bare tree mountain above capi 300x225 RAILROADED



As you get older… and you will, (I think it has to do with the movement of celestial orbs), you may find yourself with an urge to do ever more offbeat things. I suppose that it’s a feeble attempt to deny the inevitable, to prove to yourself that you are not really decrepit, whereas it is manifestly obvious that you are. I have to admit that with the passing of the years the scope of my intellectual and physical activities becomes more limited. I can spend a pleasant hour, for instance, sorting out the cutlery drawer in the kitchen. Identifying the utensils correctly from their morphology – forks, knives, spoons and so on – and putting them in their appropriate places, gives me a profound feeling of intellectual satisfaction; nor can I deny the pleasing physicality of the job.

For a little more excitement and stimulation I might move on to the larder and shuffle the eggs around a bit. Each day Ana fetches the eggs from the chicken-run and puts then in the egg-box. She puts them at the back so that the oldest eggs are at the front. When cooking, I take them from the front – the older the egg the better it peels, if you’re boiling it. From time to time the front gets empty and the back gets full. This is when I exercise the full power of my brain to sort them out into the correct order. The extreme fragility of the egg adds an agreeable frisson of risk and danger.

Thus do I spend my days, and I count myself most fortunate. Sometimes though, you find yourself in a compromising situation: you’ve been railroaded, laid on the line. I have no memory of how it happened but it’s there now and there’s no way out: the ‘Acompalia’ thing, and the ‘Integral’. It’s like this: for some reason, I happen to be the vice-president of an outfit called ‘Acompalia’. I think it was because I just wanted to be president of something. (You can find out more about this curious urge by reading my forthcoming book, ‘Last Days of the Bus Club’, published by Sort Of at a knock-down price on June 4th.) Bus Club cover 201x300 RAILROADEDAcompalia is a group of people from round these parts (Granada mountains and coast) who, rather quixotically in these most economically unpromising of times, have set out to raise a million and a half €uros to build and run a hospice, a thing undreamt of in the province of Granada, and, indeed, in most of Spain. I admire enormously what these people are doing, and thus it was that when in their unaccountable wisdom they asked me to be their vice-president, I eagerly acquiesced.

My conditions for this prestigious sinecure (imposed by myself) were that I would never but never attend a meeting, and I would have nothing but nothing to do with decision-making. (What sort of a vice-president is this?, you may be wondering.) All well and good, but a month ago I was informed by some of the more active Acompalia members, that, in order to raise money through sponsorship, I was billed to do the “Integral”. So what is the “Integral”, and how would one go about ‘doing’ it? The Integral in this case is the totality of the peaks in the Sierra Nevada above 3,000 metres… and to ‘do’ it, you climb them… all twenty one of them.

I must be bonkers. I am going with one ‘Fit Nick’ for company and encouragement, on June 15th. There’s no way out of this one. I aways used to think that one ought to do at least one crazy thing a year – once I walked from Córdoba to Granada in July – but now I’m not so sure; if all goes belly-up, who will sort the cutlery and the eggs?


Oh, and of course, if you want to check out Acompalia… well, it’s www.acompalia something or other; there are not so many outfits called Acompalia.




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)



FLORAL SALAD quentin'simages@flickr.com


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. www.nosetotailathome.com

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.