Day 4/145: A New Year begins

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

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

Unjolly Santa!

Unjolly Santa!

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

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

The blur that is his whisking hand

The blur that is his whisking hand

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

Colourful, eh?

Colourful, eh?

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

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

Crowd scene

Crowd scene

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

Tell me again Ben who Bruce Wayne really is?

Tell me again Ben who Bruce Wayne really is?

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

Personally, I can't resist!

Personally, I can’t resist!

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

The family doyenne

The family doyenne, Mum

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

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

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

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

Artemis, Eve and Gavin

Artemis, Eve and Gavin

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

Wet! Wet! Wet!

Wet! Wet! Wet!

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

Looks beautiful from up here

Looks beautiful from up here

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 in review

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Here is a summary of the blog for 2014 which WordPress sent me this morning. I thought it was interesting enough to share with my readers.   Meanwhile, back in Dundee, it’s cold as you can see from the photo taken yesterday at 2.30 p.m. as we prepared to go shopping. A Happy New Year to you all and thank you so much for all your support. (Dot, I’ll look out a Golden Pen for you!)

The battery was flat as well!

The battery was flat as well!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Day 124: Arrivederci Scozia!

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We blinked, and it was time to fly back to Italy. At least that’s how it felt when we woke up this morning in Arbroath, knowing that, all being well, we would be going to bed in Bergamo, one of Milan’s other airports. Our 2 weeks back in Dundee had simply flashed by, despite the feeling that we had done visit after visit to our friends and relations. We had spent time with our hosts Gavin & Eve and Mary’s mum, George & Fiona and Daniel & of course my only grandson Ben (he’s walking!!), Greg & Karen, Ally & Dave and Sarah & Stephen, Dorothy & David and Beth and Zach, Claire, Kate, Andrew & Sam, Bruce & Gillian, Thomas & Sophie, Renée & Stef and Ricky, Cissie, Marie & Ian, Steven and Mary and kids, Mark and Claire and kids, Annie, Nicole, Megan & Niamh, Chris Healy and my former assistant Frédérique, former neighbour David Stanley, all the lads at Kelso (great night by the way!), Roy & Eileen, former pupil Ray McKinnon, Jane & Joe McGalliard, Pat Herrmann, our dear neighbour George Scott, and Virginie and her greyhound. We had even survived and almost become friends with Gavin & Eve’s cat Sofia. We were acquainted with a talking doll called Elsie, an Arbroath pub which plays Scooter at a thousand decibels when there are only 2 old men in the place, Mary went to a funeral and my blood cholesterol came back at 3.6, the best ever. Sorry to all those we failed to catch up with: we don’t love you any less, we just didn’t find a space this time around.

Gavin was charged with getting us to Edinburgh airport by 12.30 and he duly obliged, although his Ford Focus gave him a couple of scary moments going uphill on the motorway. We hugged him and bid farewell before jumping on the shuttle bus which dropped us outside Departures. Now we had to face our biggest worry. Was there more than 20 kilos in our case? We had not been able to check the weight back at Gavin’s as Eve has no need for bathroom scales. Ok for those built like a fairy, but we mortals need to keep a check on the pounds (or stones!). To our relief the case weighed in at 17 kilos, causing Mary to quickly stuff a few more items into it before the rollers took it away to the mysterious avenues behind the check-in desk. Would they notice the long-necked wheel brace we had in it? I’ll explain later.

As we waited to board we were bemused by the number of people who insisted on queuing up to go through the boarding gate when all tickets have a specific seat allocated in advance. We both sat and read until the queue moved past us then we followed them all on board. The flight was just what you would expect except for a magic few minutes right after I woke up from a brief snooze. We had soared through the clouds above Edinburgh, reaching blue sky within a minute and then enjoyed the sun slipping gently down to our right as we left Scotland then England behind. I nodded off as darkness invaded the sky over the Channel.

When I awoke half an hour later, we had caught up with the sunset on the Earth’s curvature and it left me speechless. Picture a canvas black at the top morphing into navy then light blue. Underline it with a brush stroke of dark grey clouds whose lower edge leads to a layer of dazzling orange slowly fading to red as it bleeds into the sharp teeth of the high Alps with east slopes black against the setting sun. My words cannot do it justice. “Beautiful” is genuinely inadequate to describe what we witnessed.

Safely back to “terra firma”, I slipped off to the toilet while awaiting the arrival of our baggage on the quivering snake. And there, within the gent’s at Malpensa airport, I saw a display of talent worthy of a standing ovation on the “X-Factor”. To the right of my ceramic friend stood a man in his sixties directing his outpourings with his right hand while his left thumb tapped out a “Wish you were here” or some such greeting on his mobile ‘phone. Need I say more? Genius! He was particularly adept with the letter “P”!

Luggage reclaimed, we left the airport and Mary called the car park where we had left the Audi. She was very impressive with her use of Italian in telling them where we were and soon we were in the car and off to Bergamo 40 miles away. Victoria was primed with our new hotel address after a sudden change yesterday led to an upgrade and credit note (That’ll do nicely!) from Hotels.com We found the hotel, checked in and went to the restaurant. A young girl came and translated the posh menu for us, we had a drink and then sat down at table, choosing the bar instead of the dining-room. When Mary’s meal arrived and the silver cover was removed, she gasped audibly as her eyes fell on what appeared to be cooked starfish! We’re not exactly sure what she had been brought but clearly the girl had not possessed the necessary English vocabulary to describe what she was recommending. The squiddy-starfish-octopus thing was replaced with a fillet steak which did the trick even if it bled a little more than anticipated.

I am writing this up in the luxurious room we have been given and I have just booked another top hotel for our return to Bergamo in a week’s time. By applying the credit we had been given, next week’s hotel cost us nothing. When I was young, nothing was a lot of money you know. How times change.

I had chicken tonight, but tomorrow it’s Turkey!

Day 123: Alba back.

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Today we were coming home. After seventeen and a half weeks, 123 days wandering around eastern and southern Europe, we’d be flying back to Bonnie Scotland to spend a fortnight in the company of assorted family and friends, celebrating Christmas and the New Year, not to mention Karen’s birthday, Eve’s birthday and my Greg’s birthday. We were beside ourselves with anticipation, unsure of how we would react to returning to “normal” life or to society as exhibited by the inhabitants of Dundee, Scotland.

It’s just that we’ve seen so much. Things that surprised us, things that intrigued us, things that puzzled us. They do things differently on the continent. That is not a judgemental comment but a statement of fact. What we would consider ridiculous, they consider perfectly normal. What they consider extreme we consider everyday. We are different but variety is indeed the spice of life so let’s have a lot more of it. An open mind goes a long way!

The arrangements for getting back to Scotland went without a hitch. We took the Audi to the long-stay car park behind Terminal 2 at Malpensa Airport, Milan where we’d booked it in for the next fortnight, got a shuttle from there to the terminal, checked in our one suitcase, waltzed through security and had breakfast in the departures lounge. The weather was excellent so we knew there wouldn’t be any delays this morning.

We took off at 12.50 CET and two hours and fifteen minutes later we touched down in a rather wet but welcoming Edinburgh. Communication with Gavin led to us meeting him shortly afterwards and we were on our way back to Dundee. Our first stop was Mary’s Mum’s house to let her know we were safe and sound then, after a warming bowl of Dorothy’s delicious mud soup and a cup of tea, Gavin whisked us up to Arbroath where our daughter-in-law Eve was waiting to greet us with a glass of champers.

Eve pulled out all the stops to make us feel at home, preparing a truly delicious meal for the four of us before we retired to the lounge to talk over what had been happening in our absence. We caught up on family events and discussed the merits and demerits of living in Italy as Gavin had done for a year 10 years ago and before we knew it, it was time for bed, especially as our hosts had been up from the early hours.

I find myself slightly unsure as to how to bring this last post before the Xmas recess to a close. We always planned to be back at this time and now we are here we are glad of that decision. But a bit of us wonders if we ought not to have stayed away for the whole 9 months as going away again after the New Year will be that little bit more difficult. Nonetheless we have come back and hope to get invites to come and see you all over the festive period. That would be really nice.

After a short trip through Holland and Belgium we have done some serious visiting in Germany and Italy, coupled with a brief flirtation with Switzerland and Austria. Each country individually has its pluses and minuses and it is almost unfair to compare them to each other. None of them had anything that suggested they didn’t want foreign visitors.

As for caravanning round Europe, well, it has truly been amazing. The Magic Caravan has performed beyond our expectations in terms of habitability and all of the campsites have been reasonable although some were obviously better-run than others. What has surprised us most has been the lack of caravans on tour, in comparison to the spectacular number of motor-homes coming to the sites. Caravans have accounted for less than 5% of the vehicles we have seen and it seems that nowadays everyone owns or has hired a big, fancy motor-home to come and tour around in. What I simply hadn’t anticipated was the low number of campsites open over the winter and the scarcity of people using those which were open. Being totally alone on a site miles from “civilisation” has not been an experience we wish to repeat too often and, although we have had no problems of any kind on site nor come to harm in any way at all, we still have felt a little isolated in a forest, up a track, up a hill in pitch dark and absolute stillness.

Let me finish this first half of our adventure by paying tribute to my wife Mary who has shown total confidence in my judgement and decision-making, and has surprised me on a daily basis with her get-up-and-go attitude to the things I have asked her to do over the past 4 months. She is a brave young woman with a real appetite for adventure and the unexpected, and if you had seen her with me on those high, scary terraces up the mountains above the Cinque Terre just a few days ago you would understand why I hold her in such high esteem. Mary I salute you!

This is the last blog post now until 04/01/13 when we fly back to Milan, but remember that Socrates 6 will be posted late on Christmas Eve as a wee present to all the kids (although I know the adults will be just as keen to find out what our favourite snail has been up to!)

Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy, successful 2013. XXX George & Mary