28/12/2013

Midnight Mass

Spanish children do not rush off to bed of an evening. Thus it was that on Christmas Eve, we were treated to a nativity play when we attended La Misa del Gallo (The Cockerel’s Mass), which begins at midnight, and is so called because tradition has it that when Jesus was born the cock crowed three times. Children were milling about, dressed variously as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the kings and assorted stars and sheep. The mass began and after the gospel reading, the lights were dimmed and the enactment of the Nativity took place.It was perhaps as well that we had just had the story read out to us, since even with microphones to hand, the actors tended to mumble their lines nervously. Mary and Joseph duly arrived at the inn and were duly redirected to the stable. The sacristy served as the stable and so Mary and Joseph went in through the door. After a moment or two, a parent switched on the tape, and over the speakers came first the deafeningg sound of a cockerel giving full throat to his announcement, and then immediately afterwards, the strident bawling of a new-born babe. Seconds later, a triumphant Mary marched back into the sanctuary, the baby Jesus held aloft, and everybody clapped enthusiastically. Shepherds and kings duly came forward and paid homage. The congregation clapped a second time, in appreciation of the children’s efforts, and then the mass continued. It happens every year, but it still sends a tingle up my spine.

23/12/2013

Ah Well, Try Again Next Year.

Yesterday the Spanish National Lottery marked what for Spaniards is really the first day of Christmas, by holding El Gordo (The Fat One). This mega-lottery has been held now for 250 years on December 22nd, without interruption. Longevity is not its only claim to fame, however. It also has the distinction of being the world’s largest single draw. Sales are down quite a lot since the start of the downturn at the end of 2007, but even so the prize pot yesterday amounted to 2.2 billion euros. A ticket costs 200€, which might sound off-putting, but very few people would buy a whole ticket. They will buy a decimo ( a tenth part of a ticket at 20€) or possibly several. Those who struggle to afford a decimo will club together with friends to buy a decimo between them. One way or another, just about the entire adult population of Spain buys at least one piece of the action.Then at 9.00 am on the 22nd, everyone sits down in front of the TV to watch the draw live on RTVE1. A huge golden mesh globe has been loaded with balls representing all 100,000 possible numbers. To the left stands a smaller globe containing all of the prize balls - 2000 of them. Each globe feeds balls one at a time into a chute which deposits the ball into a bowl, and by each bowl stands a pupil of the Madrid orphanage whose historic role it is to call out, first the number, then the prize. This they do in a singy-chanty voice: “Cincuenta y dos mil, tres ciento veinte seis”:(51226), which is followed usually by the elongated call from the other child, “Miiil eeeuuuros” (1,000€). On and on it goes hypnotically, until the routine is broken as the child with the prize ball announces one of the big prizes, maybe the top prize, “Cuaatroo millones de eeeuuroos” (4,000,000€). The big prizes prompt a great flurry of theatre as the children carry the two balls across to the adjudicators and show them to each one in turn and the combination is duly verified. You may be tempted to wonder how a lottery with only 2000 winning numbers and a top prize of 4 milliin euros can be such a national obsession. You may also be tempted to wonder how that can add up to a prize fund of 2.2 billion euros. The secret is in the fact that the one hundred thousand number combinations are printed in an enormous number of series. Thus each number is sold over and over again, and the prizes are paid out to everyone holding a winning number, the prize value applying per series. Everyone, in other words, who holds a decimo of the top ticket will receive one tenth of the ticket prize, this year 4 million euros. Villages and neighbourhoods will have their favourite number which they will buy year after year in sufficient quantities to satisfy local demand. The result can be mind-blowing. Yesterday a village in the Basque Country found itself 180.000.000€ better off at the close of the draw. There’ll be some thick heads today!

20/12/2013

Windy

We’re having some wild weather right now. Yesterday, for the first time in several weeks we had some proper rain. It started in the late afternoon and continued for three or four hours. Then the wind came. We sit on top of a ridge, 330 metres above sea level, so we tend to notice the wind. Last night there was no ignoring it. Plant pots blew about the roof, chairs moved up and down the balcony and the wind hammered at the windows; Fortunately, since we had new double-glazed units fitted a couple of years ago, this is no longer any great problem. However, there was enough roaring and whistling going on to make sleep difficult. And today it’s just coming up to half past eleven and the electricity has gone off five times. All of this is quite a contrast from from Chatterton where we spent the twenty eight years prior to moving here, living down in the valley bottom. Then we could here the wind blowing high above us, but were never really affected. Of course, while all this turmoil is going on the sky is blue and the sun is shining brightly. Not a day for venturing out, however, unless you really have to.

15/12/2013

Another Year Under My Belt

Finally Christmas and the end of the year are just around the corner. It has been a non-year in many ways. Round about this time last year I was faced with a range of medical examinations, whilst simultaneously preparing to head off to New Zealand on a major holiday. One way or another the rest of the year was occupied by health matters to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, even extending to this week; having dealt with my prostate, I turned my attention to my cataracts and attended the opthalmology department of our local hospital on Thursday for a check-up. Sadly - or should that be ‘fortunately’? - it will be at least another twelve months before they even consider surgery. So right now I am looking forward to an uneventful 2014, apart from my routine check-ups and six-monthly injections, that is. Two flippant principles that I dreamed up some years ago, but to which I still subscribe, are “Every solution contains the seeds of the next problem” and “when you solve the last problem, they screw the lid down.” I’m not ready to have the lid screwed down just yet, so I suppose I must brace myself for more problems. At this season of goodwill, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, Hannukah, or whatever your winter festival may be, a healthy and fruitful 2014, and may all your problems lend themselves to easy solutions.

06/12/2013

Outstanding Moments

During the course of my life three world-changing events stand out in my mind; I was born and lived through the Second World War, but was too young for it to register. So the first event that made a lasting impression on me was the building of a high wall right across Berlin, separation the eastern zone from the rest, and creating the state of East Germany.The second was directly related to the first. Sitting in front of my television one evening I witnessed the incredible sight in live coverage of people actually climbing onto the top of that wall and attacking it with pickaxes, and not a shot was fired. The flood of East German people pouring through the breached wall was also moving, but less so than that first stark evidence that things were changing irreversibly. Why am I writing about this this morning? Because I am reminded again of the third event. The sight, again on my television screen, of a newly released nelson Mandela walking through the crowds from his prison cell to freedom. The impact of that event was only increased by the attitude which Mandela brought with him - forgiveness, reconciliation and a burning desire for a new nation where everyone would be treated equitably and with justice. That project is still short of coming to fruition, but now his successors must achieve it without his guiding presence in the background. R.I.P Nelson Mandela.

26/11/2013

Motorway Madness

One of the things I had forgotten about England is the sheer amount of traffic that you encounter, and the inevitable delays that this brings. We were up in Lancashire at the weekend for a friend’s seventieth birthday celebration. I entered our destination in my satnav and it forecast a three and a half hour journey; it took six. Of course, we stopped off for a lunchtime snack at Norton Canes on the M6 Toll, but to avoid congestion on the M25, the machine diverted us along the M4 and then up past Marlow to join the M40 near High Wycombe. Then we saw signs that the M40 was closed north of Banbury. This required us to queue for an hour whiles three lanes of traffic jostled each other down to a single lane to leave the motorway and crawl round the northern edge of Banbury,. Then it was across country on single carriageway to the M42 north of Coventry. Coming back, we had a similar time estimate and a similar experience. Bowling along happily we made good progress all the way back to the M40, then suddenly stopped. Switch the engine off and wait. Equally suddenly, half an hour later we all set off again on an apparently clear motorway - for about 10km, then everything slowed to a crawl again all the way down to Banbury where once again we oft the motorway, this time by choice and used the A roads down to Bicester to rejoin the M40 at the next junction. A lunch stop soon after, eating sandwiches in the car, then off agin to our daughter’s home where we arrives (yes) six hours after setting out. By comparison I am really looking forward to the mot

19/11/2013

An Out-Of-Season Holiday

I'm over in England just now, partly to look after our grandchildren while Mum is in South Africa on a business trip, and partly to attend a friend's seventieth birthday celebration. It also gives me the opportunity to get together with my cousin and her doughtier and grandson, with my sister-in-law and her partner, and with my brother, so it's an enjoyable time. The last time I was here was in February on our way back from New Zealand. Which leads me to ask myself, why oh why do I always seem to come to England when it's cold, often wet, and when the days are so short? The answer, basically is, circumstances. I should have been here in the summer but that turned out not to be possible. The cheapest way of travelling to New Zealand - or any other long haul destination, for that matter - is to ask Trailfinders to book everything from/to Heathrow and then we make our own arrangements for travel between Spain and the UK, usually taking extra time out to spend with family and friends. On the other hand, there are hidden advantages; I read on FB that my friends back home are having to cope with the arrival of colder weather in Andalucía. Well folks, I'm looking forward to coming home at the end of the month to warmer weather, so there.

31/10/2013

Turning Season

Didn't quite make it. We have been having such a warm, dry, sunny autumn that I was sure I could stay in shorts into November. Last night was windy, though, and chilly, and today has still been sunny and dry but much cooler. So this morning the jeans came out of the wardrobe. I'm still in sandals, however and definitely without socks! I suppose I can look on it as a kind of acclimatisation; next Thursday we fly to England. Oh dear, England in November. Dark by late afternoon. Grey and cool and probably wet. It will be a contrast. The last time that we had that kind of weather here for more than an hour or two, was way back in May. Ah we'll, all part of life's rich tapestry.

25/10/2013

And Now For The Whites

Of course, Spain doesn’t just produce red wine. There are a number of areas producing white wines, and in recent years there has been a rapid expansion in the production of rosadao (rosé) wines, using a variety of grapes. Indeed, in the summer I drink rosado in preference to red for the very simple reason that unless you chill it in the fridge, red wine is just too warm to drink, whereas rosado is designed to be drunk chilled. Let’s not get into that area though; let’s look at white wine, and let’s track our way across the peninsula from west to east. We first encounter the Rías Baixas region in Galicia. Rías are fjord-like inlets around the coast of Galicia, and give the region a climate highly suited to the production of white wines. The grape used, native to Galicia and not encountered elsewhere in Spain is the Albariño. All are extremely drinkable, some are of impressively high quality. Travelling east, we next come upon the region of Rueda, and its predominant grape, Verdejo. Rioja and Navarra also produce their fair share of white wines, using the Macabeo and Viura grapes, as well as a little Moscatel. The Basque country produces its own distinctive Xakolí, which is a bit of a Marmite. Crossing to the Mediterranean coast of the peninsula, Valencia produces sweet Moscatels, suitable for use as dessert wines, and pretty inexpensive, but the main white wine region in the north east of the peninsula lies in Cataluña, broadly between Tarragona and Barcelona. This is the home of Cava! Cava is a white sparkling wine; indeed it is the largest selling sparkling wine in the world. It is produced using the ‘método tradicional’. Since I am not offering it for sale, I am able to upset certain French producers and tell you that this is Spanish champagne. However, whereas the French predominantly use Chardonnay to make their fizz, the Catalans blend three local, traditonal grape varieties, Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. They do so to very good effect. Moreover, the cost of bottles of cava and champagne of equal quality means that you get far more bangs for your buck drinking cava - and for me, far more enjoyment, too. You can buy good cava for around 10€ a bottle (£8.50 at today’s exchange rate) and for 20€ euros and upwards you are drinking a superb wine. So that is all I have to tell you about wine in Spain, apart from this little gem. Hunting for a UK source for a particular white wine (Dry Libalis) for some friends, I came across this online wine seller, which I would recommend if you want to put any of what I’ve written recently to the test: www.vinissimus.co.uk If you do put me to the test, please let me have your thoughts.

20/10/2013

Mopping Up The Red Wine

Between La Rioja and the city of Pamplona lies the wine region of Navarra, one of the oldest in Spain. The main grapes used for red wine are Garnacha (known as Grenache in France) and of course, Tempranillo. Over recent years Navarra has suffered a low profile as other regions have forged ahead. Two wines to look out for, though, are Gran Feudo from Bodega Julian Chivite, and Irache from the bodega of the same name. As a matter of interest, the Irache bodega lies on the Camino de Santiago, the great pilgrim route that enters Spain from France at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees and crosses northern Spain to arrive finally at the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela. For the convenience of passing pilgrims Irache offers a drinking fountain in the wall of the bodega with two taps, one dispensing water, the other red wine.
The other red wine region to consider is Aragón, which divides into four sub-regions. Aragón lies at the foot of the Pyrenees between Navarra and Cataluña. It was the kingdom of Ferdinand, who married Isabel of Castille, and together they completed the Reconquest of Spain, taking Granada from the Muslim rulers on 31st December, 1492, and gaining for themselves the title of "Los Reyes Católicos" (The Catholic Monarchs).
The most northerly of the sub-regions is Somontano, east of the city of Huesca. Its proximity to France has led it to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah alongside the traditional Garnacha and Tempranillo. A Somontano red that can be recommended is Enate.
The other three sub-regions lie further to the south near the city of Zaragoza. All produce good, serviceable red wines mainly from Garnacha, though with some Tempranillo. Old vines Garnacha can result in some very good everyday, quaffing wines. Campo de Borja, west of Zaragoza has Coto de Hayas. Incidentally the Borjas were known in Italy as the Borgias. Calatayud, to the south of Zaragoza has no outstanding wines to offer, but if you see Calatayud on the label and the price is reasonable, give it a try and see what you think. Finally, Cariñena is a bit of a contradiction. It is the name, not only of the sub-region, but also of its indigenous grape - which it virtually ignores preferring Garnacha. The wines are mainly Joven, but a label to look out for is Corona de Aragón.
And that really is about it so far as Spanish reds are concerned, except to say that surprisingly, given the climate, my own communidad of Andalucía has begun to produce quite decent red wines. From the Province of Cádiz there is Barbazul, a powerful 15% abv!In Granada Province, Bodegas Señorio Nazarí offer Delirio and Muñana Roja, and Málaga Province, too, has its offering. However, all of these are small producers and you are unlikely yet to find any of them outside Spain. Still that's a good excuse to come visit.

19/10/2013

¡Toro!

Heading west again from Ribera del Duero, and following the river we come to one of my favourite red wine regions, Toro. The region is situated a mere 40km from the Portuguese border but produces typically Castillian wines;it lies within the boundaries of the historic Old Castille. I can do no better than quote the opinion of John Radford in his book, "The New Spain, a complete guide to contemporary Spanish wine." (Mitchell Beazley, 2004, London): "Characterised by their powerful alcoholic strength, and bright, upfront fruit, these are perhaps the most authentic examples of the wines of Old Castille that are still being made today". The wines are made with 100% Tempranillo (here called Tinta de Toro) and must achieve a minimum of 12.5% alcohol by volume, but frequently reach 15%. Toro first came to prominence through the work of Manuel Fariña and Bodegas Fariña, who produce Colegiata, and Gran Colegiata. Always on my rack, though, are a few bottles of MATSU: El Picaro, a Joven with 14.5% abv. Right now I'm looking forward to a week on Monday when Vintae, the group which owns the brand, are putting on a tasting at my new wine supplier, Vinomar in Torre del Mar. I shall enjoy tasting the other wines in the MATSU range and discussing them with the makers. A distinctive feature of MATSU wines is that they are produced organically and using traditional methods of vinification. If you want to know more, this is their English-language website. http://www.bodegasmatsu.com/en/

16/10/2013

Ribera Del Duero

The second of Spain’s ‘big’ rivers is the Duero, known when it enters Portugal as the Douro, the river which provides us with Port. From San Esteban de Gormaz in the east to Valbuena de Duero in the west, on both banks of the river, is the region of Ribera del Duero. It produces splendid red wines, historically from 100% Tempranillo, but now including cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend. The soil is very similar to that of the Port region, sharing the same basin, and so it produces wines of very good quality. The vines are grown at altitudes between 750 metres and 800 metres. The season is short, and although daytime temperatures can exceed 40º, the risk of frost is the major threat. The advantage of these difficult growing conditions is that you don’t have people piling in to produce lower quality wines; it wouldn’t pay them. It does mean though that you are unlikely to find a cheap bottle of Ribera. The same categories (Joven, etc) are used as in Rioja, but the majority of production is Joven, and Gran Reservas are very rare indeed. Which brings us inevitably to D. Eloy Lacanda Chaves. This gentleman was a landowner at Valbuena who went to France in the middle of the nineteenth century to study winemaking. Impressed by what he learned in Bordeaux, he lavished the same care and attention on the Tempranillo grape and produced what to this day is Spain’s most prestigious and most expensive wine, a large proportion of which goes straight to the cellars of King Juan Carlos. The wine is Vega Sicilia. It is produced in two versions. Único, its first wine, and Valbuena, its second. I just checked the internet. A bottle of Vega Sicilia Único will cost you around 200€, more in a good year. Valbuena retails at around 90€ a bottle. If you can’t run to those kinds of prices, look out for wines produced by Tintas Pesquera, Arzuaga, Pago de Carraovejas, Protos, Tarsus, or Señorio de Nava, though in truth it’s hard to go wrong if the label says Ribera del Duero.

10/10/2013

Rioja

Rioja is probably the best know wine region in Spain and is to be found on all supermarket and off-licence shelves.There is some very good Rioja and there is a lot of very mediocre Rioja. The Rioja region which is centred on the city of Logroño, straddles the River Ebro, one of Spain’s major rivers, is divided into three sub-regions; Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. The first two are where the best wines are produced, and they lie to the south of the river. Alavesa is on the north side of the Ebro and tends to use 100% Tempranillo grapes producing wines for drinking young. In recent years the wine has suffered a similar fate to Bordeaux in France and the German riesling wines produced around the towns of Piesport and Nierstein; the name became so popular that growers bought up as much land as possible in the areas that could claim the name for their wines, whether it was good wine growing land or not, and then planted vines from which only very ordinary wine could ever be produced, and so the name Rioja could no longer be relied upon to guarantee a minimum quality. There are other wine regions today that are producing wines to equal the good wines of Rioja, and usually at a lower price. I will deal with these regions in future posts, but first a word or two about the quality classification of Spanish wines, and about the main grapes used. Traditionally classification has been into Vino de Mesa (Table wine), Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, but more recently you will find the terms ‘Joven’ and ‘Roble’ being used as well. Today wine is mainly fermented in stainless steel tanks under climate controlled conditions, although the more prstigious producers in Rioja still ferment in oak. ‘Joven’ (young) indicates wine produced in one year and sold the next. It usually goes striaght from the tank to the bottle and is meant for drinking young. ‘Roble’ (oak) is similar wine but has had a short time, probably no more than three months in oak barrels before being bottled. Like Joven it is meant to be drunk young. ‘Crianza’ (nurturing) must be aged for a minimum of 24 months after fermentation, with at least six months spent in oak casks. It is the first level of quality wines. ‘Reserva’, the next one up, has to be aged for a minimum of 36 months, with a minimum of 12 months in oak, and ‘Gran Reserva’ are produced only from the finest vintages and must spend five years in the cellars with at least 18 months in oak. Of course, the higher the quality, the higher the price, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the young wines. My only advice would be to discount any Rioja which does not have at least ‘Joven’ or ‘Roble’ on the label. Next, a word about the grapes. As I mentioned earlier, Alavesa producers tend to use only Tempranillo, those of Rioja Alta use mainly Tempranillo with the addition of sma ll quantitiesof Mazuelo and Graciano, whilst in Rioja Baja uses mainly Garnacha (known in France as Grenache). Imported grape varieties are not used in Rioja. Finally, who are the top bodegas? When you look at the back label, the town to look for is Haro. In addition you will not go far wrong with CVNE, Marques de Griñon, El Coto, Faustino, LAN, Muga, or Marques de Cáceres. There are others of course, but that’s a fair selection to start with.

05/10/2013

Use It Or Lose It

Up until a couple of years ago we had the good fortune to have an independent wine merchant in the village. Vinos Don Juan, which was located in a tiny shop at the foot of calle Zacatín, the most photographed street in Frigiliana, was owned and run by an Englishman, John Harwood, who had an amazing knowledge of the small producers across Spain. He was so good at his chosen profession that in the early 2000s he was described in one of Spain’s foodie magazines as “probably the best independent wine merchant south of Madrid”. Sadly, the shop is no more. There were a number of reasons why it closed, including no doubt some that I don’t know of, but two stand out as foremost in my mind, and together they combined to ensure that I and others did not buy more from John than we did. From a simple, location point of view the shop was hard to access with a car. OK for the odd bottle or two to carry home in a bag, but if you preferred to buy in larger quantities then two trips were necessary, the first to select and pay, and then a second visit when you stopped the car at the bottom of the street, switched on the hazard lights and went and collected your purchases. This wasn’t a real problem because everyone who lives in Frigiliana knows that if you drive through the old village you are likely to be held up in this way two or three times before you get to your destination. The second reason was that the local supermarkets all carry a pretty good range of wines from bigger producers sold at highly competitive prices. Put the two together and it was just so much easier to buy most of your wine during your regular supermarket shopping trip, and just pick up the occasional bottle of good stuff for a special occasion from John. So of course, now he has gone. Fortunately I have found a similar shop down the road in Torre del Mar. The difference is that it sits on a wide street and you can park virtually outside the door. That is all the encouragement I need. I no longer look at what’s on the shelves at Eroski. I make a special journey to Vinomar where I can find all kinds of obscure wines at good prices and excellent quality. When I first used to come to Spain, the country was famous for its plonk. Bulk wine at silly prices that was OK as long as you used it to wash down highly flavoured food. Spain has come on by leaps and bounds since then and now produces some very, very good wines indeed. But if I write ‘Spanish red’, you will probably say, “Oh yes, Rioja.” I think maybe I should write a few posts about the alternatives.

23/09/2013

A Few Days In Sanlúcar de Barrameda


Tonight (18.09.13)I am in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a city at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, staying in the Hotel Los Helechos in Plaza Madre de Dios. We went into the leisure centre of the town and, after a couple of false starts, found our way onto the broad paseo which leads down to the river. We stopped twice, once for a glass of wine (me red, Mary white) and a tapa of stewed red peppers with canned mackerel, and once just for two glasses of wine; we would have had tapas but the kitchen had closed. We then walked back up into town where we had the good fortune to chance on the Bar Casa Balbino, with an unbelievable range of mainly seafood dishes. I ordered cangrejo (spider crab) for us to share and a couple of glasses of manzanilla, the signature wine of the city. We followed this up with stuffed mussels before heading back to our hotel for a nightcap cup of coffee. I like this city!

19.09.13 This morning, a typically Spanish breakfast; freshly squeezed orange juice, pan con tomate, and cafe americano. Afterwards, we walked first to the Tourist Office on Calzada Duquesa Isabel, picked up a town map (which is how I know the name of the boulevard) and then carried on down to the shore and along the paseo until we reached La Fábrica de Hielo, which houses an exhibition centre and the office where we booked a Doñana trip on Saturday afternoon. Stopped for refreshment on the way back, and then on into the shopping area where we looked much but bought nothing, and so got to lunchtime. Lunch was taken at Bar El Cura; tapas of shrimp omelette for Mary and monkfish albondigas for me. Lazed away the afternoon in our hotel room (technical term, siesta).
This evening we looked in on the shop at Bodega La Gitana. Some interesting sherries, but we were on our way out for an evening 'tapeando', so will return tomorrow.

20.09.13 Caught the bus to Puerto Real de Santa María about half an hour away. Not the most successful of days. First of all, the shop at La Gitana doesn't open until 10.30, so we continued on down to the bus station to catch the 10.15 bus, except the timetable has changed at some stage, so it is now the 11.15 bus. The bus station in Puerto Real is by the bull ring, so we had a quick look round that and then set off for the river. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong road, so we walked for ever before finally arriving at the wrong part of the river. Walked along the road parallel to the river for quite some time until we found a bus stop with a town plan from which we could see the road we should have come down. Instead we walked up it back to the bull ring - about ten minutes! - and had a beer and a montadito in a nearby bar and then caught the bus back to Sanlúcar.
The evening was more successful; bought six bottles from La Gitana and took them back to the hotel before setting out (later than the two previous evenings) for a round of tapas. We now discovered that bars which we had thought were closing early, were actually not opening until later. It was a typical Friday evening in a Spanish city - crowds everywhere, all ages including babies in pushchairs, and a general buzz of chatter around crowded tables outdoors with waiters whizzing around with plates and glasses.

21.09.13 Disappointing day so far (4.30pm). After a leisurely catch up on emails, FB, and the online edition of The Independent, we strolled across the road to the bodega virtually next door to the hotel for their 12 noon guided tour in English, to be told by a lady with very little English, that she was there on her own and their would not be a tour today - on Monday for sure will be visit. On Monday for sure we will get in our car to begin the journey back to Frigiliana. So we went to have a look around the church opposite which is not a parish church but part of a convent for a closed order of nuns, so no joy there either. Up a steep hill past the market to find another locked church and some gardens which can be visited by prior appointment (book at the town hall). The ducal palace of Medina Sidonia wasn't open either, but we did manage to get a coffee at the Castle of Santiago, where they were busy setting up for a wedding later in the day. You can buy tickets to go round the castle, but the ticket office was closed because the person who should have been manning it was taking people on a guided tour; it would open again when said person got back, but no indication when that might be.
So we set off down the hill again and across town to the river where we got a light lunch while waiting to head for the ferry at 14.45 to take us across to the other bank where landrovers were waiting to take us on a 60km, 3hr tour of the various ecosystems of the Doñana Natural Park, a World Heritage Site. And that is where my wife is as I write this. Me? I'm back at the hotel. You will recall I had a little trouble recently from which I was delighted to have made a speedy and complete recovery. Not quite so, it turns out, and my bowels chose today to wobble. As it happens I'm fine. They have settled down again, but waiting to get on the ferry I could not be confident, so bowed out rather than bounce across rough country worried about possible embarrassments. Ah well, we'll have to see what this evening brings. 
Well, it turns out that I was needlessly apprehensive. Mary, on her return, had mixed feelings about her afternoon. The topography was impressive, but the wild life tended to be some distance away, and the commentary was totally in Spanish - not surprising I suppose given that she was the only non-Spaniard. At the far end of the park, towards Huelva, is the town of Matalascañas (literally, kill the sugar canes) which some friends of ours rate highly. It is on the beach as well, so we may take a trip there next time.
This evening we sat outside Bar Doñana, ate some patas aliñas con melva (potato salad with canned mackerel) and sipped our way through a couple of glasses of wine whilst people-watching. Then round the corner to Puerta de la Victoria for a nightcap and another tapa - avocado and prawns for Mary, well-aged goats' cheese for me.

22.09.13 Having a lazy start to the day right now (11.15) sitting outside our room up on the roof terrace. At some stage we will venture out to find coffee, but otherwise we have nothing planned for the day.
Midday and we went out for coffee. Today is hot. It has been hot the whole time that we have been here with daytime temperatures back up in the low thirties, which makes me wonder what is the Spanish for an Indian summer. Anyway, as I say it's hot today, so after a leisurely coffee in the shade we went in search of a bench in shade to sit and watch the comings and goings. Then, when that palled, strolled on the shady side of the street until we found a suitable bar for a light lunch. A likely candidate offered a special of arroz campero (country rice), but not until two o'clock. So we sat and had a beer and a pincho - Mary's of pork, mine black pudding - while waiting for the rice, with which we had another small beer each. The bill presented us with yet another demonstration of why you can live so comfortably out here on a pension. The total cost of lunch came to 15.90€, the equivalent of £13.30.
On a hot day like today there is only one thing that can follow lunch - a siesta. So that was the afternoon taken care of.
This evening was another matter. In the Plaza La Cabilda is the bar, Casa Balbino, an absolutely amazing seafood tapas bar. It works on a self-service basis; go, look, decide, request, take back to your table. Tonight I did three trips, each time one glass of white wine and one of red. Trip one, bouquerones en vinagre (anchovies in vinegar) and red peppers stuffed with tuna, potato and mayonnaise. Trip two, tuna salad and stuffed mussels. Trip three, spider crab. Total cost, 37€. Then stopped off for coffee and an ice cream on the way back to the hotel. Another perfect night.

14/09/2013

An Interest For The Winter

n Interest For Thw
I saw on Facebook last weekend that the Frigiliana Camera Club were having their first meeting after the summer on Wednesday. As I know one of the people involved and as my camera seems to spend too much time lying in a corner doing nothing, I decided it would be a good idea to go along, which I did. I met a really nice group of people and signed up, so now I can look forward to a 'clubhouse' session once a month getting to grips with the technical side of things, and a location session once a month to put what I learn into practice. Following the meeting we were given a theme for the current week; people. I'll be honest, I've not been out and about but I've dug into my file for suitable photos to post to the FB page. I'm looking forward to getting creative again.

02/09/2013

La Gota Fría

There is a meteorological phenomenon down here in southern Spain which signals the end of the summer heat. It usually occurs in September. What happens is that warm, humid air from the Mediterranean, rolling ashore and then rising to flow over the mountains just back from the coast, meets a mass of colder, dry air coming south. This sets off some spectacular thunder storms and heavy downpours, more like cloud bursts than showers, which in turn give rise to flash flooding, and immediately the daytime temperatures fall from the mid-thirties down to the mid-twenties. The phenomenon even has a name, "La Gota Fría" or the cold drop. This year it arrived a little early during the last week in August, but here in the Axarquía we had a bit of luck. The two air masses met on the other side of the sierras, triggering flooding in Antequera, Granada and then Almeria on the coast east of here, but we had no rain at all to speak of, just a couple of nighttime showers. However, we still got the lower temperatures, so we're happy on both counts.

30/08/2013

Arrived At Destination

Well, at last I have had my final treatment, so now I can start getting my diet and my life back to normal. Henceforth it's a matter of six-monthly checkups and hormone injections. Thanks for your support and prayers. I'll get back to the usual content from now on.

28/08/2013

Will It Ever End?

Sometimes I doubt it. I began radiotherapy treatment on 3rd July, 38 sessions, delivered Monday to Friday each week, and so the last treatment would be 23rd August. Except, three weeks in and on the Friday as I left, I was told that my next session would be the following Wednesday, as the machine was being serviced. So that took me into the following week (this one) and a new end date of 27th August. Except, a national holiday came up and the department was closed for the day. OK, 28th August. Went in the following day and the machine had broken down. Last treatment 29th, then. No. This morning I got a phone call from the hospital to say I can't have a treatment today, come in the usual time tomorrow, and then (really?) final treatment on Friday. I'll let you know, but don't be surprised if......

24/08/2013

Frigiliana Is Bouncing.

For those who would like a flavour of what’s happening, here’s a link to a YouTube site that gives a round up of yesterday’s activities: Today we are into the third day of the Three Cultures Festival and it feels even better than ever. People are streaming into the village all day, through the evening and on into the night. Extra car parking has been organised including a park and ride facility which swings into action when all the spaces closer to the village have been filled. Even so, when I got back from the hospital at five o’clock yesterday, I couldn’t find anywhere to park closer than half a kilometre from home. Now, however, I can leave the car there until I need it again on Monday, by which time everything will be over and life will be returning rapidly to normal - or what passes for normal in an Andalucian village. For those who would like a flavour of what’s happening, here’s a link to a YouTube site that gives a round up of yesterday’s activities: http://youtu.be/4R1nZIStDow

10/08/2013

A Week Of Wilting In The Heat

Another week rolls by with very little really to report. We are well into August, and with it the temperatures are now really climbing. Yesterday in Málaga the temperature was 36 degrees at four o’clock - and that, of course, is the shade temperature. Here in Frigiliana it’s not quite so hot, but it still managed to get to 32 degrees, which coincidentally was the overnight temperature in my living room, as the aircon unit is playing up. Fortunately, the unit in the bedroom is working as it should, and so I can sleep in a comfortable 23 degrees; a temperature that, it occurs to me, I would have found oppressive for sleeping when I lived in the UK. At the beginning of the week we had quite a lively thunderstorm during the night. Lots of thunder and lightning but only a handful of fat blobs of rain. At this time of year that usually means only one thing, and sure enough the local newspaper the following day reported that a lightning strike had set of a fire in the mountains behind us that burned off three thousand square metres of scrub, before the helicopter crews finally extinguished it. That was only the second fire of the season; let’s just hope that it’s the last.

30/07/2013

On Reaching A Milestone

As planned, last week I drove to and from the hospital each day, and what a difference it made. My appointment time is 3.30pm, right at the hottest part of the day, and that as much as anything else was contributing to the amount of energy drained away, waiting for buses out in the sun, walking from one bus stop to another and from the bus stop to the hospital, all made for a tiring time. By contrast, the car journey starts a couple of minutes from my home and ends a similar distance from the main entrance to the hospital. There is an underground car park, so that the car stays reasonably cool while parked, and the bulk of the time there and back is with the benefit of air conditioning. Friday came, and I still felt fresh and full of energy. Yesterday, I reached a significant milestone; I had my 19th session of radiotherapy from a total of 38, so today I am on the home run. The finishing tape is still four weeks away, but it feels really goos to have half of my treatment behind me. The waiting areahas become quite a socila club, with the same faces in evidence every day, especially Miguel, José and the two Juans along with their wives. I have now been accepted into the circle and am included in the conversations, even though I may not understand all of it. But, oh what a laugh we had yesterday. We each have a small treatment card which we post through the door into the treatment area when we arrive, so that the radiotherapists know who is outside and can call people in in the order that they wish. Yesterday, one of the therapists stepped into the waiting area, held up a card which to my embarrassment, I immeditaley recognised and politely enquired whom it belonged to. To my shame I had to hold up my hand; busily chatting as I approached the letter box, I had calmly dropped my car park ticket through the door.

19/07/2013

Always Check Out Your Assumptions.

I chose to travel to and from the hospital in Málaga by public transport, not because I love buses per se, but because it is clearly so much cheaper than driving; or so I thought. Wednesday, I was going by car anyway and I switched on my satnav, as much to recharge the battery as anything. However, as I had entered the details into its system of the urban and rural fuel consumption as declared in my car’s owners’ manual, and the current price of diesel down here, the machine quietly monitored the distance travelled and worked out the round trip journey cost. It was an eye-opener. Firstly, the actual distance is slightly less than I had allowed for, but more importantly, I use a lot less fuel than I imagined. The result? It cost me 9.60€ in fuel and 2.30€ for the car park, so let’s call it 12€ in total. By bus, as I also have to get a snack in Málaga, it sets me back about 14.50€, and indeed, 4 or 5 euros more if I have to get a taxi back down to the bus station to be sure of making it in time to catch the 5 o’clock bus. So armed with that information, I have switched my strategy; henceforth, I shall drive to the hospital except when I can’t be bothered to do so. Only then will I go to the expense of the bus. Not only will I save money, I save time too. Public transport soaks up seven and a half hours of my day. Driving takes only three hours including the time at the hospital.

14/07/2013

Weekends Rediscovered.

For the first time in perhaps fifteen years the weekend has become something that I can positively enjoy. The reason is simple; my weekday life revolves almost entirely around my radiotherapy. From Monday to Friday each week I have an appointment at half past three at the University Hospital in Málaga. This involves a round trip of 130 kilometres, which even with a diesel car amounts to an awful lot of fuel, so I am happy that the timing of the appointment allows me to travel in and out by bus. However, the timetables of buses from here to Nerja and from Nerja to Málaga make for a long day. Leaving the house at 11.20, I catch the 11.30 bus to Nerja. This enables me to take the 12.10 bus from Nerja, arriving in Málaga at 1.30 with time for a spot of lunch before heading on up to the hospital. Treatment, when called through, takes no more than five or six minutes, and then it’s back down to the city centre, on to Nerja, up to the village and home towards seven o’clock. The hospital itself is becoming a kind of club, as the same people are in the waiting area every day, and so we greet each other cheerily as we arrive and wave a friendly “Hasta mañana!” to everyone on the way out. In between times, I am privileged to have a crash course in listening to and learning to understand spoken Andalucian Spanish as people discuss their symptoms, treatments and a whole host of other things. Given that I have been taught Spanish as spoken in Madrid, and that the variant spoken here in the village is almost totally incomprehensible, this is an extremely useful learning environment. And, as people assured me would be the case, now that it has begun treatment is proceeding apace; already 20% is behind me.

02/07/2013

I've Had Better Weeks.

Back in February coming back from NZ, we arrived in Hong Kong after a ten hour flight from Auckland, facing a four hour layover before the thirteen hour onward flight to London. We settled into the Cathay Pacific lounge and as boarding time drew near started checking the departures screen. Up came our flight, due to board in 45 minutes. Then at 40 minutes it changed; departure now from a different gate and delayed by 90 minutes. It was like getting kicked in the stomach. We just wanted to get on board and settle down to try and sleep.
I had a similar feeling here last week. Three weeks ago I had the final scan needed to plan the detail of my treatment, and was told I would be called within a couple of weeks. As last week unrolled it became increasingly clear that the phone call was not coming as quickly as I expected. By the weekend I felt really down - harto, as we say in Spanish. This has been with me since last November, and I just want the radiotherapy behind me so that I can get on with my life.
Today the call came. I report tomorrow evening at eight o'clock to start the treatment. I go back every day, Monday to Friday, for the next seven and a half weeks - a total of 38 doses. Hopefully, I'll find the time to keep up to speed with this blog. If not, I apologize now, and I'll see you at the end of August!

28/06/2013

A Pot Of Spanish Sunshine For Your Kitchen

The first Spanish cookery book that I ever owned was one I had first come across in the kitchen of Judy Auld, the friend who also introduced me to Frigiliana The book was “The Foods And Wines Of Spain” by Penelope Casas. Neither Judy nor her husband, Pat are still with us, but in no small part it is to them that I owe my present life. To remind me of them, I still have my much used copy of Penelope Casas’s book. Recently, I turned to it for a recipe that I used a lot when still living in England, and I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would share it with you. Say “Spanish sausage” and the word, “chorizo” immediately springs to mind. This version is the raw chorizo used in cooking. In England I used to buy casings from my local butcher, but it struck me that since the casing is so often stripped off before adding the chorizo to whatever dish, we needn’t get too worried about producing a skinless form. Not only that, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks in a container with a suitably snug-fitting lid; it can even be frozen. So this is what you need; 500gm pork mince 2 tsp coarse sea salt 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 2tbs smoked, mild Spanish paprika (I prefer La Chinata, widely available in the UK) 1tsp smoked ‘picante’ Spanish paprika, or to taste. 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 tsp ground coriander 1/2 tsp sugar 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed 3tbs red wine A pair of disposable rubber gloves also comes in handy. Put everything into a large bowl and mix thoroughly together, squishing it through your fingers until you have a smooth, homogenous ball of meat. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour. Then, transfer to a clean, plastic box with a tight-fitting lid and keep in the fridge until needed. Alternatively, you could pack it in smaller quantities and store in the freezer, removing what ou need, as and when. I've used it as sausage, as meatballs and as a filling for empanadas; there must be many other uses. I hopw you enjoy it as much as I do.

25/06/2013

Bonfires And Barbecues

It was quiet in the village yesterday. Those who didn’t have to go off to work were taking things gently having been up most if not all of the night before. Another fiesta, that of St John the Baptist. There are only two people whose birth is celebrated in the Christian calendar; Jesus, on 25th December, and St John the Baptist on 24th June. Of course, there is no historical evidence to validate either of these dates, and it may seem strange that they fall almost exactly six months apart. The Catholic Church has always been particularly adept at commandeering suitable pagan celebrations and recasting them to suit its own purposes in bringing people into the circle of the faithful. Two of the biggest pagan festivals occurred on the solstices (roughly 21st December and 21st June) and lo and behold we have birthdays to celebrate at each of these points. The Feast of St John (who, incidentally is the patron saint of Cataluña0 begins on the evening before. Depending on where you live, the tradition is to gather on the beach, at the lakeside or on the river bank. There you build and light your bonfire - or your barbecue, if you prefer, and party your way through to midnight, at which moment it is considered enormous good luck to dip at least a toe into the water as the Feast of the Saint arrives; the more adventurous (or perhaps those in greater need of luck) plunge fully clothed into the water, swimming and splashing about. Another source of good fortune, but one mainly confined to the young, is to leap over the bonfire, which again has a pagan ring about it to me.

21/06/2013

In Praise Of El Tangay

The very first restaurant that we ate at in Frigiliana, a few months short of thirty years ago, was El Tangay. To this day I do not know what a tangay is, but no matter. It was a family run restaurant in the new part of the village, and there was no written menu. Instead, the proprietor stood at your table, pad and pencil in hand and listed (in Spanish and English, for example: “sopa, soup”) what was on offer; it never varied either in variety or in quality, and arrived at the table in the kind of quantities that you would have needed to fuel up for a day out in the campo working on your terraces. There were very few places to eat in the village in those days, and they all tended to offer a couple of meat dishes, one of fish, some shellfish - all cooked with lots of oil and an abundance of garlic, a large platter of salad and a pile of chips. Oh, and there was also usually chorizo and tortilla, the famous Spanish omelette made with potatoes. May I just digress at this point to say that the pronunciation of ‘z’ as ‘ts’ is a feature of German and Italian, but not of Spanish. The Spanish ‘z’ is pronounced ‘th’ as in ‘thirst’. By the same token, the Spanish ‘ch’ is pronounced like the English ‘ch’ and not like the throat-clearing German ‘ch’ nor the Italian ‘ck’. So the combination which grates on my ear whenever I hear it, ‘choritso’ could not exist in any of the three languages; being a Spanish word for a Spanish variety of sausage, it is correctly pronounced ‘choritho’. There, that’s got that off my chest. There have been many changes in Frigiliana over the past thirty years, not least in the variety of cuisines that we can now experience in the village. We have a Polish restaurant, an Italian pizzeria, and a German run one and a not very successful Indian. We have what might be called ‘modern Mediterranean, and a Middle East-leaning restaurant, and we have restaurants offering the kind of fare that you would encounter in a modern British restaurant, as well as those offering menus on the ‘pub grub’ to ‘gastro pub’ spectrum. And, of course, you have a selection of Spanish restaurants. But the Spanish restaurants have by and large modified what they offer to suit the palates of the expat, the visitor and the tourist. Not so El Tangay. The proprietor is long gone to his rest, and the restaurant is run by the generation below him. But the menu is the same, apart from one or two additional dishes. You may now have your albondigas with an almond sauce or with the traditional, tomato sauce. The choto, previously only cooked al ajillo, is now also offered with an almond sauce. But these and other additions to the menu have the same pedigree as the other items that have always been served; they are the food that the people of Frigiliana and the surrounding countryside have eaten in their own homes as everyday food for decades, if not centuries. The soup that we had on that very first visit is an excellent example. A huge, steaming tureen of chicken stock filled with equal proportions of white cabbage and chickpeas, together with bits of chicken, ham and black pudding, onions and a little yellow food colouring to give it a golden hue. We had that soup again two weeks ago when twenty one of us gathered there for a meal. Indeed, I’m convinced that - thirty years apart or not - it is the same soup. I don’t believe that the cauldron in the kitchen is ever empty at the end of the night, and so I have a picture of the first person into the kitchen in a morning going to the cauldron, replenishing it and putting it on to simmer ready for the day. We also had a selection of the main course dishes brought to the table for sharing out, salad, and chips, all of which were constantly replenished until eventually the organiser of the evening had to stagger into the kitchen and surrender on behalf of all of use. And still all that cost only 15€ per head. If you come to the village, you must put El Tangay on your ‘must do’ list, only be aware that it is Spanish in its hours as well; you will not get lunch before two o’clock, nor dinner before nine. But it’s worth working up the appetite for.

11/06/2013

The Fair Is Coming To Town

Tomorrow evening will see the start of feria, the annual fair to mark the feast of San Antonio de Padua, patron saint of the village. Already the bunting is festooning the streets, the engineers have strung untold metres of electricity cable around the Plaza for the use of rides and stalls, and the the various fairground rides are being assembled. One of these rides, the dodgems, always fills me with alarm; a vast array of timber props are placed across the area, each independent of the others, varying in height to take account of the slight slope of the ground, and then the bed of the track is placed on top, its weight being considered sufficient to hold everything in place, and then finally the superstructure is added. I see the cars whizzing about and cannot help thinking of the Heath Robinson structure that supports everything. Every ride, of course, has its music which must be played sufficiently loudly to drown out the music from the other rides, and each includes a monotonous, unvarying bass beat which penetrates everything, including our own double glazed windows - we live within about 200 metres of the fairground site, and the uninterrupted view that we enjoy across the village works in reverse this week to provide an unimpeded flow of incessant, insistent music. At midnight - or thereabouts - the fairground closes for the night and the music falls silent, to be replaced shortly by the equally loud, insistent and monotonous tones of the disco, where the youth of the village dances the night away until around six in the morning. On Thursday, the feast day, there will be a romería when horses will appear from everywhere around, groomed to within an inch of their lives by their proud owners who themselves are dressed in their finery; for the men, traditional striped riding trousers, frilly white shirts, bandanas and the traditional black, stiff felt hat; the women in their fiesta frocks, which non-Spaniards tend to associate with flamenco dancers. They go in procession around the village behind the effigy of the saint, borne on an ox cart, and then head for the picnic area down by the river to spend the rest of the day partying. This year, however, to much consternation, one thing will be missing - no bull run. It has been the tradition, though for how many years I cannot say, that on the Sunday of feria bulls are released at eight o’clock in the morning to run the length of Calle Real, the main street of the old village, preceded by the young (and not-so-young) men, who display their courage by challenging the bulls. This is a common feature of local ferias and I’m sure the owner of the bulls makes a good living from hiring them out, but not this year in this village; the budget will not stretch to bulls in these harsh economic times. This I view with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is always sad to see a tradition lost, and if there is no bull run this year, will there be one next year? Or the following year? On the other hand, ‘bull run’ is something of a misnomer. One is tempted to think of Pamplona and San Fermín, where each morning of the fiesta the bulls for that day’s corrida are released from the stockyard and channelled through the streets to the bull ring. Made famous by Hemingway, this daily routine had turned into a major event with thousands of people placing themselves in the streets on the wrong side of the barricades to test their courage as half a dozen 500kg bulls, and their accompanying herd of bullocks thunder towards the bullring. The half dozen ‘bulls’ of Frigiliana couldn’t muster 500kg between them, and are infinitely more scared of the young men of the village than the latter are of them. Added to which, whereas in Pamplona the streets along the route are generously sanded, Frigiliana’s beasts must run on polished cobbles; the greatest danger anyone faces when confronting these animals, is that the beast will lose its footing and slide into them. Most of me thinks this tradition is one we could well let go of.

28/05/2013

What's In A name?

The village church was packed to bursting on Sunday. The occasion was Las Comuniones, the first communion for around a dozen boys and girls, who have been preparing for this day for the past twelve months at least. And so they presented themselves, the little girls in their brand new (and even in these harsh economic times), expensive dresses, the little boys in their naval officers’ uniforms, complete with lashings of gold braid. I have not yet been able to establish why it should be, but the naval uniform appears to be de rigueur for boys making their first communion. And of course, with them not just mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, but also grandmas and grandads, aunts and uncles, cousins and close family friends, each and every one in their finery. This being Spain, the mass proceeded to the accompaniment of an underlying hubbub of chatter as people caught up with news of what had happened since last they met, how wonderful the children looked, how much it reminded people of their own first communion, and doubtless a host of other topics, until the priest had to ask for silence and respect, at which point the church fell quiet for a couple of minutes until the chat started all over again. I’ve written previously of the importance of nicknames (apodos) in the village in view of the focus on the names of Frigiliana’s patron saints and virgin, indeed with the preference for different manifestations of the Virgin Mary (Nuestra Señora de la:) Concepción, Purificación, Encarnación, Anunciación, Asunción, Rosario, Pilar, Carmen, Victoria etc, popular saints - José, Francisco, Pablo, Felipe, Juan, Santiago, Marco and the like, or other biblical figures; Miguel Ángel, Gabriel, Moisés and the like. Things are changing though. On Sunday, not a single one of these names featured in the roll call of new full members of the church. Instead we had names like, Gema, Vanesa, Laura, Lucrecia, Ricardo, Roberto, Damian. It reminds me of the remark made many years ago by a friend who was a social worker with the elderly; “I shall know that the time has come to retire when I find a Wayne and a Tracy in my caseload.

24/05/2013

A Very Quick Update

I was at the hospital this morning for the results of my CAT scan. It came back normal apart from the prostate tumour that set all this off in the first place. So now a request has gone in for radiotherapy dates.

23/05/2013

Insight or Revelation?

Two of my many passions are politics and food. They don’t usually collide but last week they did when the EU decided in its wisdom that henceforth the olive oil which routinely appears on Spanish bar tables (along with its invariable companions, vinegar, salt and pepper), would have to be served in single-trip, tamper-proof bottles. That was to be the subject of this posting, but whilst I was slowly counting to ten and allowing the impending rant to mellow to a reasoned argument, someone in Brussels saw how stupid this was and rescinded the directive. So, what to write about instead? Well as regular readers know, I am awaiting treatment for a tumour on my prostate. Being a churchgoing Christian - or “a happy Catholic” as I tell Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to the door - and having been greatly heartened by the election of a Jesuit to be Pope, and moved and encouraged by the number of people who have come forward to tell me that they are praying for me, my faith has been more cenral to my life these past few months than it probably otherwise would have been. This morning one of my favourite modern hymns popped into my head; “Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here....” I’ve sung it a lot in church over the years, and so I’ve always taken “here” to refer to the church I’m singing it in. But this morning, the thought that also came into my mind was that the words apply wherever you are - at home, as I was; in the car, as I was later; in the waiting room and consulting room at the hospital, as I shall be tomorrow; in the radiotherapy room, which is likely to be my next destination. That’s a pretty big thought. I shall have to ponder it carefully. If you don’t believe in God, I hope you don’t find these thoughts uncomfortable. Console yourself with this: God believes in you.

11/05/2013

A Busy Week

The Tourism department at the Town Hall has a website, which contains a wealth of information about the village and what it has to offer the visitor, culturally and historically. Unfortunately, it has only been available in Spanish, but recently a German lady resident in Frigiliana has been preparing a German language text, and I have been toiling away on an English version. I emailed the final section to the town hall on Friday afternoon. I had a sense of satisfaction that I had (I believe) been able to do justice to the task, but also a sense of relief that a twenty thousand word opus had been completed. What will I do with my time now? Well, for a start, I can hopefully get back to working on Islamic geometric designs, a topic which was given a boost by my recent visit to Morocco. The natural pigments, which determine the colors that are used are more varied in North Africa than they were in Spain, and so the result is brighter, more vivid patterns, as the photo shows. I met up with a friend this week who has just returned from having radiotherapy in the UK, and was able to chat briefly with him about the process and about the impact on one’s general well-being. This led me to ponder on the fact that being able to draw on the experiences of people who have had my problem is an enormous source of strength, and one that is probably not available to expats living out in the campo, or isolated from fellow-Brits in some other way. Also, I have gleaned a lot of useful knowledge from the internet, so putting all of this together, another thing I have achieved this week is to set up an online “community” on Google+ with the title, “Prostate Support Andalucía”, and I’ve added a link from this blog. So far the community boasts but a single member - me - but at least it’s there. Quite a busy week, then. And a fulfilling one.

05/05/2013

Celebration Time Again

May 3rd is the Day of the Cross, or The May Crosses as it is called here in the village. This is an old tradition that had fallen out of use, but was revived about twenty years ago, since when it has gone from strength to strength. People get together in their local neighbourhood or barrio and build a cross colourfully decked with flowers. This year the village boasted a total of seventeen crosses, all of which are put in place on May 3rd, then in the evening the village turns out onto the streets to inspect the various crosses, and to partake of the refreshment offered at each - local wine, and mouthfuls of chorizo sausage, black pudding, Spanish omelette, and cakes. In addition, the town band turns out and visits each cross to play a couple of tunes, and enjoy the hospitality, along with two local folk music and dance groups following not long after. It looks as if this year someone has been over to England and seen Morris dancers in action; I have never seen flower-decked hats in previous years. The significance of the fiesta is uncertain. Perhaps it is intended to herald the start of (in the Roman Catholic Church) the month of Mary; perhaps the victory of Christ over the Cross; or perhaps simply to celebrate the return of spring and an abundance of flowers.

26/04/2013

No End In Sight

Figures published yesterday show a sharp rise in unemployment here in Spain in the first quarter of 2013, such that the level of unemployment is now 27.2% of the workforce; among under twenty fives it is now 57% in Spain as a whole, and even higher - though I don’t have the latest figure - in Andalucía. But there is a second, extremely disturbing factor affecting people now. With unemployment at these levels, it is not at all uncommon to encounter households in which no one has a job. All too often, these families are living in homes on which there is a mortgage. Or those living in rented accommodation, public or private sector, find that they cannot pay their rent. There were demonstrations in Madrid and elsewhere against current government economic policy, but there are also frequent demonstrations against the government’s failure to intervene in the rising tide of evictions by banks repossessing mortgaged properties or private and public landlords reclaiming rented properties to relet to those fortunate enough still to be able to pay rent. Inevitably, organisations like Cáritas and the Spanish Red Cross are finding themselves faced with rapidly rising demands on their food banks and stores of second hand clothing, household goods, etc. Spain is a young democracy, and democracy is highly valued and cherished, but I don’t know how deep-rooted it is, and I wonder whether it can survive in the face of these hardships. If Angela Merkel has any suggestions, I’d be interested to hear them.

19/04/2013

"The Sun Has Got His Hat On......

Hip, hip, hip hooray. The sun has got his hat on, and he's coming out to play" as the old song has it. Yes, indeed the sun is shining, the sky is a beautiful shade of blue, and the air is pleasingly warm. Basically, just what we would expect at this time of the year, except that it all seems a bit more so today. I saw my specialist this morning and my bone scan is normal, so we just have the prostate to deal with. Off up to El Mirador tonight for a top class meal.

13/04/2013

The Butter Is In The Fridge

We have turned the corner of the year. The butter now gets too soft if left out of the fridge as it has been all winter - which reminds me, incidentally, of what I was told used to be the navigational advice for trans-Atlantic sailors; sail south till the butter melts, then turn right and keep going till you reach Barbados (where, again incidentally, my daughter has just gone on holiday this morning.). I can once again walk the tiled floors of our home in bare feet. The ice and chilled water dispenser on the fridge comes back into its own as the mains water pipes lose their icy chill. And I am back into short-sleeved shirts, though not yet into shorts and sandals, but that cannot be far off now. This morning we drove over to Torre del Mar, a nearby town much favoured by German holidaymakers and expats, and took an hour long stroll along the paseo. All in all, life feels good.

06/04/2013

A Very Good Week

The two main themes to this week have been, hosting a visit from our elder daughter and our two granddaughters, and the next steps in my health journey.
Having part of the family to stay has been a delight,as you would expect. It was an opportunity for mum to relax a bit while grandma and grandad indulged the children. L, who will be 10 in August, is very interested in anything to do with the village and the surrounding area, so we two went to see the Holy Week display in the village museum on Monday, and then took a trip to the caves in Nerja on Tuesday, where we could talk about how stalactites and stalagmites are formed - and how long it takes, and why some appear to have grown at a distinct angle to the perpendicular. That, by the way, helped us to work out why the cave paintings were found right at the back of the caves, several kilometres from the entrance, when they were painted by people who would only have had the flames of their torches to see by. The clue is to be found in the non-vertical stalactites and stalagmites. We were also able to marvel at the fact that these people lived in the caves 20 times or more longer ago than the time that Jesus was born. N, who only recently celebrated her seventh birthday, is not really interested in any of this intellectual stuff, much preferring to buy scarves and fans in the local gift shops, and then head to an ice cream shop. At the same time she has quite a wise head on her shoulders. During the holidays she had to practise her reading and had brought her reading book with her - The Wizard Of Oz. We agreed to listen to her reading and she started at the beginning, suddenly pausing at the point when Dorothy's house is whirled up into the sky by the cyclone. "Now," she said very earnestly, "This is not real. This is a dream. The house doesn't really go up into the sky. She only thinks it does cos she is dreaming. Everything until the end isn't real. It's all a dream". Satisfied, she resumed reading for us. I think you can get an idea why we would think that we have two amazing granddaughters.
As to my health, Thursday I had to pop over to our local hospital to pick up the hormone injection kit, which I take into the village health centre on Monday when I have finished the tablets I have been taking; the practice nurse will the give me the injection. On Friday I went to Málaga for my bone scan, the results of which I will learn when I next see my specialist on the 19th of April. Both appointments served to further confirm my belief that if I have to be ill, this is a good country to be ill in. No only did both appointments come through quickly, but on both days I was seen promptly, the waiting areas were light, airy, comfortable and not crowded, the staff were open and friendly, and the equipment looked to be bang up to date.

03/04/2013

Holy Week and Easter Week

Semana Santa is over for another year, and it passed off more successfully than many had feared. The weather forecast for the week was pretty grim, cloud, wind and rain. In the event, all the processions were able to go ahead apart from one; sadly, on Good Friday the midnight procession had to be cancelled because of rain. This is when the women of the village, all dressed in black and carrying candles (the only source of light, as all the street lights and all the lights in rooms looking out onto the route are switched off) walk in procession behind Our Lady of Desolation, singing ancient laments a capello. On the other hand, the Easter Sunday procession was able to take place, particularly important as this year is the 25th anniversary of the founding of the cofradía of the Risen Christ. Now, the week after Easter, we are enjoying the company of our eldest daughter and her two daughters who all flew in on Sunday for a week’s holiday. I only get to enjoy six days of their stay; on Friday I have to go into Málaga for most of the day, to the Oncology Dept at the University Hospital to see whether my prostate cancer had spread any wider before my diagnosis. Fingers Crossed!

26/03/2013

Morocco - A New Experience

Last week we joined a coach trip from Nerja across to Tangier for three nights. So the answer to my challenge is that the photo was taken in the Rif Mountains on the way to the town of Chefchaouen, where the photos above were taken. This was a first visit to Morocco, and quite an eye-opener; I had imagined that it would be dry, brown and dusty, not at all the green, well watered land that it is - at least in the north of the country. It was clear too, that a one hour ferry journey from Tarifa to Tangier crossed from the first to the third world. There is a huge disparity between the living standards of those who live and work in the modern parts of the cities (we also visited Tetouan) and the rest of the population. Whilst the Kasbas and Mdinas are fascinating glimpses of an ancient way of life, they are also evidence that many people still live this way. In the countryside, travelling from one place to another I was struck by the universal presence of donkeys as a mode of transport, and by the number of people we saw leading a single cow on a rope to a patch of grazing where it could be tethered to feed. Men and women going to buy or sell in a nearby town were also a constant feature of the landscape, waiting patiently by the roadside for some vehicle to stop and offer them a lift. Finally I was struck by the fact that traditional Berber/Arab dress is still everyday dress. Men ( and not just older men) were as likely to be wearing a djellaba as to be wearing European dress. More difficult to accept was the constant presence of street hawkers pressing you to buy bracelets, watches, items of clothing or headgear, and the necessity for our coach driver to buy his way out of and back into the port in order to gain permission from some port employee or other to allow our baggage to stay on the bus through various spurious checks - though we all had to dismount and meet him on the other side, in order to pass through an unattended “control point”. Perhaps saddest of all was that it cost €10 for a ferry company employee to agree that, in view of the driving rain, one of our number, a wheelchair user, should be allowed onto the boat ahead of the rest of us.

23/03/2013

A Challenge

Whereabouts in the world would you say this photo was taken? Answer will be posted next time.

17/03/2013

Waiting and Hoping

This coming Friday is observed as the Friday of Sorrows (el viernes de dolores) here in Spain and heralds the start of Holy Week. It invites us, before we get caught up in the story of the final days of Jesus’s earthly ministry, his death and resurrection, to pause and consider the person most profoundly affected by those events - Mary, his mother, personified in Our Lady of the Sorrows. It is also the day when all those women in the village called Dolores - or Loli - celebrate their saint’s day. So here it combines a day of solemnity with a day of celebration. The big question is what kind of weather we will experience. A memory that always springs immediately to mind for me is standing in the plaza in front of the church under a clear blue sky with the warm sun on my body and having the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the statue of the Risen Christ is borne out of the church on the shoulders of a dozen men, and at the same moment that band striking up with a fanfare. On the other hand, if I reflect a little longer, I remember that most years at least one procession has to be cancelled or abandoned on account of the heavy rain or the howling gales. The weather forecast covering the next two weeks is no great help; temperatures will be yo-yoing and there will be some dry and some wet days, so we keep our fingers crossed.

16/03/2013

Papa Paco

When I left the Anglican church and became a Roman Catholic, an important part of the decision was connected with that part of Catholic theology which is referred to as “The Social Teaching Of The Church”. As someone who had been active at a local level with Amnesty International and the fair trade movement, I had been drawn to a charity based in Central America, Casa Alianza. Casa Alianza works with the street children of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico with outreach workers on the street, refuges and homes. It also challenges the impunity which too often protects the police and armed forces from prosecution for their cruel and inhumane treatment of these children, including even torture and murder.I worked as a UK-based volunteer for the charity for several years. I was aware, too, of the role of liberation theology in the life and ministry of many priests in Latin America who lived and worked among the poorest and most deprived groups. All of these concerns led me to believe that the church was at its truest when it spoke and acted on behalf of the voiceless of the world, and it seemed to me that this was a much higher priority for the Roman Catholic Church than for Anglicanism. Of course, I soon found that the higher echelons of the church were concerned much more with protecting and maintaining the accumulated privileges of the centuries, and I have to admit a sense of deep disappointment when, on the death of John Paul II in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger, known to many as the Pope’s Rottweiler, was elevated to become Pope Benedict XVI. Grudgingly I have had to admit that whilst deeply conservative doctrinally, he faced and tackled the shame of sexual abuse by paedophiles within the priesthood. There is still much to be done, but without Benedict one wonders whether the process would have even begun. His last major act as pope was also a courageous one, to accept that he could and should retire from the office; I suspect the precedent set by his action will benefit the church in the future. So how do I react to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio? At 76 he comes to his role as Pope Francis I with two clear threads to his priesthood. Firstly, he is conservative doctrinally, probably just as much so as his predecessor, and secondly his work in Argentina shows him to be someone who has embodied there the social teaching of the church; a simple lifestyle, a commitment to the poor and excluded, and a love of people. Already the media are focussing on examples of his humility - declining the papal limo in favour of travelling back to his accomodation in one the minibuses laid on for the cardinals, his choice of name and the simplicity of his address to the crowd in St Peter’s Square (I especially liked the fact that he introduced himself as their new bishop, rather than as head of the whole church). I also noticed than, in contrast with the cardinals surrounding him on the balcony, his was a very simple pectoral cross that appeared to be neither gold nor silver. I am excited by the thought that this may well be a transformative pontificate, even if the changes may not be in areas which many would prefer to see.

10/03/2013

A Cloud On The Horizon

I began this blog in order to describe life here in Spain as a retired ex-pat, and to comment on events that occurred. One of the aspects of Spanish life that I have touched upon is the quality of health care, the people, the service, the general standard of equipment, all of which I am afraid, leaves Britain in the shade. It is simple things that make the difference; the fact that my doctor enters my prescription requirements for the year onto the computer, leaving me free to drop into the village pharmacy - or, indeed any pharmacy in Andalusía - whenever I need something; the fact that appointments are almost always available at short notice, and the professional you are to see is not running late. I had occasion to experience the system again last week, and I have to tell you that Friday was not one of my better days. At the end of November last year my doctor decided to refer me to the regional hospital where, a couple of weeks later I saw a specialist. He in turn prescribed further examinations and tests, which he was willing to defer until I got back from my New Zealand trip in mid-February. On Friday I was back to see him for the results. As usual, within five minutes of my appointment time I was called in to see him, to receive the not wholly unexpected bad news that I have cancer of the prostate. So now I have begun a course of hormone therapy to be followed in due course by radiotherpay. In the meantime, I now await an appointment to go through to Málaga to one of the main hospitals for bone and CT scans to complete the picture, which will determine the course of future treatment. As and when appropriate, I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on, but I’ll just make the point that living the dream, as I am doing, is no guarantee everything in the garden will be rosy.

07/03/2013

Quiet Time

Right now we are in the throes of our second wet season. The first rains after he summer come in October, followed by a fairly dry spell and then a second period of rain from some time in February until around the end of March. The rain is not continuous, and we can still have lovely, sunny, mild days, but - if we are lucky- we get a fair number of days like today, when the rain is steady and fairly heavy. I say 'lucky' because we depend on the winter rains to put enough water into the ground and the reservoirs to see us through the summer.
It does mean though, that you can find yourself tied to the house, especially where we live, most morning coffee is drunk sitting outside the local bars; inside is not so inviting. More of a problem can be the depth of water flowing down the hill and past the front door, which can easily be five to ten centimetres deep. Hopefully this situation will improve in future years; the town hall has just announced major work to be carried out to the street's sewerage and drainage system. Being selfish, I'm hoping it takes place in the summer when we're on an extended trip to the UK.

01/03/2013

Trudging On

Yesterday was Andalucia Day, when we remember the time that, under the new constitution, Andalacia became an autonomous community, enjoying a large degree of control over its own destiny. In previous years this has been an occasion for a fiesta with music, dance, food and alcohol, as well as as act of commemoration in front of the Andalucian flag. This year, however, we are still in the throes of economic crisis and as the Day does not attract visitors to the village and so does not contribute to the local economy, it was not possible to justify any local authority expenditure; le crisis finds its way into every aspect of people’s lives. Matters were not helped either by the arrival of a serious and extended thunderstorm in the early hours, which drenched everywhere and persuaded people that indoors was the best place to be. Perhaps next year will be better; but then that’s what we said last year..... and the year before.

24/02/2013

a Quick Look At The Papers

As you may be aware, I recently spent six weeks on the other side of the world in New Zealand, a trip that both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed, although the flights involved were tedious and tiring in about equal measure. But it’s interesting to get back and see what is making the news here and in the UK. The difference is really quite striking; whether it has any deeper significance or not, I cannot say. In Spain the general consensus in the media and among people talking generally, is that all politicians are corrupt, along with a large proportion of top-level executives in industry and commerce. Every day the papers publish the latest twists and turns in one scandal or another. These matters are not easy for a foreigner to follow, since each of them is know by a name, usually the name of one of those implicated, and this gives the Spanish reader more than enough background to allow them to follow the story without detailed explanations. Names like Nóos, Bankia, Malaya, Bárcenas, among others. The British press on the other hand, appears obsessed with sex abuse, Rochdale, Oxford Jimmy Saville, Cyril Smith, Bryn Estin Children’s Homes, primarily but not exclusively concerning the abuse of children below the age of consent. As a psychologist I am deeply suspicious of racial stereotypes, and as an old cynic I’m inclined to think that we are looking here not so much at a difference in behaviour by those in positions of power, as at a different preoccupation on the part of the media readership.

15/02/2013

Carnaval in Frigiliana

Only a few days late, we celebrate Carnaval tomorrow at five o'clock. I'll be out with my camera to see if I can get some shots to match this one I took last year.

07/02/2013

Nearly There.

We landed back in London on Tuesday morning and came over to the Guildford area to spend a few days with family before making the final hop to Spain early next week. The contrast between high summer in NZ and deepest winter in England is quite alarming. Obviously, the temperature difference is enormous, but it's surprising how quickly you forget how short the days are in the UK in February, once you move overseas; for the increased daylight alone, it will be good to get back to Frigiliana. Other things to look forward to? Living out of a wardrobe again, instead of out of a suitcase, seeing friends again, picking up my Spanish classes and speaking the language on a daily basis - it's strange how rusty I feel after only five weeks of speaking exclusively English, and, of course, another big fiesta, Carnaval, is just around the corner, when the village will be a riot of colour with the procession. In the meantime, however, it's great to spend time with the family, especially our two granddaughters who, of course, are the most gifted, the most intelligent and the most beautiful granddaughters the world has ever seen; as their grandad I know these things!

03/02/2013

The Carnival Is Over (Nearly)

Well, we are at our penultimate stop, Waitangi, with yet another fantastic view from our window. Sadly, my iPad doesn't have the facility (or I have yet to discover it) to upload photos to the blog. When I get back to my laptop, I'll upload a selection.
Anyway, why Waitangi? Firstly because it is situated on the Bay of Islands - 147 apparently - which is one of the "must not miss" destinations, and secondly because just down the road, literally, is the Waitangi Treaty House, where said treaty was signed on 6th February, 1840, between the chiefs of the various iwi (Maori tribes, and a very useful word in Scrabble) and a certain Captain Hobson, the official representative of Queen Victoria. Although there had been European settlers here for many years, this effectively marked the birth of New Zealand as we know it today. February 6th is celebrated as a national holiday, Waitangi Day, not least here in Waitangi. With my flair for timing, we land back at Heathrow on the 5th.
Waitangi is a popular cruise ship stop, though passengers have to be ferried in on a flotilla of small boats. There is a large boat anchored out at the edge of the Bay this morning with its attendant shuttle service; something else interesting to watch!

25/01/2013

It's The People

We're more than halfway through our time in New Zealand. On our last visit at the end of 2007, we split our time between North and South Islands and found South Island much the more spectacular in terms of scenery. This time we are just on North Island. We've revisited a couple of places, but mainly have been to new ones. In doing so we have found that North Island is equally spectacular in its own way, especially when routes take you over the mountains or through river gorges. Most spectacular of all though, are the people. We didn't spend any time in Wellington, and will be only very briefly in Auckland, right at the end of our trip, so I can't speak for the big cities, but rural and smaller town Kiwis are fantastic. There isn't just a hospitality industry here; it's a hospitality culture - from friends of the friends we have stayed with welcoming us into their midst and into their homes as if we too were their lifelong friends, to the lady we met a couple of days ago at her family's jade workshop and shop who, on discovering that we had walked half an hour from the centre of town on a very hot day, immediately offered to drive us back. At this point we hadn't even started browsing and so she had no reason to believe that we would actually spend any money. We did buy some items, and we declined her offer of transport; the beach was nearby so we walked back at - or more precisely, in - the water's edge. I shall remember the Kiwis long after the memory of the places we visited has faded.

22/01/2013

Napier

Well, here we are enjoying a Napier summer. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and checked into our seafront hotel, where Trailfinders had booked us a room at the front, and so we look out from the fifth floor at a South Pacific of quite unbelievable turquoise. We chose Napier as a stopping place as it sits on Hawke's Bay, home to New Zealand's. red wine industry. Yesterday we spent going from one winery to another, at each one being offered tastings of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to prove that they also make excellent whites, followed by Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. At a couple of wineries we were ALSO offered a late harvest, sweet Cabernet Sauvignon, produced as a dessert wine. We visited six wineries in total, so even though I did a lot of spitting, I had a gentle, warm glow for the ride back to the hotel.
We chose Napier, as I say, pretty much by chance, so it was a bonus to discover the city's other claim to fame as an Art Deco city. On the 3rd February of 1931, around one o'clock in the afternoon, a devastating earthquake which lasted for three minutes, flattened the town. When things had settled down seismically the decision was taken to rebuild on the same site, but also to build a city that would be a monument to those who had been killed or injured. They chose the then very much in vogue Art Deco style. In the USA, home to Art Deco, construction was virtually at a standstill - rather like Spain today - as the country was in the grip of the Great Depression. Napier can justly claim to be the world's foremost Art Deco city. A fascinating place to walk around.

17/01/2013

Living The Nightmare

You will no doubt remember that a couple of years ago Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, suffered not one, but two major earthquakes in six months, each inflicting enormous damage. Christchurch came into the conversation on Sunday evening at the barbecue in the winery. The lady I was talking to explained to me that New Zealanders had been awaiting "the big one" for some time, in the same way that Californians know that a major jolt to the San Andreas fault is long overdue. What shocked Kiwis when it happened was that did not hit Wellington which sits astride two plates, and where buildings have been built to withstand the shocks, but in Christchurch, which was thought to be located in a geologically stable region, and where no precautionary steps had been taken.
I mentioned this last night to our friends and asked how the reconstruction programme is progressing. For the majority apparently, it has not yet even begun. And the reason is horrifying; it is officially judged to be premature because, in the two years since what I thought of as "the earthquakes", Christchurch has suffered five thousand aftershocks. That equates to an average of around seven a day.
In addition, a large part of the affected zone is suffering liquefaction, a phenomenon which turns the ground to mush. The people living in this zone, some in damaged but habitable homes, some in undamaged homes, have to begin each day by clearing away several inches of mud which has oozed up through the floor during the previous twenty four hours.
So far the world is concerned, the disaster happened, did its damage and now is over. I was shocked to learn that that is not the case. And I ask myself two questions. How would I respond to daily mud shifting? And if I had lived through two major earthquakes, how nonchalantly could I react to the start of a new tremor no matter how small?

15/01/2013

From One Extreme To The Other

From Hong Kong we flew to Wellington in New Zealand, via Auckland, and then dove a couple of hours north to the town of Masterton to stay with friends of many years standing, dating back to the time that we all lived in he Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. Peter is now the vicar of Epiphany parish Church in Masterton. Saturday we spent recovering, but the following day we went out for a late lunch to a local winery, accompanied by the principal of the primary school linked to the church. After lunch, we were taken to another winery nearby, where we we able to taste - and buy - some of the local wines. Sunday evening saw us at a third winery, this time the home of Peter's archdeacon and her husband, who were hosting a barbecue. Not often that my choice of wine at a barbecue would be one retailing at NZ$ 40 a bottle (25€)! I was delighted to discover that they ship this excellent Pinot Noir to the UK under the Pirinoa Road label. I shall be online searching ahead of my next UK trip by car.
Our friends have a home outside Marton to which they will ultimately retire; in the meantime it is used as a holiday home, and we headed over here on Monday or the rest of our time with them.
What a contrast to Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated places on the planet. New Zealand - a country with about the same land area as the British Isles - has a population of four and a half million people, one million of whom live in Auckland and another million are on South Island. There is an abundance of land which, even allowing for the restrictions on permitted building density, is easily affordable. Most construction is off-site and then simply assembled and completed on the plot. Their home stands on a 10 acre block in the midst of farmland, with several stands on trees, and is an absolute delight to be in. A neighbouring farmer has the use of the grassland for grazing. The place is so quiet that you can stand outside at the front of the house and the only sound is that of the sheep cropping the grass 300 to 400 mtres away.