MY introduction to Don Quixote took place in a pub called The Clarence in the northern town of Dalton-in-Furness, back in 1974, and at a time when I was obsessed with a song called Pinball and the world seemed a much milder, progressive and optimistic place. On the wall opposite the bar hung a colourful and captivating image of two dark figures crossing an evening landscape – one tall and shabbily elegant on a broken-winded horse, the other small and fat, perched upon a mule. From the dust of Spain, Don Quixote and his devoted servant and friend, Sancho Panza, had strayed into a world of rain, bar-billiards and pigeon racing. It was an unusual subject for a Lancashire pub where old men with their ties tucked in their trousers occasionally reminisced about the trenches and chuckled over cards and cribbage boards, but it lifted the decor from fifty shades of nicotine and elevated the conversation of the clientele . . . Continue reading Don’s the one
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
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 . . .
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 . . .
MY first encounter with avocado pears came during the general election of 1979 while watching BBC Nationwide with my father. I had never heard of the fruit until this rather well-to-do woman in a large house in Helensburgh was asked who she would vote for come polling day. She replied: “Well it won’t be Labour, because prices have risen to the point I can no longer afford avocado pears for my family.” Continue reading Proverbial pears
THERE’S a swallowtail butterfly in the lavender. It busies itself drifting from one plant to another, gathering nectar or whatever it is that butterflies do. This insect – as delicate as it is – triggers a thought process in the recesses of my mind and liberates forgotten memories. I am transported to a terraced house in a Lancashire village where coal trains from Cumberland clank past the front door and high moors rise from the back . . . Continue reading Fifty years later . . .
THERE are many things a man needs to sustain him in life and one is rhubarb. There may well be items of greater importance, such as bread and butter, faith, humility and hot tea, but rhubarb is among the essentials. Anyone who has worked an allotment, or owned a back garden where dolly tubs rust quietly under elder trees and gutters sag from shed roofs, knows the one element that links them all is the rhubarb bed. A vegetable patch without rhubarb is like a hot-pot without potatoes. So this is my quest to grow rhubarb in Spain . . . Continue reading Ruibarbo, ruibarbo