Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Another post on the lines of sartorial elegance?

Poor Golly was looking rather out of sorts. He had been looking out of sorts for some time.

'Hello Golly,' I said. 'You have been eating too much. Your trousers have split.'

Golly didn't answer. Just rolled his eyes and continued to look sad.

He sits at the dining room table with us. We have three chairs. One for me, one for Partner, and Golly sits at the other one.

The reason we have three chairs is because they were my parents' kitchen table chairs. Most people have two, or four, but no, my parents bought exactly three for the occupants of the house. Them and me.

They clearly weren't planning on entertaining. Actually when they did entertain it was the full dining room job with lots of chairs and a huge table.

So back to the kitchen. When I was at school, aged relatives were invited to lunch, and there were still enough chairs to go round, ie two chairs for parents and my chair for aged relative. Bit of a problem if it was school holidays though. Then my mother ended up sitting martyrishly on the folding stool from the old 60s caravan.

Anyway, that's why there are us and Golly gathered around the dining room table.

Now fired up with my enthusiasm for patching and mending - it's only taken me 50 years to work out how to do it, despite being a whizz at rustling up Vogue Designer patterns in my younger years - I looked at Golly's holes.

I decided to patch him up with some bright red linen. I looked again. There were more holes than you could poke a stick at.

A new plan was needed. I would be patching for ever. Making trousers is pretty simple, I have made lots of them. Golly's were even simpler. A front and a back. But the back of his lovely striped trousers were still perfect, so I decided to make a new front set, and sew them into the existing seams.

'Won't that decrease the value?' asked Partner.

What value, I thought. Poor dear is ripped to bits. And anyway he's not for sale.

I cut the trousers out, and left him while I thought about it.

One night, inspiration struck. I would bandage up his tears and rips with interfacing. I love interfacing.

And, regrettably, Partner was right. I think I will make a whole set of new trousers and pop them over the top. For next time though.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Sartorial elegance

I had a rather elegant friend at university who sported a nice black jacket. Not so much a blazer as a winter sort of thing.

It was barathea, he told me. I took myself off to the local posh school outfitters and bought myself a boys barathea jacket to go with my jeans. So sophisticated I thought. Good value for money too, top class jacket.

I come from a tailoring family and when one of my great uncles died - there was a load of pure wool fabric to be made into a suit. I went to a men's tailor and insisted on a three piece suit, slim skirt, waistcoat, and a men's single breasted style jacket.

The skirt and the jacket are long gone, but I still have the waistcoat.

After that, I discovered Vogue Designer Patterns and the world of chic suits became my oyster as I made one designer suit after another.

These days, I don't need suits. I need shorts and short trousers. My sewing machine is in very sad need of repair. I don't want pretty flimsy shorts with flowers embroidered on them. I really want nice tough cotton shorts with decent pockets.

Last year, my partner bought some shorts from Zara. In the sale, I hasten to add. I eyed them up and wondered if they would be ok for me. Exactly what I wanted. So I tried some on in a small size. Well, hell, I don't know how Spanish men are built (fortunately) but there was sure as hell an awful lot of space out the front. Too much, so back on the rack they went.

This week, Partner bought some shorts from Next. I eyed them greedily. In fact, at home, I tried a pair on and thought if they were smaller they would work.

Today I went down the town determined to buy men's shorts. The style he had bought wasn't in my 'size'. But the camo pair was. Thick fabric, loads of secure pockets, and not even made in China.

I bought them.

Twenty or even ten years ago, I wouldn't have had a hope in hell of them fitting me. I was far too slim. But these days my middle aged figure means I can buy decent shorts. Something to be said for getting older and differently figured.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Parthenon

My degree may have been in Ancient and Medieval History and Archaeology - but it didn't include Greek history. Or at least the options I chose didn't. Mostly we gazed endlessly at relics of the Roman Empire.

Regardless of that, one of the monuments I was most looking forward to visiting on my world trip was the Parthenon in Athens (Greece).

Built on the Acropolis, it dominates the modern day city of Athens with an aura of serenity, untouchability, and thousands of years of history.

We decided to hike up there one morning in December, and after getting lost loads of times around the bottom of the hill, we eventually found the long and tiring road up to the top.

It is always a disappointment to look forward to something so much - and then - it isn't what you expect. This wasn't one of those occasions though and the memory still remains one of the highlights of my world trip.

The Parthenon more than lived up to my expectations, even though it was partly covered in scaffolding. Probably a permanent state of affairs judging by the on-going restoration programme that seems to have kicked off in the early 80s.

If you like piles of old stones and haven't visited it - do go. And preferably make sure you see the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum too. Two pieces of the jigsaw thousands of miles apart.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Our neighbour

A sunny day in Spain.

What else do you do but sit on your path with your elderly neighbour, and hold an umbrella over her to make sure she is sheltered from the heat of the sun?

We'd repaired and fixed up the outside of the house, hence all the rendered stonework and gleaming white paint.

Next doors gave us the gate and we had the finca gateposts to fix them to. Next doors gave us the black railings on top of the wall too to stop Prince the GSD jumping over.

But Spanish life must have been starting to take its toll as I notice Partner is already starting to go grey. Those curly locks underneath the Tilley hat are those of a middle-aged man and not the youthful 40-something-year old who set off for Spain a couple of years previously.

I'm fond of Adelina. She was in her lateish 70s in this pic and she's turned 80 now. She can't read or write, and was brought up to work in the fields instead of going to school. Such was the life under Franco for people who lived in Andalucia on the land. Her father was killed in the north of Spain during the Franco regime, in a prison in Oviedo. Not surprisingly she doesn't like chivas. (Spies not whisky).

In spite of that, she will always share a joke with us, find something to laugh about, and has an acid sense of humour. Her eyesight is amazing. Her distance vision at 80+ is better than mine ever was. She borrows her husband's glasses for sewing although I have no idea if she needs them or not. Her hearing is as acute as her vision.

And she taught me how to cook all the local food - gazpacho, ajo blanco, ensalada de Axarquia, lentejas, garbanzos, alubias, habas, chicharros, pimientos asados, berenjenas fritas, and - My Money!! This last one is a soup that is basically whatever you have left to use up - tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil, and some herbs. It's cheap and it saves you throwing stuff out. Hence the name - and they really do call it 'My Money.'

Like virtually all our neighbours she doesn't speak English (why would she, she lives in Spain). And like the rest of them, she has been incredibly patient with our initially faltering Spanish, explained things to us simply, and waited for us to understand.

The umbrella in the pic came from Lisbon. Apparently they have bigger umbrellas in Portugal than they do in Spain. When Adelina's husband - José - first saw it, he immediately said - Portuguese.

At one point they had moved away from home and lived in Badajoz, which is near the border with Portugal, so I guess they must have learned about Portuguese umbrellas amongst other things.

But later they came back home. Because, Andalucians do. Bought two rooms off Adelina's sister and her husband, and slowly built up their own home. When I say built up, I literally mean built up, ie extended and expanded. It's a world apart from a British life with a mortgage around your neck for 40 years, or 50 or 60 or whatever it is now.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Grey Mare's Tail

Lotsa years ago one of the petrol companies (Shell I think) gave away vouchers for discounted weekends in hotels.

We had a flurry of staying in some excellent hotels in southern Scotland.

I can't even remember if this weekend was part of that deal, but we spent one weekend in and around Moffat.

We had our two black dogs, Ben the lab, and Paddy the cross setter/lab/spaniel/whatever.

We all set off on the walk up the Grey Mare's Tail, hiked up the hillside, and then to the lake at the top.

Ben and Paddy gamely climbed up the hill with us, they weren't particularly old at the time.

It was a nice warm day in summer and a beautiful walk.

On the way back down, Paddy decided he was fed up. At every possible opportunity he dived under a shady stone or an overhanging bush and lay down.

The scenery was spectacular, it was a gorgeous day out - but what I really remember was Paddy lying down wherever he could in the shade.

At the top of the climb with Paddy

Accident black spot - I must have had a better head for heights back then

Beautiful pool on the ascent

The long and windy and very uphill path

Monday, 25 July 2011


Apologies for the long gap on here. Scanning photos to one computer and then transferring them to the other - because, guess what? the Canon is not compatible with the Mac for scanning (although it is for printing) - left me totally without inspiration.

Normal service will resume. At some point.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

No excuse now

Wandering leisurely up to the shops one day I stopped short in my tracks. An outdoor gym had suddenly appeared.

I have never been a gym sort of person. I have never joined a private gym, not even for a trial. Once I looked around one, full of nasty ugly bulky sweaty, oh so sweaty, bodies - and thought no. I could imagine going a couple of times and wasting a year's membership.

The nearest I have got to anything like that was when I joined a rowing club. This was a very nice club. We would set off in the boats early on a Sunday morning and drift (aka row like hell) down the River Ouse. As this was York, you can imagine how beautiful it was.

The trouble was though, that to continue to be allowed to drift down the Ouse, you had to turn up to the twice-weekly training sessions. Circuit training. Star jumps. Exercise machines. I started to develop stomach muscles. And my shoulders thickened up.

Now skinny I may well have been, but I've always had broad shoulders. Luckily, in both senses of the meaning. Much more of this fitness stuff though and I would start to turn into the Incredible Hulkess.

And as for the stomach muscles - well although that doesn't actually sound bad, I thought it made my incredibly flat stomach start to look fat. The rowing club and I went our separate ways.

But while I may never have been a private gym person, I did use council sports centres and swimming pools. Apart from anything else, if you wanted a big pool, ie national or international size rather than some poky little paddling pool with a few potted palms, the council ones were the place to go. Actually one of the council ones somewhere near Notting Hill did have potted palms. It was one of the old style 'baths' with changing rooms around the side of the pool that had been restored. It was class.

The other good thing about council pools was that they often had offers. Sort of like a season ticket. Buy a month's ticket and swim as much as you want. In the very olden days I could show a UB40 (unemployment benefit card to non-Brits) and get in free. Who needs a private health club? Apart from people who don't want to use council sports services for whatever reason.

I figure if I am paying for the service through my rates/community charge, I may as well make use of local services, whether that is the library, the pool, parks and gardens or whatever. And if people don't support their local services, one day they may no longer be there. I guess I always suspect the private health club brigade of a certain degree of snobbery. And, apart from the rowing club, I'm not really a clubby person.

So whenever there was a pool near work, you would find me there a couple of times a week in my lunch hour. Before I started work, in my wonderful long holidays, I would walk two or three miles to the nearest pool, and be there for when it opened at 9am. Oh to be the first in the pool and break the water. Joy. I would swim up and down endlessly. One day one of the attendants asked how many lengths I had done - no idea how many now, but whatever it was - they told me to do a few more and I could have a mile badge. I don't think that's quite how it is supposed to work, but given they saw me almost every morning, swimming up and down, they must have figured I deserved something for my efforts.

I went to the nearest shiny new sports centre too. They had a pool as well, so I did a course in canoeing, and a swimming personal survival one. I signed up for fencing. And of course there were wonderful saunas.

There were free tennis courts in the local park so I would meet a school and university friend there in the afternoons for a couple of hours play.

Much much later, I was staying temporarily with my parents while moving house, and went to the local sports centre near them. Anything to get out of the house really. There was an aerobics class that included a free swim afterwards. It was worth the aerobics for the free swim.

If any of that gives the very mistaken impression that I was ever remotely sporty, then I need to say right now that I wasn't. I ran the 800 metres at school one sports day and thought it was never going to end. Unbelievable pain and agony. Well, I was out of breath and tired. I was quite good at high jump I suppose. But otherwise, me and sport were an occasional date. Not helped by dear Daddy, who seemed to think it was rather silly to do anything physical as it made you tired and positively deterred me from doing sporty things. (Deterred me from most things really but that's not for this post).

Luckily I live with someone who likes to force me out on a torture machine (bike), so some years ago I started cycling again. Not just round and round the garden, but shock! horror! on roads. For miles. Well kilometres actually. They sound better too as you do more of them. And as some of you know, I swim in the sea in summer in Spain.

But here in Gib, apart from a few walks part way up the Rock when we first came, I've done nothing.

So this free, open-air gym thing had me rather entranced. No membership fee. No sweaty bodies because it is outside. Seven minutes walk away. Not too busy. I decided to try it out.

I didn't tell Partner I planned to go. He would have laughed at me. I did show him the photos. 'Oh, yeah, I saw that the other day. Forgot to tell you.' I was most disappointed. I thought I was telling him something new.

I thought I would go the following day, but it was my turn to go to the shops. The next day I started a cleanathon. And the next day .... You get the idea. I never got there. It's now nearly a week since I saw the wretched free open-air gym.

As soon as he went to the shops this morning, I followed him quickly out of the door and up to the gym. The location is really nice. It's set on a promenade above what used to be the old sea walls, surrounded with shrubs, palm trees, and flowers. I figured I could walk up there, spend 15-20 minutes and get back before him.

I failed. When I walked in the door he was already unpacking the shopping and had dragged the bike and the shopping up the stairs on his own. Oooops. It's a two person job.

But still, the gym was good. How can I not go when it is so near, free, and quiet and peaceful if you go early enough?

Working hard, working out