Driftwood and Ale.

Driftwood and Ale

When the wind threatens to drive into your bones, when the rain batters down upon the earth sending even the rats diving for cover, when the clouds billow upwards, darken and thunder, refuge must be sought for the weary of soul and the wet of scrotum. When the sun breaks cover and warms the blood, when blue skies light up the cloths of heaven with light, when stillness of breeze barely moves the pink cliff top thrift, unbound joy will require its reverie. 

Both refuge and reverie can be found within the white stone walls and black beamed timber of the Driftwood Spars pub in St. Agnes. 

You can get there by walking the coast path eastwards from St Agnes head or by cycling or driving down to Trevaunance Cove from the village. The road meanders down the narrow valley flanked on either side by old mining works, the spoils of which are still visible. You will see the ruin of an engine house up on one side of the slopes. These reminders of tin mining, of Cornwall’s ambiguous glory, are common in this part of Kernow. Most episodes of Poldark will have featured these granite industrial monoliths; roofless towers with bare gable ends stripped of wooden roof trusses and almost always accompanied by a now smokeless chimney. They stand as testament to man’s ambition, determination, greed and folly. The industrial revolution has one of its birthplaces within their walls. Fire, steam, grit, profit and misery are the very fabric held together by the determination, of the granite blocks they are made of, to never to succumb to the elements. This is but memory. Time has worn them down, just as mining wore down the health of miners into their too early graves. 

Only the sea cries for them now. 

The pub sits just up from the cove. Close enough to smell the salt and just far enough way for spring tides and October gales to crash impotently on the beach below. The coast of Cornwall is renowned for its danger to shipping. Shipwrecks line up in skeletal formation, the wooden ribs of their hulls mostly submerged, and are home to conger, bass and pollack. However, some were so close to shore that their beams provided building material. The Driftwood used the spar beams in its construction in the 1650’s and before its current use as a pub, it housed a tin mining warehouse, a chandlery, a sail making loft and fish cellar. In the 1900’s it became a hotel and bar.

Walking through the porch is a walk back in time. The massive beams above your head start telling their story before you get to the bar. The voices of sailors’ seep from the deep-set blackened grain of the wood. The masters’ orders for ‘heaving to’ or ‘reefing’ the sails whisper between the gaps between them. The beams creak and groan as if straining against a force 10 off the Azores, but they soon settle into peaceful, silent and robust load bearing overhead. To the left, as you enter, sits a granite lintel over the fireplace big enough to make you wonder how the hell it got there. In winter, the fires crackle and spit their warmth into the beery conversation. Upon the floor, patrons’ dogs sleep or sniff, or both. 

The clientele is a mixture. St Agnes veterans, locals who ply their trades both professional and manual in the local area, second home owners betrayed by their mostly home counties accents and cultural appropriation (they know which comes first, the cream or the jam), tourists from everywhere and Manchester, and the occasional ‘celebrity’ who has a recognisable face, but you can’t quite place it. They could be a minor East Ender, a has been pop star or a literary critic. They will of course also live in London. This eclecticism in patronage saves the ‘Spars’ from becoming the haunt of the banjo playing classes with dodgy haircuts, dodgy manners and body odour.  

One of the most important features of the place is of course the beer. Just across the road is a brewery. The ‘Driftwood Spars’ brewery to be precise. The range and quality just has to be experienced to be understood. The Campaign for Real Ale has succeeded, the brewery being a testament to dedication, experimentation and the love of a good piss up. A star among the brews is ‘Alfies Revenge’; the sort of ale liable to relinquish one of embarrassment and inhibition in equal measure. It promises velvet and delivers a bitter sweetness. Just like a highly strung, but gorgeously pretty, girlfriend. You would wish to deeply inhale the perfumed aroma of both in any case and lose yourself in a hedonic mist of semi erotic longing.

Like your first girlfriend, this is a beer to remember, to savour, to care for, to spend money on and only to regret if you lose yourself too much within its company. It will however be faithful, when you come back from tasting, at other times forbidden fruits, it will still be there for you asking no questions. 

Pork scratchings are optional.

Take your choice. Sit at the bar and risk a discussion about Mozart, Brexit or the risqué joke overheard on the radio. Or, take a seat at a table to just be quiet and take in the 400 years of atmosphere. Clay pipes and shag, illicit trades (of both contraband and sexual), complaints about tax and the government, which pasties are the best, malt whisky and rum, dimpled beer glasses and food begging dogs, talk of the decline of manners and social media…all have taken their own place at the bar. Some of course are not allowed in any more but have etched their being into the solid fabric of the place. 

Outside a gale may hammer the window, but you are safe within in a timeless void of experience.

 

Bleddy ‘ansum me bewdy.

Lord, wont you buy me….

If you have to drive in England, and please avoid it at all costs, then at least do it in style. You will not get to your destination more quickly but your ageing arse and the pain that stands in for your lumber region will at least find some relief. 

For, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a car on English Motorways is in want of his sanity. Don’t let the adverts fool you. You will not speed along empty roads in glorious sunshine and spectacular scenery accompanied by a headscarf wearing Kathryn Hepburn lookalike who promises a happy ending upon arrival at your destination in some romantic hotel. No, your fate is to be tearing into the abyss of grey water being thrown by the bucket load at your windscreen as you find yourself surrounded by towering trucks driven by demons from the seventh depths of hell whose only care is to get to wherever they are going regardless of any collateral damage be that rabbit, bugs or your wellbeing. 

You will be tailgated. For some unknown reason many drivers want to know what is on your back seat and thus play chicken with the brake lights they see in front. Data on stopping distances on wet roads are but a dim and distant memory to them as they leave their fates to the capricious whims of the furies. I’ve seen better driving skills being exercised by rum soaked drunken and testosterone fuelled matelots riding the dodgems at the fairground on Helston Flora Day. 

You will crawl behind a truck who is ‘overtaking’ another truck at 58 miles per hour while the fast lane is out of bounds to you due to the wide boys and sales reps, high on crack cocaine, exercising their ‘right’ to drive like complete wankers at over 90 miles an hour in a soon to be crashed BMW. 

You will wonder where everyone is going? Surely someone must be at work? Did everyone take today to go somewhere? Is the school run allowed on motorways? 

The A roads are no better. 

King’s Lynn to Norwich is not Route 66. You will certainly not ‘get your kicks’ nor will you be tempted to roll the window down, put on your shades, with arm resting on the door and sing to Elvis Presley on the radio. The road ahead will not stretch into the desert sunset in a straight line along the cactus lined highway to Hotel California. You will instead follow a tractor, the white van delivering tat to twats in time for teatime, the prat in an Audi who thinks he is Lewis Hamilton, a distracted mother with a car full of brats all shouting at her and a businessman in a hurry to get to the next Premier Inn where he can dream of eating a microwave dinner in the ‘restaurant’ before going to bed disappointed that Sharon from accounts was not there. He will go to bed after a late night snifter, turn to Babe Station and think of the short skirted but unavailable Sharon while he falls asleep only to wake up with his dick in his hand at 3 am. 

That is an English road trip. Pissing rain, bitter disappointment and a wank. 

Where was I?

While Mr Harris and Dr Tatham head to the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ that is Norwich in a Mercedes Vito van (nice), I drove the Mercedes C200 (even fucking nicer, excuse my french). I am not usually impressed by cars. They are merely methods of transportation infinitely inferior to trains. For a start you have to drive them yourself and keep awake while doing so. You cannot drink, nor can you drift aimlessly into a reverie about the time you found yourself covered in chocolate and being thrown into a party of sweet toothed lesbians and their overly sexed entourage of bisexual partners. 

(I might have dreamt that).

The Mercedes C200 deserves a mention, due to its overwhelming comfort. Everything in it works beautifully as it should. Every section of the seat can be adjusted, I counted at least 4 different moving parts to it. It heats up in the winter and gently caresses one’s testicles with what feels like a soft hand in a velvet glove, if you press the right button. German built and designed, you see. I wish we’d lost the war. I had previously already spent the best part of 10 hours getting to Kings Lynn in it, and upon arrival felt as fresh as the cherry blossom in spring, and as the smell of freshly baked bread and a day old baby’s head. The car gently and soothingly consumed the miles to Norwich enabling me to treat every other road user with contempt and pity. Come the revolution, I shall mandate that if it is necessary to travel by road, then a Mercedes should be issued to each and every citizen (except the couple who live in the flat upstairs and seem to be unaware that 50 shades of Grey is fiction and does not need reenacting at two in the morning. A man can only take so many muffled screams. By the way, I now know their ‘safe words’). 

Arrival in Norwich as the sun sets over the river is a delight. It would have been better if the Sat Nav had the correct post code coordinates. After a bit of map reading and a lot of swearing I find the hotel itself. The Premier Inn (for t’was our hotel…I hope they have Babe Station) overlooks the River Wensum as it winds it way through the city. The Cathedral Spire pokes above the trees a short distance away. There is a pissed women shouting near the bridge over the river, “lets be ‘aving you” I think it is. 

Tonight is beer and curry night. Dr Tatham’s medical chums of yore are in town with a half baked plan to cycle from Norwich to Romford. A distance of quite some miles across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, it has to be said. If they are as good at medical practice as they are at organising a cycling trip, I suggest you go kill yourself now. Their bravado is matched only by incompetence and a complete ignorance of the art of cycling any distance further than the mile to the pub. Team Sky they ain’t. We met up in a pub to enjoy some pre curry bonhomie and the talking of bollocks. 

The good doctors currently come from far and wide….Droitwhich, Diss, Romford, Ireland and Never Never Land. I think one gave his address as Number 1, Clueless, Cloud Cuckoo Land. I blame the parents. Tomorrow it will rain. I suspect that will not dampen their spirits, merely soak their bones and stoke their bloody mindedness. Beer and curry is a great combination, but in preparation for a 60 mile cycle in the rain it may prove exciting as their normal bowel patterns are disrupted. The crown will go to the chap who can find his way to the loo the quickest after mile 10. 

Our plan is different. We will not be rushing to join them southwards to The Only Way is Essex.

So we bid the chaps goodnight in the hotel bar as we prepare to go our separate ways on the morrow. 

Now, settle down. Get comfortable. Mr Harris planned a trip around Norwich that must be just one of the greatest journeys ever taken. In our estimation that is. You may like the Maldives, or a weekend break in New York. You may enjoy bashing your bishop in Barnstaple or choking your chicken in Chichester…but, nothing can quite match a trip on the North Norfolk Steam Railway. 

You need to realise that there is nothing like a steam engine to gladden the heart and quicken the pulse of three silly old ugly blind bikers in Norfolk. We can hardly curb our enthusiasm at the thought. We’ve talked about this for months, boxes of tissues have been used, imaginations running wild at the thought of steam hauled steel on rail. The sight, sound and smell of coal, fire and steam, brass and copper pipes, steel connecting rods, hissing, misty clouds, dirt and smuts from chimney, oil on trousers and dirty rags. Bloody heaven. 

Norwich railway station is just across the river, its gothic dome standing proud above the platforms. The plan is to take a train to Cromer and from thence cycle to Sheringham on the coast. The NNR starts at Sheringham and clatters some miles to a nowhere called Holt. One of our party, overcome with the thought of travelling by train and thus devoid of judgement, boards the wrong train, and as he enters the doors lock behind him. Thankfully, this train is going nowhere and after much jollity the guard releases the doors to facilitate his disembarkation for the correct train. 

Our train then winds gently across the Fenland and the Broads towards the coast. Our bikes are safely stowed aboard. Giggles are hardly suppressed. There is something touching about the ease with which grown men can be pleased. All it takes is a beer, or a train, or a rumination on the aesthetic similarity between a pint of Guinness and the stocking clad legs of a young lady bent on flirtation. It is the juxtaposition of black and white that does it. This latter thought had been prompted by the sight of a young lady hitching up her skirt to adjust her stocking tops as she walked down the Prince of Wales Road in Norwich the previous night. This remembrance had nearly caused a member of our party to choke with laughter whilst cycling and thus risking a crash into the hedge. Easily pleased, men are. 

Sheringham is a pretty seaside town, bunting fluttered in the sunshine in the high street. Tourists crowded the pavements and the coffee shops. The sky above the roofs hinted at blue. The North Sea sparkles and glistens, reminiscent of the Balearic Island paradise of Ibiza. The warm breeze caresses the skin, prompting the shedding of clothes while bikini clad women laze upon the golden sands in a coquettish demeanour. That’s what I saw anyway, rather than the hordes of Nora Batty clones stuffing their faces with fish and chips while shouting to the kids as if we are in an episode of East Enders. Fat blokes waddling along the sea front grunting for beer in a fashion free zone, dressed as they were for the Arctic but with sock footed sandals and Heavy Metal T shirts. 

Upon arrival at the station, the steam engine slowly glides in. I’ll leave it there. I will not be responsible otherwise for what I write next given the level of excitement this drew from us. The station, as with most heritage lines, is of course exactly like it would have been pre Beeching (damn his soul), and so dates from anywhere between 1930 to 1960, the heyday of the Railways. The tickets are cardboard and the guard punches them with a hole punch. The excitement just mounts. We rattle slowly along the coast and then inland to Holt. Heads are out of windows, waving at people in the countryside, the engine is chuffing up slopes and then gliding down the other side. 

At Holt there is even a model railway layout, and a proper row of red fire buckets hanging on the wall. We disembark and one member of the party is minus a bike helmet, due to over exuberance back at Sheringham, leading to momentary lapses of reason and forgetfulness. It is probably in the lost property office right now. 

The journey back to Norwich is a delightful 30 miles (ish) jaunt, the last 5 miles or so along a disused railway track (bugger Beeching but a boon to bikers). Upon arrival in the city, the route takes us past a pub called the ‘Adam and Eve’ and yes we would believe it. Being only a mile or even less from ‘Lenny’s’ we are able to make a decision about visiting the Norwich City Football Club shop or stopping for an ale.

Its thirsty work, cycling, and so the decision was swiftly made. 

Did you know Norwich cathedral’s spire is off centre? No one notices this at all, unless you stand at one of the gates (can’t remember which one), then line your self up with a ‘gable end’ (?). Suffice to say it takes a mathematical mindset to notice this. Once spotted however, it could grate. It is the princess and the pea of the cathedral world. I guess it is too late to put it right? I blame the monks who, proud of their ale making and goat comforting skills, probably did not bother supervising the masons due to a surfeit of ale infused bonhomie and a little light afternoon buggery. That’s medievalism for you. 

Somewhere in the world there are three old blokes on bikes, cycling languidly along the countryside noting all the relevant flora and fauna, learning about the local history and reminiscing about the times when access to stocking tops was as easy as falling off your bike in a gale. Getting away from the madness of car stoked roads into bucolic whimsy is an absolute joy, and should be prescribed as primary prevention for heart disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Wives and girlfriends are welcome of course to join in but I suspect the degree of pointless drivel being talked would drive them to insanity and knitting. This is not a gender/sexist issue. I just think most women are just a bit too busy, too sensible or giving birth. The humble bicycle is thus a stairway to heaven, providing access to dreams, steam trains, revolutionary fervour and country pubs.

Ugly Old Blind Bikers

Ugly Old Blind Bikers

Once upon a time there was three blind mice. Except that was a nursery rhyme and not true. 

This time, there was one half blind chap and two other short sighted miscreants who required the miracles of modern science to see anything beyond the end of their frothy ale flecked noses. A plan was hatched long ago by these ‘three degrees’ (of insanity) to conquer the mountains of Fenland by bicycle. And so it was that King’s Lynn became host to three men and some bicycles. 

Getting there from the dark North and the subtropical South West required the navigational skills of a maritime mathematician, long in the tooth and firm of buttock, who longs for a tall ship and a star to steer her by. 

Mr Harris (pragmatic northerner) and Mr Tatham (a Newfoundland exile) trundled down the A1 in t’van while my good self braved the rain sodden waterways that pass for English motorways, from the south west. To say the weather was bad is to suggest that Satan may have been a tad dubious in character. I suggest that the Ms 5, 42 and 1 should be rebranded as canals given the amount of surface water sloshing about just waiting to throw the unwary driver into the back of a lorry. Every now and then, a thin sliver of sunlight crept in between the dark foreboding heavens to promise relief. 

It never came.

A Frenchman in a bordello has been relieved more often and with less fear.

Kings Lynn, formerly Bishop’s Lynn, lies on the Great Ouse as it empties into the south eastern corner of the Wash. There are boats, mud and the odd scared goat. In the middle of town is the ‘Nip and Growler’, a real gem of a pub selling micro brewery ales, some of which will result in depilation of the nether regions. They are that good. The Campaign for Real Ale has a special section reserved for such hostelries, including vouchers for fast track entry to Accident and Emergency or the local asylum. They hand out moistened tissues at the bar in case of ‘accidents’. The ‘Nip’ is a few short steps away from the town square which was at one time host to witch burning. This part of the country had a reputation for its enthusiasm in engaging in faggot lighting in order to roast the toes and tits off the local women, and did so with the gusto of a Catholic priest with the keys to the dorm at a boys school. Legend has it that one poor wretch’s heart burst from her chest as she burned, and it then splattered onto the walls of a nearby house. 

Nice.

Her crime, and thus accusations of witchcraft, included being nice to squirrels, knowing the names of a wide variety of herbs to apply to festering sores and the plugging of orifices, and commenting on how certain fillets of fish would be fit for Jehovah. 

That’s the church for you. You may bugger a goat with your ale soaked cousins, but don’t go picking lavender in case that is an act mistaken for spell casting. Women like picking herbs and flowers which goes to explain why they get mistaken for witches. Well, that and turning people into newts. 

And the pointy hats.

Never mind, stories like that enhance the taste of ale and pies. So, suitably victualled first in the ‘Nip’ and then at a quayside eatery, the intrepid three retired to the B and B to dream of conquests new. 

Prior to arriving in Fenland, Mr Harris and Mr Tatham had already been having far too much fun at the National Railway Museum near Darlington. In addition, culture was engaged in at various historic places of interest such as the the grave of the Vulnerable “oh, please don’t be mean to me” Bede, whose claim to a place in posterity rests upon his reading of some books on Jesus and his sheep. 

Day 1.

“There will be pies”.

Breakfast. The French may have their croissants, and the Canadians their maple syrup, but by thunder a ‘Full English’ is second to none. Tourists may be forgiven for thinking a ‘Full English’ is a euphemism for the furtive arts practiced by ladies of a wayward reputation near the docks, but the sight of a sizzling snorker sitting alongside its various accompaniments should disavow them of more carnal thoughts. Our hostess served up three plates of the most joy you can have with your clothes on and your inhibitions off. The breakfast was of such high quality that we clean forgot to consider a spanking. You, dear reader, may wonder why a spanking would even be considered at all before breakfast. Suffice to say that there are times in an old man’s memory that recall such episodic ventures into the realms of fantasy. 

Straight after breakfast, all kit was checked and ablutions completed. The bicycles had already been fettled and waited like the ‘stallions of steel’ they (nearly) were, straining at metaphorical leashes for the off. 

Mr Harris’s bike was a wonder to behold. A proper touring bike with panniers, tyres the width of a runway and gadgets that turn on its lights automatically. Oh, and mudguards. It is thanks to his planning and organisational skills that we were there at all. He even had a list, an itinerary, and downloaded maps of the route. Navigation was aided by a Garmin GPS system which beeped at regular intervals to tell us that a) a turn was 150 yards way and b) the turn was just ahead as we approached it. There should be no way we could get lost. I had every faith in the pragmatic and systematic approach of our Northern guide. He had the whiff of precision engineering about him, an ‘everything in its place’ kind of thing. He could spot a mislaid joist at a hundred paces. He looked the part. It was that of a long distance cyclist. Tall, and a lean frame frame befitting someone who is planning a very long trip to cycle every stage of the Tour de France won by a Brit.

Given that he often had his arm up a cow’s arse, which I believe calls for judgments of distance around clearances of inches rather than thousands of a millimetre, I found his attention to detail refreshing. I should also say that his inserting of limbs into dark places was for business reasons and not for leisure. His day job had been the welfare of animals, which includes killing them. 

That’s what vets do. 

Mr, actually Doctor, Tatham is garrulous to the the point of distraction. Think of the exuberance of Toad of Toad Hall. His clothes are often arranged in loose formation, the main colour scheme being that of a rainbow crashing into a paint factory with little regard for aesthetic juxtaposition. His bike was one of Mr Harris’ contraptions with the emphasis on “Will Dr Tatham survive without wrecking it?”. A permanent grin would accompany the permanent camera and cries of absolute joy rattling o’er the treetops. Plying his trade as a General Practitioner in Canada has prepared him well for East Anglia. There has not been an orifice, lump, secretion, protuberance or bleed that has phased him in the past. The inbreds of the Fens will not therefore shock. There are bits of him that require attention (and drugs) and a decent service, but the 50 miles should not present too much of a challenge. As long as we don’t pass a pretty young thing, then our progress should be smooth. For Dr Tatham, precision and planning are two words in the dictionary rather than concepts to be applied in everyday life…and so it is a good thing indeed that Mr Harris takes charge.

The bikes had been fettled, the loins girded but the butt cream forgone. Ahead was 50 circular miles of Fenland adventure. The sky was blue, the odd cloud skittering high above, the wind but a breeze although forecast to be stronger. Taking a north eastern route out of town, we found ourselves quickly into the countryside on our way through to the Sandringham Estate. We passed by one of the Royal Gates, a huge black wrought iron affair with spikes and what I thought was a Royal Crest. It’s message was clear. We might have paid for this Estate, with the blood of the proletarian martyrs while the robber barons, with a Royal nod, dispossessed the common folk from the common land as the enclosures tightened around their necks, but there is no way a hairy handed son of toil was going to set foot upon monarchical property. Even on a bicycle. In the background, as we stood for a picture by the gates, we could hear birdsong in the surrounding woods. I thought I could hear the sound of the sharpening of guillotines among the chirruping of sparrows. 

As we leave Sandringham, it is soon time for tea and cake. However, we are in the countryside of Norfolk. There are fields, and trees, and lanes, and pigs, horses and crows. We spot Red kites and the odd rabbit. The wind sweeps across the open hedge free fields kicking up dust and leaves. There are no signs saying ‘Tea Shop this way’. I hear a banjo. The only other sound is the swish of rubber tyre on lane and the occasional fart.

We quickly agree that it is impossible to fart while peddling or remaining in the saddle. So, if you see the cyclist in front of you stand up on his peddles and ceasing turning the crank you may suspect with a high degree of accuracy what is about to occur. So to add the to the gently shushing of breeze and tyre we hear the odd ‘tharp’. I blame the Guinness. 

A windmill is spotted in the distance.

As we cycle we come across the little brown tourist sign which of course says ‘Windmill’. This is overkill because we can see the bloody thing from 1000 meters away. Now, we could plough onwards looking for a tea shop for cakes and pie but this little gem has to be seen up close. We turn left off course and down to the mill. We stop at a gate to admire it and take a picture. Pretty as it is, the agenda has quickly focused on tea, but there is no sign of a tea shop. We might have to clench buttocks and grit our teeth. 

However, the inquisitive Mr Harris, cycles a few yards down the lane to the other side of the mill. Unbridled joy erupts as he spots a tea shop hidden from our view. There is still no sign pointing to it, but hey ho we have found Nirvana.

One of the absolute joys of cycling is the stop for tea and cake. This tea shop has cake, pasties and pork pies. We push open the door into the relative darkness inside, but the sun comes out and its rays floods the tea room with warmth. It is good to be alive.  As I am about to order I spot the pork pies, hand made with crinkly crimping around the edges. They are not uniform in shape indicating the hand crafted nature of each individual pie. They are lovingly made by jolly buxom housewives in the back kitchen who sing while they work, their nimble fingers caressing the pastry after the high quality pork is placed inside. Only the finest pigs, hand fed on acorns while otherwise roaming free foraging in the forests, provide the meat. The shortcrust pastry is light and crumbly upon the bite, the jelly inside explodes onto the tongue. They would be perfect with an ale. ‘Cornish’ pasties are also on offer, and I inwardly bridle when this is said. But the mistake was very quickly rectified and the ‘cornish’ was retracted. Just as well, they were crimped over the middle and the inside contained peas and carrot. How do I know? We bought three for the end of the day’s ride. In terms of size they were just above a cocktail pasty and just below a small. After 50 miles, however, they were fantastic. 

Suitably victualled we set off down the Norfolk country lanes. The sun continued to shine, with little evidence of the predicted shower. The riding at this point is fairly effortless, at a pace of about 10-11 miles an hour. This is slow enough to take in the sights and sounds and provided ample time for photo stops and banter. 

The next stop would be for lunch at the ‘Dabbling Duck’ in Great Massingham. You just can’t make this up. A village green, a village pond (with ducks), the church, old cottages thatched and tiled and the pub. Just the perfect village scene. I spotted its idiot hiding behind the red pillar box doing something uncalled for with a bucket, some lubricant and a cat. At this point my garmin was telling me I had used 1400 calories. Thats 7 pints and two pies worth, therefore a lunch of a ham and cheese sandwich to be washed down with a pint of ‘Nelson’s Revenge’, served in a dimpled beer jug with handle, was hardly going to make a dent. The sandwich was served with a side salad, red cabbage and these new fangled hipster type crisps which I think are some old vegetables sliced up and passed off as a ‘crisp’. I think to qualify as a ‘crisp’ the sliced potato (not parsnip, beetroot or carrot) has to be come in a bag preferably with a little blue bag of salt.  

We learned from the barman that the mansion we had previously passed was Houghton Hall, the summer holiday home of Lord and Lady Cholmondeley (‘Chumly’) whose main residence is Cholmondeley castle. These country houses were no doubt built with the blood, sweat and tears of the peasants from whom the Chumleys had stolen their land. As you gaze upon these monuments to exploitation and slavery, in the historical winds you can hear the cries of ill fed babies straining to get what little milk there was from their mother’s breasts; mothers who had put in a 20 hour day and who had only a carrot to suck on for dinner and a cardboard box to sleep in. Never mind, as long as Lady Chumley has a second home for her holiday, it was all worth it. The village green at Great Massingham was host to various hangings of miscreants who lost their lives for no worse crime than muttering rebellious thoughts about the aristocracy, tickling a pig or licking bread crumbs from the kitchen floor of Houghton Hall. During the first world war, Lord C rounded up the loudest critics, enlisted them as the Massingham Pals and sent them straight to the front line at the Somme. Some 56 local lads of Norfolk left. None came back. Well, one did, but upon return, his mind so traumatised by whizz bangs, he developed a taste for goat ‘worrying’ and was hanged without ceremony at Norwich assizes as a lesson to the revolutionary classes. 

And that is why we still have Tory governments today. 

The afternoon session, post lunch, saw us plunge deeper into Norfolk. I’m all for deep plunging…it has been said that I am one of best at it given a fair wind, some notice and several ales. My plunging exploits however are surpassed by one of my colleagues who shall remain nameless. We followed a straight road into a village called ‘Castle Acre’. We soon discovered why. 

It has a Castle, that is probably an acre in size. Don’t think of Windsor, Cardiff or Edinburgh. These are still pretty much intact. This one however dates from the 11th century is nowt but a ruin. However, it is pretty impressive, sitting upon the earthworks, dried up moats and rampart. parking the bikes we look up at the walls and are taunted by some French soldiers. History oozes from every stone. Close your eyes and you can hear serfs cleaning the floors, feeding the pigs and dying early from malnutrition and syphilis. Keep them closed and you can hear the Lord exercising his ‘droit de signeuer’ with the latest available, but unwilling, virgin brides. There is a some medieval graffiti on one wall. Simply says ‘Help, we are ruled by a madman’ but in Latin: ‘Aidorum, Nos est Regularum ab Lunitacus Illigitimus’  It was conditions like this that provided the inspiration for Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’.  Such Castles probably prevented the peasants uprising by working them to death, keeping them ignorant and feeding them fetid turnips. 

And that is why there are turnips/swedes are in Cornish pasties. They are there to remind you of your place in the social hierarchy. The present queen keeps pictures of Castles and Turnips in her favourite privy in Windsor as an historical comfort should Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister.  

Castle Acre also has a ruined Priory, courtesy of ‘our ‘enry’ no doubt. The monks are long gone but their recipes for beer and mead live on, the results of which can be seen on any Glasgow street at night. Many a young lady has lost her virginity, and many a fight in backstreet pubs across the land, can give thanks to the dedication of the Christian soldiers of the past who never stinted in going onward in their quest for brewing a drink to lose your mind to. The three of us, however, turn a blind eye to the hideous past of Castle Acre as we cycle past its only pub ‘The Ostrich’. This is an unusual name for a pub in this part of the world as to my knowledge there are few flightless birds indigenous to this region. I would have thought a better name for village pub out in the wilds of the Fens would be something like ‘The Sheep and Shagger’. Its pub sign would have to be carefully designed so as not to offend the local vicar with its depictions of an indifferent ewe being held by a cross eyed and furrowed browed bovine enthusiast son of the soil. 

The final stretch proved delightful if uneventful. 

The most exciting part was stopping for 5 minutes and watching potatoes being picked in a field. 

The industrial scale of the machinery has to be seen to be believed. In days of yore no doubt a thousand farm labourers would stoop and pick by hand each lovely spud and place it carefully in a wicker basket. They would carefully brush off the dirt and look for blemishes as they went. They would be paid in cider and wenches at the end of the day in the village pub, where they would pass many a happy hour growling and muttering in what passes for the local dialect. The Squire would pop in to the “Thirsty Ferret” at the end of the potato picking season and raise a glass of port to the study yeomen who make him rich by his taking the surplus value from their labour. Oh how they laughed and japed in their bucolic poverty not knowing that elsewhere townsfolk could enjoy hot tea, a log fire and sanity. Here however, ‘rural idiocy’ abounded due to the hard work and the diet of raw potato and worms, their lives made bearable by the beer. 

Today, tractors the size of Panzer tanks pull alongside massive machines that made all of these workers unemployed and stupid. Now all that left is for erstwhile labourers to make the trek to Norwich to cheer on a football team whose enthusiasm is in inverse proportion to their skill. 

The circular ride over, we scoff the three ‘pasties’ before setting off to Norwich for the night. 

  

 

Douglas Murray in ‘The Suicide of Europe’ argues that European civilisation based on Greek philosophy, the Judeo-Christian tradition and of the Enlightenment is ‘staring into the abyss’ and is doing so because of its own actions, why?

 

  1. Mass Migration.
  2. Europe lost faith in itself – its beliefs and values.

 

Murray argues that multiculturalism and assimilation has failed, that migrants have opposing views and values to Europeans (a clash of civilisations/cultures). We took them in because of our colonial guilt and because of this we have crime and terrorism as a result.

 

In short, European values have been abandoned by the European elites and now face a clash of cultures/civilisations that migrants bring.

 

While there is no doubt that rapid influxes of people with different cultures is unsettling to indigenous groups, and brings certain problems, it is the case that complex factors such as  poor management and insufficient support for communities from local and central governments, as well as the willingness of traffickers and employers to exploit cheap labour, that create those problems.

 

To focus on the migrants themselves, and to argue that because they don’t share our values (perhaps they don’t) our European culture is dying, is racist cant dressed up as intellectual argument.

 

We have heard this before: Western civilisation will be destroyed as a result of a conspiracy, of people who do not share European values. The clash of cultures/civilisations narrative is not only wrong, it is a cornerstone for building a fascist narrative:

 

There is “…a declaration of war by sub humans against culture (meaning Western European culture)itself…the absolute destruction of all economic, social and civilising advances made by western civilisation for the benefit of a rootless and nomadic clique of conspirators…”

 

“Old Europe is dying”

 

“He who defends (the migrant) harms his own people”

 

“How deeply the perverse…spirit has penetrated…cultural life is shown in the frightening and horrifying forms of the Exhibition of Art…the botched art works which were exhibited …and their creators are of yesterday and before yesterday. They are the senile representatives, no longer to be taken seriously, of a period that we have intellectually and politically overcome and whose monstrous, degenerate creations still haunt the field of the …arts in our time.”

 

Goebbels was ranting against the Munich Art exhibition in which he saw the work of ‘jewish degenerates’ in the artwork on show. Today, we will have tirades against the culture of migrants and while certain practices are abhorrent (female genital mutilation for example), it is surely the case that migrants as a heterogenous group do not have the monopoly on abhorrent cultural practices. There is also an unstated conflation between ‘migrant’ and ‘Islamic terrorist’ in this narrative which neatly skates over the many differences between migrants and within Islam itself. Just as Catholics are not paedophiles nor are all migrants terrorists.

 

The clash of ‘western european civilisation’ and an incoming migrant based ‘Islamic civilisation’ was also put forward by Samuel Huntingdon in 1997. Edward Said (2004) argues that the clash of civilizations thesis is an example of “the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims” (p. 293). And I would add ‘against migrants’.

 

Huntingdon’s claims have empirically, historically, logically, and ideologically been challenged (Fox, 2005; Mungiu Pippidi & Mindruta, 2002; Henderson & Tucker, 2001; Russett, Oneal, & Cox, 2000).

 

Amartya Sen (1999) argues:

“diversity is a feature of most cultures in the world. Western civilization is no exception. The practice of democracy that has won out in the modern West is largely a result of a consensus that has emerged since the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and particularly in the last century or so. To read in this a historical commitment of the West—over the millennia—to democracy, and then to contrast it with non-Western traditions (treating each as monolithic) would be a great mistake”.

In his 2003 book Terror and LiberalismPaul Berman argues that distinct cultural boundaries do not exist in the present day. He argues there is no “Islamic civilization” nor a “Western civilization”, and that the evidence for a civilization clash is not convincing, especially when considering relationships such as that between the United States and Saudi Arabia. In addition, he cites the fact that many Islamic extremists spent a significant amount of time living or studying in the Western world. According to Berman, conflict arises because of philosophical beliefs various groups share (or do not share), regardless of cultural or religious identity.

Timothy Garton Ash objects to the ‘extreme cultural determinism… crude to the point of parody’ of Huntington’s idea that Catholic and Protestant Europe is headed for democracy but that Orthodox Christian and Islamic Europe must accept dictatorship.

Edward Said issued a response to Huntington’s thesis in his 2001 article, “The Clash of Ignorance“.Said argues that Huntington’s categorization of the world’s fixed “civilizations” omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture.

 

 

Antonio Tajani provides a more humane, less ‘fascist’, response to what is indeed a migrant crisis. Rather than blaming migrants, he points to other geopolitical factors as root causes: “instability, insecurity, terrorism, poverty, famine and climate change in Africa and the Middle East”. I would add that modernity’s turn since the 1970’s in the Anglo-American world especially, towards atomised individualism, gross inequality, the breakdown of notions of community and society, the lauding of money as the final arbiter of one’s success, global capital flows, the role of the finance sector and globalised corporations, the rise of a plutocracy and the mean minded quasi fascist national press have as much to do with social unrest and cultural fractures as the unmanaged influx of migrants. In other words, there have been massive structural transformations in global capitalism(s) that are the contextual milieu in which the personal troubles of an out of work factory worker voting for Trump, Brexit or a far right party, are experienced. It is the inability to place oneself in this wider context that leads to searches for an easy answer…cometh the strong man with a populist response.

 

The evidence is that cultures can live harmoniously together without always having to converge. Ashcroft and Bevir (2018) point out the very long history of multiculturalism in Britain. Properly managed migration is not a threat, the populist proto fascists are. David Murray merely polishes an intellectual gloss onto a fascist boot.

 

Ashcroft, R and Bevir, M. (2018) Multiculturalism in contemporary Britain. Policy Law and theory. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. 21(1):1-21

Berman, Paul (2003). Terror and Liberalism. W W Norton & Company

Fox, J. (2005). Paradigm Lost: Huntington’s Unfulfilled Clash of Civilizations Prediction into the 21st Century. International Politics, 42, pp. 428–457.

Garton Ash, T. (2000) History of the Present. Penguin.

Mungiu-Pippidi, A., & Mindruta, D. (2002). Was Huntington Right? Testing Cultural Legacies and the Civilization Border. International Politics, 39(2), pp. 193 213.

Henderson, E. A., & Tucker, R. (2001). Clear and Present Strangers: The Clash of Civilizations and International Conflict. International Studies Quarterly, 45, pp. 317 338.

 

Russett, B. M.; Oneal, J. R.; Cox, M. (2000). “Clash of Civilizations, or Realism and Liberalism Déjà Vu? Some Evidence” Journal of Peace Research37: 583–608.

 

Parekh, B. Is Islam a threat to Europe’s Multicultural Democracies?https://books.openedition.org/ceup/1283?lang=en

 

Said, E. (2001) The Clash of Ignorance. The Nation. October.

 

Said, E. W. (2004). From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map. New York: Pantheon

 

Sen, A (1999). “Democracy as a Universal Value”. Journal of Democracy10 (3): 3–17

 

 

 

UCL research report on immigration: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1113/05112013-ucl-migration-research-salt-dustmann/

 

Cardiff University: http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/islamukcentre/rera/online-teaching-resources/muslims-in-britain-online-course/module-4-contemporary-debates/assimilation-vs-integration/

An Andalusian Adventure.

An Andalusian Adventure.  

 

Into the Blue.

Bristol Airport, not on most people’s bucket list of ‘must see’ attractions. 

From some angles its steel and glass and concrete resembles an aircraft carrier but without the charm or threat. What it lacked in aesthetics, it compensated for in function. Having had the fortune to be flying out on a Sunday, when flights are few, we were spared the horrors of the crush of the sweat stained, and beer soaked, cheap perfumed traveling public. We breezed through security with nary a nod to the terrorist threat.

Although, I did see someone with a fulsome beard carrying a rucksack. Turned out to be the headmistress of a local public school leading her petite charges on a school trip to Morocco to count hemp plants and other assorted ideologies.

Bristol has a ‘fast track option’ for security clearance, for a fee. So, if you want to minimise time spent waiting behind a fat farting peasant as he takes his sweat infested boots off for inspection, and you can’t stand the incessant chatter of two high maintenance baby dolls with faces constructed of enough plastic to build a Lego city, then pay your money…and fast track. How this works if everyone pays a fee and increases the size of the fast track queue will be managed by fee increases until you get to the point when the fast track clearance costs more than your ticket. We however, on a Sunday morning, did not bother with this latest scam, and sail through the ordinary queue with not even a greased gloved finger waiting to search for hidden contraband about one’s person. 

Ryanair offers priority boarding for another fee, this includes paying for putting your luggage in the hold. However, if you only have 1 bag and carry it to the gate, the staff will put it in the hold for free. So, again read the small print very carefully otherwise you will pay for something you don’t need. The boss of this world class air freight service, Micheal O’Leary, owns race horses. One of which won the Grand National, ‘Tiger Roll’. As a consequence, we were all treated to fizz on the plane, along with extra servings of fairy dust, magic spells and wishful thinking. I’m not sure what priority boarding gives you, except a light wallet. No one took off before us. In fact we all went together as a happy throng of innocents being led to an uncertain future in a pain wracked, war torn, plague ridden world. The onboard snacks were no better, offering as they do, the gastrointestinal equivalent of colonic irrigation. 

With heavy threats of a rain front racing up the M5 from Cornwall, and the skies rapidly greying at the temples, we were launched upwards and outwards into the blue. Two young Spanish lads sitting in front of me started on the booze as soon as the seat belt light extinguished. They were cheerful about it and refrained from flatulence and vomiting, which, in a confined space with  recirculating air, was a bonus. I then spent two happy hours with a couple from Truro discussing everything from the superiority of Philp’s pasties over Warren’s, the price of pasty meat and the husband’s military service as an engineer in the tank regiments. I was treated to the paucity of an modern English education, the Swindon fortnight holiday for railwaymen and the joys of old fashioned engineering. Ann, having been allocated a seat two rows behind was able to get into reading her book. 

Upon landing, the sun threw itself at us, and as I disembarked down the rear steps, I glanced up to see the mountains of Andalusia sticking their jagged peaks up into blue heaven. 

To Mijas 

 

We’ve been here before, so it is no surprise is it? 

Except, yes it is, it is still so wonderfully sense grabbing that one’s chuff is verily plumped up with more chuffedness and gabberflasting. 

Malaga airport is at once a transport hub, a cathedral and a gateway. It is stepping through the wardrobe, or the looking glass, into skin warming and soul cleansing air. But, down in the bowels of the baggage reclaim area, one is entombed in artificially lit concrete and steel with only other dazed and confused passengers waiting, hopefully, for their belongings. The reclaim hall throws adverts at you with promises of a richer better life awaiting you if you purchase this or go there, meanwhile your actual life revolves around the carousel belt in pregnant expectation that indeed you will survive this flight intact. Then with bags safely returned to you, and flashing an “I’m not a bomber” smile, and your passport, at the the border you emerge out of the terminal building blinking into bright blue sunlight, palm trees and the smell of Jasmin. The short walk in the sun blessed open air to the train station is the briefest introduction to Andalusian charm. The runway  

disappears seemingly towards the distant mountains. One can hear the gin and tonic being poured over tinkling ice, the vino tinto being uncorked with a corky plop, and the patatas bravas sizzling alongside the piri piri gambas. 

To get to Mijas involves either an expensive taxi or the very cheap train. There is probably a bus but why would you? The railway station is at the terminal itself, and trains run frequently to Fuengirola. For the price of half a pint of decent English Ale, and in thirty minutes along the coast, one arrives in ‘funky town’. All of human life is here on the train. Very young Spanish mums with prams, prune skinned and turtle necked ex pat Brits, leather jacketed cool guys hoping to get a girl with merely a glance, and bright white new arrivals from the frozen and wet north. 

We’ve not eaten since breakfast, so 8 hours later we are bit peckish, but not ‘hangry’. It is too beautiful here to bring any angst or existential grief. Mijas has a way of washing out the dirt and grime of an English winter, and there are swallows and swifts here to remind us of what we can expect back home very soon as the spring banishes the ice, rain and despair from our solid English hearts of sodden oak. 

The flat is the first floor of the whole house, above us a spiral stair leads to a roof terrace with a 360 degree uncluttered panorama view of the town and surrounding mountains. The sea lies 5 kms and 800 metres below us. The sky has the odd little fluffy clouds. As it is gone 1700 hours, the sun is slipping over the yard arm (somewhere in the world), a short walk into town and a cold beer awaits. 

If I die here right now, I would not complain. 

 

 

Across to Dragon Mountain 

 

At about 8:30, the sun just about pokes its nose above the shoulder of Dragon Mountain. 

Our apartment faces the rising sun and from the bed we can look out through the big double doors which act as windows across to Dragon Mountain. Between us is the limestone valley peppered with white villas, many complete with shining blue pools. The trees are still very green,  giving a lush feel to an otherwise harsh hot climate which is to come. We can step out onto a balcony now bathed in orange sunlight and listen to swifts, the odd barking dog and the faint rustle of a light breeze in the adjacent poplar and cedar trees. 

All is calm. 

The sea sits a still blue under a pale blue sky to the south. Fuengirola is way below us, its bustling streets a mystery to us up here. There are bakers, butchers, street cleaners…sailors, donkeys and whores all finishing their work, or starting it, down there but we are oblivious to the organised chaos and the noise of chatter in cafe bars and taxis. A thousand ‘buenas dias’ and ‘Que Tals?’ have already been spoken, accompanied by a thousand cafe solos, a thousand lit cigarettes, as many again curses, blessings and mumbled instructions. Shellfish, Cod, Tuna and monkfish tails rest upon banks of ice in the mercado. Steak, pork shoulder and pigs ears are opposite. The full range of cured meats from Iberico ham to chorizo are being laid out for sale. Red, Green and Yellow peppers, blood red tomatoes, sweet strawberries and kale. Mushrooms, onions and cucumbers await their fate as thousand chefs contemplate their salad selections. Another day, another thousand decisions mostly about what to eat, when to eat it and where is the place place to eat it? 

There will be some business done. A car will be sold, a new kitchen planned, a new financial scam invented. Lawyers will make money out of other people’s misery, stupidity, laziness and fraud. Doctors will examine bits of people their owners did not know exist, and tell them in somber tones that given the circumstances, death ‘ain’t as bad as it is made out”. Priests will talk to people about their real and often corporeal worries while invoking an imaginary solution, which sometimes actually work. Accountants will stack a pile of beans and inform owners that their business, while actually doing a roaring trade, is actually bankrupt. The bars will bustle with all manner of talk about politics, society and sex. None of which will be underpinned by any expertise in any of the fields under discussion as the inverse law of ‘talking bollocks’ applies. This law states that when any subject is discussed in more than two sentences and with increasing 

confidence this will be in inverse proportion to any knowledge about it. This particularly applies to male talk, when sat at a bar stool after the second beer. 

Last night we walked into the town and enjoyed a very pleasant hour or so sitting outside in the sun. A pint of San Miguel for the gentleman and a Sangria for the lady. The square in Mijas has had a makeover and is now a wide open space with palm trees swaying in the light breeze. On three sides shops, cafes and bars sprawl their wares, tables and chairs. The fourth side is open to a view of Dragon Mountain. It is a lovely place to watch people taking pictures of themselves using selfie sticks brought to here by many coach loads of tourists up from the coast just for the day. They are mostly Asian. There must be a guide to tourism issued to all Asians as they have the same dress code, the same selfie sticks, and the same ant like gait as they rush from one picture opportunity to another. When I say ‘picture opportunity’, this is not the Taj Mahal or the hanging Gardens of Babylon. Any old municipal fountain, tree, cafe table or donkey is fair game. They will have hundreds of pictures of mostly themselves in front of Spanish trivia. I suppose to them it is all exotic and memorable. However I fail to see the attraction of a shop front, a cup of coffee on a cafe table or a dog taking a dump in the square. 

Today, will be more of them same. Ann has been investigating the best eateries in town. There are plenty. There is a running battle with the odd mozzie going on, but so far they have scored the odd hit but nothing to call an ambulance about. They thankfully target bits of the body we have heard of and so there is no need to visit a doctor. 

The Magic of the Mercado 

Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda. 

All of them do a fine job of selling tins of beans. If you want to pay more, then you have Waitrose. If you don’t like pennies slipping through your fingers quite so fast, you can go to Lidl or Aldi. 

But if you want colour, taste and a little exotica then the mercado in Mijas is for you. It has no car park, situated as it is right in the middle of the town surrounded and hemmed in on all four sides by houses and shops. You need to know where it is otherwise you I’ll never find it. Its front entrance is on a street just about wide enough for a car to pass through. Just. One has to pass a tabac on the way. A tiny one room shop that sells, wait for it, tobacco, cigarettes and cigars. That’s it.  Nothing else apart from the accoutrements and paraphernalia for smoking. One leaves one’s heart and lungs outside to enter into the gloom where the merchant of death will sell you merchandise at a fraction of the price in the UK. Seems like death comes cheaply in Andalucia. 

The mercado has a portico type entrance, a bit like stepping up into the Roman forum. Like all buildings in Mijas its exterior is white, but once inside it is a proper covered market. Walk around clockwise or anticlockwise and you will find butchers, bakers, fishmongers and a shop a name for which I’ve no idea. 

We are having fish for lunch. 

A bright eyed bream beckons us. We buy prawns and sardines. Señor says the sardines are ‘obligado’ (free) as they are the last 4 of the morning. He guts and cleans the fish for us, all for about 7 euros. 

The bream requires stuffing with garlic, onion and lemon. Wrap it in foil with seasoning and dabs of butter and bake for 20-25 minutes. Prawns are gutted and peeled and dipped lightly in flour before being pan fried while the sardines are done likewise. All is served with a fresh salad  and a bottle of Cava. The sun warms the balcony and our bones as we sit outside…yes outside, to lunch. The smell of olive oil and garlic tickle the nose, the fizz tickles the senses, the bream does 

not disappoint. As the fish was being prepared and the before the Cava popped open, a bottle of Malaga’s finest red had to be tried. Not the whole bottle, mind you. We bought a 2013 Vega del Geva, Syrah Cabernet. at a local bar the other night. Those who know French wine well would have been fooled by its aroma. Suffice to say it was bleddy ‘ansum me bewdy.

There is no place for stress here. The sun, the sky, the food and the mountains all conspire to draw any last vestiges of worry or concern from your bones. Any lasting niggles in the blood get filtered out. Nerves are rolled flat and untangled, muscles are warmed up and released from tension. I can’t be arsed to be arsed anymore. The heart pumps slower, the lungs breath easier and chalfonts withdraw to a place far far away. This is a country for old men, and women. Blood diluted by Spanish wine flows more freely, garlic and herbs create a bed of comfort in the stomach and even farts smell sweeter. Thoughts are slower and revolve around wondering how to cook the next fish as the most taxing predicament. Heart valves pop to the rhythm of the corks from bottles of Cava while one’s footsteps are no quicker than those of the oat fed and aged donkeys in the town square. The smell of honey roasted almonds and Jasmin compete for the glory of one’s nose, only to be ousted by wafts of freshly ground coffee from myriad street cafes.

A bucket of drugs each day has been prescribed to keep this old carcass from an early appointment with eternity. But with each breath of Andalusian air and the strokes of the sun’s warmth, I’m convinced that the medications are only being enhanced. There is magic here. Pity they can’t sell it or prescribe it on the NHS.

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. 

If memory is correct, Sherlock Holmes solved a mystery by noting that a dog did not bark when it otherwise would have. 

This thought strikes me as I enjoy a coffee on the sun kissed balcony overlooking the countryside below.

No mystery here though. Down in the valley among the scatter of houses and villas are dogs. Someone has a pack of them. How do I know? Because at about 4 in the morning they decide to sing in chorus, yapping, barking and howling at shadows, the breeze or out of sheer boredom. How their owners can sleep I’ve no idea. We have double glazed doors leading out onto the balcony but even that only just about keeps out their noise. Instead of ear bleeding and anxiety raising levels of noise, we get a muffled cacophony that just about registers. Then, they shut up just as quickly as they started. Perhaps someone fed them a leprous cat to shut them up. As they bark, the sound bounces off the surrounding mountains and reverberate around the valley. The trees absorb some of the noise, the limestone cliffs amplify and redirect it. One dog sets off another in a call and response to innervate the devil into mischief. 

As the morning sun rises, the noise dies down. I would not say silence fills the valley but somehow the dogs are less tiresome. Instead we are treated to the sounds of swifts, swallows and sparrows all of which are a sheer joy. Kestrels patrol the sky above looking for breakfast, supper and dinner. I saw one make off with chihuahua in its beak. There is a tree next door which is home to a bird. I have no idea what it is because it never reveals itself and I don’t recognise its call. It sounds something like a magpie, or a crow, or a jay but not quite. Or perhaps a half strangled parrot, with a mouse stuck in its gizzard? 

I muse on this as I stand on the balcony, in just shorts, feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, warming the blood. Over the winter, the Cornish drizzle has been absorbed into my bloodstream and now, the Andalucian sun is drying me out from the inside. Fresh coffee in hand I 

can gaze across the mountains, the Mediterranean Sea and over to Africa which appears as a brown smudge on the horizon. 

Down in the valley, I can see a dog jumping up into the air, and playing, and sticking its tongue out in eager anticipation, its ears flailing as it leaps. Perhaps it should got so close to the electrified fence.

When the Mozzies Bite

 

 

When the mozzies bite, you know you are possibly in for a treat. 

So far, I’ve got away with just a few nibbles, nothing to be concerned about. No purulent festering sores have erupted, no scabrous wounds, no mind twisting itches. I’ve only heard the odd little buzzing in the night to indicate their presence. Perhaps because we are in Spain, this lot are a little less vicious than their Scottish midge cousins. Its the weather here making them a little less restive. I saw one the sipping on sangria, muttering ‘meh’ rather than going in for the kill on the nearest white skinned tourist. As far as the fauna go, they are the probably the most dangerous little creatures around. Everything else seems to be benign. The flora however are a bunch of spikey bastards. There are flowers of course to lull one into a false sense of security, but make no mistake there is a thousand different types of cactus waiting to prick your sorry arse should you sit in the wrong place. Mozzies seek you out. Cacti just wait for you to come to them. The antidote is a chilled glass of ‘tinto verrano’. 

The post breakfast stroll found ourselves buying hats in the busy town square. The lady who sold Ann her hat was French, and thus I could not pass up the opportunity to speak to her in her native tongue. Madame had heard us speaking English and was visibly shocked to be addressed in just about half decent French. I don’t know much of the language but just enough to make them think. I’ve noticed several times how faces light up when an English person speaks their language. Tourists here are from the United States, Germany, the Nordic countries, Japan, China and and the UK of course. It is obvious that just about none of them try to speak Spanish at all. The locals all speak great English which of course enables them to deal with the babel of foreign tongues.

The Americans are stereotypically loud. They always have been, going back to Roman times in the third century BC. I don’t know why, but one always knows when they are in the vicinity. Perhaps it is because they think they come from the greatest country in the world and have adopted a master race mentality. Perhaps they think they are doing the rest of the world a favour and feel no need to learn a foreign tongue. They do not hesitate for a second before bellowing something inane in loud English. It is frankly embarrassing. Why I should feel that on their behalf is of course a stereotypical British response. My Spanish is not great but the difference it makes to the demeanour of the people one deals with is very noticeable. For example, outside most restaurants there is a member of staff waiting to greet passers by and to invite them in. Most tourists nod something in English to them and walk on. I tried a bit of spanish in response to an invitation to enter the restaurant; “Gracias, pero acabo de comer” which means “thanks, but I have just eaten”. Her face lit up that someone has attempted her native tongue. Little things I know, but it makes a small difference. I always note just how little people try to speak. It is hard, and it takes confidence, and it leads to replies in rapid response as they then assume one knows far more than is actually known. However, I do it to prevent being mistaken for an American, who as a collective nation are more of an irritant than the mozzies. 

Hombre del Pollos.

 

There are aficionados of great food. There are great chefs with Michelin stars. There are ‘food heroes’ lauded by Rick Stein. Then there is the chicken man of Mijas. In truth, there is the chicken man (front of house) and his wife who pops out from the back of the shop from time to time.

The road into town begins at a small roundabout just three minutes from our front door. One passes the hardware shop, then two or three restaurant bars, one called ‘La Fuenta’ (the fountain).   Their tables spill out onto the pavement, and always seem well attended. One of them usually has a charcoal barbecue on the go with one or two steaks sizzling in the afternoon heat. 

 

Already. one’s senses are beguiled with promises of good wholesome basic food, the pinnacle of which is for my money, the ‘chicken man’ selling ‘Pollos Astados’ (‘para llevar’, to take away).

The shop front is tiny, unassuming and easily passed except for the fulsome aromas flowing out onto the street. There are no fancy flashing lights, no expensive signage, just a plain light brown awning stating ‘Pollos Astados’ (Roast Chicken). The window has a small price list. Actually one price. It says “Pollo Astado 8 euros”. Stepping inside into the dark dimly lit postage stamp size shop front, one is greeted by a bank of rotisserie chickens turning and browning slowly to one’s left. At the bottom of the rotisserie is the gravy trough. I admit, it does not look enticing but do not be put off. When señor asks if you want gravy, the only answer is yes. All else is trivia, as you would show yourself to be the dilettante amateur.  The counter is attended by Señor and Senora del Pollos. They also offer chips. Small yellow signs with curling edges on the wall inside offer 

beef stew and lasagne. These are merely sideshows, as offers for the non serious. Why go into a shop for roast chicken and ask for beef stew? Really…if you do not buy the chicken here, you might as well go to MacDonalds. 

The chicken is taken off the skewer, while Señor then prepares it for the tin foil container. He snips at the wings and the legs so that it lies flatter. He then pours a ladle of gravy over it. At this point there are dogs salivating in Seville at the prospect and as the aromas hit one’s heightened and excited nose. A portion of chips, lightly skinny fried and large enough to feed Ghengis Kahn’s marauding hordes or Napoleon’s Grand Armee on its march to Moscow, is then placed into a tin foil container the size of a small bucket. Thus victualled, one can march home to gorge. 

The meat melts in softness as it falls gracefully and without resistance from the bones. The bird is stuffed, properly stuffed, with lemon, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. The spit roasting has enfused every tiny fibre of its being with flavour. I’m dribbling with excitement as pull meat from bone onto a plate. The smell is like no other, perhaps only challenged in ardour by the smell of the heavily perfumed cleavage of a pretty french Madame in Montmartre after an evening with music, decent wine and several cognacs (I would think). Smells such as this exist in Valhalla or some other heavenly place where hedonism and Epicureanism is not only allowed but positively encouraged. Food like this inspires the telling of tales about Gods and Conquests, of battles won, virginities lost and decent wine quaffed. 

The chicken man and woman of Mijas deserve medals. I told them that their chicken is famous in England and that I’ll be writing a tripadvisor review. They beamed with delight, as well they should. 

Now, perhaps a vino tinto to wash it down? 

A Mijas Surprise.

 

Croissants are peculiarly French, paella is of course Spanish. Each country produces a little local dish or foodstuff that identifies itself inseparably with the people who live there. Croissants are folded in an enigmatic shape, the unfathomable unravelling of which resembles French intellectual history. The paella is a rich mixture of Spanish colours and heat. In Russia, the potato indicates the lack of culinary invention befitting a snow bound country. In the United States, it is sugar and fat, the mirror images of its citizens. Tourists will of course be presented with these offerings to enforce upon them the sure knowledge that they are indeed in a foreign land, as if the airport security and the interminable hours spent cooped up with strangers, who have even stranger habits, in an aircraft had not already impressed themselves as ‘travel’. 

Mijas is flush with donkeys, sunshine, palm trees and coach loads of people ostensibly come to see how and where the locals live, while all the while taking pictures of themselves (and only of themselves) standing in front of old stone white buildings. The locals are actually of no interest to most tourists except as bearers of sangria and chips. Their language is as alien to the visitors’ ears as is the sound of weeping refugees drowning in the nearby Mediterranean to the ears of a fat plutocrat buying up a street in Marbella in order to satisfy his under sexed and over reconstructed wife on a shopping spree. 

The Plaza de la Virgen is the town square, thronged with visitors and desperation. The latter belongs to the shop keepers and cafe owners who have a precious few hours in which to separate filthy lucre from the fat fingers of their owners. Mijas is fisted daily by coach loads up from the coast, disgorging their passengers from cruise ships and hotels down by the sea. Thus there is a short window of opportunity as hordes of emmets scurry around the bullring, the church and donkey shite. They will of course eat something as well. Paella probably. 

What they will not expect is a Cornish pasty.

Hidden away in a corner off the square is the ‘Mango tea room’. Run by two blokes from the UK, it offers meals we would recognise as breakfast and cream teas adorned by Rodda’s clotted cream. The Yanks go mad for it. One can also get a pasty hand made from the Redruth trained baker who co owns the place. Resistance is futile. 

It was bleddy ‘ansum and I tell him as much. It is crimped proper and stuffed with steak and turnips. Hot and pepp’ry. For a moment we are back in Camborne but without the Tyack’s Hotel, the rain and the sense of impending doom. The baker’s accent is still Redruth all right, even though he has been here over 15 years. What does a pasty say about the Cornish? That wherever you are, and in whatever state you find yourself…nothing beats a bit of hot home comfort in a pastry case. 

Geddon!

 

Adios!

It is still dark outside. Even the alarm has not gone off. 

Yet the taxi awaits at 6:15 down by the petrol station. We have to get to the airport in Malaga and leave this all behind. 

It is always with a tinge of sadness that we leave such a warm beautiful place. Yet it remains a truth that it is not locality that makes a place worth living in, its the people. Our people are not here, but perhaps with a bit of effort we could find more ‘our people’. If we did, then that would be great. But, we would still be leaving more of ‘our people’ behind.

Moving to another country, especially as one as lovely as this, could only ever be a temporary move and one ideally undertaken when young. The compromise would be to straddle both places. The challenge then is how to organise such a lifestyle. 

One week here is not enough to settle questions like this. 

Perhaps we should return? 

¡Hasta luego, amigos, y levanta una copa para el próximo año!

A Mijas Surprise.

A Mijas Surprise.

Croissants are peculiarly French, paella is of course Spanish. Each country produces a little local dish or foodstuff that identifies itself inseparably with the people who live there. Croissants are folded in an enigmatic shape, the unfathomable unravelling of which resembles French intellectual history. The paella is a rich mixture of Spanish colours and heat. In Russia, the potato indicates the lack of culinary invention befitting a snow bound country. In the United States, it is sugar and fat, the mirror images of its citizens. Tourists will of course be presented with these offerings to enforce upon them the sure knowledge that they are indeed in a foreign land, as if the airport security and the interminable hours spent cooped up with strangers, who have even stranger habits, in an aircraft had not already impressed themselves as ‘travel’.

Mijas is flush with donkeys, sunshine, palm trees and coach loads of people ostensibly come to see how and where the locals live, while all the while taking pictures of themselves (and only of themselves) standing in front of old stone white buildings. The locals are actually of no interest to most tourists except as bearers of sangria and chips. Their language is as alien to the visitors’ ears as is the sound of weeping refugees drowning in the nearby Mediterranean to the ears of a fat plutocrat buying up a street in Marbella in order to satisfy his under sexed and over reconstructed wife on a shopping spree.

The Plaza de la Virgen is the town square, thronged with visitors and desperation. The latter belongs to the shop keepers and cafe owners who have a precious few hours in which to separate filthy lucre from the fat fingers of their owners. Mijas is fisted daily by coach loads up from the coast, disgorging their passengers from cruise ships and hotels down by the sea. Thus there is a short window of opportunity as hordes of emmets scurry around the bullring, the church and donkey shite. They will of course eat something as well. Paella probably.

What they will not expect is a Cornish pasty.

Hidden away in a corner off the square is the ‘Mango tea room’. Run by two blokes from the UK, it offers meals we would recognise as breakfast and cream teas adorned by Rodda’s clotted cream. The Yanks go mad for it. One can also get a pasty hand made from the Redruth trained baker who co owns the place. Resistance is futile.

It was bleddy ‘ansum and I tell him as much. It is crimped proper and stuffed with steak and turnips. Hot and pepp’ry. For a moment we are back in Camborne but without the Tyack’s Hotel, the rain and the sense of impending doom. The baker’s accent is still Redruth all right, even though he has been here over 15 years. What does a pasty say about the Cornish? That wherever you are, and in whatever state you find yourself…nothing beats a bit of hot home comfort in a pastry case.

Geddon!

Hombre del Pollos

The Chicken Man.

There are aficionados of great food. There are great chefs with Michelin stars. There are ‘food heroes’ lauded by Rick Stein. Then there is the chicken man of Mijas. In truth, there is the chicken man (front of house) and his wife, who pops out from back from time to time.

The road into town begins at a small roundabout just three minutes from our front door. One passes the hardware shop, then two or three restaurant bars, one called ‘La Fuenta’ (the fountain). Their tables spill out onto the pavement, and always seem well attended. One of them usually has a charcoal barbecue on the go with one or two steaks sizzling in the afternoon heat. Already. one’s senses are beguiled with promises of good wholesome basic food, the pinnacle of which is for my money, the ‘chicken man’ selling ‘Pollos Astados’ (para llevar, to take away).

The shop front is tiny, unassuming and easily passed except for the fulsome aromas flowing out onto the street. There are no fancy flashing lights, no expensive signage, just a plain light brown awning stating ‘Asador de Pollos Fiesta’. The window has a small price list. Actually one price. It says “Pollo Astado 8 euros”. Stepping inside into the dark dimly lit postage stamp size shop front, one is greeted by a bank of rotisserie chickens turning and browning slowly to one’s left. At the bottom of the rotisserie is the gravy trough. I admit, it does not look enticing but do not be put off. When señor asks if you want gravy, the only answer is yes. All else is trivia, as you would show yourself to be the dilettante amateur. The counter is attended by Señor and Senora del Pollos. They also offer chips. Small yellow signs with curling edges on the wall inside offer beef stew and lasagne. These are merely sideshows, as offers for the non serious. Why go into a shop for roast chicken and ask for beef stew? Really…if you do not buy the chicken here, you might as well go to MacDonalds.

The chicken is taken off the skewer, while Señor then prepares it for the tin foil container. He snips at the wings and the legs so that it lies flatter. He then pours a ladle of gravy over it. At this point there are dogs salivating in Seville at the prospect and as the aromas hit one’s heightened and excited nose. A portion of chips, lightly skinny fried and large enough to feed Ghengis Kahn’s marauding hordes or Napoleon’s Grand Armee on its march to Moscow, is then placed into a tin foil container the size of a small bucket. Thus victualled, one can march home to gorge.

The meat melts in softness as it falls gracefully and without resistance from the bones. The bird is stuffed, properly stuffed, with lemon, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. The spit roasting has enfused every tiny fibre of its being with flavour. I’m dribbling with excitement as I pull meat from bone onto a plate. The smell is like no other, perhaps only challenged in ardour by the smell of the heavily perfumed cleavage of a pretty french Madame in Montmartre after an evening with music, decent wine and several cognacs (I would think). Smells such as this exist in Valhalla or some other heavenly place where hedonism and Epicureanism is not only allowed but positively encouraged. Food like this inspires the telling of tales about Gods and Conquests, of battles won, virginities lost and decent wine quaffed.

The chicken man and woman of Mijas deserve medals. I told them that their chicken is famous in England and that I’ll be writing a tripadvisor review. They beamed with delight, as well they should.

Now, perhaps a vino tinto to wash it down?

An Andalucian Adventure 2018

An Andalucian Adventure.

The last 4 days:

Bristol Airport, not on most people’s bucket list of ‘must see’ attractions.

From some angles its steel and glass and concrete resembles an aircraft carrier but without the charm or threat. What it lacked in aesthetics, it compensated for in function. Having had the fortune to be flying out on a Sunday, when flights are few, we were spared the horrors of the crush of the sweat stained, and beer soaked, cheap perfumed traveling public. We breezed through security with nary a nod to the terrorist threat.

Although, I did see someone with a fulsome beard carrying a rucksack. Turned out to be the headmistress of a local public school leading her petite charges on a school trip to Morocco to count hemp plants and other assorted ideologies.

Bristol has a ‘fast track option’ for security clearance, for a fee. So, if you want to minimise time spent waiting behind a fat farting peasant as he takes his sweat infested boots off for inspection, and you can’t stand the incessant chatter of two high maintenance baby dolls with faces constructed of enough plastic to build a Lego city, then pay your money…and fast track. How this works if everyone pays a fee and increases the size of the fast track queue will be managed by fee increases until you get to the point when the fast track clearance costs more than your ticket. We however, on a Sunday morning did not bother with this latest scam, and sail through the ordinary queue with not even a greased gloved finger waiting to search for hidden contraband about one’s person.

Ryanair offers priority boarding for another fee, this includes paying for putting your luggage in the hold. However, if you only have 1 bag and carry it to the gate, the staff will put it in the hold for free. So, again read the small print very carefully otherwise you will pay for something you don’t need. The boss of this world class air freight service, Micheal O’Leary, owns race horses. One of which won the Grand National, ‘Tiger Roll’. As a consequence, we were all treated to fizz on the plane, along with extra servings of fairy dust, magic spells and wishful thinking. I’m not sure what priority boarding gives you, except a light wallet. No one took off before us. In fact we all went together as a happy throng of innocents being led to an uncertain future in a pain wracked, war torn, plague ridden world. The onboard snacks were no better, offering as they do, the gastrointestinal equivalent of colonic irrigation.

With heavy threats of a rain front racing up the M5 from Cornwall, and the skies rapidly greying at the temples, we were launched upwards and outwards into the blue. Two young Spanish lads sitting in front of me started on the booze as soon as the seat belt light extinguished. They were cheerful about it and refrained from flatulence and vomiting, which, in a confined space with recirculating air, was a bonus. I then spent two happy hours with a couple from Truro discussing everything from the superiority of Philp’s pasties over Warren’s, the price of pasty meat and the husband’s military service as an engineer in the tank regiments. I was treated to the paucity of an modern English education, the Swindon fortnight holiday for railwaymen and the joys of old fashioned engineering. Ann, having been allocated a seat two rows behind was able to get into reading her book.

Upon landing, the sun threw itself at us, and as i disembarked down the rear steps, I glanced up to see the mountains of Andalucia sticking their jagged peaks up into blue heaven.

***

We’ve been here before, so it is no surprise is it?

Except, yes it is, it is still so wonderfully sense grabbing that one’s chuff is verily plumped up with more chuffedness and gabberflasting.

Malaga airport is at once a transport hub, a cathedral and a gateway. It is stepping through the wardrobe, or the looking glass, into skin warming and soul cleansing air. But, down in the bowels of the baggage reclaim area, one is entombed in artificially lit concrete and steel with only other dazed and confused passengers waiting, hopefully, for their belongings. The reclaim hall throws adverts at you with promises of a richer better life awaiting you if you purchase this or go there, meanwhile your actual life revolves around the carousel belt in pregnant expectation that indeed you will survive this flight intact. Then with bags safely returned to you, and flashing a “I’m not a bomber” smile, and your passport, at the the border you emerge out of the terminal building blinking into bright blue sunlight, palm trees and the smell of Jasmin. The short walk in the sun blessed open air to the train station is the briefest introduction to Andalucian charm. The runway disappears seemingly towards the distant mountains. One can hear the gin and tonic being poured over tinkling ice, the vino tinto being uncorked with a corky plop, and the patatas bravas sizzling alongside the piri piri gambas.

To get to Mijas involves either an expensive taxi or the train. There is probably a bus but why would you? The railway station is at the terminal itself, and trains run frequently to Fuengirola. For the price of half a pint of decent English Ale, and in thirty minutes along the coast, one arrives in ‘funky town’. All of human life is here on the train. Very young Spanish mums with prams, prune skinned and turtle necked ex pat Brits, leather jacketed cool guys hoping to get a girl with merely a glance, and bright white new arrivals from the frozen and wet north.

We’ve not eaten since breakfast, so 8 hours later we are bit peckish, but not ‘hangry’. It is too beautiful here to bring any angst or existential grief. Mijas has a way of washing out the dirt and grime of an English winter, and there are swallows and swifts here to remind us of what we can expect back home very soon as the spring banishes the ice, rain and despair from our solid English hearts of sodden oak.

The flat is the first floor of the whole house, above us a spiral stair leads to a roof terrace with a 360 degree uncluttered panorama view of the town and surrounding mountains. The sea lies 5 kms and 800 metres below us. The sky has the odd little fluffy clouds. As it is gone 1700 hours, the sun is slipping over the yard arm (somewhere in the world) and a short walk into town and a cold beer awaits.

If I die here right now, I would not complain.

***

At about 8:30, the sun just about pokes its nose above the shoulder of Dragon Mountain.

Our apartment faces the rising sun and from the bed we can look out through the big double doors which act as windows across to Dragon Mountain. Between us is the limestone valley peppered with white villas, many complete with shining blue pools. The trees are still very green, giving a lush feel to an otherwise harsh hot climate which is to come. We can step out onto a balcony now bathed in orange sunlight and listen to swifts, the odd barking dog and the faint rustle of a light breeze in the adjacent poplar and cedar trees.

All is calm.

The sea sits a still blue under a pale blue sky to the south. Fuengirola is way below us, its bustling streets a mystery to us up here. There are bakers, butchers, street cleaners…sailors, donkeys and whores all finishing their work, or starting it, down there but we are oblivious to the organised chaos and the noise of chatter in cafe bars and taxis. A thousand ‘buenas dias’ and ‘Que Tals?’ have already been spoken, accompanied by a thousand cafe solos, a thousand lit cigarettes, as many again curses, blessings and mumbled instructions. Shellfish, Cod, Tuna and monkfish tails rest upon banks of ice in the mercado. Steak, pork shoulder and pigs ears are opposite. The full range of cured meats from Iberico ham to chorizo are being laid out for sale. Red, Green and Yellow peppers, blood red tomatoes, sweet strawberries and kale. Mushrooms, onions and cucumbers await their fate as thousand chefs contemplate their salad selections. Another day, another thousand decisions mostly about what to eat, when to eat it and where is the place place to eat it?

There will be some business done. A car will be sold, a new kitchen planned, a new financial scam invented. Lawyers will make money out of other people’s misery, stupidity, laziness and fraud. Doctors will examine bits of people their owners did not know exist, and tell them in somber tones that given the circumstances, death ‘ain’t as bad as it is made out”. Priests will talk to people about their real and often corporeal worries while invoking an imaginary solution, which sometimes actually work. Accountants will stack a pile of beans and inform owners that their business, while actually doing a roaring trade, is actually bankrupt. The bars will bustle with all manner of talk about politics, society and sex. None of which will be underpinned by any expertise in any of the fields under discussion as the inverse law of ‘talking bollocks’ applies. This law states that when any subject is discussed in more than two sentences and with increasing confidence this will be in inverse proportion to any knowledge about it. This particularly applies to male talk, when sat at a bar stool after the second beer.

Last night we walked into the town and enjoyed a very pleasant hour or so sitting outside in the sun. A pint of San Miguel for the gentleman and a Sangria for the lady. The square in Mijas has had a makeover and is now a wide open space with palm trees swaying in the light breeze. On three sides shops, cafes and bars sprawl their wares, tables and chairs. The fourth side is open to a view of Dragon Mountain. It is a lovely place to watch people taking pictures of themselves using selfie sticks brought to here by many coach loads of tourists up from the coast just for the day. They are mostly Asian. There must be a guide to tourism issued to all Asians as they have the same dress code, the same selfie sticks, and the same ant like gait as they rush from one picture opportunity to another. When I say ‘picture opportunity’, this is not the Taj Mahal or the hanging Gardens of Babylon. Any old municipal fountain, tree, cafe table or donkey is fair game. They will have hundreds of pictures of mostly themselves in front of Spanish trivia. I suppose to them it is all exotic and memorable. However I fail to see the attraction of a shop front, a cup of coffee on a cafe table or a dog taking a dump in the square.

Today, will be more of them same. Ann has been investigating the best eateries in town. There are plenty. There is a running battle with the odd mozzie going on, but so far they have scored the odd hit but nothing to call an ambulance about. They thankfully target bits of the body we have heard of and so there is no need to visit a doctor.

***

Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda.

All of them do a fine job of selling tins of beans. If you want to pay more, then you have Waitrose. If you don’t like pennies slipping through your fingers quite so fast, you can go to Lidl or Aldi.

But if you want colour, taste and a little exotica then the mercado in Mijas is for you. It has no car park, situated as it is right in the middle of the town surrounded and hemmed in on all four sides by houses and shops. You need to know where it is otherwise you I’ll never find it. Its front entrance is on a street just about wide enough for a car to pass through. Just. One has to pass a tabac on the way. A tiny one room shop that sells, wait for it, tobacco, cigarettes and cigars. That’s it. Nothing else apart from the accoutrements and paraphernalia for smoking. One leaves one’s heart and lungs outside to enter into the gloom where the merchant of death will sell you merchandise at a fraction of the price in the UK. Seems like death comes cheaply in Andalucia.

The mercado has a portico type entrance, a bit like stepping up into the Roman forum. Like all buildings in Mijas its exterior is white, but once inside it is a proper covered market. Walk around clockwise or anticlockwise and you will find butchers, bakers, fishmongers and a shop a name for which I’ve no idea.

We are having fish for lunch.

A bright eyed bream beckons us. We buy prawns and sardines. Señor says the sardines are ‘obligado’ (free) as they are the last 4 of the morning. He guts and cleans the fish for us, all for about 7 euros.

The bream requires stuffing with garlic, onion and lemon. Wrap it in foil with seasoning and dabs of butter and bake for 20-25 minutes. Prawns are gutted and peeled and dipped lightly in flour before being pan fried while the sardines are done likewise. All is served with a fresh salad and a bottle of Cava. The sun warms the balcony and our bones as we sit outside…yes outside, to lunch. The smell of olive oil and garlic tickle the nose, the fizz tickles the senses, the bream does not disappoint. As the fish was being prepared and the before the Cava popped open, a bottle of Malaga’s finest red had to be tried. Not the whole bottle, mind you. We bought a 2013 Vega del Geva, Syrah Cabernet. at a local bar the other night. Those who know French wine well would have been fooled by its aroma. Suffice to say it was bleddy ‘ansum me bewdy.

There is no place for stress here. The sun, the sky, the food and the mountains all conspire to draw any last vestiges of worry or concern from your bones. Any lasting niggles in the blood get filtered out. Nerves are rolled flat and untangled, muscles are warmed up and released from tension. I can’t be arsed to be arsed anymore. The heart pumps slower, the lungs breath easier and chalfonts withdraw to a place far far away. This is a country for old men, and women. Blood diluted by Spanish wine flows more freely, garlic and herbs create a bed of comfort in the stomach and even farts smell sweeter. Thoughts are slower and revolve around wondering how to cook the next fish as the most taxing predicament. Heart valves pop to the rhythm of the corks from bottles of Cava while one’s footsteps are no quicker than those of the oat fed and aged donkeys in the town square. The smell of honey roasted almonds and Jasmin compete for the glory of one’s nose, only to be ousted by wafts of freshly ground coffee from myriad street cafes.

A bucket of drugs each day has been prescribed to keep this old carcass from an early appointment with eternity. But with each breath of Andalusian air and the strokes of the sun’s warmth, I’m convinced that the medications are only being enhanced. There is magic here. Pity they can’t sell it or prescribe it on the NHS.

***

Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda.

All of them do a fine job of selling tins of beans. If you want to pay more, then you have Waitrose. If you don’t like pennies slipping through your fingers quite so fast, you can go to Lidl or Aldi.

But if you want colour, taste and a little exotica then the mercado in Mijas is for you. It has no car park, situated as it is right in the middle of the town surrounded and hemmed in on all four sides by houses and shops. You need to know where it is otherwise you I’ll never find it. Its front entrance is on a street just about wide enough for a car to pass through. Just. One has to pass a tabac on the way. A tiny one room shop that sells, wait for it, tobacco, cigarettes and cigars. That’s it. Nothing else apart from the accoutrements and paraphernalia for smoking. One leaves one’s heart and lungs outside to enter into the gloom where the merchant of death will sell you merchandise at a fraction of the price in the UK. Seems like death comes cheaply in Andalucia.

The mercado has a portico type entrance, a bit like stepping up into the Roman forum. Like all buildings in Mijas its exterior is white, but once inside it is a proper covered market. Walk around clockwise or anticlockwise and you will find butchers, bakers, fishmongers and a shop a name for which I’ve no idea.

We are having fish for lunch.

A bright eyed bream beckons us. We buy prawns and sardines. Señor says the sardines are ‘obligado’ (free) as they are the last 4 of the morning. He guts and cleans the fish for us, all for about 7 euros.

The bream requires stuffing with garlic, onion and lemon. Wrap it in foil with seasoning and dabs of butter and bake for 20-25 minutes. Prawns are gutted and peeled and dipped lightly in flour before being pan fried while the sardines are done likewise. All is served with a fresh salad and a bottle of Cava. The sun warms the balcony and our bones as we sit outside…yes outside, to lunch. The smell of olive oil and garlic tickle the nose, the fizz tickles the senses, the bream does not disappoint. As the fish was being prepared and the before the Cava popped open, a bottle of Malaga’s finest red had to be tried. Not the whole bottle, mind you. We bought a 2013 Vega del Geva, Syrah Cabernet. at a local bar the other night. Those who know French wine well would have been fooled by its aroma. Suffice to say it was bleddy ‘ansum me bewdy.

There is no place for stress here. The sun, the sky, the food and the mountains all conspire to draw any last vestiges of worry or concern from your bones. Any lasting niggles in the blood get filtered out. Nerves are rolled flat and untangled, muscles are warmed up and released from tension. I can’t be arsed to be arsed anymore. The heart pumps slower, the lungs breath easier and chalfonts withdraw to a place far far away. This is a country for old men, and women. Blood diluted by Spanish wine flows more freely, garlic and herbs create a bed of comfort in the stomach and even farts smell sweeter. Thoughts are slower and revolve around wondering how to cook the next fish as the most taxing predicament. Heart valves pop to the rhythm of the corks from bottles of Cava while one’s footsteps are no quicker than those of the oat fed and aged donkeys in the town square. The smell of honey roasted almonds and Jasmin compete for the glory of one’s nose, only to be ousted by wafts of freshly ground coffee from myriad street cafes.

A bucket of drugs each day has been prescribed to keep this old carcass from an early appointment with eternity. But with each breath of Andalusian air and the strokes of the sun’s warmth, I’m convinced that the medications are only being enhanced. There is magic here. Pity they can’t sell it or prescribe it on the NHS.

***

When the mozzies bite, you know you are possibly in for a treat.

So far, I’ve got away with just a few nibbles, nothing to be concerned about. No purulent festering sores have erupted, no scabrous wounds, no mind twisting itches. I’ve only heard the odd little buzzing in the night to indicate their presence. Perhaps because we are in Spain, this lot are a little less vicious than their Scottish midge cousins. Its the weather here making them a little less restive. I saw one the sipping on sangria, muttering ‘meh’ rather than going in for the kill on the nearest white skinned tourist. As far as the fauna go, they are the probably the most dangerous little creatures around. Everything else seems to be benign. The flora however are a bunch of spikey bastards. There are flowers of course to lull one into a false sense of security, but make no mistake there is a thousand different types of cactus waiting to prick your sorry arse should you sit in the wrong place. Mozzies seek you out. Cacti just wait for you to come to them. The antidote is a chilled glass of ‘tinto verrano’.

The post breakfast stroll found ourselves buying hats in the busy town square. The lady who sold Ann her hat was French, and thus I could not pass up the opportunity to speak to her in her native tongue. Madame had heard us speaking English and was visibly shocked to be addressed in just about half decent French. I don’t know much of the language but just enough to make them think. I’ve noticed several times how faces light up when an English person speaks their language. Tourists here are from the United States, Germany, the Nordic countries, Japan, China and and the UK of course. It is obvious that just about none of them try to speak Spanish at all. The locals all speak great English which of course enables them to deal with the babel of foreign tongues.

The Americans are stereotypically loud. They always have been, going back to Roman times in the third century BC. I don’t know why, but one always knows when they are in the vicinity. Perhaps it is because they think they come from the greatest country in the world and have adopted a master race mentality. Perhaps they think they are doing the rest of the world a favour and feel no need to learn a foreign tongue. They do not hesitate for a second before bellowing something inane in loud English. It is frankly embarrassing. Why I should feel that on their behalf is of course a stereotypical British response. My Spanish is not great but the difference it makes to the demeanour of the people one deals with is very noticeable. For example, outside most restaurants there is a member of staff waiting to greet passers by and to invite them in. Most tourists nod something in English to them and walk on. I tried a bit of spanish in response to an invitation to enter the restaurant; “Gracias, pero acabo de comer” which means “thanks, but I have just eaten”. Her face lit up that someone has attempted her native tongue. Little things I know, but it makes a small difference. I always note just how little people try to speak. It is hard, and it takes confidence, and it leads to replies in rapid response as they then assume one knows far more than is actually known. However, I do it to prevent being mistaken for an American, who as a collective nation are more of an irritant than the mozzies.

When mozzies bite.

When the mozzies bite, you know you are possibly in for a treat.

So far, I’ve got away with just a few nibbles, nothing to be concerned about. No purulent festering sores have erupted, no scabrous wounds, no mind twisting itches. I’ve only heard the odd little buzzing in the night to indicate their presence. Perhaps because we are in Spain, this lot are a little less vicious than their Scottish midge cousins. Its the weather here making them a little less restive. I saw one sipping on sangria, muttering ‘meh’ rather than going in for the kill on the nearest white skinned tourist. As far as the fauna go, they are the probably the most dangerous little creatures around. Everything else seems to be benign. The flora however are a bunch of spikey bastards. There are flowers of course to lull one into a false sense of security, but make no mistake there is a thousand different types of cactus waiting to prick your sorry arse should you sit in the wrong place. Mozzies seek you out. Cacti just wait for you to come to them. The antidote is a chilled glass of ‘tinto verrano’.

The post breakfast stroll found ourselves buying hats in the busy town square. The lady who sold Ann her hat was French, and thus I could not pass up the opportunity to speak to her in her native tongue. Madame had heard us speaking English and was visibly shocked to be addressed in just about half decent French. I don’t know much of the language but just enough to make them think. I’ve noticed several times how faces light up when an English person speaks their language. Tourists here are from the United States, Germany, the Nordic countries, Japan, China and and the UK of course. It is obvious that just about none of them try to speak Spanish at all. The locals all speak great English which of course enables them to deal with the babel of foreign tongues.

The Americans are stereotypically loud. They always have been, going back to Roman times in the third century BC. I don’t know why, but one always knows when they are in the vicinity. Perhaps it is because they think they come from the greatest country in the world and have adopted a master race mentality. Perhaps they think they are doing the rest of the world a favour and feel no need to learn a foreign tongue. They do not hesitate for a second before bellowing something inane in loud English. It is frankly embarrassing. Why I should feel that on their behalf is of course a stereotypical British response. My Spanish is not great but the difference it makes to the demeanour of the people one deals with is very noticeable. For example, outside most restaurants there is a member of staff waiting to greet passers by and to invite them in. Most tourists nod something in English to them and walk on. I tried a bit of spanish in response to an invitation to enter the restaurant; “Gracias, pero acabo de comer” which means “thanks, but I have just eaten”. Her face lit up that someone has attempted her native tongue. Little things I know, but it makes a small difference. I always note just how little people try to speak. It is hard, and it takes confidence, and it leads to replies in rapid response as they then assume one knows far more than is actually known. However, I do it to prevent being mistaken for an American, who as a collective nation, are more of an irritant than the mozzies.

Over to Africa

The curious incident of the dog in the nightime.

If memory is correct, Sherlock Holmes solved a mystery by noting that a dog did not bark when it otherwise would have.

No mystery here though. Down in the valley among the scatter of houses and villas are dogs. Someone has a pack of them. How do I know? Because at about 4 in the morning they decide to sing in chorus, yapping, barking and howling at shadows, the breeze or out of sheer boredom. How their owners can sleep I’ve no idea. We have double glazed doors leading out onto the balcony but even that only just about keeps out their noise. Instead of ear bleeding and anxiety raising levels of noise, we get a muffled cacophony that just about registers. Then, they shut up just as quickly as they started. Perhaps someone fed them a leprous cat to shut them up. As they bark, the sound bounces off the surrounding mountains and reverberate around the valley. The trees absorb some of the noise, the limestone cliffs amplify and redirect it. One dog sets off another in a call and response to innervate the devil into mischief.

As the morning sun rises, the noise dies down. I would not say silence fills the valley but somehow the dogs are less tiresome. Instead we are treated to the sounds of swifts, swallows and sparrows all of which are a sheer joy. Kestrels patrol the sky above looking for breakfast, supper and dinner. I saw one make off with chihuahua in its beak. There is a tree next door which is home to a bird. I have no idea what it is because it never reveals itself and I don’t recognise its call. It sounds something like a magpie, or a crow, or a jay but not quite. Or perhaps a half strangled parrot, with a mouse stuck in its gizzard?

I muse on this as I stand on the balcony, in just shorts, feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, warming the blood. Over the winter, the Cornish drizzle has been absorbed into my bloodstream and now, the Andalucian sun is drying me out from the inside. Fresh coffee in hand I can gaze across the mountains, the Mediterranean Sea and over to Africa which appears as a brown smudge on the horizon.

Down in the valley, I can see a dog jumping up into the air, and playing, and sticking its tongue out in eager anticipation, its ears flailing as it leaps. Perhaps it should not have got so close to the electrified fence.

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