Sunday, 20 September 2009

La Noche En Blanco

Last night was La Noche En Blanco (White Night). This is a thing that's been happening in Madrid for the last four years, but it's the first time we've actually been. It started in Paris in 2002, and now happens in Brussels, Riga, Bucharest, Valetta and Amsterdam and other places. It's basically an all-night arts festival. Traffic is banned from the centre and the streets are thronged with people. Galleries throw open their doors (and vast queues form). Places that are not normally open to the public host events. There's a beautiful garden on the corner of Cibeles; it's part of the Army's HQ, and normally you'd stand a good chance of being shot if you tried to get in.

MamaDuck arrived back from the UK yesterday afternoon and said she wanted to go. So we hadn't really planned an itinerary, and just spent a few hours wandering around. Lots of people had white balloons, and we finished up in Plaza Mayor where they were being inflated and handed out. There must have been about twenty inflation stations, but the queues to get balloons were lengthy. Being a bit geriatric, we were home by 1am, but the events continue until 6am. The Metro stays open till 3am, instead of closing a 1am as it normally does.

Good fun.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


The day after MIL's cremation, those of us who hadn't had to rush off home went up to Richmond in North Yorkshire to scatter the ashes. MIL was a great fan of 'All Creatures Great And Small', and we all felt she would have loved this idea. One of my brother's-in-law had arranged for us to have lunch at the Frenchgate Hotel in Richmond. Despite my Yorkshire/Geordie roots, I'd never been to Richmond before, and I was quite amazed by how beautiful it was.

The Frenchgate in Richmond

David Todd, the owner, always smiling in the face of adversity

The Frenchgate is a small, privately-owned hotel and restaurant. It's a gorgeous Georgian town house that has been lovingly restored. We were greeted and served by the owner, David Todd, whose calm confidence and wicked Yorkshire wit put us at ease immediately. I have to say this was probably the best meal I've ever had in my life, and I have had some good 'uns. I had partridge with potatoes boulangere, chorizo and swede (I hate swede, but this was little roasted cubes and it was perfect). There was also a blob of pumpkin mousse. MamaDuck had lamb stuffed with quinoia. After the main course, David brought the chef out for a well-deserved round of applause.

The lamb

If we can manage the finances and the time, I really want to go back next summer and spend a couple of days there. And if you ever find yourself within a hundred miles of Richmond, you should too. Tell David Richard Branson sent you.

The Frenchgate Hotel's website is here.

Friday, 11 September 2009


I got back from a week in England yesterday. I actually enjoyed this trip, mainly because I wasn't on my tod. The reason for the trip was sad - MamaDuck's mama passed away a few weeks ago and we had gone for her cremation and then scattering the ashes in 'Herriott Country' in North Yorkshire. So I had a couple of days with my dad and his girlfriend, and then carried on to MamaDuck's ancestral home in North Lincolnshire (okay, her dad's flat in Scunthorpe).

As you may or may not know, my wife comes from a large family, so her four brothers and one sister were there, plus some of their spouses and offspring. This kind of gathering doesn't happen often: two of the bros live in France, one in Holland, and one in Bristol. Added to that were my mother-in-law's three sisters, who I've never actually met before (one lives in North Wales, one in Brittany and one in Oman), plus two of daddy-in-law's brothers, who I have met many times before. And our very own Offspring came up from London too.

The night before the funeral, one of the brothers had the idea of doing something with old photos we found in MIL's albums that we could have on display during the service. So, starting at midnight, we scanned about 30 pictures, and I Photoshopped them into a collage with a border and drop-shadow round each image. We finished this at about 2.30 am. We were up early the next morning - there were flowers to collect and the collage to be printed as large as possible and mounted on something solid. I found a shop that opened at 8.30 that could have done it had their printer been working. But it was broken. I bought some mounting board and spray-mount from them, and waited for the Kodak shop they'd recommended to open at 9 am. The guy was in there, tinkering about, but resolutely ignoring the anxious punter on the doorstep. The funeral was at 10, by the way, and I had to get this done, get back to the mansion and get changed by 9.35 latest. Miraculously, it was done in time.

After the service we all retired to a pub for lunch, after which we sat in the garden and were entertained by the sight of three illegal car-washers in the pub car park being arrested by a van full of cops who appeared out of nowhere.

I'll do another post later about the scattering in North Yorkshire. But this post is entitled 'Dripping', so I should really tell you about that.

There are certain things from your home country/region that you get attached to when you are an expat. Things you just cannot get wherever it is you live. For me, this includes decent teabags, yellow split peas, pearl barley, gravy granules and Oxo stock cubes. For BIL (Brother-In-Law) Bill, pork dripping is a must-have item. If you are unfamiliar with the idea of dripping, it's the fat and juicy/jelly stuff that escapes from a chunk of beef or pork when you roast it - basically like lard, but tastier. He bought four tubs from Scunthorpe market. One we consumed on toast for our breakfasts during the visit. He took one home with him, and gave one each to me and anuvver bruvver.

I was a bit careless with packing mine: I had intended to tape the lid on, but forgot to. I was careful to keep my bag upright during the trip to Liverpool Ringo Airport, knowing that the dripping would probably be fairly liquid by then. Of course, when you stick your bag on the conveyor for the X-ray, it has to go on sideways. Oops.

Now, I don't know if there's an elevated security level in the UK at the moment, but when I arrived they actually checked every single passport - a few months earlier when I came, there was nobody personing the desks at all. But this time I had to queue for fifteen minutes to get in. And to get out from Liverpool there was a 30-minute queue. For probably the first time in my life, I managed to get through the arch without it going insane. But I still got a fairly intimate frisking. When I went to collect my stuff, I saw my bag had been held back: the X-ray operator dude said he thought I had a pot of Brylcreem or something. The bag was brought over to me and I explained it was pork dripping. This clearly meant nothing to the security guy, and I found myself hoping he wasn't a Muslim. I took the dripping out of the plastic bag it was in with my other stuff. He put on some latex gloves, and gingerly placed the offending item into a plastic bag for removal.

Anyhoo, I had an uneventful flight, and am now back in Madrid.