This week in Bigger pictures

  Monday 9th December 2013 week 129 Spain.

    You started it.

    Even the most reasonable amongst us can behave like a petulant twelve year old at times and I'm pleased to say, on occasion, I'm no different.

    Generally campers are an amazingly courteous bunch, regardless of nationality. Universally there is such a thing as being a good neighbour and that's nice. There are a few unwritten rules designed to ensure we get along tickety boo, but unfortunately not everyone follows them. Park Tropical, while only being a small site, is all but empty. Out of the twenty pitches around us only four are occupied, so there’s buckets of room..... least there was!. A British couple in a huge swanky motor-home, only marginally smaller than The Starship Enterprise, parked right next to us and plunged us into the shade, the temperature dropped five degrees, it was like a solar eclipse. 'Of all the places they could have parked, why did they choose there? I asked Hazel, not that she knew. I moped around chuntering for the next half hour, I mean, it's not very neighbourly is it? No. So a little later just as they were settling down for a pleasant evening I played and sang half a dozen of the loudest songs I knew...... that'll teach em!

    We rode the scooter to Gibraltar, parked outside and walked in. Riding the scooter into Gib would have been lunacy. There are always massive queues of scooters waiting to clear customs on the way out. On Thursday, perhaps seventy. They have their own exit. Most carry two Spanish guys who have brought their maximum of three packs of cigarettes each. They do this all day, back and forth. Outside, on the Spanish side, groups of guys hang around waiting to take over should the rider, or pillion, not be able to stay the whole day, or need a break, or go for lunch, or use the bathroom or get arrested. They start when the shops open and stop when they close. They do this because cigarettes are a mere £1.80 in Gib but twice that in Spain. Weekly, thousands of packs are 'exported' out of Gib this way. To the side of the scooter exit is an area containing perhaps two hundred confiscated bikes, scooters, and motorbikes, the Spanish customs don’t muck about. Every so often they will stop a scooter and practically dismantle it, everyone then has to wait.

End of the queue, behind the kiosk a car park full of cars and bikes waiting to leave. 

    On Thursday, tempers were fraying. Waiting motorists started blasting their horns making their frustrations known. Oddly, the queues were no longer, shorter in fact, than we'd seen them last year. A recent EU delegation discovered customs were only doing the job they are paid to do, no more.

    Gibraltar itself is a kind of bygone disneyesque version of Britain. With it's red BT telephone kiosks, (these doubled as public urinals in the UK before they were abolished), and elegant Victorian post boxes, with ER painted on them in gold lettering. The police, which have nothing to do with the British police, are all dressed like Dixon of Dock Green. You can treat yourself to a plate of 'authentic' fish and chips from a number of restaurants who all claim to fry the best this side of the Watford gap. The place is, frankly, tacky, cramped, not particularly interesting and not cheap. While booze and fags are, little else is. 

    We had lunch in a ''traditional' English pub -does such a thing exist in the UK?- It was a little like stepping into an episode of EastEnders. Two guys sat at the bar effing and blinding in norf London accents. The TV was on, but so was the music so no one paid much mind to the Chancellor screwing the British public in his budget speach. The lass behind the bar insisted on calling me Luv, which she managed to tack onto all her sentences. What'll it be luv?. There you go luv? Want any brown sauce luv? How's that for you luv?. Would you like anyfin else Luv?. To which I replied, sounding like Dick van Dyke playing Bert from Mary Poppins,

    “Nah, fink we're done. Wassa damage darlin”





  Tuesday 10th December 2013 week 129 Spain

    Don’t end up on the menu.

    As promised from last week. There are some questions which I don't have the answers to. Such as, having been to both Sweden and Finland why aren’t there more suicides there? And why do all super heroes wear their pants on the outside?. And why can't handrails on escalators move at the same speed as the stairs?. All of which, I think you’ll agree, are mysteries. Then there are questions I can put an answer to, such as: Why did mankind’s early ancestors crawl out from the seas and make land their home? I Think the picture below answers that question admirably, dry land struck him as a damn sight safer place than the sea.

    Today sharks still see us as perhaps one of their five-a-day, a plat de jour, who knows. On average two people a week are eaten by sharks, this is according to the ISAF, The International Shark Attack File. Already this week, and it's only Tuesday, two of our number have been fatally attacked. Perhaps, and this is only a suggestion, if surfers and divers stopped wearing black neoprene suits which look remarkably like seal skin it might just save their bacon, who knows?. An ISAF statistic points out that there has only been 2,463 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world. How they link the word 'only' can be applied to the number 2,463 when talking about shark attacks is, frankly, taking the piss. Besides, it's not accurate. They have no figures for 'unconfirmed' shark attacks, nor any for 'provoked' attacks, it could be double or treble that number for all they know. They do say: Don't panic! you’ve a one in 10 million chance of being killed by a shark.... hardly reassuring. Your odds of winning the lottery are one in 20 million, but millions still buy tickets. Interestingly I've calculated that your chances of being eaten by a shark after you win the lottery, they about even.

What a hansom fellow.

    They say there are three types of shark attack. Firstly, the Hit-and-run attack- This is when the shark will just swim past, grab your arm and and fuck off with it. Secondly, the Sneak attack – You'll not see this one coming, you'll just sustain multiple deep bites and sink in screaming agony. And lastly the sharks favourite, the Bump-and-bite attack – The shark circles, bumps into you a few times before making off with your legs. None of these attacks, you'll be pleased to know, are thought by the ISAF to be the result of mistaken identity. Meaning, the shark didn't take you for a Seal, or a big Mac, they went after you!. In an attempt to put the whole shark attack question into some perspective they point out there are 480 species of shark but only four you need to concern yourself with. The obvious one, the Great White, the Tiger shark, the Bull shark and the Whitetip, all have us on their smorgasbord of tasty titbits. Unfortunately since most of us don't carry the Observers book of Sharks its' all a bit academic.

    One of the very real precautions you can take before getting into the water is not be an Australian!. Sharks have attacked 700 of them. Why Aussies go anywhere near the water is beyond me. Not only do they have sharks but there are numerous other creatures that will kill them given half the chance. Box jelly fish, salt water Crocodiles, Blue ringed Octopus and various poisonous water snakes. Having said that dry land isn’t a whole lot safer for them, with over twenty land creatures that will dispatch them prematurely. Including the tiny Bull Ant, of which few survive it's venom.

    Interestingly the country with the highest reported number of shark attacks is the USA, but curiously they also have the lowest number of shark fatalities with only 4 percent of those being attacked dying. Clearly then there’s something about the taste of an American that even the shark can't stomach.





 Wednesday 11th December 2013 Week 129 Spain


    We left Estepona and headed west. In doing so we drove through the 'Park National de los Alcornocales' which is about the size of Wales and is stunning. The scenery more than made up for the dreadfulness of the poly-tunnels we had previously driven through and camped in. For the first time in an age we saw grass. Mountains covered with trees, lakes, rolling green meadows, I really shouldn’t get excited about it but I did. It made such a welcome change from the lunar landscape of the past couple of months.

On the road again dee. dee. da dada dadad da! 

    We were headed for Zahora, the wintering grounds of the 'Lesser liver Spotted European Pensioner' (In whose number we include ourselves. Ed) to spend the next few weeks. We were going onto Morocco, after all it's partly why we brought the motor-home but after talking to people on our travels we've had our initial reservations confirmed. It's a poor and struggling country. For some, it was a culture shock. Many Moroccans see us as rich European tourists which of course, compared to them, we are, but wealth is relative. Half the world wallows in wealth and affluence simply because the other half doesn’t and that fact makes me feel uncomfortable. I felt it previously when I visited South Africa. While there, without thinking, I gave a few coins to a small lad who later was mugged for it. In truth we are out of our depth in some countries and I'm not sure if we even belong. Thay may be fascinating but I fear it's their poverty that makes them so. I don't know if displaying our wealth isn’t just insensitive and that’s our problem and why we decided against it.

    Our reasons for coming to Zahora for the third year running hadn't altered. It's a pleasant site which offers a good discount if staying for two and three months. The camper,s are predominantly British and it's in easy reach of Gib and Cadiz. It's a quiet Spanish camp site set in a pine forest in a typical, and largely unspoiled, Spanish area. By late January it starts to warm up, although even at the moment, it is still very mild and while perhaps not shorts and t-shirt weather, its' not far off.

    The first year it positively bustled and bristled. Last year there were fewer of us, today there appears even fewer, consequently it has lost some of that sense of community I felt it had and that's a shame. We arrived during a four day bank holiday for the Spanish so it was hectic, full of kids, but they have left and the site now feels ghostly empty by comparison. What is notably absent is other nationalities. Last year, along the stretch we are now on were French, German, Swiss and Dutch, today it's empty, bar one other. Interestingly earlier in our travels we had met a German and Dutch couple who both said Pinar was becoming 'known' as a “British” camp-site in winter. Perhaps it's peculiar Britishness is going to be it's downfall........ While we try and and be good Europeans and good neighbours we still, because of language, customs and minor differences, tend to stick together and that's another pity.

    There’s already enough in this world that divides us........... without adding to it.





 Thursday 10th December 2013 Week 129 Spain

    The Magi

    I thought, what with it being so close to Christmas and all, I should write something festive. Try and get myself in the Christmas spirit. Back in Blighty the prospect of a week off work, combined with shorter days and cold weather would have automatically switched on my festive spirit, here it struggles. Looking for inspiration it occurred to me that last Sunday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this is why the Spanish had their four day holiday which, in itself, is reason enough to bring back a Catholic monarch.

    Immaculate Conception is when God 'chose' Mary to be the mother of his son. How Joseph felt about that we can only guess, personally it wouldn't have gone down well in my house. But the timing gives me a problem. We all celebrate Jesus's birthday at Christmas which is in just a couple of weeks away, strikes me the time frame is outta whack. We all know the Bible isn’t good at dates. You’ve only got to look at the whole God created heaven and earth in six days scenario to find loopholes in that little time line. The most glaring being God created Dinosaurs long before he created man. They roamed the earth for eons before we showed up and they don't even get a mention in Genesis. There are now some sixty versions of the Bible, many fairly recent, so you'd have thought they've had ample opportunity to bring it bang up to date and include the odd Tyrannosaurs Rex. And surely they missed a trick here because, if they had, it would have brought the Bible to the attention of kids, all of whom love Prehistoric creatures. You could of had a child’s edition complete with a cardboard pop-up of a Triceratops in Exodus. Marvellous.

    Anyway back to the point. If Mary was 'chosen' on that date why is it they then chose the 25th for his birthday?, that's one pretty damn quick pregnancy. I'm sure followers would tell me that’s another miracle. And if 'chosen' doesn’t mean what I think it means, how come baby Jesus didn't show up till a year later?

    In trying to nail down this time line we do know that three wise men followed a star to a manger. It couldn’t have been the north star as that would have taken them in completely the wrong direction, they would have missed the manger by a continent. They also travelled at night which calls into question their 'wisdom' since, stumbling around Judea in the dead of night is simply asking for trouble. Now that I've brought the three wise men into this equation I should confess my ignorance. As a kid I knew they brought along gold, frankincense and myrrh. I had no idea what the last two were. Gold I understood but frankincense and Myrrh? I remember reasoning that Frankincence was probably like Johnsons baby oil and Myrrh sounded like, well, fur. So they brought quite typical Yuletide gifts. Some cash, probably vouchers, some smellies and something to keep the little chap warm at night. Interestingly new Researchers at Cardiff University have suggested that frankincense could help relieve arthritis and asked the question: Did the Magi - posh name for the three wise men- know of frankincense’s healing properties when they presented it to young Jesus? Was he therefore a little arthritic? Yep! Right, you see this is what happens when university grants are just handed out willy nilly.

    Anyhow, none of the above makes me feel very Christmassy so I'll give it another crack next week.

    (Gold was used to treat arthritis but has now gone out of fashion because of the side effects! Ed.)





   Friday 13th December 2103 Week 129 Spain

    It's just a number, or is it?.

    Friday 13th is a date considered by many to herald bad luck, in Spain, so I'm told, it's Tuesday the 13th which is unlucky not Friday.

    Their are a number of theories which attempt to explain why this superstition has arisen. It's commonly thought that 13 is an unlucky number because twelve has such significance. Twelve months in a year. The Twelve disciples. Twelve hours on a clock face, Twelve days of Christmas and of course twelve eggs in a box, - that ones mine - but you get the picture. In some cultures Friday is also considered unlucky and the two together are doubly unlucky. For this reason alone I think it should be declared a bank holiday and we should celebrate it with something edible, but not chocolate, buns or pancakes as we've already got those covered.

    The Chinese are extremely superstitious. In China few hotels have a thirteenth floor. Years ago I lived in a newly built close that had to be renumbered because a Chinese chap had unwittingly bought number thirteen. When he discovered this he withdrew his offer so the developers renumbered the whole Close. To this day there is no number 13 Flamborough close.

    For me the date still engenders a sense of foreboding. For it was that very day, many years ago, I was the victim of a travesty of justice which I will now impart upon you dear reader so that you may sit in judgement of my innocent actions. (We seemed to have slipped back to the 1800's here. Ed). It's called poetic licence luv.


The beach.

    It was Friday the 13th, obviously, and we had swimming lessons. Back in my day schools didn't have swimming pools we had only just got those roll up blackboards. We had to use the public swimming baths, The Tibbs. Why it was called the Tibbs I've no idea. I entered a cubical and started to get changed when I spied a small bag. Being a naturally inquisitive child with a bright mind and unquenchable thirst for knowledge, I looked inside. It contained a fresh cream cake. Hummmm interesting. I asked myself why would someone leave a perfectly edible fresh cream cake unattended?. I came to the logical conclusion the cake had been abandoned by it's owner, perhaps they were dieting or simply forgot they owned a cake, so I ate it.

    Sometime in the afternoon I was called to the headmaster's study. I knocked and entered nervously not knowing what I could have done, the cake was in the process of being digested and was now a distant memory. It transpired the cake owner had come forward. It belonged to the fool superintendent at the Tibbs. I ask you: what grown man leaves a tempting cake in a boys changing cubical?.............urm yeah, best not answer that. But more to the point why would he try and track down the hungry culprit?. It was just a freaking cake! I owned up and appealed to the headmaster's sense of fair-play and justice. Surely this was not the best place to leave a cake?, un-chaperoned? The superintendent had a small office, why did he not keep it there? Surely he was partly to blame? Safe to say my pleas for mitigation and mercy fell of deaf eyes and I was caned. Seems a tad harsh today, but not back then.

    I bear no grudges but the head master died some 33 years make of that what you will. The pool attendant ? well, lets not go there.

    Have a good weekend (Be lucky)



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