Day 4/151: Rabbie, Tam ‘n’ a Moose.

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We’ve had quite a weekend, readers. Way back before the Christmas holidays we had promised our friends that we would arrange a celebration of Robert Burns round about 25 January to let them experience something akin to what it’s like at a Burns’ Supper. To that end we had come back to Vilanova with 6 McSweegan’s haggises (or is that haggi or even Latin third declension hagges?) and three sachets of Tesco’s finest whisky sauce. With only two other Scots in attendance, haggis and Burns’ poetry would be a first for most of the guests.

Unfortunately, our good friends Tom and Margareth from the Netherlands left the day before (Friday) for a 2-month adventure in Andalusia with their caravan. Their Dutch courage is quite commendable and, after several days of cleaning and storing non-essentials in their kitchen tent which we had transferred to our pitch for safekeeping, off they drove on Friday morning heading for Valencia and beyond, hoping to see Almeria, Malaga, Granada, Sevilla, Ronda and Cordoba plus all the other spots in between!

Mary and I spent a good deal of time shopping Thursday and Friday. The sticking point was the neeps! Turnips over here (nabos) are shaped like parsnips and are white so bang goes the orange colour you need for the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties. In the end we went for a substitute, butternut squash (calabassa) which when whole is shaped like a bottle and the devil to skin. Luckily, down at the market, we chanced on some ready-skinned and diced, taking all the labour out of the preparation. That did us grand! Tatties are just tatties even here in deepest Catalunya so no problem there. Mary upped the ante by deciding to make a trifle for dessert, necessitating several laps of “Simply” supermarket before leaving with Magdalena cakes, two flavours of gelatine, a tin of mixed fruit, something we hoped would be very like custard called “natillas” (it was!), squirty cream and a wee jar of Hundreds and Thousands.

Our good friend Jeanette heard of our plight at not being able to find any Walker’s Shortbread and agreed to make us some of her own recipe. What a good thing that turned out to be! Her shortie was delicious, crumbly yet moist, and far superior to the Walker’s variety. A hasty visit to the English shop in Sitges on Friday brought us not what we were looking for but half-a-dozen tins of Irn-Bru as a special treat and a chance stop-off at Carrefour supermarket near Cubelles proved fortunate when I discovered they stocked tins of corned beef. That meant we were going to have proper stovies after all.

Neither of us slept all that well on Friday night, probably in anticipation of our event, so we were a bit bleary-eyed when we roused at the back of nine and had to kick into action right away. We concentrated on the physical stuff to start with like setting up tables and chairs outside and fitting table-covers. Mary then got on with the job of finishing the trifle she had left to set in the fridge overnight and putting together the Scottish music we had (which was unashamedly White Heather Club type songs and tunes). We reminisced over “Donald whaur’s yer troosers?” by Andy Stewart and the late great Jimmy Shand’s “Bluebell Polka” while Kenneth McKellar’s “My Luv is like a red, red rose” nearly brought a tear to the eye.

The first guests arrived bang on time at 2 p.m. just as I was finishing a huge pan of stovies and was about to put the haggis in the oven. 20 minutes later we had 2 Scots, 5 English, 2 Danes, 2 Dutch and 2 Norwegians on our pitch sitting in the gorgeous warm sunshine enjoying a drink. The tables were lain with all sorts of nibbles and cheeses, there was beer and wine galore and Lyn brought a couple of bottles of Gluhwein which I was sent to warm up on the hob inside. I added a half bottle of red and a sliced orange to the Gluhwein and heated it up nicely before Mary served it in steaming mugs. Yummy!

Fred, Peter, Elaine, Jane & Colin

Fred, Peter, Elaine, Jane & Colin

The first act was my pal Fred, London born (West Ham supporter) but long since an honorary Yorkshireman due to having worked there most of his life. I had asked him on Friday to read “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” but he had returned within minutes to say it was total gibberish and could he have something in English please! I had then explained what the poem was about, helped him with a couple of words and sent him away to practice. Well he must have, because Fred did a fantastic job and delighted us with Burns’ egalitarian masterpiece. The applause was indeed generous.

Fred concentrating

Fred concentrating

Next, in the absence of the anticipated Scottish Annie, I sang “My luv is like a red, red rose” with the guests joining in where they could and then it was time for me to address the haggis which brought further applause (unlike my singing!). The faces on those who had never seen the haggis being sliced open with a big knife were a wonder to behold and I felt we were really beginning to make an impression. Mary and I then whisked out 15 portions of haggis, tatties and butternut squash in whisky sauce and to our delight watched every mouthful disappear down their throats, while some even asked for seconds. Jon from Norway is a vegetarian so having a couple of veggie haggis proved a master stroke.

Note the t-shirt

Note the t-shirt

To allow the first hot food to digest, I called upon Dick from Great Yarmouth, a classic Norfolk lad, to regale us with “To a Mouse”. As always, Dick had a surprise for us, disappearing into the kitchen tent with the words “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be ….. Rabbie Burns!” and reappearing in a See-You-Jimmy hat and ginger hair! This brought the house down. But Dick also then did a seriously good rendering of the Mouse poem and the guests were well impressed with his diction (Dick shone), applauding vigorously. By this point Mary had reheated the stovies and that’s what was served up next. We were very happy when the stovies suffered the same fate as the haggis had.

Dick as Rabbie!

Dick as Rabbie!

After that, it was the turn of our neighbour Elaine from Birmingham way to charm us with “To a mountain daisy” which she read beautifully and with feeling, drawing further enthusiastic applause from the audience. Once the two trifles had been served up, and with the warm sun holding its own in the cloudless sky above Vilanova, I explained to our guests the story of “Tam o’Shanter” before launching into my own humble version of Burns’ epic poem about the dangers of over-indulgence. I’d like to think I did the poem justice and there were congratulatory handshakes all round when I’d finished. Maybe that was more out of relief than pleasure!

Elaine in action

Elaine in action

Our event finished in style when we all joined in the full version of “Auld Lang Syne” which I’d printed out beforehand. The guests then trickled away, we’d like to think happily and maybe a bit more knowledgeable about the great Scots Bard. That left us a few hours to tidy up and we took our time doing so, reflecting on what had just happened, but we were safely tucked up in bed well before midnight.

Thankfully Ramon had texted me to put off picking us up at reception from 11 until half past twelve so, early on Sunday afternoon, we were actually polished up and ready when he arrived with Beti and Guillem. He drove us to Barcelona where we parked up and had a drink in the fantastic Moritz brewery (now there’s a place worth a visit!) before strolling through the streets of the Catalonian capital to Mark and Rosa’s flat, near their restaurant in the Barrio Gotica district. Ramon and Rosa, Guillem’s grandparents were there as well and we had a lovely afternoon catching up in any one of three or four languages while enjoying an excellent variety of tapas-type dishes from the chef. The sea bass with langoustines was a particular success accompanied by fideua marinera which is tiny pasta in sea-food sauce.

Here’s a photo of downstairs at the Moritz brewery. The toilets are down here!

Image result for moritz brewery

By the time we got back to Vilanova Park and down to the caravan, we were both extremely tired and had to have a nap before bedtime! But we agreed it had been a brilliant weekend all round and one we would be happy to repeat next year if we’re still here. Today has of course been down-beat in comparison, just as it needed to be, and other than a wee jaunt out in the Audi to a nearby village called California – yes, California – we have stayed at home. I didn’t have a lesson tonight with Guillem as it was a school holiday and the locals were having yet another fiesta, this time for Sant Pau.

Right. I hope you have enjoyed my description of our weekend. Let me know if it’s the kind of thing you want to read about and I’ll send you material more frequently as our adventures continue.

I leave you with one of the campsite cats, cleverer than all of us!

Purrfect!

Purrfect!

 

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Day 4/145: A New Year begins

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Firstly I’d like to wish all my readers a happy healthy 2016. The “healthy” bit is really important of course and the year has begun with the sad passing of a music legend in the inimitable David Bowie and the brilliant actor Alan Rickman whose Sherriff of Nottingham role in “Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves” will stay with me long and vivid. He nailed it totally as he snarled “Locksley!” with the best facial expression ever. As for Bowie, well, “2001 Space Oddity” did it for me but I also have great memories of “Rebel! Rebel!” And “The Jean Genie” blasting out of the jukebox in the Students’ Union in St. Andrews. R.I.P both.

Mary and I flew home for Christmas despite having earlier resolved to try the festive season in Vilanova. I think the lure of her Mum’s Christmas dinner was just too good to miss! We did however gear up for the fun via a couple of great evenings here on the caravan park with our friends, a couple of evenings in town soaking up the atmosphere around the outdoor skating rink in the Plaça de la Vila and me doing my 2 nights’ Santa Claus at the Times School on the Rambla Principal. Unfortunately, at the end of the second night, Mary was told her classes were being transferred to a full-time employee to save money which rather upset her and took the shine off the festive celebrations.

Unjolly Santa!

Unjolly Santa!

But don’t despair. She is nothing if not determined and has already secured new work at the local Richmond International School to supplement her 3 hours at the Prysmian factory on Wednesday mornings. She also has another interview at a language school in early February. If none of that works, she can always get a job as a cleaner at the fish market! Before you all start calling me names like “slave-driver”, I should remind you that all of this is because Lady Burton actually wants to work and not because I insist she does. By the way, I’ve been offered a wee job at the Richmond as well: they need someone to do teacher appraisal in line with Ofsted regulations and they reckon that’s something I could do given my previous employment. I’m thinking it over!

I was lucky enough to get a whole day with grandson Ben on the 23rd and we started it off as we have done in the past by letting him make the scrambled eggs for breakfast. He really enjoys this “task” and does quite a reasonable job of whisking the mixture without destroying the entire kitchen. He even poses for pictures while working!

The blur that is his whisking hand

The blur that is his whisking hand

Grandad rewarded his efforts by taking him on a bus ride over to Broughty Ferry then back into town. We sat upstairs in the front and took in everything from decorated houses and gardens to desperate shoppers rushing around like headless chickens. Oh how we pitied them! The big attraction in the city centre however was the carousel and this provided me with another priceless photo of my wee man in the most kaleidoscopic of backgrounds!

Colourful, eh?

Colourful, eh?

The four days in the run-up to Christmas were mad as usual but we had loads to do keeping all the outlets stocked with both of my memoirs which were indeed selling like hotcakes. No complaints there of course! Scott arrived back from Falkirk on Christmas Eve which brought a great big smile to Mary’s face and we three went to morning mass on the big day before visiting our parents’ graves then getting ready to go to Mary’s Mum’s for Christmas dinner. After the now traditional feast, the rest of the family came over and we all had a nice time together, both young and old. Everyone was there except Uncle Gerard who unfortunately was still sunning himself on a beach somewhere (not unfortunate for him personally of course!).Boxing day was “open day” at our flat so it was all go from start to finish. The 4 boys plus girls plus children came over to join the fun and Mary’s family chipped in with staggered visits just to ensure everyone could get in! Scott’s bedroom took a pounding from a procession of family kids let loose in a room with no adults and a really bouncy bed, leaving the rest of us to enjoy a brilliant catch-up and sample my mushroom risotto and standard chilli con carne. It was a cracking good day seeing everyone, but I have to say, we slept very soundly that night! No pics I’m afraid as I was too busy cooking!

Thankfully, the next few days were much, much quieter, right up to Hogmanay which we spent alone for the first time in years and years. Don’t worry! We weren’t complaining and actually quite enjoyed the isolation. Compared to our calm existence over in Vilanova, Xmas holidays back in Dundee tend to be a huge culture shock to us nowadays and we are often left speechless at how busy everyone is. Yet when we lived 100% in Scotland, it never had that effect on us. But it really does take our breath away: bad enough just in our families but down in the city centre it seems like a complete madhouse!

Crowd scene

Crowd scene

George, Fiona and Ben came over to “First Foot” us on New Year’s day and they even brought a real lump of coal just like in the old days. They both seemed quite cool despite the season and here’s hoping they have a good 2016. It was a pity Daniel didn’t make it over as well but at his age it’s a big ask to get out of bed before teatime! He’s now left school because he was offered an apprenticeship in engineering and decided that was the best way forward. He’s enjoying making things with machines and is learning what the world of work is really like, warts and all! I managed some quality time with Ben and engaged him in some awfully grown-up conversations as you can see below.

Tell me again Ben who Bruce Wayne really is?

Tell me again Ben who Bruce Wayne really is?

I also sneaked off into Scott’s room and introduced my favourite 4-year old to the age old habit (indeed a rite of passage!) of doing a “Harry Worth.

Personally, I can't resist!

Personally, I can’t resist!

On the night of the First, we were all invited over to Mary’s sister Alison’s where we had a wee glass with the family again. Mum at least didn’t have to spend hours tied to the cooker like she’d had to do at Christmas and she looked like she was enjoying herself, although as you can see she stuck to her cup of tea and didn’t let her hair down as much as she could have!

The family doyenne

The family doyenne, Mum

On the second of January, the traditional town rivalries surfaced temporarily again as Dundee took on United. But with the huge change in the fortunes of both clubs, it was the team in the ascendancy in the dark blue of Dundee which took the honours over their tangerine foes now firmly anchored at the foot of the table with relegation almost certainly their fate at the end of the season. Like so many others, I think they only have themselves to blame for selling their top players to Celtic. They opted for money in the bank rather than push for success and now they must eat humble pie by the bucketful. If my own favourites, Dundee, did likewise they would receive no sympathy from me either. Luckily the Dundee derby has none of the genuine hatred associated with its Glasgow counterpart and we all met together as a family with split allegiances for a pint afterwards.

Sons Gavin, Greg, Scott and me. George had gone home!

Sons Gavin, Greg, Scott and me. George had left!

We spent the rest of our stay catching up with whomsoever we could and seeing the grandchildren. I bonded well with Artemis again and we were pretty much best pals, especially when hiding from the rest of the family under beds and in cupboards. I also invented a distracting game called “Is that a bus?” which involved sitting under the dining-table staring out of the window and watching the traffic drive by. Each vehicle merited the question “Is that a bus?” and Arry had to reply “Yes it is” or “No, it’s just a car/lorry/bicycle/snowplough!” She caught on real fast and giggled away merrily on each occasion. I loved it too, but started to flag a bit after the 500th car! Arry likes trains too it seems.

Artemis, Eve and Gavin

Artemis, Eve and Gavin

Maybe I should tell you a bit about the weather while we were over in Scotland. Surprisingly, it was neither really cold nor was there any snow. (Notice how I start with 2 positives. That’s teacher training!) But let me paint a picture for you. You know that rain that you can actually see when it’s blown across your vision by a strong wind? The one that looks like a vertical cloud? Well, that’s what it was like outside our window. Oh no, not just one day. Pretty much every day! Certainly it never stopped raining from Hogmanay until the very instant our return flight left the ground on the morning of the seventh of January. Honest! The weather was quite diabolical: no wonder people stay indoors huddled around their electric fires and radiators. It was quite a thought just going down to the local shops for the rolls in the morning. This photo gives a vague impression of what it was like.

Wet! Wet! Wet!

Wet! Wet! Wet!

We spent our last day in Scotland at Scott’s flat and he drove us to Edinburgh airport at 02.30 on Thursday morning to catch the early morning Ryanair flight to Barcelona El Prat where Fred and Jeanette were waiting in the Audi to drive us back to Vilanova. The flight itself was uneventful but I did manage a really good photo as we flew over the Pyrenees.

Looks beautiful from up here

Looks beautiful from up here

We arrived back to lovely sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures so quickly forgot the dark, dreary, dismal Dundee weather. It’s been sunny most days since but it gets cold again as soon as the sun goes away about six o’clock in the evening. The heating is on in the caravan and it’s jumpers, coats and scarves when we go into town now. I’ve had 2 sessions with Guillem since our return and he’s making good progress with his English (Scottish!) while Mary will start work at Prysmian again tomorrow and get ready for her new job teaching French.

The last word concerns our Internet connection here on the campsite. Lately we’ve been using 3’s “roaming as if at home” deal but we’ve come back to discover that the Park itself has widened its own Internet provision and now offers unlimited decent speed connection 24/7 for 60 days. The price? 30 Euros! We’ve snapped up this bargain and now enjoy Internet provision like in the flat, not as quick but not bad at all. So good in fact that on Saturday night I had a go at getting BBC One via FilmOn streaming and guess what? I had uninterrupted coverage of MOTD (Match of the Day for anyone new to the Blog). I was like a pig in muck, I can tell you!

Well, that’s us up to date I think, readers. Stay healthy, enjoy as much as you can as often as you can, keep positive thoughts to the foremost and have the odd tipple to celebrate just being able to have it!