Battered, bruised, down, but not out

Well I think that goes down as the most unusual Boxing Day I’ve ever spent. I woke after fitful sleep. I can’t lie on my left side because my shoulder hurts – it took a bang when I fell back from the wardrobe. I can’t lie on my right side as my swollen right eye hurts so I have to try sleeping on my back and have been advised to keep my head elevated by at least two pillows. I feel like I’ve been laid out in the coffin already but in my birthday suit not my best suit.  And I have to get clothes past the culprits before I can go – that’s top brass I can tell you.
884C9FD7-FA38-474C-8645-FCCC2C72CCEBHowever the hospital Hospital Puerto del Mar want me to report at 09:30 so off I set in a taxi the hotel has kindly called after my profuse apologies for their disturbed night of gore and mayhem. I had to take a taxi because from the interior of an ambulance I had no idea where we had gone and when I came out I got straight into a taxi back to the now calm hotel without really being very aware of my route or surroundings.

I report to Triage 1 and a ticket is printed out for me along with a page of sticky labels with my name, date of birth, admission number and cause of admission ‘Caida’ – fall. I wait for about 15 minutes before being called into Trauma 1 to explain to a doctor exactly what had happened. Well I knew sock, calcetin, take off, quitar, caida, fall, armorio, wardrobe and manija, handle. So I manage to concoct a narrative after which he nods sagely and sits me down to examine the cuts and stitches which he approves, does a name and number, day of the week, address in Spain etc as a concussion test and says he’d like a face specialist to check me over to see if the stitches will suffice or whether I need plastic surgery. Back to the waiting room for rather longer this time. Just like English hospitals there are too many people for the seats available and the one unisex loo is out of service. So I stand patiently, glad I’d had the foresight to bring my Kindle on which I was reading Kamila Shamsie’s excellent Burnt Shadows which combines Japan with India and Pakistan in a timely, tense tale.

A lady in blue with a face mask comes by and somehow I know she’s my face doctor. She must have seen a few others and then after a while she calls me into Trauma 2 and checks my eyesight with torch and fingers to count – no double vision and I’m glad that’s an index finger you’re holding up. She declares that the sutures will do the job and that no plastic surgery is required but they do want me to go to x-ray to check that no bones were broken – I think I would have known. So back to stand in a corridor outside the radiography room until my name is called. Eventually I enter and two young rather giggly radiographers are keen to know how to pronounce my unusual nombre. They try Raggett for size a few times and I tell them they’ve got it. A quick dose of rays and then back to the waiting area. The original doctor sees me again and tells me a nurse will give me a tetanus jab and dress the corner of my brow which persists in bleeding (sangrando) adding another verb participle to my vocabulary. He also said I should go to my Primary Care Centre in three days (it’ll be Monday at my surgery which will be the fifth day so maybe the stitches can come out too which he suggested should be in a week). The nurse then stings me horribly trying to clean up the mess a bit more and applies a big cotton pad with tape over my eye to stop the bleeding. Then I’m told I’m free to go and thank them all profusely for what has been excellent attention to a stupid accident. The worst part of it is that I had discarded a previous pair of freebie Bam socks because they kept slipping on my wood floors. Total idiot. Also I once heard a radio show a while back in which the presenters were discussing how sitting down to put socks on and off was a sign of old age. From now on I’m old.

I need a pharmacy and a loo by now so I walk away from the Emergency Department where I note I’ve been for just on three hours so I stride off towards what I believe to be the main Avenida Juan Carlos II that runs north-south through the new part of the city. It is and I find a pastry shop with coffee and churros so I set into those, recalling from goodness knows where that after a shock it was good to eat or drink something sweet. Well I’m not putting sugar in my coffee but a sugar coated churro will do the job. It also of course has a loo. Refreshed and emboldened I decide to catch a bus back up to the old city and my hotel. It worked fine with a one euro ten cents flat fare and there’s a pharmacy opposite the hotel so I get my prescription filled but have to repeat my now more fluent tale of Christmas Night. Jokes about amateur bullfighting and what the other guy looks like happen in Spanish too but armed with amoxicillin I go back to my now spotless room. I take pills and then a kind of, I suppose, post-shock lethargy sets in. I did of course sleep very little during the night and sit in an armchair and drift off a bit. Then alert again and turning on iPad mini to watch the footie later, I realise that what I’d written about Christmas Eve and Day had not saved properly so I had to recreate all that whereupon several photos duplicated themselves. Foreign internet, weird WordPress or just DRD – defective Raggett digits I’ll never know.

I feel I ought to go out and grab some lunch before it’s time for Prime to watch Watford at Sheffield United – my Blades-supporting nephew has wished us Happy Christmas and more wins but not today. But by the time I’ve thought about where or what it’s too late so I settle down to see the excitement of a lead unfold followed by a stupid penalty for their equaliser. So that’s draws home and away but at least this one had a proper goal and we’re off the bottom of the table. The later Leicester v Liverpool match is much more exciting and after that I decide that fasting will do me no harm and retire again for a disturbed but better sleep.

Friday morning sees me shower (avoiding getting stitches wet) pack and take my bags to the car. I then go for breakfast in the Plaza Espana and realise that my decision to visit the chapel with the Goyas before driving back to Malaga was muddled with 24 hours clock confusion – my flight is at 4.25 not the 6.25 in my head. However I can still make it easily albeit it not by the fully scenic route intended. But it gives my time to admire a few more of the fabulous buildings and squares of Cadiz  – just why is it only men taking breakfast? – and amble through its cobbled streets to find that the Oratorio is open.

I go up to the chapel in which there are five frescoes around the ceiling, three by Goya although from the distance and the lighting you’d be hard pressed to tell it if you’d just happened to wander in in ignorance. Still it had been on the tick list.

Back one last time to the car park – huge so I always wrote my bay number on the ticket – set up TomTom for the car rental place and off I go. While we had previously gone all along the coast down to Tarifa to look across at Africa and then along past Gibraltar, today’s faster route went diagonally across Cadiz province giving me only a fleeting view of Gibraltar – It’ll be interesting to see what happens about that in the next few years. Then it was along through celeb/gangster country Estepona, Puerto Banus, Mijas, Fuengirola, Marbella, and on to Malaga. They are amused to see that the car has no damage, just me, so my tale is told again with winces and sympathetic handshakes before a shuttle bus whisks me into a surprisingly quiet Malaga airport. I’m quickly through security and off to the Sala VIP lounge thanks to my subscription to Priority Pass. It’s also nearly empty and I catch up on emails and messages before heading to the gate.

E6CC61F6-91DC-49F3-A7D6-51E11188EC4B As is the new norm with Ryanair the Priority Q is longer than the paupers’. But in, I think, a first for me we board through an airbridge not by walking across the tarmac and climbing steps. The captain urges people to stow their stuff quickly as we can actually make our 16:25 take off slot if they get a move on – since we’d seen him and the cabin crew walk past us twenty minutes earlier maybe they could have got the plane loading sooner. However we’re in the air on time and I can construct the last blog from this excellent but eventful Iberian adventure. Obviously I’ll have to post it later when there’s some wifi – probably back home. Where I now am.

Well after a perfect journey back as far as my car at Stansted after which I endured a thirty minute hold up for an accident on the A12 and then a diversion for a burst water main close to home in Kidbroke. Is that an omen?

I’ll take the high road

This is my last morning in Malaga and I’m pleased to report that the Paradores have stopped using individual shampoo and body wash bottles that we all used to steal but now have refillable dispensers in the shower. They’ve always asked you to hang your towels on a hook if you’re happy to use them again so ecology is making inroads.

As it is again another lovely blue day and I got my sea fix yesterday, I ask TomTom to take me to Cadiz avoiding motorways and toll roads. As I love driving, the Seat Ibiza is quite an easy drive and time is entirely my own today, I accept the cross country route offered. I’ve done the drive from Cadiz back to Malaga via the coast – and will enjoy the views of Gibraltar and Algeciras on Friday on my way back. So I navigate the Malaga suburbs and then find myself on route A366. What is it about Routes with 66? This one soon enters the Sierra de las Nieves – it means snowy mountains so that’s a bit of a giveaway. The first pass is at 890 metres which is quite high. But we then do switchbacks and hairpins up to Puerto del Viento at 1190 which really is a long way up.

Daisy Scott once told me off for taking photos while driving so I parked up safely to show the delights of route 366. The window was open for the wonderful fresh air with occasional scents of pine and jasmine and the sounds of sheep and goats traversing the hillsides. Happy man. The road then brought me up with a jolt. Many years ago I booked a ten day stay in a lovely villa with its own pool in the village of El Gastor. Here it was.

Only problem which I discovered after we’d arrived – nice house, private pool, walk to the bar – was that is was in the Sierra de Grazalema, the wettest part of Spain. The onshore wind brings water in from the Atlantic, hits the first mountain range, these, and it rains. All the time – greener than Galicia! At least it was warm so using the pool in the rain was quite fun, but it has to go down as one of my less good bookings and because Dee was very busy at the time, entirely my fault. So I shudder a little and drive by and then in a very few kilometres find myself on on what must have been the Roman road from Sevilla to Cadiz. The dramatic landscape change to fertile rolling hills is amazing – what a country of variety this is.

I stop off for lunch and a shoulder relax after all that active driving and it’s a straight run into Cadiz where I find myself in the wrong lane opposite the Parking recommended by the hotel. Kind gaditanos let me cross and descend into the car park thanks to some indicating and gesticulating on my part.

The hotel is a converted convent and my fears of being in a cell-sized room were dispelled. I was also pleased that while every room was named for a Saint then at least mine had a connection with wine. She was an abbess who live in Tuscany from 1268 – 1317 and was canonized in 1726 after performing several miracles.

It’s further south than we’ve previously been in Cadiz so there’s a an interesting area to discover but it’s such a compact city that I can quickly get to see the cathedral in wonderful warm light and then head to the seafront to look at the setting sun.


and then walk through the ancient centre to find more excellent Christmas lights and a skating rink in the main square. I ate tonight in one of the city’s most famous restaurants El Faro where we’d been before and have plans for tomorrow.

Buenos noches!

Crumbs and Crikey!

‘That’s a bit more like it’ I thought as I opened my curtains on Sunday morning. That’s why I’m in Spain for Christmas – clear blue skies and already 16 degrees. What a great day to drive to Torrox for the Fiesta de Migas. Because of the weather and for nostalgia’s sake, I decided to take the trusty N340 along the coast rather than the motorway. We stayed once in Velez Malaga in the mid 1970s and driving along to see the caves at Nerja involved large stretches of driving over compacted stone clippings that were the basis for a road later – much later I suspect – to be tarmaced. It weaves along now through waterside developments that weren’t there 40 years ago. It’s still a nice drive with frequent glimpses of sea to the right and brought me in timely fashion to a small bar in Torrox Costa in time for a quick coffee before seeking the bus up to join in the festivities to which I’d been invited by Loz Blume a fellow Watford fan who relocated to Spain four years ago.

I asked the proprietor where buses departed for Torrox Pueblo and was advised to leave my car where it was and walk five minutes up the road. I came to a Lidl where the checkout lady explained that the bus stop was just opposite and a few metres back. I’d walked past it! By the way there are now almost as many Lidl and Aldi stores in Spain as there are Chinese Bazaars. Fortunately a bus arrived within a few minutes and I was soon climbing the narrow streets to the main square. As a WhatsApp from Loz confirmed – just follow the noise. As I entered the square arms shot up in greeting and beckoned me over to the front of the stage where three young ladies, a percussionist and a guitarist were performing very catchily such that all the local ladies of a certain age were dancing enthusiastically. Hugs and kissed all round as Loz and I reintroduced ourselves after first meeting at a Watford City Orns outing to a T20 cricket match at Hove probably about eight years ago. The kisses were for his sister Michelle and other female friends. Beers were nobly produced and Loz seemed genuinely delighted to have the copy of the book I wrote for the club’s charity’s 25th anniversary – it had just been his birthday so it had to double as that and a Christmas gift. The music stopped, beers were finished and we began the further climb up to the car park at the top of the village which is where free wine and migas were on offer.

Loz and Michelle with a sample of rather sweet Malaga wine

We walked through the market stalls and looked (Loz’s experience of four Migas tells) for the shortest queue to wait for our dish of migas which are bread crumbs fried in olive oil served with a tomato, orange and onion salad. They are prepared in wok-like pans over a wood fire:

And then dished up on plastic plates with a spoon like this:

It’s a hark back to field labourers’ lunches and the Fiesta in in its 38th iteration so I guess that’s what they used to have back then. They were very tasty and filling – exactly their original purpose. We then move off to Loz’s house to catch the day’s main event Watford v Manchester United which I was missing because they changed the game to Sunday for TV – a blessing as it transpired. As we moved off from the car park the crowds were swelling so I think we had made excellent queuing time – we did notice that our came from the Gluten Free line so that may have accounted for the smaller queue.

And then Crickey! We only went and won! Watford 2-0 Manchester United. First home win of the season! Only the second three points. Total jubilation in the Blume house saluted with beer and tortilla before I then took Michelle back to Malaga Airport as she was due to fly back to Edinburgh that evening. She had arranged a ride with Mark, a neighbour who does occasional taxi runs, but as a Spurs fan he was pleased to be able to stay with Loz and watch the second match after running us down to my car in Torrox Costa. He won’t have been quite as excited about the result and may have preferred to be on the road to Malaga. Tottenham 0-2 Chelsea. We whizzed back along the motorway in the setting sun – why are my sunglasses in the desk by the front door? – getting to know each other and hoping that our paths will cross again. After three fairly hectic days and the prospect of highlights on Match of the Day later on, I went from the airport back to the Parador, wrote the previous blog, had a fine plate of jamon y queso and a glass or two of rioja watching the twinkling lights of Malaga by night. Once again I had confirmation about why I was here.

Malaga Day 2 – art, cars, lights and music

I had a bit of a lie in this morning and decided to take the car since I was going to visit the Automobile Museum which I thought would be interesting after seeing Cars at the V&A earlier this month. By a miracle my worst fears about parking the car on arrival were swept away by the fact that it has free parking in front – well I suppose they are all about cars. But first I went to see the other collection on the same site in a disused tobacco factory – an even more impressive building than Carmen’s in Seville. This was the Russian Museum which had three exhibitions. The first was devoted to the depiction of women in Russian art over the last two centuries and was more interesting for the social observation of costumes and customs than for the intrinsic merit of the canvases displayed – far too many in my humble opinion. Eyes started glazing over by room 5, beautifully displayed and labelled though they were. Given some of the obvious disparities between the have and have not classes it was pretty obvious why the Revolution happened. The next exhibit was the work of Nicholas Roehrich of whom I’d never heard. There were some amazing landscapes and allegorical paintings in alternately sombre and vibrant colours. He travelled a lot and ended his life in India where a wall full of square oils showed the Himalayas in all the variety of lighting stages that mountains pass through. He was a revelation but cars called so I’m afraid I skipped the third show featuring the life and works of the poet Anna Akhmatova.

The Automobile Museum was just fabulous, charting the history of vehicles from earliest steam driven carriages through the vintage cars from the USA and Europe to future concept studies. It’s massive but very engaging as the official title is Museum of Automobiles and Fashion and beside each vehicle was a designer dress or outfit from the era so you could imagine these elegant folk installed behind their chauffeurs or later taking the wheel themselves. One car reminded me of Peter Blake’s painted Mersey Ferry, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, that I’d seen last week only to discover that it was painted by Sonia Delaunay in 1928.

P1010096

There were a lot of very sleek and beautiful beasts on show but I was left feeling very proud of Jaguar’s contribution to motor car design. And they had some funny ideas at Rolls-Royce too!

I then stopped off at the bus station to get a ticket for tomorrow’s planned trip to Torrox to share the Fiesta de Migas and watch Watford v Man United with an expat Watford friend. Sadly the first bus on a Sunday was at one and takes an hour and a half which would leave no time for fiesta and the last one back was at five which would leave no time after football so after a WhatsApp exchange I concluded that I’d do abstemious fiesta-ing and drive for convenience. Thence to my next port of call which was the outpost of the Paris Centre Pompidou which opened here last March. It’s an underground structure with a glitzy glazed Rubik’s cube on top. I can see it clearly from my balcony and thought it would be worth a visit.

Inside it’s a vast space with equally vast canvases and installations which appealed in varying measure. The highlights for me were a massive Miro and an equally large scale Peter Doig but I was also amused by the sheep installation that filled the first room. Sadly they wouldn’t let us sit on them despite their destiny as stools.

When I got back outside I could see my balcony up on the Gibralfaro Hill, providing a nice symmetry. The Centre is on a newish (2011) development of the waterfront in Malaga called Muelle Uno. It has trendy shops and restaurants – chain and individual and I decided it was time for some seafood and a glass of Verdejo a favourite white from next to La Rioja (will that count Les?).

My room second floor just right of the tree.

I retrieved the car from the parking under Centre Pompidou with some distress. As I descended in the lift I saw no pay station and assumed it would be near the exit. It wasn’t so I had a stream of three needing to reverse so that I could go back to the machine – hidden behind the lift – and then emerge. Much tooting and muttering about Los Ingleses – expect more in future. I returned to the hotel and parked up and then started the walk back down when a convenient bus arrived to save me the trouble. However I very nearly had to arm wrestle a huge French woman to get on board. She was determined to be first despite her lowly rank in the queue and had the bulk to determine the outcome. At the city centre bus stop I walked to the Museo Carmen Thyssen to admire the work of Spain’s eighteenth and nineteenth century painters. I recognised two or three from the recent Sorolla exhibition in London now back home and was struck by how art movements seemed to move across countries with similar preoccupations in Russia and Spain in the same periods. I was warned on entry that there was to be a concert at 19.00 so my visit was enhanced by the sound check for the orchestra and warm up exercises of the choir. I didn’t stay as there were few tickets left.

My friend Graham was in Malaga a few weeks ago and had recommended the restaurant Batik – if I could find it. I wandered through a few streets, stopping for the occasional beer in the odd neighbourhood bar and discovered that Batik was close to the Plaza de la Merced and the Teatro Romano. It was great recommendation with super carpaccio de jurado and tuna tatziki all washed down by a good Marques de Riscal. While I was there a couple of young ladies asked me to take their photo and we then got chatting. One of them worked in PR for Malaga Tourism so I offered my services should they need English copywriting or proofing. While we were conversing (pitching?) the most spectacular light show took place against the backdrop of the Alcazaba which in one sequence appeared to be self-destructing stone by stone. Something similar happens every year it seems. My homeward saunter was enlivened by superb temporary Christmas light displays:

and groups of musicians at seemingly every corner. One of them appeared to me to be the Andaluz equivalent of Morris (pace Pete and Richard) while another was an energetic jazz group none of whom could have been more than twenty five, a promising sign for live music in the south. Then it was a taxi up the hill, a glass of brandy and some light blogging.

Malaga Morris?
Young jazzers giving it some wellie

Malaga Day 1 – culture

After completing my assignment for my agency in the Netherlands – editing video scripts about medicated abortion for Medecins sans Frontieres – I decided to walk into to town (city?). The descent from my lofty Parador perch (del Gibralfaro to be clear as there is a second on in Malaga called Golf) is supposed to take 20 minutes so I set off, However, as I’m going to a concert tonight I’ve scrubbed up a bit and am in shirt, jacket and shiny shoes. The descent is mostly on granite and sandstone slabs which with the drizzle are extremely slippery so my footwear is wrong and knowing the problems of the elderly breaking limbs, I descend slowly and circumspectly,. It’s a pleasant walk in fine weather but as I arrive at the foot of the hill I need sustenance, So, a swift cerveza in a neighbourhood bar and I’m all set. I’m. bound for the Picasso Museum which is amazing and banished any thoughts of him not being a total genius. The temporary exhibition shows 166 paintings, sculptures, objects and ceramics owned by the Picasso-Ruiz family. Excellently curated it follows a chronological line so the development, regressions and recurring themes are evidenced in a truly enlightening way, I never knew he always had a dog or dogs about him and that he could never paint Dora Maar with a smile. As I leave I am diverted into a clean-looking bar which specialises in churros con chocolate, I appall the waiter by ordering coffee (I don’t really like chocolate even if it’s the done thing here). I then make my way via a craft beer pub – well you owe it to them don’t you?

Not bad beer either. Then on to Plaza de la Merced with oranges and fairy lights for a further beer and tapas ahead of my concert at the Teatro Cervantes.

The concert was great – Beethoven’s Piano Concerto 2 followed by Symphony 9. They were both played very well but the Ninth made me cry – it is after all the European anthem and most readers will know where I stood on Brexit. It’s a fine hall with a good acoustic and apart from occupying the wrong seat because I hadn’t climbed enough stairs, it was a fun evening, Seating issues were resolved without blows.

No photos allowed during he concert.
It’s always great to hear that magnificent work but especially poignant given the previous week’s events, The conductor Virginia Martinez, pianist and soloists were all Spanish and the chorus from Malaga Opera were superb. Not the best version I’ve ever heard but a privilege to be out with the Malaga cognescenti suitably clad.

My walk from the. theatre took me past the Teatro Romano one of Malaga’s highlights.

Wait till tomorrow!

It’s now in a bar with a glass of Rioja that I realise I’ve been up for 18 hours and at the age of 76 I should probably be in bed. Taxi up the hill, quick nightcap and bed,

North and South (apologies to Mrs G)

And apologies for random pix – problems transferring from phone to iPad mini that won’t get all my emails! There will be an updated version later (done 03.01.2020)

My word! It’s nearly a year since I last posted on my blog. It’s been a strange year – my first for ages without foreign travel until now, 20 December. Unless of course you count a trip to the Peoples’ Republic of Merseyside as foreign. That’s where this last week began meeting up with friends for a football match, a gig and food, drink and conversation. In fact it was the second trip in just over a month and previously I’d managed to get up to Crosby beach to marvel at the Gormleys following his recent show at the Royal Academy. And on the way back I managed to find a Japanese garden hidden away in Sale.

For this latest visit, I drove up uneventfully on Friday and met up with Richard and Alison for a couple of beers and a fine dinner in Bacaro. Our former favourite tapas bar La Vinya has closed and become something trendier and more expensive but Bacaro served Italian-tinged tapas with a great atmosphere and a good wine list so we had a fun evening. Watford v Liverpool was the 12.30 kick off on Saturday so we met up in Dr Duncan’s for a pint at 11.00 (they told me on the phone they would open as usual at 11 but in fact opened at 10 because of the early kick off), Some of us thought there was time for a second pint but this in fact meant that our bus ride to Anfield took ages and we only just got in to see kick off. Others – Fran and Matt – describe the game and although we lost we all left very encouraged by the improvement we had seen under our third manager of the season.

Many of our travelling Watford Hornets are also fans of Ian Prowse the singer-songwriter who leads the bands Pele and Amsterdam and our match coincided with his annual Liverpool Christmas concert – but that didn’t start until nine so what can you do for six hours in Liverpool? Visit the Tate? The Walker is a fine art gallery or there’s the Beatles Story. But hell no! Liverpool also has some of the finest pubs in the country many of which I was already familiar with and with assistance from Mr Prowse himself and artist Tony Brown, I was able to devise a ten venue pub crawl to occupy the waiting hours. I should say that Ian and Tony, and his wife Lorraine, have been friends since 2002 when Dee and I made a series of educational videos for Teaching Scouse as a Second Language for the publishers Macmillan. Tony provided the studio backdrop and was interviewed about his work. Ian was a studio guest who discussed the Merseyside music scene and played us out at the end of the show. We also filmed his gig at the Cavern for the programme. So nearly twenty years on we are all friends still and have met up at intervals during further filming or football trips to the great city.

Armed with their input we embarked on a walking tour of a varied selection of Liverpool’s boozers at the worst time possible. It’s Saturday afternoon, it’s nearly Christmas and all the pubs are full. However we divert to grab some food then take in the Victorian splendour of the Philharmonic, the bustling fun of Ye Crack and quirky layout of The Pilgrim, the mezzanine melee of Mackenzies whisky bar before descending on one of my favourites The Globe. One regular inquired why on earth I’d brought a pub crawling group to Liverpool’s smallest pub. Because it’s quirky, friendly, keeps its beer well, is close to the centre and has the steeply sloping floor that makes you think you’re half cut before you’ve started. Ah well alright, he said, that’s why I’m here. Tony and Lorraine joined us there and I’m afraid the second stage of the itinerary was abandoned for the next visit as we had at last found somewhere to sit, were with Liverpool friends and enjoying a great atmosphere. After a brief aberration on my part in the Phil, we restricted ourselves to halves and so were still able to stand and enjoy what was to follow.

Then it was a swift walk through Lime Street Station to the O2 Academy for Prowsey’s Christmas Party. After a slight hold up while some technical sound and lighting issues were resolved – well it is rock n roll – Ian and his superb fifteen piece band treated us to two hours of Pele and Amsterdam’s greatest hits with a few well aimed political comments and a joint version with Brian Nash of Frankie Goes to Hollywood fame of their smash hit The Power of Love. The talent on display was stunning, Ian’s writing is always pointed and his melodies so strong that I have had Pele/Amsterdam ear worms all week. Some of us were invited to the after party and lovely though it would have been to spend some time with Ian it was too hip and too loud for an oldie like me so we congratulated him and thanked him for a wonderful evening, group hugged and retired graciously.

Amsterdam gig 12.2019Sunday found four of us regulars meeting up for brunch. We met at Castle Street Coffee according to the menu but called something quite different on its main signage. This caused some confusion although I thought my description of corner of Castle Street and Dale Street was clear enough – not so when you’re looking for a sign that barely exists. The food and coffee were fine, the vibe laid-back Sunday morning. What it did have was a phenomenon in the loos’ hand-driers. Now you know how they usually emit a blue light along with the whoosh of warm air – well these had pools of red and blue light thus appealing to both halves of the city (for those not familiar with Liverpool football there are bitter rivals: Liverpool play in red; Everton in blue) Great marketing effort we thought.

Pete and Graham departed for Bradford but since Fran was booked on the 18:45 train she kindly agreed to accompany me to Sefton Park for a nostalgic walk and to admire the Palm House newly restored since I was last there. It also featured a ukulele band playing a mixture of carols and standards in an idiosyncratic setlist.

Since Frances had never seen the famous Liverpool waterfront from the opposite bank of the Mersey we whizzed through the tunnel and climbed to the top of the Birkenhead Priory Tower – just about made it that’s a lot of steps up – and while damp, grey and drizzly by now, the view across the river was well worth the trip. We then repaired to what had been my local when I spent six months in Liverpool on the aforementioned English language video shoot and edit, The Excelsior, which remains a proper good old fashioned pub, much to my delight. Next stop so as to be close to the station was another of my personal favourites The Crown Hotel. I was a bit worried because Lorraine had said last night that it had recently been refurbed, but she also added that they’d done it really well. And she was right. It’s cleaner, the panelling looks brighter and the ornate plaster ceiling is still a great place to hunt for the designer’s signature cigar butt trademarks – six of them apparently but Dee and I only ever found five. Fran departed for London and I walked back down Dale Street to sample a new-to-me tapas bar as a possible replacement for La Vinya. However it closed at seven for some strange reason. An alternative presented itself nearby in Mowgli a chic modern Indian restaurant with an exciting menu and dishes served in snazzy stainless steel round tiffin canisters and which are eaten from a metal plate. All very different, very tasty and from the queues as I left, very popular.

Before driving back down on Monday I had arranged to meet Tony and Lorraine for breakfast in The Quarter on Faulkner Street in the elegant Georgian Quarter of the city which is so full of architectural surprises. I retrieved my car from the car park where it had been overnight at the hotel’s discounted rate and proceeded through the centre and up Mount Pleasant to Hope and Faulkner Streets. Now some of these are cobbled, others are potholed but nonetheless I was a bit perturbed by the volume of road noise I was generating. As I parked I saw that the rear offside tyre was as flat as the proverbial. Like a fool I asked the staff if they knew of a local tyre place – which they did – but also suggested that as I was a member I call the AA – doh! At this point Tony and Lorraine arrived and I explained my predicament which slightly dominated our breakfast conversation

But we did manage to have a good catch up before the friendly patrolman arrived. So with farewell hugs and them insisting on picking up the bill, I went out to the car. The AA man told me he used to live round here and that where I had breakfast used to be McCall’s grocery store in his day and he remembered being sent from home to buy a quarter of spam for tea. I love this kind of verbal history and the fact that everybody in the city seem to be so friendly and chatty, examples of which we had in spades during the pub crawl as I had a Watford badge on my polo shirt which was a frequent conversation starter.

The tyre was inflated sufficiently for me to follow the yellow van to a discount tyre yard in Wavertree where he assured me I would get quality tyres at the best price in the city. That may well have been the case but for the fact that when I produced that box labelled “Locking wheel nut” from the glovebox it was empty. We turfed everything out of the car and couldn’t find it anywhere. So I phoned the nearest Toyota main dealer to check whether they had a master key that would resolve the issue. They did, so my kindly tyre folk gave me a further top up blast of air and I set off for Bootle. It took a while to sort out by very efficient Toyota folk but eventually I was on the road back south with a new tyre and a new key on order. I had hoped to do most of the drive in the small amount of daylight mid-December offers but it was already dark by the time I reached the M6 to head south. The rest of the journey was uneventful I’m pleased to say and I was home in time to do some last minute online Christmas shopping, wrap some presents and then make something to eat as breakfast, delicious though it was, had been eight and a half hours ago with only a few mints to keep up the blood sugar during the drive.

The rest of the week has screamed by rather like most of this mad year. I spent a great day at Tate Modern with my friend Jadwiga on Wednesday with a little exhibition viewing in the form of Dora Marr (better photographer than painter in our view since you ask, but good that this showed her to be her own person not just consigned to history as one of Picasso’s women) and lots of tea and coffee drinking (well a little champagne) and conversation before and after. Thursday saw Grandad Santa deliver to the grandchildren who will be in Manchester for Christmas while I’ll be in Malaga and Cadiz. As the flight is at 07:20 I drove up to the Holiday Inn Express at Stansted for the night and a week’s parking.

Standing in pouring rain waiting to climb the steps into the plane I’m quite pleased to be heading off to the south of Spain where the temperature was 21 degrees yesterday so fingers crossed.

I’ve now arrived and it is 21 degrees but grey and drizzly so while I have a balcony with a great view over Malaga I won’t be sipping cava on it today I fear. Also I’ve just had an email ping in with some work for my Dutch agents so I’d better get on with it – holidays have to be paid for after all.

High Plains Drifter

On the way south through Zamora province there are fields of beans – chick peas and habones which are somewhere between broad and butter beans, big and tasty. We’ve run out of vines as the land gives way to cattle and pig rearing under the cork oaks whose acorns make the ham from around here so tasty. As it happens I’m on Route 66, Autovia A66 and it doesn’t feel much like our trip in Arizona and Nevada except for the amount of road kill. It’s a fairly empty motorway – why can’t the animals dodge better? Sight of the day – sorry still no stopping – comes just south of Salamanca where the road crests a slight incline and there are the Sierra de Gredos still covered in snow. The road passed Béjar and there were signs to La Covatilla ski resort. Then after another gentle climb – no hairpins or gear changes – there’s a sign for a pass at 1192 metres above sea level. These really are high plains in the west of Spain – the film title I borrowed wasn’t actually one of those spaghettis shot in Tabernas in Almeria province. As the road continued my attention was drawn to a stunning piece of music that was totally unfamiliar. I’d enjoyed the company of Catalunya Musica until halfway across Aragon and had then managed to retune to RTVE’s classical station. That’s the national broadcaster – BBC equivalent. I caught a bit of the announcement that it had Anne Sofie van Otter and the Swedish Symphony orchestra. I later traced it to be Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Song: a Cantata in two parts. I’m listening to it now on the RTVE podcast and it’s even better without car noise.

The A66 progresses into Extramadura which is the most famous region for Bellota ham but I was very surprised by the number of newly planted fields of vines and of vines planted as infill between rows of olive trees. I stopped for a coffee and mentioned my surprise to be told that the whole area had been revitalised in 1999 when Extramadura finally got its own denominacion DO Ribera del Guadiana so quality and prices had risen and farmers were encouraged to plant more vines. It was a hesitant conversation given my shaky command of the language but informative. Most of the new vines are in Badajoz province at the east end of which, now on the N432, I enter Cordoba where the only planting to be seen throughout the whole province is olives with the exception of a few grapes around Montilla south of the capital and in – it seems – a dozen other villages where the wines are classified as Montilla-Moriles and have a striking resemblance to sherries and a similar variety from fino to the sweet Pedro Ximenez. I have occasionally taken a sip of fino from a bottle labelled CB Alvear only later to appreciate that it’s a Montilla not a sherry.

20170508_152136[1]So I arrive in Rute just after three which seems like a good time for lunch before shopping. I recall that nice restaurant and bar we used to go to – Venegas, just up the road from Mercadona where my shopping is planned. So I go in, order a beer and ask what they have as tapas or small raciones and lo and behold they have carillitas de cerdo. These are pigs’ cheeks and became one of Dee’s favourite dishes. Coming from beside that large amount of bone the meat is really tasty and tender. These were served in a sauce with almonds. And how appropriate that he should be watching over me from the counter.

A week’s shopping completed I then drove on through Iznajar and turned right along to La Parilla, right on the border of Cordoba and Malaga provinces. The last part of the journey was a bit hazy and I thought I might be tired or my cataracts were getting worse only to realise that insect spatter had nearly obscured the windscreen. I’ll give it a wash tomorrow.

The house is still as lovely and welcoming as I remember. IMG_2438

There’s a bit of noise from the olive oil cooperative in the village but otherwise just the birds and the rustle of a light breeze in the trees.

I’m unpacked, a week’s washing is on, finished and out to dry and writer’s corner has been established and occupied in preparation for the real task to begin tomorrow.

Oh and the pool area still looks attractive but the sun’s gone off it now and I’ve been busy. And horror – I have to cook for myself tonight!

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Calm, Columbus and Cadiz

With final programme and DVD masters delivered to the client in every conceivable version  and the final invoice sent on 28 September we were finally free to go for a real rest. This really was going to be a restorative break with minimal travel – nine days in the parador at Mazagon and five at the one in Cadiz. We flew to Faro and got an airport shuttle bus to take us into Huelva to pick up a hire car so as to avoid the horrendous extras they charge for crossing borders in a rental car. Mistake! The bus dropped people off at lots of villa and resort locations on the way to the border so it took for ever. And who had forgotten that Portugal chooses to be in a different time zone than Spain? So by the time we reach Huelva it’s past one-thirty and the Avis office is now closed till four. So with me wrangling three pieces of luggage and Dee only managing one because of needing her stick we found literally the nearest bar-restaurant and had a lengthy lunch. Avis did sympathise and upgraded us to a large automatic Skoda which drove very well. It’s only half an hour to Mazagon so we arrived in good time to suss out the parador and enjoy our suite. P1010327P1010331We had decided to go for a suite as we were there for such an unusually long stay and it was a decision well made – it was huge with a living room, bedroom, massive bathroom and a balcony.

There were outdoor and indoor pools and although not one of the paradors in a historic building it was extremely pleasant with a good restaurant and a pleasant and relaxing bar.

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Guess which is the 100 year old.

End of blog really, as we just sat around reading, planned a new layout for the garden back home, ate and slept. Right? Nah. Well right next to the parador entrance was a huge pine tree, more than a hundred years old which has been declared a national historic monument. So we had to walk out and view that.

 

Then there was a half day excursion into the Donaña National Park that we couldn’t miss and feet became itchy for a modicum of sightseeing but we did also manage some calm days at the hotel as well. The Donaña trip involved setting off in the dark to arrive at the departure point by eight a.m. But we arrived and got into a long wheelbase truck that took us on a brilliant trip throughout the varied areas of the park. We drove down the sea shore where we saw turtles, into the marshy bits with loads of flamingos and other birds and then into the forests where there were wild boar, deer and wild horses. Then the return trip was through the dunes. Four exhilarating hours of great interest and fun.

One of our friends had spent a year in southern Spain a while back and had told us about taking part in the pilgrimage to El Rocio so as we were only a short drive away we thought we’d go there for lunch and to see what it was all about. The town is like something out of a western with unpaved roads and yellow dust everywhere. Then there are the hermandades or fraternities where the different groups of pilgrims place their statues of the Virgin de El Rocio until it is time to visit her shrine. There’s street after street of white and yellow buildings with homes, bars and hermandades all intermingled and in true movie style there are hitching rails for your horse. We had lunch there and then drove back via the scenic route to Mazagon – a great day out.

P1010438 On another day we also decided to make a further excursion to La Rabida where Columbus set sail for the Indies and found America. There’s a dock on the banks of the Rio Tinto where full size replicas of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María can be visited. They are frighteningly small for voyages of that duration and P1010435danger. There’s an excellent dockside exhibition of what life was like in Columbus’ time and a great idea of how the galley was the most important part of the vessel.

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P1010482Just back inland is the monastery in which Columbus signed his papers confirming that Ferdinand and Isabella had come up with the cash for his voyage. It’s all set in a park with specimen plants and massive palms and a very pleasant few hours were whiled away including a stop for lunch which made somebody very happy.

Columbus was also associated with nearby Palos de la Frontera and Moguer which we saved for another day and proved well worth the visit. On the way we saw massive fields growing strawberries and discovered that this is Spain’s principal area for their cultivation. We also learned that there’s controversy because vast quantities of water are being extracted from the Donaña national park’s scant reserves to the extent that if action is not taken to stop the park may lose its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

In Moguer we were able to see close up one of the carriages and virgin statues for El Rocio as well as cowboys roaming the streets on horseback. There was a splendidly tiled theatre that was now used as a cultural centre where there was an exhibition of local artworks that proved leaveable-behind.

Having chilled for nine days in our splendid suite and had some of the rest we both needed we then set off for Cadiz a city we’d stayed in before – also in October – in 2003. Another surprise en route was field after field of cotton – just as with strawberries in Huelva, there’s an awful lot of cotton in Cadiz. We again stayed at the Cadiz parador but since we were last there it’s been demolished and rebuilt completely in a very modern style which works well. We had a room overlooking the luxuriant Parque Genovés and spent a lot of time on the fabulous pool deck.

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We did do the open top bus tour to get a feel for the whole city – a spectacular cathedral, a lofty watch tower, Santa Catalina castle right next to the hotel, long sandy beaches and a massive cruise ship terminal complete with three floating apartment blocks on a European tour.

Cadiz is a wonderfully compact city best explored on foot. There’s a great market, galleries, bars and restaurants galore and a fabulous amount of modernisme architecture and details on its buildings. We particularly liked some of the tiled advertisements. Cadiz is a real feast for the eyes and the belly. We were amused by the resilience of al fresco diners during a shower – umbrellas raised they carried on regardless.

We had to drive back to Malaga to fly home and foolishly kept the car but it didn’t leave the parador garage during our five days there at €12 a night. Big mistake, that’s another meal! I also had – there’s an end of holiday theme here – a lengthy Skype call with a publisher from the Netherlands to see if I was the right person to edit and native language check a secondary school English course they were revising and reissuing. It transpired that I am and have worked on it on and off for the whole of 2016 and into 2017.

Well we had actually done pretty much what we promised ourselves in combining periods of rest with a little light sightseeing. And we were treated to some absolutely fabulous sunsets.

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The drive back along the coast was fun too viewing Gibraltar from a great height and then driving all along the Estepona, Marbella, Fuengirola, Torremolinos strip towards Malaga airport and home.