Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Blindefellows Chronicle - A Book Review

Auriel Roe’s episodic novel is old-fashioned in the nicest possible way. Imagine a kinder, less cynical rendition of the school in Waugh’s “Decline and Fall”. Imagine Stalky & Co’s school moving with the times. In some ways reading A Blindefellows Chronicle is a sort of Goodbye, Mr Japes. None of these is any bad thing.

As a former boarder, albeit at one of the last state grammar schools, in an equally small and isolated school, I recognised many things in this book. This is a tribute to Auriel Roe’s imagination, research or experience, and most certainly to her writing skill.

The chronicled-style, skipping on a few years at a time, made me invest a great deal of emotion in the characters, good and bad. I was always trying to second guess what would happen in the next chapter. It also brought home to me how much England has changed in my lifetime.

But best of all, “Blindefellows” (the book is destined to be referred to by aficionados in this way, surely?) is funny. Wryly, sharply and dryly – funny, all the way to an end which has that much-maligned quality “pathos”.

I recommend this book very highly and hope to read more from the author sometime soon. 

An unusual book in so many ways, not least for naming a character "Mafalda" which will have raised a smile among anyone who has spent time with Latin Americans.

Monday, 13 November 2017


If you're of a certain age, the song would have gone through your head. We all like to think we have a local. If you're partial to a convivial glass, that is. I don't have a local bar any more. The one at the end of the road is all locked-up with a tenant living in the upstairs flat. Someone is still paying the lease on the building, but whatever rent is coming in will not cover that, for sure. I used to go to a place in town quite often. Eventually I remembered the names of the staff. As usual that was their cue to leave. I'll bump into them in other bars in town, of course. Most people in the pueblo know who Professor Longhair is. Some even say "Es autor. ¿Sabes?" It's fame of sorts. Because they assume - since I am a guiri- that I won't understand a word they say, they are quite uninhibited in what they do say. The saying goes that one shouldn't listen to private conversations, for one might not like what one hears. That hasn't been true for me so far. It's just as well, Andalucians do not whisper.

Winter has come, here in the sunny South. Shopkeepers mention the weather, shivering in their overcoats, gloved hands counting out change. Then they'll mention the snow in the town only a couple of years ago, the first time for 50 years.Children were clad in overcoats on top of pyjamas and taken out to stand in the flakes. Some stayed up until 2 in the morning just to throw snowballs. Just goes to show, the unusual is better than "the usual".

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Milling About

Trevélez from the dirt track
Today's wanderings were more hiking than walking: "más senderismo que caminar", you might say. In the apartment is a pamphlet showing a map of the town of Trevélez. It is not to scale, it might even be accused of being topographical. A path is shown leading out of the town, sort of eastward, to one Molino Altero - which might or might not mean Pile Mill as in piles of money. Off I set, believing, as all ex-airmen ought, in the map.

The way started as a fairly wide concreted camino rural sin numèro (Un-numbered country road, there are lots of those in Spain).  The sign-post warned of the Junta de Andalucia's contribution to its upkeep, so I wasn't expecting much. A sign placed by the local council suggested a speed limit of 30 Kph and was recommending the route to cows or warning of their presence: one of the two.

After about a kilometre it became a dirt track, which remained fairly wide  Whilst it remained so wide I passed a few horses, fields and fields of market gardening. As the track narrowed, the trees closed in. Races burbled down the hill, but still no sign of a Molino, of Piles or otherwise. One could imagine a trail of breadcrumbs or the flash of a red hood between the green trees.
One of the many streams

So beautiful, so peaceful, with the sound of the bells around the goats' necks counterpointing the water rushing down the hillside. Eventually I saw a signpost, which indicated that I was travelling in the right direction. A source of some amazement, I confess. At this point the track become a narrow, rocky path, like something the smugglers in Moonfleet might have used. Often the streams and rills crossed the path making the rocks slippery or indeed covering them completely. I kept going until I had travelled about four kilometres. The track became wetter and wetter and ever more narrow. It did not peter out, but the woodland became more dense. I turned back. On the way back, I came across one contender for the title Molino Altero, it didn't look close enough to the river or one of the many streams. No, it didn't have sails, either.
Molino Altero??

I made my way back to the signpost, and followed the arrows in reverse. This was not the way I had come. There were some tremendous views over ths true valley and the lower quarter of town. Being afraid of heights and prone to feeling dizzy I felt quite brave taking the photos, it's true. On this winding narrow path tacking round the contours I met the only other person out walking. A bandy-legged fellow of about 60, accompanied by 3 short-legged and vociferous dogs. He had an old flip-top motorola glued to his ear, but apart from that he could have been a goat-herd on his way down to have Franco's greatest innovation for his lunch: Menú de Dia.

Eventually I made it back to civilisation. I hadn't reached my goal, but so what? It was a beautiful walk on a beautiful day. It doesn't come much better than that.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Nearer the Sky than the Sea

View from the Top of  Barrio Alto
Trevélez, a beautiful town, perched in the folds of Mulhacen's skirts some 1500 metres above sea level, is only the second highest municipality in Spain. It is the place to buy the best Iberian hams in the whole of Spain  - as any Andalucian will tell you. Of course "Everyone has the best wife at home" as somebody or other once said. Every day at this time of year luxury coaches take the winding route through Las Alpujarras before disgorging hundreds of tourists into the square in Barrio Bajo (Low Quarter).

The town consists of 3 zones, although it tickles me to use the other dictionary definition: quarter. It isn't quite a town, you see, it's only three quarters of a town. It is not what the Andalucians would consider a village, certainly. Another cultural difference between we Northern Europeans and our Latino hosts. Anyway, there is The Low Quarter, The Middle Quarter and the High Quarter. There is a walking route which winds from the bottom of the town to the top: "La Ruta de los Tres Barrios", unsurprisingly enough. The dog is too old to manage this route as, certainly on the way up, it's too steep for his old legs and weary heart, so I try to do the walk every other day. It's not the same as walking the 7 hours to the top of Mulhacen, but every little helps to fight the middle age spread.

For the third year in a row, the town where we are staying has bizarre mannikins placed in the street. These are slightly more realistic (and sinister) than the wicker men and women of previous years.
Emil and Some Friends of a Similar Age

Fresh Eggs for Breakfast Here.

Winding through the back streets is an education, there are many surprises behind some rustic looking doors on the sides of the houses in these narrow barrio streets. The higher you go, the stranger things you see. I'll spare you the occupied outside loo with the open door onto the street, but these chickens have a room in a house...

Generally I take the main roads (some licence also taken with the term here) down and stop off for a coffee, where I eavesdrop on the conversation between whomosoever happens to be in the bar. This morning the owner was complaining to the woman serving behind the bar that someone hadn't greeted him while they were at the funeral that took place yesterday. This tirade segued seamlessly into complaints that some people from Catalonia had been in the village yesterday, claiming that their ham was better than that of Trevélez. Clearly preposterous, from what I overheard. The owner was turning puce. The woman behind the bar offered the owner decaff for his next coffee. Perhaps I shouldn't have laughed.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

"Pot Calling Kettle, Come in, Over"

The pot calling the kettle black, check out the beam in your own eye, before you mention the mote in others'. I'm posting this just as food for thought.

I overheard quite the conversation a while back. A change from the usual, "I left because of the immigrants, no-one spoke English, the corner shop was taken over by Poles, who turned out worse than Ali." A change because, although the continued diatribe followed the normal route and was met by yeah,yeah,yeahs and fierce nods of the head, the nodding head belonged to a woman between 30 and 40 with three kids in tow.

Her Hispanophone partner had left her at the café terrace with a kiss for the toddler in one of those convert-a-car child buggies that cost as much as an old second hand car, and a cursory wave for the other two children.

The red-faced, beefy man in the singlet and tattoos gave her a look.

'Only José Antonio is Miguel's...' she said.

'He pay for him?'

'It's complicated,' she said.

Beefy finally started asking the woman something instead of paraphrasing Britain First Facebook posts,

'Why d'you come, then?'

'Same as you, all those immigrants, comin' over, scroungin' our benefits...'

'I seen you, workin' in The Black Horse, ditten I?'

'Um, yeah, not been there for a while...'

'No good?'

'No, I loved it, extra money was sound.'

'Why d'you go, then?'

'Some fuckin' tourist ponce threatened to dob me in at the social...'

'The Seguridad Social?'

'Naw... in UK, me benefits.'

'Livin' here and claimin' from home?'

'Yeah. I'm entitled.'

'Sweet, that.'

I went to drink in another bar.

The content of this conversation is more or less true to life, less offensive in most respects than the real thing, however. I hear this kind of thing so very often, the broad thrust of what the man says and the breezy insouciance of the fraudulent claimants. It is unusual to get both at once. I don't know how many people over here are living on UK benefits, but, it is a reflection of how little they would get as someone resident on the Seguridad Social over here.

Now the agreement is that immigrants from within the EU are entitled to the benefits available in their country of residence: someone is screwing the system and it isn't the Poles in the UK.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Ashael Rising (Vessel of KalaDene, #1)Ashael Rising by Shona Kinsella
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This confident and well-written debut novel sits firmly in the fantasy genre, whilst bringing something new and different at the same time. Ashael, the eponymous heroine, is a well-drawn and convincing character who puts me in mind of Jean M. Auel's Ayla, as did the the sure and deftly handled description of the People of the Cam. This is most definitely a compliment. Ms. Kinsella introduces the differing races - humanoid or not - and their milieus with compact exposition and yes, "shows" much more than she "tells". On Kaladene, the peaceful People of the Cam and others, some not so peaceful,are awaiting the arrival of the long-prophesied Vessel. All have their own expectations and some even have plans to profit by this mysterious arrival. Kidnap, an unusual ransom demand and attempts to escape result. To avoid any spoiling, I shall only say that the plot is engaging and had me turning the pages faster still towards the end. I very much look forward to Ashael's further adventures on Kaladene.
A tremendous read, which I thoroughly recommend.

View all my reviews

Monday, 29 May 2017

Back Tae Books...

...and the power of networking, friendship and goodwill. In the picture is Gibbous House's page in the Angus Library catalogue. Ecstatic though I am at the thought of "ma wee book" being available in a real, live library, I thought I'd share the story of how it got there.

One of my former bosses in the Royal Air Force spotted me on Linkedin and dropped me a line to see how I was. I'd bumped into him at a Squadron open-day the year before. We got on remarkably well. This fellow often goes down as everyone's favourite boss on the famous 51st - and he was and is a genuinely good egg. The thing is, it was me who was the a-hole, for most of my time on the Squadron: I wasn't a good subordinate and it may be that I had come very close to an overnight posting to somewhere not very nice. However, by the time I left, (March 13th 2005, last day of service, thank you) there weren't many places left as a punishment posting. Besides, everyone was getting "jiffed*" every couple of years for a detachment in Afghanistan. 51 Sqn was quite lucky, at that time. We just had to fly over these places, but there were "opportunities", if only temporary, to get rid of the "spanner in the works" or the "square peg". But they never did in my case and I often wonder why.

Me, centre background with not my favourite boss at a quite different shindig

Anyway at the Squadron shindig, last year, I mentioned to my ex-boss that my book had finally been published and he said he'd give it a read. Just today he let me know that he had convinced Angus and Tayside libraries to acquire 6 copies of GH for the region as I was a "young and aspiring Scottish author". So here's one last salute for a really nice man and I'm sorry I was such a pain in the proverbial.

*jiffed=done over, unfairly treated, etc.