Archive for Nov, 2018

Costa Christmas can be draining!

Posted in Uncategorized on Nov 23, 2018 by David Palmer

It seems to me that Christmas is getting earlier each year. Decorations, music, advertisements and films etc. etc. etc. concerning the 25th have no place in September, October, November or dare I say even before the 20th of December! AND as soon as THE day is over, we are sure to be reminded that there are only 364 shopping days left until Xmas!!!!! I do look forward to this magic day, and it might be an age thing, but when it does eventually arrive it feels as if I have just  been running two marathons, back to back……… exhausted and not able to raise a smile let alone a mince-pie (which I don’t like). So, if I don’t manage to purchase any cards or presents for my loved ones this year I do hope that they will understand that I don’t care for them any-the-less, it’s just that I have succumbed to fatigue and in need of some sort of therapy (and it’s not retail).  HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

One Saturday morning we had a visit from our neighbours, they enquired as to whether we had been having trouble with our drains. Their toilets were filling up and wouldn’t drain away, that can be very tricky. They wanted to look into the drain beside our kitchen to see if it was blocked. We had been having the odd gurgling noise from the bath plughole in the downstairs bathroom, but it wasn’t concerning so it was with reluctance I raised the cover to the drain. It WAS blocked, and full of our neighbours attempted flushings of that week. They had bought some rods that morning to use on the drain outside their house but they had failed to free the blockage. They were now inserted into our drain but failed to impress whatever was causing the problem, fetching my own set of rods they were attached to those already in use and despite the extended length the brown liquid sludge stubbornly refused to budge. Remembering that I had another drain up the drive under a large Blue Spruce, we (with difficulty) lifted the cover. That was also full to the brim with the offending secretion. When the rods were lowered, I was surprised at the depth of the manhole. It was just over two metres deep! With some judicious poking with the rods the blockage was eventually dislodged and thankfully everything quickly flushed away with a gurgle to only god knows where. And he is welcome to it. The smell on my hands stayed with me for several days, no matter how many times I washed them.

On the 15th Nov. Jamie and I travelled to Fuengirola on the Costa Del Sol. Jamie had spent the previous three days in London on BD business and didn’t arrive back into Harborough until  late on the 14th. We flew from Birmingham with Jet2 on a mid morning flight to Malaga, the 2.5 hour journey meant we arrived at 2pm. We took the train from the airport to Fuengirola. A fast, clean and efficient method of transport that shames the extortionate and stumbling British Rail system. The route is the same length as that from Harborough to Leicester, but a much more pleasurable ride and at 2.70 Euros compared to the crowded £10+ Midland Mainline version there is no comparison.

It was a 15 minute walk to our centrally located Hotel, the Itaca. A comfortable hotel just a few minutes from the beach and its long, long ribbon of bars, hotels and restaurants  stretching without a break along the southern Spanish coast. After checking in and approving our top floor, sea view room we changed into shorts and T-shirts and hit the first beach bar that we came across, We had the first and last authentic local meal in Fuengirola of our stay. I opted for a plate of anchovies and Jamie a dish of local prawns, mashed potatoes with coleslaw and tomatoes. Very acceptable fayre, but unfortunately our choice of bar for the rest of our stay in Fuengirola ensured that local cuisine was definitely not on the menu. It is well-known that the Brits have taken over the Costa Del Sol and exported their taste in grub ‘to boot’, bars and restaurants run by expats are predominant.

We walked down the strip to the little harbour crammed with low and mid range yachts, nestled up against a few, much larger trawlers that were either being repaired or disgorged of their catch. Conspicuous as ‘non-locals’ with our sunny gear on amongst the ‘wrapped up’ Spanish and naturalised Brits we returned to our hotel after first choosing a sports bar aptly called ‘The London Pub’ as the venue for our evening meal and entertainment: the England v USA match with the added interest of Wayne Rooney making an appearance.

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As planned, and taking into account the time difference we were  sat in front of the bar’s large screen at 9pm, with two curries and a pint each of Spanish lager to wash down UK’s national dish. The game did not disappoint, 3:0 to the good guys and though Rooney had only a late cameo role, he displayed the skills that made him England’s record goal scorer. The bar was well populated by fellow countrymen, however there was a distinct lack of locals, they were possibly wringing their hands in darkened rooms after Spain lost to Croatia 3:2 earlier in the evening (we watched it in our hotel room).

Breakfast was substantial and of course suited the English taste buds. We caught the train into Malaga Central, a 45 minute journey and cost 14 Euros for two return tickets!

We ambled downhill through the bustling streets of this small city towards the harbour checking out the many statues and festive displays on route. Christmas comes early here too. As we find in many of the countries we have visited in the past, the local population are very law-abiding when it comes to pedestrians. Look across a road and the cars will stop. At pedestrian crossings, if the  green man is not flashing, locals will not cross, not even if there are no vehicles visible from horizon to horizon. Why did Jamie and I feel so guilty each time we exercised a bit of judgement and marched across junctions, leaving a crowd of obedient Spaniards behind, no doubt tutting the foreigners.

The harbour had some esteemed visitors that day. The Costa Pacifica was in port, and had discharged its cruisers into the city, some of whom we were to come across in the castle, high above the city. But more impressive was the Octopus, the £220 million  super yacht with a permanent crew of 60 and once belonged to Microsoft co-owner Paul Allen, it now belongs to his sister Jodie. Jamie was particularly inspired by the sight and size of the vessel and vowed to have one just like it. I preferred the Costa Pacifica.

The climb up to Malaga castle was strenuous but worth it. Seven Euros entrance for the both of us certainly was more cost-effective than Windsor Castle, but then I guess we are not paying for part-time Royal residents here. Great views of the city and port and lots of battlements to scramble around on. A must for any visitor to Malaga.

On our return to the city, we briefly visited the outside of the city’s enormous cathedral before taking lunch in the sun at a pretty restaurant in the centre. It was fun watching one particular waiter trying to attract would-be diners with a variety of patter and dances. He had some success and obviously enjoyed what he was doing, I don’t think he minded at all when they walked on, he would get them next time. I guess it is the thrill of the chase rather than the kill that mattered.

With appetite satisfied and the afternoon moving to its conclusion we retraced our steps back to the Itaca.

That evening we again chose ‘The London Pub’ (when in Rome etc. etc.) and watched the Welsh lose to Denmark, despite Gareth Bales best efforts his fellow team mates were not up to the same standard of the opposition. Jamie opted for spare ribs washed down with Sangria, and I chose the more exotic steak and kidney pie, with chips and peas, washed down with Guinness.

After a late awakening and another substantial breakfast we headed towards the castle that we had seen from our balcony, lit up in the distance before we retired  the previous night. It didn’t take us long to find ourselves on the opposite bank of the little river running into the sea next to the small but imposing fortification. An information board gave us the name Castle of Sohail. We crossed via a contrasting modern suspension bridge before climbing up the usual winding and cobbled track through the entrance and into a large courtyard with the only evidence of internal structures being up against the walls and in poor repair. There was a small information office set into the wall by the entrance, it had a few artefacts and leaflets and entry to the castle was free. We climbed the walls, photographing the vista as we circumnavigated from tower to tower, inside one of which we squeezed our way up to the very top via a narrow, claustrophobic staircase. It reminded me of my pot-holing days.

Returning to the bridge we stopped awhile watching a group of canoeists play ‘pass the ball’ with great skill. As we headed back down the coast, the sun decide to hide behind ever darkening clouds. Passing by the haunts of the previous night we continued on past the harbour and on towards Torremolinos. Striding on with determination we reached the hill housing atop a large black bull statue and derelict windmill that marks the location of this resort made famous in song and for drunken tourists  (in the 80’s). As we climbed a quite treacherous local path up to these iconic features it began to drizzle and then quite soon after, pour down. Hurrying down the slope to a group of trees we sheltered until the worst of the cloudburst had moved on. Arriving back at the beach we made our sodden way back towards Fuengirola. On the way, the sun came out and dried us out so that by the time we had reached ‘The London Bar’ we were feeling refreshed, ready to take on the world. Well, the Japanese at least! And that is what we did.

With great timing we had arrived in front of a large screen, just in time for the England v Japan rugger match. With proper English grub ordered and suitable refreshments in hand we spent the rest of the afternoon cheering on the lads to a well deserved (but tricky) win.

We returned to the hotel to change into long trousers in readiness for the evening’s entertainment. It may be November, but as Jamie found out on the first night that this is southern Spain and the mosquitoes are still out at night and just as keen to bite as they are in the hotter summer months. After ordering a 4am taxi from the front desk it was back to the our favourite bar on the beach and the Portugal v Italy match, more wholesome British fodder washed down with suitable beverages. Can’t remember what the score was, I wasn’t that interested in the match, but Jamie was keen and no doubt can.

We did indeed catch our 4am taxi back to Malaga airport. We would have preferred the much cheaper option of the train but as the first train of the morning was 6.10am and our flight left at 7.15am that was not a choice we could risk. However, Jamie informed that we were transported in a top of the range Mercedes (whatever that is) and it did make for a very comfortable journey.

The Ryanair flight did leave on time (why does Michael Kevin O’Leary have his planes fly at such ungodly hours?) and though I was expecting to watch a few episodes from Netflix on my mobile, I fell asleep and woke up on the descent into Birmingham. We were back in Harborough by midday and enjoying another wonderful British traditional meal, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with all the trimmings, cooked by a very English lass, my Sue (by gum, it doesn’t come better than that!)

On the 20th Nov. Sarah dropped Mia off before travelling on to work in Northampton. Mia spent the rest of the day with Peter and I, ambling through a very chilly south Leicestershire countryside before having our favourite lunch in Foxton. Sue went shopping with Charlotte during the morning and then went to her U3A History group in the afternoon. I arrived back home with Mia shortly before Sue returned and it wasn’t long after wards that Sarah made an appearance. She stayed for tea before accompanying Sue to Harborough theatre for a performance of ‘The Madness of King George 3rd’, Mia and I curled up in front of the log burner and watched ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’, on the TV. Mia found the programme quite boring and soon fell asleep and snored (loudly).

The 21st was another bitterly cold day, I couldn’t get warm at all on my morning bike ride, no matter how frantically I pedaled. We met Joan and Phil for lunch at the Sondes Arms in Rockingham. They had flown in from Italy at the weekend, it is their yearly visit to relatives and friends with an opportunity stock up with items that are difficult to obtain on the continent. The venue used to be a regular Tuesday haunt of ours before Charlotte slipped two discs last February and we have not eaten there since. The meal, and the company was excellent, both Joan and Phil looked well and appeared in good health, though they were quite concerned about my recent eye problem. We presented them with a bottle of my experimentation batch of red and pear wine to drink before they return to Italy at the weekend, fingers crossed on that one! They are concerned about their situation with Brexit and it was no surprise that we obviously shared the same opinions on politicians, there appears to be no difference between any of them in whatever country they purport to represent. As a solution they are contemplating returning to the UK, renting out their home in Santa Vittoria and renting private accommodation in the Harborough area. In preparation they have visited an estate agent to look at the cost of rental properties. With a great deal of luck, things will be much clearer as to whether such decisions have to be made by next March. Fingers crossed on that one too! If all goes well we are hoping to meet up with them again during the spring.

 

Old Friends

Posted in Uncategorized on Nov 9, 2018 by David Palmer

The temperature has certainly started to fall as the year marches on to its finale. Leaf gathering has started in earnest, the chain saw has seen a lot of use and the log pile is now satisfyingly mountainous. Most evenings have seen us fire up the log burner, though on the first occasion there was panic as the room started to fill with smoke! Though I had swept the chimney around a month or so ago, I must have created a blockage somewhere. The following morning I swept it again and released nearly two tubs full of soot from their perch. Next year, I shall have to send Ellis up the chimney to do the job properly, it will be worth a couple of farthings!

On the 18th Oct. I attended a surprise birthday meal at the Cherry Tree in Little Bowden for Roger Woolnough , he  is now 70 yrs old (and still making a good impression as Ebenezer Scrooge). A couple of enthusiastic past school colleagues had contacted a variety of friends and eight of us gathered to surprise the septuagenarian. It was nice to meet up and exchange news and the odd bit of gossip concerning colleagues who hadn’t attended (isn’t it ever so?) I had walked to the pub and on returning home at around 11pm I was bemused to hear a weird sound coming from across the river next to the driveway. I was even more puzzled when Sue called out to me from one of the bedroom windows on that side of the house. The noise had been keeping her awake since she went to bed at 9.30pm. I dug out a very powerful torch from the garage and crossed the river to discover the source of the racket. It was certainly an animal either in great pain, calling for its mate or complaining loudly about something. Sue thought it may be a badger, I thought muntjac or fox. Following the sound I could hear the creature crashing through the undergrowth, but couldn’t manage to light up the culprit who managed bewitchingly to stay out of the beam. I eventually gave up and joined Sue in a nice warm bed and listened to the racket outside until sleep eventually crept upon us. Research the following morning identified the source as being the barking of a muntjac.

On the 27th, Sue and I went to the Shoulder of Mutton in Great Bowden to see Dr. Marshall’s Remedy, they are a band formed many years ago from the parents at Farndon Fields School and had recently reformed. I had taught their children and the band members were good friends of mine at the time, but since retiring (10 years now) I hadn’t seen them, until Sue and I met Kim Tempest at the Moody Blues concert a few weeks ago. His daughter Bethany (she is now playing with the Moody Blues) was there and we had a chat about school days and how expensive it is to learn to play the flute to the standard she is at. Another friend was there that I haven’t seen for a few years. Dr. Tom Blake was a fellow pool player at the Catholic Club on Thursday nights and in the past I had joined him on some charity weekend walks in Derbyshire. Years ago I (and still) am grateful to him for diagnosing Compartment Syndrome and thus saving my leg after being misdiagnosed after a rugby match incident. He has been suffering from stress and been off work for over a year and is just now returning to his duties as a GP.

On the 29th Sue took me to the hospital for a consultation concerning the treatment of my left eye. There has been much improvement, but there is a tiny anomaly and it was felt another injection would be needed. I am waiting for the appointment date. I guess I am lucky as prior to seeing the consultant I was chatting to another patient and was dismayed to hear that he is on his 16th injection and he was 74 yrs old!

Halloween passed without incident. A pile of treats were stacked by the front door but there was no takers, we could hear the cries and noises of excited children all around, but none were brave enough to venture down our driveway. This year (as in previous) I had grown pumpkins for the family, but it had been a bumper year and the plants had produced 14, over large fruits! After Ellis and Lucas had taken theirs I put up a sign at the end of the drive and offering them for a £1 each. All but two went, a handy contribution to my seed buying in the spring.

Each morning now we have a visitor to the back door. The three-legged cat which I originally called Trio, who we now know is called Millie (she was run over and lost her leg) comes for milk and any titbits on offer. She has taken to lazing in the garden throughout the day in the hope of further snacks, however she is quite aware that Mia visits and always stays alert for any doggie noises.

On the 2nd November I and six other rugby friends, flew to Cyprus to meet up with yet another rugby chum, Jim and his wife Bridget. It was a very early flight out of Stansted and after picking up a hire car in Paphos and following Jim, to the Villa Alexandros in Latchi on the other side of the island, it was dark. We had travelled on the same flight as Roy (rugby chum) and his wife, Julie. They were staying with Jim and Bridget in Argaka.

We all met up again later that evening at a seafood restaurant in Latchi Harbour for a splendid meal. It was a very late night as we moved on to play pool in a bar before returning to our villa via taxi.

The following morning we had breakfast in Latchi before driving over to Argaka to see Jim and co. After around an hour of chatting I suggested that our little group have a little walk up the mountain to the little monastery that Sue and I had visited last February. We took Jim and his two dogs, Harby and Shoby with us. The little church was being decorated with flowers by some proud parents in readiness for a christening that afternoon . After a wander around the cemetery looking at the quite elaborate tombs we returned to Jim’s before driving down the coast to the little fishing harbour of Pomos, near to the Turkish border. There is a lovely fish restaurant situated above the harbour which affords lovely views of the surrounding mountains and the colourful fishing boats below. An ideal spot for lunch on a gorgeously warm day, and that is exactly what we did after a short amble around the harbour.

With hunger satisfied and feeling very pleased with the world, we embarked on the most important element of our foray to the Mediterranean; to watch the England v South Africa rugby match being played at Twickenham. Yes, we could have travelled down to London and watched it there at much less cost, but that would be missing the point, touring is an essential part of rugby life and this is the sort of activity that is a substitute for not being able to play the game anymore.

Jim had organised for us to watch the match in Saddles  bar, Polis. A very appropriate venue as the landlord was South African and had played the game himself. We discovered that he was the best friend of Paul Hollywood (Chef and Great British Bake Off host), they went to school and played rugby together. Paul had a property on the island and the rather nice (and expensive) motorbike parked outside the bar had been a gift from him. We were well looked after by our host with refreshments and nibbles throughout the game and though England won by the narrowest of margins, it was undeserved yet it didn’t stop us rubbing it in (well, he was SA and naturally thick-skinned).

Victory in the bag we moved on to a restaurant on the other side of Polis that Sue and I had been to on our previous visit to see Jim and Bridget, it was very popular with the locals and the food was authentically Cypriot. At Jim’s suggestion we opted for the meat meze and it proved to be an excellent choice. Fifteen courses were supplemented by copious quantities of the local beer. The quantity of food presented was formidable and it was with difficulty that we waded through the final four courses. I found the bowl of local snails a distinct problem, no matter how hard I tried to winkle the little B******s out of their shells with a tooth pick, they refused to be dislodged. After twenty frustrating minutes I managed to extricate just one and the effort wasn’t worth it, no taste and very tiny. Roy had the knack and polished off two bowls of the little creatures! Bloated and happy we taxied back to our Villa.

No one wanted much for breakfast the following morning, so at the little café in Latchi we just had scrambled egg on toast with fruit juice and coffees, before I drove our little troop to the nearby popular tourist spot of Baths of Aphrodite. It’s a lovely spot situated at the start of the Akamas and at this time of the year is quite quiet and not visited by too many tourists. Surprisingly we discovered an eel in the pool, it was nearly a metre long and lay at the bottom of the pool staring unconcerned back at us. We took its photo.

After a short scramble up the treacherous mountain path originating at the pool, passing several mouflon on the way, we stopped and took photos of the stunning scenery across the bay towards Pomos in the distance.

We were due to meet the Argaka contingent of our party at The Farmyard Restaurant, Kathikas for lunch at 12.30pm, it was a pleasant drive up into the mountains, but the higher we got, rain clouds began to appear (it poured while we ate). The restaurant is very popular with the British on the island as it provides a very traditional English carvery. The place soon filled up with eager ex-pats keen for a little bit of British tradition. The bread and butter pudding was superb and I just had to have two helpings! Though the views from our lofty location were spoiled by the weather the food more than made up for the disappointment.

On our return to the Villa Alexandros we were again greeted by glorious sunshine and chose to sit around the pool, and eat pomegranates, watching a very Mediterranean sunset over the Akamas. The moment and location, perfect to chill.

That evening we walked the 20 minutes or so into Latchi (raiding an orange orchard on the way) to a sports bar for refreshments. Jim and Roy joined us later for pizzas while we watched soccer on the large screens around the bar. It was another late night. Though planning to walk back to our accommodation, Jim insisted on  ferrying us back in two lots in his car.  From previous experience I knew what was coming, but my fellow tourists were ignorant of Jim’s debatable driving skills, death wish and fantasy to out-do Lewis Hamilton. They are now wiser.

The following morning it was felt that our stomachs didn’t need any more augmentation so we satisfied our selves with just coffees before I drove over to Paphos for a spot of sight-seeing. Perfect weather and a pleasant drive through the mountains.  We had found a suitable bar next to the harbour and fort and were well into refreshments before the Argaka contingent joined us. Bridget and Julie preferred to window shop and left us to take a pleasant lunch and ‘people watch’ from our picturesque vantage point. A couple of hours later we found the female members of our party enjoying ‘Happy Hour’ down the promenade.  I had a tentative plan to visit Roger Woolnough (birthday boy) who was staying in one of the hotels along the seafront (he had flown to Cyprus the day before we did), but the ladies were keen to move on to our afternoon activity, so he didn’t get the surprise of our company.

Before journeying to the Aphrodite’s Rock  Brewery in the mountains above Paphos, we did a spot of shopping ourselves and then stopped for ice-creams. The Argaka contingent were already well into their paddle of beer samples by the time we arrived, but undaunted we soon got up to speed. The beers brewed were really very good, especially compared to the lager Cypriot alternatives. We ate again, unfortunately only pizzas as that is all they did on a Monday. I was looking forward to the steak and ale pie, mashed potatoes and peas that they do every other day of the week!

With all samples tried and supplements quaffed, and the sun starting its descent over the Akamas, we said good-by to our supplementary tourists from Argaka. We wouldn’t see them again until our return flight at Paphos Airport. As they left, the Master Brewer asked if we would like a tour of his brewery, and of course we were delighted to accept. Over the next hour he treated us to a fascinating description of the process of producing the nectar we had previously been sampling. It was excellent and we promised to give him good reviews on trip advisor.

I had parked our car outside the brewery and up a narrow lane, I decided to bring it down to the brewery gates thus saving the legs of my fellow beer appreciative chums. On arriving at the gates I spied them scrumping pomelos from a tree in the garden of the villa opposite. With a car full of happy tourists clutching their contraband of large yellow fruits I made a quick getaway.

That evening we again walked into Latchi and found a restaurant by the harbour, ordering what we thought would be a light pasta meal. However, the restaurant had other ideas and mountainous piles of food appeared on oversize plates. Much to their credit David and Jeremy did finish their allotment, but at what cost to their internal plumbing I hate to think. The rest of us topped out at around half quantity and I think slept more soundly.

We taxied back to the villa and were snug in bed by 9pm.

Alarms sounded at 1.30am and without fuss we were all ready, dressed and packed for 2.15am and the journey back home. The journey was not without incident. There was little if any traffic on the road to Paphos, but as we had to return the car with a full fuel tank it was necessary to fill-up. Finding a petrol station close to the airport we pulled into a deserted fore-court. The system here was: at a terminal on the wall choose then pump number, then the type of fuel, then how you are going to pay then you inserted the correct money/card. Then go to the pump, put the nozzle in the tank and press the lever. Simple. Yes, in English it would have been, but in Greek, nearly impossible. There was an option for English, but it wouldn’t work and the pointer on the touch screen was grossly uncalibrated and you were never sure what you were pressing. We spent half an hour before we got the tank full!!!!!!!!!

It didn’t stop there. On entering the car hire car park, the barrier refused to open. After many runs over the sensor, we gave up and used the intercom to talk to an operator. He was in Larnaca and told us there was a fault on the system which he would try to correct. Fifteen minutes later and with two more cars attempting to enter, he couldn’t do it. At 4am, a staff member turned up and did what we were beginning to contemplate, he pushed the barrier up and held it until we drove through. Must remember that trick. From then on everything went smoothly and we were soon descending into a rainy Stansted.

Arriving back around midday I made some soup then went to bed as Sue was on a ramble and having lunch out. An excellent trip.

Family News

On the first day of Jamie and Ashton’s break in Scotland they were pleased to hear that they had another offer on Jamie’s apartment. Full asking price and without a viewing. It is a young first time buyer eager to get on the housing ladder. It looks as if they will be moving to Rothwell after all.

Sarah and Lee’s move to Newbold Verdon looks as if it is going ahead, all surveys and searches have come back positive, so it is fingers crossed for them too.

Charlotte seems to be making great strides with her recovery. She seems to be moving around a lot more easily and has relieved Sue and I of our school run to pick up Ellis. She again looks like our daughter and not the pained and exhausted soul that we have been looking at for nearly a year now. Encouragingly she has been using the bus to travel into Harborough to see a friend as she can’t as yet drive her car. But it won’t be long now.

Uncle Stanley has now moved out from the care home in Manchester and is back in his own home with care support during the day. The house had been cleaned and equipment installed to enable him to live there, but he is being monitored by social services, who like us think that it isn’t suitable. Only time will tell. He is quite stubborn and independent, it is a credit to him that he has made it this far, but I feel that he would be better off in sheltered accommodation. Sue and Sarah are planning on visiting him before Christmas.

Jamie and I have got a few days booked on the Costa Del Sol on the 15th November to look forward to.