Monday, December 26, 2005

All change

Being the spontaneous people that we are, we have changed all our plans for our week away. The trip to Andalucia is off - the weather looked v grey and murky - and instead we are going skiing in the Pyrenees, taking advantage of the beautiful weather and a hugely kind offer from a friend here to borrow his ski lodge whenever we wanted. It is just 2 hours away

So we are off tomorrow morning and will back on the 3rd January. have a wonderful new year and a brilliant 2006.

A Happy Christmas

We had a great time from our Christmas Eve dinner at La Venta, a lovely restaurant on a terrace at the foot of Tibidabo, via a glorious Christmas day picnic on the beach at Casteldelfells with our friends to dinner at home with just the four of us. The weather was gloriously sunny and warm.

Ben rode his new bike, Rebecca read her new book. Santa was v good to me with a beautiful black dressing gown and pyjamas and some great books and CDs.

All the photo evidence can be seen here. I only hope yours was as wonderful.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

wrapping the presents

... and listening to Jo Brandon Radio 2 playing quirky Xmas hits, best of all Fairytale of New York by Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl and In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia by laurel and hardie. They don't make them...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's this easy...

Ben and I wander down the end of the road and take the number 16 bus. We then cross the massive Avenida Diagonal and follow the human crowd to the Camp Nou, Europe's biggest and best club stadium. And you buy a ticket (£10 to £25 normally) because even with 65,000 there, there are still 23,000 vacant seats.

And you go in, sing the Barca song in Catalan (the words are on the screen) and watch the most stupendous club football on offer anywhere right now from Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Deco, Puyol, Valdes or the newest star, Messi. You'd watch any team that had just one of them...

It's really nice for Ben. I got both the great years of the 60s and the 90s with United but mostly for him it's been a litany of not quites and dreadful disappointment. Now he has a real team to watch playing football he will remember for years to come....

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Worse than West Ham

I thought it was only ar West Ham where the east end bigots were so stupidly racist that they booed their own black players. Not so - it happens also here. Last night the "Ultras" of Espanyol - the crazy Spanish nationalists - chucked racist insults at their own black goalkeeper. "Es una locura que te insulte gente de tu casa" - it's crazy that they inbsult their own he said with more dignity than they deserve. Full story here in Spanish

Sunday, December 18, 2005

You're sh*t and you know you are

One of the more peculiar traits of the Catalan Christmas is the presence of an 'umble man in background of the manger scene - the caganer - trousers lowered, having a dump.

At the Christmas market besides the cathedral, dozens of stalls sell hundreds of tiny figure, each laying a tiny plastic piece of ordure. The story is that the man is returning something to mother earth.

Needless to say, more enterprising folk have rung the changes and now represent all sorts of characters from footballers to politicians doing what comes naturally. Ben and I hunted fruitlessly for a Ronaldinho but alas they had all sold out, so had to settle for Samuel Eto'o, striking, as you can see, a very phlegmatic pose.

One wonders had someone cast a David Beckham (or indeed a Victoria) whether he would have contested the image rights.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Barca Confidential

Fascinating to take a 2nd look at Justin Webster's Barca Confidential fly on the wall documentary. When I first saw it back in the UK I knew much less about Barca and its role here and could not recognise any of the landmarks. On top of that, the film covers the period when Barca were in huge trouble - losing 5-0 to Malaga at one point - and everyone was demanding Rijkaard's head. just two years later they are playing at a level that scarcely any can match.

They have Chelsea in the next round of the Champion's league, a team that stand for everythign I loathe in football today. If justice is served, Barca will wallop them in both legs. Ben and I will move heaven and earth to be at the 2nd game...

Friday, December 09, 2005

A perfect day

By Sarah:

Today was a perfect Barcelona winter day – crisp, deep blue sky and warm enough to sit outside – but not quite warm enough to eat lunch outside at Agua, our favourite beachside restaurant. So we got the next best thing – an inside table with a sea view.

The day started with my 7.15am alarm call – there was Spanish homework to do before my lesson with Marisa – our wonderful teacher. She is clever, wise and interesting, with a curious take on life growing up under Franco. So simple she said – if you didn’t have political ideas! Well yes, up to a point I suppose but what she meant was that if you didn’t know you were living in a country without democracy you didn’t necessarily know what you were missing.

I can manage a sort of Spanish conversation now and I understand much more than I can say -but compared with the three or four words I knew when we arrived in August, my brain is a treasure trove of them – “muchas palabras” as Marisa would say and when you’re learning a new language, every word is precious.

After two hours with Marisa I set off on the metro armed with my copy of Robert Hughes’ “Barcelona, the Great Enchantress” to meet up with Richard, Pauline, Rebecca and Ben on the beach. You could spend many happy hours travelling round the city reading this book. It brings Barcelona alive like no other and reminds me constantly why I love this city so much. It has a kind of fierce humanity about it which always feels a bit raw round the edges too. Hard to explain but very Catalan!

This is what he quotes from one of Catalunya’s most famous political dictums – “ We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided you observe all our liberties and laws – but if not, not.” Simple, eh?

Lunch at Agua was delicious as always and the light on the sea especially lovely – I like this time of year here because there is less haze, the horizon is sharper and the palm trees even more clearly outlined.

Then off in two taxis to the Picasso Museum to marvel – there’s a wonderful exhibition of his drawings and illustrations and it was lovely to be there with Pauline who managed to look at most of them.

Then spent two happy hours wandering round the back streets of the old city and came across a street full of antique shops and a cake shop on the corner where candles were lit - on towards the Cathedral Square where the Christmas Market was in full swing and people were dancing in one corner of the square. Walked up towards Plaza Catalunya as the sun was setting, got on the metro again with Robert Hughes and got out as the moon came up in a perfectly clear deep blue black sky.

Now it’s off to dinner at our favourite restaurant, Cinc Sentits. Being a person who worries constantly about everything there are few days when I feel perfectly happy. But this is one of them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


it's hard to feel depressed in barcelona but watching a spineless man united crash out of the champions league tonight did the trick.

ah well had they got through they would have been humiliated by Barca who won their 10th on the run tonight.

still my family (and mother) come back tomorrow.

Taverna La Llesca

I stumbled across La Llesca tonight after seeing a movie in Gracia (Broken Flowers - Jim Jarmusch - well it was ok but ...). It's rustic Catalan cooking at its best - char grilled meat, veegetables, baked potatoes etc, massive pieces of toast covered with pate or ham, unmarked bottles of country wine. The butifarra, in both conventional and black pudding varieties, looked enormous and senational.

I went for the Entercote Girona, a really tender piece of steak. Great ambience as well - full of locals eating early on the bank holiday and walls lined with vintage radio sets old pics of racing cars.

Go see - Terol 6 or another branch in Eixample atTraversa de Gracia 86

fatboy slim .. you have been warned

i am making a short video for the big Citywire conference in January. It features all the brave financial advisers who have given up being the junkies of the life companies to give their clients a fair deal.

now i thought a bit of Fatboy slim's "praise you" would have done very nicely as the intro and outro. great beat, apt lyrics. so we asked for rights.

£10,000. honest.

so we are making do with some poxy royalty free music. adn FS is definitely off my xmas card list - and will soon be off my ipod ....

Monday, December 05, 2005


C'est Rebecca
Esta tarde yo voy a Londres para tres noches. Que bien! Me encanta Londres. Yo voy a las tiendas, y Starbucks, y el colegio de South Hampstead y tu no puedes haces nada! ja ja ja!
beso beso

start the week the barca way

1) win your ninth game on the run

2) see real madrid sack their fifth coach in 30 months

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Senyor Parellada

... remains one of the culinary highlights of barcelona (or indeed anywhere). not only the beautiful setting of a grand balconyed colonial room in the old city, but wonderful catalan dishes (veal carpaccio, duck with figs, honey ice cream) at astonishingly low price - four of us ate there on friday night - aperitifs, three courses, wine, coffee for E120 (£80). like Tragaluz, it is part of a very old family grouping (its wine bar in placa sta maria del mar is also a treat). its always packed to the rafters with locals and tourists. how they do it for the price i still dont know...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

why a duck?

or why not a duck? why can't you get duck in the poultry shops here? it appears to be a luxury food that is impossible to obtain. We ate in our local Chinese tonight, a rather good place called Shanghai (A favourite of Ferran Adria no less) and duck was on the menu but all the dishes were at least twice as expensive as other main courses. peking duck for two was an astonishing E42 (£24) and carved and served with great ceremony - very different from its quotidien existence in most British chinese restaurants.

any answers welcome.

Barca has a heart

More than a team, Barca played its little part in trying to bring peace to the Middle East last night by hosting a game against a combined Israeli/Palestine peace team at the Camp Nou.

Everyone turned out - Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Messi et al, even if for only a half each - and 31,000 people turned up on a very cold night. Barca won 2-1 with a Palestinian Israeli scoring the goal. Step by step as they say....

News just in - next week a joint Catalonian Spanish team play an Israeli XI in Tel Aviv in an attempt to bring together the two warring parts of the country.

Hold on, let's stick to the merely possible...

Call me a taxi ...

Ok, you're a taxi...

One of the nice things about Barcelona is that not everything is reduced to a market transaction where every last euro is dragged out of you for the service is provided. But sometimes you do miss the invisble hand of the market to match supply and demand.

Taxis are a clear example. Very cheap all the time with just a small night premium. Result - a huge glut in the day and a huge drought at 3am when all good party goers want to head home.

La Vanguardia had a big piece on it this week which charted the imblance. 5pm on a weekday, 7,000 cabs cruise the street while just 3,000 are looking for one. Come 2am Saturday, it's still the same number hunting a cab but they are chasing a total of 900 still plying for fares.

Usual shtick from the drivers - unsocial hours, not enough money, rowdy passengers (although little angels compared with England - you never need marshals to police a late night taxi queue here). The obvious answer is hike the night rates by 50 per cent and the streets will be flooded with them.

Monday, November 28, 2005

shares in tragaluz group rose on the news..

We had four friends over from London for the weekend and did the Tragaluz group proud - they stayed at the Hotel Omm and we ate both at the Santa Catarina market restaurant and Agua, still the best place on the city's beach.

We also ate at the sub El Bulli Commerc 24 which again was great - but I get the feeling the first time there is the best as so much of the food is the element of surprise.

Highlight of all was Abac. Much talked about as the best place in town, it certainly would come a very close first in my book. Really great food (foie gras in bamboo leaves, the signature suckling pig and a top cheese plate which is unsual here), coll beech wood decor and terrific service. I still think in London prices and at £70 a head Abac is a screaming bargain.

football fallout

interesting how the fall out continues from the barca thrashing of real madrid nine days ago. At a time when Catalonia has presented its 'statehood' draft constiution to the national parliament, provoking a national (if sporadic) boycott of catalonian goods, the sporting behaviour of the real madrid fans may have done something to ease tensions. their applauding of ronadinho et al has been well received here as was the pre-emptive banning of anti-catalonian banners by the real madrid president.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

best and barca

there seemed no better way to pay tribute to george best than to go watch his spiritual successor ronaldinho in action. it was a bitterly cold sunday night in the camp nou and many wisely decided to stay at home. But the barca crowd who turned up seemed much more naimated than usual - perhaps they just needed to shout and clap to stay warm.

ronaldinho by his standards was quiet - he missed one penalty and score another, both provoked by the Racing defenders being unable to cope with his speed - but there were three brilliant solo goals from Eto'o (40 yards, beat five defenders), Messi and Sylvinho, any of which bestie would have been proud to claim. 4-1 and we all went home happy and warm.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

trains and letters

If there's two things I love its grand old railways stations and general post offices (seeing a sign saying 'telegraphs' makes me go weak at the knees). in britain we have managed to screw up all examples of both, converting them into (respectively) shopping/eating malls and convenience stores. and they wonder why people don't respect public services...

barcelona has a fabulous (if underused) classic railway station - estacion de franca - and a great post office which I finally got to look inside Saturday complete with marble pillars and a very high ceiling with stained glass windows and (heaven be praised) a telegraphos sign. I was quite tempted to send a cable somewhere. ben took one look at the ceiling and asked 'did this place used to be a church?'

more, more

Every paper - from the most serious to the most tabloid sports rag - is beside itself today with the stunning victory over real madrid last night and how the madrilenos applauded ronaldinho after his second goal and (those that were left) booed their own off the pitch.

this is, remember, just the 14th time they have lost at home to barca in 75 years. back home there were thousands in the streets hooting and waving flags while many others went to the airport to meet the team on their arrival back home.

the boycott of cava and other catalunyan goods can only get more intense...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

'a piece of magic'

3-0 in the bernabeu. I'll run that one again

3-0 in the bernabeu to barcelona.

real madrid hardly turned up as two goals from ronaldinho (one that would make the top 10 of anyone's list) and one from eto'o demolished las blancas. beckham hardly got a touch. it would have been 7-0 had madrid's goalie not been on such good form. the stadium was half empty by the end.

As El Mundo Deportivo put it:

El Barça disfrutó jugando al fútbol en el Bernabéu y humilló al Real Madrid en su propio estadio. - Barça enjoyed playing football in the Bernabéu and humiliated Real Madrid in its own stadium.

ben and i watched in the packed Bar Mandri one of the neighbourhbood's rather good bars and emerged to a cocophanous array of hooting motor scooters. only the 14th victory there in 75 years; rijkaard becomes the first barca manager to win there twice.

Rijkaard's verdict: ' [Ronaldinho] estuvo fenomenal'

Ben's verdict: 'Ronaldinho isn't human - he's a piece of magic'

Friday, November 18, 2005

The friday lunch

... is something they do well here. I met up with Orland and two colleagues from the education department (home of this blog's biggest fans) at La Reina, a teriffic bar/restaurant/vinoteca on C. Valencia.

(One colleague, Ramon, had the best ipod collection i have seen including the Ramones 'Sheena is a punk rocker' which I last heard so long ago that some of the Ramones still had a pulse).

The food was great - fried eggs and grated fish, a real Spanish market dish that i could eat very day - and we went through the whole gamut of why catalunya wants/needs/should have independence/freedom from the rest of Spain.

It's not about Catalunya using the word nation (although that's what grates with the rest of Spain I think) to describe itself but the fact that the culture is so different and the economic base so strong that they want to keep the money they earn here and not stump up for glistening motorways in Galicia so that the donkey carts can go that much faster.

It's an intriguing situation because unlike most other cases for independence (formal or otherwise) Catalunya is so economically strong and not a basket case dependent on hand outs (step forward wales, scotland, basque region, cornwall etc etc).

And throw in the language. Virtually everyone here speaks Catalan and it is the language of instruction in all state schools.

Back in Scotland the polemcist Alan Massie once wrote that '
Scotland has probably more households where Urdu is spoken than Gaelic-speaking ones'.

In fact the 2001 census showed '
over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under 2 per cent of the population) had some Gaelic language ability and that almost half of these people lived in Eilean Siar, Highland or Argyll & Bute.'

Wales is slightly better - 21% - but that's still pretty low (not that it prevents bucketloads of english taxpayers' cash going to subsidise welsh television, gaelic radio, yada, yada)

Catalan outside catalunya (and a few villages in languedoc) may be as useful as a chocolate fireguard but so is finnish outside finland and nobody suggests they drop that.

It's all getting a bit angry with calls in the rest of spain to boycott Catalunyan Cava and other goods, presumably to give the Catalans a little lesson in what it's like to be a foreign nation.

We then moved on to Barca's chances against Real Madrid tomorrow (5-0 to barca according to the most respected sports journalist here. hmmm.) and, curiously, ended lunch around 5.30pm
by drinking gin and tonics from swimming-pool sized brandy balloons.

It comes to something when even the Catalunyans are straying from their Cava.

Monday, November 14, 2005

barca vs madrid

the first clash of the season (in madrid) is five days away and already the papers are full of it. la vanguardia today has five pages in its sports section ahead of coverage of Spain's 5-1 victory on saturday against slovakia which virtually guarantees world cup qualification. That refelects the obsession with the club game here and the fact that Spain have never done anything in the world cup.

it should be a great game on saturday. if barca win then rijkaard will become the first manager to have coached the team to two victories in this game at the bernabau. in 75 years they have only won 13 times in league games there, all under different managers...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

a game of basketball

ben and i went off to see FC Barcelona's basketball team. basketball is the second most important sport in the Barca firmament and the team, top of the spanish league, duly kept its 100% record against Bilbao.

There was a big following - around 6,000 in the stadium situated right next to the Camp Nou. Of these around 100 were flag waving, drum banging Catalan extreme nationalists who seem to car little about the game but use Barca as a vehicle for their barmy independence dreams. they trade under the "Sang culé" banner proclaiming that Catalonia is not part of Spain and they are pretty nasty. they are probably there in the camp nou in the same numbers but you just dont notice them. tiny in numbers they are a pain in the arse for the club management who have declared war on them.

it's all piss and wind compared to the huge numbers of aggressive supporters at English games but its an unpleasant side to the club

Saturday, November 12, 2005

this blog is famous (sort of)

we eat dinner at the house of catalan friends (teriffic tapas - gracias a Lourdes) and it turns out this blog is now becoming well known among the literati of the Catalunya schools IT department for its allegedly lucid views of how this newcomer is settling here (or perhaps it's just because they have blocked the porn sites...)

in any case, they are fascinated by my use of the term 'sparrow fart', a piece of Australian slang which has failed to make it to these shores just yet. For them and others, it means 'dawn' - ie when the sparrow stretches and gets his digestive system in working order for the day. Pacement pizza was new to them as well.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Patrick Lichfield

...has died at just 66. I've never cared much for royals but he was an exception - one of the very few who got off their arses to work for a living.

And he was a very good photographer. The Marsha Hunt pic is the 1960s in a flash while the Tommy Cooper one is just priceless.

I met him once when he came to Cambridge to talk to the photo soc. he was utterly charming, and told an extremely funny story about diving under a model's bed to avoid her jealous boyfriend entering the hotel room - and finding david bailey hiding there...

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Me of little faith

an apology

readers of this blog might have got the impression that my faith in man united was waning (wayning?). Headlines such as 'adios fergie' and 'at least they score goals in barcelona' might have led readers to believe that I assumed that I feared a good hammering from chelsea today.

in the light of today's historic victory I would like to clear up this misunderstanding. As we nominate Mr ferguson for prime minister, president of the EU and the house of lords, expect further headlines such as 'We'll take Barcelona anytime' and 'Who the hell is Ronaldinho anyway?'

Weekends like this

... can be very hard to beat.

It’s now around 70F max with very blue skies and sunny and the city is looking beautiful. On saturday we went cycling around Ciutadella Park, and ate lunch at Txakolin, definitely the city’s best tapas restaurant.

On Sunday we hung out on Sunday in our local Turo Parc, Barcelona’s equivalent of primrose hill complete with posh prams, yummy mummy and meeting-place playground.

Gorgeous Goldfrapp

Sarah and I also went with friends to see the extraordinary Alison Goldfrapp at Razzmatazz on Saturday night.

Blessed with an operatic voice, she commands the stage like some sexpot commando in gold high heel boots, black catsuit and pink cape. I can’t take too much electronic disco normally but it was an amazing performance that sent the place wild.

We stayed on in the packed upstairs party bar after the concert and she turned up, sin zapateros, a tiny, shy looking woman who patiently posed with every fan who wanted their picture taken. A real star.

Nice story about her in The Observer a couple of weeks back. Apparently she is also backing the turgid Coldplay on their European tour.

Reminds me of the time when I saw Genesis in their pomp with Peter Gabriel playing second fiddle to the ghastly Lindisfarne…

30 years on (1)

It is hard to remember what a shit-kicking, oppressed, dirt-poor place Spain was under the old bastard Franco. It was all donkeys, oxen, the Angelus and backwardness born of 40 years of fascist rule.

Next year sees the 30th anniversary of his death and the transformation of people’s lives and their standards of living to what there is today is the best testament you could have to the power of liberal democracy (those opposing efforts to bring these delights to the oppressed people of the Middle East, please note) and pari passu, the diminishing influence of the falangist wing of the Catholic church.

Today’s Sunday magazine in La Vanguardia, Catalanuya’s best daily, has a terrific photo essay of ordinary people 30 years on, each telling their stories.

The best are two sisters, Tere and Lois Madrid. The photo from 1978 shows them loading their donkeys on their street in a village in Malaga. Today’s picture shows them all buxom, blonde and blingy, leaning against their Mercedes saloon in the same street.

‘We had no running water and had to pack the mules. There were five daughters and we all had to work in the fields. Compared to those times we live like queens today.’

30 years on (2)

The Bronx is Burning book is sensational. Again it is hard to remember how truly dreadful New York City was in 1977.

The City was almost bankrupt with bonds unissuable and Federal aid refused. Before being turned out in 1976, Gerald Ford refused a bailout, prompting the gorgeous headline in the Post ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’.

Some 300,000 jobs were leaving the city each year, large tracts of the Bronx and Harlem were torched and thousands of cops and firemen were laid off. There was looting on an unimaginable scale after a massive power blackout in the hottest August for 50 years.

Oh yes and Son of Sam was on the loose.

The book tells the story through the epic mayoral primary between Ed Koch, left wing firebrand Bella Abzug, liberal sweetheart Mario Cuomo and hapless midget incumbent Abe Beame.

Abzug apart, the contestants got themselves in an unholy twist between appealing to liberal Manhattan and the frightened blue-collar ethnic communities of Queens and Brooklyn. Koch won and went on to rescue the City and help return it to its former glory.

The sub-plot of the book is how Reggie Jackson, the swaggering baseball superstar, joined the Yankees to become the city’s first black sports superstar. After terrible slumps in form and fist fights with his manager, he went on to bring the Yanks their first world series in 12 years by the extraordinary feat of hitting three home runs in game six from three deliveries.

1977 was also the first time I visited New York. Needless to say I fell in love with the City and baseball and have remained passionate about both ever since

Friday, November 04, 2005


Bon dia!
Life in the Lander household (apartmenthold?) is interesting-a confusing mixture of sun, school and salsa (why not?). I can recite all the vegetables (and a poem about autumn) in catalan, and can sing You're Beautiful by James Blunt in Spanish:
Tu eres guapa
Tu eres guapa
Te eres guapa, es verdad
Yo visto tu cara, en un placa apretado
Y yo no se que para hacer
Porque yo nunca ser con tu

As Bart Simspon put it, I am so great, I am so great, everybody loves me cos I am so great!
P.s my blog is much cooler than this one.
besita besita,

Look smart, drink smart

People tend to be smartly dressed here of a night out and they want to keep it that way. Boadas, one of the city’s (nay, the world's) great historic cocktail bars - all wood panelling and white-jacketed waiters - is determined to keep it that way.

Just off the human zoo that is the Ramblas, the tiny bar is almost always packed, but has no doorman and nor are the dreaed words ‘can I have a card to keep behind the bar?’ ever uttered. In other words, people are trusted to behave nicely and not do a runner.

The owner Jose Luis Boadas doesn’t want to lose that and now says ‘I won’t allow anyone else in with a sleeveless shirt Dignity and decency are more important than the till.’

And who’s mostly to blame? ‘I don’t want any more English people in swimming costumes and tee-shirts across their shoulder.’

Boadas got a hero’s welcome in the press.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Andrew Gowers

has resigned from the FT after strategy differences with the Pearson board. V bad news - not only is he one the best journalists of his generation (a great middle east scholar) but he is also great fun - the first rock and roll editor of a serious paper (and they dont get more serious than the FT) .

He was once slim (I knew him at Cambridge) but was posted to Brussels with Reuters, discovered great food and never looked back. Not for him the rushed sandwich lunch....

Lance Knobel writes knowledgeably of about the problems facing the paper and whether anew editor can solve them (answer: probably no).

Barca drive on

while my own United go from bad to worse, Barca have hit full stride. three home league wins followed by a 5-0 thrashing of panathanikos last night. I watched the 2nd half in a local bar and Eto'o's 3rd goal was a sublime lob that had the netire bar applauding.

Espanyol however go from bad to worse - in the relegation zone and the manager sacked.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Vabulous Valencia

We had a wonderful long weekend in Valencia, Spain's 3rd city which is around 200 miles south of here. Often touted as the new Barcelona (especially in the property business) it is nothing of the sort. They are completely different cities and you worry that the hype surrounding Valencia - much of it based on the upcoming America's Cup - will go as quickly as it came.

But it has tonnes of charm - a fabulous old quarter that has a much more colonial feel than Barcelona. And the aquarium at the stunning city of arts and sciences lived up to its much hyped reputation, even if the queues were gigantic and Spanishly inefficient.

the squares are the best feature - we were very close to the cathedral where Ben and I witnessed a newly married couple exiting to a deluge of rice and a deafening blast of firecrackers. It seemed everyone was getting married in Valencia that Saturday - come nightfall we counted nine formally dressed newlywed couples being posed for pix by the fountains in the gorgeous Plaza de la Virgen or sitting at outdoor tables having a fag. The next day there was formal dancing in the square. It's a fun town and we will definitely go back soon.

Eating highlight was seuxerea, one of the few modern restaurants in town, run by Stephen Anderson who used to work for Alastair Little.

Sarah and I had the lovely cod with creamed porcini, and crunchy vegetables while Ben declared his entrecote steak to be 'the best ever' and Rebecca was equally keen on her duck with stir fried artichokes and blackberry sauce. Stephen has run the place for 10 years and like any good restaurateur, says it is hellish.

ps click here for pix

Another reason to stay

From the wires:
Barcelona produced their best performance of the season to trounce 10-man Real Sociedad 5-0 at the Nou Camp on Sunday.

That's three straight wins. Any more like this and the press will have to start liking Rijkaard again...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Middlesborough 4, United 1

Did I say we were staying in Spain for just one year?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Books bought on trip

Best Sports Writing of 2005 - a great series this. Despite ESPN and the web, US sports writing in magazines and newspapers is still streets ahead of the UK because writers there get more time to do their job. The story of the downfall and terrible death of great baseball play Ken Caminiti is especially gripping as is the far more cheerful story of the Red Sox miracle of 2004.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning - A book that focuses on the car-crash that was NYC in the mid 1970s amid the city’s bankruptcy, tying in the hopeless mayoralty of Abe beame, race riots in the Bronx and the titanic ego clashes between Yankee slugger reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin. Oh yes all that plus son of sam and studio 54.

The Long Ball: The Summer of '75 - more baseball, more 70s. you probably get the picture by now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Service with a sale

New York service is legendary and seems better than ever. But sometimes it can be a pain in the ass.

i eat dinner with Stephen Claypole, legendary ex BBC news exec who has been running a photo start up in NYC for 18 months. The restaurant is Django’s an upmarket midtown fusion place.

The food is more than good but we get one of those ‘and tonight’s speciality is seared this on a bed of that with overtones of ...’

she moves on to the wine and after 3 full on minutes of what she really wants us to choose, we ask just how much it is.

‘The bottle is $75 sir’.

we settle for something that costs around the price of a main course (or entree as the americans irritatingly call it) rather than four times the price as recommended by the real sommelier, and a pretty good pinot noir it is as well.

I love my ibook

My new Apple IBookG4 has arrived and what a piece of beauty and wonder it is. You open it up and it logs on to the Yale Club’s fine wireless network in seconds.

No drivers, no this, no that, no virus scans as with PC laptops. God bless Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The beauty of mid town new york

more foul weather which eases off in the afternoon. I’m staying at the Yale Club courtesy of a friend who is a member and very preppy the clientele are I have to report.

It’s all brooks brothers, tortoiseshell glasses, crew neck sweaters (business casual works here) and more than a few bow ties - the smart conservative look that is almost unknown now in London.

Best of all it is opposite grand central station, one of the great station open spaces of the world. The body of the main hall with its massively high ceilings (saved by Jackie O from demolition) still radiates enormous dignity being totally free of the adverts and shops that litter british stations.

Downstairs, the dining concourse is a bit of a mess but it does contain that great wonder of the new york dining scene, the Oyster Bar. I graze for lunch on some fine clam chowder and delicious main scallops with garlic.

Monday, October 24, 2005

call me neptune ...

... or St. Swithins or whoever it is that brings rain. Having done my bit to end the drought in barcelona, it promptly starts deluging in NYC five hours after my arrival. Oh yes and 40 mph winds. it's a hurricane in all but name

i venture out in the foul evening to see les paul, basically the inventor of the electric guitar who continues to play at the iridium club every monday night.

Les was born in 1915 which by my watch makes him 90. he still looks extraordinarily fit in mind and body and can still play the guitar just like ringing a bell as the old saying goes. basically grandfathered anyone who is anyone in guitar playing, most notably steve miller who grew up at his feet in minnesota.

George Melly - not yet 80 and not in very good shape at all - eat your heart out.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ben rides a bike!

It was the sunniest of Saturdays so Sarah took Ben down to the beach bike hire shop and after 20 minutes of weaving and wobbling, he was off on his own, mowing down any errant skaters, joggers and pedestrians who dared get in his way.

Sunday was dry as well so we hired again and spent an hour criss crossing the gorgeous (and rather calmer) Citudella park in the old city. One small step for man ....

smokin' city

it's hard not to smoke in spain - everyone does and fags are just £1.70 a pack. there are a few no smoking areas in restaurants and there is talk of public area bans. but not just yet. i've never been in a restaurant that completely bans smoking - even the rather posh lunch place across the road from us which is part of a healthy and beauty complex (massages, treatments etc) offers you a smoking table if you want ...

how small is my city

It's difficult sometimes to realise how small Barcelona is compared with London. Top to toe - from the high ring road to the sea front is about 6km - that's the length you'd drive down from where we live just off shoot up hiil/kilburn high road/edgware road to marble arch - ie about 1/3 of what you'd think of as central london. within that you go through everyting - the zona alta area where we live, gracia, the posh shops of the eixample and the old city itself

widthways is around 9km or around notting hill to old street in a straight line. after that you are out to the airport or heading out to the costa brava.

it seems an awful lot bigger than that with its broad one way streets and new york like grids. i guess the mountains and sea maybe give it a bigger perspective

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Another titanic restaurant

Friends were in town and with our original choice Cinc Sentits full, we were forced (I know, I know) to try another of the city's leading edge restaurants - El Raco d'en Freixa, just 10 mins walk from here and very much in the same vein - Bulli-esque type dishes ranging from themes on corn, tomato and coconut to wierd extras such as foamy blue cheeses in a glass jar and a small vodka and peach alcopop to start with. Great stuff.

There seems to be no end to the city's eating possibilities... as puts it:

For the first time in centuries, Europe's gastronomic laurels are up for grabs. Barcelona is not only challenging Paris, but may have even surpassed it as the most exciting place to eat in the Old World.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Alfred, Meg and Jack

Here's a safe bet - Sarah and I were the only people who went to see both The White Stripes and Alfred Brendel, both playing Barcelona this week.

Meg and Jack brought down the house at Razzmatazz, one of the best rock concert venues I have been to and Alfred was brought back for three encores at the Palau Musica, Barcelona's beautiful classical music venue. In both cases performers at the top of their game.

While the Stripes amde and demanded a might noise, Alfred was rather peturbed by the coughing from the nicotine-infested lungs of the Barcelona bourgeoisie. But that is always his bugbear - hence his poem:

The Coughers of Cologne
have joined forces with |Cologne Clappers
and established the Cough and Clap Society
a non-profit-making organization
whose aim it is
to guarantee each concertgoer's right
to cough and applaud
Attempts by unfeeling artists and impresarios
to question such privileges
have led to a Coughers and Clappers initiative
Members are required to applaud
immediately after sublime codas
and cough distinctly
during expressive silences
Distinct coughing is of paramount importance
to stifle or muffle it
forbidden on pain of expulsion
Coughers of outstanding tenacity
are awarded the Coughing Rhinemaiden
a handsome if slightly baroque appendage
to be worn around the neck
The C & C' recent merger
with the New York Sneezers
and the London Whistlers
raises high hopes
for Cologne's musical future

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

happy birthday to me...

... and a great one it was as well; lots of lovely presents including CDs, books and a great Paul Smith scarf from my wonderful children.

The weather was dreadful - more pouring rain - but I packed up work at midday and went for lunch with Sarah at the new restaurant next to Santa Caterina (fast becoming a fixture for us) and then in the evening we all went for dinner at Senyor Parellada, one of the city's most charasmatic restaurants which serves great Catalan food. Happy days - being 28 is going to be lots of fun ...

Monday, October 17, 2005


Sotherans, the best bookshop in the world, sends me the catalogue of the Alastair Cooke library they are selling. One item is The Groucho Letters signed by the man himself and inscribed:

Dear Cooke, three generations of imbiciles are enough - love Groucho.

I ring up but of course the damn thing went in an instant at £750 ...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

birthday weekend

It did stop raining and we had the most fantastic weekend away to celebrate (in advance) my birthday which comes on Tuesday. We headed for Tarragona and stayed at Mas Passamaner, a beatiful hotel and spa set in a 1920s modernist pile. The rooms and spa were stunning - all huge, modern, lots of slate gray with a touch of Babbington House about it. We all had massages and spent lost of time swimmiing in the indoor spa pool (the outdoor pool looked lovely but after another massive thunderstorm (yes) was a tad chilly.

The food was an odd contrast - a very classical French cusine of very high quality but completely out of kilter with the post-modern design of the hotel. And the service was very slow. That apart, the hotel deserves top marks for its enlighted policy of giving journalists 50% of their room rate!

We were going to have lunch in Tarragona but were so full from the night before 9and it was so hot and sunny) that we headed back to spend the afternoon on our favourite beach, Garaf near Sitges, where we read, ran around and Ben swam in the surf. Wonderful ...

Saturday, October 15, 2005


I got back on Wednesday night from London and it has been pissing down ever since. amazing volumes of the stuff all day and most of the night. We wake up on Saturday morning but it is still gray. The papers say it was even worse up the costa brava which unbelievably got twice as much as we did here. Four people got killed in floods in Girona.

The good news is that the drought seems over. The resevoirs got six months rain in three days and water restrictions seem likely to be canned. taht's enough, you can stop now

Friday, October 14, 2005


we were going to see a film but we ended up going with friends to botafumeiro, one of the best and most famous fish restaurants in Barceona - and Galician like all the best ones. A huge place in the heart of Gracia it's open every day until 1am, with all sort of rooms coming off the main one, very smart, wood pannelled, white jacketed waiters etc. It was exceptionally rainy (again) and the whole place filled up early (by BCN standards) with people trying to escape the deluge. By 9.30pm it was packed with bougeois Catalonians.
The food was wonderful - I had Galician broth followed by squid with vermicelli and a reather powerful rioja. we never made the film but ended up instead in one of those little bars that Gracia (and Barcelona) does so well - packed full of good looking people having a good time. Great cocktails.

high life, low life

next week we are going to the white stripes one night and alfred brendel the next. full reviews here

small world

the extent of globalisation still surprise me from time to time: i have just ordered an apple ibook to be delivered to me in NYC where i go next week. Tracking the order on Fedex I see it left China yesterday and gone via Alaska and is now in Indianapolis. It should be in NYC next Monday. Amazing ...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

lynnyrd bloody skynnard

or however they spell it. i hate them. but yet again today i found myself singing along to Sweet Home Alabama on the car radio. Not only is it a paean to southern redneckery and white trashery but it is also a response to one of the best and darkest political songs ever written - Alabama ('Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the tracks) by Neil Young. Yet it's a damn fine song. bugger

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

what's wrong with barcelona?

back in London for a few days and a friend asked me what had gone wrong in settling in Barcelona. The only thing I could think of is the banking system which is increasingly bizarre.

Last month I brought out some euro travellers cheques, deposited at the bank and was told they would take a month to clear. When I told the bank these chequeswould be accepted as cash in the remotest Kashmir hill village, I got the answer 'Yes but this is Spain'

And while my payment from Citywire went through swiftly last month, the UK bank found this time that the IBAN number, which combines a sort code and account number, didn't exist. For some reason Barclays Spain had seen fit to change the first two numbers in the intervening period...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Great new restaurant

Cuines Santa Caterina is the stunning new restaurant next to the revamped market of the same name in the old city. An enormous space beneath the market's high vaulted ceilings, it has taken the old menus served by market cafes, added to them and given them a modern twist eg dishes like chiperones and fried eggs. We've eaten there twice in three days already ...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

contact details (updated)

Planta Baja
Calle Copernico 11

Tel: Our Vonage VOIP phone is now working on 020 7078 7659
Our Spanish landline is 0034 93 209 66 37

emails (just change 'at' to the @ sign)
richard at
sarah.barclay at
rebeccalander at
(ben - in cae you were wondering) funkylovesmanu at

mobiles (0034 then)

Richard 697 912 769
Sarah 697 912 766
Rebecca 697 912 767

hair cut

I managed to get my hair cut today for the first time here - and realised that this is the first time in my life i have done so in a country where english is not the native language (I lived in France for seven months in my gap year but can't ever recall getting my hair cut)

With a bit of sign language and my improving Spanish I got out alive. In fact it looks rather good. As usual they left in the grey bits ...

Sarah gets her cut tomorrow - a rather more daunting task

Apologies from the local sports papers...

... which may have given the impression recently that Barca were once again showing championship form and that manager frank rijkaard was a genius.

in the light of sunday's lucky 2-2 home draw against zaragoza they would like to make it clear that barca are a shadow of their former selves and that rijkaard is an idiot who couldn't run a piss up in a brewery

Friday, September 30, 2005

Top Oven

Our search of Barcelona’s top hip restaurants we go to Oven in PobleNou, the city’s warehouse-conversion answer to Shoreditch. A huge open space, with great low red sofas in the bar area. Seriously good cocktails and very good food.

Trouble at School

Summoned to school by the teachers; Benjamin has cleared out all his mates playing Texas Hold ‘em poker and Rebecca is in trouble for selling fake perfume.

Only joking!

It is the planned three-week visit to see how they are getting on. The answer is fine in both cases. Ben talks too much (next week’s news: Pope is catholic) but has a kindly English teacher who speaks to him in his own language rather than the sour-faced teacher he had last year who talked humourlessly of his ‘inappropriate behaviour' and his 'violence in the playground' (ie he had a scrap)

Rebecca’s form teacher, Mr Pujol looks about 12 while her headmistress comes to the meeting in a designer fashion top proclaiming ‘no limousine, no party’. You don’t get that at South Hampstead …

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I hate BA

Another appalling late journey on BA with not a hint of an apology from the captain for the inconvenience. I’m flying Easyjet next time

In the papers all is love again for Barca. They have won two matches by 4-1 and manager Frank Rijkaard, portrayed as a dunce at the weekend, is hailed as the new hero. 14 pages are devoted to this revelation in the main sports paper. Meanwhile Espanyol, who actually did play a real game the night before, creep in on page 15.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mammy ...

Utter joy as I leave Copenhagen and land in London. I stay in my mother’s home for the first time in maybe 25 years. It is wonderful – a meal cooked in my honour and we watch United (at last) win on the TV.

We talk about Spain and the civil war and – scoop! – I discover my grandfather came to the aid of the Republicans. It turned out that an au pair of theirs went out to Spain as a nurse and Grandpa dispatched a parcel of Shevloff’s finest linens for her to take…Always on the side of the men with the white hats

Monday, September 26, 2005

Don’t get me started

Off to Copenhagen for work. First visit to Denmark and I hope my last – it seems to be a very unfriendly city with sad, unsmiling people. Having been promised there would be a sandwich when I arrived late at my hotel I get there to find there is none because I hadn’t specified that I really would want one and what variety. What?

The following morning I decided to hop into the city centre. The ticket clerk at the station tells me I can only use a Danish credit card and so I must go to a cash machine and get Kroner.

The capital is a grim, grey place with more unsmiling people. Even at 8.30am practically nowhere is open for breakfast and I get a stale roll and cheese in a dimly lit shopping centre. Back in the suburb where my interview is the focus of the town, the 1960s monstrosity that is the local civic centre is full of £1 shops and a dimly lit pub which is packed at 10am with smoking beer drinkers.

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen? I don’t think so.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Such a boar...

Sunday lunch in the country (all of 10 mins away) at Can Marti, an open air restaurant where they grill all the meat over an outdoor fire. Wonderful simple Catalan food, but the highlight of the day is the wild boar that wanders across the road on the way home. Ben claims it’s a baby but it looks pretty big to me. Five minutes later we are back at the flat.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Castles in the air

Is our big day at the Merce. We pack into the Placa St Jaume with thousands of others at midday where teams from all over the city build astonishing human castles. The one by ones are gradually smaller people, ending up with a child of about eight looking scared out of his brains. The climax are pyramid style towers with three on each layer, four or five decks high. Astonishing.

Later on we return to watch the main procession go down the Ramblas before heading on to see an open air circus in the park, the fireworks and a few dancing lessons in the Placa Reial, where we find the secret entrance to the best bar in the square...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Merce, mercy me

The first day of the three day holiday weekend to mark Merce – the festival commemorating the City’s saint. It’s also the first day of autumn and we pay homage to that by hopping down to Garaf and spending the afternoon on the beach. We eat the freshest fish in a cliff-top restaurant of the type you’d pay £75 a head for on the French Riviera – which is what we pay for all four of us.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wonderful Woody

The gloom about Barca in the local press is only relieved by Jonathan Woodgate’s comical debut for Real Madrid – a classic own goal and a sending off. Who says you get nothing for £13 million these days?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Barca revisited

A kind friend who has known us for all of 10 minutes lends us his top flight season tickets for the key game against Valencia so Ben and I get to be there for the first two home games of the season. It ends 2-2 and Barca are awful (none more so than Ronaldinho) apart from Giuly. We do see a world record of sorts. Villa of Valencia must be the first player to score from the penalty spot and with his arse (when Valdes whacks him with a clearance) within 60 seconds.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 1

Not the score but the number of pages in the papers devoted respectively to their start to the season - Real's being dire (two league defeats and a Champions League thumping by Lille) and Barcelona's so-so - a win, draw and loss in league and a comfortable European win.

And much cuddly comment for the city's second (and usually unloved) team, Espanyol, who beat Real last Sunday.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The best thing

is that after one week the children seem to have made friends at school. Ben has a play date next Wednesday and Bex went last night to see Mr and Mrs Smith in Spanish with some classmates. She said she sunderstood the film which says something about her Spanish or the complexity of the film...

Big night out

We get a baby sitter for the first time on Saturday night and head off for Commerc24, the avant garde tapas restaurant in El Born. It's somewhere where I have wanted to go to for ages and it is sublimely all I imagined, from the first course (a shot glass of sangria topped with lemon foam) through to the dessert (salted, semi-solid dark chocolate and a frothy creme catalane).

The chef
Carles Abellan is there, cooking, cleaning, serving and generally being most un-star chef like. The food is all sensational and by London standards amazingly cheap (E48 for the full tapas menu). By the end we are too full to do anything and head home with huge smiles on our faces after one of the most uplifting meals I have had in ages.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Have Weetabix ...

Another alarm call at sparrow-fart and another food-less trip with the useless British Airways to Edinburgh. But I get to see Katie for lunch at Harvey Nichols (and we both emerge alive) which is wonderful.

Back home to Barcelona, laden with real tea (can’t get a decent cuppa here), DVDs, books and Weetabix for Ben. I feel a real pillock carrying the cereal on in my Sainsbury bag, as if I can’t survive the weekend without it. ‘Expecting delays are we sir?’ asks the security man at Edinburgh airport. .

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Make mine a pint

Pissing down with rain on a day that involves constantly heading round London for meetings. No time for lunch but a serendipitous couple of pints of IPA in the O’Conor Don (London’s finest pub) with Rob Beynon before watching 49 Up, one of the finest TV programmes ever, at Nick’s.

So there – two things they do better in London

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

London redux

First tripback to London for work. The 6am alarm call is bad wherever you are but the taxi is just 10 mins to the airport. London is grey, grey, grey but I’m trying not to be a Barcelona bore. Apart from the tubes and taxis being so expensive. And the sky is so grey. Or did I say that already?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


We’re cracking the school run. Take a bus, or a train or pack five mins away. Bex seems happier after her second day.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Very draining. Up at 7am and the alarm is like a shotgun firing off next to my ear. It is the thick end of three months since we did a school run and it doesn’t feel very good. The kids look great in their new uniforms.

We were warned about the school run on the first day of the year. Ha, we thought; we’re used to the worst in Europe. It can’t be that bad.

It was. Hampstead is like a drive in the country. We crawl up the hill into Sarria and then get poleaxed around the school where every four wheel drive in Barcelona has mounted the pavement at crazy angles as if their occupants were fleeing some disaster. The tiny streets around the school are completely gridlocked as cars, vans, school buses and lorries battle for every inch.

Eventually we find a space and get in. Ben being Ben is up for anything. He’s greeted by a committee of three classmates and is immediately involved in game of tag. He has little idea of the rules but joins in. His little face is beaming with eagerness. It’s very moving. By the end of the day he tells us he had made six friends before the start of school.

Becca is equally brave but more nervous and by the end of the day she looks dazed and confused. Her Spanish was all in Sapnish and she didn’t follow anything. Other teaching was decidedly odd.

To make things worse for her we drag her off to the rather ghastly Black Horse pub to watch the denouement of the Ashes. By the time we have inched through the traffic it’s all done. We walk in the pub just as Pietersen is bowled after his astonishing innings. The ceremonies take ages but it’s there. We’ve won the Ashes. I dared dream we would have this moment six months ago but put it aside after the first test fiasco and never picked it up again.

We are all in bed by 10pm, completely exhausted.

Double bubble

An extremely emotional day ahead. Ben and Rebecca start school today and England may or may not win the Ashes

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A night at Camp Nou

One of those great sporting moments. Ben and I in Camp Nou for an early evening kickoff. Still very hot and the sun going down behind the hills. Its Catalonia day so there’s a few rousing hymns about statehood, the Barca song and it’s all eyes down for an efficient 2-0 win against a rather tepid Mallorca.

Much different from an English league game. No anger, no fat blokes with tattoos in football shirts getting pissed, no obscenities, no fights with away fans, no crap food, no useless public transport to get you home.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

that's better

sunshine here and a morning on the beach, pissing down at the Oval... we went around 10 miles north which is all you need to go to find sandy, clean beaches and crashing surf. a really glorious morning that left us all hot and salty. Charlie Burgess, live from the Vodafone box at the Oval, kept us up to date with the weather and scores (and indeed the news later that Carlisle had won). Ben and I later watched the manchester derby back in town which was far less exhiliarating.

Barca tomorrow night, on Catalunyan national day of all days ...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

back to work

sob. it had to happen but it has gone pretty smoothly - I am crap at returning to serious thinking after my summer hols in any case. The lack of colleagues to share the gloom with at work is probably a good thing. So far eveything works - the net connection is lightning fast although the lack of router means I am mostly confined to the living room rather than the study.

And it's been pissing down - thunder, lightning, torrential downpours, howling winds, the whole nine yards. just the sort of weather that would wash out the 5th test for the full five days. We'll be listening ...

Monday, September 05, 2005


... is a part of town we have never really looked at. We spent Saturday night wandering round the bars and the squares. Some similarities to the old city but less touristy and more urban. It has an edgy reputation - they had a big fiesta in August and the kids got pissed and thre bottles at the police.

The squares in particular reminded me of Rome and we spent 20 minutes queuing for some very good Italian ice cream.

Deep in the country

one of the amazing things about Barcelona is how near the deep country is - a mile to be precise. On Saturday we followed a tip in the local paper for a 'fiesta' in a part of town called font del mont. It turned out to be a hamlet up the winding roads leading in the direction of the Tibidabo mountain.

What we saw when we got there was a children's show in the open air, free hot chocolate and preparations for the night's communal dinner and ball. It had all the hallmarks of La France Profonde yet was literally five minutes from Barcelona's North Circular. It was pretty much the same on Sunday when we visited friends in a nearby area which is a national park. We tramped for two hours through the forest full of horses, wild boar and goats (60, lost according to two guys who asked if we'd seen them). Yet they can be downtown in 20 minutes.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Our Spanish mobile numbers

at last

0034 then

Richard 697912769
Sarah 697912766
Rebecca 697912767

Skule Daze

Very much one of those. First to visit the school itself so that Ben and bex could meet teachers etc. Langauges galore - Bex Catalan, Spanish and French, Ben gets Spanish and German.

Then a second mortgage job on uniforms (but we have done so well hitherto with hand me downs for both The Hall and SHHS) at Aguilera, the school outfitters just opposite the Sagrada Familia. Winter and summer uniforms for both and both seem to like theirs. Bex has a padded shoulder gray jacket and Ben a white polo neck and red jumper that makes him look like he is set for 18 holes at Sunningdale. Pix to follow.

Other news - still very hot (and weathermen say more to come). And they still haven't finished building the church ...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Easy city

Lunch at one of our favourite Barcelona restaurants – Bestiari, just around the corner from our little flat in El Born. Tragically inflation has taken the cost of the fixed lunch from E10 to E15 in the time I have been going there – that for a wonderful, three course meal that toady included chilled melon soup or risotto, fillet steak and dessert, wine, bread and water. You couldn’t eat at Pret in London for that price.

The whole city is very easy to get along with. Cheap and reliable public transport or you can drive into town and park for £1.50 an hour. Or take a taxi to get there for £3. Compare and contrast with London where you pay a king's ransom for crap public transport or take massively expensive taxis or £4.50 to park in the centre.

Help when you need it most

More house furnishing from El Corte Ingles (Spain's answer to John Lewis) where we pick up our garden table. More acts of Catalonian kindness. We park on completely the wrong side of Placa Catalunya and when we head downstairs with heavy table, a car park attendant finds us a trolley and whisks us across the square, blocking traffic off and ensuring we find our car. He refuses to accept any tip.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Neighbours, everybody needs ...

We even meet our neighbours. Those on our floor are a young couple about to welcome twins into the world. They have already thrown Ben’s footballs back. The rather brassy lady from upstairs takes one look at Ben and says ‘me gusta! (I like!). As usual he charms his way into everyone’s hearts.

In the 'hood

Back to Barcelona and a very different city from the one we left. Everyone is back from holiday and the whole neighbourhood has woken up (and so has the traffic). The bars are back in action along with the bakery, wine shop, hardware store, cheese shop, patisserie, greengrocer and (adhering strictly to the full August closure schtick) a fish shop and butcher. All within five minutes walk of the house.

Can Jou

Off back to Barcelona via Can Jou, a stunning lodge up in the hills above Girona. Set up by Mick Peters, a Liverpudlian, and his Spanish wife Rosi, Can Jou now has around 15 rooms, a pool, walking trails and horse riding facilities surrounded by forests and hills with clear views to the Pyrenees in the north. Clean and lovely rooms, great food and stunning value – full board (great food) for around £45 a day each (half for Ben). Ben went horse riding and we all went on a long hot walk up to the proverbial cool mountain stream. If you can find a way of getting there, please do

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ne mange pas ici

Want to see the decline of cheap and decent French cooking in action? Stop at Aire du Village Catalane, a ghastly service station just before you leave France. Two plates of slop (billed as crudités), Ben’s menu enfant, two drinks and two fruit salads for E32. Better still, hold on till you cross the Spanish border.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Test Match (very) Special

And the very modern day family gathering around the Internet set to see in agonising slow-motion text action, England claw their way to victory in the fourth test. Sarah, who until recently wouldn’t know a googly from a hole in the ground, was heard saying ‘I wish I had tickets for the Oval … ’

Friday, August 26, 2005

Family Life

After four wonderful days in Cadaques, off to Marseillette, family home of brother Nick (well in summer anyway), Jancis and family. Blissful weather and the usual concoction of amazing food and wine prepared by the hosts. Marseillette has been the scene of so many happy times – Rebecca and her cousins have been there since they were babies and it is hard to beat the sheer joy of lazing in the hammock under the pine tress or eating Nick’s delicious meals al fresco.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

well blow me down ...

... if my big brother doesn´t surprise me by pitching up with my nephew to surprise us. My gob has not been more smacked. The sun is shining and we all have a wonderful day together - morning tea in a shady cafe, the beach then lunch in Es Baluard, Cadaques´s finest restaurant, home of the stunning cheese ice cream (and some of the best turbot i have tasted in a long long time). It doesnt get much better than this...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Off to Cadaques

Enough setting up home. Off to Cadaques, our favourite seaside resort by several miles, up the Costa Brava coast to near the Spanish border then down the steepest hillside to this beautiful white fishing village where Dali once lived (and once hung out with Oliver Reed and Mick Jagger which owuld have been a larf). Staying this year at the Playa Sol hotel rather than the big old villa we have rented which solves the perrenial velo noise problem.

V windy on arrival but nothing has changed - same restaurants, shops and people who run them. Celebrate with mind-numbing sangria in Casino bar

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Barcelona Sunday

... is very Sundayish indeed especially in August. Our local bakery was open but that was about it. Every shop was closed, even El Corte Ingles, the big central department store. It was too hot to shop in any case and we went off to Parc Guell, the remarkable Gaudi-designed park full of his wierd and wonderful terraces and gingerbread man houses to the north of the centre. Extraordinary place with great views of the city and the sea. We lunched in the cafe, read the Sunday Telegraph and played football.

Another great find for dinner - Limbo, just off Via Laeitana near the port. Ben demolished the slow-cooked lamb which he said ´was the best ever´(apart from mine, he ever so politely added)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

bit more relaxed

After ikea, the car and the bank we took things a bit easier today. first stop today was the marvellous just reopened market of santa cantalina in the centre of town with sweeping wooden roofs designed by the same firm that did the Scottish parliameant. we bought very little except from delicious teruel ham, cheese and (sigh) white peaches which we took home and scoffed for lunch round our dining table.

then we went up to the olympic swimming pool above the city in montjuich park and swam there - something i have always wanted to do. as we did the storm clouds gathered and a huge shower burst over the pool with the torrential rain crashing like stones on the azure water.

And to round things off, a trip up to the hills above Barcelona for dinner at Can Carbonell, a rustic Catalan restaurant on a dirt track in the heart of the national park above the city. great food from the fire and stunning views on the way back including the Camp Nou abalaze with light as Barca played Betis in the Spanish cup.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sarah's Pumas

Sarah has bought a very smart pair of Puma trainers for walking the city. It's around 2.5 miles downhill from the flat to Plaza Catalunya in the heart of the centre

we're here

Sorry for the delay. we arrived around 55 hours ago and it's been non stop since then. First and foremost we love the flat which remains as spacious, cool and elegant as when we first set eyes on it. So, most importantly do the children.

Becca, with obvious nerves over leaving her friends behind, has created her own world in her bedroom. Ben says he wants to stay here for ever and has already deposited one football over into the neighbour's yard. Like 95% of the area and 80% of the city, the neighbour is away so who knows when he will get it back. Almost every shop, bar and grocery is 'tancat' - closed - until the end of the month. Most flats are shuttered. Supermarkets open shorter hours and the buses run to different timetables in August. Even around El Born in the heart of the city things are quiet. Only La Ramblas seem as heaving as ever and even there our favourite cafe (L'Opera) was church-quiet at 11.45pm last night.

Achievements so far? Equipped the flat with crockery, cutlery, sheets, towels etc in one mind-blowing morning in Ikea, rented a car (a cute BMW) from Avis (for some reason a branch in a suburban industrial estate) and filled in endless forms in Barclays to create a joint account. And tried the local restaurant (Mexican but half decent food and not a bad caiparhinia). And met the porteira, Meribel, who looks after the block, delivers the mail and takes your rubbish out.

Oh yes we have a kettle so we can have a nice cup of tea ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Hey it's Bex from the Lander family (the cool & gorgeous one)
Just wanted to say hello and I'm missing you guys already!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The power of ebay

We sold the children's old beds on eBay as part of the house emptying process. One went to Ali, a cheerful muslim from Ilford who came round with son and sister-in-law to pick up the bed.

Not only did our sons immediately head for the garden to play cricket but Ali picked up his electric drill and fixed our wonky kitchen cabinet door. He then refused to take any type of payment.

A fine man and a testament to the social power of eBay.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Here's Copernico 11 where we will live - ground floor left hand flat in the building on the left. Photos inside to follow when we get there...

5 days ...

There's enough packing cases in the house to fill a small container which is exactly what they will do when take them off on Monday. A rather smaller amount are (hopefully) on their way to Barcelona via DHL.

And that's apart from all the out of date homeopathic medicines and other lotions and potions that are being binned, and the clothes and toys hat are off to the charity shop.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Our details

Plancha Baja

Calle Copernico 11

Tel: Our Vonage VOIP phone is 020 7078 7659
Our Spanish landline is 0034 93 209 66 37

Mobiles to follow.

emails (just change 'at' to the @ sign)
richard at
sarah.barclay at
rebeccalander at
funkylovesmanu at

Eight days and counting

We're off on 17 August from glamorous Luton Airport by Easyjet.

More to follow