Lettuce Pray

Those words I always thought the priest uttered at Mass on soft Irish Sunday mornings – I was an almost-adult before – like many song lyrics – I realised I had it all wrong. Young folk have no idea how lucky they are that they have lyric sites at the swipe of an iPhone – and that they’re not bullied into Mass, for that matter.

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But this post is neither religious or musical, though I suspect a Mel Brooks-style treat is being hastily scribbled in the wings.

I ask you to to forget about world hunger. Begone Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and those irritating refugees looking for non-essentials such as shelter and water. The new kid on the block is Britain. Yes, in true OLIVER style, the begging bowl is out. The supermarkets are bare and the Sun editor is doing back-flips. It’s the scoop of the century. There is no lettuce. In February. That’s winter, right? But there’s no use whining and begging. Spain is NOT for sharing.

So, let’s consider the great #LettuceGate scandal of 2017 as a great hunger, perhaps even a Famine. Ah yes, we knew we’d have you eventually, landowners and bigwigs. You thought you could get us with our own potatoes when the chips were down.

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There’s a monumental disaster afoot and it’s caused by a lack of Lactuca Sativa.

What if #LettuceGate has the same consequences as the Great Famine? Starvation. Disease. Lettuce is a rich source of Vitamin K and Vitamin A. It’s a source of Folate. The National Health Service will crumble.

There’ll be mass emigration. The fact that no-one will want you is a bridge you’ll just have to cross in search of Iceberg, Cos or your next bag of Looseleaf.

What’s the solution? Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP might like to know that it’s possible to wait until lettuce is actually in season and grow her own.

Remember one more thing, Britain. Where did all the Irish go after An Gorta Mór? Oh yes, but now, sure, isn’t that ‘just desserts’?

Spanish Road Trips: Happy in Valladolid

Lovely though it is on our mountain way up in the Alpujarra, sometimes we need to come down and go exploring, and see more of Spain! Usually its a quick weekend in a nearby city to soak up some carbon monoxide and culture, or if I stamp my feet I can wangle a relaxing coastal chill-out; the pebbles of the nearby Costa Almería or Costa Tropical rounding off my laptop shoulders and returning my smile.

No 1 Son was over from wet Wales for Easter, and because he turned 21 recently, and also happens to also be the No 1 UD ALMERÍA fan, we opted for the next available away match as a getaway destination. Having browsed the fixtures, that turned out to be Valladolid. Unfolding the map and hopping into the car, we discovered one sure thing. It’s a blooming long way!

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About Valladolid

Valladolid is the de facto capital of the Spanish region, Castile and Leon. It supposedly had at one time the highest number of Franco’s supporters living there, but I may need citation on that! However, don’t allow that fact to put you off – or perhaps turn you on…as you’ll see, we encountered some fabulous folk.

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With a population of half a million, first impressions are of an northern industrial town (indulge me, going all Billy Bragg there 🙂). Rows upon rows of dingy rust coloured high rise flats, it looks a bit depressing after the calm, flat and green La Mancha landscape we were lulled by, on the way ooop north. But then again, it was raining, hard. It would all look better in the sunshine.

I’m not going to go all Wiki on you, but you can read more of the facts here if you wish. However, the strong links to the Catholic Monarchs, Columbus and Cervantes are of more than passing interest.

Heading past the stern exterior, we drove on without a problem – a well-signed one way system that’s easy to navigate –  straight into the centre, following the rail line, and into the Old Town, where we had booked some accommodation (see below). Brimming with history and superb renaissance architecture, we perked up, even if the weather did not. But I’m Irish, and sure what harm is a soft day? 🙂

Sightseeing

You’ll love Valladolid for sightseeing. Be prepared to walk and crane your neck a lot. Top of our list – and possibly yours –  will be Casa de Cervantes (where Quixote lived) Christopher Columbus Casa/Museo, the Cathedral, the National Sculpture Museum and although we didn’t go in, there’s an interesting looking Oriental Museum too. The Plaza Mayor is a great meet-me-if-we-get-lost spot, and looks amazing at night with all of the buildings around the square, illuminated.

 

Casa de Cervantes is FREE on Sundays. It has as a fantastic book collection of editions of THAT book from all over the world. The rooms are restored as per in Cervantes’ time. The Columbus museum is modern and interactive, and more about the discovery of the Indies than the man, not hugely interesting if you don’t speak at least a little Spanish.

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The parks, open spaces and many-spired skyline and bustling streets of city life in Valladolid are as interesting as the guidebook sights.

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Best Bars

Head for the Plaza Mayor and you’ll probably find it difficult to get round all the bars there, as they’re numerous. Prices are more than reasonable, so although you may pay for tapas, it’s no more expensive for a round than it is with free food back here in Granada, the beer is cheaper and we drank Estrella Galicia which seemed to be served everywhere.

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To watch a match, head to the Be Bop Bar (Plaza de Martí y Monsó) where the glamorous owner will chat you up and keep the party stoked. We were there to watch El Clasico (between Real Madrid and Barcelona) so it was a busy and fun night!

Afterwards, you’ll have no trouble finding a Gin Joint and someone to sing you a song…

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Shopping

The pedestrianised streets are a pleasure to shop in, where you can buy a purple Valladolid home shirt, or explore the boutiques nested between the usual big-name brands. For inclement weather – which I suspect is a lot of the time – there’s a large shopping centre just outside Valladolid, the Rio Centre.

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Food

Meaty! It’s all sausage and a bit of a meat-feast in Valladolid. Los Zagales de Abadía was recommended to us, as both a bar and for it’s award-winning tapas. It’s certainly different! We found it a little overpriced, slightly pretentious and not particularly tasty, though the presentation was phenomenal. It’s all smoke and mirrors. For example, a well known chocolate Spanish cake bar was replicated as a rolled up fried bread slice with Morcilla and cream cheese sandwiched in the centre. I’m still nauseous at the thought!! It has, however, won many national awards, so perhaps I am just a foodie-heathen. Have a look if you’re in town. Anyway, the sizzling lamb chops were delicious…

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You may wish to browse the Trip Advisor list of Top 10 best restaurants in Valladolid.

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Folk

I can’t emphasise this LOUDLY enough. The words solicitous and friendly were perhaps invented just for the happy people of Valladolid. They are so NICE. Shops, bars, on the street for directions, they’re a matey, polite bunch. The girl at the take-away artisan croquetas shop on Plaza Espana almost came home with us to cook them, she was so helpful – and they were delicious. The main tourist office has super friendly Sonja, who wants to chat and take you all over town. Smashing place to visit – with welcoming and warm, sociable people. Even at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla, where as away fans we are used to being segregated, we were all sitting together. It says something about the friendly atmosphere of Valladolid.

Where we stayed

We booked La Pintada, a second floor spacious apartment in an old walk up, right in the centre of things on Calle Nogal. Sleeps 4, fully furnished, centrally heated, spotless, quiet, everything perfect *apart from the communal WiFi, so be prepared for that*.

Urbano –  the owner –  has an office on the same street, is super-friendly, will mark everywhere of interest on a map for you, and is well worth calling if you want a home-from-home with a lot of space in the city centre.

We paid €200 for 2 nights.

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Where you might stay

Let’s look at prices for a weekend in May, one night for 2 people.

Booking.com

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Annual Ferías and Fairs

Here’s a list of 2016 dates for the annual Valladolid shindigs and fiestas.

 

Bring home…

Ribera de Duero wine, quality Sheep cheese, chocolates and elaborate little cakes.

Would we return?

Yes – we would. Valladolid – despite the long drive for us – is one of those easy to explore, friendly small-enough-but-interesting cities to return to. You won’t feel swamped or lost, and you’ll love exploring it and getting to know it a little more each time you go.

And the footie? Meh. We drew…but remember –  UD Almería, nunca se rinde!

Going hunting in Spain (No shootin’, no fishin’)

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Blinking against the intense white light, made even more effulgent by the snowy frame of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I curse the fact I have yet again forgotten my sunglasses. Looking down instead, where the already dried out wild herbs of thyme and mountain sage crackle and snap satisfyingly underfoot, I begin my hunt, the search for orchids. Watching my step too, the uneven ground needs no help to send me flying, I am increasingly awkward with age, and do not welcome another ankle impairment.

I note where the wild boar have already visited this morning, a sounder of swine in party mode, turning over earth, rummaging through the herbs and grasses with vigour. I wonder what they found? Some edible root delectable to swine taste? Who knows? Perhaps a yet to be discovered Michelin-worthy wild ingredient.

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A gunshot bangs closely – too close – and I shudder.  I have no entanglement with the local love affair of blasting the wildlife from this land. I hope the trophy is not our tusked friends. Probably.

I look across the valley, my corner of Spain.  North to snow-capped Mulhacen, south to the Mediterranean, the white villages like handfuls of sugar cubes in between , folded in to the mountain sides. The stretches of pollutant plastic down below the line of smog that is the Costa Almería. No sign of the great white hunter at least from where I survey, and I continue my own pursuit for the first, early orchids.

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I’m rewarded with a coterie of Giant Orchid, with many promising yet to unfold from their shining, stocky green leaves. A very early Mirror Ophrys –  Ophrys s.Speculum – makes this type of hunt completely worthwhile, looking like an ancient Chinese swordsman in full warrior costume. Well, that’s what I see!

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Woodcock or Sawfly (can never tell which) make up the day’s discoveries, as I walk back to the quiet mountain road, passing Grape Hyacinth and treading the perfumed prickly carpet of herbs.

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A deep breath, a good look around, a lungful of pure air. The best remedy for scrunched-up shoulders, tired eyes and a mind that tends to lean to despondency for no reason at all.

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If you’re exploring the Alpujarra, contact me and I’ll happily show you/send you guides to the best local spots for orchids – as long as you’re careful to respect the area, watch where you tread, and unlike some half-baked guests we once hosted – don’t pick them!

 

The 10 commandments for expats in Spain

Thinking of a move to sunny Spain and wondering where to start? Once you have all the travel arrangements and new home sorted out, and finally unpacked, you should then find out how best to fit in. Confused? Then follow some simple rules, and feel more at home in Spain. After a decade here in the Alpujarra region of southern Spain, we have fallen foul of at least a few of these ‘rules’ – so be prepared!

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Commandment 1.

Thou shalt give blood, sweat, tears – and another Xerox copy.

When you go to finalise paperwork (a bit of an oxymoron as there is always more, and never a ‘final’ ream of paper to get through) always remember to bring many, many copies of absolutely everything that pertains to the subject at hand. A vial of blood may also be handy. Add approx one ton of patience and you’re almost there.

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Commandment 2.

Thou shalt punish the liver – an evil organ.

Party etiquette. Your child  – settled in school and lisping like a local – has been invited to a friend’s birthday. Yay – a couple of free hours. Wrong. Forget pinning the tail on the mulo, or birthday games of any sort. You will also be expected to attend. The kids will be kicked into the street to play (whatever the weather) while the adults eat Russian Salad and get completely sloshed on home-made wine. There will be many of these – prepare your liver now.

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Commandment 3.

Thou shalt not poison thy neighbour’s wife.

Foreign food. Never bring a non-Spanish dish to a party. It may as well be labelled ‘radioactive polonium’. Everyone will ask you to explain what it is, what’s in it, how did you make it – but NO-ONE will eat it. You’ll be encouraged to bring it home again, where it can sit in the fridge looking reproachfully at you for 3 days before being slung in the bin. As for curry – ha.

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Commandment 4.

Thou shalt not get frustrated.

Never assume a free morning is the ideal time for popping to the bank, the doctor and the Town Hall. One thing at a time. Always. Listen to everyone’s aches and pains in line at the bank, their marital troubles in the doctor’s, and be prepare to be surprised at the Town Hall – Ayuntamiento – where you’ll be presented with another bill or ten you hadn’t known about.

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Commandment 5.

Thou shalt not arrange anything in August.

Never attempt to get anything at all done in August. Spain is closed. The roofer, gynaecologist and lawyer you desperately need to speak with are all at the beach.

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Commandment 6.

Thou shalt stay pale and interesting.

Oh no. Never go to the beach in August. In addition to it being packed out with all of the above  – see Commandment 5 – you’ll feel hopelessly, pathetically under qualified when you take out your sandwiches. Mama and extended familia next to you will have salad, wood fire cooked Paella and cold beers, coffee and cakes, and a tablecloth on a table to seat 20.

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Commandment 7.

Thou shalt be assertive.

STOP being so polite. Please and Thank You gets you nowhere. If you want another drink, bang your glass hard on the counter. Shout louder, harder, stronger.

No, we still can’t do it either.

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Commandment 8.

Thou shalt become a supergrass.

Be prepared to tell everyone in a room how much you earn, how much you owe to the bank, how much you weigh, and the details of your sex life. In detail. Ya Está…

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Commandment 9.

Thou shalt honour the little people.

Never expect to find somewhere to eat a quiet, romantic meal, with all kids tucked up in bed. Noooo, kids stay up as late as everyone else, and are happily ignored as they scream and run in close proximity to your prawn cocktail. Grin and bear it. Tell one off at your peril. That might be a hanging offence, I’ll have to check…

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Commandment 10.

Thou shalt remain smug.

Enjoy yourself, turn your face to the sun, and your back on stress and worry. Never worriedly say “but what if…” instead wait until it might happen. Have a healthy respect for football and local fiestas, take the generous gifts of fruit and vegetables with gratitude, and you’ll soon settle into your new life in Spain.

Good choice, by the way 😉

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Photographs author’s own, Google free images and from Pixabay.

 

The Beer Run and a Bomb Shelter

With the beer shelf of the fridge looking sadly empty we interrupted our morning to take a quick trip to Adra and our current favourite shop for essentials –  Lidl.

We timed it right as there was 50% off the second bottle of most of the ‘nice’ beer labels, so we threw Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Germany into the trolley with some of their Italian range of food and headed back.

“Fancy a look at the museum while we’re here?” asked Museum Man Stan. (I wish he felt the same about the beach)

I did, so… we did.

Entering the museum, the nice chap at reception turned on the lights and gave us a few pointers for looking around – then asked where we were from. “Ireland  – piped up Museum Man Stan – he almost always refuses to admit to his Queen and country – Er, Alpujarras, we live in the Alpujarras.”

Nice chap: “Which part?”

Stan: “Murtas”.

Nice Man: “Ah Murtaaaa  – a big smile – (it’s always the same reaction). My family were from there in the 1800’s….There’s also another foreigner there, an Englishman, a photographer, do you know him?”

Soy yo, (That would be me)” admitted the Honorary Irishman.

Apparently, they had met years ago, when Nice Chap visited the village and he purchased one of Stan’s photographs that was displayed in the bar – giving him his contact details and asking for more, explaining that Nice Chap was in fact the tecnico cultural for Adra, and he wanted to do an exhibition of the Honorary Irishman’s work. Yay.

Except the Honorary Eeejit lost the details and never followed it up.

So, fast forward to this morning.  Nice Chap turned out to be Javier Sanchez Real, author of Farua, that annual cultural book on Adra, in addition to his tourism/cultural role, and a mine of info on Adra.

We promised to come back armed with camera and notebook – because the museum is seriously good,  and I’ll cover more on it in another post, but do go – and he gave Hon Eejit all the details again, as unbelievably he is still interested. He’s also love me to write some info in English 🙂

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Photo from http://www.adraturismo.com/en/quehacer/visitas-guiadas.html

Javier then directed us down the street to the ancient town walls, and instructed us to claim a key from a bar, saying he sent us 🙂 which would enable us to have a private look inside the Civil War bomb shelter, which we duly did. It was fascinating, and was also used to shelter those who walked the route from Málaga to Almería as detailed in the book The Crime on the Road by Norman Bethune. Paul Read  – Forgotten Stories From Spain: The Ambulance Man And The Spanish Civil War is another great read on the same subject.

So that was our rather interesting morning…yours?

The Yays and Nays of UK (V Spain, of course!)

Last weekend, when I should have been attending the wonderful idea-forming WABAS conference in Antequera, we instead flew to Wet Wales to visit Uni-based son in Bangor. The clash of dates occurred due to uni reading week, in fact the same problem as I had last year.

I don’t often ‘go home’, which is, of course, Dublin. We lived in Wales prior to upping sticks to our Spanish mountain, and despite various old neighbours and friends visiting US, I have not returned to Wales in almost 10 years.  Bangor has been the boy’s choice of home for over a year now, so I thought I had better make the effort and see where he has chosen to study. Hmm, Study. Loose term, that 🙂

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So with flights booked, car hire arranged, Travelodges paid, dog-sitter cajoled, off we set last week, stopping for the night in Nerja at possibly the best value hostel in the world 🙂 If Carlsberg made hostels, well, here are the details of Hostal Abril if you wish to see for yourself.

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The weekend went swimmingly, no delays, no problems, the Boy is doing great because he’s happy and has a great bunch of totally mad and lovely mates. But, I did that old expat thing of asking myself whether I could/would ever live there again. I’ve come up with a few Yays and a smatter of Nays, do you agree?

Yay! 🙂

Sunday papers

Specifically, the Times, and the supplements to provide us with loo and bed reading for the rest of the week. I really miss Sunday Morning in bed with AA Gill.

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Autumn Colours

A leafy, tree-lined lane with the smell of rain, and woolly mittens grasping the dog lead. The views of North Wales are unbeatable. Well, if it wasn’t for THAT entry on the Nay list.

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Beer

Remember Noddy Holder “Save your thank(es), I’ll have a pit of Banks(es) “? No? Well, we were living in Wolverhampton at the time. Nothing like a decent pint, in a warm pub, with convivial company and no blasted strip lights, bullfights on telly, or Pipa mountains to trip over.

Thirsty?  Here’s a list of 24 cracking Welsh breweries to sample as soon as you can.

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Greggs Sausage Rolls

Yeah, council house trash, me. But really, you have to admit – they are the best 🙂 And Boy would simply not survive without them.

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Polite service industry

Yes please, Thank you, No problem. Friendly, smiley people at Hertz Liverpool, Llandudno and Bangor Travelodge, shops, pubs, restaurants.  Zara need to send their staff over to Blighty for a weekend’s Smile Course.

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Poundland/stretcher

It’s that common gene again. I cannot help it. Fill your boots.

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Driving

Drivers who know what to do at a roundabout.  Folk giving way and waving. Using a Zebra crossing without risk of immediate death.

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Happy dogs

I’m not saying they’re aren’t any, but I didn’t see one miserable looking starved canine all weekend.

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Nay 😦

It’s bloody filthy

I’m no Martha Stewart, in fact I’m a bit of a slob, and prefer dog hair and comfort to Febreze-ing the casa any day, but by God sticky tables and carpets seem to breed in the UK. Wet weather and carpets do not go together. The streets, public loos, the airport, they all need a power wash.

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Bouncers

More bouncers than clientèle in Wetherspoons these days. Everyone seems to like a fight to wash down their Speckled Hen. And where are kids after Gin O’Clock?  They’re all banished to make way for the gunfight at the local OK Corral. Odd.

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Drunks

Yep, the UK needs a Tapas revolution. Mucho throwing back and throwing up – seems to be something of a weekend thing. As is wearing as little as possible on a night out. Oh hang on, I did that once.

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Yeah, well, the Weather

Horizontal rain, wind, ALL the time gets a little bit boring. Those attractive leaves aren’t so great when they’re slippery and soggy, blocked drains and puddles, and view-spoilers are a big no-no for me. Hate to be so boring and regular about it, but yes, I prefer walking on sunshine. I mean, if I cannot wear Flipflops in November there’s just no point.

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Laziness

As in attitude towards day to day stuff.  Do it for me, click a button, have it delivered. NHS, Banks, even shopping. Is it because we have to do everything the long and tiresome way here in Spain that it was so obvious to me? The British tourists ‘stranded’ in Sharm el-Sheikh as a prime example. Whining and whinging over the media about having to stay a few extra days in what is now, probably, the safest place on earth. You chose a cheap holiday in what is essentially a guarded compound between war zones – so accept the risks. Don’t engage in the media sport of destroying their tourist industry just because your fortnight was cut short.  You all have it a bit easy in the UK – you should appreciate what you have and harden up a little.

Apologies for the rant, kind of slipped in. So…What’s on your Yay/Nay list? 🙂

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.