This week in bigger pics

 Monday 14th October 2013 week 121, Spain

    This is more like it.

    I don't normally review camp sites we visit for two reasons. First, it would be boring, and second, try getting a laugh out of something that’s, well, jolly nice!, you can't. It makes for far more interesting reading when the camp sites turns out to be next to a toxic waste dump or a swingers club, all grist for my mill. Here, at Camping Vilanova Park neither is the case. As a camping experience this is as far from Le fun camping ,the last site, as it's possible to get and yet still be on the same planet. If this camp site was in the USA they would call it, A Deluxe holiday village retreat' or some such nonsense.

    It's just thirty miles south of Barcelona and is vast. So vast in fact, I got completely lost returning from reception the first day and then again the following day walking back from the shower block. I've since decided that, in future, to save Hazel the trouble of coming out looking for me -She's only afraid I'll drift aimlessly into someone’s caravan in my underwear expecting breakfast- I'll ride around the camp on my bike. It won't help me with directions but at least I can cover more ground while finding my home.

One of the three pools

    The camp site is roughly the size of Texas. Here’s a few impressive stats. It has 400 chalets, space for 100 tents, 350 caravans, the same number of motor-homes. It also has 350 permanent caravans so accommodation for around what? 3000 plus people. In high season I can't think of anywhere worse to be, but at the moment, in low season, with the site not one tenth full, it's ideal. Amongst the many attractions are: three swimming pools (one indoor. Ed), gym, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, miniature golf course, football pitches, tennis courts, amusement arcade, couple of bars, decent restaurant, a supermarket and a boutique. (Don't forget the Bugararia! Launderette to us. Ed). Because of all this luxury we have decided to stay for a couple of weeks, maybe longer. When I booked in for fourteen nights I only had to pay for eleven, you get three free. Apparently if you stay two months, you only pay for one! That’s reason enough to get Pickfords on the phone. The landscaping is extremely impressive. Walking around you could be forgiven for thinking you are in a botanical garden, it's the best I've seen anywhere. Green Parrots sit amongst the tall palms. Unfortunately the internet is dire. While you can get an excellent signal, it just takes an age to browse the web. Click on your emails, take a shower, have breakfast and there’s still no guarantee the page will have loaded on your return. Fortunately there is a Mickey D's down the road.

The resturant enterance.

    The camp site sits on the outskirts of Vilanove I de Geltru in Catalonia, which has a population of 63k, two large universities and has been a fishing port since the beginning of time. Unlike many towns along this coastline it's not geared solely for the tourism industry and consequently is practical rather than pretty. There’s little history here. I'm told by my learned editor who’s read two proper thick books on Spain history it was bombed to buggery in the Spanish civil war. I did query with her if 'bombed to buggery' was a military term, apparently it's not.

    No, the only drawback I can see to spending a summer vacation here is the British, yes, my fellow countrymen. This is because the site seems to have attracted...erm, not sure how to word this so lets just say past competitors from the programme Neighbours from hell which, for anyone not familiar with the programme, was about the worst people you could be living next to. More about them tomorrow.




  Tuesday 15th October 2013 week 121, Spain.

    Save me from my fellow countrymen!

    I'm not a snob, at least I don't think I am. I come from a large working class 60's back ground. My parents never owned property and worked on the buses in North London. I escaped school at fifteen, eager to earn. We had a cigarette machine in the lounge, back then smoking was positively encouraged, since tobacco is a vegetable it was probably seen as one of your five a day. (Oh yes, a bit like wine, it starts off as grapes-so it too is one of your five a day!Ed) We'd spread lard on bread and dripping was added to everything, we thought nothing of it. Sunday was the only day I saw meat that actually resembled meat. So my working class credentials are unimpeachable. Why an I telling you this? Well all will be revealed.

Camp David, we like to make ourselves at home.

    It's been suggested, by some, that people coming into the Uk should be given some kind of 'British' test before being allowed in. That doesn’t interest me as I don't know what it would prove, or, in fact improve, but oddly I'm all for giving one to people wanting to leave, especially to go on holiday. The reason? Well... to see if they are suitable.

    I'm old school. I believe that when you leave the shores of Blighty you become an ambassador for your country. How you behave reflects on you, your country and countrymen. We should be on our best behaviour. To set the standard if you will. Unfortunately thanks to some football 'fans' and the permanently bladdered 18-30 holiday scene our reputation abroad has been tarnished. To right this wrong I'm all for holiday makers taking, say, an aptitude test. This based on manners and polite etiquette when meeting Johnny foreigner. If they fail, their passports are incinerated and they are sent to Skegness for a fortnight. Not that there’s anything remotely wrong with Skeggy, I was there once, at Butlins, well actually on the escape committee but that’s other story.

    Next to us is an ageing British couple. He walks about wearing mauve Lycra underpants and she sunbaths topless. Neither, I can assure you, is an attractive sight. Nature and gravity has long since took possession of their bodies. Yesterday he said: good morning to me. I returned the salutation while trying not to look at him in his budgie smugglers. He then said, for no reason I could fathom, “Lots of Germans, leaving today”. “Well perhaps heading further south” I said casually. “Gone to declare war on someone I reckon” he retorted and then gave me the kind of wink you'd give to a co-conspirator. I was tempted to point out that the war, which I'm guessing was behind his remark, was something he and I never experienced, took place seventy years ago! so why was he making references to it? Bearing in mind there’s a pleasant German family the other side of him it was just an ignorant remark and an insult to me, to think I'd find it amusing. Now this is an excellent example of what I mean. This buffoon is free to roam Europe, unimpeded, talking bollocks. I feel confident in saying a test would have weeded this idiot out. Now I wouldn't have mentioned this had it not been for a second experience.

It's a parriot, like in the wild.

    I was down by the pool bar when I noticed a small group of British women talking, two of whom sported rather fetching tramp stamps. One lifted her pint beer glass and downed it's contents before calling her son 'an annoying twat'. This because he'd asked for a coke (The drink I trust! Ed.). Judging by his behaviour when it was refused, it was actually an accurate description of him. There were several 'Vicky Pollard' types squeezed into bikinis the size of postage stamps, chip fat escaping over the edges, their hair scraped back in an 'Essex facelift. One shouted out “oy Chantell, u sun bavin”. Chantell, made a noise like an animal in distress. Naaaaaar she groaned.

    Running around the tables was a posse of smaller kids, their parents sat before a table laden with booze. I couldn’t help noticed all the kids seemed to have the same name: Oy u!. All I heard was Oy u! come here. Oy u! you want some chips. Oy u! stop crying. That remark aimed at a tiny two year old whose partly full nappy was around it's ankles.

    These would all, most certainly, have failed the test!






 Wednesday 16th October 2013 week 121, Spain.


    The sun is shinning. The sky is an azure blue and it reckons it might nudge 30 degrees today. I tell you this only because someone suggested it might be nice if I gave a daily weather report. Personally, I'm not so sure.

I’ve rarely talked about the everyday practicalities of doing something like this. I know some people have 'everyday' concerns, because I'm occasionally asked: Yeah, but what happens if you, say, loose your dentures or you need new batteries for your pacemaker. They are invariable heath related issues. It's important to remember that anything, or any service, you might need or take for granted in the the UK you can get here, and sometimes cheaper. Our European cousins are just as eager to part you from your money as back home, perhaps more so. It's why they seem happier to go that extra mile when they serve you. When we replaced Hazel's camera in Latvia the guy threw in a decent camera case and a large memory card at no extra cost. In PC World that would have been an extra £100. I once brought a cheap phone in PC World for £39. I was so impressed with it, and the price I unthinkingly said yes to the full accessories pack which cost an additional £49.


    Some people have concerns about the language barrier and that keeps them out of shops. But as I've pointed out on numerous occasions, language is only one way to communicate. It can be fun finding other ways. For example when the exhaust snapped on the van I took photos of the broken section to Fiat. They instantly knew what I needed. That old saying: 'Should I have to draw you a picture?' works, and works well. I drew a picture of the caravan sign I needed when we first came to Spain (He means a Long Vehicle sign, mandatory in Spain for anything over a certain length. Ed). And of course I've mimed my way across Europe, masterfully I might add.

    At the moment I've just received some items posted to me from England including a spare for the scooter which I just had the local Honda dealer fit for me. When it came to paying the bill, and bear in mind this is the local Honda dealership not some back street mechanic, he asked: “Did I want a receipt?” If I did, this would then include tax, if I didn't, then it wouldn't. I said no bill. I gratefully paid him £59 and he shook my hand. In the UK this would have cost me £106.

    Back in Jena, East Germany, Hazel lost her glasses. Where? We never discovered. We spent the day turning the van upside-down and inside-out looking for them. In doing so I found a bunch of stuff I'd either thought I'd lost, thrown away or not even brought with me. I've long been convinced it pays to ransack your house occasionally and that proved it.

    On our first day here we walked into town, not the cleverest thing to do since they rarely provide pavements once you're out of town in Spain, looking for an Optician, The first we walked into came up with a price of 700 EUR plus tax. I suddenly had to be offered a chair, I came over all woozy, Hazel, didn't bat an unfocused eye at the price. I faked a reason to leave, I think I told him I'd left the oven on or something and beat a hasty retreat. The second optician had a better selection and mentioned that magic word which, being a bloke, I can hear from 100 paces even when whispered: “These are on offer”.We found a better looking frame which with the best quality lenses, worked out at 400 EUR -these I should point out are varifocals- which Hazel picked up yesterday and is delighted with. The interesting thing here being that neither the guy in the Opticians nor the mechanic at Honda spoke English. In fact the whole exchange at the Honda garage was conducted with him talking Spanish and me talking English and yet we both managed.

Who needs language.






  Thursday 17th October 2013 week 121, Spain

    It's a glamorous life this.

    Writing is a little like giving evidence to the police, I find the best place to start is at the beginning, so.....

    God created heaven and earth, or so the big book says. He also, so the story goes, created man. However long before he got around to us, he had a better idea, he'd have a stab at Dinosaurs and they walked the planet, successful, for millions of years. Shamefully, if you ask me, the Bible completely glosses over them in Genesis which, and I don’t want to detract from today’s topic, is an opportunity missed seeing how much kids are fascinated with em. Anyway, had it not been for some cataclysmic event which changed Earth's ecosystem they may still be trotting about today, with mankind still very much on the back burner. He also, about 130 million years ago, created a masterpiece. Still arguably the most successful creature yet, the humble ant. Some may argue that the ant is not terribly successful, siting man’s many achievements and inventions as proof. After all we have digital watches, mobile phones that can double as a torch, electric toothbrushes and a few other bits and bobs, all ants have is; well, nothing really if you're not counting hills. Now while I agree you can't pooh-pooh man’s collective achievements. I would have to argue it rather depends on how you measure success. For example their Eco footprint, much like their actual footprint, is practically non-existent. They are at one with the planet. Their CO'2 emissions are commensurate with the size of their bottoms. And apart from just a couple of species they are largely tolerant of each other, unlike us who own enough nuclear weapons to wipe mankind, and ants, off the face of the globe No, for the most part ants live in harmony with nature.

Interesting shot I thought.

    There are around 22,000 species of ant, I know this because I looked it up. And it's said that for every human walking the earth, there are a million ants under it. We are seriously outnumbered. Collectively they eat more food than we do. And there are only a couple of places on the planet where they haven't set up home, the poles. One reason for their success is that they are related to the bee, and like bees have, over the millennia, created complex social infrastructures. Their politics, if they had any, would be communist not capitalist. They live in colonies, communicate, and have a social pecking order with each ant having a specific job to do. So strong is their sense of togetherness they would sacrifice themselves for the good of the colony.

    Why am I bothering to tell you this? Well for two reasons. First I thought it was mildly interesting (So on your own on that one luv. Ed). Possibly. And secondly over breakfast a couple of days ago I happened to mention that I didn't sleep well. I woke a few times feeling something may have brushed against me. “That’s odd! Hazel said, I had the same feeling”. She investigated by pulling back the mattress to find a troupe of ants eating the Camper van, well the wall paper. She dealt with the internal invasion while I went outside to check the van. A line of ants was making it's way up the awning, along the top, climbing onto the van, around the trim at the top, down the side of the van and then under it, from there I lost sight of them.

    Well that was Monday. On Tuesday we went into town and brought ant powder and dusted the van with a liberal coating much like you would a cake with icing sugar. Wednesday I poured myself some cereal before noticing the sugar puffs packet had become an impromptu residence for twenty of the blighter’s. We have been fighting a battle with them ever since. I dusted everything again, and it does seem we are winning, at least for the moment. Regretfully, and this might upset a few Buddhists amongst you, we have killed maybe a hundred, so, only another 1,999,900 to go then.





  Friday 18th October 2013 week 121 Spain

    What's on my mind?.

    You would think, wouldn't you, that the one person whose opinion you can rely on is an expert, right? Wrong. Turns out they can actually be the least reliable. And yet, for some reason we trust them implicitly, why? I constantly hear people say stuff like: 'I was listening to an expert the other day and they said'.... or, 'You really should get an expert opinion on that'...... or, 'I'm no expert but'.

    If you need proof that our misguided reliance on expert opinion is misplaced then look no further than the Kennedy assassination. The extensive investigations into it, brought together top ballistics experts in the USA, and with 100 thousand gun crimes a year, they have a lot to choose from. In trying to work out the various trajectories of the bullets, none could agreed. And yet they all studied the same evidence. The reason they couldn't agree, and still can't, is because coming to a definitive conclusion is all about interpretation and that’s not a science. Finally, in an attempt to agree on something at least, they proposed the controversial 'magic bullet theory'. This suggested the bullet must have entered via the back of the head, travelled through the body, ricocheted off several bones and exited via Kennedy's knee.

    I could also cite that in the 1980's, during a particularly bad downturn in the economy, a banking expert was interviewed on News-night. He issued this dire warning: “should the Footsie drop below 200 points this will start a domino effect. The country will be plunged into a recession the likes of which will eclipse even the 1920's recession in the USA”. The following week it dipped to 175 and bugger all happened. It rallied a week later.

    Or take Michael Fish, an expert meteorologist, who said, in 1987, on TV, that there was not a hurricane on it's way. That night the worst storm in living memory hit the UK, killing eighteen people and causing tens of millions of pounds worth of damage.

    What about Medical experts who predicted, in 1828, that the human body was not meant to travel at speed. Therefore travailing at 28mph on Stephenson's rocket could cause women to faint and men to have nose bleeds.

    I could also mention that in the early 60's experts predicted that, by the turn of the century, the population of Britain would double to around 100 million. Fortunately politicians of the day didn’t rush through a mass sterilisation programme which, I'm guessing, is what our present government might have done.

    And finally, it was thought by some experts that the millennium bug, expected to hit computers at one second past midnight on December 31st 1999, could affect almost every aspect of our daily lives. It didn't. Again, nothing happened.

I've discovered, as perhaps you have, that the more someone knows about a given subject the less likely you are to get a straight answer from them, thus proving too much knowledge is just as bad as not enough. While it may be true that nothing is as simple as it first appears, life has taught me that the simplest answer, is often the right one. And because of that I know experts are wrong as many times as they are right.

    A while ago I mentioned the hype surrounding our seeming increasing longevity. I suggested that many Governments were relying, too much, on crystal ball gazing statisticians rather than hard data. Some one emailed, in rebuttal, and suggested that experts know far more about such things than I … ..right. I rest my case.

    Have a good, expert free, weekend.


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