Wednesday, December 21, 2005

One of them zip a dee doo dah days!

Song of the south was possibly the movie I enjoyed most as a child. I had become fascinated with the Uncle Remus stories from reading my sister Ann's books. That old Brer Rabbit and his friends were larger than life itself! I still enjoy seeing that opening sequence with the blue birds and Uncle Remus.

The birds of northern Spain have provided much needed company in the course of the last year.

We have had the European roller, Bee eaters, Finches galore, Dipper, Robins , Swallows, Jays, Magpies, and others too numerous to mention.

The rollers put on the early morning show along with the finches. The atmosphere changes in mid morning with the arrival of the birds of prey, a variety of hawks hunting the smaller birds.

The kitchen fitter from Figueres, we had employed on our home, was amazed to see four eagles riding the thermal currents above the finca, a familiar sight to ourselves.

On another occaision, I watched in amazement when a flight of swallows rose into the air high above Ordis to drive away a golden eagle.

Working in the finca is always a pleasure surrounded by these colourful creatures.

Everybody sing along now.............


Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine heading my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Mister Bluebird on my shoulder
It's the truth, it's actch'll
Ev'rything is satisfactch'll
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
Wonderful feeling, wonderful day!


The movie 'The Twin Towers'’, part of the 'Lord of the Rings' was shown on Spanish television and provided an opportunity for me to test my theory. My theory that it was possible to learn the language in an enjoyable way.

This after all was a story I was familiar with from both the book and the movie. Well known characters from the story would speak perfect Spanish, as I read the corresponding text from the subtitles below thereby reinforcing my learning of the language; simple but brilliant!

I had equipped my new language lab with all the essentials, a wide-screen T.V. with remote control, copious amounts of ice cold beer, and a variety of junk food to snack on. Oh! And the not quite so important pencil and paper, dictionary etc. This would be the deluxe learning package; maybe I should patent my new method.

The story unfolded as expected and I tried to follow the Spanish text, though this was often interrupted by pop up ads for forthcoming football matches and other programmes. Still that provided an opportunity for further refreshments to be enjoyed.

As the movie continued the text seemed to be quite succinct compared to the actors spoken words; paraphrasing important dialogue possibly kept the flow but lost the subtlety of the script.

Later as I watched a scene involving the hobbits Sam and Frodo, the discrepancies were more apparent.

Frodo Spoken Spanish, '‘yakity yak yakity yak yakity yakity yakity yak: yakity yak yakity yak yakity yak yakity yak Sam'

Frodo text version '‘Sam'’.

The further into the movie I watched the worse it got, I formed the opinion that the sub title writer was watching another channel, flicking backwards and forwards on his remote control with little interest in the story. My experiment had failed!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dali by moonlight

The Dali Theatre Museum has been open to visitors throughout August for nighttime visits. The moonlight and floodlights add to the drama of the theatre building. The cool night air and absence of large crowds or queues make it a much more pleasant experience.

The contents are interesting but as with all artists the more significant of his works are spread far and wide around the world.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Horse and deer flies are two of the nastiest biting insects I have come across.

Don't let those big blue green eyes fool you, the flies eyes not mine, these insects are out to hurt you. Look at the mouth end! It is comprised of a pair of machete like inscisors which rip apart your flesh in an instant causing the blood to flow and allowing the fly to gorge itself.

It is reported that deer flies are the most likely to bite humans but they seem to be in direct competition with the horse flies in these parts. To make matters worse the pests hunt in packs, at times this summer they hunted in squadrons.

The Flies must die! this has been my motto throughout the hot dry summer but the only sure fire way of killing them is to swat them or to ensnare them in a chemical trap.

In windy conditions they lie low around swimming pools and patio areas, conserving energy for future blood sucking raids.

It was on one such windy day that I worked happily away in the garden, shovelling ton after ton of soil and rubble. All was well, the soil heaps were diminishing and one small corner of the garden was emerging from the unpromising land.

As I wheeled my wheelbarrow, along paths broad and narrow, I noticed that the cooling breeze was fading away. I was not the only creature to observe this, crickets and butterflies again took to the wing the swallows too.

Nearby and more sinister by far the flies were stirring.

Wing commander to fly squadron ready for take off…off we go

heading towards the stables and we will approach the target from the rear.

Hold that formation keep it tight.

Target five meters ahead, there he is the barrow boy

We’re coming out of the sun, he can’t see us ok everybody here we go strike! strike! strike!

Argh! The pain in my right shoulder as the first fly bit, I let the barrow fall Argh! A second bite then a third and a fourth, as I tried to swat the attackers away a fifth bite to my shoulder marked then end of that particular attack. My shoulder was sore and already the flesh was swelling, reacting to the bites.

Wing commander to fly squadron, ok everybody back to base! Job well done

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Fig from Figueres

A fig from Figueres Posted by Picasa

Late summer salads in Spain are often adorned by fresh figs, a superb accompaniment to the fine cured ham of the peninsular.

Due to the Iberian drought the yield from this year’s fig harvest was low. The shallow rooted fig trees were denied rain water until late September; the few fruits that survived the hordes of insect pests were small but full of flavour.

I attempted to dry the figs in a domestic oven set to the minimum temperature; the process took the best part of two days to complete. Once dried, I stored them in an airtight container with the layers separated by paper towel to absorb any remaining moisture. After a period of two weeks I found that mould was growing on some of the fruit and had to discard that batch.

A second batch was prepared in the same way but stayed fresher longer. The figs survived a flight to England were they were devoured by my wife Carol.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Mmm! I wonder...

While spending the night watching the recent Tropical Storm Vince doing its worst, I couldn't help but wonder about the weather.

As thunder claps exploded over the land with a deafening roar and lightning tore at the clouds above; I decided to count the seconds between the two weather phenomenon to establish how much distance there was between the storm. Suddenly the whole landscape was illuminated by a series of lightening flashes and was accompanied the deafening boom of thunder overhead. Street lights in the surrounding villages went out for a moment, no sooner were they re-lit than the storm blew them out again. Vince is here! There is no distance between us.

After long minutes of intense storm activity the period between thunder bolts and lightning flashes lengthened a little, I began to count ....

And then it struck me! The thought not the lightning. At home the measurement was 1 second to mile, but here in continental Europe they measured distance in kilometers; here maybe 1 second equals 1 kilometer rather than a mile. Perhaps they have metric weather?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Climate change!

The changeable nature of the worlds weather has become an obsession for media commentators around the world. Spain is no exception, exceptional weather has been this years norm.

In little over a year I have experienced the hottest summer, the coldest winter and the most prolonged period of drought in the last 120 years. When the drought finally ended the rains brought by tropical storm Vince brought chaos and wide spread damage to the Costa Brava coastal region; 272 liters of rain fell per m2 in a period of 48 hours.

With resevoirs at 35% capacity everyone wanted the rains to come, but with so much in such a short period of time the flood water washed away crops and roads, and did little to alleviate the water shortage.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Salon de Bal

Social dancing is thriving in the northern towns and villages of Girona. Posters can often be seen on prominent display for a coming Salon de Bal to be held at the local social centre. Dance classes are available at several venues around the city, all in all it would seem to be a popular past time.

Today I received this photograph from my mother showing, a slightly younger version of me receiving an award; from the
International Dancing Masters Association for ballroom and modern sequence dancing.

I am therefore equipped to set the dance floor alight at the next Salon. Maybe not a Gigilo but certainly a Jig.

Should I display my credentials? Perhaps I could wear my medals, or would it be more discrete just to leave the certificates lying around?

Monday, July 11, 2005

The boys from the Blackstuff!

“Do you speak a little English?” Said the Irishman at the door.

“Yes, I am English”

“Well if you can manage a little English we should be fine”

“Would you be interested in a little tarmacadum? for the road there”

“I was wandering when you would show up” I laughed, “unfortunately it’s not my road, it belongs to the town”

“It’s not yours but surely it’s part of the land!”

“It looks that way but it isn’t.” I continued, “I know that the mayor is looking at road works at the moment why don’t you go to the town hall and offer to tender for the work”

“They tend to be fond of the paperwork at the town hall, that all takes time.”

“What about dese fellas down here” he said indicating the Huerta at the bottom of the nearby field

“The house is owned by an elderly Catalan couple who don’t speak English. However that’s were the town hall are considering the road works; but you need to go through the system.”

“I could just have a quick word with them down there about the road; we don’t need to worry about the paperwork.”

“How come you are in this neck of the woods” I asked.

“Oh we come through this area every year about now, just doing the farms like” he replied before adding “I’m looking for an old English car if you‘ve got one, don’t mind if it’s a ringer.”

He gave me the number of a mobile he was currently using, to contact him if I found any work for him.

“Who shall I ask for?” I enquired.

He seemed to be considering this, as he wrote 'JoHn' on the piece of paper.

It was as if he was writing his name for the first time.

Round the mulberry Bush

It turns out that the three trees which provide some much needed shade on the patio are mulberries. Very sweet and subtle in flavour. I have frozen 6 kg of the fruit for use in deserts and ice creams, for every berry I pick another fifty are dislodged and fall to the ground.

The berries are so sweet, that when bruised they release there sugary juices, coating everything that comes into contact with them. The ground is covered with spoiled fruit and in turn the fruit is covered in insects. The fruit is attracting a lot of interest from the neighborhood birds. There are those birds which feed directly on the fruit; and others like the bee eaters who feed on the insects that feed on the fallen fruit.

Everyone walking into the house leaves a trail of rotten fruit behind. This is a tree which should be planted away from the house.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


The sheep are growing fast now. They arrive in a cloud of dust stirred by their 2000 feet. In there wake, the cattle egrets feed on the grasshoppers and crickets they have disturbed.

In the finca I can see that two ewes are looking distressed. They are either side of the boundry tape seperating our land from the adjoining field. Francisco is sat on a wall in the shade with the two sheepdogs at his feet; he is across the field from the two ewes and waves to me. As I walk towards the distressed animals intending to lower the boundry tape and reunite them, I notice that the ewe in the field has afterbirth hanging from her rear end. Lying very still in the barley stubble is a small lamb. The lamb is exposed to the baking sun and showing no sign of life. I wave to Francisco to attract his attention, he waves back at me as if in greeting. Beckoning more urgently results in Fransisco crossing the field towards me. He looked upon the lamb without concern and told me that had been born within the last hour and would be ok. It was he said, the sixth lamb to be born in the last two days. He took the tiny animal by its rear legs and dangled it over his shoulder ride for the long journey home.

As the two dogs rounded up the straying sheep I remarked that the herd were looking well.

' Sí bueno, pero en un más mes, de muerto!' as he spoke he drew his right hand across his throat in a cutting motion.

The sheep we watered each day, which grazed on our land amongst the rosemary and mint were nearer their life journeys end.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005



This is the 12th. Century roman bridge spanning the river Fluvià.
A toll was raised from the mediaeval
travellers who crossed the bridge.
Recently a Mikva a form of ritual Jewish Bath House has been recognised and restored.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

New broom

One of the great joys of house renovation is dust, it permeates the air of every room in the house; covering each and every surface several times a day with a film of debris. The polished granite worktops and tiled surfaces intended to make life easier have instead become showcases for the builders waste.

There must be something in the macho code signed up to by most Spanish males, which prevents builders from purchasing sweeping brushes. No matter the scale of the company, none of them will come prepared with the brushes and shovels needed to clear away the inevitable debris, they create. Instead they will utilise domestic dust pans to shovel away tons of broken concrete and tiles. I have run out of hiding places for brushes and dust pans, and accepted the inevitability of shopping weekly for such items.

I am not yet at ease with the design of Spanish sweeping brush; their handles are always 90° to the brush head, and it is impossible to apply any force behind such a brush head. And therein lays the problem, a whole new technique is required.

If you spend any time in a busy Tapas bar, you will eventually become aware that the customers are slowly disappearing in a sea of their own litter. Food morsels, napkins, cigarette buts, small animals and children can be identified amongst the debris. Some customers loose sight of their feet for several hours in the process of dining.

Periodically the Camerera/o (waiter/bar staff) will emerge from behind the bar to tackle the growing pile of litter. Using one of those rather delicate continental brushes each scrap of the offending litter is deftly flicked into the dust pan, leaving not a trace. These bars should, I now believe, display warnings to the effect that customers should not try this at home.

When you next tackle the builders debris, emboldened by the technique of the Camerera you have patiently studied and emulated you find that the mountain of dust and debris that moments ago lay before you has miraculously disappeared without trace. Success at last! It’s obviously all in the wrist action.

Turn around however, and you will find that the pile of debris, having flown though the air and over your dust pan has reformed behind you.

Oh! well its back to the bar for further studies.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Dog's best friend?

Yorkshire terriers are in danger of becoming the Catalan version of the poodle. They are the fashion accessory of the moment for middle aged residents of the country.

Small in stature the dogs were originally bred from other robust terrier breeds, to catch vermin down the coal mines of Yorkshire. You can understand how a miner descending into the bowels of the earth would rather carrier a diminutive terrier than one of its bigger cousins.

Quick to spot a rat, fearless and affectionate, that is the terriers and not the miners;(though come to think of it that could also describe the straight talking miners of northern Britain), the dogs grew in popularity and were soon established as a breed in their own right. That was when their problems started. Everybody who owns the increasingly shrinking Yorkshire terriers feels obliged to pick them up. The tough little terrier is now a lap dog.

The dogs still have personality but are losing the essence of their breed becoming more toy than terrier. Maybe it is not too late, if all the owners would put the dogs on the ground and treat them like dogs; then they would be healthier for it. In a few generations the Tyke could be more like its oldself.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Castell Sant Ferran

The lovies have descended on Figueres for the filming of scenes for the movie, 'Tirant lo blank'

'Tirant lo blank' is a fifteenth century epic adventure story, written by Joanot Martorell a knight and author beleived to have lived in Valencia between 1413 and 1465. The book gives an insight into his views of 15th Century life. Conveiniently re-shaping history to fit.

Tirant lo blancas was described by Cervantes curate in Don Quixote as,

'by right of its style it is the best book in the world. Here knights eat and sleep, and die in their beds, and make their wills before dying, and a great deal more of which there is nothing in all the other books. Nevertheless, I say he who wrote it, for deliberately composing such fooleries, deserves to be sent to the galleys for life.'

Don Quixote later refers to 'the never sufficiently praised Tirante el Blanco.'

The book was written a hundred years before Cevantes put pen to paper.

'The knightly estate excels in such degree that it would be highly revered, if knights pursued the ends for which it was created.'

The translation into english ISBN: 0517623161

In the year of Cervantes 400th anniversary this book makes an interesting read.

Back to the present...

The castle of Saint Fernando of Figueres has been converted into a Turkish stronghold for the movie.

The local thespians mainly long haired and weird beard types, are suddenly fashionable again and desperate for roles as extras in the movie.

The web site of the castle can be found at,

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Organic gardening

Late spring days to those of early fall, witness the passing of the Shepherds and their flocks of up 500 sheep. Accompanied generally by two Catalan sheepdogs - Gos d'Atura Català, though often these days, the dogs may be mongrol. The shepherds walk up to 20 kilometers per day, guiding their charges as they forage on the grass and weeds which sprout between barley harvests, or along the hedgerow. In their wake they leave a carpet of droppings which look like someone spilt a tin of giant sized caviar. Older gardeners swear by sheep droppings as fertilizer for tomatoes. Mayby I should follow in their wake with by brush and pan

We invited Francisco one of the shepherds to graze his flock on our land. We thought that in return for the free grass they would take care of the weeds for us; and fertilize the land with their droppings as they walked.

Francisco explained that the sheep could not graze on the land because of the pinchon , a yellow coloured flower on a mass of prickles. So we had the arduous job of hand weeding the pinchon, to make matters worse we are unable to burn the weed because of the fire risk.

Although these very particular sheep would not co-operate by eating our weeds, they eat all of our potted plants and seedlings. Including my prize Ginger plants.

The prospect of 14,000m2 of hand weeding was a nightmare. So we purchased a McCullough strimmer; and hoped that by cutting the weeds down before they reached the flowering stage we would prevent seed formation and ease the burden for subsequent years.

We faced two further problems; though the strimmer was excellent for cutting through the weeds, amongst those weeds were large field stones. The sort of stone used to build ancient chuches and settlements. Each stone had to be dug out with a pick or mattock, collected and then barrowed away and there were literally tons of them, it must rain stones here. The stones will be used to construct garden features in the near future, although it appears we may have enough to build a small basilica.

The second problem we faced whilst cutting the pinchon, was that they seemed to harbor the worlds collection of caragols or snails. If like me you find the thought of eating them abhorrent then strimming is not for you. By the end of any period of strimming your clothes are covered with debris from the snails. Try it without a face mask and you will find that your eyes become magnets for the shells, whilst the soft parts find their way into your mouth. You can tell a happy strimmer, by counting the number of dead snails on their teeth.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Wearing boots all day whilst working the land takes it's toll on the lower limbs. So the change to sandals is a cooling, refreshing and pleasant experience.

Or at least it was until I noticed I have grown Hobbit's feet. This has come as a shock to me. My feet were always on the large side (size 10), but they were extremely suitable for dancing.

But now look at them they hug the ground like clams, and would rival those owned by any ship of the desert. If I notice the toes becoming any hairier then I will call for medical intervention.


The paleta has taken his siesta, as always, on the stroke of one o'clock. Tiling the floors of the entire house and two full bathrooms is heavy work, and with the weather becoming increasingly hot and humid he feels the strain. Each day after his meal he tends to need to lie down and rest his back, often sleeping for the entire two hours of the siesta, before returning to his task.

Outside on the balcony the Paleta can feel the effects of a welcome and cooling breeze, blowing gently across the Mediterranean sea.

A battered transistor radio, permanently tuned to radio Tangier, plays the music of his homeland. Eating traditional food he sips at his mint tea, and sings along with the melodies of a far away land. Mustapha is enjoying a Moroccan moment!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ladder Snake Posted by Hello

Night of the sorrowful countenance

Tuesday had been another long day. As well as working on the land I had also moved a lot of rubble from the construction work Exhausted though I felt, it was now 3:30am and I had been unable to sleep.

With the bathrooms still out of commission I had to return to the darkness of the underworld.

Emboldened by the previous night’s success in my skirmishes with the Terminator, I called out to the toad as I reached for the light switch,

‘If you are down here there is going to be trouble’

The light flickered on and there in the middle of the floor was the toad.

‘Right you’ve asked for it’ said I, reaching for my cardboard shield.

I moved towards the creature, but as I neared my quarry it began to uncoil. Toads do not uncoil not even Terminators. No this must be a snake, a snake oh no now we've got snakes in the house.

A snake but what type of snake? Not a grass snake no the colouring was more like an adder… but they are poisonous, that much I knew. I decided to photograph the snake in case the doctor should need it for identification when searching for the correct antivenin.

I photographed the coiled snake and the camera flash light roused the resting creature, which slithered across the floor looking for a new hiding place. With my cardboard shield at the ready I scoured the underworld for a new weapon. I took up a sweeping brush and advanced on the snake. Using the brush like a lance I pushed the snake towards the door, while shielding myself with the cardboard. Soon I had the upper hand my superior weaponry was proving to be decisive. With the snake pinned back with the broom I lowered the cardboard shield to open the door; at that the snake made a lunge at the broom’s bristles jaws open wide. Then, were my eyes deceiving me? It started to disappear into the brush but emerged through the bristles and the back of the brush towards my hand.

I dropped my lance and shield and retreated. It seemed as Falstaff once put it that,

The better part of valour is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life.’

The snake moved away, at once I seized upon my weapons and with renewed energy rejoined the battle this time ready for any serpent trickery. The snake was soon subdued. I trapped it between my lance and shield and removed it from the underworld.

The snake slithered away into the night. Adieu then my worthy adversary!

6a.m. wide awake. I decide to check the under build in case the snake has returned.

No there is no sign of the snake. But wait what is that moving in the shadows… it was the Terminator toad! Another battle but this time my quarry was soon beaten. My skills honed in combat with the snake were too much for Terminator.

As the toad ambled towards the long grass beyond the underworld I called out to him,

“You had better watch out there is a snake out there!”

I swear the toad stopped and changed direction, glancing back towards me he didn’t have to say anything, I knew he’d be back.

Between a rock and a hard place.

The Finca has a surface area of 14,000 m2. It is weed infested and consists largely of clay, much neglected it has been compacted by the constant traversing of horses.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

a fig from figueres

Figueres lives under the magical influence of surrealism.

This is the home of Salvidor Dali.

Capital of the Alt Empordà ,in the province of Girona, in the Catalunya region of Spain.

The north Eastern corner of Mediterraneann Spain.

This will be our new home.

Without doubt it will be an adventure for us, we hope it may prove to be an adventure for you. Come back and view our progress or lack of it as we strive to establish our place in the sun.

Terminator Posted by Hello

Amphibians with attitude

With the house undergoing major renovation we have lost the use of both bathrooms; and are having to use a rudimentary affair in the under-build of the house. Functional though it is this bathroom is usually avoided. Not only is decrepit, it is often visited by toads who limbo under the garage door.

Unlike the garden frogs who hop away when disturbed, the local toads seem to have adopted a different attitude. These toads are in no hurry they don’t jump, they amble, looking back over their shoulder as they do so as if to say, ‘I’ll be back’. like some kind of an insect terminator

Monday night and before going to bed I decided to pay a visit to the bathroom. Sure enough there was the toad, surly as ever. But with the aid of a piece of cardboard, which proved to be an effective shield, I ushered the toad out of the back door and into the night. I watched as he shuffled away glancing back towards me with that familiar look of the terminator toad.

2am and I needed to go to bathroom. Down three flights of stairs I descended to the darkness of what was fast becoming more of the underworld than the under-build.

The light switches are strategically placed so the you must enter the realm of darkness before you can benefit from light. Under my right foot I felt something soft, ‘Oh no not the toad’! With the light on I was relieved to find it was only a piece of lagging from the pipe work. After all toads are desirable for their pest control qualities, though you don’t really want them in the house.

Then I saw it, I could’t believe it, sitting in the shower tray was the terminator toad.
‘Out!’ I said, using the cardboard as a shield once more to remove the toad via the same door.

As the toad ambled away I called after it, ‘And don’t come back’.
The toad hesitated for a moment, before looking back over it’s shoulder the way terminators do as if to say,

‘Oh, I’ll be back’

Monday, May 30, 2005

What’s in a name?

The restaurant was quiet that Thursday evening. The waiter a tall and pleasant young man greeted us in Spanish before moving effortlessly into English. He told us about his experiences whilst working in Wales in an effort to practice his language skills.

On a nearby table four men were discussing travel arrangements back to the UK. Two of them would prefer to travel by micro light following the Mediterranean coast, whilst the others would ride high powered motorcycles; tracking their progress. It seemed, from their conversation that riding through the Pyrenees was deemed to be rather more arduous than flying over them.

The food was good, as was the service. We had enjoyed our evening and expressed our satisfaction to the waiter when he returned.

Having engaged the waiter in conversation. The young man told us about the advantages of having both German and Spanish parents. He was naturally bi-lingual.

Before adding;

“I was raised here in Spain, so my parents decided I should have a Spanish name to make life easier at school for me”

Very sensible of them we acknowledged.

So what did they call you? we asked, guessing Miguel, Antonio…

“Fernando” he replied

Neither of us spoke though instinctively knew what the other was thinking.

The waiter spoke, “Apparently many years ago there was a song”.

An ironic smile played across his face as he offered a slight bow before turning and walking away.

Parents …priceless!

Der Boot Dokter

On the road to Roses from Figueres you see a large warehouse bearing the legend

Der Boot Doktor

cobblers on a grand scale I thought, but I was wrong it was a repair shop for the boating fraternity of Empuriabrava.