Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not making a complete hash of it.

Been there. Done that. Not dead. Who'dathunkit?

Hard going at times, I probably ran a third of the route, and walked the rest, I've got a sore bit where my keys rubbed in my pocket, and my thigh muscles now only work going up stairs, not down, but I had such a good time!

Sir Sir James had emailed me directions for meeting up, round the corner from La Latina Metro at 12.30. There were 23 of us today, including four complete newbies (me, an American girl, a Belgian and a Finn) and Black Box, an airline pilot on a 22 hour lay-over, whose solution to jetlag is to outrun it - in company!

We all stood around for a while, introducing ourselves, chatting, and paying for the pre-arranged beer stops. Ever Ready and S----F--- (I'm not writing that down!), the two hares, had already laid a flour trail and organised water bottles, the beer stops, and coolboxes of ice-packed refreshments for the final rendezvous.

Chatting with Kingfisher, El Sordo and Black Box, it became clear this really was what it said on the box: a group of Drinkers With a Running Problem; so even if I wasn't much of a drinker, the fact that I wasn't much of a runner either wasn't anything to worry about.

Not Half Bad called for a circle, explained the basics, drew floury hieroglyphs on the ground for the edification of the newbies, and mentioned the sweepers, who would make encouraging noises for stragglers, or at least point them in the right direction if all the other hounds disappeared around a corner.

And we were off! To the amusement and bemusement of all the normal people who have more sense than to run.
on a Sunday.
through the streets.
of Madrid.

(What's the español for duh....?)

We went from La Latina Metro, along Plaza La Cebada (First beer stop? Already?! Don't like beer. Had a coke. With ICE.), across c/ Bailen, through the Daliada (Dahlia Garden), over a fence (!) and down a slope before heading south towards the Vicente Caldéron Stadium (O.K. next beer stop? Yes? No. Fneeargh...), then doubling back along the new river boulevard (If only those trees were a little taller and leafier........), crossing a footbridge near the Puente de Segovia to reach - yes! the Second Beer Stop! (Water. With ICE.).

Then across the Glorieta del Puente de Segovia, where we ignored a shady street, milled around looking for flour spots near the treeless river walkway, decided to cross the main bridge, got to the far side, kept going, realised our mistake, and doubled back to re-cross the Manzanares by another footbridge.

In the meantime, however, the original FRBs* had disappeared into Parque de Atenas on a false trail.

(*Front Running B=%?"/*s - Occasional over-zealous displays of motivation and seriousness are to be expected, but repeated lapses may result in down-downs)

The disappearance of the FRBs had put us BRBs (Back Running B=%?"/*s) (the aged / infirm / slackers) in the lead. Suddenly, I was an FRB! Wow! The feel of the wind in my sweat, the gravel in my lungs, the seams in my jeans......... Thank goodness Black Box and co overtook us in under five minutes, and restored the natural order as we continued north, and into Casa de Campo.

And then we ran through Casa de Campo (actually, some of us just walked, on account of the lovely surroundings and being knackered) and up under the Teleférico to the next BEER STOP.

O.K. So I had another Coke, but I swear two of those could kill you: you'd surely inflate as you got hotter, until you floated off like a weather balloon or just popped.

And thus it was, one hash did what years of encouragement couldn't: I had a sip of Slippery When Wet's clara and decided it wasn't... that... bad...

Don't anybody mention shandy: clara is not the same thing at all! (Lord, next thing you know, I'll be singing ribald doggerel and knocking back penalty down-downs in public parks. Er, actually.... now you come to mention it...) Anyway - not the same thing at all!

Next, across an iron footbridge - that bounced under foot - over the M30, through La Rosaleda, (probably the last bit of running I did) up Parque de la Montaña, past Principe Pío, past Campo del Moro, into the Jardines de las Vistillas, and.........

to the rendezvous. I can't figure out where we were - though I could maybe backtrack from c/ de La Cebada, especially if that whopping great church (yeah, I know, Madrid, whopping great church...) but if it turns out to be the Basilica de San Francisco...

Wherever it was, having left Point A at about 12.45, I got to Point B at about 3. (Heeeeeyyyy...... I did it......!) And there were the rest of the gang - the Grimms, Bandylegs, Two Jugs, Bugs Bunny - chatting in the shade beside a clutch of coolboxes, supping isotonic drinks, beers and softies, and not disposed to be snippy at the last ones home, by which I mean three hounds, and two sweepers.

I'd had a brilliant time. Gorgeous route. Not much power or stamina, but good company, friendly conversations on the flat bits, convivial gasping on the steep bits, and matching red faces grinning over condensation-misted glasses on the beer stops. And I did the whole thing. Coo. I'm going back next week (all four of us newbies, in fact) and this time we'll be heading out of Madrid. If Black Box could get another lay over...

As for the names, well, you have to wait for your name, which is usually accorded you by the other hounds in celebration of something reeeeeeeeeeeeeallly silly or embarrassing that you've done, and even if you never do anything that - erm - impressive, it's remarkable how creative these can guys get. So, everyone ends up with something off the moderately dire to toe-curlingly scatological scale. I really wouldn't mind Lady Muck. Maybe if I invest in a couple of 2 euro tiaras and a diamante water bottle?

There now followed a Secret Ritual.

I could tell you, but then I'd have to sing you something politically incorrect until your ears fall off, and drown you in Mahou.

On! On!

Mother's birthday - Bless yore beautiful hide!

Mother and baby (me!) in the middle of nowhere. Winterton 1958

Us again, with every amenity..

and this is what she was listening to between feeds, nappies and walks. "Voice of the Xtaby"

Salmonby Road, 1962?

Lesley, William, Justin, Noelle

Fylingdales, 1973 ish. Where are Justin & Lynn?

No idea, but I remember the jumper.

Christmas (I assume from the hats, but what's with the vinegar bottle?!) 1974-ish. That's Mother, bottom left.

Tensing Road

Lynn's wedding, 1982?

Shipton Road 1989 ish - Sam undercover

May 2004.Terrific picture.

And Herriot Country,the Big Day Out, September 2009, complete with sheep, rain and rainbow.
How does she do it?!

Take it away, Frank....

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Married to the Pie Man

I am so popular at work. I walk in, and people stop what they're doing to beam at me and ask,

"Got any pies?"

Because my legendary Husband Who Cooks has become The Pie Man. (a.k.a. Piethagorus. I kid you not.)

It started on Monday.

So, is he making his pies?

Yup. Porkpiessteak&kidneypieschicken&hampiesapplepiesbeefpasties(oh,andScotcheggs).

Ooh! Apple pies?

Yeah, and they're gorgeous, sharp and sweet, with a little spice, and he makes the best pastry.

Ooh..... My mum used to make mince pies - minced beef and peas - does he do them? ..... No? ..... OK, I'll have........ two beef pasties, a chicken and mushroom pie........ and an apple pie!

Later .......

Someone said your husband makes Scotch eggs!


Oooh! It's ages since I've had a Scotch egg........ And he makes them?




Is it your husband who does the pies?

Yup. Porkpiessteak&kidneypieschicken&hampiesapplepiesbeefpasties(oh,andScotcheggs).

Does he do mince and onion? I love mince and onion.

Er, no, but you're the second person today to say......... I'll ask him.

What about rhubarb, or gooseberry? I used to love rhubarb, or gooseberry tart. (Chorus of oohs, ahs and wistful 'You-never-see-rhubarb-here's.)


Have you got any order forms for those pies?

Sorry, I've run out - but you can order through the website .........and I've got post-its!

Good. I'll have a beef pasty and a pork pie.

Great! (I'm grinning like an idiot.) Thanks!


Here are your pies!

Ooh! (Jump to Thursday: Tell him the apple pie was delicious. I had it hot with custard. Jump to Friday: Can you ask him for two more apple pies for Monday?)

And so it has gone, all week. It's not just the orders, it's the reactions. The Oooohs! and Ahhhhs! and Mmmms! The enthusiasm and the wistfulness. The My-mum-used-to-makes and I-haven't-hads. The requests for the utterly mundane but special things that remind people of home, and being six, or sixteen. And the I LOVES. This is not just nutrition, or convenience, or even value for money. This is home!

My husband started making pies because he really missed traditional pork pies, and English style steak and kidney pies. And gravy. I like solid Spanish empanadas de atún, and those light tiny Argentinian spinach pastries, and Colombian maize balls deep-fried with an egg in the middle, and Italian pizza, and Greek pastries, Turkish kebabs - you name it, if it's got bread or pastry wrapped around it, I will eat it until I'm........... the size and shape I am right now!!!

But sometimes, amongst the fabulous foreign flavours and textures (Oh! And Indian butter naan, German pumpernickel, Chinese pancakes -) yes, even so.... I yearn for the familiar and long taken-for-granted -

And then -

a summer picnic with a crisp-walled pork pie, melt-in-your-mouth jelly, and unadulterated slightly spicy pork....... and pickle in the middle (Now that's all his own idea!) Oh wow!

And now - with skies and temperatures lowering -

putting a knife into crisp pastry, all flaky and golden on the outside, pale and steamy on the inside; and inhaling that unmistakeable winter comfort smell of steak and kidney; and then the dark chunks and rounds slipping out in a a glossy brown flood of savoury gravy......................... Ho-hum. Yum yum!!!!

Anyway, the man himself is experimenting with mince and onion this weekend (Thanks, Angela!), and yesterday bought a couple of bottles of a dark and healthsome beverage of Irish origins, to practise steak-and-ale pie recipes for the benefit of those who like their steak-and-kidney sans the kidney.

He may have to deliver me to work on castors on Monday morning.

No, wait! I've just remembered!

I'm running 7-12 kilometres tomorrow!

There, it's all about balance.

P.S. He did an interview which appeared in July's InMadrid. It's bigger here, but you'll still need to zoom!

P.P.S. So if the changing weather's making you a tad nostalgic for Blighty's finest, go check out the Great British Food pie (...oh, and a Scotch egg) site. (And in case you weren't paying attention, that was indeed a shameless plug. But it's for your own good, you know.)

P.P.P.S. if you're pining for a decent British style sausage (not to be confused with a cheap-and-nasty British sausage) check out Brendan Murphy and Cider Dave's The Proper Sausage. We had some over the summer. Phwaw!

New Look

Not me, this.
Something nasty snuck into my blog from the host site, causing Google to flash up an
(er... alert...)
if you tried to access it.

Being a technophobe (a.k.a. normal human being; esp. f.; esp. of mature years) and also a complete wimp when it comes to interpreting an English language help page, never mind a Spanish one, I did the obvious, and dumped the host that has maintained my blog lists perfectly well since Day 1, and moved my site to Google (This had better not be a marketing tactic...).

And this involved changing my template. My lovely, dappled spring day template. Sigh......

Mostly, I want my blog to look soothing. If I have to focus on a screen for any length of time, (and focusing is becoming more of an issue each year: next time I grope my way to the opticians, perhaps I should enquire about share options...) I want said screen to be either cheerful or soothing, and preferably both. So that means green

An Armenian friend (olive skin, amber-flecked green eyes, and the craziest strawberry blonde curls you can imagine) wears a lot of lime green and chartreuse, both fabulous on her. I adore green, and pretty well every variation thereof, with the exception of chartreuse. And lime green's ok, I suppose, but a bit sixties circles and white patent leather boots......

No, give me the sage and olive that are so comforting in northern light; give me spangles in tree tops, shadows among branches, gleaming moss on riverbanks and wet rocks, powdery lichens on grey rocks and tree bark; blue greens, grey greens, brownish greens.

But yellowish greens? No thanks.

For me, there's something unsettling, a suggestion of hidden danger, about yellow greens - perhaps a sub-conscious association with watchful cats - specifically the evil Mr Grey, a round-eyed, grey Burmese from two doors down in Liverpool, whose preferred daily entertainment was to settle in a high, visible, spot, and simply watch our bog-standard, not-terribly-bright tabby - the inappropriately named Gremlin - until she cracked and skittered into the house, eyes wide and fur sparking. (Should have called her Mogwai.)

Now, though, I associate chartreuse with Sophie, who I miss, and may never see again; and zingy lime, so cowed and feeble under blue northern light - works a treat here in Spain, several degrees closer to the equator.

So I've gone for a green blog template.

Thought for the Day:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sunday's Hash

I'm really tired this week, so I'm not sure I'm up for this, but I've got the details about Sunday's Madrid Hash House Harriers' run, which starts at 12.30; giving me two lie-ins to recharge the batteries. Not being very fit, I needed some reassurance as to likely distance and duration, and found it in MH3's advice for 'hares' (the people who lay the trail for the 'hounds').

Variety is the spice of life.
Each trail should normally include a little of everything - a little shiggy, open country, a little bush, maybe a stream and level paths. It could also include a hill, but not every hill within a five km. radius... One good hill is quite sufficient. Any fool can knacker the hounds, taking them over every hill in sight. It takes good recceing to include one good hill only. We are not a mountaineering club any more than we are a serious running club. (my italics!)

General length
A trail should be about a minimum of 7 km to a maximum of 12 km, depending on the terrain covered. As a rough guide, if it takes two hours to walk the final trail, then it should take the average "hound" an hour to run it. ……….
A good trail ............. should have some bits where you have to crawl, walk, clamber, wade etc. but it will also have parts where you can just run without worrying where you put your foot next. Hills are good in moderation, so are rivers and railways, but too much is as bad as none.

So, I don't know if I'll have the energy for "a minimum of 7 km to a maximum of 12 km" (Nyaarghh!! What am I saying?!), but the weather's started to cool down, and I want to be out of doors. More: come the spring, I want to be fit enough to go walking in the mountains, and cover some ground. I've got a thing about glacier-sculpted landscapes, and I'm still promising myself that I'll go back to Peñalara and walk to the lovely Laguna de los Pájaros. Just as soon as I've built up the stamina to be able to walk back again!)

So, come this Sunday - or next Sunday, if I really can't move this week - if I run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, I'm sure I can do 7-12km with the rest of the MH3 looney tunes. And then afterwards, there's a menu del día. Can't be bad.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Drinkers with a Running Problem

In some of my wilder moments, I've thought about joining the Hash House Harriers.
As autumn approaches and I can count my visits to the gym on more than one hand, these wilder moments are becoming more frequent.

So I went on the MH3 Madrid Hash House Harriers' site to find out more. I was doing fine, until I watched this video...... Over-ending? Doing Down-Downs? Ulp!!!!

Of course, these guys are from Santa Barbara, and I'm living in a quiet, respectable European capital, amongst an Old World citizenry steeped in repressed, bourgeois sensibilities. It can't be like that here.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Elif Shafak - identity politics

A friend - a New Zealander who has lived for decades in Spain and Turkey, and become fluent in three languages (¡Pués! ¿Donde está mi Aprende Gramatica Y Vocabulario?) - is reading The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak, and recommended this talk as an introduction to a remarkable writer.

Presumably to keep me occupied until she's finished, and lends me her copy.

Now resident in a third country - and an ex-patriate for half my adult life -I found plenty to think about here. Never mind the kids, let's hear it for us Third Culture Grown-Ups.

5. You live in the USA. Do you feel an immigrant or outsider, or do you feel committed with American history? How hard was it to do your creative writing directly in English?

It’s a bit ironic but my feeling of being an outsider, a latecomer, and a native-foreigner in Turkey subsided when I came to the USA where I am a foreigner. It is relatively easier to deal with “being a stranger in a strange land” than “being a stranger in your homeland”. Either way I have to deal with a sense of non-belonging and loss wherever I go. I am neither fully in Istanbul nor fully here in the USA. May be there is no such thing as being “fully rooted” for me.
In time I stopped asking myself where I belonged. I realized I belong to many places at the same time. According to the Islamic narrative there is a tree in heaven, which has no roots in the ground and instead has its roots where its branches are supposed to be. That’s how I feel. I have no roots in the ground but my roots are up in the air. It is in this sense that I am connected to both Turkey and the USA. Hague interview 2005

...... What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed......

Excuse me. I'm just popping out to Casa del Libro.......

P.S. This way to Elif Shafak's website (Turkish and English).

P.P.S. Love the Intel ad at the end - Ha!

OUM - Aji


Every year, I see posters for Noches de Ramadan - a series of free concerts towards the end of Ramadan, organised by Casa Arabe. Last night we got our act together and went to one.

Gates opened at 9 o'clock on an outdoor tennis court in the Parque Casino de la Reina in Lavapiés, for a 10 o'clock concert by Oum, a singer whose music draws on her Moroccan roots, plus soul, funk, disco, fusion, jazz and rhythm and blues. Well, that's what the blurb said! We got there at 9.30, by which time all the chairs were taken, so we sat on the ground, with our backs against the railings, and a fine view of the stage.

Lovely atmosphere. Professional stage under a curved canopy, with music playing at sociable level over the speakers. Chat in Spanish, Arabic, English, French. Sweet Moroccan tea and biscuits in small tents with reasonable queues (and Chinese traders outside the gates selling cans of beer and plastic pint glasses). The place continued to fill, with more and more people picking their patch of asphalt and sitting on their programmes - though it's amazing how many people wandered round and round, scanning the rows of seats for an empty space, apparently quite baffled becausethat there weren't any. Bless.

A smoke machine sent a lazy cloud up towards the lighting rig, the music got louder, and at last they put the lights out on us, and after introductions in Spanish and Arabic, on she came, with three musicians that we could see, and another three or four out of our line of vision behind the speakers.

She opened with Aji, did Hamdoulah, Lik, and Shine. We only stayed for four songs, because I got tired of being walked over, and downright stroppy about the tall guy in the hat who sauntered over during the second song and stopped directly in front of me, alternately squatting and straightening up to hitch up his trousers and underpants. (Moral: next time, arrive early enough to bag a chair!) but when I got home, I googled Oum, and found every one of her Youtube tracks.

Click on this link to Oum's website to hear Lik, her first big hit. (I'm playing this track over and over again) and a couple of other tracks from her first album, Lik'Oum. These are smooth, melodious, funky, but she also got quite rocky on some songs. Eclectic is the word. And she sings in Arabic, French and English. Cracking musicians. Fab arrangements.

Glad I went.

But I still don't know why the security guy confiscated the top of my water bottle........... Duh?