Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's goodbye to 2006...

From a humungously wet and windy Glasgow. Even the Scots say it's pretty rough out there and who am I to argue with that?

Three highlights of 2006? Try these:

  1. Dinner at El Bulli with Sarah
  2. Barca winning the Champions League
  3. Not being 50 yet

Friday, December 29, 2006

The journey begins

... With the first of the 11 Powell and Pressburger films in my Christmas DVD set - A Matter of Life and Death. Just a wonderful and surreal love story. It was almost as good as watching The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for the first time.

But not quite.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ain't no sunshine ...

Number of days in London: six
Number of minutes sun has been seen: zero

That apart it has been a terrific Christmas, as indeed was the run up to it. I signed off from Barcelona in Bacchanalian style, with two rescheduled meals concatenating into the same day barely separated by a couple of hours in the recovery room.

The first one - the now ‘annual’ Christmas lunch with my friends from the Catalan Ministry of Education – was particularly special – held in a tiny, crowded neighbourhood bar in the back end of Poble Nou, not one of the city’s more travelled barrios. But the food that poured out of El Porrón’s tiny mom and pop kitchen was sensational, from the oysters, kidney and liver we had to start with to the arroz bogovante – a soupy Murcian version – that was the main course. This was after I was almost taken out by a chilli, bitten right on the seed, that lurked within the octopus stew.

The drinks, Catalan style, came arse about face with red wine followed by cava and finishing off with gin and tonic. It reminded me of the Guardian’s fictitious cricketer columnist Dave Podmore who once organised a reverse gala dinner which started with the assembled party vomiting in the car park, followed by cigars and brandy and ending six hours later with canapés and cocktails.

Ah yes, Christmas. We left one tale of airport woe (South Americans seeing their Christmas home go up in dust after budget airline Air Madrid stopped flying) to another one (Heathrow shut down for three days because of fog). And it was foggy. The first we saw of Luton airport was when we touched down in the mist and the next day Ben and I crossed Hampstead Heath in truly sepulchral dense fog. It’s cleared but only to leave a uniform greyness that does London few favours.

But since then almost every minute has been sparkling, catching up with friends and family, eating various Christmas feasts or lazing around reading and watching TV. Two shows were taken in – the peerless Monty Python’s Spamalot and Mary Poppins – while Santa was more than good to me with a wonderful selection of books, CDs and best of all, the complete films of Powell and Pressburger in one box set.

We’re off on Friday to New Year in Scotland. Have a great one…

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Good news, bad news

  • the sun is still shining in Barcelona and it remains freakishly warm for this time of year
  • the city is aglow in soft, white and very calming christmas lights
  • the markets are looking magnficent. we went to La Boqueria to pick up a goose and a duck for a pre-christmas dinner with friends and we reminded what a special place it was.
  • the very bourgeois delis and wine shops around us have the christmas best on with displays of whole hams, cava, nuts, dried fruits and turron filling their windows, while the flower stalls have dozens of poinsettias for sale.
  • It's Chanukah! and the city's jewish community celebrated with an open air party in the park by our flat. Yiddish music in the heart of Barcelona
  • We ate at Cinc Sentits and it was as good as ever


  • It looks like the Ashes are over
  • United and Barca both lost. Not a goal between them
  • Too much sun means no snow in the Pyrenees. The ski resorts lost the December holiday weekend and now it looks like they will lose Christmas as well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Two more reasons to hate Chelsea

1) craven attempts to muzzle the press: From 101 Great Goals

The Daily Mirror turned down an interview with Jose Mourinho, once the club
demanded copy approval. Chelsea demanded the interview appear in question and
answer form and also demanded “a 400-word sidebar about Chelsea’s charity work - written by the club - that could not be substantially changed.”

The interview with Mourinho ran on Friday in the Times, the Daily
Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Sun. All four papers ran the requested sidebar
about Chelsea’s charity work with children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
Shame on those papers

2) ludicrous attempts to be the 'biggest brand in the world'. From Matt Dickinson in The Times:

I bumped into two gangs of English lads walking into the Nou Camp last week before Barcelona’s Champions League match against Werder Bremen. They were on a trip to Barcelona to pay homage to one of the world’s great clubs, with its cathedral of a stadium. They took in the museum and then were among 100,000 fans treated to a spellbinding show from Ronaldinho. No doubt a few beers were sunk afterwards.

When Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, recently talked of his aspirations to build “the world’s No 1 club”, it was hard to think what would be an accurate measure. Perhaps this is it. Chelsea can claim that honour when you walk into a random match at Stamford Bridge and bump into a group of gawping, awe-struck Catalans.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The good and bad of London

Sorry. Posting has crawled to a snail’s pace what with work, travel etc. Just back from five days in London – the longest I have spent there since we moved here - where I got a dose of everything that was good and bad about the city.

Good was seeing my family, making time to meet lots of old friends, a terrific Citywire Christmas party, the elegant Christmas lights of Bond Street and discovering two (in their own ways) great places to stay: here for cheap, clean, all rooms look the same with the lights off and here for affordable (by London standards) luxury.

Bad? The sheer crappiness of the spine of the city centre – most of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue - just cheap, grimy, tacky and downright unattractive. Is there any major city in the world that lets its commercial heart wilt like this?

The shops in these areas are almost uniformly trashy – Selfridges and John Lewis excepted. A new report by a Mayoral commission here backs this up and says in effect ‘something must be done’. Yes, like Crossrail, a cross twon fast rail project which has been in limbo for the thick end of 20 years now.

More? mind-numbingly expensive taxis and public transport that gets worse as yet more money is spent on it. And the press – nasty, brutish and trivial.

Here’s a really crap story from the trip. After a fantastic night out of Japanese-style karaoke (ie with friends, not in front of 150 strangers; try it here) we faced the task of getting the two female participants back to south London at 1am.

We somehow hailed a black cab and a mini cab at the same time. The black cab driver refused to take them as it was more than 12 miles (as is his right) but he then became very threatening when they tried to get into the mini cab (which was not licensed to pick up on the street). He wedged his cab in front of the mini cab, got out threatening and screaming at us and started to dial the police.

In other words - he wasn’t prepared to help two women get back home in the small hours and he was quite prepared to ensure nobody else did.

We demurred, the caveman departed and the women got back in their mini cab. But what an unpleasant experience.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ben meets Diego

A friend told us the Villareal team were staying at the ghastly Hesperia Tower hotel ahead of the game so we took Ben down to get some autographs. And despite the best efforts of the officious and rather nasty security staff there, he met Diego and got his signature. Given his weak performance in the game it was the best thing Diego did all day ...

The hotel is extraordinary. Yes it looks truly luxurious and its restaurant has just won a Michelin star, but you wonder what guests who have booked when they arrive and find themselves wedged between a motorway, one of Spain's biggest housing estates and Barcelona's biggest hospital. The local shopping is not the elegant boutiques of Passeig de Gracia but an electronic superstore. It's handy for the airport but so is everywhere in Barcelona. Most odd...

A magic moment

There are few moments truly magic in football - so much is overrated -but there was one such moment last night at the Camp Nou.

It was a comfortable enough game, Barca beating Villareal 3-0 as we got up to leave a few minutes ahead of the rush. We paused as Barca had one last attack. Xavi crossed; Ronaldinho, back to goal on the penalty spot, chested the ball, swivelled around and launched the ball with an overhead kick that flew into the net. It was an astonishing goal. At that second everyone in the ground - players and spectators - realised that they had seen something truly special. Ronaldinho wheeled away in utter joy, stripped off his shirt (for which he was duly booked) and was mobbed by his team mates. Ben and I went mad and Ben said he felt completely energised. the crowed waved their white handkerchiefs, as they do here. Very, very special.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Such a nice young chap

Craig Bellamy, Liverpool footballer: from the BBC

Premiership footballer Craig Bellamy grabbed a woman by the throat after
they bumped into each other at a Cardiff nightclub, a court has heard.

A witness says in court:

'I began to walk through the gap and Craig Bellamy was walking in the other
direction and he bumped into me. He was quite aggressive, he was just swaggering
around," she said.

"I turned around and said to him: 'Excuse me why couldn't you wait in
that gap there?'"

She said Mr Bellamy swore at her, saying she was too
fat to get around and called her a "slag".

Nick Clarke

The death from cancer of Nick Clarke, one of the BBC's greatest radio news journalists is truly awful. He was just 58.

He was sans pareil as a radio news presenter with a fantastic radio voice, living proof that for serious journalism it is an unbeatable medium. He started his career on BBC local TVnews in the North West which is where I grew up. And a wonderfully nice man by all accounts.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bad luck Barca

First they lose Eto'o out for six months
Then their captain's father dies in a horrific work accident
Then the peerless Messi is injured; three months out
And Saviola is out for six weeks.

Oh yes and Edmilson, Xavi and Belleti injured as well...

andd two crucial champions league games to come ...

Big news

After a prolonged period of humming and hahing, we have decided to stay a while longer in Barcelona. Not sure just how long but a while.

We have also been very busy moving into a new flat which we secured through a stroke of good fortune. It’s very big, with a large terrace, and in one of Barcelona’s poshest areas, really far too grand for the likes of us. But it overlooks a gorgeous park and is very close to the centre of town and has the city’s most renowned chocolatier (and that is saying something) round the corner.

For those who saw the old flat, it’s much bigger, brighter and lighter. Most importantly (ha! – Sarah) it is very close to the Camp Nou where Barca play. You can see a few pix here

Other changes include Rebecca moving to the British school where she is vvv happy despite having to make an early start to get the school bus. Ben remains at St Peters but is trying out for a local football team and now has Sky Plus to play with. Both speak ludicrously good Spanish while their parents struggle along

However Sarah’s heroic endeavours to purchase of a flat full of furniture from Ikea deserve unlimited praise - think Brent Cross with better weather but the monumental task of saying: ‘But your website said you definitely had the Splaark bookcase in white with 50 cm shelves in stock ’ in a second language.

So, come visit, whether it’s for beach, mountains, football, culture, eating or drinking. Just not all at the same weekend …. Contact details below.

Address: C Josep Bertrand 13 1-1, Barcelona 08021
Phone: 003493 201 6209 but 0207 078 7659 is our internet phone which will probably cost you less.
Richard: or 0034 697912769
Sarah: or 0034 697912766
Rebecca: or 0034 697912767

Only in Scotland

7.15 am in the business lounge at Glasgow airport, a man helps himself to a breakfast of a marshmallow teacake and a glass of red wine. Truly a breakfast of champions

It's raining coke, hallelujah!

From Spain's 20 Minutos:

A plane flying in from Ghana, which had already made a stopover in Amsterdam, had to make an emergency landing at Barcelona’s El Prat airport during the early hours of this morning when a passenger started vomiting because one of the ‘cocaine balls’ he was carrying in his stomach burst. In total, he vomited four of the 101 balls he was carrying.

The incident occurred at around 4.15am. The passenger, a 37-year-old Ghanaian, was later transferred to Barcelona’s Hospital de Bellvitge where he was operated on.

In total, surgeons managed to remove 97 of the cocaine balls from his stomach and intestines. When measured, the 101 balls weighed 1.798 kilos.

Monday, November 06, 2006

How depressing

Having to buy reading glasses. At my age. It's that or totally give up on the A-Z ...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Guess who's back, back again

WOW london is amazing and I love it and wouldn't it be nice to maybe live there one day and I got lots of shoes and a mirror shaped like a heart and I had cupcakes for lunch and anyway yeah barcelona is nice too I guess.
On monday I start my new school and on tuesday we move flat to which I can only say ndfjasdbnfjasdnjfnsdajkfansdjkfnfjkn.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Pix galore

We've finally got round to choosing and printing some pictures. You can see them on screen here, featuring us in locations asdiverse as San Sebastian, Cadaques, Studland Bay and Valencia and with various Lander visitors here in Barcelona.

this time next year

I shall be 50. But it was great fun turning 49 even though I was away from my family at the time and Barca marked the day by going down rather tamely at Chelsea.

Sarah's present was a beautiful Mont Blanc roller pen, Becca got me some extremely fashionable socks from Purificacion Garcia (a beautiful fashion label in Barcelona) and Ben bought me a Barca shirt with Messi, my favourite player on the back. You really can't do better than that.

And last night we went out with our dear friends here, who have been particularly nice to us, to Danzatoria an extremely upmarket night club in one of the most elegant parts of town, where we ate, drank and even danced until the small hours. Raging against the dying of the light etc etc...

Light posting continues as Sarah and Bex travels and we prepare for our flat move.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A great football weekend

  • Chelsea lost both their main goalies ahead of Wednesday's game with Barca. Yes I am sorry they're injured, and Cech seems seriously so.

But I find Mourinho, preditably hurling blame all around, so boorishly despicable now that I can find no more sympathy than that. Bob Wilson as ever is the voice of sense:
"I was sad to hear Jose's comments after the game," Wilson told Five Live's Sportweek programme. "Keepers expect to get bumps and bruises, it's part of what we do. We don't want to be protected all the time."
  • United looked fantastic beating Wigan
  • Ronaldo got sent off and will miss the Madrid Barca game next weekend. Cappello going mental at the end of this is very funny ...
  • Barca beat Seville 3-1 without looking at all convincing but ...
  • I was there and I got to see a Ronnie free kick that went in and ...
  • A glorious goal from Messi
  • And finally. A game with two the softest penalties you will ever see and the most blatant penalty not awarded plus a real life Hand of God goal. It's all here.

Gentle Girona

Seeing as I will be in London on my real birthday come Wednesday, we kicked the celebrations off early here.

It was a long holiday weekend so we hopped up to Girona on Friday morning to eat at El Celler de Can Roca, the celebrated 2 rosette restaurant run by the 3 Roca brothers we had heard so much about.

Never can such a wonderful restaurant be so modestly situated - in a non-descript part of town, next to the cafe which the Roca parents still run. Inside it is lovely, friendly and small, rather than pompous and overpowering like so many upscale places.

It was empty as we wondered in at 1.45 and packed by 2pm as the 2nd glass of cava arrived. and for the next two hours we had the most fabulous treats from the a la carte menu. I had the most sublime mushroom souffle, a custard type of consistency filled with a boiled egg followed by piglet with a reduction of quince and garclic.

The dessert was an amazing 'Trip to Havana' consisting of a Mojito ice and a chocolate ice cream cigar, complete with grey sugar 'ash' that let off the most wonderful cigar aroma as you ate it. Happy days...

We stayed overnight in Girona and it was complete revelation. It's just an hour from Barcelona and it is criminal that we havent seen it before. The old town, including the narrow streets of the ancient Jewish quarter and the pastel coloured buildings backed on to the river were the higlights, along with the huge and rather oddly proportioned cathedral. It's a quite backwater compared with Barcelona and all the better for it.

We stayed at the very sleek AC Palau de Bellavista which had beautiful large modern rooms with every parent's added bonus of free breakfast for children and a free minibar (although not alas free movies, hence Ben's 12-Euro charge for watchign Wallace and Gromit...). Fantastic views over the city, as the name implies, and at £68 a room, hugely recommended.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The big international

Forget the Euro 2008 qualifiers. Tomorrow night in the Camp Nou we have, er, Catalonia vs the Basque Country in what will doubtless be an orgy of yellow and red infested nationalism.

It will all be slightly surreal with all the two 'nations' best players off representing Spain against Switzerland. More surreal still is the wish of the presdient of the Basque Football Federation president that one day the two teams might meet in the World Cup. You could argue this one both ways given that Great Britain fields four teams and we have the likes of San Marino and the Faeroe Islands wasting the time of all against whom they play.

The match coincides with one of the those almighty storm in a teacup rows that blow up here, concerning a television advertisement in support of separate Catalan sports teams. A local court has banned the ad, not on political grounds, but because of its use of children.

Saturday afternoon at the films

There is nothing like peeling off on your own on a Saturday afternoon to watch a film that interests nobody else in your family.

So this afternoon I snuck off to see Neil Young: Heart of Gold, a documentary about The Great Man by Jonathan Demme. More precisely a concert film of him recording a new album plus some old great songs in Nashville. A lovely film about a brilliant performer. You wanted to applaud after very song but it was probably not the right thing to do in the cinema...

Monday, October 02, 2006

I feel like I should say something

Life is a little bit complicated right now and also I have a lot of Spanish homework and I've started learning german which isn't fun and so far I can't even spell the word for hello.
Today I watched an episode of Scrubs which made me laugh.
I've just realised I have absolutely nothing to say here.
Well, have a nice tuesday.
Or don't, I really couldn't care less.
Peace out

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gourmet Garrotxa

We had an amazing weekend in the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, around two hours drive north of Barcelona. The weather was stunning - v hot, blue skies. Not only did we stay in the beautiful and charming Mas Garganta, a gorgeous Casa rural with lovely rooms and land, and visit several of the stunning nearby volcanoes, but we found what might just be the hidden restaurant jewel of Catalonia.

We stopped at Restaurant Mas Nou for a sandwich and drink after a walk on Saturday and immediately booked for Sunday lunch. What we expected was some hearty Catalan country fare; what we got was extraordinarily beautiful and exquisit cooking, heavily influenced by the 'new tapas' more often seen in Barclona.

Tiny stuffed potatoes, spoonfuls of aubergine puree, a pink martini granita and miniscule cupfulls of pumpkin soup with parmesan. They were all in the 8 course 'picar picar' starters which cost 12 euros. Or there is the full 20 course meal of this type for an astonishingly low 26 euros. and there is also the duck, rabbit, slow cooked lamb and other dishes that come from these parts.

Utterly sensational. Lunch for all four of us was under 80 euros, an astonishing price for such great food. It's a tiny room - just 24 seats - and only open on weekends in winter, so book now. Well worth a detour as M.Michelin likes to say.

No lipstick allowed but ...

This has been my first real business trip to London since the Great Liquid Security Scare of August. The queues at Gatwick security are slightly longer than normal as our shoes come off and full body searches the norm. The staff are wonderfully friendly under the circumstances and after a lengthy consultation with seniors, I am allowed to take on Bicarbonate of Soda so that proper cakes may be baked in Barcelona.

But after all the jettisoning of liquid pre security, one enters the Aladdin’s cave of duty free where any variety of flammable alcoholic beverages in glass bottles can be taken into the cabin. As my brother in law points out, break a few of these on seat backs and you have some pretty lethal weapons at your disposal. A charming and cultured man, he grew up in Glasgow where arming oneself like this was a fairly standard Saturday night procedure …

Friday, September 29, 2006

In Deeep Water

Coming to a cinema near you. Hopefully. Deep Water tells the very weird and wonderful story of Donald Crowhurst, the oddball amateur who committed suicide during the 1968 Round the World Yacht Race.

A weekend sailor at best, Crowhurst piloted a hopelessly unseaworthy boat and faked stories of remarkable progress around the world. In fact he never left the Atlantic and hoped to tuck in behind the winners on the final leg and come home a hero. Then delusion and the hell of loneliness stepped in.

The documentary lays out the unfolding tragedy in a gripping story that puts all Crowhurst’s failings on display but always in a hugely sympathetic and touching way. The contributions of his widow and son in particular are extraordinary.

I’ll declare an interest in that the film is produced by one of my oldest and dearest friends, John Smithson. That said, his credentials as the man behind Touching the Void need no help from me. Great documentary on the big screen – I also recently saw One Day in September, the terrible story of the Munich massacre (also kevin macdonald) - is priceless. Let’s hope this one can get some decent distribution.

The talk after the film was how impossible it would have been for Crowhurst to have done the same thing today. His own word about his progress and position, sent by morse code, was impossible to dispute or corroborate. Today, the wonders of GPS would have his position displayed on the web to within 10 metres. By phone, email, weblog and video diary we would have had Donald with us 24/7.

Beyond that he would never have been allowed to get to a mile of the starting line. He would have needed to prove his competence to race with licences, safety qualifications and endless fitness tests while his boat would have been scrutinised and stress tested within an inch of his life.

The most touching bit of archive was Donald getting on his boat wearing collar and tie and carrying a battered leather briefcase, looking for all the world as if he was off to the City for the day. The days of the amateur buccaneer – the gentleman cricketer, the privateer racing driver, the give it a go yachtsman – are sadly way behind us.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

No technique

Great piece in the Daily Telegraph by football writer Henry Winter on the dearth of talent among Britain’s youth players who were outclassed by France last week. He writes:
Eidur Gudjohnsen [was] talking enthusiastically at the weekend about life in Barcelona. Apparently, Gudjohnsen's eight-year-old son has been enrolled at the Catalans' academy and been stunned by the technical expertise of his Barcelona counterparts.

As readers of this blog know, young Gudjohnsen is in Ben’s school. Ben, who has plenty of talent, but alas not the parental genes of Eidur’s boy, also fesses up that the local lads are a bit special.

But it’s all to do with being taught properly. Ben’s football holiday camps in Britain were all about kicking a ball about. His experience at the Barca camp in June was completely different. Look the part (they were all given three kits), eat well (advice on what to have for breakfast) and then huge emphasis on developing the right skills of passing, controlling the ball, running and shooting. It was all done properly on manicured pitches with proper rest breaks. He came out a much better player and had the time of his life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Merce, merce me; the Bollanders come to twon

A famous weekend in Barcelona, not only for the Merce, the biggest holiday weekend of the year but also for the visit of my sister and her family. And wonderful it was despite some foul weather on the Saturday. With shopping, eating and visits to La Boqueria and the Barca football museum there was something for everybody.

The culmination was all of us sitting in the Gods of the Camp Nou on Sunday night to watch Barca and Valencia fight out a pretty even 1-1 draw while fireworks for the festival exploded over the beach in the background.

I then went through the old city with Rebecca and my teenage niece and nephew touring the various sound stages that were part of the BAM music festival. Every square and street was heaving with people while many thousands more were watching other bands down at the Forum.

Doubtless it was all pretty uncool for the teenagers to be accompanied by their aged uncle, but they were heartily cheered up by hot chocolate and churros at the wonderful Café de L’Opera on La Rambla.

Monday, September 18, 2006

i want to play in the fathers' team ...

new recruits at my children's school this term include the sons of lilian thuram and eidur gudjohnson, joining an impressive roster of footballing talent that includes the offspring of gio van bronkhorst and steve archibald, a name that brings nostalgic tears to the eyes of any spurs fan of a certain age.

even with seven duffers such as myself making up the numbers, this could be one of the greatest fathers' teams anywhere in Europe. First game would be versus the French Lycee which could only boast Samuel Eto'o in its ranks...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

la lluvia llega

It rained last night like I have never seen it rain before anywhere outside the tropics. Mercifully we were under cover at the Barca game (which surely would have been abandoned had it started two hours later when the thunder and lightning were at their worst) and amazingly found a taxi home afterwards.

Then we had another gigantic storm around 4am and the biggest one of all today at 2pm. Biblical stuff and more to come, they say.

Last night's 5-0 walloping of the pathetic Levski Sofia means Barca have now scored 15 goals in four games at the Camp Nou this season and let in one. They look awesome. Like Osasuna on saturday, Sofia folded after an early goal and looked like they wanted to enter a plea bargain on the lines of: 'OK, let's stop now, you can have a 3-0 win and we can all go home and get dry.'

Funniest sight of the night were the visiting female Bulgarian fans, a thoroughly blinged up bunch of trashy rich men's trollops if I have ever seen one, dashing back from their open seats under cover as the rain started and threatened their mascarara, their hair and the fit of the D&G jeans.

Martin Amis

I know I am late with this but it's been a busy week. But do take the time to read Martin Amis's hugely long and brilliant piece in the Observer about the vileness of islamism.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 is different here ...

Not out of any disrespect for the victims of 2001 but because it is Catalan national day, marking the defeat of the City by Spanish forces in 1714. It unleashes the young and the rebellious on to the street proclaiming about Spanish imperialism, the police being an occupying force, Madrdid fascism etc etc.

We ate in the heat of the old town where there was quite an impressive demo going on with the Catalan flag draped everywhere, and revolutionary speeches made from a podium to cheering crowds. Whereas Britain's revolutionary gatherings now tend to be addressed by 80 year old Trots, the two speakers we saw both looked under the age of 16. I presume they were on early so they could get home and be tucked up in bed by their mums.

Still if it is all piss and wind (as we say up north) it is non-violent piss and wind. Apart from the odd firework left under a lamppost proclaiming the start of a Catalan people's bombing campaign, and attempts by various hooligan groups to blackmail Barca, nothing has exploded, nobody has been maimed or killed and nobody is left missing their loved ones on 9/11.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

We are back

How long for I dont know. But after a hugely enjoyable two weeks in the UK it was great to get back here, see the pine trees, smell the warm air and read La Vanguardia. Simple pleasures ...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Irish Lander Pirates Say ¡Goodbye!

We are off to Engerland for two weeks to party like it's our birthday.
X Rebecca X

Double Top

A brief intra-holiday intercourse to note one of the rare occasions when my two favourite teams both played out of their skin. United walked over Fulham with what sounded like some wonderful football. I am old enough to remember when they started the season with five goals in 20 minutes and went on to win the league that year. Yesterday was four inside 20 minutes ....

Then at 10pm, Ben and I had the privilege of goign to the Camp Nou to watch Barca claim their first trophy of the season, walloping Espanol 3-0 in the 2nd leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

All three goals came from sublime moves down the wing. And while they were flattered by the tawdriness of the opposition, it was wonderful to watch. Beletti now has free rein to overlap down the right while Messi looks taller, stronger and even more dangerous than last year. Thuram played the second half and looked very classy, despite his advanced years. Gudjohnson also played 45 minutes and looked like he was enjoying himself. There will be few to match Barca this season if they continue to play like this.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I am awesome and you are most likely not so be quiet
We had our one year anniversary from when we came to barcelona and it was fun and ben got hit by a rock.
X Rebecca X

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Winding down

Spain is winding down for the summer. Every day, more and more shops and offices in barcelona put up their notices about shutting down for August, or at least large parts of it. the buses run on special timetables (although they are trying to bribe more drivers into staying on this year) and even the supermarkets take a lunch break. we arrived here last year in mid august and found our neighbourhood almost devoid of open shops.

perhaps the most extraordinary manifestation of this is the weekly business magazine Actualidad Económica which wished readers a jolyy summer, gave them two gifts (an underwater disposable camera and a luggage strap) and said ta-ra for a month. 'Volvemos en septiembre' declares their website. You can't imagine Business Week or The Economist doing that ...

And if it's good bye from them, it's good bye from me. We are off on hols from Wednesday to San Sebastian, Cadaques and Studland Bay in Dorset. Normal service will resume in September.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's Rebecca!

The weather is hot
And the fans are on
Tonight dad and I
Are going to an open air
I am having a lot of fun
But I need to go back to London
To buy more glitter eyeliner.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the heat is on

every day we buy la vanguardia, we check yahoo weather and the national weather service. it's all the same; scorchio today, tomorrow and the day after. jellyfish are landing in droves on the long beaches south of the city. and it's humid as hell.

but heck, it could be a whole lot worse. there has been so much good music to see lately. after ute lemper at the palau de la musica, there was ziggy marley outdoors at poble espanyol and last night the very odd and wonderful nina hagen at the barcelona music theatre.

yesterday's punk icon is now 51 and fronting a 13 piece swing orchestra. a rather amazing mixture of styles - part marlene dietrich, part barbie doll, part lene lovich (now that does date me) and part dita von teese, Ms Hagen belted her way through a motley collection of swing classics in english and german wearing a range of outrageous outfits including a stars and stripes superwoman cape.

mad as a march hare, as they say in germany, she is a class act, although we had too much of her band without her and could have also done without Spain's answer to the only gay in the village (el único gay en la aldea?) sitting behind us in his Daffyd style singlet and shorts. Having spent most of the time gassing in a loud voice to his fag hag friends, he leapt up in mid song to present ms hagen with a bunch of flowers. even the gay friendly nina would have been rather apalled to see that they were plastic tulips.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

End of the Bull

It looks like bullfighting will be over in Catalonia soon after a vote to ban the sport in the regional parliament.

in truth it is not a catalan sport, far less popular here than in the central plains and the south.

there is a fight in barcelona ever sunday in summer and we contemplated going 'for the experience'. none of us really fancied us that much and fearing that we would make a costly exit after the first bout, we opted for watching the match of the day on TV and, predictably, switched off after 10 mins.

fascinatingly, the weekly reviews of the fights in la vanguardia are covered in the paper's culture section, rather than the sports ...

Too hot to blog

sorry about the lack of posts but at 90F the hard work has been keeping cool. But we have been spending a lot of time at the beach lately.

We went down to the city's main barceloneta beach last Wednesday for Sarah's birthday and out to the wide open spaces of castelldefells the following night with friends for a picnic. Our friends were much taken with the fortnum and mason old spot gloucester pork pie i had lugged back on ice from london.

at the weekend we discovered the chill out bars of the city's Bogatell beach - just 10 mins beyond the bright lights of the olympic port - where you lie out on beach beds under the stars and drink mojitos. true bliss...

and on sunday we went up the costa brava to stay at the jewel of Tamariu so that we could go and see Diana Krall under the stars at the beautiful festival of cap roig. she was completely wonderful...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

He came, he saw, he ate

The fruits of my brother's recent trip here can be seen in his latest FT column. We did eat well that weekend.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Barca ben

Ben started his Barca football course today. Summer football camps in London are a blend of kick about and practice games. Not this one. the parents were briefed beforehand about diet, behaviour, etc and it was with some trepidation that our nervous boy today entered the imposing marble halls of the National Institute of Physical Education in Montjuic Park, a Soviet style palace of health.

He emerged, exhausted, several hours later declaring it to be the ‘Brazil of Soccer Schools’ having had the time of his life.


A great final with an inexplicable twist at the end. Why did the peerless zidane react like that? A racist remark? A joke about both his names beginning with Z? who knows. My comiserations to my French friends after their extraordinary adventure. Both teams would have walloped England off the park.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Intense joy

My little nephew William (ok, he's almost 22 and stands a good 5 inches taller than me) has just heard he has got a first from Oxford. It is a brilliant and richly reserved reward for a lovely boy who has worked so hard.

That boy will go places, mark my words, hopefully always after turning left when he boards the plane

Friday, July 07, 2006

7/7 remembered

I had my two minutes' silence on a hot Barcelona street. My overwhelming sadness was mixed with intense anger for the spitefully mean payments that have been made to the victims of 7/7 and their families - minsiscule amounts compared with the victims of the bombings in Madrid and New York, made worse by the pettyfogging and bureaucratic system of handing them out. Few things make me feel ashamed to be British but this is one of them

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Vive La France!

Felcitations mes amis! But who would have thought it after the rubbish they played in their first two games. Tonight they just about deserved victory in a compelling game over Portugal if only because the Fren old dog Zidane outplayed the Portugese old dog Figo. Let us hope the final is as good as the two semis.

ps the guardian resucitated the wonderful David Lacey to give Sven another good pasting. His summary, mangling Churchill:
Never in the field of football conflict did so few let down so many by so much.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ben is Ten

The last Lander grandchild moves out of single figures. He has had a great birthday so far and seems happier, chirpier, nicer and sweeter than ever. Very hard to believe he really is 10.

Bye bye chupa chups

A black day for Catalan business. Chupa chups, the lollipop firm, is being sold by its owners, the Bernat family, to Italian-Dutch multinational Perfetti Van Melle (of mentos fame) for an estimated 400 million euros. That's a lot of lollies.

now you probably didnt know chupa chups were catalan but they are apparently the best known brand name to come from these parts.

But it is a sign of the times. Family owned businesses are very big here and I expect we will see more of these sales as 2nd and 3rd generations cash out to foreign companies eager to get hold of good brands.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Now for the analysis

Estimable pieces on England's disastrous World Cup campaign by James Lawton in the Independent (proved right all along) and Stephen Pollard.

read them and weep.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

allez France!

After being so rude about the French team below, it behoves me to say how good they were last night and thoroughly deserved their victory. A France Italy final now beckons. Better food and wine than the Germans and Portugese, if nothing else ...

The England saga was so depressingly predictable. The midnless violence of Rooney and the pathetic penalties. A fitting end to five years of rudderless management by a visionless leader. Why rob a bank when you can steal £4m a year doing that.

The postscript of Beckham's resignation as captain was even more pathetic. Football captains play a far lesser role than in cricket in shaping the destiny of their teams. Beckham rarely did and never when his team needed it. Goodbye.

El Bulli

We did it. We ate at last week at El Bulli and it was without a doubt the most wonderful eating experience of our lives.

Actually make that one of the best experiences of any type in our lives.

At a time when so much hype is given over to that which disappoints so much (I think he’s talking about England in the World Cup – ed), El Bulli was the real thing.

The best, most innovative, most exciting, most extraordinary food in the world, prepared by the smartest chefs and delivered to the table with real passion, precision and knowledge. The key phrases of the evening were ‘eat this now please’, ‘all down in one bite’ or ‘start from the centre and work outwards’.

Getting there in style added to the huge fun of the evening. We were staying in Cadaques and hired a Zodiac speedboat to take us across the sea, around the caves and cliffs of the Cap de Creus coast, to the bay of Montjoi where El Bulli is sited. The sea was still and the evening clear and short of helicoptering on to your yacht, it has to be the way to arrive.

The restaurant is a set of tiny buildings perched above the bay. Aside from the ultra high tech kitchen, it looks like a hundred other country Catalan restaurants. Too much dark wood, unremarkable furniture and mismatched overhead lights. The money it says, is in the food not the décor.

And how. The menu degustacion – 16 snacks and 16 courses – is a fairy tale ride of sensual tastes, flavours, scents, that sing, dance and explode in your mouth. Each one seems more remarkable than the previous one. It’s a little like going into the most luxurious hotel and every 10 minutes finding a new gadget or feature that makes you gasp.

To list everything we ate seems almost too mundane, reducing the six months that Ferran Adria and his team spend each year concocting these dishes to a mere line up. But first and last deserve their own billing. Both tasted exquisite and both bear the El Bulli trademark, being so weird and imaginative that you couldn’t help but eat them with a huge grin on your face.

The first snack on the terrace was a Nitrogen Gin and Tonic granita. I can tell you the recipe for this one. Mix Gordons’ gin, Schweppes and lemon syrup in a chilled bowl. Oh yes, then pour in pints of liquid nitrogen and stir madly until a granita is formed. It looks dangerous to do and I am sure many chefs were harmed in the perfecting of this dish. And it tasted wonderful.

The final dish was a fried egg. Or rather it looked like a fried egg. It was in fact a mango, surrounded by the lightest coconut mousse. Now, you say, any mug could do that. Well yes, until you pierced the apricot and it flowed like the yolk of a fried egg …

Ok, I’ll mention one more. A paperback book-sized polystyrene box that was full of frozen parmesan (more nitrogen here I think) and accompanied by a tiny bag of dried fruit and nuts to sprinkle on. So you sprinkled and ate and ate what seemed to be air of parmesan. But the ice seemed to disappear as it entered your mouth. There was magic involved here. By the end you had eaten everything and nothing. It was an illusion, much like the entire evening.

So to those who got us the table, thank you. And to the wonderful staff front of house and in the kitchen at El Bulli, even more thanks. Volveremos!

ps. for an exhaustive and fun account of eating at El Bulli (with many of the dishes we ate) with photos, click here. I have no idea who the guy is, but he likes the place.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Home again ... same as ever

... is the sad headline in El Periodico today. The Spanish are so resigned to the failure of the national team that last night's defeat by France was accepted meekly.

That despite having a very justifiable case against Henry's blatant cheating that led to the vital second goal, which in turn was scored by Viera who was lucky to be on the pitch after escaping a second yellow card.

Spain were much the better team against a very negative France who I expect will get walloped by brazil.

We watched the game in Cadaques where the bar was 50/50 Spanish and French. No trouble during the game and absolutely none at the end with the bar emptying in minutes. One can only imagine the deluge of spilt beer, fighting, glassing and trashing in a bar at an England seaside resort after England had lost to France.

so we have a final eight that includes England and France, both of whom have played execrably for most of the time here. As Simon Barnes pointed out in the Times yesterday, football is possibly the only sport where a team can play badly - and worse than their opponents - and win.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Spain or France

Very difficult choice this evening for the last game in the round of 16. Spain - our hosts, playing a wonderful brand of football, or France, origin of some of our very best friends here in Barcelona who are playing almost as badly as England.

I hate to say it but it must be Spain; underachievers who deserve a day in the sun and who get the nod for playing two Barca players to France´s none (they could have had the peerless Giuly but inexplicably left him out).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Verano! It's official

They are very picky here about what is spring (primavera) and what is summer (verano). Until last week it was spring even though it was hot enough.

Then I came back from London yesterday and lo and behold, it was summer. someone had turned up the temperature by 5 degrees or so and it is now very hot and steamy. the schools have broken up and the children have 11 weeks off. our ground floor flat, which we bemoaned as being chilly in winter without direct sunlight, is now very warm indeed.

A good place to watch the World Cup in London

I was in London last week and went with David Turner for a drink at the ICA ahead of going to a corporate do to watch the england sweden game.

So nice was it there that we stayed to watch the game in the bar and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone at a loose end in town who doesn't fancy the uber white male/ tattoo/beer ambience of every pub in the west end and the city.

The crowd was youngish and almost 50-50 men and women. The woman sitting next to me was a fashion buyer at topshop whose (swedish) boyfriend works in advertising, which just about somes the crowd up. The £1.50 door charge and the isolated location on the Mall keeps the St george flag brigade at bay.

The beer (real Bud from czech republic and not the fizzy piss sponsoring the world cup) was excellent although the food was truly excerable. so eat first.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

dont expect much and you will be rewarded

Spain, unfancied by almost everyone at home, kick off with an impressive 4-0 win over Ukraine

England, the subject of adulatory adoration from every white van and council block, barely scrape a win against Paraguay.

There must be a lesson there ...

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup fever ... not

While sales of barbecue meat soar and the lager cans hurtle towards the city centre giant screens back home, world cup fever has, um, failed to get feverish here at all.

As mentioned before, Spain are such perrenial under-achievers that nobody has any r confidence of them getting anywhere. On top of that they are too busy celebrating their real winners - Nadal in the tennis and Alonso in the motor racing.

And of course, this is Barcelona, capital of Catalonia. It's not quite as bad as Scotland however, more indifference rather than hatred. My sister's first world cup spent north of the border was rather ruined by the number of locals dressed in Argentine shirts when England played them. It was the same two years ago when a pleasant lunch with a Glasgow financial PR was spoiled by her telling me she would be going home and cheering Croatia on against England that night.

So strong is the position of club football that everything is seen through that lens. So the headlines in yesterday's sports papers was 'Deco makes his debut' (except he didn't and sat on the Portugese bench instead) while the Mexico victory was hailed for the magisterial role played by Deco's Barca teammate Marquez.

Still there are good omens, such as Raul's injury (which avoids the need to actually drop the old donkey on grounds of competence) that might just ensure the national team surprise all and sundry.

Which is more than England managed to do on Saturday. Their opener was only on satellite here (another sign that they don't care that much - only half the games are free to air and that on a new channel that a good part of the country has trouble receiving) so Ben and I trotted around to a quiet local bar to watch.

By half time Ben was asking to go home. So dull was the remainder of the game that I spent most of it chatting with an English neighbour about the local schools and access to the open air swimming pool. We were considering an in depth discourse on the new local constitution - a document about as opaque as one of Sven's game plans - when thankfully the ref blew for full time.

There has been some truly wonderful stuff in the UK papers of which two pieces stand out. Writing about the predictable tediousness of the England performance in the Telegraph, the peerless Jim White writes:
It is what happens every week in the football leagues; it is what those whose emotions have been invested in the game marginally longer than the past three weeks understand. But for this England to play like that is to rub up against the new assumptions. How can the beautiful game be so pragmatic? How can something sold as the richest and most spontaneous of art forms be so mechanical?
Even more coruscating was James Lawton of The Independent loading up his Armalite and giving Sven lock, stock and countless smoking barrels. The opening paragraph give you a taste of the hemlock-soaked script that follows:

Amid another barrage of English excuses for an unacceptable performance there is no escaping a shocking conclusion. It may be harsh but it is unavoidable. Michael Owen's torment has already become Sven Goran Eriksson's cross. It must make you wonder how quickly the crucifixion will follow.
Ouch. Read the rest here. But as a friend at The Indy asks 'What does he say if we win the thing?'

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Have you ever seen the rain?

Right now it's sunny, although today was a little grey (albeit still bright and warm). I like the greyness a lot more-Barcelona feels calmer and more village-like without the sun and extreme heat beating down every day. I'm going through the phase I went through when we first moved here (nearly 10 months ago!) when I miss rainy days and constantly listen to Anthony and the Johnsons.
I know, I know, it's so like me to want rain in June.
Anyway, read my blog- 13,638 visiters can't be wrong! Not that I'm bragging or anything.
Os quiero,

Warhol and Monroe

Those not unconnected twin icons of modern America are both on display in Barcelona at the moment. Rebecca and I went to see a Warhol exhibition this morning at the extraordinarily beautiful Museu Diocesà de Barcelona

What was remarkable was how many of the works were truly 'original' in the sense of being outside his canon of Campbell Soup/Elvis/Monroe multiprints (ok, to me anyway).

His beautiful early 'Gold Book' pen and ink drawings on gold leaf and some amazing minatures of Mick Jagger were among the highlights while Becca craved the Campbell's Soup Dress. Many of the works seemed to come from Galleria Rosini di Riccione in Italy, again unknown to me. Open until 9 July, but the museum, housed in a Roman tower with some stunning 12th century murals, is worth going at any time.

The Monroe exhibition, Marilyn and the Cinema, is on at the majestic Palau Robert, which straddles Avenida Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia, the city's two most grand streets.

It features personal objects, pictures and clothes collected by Maite Mínguez Ricart, a Barcelona woman and is on until 3 September. We'll go there next Saturday when Rebecca's cousin Rose is in town with her parents.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Family Outings

1) With Rebecca (aw, bless) To see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Primavera sound music festival at the Barcelona Forum. Great evening, great music, great venue. For a full report tootle over to Rebecca's blog here, although she has unaccountably omitted to mention the fact that i was present or indeed paid for the tickets.

2) En famille for an early birthday treat for Ben to the water park at Port Aventura, the theme park around 70 miles south near Tarragona. Did he have a good time? Click here to see.

Catalonia says ....

.... nothing as yet. But it looks like the precious Estatut, which gives greater local power to the Catalan government, will be passed comfortably when there is a referendum here on 18 June. A poll in La Vanguardia on Sunday points to a 70% yes vote (backed by the governing Socialist party and the CiU centre-conservative opposition).

The No vote has brought together similarly strange bedfollows. It is backed by the right wing PP (who think it is an outrage that will lead to the break up of Spain) and the pro-independence left-wing ERC (who think it is a weak and watery sellout and were fired from the governing coalition for rejecting it). They have a mere 23%.

The last Estatut was drawn up in 1979 in the wake of Spain's move to democracy. How much has changed here since then? That at any rate is the theme of the CiU's rather tasteful ad campaign '1979 o futur?' shown above.


There is no radio football commentary like Spanish radio football commentary. Click here to listen to some samples of RAC1's finest as they cheered Barca to success this year. John Motson it ain't.

RAC1, which broadcasts in Catalan, is owned by grupoGodo, which also owns La Vanguardia. So what could make more sense than to record a CD of the commentators going crazy throughout the season and pop it free into everyone's Sunday edition. Only here ...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

less smoking

My own on the street evidence suggests otherwise but according to El Pais today, the new anti smoking law introduced at the start of the year is working. sales are down 6.4% by volume for the first four months and were down 13% in April alone.

The ban allows small bars to opt to ban smoking (I see very few that have) and forces larger ones to provide a no smoking area. Smoking in the workplace and in public buildings has been banned, the sale of cigarettes has been restricted to tobacconists and vending machines and tobacco taxes and duties have been increased.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Is this the Euro summer hit of 2006?

It could well be. It's called We're from Barcelona and by a Swedish group called, er, I'm from Barcelona... You can get the single video at their website here

hard to tell whether it's ironic, post ironic or just earnestly Scandinavian ... but its very catchy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

la Vanguardia

If you are by any chance in Barcelona over the next two weeks, do head over to the wonderful CCCB museum in the Raval district to see a truly great exhibition, marking 125 years of La Vanguardia, Catalonia's main serious newspaper.

It's a beautifully curated and designed show the main part of which is a collection of the most historic front covers throughout its life.

What stands out is how advanced front page layout at the paper 40, 50 years ago compared to serious British papers. when something truly monumental happened, the front page was cleared for a full page photo - JFK, Picasso's death, etc etc. Picasso's 90th was marked by a full colour reproduction of a birthday card designed by his friend Joan Miro.

The exhibition also features some of the quirky elements, such as the obit notices commemortaing the centerary of the death of Jack the Ripper's victims. And even today there appears each year a memorial to a priest which is accomanied by a few words of commentary on how Barca fared that season.

What is nice is that it remains a newspaper unlike so many British papers which have descended into biased rhetoric, mangling of the facts and distortion of what people say. headlines are straight and interviews are often printed in Q&A form; these are the facts, you decide. Some people regard its national political coverage from Madrid as the best of any paper, avoiding the bias of most of the national titles.

It can be absurdly bullish at times, blowing the trumpted of Barcelona and Catalonia, but it's a huge change to wake up and finding some optimism in your paper after years of the Daily Mail et al telling you every day that we are heading for hell in a handbasket. And it is still family owned, by the aristocratic Godo family which founded it in 1881, which is how all decent papers (such as this one) should be.

The best things about Barca's Champions League win ...

1) Going toLa Boqueria on wednesday lunchtime with our friend Phil Melville who had flown over especially to watch it with us. every stall was decrorated with azulgrana colours and most were belting out the Barca hymn. we ate chiperones con huevos fritas at El Quim which were, as ever, sensational.
2) the weather. it was 80F all day
3) having all sorts of friends round to watch the game on our big projector screen
4) a great dinner in the garden beforehand, cooked by Sarah
5) the brownies, great comfort food for when Barca went 0-1 to Arsenal
6) Ben hugging his mates Pablo and Fernando who had come to watch the game with us
7) R ijkaard's inspired substiutions.
8) the role played by Ben donning his Barca hat, socks and scarf with just 20 mins to go. The papers have made nothing of this.
9) Watching Arsenal's defenders stick their hands up in vain for offside on Eto'o's goal. Proper brought back happy memories of Tony Adams, it did.
10) Wenger whinging in defeat. So predictable but it's a sad man who can't find it in him to congratulate the winner. For withering analyses of his apalling behaviour, read Paddy Barclay and Paul Wilson
11) Henry's decision to stay at Arsenal. His whinging after the game was distressing. Not wanted here thanks.
12) the presence in the crowd of Barcelona's mayor, the prime minister, the president of catalonia and the king and queen. Could any of their British equivalents be arsed to turn up?
13) all four of them coming down on the pitch after the game. there is one sensational photo in the papers of the Castillian king in a full bear hug mode with carlos puyol, the sweaty, soaking wet, Catalan Republican to his shin pads, Barca captain.
14) Going down to Plaza catalunya after the game to join 100,000 delirious people who were climbing lamposts, dancing, lighting flares and generally going nuts. yes it all went tits up at about 3am when they had got pissed but it was unmitigated joy when we were there
15) ben and his mates on the balcony after the game singing 'campeones' at all the motor bikes as they beeped their horns
16) Victor Valdes's performance in the Barca goal. Not totally loved by the fans here (and not even in Spain's world cup squad) for his occasional David James imitations, he had a terrific night
17) My mojitos. eased the pain of the Arsenal goal
18) Henrik Larsson's performance. He will be missed
19) buying all the papers the morning after
20) Being here rather than in north London to watch the game

Sunday, May 14, 2006

This is where I came in ...

Seven years ago this month I first set foot in Barcelona, eagerly anticipating, as I am this week, a European Champions League final.

My first taste of the city was pretty inauspicious. Flying via Paris to watch United play Bayern Munich, I was stuck in Orly for several hours as British fighter jets hogged the air corridors en route to bombing Serbia.

Having faced down the prospect of watching the game in an Orly bar, I finally made it straight from El Prat airport to the Camp Nou with 90 minutes to spare. It was a stunning evening, beautifully hot and sunny and the first sight of the ground full to bursting will live with me for ever.

But the game? After conceding a soft early goal, it was 90 minutes of hell as United huffed and puffed without ever looking like scoring. Miserable beyond belief I ground my way through cigarette after cigarette (I am purely a tension smoker), barely noticing that with Bayern twice hitting the woodwork and making some absurd substitutions, the game was slowly tilting United’s way.

Then came the extraordinary events of injury time when, for those residing on Planet Zog at the time, two Beckham corners delivered two United goals and their second European Cup.

If miracles like that could happen here, Barcelona had to have something special about it.

I had still seen nothing of the city when I left early the next day, and it was only when I came back the following year for a TV news show that the Barcelona drug started to kick in.

Like thousands of others I was suckered in by the trade show routine they have here. Arrive Monday, attend show Tuesday to Thursday while sampling the bars and restaurants in the evening, and then invite your partner out for the weekend. Slowly but surely, and quite methodically, the city walks you through its charms one by one, from the back alleys of the old city to the absurd Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi monuments via the La Boqueria market and the museums which pay homage to Miro and Picasso.

By Sunday afternoon when you are lying on the City’s beach (and this was November) after a fantastic lunch for all of £15 a head at Agua you are well and truly hooked.

Several visits later a plan was being formed. First, a small flat in the centre of the old town and then, the idea to actually come and live here for a year. The great thing is we actually did it, rather than leaving it in the ‘we could have done …’ bin which is where most such ideas end up.

Regular readers of this blog will know in copious and tedious detail of what has been happening to us, nearly all of it wonderful, in our time here. We have been helped hugely by the kindness of the few old acquaintances and friends of friends (Catalan and otherwise) we know here. To them a big collective thanks. One such set of friends took us up to the Costa Brava this where weekend where we lived the ultimate in lotus eater clichés of tearing around the coast in a speedboat and dropping anchor in a tiny bay to eat paella in a beachfront restaurant.

Which brings us to Wednesday night when, along with every other Catalan household, we shall be willing Barca, without doubt the best and most exciting club side in the world, to beat Arsenal in the Champions League final.

If they succeed, the town might just collapse with excitement. When Barca won its second league title 11 days ago, 24,000 people rushed into Las Ramblas at 11 pm to celebrate, throw fireworks and sing. Three days later there were fireworks at the team’s last home game and the following day 1.2 million people came out to watch the celebration bus tour. Heaven knows what will happen if they clinch only their second ever Champions League final (and the first since 1992).

If they don’t, well the sun will still rise over the Med on Thursday and we’ll get back to enjoying this beautiful city once again.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Clever King

King Juan Carlos has announced he is going to Paris to cheer on Barca in the Champions League final. It's a fine gesture from a smart royal who has had a very uneasy relationship with Catalonia.

Although he has a grown up child living here, and is very fond of the skiing in the Pyrenees, many Catalans distrust him because of his heir of Franco role. And while he ushered the country back to democracy, and showed his strength in the attempted coup of 1981, he still got a good booing when he came here for the Olympics in 1992.

So good for him. And can you imagine the Queen, or indeed any senior member of the British Royal Family, shifting their arses and taking the Eurostar to Paris to support Arsenal?

people everywhere

whoever was at home in the city at the weekend please raise their hand. on a very hot saturday evening, 1 million crushed on to the beaches to watch the red bull air race. at the same time around 90,000 others were heading to the camp nou (ben, bex and i included) to watch barca beat espanyol 2-0 and more importantly, parade the league trophy in front of their adoring fans.

it was a great evening which climaxed with speeches from the players (with some crowd pleasing catalan nationalism thrown in), a lap of honour and some terrific fireworks. the ovations for the departing larsson and gabri, both hoisted in the air by their teammates was particularly touching.

Sunday, just as hot, saw 1.2 million line the streets for the team's open top bus parade. ben and i made the mistake of heading to pl francesc macia near the end of the route which went way over schedule. we waited over an hour until we got too cold and went home. just wait till they bring the big trophy home from paris ...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rockin' Ray

Ray Davies last night was sensational. Two hours of rocking from the godfather of Britpop at Razzmatazz. He might, as Sarah said, look a bit like Bill Nighy's wrinkly rocker in Love Actually but at 61 he is still the genuine article, particular when he got down to the old Kinks hits at the end such as You Really Got Me, All Day and Lola. And looking like he was having a great time as well.

He alluded to having bumped along more than a few potholes along life's highway but seems to be on the straight and narrow now.

He seems to have a much bigger following here than I thought, although what they made of his ramblings about English life I don't know. He only got it wrong at the end when he said Arsenal would stuff Barca in the Champions League final.

He's not Gary Neville

Oleguer Presas that is. Splendid article in the Guardian by Sid Lowe on the Barca player who is an 'ecowarrior, Catalan nationalist and intellectual' while also being a very effective member of the la Liga winning squad.
Oleguer also launched his recent book in a Barcelona squat. Can't imagine Gary Neville visiting a squat (or indeed writing his own book) unless they were occupying one his many properties and he was there to tell them to 'fook off'.

Reviewing the book in The Indy, Charlie Mitten described it as a:

... political volume [in which] Oleguer pontificates over childhood anorexia, the global anti-fascist struggle and the involvement of a previous Spanish government in the Gulf War. Savaged by the Madrid press, who have labelled him a hypocrite for being prepared to play for Spain despite his desire for Catalan independence, the book has been acclaimed by Catalan academics.

mmm, definitely not our Gary. Taking Barca as a whole there are certain inconsistencies in the whole More than a Club/Catalonia schtick. As has been pointed out often, Barca has never followed the example of the top Basque teams of only fielding local players (which would leave a gigantic hole in the side as constiuted right now).

And what would happen if Catalonia really did get independence and has its own national league. How long would Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Deco et al hang around for the dubious pleasure of banging six past the likes of Vic, Lleida, Tarragona and Girona every week?


It's been eight months since I came to live in Barcelona (and almost eight months left) and....
Um. It's 10am here and I'm not properly awake and therefore the end to that promising sentence eludes me.
Oh, I've started to forget my English. Or rather, I've become very unsure of it (is 'leave me in peace' a real phrase?) despite my lovely english teacher from Newcastle constantly reminding me what the 3rd conditional is.
And Mum is going to the television Bafta's. Which I'm guessing you are aware of since if you read this blog chances are you are either a family member, a family friend or someone who works with/for my father.
That wasn't meant as a nasty comment.
And I'm worryingly out of touch with english pop culture (for instance, who is this Chico that you speak of? And isn't Shane Ward a cricket player?) and regularly have to ask my friends to explain who Chantelle and Preston are etc etc.
So not much has actually changed; I still miss camden market and still have two eyes (now with contact lenses incidentally) and the only major change is a noticeable improvement in my languages (I even managed an Excellent in German last term, which wouldn't have been so odd if I actually did German classes).
Oh yes, and of course the weather is much better than wherever you are now.
Kiss kiss, spit spit,

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Barca have won La Liga again and the centre of town has gone mad with thousands of fans taking to the streets with flags, horns and fiireworks to celebrate. Here's a pic from my smart new Sharp phone. Next stop Paris!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

One nation divided by two languages

Whether or not Catalonia and Spain are/will ever be/should be two different nations, Catalan and Spanish are most definitely two different languages. To paraphrase The Guardian Pass Notes, Don't Say to a Catalan: 'So it's a dialect of Spanish, then?' Having said that if you have O-level French and starter Spanish like I do, you can get the gist of a Catalan newspaper story.

But the two languages come together in the strangest ways. El Periodico, a Catalonia daily, publishes identical editions in Spanish and Catalan - a blue masthead for Catalan, red for Spanish. I think this is unique in the world and I would be very keen to watch the production process unfold.

Then on Sunday I was watching the football highlights and chat programme Gol a Gol on Catalan TV33. They usually have a hack or two on as guests and up pops John Carlin, former Independent colleague and now at El Pais.

With a Spanish parent, John is fully bilingual but has little Catalan. But having a presenter speak Spanish on Catalan TV is not on, so the questions were fired off in Catalan and responded to in Spanish.

In John's words 'I just guessed what they were asking and answered as best I could.'

Thursday, April 27, 2006

If' Bruce Springsteen's ' We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions' , purchased at the Apple Itunes store isnt the best £7.99 I've spent in many years then my name is Arsene Wenger. The whole album rocks and you get a great video thrown in as well.

Young Town

Barcelona seems to have more than its share of wrinkly rockers coming this summer. We start off with The Eagles soon (never liked them after the swapped country rock for cock rock many years ago), then The Stones at the Olympic Stadium (tempting but v.ex tickets and we saw them at Wembley years ago) and then Jethro Tull (puhleeaze...).

But I am sorely tempted by The Who at the end of July, without quite knowing why, and, yes, yes, yes, Ray Davies who plays Razzmatzz next week.

Si Si Si! Nos Vamos a Paris!

Barca were brilliant last night and now go on to meet the Evil Empire of Highbury on 17 May.

Gooners aside, I can't think of any right-minded football fan who loves the beautiful game, and the way it is played by Ronaldinho et al, who would want anything but a Barca victory.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

St George's Day

Completely ignored in England, St George's Day is very big in Catalonia where San Jordi is also the patron saint. Each 23 April, every man has to buy his loved one a rose and will in turn receive a book.

This year falling on a Sunday, the day was bigger than ever with every inch of Barcelona's big thoroughfares covered by book stalls and rose sellers. The streets were packed with women and girls of all ages carrying their roses. It was utterly charming, a picture of uncommercialised innocence that would be hard to match.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Ghosts of Spain

If you haven't read Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett, the Guardian's man in Madrid, then do so. It is a wonderfully written account of how Spain took its return to democracy in it stride and simply forgot about all the truly horrific things that went on under Franco.

No truth commissions, no mass confessionals, no gigantic lying on the shrink's couch to get the collective pain off the country's chest.

It is also very funny about the key aspects of life here ranging from the role of children to the compliant TV media, the industrial scale consumption of cocaine and stern rule of the medical profession which brooks little deviance from the norm, particularly when it comes to childbirth.

Giles was up here yesterday for a book reading. Not only is an exteremly nice man but he says the book is selling like hot cakes in Britain and may be translated into Spanish.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Happy in the Bar Mandri

If there is a better place to watch a big football game than in Barcelona's Bar Mandri, take me there.

We were there for last night's stunning victory over Milan. The place was packed to the rafters with fans watching on three screens, including several dozen on the pavement, while the overworked waiters squeezed through to serve bottles of Damm beer, patatas bravas (the best in town it is said) and croquetes (and trusted you that you would stick around to pay). The place went wild after Giuly converted Ronaldnho's stunning pass but without any of the aggression, real or imagined, that you get in an English Sky pub. Wonderful.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Decorous Deia

Onwards and westwards over the stunning mountains to beautiful Deia, the beloved village of poet and author Robert Graves who lived here for years and is buried in the tiny graveyard at the top of the village. We have a gorgeous sunny flat with the mountains high to our left, olive tree terraces ahead and the sea to our right.

Graves’s legacy is a miniature British arts and music community and the super rich owners of villas (£2 million here) and guests at the nobby La Residencia. But it is very quiet and magical and you can walk down the hill to Deia’s tiny cove by the crystal blue sea.

Among other pleasures, a Sky dish brings untold pleasure to TV deprived Ben, who catches up with the delights of Scooby Doo and Basil Brush. Bliss

Friday, April 07, 2006

Holiday time

Majorca, or more precisely the Sonbrull, near Pollenca in the north east corner. Thoroughly to be recommended if you want two days of 5 star relais and chateaux luxury, if I may say so. It’s sited in an old monastery which has been completely transformed inside with very hip black and slate gray modern bedrooms and great bathrooms.

It’s the first time I have been in Majorca since we came en famille when I was eight. I remember little except that we stayed in a very nice hotel in Palma and that the real British tourist trade (‘full English breakfast, football results by 6pm’) was very close nearby.

Plus ca change. Spin forward a few years to today and the British in Majorca have bifurcated further. There are hotels like the Sonbrull and villas at £1 million and above. Then there is Puerto Pollenca with the perennial full English breakfasts and a range of cuisines ranging from Tex Mex to Indian. Instead of Sports Report on the BBC World Service there are Irish pubs with seven games on Sky every weekend.

A glimpse at the local English language prints reveal the frightening self imposed isolation of the English community who have moved out here to settle and run the pubs and clubs. The letters column is like reading the Daily Telegraph from 40 years ago with their moaning about how Britain has gone to the dogs.

Actually make that the Rhodesia Herald of 40 years ago. One writer harks back to the golden holidays of youth in the Isle or Man when the threat of the birch mean violence didn’t exist. The rest of the paper is all darts nights and pub quiz nights

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A sad day for British politics

Nothing to do with the Blair Brown dispute but the passing of former Tory MP Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark, the leading member of the 1980s backbench battalions who could be relied on to proclaim that 'it's an outrage' whatever 'it' was - political correctness, Sunday shopping, equal pay, end of capital punishment in schools etc etc

In fact so reliable was Sir Anthony in his trenchant views that he gave licence to Chris Moncrieff, political editor of the Press Association to quote him in a story on any such topic even if , in those days before email and mobile phones, he hadd failed to make contact with him.

They don't make them like that any more; apparently the wood just isn't available...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Good news ...

A very good friend's ghastly ankle problem has been hugely ameliorated by acupuncture, as has my brother's various back ailments. So if you are at the end of your tether pain wise, go forth and get punctured

... bad news

For the fourth week in a row, I learn that a friend of a good friend has bought the farm in the 40-50 age range. Not so much the dying of the light as it being shut off in a flash as spouses leave home without a care in the world and return an hour later to find their future simply extinguished.

Moral of the story. Switch off the Blackberry and open the wine and/or play with your children. Citywire's wonderful new deathometer says i should make it to 85, but I am not taking any chances.

Not so classico

our fairy godfather dropped in again at the last moment with tickets for the barca-real madrid classico on saturday night so an escstatic Ben and his ever so calm father hoofed off to the camp nou for the 10pm kick off.

An amazing atmosphere crowned before the game when we all raised coloured sheets of paper above our head to create the barca and catalan flags. as a game the spectacle failed as a hopelessly off colour barca attack couldnt score against a flaccid real madrid lacking roberto carlos who was sent off after 26 minutes for bone headedly telling the ref and the linesman "you and you are both shits"; Carlos himself maintains that he said "you and you don't understand shit." so that's alright then ...

The only Barca goal came from a penalty and that means according to el mundo deportivo (a paper so laden with stats that it makes the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society look like te beano) that they have now had 59 attempts on goal from open play and not scored once. All thoughts turn to a United like whimpering exit from the champiosn league vs benfica on wednesday night.

Friday, March 31, 2006

World Cup fever

or not. there is not much of it here, to be sure. Earlier this week, Spain's 6th free to air analogue channel, la sexta, launched (the 2nd such channel this year. not much sign of an analogue switch off here, mrs jowell) with the astonishing news that it had won the rights to show half of the 64 world cup games with the other half being shown on digital canal+.

had this happened in the UK - ie none of the games on the established channels - pages 1,2,3 etc would have been cleared and questions asked in the house. here? it barely made page 25 of the sports paper. how many people will actually see the games on la sexta is another question. we get a very bad picture here and the channel is offering a free aerial booster to all block of flats . how and when it will get done i dont know.

The causes of world cup apathy are two fold. first, too much energy goes into supporting club teams for there to be any left over for the national side. second, spain are diabolical underperformers at the world cup. they nearly always qualify but never get past the quarter final. ranked sixth in the world, this explains their odds of 12-1.

of course other factors apply in barcelona. we are, er, not actually in spain as far as many are concerned, while with Xavi still injured, we may see Spain take the field with just one Barca player, the monumental Puyol, or the same number as Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina ...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Having a crap day? This story will cheer you up

Indian farmer D Jaggalah died after drinking bootleg booze. Villagers at his cremation raised a glass to toast their friend, but used the same batch of alcohol that killed Jaggalah.

Ten funeral goers were poisoned. And died.

From popbitch

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ronny and Becks

A friend was in town to shoot a TV advert and told me this story.

Most of the crew was local and their bread and butter is doing the local version high budget Nike/Pepsi/whatever ads featuring Ronaldinho, Beckham and the like.

Ronny they said was an utter delight to work with. All smiles, happy to pose for pictures and prepared to sign autographs until his arm fell off.

Beckham? They all had to sign a contract saying they wouldn't talk to him take his picture, ask him for a photograph or basically disturb him in anyway during the shoot. If they didn't sign, they didn't get the job.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

reasons to be cheerful

  1. Barca won last night to go 14 points clear in the league.
  2. Eto'o scored twice to pass 100 league goals
  3. Ronaldinho was 26 yesterday
  4. The Estatut giving Catalonia more autonomy took one step closer to reality after being approved by a Parliamentary commission in Madrid
  5. The mercury is nudging up
  6. Best of all, ETA has declared that from Friday it will observe a permanent ceasefire

The fossa's penis

Worth taking a look at who gave a lecture yesterday about the size of teh fossa's penis. Click here

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Disco Ben

Ben went to school camp in the week where they camped out, fed goats and generally had a brilliant time. But the outstanding event of the camp was the disco where he was voted joint best dancer out of 120 children! His friend Fernando was the other winner...

John Travolta eat your heart out...

Monday, March 13, 2006

is it just me...

... or is James Blunt not really, really crap? And is 'You're beautiful' not an utterly tedious dirge? And how did it get to number 1 anywhere, let alone the US?

Apart from being a turgid moanathon, the song, as my razor sharp children point out, is down plain contradictory. One minute 'I've got a plan' and the next 'I don't know what to do'. Give up mate is the answer....

I'm with Paul Weller on this one who said "I'd rather eat my own shit than do a duet with James Blunt". Even allowing for Weller's huge case of wrinklyrockercus grumpicus, it's hard to naysay such a sentiment.

Crapulent Oldies

barcelona's radio stations tend play a pleasantly inoffensive selection of oldies but occasionally will fixate on something really awful. one station this week seems to be playing 'just another day' by wings whenever i get in the car.

a truly ghastly, minging song about some bedsit spinster secretary that was Paul mccartney's worst song until he came up with the buttock-clenchingly embarassing, so PC it ached, 'ebony and ivory.'

Sad, so sad
Sometimes she feels so sad.
And that was before she got to play a duet with james blunt...

Real warmth

the sun put its proper hat for the first time this weekend (and yes i know it was freezing in britain and if it is any consolation it was manchester style mizzle today). we had friends staying in the flat in el born and all was basically well with the world.

we ate on friday night at Arrel del Born, very close to the flat on the (as usual very good) recommendation of Andrew Swift. Not failed us yet and this time was no exception. great fish which apparently the chef's uncle catches and delivers personally every day.

i took ben to play football in the park with his friend Fernando and he ended up spending the day with him. this is always amusing because he comes back speaking with a very heavy spanish accent. sarah and bex went to the diane arbus exhibition at caixaforum which they said was teriffic.

we also crossed another rubicon by going en famille to a pop concert for the first time - Jack Johnson - who was playing at a giant basketball stadium just out of town. sarah and i did our best not to embarass the children by not dancing. tempus fugit ...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

98,436 afortunados ...

... as mundo deportivo described those lucky enough to at the camp nou last night. Two of them were ben and I after our fairy godfather (or St pepe of pedralbes as he is now known. Thanks pepe) secured two late tickets for us, curiously almost in the very same spot where I watched United win the Champions League final in 1999 (and doesnt that see a long time ago ...)

It was a great night if not a spectacular game. Barca cruised it and were in control for virtually all the game. Chelsea never came to the races and ended rather pathetically by putting Thomas Huth, their big fat centre half up front as a desperate centre forward. We waved Mourinho good bye and invited him to go to the theatre.

It was Ben's first ever 'big' game and his eyes were on stalks for the whole evening. Mine was seeing United play Real Madrid in the European Cup semi final of 1968 and I remember every detail as if it was yesterday. Let's hope Ben has similar happy memories of last night in 38 years' time.

Monday, March 06, 2006

weekend in madrid

we went abroad (bad catalan joke) for the weekend to madrid and loved it despite the foul weather on saturday when we all got soaked. we stayed at the hotel miau (really) which is as central as you can get and right on the beautiful plaza santa ana. here in no particular order are some of the things we liked:
  • the museums - the big three are fantastic and very near each other. ben liked the prado with its very sinister goyas and el grecos and was very swayed by the labours of hercules pictures and saturn eating his son (he has been warned). Becca much preferred the bright modern art of the Thyssen collection and neither cared much for the Picassos of the Reine Sofia
  • Retiro Park. Barcelona lacks a really big park and this one is great
  • Plaza Mayor. same thing
  • El caldero restaurant - great for Murcian paellas cooked like soup rather than stir fried
  • The bars of placa santa ana. Great tiled and mahogany wood places with great beer and tapas
  • Real Madrid's stadium tour with nine (grr) European Cups on display and a great restaurant.
  • The late night life. even later than barcelona and very laid back. hordes of people thronging the streets at 2am and later even in the pouring rain.
  • The new terminal at Barajas airport designed by Richard Rogers. The most stunning airport building I have ever seen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Real revisited

A few weeks ago Spain's business weekly Actualidad Economica ran a readers' contest on how Real Madrid could fix itself on the field having been so succesful off it.

With the help of my esteemed Spanish teacher my entry said roughly that they should copy Barca by selling off all the fat galacticos to cut the wage bill, hire a new manager and leave him alone and put all their effort into finding the best new young talent in the world.

So while Real has been collected its assortment of superstars, Barca has nurtured the brilliant young talent of Lionel Messi, who they brought over from Argentina at the age of 13 and looked after with TLC (he had a a hormonal deficiency in his bones which they foudn the best care for).

Worse still is the talent Real threw away. Eto'o spent three years there with barely a kick and Micahel Owen was neglected then resold becuase the £8 million profit spoke louder than what he could do on the pitch.