All posts by McFadzean

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.

Last resorts . . .

Great Yarmouth, January 1993

I ONCE spent a sad couple of days walking the streets of Great Yarmouth in the middle of January; sad days because the weather was wretched and the seaside attractions boarded up for the season – not sad in the sense some people regard seaside resorts sad in general. My memory tells me it was about 1993 and the country was in the claws of that deep recession everyone has forgotten – the one where the chancellor, Norman Lamont, insisted green shoots of recovery were bursting out everywhere. Only they weren’t – it was moss and lichen establishing brave new colonies . . . Continue reading Last resorts . . .

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We three kings

THE three kings followed their star of wonder and arrived in Orgiva last night to commemorate the Dia de los Reyes. The Spanish don’t celebrate Christmas Day with the enthusiasm of we peoples of the north; January 6 is their main event, or Twelfth Night as it is known. The Magi are delivered from the east on pick-up trucks and their helpers toss sweets and toys to the crowd. Once installed on their thrones, instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they distribute presents (which have been discretely deposited by parents beforehand) to the children of the town. And as if by magic, swallows and house martins – which I thought had flown south many weeks ago – emerge from the church belfry like silver sparks in the glare of the street lamps and swoop above our heads. It’s a pleasant affair . . . Continue reading We three kings

Random incidents . . .

Random picture

INCIDENT 1: Sitting at a table on the main plaza in town drinking tea. To the left is a row of shops; to the right the headquarters of the Guardia Civil with its sentry turrets and gun-slots. A young guardia emerges from the building and passes our table. He’s carrying a large plastic sack – about the size of a pillow – that’s stuffed with what appears to be chopped hay and dried leaves, all mixed up together. “What’s in that sack?” I say to my wife. “Dunno,” she answers, “What do you think it is?”. “Dunno,” I say. “I suspect it’s cannabis . . .” Continue reading Random incidents . . .

First snow . . .

IN a space of three hurried days, conditions here in the Alpujarras have veered from blazing sunshine and temperatures of 30C to thunderstorms and snow on the mountains. The seemingly endless summer has ended. The parched land is sodden. Dust is mud. Dry streams are flowing. Dead grass, like Lazarus, is about to be resurrected  . . . Continue reading First snow . . .

Outfoxed . . .

THREE times a week I’m up at seven for a pre-dawn walk. The sun doesn’t rise in the Alpujarras until about 8.05am, and the lanes are quiet in the blue-grey half-darkness. I follow the riverbed, scale a steep track up its western bank, pass through an olive grove, then a copse of eucalyptus, and then another olive grove, before emerging on a long, rocky ridge clad in prickly furze. On the crest of the ridge I sit myself down on a flat boulder to watch the sun climb above the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Perfect peace . . . Continue reading Outfoxed . . .

Lavaderos and leeks

ON a hillside beneath the village of Capileira I discover the local lavadero, the laundry where women scrubbed their dirty linen before the advent of electrical goods changed their lives. Unlike the lavadero in neighbouring Pampaneira, which I have written about before, this specimen is situated at the foot of a very steep, wet and uneven track, and outside the village proper. The long climb back up the hillside, bearing a swill laden with wet washing, must have been an ordeal indeed, especially during the winter months with ice and snow on the ground . . . Continue reading Lavaderos and leeks

The warp factor

SOMETIMES I wish I’d been a stonemason engaged in restoring cathedral spires, or a potter shaping clay into useful and attractive objects. Or a bookbinder, or a crafter of fine leather, or a cabinetmaker – someone with a skill who can gather raw materials in his hands and fashion them into items that possess beauty. I feel a bit like that today when I visit a weaver’s workshop in the Alpujarran village of Pampaneira, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain . . .

We have visitors staying; and one of them, Sue, knows all about weaving and looms and warp and shuttles, and all that stuff, and is keen to impart her knowledge. I listen attentively as we walk about the workshop, though I must admit I find the process a complicated business and most of the information flies over my head.

I look about the workshop and I want to be a weaver. I have an overwhelming desire to sit at the loom and create something that will give people pleasure. Why wasn’t I provided with this option by the careers officer in my final year at school? Why didn’t someone say: “Right, you’ve all read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and we all wear clothes and have access to materials – who wants to be a weaver instead of going in the shipyard?” But it didn’t happen.

Why didn’t someone say: “We all use pots so who wants to be a potter? The world is full of churches and grand buildings, so who wants to be a stonemason?”

Perhaps they did but I just wasn’t listening. Perhaps, at sixteen, many of us do not possess the faculty to see beyond the easiest option. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a weaver now.