30 July 2012

Forest Fires

Sitting here in rainy Cornwall I am reading about the terrible fires that are affecting Catalunya.  There is nothing so far in the British news but HERE is an article online from the Mail. The photos are shocking and bring home forcefully the horror and tragedy of these large fires which can be started by someone throwing a cigarette end out of their car or sometimes, incredible to believe, deliberately.
It is all in the region of the Catalan/French border. Close to Figueres and uncomfortably close to the lovely place I stayed in with Bonnie and Blue. The road we used to start our journey to the UK is closed as it is unsafe.
Please join me in sending positive thoughts to all those affected - human and animal - and hoping for the high winds to calm down and allow the flames to die out.
There can be fewer things more terrifying than an out of control fire.

24 July 2012

New starts

It's difficult to know where to begin after a break. We travelled for two weeks and now are here in Lamorna, in beautiful sunshine!
The whole journey was about 1500 miles and along the way there was lots of food for thought and sights to gladden the eye. I don't know where to begin so lets dive in to the most important part of the journey.

Duna and her new home
If you have been folllowing the blog for the last 6 months you will know there were problems between Duna and Bonnie. We tried everything we could to help Duna accept a new dog in her life but the fights continued and got worse with each passing month. Duna's life became very restricted - I couldn't walk both dogs at the same time which meant she spent more and more time at home.  She was kept on the patio which was heartbreaking as she felt abandonned. Bringing her into the house meant she had to be tied to a table leg - more anguish. Walks in the woods or the mountains or by the sea were tense as Duna could only be let off leash with constant vigilance and occasionally we missed the moment when her fury arose and had to pull her snarling angry little body off Bonnie. Bonnie was anxious most of the time and started to be tetchy around other dogs.  She  learnt to defend herself, taking her to places in the canine psyche that she had never visited before.
She often 'won' the battles but Duna would never give up, always returning for another tussle.

So, sadly and slowly we realised that living together was no longer possible. Someone or some dog would have to find a new home. Quite often it was touch and go who that would be! But realities were faced - I am the major dog walker in our home and Bonnie is my dog so we decided to look for a new home for Duna. Apart from her hatred of Bonnie she is a wonderful loving, intelligent and beautiful dog.  She clearly would be happier in the countryside with a family who love walking and who give her an outdoor life.

We arrived in the UK not knowing what the solution would be and in the first days found a wonderful new home in Norfolk for Duna. She is living with a couple who have a garden and whose own dog died a few months ago. Andy works outdoors and likes to have his dog with him all day, travelling around farms and gardens. He also is a great walker and regularly does 10 or more miles every day. She is living next door to two close friends of mine so I am hoping we can see her again next time we come back and of course will get news of her often.

Leaving her was very sad. I miss her firm little brown and white body, her silky soft muzzle and her long curly ears.  She was very much loved in Catalunya but the truth is that it is not a good life for a springer spaniel in the centre of a town. It's not a great place for a border collie either but I take Bonnie for her walks several times a day and at 10 she is more ready for a quiet life than 3 year old Duna.

I would never have seen myself as someone who would re-home a dog but this life in Catalunya shows me more and more  how you can't ever say never!  And I feel sure of Duna's happiness in her new life.

14 July 2012

On Napkins

When my Catalan friends Marta and Cristina first arrived in Cornwall all those years ago, they brought to my attention the absence of napkins. They felt it strongly, the lack of a napkin laid beside the place setting in my home.
Of course I had napkins, lots of them, all ironed and folded up on a shelf. They would be brought out and used if I had people round for dinner, or at Christmas or my birthday.
But in Catalunya everyone has a napkin ready for use at every meal - breakfast, lunch or dinner. And usually it is a proper one of cotton or linen. When guests come to eat they may be given only a folded paper one but if you are staying for a few days then you too get one of your own to be used several times. How do you know it is your one?  Well, either they are all of different colours or you have individual rings. After a few meals you can tell which one belongs to the Resident Adolescent as it is more wrinkled and covered in tomato sauce!
It must be a sign of my Catalanisation that I too now notice the lack of a napkin when I am eating. People in northern Europe don't have this custom and you are only given something to wipe your hands and mouth on if the food is especially sticky or messy. And sometimes not even then!

Isn't it funny how you can change something so basic as needing a napkin or not?

At home in Granollers I decided to always give guests a proper one rather than paper as we have such huge piles of napkins and it is easy to throw it into the next clothes wash if it is only used once.

One of the earliest lessons I remember from my mother was to never ever call a napkin a serviette. There's another funny thing - I still get a frisson of dismay when I hear that word and if I was teaching English table manners I would probably find myself passing on this taboo.

Feeling Home

Today was lovely. Staying at the home of my good friend Janet where everything feels familiar and comfortable. While our hosts are away at a festival (please don't rain too much on them all tomorrow!) we are enjoying just being in one place, no driving, no need to squelch through wet grass to get to a toilet, no cooking on two rings while kneeling in my low roofed camper van.
I felt Happy with a capital H.
Outside there is a beautiful traditional English garden full of flowers and vegetables and bird song.
Inside there is Radio 4 wittering away as I do some ironing for my friend.
I love living in Catalunya but sometimes I need this sense of safe and familiar and welcome and easy.
All cells in my body were singing today and I imagined Bonnie was feeling the same as she raced through green wet grass outside.  She rolled on the ground waving her legs in ecstasy.

I don't think it is the UK we need - just a safe and peaceful home in Catalunya. We will find it!

Bringing the Dogs into the UK

 Another trip through the Eurotunnel with the dogs. If you are worried about travelling this route or anxious about the process of getting through pet passport then please be reassured - it is very easy.
Since the rules changed at the beginning of January 2012 it is now even easier coming back into the UK from Europe.
  • You now have 1-5 days to see a vet before entering the UK and they only need worm treatment.
Here is what we did this time.
1. Seeing the vet
As we were driving up through France we stopped at a vet in a small town en route.
Our Eurotunnel crossing was on Thursday so we did this on Tuesday, a comfortable 48 hours in advance of travel

We had camped overnight in a municipal campsite in St Martin D'Auxigny so the next morning we went into town and after breakfast, asked in the bakers for the address of a vet. They directed us to the Clinique Veterinaire (Tel 02 48 64 63 67) which was handily close to a supermarket where we filled up with wine and cheese!
The vet spoke English and saw us within 30 minutes.  He checked the microchips and gave each dog two tasty worm pills which they gobbled up like treats.  Paperwork was completed - stamped and dated with the time of treatment and a clean bill of health for travelling

The whole thing cost about 32euros and we were able to drive on to Calais without worrying about having to get there at a special time.
2. Passing through passport control
Our train was at 11.30am. We arrived early as you can usually change your booking if there is space on an earlier train. You drive straight to the parking by the pet passport control. There were many dogs and owners coming and going out of the small office block where you get checked. The woman used a hand held microchip detector to make sure the dogs weren't trying to sneak by with a forged passport and then quickly checked the documents and then we left. All over in five minutes.
3. The Tunnel
As planned we caught an earlier train and were able to drive on almost immediately. Unfortunately this meant missing the 'last French coffee and cake' so beware of doing this if, like me, you like going to the departure lounge. Both dogs slept all the way through the tunnel - it takes about 40 minutes and as it is so comfortable for them it was worth all the miles we drove across France.
Travelling with these 'not so good' friends
We are so lucky that both Bonnie and Duna are good travellers. Bonnie sleeps on the back seat of the van and Duna curls up at the feet of whoever is travelling passenger at the front. They are both patient and forgiving of all the boring hours of travel and strangely our life in the camper van is easier than at home - the dogs are happy to be always with us and there were no possibilites for fighting. Duna always is in the front and Bonnie always in the back so everyone is together but separate. Sleeping all together in a small space at night meant we felt like a pack, safe and secure together

13 July 2012

Back in the UK

Every visit back home has felt different.  If someone asked me 'how does it feel coming back?' I'd find it impossible to give the same answer from one trip to the next.
All I know is that there is something very relaxing about being in a familiar place where everyone speaks the same language as I do.
I catch myself preparing to speak, forming phrases (in English mind) and then mentally kicking myself - no need to stress, it's easy, just say it!

We got back yesterday. I drove to Suffolk from Folkestone and found for the first time I needed to remember to drive on the left. That must be the result of driving more often recently in Catalunya.
While I complain a lot about roads around Barcelona I had to admit that the M20, the M25 and the A12 were all horrible to drive on. Too busy and full of impatient lorry drivers. There were not enough service stations and it was a huge relief to get onto quiet country lanes after Ipswich.

Looking for a coffee stop we eventually came off the main road and stopped in a random and, to me, unknown Essex town of Witham.
Discovered it was where Dorothy L Sayers lived and died

Found a good old traditional pub with a sunny garden out the back - the White Hart

which had a wonderful ladies toilet with photos and quotations in each cubicle

I asked Pep to check out who they had in the Men's but there were only blank walls and a condom machine! 
Men of Essex not expected to be interested in the thoughts of Clark Gable or Cary Grant.

11 July 2012

Somewhere in France

We are slowly making our way up through France.
Lots of camping - lots of coffee and croissants
Some disconnected thoughts  ........
Rivers are wonderful in France and sometimes they have cascades

Why don't all countries have municipal campsites that only cost 5 euros for a peaceful and relaxed night?  And huge beds of lavender at the entrance.

I didn't know that circus wagons were once so common that there is a factory in Germany that made them. We slept in one - so lovely!  Many thanks to Michael and Cristiana for their hospitality.

Pretty villages

with interesting castles

are all very well but what's the point if there is no shop nor cafe and all the traffic races through like they know it's just a dormitory town for rich people?
Lovely wooden carving though of Virgin and child. France is good at preserving wooden things.

Driving by I caught sight of many old advertising paintings on the house walls. Too often it was impossible to stop to take a picture but I did in this quiet street - in between lorries hurtling past!

Sometimes you arrive in a little village and find something surprising like that it has a French Scottish festival going on because it used to be the family seat of the Stuarts

More soon - we have travelled a long way and seen so much.  I write this near Calais. Tomorrow is the tunnel!

5 July 2012

Interruption in normal service

We are preparing to go away. Aiming for Cornwall but taking an interesting and circuitous route. Today we will drive to France, perhaps stopping in the region of the cave art paintings near the river Lot. Then on to see friends near Clermont Ferrand. After a few days of resting and talking and drinking and eating and laughing .....we will continue up to Calais and go through the tunnel once again.
I'll see how the new regulations are working around the need to see a vet before entering the UK.
Then we go up to Norfolk to stay with friends. They have very generously offered to have Duna for a few weeks to give us/me/Bonnie a break from the mala llet!  She is a very loving dog and only has one enemy in life - unfortunately that is Bonnie!  Will be lovely to see Janet and Bev and go for walks in that open fresh countryside where the sky is enormous.

After a few days there we will turn westward and drive down to Cornwall, hopefully passing close by Stonehenge.

And then to work on the cabaña once more. In the rain!  Unless we have managed to take some sunshine with us and got it through customs.

So I hope to write as we travel but it will be patchy, as and when we have wifi and time to reflect.
Did you notice the change in photo at the top of the blog?  It is thanks to Nuria who is helping me with Photoshop.

3 July 2012

Man on a Crane

I wrote a week ago about some building works on our street.
For the past two days there has been an enormous crane on the site. I always find cranes exciting  although I am not clear what they are for. In this situation surely they can't be lifting heaving things into place as there is so little room.  This crane is huge and the arm stretches way across the road and beyond.
Today I looked up to see a man making his way along the arm. He wasn't wearing any harness as far as I could see. This is Health and Safety Spanish style I think.
He inched along to the end
  lay down and fiddled with something mechanical and then inched his way back to safety

Yes, that small shape up there is him!
How was it possible to do this?  I couldn't believe that everyone was just walking by normally while someone did an amazing thing way up in the sky.

He wasn't wearing a helmet either - I suppose that if he had fallen a blow to the head would be the least of his problems.

1 July 2012

Calendari Dels Pagesos

Oreneta just asked me how to find out the dates of all the Festes Majors.
Apart from knowing someone who knows, the best way is to look at the Calendari Dels Pagesos which you can buy for about 2.20E from newsstands or bookshops.

This publication is a wonderful source of information. Contents include
  • astrological data - eclipses, phases of moon, sunrise times etc. There is a list of which planets are visible and when.
  • religious celebrations and dates 
  • weekly markets - if it's Monday and you want to go to a market you can find out there is one in Arenys de Munt, Cardedeu, Olot and Santa Coloma de Farners amongst other places.
  • Catalan festivals both local and national. This is where the Festes Majors are listed. Now you can see that there are hundreds!  Looking just at July I see there are festes in Vic, Llança, Espinelves, L'Estartit, St Pol de Mar and about 160 other towns.  Imagine having all these possible parties to go to, especially as a young person. I try to count up village/street parties I went to as a teenager and I come up with 0!!!!
  • All saints days are listed so you can keep up with all your friends and family and remember to phone them and say Per Molts Anys. Today is St Aaron and Santa Elionor.  I have decided to adopt Saint Catherine of Alexandria as my saint and her day is November 25th. Lets see if the  Calendari agrees.....yes and it is shared with Gonçal and Erasme. I don't meet many people called Gonçal or Erasme so I have the day mostly to myself!
  • Farming information and when to plant and harvest as well as tips on chicken keeping.         July information "Tenen gran importància les feines de recol-leccio´ i d'irrigacio´. Encara es segueixen plantant tomàquets tardans per a esser collits a l'octubre o novembre."     The  important jobs now are to harvest and to water. Continue planting late tomatoes so you can pick them in October and November
So, all in all a booklet full of useful information and all you have to do is remember to look at it from time to time.  Ours has been in a drawer until now but I will put it beside the telephone from now on.

Now it's wet!

What's this? Cloudy skies. Wet pavements. Umbrellas.

At last the promised storm has come and I cycled home from the town centre rejoicing in the soft cool drops of water soaking my summer dress and my face and hair.
Of course everyone seemed to magically pull umbrellas from their bags - always prepared!
Bonnie and I walked earlier under grey skies. For the first time in weeks we were not too hot.
When the rain comes after a long hot spell, there is a strange smell in the air. I think it is the heat stored in the earth sizzling as the raindrops make contact. It is strong and like wet washing in a hot dryer.

I am very aware of the UK wanting sunshine and so it seems slightly impolite to be writing happily about rain and clouds and wind. But everything in moderation I suppose. Sunshine and heat is wonderful when it is broken occasionally by cloud and showers. And rain, wind and grey skies are awful when they go on interminably but without them we would burn to cinders.

What would be the perfect balance for me?  Sunshine 80% and Rain 20%?  Mmmmm. Perhaps that is too much rain. What do you think?

Festa Major

Late night last minute visit to the Festa Major at Bigues. We danced in the main square and ate chips then came home. It will go on into the wee small hours of the morning.
Festa Majors are the celebrations that take place in every town and village to mark some special occasion or saints day. It is a real sign of summer than the festes are on and you can go to a different one every weekend. Granollers will spring into life at the end of August when there is a week long party with a full programme of events.
 These community parties are funded by the local councils. I'm trying to imagine that happening in the UK. Imagine little Golowans happening in every cornish village!