Tag: Mijas

An Andalusian Adventure.

An Andalusian Adventure.  

 

Into the Blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Mijas 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Across to Dragon Mountain 

 

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

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

All is calm. 

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic of the Mercado 

Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda. 

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

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

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

We are having fish for lunch. 

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

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

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

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

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

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Mozzies Bite

 

 

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

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

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

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

Hombre del Pollos.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, perhaps a vino tinto to wash it down? 

A Mijas Surprise.

 

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

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

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

What they will not expect is a Cornish pasty.

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

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

Geddon!

 

Adios!

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps we should return? 

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

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.

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.

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