Christmas 2017

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It’s Christmas Eve and I thought I’d take the opportunity to fill you in on what has happened recently and what we intend to do over the festive period. We’re back in the flat, having flown home on Monday past, another eventless journey where everything went well and there were no surprises whatsoever. Except that while Mary was standing in the queue to board at Barcelona El Prat, with only about 150 people in front of her (including a young woman with a trolley case, a backpack and a guitar – no, they didn’t let her through!), I did surprise her with her Boarding pass which included Priority Boarding, allowing us to wander forward and join a queue of about fifteen!

Safely back at the flat, we unpacked all the presents we had brought back with us, got the heating up to scratch to chase away the chill (even though it wasn’t particularly cold here in Dundee) and settled down. Mary was in time to attend her Slimming World class and see her sister Alison being awarded for reaching her target and now being officially “slim”. Mum came round at seven o’clock and we caught up on what’s been happening in Mary’s family while we’ve been travelling. Not much, as is usually the case when you’re working and have kids to look to, but we’re past that now, seen it, done it, got the scars to show, and have so much more time to ourselves.

This week has been devoted to preparing for Christmas. Shopping in Dundee took up Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and the evenings were all about wrapping presents and writing last-minute cards. We saw Greg for a pint on Wednesday night and have since seen Gavin for lunch on Friday and Scott and George on Saturday. George’s visit was to drop off grandson Benjamin for the day and that was a particular joy for us. Among other things, we ended up at the Olympia swimming centre, waves, rapids, flumes and inflatable obstacle course included. Mary and I had the best of times with Ben who eked the last ounce of energy out of both of us. My next nightmare may well include trying to walk along a very slippy, wobbly landscape with a one mile drop below or hurtling down a red tube plunged into total darkness but holding my dearest grandson in my lap!

Then the excitement was cranked up. My cousin Renée called to say she’d just received a delivery of a box of 100 copies of my first book “Socrates, the Sprinting Snail of Sorrento” which I’d ordered for reprint last week. That was great as I didn’t have a single copy for myself, never mind my customers. A couple of hours later a knock on the door announced the arrival of a box of 50 copies of my new book “Bonjour Socrates!” which I hadn’t expected to get until after Christmas. Once again, the thrill of opening a box to see for the very first time a creation that had been in my head for the past 2 years was way up there with my top twenty good moments. The illustrations have been drawn by Becky Moran, the granddaughter of cousin Renée who distributes my books while I’m away travelling. She’s done a grand job and I hope she’s proud to have her name on the cover of a book to show all her family and friends. Here’s the cover.

Christmas will be mass at 10, popping in to see George and his family, driving up to Gavin’s for Christmas meal then back to Dundee to spend a couple of hours with all of Mary’s family. We’ll see all four of our boys, their partners and the 2 grandchildren (plus 1 step-grandson!) which is always a good thing, isn’t it? Unlike the tradition in some quarters, we don’t do falling out with one another at Christmas so we’re looking forward to a really nice day. On Boxing Day, George, Benjamin and I are going to Dens Park at midday to see the Dundee v Celtic game (we’ll probably get reamed!) and that should be good fun too.

OK. Just time to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2018. Thank you all for your continued support over the past 12 months. It is much appreciated! I leave you with the new back cover.




Day 6/77: Christmas Markets

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We’ve had another adventure you know. This time it was to go and visit the Christmas Markets, not quite in Germany but so near that you really didn’t know for sure which country you were in. Which explains the strange events surrounding our arrival on Easyjet at Basel Europort last Friday. You see, we know Basel is in Switzerland (you can call it Basle or Bâle as well depending on which language you are speaking at the time) but we didn’t know that the airport straddles the border between Switzerland and France, meaning that when we passed through passport control and saw Sortie Suisse we just assumed that was the exit for everyone.

So when I failed to see our friend Marc, who was coming to pick us up, at the Arrivals gate, I called and asked where he was. “I’m at the arrivals gate!” came the happy reply. We looked around carefully. Lots of people waiting for arrivals, some with a sign clutched to their chest announcing “Family McDonald” or “Lebois Pharmaceuticals” but no Marc. “Can you see the stout man with the white shirt and furry hat?” I enquired. “Nobody like that here” Marc replied, “Are you sure you’re at Arrivals?” I went looking but couldn’t find him.

I moved further afield to the right, over by a big glass wall. And there he was!! We approached each other and stopped at the glass barrier. “You’re in Switzerland” he laughed. “That’s why I couldn’t find you!” To say I was a little puzzled would be a real understatement. “I know Basel is in Switzerland” I said slightly peeved. “No, no, no you don’t understand” continued Marc with a big grin on his face. “You’re in Switzerland but I’m in France!” he said through the glass. “What?” We were a metre apart and speaking to each other from different countries! Turns out there was another exit marked Sortie France further to the left which we didn’t see at all. A quick hike upstairs, along a corridor and back down got us safely into France and able to give Marc a hug.

The snow was falling as we drove north to Colmar where Marc and Judith (Jud) live but we weren’t going out that evening so no worries. I should tell you that Marc came to Dundee as my French Language Assistant in 1981 and did his year’s work in my Department at St. Saviour’s High School, a year during which he fell for sixth-former Judith Cashley. They’ve been together ever since and are now parents and grandparents. Marc is an English teacher at a school in Colmar while Jud teaches English TEFL-style in a variety of enterprises.

Safely back at their place, we spent the evening catching up with them on what had been happening over the past couple of years, and had a glass or two to celebrate along with their daughter Laura (Lo-Lo) and her two cousins (from Dundee!). It was once again fun to hear them all talk English with strong Dundonian accents then listen to Laura and her Dad switch seamlessly to French. Laura even took a phone call in German which was even more impressive! It turned out she works as a translator in the Marketing Division of the Swiss Co-Op.

A Bonnie Decorated Shop!

They could “bear” the cold!

We awoke to heavy snow falling outside so postponed our visit to the Colmar Christmas Market until the afternoon. The city centre was within walking distance for us so off we went around 1 o’clock, leaving Marc and Jud to get on with their normal Saturday. Mary and I enjoyed our stroll around Colmar, seeing all the Christmas paraphernalia and sampling their food and drink, especially their hot Glühwein which warmed our bellies. We met up with our hosts around 4 o’clock at the station from where we took the train up to Strasbourg. We’d visited this town before 5 years ago but that was to see the European Institutions (the man told me I had no right to get into the Court of Human Rights which I found quite ironic!).

The 4 of us – freezing!

Anyway we spent a couple of hours visiting the Christmas illuminations then headed for a restaurant once we’d met up with the girls again. It was cold, very cold, minus umpteen, but we enjoyed the sport and all had a great time, including on the train back down to Colmar. Marc made two trips from Colmar station in his car to ensure we all got back to their flat quickly to escape the cold. At home, Marc and I shared a couple of drams while the girls reminisced about Uncle Gerard who had been her French teacher at St Saviours’s and it was the wee sma’ hours when we rolled into bed, knackered but happy.

The cold was having an effect on me!

Sunday was snow turning to slush then rain so once again we dilly-dallied to give it time to go off. It didn’t! Eventually we got in the car and Marc drove us to a village called Ribeauvillé which holds a medieval market at Christmas.

It’s not fair!!

Keeping warm

They even had a disco!

Some folk round here are tall

What a braw time we had in this commune, shopping for presents and souvenirs, lunching on pasta-sausage-sauerkraut, warming ourselves at burning tree-trunks and sampling evermore hot Glühwein. At one point I was even put in the stocks but brought the place down by announcing this was punishment for Brexit! Ribeauvillé was good fun and we hardly noticed the sleet that tried but failed to rain on our parade. Jud served us up a chicken dinner when we got back and the rest of the day was spent in conversation with them and their family.

Burning from the inside out

Now that’s what I call a loaf!

Anyone for roast wild boar?

Mary standing in front of her Mum!

On Monday, our hosts had to return to work (we had said farewell to Marc the night before) but Jud ran us to the station at about 3 o’clock for the train down to Basel. We knew we had a few hours to spare before our evening flight back to Barcelona at 21.15 so we set out to explore Basel city centre as much as we could. The first problem we had was paying for the left-luggage box as it only took Swiss francs, again something we’d totally forgotten about. However, a change machine saved the day, we dumped our backpacks inside and off we went to see the town.

Basel is entirely in Switzerland and sits on both banks of the Rhine which heads north into Germany thereafter. Lady Burton and I sought out the Munster cathedral and then the Alte Rathaus (old Town Hall)  during a two-hour walk in the absolute pissing rain! But we’d come prepared and were not going to let the weather spoil our visit. And it didn’t!

Around 7 in the evening, after tea in McDonald’s, we caught the shuttle bus from the train station to the airport (Swiss side!) and took the flight to El Prat where our good friend Darren was waiting to pick us up. By midnight we were both in bed asleep! Phheww!

We’re going back to Dundee on Monday for Christmas and the New Year and maybe a couple of weeks extra to see a bit more of the family but before then we have a flying visit from little Guillem and his parents Ramon and Beti. They’re coming to visit us on Sunday and we’ll probably have lunch somewhere in town. It’ll be great to see them all again as we really miss them since they moved away to Blanes, north of Barcelona, where Beti has a new dentist’s job. But I do hope the weather is as nice as it has been of late, despite the slightly lower temperatures than usual, even down to 5 or 6 degrees! (I know, that was really sarcastic of me, but I couldn’t resist!)

Hopefully we’ll catch up with several of you over the holiday period and beyond so don’t hesitate to give us a ring on 07751063145 or 07775615051 and arrange for us to get together for a blether. It’s what we do!

The pooping log

Christmas here in Catalunya has some very different traditions and they celebrate on different days as well including St. Nicolas (6 Dec) and the Epiphany (6 Jan). The kids get presents on Christmas Eve by hitting a decorated log called Caga Tio (the pooping log!) with a stick to make it “poop” presents. Beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), they give the tió a little bit to “eat” every night and usually cover him with a blanket so that he will not be cold. The story goes that in the days preceding Christmas, children must take good care of the log, keeping it warm and feeding it, so that it will poop presents on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve they put the tió partly into the fireplace and order it to poop. The fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, as people dont have open fires any more of course. To make the log poop, they hit the log with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tradition says that before beating the tió, all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to pray, asking for the tió to deliver a lot of presents. This makes the perfect excuse for the parents to do the trick and put the presents under the blanket while the kids are praying. The tió is often popularly called Caga tió  meaning Poo log. But listen to this! The nativity scene also includes the “caganer” or “pooper” who is doing his business just outside the stable. Yes, it takes all sorts!!

He is, honestly!

Merry Christmas to all my readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed following our adventures and I hope we have just as many to relate in 2018. And I hope Santa is really good to you! XX

Well, one of us looks good!