At home, abroad, on St Patrick’s.

I always say I can grow anywhere away from home, a little like a container plant. But where home is these days, I’m not really sure. But, having said that, I’m pretty sure I also haven’t yet found it. The world is too big, and I have more places to see, live in, and to write about.

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There are none so patriotic as the Irish abroad. We love to sit in Brooklyn or Birmingham, Bangkok or Brighton, and sing a rebel song whilst silently weeping into a pint. Re-runs of Father Ted and Mrs Brown’s Boys only get funnier with time, and we long for the sweet scent of the Oul’ Sod. The Fields of Athenry are sung with passion, and the free bird is allowed to fly at the big games.

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But, wait just a minute. How many of us know where the heck Athenry actually is?  (It’s Galway, lads, catch up) As for all the words – feck it, any of the words – to The Soldier’s Song, in English or as Gaeilge, I think not.But the 17th of March, now, that’s a different thing altogether. Everyone is Irish on St Paddy’s day.

It’s been 30 years since I spent St Paddy’s at ‘home’ in Ireland, and this year I looked forward to it.Well, I pondered it anyway, as I suffered a ride on the hard plastic seat  over to Dublin, complete with Zebedee behind me.

Childhood was green ribbons, mass, a Sunday-style  dinner, and the Big Parade. Trips home, later on and then with my husband,  were made up of a fortune spent in Kenny’s, Courtney’s and The Ball Alley, all local village watering holes. A blur of pints and laughs, smoke filled bars and quick wit, shirts lost at Cheltenham from the comfort of the pub, big breakfasts at my parent’s house – “to line your stomach “- and dinner kept warm and served with a thump – we were always late back.

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This year, I wandered down alone, stone cold sober, and stood for a bit under Carroll’s awning until the drizzle became a bit of a drip, then gave up and came home to watch the Dublin parade with Mother, where several dozen times we cleared up the facts that, yes, it was still Friday, and no, St Patrick’s is not a movable feast. Testing times? A bit. But, it’s okay, we’re alright.

The city centre parade was beset by horizontal rain, high winds and arctic temperatures. But, you know, everyone was smiling, enjoying it, and the Temple Street bar area held the riotous after party, if the Live Web Cam was anything to go by. We enjoyed it all, in our own way, from the safety of the sofa, and the furnace-like blast of the central heating.

It seems nothing stops us. We love a little adversity. And, I thought, no, I may not know where home really is, or what the future holds, but I’ll always, emphatically, be completely Irish!

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10 top tips for Gibraltar Music Festival 2016

So you’re going to the best European festival of the year? Great choice! Gibraltar Music Festival is in its 6th year, the very first festival in 2012 had Jessie J as headliner, and it was such a success that the festival has grown beyond expectations. Last year was the first 2 day event – with huge acts such as Paloma Faith and the Kings of Leon rocking the Rock. This year -2016- the first names have already been announced with more to come very soon, but we’re already looking forward to seeing the Stereophonics and Jess Glynne, along with many more artists.

Not been before? Well, from a seasoned GMF-er, here are my 10 top tips to get the most from the festival.

1.Book early. Yes, it’s an obvious one but tickets for this event sell out FAST. If you want a particular ticket; general, VIP, one day or both – then get in there and book now. KiDS UNDER 12 GO FREE!

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2. Think about travelling there. Last year GMF laid on a special pick up service for those coming from one of the resorts on the nearby Spanish coast – read the guide to Travelling to the Festival and save yourself a headache. Don’t even think about parking in Gibraltar.

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3. Sort your hotel out sooner rather than later. Places to stay on the Rock are limited, and La Linea fills up fast, so get booking too.

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4. Factor up. It’s HOT there, and September is usually warm and sunny. Long days watching bands require SPF in high doses, so bring the factor 50 and layer it on. Lip salve with a high SPF factor too.

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5. Wear a hat! It’s no fun squinting at a stage, so bring a hat and plonk it on your head, you’ll be glad. Like me, you might look silly, but at least in one way, you’ll be cool 🙂

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6. Be shady. Sunglasses, of course, are a must.

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7. Be prompt.  Get there early – queuing for entry whilst your favourite band are up first is disastrous, as happened with us last year, my 16 year old sulked all day after she missed Union J.

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8. Sit it out. Bring a blanket for later on if you want, BUT, sit on the fringes of the festival. Don’t spread it out in the middle of the ground in front of the stage or you’ll get walked on or danced on.

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9. Er, loo roll. There won’t be any as the day goes on,  baby wipes in a travel pack are your best friend.

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10. Beer o Clock? Don’t drink like a loon. The heat and the long hours require plenty of water along with your beer intake. Remember to snack too – there are loads of great value food stalls on site. Just load up your wristband and there’s no fumbling for cash either.

Lastly, have a brilliant festival! See you there, and say hello, I’ll be the one in the silly hat 🙂

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7 signs of Spanish springtime

For the rest of the world, springtime and the definition of any season is officially marked by  the Astronomical or Meteorological seasons.

The science behind the seasons

What’s the difference?  Astronomical seasons refer to the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the sun (taking into account equinoxes and solstices). Meteorological seasons are based on the yearly temperature cycle and calculate the meteorological state as well as timing with the calendar to determine a clear and definitive transition between the seasons.

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Spain is different

Got that? No, nor me. It’s far simpler in Spain – and as we all know: Spain is Different. 😉

There are 7 clear signs that Spring and warmer weather have arrived – Spanish style. It’s like the flick of a giant imaginary switch. Perhaps you recognise these signs, or perhaps you know a few more? Let’s see…

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Changes afoot

The floor tiles INSIDE the house change from icy polar old to reasonably warm overnight. You’re no longer in danger of losing your toes from severe frostbite for misplacing your slippers. Hey, bring on the flip-flops. Ah, I see, you never took them off… Time to paint those toenails.

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Raising the Parasols

Parasol – the clue is in the name of course. Into storage go the patio heaters, up go the parasols. Bars look alive with busy terraces. Yes, hold that comment,  I know they have outside terraces all year round down there on the coast, but we’re at the top of a mountain 🙂

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Hearty stews be-gone

Bowls of spicy, tasty Callos and pig’s innards are whisked away, and tapas is replaced by little mounds of Russian Salad (which incidentally can be either a soft and creamy delight or a splendid saucer of cat vomit).

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You ate THAT?!

Wash that down

Red wine? No Camarero, mine is a Tinto Verano – ropey red over ice topped up with lemonade and splash of Martini if you’re lucky. Very refreshing it is too…

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The smiling Cura

Ah yes, the Vatican’s best envoy, the Parish Priest, has a noticeable spring in his step, and he’s wearing a slightly creepy benign smile. Why? It’s the start of fiesta season – which means a substantial leap in the number of congregates, and a louder jangle of coins in the collection basket.

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Step talk

A better gathering than Mass. The scrubbing of front steps and the scraping of chairs means the start of ‘doorstepping’ season. From the plaza to our front door is a 3 minute walk but it can take 3 hours with a delicious stop or twenty to sip the proffered wine and (literally) chew the fat. . politics, religion, football, farming and family are discussed at length.

Besides, how on earth would anyone know anything without the front step gossip? Sheesh. Yep, that’s my step. 🙂

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The Birds and the Bees

Big blue carpenter bees, chatty and fat Swallows, busy Housemartins, they all back, and they’re all keen to start a new family. Sit back, pour another Tinto Verano (don’t wait for summer) and just enjoy springtime, in fact ANY time, in Spain.

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British Territory allows ‘Swarm’ of Migrants through.

In fact, they were welcomed with open arms just this weekend.  You didn’t know?  Where have you been?

Crowds pushed through and sailed through passport control, welcomed with gusto. They crossed a busy border strait, with two different oceans on either side, and didn’t even have to get their toes wet.  Lost children were safely plucked from the sea of people at various times during the day, and handed safely back to their designer-clad parents.

The crowd carried few belongings, mostly fresh drinking water, and a few snacks for the long queue ahead, as well as their documentation. They were identifiable once inside the fenced secure compound by their wristbands and entry papers.

But this was no war, no running for your life, no sweat.  The migrants were of many nationalities, three different passport holders in our little group of five.

Where was I?

It was Gibraltar Music Festival – where the migrants carried money – lots of it – and we all went safely home at the end of the two day festival.

A cashless event – the wristbands, or smartbands,  were ‘loaded’ up so no money was exchanged at the many food and drink outlets.

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Copyright David Johnston

Driving home – I idly wondered allowed whether any of us had money (non-refundable) left over on our smartbands.  Oddly, we all had a quid or two (maybe not so strange, as the drinks were not a rounded up price)

Hmm, so if we all had an average of £2 left, and there were 15,000 revellers….well,you do the maths. Perhaps a timely donation to the real refugee crisis?  No that would be smart marketing.