Christmas Day

To be absolutely honest, this is a Christmas that I had hoped would be spent in a new home back in England. Sadly, with the current state of the property market, that was not to be. Our home remains on the market and we hope that a buyer will appear in the coming twelve months.
It's not because we no longer like it here. If you have to be stranded anywhere there are few better places to be. It's just that with increasing age and decreasing stamina, living on the side of a mountain gets more challenging. Going up to the car park behind us involves climbing thirty seven steep steps, whilst returning from the Centre of the village involves thirty five steps to get to the front door, followed by a further twenty eight up to our floor.
On the benefit side this is a beautiful place to spend Christmas. Outside it's cold but sunny with a clear blue sky. We are just the two of us this year, which is a lovely change. It's so easy to be sociable in this village that we tend to forget that sometimes it's nice to be unsociable and just enjoy each other's company.
In Spain the main Christmas meal is held on Christmas Eve, and everywhere closes around six o'clock so that staff can get home to their families. So for us Christmas began on Friday with a visit to one of our favourite restaurants, a fish restaurant. Cream of lobster soup followed by grilled turbot in a citrus sauce, accompanied by a very good bottle of red wine from the Ribera del Duero region. I've said it before, but to repeat myself, when you're looking for a good Spanish red, look for Ribera del Duero on the label rather than Rioja. On a pound for pound basis you'll do far better.
Last night we went to Midnight Mass in the seventeenth century village church (extended and converted from the earlier mosque). It was a 'proper' Midnight Mass; the priest appeared at midnight, so we were already celebrating Christmas, and what a celebration. One of Frigiliana's groups of traditional singers and musicians was in attendance and what they may lack in polish they more than compensate with enthusiasm. After the gospel reading, the children presented their Nativity play with equal verve. Latin countries do emotion so much more uninhibitedly than we Brits.
So here I am, all the bits and pieces I need are ready in the kitchen for a lunch that will stretch across the afternoon and into the evening, and I can pause for a while to wish you all a Happy Christmas.


On The Other Hand......

So here we are once agin in the week before Christmas soon to be followed by New Year's Eve, and then the start of 2017. It's the time of year when the media look back and review what happened. As usual, I suspect it's going to make for a miserable message. Yemen and Syria continue to be devastated by wars which are killing countless civilian and and forcing millions more to grab what they can carry and leave. Traffickers continue to despatch thousands to the mercy of the Mediterranean, where regularly they drown. Those that get as far as Europe find a very cool welcome awaits them.
There have been the usual number of suicide bombers. Authoritarian populism seems to be on the increase across Europe and the USA. One celebrity after another has gone to meet their maker. All in all, a pretty grim year. In the words of Tina Turner, I found myself asking Is that all there is?
So I decided to look at the other side of the coin. Amid the carnage of Syria and Yemen are medical and aid workers, putting their own lives at risk in order to save others, and living in the same impossible conditions, showing that solidarity and humanity are not dead.
Right here in Frigiliana there's a different story to be told, too. A story of two groups of women, one Spanish, one British, who have been getting together for most of this year to knit blankets, scarves, mittens and bonnets for the refugees crowded into camps in Europe, as well as bonnets for children in Málaga suffering hair loss as they undergo chemotherapy. Or the story of this past weekend, when over 500kg of food were donated for the benefit of those who are in dire need this Christmas, as well as more than €750 which will go to the local branch of Cáritas. Alongside this there is the campaign, No Child Without A Toy, to which people donate gifts for the Feast of the Magi, so that no child will be left out of the celebration.
Having started down this path, other things come to mind. I had two bad falls this year. In one I broke my arm badly. In the other it was my watch and my glasses that bore the brunt, though I managed to repaint my face with bruises fit to scare young children. On both occasions people rushed to help me, total strangers who saw someone in trouble and got involved. Two girls I never got a chance to thank, who rolled their jumpers into a pillow as I lay on the floor waiting for the ambulance, the fellow member of our tour group, German by birth, who insisted on coming to the hospital with Mary to act as interpreter. In Winchester, I was taken in hand by two members of the nearby station staff who took me to their staff room, provided me with paper towels to clean up the blood, gave me water to drink and then escorted me across to the platform to catch the train home.
I thought of the warm and caring attitude of hospital staff as I struggled to resurrect my schoolboy German, of the continuing concern and little acts of practical help offered by our friends here in the village, of the locum chaplain at my wife's church who came to the house to see me and stayed chatting for a couple of hours.
I think, too, of the evident humanity and compassion for others that I encounter every day among my Facebook friends.
And I think of all these things being repeated always and everywhere by ordinary people who will never attract media attention.
My conclusion? That there is far, far more good in this world than evil, and if I focus my attention on that, 2017 is going to be a wonderful year. I hope yours is, too.



Yesterday we went into Málaga as we usually do each year to grab some of the Christmas spirit. The Christmas lights on Calle Larios are always something to look forward to, and this year was no exception. I took a couple of photos but they were nothing special; this video clip does them justice. It shows the switch on which happens every evening at half past six, when it has just gone dark.


Some Familiar, Others Not

Villancicos Navideñas are The Christmas songs of Spain. For something a little different, why not play these this year.



Our stay in England ended with a flight back yesterday afternoon, an experience I was not looking forward to. As if I hadn't enough discomforts already I managed to put my back out on Friday; I don't know how, but that night I didn't sleep too well as whenever I moved I was aware of pain in the muscle of my lower back. All day Saturday was a day of shuffling around timidly, and Saturday night was worse, an almost sleepless night with a violent jab of pain whenever I tried to adjust my position. So by Sunday morning I feared I would have to extend my stay, but with the help of paracetamol, ibuprofen and an adhesive heat pad I made it to Gatwick where I had a wheelchair from bag drop to the door of the plane, and then  by wheelchair from the plane to our waiting village taxi at Málaga - and finally we were home with just the twenty eight steps from the front door up to the living room to contend with. The relief just to be home is hard to describe. I'm beginning to think I should just stop travelling (first Dresden, then Winchester, now this), but I probably won't.


A Week In England.

Our elder daughter has a senior position in the large, multi-national company where she works, and has worked now for thirty years since leaving school. So as we approach the end of the year there are many work cum social demands on her time, mainly a series of dinners in London, which can be problematic with two young daughters. So on Wednesday we flew into Gatwick to be around for our granddaughters on those evenings. We knew that we would be coming to cold temperatures, lots of cloudy skies, and probably quite a lot of rain, which is ironic because although it's cold, we are seeing plenty of sun and hardly any rain. Back home in Frigiliana meanwhile the autumn rains appear to have arrived with a vengeance, with a string of yellow alerts, and today an orange alert with its eastern edge perilously close to the village. So it turns out that we have come to England to avoid the worst of the weather. Last year we saw very little rain, and not enough the year before that, so the farmers and the reservoirs desperately need an extended period of proper rain.
This visit has given me the chance to remember how fortunate we are in the south of Spain generally, though. The clocks went back and darkness arrived earlier, but not so early as in England. We're used to it getting dark around six thirty in the evening, and even in a month's time it will still be light until about quarter past six. Here in England night time arrives around half past four, and it's surprising how different that feels.
The day before we flew to England I had my latest appointment with the orthopedic specialist, along with a new x-ray of my upper arm and shoulder. Bone growth is progressing to his satisfaction, but he detected some calcification and thinks they may have to operate to remove one of the nails. News I would prefer not to have received of course, but paradoxically welcome as well. Recently I have felt that we had ground to a halt so far as physio is concerned. The particular manipulation now being worked on yields no more mobility and no less pain while undergoing it, so it is some comfort to know that there looks to be a treatable reason for that.


Sometimes You Just Can't Beat The Old Ways

If you have ever been to Frigiliana you'll have noticed that most streets are not accessible by car. You may have wondered how people at the top of the village cope. Well, this video clip is in Spanish, but the pictures say it all, really


Christmas Is Coming (Sorry!)

Just a quick recommendation. If you want a really good red wine to go with the turkey, one that doesn't cost too much, head for this website and order some Flor de Nieve red wine. It's from a lesser known region, Somontano, in the Pyrenees and we love it. Oh and it's cheaper if you buy six bottles; they won't be wasted!
On the other hand if you live in La Axarquía, drop into Vinomar in Torre del Mar; they stock it.


Funny Thing, Memory

This is the flat and empty time of year. All the half-term holidays are over and the holiday makers have departed. It's too early for people coming out for Christmas. On top of that, we have no more fiestas until the Day of the Constitution on December 6th. Several restaurants have closed, either for the winter or for a week or two so that a really thorough cleaning can take place - bottoming as they say in Lancashire. So there's nothing new to tell you.
At a loose end, I thought I would have a look at a previous blog. In 1993 I was appointed to be a magistrate, a duty I performed until late 2007 when I retired to come out here. The only trouble was that Google wouldn't take to anything earlier than April 2007. Eventually I decided to see if going to that date would let me then move further back through the blog, back to the beginning. Except that when I went back to April 7th 2007, it turned out that that was when I launched the blog, although memory had told me that I had blogged about being a magistrate for several years, so there was much less nostalgia fodder than I was looking for.
Anyway, if you're curious about how I filled my time before I found my sun bed in Spain, you can find the blog here:


A great Day

Yesterday was a public holiday in Spain, Todos Los Santos, or All Saints’ Day It is the day when everyone remembers those who have died, family, friends, loved ones, and the graves are decorated with fresh flowers and candles, with everyone gathering in the cemetery as darkness falls; in earlier days they would have stayed there until the dawn. Yesterday was also my birthday. Thirty three years ago I celebrated my birthday here on my very first visit to this village, and on the day itself, I went swimming in the sea. That, I’m afraid, is no longer a part of my birthday routine. Old bones and seawater don’t mix well. So this year was spent as a quiet day at home before heading down to the Plaza in the evening to eat at the Marisquería, a fish restaurant which is fast becoming one of our favourite destinations, A friend joined us and we had a really enjoyable evening - good food and (a little too much) good wine. Yesterday, too, I received a lovely present. Inevitably every year my wife gets the same plea from our daughters; what does Dad want for his birthday/Christmas? Well this year I pre-empted that. I don’t actually want or need anything. With three quarters of a century under my belt, I’ve got everything. However there is a small UK charity which I support, Acts 435. It is a church-based operation which aims at facilitating small donations by those who wish to give to those who have a pressing, relatively small need for short term financial assistance. I asked those who give me presents not to do so, but instead to give the money they would have spent to a case of their choice on the Acts 435 website. My granddaughters are now old enough to understand this kind of giving and their mother introduced them to the site and let them choose where they would like Grandad’s present money to go. They chose two appeals, funds to help a child receive counselling, and a contribution towards the cost of school uniform for a family whose budget would not run to such expenditure. Two thoughtful donations from two thoughtful young people ; what better present could I have had than that?


No Time To Stand Beneath The Boughs And Stare As Long As Sheep Or Cows.

I was gently chided by an anonymous reader after my last post, as you can read in the comments. My immediate response was to say that there are always things to stop and stare at. My mind went back to one of my favourite spots on the ridge above the village. Sadly my legs won't carry me up there these days so I can only visit it in my memory. Behind the village is the steep-sided valley of the Rio Higuerón, and beyond that the mountains. On the ridge, below the spot where the castle used to stand, is a low wall which I could sit down on in comfort and take in the view. It's a peaceful, quiet spot and you are usually alone, the only sounds being the wind and the occasional bird. If I was very lucky, I would sometimes see an eagle come gliding down from the high peaks and silently by, on down the river valley. If there was an odd cloud or two, and often there wasn't, I could watch the shadows move across the folds of the mountain. A beautiful, peaceful seat to sit for twenty minutes or so before descending once again to the village. I suppose these are the kinds of things that we think of when we consider stopping and staring, but you don't need solitude. Have you ever stopped and stared in a shopping mall? Every week we go to the hypermarket about twenty minutes from home to do our grocery shopping. And then we go along to an icecream stall with tables where we sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. People are passing the whole time, arriving or leaving. I love people watching. A couple of weeks ago, it struck me how much there was to see if you just watched them walking by. We all know about walking; it's where you put one foot in front of the other, over and over, to take you from A to B. But if you stop and stare, it's amazing just how many different ways people find to accomplish this simple activity. Some stride out, others shuffle. Some are hunched over as they trudge along, whilst others are standing so tall and straight and walk in such an energetic manner that they could almost be puppets suspended from invisible strings. Some know exactly where they want to be and head there looking neither to right nor left, whereas others pause and turn and turn again and go a bit further, then look back. There is always something to stop and stare at, wherever you are. It's just a matter of taking the time to do it.


What Is This Life If, Full Of Care, We Have No Time To Stand And Stare?

I've borrowed today's title from a poem, Leisure, by the Welsh poet W H Davies. It just floated into my mind this morning, as things tend to do these days; I suppose it's a sign of old age. But it set me thinking because everybody seems to be in a constant rush these days whenever I stray out of the village. For me though, standing and staring comes very easily, as does sitting and staring. As a retired person I enjoy the luxury of rarely being in a rush to get somewhere, and so stopping and staring is an important part of my life. At this time of year it's usually still dark when I wake in the morning, although it is not yet cold and so I can get up quietly and go out and sit on the balcony. It's a beautiful, peaceful time of day. The ridges across the valley are black with no lights showing anywhere. The village street lights show you the essential shape of the old town, and nobody is yet on the move. Maybe - but only maybe - a distant dog will bark for a few moments, but then the silence returns. The apartment faces west and so I can experience the arrival of dawn as a gradual, lightening of the sky. Then shortly the street lights will go off. Colour comes into the landscape, dull, muted tones at first but then brightening. And then at last a sliver of sunlight appears on the topmost ridge, giving a slight orange tinge to the ground it falls upon, and I can then watch as it creeps down the slopes highlighting the second ridge, and then the third. Around that moment, the steep sides of the mountain will begin to receive their share of the light, a stark contrast between the east-facing sides of the gullies and their still inky-dark west facing partners. Then suddenly it's fully daylight. The daylight brings sound back into the picture. Off in the distance a couple of cockerels crow. The odd car can be heard setting off along the road down to Nerja, and very close to home, a neighbour's ancient, clapped-out scooter coughs and splutters into life with much revving of the engine until Antonio can be sure that it will not let him down as he sets off up the steep road that is the route to the rest of the village. In years gone by of course, none of this would have caught my attention, never mind, held it. Then I would have been washing, shaving, dressing, snatching breakfast and rushing off to work. There are many things to be said for retirement, and this is certainly one of them.


On A Brighter Note...

I'm aware that my previous post was rather downbeat, so let me assure you that not all is doom and gloom. We are fortunate in two respects. Despite the hit we have taken on our state pension, we are fortunate to have other sources of income paid in England, which allow us to still to enjoy a pleasant lifestyle over here. Added to that, Spain is still a much cheaper place to live than the UK, especially if you follow a mediterranean dit as we broadly do. I've mentioned before how well blessed we are with restaurants and recently a new one has opened in the main plaza. This time, we welcome the arrival of a marisquería or seafood restaurant. It is a sister retsaurant to a mainstream Spanish restaurant which has been around for many years in the smaller plaza opposite the parish church. Much time, thought and money has gone into providing and attractive, welcoming ambience with a menu to match. My wife and I have eaten there twice already and it has been open for less than a month! On our first visit we began with a really rich and flavoursome cream of lobster soup - not out of a can, that one. My wife had turbot with an orange sauce to follow whilst I opted for a tataki of tuna loin; a recipe can be foundhere. We were back there on Friday evening of last week. No starter, just a freshly cooked paella mixta with chicken, white fish, prawns, clams and mussels. We rose to the challenge but has to leave some in the pan. On both visits we found just the right wines to go with our food making a total cost last Friday of just £51. To give you and idea of how good it is, I'll be back there in three weeks to celebrate my birthday


Eighteen Percent

Although I will readily admit to being a political animal, I am loth to bring politics into this blog which is about my life in Spain, and particularly here in Frigiliana. However, just now and then politics seems to elbow its way into my life, and as it affects my life here so I comment. A lot of people who voted 'leave' in the recent referendum tell me that I have nothing to worry about and that nothing has changed, the implication being that none of the things I fear will happen either. I have two things to say to that position; firstly if nothing has changed it is because Article 50 has not yet been triggered and so the UK is still a full member of the EU, and will continue to enjoy the benefits of membership until it actually does leave. My second point, however, is that they are wrong. Already certain things have changed. If you recall, back in February when David Cameron announced a referendum for 23rd June, I referred to we expat Brits as having had our lives put on hold for four months. Then the result was announced on 24th June - a narrow majority in favour of leaving - and the uncertainty was prolonged; the hypothetical questions I had set out in February became actual, important questions, the only honest answer to them being that no one knows what will eventually be agreed. You may be surprised to learn that between David Cameron's announcement in February and this morning, the pound has lost 18% of its value against the euro, which is almost a fifth and there are no signs that this decline will now stop. So what you may wonder; that makes Britain's exports cheaper. It also makes the raw materials imported to produce those goods to be exported that much more expensive. For me it means that my home in Spain, which as you know is on the market, is now much more expensive to any would-be British buyer. We have had to respond by substantially reducing the asking price, so that is one thing that has already changed, just as the stream of British property seekers has slowed to a trickle. How long will that prevent me from making the move back to the UK that I need to make? Of course, looking on the bright side that means that I can enjoy this lotus-eating lifestyle in the sun for that much longer. Except I'm not sure lotuses will remain on the menu. Since 24th June when the referendum result was announced, my UK state pension which is paid into my bank here in Spain in euros, has now dropped by €30 a week. My wife has suffered a similar reduction. Between us we have over €200 euros a month less to live on. You see what I mean when I say that politics has elbowed its way into our life.


A Night Away

My wife has just spent ten days in England on grandma duties and flew back on Tuesday. On this occasion her flight was scheduled to arrive late afternoon and so on the strength of that we decided it was a great opportunity to have a night in Malaga, something we like to do two or three times a year.
Previously we have always stayed at a hotel just around the corner from the cathedral, but on our last visit it had changed hands, and not for the better.Prices were significantly higher whilst service was significantly down. A friend had recommended a hotel in the same area which we had seen - hard to miss at fifteen stores and occupying a prominent corner position. It's an AC Marriott hotel, so we were pretty confident that it was worth a try. Indeed it was! Checking in, I was told "Oh, we've upgraded you to a junior suite." And what an eye opener that was! Nine floors up with a large bedroom with a king size bed and wardrobe space to match, plus a door out onto a private balcony looking out across the tree-lined Paseo del Parque; a separate lounge with sofa, arm chairs, enormous television and more spectacular views; and a bathroom you could get lost in.
I waited in the ground floor cocktail bar for my wife to arrive and then we went up to the room to chill out for a while.
I'd scanned Tripadvisor for possible places to eat, but suggested that we started by going up to the rooftop terrace which has a bar and a pool area, which we did. We sat, glasses of cava in front of us and soaked up the w

arm, evening sun as we gazed out across the port. The inner basin which was directly in front of us used to be a run-down, neglected area, but recent renovation work has transformed it into a leisure port flanked by attractive paseos, with a selection of bars, restaurants and shops. It is also home to Spain's very own outpost of the Pompidou Centre.
However, apart from the spectacular view there was an added bonus; alongside the terrace was a restaurant which also offered al fresco dining, not to mention outstanding food and wine - I chose a starter of spider crab pate, followed by a main course of roasted shoulder of kid. A magical night.
We will be staying there again, even though we will have to be satisfied with a standard double room.



Yesterday it was not as hot as it has been. Then yesterday evening the wind got up (usually a sign of a change on the way) and then we had a couple of hours of rain, not heavy but certainly more than drizzle, That was followed by a much cooler night. In fact it was the first time since early July when I didn't feel the need to switch on the aircon in the bedroom for a couple of hours before going to bed. Today is bright and sunny as usual with still quite a stiff breeze, and today's maximum temperature is forecast to be no more than 25°, and the next ten days are forecast to be similar, so it looks as if summer has finally relinquished its grasp and we can settle into autumn. In the UK I used to face the arrival of autumn with a tinge of sadness; here it's with a sense of relief. On Monday of last week the temperature, which had been settled in the mid-thirties, suddenly shot all the way up to 38° which in Fahrenheit is just over 100°. Summer which usually ends around the end of August, hung on an extra two weeks this year, which may not seem long, but after the continuous heat of early July through August, it leaves people longing for cooler weather to arrive. Even so, we can now look forward to a couple of months which would be considered summery back in England. And it will probably be another month before we see any serious rain. It's surprising to be reminded of the differences between Spain and Britain when it comes to changes in the vegetation. We were in England in March, for instance, and I had completely forgotten about bare trees. In Andalucia we have very few deciduous trees and so the species we have are in leaf all the year round. Moreover our trees which include olive, fig, avocado, mango as well as conifers, all tend to have dark green leaves, thick and glossy.When a leaf falls it will already have been replaced by a new leaf. The result is a uniformity of foliage colour no matter what time of the year. So another difference is that we never has those bright, fresh greens that typify a British spring. Nor do we get that burst of reds, browns and oranges of autumn. I speak of trees because the earth here bakes hard and dry across the summer giving open country a drab, brown appearance interspersed with herbs like thyme and rosemary which share a similar type of leaf to our trees.


The Party's Over

It's easy to focus, as this photo does, on the fun side of the festival; that after all is what attracts the thousands of visitors who throng the streets over the four days. Apart from the stalls, there are the street theatre groups of 'strolling players'; there is the chidrens' corner with special events for them; there are the craft stalls, the food stalls and a wide choice of street food. And every night there are the concerts, followed by a disco until three in the morning. The festival opens and closes with spectacular firework displays, and in between people move from bar to bar sampling the range of tapas which is presented for the occasion - complete one of the tapas routes and you can claim a free t-shirt from the information tent! However, this is a festival with a more serious intention. It reminds us of where Frigiliana and the area that surrounds it, La Axarquía, comes from; its geographical and cultural origins dating from the days of Al Andalus, the seven hundred years of Arab/Muslim rule of much of the Iberian Peninsula, and the migrants who were attracted to this great civilisation. It reminds us, equally importantly in today's troubled world, that for seven centuries, Jews, Muslims, Christians lived together peacefully and harmoniously; a peace and harmony that only finally collapsed when 'Los Reyes Cátolicos', the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabela decided to unite the Peninsula apart from Portugal as the Catholic Christian country of Spain, thereby gaining very valuable support from Rome. The concerts illustrate the rich heritage of the mix of cultures, so that this year we had music from Morocco, from Portugal, from Rumanis, from Catalonia and the Basque country, as well as from Andalusian flamenco itself. In previous years we have had music from Galicia, from the klezmer tradition of eastern Europe, from Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, and nearer home, from the Sephardi tradition of the Jewish heritage of southern Spain. Augmenting this, we had experts giving lectures on their specilist interests - the Iberian origigns of Andalusian music, and the contribution of St Teresa de Ávils to Christianity in the Peninsula and beyond. Preparations will soon begin for next year's festival, with the clear objective that it shall build on and surpass this tear's.


Home Again

We arrived back last night from our five week trip to England. We loved our time with family and friends, but it's good to be home. There's a warmth and friendliness from our neighbours that is really special. The Spanish are very direct people - much like the Lancashire folk whom I grew up among - and so everyone who spotted my still bruised face needed an account of how it happened. That includes Gema in the pharmacy where I went this morning to pick up my various medications.
Today we are having a quietish day getting things unpacked and put away or into the washing machine. And of course, as ever, it's good drying weather so everything goes up to the roof.
Tomorrow starts with a couple of appointments following on from my broken arm in Germany; in the morning we head for Traumatology at the local hospital for follow-up X-rays and a consultative with the orthopedic specialist, and then in the afternoon I'm due at the health Centre in Nerja to see the physiotherapist, which I'm pleased about because I've had real problems with most of the exercises I was given.
However, once that is out of the way it's a matter of, let the merriment commence. Seven o'clock sees the start of the eleventh annual Festival of Three Cultures, which promises to be even better than last year's. I' be out and about with my camera enjoying the whole atmosphere. I'll share some photos with you, and maybe a few You Tube links to bands appearing over the next four days.


Summer Holiday

We landed in England on July 19th, and we're just starting our final week before heading back to Frigiliana in time to enjoy the Festival of Three Cultures. It's been a time of high spots. I wrote about our time on the Isle of Wight which confirmed our desire to settle there when we leave Spain, but we also took a flying visit to Lancashire. We based ourselves in the lovely market town of Clitheroe in the Ribble Valley for three nights which allowed us to meet up with my cousin and her daughter for lunch at a local pub. My brother, who lives in Nottingham, was in the Lake District the weekend before we went north, and was able to delay his return home by a day to join us all. The following day we went to Rambottom, where we lived before moving to Frigiliana. To be precise, we went to Chatterton on the outskirts of Ramsbottom to have lunch with neighbours. It was strange to be walking up a street which had been home for thirty years. Today, back in the south, some friends who left Spain eighteen months ago and now live in Eastbourne, came over and joined us for a pub lunch nattering away about life then and now. So we've got some good memories of this trip to take back with us.
But we've also had the great good fortune to hit a particularly warm and sunny summer for our holiday, and so we've been able to make the most of our time.
There are other experiences to carry home, mainly to do with food. I love Spanish food and the typical Mediterranean ingredients that we have such easy access to, but this holiday has been an opportunity to indulge in British foods that are difficult or impossible to come by in Spain. The most obvious is the variety of traditional regional cheeses - proper mature cheddar, real crumbly, tangy Lancashire and the like. Then I've had Melton Mowbray pie, Cornish pasties, black pudding (quite different to morcilla), oak-smoked kippers, smoked haddock ( and not the died yellow apology), crab sandwiches, crab cakes; the list goes on and on!
And in Clitheroe I rediscovered a small regional supermarket chain, Booths. Booths began life as a grocer's and provisions merchant and still retains that ethos of a genuine interest in trading up to a quality, not down to a price; they offer the option to buy 'fair milk', sourced from local dairy herds and sold at a premium price, the premium being passed back to the producer. Another wonderful shop on Clitheroe's High Street is Cowmans, a butchers selling only sausage, but in an enormous range of varieties. I had forgotten their existence, but when we went out to lunch with the family at the Waddington Arms just outside Clitheroe, I was able to choose Cowmans Cumberland Sausage from the menu, and I was in my own foodie heaven.
Lovely memories to bring back to Spain, but also to look forward to being able to repeat when we return to live in the UK. A great holiday - and still another week to go.


So Where Next?

As I mentioned here at the time they happened, over the last two or three years I have had a couple of health scares from which thankfully I have completely recovered, except that I don't have the muscular strength or stamina that I used to have, and my balance is also a bit wobbly. My wife and I discussed it all and sadly concluded that it would be sensible to sell up and return to the UK. A year ago we put our home on the market with a local agent and although we have had a number of viewings we haven't yet found a buyer. What the effect of Brexit will be, it's too early to say, but in the meantime I have done a lot of research online and for a variety of reasons we have decided that our destination of choice would be the Isle of Wight.
So here we are while on holiday in England spending a few days in the IOW. We've only been here a couple of days but this recce has already been extremely valuable. We've found two towns that we really like - Ryde, where we are staying, and East Cowes. We've also eliminated two towns that looked promising on paper - Shanklin and Sandown. The negatives are the same for each; they are too hilly for my present and future needs, plus both are holiday resorts with little else to offer. Tomorrow we head off to two more, St Helen's and Bembridge, and then we might drop in on an estate agent or two to discuss what we would be talking about in terms of our likely price range.
One thing that we are very encouraged by is the comprehensive bus network between all the main towns - we bought ourselves seven day passes that allow us just to hop on and off buses as we please. Of course when we are back in the UK we will be eligible for senior bus passes that will allow us to travel for free. This is important because we want to avoid the expense of buying and running a car.
I've not been able to access wi-fi in the B & B as it's fine in some rooms but not in others, including ours, but I'll post this as soon as I have wi-fi. Including the view from our window.



Frigiliana is in shock. This morning the Guardia Civil were called out to a house in the campo just beyond the village. The owners - a well-known and respected local couple in their seventies - had been found dead. Rumours are flying around as they do at times like this but what is fact and what is speculation, it is hard to say.
The village will now observe two days of mourning, and people are invited to gather outside the town hall at midday tomorrow for a one-minute silence.


No Smoke Without Fire?

I'm not sleeping at all well since my accident, which means that I am often to be found in the living room during the wee small hours, dozing on the sofa and half-listening to music on mi iPod. Which is what I was doing around five o'clock this morning when I became aware of another sound cutting through the music. I took out my earbuds and heard the unmistakable sounds of rain falling. Not just rain, but a heavy torrential downpour. Water pounding on rooftops and splashing down into the streets. It is most unusual to have this type of rain in July, and especially without an accompanying thunderstorm.
I suddenly remembered that we had left the cushions out on the chairs on the balcony. Fortunately, the roof overhangs the balcony and heavy rain usually happens without accompanying wind and so falls vertically. Even so it seemed wise to bring the cushions in. They were still dry, so that was OK. Outside on the balcony the air was beautifully cool compared to the stuffiness indoors, so I went out to stand on the balcony. That's when it struck me that rainwater was not cascading off the roof as it should have been doing by now. I looked down to see the state of the street and it didn't makes sense; the street was dry. When I looked up into the sky, I could clearly see the stars. So my ears were telling me one thing, whilst my eyes were telling me something totally different.
Five o'clock in the morning is not a good time to deal with such a contradiction, especially when you're already sleep-deprived, so it took longer than it should have done to grasp what was happening; the main water supply pipe running along the stree had burst almost outside our door and the sounds I could hear were the pounding of the water hitting the walls of the tunnel in which the pipe lies and the splashing of thr escaping water as it rushed downhill along the tunnel. I wondered what I should do, but fortunately someone else had already called the emergency number and a technician soon arrived and switched off the supply.
By now it was approaching six o'clock so I gave up all thoughts of further sleep. It was a very confusing few minutes though.


A Rude Awakening

I wanted to take a little time to ponder the implications of last Thursday's referendum vote in the UK before rushing into print One thing is abundantly clear; notwithstanding the fact that two and a half million people have signed a petition demanding a rerun, the terms of the referendum were validly determined by the Government and the voting was correctly carried out. Many people may not like the result - and I am one of them - but it is the result and we must live with it. I wrote a post back in February when it was announced that there would be a referendum to decide our future in relation to the EU. among other things, I said that our lives would be on hold for the four months between the announcement and the event.So, now what? On Friday the British Ambassador to Spain posted a video clip on social media, setting out the immediate future. Briefly, nothing happens until Britain has a new prime minister somewhere between now and October. Then negotiations begin to determine the manner of our leaving and the nature of the new relationship, a process which he assured us could take up to two years, during which time everything carries on as normal. now I don't want to sound picky but for we expatas 'normal' means another two years of life on hold. Well in November I will be seventy six years old. I don't have sufficient years left to me to waste two of them on waiting to know what happens next. In fact the situation is more pressing and the questions more immediate than that. I have had two serious health scares in the past three years; I wrote of them here at the time. In 2013 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer which was treated successfully with radiotherapy, but for which I have a long-acting injection every six months, one effect of which is to leave me with reduced levels of stamina. Then I suffered a small mini-stroke from which I recovered almost completely, but which left me with slightly impaired balance. I live with these consequences in a village built up the side of a mountain. It is a warren of uneven, cobbled streets, steep slopes and stepped streets. Not a good place to be as I also grow older. So we decided reluctantly that the sensible course of action would be to return to live in the UK and our home is presently on the market. So these are the questions to which I urgently need answers; answers which are not yet available. 1. What now will be the attitude of people in the UK (our natural market) to the question of buying property in Spain? 2. What will now happen to the prices obtainable on our properties here? 3. At what level will the £/€ exchange rate settle? 4. Will we actually be able to sell up at a price which will allow us to make the move to live in a more expensive place than where we are, or will we be trapped here? It looks awfully like the dream is over.


To Brighten Your Day (1)

I've encountered some wonderful bands and groups via our annual Three Cultures festivals. So while I'm still in recovery mode, I'll introduce you to a few of them.


Back Soon

Well, I spent five days in the University Hospital in Dresden where a plate and screws were used to stick my humerus back together, then two more days in the hotel before being flown back here by  my insurance company (megaplug for MAPFRE who were amazing), and now it's a matter of waiting impatiently for healing to be complete.
What I've discovered though, is that breaking bones is for young men, not old buggers like me. I feel drained, lethargic, sorry for myself and a variety of other things that don't exactly bring a smile to your face. So I'm not going to be back till I'm back on top of things.


Prague - The Director's Cut.

I said that I would tell you about Berlin this time.
OK, we saw the Reichstag building, the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial in the morning of Day 1, and in the afternoon walked through the Tiergarten Park to the Berlin Zoo.The Holocaust Memorial was a moving experience, but the zoo was appalling; it was like stepping back fifty years when a token patch of stony, dusty enclosure was thought to be appropriate for African elephants which are in the habit of covering several miles during the course of a day. Here they just had to plod miserably round and round with not a leaf or a blade of grass for them to graze.
Day 2 we want to Potsdam to the two palaces and in the evening ate together as a group in the hotel restaurant.
Sunday morning saw us on the train again, to Dresden, a couple of hours away. A quick visit to our room, a brief snack, and then it was time for a walking tour of the heart of the old city. It's called the old city but Bomber Command left virtually nothing standing with carpet bombing raids. After the war the rubble was cleared and the reusable stone was catalogued and stored. In subsequent years, with the help of old photos, drawings and paintings, the city was reconstructed - literally from the ground up. 
The result is both impressive and convincing, and I thoroughly enjoyed that couple of hours.
We completed our walk in the main market square in front of the famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). Some of us went into the church which is well worth the visit, then as a service was due to start, we were herded out through a side exit, down some steps. Suddenly, I was tripped and was propelled headlong down the steps, hitting the ground very heavily. I knew immediately that something was very wrong with my left arm. Two girls rolled jumpers and put them under my head for a pillow, a man gently, but firmly put me into the recovery position, an ambulance was called -
- and there ended my third attempt to take my wife to Prague.

Technical detail: proximal spiral fracture of left humerus. Now fixed with a metal plate and a load of screws. Thank you and good night!


A Change Of Scenery

Things have been a bit quiet in Frigiliana, so it was hard to find something to write about where I wouldn't have been repeating myself, so please forgive my extended silence.
Anyway, a week ago yesterday we flew to the UK in preparation for our main golden wedding ceremony; Thursday morning saw us boarding Eurostar for a nine am departure for Brussles in the care of Great European Rail Journeys. At Brussels we transferred to the Thalis (first class) to Cologne, where we then boarded the ICE of Deutsche Bahn (also first class) to our first destination, Berlin.
Everything went smoothly until shortly after we left Cologne and arrived at Wuppertal. We didn't set off again immediately, but then information came through on the tan nosy that there was 'an incident' ahead of us, so we had to sit patiently, or not, while rerouting was worked out. Eventually though - over an hour later - we set off again. Back to Cologne! There we were switched to an alternative line which brought us eventually to Berlin, where a coach transferred us to our hotel, the very impressive Four star Maritime Hotel. We got there about half past eleven, delighted just to flop into bed and sleep.
You're probably almost as exhausted reading this as I was doing the journey, so I'll tell you about Berlin next time.


Here We Go Again

Back in December we had a general election here in Spain. It yielded an inconclusive result with no clear path to forming a new government. I suggested at the time that it looked most likely that there would have to be fresh elections. Well, that now comes about. Spaniards will return to the polls on Sunday 26th June, when to be honest everyone expects a similar result to that in December. Since the establishment of a democratic constitution back in the 1970s government has been by one or other of the two main parties, the socialists or the conservatives - just like the UK really. However during the course of the previous government, three new parties emerged each with a reasonable degree of support, though not enough to take power. Add to this a growing concern about corruption in the governing conservative party, Partido Popular, and there was a feeling in the run up to December’s elections that the two party hegemony was about to be destroyed. That didn’t happen; instead some serious compromise was needed if anyone were to form a government. Unfortunately the Spanish - and especially their politicians - are not good at compromise. Each party prefers its own entrenched position. Four months have passed in which each set of negotiations has broken down. Mariano Rajoy, leader of the Partido Popular (PP) declined the King’s invitation to try and form a government on the grounds that he would not be able to muster sufficient support. Next it was the turn of the leader of the socialist Partido Socialista Obrera de España (PSOE), which initially looked more promising. Of the new parties to emerge during the last government two were left of centre and one was right of centre, but only just. In addition there was an existing minority party, the communist Izquierda Unida (IU) or ‘united left’. However, one of the left of centre parties Union, Progreso y Democracy (UPyD) had lost ground in the election and was not in contention. That left Ciudadanos (Citizens’ Party) and Podemos (We Can) and IU. Podemos grew out of the street protests variously known as 15-M, or 15th May which was the date of a mass rally against austerity that was held in the centre of Madrid, and Los Indignados, or indignant ones, both of which were eclipsed on the international media stage by the American “Occupy” movement. Ciudadanos began life as an anti-separatist party in Catalonia and could be thought of as right of centre, but only just. The logical solution turned out not to be achievable, mainly because of the intransigence of Podemos. Its clear ambition is to replace IU on the far left, and so it refused point blank to contemplate entering any coalition that included IU. Podemos, for reasons which are not immediately obvious, is committed to allowing the people of Catalonia to have a binding referendum on the question of Catalan independence, something which is absolutely unacceptable to Ciudadanos, whose origins lie in opposition to an independent Catalonia. So Ciudadanos will have no part of a coalition which includes Podemos unless the latter ditches its support for a referendum. Without the participation of all three of these parties, the socialists cannot cobble together a parliamentary majority. So, off we go again to new elections. During all the wrangling nothing has changed in Spanish political views so we can confidently expect that the new elections will produce the same kind of outcome as the last.


The Day Of The Cross 2016

Once again the village was awash with colour for Las Cruces . I've written about this traditional fiesta previously, so today I simply share some of the photos I took yesterday evening.


Kevin 2

This morning;s blog post got quite a reception already, including a request for a version in Spanish to be included on a village website. So, having laboured over the task, for those of you wishing to improve or test your Spanish, her is the translation. Hay más de una persona en Frigiliana que se llama Kevin, pero si dices simplemente 'Kevin' en seguida sabe todo el mundo a quien refieres. Porque este Kevin es alguien muy especial. Seis pies y cuatro pulgadas (1,93m también podría decir) de corazón sin límite. Hace ocho años cuando nos mudábamos a vivir permanentemente en el pueblo, teníamos cualquier problema - no recuerdo cuál y no importa - para lo que hemos buscado ayuda y el consejo era, "Consulta a Kevin." Y de Kevin descubríamos que documentos eran necesarios, de donde podríamos adquirirlos, a donde llevarlos y cuanto teníamos que pagar, más o menos. Hicimos todo como nos había instruido y en solamente tres visitas se cumplió todo. A divagar, es bien conocido que algún encuentro con la burocracia española necesita un mínimo de tres visitas para cumplir la tarea. Pues, ¡un encuentro exitoso! En el año 2008 Kevin trabajó en la casa consistorial un par de días por semana, pero durante el curso de los años siguientes su contribución se incrementaba mucho hasta el punto de que estaba cuatro mañanas a su mesa y el quinto día visitando a cualquiera persona que no pueda acudir la oficina. Sería tentador decir que Kevin trabajaba por el ayuntamiento, pero de hecho no era así Kevin recibiría su sueldo del ayuntamiento, pero trabaja siempre por y para los extranjeros del pueblo, en concreto por y para los que no hablen español. Pero, ¿Por qué escribo con tensos pasados? Venga, Kevin era empleado adscrito por el partido de gobierno del pueblo, el Partido Andalucista, por carga de confianza, una categoría de empleo que dura solamente hasta el punto de empezar la próxima campaña electoral Se lo puede reintegrar cuando tenga control el partido que sea ganador - si quiere. Un problema posible surgió por primera vez con las repercusiones de las elecciones del año 2011, cuando el Partido Andalucista perdió control absoluto del ayuntamiento. Le faltaban dos concejales. Era necesario pactarse con algún otro partido y el candidato obvio era el Partido Polpulare que había ganado dos. Cuatro de PA mas dos de PP representaba. una mayoría absoluta. Pero ocurrió un embarazo PP se oponía al reintegro de Kevin e intentaba bloquearlo. Bueno al fin y al cabo otorgaba PP y los dos partidos pactaban para asumir control del ayuntamiento y Kevin volvió a su trabajo. Sin embargo en las elecciones de 2015 la balanza entre los dos partidos cambió. PA perdió un concejal, mientras que PP ganó dos. El resultado daba cuatro concejales al PP pero solamente tres al PA. Esa vez el acuerdo iba a favor del PP con PA el consorte menor. PP rechazó absolutamente contemplar el reintegro de Kevin. Por su parte, PA declaró que sin el reintegro de Kevin no sería posible pactarse con PP. Continuaban los negociaciones hasta la hora undécima, como dicen los ingleses, y literalmente. La fecha tope para hacer el nombramiento del líder del PP como alcalde era un tal d;ia a las once de la mañana. Por fin los del PP se acordaron y el acto tomó lugar. y inmediatamente empezó PP a retirarse del acuerdo, y prácticamente un año más tarde llegar a ser claro que bajo PP nunca estará un servicio al extranjero en el ayuntamiento. Lo guiris, especialmente los británicos se sienten ultrajado, y son de la opinión que han sido abandonado , y que a pesar de formar una tercera porción de la población de Frigiliana, el alcalde y sus socios no les considere de interés o de importancia. Hace un par de meses había una ola de emoción cuando circulaba por el pueblo la noticia de que Kevin había vuelto a la casa consistorial. Se trató de ser el amanecer falso sí Kevin está, pero no por resumir sus esfuerzos por parte do los extranjeros, sino para actualizar el padrón. Su empleo en esta capacidad terminará al fin de mayo. Por supuesto, Kevin siendo Kevin, cuando alguien venga a su mesa con un problema, lo intenta solucionar, como lo hacía para mí ayer. Pues, continua el desagrado de los extranjeros, no simplemente que no hay nadie en el ayuntamiento para ayudarnos y apoyarnos. Además no es simplemente que valoramos a Kevin por todo lo que ha hecho para nosotros, sino que le queremos por su compromiso con esta causa, y somos asustados a ver la manera de su trato por los de PP.


There is more than one person in the village called Kevin, but if you simply refer to "Kevin", everyone immediately knows which Kevin you mean. Because this Kevin is special; 6ft 4inches (or 1.93m if you prefer) of pure heart.
When we arrived in Frigiliana eight years ago to take up permanent residence we had a particular problem to deal with. I don't remember what it was, and that isn't important. When we sought advice we were told "Speak to Kevin". So we did and he told us which documents we would need, where to get them, where to take them and roughly how much it would cost us. We did as he said and sure enough by the end of our third visit to whatever office everything was sorted. To digress, it is an accepted fact of Spanish bureaucracy that nothing is ever resolved in fewer than three attempts, so that counted as a success.
Back in 2008 Kevin worked a couple of days a week in the town hall, but over the succeeding years that rapidly expanded to what was effectively a full time job; four mornings a week's he was at his desk, and on a Friday he visited people who had problems but could not get to the town hall. It would be tempting to say that Kevin worked for the town hall, but that would not quite be accurate. Certainly he was paid by the town hall, but actually he worked for the expatriate residents of Frigiliana, especially those with little Spanish.
But why am I using the past tense? Well, Kevin was appointed to do this work by the party then in control of the council, the Partido Andalucista. He was employed on the basis of what is known as a cargo de confianza, a term for which there is no English equivalent. Basically, he was paid using funds provided by central government to help local authorities provide the necessary services. However, because this is an appointment by the ruling party, it expires as soon as a local election campaign begins. Then the post can be renewed once the new administration takes office - if the new administration wishes.
A potential problem first arose after the elections of 2011 when Partido Andalucista lost overall control and had to look for a coalition partner, the obvious candidate being the Partido Popular which had won two seats which would give the two parties six seats against the third party's five. A sticking point emerged; PP were opposed to the reappointment of Kevin and tried to block it. Eventually though, they conceded, a PA/PP coalition took up office and Kevin returned to work. But last year's election changed the dynamic; PP finished up with 4 seats against PA's three, and so they had the upper hand. They refused point blank to contemplate employing Kevin. PA were equally adamant that there would be no pact which did not include Kevin returning to his job. Negotiations went right down to the wire but in the end PP agreed to the demand - until their man had been safely sworn in as mayor, at which point they began introducing one condition after another, conditions which they knew PA would not accept, and so virtually twelve months later it is clear that they will not man a Foreigners' Desk at the town hall.
The expatriate community, especially the British, are outraged and feel that they have been very badly let down, and that despite accounting for a third or more of the population of the village, they are of no concern or interest to the ruling party. There was a flurry of excitement a couple of months ago when news went around the village, "Kevin's back in the town hall!" Alas, it proved to be a false dawn; he has a three month contract to update the electoral register, that's all. Of, course being Kevin, if anyone comes in with a problem, as I did yesterday, he sets about solving it.
So expatriate discontent continues, not just that there is no one in the town hall to fill the gap left by Kevin's departure, but also because we don't just value him for what he was able to do for us. We love him for the commitment he has shown over the past eight years to the foreign residents of Frigiliana and we are appalled at the shabby way he has been treated.


Miel de Caña?

The literal translation of miel de caña is 'honey of sugar cane', but we know it in English as molasses or black treacle. The production of miel de caña was, at one time, the principal industry of this region, and indeed as you drive around today you will still see small stands on untended ground where the cane is growing but neglected. In Torre del Mar, about twenty minutes drive to the west of here, a former mill has been restored and converted to use as (I think) a museum. Between Nerja town and the Nerja Caves, stands a large, derelict and ruined building which was a sugar mill. Here in Frigiliana, however, we have a mill which is still operational, producing the miel de caña which is widely on sale throughout Spain. El Ingenio, as it is called, is the last surviving cane mill in operation in the whole of Europe, and so understandably we are very proud of it and like to show it off to visitors. Unfortunately most of the year that isn't possible; you can't have people wandering around a working food factory for both hygiene and safety reasons. Three years ago we introduced a new fiesta to the village, Êl Día de la Miel de Caña, when the factory is opened for guided tours explaining the old machinery and the traditional production process. There are stalls selling products which have the molasses as an ingredient, and some of the restaurants put on a special menu incorporating the molasses into the dishes, savoury as well as sweet. Yesterday we had this year's Day, beautiful, warm and sunny with a clear blue sky. Historically the cane was harvested and loaded into panniers on the backs of mules to be brought to the mill. There it was chopped into suitable lengths and fed into presses which crushed the cane and released the sweet sap. The sap was then boiled to drive off excess moisture until it assumed its dark, viscous quality. The raw material, sugar cane, was an easy crop to establish even on poor ground. Essentially it is a grass and so once it has rooted you're home and dry. You let it grow to the stage you need, then you cut it. Like grass it continues growing, and so you can come back and back cutting it and using it. The twenty first century approach, however, is rather different. Mules and panniers have been replaced by LGVs and forklift trucks. Instead of cane there are pallet loads of granulated, white sugar to be boiled down into molasses, and so there is no longer any call for locally grown sugar cane, which is progress, but also a shame in a way.


Things I Miss

So, after eight years can I say that I have left everything about England behind? Well, no. Don't misunderstand me; I love Spain and I love living here. But everything comes at a cost.
The biggest cost is being detached from family life by being so far away. Both our daughters live very busy lives and have only a certain amount of annual leave so they are seldom able to get over to Frigiliana. As it happens, both are coming soon, one with her children in May, the other with a couple of friends at the beginning of June. Only, we won't be here. That's when we are travelling across Europe in smart trains as our 'big event' celebration of our golden wedding. 
We'd also like to see more of the wider family, and of friends we left behind. We have a full and satisfying social life here, so it's not that we feel lonely, just that we miss those relationships.
Spain's wines have improved enormously over the past ten or twenty years, and there's a huge choice, way beyond what you will see in the Spain section of a British supermarket. But you rarely find wines from outside Spain, and that's something else I miss - a good NZ Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, or a Chilean Merlot. Or wines from France, Argentina, South Africa. 
On the subject of the inner man, I miss the wide range of traditional British cheeses; I grew up to appreciate lovingly matured Lancashire cheese, creamy, heady and - the best aged - capable of blasting the top of your head off if not treated respectfully. Or Wensleydale, Caerphilly and Cheddar. Oh, we can get cheddar cheese here, but the result of factory scale production, at best a very bland, moist concoction described as 'extra mature'; so strong that you could safely serve it to a baby. We were in England last month and I bought some cheddar from a local farm shop, along with some Shropshire Blue and Cornish Yarg. What a cheddar! It almost brought tears to my eyes - tears of joy.
I'll often bring back proper Bury black pudding too, bought from Chadwick's stall on Bury market.
And on a completely different topic, there's a church in Guildford that I've discovered where I can submerge myself in a Sunday Mass celebrated in my own language. I'm happy enough in the normal way of things with the mass in Spanish at the little chapel by the side of the cemetery, but it's good to worship in English now and then.
There are lots of things I don't miss, but that's for another day; maybe.


The Times They Are A'Changing

I have a brother who still lives in England but we chat for around an hour every couple of weeks or so. In fact we probably chat more often now that we live in separate countries than ever we did when I still lived in England. He is a few years younger than I am, but still old enough for my granddaughters to think of him as old. We were catching up on Sunday evening. We are rarely online at the same time, so we each use Skype-out to call the other’s landline at local call rates. All this was brought to mind by the turn that our conversation took. Our childhoods are now part of history so far as school kids of today are concerned and we do have an increasing tendency to look back. My brother commented that our parents would have been largely unable to comprehend the world that their sons now inhabit. As a young man, I used to think of the changes which my own grandparents had lived through. Born in the final quarter of the nineteenth century they were witness to and part of the mass migration from the country to the fast growing industrial cities of Manchester and Salford. Canals with their horse-drawn barges were giving way to the rapid growth of railways. Later, horse-drawn trams gave way to motorised buses, especially in the urban sprawls. Gaslight superseded candles and oil lamps, and was then displaced in its turn by electric light. I could reel off a whole host of other ways in which their lives had changed by the time of their death. Now, though, I look back at my own life and the changes that they experienced seem to pale into insignificance compared to what my brother and I have adapted to. We sit at our laptops typing away whereas my mother handwrote everything; for calculating as part of her office work she used a comptometer, a state of the art calculating machine whose operators enjoyed an elevated status in office work, whilst my father used a slide rule. Back in the 1950s one of my older cousins was a member of the team which built the first proper computer (the Atlas) at Manchester University. It was constructed within a specially adapted building, designed to have a dust free atmosphere and constant temperature and humidity. It was valve driven, and when switched on for the first time ran for a whole twenty seconds before it crashed. Those precious seconds, however, had established that what they had designed in theory could be made to work in practice. Today we are surrounded by computers in all forms and sizes and don’t even think of them. as such. I remember, as many people do, the birth of the internet and its rapid expansion into what we have today. My father had a wind-up gramophone and a cherished collection of 78s (if you know what those were); I have a subscription to Apple Music which allows me to stream whatever music I want to listen to from the cloud to my laptop, my iPad, my iPod or my iPhone, depending on which is more convenient at a particular time. If I have a problem with any of these devices, I call in my twelve year old granddaughter and she solves it in minutes. Our parents lived through two world wars which devastated Europe, whereas I only know war from my small child years, and my brother not at all. Seventy years without any wars in Western Europe. From Salford, Southport or Blackpool were a day trip away. My wife and I pop back and forth to England without giving it a second thought, and our daughters think nothing of coming to stay for three or four days whenever they can get away. So - which perhaps is the point of this rambling post - as I sit here settled into a life which has its annual cycle of seasons and festivals and fiestas and regular goings on in the village, wondering what on earth to write about that I didn’t comment on last year, or the year before, or the year before that, it’s chastening to think how much change actually happens that I don’t really pay attention to.


A Room With A View

Right now we are in England. We arrived a week ago with a very special purpose; to celebrate our Golden Wedding anniversary with our two daughters, and later with our granddaughters. We didn't want a big party, lovely as it would have been to see the wider family and some friends. We wanted something small but special. So we booked two nights for the four of us at the Harte and Garter Hotel on the High St in Windsor.Mandy and Nicky shared a superior twin room and Mary and I wallowed in a Luxury Kingsize Room. This was the view from the room. Although the weather was cloudy and cold, we had a wonderful time. Friday evening we found a fantastic Moroccan restaurant that was buzzing with groups of friends out for the evening. Saturday morning I headed for a local Catholic church, having decided that after 22 years as a Catholic it was about time I made my first confession. This was followed by a stroll around the centre of Windsor and a very light lunch. Then it was time for me to drift through a lazy afternoon while the others went off to their spa treatments. We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening and it absolutely lived up to its promise. A surprise bonus was finding our daughters standing by with a bottle of champagne when we arrived in the bar for a pre-dinner drink. On Sunday we went round Windsor Castle and then down to a service in St George's Chapel, before another light lunch and then back to Clandon to await the return of our granddaughters from a weekend at Daddy's house. We can't leave them out of the celebrations, naturally, so Aunty Nicky will be over again on Easter Monday so that all six of us can go into Guildford to an Italian trattoria. I can think of no more fitting way of celebrating fifty years of marriage than in the company of the five most important people in my life.


Never A Dull Moment

Some of you may remember that in the local elections last year the outcome was a perfect stand-off between the three main parties - four seats for Partido Popular (PP), four for the socialist party (PSOE) and three for my own party, the Andalusian Party (PA). After negotiations and poker faced intransigence right up to the last moment (to be precise, less than five minutes before a new mayor had to be sworn in) PP agreed to the red line demands of PA and a pact was agreed to govern in coalition. Almost immediately after the swearing-in PP began backtracking on one point of agreement after another, making it extremely difficult for the three 'junior partner' councillors. This was largely something going on behind closed doors. At the beginning of this week though, José Antonio the mayor informed his (PA) deputy without any prior discussions that he was stripping him of his functions which would henceforth be carried out by a PP councillor. Paco held an emergency meeting with his two colleagues who agreed that this was totally unacceptable and the following morning they each resigned their own portfolios. The three PA councillors will now sit in opposition. So now the ruling party has four seats whereas between them the two parties in opposition have seven seats. However, historically there has been a great deal of animosity between PSOE and PA and so it is far from clear how effectively the opposition will oppose. On Thursday night, for instance, PP presented to a full Council meeting a budget for the coming year which included a 10% pay increase for the mayor, and the extension of a paid post to another PP councillor. PA voted against this budget before further discussions had been held over the salary proposals. PSOE who have consistently voted against each annual budget, and who declared in their election manifesto last year that if elected they would seek to reduce the money spent on salary payments to councillors........ abstained. I'm interested to see what happens next.


The Big Issue

This blog tells of my life in retirement here in a village in southern Spain. Apart from a couple of postings last year describing my involvement in the local municipal elections, politics have played no part. However, last weekend my life in Spain and politics in Britain collided. David Cameron returned from Brussels and announced that a referendum will take place on June 23rd in which voters will be asked to say whether they want the UK to remain a member of the EU, or whether they want to leave. That announcement has put my life on hold for the next four months. Not just my life, but that of all British citizens living permanently and either working or retired in one of the other 27 EU countries. For UK citizens living in the UK this may sound alarmist. There will be many who already know that they want to continue in the EU, others who know equally clearly that they want out, some who don’t see that it matters either way and may well not bother to vote come the day, and a lot of people who don’t know which way to vote and will look to the arguments from both sides before making a final decision. But the vote is not until the summer; for now it can be ignored or put low down the priorities. Not so for British expats. What happens on June 23rd is crucially important to us. If the decision is to stay in the EU we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and resume life as normal. If, however, the UK votes to leave the EU, our lives are thrown into immediate turmoil. We - around two million of us - will the first to be affected, and we will be those most affected. Why? Because we will not know what will happen to our resident status or our treatment as non-EU immigrants. Let’s look at some of the questions that are raised: Will our resident status be decided by each member country individually, or will an EU-wide decision be taken in Brussels? My Residencia the document that entitles me to live here permanently is issued on the basis that I am a citizen of an EU country. Will I be allowed to stay on the same basis, with the same entitlements? If not, what will be my new status and what entitlements will it carry? If my new resident status were to be granted for a period of, let us say, five years, but must then be renewed, would the Spanish Government be bound to renew it, or might they take the view that for health, financial or whatever other reason they would prefer me to leave and refuse me permission to remain? Will my access to bank accounts in Spain change? At the moment, as residents, we have a current account, credit and debit cards which attract no charges, and we earn a small but welcome commission on direct debits to pay our utilities bills. Will my health care entitlement change? On the basis of the S1 Form from Britain, all of my healthcare needs are met, free of charge, by the Spanish state health scheme, with the cost being remitted by the British Government on the basis of my NI payments over a working lifetime. I had retired before I moved to Spain and so have never worked here. Consequently I have never made payments into the Spanish welfare system. Will I have to turn to private healthcare paid for out of my own pocket for my future health needs? What about my UK pension? European Union regulations require equal treatment in the payment of benefits and pensions. In other words, when the state pension paid to people in the UK increases, so the pension paid to expat pensioners in the EU must increase by the same amount. But that is an EU requirement. We have friends and family living abroad outside the EU; the pension they receive is the pension that they were entitled to on the day they left the UK. It never increases. That is a decision that the British Government is entitled to take. And why should I tell myself that it would never do that to us? Right now the European Court of Justice has an appeal before it, challenging the decision taken last year not to pay winter fuel allowance to expats living ‘in a warm country’. The grounds of the appeal are that if the warmer country is an EU country then the Government is in breach of the ‘equal treatment’ regulations. As an aside, the Government appears unaware of the winter temperatures commonly experienced across all but the southernmost fringes of the Peninsula every winter; nor that Spanish houses and apartments are built with little or not heed to thermal insulation; and of course within a year or two of arriving your body has adjusted to the new range of temperatures so that what may feel a little chilly in Britain comes to feel very cold in Spain. What about motor insurance? My comprehensive policy covers me for travel anywhere within the EU, and includes roadside assistance and recovery anywhere in the EU. What will happen when I take a car to the UK? And the same applies to my travel/holiday insurance. And what about my Spanish driving licence? Will that still be valid? As a permanent resident I am entitled to own my own home in Spain, and I do. Will that remain the same, or will restrictions be placed on ownership and use? And if I wish to sell, will restrictions be placed on the amount of money that I am permitted to export from Spain to the UK? As a permanent resident over the age of 70, I can sell my property exempt from any capital gains tax. If I am not an EU citizen will that change? I have given directions that when I die my estate such as it is shall be distributed in line with UK inheritance law. If the UK were to be outside the EU, would that instruction still be valid, or would my Spanish estate have to be distributed according to Spanish law? All of this is not nit-picking or scaremongering. It is an example of some of the consequences that could follow a Leave vote. And the trouble is that whatever soothing, reassuring words the Brexiters may direct at us, they do not know the answer to a single one of these questions. They don’t know because nobody knows, and nobody can know until after a decision to leave has been taken. My personal position is that way back in 1975 I voted unreservedly to stay in the EEC as it then was, and I still believe that the right place for Britain is inside the EU, and I shall vote accordingly. As I say, for the next four months my life is on hold. If the Leave campaign carries the day, the dream becomes a nightmare. In the meantime may I make a request that I would not normally make? Whether you agree with my position or not, will you share this particular post as widely as you can through email, Twitter, Facebook, etc, so that people in the UK can at least know the fears and anxieties of expat Brits in Europe.



Today it is cold, grey and raining as it should be at this time of the year, but once again we are having a very dry winter so a day like today is unusual. More common recently has been the wind. Indeed for almost a week we had strong winds frequently gusting up to gale force, although thankfully that seems to have passed. Further north, however, the weather is bitterly cold and there have been heavy snowfalls, not something which people would generally associate with Spain. Spain is a mountainous country. Madrid, the highest capital city in Europe is 2,100ft above sea level, and Granda which is only an hour and a half from her, lies at 2,400ft. This offsets the effects of the Mediterranean and so snow and ice is quite common during the winter. Indeed, Granada nestles at the foot of the Sierra Nevada which is a popular skiing destination, and contains the highest peak on the Peninsula, Mulhacen, t 11,000ft. We will probably see snow on the highest peaks behind us when the cloud clears again Even so, last weekend the village was out in force, dressed in pretty flimsy fancy dress to parade through the streets to celebrate Carnival. The procession was led by a group of samba dancers dressed more appropriately for a Rio carnival than a winter one.. Our elder daughter and a friend came over for a long weekend which managed to begin just after Carnival finished and end yesterday, just before the rain came. The weather during their stay was favourable for a couple of walks in the surrounding countryside during the course of which they encountered the dread processionally caterpillar. Fortunately they had been warned to look out for them and treat them with respect; the caterpillars do enormous damage to pine trees, but also defend themselves if threatened by firing off a cloud of the hairs which cover their bodies and which contain a severe irritant to the skin.


Woken In The Night

Nothing much happens at this time of year, so it can be difficult to think of something to blog about that I haven't touched on before. Well, nature has dished up a topic for me. Just before half past five this morning my wife and I were wakened by a pronounced shaking of the bed. This continued for only three or four seconds after we woke, but was unnerving to say the least. Anyway it quickly stopped without any perceptible damage. We agreed we had just had an earthquake and rolled over and went back to sleep. This morning it's the main item of news; a strong earthquake, currently described as 6.3 on the Richter scale had occurred with its epicentre just about 75 miles due south of here, just off the coast of Morocco. The main impact in terms of damage was felt in the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the Moroccan coast. Over here little if any damage and certainly no reports of any injuries. On reflection, the remarkable thing is that this should be unusual. Spain lies on the southern boundary of the European Plate, whilst the North African Plate's northern boundary meets it under the Mediterranean. Shifts at the junctions of tectonic plates are the norm rather than the exception, and that is what causes earthquakes. It's just that this boundary is more stable than many. More stable, yes; totally stable, no. Anyway, there you are - something different for a change.


Carpe Diem - Seize the Day

I mentioned last time that the funeral of our neighbour, Antonio, would be held in the afternoon of Christmas Day. We had friends joining uo for lunch, but they felt as we did that we needed to show our respects to Antonio and his family, so the revised programme for the day became, nibbles and cava followed by the first course, butternut squash soup, then the main course of slow roasted shoulder of lamb with boulangere potatoes, brussels sprouts roasted with onion, and a rough puree of carrots, parsnips and cream. Then we went down to the main street to await the arrival of the funeral from the church. The custom here is that a requiem mass is held in church in the old village ending with the committal of Antonio's body to its grave. The coffin is then put back into the hearse which drives slowly through the old village and then through the new village to the cemetery. The family follow by car if the widowed spouse is elderly, and behind walk the men and women of the village who have been in the church, with others along the route joining in as the hearse passes. We fell in behind an already huge crowd of people in the centre of the village. It's not a procession as such; just everybody wanting to pay their respects who follow Antonio to the cemetery. This I think was the largest attendance that I have seen in the eight years we have been here, but when we arrived at the entrance to the cemetery there was another huge crowd - people who lived beyond the cemetery - waiting to pay their respects to this much loved and much respected man. The family went with the coffin to the niche that had been opened to receive his body while everyone else waited at the gates, chatting quietly among ourselves. Once Antonio was safely in his grave and the headstone had been put in place and securely plastered, the family came back to a small room just inside the cemetery gates which is reserved for these occasions. It has two doors, one at each end. The family line up behind a long heavy wooden table, and everyone files past them to express their condolences before leaving by the second door and returning to whatever they had been doing. In our case, that meant back home for the final course of our Christmas meal; homemade Christmas pudding ice cream. But one of the things that you have to get used to at my age is that we belong to the generation which provides the funerals. On New Year's Eve we lost two more friends, Mike in the early hours of the morning and Jennie in the late evening. So we are off to another funeral tomorrow and a third on Monday. One or two other friends died during the course of 2015. It's part of what my eldest daughter calls 'the new normal', a permanent change in the way life is. As you accept the new normal, I'm struck by how quickly it ceases to be scary. I don't know when it will be, but one day not that far away the funeral will be mine. So, Carpe Diem as they say. Seize the day. Whatever it is you dream of doing, do it now while you still can. So my New Year wish to you all is that this may be the year when you realise your dream