2. Outdoor living: Spain!

An outdoor life

Outdoor life is a natural consequence of sunny days. It pairs beautifully with sunshine. Life moves outdoors at every opportunity with this tolerant and beautiful weather. The streets of Spain stay active for long hours. Only a siesta seems to bring quiet.

Days are long in Spain. This outdoor life continues even when night falls. This is family life like no other. Babies in strollers, deep in a comfortable slumber at 11pm. Their parents slowly finish their cerveza and tapas at a local bar, gently pushing the slumbering infant. Their siblings race around a busy square, kicking a football, with no concern for tables or wine glasses. Outdoor living is an integral part of Spanish life.

Healthy lifestyle

I remember teaching in Seville and I was alarmed that my adolescent students rarely saw bed before midnight, at first. There again, before I sound sanctimonious, I also recall UK students telling me how they usually slept sometime after 3am. But not until they’d finished playing computer games and updated their social media status one more time. However, Spanish kids spend copious amounts of time outdoors. Adults and children socialise as one large community. Consequently, I know which lifestyle I consider the most healthy for mind and body. Outdoor living!

Siberian winter

This winter of 2018 ultimately convinced me I wasn’t suited to the onslaught of this savagely cold weather. It wasn’t just one outburst of a near Siberian winter. It was three. Three! Each weekend the Met office warned us not to travel. So, I lived in PJs for what seemed forever. The third freezing event fell in what was officially Spring. It killed the daffodils. These were my one hope that warm weather was on its way. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the outdoors and sunshine. I couldn’t stop thinking about Spain.

February UK
Spring is here, almost!

English tea shops and coffee places despite their lavish, spectacularly tall, belly busting cakes, brought no joy. Everywhere was indoors. Everywhere was centrally heated to the temperature of a hot, inferno-like oven. Maybe this hothouse was an inviting escape from the artic blasts. Perhaps not. Unfortunately, just to get to the cafes I was compelled to layer up with at least several additional clothing items. I moved slowly as I was carrying the weight of winter clothes on my body. It was a gargantuan effort just to walk along the path. The path that had hidden dangers: snow, black ice and freezing rain. In the UK, the outdoors can be painful whereas in Spain, the outdoors is pleasure!

Simply outdoors

Inside the cafe, I was just sweaty and uncomfortable from the insulated layers of clothes and the intense heat. The whole idea of a relaxing coffee was scuppered by the feeling that I had contracted some type of fever with my clammy skin. The best solution was to strip off. So, I started to disengage my body from my clothes.. However, in a tiny English café, it was hard to find a place to deposit an arran jumper, scarf, hat, gloves, coat and possibly another jumper. In doing so, I made the place look like a jumble sale or TK Maxx.

As a result, I lost interest in the coffee and, more traumatically, the cake! Ultimately, cafe life in Spain was so much simpler. All I had to do was find an outdoor table, read the menu and sit comfortably and happy.

Sping evening in Spain
Spring evening in Spain

Thus, I pined for a café where I could sit outside throughout the year. I pined for outdoor living. This is a reason to be in Spain!


Sunshine, siestas and sanity? Spain!

Reasons to be cheerful

Seems like we can’t flick our remote across the TV channels without coming across some daytime, easy watching show. Revealing a range of smiling ex pats, embarking on a new life in sunny Spain.

Enticed by supposedly bargain properties, daily sunshine, cheap food and drink. It seems the wet weather, fed up Brit cannot wait to board a low cost flight and leave the work obsessed motherland far behind. The majority of us island dwellers love the idea of a coastal life. Spain certainly has a pretty extensive shoreline to tempt us.


So, is all the media hype really true? Is Spain really the land of milk and honey? Or should that be excellent wine and tapas? Well, I was an ex pat there for a couple of years until the UK beckoned me back. Did I return to the UK because I’d had enough of the relaxed lifestyle? Or because I was afraid of an imminent Brexit? No. I needed to catch up on my pension for a few years. The ultimate goal has remained to return to Spain. That will happen: very soon.

Why is Spain such a wonderful country? Despite enduring a savage economic crisis, internal turmoil as Catalonia tries to break free, and the mañana culture which frustrates the punctuality obsessed Brit, it is hard not to fall in love with Spain. I’ve compiled my top 5 reasons for wanting to live in Spain.

1. Spain & Sunshine

It is hard to fully comprehend the restorative qualities of the sun. Much of the time, our rain soaked island with about a week’s sun annually, makes us fear thee sun’s radiance and warmth. Out in it too long and our pasty white English flesh turns initially to porky pink and then to a livid and agonisingly painful burnt red. This, in turn, might horribly lead to melanomas. Perhaps even: death. Oddly, though, despite its power to hurt us, the majority of us Brits crave sun. We seek it when we plan our holidays. We desperately soak it up for the duration of our trip. In fact, we feel almost cheated, to the point of demanding a refund, if the rain dares to fall on our sunshine beach holiday.

Slap on the screen!

Thus, endless Spanish sunshine is more or less guaranteed from mid March to late October and this schedule is often extended. Don’t get me wrong, the health dangers of direct sun on naked skin is real and deadly. But the wellbeing and benefits, when the sun is treated as a daily occurrence cannot be underestimated. The sun’s daily attendance is not so rare that we need to position our naked selves horizontally, in its direct fire, during its hottest hours. Unprotected, or with a tiny splash of lotion, with a factor value offering little more protection than a light coating of olive oil, to catch the rays.

If we only took notice of the locals. We would leave the beach by 2pm to return at 6pm. Perhaps then, our Brit bodies would not look like we were an extra in Casualty. Alive from a horrible accident with fire, but with life changing scarring. Perhaps we’d use the sun, not to change our natural skin colour in a few hours, but to simply enjoy the long hours of natural daylight.

Respect the sun in Spain!

Respecting the sun’s mighty power, and it’s ability to burn, as only a huge fire star will, means can reap the wonderful benefit of it. Without damaging our bodies! Instead, we could sit happily in a café, in the shade, drinking a café con leche or a fresh orange juice. The sky a stunningly vibrant blue: people watching in the sunshine. This is my idea of bliss. As is sitting on a beach in the late afternoon, watching the sun descend on the sea’s horizon. Knowing it will return the next morning, like a faithful friend. Each day dawns with a seemingly endless blue sky. The sun brightly and cheerfully lighting the world. This is enough to lift my spirits.

This is why sunshine is firmly in my top 5 of reasons to love Spain.


G and Grimble move mooring.


It had been a particularly cold February. There had been weather warnings galore issued to expect it to be very cold. Grimble shuddered and shivered in anticipation of conditions that she described as Baltic. G noted that it was February, it was winter, what exactly were people expecting?

Then came the news and Met office warning: the beast from the East. This announcement of cold beyond cold started a full week before its arrival on our weather weary shores. With each day came further details of an imminent Siberian winter, akin to a disastrous Brexit, and, such was the potential disruption, that the Grimbles decided that their boat needed to be moved before the onslaught of the next Ice Age. This gave one weekend to perform this task. Strategic planning on the scale of the D Day landings came to mind.

No ordinary move

Of course, normally, such a sailing would take place in Spring, when the temperatures were more clement and there were sunny daffodils and joyful lambs in the freshly green fields. However, this was no ordinary move. In some ways, it was a moonlight flit performed during the shortened winter daylight hours. Initially, they were going to remain at their bargain rate Thames mooring but certain factors meant Grimble wanted to leave forthwith in a way akin to a Dunkirk evacuation, as they were escaping the enemy.

There had always been issues with a long standing couple who moored there. This couple had appointed themselves as the mooring’s security, font of all knowledge and givers of unwritten rules. Their aggrandising of their role beyond normal boaters sat uneasily with Grimble who was all about equality, especially when it came to the hobby of boating. Clearly, this couple were the new added Cockney term, Gilbert Grunts of the boating world (for definition read ‘Sunbathing by the Pool’ blog or try rhyming it…) and Grimble would have happily ignored them. However, as is often the case with irritating pricks, they weren’t for avoiding the Grimbles. In fact, the boat wankers took charge of the grass cutting for the mooring which gave them a reason to communicate, nose into other people’s areas with an excuse of gardening services.

Looking for the iceberg

Gilbert Grunt vs Grimble

In a ideal world, Grimble would have liked to have cut her own grass but this mooring had no power and she only had a set of shears. She could have purchased a scythe or a sheep but neither would have been as proficient as humans with a petrol mower. So, begrudgingly, she paid them the annual fee of £50. What made G and Grimble different to all the other boaters was that they actually sailed their boat…a lot. The Gilbert Grunt boat wankers didn’t particularly sail but they did seem to reside there. In fact, the only time they’d been seen sailing, they oversteered their mooring and anchor hanging off the bow, they effectively speared their neighbour’s boat like a kebab. Their authority clearly didn’t extend to actual sailing. What was evident was that they were used to having the whole 500 foot mooring to themselves as most boat owners bought their sailing craft and then let it languish in the water, unattended and unloved.

Along came the Grimbles, accompanied by friends, and loved the whole boating thing. They had BBQs, camping trips, picnics like they were in an Enid Blyton story. They always incorporated a good playlist which they happily sang along to. The boat wankers had a guitar to which they strummed indecipherable folk sounding music. There could have been an uneasy peace and a mutual tolerance of folk versus Sinatra but these Gilbert Grunts had to stamp authority and when Grimble continued to ignore them, they tried another method. They complained to the mooring manager. Apparently, Grimble once kept them awake with a powerful rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ at 22.30. Three weeks later, they erected a huge marque, several portaloos and camper vans for some sort of shit folky Glasto but Grimble just ignored their constructions, knowing that weekend in June had a severe storm warning which was revenge enough, especially as the weather delivered what it promised.

Grimble fury

However, as mooring renewal approached and, despite it being mid winter and not exactly boating season, the Gilbert Grunts sent several January texts to request the following summer’s gardening fee. Grimble responded politely that all mooring fees would be settled in due course. However, when the mooring invoice arrived by post, the manager added a note about tidying the area and there was another letter from the Gilbert Grunts requesting the fucking money once again. Grimble saw red. The mooring manager had issued her private address to these boat wankers. Plus, he’d the affront to demand they tidied a water logged, inaccessible mooring when he’d left dismantled jetties everywhere and, more dramatically, he’d abandoned a bloody boat in a farmers field. Her immediate thoughts were, “Fuck this shit!”

When Grimble got into a fury, there was little that could stop her. As G slept after a long work night, she contacted another mooring right by a pub and arranged a viewing and reserved a space. It was twice the price but it had a pub, and therefore pub toilets, a summer festival, their own jetty and an awesome garden. With their Spain trip taking a week of time, and the old mooring invoice due the last weekend of February, they had one opportunity to move the boat: the final February weekend before the UK was being plunged into an Artic Winter. Her decision to move moorings would be communicated to the manager in a scathing and savage letter posted straight after they’d shifted their boat.


Thus, accompanied by their friend CB, who’d assumed she was having a weekend of prosecco and PJs, and all dressed like Scott embarking on his trip to the Pole, they waded through fields, past the abandoned boat, to their mooring. It was cold and breezy and not conducive sailing conditions. They were amazed to see the Gilbert Grunts aboard their own boat. Bloody hell thought Grimble. She knew from their letter that they resided in Stroud, which was marginally less of a shit hole than Swindon, but no one would want to be on a small summer cruiser in this weather, unless they were fucking insane, which sort of explained it. There was no communication but there was close observation of the Grimbles. It looked like the Grimbles were finally compliant, tidying up the mooring when actually they were buggering off. Smugly, Grimble knew she had dedicated an entire paragraph of her termination letter to the Grunts.

They loaded their boat with their bits and bobs. They endeavoured to stuff a pop up tent, that had never fully popped down into a large storage box. As G attempted to place something nearby, the tent, caught by a draft of wind, bounced out like a giant jack- in- the- box, startling him. Grimble found this excessively amusing even when it happened a third time: G less so. Finally, tent secured with pots of maritime paint, they were ready to set sail, still spied on by the boat wankers. Luckily, it was a bright day even if it was mercilessly cold as they bade farewell to their first mooring.

The trip

On a summer day, this trip was a leisurely two hours, assisted by lock keepers and good conditions. This journey took them four hours. The wind made the Thames almost tidal and, as this was nearer to the river’s source than the barrier in London, riding the waves was unexpected. There were lock keepers but there was always a desire in Grimble to help and be useful. She was out of practice. At one point, she found herself assisted by five or six pre school kids, who were so excited to see a boat sailing in winter and wanted a full, largely irrelevant explanation of how and why locks worked. Normally, at locks, Grimble liked to happily swear to herself but she had to curtail such profanities.

At the last lock, there was a terse Grimble and G moment. For her, this lock had unfortunate memories. The previous summer, she had tripped off the boat and had face planted the land whilst still admirably continuing to pull the boat in from a reclining position. This time she dismounted the boat successfully and gracefully and held the rope firm. What happened next was a matter of dispute. G blamed the wind: Grimble the fact the engine was running and the truth was possibly a mix of the two. Grimble held fast but the boat didn’t want to moor. Instead it was heading out to the river and she found herself being pulled at speed towards the edge like a water skier without skies as the rope followed the boat. With seconds to go before she joined the boat in the Thames, she released the rope and the boat was now a free radical, open to the elements. There was some cursing and profanity at this stage.

Chips by the fire

Onwards they sailed towards their new boat home. The sunshine belied the sharpness of the icy air. Their friend, CB probably regretted her decision to visit as the prosecco was not flowing and the cold was biting. In an act of gratitude for CB’s selflessness, Grimble had reserved a table at the pub for 2.30 but it was 3.30 when they finally landed. Raw from cold, they ordered hot coffee and asked about the possibility of hot food. They were to be disappointed. However, when Grimble requested the one remaining slice of fruit cake and three forks, the manageress overheard and intervened, offering to fry up three portions of chips.

Contended, they sat by the fire, using the chips as sustenance and finger warmers. Grimble wasn’t sure if the ruddy glow on G’s cheeks was contentment but, as they thawed and the red colour remained, it was clear that G had a sun tan which surpassed his Spanish one. They felt a sense of contentment already at their new mooring. It was welcoming and easy and no boat Nazi in sight.

The price of prosecco

Now a week later, formal letter sent, G and Grimble were hunkered down. The storm did hit and then some. The Beast from the East collided with Emma, which sounded like a bad sequel to a Jane Austen novel. Their village was completely shrouded in a frozen white sheet of ice. The BBC news went almost apoplectic with tales of woe, misery and distress as the country attempted to pursue normal daily activities, like work, in the equivalent of the Antarctic or just winter. Grimble and G had enough food, though wine supplies were depleted. In recompense for her services, CB had been permitted open access to the prosecco top shelf in the fridge. A half bottle with a spoon inserted remained on the milk shelf and one red was the rack. As the storm continued unrelentingly, G and Grimble contemplated leaving the security of heat, PJs and the sofa, to trek the ten minutes for supplies. Grimble checked the town’s online Facebook messages where kindly souls were offering 4×4 trips to the shop to bring necessities of milk and bread to others. Grimble mused as to whether one of these Good Samaritan trips could include getting a few bottles of the Co Op’s palatable red.

Calpe Cuisine: lunch

There’s so many choices for lunch along the seafront it’s hard to pick. One English place, Oscars, served coffee in China tea cups, which isn’t trendy or quirky: it is simply wrong. We didn’t go back. That’s how easily a reputation can be ruined.


Again, sometimes we made our own and used our terrace as the best sea view table in Calpe. Our particular pleasure supermarket freshly roasted chicken/pollo asado with its bronzed skin and BBQ flavour served with bits and bobs, shandy/Clara or tinto verano despite summer being ages off.

We also made mistakes: Tango at Fosse Playa and Las Olas, https://www.restaurante-las-olas-calpe.es/es/ where the website images were more tasty than the food. It wasn’t bad, just average. 11.50€. The sole we had remained on the bone because, if filleted, it would have rendered it invisible. If we had been in the mood, the fact that a bottle of wine was served rather than a glass did make it economical.

In addition, we ventured to the eccentric Restaurant Dracula. https://www.facebook.com/RestauranteDraculaCalpe/?rf=233916813382418

It was Sunday. All the fish restaurants were full and we located one table at this google highly rated place. Meals were cheap as was the produce. Tables so close that I nearly ended up conversing in French with the person by my side. I was transfixed by the Transylvanian castle mural on the outside wall. In Vlad fashion, G wanted to gouge out the eyes of the woman swinging her hair on his back and there was an obnoxious child legging round the place under chairs, ignored by her family and blockaded by different customers. Finally, she sat back down and played her mum’s phone playlist at full blast. Add to this, a Romanian christening in the interior of the bar and it was hell. The name was apt. I felt my blood had been sucked from me. Passing Vlad’s smiling statue on my way to the toilet just added to the impression of bizarre.

We are night eaters so quality lunches are not my forte. I find some restaurant’s Menu del Dia promise more than they deliver. However, they are cheap and holiday makers on a budget (sounding very Judith Chalmers) can find a decent bargain. Out off season, our choices were more limited. A number of places were closed until March. On the plus, it meant less menus to peruse before a decision could be made.

San Valentin versus the Grimbles

G, Grimble and romance were uneasy bedfellows. They had convinced themselves that it was the sheer commercialism of St Valentine’s Day that perturbed them when really it was the sheer slushy, gushy, gooey nature of this event that offput them. They’d hoped to escape this revelry in Calpe, but the streets lit with bright red love hearts, indicated that this was not to be.

In the Costas, where Brits abroad were predominant, there were always street hawkers attempting to offload some tat on an unsuspecting, or inebriated, tourist. One night, as they sat quietly dining, one man had produced a mini plastic disco light contraption from his supermarket carrier bag. He seemed much more impressed than they were by the bright blue lights swirling round their tapas. A firm, “Non” from Grimble indicated that there was no chance of any purchase: not even if he danced wildly for them. The other frequent visitor to the supper tables was the Rose Man: a bloke with a fake smile permanently etched onto his face, trying to sell less than fresh red roses to loved up couples. He did not seem to have much luck, usually, but G suggested to Grimble that this chap’s big night was fast drawing close and San Valentin was his major money day.

In fact, Grimble had obtained a card for G. She got it excessively reduced from the outlet place in Gloucester. It was a half decent one too. She had mentioned this spontaneous act of love to G to ensure he was aware, but knew that his systematic nodding in response meant he hadn’t listened to a word she’d spoken. On February 13th, when the shops in Spain were closed, she mentioned to G, again, the card. Suddenly, with no chance to rectify the single Valentine’s card situation, the penny dropped, the realisation sunk in and G grew a tad grumpy blaming Grimble for changing the rules. She patiently explained that her act of love had been well documented and discussed. Finally, they settled on a compromise. They’d share the bloody card. He could write some romantic tosh in after he’d read hers. Clearly, romance was not something they did well.

February 14th arrived. Grimble had forgotten to write the card herself. Hastily, she scrawled something. She made a quick acrostic complete with a made up word for E, but knew that all her efforts amounted to more than G’s. He read it and returned unimpressed to the hotel’s king size bed. Grimble decided to take a wander and happened upon a small shop where they cleverly mimicked posh perfumes with significantly cheaper oils. She got herself one and something that smelt like the ridiculously overpriced Creed for G. She was communicating in noddy Spanish to the nice lady who asked if was for her marido. She confirmed that it was, as trying to explain he was her partner seemed to always go same sex and confusing when Grimble ventured this information in Spanish and calling him a novio made them seem about eighteen years old. The lady immediately outburst: San Valentin! She grabbed G boxed perfume and proceeded to wrap it in shiny red paper, with bows and heart stickers. It looked unfittingly romantic.

Back at the hotel, Grimble presented this package to G who was even more churlish at the thought that Grimble was trying to trick him into some romantic gesture of his own. Grimble denied this but discretely looked at the now joint card where only her jottings remained written.

They took a brisk walk to the other side of Calpe where big apartment blocks and hotels dominated. This promenade was much more out of season than theirs so restaurants were limited. They selected one that had the most clientele, a cheap menu del dia and whose name was bordering on romantic: Tango. That was a pretty hot and spicy Latino dance if Strictly was anything to go by. After ordering, it soon became evident why it was so busy. No one had actually moved, been served or got a bill for several hours. There was a surfeit of wait staff, all particularly inept. One brought drinks to a nearby table, spilt the hot drink across the table and, as he attempted to wipe it up, dropped another drink from a tray which smashed across the terrace.

To some extent, G and Grimble got away lightly. They ordered shandy, a very clear clara…they got beer. They managed to prevent the waiter serving their salads to another hungry table by shouting a lot. When they wanted to leave, along with several others, Grimble almost yelled la cuenta across five tables. This was definitely the last Tango in Calpe for them.

In something resembling romance, they decided to indulge in a lovely drink in the Suitopia’s twenty ninth floor rooftop bar and watch the sunset. G indulgently and, possibly insanely, offered Grimble a bottle of Dom Perignon at 170€. He had banked, accurately, on Grimble’s lack of joy where champers was concerned, preferring a cava or prosecco. So, he saved his bank balance and gave a grand gesture of romance to his Grimble. They settled on a cava, served with sweeties and a lovely sunset despite the welcoming of children to the bar, who sobbed, shouted and screeched with no consideration of love.

The final stage of the San Valentin proceedings was dinner. Grimble had been eying up offers all week. It seemed that most places were offering a special of around 60€ for several courses, all of which involved some type of sorbet and a steak and a bottle of wine printed on a heart encrusted menu. What distinguished them was the extra alcohol treats ranging from a welcome glass of cava to pink gin. Uniquely, these dinners were being served until Sunday suggesting that either: romance never died in Spain or the owners were determined to sell the additional produce bought in for this event. G and Grimble hadn’t reserved anywhere as they weren’t sure what to anticipate. They wandered the streets of restaurants and it varied from places rammed very unromantically to places so quiet it would have been the equivalent of a private dining experience but with more tables. They pondered on what to do; there was an option of a tapas fusion place, which from past experience could signify a deeply troubled and culinary confused chef. Finally, they had a joining of minds as they both exclaimed, “Chinese?”. Well, Grimble said, “Chinese” being all PC whilst G stated, “Ping Pong” but the effect was the same. It was as if their minds worked in romantic harmony.

They knew that the food would be plentiful and scrumptious and the excuse for decorative love hearts ignored. It did have people in there but tables to spare. They were seated speedily and the even settled on the most expensive set dinner on the menu. After all it was a special night and deserved the six courses which included dim sum and shredded duck as well as a bottle of decent wine for a desultory 35€ for two. As they chowed down, they observed another bonus, the Rose Man had already visited if the table nearby was anything to go by. Two limp roses were in a glass. It was a table of six: four oldies, the Calpe indigenous population to be honest, a younger woman and a decidedly sulky teenager who had an expression like a slapped arse. She clearly was disgruntled at spending the holidays at her grandparents when Benidorm with all its vices lay so close. It was hard to decipher for whom the roses were meant or which woman had been exempted. Perhaps the cost, which possibly exceeded the price of one dinner there, was too much. As they left, it was clear as to their uncertainty of ownership, as the sweet lady waitress had to pursue them down the street, roses in hand. She presented them to the elder of the ladies, attired in a Bet Lynch imitation leopard fur coat, complete with peroxide blonde hair dye the colour of straw and a terrifyingly sun ravaged skin. The rose presentation was the nearest thing to romance G and Grimble had seen.

They returned to their suite. Grimble noted the card, still on its side as neither could work out how to make it stand, possibly explaining the discount, and still bereft of G’s musings on love. As she turned, she was greeted by G, small box in hand, which he presented with a cheery, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Grimble”. She lovingly accepted the box of two free truffles supplied by the hotel. A perfect end…


Five Posts to Write Right Now

Keep it campy…I can see big G in a Benny Hill role.

The Daily Post

Whether I’m channel surfing or binging on Netflix, one of my favorite distractions is TV. Because of the short-form nature of TV shows, writers are able to pack a whole lot of drama into a condensed timeframe — making us all the more susceptible to the “just one more episode” dilemma.

If you find yourself distracted or stuck on what to write this week, try finding some inspiration in everyone’s favorite diversion.

1. To be continued

I would venture to guess that football games and two-part episodes garner the most vocal reactions in TV watchers. When it comes to entertainment, there’s little as tormenting as those three little words, “To be continued…”

While we may live in the age of instant gratification and Netflix binging, there’s still a lot to be said for building up to a truly fantastic cliffhanger. Why not write one of your most suspenseful stories — fiction…

View original post 704 more words

Food for thought

G and Grimble:

The holiday was drawing to a far too early close. The car contained an inordinate amount of red wine and cava that Grimble had tried to convince herself would keep until Christmas. Their clothes contained so much sand that they could have easily developed a small beach resort once back in Highworth.

They loved the Costa Alhazar and were beginning to consider plans that might not just make this a holiday destination. They’d don’t it before, so why not, again? But for now this was a holiday drawing to a close. They considered the highlights. The food was definitely part of the Peniscola appeal. This was Valencia province, home of paella and all things fish. They’d demolished whole pans of fideua, the noodle version of paella, packed with fish that a few hours before had been in the sea. Langoustines that had the aspiration to be lobsters with their immense girth. G and Grimble had almost mastered the art of shelling fish, though Grimble had been maimed a couple of times by their razor like fierceness.

They had shared T bone steaks which would have happily fed Desperate Dan. They had shared memories that were mostly great ones. They’d shared bottles of red wine with artistic labels whose price tags were so cheap that they belied the quality inside. And then they had shared dreams. It seemed G and Grimble didn’t want a permanent grey sky in their lives. Holidays were designed to reinvigorate but this one had really made them contemplate where they wanted to be. They knew that when they returned to the UK, the winter would be fast approaching and there would be the long damp, cold weekend nights watching X Factor. Yes, they always had their next tours planned as Grimble was an organising menace, but they needed more than just a tour plan. They needed an exit plan. So they decided to supplement their X factor, Chinese takeaways and bottles of red with plotting a different type of possible future.

They left Spain slowly not because of depression, though it didn’t help, but because the buggers on the French border hadn’t fixed the toll booths meaning that, on one of the busiest travelling days of the summer, a mass of traffic was trying to squeeze through the few booths left working. Combine this with 30 degree heat and this journey was far from great. They spent two hours of being stationary near the Spanish border town of La Jonquera which seemed to have been transported out of the Wild West with its neon strip of outlets, signs offering cheap booze, fags, gas and women. The Pyrenees are stunning. La Jonquera less so. However, in the long queue, at least it offered something visual and they contemplated what it would be like to live in this seedy, unruly border town.

G and Grimble motored slowly through France, to the North and, as expected the sky turned grey and with the grey they felt the holiday glow fading. In a desperate attempt to maintain the holiday just a little more, Grimble had refused to book a chain hotel that bordered the motorway however convenient that might have been. She insisted on a short journey into rural France to the aptly named Carpe Diem hotel. She felt the name encapsulated their hopes. However, this was rural France in August and they had until 11pm to arrive, which was actually beyond the normal as usually France shut down for the whole of August. This was a feature of Southern Europe that had always mystified G and Grimble. How could such beautiful tourist draw areas effectively shut their doors at the most tourist time of the year? The time of 11pm had been well within their reach until the French border debacle. Now, it was touch and go especially as SatNav lady really had not liked G and Grimble’s rural escapades and they were concerned that she might again go rogue. They moved down darkened roads and it was hard to see where they might end up. However, there it was: Savigneux and Carpe Diem. At 10.45pm, the lights indicated it was still awake unlike G and Grimble who’d traveled for over twelve hours and were feeling dazed, cramped and exhausted.

Terrified that they might get locked out and desperate to get into bed, Grimble darted into the hotel before G had even parked up, almost leaping from the moving vehicle. Despite the fact that they were probably the last to arrive, Grimble insisted on attempting to communicate with the lady on reception as to her reservation. This she did in a very unique mixture of Spanish, French, a touch of English and she was pretty sure some German invaded her sentence too. Luckily, they really were the last to arrive so really her attempt to convince Europe that the English were able to master languages, clearly not just one, were wasted. However, there was still a local group’s dinner happening on the terrace and Grimble requested as to whether it was too late to have a bottle of red there. She did not want the holiday to end. She wanted their last day to have some greater joy than traffic queues, horrible motorway services toilets and overinflated prices for everything. This was an attempt to seize the moment as the hotel’s name claimed and create something more joyful to recall.

Thus, they sat on a terrace drinking from a very palatable, and complimentary, Beaujolais. As an even greater bonus, the group dining invited them to share their desserts. And they drank wine, ate divine chocolate mouse and scrumptious ice cream cake and contemplated how the small acts of kindness just added to the happiness they felt. They tumbled into bed knowing tomorrow they would return to the UK, to Wiltshire, to Highworth and to work.

G and Grimble realised that their dreams would take a couple of years to materialise because, whilst running away was always tempting, it was not a suitable way for people of their maturity to behave. In that time in between, they vowed to have more adventures, more misunderstandings and more mischief which they might just recollect on this page.

G and Grimble go day tripping

In a spirit of adventure, G and Grimble drove not very far South to Alcossebre. Why? They’d heard that there was a small English enclave and wanted to see what that entailed.

There was a short road journey. They saw olive tress, a ruined castle, more olive trees and roadside ladies dressed in their bikinis sat under parasols on dirt tracks off the highway. What a sad and dangerous, horrible lifestyle thought Grimble and G as they tried to avert their eyes but couldn’t help but be drawn to the mish mash of a smoking peroxide blonde, heavily made-up, in limited attire and and clearly sweaty in heat and by that she meant the heat of the sun. Often these ladies were languishing and reading a book. Grimble mused on the incompatibility of waiting for some seedy client with the passivity of a book: escapism perhaps?

They arrived at Alcossebre which had free parking: a bonus! However, their immediate reaction was not one of love. It was all rather dusty and looked a little forlorn. The promenade was attractive but the beach was small and completely rammed. As they looked down at the mass of sun sweaty humanity and a myriad of parasols, they couldn’t see a small two bum space for them and knew that this would not be a beach day. However, Alcossebre didn’t seem to have a great deal to see, other than the nearby Sierra de Irta national park.

G and Grimble discussed a trip to the wilderness. However, it became evident from the signs everywhere, loads of police and lots of bikes, that they were not the only ones with this idea. In fact, and inadvertently, they had arrived on the same day as the Tour d’Espana. It was due to hurtle into town and up some giant hill in the Sierra de Irta within a few hours: taking seconds but causing a town blockage for hours. This gave G and Grimble an even bigger excuse to quit Alcossobre as soon as another coffee would allow. Grimble was not a fan of men in tight lycra, even sporty ones. In fact, she was still trying to unsee the two men on Calella beach a week earlier who had sported lycra neon thongs. She had yet to totally purge her mind of the nasty neon and another Lycra sighting might cause a relapse which she was loathe to allow.

This supposed English enclave was definitely well secreted. Then, on their way out, G and Grimble spotted evidence as to their possible existence. Tucked on a narrow street was a charity shop. Only the English love transforming any high street into a charity shop haven. The name of the charity was as elusive as the English who used it but it was there, along with an English notice board offering the usual: odd jobs, computer repair, man with a van and translation. G and Grimble would not be joining them.

They left Alcossebre with a feeling of great indifference. They’d never fully understand why it didn’t attract them. They passed by empty roadside parasols and decided not to look too closely, convincing themselves that the roadside ladies had opted for an early siesta and were not occupied in some olive bush or perhaps in the library to select another novel.

As they were earlier than anticipated, G uttered the fatal words: Mercadona and Grimble was reinvigorated at the prospect of a supermarket sweep. She claimed her list of items needed was in her head. She scoured the aisles for wine, fuet and olive oil shower gel. Clearly, a real list would have saved time and ensured a more methodical approach to these purchases, but Grimble was happy. G liked to see Grimble content. However, he was warding off starvation and a menu del dia seemed to be not in the immediate schedule, so he placed crab sticks from the chiller into Grimble’s haphazard cart. Like a bird of prey, she spotted the luminous pink things and inquired as to why they were there. The starving G explained his enforced fast. Grimble retorted that she hated being rushed but the arrival of an alien in the basket did seem to motivate a swift conclusion.

However, time had mysteriously vanished and, by the time they returned to the hotel, the owner simply laughed when they requested food. G had to survive on crab sticks and coffee until supper.

Their next adventure was to the neighbouring resort of Beniclaro because they liked the name. As they set off, Grimble suddenly threw a curve ball detour by stating weekly market, Vinaros was on and overrode Sat Nav lady in her desperation to view, and possibly, purchase tat. From the outskirts, Vinaros did not appear that encouraging, although Grimble did observe and note the direction of Carrefour, just in case.

However, once free parked and munching on scrummy churros dipped in divine chocolate at the perfectly named Bar Moustache as Grimble had just given herself a chocolate one in this sunny square, the place began to attract them. Whist it was supposed to be a short stop before Benny Carlos, as they had renamed it, G booked in for a tattoo six hours later, forcing them to explore Vinaros. Vinaros was just their sort of place: lively, awesome beach front and very local. They never found the street market but it did not matter. They did find the town, Mercado and Grimble was delighted just looking at produce including the live razor clams poking their slimy worm like shapes out of long shells and live lobsters clicking their claws like castanets. She bought several garlic bulbs and G tentatively suggested that these could be bought in U.K. Grimble furrowed her brow and patiently explained that Asda garlic was not the same and whilst Waitrose might be close, they could fly to Spain cheaper than buying it there. She understood and emphasised with Spanish people living in U.K. who wanted to carry a three foot serrano leg on a Ryan Air flight but was mystified as to why the English abroad yearned for roasts and a full English.

Happily, they explored, the streets, the port and the cafes. Vinaros felt right. Even after the tattoo, they stayed a little longer drinking more coffee at yet another cafe and people watching. It was funny how somewhere they’d never considered visiting suddenly became the most interesting and engaging

Their trip to Benny Carlos wasn’t to be and they even postponed Carrefour. Vinaros had so enticed them, that G and Grimble had missed their siesta in favour of wandering. That’s when the love is real. No siesta, no Carrefour. They’d discuss the significance of this later.

Castle and culture

Grimble and G:

You couldn’t visit a resort in the shadow of a bloody great castle and not visit it especially when the entrance fee was a desultory 5€. Culture and a bargain. Grimble loved both. So it was that Grimble risked the wrath of grumpy G by waking him earlier than usual so that they could do culture before it went too hot and before the crowds invaded the castle far more successfully than the Moors ever did.

Grimble decided that this would be a day of two halves. Castle culture in the morning. Lunch, siesta and a late afternoon sail for two hours that included a dip in the sea. Thus for the first half, Grimble would not need to look like a proverbial Spanish donkey carrying all things for every eventuality. She would travel light. With her shoulder bag that contained her basics and, of course G’s basics too. Once, she had made a muted suggestion that now they were in continental places, perhaps G would like a man bag? His reaction ranged from incredulous to scathing to shock that such an outrage could even be considered by his usually thoughtful Grimble. She had to pass it off quickly as an attempt at humour to which he grunted and the moment moved on. So, even on the lightest trip days, Grimble still wandered several paces behind G, with a heavy load making her stumble like Quasimodo. This was possibly an apt role for a medieval castle.

They walked through the town built precariously round the castle, taking lots of photos. This required G requesting, at numerous intervals, his phone. Instead of holding this phone, after each photo, G would return it to the bag and, despite it being placed on top, it managed to worm itself down into the depths and hide awkwardly. Thus, every demand for said phone, required Grimble unpacking and repacking the bag and her expletive ridden mutters were becoming quite audible.

Eventually, they made it, 1000 shots later to the castle and it was impressive. The views were spectacular and the health and safety non existent with slippy steps and narrow walk ways. There was no system and the free for all added to the charm as they waited several long minutes as the seemingly entire population of Italy descended on narrow step way as only Italians could: noisily and with no sense of speed, stopping to chat and chunner on each and every step as G and Grimble waited, and waited. After several more step ways like this, G decided that these one foot stairways would easily take the girth of two, or as he put it, he wasn’t fucking waiting at every one, and they both happily squashed the somewhat alarmed tourists.

On the top of one turret, Grimble mused that they really did need some organisation and a one way system was not a bad thing. She also recalled that she suffered from vertigo and, thus, it was time to go. They left at the point were it was neither lunch or not lunch. That odd time in Spain of 12.30. However the castle was in the tourist heartland where normal times did not apply and fully aware that they were about to be ripped off, they settled on one courtyard cafe, which seemingly offered a 9.50€ menu del dia, minus drinks. Even here, which they would both later claim was the worst meal of the holiday (apart from the time when Grimble inadvertently ordered liver, only having understood the pork bit. Oh how G laughed as she chewed reluctantly with an expression like a smacked arse. That was not bad cooking, it was just bad judgement on the part of Grimble) the tourist food was edible if dull and did little to illuminate any tourist as to the usual splendours of Spanish cooking. The service was efficient but indifferent. There was an attempt to sneak in an extra dish left side that Grimble deftly handled with a loud NO!

So why didn’t they leave the tourist trap area to eat? Because the entrance fee also included a visit to the garden at the bottom of the castle and, with Grimble’s rigorous scheduling, she knew if they did castle and garden in one go, they’d be well out of line for achieving lunch. There was one flaw in the plan, Grimble hadn’t accounted for the garden being somewhat dull and to do it all, meant descending quite a long way, only to have to climb back up, in the now sweltering heat, to exit and then have to follow the road down again to leave the old town. It all seemed like a lot of faffing which a simple exit at the bottom of the garden could have rectified. As it was, they spent just ten minutes looking around the top level. Grimble commented to G that she though the array of stuffed birds of prey rather odd, whereupon G explained to Grimble that they were actually stuffed just inactive and comatose in the intense heat and if he didn’t leave soon he was likely to fucking join them.

Thus, the morning’s culture had been completed to Grimble’s satisfaction. They could now siesta like natives until the time to leave for the 5pm sail. Grimble had even asked the boat man en route to the castle as to the likelihood of a sail that required 20 passengers minimum. He had answered with a confident si.

Grimble once again risked a grumbling G breaking into his siesta at 4.15 with a happy expectancy of a lovely cooling sail. This was a two bag trip. They’d need a towel for the drying off. Suncreams would need to be transported too. And so, happy at the thought of a sail, Grimble almost contentedly carried the bags. In what was now stifling mid afternoon heat, they trampled the 15 minutes to the port. The short half hour trip pleasure cruiser was already busy with people hanging listless from it but their boat for the two hour sailing, ominously empty. However, Grimble remembered the positive si of several hours earlier and approached the man. He directed her to another bloke. This man was wizened and salty sea dog like with that grizzled Ancient Mariner expression. Undaunted, Grimble asked about the 5pm sailing. He answered with a firm no and directed G and Grimble’s gaze outward to the Mediterranean Sea. He claimed in Spanish with hand gestures for dramatic emphasis that the sea was rough and choppy. To be honest, from where G and Grimble were stood, the only high sea drama was this man’s performance. Yes, they would accept that it was a bit windy but it was hardly the maelstrom he was describing. As boat owners themselves, they were not convinced. G muttered to Grimble to give him the bloody keys and he’d sail the bugger and added something about the Armada and how a bit of wind had fucked that up too.

They were even less convinced when the salty sea dog tried, as an alternative to their thwarted plans, to offer them the short trip. They declined for two reasons: the first, how come that sail could go on the very same sea and secondly the sail he offered was 10€ for 30 minutes. The sail that they’d wanted was 15€ for 2 hours. This wasn’t the maths of Einstein. As they left, he shouted after them, the words that Grimble had never actually heard spoken in all her time living in Spain: mañana. At this point, they both decided boat trips were not to be. Instead, after purchasing another beach sheet, as the one tiny drying towel would not suffice for both their bums, they sat on the beach until sunset. They went in the sea without being swept away in a forceful wind and considered their day of culture.

They’d enjoyed being tourists but G and Grimble agreed they enjoyed being lazy bastards more. They resolved that they would take a car trip to neighbouring resorts to have a look and sit on neighbouring beaches. Grimble also suggested, and G agreed, that trips to Mercadona and Carrefour to buy lots of wine, Spanish sausages and stuff also constituted culture as they couldn’t do that back home. With their definition of culture now firmly established, Grimble and G relaxed and contemplated their seafood dinner to come.