This week in bigger pics

  Monday 28th October 2013 week 123 Spain

    Inspiration

    No one has ever called me inspirational, least I don't think so, well not until recently that is. And to be honest they didn't actually call me inspirational so much, as what Hazel and I are doing, which, as you'll agree is not quite the same thing. Prior to this my best friend at school, a chap I had long since lost contact with, called his first son Phillip as did my sister. I met him, my friends son, about ten years ago, he shook my hand heartily and said he was pleased to meet the man he’d' been named after, it fair brought a lump to my throat. Not sure if that,s inspirational but certainly very complementary. Interestingly, my school friend said 'I hadn't changed a bit I was only taller with less hair'. Clearly, then, I'd idled away the past 40 years since our last meeting.

    Now a couple of years ago a chap named Ken, clearly a man of discerning tastes, came across my web diary and thought: 'Hello! this looks interesting'. He thought this because he too had his personal boys-own adventure brewing. He read my dairy and saw, reassuringly I'm guessing, that I possessed no real aptitude for this lifestyle. He read, as others did, that in my first week I'd managed to demolish a camp-site entrance barrier. Sometime later I became entangled with a German bus shelter and almost pulled it down. I've quite unintentionally run over several first rate hedges in attempting to get onto, or off pitches and cheerfully driven away from camp-sites leaving a trail of broken tree branches in my wake. To some I may well come across as a Mr Bean type character banging and crashing my way around Europe and I couldn't blame anyone for thinking such a thing.

Hazel says I throw stones like a jessie!! What!, I ask you do girls know about stone throwing?

    Undeterred Ken showed his wife Linda, my web diary, cleverly omitting the banging and crashing around Europe bits. He told her proudly, that this is what they should do when she retired. She, being female and therefore the sane and pragmatic one in any marital partnership, told him “it's a great idea!” but actually walked away thinking hell will freeze over first before she'd give up her home, friends and family to schlep around Europe in a glorified ice cream van. Ken, being a male and therefore somewhat single minded at times, plugged away at Linda's resolve until his enthusiasm infected her. That was all a couple of years ago and this September they shoved off from blighty on their own journey.

    Last week, while sitting in the van writing, Linda and Ken knocked on my awning flap. They introduced themselves and the brief story of why they were standing there unfolded. We had been their inspiration and they just wanted to say hello. I'd not long got out of bed and looked as uninspirational as anyone could possible look, so I found it perhaps even more of a compliment. They then surprised me by saying they were from Peterborough. It transpired that Linda had worked at the City Hospital at the same time as Hazel, but they'd never really met and I once brought a pair of speakers from Ken's Hi-Fi shop. It really is a small world!

    I have to say Ken is quite inspirational in his own right. While he talks with the reassuring calmness of a pilot attempting to land on one wheel he does have a mini computer the size of a packet of cigs buried in his chest monitoring his heart. I dare say, some, in his position. wouldn't venture further than a big fat comfy armchair in the lounge. Linda who is as lively as a firework and is as much fun, I think keeps him on his toes. Definitely not because they are likely to read this, they made excellent company. Forget the sights and sounds, it's the people you meet in your travels that can be the real bonus. Oh!, of me they thought I was more chilled out than the web diary had led them to believe.

    Clearly, then, I'm underselling myself.

 

 

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  Tuesday 29th October 2013 week 123 Spain

    Drop me at Barcelona airport!

    Our last night in Vilanova was spent educating Ken and Linda to the ways of the traveller in much the same manner as Obi Wan Kanobi taught Luke the ways of the Force. We told them to stay away from the dark side which, as it turns out, is a camp-site near Valencia where I was asked to move my car so the locals could play foot ball and the water came out of the taps brown.

    This is what us seasoned travellers do. We can't help it. We gossip about places worth visiting, or not worth visiting. I forget them the instant I'm told, I have enough trouble remembering places I've actually been to - let alone the ones I've not. Hazel tells people of some enchanted camp-site buried in some fairy tale glen while I look on blankly. I then ask vacantly, have we been there? She then spends the next ten minutes convincing me we have. It's the one with the so and so? She says. Where you stubbed your toe! you must remember it? Had that tall what's-it, that thingamajig? At this point I normally feign total recall and say, ahhhhhhhh yeah I remember now.

    Due to the size of the camp-site we almost didn’t turn up at Ken and Linda's. We set off at 6.50 armed with a map of the camp-site and by 7.30, as darkness descended, we'd still not arrived. Ken, having visions of us stumbling around till the wee small hours, came looking for us. We had followed a likely looking path which led us off into a wood. Realising that while quite pleasant, it was unlikely to lead us to their caravan. We consulted the map and struck off in the opposite direction. This took us to what appeared to be a communal tip. Fortunately, after back tracking we came across a family of Brits who themselves looked lost, but were able to point us in the right direction. Interestingly, since June last, I've faultlessly covered 4560 miles and navigated my way across eleven countries and yet somehow I manage to get lost walking across a camp-site. Truly amazing.

L'Ametlla de mar

    We left Vilanova the following morning. Our neighbour, whose habit it was to sit in his underwear and frighten the bird life! Who hadn't said two words to us the whole time, except when he gave me that bottle of Whiskey because he thought it tasted like drain cleaner, decided now would be a good time to make friends. He regaled us with a number of their travel anecdotes, -see what I mean-. I sat nodding, my foot poised on the throttle occasional blipping the thing, not that he took any notice. He told us about the time they stayed in a Czechoslovakian B&B owned by a little old lady. One night while using the toilet he'd accidentally broken the string working the flush. He then had to stand on the loo and retie the string. Only now, he explained stifling a laugh, the string was much shorter and the little old lady who owned the B&B would almost certainly not have been able to reach it. It was at this point Hazel said right we must be going, and, smiling, I let slip the clutch. If there was a punchline to his story I, nor you, will ever know it. Still driving away we were pleased for them both because they'd spent the previous day having a blazing row. I confess to earwigging much of it. She loudly claimed she'd had enough of him and wanted to go home. He, defensively, reminded her that no one at home liked him (Wonder why? Ed) so he wanted to stay. Clearly something of an impasse then. Every so often when the row reach a hiatus you could hear him bellow: well pack your bloody bag and I'll take you to Barcelona airport.

    Coin tossing time perhaps?.

    Personally I would love the term: 'Drop me at Barcelona airport' to become a catchphrase to be used by anyone who wanted to get away from someone or a situation. In years to come it's origins would mystify.

 

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   Wednesday 30th October 2013 week 123 Spain

    I don’t need saving thanks.

    We chose to drive just sixty miles down the motorway to L'Ametlla de Mar which is a small, attractive and yet busy fishing port. Unlike so many places along this coastline it hasn't surrendered itself to the tourists Euro. I used the motorway hoping the toll would be reasonable, it wasn't! £9 for just sixty miles is pretty steep even by Spanish standards. The alternative road, while it hugged the coast, ran through several large urbanizations.

    We would have perhaps sailed right past Ametlla had Vilanova been a little more interesting. While the camp-site was faultless, the surroundings weren’t. Walking into town was positively dangerous and cycling was far too arduous since the site was atop a hill. And when you did venture into town it was all too commercial, too busy and too uninteresting.

    Two years ago we stopped here on our way north and really liked the site. It's location is bang on the coast which affords excellent, if not slightly energetic and death defying coastal walks. It would appear there’s no such thing as a Spanish health and safety executive. Nowhere along this perilous coastal walk did we find safety rails, steps, handrails, warning signs, nor cordoned off areas, if you're daft enough to walk off a cliff edge into oblivion that’s pretty much down to you. Personally I think it's a reassuring attitude for the authorities to take. Why should everything in life be idiot proof? We should be responsible for our own safety and not leave it in the hands of others to second guess what we might do with a dangerous piece of say.... gardening equipment. You buy a hedge trimmer today and it comes with a sixty four page booklet warning you against using it to trim your beard. Personally I wouldn't bother. Some idiot cuts his face off while trimming his goatee....well that,s one less idiot out there that could, and lets not pull our punches here, father other idiots. Today Health and Safety, at best, only promotes idiocy. Here however, if you're not careful, nature, through shifting boulders, gnarled old tree roots, crumbling ground, hillside subsidence and loose rocks, will weed out the fools amongst us........... it's a form of natural selection if you will. Idiots are idiots for a reason.

    The site is small, modern and peppered with Olive trees. So nothing to stop you from picking the olives and curing them yourself. A couple of glass jars, fill with olives then water. Change the water daily for a month, until no longer sour. That's one way. Unlike some camp-sites along this coast Ametlla is not used as a winter stopover for the increasingly common 'European lesser liver spotted geriatric' so it's practically empty, I doubt there's ten of us here but Haze and I like that. The camp site called 'Camping Ametlla' is up a steep twisty, unmade road which, had it not been for signs encouraging the weary traveller to press on regardless, no one in their right mind would venture up. We were given a warm friendly welcome, even more so when they discovered we had been here before.

    I've just read this out to Hazel and she's, perhaps unkindly, reminded me I was the idiot that once tried to shave my tongue with an electric razor. Spoil sport!

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 Thursday 31st October 2013 week 123 Spain

    Take me home?

   Someone wrote and asked: out of the twenty odd countries you've visited since you started this which one would you live in. It's a good question and one I failed to answer before so lets have another crack.

    I grew up convinced that the best country to be born into was my own, the UK. At school, in the mid sixties, we were still being taught that Britain was Great and that we'd won the II World War, seemingly single-handedly, less than twenty years before. What more proof did one need?. On the wall hung a map of the world. The Countries in pink were those of the British Empire and Commonwealth, it fair brought a lump to your throat. It was obvious we owned most of the planet or at least those bits you'd want to holiday in. How we came to 'own' so many and so much was glossed over. In truth the habit of the British Navy was to land somewhere, run up the Union Jack and simply proclaim the land for 'King and country' regardless of how many locals looked on bemused. If they objected they were imprisoned, enslaved or simply shot.

Haze tackles the north face of the coastal path.

    Back then the British aristocracy, who ran Britain and the Empire, were true racists. And by that I mean they believed, being British and in particular members of the ruling classes, made them superior to everyone else. This included the hoi-polloi (that's us), those damned hot-en-tots (any savages) or Johnny foreigner (All Europeans) none of which could be trusted further than you could throw one, and as for Arabs they were pure evil. The British set out to instil our own brand of democracy, build railways,give cricket to the world and Marmite. In reality it was just railways and cricket that caught on, Marmite still hasn't, (I love it....Phil hates it!Ed.) The morality of colonialism has never been widely debated. While, for example, the sovereignty of Gibraltar can raise feelings of patriotism in some Brits, the debate is clearly split geographically. However it makes little sense clinging to 500 year old “gun boat diplomacy” in my book. If Spain owned the Isle of White for example, I doubt we'd stand for it.

    Anyhow I grew up thinking that Britain was safe, our politicians were beyond reproach, our police the fairest in the world, our courts the most impartial and our political system envied by all. All this made Britain fair, decent and just and I was lucky to be born here. I've since discovered much of that’s untrue. It's a country like all others. It has it's good points and bad points, as do it's people, as do all peoples. Annoyingly, Britain is still run very much on the old boy network. It's why there are nine millionaires in the present government. It's those that shuffle around the corridors of power, and regrettably not the ballot box, that hold the key.

    I've been an tax payer all my working life, in two recessions, neither of my making, I've lost good jobs and in one my home. The economy went to hell in a hand cart and the then government set about convincing me it really wasn't their fault which, if you ask me, is like the captain of the Titanic blaming the iceberg for sinking his ship.

    So to answer the question asked, at present it is an amalgam of several. I'd want a German government. It's not tied to political dogma and ideology as ours is. I'd want, obviously, the Spanish weather and their relaxed attitude to so much that winds us British up. The French for their language and healthy disregard for authority. The Luxembourgian s for their colourful domestic architecture and perfectly smooth roads. The Dutch for their wonderful bike lanes and scrupulous neatness. The Portuguese for their low cost of living and their use of renewable energy. The Italians for the way they design practically anything better than anyone. And from the UK?..... our food. The Brits have a reputation for poor food and it's one we don't deserve. Our supermarkets are amongst the best stocked in Europe and that's a fact...end of

 

 

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     Friday 1st November 2013 week 123 Spain

    Why do I bother?

    Today is a bank holiday in Spain, All Saints day. The lucky Spanish have a gob smacking twenty nine such holidays a year. -This number does depend on the region you live in but you'll get a minimum of at least fourteen- On top of that they also receive twenty two days annual leave. Still not as good as some South American countries where you can expect thirty days plus, national holidays. The best is Russia. In some northern parts you can look forward to 58 days annual leave. Not that you can don your Bermuda shorts and reach for the sun tan lotion as the outside temperature plummets to minus 40. The only country which doesn’t have any bank or national holidays, and by that I mean days on which all businesses are closed by law, is the USA. You are also not automatically entitled to any statutory annual leave, clearly chasing the American dream takes all the hours God sends.

The costal path, your on your own.

    Last night was of course Halloween and the Spanish, who need little excuse to celebrate anything, make a big thing of it.  Now one of the benefits of being here, and not at home, is we don't have to answer the door to the neighbours kids trick or treating. I'm sorry but Halloween is just something I could happily live without. I feel sure the first time boiling tar was poured from a Castle portcullis was because the caller was mistaken for a trick or treater which, lets be honest, seems only mildly OTT. Hazel and I did once go to a Halloween party. Hazel put together a costume and made her face up. She painted it grey, smeared lipstick in a ghoulish grin and painted a scar on her face. When she asked about the result I told her it wasn't much different from her normal make up! -Well, quite frankly, she should have known better than to ask- She also asked if I was going to wear something scary? I said unless I could squeeze into a frock and high heels it wasn't likely.

    Back home Hazel would normally stock up on sweets which, if she was working a late shift, I would be forced, against my better nature, to dole out. One year I was roused from the sofa by a knock. On opening the door I was greeted by two shifty looking teenage lads, I would guess about fifteen, wearing 'Scream' masks. They stood, fag smoke rising from cupped hands, and asked, much like Bob Hoskins might, “Trick or treat mate?” “Don't you think you're a tad old for this lads?” I asked. “No!” the other said defensively. “Well all I have is sweets”. -I think they were expecting a couple of reefers and a playboy magazine-. They begrudgingly scooped out a handful each, mumbled something and sauntered off into the darkness. The following morning I discovered ketchup on my car bonnet and my garage door had been egged. I stood there thinking, why the fuck do I bother!.

    When this all started, back in medieval times, it was the custom to bake and share 'soul cakes' as part of the religious festivities. Poor kids would go around, knock on doors and each would receive a cake. This was the origins of trick or treating. Today it's gone all commercial and parents are suckered into it. They spend on costumes, make-up, and accessories and some seem to expect a return on their investment. To an extent I have no objections to small kids getting dressed up, it's fun for them and provided they are escorted by an adult it's all pretty harmless...... least it can be.

    In checking out my facts for this I discovered that toffee apples were commonly given as a Halloween treat in the US. This practice stopped amidst reports that some were found with pins and razor blades embedded in them. Later, according to US police authorities, virtually all of the 'few' known incidents on Halloween involved parents who tampered with their own children's sweets. Seriously I don’t make this up.

    Personally, I think that’s what comes from not having enough time off work.

    Have a good weekend.

 

 

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