Saturday, 25 October 2014



Both Elise's mother and my own died recently within six weeks of each other.

At the beginning of August, we travelled to Belgium when we learnt that Elise's mother was ill, but she died whilst we were en route.

When we were in Belgium, my mother became ill and had to be taken to hospital, where she stayed for three weeks. We remained to look after her when she was discharged and only returned to Spain when her doctor assured us that she was once more fit and well.

We arrived home in Spain late on a Tuesday evening. The following Friday at about noon, we received an email from the doctor to tell us that my mother had once again been admitted to hospital. We phoned the hospital on Saturday afternoon and I was able to have a few words with my mother, but it was clear that she was extremely week.

The next morning, 21 September, we were phoned to inform us that my mother had died.

That same afternoon we started the drive back to Belgium.

There was a lot more administrative work and clearing up to be done than was the case with Elise's mother (she had been in a home for eight years, with her financial interests looked after professionally) and it was all left to us to sort things out. In order to do so, we stayed in Belgium four weeks, returning to Spain last Saturday, 18 October.

We drove back via Poitiers and Jaca, a pleasant 3-day journey, almost traffic-free drive in beautiful weather conditions.

On arriving home the tripometer showed we had travelled 2014 Km.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hwyl fawr, Mam fach

My mother, Eunice Jones, died early today in the UZ Hospital in Ghent, Belgium. She was 94 years of age.

Eunice was born in Treherbert, one of the mining villages of the Rhondda Valley in south Wales, in August 1920.

She left Wales in 1958 to live in England, where she stayed until 1982. She then moved to Belgium, living first in Horebeke, later in Laarne, and finally in Heusden-Destelbergen.

Her husband, George Neale died in 1989.

Eunice is succeded by myself and my brother, Brian.

Friday, 19 September 2014

GoodlitBox Málaga

As mentioned in the previous entry, shortly after returning from our extended visit to Belgium, two GoodlitBox hampers were delivered. In that entry, I also described the contents of the Asturias hamper, so here I shall tell you about the products in the hamper dedicated to Málaga.

Wine-making has been practised in the Málaga region since about 600 BC. The Descalzos Viejos winery has not been around quite that long, but was founded in the sixteenth century and has a fine reputation. A bottle of a recent DV wine (2012) is included.

Spain and olives go together and the inland area of Málaga, with brief periods of colder weather, offers ideal conditions for growing these fruits that so many people enjoy (not me!). Aceituna y Encurditos Bravo (Bravo Olives and Pickles) bottle a particular olive under the name Aceitunas Brabur; this olive is the first olive in Spain to have been awarded a Protected Designation of Origin. The hamper contains a large jar of these special olives.

Chestnuts. We used to call them Spanish chestnuts when we went picking them in Greenwich Park (I lived in south-east London for a number of years as a child). The story was that the trees had been brought from Spain. No idea if that's true, but chestnuts are represented in the hamper, in the form of a cream of chestnuts and brandy. The cream is an artisanal product, made by la Molienda Verde and contains no chemical additives, such as preservatives, artificial colouring, etc. Apparently, the cream can be eaten as a spread on bread or toast, as an ingredient for pastries, or as an accompniment for meat dishes, being especially suited to game.

I love goat meat. I'm not too keen on salchichón. The latter is usually made with pork, so I was surprised to see a good looking salchichón made with goat meat (from the Malaga goat breed) in the hamper. Should be interesting.

I also love mango, so the jar of mango jam, made by the cleverly named mmm (Mermelada Mango Málaga), should prove very satisfying.

As its name suggests, Pasa de La Axarquia is a company that is largely dedicated to raisins. Fortunately, the product representing this company in the hamper is not raisins, but figs. Delicias de Higos (fig delights) are small balls of fig coated in sesame seeds. Can't wait!

The cheese that is included in the Málaga hamper should be delicious. The name is El Pinsapo and it is made with pure goat milk (again, from the Malaga goat breed); it is then left to mature for three months, during which time it is rubbed with local olive oil and then wrapped in a bath of olive oil. The cheese won gold at the 2013 World Cheese Awards, in Birmingham (UK) and has taken numerous other prizes as well. Yummy. (Sadly the manufacturer's website seems to be no longer available.)

So, another great hamper. Elise and I are so pleased with the products and the service, that we have decided to order the next three hampers.

If the idea of trying new tastes from different parts of Spain appeals to you, why not visit the GoodlitBox website, either in Spanish or in English.

¡Que aproveche!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

GoodlitBox Asturias

 About the middle of July, I wrote about the GoodlitBox hampers that offer a chance to taste the flavours and specialities of different parts of Spain.

We were extremely pleased with the first hamper that we received, offering some typical products from our own province, Alicante. Unfortunately, however, shortly after having received the hamper, we had to rush off to Belgium, where Elise's mother was very ill. Realising that we might not be back in time to be able to receive the next hamper, I got in touch with the GoodlitBox people and Juan Manuel agreed to hold the next box, and, should it be necessary, the following one, too, until our return to Spain.

As things turned out, we had to stay in Belgium five weeks, but when we were on our way back to Spain, I emailed Juan Manuel to let him know that he could send the two hampers that by that time were pending. They arrived today.

The July hamper (Alicante was actually the May hamper) contains products from Asturias, and a great selection it is, too. Have you ever seen someone pouring cider in the north of Spain? The bottle is held at full stretch, high in the air, while the glass is held as low as possible, in an almost balletic stance; the cider is then poured slowly, so that there is a great splashing and gathering of air in the base of the glass; only a relatively small amount of cider is poured. You can see the technique here. The hamper contains a bottle of traditional Asturian cider, made by Trabanco.

Resturante Eutimio enjoys a strong reputation, preparing traditional dishes since 1964. Some of their culinary skills are packaged, too, and that's the case with the pot of pastel de centollo y merluza del cantábrico (Cantabrian spider crab and hake paste) that is included in the hamper. I imagine it will put the old Shippam's salmon spread to shame…

I'm a great cheese lover, so I'm very pleased with the soft Casín cheese, El Viejo Mundo, a cheese made of the milk of Asturian cows.

The scorpion fish, or cabracho, is a rock fish typical of the Cantabrian Sea (the southern part of the Bay of Biscay). Cabracho paté is a traditional element of Asturian cooking, which is also used in Cantabria and the Basque Country.

The mixture of cider and cheese produces a strange yet delicious result. That, at least, is what the booklet that accompanies the Asturias hamper promises of its pot of crema de cabrales a la sidra (cabrales cheese with cider). Cabrales is a fatty blue cheese from a very small area of eastern Asturias. It gets very good reviews, so the combination of a first-class Asturian cheese with Asturian cider indeed sounds promising.

I might like cheese, but I am not a great lover of fish. However, tuna, salmon, shark, and a few others pass muster. Included in this list of acceptable fish is, without a doubt, bonito, a sort of small tuna. Good, then, that bonito forms part of the next item in the hamper, namely cebollas rellenas de bonito del norte (onions stuffed with northern bonito).

The final item representing Asturias is of a sweeter nature than the rest, namely casadiellas. These are fried pastries, filled with aniseed liqueur-flavoured nuts. Should go down a treat!

The next hamper is dedicated to Malaga and I shall describe it very soon.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Unexpected visit

Field where ashes of Julia Neetens were scattered
So there we were, enjoying the warmth, the dryness, and the sunshine of Guardamar, when Elise's mother, back in Belgium, takes a turn for the worse and we have to make a hasty way north. We thought we'd take a few days to drive the somewhat more than 2000 Km that separates Guardamar from Heusden (Oost Vlaanderen), and our first night was spent in Jaca, in the north of Spain, just before the French border. The next morning, however, we received a message that Elise's mother had suddenly become a lot worse. By the evening we had arrived at about 500 Km from our destination, so we checked again, only to learn that she had died earlier that same day. She was 90 years old.

We arrived at our apartment in Belgium at close to midnight and the next morning started arrangements for the cremation, clearing out the room in the home in which she stayed, and initiating the necessary legal procedures. The cremation was held one week later at the Westlede Crematorium in Lochristi. The next day, my own mother, who had been showing signs of illness for several days, had to be taken into hospital. She remained there for two-and-a-half weeks. She came back a few days ago, but requires help, so we have arranged for assistance in the form of home-nursing and home-help (shopping, ironing, laundry…).

In the interim, we have had a large triangular window in the apartment replaced. Its double-glazing seal had perished and air was getting in between the individual panes of glass, causing condensation and discolouring.

The exercise was carried out by the company De Grom of Erembodegem and it was both spectacular and successful. The team of some eight men worked well together in horrible conditions (it was pouring), removing the old window and placing the new one with hardly any damage to the surrounding structure: only the tiniest piece of plaster was knocked out of the surrounding sloping ceiling and this I was easily able to fill and paint over.  De Grom's achievement is even greater when you realise that the apartment is on the second floor. Here's a series of photos, showing the removal of the old glass and the placing of the new. Look carefully, and in some of the photos you can see the rain (pijpenstelen is how we describe it in Dutch, "pipe stems").

Lorry, crane and suction caps

Old window pushed into apartment, ready for turning and removal. It was here that the small damage was caused by the corner above the chappie's hand to the right of the picture.

Old window-pane pushed right into the apartment and turned, ready for removal.

And down it goes…

New glass brought into apartment ready for turning and placing

Set in place. Well done!

We really would have liked to keep the window free of the two "decorative" wooden bars that can be seen in the photo of the old window, above (very first photo). Unfortunately, however, community regulations regarding the "aesthetics" of the buildings in the complex, insist that the bars be in place, so a few days after the event, when the glass had dried completely, the bars were replaced and a beautiful panoramic view was destroyed. Here's a photo of how it could have been:

Rain? We've been in Belgium for over four weeks now and have seen rain on just about every day. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, as there must have been at least one day on which it remained dry all day long. But, really, dull, grey, cold, wet, that's just about all we've experienced. And when there is a bit of warmth, it immediately becomes humid and close (doef and horrible). No wonder people here say they don't like the heat! Let's hope we shall soon be back in Guardamar…

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Smokeless zone

A few years ago, we got rid of the large fireplace that took up an excess of room in our living-room. That was a big improvement. The chimney of the fireplace, however, was still a "feature" of the roof terrace, and it was a feature we could also do without, as, although not especially big in area occupied, it was awkwardly situated and acted as a giant sun-dial, casting a large shadow that was best avoided in springtime.

Casting a shadow (the chimney, not Elise)

So the chimney had to go, too.
We first checked with the ayuntamiento that the chimney could be removed and then informed our community presidente of our intentions. There being no objections, we the arranged for the job to be done.
Antonio and his workmate, Assen, started on the job on Tuesday. Before leaving for an appointment in Guardamar, I had just enough time to take a few pics of the start of the demolition:

By the time we returned from Guardamar a couple of hours later, there was just a hole in the ground, where once the chimney had been. This was sealed and tiled and the next day Antonio and Assen returned to paint the walls and generally finish off the work.
The terrace now appears to be lots bigger and far more open. It's amazing what a difference just a small change can make. Imagine the photo below with the chimney occupying the middle of the the image, which is how it used to be.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Flavours of Spain

When you come to live in another country, you really do not want to limit yourself to the food you already know from your country of origin. Elise and I come from Belgium (well, I'm Welsh originally, but lived in Belgium for 35 years, so…). Belgium is a small country with a fine culinary tradition, offering plenty of variety, from sweet chocolate pralines to delightfully common stoofvlees met frieten, to more select plates that tempt even the most demanding of gourmets.

Now that we live in Spain, however, we like to try the local dishes, but this is not as easy at it sounds. Spain is a huge country and it isn't feasible for us to pop up to Asturias or Galicia, or across to Extremadura for an evening meal that includes the local specialities. We were therefore delighted to find a service offered by a company called GoodlitBox, which is advertised as offering gastronomic tourism.

The idea is that each month you receive a box of several specialities from a particular region of Spain, together with a booklet that explains what each product is and how it might be prepared. Each month a different region is selected, so that over the course of several months you can start to get an idea of the range of products available in the different parts of Spain. Great idea. Each box costs about 50 euro, but this can be reduced by ordering more than one box at a time. To start with, we have ordered three boxes, one each per month, which saves us about 10 euro. The price includes delivery.

Our first box arrived today, containing products from the region in which we live, Alicante. As you can see from the picture above, the box itself is pretty smart, being of hard cardboard, covered with a dark blue paper, which is embossed with a logo that incorporates a map of Spain.

Lifting the lid revealed that the products were well packed in straw. On top of the straw lay a GoodlitBox business card, the booklet about the products, a packet of mojama de atún (best described as a tuna ham), and a packet of date-and-walnut cake:

Removing the layer of straw revealed the following items: a bottle of Vino Cap d'Or Moscatel Mistela D.O.P. (Muscatel wine with l'appellation d'origine contrôlée); a jar of pericana (a sauce made of dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and cod); a jar of spreadso de alcachofa natural y aceituna negra (a mixture of artichokes and black olives, used in all sorts of preparations); a jar of pomegranate jam (very difficult to find); a jar of turrodella (a turrón spread, also difficult to find); a bottle of 100% ecological virgin extra olive oil. Here you can see these products, still in the box:

A pretty good first box, I think you'll agree. Here's you can see all the important contents:

We shall start on this lot (the pomegranate jam and the turron spread shouldn't last very long!) and look forward to receiving our box of delights from Asturias next month.

If you'd like more information about GoodlitBox, visit their site here (you'll find a section in English, too). Note that they also provide a blog, where recipes can also be found (this part only in Castellano).

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Elvis 60

All together now,

Well, that's all right, mama

That's all right for you…

Would you believe that Elvis Presley recorded "That's All Right" sixty (yes 60, 6-0, zestig, soixante, sesenta, trigain!) years ago yesterday?

The story of how the number came to be recorded has been told many times and can easily be found online, should you be interested. But it was then that popular music took its first steps to becoming desegregated: no longer was there the artificial divide of music for blacks and music for whites; from now on it would at least endeavour to be music for the people.

The recording had enormous social impact.

But the event and its repercussions also had huge impact at the individual level.

I was a mere whippersnapper of five going on six in the Rhondda Valley of south Wales at the time that Elvis was struggling to prove to Sam Phillips that he was a good ballad singer (and then, quite unexpectedly broke into "That's All Right"), but within a few years I was an Elvis fan. In 1966 I went to Belgium to take part in an Elvis fans convention and whilst in that country, though separate from the convention, I met a girl and decided there and then that she was the one.

Five years later I moved to Belgium and Elise and I got married. We're still married and now live in the south-east of Spain. It wouldn't have happened if Elvis had not recorded "That's All Right" 60 years ago.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Ring, ring!

The thing is, we have had the wedding-rings we bought when we were married over 42 years ago, well, over 42 years.

They fitted nicely then, but years of rain, sweat and tears have somehow seemed to shrink the golden bands, so that mine was relegated to a little finger and Elise's was stored away in a dark drawer.

So a couple of months ago, Elise decided it would be nice to celebrate our 42 years and six months of married harmony by purchasing a new set of rings. I, of course, had to agree. Wonderful idea…

Off, then, to the jewellery department of Elise's favourite shop, El Corte Inglés, in Elche, where it didn't take us long to choose a matching pair of rings, in very similar style to the original ones. Apparently our tastes have not changed very much in 42 years.

Fingers were measured, inside legs taken, waists, chests, shoulder-to-wrist, all noted to perfection. The rings had to be made to measure, you see. Order placed and off we went to Belgium. A couple of weeks later, still in Belgium, we received an email from the salesgirl in El Corte Inglés, informing us that the rings were ready and could be collected. A few days after our arrival back from Belgium, off we were again to Elche. The rings were fitted, approved, and paid for.

Here's to the next 42 years and six months.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Problems with Pensions

The European Union has some great ideals. One of them is free movement of its citizens between the member states. This, of course, necessitates the implementation of systems to cover health care (already a touchy subject, if one takes as an example the situation of the state health care in Spain when applied to non-Spanish residents) and, of course, pensions.

The time has come to apply for Elise's pension. I therefore checked the website of the European Union to find out what a European citizen from one member state now residing in another had to do in order to claim their pension.

The site contains all sorts of apparently useful information and should form a reliable source for European citizens wishing to check on their rights on various issues. The information is available in many of the languages used in the EU (sadly, Welsh is not represented).

The page that deals with retiring abroad (here in English and here in Dutch) states,
When the time comes for you to claim your pension, you'll have to apply in the country where you're living - unless you have never worked there. In this case, you should apply where you last worked.
 Als voor u de tijd is gekomen om op pensioen te gaan, moet u dat aanvragen in het land waar u woont, tenzij u daar nooit hebt gewerkt. In dat geval moet u de aanvraag indienen in het land waar u het laatst hebt gewerkt.
Note, "…unless you have never worked there. In this case, you should apply where you last worked."

That seems clear enough and, given that Elise last worked in Belgium (she stopped working in 1982), we took it to mean that she should apply for her pension to the Belgian pension authorities, the Rijksdienst voor Pensioenen, in the Zuidertoren in Brussels.

The necessary information was sent together with a request for payment of pension, but soon the request was returnd with a covering letter in which was stated,
U moet in principe uw aanvraag indienen bij de bevoegde pensioeninstelling van uw land, omdat u in een land woont van de Europese Economische Ruimte (EER)…
U gaat met dit bericht en de bijgevoegde aanvraag als bijlage naar de bevoegde pensioeninstelling met het verzoek ons de gebruikelijke verbindingsformulieren en een kopie van uw originele aanvraag naar mijn diensten toe te sturen
In principle, as you live in a country of the European Economic Area (EEA), you have to make your request to the authorised pensions service of your country…
Take this notice together with the enclosed request to the authorised pensions service and aske that they send the usual forms and a copy of your original request to my services…
This appears to be different to what the EU had to say on the matter in their own website, so Elise phoned the Rijksdienst voor Pensioenen in Brussels and pointed out the discrepancies, noting that she had never worked in Spain and that her last employment was in Belgium in 1982.

Her explanation was simply brushed aside. Nope, that's the way things have to be done and the EU website must refer to functionaries (civil servants).

Well, no, the website does not refer to functionaries: it refers to State Pensions for Citizens.

I suspect that the wording of the EU's website is unclear and that the pension authorities in the various countries really are acting correctly. Whatever the reason, the result is confusion for the EU citizen. This might result in mistrust and suspicion of any other information that can be found on the EU site regarding the rights and obligations of such sitizens and that is simply not a desirable situation.

Somebody from the Plain English Campaign (and the Plain Dutch Campaign, too, if there is one) needs to tidy up the information provided by the EU.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

In Belgium

So here we are in Belgium.

We left Guardamar last Thursday morning and drove to Jaca, in the Pyrenees, where we spent the night in the very pleasant Eurostars Reina Felicia hotel. It would have been even more pleasant if a couple of brats had not been allowed to use one of the corridors as a practise area for the 100 metre sprint and their parents had not then punished one of them by locking him out of their room, prompting him to scream his head off for a good ten minutes.

Still, the room was excellent, very clean, very well equipped, and the hotel was in a quiet location, just outside the town of Jaca. Of course, it would have been much quieter without the aforementioned couple of brats, who also made their presence known in the breakfast-room. A very good breakfast buffet, incidentally.

After Jaca we drove through the Somport tunnel into France. An impressive tunnel of some nine kilometres in length. Then onto Pau, the worst part of the journey, not because of the scenery, which is often spectacular, but because of the drive around the intervening town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, which is very slow. By the evening of the second day we had arrived in Tours. Nothing at all special about the relatively cheap French hotel there, except that it was more expensive than the hotel in Jaca and offered considerably less quality and comfort.

We had intended to visit Brittany on our journey from Spain to Belgium, but the French weather reports were so bad for that part of the country that we simply drove straight through to Belgium. Well, that's not entirely true, as we did make a slight detour in order to visit the village of Bergues in French Flanders. Bergues was the main location for the hilarious French film, Bienvenue Cez Les Ch'tis, an we wanted to see the real thing. We thought it would be a good idea to get a packet of chips and a frikadel from the baraque à frites on the Grote Markt, but sadly we learned that the mobile chip-shop was put there only for the film. Still, we had a cup of coffee in the café that was the scene of the bicycle crash (Café de la Porte in the film, but Café de la Poste in reality) and also visited the belfry, which played such an important part in the film, so all was not lost!

The Grote Markt (Grand Place) without the baraque à frites, but with the impressive belfry.

In the tourist information office (in the belfry) one of the post-bikes from the film.

The location of the bicycle crash, the Café de la Porte/Poste

From Bergues it was just a relatively short drive to Heusden, near. Gent, where we arrived at about seven-thirty on Saturday evening.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Italy 11 England 52

Wales 51 Scotland 3

France 20 Ireland 22

Well, that was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Three games.

And they got better as the afternoon progressed.

It's easy to make a half-good side look very good: give it a game against a pretty terrible side. And that's exactly what happened in the first two matches.

England had the fright of their lives in the first quarter against Italy, with the Italian pack proving the better of the two, but as the game progressed, Italy's indiscipline and lack of staying-power worked against them (as well as an unfortunate forward pass following an excellent interception) and England were able to secure a very easy victory, though not without conceding a try and two penalties. Better luck next year, Italy. Get your discipline together and tighten up your second-half performance. As for England, they would have to await the outcome of the final match of the tournament, France against Ireland to know if they'd win. Oh, and England, please don't throw the ball away when you score a try: three points away if I were the ref, or at least a yellow card. Prima Donnas belong in soccer, not in rugby. (And here's a nice aside: the commentator on France 2 introduced the English national anthem as Flower of Scotland; unfortunately, God Save The Queen was played.)

Heaven only knows what Scotland is up to. They made Wales look almost good. The game was like so many we played at school in the 1960s (yes, that long ago): get the ball, score a try, start again. The only difference is that we'd reach scores of 70, 80, or 90 (and this when a try was just three points), whereas Wales could only manage 51 (and this against just 14 Scotsmen, Hogg having been sent off very early on), thanks to some desperate Scottish defence work. (Another aside: usually the commentator on France 2 introduces the Welsh national anthem using the colonist title of Land of My Fathers, but this time he announced it as Pays de mes Ancêtres, which is an improvement, if still not quite Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.)

And then came the real stuff. France against Ireland. To be honest, it seemed that France didn't have much of a chance against what was clearly the best team by far of the tournament, yet they were still in with a chance. The only drawback (and it was a big one) was that if France managed to win, England would take the championship, so although I really wanted France to win, I didn't…

Well, what a game! Sheer rugby pleasure with both teams fighting desperately for every ball and every inch of the field. The lead went backwards and forwards throughout the game and with just a couple of minutes to go, Ireland was ahead, 22 to 20.  Then the French headed for the Irish line: a try in the corner was sufficient, it need not be converted, so position was unimportant. And, indeed, over they went! Unfortunately, however, the last long pass had been fractionally forward (well, chwarae teg, a bit more than fractionally), and after some considerable deliberation, the try was disallowed. With some ninety seconds remaining, that sealed the victory and the championship for Ireland.

Well done Ireland.

Well played France. By far your best performance of the tournament. Magnifique!

England finished second; Wales third; France fourth; Scotland fift; Italy sixth.

When does next year start?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Chwarae teg

England 29 Leigh Halfpenny 18

Well, that should be Wales 18, of course, but, chwarae teg, it was Leigh Halfpenny who scored the eighteen points and the rest of performance was pretty poor.

But, chwarae teg, it was a lot better than the performance by the Welsh team in their first match of this year’s Championship, against Ireland.

Perhaps it’s just that Ireland are so much better than England, though, chwarae teg, that seems unlikely. England played well today, even though they seemed not to have needed to put in a 100% performance. Still, chwarae teg, they were playing against a pretty uninspired Welsh side that, when it attacked, did so down the blind side in an ever so predictable fashion, so the strong English defence had no problem with that, and if they didn’t attack, they kicked, nicely giving the ball to an English side that soon proved it could kick with the best of them, not that that stopped the Welsh from kicking.

On three occasions, Wales actually managed to create overlaps when heading straight for the line at a brisk pace, only to kick the ball unnecessarily or to go into a tackle, just as unnecessarily, and then lose possession.

Chwarae teg, England looked far more dangerous in attack and it was only some remarkable defence by Wales that prevented an even higher score on the England side of the board.

This win gives England the Triple Crown. Well done. Next week, if they beat Italy by about five million points, they’ll also win the Championship. Of course, France might beat Ireland and that would mean a quite undeserved Championship for France… chwarae teg.

(And now, if nothing else, you should know what the Welsh expression, chwarae teg, means.)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Sacré Rouge!

Wales 27 France 6

Both Wales and France had a lot to prove in their meeting at the Millennium Stadium in Caerdydd earlier this evening. Wales had played pretty terribly against Ireland two weeks ago, when they were well and truly beaten and gave little to hope for in their remaining games of the championship. France beat Italy, but unconvincingly, playing well for little more than 15 of the ninety minutes.

Still, I honestly didn't think that Wales would be able to improve sufficiently to offer much of a challenge to even a relatively poor France.

Was I mistaken!

France was basically outplayed for the whole of the ninety minutes. Even during France's best attacking moments, just about all of which came in the second half, Wales put up a sterling and effective defence, disrupting the French and often leading to indiscipline.

The Welsh lineout was better than it has been so far in the series, the passing was better, the scrummaging was shocking on both sides, but that's more to do with modern scrum laws than anything else.

Now if only Wales would learn not to kick unnecessarily, thereby giving the ball to the opposition in good running positions, and if they continue to play decent rugby, they might even have a chance of a decent final position in the championship: four wins out of five is a good possibility now and that might be enough to take the championship yet again—much will depend on how other teams perform (I don't look forward to England beating Ireland, but at this stage I wouldn't mind if Ireland loses!).

As for France: sortez la guillotine! French players must learn to accept the decisions of the match officials: this is not soccer, so you do not argue with the referee or linesmen, nor do you disdainfully applaud the referee for sending sinbinning you. Not just yellow cards, but red cards should have been shown.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Duw, Duw!

Ireland 26 Wales 3

The commentator on France 2 lauded the praises of the Welsh national anthem, but still insisted on referring to it by its colonialist name of Land of My Fathers. That was just the beginning of a lot worse to come.

You have to wonder why the Welsh team bothered to travel to Ireland, unless they were looking forward to the après-match célidh, if there is such a thing.

Really, there was only one team in the whole game and that most certainly wasn’t Wales. The few Welsh attempts at attack faded to nothing; the Welsh kicked, but why was a mystery and they then either missed touch, or got the ball kicked back with advantage, or both; they lacked discipline, giving away silly penalties; they knocked the ball forward (it seemed more times than they had chance to pass the thing!), they were lousy in the lineout… Well, you get the picture. Wales was quite simply terrible. Wales had one decent pass at a try and that was correctly disallowed, which was just as well, as just a couple of minutes before Ireland had been denied a line-out on the Welsh line and, given the Irish packs magnificent mauling performance, that would have been a certain try for Ireland.

Well done Ireland. You played well and gave the Welsh plenty to think about.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Way to go, David!

Here's a news story you might have missed. And that's a pity, for it is a story of courage, common-sense, and utter love.

The story concerns a couple from Friesland in The Netherlands. David Postma and his wife, Willemke, had been married for 61 years. David was 86 years old and Willemke 84. Willemke had been suffering with her health for several years and in November she had to be taken to hospital and it looked as if she would then have to go into a care-home. Although David had been in relatively good health up until then, he too, felt that he had had enough of life. They therefore decided together to put an end to their lives and chose a date in January to do so, informing their children of their decision.

January was chosen so that they could spend a final Christmas and New Year together with all the family.

According to Dutch law, David and Willemke could not ask for help from their doctors, as they were not in the unbearable and hopeless medical situation that Dutch law requires for this. David, however, used the Internet to search for a solution, and this he found in an organization called De Einder. With their help David was able to complete all the necessary formalities, and locate the products needed to prepare the potion. He took care of everything, even returning letters that arrived during the last few weeks, marking them "deceased" and stopping any subscriptions that were still active.

David and Willemke made no secret of their intentions and both family and friends were informed of the chosen date, so that there was plenty of time for good-byes. Christmas was a very pleasant occasion, with the whole family getting together in one of their son's houses. Old photos were passed around, together with plenty of memories, some tears, but also a lot of joy, remembering the happy times.

On the final day, a Saturday, the family gathered again, this time at David and Willemke's house. Willemke's favourite accordion music was playing and there was some dancing. Willemke remarked how nice it was to be able to dance out of life. David prepared two pots of yoghurt and the plan was that he and Willemke would each eat a pot while lying on their bed. This is what happened, too, and as each felt the effects of the potion, they waved a final goodbye to their family members.

David had prepared the notice of death for publication in the local newspaper. He even composed a poem to be included in it. The last line read, "Wy ferlitte no tefreden dit ierdse bestean, it wie ús tiid, wy gean." (Contented, we leave this earthly existence, it is our time, we are going.)

David and Willemke, you're a wonderful example. I wish all the best to the family members that supported you in your courageous action.

You can read a Dutch newspaper report here.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Mama Mia, Mon Dieu!

Ah, the dark days when football dominated the sports headlines are over and we are back into the glorious season of the Rugby Union RBS Six Nations Championship. Rugby Union, really the only sport that merits the name sport and light years away from the namby-pambyism of the soccer-pitch.

Anyway, yesterday the 2014 season of the Chamionship kicked off to an excellent start with two very good games.

Wales, the current holders of the Championship, had the honour to host the first match against Italy, played in Caerdydd, and this was followed across the Channel in Paris, where France hosted the team from England.

Four teams and three decent anthems to get the season going: Wales's rather sentimental, but stirring Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (introduced by the French commentator on France 2 as Land of My Fathers for some peculiar reason: if a Frenchman is going to give a title in a foreign language, he can just as well use the language of the song as English, surely?); the Italian anthem, which, let's be honest, bears more resemblance to an opera in two parts than to an anthem, but is wonderful; and then the superb battle-cry of La Marseillaise. Three wonderful, powerful numbers, bellowed out by players, staff and supporters alike and in stark contrast to the call to a mythical being to look after an old woman (God Save The Queen), as sung (if one can use that term) by the English.

Both matches offered some pretty good rugby, with Italy showing still more improvement and giving Wales a good run for their money, even if Wales was never in any real danger. Wales came through well and showed plenty of promise for the rest of the championship, but more work is required and indiscipline (get rid of prop Paul James) can't be tolerated.

The final score of Wales 25 Italy 17 was a fair reflection of the play.

France scared England with a try almost from kick-off and continued to scare England throughout the first half. England came back well in the second half, but Gallic guts won the day and the last ten minutes were all for France, who bravely won an excellent match with a final score of France 26 England 24.

It might be helpful to mention something about the national flags. An English supporter in Paris was frantically waving a Union Flag (commonly called a Jack); the plonker was wrong on two counts: firstly, it is not the flag of England, but that of the United Kingdom (the red cross of Saint George is the English flag); secondly, the flag was flying upside-down. Normally, flying a flag upside down signifies a call for help, so perhaps, given the result, this was deliberate…

Friday, 24 January 2014

Santes Dwynwen

Forget Saint Valentine. Heck, it’s not even certain who the chap was (Valentine of Rome, Valentine of Terni,…?), but whoever he was, he wasn’t British.

Dwynwen, on the other hand, is a genuine British product, saved, yet again, thanks to the Welsh. (Honestly, where would Britain be without them?).

Saint Dwynwen was one of the daughters of the 5th century British king, Brychan Brycheiniog. Poor old Brychan had 24 daughters, but Dwynwen was said to be the prettiest and she fell in love with a local chappie named Maelon Dafodrill.

Brychan had other ideas, however, and had already promised his daughter to some other scoundrel. He therefore forbade the two lovers from seeing each other. In a fit of rage, Maelon raped Dwynwen (well that’s one story) and left her. She then prayed for help and an angel appeared and gave her a potion which she persuaded the dastardly Maelon to drink, immediately turning him into a block of ice.

Ever persistent, Dwynwen then prayed for three wishes, which were miraculously granted: her first wish was that Maelon be defrosted, as it were, and this wish was granted; her second was that God (she was a Christian and believed in that sort of thing, as people tended to do in those days) take care of all true lovers, and this wish was granted; her final wish was that she should never marry. This wish, too, was granted, in that Dwynwen moved to a nearby island and lived there as a hermit until her death in 465 CE.

The island on which Dwynwen lived is now known as Ynys Llanddwyn (Welsh for the island of the church of Dwynwen) and there one can still visit the ruins of a church dedicated to Saint Dwynwen (Ynys Llanddwyn is a tidal island off the west coast of Ynys Môn). Dwynwen’s well can also be visited on the island and there, allegedly, a sacred fish swims, whose movements predict the future fortunes and relationships the couples that contemplate it. Visitors to the well also believe that if the water boils while they are present, then love and good luck will surely follow.

Saint Dwynwen’s day (Dydd Santes Dwynwen), 25 January, is celebrated in Wales in much the same way as Valentine’s day is elsewhere. So this year, celebrate your love for someone in a truly British fashion with a "Happy Saint Dwynwen" or, even better, a "Diwrnod Santes Dwynwen Hapus!"