Praise the dawning

Come on! Quickly! Hurry up! Your coat or your cape?” Decisions. If I wore my cape, I could pretend I was a superhero, but the cape had a stupid cap to match; the coat was pink, a colour both loathsome and loathed, but it had big buttons that I could do up myself, and the hat was a fuzzy white beret with two pompoms. “Coat.” “Right. Pop it on then. Daddy’s getting the car out. Gloves? Pop your penny inside your glove so you don’t lose it. Ready? Oops. Lipstick. Don’t tell your grandmother.

Sunday. Phew. There were so many Sundays in life! “Quick. Hop in. Mind the gear stick. Sitting down? Right. We're off then.” The Beetle juddered and jiggled to life instantly. What was it Woody Allen said in Sleeper? Wow, they really built those things. And with my father at the wheel, a perfect driving combination I deeply resented on Sunday mornings. “I’m cooooold!” “Have you not got your buttons done up? Don’t suck your fingers, now, you’ll ruin your glove…” The Sunday odyssey. The other church was nearer, but my mother’s parents-in-law would be there, my grandfather taking the service with his quasi-apocalyptic sermons, all fire and thunder, his voice expanding to fill the cavernous nave and rattling the bells before dropping to a mere coaxing, beady-eyed whisper. He thorough enjoyed making people squirm, watching them start to feel uncomfortable in their skin, particularly my mother. And my grandmother was….my grandmother. Turban, brooch, black Sunday coat. My mother and my grandmother together, “Hello, good morning, good morning my dear, it’s terribly cold, isn’t it, yes, yes, but of course it is February, yes, yes, goodness look at all the fallen leaves, you would think someone would…yes yes you would wouldn’t you terrible isn’t it…” Thin smiles on the lips only, words muttered as quickly as possible then look away, dig for something in handbags, spot a neighbour.
So we went to the other church, the one across the road from the Big School. A strange thing happened at that church, though, every Sunday: as soon as you set foot through the door, families, the veritable pillar of the community, were separated. Children this way, gentlemen to the left, ladies to the right. For me, trustingly herded off with the children, the greatest excitement of the morning was seeing who was leading Sunday School that day.

Good morr ning, chill dren” the short hiatus of well-spoken Glasgow. “GOOD MORRRNING” “Have you all left your coats on the coat pegs?” “YES, MISS CAMPBELL”. The slowly drawn out chorus of twenty or thirty freshly washed, shiny scrubbed faces and necks, and comb-slicked heads. “Lettuce spray.” A unison soprano mumble, slow, monotonous “Forgive us our debts and we’ll forgive our daughters” “Well done, children. Sit down please.” Thwump. Splatch. Twenty or thirty Sunday-clothed bottoms hit the floor, twenty or thirty moon-pale faces look expectantly at Scotland’s answer to a young bespectacled Nana Mouskouri in a short tartan skirt and white leatherette knee boots with zips up the side.

It was the job of this school boys’ dream to share with us stories of the tribes of Israel, loaves of bread and fishes (and a Mummy fishy too), lame men who picked up their beds and walked, tombs with huge stones that could move by themselves, and affable young men with multicoloured coats. “..and his brothers were really very jealous of him – do you know what jealous means Kenneth?” “Aye, Muss Cambull“…and so they stole his….” I wonder what we’re having for lunch today. I wonder if they’ll make me go with Grandpa to pick up Aunt Mabel. “…. And does anyone remember what his Daddy was called?” “Jacob! It wuz Jacob!” “Aye, it was, dear, well done…”. Aunt Mabel is scary, she’s older than the Bible and the multicoloured coat and Jacob all put together. Even older than Miss Campbell. Her voice is made of greaseproof paper and she shakes and her cup rattles and her cutlery clatters and her soup goes ssssssslpsssst as she extracts it from the spoon and she holds her bowl the wrong way round so it tilts away from her and if she ever falls over she'll snap. Oh I hope we’re not going to get Aunt Mabel today. “Halleluyah. Amen!” AMEN. LET’S COLOUR!

It was also Miss Campbell’s job to take us single file – in a crocodile, as we called it – into the church, where we occupied the front pews, dangling feet swinging wildly, and answered a question or two cast our way from the pulpit during the “family” service. Then a hymn or two, and home, after the weekly up-date on the life of the parish and its nephews, outside on the crunchy church driveway. To keep myself awake during the sermon and, later, to stop myself from dozing off while vertical as I stood behind my parents’ legs during the ‘after-chat’, I resorted to my white hat. The one that meant the wearing of the pink coat. This hat, essentially a beret, had two small holes in the centre of the crown, and a white cord had been thoughtfully threaded through these holes before having a fluffy white pompom-ball attached to each end. If I pulled on one ball slowly, it slid downwards causing the other pompom to glide upwards. And if I did it fast enough, I could disconcert the minister. “ ..AND JUST THEN….mmm…I think I just saw…no…umm….so…what?... as I was saying… AND AN ANGEL…”. Once outside, while my parents discussed the progress of the pregnancy, a recipe heard on the Jimmy Young show, or the bleak outlook for the Scottish shipyards dependant on US investment given the precarious situation in Vietnam, I played at helicopters, moving my head in ever faster circles so that my pompoms whizzed around and around with glee, completely oblivious to my sister’s pending arrival, Charlotte pudding or mass unemployment and My Lai.

CUT. Next scene.


El Amor Brujo

What does the world think of Seville? Narrow, winding, cobbled streets with cast-iron gates, geraniums and studded wooden doors the height of horse and rider offering shutter-fast views of tiled, jungle-like patios with their rough pillars and ancient Al-Andalus fountains; picturesque pocket-sized plazas enclosed between blinding white-washed houses, with gazebos, jasmine-trellises, wrought iron crosses and, as dusk begins to ponder its arrival, the sound of the flamenco guitar breaking the early-evening silence, accompanied by the agony contained and modulated in the voice of the singer; no other sounds, not even street dogs, apart from the rasping quiver of the heat. Proud, raven-haired women hanging out washing, with baskets balanced on their swinging hips, haughty chins thrust upwards, breasts imitating their chins. Deep, throaty, consonant-free voices as they shout to each other and pass on the news of Rocío’s pending wedding to Jacinto, speculating as to how she knows he’s such a man. Horses pulling shiny traps along the walkways and orange tree-lined avenues, hooves slipping on the cobbles, passing the cigarette factory as the girls pour out onto the street, eying the greased-back-haired, wiry, tanned young men. Sweat, cigarettes, horse dung and orange blossom, the Guadalquivir and Triana, the Torre del Oro and the Giralda, cathedral bells and Christmas carols played out on anis bottles, the echo of high heels, the whisper of nuns.
Oh it’s all here – apart from Carmen and her sassy friends. But it’s a tiny part. Seville sprawls lazily without so much as a heave or a sigh from the Guadalquivir River to Alcala, where it changes name and encounters the Guadaira. It is penned in by the six-laned ringroad and outlying once-independent-now-swallowed-up townships. The outskirts of the city are the Badlands, the seemingly half-built, green-free, low-ceiling state housing where the undesirables, the less-than-pretty were sent to keep them from the sensitive eyes of the People with Surnames. Many people were re-housed here after parts of the centre were flooded in the early 1960s, yet the inner ringroad which separates these downbeat ‘barriadas’ from ‘civilisation’ is built on top of a river which floods into these housing complexes, filling the washing-adorned, pokey homes with water and sludge, yellow sand and rubbish. Out of sight. Here, the young people are heavily laden with local bling, chains enslaving the backs of hands, gold medals honouring saints and virgins, the boys bowing to the altar of Reebok and Nike, the girls to the goddesses Lycra and Thong. Pierced eyebrows, peroxide bleached crests, the girls competing for the longest locks in town, mane scraped back into a ponytail, ears decorated with yet more gold and coral. Voices abused, worn out at 15, the sandpapered, bellowing tones of youth. Mopeds and step-throughs, pushbikes or quads, neither pilot not pillion wanting to spoil their hair.
Los Remedios, faceless, red-brick, four-storeys-hiding-shared-swimming-pool-and-gardens-district nestling next to the river between Triana and the Feria, the area reserved for the annual April Fair. The women gym-toned, nipped and tucked, bejewelled, blonde. The Audis and BMWs, family-sized Peugeots or sleek, sporty Volvos either housed in garages or preening in the street. Tomy Hilfiger, Purificación García, shoe collections, leather and fabric bracelets proud with the Spanish colours, the children slouching elegantly in the Wealthy Surfer look with pearls in their ears or polo shirt in pastel shades. These sun-bleached straw-haired enfants entirely unterribles are the paunchy, caseta-owning, cufflink-wearing, flop-haired lawyers, company directors and civil engineers of tomorrow. The voices rasp but more quietly, the laughter is more guttural, less ear-splitting. The struggle to make it to the end of the month the same.
The area around the Alfalfa and the Alameda is the area where foreigners are gradually edging out the artists, intellectuals and bohemians. The poets, performance artists, dance-teachers, architects, painters and character actors are being swamped by a deluge of overseas students, English (American, Australian, Scottish, Irish, Welsh….), French and German teachers, the occasional foreign journalist, and editorial staff from colder climes. The families who have been there for seven generations still hold their ground, though, and can be seen in the evenings, standing with glass of wine held aloft, over plates of shrimp fritters or ‘hortiguillas’, deep-fried sea anemones (oh, sheer, utter, gastronomic ecstasy!), in the Barbiana or the bottle-festooned half of the Morales. Ham, white prawns, the wines brought up from Sanlúcar and down from La Rioja, the men dressed down for the evening in shirts, pale beige jeans, webbing or plaited belts, sockless loafers, the hair stuck back with large amounts of gel, the sideburns clipped to exactly the right length just below the mid-point of the ear. The women are somewhere else, where is not clear, perhaps still shoe-shopping, perhaps enjoying similar fare at a chic pavement café. Elsewhere.
And there are barrios like mine, inhabited by cousins, uncles, aunts, sisters-in-law, everyone is related to at least half the barrio, by marriage and by blood, but any outsiders willing to do The Local Thing will be welcomed, adopted, invited to share the family table on Christmas Eve. People say Hello on the streets, the children play together outside and annoy the snootier neighbours not originally from around here. Everyone joins in at Easter and in May, everyone is on first-name terms, Mr and Mrs Surname are banished to other parts, along with ambition. Life hasn’t changed much in several generations, they have more food than fifty years ago, the mobile phones are – oh- twentieth generation and the plasma TVs are as a big as a pool table, but essentially they eat the same, they run the business their grandparents set up, they married a neighbour, a childhood sweetheart, they go to Church, they have pictures of Cristo de la Sed and the Virgen del Amor Hermoso on their walls and they train as – well - Virgin-bearers from one year to the next.
What is a costalero in English? The function is similar (though the attire is totally different) to that of a pall-bearer, but the coffin is replaced by a sea of candles and flowers topping a wobbling, four-poster-bed-like structure carrying figure of a Christ or a Virgin. I say ‘a’ because far from there being only one, there are lots! Oh, the paucity of being a Protestant………
This is a city of many types, all typical of here, all sharing the same lack of subtlety, the love of their religious ritual and bling or kitsch ( I mean no disrespect, it does somehow grow on even a Renegade Celt like me, though not to the extent of wanting to don a black comb the size of a sheet of A4 paper, an intricate black lace veil, and walk the streets at dirge pace holding a candle in the wind, following the beat of the funereal drums every Easter) – and their worship of the Feria, when all the women are beautiful, all the men dashing, suits and ties replace Reebok and company, tight-bodiced, swirling, tiered dresses with plunging backs, fringed shawls, floral hair decoration, garish earrings and perfect skin oust the Goddess Lycra. A whole city alive and celebrating its identity.
It may not have the melancholy, the poetry, the utter enchantment, depth and beauty of Granada, or be as compact and cute as Córdoba, it isn’t as elegantly decadent and full of laughter as Cadiz or as cosmopolitan as Malaga, but it’s where I live, and for all its love of kitsch and it sense of Self, its various tribal uniforms, its three religions – Catholicism, Sevilla FC and Betis – and its infinite number of velvet, gold and seed-pearl clad Virgins – it is, for now, home.

And it’s certainly a contrast to where I came from.


More of Little Me

Our house was the typical Scottish home, with curtains, carpets, rugs, cushions; a veritable orgy of upholstery and shiny satiny remnants. There were three rooms on the ground floor: the kitchen, the dining-living-room - these two rooms being the centre of my universe from October to April - and the Sitting-Room.

The Sitting-Room was sacred. Bright, floral tones on an immaculate white background. The tiled fireplace with the fire permanently set, in waiting, ready to burst into flame when those unexpected, spontaneous callers dropped in for a cup of tea. Cushions embroidered by grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The deepest cherry carpet that swallowed bare feet in the most glorious of unimaginable caresses. Heavy curtains befitting a grand theatre, in an ocean shade of blue-grey. An Aladdin’s cave of smooth, dancing porcelain ladies, spit-and-polished tennis and rugby cups declaring this the home of a many-times junior champion, a bone china boy frying a bone china fish on a bone china frying-pan, and heady, perfumed flowers languishing in voguish, coloured glass vases. Tasteful clutter. The Sitting-Room was sacred. And Out of Bounds.

I played out my life quite happily against the friendly backdrop of reds, browns and autumnal shades in the dining-living-room, where I painted, ate, learned to read, watch sport with my father on rainy Saturdays, survived five bouts of German measles, and had tea and biscuits – one plain, one fancy – lying comfortably at my progenitors’ feet on the singed carpet in front of the fire. And my sister? Where was my sister? I don’t remember. An insignificant baby who entered my world when I had already been savouring life for 4 and a half years. Perhaps we’ll talk about her later on. Yes. I do remember her later on.

That day, my Daddy was away on business. My Beautiful Mummy and I were quietly safe and snug in the dining-living-room, lost amongst stories and pictures and darning. It was still too early to light the fire.

A tremendous, sudden, frantic crashing sound came from the Sitting-Room. Inhuman screams, banging on the walls, the sound of broken glass. A pause. A moment of silence. A woman of thirty-something with a skinny, freckly girl of four, alone, holding their breath. The silence continued, then

More glass, crashing about and guttural screams. A bad witch. Evil was a grown-ups’ word. This one was bad. Obviously. “Mummy! There’s a bad witch in the Sitting-Room! I can hear her flying!” Her cape was lashing against the walls like a silk whip. An ugly, bad witch, black from head to toes and from toes to head, flying round and round on her broomstick. Destroying. Our. Sitting-Room.

Suddenly, my mother vanished, and in her place Superman’s big sister appeared; braver even than Scooby Doo and his intrepid companions, she brandished a mop in one hand and a frying-pan in the other. “Stay behind me!” ordered this Viking Goddess, and we headed for the Sitting-Room door.

As swift as lightning, my mother pushed the door open hard and fast, splattering any witch that might have been hiding behind it. Another scream, this time coming from the throat, chest and diaphragm of my Superman Mummy. I could neither close my mouth nor utter a sound, so stood peeping out from behind my mother like a silent carp. For the first few moments, I thought my theory was correct: from the doorway, I watched as a witch covered our sanctuary in black ash, coal, black footprints, splinters and skelfs, filling the room with hoarse, wicked cackling. But then my mother leapt forward, and, like a Valkyrie, flew into the Sitting-Room waving her weapons and bellowing “OUT! GET OUT WITH YOU!”. Tippi Hedren at her best moment; Tippi Hedren combined with Mary Poppins as she danced on the rooftops of London.

The crow had flown or fallen down the chimney, and, finding itself filthy and trapped, it had turned into a blinded Fury, terror-stricken with panic and the urgent need to escape, to be free again. I don’t know how it left that room, whether dead or alive, but it was the only time I ever saw my adored Mummy cry; hot tears of powerlessness and frustration rolling down, in the face of so much soot and dirt, so much destruction in the Sitting-Room for Guests, for Sundays and for Christmas Day. The Forbidden Sitting-Room. Out Of Bounds.

CUT! Next clip.

Playing at my grandparents’ house was quite a challenge; to keep myself entertained, alone, while staying silent and invisible. My maternal grandparents could tolerate a certain level of childish play-noise, but not so my paternal grandparents, so my activities were fairly well-defined in each household. “Ssssht! Grandpa’s working. Come into the kitchen.” The turban-Granny, now dressed in household attire, with a sensible brown tartan pinafore dress, even more sensible brown lace-up shoes, a green jersey and a brooch set with Welsh stones pinned over her heart. “You help me set the table, pet, and then, if you like, you can take Grandpa his cup of tea.”

Exactly eleven on the button. On the very dot. Knock, knock. “Come in.” The voice like distant thunder, the dark-grey-perhaps-black suit, the waistcoat (or ‘wesskit’), the tie. “Ah. Tea. Thank you.” If I was in luck, he would be sitting in his reading chair, and would smile at me and offer me a pastille of foreign chocolate, “Sssht. Don’t tell the women.”, and he would read to me from the National Geographic.
The chimpanzees……..please!” I have soft spot for chimpanzees even to this day; thanks to them, I was the only one of the grandchildren who ever managed to have some sort of relationship with that imposingly scary professor-gentleman, with his mane of snowy hair and his dagger-like fingers. Thanks to the chimpanzees and the tea.

But at my maternal grandparents’ house, there was a flying carpet. And there was magic, and porcelain-headed dolls, miniature sailors who had survived my mother’s entire childhood intact, but who, in the hands of my sister and me, well, you know how it goes. There was a Steinway piano and a whole stage-set of treasures brought from far off places with exotic, aromatic, romantic names like China, Egypt, India, Burma, and England. A whole mine of glowing coals to stoke my smoking imagination and keep it burning. And there was a bed - a sailing ship, a circus, a bubble-bath, an ocean – a mahogany box-bed with four posts and an eiderdown quilt like a silky, Damask-rose dream, a warm marshmallow that cuddled you to sleep. What a quilt! We jumped, we bounced, we laughed, we sang happy modern hymns and we danced on that quilt. My pretty blond sister with her rainy-day eyes, my Beautiful Mummy and me. And sometimes I simply wrapped myself up in the cloak of warm, pink luxury and lay, perfectly still, looking at the portrait of my mother, a child like me, arms draped around the neck and shoulders of my utterly serene grandmother, the portrait of a lady. Of a Woman.

Have you ever travelled on a flying carpet? I have. It’s not too difficult to handle, even in turbulence, and the technique is easy to learn. Stretched out, face down, propped up on my forearms in the upstairs sitting-room, the room with the piano, I flew over seas streaming with blue dolphins that played with silver-tailed mermaids, their hair held back with flame-coloured starfish. I glided over mysterious countries where pounding, pouncing tigers chased each other around trees so fast that they melted into puddles of butter. I went in search of Babar, the king of the elephants, and an Eskimo called Mo, and the castle of Camelot. I dipped past camels and brushed against peacocks’ crests raised in surprise, I frightened unsuspecting walruses as they chatted to carpenters down on the beach, and I was always accompanied on each and every trip by Big Teddy, Pink Teddy, Black Pussy, and Tessie. Big Teddy got left behind in France when we went on holiday one year; I imagine that eventually he learned to speak French but I was crushed by his loss and it took years to recover.

Table!” The happy sounds of doors, chairs, running feet. The table a rainbow of flowery china, the teapot with its bobble-hat cosy, embroidered table mats, coloured Irish linen napkins, soup tureens brimming with brilliant tomato soup sprinkled with fresh parsley and cream. What colours! What smells! Mmmm.
First one finished helps his neighbour” my Grandpa’s laughing perfunctory warning. The eternal war-cry of the most generous, warm-hearted, spiritually sane and healthy man I have ever met. Oh no! I have to sit next to him, and he’ll finish before I do, and he’ll eat my meatloaf and my vegetables and then I won’t get any pudding! Oh! My pudding! The fabulous puddings my Granny-Magic-Puddings conjured up from her book of child-enchanting spells in that tiny kitchen – ohhhh – lemon, apple or rhubarb meringue pies, clouds of lemon chiffon, fruit fools; fruit pies that were hot-hot-hot-be-careful-you’ll-burn-your-tongue. Bramble, cherry or apricot pies with plain ice cream from the Italian shop at the corner. Oh no! He’ll beat me! Mummy, help!

Colours, smells, sounds, flavours, sensations and feelings, but it was all beginning to fade………….

CUT! Next clip.

Grammaire, not Glamour

Well, sitting here at after 7am, having spent the night awake, finishing a work project then quietly quaffing a glass of cava to celebrate. Just the one glass, mind, though quite a large one to offset any loss through evaporation in the stifling heat. At this time of year, if your profession is like mine, turning your life on its head is the sensible thing to do, although somewhat antisocial and expensive on electricity. The heat in the day makes writing a miserable occupation, and the nodding bonce bouncing on and off the keyboard does cause some strange typos, and even the odd email that you have no recollection of having sent, and definitely wish you’d dreamt – “People will say……she’s been drinking”. Punch drunk, though, isn’t as much fun. Punch drunk from heat and lack of sleep. So, over the last few days, I have found a solution of sorts, though I need to work on eliminating the aspects that a vampire might enjoy and build fresh air and daylight into it. And exercise. I’m pondering whether to cycle to a friend’s bar for breakfast. I suspect that’s a 20-minute cycle, though traffic lights and 20 years away from the pedals might lengthen the jaunt. I’m also slightly worried about sartorial aspects, as, what is essentially an unfit, middle-aged female in an orange sleeveless T-shirt and cropped black sports trousies could be enough to cause massive congestion and put more than one off their morning coffee. I should also go out before the sunlight reflecting off my legs becomes a traffic hazard causing temporary blindness in drivers.
This unhealthiness, or rather unfitness is the sad consequence of my career decision last year when I decided to leave the classrooms and running around like the proverbial decapitated fowl, and take up the profession I had always dreamt of. Though the novelty wore off before I’d even started. Bear in mind that if my profession were equated with a symbolic hierarchy of animals, I would be level with the gnat, whilst Shakespeare, Cervantes and Iain Banks, why not, would be somewhere up there with the genetically improved lion. I might, one day, crawl up to panda status ie a breed in danger of extinction, cute but limited, but for now I am a flea in the mane of a work-horse. And I don’t write fiction. I write ‘educational materials’, so the Glamour is replaced by Grammaire, mon vieux.
I don’t usually confess to what I do; as a name, Writer conjures up a whole different kettle of jelly babies. I made the mistake of going to a different hairdresser prior to a wedding, last summer – actually, that wasn’t the mistake, the mistake was the conversation we had. The person I saw as I walked in, and assumed was the hairdresser, was a large, young, jolly girl from Tenerife, with a decent haircut and a dress sense that spared me a view of her knicker elastic, so frequently on display in hairdresser’s nowadays. We chatted pleasantly – or rather she did – while she washed and conditioned my hair and diagnosed me as either being under too much stress or eating too much animal fat (I don’t eat any – it didn’t take much working out), and I felt I had deposited myself in safe hands. Then Jolly Tinerfeña stepped back to let Il Maestro take over. An Italian, from Rome, with more than a passing resemblance to Benicio del Toro and a comb that was brandished like a cut-throat razor. He started to pull and tug and I explained I was going to a wedding, so he pushed and pulled and tutted, and off he went. His Spanish was fast and furious, and not very Spanish so not easy to follow. He was – believe it or not – an ex-priest, who had hung up his rosary and cassock for rinses and curling tongs. He felt that the Church did not give him space to express himself and his free interpretation of the words of Our Lord and of the meaning of Love and Beauty. And so on and so forth. I wondered if I was going to look like Mary Magdalen at the wedding. Better than a tonsure, mind you.
And then it happened. How I didn’t see it coming, I do not know; I think it was the whirlwind of Italian surrealist expressionism that did it. He asked me what I do for a living, and foolishly I said (for the first and last time in a public place) “I write”. Perhaps unsurprisingly so did my free-love priest-hairdresser. Poetry. And two hours of recital later, I staggered out with a miraculously wonderful hairdo (but then miracles were in order, I suppose), a spinning head, a sense of panic as I was now late, and I managed to leave my necklace and earrings for the wedding behind in my haste to escape. Of course, I had to go back. And he was standing, clutching my small, chic shopping bag, inviting me to a private poetry reading session the next day, in case I knew of any agents… Well, I don’t. Just for the record. Not a single one.
So. That’s what I do, here in Seville. I sit in the dark because I work at night, and I unjumble grammar (badly?) and ponder the delights of phonology (better?). And from time to time I write short texts which take me and those two dozen people who may one day read my bits of books to corners of my mind which are actually not that bad places to be. Once in a while.

Back to Little Me.


Little Me. Part One.

Be a good girl, pet, and bring a chair for the gentleman” (lilting stress on the gen). My Granny sporting a green turban-like hat as if she were an exotic Queen with an emerald peach-skin crown, and a long-dead animal with shiny black beads for eyes wrapped around her neck, head dangling menacingly. Her only jewel, the ubiquitous brooch, possibly shaped like a golden sprig of leaves or a Celtic cross. The Gentleman, an eminent octogenarian whose name – like so many others in my early childhood years – began with ‘Reverend’, dropped with a sharp sigh and a strange squishy sound and landed almost demurely on the chair I had strategically placed in his projected line of descent.

The rattle of delicate bone china teacups filled with an aromatic, scalding brew from Ceylon, a deafening echo filling the room.

Another coffee morning; the typical parish social event bringing together all those careful to maintain their social standing with the neighbours and a chance to show off garishly tasteful brooches brought from far-off climes with strange, romantic-sounding names like Aberystwyth and Rangoon by adoring male offspring. Such a good boy.
My grandmother was in her element, an element I was expected to share, nay, splash about in with veritable gusto, although always maintaining respectable levels of decorum and discretion; one must never bubble over or enthuse, simply not done, my dear. I had been ‘a very good girl, pet, very good indeed’ that week, thus earning the honour of being the one to thrust porcelain plates of coloured sponge cakes and chocolate caramel shortbread squares – principal element of the Scottish diet – along with small white triangles of bread and butter under the discerning noses of the parishioners. I was also allowed to place the tiny china vases of tissue paper carnations one by one in the centre of each table, and, even more delightful, inevitably disappear under the piles of damp, steaming, warm fur and camel hair coats handed to me to be hung up in the cloakroom, as these people too tall to see clearly entered the hall. And then, I might even receive, as a special treat, a few words of Biblical wisdom from the very mouth of the Famous BBC Actor, also an Eminent Reverend Gentleman and friend of my Reverend Professor Grandpa, the special guest at the coffee morning today.

CUT! Next clip.

Mummy, Mummy, come and play! Come on, pleeeeeeease!” My Mummy-I-Love-You-So-Much, absolutely gorgeous, beautiful creature in her magenta turtle-neck and straight-legged black and white dog-tooth trousers. My Mummy, as beautiful as the ladies in the films my Granny watched on a Sunday afternoon with a tear-sodden handkerchief by her side. My Mummy, like a dark-haired Hitchcock fetish, with skin of alabaster and forget-me-not blue eyes. Those eyes that, to the end of her days, retained their captivating watercolour depth and mood, accompanying her sparkling, glittery smile.
Mummy-y! Plea-yease! Come on!”I can’t, darling; it wouldn’t be good for the baby.” Ah. Of course. That bump that had started to stretch Mummy’s angora jersey making it – and Mummy - lose their shape. Ava Garder in a fairground mirror. Hm. Not much fun, this baby brother of mine. Or sister. Who knows.

Come on. I’ll play” Wow! My Daddy! My Daddy’s going to play with me! Of course! It was Saturday, the day that that ghost-like figure clad in suit and tie that I just managed to make out through fast-closing eyelashes as I tottered on the threshold of dreams from Monday to Friday – ‘Night night...nipe nipe, nipe nyuff… Kissssszzzzz’ - the day he appeared tall, dark and handsome in his Aran pullover, oh so masculine and clean-smelling, and wanted to play! With me! Goodness me, we’ll have to make up something new, something to impress my Daddy, something FOR my Daddy.
Let’s play pirates!” Pure inspiration. “Yes, yes, pirates. We can wear hankies on our heads” “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell alright, though me, a hanky, um…”Alright. No hankies. But you wait here while I hide the treasure.

I little later I saluted Captain Daddy and handed him a perfectly drawn treasure map of Back Garden Island. “Right. Let’s go and dig”. A radio voice. A Man’s voice.
My own little patch of garden was near the area my mother hung out the washing so she could keep an eye on my excavations. Just there by the raspberry canes and the enormous jungle-like leaves of the rhubarb plants. There were no plants, weeds, rocks, palm trees, waterfalls, or skeletons whatsoever in my patch of garden, which made the map, with its large red cross indicating the whereabouts of the treasure, somewhat difficult to interpret through lack of landmarks. But my father, in a rare moment of parent-offspring bonding, began to hunt, dig, and scrabble in the earth. After a while, zip. Not a bean. Not even a bit of cress. “Alright. What shall we play now?” “Nooo! You’ve got to find the treasure!” “But, what treasure?”Ohhh, Daddy!” Poor man. Didn’t seem to know anything about pirates, which was strange coming, as he did, from the same country as the creator of Captain Hook. “We’re pirates. And we have treasures. And we hide the treasures. And then you have to look for them.” Clearer than that…..? “Wait a moment. What are th……what is this treasure?” “You know Mummy’s necklace? The one with the pretty blue glass beads and things……..?

The garden, my garden. Nowadays there’s a bijou piano room with a coffee table and two wicker chairs – or similar – plonked on top of it. Who could ever want so many raspberry canes and things that need pruning and looking after? Let’s be practical! Cement, steel, glass – so much easier to look after.

Ah, but they don’t know about the treasure.

CUT. Next clip.

How did I get here? (Letting the days go by)

I should call my house The Magnet. The Magnet and Old Lace. Not quite halfway along the street, it seems to be the point at which the local elderly ladies (and there are quite a few, as this is a Born & Bred Barrio) bump into each other. Andalusian elderly ladies have a similar voice quality to British elderly ladies, a voice quality reminiscent of nesting homing pigeons, or wood pigeons invisible in the early summer, a gentle cooing which brings to mind that dangly flap of skin that connects the lady-like chin to the lady-like gap between the collar bones, similar to that of the turkey but, on the whole, with a higher IQ. It’s a pleasant enough sound which makes me think of bone china teacups rattling against the saucer, Battenburg cake and fondant fancies (not very Spanish, I know, but we all have our cultural baggage). However, in Seville there is an added characteristic: decibels. So, while I am trying to write this blog, I’d like you to imagine an amplifier in a dovecote….

How did I get here? Hm. How far back do we go? When I came to Seville in temperatures of 52ºC with no future and two small children? When I left Britain, sick of the struggle, the sexual harassment, the shame of ……certain events but with the blessing of everyone who loved me and trusted I’d be alright? Do I go back to the early hours of a Glasgow Monday when I was induced into the world punctually so my parents could go to a wedding the following weekend? (They didn’t, or at least my mother didn’t – I somehow changed the priorities) Or even before that? I calculate I began my existence coinciding with the summer solstice just months before JFK became the greatest temporal reference point in modern history, though it’s not the sort of information I’ve ever confirmed with my parents “Dad, did you and Mum………?”. No, I don’t think so. But it is curious in that my mother died on the day of the solstice 42 years later. A definitive date in my life for all time. And an emotional time of year.

How far back? Well, I think I’ll give you snippets of the Little Me and intersperse them with the Now and Life in Spain as Renegade Flower of Scotland. Build up a picture. This story doesn’t have an end, so we may as well jump around in time and space; it’s more fun. Hopscotch. Oh dear. That title’s been done too.
So. As Michael Stipe would say “Here we go!”


What's in a name? - a brief aside

“What’s gazpacho?” a friend asked me, when I told him the name of the blog.
I saw it on a translated menu last week, skilfully renamed ‘Cold Typical Andalusian Vegetable Beverage’ in English. Yum. Bet they sell loads of that. Catchy name too.
It’s just a cold, summery tomato soup, but it’s also something that keeps you going in the sweltering Seville heat in summer, when even trying to stand up drenches you in sweat (or in ‘glow’ if you’re a lady), and venturing outside has you clinging to walls and sprinting from stick-thin lamp-post shadow to stick-thin lamp-post shadow like the Pink Panther on speed (you and the mad dogs and tourists). Gazpacho provides you with minerals, vitamins and relief; it re-hydrates you when you’re on your knees (beginning to twig the metaphor?). I think of it as so typical of this part of the world, and as something that really does give you what you need, a lift or boost to keep going. A horticultural shove. And believe me, since I moved here, keeping going has been hard at times. So maybe I should call my friends Human Gazpacho and my own stubborn “never fall down” determination The Gazpacho of Life……perhaps without the onion, though.

Here’s how you make it

You need around a kilo of tasty tomatoes, scalded, peeled, and with the seeds out, a big chunk of dense, day-old bread, not the really open pugliese sort, about the size of a large bread roll or the size of your hand - if you've got big hands - without the crust (the bread, not your hand). 2 cloves of garlic, 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil (6 ‘glugs’!) and 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. And cold water. What else? A chunk of cucumber (if you like it) and a smallish red pepper or half a green pepper, chopped and without the seeds are all optional ingredients, and maybe a small onion. Some people even add a few ground almonds.
The main recipe is this:
When you’ve removed the crust from the bread, soak it in cold water for a while then put it in a blender with the oil, vinegar, chopped garlic, tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt. Liquidise it all, then add in the cucumber, pepper, onion, almonds – whatever extras, if any, you’ve decided to add. Add cold water – around half a pint – so that it’s not too thick, and it’s actually soup rather than dip, and check the seasoning. Chill it in the fridge, and serve with croutons, chopped pepper, chopped cucumber, or simply drink it by the gallon straight from the jug!


Sex in the Southern City? I think not.

The temptation to call this blog 'Sex in the Southern City' was great, but the title had two major drawbacks.
Firstly, it would be pure wishful thinking and every time I logged on, I'd be reminded of that, and consequently at risk of becoming obsessed, depressed or a fantastist. Of course 'Not a lot of Sex in the Southern City' doesn't have much of a ring to it and is a tad fatalistic; not heavy on the 'positive thinking' factor, either.
The other drawback is that, as a title, of course it's more or less been done already - damn! - and with my size of feet, a dainty size 44, comparisons would be odious, Manolo Bs impossible. (I always want to call him Manolo Sputnik - it's so much easier to spell!)

So. Blood, sweat and gazpacho it is. Though the odd tear may creep in and slide down the screen. Unobserved. Here's hoping they're tears of laughter, of emotion. Emotion is good. Do tears of passion exist? This blog is about life in Andalusia! If tears of passion don't officially exist, we shall just have to invent them!

Who am I? Well, I'm The Cool Mum, to my sons' friends, and The Tall Mum Who Speaks Weird to the rest of the kids at their school. To many of the adults in my 'barrio', I'm probably the Guiri (Spanish equivalent of Sassenach or Emmet, it refers to white - or rather, pink - North Europeans or North Americans and conjures up images of sandals with socks, burned-raw-red arms and necks, and freckled faces). I may even be That Foreign Woman with No Husband and Two Boys Who Look Suspiciously Like They Belong To Two Different Fathers to one or two of the more traditional ladies. No worries. Oh, and I'm The Renegade Celt. Which sounds good, conjuring up honey-sweet purple heather, watery grey-blue skies, silent lochs, vibrant gorse and melancholic glens in the midst of this brown, mustard and white cobbled cityscape with its blood-red soul and Al-Andalus ghosts, shimmering under the cloudless bluer than blue.

How did I come to be marooned in this city? I can't say 'Godforesaken' here, as it's anything but that. God is so ever present, at least in his ornate Spanish Catholic manifestation, that even the haberdashers sell jewel-like fabric for dressing Virgins (that's with a capital 'V'). The cathedral is huge and beautiful with its Moorish minaret, the Giralda.........ah, but we'll wax lyrical about the city another time. How I came to be marooned here is a medium to long story. Are you sitting comfortably?