Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Sandra Not In Spain

Okay, Spain is now my home, but I still have ties in the UK, and I love to travel in our motor home, so I spend a fair bit of time out of Spain. What you’ll see here is my observations and experiences as I potter around Europe. Basically, anything could happen here – or on the rest of the site, for that matter!

A tale of two Easters …

Easter
My fabulous family – I miss them so much, but we’ve made some great memories, and we will again.

So, once more Easter is here. And just like last year the Gods – or rather the sun – has smiled on us. That’s about the only similarity though. Like many people, all over the world, it’s a very solitary Easter for most of us. The message from religious leaders, and the Queen (God bless her) is that Easter is a time of hope. After darkness comes light, after death comes rebirth, after the barrenness of winter comes the fertility of spring.

Never before has this message been one we can connect with on so many levels, across all faiths, and belief systems. Ironically, at a time all the churches and other religious meeting places are closed due to the lock-down, there are probably more people fixing on the spiritual meaning of Easter this year than ever before.

Personally, the commercial aspects of Easter have never really appealed to me. It was always a time for the family to get together, and when I was a child, that was usually at my paternal grandmother’s caravan in Blackpool. Once I had my own family, we always made sure there was time spent with other family members, and that trend has pretty much continued through my life.

Easter
With Harrison at his Christening – Easter Sunday 2015

Five years ago, my middle grandson was christened on Easter Sunday, because he was fast outgrowing the family christening gown. Again, it was a lovely family weekend. So many precious Easter memories of good times with the family!

In Spain, although I was a long way from the family, we always spent time with friends and supported one of the local fund raising events. Last year, I was in England for Easter, due to family circumstances, and it coincided with one of the best Easters ever, weather wise.

On Good Friday, my daughter and I took my two granddaughters for a girly day out to Saltram House, where we did a tour of the house, dressed up in period costume and picnicked and took part in an Easter egg hunt in the grounds. I introduced my elder granddaughter, Chloe, to the fabulous energy of trees, and we enjoyed being in Nature.

Easter
Chloe and Lauren – Young ladies of quality at Saltram House, Good Friday 2019

On the next day, again we took to the Great Outdoors, with a picnic in Central Park, Plymouth followed by a trip around the fair. On Easter Sunday, I spent the day with Glenys and her daughter and grandson at Lanhydrock House. Guess who had treated herself to membership of the National Trust for Easter!

I also purchased membership for my granddaughters, rather than getting them Easter eggs. It would have cost £8 each to take them into Saltram House, but for just an extra £2, they could have a year of entry into National Trust properties. As their aunt and uncle in Cornwall are also members, the girls have certainly had their money’s worth, as have I, and I’m extending it for all of us, although obviously at the moment, we can’t use it.

So, how has this Easter been so far? Well, we’ve spent some time outdoors, as it’s been so nice, and we’ve watched a few films, although there’s not much else of any interest on TV to be honest. We’ve caught up on some reading, I’ve tidied up the website a bit, and caught up with friends via the phone and video calls.

Easter
Easter Saturday 2019 in Central Park, Plymouth with my daughter and granddaughters.

My elder son is lucky to be locked down with his new fiance – they got engaged on Mothering Sunday – in Shropshire. Their rural setting means they can enjoy walks close to home without breaching government instructions. Thankfully, his fiance managed to leave London before lock-down – I feel happier that they are in the countryside, rather than in the nation’s hotspot of Covid-19.

My daughter is an ambulance care assistant, and she is happy. Finally there are enough masks, gloves and goggles for the team, and Derriford Hospital is as prepared as they can be for the expected influx of patients as the outbreak heads to its peak. Luckily, here in the South West, the NHS are not so challenged as in other parts of the country. We have so much to be thankful for.

My younger son is a single parent to four children, and they all went into lockdown almost a week before the rest of the country, as the youngest showed symptoms of Covid-19. Thankfully, it was a false alarm, and the family are happy and healthy, and he hasn’t lost his sense of humour – or maybe he’s descended into insanity?

Earlier today, he posted on Facebook that the Easter Bunny had been awarded Key Worker status, as long as he abided by government instructions and practiced social distancing. Adam proudly displayed an ‘official letter’ from 10, Downing Street. It was clearly authentic, as it was signed by Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson as he recovers from his own brush with Covid-19! I admired Adam’s attention to detail, even as I questioned his sanity.

Easter treats made from marzipan, Easter Monday in Portugal, 2016.

There’s a serious point here though – yes, we’re in a serious situation, and we can’t see an end to it right now. However, as I have pointed out all through this rambling, we have so much to be thankful for, and we are blessed with hope and humour. It’s what the British do best. It’s seen us through so much, personally and as a nation, and it will continue to do so.

So, on this rather surreal Easter Sunday, I am concentrating on what I have, not on what I am missing at the moment. I am looking back at happy Easter memories from years gone by, and looking forward to big hugs from my loved ones when all this is finally over. And I am grateful – truly grateful – to be right here, right now, experiencing life and learning lessons, so that I can be the best version of myself possible.

Stay safe and well, and remember, we will be okay. It will be okay. Have the happiest Easter you can under the circumstances, and I look forward to a few fiestas in the not too distant future.

Rice and peas – a touch of the Caribbean for dinner

Rice and peas

Rice and peas – a great accompaniment to any meal

I’ve always been pretty adventurous with food, and a few years back, a Jamaican friend cooked us jerk chicken with rice and peas. We’ve lost touch since we moved to Spain, and I’d forgotten about rice and peas until the weekend. We’d cooked a smoked gammon joint from Lidl – fabulous value and taste, by the way – and were wondering what to serve with it. Basically, we fancied a change from the usual new potatoes and parsley sauce, egg and chips or salad.

Then  I remembered about rice and peas. I looked up Levi Root’s recipe and adapted it to suit our taste. As we weren’t having it with curry, I thought it may be rather bland as it was, so I added some chilli flakes and sweet chilli sauce to give it a bit of pep. It paired very well with the coconut, and we ended up with a very nice accompaniment to the gammon.

Only problem was, Levi’s recipe was supposed to serve 4, but I think he meant 4 households! There was way too much for three of us, so we’re having the rest with a Kerala coconut chicken curry tonight. If I make it again, I’d halve the quantity of rice and water and cook it on a slightly lower heat to ensure the rice was cooked through, since there would be a smaller amount of liquid. However, the quantities below are as per the recipe – I’ll leave you to adjust it as you wish.

Ingredients

  • A can of coconut milk
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • An onion, chopped finely
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups or basmati rice, well rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • knob of butter
  • Salt to taste
  • Chilli flakes and sweet chilli sauce as required. (Optional)

Method

Empty the contents of the cans of coconut milk and red kidney beans into a large saucepan. Don’t rinse the beans first, as the canning

Rice and peas

White rum and coconut water – a lovely accompaniment to rice and peas

liquid adds to the flavour  of the finished dish. Then add the onion, garlic, water, salt, chilli flakes and butter.

Bring to the boil, then add the rice. Lower the heat, and stir well. Cook for around 30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice

is nice and fluffy, with a slight sheen to it. Stir in sweet chilli sauce, if using.

Serve with curry, jerk chicken, or any other meat or vegetable dish. Rice and peas can also be enjoyed on its own as a light lunch or

supper. You could add chopped peppers, sliced mushrooms and sweetcorn for more colour and texture. It’s a really versatile dish, and is ideal for vegetarians and vegans.

I wondered what to serve to drink with the meal, and then I had a lightbulb moment. I’d bought some coconut water flavoured with lime and pineapple, so I added this to white rum for a long, tropical drink. Along with the rice and peas, it was Almost Jamaica, as the song goes!

1966 and all that – Can football come home again?

football

World Cup Willie – The first mascot in 1966. Image credit http://www.prmuseum.org/blog/2015/7/31/1966-the-first-fifa-world-cup-mascot

Like most English people here on the Costa Blanca – and quite a lot of Spanish ones – I’m waiting impatiently for the England-Sweden football match this afternoon in World Cup 2018. I’ll be going to Jilly’s Bar in Algorfa to watch the match for three good reasons. They have the biggest screen in the area, a lot of my good friends will also be there, and it’s no fun watching England’s biggest match in almost 30 years when you’re home alone, as I am at the moment.

So much has been in the press about the similarities between this World Cup and 1966, when England, against all the odds, lifted the trophy for the first and only time. So far. Well, the hacks have to write something don’t they? The England squad have been playing well on the pitch and conducting themselves well off it, so the tabloids can’t run kiss-and-tells and character assassinations, which is the usual media sport when England are in an international tournament. I suppose they could bleat about how much the squad are being paid for kicking a ball around, but since the majority of England fans believe the team are worth every penny at the moment, that’s hardly likely to happen.

Admittedly, there are some uncanny coincidences. Dapper Gareth Southgate has several parallels with England’s most successful manager – so far – Sir Alf Ramsey. Tactical geniuses who were not thought to be the best choices for the job at times when English football was slightly lower than Donald Trump’s level of diplomacy skills, they brought with them qualities of dignity, integrity, independent thinking and straight talking. They were both in their mid forties when they stepped into the spotlight of the world’s biggest football competition, and they have a similar choice in clothes, as well as an erudite way of conducting interview, without the need for sound bites or jargon.

The similarities don’t end there, either. World Cup Willie, the 1966 mascot, was dressed in red, white and blue, as is the current mascot, Zabivaka. If you don’t remember the song, there’s a reminder under this paragraph – there’s still time to get word perfect before kick off. As a bonus, the highlights of the 66 campaign accompany Lonnie Donnegan’s very catchy anthem. World Cup Willie was the first ever World Cup mascot. Zabivaka means ‘The one who scores’ in Russian, so maybe Harry Kane should consider changing his name, as he’s in the running for the Golden Boot as highest scorer of the tournament. Zabivaka Kane may not roll easily off the tongue, but it has a certain quirky ring to it, doesn’t it? And we could call him Zab for short.

Talking of hat trick heroes, Harry Kane has emulated Geoff Hurst in scoring a hat trick at the world cup. The only other English player to achieve this was Gary Lineker, against Poland in Mexico, 1986. And just as Sir Alf went for youth over experience in appointing twenty-two year old Bobby Moore as captain over older, more famous players, Gareth has opted for Harry Kane, 24, bypassing international veterans such as Ashley Young and Gary Cahill. Only 8 players in the 23-strong squad are younger than Kane, yet he plays with an authority and leadership far beyond his years.

Southgate isn’t afraid to make controversial decisions either, preferring to risk defeat by Belgium, having already qualified, and keep his  key players rested and safe from injury. Alf Ramsey was vilified for keeping Geoff Hurst in the side once Jimmy Greaves, a big star at the time, recovered from injury. Hurst had played his first international just a few months earlier, in a friendly against West Germany, but Ramsey trusted his instincts and the rest, as they say is history. In a third example of synchronicity, both Hurst and Kane were pretty competent cricketers, before they became football legends.

There’s been so much written about the parallels with 1966, but you’re about to read a world exclusive – how my 1966 experience is pretty much identical to my personal World Cup 2018. So far.

Back in 1966, I was 14, and package holidays were just becoming affordable for everyone. Mum and Dad worked hard in their fish and

football

I was flying to Spain when England played Colombia, but I’ll be joining the regulars at Jilly’s Bar for the Sweden matxh.

chip shop, and always closed the shop for their main holiday when the surrounding factories in Bilston in the West Midlands closed down for Factory Fortnight. So when I learned that we’d be flying out abroad for the first time on 23rd July – my parent’s 17th wedding anniversary, and the day of the England-Portugal semi-final – I was Not Impressed.

Like pretty much everybody else, Dad thought the home team would be out of the tournament by the time we left anyway. He wasn’t such a big follower of English football as I was – and still am, for that matter. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about wall-to-wall sunshine either – which is why we always spent our holidays in my Gran’s caravan in Blackpool. However, when he found out that Senior Service and Johnny Walker – his favourite brands of cigarettes and whisky – were so much cheaper in Spain, he couldn’t wait to start singing Viva Espana. Well, he had to, as it wasn’t even written and first performed until around 1971, but you get the gist.

The opening games seemed to bear out his words, but I had the Faith of The Fan – or the Foolish, if you like – and just knew they would beat Argentina. Half of me wanted them to lose, so I wouldn’t miss something, but when the final whistle went, I tried my hardest to get Dad to reschedule the holiday. When he quite reasonably refused, I determined to find somewhere – anywhere – to watch the final, should England get past Portugal.

Today, people are arranging their flights so they can see their team of choice play the important matches, but 52 years ago, the flights were neither so frequent nor so fast. In fact our plane looked so old, I asked the stewardess if it was one with an outside toilet. Yes, I’ve always been like that! That earned me a telling off from Mum, but Dad shared my sense of humour and gave me an extra pound to add to my holiday spending money. He must have really liked my crack, because that £1 note – which of course we don’t have now – would be worth £18. My 10-year-old brother wanted everything I had, so he wanted a £1 as well, but Dad, remembering his birthday just a month ago when he flushed the £1 Auntie Jess gave him down the toilet because he wanted ‘real money, not bits of paper’ – sensibly refused.

When we eventually arrived at our hotel in Lloret de Mar, on the Costa Brava, I was delighted to find it not only had a TV at each end of the residents’ lounge,  but the guests were more or less equally divided between English and Germans. Our Spanish haven would turn out to be a mini Wembley with sun. Or maybe for me, it wouldn’t.

Once Mum and Dad recovered from the severe shock of waking up to sunshine every morning, they wanted to make the most of it, and were scandalised at the idea of wasting all that sun. Goodness knows why, because Dad was the prototype of the 1960s Brit Abroad on the Beach – long trousers, socks and sandals, and a long sleeved shirt. It was so hot, he did give in and take off his shirt, but the string vest stayed put, and he was blessed with a chest and back that looked like laticed fruit pies until the tan finally faded. Mum was tall with a fabulous figure, but she wore a voluminous cotton skirt over her swimming costume, as she wasn’t going to show the ‘foreigners’ her lovely long, lily white legs. Just as well really – one enamoured old Spaniard who looked about 150 offered Dad two donkeys in exchange for her. If it hadn’t been for having to pay for excess baggage, I could well have returned from my first trip abroad Sin Mi Madre. And no, I’m not translating – look it up!

Rescue came in the unlikely form of Harry and Madge, two lovely pensioners from Matlock in Derbyshire. They were experiencing similar problems – Madge wanted to hit the beach, while Harry wanted to swear at the TV screen, as all football fans do – well, the ones I mix with, anyway. So after lunch, Madge left with Mum, Dad and my Brother for the beach, while I headed for the lounge bar with Harry and the rest. With Mum’s admonitions to ‘Not let Sandra drink anything alcoholic’ ringing in his ears, Harry came back with a large beer for him, and a small one for me. Luckily for me, Matlock men didn’t like taking orders from women – other than their wives – so thank goodness Mum hadn’t said  I could have a couple of sangrias, because that was the next step.

The Spanish barman was so impressed with my smattering of Spanish and my burgeouning vocabulary of football fouls – that’s foul language not foul play, if you hadn’t already guessed – he promised me a glass of sangria for every goal England scored. That was when I fell in love for the first time – with both the barman and sangria. He must have thought he was okay when Germany scored after just 10 minutes, but he would regret that decision mightily. I was, and still am – a positive person, and I predicted that England would go on and win the game, they just needed something to get them back on track.

Right up to the 89th minute, it looked like I was right, then Weber sneaked a last minute goal, and it was extra time in stifling heat. It was pretty hot in the hotel too, especially when I made my voice heard over the nay-sayers who were predicting Engand’s chance had gone. I still don’t know whether it was bravado, sheer stupidity or a message from the Other World that prompted me to shout, ‘England will win 4 – 2, and Geoff Hurst will score a hat trick.’ Then I wished I hadn’t. There was silence, followed by roars of laughter. When my ‘Minder’ Harry stopped his shoulders from shaking, he said if both those things happened, he’d give me £1 to top up my pocket money. Good natured chaps from both sides chipped in – it was a very convivial mini Wembley – and I spent the break in proceedings trying to decide how to spend the fortune I was certain would come my way.

As we all know, I was right and they were wrong. I can’t remember exactly how many pounds I collected now, but at the time I made sure each and every one stumped up. Then it got messy. Harry said we should have a ‘proper’ drink to celebrate. He’d developed a liking for Bacardi and as my back teeth were awash after my four free sangrias, I decided to have a change and join  him. Not My Best Idea.

Jilly and Ian – our friendly hosts for the afternoon

As I lifted the glass to my lips, I spotted Mum, Dad and Madge coming into the lounge. They were not looking in the least happy, so with a hiss to Harry not to let them see or smell my glass, I went over to tell them the wonderful news, as they clearly hadn’t heard it. As it turned out, they did know the result, and that was the cause of their distress.

A bit of background here. In the Midlands, people will often add ‘then’ on the end of a question. For example, ‘What’s for breakfast, then?’ In other areas of England, this addition is seen as an aggressive challenge or an insult, as for example, ‘Who won the World Cup, then?’ which was the question my Dad asked in all innocence of the Man Mountain walking along the deserted beach towards them. Said Man Mountain was a distressed German who wasn’t going to cry in front of his mates, so he’d come to the beach to drown his sorrows, and maybe even drown himself, as tears were streaming down his face.

These quickly turned to tears of rage, because although Man Mountain’s understanding and use of English was pretty good, he’d obviously missed the class about idiocyncracies and regional dialects. Now my Dad was big of heart but small of stature, with glasses, but in his despair, Man Mountain  wasn’t considering the moral dilemma of taking an unfair fight to the enemy. After all, Dad started it – or so he thought, until Mum managed to explain. Unfortunately, she didn’t do it quickly enough to prevent MM from grabbing Dad’s 7 and a half stone, 105 lbs, or  48 kilos by the shoulders and shaking him like a rat. He even stretched his string vest, and it was new from Marks and Spencers, specially for the holiday.

Once the German realised he’d made a second mistake – the first being supporting the losing side – he was all concern and politeness, and thankfully a bit less suicidal. However, the experience had put both Mum and Dad off football for life, so they retired to a darkened room

This photo was taken at Blackpool, 9 years before Dad’s less than happy experience on the beach at Lloret de Mar in 1966.

to recover, only emerging to eat before heading back to their newfound sanctuary. I took the unexpected opportunity to party with my new friends and become better acquainted with Bacardi. It took Harry, Madge, and a couple of Germans to get me safely to my room at well past Cinderella time. My brother was asleep, so he couldn’t grass on me, and I congratulated myself on getting away with not only watching the match, but augmenting my holiday funds and being DWP. That’s nothing to do with government departments, it’s Drunk Without Permission – a very rare occurence in my family at the time.

What could go wrong? Well, Mum dragging me out of bed at 7.00 am to go for ‘A nice long walk on the beach before breakfast. After all, you had an early night like us, didn’t you, and you need some fresh air after being cooped up watching the football.’ I didn’t disagree, because that would have meant admitting to my transgressions, and Mum getting Harry to spill the beans about any I might leave out, not to say the barman and the rest of the spectators. So I staggered out of bed, showered and put my sunglasses on to hide my bleary, bloodshot eyes. Mums know it all, don’t they? Instead of telling me off, she let me learn my own lesson. I’ve never drunk such a mixture since that day 52 years ago, although my goal average has gone up considerably, as I can tolerate al lot more alcohol these days.

The similarities mount up for me, as they do for the team. In 20i8, I am in Spain for some of the tournament, but not all, just as I was in 1966. I’ll see the quarter final today, but again I’ll be travelling if England make it through to Wednesday’s semi final. Mum and Dad are long gone, but I’m the only one of my close family and friends who believe sincerely that England can win the World Cup again. I’ll be watching them – just as I was all those years ago, but in England rather than here in Spain. Right – time to get my red, white and blue dress and sandals on and head for Jilly’s Come on England!

Oh to be in England, now that June is here!

Okay, I know the line in the poem says ‘April,’ but I wasn’t here then, so it has to be June. Normally, we head for the UK for our summer visit in late July, but a combination of circumstances means that this year, we’re a couple of months early. And after the lovely experiences of the last couple of weeks, I think it may be a permanent change of plan from now on.

We choose July and August as our UK months mainly to escape the heat of high summer in Spain, but the weather is usually better in England in June, and the holiday crowds haven’t yet arrived. It’s lovely to be based in Devon, near enough to the River Tamar to explore Cornwall as well, but it can all get a bit lively during the school holidays.

One of the things I miss most about England is the rolling green fields, and the seemingly infinite variety of greens on display. However, I don’t miss the wet stuff that makes the green of the grass and the leaves on the trees so vivid. Another thing I miss is being able to sit outside for hours without having to worry about getting sunburned and dehydrated. And of course, Paddy finds it difficult to cope with the heat, even though he’s a Spanish dog. He loves to run free, but after about 15 minutes in the sun, he’s had enough. Although the weather here in Plymouth is lovely and warm, it’s still about 8 – 10 degrees cooler than it is in Spain right now, so Glenys suggested we take the dogs over to Mount Edgecumbe to let them have a good run on the grass and on the beach, while we soaked up the rays and watched the world go by.

The estate dates back to Tudor times, when Piers Edgecumbe married Joan Durnford and together they built Edgecumbe House. In more recent times, Mount Edgecumbe’s Barn Pool Beach was used as an embarkation point for American troops taking part in the D-Day Landings of 1944. They left for Omaha Beach, after being stationed on the estate while preparations were made for Operation Overlord.

The grounds are open to the public all year round, at no charge. You can stroll through the formal gardens and parkland, or head along the coast path, enjoy the scenery, and watch boats of different sizes navigating their way around Drake’s Island, or heading out to Plymouth Breakwater. On a clear day, you can see Smeaton’s Tower on the Hoe, and there are endless photo opportunities, both on land and on the water.

Another advantage of England over Spain is that dogs are allowed on some beaches all year round, and Paddy made lots of new four-legged friends on the small rocky cove  that was our base for the afternoon. There were also plenty of trees to sniff at and raise a leg against, so he was in Doggy Heaven, and so was Gizmo, although he’s nowhere near as adventurous as Paddy.

Rather than drive there, we decided to take the Cremyll Ferry from Durnford Street. That was a new experience for Paddy, whose only previous experience of sailing is on the Brittany Ferries Santander or Roscoff-Plymouth route. Gizmo refused to walk up the 3 metal steps to board the boat, but Paddy made up for it by leaping over him, dragging me along. The crew man came to my rescue, taking Paddy from me and helping me up the steps before I took an early bath.

We then had a lively game of ‘Jump on the seat, jump off the seat,’ which ended suddenly when another dog got on the ferry. We thought we’d been clever, hanging back until the other dogs were safely seated at the rear of the boat, while we sat at the front with Paddy and Gizmo. However, we hadn’t accounted for latecomers, and it took Glenys and I all our strength to hold onto Paddy, who was convinced it was his boat, and he and Gizmo should be the only dogs allowed on board. They were both very vocal about it too, but thankfully, once we got moving they settled down and enjoyed the journey with us.

Spain may be my home now, but when the weather is good, and June is just perfect, England is unbeatable for colour, scenery and history. I consider myself very privileged to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. Life is there to be enjoyed, wherever you happen to be.

Mackerel my way!

One of the many things I’ve missed about Spain in our two months over here is the availability of fresh fish at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage. We’ve picked up the occasional ‘yellow sticker’ bargain, but nothing beats the taste of really fresh fish, so when our neighbour Rob went off in his boat and came back with so many mackerel he did a tour of our caravan park with them, I was absolutely delighted. He’d even done the mucky bit for me, so he’s my new super hero.

There are many ways of cooking mackerel, but most of them leave me with indigestion, which is why I never order it in restaurants. I’m not a fan of smoked fish either, so I’m rather difficult to please when it comes to mackerel.  However, I have a tried and tested method which I first came across 35 years ago, while on holiday in a hotel in Perranporth, Cornwall. The owners organised a fishing trip for interested guests, and since mackerel are so keen on being caught they practically throw themselves at you, there was enough for everyone to have an impromptu late supper in the bar, to soak up some of the cider we’d been drinking all night.  I explained to the hotel owner that I couldn’t eat it as it gave me indigestion, and she said she’d been cooking it her way for about 20 years, and never had one complaint of digestive discomfort, so I said I’d give it a go.

‘Her way’ was indeed the best way for me to eat mackerel – and I’ve enjoyed it cooked like this many times since then. A few of our friends here on the caravan park have never heard of cooking mackerel this way, so I thought maybe I should share the recipe with my readers. As an oily fish, mackerel is a great source of Omega-3, so it’s good for your heart and your general health. And it’s cheap, whether you buy it here in England, or in Spain, where it’s called ‘caballa.’ If you like fishing like our friend Rob, it’s absolutely free. Here’s how to cook mackerel my way:

  • Gut and clean the fish, and remove the heads and tails, then slit them open, and place in a large oven proof dish. Allow 1 – 2 fish per person, according to size and appetite.  There’s no need to remove the backbone, as it will lift out easily, along with the smaller bones, when the fish is cooked.
  • Season the fish with freshly ground black pepper, add a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, and enough milk to just cover the fish. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skimmed, semi-skimmed or full fat milk, as it will be discarded when the fish is served. The cooking liquid serves to draw out the excess oil from the fish, leaving it moist and full of flavour.
  • Cover the dish with foil, and cook in a hot oven for around 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish and the efficiency of the oven. One advantage of cooking it this way is that it’s almost impossible to overcook it.
  • If you don’t have an oven, you can do this in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan on the hob or a camping stove, if you’re on the move. Remember to cover with a lid or foil to prevent the cooking liquid from being absorbed by the fish.
  • To serve, lift the fish carefully from the cooking liquid and garnish with fresh parsley. You really don’t need a sauce with it, as it is lovely and moist. We served ours with buttered new potatoes and fresh garden peas, but it’s good with a salad as well.

Mackerel my way makes a quick, healthy lunch or supper which is low in fat and easy to digest. And if you hate waste, you can use the cooking liquid as the base for a fish soup or the sauce for a fish pie. Try it, and let me know how you get on. Buen provecho!

First impressions of Portugal

Well, we finally made it – after 3 years and 5 attempts to get here, we’re now in Portugal until 3rd April. So, was it worth the wait? Definitely, if only for the sheer friendliness of the Portuguese people. I’ve always thought nobody could be more hospitable and laid back than the Spanish, but not for the first time, I’m being proved wrong. Whether you’re in a restaurant, a shop or hiring a car, absolutely nothing is too much trouble. It’s as if they see it as their mission in life to make your day better.

Another thing we love is the apparent lack of bureaucracy. When we went to pick up a hire car so we could explore some more without moving the motor homes, it took around 5 minutes to sort the paperwork – and another 30 to tell us the best places to visit, the best local restaurants, and to ask about our life in Spain. There seems to be a rivalry between Spain and Portugal that’s similar to that between Devon and Cornwall. The guy at Luzcar.com informed us that, while Spain had Portugal beat on tapas, Portuguese food was much better, and the Portuguese spoke better English because they wanted to make tourists more welcome.

We came out of the car hire office smiling – and not just because we’d got a Ford Fiesta for two weeks for €240 including all the insurance so we wouldn’t have to pay any excess. Car hire companies in England give you a good price to start with, but by the time all the insurances are applied, you’re paying twice what you thought you were, and the paperwork seems to take forever. As our lovely guy said to us, ‘We trust you to look after our cars like your own.’ It’s a great attitude.

Prices in general seem to be higher than in Spain, although meat is very reasonable. I got a kilo of stewing pork for the slow cooker for €2. However, cava is about twice the price it is in Spain, so I’ve switched to Portuguese espumante, which is slightly sweeter, but very quaffable. In the bars, prices vary wildly. Two rounds of drinks in our nearest village of Espiche cost less than one round in Lagos, while food and drinks on our camp site – where they have a captive audience – are very reasonable.

Another thing we’ve noticed about the Algarve is that it’s very green, and looks a lot like England. That, of course, is down to the rain. They get a lot of it in the winter and early spring. A few days ago, we noticed that our motor home seemed to be leaning to one side. Lots of vinho branco (white wine) had been partaken of, so we did wonder if it was just an illusion, but next morning, the state of play was the same. On investigation, the wheels on the right hand side of the moho were indeed sinking into the chalky soil, where pipe work had recently been completed. There had been so much rain, everything was sinking – including our beloved Trigano Tribute, with us in it! Luckily there was a spare pitch on the other side of June and Larry, so everything is fine again now.

The Algarve is very windy too, and that doesn’t sit well with Tony. I swear he must have been a shipwrecked sailor in a previous existence, because he gets very twitchy when the wind is blowing and it doesn’t originate from my chick pea and potato stew. The first week or so was very changeable – and cold at times – but it’s settled down over the weekend.

So far we’ve visited Lagos a couple of times, Silves, which at one time was the capital of the Algarve, and Praia de Luz. Each place has its own brand of beauty, and I love how the Portuguese decorate their houses with tiles or brightly coloured paint. They seem to take more pride in their properties than the Spanish do. We’ll be exploring a lot more over the next couple of weeks.

After 10 days here, we’re enjoying the food, the company and the surroundings. However, I don’t think I’d want to live here – I love Algorfa, and it’s home now. It’s great to be exploring new ground in the company of friends though, and I’m picking up a bit of the lingo as I go. Life is good!

One day in my life – 21 November

My Dad, in the summer of 1968, a few months before he died

My Dad, in the summer of 1968, a few months before he died

Today – 21 November – resonates with me for two reasons. First of all, it’s the anniversary of the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974. If you don’t remember them, there’s a powerful run down of the day’s events here. Tragic as that was – 21 people lost their lives and another 182 were injured – 21 November 1968 was even worse for me. It was the day my father died, suddenly and cruelly at the age of just 49.

If you love your parents and then you lose them, it’s devastating, but for me, aged 16, it was doubly devastating. My father had led a charmed life in some ways. When war broke out in 1939, he volunteered for service, but he was so short sighted he was turned down, at the age of just 20. Less than two years later, however, he was pulled in, and promptly captured on Crete in 1941. For him, the war was over – but it wasn’t really.

Although Dad was treated much better than the Japanese prisoners of war, he came back with health problems, and in 1955, it almost cost him his life. He had to have two-thirds of his stomach removed, because it was so badly ulcerated, and he reacted badly to the surgery. He wasn’t expected to last the night, so I was taken to the Manor Hospital in Walsall, and held up to the window to see Dad for what was supposed to be the last time. In those days, children weren’t allowed on hospital wards, even when their parents were dying.

Clearly, Dad made it, and for the next few years, everything was fine. I was his little princess, even after my brother was born in 1956, and I revelled in it. Come 1967, their business was doing so well, Dad decided to treat himself to a brand new Ford Corsair. The business was doing well, but not so well that he could flash the cash. He needed to buy on hire purchase, as it was called then, and the government had recently brought in a law that if you wanted to borrow more than a certain amount, you had to have a medical. That law saved his life, because it turned out he had tuberculosis, and he would have died within months. He also had scarring on his lungs, which suggested he’d recovered from tuberculosis about 25 years before. Like I said, for him, the war was never over.

He spent six months in a sanatorium, and then another year convalescent. That time was precious to me, because Dad had time to spend with me. He always did, but when he was working in the business, that time was limited. While he was convalescent – even though I left school and took his place in the business – we spent a lot of time together.

Too much, as far as Mum was concerned. On Christmas Day 1967, Mum was doing dinner for Dad’s three brothers and his sister, and their families. As usual, all the men went to the pub, while the women cooked the dinner and the cousins played with their new toys. The men were under instructions to be home by 1.30 pm, and when there was no sign of them by 2.00 pm, Mum sent me to get them. I knew Dad had had enough – the fact that he was up on a table singing The Lonely Goatherd from his favourite musical, The Sound Of Music and yodelling like a good ‘un gave me the clue. When he shouted ‘Get my lovely daughter a Babycham,’ it was case proven. I was only 15, and too young to be drinking in licensed premises. Three Babychams later, my aunt came and dragged us all back for lunch. At the time, I didn’t know that would be our last family Christmas.

A couple of months later, I came down with a kidney infection, and it was Dad who looked after me while Mum kept the business going. He wasn’t really domesticated, but he could warm up a tin of tomato soup, make a cup of tea and mix up a glass of Robinson’s Barley Water, and that’s all I needed at the time, so he was my hero.

A few months later, he defended me when my Gran said my mini skirt was indecent. He thought so too, but he wasn’t going to let his mother call his darling daughter indecent, so he said I looked lovely in it. I must have, too, because I snagged myself a rather nice boyfriend that night, and lined up a reserve.

On 20 November 1968, he went for a check up with his specialist. He got a thorough going over and was pronounced

Me and my brother with Dad, Blackpool 1957

Me and my brother with Dad, Blackpool 1957

almost fit to return to the family business. So that night, he felt justified in going out with our friends and neighbours to celebrate. When he woke up with a blinding headache next day, we put it down to a hangover. Mum went to get him tea and aspirins, but it was already too late. Dad was in the grip of a brain haemhorrage, and before the kettle had boiled, he was dead. He was 49 years and 9 months old, and he’d been given a clean bill of health less than 24 hours ago. That only served to double the shock effect.

I don’t do regrets, but I am sorry my Dad never saw me get married and give birth to his grandchildren. I’m not sorry he wasn’t there when my marriage collapsed, or when my health took a nose dive when I was in my early forties, but I’d have loved it if he’d have been there to see me graduate with a First in English and History at the age of 49 – the same age he was when he died – and then make a new career as a writer after moving to Spain in 2008. I feel cheated of my time with him, and while I’m not religious, I do hope that wherever he is now, he knows that his little girl turned out okay. Here’s to you Dad – you’re still loved, and still missed.

Remembering Aberfan: 21 October, 1966

12009695_812237998896884_4830545989212923271_nTaking my customary morning stroll through Facebook today, I noticed that it’s the 49th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. If you don’t know what it was all about, you can get the details here. In the UK, everyone seems to remember what they were doing and where they were when the news of the disaster broke. It’s something that still raises deep emotions today, 49 years on, just as everyone remembers where they were when JFK was assassinated in Dallas.

Lots of people are sharing their memories of the day on Facebook and elsewhere, and it’s also vivid in my memory bank, because on the day of the disaster, I was travelling back from an outdoor pursuits trip to Capel Curig Youth Hostel, Bews-y-Coed, in North Wales. I was 14, and I’d had a great time with my friends from Wolverhampton Girls’ High School. Two highlights of the trip stick with me after all these years, and we were giggling about them as we made our way back to the school.

My mother was a fantastic knitter, and she’d made me a new sweater for the trip. It was in my favourite colour, red – which is still my favourite, by the way – and it had flecks of beige and black in it. Mum said to wear it in the evenings, not when we were off doing stuff in Snowdonia, because it always rained in Wales, and she didn’t want me to get my new sweater wet, as it would probably stretch. Being a teenager with a new sweater who knew better than my mother, I wore it on the first morning. Of course, it got soaking wet, and so did I. Welsh rain penetrates everything – even supposedly waterproof coats.

It was still raining when we got back, and there was no way the sweater was going to get dried outside, so a friend suggested I hang it on a coat hanger on the back of the door, and with luck, it would dry out before we went home. Of course, being 14 year olds, we knew it all. What we didn’t know was that if you want to dry a woollen garment naturally, first you wrap it in a towel to remove excess moisture, then you dry it flat to retain the original shape. Epic fail on both counts then. However, we learned the error of our ways in the middle of the night, when a piercing scream woke us from our slumbers. Naturally, we wanted to know what was the cause of it, and the owner of the scream soon let us know. ‘Sandra’s sweater’s haunted, and it’s coming to get us!’

Those 14 year olds who believed in ghosts – including Yours Truly – buried our heads under the blankets, but a couple of brave souls ventured out of their bunks to investigate. It did indeed appear that my sweater was haunted, because in the light of the moon, the sleeves were moving. However, no spirit was responsible. The good old Welsh rain, combined with the weight of the wool in the sweater, was stretching both the arms and the hem of said sweater before our very eyes. I did manage to get the sweater dry, and I went home in it. With a belt round the waist and the sleeves turned back, it made a fashionable mini dress. Sometimes being short has its advantages!

The second memory didn’t have such a happy ending. We’d camped out overnight, and cooked our own supper over the camp fire. It was corned beef hash, made with beans, Smash instant mashed potato and tinned corned beef. As this culinary delight cooked to perfection,  crane flies came from miles around to check on progress. Lots of them landed in it, and we were pulling them out as fast as we could, usually leaving a leg or two behind. Most of us went without supper, because we couldn’t bear the thought of eating Daddy Long Legs along with the corned beef hash.

Things could only get worse, and they did when we asked where the toilets were. Apparently, they were all around us! These days, when Nature calls I answer the call wherever and whenever, but my 14 year old bladder was much more robust than the 63 year old version, so I announced that I’d wait until I could go to a proper toilet, thank you very much. About half of the girls agreed with me,  and we  cast supercilious sneers in the direction of the squatters.

17 hours later, Nature’s call had upgraded to an insistent shout, and we were still around two hours from base camp. When we came across an enormous rock – about 3 feet high and a couple of feet wide – it seemed like the ideal place to unload our excess baggage. There were 7 stalwarts who needed to ‘go,’ and although the hillside was deserted but for our happy band of hikers, we decided that the remaining 6 would look out for approaching people while everyone did what they had to do. Being of a democratic persuasion, we drew lots for the sitting order.

Not for the first time, Yours Truly was last in the queue. The other girls managed to download without incident, and I was just settling in nicely for what was going to be a protracted performance when I felt a cold draught around my nether regions. Looking around to see the source of the wind – because it certainly wasn’t me – I was horrified to see a helicopter coming in to land on the hillside. It was on the wrong side of the rock, so the two occupants had a grandstand view of me with my navy school knickers around my ankles in mid stream. 49 years on, that’s still my most embarrassing memory – and there has been plenty of competition, I can tell you!

So, as we made our way back to the Midlands, we knew nothing of the terrible disaster that had claimed 144 lives in Aberfan. My first inkling was when we got off the coach outside the school and my Mum – who was not the most demonstrative of people – threw her arms around me, hugged me fit to break my ribs and burst into tears. News reports were slow coming through, and all she – and the other parents – had heard was that there had been an accident in Wales in which a number of schoolchildren had lost their lives. So, we all got an extra special hug when we got home, because it reminded everyone – parents and children alike – of how precious life is, and how easily it can be snatched away.

There was a little bit of light relief when we got home. My Gran – who had been glued to the TV while Mum and Dad were collecting me – updated us with the latest news. ‘It’s terrible – there’s been a subsidy in Aberfan, and lots of children have been killed.’ Gran always had trouble with her words, and this 14 year old fledgling writer couldn’t resist pointing out that it was a landslip that had killed the children, not a government grant. I got a well deserved telling off for my trouble, but as it turned out, Gran’s statement  was unintentionally ironic, given that the people of Aberfan were forced to donate £150,000 from the relief fund towards making the remaining coal tips safe. It would be almost 30 years before that money was repaid.

Today, along with millions of other people, I am thinking back to that October day in 1966, when so many people lost their lives, and so many others felt for them and gave their own children an extra special hug.

Photo Credit: The History of Wales

The Seiner’s Arms, Perranporth, Cornwall – A great place for a celebration!

One of the main reasons for our UK trip at this particular time of year was to attend our grandson’s wedding at the Seiner’s Arms, Perranporth, North Cornwall. Although I know Perranporth well from holidays when the kids were small – I well remember one year when the lovely cool beach breeze fooled me into thinking the sun wasn’t too hot and I ended up looking like a lobster – I’d never heard of the Seiner’s Arms. Still, the family had checked it out thoroughly, and they’re a discerning lot, so we knew we were in for a great weekend.

All we needed was the weather – and we got it! Most of the family arrived on the Friday, so we could relax ahead of the big day, We were delighted to have rooms that looked individual, homely and welcoming, with ornaments and stuff, just like you’d have at home, rather than clones of the rest of the rooms.And for an extra £5, we had a sea view too.

Even better, there was a real key for the door, instead of a plastic card that has to be inserted with precision for exactly the right number of nanoseconds if you ever want to get to your bed or get ready to go out.It’s also that rare species – a pet friendly hotel. Dogs are welcome in the rooms and in the bars and on the terraces, and Perranporth Beach allows dogs all year round, so it’s a great place to take your pooch.

There were lovely touches that showed the staff had considered their guests – like plenty of teabags and coffee, along with a notice saying if you needed more, or if you wanted fresh milk, just ask a member of staff. In some hotels I’ve stayed in, you’re made to feel like Oliver Twist if you have the temerity to ask for an extra teabag, and fresh milk is restricted to the breakfast table. Also, in a nod to technology, there was an extension lead with several extra sockets for phones, Ipads, satnavs, curling tongs, straighteners – whatever you had, you could plug it in without swapping plugs over.

The free wifi was accessible in every room, without the hassle of getting a password, so you could update your Facebook – or in my case, finish off a couple of articles for deadlines – in the privacy of your room. If you needed anything extra – like an iron for instance – it appeared within five minutes of asking. The housekeeping staff were friendly, efficient and obliging – as they should be, but very often are not.

We didn’t take Paddy, purely because we were thinking of Saturday, when he wouldn’t have been allowed in the function  room, and would have had to spend several hours alone in the room. Still, Uncle Larry and Aunty June had come over to the caravan to look after him – and spoil him even more than I do – so he had a great weekend too.

Seiner’s – as it’s known locally – is literally right on the beach. One terrace runs alongside the sea wall, and the larger, higher terrace – which is closed off for exclusive use for functions – has steps down to the beach. This terrace was great for mingling, and for getting fantastic photos of sand, sea and sunsets. It really is a perfect place, in a perfect place.

However, any venue is only as good as the service it delivers, and again, Seiner’s ticks all the boxes. The hospitality staff were efficient yet friendly and approachable. If anything did go wrong, nobody knew about it – the whole thing seemed to run like clockwork. We were shepherded where we needed to be, when we needed to be there, gently but efficiently. I’ve been to a few weddings where the staff seem to forget we’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves and get a bit bossy when keeping it all on schedule, but that certainly didn’t happen at Seiner’s.

The food was excellent – piping hot, and plenty of it. Roast beef with all the trimmings, special meals for the kids and a vegetarian option. I liked that the children were served first, so they could get on with their dinner then get back to playing – kids aren’t really impressed by weddings, and the staff seemed to realise that.

The thing that impressed me most about the food though was the wedding cake -it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Forget 3-tier fruit cake, this was a scone cake, and it looked fabulous. Lighter than fruit cake too after a big meal. In the evening, there was a pig roast with salads – great food, with off-the-wall touches to make it all an individual experience. I’ve been to weddings where the food was more lavish, but never to one where it was so plentiful and well presented.

Talking of food, the breakfasts at Seiner’s are also excellent. Bring an empty stomach with you, because you’ll need it! Help yourself to fruit juice, tea, coffee, cereals, fruit and yogurt, as you wait for the waitress to take your order for cooked breakfasts ranging from beans on toast to full English. That’s another plus – the hot breakfasts are freshly cooked, rather than sitting around swimming in their own grease while you decide what to eat.

With all this attention to detail, great food and excellent service, to say nothing of its beach side situation, you’d think rooms at Seiner’s would be expensive, but you’d think wrong. A double or twin en suite room costs just £80 per night including breakfast – £85 with a sea view. And there’s a small discount on rooms for people attending functions. Other beach side hotels in Perranporth charge £100 or more per night, and they are not situated so favourably as Seiner’s.

If you’re hosting a wedding or other celebration, or if you just want a beach break that doesn’t break the bank, why not try the Seiner’s Arms? I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. See you there soon!

 

My Food World Tour of restaurants in England!

As I write this, I’m back at home in Spain. I’ve had a great two weeks in England – catching up with friends and family is always good, and I haven’t cooked a meal or done anything much except relax, enjoy myself and drink plenty of cava and vdka. Some things stay the same wherever you are.

I’ve done quite a bit of eating out too, and what I’ve noticed is that we’ve done a sort of ‘Food World Tour’ of restaurants in England – or at least in Plymouth, Telford and Wolverhampton. It started off with Glenys’ recommendation of Leandra in Frankfort Gate, Plymouth. It’s a Greek restaurant, and as I’d never been in a Greek restaurant before, I was keen to try the best they had to offer. I saw one of my favourites – stifado – on the menu, but as I often cook this at home, I asked the waiter for a recommendation. He suggested the tuna, red onion and sweetcorn salad dressed with balsamic vinegar, followed by lamb souvla. For the uninitiated, that’s lamb marinated in herbs, then cooked over charcoal and served with rice and a salad. They must have thought I looked as if I needed feeding up, because I swear there was half a sheep on my plate. And yes, it was amazing, and so tender.

A few days later, we met up with fellow motor caravan enthusiasts Larry and June for a meal at the Hunting Lodge, at Cadleigh, near Ivybridge. That was more traditional English food, but I opted for cauliflower cheese and bacon for a new twist on an old favourite. To remind myself of the Mediterranean, I had it with garlic bread.

Next, it was out for a meal with my daughter Elizabeth, and she recommended we try Thai in the Park, an authentic Thai restaurant down by the new cinema on Commercial Road, Plymouth.  Again, I’m a virgin – at least when it comes to Thai restaurants – so once again, I asked the waitress for a recommend. I love fish, so she recommended the green fish curry, and once again, it hit the spot. I don’t know how they did it,  but that fish was the best I’ve tasted in years, and the flavour of the fish came through the curry spices too. I also discovered I prefer Thai prawn crackers to Chinese – more flavour and texture, with just a hint of spiciness.

And we rounded the evening off with a drink in The Thistle downstairs. One of the few things I miss about England is the authentic pubs, and there are still quite a few of them in Plymouth, so good news for me, and we got chatting to some very nice people too.

A couple of days later, and the travelling granny moved up to Telford, where my son and his wife took me to the Tin Tin Cantonese restaurant in Donnington. It’s an all you can eat buffet with a difference – you order as many starters and main courses as you want, and it’s all freshly cooked and brought to the table. There’s no limit on what you can order, but if your eyes are bigger than your belly and you leave a load of food on the plates, you will get hit with a surcharge, which is fair enough.

On my daughter-in-law’s recommendation, I tried the crab and sweetcorn soup – excellent, thanks Debbie – then got all adventurous and ordered pork yuk sung. That’s seasoned minced pork, carrots and and onions, wrapped in an iceberg lettuce leaf. After that lot, I didn’t think I could face much else, so I had Cantonese king prawns, and mussels cooked with ginger and spring onions, with just a little bit of fried rice to help it down. A gut-busting meal at a very reasonable price – what’s not to love?

Fasty forward a few days and the next stop on the Food World Tour is Cafe Champagne, an Indian restaurant in Monmore Green, Wolverhampton. My friends Helen and Len have been using Cafe Champagne for centuries, so they always get the regal treatment, and so does anybody who is fortunate enough to get taken along. Abandoning my usual default setting of biryani, I was coaxed into trying the Cafe Champagne special mixed curry. Needless to say, it was fabulous, and on certain nights of the week, you get a free starter and dessert with any main course, so it’s not too heavy on the pocket either. Not sure of the exact nights, but it was certainly operational when we went there on a Monday night.

Back in Plymouth, it’s another of my daughter Elizabeth’s recommendations. Fortune Court is in Tin Lane on the Barbican, and again, it’s a Chinese all you can eat, with the food served to the table. I’d say it was a notch above Tin Tin in terms of presentation and ambience, but again, it was excellent food, in large servings. More king prawns for me, this time in a multi-flavoured sauce. And crab claws, beautifully cooked, plus crispy shredded beef.

Another wonderful meal, and we rounded it off with drinks in the Swallow. And dancing – or at least, Elizabeth and I were dancing with one of her ambulance driver colleagues. That was another first for me – and for Glenys – because the Swallow is a gay pub, and neither of us have ever been in one before. After the great welcome we had though, we’ll be heading there again next time I’m in Plymouth.

On the last day of the trip, we met up with Larry and June again for lunch in The View Pan Asia restaurant on Royal Parade in Plymouth. It’s buffet service, and they serve a selection of Chinese, Thai and Indian food. After two Chinese meals in a week, I opted for the Indian beef curry after a king prawn and deep fried vegetables starter. I also managed to find room for dessert, but wished I hadn’t for the rest of the day.

So, there’s my Food World Tour. Pity I didn’t have time to fit in an Italian restaurant but hey, you can’t have everything. All the meals were exellent, and the staff were very friendly, and while it wasn’t as cheap as eating out in Spain, it wasn’t what you’d call expensive either. And the best news of all from my point of view is that, despite all those huge meals, I only gained one pound in weight as a result of my Food World  Tour. Can’t complain at that!

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