Mixed Feelings

Christmas Day once again. My wife and I went to Midnight Mass and the children enacted the Nativity as usual. It was good to see that some of the shepherds were girls, and Mary arrived with an immensely impressive cushion tucked under her top to add authenticity. Having said that, she had what must have been the shortest labour on record; she had hardly taken her seat in the stable before the cushion disappeared and baby Jesus began bawling lustily.
Then home to bed, and I've everything apparently under control (I don't like to tempt fate!), for lunch with friends who are coming round, good food, good wine, good company.
However, that is only one side of the story. Yesterday afternoon we received the news that Antonio López, a neighbour, had died. He was a lovely man, what the Spanish would call un buen hombre, he was in his eighties and we knew that he had not been at all well.
In accordance with the Spanish custom, Antonio's funeral and burial will be held this afternoon at four thirty.
Let light perpetual shine on him. May he rest in peace, to rise in glory.


Never Boring.

There are lots of things going on right now, but probably the most important one is yesterday's general election. Since the arrival of democracy in Spain forty years ago, national politics has been dominated by two parties, the Partido Popular (PP), broadly equivalent to Britain's Conservative Party, and the Partido Socialista y Obrera de España (PSOE) somewhat to the left of Britain's Labour Party. As in Britain power has passed from one to the other and back again, with the smaller, mainly regional parties lagging a long way behind. Yesterday PP went into the election with an overall majority and emerged without one; they secured only 123 of the possible 350 seats, 53 seats short of the 176 needed to have a majority over all the other parties. However, PSOE also emerged with fewer seats than in the retiring parliament, so they also have fallen well short of what was needed.
When a similar thing happened in the 2010 election in Britain, the main third party (the Lib Dems) was able to form a coalition with the Tories. Here, the figures don't add up. There have always been small parties here picking up the occasional seat, but they have never commanded enough support to threaten the big two, and nor did they yesterday. What has changed is the emergence of two new parties in response to the recent recession, and they drew significant support from those disenchanted enough with both PP and PSOE to move their vote.
To the left of PSOE is Podemos (We Can) a party which has evolved out of the anti-austerity street protests of Los Indignados. They won 69 seats yesterday. The centrist party Ciudadanos (Citizens) which started life as the anti-independence party of Cataluña, took 40 seats. A coalition is called for, of course, but even so, the figures still don't add up.
PP (123) and Ciudadanos (40) have a total of 163, 14 short of that elusive overall majority. On the other hand, PSOE (90) and Podemos (69) are 17 seats adrift. The only arithmetic that would work - PP plus Podemos - wouldn't work politically; it would be like the Tories forming a coalition with the Socialist Workers' Party.
Both groups will no doubt be looking to see who they could work with among the 28 seats held by the various minor parties, none of whom can offer enough seats from a single party. Under the Constitution they have two months to work something out. If they don't, then the King will have the authority to order fresh elections. We live in interesting times!


Ah, Well

The Ferrero Rocher result was announced last night and Frigiliana came second, but with over fourteen thousand votes. The town of Morella in Castellón is the chosen setting for FR's 25th Anniversary campaign. Even so we have already benefited enormously just from being shortlisted. The contest was backed extensively by Canal 5, one of Spain's national TV channels, and we were very effective in the way we spread the appeal for votes across social media and among friends, and via our friends to their friends. With the help of regional tourism groups the word spread throughout Andalucía and we became the Andalucían candidate.
All in all an enormous amount of awareness raising publicity on a scale that we could not have been able to buy, but which all came free of charge. Is it working yet? Well, all I can say is that the recent puente or public holiday saw a threefold increase in the number of visitors to the village compared to the same holiday in 2014.
And now to the serious business of Christmas, New Year and Three Kings celebrations. That started last night in the civic hall when a choir, two pastoral or traditional music groups, and a recorder septet from among the school pupils, played and sang villancicos, the Spanish equivalent of Christmas carols, and a flamenco group interpreted more villancicos in dance. The hall was packed.
Alongside all of this there is concern for others. Clothing is being collected and distributed to those in financial need, a 'stitch and bitch' group meets regularly knitting blankets, scarves and baby clothing for sending to Syrian refugees, whilst closer to home the Kilo campaign runs through December to provide food for all village residents facing hardship, and over and above that, the children are being asked to donate a toy or game they no longer use, but which is still in good condition, so that the Three Kings can ensure that every child in Frigiliana receives a present on January 6th.
Can you wonder that I love being a part of this community so much.
In case I don't post again before the day, Happy Christmas to you all.



Apparently the Ferrero Rocher brand made its first appearance in Spain in 1991, so the company is gearing up to celebrate its 25th anniversary. As a backdrop to whatever is planned they are looking for a village setting and have whittled down the list of possibles to just three. We are one of those final three, and now a Ferrero Rocher commercial is being given air and internet time encouraging people to vote for their favourite. Not surprisingly my local Facebook friends are workng hard - as I am - to get the word out and the votes in. Can we pull it off? We'll know very soon. In the meantime, here's a link to the video.

Those of you who have been following this blog for any length of time will know a lot about Frigiliana, even if you haven't yet had the chance to visit. As I see it, that entitles you to vote.



One of the organisations that I am connected with is Cudeca, a voluntary palliative care centre (or hospice, as we would say in England) which covers the whole of Málaga Province. In addition to an in-patient unit and a daycare centre, five multidisciplinary teams operate in the community delivering medical, nursing, psychologiacl and social care to patients nearing the end of their lives and to their families. That costs us about €3,000,000 a year, all of which has to be raised in one way or another. As well as belonging to the Nerja Support Group, I take responsibility for assisting any fund rising here in the village. So I was delighted this morning to be part of the welcoming party for a runner and two of his colleagues who is raising funds for Cudeca and a number of other organisations by running the entire circuit of La Gran Senda de Málaga, a long distance footpath which follows the border of the Province to provide a complete (rough) circle of around 630km. Juan Camacho aims to complete his run in eleven days, which is an average of 57km or 36 miles per day. We were his first stop for refreshment on today's stage. He arrived later than planned because the path up the river from Nerja proved too precarious for much running, so they had to walk a large part of the way.


Looking Back

It doesn't seem possible that the baby boy who entered the world in the early days of what came to be known as the phoney war, back in 1940, could be celebrating his seventy fifth birthday today, but that's what I'm doing. Well possibly marking rather than celebrating. We had intended to eat at one of our favourite restaurants up in the top part of the village this evening but a particularly grim weather forecast of several hours of torrential rain this evening caused us to change our minds. And that is perhaps fortunate because my wife had an almost completely sleepless night assailed by constant stomach cramps, and has spent most of today tucked up in bed. This year's birthday outing was to the ambulatorio, the walk-in medical centre in Nerja to get a reassuring diagnosis of gastroenteritis, and some pain relief and anti-spasmodic medications.
Having time to sit and reflect led me to two thoughts in particular. Firstly it is with a slight degree of surprise that I can look at myself, obviously showing signs of age, but assisted only by a walking stick as a mobility aid, or more probably an old man's comfort blanket. I could get by without it but I feel happier to have it with me. If I think myself back to late teens and early twenties and then look forward, my expectations were much more limited. I was born and brought up in Salford, an unhealthy industrial city with a horrendous level of air pollution that took its toll with a vengeance. Although my paternal grandparents lived well into their eighties, my father and two of his brothers died in their late fifties; as did my mother's brother. That was not unusual. They were not thought of as premature deaths in that city in those days. Anybody making sixty had had a good innings. So looking to the future from that time, my ambition was to actually see the arrival of the twenty first century. That was indeed ambitious. And now, nearly sixteen years beyond my youthful target, today I finally move out of the zone which nowadays constitutes premature death.
The second thing which strikes me is the quite incredible change in daily life that has come about during my lifetime. Very few people had cars. Very few had a phone in the house. Every morning my father had to clean the ashes out of the grate and light a fresh fire - in the cold of a poorly insulated house. Then he would boil up a kettle of water so he could shave. For me as a child there are memories of setting off to walk to school wearing a gabardine raincoat in the pouring rain and at the end of the school day struggling back into the heavy, sodden, icy coat for the walk home. Food came from the various local shops, milk arrived each morning in churns on the back of a horse drawn cart and my mother would take her large jug into the street to have the milk measured into it. She went food shopping most days; supermarkets were still way off in the future. Coal was delivered in sacks and tipped into the coal shed (or the cellar if you had one), and the firewood man came round every week with his pony and cart. We had chimney sweeps who cleared the soot build-up from the chimney flues; neglect that and before long you would have the chimney on fire! Soot, sulphur and other chemicals were heavy in the air and every winter brought choking, dense smogs, the lethal combination of coal smoke and fog which had the buses struggling to find their way back to the depot, leaving would-be passengers to somehow navigate the blanket on foot.
So many things that we now take for granted were unknown only fifty years ago. I need a lot of persuading that I was born and grew up during 'the good old days'.


Small Village, Big Heart

I went to a meeting this morning. A very special meeting. For some time now a group of village women have been meeting on a regular basis to knit blankets to be given to Syrian refugees. All of these have been Spanish women, but today's meeting was to encourage women from among the foreigners' population to get involved in a new venture of solidarity. The new initiative, Frigiliana Solidaria, has chosen two charities to support, both based in Málaga. One works to help young single mothers struggling to cope, especially financially; the other works with children, old people and others who find themselves socially excluded, or at risk of social exclusion. Our new group will be knitting to provide them not just with blankets for babies, children and adults, but also clothing items such as jumpers, cardigans, gloves, scarves, shawls and the like which will help people to keep warm across the winter months. In addition, soft toys will be knitted for the younger children. And also we appeal for clothing in good condition to be donated for distribution to those served by the two charities. Today's meeting followed a similar meeting about ten days ago to launch the project to Spanish women. Today though seven members of our expat population came to offer their participation, and at least five more who were unable to attend today have also expressed interest. A handbill is being prepared and we shall have a small stall at the weekly market next Thursday where we will hand out the fliers and answer questions.
But that is not all that the village does for others. December will see the annual Kilo Appeal. Despite the fact that the Spanish economy is recovering there are still very many families where unemployment and poverty is an issue. In December each year, those who have are invited to help those who don't by including in their grocery shopping an extra kilo of non-perishable food to donate for the provision of food parcels to help people at Christmas time.
Christmas is obviously a major celebration here in Spain, as in other countries. However, for the children Los Reyes, the coming of the Wise Men on January 6th is the day that they receive their presents - assuming that their parents can afford a visit, of course. So there is going to be another opportunity to demonstrate solidarity; it is planned to hold a toy service in the church which will be geared to the children, and the children will be asked to bring with them a toy or game which is still in good condition, but which they no longer play with, and these can then be found new homes on 6th January.
The 'Big Society' is alive and thriving in this small Spanish village!


What Happens Now?

Partido Andalucista, the political party that has had my support since my arrival in Frigiliana, is no more. An exraordinary congress held on 12th September voted by an overwhelming majority to wind up the party. It now exists simply as a legal entity offering protection to its 391 consejales sitting in local government across Andalucia. After fifty years of existence, it has gone.
So where now can I ally myself to a political cause?
Partido Andalucista, as is implicit in its name, existed as a party seeking always to secure just and equal treatment for Andalucía within Spain. It did not seek independence like some regional parties. It supported a single, federalist Spanish state within which Andalucía could progress as one of the seventeen autonomous communities which make up Spain. Geographically the largest communidad, Andalucía has shared with its neighbour, Extremadura, a continuing historic poverty even as the rest of Spain flourished until the economic crisis of 2009. 
The current national government (the right-wing Partido Popular, led by Mariano Rajoy) is mired in corruption, as is the left-wing main opposition party, PSOE. There will be a general election before the end of the year, and the widely held expectation is that one of these two parties will form the next government. Not because the mass of Spanish voters think that would be a good thing, but because in a similar attitude to that in the UK, the question is which is the least worst option? Do you vote PSOE to get rid of PP, or do you vote PP to stop PSOE; negative politics with low expectations.
On the other hand, three new parties have come onto the scene and sparked interest in the possibility of positive change. The longest-established is seven year old UPyD, which stands for union (a single Spanish state), a progressive stance, and democracy. It began life in the Basque region to challenge the separatist movement of which ETA was a prominent feature. Ciudadanos (Citizens) likewise began life as a regional party, Ciutadans, opposing the Catalan independence movement, but more recently has been finding support across Spain. And finally there is Podemos (We Can) which is the offspring of the Indignados movement, which elsewhere became Occupy. Podemos is a left-wing party which aims for citizen democracy. It is well to the left of PSOE, and probably has its true roots in anarchism which has always had a small but vocal following in Spain. It's not for me.
In the UK, where I am still registered to vote in national and European elections, I am a paid up member of the Liberal Democrat Party, which in Europe is a member of the ALDE (Association of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) group. Both UPyD and Ciudadans MEPs belong to this grouping, so one of those two would seem a logical choice. Though both describe themselves as centre parties, Ciudadans tends to take a right of centre stance, whereas UPyD is to the left of centre.
More investigation will be called for, but my gut feeling is that my new Spanish political home will be with UPyD.


Something New On The Menu

Cooking is one of my great pleasures and my bookshelves are sagging under the weight of cookbooks I have collected over the years. Some are mainly of nostalgic value, tastes in food generally having moved on, and our tastes too. For instance we have all seventy two volumes of the part-work "Cordon Bleu Cookery", bought week by week back in 1972. There are three or four dishes from there that I occasionally cook, but overall a quick glance at the week's menu plans on the back covers is enough to raise my cholesterol level to dangerous heights. How those who aspired to middle class status were supposed to eat!
Others (any of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage books) are my staple references, and then there are books that I bought and mean to use. One such, bought about six months ago is the Hummus Bros book. I love hummus, make my own and have always thought of it as a dish that simply needed pittas or flatbreads and a sprinkling of smoked hot paprika to provide a meal. This book though sees it having the ancillary role of the carbs in a meal where some other dish takes the star role. So this evening we sit down to spicy chicken in a tomato, onion and garlic sauce, to be piled in the centre of the dish, with a generous ring of hummus surrounding it. And of course, flatbreads to mop it all up. It's very nearly ready to be served up, so that's what I'm away to do right now.


A Very Welcome Visitor

We have two daughters and when we go England we usually stay with our older daughter and her two children. This way we can help with child care. Our younger daughter lives about an hour's drive from her sister and always comes over to see us at least once during our visit. She is single and a police officer working irregular hours, so we don't get to see as much of her as we would like. Also, when we see her in England it's virtually always as part of a family group.
So it was sheer delight to be at Málaga airport yesterday afternoon to meet her off a flight from Gatwick. Rest days have fallen both sides of the weekend so she is here for a long weekend, with us until Tuesday. And this time, it's just the three of us which is an added bonus.


Back Home

We have just spent three weeks in the UK, mainly with family, but also with the opportunity to meet up with friends. Originally, we were responding to a request from our eldest daughter, for help with the children while she had to go on business for a week to Mauritius. There is a nanny who comes in in the mornings to get the children ready and take them to school, and then picks them up from school, brings them home, and cooks them their evening meal, ready to hand over to Mum at about 6.30 pm. However, we were needed for the overnight periods. That was the original purpose but we decided to take the opportunity to extend our stay so that we could travel north to where we used to live before coming out to Spain. My wife had an appointment in Ramsbottom with her financial advisor to review her investments. We stayed with some very good friends nearby and also met up one evening with a couple who come out regularly to Frigiliana on holiday, and went out with them for a meal. And we had to visit the lady who used to clean for us. She is 91 years old and absolutely amazing.Still driving, she swims at the local pool three times a week in the morning and then goes dancing in the afternoon, plus regular holidays abroad with her daughter, Saga or Age UK. We had also intended to have a few days on the Isle of Wight, but unfortunately my wife was not well at the last moment, so we had to cancel. She was soon recovered and it did mean that we got to spend a bit more time with the family. Apart from everything else, this turned out to be quite a gastronomic holiday. Our younger daughter lives in Cookham and invited us over to go for a meal at Tom Kerridge's new venture, Coach in Marlow. It's the first time we've eaten off a two Michelin star menu, and the food was absolutely fantastic; I was much less impressed by the service, however; their USP is that dishes come from the kitchen as soon as they are ready, and so it may be that people in your party don't all get served at the same time. Our first courses arrived pretty close together, but for the second course, my daughter's meal arrived, five minutes later my wife's arrived but it was another fifteen minutes before my food was delivered, swiftly followed by the side order of cabbage which the other two had ordered to go with the dishes they had already finished. My comment to the manager that I could live with when the dish is ready, but this felt more like, when we get around to it was not well received. I was told that they had explained the system to me beforehand. It struck me afterwards that all decent restaurants serve food as soon as it is ready, the difference being that the chef makes sure that orders for a particular table are all ready at the same time! I won't be going back. By contrast all of the other places where we ate managed to serve everything together. Ramsbottom has been transformed as a gastro destination since we left in 2008. A number of new eateries have opened to augment what was already on offer. We ate at two old favourites and at two new ones. One of the new ones was The Eagle & Child. This used to be a pub that struggled under a number of owners, but has recently blossomed under new owners, who (without Michelin stars) have a menu to equal that of Coach, and cooking to match, but with the benefit of swift, efficient and friendly service. A measure of its standard is that the executive chef, Eve Stanton, was one of the three North West chefs competing in this year's Great British Menu. If anyone knows whether she won or not, I'd be interested to know, as unfortunately we weren't able to watch the Friday evening programme. And so now, here we are back home once again. This is a lovely time of year; all the July/August heat has gone and we have temperatures in the mid-twenties and lots of sun and blues sky. It's good to be home!


Well, That Didn't Last Long!

Sadly the Canada trip is off. AS you know I've had a couple of health issues recently, so when I went to top up my travel insurance to cover my pre-existing conditions, the best quote was frightening. Firstly the amount of the extra premium and then the shortfall between the maximum cover for cancellation and the total cost of the holiday would have left us with an exposure of several thousand pounds. Booking now for a holiday in June next year meant that there was just too much time for either another TIA or worse, or a recurrence of the cancer that could prevent travel. So the only sensible thing to do was pull the plug and think again. We didthink again, and so now we have booked a new holiday, still by train but shorter and a lot cheaper. We travel with Eurostar, then other smart trains first to Berlin, then to Dresden and finally to Prague, with side trips to Potsdam, Nuremberg and Colditz. Not only does that fulfill my wife's long held dream of visiting Prague, but it also leaves money to do a couple of other trips at some stage, as well as a de luxe celebration locally (Spain or the UK) with our daughters and granddaughters.


Something To Look Forward To

We are in England at the moment. Part of the time we are doing some child minding while Mum is away on a business trip to Mauritius. Then we shall be going north for a few days to the area where we lived before moving to Spain, some more time with the family and then a few days on the Isle of Wight before heading back to Frigiliana. We always enjoy these trips, but we've taken the opportunity to set up a big holiday while we're here. Another "trip of a lifetime", which makes three in all. Next year we celebrate fifty years of marriage and so we knew we had to do something special. Two sessions with Trailfinders, whom I cannot recommend highly enough, and we can now look forward to flying to Montreal in late spring and then making our way via Quebec City and Ottawa to Toronto by train. A few days in Toronto, and then we fly across to Calgary where we spend a couple of nights before picking up a hire car and driving to Banff, then Lake Louise - though we will actually stay at Lake Moraine - and to Jasper where we check in the car and board the Rocky Mountain Explorer train for a two day train journey with an overnight in Kamloops, through the Rockies and on down to Vancouver where we will spend a few more days before flying back. The cost of all that is unnerving, but as the northern saying has it, "There's no pockets in shrouds."


Peace And Quiet Return

Well, the Festival of Three Cultures is over for another year. This was the tenth, so somethingspecial was required - and delivered. Here's a flavour of it.


If It's Saturday, It's Time To Head For A Restaurant

Recently the euro has been much weaker against the pound, and since our state pensions are converted at the interbank rate before being paid into our Spanish bank, we have been enjoying a welcome bonus. So we have got into the habit of eating somewhere special most Saturday evenings. Last night we chose Oshun, a Japanese/Asian fusion restaurant (although the owner is from no farther east than Barcelona). Like our other much cherished Saturday destinations, it is a most unlikely restaurant for a village this size. But it's here, it is fantastic, and we love it. By village standards it's also pricey, so we don't love it too often. Last night, including cocktails while we read the menu and enjoyed the sunset, a bottle of good local red wine and a tip, set us back the princely sum of £82.
That bought us each a salad of warm scallops on a bed of mixed leaves, dried seaweed and a spicy Thai dressing as a starter. My wife then had the breast of chicken with a mild Thai curry sauce, beautifully presented in a tower of crisp, diced mango, courgette and pineapple, a layer of soft, sauteed potato and topped by sprouted seeds. My main course, assembled in a very similar manner was seared duck breast, sliced and served with red and black currants, and a reduction of a local dessert wine.
This is my duck. Doesn't it make your mouth water?


On This Day...

Sometime during the night of 11th August 1936, at km4 on the road from Sevilla to Carmona, Francoist forces summarily executed Blas Infante Pérez de Vargas. This is a name unknown to most non-Spaniards, and I suspect to the majority of Spaniards not from Andalucía. Within Andalucía, on the other hand his name is so widely known that he is referred to simply as Blas Infante. A politician, writer and notary, he is considered to be the father of Andalucían nationalism (La Patria Andaluza). He designed the flag and coat of arms still used today by the autonomous community of Andalucía, and inspired the Andalucían anthem. His vision was not independence for the region, but recognition on an equal footing with other , more favoured regions. Today Spain is divided for regional government purposes into seventeen autonomous communities, of which Andalucía is the largest. It covers an area greater than that of Wales and Scotland combined, and even today feels as do those countries that it is remote from the central government and of little interest to the politicians in Madrid. To give an example or two of the disadvantage under which the region still struggles, unemployment in general and among young people in particular is the highest in Spain and on a par with levels in Greece. Also, figures show that health care professionals at all levels in Spain are paid less than in any of the other major EU countries; health care professionals in Andalucía are the lowest paid in Spain. The new democratic constitution which followed the death of Franco offered the opportunity for historic regions to be granted the status of ‘communidad autónoma’, with many powers devolved from Madrid. Andalucía was among the first to apply for autonomous status and is proud to have been the first to receive it. Even now, though, nearly forty years later the region continues to battle for an equitable treatment by the Madrid government. From abroad dissatisfaction is most often associated with Basque and more recently Catalan nationalism; the nationalism in our communidad is no less genuine but unlike the other two it is a nationalism which seeks expression within the Spanish nation, not as an independence movement. The dream continues and so at ten o’clock this evening, Andalucistas in Frigiliana will gather at the flag in the Parque de Andalucía to remember and respect the memory of Blas Infante. Andalucistas in cities, towns and villages across Andalucía will be doing likewise.



This is one of three blogs which I write, each on a totally different topic, and so for completeness, I have now posted links to them at the bottom of the page (My Blog List) in case anyone should be interested. There is actually a fourth blog which I started writing in Spanish but didn't keep up for very long. If ever I resurrect it, I'll put a link in that box too.

Don"t Knock It Till You've Tried It!

At the end of this month we shall be enjoying the annual Festival of Three Cultures. When it was first launched, the Jeremiahs, nay-sayers and carpers had a field day. The village was too small to host the kind of event that was planned. The village couldn't afford it; indeed they were way overspent and it hadn't even started. It was a vanity project, pure and simple for the Ayuntamiento. A disaster waiting to happen. Well year after year it has gone from strength to strength and this year we host the 10th annual Festival de Las Tres Culturas. Over the four days from 27th to 30th August, the organisers confidently expect that we shall attract more than forty thousand visitors to take part. This figure is achievable due in no small part to the quality of the concerts staged each evening. Past attractions have included the flamenco-rock band Radio Tarifa which had a huge following throughout Spain and beyond. In similar vein a couple of years we had Luar Na Lubre, a well-known Galician Celtic band. This year we step up to the mark again. The Sunday night concert which closes the festival will be by French-born, but of Spanish origin Manu Chao and his band, Radio Bemba. The group enjoy considerable success across Europe and indeed they are currently on tour around Europe; their only gig in Spain is here in Frigiliana. Tickets have gone on sale across Spain, and the concert will take place in the football stadium which has a capacity of 5,000. In addition we will have the Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Band, Carmen Paris, classical and Arab music; something for everyone. So much for the moaners and malcontents!


Too Much Of A Good Thing!

Over the past seven years I think I have managed to sustain a positive, upbeat outlook in my posts to this blog, and that's a good thing because you don't come on here to read of doom and gloom, which is just as well; doom and gloom has not been a feature of living in Frigiliana. Sometimes though the circumstances, to borrow one of my mother's phrases, would try the patience of a saint.
Since the end of June we have been beset by constant heatwave temperatures, and on the threshold of August we know that we can anticipate at least another five weeks of this heat or hotter. To give you an idea, I have just read that at half past two this morning, Frigiliana was recorded as having the tenth highest temperature in Spain - 32.6 degrees. I do my best not to use the cooker more than absolutely necessary, and the oven not at all. It's not just that you don't feel like eating much, but the temperature in my kitchen varies between 30 and 32 degrees. My heart goes out to all the professional cooks who have to endure temperatures much higher than that to keep customers fed.
On that subject, i am baffled bythe dietary practices of my fellow-countrymen over here on holiday. How can anyone sit down at lunchtime and demolish a plate of beefburger and chips in this weather - and then head out for another cooked meal in the early evening? We will probably settle for a bowl of chilled soup for lunch, and then we've decided to venture out this evening towards nine o'clock and risk a pizza on the plaza.
I know you shouldn't wish your life away, particularly at my age, but roll on September!


The Big Siesta

The afternoon break when workers take off two or more usually three hours off during the hottest part of the day, and then return to work for another three hour period from around five o'clock, is not as universally observed as it once was, but it is still basically the norm. For those of us who no longer work, the two months of July and August are passed as, in effect, a mega-siesta. Most days, most of the daylight hours are just too hot to do anything except the stricty necessary. I've mentioned this more than once before, possibly even every year, but it helps to explain why a particular problem arises with regard to this blog. What can I write about, when I don't do anything to write about?
Well, I don't actually do nothing at all, of course; one thing my wife and I do is go out in the evening to eat. last Saturday we were at The Garden Restaurant in the village, and last night we ate at El Mirador, also in the village. Next Saturday we still haven't decided. It could Oshun or it could be El Adarve, both also in the village.
It's a constant source of amazement to me that, even with the number of visitors to the village, with a population of less than three and a half thousand, Frigiliana manages to support four top-end restaurants. One would be pretty impressive, but four!
El Mirador, where we ate last night has evolved over recent years from a venue specialising in distinctive but authentically Spanish dishes, to a truly international cuisine that would hold its own anywhere in Spain, and probably in Europe. I started with a carpaccio of venison dressed with a cheese that perfectly complemented it, 'miel de caña', the local version of molasses which is still produced here in the village; like molasses, but much lighter, and topped by crisp raw vegetables. I followed with fillets of sea bass gently fried, served on a bed of Thai style stir fried vegetables and accompanied by a spicy mango salsa. My wife chose a salad of warm goats' cheese with caramelised onion and a leafy salad with miel de caña and the mango salsa at the side. Her salmon steak was cooked perfectly and served with the stir fried vegetables and pureed potato. A lovely surprise was the wine. Rafa, the co-owner refused to bring the wine list, but said that he wished to surprise me with a special bottle of red wine, on the house. Rafa is from Uruguay and I've had a dig at him in the past that he has no wines from his own country on his extensive and very carefully chosen list. Last night he presented us with a bottle of Urugayan red wine from the Tannat grape, a grape native to the French Basque region which has very successfully made the transition to Uruguay, where it produces wines with fine, balanced tannins and a lovely blackberry flavour. It now has a place on his updated wine list!
Make a note of the links below if ever you are coming to stay - or better still, live - in Frigiliana.

El Mirador: Info@mirador-frigiliana.com
The GardenRestaurant: www.garden-restaurant-frigiliana.com
Oshun: oshungastronomy@gmail.com
El Adarve: www.restauranteeladarve.com

You won't be disappointed by any of them.


The Heat Comes Early

It's been interesting to read about the heatwave in the UK, which has come sweeping up the Channel from the Bay of Biscay, but of course it didn't originate there; it has come up from North Africa. And to get to northern parts of Europe it has had to cross the Iberian Peninsula. So we too are in the grip of a heatwave. The big difference is that whilst the UK was lashed by thunderstorms which took some of the sting out of the heat, the earliest that we can expect to see any serious rain is late September/early October.
On the Mediterranean coast we have some moderating effects from the sea, so we have been having maximum temperatures of 32 to 34 degrees, although 36/37 is forecast for the start of next week. Inland, it has been much more oppressive (and still is). Madrid has regularly seen 40 degrees and both Sevilla and Córdoba have been as high as 42 degrees. This is nothing new. It happens every year; but not as early as this! Usually we associate this degree of heat with late July and August, so the question on people's minds is, is this a spike or must we endure it - and possibly higher temperatures still - until early September? And if it is indeed an early start to the hot weather, why should we assume that it will subside on time?
Fortunately, when we renovated our property after buying it we drew on our experience of visiting family in Northern Queensland during their summer. As a result, we installed air conditioning units in the living room and all three bedrooms, as well as ceiling fans, so we are able to combat the heat in a way which most of our Spanish neighbours can't. Our winter heating allowance actually gets spent as a summer cooling allowance.


Truth Is The First Casualty

 It seems that in one quarter at least the 2019 election campaign is under way. The past eight years have been blighted by a stream of accusations, misrepresentations, half truths, downright lies and groundless 'denuncias' aimed at those in power at the town hall. The dust has hardly settled from the recent elections and it's started again. I'm tempted to think that the source is the same, though I have no direct evidence.
A couple of evenings ago I was angrily informed that the ruling consejales (councillors) are drawing salariies of 53,000€, and that the alcade (mayor) is getting another 10,000€ on top of that. Quite rightly, the person who told me that was outraged. But the source of his information? "It must be true!everybody is telling me." And, knowung it to be true, he's now telling everyone else. Except it's not true. Someone has fed this false information into the expatriate community where it is spreading like wildfire - and we've enough real fires to worry about at the moment, but that is another story.
Unlike other people I checked this before going public. The highest paid councillors receive 1,500 per month, plus - like all employees in Spain - an additional month's pay at Christmas and in the summer holiday period. Which amounts to 1,500€ x 14 which gives 21,000€, which in turn is in line with average abnual net earnings in Spain. However, you cannot simply multiply this sum by seven councillors. 
The alcalde (Partido Popular) draws the full salary, but nothing over and above that. Two of the remaining PP councillors share a full salary, split 60/40. According to my information, the fourth PP councillor does not draw any salary.
The deputy alcalde (Partido Andalucista) draws a full salary and no extras, whilst a second PA councillor receives a half salary (10,500€) and the third PA councillor receives nothing. So instead of the alleged total of 371,010€ a year in salaries, the actual total is only 73,500€ with no one getting rich from holding office.
These figures, incidentally are not secret; they are available on the Ayuntamiento's website, so I'm bound to conclude that the person who set this off knew that his/her figures were blatantly untrue. In village politics, truth is the first casualty.


Feria 2015

Photographs from the romería and the late night concert. Just the soap box derby and the fireworks to fo today and that's it for another year.


Shattering The Peace And Quiet

It's not easy to describe any Spanish village as quiet except during the hours of siesta. Conversations often take place with the participants at some distance from each other, scooters and small motorcycles tend to be noisy with defective silencers adding to the decibels, and it's quite common to stop your vehicle outside your friend's house and then shout to get his attention. If you tarry too long, a chorus of car horns will encourage you to get out of the way.
Children go noisily to school later to return home equally noisily. In the evenings they are out and about (noisily) with their friends, and no parent would ever think of putting their child to bed before they too are ready to turn in.
Through a process of enculturalisation you evolve to a state of mind in which you cease to consciously notice all this; the village is awash with quiet noise. However, this evening this changes for the rest of the week and across the weekend. Tonight is the start of Feria, the annual fiesta to celebrate the feast of San Antonio de Padua, after whom the village church is named. A fairground has arrived and set up shop in the middle of the village (or, viewed from a different perspective, within 200 metres of our home). A variety of rides are ready to spring into action, each with its own generator, lots of hissing and whistling of compressed air, music playing at brain-numbing volume, and under all the distinct thump, thump, thump of the bass notes. When the rides finally pack up for the night, the disco gets under way at a similar decibel level while the young party through till dawn. The no longer young, by contrast, toss and turn the night away muttering threats and profanities and praying for midnight on Sunday. Last year we went away. This year we are here. Oh well, it's only once a year.


Nothing Yet

We've had a party meeting, two meetings with the other parties and we have another party meeting this evening to hear about those discussions and decide where we go from here. So I still can't tell you anything useful.


Quick Update

I've had around twenty visits to the blog since the polls closed last night, many clearly looking for the results, so this is the situation today. Four parties fielded candidates. One (Equo, which is linked to Podemos) got a number of votes but not enough to secure a seat. There is a complete stand off between the other three parties. With eleven seats to play for, the result was Partido Andalucista (3), Partido Popular (4) and PSOE (4). Two things are certain. After twenty years PA has lost control of the Ayuntamiento. And I was not elected, not that I ever expected that I would be.
When I know what happens next, I'll write some more on the subject.


Almost The Last Day Of Campaigning.

Sunday we go to the polls and so Saturday is a day for reflecting ad deciding, assuming you haven't already decided. No campaigning is allowed after midnight tomorrow. We are only a small village even though we run our own affairs, around three and a half thousand inhabitants, nowhere near enough to have your own mayor and council in the UK.
The present mayor, or alcalde, held office with his party for twenty years, but has now retired and so we face the electorate with a new leader, but with the same committment to the continued economic. cultural, sporting and tourist development of the village.
I am linking to an election video that we have uploaded to youtube. Remember, 3,500 residents; this is what has been achieved on their behalf. Don't worry about understanding the words. The pictures tell the full story.


A Taste Of History

Today some friends from a neighbouring village came over to see us and take up to a restaurant in the nearby hamlet of El Acebuchal about seven kilometres from Frigiliana. It is approached by way of a narrow twisting road climbing up into the mountains, so I was relieved that John was driving, especially as he has a four by four. In fact the road is part of the ancient mule train route through the mountains from the coast to Granada. The hamlet was a stop along the route for the muleteers to get food and drink before continuing on their way. It grew up during the seventeenth century and was inhabited up to 1949.
Following the end of the Spanish Civil War a large group of communist fighters retreated into the surrounding mountains from where they conducted a guerrilla campaign against the army and Guardia Civil. There are different versions of the part played by the inhabitants of El Acebuchal, but the outcome was that in1949 they were all evicted by the Guardia Civil and the place gradually collapsed into a collection of ruins. Then in 1998 one couple who had moved to Frigiliana finally got permission to begin a rebuilding programme which was completed in 2005, though a number of houses remain unrestored. Antonio and Virtudes also reopened and ran the bar, although they have now pretty much retired and their son, also Antonio, has taken over. By coincidence, Antonio (senior) and Virtudes still live in Frigiliana, two doors away from us; but I had never before been to their bar/restaurant, our destination today.
I knew that the menu focused on local game which is abundant in these mountains - rabbit, mountain goat, wild boar and deer, plus chicken, pork (no rural home was without its chickens and its pig in days gone by) and locally grown vegetables so I was expecting these meats cooked 'a la parrilla  ' (over coals) or 'a la plancha ' (on the griddle), as elsewhere. Not so. This was the traditional cooking of the sierras, hearty stews cooked in wood-fired ovens. Our friends each chose the chicken, my wife opted for oxtail and I went for the rabbit. Each had its own distinctive rich, dark sauce, beautifully spiced to complement the particular meat which just fell off the bone. Only one word will adequately describe those sauces; unctuous.
So it was a great lunch, but also a fascinating insight into the history of this region. The spice combinations were typical of the Maghreb, the North African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Lybia and Algeria. This was cooking brought with them to Al Andalusia, by the Berber tribes which invaded the Peninsula via Gibraltar (Gibr Al Tariq) way back in the eighth century. As my title says - a taste of history.


More About My Entry Into Spanish Politics

It looks like being a busy time over the next four weeks. Yesterday was photoshoot day. Group and individual photographs for the manifesto document. Last Tuesday evening I spent a couple of hours at a meeting for foreign residents to hear their concerns and to provide thought for finalising the manifesto. Tomorrow morning I have a meeting to thrash out more of the detail and then on Tuesday evening I’m due to join the team at a meeting to listen to local business people, Spanish and foreign. Other meetings are held with different groups, those involved in sporting activities in the village, women, older people. We also need to sell the new team, though that must await the start of the campaigning period on 8th May. That’s already in my diary for the public presentation of the team to the voters. Javier, the alcalde for the past twenty years has passed the reins to Paco, a well-known and much respected man around the village: by day he is a carpenter, and he is also Hermano Mayor of the Cofradía. I can best describe that as President of the Brotherhoods, best known for their Holy Week processions as penitents, but busy with other works around the village as well. The only consejala standing for reelection is María José who has done sterling work over the past four years to build visitor numbers and boost our tourism industry. Otherwise it’s new blood all the way, apart from Kevin Wright, not a councillor himself but loved and valued around the village for his work through the Town Hall’s Department for Foreign Residents. As I said last time I referred to the elections, I am down at the bottom of the list so don’t expect to be one of those elected. So why stand? I said a few words about that at the meeting with foreign residents. First of all, I consider it an honour to be invited to join the team at all. Over and above that though, I have known the village since the autumn of 1983, first on holiday visits, then for a six month ‘test drive’ and for the last seven years as a resident. So I have seen the changes and can put the Partido Andalucista contribution into context. And it is a huge contribution. In 1983 while we were here there was a celebration to mark the presentation of an title that Frigiliana had been awarded the year before, when it was declared the prettiest village in Spain, amazing for a population of just around 2,000 people. The award was largely the result of the previous alcalde, Antonio Navas Acosta. With a keen interest in the history of the region, he was instrumental in the decision that the cobbled streets, which were in a parlous state, should be replaced not with concrete, but with relaid cobbles, and that these moreover should incorporate traditional Arab patterns picked out in a contrasting colour of cobble. He also had twelve ceramic tile panels mounted on walls around the historic quarter of the village, telling the story of the Battle of Frigiliana. So with the renovations and the award the stage was set to develop a valuable tourism resource. Except it didn’t happen. The elections of 1983 brought a change of political control and an alcalde actively opposed to the idea of tourism. He refused to allow coach parties to come up to the village. That was the continuing state of affairs until Partido Andalucista took control in the 1995 elections: twelve years of opportunity wasted. Back in 1983 it was still less than ten years since the death of Franco. The transition to democracy was even more recent, and this was a totally different village. Andalucía was traditionally a land of day labourers: some days you had work, some days you didn’t. It reminds me in that sense of dock workers in Britain in the forties and fifties - standing in all weathers outside the dock gates in the hope of being picked from the crowd to go inside and do some paid work. Hand to mouth. So just about every family had their plot of land where they could grow vegetables of various kinds, keep a pig and a few chickens, and so put food on the table. Almost every family also had one or more mules, the multipurpose farming animals that made all this possible. Housing was cramped, dark and damp. Life was better than it had been in the thirties and forties, but still had a lot of improving to do. Apart from the reconstruction at La Molineta (then a totally separate hamlet), and an upmarket development of villas at nearby Cortijo de San Rafael on the road down to the coast, there were virtually no foreigners living in the village and the great majorityof those came and went on holiday visits. The new village was still very sparsely developed with lots of open space. The cemetery was on the edge of the campo. Restaurant Orihuela marked the beginning of the village as you came up from Nerja. At the far end of the village, once you came to the junction of Calle Real and Calle San Teresa de Ávila, there was nothing more apart from the Ecce Homo chapel, and Cobos bar. Oh, and an irrigation channel where the women would still gather to do their laundry by hand in the cold water. Leaving the village there was a dirt road leading out into the campo to the family plots and eventually to the neighbouring village of Torrox. The ridges on the far side of the valley had no water supply and so were mainly uninhabited. That was recognised by the incoming PA administration and plans were soon drawn up to improve the daily life of the villagers. Tourism was on the up and up, and so was the building industry as hotels and apartment blocks were needed to cope with the growing demand for accommodation. Locally, Nerja was part of this growth and starting to offer job opportunities in construction and hospitality. As tourist numbers increased in Nerja, people increasingly came looking for holiday homes to buy in Frigiliana. This in turn speeded up the new building in the newer part of the village, as people were able to move out of their substandard homes - which were immediately renovated by the foreigners, providing work in the village - and into decent properties. Progressively from 1995, the road to Torrox was widened, the worst bends straightened and the whole road properly surfaced. This allowed development of housing out into the campo, and as the infrastructure crept along, first one ridge and then another became accessible and homes were foreign buyers start to spring up. A ring road was built bypassing the new village and solving the problem of roads not equipped for two way traffic. A programme of urban development was put in place, with a clear objective; no massive urbanisations, no high rise, everything to conform to a size and style which was in harmony with what already existed. Against the trend of Spanish villages declining and dying, Frigiliana was able to grow and until the global recession of 2007 was able to provide employment for its young people, as well as a whole range of leisure opportunities, a multisports centre and gymnasium, a municipal swimming pool and all weather football ground and a padel court and several others. All of this has happened since PA came to power in 1995, and to my mind, that is no coincidence. That is why I was only too happy to accept the invitation to be part of this year’s team, and give something back to the community that welcomes us and so many other foreigners to live in their village.


Spoilt For Choice (cont.)

If you prefer something British then your requirements will be well met at Splash, alongside the swimming pool on Calle Carlos Cano, at Fandangos, beyond Calle Chorruelo or at Balcon de Frigiliana at the bottom of Avenida Andalucía just before the roundabout at the entrance to the village. A restaurant pretty much in a category of its own is El Boquetillo on Calle San Sebastian, very close to the centre of the village. Andy the chef is from Scotland. He is a keen fan of street food and the two combine in one of his starters, haggis fritters. But the menu offers wraps, nachos, quesadillas, noodles, Thai curries, and imaginative salads. He is often called away to cater for big tours (this year's include X Factor, The Vamps and AC/DC) but his handpicked and personally trained staff know what he wants so well, that you will not know from the food or the service whether Andy is in the kitchen or not; they maintain the standard he has set. It also has the benefit of being unbelievably reasonably priced. In fact, we eat there every week unless we are away from the village. For something a bit more special and if you are prepared to lash out a few more euros you have a choice of four restaurants, all up in the Barribarto, the original Arab part of the village. The Garden Restaurant leans towards North African and Middle Estern flavours. As the name implies it is set in gardens with really good views across the village. Go up the stepped street, Calle Hernando el Darro until you come to an arch on the righthand side. Take this tune and continue up the hill. The Garden is on the right. If you carry on up to the top, you come to El Mirador, probably our favourite celebration destination. Rafa and his wife Rose Mary are from Uruguay and their menu is international in character and outstanding in quality. If, on the other hand, you ignore the archway and instead go straight ahead from Hernando el Darro up Calle Armagura, then you will quickly arrive at one of the newer restaurants, Oshun Gastronomy Lounge which specialises in Asian fusion, with a strong emphasis on fish and seafood. Like the previous two, it offers spectacular views from the terraces. The fourth restaurant is on again up Armagura until you reach Calle Alta. Turn left and almost immediately on your left is Adarve, a fitting name as in Arabic it refer to the walkway that runs along the top of a town's defensive walls which were once here. Primarily top quality Spanish with a with a wider, Mediterranean flavour. Anybody needing a celebration while in Frigiliana could do no better than one of these four restaurants. I have neglected to mention restaurants serving typically Andalusian or Spanish food. Despite the impression I may have given so far, they account for the great majority of the choices open to you. It is virtually impossible to get a bad meal or bad service. I shall just mention a handful that I particularly like, but try anywhere without anxiety. The oldest restaurant in the same family is El Tangay on Avenida de Andalucía. This is where you will find absolutely authentic traditional dishes of the Axarquía, the area surrounding Frigiliana. I love their soup with cabbage, chickpeas, jamon, chicken, chorizo and sometimes black pudding. It's your typical big pan always on the stove type of soup. Up the hill, heading back towards the centre of the village is Las Chinas, not, as you might wrongly assume from the name, a Chinese restaurant but traditional Spanish. In the centre of the village, much loved by coach parties is the terrace of Virtudes. If we're late back from the airport this is one of the restaurants that can usually be relied upon to be still serving. The Plaza de la Iglesia, opposite the church offers Taberna del Sacristan, with tables out on the plaza, a great atmosphere. Then heading down Calle Chorruelo you have a choice of two, La Bodeguilla or La Alegría del Barrio. Actually, La Bodeguilla itself offers a choice of two. In addition to the restaurant on Chorruelo, in the evenings when the weather is appropriate the original La Bodeguilla is open in a tiny, tucked away square just alongside the church. Is it any wonder I love living here!


Spoilt For Choice

We ate at a local restaurant on Saturday evening and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, though it was not the type of menu you would expect in a small village in southern Spain. But then we have plenty of places to choose from, forty seven bars and restaurants in total. What that means is that the visitor new to Frigiliana has a difficult choice. If you were here for a fortnight and were extravagant enough to eat lunch and dinner at a different place every day, you would still have to leave nineteen unexplored, which I guess is a very good reason for coming back to finish the job.
So, can I help you to narrow down your choices? I'll try. First, how do you want to eat? Spanish, British, ethnic or cosmopolitan.
To take the easiest group first, Sal y Pimienta on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas is a Polish restaurant serving authentic Polish food in generous quantities and at very reasonable prices. We mainly eat there during the winter as our aging stomachs find the food on the heavy side for the warmer weather. Two doors away, a German couple run an excellent pizzeria with an enormous range of pizzas to choose from. Apart from the classics the pizzas are named for local people. Everything is freshly baked, and again, prices are very reasonable. Next, on Calle San Sebastián, the main road through the modern part of the village, you will find an Indian restaurant. We haven't eaten there, but friends who have have offered mixed opinions, so you will have to judge for yourselves. Finally in this category is Al Fuente, on Calle Real, the main street through the historic village.
I'll return to this topic next time.


Local Elections

On Sunday 24th May Frigiliana goes to the polls. Four years have passed since the present administration took office so it's time to vote again. The system here is quite different to what happens in the UK. Firstly, on Friday 8th May all the councillors leave office, although there is nothing to stop them from seeking re-election, and matters are dealt with instead by the officials until the new council has been elected. So potentially we lack the continuity that is given to British local government by the tradition of annual elections with one third of councillors leaving each year. Having said that, there has been great continuity here in Frigiliana as the Partido Andalucista has held power for five terms, this latest in coalition with the two Partido Popular councillors elected in 2011. The second difference is that you don't vote for individual candidates, but for the person who is put forward by each party for the post of Alcalde, or mayor. In consultation with the party this candidate then selects a team who will join him or her in power if the party is successful. So when you go into the polling booth you vote for a party, not individuals. The result is then determined on a proportional basis. Each party polling above a threshold level is allocated seats according to the percentage of votes cast for the party. We have eleven seats to be filled, and so to govern alone a party needs a minimum of six seats. In 2011 neither Partido Andalucista nor PSOE, the socialist party managed this. PA won four seats, PSOE five and Partido Popular, the conservative equivalent, took the two remaining seats. PA was able to continue in power by forming a coalition with PP, something which gave rise to great indignation within the ranks of PSOE whose members and supporters took the view that they had won and had a moral right to take over. Sadly for them a moral right carries no weight in the calculations and PSOE and PP were so far apart in policy terms that there was no way they could have found enough common ground to form a coalition. My own sympathies lie with Partido Andalucista. I have known the village now for over thirty years and so I have witnessed its regeneration under PA control. So I accepted an invitation to be considered for their list, and following a meeting yesterday evening where I signed my life away and put my signature to an acceptance form, I am now a candidate in the election. Having said that, I shall not get overexcited. As I said, there are eleven seats to be allocated across three parties. I come in at number 12 on the PA list (a suplente or reserve). Even so I can make my contribution by taking the campaign to the foreign residents.


A Difficult Decision

Over twenty years ago I was diagnosed as having Type 2 Diabetes. I had gone to my GP on one of those "It's probably nothing, but...." visits. The outcome was diagnosis of diabetes which for the first six years I managed to keep under good control by diet alone. Then the blood sugar levels started to creep up and it was time to start on medication, so for well over fifteen years I have been taking a tablet each day, whilst still being strict about my diet and so everything has been fine. Just lately though, I have noticed what appears to be a change. Nothing dramatic, but in the end you have to take notice. My original symptom all those years ago was that I had the feeling that there was something between my bare feet and the floor which dulled the sense of contact. I expressed it as like having a sticking plaster on the underside of my two big toes. It turned out that this was nerve damage caused by gloopy blood not being able to get through the very small blood vessels. There didn't seem to be any change for the worse in that, so I gave it no more thought. However, a few months ago I started to mislocate the pedals occasionally when driving. I put it down to loose sandals, changed to a different pair for driving and everything seemed fine. Except that lately it has happened on a few occasions. Depressing the clutch pedal, I catch the edge of the brake pedal. Or going for the brake I hit the accelerator at the same time. On none of these occasions has there been any danger, but it has startled and alarmed my wife. I am aware that I have to move my feet consciously to where I know the appropriate pedals are, rather as you have to when learning to drive, instead of simply doing things automatically. The errors occur when I have to do something more quickly. Clearly, my level of sensitivity has deteriorated, and equally clearly that could be dangerous. So, I have taken a deep breath, admitted that there are times when we have to do what we would prefer not to. I have handed my car keys over to Mary. She will now be our driver. I'm still getting used to sitting in the passenger seat, and to accepting that her driving style is different to mine, but more competent than I can now be.It wasn't easy, but I know I've done the right thing.



The word 'saeta' literally means 'arrow' or 'dart', but it is also a crucial component of the processions which characterize Holy Week in Spain. A saeta is a flamenco lament directed at Our Lady as she endures the capture, humiliation and execution of her son, Jesus. In major cities it is usually sung by a recognized vocalist from the world of popular music, and with local connections. The sound is harsh and lyrical at the same time, and you can hear flamenco's Indian and Arab roots. It's not to everyone's taste, but Holy Week would not be complete without it. This example is from Málaga, and the singer who is from the city, is Diana Navarra.

The Season Begins

On my iPad I have an app called Flightradar24, which tracks aircraft movements around the world. I keep the map area focused around Frigiliana and Málaga, so that if I am in a particularly nerdy frame of mind I can see where planes flying over us have come from. Looking at the general flow of traffic earlier and again just now, there is a steady stream f flights coming down from the north, out over the sea and then turning for their final approach and landing from the south. Just as the swifts and martins began arriving a few weeks ago, so the start of Holy Week, and the beginning of Easter school holidays brings tourists and holiday makers in droves. Since the collapse of the construction industry in 2008 this is the major contributor to the economic wellbeing of the Costas. If it turns out to be a good year, hotels, holiday apartments, bars and restaurants will be booming from now until the end of September, not to mention shops, coach tours, car hire and leisure parks.
As if in recognition of the importance of making a good impression, and following a pretty dismal March, yesterday dawned bright, sunny and warm; no clouds, no wind, no rain - and that is how the ten-day forecast says it's going to remain.
I shall play my own part. This morning a pair of lightweight chinos and a short-sleeved shirt came out of the wardrobe. Soon, with a bit of luck, shorts will replace chinos, and shoes and socks will give way to sandals.


No Revolution In Frigiliana

Yesterday saw elections to the Junta de Andalucía. The results are now known and locally the biggest impact on the voting pattern has been the relative success of two new parties, Podemos and C's, who took 18% of the votes, mainly from Partido Popular and Partido Andalucista; the socialist vote represented by PSOE and Izquierda Únida was virtually unchanged.
Interestingly, PP and PA are the current ruling coalition in the village, so I wonder if this tells us anything about the likely outcome of the local elections in May.
Of course the local result yesterday means nothing in itself; it is the result for the whole of Andalucía that counts. There were three parties with seats in the retiring Junta, PSOE, PP and IU. The new Junta now has five. Podemos and C's have both won seats. Indeed, out of a total of 109 seats, these two parties hold 24. PSOE and IU have 52 seats jointly which deprives them of their previous ability to govern in coalition, whilst PP are the main losers and hold 33 seats having lost 17. So a coalition is required. My hunch is that it will be three-way, PSOE, Podemos and IU, although the first two would have a workable majority on their own.
The other significant party over recent months, UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy) failed to reach the 5% threshold and so once again did not win a seat. Their very strong focus on being the 'clean', anti-corruption party appears to have cut no ice.


Quite A Lot Going On

Two things are noteworthy today. It is the Spring Equinox, officially the first day of Spring, though you wouldn't guess it from the weather, and it's also my youngest granddaughter's ninth birthday. She is now the delighted owner of a selfie stick. I know because she posted her first selfie-stick selfie on Mummy's FaceBook page. I first became aware of these devices in the hands of Japanese tourists who brought with them the disconcerting habit of 'doing the village' with gaze fixed on their camera floating ahead of and slightly above them. I've often wondered whether, as they trawl through the skipload of photos back at home, they have the faintest idea where they were taken.
On Thursday we celebrated our wedding anniversary by heading off to Málaga for the night. We had previously booked to spend a couple of nights at the Parador in the small town of Chinchón about 30km from Madrid, a five hour drive away. Then on Monday I saw the weather forecast for the whole of Spain; low temperatures and heavy rain until the middle of next week. We cancelled and decided to go to Málaga instead. The forecast was not wrong. Even in Málaga it was miserable, but we found a 'marisquería' (restaurant specialising in fish and seafood), just across the road from our hotel. Opposite was the invitingly named Bar Gin Tonic, so that was a good place for a pre-dinner drink. The only difficulty was deciding which combination of around fifty gins and a dozen or so tonics to choose. That's my kind of problem so it was no hardship.
We had intended to make our way back to the bus station on Friday morning by way of the large central market where we could find some fish for our evening meal, but the weather was so miserable that we just got a taxi straight to the bus station and came home early.
Tomorrow is another important day in this part of Spain. The country is divided into seventeen 'autonomous communities', the largest and one of the poorest being Andalucía. It is governed by the Junta de Andalucía, and tomorrow is election day. We expats don't have a vote in Junta elections, so I find myself an interested observer from the sidelines. It promises to be an interesting election this time round, with a number of new parties, so it seems wise to wait for the results and then comment on here.


And Other Good Things Just Take You By Surprise

Just looked at the stats for this blog, and overnight I passed 10,000 visits!
Thank you all for your interest and support.


Good Things Are Worth Waiting For

I had an appointment at the local hospital this morning to get the results of an echocardiogram. That goes all the way back to July of last year when I had what I described as a 'funny do', but which our daughter who was staying with us at the time, said I should see my doctor about. And so began a long drawn out process of being checked at the village health centre, then referred to the Internal Medicine Dept of the district hospital. A series of tests followed and threw up evidence of a mini stroke. Anticoagulant drugs were prescribed to reduce the risk of further clotting, but then an ECG showed a marked irregularity in the heart rhythm. So that called for an ultrasound scan of my heart. What with going to England for Christmas, that didn't happen till the end of January. Then my godson's wedding - also in England - had to be accommodated, so it was only today that I got to hear the results. Even then there was a delay. My appointment was at 10.30 but the specialist had been delayed up on the ward, so I didn't get in to see her until 11.35. That's about par in my UK experience, but quite exceptional here; you can normally rely on being seen within ten to fifteen minutes of your appointment time.
Anyway, five minutes later I was back outside with the news that my heart is fine; I just have an irregular heartbeat which she is not worried about. No more tests, no treatment necessary, no more appointments. I think a glass of something might be called for this evening.


Mundane March

Now that carnival is behind us we have to wait for April to bring us Holy Week. In the meantime it's a case of plodding our way through March. The temperatures are up and down; some days it feels like spring, others it's like winter again. Some migratory birds are starting to arrive but not yet in substantial numbers. Restaurants which had closed at the end of November are starting to reopen but on restricted hours. It's all a bit up in the air.
On the domestic front we had to get a guy in to fix the dishwasher, but he seems to have done more harm than good, so tomorrow I have to wait in for a new machine to be delivered and installed. Then on Wednesday it's off to the hospital for an appointment with my specialist to get the results of my echocardiogram and learn what, if anything, happens next. Oh, and I'm only 54 hits short of 10,000 on this blog. There's something to look forward to.


A Busy Day Tomorrow

On the 28th February 1980, a referendum was held in which the people of Andalucía confirmed their wish to form an autonomous community under the new constitution being prepared as a result of the death of Franco and the restitution of the monarchy under Juán Carlos I. That event is celebrated annually as El Día de Andalucía, a public holiday.
Democracy is a precious and at times delicate flower in Spain and so tomorrow at 11am, we will gather at the flagpole in Parque de Andalucía (Andalusia Park). There will be a speech from the mayor, the Andalucían flag will raised and the Hymn to Andalucía will be sung accompanied by the village band. The band will then lead everyone through the streets of the village to La Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Three Cultures Square) where there will be an artisan market with stalls by local crafts people and local food producers.
As if recognising the significance of all this, the weather has responded in kind. When we set off for England ten days ago we left behind temperatures of 11 to 13 degrees; we have returned to 17 to 19 degrees. Winter is not yet over, but it feels as though we have turned the corner.


A Short Trip To England

Last Wednesday we flew over to England on a short but enormously important visit. My godson, Dan, the younger son of my youngest brother married his fiancée, Laura in a civil ceremony at a beautiful barn near Winchester. We stayed with our elder daughter and her two girls on Wednesday and Thursday, and then on Friday drove to a hotel about five miles from the wedding venue. Other family members stayed there too, so eleven of us sat down together, including Dan, for a family dinner. I was asked to choose a red wine. The prices horrified me, to be honest, but there at the lower end of the price range was a Tempranillo, Garnacha blend from the Cariñena region of Spain, a type of wine that I have a lot of time for. It seems to have been a popular choice because by the end of the meal I had downed quite a lot more than was wise.
Our two daughters and our granddaughters travelled down on Saturday morning and the marriage of Dan and Laura at one o'clock was a wonderful start to a great day of celebration, marred only a little by the icy wind when all the guests gathered on the lawn at 11.30 to wave off the new Mr and Mrs Hurdley, all of us waving sparklers, which to be honest gave off virtually no heat at all. I would have preferred to wave a patio heater. Anyway, we're now back home where it's noticeably warmer


Wrap Up Warm

There are two ‘difficult’ months in Frigiliana, February and August. These are the months when we hit our temperature extremes. In August, as I already commented in previous posts, the temperature climbs into at least the mid-thirties and possibly even higher. In February the problem is cold, often combined with high winds adding a wind chill factor. This year we are experiencing more cold than usual. An Atlantic anticyclone is pushing the air from Central Europe across Western Europe and through into the Iberian Peninsula. In the north of Spain conditions are horrendous. More than two hundred people had to be rescued from their cars by the Civil Guard and the army’s emergency units. Roads are closed due to deep snow, overturned trucks and abandoned cars. Brits landing in Santander a couple of days ago to head down to our region to enjoy some winter sun, have instead had to sleep on floors in hotel lounges and local sports halls until the weather improves, though it is forecast to get even worse through today and tomorrow. Doubtless they won’t have packed for such conditions and must be feeling utterly miserable right now. Where we are it’s nowhere nearly as bad as that, but we have snow on the mountain tops. Our daily maximum temperatures are around ten degrees, though the wind makes it feel much colder, and the over night last night was zero degrees. The effect of the cold is exacerbated for us by the fact that Spanish houses and apartments might better be considered brick tents when it comes to thermal insulation. We have no loft insulation, for instance, because we have no loft. The other side of our ceilings you have the roof terrace; in between only concrete. So February is a month to be endured rather than enjoyed. More so than August. In August, when the heat of the day starts to dissipate around nine o’clock in the evening, people can go out and socialise out of doors. In February you stay indoors in the evenings as it’s too cold to go out and about, and even if you did go out, you’d likely meet no one. Except tonight. A group of us get together every six weeks or so and meet for a meal in a local restaurant, usually a couple of dozen people, so it’s all organised ahead of time and we get a limited choice, set menu at a keen price. Tonight is one of those group meals, so it will be wrap up warm and head off through the village to La Bodeguilla, for a typical Spanish meal washed down with good Spanish wine, and an evening among friends.


The Humble Chickpea

A couple of nights ago I served up a dish that I hadn't cooked before; chickpeas and chorizo. It was a cross between a soup and a stew with a tomato base, and I came across it in "Rick Stein's Spain". We both really enjoyed it, and it had an authentic Spanish flavour. But it also set me thinking.
Before I came to Spain chickpeas were what you make hummus with, and that was about it. Since encountering Spanish and North African cuisine, I have discovered just how useful and versatile this pulse can be in terms of what it can be combined with, and how it can be used. At a very simple level, once you have soaked some dried chickpeas you can sprout them to provide a wonderfully crunchy texture and nutty flavour to go into salads. Or they can be cooked with some chicken stock, then put through the blender to create a thick, smooth, warming soup, and by holding some back from the blender to be added back, you have á distinctly different soup. A classic Galician soupy stew combines chickpeas with tripe, which I'm sure is a great combination, but not for me, as I loathe tripe with a passion. 
They go well in fact with other meats like pork, chicken and beef, but also with meaty fish like monkfish, hake and swordfish. Interesting texture combinations include chickpeas with pasta, with rice, with spinach, with green beans.
Chickpeas are the pulse which is finely milled to make gram flour, commonly used in Indian cooking, so I have made pakoras from cauliflower or broccoli florets, and a restaurant we often visit which is owned by an inventive Scottish chef, offers as a starter haggis pakora - though not on Burn's Night. Gram flour is also used to make a heavy batter into which finely chopped raw prawn is stirred. Take a frying pan with about half a centimetre of oil and in no time at all you have a stack of delicious prawn fritters, or tortillitas de camarones; look out for them on tapas menus when you are here in Andalucía.
And of course, there's good old hummus to dip your pita into and relish. Except that too shows unexpected opportunities for invention and experimentation. Leap from the Middle East to Mexico and it makes a great alternative to refried beans in your wraps. Or use it in generous quantities as the carbohydrate of the dish, and then top it with caramelised onions, spicy diced pork or chicken, or chilli prawns. There really seems to be no end to the possibilities.


A Clutch Of Festivities

We spent Christmas in England for the first time in about four years ago. Much as we enjoy what Christmas has to offer here in the village, it was a delight to be with the family for a change. By great good fortune, we found a self-catering apartment a mere three or four minutes’ walk from our daughter’s house, allowing us to have the best of both worlds; to be with the children as they unwrapped their mountain of presents, but able to retreat to our own quiet space whenever the impatience of age began to kick in. We arrived back here on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year and so were able then to look forward to joining friends for a New Year’s Eve meal at one of our favourite restaurants. Sadly, the years are really starting to have their impact and so we didn’t head off up to the church square to see in the actual New Year, although we heard the fireworks at midnight. Of course, in Spain enough is never enough and so now we await the arrival of the Three Kings on Monday evening and the opening of the gifts by the children the following morning. On Monday there will be bouncy castles with cartoon characters in attendance and on Tuesday there will be ice skating in the main square, La Plaza De Las Tres Culturas for both children and adults, experienced skaters and novices, with marshals available to gather up the casualties. After that there is absolutely nothing to celebrate until 20th January, the feast of San Sebastián, one of the village patrons. By then we are well into 2015. It will be interesting to see what it brings.