April 28, 2009


... Nightjack (http://www.nightjack.wordpress.com/) and politics - inseparable bedfellows that they are) and yet who, ironically, is simultaneously hanging up his virtual truncheon and cuffs - to write … yes, you guessed, fiction!

Well, you couldn’t make it up, could you? And, hopefully, the blogosphere’s loss is fiction’s gain ...

Part of me can’t help musing though, a tad cynically I know, if Nightjack is choosing to retire just as HMG plans to record ALL our internet habits?

Spain, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t share HMG’s surveillance plans re emails, phone calls and internet activity (though the EU will doubtlessly soon be in hot pursuit with its own overarching diktats). How are the U.S. and Canada dealing with this issue, I wonder…

And to return to Orwell and Big Brother, he was only 25 years out …

April 22, 2009

If You Read One Thing Today, Please Make It This! - With Apologies To Tania...

… who, I’m sure, will generously excuse the shameless borrowing - and adapting - of the title of a recent post.

I use it because I am as incensed now (as Tania was, for different reasons, then) at reports of yet another senseless miscarriage of justice. Not, this time, in Iran, Zimbabwe or Sudan. But here in Spain. And a tale worthy of Kafka in its depiction of the persecuted individual in a nightmarishly impersonal, bureaucratically labyrinthine world of alienation and dislocation.

Kafka’s novel, The Trial, you may recall, recounts the hopeless search for the truth by Josef K, accused without cause of an unspecified crime by an arbitrarily nameless, claustrophobically faceless court. The central character, arrested in his bedroom early one morning, is forced to embark on his own defence which comes to dominate his life - to no avail. He muddles along with energy and persistence, never giving up. Though written in 1925, it is difficult to think of another dystopian novel that so aptly encapsulates, and foreshadows, all the miscarriages of justice still being committed somewhere in the world - and searches for truth still denied.

Here it is the true story of Juan Enrique T., a 30 year old civil servant from Griñon, Madrid. A similar age to Josef K, he is likewise referred to by his initial. Although a requirement in Spain, this nonetheless unwittingly imbues the tale with an additional layer of surreally nebulous ambiguity of which Kafka himself would have doubtlessly approved!

Juan Enrique T., then, travelled to Granada to see for himself the famous Holy Week celebrations - about which he’d read so much. But the last procession he saw was his own: to prison. Mystifyingly, the tourist was confused with a man with a similar name who had already been convicted of money laundering and already imprisoned by order of the National High Court!

Juan Enrique T.’s ordeal began at 6am on the Thursday morning of Holy Week when the police knocked on his hotel door and asked him, bizarrely, if he was "expecting a police visit" before ordering him to get dressed and clamping on handcuffs. "As they didn’t tell me what it was about, I thought it might be a traffic fine I hadn’t been notified of," Juan Enrique T. later explains.

In the cell, he then spent two interminable hours, with no information, until he was told there was a warrant for his arrest and that he was to be transferred to the local prison. "To be sitting there handcuffed, in the van, in the cell, the arrival at the prison, the feeling of impotence — they take away your watch, your cellphone — it was quite an ordeal. But wait for this one! On the Sunday, when I was already in prison, they went back to the hotel to arrest me again! It was an accumulation of errors — or horrors. I felt humiliated."

Though he tried to explain that he was innocent and asked for a lawyer, he says he was told in the magistrate’s court that he only had the right to sign the prison entry form, "because it was an ‘order from above.’ " At that moment, he adds now, "I felt the Alhambra fall on top of me."

Of the cell he remembers just two things: the frigid April air pouring in through the window, giving him a severe cold, and the dull, metallic clang of the door. "At first I was so afraid that I went along the corridor with my head down, trying not to look the others in the eye."

Later, though, it was the prisoners themselves who alone kept up his spirits, saying he would soon be free. For the civil servant, however, it was almost impossible to believe his Kafkaesque nightmare would ever end - until, eventually, he passed out of the gate, lifted his head and saw on the horizon the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Freedom at last…!

"The way the system works, I was sure I would be there at least a week — and that they would transfer me to Madrid, to the National High Court," Juan Enrique T. says now, adding that what he felt most was rage, indignation and total defenselessness. "I thought of Christ, and tried to concentrate on the Resurrection and on saying to myself: ‘Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do’."

Ironically, on the way out, the prison clerk wrote his name wrongly: Juan Antonio for Juan Enrique. He told them to correct it, "in case they think I’ve escaped, and come for me again." The guards found this extremely funny.

In the U.K. or U.S., defence lawyers would be talking about compensation, false imprisonment, abuse of human rights etc etc. Yet, though he's now off work suffering from extreme depression, no one has even called to apologize…

The world has changed immensely since the publication of The Trial. But its themes are timeless - and probably even more relevant today. Governments and bureaucracies still oppress the powerless. Life is still subject to the caprices of fate and officialdom. We still encounter pettiness as well as nobility of humanity in our individual lives.

And, like The Trial, the story of Juan Enrique T. is in its own way, too, a cautionary tale for those who care to reflect on the universalities of the human condition and the universalities of bureaucratic desires to control it.

Indeed, a tale worthy of Kafka...

April 20, 2009


… or you’ll frighten the horses!

Well, I did give fair warning! And I couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. Yes, I did make them myself and no, I didn’t offer them to Manolo (no, not that one, ladies), Carolina and extended family. (No point in adding to the soggy chips-with-everything stories already quaintly depicted in the Spanish press.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First a note of explanation.

Couldn’t source hot cross buns here so ended up making my own thanks to the Times recipe(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/recipes/article701547.ece ) provided by the ever helpful Miss Whistle (http://www.misswhistle.blogspot.com/ ) and Paddington Bear ( http://www.dltk-holidays.com/easter/hotcrossbuns.htm) by the equally helpful So Lovely (http://www.itsallsolovely.blogspot.com/). Why did I use two recipes I hear you ask? And I’ll be totally frank in reply - to hedge my bets!

You may recall, P and I invited to a traditional British Easter Sunday lunch and tea Manolo etc with whom we spent last Christmas - and huge day-long meals. (December posts still bulging with all the fat details of that shamefully gigantic gluttony. Just thinking about them makes me unsteady and reach out for the sidebar...)

Now, whilst I considered my handiwork (first go at buns, after all) not totally unacceptable - the recipes themselves were perfect; my execution maybe less so - P’s verdict afterwards was compressed into a single word: "Disgusting".

Well, judge for yourselves, bearing in mind they really didn’t taste as bad as they look. (Click to see them in their full glory!)

And pics don’t always show things to their best advantage, do they…?

P.S. Later, thrusting the photo (top right) under my nose, P said he’d far rather have eaten those things (they’re mushrooms!). Look much the same, he muttered under his breath, but taste infinitely better, adding (with a nod to the cordon bleu- level of cheffing he so effortlessly achieves for dinner party guests) he’s unsure if I can be trusted with baking for guests again. So, gastronomically speaking, am now on the reserve bench. Or the culinary naughty step as it were.

Trouble is, how long - thanks to Bun-gate - will I have to stay there?

April 15, 2009


Managed to sneak in here while that human who comes for walks with me left her kennel oops office in the middle of writing about some disastrously dog-awful things she made. I say "office" though it’s not very different from mine except I’ve got softer cushions, a huge bowl of water - and loads of beautiful biscuits appropriate for a canine of my pulchritudinous pedigree (She’d better not try to paw those things off on me. Not going to be a pawn in her game...)

Which brings me to the reason I’m propped up here, panting, paws at the ready. To set the record straight. About matters far more serious and important than Kim Jong-il’s bouffant hairdo or yesterday's political splashes and dogfights. No, this is to put a stop, once and for all, to the truly scandalously gossipy nonsense put about the top choices for FDOTUS.

Most humans believe these were 1) Portuguese Water Dog and 2) Labradoodle. First a word about these two. The PWD (that they actually chose, ugh!) is, well, soo unkempt. (Not sure even my beautician could do anything with those rat tails. If you don’t believe me, just look at the pic. Ugh!) And as for the Doodle. Well, I mean, how robust is its pedigree, I’d really like to know. I realize I might be a bit old-fashioned here (I come from a long, renowned breed you understand) but the caninocracy is always a bit wary of any Rover-Come-Lately suddenly appearing on the scene.

And now the TRUTH! Which I have at first paw from my good chums from Madrid back here on holiday last week for Semana Santa. In fact, I have it on very good authority from my close friend, Alfredo the Alsation, who has the most impeccable sources in Madrid, that these choices were discussed at the recent G20 summit attended by our leader, Señor Zapatero. And that, contrary to all the shaggy dog stories, the first choice was neither the PWD nor the Doodle but the… Bichon Frise! In other words, ME!

Why didn’t they choose me then, I hear you ask. For two reasons. Firstly, it seems the French upset everyone else at the summit so a French breed was out of the question. Secondly, because (oops, can’t stop yawning!) some boffin thought there might otherwise be a run on BFs, someone might start tinkering with our genes and we’d all end up looking like one of Phil Spectre’s spare wigs. And that would give all of us BFs serious paws for thought...

Anyway, the human here with the wild fair hair (sometimes called Boris; my name, Lola, is soo much more feminine, don’t you think?) wants to enter me for the local dog show. But, I ask you! Called Scruffs, it’s soo infra dig! No, I’ll wait for the next Cruft’s or Westminster - more my scene. (Especially after a few sessions at the beautician’s.You know, girlie stuff - nails, colonic irrigation, bodogtox. That sort of thing.)

In the meantime, I may paw my way back here from time to time to write something SENSIBLE instead of all the illiterate, useless waffle you usually get.

PAWNOTE: That’s me above - now thankfully fully recovered from that frightful caterpillar attack and, more importantly, from all those dog-awful suppositories the vet-human insisted on inserting in places I truly didn’t know existed. (Soo much fabulous fur you see…)

April 12, 2009


Those of you who’ve survived the trek through the unkempt undergrowth of previous posts (fortified by numerous St Bernards and assorted hip flasks), will know I like Andalusia. On the whole.

You may recall, I reluctantly left the various treasures and pleasures of London to join P who adores Andalusia. (To paraphrase Graham Greene, I’ll call him the ‘Quiet Andalusian’ - a blatantly glaring oxymoron given the cacophonous volubility of new friends and neighbours.)

So here, then, I found myself - far from family, friends and civilisation - living seemingly in isolation on the edge of Europe and sanity! And so too was born this blog (and fatal addiction - blogging now almost a default way of life), Life on the Edge - geographically and psychologically…

I mention above I like Andalusia on the whole. Why the qualification? Well, much as there is to admire here - the people, the less-premature-early-death lifestyle and obviously the climate - there’s one fact that doesn’t rock my boat. Namely corruption. Specifically the brand practised by our local officials.
In fact, anyone perusing British newspapers this past year won’t have failed to notice headlines bemoaning the illegalities and underlying corruption formerly (and still?) endemic in certain sections of Spanish life. Something I’ve written about at length in countless earlier posts with reference to the never-ending trials in Andalusia in general, Marbella in particular.

But that’s all changed! Not the corruption, you understand. But the targets of all those lengthy criminal investigations. Now it’s not just local officials that have been fingered by the police but the POLICE themselves!

It’s just been reported in the local press that a chief inspector, an assistant chief inspector and two officers with the National Police force and a civil guard are to be tried in nearby Ronda for, yes, you guessed… corruption. All are accused of turning a blind eye to the activities of three brothels in the town in exchange for sexual favours and, on some occasions, money from the foreign women (Russians, Albanians, Bulgarians) who worked in them. Also to go on trial are five others including not only the managers of the brothels but a local judge’s ex boyfriend!

The officers themselves are accused of, amongst other felonies, bribery, money laundering, sexual abuse while in public service, failure to follow up crimes, trafficking, favouring prostitution and so on…

All in all, a fair cop, gov?

FOOTNOTE: Must break off now - having Spanish friends to lunch and afternoon tea. P’s doing the lunch bit (quite nifty with the spatula is P) and I’ve been put (by him) in charge of the tea thingie. Problem is I’ve never baked hot cross buns before. To be honest, never baked much before - but he doesn’t know that. Will by the end of the day.

Next instalment of Kitchen Nightmares exclusively on this site (don’t tell Gordon - I’ve met him and though he was perfectly charming, nonetheless still frightens me to death...)

April 9, 2009


Empedocles (born 490 B.C. in Agrigentum, Sicily) is an interesting figure not least because he inspired others (Hölderlin and Arnold - more below), but also in his own right as a philosopher.

The last Greek philosopher to write in verse, it was he who established the four ultimate elements underpinning all structures in the world - fire, air, water, earth. Calling them "roots", he further identified them with the mythical names of Zeus, Nestis and Aidoneus and Hera (temple above).

But is, perhaps, the manner of his death for which he is best remembered today. Legend has it that he threw himself in the volcano of Mount Etna to prove to his disciples that he was immortal; he believed he could cheat death and return as a god among man after being devoured by the flames - the perfect embodiment of his own carpe diem ideology.

Indeed, Empedocles' death has inspired two major modern literary treatments. It’s the subject of Friedrich Hölderlin’s play Tod des Empedokles (Death of Empedocles, 1826) - a set text of mine at uni - and two poems by Matthew Arnold, above (1822-1888), one of which is Empedocles on Etna (1852), a narrative of the philosopher's last hours before he jumped to his death in the crater.

However, it’s Arnold’s poem, From The Hymn of Empedocles, that I would like to draw to your attention here. Whatever the personal convictions of Arnold himself, the message is clear: enjoy the moment - heaven may not exist.

As for me, I find it really difficult (with a few reservations) to disagree with this carpe diem stance, given some of the life-changing experiences I've been through (not to mention two emigrations!). And, given too, that tomorrow's Good Friday, the start of the Easter Triduum, I would welcome your thoughts as you read it:


Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy'd the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to
have done;
To have advanced true friends,
and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant
our repose?

Not much, I know, you prize
What pleasures may be had,
Who look on life with eyes
Estranged, like mine, and sad:
And yet the village churl feels the
truth more than you;

Who 's loth to leave this life
Which to him little yields:
His hard-task'd sunburnt wife,
His often-labour'd fields;
The boors with whom he talk'd,
the country spots he knew.

But thou, because thou hear'st
Men scoff at Heaven and Fate;
Because the gods thou fear'st
Fail to make blest thy state,
Tremblest, and wilt not dare to
trust the joys there are.

I say, Fear not! life still
Leaves human effort scope.
But, since life teems with ill,
Nurse no extravagant hope.
Because thou must not dream,
thou need'st not then despair.

FOOTNOTE: I have it on good authority from P that Empedocles is also the title of an episode of The X Files. Since I didn’t see this series, I can’t throw any light on this / see any connection. Can anyone help?!

April 7, 2009


It’s Spring and the site’s had a spot of spring cleaning. Not just a coat or two of cooler, paler colours, polishing the sidebars and rearranging the text furniture but hanging up winter’s woolly words and dusting down last summer’s half-forgotten sounds, letting them run free in the echo chamber of the mind…

But the limpid air of a Spring morning also recalls other traditions. Woody twining vines of wisteria, bluebells blowing in the breeze and …hot cross buns.

A number of esteemed fellow bloggers (So Lovely and Miss Whistle, to name just a few) have written about the latter and shown us scrumptious pics. Also about the difficulties of sourcing them in the U.S.

It seems I have the same problem in Andalucia. Does anyone knows where they can be obtained? I’m prepared to travel throughout the southern part of the province - yes, I’m that keen to serve them to Spanish friends this weekend as part of a traditional British Easter celebration! Otherwise, it’s back to Delia, Jamie or Nigella…

Apart from hot cross buns and simnel cake, there’ll be, of course, roast lamb. In the past at this time of year, it was considered here a lucky omen to meet a lamb, the symbol of innocence (less lucky for the lamb…)

There are, naturally, numerous superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday won’t spoil or go mouldy during the subsequent year. And if hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. You can be sure mine will go mouldy - as will any breads.

So, if you can, let me know where I can purchase perfectly delicious ones! Please!

FOOTNOTE: Was rather taken by the above pic, the ‘processional’ eggs bizarrely reminding me of something altogether less wholesome…

April 1, 2009


Had intended to follow up previous post on reasons not to blog but called away for past week to sick parent in deepest, darkest part of U.K., far from civilisation, mobile reception, internet - everything. Help!

On my return, immediately went to look for Lola only to learn she was at the vet's. Very sick. A very sick bitch. And I’m a very angry … person.

But first , a brief word of explanation. Everywhere in southern Andalucia, you see at this time wild mimosa shrubs turning yellow - masses of tiny pom pom-like buds, so delicate in their golden beauty. Yet another sign of spring. But where there’s beauty, there’s often a beast.

No, not a politician this time. ( Sarkozy anyone?) And as for Andalucia, you can take your pick. (At the last count, there are over a dozen corruption cases currently going through the courts.)

No, it’s the Processional Pine Moth Caterpillar. And so you can be assured this is no April Fool’s jape, that’s the beast above. And why am I so angry? Because Lola, Senora Noriega’s gorgeous canine is, once again, their victim.
These creatures (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) start out in silky, candy floss ball-style nests in pine trees which they strip of their needles, then leave to seek out another on which to feed. From mid-February onwards for about two months, they wind their way in lines up and down trees and along the ground.

They always process single-file, head-to-tail (sometimes metres in length) apparently because of a tactile impulse from bristly, hair-like sensory protuberances on the gut of the one in front. You mustn’t walk on them or disturb them since the bristly, hairy bits easily break off and float away producing a severe toxic reaction in humans and pets if inhaled, eaten or even touched. There have been reported cases of dogs losing part of the tongue, even dying, after ingesting them.

For this reason, a lowish fence was erected to cordon off, and keep Lola away from, the offending pine - the source of the bite that landed her at the vet’s last year. But they’ve struck again. ‘Processionals’ don’t observe niceties like fences, covering greater distances and moving ever closer than before. And Lola’s not a sufficiently canny canine to resist strangers bearing gifts on their hairy guts…

Footnote: In an experiment, these creatures were placed in a circle around the edge of a terracotta pot so that there was no lead caterpillar. Guess what? They followed each other around in circles for days, in all weathers, going nowhere. Simply the impulse to follow leading them on and on and on.

A bit like those politicians*, or what?
*Except, natch, for Tom Watson MP (an unforgivable, solipsistic oversight!)