20 August 2007

Slip-Sliding Away

It's been a long time since I held hands with a grown man. At a guess 1973.

Until the weekend, that is, when I took a deep breath, shifted my weight on to my toes and held hands, quite tightly and more than once, with a young, tanned snow board instructor.

Reader, I even gazed into his eyes.

Until he told me: no, even though it was true, he had said to look straight ahead, perhaps I should rather look over his shoulder toward the crest of hill, and was I ready to let go now ?

I was at the artificial ski-slope at Sandown Park for private lesson. He was a lot better on a snowboard than I was, but on the whole I felt I was dressed more cooly: while he sported a bright red junior ski-klub sweatshirt and a baseball hat back to front. I was wearing my ultra-baggy (triathlon weight-loss) snow-boarder-cargo-pants and my sly hat.

Unfortunately, although I was cooler I was also indisputably hotter: it may be a miserable August in England but hopping up a steep slope wearing a hat and gloves and with a 10kg deadweight strapped to your ankle can certainly warm you up. Even when you have ventilated armpit holes.

When I took off my knee-pads, I had sweat patches on my knees.

14 August 2007

Back to Work

How people are expected to come back from holiday rested, energised and raring to go is a total mystery to me.

It makes no sense: you take two weeks off running, you come back slower, not faster. You take two weeks off work, you forget all your passwords.

And in my case also you forget where your office is.

You can only imagine how amusing that was: bursting in to find the new Regional Cross-Functional Inter-Department Coordinator sitting in my office trying out my chair. I must have given her a good half-minute of the Goldilocks treatment before I remembered that I had moved again just three days before I went away.

I actually suspect I have been away longer than two weeks, but have forgotten it all in a haze of manzanilla, or perhaps we were all drugged on that bus. As well as the memory loss, this would explain why it's become winter. And why everyone seems to have forgotten about standing on the bleeding right on escalators.

At least they missed me while I was a way (well, I left some little booby traps behind to make damn sure, of course)

08 August 2007

El Presidente! Él está viniendo!

Yesterday the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (for it is he) chose to visit the bird-watchers' paradise that is the Doñana National Park. So did the family Botogol. I think it is fair to say that of the two of us, he attracted the more attention.

Eventually, we found out it was the presence of el Presidente that was the reason we spent forty-five minutes parked on a beach in a sweltering bus containing 17 excitable and excited Spaniards, all speaking a style of impenetrable Spanish where all but the first two consonants of every word are silent.

We were waiting to cross the estuary back to Sanlúcar, a tantalising 500m away; the ferry was there, but it wasn't moving. Through my binoculars (with which I hadn't managed to correctly focus on a single bird all morning) I could see across the water people in the cool café shade enjoying their ice-cold manzanilla and tapas. We had 2 litres of tepid water.

With a peculiar sense of deja vu, I stood and approached the bus driver, plaintively, but the bus driver, he shrugged; I subsided.

Then without warning I leapt from my seat and made a grab for the door. Without even turning around, the driver snorted and hit the central-locking button, and I returned, defeated, back to my bench.

Perhaps, I thought, they are waiting for us all to collapse one at time in the heat, so that they can harvest our kidneys before propping us up in a bath of ice. I thought longingly of my phrasebook (Chapter 11: In a Hostage Situation). Why do you always leave it behind in the villa when you really need it?

At least our loved ones would have a decent photographic record of how we had spent our final hours: that is, bouncing around in a large-wheeled bus up and down a bumpy beach terrorising the local wildlife into panic or flight for the entertainment of the tourists. Totally ignorant of avian fauna, and in the complete absence of any English commentary whatsoever, we had enjoyed ourselves spotting big birds, little birds, medium-sized birds and - I think I can safely say - seagulls. Also, and really the highlight of the morning, a dead seal. And deer, lots of deer.

There are rumours of a lost stone-age tribe in the Doñana, living in prehistoric grass huts, feeding entirely off wild boar, berries, and medium-sized birds and totally unaware of the existence of Manzanilla sherry. But we didn't see any.

A shiny black Toyota suddenly roared from the trees and shot across the beach and straight on to the ferry. Spanish cameras clicked, the ferry turned and sped off towards Sanlúcar and we were finally released on to the sand to await its return.

When we finally got on the boat, some twenty minutes later, the ferryman was understandably excited. "You'll never guess", he said, "who I had in the back of my ferry this morning"

02 August 2007

Manzanilla and more

Example of Flor
Originally uploaded by catavino.
If there is a single drink in the world that rivals the margarita for style and sophistication it's a manzanilla sherry. Produced from fields of alien, white soil in a remote corner of Spain, its pale colour and its dry, salty, yeasty flavour is without compare.

Thanks to the mathematically-pleasing solera system each and every glass of manzanilla contains wine of inestimable age and that, with its subtle flavours should ensure that it commands vast prices, yet its so unfashionable you can buy it in supermarkets from €2.95 a bottle. How does that work? What is there about this drink not to like?

Unfortunately for me, though, in last night's blind triangular tasting, I was unable to distinguish it from a fino.

It's hot here, but it's breezy enough to be comfortable; it's remote but we have sky TV; in the evenings the pool is warm and the tennis court is cool. I have hired a mountain bike; I have drunk a bottle and a half of manzanilla.