Thoughts and Reflections from Lanzarote

As I write this we are on our 5th day in Lanzarote. I do love it here and it was nice to go to our favourite bar and see all our favourite bar staff there. The manager Juan was pleased to see us and greeted us in his usual fashion, calling out good morning as he does, no matter whether it is morning, afternoon or evening.

I’m not sure that Juan’s English is as good as he makes it out to be because sometimes I can see a little confusion on his face when we talk about something other than the usual greetings and ‘how are you?’. Still, he is the consummate professional waiter, always focussed on who is coming in, who needs attention and even as we chat I could see he had spotted a table that required attention and he was soon off to take their order.

I do love being in a warm climate. There are so many things that once here we take for granted. How easy is it to rinse out a pair of socks or under garments and hang them outside to quickly dry? So easy. Come to think of it, why I have brought three pairs of socks over from England I do not know. I only tend to wear socks when I go out in the evening. During the day I am either barefoot or wearing my sandals without socks. Come to think of it, I didn’t need all those undies either as most of the time I wander about in my swimming trunks.

The villa we have rented is not one that I’ve stayed in before. We came across it just out walking back in 2020 and decided to book it for this year. Actually, we booked it for January but Covid 19 put paid to our travel plans. I have brought my laptop and iPad over and brought an array of electrical plug converters in order to keep everything fully charged. The thing is, this place has built in USB ports, so we didn’t need all those adapters after all. Next year I must seriously review my packing.

Another problem I’ve encountered is this one. Earlier this year a routine check up showed that I was suffering with type 2 diabetes. The doc gave me three months to cut out sugary stuff and get my sugar levels down before recommending medication. So I’ve tried to cut down on my nightly nibbles of chocolate and biscuits. No more sugar in my tea and no more choccy bar in my lunch box and happily I found that on my last check up I was back to normal. Great news but I’ve noticed that a lot of my trousers don’t seem to be fitting me as well as they did and I’ve had to cut an extra notch in my belt to tighten it up.

Before flying out from the UK I duly ironed my favourite shorts that I’ve had for a couple of years but they were way too big so they were jettisoned in favour of an older pair. My favourite trousers are feeling a little big too so I may have to look at buying some new clothes soon, especially with all the swimming and walking I’m doing.

Talking of new clothes. I usually make my Holiday Book Bag posts into a video for my YouTube page. Looking at the video from 2017, I’m wearing my favourite T shirt as I talk to the camera, the same one I’m wearing today. Note to the video wardrobe department. Make sure I’m wearing something different for this year’s video!

The other night we went to one of Liz’s favourite restaurants, Casa Carlos. Carlos is a big guy and always remembers us. He always takes the orders in his restaurant and usually comes and fills us in with the delights of the numerous fishy dishes that are on offer. He generally gives me a pretty black look when I order the pizza but sorry Carlos, I don’t like fish! This year the restaurant has relocated to the centre of the Marina Rubicon. When we arrived, Carlos was not in evidence but the waiter began to talk us through various fishy specials. I tried to look interested but probably failed dismally. We haven’t had a menu yet I told him. It turned out that Casa Carlos has gone hi-tech – on each table is a card with a QR code. You scan the code with your phone and a pdf version of the menu is instantly downloaded. Sorry Carlos, but I prefer an old-fashioned physical menu.

Carlos soon appeared and as usual remembered us and was pleased to see us. Liz ordered some fisherman’s soup and I went for the tomato variety. For the main course I couldn’t seem to find the pizza section but it seemed they just don’t do pizza anymore. I’m not sure if Carlos thought that he’d got me and I would be compelled to order something fishy. He did seem to have a bit of a smile on his face which crumbled a little when I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, I know, a rather uninspired choice but the menu just wasn’t my cup of tea. We only go there so Liz is able to eat some exotic fish.

I tasted some of her fish soup and believe it or not, it wasn’t vile. In fact, it was really nice. Of course, I’m full of a holiday cold at the moment so perhaps my taste buds weren’t functioning as they should be.

One of our holiday rules has always been no TV. We’ve stayed at plenty of places with impressive TV and satellite combos but we’ve never been tempted. This year as I’ve suddenly developed the cold and sore throat that Liz has recently got rid of and also because she is suffering greatly with a sore hip, we haven’t done much walking down to our usual restaurants. Well, at least not as much as usual. It’s November and it goes dark early here so we have relented and turned the TV on to watch I’m a Celebrity; Get Me out of Here!

Yes, I know it’s a load of old tosh with plenty of non-celebrity celebrities competing to be King or Queen of the jungle. I’m really not that interested but I think Liz likes it when I squirm at the bug eating antics of the show’s cast. This year the show is not in Australia it is in some castle in Wales. It looks pretty cold as the contestants are wearing numerous layers of coats and body warmers. They consist of a music producer I’ve never heard of, a TV presenter I’ve never heard of, a DJ I’ve never heard of and some others whose fame has just passed me by apart from Richard Madeley, once a presenter on some daytime TV magazine show. There is also a lady from BBC news and two late entrants, two stars of UK TV soaps, Eastenders and Coronation St, so to me that makes a total of four genuine selebrities.

The first episode was last Sunday and by chance the TV set was already tuned to Channel Four and the Qatar Grand Prix highlights were just starting. I’ve not written much about F1 this year but it has been a cracking season with some great battles between Max Verstappen and 7 times champ Lewis Hamilton. In recent years Hamilton has really rendered the sport rather boring by virtue of just winning almost everything but this year he has had to fight to keep up with Verstappen. Lewis won the Qatar Grand Prix so now has an outside chance of overtaking Max’s superior points score. I hope he does because it will be a long time before we see an 8 times champion again.

These last couple of days have been a little dull and much cooler. We mentioned this to our host Carlos the other night but he just dismissed our moan with a laugh. ‘What is it like back home in England?’ he asked. Infinitely worse than where we are now of course. ‘It will soon be warm and sunny again’ added Carlos, ‘don’t worry.’

I think that is really what I like about Lanzarote, the chilled-out outlook and the optimism of its people. If it isn’t sunny today, it will be tomorrow.


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Another Slice of My Locked Down Life

The lockdown has almost come to an end here in the UK this week. There are still some restrictions and it’s still advisable to continue wearing a mask in public and to keep washing your hands. If anything, at least we may benefit from the increased hygiene standards in future. I’m lucky in that I haven’t had the coronavirus but not only that, the winter is usually a bad time for me because I always, always end up with the flu or at least a very bad cold. This year I haven’t and that must surely be due to the continued hand washing and mask wearing.

What is also interesting is that we are now ok to fly to Australia and New Zealand. That’s great but the flip side is that those two particular places aren’t willing to let us in yet. Oh well!

The bad weather here in the UK is getting me down. We can’t go out much and inside it’s the usual routine, surfing the internet and watching TV. We decided to take a chance on the weather one day and combine the dropping off of Liz’s car at the garage to fix a faulty electric window, with a short trip to a pub that has outside dining. Liz had contacted the pub, the Midge Hall in Leyland beforehand to ask if we could stay the night in the car park in our motorhome. The landlord seemed ok with that so we parked up in a nice corner. I was glad to see that the pub had a couple of outdoor covered areas. One looked like it had either been made especially for the current coronavirus situation or had been nicely adapted from a former smoking area and another one just by the pub entrance. The ruling that week was that pubs and restaurants can open but customers must stay outdoors.

The Midge Hall

We had arranged to meet Liz’s cousin and her husband there and we had a lovely evening as well as a nice meal. The weather was warmish and it did cool off later but not unbearably so. We dined early so we didn’t stay out late, but it was good to be out and about again and good to be social, to sit at a table with friends just having some chit chat.

Our motorhome hasn’t had much use lately and it was good to get some miles under the belt on the van and give the battery a good charging. We saw quite a few motorhomes on the road and each one we saw, each one, gave us a wave. Their occupants too were glad to be back on the road I suppose.

Just recently at the Oscars, the big movie winner was Nomadland. Nomadland is set in the USA and is about a woman whose husband dies and then she loses her job because the sole employer in her town closes down. She sells up and decides to buy a van to live in so she can travel the country searching for work. I’ve not seen the film but it certainly looks interesting and I look forward to watching it when it either comes out on DVD or I see it on TV. The last Oscar winner I bought on DVD was The Shape of Water. It was universally praised but the fact is, it’s an utterly dreadful film and I’m hoping Nomadland will be better.

I suppose there is something romantic about living a nomadic life in a campervan or motorhome, stopping at a great location and then moving on when you feel it’s time to go. I’ve always loved our trips to France and we’ve found some great spots, all by lakes, plan d’eau they call them in France, lakes where you can swim. I have to say I find myself worrying sometimes; I like places where there are other vans and that always gives me a better feeling of security. Sometimes in the dark of the night when we are alone at a deserted spot and I hear noises I start to worry. The flip side is that after a day reading and swimming, it’s great to light the barbecue and settle down with a sizzling steak and some wine. Another lovely moment was last October on the Isle of Skye when we found an excellent but pricey fish and chip shop just by our park up point.

Parked by a lake in France

Could I live like that permanently? I’m not sure. In France I could perhaps drive further south when the weather turned cold and even spend the winter in Spain. That would have been easy pre-Brexit but I’m not sure how it would pan out now. A while back I started reading a blog about a woman who chose to live in a van for a year in the USA. Her big problem was the winter. I forget which state she lived in, although it might have been Oregon. The blog was called I failed at van life. Here are the 11 biggest mistakes I made. The biggest mistake was her choice of van. Looking at the pictures on the blog she chose a pick up with a camper unit bolted onto the back. She had to exit the car to go into the van area and there wasn’t a lot of space but the thing she really couldn’t take was the cold. When I say the cold, there were a few pictures showing her in what looked to me like arctic conditions. The flip side was also the heat of the summer. Think it gets hot in your car in the summer? Imagine trying to live and sleep in those stuffy conditions. Difficult but at least in our van when we experienced the heat of a French summer, we were able to stay outside until the temperatures eased but even then, the van interior was still warm and sleeping was difficult. On a couple of really hot occasions Liz wanted to leave the van door open at night but security conscious Steve didn’t. I fell asleep with the door closed but I’m pretty certain that soon after Liz opened it up. Happily, there were no roaming villains operating in the Loire at the time and we both survived.

Another easing of the lockdown came this week on the 17th when we could actually enter the interior of our beloved pubs and restaurants. Liz and I had a booking at a place called Ego in Lytham for the 17th, made many months ago and it was wonderful to sit at our regular table and be served by Ego’s friendly staff. The steak was excellent and the surroundings were warm and convivial.

Anyway, the next day it was time to forget about the cold because Tuesday the 18th emerged warm and sunny, the perfect day for some light gardening and a bit of a read out on the patio. Could even have been barbecue weather. Pity it was my back to work day!


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A Slice of my Life

I bumped into one of my friends the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for about a month. After a quick chat he said to me that he was looking forward to reading my next post. ‘Have you written a new one yet?’ he asked.

‘A new one?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you read my tag lines? A new post every Saturday!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘but you can’t do a post every Saturday can you?’

‘Yes’ was the answer,’ a new post every Saturday!’

‘Every Saturday? But how do you think of things to write about?’

Well, actually I’m not sure. At least I’m not a newspaper columnist, having to write something new every day, that would be hard but now I think of it, writing a new post every week is pretty difficult too. Luckily, I’m free to write about almost anything, I’m not limited like someone who writes a cycling blog for instance, who must find a new cycling topic to write about every week. I do tend to stick to books, classic films and tell anecdotes about myself but sometimes I rabbit on about Watergate, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Formula One racing, the Apollo missions and basically, everything under the sun.

While on holiday earlier this year -did I mention I went to France for five weeks?- I pumped out numerous blog posts but now I’m back home and back into the old routine my stack of draft posts is beginning to dwindle. Anyway, the other day I was reading a post by a fellow blogger, one in which he went from a slice of pizza, to a day in his life, a ‘slice’ of his life, if you will. That was so enjoyable I thought I might try it myself.

Picture courtesy Oliver’s

I’m not a great pizza fan but come to think of it, I did have a pizza the other week. Liz and I went to Oliver’s, a small eatery not far from a pub we drink in so it was nice to start off our night there. Oliver’s is a small place and I can imagine that in a previous life it was just a takeaway but the present owners have added a few tables, some pleasant lighting and decor and a small but tasty menu.

Liz and I always share a pizza for starters. We usually have the Siciliana pizza which comes with olives, capers, onions, cheese and anchovies. Now I don’t care for anchovies so we tend to swap that topping for something else. It’s a really nice pizza and as we are sharing we don’t get too stuffed. The main course is one that most people have as a starter; it’s a sharing board with meatballs, spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, some cold meats, and this really lovely olive oil bread. Wonderful! The other thing about this place is that they don’t have a drinks license so you have to take your own, which brings the bill down considerably and we always decant some wine from our French collection and take it along. (Did I mention we spent five weeks in France during the summer?) The staff at Oliver’s are very friendly too, making our visit there just a lovely experience, and not only that, the place is only a stone’s throw from the Victoria pub where they serve an outstanding pint of lager.

A meal out and a few beers is the perfect way to forget about work and blog posts and relax for a while.

A big headache for me lately is editing the video I shot while in France this year. (Did I mention we went to Fra- oh never mind!) Video editing is very satisfying, especially for a wannabe movie director like me but it is very time-consuming and there is so much you have to keep in your head. You have to hold the big picture up there in your mind while you sort out the bits and pieces that go to make that big picture.

The other day I finished my edit and began the upload to YouTube. The first few tries were a failure as my laptop timed out then went in to a sort of meltdown and had to be re started. Laptops are a little like a woman, fine if you give them the attention they need but if you think you can go in the other room and watch ‘Lost in Space’ -which is currently being re-shown on the freeview Horror channel at the moment- while they are working: Forget it!

After a number of false starts I finally got my upload sorted. My plan of action was to get the video uploaded then add some fine tuning and some music by using You-tube’s built-in video editor. At first I thought an element of brain fade had caused a minor meltdown within me (could do with another night out at Oliver’s perhaps) because for the life of me I couldn’t find the video editor or even how to access it. After some research I found that I couldn’t access it because the YouTube Video Editor is no more! As John Cleese might say, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-video editor, it is pushing up video daisies because, alas, YouTube decided they were going to dispense with the video editor.

Some other evening activity this week involved that great modern British custom, going down to the pub quiz. I do enjoy a good pub quiz and the Lytham and St Annes area there are quite a few quizzes to be found. A lot of them are the highbrow variety where the pub quizzers appear to have been bussed in from surrounding areas. They give you quite a glare if you happen to be manhandling a mobile phone and look like you are looking up the answers. As it happens our ancient mobiles are non smartphones so we are not guilty, although I have to admit I did once text my brother to ask ‘who plays Purdey in the New Avengers?’ (One point if you got Joanna Lumley.)

Questions in these kind of quizzes are on the lines of: Pudong, meaning “east bank”, is the financial district of which city? (One point if you answered Shanghai.) Bonus point if you know the husband and wife star of the movie ‘The lady From Shanghai!’ (One point each for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.) We went to one pub quiz a few years back in which the quiz master, a retired schoolteacher, asked to check each quiz paper after each round. He then put the team names on a ladder with current leaders at the top and those bringing up the rear at the bottom. Needless to say, not being well up in the districts of Shanghai, Liz and I, who quiz as The Lovers, were at the bottom of the ladder.

Anyway, this week’s quiz was at the Blossoms pub and the quiz was not of the highbrow variety but more of the fun variety. Lots of familiar film, TV and music stars in the picture round for me and a good cryptic word round which Liz excels at. After liaising with a young couple sitting close by we were able to come through as the winners after a round which alternated disco era music questions with 2012 chart hits. Great quiz and plenty of spot prizes for those who drew out raffle tickets and some great music. In fact they played the sort of tracks that you realise were not only brilliant but you haven’t heard for a while. One particular favourite was ‘Mind Blowing Decisions, by Heatwave, a fabulous track from 1978.

Next mind-blowing decision: Might as well delete that upload then and start the fine tuning of my video on my old laptop. As I wait for it to crank up I start thinking about food. What shall we have for tea tonight? Pizza? Nah, don’t think so. Come to think of it, we haven’t visited the Greek place for a while. Just fancy some Calamari for starters and maybe a little Moussaka with some salad . . OK, put that edit on hold for a while . .


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Restaurants I have Known and one or two Memorable Meals!

 

Restaurants I have known and one or twoGoing out for a meal has to be one of the great pleasures in life. It’s certainly one of my favourite things to do. There are many things that make for a great dining experience. The food of course is the important factor but it’s not just that. The restaurant and the atmosphere play a big part. The location too, is important and the table, but after the food the most important thing is service.

St Annes and Lytham have some wonderful restaurants embracing various food cultures. There is Anatolia serving Turkish food, The Greek Flame serving, not unsurprisingly, Greek food. The Marrakech has a lovely Moroccan menu. Woks Cooking in Lytham is my favourite Chinese eating house and Ego, also in Lytham serves Mediterranean food with a smile and outstanding service.

One of my all-time favourite meals was at my favourite French restaurant not far from Calais in a place we found on a country road, miles from anywhere. Liz and I stopped there many years ago for an early evening meal. For starters I chose celery soup and Liz ordered the pate.
I was a little disappointed with the rather small dish that was presented to me but then a huge tureen of soup arrived which was wonderful and produced about four small servings, one of which went to Liz while I sampled her pate which was full of rustic flavours and was perfect served with fresh French bread.
The main course was a simple omelette, light and fluffy with a fresh salad and Liz’s fish was lovely with a creamy curry like sauce, unusual for French country cooking.

Another great French restaurant is in Saumur, my favourite French town. Again, I don’t know the name of it and it’s always hard to find, in fact we usually tend to stumble upon it after walking around for a while. It’s a small restaurant that spills out on the pavement and I do so love those three lovely courses that French restaurants serve; starter, main and a cheese course, served with red wine and plenty of crusty bread. There is no rush in a French restaurant and there’s plenty of time to watch life and people pass by as you dine.

IMGA0302Tapas are pretty fashionable in the UK these days and we sampled some lovely tapas at the Blue Note restaurant at the Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca earlier this year. The highlight was the Canarian potatoes served with mojo sauce, lovely.

Yes, I’ve come a long way as a diner from the Plaza Cafe in Manchester where my friends and I used to call in the early hours of Sunday morning after a late night drinking and chatting up the girls. The Plaza served curry and there were three options: mild, hot, and suicide! Yes, how we used to laugh as we called up “Three suicides please!”

A lot of people seem to think I’m a fast eater. I’m not sure if I am but if that is the case; it surely comes from late night curries like the one above. If you are with six boozed up guys and you want something to eat, you have to grab it and get it on your plate as soon as possible otherwise you might just end up with nothing but a plateful of rice as my friends used to clear the table faster than a horde of locusts.

My one hate of restaurants though is this. Do waiters lie in wait for me to take a big mouthful of food before coming to the table? Many times I’ll try my food then nibble on small portions just in case the waiter approaches. When I finally think, ok, he’s not coming over, I’ll shovel in a good mouthful and out of nowhere a waiter is sure to appear.
“Is everything all right for you sir?”
All I can usually do is nod and try to mime someone enjoying their meal . .


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When Good Service Makes Your Meal.

I do love my food as anyone will tell you. And I do love dining out. The food is important of course but just as important is the service and I do hate bad service.

Not so long ago Liz and I were in a local pub and I noticed that on the next table there were a couple finishing off their meals. One meal was half eaten; the other looked to be almost untouched. What was wrong with it I wanted to say? Had any staff member been over to ask if it was OK? If so, what did the two diners say? I think we, the English, tend not to like to complain. I’ve had poor meals and eaten more of it than I wanted just because I didn’t want to leave a half full plate. Even so, the meal I mentioned above was hardly touched. Why hadn’t the staff done something? Most pubs these days have someone who comes round and asks ’is everything ok with your meal?’ The thing is, a lot of those people are not prepared or trained when the answer is ‘well it wasn’t very warm’ or ‘the steak was overdone’ or ‘the chips are cold.’ In Wetherspoons not long ago we were asked just that question, was our meal OK? Liz replied that her steak was cold and the waiter just said ‘sorry’ and went away. Was he doing something about the food? Evidently not as he never returned! Why ask about the state of the food if you are not prepared to do something about it? These days I just won’t stand for bad food or service. Complain! We British should complain more. We owe it to the subsequent customers to complain so that the pub or bar or restaurant will get it right.

One little bit of advice I will give is if that if you want a decent meal and decent service, go for a restaurant rather than a pub. No matter what anyone may tell you, a pub is all about drinks, and food is just secondary. A restaurant on the other hand is all about food and it seems to me that staff in a restaurant know more about service than staff in a pub who are used to standing behind a bar. OK, there’s the cost factor, but when you add it up I believe a restaurant is better value in the long run.

Anyway, enough about bad food; I’d much rather talk about good food. One of my favourite meals ever was at a restaurant in France. I can’t tell you the name of it but it is on a winding road coming out of Calais and heading towards St Omer. My starter was celery soup and Liz had the pate; simple French country food. A pichet of red wine and jug of water appeared. An empty bowl and spoon came and sadly I looked down at the rather small bowl that had arrived. The pate came with a huge basket of fresh French bread and a healthy portion of home-made pate with side salad. The waiter soon arrived with a large tureen of soup with a ladle and as I waited for him to dish me out a small portion, he just put the tureen on the table and left. Needless to say, Liz and I had several bowls of that wonderful soup each. It was lovely and the pate was tasty and just perfect with a small salad and French bread.

My next course was a ham and cheese omelette, the lightest, fluffiest omelette. Delicieux! Even the fish that Liz had was nice and I am not a fish lover. Pity I was driving that day as I could have sat there and consumed another pichet of wine as we enjoyed our cheese board.

Just to finish with I’d like to say a few words about my favourite restaurant. It’s the Ego restaurant in Lytham. The food is always good; I’d say it alternates between good and very good and on the rare occasion it isn’t that good, maybe the steak is overcooked or the salad comes with a dressing that we didn’t want, there are no arguments. It’s not like some places where we hear the excuses, sorry, we didn’t get a delivery of that today or the oven’s not working properly or the chef’s not feeling well or something. The staff just whisk the meal away and come back with a new one or with the missing item replaced. The staff in Ego are really exceptional and as we’ve been going there for a while we’ve got to know the staff and they’ve got to know us. They know without us saying that we don’t care for the anchovies on the Spanish sharing board and they always replace them with something we prefer, like the chorizo in red wine and garlic. I have to say hats off to Jay, Tony, Paul, John, Christian, Natasha, Camilla and Sandra, not forgetting the chefs, Ben, who makes a superb Spanish sharing board and Adam who rustles up our main courses; they certainly know how to look after us and as long as they do, we’ll keep coming back for more!


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