Conservative Party Leadership Interview

Conservative Party Leadership Interview


the journalist leans closer,

Salivating, at the thought of

Opportunistic benefits:

“Tell me, Most Honourable You,

What’s your opinion on this?”


“Good question, good question,

I’m so glad you asked me,

It’s a toughie but important

Because self-interest-self-interest

Self-interest-self-interest,  you see

I really don’t give a shit

About any of this

But self-interest-self-interest

Is good for me.”


“Yes indeed”

preens the reporter

Accepting each frothed syllable

With sycophantic glee

Imagining the door: brass-shiny plate

Director of Communications

Perfect for me.


“So what would you say then, Sir?

Comes the gift of a platform

Politician leans back, smirking,

A conspiratorial wink:


“Cut taxes, cut the benefits,

Blame the poor people, and EU

Balance the books in my favour

Stuff the many, favour the few

I’ll say whatever buys votes for me,

We’re way-past accountability,


Self-interest-Self-interest-you see…”

© Julie Wilson, July 23rd 2022, all rights reserved

Day 28-29, 31st Jan-Feb 1st – Parking

Wednesday 31stJan

Second night done at the campsite, we’ve got 300 miles to Malaga Airport for V on Saturday.  In this van, that’s at least 6 hours driving.  Gotta move on.  

I went to pay.  When we parked up, I’d asked M about the prices, he wasn’t sure, the manager had been a bit vague.  There was an allusion to €7 a night, so we weren’t expecting it to cost too much.

If you rocked up to a Premier Inn, in the middle of gorgeous nowhere, for a room-only rate with amazing mountainous views, a reasonable restaurant and shared but beautifully clean bathroom facilities and they said, €18 a night for a double room, you’d probably shrug shoulders and get your wallet out.


Say to a camper-vanner who wild camps for Nada Euros, in perfect privacy (albeit without the luxury of a ceramic loo) that they have to pay THIRTY SIX EUROS for two nights stay and you’ll see the tears in their eyes as they try to stop coughing in distress.  

That’s probably why the manager didn’t tell us the price (which, let’s face it, is peanuts) – he’ll have known that all but most dependent of caravans would probably have driven on.  And we benefitted from the electric hook up, M got the batteries sorted (yes, sorted!) and the fridge got a steady 110 volts for a change.  I got three hot showers where I didn’t have to dry out the shower curtains or the shower tray before we trundled off… don’t be so tight… 

The AP7 took us from Sierra Espuna, to Murcia, and cross-country to Granada.  We wound our way through four different Sierra regions, the van chugging like a lazy salmon, swimming upstream in a wide dark river. 

Rounding the foothills, a sky-high bowl of rock peaks looms to our left, seemingly marshalling the storms, like a food-processor on a slow whisk, turning white, black, purple nebula over and over on themselves until they doubled in volume.  Like milk in a saucepan that unexpectedly reaches boiling point, the clouds suddenly frothed over the mountain edges, tumbling down steep edges, deluging everything in their path.  Including us. Suddenly we were in a waterfall of precipitation, deep cloud, grey obscurity.  Windscreen wipers ineffectual at clearance, we slowly crawled our way through the inclemency.  

I peered into the distance; sharp spikes of sunlight punctured the cloud to let the rainwater through.  Otherwise, the world was now dullness, obscured magnificence around us, cowering us to the tarmac.  Like a dogged snail we travelled, leaving tyre-track trails behind us in the rain. 

 Eventually, we descended to Granada.  It might have been magnificent, we were just glad to discern the 20 feet in front.  M tussled the van through grumpy rush hour drivers to a Park4Night spot on a hill. Supposedly, this was above the Alhambra. There was no way of knowing.

Thursday 1stFeb

It rained all afternoon, all-evening, when I stirred in the night, I heard the rain. So this morning…  yup.

Stan whimpers and it takes me 20 minutes to unearth waterproofs, boots, warm clothes. Finally ready, I open the door and step out, expecting Stan to do his normal of shooting past me into the outdoors. 

No Dog

Have you ever seen a Labrador wearing a look of utter horror?  He looked at me, glanced at the rain, then tried to lie back down in a tightly curled ball in the corner of his bed.  He hid his head, like Winnie the Pooh, if he couldn’t see me… The coward was miserably resisting leaving the comfort of his warm and snuggly pit. 

“Tough do-dah, Stan, I’m dressed now, you are definitely coming”

After very firm ‘persuasion’, dog and human stride through the drizzle.  We’re beside the city walls, 4 feet thick of stone in broken places.  Exploring through brick-built archway and in the distance, nestled in the valley, is the up-lit Alhambra.  Magnificent, enormous, enticing.

We all have bucket lists, and The Alhambra has long been on mine.  

I’m like an excited child by the time we’re at the 2pm slot for the palace.  It doesn’t disappoint.  Here is a world created by older, wiser civilisations: Moors, Muslims.  The city is festooned with water hydraulics, fountains, pools, gushing gullies to rival the Romans’ work, on whose remains the Alhambra rests.  This magnificent city laces its way through more than twenty centuries of European history.  I walk open mouthed, ear hooked into the €6 audio book that tells me of it’s past.  

I won’t wax lyrical, save to say that if you have chance to visit these gardens and palaces, gawping to the sound of bubbling waterways and lark-shy birdsong, then go.  It is worth it.

We’re now at the second site for the evening.  The first, was a gloomy and glowering sea-side spot.  It boasted public loos, apparently now employed for much more than their original intent.  I don’t know what you use a teaspoon for, but I tend to stir my hot drinks with mine.  I’m not often seen boiling up substances in one, like the poor scrap of a human being, down by the underpass was doing tonight.

Our second place sacrifices WCs for a tranquility.  It’s a flattish car park, largely populated with other campers, considerably more peaceful.  We’ll rest here before wandering over to get V tomorrow.  As I finish this latest epistle, the wind has picked up again and I can hear the familiar sound of rain battering the side of the van.  Hey-ho – It is still winter.

Day 27, 30th Jan – Filling station for the soul

The battery’s not happy.  M’s not happy.  Stan wants a walk, so he’s not super-chirpy either.  

Well, the only issue I can have any influence over is the dog.  I leave M on his tummy once more, feet sticking out of the van, up to his elbows in wiring.  I think I hear him utter a tight “Okay” as I leave, but I’m not sure. He’s fully engaged in (a) not electrocuting himself, (b) not buggering up the sad battery or (c) damaging the healthier one. 

Stan and I explore what I think is the back end of another footpath.  I love the European way of organizing country walks. In the UK you get a map and find your way by carefully trying to discern between one large copse of trees on the horizon or that smaller one, whilst holding your compass onto a wind-torn paper map that wants only to escape your frozen-fingered grasp.  What fun?

None of that nonsense in France, Spain or Italy.  The maps are horrendous if you want detail, but that’s because the paths are signposted (with actual signposts) and have markers all the way round.  A colour coding system tells you if youre on the correct route, a painted cross in that route’s colours indicates if you’ve gone the wrong way and then arrows on trees/rocks show where the route changes direction just to clear up any confusion.  It’s simple, effective and much, much more reassuring than finding yourself knee-deep in semi-frozen bog that (according to your OS map) should have been 300 yards to the left and not where you’re presently sinking.

So, when the puppy and I get back to find M listening to the radio, putting away all his electrical gubbins and generally smiling, I’m delighted.  Brill!  We make a flask of tea (just because it’s 22 degrees and sunny, that’s no reason not to have tea) I put together sandwiches and we set off for the walk that I’d given up of having time to do.

The footpath signs take us almost immediately into pine forest.  We climb steeply up rocky slopes that might double for riverbed when it rains.  The light differs here to that in deciduous woods.  At home, the wafting leaves give intense patches pure gold on the dark earth below the canopy.  In winter it’s only the skeletons of branches and tree trunks that break up weak yellow daylight.  More of the sun’s rays settle their way down to the leaf-mulch carpet underfoot and birds flit in plain sight.

The pine forests that wrap themselves around us here have no canopy as such. We walk through foliage clearings but from little more than head-height the branches intertwine so that the sunshine is diffused, gentler, filtered by many feet of finely meshed pine needles. The air is full of their scent, warmth caresses my cheek.  I can hear but have no chance of spying the fauna that invisibly shake branches around me.  

Breathing hard from climbing 500m in one long swoop of the mountainside, we can finally raise our eyes from the rumbly terrain to look at the majestic craggy spires, bidding for freedom from their tree-clad roots.  I cannot talk.  My vocabulary is utterly inadequate for capturing the verdant green set against grey and rust towering rock, set against the crisp cloud-free heavens.  I can only drink in this loveliness, try to sate my thirst for such wonder.  Perhaps if I gaze intently enough I can greedily keep this soul-food within me, be nourished by it when we must eventually return home.  

In this singular space, this moment before the second hand moves onward, I am enchanted. My heart may never have been so full. I look across at M who’s similarly still.  Even Stan pauses, raises his snout to test the air and offers a languid wave of his tail. 

Gratitude, blessings, fortune has favoured us, does that mean we’re bold?

Day 26, 29th Jan – Idle conversations; idling batteries

We woke to the sound of waves crashing against the rocks and Stan whimpering to go out.  

It’s M’s turn. 

I lie there, immobile, wondering if I’ll be permanently disabled or if, in fact, the use of my limbs will return. Instead, M returns and offers me tea and biscuits in bed.  

This has a remarkable effect on my paralysis.  I am suddenly able to sit up, rearrange my pillows and stretch out my arm to receive nourishment.  Modern miracles…!

Yesterday, when M had suggested going to the supermarket for bread, eggs, potatoes, more biscuits, I had shot down the idea.  After a long day, I couldn’t face retail.  Which meant that this morning, we literally had three Gallette biscuits between us and nothing else that would substitute for the first meal of the day.  

Giving M some space for his ablutions, I wandered along the beach and saw a cafe, open, people sitting outside and at least one black-clad waitress busily weaving her way between tables.  Hurrah – breakfast!

Twenty minutes later and we leap to the only free table at this oasis of food, me, M and Stan.  The adjacent customers also have a dog, a chihuahua who is utterly resistant to Stan’s charms.  Nothing doing.  No matter the wags, sniffs and licks offered by our puppy, theirs isn’t playing ball; six inches off the ground and it is ferocious.  Which is ok, it offers a conversation point and I pull Stan back to a position of safety.

Anya and Francis are regulars in Spain, this is their first ‘long’ trip (a month) in a campervan, but they look like they were born to do nothing else.  Over our cafes-con-leche and toasties, we exchange stories, favourite sites, long-term ambitions.  The conversation lasts an hour or so, it’s good-natured, easy going, happy and idle chit chat.  

They’ve just come from an area that I’d hoped to visit before we’d detoured back to the coast: Sierra Espuna.  So, after settling the bill, we wander back to the camper, set the co-ordinates and ready for off.

Before we fire up the engine, M checks the batteries, again.  M installed the solar power system, a fact of which I’m terrifically proud.  There are as many ways to do this, as there are instructional YouTube videos on the subject.  It took weeks of investigation, questioning of experts and seeking advice.  In the end, I came home one afternoon to find M, mobile phone in hand, monitoring by Bluetooth the performance of our very own, magical, solar powered system.

Since then, we’ve had a few hiccups.   The batteries seem to charge quickly either from solar power or the split power relay from the engine.  But at night, their charge dwindles alarmingly fast.  Is it the wiring, the inverter, the fridge or that our expectations are too high?  There’s been low-level anxiety all trip; are they ok (the batteries)?  Will they last?  Should we find different ones?

We don’t have answers, but we do have a destination.  And, we still don’t have groceries…

Driving off into a new unknown, the route takes us past various towns and cities, but avoids all retail opportunities or open cafes.  By 3pm, the toasties are wearing thin, we could do with more to eat. Our general view of the world is that you’re never more than 20 seconds away from a food opportunity.  In Spain, at Siesta time, the theory doesn’t hold true. I’m hungry, but kind-of pleased the Spanish haven’t relinquished their culture in favour of western slavery to retail opportunities.

Eventually, we find our way into the national park of Sierra de Espuna.  It’s stunning, not dissimilar to El Vall De Jalon; lush landscapes from which towering banks of rock fight their way up into the cobalt skies.  We wend our way upwards, the widths of roads decreasing in proportion to our altitude. Café after café is closed, looking like it will be many months until they open again.  

Eventually we happen upon the village of El Berro.  It boasts two (closed) panderia, one (closed) supermarket and two (closed) cafes.  Losing hope of eating more than raw onions and red cabbage for our supper, we finally spy an open café opposite a car park.  Parking and food in close proximity is a rare and wonderful combination, we’re truly grateful.

El Menu del Dia (meal of the day) is a generous offering: drink, salad, bread, starter, main, pudding and coffee for €10 each.  We can’t make it past the main course.  The lovely food is plentiful.  Our waiter takes my attempts at Spanish on face value and fires off incomprehensible menu choices.  Seeing my confusion, he quickly reverts to English and indulges my mispronunciation of his mother tongue.  An hour later, sated with food, we walk Stan up to explore a campsite that’s got great reviews.

We’ve eschewed campsites so far.  But M is bothered by the batteries and I’m bothered by his concern.  So, we find a slot in the clean and militarily managed site and I exercise Stan whilst M is face down in the bowels of the van, wiring, rewiring and wrestling with our power source.  

I return an hour later to find him deep in thought.  He’s problem solved, researched, contacted the suppliers (who are keen to both baffle and avoid any liability that might make them uphold their 1-year guarantee). M’s worked out what to do whilst we take advantage of the electric hook up that’s included in the undefined price of staying here.  

We settle and get ready for bed.  One battery appears well and chirpy; the other is unwell and unhappy at taking charge. We’ll leave the poorly battery on hook-up and see what power it’ll absorb overnight.  I’m hoping M will sleep…

Day 25, 28th Jan – Farewells and a flamboyance of flamingos

V is coming to join us on Saturday.  She’s flying into Malaga, which gives us five easy days of travelling to cover the 400+ miles between here and there.  We don’t want to leave Pinos and G&L; we don’t want to rush along the distance between here and Malaga.

So it’s with lots of repeated hugs that we make our farewells.  Stan will miss Daisy and Holly’s company as much as we will miss their owners. We get an open invitation to come back their way when finally homeward bound.  It’s very tempting.

We stop off at Calp to pick up M’s specs.  They’re not ready on time, so we discover a lake and put the kettle on.  We give Stan a wander and find that the lake is home to lots and lots of flamingos.  Pale pink in body with darker wing tips and then deep blue ends to their beaks.  They wade, mostly heads down, lost in the lake, sifting for lunch.  

Today’s discovery was the collective noun for flamingos.  There are several to choose from (a stand, a colony, a regiment) but my favourite is ‘A Flamboyance’ because, set against the distant mountain tops and the huge rock of Calp dominating the skyline, nothing but such flamboyant beauties could compete.  We stand gawping until we realize that we haven’t seen Stan in a while and we’re in shady, bush territory – there’s a tell-tell tale trail of loo paper.  

“Stan, Stan, where are you?”  He languorously trots toward us, we anxiously check his facial movements – is he licking his lips?  I think not, but am too chicken to lean down and take a sniff.

M is the passenger today, I want him to have the chance to see sparkling views of sun and sea as we head out of the Jalon Valley and back towards Costa Blanca, Alicante and then Cartagena.  On our right are drier sierras, they’re dustier mountain realms than we’ve been used to. To our left, ‘urbanizations’ (purpose-built satellite housing estates) merge to form an endless vista of homogenous roof tiles.  

After the sense of space and tranquility of the last few days, I feel overwhelmed by the crushing populace of the cities that we pass in the van.  People are everywhere…

Two warm driving hours (230C today), and M finds another example of Park4Night brilliance.  A small town called Pilar de la Horadada boasts an unspoilt beach.  This conurbation seamlessly blends into the towns North and South of it.  But there’s a parking area that’s free, where the police don’t apparently try to move campers on.  

We choose our spot and start getting sorted.  A voice calls from outside.  M and I pop our heads round the open side door to see a very fit British guy on his pedal bike.

“I’ve been following you round for days,” he says.  “You were at Calp, Altea” and he rattles off other places we’ve stopped at.

We smile, unsure if this is a good thing.

“And I’ve been following you on Overnight Camping.”  

“Oh, ok” I resist the temptation to ask: is that alright?

“Oh well, at least you know who we are now!”  I cheerfully respond and there are a few more exchanges between us.  He’s parked up further down the coast.  A regular campervanner on the Spanish Riviera he reports how much busier it’s become in recent seasons.

“There are campers everywhere now, where there used to be just two or three.”

“Yes” I commiserate and recount our experience of tailing long lines of motorhomes around Scotland.

Then he takes a slug from his water bottle and is gone, leaving us to get food ready.  

Supper done, M walks Stan.  Pilar appears to be a purpose-built holiday town, full of uniform dwellings.  All but six seem empty, the town is uninhabited, dormant; like sleeping beauty waiting for her visitors’ kisses before she can wake up for the summer.  

Which is great for us, it’s quiet and nothing interrupts the sound of waves crashing against the pink and gold limestone rocks, except for the occasional call of a sea bird or Stan snuffling in his dreams.  

Day 24, 27th Jan – Easy like Sunday Morning…

Well, easy like everything really, with G&L, they do unhurried cheer to an Olympic standard and then when it’s time to kick into action, then “Boing!” they’re up and ready.

So we went from:

“Oh yeah, look at the time…” to “Right then, I’ll turn the car round and we’ll be off!”

Which we did, because this was the ‘look, see” day.  Three hours of sight-seeing-with-a-purpose followed by a late lunch at the locally famous ‘Maria’s’ restaurant in the village.  

Up hill, and down olive and almond-blossom sprinkled dale.  Weaving around the faces of the mountain in ever-tighter hairpin turns. I gaze through the car windows, wondering at the terraces, neat, maintained, industrious, for mile after mile.  

There’s a small cassitta (cottage) in Pinos village, you can almost see it from G&L’s terrace.  It’s rented now but they’re looking to sell.  Comes with different options in terms of land available.  Beguiling, authentic, terracotta-tiled with an open fire. A homestead of whitewashed loveliness.

We move on. “Se Vende” appears form time to time. But more importantly, we get the feel for this corner of the world that our hosts love dearly.  They are evangelical, proud, and still bewitched. It’s not hard to see why.

At Maria’s Restaurant, we’re served by a weary but charming son of Maria, who corrects (instead of wincing at) my Spanish, followed up by Gary who explains my error.  We chomp and chatter as fellow Brits turn up to say hello.  

Chris and Chrissy, who first dated as teenagers and then thirty plus years later finally rediscovered each other and have been inseparable since.  

Gareth (renting “my” cassita in the village) who’s been to the medieval market that we didn’t make, there being too much catching up with G&L to do.  Gareth smiles warmly and says that he’ll happily help up house-hunt in the next town down the mountain, he loves his current location.  

On our way out after an endless set of tasty delights, we’re called in by Jo, another Pinos resident and part time journalist for the local Bendorm Paper. She insists that we meet her dogs and see the new sofa.  

For each conversation of: ”How long?  Why? and Was this the right decision?” we learn not only of personal histories but what made a move successful, and the reasons for that fearless leap.  Each person we quiz states firmly and cheerfully that this was the best thing they’ve ever done.

There was a lot of wobble juice.  I turned out to be the only person drinking red wine until Gareth came along and he felt bad about drinking mine, so insisted I help him finish off his additional bottle.  Bottles of white and rose came to the table along with beer.  Then Jo had wine, which was supplemented by further supplies.  

So, it was a woozy pair of Wilsons that unsteadily wobbled their way to the van last night.  

Brain-full, I stood and looked up at the velvet night, pinpricked with shards of brilliance.  I wonder, I wonder…

Day 23, 26th Jan – Throwing down the gauntlet

My heart flutters with hope, like wings of a fledgling bird on the edge of it’s nest.

I can see a vision.  It’s so clear, I can almost taste it, palpable enough to hear the rhythms of a new life and touch it’s fabric.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

There is something magical, gazing up through muted-green, olive tree foliage, to spy dawn’s pomegranate glow reflected on the shanks of Mount Bernia, It offers tranquility to early day musings, lets the mind wander slowly down dapple-shaded avenues toward wakefulness.

Our stress-free hosts invite us to sit on their balcony as we drink tea, coffee, share stories and let the day rouse us properly.  As the sun’s rays gain power we move down to the porch, chatting, laughing. It’s an easy start to Saturday. Mundanities (washing, emails, uploading) are taken care of with more tea and more quiet chuckles.  

M’s asking lots of questions, Gary and Lesley (G&L) are endlessly patient as we root through the details of their existence here and how it came to be. Decision trees, route maps, little challenges, big ones.  Things they would do again, or differently.  We are utterly enchanted with what we see here and try to remember that a sunny Spanish weekend in January is not a new kind of existence.

After the slowest of starts, it’s gone noon before M and I rattle the camper up to the mountain’s footings for a walk.  We’re on our own (Stan stayed on paw-gentler terrain with G&L) and in ‘our’ type of territory.  From the pathways, some of which extend 5 or 6 hours of walking over to local towns, we have rock behind us, a view of the sea ahead.  

M throws down the gauntlet.

“I don’t want a new life to be something that I drive, that I source and find.”


I keep my eyes on the sand-coloured soil of the footpath and wait for whatever’s coming.

“You do it this time.  You find it.”



I suppress a grin and manage not to Whoop and Cheer.  Eek!  

M’s comment is fair enough. I wanted to do a camper, which meant he sourced the vehicle, the parts, built the internals, did the plumbing, most of the electricals. Did it all, in short, except the soft furnishings. And that’s the same for much of how life runs: I have the blue sky ideas, M makes them happen. Fair do’s; it’s my turn.

We get back to base and I report the conversation to Lesley.  She raises her eyebrows, beams, and pulls out her IPad. We set to, looking at estate agents’ offerings online.  

There’s not much in: (a) our price range, (b) preferred locations or (c) the size/type of property that we’d be interested in.  It’s not going to be an instant find, but that’s a good thing. Tempering the keenness is a good thing.

The plan for the evening is to celebrate the birthday of builder Kevin (a friend of G&L) down in a local town with his wife Sally, and another couple.  It’s a great Chinese restaurant that has pre-prepared dishes but also cook a range of fresh fish, poultry, red meat to order. There’s lots of laughter and funny exchanges. M and I get to ask more questions. Kev and Sally have been here for just less than 5 years, Tina and Darren about 10 months.  They’ve all found work, faced challenges, struggled with the heat in August.  

We ask, what for us is the key question: Was moving here the right decision?  The answer is unanimous and unequivocal: Yes.

Kev, a DJ at heart was up for hitting downtown Bernissa, drinking and dancing. To my immense relief, no-one else had the energy.  I drift in and out of sleep on the back seat during the 45 minute drive home.  It was immensely kind of Gary and Lesley to include us with their friends.  Generosity has been the by-word of our visit.

Stan is having a brilliant time.  He’s trying to make friends with G&L’s dogs, they’re less keen.  But he’s getting spoilt rotten by G&L.  He has been awarded free access to all of their dog toys and has been given a sleeping bag to supplement the rugs, dog’s bed and other spots that he can choose to lie down.  As the day warms up he moves in and out of the sun’s glare, a rotating set of toys in his mouth and a slow wag of contentment in his tail.

Day 22, 25th Jan – Nearly lost, newly found

Waking up at Altea, we had another bout of ‘Camper-Smugness’.  

Ours was the only home-made van in the car park of maybe 10 vehicles set up overnight. Which meant that, because M had taken the trouble to reverse in to our slot, late after the flicks yesterday, we could open the back doors and have our own private window on a delicately hued sunrise reflecting onto turquoise seas, framed by lush new growth on the pine trees. 

While M slurped tea and slowly came back to consciousness, I walked Stan down to the beach and turned left.  We had to be in Calp (pronounced Calpey for those who don’t know – I didn’t) for 12:45 for M’s eye test to get new specs.  So, I was looking for a potential back road route that I could run from our spot. It looked like I could start on the coast and then move inland for a bit, before moving back out to the sea shore once more.  Should be gorgeous.

A little housekeeping later and I confidently jogged off into the distance. M was following the dual carriageway and then going to find somewhere to park up and wait for me.  I shouldn’t be far behind him.  The first route Google offered said it would be 7 miles, the second offering gave the mileage at 4 miles.  4 was a bit short, but better than 7, so I dropped the destination in Google maps and the opened up Sports tracker.  The former would tell me where to go and how far I had left, the latter how far I’d done and at what miniscule pace.  All good.


Three annoying miles later, where I had twice run from the road down to the beach, looking pointlessly for a coastal route and then had to run back (up) to the road again and the dual carriageway was my only option.   I thought I’d just check the Map, in case…

Bummer – another 5 miles to go?  Really? 

I rang M, just to make sure I’d got the correct end point.  He sent me a new pin for where he was, some additional few hundred meters away from where I was heading.

Bummer again.  

It was now 11:30am and I was concerned that I’d be too late for M and risk him not getting to his appointment.  Google thinks it’s going to take me an hour and 24 minutes to walk it.  Obviously, I’m running, or trying to, but even so…

One of the things I admire about the Spanish is there absolute commitment to hills. They do loooooong ups, punctuated with short, sharp, interval-training-type-really?- ups, before they return to the looooong steep slopes.  They’re equally conscientious about coming down, there’s just as much ‘whooah’ pointing to the bottom of their not inconsiderable hummocks.  

It was after two more miles of these undulations when the path turned to rubble, which turned to a footpath through the bushes (oh-oh, watch out for the dark patches) and I, now at the mercy of a map-app, was running blind.  To my consolation, the postie on his yellow ‘Correos’ moped appeared round the corner of my foot trail.  At least one other human being must know about the route, perhaps I wasn’t completely lost.  

Hurrah! Tarmac!  Civilization!

And eventually, down a side street, was the camper.  Keys were where we’d arranged for them to be and I had, ooh, maybe an hour for the most leisurely shower of the trip.  Not lost, not longer sweaty, and getting ready to meet up with Gary and Lesley in a couple of hours time.

Have you ever known someone, a little, for a long time?  Circumstances mean that you don’t have the conversations you might like.  You get the sense of a person, but not the opportunity to properly connect.

I’ve known Gary, a bit, for 24 years and Lesley less well, for 23 of those.   

It was Gary, in January 1995, who arranged for M and I to meet.  He’d sold M to me on the basis of him being a copper, but not like a normal copper, he was a really nice bloke.  I’ve never known the details on which I was marketed.  It was Gary, who on my visit up North, met me and V from the station and extolled M’s virtues all the way home.  And three weeks later, it was M who accompanied Gary on an evening at the local club, where he met Lesley who was on a work’s night out and not on the market for a bloke at all.  

Our paths have crossed occasionally but through no fault of either side, we’ve never really had a ‘get to know you’ chat.   Today put that right.

And, it has been lovely.

Gary’s unchanged.  Funny, daft, warm, inviting, glad to have us there.  

Lesley’s a little more shy to start with, makes a lot of effort to ask questions, find out things.  

We met up in the town of Jalon (which has a car park where, for €3 you can exchange grey/black water for drinking H20, or for €5 you can also stay the night). Our group of 4 chatted on, Lesley and I gave Stan a quick trip round the park before picking up a few provisions from the local supermarket.  Then we followed them back to theirs for the evening, where, despite being vegetarian, Lesley’s prepared a meat feast for supper.

The route was maybe 10 miles.  It moves inland, past the village of Pinos, a tiny collection of houses and cottages , and then through a lost valley to their home set in its own almond and olive groves.  They have a slice of heaven.

When I tell Lesley how lovely I think it is, she’s genuinely surprised and I seems, pleased.  They have had less enthusiastic visitors.  It’s easy to understand how the relative distance of the cottage from a town or village might appear isolated, but that’s not their experience. I remember reading about life in the Scottish Highlands; homes are separated by valleys and mountains, but because of this, the community ties are stronger.   Gary and Lesley have received more invitations and care and concern than any of us might expect from city dwelling.  And they clearly love it.

So, without being slushy or overly sentimental, I want to say ‘Hello’’ to a pair of kindred spirits, who love the great outdoors and want a simpler, soul-friendly lifestyle.  It’s been lovely to meet them properly at last, I feel like we’ve found ‘new’, ‘old friends’.

Day 21, 24th Jan – Demons (not to be read at mealtimes…)

We all have them: some big, small, noisy, quiet.  But I’m yet to meet anyone/thing that doesn’t have a weakness.

Stan’s weakness (sorry, but this is actually really relevant if you’re camper-vanning in Europe with a Labrador), is human poo.

“Why?” You understandably wonder, am I talking about such a revolting subject?  Because sadly, it’s become horribly relevant.

Take last night’s stop, Guadalest.  This tiny tourist spot has three car parks.  The nearest to the centre of town is for locals only and houses the very well kept public loos.  The next-closest is also only for locals and is across the road from the WCs.  The third car parking opportunity is down a steep hill, on two levels and contains public bins, circular skid marks where the locals have shaved off layers of tyre rubber and gives access to one set of climbing routes that rise out of the bushes.  It does not contain a public loo.

“Seriously, you’re complaining about walking up hill to get to the loo?”

Nope. Not at all.  I’m commenting on the effects of all the other people who don’t walk up the hill to find the loo.  Instead they’ve nestled in said bushes, and left deposits sometimes covered with leaves, often not covered at all, for unsuspecting human feet and eagerly searching Labrador noses to find.

It’s not nice!  And Stan is super sneaky.  He’ll pick up his ball, ask you to throw it a couple of times and on maybe the third or fourth go (never the first or second, he’s far too canny for that) he’ll go to retrieve the ball but not come back.  Just as I turn my head to say “Yes, a cuppa sounds like a great idea”  or “Hang on, I think it’s in the front cab”  the little sod disappears, through a break in the car park wall, onto a sure thing.  

The clue to what he’s found is when he comes back licking his chops, in the way that you would if you’d just eaten a large mouthful of peanut butter.  His breath is unbearable and he’s then confined and leashed outdoors for a period of time.  Thankfully, we have a green-tea additive for his water that helps keep his teeth clean and eventually helps clean him up.  

The dog is now on the lead for ALL walks and only when we’re on a beach and are absolutely certain that he’s not going to make a discovery do we let him run free. 

It’s not his only demon, Stan’s, I mean, but it is a particularly stomach-churning one and I’ve never encountered quite so much human “debris” as here in Spain. So… if you’re climbing/walking/hiking/or own a Labrador…

My demon’s came out unbidden this morning.

The weather started out very cold and windy.  Then for a brief spell, the wind pushed aside the clouds meaning that although it was still blowy, and below 100C, it really seemed worth picking our careful way through the undergrowth to do some of the shorter climbing routes nearby.

They were a gift.  Bolts in the rock (that you attach carabineers and your rope to as you ascend) were less sparsely placed than often in Spain, the hand and foot holds were abundant; sharp and unforgiving on soft skin, but plentiful none-the-less.  

First clip (8’ off the ground) was fine.  Second clip (another 6 feet away), similarly good.  Moving beyond this, I’m 18 or so feet off the ground, but I’m on secure foot placements and I can see where the next hand holds might be.  The third bolt is another 3’ beyond my reach, but no matter.  

The wind picks up.  Clouds have already covered the sunny patches and the area is dark and cool.  The air temperature drops and with it goes my confidence.  I reach up, find places from which to move , clip and secure my rope, but I’m unsettled.  

The fourth clip is further apart from the rest.  The handholds are less generous and as my fingers quickly tap the rock’s surface, hunting for a place from which to make the next push upwards, a particularly strong gust pushes me sideways.  I hold on, fingers and feet secure, but it’s not a good feeling. The rock itself is cold.  The frigid stone pulls the strength from my fingers that seem cloggy and slow to respond to commands.  More to the point, I no longer trust them.  

Finally, I find one handhold that suffices and a second that’s shallow, spiky and puts me out of balance.  The wind pushes at my frame again, fingers feel like they’re going to peel off of their own volition… and I’m done.

Not happening.

A route that ordinarily I would have cruised as a warm up, and I’ve backed off it. I’m on the ground feeling shamed and foolish.  Stupid for trying in these conditions.  More stupid for not just pushing through and finishing the route.  My demons are mocking and taunting me.  M’s relieved, he had quickly started to get really cold and isn’t used to me being so reticent.  If I ever back off something he’s normally only encouraging, this time he just got me down as quickly as he could.

Not sure if common sense or my demons won this morning.  I need to get back on rock and try again.  The route today should have been a breeze, instead, I’ve been undone by one.

This afternoon we parked up at the most stunning camper spot we’ve ever visited (and there have been a few beauties), just North East of Altea.  It’s on Park4Night and is near a grand villa, right by the beach.  From here its 20 minutes, South and inland to L’Alfas del Pi where Vice, as promised, is showing in English.

I won’t give anything about the film away – Christian Bale deserves his plaudits for the role and all supporting actors are just as convincing.  If ever you wanted to see demons in action, then see this movie and follow its reflections for modern politics in the US and beyond.  

Tomorrow, hopefully, we’ll get M an eye test and eventually a new pair of specs, then we catch up with the local residents of Benisa.  Hopefully a less troubled day.

Day 20, 23rd Jan – To rock or not…

I did! I did!  I did see climbing bolts!  

Then I saw the UK Climbing logs for the area (tons of baby-easy stuff for me which is incredibly rare in a country that counts bolts in the rock as being there for wimps).  

Then I looked out of the window to see pine trees bent almost horizontal in the prevailing gale, sweeping its way through the valley.  

Oh well.

So, we walked down to the lake, which is very beautiful, sat by the roadside to have our picnic, and walked back.  M stopped to take a lovely picture, it’s very good, really captures the sense of the area. He achieved this with the use of his expensive variofoculs.  Just as he was thinking that he should be careful not to loose those essential glasses the wind whipped them away.

Up, up, up they went.  Over the Dam wall, down the other side, lodged somewhere on the scrub cliffs of the reservoir.  I saw roughly where they went.  Then I noted how impossible it would be to reach them, even if I did want to risk life and limb in the attempt.

It put a damper of the day.  He still managed to see the climbers on the various outcrops of rock though, we observed which climbing areas were protected from gusts.  Which was great, because for tomorrow, we know where to go now! M can’t wait…!

The nearest town with a cinema is L’Alfas del Pi. We’d done a death-defying drive down 270 degree road bends to get there in time to eat before the 7:15 showing of “Vice”, which M has really wanted to see all week.  The cinema owner was very accommodating.  He took us to the notice on his door that showed us that films are played in English on a Thursday, Sunday and Monday.  Today, of course, is Wednesday.

All was not lost, however.  We’d read the trip advisor reviews of the “Deja View” café.  Once inside we discovered the owner had a broad Geordie accent, and was serving braised steak with mash and veg.  

Ordinarily, you understand, we wouldn’t countenance eating English food in an English bar, in Spain.  But we were sat down by the time we realized.  And the upside of being there (apart from the very tender braised beef in onions) was the local knowledge that there were two opticians, one in Benidorm, the other in Calp where we could get M an eye test and replacement specs. 

There was also an interesting contrast between Guadaleste and L’Alfas.  Mac, of Irish descent, has absolutely ‘gone native’. His English accent is barely recognizable from the bullet-fire Spanish that he shares with the locals.  His fiancé is a local girl; he is enmeshed, ensconced in Spain and it’s difficult to see him going back to the UK.  

Trish, however, from the ‘Déjà vu’ has been in Spain 16 years, run a bar and then a thriving restaurant here, lives in a caravan in her son’s garden and decided long ago that the Spanish language wasn’t for her.  She left because of immigration into Newcastle (today running at <1% of the population), she’s considering returning for the grandkids and her Italian husband’s access to British health care.

Mac’s bar was full of Spanish, Trish’s café serves anyone but.  Two different ways of being in one part of the world…

Tomorrow I’ll start back on my ‘Learn Spanish with Paul Noble’ audio book and get better at communicating with the locals.

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