Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts

Cava Sangria

Doggy, leading his best life in Sitges.

 I didn't know about Cava Sangria until we went to Barcelona last year, and a friend we were lunching with, on a very hot and beautiful day in Sitges, suggested that Cava Sangria might be a good idea.

I love Cava. Like it better than Prosecco, if the truth be told. It always seems drier, but also gentle, floral, slightly citrussy - and very much itself. I could happily drink too much of it, although I try not to!

Anyway, that happy day in Sitges, we had a very big jug of Cava Sangria. We may even have had two, to go with our excellent Paella. 

Last summer, back home in Scotland, I tried my hand at making it. A couple of weekends ago, I made it again for a big group of friends, and it went down very well indeed. If you're having a BBQ this weekend, you might like to try it. It's easy to make and all too easy to drink.

You will need:

Good chilled orange juice to taste - half a litre is enough to go with two or three bottles of Cava but you can make up your own mind and use less if you like.

Chopped summer fruit. I cannot tell a lie, I had a pack of frozen chopped fruit I had bought earlier in Aldi or Lidl, but it's easy enough to chop up fruits of your choice. In fact you can make and keep some in your freezer, because the frozen pieces will keep your Sangria nice and cold. There could be apples, oranges, peaches or nectarines and - at this time of year - strawberries. Strawberries are best used fresh, though, because they go mushy when frozen. Pineapple is nice too. There are no hard and fast rules.

A glass of brandy - Spanish if you have it.

A couple of tablespoons of any orange liqueur if available - although in my opinion it tastes just as good without.

Two or three bottles of Cava Brut. Aldi and Lidl usually have decent Cava at reasonable prices. I think I got the one below in Morrison's because I liked the bottle! I'll stick a candle in it, once it's empty, and use it outside for the summer. You can use Cava Rosado if you like as well. 

About an hour before you want to drink your sangria, marinade your iced or, at the very least, chilled fruits in a bowl with the orange juice, brandy, and liqueur. Keep this in the fridge if possible.

About five minutes before your first visitor arrives, add two or three bottles of dry thoroughly chilled Cava. If your bowl is too small, you can add the third bottle later on. Or you could use less orange juice and one bottle of Cava, if you're expecting a small number of guests. Although be warned - it can disappear very quickly.

Not for drivers, of course, although you could make something very nice with a non-alcoholic fizz such as Nozecco, leaving out the brandy, but including all the fruit. 


The gorgeous Can Laury in Sitges

Brits and Kids and Queues

In case you're wondering, that's me in the picture, back in 1986, about 6 or 7 months pregnant. We were filming my TV drama, Shadow of the Stone, on the Clyde, and you can see my 'bump'. You can still watch the serial as well, but that's a story for another day.

I was reminded of this when I recently followed a thread on Mumsnet. Some unfortunate mum had been queueing to check in for a flight, with a three month old baby, and mistakenly thought she could jump the queue. Not only did she get dog's abuse from other people, but the vast majority of mumsnetters agreed with the abusers, vociferously.

Following some of the thread (not much - I couldn't stand the holier-than-thou tone of it), I found myself thinking 'Brits and kids and queues. Nothing changes.'

When our son was born in November of that same year, my husband was still working as a yacht skipper, first on a beautiful catamaran called Simba and then on a couple of other big yachts: Clyde boats, mostly based in the Canaries. The baby, all grown up now, loves Spain, working in Barcelona for several years and revisiting it as often as he can. He speaks fairly fluent Spanish too. It's quite uncanny.

I had a harrowing time during his birth in Scotland, and felt ill for a long time afterwards. My chief memory of that time is pain and fatigue, combined with the joy of the new baby. And breastfeeding, successfully, but also being told that if I wanted to 'do that', maybe I would like to do it in the Ladies. Would you like to have your lunch in the loo? 

When our son was six weeks old, we flew south to Los Cristianos on Tenerife. We borrowed an apartment from friends, Alan was intermittently skippering charter yachts, and both my parents and Alan's mum flew down to spend time with me, and help out with the baby. All in all, it was a blissfully happy time. 

On board Simba

One of the main reasons why it was so blissfully happy was the genuine affection that the Canarians had for babies and children. On our first night, we took the baby in his pram down to a local restaurant It was a warm night - by Scottish standards, anyway - so we took an outside table and sat down. The proprietor came rushing out - 'no, no - you can't keep the bebe out here in the cold!' Inside, she rushed about moving tables so that we could enjoy our meal with the baby contentedly slumbering beside us. 

Over the months that followed, we realised just how relaxing it can be to have a child in a child-friendly country. Babies were welcome everywhere. I fed him everywhere too. You could leave the pram outside a supermercado while you did some shopping and come out to find a small group of teenage boys, intent on amusing the little nino. My parents decided that we needed a baby bath, and described how a kindly man in the hardware store had insisted on practically emptying his loft to get exactly the right bath (in his opinion) for them. Everyone from young, handsome waiters to elderly ladies in black played with the baby, distracted him if he seemed fractious, and generally made everything so much easier than it might have been. 

A few years later, back in the UK, a young Catalan friend came to stay with us to improve his English, and was incandescent with rage at a sign outside a restaurant saying 'children welcome'! 'But are children not welcome everywhere?' he demanded. 'Why not?'

I thought the UK might have changed for the better over the years. In this one respect anyway, because everything else seems to have got so much worse. And it's true that - for example - in Scotland, it is an offence to try to stop a mother from breastfeeding in public. 

But oh, those Mumsnet comments! 

God help you if you're in the UK and you try to jump the queue with a baby. 

Alan, his mum, and the baby at Candelaria

Why Are So Many British Christian Churches So Embarrassed by the Reality of the Crucifixion?

The Execution by Alan Lees
My husband, artist Alan Lees, painted the above picture several years ago. Not because he is especially religious, and not because anyone had commissioned it. But just because he wanted to do it. He titled it The Execution. It is a striking and disturbing image of Christ on the Cross, a sacrificial victim amid a sea of less-than-kindly human faces. It is painted in acrylics on canvas board, it has a hand-made driftwood frame, and it is a very large and dramatic piece of work. It is also, in the opinion of many people who have seen it, strikingly beautiful as well as disturbing. 

We can't even give it away. 

For a while, we tried to sell it online from our Etsy store or from Alan's studio. He doesn't make a fortune (few artists do) but the images trickle out - sometimes wonderful originals and sometimes good quality giclee prints.

Lots of people admired it and one or two very much wanted to own it, but decided regretfully that it was just too large for their small houses. We had always thought that it would be more suitable for a church or some kind of religious foundation. I listed and promoted it online, here, there and everywhere, but nothing happened. 

Years passed. Alan has quite a large studio, but nevertheless, this picture dominates it and we knew that sooner or later, it was going to have to go. 

Eventually he decided that, given the subject matter, he would give it away, preferably to a church or religious foundation. Free to a good home. All they would need to do would be to arrange transport or some kind of courier. It's large and heavy, but it would fit into the back of a big hatchback or small van. 

I publicised this offer. Nothing happened. From time to time, I would try yet another church or religious foundation, including one for which Alan had carved a couple of beautiful statues to commission. Thanks, but no thanks, they said. 

Every year, I donate one or two of my signed books to the big Christian Aid sale in Edinburgh. I asked the organiser if she might know of anyone who might like to have it. She kindly said that she would consult 'the bishop'. The bishop seems to have been noncommital. How would they transport it the 70 odd miles between here and Edinburgh? Far too difficult. 

We tried churches, monasteries, salerooms. Nobody showed even the faintest interest. Rather, they seemed embarrassed by the suggestion that they might want to own this image. We even offered it as a fundraiser, but that was met with blank incomprehension.


A disturbing image with a beautiful frame.

Given this utter indifference, Alan's first thought was that he would make a bonfire of it, but it seems a shame and besides, the frame is lovely.

With the bonfire idea abandoned, Alan eventually decided that he couldn't waste the canvas and frame, and so he decided that he was going to have to paint over it. The picture would still be there. But there would be something else on top of it.

He hasn't done it yet, but the deadline is getting closer - two or three weeks away. He's already working on sketches for the new picture.

Two things have happened in the meantime. 

Somebody has confirmed our original thought that the picture would perhaps find a better home somewhere like Spain or Italy or Poland - in fact any country, worldwide, with a strong Roman Catholic or other Christian tradition. But there is a huge gap between acknowledging this truth and placing the image before anyone who might wish to acquire it for their church or monastery. Anyone with the authority to make the arrangements. And the problem of transport becomes a bit more difficult (and expensive) than a journey of 70 miles in the back of a car. That would be the responsibility of anyone who wants the gift of the picture, but it seems to be an expense too far.

The second thing that happened was that a friend who had admired the picture pointed out a truth that had occurred to both of us, without being fully acknowledged, because it is uncomfortable. The response to this image from so many allegedly Christian organisations has involved a weird mixture of revulsion and embarrassment at this depiction of the grim reality of crucifixion. And yet, without that sacrifice, what's the point? What is the point of positive images of redemption without some perception of the events, the sacrifice, the dreadful reality of the execution leading up to it? 

Why have so many wishy washy British churches - not to put too fine a point on it - so comprehensively lost the plot? 

If you are genuinely interested in finding a home for this picture somewhere in Europe or elsewhere, don't hesitate to contact us via this blog or through Alan's website.  But the window of time available is small now. And we've had time wasters before. It's still free to a good home, but you will have to arrange packaging, uplift and transport from south west Scotland at a definite time - and have a setting worthy of it. That's all we ask. 

Can you help? 

The Opposite of Retreat

From the Hotel Mariano Cubi in Barcelona

'Every writer needs peace, quiet and space in order to be creative' says the blurb for one organisation offering various admittedly beautiful habitations in which we are going to be inspired: sheds, yurts, cabins. They're all there. 

I don't think I had realised, till I came to post this blog, just how much of a bandwagon writing retreats had become. Look them up and you'll find everything from fully tutored and catered courses to self directed retreats where you just take your current work and go somewhere remote, without distractions. The courses are popular everywhere. Most of them are already booked up for this year and there are waiting lists. 

I've taught on courses like this myself - notably at beautiful Moniack Mhor in the Highlands - and I can see the attraction. They're certainly enjoyable for the tutors involved and I'd like to think that the students find them useful as well. 

Then there are the 'residencies' that also tend to be in rural areas where peace and quiet is a prerequisite. In fact 'peace' is a much repeated word on most of the websites. 

I'm lucky enough to live in an old house in a rather beautiful rural area. I've lived here for many years and I love it. But maybe this is why, whenever I see ads for writing retreats, I feel a sense of despondency creeping over me. Back when I was working and child rearing and looking after ill parents and very, very busy, the notion of a peaceful retreat, just me and the laptop, seemed enticing. 

But not now. 

Now I realise that, from time to time, I want whatever is the opposite. Buzz? People, noise, life? Advance rather than retreat. I want to be inspired, but not by peace and quiet.

Sagrada Familia from a busy Parc Guell

Last week, we finally managed to go to Barcelona. Long story short, this trip was planned pre Covid, and then had to be postponed. Our son worked there for two years, but about a year ago, moved to Stockholm. When he told us that he would again be working from Barcelona for a little while, we booked our flights to cover a weekend so that we could spend some time with him and Catalan friends. This was our first holiday that hadn't involved work of one kind or another for years. It has also been a most inspirational holiday in terms of my own writing.

I got what I wanted: heat, sunshine, noise, people, scooters and bikes, music, chat, good food and drink, activity, life. So much life. In spite of the fact that my husband has serious mobility problems, we managed to get out and about every day, and did plenty of sightseeing. A Catalan friend lent us his granny's wheelchair. Barcelona and its people came up trumps with access and generally being kind and obliging. Son, assuming the parental role, messaged us from time to time to make sure that we were managing. 

We used to be well travelled - both of us have lived and worked extensively outside the UK - but you get out of the habit and Covid has made us afraid, overly cautious. Age, or our focus on it, is inhibiting. Much worse, is the subtle and not-so-subtle psychological pressure applied by all those TV adverts for funeral planning and mobility aids and equity release. How fragile you are, they all seem to say. Better watch out. Better be careful. Better take no risks. 

I switch them off.  You can't stop the process of ageing, but you sure as hell don't have to wallow in it. 

I have also taken to switching myself off mentally whenever people of my age start to go on about health matters. Sometimes now I literally excuse myself and come back when they've finished. At other times, I just mentally go to another place. It isn't that we don't have health concerns, because we certainly do. Significant concerns in my family. We just don't need to talk about them all the time. At so much length and in so much detail. And so constantly. In such doom laden tones. 

Even so, before this trip, I was aware of a persistent knot of anxiety inside me.  On our first day in Barcelona, sitting in the Munoz Ramonet gardens, just along the road from our hotel, I realised that it had disappeared. It simply couldn't compete with the city. No doubt it will come back, but now I know that I can make it go away again. 

Beautiful, brilliant Barcelona was the complete opposite of a retreat. It was full to bursting with life, and colour and movement and people and inspiration. Isn't this what writers need?  

Our hotel was in a narrow street that was quiet by night but loud by day. Wonderfully loud. Scooters buzzed past. Doors slammed. Trolleys trundled. The sun streamed down between buildings. Our room had a tiny balcony with a table and two chairs. I spent hours out there in between all our adventures, with wine or water or coffee, depending on the time of day, watching the life of the street below or gazing at the balconies with their plants and flags and washing, or marvelling at the roof gardens, while overhead, noisy swallows soared high into the blue. Late in the afternoon, an old lady came out onto her balcony, and stood among her plants, watching the activity of the street below. And it struck me that she too probably complains about her health to anyone who will listen. 

It was wonderful. It made me want to look and look and go on looking outside myself, to write and keep writing as nothing over the past few horrible Covid haunted years has. Retreating is the last thing I want to do. And I want to go back to Barcelona as soon as possible. 


A Tale of Two Canary Island Winters - Part Two: Simba

So there I was, on a flight to the Canary island of Tenerife, joining my husband aboard a 50 foot catamaran called Simba, moored in Los Cristianos Bay. Packing had been a challenge. Simba was a big boat but as anyone who sails knows, space on board is always limited and I was going to be there for a few months. Fortunately, the weather was predictably good, so shorts, tops and pretty cotton skirts were the order of the day.

My husband Alan is a very experienced professional sailor which is more than can be said for me. He had worked as a trawler skipper for some years and then as a commercial diver off the West Coast of Scotland. Later, he ran a small business with his brother-in-law, David, diving for clams. Then, he did his RYA training and eventually became a yacht charter skipper as well as spending some time teaching sailing for the Scottish National Watersports Centre in Largs.

When we first met, he and David had also built a small sailing boat called Striker II  (The first Striker had been the clam boat) which they kept in Troon and sailed for pleasure. It was aboard this little yacht that I had my first taste of sailing.
I wasn't a natural. And it wasn't very pleasant.

The West of Scotland waters are beautiful, but the weather is uncertain. I was hideously seasick. My husband, on the other hand, has never been seasick in his life, so doesn't know how horrible it can be; not just the sickness but the general malaise, the intense depression, the awful disorientation. You begin by fearing the boat will sink, start to realize that you wouldn't care if it did and finally you really wish it would. And soon. The only way I could cope with it, when it was at its most intense and debilitating, was by lying flat on my back. As soon as we were in quiet waters, I was fine. Alan may not have been seasick, but he was quite used to people being sick on him. You can't work as a yacht charter skipper for any length of time without people being sick on your shoes and they frequently were.

There's an interesting fact about seasickness. It does go away. Eventually. Of which more in a future post.
Striker II was a yacht called a Seawitch and she was tiny. She would sleep four at a pinch, but you had to know each other very, very well. Intimately. We had a few uncomfortable but frankly hilarious trips - usually to the Isle of Arran for the weekend -  four of us together, myself, my husband, his sister Jackie and her husband David. The toilet facilities involved a plastic bucket, situated under the bunk where Alan and I slept. I still remember Jackie, wrestling with it in the middle of a very rough night in Lamlash Bay - victims of the notorious Lamlash Lop - declaring that this would be her 'last sea voyage ever!' Alan had crewed on and sailed much bigger boats, but even he, presented with the opportunity to skipper a 50 foot catamaran, had to pause for thought. Well, he paused for a few minutes anyway. And Simba was a big strong boat, for which he was mightily glad, as they battled through hurricane force winds on the way south. I was just glad I'd elected to fly instead.

I spent my first married Christmas back with my parents, but then I flew south in early January of 1986. I had never been to the Canaries before. I still remember the soft warmth of the air that hit me as I stepped off the plane into the Tenerife evening. The force of contrast with the wintry Scotland I had just left was acute and enticing. Alan, alone on the boat, had suggested that I get a taxi to the Gomera Ferry Terminal where he could pick me up on the dinghy and ferry me over to Simba which lay at anchor in the bay.That was my first problem. The last ferry of the day to the beautiful island of La Gomera had left (which was why Alan had suggested that he could pick me up from there) but the lovely, concerned Spanish taxi driver didn't want to drop a young woman off there all alone. He kept trying to take me to a hotel instead! With the help of a phrase book, and a few words of Spanish, I managed to persuade him that my husband was a sailor and I was joining a yacht. To be perfectly honest, I may have said to him that my husband was a yacht, but it did the trick. And there she was, our  home for the next few months: Simba.
She was nothing like Striker II.

A saloon big enough to hold a party in!
She was huge. Catamarans (unless they are stripped out racing catamarans) have a lot of internal space and this one was no exception. You could, and we sometimes did, hold a party in her saloon. She had two big master cabins, a captain's cabin, three showers and lavatories, a (disappointingly rather small) galley and that big, comfortable saloon. She lay at anchor in Los Cristianos Bay, amid a cluster of other, interesting yachts, big and small. She was one of the most beautiful vessels in the bay. The air was full of that fabulous Canary Isles mixture of sea air and flowers with a little hint of diesel.
I felt as though the birthday of my life had come.

Falling In Love (All Over) Again - Reblogged from Authors Electric

I'm reblogging my recent post on Authors Electric here today. Incidentally, if you haven't been to Authors Electric before, do have a look. You'll find a miscellany of interesting posts - a new one every day - by 29 independent and independently published writers including myself. Some of us have been traditionally published as well - some of us still are which I suppose makes us 'hybrid' writers, to use the current buzz word - while some have elected to go wholly indie. We're none of us too keen on labels, but our group includes genre, literary and mid-list writers (sometimes all within the same versatile person!)  award winning writers of all kinds, poets and playwrights, novelists and storytellers and non fiction writers. Many of us have held Royal Literary Fund fellowships or have been involved with teaching creative writing. Most but not all of us are UK based. What we have in common is experience and professionalism, coupled with an enthusiasm for writing and for our lovely readers. 

The post below will be the first in a whole season of Canary Isle themed posts here on my own Wordarts blog, because I'm working on a major new project, a trilogy of novels set largely in the Canaries and loosely based on an old back-list title, but substantially different from that early novel. There's also an interesting back story to all this, the inspiration behind it, and it struck me that it might be nice to tell it here, on my blog as I prepare the new novels for publication. 

When I first started this project, I thought it would involve typing up the manuscript, revising as I went along, but it soon became obvious that it needed much more than that. Major changes were in order. The book was originally bought by a medium sized publisher a long time ago. I think the central story is fine, but I’ve matured as a writer. Just as well, really. When I reread it before starting work on it, my chief emotion was a sort of horrified embarrassment and NOT, I might add, embarrassment at the significantly erotic content. It was more a question of writing technique and not the other sort. What, I kept wondering, was I thinking about? More to the point, what was my editor thinking about?
Happy days on board  'Big Cat' Simba
When I look at the novel now, I can see so many elements of it which need work, not least a confused and confusing perception of point of view. It began as a tale told from a limited third person point of view.It’s a story about Margaret Sinclair, in her thirties, newly divorced, shy, rather innocent and a little depressed. Desperate to get away from Scotland, she secures a job in property sales on the Canarian island of Tenerife. My editor at the time suggested that we also needed to see things from the perspective of the other main character, a Canarian called Luis. She may have been right about that (I'm still thinking about it) because (a) this is a story about a cross cultural relationship and we need to know what is going on in the head of the other half and (b) musician Luis comes from the small island of La Gomera which is central to the story, so his background is both interesting and important to the plot. 

Back then, and although feedback after publication was good, I don’t think I did it very well. To be fair, it isn’t easy. It’s the kind of thing I wrestled with in The Amber Heart where sometimes we needed to be with Maryanna and sometimes with Piotro, but not both at the same time. I think, eventually, I got it right in that novel, moving between the two without too many clunky changes, but learning how to handle it was a steep and very long learning curve. Now I need to go back to my Canary Isles novel with all the benefit of experience.

I reckon I also didn’t do it very well because we were in something of a hurry. If the novel had been published by the (old, distinguished) publisher who bought it, there might well have been a modicum of nurturing. But because the publisher was immediately bought over by a major corporation, it was published differently and with a garish cover. The novel was and will remain a sexy read. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it was a bit OTT, a bit too ‘80s’ – like the cover - in no good way. And why did I spend so much of it telling the reader what people said instead of having them actually say it? Beats me!

A close friend, a whole generation older than I am, has said to me that the central story is still good and vividly filmic. I hope she’s right. But I knew immediately I started working on it that it needed to be retold. There’s another thing about it: I can remember a phone call from the girl who was involved with publicity when it was first published. ‘I fell in love with Luis,’ she confided. ‘I mean really fell in love with Luis. I’ve never ever felt like that about a fictional hero before.’ Clearly I’d got something right then.

So what am I doing now?

Apart from listening to/watching this, on a loop, (OK, OK, I'll admit it, my hero was that young Banderas) I’m wrestling with point of view, and making it work, making it better.
I'm writing a lot more dialogue.
I’m working on the sexy bits, making them better. (This is a lot of fun, have to admit.)

Above all, I’m turning the basic story into three new and quite different novels, which involves a lot of extra writing, as well as drastic changes: The Golden Apple, (which was my old title because the one thing I really like about it is the title), Orange Blossom Love and a third novel called Hera’s Orchard. I’m planning to publish the first one in June, the second in the autumn some time and the third at Christmas, if I apply myself.

I’m also falling in love with my hero all over again. It’s a strange thing this writing love stories. You have to be a little bit in love with your characters, warts and all, to be able write about them. It doesn’t just apply to love stories either. When I was writing The Physic Garden, I had to crawl inside William Lang’s head and stay there for a very long time. I was passionate about William, emotional about him, even though The Physic Garden is a story about friendship and betrayal and by no means a romance. I felt for him in my heart as well as my head. But Luis was a dimly remembered affair and I had to rediscover him, find out what it was I liked about him all those years ago, find out what it was about him that made that young publicist fall in love with him so comprehensively.

It has been a surprisingly slow process. There's a part of me still hankering after Joe and Helen from Ice Dancing, to the extent that I know there’s a sequel to that novel kicking around somewhere in my imagination. And some part of my head is still back there with William Lang in 1800s Glasgow, in the physic garden of the old college of Glasgow University.

But I’m getting there. Luis is undeniably attractive. That's why Margaret falls for him against all her cautious instincts. He plays the guitar and sings. He’s impulsive, sensuous, fiercely proud and when all’s said and done, a wee bit too tempestuous for poor Margaret’s comfort. You know what? When I went back to this story, I felt the same way. Like when you meet an old boyfriend and wonder what you ever saw in him.

Sitting on board in the sun, writing. 
When I first drafted the story – like Kathleen Turner in The Jewel of the Nile - I was sitting on board a boat in the sun, writing, and I was madly in love with the Canary Isles myself. I'll tell you a bit more about that time in the coming weeks and months. The new Golden Apple is a story full of life and sunshine and music and that’s kind of what I need right now. I always liked Margaret, quiet, sweet, sensible, put-upon Margaret, with her hidden depths. Now I’m getting to know Luis all over again. Falling a little bit in love again. I think. I hope. Finding out a lot more about him. 

Or as one of the traditional Canary Island poems which run through the novel would have it: 
I love you because I love you.
Nobody tells me what to do with my love.
I love you because I feel it
deep in my heart.'