Saturday, 29 December 2007

Rabbit bits

Yesterday we drove into Leon to shop and get Reb a pizza. She needs periodic encounters with American food and there are no burger or pizza joints in Sahagun. The Leon pizzas we get are very good, with thin crusts. Mine was liberally covered with anchovies, which, to my mind, is the only reason to bother with pizza.
We bought some chunks of rabbit along with the shopping. Very Spanish, the package included liver, heart and half the head, including the eyeball.
At home today, we roasted it all over an open fire in the kitchen. It worked very well and was a change from stewing the little fellow. When cooked, the head yielded no edible -or even inedible - meat at all. Tim was awarded it. Rabbit bones look much like chicken, except for the little ribs, and may be dangerous for dogs. This time they survived (the dogs, that is, not the bones. Or the rabbit who once used the head, for that matter).
Very misty and cold this morning. Very pretty, the plants all frosted white, but a bit too brisk for my taste. Reb put jackets on the dogs. They both originally belonged to Una, so hers fitted, but on Tim the jacket looked like the tiny ones greyhounds wear with a number on.
Angel, a neighbor resplendent in his orange boiler suit, had a good laugh at our dressed-up dogs. Round here, they would as soon put a jacket on a cow or a pig or chicken.

The Bhutto murder is disturbing. It put me in mind of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, for some reason. One person - admittedly important - is killed and, in some mysterious fashion, the rest of the world is plunged into chaos. Maybe it is in enough chaos already. Maybe this incident is just more of the same. I hope so.
It is hard to know what to make of Bhutto herself. Until she decided to return to Pakistan, she seemed to be just another grubby pol on the make, with a husband referred to as Mr. Ten Per Cent, and a strong whiff of corruption in her background. But it took a lot of nerve than I would ever have to go back where her father and two brothers had themselves been killed over politics. Hard to believe she was in it for the money this time round.

I may not write again this year, so I will wish one and all a happy new year now. But it does not look promising.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

A Blog that´s a Log of the Dogs

We went west towards San Nicolas yesterday morning for our daily dog-walk over the camino. The village´s full name is San Nicolas del Real Camino, which is almost a long as the main street. Compared with Moratinos it is practically a metropolis. It has two bars to our none.

We didn´t go all the way there, but stopped at an area of uncultivated, eroded ground full of ravines where rains wash off. We call it the Hare Field, because we have often seen both hares and rabbits there. The ground is honeycombed with burrows. It is Una´s favorite place in the world, and she generally vanishes there for several minutes. Today was the same. When it was time to go, Reb, Tim and I set out for home, leaving Una with her head stuck down a hole.

About twenty minutes later, as we neared the house, she trotted up, apparently unruffled by the fact that her white fur around her neck and ears was a nasty shade of pink. One of her ears was bleeding. She had tangled with something – a fox, maybe or even a Jabali, a wild boar. I can´t think of anything else round here that could take her on, although there have been reports of wolves reappearing. Tim was very interested in her wounds - sniffing and trying to lick them. At home I stuck Una in the bath and she cleaned up like new. (I did not come out of it so well.)

Moratinos has about as many dogs as it does people.

Justi and Oliva next door have two nasty dogs that bark and bay whenever anything stirs. They (the dogs) detest and envy Una and Tim because we walk them every day, but those dogs never get out of the barn. Reb says there is also an old hunting dog in the house, but I´ve never seen him. God only knows what it must smell like inside that garage.

Stasi and Pilar, one house down, have a new puppy now called Perla, who looks as if she is made out of black pipe-cleaners.

Julie´s family also now has a puppy called Luna who might be a black Labrador. Judging by the size of her paws, she is going to be a monster.

Segundino has the old German Shepherd who lazes peacefully in the sun whenever possible. His only serious job these days is to guard Bertha the Parrot from other nosy dogs when her cage is put outside. Segundino also has a hunting dog, a slender hound that stands on top of a six-foot pile of wood all day and howls. He only gets out on hunting days. Segundino´s relatives in the Plaza Mayor seem to have about three other dogs sequestered inside a barn near the bodegas, whose only job is to kick up a rumpus whenever anyone comes within twenty feet.

On the other side of town Esteban and Milagros have two dogs too: the infamous Roldan, a lupine brute set to kill anyone and everything in sight, and Toby, a small, short-legged mutt who mooches around the village. He is cute, but does not like Tim.

Pim has a hunting dog called Braulio, who does not care overmuch for Tim either.

Edu has The Pants Dog, so named because his front half is white, but his hindquarters are dark grey, giving the impression that he is clad in pantaloons. He really hates Tim.

All this animosity over poor Tim, is I suppose because he is a newcomer, male, young, and still, so far, in possession of his testicles.

Una, as a neutered female and long-established resident, arouses no ill feelings with most of the local hounds. She does step in, however, when Braulio or Pants Dog gets too near or threatening to Tim. He is her boy toy, and she will tolerate no ruff stuff around him.

There is an entire community of dogs here, but somehow we only manage to snap photos of the two most attractive ones.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Very short blog

Apropos my blog about Real Madrid a day or so ago, my daily newspaper, El Pais, had a piece about the game with an intro containing a quote from Nietzsche.
There´s posh.
El Pais is always doing things like this and regularly assumes the reader knows who dudes like Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Sartre are without being told.
And, oddly, the piece did not include being Beyond Good and Evil, which - at the top of the table with a seven-point lead over Barcelona - is where Real now finds itself.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve in the Dog House

The house of dogs, that is.
Una vanished during our morning walk today and we had to go and get the car and drive back into the Promised Land to search for her. She showed up as soon as we reappeared, filthy and smelling of rotten fish. She had been rolling in some sort of fertilizer. I had to give her the full body wash back at the house. Today Tim behaved himself, remembering a couple of weeks ago when he decided to take a dip in the town sewer drain and had to get the same treatment. When they do stuff like that, I scrub them extra hard, to learn them. Some dogs like baths. Not ours.

This blog will be a bit of a rag-bag.

The weather continues to be splendid - chilly and cloudless early, and warm by lunchtime. Is this global warming or just a spot of nice weather? I think we should be told. But the locals say it´s cold.

Last night Lib and I went to a bar to watch Real Madrid play Barcelona, the game of the season so far. The place was mobbed, as the game was on pay per view only, so everyone interested had to get out of the house to see it. Real won with the only goal. I thought the result was fair, because the Mad team defended much better. It was the sort of game Americans should be shown to let them see how good soccer can be.

In the paper and on the radio, and probably on the TV as well, except we don´t have one as yet, Zapatero, the Prime Minister is making a big deal about the new high-speed train between Madrid, Segovia and Valladolid, and so he should. It will go at about 200 miles per hour, or so they say. This will enable it to stop in the stations for half an hour instead of a quarter of an hour, and still only be twenty minutes late.
Still and all, trains are the best way to get around. Comfy seats with a restaurant car in the middle (of the train, that is, not the seat). Sahagun is a train town, with a direct line to Madrid and even Pamplona, Barcelona and Alicante. Most Spanish travel, outside the big cities seems to revolve around the bus station. We don´t even have one.

The big news, however, I got from the Expat Telegraph, via email. The most popular boy´s name in Britain, which is currently Jack, next year is set to be supplanted by Mohammed. But then, what will we call our Teddy Bears?
There´s always Osama.

Merry Christmas to all, except Republicans.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Life in the Afternoon

It is Friday afternoon, December 21. Rebekah and Libby, her daughter, have gone of on a trip with the neighbours, to another local town. I am not sure which one, Saldaña, maybe. Clowns are threatened. I am here with a nice fire and the dogs snoozing in front.
Christmas is round the corner and Reb wants a canary. This is proving tricky, as there don´t seem to be any in Sahagun, and there is not much time left to get to Leon. And there is not much meat on a canary.
She may have to settle for the leg of lamb we bought this morning. It was, in fact virtually half a lamb, as it came with a side of ribs attached. The butcher lady chopped it all up into its component parts, including a kidney. We also bought a lamb´s liver which comes as a set with a heart and lungs still attached. More like an anatomy lesson than cookery. The bill was high, a tad over 40 euros, but the lamb did weigh over three kilos, about six or seven lb. It will be our Christmas dinner. Reb is going to look for a pilgrim to share it with. No doubt she will find one, although I haven´t seen any in the last day or so.
The lungs will make a fine snack for the dogs. Even I draw the line at eating them. (The lungs, that is, not the dogs.)
Along with the lamb stuff, the butcher threw in half a lamb´s head. Muy rico, she says.
We decided against a turkey, though the fact that Israelis eat more turkey than anyone else in the world had nothing to do with it. We just didn´t want one, I suppose because Reb and Lib cooked a monster in Paris for Thanksgiving (a turkey, that is, not an Israeli).
I didn´t go to Paris, but am making up for it by reading books by French writers. As well as Camus, I have re-read Chaos and Night, by De Montherlant and the essays of Montaigne. This all sounds rather poncey, I must admit, but for some reason French writers often seem more relevant than others to me. Same with French movies, although some Spanish one are coming on strongly.
As the first essayist, Montaigne, was really the first blogger, back in the late 1500´s. Every reasonably educated French person is familiar with his works, but in England and the States, only academics are aware of him. This is a pity. Pascal disapproved of him, which is always a good sign.
I don´t suppose Pascal thought much of canaries, either. In fact, I wonder if they had canaries in the seventeenth century in Europe. Will have to look it up.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Dogs, rats and bears

Keen-eyed readers will notice that, after a brief reappearance, the blog stopped again . This is because we were in Southern Spain seeing my son and grandson there, and making efforts to sort out our financial stuff with people who understand English and American taxes, as well as Spanish ones..
But now I am back in the Land of the Fields. When the dogs saw us again, they went crazy with either delight or relief.
A bishop I know thinks they have no souls. If they don´t have souls, then souls are unnecessary. Who knows how much dogs know or feel? The chickens were only mildly cheered by our return.
While in Malaga, I bought a copy of The Plague, by Camus. It must be at least 40 years since I read it. It is still a great and disturbing book, but now I found myself now more conscious and rather critical of the sometimes stilted translation.
But the message is as potent as ever. The plague of the title is, as we all know, a metaphor for political extremism, in this case Nazism. The disease - bubonic plague - occupies, then isolates Oran, in Algeria, as did the Germans in France during the Second World War.
It doesn´t take a leap of imagination to transfer the situation to that of America now. Most of the rest of the world now regards the States as an area under intellectual quarantine. The hopeful news is that in the States, one can see signs of the Neocon malaise finally going into recession. Soon, perhaps, it will be just another ugly footnote in history. But, as Camus ends the book by saying, the rats will still be there, waiting.
Maybe I should apologise for adding more words to the pile about the appalling Bush and his gang, but it is important.
The news, while we were in Malaga was mostly about the Engish schoolteacher lady who allowed her class in The Sudan to name a Teddy Bear Mohammed. She was lucky to get out with her life. As someone on the BBC remarked, if the loonies had known that Ted´s full chosen name was Mohammed the Pooh, her head would have been rolling in the Sudan sand by now.
We get the politicians, and the religions, we deserve.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Reason Why

Old friends write every so often to ask me what I am doing in a village in Spain which does not even have a bar. It is because of The Camino. This is a route taken by pilgrims which traverses Spain from France and ends, either in Santiago de Compostela, or depending on one´s fancy, at Finisterra. Before Columbus, Finisterra was as its name describes, the very end of the earth. Our village, Moratinos, is right on the Camino Français - just about half way along the roughly 500-mile trek.

To save me writing a lot of even more boring stuff than usual, you can go to the site above for statistics.
Several thousand pilgrims - pilgs, as we affectionately call them amble, march, stroll or, very frequently limp past either our back or front door each year. When we have a finished house, we will put up some of them.
We are especially fond of those with animals. The odd pilg will show up with a horse, or a donkey or a dog. We have only ever seen one with a goat. Many of the places pilgs normally stay in - known as Albergues or Refugios (same thing) are not keen, or anyway not equipped, to deal with the furries, so we will fill a niche.
The pilgrimage was originally at least, religious in nature, ending at what is claimed to be the tomb of St. James - Santiago. Nowadays, for a lot of people, it is no more than a nice long cheap walking or cycling vacation. The French seem to appreciate the cheap aspect more than most.
Nevertheless, the Camino numbers among its participants an unusually high percentage of maniacs. Many, naturally, are religious maniacs, some are Templar maniacs, others merely common-or-garden maniacs. The Templar maniacs are obsessed with the medieval knights of that ilk. They go in for much foolishness involving holy grails and big swords and tunics with big red crosses on the front. The Knights Templars had a lot to do with the Camino, acting as a sort of medieval Guardia Civil.
A mile or so East of Moratinos is the village of Terradillos de los Templarios. It became one of their hangouts. It seems that there was another village between there and Moratinos, called Villaoreja, which was run by a gang of monks who went crooked, robbing and killing the pilgs. Even six or seven hundred years ago this was thought to be going a bit far so the Templars moved to Terradillos and turfed out the tonsured tearaways. They did such a thorough job that only a stone marking the spot remains.
Nothing that interesting seems to be known about our village, except that the name indicates that it was once inhabited by Moors. They are not expected back any time soon, but the way things are going these days you never know.
The next village, about a mile and a half away, San Nicolas, is practically Las Vegas in comparison. It has not only an albergue with a bar, but a restaurant with a bar as well. Even more impressive, during the Camino´s middle-age heyday, they had a hospital reserved exclusively for pilgs with leprosy. Very chic.
So that is why we now live in Moratinos. I hope that explains it to you. It doesn´t to me, I must say. But, if you have any questions, just write.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Under Old Management

Thanks and apologies to the yet still faithful readers who ask me why I have not been blogging lately. Indolence is the short answer.
My wife has left me, only for a week she says, to go to Paris for Thanksgiving. Parisians, in their turn are making plans tout suite to spend Bastille Day in Pittsburgh. I am now a hermit, with only the chickens and the dogs. And the rain. And no excuse for not writing.
We now have two dogs. Tim, a year-old pedigree Brittany Spaniel walked in off the Camino about six weeks ago and is now officially ours. His ex-owner, when tracked down, was suspiciously willing to let us keep him, but he is a good and kindly creature (Tim, that is, not the owner) and company for Una. The chickens are down to three, we gave two away and Tim, on arrival at the house, immediately killed one to do us a favor and demonstrate his skills as a hunter. I remonstrated with him in my imperfect Castellano, and he is now on arse-sniffing terms with the survivors.
If given the chance, he would spend his waking hours sitting in front of me and staring me sympathetically in the face; wondering, no doubt, if I will ever get it.

The world grows more surreal every day, does it not?
I read in today´s El Pais, One Of The World´s Great Newspapers, although they unaccountably fail to say so on the masthead, that Scott McClellan, White House spokesman from 2003 to 2006, is now complaining that he was ordered to lie about all manner of stuff to shield his masters from the ensuing outrage.
Well, Duh!, as we European sophisticates are wont to ejaculate. No need to say more, except next time read the job description more carefully, Scott.
In Spanish, a spokesperson is a ´portavoz´a carry-voice , more or less. Nice way to put it, I think.
On another, more serious topic, the news that Croacia have knocked England out of some football cup was not an unforseen shock. I went to the Bar Deportivo to watch Spain, who were about ten times superior to Northern Ireland, make very heavy weather out of beating them.
It would take a Scott McClellan to explain that both England and Northern Ireland are really world-class but were just unlucky on the night. Someody should give him a call.

Monday, 20 August 2007

The sound of music - and explosions

Saturday and Sunday were the days of the annual fiesta in Moratinos. As the Wednesday before was a national holiday involving the mother of God, we were at mass three times in five days. Rather a lot.

And on Saturday in the evening we were back in church to hear a concert by the Orchestra de Cuerda Granados, that is to say the Granados String Orchestra. This consists of about ten solemn people, armed with guitars, mandolins and lutes and led by a tiny person. I say this advisedly, because when they played last year, Reb and I spent some time wondering which sex the conductor was. She wears tails to perform, which does not help. However, this year we had a programme, so now we know.

The music was spectacularly awful. A paso doble so leadenly performed that it seemed scored for someone in diver´s boots. A version of La Donna e Mobile that was utterly immobile. The number that surpassed all, though, was O Sole Mio. This like several of the others, was accompanied by the lady conductor tapping on a hollow wooden block, with drumsticks, to produce an unpleasant popping sort of noise. Although the orchestra, with the exception of the boss lady, seemed to be hating it all - we, the audience, loved it and gave the outfit a standing ovation. This was a mistake, as we were then subjected to an encore which I, and several others, thought she announced as Palencia, where we live. It turned out to be Valencia, where we don´t. It was duly butchered along with the rest.

It seemed to me that maybe the packed house really knew this was all a cunning annual joke and folk were just pretending everything was OK and in tune, but we are not famous for sophisticated humor in these parts. We go in for simple fun, like letting off petards, rockets that zoom up 50 feet and explode with a shattering bang. We do this at any hour of day or night, according to whim. Personally I don´t like them and neither does Una the dog. On Saturday, after hiding under our bed all day, Una ran away during the evening and didn´t come back til seven in the morning. Reb got no sleep worrying about her. She spent the night driving around looking for her in the fields. I had been forced to drink a great deal of homemade liquor called Orujo and had no trouble sleeping through the drama, to my shame.

Victor, one of the people who comes back from out of town for the revels, told me that all dogs are frightened by the rockets, including his - despite the fact that he takes them hunting. His dogs are fine with gunfire, but scarper from the arial explosions. They know the difference. This picture is Victor, setting off a rocket despite his dogs´feelings.

Una doesn´t like bangs of any stripe. I doubt she would be very keen on someone of indeterminate sex doing grievous harm to Lara´s Theme from Dr. Zivago, on a wood block either - however much that tune deserves it. Next year I will pass up the concert and hide under our bed with her. Una, that is, not the androgynous conductor person.

Monday, 30 July 2007

America is different

The Americans were getting all bent out of shape last week because a couple of the Space Shuttle crew were apparently drunk while on a mission. My reaction was the same as when I was told, along with the rest of the Toledo Blade staff, that the consumption of liquor at lunchtime was no longer permitted. “You mean they expect us to do this stuff sober?” I cried.
The others thought I was being funny. We know better on this side of the pond.

This has nothing to do with the story below, except it is also set in Toledo, Ohio.

My first evening in Toledo, Ohio, as a newly arrived Blade executive, was interesting. It was November 1989, dark, cold and wet.

The paper had found, at my asking, an apartment within walking distance of the office. As is often the case with newspapers in The States, it was in the heart of Downtown.

My flat was in a smart row of terraced houses, with electric security gates for the garages, and gentrified to the nines, but the surrounding area was well down on its luck.

Still, it was all new to me, and after unpacking, I set out to explore. On the corner of the next block, 50 yards from my door, was a bar. A small neon sign proclaimed The Dooville Lounge. I went in. I like bars.

In a dim light about twenty or so customers were scattered, some at the counter, others at tables. They were not yuppies. A jukebox played “Welcom (sic) to the Jungle, “ a popular dirge of the day, whose significance escaped me at that point. Nobody paid me any obvious heed.

The barmaid was sturdily built, not unlike a Steelers linebacker, and clearly not to be fucked with. I asked for a gin and tonic.
“You Briddish?” she said. Yes, no denying it.
“You know Lady Di?” she followed up. Well, not really, but I had met her once, I ventured modestly. “You met Lady Di! Where?” barked the barmaid, whom I later knew as Joyce. I could not tell a lie. “At a polo match, as a matter of fact,” I said, by now aware that the conversation was taking a surreal turn.

And it was true. While I worked for Hello! Magazine, my royalty-besotted Spanish bosses had sponsored such a contest at Windsor Great Park, and Charles had played. Selected employees were afterwards introduced to the pair, who appeared at that time to be on cordial, even loving terms.

“Holy cow! Lissen, “ Joyce shouted to the patrons. “This Briddish guy met Lady Di at a fuckin’ polo game!” Grinning muggers and hookers surged around, slapping my back, shaking my hand and re-filling my glass.

I now had instant chums in Toledo and bought no more drinks that night. Amid the tumult, an alcoholically challenged patron misheard Joyce, and for a few delirious seconds was under the impression that England’s presumptive Queen and I had met at a poker game.

So, thanks to the People’s Princess my standing in T-Town where Jeeps are built, Art Tatum was born, and the transvestite guy in Mash was so keen to get home to, was assured from the get-go..

Now all I had to do was put out a newspaper every day, Sundays included, for the next fifteen years. Piece of piss.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

To be a Pilg

One of the reasons we bought the house in Moratinos was because it is right on the Camino. At this time of year literally hundreds walk, or cycle, through the village only a hundred yards or so from our front door each day.

Reb, my wife, is considerably more interested in all this than I am, but occasionally the passing parade catches my attention.

A day or so ago while walking the dog, I heard two pilgs (our name for them) talking English as they approached. One turned out to be a nice man from London named Charlie. We walked and talked for half an hour to San Nicolas then had a coffee in the local bar. Like several other pilgs, Charlie seemed to be getting over domestic problems, in his case, a divorce, and had also fallen for a French pilg called Virginne, as I heard it. An ominous name.

I get the impression that walking to Santiago has overtaken the traditional cures for emotional disaster. At one time, guys like Charlie would have signed on a whaler for a couple of years, or joined The Foreign Legion to Forget It All.

Women often have the same motives. A German lady, Astrid, recently told me she was heading West as an indirect result of being left practically at the altar a year ago by some cad from Cologne. Then the pair of us met another German, Christian, who sat around holding his head in his hands and moaning softly after getting the elbow from a fraulein. It's the same the whole world over, I suppose.

But the motives of some of them can only be guessed at. When I see a pilg walking the 'wrong' way, that is West to East, I generally ask them if they have been to Santiago, and what they are up to now. Another German told me, yes, he had been to Santiago, and was now headed back to St Jean Pied de Port, the traditional starting place just over the French border.

"OK, " I said, "then what will you do?" "I will turn round and walk back to Santiago," he said, "I have already walked the route twice in succession so far and I'm now half way back on the third trip. Then I will do it again a fourth time." Remember, this is a total of about 2,000 miles.

"Then what will you do?" I asked."Go home, of course," he said, as if it was obvious.

Sometimes the Pilgs heading back say they are off to Lourdes, then Rome, and even Jerusalem. Some of the "right-way" pilgrims have already come thousands of kilometers: they started walking their camino at their front doors. Which are sometimes as far away as Poland, Holland, Norway, or Scotland.
Walking fools. Possibly holy, possibly nuts. Still, it keeps them off the streets.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


It being the last day of San Fermin in Pamplona yesterday, Reb and I decided to hop into the fergoneta and drive over to the Bar Deportivo in Sahagun to grab some genuine Spanish culture and colour by way of pay-per-view on the telly, like the locals do.

The day was hot, and we had already taken a trip there in the morning to shop for essentials such as bread and gin. I don't really know why we felt the need to wallow in blood and sand, but it's almost certainly a Freudian revenge compulsion directed from the depths of the id at builders from Leon.

Along with everything else, the corrida is not what it used to be. Yesterday was no exception. Bulls are eternally noble, men are eternally not. Botched kills every time, whistling and hooting from the hydra-headed mob, much posturing and shameless showboating from the toreros, accompanied by plenty of nervous skittering away from the bulls, meanwhile pretending to seamlessly engage them in the ageless ritual dance of man and beast as the shadows lengthen across the arena and the trumpet, like the bell, tolls its plaintive note for thee...Death in the Early Evening, sit down Anastasio, I can't see the bleeding screen
My god, what the hell am I drivelling and gibbering about - now I am getting a compulsion torunallthewordstogether.Ernestwouldn'tcareforthisonebit, Manoletewouldalsohavehatedit,thingshavegonetothebow-wowsinaBigWaysincetheirday.

Phew. That's better. So, no more bullfights until Seville. Not too much tonic in that, please.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Clucking and twitching

If I needed reminding that my life has taken an odd turn, my wife's parting words - as she took off for Sahagun - would have made it clear. "Please keep the chickens out of the bedroom," she shouted.

This is a hazard, these days. The builders, galvanised by my threats to disinherit them, are working almost reasonably, leaving all doors open for their wheelbarrows in the process. Since our bedroom currently consists of a windowless cell at ground level, the danger of a hen takeover is at red alert.

They are nice chickens, but lax and careless in their personal habits.

Today they escaped, all six in a posse, out into the street. They convened under a remolque (large tractor cart) and stood there clucking and shitting contentedly. We had to get a broom to shove them out, then grab them two at a time and cart them back into the hen hut.

Blodwyn of the floppy comb is the ringleader, always first into the patio area and ready to match Una the dog peck for nip in a battle for breakfast scraps. She generalled the great escape through the main door when nobody was looking. A fowl of great - and bad - character.

Until a few days back, the chicken girls were giving us a strange problem. Pulling together as a team, they present us with at least five or six eggs a day. Unless you are the current President of the United States, you can figure out that is at least 35 per week. For two people, this is excessive. (I nearly wrote "egg-sessive," but decency won out.) We can't give eggs to our near neighbors as they all have their own birds. Then someone suggested Don Santiago the priest might like some, and also Paca, our veteran friend in Sahagun. So each week they both get a dozen of the finest free range Moratinos has to offer. And we are left with a couple or so eggs a day for our own use.

Six hens and a scruffy dog. Right now, that's enough fauna for us in Calle Ontanon 2.

So when, on Monday, our neighbour Modesto offered me an impressive group of wire cages that he used to keep rabbits in, I had to turn him down. The only reason for rabbits is pie or stew. I love both, but I'm not ready for a life of bunnycide yet. Doubt if I ever will be. Those twitching noses..

The idea of caging and fattening up a few Neocons for special occasions, now that I could consider. But they are bound to taste as nasty as they look. Those twitching noses..

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Sacred and Profane

H.G.Wells once said that he was always a little edgy about driving through France, because if he saw a priest crossing the road in front of him, he didn't know if he would be able to resist running him over. I know what he meant, although, over the past few years, I have met some priests who are wonderful human beings. The latest is our local cura, Santiago, and he is well named, as he is a saint, I think. He handles about four or five parishes, dashing form one to the other Sundays and feast days, and has to work at a garden centre during the week to pay for his keep.

The other Sunday, he asked the communicants to pick the hosts out of the chalice themselves, because his hands were so ingrained with dirt, that he didn't want to handle the sacred objects.

Quite often, at the end of mass, he makes a joke. These are not the sort of savage wit that I appreciate, but you can't have everything. One I recall was a priest saying to the congregation, " I have good news and bad news. The good news is there is enough money to repair the church tower. The bad news is it's still in your pockets." Well, he's a priest, for crissake, not Max Miller.

Max Miller, I suppose I should explain, was one of the last of the music hall comedians in Britain, famed for his double-entendres and known as The Cheeky Chappie. I can only remember one of his jokes and it is so purile and juvenile I will not repeat it here. But I did see him, about 1955, I guess at a theatre in Wimbledon, whose name I forget. He was extremely good. The show also featured nude, motionless, ladies, which was my reason for going, being, then as now, a keen student of art.

It is necessary to explain such things as Max Miller's identity, so ephemeral is fame.

Last week I was walking with a 40 year old lady from Germany, a schoolteacher, and she had never heard of Mickey Rooney, or Judy Garland. Well, she is a German, for crissake.

Should have asked her about Marlene Detrich. She had heard of Hemingway, though, and had tried to read him but couldn't understand him. That struck me as odd. Whatever else he was, Hemingway was at least comprehensible.

Which is more than God is. Pilgrims normally believe in God and are a bit puzzled when someone attends mass religously every Sunday, and yet doesn't believe. Can't blame them really. When they ask why I don't believe, I give them Bertrand Russell's answer, " Not enough evidence."

Well, he was a philosopher, for crissake. (Russell, that is, not God.)

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Rambling towards Revolution

Apologies to the army of fans for the unconscionable delay between blogs, but I have been distracted by:

1. Arguing with builders

2. Walking the Camino.

The latter, though arduous, is infinitely preferable.
The former has increased my vocabulary a fair bit, though not enough. While it is handy to know, for example, that the big carts tractors pull around are ‘remolques’ I also feel the need of a few handy words such as ‘asshole,’ ‘dunderhead,’ and ‘pillock.’
Still and all, as we bloggers say, when we can’t think of anything else, progress is being made.

Reb, my wife, suggested I should ‘get the stink blown off me,’ like she did, by taking a hike from Jaca to Puente de la Reina. This is on the Ruta Aragones, and compared with the regular Camino, it is tough and very beautiful. The two go together, because if you want to walk through mountains, naturally, you have to deal with many tiring ups and downs, and a lot of dangerous, unstable, rocky ground.

I had forgotten most of this, as people do.

You look at a map of the day’s walk and think, well, it’s only 30k, that’s only 18 miles, and I have got all day, and forget all the horrors involved , like carrying about 18lb on your back, including a big bottle of water – because there’s none for 5 miles, and you don’t take into account that the temperature might well be 90 or so.
And the walk that you thought would take six hours, takes eight. And at the end, you are weary and sad. And the village where you stop has no bar, or worse, there is one, but it is shut for the summer vacation.

The strangest incident was in Ruesta, a deserted village about 70 miles south of Pamplona, which has been leased by the Communist Party, who want to restore it, for some reason. So far they have done up a hostel with some sort of bar and a kitchen. When we pilgrims arrived, the commies were eating lunch, about 5 of them. They greeted us with grunts and nods. I sat alongside them in the shade for about 5 minutes, and then asked if there was any chance of a drink. They held a short committee meeting, and agreed, that by a majority decision, yes, a drink was possible. Two of them then formed a sub-committee and agreed that one of them would fetch it. What would I like? Any chance of a gin and tonic, said I. The sub committee then re-convened with the majority group and seemed to be debating whether this was too hopelessly bourgeois to merit further consideration.
A beer would do nicely, I suggested. But on a show of nods, a unanimous decision was reached.
If the effete, middle-class ex-catspaw of the ruling class wants a bleeding Vera, the party is fully equal to the task, distasteful and even degrading though it may be to honest sons of toil.
A comrade disappeared into the bar. After five more minutes, he emerged with a glass of clear liquid that looked like a gin and tonic, but tasted like something else. But it had ice and alcohol and was really ok, not very unpleasant all.
But, it seemed to me that it did not bode well for the prospects of
the oncoming revolution.

This has nothing to do with the above, but I read today that Bush’s popularity level has sunk to an all time low, that seven out of every ten American voters have realized that he is no better than a Spanish builder. The appalling concomitant is that there are still three out of ten who have yet to figure it out, and probably never will.

For some reason this reminds me of something Flaubert wrote, "To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness. Though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."

Thursday, 7 June 2007

A lost Word and a good deed

I have somehow made the Word icon vanish from the line-up on the computer.

My wife, who understands these things, is at present walking towards Pamplona. By way of her mobile, she made several suggestions. "Click on that, drag that, open that, close that." All no good. Then she said, crossly, "What have you done to it?" She often says that, at times like these. It was, I suspect, a rhetorical quesion.

But not always.

It reminded me irresistably, like the boy Proust with his wretched biscuit, of an incident many years ago on the Daily Mirror in London.

Late one night, after closing time, a small copy editor (the editor was small, that is, not the copy), whom we shall call Bob, was walking down Fetter Lane to get his train home, to Bexley Heath, or some such suburban journalists' ghetto. (The ghetto was suburban, not the journalists) As he passed The Printer's Devil, he came upon the inert body of one of his colleagues, whom we shall call Mike, in the gutter. The night was dry and Mike, a big man, appeared comfortable enough and was not dead. Bob nevertheless felt obliged to help his pal get home.

A pasing cab was hailed, and after a spirited discussion involving extra money "for the bleeding aggravation, Guv," Bob and the cabbie hauled Mike on board and headed for the station. There, after yet more money passed hands, a porter and Bob loaded Mike onto a train. At Bexley, or wherever, a similar pattern ensued, but in reverse. Eventually, Bob and the Bexley cabbie manhandled Mike up to his front door. Bob, reduced to penury by this point, paid off the cabbie, propped Mike against the wall and rang the doorbell.

After a few minutes, Mike's wife opened the door. She took in the scene at a glance. "What have you done to him?" she said.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Racehorses, fast Cheetas and slow carrots

My wife, Reb, thinks I should explain more about the horse race i posted the other day. I am inclined to think, like Ludwig, (Wittgenstein, that is, not Beethoven) that "Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent." in other words, the video seems to speak for itself.

However, it is of the Grand national, the world's most famous steeplechase, run at Aintree, near Liverpool Northern England. It is four and a half miles long and 30 fences are jumped. The fences vary from very big to huge. The year was 1973. Crisp was a huge horse and a magnificent jumper. His nemesis in the race, Red Rum later proved to be one of the legends of Aintree, winning it at least once more and running prominently several times. The closing stages in 1973, that is to say the last mile or so - have all the hallmarks of a Greek tragedy, or whatever. It's like watching Romeo and Juliet - I always hope the priest will get ther in time to save the pair. And I always hope Crisp can get to the winning post before he is caught. Still and all, it is only a racel.

My rap on the creation museum provoked some comment. Considering how bizarre the whole creationism thing is, I don't know why I should find it exceptionally odd that the yokels - as Christopher Hitchens affectionately calls its followers in the New Yorker of May 21 - seem to believe that, before the Fall, all creatures were vegetarians. The peacable kingdom, maybe? Including the dinosaurs that were on Noah's ark. The yokels explain their big scary flesh-tearing teeth (the dinosaurs' that is, not the yokels') as being used to open coconuts. I am not making this up.

If creationists believe all animals were made by God in a day, six thousand years ago just as they are today, it must have been odd even to Adam and Eve, to see a cheetah hurtling across Paradise at 70 miles an hour in pursuit of a carrot. Hard to adam and eve it, really, as we Londoners say. Oh, well.

Apropos of God and evolution, I am reminded of the eminent geneticist Haldane. Someone asked him for his thoughts on God, in whom he did not believe. "He would appear to be inordinately fond of beetles," said Haldane, "We have catalogued over 250,000 different species so far, and are still counting."

I fully agree with the creationists on one point. If we don't accept the story of creation literally as told in the Bible, we might as well chuck the whole bleeding screed in the garbage. Although the yokels might not put it quite like that.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

The greatest race ever run

You must watch the link below.
It is footage of a horserace I have been wanting to see for years. It is every bit a wonderful as I remembered it, with the wrong horse winning.
Crisp was giving Red rum about 24 lbs. in the Grand national, a race nearly 4 and a half miles long, with 30 fences, if I remember correctly.
It still makes me weep, and not just for the money.
Is it just me, or do others agree? I would like to read comments. Does anyone else have a favorite race? Through youtube, I found some great races, by Shergar, Barbero, Secretariat and Ghostzapper. There are probably more.
You need to listen to the commentary on the National as well, really. Peter O'Sullevan is superb.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Barking mad at a carrot

This may be a very short offering.

About three this morning, I rose from my bed to go to the bathroom. On the way back to bed - in the utterly dark, windowless room where I sleep, I stepped on something soft that let out a hideous and piercing shriek.

It turned out to be a yellow plastic carrot with a face on it that is the dog Una’s favorite toy. I can recommend similar incidents to anyone who needs a cheap, heart-stopping moment during the night.

Here is a story about my dog. You will know it is not true, because it is based on telegrams, and she is not old enough to have sent telegrams.

Una, my dog decides to send me a telegram.
“I would like to say, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof,” she tells the operator.
“OK,” he says, “but, if you like, you can send a tenth woof for no extra money.”
“Yes, “ says Una, “but then it would make no sense.”

But then neither does this blog. You should read my wife, Rebekah’s at…

Monday, 28 May 2007

Dinosaurs, wild hogs and morons

For the average American, weighed down these days with woes over the Iraq war, gas prices and the fate of Paris Hilton, some good news for once.

Today the Creation Museum, in darkest Kentucky, flings open its gates. No doubt they are pearly. Visitors will gape at, among assorted wonders, a full-scale Noah’s Ark, complete with dinosaurs aboard. Apparently, these “critturs,” as the locals put it, roamed the earth (why do dinosaurs always “roam,” never just walk about?) along with Adam and Eve, at the beginning of the world, some six thousand years ago.

The museum explains a lot. The flood caused the Grand Canyon. It took a week or so. And Cain married his sister. Incest. That’s where it started going downhill. This explains a good deal about the sanity of the human race.

As Pascal remarked, some three hundred years ago, “Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.”

But what can you expect from a Frenchman? “The trouble with the French, “ as George Bush, once remarked to Tony Blair, “is that they have no word for ‘entrepreneur.’”

I confess I believe in evolution. How else can one explain that two and a half thousand years ago, we produced Socrates, and now we have George W.? People often imagine evolution means that things will improve. H. L. Mencken didn’t. This is his prediction on the American presidency over eighty years ago:

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Absurd. Never happen.

Mencken was an old sourpuss anyway. Here’s how he described his follow countrymen in the twenties:

"The American people, taken one with another, constitute the most timorous, snivelling, poltroonish, ignominous mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages."

Of course, thanks to evolution, things are different now.

And, indeed, H. L. might not have been nearly as disparaging about Americans had he been able to read the stirring tale of 11-year old Jamison Stone last week.

It seems that the lad from Pickensville, Alabama - interestingly, not a stone's throw from the creationist museum - shot a nine foot long, 1,051 pound wild hog with a pistol. That is one big pig. And it’s all thanks to Noah’s Ark and a hand gun.

“It’s a good accomplishment. I probably won’t ever kill anything else that big,” said young Jamison, modestly.

Sadly, the stout little fellow, (the boy that is, not the boar), was born six thousand years too late. He could have bagged a dinosaur.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Hens, saxophonists and merry widows

This is a picture of me with Gladwys. (I'm the one on the right.)

I'm going to stop writing come-ons from now on because I keep changing my mind about what to write.

Although I have no proper work to do but bicker with builders, my days are full. What with the dog to walk, and the chickens to attend to, and Reb hogging the computer, the best time for me to blog (a horrible verb) is early morning, such as now.

And writing at all has been made more difficult in the last few days by the removal for replacement of the main house roof. No sooner had this been done, than we had three or four days featuring the kind of wind and rain normally only seen on news stories from Cuba or Haiti with names like Hurricane Gladwys. For some reason, the sight of our house resembling one
of the more neglected parts of downtown Gaza induced in me an obscure medical condition known to the Hippocratic
profession as "gloom."

But the chickens don't give a shit, except in the usual way. I would very much like to name them, but they all still look indentical to me, whatever my last boss John Block might say. "There are no such things as identical twins," he often carped, being a twin himself, and clearly not identical to anyone.

Maybe I'll just call them all Gladwys. This is a good chicken name, although they are Spanish chickens, and might be better suited to names like our neighbours, such as Celestino, Modesto, Anastasio and Secundino, although these are men, of course. Anyway, the hen girls all speak English now, and follow me when I say, "Good morning, ladies, time for brekkie," so British names seem appropriate. So, Gladwys, Gladwys, Gladwys, Gladwys, Gladwys and Gladwys, it will be. Let them sort it out.

And right now the sun is shining again, and a very melodious bird (don't know what sort) who lives locally and whom we know as "Placido," is doing selections from The Merry Widow.

Which reminds me. There was a jazz man in London called Ronnie Scott, who became known, along with his sax-playing, for his comments between numbers. "Embarrasing night last week," he said once. "I was half way through the Merry Widow when my reed collapsed."

Someone in the audience once asked him if he could play "Surrey With The Moon On Top."
"No, but I can do How High The Fringe," he snapped back.

And mention of Placido reminds me of Wagner, which also reminds me of Noel Coward, who, after seeing the musical "Camelot," was asked what he thought of it. "A bit like Parsifal, but not nearly as funny." he said.

Must go now, to feed the Gladwyses.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Hercules the Bear and Phil the Night Editor

One morning on the Daily Mirror, it must have been about 1980, Night Editor Phil Walker asked what plans I had for lunch.

"Just the usual, I suppose," I answered, "too much to drink in questionable company."

"Come with me to the Cartoonist," he said. "Hercules the reknownedwrestling bear is making a personal appearance in the very bar itself."

"Dangerous, isn’t it?" I asked. "Not a bit!," said Phil. "Hercules is esteemed in every corner of the four hemispheres for his amiable demeanor and equable temperament. It says here in The Sun. He has hardly ever killed anybody. Anyway, he will probably be on a lead."

"Well," said I, "I have seen a lot of people - similarly acclaimed as exemplars of decorum - do their nuts and start clawing faces in pubs just because some careless habitué has stubbed out a Silk Cut on their pelt, regardless of whether they were on a lead or not." I said. "But I will go with you, as you are my chum."

Erstwhile, adly, but perhaps wisely, satraps of the Lord Mayor had invoked some long-forgotten medieval law involving beast baiting with bulldogs, and barred the bear from the bar.

Hercules showed up anyway, in a stout cage. Perhaps piqued at separation from his fans, he spent the afternoon lolling there, his back ostentatiously to the audience. I got bored with this turn of events and took off. Phil stayed.

Some time later, after lunch, quite a long time in fact, I was in my tiny office waiting to talk to a nice man from Mirror Books about some dull things. Phil came in. He appeared to have been overcome with emotion at the sight of the mighty behemoth.

He quickly said, thickly, "I am overcome with emotion at the sight of the mighty behemoth, and will lie down behind your desk for a bit, if you don’t mind."

Once installed there, out of sight, he relaxed and dozed off.

By the time the nice man from Mirror Books showed, I had forgotten Phil was there. Things went smoothly for a while, then Phil made a sort of noise like someone pretending to snore.

"What was that?" said the nice man. "Nothing," I said.
More talk. Then another noise.
"What was that?" said the nice man.
"Only the Night Editor," I said.
Then, from behind the desk, an anguished howl.
"I am not a Night Editor..I am... A MAN!"
The nice man from Mirror Books made an excuse and left.

...for those of you who'd rather know what I am doing now, rather than hear colorful tales of long-forgotten lore, I'd refer you to a blog kept by my wife, the onetime-esteemed American journo Rebekah Scott. Find it at .

COMING SOON...The Donald and I..Zec, that is

Monday, 14 May 2007

Blogging Bernard, Jeff, that is...

Hard to know why I am doing a 'blog.' God knows what a blog is, anyway.

But Reb, my wife, has been telling me for years that I should write my autobiography. This will not be it, but, if anyone is interested in some scurrilous episodes from the sixties onwards, mostly involving journalists, the following screeds may not be without interest.
An autoblography, perhaps.

However, along with the ancient history, I will have the nerve to offer you, reader, my thoughts on a variety of contemporary topics, mainly if not mostly related to the United States. I lived there from 1990 to 2006, so regardless of whether or not you are in agreement with my generally acerbic judgements, you will surely conceed that I have some practical knowledge.

There will be a good deal of name dropping, I must warn you. But, thankfully, most of the names will be obscure to all but the dessicated detritus of dusty decades of decadence. ( That's enough awful alliteration, Ed. )

We will kick off by dropping the name of Jeff Bernard, because I owe the title of this blog to him. Possibly the nation's most famous drunkard in his day, he died within days of Lady Di and Mother Teresa, setting up what must have been one of the more bizarre trios so far assembled outside the pearly gates waiting for opening time.

Not that Jeff ever showed much interest in admittance to paradise. His attitude would surely echo the Tartar warrior, who when told about Heaven by the missionaries, asked what kind of horses God had there. On being told there were none, he said he'd rather go to Hell, then.

But back to the point. In the 1970's in Soho and Fleet Street pubs a gang of us used to play games like thinking up titles for autoboigraphies. "Downhill Struggle" was one of Jeff's winners along with "Starting From Tomorrow" which referred to foreswearing the Smirnoff and soda.

It was Jeff, in his Low Life column in the Spectator who pointed out some hitherto unrecorded great truths, such as when you vomit, no matter of you had not eaten a tomato in years, there are always bits of tomato skin in the result.

Many people could not see the point in Jeff.All he does is get drunk, lets everyone down and then writes about it, they said. The point was that Jeff was totally reliable. He always went too far. We need his like to make us feel good about ourselves.

One day, as one of my wives was going through the tried and tested old, "You make me sick,' routine, I found myself saying, "Well, you must admit I'm not as bad as Jeff." That's what, as the song tells us, friends are for. That, and naming blogs.

TOMORROW (or soon), three things that are wrong with the world today, and why Pascal was right about one thing, at least. ( What, only three? )