It looks as if we have turned the corner, weatherwise. Daytime temperatures going forward are all into the twenties, now and the only rain day on the forecast is a couple of weeks away, In addition to which, of course, the clocks went forward this weekend and so it was still daylight at nine o’clock. Soon it will be time to stow my long-sleeved shirts, trousers, shoes and socks, and switch to shorts and sandals.
Yesterday, we went for lunch with friends who live in the old part of the village - el barrio morisco - and ate outside on their terrace. They are high enough in the barrio to look out over the rooftops and down the valley to a broad sweep of the Mediterranean, sparkling and blue in the sunshine.
It struck me as such a contrast with where I came from. This thought was prompted by a book I bought recently on the internet, Lancashire by the Salford author, Walter Greenwood, best known for “Love On The Dole”. In particular, on Saturday, I was reading his chapter on Salford, the town where I, too, was born and where I lived until I left in 1960 to go to university.
I have long suffered my own version of SAD, not Seasonal Affective Disorder, but Salford Affective Disorder. Somehow, every time I cross the city boundary my mood slumps, only to revive when I leave again. Since the death of my stepfather a couple of years ago, I no longer have any reason to return, but I often wondered why I should have this reaction. Greenwood’s account of the city brought back to me what I had consciously forgotten; what an appalling place Salford was during the 1940’s and 1950’s, the years of my childhood and adolescence. The skies were rarely, if ever, blue, on account of the very high rate of atmospheric pollution, and for the same reason our main experience of the sun was as a brighter patch in the all=pervading haze. In winter days on end, sometimes weeks, passed under a blanket of yellow, choking, sulphurous smogs, which annually killed several hundred people, visibility reduced to a matter of yards. I do not exaggerate. One evening my father, walking home from the far side of neighbouring Manchester where he worked, on account of the fact that the buses had had to stop running, found himself not on Chapel Street as he should have been, but on the towpath of the canal, having misjudged the point where he thought he was turning into Chapel Street.
The pollution, too, was all-pervasive; it was taken as a matter of fact by we children (though perhaps not strictly true) that should you have the misfortune to fall into the River Irwell with your mouth open, you would be dead before you had the opportunity to drown.
Today people are openly disbelieving if I ever tell them that as a primary school child I had to attend the Police Street Schools’ Clinic for a course of breathing lessons.
What a transformation my life has undergone between then and now!


The Sound of Silence

My wife is a member of the Anglican church down in Nerja which, last weekend, organised a quiet day at a recently opened retreat centre in the Sierra Nevada National Park. We both signed up for the visit. Indeed, we did more. Saturday was our wedding anniversary, and so we arranged to drive up on Friday afternoon and stay the night, so that we would be fresh and ready for the day on Saturday.
Hacienda Los Olivos is the first Christian arts and spirituality retreat centre in Spain, and it has set a precedent that will take some beating! Set in the mountains, 1100 metres (3,600 ft) above sea level,it imaginatively combines the traditional Andalucian with the modern; it is light, airy and peaceful. I have added a link to the website in this blog.
The whole day was rewarding, but I especially valued the two opportunities, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and each of one and a half hour's duration, to find a spot to be alone and to let your mind be open and receptive to the surroundings. I had expected to gaze in wonder at the mountains - and to a degree I did - but in fact I spent my time becoming aware of the sounds that are to be found in silence; the drone of bees collecting pollen from the almond blossom, the buzz of a passing fly, a bird calling in the distance, the occasional sound of the breeze moving the leaves, a passing car or two (you can't ever quite get rid of the twenty first century!), and found my attention on the little things around me that would normally have gone unnoticed. I was reminded of a book title; "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy.


Conjuring Up Space On A Low Cost Flight

I have just returned from a trip to the UK with my wife. Both the outward and return flights were very busy but we managed to have a spare seat on our row. One way I would have put down to luck; both ways seemed rather less so. Pondering the matter, I think I may have discovered an important strategy. Since the likelihood of you and I being on the same flight is remote, I shall share my thinking with you. You may wish to put it to the test next time you fly with a low-cost airline, and if you do, please let me know whether the strategy worked for you, too.
Right! This strategy is for low-cost airlines where passengers select their own seats on boarding and the flight is heavily booked. It will work (I hope) so long as there are at least some seats which will be unoccupied. I am afraid that it only works for two people travelling together; sorry singletons! (Families travelling with young children are boarded first, and so do not affect the strategy.
The first thing to think about is layout and passenger seat preferences. The usual, short-haul route is flown by a plane offering two sets of three seats per row, with a central aisle. My guess is that the great majority of passengers prefer either an aisle seat or a window seat. I suspect very few have a preference for a centre seat. The couple should therefore occupy the window and aisle seats, leaving the centre seat empty (It is, after all, where you would want the extra space.). If you occupy the window and centre seats, you leave an open invitation to someone to choose your aisle seat. Conversely, if you occupy the centre and aisle seats, the appeal of a window seat is sufficient to make it worthwhile for a singleton passenger to disturb you to get to it.
The next question is where on the plane to put this into operation. Passenger psychology comes to the fore again here. In my view there are three - or possibly four - groups of passengers. There are those who wish to sit at the front of the plane, ahead of the wings. There those who hanker after the extra legroom seats over the wings. And there are those who are not particularly bothered where they seat. It is possible, though I find it hard to believe, that there is a fourth group with an active preference for the rear of the plane.
What can we deduce from this? Mainly that competition for seats over or ahead of the wings is such that even a centre seat will appeal more than heading further down the plane. On the other hand, people who have reached the rear half of the plane are more likely to continue moving down the cabin as the cabin crew urge them to do, with the assurance that there are still plenty of seats at the back. Moreover, having reached the rear of the plane, very few people will actually turn round and start to look for seats further forward unless they really have to; and they will backtrack only so far as necessary to find any empty seat.
I therefore recommend to those who want to grab a bit of extra space, the five rows immediately behind the final over-wing row. If there is even only one unsold seat on the flight, that is where I reckon you can make sure it’s between yours. Oh, and one final point; before the doors are closed and everyone is seated do not give any indication that the two of you have ever met before.
Give it a try and let me know how you get on.


A Time Of Contrasts

Monday of this week was El Día de Andalucía, Andalucia Day, which was celebrated in warm sunshine with music, paella, beers and a generl air of festivity. The following day brought in Macrh and the beginning of spring proper. But whoa! Not so fast. Today, Friday, I have just been up on the roof taking photographs of the surrounding mountains - dressed in t-shirt, shirt and sweater, but still glad to get back indoors. The Med may be only 6km away, but sometimes that doesn't offer enough protection from the weather from further north!