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It’s now early February and I’m nearing the end of my sixty fifth birthday celebrations. After the UK celebrations, I decided I would spend two months in Spain. That time is almost up.

It’s been a fabulous stay, with friends popping in from time to time and a break (a big break) from the UK winter weather.

Following the celebrations at home, we set off on 12th December to stay in the Premier Inn at Heald Green, close to Manchester Airport. We arrived here in Torreblanca on the 13th https://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/winter-201617/ and spent the Christmas and New Year period on our own, mainly just Sharon and me. Early on, she took me for a great day out in Malaga, on a food tour https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2016/12/24/malaga-food-tour/ . See also: http://devourmalagafoodtours.com/

We also went for lots of walks. For example: up and down the hill lots of times; to and from Fuengirola, Los Boliches or Torreblanca (quite often!). We also caught the train to Torremolinos and walked back to Benalmadena a couple of times.

I’ve written elsewhere about our walks up and around the hills behind the apartment for exploration. See:

fullsizerender-3Michelle came up from Gibraltar one day before Christmas and we took her up to Mijas before deciding it was too cold up there and coming back down to Los Boliches and eating in Mason Salvador. She came up to see us again early in the New Year and we took her for a day out in Malaga. As in all the subsequent visits (with JT, DT and Tony, as well as with Martin and Lin), we visited the marina, the castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro) and the city itself, sampling some of the places Sharon and I had enjoyed on the food tour.

Sharon had to return to the UK for a couple of weeks on 12th January and while she was away, friends came over and stayed with me.

3-amigosJohn (JT) came out to visit first and we went more or less straight down to Gibraltar to see Michelle (his daughter) and we spent the day there with friends and shopping. Michelle cooked a delightful Pork Fillet Wellington for dinner – splendid.  John’s brother David (DT) came out on the Sunday to stay in 916 and Tony (TT) flew in on the Tuesday; so, there was quite a crossover of friends whilst Sharon was back in the UK. We ‘did’ Malaga again and walked up to Mijas (twice, once with JT and Dt and again then, with TT – we also walked back – which nearly broke me J )

Most evenings we ate out, but one rainy evening, the weather was so bad that we decided to come straight back and ‘eat in’. This was probably the best meal of their stay; we had all sorts of food, DT cooked steak, I cooked Tortilla and we emptied our fridges of other cold foods and salads (and beer).

three-amigos

Sharon arrived back the same day that Lin and Martin arrived to stay with us for a week. During that week, we had trips to Mijas, to Malaga and to Gibraltar where Michelle, again did us proud. She drove us onto The Rock and gave us a magnificent tour, showing us viewing points and time to see the marching re-enactment of the ceremony of the keys. http://www.visitgibraltar.gi/event/re-enactment-association-saturday-march/187. We had a late lunch in La Linea before setting off back before it was too dark.

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So that’s it. All visitors arrived home safely and we depart on Sunday.  Back again soon.

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My birthday weekend – part 4.

Also see [– 1 –], [– 2 –] and [– 3 –].

Afternoon tea

Tony and Gill left by taxi at midnight to return to their (at that point, secret) hotel. We tidied up and went to bed. On Sunday morning, while Sharon cooked up a delightful breakfast (the last of her self-imposed cookery chores for this weekend), I made many trips up and down the four flights of stairs to pack up our car. By the time we were ready to leave I felt like I’d climbed Ingleborough, just up the road.

I had ascertained, during Saturday’s dinner conversation, that we would be joining Tony and Gill at their hotel for Sunday evening. That much I knew. What I hadn’t known was that the hotel was only about four miles away and that I would be given another surprise as we arrived there, about 11.30am. Too early to book in, but not too early, apparently to be given an envelope containing our voucher for an hour of archery training and practice.

Sharon’s bow

How exciting.

Archery has never been something I’d said, or thought I wanted to do, but was thrilled to be given the opportunity anyway. We had to wait for our trainer, Andrew, in ‘the lodge’, which reminded me of Fred Flintstone’s Water Buffalo meeting room – all wood and testosterone. The lodge was where all those out for their weekly (daily?) ‘shoot’ would meet to practice on clay pigeons. It was awfully noisy. Anyway, Andrew came along and whisked us away to the Archery Butts and an hour of learning new skills began.

To be fair, we didn’t do bad. We were on short ranges and managed to hit the target butt with every arrow except one and by the end we were grouping the arrows fairly well. But there’s a lot to remember. Face this way; move this leg forward a little; turn your head towards the target; hold the bow this way – not that way; pull the string back this far; take a deep breath; don’t wobble etc.

‘Don’t wobble’ – how many planes of wobbles are there? I suppose I should ask an airline pilot! Straight arm holding bow + straight other arm holding arrow, straight back 90º to the floor in all directions + no lateral movement of the arm(s) or head. Phew – exhausting. But fun 🙂

We then went and booked into the hotel, at which point I was given my final envelope – afternoon tea for two! See above 😉 We were stuffed, but still managed to meet Tony and Gill for dinner in the bar/restaurant.

What a great, memorable weekend. Thank you Sharon xxx

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Readers of earlier posts [-1-] and [-2-], may remember that my birthday weekend had so far been a series of surprises – each one topping the other.  My previous post had seen me reeling from the arrival of invited (but unexpected by me) guests Tony and Gill. I’d left the post promising to detail the food that was served up by Sharon after a long, hard afternoon in the kitchen.

After celebrating with a glass of fizz, we sat down to:

Gnocci

Served with roast cherry tomatoes, blue cheese and rocket topped with a sweet pepper sauce.

Sharon had made the gnocci and the sweet pepper sauce during the afternoon, so I knew we were having roast peppers at some stage because the delicious smell peculated throughout the room I was in. This was followed by:

Seared Tuna Steak

Served with lemon and coriander couscous, samphire and garlic butter.

Fresh Tuna cooked in garlic butter is one of our favourite meals, so this was a delight. All the flavours were balanced nicely and the steak was not too big for its role in the meal.

Pan-fried Leek & Ginger stuffed Chicken Suprême

Served in a white wine sauce, with sweet potato, feta cheese and a crispy sesame seed savoy cabbage.

Sadly up to and including this point we had taken no photographs of the food. We were too busy enjoying the experience, the company and the wine, which Tony had very kindly brought along with him. We next had a choice of ‘cheese first’ or ‘pudding first’. Tony and I had cheese, the ladies had pudding – which was again, magnificent:

Garden Berry and white chocolate Cheesecake and cream

This was based on the mixed berries we had picked at home and made into jam.

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

And that, apart from a few petit four type nibbles she’d bought in, was Sharon done for the night. The meal, the company and the day had been a great success and something I will remember as a birthday treat for a long, long time.

In the next post I will wrap up Hellifield and move on to my final day of surprises – Sunday 8th December. b.t.w. I lied about the pics. …..

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Sharon and a faceReaders may remember that I left the food content of my previous post for another time. This is that time. Whether I get to the Sunday events will depend on how lyrical I wax about the food 😉

Readers should also be aware that at home – I cook.

When I don’t feel like cooking or am too busy it’s usually a case of “Sharon, are we having pizza tonight?” because I know she likes cooking pizza and I know that she doesn’t find it too much of a chore. I usually step up to the plate and concoct a salad from whatever we have in the fridge. Meal sorted!

But I also know that SHE CAN COOK. She can cook very tasty food, and this weekend she did just that.

Before settling into the delightful apartment we unpacked the many bags and cool boxes Sharon had surreptitiously packed into the car and from that moment I was ‘sort of’ banned from the kitchen. Which was a good thing really because I was knackered after carrying all those bags AND our luggage (I’d been told to ‘bring smart clothes for two evening meals, casual clothes, your walking clothes AND anything else you think you might want‘ !!) up the many flights of stairs. So I relaxed into my iPad Kindle App and a bottle of beer.

Burger and chipsFriday’s evening meal was that American classic: Burger and chips. Sharon had made and seasoned her own burgers and cooked Cajun style potato wedges to go on a toasted slice of Handmade Bakery ‘sleepless white’ with rocket leaves and a soured cream quenelle. A quenelle FFS! She’s been watching too much Masterchef that girl 🙂

Saturday breakfast (my birthday) was a magnificent triumph over adversity. I was served up Eggs Benedict. They were delicious, despite the fact that the hollandaise sauce had had to be made with a fork! Hollandaise, made with a fork was something I’d never seen before. Although Sharon had sneaked my knives (a canvas wallet of various tools I always take on non-flight holidays and weekend breaks) in with her – she hadn’t noticed the whisk 😉 Nevertheless – breakfast was a delight and took both of us back to New Orleans where we’d first enjoyed this dish together.

Hellifield Peel Castle Staircase.

After our trip out to Settle, I was told to relax with the paper, the Kindle and/or whatever I liked until dinner was ready – but ‘keep out of the kitchen‘. So I had a long luxurious bath (in this aprtment’s HUGE tub) and lounged around the main room in my (provided) bathrobe. I thought it would be nice to eat dinner in my bathrobe too, as it appeared (because of all the banging and whirring and delightful smells from the kitchen) that we were not going out.

Good music, good relaxing atmosphere and absolutely nothing for me to do. Bliss.

Then I was asked if I was dressing for dinner.  Well I’d thought not, I was perfectly happy as I was. But I had apparently thought wrong: ‘If I’m going to all this trouble etc. etc.‘ – so off I sheepishly went to change. I’d half a mind to just go back and sit naked at the table but then (luckily) I thought better of that.

I returned, less than ten minutes later to find our friends Tony and Gill sat at the table waiting for dinner too.

I was bowled over – THAT was another surprise!! They’d been part of the weekend’s subterfuge which Sharon was orchestrating exceptionally well. So far I’d had a secret trip to Ilkley; was enjoying a secret weekend in a luxury apartment at Hellifield Castle; had food created for Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast by a secretly competent chef and a trip to Settle at lunchtime. NOW I had this other (not yet final) surprise of dinner guests – and a dinner yet to be served. What a cracking birthday I was having.

I will detail dinner next time 🙂

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I am a lucky man.

This year’s birthday was not a significant number, I’m not (as far as I know) dying and I’ve not (as far as I know) been a naughty boy – but my lovely wife Sharon has just treated me to the most wonderful surprise weekend.Picture of Hellifield Peel Castle from the Telly Tubby hill opposite

Hellifield Peel Castle

I had known that I had to keep the weekend free and that we wouldn’t be back home until Monday, but other than that, I was in the dark.  As we left home on Friday I was given an A4 sheet of images, which was designed to be my teaser for the weekend to come. I have to say that it meant very little to me – I sort of guessed a couple of things but in entirely the wrong context, hence the entire weekend was an unfolding mystery to me. I mean – Robin Hood, Fat Rascals and Mad Hatters???

RoofWe were late setting off because of a catastrophe we’d had the day before. During Thursday morning, enough of Betony’s roof slates had blown off (in the fierce >80 mph winds) to leave massive holes in their roof. Because we were uncertain of how safe the ceiling would be, she and Josh, and Mischa their French Bulldog pup, needed to stay the night with us. Sharon had therefore to delay our planned departure to allow time to drop them back home in time for her to meet and direct the builder booked to fix the roof (he did, it’s fine).

Ilkley was the first point of call. We had a late lunch in a pub on the crossroads, browsed the charity shops and bought fat rascals at Betty’s before setting off again to our final destination of the day. I had had no idea where I was going but I am glad we went there.

Hellifield Peel Castle was one of Channel 4’s Grand Designs. [See] and is situated north of Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales and about seven miles short of Settle. The house is magnificent, very well presented and the owners are a delight to meet, they can’t do too much to help guests settle in. Sharon had booked the Attic Apartment, which is the only one available for self-catering (and furthermore, the only one available when she booked last March!) The balcony allows uninterrupted views of Pendle Hill in the distance, but having had that pointed out on arrival, we never saw it again because of cloud and rain 😦 hey ho.

I was then treated to a series of delicious home-cooked meals, right through to our departure after breakfast on Sunday. I’ll write about the food and the Sunday surprises in another post because if I do so now, this post will be never ending.

Bench on Hellifield Station

Click to see bigger image

On Saturday (my birthday) after breakfast we drove to Hellifield Station and caught the train into Settle, where we had a fairly desultory mooch around the charity shops (bought pans for Betony and toast racks for us!).

We finished that journey in The Lion, where I had a cracking pint of Old Hooky. Once back at base, I continued to do nothing much and to be waited on hand and foot 😉

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Jim looking up.During 2012 I lost several friends and relatives. Each had featured fully, in large parts of my life.

I did think long and hard about whether I should write this blog post and then whether it needed to be published. In the end, I decided that as my various blogs (especially this one) are catalogues of my life, it would be disrespectful not to acknowledge the contribution these five have made to it.

Jim Scott first came to my attention at Deighton Junior School, when he burst into my classroom and cheekily spoke back to the teacher. That was back when the school intake was Jan 1st to December 31st – we were both born in the same year, Jim in January and me in December.  He would have been 62 tomorrow. Mischief could well have been Jim’s middle name and for many of the following 50 years, he was a constant in my life. An ardent trades unionist, Jim was always on hand to offer well informed, well meaning advice and guidance for all aspects of life and he always challenged, channelled and (often) changed my views and my laziness. When John Rousell and I cycled coast to coast in 1999 Jim couldn’t join us for one reason or another – but completed the journey alone at a later date!  Jim died from complications caused by a malignant melanoma he’d contracted whilst pumping a damp proof course into his house. 😦

I didn’t know Shane all that well I’m afraid, he was too young and lived too far away to see often.  Shane Pueschel was Sharon’s nephew; her sister Joanne’s son.  At 18, he was far too young to die.  Shane had collapsed on the dance-floor of a club in Lincoln where he was attending university and until the Coroner’s Inquest is completed later this year, it’s hard to be certain of the cause of death. However, there are questions surrounding the emergency first aid he received (or didn’t).


I wrote about Jim and about Shane previously: https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/red-bull/


Similarly, Sharon’s mum Pat was a more recent part of my life.  She’d visited us a few times over the years and we’d visited her in America, where she lived, Sharon more than me.  Pat had been in remission from cancer for almost five years when it came bounding back last year.  This time though, it was terminal.  The sisters, Joanne, Gail, Sharon and brother Steven had discussed end of life care for Pat and had agreed that Joanne, the nurse, would be better placed to fulfil that function. However, at the time such care was required, her own loss (Shane) made that impossible and Gail moved into the breech. Sharon did what she could too but in the end Pat passed away in May.

Towards the end of the year, I heard that Andrew Triggs had died.  Although Andrew and Ruth had lived next door to Sue and I all the time we lived in Linthwaite, I’d not seen them for many years.  Towards the end of my marriage to Sue (my first life!) we had a fish and chip shop next door to Andrew and Ruth.  We ran this for six years until it was uneconomical and we both took up new careers, eventually separating in 1996. we lived next door to the Triggs for fourteen years. Andrew was a real character, lots of fun to be with and a great supporter of my early attempts at computing.  We often sat outside the back of our house, or in their conservatory until the early hours of the morning: it was Andrew who taught me the correct mix for gin and tonic 😉 and for that, I am ever grateful.

Much closer to home and more recently, my Aunty Dot died.  Aunty Dot was my dad’s sister and would have been 80 next. My first memory of Dot was of her carrying me up the stairs to bed whilst singing ‘Rock Around The Clock’ – I can’t have been very old. I always liked Aunty Dot, she was lively and very pretty – as a child I hoped that my own daughter (should I ever have one) would be ‘as’ pretty, a wish that was delivered in spades – my daughter and both of her girls are exceptionally gorgeous. Aunty Dot always lived close to my grandma and although I  enjoyed visiting both, it was always fun to visit Dot (and Brian).  Their daughter Janet, my cousin, now lives in Jersey, where Dot passed away after falling ill whilst visiting.  Janet has lovingly overseen the last few weeks of Dot’s life and has kept everyone up to speed with developments.  She has been a tower of strength for Uncle Brian and my dad – both of whom will now miss a very important woman in their lives.

Rest in Peace.

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Sharon and I have just returned from a short break in Spain. We were accompanied by my brother Andrew and his partner Debbie. We stayed in a small apartment about a mile inland from the Torreblanca coast, a little east of Fuengirola.

What a difference the three hour flight from Manchester to Malaga made!

Since they arrived from Australia, where they live, Andrew and Debbie have had to suffer one of the coldest, wettest springs we have experienced in the UK, so getting off the plane in Malaga to a pleasant 30°C was a real pleasure for them as well as for us.

We’d hired our car from Car Hire 3000, but the actual providers were Centauro who are based some way from the airport, so that necessitated a minibus ride to their depot. Everything went smoothly, so I’ve no complaint with their efficiency but I have to warn anyone who reads this about the fuel scam everyone over here seems to pull. Although we’d paid for everything else in the UK, we still had to pay for a full tank of petrol – €93! Now, that’s top price for fuel, and there’s no option to choose where you fill up, they do it before you pick up the car. I also doubted that the tank was really ‘full’. There’s also an ‘Excess Cover’ insurance to pay (optional), which is not part of the collision waiver (etc.) insurance you pay in the UK. My friend uses Malaga Car Hire when he comes here and they have a ‘full to full’ policy, which means you can refill at the best price you find (which for my friend will probably be Gibraltar @ 96p litre, with a small top up here in Torreblanca, which is only 15 miles from the airport).

We arrived at the apartment in good time to unpack and have a cup of tea before braving ‘the front’ to find a supermarket. The roads around here are narrow and winding, and there is something of a mañana feel to the local driving!We stocked up on basics and then came back to dump the car.

We walked back down to the seafront later for a walk and to find some food. We had had The Royal India restaurant recommended, so as we had no real preference that night, we ate there. It was dire! It seems to be one of those Indian restaurants where they use one base sauce for every dish. My Rogan Josh had very little meat in it and tasted like a red lamb korma – it was SO sweet (which a Rogan Josh shouldn’t be). Debbie’s ‘butter chicken’ and Andrews ‘madras’ seemed to come from the same pot with just a little flavour change en route (and no more meat than I had).

No one was impressed!

The walk back to the apartment was warm and pleasant enough, despite the steepness of the climb. That was day one.

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