Writing

Living the dream… a year on!

Who’d have thought the 70th year of my life would turn out like this?  I sat on the roof terrace with my daughter recently, and we talked our way back through time.  Her memories are so much more vivid than mine.  I was just happy to have her sitting beside me, sharing the view of sky, sea and salt marsh that brings me so much pleasure.

Living the dream… 6 months on had me on the verge of an adventure that makes me smile whenever I think about it.  The Azores, a true love affair that reunited me with clouds and refreshing rain.  That made me want to dance in the puddles like a child.  On my return to the Algarve, more doubts set in.  Was I really suited to this energy sapping heat?  I like to live my life at pace, keeping age at bay you might say.  I was assured that this was a cool summer, by Algarve standards, but still it was a relief to return to the UK for most of August.  A delight too, to share time with my family, made more precious by their distance from my new life.  However hard I try to bridge the gap, with texts and phone calls and Skype, there is no substitute for a hug.

Back in the Algarve, both me and my husband were a little down and disorientated.  Though my son’s beaming smile when he announced his engagement was a moment to savour.  We tried to find ourselves again.  The continuing heat necessitated almost daily trips to the beach, me desperate for a breeze, him happy to laze with the waves lapping his toes.  I had ‘discovered’ croquet and a new circle of friends, while he joined a tennis club.  We were a little at odds and grumpy with each other, uncertain who to blame for the fading dream.  I planned a couple of trips on the water, always guaranteed to make me happy.  September drifted past, and gradually mutual friends returned from their summer sojourn.  The life we had loved was about to resume… but first, a frenzied October.

We had issued numerous invitations to family and friends on our UK departure.  All had given us space to settle in, but October proved to be the tipping point.  We welcomed a succession of guests, all of whom seemed to be as dazzled by our Algarve home as we had been.  Michael donned his chauffeur cap and I assumed my role as planner and tour guide.  All of it very enjoyable, for they were an appreciative audience, and lovely people.  At the same time, we were enrolling for a new term of Portuguese lessons (oh dear!) and trying to maintain our social life.  I didn’t feel well and slept poorly.  But the warmth of responses around me couldn’t be ignored.  People were so kind and caring.  How could I not respond?

A kaleidoscope of events since then!  Walks aplenty, two meetups with lovely blogging friends (in the same week!), entertaining at home (which always makes me nervous, but I needn’t have worried), birthday celebrations, a fantastic light show in Faro.  Do I still have regrets?  Of course!  I wish facility with the language came a little easier.  Overheard snippets of conversation that you can’t understand are no fun at all.  I’m still trying.  The big loss, of course, is the ability to zip down the road to family.  I’m not alone in that.  But I can honestly say, a year down the line, that this place feels like home, and continues to put a smile on my face.  You can’t ask for more, can you?  Even for a restless soul.

Living the dream… 3 months on

It was quite easy to leave England.  Or so I thought!  I had a home in the Algarve, and a ready made life, carefully nurtured over 15 years.  A variety of friends awaited, and activities to engage in.  I loved the place I was moving to.  You’ve seen the photos.  How could I not?  And yet… was the honeymoon over?

There was a certain euphoria in making the dream a reality.  Even saying goodbye to lifelong friends was done with gaiety, each one a celebration of our shared lives.  They could visit, couldn’t they?  And the same for my family, though not without a pang or two.  Everyone was excited and pleased for me.  The move went smoothly.  Fragments of my old life, packed in cardboard boxes, made its way overland to join me.  But when it arrived I was filled with dismay.  Much of it seemed irrelevant to my new life, here in the Algarve, squeezing our comfortable space till it felt cramped.  I closed the door on the second bedroom.  Avoiding it all.

I didn’t miss my old home in the UK, as I thought I might, but I did miss its warmth.  I had moved to a land of sunshine and blue skies, but the house was cold.  Designed to keep out heat in the summer, in the winter they are not so easy to keep warm.  Tiled floors, though beautiful, don’t help.  Out and about and busy in the daytime, I was happy enough, but returning home meant putting on extra layers of clothing.  The house is air-conditioned and individual rooms can be heated, but moving between them was uncomfortable, even with plug-in heaters.  I was miserable, and cross with myself besides.  Why was I not happy?  Everyone knew I was living the dream.

Language is so important to me.  I hide behind photographs, but I deal in words.  Somehow it hadn’t mattered when we came to our holiday home but, proudly obtaining residency, I felt inadequate and frustrated by my inability to converse freely with locals.  I still do, but I’m trying!

So much gloom!  Did you know?  Could you tell?  My life in pictures continued to shine forth at intervals.  I reinstated my Monday walks, reflecting the joy I still found in the amazing outdoors, but on a personal level I couldn’t quite find the idyll.  People here are kind, and my disorientation was noted.  We discussed heating issues, and others, and I was assured that the first year could be difficult.  The weight of expectation, perhaps?

Gradually I am getting there.  Most of the boxes are unpacked, and painting done.  With new settees and carpet our home feels comfortable and welcoming.  But I’m not flexible and adaptable.  Why didn’t I know that about me?  My husband has made the adjustment far better, and retained his much needed sense of humour.  And he can still make me smile.  How lucky am I?  Living in ‘almost paradise’.

Linking to Cathy’s Prose invitation, over on Wander.essence.

On Journey : Inflight blues

‘Excuse me… why are you polishing the window?’  The young man was tall and pale, squashed into his seat beside me on our Ryanair flight from Faro to Leeds.  That was how our conversation began.  I’ve had many on board exchanges over time, but this young man and his troubles really touched me.  I was at the back of the aircraft and my husband far away at the front, because we are too mean to pay the extra to sit together.  We can cope with separation for a couple of hours, and on this occasion I had the compensation of a window seat.  Which is how I came to be polishing my smeary window.

Glancing at him, I replied ‘Because I like to take photos’.  Fair haired and blue-eyed, he nodded.  ‘That makes sense’.  He seemed eager to chat and we exchanged a few details till he sat back, with a sigh.  I thought maybe he was an anxious flier.  We hadn’t yet taken off when he reached beneath the seat and pulled out a full sized wine bottle.  Glugging at it greedily, the flight crew still about to start the safety demonstration.  Time for some friendly advice!  ‘You’re not allowed to drink your own alcohol on board’, I said, feeling a bit hypocritical because, for the first time ever, I had purchased a small rosé in the Duty Free, intending to drink it with my sandwich.  He looked at me.  ‘I need it!’  In a polite, conversational way he explained to me that he has an addictive personality, currently using alcohol, and that he has an appointment with the family doctor in Leeds tomorrow to check him into rehab.

A moment later he was on his phone, to a friend.  I assumed it was a friend.  In close proximity it’s impossible not to overhear someone’s conversation.  I looked out of the window as we began to taxi along the runaway.  He was talking urgently to Tom.  ‘You are going to meet me?  You promised!  My Dad will give you a lift to the airport’.  Almost pleading.  He was near to tears when he switched off the phone.  Out poured the story.  He was gay, and it was hard to trust anybody.  His boyfriend was supposed to bring drugs to the airport to help him till he could see his GP, but he hadn’t got them.  He was desperate to give up alcohol because it was ruining his life.  He had been terrified they wouldn’t let him on the plane home if he was drunk, but his friends had helped him board.  He had spoiled their holiday because he had no self control.

The plane was now in the air, so all he had to do was appear sober a little while longer.  He was waiting anxiously for trolley service to begin, and we talked.  I felt so sorry for him.  25 years old!  I wondered how I could bear it if my own son was in his situation.  He said that he had a good family, and that they would help, if only he could get home.  The middle child, his siblings were successful.  He had managed to work sometimes, but had spent most of his life addicted to drugs, whatever he could get his hands on.  He’d tried to ‘give up’ numerous times.  This time it had to work because his life was completely out of control.

The lakes beside the River Guadiana

He’d been to the Algarve several times before and liked the place and the people.  He was interested in the landscape unfolding below us, and was amazed at the vast area of lakes along the border.  When the trolley pulled alongside he ordered 2 beers and a wine.  I asked if he should have something to eat but he said it was better this way.  He had to drink himself into oblivion and he would sleep.  He downed one can in seconds and slumped back.  Beads of sweat had broken out on his face.  ‘Are you alright, sir?’ asked the air hostess.  He struggled to answer, and she gently informed him that she wouldn’t be able to sell him any more alcohol.  I smiled, despite myself.  After a while he drank the small bottle of wine, and soon his eyes had rolled.  Unless it’s cloudy I’m usually glued to my window throughout a flight, but I couldn’t settle.  I kept watch as he slept, hoping he could make it through the flight.

He jerked half awake, and groped for the remaining can, spilling much of it in his haste.  A male crew member went past and gave him a disgusted look.  I felt defensive for him and wanted to explain that he couldn’t help it.  The stupor overtook him again, mercifully.  With 20 minutes to go, he woke.  The captain had just announced our descent and, with relief, he reached beneath the seat for the last of his wine.  The crew man was just passing back through the cabin, reached over and took it from his hands.  ‘I must have it!’, he protested, to no avail.

We talked some more.  I asked if he would need assistance to get off the plane and he agreed.  He gave me the name of one of his party, a girl, sitting much further down the plane and said he thought she would help.  When we landed, I climbed past him and went to seek the help of the crew man.  Though sceptical, he noted the details.  I went back to say my goodbyes, to wish him luck and to hope that he could get his life back in order   ‘You’re a really nice lady’, he said.  I so hope that his family have been able to help him.  He seemed a really nice boy.

I would probably have kept this sad story to myself if it hadn’t been for Cathy.  I thought it might work for her On Journey invitation, over at Wander.essence.  She has the makings of a novel over there, and much else besides.

A Bishop Auckland Revival

There’s a new bustle to Bishop Auckland these days, and it’s not before time.  It’s been a sad little place for the last many years, but finally someone has taken pity on it and started to breath new life into the dejected streets.  There’s still an impoverished look to the shops, in common with many of our high streets, but change is afoot.  In the vanguard, No. 42 leads the way with it’s fiercely pointy roof.  Describing itself as a gateway to both past and future, upstairs the Pod provides studio space to encourage artistic creativity.  And look!  The yarn bombers are about.

It all began with Auckland Castle, and a vision to turn it into a faith, art and heritage destination on an international scale.  Jonathan Ruffer, Chairman of the Auckland Project, has never lacked for ambition, but what is being achieved in Bishop Auckland is remarkable.  Back in 2014 I took you on a walk through the beautiful castle and grounds, with their distinctive Deer House.  A highlight of the post was the story of the paintings by Spanish master, Francisco de Zurbaran.  Auctioned for in excess of 15 million pounds, they were bought by Ruffer and the Trust he set up, to enable them to stay in Bishop Auckland.  They are soon to feature in a state of the art Spanish Gallery, opposite the new Mining Museum, on Market Square.  The castle is closed to the public and the gardens a bit of a mess until they reopen in December this year.  Meantime Kynren, a spectacular action show, taking you through 2000 years of history, will enliven the grounds again this summer.  I need to book a ticket.

The town isn’t lacking in history, having strong links with the Prince Bishops of Durham.  Surrounded by the mining industry until its decline, the town was once a railway hub and has an enormous entry in Wikipedia, for those who might be interested.  I’ll leave you with that happy chappy, Stan Laurel, who lived in the town as a child.  “Another fine mess you’ve got me into”.

Speaking of which, I didn’t have my camera that day, and had to improvise with some shots taken on my phone.  Scratches head!  You’ll get a better look around, and a peep at the paintings, on my original Auckland Castle post.

The 3 Day Quote Challenge #2

“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” -crime fiction writer, Lawrence Block

Arbeia Roman Fort

Following on from yesterday’s post, this is my second response to Annika’s kind invitation to take part in The 3 Day Quote challenge.  Thanks, hon!

Now for the rules :

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Post a quote on 3 consecutive days.
  • Share why this quote appeals so much to you.
  • Nominate 3 different bloggers for each day.

This quote is tailor made for me.  Anyone who follows my Monday walks will know that I’m the best ‘stumbler upon’ ever!  It’s not every day that you come across a reconstructed Roman Fort in the middle of a housing estate, now is it?  Whether I’m up the north east coast in South Shields, or poking about in the back streets of Jerez, I seem to have a penchant for stumbling.  Where next, I wonder.

My nominees?  Please join in, if you can.  No hurry to take part if you’re busy.

My lovely Greek friend, EfiSoul63 

Amanda at Something to Ponder About

And Nanette, The Grey Divorcee

See you tomorrow, with number 3.

 

The 3 Day Quote Challenge #1


“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

I’m not a great one for quotes, nor indeed for challenges and rules, but when a very lovely lady plucks at my heartstrings… well, I can’t help but respond.  If it’s good enough for Annika Perry, who am I to quibble?  I’ve long admired her writing, which seems to flow effortlessly.

The rules :

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Post a quote on 3 consecutive days.
  • Share why this quote appeals so much to you.
  • Nominate 3 different bloggers for each day.

Why this quote, from India’s first Prime Minister?  I’m always straining at the leash, to be somewhere else.  It’s a gentle reminder to self.  The world IS a beautiful place and I don’t always need to go beyond my garden to experience the wonder.  It’s all there, waiting for me.  A rhododendron, after the rain, my source of today’s delight.  Tomorrow?  Maybe a little further.

My nominees?  No hurry, ladies!  Join in if you’d like :

Tish, my Writer on the Edge

Sue, at Words Visual

And Pauline, who’s Living in Paradise

See you all tomorrow!

 

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

What is it that draws you to a place?  It’s a good question that Cathy asks on her new blog, Wanderessence and one that I can’t resist answering.  I’m going to start with my most recent visit to a ‘new’ place, Jerez de la Frontera, but I will be returning to this challenge.

Drama and passion are two of the things that brought me to Jerez.  I’m sure I must have gypsy blood somewhere in the ancestry.  The rhythmic stamp of that foot and the proud arch of the neck has me on the edge of my seat, breathing suspended, totally in the moment.  Who wouldn’t travel for this?  Andalusia Day in Jerez, during the Festival of Flamenco.  All was quiet in the city as we arrived on this National Holiday.  Until we stumbled, by accident, into the Centro Cultural Flamenco Don Antonio Chacon, in search of food.  Five deep at the tiny bar, half of Jerez were assembled to watch the show, all chattering like magpies.  A hush fell as the artist took to the stage.  Looking out into the packed hall, he claimed his audience, all eyes upon him.  And then… the passion ignites!

Our lovely host, Alejandro, at La Fonda Barranco, said that he had guests returning year on year to take part in the festival.  And to sample the sherry, of course.  No visit to Jerez would be complete without tasting two or three.  Sherish (Xères) was the Arab name for this city, founded by the Phoenicians three thousand years ago.  The warm climate, with both easterly and westerly winds and soil that was once covered by the ocean, produces sherry, a unique, inimitable wine.  Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, sweet Pedro Ximenez… so many choices!

Something else unique to the city had drawn me here.  The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art trains horses from the age of three, and riders, to perform advanced dressage and Spanish horse riding, country style.  The culmination of their training is the show ‘How Andalusian Horses Dance’.  Performed to classical music, and to a packed house, this is pure equestrian ballet.  Beautifully groomed and beribboned, the horses demonstrate rhythmic trotting and the ‘Spanish walk’.  They twirl, leap and balance on hind legs, all in complete unison with their rider.

Photographs, understandably, were not permitted but I can share a little of the atmosphere and excitement in this video, which shows the beautiful palace and grounds as well as the arena.  I don’t think it would be out of place in a fairy tale.

This is only a small part of my Jerez story.  There’s a mighty cathedral, beautiful churches, bodegas aplenty, distinctive architecture and wonderful food.  I can’t wait to show you my sherry trifle!  But first it’s your turn to share.  What is it that draws you to a place?  Cathy would love to know.