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 4/297: Yabba-Dabba-Doo!

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When I was a lad I liked to watch “The Flintstones”. The adventures of stone-age couples Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their friends Barney and Betty Rubble in the town of Bedrock were often the highlight of my week on TV. But one of the best things about that series was the absolutely brilliant theme tune that came with it. I’m sure almost everybody of a certain age (my age!) can easily sing all the words as well as picture the opening and closing title sequences. Here, I’ll start you off “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they’re a modern, stone-age family ………..”. Fred being put out of the house by Dino the pet dinosaur and then hammering on the door, shouting for Wilma to let him back in is etched on the memories of a whole baby-boomer generation. “Yabba-dabba-doo!”

For all the time – years and years – that we watched the series, we’d sing along with the title song and laugh ourselves silly at Fred’s two feet powering his car. We hardly noticed that Wilma and Betty‘s cartoon characters were very feminine in both appearance and demeanour yet both lacked “pointy” chests, because the whole thing was sanitized for the targeted audience. Yes, this was an age of innocence. We simply chuckled when the two wives used violence towards their inept husbands just like we did when Jerry would slam Tom into a concertina shape by dropping a heavy weight on his head.

The last line of the song “Meet the Flintstones” was “You’ll have a gay old time”. And that meant to us that we were likely to have a “merry” time watching the show. That was because the word “gay” had not yet reached us with its transformed meaning of “homosexual”, even though it had been used as such for a while before the 60s. This synonym for “carefree” or “colourful” underwent a cataclysmic transformation via Flower Power and the hippies in California certainly by 1967 to emerge with its main meaning changed to denote sexual orientation and alternative lifestyle. Suddenly, having a “gay old time” took on a dark side and we walked one more step away from innocence.

So when Mary and I, along with Dutch neighbours Marianne & Theo and their daughter Marike, went to Sitges Sunday past for the annual Gay Pride parade, we knew exactly what we would be seeing. To be fair, the whole thing was definitely “merry”, the atmosphere was totally “carefree” and the floats and participants were wonderfully “colourful”, but there was no doubting that we were enjoying a “gay” afternoon. And it was fantastic!

Pink is this year's black

                     Pink is this year’s black

As we watched hundreds and hundreds of gays parading up and down the seafront at Sitges, their spiritual centre some say, we were struck by the complete joy on their faces, the kind of joy that can only come from being somewhere that you are comfortable to be and with people you are comfortable to be with. There was no repression here I assure you! This was loud and proud, the gay community from all over Europe strutting their stuff in front of a rapturous crowd of spectators and followers. The costumes were beyond extravagant, the make-up elaborate and the attention to detail amazing as float after float of gay revellers paraded up and down the strip.

The wardrobe must be huge1

      The wardrobe must be huge!

Some were organized according to different nightclub venues while others had come together under a particular banner. It was noteworthy that the word “Orlando” figured frequently on banners, reminding people that this community refused to give in to the wanton violence their likes had suffered just a week before. If the gunman’s target was to drive gay people into hiding, then this was a stark reply of defiance. It was very hard not to see their point.

Best in Show!

                  Best in Show!

There was also a maximum of humour present in the proceedings and how could there not be? Some of the costumes were frankly way over the top and verging on insane but it was clear that the wearers were all dressed up to have a good time and welcomed us “straight” guests in a totally friendly and unthreatening manner. They were the ones with the slightly patronizing looks as we thronged to get our photos taken with them, they were the ones “at home” in Sitges and to all intents and purposes they were in the majority. Sitges is the only place on the planet where Lady Burton and I have felt ourselves to be in the minority or felt like a guest in someone else’s patch. Even when seemingly the only British people in deepest Italy over the winter of 2012-13, we felt part of where we were, capable of blending in and becoming one of them. But not here! No, the feeling was absolutely that this place is a gay community and that we are invited to observe.

Hey you, up there!

                           Hey you, up there!

That’s not quite true actually. A couple or three years ago Joe and I did an audition for a short-lived BBC game show based on the Sudoku puzzles and we made it to the televised part down in Wood Lane studios. Mary was allowed to come with us so she and I travelled down to the capital on the train then took the Tube to our hotel. Unfortunately our stop was shut for repairs so we had to go past to the next stop which was Shepherd’s Bush. It was Sunday night about nine when we got there.

 

We crossed to a bus stop, asked which bus would take us back to our hotel area and waited. It took us no time at all to realize that we were the only white people in the immediate area. While that in itself was no cause for concern really, our unfounded surprise and slight anxiety was heightened by the type of person zooming by in cars or looking “shady” on street corners. We felt REALLY in the minority there and, while no-one said “Boo!” to us, being the only non-coloured couple in that area at night with one big suitcase at our feet left us agitated and not a little fearful. The taxi we eventually got to take us to our hotel when we gave up waiting for the bus only actually stopped because I threw Mary in front of it in desperation!

He was gorgeous1

                 He was gorgeous!

Back in Sitges, I puzzled over several of the lovely ladies passing by. Were they? Ladies I mean. Mary was much better than me at pointing out why the person was obviously a transvestite male but I in my innocence found it really quite hard to tell. Two of the ones I got a hug from were real stunners and I found myself hoping that they really were females, so comfortable did my arm feel around their waists. Or maybe I was just feeling a wee bit gay myself!

I quipped to Mary as the parade went by that the men all looked particularly cool and contented together, a sharp contrast to the stressed faces we often see on heterosexual couples with kids on the campsite. Is it the kids or is it the couple? Hard to tell, but the Sitges crowd had none of it and I’ve rarely seen such overt joy being expressed on the streets. Of course a lot of it is because the parade is Showtime and the participants go to extremes to show themselves off and it was interesting that the 3 guys from Wales we engaged in conversion were keen to point out that, while all 3 were gay, they didn’t normally wear the pink dresses they had on!

They'll keep a welcome in the valleys....

            They’ll keep a welcome in the valleys….

So much for Sitges Gay Pride 2016. We’ll be back next year.

After the parade, we all walked up the hill past the church then down the other side in search of a restaurant Marianne and Theo had already been to. When we saw that a menu plus drinks, water and bread was only 14 Euros a head we took the decision to have dinner to celebrate our Dutch companions’ 30th wedding anniversary that very day. Congratulations guys! We had a lovely dinner together then strolled back through the town as the sun was going down, giving us the opportunity to see the gay community enjoying their evening in the bars and restaurants. If you haven’t experienced any of this lifestyle, we recommend you come and see it for yourselves as it’s quite an education and goes a long way to emphasize the latent prejudices/discomfort you may have lurking inside you.

5 Crayola crayons + fans

                     5 Crayola crayons + fans

One other thing you will observe is how confidently such outdoor events can usually be arranged here in Spain. The weather for the parade was absolutely perfect and there was no need for anxious looks to the sky to check for approaching rain or clouds. How unlucky we are to live in such a beautiful country as Scotland yet so seldom have the opportunity to see its magnificence under a clear blue sky and in warm temperatures. Pound for pound I’m certain Scotland is a much bonnier country than Spain but when it comes to the weather there is no competition and that’s why so many ex-pats are out here.

That may well change of course, maybe even in the near future, if the vote to leave the EU wins the day later this week. I hope we Remain for many reasons but mostly I fear the motivations of those who wish to quit. Their emphasis on uncontrolled immigration smacks of rampant xenophobia in my book and it’s not as if the Remain voters don’t know there is a problem with this. Of course there is, but to blame all our recent ills on the immigrants is just not reasonable. Yes, a solution to mass immigration needs to be found and not everyone should be allowed in, but how can we send women and children back to countries ravaged by war? Do you really think they take their lives in their hands crossing the Med to seek out a cushy life with us?

Their other motivation is of course financial and the Leave supporters seem to want to blame membership of the EU for all the forced austerity of recent years. It’s astonishingly convenient that they seem to have forgotten that it was the greed of the banks that led us into that mess, a mess cleaned up with your and my money, a system bailed out by the taxpayers. How many of us remember their humility and profuse apologies for screwing up the whole country (and the world!)? No, I didn’t think so. Will you be getting a 7-figure bonus at the end of the year? Guess who will still be getting one? Big business wants out so they can escape the systems put in place by Brussels to protect workers’ rights, allowing them then to exploit workers even further and line their pockets even more.

And if they want their country back, what will that be like? Personally I don’t remember life being all that marvellous when I was a kid and I even wrote about it. My parents worked very hard, earned very little, had no luxuries and holidayed in Arbroath or Broughty Ferry. Mum was never, ever abroad in her brief 66 years of life, my parents never had a car and they were at best stoically happy, contented with their lot no matter how poor that happened to be. As long as they kept their heads down and caused no trouble, paid their taxes and got up for work, they felt they were doing their bit. Interest rates on savings were a whopping 15%, but that’s no use if you ran out of money the day before payday every week like we did.

OK that’s the rant over. Hope you liked the photos from Sitges!

Mary & Marianne. No, they're not!

Mary & Marianne. No, they’re not!