Category: Travel

An Ionian Adventure

Corfu:      An Ionian Adventure

 

Preamble

“A maiden akin to the immortal goddesses in form and comeliness, Nausicaa, the daughter of the great hearted Alcinous”        (Homer’s Oddysey).

Odysseus wanders for 10 years before being shipwrecked on ‘Scheria’ (Corfu). He falls asleep to be awakened by the laughter of Nausicaa, a princess, playing handball with her handmaidens. Odysseus is sea beaten and naked and gazes upon them as if they were water-nymphs. He had cursed his first mate for insisting on “one last up spirits for old times sake” as his ship glided silently towards the ‘reef of impending doom’. His curse was misplaced and in vain because the reef was not on the chart in any case, this being before GPS, and his course was already set by the capricious gods of tide and time. However, upon seeing Nausicaa, he now wished for another round of ‘up spirits’ to fortify his less than honourable intentions.

Corfu, or its Greek name Kerkyra, can be found in the north Ionian Sea, sitting just off the coasts of Albania to its north east and mainland Greece to its south east. To the west lies Italy and the setting sun over a blue horizon of the Aegean Sea. It is the northernmost of the seven ‘Eptanisa’ or Ionian Islands.

It is said to be shaped like a scythe, just like the one used by Cronos to castrate his father Uranus (Sky). Cronos was urged on by his mother, Gaia (Earth) in revenge for either Uranus’s cruel treatment of Cronos’s brothers or for leaving the toilet seat up. The blood dripping from the unkindest cut of all into the Aegean Sea gave rise to divinities such as Aphrodite, the Nymphs and the Furies. With family dynamics like that it is no wonder psychoanalysts looked to the Greek myths to explain our deepest emotional natures. Homer in the Oddysey describes the island inhabitants’ fondness for democracy and gender equality at a time when certain wode wearing northern tribes were still trying to figure out the difference between a rock and a hard place.

All of this mythology is unknown to 8 modern followers of Odysseus, who are bound for the marina at Gouvia to enjoy a week’s sailing to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Corfu is a few short hours flight from Heathrow, but a thousand years distant from the clattering yammer that is democracy in a modern post industrial state.

There is a wealth of knowledge and experience of sailing between them all. However just about all of that experience and knowledge belongs to just two crew members, who also happily turn out to be the skipper Mick and ‘competent crew’ Eileen. Otherwise it is a midwife, an electrician, an academic, an administrator, and two IT specialists. What could possibly go wrong with a skill set like that?

This particular odyssey begins from a small town in Oxfordshire….

Birdsong.

The dawn chorus. At this time of year (May) this starts very early. It is also the time to haul one’s sorry carcass out of bed and make the nightly troupe to ease bladder pressure. The rest of the house, all seven of them, is asleep, not a peep. Cold grey light tries to sneak in between the curtains, the birds greet the new day, the floor creaks under foot as I pad my way to experience life’s sweet release.  The urgency of tonight’s excursion was underpinned by the three ales quaffed in the Fat Fox Inn in Watlington, a town cradled by the Chilterns to its south and a rat run for the M40.

The necessaries undertaken means another hour in bed before the day starts properly when eight of us, and about 16 bags, and a boat load of bravado and hope, fly to the Ionian to find a 48 foot yacht. The yacht is already there waiting for us as its too big to get on the plane.

For those who like detail, it is a Beneteau Oceanis 48.

It is called ‘Butterfly’.

So, there, now you know.

For four of us –  Karen, Chris, Ben and Ann – the trip requires driving to Oxfordshire from Cornwall the day before to meet up with the other four in Watlington.  This is the ‘Cornwall tax’, something we all have to pay being so far down in the South West of England. The upside is a late afternoon/early evening in the ‘Fat Fox’ before dinner. The pub is busy but no one gets arrested or naked, but as the evening wears on the possibility increases. To prevent this, dinner is prepared and so full of the joys of dipsomania, we scuttle back for steak and chips. Perfect.

Sleep. Perchance to dream of ouzo, retsina and souvlaki. This will, of course, all be before the nocturnal call presaged by blackbirds staking out their territory in the early misty morning.

At a reasonable 0800, we are all ready for Heathrow, throw the bags into the minibus and off south down the M40. It is not too cold, the sky is grey and it’s a little damp. Usual UK weather then.

Heathrow is just another airport, a conduit to foreign lands, a spirit sapping temple of ennui and a cathedral built to enable the worship of retail. All the shops are here. Louis Vuitton, Fortnum’s, Gucci and “World of Duty Free”, which of course is not ‘free’ of temptation. Breakfast is taken at “Giraffe”, an oddly named chain probably thought up by the boss’s six year old granddaughter or a graduate of a prestigious university who likes to take the post modernist approach to graphic design.

So far so good, it’s been about 4 hours in each other’s company and no one has had a temper tantrum or stamped a foot in frustration.  No social gaffes or faux pas have emerged, but give it time and a little gin and I’m sure it will.

At 1230 we are finally off the runway and up into the blue. Actually it’s up into the white, grey and damp. This is still England whose miserable meteorology is only matched by the misery of an old bloke at the pub upon finding he’s three pounds short of a five pint evening. The plane will eventually get to 37,000 feet and then hopefully it will be blue.

And right on cue it is. Below us the white capped Alps float into view. I might get excited at this point but I have to remember it is early, I’m British and I don’t have the emotional disposition of an American. The German Alps give way to the Dolomites and soon we arrive in Moldovan, Bosnian, Albanian airspace. It is picture postcard from up here, little fluffy clouds way below, the azure sea (it cannot be anything else) while the land breaks up into myriad islands with long golden sandy beaches. There is a little sign of life down there and what fields there are, if indeed there are any fields, are brown. Not much rainfall here then. The islands are cut into with many turquoise coves which would be ideal anchorages for anyone with a yacht. This is the Dalmation coast famous for its islands of Croatia, Boznia and Macedonia.

Somewhere further down the plane, a young baby cries. Somewhere down the plane someone loses the will to live. Somewhere down the plane there’s a bloke trying to look cool, a girl fixing her make up, and a fat bloke trying to control his intestinal fluctuations. Somewhere further down the plane is unalloyed excitement, or indifference or barely concealed fear of flying. The ‘hostesses’ ply us with drink and a boxed lunch made of cardboard and salad cream. Soon they will try to part us from our cash with ‘offers’ of exotic promise, but are really based in the lie that is consumerism, and can only end in tears should we succumb.

Dubrovnik slips beneath us and we have 260 miles to go, at 530 miles per hour. That’s going faster than a plateful of pepp’ry pasties at a Cornish wedding.

Corfu comes into view as the aircraft descends southwards along its western shores. At the very southern tip of the island the plane banks to port and descends northwards still further along its eastern shores down to the airport. Soon we are below the skyline and mountains rise up above us. The flight path is over the sea and runs parallel to the island’s main road that runs from the southern tip, north to Corfu Old Town. The sea glistens below us. “Look out the left the captain says, those lights down there, that’s where we’ll land”.

Corfu airport has seen better days, in truth it is looking a bit battered and the sort of airport one would expect in places like Beirut during the troubles or Aleppo after an air strike. The concrete is doing its job, but pretty it is not. The baggage reclaim has the feel of an empty 1970’s built school assembly room but without the charm or urine. One can’t help compare it with Malaga, but that is not a fair comparison. Corfu is to Malaga as a Cortina is to a Prius. They’ll both do the job but which one would you rather arrive in?

The short taxi to Gouvia takes us through the bits of Corfu the brochures don’t show. Many buildings are dilapidated, boarded up and crumbling. The infrastructure has not seen any investment since Aristotle’s time. This should be a boon for the construction industry as there is so much work needing doing just to bring buildings up to ‘acceptable’. Kerbsides are crumbling, paint peels off and bits of concrete have fallen off at random. The wiring resembles a plate of spaghetti and must be a fire hazard. All buildings look a bit ‘tired’ and in need of good lie down to recover after a heavy night on the ouzo. If this bit of Corfu was a bloke he’d be Rab C Nesbitt with a tan; all grey string vest and hangover.

Upon arrival at Gouvia marina, things pick up. The challenge now is finding the boat among the flotilla moored up before us. This will prove tricky and so the answer is to find a bar and think about it. Luckily there a few water side bars in which to think.

Gouvia to Sivota

The morning awakens in the Marina. Not a cloud. Just the quiet calm of people stirring. The odd gull, a few swifts, and a fat german’s fart sweeps slowly across the glass surfaced sea. The temperature is already ‘comfortable’ for those inclined to nudity and so one’s morning constitutional becomes not only a requirement but also can be done without freezing. The shower block is just a few metres from the mooring, across the concrete jetty, shielded by a few bushes. As I enter it feels like one is standing at the doors of Hades or Dante’s inferno, and given the sounds that emanate, there is a host of minor demons sticking three pronged pitchforks into the bloated bellies of old men. The sounds are demonic belches, blowings and mine deep bowel rumblings of hideous portent. This is not for the weak of moral fibre or the sensitive of character. Undaunted, I enter.

Refreshed, and unscathed, tiz time for breakfast.

At sea, there is a natural order which must be adhered to if things are to go smoothly. This requires everyone to be cognisant of their place in the hierarchy. Nelson won at Trafalgar not only due to superior seamanship and purpose of vision, but also because the humble english seaman knew his duty. If it worked for Nelson it will work for this motley crew.

Mick the skipper is nominally in charge, and definitely in charge of all things nautical including navigation and boat handling. There are 4 women on board and past strictures about women bringing bad luck to vessels did not come about by accident or whim. At some point, a hapless skipper must have noted the melee below decks and muttered to himself, noting in the ship’s log, that “those of the fairer sex do oft display machinations and bedevilments to vex the temperaments of the most placid of Bishops and his horses”. Mick has (‘come on’) Eileen, his partner as crew, thus we have more than adequate skill, knowledge and attitude to take on the tempests.

Upon leaving the jetty, wind speed hardly merited getting the sails up and thus we chugged at about 6 knots for an hour or so while learning the rudiments of sailing. We now know the difference between a ‘sheet’, a ‘halyard’ and a ‘cat o nine tails’. Thankfully the wind picked up a little around noon to warrant hoisting the genoa and mainsail, and at times we even made 6-7 knots. The ‘Genoa’ is the big triangular power sail at the front of the boat, and the mainsail is the, um, ‘main sail’ at the mast. Duty at the wheel was happily shared under Mick’s supervision and no whales were hurt during the making of this voyage. The destination was a tiny coastal ‘town’ called Sivota on mainland Greece. At this point the North Ionian sea is more like a vast lake flanked as it is by Corfu to the west, Albania to the north east and then mainland Greece to the south east. Our bearing once safely out of Gouvia Marina in Corfu was about 135-145 degrees, give or take the odd circular tack. Above us only blue, and flanked by the cloud topped mountains and hills, the weather was perfect. Our only hazards were other boats, flotsam and jetsam, and over enthusiasm with gin. Soon the tiny port came into view. A small row of harbour side houses, bars and restaurants shimmered in the afternoon heat as we approached. The depth at the wall was just enough to dock, this boat having 2.2 meters draft and the water at the wall being about the same. The boat reversed stern first up to the jetty to sit alongside other boats to form a long rank of yachts whose collective value was probably higher than a small Oxfordshire village. ‘Butterfly’ makes a pretty sight among the others.

We do not have far to go to the facilities. As soon as one steps ashore onto the harbour wall there are several stone built bars/restaurants lining the shore, fronted by tables, chairs and shady umbrellas. Swifts swoop and dance through the streets in small black arcs of speed while the reds of bougainvillea decorate the walls. The harbour faces about due east towards the setting sun. It is a small

cove enclosed by the land to the north and south, a safe haven from any winds coming from the three points of the compass, while a breakwater tries to protect it from westerlies. Fishing pots dot the sea, the odd small ship is anchored off shore, the mountains of Corfu are silhouetted to the West behind the setting sun. It is film set scenery, or the sort of place one would photograph for a travel guide or a steamy romantic novel involving meaningful stares, stolen glances, the merest touch of hand against hand at the dinner table, and remembrance of things past involving a dildo.

The Filakis Hotel takes the southern arm of land overlooking the harbour and lays out its tables to make the most of sunsets. Perfect. Ouzo is taken alongside pictures of the setting sun within the blues, yellows, oranges and reds of the sky. The, by now black, shape of Corfu’s far away mountains form the horizon and just the right distance to pip the sun to the sea as it climbs down to rest beneath the earth. Just enough wine and ouzo is taken to smooth passage towards sleep.

Sivota to Lakka

Not much happens in sleepy Greek harbour side towns except when the articulated Lorry turns up at 0700, parks beside the boats and runs his engine for about 30 minutes, so drowning out the gentle lapping of water against the hulls. I awake to peep up the cabin stairs to the deck and can just see the big white beast of a truck sitting harbour side, idling his engine. There is a faint whiff of human material disgorgments, the reason being that this is the truck that drains the sewers. This is quite a relief really because the thought of all that waste flowing directly into the water where all the yachts are moored is frankly frightening. The water is clear beneath the hull and one can see fish, so the truck is doing its job.

Another very warm blue morning greets each member of the crew as they wipe slumber from their eyes. Breakfast is taken at a cafe right beside the boat under a shady umbrella. Bacon, cheese, eggs, toast, the usual filler washed down with coffee and a lovely cinnamon topped coffee shot is provided gratis.

We set sail for a tiny bay where we can drop anchor and laze about for a couple of hours. Chris and I snorkel, lunch is made, beer and gin is taken at the appropriate hour. The water is crystal clear if just a tad chilly. It must be remembered that chilly means something quite different in the Ionian than it does in Dogger, Fisher or German Bight. Here it merely means that one registers the temperature as one dives in but then it quickly becomes a passing note. At home chilly means wetsuits, willy warmers and icebergs. We swim among a throng of black tailed bream and ‘other fish’. The sunlight streams through the water from above like torchlight beams puncturing the sub marine aquatic ambience. Soon however it is time to set sail for the destination on a nearby island: Lakka on Paxos island.

The wind is momentarily kind, we hoist sails and learn that our point of sail is towards the wind (again) and so tacking will be the order of the day. We are surrounded in the distance all around by Corfu, mainland Greece and far away the mountains of Albania. As we go, Chris has made a puttanesca sauce in a huge pan clamped onto the gas ring. Huge red ripe tomatoes, onions, garlic, roasted red peppers, anchovies and capers. Just a hint of chilli. This will be tonight’s dinner and will have several hours to marinade. The island of Paxos is always in view ahead and we head for distant masts. As we approach it is not obvious where the little harbour is, as it is tucked away in an inlet. Soon, however the small white sticks become masts, masts become boats and we slide across azure water around a tiny headland and into the bay when suddenly the harbour side opens up. There are already over 20 yachts moored either at the harbor or in the tiny bay. Paxos is another Sivita, but smaller again. Bars and cafes here have been painted in pastel colors to go with the cream and white stone facades. Anchor dropped, we decide that red wine is required and the only way to get to shore is in the tiny dinghy.

One tiny dinghy, 4 blokes. Thankfully one calm bay. The women wisely decide to stay on board. The chugging of the outboard engine get us to shore without incident or affray, we tie up and step straight into a bar for 4 beers. These are provided free as the owner knows Mick. We remember that the purpose of going ashore was to be ‘victualling ship’ and so one beer later we are off.

Getting into a a potentially bobbing, inherently unstable, dinghy should be done carefully and without accident. When it comes to letting go from the metal ring on the harbour wall, this should only require undoing the hitch knot and off! However, it takes two of us to get back out of the dinghy to relieve the tension on the rope so that the knot can actually be released. The good news is that no one falls into the water. A couple sitting nearby at a waterside bar find the sight of 4 men with as much organization as a toddler high on sugar induced ADHD, trying to get free from the harbour wall, highly amusing.

Safely on board, coastguards stood down, dinner and wine is served. We are surrounded by yachts and there seems to be a mix of experience and common sense ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘what the f*ck?” There are rules about where to drop anchors and distances between boats that some appear to either ignore or believe do not apply to them. So, from time to time we are entertained by the comings and goings of various boats in the bay all looking for a slot for safe berth. A boat flying a German flag goes around in circles and seems hell bent on annoying other boat owners by getting too close. He approaches another German boat only for the crew on board to wave their arms about to suggest that he takes his anchor and shove it up his Black Forest.

The sun sets, the lights on the boats go on, it all becomes very, well, ‘pretty’.

Tomorrow is for birthdays and anniversaries celebrated under a Greek sun upon the Ionian Sea.

Lakka to Gaios (Paxos Island)

The funny thing about sea sickness is that it is not funny at all. About as amusing as swallowing a lightly salted slug, only less so. There is less slime going down on a slug than that experienced coming up after a hefty period retching, praying for an early death and considering that being buggered is an improvement as a career move. I’d swap the slug for ‘mal de mer’ anyday.

There is no wind, so we chug out of the bay to hit a few rollers coming straight at us at first and then a bit sideways. For seasoned mariners, this would cause no more discomfort than a scrotum tickling with a feather boa. However, we had just enjoyed breakfast once and were in no mood to ‘enjoy’ breakfast a second time (or third or fourth). Mick decided to turn the boat around and let the waves drive behind us so that we surfed the rollers rather than crash through them. When I say ‘rollers’, do not have in mind walls of sea green rising majestically up to the sky. These little beauties bore more than a passing resemblance to ripples in your bathtub after a particularly vigorous soaping. So, with a new course for the very pretty little port of Gaios on the island of Paxos in time for lunch, we surfed away.  We pass a submerged reef closer to shore. It is just visible as a patch of light blue water amid the darker sea. It does not break surface and so there are no waves to mark its place, nor any light, buoy, or the wreck of a reckless skipper to mark the spot. It is on the chart. This little beauty would take your keel off as fast as whore loses her knickers. This, of course, would not be a ‘good thing’ except as a story to tell the grandchildren in one’s dotage. There is a boat closer to shore than us and it seemed to be heading straight for the reef. This was going to be interesting if it did not change course.

However, life returned to being dull as it changed course and slipped past at, well, a ‘rate of knots’.

Entering Gaios is like running up an estuary, olive lined slopes to one side as the curve of passage leads us on. Again many boats are already here tied up. We try to moor at one point but are advised that a ferry docks there. Our final resting place is right in ‘town’. Again one can step off straight into a bar or cafe. Before going ashore the birthday and anniversary necessaries are carried out with a glass of fizz.

Mick is 50 today. Life from this point, I inform him is downhill. He has led ‘la dolce vita’ and has now reached the summit. George Bernard Shaw remarked that a man is at the ‘apex of his villainy’ in his 40’s. So, at this point he reaches that apex and as the next year beckons will discern that the slope starts downwards as his innards begin the slow transformation to mush and his cognitive function resembles that of an out of tune piano. The decline will be imperceptible at first but nonetheless real for all that. He will grow a fondness for a ‘nice cup of tea’ and consider a late night to be 2230. He will regale friends in pubs with histories of his bowel functions, when it does and when it doesn’t, consistency, timing and flow will become important. Don’t mention the prostate, Chalfonts or memory loss. The only time a young lady will smile at you is when she is in a carer’s uniform and is emptying your catheter bag. Amsterdam’s attractions include the Van Gogh museum rather than the red light district, ‘music’ is radio 4 not radio 1 and you sometimes wonder if operation yew tree will come knocking because you ‘tapped that pretty little thing’s pert arse’ in the office during the 70’s in lieu of the spoken request for a cup of tea.

In short life is over.

But for today, there is sunshine, a birthday meal to enjoy and ouzo.

Dinner is booked at restaurant Taka Taka just about 30 seconds walk from the boat. The tables sit under trees and ‘other flora’. It is very very picturesque, with the ambience of a slowly bursting orgasm (?) and will be home to squadrons of hungry mozzies. Fish is eaten, wine is infused, plates are smashed with celebratory dancing at close of day.

Gaios to Plataria

Do you ever look into a mirror and think “who the f*ck is that” staring back at you? And then you remember the late night parties, the rivers of booze and illicit substances, the flings, affairs and liaisons dangereuses, the highs and the lows of misspent youth, and the decades you let slip through your fingers like they were confetti blowing in the wind.

That’s you that is.

The laws of physics will not be mocked, entropy will do it’s work and all we can do is enjoy the ride for it will not stop till that last anchor is dropped and the last dram supped. Your face will eventually mark every safe passage you’ve ever made, every following wind that guided, every tide of hope dashed on the seas of experience until the ‘star you’ve steered her by’ twinkles into the invisibility your last dawn brings.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking as I wait for the heads to become free. I’m going to invent a mirror that reflects youth, vitality and hope or one that just tells lies.

There are many advantages of course of having a face that looks like it’s been battered by a force 10 in the North Atlantic for most of its life. For experience and wisdom does not come cheap. Whether one gains such positive outcomes rather than just being a rash, unwise, impetuous youth who just happens to be older is part of your own life’s voyage.

Enough of maritime references, Nelson would turn in his rum soaked grave to hear such mockery crying ‘Emma, raise your self, ma’am, from upon my visage, for there are battles to win and Triumph will not wait e’en for this son of England!” Or something like that.

Today there will be some wind, which is great news for yachting. We are told it will be from the west, and a different ‘point of sail’* for once. The sun rose orange, poking over the small island and streaming its morning rays into the face of the houses on the quayside who all lit up in sheer joy and colourful bursts of welcome for the new warmth of morning. Gulls swooped into life and harbour-side cats stretched legs and scratched ears in anticipation of a good day’s lying about in the sun. The yachts are all moored stern to the wall and sit dormant in the slight dawn breeze ever so gently pulling on their anchor chains over their mirrored reflections. Line upon line of white hulled boats, their stick like masts pierce up into the blue, with hardly a motion, while nation state flags flutter from stays. The usual suspects are here: Germans, French, a flotilla of Brits, one American whose boat is called ‘Albequerque New Mexico’. That’s like calling a British Boat ‘Coventry Warwickshire’. There is the flag of St Piran making a welcome appearance. I’ve not spotted any boats from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Redruth.

We get a little excitement as boats around us start to pull away from the quays without however and sense of decorum or skill. Anchor chains are in danger of snagging and oaths being shouted. Finally we leave the melee behind and head back out to open sea. There is indeed wind, 13 knots coming over our port side. So it’s up with the mainsail, then the Genoa and we’re off! The ocean gets a bit lumpy, a wave every three seconds

and a force 3-4. White horses join us, and boat tips about 40 degrees. Unfortunately the waves start taking their toll and augers of nausea make an appearance. A bit of a lie down below is required to ease the growing discomfort but suddenly the ocean calms down although the wind stays blowing. Equilibrium returns and we head towards another tiny bay and another tiny port: Plataria.

The wind is blowing straight into the harbour making ‘parking’ a little serious. Mick of course knows exactly what he is doing but we have learned that many others do not. The routine is always to berth stern to the wall. To do this requires dropping the anchor at least three or four boat lengths from the wall and then reversing back until two lines from the stern can be tied up to secure the boat. Just as we are adjusting the last line a French boat comes in and starts drifting towards us. So much so that we have to fend it off and Mick has to take charge of its berthing as the skipper seems a bit clueless. An F word is used. The problem is the wind pushes boats across the water and this has to be taken into consideration along with where the anchor chain is as this is holding the position. We know this because Mick explains everything and it makes sense. Other ‘skippers’ appear to have swapped the need for knowledge with a ‘suck it and see’ attitude. The result is their efforts suck and I can see disaster waiting to claim another idiot. Some people handle boats like pissed monkeys handle high risk investment portfolios. They should really leave it to other people and stick to bananas.

Tonight’s dinner is at Olga’s, a old friend of Mick’s. This is a wonderful harbour-side restaurant bar/cafe. Swallows have made nests in the rafters at the front of the building and one may pass a happy hour watching their comings and goings and chitterings above one’s head. The view is straight out to sea towards the blue silhouette of Corfu which lies about 12 miles away.

Plataria to Mandraki Harbour

We leave Plataria without trauma. The French boat on our starboard leaves first, overseen by Mick who is watching out for our anchor, the chain of which lies underneath the chain of the other boat’s.  Given the insouciance, or just plain lackadaisical attitude of the French skipper to Maritime skill, this could be a silly situation should he just haul up and go. Dragging our anchor without our knowledge would loose the boat from our own moorings. While Mick ensures this does not happen, the rest of us breakfast to ease the transition into sunlit day following last night’s meal and nightcaps of Tsiporou.

Each country has its ‘moonshine’, a locally produced fire water. Scotland’s developed into Malt whisky, Brittany has its ‘eau de vie’ and the Nordics have their ‘aquavit’. Tsiporou belongs to Greece. Olga, the owner of the eponymous restaurant, gives us a 50 ml bottle of the stuff. It is a clear colourless liquid just like water itself. Olga has a friend who makes it, or should that be ‘conjures up’,  and kindly donates a sample of his latest experiment in alcoholic alchemy. The bottle is indeed an unlabelled water bottle. It is very important we don’t mistake it for such, for this stuff would bleach a coral reef with a small dose from a pipette. The nightcap results in us descending into a state that giggling schoolgirls would recognise as their own.

There is a promise of some wind, and so we head out of the bay. Another blue sky and silver and diamond flecked sea. Either side we are flanked by the tree clad limestone hills hugging the narrow bay until we slip into open sea. The wind however is ‘right on the nose’ so this means chugging straight ahead into it. Eventually we raise sail, and tack our way slowly but rather grandly towards Mandraki harbour on Corfu. The hills and mountains of Albania, mainland Greece and Corfu are all around us in the blue hazed distance. Ferries sneak past with their courses set for their destinations and not for avoiding yachts. Bouncing off the bow of one of them is not on our itinerary. Dolphins have been booked to make an appearance but I fear have forgotten their end of the bargain.

Corfu gently and slowly looms into focus, it’s hill fort above the old town takes on the shape of the fortress it is. Built it seems by the British in the 1830’s to ward off marauding Turks and other assorted ‘fuzzy wuzzies’. The fortress walls tower in majestic defiance over the tiny harbour. I say harbour, but in reality it is a small concrete and stone assemblage thrown together into the sea in a loose formation upon which the electrics, water supplies and moorings are fixed. It rises only about a foot or two above the water. Far more care has been taken in building the bar and restaurant on the harbourside. These sit below the walls of the fortress which are their backdrop, and so with the security of the British empire rising to our backs we can sit and drink a cold beer looking out to sea across the bobbing masts of the small flotilla in front of us. Above our heads swifts make a welcome appearance, clearly in dogfight mode with each other, their screams adding to the totality of this Mediterranean idyll. As yet there are no drunk British teenagers fornicating or vomiting in front of us. There is nothing here for them in any case, it is just sailboats, the sea and serenity.

Tonight restaurant is a Mexican. Greek food is great but a change is needed. To get there we have to walk from the yacht club bar and through a small arched gate in the fortress walls, up steps to the ramparts to where we have a panoramic view across the bay. The fortress is indeed impressive and one can still hear the drill steps of old long gone British regiments on the parade ground if you close your eyes. Corfu town is faded colonial glory, narrow streets with tall buildings on either side, colonnaded at ground level and paint peeled adding to the atmosphere of elegant dilapidation. To renew the paint and fix the shutters would detract from the charm and should be avoided. There seems to be little or no modern development, no glass and steel structures beloved of financial districts. The streets are bare feet clean. Litter and canine metabolic deposits are conspicuous by their absence on the marble smooth stones. There are very few cars, which seems to be limited to the perimeter road, enabling the throng to amble and peruse at leisure without fear of imminent trauma. All life is here, old couples strolling, young mums musing and young couples holding hands and stealing kisses as the evening sun lights up their full of hope faces. Bars and cafes line the streets, tables taken by the languid smokers and the dawdling drinkers taking a pre dinner ouzo. The low sun turns the  whisps of cigarette smoke blue, throws shafts of gold into young girls breeze flicked hair and quickly disperses, high into the swift and swallow filled sky, any latent melancholia which might occur.

Old town Corfu is thus an absolute pleasure. The Mexican restaurant a joy and the weather perfect. On returning through the old streets back to the boat we pass a small dance club. Windows open, the Greek traditional music wafts into the street, while the group of young Greeks all hold hands and dance in a circle. They laugh and sing and dance in sheer exuberance and joy. I can’t see any of them drinking or smoking, just dancing to old time folk music, with not a care and in defiance of the country’s perilous financial position. If one can dance, one can hope. Greece is still dancing and so Greece can still hope.

Mandraki Harbour to Gouvia

The last full day with no wind. This is not a problem because through the miracle of modern engineering we have a big fat Diesel engine. We are parked nose on to the tiny wall that passes for the harbour, access to which is over a long plank that slopes down in a wobbly sort of way over the water before resting in a wibbly sort of way on the stones. We have secured one end to the boat with rope and the other end to the harbour with hope. Should one decide to throw oneself off mid wobbly plank, a distance of about 6 feet will be enjoyed before hitting the water. Two black bow lines secure us for’ard, while the stern is secured with a ‘lazy line’, a rope tied to an underwater mooring that acts like an anchor. It is often slimy and home to new forms of bacteria. As the sun really starts to get hot, and with breakfast stowed we have to let go of all these lines to chug out into the bay of Corfu, as we do so, the fortress watches on silently. The surface of the water is mirror like with the occasional ripple of a passing wake.

After a pleasant couple of hours, we anchor near shore, near turquoise water. This is the cue for a little light snorkeling and lunch. There is not a cloud in the sky, the boat sits lazily into wind on its anchor. The only noise is from birdsong onshore. There are a few houses dotted among the trees, poplars in ceremonial ranks among the scattered shrubbery.

The gently swaying of the boat induces a certain melancholy in the afternoon sunshine. A few yachts sail by in the far distance, the surface of the sea sparkles, time stands still for just a moment. Life cannot go on like this, it is not stationary but just for this moment the cosmic march of time is halted. Tomorrow it will all begin again as British Airways has its schedule and we must be on the way home to England, merry England to rejoin the happy throng of miserabilists caught in a web of despond while streams of grey cold water washes the last vestiges of hope down life’s drain. Is this fair on England? Does the warmth of a sunnier ambience distort the memories of home? Does the lack of traffic, access to fresh fish, predictable cloudless skies, a warm breeze on one’s face, the hot sun on one’s back, the gentle swishing of water at the bow, the arc of the mainsail sweeping up above and the promise of a cold beer in port refract one’s home bound memories into a miasma of grey? We have been momentarily freed from the daily concerns about what is, in actuality, nothing. We are freed from the the drip drip drip of incessant racist headlines, freed from the fear mongering about a distant black clad gun toting psychopath with virgin issues, and freed from our darker melancholic selves whose horizons stretch no further than the A30, the M25 or the Redditch bypass.

Meanwhile, we still have Tsiperou, beer and rum on board and ‘up spirits’ will be called for as night beckons us to sleep. ‘Up Spirits’ is a toast to the Queen taken traditionally with rum:

“Up Spirits”.

“Stand Fast the Holy Ghost”.

“Angels muster on the flight deck”.

“The Queen”. 

(The rum or spirit of choice is then downed in one).

An optional “hurrah’ then follows before bedtime or an ambulance is called.

All is quiet on the quay side as we retire for the last snooze once more aboard the ‘Butterfly’,  and home for the past week.

 

Corfu Town

I awake in England for the sky is cloud laden though the temperature is hot enough to be not of an English summer born. Tiz but a mirage and a temporary blip as the sun burns off the mists to reveal another azure ambience. A tepid shower before breakfast is taken. Tepid because the water is heated through solar panels, and as is often noted by the quick witted there is little sunshine at night. All body parts are checked as present and correct before packing the bags into the taxi for Corfu Old Town. The flight home is at 1740 and as we have to be off the boat at 0900 we need somewhere to stow bags as we spend another lazy day. The solution is that the 2 taxi drivers know a small tavern where we may breakfast and at no charge can drop our bags before catching another taxi to  the airport.

 

Yanis and Spiros are old friends who played football together. They are competitive no doubt and probably want to beat each other at every opportunity. They talk at and with each other at lightening speed. This speed matches the way they drive their taxis. Yes indeed, as with many Latin countries the emphasis when driving is more on excitement (from the driver’s perspective) than safety. Spiros informs us that the planes coming in to land had to be diverted due to the morning mists. Yanis plays Zorba the Greek all the way into town. Road markings and lane discipline is for theory only. We weave through lorries and motorbikes and mopeds. No one wears a crash helmet even though it is the law to do as in the UK. One may be fined 100 euros for not wearing a helmet, but everyone flouts this particular law.

The small taverna has its outside seating across the road. It is right on the apex of this road that goes from Corfu Old Town into the port area. It is not busy by English standards but none the less cars, coaches and wagons trundle by. The waiter has to carry the trays of breakfast across the traffic every single time. To his right there is a zebra crossing but this is ignored by everybody. There ought to be an ambulance on standby at this point but I guess when it comes to matters of life and death, the Greeks are philosophical about this.

Breakfast suitably dealt with, there are a few hours of meanderings to do while away the time. The short walk into town takes us pass a statue in bronze of a man and his wife. The father has his young son leaning on his leg in sorrow and the mother is holding a babe in arms. They are depicted thin and naked. Inscribed underneath is ‘never again for any nation’.

During the Nazi occupation, 2000 of Corfu’s Jewish community were taken to Auschwitz and Berkenau concentration camps. This sits beneath ‘new’ fort’s tall grey stone wall nearly in the shade of a purple jacaranda. It is a bit of a moment for reflection of where we have come from in Europe and also where we could so easily go to again.

Lunch will be Gyros: ‘a little fluffy pillow of joy’ involving a kind of wrap, filled with pork, salad and tsatziki. Scrumptious. The tiny gyros shop is very narrow and dark, and of course welcome shade from the sun. However, we all cannot queue up at the counter due to the lack of room, this means that while half of us file in and order, the rest wait outside in the sun soaked street. This is a pedestrian area, the streets are just over one car wide, stone paved and flanked by five or six storeyed houses. There are two tables with 8 seats just outside the shop. Two of the seats are taken up by gentlemen filling their faces with the gyros they have just bought. I think they are tourists as they don’t have the swarthy Greek look about them. One wears a Panama type hat and the other a baseball cap, both are in t shirts and shorts and sock free sandals. Their complexions are Northern European. One looks like he enjoys beer, pies and cabbage in proportions to victual a battleship. The gyros are not so much eaten as pushed forcefully into the mouth as if they fear the taste will dissipate in the heat. I note they have a tray of the things on the table, each one about two or three bite size if one has a Bavarian appetite. For us, just one is lunch. I suspect they are Germans just from their ‘look’, an indescribable touch of the Teutonic which has to be seen to be understood. No doubt they say they can spot a Brit abroad. They finish their gyros with a flourish and two cans of Coke, one picks up the litter and goes back inside the shop. His colleague gets up out of the straining chair, and stands in the sun trying to wipe his fingers. He calls to his colleague “Papir Bitte” (“paper please”) in an almost high falsetto belying his stature as an official poster boy for the ‘Over 30 Body Mass Index club”. The voice belonged to a choir boy, the gesture to a ballerina and the body to a panzer tank.

I smirk inwardly in vindication of my stereotyped judgement on Germans. I half expect them to go back into the shop and demand their money back from the Greek shop owner in part payment for the euro ‘bail out’. It is also a little bit insensitive to shout ‘paper please’ in the street given Greco-German relationships in the modern era.

And another thing….

Each slow intermittent swish of the wiper blade skimming the surface of the windscreen, flicking cold grey water, marks the passage of one’s evaporating life in the commuter belt of doom. The greyness of the weather matched only by the grey of one’s soul as it sits parked nose to tail in a traffic queue where you have only the registration plate of the car in front for company. Radio 4 brings gloom and despond into the interior of the car resulting in the fingers of despair and suicidal ideation gripping one’s heart strings so tight that they might just snap.

The gentle lapping of the clear Mediterranean vies only with the high flying swifts for one’s attention as the rising sun warms one’s back. Yacht masts sway in slow unison. Blue skies rise from horizon to horizon, while small shoals of mullet and bream swim between the boats. The reds and purples of Bougainvillia shade the opposite walkway adding more colour the the blue and white stripes of little Greek flags tied to the stays. Olive oil, garlic, cheese and toast, eggs and coffee provide breakfast. One’s blood is warmed, one’s soul is redeemed, one’s heart heals.

London

The 1%.

That should really be the 0.01%.

That should really be the ‘Greedy Bastards’.

That is the % of people on earth whose total wealth exceeds 50% of the world’s population. I’m in Mayfair, one of the global haunts of the 0.01%, in a French restaurant to meet a publisher and a colleague from Brighton. At the table opposite me are two fantastically beautiful, well groomed and manicured blond young ladies having lunch with their red checked shirt male companion who looks decidedly underdressed in his jeans. I suspect this is a deliberate attempt to look faux chic and a bit street edgy. on his part. The jeans no doubt are hand built by women in Mumbai, paid $10 a day, and sewn together within earshot of the just audible crying of their ill fed children, and then washed with the frozen tears of orphans before shipping out to the UK before the concrete factory roof collapses on their heads again. At the next table is a woman of a certain age, again impeccably turned out, tapping away on her laptop at the dining table, no doubt selling the whole of Preston to an Arab Oligarch who plans to knock it down and build a ski resort. I’m sat here, out of place, feeling a bit like a pocked marked wart on a witch’s nose: necessary but ugly. This meeting was set up by our publisher, and so I have to be here. God knows why in Mayfair as his office is in Old Street a good few miles away.

Across the road is an Aston Martin dealership with what looks like a four wheeled starship enterprise in its window. There are two up market ‘bits of fluff’ hovering around the ‘car’. Of course they are attractive in that plastic, homogenous boob jobbed way beloved of TOWIE and no doubt are hired to massage the overinflated egos of any of the greedy bastards who might stride into the showroom with a hard on for conspicuous consumption. A few doors away is a ‘Jimmy Choos’ (I think that’s correct). This is an emporium for the foot fetishist who likes glitter and a price tag matched to demonstrate their innate superiority. One of the shoes in the window costs a nurse’s annual salary. There is a also a ‘bag’ shop which has a well dressed gentleman standing in the doorway vetting potential customers for the outward signs of wealth, power and a propensity for arrogance. Next to the bags is an art gallery whose net worth is equal to the whole of St Ives. There is a sign in the window offering cottages in downalong St Ives as weekend ‘pied a terres’ – buy one, get Redruth free.

The waiter is French. How do I know? Because he looks right at me as if I was a wee scruffy dog that had just crossed the threshold to the restaurant, dumped, licked it’s bollocks, grinned the grin of a well fed mongrel who has just caught the on heat bitch, and left after dog farting. He also sounds French. Could be Belgian I suppose or French Canadian? Disdain of this quality is not purely the reserve of the French of course, its just that they do it with, well panache. In Glasgow, disdain manifest itself as a head butt and in Camborne its a ‘gisson’.

The meeting goes well, and we agree on the timetable for the book and its outline content. The publisher pays for my nicoise while the attentive staff refill the water glass without asking. In these surroundings, we should be negotiating on the price of my next super yacht, a donation to the Tory party or the downfall of a jumped up oil emirate. Instead, we discuss the requirements of student nurses for education on communication skills. The incongruity between surroundings and subject is stark; its like asking if one wants extra chilli sauce with one’s foi gras, or carrot in a pasty.

I have the rest of the afternoon to find my way from Mayfair to Spitalfields, a distance of about 4 miles. Its a pleasant enough day, overcast but warm, and so I decide to walk it. This will take me down past the Ritz on Piccadilly, around Eros, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Holborn and up towards Chancery and Liverpool Street station. At one point I pass the Freemasons Hall on Great Queen’s Street. It looks like a fortress and would be used in a film based on Orwell’s 1984 to signify sinister plottings within, by evil but not so genius men.

There are some fantastic London pubs, and in fact this should be the reason I next return. In Holborn you may find the Princess Louise, an opulent victorian boozer with wonderful etched glass decor. The Cittie of York, near Chancery Lane tube, is a 1920’s delight replete with vaulted ceilings. Cornwall is represented just about everywhere by Skinner’s ales and the ubiquitous Doom Bar.

I break the walk by taking the tube to Liverpool Street station from Chancery Lane, from there it is a short step to Brick Lane past Shoreditch market. Coming out of Liverpool Street tube at Bishopsgate at street level I’m greeted by a swarming mass of humanity surrounding me, all with somewhere to go, someone to see, something to say. Its just like Pool Market. Only bigger with fewer pasties, incest and obesity.

****

So, I fancy a quiet pint before a ruby in London’s Brick Lane. London E1 in case you don’t know.

I step out into the street from what passes for the hotel lobby. My senses take an immediate battering. Brick Lane is known for its curry houses and its immigrant history. In truth it is a shabby brick built terraced road just wide enough for a car. Shabby in a wonderful art house way rather than post industrial dereliction. There is colourful graffiti everywhere, even the graffiti has graffiti. A cloud of Ganga smoke suddenly nearly lifts me off my feet. It lasts for about 10 yards as I walk along. Another blast and I’ll be seeing pink elephants. The only pub I see is closed and is now colourfully decorated with the street artists’ best. There is even a Bansky on it. A gentleman stops me to enquire if I am contemplating taking in some culinary artefacts from the East as part of victualling plans for this evening. In reply I ask if he knows of a traditional London pub. Oh yes, says he, just three minutes down the road, its called ‘The Archers’.

With a name like that one easily conjures up images of radio 4 bucolic bliss with old Joe sipping his ale as he discusses the price of cow pellets with the local pig farmer, the silence in the bar being broken only by his guffaws at getting one over the tax man, a packet of crisps being opened and the odd wooden skittle being knocked over in the next room. When I get there I realise this is not Brookfield Farm. Silly me, this is East London, a very trendy bit of East London. A very, very trendy bit of East London.

Upon pushing open the door I am greeted with a blast of the Undertones, and the music goes from there. This means the packed pub requires everyone to shout. Just a little bit so that they can ‘talk’.

Christ I feel old. I don’t think there is anyone in here under 34 at most. As I write this, a middle age couple push open the door, look, and think “nah” and quickly retreat. There is hardly anywhere to sit. I think this is what lonely planet guides would call ‘vibrant’. Cornwall seems a very very long way away right now. There are more tattoos in here than a battle fleet of matelots. I have arrived at about pint three for everyone given the level of disinhibition currently around me. I can smell the sexual overtones, and relaxation, and post work piss up. It is all very jolly indeed. Pub life is alive and well in East London. There is a girl across from me being so cool and wearing so much black eye liner she looks like a panda pondering the worthiness of a post bamboo coupling. There is a chap with so many piercings, there’s more metal in his face than in an East End scrapyard. His face also looks like an East End scrapyard, only with tattoos and less menace. The music continues in its 1970’s punk fashion, an era when not only were this lot not  born, but their fathers had not even had their first ‘crafty sherman’. I ask the barman to turn the music up as I’m hard of hearing, but he misunderstands and thinks I’m being sarcastic. He uses cockney rhyming slang to indicate that I’m not unlike a cambridge punt who enjoys a plucking. Or some such picturesque phraseology. There should be cigarette smoke but the air is as clean as a nun’s conscience after confession.

Everyone is so fucking cool they’re Arctic. I’m the granddad in the corner trying not to look like a turd in the custard. Recognisable but out of place.

Beards. They are here in force. Shoreditch used to be as common as crabs in a whorehouse. Now it is super super hipster. I’ve seen, today, some geezers dressed up and moustachioed waxed as if they are auditioning for the lead part in ‘TwatFest’. They’ve all won the part. It must be hard fucking work being this cool. No wonder they can’t afford to buy a property, it all goes on coiffure and so much self regard that even Louis 14th of Versailles, with a peacock in full feather up his arse, would be hard put to match. There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is looking like a hipster twat with face wax and smugness. There are so many faces that should be punched firmly on the nose here. I love it. Do they ever really look in the mirror in the mornings? I mean, really? I like art, I like a bit of Bohemia, I’ve been known to grace the boards of ‘loucheful disregard for the morning’ and I’ve even sniffed things that perhaps ought to be left in the country of (South American) origin. There are limits.

Or it seems not.

The barber shops look like emporia for the camp entrepreneur and if I was was to fork out for the price of their haircuts and beard trims, it had better involve a thai princess, privacy and some lubrication.

Suitably wetted, I go in search of the aforementioned Ruby. Here I am met with a little local difficulty because one can have too much choice. I am surrounded by emporia specialising in cuisine of the sub continent. I’m like a premier league footballer at an orgy, faced with what is on offer, which hole do I pop into? This could be tricky, but I remind myself that this is not like choosing between a scrotal wax or cheesecake. Getting it wrong will not have the same consequences. Men are often guided, or manipulated, into decision making through the medium of a decent cleavage. Displays of that nature are in short supply in Muslim Brick Lane, and so being absent, means I have to make my own mind up. I sally forth, choose the very next restaurant I see, order up a mixed platter starter,  butter chicken and a Singha beer and relax while being treated to the ambience of the sitar and a gentle light wailing.

Then its back to the hotel for some well earned sleep. I could of course wend my way to the West End, but you know what? I’ve seen London many many times and I do know Samuel Johnson’s quip about ‘being tired of life’. But what did he know? In any case I’d only end up ‘debagged and radished’, such is my propensity for idle living and poor judgment in all things.

In any case the incessant wailing of the music in the curry house has now got past ‘charming eastern ambience’ and has progressed to the same level of enjoyment as sawing off one’s foreskin with a rusty razor.

 

***

Hal is a computer and speaks in a gentle soft slightly west coast Californian accent. I guess just like an East Coast Ivy League preppy talks respectfully to his grandmother in films featuring his passing virginity, growing awareness that there are other human beings with needs and an overwhelming desire to break free from the existential angst that is his youth to date. I digress. I guess the guys in Silicon Valley speak similarly, you know: high on cognitive intelligence, less so with emotional intelligence and the only spiritual intelligence they possess comes from a curious mix of ‘Buddha for Dummies’, Ayn Rand and high tech, post humanist neoliberalism in which technology provides the answer to questions you’ve not even thought about yet. Their softly spoken enunciations conceal the true meaning of the utterances so that when they say they will replace all human misery with computing power and an app for happiness, they also mean replacing human misery by getting rid of the wrong sort of humans; the ‘wrong sort’ of course meaning anyone without a doctorate from CalTech or MIT. In this post human uber tech world it will help if you have super straight teeth, a BMI under 25 (in the right places) and tits.

The relationship between us all will be a bit like that between Hal and Dave in 2001.

Anyway. I am reminded of Hal as I awake in the hub by Premier Inn Spitalfields in Brick Lane. The reason is a mix of the service, decor and tech spec. it is situated in an old building in the middle of the street, blink and you’ll miss the entrance to the ‘hotel’. The interior has been completely gutted and redesigned. There is no reception desk, merely a series of computer consoles on poles. There are members of staff hovering around to assist with the technophobe, i.e. anyone still lamenting the passing of steam to power cotton mills. If you have printed your booking, there will be a Q scan box which sorts everything out for you with one scan. If you download the app you can control things like the lights, temperature and TV from your smart phone or tablet. The room is not big but makes up for it with high specification fittings. The shower actually works beautifully. The breakfast area uses brick and wood to warm up the ambience and is a trendy as the hipster area it sits in. My breakfast is brought to my table by a beard and earrings, both of which must cost more than my stay does. This is aimed at the under 35 market for sure, although this post 50’s old fart loves it and I have seen quite a few ‘oldies’ in here. They have not run out screaming. The music is not Muzak. It is actually worth listening to. The space in the small bedroom has been very cleverly designed to maximise storage and to keep clean lines. A huge flat screen sits on the wall opposite the bed, a bed which affords the comfort of Croesus. The coffee is actually drinkable, free and ‘as much as you like’ any time of day or night.

This is a Premier Inn?  Really? And for £50 in London it’s a bargain.

(I now await my royalty cheque from PI for this puff piece).

Today, I have the delight of the flaneur in the city before I have to get to Gatwick from the flight home. I wonder what I’ll see?

****

Four and a half miles.

That’s not very far.

Well, it might be if you suffer from dysentery and the nearest loo is that distance away, or if you are competing in the 100 metres sprint and someone moves the finishing line to that distance half way through, or if you are walking barefoot on rusty nails, or crawling blind and naked over a desert of particularly shiny billiard balls, or if that’s the distance between appearance and reality, or where a barman is serving from where you are standing in a Wetherspoons…..

Nonetheless for most purposes it’s a short distance.

Spitalfields to Victoria Rail station is also four and half miles. But what a journey. I suggest you walk. Forget the tube, you will not see anything like the sights, sounds and culture shocks experienced above ground. You will go through hipster Spitalfields, through the City, Bank, Millenium Bridge along the Southbank, cross Westminster Bridge and down Victoria Street.

Spitalfields market is so trendy it hurts. I can’t begin to describe the cornucopia that lives here. All manner of foodstuffs, clothing, art and general bohemia is here. I don’t know how they do it, being so ‘cool’ that is. For cyclists there is ‘Rapha’, and if you know the brand then you get what I’m on about. This is retro high tech cycling gear with a price tag. If you wish to send a message, then this is the place. ‘Evans cycles’ is sooo ‘council’ darling. Even the second hand stalls are up market. One table had a collection of spoons, all of which were silver (of course). So if you wish to have a child and give it a good start you know where to come for the requisite item to shove in its gob. Foodstuffs? I know what a pasty is and what fish and chips look like, but there are things on offer here that I suspect you need a degree in ethnic cuisine to enable interpretation of the menus. It is not all over priced, but you can get a bowl of cornflakes for a fiver. I guess I’m in ‘that there London’ and this is  ‘fancy London ways’. I’ve only walked about 200 metres from the hotel. One could spend a good few hours here rummaging and people watching while also losing money faster than a Scotsman on the bevvie.

The coffee on offer comes from specially selected hills in Columbia, individually hand roasted over seasoned eucalyptus bark until the beans turn a dark brown, then turned to ensure even roasting. The uneven and partly over roasted beans are removed, the remainder are lovingly washed with fresh clean unadulterated glacial melt shipped over from the Khumbu valley in the Nepal Himalya, then foil packed, not with aluminium foil but lined with gold leaf before vacuumed packed and placed on the backs of donkeys who trek 100 miles to the nearest port where a specially chartered ship sets off for Rotterdam. There, a Dutch merchant whose family has been in the coffee business since the 100 years war, chooses only those packs whose aroma instantly transports his imagination to South American mountains and wood nymphs playfully tickling his scrotum. Having passed this test, it is shipped to London to Spitalfields to be consumed by beautiful people. The ugly and badly dressed are refused service and are sent to Costa down the road.

I’m in a Costa.

Not really.

I’m walking towards Victoria station and pass through the City of London. This is ‘The City’ not to be confused with ‘a city’. It is spelled ‘hubris’ and ruled by ‘King Ozymandius’.  Buildings are marked as the ‘Cornmarket Exchange’, the ‘Honorary Guild of Basket Weavers’, the ‘Institute of Pig Sodomy’ and the ‘London City Association of Complete and Utter Bastards’. I think I spot the business school of the ‘City University for Neophyte Trading Specialists’.  I pass the Bank of England where clever people work to handle the nation’s finances, keeping an eye on inflation and generally fuck up because they don’t know what the other bastards are up to across the road in the corporate bank HQ’s. The only thing bigger than the gleaming towers of glass and steel that surround me are the egos of the staff who work there. There is an uncanny resemblance to a company of erect penises cast by these towers. This is the subliminal message of class based patriarchy which says “we are fucking you daily, hidden in full sight, and you saps don’t realise it”. It has been said of the ‘work’ that goes on here that it is socially useless, unconnected to anything real like growing food, building houses or playing tiddlywinks. Only about 3% of corporate bank lending goes to small businesses who might actually do something with it; something like running a barber’s shop, tattooing hamsters or importing rare Colombian coffee in trendy markets.

This is the home of ‘fictitious capital’ meaning that it does not exist in any shape or form. There is nothing to see here, just a complex set of social relationships, promises, guarantees and mutual back scratching as figures flicker on screens in milliseconds making someone richer by millions in the blink of an eye. By richer, I don’t mean that anything useful or as base as an actual commodity is produced. Richer here merely means numbers on a screen. You can play this game on your computer as well, but you need the might of the whole legal structure of the State, backed by military force if required, to make any actual claim. Many of the brightest graduates have been sucked into this morass instead of doing something like, well, solving climate change, generating clean energy, or curing dementia. You know, common or garden boring stuff that people just might, however, actually need. Instead the bright young things of Oxbridge, Harvard and Yale shout into computer screens until, eyes popping and veins bulging, they’ve managed to bankrupt a small country like Greece while trousering a bonus so big they could purchase a place at Eton for their equally useless as yet unborn spawn. This is called progress.

Undaunted, I carry on down towards Bank tube station. The dome of St Paul’s pops up between buildings as I pass by to then turn left onto the millennium bridge over the Thames. This is the one which wobbled when it was first opened and had to be closed quickly to be repaired. There really is only one function a bridge has to fulfil, and let’s face it how difficult can it be really? We’ve been building bridges since the dawn of time. We have the knowledge surely? Give a three year old a piece of cardboard and two tins of beans and watch how quickly a bridge is made. We have many copies and examples of such structures. There was the one over the Rubicon, the one over the Kwai and the prehistoric granite clapper affair at, wait for it ‘Two Bridges’ in Dartmoor (so good they named it twice). Okay, there was the odd failure. Step forward the rail bridge over the Tay. But even that only failed in a particularly nasty storm by Scottish standards, when a heavy steam train rumbled across it carrying bevvied Glaswegians singing ‘Delilah’ going north for a piss up in Aberdeen.

I safely negotiate this engineering hazard, dodging selfie shooting tourists as I go. This should have been a warning. I have chosen to walk along the South Bank towards Westminster bridge, pass the London Dungeon exhibition and the London Eye. This stretch of river walk, ‘Queen’s Walk’ unimaginatively named as it is, is tourist heaven and so attracts all manner of ‘entertainments’. There are the obligatory ‘statues’;  one labelled Charlie Chaplin but looks awfully like Stan Laurel. A few buskers playing old favourites, but thankfully not ‘blowing in the wind’ or ‘wonderwall’; a ‘comedian’ from the antipodes whose ‘act’ focuses on the barely disguised insulting of passers by. I wonder how often he gets tossed into the Thames? There are no cat jugglers or dwarf tossers. Just a few tossers. And thousands of tourists walking aimlessly as is their right and duty. Culture here is reduced to the lowest common denominator, as ‘mass entertainment’, sanitised, corporatised and devoid of any artistic merit. However it is mainly free or cheap. Millions of digital selfies all of the same thing, a gnawing face in front of a well known structure such as the Eye in the background. I wonder to myself where I got this high brow, smug, superior view of taste?  I live in Redruth FFS. When did I become the nation’s arbiter of value? Who appointed me to point out the drab and dreary existence of billions of my fellow creatures on this planet who are doomed to follow each other in the same tourist groove destroying the very things they come to see by the very existence of their fetid mass? They cannot even dress well. The Horror.

I leave the huddled masses as I step up from the river walk onto Westminster bridge, the tower of Big Ben right in front of me striking midday just as I cross. Suddenly I am accosted, and that is exactly the word for it, by a gap toothed harridan of uncertain heritage and age whose head is topped by a hairstyle that resembles a storm tossed haystack made of black straw. She thrusts a petite nosegay of heather into my top shirt pocket shrieking “it’s for the kids innit, givvus a quid” in a cockney accent last heard in the film Mary Poppins (she should have added ‘guv’nor’). I could not see any kids for whom the twenty shilling is being demanded. My way blocked, by a five foot tousled haired virago spitting demands into my tourist frazzled brain, at this point was a bit much. But I merely nod in the negative and remove the nosegay and hand it back only for my hand to be stayed and more demands issued: “for the poor kids, innit, go on givvus a quid…or I’ll cut your balls off”. I might have imagined the latter part of the sentence but you get my meaning. I nod again and more forcefully remove the by now offending nosegay murmuring ‘good day to you ma’am’ in a very English way. I was several paces on towards parliament square, and my assailant had passed into the crowds, when I remembered the correct phrase should have been “Fuck off”. The moment had passed, alas, and there was no going back to clear things up. Easily done of course, just as when one forgets to mark time when one is practicing the withdrawal method with a particularly frolicsome maiden and forgets where one is. What’s done is done.

As I pass through Parliament Square I’m confronted by Churchill high on his pedestal looking all the world like his piles are playing up. Next to him is David Lloyd George, the original welsh windbag, looking like he’s fresh from a liaison with a particularly fruity courtesan from the Valleys. Then its Jan Smuts, President of South Africa (1919-1924 and 1939-1948), Palmerston, then the Earl of Derby and then Disraeli.  I’m getting the message now. this is Britain’s Imperialist past paraded to keep ‘johnny foreigner’ in check. However, along comes Abe Lincoln, Gandhi and Mandela, three very welcome changes. But, where are the women? Oh yes, I spot one…emptying the litter bins before she pays a Banker to employ her to clean the shit from his shoes. I move on past Westminster Abbey and on down Victoria Street.

At this point I had already passed a half dozen rough sleepers and buskers and the change in my pocket was running out. Not that I give to absolutely every one of them. There is no method to it. Just gut reaction sometimes. I am again accosted, this time not forcefully and without anything being pressed upon me. A young woman, I’m guessing, whose faced is as pock marked and cratered as the Somme battlefield holds out a thin dirty hand. The eruptions on her face indicates a lack of Oil of Olay with personal hygiene a distant memory, along with her self esteem. Her minuscule thin and shattered frame has not seen a decent meal in a week, she is a vision from a developing country. I think she is native English, not that that matters. Just a few yards away against the window of Boots, sits a young man upon a pile of dirty blankets and sleeping bags, hungrily stuffing his face into a burger, no doubt given him by a passing stranger. I cannot see his face, as he is wearing a hoody. Only his crow like nose is visible as it pokes out down into the bun he is devouring, as if it is his last supper.  Across the road is a ‘Jamie Oliver’s in Victoria’. The clientele sit at tables on the first floor looking down upon this street scene blissfully unaware of the burger chomping near the gutter. Victoria Street is all glass, glamour and Gucci, the high end retail stretches down towards the station. It’s not Kensington and Chelsea of course but it’s getting there. The old shabby and ill maintained Victoria Palace Theatre is dwarfed by the retail cathedrals around it, trying hard to project a 19th century patina of respectability in the 21st century whose values rarely include Victorian philanthropy.

I love London stations. For a flanuer they are divine gifts. Victoria is always a mass of people passing through at speed. There’s a sharp suited businessman whose briefcase carries his contracts to keep his Croyden mortgage safe; there’s a Goth, gender unknown, who looks surprisingly happy to be here; a young couple are buried in each other’s faces, they will have to come up for air soon or else I’ll call a paramedic; a hen party on their bosommed and short skirted shrieking way to Gatwick (note to self: catch the next train); another hipster who really deserves a round of applause for the work on his waxed moustache; Essex Girls, Surrey Boys, and a clutch bag of Brighton gays so colourful I need Polaroid Ray Bans to give my eyes a rest. The dead eyed commuters are absent as this is lunch time and they are all of course serving time in their bullshit jobs in bullshit offices biding their time before death places his bony hand on their shoulder.

Epilogue

London, it is claimed, is the most cosmopolitan city on Earth, perhaps New York or Toronto could also claim that title. Whatever. Wherever I go, I am served, greeted and smiled at by people from Spain, Eastern Europe, a Russian, Bengalis, French (perhaps not the smile), American and the odd Antipodean. I have not been served by one native english person at all. Not one. This rainbow city juxtaposes British Imperialist glory with postmodernist melancholia about all things past. Its like we can’t decide what we now want. We like foreign food, cars, technology and weather but we don’t want the bastards over here working hard, paying taxes and making a nuisance of themselves in hotel bars and restaurants serving our tapas, tortellini or tacos. Fish and Chips is a dish attributed to a jewish migrant, Chicken Tikka Masala was once voted England’s favourite food. The Royal family is now an ironic mixture of Greek and German. Contradictions are the fabric of the city running through its very soul. The only thing running in one predictable direction is the Thames and even that can change with the tide. It is crass, it is majestic, it is cheap, it is eye wateringly expensive. Its religious sentiment is balanced by secular culture, while bourgeois liberalism hosted communism and buried it at Highgate. It is a city state built with the products of colony and exported guns, germs and steel to quell the Commonwealth. Its future was drafted in its past while some now present, wish to take us back there. London is already in your head, you will see what you wish to see. So love it or hate it, it is you.

A posh train to paddington

I often work and live in a bubble. It’s a rather liberal lefty bubble in which the rich are lined up against the wall, sweating as they hear the click of breaches being loaded, the UK is a republic with Prince Philip working as a butler to the Chinese, and there are free drugs for all. I read the Guardian, scoff at conspiracy theories and consider shakra alignment to be something to do with a civil engineering project in Goa. I do eat lentils, but only infrequently, never wear socks with sandals, and beards are for men with masculinity issues or who have a very loose relationship to personal hygiene. I also think Trident is a useless piece of American controlled technology used mainly for macho posturing on the ‘world stage’ by those whose buttocks still smart from the spankings they received at Eton.

I do not read the Daily Mail.

Today my bubble is being pricked. I have an inside seat to the ‘real world’ for the next 5 hours on the 1030 to Paddington, courtesy of two ladies of a ‘certain but also strangely indeterminate age’ who have both commandeered the table at which I sit. As I write, the iPad is perched precariously on the edge of the table taking up about 4 inches. I have had to place my coat, bag and hat on the overhead rack a little distance from my seat because the two ladies have also deposited bags, and other equipment required for the colonisation of an exotic land, directly over my head. They have claimed the whole of the table through the judicious placement of coffee, handbags, one copy of the Mail (for wives of those who run the country) and one copy of the Express (for those who think they run the country). As I take my seat, there is not one flicker of acknowledgment that I might, just might, require a little space in which to breathe. I pluck up the courage and do something ‘Un-British’ by daring to ask that the Tesco carrier bag of assorted victuals, be shifted slightly to one side of the table. One wears a bright purple jumper, the other a turquoise, and both colours matching their lipstick and eye shadow. Their seats have no reserved tickets but I somehow sense they are going all the way to London. As I contemplate this, my heart sinks faster than an anvil on a tissue paper raft. Their talk volume is set to ‘High’, oblivious to everyone else and uncaring that we are involuntarily co-opted into their southern county shire musings. However, every utterance is a gem, exemplifying everything I would laugh at in a sitcom and, as such, would consider it satire. But no, this is for real.

They are a microcosm of the Tory Party conference; self congratulatory at their own success, overly confident of their knowledge and myopic in their outlook and understanding of ‘people not like us’. And yet after an hour they have not yet mentioned ‘migrants’.

I have heard opinions on the new chief executive appointment at the local health trust (“bring back matron”); Osborne’s budget (“come out of the EU and we will soon have a surplus”); fuel duty (‘it should come down”); Trump (‘he speaks as it is’) and the EU again, (“Obama should keep his nose out”). However, and perhaps to my surprise, they rail against useless bankers, footballers and lawyers on the basis that they earn a wheelbarrow of fivers per hour and yet produce nothing. They get back on track through suggesting that the ‘drunks and druggies’ should be charged £200 every time they use accident and emergency.

Notwithstanding the bureaucratic nightmare of administering and collecting that fee, decided on who the best person is to do that job and chasing up non payers, I can’t see many heroin users, paying for a £100 a day habit, whose veins resemble the London underground map consisting only of the colours of the Piccadilly line, putting away £200 in a personal ISA just in case they need resuscitation at short notice. Those engaged in a ketamine fuelled weekend of hedonism and psychedelia, dancing to the lobotomising influence of psytrance, are not apt to future planning or strict pecuniary control. The rational allocation of resources to maximise one’s utility is not something undertaken by those who give themselves up to the irrational misallocation of personal judgement via narcotic, and often sexual, means in comprehensive attempts at self and spiritual development (at best) or pure naked oblivion (even better).

Are we really asking that nice middle class junior doctor, whose only dodgy experience with drugs is half inching paracetamol from the ward drugs cabinet following a night of over exuberant use of sherry, to face a drunk docker decorated from head to toe with tattoos the size of Nigeria, the smell of a cesspit and the attitude of a startled wart hog with piles, for “£200 please, there’s a good chap”?

Are we really expecting that nice fresh faced young nurse, whose “mummy was a nurse”, who “I’ve ways wanted to be nurse because I want to help people”, when faced with a meth crazed sex addict, high on a pharmacy’s worth of ‘alternative’ medications whose only goal is to snort, swallow, inject or insert (any orifice will do) medications (herbal, natural, industrial) at great pace and with increasing regularity and in any location including the local accident and emergency department, to extract anything other than piss and self pity from the aforementioned?

Drunks already pay through National Insurance or tax on beer and spirits, while ‘junkies’ would pay if the commodity of intoxication of their choice was regulated, taxed and controlled in the same manner as alcohol. Drunks, in many cases are also not ‘other people’ they are us or our children, parents or friends. But I digress.

The two ladies are still talking, not drawing breath passing comment on solar panels, housing associations and the use of ‘tablets’ by a family at the next table. As we cross the Tamar (oh my god, that means another three hours) they have covered more topics than University Challenge and Mastermind combined, only with less veracity or insight. I wonder if they can see the blood oozing out my ears.

Just as we enter Devon, it’s Bingo!

“If they were a migrant they’d get…”

Hurrah. A home run at last.

Pullman.

I have just used a time machine. It was easy.

All one has to do is catch the 1000 Penzance to Paddington service, wait until Plymouth for an announcement for the opportunity to be transported.

At the front of the train are three coaches, two for first class and one for the Pullman dining car, also kitted out as first class.

So to be whisked back in time when the Cornish Riviera Express, steam hauled, rattled and rolled at speed to and from London, just get out of one’s seat in Standard and walk to coach K at the right time.

At about 1300 I fancied a coffee, my head being assaulted by the galubriuos incessant jabberings of the two ladies of a ‘certain but indeterminate age’. The announcement had been made that anyone wishing to dine should make their way forward and as I rise out my my seat this enchantment tempts me onwards. The train slips past Dawlish on a beautiful sunny afternoon, the red cliffs on my left and the sea to my right. I make my way through standard coaches thinking that the coffee in the buffet car will be a welcome break. Teignmouth and the waters of the exe estuary glisten in the sunshine.

Coffee?

I’ve not eaten since breakfast?

Perhaps it is the sunshine, perhaps it is the promise of past glories, perhaps it’s because I’m a soft touch when it comes to dining cars on trains. Perhaps it’s all of three and more reasons I’m not aware of.

Sod coffee. I’m going for lunch in the Pullman car.

And oh what a delight. Now this is travel, this is the way to get to London.

First Great Western have rebranded themselves as the GWR, the Great Western Railway. I can hear the sighing of railway buffs across the country, grown men become moist at the thought, another age beckons.

I’m greeted by a smartly attired waitress who shows me to my seat. Since the rebranding the coaches have been refitted with grey leather seats, backed with a green logo and in gold lettering GWR. The table is laid out for dinner, table cloth, wine glasses, proper metal cutlery and a wine list. A wine list! I have a picture window seat, adorned with green GWR curtains. The glory that is South Devon eases by as I peruse the menu. All is quiet, save for the tinkling of the staff preparing lunch. I’m forced to order a half bottle of the Cote du Rhone. Forced, mark you, and choose the lamb shoulder.

I’m sitting grinning like the Cheshire feline whose not only found the cream but realises that he’s been given the keys to a feline harem with an ‘all you can eat’ (if you get my drift) remit.

The waitress pops the cork, asks me to try the wine and leaves me to consider just how fortunate I am. It is not cheap, if you only count the cost of the actual food and wine. But if you count the experience, and the service, and the peacefulness, this is a bargain. The train leaves Exeter and races alongside the M5 through Tiverton and beyond. We must be doing over 100 mph. No one is crying, puking, shouting into their phones, making racist comments or being just plain stupid. Every one smiles in this coach. There are more staff in these three coaches than in the rest of the train. I count at least 5 of them. The wine eases a dry throat.

It’s all I can do to stop meself ordering another half bottle of ‘that which pleases’. I do have another dinner appointment tonight in Covent Garden with colleagues from Napier University, Scotland. So, perhaps I need to apply the brakes a little on my reveries and lugubriousness. I’ve got three quarters of the way down that half bottle and the lamb has yet to appear. Maybe I’m channelling my sister who is a known and keen ‘friend of the grape’.

Taunton comes and goes in a flash, but soon afterwards, the lamb arrives, accompanied by dauphinoise and leeks. Considering that this is all cooked on the train, it is remarkable that the quality is as high as it is. The food is excellent (notwithstanding the effects of vintnery on judgement) and would stand easily against any immobile kitchen. The romance of the rails just adds to the totality of gastronomic delight. The waitress even remarks on my attire (pink silk time red waistcoat) as she serves (she has been well trained to flatter).

Somerset gives way to Wiltshire which gives way to Berkshire. A white horse stands sentinel, carved in chalk into the hillside. It is not the one with the big willy, or is that the Cerne Abbas Giant? Reading will be the next stop but I’m staying put for a necessary coffee to see me through to Paddington. I only hope the two ladies are not going through my bags back in coach B. I guess they may well be discussing immigrants and their deleterious effects on British culture. One of the staff on this train delightfully serves coffee, ‘despite’ being from Eastern Europe.

I note that the crockery has the GWR and Pullman logo. The thought occurs that I could perhaps liberate it from the table, but that is only the wine.

The dream is nearly over, I must get back to my reading on ‘Foucaldian post structuralism on care as gift v care as vigil’ before my ruminations on the place of the social sciences in nursing for tomorrow’s round table discussion at King’s College. For such is the life of the modern academic. Cosseted, despite a pay cut lasting 8 years. God knows what I could have afforded if pay had remained in line with inflation.

The last post

Mijas is not Spain and Spain is not Mijas.

Our host is Dutch, his wife is Irish. The house opposite is owned by Brits. We have been served by Brits, and heard German, Japanese and drawled Andalusian Spanish in bars, cafes and on the street. We’ve discussed pasties with an Argentinian and haggled with a Moroccan selling leather. Americans have been loud and over here. An aged New Yorker, out in the street, discussed with a chap from euroland somewhere, her past living arrangement in Manhattan (she lived on the 6th floor- no lift) and the need to get used to stairs in her home now in Mijas. He was too well dressed to be English. The lady had the air of a retired novelist, or socialite and had presumably come to live the American Dream in Spain. Perhaps she had heard about Trump’s rising popularity and got out before the walls go up, misogyny shamelessly parades itself and US arrogance is matched in bombast only by its nuclear arsenal detonated on middle eastern soil.

I think I saw or heard a Russian lady, extremely well dressed from the spoils no doubt of the oligarchic takeover of State utilities, eyeball with well founded suspicion, one of the donkeys. It may have belched onion and garlic laced straw breath into her Dior and Versace created face. Don’t tell Putin or his ego may require the assassination of the bosses of mule and ass based economies around the globe in retaliation for this slight on the character and dress sense of Russian wives. Don’t laugh, this is not a joke. Just think, we are on the brink of a world in which we have Presidents Trump and Putin waving their dicks around in public, shouting across each other while nuclear warheads slink around the globe in phallic shaped submarines. The fact that these subs look like big willies is not perhaps accidental.

This bit of Spain is coping, seemingly on the surface anyway, with being both Spanish and cosmopolitan. Whereas squabbles about place, race and identity in the US and UK right now seem totally self obsessed and old fashioned. The Tory party is ripping the heart out of itself and a possible cosmopolitan Britain, blind to the divide that already exists between the British, an increasingly entrenched class divide delineated by the old North South Divide. Getting out of the EU will do nothing to address the blind arrogance of the privileged, mainly public school educated so called ‘elite’ and will prove to Europeans that as an Island race we have learned nothing from the history of either Empire or the two world wars and possibly cannot be trusted to engage with other countries unless it business based and willing to laugh at knob jokes. We built the nation’s wealth on accumulation by dispossession, enclosures of the commons, piracy, slavery, misplaced ideas of racial and religious superiority and inbred monarchy. Many of those themes underpin little England mentalities today. As a nation we are still caught between the devil of idealised patriotism and the deep blue sea of xenophobia. This does not apply in Kernow of course. There in God’s country we have pasties and a mining heritage to see us the through the ten cold months of winter. We have a flag and an anthem and Devonians to laugh at with their silly ideas about the order of jam and cream on a scone.

The English are also some of worse dressed tourists in the Western World.Ann and I play spot the nationality while we have coffee by the bullring. Try it yourself, and do so before you hear any language. Russians are blinged, Germans are somehow just ‘tidy’ and ‘neat’, the French sport old fashioned face hair waxed at the ends, their husbands are no better (boom boom). The English are just, on the whole, scruffy bastards. Why? I dunno.
Given our propensity to casual xenophobia, and a history of self imposed self importance we could have been a right old bunch of arseholes. Thankfully we also had the Scottish, Edinburgh based, enlightenment and produced radical thinkers such as Thomas Paine and William Wilberforce as correctives to our baser selves. Our abilities to enjoy and assimilate are also British qualities. We are deeply divided within and between ourselves and unless we can get beyond tired old thinking we will place ourselves on the fringes of not only Europe geographically but also philosophically. Alas we are not alone in this. All over the world democracies are falling foul to populist demagogues while the ravages of globalised ‘free trade’ overturn securities, employment and futures. Men increasingly turn to old patriarchal religions to try to hold on to a status denied them by modernity while women are dragged along three steps behind in masks. What has religion got against a decent cleavage I hear you ask?

Time for another penis reference: At the bottom of the stairs leading out to the garden of this apartment is a cactus. The kind of cactus which used to be photographed and that would be sent into Esther Rantzen’s programmes in the 70’s. Yes it is shaped like a ‘thingy’ and what’s more it is set at an angle that resembles an erect penis (if you can remember what one of those looks like). There are sadly no testicular like protuberances at its base, but do not let that little point detract from the vision in your mind of an erect prickly prick.

So what have the Spanish done for us? Well, we have taken over large swathes of coastal towns and cities and inflated the house prices in the better parts. The locals, as locals do in most places have both benefitted and cursed. There is an English breakfast bar in the square with a sign in English offering the ‘full English’. Try translating that into Spanish and you might get arrested for causing a public nuisance. We have free movement here, we can work here, we have access to their healthcare, we are free to learn their language and eat their food. We can even sleep with some of the prettier ones (women that is, not the donkeys…however if that is your predilection, try it). We can drink their very reasonably priced and decent quality wines. There is public health, aqueducts and vintnery. Their little experiment with Franco’s fascism is over, so we don’t have to do the same.

Oh, and sunshine. There is a lot of that here, and it’s free. You don’t have to queue for it or prove you have residency rights to enjoy it. Any Eastern Europeans that are here can also enjoy it without taking away any of your own enjoyment. It just tumbles down out of the sky every single day. I’m putting some in a box to take home, as I hear it’s brass monkeys in England.

More pasties in paradise

Our morning stroll takes us around the southern ‘ring road’ of Mijas. It’s a one way street, with just enough room for one car and a pavement. It begins at the eastern end of the town where the donkey taxis line up ready for their day of pulling fat Germans, badly dressed Brits and grinning Chinese. The donkeys are harnessed in colourful, er, ‘donkey stuff’, and stand, in the main, awaiting their fate with equanimity, patience and the odd fart. One of them attempts to bray but thinks better of it and flares its nostrils instead. Their thoughtful owners, in view of donkey effort required, have harnessed them to buggies just big enough for one and a half fat Germans, or a hen party from Birmingham or Shanghai. The sort of loads donkeys take in their strides. It beats carrying certain Jewish rabbis into Jerusalem, which although had started promisingly, ended up being a bit of a bother.

I catch the eye of one long suffering ‘burro’ and he looks at me as if to say “yes, mate I know, this is no life for an animal with the brain power of a Hawking, the stomach of a Pavarotti and a python sized penis”. I feel it’s pain, having to stoop so low as to have ferry around pork fed Bavarians with a BMI of a panzer tank. At least the donkey can satisfy itself that Spain can take some comfort in knowing that for half an hour at least, an equine arsehole is being shown to a German and the German is actually paying for the experience. Sometimes there is justice in the world. Sometimes.

Anyway. The road leaves this madness behind and in just a few short metres the hustle and bustle of tourists disappears. We have the road completely to ourselves. I guess a picturesque stroll, taking in huge vistas towards the sea, is not on the itineraries of the organised trip. This would require the expenditure of nothing but energy rather than euros. There are no market stalls, no bars and no seats on this road. Just a very calm walk right under the walls of the old fort as the rock rises up to the right and a vertiginous drop to the left. Just at the start however is a newish hotel/resort called ‘La Ermita’ run by MacDonalds hotels. Not the yellow arches MacDonalds but another UK based outfit. It is carved into the hillside and has of course breathtaking views out to the sea. We decide to have a nose and step into reception to ask for the tariff, a tour of a room and the facilities. A very nice lady obliges. Suffice to say, it is bloody marvellous. We end up down by the pool at the restaurant which is open to non residents and stop for a coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. And a bit of banter with the locals.

The very friendly Argentinian chef is only to happy to chat and asks where we are from. I thought it obvious from our clothes, accents and superior attitude towards all foreigners. When we proffer ‘UK’, he of course accepts this but to our surprise wanted to know where in the UK. Now, in the past I have mentioned ‘Cornwall’ to the enquiring, patient, but also politely disinterested, native and have been greeted with a look that says “I hear your words, but I’ve no idea what they mean”. This look of bafflement continues even when I offer ‘far south west of England’ and wave my hands about in the general direction of 7 o’clock (from my perspective) or 5 o’clock (from theirs) which, now I think about it, means ‘South East’ to them and thus just adds to the confusion. Their mental maps of the UK are obviously not like ours. I can see in my mind’s eye the outline of the UK which takes in Scotland, Wales and the detail of Torbay including Anstey’s cove. They however see ‘London’, the Queen and racism. Not a good start when trying get our minds to meet in the middle. Usually I don’t have a pen and paper, otherwise I would only be too happy to provide an impromptu geography lesson. To think we once had an empire where we taught all of the world, and their wives and ‘piccaninnies’, democracy, how to speak properly and the value of a good forward drive to the covers. A world in which geography lessons about the whereabouts of Truro would be superfluous to the crowds in a crowded bazaar in Benghazi who would know instantly the difference between Redruth, Redcar and Richmond (upon Thames, you peasants).

To my delight the chef, has not only heard of Cornwall but also of the humble ‘pasty’. He has seen it on the Discovery channel and informs me how the pasty has travelled the world (true), should not have boiled beef (true) and the best are now to be found in…wait for it….Canada.

Canada.

Famed for Moose, and…er.

Either he had been at the sangria while watching the telly or someone at the Discovery channel was taking the piss. The former I can envisage easily. Perhaps he heard someone say the best pasties are in ‘Camborne’ and mistakenly thought they said ‘Canada’ being unfamiliar with both the English language and the old Cornish mining town and its inhabitants, some of whom indeed may resemble a moose. Hang around in the Tyacks on a Saturday night and you may spot a few, grazing on jäger bombs and hope, lowing loudly into the night air in search of a booze fuelled coupling and a kebab. The chef was sure the best pasty in the world is now to be found somewhere between St Johns in Newfoundland and Vancouver, British Colombia. A jolly chap no doubt, but he probably still thinks the Falklands are the Malvinas. We do agree however that ’empanadas’ is the Spanish word for a similar (but not the same) foodstuff.

We continue our morning constitutional which takes us to “Plaza de la Constitucion”, Calle Malaga and “Plaza de Jesus de Nazarone” (Translation: ‘Christs’ Square’ – see, not so good in English is it?). Calle Malaga is undergoing what they call “Obras” here, but a “fuck up” in Essex and other counties. The Mijas council and others decided that gas, water, sewerage works needed doing and so the whole street is a ‘men at work’ zone complete with JCBs, dust and procrastination. You can’t move for yellow helmets and “mañana”. It seems that one day they poured concrete and then went home thinking that no one would walk across this freshly and lovingly poured concrete. To the workmen this was art that the local boy, Picasso, would has been proud of. They did not foretell that if the shortest distance between Manuel and his cerveza was fresh concrete, then rather than put an extra 5 minutes walking around the works, Manuel, Jose and Maria would rather wade through ankle deep in fresh concrete than waste precious fiesta time. We watched as they newly chastened workmen had to fill in the 6 inch deep footsteps immortalised in homage to Hollywood’s avenue of fame.

Lunch. Decision was easy. Buy a chicken.

There is a shop whose business model is selling spit roast (no sniggering at the back please) chicken. That’s it. Nothing else. Nada Mas. It is the best chicken you may ever taste. It is probably battery reared and dies to the sound of Nazi marching music (I’m guessing). Ethical considerations aside, and this is why we as a species are fucked, ethics takes a very poor second place to taste. The chap takes the whole roast chicken off the spit, makes various cuts into its flesh so that it then sits in a foil tub, pours gravy….gravy, oh dear…..on top, places the lid on it and off we trot. The spit roast chicken has been prepared with lemon, garlic, onion and rosemary in generous quantities. The gravy is a mix of chicken fat and the above and tickles your tongue like a sexed up night nurse (again I’m guessing). It is moist. Very, very moist (a bit like the night nurse). Falls off the bone like a Camborne maid falls off the kerb outside the Spoons, easily and without too much prompting.

So, a bottle of yer fizz later it is siesta time.

I really can see the point of siesta. We should do it more often in the UK. Seriously. If it is good enough for their Lordships in the upper house it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Our last night in town finds us watching a glorious red sunset before heading back. We stop at a bar for a glass of that which pleases. This leads to tapas of croquettes de jamon Serrano and ‘Sandra’s empanadas’. In English in the menu it says ‘Sandra’s special Cornish pasties’. We have a go, and three perfectly crimped little pasties turn up. They are filled with lamb and the the pastry has been deep fried, and served with what looks like soy sauce. Delicious, and I’m not going to argue the toss. Suitably fortified we have a nightcap: Desarrono for Ann and Drambuie for me. poured into small barrels that pass for glasses. We sing our way home trying not to fall into freshly poured concrete.

Thankfully, there is no donkey poo on the pavement.

Does it get any sweeter?

The sweet scent of Jasmine arrests as it gently carries itself on the breeze. Jacaranda and Bougainvillea are tempting in flower. Pine and woodsmoke rise from chimneys below the white terraces of the old pueblo. The odd dog barks, a cat plays with an old chicken bone on the cobbled street and goldfinches chirrup from their cages set there by the residents in the open windows of the old town. Overhead martins flit in competition with the evening bats for the the last of the flying insects before the sun finally sets. A peregrine patrols in case a pigeon gets complacent and flies too far to the sun. This would be the last error of judgment the hapless fat bird makes, for the falcon will spot it from afar and swoop to end its sorrows. Yellow swallowtail butterflies gather their life spirit from purple flowers. Trees are laden down with lemons and oranges, so plentiful that they are not harvested, left to fall where they will. Makes me think again of Gin.

This is March.

Lest we forget.

Looking out across the valley to Dragon mountain from the terrace, nothing seems to be happening. And that is just fine with me. The scene is still, the air faintly shimmering in the afternoon heat. The sea beyond glowing blue and gold. African mountains are topped with snow in the distant horizon, the whiteness betraying the harsh black and red of the earth below them. A few ships, just specks at this distance, carry their loads to Istanbul, Naples or Cairo.

Coaches leave the town, taking the gawping barbarian selfie hordes back down the road to the coast and to Hades. A million instagrams will be posted around the world to be seen once and then forgotten before the next trip is planned. All that sophisticated software, the gift from far too clever people in Silicon Valley, just to show a donkey’s arse or another lady grinning soul from Shanghai. I too am part of that transient babble come here to marvel, to leave only euros and a broken heart at the thought of such innocence betrayed under an Andalucian sun. For such is our contradiction as visitors, coming to see the authentic and in doing so our own inauthenticity is packaged and sold back to us. It is too late in this era of mass tourism to do but any other.

There is still evidence here of real people living real lives in the quieter back streets that the day trippers never find. The Bar Alencon or the Bar Cadron hide sun soaked sangria fueled treasures, but you’ll need time and a nose to find them. A good few years ago, after a flagon of the local good stuff, we danced back down through Calle Malaga in the hot evening air. No one was arrested, no donkeys were harmed and little children abed slept soundly safe in the knowledge that the moon would still rise. Sangria is a perchance a maligned drink unless you witnessed the real thing being constructed out of fresh oranges, strawberries, red wine and gin (enough to drown an elephant). You might want an ambulance.

Lunch: Tapas again today. Home made.

Clams (Ann says they are cockles) from yesterday, then followed by chorizos in red wine. Fair enough I hear you say. A pretty common dish.

Start with buying chorizo from an Andalusian market. Get your shallots and garlic from the same place. I had previously marinated tomatoes in virgin olive oil, balsamic de Modena and oregano, seasoned with salt and ground black pepper. The little red beauties had bathed in the marinade like olive skinned nubiles soaking up temptation in a hot tub and were now ready to explode on your tongue like an orgasm with the midday sun on your back. This was love on a plate.

Anyway.

Cut the chorizos into pound coin size pieces, put to one side while the shallots and garlic sizzle in butter. Then add the tomatoes and red wine, reducing the liquid before adding the chorizo. Cook until the chorizo oils run into the pan to mix with the marinade. Let sex commence. The pan will resemble the smell of a well perfumed Roman orgy, but without the sweat and halitosis. Add more wine, and if you don’t feel the slightest of long forgotten teenage urges, add some more. Reduce the liquid until the chorizo pieces are coated in heaven sent moistness. Serve with fresh bread, butter and more wine. On a separate plate serve Avocado slices. Don’t mess with the avocado. This helps to cut through the richness of the red wine sauce. Place all the dishes on a table on a sun terrace with an ambient temperature of about 22 degrees, make sure you have a view and time to think.

Eat.

As a post prandial sweetener, nibble on almonds boiled in honey and sugar by Señor in the market square. The almonds are left with a crispy coating of honey soaked sweetness, enough to send shivers down your spine.

You might want a siesta after that, or some other kind of lie down.

The sun will by now be over its zenith and be chasing its own path towards sunset. This will call forth Gin and Tonic time.

Which brings us back to the bats in the evening glow of another glorious sunset.

It’s a new dawn, Sophia Loren and Brigit Bardot

Nothing much happened today.

That, I think, is the point of a break, to let one’s mind wander around aimlessly achieving little. A bit like the Arsenal midfield right now who seem hell bent on sleepwalking into obscurity. For us, the day starts with dawn.

Most days do, but you have to be there when it happens or else it does not happen at all. Our bedroom has floor to ceiling patio doors which look straight out at Dragon mountain, due East, and to the rising sun. I’m usually awake an hour before sunrise, and can catch the rainbow colours behind the black silhouette of the Dragon. The sky at this time is a dark almost purple blue and then all the shades down to the green yellows and oranges of the awakening light over the horizon. The Dragon’s black nose dips into the sea affording a view of black mountain to the left and the deep blue sea to the right. Without a single cloud in the sky, the light becomes, and the colours glow. This is dawn happening, right before our eyes.

It does need a little help. For instance, being high up with an uninterrupted view to the East helps. As does the complete lack of cloud cover. High rise flats, power stations or brick walls are apt to detract from the experience and have been known to cancel sunrise. Dawn rarely occurs in certain countries I could name, due to the grey poly tunnel sky or the sheets of drizzle hanging in obscurantic obstinacy. When dawn does happen, it is well worth watching. The sun rises above the horizon behind Dragon’s nose, sending blue rays heavenward, but of course is obscured from sight until it reaches a certain height. Then like a diamond it sparkles just as it crests the mountain ridge until quite suddenly one is bathed in warmth and light as it invades the room chasing out the shadows of the night.

I lie in bed and think about the heavens and the myths and legends of old, of how Helios’ winged chariot chases across the sky, scattering the night gods before it while sister moon drifts below into the west of the fading night.

I might fart, or worse, if I don’t get up.

Enough reverie. I have an hour’s commute on a busy road/tube/train accompanied by the walking dead whose soulless eyes confirm that there is nothing on earth worth living for. All spirit has been drained, leaving dead carcasses adrift in a sea of melancholy and pointlessness. They aspire to ennui, anomie is their destination and alienation their carriage. They know not of colour, or joy, or spice. Just grey and the bitter, saline, drip, drip, drip of decay and desperation in the full knowledge that salvation is a lie, and heaven a myth.

Sorry. Apologies.

For a moment there I must have dreamt that I was on the A30 from Chiverton Cross to Treliske on a wet Monday morning. Must have nodded off and forgot I’m in Andalucia. The only commute here, is from bed to shower to fresh ground coffee and breakfast while overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean.

Phew.

The main task this morning is a stroll to the market in town to choose lunch. We choose the route that takes us around the rocky outcrop of old Mijas fort, the ‘Alcazaba’. The road winds around just below the old walls and has splendid views way down towards Malaga in the east, through to Benalmadena, Fuengirola, Porto Banus, and Marbella to the West. And there on the skyline across the sea, rise black mountains of Africa. My geography at this point is a bit loose, but I guess it may be Tunisia? There is clearly a sense that the land here is sweeping towards the tip of Spain at Algeciras and the Rock of Gibraltar but both are too far away to make out. I don’t know why but the sight of African mountains is thrilling, romantic even. Daft of course because we all know that North African countries are not to be romanticised as depicted in Boy’s Own fantasies. And yet the sight is magnificent.

We continue our mid morning constitutional and pass a large, battered and rusting, skip full of donkey poo. I know it to be donkey poo because I’ve seen the donkey that created it. Not that I watched the donkey actually lift its tail to make a deposit you understand. That would be weird and probably illegal. I get my kicks elsewhere nowadays. Mijas has lots of donkeys, and therefore has lots of poo, to transport coach loads of gawking (usually Asian) tourists around the town. I fool myself that I am above such nonsense. Donkey poo looks like straw. Don’t be fooled. If you should find yourself tempted to take a nap upon some warm straw, take a good look at it first. You might want to sniff it. That’s a dead give away. Don’t taste it. This stuff is as malodorously pungent and repellant as Donald Trump’s policies on Mexicans. Although I’d rather go face down into a skip of dung than face another of Trump’s speeches. Donkey poo is a metaphor for whatever you want it to be. It is partly digested crap, passing through arseholes, with no need to engage in thought. Just like current Tory party economic policy (boom boom). I thank you.

Prawns.

Fresh from the market. Big juicy and ready for the pan. Calamares, clams and white wine, cooked with shallots and garlic. Easy, quick and delicious with a fresh baguette. Serve with a Tomato salad and olive oil. Pan fry the prawns until they sizzle and pink, dip the Calamares in seasoned flour and add to the hot oil. Butter, garlic, shallots in a separate pan and then toss in the rinsed clams with a cup of white wine. Steam the little beauties and discard those that do not open. If you think it is necessary, pour a glass of wine for yourself as it all cooks. That’s lunch done.

Siesta time. Life is hard.

Henri (our host) has a car. A 1958 MGB, wire wheels and red upholstery. It has recently been resprayed and is now as cream as a tub of Rodda’s. It has a new chrome luggage rack on the boot. It sparkles and gleams in the sunlight. The roof is down. Sophia Loren is sitting in the passenger seat wearing Italian sunglasses and a headscarf. Her lips are painted as red as the car’s interior and her perfume is as heady as the smell of the engine is it starts up. Henri is only too willing to take me for a spin around the town. Sophia hands me her Martini as she makes to get out of the car, swinging her stocking clad legs out of the door. She waves as Henri and I zoom off, the tyres making little clouds of dust as the rubber sticks to the Tarmac.

I’m not dreaming this time. It is all true, except for the Martini.

We zip around town, dodging little parcels of donkey poo and trying not kill selfie taking tourists. The first we succeed in doing, whereas I did hear a whimper at one point, noting in the rear view mirror a selfie stick flying into the air in the dust, it’s owner nowhere to be seen although I suspect his Facebook post will be little more interesting tonight. Henri stops the car at a viewpoint high above the town to take a picture of the street. He tells of a film starring Brigit Bardot made in 1958, filmed in Mijas. His background in cinematography no doubt spurs his interest. The film is called ‘Les bijouteries de la Clare de Lune’. Probably some French art house movie where nothing happens, the dialogue is existential and the subplot is about someone who had sex once, who wants sex now and will think about sex tomorrow. Not with Donkeys though. I don’t think donkeys feature.

Well, tiz late. The Arsenal are probably making a fist of losing to Swansea and there is another glorious dawn happening, tomorrow morning I think it is. Look out for it.

A Pasty in Paradise

‘Driving over lemons’ is a great title for a book. It is also a very silly thing to do.

Lemons are not for driving over, even if one is in a rush to get to the supermercado before siesta time. Lemons are for Gin.

And a little tonic.

This I remember as I spot yet another tree bulging with the the little yellow parcels of delight. It is all I can do to stop myself reaching up and picking half a dozen which hang from the tree in the neighbour’s garden. Instead I do the tourist thing and take a picture, and then rush indoors, grab the nearest Bombay Sapphire, ice and some ‘shhh you know who’ to create. I remember then I have no lemons. Just a lime. Beggars can’t be sheep shaggers and so I ‘make do’. It’s a hard life in the Andalucian sun.

In February.

The sun this morning peeped over the shoulder of Dragon mountain instantly filling the room with warmth and light. This was following about an hour of dawn. No clouds, just blue sky with rainbow colours from the horizon upwards. We are cloaked in silence with just a hush of an occasional breeze. As it was too early for Gin, the sparkle of an ice cube is instead replaced by the sparkle of the Mediterranean Sea, diamonds are scattered across its surface as the wind and the sun work their magic. And men now abed in England will hold their manhood cheap, and curse the day they were not here. This Englishman, still in bed, can gaze in wonder under an Andalucian light and think of…breakfast.

And Dinner.

Preceded of course by lunch, a selection of ‘surtidos y quesos’, ensalada mixta (get yer own phrase book) and a glass of fizz.

Time was that ‘fizz’ was the preserve of Kings, their concubines and the landed Gentry. Thanks to a combination of rampant capitalism, and a pitchfork in the arse of the ruling classes, fizz has become far more accessible. Certainly in Spain it is. Franco may have won the Spanish civil war, but his fascist regime has proved powerless in stopping the great unwashed (i.e. me) from enjoying bubbles up my nose. Now, I’ve enjoyed all manner of things up my nose….the smell of roses, a pasty fresh from the oven and the Bonny Prince’s finest….and so I can tell you with confidence that not much is finer than the hint of champagne (or Cava) for eliciting ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’. Proust can send his Madeleines up his arse. No amount of cake can rival sparkle in a glass. I speak as a bloke. Women are free to demur at this judgement, fond as they seem to be of cake. The equivalent of your local spar sells fizz for about three euros. And a damn fine glass it is. I am willing to admit that sitting in a sun terrace overlooking Mijas, and the Mediterranean, in temperatures a Scotsman could only dream about – did I mention a cloudless blue sky – may temper my ability to judge the quality of fizz. All I can say to that is bollocks I don’t care, it tastes bloody good from where I’m sitting.

Dinner. Having had our fill earlier, we decided that just a plate of tapas would do. We had walked over 10 miles in total today and so ‘earned’ a glass of red. There is a restaurant called ‘The Secret Garden’, a phrase which I have always mistakenly took to meaning something a lesbian has access to in her ‘quiet moments’ of privacy enjoyed with a companion of similar tastes. Is that just me? Anyway, the place was a delight and even more so as we sat next to a Michael Fish lookalike. Momentarily excited, and the desire to ask about hurricanes suppressed, we sat down only to hear from “nothing to worry about” Fish, an American accent.

At the next table sat three companions also hailing from the ‘Land of Trump’. All in their late twenties. One a being a young man and his girlfriend, and her female ‘friend’ making up the third. Perhaps the two young ladies had enjoyed strolling in a ‘secret garden’ before coming out to dinner? Anyhoo…while we ate, the next table chatted. Fish and Fishwife (I assume) could not be heard because the two young ladies just went bang at it. Talking. Just talking. Just fucking talking. The bloke hardly said a word. He could not. There was no breath taken to leave a space for even an “er, perhaps….”. They discussed Trump’s success at the polls, the Catholic concept of enunciation and the ‘Hegelian dialectic and Marx’s revision in the Theses on Feuerbach’. The young man probably drifted into a private reverie of ‘remembrance of things past’ eating cake in a secret garden.

The menu held a surprise. Now, you may have heard of ’empanadas’, you may even have shoved one down your throat. Clue: pastry. There was ’empanadas’ on the menu but they called them ‘Cornish pasties’ Argentina style. I did not know whether to laugh, cry or soil myself. I settled for ordering Argentinian Cornish pasties, along with albondingas (meatballs), setas en aioli (mushrooms and garlic), and chorizos in red wine sauce. The ’empanadas’ were duly served. Denzil Penberthy would have wept in his Illogan grave (were he dead, and not a fictitious character) at the sight. For indeed they looked liked pasties. There were three of them, about the size of my mate Linus’s penis…which is to say small but somehow still curiously satisfying.

Such is life in Andalucia.

Homage to Andalucia

On the edge of the sea where the mountains touch the sky, and the warmth of the sun rises over Africa, a white village slowly awakens from its sleep. The mountain cradles and shelters the ‘una pueblo blanca’ from any harsh easterly, should it blow. Rising from the coast, the reclining dragon shaped hills, nose first into the sea, in mimicry of the ridged spine of a fire breathed but now sleeping giant, are outlined against the blue and the fluffy white. Steeply the land falls away, down 5 miles to the coast where the bright lights of ‘Funky Town’ sparkle, soon to fade as dawn strikes in golden red light across the scattering of buildings. Dragon mountain arcs around the village whose streets are scoured into its side in parallel. Grey limestone cliffs, cloaked with olive, pine and ‘other trees’ rise up defiantly against the erosion seeking rain. That is our morning view from the window on the first day in Andalucia.

Mijas clings to the slopes by its Rioja stained fingernails a thousand feet above the sea. Fuengirola looks like a tiny model city from up here. Funky Town it shall remain, as that is where all the action probably is. Mijas, however, sits aloof, offering a better class of shenanigans or so it might think but shenanigans all the same. If wine flows, then so shall excited talk, followed by hints of debauchery. This occurs regardless of social positioning or upbringing. Whether clad in Prada or Primark, wine facilitates the lowering of inhibitions, judgment and modesty. Twas ever thus.

We arrived last night on a late afternoon flight. Malaga airport has developed hugely from the one grass runway and biplane affair of 10 years ago. It is a beneficiary of the Spanish construction boom fueled by the optimism of a tipsy wine soaked Matador armed with a machete and braggadocio, facing a pink ribboned kitten who thinks its mummy has come to feed it warm milk. Turns out the machete was made in Taiwan and is as blunt as a witch’s tit, and thus only half as useful, while the kitten is a banker from Frankfurt demanding his money back with menaces and a panzer tank to support his claim. The Matador gets to keep his shiny suit, for so is the airport, and outward appearances are thus sustained. His dignity and future prospects however cling precariously to hope like a virgin in a brothel knowing that payment is due by being screwed by a scruple free, morally incontinent, fat, sweaty Bavarian with halitosis on holiday. All the vaseline in Andalucia is not going to be enough of an emollient.

There is a nice train though.

It runs from the new airport terminal into Malaga and Fuengirola. One only needs to follow the (badly) signposted walk from baggage reclaim and in 5 minutes the train slides into the station. It is quiet, clean and efficient. And cheap. There is no need for a quiet carriage. It is night by the time we arrive and can only then guess at the scenery as the train hums through Malaga Centro, Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Torreblanca, Los Colinos….. You get the picture. A short taxi ride from Fuengirola 5 miles up the road, and I mean ‘up’, and we arrived in Mijas.

I like stereotypes for they say as much about the stereotype user as they do the stereotyped. I like it better when the need for stereotypes becomes redundant because reality is actually better. And joy of joys within an hour I’m presented with four glorious examples of the stereotyper’s art. A Spanish taxi driver, an English owner of a bar, ex-pat bar fly and weed smoking old hippy from Holland. Honestly, this shit writes itself.

The road from Fuengirola to Mijas has to snake and weave up and around the mountain. Hairpin bends are a speciality. As are the ditches, just a wheel width away from death or a headache. The balding, portly taxi driver has done this journey a thousand times, blindfold and drunk no doubt. How else to explain gunning the engine and skimming the edge of the ditch with only millimeters to spare. I don’t think it was to impress us with his impression of Spanish F1 hero, Fernando Alonso. I think this is just the way he drives, probably with one eye on the road and the other on the Senoras he once woo’ed. In any case, fifteen minutes later and fifteen euros lighter, we arrive at Casa San Pablo, the home of Henri and Mary and our place of rest for the week.

Henri is a very, well there is only one word and that is sprightly, 76 year old. A retiree cinematographer who moved from Singapore to Mijas in 2000. His wife Mary is originally from Ireland and Coventry. How one can hail from the Emerald Isle and the armpit of England is another story no doubt. After scouring the earth for somewhere to settle, Andalucia worked its magic and here they are. The apartment is on the top of the main house with glorious views to Dragon mountain and the sea. Just. Breathtaking. Above the apartment which has to own terrazza del sol is another terrace with a 360 view over Mijas. We arrive in the dark and are treated to a brief electric storm over the Mediterranean and the briefest of rain storms over our heads. Time is not our friend at this hour as the bars and restaurants will soon be closing for food. So Henri bids us hurry into town.

The first two bars/restaurants are indeed closing for food as we arrive at their doors. It is nearly ten at night and in winter this is late enough for the locals. The third bar is thus our rest as we settle for a glass of wine. Or two as it turned out. The bar is called ‘The Village Bistro’, not you may note ‘El Bistro del Pueblo’ or something else suitably Spanish such as ‘Paella Plaza’ or ‘Cojones del Toro’. The name should have been a clue, for just as I was winding myself up to employ my refined in Asturias Spanish, the owner spoke in fluent Northern. I don’t mean northern Spain, but North as in Macclesfield for such was the town from whence she hailed. Food had just ceased being served and I, rather ponce like, asked for a ‘Ribera del Duero’. This is a rather fine Spanish wine. I soon realised that this was like asking for a Chateaunuef du Pape in the Spoons in Camborne, they hear the words but you might as well have asked for sausage in a synagogue in Arabic.

House Rioja it is then. Fair enough, and a damn fine glass or two they were. As for nibbles, on offer was Walker’s (yes Walker’s, we are in Spain) cheese and onion crisps. The restaurant side still had customers finishing their meals while we collapsed into a comfy sofa and soon tuned in to the gaggle of English voices all around us. The owner, a middle aged woman dressing like she was fifteen, was all tits and tattooes. Classy tattooes mind you, there was a butterfly trying to wing free from between her very well endowed cleavage. I had to take a second look to ensure I was just seeing things. Ann had not noticed the petite papillon in purple nestling between the underwired orbs of delight. A nicotine patch was stuck fast to her upper arm. I don’t know why I noticed that or what it means. you decide.

As we stood at the bar ready to pay up I noted a TV on the wall. Match of the day. Leicester v Norwich City. The BBC. A small group of ex pats, one guesses, stood around it no doubt discussing the up coming EU referendum and the butterfly. I made the mistake in engaging a gentleman at the bar in conversation regarding the match. Now this chap has been in Mijas for over 10 years, originally from East London, Wanstead. I guess he was over 60 now and had been practicing to be the poster boy for UKIP, representing England in a foreign country. Within 5 minutes the old cliches started about the ‘old country’.

He’ll never go back.

“It’s all changed”

“London is not the same” (has it ever been?).

“I want my country back” (so why are you here?).

There are too many of them over here (there, in England he means).

“You can’t even call them Paki’s any more” (So, I suppose ‘nig nog’ is right out as well).

“They don’t mix, they stick to themselves and they don’t speak the language”.

The bastards. Coming over there and working on minimum wage at jobs such as ‘shit poking with broken sticks’, ‘pea threading’ and ‘talking to people’.

I’m surprised he did not call for a wall to be built.

“I’d send them back” (…and where would you go?)

So this poured out without a trace of irony, in an English bar, owned and staffed by English people, surrounded by English people, watching English football on an English TV station, talking English. I doubt if he could spell Paella, let alone shit one. His grasp of Spanish is probably on a par with that of whizzed up Scotsman at a rave. Oh, and tomorrow the bar serves its speciality: a roast dinner. Reservations had been pouring in all day. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice place for a late night glass of red, but it’s as Iberian as my ringpiece is open for business to a red hot poker.

So, hearts of oak can’t stand foreigners invading their country and mucking it up with their funny ways, so they have to move to another country, moan about it, and end up mixing in with the native Andalucians about as well as vindaloo and Guinness fueled fart at a funeral. So, come June 23rd will they be queuing up to move back once we leave the EU? Don’t mention the war.

Luckily ex pats don’t get to vote in the referendum. That would be like vegans voting for veal.

Asturias

Asturias

Never heard of it.

Thats because you are busy jetting much further south to the Costa del Sol or Costa Brava to burn your back, lose your wallet, dignity or virginity in the mediterranean sun.

Asturias is the northern region of Spain and can be found between Gallicia to the west and Cantabria to the East. Cantabria is home to Santander, the ferry destination and home of the eponymous bank, a seller of debt and false hope. This northern stretch is the Costa Verde, the ‘green coast’ running east west from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Its name is a give away. It rains here. A lot. It is also home to the the Picos mountains which rise up much less than an hours drive from the coast. In fact, they are visible from the coastal town of Gijon, shimmering blue in the late summer sun. The town has an alternative spelling; Xixon. Reading both gives you no clue as to its pronunciation. The first G is done by trying to clear your throat while also drawing up saliva onto the back of your tongue. Next, keep that saliva where it is, do not let it fly across the room as you proceed to the i, this is pronounced ‘hee’ and yes with a harsh ‘h’. The j is just to confuse you when in fact it should be another ‘h’. So far you should have a ball of spit at the back of your tongue as you expel a harsh ‘hee’ then a ‘hon’ with emphasis on the second syllable. The last ‘n’ is a soft n. Think of taking the piss out of the french accent by going ‘on he on hee on’, donkey like and you are nearly there. Saying ‘Santander’ is a piece of piss by comparison, and is the reason Brittany Ferries built a ferry port in Cantabria rather than Asturias. If you still have saliva in your throat “you may now swallow it” (as the Bishop said….).

The landscape is ‘undulating’, a bit like Devon and Cornwall but with menaces.The airport sits right on the coast, on top of a cliff, in a similar fashion to Newquay. This is because this is probably the only bit of flat land they could find. This is farming country, make no mistake about it, and very proud they are too of their produce. I’m in Asturias to do some teaching for the University of Oviedo, the main city in the region. Oviedo sits in a wide valley, upon hills, but between high mountains to the north and south. It takes about 50 minutes by bus, being 44 kms from the coast and right on the edge of where the geography begins to get really serious. A clue is that the few rail and major roads there are, hog the coastal stretch west to east and the odd valley north – south. The bus route takes an ‘autovia’, a two lane quiet motorway across river valleys on viaducts and through deep hillside cuttings. One minute you will be looking up at the fields, the next looking down to a tiny village in a valley. There is no rail link from the airport to Oviedo. You either take a taxi (mortgaging your wife first), blag a lift, steal a donkey or take the hourly bus which runs straight into the city. However, once in Oviedo, the railway happily skips back out to the coast to end at Gijon (pass the tissues).

Asturias is ‘famous’ (in Asturias) for cider, ‘fabada’ and rain. The King of Spain was the Prince of Asturias before acceding to the throne. Therefore it can be assumed that the rest of Spain has heard of the region. The Prince of Asturias title is akin to the UK’s ‘Prince of Wales’ but without the rabid overtones of English Imperialism snuffing out nascent Welsh independence through the vicious application of royal marriages. So, apart from Royalty we are left with booze and beans, for such is ‘fabada’.

The Cornish love a pasty and will duel to the death the right to establish who makes the best: ‘little Philps in Foundry’ or Rowes. Likewise, the Asturian fondness for fabada rivals the energy used by the most fanatical follower of Islamic State for zeal, single mindedness and sheer bloody loyalty to the cause. Take belly pork and cut it into chunks, likewise ‘morcilla’, i.e. spanish black sausage, and then some chopped chorizo and cook in a casserole with big white ‘fava’ beans stewing in a stock of cider. Serve with rustic crusty bread and more lashings of cider. Tiz simple, tiz filling, and makes you fart till your heart stops. They kill for it here. It is on every menu usually as ‘Fabada Asturiana’, just to remind you what region was responsible for letting you slip into farting orchestrations that would rival the brass sections, especially the trombones, of several colliery bands. The chorizo is spicely superlative, the morcilla a dark, black, devil’s penis of a sausage and the pork follows up the main act with the quiet confidence of a second chance virgin who knows how to tickle a scrotum. The beans have been wallowing in all of that meat and cider stock and have taken on the strength of a cuckolded dwarf at a piss up. What they lack in size they make up for in punch. This is not a dish for those of a nervous disposition. If you like your food to be robust, this little stew will stick around and kick your sorry arse until you faint. In short, it is bloody wonderful. The cider that goes with it is a Laurel to fabada’s Hardy. Cloudy and scrumpy in nature, this has the taste of…well, apples, what else? With a 6.5% alcohol rating, you need to be sat down, preferably near a wooden beer stained bucket, or an ambulance, just in case.

Food does not get any tastier than this.

This sums up Asturias in many ways. Rustic, simple, and warming. A comforting place to be, foreign but not strange, different but exactly the same. It is still Spain, but not as you know it. If you’d like a break and have a mind to try a different Spain, come and enjoy.

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