Day 5/281: It ain’t half hot!

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Over here, they’re still calling it “primavera” or to translate “spring”. Well, let me tell you right here and now that the weather at the moment certainly doesn’t fit the description “spring” nor indeed “summer”. This, to a Brit, is serious heatwave! The Spanish call it “Una Ola de Calor! “Yesterday I was out in it and it sure felt uncomfortable unless I was in the shade of a nice palm tree. Fortunately there are loads of them around here so it’s never too long before you find somewhere to protect your balding pate. Which is exactly what I did last Sunday when I made my way, along with a few friends, to Sitges for the annual Gay Pride march.

To allow us the opporchancity to enjoy a cool beer or five, we took the “MON” bus from the campsite down into Sitges where we strolled through the main streets before we were forced into one of our favourite café-bars by the unrelenting sun blasting 30+ degrees of heat our way. Ensconced in the garden at the back we enjoyed that said beer, seeking chair positions anywhere except in the direct sunshine. Refreshed again, we ventured forth towards the raised beach promenade where we took up position under one of the palm trees that line its entire kilometre and watched the gays make their way down to the spot where the floats were making ready.

Surprisingly for Spain and Sitges, the parade began almost exactly on time at 5 in the afternoon and made its colourful trek along the promenade, passing directly in front of our noses. For 90 minutes we watched with delight as floats, bands and individuals paraded past us, gay men, gay women, men dressed as women (I think!), women with beards like that guy who won Eurovision a couple of years ago, lots of sailors, lots of leather and lots of rainbow colours. We had a great time and those there for the first time admitted they were really glad they had decided to come along. As always, the whole thing was outrageous but it was a happy, safe experience and one I recommend if you’re ever fortunate enough to be in Sitges in June. Here are a selection of photos from our day out. Don’t look for Mary, she didn’t come with us this time after a friend in need gave her a call.

Let’s start with the weather

This year’s crowd

Trolley dollies et al

What a Gay Day!

We thought these guys were the best of show!

The very latest news from the boys is that Gavin got an email from the University this week confirming that he had passed his Diploma in Law. However it added that he had also won 4 prizes including the top accolade of Law Society for Scotland Best Student!! Naturally we are all very proud of Gavin’s achievements as he has done it in the face of a certain adversity (young daughter, living with in-laws, wife unwell for a time, not earning). However we hope that in future years as a Procurator Fiscal or equivalent he and his family will be more than adequately rewarded for their sacrifices over the past couple of years. His brothers are all very pleased at his success and we’ll all be meeting up with him after his graduation next Thursday which Mary and I are flying home to attend. I did however love brother Greg’s comment that Gavin may be the top Law student in Scotland but he can’t work a grain-dryer (Greg’s job)!!

So where are we all with British politics now? The General Election results were happily surprising except on two counts: the first being that Labour failed to win and the second being the return of the Tories in Scotland. This second point is the one that has most rankled with us because we can find no reason to vote Conservative other than self-interest and/or self-enhancement. In short, Greed. To turn your back on those in need and make the poorest in society pay for previous Banking errors makes you morally bankrupt in our opinion and, while we have no problem with disliking Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Brexit or Independence for Scotland we just cannot see how any of those can force you to vote for the Tories, especially when Labour offered a fully-costed Manifesto of Hope. Biggest joke was on Monday when a Tory MP used the phrase “strong & stable” to describe Teresa May post-election. The BBC interviewer actually laughed at him and told him the public would not be expecting to hear that phrase any time in the near future. The guy just didn’t seem to get it!

At this point I think it appropriate to add my sympathy and condolences to all the families affected by that awful tower fire in London. To put it into perspective, I started this post two days before the tragedy but have been delayed by the loss of Internet in our area of the campsite. Now it seems likely that dozens and dozens of people have lost their lives in a horrific fire in the very heart of the UK capital city. The horror of being caught up in such a thing is unimaginable and I keep thinking of that movie “The Towering Inferno” the boys and I watched so often in the 80s where the fire started and spread rapidly mainly due to sub-standard materials used to cut corners and save money at the point of construction. Fingers are already being pointed at the cladding and cosmetic covers. May all those involved take some consolation from whichever God or not they believe in.

On a happier note, I continue to play par-3 golf courses around the area and sometimes even manage the odd decent shot or two. The plaudits however have to go to my friend Darren who has been slowly improving his scores over the past year and has given warning that he is capable of producing something special. Well, that something special happened a couple of weeks ago when he played the round of his life, shooting a 56 (28/28), 10 shots better than his previous best! Since then he has returned to “human” with scores in the high 60s and low 70s but I’m sure he won’t forget his wonder round in a hurry.

I for my sins still haven’t beaten 60 yet although I stood on the eighteenth tee recently needing a par 3 for a 59. Needless to say, I found the greenside bunker, chipped on and 3-putted for a closing 5 and a round of 62. My golf pals and I have also tried a couple of other par-3 courses in the area and found them a pleasant change but maybe not quite as interesting as our local one at Portal del Roc. Over here, these courses are called “Pitch & Putt” but are far better than our pitch and putt courses in Scotland, looking and playing much more like short golf courses. I haven’t played this week because, quite frankly, it’s too hot out there and I’ve taken to going for a swim in the sea instead.

Both Mary and I went for a swim in the Med yesterday at about 3 in the afternoon when it got unbearably hot. I actually went to the site pool first for a swim and when I returned, Mary had finished her reports and was up for a splash in the briny. We went swimming down near the cow sculpture and were able to walk straight in without an “ouch!” moment. We tried a wee bit of sunbathing afterwards on the sand but I quickly started to burn and had to go back in. Hey, I got burned anyway! We had tea in town, listened to a brass band on the Rambla where the local Giants were on parade (remember those figures from “It’s a Knock-Out” and “Jeux sans Frontières?) returned to the car-park to discover we’d left the Audi’s passenger window full open for 6 hours (nothing missing thankfully) and Mary drove us home.

In mid-May, at the suggestion of Darren who wanted to surprise his Mum for her birthday, a group of us drove up to Andorra in the Pyrenees and had a night in a hotel there. Mary and I travelled up in a friend’s car (Barry and Margaret) so I didn’t even have to drive, giving me the freedom to sit back and enjoy the scenery for once. Our hotel was excellent as was the dinner and breakfast we all had there and in between we walked around Andorra-La-Vella checking out what there was to see. The answer was “not very much” and it quickly became clear that the town was just one giant tax-free supermarket, with goods priced lower than you could ever imagine. We hit the shops after breakfast on our second day before driving back to Vilanova with bottles of this and that, including a litre of good Cognac for 7 Euros and bottles of Malibu for Lady Burton at 6 Euros a piece. Darren and his sister bought what seemed like thousands of cigarettes and cigars but happily the customs officers were playing cards when we arrived and they just waved us all through!

The river on its way through the town

Our group at the Dali clock

Best “bird” I saw in Andorra!

Last month Karen and Greg came out again to visit and we had a lovely time with them. As it was their fifth or sixth visit we didn’t have to do much visiting, although we did have a couple of days out with them, including a Sunday morning trip to the big “Los Monjos” market. We also managed a swim in the sea down at Cubelles beach and they really had a laugh playing around in the water with our big inflatable tyre. The weather for them was really great this time and they dutifully went and got sunburn as usual but they just had to grit their teeth and bear/bare it! Karen was good fun again and impresses me by the cute little ways she looks after son Greg and makes him get organized. We like what we see. On the last day of their holiday, I treated them to a Menu del Dia at a wee restaurant recommended by lots of our friends. This turned into quite a feast and they couldn’t eat for the rest of the day. Neither could I actually!

At the Turtle café

They look tyred!

Ship ahoy!

It was as always sad to wave them farewell at the EasyJet departure gate at El Prat but at least this time we could genuinely say “See you in a couple of weeks!” Yes, we’ll be back in Dundee on Wednesday 21 June, Mary’s Mum’s 75th Birthday. The following day we’re all going to Gavin’s graduation in the Caird Hall followed by an early evening meal with the whole family (except Scott who has a previously arranged engagement). The rest of the evening will probably be spent in the pubs on the Perth Road if I’m not mistaken! Out of the blue I received an invitation from my old buddy Abe to attend his retiral “do” in his Bowling Club, guess what, on Friday 23 June, so I’ll be able to go to that as well. Mary’s going to be with her Mum and sisters on Saturday so if you’re having a party let me know and I’ll pencil it in. Not like me to have a drink two nights in a row of course!!

OK, bear with me. Only two more things to report! In mid-May we met up with Guillem and his parents and had the afternoon in Barcelona before dining at his uncle and aunt’s restaurant near the old cathedral in the Barrio Gotica. We were pleased to hear that they’ve settled in to their new home in Blanes north of Barcelona and that Guillem has a new school, although as is always the case, he wasn’t all that impressed with the first couple of weeks!

Was he happy to see us?

Our meal was first class and it was a pity we had to leave at 10.30 to catch the last train back to Vilanova while Ramon, Beti and Guillem drove back to Blanes. Maybe it was seeing Beti (dentist) again but I was soon signed up for 4 weeks of gum cleansing to cure my gingivitis. This she did despite my traditional reluctance to even turn up. I absolutely loathe those drills whether traditional or sonic and I always come out traumatized! On the plus side, the deep X-Ray revealed nothing wrong with my actual teeth.

Rear-Door action!

Now here’s a first! On the 16 of May I found myself in Barcelona with 2 pals, Barry and Darren, at the Motor Show of all things. I’d spotted it in the newspaper that week and noted the entry fee was only 12 Euros so the 3 of us took the Mon bus into Placa Espanya and paid in to the Fira de Barcelona where the Motor Show was being held. To tell the truth, I’m not a really big fan of fancy cars but I thought I’d give it a go and I’m glad I did, because we had really good fun. Of course we saw lots of wonderful machines including electric cars and driverless ones, but we also had the chance to try out some of the other stuff. After Darren had taken a test drive in ….. oops, I’ve forgotten what it was, we all went into a Simulator to bomb round a cross-country race track, then we got in a split-new Range Rover and drove up and down 30 degree gradients and finally I took on Darren round 5 laps of the Barcelona circuit strapped into an F1 cockpit and wearing Virtual Reality specs. That was fantastic and I very surprisingly won the race by driving carefully and far too slowly to Darren’s top speed at all times approach.

Mazda- the one I liked.

Right, I’ll let you go now friends. You’re up-to-date with our news. It’s a pity you don’t all do Blogs as well. Then we could keep up with your news as well. Hope you’ve enjoyed the post. I’ll report back when we get back from Scotland. God bless!

 

 

Day 5/239: Madrid, a Réal Gem!

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We celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary three days ago. Nineteen years of wedded bliss (!) living with two women, Mary Robertson and Lady Mary Burton. The first one is the world’s most lovable girl, intelligent, kind, tolerant, shy, polite – what’s not to like! – while the second one wants to be a spy, to live in a castle (preferably haunted) and to read all day and most of the night. I love both of them!

Two Mondays ago I had what turned out to be my last teaching evening with little Guillem. After four years of improving his English one evening per week, he has had to move away to be with his Mum Beti in Blanes north of Barcelona where she has a new dentist’s job. His Dad Ramon will follow on once he’s sorted things out with their flat here in Vilanova. This has meant Guillem leaving his French-speaking school Bel Air and starting at a new school somewhere near their new home. His first day was yesterday and Ramon sent us a photo of him in his new school uniform. Hopefully my tuition over the past 4 years will stand him in good stead for his lessons in English.

Guillem in his uniform

In terms of forward-planning, Mary has now told her employers that she will not be working after the summer. This will free us up to do the travelling we want to do. We haven’t planned anything for definite yet but we have a short list of places we want to see and have done a wee bit of setting up for a trip to the west coast of the U.S.A. next April. Our base will still be Vilanova and not Dundee which also means that Greg and Karen will be able to keep renting our flat on Balgay Road. They are both doing well in their jobs and Karen has passed her month’s trial at the Casino with flying colours, meaning she is to be kept on as permanent full-time. Well done, Karen. Both of them are coming out here at the end of May for a few days visit.

Which brings me neatly to the subject of our caravan and awning which, as I’ve said before, will be staying right here on our pitch over the summer and is available for rent on a weekly basis. A couple of days from now it will be advertised in Gumtree as rentable at 500 Euros per week, but readers of the Blog can have first choice on it before then. Family can have it for half that price. The caravan is a Bailey Pageant Burgundy Series 7 and our campsite is Vilanova Park, Vilanova I la Geltru. By googling both you’ll get all the details you want. Ours comes with electricity and gas included plus washing machine and British TV which none of the others have. All you need is a flight to Barcelona. I can even arrange pick-up and return to the airport for a few quid more. Trust me, if you take a chance on this, you won’t regret it. I think July 22-29 is already booked but the rest of July and August is available.

Caravan and awning

But let’s get back to our 3 days in Madrid. Our pal Darren ran us to the airport for a 9 o’clock morning flight to Madrid last Friday and by 10.15 we were off the plane and making our way to the underground station below the airport for a 20-minute ride to the centre of the city. All very smooth might I say. We were both travelling light, with backpacks instead of cases, so we were able to do a bit of sightseeing while we waited to check-in to our hotel later that afternoon.

First stop was the Plaza Mayor or main square which surprisingly for such an important spot is composed of real functioning private flats on all four sides above the cafés and restaurants. It was fairly chilly when we got there (Madrid is right in the centre of Spain many, many miles from the sea) but we sat at a café in the plaza and had ourselves a coffee with Baileys which hit the spot rather well. We people-watched for a while before wandering around and taking a closer look at Madrid’s most-visited square.

Plaza Mayor

There was as usual something there which, while totally naff, we just couldn’t resist, and this resulted in the following snaps. Please only laugh a little!

Ya dancer!

I of course just had to join in too!

Bonnie Lassie!

Following my well-honed instinct for direction, we left the Plaza Mayor and strolled down the Calle Major, eventually coming to a big junction from which we could see two other tourist attractions, Madrid Cathedral and the more famous Palacio Real. We plumped for a visit to the cathedral as a way of using up an hour or so and afterwards we took a look at the royal palace but only from the outside, having read the notice and seen that we might be able to get in for free on Saturday after 6 p.m. The Cathedral was lovely and a calm oasis in the middle of a very busy Spanish Capital. I always like to just plonk myself down in a pew and gaze around me, allowing my thoughts to go wherever they want. Generally I end up speaking to Mum and Dad. They don’t say much (nothing at all in fact) but I do get the strange feeling that they’re around me somehow. It’s like they only exist in churches now, so maybe that’s why I like to go into them.

Catedral de Santa Maria La Real de La Almudena

The Cathedral was really impressive from the outside and also quite stunning on the inside as if everything had recently been renovated. There wasn’t a dirty mark anywhere.

The centre aisle

Palacio Real

We were persuaded to turn away from the Palacio Real next door, not by big Spaniards with jaggy hats and pikes but by the rumbling in our tummies telling us it was Spanish lunch time. This meant Menu del Dia to us so we headed back up the Calle Mayor and chose a wee restaurant that seemed to be full of Spanish and not tourists. We made a good choice and soon the rumbling had ceased. This excellent meal reinvigorated us to plunge back into the Metro and sprint across the city to the famous park on the eastern side, Retiro. Despite a few spitters of rain, we grabbed an ice-cream and wandered around the park for a couple of hours, making comparisons with Versailles, Schonbrunn in Vienna, Central Park New York and Hyde Park in London, as well as les Tuileries in Paris. The boating pond was impressive, as was the Palacio de Cristal and the symmetrical English Gardens with their amazing cypress trees, so we really enjoyed our post-lunch late afternoon stroll.

Madrid’s Crystal Palace in Retiro Park

By now our feet were seriously beginning to ache but we still found the energy to cross over to the Prado Museum and check out the opening times for Saturday morning’s visit. A further 15 minutes on the Metro and we were just around the corner from our Ibis hotel, so we popped into a Carrefour over the road and bought a few snacks and things to keep us going for the rest of our stay. Getting into our hotel room was a blessed relief and it’s hardly surprising to say that we both fell asleep and only woke up in time to go to bed!

The rain announced itself as predicted early on Saturday morning long before either of us stirred. Breakfast was composed of things we’d bought at Carrefour plus a coffee from the machine downstairs. We took a brave but foolhardy decision not to wear our weatherproofs nor to take them in our backpacks and this accounted for us getting really quite wet when we first went out to walk to the Metro. Our destination was the world-famous Prado museum, a must-see for those visiting Madrid but the mile-long queue we came upon, with the rain getting heavier by the minute, came near to putting us off. Fortunately a brainwave saved the day!

Just across the road from the museum was one of those little tourist info kiosks advertising in big letters the city bus tour of Madrid. but in smaller letters we read that tickets for the Prado were also available (at the same price as in the museum itself!). So, armed with two tickets, we crossed back over and were able to skip the queue. Actually not quite, because such is the popularity of the Prado that there was a queue at the “skip-the-queue” entrance! But it was only a 10-minute wait and we were in. No photos were allowed inside but here’s a photo of the brochure showing the masterpieces on view.

Spot one of Gerard’s jigsaws!

We had a great time in the gallery and must have been in there close to three hours before we strolled down to their restaurant and had a wee paella for lunch, chatting to a French couple from Toulouse whom we let squeeze in at our table. It was still raining a bit when we emerged from the Prado but we stopped to take the mandatory “proof we were there” snapshot.

What else is there to do on a rainy Saturday?

Well actually, we did have something more to do and before you could shout “Hala Madrid!” we were standing outside Real Madrid’s stadium the Santiago Bernabeu, ready to enjoy the anniversary presents we had given each other: tickets to see Real Madrid v Valencia in one of the most famous football stadiums in the world. That’ll do nicely!

Bernabeu

We found our seats behind one of the goals but right up at the back about 100 feet from pitch level (out of the rain) giving us a brilliant view of the game. Appropriately enough, Cristiano Ronaldo scored with a header right in front of us – making him the all-time greatest European league goal scorer, one more than the late Jimmy Greaves – while Valencia equalized in the second half with a wonderful free-kick before the amazing Marcelo of Real popped up with the winner with minutes to go. We stayed behind at the end to take some more photos then headed to the loos. Was the excitement over? Yes, once Mary had used the loo roll I had to go and find for her when I gave up waiting and shouted into the ladies if she was ok, and then we’d gone down the four floors to the exit gate, found it locked, been sent back up the four floors, had an argument with a steward and then followed a group of cleaners half-way round the Bernabeu and finally out a wee private gate in the corner. Almost as good as the match!

Before the game

So, by the time we got back into the Metro system there were hardly any queues and we were able to scoot across Madrid and back to the area around the Palacio Real. In the end we didn’t go in but went to a really nice market hall where we had pizza and drinks among crowds of people enjoying Madrid on a Saturday night. By then we were pretty keen to get back to the hotel so it was down into the Metro again, a couple of changes, a wee walk, a burger at Burger King for me (fat git!) and straight to bed at the hotel. I didn’t fall asleep immediately and indeed I stayed awake long enough to see MOTD at 11.30. Typical eh?

Sunday morning was a slow start what with packing to check-out and the only thrill was the chamber-maid walking in on me just as I came out of the shower. Her reaction was priceless but at least she didn’t laugh! Our target was to go to the Reina-Sofia museum at 14.30 when we were told you could get in for free with it being Sunday. So with 3 hours to kill and the rain easing slightly, I took a chance and guided us to a couple of spots that looked interesting. One of them turned out to be quite a find, but not before we’d taken coffee in a great Irish Pub across the road. It was strange being in a place where everyone spoke English and the TV was blasting out Sky Sports! We’d kind of forgotten what that felt like.

The Post Office!

Yes, this was indeed the Post Office although it was officially the Palacio de Communication. We started off round the back where we found a beautiful indoor exhibition area with a classy undulating glass roof and then we made our way inside, pausing to pass through a security scanner. I beeped. What could that be? Oh yeh! the tin of Fanta Limon in my jacket pocket, and my set of keys, and my phone, and my specs! The security guard gave me an absolute death stare but I shrugged off the tacit criticism and went up the marble stairs. Inside, we were impressed with the beauty of the neo-classical building and eventually got to the eighth floor to access the outside of the dome, affording us splendid views of much of Madrid.

Lady Burton looking cool!

The Exhibition Hall

Inside the Post Office!

Soon it was time to take the underground back towards Atocha station, the main railway station in Madrid and the scene of the horrific terrorist attacks in March 2004. From there we walked round in increasingly heavy rain to the Reina Sofia Museum where we saw ……………. the biggest queue ever! Unanimous decision not to wait for hours and get soaked into the bargain. Back we went to visit the memorial at Atocha station. Typical! It was closed. However we did see some wonderful indoor landscaping, good enough to tempt us to have a meal there.

INSIDE Atocha Station!

We finished our first visit to Madrid with a ride on the number 3 bus which took us right through the centre and let us see things we’d spent 2 days travelling under on the Metro. The last journey was a train ride back to the airport and a one-hour flight to Barcelona where Darren was waiting to pick us up at T2.

I’m actually exhausted just writing about this, never mind doing it, but there you are. We’re back safely and all is well. I leave you today with two of the most famous Spaniards of all. Anyone want to fight a windmill?

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

 

Day 5/221: A Pinch of Tarragon

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Well, Scott, Keira and I went along to the Camp Nou that Wednesday (2 weeks ago) and saw an absolutely brilliant Barcelona totally dominate Sevilla, not a bad team themselves remember, and run out easy 3-0 winners. They scored all their goals in a wonderful 8-minute spell in the first half, including a super overhead-kick from Suarez and Scott was delighted when Messi scored the first of his double as it was the first time he’d seen Leo score a goal live.

But the score wasn’t the story of the day! Oh no, it was the thunderstorm that rolled in about 10 minutes before half-time! One tiny point of which to take note: the Camp Nou has no roof! Meaning that, after my gallant gesture of giving my weatherproof to Keira, I had to sit and get soaked until I could take no more then dash back underneath the terracing and sit out the half-time break with a thousand other very wet fans. Keira stuck it out as did my coat while Scott had a moment’s relief from the downpour fetching her a drink from inside. But it was Barcelona playing so out we both went to take up our seats again. Once completely drenched, we were able to forget the rain itself, but the flashes of jaggy lightning overhead when we’re sitting exposed a hundred feet or so off the ground meant I kept at least one eye on the sky for the rest of the match.

Keira and Scott at the Biker Bar

The kids flew back to Scotland the following day and I raced back from the airport to take part in a game of Walking Football which was a whole load of fun. Unfortunately, soon afterwards, my lower back/hip began to play up and I was to spend the next ten days or so hirpling around and getting other people to tie my shoelaces! Getting in and out of the car was agony, while Mary’s application of deep massage was that weird combination of pain and pleasure. By the grin on her face, she really enjoyed making me scream as she dug her elbow forcefully into my Gluteus Maximus. I’m glad to report that I’m a lot better now and managed a game of golf – minus full swing – with Joke last Thursday, scoring another 66 which is rapidly becoming my average score now.

I’ve got back into writing again so life has become a lot simpler here on the campsite, what with Mary still working. Our days are now much more ordinary, following a bit of a pattern and we no longer get as involved as we used to in the socializing with our friends, despite the fact that there’s still tons of dinners, parties, happy hours and general merriment going on. Mike and Het went to Portugal in the autumn, Fred and Jeanette are busy preparing for their wedding, Dick and Linda are unable to come out this year and Jeremy has gone back to Leeds.

One thing we did both attend last week (because Mary was on holiday) was the Wednesday dinner but this time it was not at the campsite restaurant as usual but down at the Wok which we’ve been to a couple of times. The food as always at a free buffet was copious and excellent and we all ate until we were bursting. To help the party digest their food, I provided them with a quiz all about Scots and that made up for Lise’s weekly quiz at the bar. I was a good boy and did the driving for Mary, Tom and Margaret, sticking to the “agua con gas” all evening.

It was great having Mary all to myself for a whole week over Easter and we made a point of being alone together as much as we could. Stop it now you lot: don’t get any silly ideas in those warped minds of yours! But we did make a decision to go to Tarragona for Good Friday and stay in a hotel, to give us the chance to attend the processions for which the town is famous. We drove down on Friday morning, left the Audi at the hotel just out of town and took the bus to the centre where we had lunch then went to the Placa del Rei to watch the Roman soldiers head off to escort the floats back up to the square. They would all be leaving from that same square at eight in the evening to parade through the streets of the old town.

Ecce milites romani!

While we were thrilled at the sight of the Roman escorts, we were even more taken by the floats themselves, although “floats” is a misnomer and in no way captures the reality of these objects. They are large heavy wooden platforms depicting the stations of the cross and they are carried around the town by volunteers from various “societies” – Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods – each person strapped to the platform by a sturdy leather belt. There are about 15 people visible carrying them, but I did manage to get a peek inside one and there was a group of big muscular types actually inside supporting the frames on their shoulders. As it was 25 degrees outside on that Friday, the carriers must have been grateful for the frequent pauses in the procession. Those on the outside all wear robes to denote their provenance and many of them wear quite sinister hoods, reputedly copied by the Klu Klux Klan!

Spooky!

The platforms themselves are beautifully ornate and have been sculpted by local master craftsmen. Their depiction of the passion of Christ is very accurate (not that I was there!) and they certainly make you turn your head.

The Last Supper

Having seen enough for one afternoon, we made our way back to the shops then sat down for a meal at about seven in the evening. An hour later we were back on the streets to see the main procession crawl its way through the narrow Roman vennels, this time by candlelight. The music to accompany all these was provided by all sorts of different kinds of bands, some mainly drums, some trumpet and flute, some bagpipes but all in uniform and sober-faced. There were lots of women and children in the procession and we even spotted a baby and a dog!

The night procession

Coming up the Rambla Nova

“We are the Romans …….”

As you can imagine we barely stayed awake on the ten o’clock bus back to the hotel and we were quickly in the Land of Nod. The following morning, we breakfasted at a McDonald’s, bought a 4-venue visitor pass and set about taking in all the main historic sites of Tarragona. These were the Praetorium, the Circus, the Muralla and the Forum. All gave us an insight into the establishment of this first Roman outpost in Iberia about the time of Jesus Christ and just how important the town came to be. I won’t bore you with stuff you can read up for yourselves but here are a couple of photos which include us enjoying ourselves.

Mary with a new friend

Shooting from the hip!

                 Lady Burton of Tarragona!

Tarragona old town

The inevitable selfie!

A shadow of our former selves!

On Easter Sunday we watched the Pope’s Mass from the Vatican, had breakfast then went down into Vilanova where we wandered around the front taking in the sight of the Spanish folk celebrating the Resurrection. The weather was once again quite beautiful and the afternoon went by in a flash, but not before we had taken advantage of the Sunday opening to go into the deep-water port for a closer look at the really big yachts which use this facility. I pointed out to lady Burton that my pension just wouldn’t stretch that far!

Yacht to see the others!

We also managed to find time to roll our eggs (cream egg size but hollow) down by the café at the beach so at least a wee bit of tradition was maintained. When we got home to the caravan, we had some FaceTime with Gavin and Ari but couldn’t contact the rest of the boys so they’ve been written out of the will! I told them this on Messenger and they are queuing up today to wish me a belated happy Easter, old man! Hmmmmmm!

The next post will probably be in a fortnight when we get back from our weekend in Madrid to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. My, how time flies. Don’t tell Mary, whatever you do, but I’ve loved every minute! (except that time she walked in front of the TV just as Germany scored in the World Cup Final!)

 

Day 5/208: Heat

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We have now left winter behind in Catalunya and can expect a daily dose of sunshine and warmth most days from now on. In fact the past 3 weeks have been pretty good if the truth be told, with sun from dawn until dusk amid increasing temperatures of 20+ now and only the odd thunderstorm crashing through from time to time, depositing enough to keep the plants alive for another week or two – but only just! It has always astonished us just how little rain there is around this part of the Spanish mainland and, while we obviously thought there would be less rain than in Scotland (that’s not difficult pretty much anywhere!), we have been genuinely surprised at how week after week can pass by without a single drop of rain. The trees and plants must be hard as nails to survive in this climate.

Winter was easily the worst we’ve had since we came out in 2013. The sun had very little heat in it and the evenings and nightimes were as cold as winter in Scotland except for the frost and snow. The heating in our caravan went on in mid-November and we’re only just now thinking about turning it off. Lady Burton would have it on all year round if she could! So it was only last week that the winter clothes were consigned to under the bench seats and the summer stuff was brought out for a good old airing prior to being washed then worn. The “just in case” clothes in the boot of the car are now a jersey or a cardigan, no coats or scarves, although I may make an exception tomorrow night when I once again return to the Camp Nou!

Tasty!

This time, the reason is the presence of youngest son Scott and girlfriend Keira who arrived on Saturday morning to spend 5 days with us out of their Easter holidays. They are staying in a Europarcs chalet only a couple of hundred meters from us. We managed a day out with them on Sunday, up to the Biker Bar then down to Roc Sant Gaieta where we take most visitors and they had a day by themselves in Vilanova yesterday. Today is an all-day trip to see the sights of Barcelona and we’ll meet up with them later after Mary has finished work. Tomorrow we head off to see Barcelona v Sevilla at tea time and they’ll be flying back to Scotland on Thursday morning. We considered flying back with them but all the airlines have tripled their prices for the Easter holidays as they usually do and we don’t like being ripped-off so it looks like our Easter will be spent improving our tans at the campsite or popping in and out of Barcelona if we feel like it.

Six of our closest Dutch friends have all returned to Vilanova after winter back at home. Dear Tom and Margareth are delighted to be back and although they have not had their health problems to seek, they are both in fine spirits and having a whale of a time. Hans and Marianne have come back fit and well and Hans even managed down to the walking-football game this morning, a game I attended as well after taking a family to the airport. Walt and Joke are back too and both are looking good, especially the lady of the pairing who is sporting a new hip. It clearly hasn’t affected her much as she produced a ripping 67 at the golf last week, her first game since her operation and her best ever score at the Portal del Roc. I of course kept her in place with a 66! These six Dutch friends are lovely people and a real example to us all, each one the wrong side of 65 but living life to the full.

On the tee, Jordi Burton.

Jeremy, my friend from Leeds, went back home a couple of weeks ago, bringing to an end our weekly golf challenge, a match-play contest of Jeremy and Fred v Darren and me. I’m pleased to say we won the challenge (5-2 I think) but the sport was excellent and always played in good humour, including a wee glass at the 19th hole! Add the golf to the football and throw in a weekly hike up to the watchtower (Thanks to Jeremy and wife Bernie for coming with me those few weeks) and you can see that I’m trying to keep the old body moving, as is Lady Burton in pursuit of a daily 10,000 steps recorded on her Fitbit.

Despite the cold winter, our health hasn’t really been too bad, although, with working in school with kids, Mary does tend to catch a few bugs and then pass them on to me out of admiration and total devotion! I think she’s missed one day of work only and has dragged herself out of bed a couple of times way beyond the call of duty. To help out, I now try to remember to put the water heater on so she has plenty hot water for doing the dishes when she gets home!

On the subject of work, there may be changes ahead next season. It all goes back to the sudden demise of our friend Annie which I reported in my last post. This shock caused us to reassess what we’re doing and consider travelling again while we still can, as it’s always better to see places while you’re still alive! The problem would of course be Mary’s work which starts at the beginning of September and goes through to the end of June. Opportunities to travel are therefore restricted to the peak holiday seasons just like they were back in Scotland when we were both teaching. So we are considering travelling around the bits of Europe we missed on the first adventure in 2012/13, not only while we have a pulse but also have the E111 European Health Card (Thank you Brexiteers!). I’ve suggested we do that in September of this year then fly off to the West coast of America in April 2018 to see San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and the wonderful National Parks. I hope I get a glimpse of Yogi Bear!

Mary will soon have a meeting with her schools to organize next year’s allocations and hopefully she’ll be able to bash out a deal that allows her to travel at those aforementioned times but work for the six months in between. She doesn’t have to work however and that will be entirely up to her.  We’ll let you know when anything definite is agreed. Meanwhile she continues to do her classes, both with adults and children, Monday to Thursday and still works at the Prysmian factory on Wednesday mornings. She earns just enough to keep me in beer and wine and still have a little left over to pay for the shopping. Oh and don’t forget my weekly golf round! That’s 15 Euros a time, you know!

The news from the boys is all very positive. George’s family are all well and Benjamin is making good progress in P1 at SS Peter & Paul’s. Greg & Karen are both employed full-time now, Greg on the estate in Arbroath and Karen in The Casino in Dundee. They have settled in fine in our flat and seem as happy as they have ever been. Good luck to both of them! Scott is now living with Keira and he goes off to his gym each morning while she, bless her, heads for the Primary School where she has a P7 class at present. Gavin has just finished his Diploma in Legal Studies (he’ll pass of course) and won not one but two competitive mock court appearances during his course. He hopes to do some casual work now in Dundee or Edinburgh with the Courts before starting his apprenticeship year with the Procurator Fiscal’s office. I don’t know exactly where he’ll be working but I do know that 3 months is to be spent in The Hague in the Netherlands.

I continue to work on Monday evenings with Guillem although it won’t be long until his family have to move to the other side of Barcelona to facilitate Beti’s new dentist job. Guillem will be attending an English-speaking school next session as opposed to the French-speaking one he’s presently at (He speaks Spanish and Catalan at home!) but he takes it all in his stride and remains a lovely humble young lad. Lady Burton and I are, after 4 years, very fond of him and will be gutted when they have to move but I’m sure we’ll stay in touch. Maybe as a “sweetener”, his Dad Ramon has given him a pet dog whom they have named Balou and now as soon as we get back from school Guillem and I take the dog out for “Walkies”, well Caca and Pipi actually!

Balou!

I should remind you all that our caravan and fittings no longer go into storage when we leave for home at the end of June. They stay exactly as they are right now. With a wooden floor in the awning (the benefit of which we have really appreciated over the winter) we now pay for the full twelve month deal so we don’t have to dismantle anything. This means we have accommodation here in Vilanova Park available for anyone who wants to hop on a flight out to Barcelona in July or August. We’re not greedy so the rent would be minimal to family and friends and we’d even consider giving the place for free to a family under the right circumstances. It’s got all the facilities including British TV and a washing machine, electricity and gas are included and the campsite has just about everything you could ever want for a holiday. Drop us an email or call if you’re interested. This is a genuine great offer so don’t be shy! Money will not be an issue.

There’s not much to report on the writing front this time. I’ve made progress with turning the Blog into a travel book and brother Joe has done his usual scalpel job on the editing side. Becky is finishing off the drawings for Socrates 2 so that should be out in the not-too-distant future. I’ve been uninspired all through the winter but hopefully writing this post will give me the urge to do more. I hope so! Bye! Bye!

The joys of Vilanova Park

Day 5/170: Immortal

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Four weeks ago we celebrated Burns’ Night with an afternoon session a couple of days and one postponement after the traditional 25 January slot. The postponement was due to bad weather surprisingly, which doesn’t happen all that often out here, and the missing of the actual date was because Mary was working. However our event was really well-attended and we reckon it was a great success. We spent 36 hours getting the food prepared, which meant peeling a mountain of potatoes, buying 6 tins of corned beef, making a giant pot of lentil soup and of course using the half a dozen haggis we had brought back with us after Christmas. The food was very well-received and we managed to convert some more people to the delights of haggis, butternut squash and tatties as well as good old-fashioned stovies. I even found some pork dripping to cook them in!

I bring out the haggis

I bring out the haggis

Jeanette " Is there for honest poverty"

Jeanette ” Is there for honest poverty”

The entertainment was once again diverse and challenging. Geordie-born Vera next door recited “To a Mouse”, Teresa behind us did “To a daisy”, good friend Jeanette, dressed in tartan, took us through “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” quite brilliantly, I addressed the haggis, Scots Annie had us in tears singing “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose” and I finished the proceedings as I had done last year with “Tam O’Shanter”. We have now created an annual challenge for our friends to take on a Burns’ poem and be brave enough to perform it in public at our event. We’ve had people from London, Sheffield, Birmingham, Newcastle, Copenhagen, Cornwall and Great Yarmouth try their hand at Burns’ poetry and they’ve all given it their best shot. Well done to all of you!

The guests listening to Annie sing.

The guests listening to Annie sing.

Annie singing

Annie singing

In my last post I mentioned Scouser Dave the entertainments organizer who had been obliged to return to Liverpool at Christmas after suffering a heart attack here on site. Well I’m really sorry to say that poor Dave slipped into a coma back home and passed away quietly after it was decided to turn off the ventilator which was keeping him alive. Dave was a really lovely guy with a smile and a joke for everyone, so an evening was organized a couple of weeks ago on a Monday night where 50 friends of all nationalities turned up to honour his memory in song. The little karaoke, just like the one he used to do for us after the fish ‘n’ chips meal each Friday night, was a great success and had us all in tears of laughter. We also signed a book which we have sent to his widow along with some flowers.

I’ve been quite busy recently doing the teaching I’ve arranged on the site. My two wee girls, Annie and Daisy, are making excellent progress in Spanish and can now greet people, tell their names, ages, what they like and don’t like, and can identify animals and colours. They’re learning the time just now as well but generally speaking soak up what I teach them with seemingly no effort whatsoever. I’m also becoming quite good friends with their parents and have had one session of Spanish with Mum Claire. My other pupil Abi, a 30-year old former rep with Eurocamp, is also still doing her hour per week and making steady progress. Of course I still do Monday evenings with Guillem but he’s so good now at English that it sometimes doesn’t feel like I need to teach him anything more complicated. We’ve started trying to learn 10 expressions every week so he can now say things like “It’s up to you”, “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “It’s a no-brainer”. All very impressive when he uses them correctly in an appropriate context.

My sixty-fourth birthday was last weekend and we celebrated by having a Menu del Dia at our favourite Vilanova restaurant. In the evening we went back downtown, this time with close friends Fred and Jeanette, to a tapas bar near the Town Square. The food and beer were excellent and we had a great time waiting for the bell to ring which heralded the arrival of new trays of hot food. It wasn’t a late night however and we did manage a couple of swift ones in the campsite bar before closing time.

I had an airport run a couple of weeks ago to pick up my pal Jeremy’s wife Bernadette, fresh from a trip to Mexico. She spends a lot of time away teaching “hot” yoga which is yoga indoors in sweltering heat. She says it’s good for you! She comes from Dumfries originally but lives with Jeremy in his home town of Leeds when they’re not travelling (together or otherwise). They have however spent 20+ years in Sydney, Australia and both speak with strong Aussie accents. On the subject of friends, we’ve heard from Tom and Margareth who tell us they’re not in a position yet to return to Vilanova due to health issues. It’s a shame they can’t get back as they say it has been quite depressing spending the whole winter indoors in Holland.

Never lost it!

Never lost it!

The walking football is still taking place although it’s probably going down to just once a week as there are few who seem to be able to cope physically with Tuesday and Thursday. Those who pick up a twinge on Tuesday very rarely recover in time to take a game two days later. My other exercise is on Wednesday mornings once I’ve taken Mary to her work at the Prysmian factory at 09.00. That’s when Jeremy and I walk up to the tower where we have a short breakfast before walking back to the campsite. His wife Bernadette joined us last Wednesday and also two days ago when we took on the longer walk of 14 kms. This one is the one I went on with Joe and Mo when they were over and although it’s quite a bit further to walk, you get up onto the crest of the hills in a much more gradual way and then it’s a pleasure walking the tops back to the tower.

Bernadette & Jeremy

Bernadette & Jeremy

And now this post gets difficult. Last Saturday morning at 10.00, a gardener from the campsite saw our dear friend Scots Annie collapse on her decking. The ambulance was here promptly and Ann was taken to the local hospital at Sant Pere de Ribes with a suspected stroke. We drove over there to help as soon as we got the news but weren’t allowed to see our friend, and then a doctor told us that she was being transferred to Bellvitges Hospital in Barcelona. We followed on a couple of hours later and tracked her down to A&E where we were able to have a conversation with her although she was clearly paralyzed down her left side.

We were cheered up by being able to communicate with Annie but when the doctor came in, she explained that Ann had had a cerebral infarct and that it was very serious. I asked (in Spanish as Annie was only a few feet away) if we needed to contact her family in Scotland and the nod of the head told the full story. Annie’s sons got there that night and early on Sunday but her daughter was delayed due to lack of a valid passport. As you probably have guessed, Annie passed away on Monday morning. Her death has been a huge shock to all of us and we don’t quite believe she’s actually gone never to return.

Annie was cremated in Sitges today and we held a little send-off for her down at her bungalow at two o’clock, an event attended by a great crowd of people of several nationalities. Thankfully, Tayport Sandra, who had had dinner with Annie on Wednesday evening a couple of days before her stroke then drove up to Bilbao to get the ferry, made it back just in time. There were speeches, poems, songs Annie loved and more. The French community sang one of her favourite songs “La Vie en Rose” and I led an unaccompanied rendering of the song she sang at our Burns Supper “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose”.

Annie's porch today

Annie’s porch today

 

The crowd wave Annie off.

The crowd wave Annie off.

At 15.30 we all went up to the campsite entrance to wave “Cheerio” as the hearse took a detour up the hill to Vilanova Park then drove round the roundabout a couple of times so that all her friends would have the chance to say a last “Farewell” to one of the most amazing characters we have ever met.

The sash says "Cheerio!"

The sash says “Cheerio!”

After that, we drove some of her family to the crematorium in Sitges where we witnessed Annie take her leave of us. God bless.

Annie Gibb R.I.P.

Annie Gibb R.I.P.

Day 5/138: It’s all happening

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As this title might just suggest, it’s been a busy old time out here just lately. The surprise is that the weather hasn’t actually improved much since I last reported on it and it remains overcast and rainy or clear and cold. The last few days have delivered an icy Siberian blast to Cataluña and, although we haven’t had any snow (yet), we have experienced single figures during daylight and less than 5°C once the sun has set, which is around 18.00. So coats, scarves and even woolly hats have been the order of the day but, once cosy inside them, you can still sit out when the sun is shining.

For the first time we can remember, the possibility of inclement weather has caused us a problem with our annual Burns celebration which is due to take place next Friday afternoon. At present the forecast is for heavy rain that day so we are considering moving it back a week even though preparations are well under way. We have the soup, the stovies ingredients and the haggis, our friend Jeanette is making shortbread and whisky sauce and another friend Elaine who did a poem for us last year is going to do a fruit salad. Mary is busy with the compilation of a music playlist including pipes for playing in the haggis and tunes to accompany the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant. I’ll be addressing the haggis and reciting Tam O’Shanter while other guests will regale us with Burns’ poems. Scots Annie intends to sing “My Love is like a red, red Rose”.

Our weekly golf challenge has started up again although the rain scuppered it this week. Last week, Darren and I triumphed 5&3 against our rivals Fred and Jeremy but, if the truth be told, we only won because my partner played really well while the rest of us couldn’t hit ourselves over the head with our clubs! I personally scored my highest ever total (79) for the 18 par-3s while our opponents just couldn’t put it together at all so Darren’s 67 was easily good enough to see us home. The weather that day was excellent however and we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll around the course. My Fitbit clocked me 5000 steps for the round and, added to the 11000 on Wednesday when Jeremy and I went up the hill to the Watchtower, my waistline is ever-so slowly receding and my weight is staying in check. A hearty breakfast, a salad lunch and a medium-portion dinner seem to be leading me in the right direction and I must admit I feel pretty good. Take a look!

Cool, eh?

Cool, eh?

We have come back to discover that Scouser Dave, the guy who organizes the winter entertainment, has had to return to Blighty after a wee heart attack put him in hospital here during our absence. Long-term residents Chris & Lise have taken up the reins and we’re all hoping they’ll soon have the nightly events back up and running, especially the Monday Bingo which so many folk on the campsite like to play. Tuesday is cards night, Wednesday is the meal followed by the quiz, Thursday is live music and Friday is Fish ‘n’ Chips Night with a BOGOF bar.

Tuesday was the feast of Tres Tombs here in Vilanova, a celebration of St. Antoni Abat, the town patron. It’s just another excuse for the locals to have a day off, let off fireworks, dress up and prance around on horses. We’d seen it before but just couldn’t resist going to have another look. Those twirly fireworks are really scary and loud and, because of a total lack of H&S measures around here, you get showered with hundreds of big, white sparks as they pass. We did notice that they don’t appear to be hot however and nobody ever seems to get burned, although they do shelter their eyes when possible. I didn’t take any chances however and just ran away when the fiery dragon approached!

Mental!

Mental!

Not quite so scary!

Not quite so scary!

Thanks to one of our friends Jan, I have a new job! There’s a family from England onsite who have taken their kids out of school for 18 months so they can travel around and see a bit of Europe. They are home-schooled but their parents want them to learn Spanish while they’re here. That’s where I come in! Daisy & Annie are 7 and 8 respectively and both are as bright as buttons. Our first 2 hours have been excellent and they appear to really enjoy the way I do things so are looking forward to the lessons almost as much as I am. I of course give them homework for in between the lessons so I’m hoping to advance them fairly quickly to mastering the basics of Spanish. Jan also fixed me up with an English couple who needed a legal document in French checked over prior to the purchase of a house in France, so I did that for them but refused payment. They are however treating me to the dinner next Wednesday evening. Poor Mary’s working!

The big news on the television front is that I’ve finally cracked the satellite problem and can proudly boast to receiving UK Freeview on my television in the caravan. This is a major success for me and something I’ve been keen to do since I read about it a couple of years ago after they pulled the plug on reception of UK TV over here. The trick is to pinpoint a backup satellite they have at 27.5° West (most satellites are so many degrees East), download the channels and then install a code which does a job on the encryption and makes the channels viewable. I’m using Fred’s Technomate receiver which he bought for this very purpose but couldn’t get to work from his pitch: I’ll probably buy it off him now.

Now I can watch the Scottish weather!

Now I can watch the Scottish weather!

Things have been relatively quiet on the campsite itself, what with the bad weather and all, but we have managed a couple of drinks up at the bar now and again, plus a wee late session with Jeremy at Darren’s the other night when our host brought out a cheeky wee bottle of the Macallan! I don’t drink whisky very often but can be seriously tempted by a single malt of that quality. I do hope that wasn’t the only bottle he had in his cupboard!

So, the Donald is now President Trump. Whilst he might not be my personal preference for the man with the nuclear codes, there are plenty folk over here who think he’ll do a good job for USA citizens and industry. They like the Isolationist tone of his policies and think it’s about time the people of the country he governs were made a high priority. This point of view is similar to that of those who chose to vote for Brexit and, again although not my own opinion, the people have spoken and decided they don’t want to be quite so helpful to others elsewhere while there are so many needy at home. They may have a point but must beware of turning their philosophy into stark racism which would eventually endanger all of us. Populism and Nationalism in 1930s Germany grew into something we ought never to forget.

While President Trump is building his wall on the border with Mexico, the rest of us can get on with enjoying our lives and trying to bring a little happiness into the lives of others. The boys and their families do that for us and so they should after us putting up with 4 doses of “The Teenage Years”. They are now all human again and getting on with making a life for themselves and their families. Greg and Karen are settling down as tenants of our flat back in Dundee while Scott and Keira are doing well after moving in together just after Christmas. George is enjoying his new job in Dundee and Gavin has passed his latest exams in his Diploma of Legal Studies on the way to becoming a lawyer. Well done, boys, we are very proud of the four of you.

Our great friends Tom and Margareth still haven’t managed back to Vilanova yet due to health issues. We really miss them and hope they will soon bounce back and brighten our lives over here. The same goes for our other Dutch pals, Walt and Joke, who are still wintering in Rotterdam. Joke has had her hip operation and seems to be recovering well so hopes to be out on the golf course with me before long. I hope so too (Never seen anyone hit a drive so straight and true so regularly as our Joke. What a girl!). I also miss my philosophical chats over a bottle of San Miguel with Walt and I admire the way he conducts himself. Good luck to all four of our Dutch pals.

Prices are on the up in Spain, not as high as the sad lot from Marbella would have you believe, but rising nonetheless. Before Christmas, a litre of diesel was just under 1 Euro but it is now Euro 1.10 at the supermarkets and dearer elsewhere. We haven’t noticed the price-rises actually inside the supermarkets yet but we’re probably spending a wee bit more than we used to. Added to the Pound still lingering around the Euro 1.16 mark and it’s a fact my pension doesn’t go as far as it did pre-Brexit vote. Still, I can rely on Mary working extra classes now and again (she really does!) to keep the wolf away from the door and my new teaching role on the campsite won’t do any harm either.

Last Thursday, just after my lesson with Daisy & Annie, I took part in the first official game of Walking Football at Vilanova Park. There were 6 participants, five Brits and Dutch Norbert, and we managed a sedate 3-a-side which I settled with a cool slot into the corner – of my own goal! – giving Fred’s team a 6-5 victory. Unfortunately Fred will ensure I never hear the end of it so I’ll need to hope we’re on opposite sides until I can get my own back. Having canvassed about 100 caravans, I have promises of participation next Tuesday from 4 more guys, a Dane and 3 Dutchmen all called Henk! How strange is that?

Sorry for the lack of photos on this post. The opportunities just haven’t been coming, but here’s the goats playing on the logs in the woodyard opposite our pitch.

Billy, don't be a hero!

Billy, don’t be a hero!

 

Day 5/127: Christmas 2016

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Happy New Year to all my readers! It’s already 11 January and Lady Burton and I are back in Vilanova. We flew in last Friday, the feast of the Epiphany, which is the present-giving day here in Spain, precipitating parades and general fun all round. That’s two years in a row that we’ve flown back on the very day, thereby missing the spectacle both in Vilanova and in Barcelona. Mary has since suggested we try to return a couple of days earlier next year to ensure we can participate in the festival and not just hear how good it was.

The weather since we returned has been excellent with clear blue skies and lots of sun during the daytime, allowing the temperature to climb gradually up to 12, 13, 14 or even 15 degrees by mid-afternoon. But it’s a different story when the sun goes down, as the temperature plummets rapidly down into single figures between 4 and 8 degrees by bedtime. Yes there really is winter in Catalunya and we wouldn’t be all that surprised to see a drop of snow before the month’s out. The compensation is of course being able to sit out during daylight hours if we want, even taking off our jumpers if there’s no wind. The neighbours do this a lot but we seldom do as we’re not really sun worshippers to tell the truth.

So, how were the Christmas and New Year festivities for you? We hope you had a good time and enjoyed at least a few moments of genuine peace and tranquility. Ours was a tale of calm over here in the build-up to Christmas, what with Mary working so much and me back on the laptop working on my next project, but that all changed quickly once we were back in Scotland on the 23 December. We flew with Vueling this time, a budget airline owned by Iberia Airways and British Airways. Their prices are in line with Ryanair but they fly into and out of Barcelona El Prat at much more reasonable hours, leaving you feeling human at least.

Vueling

This Christmas we decided to spend it in Falkirk with our youngest son Scott and it turned out to be a good choice. On Christmas Eve, we found a church not too far away and went to 7 p.m. Mass in a place we had never been before. As we entered the back door, one of the ushers turned round and said “George Burton, what are you doing here?” which rocked me back on my heels. He turned out to be Frank, a former friend of my former friend Abe Gallacher, and one of the original “Lofty Peakers” Munro-bagging group with whom I went out on the hills for several years in the 90s. What a ridiculous coincidence, eh?

After Mass, Scott drove us to a pub to meet up with his girlfriend Keira and her parents Gordon and Lorna. We had a lovely evening with them over a couple of drinks and they were kind enough to invite us over for Christmas breakfast in the morning. So, once presents had been opened on the big day, off we drove over to their house where we enjoyed a full Scottish breakfast, strangely minus the eggs which were somehow forgotten in their whirlwind of preparing both the breakfast and the Christmas meal for twelve I think. Anyway, thank you Keira’s parents for being so generous to us on such a busy day.

Back at Scott’s, I set about cooking the stuff I’d asked him in an email to order in advance for Christmas and Boxing Day. I emphasize “order” not “order and pay” as I found out when I went to pick up the items at his local butcher! Thanks for that, son, I’ll get back the £25 from the money-tree which grows on our pitch out here in Vilanova. At least the one I assume you think grows there. Joking apart though, we had a traditional Christmas meal of prawn cocktail, tomato soup, chicken with untraditional haggis and Mediterranean vegetables (I’ll do that again!), followed by trifle and mincemeat pies. As is always the case, we only had a couple of drinks with the meal as we don’t have the habit of having a bevvy at Christmas. After the meal, Scott went off to see Keira while we slumped on the couch in front of the TV. No games, no children, no sing-songs. Bliss!

Boxing Day turned out quite differently from what we had anticipated. We noted early on that Scott was quite anxious about moving house the next day so we got stuck in and blitzed his flat for hours, including a breakneck trip to our flat in Dundee to deposit items he couldn’t take with him. After a pause for our steak pie meal, we ferried boxes to the new place and pretty much cracked the whole thing by bedtime. Despite all of this, Scott was still a cat on hot bricks the following morning so thank God we were around to keep a lid on things. By 11 o’clock in the morning, Scott’s flat was empty and we were able to get our train to Dundee soon afterwards.

So that’s that. The last of our four ducklings has fled the nest and found someone to spend his time with. We both wish them well and it looks like they’re starting off in a much better situation than either Mary or I did all those years ago. When I think back to the first flat I ever had in 1976 at 150 Hilltown, well, it wasn’t exactly Buckingham Palace if you get my drift! Dark, damp, dingy, dull and loads of other words beginning with “D” would best describe it.

It was wonderful to get back into our present flat again after so long out. It looked and felt great and we were happy we hadn’t let it out again after the previous tenants had left at the end of September. Once again, we were amazed at the brilliant views from the windows of the flat, South over the River Tay to Fife, North round to the famous Dundee Law and East down over the entire city of Dundee to Broughty Ferry and beyond. The West aspect over Balgay Park and Hill is probably our favourite as the hundreds of trees keep changing their colours as the year advances, giving us a new panorama every few weeks. We will never regret buying our flat and have no intentions of ever selling it either.

Dundee Law from our bedroom

Dundee Law from our bedroom

Mary’s Mum was kind enough to invite us over for tea that night along with other members of the family and I was able to have a wee drink, the last one I would have for a while as, the following morning, I went into town to pick up the car I’d hired online. I got a brand-new Corsa 1.4 which served our purposes perfectly, although Lady Burton found the heated seats by far the most important part of the equipment. Making Mary a second driver would have doubled the cost of the hire so I decided I would go it alone this time. It sure kept me off the drink!

Thanks again to Scott, 29 December dawned as the day we had invited the whole Burton family over to the flat to celebrate Christmas together. They all dutifully trooped in from about midday onwards and by four in the afternoon every single member was draped around the sofa ready for the first ever photograph of George and Mary Burton, their 4 boys, their partners and their offspring. The head count was 13 and what a bonny bunch they made!

The Burtons

The Burtons

It was during a conversation with son Greg and his wife Karen that I suggested it might just be possible for them to rent the flat while we’re in Spain rather than us find a stranger to occupy it. I said this as I’d been worried about the place they had in Montrose, a nice enough ground-floor flat but in a quite dodgy neighbourhood. Well, to cut a long story short, we quickly came to an agreement on the details and they moved in the day we left to come back to Vilanova. The test was always going to be whether or not Greg could get to his work on the estate in Arbroath without undue hassle and I’m happy to report that his first journey yesterday went smoothly and took only 10 minutes longer than he’s been used to.

Back to that get-together of the Burton clan, I spent most of my time of course playing with the grandchildren Benjamin and Artemis. They absolutely exhausted me, especially with their appetite for bouncing games on Grandad George’s bed, but needless to say I was over the moon really and loved every single minute with them. I must have made an impression because both of them asked their parents if they could sleep at Grandad’s house (which lack of pyjamas and toothbrushes prevented) but I was secretly chuffed they had even asked!

Arry with Xmas present from Spanish Santa

Arry with Xmas present from Spanish Santa

A great highlight for me was on Hogmanay when 3 generations of loyal ‘Dee supporters (George, Ben and I) went to the Dundee v St. Johnstone football match at Dens Park. It was several years since I’d been there, other than for Amateur Cup Finals 5-10 years ago, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed the match in the company of my eldest son and my 5-year old grandson (and also because Dundee won 3-0.) We were seated in the west stand and I noted I was situated only metres from the spot (standing of course!) where, in the company of my late Dad Frank, I’d watched Dundee knock 8 goals past FC Cologne in the European Cup in the autumn of 1962. I was nine at the time and that match made me a fervent football fan for life.

Ben in coloured coat waiting for "Deewok"the mascot.

Ben in coloured coat waiting for “Deewok” the mascot.

Before we knew it, the Bells were striking midnight and for the second year in a row Mary and I celebrated the arrival of the next chapter alone in our flat watching the BBC Scotland programmes and getting all nostalgic. Somehow that’s ok these days and, as much as we loved the wonderful New Year spectacles down in the city square, the trooping from house to house often in the snow, the alcoholic haze and the tortuous sing-songs, it’s our personal preference to bring the New Year in quietly, now that all the boys are off doing their own thing. C’est la vie!

Dundee City Centre

Dundee City Centre

The New Year is traditionally a time to take stock of yourself and make loads of promises about getting fitter and healthier. We are no exception and, while Lady Burton has decided she has lots of nice clothes she needs to get into, so has abandoned the excesses of the Christmas period, I have pledged to eat healthily, take lots of exercise (I was up the watchtower with Jeremy at 10 this morning) and take all my tablets correctly after my latest blood sugar results were less than perfect. It seems that, just because I feel good, I mustn’t stop taking them! Duh!!

So 2017 came in like a lamb and we’ve no idea how it’s going to go out. One thing is for sure: we should expect the unexpected! Maybe there’ll be more than 13 of us next Hogmanay and it’s always possible there could even be fewer of us by the time the Bells strike. Maybe that’s the real reason why we all have to get on with living our lives and trying to bring a little happiness into this crazy old world we live in. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change very, very quickly. Apart from wiping out half the greatest pop stars of yesteryear (Bowie, Prince, Parfitt etc), last year brought us two of the biggest voting surprises of all time, turning the predictions of so-called experts on their heads. Whether I agreed or not, the people of the UK and the USA spoke out and forced change away from the old regime. I just hope they know what they are doing.

Image result for parfitt status quo

R.I.P. Rick Parfitt

The rest of our trip to Dundee was a long list of visits, here, there and everywhere. We had lunch with Mary’s Mum on New Year’s Day, had an evening with Uncle Gerard next door, took Ben to see Renée and Stef, had dinner with Gavin, Artemis, Eve and her parents up in Arbroath and had a night out in the pub with Mary’s cousin Ann, the only time we were in a pub in the whole 2 weeks! The weather remained mild other than a couple of cold days, there was no snow whatsoever and it hardly rained at all, in sharp contrast to last year’s visit when it rained pretty much continuously.

On 6 January we made our way back to the campsite in Vilanova via a hired car, a train, a tram, an aeroplane, a bus and a friend’s car. The journey was faultless (it nearly always is) and in no time at all we were having our tea in the caravan. We discovered that, although the weather here is much warmer during daylight hours, the temperature tends to plummet rapidly as darkness falls and it doesn’t feel all that different from back home in Dundee. Today, 11 January, Mary is back at work and I’ve already done an evening with Guillem. Invitations are going out for our Burns’ Day/Night on Friday 27 January and I’m looking to start up a Walking Football Club among the residents of the campsite for those who love the game but can’t run any more, like me!

Well, that’s the Christmas update complete. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2017 for yourselves and your families and remember to only worry about things you can actually change. There’s no point in stressing over things beyond your influence. You’ll just get older quicker!

I leave you as I often do with my granddaughter.

The family Princess

The family Princess

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