Our latest journey to Spain was circuitous. We left the Cotswolds very suddenly to visit Dublin in order to wet the head of a new grandson – Conan. We slept near the ferry port at Liverpool and the only place we could find to park the motor caravan was behind some sand dunes which overlooked the Mersey River. It was my birthday and the search for a suitable pub became frenetic, yet ended with the perfect place. The Edinburgh had great local ales, three very different bars (local, lounge and quiet room), wonderful pub architecture and friendly staff and customers. Next morning I ran over the dunes and was amazed to see the beach full of people dotted all over the sands. After a while it dawned on me that only one of them, another jogger, was moving! I had inadvertently chanced upon Andrew Gormley’s Another Place. I inspected one of the cast iron Gormley replicas and found a number on his wrist tag – the number was the year that I had celebrated the night before – weird.
Conan is a fine looking baby and my son and I celebrated his birth in the usual fashion and at great expense in the heaving pubs near his flat in Dublin. Next day Margaret and I drove south to catch the overnight ferry to Cherbourg, and had a merry time mixing with Irish holiday makers in the entertainment bar during the evening. Perhaps we were preparing ourselves for Fran
After a day’s driving we tried to find a village or town where we could spend the night and get a meal and a drink – in France on a Monday night - near impossible. After visiting three places, all quite dead, we found somewhere north of Nantes that at least had a pizza van. We parked there and made our way to a much advertised restaurant – closed of course. But we did find a bar open. It had one customer and he was as pleased to see as the barmaid was. We four became instant friends despite the language barrier (we used our computers to translate) and Marie Laure insisted that I talk to the town’s resident Irishman on her mobile phone. He seemed as bemused as I was. The only other customer, Chico, rushed out of bar when he heard that we had not eaten returning after some time with two large pizzas, no doubt from the van. We drank we laughed, we wore funny hats from the bar’s collection and we photographed ourselves. At one point some poor local tried to join the party, but was quickly told that the bar was closed!
Then came payback time. I put a 50 Euro note on the bar, but they would not take it though I was quite forceful. The beers were on the house and the pizzas on Chico. And there was more. Marie Faure insisted that I move my camper to a beautiful spot beside the lake and then she and Chico piled in to have a drink on us. Aren’t French people nice?
One thousand miles out of Cherbourg we finally arrived at our village – La Fresneda. It is always lovely to return, and to be greeted by folks who wanted to know why we had been away so long. However, most of them had heard that Margaret had had an operation. The village rumour machine works very efficiently. Our huerto was overgrown, of course, and I had to face the debilitating task of retiling the ruined roof. I reckoned that the supersized hailstones had wrecked at least 75% of the traditional upper tiles and bought 300 replacements. It took me a week to remove the wreckage and re-tile but it’s done – the only thing left to deal with is the shattered solar panel. But that can wait, since, though almost destroyed, it is still producing some electricity.
On the Brexit front we have quickly ascertained that our village is quite neutral. There are only two other UK voters in the place and when we had them round for a few drinks we soon confirmed that they had voted to stay and we had voted to leave, so we have cancelled each other out. It still leaves a question for them to answer though. If, as is claimed, the EU is so good for the economy and migration boosts it further, why are so many countries like Spain in such a parlous state? We are told that unemployment is still around 50% for the young here and the economy is flat or worse. And then there is the question of Gibraltar, often seized upon by governments here to deflect attention from more pressing problems. But that’s Another Place where perhaps the cast iron replicas of the artist are replaced by – apes?