Day 7/133: I’m back!


I almost cannot believe it’s nearly 3 months since I last posted here. That’s certainly the longest I’ve been away since I started this blog in August 2012. But it hasn’t been because nothing has happened nor because of lack of willpower or interest, believe me! The main reason for the long gap has been simply that I have yet again been visited by the Muse and have been writing my third memoir (George: the University Years). I started it sometime in November 2018 and apart from a fortnight over Christmas back in Dundee, I’ve been beavering away on the keyboard, putting down what I did at St. Andrews University 1971-76 with the middle year spent in Versailles as an English Language Assistant.

In order to get as many stories as possible for this memoir, I have taken the time to search for and contact some old pals from that era in the hope that they can help me with the memories of our time there. To that end, I tracked down my two closest girl-friends Janine and Sarah and from there got in contact with my first best man Gordon Langlands and ex-flatmate Julian Deahl who have already contributed loads of snippets I’ll be able to turn into adventures. I’m also getting help from pals I’d stayed in touch with like Robin, Bud and Jimmy Mac and I just hope they don’t expect a share of the royalties! I’ve put down more than 50,000 words so far, putting me about half-way through what would be my target, and as I’m writing about Christmas of 1973 at the moment, that would be chronologically half-way as well. It’s particularly exciting to have stories from my old friends about which I had completely forgotten and they have more than brought a smile to my face. Julian told me loads he remembers about spending The New Year at Auntie Mary’s in Coupar Angus (wearing a kilt he borrowed to blend in better!) and I can’t even remember inviting him!

Life goes on as normal here in Vilanova, with me doing my thing and Mary teaching English Monday-Thursday in the evenings. We had to move pitch however in December when the Park decided to update facilities on our Section F, starting just last week. So we and our neighbours had to up sticks on various dates and resettle on Section G, which is where we were when we first arrived here on 1 February 2013. Our temporary pitch was chosen from a list of available spots and we appear to have made a good decision as we have plenty sun, good facilities, a spot handy for the shop and the bar and not encircled by short-term residents. The one downside is that it is a bit further from the toilet block but that just means we use our own facilities slightly more often than previously.

The weather over here has made us aware of global warming more sharply as what we have experienced is nothing like what you might expect. While September was its usual warm and sunny self, October and November were incredibly rainy with several very violent thunderstorms which battered our caravan and awning and let us hear the loudest clap of thunder we have ever had the misfortune to be near to. Honest, we almost both had an accident! Then it decided not to rain for the entire month of December and since our return on 4 January it has been sunny but cold (maybe even as cold as back home) and as I write this post, it still hasn’t rained and there is none forecast in the next 2 weeks, giving a run of 10 weeks without so much as a single drop. Now that can’t be normal, can it?

We had 3 visitors over the October holidays. having returned just for a weekend to attend Ally and Dave’s Silver Wedding hootenanny in the Queen’s hotel in Dundee, second son Gavin decided to fly back with us for 3 or 4 days of a break and he met up with his big brother George plus partner Fiona and my grandson Ben who had checked in here the week before. The day Gavin left, Ally and Dave arrived for 5 days of further celebration of their happy event and they brought their son Stephen with them (so they could keep an eye on him! He’s 18 now!) All in all Mary and I had a brilliant couple of weeks with the family coming over to spend time with us and it truly was the best of times, especially with the wee man Ben. Among other things we did together, we had a day at Barcelona zoo which was filled with happy memories.

Adding another string to my bow, I’ve joined Sitges English Theatre Company and have already played a comedy sketch as a drunken Scot (that was very difficult for me!) and read “The Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot at a Christmas celebration. I’ve been offered a part in an Alan Ayckbourn play due to take place around Easter 2019 and rehearsals will be starting soon. It’s not the first time I’ve been on the stage, but the other things were all musical so straight acting is a bit of a novelty for me. My first two performances were well-received so I’m motivated to keep going – until I bomb out and forget all my lines!

Christmas Day was excellent, having been invited over to Mary’s Mum’s along with Bruce and Jillian and the kids. On Boxing day we had the entire Burton family over at ours, all 4 boys plus partners/wives and children (except for poor Karen who had to work) and I dished up some of my favourite meals for them to sample. The Slimming World paella went down a treat! Cousins Renee and Stef came round for lunch too before we flew back to Spain and we even fitted in a party in Newcastle on 3 January to celebrate a joint 18/21 Birthday for nephew Andrew and niece Kate. That was great fun too!

Right, that’s a thousand words to get you all up-to-date with the continuing adventure. I’ve cut out a lot I was going to add, include Gavin’s back operation which went well but is proving a long recuperation and our evenings with Ramon, Beti and Guillem, whom I’m teaching again on Monday evenings. Mary and I also have a weekly spoken Spanish lesson in a café on the Rambla in Vilanova every Tuesday at 9.30 and I think we’re both improving our fluency although being old doesn’t help with remembering vocabulary!

No photos this time as I want to send this out immediately and the photos take another hour to add. Be good, enjoy life and don’t do anything I’d do! Love from George and Mary XX


Day 6/139: The circle is complete.

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We are now back in the caravan at Vilanova Park. Typically, we changed plans at the very last minute and drove from our hotel in Montpellier all the way down to Vilanova, bypassing Girona where it had been our intention to stop for one night to give us the chance to see around this famous Catalan town. Once we got past Perpignan and the going was relatively simple on such a lovely day, Mary said we could just continue smoothly back to Barcelona and beyond, rather than interrupt the journey with another stop. I agreed and that’s what we did. The sun was shining (with a bit of heat in it), the roads continued to be quiet and the Audi was purring. Why rock the boat?

The Pyrenees get in the way!

Our neighbours were delighted to see us but a wee bit surprised, having followed this blog and therefore expecting us on Ash Wednesday and not Shrove Tuesday. They explained how they had tried their best to rescue our toppled awning after the elements crashed it to the ground in a storm and they had clearly spent time trying to save the contents, especially the paperwork. We will have an awful lot of thanking to do. Having brought two new centre poles I’d bought from Perthshire Caravans, I quickly put them in place and that had the immediate effect of standing the structure back up, allowing us to walk around the inside. All that was left to do was tidy everything back into order and we were in business again.

Even got the lights back on.

We have two new neighbours, a French couple on the corner pitch Tayport Sandra used to be on, and a Dutch couple (with an extraordinary whistling African grey parrot!) directly behind us. Darren is still behind us as well and he is now driving a new left-hand drive Audi S3 which looks like it might be able to move a bit. The Dutch neighbours Henk and Aneke are still next door and right up on the corner next to the toilet block are Jeremy and Bernie from Yorkshire via Australia. F Section is completely full as is always the case in winter when this area gets more sunshine than any of the other parts of the site. Irish Billy is on the back row along with German friends Alexander and Monika while Tom and Margareth flew back in on Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday evening, it being Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday, Mary and I had a quiet dinner together in the caravan while the rest of the crowd went to the communal meal. We went up afterwards and reacquainted ourselves with Tom and Margareth, Fred and Jeanette and a whole host of other people we know not quite so well. Jeanette was looking really good and I joked that married life was obviously treating her very well since she and Fred tied the knot last year. Mary and I hooked up with Darren, Jeremy and Bernie to form a team for the weekly quiz and we romped it with an impressive total of 31 out of 40, getting 10 out of 10 in one of the sections.

It’s not all smiles however and we were appalled to hear that a Dutch friend, Fritz, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, had had a fall in his caravan and is now in hospital in Barcelona and not very well at all. It was also a bit of a shock to hear that Henk and Aneke’s loud friend Heidi is back home in the Netherlands and recovering from a stroke she had after being treated for a virus she picked up here. God bless both of these poor souls. These things tend to happen when you’re surrounded by a majority of people the wrong side of 60/70 and even older. Once again it proves that we all need to live life while we can, enjoy our time to the maximum and try not to waste a minute with things that basically aren’t very important.

Surprisingly I’ve had a game of Bridge, thanks to an invitation from big Steve who has put together a table for beginners. I have to admit it was quite fun to play a few hands and I’ve contacted my guru, the wonderful Mo Brodie, to ask her to send me a copy of her bidding notes again, as mine are all packed away in the flat in Dundee. Mo is away on a Bridge holiday at the moment but has promised to send me a copy when she gets back home. Thanks Mo! The bidding system Steve is using is different from what I was taught by Mo 7 years ago but I expect I’ll get used to it after a few errors!

I’ve pretty much got rid of that awful virus that plagued me all the time I was in Dundee from Christmas onwards and I just have a bit of a cough and a grunt first thing in the morning which I hope will soon disappear altogether. Mary is on form and went for a coffee in town with her pal Heather yesterday, coming back with an invitation for us to have lunch with some of her former colleagues next Wednesday. I will of course be much older by then as tomorrow, as you are probably aware, I become an official pensioner, reaching 65 far quicker than I ever imagined I would. I can’t be 65, can I? Me? Wee Georgie? That’s impossible, although my birth certificate shows that to be correct. Well, I’ll just have to make the most of it, won’t I?

Mary will keep me young I’m sure!

Christmas 2017

Day 5/221: A Pinch of Tarragon

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

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

Keira and Scott at the Biker Bar

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

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

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

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

Ecce milites romani!

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


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

The Last Supper

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

The night procession

Coming up the Rambla Nova

“We are the Romans …….”

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

Mary with a new friend

Shooting from the hip!

                 Lady Burton of Tarragona!

Tarragona old town

The inevitable selfie!

A shadow of our former selves!

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

Yacht to see the others!

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

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


Day 5/208: Heat

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

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


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

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

On the tee, Jordi Burton.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The joys of Vilanova Park

Day 5/170: Immortal


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

I bring out the haggis

I bring out the haggis

Jeanette " Is there for honest poverty"

Jeanette ” Is there for honest poverty”

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

The guests listening to Annie sing.

The guests listening to Annie sing.

Annie singing

Annie singing

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

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

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

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

Never lost it!

Never lost it!

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

Bernadette & Jeremy

Bernadette & Jeremy

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

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

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

Annie's porch today

Annie’s porch today


The crowd wave Annie off.

The crowd wave Annie off.

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

The sash says "Cheerio!"

The sash says “Cheerio!”

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

Annie Gibb R.I.P.

Annie Gibb R.I.P.

Day 5/94: Tossa


I really must apologise to you all for the gap between my last post and this one, a gap of more than 3 months. Believe it or not, the main problem has been the amount of time I’ve been spending …….. On the blog!!

I’ll explain. With Wee Georgie and Georgie on the shelves and ticking over nicely, and with Socrates 1 sold out and Socrates 2 at illustration stage, I have embarked on a new project to turn the first year of the blog into a Travelogue. This involves taking each day of the 284 days in it, removing personal bits, adding or rewriting other bits and putting them together for the first time in a single document.

So far I have done the first 100 days and accumulated 80,000 + words which is more than either of my two memoirs. I like what I am writing but don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with it once I”ve completed the 284 days. That would be an awfully big book you know and that doesn’t include the photos, all of which I’ve temporarily removed. We’ll just have to see what happens.

My cousin Renée’s granddaughter Becky has drawn the first version of the illustrations for Socrates 2 and over the next few weeks will be making adjustments and finalising them prior to inclusion in the new book which I’m hoping to publish around Easter 2017. She’s done brilliantly for one so young and I have every confidence in her ability to draw what I see in my head. Well done, Becky!

This Autumn in Vilanova has been relatively quiet compared to earlier years but that’s to be expected with me writing and Mary working 20 + hours per week. She has been very busy, such that we haven’t managed our weekly trips on a Friday as we had planned to do. But Lady Burton is quite content with her lot and enjoys the classes she teaches this year as well as the individual lessons with the big managers and CEO at the Prysmian factory.

We’re both in good health (touch wood!) except for a touch of laryngitis Mary had for a couple of weeks which thankfully she is now over. And as she has holidays for the Immaculate Conception here in Spain, we have come to Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava for a 2-day break to escape the caravan. Fortunately the weather is beautiful all this week so we are taking advantage of it to relax and enjoy our time away.

I’ve loads more I could tell you about the past 3 months but I thought I’d just let you know we are alive and kicking out here. We’re flying home to Dundee for 2 weeks of festive fun and hope to catch up with some of you during that time although the priority will be to see the boys and the grandchildren. Ben has started school at Mary’s former Primary School St. Peter & Paul’s while Arry is in Nursery Class at Colliston Primary School. They’re both thriving it seems and we can’t wait to see them again.

I’ll leave you with the view from our hotel this morning. Have a great Xmas, everyone, and a happy, holy 2017.

Sea view (just!)

Sea view (just!)

Inland view

Inland view

Day 4/297: Yabba-Dabba-Doo!


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!

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