Sunday 3 April 2005

A huge bumble bee is dancing from mahonia flower to flower outside the big window at the back of the lounge next to which I’ve come to sit and write a bit as daylight begins to disappear into twilight. It’s already 7:30pm, but the clocks went forward last weekend (Easter) and there’s a definite feel of spring in the light and the air. Summer is but round the corner. Even more so, perhaps, considering that in three days I’ll be in Spain, and the weather there could be hot, like an English summer. I’ve been to Granada before at this time of year, and the weather was glorious

Cora has gone to visit her aunt. She might have stayed until this evening, but for the fact that she’s returning here on Tuesday, for our early morning Wednesday flight. We joke a lot about having lots of arguments in Spain, and not being on speaking terms by the time of the flight back. But I can’t imagine that. Cora is so easy to be with, and I’m sure we’ll have a good time. I’m looking forward to walking in the mountains, and visiting the pretty Alpujarras villages, and touring, perhaps as far as Seville.

Pope John Paul II died yesterday, and everyone - well by everyone I mean the media, I mean the media is everyone - is making a very big deal of it. They are praising him as if he were god himself. Pundits of every ilk are falling over themselves to say what a brilliant pope he was, what a magnificent man etc. The media are full of themselves, because they love a big death like this. They can extend their programmes to give us, the public, treats. That’s what it feels like; there’s barely a commentator that doesn’t sound regal when it comes to being in charge of an extended programme on a big topic, like the pope’s death. He may have helped in the break down of Soviet communism (as a Pole, he bravely supported Solidarity) but he fucked the world good and proper by failing to move at all with the times - he stuck determinedly to the traditional Catholic line on abortion and birth control. Since it’s always the poorest and least intelligent people that follow the rules most rigorously (middle class people can better cope with ignoring such rules when it suits them), his strictures meant many poor Catholics staying poor because they had too many children, and catching Aids because they weren’t allowed to used condoms. His stance on condoms, in particular, should have been much more roundly criticised and challenged at the highest levels.

Friday, Adam went off on a four-day cycling tour.

Monday 4 April

It’s half past six, and Adam still hasn’t returned. I am due to drive him to Brighton tomorrow for an open day at the university, but I don’t know what time we have to leave, or what time we’re likely to get back. I would like to know this information because Cora is driving down here tomorrow, and we’re due to leave for Spain at the crack of dawn on Wednesday.

Unlucky Charlie. His wedding to Camilla, which has already been fraught with difficulties and public relations messiness, is now going to be delayed, with only a few days notice, because the Vatican has decided the pope’s funeral should be on the same day!

7 April 2005, Acequias

Nearing the end of day two of our holiday. I’ve brought my ibook to Spain so that I can try and get some diarist database work done, but it also means I can write my diary directly onto the computer. This is the first holiday I’ve taken just with girlfriend/partner in nearly 20 years (the last one I suppose was with Rosa in Brazil). And a lot of water has flown under my bridge in that time.

We left Elstead at 5:45am yesterday. I thought I’d left plenty of time to drive to Gatwick (it was too early and too difficult for trains, plus it would have cost almost as much as the £60 cost of carparking) but it took a full hour, and if I’d made one mistake (with the navigation or not been able to find the BCP car parking terminal) or the BCP bus had been very slow, we might have been in quite a panic once at the airport, but, as everything went super-smoothly, we were in good time. Cora had pre-booked the seats which made check-in swifter. The flight was with BA, but operated by GB Airways. Apart from having to hang around for 10 minutes in a stair well, the journey was efficient. Also, once at Malaga, the car pick-up worked without delays (although we discovered, too late, that the CD player wasn’t working - no problem really for me).

We drove quickly out of Malaga, and north along the coast, along the still-being-extended coastal motorway. It took us way beyond Nerja, and we didn’t stop until La Herradura, where I had a swim. It took me a while to get into the cold water, but it was fine, very fine. And from there we drove to Almunecar where we found, eventually, a restaurant called El Samurai, which I’d discovered on my last trip. It’s a proper lunch place, not serving tourists but the locals, and it’s busy. It served us three substantial courses (salad or rice/sausage/egg, plus fried mixed fish/salad, plus lemon mousse, plus wine) for about £5. After lunch we strolled through the quiet shopping streets (stopping for a snog in one doorway!), through the botanical garden with its Roman fish ponds, and to the beaches.

The drive up from the coast to Acequias doesn’t take long any more because of the dual carriageway that rips through the mountains leaving scarred hillsides in its wake. There is a huge dam that has been under construction for years, but the valley has yet to be filled. A dozen or more giant wind turbines sit atop the hills near Lanjaron, ugly or elegant depending on your point of view. Also, there are more quarries blotching the landscape than I remember.

Andy’s house seems much the same - a bit cold and dank, though. Most of the plants (largely geraniums) in the courtyard have died - from frost I think. I reason that there must have been a hard frost this last winter because we’ve seen many dead lemon trees. And the entrance hall was covered in plaster-fall. Upstairs I had the usual trouble getting the ascot working, but there was plenty of butane. We made tea, sorted out the beds, and . . .

To Durcal, for shopping - the same supermarket where I always buy provisions. This time, though, it was a bit different, not having to make all the decisions myself as I did with Adam, but having to negotiate what to buy and not to buy with someone else. It took the best part of 45 minutes to fill up with groceries and vegetables and drinks and dairy produce, none of it very exciting except perhaps for the Jamon Serrano, and, for Cora, the asparagus. The staff are very short and sharp in that supermarket, I remember, and when you do get attention at the fruit/veg counter there’s not much room for doubt or consideration, you have to fire off your needs rapido. Cora remarked on the number of shoe shops. I remarked on the fact that the whole square is being dug up, whether for cabling or for a refurbishment I don’t know. The place looks just as much a mess as it always did. Back in Acequias we rustled up a high-tea kind of supper.

Sleeping wasn’t easy. We were both a bit over-tired, the bed wasn’t familiar, the sheets weren’t that soft, we were both a bit restless, and the wood beetles were munching loudly.

8 April 2005

Our first full day in Spain. The weather forecasts we’d found on the internet predicted temperatures below zero by the weekend, and stormy weather. It seemed cold in the house, although not so cold that I felt the need to light the gas fires. The day dawned semi-cloudy, but pleasant with sunshine. I was up much earlier than Cora, and spent a little time working on the diaries. Every few minutes I’d rush out into the road thinking I could hear the bread man. After several abortive forays, I asked an elderly woman in the street who said the bread man didn’t come until ‘mas tarde’, one or two; then she called me back to tell me that another one came round eleven. My memory is of only one van coming earlyish in the morning, honking his horn, and people hurrying out to buy their loaves and rolls. By one or two, though, I’d heard half a dozen honking vans, and the only two I’d managed to find were selling vegetables and butane. Later, too, the honking vans started up again, but I never did get any bread. So, to return to the morning, breakfast was not what I’d hoped: fairly ordinary sliced bread we’d bought the day before toasted, fairly ordinary peach jam, and fairly ordinary tea (because the milk was UHT).

Cora was a little reluctant to get into the Sierra Nevada as such, a little reluctant to read the books, think about what to do, where she wanted to go, so I suggested we do local stuff on this first day: a walk nearby in the morning, and a trip to Lanjaron in the afternoon/evening to the Moorish castle, and to try and find the spa baths where Cora thought she might like a mud facial treatment (mentioned in the guide book). So, in the morning, we walked along the ravine, through the almond and olive groves. Disappointingly, there was not much colour. I remember fields full of poppies at this time of year, and the countryside covered in the yellow flowers of the wild broom. But we saw only a few poppies, and a few flowering broom. Cora, I can say in retrospect because she admitted today that she’d felt low during the day, didn’t really seem to enjoy the walk that much. I thought, perhaps, it was because I was being a bit too know-it all, or that I was organising too much. She was there with me, not distant at all, and I would never have guessed she was feeling low, or hadn’t enjoyed it, but it was a very low-key enjoyment, and, I suppose, I was expecting more enthusiasm from her.

Lunch was a high-tea kind of affair with the foods we’d bought the previous evening - Cora tends to prepare herself a mixed salad plate, while I put mostly the same things on bread. After resting (restlessly - I wanted to sleep but couldn’t), we drove to Lanjaron in the late afternoon. The motorway from Granada has now been extended so that a good third of the journey to Lanjaron, from Lecrin-ish to Beznar-ish, can be driven in a couple of minutes. It was a pleasant evening. We parked at the Granada end of the smile (Lanjaron looks like a smile on the map) and strolled to the other. Cora has noticed that all the old women here seem to be very short and all have bow legs on which they hobble up and down the hills. She likes observing people and their dress, and will often make a comment on their attractiveness - or not as the case may be. We didn’t find the spa baths she was looking for on our first walk through, so I guided us towards the Moorish fort that stands so elegantly and wildly on a cone of rock beneath the town. Once upon a time, not very long ago, one took a scruffy track out of the town, which led to a scruffier path, which eventually led to the castle entrance. Now, though, one needs to cross a brand new by-pass road that sits below the town, never used, like some kind of low-hanging belt that is worn for adornment not for any function. The ruined castle was just as lovely and romantic as ever (although Cora complained about the litter) with its fantastic views in every direction. I wanted to sit there for a while and read a paper I’d bought. I thought Cora would explore, but she was in a kind of mood (which she only admitted later), and came to sit by me for a few minutes before wanting to walk back to the town.

We did eventually find the balnearios, in a large municipal-type building. It had a slight sense of grandeur about it, but was spartan and functional. It was full of elderly people, and advertisements for strange sounding treatments. We established that the basic spa treatment on offer meant sitting in a private bath - i.e. there was no general pool, or sauna area. I’m not sure whether it was that which put Cora off, or the fact that the place had not one iota, not one jot of fashionability about it, not in its decoration, nor in its clientele!

9 April 2005

That was Thursday. Friday was the day we decided to go to the beach: having discussed various options, we’d agreed on a tentative schedule. Since we’d visited two beaches - La Herradura and Almunecar - on the way to the Sierra Nevada on the day of arrival, Cora was quite keen to find the naturist beach that I’d told her about, as was I. Not, though, because it was a nudist beach, but because it was the nicest beach I could remember anywhere within striking distance. We drove first to Salobreña, where we took advantage of the new tourist office to pick up leaflets, had a coffee and bought a map. We drove over Cerro Gordo and then down down down to Playa Cantarrijan. The sea was rough and high, and we needed to dash round a rocky corner to get to the back side, and less populated, area of the beach. There were maybe a dozen naked and very tanned man, and a couple of women. We had no trouble find a relatively private spot (although a fully dressed male came and sat down very close to us for a while). Cora sunbathed topless (resisting my efforts to suggest she take off of her pants so as to feel liberated), and quite enjoyed being with me naked, and being able to ogle the few naked men who strolled up and down the beach. It was a bit disappointing for me because the waves were so strong, and crashed small boulders against the feet and ankles, that it seemed dangerous to swim out very far. I managed to wet myself, but not to swim. After a couple of hours of very pleasant sun, reading, paddling and snacking (we’d bought some empanadas in La Herradura) we dressed and retired to the bar on the other side of the beach for a drink before heading home. When we got back to the top of Gordo Cerro, we found ourselves stopping at a layby and going for a walk (in flip-flops) along a track, by the side of a restaurant, which took us to a rocky path along the ridge of a promontory to a circular stone structure, an old watch tower. It was incredibly windy, on one side, with the wind rushing over the cliff edge, almost knocking us over sometimes. Beyond the watch tower, the promontory starts dropping down towards the sea, but the path allowed us to carry on. There were spectacular views across to La Herradura and its beach on the leeward side, and of the sea and the rocky coast on the windward side. On Cora’s initiative, we found a flatish spot, from where we could see if anyone were coming along the path from a distance, under a small pine tree, and made love. How beautiful was that, to make love outside under a brilliant blue sky, with the wind on our skin, and with fantastic views every time we opened our eyes. Only a soft blanket could have made the experience any better (my knees suffered a little from the stony ground!).

Cora cooked supper - chicken and rice; and then we went to Lecrin, because I thought we might have a drink or two at Bar Nuevo and meet the locals. But there was no one at Bar Nuevo, so we took a beer at Bar Garvi instead, which was busy, especially kids trying to make bangs out of their empty crisp packets by stamping on them, and then watched an episode of ‘Sex and the City’, Cora having brought a collection of DVDs.

By any standards, I felt we’d had a better-than-average first day, and two further excellent days.

Why do women put so many creams on their bodies. I’ve just gone into the bathroom, where Cora has showered and is now drying herself, and rubbing moisturising creams into her skin, different creams for her body and face. She often puts creams on her hands, and on her lips too; and she finds it difficult to wash-up or garden without gloves. I tease her lightly about this.

11 April 2005

Although we’d half planned to start at 8:30 and do a long trip into the Alpujarras, we didn’t get away until 10:00. Not quite sure why. Our first stop was Orgiva, where we’d hoped to find a big monthly artisan fair (as advertised in a local guide). Unfortunately, the fair had taken place the weekend before. We did see a few hippies wandering around, and Cora was keen to find the tepee city that is supposed to exist on the outskirts. We stopped for coffee at the central cafe, which I remember for its cakes. There wasn’t much to detain us, so we drove on, not really stopping until we got to Capileira, one of the highest of the Alpujarras villages. It’s a tourist village nowadays, but, all the same, it looks good, especially with the bright sun on the whitewashed walls, and the clear blue sky as a backdrop. There was a very small artisan fair in the central square (as if it might make up for the missed one in Orgiva) and we sat in Bar Tilo drinking coffees and watching the stall holders and the tourists wandering through. Afterwards, we walked up out of the village for a kilometre or so, from where there were spectacular views down to Capileira and into the valley. For a while, Cora sat on a large rocky outcrop, and I circled round her pretending that she was Tom Cruise, and I was the helicopter cameraman in the opening scene of ‘Mission Impossible’.

We had a longish discussion about what to do after Capileira, largely because neither of us had walking shoes, and I wanted to do a two hour walk from Pitres (as detailed in the ‘Rough Guide’). We walked back to Capileira and strolled around some more, taking in the little folklore museum, with its old and new ceramics, kitchen and farming equipment. The house, which belonged to the Spanish writer Pedro Alarcon, was beautiful and had lovely views down the valley. After more discussion we decided to have a Plato Alpujarreno between us at Bar Tilo, before pressing on to Pitres. The Plato was interesting, but not very nice (the jamon serrano was dry, and the chorizo bitter), but it didn’t ruin what had been a good experience at Capileira.

Eventually, we decided we would try the two hour walk, and parked the car in central Pistre. This proved to be such an excellent choice. The walk was well described in the ‘Rough Guide’, so we could follow the directions well, only going wrong once. It took us down first to Mecilla and then to Mecinilla and then to Mecina-Fondales, all lovely little white-washed villages, all apparently empty of people and as sleepy as a siesta itself. In a couple of them we walked under tinaos, typical balcony type structures. Between the villages, there were spectacular views down into the Taha valley. At one point we were surprised by a group of 50 American teenagers tramping the other way from us on our route (which put a bit of a damper on the idyll of the walk), but otherwise there were only one or two other couples on the circuit. As we walked along the mule path from Mecina-Fondales to Ferreirola, the path levelled out, and there were grassy banks beneath the olive and almond trees. So, for a few minutes we dropped down from the path, to a secluded spot, again under a tree, and made love - Cora dubbed it Wilderness Love, although that’s hardly an apt name. I think Cora was a bit reluctant, if only because she wanted our outdoor experience on the previous day (her first ever), to stand out, to be special. For me, both occasions were special - with very different vistas. From Ferreirola, the path began to rise viciously, and took us to Atalbeitar, from where we could see Pitres, spread out and white far above us. Unfortunately, we took the wrong track, thanks to my mistake, and probably added a kilometre to the already hard and tiring last lap of the walk.

In the evening I cooked the sardines we’d bought at the Salobreña supermarket. They were very hard to fillet, and once I’d deheaded and gutted them, there wasn’t much left. I put them in the oven, and cooked them in olive oil. The fish proved to be extremely dense and salty, so it’s just as well we could only find two or three very small forkfuls in each one. More ‘Sex and the City’ followed (including an encounter with Mr Pussy), before we retired.


I had a difficult night last night. For the first time in the holiday, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up around 3am, I suppose it was, and started thinking about our relationship. At one point I was almost in tears as I contemplated the idea of going back to my old loner ways. In the car travelling to the coast later, we talked a bit about this, and about our fears for an ongoing relationship. While Cora still has serious misgivings about our age difference (something I’m rarely aware of), I too have doubts, and I explained them as being about our different values, that we value different things as important. Cora is very torn between me and the idea of living within a safe network of Jewish friends and family. She talks about various friends of hers, and what’s good and bad about their lives. It’s amazing to be able to talk so honestly and openly with her about such feelings and thoughts. We seem to be able to offer each other a rare amount of honesty, without needing to hide stuff or pretend. I tell her I think that she is quite a remarkable woman, so generous and open and warm. And I try to explain why we get on so well together. There’s a way of being, a self-awareness, which we share, an ability to be both playful and serious; there’s a verbal connection (Cora is very good with words) which makes communication on different levels very easy (we rarely find ourselves in a misunderstanding); there’s very good sex (which stems from an openness and generosity and sensitivity which we share).

I’ve not found myself bored with Cora. If we’re in the cafe, we’ll thumb through a Spanish newspaper together, commenting on the picture or headlines; if we’re on the naturist beach, we’ll comment on the shapes and sizes of the bodies around us; if we’re on the road we’ll point out things to each other, or talk about relationships; if we’re in bed, we’ll talk about sex or loving in a really natural way, about what was good or bad, or what might have happened in the past; if we’re on a walk, we’ll look at the plants or the possibility of a photograph. We engage and disengage in conversation or activities without any self-consciousness or calculation. We flirt and tease each other sexually as easily as we cook or clean up together. We might have separate values, and there might be a 20 year age gap, but these connections we have are - to my mind at least - very precious.

Cora has gone to Niguelas, taking the car for the first time on her own. She’s gone for a two hour riding session with Lorenzo who runs one of the bars over there. It took a while to find somewhere for Cora to go riding, and she prevaricated over making the effort herself, so I did eventually help her. We asked at a bar in Lecrin, who pointed us to a bar in Niguelas, where, in fact, we’d drunk a juice, and where Cora had seen horse pictures on the wall! We went back there yesterday and Lorenzo, who doesn’t speak any English, agreed to take Cora riding today for two hours - for 50 euros.

This morning, after a late start, we drove down to the coast again, to Playa Cantarrijan. The sea was much calmer than it had been the other day, and the views were even more spectacular if that’s possible. I was able to swim several times, loving and adoring being in the cold water. There was a chill breeze, but we possessed one of the stone shelters that allowed us to lie down without feeling the wind. More people came to the beach while we were there, and it was getting quite busy by the time we left. We lunched in my favourite place in Almunecar (chicken soup and fried fish) and then drove home.

14 April, On the plane, above Granada

For about an hour we manically cleaned up Andy’s house. Cora did the bed/bathrooms and I did the upstairs, clearing out the fridge (we did reasonably well, eating most of what we’d bought on the first day). The shutters were a bit of a pain, they all needed lowering, but not all of them had tags to tie them down at the bottom (which is why some of the unopened ones clattered around such a lot during the windy nights). We gobbled breakfast on the run, and handwashed a few towels. By 8:40 we were on the road. A good run down to, and along, the coast, meant we just had time to go into Nerja, to stroll around the pretty promenade (mercifully not crowded), to take a coffee, and even for a swim. I had thought I wouldn’t try to swim on the way back to the airport, such behaviour often gets me into time trouble (there was a time, Adam and I nearly got caught in Malaga), but when I saw the delightful empty beach from the Nerja balcony, and the tranquil sea, I couldn’t resist. On the way back up from the beach, Cora teased me about being my donkey, since she was carrying my bag (heavy with books and this computer), and I shied sharply as if I were the donkey, refusing to go any further. And to get my own back, I teased her about being her chauffeur guide all week - which she took a little too seriously, which led to me saying I was only joking, 100% joking, and so on. All of which is fairly typical of some of our playful exchanges. From Nerja it’s motorway all the way, almost, to Malaga airport. I drove quite fast because we were later than I’d planned, and we got to Niza cars by 11:10. And before 11:30, we were in Malaga Airport - everything had gone smoothly, almost too smoothly.

15 April 2005

Back at Russet House. All the amelenchiers along Red House Lane are in bloom. I’m glad I didn’t miss the show - some years it only lasts a few days. And the delicate blue clematis flowers by the kitchen window are also opening. The montana, which I had to cut back severely last year, has grown and is full of its characteristic droplet buds. A few seeds have sprouted in the plots, the spinach and lettuce and parsley. The Berberis darwinii is flowering orange, but it’s an impoverished display this year; the keria and the quince in the back garden are doing their red and yellow double act well, as usual.

It was quite a contrast to be driving back from Gatwick Airport through the lush green Surrey landscape after the dry and rocky mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Cora drove, and I was able to navigate along a slightly more scenic leisurely route than the one we’d taken to get there. The car parking, which had cost us about £60, worked very smoothly. We didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes at BCP, on arrival and departure, nor did we have to walk far with the luggage since the company bring the cars to the reception area; nor did we have to wait for a link bus at the terminal either. On the drive back we stopped at a village called Warnham where, by chance, we found a mini-deli with tasty scotch eggs and quiche, and which even sold us cups of tea.

Adam was here on our arrival, and so we sat down to tea and cake (an iced lemon madeira which I’d bought at the deli) and to chatter about the holiday. Adam seemed very happy to see us and to engage in our banter.

Cora’s anxieties, which mostly stem, not from my age (which is a more containable, definable problem to consider and deal with in her mind) but from her Jewish networkness, which involves her in a very close relationship with her parents, and many family members, and many Jewish friends, some of whom are quite closely tied in with her family. Sometimes, she feels acutely the divide between me (and who I am, what I stand for, the kind of life I live and would encourage her to lead if she stayed with me) and her parents (with whom she still has, what seems to me, a childish relationship, and who represent the core of her safe Jewish network). Very specifically, there is a lot of tension in Cora’s mind between me and her father. I do highlight (quite a lot, probably too much) aspects of their relationship - the way he takes care of a lot of practicalities in her life (computers, phones, accounts); the way he calls her a lot and engages her all the time in activities of one sort or another; the way she still constantly seeks the approval and attention of him and her mother for things she’s done; and the way she criticises them in her mind when they don’t seem to give her the approval and attention she’s expecting.

Not much had happened in the world while we were away from radio/tv/newspapers: the pope’s funeral, the heir-apparent’s second marriage, the start of a general election campaign, the death of Monaco’s Prince.

And so to return to the Sierra Nevada, to the Sunday. I think I’ve covered most of what we did until then. We’d already decided Sunday should be an easy day, especially if we were going to head to Seville the following day, for what would have been a long and tiring trip. I got up around 8:30, did a little work on the diarists, and Cora got up an hour or so later. After breakfast, she went for a walk and I worked a little more. Around 11 we went into Durcal for coffee and to read the papers. After that we strolled around in the cemetery. I remember it as being in the middle of nowhere, quite a way out from Durcal, but now it’s right by the Granada-Motril motorway.

After afternoon tea and cake, we drove into Granada. We found a place to park near the main library, which is beautifully situated in the Paseo del Salon; we walked through the town centre. Cora had been studying the guide book a little, and was able to point out the cafe which Lorca and friends had frequented. Various artistes were plying their busking trade on the sidewalk, and lots of people were ambling around. We hurried on to the Paseo del Padre Manjon and Paseo de los Tristes from where I thought we could get a good view of the Alhambra lit by the evening sun. And we did, but one can only see a vague outline of the Alhambra from down below; as we climbed up the side streets of the Albaicin, we caught enticing partial glimpses of more and more of the Alhambra, still beautifully coloured by the setting sun. There seemed to be no one in the Albaicin, the streets were deserted, but I was sure there had to be a place from where one could get a good and uninterrupted view of the palace. I asked two boys we did pass, and they directed us immediately to the Mirador, which was a terrace with a perfect viewpoint across to the hill with the Moorish architectural treasure - but there were also a lot of tourists there with cameras. Cora was a bit miffed that I would not let her ask someone to take a posed touristy picture of us with the Alhambra behind. We stayed until the sun went down, and lamps lit up the Alhambra walls. On the way down through the Albaicin, I found a small triangular terrace with a brilliant view of the Alhambra and without any tourists.

We ate tapas in an old atmospheric bar which was long and thin, and which had strange toilets at the top of a spiral staircase, and then an ice cream while walking back to the car.

To go to Seville or not. For: the Seville fair which happens once a year was coincidentally on at the right time; I’ve not been to Seville, and it’s the next logical long trip for me to make from Granada; several of Cora’s friends had mentioned the fair (including Richard’s girlfriend who comes from Seville), and she had thought she really wanted to go. Against: It’s a long way, three hours motorway driving which would only be worthwhile if we stayed over one night, but accommodation was going to be difficult because of the fair; it would have added a £100 to the cost of the holiday; it would have diluted Cora’s Granada/Sierra Nevada experience; it would have meant a very manic last few days of the holiday. It took us a lot of discussion, and to and froing, and teasing about going and not going; but, in the end, we decided not to go. I’m sure I could have persuaded Cora to go, if I’d decided it would have been a worthwhile trip; and, I’m equally sure that if Cora had decided she definitely wanted to go, I would have organised it as well as possible.

So Monday proved to be another reasonably restful day. At first we were a bit non-plussed because we didn’t have an idea of what to do instead of going to Seville. But we soon fixed on one - to go to the beach on the following day, and to walk to Lecrin and a ruined castle at Mondujar nearby which I vaguely remembered. It turned out to be the least interesting of our walks, and over-long (because we walked from the house rather than driving to Lecrin), and the view from the ruined castle once we got there was completely wrecked by the motorway slicing through the mountains. But still we enjoyed it, the orange groves, the terraces laid out with smelly dung, the irrigation channels, the flowering rosemary and brooms, the views across to Niguelas, the wind, and the snog by the cross at the very top of the castle. While walking back along the Rio Torrente ravine, towards and past the brick factory, I fell twice, both times because I was foolish enough to think I could clamber down a steepish bank, while Cora walked round. The first time I grazed the skin on the shin of my right leg, and the second time I tripped over a bramble branch that was strung low across the path, and somehow fixed at both ends. It was like tripping over barbed wire and having the barbs scrape all along the skin from knee to ankle - and that was on the same leg. It looked a mess, much worse than it actually was. Although, when I went into the sea on the following day, it stung badly.

Later in the afternoon, we went for a drive, first to Niguelas, where I helped Cora negotiate with Lorenzo in a bar for a horse riding session the next day. After buying tasty little apple pastries, I drove on towards Durcal to find the road to Albunuelas for a circuit round the Lecrin valley. Because of the new motorway, it was quite difficult to find the right route out of Cozvijar, but when I had we found ourselves on a freshly tarmacced road, smooth as a baby’s bottom, and without any traffic at all. It was as though the road had been built specially for our evening drive through the hills. I got a bit lost in the village of Albunuelas, even driving accidentally into the village’s pedestrian square. We didn’t stop to look around, for it was getting late, and Cora was tired. I had thought we might take a drink and tapas at Restabal, where Ian Gibson used to live, but when we got there, the place seemed a mess, certainly less attractive than I remembered, and we couldn’t see a bar open. Instead, we stopped at a restaurant in Melegis. I’d been there before, with Offra I think, and it serves the local ex-pat population with reasonable food. We ate a reasonable tapas (sausage slices), before driving the 10 minutes back to Acequias - arriving around 9pm. I cooked supper - the sausages we’d bought at Salobrena several days earlier - and we ate them while watching ‘The Ipcress File’, a dvd Cora had brought.

I’ve already described part of the Tuesday. At around 4:45, Cora took the car to drive to Niguelas to meet up with Lorenzo for her two hours of horse riding. I stayed behind, determined to try and catch up on my diary writing. After an hour, though, I became restless, and more full of energy than I thought I was, so I decided to climb the mountain behind Acequias via the track which rises from the ravine near Niguelas, and scramble down the rocky side - a trip I’ve done with Adam at least once. I figured it would take me a couple of hours, so I left a note for Cora, who I expected back at 7:30ish. It was hotter than I expected, but I had my cap and water. I did get very hot and tired at times, and would stop whenever I found good shade for a short rest, to catch my breath and cool off. But the views across to the plain in which Niguelas and Durcal sit, and the mountains behind were splendid. The sun was low, and it dusted the whole vista with a pretty sheen. The higher I rose, the better the views it seemed. The track eventually brought me to the road, and then to a rougher track that led me to the peak of my little mountain. From there, I could see Acequias below, and all I had to do was spring, like a mountain goat, from rock to rock in a downward direction. It was relatively easy, although from time to time, my route was complicated by dense copses of pines, or slightly too steep rocks. I was very hot and tired by the time I got back to Acequias, and not a little burnt on the face. I had thought Cora was sure to back, but the house was empty. Around 8pm I began to worry. The riding was for two hours, starting at 5. I worried about her having had an accident, in the car or with the horse, or that Lorenzo had buggered her about, keeping her waiting too long here or there, and that, therefore, she might not have had a good time. I was considering ringing Lorenzo’s bar, when Cora walked in, at about 8:15, all smiles, having had a great time - which made me very happy. I do find a lot of pleasure in Cora’s happiness! Since Lorenzo had taken Cora to his house and given her a drink, and then offered her another one after the ride, and since he was young, and in search of a wife (or so Cora said), and since he was quite good looking, Lorenzo became a source of some teasing between us for the rest of the holiday.

16 April 2005

It’s still a bit chilly here in England. I’ve got the fire on in the office, and I’m wearing two jumpers. I wonder how Adam got on last night in London at the all night ‘Make Poverty History’ vigil at Westminster Cathedral. There was a report on Radio Four this morning about it, that said 5,000 people had been expected, but more than 15,000 had turned up, creating atmospheric chaos. Not everyone had been able to get into the cathedral, and lots of people were huddling around in the cold outside. At 4am, there were still, apparently, 12,000 people, and, by this morning’s march to Downing Street, the numbers had increased again. As an aside, Ads told me Charles Kennedy had visited the Godalming Sixth Form College and that he, Adam, and his friends had chatted to one of the cameramen who had let them walk across shot so as to be on - for a fleeting moment - television.

The morning sun catches on the silver birch that self-seeded itself in the middle of my front garden and is now taller than the telegraph poles in the street. A couple of weeks ago, I cut down a twin trunk, growing from one side, which was about two-thirds as high, but I was confident I could get that to fall without snagging any electric/telephone wires or hitting the house. Now I want to cut the main stem, but I’m a bit worried about its height. I think I’m going to have try and saw it about 8-10 feet up, and then pull the trunk down in one particular direction by the side of the house. Not today, though.

Wednesday was the last day of our holiday, and also the day we planned to visit the Alhambra. It was largely my decision to leave this to the last day. Apart from anything else, I thought it a suitable climax. I expected the day to be memorable for the Alhambra, but not for ‘Unexpected Tales of Car Parking’. I had been worried about parking from the first, and would have liked to have parked in the city, and walked up to the Alhambra, but we didn’t really leave early enough for that (arriving, as it was, at around 8:30, when the place opens). So I followed the tourist road signs to the Alhambra, which led us to a big car park nearby. When I read the signs, I was sure it said something like Eur4.2 per hour between March and October, or whatever. This seemed a very high charge, and meant we wouldn’t be comfortable leaving the car here all day, and walking down into the city afterwards, so I reversed out of the entrance and drove around looking for other options. There weren’t any nearby, so we ended up going through the barrier, taking our ticket medicine, and parking. We were very near the ticket office, which was good, and there were no queues for our Eur10 tickets. We raced a bit through all the garden areas, and went straight into the complex of famous rooms. There was one guided party inside also, but, for the most part, our journey through the amazing moorish architecture and furbishings was calm and peaceful.

How many times have I been to the Alhambra before. I know I must have come once, on my first visit, ten years ago, but have I been since? I was disappointed then, ten years ago, I remember that, and I’ve just checked my diary entries from that visit. This time, though, I was impressed. The extraordinary wealth of carving on the walls, all once painted bright colours, the tiles, the views through the windows and balconies, the courtyards and ponds, the alcoves, the gorgeous wooden rooves. Of course, much of it has been restored, and one can’t tell what has and what hasn’t, but, nevertheless, the sheer size of the place and the complexity of its construction over many generations by different rulers is astonishing. Apparently, it’s the only extant Moorish palace anywhere in the world, which says a lot for the christians who were in control for centuries and never demolished it. It’s not only the palaces with their intricate craft work that amazes, it’s the fortifications: the Alcazaba in particular, with its spectacular views over Granada, and the towers and walls and moats that line the whole Alhambra complex. I suppose I’m more aware of fortifications since having studied English castles a bit for my uni course. Despite having various guide books, I couldn’t find anything much about the fortifications, but I did think that some of the larger towers might have been tourist attractions in their own right if they’d been located in England.

I was disappointed at the state of the gardens, they are looked after, but they are not given horticulture attention. There are fine old trees/shrubs, but there’s no planting other than cheap annuals. This is especially true at the Generalife, a kind of country villa to the side, which is said to have some of the finest gardens in the country. But the gardens are crap (although it did have a couple of vast wisterias in bloom). The hedges are trimmed, but there’s only horrible pansies planted between them. And the whole place isn’t very well upkept. The views from the terraces across to the Albaicin are fine, but they’re no better than the ones from the Alhambra itself.

We didn’t see everything, we missed a couple of museums, and we didn’t have a look at what Carlos V built. It was mid-morning when we decided we had about 45 minutes to go if we wanted to limit our car parking charges to three hours. So, after taking a coffee in Hotel America, in its sweet small courtyard (I couldn’t understand why, with so many tourists in the Alhambra, none were in there), we raced through the Alcazaba, taking a few photos (always with Cora’s camera), and then raced back through the avenues to the car park. With only minutes to go, I raced out to the barrier only to find that I should have paid my ticket dues at a machine in the car park. Upset that we’d now gone beyond the three hour limit, and that I’d have to pay extra after all that moving quickly to get back to the car, I made a bit of a fuss to the man standing at the barrier. He made a call on his walkie talkie, and told me to go back to the place where I could manually pay. I did. But, when we got there, I found the operator was all caught up with a mechanic because his machine wasn’t working. He kept telling me to pay using the big machine, and I didn’t want to, because I thought the machine would automatically charge me for four hours. I can get very petty about such things; but there didn’t seem to be much option. Eventually, one of the operators took my ticket for me, and put it in the machine, and - although it was now at least five minutes into the fourth hour, the machine only charged me for three hours, AND, the charge was only Eur4.20!. How stupid had I been. Not only had I driven around looking for somewhere else to park, not only had we moaned between ourselves about the high charge, not only had we cut short our visit (only very slightly I suppose), but we’d walked fast and more urgent across the whole site to get back to the car to avoid what I had thought were overly high charges! That was the first of the ‘Unexpected Tales of Car Parking’.

Had we known the car parking was cheap and not expensive, we might have decided to leave the car there and walk down into the city, but, instead, we drove, which meant I had to find somewhere new to park so we could walk through the city, and do other tourist attractions. I drove round and round for a while, until Cora pointed out the place where we had parked on the Sunday. I drove up that side street, and, amazingly, there was a parking place, in almost exactly the same spot! Fantastic.

We walked through the city on very much the same kind of course that we had on Sunday. But the shops diverted us this time. El Corte Ingles principally. I went in search of Baena olive oil for Adam, and when Cora found there was only one bottle left, I had to buy it then and there although we also decided to come back later, on our return to the car. Cora got diverted by the magazines and pictures of celebrities (Prince of Monaco, Pope, Prince Charles) while I looked to see if there were any better maps on the market.

Further into the centre, Cora went to look at the cathedral while I bought espadrilles and light shoes for £4 a pair in an empty shoe shop, so close to the cathedral I guess it could multiply its income and profits a hundredfold if it turned touristy. And I sat for a while by a favourite statue of mine (a young Don Quixote, it looks like, with a pack mule). After that we walked up to Plaza Nueva again, this time in search of the Moorish baths I’d seen mentioned in the guide book. Had I seen it earlier, I would have brought my swimming trunks. I was surprised Cora hadn’t spotted it in the book (she was the one doing all the reading) since it was this type of bath that she’d been hoping for at Lanjaron. It looked a clean nice place, although quite small. I wanted to ask if they rented swimming costumes, but Cora was horrified at the suggestion.

By the time we got back to the car I was exhausted, barely able to stand. When I looked for the car key, I couldn’t find it. I sat down on the pavement in the shade, and searched through my bag several times. Cora did the same. No key. I had no idea what could have happened to it. I remembered going to El Corte Ingles, but there wasn’t anywhere there I would have put a key down. And if it had fallen out of my bag or pocket, I could have lost them anywhere within the Alhambra complex or elsewhere. I began to imagine horrible scenarios, most of which involved a lot of waiting around and bother, and paying out significant sums of money. As I delayed doing anything or talking to Cora about the problem, I hoped that someone from a nearby shop or flat would see us standing around the car, and come and hand over the key they had found on the pavement or in the car door. But this did not happen. I told Cora that, since we didn’t have the Niza Cars number, the best thing might be to walk to the tourist office and ask them to help us. And then I remembered - our first stop had not been El Corte Ingles but a cafe round the corner. I raced off, not telling Cora where I was going. The moment I walked in and saw the barman’s face, I knew he had the key - it was a nice moment. He told me he had rung Niza Cars (which means that, even if I hadn’t gone there then, we’d have discovered the key on ringing Niza) I returned to Cora triumphant! And that was (not strictly) the second of the ‘Unexpected Tales of Car Parking’.

We were quite aware that this was our last tourist fling of the holiday, and that made us a bit sad. Back at the house, we snacked and rested and then set about cleaning and tidying, in readiness for our fairly early start the next day. About 8:30, we went out in search of a good last meal. We went first to Durcal, where I thought I’d eaten once. We found a lively bar, which did serve food, but ended up, after tasty tapas, deciding to try somewhere else. But the evening turned into a farce as we couldn’t find anywhere, and we wished we’d eaten at the first place. We ended up at a pizzeria, which was completely deserted, and ordering a pizza and a mixed salad from a very grumpy barman. When the mixed salad came, it was huge and was a special - not a simple mixed - salad. When I asked Mr Grumpy if the salad was for one or two, he said two, and so I said I’d only ordered one salad and one pizza. He said ‘igual’, and then I felt we could only eat half the bloody salad! The pizza came too quickly. It was warm but not hot. It did have a good helping of cheese and ham on it (which was so funny, because the only other substantial thing we’d eaten that day was a ham and cheese toasty in Granada at the bar where I left the car key), and a few mushrooms. Mr Grumpy kept popping his head into the dining room while we were eating every minute or so for some reason, and then, while we were still eating, he came and took away the condiment set and put it away in the cupboard. After that he didn’t disturb us much. I proposed that one explanation for Mr Grumpy’s odd behaviour might be that there had been a spate of condiment thefts in recent weeks! We left as soon as we could, laughing at our misfortune, and returned home to do a bit more packing/clearing, and to sleep.

What I discovered about Cora on our very first trip together, the day we call Jungle Day, is that she is so easy to be with, so much fun, so undemanding and uncomplaining, and this has proved true time and time again. Whether in bliss or tragedy, Cora is a wonderful companion - generous, responsive, sensitive, appreciative. It was wonderful holiday, almost too wonderful, in that I took much of it for granted, just moving from day to day in the pleasure of her company and of our mutual warmth and fun and sensuality.

21 April 2005

It’s Thursday. For the last three days, I’ve been proof-reading, on screen, the summaries of my 320 diarists - a boring job.

It’s been a difficult week relationship-wise. I’ve lost my temper with Adam, got uptight with my mother, whinged to Barbara, and had doubts about Cora.

28 April 2005

I’ve been working hard on The Diary Junction, putting together the web pages, and creating the links between them. It’s a lot of mechanical mouse-work turning the database into 350 odd web pages. I’ve done most of it, but I still have one set of listings to do, and this is the longest, possibly running to 1,000 or more links, every one of which I’ll have to cut and paste. I’ve also got to polish the pages, put the notes and cautions and adverts on them; and, before I send out any advertising or notify search engines, I want to polish up the existing pages of my site. (Interestingly, because I deposited on the Demon server one Diary Junction page with a link from the Pikle home page, it’s already possible to search for ‘The Diary Junction’ and get straight to the page). Also, I’m well pleased to see that a full Google search for the single word Pikle brings up my site first, and many of its pages too. I love that I have an identity made of five letters which is unusual enough among the five billion or more internet pages to find me instantly.

I’m expecting Cora. She’s making a rare weekday evening visit because we’re going to Basingstoke to see the City of Granada orchestra play Spanish music with a bit of Flamenco. Within a day or two of returning from Spain, I received an email from The Anvil advertising this concert, and Cora expressed strong interest to go - so we’re revisiting the Sierra Nevada tonight.

30 April 2005

It was a bit of a race to get to Basingstoke on time (although this was no fault of Cora’s since she took half a day off and came down mid-afternoon, it was more to do with the dynamics of having Adam in the house too, and having to cook for both of them before we left). But it was worth it. The Anvil was fuller than I think I’ve ever seen, although I may have been more aware of the crowd because Cora and I were seated in the choir, behind the orchestra. This gave us an excellent view of the conductor, who seemed to be waving at us all the time, and a good view of the people in the orchestra. It did not, though, allow us to see the face of the singer, Carmen Linares, nor the fingers of the guitarist, Marco Socias. This did not matter, since we could hear very well. The first piece was Stravinsky’s ‘Pucinella’ which, apart from one short bit, I did not recognise. It was like a piece of musical fireworks. The second was ‘Concerto de Aranjuez’, beautifully performed, and extraordinarily moving. Cora cried a little, not in remembrance of our time in Andalucia, but because it triggered nostalgic memories connected with further back in her past (because she knows the music played by one of her favourite artists, Al Jarreau). After the interval, there was piece of music by Ravel which I didn’t know, and the finale was ‘El Amor Brujo’ by Falla, complete with Carmen Linares singing and Natalia Ferrandiz dancing. Only, we couldn’t see Ferrandiz because she was dancing right at the back of the stage below us and out of view, occasionally we could see her hands doing funny things, her head bobbing into view, or, in one dance, a shawl waving around. I still enjoyed the music and the, somewhat gravelly, singing, but I was pissed off that I couldn’t see the dancing - so, naturally, I wrote a letter of complaint.

Also, yesterday, I wrote another letter concerning the hedge issue. In response to the letter I sent earlier in the week complaining that no one had responded to my earlier letter and asking for a formal enquiry, I suddenly received a very prompt and detailed reply. It was from the director of transportation (Mr Findlay), to whom I’d written, but the letter was one composed by Mr Haworth. Findlay has clearly not looked at my complaint, he’s simply asked Haworth to deal with it. But it was Haworth who I spoke to on the day my hedge was cut, and who was very smug, and it was Haworth who replied to my initial complaint with a completely unsatisfactory letter, and he only did that after I’d written to point out that no one had answered my initial complaint. Shall I copy the letters into my diary or not? Oh why not. But I must stress that - in fact - I am not distressed about my hedge at all. It does look a mess, but I can live with it. I just feel that something is wrong here and, so long as it doesn’t take too much time or trouble, I’m going to ferret it out. [Text of five letters to Council concerning hedge edited out!]

The Diary Junction is live. I’m very pleased with it. From having the initial idea, just about three months ago, I’ve realised it, much as I envisaged. It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve enjoyed it. And there’s more to do. There’s more to do immediately to accomplish this first stage, but it’s just mechanical database work, and I’ll finish it some time in the next few days. But there’s also more to do long term, as much work as I please. I can, in theory, go on adding diarists and updating the information on the ones that are already there, for ever. At first sight, it probably doesn’t look like much, but every element of the design has been quite carefully worked out. There’s a consistency of style across the site, and I hope it’s got real substance. I like the way I resolved my need to use the site as a promotion for my own projects. Initially, I thought I’d put a lot about this on the main Diary Junction page, but I found it cluttered the site’s entry point too much. Instead, I’ve put ‘advertisements’ at the bottom of each of the listings page, and these advertisements are for Kip Fenn and my other projects! I’ll wait until after my exam next Monday before I send out any promotions, I wonder what will become of The Diary Junction in time.

May 2005

Paul K Lyons


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