Road’s End

Around 8PM on the evening of the Monday June 17th 2019, roughly 46 years since first reading As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, some 4 months after walking down the road from Laurie Lee’s house in Slad, 7 weeks after coming to Spain, I arrived in Almuñécar.

 And after the commanded journey, what?
Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.
A gazing out from far away, alone.
Seamus Heaney, Squarings

My son Daniel –for very good reasons, my nephew couldn’t make it – and I had walked from the far side of Málaga, through the Alameda, jungle-thick with impossibly large palm leaves, then down along the paseo marítimo. Stopping to rearrange our baggage, kicking shoes off to cool our feet, we were enjoying ourselves but making slow progress. From El Palo we decided we had to speed things up, a late morning sun burning. We caught a local bus to Rincón de la Victoria – last time I had been there was with Eddie and Liam on our Andalusian cycle tour. We walked a few more miles before the 35º sent us looking for shade. Once the esplanade runs out walking is difficult, on a busy main road. Passing resort after resort the route became boring as well as over-heated. Tourism has changed Spain’s south beyond recognition. It took Daniel and me over 12 hours, with only the odd short stop for a caña or a coffee to travel the 60 miles, by local bus and on foot.

Lee doesn’t mention the journey at all which makes me think that he didn’t walk it himself. If he did he did it, sensibly, in early winter.

They were working on the esplanade where the plaque to the writer stands, so my musical tribute got lost in the drone of the cement mixers, pounding and hammering, a back-up band for the scrape of my violin. Still, I played Danny Boy, Loch Lomond, Granada… your tunes, Laurie. And, in honour of my cycling partners, Mairi’s Wedding; for Brendan and Brian and Ana, O Andar Miudinho; for Ethel and for all those who keep alive the memory of a lost but noble war, the Freedom Come-all-Ye.

The older of the two inscriptions on the plaque reads: From the people of Almuñécar in recognition of the great writer Laurie Lee who lived in our town in 1935-36 and 1951-2, immortalizing it under the pseudonym “Castillo” in his books “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”.

Below, the hotel Laurie Lee worked and played violin in 1936. Now gone, and about a hundred uglier hotels in its place…

Can’t be absolutely sure this is Almuñécar but it does look like it, and the two hotels that were there in Laurie’s time. Early tourism before the Costa del Sol was invented…

Perhaps the greatest civilian massacre of the Spanish Civil War took place along the road from Málaga and Almería, where Almuñécar lies. Over 20,000 people lost their lives.

In 1937 Franco’s nationalist army broke through from Málaga, causing thousands of civilians to flee in panic, along the narrow coastal road. ‘The persecution was merciless, with the column of bedraggled civilians mixed with retreating Republican militia being shelled from the sea by the heavy guns of a rebel cruiser and strafed and bombed by rebel aircraft.’

Martin Myall
Victims of Franco’s advance
The horses are black.
The horseshoes are black…
They have leaden skulls
so they do not cry.
With souls of leather
they ride down the road.

Federico García Lorca

A tragic history, wherever you go in Spain. Hard to connect what you are seeing with what happened, and within living memory.

We did some walking on paths behind Almuñécar and Salobreña the next day. Beautiful, even if we both did get burnt…

So, having crossed the breadth of Spain with two wonderful friends, 1142  kilometres in all, over 60 Category hill climbs, reaching an overall height of over 11,000 metres, then a few miles walking… I finally finish something I began nearly half a century ago. And I wondered how the teenage me might have been if he’d got to Almuñécar in 1975…

And was he there, waiting?
Where have you been, old man,
what happened to you, along the
Way?
Oh this and that. Lost some, found some, y’know.
And what about you, kid? How’d it go?
Same. Won a few, lost a few.
How’s Paul? We both ask. And Maggie and Mark and Brian
and the rest?
Answers lost in the continuous drilling,
like machine gun fire.
You’re looking tired, we both say
together.
Perhaps we see something of the other in
the young man holding the mic.
What’s he doing?
Oh it’s for, well, this… thing.
And we nod to one another, Okay.
One a ghost on a road he never travelled,
the other, a shadow moving uncertain
somewhere further along
that same road.
Buen camino.
Buen camino.

This post is late, I know. But I’ve been obsessing over the book of the trip, but am finally home now in Scotia. Before I left Spain, I had one last – ever, in my life! Promise – busk…

Photos by my Relleu friend Ton – love Moira in the wine glass. More or less how I see the world!
The Last Busk.
One day it’ll be up there with The Last Waltz…
‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’  
Don Quixote / Cervantes

And finally, to go back to the start. Another version of Auld Lang Syne / Los Viejos Tiempos with Maeve Mackinnon, Eddie, Liam and Moira. It’s good to be home…

Los Viejos Tiempos #2
And it is not particular at all,
Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round.
Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind.

Seamus Heaney, Squarings

Two beginnings …

4 months ago as I walked down the path Laurie Lee did that Midsummer Morning
Busking 1,000 years ago
 Agur, jaunak,
jaunak, agur,
agur t´erdi.
Danak Jainkoak eiñak gire
zuek eta bai gu ere.
Agur, jaunak,
jaunak, agur,
hemen gire.
(Traditional Basque song)
 
Weelcome, freends.
A weelcome and a hauf.
We’re in it thegither
wan and a’.
Weelcome, and
haste ye back.

From Alicante to Malaga

From before it even began, this journey of ours has had amazing coincidences and strokes of luck (and some bad ones too – sorry Eddie!) My life in Spain began in Galicia 45 years ago, with Brendan and Brian Hughes. I ended up, by chance really, in Alicante, and met with Brian’s widow Ana – another friend from long ago. Then, another happy coincidence, I come here, Relleu, to write. A place I’ve never heard of, only to find that Christopher North, who owns the flat, knows of Brian’s work…

Memorial books for Prof. Brian Hughes, found in Christopher North’s library here in Relleu

Ana has just recently retired. Fantastic seeing her again. She’s been very kind, putting me up and putting up with me. Here’s a (not very good photo – she’ll kill me) of her with some of the many books she’s translated (inc. Henry James):

Ana Hughes Eiroa, with some of the many books of her own

So much of this journey has been about music – Onwards, through Spain, Song and Memory. And books. Laurie Lee, Quixote, Jackie Kay, Machado… This is a song about books, written and sung by my pal Paul Cuddihy (I’m on fiddle and backing vocals). Bit of a rough recording, on a phone at my kitchen table in Glasgow. So it also serves to remind me of home, and friends:

Read all about it

Valencia is famous for its oranges. Not bad here either , in the Province of Alicante, …

Oranges a few paces from my door

Christopher is a great host. He’s introduced me to friends, interesting locals and locales, taken me on fascinating walks – made all the more educational in the company of Chris Lambert (it’s like the Monty Python ‘Bruce’ sketch round here) who is a geologist and expert on the area. From Manchester – good by me!

Oddly I had just referred to Bernard MacLaverty in the book I’m writing, when I met them for a drink and Chris returned a book Christopher had lent him…

Christopher and Chris. And Bernard.

At the end of the month I’m delivering a lecture at the University of Alicante. We’re working on a number of projects and proposals with them, so my friend and colleague, Mark Anderson came over for a series of meetings at the uni. He took an afternoon off and took me, with his wife, Izzy, to a great eatery in a village near here.

Apt that Mark should appear towards the end of this journey – I started it with him, in Laurie Lee’s Slad, Mark being a Cotswolds lad too.

Alicante, and its mountains, are beautiful – as you can see. But its Civil War history is tragic. The city was, brutally, taken by Italian forces given to Franco by Mussolini. In exchange, Franco gifted him more than half of Spain’s olive production – the main crop in this area, and an important source of employment and income. In Italy it was repackaged as ‘Italian’ olive oil. The ‘deal’ – Trump would have liked it – lasted throughout Franco’s reign, and beyond. It’s only now that the industry is beginning to recover.

This village, Relleu, continued to suffer under various Francoist mayors and politicians. Sometimes a PSOE (Socialist) mayor would fight back. I’m talking to and interviewing locals with personal stories to tell. As soon as I can, I’ll upload them.

Relleu. About 15 miles north of Benidorm. And on another planet.

We started out in Vigo on the Laurie Lee route – and I take it up again tomorrow, when I make my way from Malaga, to where Laurie finished his trek, in Almuñécar .

My son and nephew – son of my brother Paul who played a crucial role in my teen (mis)adventures in Spain – are coming out to join me. Emma, my daughter, hoped to come too, but this is a decisive time in her academic career, and couldn’t. Daniel and Mike have busy lives too and can only be here for 5 days. Not enough time to walk it all. A mix of walking, busking, local buses. (First I’ve got 9 hours in buses from here to there! Starting 6AM….) The odd cafe, and Caña, no doubt, memories and reflections.

The last tranche of Laurie Lee’s travels

See you at the end of the road, amigos. Thank you for now.

Blooper Tape 1

First of all, we would like to announce that Mark Fraser is the winner of the competition for the best caption to accompany the image we published which was produced by…em…Mark Fraser…

Thank you to all those who submitted a caption. We loved them all. We did a blind ranking, giving three points to our favourite, two to second favourite and one point to the third… Eddie writes:

The brilliant Quixotic- inspired creation by our loyal blogger “Sebwaree” aka “Mark Dali” aka Mark Fraser provoked a tsunami ( mini) of ingenious suggestions for our Caption competition ( Cuenca to Valencia) clearly enthused, nae excited beyond measure, by the recklessly extravagant prize on offer of one (1.00) euro. Extraordinary.

An independent jury of undisclosed judges locked down in undisclosed locations across the entire width of ‘the Wessie’ in East Kilbride have reached the unanimous decision that the winner is….

Sebwaree, aka Mark Dali aka Mark Fraser for his ingenious “Which wan’s (the) Donkey?”

( We checked the Constitution and there is no clause which debars the creator from being awarded the Bumper Prize.)

Any appeal to the above decision will be considered and has a snowball’s chance in hell of being upheld.

The winner’s location is kept confidential to prevent begging letters to share the the eye-watering remuneration. Thanks to all submissions which ranged from mildly funny to totally lacking in imagination or ingenuity. But thanks, anyway

That done, here are a few outtakes from our journey that, for one reason or another, we didn’t manage to get into the blog…

Eddie & Liam chat idly in Dublin airport, while testing the microphones.

Below, the day of our first busk. The fiesta in Galicia. Midday and nobody had a drink, but the atmosphere was phenomenal…

Watch out for our very own Escritor being more Galician than the Galicians!

And here are a couple more sound files, starting off with Liam’s memories of his early days in Spain. He went off to his old haunt Guadalajara, ate about 10 cakes, and recorded this…

Liam visits Guadalajara, where he spent a year as a student in 1976-1977, and has a think back to old times.

One day, we’ll release this ‘bootleg’ and make a fortune from it… ?! Like the video of the fiesta in Galicia, above, it looks and sound like everybody’s had a few. Actually, this is just what high spirits and lack of practice sounds like…

Some out-takes from the Sexygenarians’ attempts to busk.

Finally, on a more serious note, Eddie reading Philip Larkin’s At Grass poem. We had passed some horses, somewhere en route, and Eddie thought of this piece. It happened to be exactly a year since he’d retired, and this poem understands something of his feelings and thoughts. Thus the beautifully balanced reading. He’s a terrific reciter is the ‘Duco, and from memory:

At Grass

That’s it for now, folks. Another post – apparently we’ve been calling them ‘blog’ and that shows both our age and our ignorance – very shortly. Dispatches from further down the line, including a song by Paul Cuddihy, and a fotie of oranges. Hasta pronto – or as we say here in Spain – Pasty porridge.

Welcome to El Brigadoono

… In the middle of nowhere. (I imagine the inhabitants of the beautiful village of Relleu in the Alicante mountains might disagree.)

Miles up a remote, winding road, scary steep drops at either side. Impossible to get out without a car (which I don’t have). I rely on the kindness of strangers (in a Southern drawl).

Mates gone. No Moira, no family. Very little internet, dodgy signal. All on my wee ownio. Which is why this song. Written for my Maddy Shannon novel, Potter’s Field, it’s about my distant, wonderful Glasgow, and it’s healing to hear Moira’s lovely singing voice….

But don’t send help.

If only Liam and his camera were here. I can’t capture the breathtaking beauty of this place.

Christopher and Marisa’s flat, across from their home, is perfect to write in. And they are lovely people, with shared interests. Here are a few foties of my working environment….

Where I’m spending up to 10 hours a day
The telly is for videos only. But I’m far too busy working.
Reading Cela, Machado, Heaney and Burns at night

And here’s a local street, and a hill I’ve now climbed…

La Divina, 1100 metres high.
Been there, done that.

A week here already. Another week to go, then I meet Daniel, my son, and Michael, my nephew, in Malaga for 5 days. They’ve kindly agreed to help me walk the last tranche of Laurie Lee’s route in 1935.

Then back here for another week, before Moira comes out. Yay. Though I’ll keep on writing for another three weeks after that.

Blog after this…. Less personal stuff. I’ve been talking to locals, and researching Historical Memory archives here. The Civil War and its aftermath still very much a live topic. What to do with Franco’s remains. How to recognize the soldiers who bravely defended the Republic – and their international comrades in the 15th Brigade. Franco hated the Alicante region – the last to fall. They fought the Rebels to the bitter end. And suffered terrible damage, often at the hands of Mussolini’s troops. Rellleu has its own dramatic story too tell.

Plus some images and sounds Eddie, Liam and I couldn’t get in to previous blogs.

Stay with me and keep me company?!

Cuenca to Valencia

The keener eyed amongst you, especially Scots family and friends, may have detected that Liam and Eddie are now home. And I’m not.

I’m up in my writing retreat in the Alicante mountains. (Some, alleged, friends reckon that this is all an elaborate ruse to cover up the truth that I’m doing a three month stretch.)

So this next blog, without the Adelante technical support team, or our literary editor and censor, might be a bit rougher round the edges than previous, pristine, entries.

We met so many people and saw so many places that we’ve missed important things to report to you.

When we cycled through La Granja, past trenches of the Civil War where Spanish and Scottish men and women died fighting Franco, I wanted to record my little commemoration. But it was so cold my violin all but fell apart.

Instead, here is my pen portrait of Ethel Macdonald, a Scots Anarchist. Ethel was actually in Barcelona, as you’ll hear. But though the location was different, and there were disputes on the Republican side, basically they were all fighting for the same cause.

Pen portrait of Ethel Macdonald.

On to happier times, and climes – though not for long. Below, another contender for The Most Beautiful Road In The World…

On the way to Motilla del Palancar, the calm before a storm.

I hear it’s raining today in Scotland. But even in Spain you get the odd drop of summer rain….

When it came we took refuge in a cafe in the village of Valera de Abajo.

Actually, that day was pretty scary. Thunder, lightening, the lot. We were lucky to find a village, with a warm and welcoming bar serving piping hot coffee. Otherwise an accident could have happened. But never to the intrepid trio….

Hoy Tú, Manaña Yo.

The very morning we left for Utiel, the penultimate stop, we were stupid enough to say ‘Looks like we’re all going to make it, boys!

Yep, the Fates were summoned. A freak accident – likely caused by tiredness after 20 hard cycles – had Eddie flying through the air and landing only a foot or so forward, instead of all the way to Valencia. Here is the very spot… We expect to see a commemorative plaque “The Duco fell here” placed there soon…

On the way to Utiel, Eddie met his Waterloo on the lump of concrete you can see next to Liam’s bike.

It’s bad enough, on a bike trip, having to look at Eddie’s arse disappearing up the road ahead of me. Now we have to see inside the man’s body!

Somewhere in this X ray, according to Eddie, there is proof that he broke at least one rib.

We shouldn’t laugh. El Duco took a truly nasty knock. Off to the hospital for him. No cycling for three months. I suggested we wait in Utiel until he was ready to go, but folks back home didn’t seem to like that idea.

The man who took Eddie into Utiel, to his hotel, then to the medical centre, was a winemaker (make of that what you like!) who’d been out tending his vines. When Liam flagged him down, Marcos didn’t hesitate. He helped without questions or complaint. Prepared to give up his entire day if necessary. People are good. It was a sore time for Eddie and a worrying moment for us all. Marcos simply said: ‘Tú hoy, yo manaña’. You today, me tomorrow. It’s as perfect a description of socialism as any of us could think up. He expected neither repayment nor thanks – you could base entire philosophies and societies on Marco’s words.

In his honour, and as a lullaby for Wee Ed, here’s a wee song, in Basque, Liam and I recorded some time ago. Rough again, recorded on a phone, but it feels right here….

We all made it to Valencia – one way or another. Eddie gets the rosette for having endured the most pain, with fortitude and grace. He even stopped eating for nearly two days – amazing me and Liam survived that!

Liam’s son Duncan and partner Nadine were there to welcome us. So too, Anne and Moira, who had flown out specially to get us over the finishing line. Lizzie, on the other hand, had been with us all the way.

A triumphant entry, but one man down, at the Porta de Serrans.
All three united again.

Way back in Vigo – might I remind you, 0ver 700 miles, and 7,000 hills away – we played by the west coast sea before saddling up. Here we are on the east… The Sexygenarians made it, coast-to-shining coast!

The journey from coast to coast is complete.

There’s no doubt that such a long and arduous cycle can take its toll on companionship. But never in my worst nightmares did I think that this could happen…

Like all good bands, there was a break-up. But it was quickly followed by…

Was it money that broke up the band? Artistic disagreement? No. A woman. Liam’s Yoko. But it’ll never work, how can you have the legendary Sexygenarians when Anne is clearly about 28?!

I’m off to record ma solo album.

…a reunion, for a final rendition of our theme tune, Cantares.

Spanish speakers may be interested in Liam’s attempts, along the way, to poke fun at his poet friends in Spanish.

Some final thoughts from Eddie (recorded while cycling, ironically, an hour before the fall) .
And some from Liam.

There’ll be no final thoughts from me. I’m writing a whole book – enough’s enough! Suffice to say that I am so proud, and deeply grateful, to call Eddie Morrison and Liam Kane my friends. I learn from them every day. Friendship is like salt in sauce. We seldom notice it but, without it, we would simply survive. Friends give spice to nourishment, make life appetizing. I’m a lucky man. Cheers, lads.

This blog isn’t over yet, by the way. I’ve still to walk and busk the last tranche from Málaga to Almuñécar in a week or so. And we’ve loads of material from across the whole journey to share with you. Keep following, compañeros and compañeras!

Meantime, click on the link below for an album with photos and videos of our journey…

https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipMz8ilTML6af3U2xixTwZxAVgMDOxhgtxZ1D0kd_65A8w4tsVwqWb9JS4D4kfHDLw?key=OVJKNHRySDlnSVduUkF0VmtMTm5VNmxHVjlIeU9B

… and here’s a stunning image to keep you going, courtesy of the super-creative Mark Fraser. Be sure to check out the detail. A prize of one full euro goes to whoever provides the best caption. ¡Adelante!

Cuenca

We took a rest day in Cuenca, where many years ago Chris lost a fiddle. He didn’t find it while we were there but he didn’t lose another one either, so that has to count as progress.

We loved Cuenca, a beautiful city, off the beaten track but well worth a few days’ visit. For this blog, we decided to say little and just show photos.

Near Huete: it felt like we had stepped into a painting.
Just before arriving in Cuenca
A city of many colours.

3 (mad) Gentlemen of La Mancha

Segovia to Cuenca

…there is no way, my comrade: trust
your own quick step
‘ Don Paterson, ‘Road’ (re-setting of Machado’s ‘Cantares’)

And indeed there was no way … Even our old friends in the Guardia Civil (!) couldn’t show us the way forward….

The Guardia Civil find us on yet another motorway!

So we became proper Knights Errant, erring our way through lanes and woods and scrubland, tackling giants (boulders), muleteers (mountain bikers), castles (barns), enemy armies (sheep), and fording deep dangerous rivers…

Adelante, Rocinante!

But the three gallant caballeros won through and entered the city of Cervantes himself – Alcalá de Henares. It’s good to see that the great writer is still very much part of the community. Statues to him everywhere, streets named after him and his characters. His house is a museum… except we don’t think there’s a single remnant of the man himself there; perhaps not even the bricks themselves… (Years ago, I went on a Quixote tour, with promises to see the actual windmills he fought – except he didn’t, he fought giants, or imagined ones, and anyway the mills weren’t nearly old enough to have been around in the 17th century. Oh and the Don didn’t exist himself either… Quixotic or whit?!)

First Communion day photos, kids clambering on the plinth, Liam pondering – Miguel de Cervantes is very much alive.
I shake hands with Sancho and Don Quijote… Eddie feels him up

‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’  Don Quixote / Cervantes

Here’s a short (irreverent, and slightly updated) audio portrait of one of fiction’s greatest characters…

Quijote pen portrait

It must be the enchantment of La Mancha. It drives us all mad. (Although there is a very real reason why we’re singing this song… Points for anyone who can deduce what it is. And points mean…)

‘Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.’ Quixote / Cervantes

We are cycling such beautiful roads, watching the landscape change from the misty mountains of Galicia to the flat arable fields of Leon, rugged Guadarrama tumbling down into the vast central Plain, the rolling expanse of the Alcarria and La Mancha. But everywhere there is a repeated sad story.

A day or two ago, after a hard hot cycle, we needed provisions. We were relieved to arrive at a little village. Our hopes were soon dashed – no bar, no shop. Only one elderly man who told us forlornly that there used to be all of those things. The Spanish interior is emptying out, and in every region. Our destination for the day was a larger, and pretty town, Estremera. We met María (below) who told us the same story. All her family have left for the cities; Estremera is dying on its feet.

Maria in Estremera

‘A decade in the country can slip down the gullet with the deceptive smoothness of an oyster. Yet the last ten years have marked rural life more than anything done to it for centuries ‘ Laurie Lee, writing about the Cotswolds, but tragically applicable to Spain

It seemed to Eddie and me that the Gran Organizador had managed to disprove the universally accepted maxim that What Goes Up Must Come Down. Until we came to this magnificent descent. Three things to note: we’re trying to go slowly so Liam can film us; Eddie and I never pedal – for the first time in a month- exhilarating but scary! And El G. O. films the entire thing with only one hand on his handlebars, wheeching round steep bends….

‘…there is no way, my comrade: trust
your own quick step, the end’s delay
,’ Paterson / Machado Cantares

More often than not, the Sexygenerians played to adoring throngs in towns and cities. Aye we did. But for some obscure reason we were often directed to remote spots out of hearing to do our set. Perhaps they reckon it helped they hay mature and soften…

(Rockin’ and) rollin’ in the hay

Spain is not Europe. It is not even Africa-in-Europe. It is an island cut off by pride and geography.’ Laurie Lee

You may have noticed that these blogs are getting backlogged. The honest truth is, as we near the end of a month’s cycling, interviewing, discussing, blogging, busking we’re running out of time and energy. The next blog will take us to the jewel that is Cuenca, and nearly up to the end of our tour. Stuff happens, I can promise you that. Not all of it good – tiredness catches up with the Tres Locos Hidalgos! But we will try and bring you up to date as soon as we can.