On Thursday morning last week I left home, as always, with the profoundest of misgivings. I consider it unwise to leave home and go travelling at the best of times; you might come across somewhere nicer than the place you live… and then where would you be?

I drove west for a couple of hours, dumped the motor, flew north for an hour, then took a train due north from Sants station in Barcelona up a long forested valley to Vic… pronounced ‘beak’, it said in the notes. In Beak there was only the last bus, and the last bus didn’t go all the way to where I wanted to go… but it went to L’Esquirol, and I liked the sound of that, so for two Euros eighty I signed up for the trip. L’Esquirol turned out to be a dead and alive sort of a place, and still eighteen kilometres from where I wanted to be, which was, as you might have guessed by now, Rupit.

So, hitching my bag on my shoulder, I stepped out onto the highway. It was a warm evening and a pale ribbon of road wound with no fences through fields of green corn. The sun was setting behind me and a few indeterminate birds gladdened the evening with their song. Sod’s Law says that when you are enjoying a walk like this some cabrón * will stop and give you a lift. (*Cabrón is a term much used by the Spanish; depending on tone of voice it can be affectionate or an impardonable insult, fighting talk. It means ‘cuckold’.)

After ten minutes on the road a grubby old van rumbled up behind me. I stuck my thumb out in half-hearted fashion… and it stopped. Santi was a crazy old guy like me, with curly greying hair and round glasses, the sort of cabrón who gives people lifts. He wasn’t going to Rupit, but he took me there anyway. As I waved goodbye to him on the outskirts of the village, we vowed undying friendship. I felt good; one forgets how good it feels to go hitch-hiking and get a lift.

Rupit… I looked down at it with suspicion. Something was wrong. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then I got it: I cannot ever remember seeing a village or a town that was not spoiled by some disfiguring excrescence. It’s the way the modern world is; we have come to expect ugliness, mediocrity and disneyification. Where people live and work is generally hideous, and when we encounter something that doesn’t fit this norm, we feel confused. I thought for a minute that I had slipped through some glitch in the warp and weft of time and entered a parallel universe. Perhaps there had been more to Santi’s van that met the eye.




bumbushkagwcom 224x300 ANOTHER DOGG



Dogs are like the rest of us; they grow old and die, so from time to time you have to get new ones. For any number of reasons it’s men who tend to pop their clogs before women… I wonder if, and where, the Wife will look for a replacement for me. For a new dog though, we go to Albolote. There’s a refuge there, a huge compound that takes in about three hundred dogs. They don’t put them down if nobody comes to adopt them; they – the team of heroic and selfless volunteers who run the place – just keep on looking after them, feeding them and walking them. The staff are paid nothing at all and the whole thing runs on a charitable foundation. Anyway the place is absolutely full; there’s room for not one dog more, and as a consequence of the economic troubles, there are ever more dogs being abandoned. Spain is a land of abandoned dogs and it’s getting worse.

On Thursday we went to fetch Mami (their name), a big white Mastín that the Wife had seen on their website. She is about five years old and big and affectionate and fairly recently abandoned. Since Thursday she lives with us on the farm, with Bumble, and Bao, who also came from Albolote. The first couple of days we walked her up the river on a lead… she might have done a bunk and tried to make it back to Albolote. But she seems to know the score now and is terrified of the sheep, so now we let her run free.

To my mind it’s hard to imagine anything more pleasurable than watching a creature that has been maltreated, abandoned or confined in a concrete pen, as it starts to understand that it now has the freedom of the countryside. The expression of happiness on their faces and tails as they race up and down the river, sniffing the things that dogs like to sniff, works its way deep into your heart. I like to have a dog along when I go walking because it seems to me that they manifest pleasure in the most extraordinary way, and redistribute it to anyone with eyes to see, through their tails. So, if you want a dog to accompany you and fill your solitary walking with joy, or lie contentedly by your feet before the fire, don’t waste good money on expensive pedigree dogs; these creatures need you. Give Albolote a go.

Of course we had to change the name, as Mami doesn’t begin with a B. She’s Babouschka now, which is a bit of a mouthful, but nice.

babushka nosecomp 300x224 ANOTHER DOGG

BABOUSCHKA (Shepherds cut the ears to thwart ticks)





The picture represents, believe it or not, a salad we had for lunch yesterday. People are astonished: ‘Eaugh, surely you can’t eat flowers,’ they say.

Well you can, and although it’s a bit like munching through a pile of weeds, it’s far from disagreeable, and I’m sure there are innumerable subtle benefits to be had from the eating of flowers. It’s worth it anyway in my opinion simply for the beauty of it. It doesn’t matter what it tastes like so long as it looks good… and you can always sex a salad up with a skilled hand in the dressing department.

I suppose I take a perverse pleasure in eating things that are considered unorthodox. What I love best is kidneys and livers, hearts, balls and brains, all of which are as good as the sweetest and tenderest meat. Should you want to dip into this stuff, I can recommend a wonderful website that helps you get the most out of your offal.

This website is based on a cookery book that came out of the rather dazzling St John’s Restaurant in London. I went there once, and took the liberty of nicking the menu, which I reproduce here for your delectation, with certain annotations that reflect the delicate state in which I found myself upon that day.

‘You need to be in pretty robust fettle to get some of this stuff down. The roast bone marrow – if you’re feeling a little delicate – reminds one of mucus, and mucus is the last thing you want when you’ve got a hangover. Next, for some unfathomable self-destructive reason, I went for the crispy pigs’ noses, by which I mean the crispy noses of pigs. This only took me further into the world of mucus, for when they arrived, that was just what they looked like: a couple of the noses of pigs looking up at you – insofar as pigs look with their noses – from the plate. By this time I was having trouble keeping the lid on the stuff, and it was with some relief that I drew into the terminus of this gastronomic journey with a refreshing calvados sorbet.’



Artichoke vinaigrette (V)

Cured beef and celeriac

Deep fried skate-cheeks and green sauce

Langoustines ansd mayonnaise

Native oysters (each) It didn’t say what ‘each’ meant; mine for some reason was the ladies’ menu… but you can imagine.

Parsnip soup and foie gras

Roast bone marrrow and parsley salad

Smoked eel and horseradish

Snail and oakleaf … for heaven’s sake!

That was just the starters… we continued with:–

Braised squirrel and wild garlic

Brill, chips and tartare sauce

Fennel and Berkswell (V) … and serves ‘em right. (It’s hard to get good Berkswell these dark days.)

Kid faggott and mash

Pigeon and red cabbage

Roast sirloin, beetroot and pickled walnut

Tripe, white beans and bacon

Veal chop, spinach and anchovy

It goes on and on, and you can finish with Eccles Cake and Lancashire cheese, which some of our party actually did. Not me though; I wasn’t up to it by then.

But all this stuff is making me hungry… time for lunch.








Amphibians for Chris 1 254x300 INADVISABLE COPULATIONS

Don't try this one at home, folks

There are days that turn up from time to time when nothing happens that is noteworthy or even amusing. Today, the 30th of March. has been like that so far… and I’m wondering if the fault is mine or the day’s. It would be wrong to blame the day, I think, so it must be me. I must be in that sort of mood… which gets me thinking that if I can write a halfway decent thing today, then I can write it any day.

In the morning I walked up the river with the doggs, as I do most mornings. Another dead toad in the pool, which is always a little dispiriting, although I have a feeling that the toads like it that way; it seems to be part of their cycle. Often this watery death is accompanied by some bizarre copulation, three or four smaller toads hanging on to the bloated body of the dead toad and all rolling around in a clump in the water. It’s not the sort of copulation that’s to everybody’s taste. I would be grateful if anybody who might know what exactly is going down here, could let me know and thus illuminate my darkness.

I was reminded of Woody Allen saying, ‘The thing about sex is that when it’s good, it’s really good; and when it’s bad… well, it’s still pretty good.’

I wonder if the toads see it that way… or spiders, of whom the male in many cases, gets eaten by the female. A quick trawl through the murkier reaches of the internet merely demonstrates that there are even worse things that can happen. Let’s not go there.

As I wandered up the river musing to myself on the pleasures and dangers of copulation, I heard a nightingale in the tamarisks, the first one of the year. Aiming my ears at the spot, I didn’t see where I was going and stepped on an unfortunate snake sunning itself by the water. With an inaudible oath it shot out from beneath my unfeeling flip-flop and slithered like a rocket into the river. Everything you read urges you to wear stout walking boots in rough terrain, but thank heavens I didn’t, or it would have been curtains for that poor snake. It only goes to show: you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

Ants for dinner today 300x225 INADVISABLE COPULATIONS

Post-prandial rather than post-coital, but a great photo by Andrew Phillips






irisescr 300x224 NETTLE SOUPIn Billingshurst, the ancestral seat, visiting my octogenarian mother. It being a sunny morning on Saturday, I headed for the woods, with plastic bag, rubber gloves and kitchen scissors. The woods were carpeted with bluebells, not flowering yet, but rich green and not far off bursting into bloom. A few primroses and celandines were to be seen here and there though, showing them the way. The sun shone, there were blackbirds singing, and everywhere the cooing of fat grey wood-pigeons. Sometimes I forget how beautiful England can be.

I turned along a muddy path, an avenue of wild garlic; the very air smelt of it. That would do for a start, so carefully I eased up some of the slender etiolated tendrils from the dark earth, and slipped them into my bag. Soon there were stinging nettles. I admit to actually salivating at the delicious prospect. I undid my belt, passed it through the handles of the plastic bag, put on the tight rubber glove, and got down to picking. They were young and bright green, and low to the ground. I think it’s still a bit early for nettles, but better too young than the vile old seedy and fibrous things that come later on. In twenty minutes I had the bag stuffed with stinging nettles.

On the way back with my booty I stopped at a chemist. Possibly as a consequence of having been locked in a hermetically sealed aluminium tube for three hours, hemmed in by people hawking and coughing, and sniffling and sneezing, (Easyjet Málaga-Gatwick) I felt the first tight catch of a cold somewhere in the back of my nose. A massive dose of vitamin C is your only man in this predicament.

I found the pharmacist rather attractive, and she seemed well disposed to the idea of a chat. We talked of vitamin C for a bit, a subject about which I know nothing whatever.

‘Linus Pauling’, I told her, ‘would take 9,000Mg of vitamin C a day, and look what he did.’

‘What?’ she asked.

I wasn’t sure either what Linus Pauling had actually done, but I fudged the issue by showing her my bag of nettles. She seemed impressed. I decided to go a little farther:

‘I’ve picked them for my poor old mother; she hasn’t got anything to eat; also they’re good for her aging bones and her eyes, so I shall make a soup out of them. You should try it, nettle soup, it’s delicious.’

As I left the attractive pharmacist shook her head and wiped a tear from her eye.

And the soup was beyond description too, accompanied as it was by some perfect golden croûtons and just a swirl of Rumanian soured cream. It was a great dish for Mothers’ Day… cheap, too.



I don't have a photo of Vanessa... unfortunately, but here's a very nice one of the sheep. Thanks, Maggie.

It’s a new beginning, another one. It’s late February and I  am prostrated by la gripe, man-flu… laid low to the extent that I am unable to function normally and am thus reduced to writing blogs. These things happen from time to time and it’s nothing to get worried about, but there’s a lot of coughing going on, inordinate quantities of mucus, a wretched weakness and much sneezing. This last I like a lot, and in a sense it makes the whole thing worthwhile, because it makes me think of Vanessa Blackwell. I should explain…

Vanessa Blackwell, whom I haven’t laid eyes on since I was eighteen, is the girl I have thought of more than any other in my whole life – apart from the Wife, that is – and all because of a most singular event which I shall now relate to you.

The more assiduous followers of my witterings will remember that I was educated at one of those establishments conceived to prepare men to run the Empire (British). It was a boys’ boarding school, and thus, until I turned up one late summer morning at the co-educational Crawley College of Knowledge, I had only the sketchiest notions of what a girl was, and still less of what they were actually for.

Imagine, then, the author, fresh from public school, taking his seat nervously halfway up a tower block in Crawley new town, for his first ‘Liberal Studies’ class. I was dressed in what I considered to be bohemian style: unwashed jeans, rabbit-fur coat and grey felt hat. In the classroom were a score or so of louts making a lot of noise and fooling about. They made me feel uneasy.

All of a sudden the classroom door flew open and banged against the wall. Every head swivelled; a pen dropped with a crash like thunder into the portentous silence that engulfed us, as we took in the dazzling apparition at the door. We had none of us ever seen anything like it, and never, never would we see such a thing again. For there stood none other than Vanessa Blackwell herself, disdainfully appraising us. She was slender, and willowy with the shape of a woman, and she moved like the back legs of a colt. The eyes that so insolently held our drooling gaze were witches’ green, and her curling blonde hair cascaded down across the skin-tight black velvet minidress that she had somehow contrived to wriggle into.

There was a sharp intake of breath from each lug and lout in unison, culminating in a long low groan; then the utter silence reasserted itself. This, then, was a girl, and this was what they were for: she exuded raw sex, and she had each and every one of us males utterly bewitched.

For an instant longer she held our gaze… as each of us longed against longing for her to sit beside us.

Then, very delicately, she sneezed.

We gasped.

She spoke:

“Did you know,” she said, with a toss of her curls, “that the intensity of a woman’s sneeze is in inverse proportion to the intensity of her orgasm?”

Vanessa Blackwell, I shall never forget… and I’m sure that there was not another lumpen lug in that classroom who ever will forget either.

Anyway, as a consequence of this illuminating little episode, I have thought in a salacious way of Vanessa Blackwell every time I have sneezed since the age of eighteen. That was forty two years ago. In an average week one might sneeze, I suppose, thirty times (with me they come in threes). In a week with the man-flu heavy upon one it might be more than three hundred times. The man-flu hits you about once a year, so call it fifty one thirties and one three hundred: that’s 1,830; now multiply that by forty two and you get seventy six thousand eight hundred and sixty times that Vanessa in that slinky black dress has sashayed into my view. I think that may be even more than I’ve thought in that way about the Wife…