Day 7/50: The rain in Spain ……..


Like pretty much everywhere in Europe this year, summer in Scotland was the best in a long time as I told you in my Munroamers post. This prompted our great friends from Kendal, Mike & Het, to pull their caravan North into Scotland and have a tour. They did really well too and we were delighted when they accepted our invitation to come and spend a few days with us in Dundee. It was a laugh from start to finish and included a visit to the Falkirk Wheel and a walk up West Lomond for me and Mike. They really are a splendid couple and we always feel totally at ease with them which is a huge bonus. We also visited a childhood haunt of Het’s (Anstruther) and of course had a fish & chips lunch at the famous chippie.

At the Kelpies

At the top of West Lomond

It was while we were visiting Anstruther that I suddenly received a missed call from the son of my Auntie Pat and I feared the worst. My fears were realised when I later received the bad news that Pat had passed away after suffering a stroke. Needless to say, Mary and I attended the funeral in Newcastle and met up with all the English relatives. I didn’t know I had so many cousins! We remember with great affection how Auntie Pat and Uncle Brian (not long departed himself) came to Vilanova Park for a few days at the end of a Mediterranean cruise and the absolute belter of a time they had with us and our friends. Now both are gone unfortunately, but they’ve left us with happy memories.

Pat & Brian at Montserrat

Brian & Pat at the Biker Bar

I should mention that we’ve done loads of work in the flat this summer and it now boasts a brand-new bathroom, a new living-room ceiling, wallpaper, lighting and carpet, so we’re quite happy to fly back for a short break anytime to enjoy what we’ve spent our money on. We also had our annual weekend away at the scout camp in Powburn with most of Mary’s family and once again Ben came along with us. This year he decided it would be much more fun to sleep in the dormitory with all the other kids rather than be cosy in a private room with Grandad George and Granny Mary. We also celebrated sister Claire’s husband’s 50th birthday and all dressed up in Blyth Spartans strips for the occasion. Mad, but a great laugh!

Claire, Ally, Bruce, Dot, Mary

Ben doing grass-sledging!

I saw plenty of the grandchildren this summer and had a terrific day with Artemis to myself which included a visit to see one of the 50 penguins Dundee City Council had spread around the town before auctioning them off. Well it wasn’t really much of a visit because the Council had positioned one of the flightless birds (named Chic!) right outside our window and at the entrance to the park opposite. It was a delight to see it there first thing in the morning and I’ll miss it now that it’s gone.

At the swings with Grandad George

Me and Arry with Chic

I’ve always thought that the beauty of living here is that it hardly ever rains, even though when it does it fair chucks it down! But this time around we’ve been left reeling by the utter monsoons that have swept through here on a fairly regular basis since our arrival back in Vilanova 7 weeks ago. Indeed, it was so bad the first evening we were here that the sheer weight of water brought down the partly-erected awning, snapping one of my new glass-fibre poles (you know, the ones that are virtually unbreakable!). Since that day we’ve been plagued by the notion that every time we leave the caravan unattended to go somewhere there is a chance we’ll return to find the awning lying on the ground and our possessions soaked if not ruined.

And it’s not only in the awning that we’ve had problems. That awful damp smell returned to the front of the caravan on my side of the bench seats and I had to go in with serious intent to track it down. I never did find out where it’s been coming in over the years but I found the results of the intrusion: the window shelf witnessed water penetration over a long period of time and I was forced to cut out a couple of feet of it and replace it with new wood. That seems to have done the trick and we’ve had no more bother since, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the rainstorms don’t find their way in and ruin things again.

On a happier note, we’ve had lots of family out to visit over the past 2 weeks as it has been the Scottish school holidays. George, Fiona and grandson Ben started the ball rolling when they flew in 2 Thursdays ago for a 2-week stay in Vilanova Park – just in time for Mary and I to fly back to Scotland the very next day! No. it’s not that we don’t get on, it’s just that we had arranged to fly home to attend sister-in-law Ally’s Silver Wedding Function in the Queen’s Hotel in Dundee. Everyone was going to be there and we really didn’t want to miss out on a good party, which is exactly what it turned out to be. The live band in particular were excellent and had a crowd on the dance-floor pretty much from the start, even chucking in a Gay Gordons and a dashing White Sergeant for good measure! Son Scott and his girl Keira were there too and they came with us the next morning to visit Dundee’s new top attraction the V & A Museum built in the town centre on the banks of the Tay. That was really impressive and we hope to visit the actual galleries when we’re home at Christmas.

Me, Mary and Scott

Exciting times for the City!

Second son Gavin came to the flat on the Sunday evening and at 3 in the morning we headed off to Edinburgh Airport in his car which he left there before joining us on the flight back to Barcelona where he spent four days with us and his brother getting in a bit of sunshine between the downpours! I was of course in my element with 2 of my sons and my grandson with me out here. We all had a trip to the Camp Nou to tour Barcelona’s stadium and trophy room and we all got the souvenir photos you can buy there. Here’s some from the collection.

The leader of the pack!

Just before going out onto the pitch

Ben with Leo

Gav flew away again on the Friday morning but we were back at the airport for a second time that day when Ally and Dave flew in late that evening fresh from their Silver Wedding celebration the previous weekend. George, Fiona and Ben stayed another week with us and we managed a few trips out to local spots including Roc de Sant Gaieta, Coma Ruga, Castellet, Tibidabo and Barcelona Zoo. Mary and I were quick to acknowledge that this place is heaven when the family are out here sharing quality time with us and it’s just a pity they can’t be here more often. Mary’s family have now returned home as well yesterday and that explains to a certain extent why I have now found the time to sit down and add to my blog. The previous 2 weeks have been full-on and I’m a bit worn-out although in a totally positive way. I’ve done a real lot of driving people around but it has been worth it and more!

Mary. Ben, Fiona and George at Roc de Sant Gaieta

George and family plus flamingoes!

Ben on Tibidabo

Ally, Stephen and Mary

As for Lady Burton, well she has returned to work for Global Connect, getting her job back as promised after a year off to go travelling with me again. She is presently doing 4 evenings a week Monday-Thursday plus one lunchtime class at the primary school Sant Jordi, although she might be offered more with the resignation of one of her colleagues to take up a full-time job in Sitges. Which brings me neatly to my new interest which is amateur dramatics! My pal Jeanette, Fred’s wife, has been involved with a group in Sitges for a couple of years now and had invited me before to give it a try, but she recently told me the group were short of one Scotsman for a sketch and I agreed to take the part. I have a final rehearsal tomorrow in Sitges and the performance will take place there next Saturday evening. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Fortunately I’ve been able to take up tutoring my wee pal Guillem again and have already done a couple of lessons with him. We had a day out with his parents Ramon and Beti at the Cubelles Wine Festival recently which was a fine event for all, although we were shocked to discover that they’ve been going through a rocky time in their relationship and are currently living apart. We hope that they are able to resolve their differences for Guillem’s sake as well. He came up to the campsite last week to play with Ben whom he has met during his two stays with us in Dundee and it was great to see them together again despite the age gap.

Guillem and Mary in Cubelles

Mary and I had a trip into Barcelona with her friend and colleague Heather to see an exhibition in the National Museum of Catalunya of the life and influence of Salvador Dali’s wife Gala. She was quite a woman and had previously been married to a famous French poet before marrying Dali and spending the rest of her life with him. It was a good day out and I think Heather particularly enjoyed herself. We even managed a tour of the roof, affording us spectacular views of the area around Placa Espanya and of course Montjuic and the Olympic Park to the south.

Heather and Mary looking out over Barcelona

You’ll remember our close friends Tom & Margareth Bakker whom we’ve visited in Holland and who have come to visit us in Dundee. Well, four weeks ago, they celebrated their Golden Wedding here in Vilanova alongside their entire immediate family and their friends from the campsite. We were invited to attend a special lunch with them and their family down at the Wok in town and then a street party here on Section F in the evening. Both events were brilliant and we had a wee singsong later on in the evening. I made a point of playing “The Wild Rover” which Margareth particularly enjoys as she has learned all the words since I sang it for them at a ceilidh in The Fisherman’s in Broughty Ferry when they were staying with us. It was a pleasure meeting their lovely daughters, their spouses and their children again, having been introduced to them during our visit to Petten in the summer of 2014.

The Bakker Family

There was a big day for eldest son George recently when he took part in the Great Scottish Run, a half-marathon through the streets of Glasgow and George’s first ever. He did really well too, coming home in just under 2 hours (1h 57m 34s to be precise!) and as the event was live on BBC2, Mary and I were able to watch it. We even caught a wee glimpse of George himself just after he crossed the finish line. The disappointment was that his wee brother Scott, who encouraged George to enter in the first place, wasn’t able to take part himself after rwisting his ankle at the football a couple of weeks earlier. Scott was of course gutted, especially as he had qualified to run with the elite group of runners who set off first. Chin up, Scotty! There’s always next year.

A happy George

I’m still having a game of golf once a week up at the local 18-hole par 3 course and I’m shooting some reasonable scores in the mid and low 60s although I still haven’t manage to hold it together all the way round and beat 60. Maybe soon though!! I’m going to take part in the annual handicap competition later in November so I’d better get practising for serious. I saw my second hole-in-one live the other day. This time it was my pal Steve who knocked it straight in off the first tee to move alongside Fred who holed out on the fifth hole a couple of years ago. That’s another bucket-list target for me, but whatever you do, don’t hold your breath! Here’s a photo of the only 2 people I’ve seen get a hole in one.

Fred & Steve, aka The Chuckle Brothers

My brother and his wife have finally gotten round to walking a part of the Camino de Sant Iago, starting in Portugal near Porto and walking for 10 days to finish (hopefully!) this Sunday at the pilgrims’ mass in Santiago de Compostella and getting their official certificates. Originally Mary and I were going to accompany them on the journey but it just didn’t work out in terms of mutually-convenient dates, given Mary’s work and so on. Never mind, I’m sure we’ll get round to it while we still have our legs!

Mary won’t love me for telling you this, but she managed to get out of the Audi outside the caravan the other week and walk away not having put the handbrake on! She had to look on in horror as the car sedately rolled away down the hill for 10 metres before taking out a wooden fence and ending up with one wheel hanging over a wee wall. The neighbours and I managed to rescue the car and I patched it up as best I could. Luckily it still runs perfectly so I’ll just have to drive around with the dents and scratches as I’m sure the insurers would make it a write-off and I don’t want that. At least it’ll blend in perfectly with all the Spanish dented cars! The most important thing is of course that Mary was uninjured although she was plenty embarrassed and didn’t hesitate in confessing to them up at reception about her mishap. They’ve now repaired the fence and thankfully haven’t sent me the bill!

The poor Audi!

The poor Fence!!

No news from Greg and Karen this time round so I’ll stop here and try to post once a week for the next wee while. You all stay bright and healthy and get on with preparing for Christmas!! We’ll maybe hang on a bit yet!

Here’s another big day in the family – Arry’s first day at school. She’s my granddaughter so obviously the most beautiful child ever to sit in a classroom. I hope she has her Daddy’s brains too!

Arry, School, Day 1

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 4/256: Y’know wot I mean, Arry?

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One of our greatest wishes was fulfilled two Sundays ago when son Gavin and his wife Eve stepped off the plane at Barcelona airport in the company of our only granddaughter Artemis (from now on known simply as “Arry”).They were likely very excited at the prospect of 6 days of Spanish sun on our campsite at Vilanova Park, but I doubt if their own expectations came anywhere near the sense of anticipation Mary and I had as their arrival approached. Living out here 10 months of the year, people are always asking if we miss the family. Of course we do, and our two grandchildren at least as much as our four sons. So we absolutely couldn’t wait for the Arbroath Burtons to find time off work to get over here and check the place out.

Our first surprise was when they walked through the arrivals lounge where I was waiting for them. Because they didn’t just have a big case, a big kit bag and a cute little case for Arry. No. Gavin was also steering an airport trolley laden with a child’s buggy and a full-sized child’s car seat. Safety First indeed! Hugs and kisses exchanged, we squeezed their belongings into the Audi, strapped the bairn into the well-travelled seat, found room in the back for Gavin and Eve too and drove off back down the road to Vilanova. The sun was out and it was cosy despite a stiff breeze, helping to immediately lift everyone’s spirits to holiday level. As usual I employed the tactic of talking to the adults first while acknowledging Arry’s presence from time to time to give her the chance to settle to her new situation. It worked fine and the wee pet was soon fast asleep!

She's just resting her eyes

She’s just resting her eyes

Once checked in and inside their chalet, they were delighted to discover that the grandparents had stocked the cupboards and the fridge in advance, meaning that a welcome beer was called for. The rest of the day was a chance for them to get to know our caravan, the facilities at the park and meet some of our friends from all over. Gav and I watched some football up at the bar while Mary took Eve and Arry around the campsite, showing off the swimming pools and play-parks. We had planned to have tea together but the need for a catch-up sleep rather dictated events and our guests were early to bed having grabbed chicken and chips at the takeaway.

Monday is a long working day for Lady Burton but I had the day off from my lesson with Guillem so it was left to Granddad to show them around and take them where they wanted to go. Lidl was high up that list and I think they were really quite impressed both with the food and drink and the prices. Much cheapness! Before tea we drove down to the beach and paid a visit to the Cow out on the breakwater, which also gave Arry the opportunity to check out her new “Frozen” bucket, spade and rake. With only a little help from Mum, she was able to produce two or three excellent sandcastles but we didn’t spend too long down there as the breeze was colder than you might think.

After tea, Gavin and I came round to the caravan to watch a live stream of the hugely important Dundee v Dundee United derby game with the latter’s continuation in Scotland’s Premier Division dependant on the outcome. Although happy that my team, Dundee, came out on top by two goals to one, I was also quite sad that the other half were officially relegated to the Championship for next season and maybe longer. That I suppose is what you get when you sell all your best players to a rival team in your own league, one reason I have little sympathy for United’s eventual freefall and none at all for their supporters who tortured our fans for years when we fell on hard times. Things have now turned full circle and, to coin a description used over the past 20 years by United fans to mock their neighbours from across the road “Dundee are having a party, the United fans are in their beds!”

Tuesday stayed fine and we all had a swim. However we opted for the heated indoor pool, none of us willing to brave the fierce chill of its outdoors counterparts. It was hot but not that hot! Wee Arry had a ball in the pool and displayed great energy splashing around in her uber-cute Peppa Pig wings. Typically, I managed to attract the unwanted attention of a young French boy who somehow thought I wanted him to depth-charge me from the poolside every time I looked away. I have no idea why he did this but my fierce stare and surprisingly fluent use of a couple of French swear words seemed to do the trick. Arry and we continued to get closer as she became more confident that we weren’t a couple of child-snatchers! I managed to get her to come away with me in search of pine cones and butterflies (standard kiddies interest objects) but she suddenly decided she hadn’t seen her Mummy for over a minute and trotted back to the chalet.

After dropping Mary at the Prysmian factory on Wednesday morning at nine o’clock, the four of us took the train to Barcelona Franca station from where we were only a couple of hundred metres from the entrance to ……. the Zoo! The sun was still shining that day and we had a lovely time looking at the animals. Unfortunately, after a wee tantrum, Arry decided to have a nap, a fairly long nap, meaning she missed some of what was on offer, but she was awake not long after our lunch and able to see the big cats, the giraffes, rhinos and elephants. On the train home, she and I had a great game of “Is that a bus?” in which she extended her replies from “No, granddad, that’s a car!” to “No, granddad, that’s a lorry!” and even “No, granddad, that’s a train!” She must have thought I was awfully stupid!

Stripey horses?

Stripy horses?

Vultures, my favourites. Not!

Vultures, my favourites. Not!

We treated ourselves to a set meal up at the restaurant in the evening and it was then that Eve became aware of the children’s disco outside. A quick investigation with child sold the whole concept to Arry who spent the next hour dragging each of us in turn out onto the dancing area where she strutted her tiny stuff like a professional. Granddad was called into service to gyrate – slowly – to the song “Lollipop” and that was it for the rest of the holiday, a constant “Granddad, you do lollipop and I dance”. As a direct consequence, her exertions provided her parents with an unexpected lie-in when she slept a solid 10 hours or so. I think Eve and Gavin are now hoping a neighbour will start up a child disco EVERY night once they are back in Arbroath.

Classic family pose!

Classic family pose!

We left the visitors to themselves on Thursday until I had tea with them and we headed back to the disco for Arry’s sake but, tragically, we were too late and had to amuse her ourselves. Mary and Eve got her to bed later and then Mary babysat, giving the grateful parents an hour to themselves at the bar. I meanwhile swanned off to a wee get-together of some of my friends, had a couple of wines and passed myself off as a Frenchman to an English mother and her daughter who is now seeking me out for French lessons! Isn’t life sometimes surreal?

The road is so comfortable!

The road is so comfortable!

Friday was the last day’s holiday for our family so we spent it together doing family things. Arry by now was my best friend, illustrating this by waving bye-bye to her parents and leading me round to our caravan where she spent an hour investigating the awning, the caravan itself, our beds, both bench-seats and the cats outside. Even the arrival of a spot of rain did nothing to curb her new enthusiasm and that evening she was rewarded by another session at the wee disco. We even got there on time! She danced and she danced, affording us all the opportunity to take photos, shoot video and generally grin at her doing her moves. A great night was had by us all and we finished with a drink back at the chalet.

See you, granddad!

See you, granddad!

Honest, it was her idea!

Honest, it was her idea!

Dancing Queen

Dancing Queen

Waiting in line for a lollipop

Waiting in line for a lollipop

Saturday was a rainy, early start as we had to be back at the airport for nine o’clock. Gavin’s determination to leave the chalet in pristine condition ensured we were at the airport by nine-forty however and we had to keep the farewells to a minimum to let them get checked in and away. Gavin later admitted they just made it and were the last on the plane. On the way back to Vilanova, I took Mary to Gava shopping centre and let her spend some of her hard-earned cash. She did, and she was very happy doing it. I sat and listened to a school band in the Centre and just relaxed. That was nice!

We loved that visit from Gavin, Eve and the gorgeous Artemis. We are missing them already, but looking forward to getting together when we get back to Scotland in early July. Until then we’ll have to make do with the photos we took and the memories we have. Thank you kids! Thank you Artemis! I’ll stop now as I think there’s something in my eye.




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!




Day 2/245: Let’s do something different!

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The next thing on the agenda following our return to Vilanova was how to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. With the day before being Mayday and therefore a public holiday, we had the opportunity to spend 2 days, Thursday and Friday, doing something different. The weather was already in “guaranteed sunshine” mode so we were absolutely free to go where we wanted indoors or outdoors.

Where's the dragon?

Where’s the dragon?

Lots of our friends had visited a small town up in the mountains called Montblanc, the legendary place where Sant Jordi slew the dragon, so we decided that we would drive up there and get a taste of the medieval life. It was a bit like George and the Dragon driving up to see George and the Dragon! Sorry Mary! The trip up into the mountains was quite exciting in itself as we took the recommended back roads (did I call these paths “roads”?) instead of belting up the motorway. However there was no harm done and we reached Montblanc around midday safe and sound.

The legend

The legend

Parking proved a bit of a nightmare, what with it being a popular tourist attraction and also Mayday, but we eventually found a spot only a couple of hundred metres from the town walls. Upon reaching them, we were delighted to see that we had arrived at the main gate, the Portal Sant Jordi, and we were able to read all about the legend and discover why Montblanc brought in thousands and thousands of tourists every year.

George at his gate

George at his gate

We opted firstly for a walk up on the walls of the town with excellent 360 degree views, affording us the chance to read the various information boards (Catalan, Castellan, and English) which detailed the history of the town and the surrounding area which had suffered some difficult times after the British reneged on a treaty and left the Catalans to the fate of the invading French. That was nice of us! Bottled water was taken on board every few steps as the thermometer climbed past 25 degrees and kept going

The town walls

The town walls


They have dragon's blood on the menu!

They have dragon’s blood on the menu!

Does she look happy?

Does she look happy?

 A stroll through the town, still decorated for their annual medieval week, took us to a wee square where we enjoyed a bit of shade and a sandwich or two, then it was up to the top of the hill for a view over the countryside before returning to the car which we could not immediately enter, so hot had it become inside. Once we could sit inside with the a/c at full blast, we consulted Victoria for the first time in ages and asked her to take us to the monastery of Poblet further up in the high hills. The lovely girl did as she was asked and 50 S-bends later we parked in the huge car park necessary to cope with the visitor numbers for this famous attraction.



However I’m afraid it didn’t quite hit the spot with us and we just had a quick stroll around the grounds and a peek inside the church before heading for the café and that’s where I received a text message saying that old Auntie Cissie’s agitated state had necessitated a transfer to Murray Royal Hospital in Perth. We were somewhat saddened by this turn of events and slightly lost the appetite for further adventures, but as fate would have it I suddenly remembered overhearing two French folk talking about a fantastic place they had gone to in this area where you could drive to the top of a cliff and see miles and miles all around. I recalled they had said the road up was “interesting”.



So, to get us back to enjoying our day away, we checked out a physical map we had brought with us and managed to spot a name I recognized as being the place on the cliff top. Its name was Siurana. With a great deal of help from the lovely Victoria, we tracked down this village after driving up the bendiest road ever which included an uphill right-hand hairpin that even with the Audi I had to take in first gear. Now that was steep!

Did we really drive up here?

Did we really drive up here?

The reward for our adventurous spirit was one of the best viewpoints we have ever been to, perched as it was on top of a sheer cliff plateau of red sandstone. Brilliant! We took in the sights for an hour or so, had a coffee at a wee café in the village, got the mandatory photos then negotiated our way back down the cliff and through the mountains south to Reus and a final motorway sprint back up to Vilanova.

Not surprisingly, it was an early night for us both and even Mary only read about five pages before the book fell from her hands!

The following day. Friday, was indeed our anniversary and we had chosen to spend it in Barcelona, seeing a bit more of the big city. Yesterday’s efforts however had left us with cotton wool heads and it was nearly 11 o’clock when our Dutch friend Tom drove us down to the station where we caught a train to Franca station in north Barcelona. This allowed us, after a spot of lunch, to stock up on water and stroll around Ciutadella Park, one of our favourite spots in the city and the home of the beautiful Cascadas, featured in an earlier post. Our master plan was to go and see the famous Dancing Fountains of Montjuic that evening, so that left us with several hours to move around as we wished.

Now that's what I call a flagpole!

Now that’s what I call a flagpole!

We plumped for the healthy thing to do and walked for miles around two famous districts of Barcelona, Born and Gotica, older areas with warrens of vennels, old buildings and quirky shops. We almost made it into Santa Maria de la Mar basilica but our timing was out and they shut the doors literally in our faces. Was it something I said? We also tried to find a restaurant belonging to Guillem’s aunt where his Dad had promised us a free meal, but again because of timing I’d had to cancel before we left as it would have restricted our freedom to be where we wanted when we wanted. Another evening maybe!

Before the show, at the Venetian towers

Before the show, at the Venetian towers

After much ado in the city and tea in a restaurant in the Bullring on the wonderful Placa Espanya, we made our way uphill to join the crowds on Montjuic waiting for the nine o’clock start to the Dancing Fountains. We were not to be disappointed and enjoyed a fairy tale half-hour of water, lights, colour and music as the dozens of fountains on the slope bounced up and down to the rhythm of some lovely music.

Take it as.... Red!

Take it as…. Red!

Affy bonnie!

Affy bonnie!

Our favourite

Our favourite

As the spectacle faded we entered the Metro system, got our way back to Sants railway station and caught the ten o’clock train back to Vilanova. As we emerged from the station, the last bus to the campsite came round the corner with perfect timing (we were 5 minutes too late, but this is Spain!) so we were back at the caravan by eleven o’clock and asleep by 11.02!

We still have loads to tell you about this week so I’ll stop there and try to post some more tomorrow or the day after. I’m going for a shower now as I’ve been typing this in the awning and the mercury reads 42 degrees with all the vents, windows and doors open. It’s a cooker, as Gavin would say!

A final look at Siurana

A final look at Siurana

Day 280: Last Day in Spain

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Our last full day on site at Vilanova Park started with a couple of heavy showers but brightened up quickly thanks to a really hot sun which dried the roads in minutes. Still, it was satisfying that the awning was safely tucked away in its bag in the toilet of the Magic Caravan. Any optimism was then dashed as we all heard that the lovely old French lady three up on the other side of the row had had a stroke and been whisked off to hospital in Barcelona. At this moment we have no idea how she is but our thoughts are with her and her husband.

We had to meticulously pick our way through all our drawers to ensure there were no items we would be requiring to use when we got back home and it was quite amazing the little things we discovered lying hidden within their confines. Meanwhile the heavens kept threatening to open but never actually managed to cause us any concern, restricting itself to two-minute sprinkles of warm Spanish rain, not even enough to chase the sun worshippers away from the outdoor pool where so many of them prefer to spend every waking minute.

Around four o’clock, Mike and I went up for a final challenge match for this series and once again there was barely a cigarette paper between us while I had the lion’s share of good fortune and shots off the edge, sneaking victory by two sets to one. We toasted our recent excellent sport with a pint at the bar then I came back down to the caravan to find Mary had made brilliant progress inside, with all areas hoovered, washed, scrubbed and made ready for the 3 months’ storage. I promised to join in as soon as I’d had my post-match kip and the next 90 minutes were spent in the land of Nod.

All we had left for tea was a pizza which we were still eating when Carol’s other half Rob came over to wish us farewell. Typically he ended up staying an hour or so, recounting for us over a cup of tea his life in Liverpool and his work in the shipyard there. Just another friendly neighbour popping in for a cuppa and a chat, part of the daily life here on the camp site, the life we have learned to love so much.

And then it was a final check that we had everything packed either in the caravan for leaving here or in the Audi for bringing home with us. I told Mary I was going to write up this post early so that it could be on the Blog using the bar’s Internet as we will have no service tomorrow morning. So we strolled up there for the last time on the adventure, uploaded today’s post and raised a glass to Vilanova Park where we will return in 3 months and of course to our beloved Magic Caravan.

Tomorrow we wave it goodbye and set off on the long journey home. Next stop: Clermont-Ferrand.

Day 279: Disassembly


We awoke to ten minutes of thunderstorm this morning and that determined how the rest was spent. Fortunately, as is often the case in places like Spain, the sun came back out almost immediately afterwards and everything dried off in about 15 minutes. Having checked the forecast again, we decided not to take the risk of being left with a wet awning and carpet on Monday morning, so the awning had to come down.

Over the next couple of hours we disassembled, unhooked, detached, spread out, cleaned, folded and packed the awning roof, the doors and windows, the skirt, the rubber carpet and the poles. We even managed to get them all to fit into their carry-bags which was a first for us. So, when all was done, we were assured we could leave all that gear in the Magic Caravan over the summer and not come back to find it covered in mould and stinking the place out.

Next we drove down to “Simply” for a few things and while Mary shopped, I went to the bank to get our Euros for the return journey, filled up with diesel, checked the tyre pressures and then joined her in the supermarket where, among other things, I bought a set of emergency bulbs as required in France. Maybe they were required elsewhere in Europe when we didn’t have any with us, but it’s far too late to worry about that now! Nobody’s perfect.

Heather and Mary

Heather and Mary

By the time we got back to Vilanova Park it was almost time to join Mike & Heather for tea so we settled for nibbles instead of a late lunch. Ablutions were carried out at the last minute and, looking and smelling at our best, we walked the 5 metres to our neighbours’ pitch where we shared a couple of drinks before they spoiled us with a great pork casserole followed by freshly-made crepes with a variety of fillings. The meal was delicious eaten outdoors and we spent the entire evening at table on the road in front of our caravans where the sun continued to shine until dusk.

Los 4 amigos!

Los 4 amigos!

Mike and Heather are a genuinely nice couple with whom we get on really well and they have invited us to go down to their place in the Lake District at the end of August for a party they’re having. As we’ll almost certainly still be in Scotland at that point, there is a very good chance we’ll be taking them up on their invitation as we’ve enjoyed their company enormously. They also think they’ll be coming back to Vilanova Park sometime in the autumn so we’ll likely see them here as well.

Mike and Mary

Mike and Mary

These pancakes are good!

These pancakes are good!

Tomorrow is our last day in Spain on the Adventure. We have to admit that Spain has turned out to be much, much better than we ever imagined it would be and nothing like the stereotypes we see on the television. The Spanish are friendly, hard-working and keen to please, even if they are ridiculously loud and what might appear to be inconsiderate when on the site. Vilanova Park is also by a country mile the best site we’ve ever stayed on in the whole of Europe and we’re sure we’ll be happy staying here long-term starting in September.

Just like we’ve been feeling of late, Scott has texted us to say that now he’s preparing to come home he’s beginning to have regrets and hopes what time is left in Oz won’t fly by too quickly!

Aren’t we greedy!

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