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