, if her initial sketches are anything to go by.

Tomorrow we’re off to Barcelona with Ramon, Beti and Guillem for a meal at the restaurant of Marc and Rosa, the parents of last year’s visitor Gao. They have a restaurant in the Gotic district of Barça, near the old cathedral and just east of the famous Ramblas, so we’re really looking forward to our treat. The next day we’ll be picking up Het and Mike at the airport to bring them back here to Vilanova Park, then it will be a busy couple of days preparing for our return to Scotland on Thursday. We’re looking forward to having such quality time with grandson Ben for a full 4 weeks but Mary will also enjoy having Scott close at hand for a while and I’ll keep busy doing promotional work for my books. That starts with selling signed copies at Forgan Book Fair in Newport on Saturday. See you back in Scotland!

Guillem on non-uniform day ... A Scotsman.

Guillem on non-uniform day … A Scotsman.



Day 2/118: Happy and sad

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You’ll be wondering where I’ve been! Well, we’re back in Vilanova, but not quite as simply as you might expect, because we’ve come back after Xmas and the New Year, returned to England last week and are now back again in the caravan. The unplanned visit last Thursday was to attend the funeral of dear Uncle Brian who sadly slipped away on 13 January after a short illness. Having been particularly kind to me over the years, especially when things were not going well, there was never a question of not attending, despite that involving a flight to Stanstead, car hire and a drive up the A1M to Newcastle and back.

The funeral  went as well as any such event can go and Mary and I had a lovely time afterwards at Brian’s local pub where we met up with almost all of the English side of our family, including many I had never met before! My brother Joe and his wife Mo had made the hazardous journey down from Lochcarron by bus and car and it was great to hear the news of their latest grandchild, little Mabel Rosa, a second daughter for their son Rory and his wife Lana out in Melbourne. Once again, one leaves and one arrives: it’s remarkable how often that seems to happen. But we’ll all miss Brian, even over here where he made a mighty impression on our friends when he and Auntie Pat came to visit last spring.

Our visit back home for Xmas and the New Year was excellent despite me ending up on antibiotics for a horrendous cough and URI. We started Xmas day early with a drive up to Arbroath for breakfast with Gavin, Eve and Artemis (at 08.00!) where we were treated to our granddaughter opening her presents for the very first time now that she is 16 months old. From there it was back down to Dundee to see George, Fiona, Daniel and Ben and yet more presents being opened. Isn’t it wonderful having grandchildren? After a short nap back at the flat, we all went round to Mary’s Mum’s house for Xmas dinner with the family in Dundee.

Ben, enjoying our laundry basket!

Ben, enjoying our laundry basket!

New Year was slightly different with Mary and I accompanying Scott over to a friend’s house in Monifieth where we spent a couple of hours with the parents. We then picked up Greg and Karen before returning to the flat then off to Mary’s sister’s house for the bells. We had a fine time there but called it a day around 3 o’clock and went to bed. This wandering about was made possible by a totally cooperative Mary who, bless her, agreed not to drink but drive us all around, quoting that it would make up for all the driving I have done over here. She’s an angel you know!

Having given Scott BT Sports as an additional present, I was able to watch the Dundee derby a couple of days later from the comfort of the living-room while the boys all went to see it live, but I did join in with the post-match drinks down the Perth Road with them and all their friends. I was once again proud to observe both Dundee and Dundee United supporters mingling happily together in the après-match banter despite the rather one-sided result. Let’s just say my team didn’t win! One other United supporter I met was my old friend and ex-colleague Erwan Ansquer whom we bumped into at the Central Library in Dundee. It was nice to catch up on his news and to discover that his wife Sandra and the two girls are all thriving.

Me with Erwan

Me with Erwan

Much of the rest of the time was taken up with book stuff which I’ll tell you about later. We flew back at the crack of dawn on 8 January thanks to Scott who drove us to Edinburgh airport at 4 in the morning. Well done, son! Mike and Het were there at El Prat airport in Barcelona to take us back to the caravan park and we had a quiet day before I went off to see to Guillem as usual, as it was a Thursday. The following week, my brother called to tell me that Uncle Brian had passed away while I was teaching Guillem at his home but luckily I was able to use their broadband to make contact with those I needed to speak to. So now we had to busy ourselves with making arrangements for a journey back to Britain.

From the moment we had returned, Mary had been coughing her guts up, seemingly having caught what I had had back in Dundee. This would not go away however and one Saturday, the feast of St. Anthony Abat and a public holiday with parades of horses and riders, I took her down to the hospital to get examined. 3 hours later we emerged with prescriptions galore, hoping this Spanish cocktail would do the trick. Well, it did eventually but my poor darling still has the last traces of that damned cough. Naturally she blames me!

I just couldn't resist!

I just couldn’t resist!

How Spanish is that?

How Spanish is that?

Life here on the campsite has been relatively quiet. We have a new entertainments provider, a Scouser called Dave, who runs the bingo on Monday nights and the quiz on Wednesday evenings after the communal meal. He is busy organizing a fish and chips night for Friday so I’ll let you know how that goes. Mike and Het have recently invested in a full-size awning which I helped erect last week along with several other able-bodied guys while Het kept us provided with hot tea. Tom and Greeta have bought a new kitchen tent from which wafts lovely smells most teatimes, Dick and Linda have returned to their usual pitch next door to Fred, and Carol and Rob are just back from Xmas in Liverpool (or the Wirral as Carol insists!).

Our social life as party people has involved only three get-togethers. The first was a dinner at Fred and Jeanette’s before she went back to Copenhagen. She had asked me to sing a few songs after the meal so I took along the trusty guitar and would like to think I surprised her with my repertoire. I printed off some lyrics too, so all those present were able to join in the singing. Jeanette’s cooking as usual was the highlight of the evening and not the post-meal entertainment. Our second “do” was a spontaneous gathering in Sandra’s awning next door late one Tuesday night where Mike and I were the only males present, six of the girls making up an interesting but very noisy coven! It must have been good because we actually got some complaints.

Two Saturdays ago, we were invited down to Ramon and Beti’s for a meal to celebrate Guillem’s 9th birthday. Both sets of grandparents as well as a couple of aunts and uncles and two or three cousins were there to help with the celebrations and we had a truly lovely time with them all. We gave the wee man a jigsaw as a present but I told Beti it was a present for her and Ramon as I expected it would keep Guillem nice and quiet for a long time!

See you Jimmy!

See you Jimmy!

 “Wee Georgie” continues to surprise everyone (including me!) with its sales at Waterstones and I am always on the lookout for different ways to market the product using social media and the internet in general. After those 2 good articles in the Dundee Courier Weekend Magazine and Scottish Television online, we now await the page I’ve written about my metamorphosis from teacher to writer in “The Peoples Friend” on Valentine’s Day. Make sure to get yourself a copy as I think it’s a good read. I’ve had fun watching the book move up and down the bestsellers’ chart at Waterstones especially when I find it next to or preferably above a more famous memoir such as Maggie Thatcher’s “The Downing Street Years” which I overtook recently. I’m also trying out a couple of other avenues about which I’ll keep you informed as and when.

The big news on the writing front is that I have finished “Socrates 2” and will be sending it to Joe for editing shortly. As Lainey is no longer part of the team, we are doing our own illustrations for the second book so that should be quite exciting too! With a bit of luck we’ll be able to publish sometime between Easter and the summer. My work as a wordsmith will have to be concentrated on finishing “Wee Georgie 2” but that means 50,000 new words so that won’t be happening any time soon.

The future has changed slightly and we’ll be back in Dundee for the whole of March to help look after Ben and to see Scott through the first 3 weeks of his second Primary School placement. We intend to return to Vilanova for Easter weekend and on until late June but that could easily change so don’t take it as set in stone as we are prone to making decisions at the last minute.

Right, I think we’ve caught up on the adventure at last. I’ll try really hard to write you a few lines every week or so from now on but please don’t hold your breath! I’ll finish with the biggest surprise yet, from this very morning. This is genuine!

First time we've seen this here!

First time we’ve seen this here!