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Showing posts from November, 2012

Treading the boards

In the 1970s, as Sixth Formers, we were obliged to take it in turns read the daily lesson in school assembly from the Bible. "This morning's lesson is taken from the Gospel according to St John Chapter 15 verse 14." When it was my turn I bribed someone to swap weeks with me. I took the half term week. By paying, and I was willing to pay a lot, I would only have to stand on stage and do that chapter and verse stuff three times instead of five. I hate - and I can't stress enough how strong that word is - performing. Dancing in public fills me with dread. Again, mark the word: dread. Almost any humiliation is better than dancing, or performing in any other way. I spent sleepless nights for weeks beforehand worrying about "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends." Somebody trying to force me to dance "because I'll love it when I get started" has no idea to just how close they are to violence.

I know that it…

The long and the short and the tall

I'm not exactly tall. About 1.80 in my stockinged feet. It's tall enough to be an advantage here though. Spaniards, at least older Spaniards, tend to be on the short side. In a crowd, to watch a parade, I'm lofty enough to have the advantage. Young Spaniards are taller but, fortunately, they have more interesting things to do than to go to parades. My theory is that Francoist policies were so successful that older Spaniards went hungry in their youth.

Last year, or maybe the year before - time passes in a blur nowadays - we went to IKEA and bought a new duvet cover and pillow cases. The pillow cases were too small for our English pillows and the cover too roomy for our English duvet. Money well spent.

I've been researching an article for the TIM magazine on Amancio Ortega, the founder of Zara and Inditex. The third richest man in the world. Zara was in my mind. Equally it's been colder recently - maybe 13ºC overnight. Maggie is a bit fidgety in bed, she hogs the d…


It's nowhere near Christmas in Spain yet. There are signs though. On the telly there is an IKEA ad with a Christmas theme as well as a mobile phone ad with a bloke in a yellow Santa suit. In a shop close by, Ale Hop, they have a blow up Christmas tree for sale.

But this year I was determined not to be caught unawares.

One of the Christmas traditions here is the Belén. The word means Bethlehem but it's actually a representation of the birth of Jesus with Mary, Joseph, the Wise men, the shepherds etc.

We've got a Belén. The stable we bought in a Carrefour supermarket and the majority of the figures in a cheapy cheap Chinese shop. I've hankered after a better version for years but usually I leave it too late. By the time we get around to visiting one of the Christmas markets where the hand crafted key figures and all the trappings are on sale we've already put up the Christmas tree, laid out our Belén and dusted off the seasonal CDs.

Maggie isn't keen on the Bele…

Bailén and a soggy Andalucia

Bailén is a small town in the Jaen province of Andalucia with a population of about 18,000. On a sodden Saturday morning it didn't look that interesting. We were there to check out another one in my series (a series of two and a half so far) of important Spanish battle sites.

You may remember that Napoleon was a pretty successful military commander and that in his brief time as Emperor of France (1804-1815) his Grande Armeé gave most of the European powers a good hammering. The French Army got the reputation of being invincible, unstoppable. Of all the European armies that might stop the French in their tracks one of the most unlikely was the Spanish but that's exactly what happened.

Napoleon had manged to install his brother on the Spanish throne and the Spaniards didn't like it. They were in open revolt and, what's more, they seemed determined not to fight fairly. The Spanish used what we now describe as guerilla tactics. It's a name that comes from the way the …

Passing through

When I lived in Peterborough I never enjoyed catching the train to Edinburgh. Great destination as Edinburgh is it always seemed a real shame to be in York, Durham, Newcastle etc. yet just pass them by.

It was the same today. It's All Saints Day, the day to go and visit family graves, spruce them up a bit and have a nice meal afterwards. It's a public holiday. We were off work and Maggie had come across information about a village called Letur in the province of Albacete in Castilla la Mancha which looked worth a visit.

I like Castilla la Mancha. I particularly like the plains around Albacete on an August afternoon with the heat haze shimmering away into the distance. The last couple of times we've been there exploring though we've found that it's not just the big flat background so typical of those pictures of  Don Quixote and Sancho on their respective mounts. It has hills, valleys, lakes and beautiful green landscapes.

In the last ten days or so Cartagena has tu…