17 November 2019

The Berlin Wall

I am a little tardy in writing about the thirty years since the Berlin wall came down. The date was 9 November 1989, of course, and I watched with interest the news coverage of the 30-year celebrations last week, but didn't have a chance to post about it. It was only when I was dusting the lounge yesterday that the penny dropped that I should write a post. Why when dusting the lounge? You will find out later.....

Many will know the history that led to that to this event, but, for those that don't, here is a very potted version.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, Germany was divided up between its four allied captors - the US, the UK, France and Russia.  The capital, Berlin, was in the Russian zone. However Berlin itself was also divided up into four zones.


West Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany as it became known, was looked after by the UK, US and France whereas the Russian zone in East Germany became the German Democratic Republic. The capital of West Germany became Bonn in the Rhineland, whereas the GDR boasted that Berlin was still their capital. Life post-war was very different between the two areas. West Germany began to prosper again under the Allies, whereas the GDR suffered under the Russian Communist regime with little spending on the infrastructure or to repair war damage. Many East Germans voted with their feet and moved to the west. In Berlin alone, 3.6 million fled to the West. To stop this, on 13 August 1961 the Communist government of East Germany built a wall effectively overnight separating East and West Berlin and cutting the Allied part of Berlin off from West Germany.  The thick wall was manned with armed guards, tanks and minefields. The Allied area of Berlin became an island in the middle of the GDR reached  from West Germany only by air or a patrolled autobahn corridor. Families in East Berlin were trapped and were suddenly cut-off from their relatives or jobs in West Berlin. Any attempt by East Germans to escape met with their being shot or imprisoned. Up to 200 were killed trying to cross the wall into West Berlin and an additional 800 trying to escape from the GDR into West Germany.

Greg and I visited Berlin in 1977. We drove from our home in Cologne to the border between East and West Germany and then through the 2-hour autobahn corridor between West Germany and Berlin. As Greg worked in the media, we were convinced our every move was watched and we literally had the brush-off in a park in a suburb of East Berlin, when two men in uniform deliberately brushed past our shoulders as a warning, while we were taking photos. Entry and exit to both the GDR and to East Berlin itself was closely monitored and papers checked and double-checked with snarly German shepherd dogs in attendance at every turn. It became a way of life! I still have cine footage of East German guards patrolling the Berlin border wall on motorbikes. A live piece of history

In the late 1980s under Gorbachov, things began to mellow a bit with the Soviet block and the introduction of glasnost meant that there was more communication between East and West. The Cold War was slowly melting.  Several countries in the Communist block began to change the way they governed their people. Hungary opened its border and people from East Germany began moving to the west through Hungary. In October 1989 mass demonstrations against the government in East Germany began. In November, 1989, the Central Committee of East Germany decided to make it easier for East Germans to pass through the wall. A mistake by the press officer meant the border was opened several hours before it should have been. As a result millions of East German citizens stormed through an opening in the wall. Many collected souvenirs of the wall with chisels and some television stations filmed the now famous footage of people hitting the wall with sledge hammers. The government began demolishing the wall the next day. The fall of the wall destroyed the ruling party of the GDR and caused many of its officials to resign. The GDR ceased to exist and East Germany was reunited with the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990 (Unity Day or Tag der deutschen Einheit). Berlin became the official capital of the united Germany once again and western civil servants, diplomats and media organisations began moving back to Berlin from Bonn.

By then, Greg and I were living back in the UK in London and Greg was working for the BBC. On Unity Day, Greg was sent over to Berlin with a group of foreign journalists to comment on the official ceremonies. As part of the official information pack given to him, he brought back a paperweight containing a piece of the Berlin wall. We still have it on our coffee table. Set in some sort of synthetic resin, it has deteriorated over the last 30 years but I still keep it on our coffee table. We also have pieces of the wall Greg scrounged on his walks round Berlin afterwards. It was these I was dusting yesterday.....

The (now disintegrating) paperweight with a small piece of the wall set in the resin

The paperweight from the back

Piece of Berlin wall taken from the Western side which was highly painted with graffiti

Piece of Berlin wall taken from the Eastern side which was plain all the way along - you would never have got that close to put grafitti on it without being shot!

Section of the wall from the Eastern side showing its components of concrete and stones

11 November 2019

An unusual walk in the park

Early every Monday morning I go for a walk in the local park. I used to go every morning when I had our dog Freddie. As a result I got to know a lot of the other dog walkers and one lady in particular, Shirley, whose dog was rather nervous, not to mention grumpy, and would only tolerate my dog as a companion. Over time, Shirley and I became firm friends, so much so, that when Freddie died, I would still go to the park to walk with Shirley and her dog every morning. A few years ago, Shirley in her 80s broke her hip. Twice. So with a hip replacement and then a replacement's replacement, she now walks with a stick and cannot drive any more. For the last few years, I collect Shirley in my car very early morning on a Monday and drive her and her dog to the park, so she can still exercise a bit and meet up with the dog-walking crowd. On other days she employs a dog-walker.

This morning was a Monday morning like any other. Our walk almost didn't happen, as Shirley and her dog both hate the rain and will cancel in that case, but half an house before I left the house, the skies turned blue and the sun shone, so we set off as usual. 

We were halfway into our walk around the park and were just approaching a curve in the lake, when a familiar face came into view. A portly man of about 70 with grey hair sporting a blue Conservative rosette on his lapel. It was our local MP. He made a beeline for us and greeted us with "Good Morning, Ladies". For 20 minutes, we stood and talked, barely a word about politics. A bit about his dogs, his wife, his hip operation and his time serving in the army in Bosnia. It didn't seem appropriate to discuss politics or the antics in Parliament. It was just three people chatting in the park about this and that, as dog-walkers do. 

At the end of our long chat, he asked me if I would mind taking a photo of him on his phone with the lake in the background, so he could use it on his blog. I obliged, but his face was in shadow, so his face was not clear. I suggested he move a few yards to the right, where there was a sunny patch and retook the photo. He seemed happy with it, we said our goodbyes and parted in opposite directions. Well that encounter certainly took me by surprise and was never in a month of Sundays what I envisaged when I got up this morning. 

08 November 2019

The Continuing Saga

Image result for freezer cartoon pictures
courtesy of 123rf.com
The continuing saga of the freezer, that is.....

After my experience last week and having made an appointment for an AEG engineer to call back today, I was a little nervous that all would not go smoothly. I was reassured somewhat last night, when I received a  mobile text message to say the engineer would call between 1200 and 1500 today. As I had not been sleeping brilliantly this week, I was pleased that it gave me the chance to have a much needed lie-in this morning. As it was, I woke several times in the night and again at 7am, but turned over and went back to sleep.

I was woken rudely at 7.45am by someone hammering on the front door and ringing the doorbell at the same time. I jumped out of bed half zombie-like and got to the front door to discover an elderly AEG man, toolbag in hand, all ready for the repair. 

"I wasn't expecting you until at least 12 noon", I said bleary-eyed, showing him the text message on my phone.

He proceeded to mumble a very long monologue to the effect that AEG always give him a terrible schedule which basically covers the whole of London, Kent and Surrey. He can be in Twickenham one minute, Ashford, Kent the next call, then North London for the next call and so on. He spends his life travelling one long distance to another with little thought by those who arrange the schedule for how much time is needed, plus of course trying to deal with problem appliances inbetween. He had therefore decided, as his previous call-out was close to mine, he would put the two together and come earlier. He said he was planning to quit before Christmas and find work locally. He was no spring chicken, so I wondered what work he would find. He also  confirmed that the AEG telephone system was bad and even he had trouble getting through to talk to his managers.

He set out about dismantling my freezer to solve the problem - a blocked evaporator drain hole apparently. He also had to rearrange the hosing at the back to allow the water to flow freely from the freezer to the evaporator plate to allow self-defrosting (which my freezer was clearly not doing!) He worked fast, was a little gung-ho, ramming drawers back into the runners and I had to point out that he was about to sever the electrical cable, when pushing the freezer back into position. He was gone in less than an hour, on to his next long drive. I couldn't help feeling sorry for him.

The freezer is now plugged in and I am waiting for it to reach its -18C before I do a big shop to stock it up again. I'm not holding my breath. I'll wait a week or two before I really fill it up. I'm not that confident the problem is solved.......

31 October 2019

Repair Man

I have been in the unfortunate position of requiring an engineer to come out to look at a problem that has developed with a tall AEG freezer I keep in my garage.  Although supposedly self-defrosting it ices up something shocking inside, so badly that all the drawers are iced to the back wall and difficult to pull out. The inner ceiling and inner floor of the freezer are thick with ice too.  I have only had the freezer two years and it is under a 5-year warranty, so I thought there would be no problem getting it fixed.

The problem was however in trying to get hold of a repair man to come out. AEG give you a number to ring under the warranty. Just one number. When you ring it, it is engaged. ALL THE TIME. I tried over four days to ring and was unsuccessful in getting through. In the end I sent an email. I got a holding reply saying my email would be handled within 10 working days. In frustration, I tried one last time to ring early on Saturday morning on the off-chance they might work on a Saturday and someone answered. Yayyyy. I booked an appointment for today sometime between 6am and 6pm.  I was told I would get an email the day before to narrow down the engineer's arrival time to a more respectable range of 2 hours.

My dilemma was whether to leave the freezer all frosted up to show the AEG engineer what the exact problem was, or to defrost it so there was nothing to see. I decided on the former, but at the same time, ran the freezer down so not too much would spoil if he did decide to work on it with all the drawers out.

Of course no email came to narrow down the time slot, so I was out of bed at 6am this morning to be ready. In the event, the engineer turned up at 11am, so not too bad a wait. He took one look at the problem and identified what needed doing, but said, as it was all frozen, he would not be able to do anything with it today. I was to defrost it and make another appointment for a call-out next week.

I rang that one  AEG number and got through first time. I was very chuffed as I considered they must have solved their phone problem. After pressing 1 for this and 2 for that, a friendly voice said I was number 5 in the queue. I got out the ironing board and did some ironing. After about 20 mins I had edged up the queue and an operator prompted me to tell them what I wanted. She said today's engineer had noted what needed to be done but before she could give me a call out appointment she had to speak to the engineer and put me on hold. I carried on ironing with the phone on speaker phone, bopping away to some beaty music for about 10 minutes. Suddenly I heard the stomach-churning sound of the disconnected tone.  Nooooooo. I waited, then turned the phone off hoping the operator would have my number on the system and call back. I waited for 20 minutes, giving her the benefit of the doubt. She didn't call.

I called back and was told I was now 12th in the queue. Reluctantly I decided to wait in the queue. I got down to about 6th in the queue when the disconnected tone happened again. By now I was shrieking expletives at the wall and tearing my hair out. Once more I dialled THE number. It was engaged. It was engaged for the next 8 attempts over a half-hour period. Then I got through. I was 6th in the queue. I waited and waited and waited and finally got through. I had to explain all over again to another operator who said that it was noted on computer that the other operator had tried to call me back but she couldn't get an outside line.  She told me, they apparently have a new phone system and it has teething problems. You're not kidding!!!! She apologised.

I now have another appointment booked for the end of next week. I'm not holding my breath. Meanwhile, I'm eating for 50 people to use up the contents of the freezer in time. I may become so fat, I shall not get through the door to let the engineer in. What else can go wrong?

Cartoon fridge Stock Vector - 30547076
courtesy of 123rf.com

14 October 2019

Lies Lies Lies

The week before last I was killing time at Stansted Airport, waiting to put Kay on a flight to Berlin for an International Medical Conference she was attending. Browsing the shelves of the well-known bookshop found in most high streets, stations and airports, I was half looking at my watch and half wondering what to buy to make myself look less like a shifty shoplifter. As I perused the shelves of the latest paperback books, my eyes fell upon one entitled Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks. Suddenly on reading the resume on the back cover, I realised someone had written a book about me.  Or so it seemed from that resume.

Immediately I found myself at the till buying it. The first part of the book could definitely be about me. So many similarities, almost to the detail, about living with an alcoholic. I know the patterns of alcoholism are very similar, having been to Al-Anon meetings, or from articles about the subject, but I am talking intimate detail here, even down to where they go camping or my favourite Al-Anon slogan! 

I rarely read a book in a day or matter of days. I am usually so busy and so tired by the evening, that I am lucky to read a chapter at bedtime before sleep overcomes me. But this was different, I couldn't put it down. The similarities stopped about a third of the way through the book, but by then it had become so gripping I had to keep on reading. Chores and other pursuits got put to one side until I reached the end. It was well written and full of twists and turns. I wont spoil the story or the ending, but I thoroughly recommend it.

04 October 2019

Food bank

I've been helping out at the local food bank for the last few months. I know it seems a strange thing to say, but I enjoy it. I don't enjoy seeing other people's misery, of course, but I enjoy it for the fact that I can do something worthwhile and for the people I meet - both helpers and guests. 

The helpers are either local church members or retired people like me just wanting to do something useful or people who have been in that situation themselves in former times. All very friendly and caring. What's not to like? I've made a quite a few friends over the recent months by going in on the different days it operates.

As for the guests, as they are known, it varies according to the day of the week, the weather and what is on offer, but approximately 40 to 100 guests turn up for each session. Some days they get to sit and chat with others over a cup of tea and a bit of cake, as well as collect their free shopping bags full of tins, toiletries, bread and fruit, all donated by individuals, church collections or local supermarkets. On the busiest day, they get a two-course sit-down cooked meal, as well as their shopping bags. There is a washing machine, a shower and advice on benefits or housing. There's even an art class and a choir. The charity that runs it believes in a holistic approach to get them back on their feet. Not all are capable of getting back on their feet, but for some it is a temporary crutch while they are ill or homeless or jobless. Some are alcoholics, drug addicts or have mental health issues. It is not for the faint-hearted. A few weeks ago, a fight broke out between two of the alcoholic guests with punches thrown. It was amazing to see how the other guests leaped in to break it up, as it was not acceptable to them to see their foodbank abused. The majority are so grateful to receive anything and will politely thank us for whatever little we can give them. It is so humbling.

I can't help thinking when I see some of the inebriated guests, that it could have been Greg, if I had been unable to cope any more and had decided to leave him. Or me, if our finances had disappeared in a puff of smoke and alcohol, as they seemed to be heading at one stage. A part of me feels that, although I cannot save Greg, at least I am doing something positive to help another poor soul in need and I like to hope that, if Greg had ended up on the streets, there would have been someone in a foodbank somewhere to look after him.

Image result for picture of food bank

24 September 2019

Thomas Cook

Image result for mr thomas cook

I have watched the demise of the Thomas Cook travel company with great sadness. Not just because it is one of our old traditions emanating from 1841, when Thomas Cook set up his very first travel business, but because I have a very special association with it. It was my very first employer.

In the summer of 1973, having left university with a degree in German, I knew what I did NOT want to do. My love of German had been purely to learn more about the great writers, the country and discover my roots. I knew I didn't want to be a teacher, an interpreter or a translator, but beyond that I didn't really have a clue what I wanted to do. Around that time, my parents had booked a holiday with Thomas Cook and suddenly the penny dropped that maybe I could utilise my  knowledge of German in that great company. I wrote to Head Office, got an interview and was assured my knowledge of German and French would come in very handy. In my head, I assumed I would travel and arrange hotel contracts or sample a resort and do feedback. I couldn't wait.  I started working for them in September 1973.

At that time, the Head Office was situated in Berkeley Street, just off Piccadilly. (It relocated several years later to modern offices in Peterborough.) When I turned up on my first morning at the great portals, I felt I had arrived. The offices took up the entire block and looked like a grand hotel. Once off the street and through the grand doors, you entered a massive shop almost akin to an old-fashioned bank with wooden counters and desks dotted about with travel advisers sitting in them. At the front entrance was a reception desk manned by several women in Thomas Cook uniform, not unlike air hostesses, welcoming customers in and directing them to the appropriate travel desks - be it Far Eastern Travel, cruising, the Americas, or UK. Upstairs were further departments dealing with postal bookings coming in from Thomas Cook offices all over the world. 

I quickly discovered that my job was not as exotic as I had hoped. I was found a uniform and became one of the receptionists. My use of German and French was non-existent. The majority of customers were from the USA, Australia or Japan. They had booked in their respective countries through Thomas Cook to go on UK or European coach tours. These bookings had been telexed (remember telexes?) through to Head Office and clerks had files on these customers waiting for them to come in and collect their coach tickets once in the UK. My job was to tell the client to take a seat and then I would look up in a manual card index system which booking clerk had the details on that particular client. I would call the clerk to the reception desk and introduce them to the client. Something a trained monkey could do and not something requiring a university degree!  We were treated by the booking clerks as brainless, even though I did manage to learn a bit of Japanese to welcome the Japanese clients and tell them to take a seat. Our lowly position was not helped by the Head receptionist, a woman in her forties, who was obviously going through a bad patch in her marriage. She used to disappear every lunchtime at midday with one of the seedy departmental managers and retire to the adjacent Mayfair Hotel for a 3-hour "lunch". She would always roll back extremely dischevelled with a twinkle in her eye and her uniform the worse for wear. I never did discover why it took the hotel so long to serve her lunch.

After ten months, I could stand no more as we were little more than eye candy, so quit and got a job with the Civil Service. However, I have always had a great affection for Thomas Cook, being my first employer, so feel great sadness that it is no more. 

02 September 2019

Three Score Years and Ten

I was down in Brighton at the weekend, celebrating my friend's 70th birthday. We had a ball partying non-stop from 7pm till well past midnight in a quirky venue with a jazz quartet, an Indian renowned chef cooking a two-course dinner and a DJ playing music to which we danced until we could dance no more. Well over fifty people (probably more like eighty) were there in a tiny cramped space, including a large contingent from Paris, who had come over specially for the day, as my friend studied French back in the day. The wine and goodwill flowed. We even stood to attention and sang La Marseillaise. It was a great evening, followed the next day by a wonderful fish lunch in a seafront restaurant. The French were at that too, ordering plate-fulls of mussels and langoustines. Here I am at the party. My 70th is in 15 months' time. I'm going to have to start planning to match that.

12 August 2019

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Let us hope that you never have an argument over the last parking space and get buried under a car park, because loosely speaking that is what happened to King Richard III. In the words of Joni Mitchell, "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot". He may not have argued over the last parking space, but it was an argument (called the Battle of Bosworth) over land he wanted (namely the kingdom of England) and he did end up buried under a car park in Leicester. Not the greatest way to end up, although now he has been excavated and given a resting place in Leicester Cathedral worthy of a King, albeit an unpopular one.

Richard III no longer under a car park

I have just spent four days this week in Leicester with my bestest friends in the whole world reliving the sights and sounds of a Leicester we first encountered 50 years ago. We met in the autumn of 1969 as fresh 18-year-olds away from home for the first time. My parents had taken me and my belongings up to Leicester and had just left for their return to London, leaving me there in my allocated Hall of Residence.  I was feeling pretty bereft, when I bumped into the girl from the room next door who was equally abandoned. We teamed up to go into supper together that evening and the rest is history. She was studying French and I was studying German. She also went on to make friends with another girl also studying French and the three of us became the intrepid Musketeers, whose lives intertwined for fifty years afterwards through boyfriends, marriages, children and life. We've stayed in touch as best we can and, although we live a good many miles apart - one in Hertfordshire, one in Sussex and me in London, we try to visit one another or meet in London as often as life allows.  As it was fifty years since we first met, I did not feel we could let this go uncelebrated so this  week we booked into a hotel in the town to revisit old haunts, albeit it with creaking joints and less of the elan of youth.

Some things had changed. Some things hadn't. The university campus largely looked the same with a few new buildings added on - a Computer Centre for a start (I don't think the university even boasted one computer back in 1969). It also now has a Medical School built on after we left. We caused some merriment (or maybe it was pity) when everyone we encountered was told we had been students there 50 years ago. We searched for the famous paternoster lifts we used to hop on and off to discover they had been decommissioned last year. Such a shame as I wanted to hurl myself into one of the compartments and ride up and across the top as the video shows. 

Much of the town was familiar, although we spotted building facades we swear weren't there 50 years ago, but must have been as they were Victorian or older. There were dragons all over the place (or heraldic wyverns, as we discovered they are called), that are symbolic of Leicester and found on weather vanes, carved into walls or decorating 
the fountain in the Town Hall square.

Wyverns in Town Hall Square

Some things looked like we had never left, although our memories let us down on how to get from A to B on many an occasion. The Richard III centre was of course new and well worth the visit documenting both the history, the man, the discovery of his whereabouts and the excavation.

Our hotel was situated on New Walk - a pedestrianised street which led us all the way into the town centre each day. It was lined with beautiful Georgian or Queen Anne houses that must have many a story to tell. The original gas street lamps are still there, although now electrified.

New Walk - a delightful way to get into the town centre

Complete with original gas lamps

The most poignant moment of our visit came when we revisited our old Hall of Residence. It is no longer a Hall but has been turned into a Conference Centre. With trepidation, we entered the site, imagining all sorts of ghastly changes, but found it much the same. We even managed to get inside the block where we had our rooms, although the rooms (more like cells) had been knocked into one another to make them larger and allow for en suite bathrooms, something we never had the luxury of. We went into the old Junior Common Room to find it was now a coffee bar, but had some old photos in picture frames on the walls of how it had once looked and how we had remembered it. We were part of its history!  This spiral staircase is still there - a cause of joy for us, as that is where one of us singed our hair holding a candle to provide light for the other two sitting on the step below playing guitars to a crowd below.

04 August 2019

Spain (Part 2)

Well, if there was anything to top the Alcazar or the Church of San Salvador in Seville,  as described in my last post, it would have to be blimmin out of this world. And it was! 

Midway through the week in the late afternoon, Kay and I caught the national bus from Seville bus station and made the three-hour journey to Granada. I had originally intended to go by train, but apparently the line was closed in part and would have meant a coach trip part of the way anyway, so I decided it would be less complicated to go by coach all the way and see some lovely scenery en route.  Thankfully the bus was air-conditioned, as outside the temperatures were 38C plus. We dozed fitfully as we passed miles and miles of olive groves stretching into the horizon, broken up by the occasional field of sunflowers. So much for concentrating on the scenery! We were ejected in Granada bus station and took a taxi to our hotel, as we did not fancy experimenting with local buses, as it was already quite late.

Granada had a different feel to Seville. It was more bustling, touristy, slightly on the shabby side, big, loud, in your face, demanding attention. It took a while to acclimatise from the chic quaintness of Seville. We checked into our hotel -a sort of Spanish equivalent of Travelodge - and went out to explore. It turned out we were a mere 30 seconds from the Plaza Nueva, the hub of nightlife, where a large American group of seemingly professional dancers were dancing the jive to a mesmerised crowd. (Another night on that same square, we saw a Chinese girl dancing a perfect flamenco with all the expertise of a genuine Spanish girl.)  Crowds milled, African tradesmen sold their wares of bumbags and cheap Spanish fans, tourists devoured copious amounts of ice cream to quench their thirst. Did I mention it was 38 degrees Celsius? Even at midnight, the temperature rarely dropped below 30C. 

Our initial thoughts on Granada somewhat mellowed as the days went on. Brash as the city was, it also had a good feel to it and of course the number one reason for that was The Alhambra palace. You could not escape it. Wherever you were, it would suddenly peep from behind a building and remind you it was up there looking down on everything, keeping guard as it had been built to do eight centuries ago. It was imposing enough viewed from the city and breathtaking once up there. Just when you felt you couldn't see anything better, something else even more amazing would grab your attention. I must have taken more than two hundred photos of the Alhambra alone. Here is but a sample of them........believe me there are hundreds more.

On  that day we walked for hours around the Alhambra site, soaking up its beauty, or would find shade for a welcome drink before we carried on. Much later we wandered way downhill to the town centre below then climbed uphill again in another direction into the Albaicin area - a quaint labyrinth of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses that afford a much sought-after distant view of the Alhambra. That evening, Kay announced that, according to her i-phone,  we had walked over 20,000 steps that day or 13.5 kilometres.  My feet and legs certainly vouched for that! All in 38C. Did I mention that?

View of the Alhambra from the Albaicin district

Too hot to bark

Arguably the best sangria in Spain

The cathedral - in our opinion - was much better than the one in Seville. It was bathed in light both inside and out and very colourful. The nearby Royal Chapel houses the tombs of past Kings and Queens, notably Ferdinand and Isabel, as well as Philip and Joanna.

The very heart of Granada has a North African style medina or bazaar - a rabbit warren of lanes that contain souvenir shops selling fridge magnets,  ceramics, brass, spanish fans and clothes (although we discovered the clothes were made in Thailand and can be bought anywhere in the tourist world).

One day we visited the Arabian public baths, built a thousand years ago.  There weren't many tourists there and no security officials to watch your every move, so it felt just like the last bather had popped home again and left the baths just for us.

We saved the best bit till last. We had seen a professional flamenco show in Seville, danced by the teachers at a flamenco school, but wanted to see another and our hotel recommended one to us. It was based in Sacromonte, a suburb further uphill from the Albaicin area we had visited earlier. High on a hill opposite the Alhambra, it has become the area where gypsies live. The facades of the house from a distance look like houses, but they are just that - a facade. Behind them, the living quarters are carved into the rock as caves. For centuries, the gypsies have lived like that, as pariahs of the community. There's even a cave museum up there. The gypsies are the origin of flamenco, which came over first from India and then Egypt, as they sought better lives. Their dance and song is their history of their struggles and triumphs.  The ticket we paid included collection from the town centre in a minibus, the ride uphill to Sacromonte, the show, a free drink of Sangria or beer and the return ride back to the town centre. Once through the front door, we found ourselves in a small narrow cave. The walls were lined with old photos of previous visitors and VIPs. The ceilings covered with brass and copper pots and pans. There was a row of chair down one side of the very narrow cave and a row opposite down the other side. The gap between the two rows was just enough for two people to pass or dance.... for the show was to take place between those two rows! It was amazing. It looked as if the whole family had turned up. There was the young guitarist (who had a passing resemblance to Jesus Christ), his cousin (maybe) was the singer, and sisters or cousins who danced. Then there was the grandmother, who introduced the show in Spanish only (no translations which somehow made the whole thing more authentic) and she then set off with a very slow doddery flamenco to open the proceedings, which attracted rapturous applause. The younger girls and men were amazing. Skirts twirled past our noses, castanets clicked in our ears and we were so part of it, it was hard not to be caught up in the emotion of the tapping and clapping and stamping, as well as the plaintive singing. How their legs and feet can physically tap so fast defies anatomy. Like a swan - graceful on top and stamping furiously beneath. [Apologies for the videos on their sides. If anyone knows how to correct this, let me know. I can usually upright photos but it would seem the same process cannot be done for videos.]

I'm back home again now, but it certainly was a week to remember.