Calafell Calling

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I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain.  She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.

Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona.  It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning.  The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families.  When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.

It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus.  The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated.  There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains.  There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods.  These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.

A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town.  Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops.  But the rich character of the old town is still visible.  It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century.  There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.

The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town.  Here the buildings are medieval or older.  Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years.  From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see.    For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region.  My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.

The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture.  There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.

One such poster explained that

“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches.  Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”

And I could!  It also explained that

“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians.  During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”

Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell.  However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon.  It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys.  Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours.  Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with.  And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games.  It was a joy just to watch them.

In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more.  Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools.  But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.

Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read.  He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation.  These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction.  When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.

Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community.  It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature.  One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).

I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand.  However, I can appreciate his genius.  Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language.  His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.

The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold.  The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.

There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell.  It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well.  I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.

The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio.  I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain.  I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples.  And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.

While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety.  I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!

Enjoy my photos of Calafell~

Old town and Castle

Park, Beach and swimming pool

L’Espineta

Beach fun

 

 

 

Time and Tide

boat in mud at Burnham

I am so disappointed to discover that the weekly photo challenge has ended.  I found it a really helpful lead-in to expressing myself in word and picture.

 When I started my Blog I had no idea how I would find people who would be interested in reading it. But, through Haiku Heights and WPC I found my voice – and my audience.

My initial intention was to write about my thoughts and experiences so that one day, if my children or grandchildren were curious about my life and me as a person, they would have an original source to go to for information and insights.  It was a delight to find that the world is full of people who are as interested in other people’s lives, activities and thoughts as I am.

It is a sad fact that when young, children do not see their parents as people in their own right, with feelings, needs and hopes.  Parents are at best a support network to be available when required – when hungry or in need of shelter, money or clean clothes.  At all other times parents are expected to be silent and preferably invisible.

This can lead to feelings of isolation and insignificance, especially when the parent is coping alone and does not have a network of family and friends to turn to.

When my parents were young they lived within walking distance of most of their living relatives.  They could turn to each other for advice, help, or just a supportive chat.  But times have changed for most of us.    Extended families who once would have lived in the same streets, villages and towns became scattered and lost touch.  As older relatives and friends died, our own children grew up and moved away following their dreams across oceans and continents.  The casual, comforting chat became logistically impossible. 

When communication is reduced to a few lines in a text or email, it is hard to express what one is really feeling.  When contact is via social media like Instagram or Facebook it is unlikely that anything deep or authentic will be revealed because it may be widely shared.  WhatsApp and Facetime have helped, but even those channels of communication seem strained.   The person you are talking to sometimes seems more concerned about their image in the little box than in what you have to say.

I hope that I can find a new outlet for my posts in the blogosphere.  I will continue to write my blog, but that weekly challenge did give me the push I needed to post regularly and share my world.

The photo I have posted to illustrate my feelings was taken some years ago in Burnham on Sea.  It is a boat stuck in the mud at low tide.  When the tide was in the boat was essential to the fisherman, providing a job, a purpose, an income, food and pleasure.  Without the tide it is just a hulk.  Sometimes I feel like that boat ~ until the grandchildren turn up ~ they are the tide that keeps me afloat these days.

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Lines of Enquiry

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Medieval Manuscripts lined up and chained

The WPC theme of lines gives me a chance to post an unlikely group of photos this week. The beautiful lines of the graceful giraffes as they stretch for their leaves, railway lines near my home, truck lines in the iron ore mine at Clearwell Caves, lines of books in the chained library at Hereford cathedral (above), and the lines of poppies weeping from the window there.

I have had a really interesting and enjoyable week getting out and about with some of my favourite people, to some truly fascinating places. I have learned a great deal and conquered a long-standing fear.

I will write individual posts about each place eventually but for now if anything grabs your interest do click on the links to delve deeper.

It started with a trip to my happy place, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is in Burford.

Burford is a lovely little Cotswold town which has almost everything you could want. Honey coloured cottages, grand town houses, a fast-flowing river, independent shops, great pubs and a very upmarket garden centre attract many visitors.  But I love the Wildlife Park.  I have been visiting the place almost since it opened in 1970, firstly with my children, then my grandchildren.  It really merits a blog post all to itself but that will have to wait.  Because…

As soon as I got home, I went on a very informative tree walk in my local woods, led by the council Tree Preservation officer. I went on the walk because I have been concerned about the ‘conservation’ work going on, which seems to consist mostly of chopping down trees, to my dismay.   However, after the officer explained the importance of allowing light in through the canopy in order to encourage growth lower down, and on the floor of the woodland, I understood why it was necessary.  And, walking there every day with my dog, I have seen just how much plant life has emerged since the opening up of the canopy.

My next adventure was on Wednesday.  I had volunteered to go on my grandson’s school trip to Clearwell caves. Now, most people who read my blog will know that I am claustrophobic.  Stupidly, I didn’t think the caves would actually be hundreds of feet deep and extremely dark.  There are also many tunnels that can be explored because the caves were mined for centuries for the iron and ochre embedded in the stone.  It soon became very obvious that we were meant to go a fair way down these tunnels with our small groups of young children.

It is amazing what we can do when we have to, and for me there is nothing more important than children, so I made a conscious decision to focus on my little group and make their trip worthwhile. And it worked!  We saw and learned so much history and geology.  While working to hide my fear from the children, I seemed to overcome it.

At the end of the week I had a rare day out with my husband and some very special friends. The weather was atrocious but it was our last chance to see the Weeping Window of poppies at Hereford Cathedral.  I had seen the poppies in the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation in the moat at the Tower of London in 2014.  It was installed to commemorate one hundred years since the First World War (1914-1918) began. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies represented a military fatality during that awful war.   Most of the poppies in that installation were sold to individuals to remember a family member who had fought or died in during those dreadful years.  The proceeds went to 6 charities.  But, a section of the installation called Wave and Weeping Window was retained and went on tour around the country. During the last month it has been near to us at Hereford Cathedral.

Hereford Cathedral is a most fascinating place. It is set in a beautiful area with lovely tranquil gardens and is a huge and imposing stone building.   Inside,  the Cathedral holds some truly rare treasures.  There are exquisite icons, tapestries and stained-glass windows, some by Tom Denny whom I have written about before.  There are shrines and tombs that have been the focus of pilgrimages for 800 years and more.  The Magna Carta of 1217, the Hereford Gospels from the 8th century, and the Mappa Mundi from the 1300s are all here.  This is the largest medieval map known to exist.  However, For me, the most fascinating thing in Hereford Cathedral is the 17th century Chained Library.  Although there are a few others in the UK this is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact. Can you imagine a time when books were so rare and precious that they had to be chained to a bookcase in order to keep them from being stolen?  Here they have 229 medieval manuscripts and they each have a chain attached at one end of the front cover.  The other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each bookshelf.  It is very ingenious because you can take a book down to read but you can’t remove it from the bookcase.  The strangest thing is that the books are all facing the ‘wrong’ way ~ that is with the spine at the back so that the reader does not get the chains tangled when the book is taken down.  Unfortunately, it means that one can’t see the title of the book so there is an elaborate numbered and alphabetical list on the end of each bookcase to show what books are where.

In the Cathedral square there is a lovely statue of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) the composer with his bike. He would have approved of the weeping window I’m sure.  I tried to attach a recording of Nimrod, from his Enigma Variations as it is so beautiful and appropriate. It is often played at remembrance services.  Unfortunately I could not get the attachment to play!

I hope you enjoy my eclectic mix of photos…

From the Wildlife Park

 

From Benhall Woods

 

From Clearwell Caves

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Deep underground the lines that carried the trucks full of iron or ochre

From Hereford Cathedral

From the Chained Library

New training helicopters

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and there will be celebrations held around the country as well as open days at many air force bases throughout the year.  I am very excited to be going to arguably the biggest and best airshow, at RAF Fairford in July.

 I clearly remember the celebrations which were held for the 50th anniversary of the RAF when I was invited to a very grand ball at RAF base which shall be nameless.  The evening was wonderful with a fabulous meal, terrific music and great company.  As the sun set everyone gathered outside for the grand finale.  There was to be a huge firework display ending with an illuminated framework displaying the RAF banner and title with 50th Anniversary underneath.  There were some very important guests there and of course everyone wanted to make a good impression.  However, once the smoke cleared and the display was fully alight there were gasps all round as the entire thing was upside down.  I have no idea how many heads rolled for the incompetence and the embarrassment of the station commander, but I expect there were a few!

I and my friends from college were often invited to social functions at the air force training school on the base as we were at an all-female teacher training college, and all of the trainee pilots and navigators in those days were young men. We were treated very well with transport, refreshments and dancing laid on and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  The men were very respectful and of course rules were strictly applied.  It may have been the swinging sixties but It seems like a different world from today.  Our college was run by a very strict order of nuns who watched over us girls like prison guards.  We were only allowed visitors at certain times and they were never allowed past the common room.  We were signed out by the nun who was on duty and she made sure we were all signed back in again before 11pm.  Similar rules applied at the RAF base too where the commanding officers were even more terrifying than the Mother Superior.

I seem to remember that training took place on small red and white Vickers Varsity planes. If you are interested in seeing how training planes have changed over the years there is information here.

I was recently at our local small airfield and was amazed to see several beautiful new helicopters. I am used to seeing Chinooks, air ambulances and the police helicopters flying around locally, but these were visibly striking.  Like giant bees they were a deep yellow and black with an all-round glass cockpit.  Fortunately, when the crew popped into the local pub for coffee and burgers, they explained that these were the brand new H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter training helicopters on route to the flying school.  A total of 32 of these helicopters are due to go into service this week to mark the RAF’s centenary.  They will provide 28000 flight hours for 266 students each year.  There are different types of training for different specialisms, basic, advanced and maritime, and according to the experts and the manufacturers, Airbus,

The innovations are superb, the flight dynamics are excellent, the Helionix instrumentation is incredibly intuitive and the platform will be an excellent lead in to Apache, Chinook, Merlin, Puma and Wildcat

Along with lots of other fascinated onlookers, I managed to take a few photos with my phone through the wire fencing, but they were not brilliant.  So, I got permission from the helpful media people at Airbus, who built these beautiful helicopters, to use some of their photos. I hope you like them as much as I do.  Many thanks to Alvaro Beteta.

 

 

Cotswold Wildlife Park

 

Thea loves taking photos

One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.

I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family.  Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.

The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home.  In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency.  These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient.  However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.

Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.

Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed.   Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born.  And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived.  That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses.  Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.

By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits.  There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.

Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants.  Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden.  Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.

This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room.  She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed!  When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!

Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino.  This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino.  Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth.  Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies.  I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.

I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren.  Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.

 

 

 

I’d rather be on a train

“I knew who I was this morning, but I have changed a few times since then.”

Alice in wonderland!

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The question posed for WPC this week is, what would I rather be doing today?

Well, the weather here has turned very chilly again with a covering of yet more snow in my garden. So, without a doubt I’d rather be on a well heated train travelling to an exciting destination through beautiful scenery on a great rail journey.

When I was a child in the late 1940s, our main way of getting about was by steam train from the old Felling station. Like most working-class people in those days we didn’t have a car.  My dad would cycle to work and we walked to school or the local shops.  Visiting grandparents entailed a ride on the big yellow tram, but for a special shopping trip to the city of Newcastle we first had to catch the train.  And, in good weather we would go for a day trip to the golden sands of South Shields, again by train.   That is how my great love for trains started.

I’m sure the city commuters who pay extortionate prices for their daily rail journey to work would have a different view to me. But all of my train journeys, with the exception of one best forgotten, have been great fun-filled experiences.

As an adult I have travelled on many spectacular railways to some far-flung places and I still find them truly exciting.

Many years ago, I flew to Zurich in Switzerland en-route to the Bodensee in Germany and was delighted to find that I could buy a train ticket at airport arrivals then go down several levels by escalator and arrive at the railway station platforms without even leaving the airport. All through the beautiful countryside I felt like a character from my favourite childhood storybook, Heidi.

In Poland, I was amazed to see my first double decker train when I spent a wonderful study tour travelling from Torunn to Gniezno, Malbork and Gdansk.

And just last year I had my first experience of the luxurious Renfe avehigh speed trains as I travelled at about 200 mph between Barcelona and Madrid to visit my scattered children.

Renfe Ave High Speed Trains in Madrid

Renfe Ave High Speed Trains in Madrid

I find with long train journeys that you get a much more realistic view of, not only the scenery, but the local way of life and culture. So, it was fascinating to travel on a sleeper train across Russia in the early 1990’s, a time of massive political change, observing the difference between the magnificence in the centre of Moscow and the dilapidation of the countryside.  I was constantly amazed to see beautifully decorated ancient churches alongside bleak housing, decaying factories, and neglected farmland.  Inside the train was a surreal experience as each carriage had a hostess who kept a samovar boiling all day so that travellers could have a cup of tea.  Throughout the 36-hour journey our hostess stayed in her nightie and dressing gown with her rollers firmly fixed in her hair.

Later in the 1990’s I travelled across Kenya from Nairobi to the end of the line at Kisumu. This was a totally different experience as the train passed by the slums of Kibera.  I found the level of poverty there deeply distressing yet after a short time the natural world replaced the horror with exquisite scenery.

Arguably one of the best holidays I have ever taken was a Great Rail Tour through the Fjords across the roof of Norway.  This holiday took in some great cities such as Oslo and Bergen, but the highlight was a trip on what is reputed to be the most beautiful train journey in the world, Flamsbana. Flam is a small picturesque village in southwest Norway, situated in the deepest fjord in the world.  Along the route there are majestic cascading waterfalls that take your breath away with their beauty.

Locally we have a heritage steam railway run by enthusiasts at Toddington. They have just extended the line to Broadway so this makes a lovely day out.

Although I don’t get much opportunity to travel far these days I can still indulge my passion for railway journeys by watching them on TV.

Recently there have been eight series of “Great British Railway Journeys” and five series of European “Continental Rail Journeys”, all presented by Michael Portillo following Bradshaws 1913 edition of the Continental Railway Guide. He has also made two series in the United States for BBC2,  as well as one in India.  I have put a link to one of the programmes here but I’m not sure if it will work.

Michael Portillo (pictured below) used to be a politician but now I think he has the best job in the world. He travels the world by train meeting interesting people, seeing amazing sights, and he gets paid for it!

So, on reflection, I’d rather be Michael Portillo.

Michael Portillo Rail Journeys

A Thing of Beauty

Mothers Day Gifts 2018

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases: it will never pass into nothingness… by John Keats

Since I downsized from the house my children grew up in, I have let go of lots of possessions. There is simply no room for them in my new home, which is small verging on tiny.

At first, I found this ‘letting go’ hard, because every item tells a story. There was my late parents’ furniture and knick-knacks, as well as the paraphernalia that my adult children left behind when they move on with their lives.  But now I realise that the experience has actually been a positive one.  For, now that I am officially ‘old’, my mind is focussed on what I really value enough to keep.  And also, I’m aware that my children will have to dispose of it all when I’m gone!   So, these days I embrace William Morris’s golden rule:

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

My photos today are of several things that have pride of place in my home and are, in my opinion, truly beautiful. They make me happy whenever I look at them and each one has its story.

There is a pot by the local artist Molly Abbott, that is definitely not practical but is so beautiful and vibrant in colour and form.

Molly Abbott

Next there is a beautiful piece by Daffyd Rouse. It was given to me some years ago by my daughter in law.  She is a nurse now and was working for Headway at the time.  Headway is a charity that supports people with traumatic and acquired brain injuries.  One of her clients was Daffyd, a very creative and talented man.  Sadly, Daffyd had a motorbike accident in 2005, which took away his independence and left him with serious head injuries unable to pursue his love for art, prose and pottery.  He generously decided to sell his vast collection of work to raise money for charity which is how I became the proud owner of this pot.  Sadly Daffyd died aged just 65 in June 2014, but the beauty of his artwork will ensure that his story will never be forgotten.

Daffyn Rouse

And, last but not least, is the gift I received today for Mothering Sunday.

Claire Prenton 1

This could be a melancholy time if three of your children live abroad as mine do. However, I feel very lucky that in my case it often means that I get three mother’s days ~ the Spanish one and the American one as well as the UK one.

I don’t know how she does it, but my eldest daughter always manages to send a gift from the USA that arrives bang on time. So today I was very excited when the postman knocked!  Once I had opened the parcel I was thrilled to find an exquisite piece of ceramic art created by Claire Prenton.

Claire used to live in the Cotswolds, which is where she and my daughter became friends, when they worked together. Co-incidentally they both emigrated to the USA, Lisa to California via Vermont and Claire to Cincinnati via Seattle!  They both share a deep love and respect for nature and animals ~ although they do differ in that Claire adores her cats, while Lisa can’t live without a dog.

Claire makes the most exquisite and delicate porcelain pieces, which she embellishes with features from the natural world. Insects, birds, flowers, leaves and twigs, corals, pearls and shells feature in the ornamentation. You can see them here in her gallery. Last year Lisa sent me a beautifully decorated cup and this year she sent a plate from the same collection.  Claire tells me that her exquisite cup is tough enough for me to have my daily coffee in!  But, of course I love it so much that I will never use it in case I damage it.  I would rather just look at it and appreciate its beauty.

Lisa also sent me a beautiful card with an icon of the Madonna on.  I have loved and collected these for years so that was very thoughtful.  She also included a page from the colouring book which she has designed and created by hand,

Truly I feel blessed to be surrounded by such beauty and such love.