Humpty Dumpty`s View of the Referendum


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Humpty Dumpty

Those scholarly enough to recall Alice in Wonderland will recall Humpty Dumpty`s view that `a word means whatever I want it to mean`( or words to that effect-I`m not scholarly enough to recall it verbatim). This is often taken to be one of the amusing aspects of that great work which, however, one will outgrow as maturity comes along (`shades of the prison-house` in Wordsworth`s great line, just to show I`ve read him as well). In reality Humpty Dumpty (hereafter to be known as H.D.) was expressing an insight which would have transformed all political debate since then if it had been understood. George Orwell`s `double-think` and `double-speak` are similar insights although they refer to deliberate manipulation of the language rather than vague thinking. Let me explain further.
The Scottish referendum, like much political debate, threw up frequent uses of terms such as `left-wing`, `right-wing` or `fascist`(almost uniquely used nowadays as a term of abuse). All of these terms confuse a simple fellow like me. What is a left-winger (when not on the football pitch that is)? When I complain to people who use the term that this summons up in my mind a range of views from those of Josef Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot to Tony Blair or even Barrack Obama I am usually met with exasperated complaints that `of course` they did not mean any of these. One characteristic of much `left-wing` thinking appears to be a much greater role for the state (e.g. Gordon Brown, Francois Hollande, Josef Stalin). How do they reconcile that with Marxist Dialectical Materialism which argued that through an inevitable historical process the state would wither away and that capitalism would crumble from its own contradictions? Would this question elicit more exasperated complaint?
I have the same problem with `right-wing`. This would range from General Franco, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini through Ronald Reagan and George Bush (father or son) to David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy. Full marks (and a course of either history or therapy) allotted to anyone who can spot reasons to prefer the `left-wing` policies of Pol Pot to the `right-wing` ones of Adolf Hitler or vice versa. It is almost mandatory in the list of right-wingers to cite Attila the Hun. Those who have read the Middle High German epic The Nibelungenlied where he appears as Etzli will see him as a benign, progressive redistributionist, almost in the modern Scandinavian mould. If you read the old Icelandic Atlikvida you`ll put him in the Pol Pot box. It depends whose history you read. The other name which tradition demands you cite and vilify as `fascist` is Rupert Murdoch. I don`t know much about Rupert Murdoch but I do know he is far from being fascist. The characteristics of fascism are: nationalism, high levels of state control, restriction of free speech and free press, economic protectionism and the right of powerful nations to occupy weaker ones. Rupert Murdoch does not fit any on these. He may or may not be a nice man but he believes strongly in personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, free trade across borders and the widening of democracy. One man who satisfies most of the requirements of fascism is Alex Salmond and, of course, the man he greatly admires, Vladimir Putin.
In the Scottish referendum debate it was normally sufficient for a speaker to condemn Toryism and Thatcherism to get rousing cheers. The reality is that Scotland`s GDP began to grow rapidly under the Thatcher Government, getting new industries like electronics and avionics and a huge expansion of its financial services industry. I grew up in one of the poorest, most deprived areas of Glasgow where old-fashioned `left-wing`, heavily unionised, benefit -dependent communities ritually condemned Tories ( including more intelligent and realistic Labour figures such as Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Dennis Healey) and perpetuated their deprived status for the next generation. However, regardless of the truth of that, I think cynical and/or ignorant campaigners will continue in Scotland to use these emotive terms to discourage people from actually thinking.
So, this is why, like Humpty Dumpty, I sit on a wall. Up here, I like to think we have some clarity, away from the tangled weeds used for their own ends by either left or right who do not believe in personal freedom, open, sane debate, democracy and international friendship. Mercifully, I think most of the UK takes a similar view and relatively centrist politics tends to triumph. This is not, sadly, because most of the UK has a clear grasp of political or economic issues. In that wonderful American series `The West Wing` President Bartlett laments `the strongest argument against democracy is five minutes spent with the average voter`. If you listen to a phone-in programme on the BBC you will readily agree. Mercifully, the economically innocent and politically misguided on either side tend to cancel each other out. When that no longer holds true then Humpty Dumpty and I will have a great fall.

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The Tragic Loss of Nessie


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This week the Press reported the remarkable and tragic news that Nessie, The Loch Ness Monster, had left Scotland and had been spotted cavorting in a lake in the north of England. I am now in a position to reveal the circumstances that led to this terrible tragedy for our nation.
One fine morning Nicola was ushered into the presence of the Great McSalmond for their daily strategy meeting to see the great man looking more than usually pleased with himself. The Dear Leader explained.
Nicola, or can I call you Nicky?
“Naw ye cannae. That`s a fella`s name.”
“Oh right, well Nicola last night I was riding home with wee McSwinney and my faithful Rottweiler, McSillars. Suddenly we saw three old women dancing around a camp fire.”
“Whit, in St.Andrew Square?”
“Verily. And they said to me: `Hail McSalmond, MP fur somewhere up north`- quite true you know. Then `Hail McSalmond, the Nero of our times`- he wis Emperor of Rome you know, a powerful man. Then `Hail McSalmond, the Modern Midas.`
“What, the man that turned everything he touched into gold?”
“The very one, but you see, it`s now got a specially Scottish slant because I can now turn everything I touch into black pudding.”
Perhaps the first flicker of doubt appeared in Nicola`s eyes as she moved a noticeable distance back from the great man.
“But Eck, whit good is that when we`ve got to worry aboot whit we`ll dae when the oil runs oot and we cannae pay our bills.”
A look of triumph crossed McSalmond`s finely rounded features.
“But, that`s the point, Nicola. If you mash up a black pudding it looks just like oil- and it burns.”
They were interrupted by McSalmond`s manservant Grumpy McRussell.
“Eck you have an important lady visitor.”
“Well show her in,man. Is it the Queen saying how much she likes the `yes` campaign.”
“No, sir, a rather larger visitor. So large you`ll have to go down to the garden to see her.”
McSalmond did so to be astonished at the colossal form of Nessie who did not look amused. To cheer her up McSalmond explained his new black pudding strategy. Onlookers swore Nessie developed yet another hump.
“That settles it, McSalmond. I came to complain that I have had thousands of years of being the biggest monster in Scotland. Your lie about the NHS has changed all that. It`s a monster I can`t compete with. I`ve made arrangements with The English Tourist Board to take up residence in The Lake District.”
As Nessie`s vast,stately bulk disappeared down the driveway an increasingly anxious-looking Nicola turned to the Dear Leader .
“Eck, you realise that Nero was famous for fiddling while Rome burned. Is that why you`ve been practising the penny whistle lately?”

Scaremongering Debt

Scottish Debt

I note that Nicola Sturgeon is outraged that the UK Government will not negotiate about a currency union. Just because they`ll be a foreign country is no excuse. I gather the SNP now have secret plans to ask Mozambique or Peru to underwrite Scottish debt. First signs are encouraging. Both sets of Finance Ministers were obviously happy with the idea since they couldn`t stop laughing. All this will change of course when Saudi Arabia agrees to take massive imports of Scotch whisky. Their initial refusal to do so of course is obviously bluffing. Then there is the tricky issue of Nato membership. If NATO won`t negotiate about the removal of nuclear weapons we`ll find someone who will. Mr. Salmond`s much-admired old friend, Vladimir Putin, who is an eager supporter of the `yes` campaign will happily take our nuclear weapons away.
We know that Standard Life, RBS and other major financial institutions will have to leave Edinburgh after a `yes` vote. At first sight this may seem like a lot of jobs to lose, especially when you consider all the painters, plumbers and other trades folk who will lose their livelihoods as a result. That is really not a problem. There is work to do collecting up all the `yes` posters stuck around the country. This may not seem economically productive but we have to find some way of using up all the oil money. Just because that fell £3.7 billion short of forecasts last year is no reason to believe it will not dramatically exceed expectations in every possible future year. The other job they could usefully do would be to count the number of terrorist groups arriving in the country now that the British army is not there to deter them. The Irish republicans have already indicated how much they are looking forward to a `yes` vote. It will all be fine.

The Great McSalmond


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It was so inspiring to read of the great chieftain of the McSalmond clan giving a typically hairy-chested response to `a` thae English an ither foreigners tellin` us we cannae ignore the debt` `Whit ur they gonnae dae? Invade us?` he replied with the matchless intellectual analysis for which he is famed in Invercockaleekie. Nicola`s adoring eyes rested on his finely rounded physique as she replied “Aye, they a` think we`re zipped up the back up here.” McSalmond`s noble face took on a puzzled expression. “Nicola, whit the f*** dis that mean. Ye keep sayin` it an` naebody understands it.” “But that`s the point, McSalmond. That way naebody can prove us wrang. Ye`ve strayed frae the true path by tellin` them facts like yer Plan A cos` it disnae work.” “It disnae huv tae work as lang as it wins us the vote.”
This meeting of great intellects scarcely matched in history since the Periclean Athens of Socrates and Plato was interrupted by a messenger blusterin` in from England on his famed steed Scaremonger.
“Hail o great McSalmond, I have to tell you that if you refuse the debt no one will invade. The problem is that Scotland will never be able to borrow again. Even Greece can borrow and they are broke. This would amount, in the technical terms used in your great paper on Economics for Dummies written by McDummies as `gauin` doon the plughole ` or even `comin` up the Clyde on a wheelbarra`. Neither is thought to position us at the top table of economic power.
“But did ye no tell them we`re the richest country in the world cos` we`ve got oil.”
“Yes, o great McSalmond, but they googled it and found we were 43d and likely to fall.”
“ O right,” said McSalmond peering in his sporran for inspiration. “Jis` tell them we`re no zipped up the back up here.”

Mr. Salmond`s Great Discovery


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I believe Mr. Salmond is about to reveal that he has discovered Father Xmas (yes Santa Claus himself!) imprisoned in Westminster by the notorious “Old Etonian Snobs” gang. “They tied me up with facts and reality and other cruel stuff” complained the old man to the sympathetic First Minister. “I`d never let that happen” explained Mr. Salmond as he assured him he would find a place in the Fact Free Zone that will be the new Scotland. He could be in charge of The National Mint where the money would be made of real mint chocolate. “Them English don`t even use real mint for their money”, he explained. It could have a nice chocolate coating and be wrapped in gold leaf. We`d call it the pound because it would be our pound as much as England`s pound. Each pound would be divided into 100 Desperate Dans. Of course everyone would accept it because it`s our pound as much as England`s pound. Anyone who tells you it will just melt away is being negative and probably blustering as well. He would even offer Santa a political career. “In the New Scotland all the turkeys will vote for you and we`ll have a lot of them. That`s another of my miracles. I`ll turn all these capitalist businesses into turkeys in days. We don`t need them. We`ve got any amount of oil.” He might even get a job producing the New Separate Scotland Dictionary. An example of that would be, for example, the definition of `bullying` as `facts we`d rather not hear thankyou very much` or `bluffing` as `facts we`d rather not hear thankyou very much.` or `scaremongering` as `facts we`d rather not hear thankyou very much`.  Everyone will live in gingerbread houses and there will be a government subsidy to provide them with chimneys which Santa can slide down. This will be paid for by the great saving that will be made on history books. These will be very short books with three chapters. Chapter One will be the Battle of Bannockburn. Chapter Two will be “Bad things them English and ither scaremongerers did tae us” Chapter Three will be “The Fact Free Zone”. Santa, with a tear glistening in his old eye asked “And will my reindeers be able to fly”. “Of course,” replied The First Minister.” This will be a democratic country. If pigs can fly we`ll no stop yer reindeer”



I have just published the latest detective thriller from the Rojas Casebook. Again it features the strange, legendary, scarcely human, Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas. Rojas is always courteous and patient yet he has an uncanny ability to terrify even the most hardened criminal. Suspects who sneer at other interrogators crumble before his unnerving gaze. Louise has caught some of that in her cover design for the book.


An attractive journalist is found dead in a flat in Málaga. A powerful French politician is arrested in London for attempted sexual assault. A brilliant Ukrainian chess master inexplicably loses an important match in the sunshine of Portugal. A respected Spanish priest falls from grace and hints at murder. What dark forces of modern European politics lie behind these apparently unconnected events?
The legendary Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas of the Spanish National Guard begins to see strange, unexpected connections. The powerful French politician is dangerous. The journalist in Málaga attracted interesting men but some were more dangerous than she knew. Her friend, the Ukrainian journalist, Kristina Rigachev is, Rojas realises, connected with all of these events. As a result she too may be in the greatest danger. So too is Rojas` old friend, the priest of a revered church in Toledo. Most puzzling, however, is the legendary detective`s realisation that a figure is moving in the shadows of this case. The figure is skilled and resourceful. But is this a figure to be welcomed or to fear.
As before, Rojas, uses his strange insight and his network of contacts, some more savoury than others, as he sees once more that politics and ruthless crime are all too close in modern Europe.


A Love Affair with Italy


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A Love Affair with Italy

My rambles around Italy were published at the end of March and already it has become the best launch of a book I have done. Coffee,Chianti and Caravaggio is available from Amazon both as a print book and as an e-book. The sales of the print version have moved much faster than that for any of my previous books, perhaps because of the great artwork done by Louise Macdonald for the cover and the brilliance of Kris Krug in preparing a pdf from that. Preparing a pdf, especially with the amount of detail in this cover is not an easy task and I could not have done it without Kris.
I am glad to say the text has also had excellent reactions from as far afield as California, Boston, Melbourne and Penang.
You can read more about this and my other books on


Italian Passions – Coffee, Chianti and Caravaggio


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Italian Passions - Coffee, Chianti and Caravaggio

Well, I`ve had a break from blogging. I did a lot of travelling and got involved in two big writing projects. Since my request to have more than 24 hours in my day was refused something had to give.
The image above is the one created by Louise Macdonald for my next travel book which should be available in less than a month. It is called “Coffee, Chianti and Caravaggio”. Some of the little subtleties Louise has incorporated will be much clearer in the physical print book that will be produced. The striped effect with its colours comes from the flag of Italy. The dissolute image in the top right is an excellent reproduction of Caravaggio`s famous painting of Bacchus,the god of wine. In that way she has captured both the wine and artist references in the title. Elsewhere she is showing images of the Amalfi coast, Venice, Liguria and, in the centre panel the roads that lead to Rome. The advance interest is encouraging and suggests it may have an even better launch than my last travel book “Coffee, Castanets and Don Quixote” about four great cities of Spain.
This book is not a travelogue or substitute for a Lonely Planet guide. As far as possible I wanted to create for the reader the experience of looking from a balcony over the blue sea of the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius, driving past the sulphurous, bubbling and hissing gate to the Underworld at Campi Flegri, eating exquisitely fresh dorada in a beach restaurant in Portofino and the many interesting and entertaining encounters you get visiting cafes in Florence, Rome or tiny Alassio.

Here are two excerpts from the book. The first one comes from the chapter Tuscany, describing my first visit to Italy with my teenage son, Malcolm

` We did not for a moment think we had “done” Florence but we had already had a full day and wanted to get back to our peaceful estate and perhaps a game of tennis. On driving out of the covered car park I looked both ways and pulled into the street, suddenly noticing as I did so a young woman on a scooter whom I had come close to hitting. I don`t know yet whether she had suddenly pulled out from somewhere, whether she was in a blind spot or what, but she yelled at me and waved a fist as I turned. The incident shook me and restored the total caution and alertness of my first day in the country.
We headed back but somewhere took a wrong turning and found ourselves in a small town we had not expected to be in. We could find no signs either that told us where we were or how to get back to anywhere we recognized. I stopped the car in a quiet street and looked at the map with Malcolm to try to identify where we could have gone wrong. Malcolm noticed a woman coming along the street with her shopping and suggested we ask her. I agreed that was a good plan as long as she spoke English. Malcolm delicately asked if all my years of interest in Italian opera had taught me nothing that could be of any use. I wondered. I knew how to say “your tiny hand is frozen” and “women are fickle”. Neither seemed helpful. I thought further. I could manage “when the stars were brightly shining”, “on with the motley” and “no, I am not a clown.” Malcolm looked unimpressed and the lady was coming closer. Suddenly I remembered “dove sono” from Mozart`s Marriage of Figaro. That means “where am I?” That was better. From Rigoletto I recalled “pari siamo” meaning “we are the same.” I leaned out of the window and established she did not speak English. I said “dove siamo?” She gave us a name which we could not immediately find on the map. From somewhere else I remembered “ah, che voglio” which was something about “I want”. I said “voglio Pontassieve” since we knew how to navigate from there. She smiled, nodded and then burst into floods of Italian for which my operatic knowledge was no help at all. We caught “rivoltare”, ”sinistra” and what sounded like “semaforo”. That was accompanied by typically extravagant hand gestures. We nodded and said “grazie”, each of us hoping the other had grasped a little more than we knew we had. We decided “rivoltare” did not mean she was revolted by us since she kept smiling. More like a suggestion to turn round. “Sinistra”,I felt sure meant left or on the left. The word “semaforo” puzzled us. We felt it unlikely that anyone was practicing semaphore signalling in the main street of wherever we were. Malcolm wondered if it could mean some other kind of signal like a traffic light. This was such a good idea that I felt sure we had to turn round, go to the traffic lights and turn left. I turned the car and drove in the direction she had pointed. We prayed for traffic lights and, there they were. We turned left and noticed a sign ahead. We approached it and, sure enough, we were on our way to Pontassieve. “Maybe opera`s not so useless after all,” Malcolm generously admitted.
The second passage comes from the chapter The Company in Venice, describing my first visit to the city, this time travelling alone.

Almost everything about Venice is hard to believe. The approach to it alone is unlike that to any other place I have ever visited. I arrived at the airport from which a water taxi awaits to take you to your destination. You step in and all around are the waters of the lagoon, the broad natural inlet from the Gulf of Venice, protected by the narrow necks of land known as littorale. I looked around in vain to see any sign of the legendary home of Titian, Tintoretto and the empire that had ruled the Mediterranean. The crossing of the lagoon on the map had looked so short that I had expected it to be not much more than a long paddle. But as the water taxi got under way no buildings were in view. We set off on this great ocean, as it seemed, as if saying goodbye to reality. That sensation grew as in the distance I saw the first towers of San Marco, Santa Maria della Salute and The Campanile rise hazily, shimmeringly, from the water. They looked insubstantial, unsteady mirages rather than buildings of stone. Gradually more detail appeared as if Titian were painting it in as we approached. Eventually, within sight of the landing by the Doge`s Palace it almost resembled a city in which people could live, but far more ornate, colourful and imaginative than any real settlement. It was quite late and I wanted to check into my hotel but first I took one stroll past the Doge`s Palace into Piazza San Marco, St. Mark`s Square, to see the renowned basilica. In the broad square in front of it were the expected crowds of pigeons and on the far side the long line of porticoes leading to shops selling every item of fashionable living. The Basilica San Marco itself is so dreamlike that the sense of the unreal that had come over me on the lagoon appeared to be confirmed. Set in a great western city it speaks of the orient as do spices and perfumes or the poetry of Omar Khayyam or the music of Scheherezade. That, of course, is appropriate since St. Mark, the city`s patron saint, was from the Middle East. Legend has it that he replaced the original patron, St. Theodore, when in 832 Venetian sailors brought the Apostle`s bones from Alexandria in Egypt. The great empire once ruled from The Doge`s Palace beside the Basilica stretched far into the Levant where the navy of this small city could deter even the might of Turkey under the sultans. Needing some reassurance that at least my hotel room was a reality I took another vaporetto to the Lido where reality was in plentiful, maybe even excessive, supply. My room was huge with two functional beds that looked more like army surplus than art nouveau. There was no bedding when I went in. There was a mattress on each, both of which looked as if children had used them as trampoline practice and one appeared to have been chewed by some creature. I was not wholly convinced the creature was not now inside it, bedding down to start a family. The porter appeared to visibly stagger when I told him I thought this was a dump and wanted a better room. His mind was suddenly wiped clean of the moderate command of English he had shown and he resorted to Italian exclamations with hand gestures which suggested that any tether he had ever had had reached its end long ago. Tasks such as finding another room in this fairly small hotel could not be expected of him. I suspected he was in line for a substantial bonus if he could persuade anyone to occupy this slum. I went down to reception where the perfectly pleasant young woman appeared to be fully ready for my request. In fact, there were rooms in the adjoining hotel which was also owned by the management and within seconds she gave me another room key, assuring me that the porter would bring my luggage. I found my way round to it and thought it quite acceptable. My luggage quickly followed, delivered by the same porter who now greeted me with smiles and a return of his mastery of English, entirely restored by his expectation of a tip which did not materialise.


Death in the Spanish Sun


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Death in the Spanish Sun

I climbed and climbed last Sunday in Malaga. Through the quiet streets in the early morning I tramped and turned off at the Roman theatre to begin the ascent. The blue of the Mediterranean just east of the Pillars of Hercules began to sparkle as the sun climbed, although it was still cold. I had eaten no breakfast and coffee was hours away. I walked past the lush garden with the pool and water-jets like a tiny imitation of the great gardens of the Alhambra. On its slopes were palm trees with leaves that hung down lazily over large cactus plants that seemed as happy in that fertile soil as in the desert. Up I went until I had gone above the high-rise blocks at Paseo Picasso and the beach or the ones overlooking the bay where the yachts of Russian grillionaires bobbed innocently. Then, gradually, it came into view, looking calm and reassuring in the early morning. There, below me was the place of death. I walked ever higher until the walls of the Alcazaba appeared beside me. It is the large fortified area begun by the Moors in the 8th century. Like me it would climb the hill until we reached the 14th century Castillo de Gibralfaro at the top. As I looked up I could still barely see the mirador from which I would look across the beautiful ancient city to the peaks of the Montes de Malaga which lead on to the Serrania Rondana. Gradually the chill of the morning was giving way to sunshine that grew stronger and warmer as the effort of the climb drove any cold from my muscles.Spanish garden
At the first mirador I stopped and looked across the city. Below me was the maestranza, the bullring. Of course I knew it was a place of death. That was its whole purpose, oddly incongruous in that land I have always found friendly, gentle, non-violent. It was the place of death but even then as I looked down to it I didn`t realise that I would be implicated. I went on, unsuspecting, until I reached the peak and wondered in the now strong and warm sunshine at the marvellous panorama that took in the gardens below, the Mediterranean that was now wide, blue and majestic, the chain of mountains behind the city and the stylish, impressive city below with its marriage of European and Islamic architecture. By that time, the pain and suffering brigade of panting joggers were now appearing as I began downhill.

Malaga restaurant
We move now to the following evening. I had already had some good meals in the city centre and by the harbour. I wanted something special and Spanish. The narrow streets of Malaga in the evening are colourful, busy and full of appealing cafes and restaurants.
Malaga restaurant in the evening

Eventually I chose one, Meson la Alegria in Calle Marin Garcia. The name means `house of happiness`, so that was promising. The tables outside were well-lit and the interior, easily visible through the open doors and windows had the warm tiles, the dark mahogany tables and the rows of dark wine bottles that can be so appealing. More obvious than all this however was the head of a giant bull, a toro bravo protruding from the wall above the tables as if he had just crashed in minutes before. The waiter chatted to me, quite patient with my imperfect Spanish. We were joined by another, more rotund gentleman and they began their normal routine of trying to suggest what might delight me. I stopped them. I knew. It sounded dull but I wanted grilled vegetables followed by oxtail. Neither of these would be likely to make the blood run hot in a British restaurant, but they are specialties in Andalusia and I hoped I had chosen the right place to taste them. The vegetables came, a large plate of asparagus, aubergine, courgette, tomato, onion, peppers and fennel. Each tasted delicious, just boiled and grilled to perfection with whatever combination of garlic, salt and local herbs made it taste so different from anything I could cook. Then came the rabo de toro. It was so good I was tempted to stop passers-by and invite them to taste. All the while the service was excellent good-humoured, friendly without being intrusive.
Malaga restaurant with bull

When I had finished this very special and quite inexpensive meal a thought occurred to me. I asked the waiter if the bull who had kindly provided his tail had been killed in the local bullring. He said:
`We`ll ask the torero.`
He summoned the more rotund gentleman,Jorge, and I asked him the same question. He said `Yes, that`s Pepe`.
`You actually named him? `I asked.
`Of course, these bulls are special. They are heroes. `
Then it occurred to me what the waiter had said. I looked at the unlikely figure of the small, overweight gentleman and asked:
`Were you a bullfighter? `
He smiled proudly.
`Of course. I killed 300 bulls. `
I tried to imagine this ample gentleman as the slim, balletic young man a torero has to be. However, the thought was pushed out by another. I suddenly felt like a conspirator in the death of Pepe.
`But you talk about Pepe with affection. How could you kill him? `
He smiled. He had heard this before.
`Bulls like that will be slaughtered and eaten whatever happens. Pepe died gloriously and bravely. We do him honour by eating him. `
I couldn`t really agree. I have never been to a bullfight and don`t think I ever will. However, I had thoroughly enjoyed the proceeds. I could not deny that Jorge was right. Bulls don`t grow old gracefully and die in a comfortable retirement home. Old animals in the wild usually die horribly and slowly or terrifyingly at the hands or claws of a predator. It was a contradiction. I couldn`t resolve it, but the meal had been splendid, the service first-rate and the old city had so much of that colour and charm that is specifically Spanish. My two Spanish books “Coffee,Castanets and Don Quixote” and “The Women from Crete” have been attempts to capture some of that magic. It`s a theme to which I`ll return. I`m glad to say both books sell well by my modest standards. They give me the excuse for `research` trips such as this one to Malaga.

Bermuda Triangle and Bermuda Beauty


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ImageThe Bermuda Triangle has given rise to lots of books, theories and TV programmes as well as Barry Manilow`s great hit song. I`d had differing versions  as to whether there was anything unusual about it and hoped to have the matter settled as I walked along the main street in Hamilton, Bermuda towards The Under Water Exploration Centre. I knew that the area to which it referred was a very large area of the Atlantic Ocean with Bermuda, Florida and Virginia as the corners of the supposed triangle. I knew that a lot of accidents or mysterious disappearances had occurred within it, affecting both shipping and airline travel. I knew something of the City of Atlantis notion. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato,   had set this ball rolling by reporting the disappearance of this city beneath the sea near the Pillars of Hercules.  That is normally thought to be the sea at the mouth of the Mediterranean near Gibraltar. I think it might take an even cleverer person than Plato to explain how , in a time when no one had crossed the Atlantic, a sunken city had managed without the aid of Google maps or even any living citizens to effect a submarine crossing. Then there is the `methane hydrates` theory ( just Google it) but since there aren`t any down there that too seemed improbable. I reached the Centre and made my unhurried way to the section devoted to the Triangle, its theories and its realities. Many theories have been put forward, some by impressive sounding academics. However, the Unites States Defence department considers there to be nothing unusual about the area. Yes, a lot of shipwrecks and unexplained disappearances had taken place in The Triangle, but the amount of traffic of all kinds crossing it is very large. Proportionately, no more unexplained accidents appear in The Triangle than anywhere else in the world. So, the only mystery about it is why anyone ever thought there was a mystery.Image

Bermuda does, however, have plenty of other attractions. For me, the town of St. George`s was probably the greatest treat. It is the most historic part of the island and remains as an exquisitely preserved period town. It arose from the incredible fact that in the year 1609 a ship sailed from England to take supplies to émigrés in the state of Virginia, USA.  Incredible nowadays to think that the USA needs anything sent to it. However, these were early colonial days. The ship, under Admiral George Somers, suffered irreparable damage near Bermuda, probably because of the coral reefs. The crew came ashore, stranded without a usable vessel on an island about which they knew almost nothing.  They found it a frightening place with the sound of spirits calling to them throughout the night.  I had the same experience in my comfortable apartment by the sea. However, I was a little less disturbed by it since I knew the sound to be the result of tree frogs which keep up a deafening racket all night, dispelling any expectation you might have of tropical tranquillity. They are amazingly loud and, since I didn`t actually see one I`m not convinced they are not thousands of wind-up toys used by the locals to seem exotic. There is a definite plastic quality about their call.  The crew did, however, rise heroically to the occasion. At that time the island was covered in cedar trees, subsequently almost eliminated   by the action of a tiny scale insect which has destroyed more than 95% of the population. With these trees the crew built and fitted two ships which proceeded nine months late to Jamestown, Virginia , just in time to save the desperate colonists. A replica (see photograph) still stands. You can walk through it and wonder at the skill of those who built it in very unfavourable conditions and the courage of people willing to cross the Atlantic in something so insubstantial.

We arrived in St. George`s on a beautiful day, just in time to see a `ducking`. This was a re-enactment by several local actors of the former tradition of `ducking` women who had been judged to be ` a nag  and a scold`. The actress who took on this role deserved any money she received since she not only argued vigorously with the authorities, she bravely underwent the process of being dipped in a wooden stool  five times into the water which, even on a hot day, was probably quite cold. She managed to remain argumentative throughout to the extent that I felt she would be hard to put up with for long. There didn`t, however, seem to be any equivalent punishment for males who were pompous and insufferable, characteristics portrayed admirably by the actor in charge of the proceedings.

The rest of the town is wonderfully picturesque and well preserved, some of it looked after by The National Trust. It had excellent eating places and cafes. You could sit by the ocean and enjoy a fine lunch of the local Wahoo fish or try the chowder which is already quite lively, but to which you are invited to add sherry peppers and black rum.  Founded in 1612 St. George`s Bermuda is one of the oldest  English urban settlements outside of the UK itself, perhaps the oldest. After its initial colonisation it thrived and then went into something of a slump. What lifted it from that state was the American War of Independence when it was used as a military base. It was heavily utilised again in the American Civil War to supply the southern states which favoured extended trading ties with Britain. The town is now a Unesco heritage site and benefits from that status.Image


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