And then there were clowns

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In the week before the carnival in Funchal the broad boulevard beside our apartment turned into a riotous mass of swirling shapes and colour. Madeira was in party mood.

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Such fun to be there for this.

Bright awnings pierced with shapes were slung between trees. Beneath these, numerous stalls sold poncha, a favourite local brew made with aguardente de cana, alcohol distilled from sugar cane juice. Sugar cane used to grow in abundance on the island, but these days bananas and grapes seem the main crop. Other ingredients of poncha are honey, sugar, lemon rind and fruit juice which varies according to the version of poncha. Traditionally lemon juice is used.

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The sound of the samba, never too obtrusive, never annoying, always joyful.

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Fascinating decorations – fancy trying my hand at making these.

And attracting crowds were bands, most dressed up for the occasion, all playing sambas with gusto.

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Madeirans really get into the carnival mood. Any excuse for a party we were told.

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Entering into the carnival spirit.

When no bands were around, samba music played from loud speakers hidden in the trees.

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A promise of things to come.

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Loved the colourful awnings pierced with designs. They added so much to the atmosphere.

Whenever music played you could watch groups of people dancing or just swaying to the rhythm, a dreamy smile on their faces. Such a wonderful atmosphere, too – relaxed yet joyous, people enjoying themselves.

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Young and not-so-young get involved in the fun.

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Big specs, big drum.

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Magician with his pack of cards.

In the small Municipal Park entered from the boulevard more entertainment could be found at the open air amphitheatre where community groups gathered in their gladrags.

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The reddish brown ‘hat’ with the eye is part of a wonderful octopus costume. I was sorry I didn’t get a better photo but didn’t like to be too intrusive.

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No celebration is complete without balloons and these animal shaped ones must have been irresistible to children.

So many clowns, presumably all from one organisation. No idea what a group of so many might be called, but a chuckle of clowns seems appropriate.

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They’ve gone to so much trouble with their costumes. Look at the shoes, the makeup, the ‘Easter bonnet’ hats. Wonderful!

As we didn’t realize all this entertainment would be on when we booked our break, it was truly an added bonus to the scenery, the sunshine and the friendliness of the Madeirans.

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Nature, too, added splashes of colour with these stunning flowers on one of many African tulip trees.

And in the evenings when the street-partying was over for the day, we were left with the lights strung through the trees reflecting in windows and on the designs of the limestone-cobbled pavements.

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Carnival in Madeira

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For a week before the parade there were smaller local events in many towns with street entertainment in the centre of Funchal and people wandering around in costumes of various kinds, as well as numerous community events in public squares and parks.

The sound and beat of the samba was everywhere, either live from colourful groups of musicians, or recorded and played through speakers lodged in trees, while people danced or jigged along to it, grins on their faces. But more of that in another post.

Carnival is a big event in Madeira, something not celebrated in Scotland. In fact, we didn’t even realise there would be celebrations during our stay there. From the balcony of our apartment in the city centre we could watch people making their way to the boulevard used for the parade, one side of which was closed to traffic several hours before the start of the event, with metal barriers put in place by an expert team of workers.

Coloured lights had been strung through the numerous trees lining the street and bordering the promenade. Crowds increased, a few police wandered around and chatted with people. The crime rate in Madeira is very low so there would have been no expectation of trouble of any kind.

We went out to try and find a spot from where we could view the proceedings, but knew that photographs would be difficult what with the darkness, the coloured lights, the swirling and dancing, flouncing and bouncing of the participants on floats and on the street, and the way the lights sparkled off their costumes, the heads of folk taller than me standing in my way, and the constant movement of people to get a better view for themselves and their children, hoisted into arms or onto shoulders.

But maybe from a small selection of photos you’ll get an idea of the colour, glitter and liveliness of this amazing parade.

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The sands o’ life

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My love is like a red red rose

That’s newly sprung in June:

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These red roses outside our door were photographed at the beginning of November. Red roses can bloom over a long period.

My love is like the melodie

That’s sweetly played in tune.

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A melody perhaps played on an instrument like this, photographed in a museum in Bordeaux.

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Or perhaps on an instrument like this peculiarly shaped one…

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…with its painted design of ribbons and forget-me-nots.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in love am I:

And I will love thee still my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

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Crammond, near Edinburgh, with the tide out.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:

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Rocks formed by heat…

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…intense pressure…

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…bending and twisting…

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…into convolutions of colour and texture.

And I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

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The sands o’ life.

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Time ticks relentlessly on.

And fare thee weel, my only love,

And fare the weel awhile!

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Sculpture carved from a tree trunk of Meg wi’ the buckle mou (Meg with the big mouth).

And I will come again, my love,

Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

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An old milestone. These were commonly seen by the sides of roads in Scotland but are rapidly disappearing.

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Motorways have the usual enormous signs, but on many roads in the Borders a multitude of smaller signs still cluster around poles pointing travellers in various directions to numerous destinations.

My love is like a red, red rose by Robert Burns (25. 1. 1759 – 21. 7. 1796). Scotland’s national bard.

Happy Valentines Day wherever you are and however you spend it.

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European dreams

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I should have been born in a warmer climate, but then I wouldn’t have been Scottish, and I rather like being Scottish – especially at present when politics here are amazingly interesting, though often also hair-tearingly frustrating.

The thrill of the new, the appeal of the different, whether chatting with people from other countries exchanging stories of families and customs, how to cook a particular dish, or experiencing different surroundings. All reasons why I have enjoyed the many trips that over the years we have managed to make to other European countries.

Scotland has always had close links with Europe — in trade across the continent and with the Baltic states; the Auld Alliance with France (Scots at one time enjoyed dual citizenship); through travel to Dutch universities and to the Scots colleges in Rome, Paris Valladolid and Madrid.

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A reminder in Tallinn of the Hanseatic League.

I suppose my fascination with Europe began with my first French teacher, a Francophile who sang us French songs, recounted stories about stays in France, took us on trips to a cinema which showed French language films, and invited a few of us to his home to spend afternoons with his artist wife and two daughters. His passion for all things French sent me to a newsagent in the main station where I knew French magazines could be bought.

I started writing to a French pen pal, introduced by the daughter of a friend of my mother who was teaching in France. We wrote of our families and our lives, about school and what we did at the weekends. We swapped recipes and sent one another presents at Christmas.

My interest was further fuelled when in my final year of school I went on a school trip to Germany, travelling by bus down through England and across the Channel by ferry. I can still remember how excited I was to hear, as we landed, people on the quay speak French. With bleary eyes and stiff limbs we took in the sights of Brussels as we drove through, exclaiming at shop fronts, street signs, wrought iron balconies. And then the long haul to Aschaffenburg in Bavaria, near Frankfurt on Main. I don’t remember much of the town, though I have memories of a dance platform in a forest with German couples hopping about to oompah music, lanterns strung through the trees and a pungent smell of beer and pine needles. I also remember being taken to the home of a German girl to be introduced to her parents and grandfather who mumbled about his time in the war.

We went on a boat trip down the Rhine, exclaiming at the fairytale castles perched high above its banks, heard about the destruction caused by bombing during the war.

My mother-in-law was a French and German teacher and the house was often full of people from European and other countries.

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Dubrovnik many years ago.

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This may be the first time I came across peppers as shoppers tipped dozens of them into bags.

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I bought a bag from one of these stalls and used it for years.

Then came holidays in the former Yugolsavia, first in the north in Bled and on one of the islands, then in Budva from where we travelled to Dubrovnik and on a memorable day trip into Albania. It was the first time for years the border had been opened and it was like stepping back several centuries.

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People wearing mainly black stared in awe at our cotton summer dresses and cheap cameras as if luxuries far beyond their hopes.

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We pass an ox cart. Most of our photographs were taken surreptitiously from the bus.

Dire food, swarms of bluebottles, stinking toilets, and shops with mud floors are some of my memories, along with newish houses riddled with bullets.

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These new houses beneath the citadel on the hill were pocked with bullet holes.

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Stony ground where it’s a wonder anything grows or animals survive.

Last year in Greece we chatted with an Albanian waiter at a restaurant and he assured us things had changed dramatically since then and Albania was now a modern country like others in Europe.

Travelling around Scandinavia gave us the opportunity to talk with Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes, and even Swedes further north when we drove up through the country to Jokkmokk in Swedish Lapland. It was a few days after midsummer so didn’t get dark, the sun merely dipped briefly below the horizon before rising again. The family was all out frolicking around on the grass at two o’clock in the morning. And we saw reindeer. In fact it was difficult not to see them as they lay in the middle of the road reluctant to move for traffic, and when they did they ambled along, their large-hoofs swinging on the end of their legs like bells on ropes.

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Houses very different from our traditional grey or fawn, grey slated stone buildings in Scotland, though red pantiles from Europe adorn the roofs of many houses in parts of eastern Scotland. 

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Wonderful stave churches.

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A longboat, part of the preserved Viking heritage. The Vikings traded with and raided Scotland leaving behind for future generations some of their genes.

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A traditional Swedish west coast fishing community.

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Now there are probably more yachts than fishing boats.

In Cyprus people (mainly Greeks as we were in the Greek south and most Turks had fled to the Turkish north) were eager to talk to us about the partition of the island, how it had rent their communities as many of their friends and neighbours had uprooted themselves. In Nicosia we came up against the Green Line, the United Nations buffer zone patrolled by UN troops with whom the son of a friend served for a time. At that time it was difficult to enter the north so we were enthralled to hear of his trip across the line into Famagusta. After so many years discussions on reunification are now underway.

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A traditional shoemaker with a workshop by the Green Line. We ordered a pair of cowboy boots for our second son who at that time found it difficult to buy shoes his size.

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I’m fairly sure this is Cyprus, though it may have been Malta!

From Cyprus we also did a weekend trip to the Holy Land. Quite an experience what with Mossad, Israeli security, minders, visiting places revered by millions around the world, an Elvis Presley themed café where any major currency was accepted (with change in any currency you wished), young Arab kids who begged for money in all the major languages, and Arabs with camels whose persuasion changed from wheedling to threatening harassment in the blink of an eye. That was scary.

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The Wailing Wall in the old city of Jerusalem where the devout come to pray contrasted sharply with the vast numbers of soldiers wandering around with automatic weapons.

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That was the start, and more recent visits to European cities and holiday spots have merely strengthened my bonds.

But now we are faced with being taken out of the European Union – Brexit. True, we’ll still be European, but somehow being members of the EU gives us a closer bond, ties that link us together culturally and economically, in trade as well as in friendship. Being part of the EU has brought us better lives through social legislation, quality standards for goods and toys, as well as greater choice of foods in our supermarkets and environmental protection with the ability to tackle global issues as part of a large group of countries.

The vote in the UK as a whole was to leave the EU, but in Scotland the vote was overwhelmingly to remain. Being out of the EU will decimate our economy, with fishing and agriculture hit so hard their survival will hang by a thread. So, like those bloggers in America who face the future under a new president with trepidation, Scotland waits to see what will happen, whether some deal can be done to keep Scotland in the EU, whether we will have another independence referendum which could take us out of the union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and let Scotland remain in Europe as a replacement 28th country.

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Happy New Year

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Greetings

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Walking where lava flowed

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São Vicente is a village on the north coast of Madeira, at the end of the valley that was the birthplace of the island. We were keen to take our grandchildren to walk where lava once flowed, so organized Ricardo and his taxi to take us across the island from Funchal to São Vicente, on a road where the latter part was prone to landslips and where there had been bad flooding a few years ago.

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After bad flooding a number of years ago built-up concrete river banks now help protect surrounding areas.

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A stepped street in the village of São Vicente.

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The sea on one side, mountains on the other three.

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Just a glimpse of sea through the gap between the mountains.

We arrived at the Volcanism Centre and Caves of São Vicente with only a short time to wait until the next guided tour.

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View from the front of the Volcanic Centre.

The centre provides visitors with audiovisual demonstrations of volcanic eruptions and the birth of an island as well as a walk through São Vicente’s volcanic caves, walking where lava once flowed.

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Part of the audiovisual material.

The caves comprise a number of lava tubes, the result of a volcanic eruption four hundred thousand years ago. The area covered by the volcanic tubes is over 1000 meters in length, the largest that has been discovered to date on the island. Some of the tubes have been dug out, with the floors lowered, to allow exploration.

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Lighting in specific areas allows visitors to get some idea of the extent of the tubes.

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Quite spooky in places.

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The greenery looming through the darkness comes as a surprise.

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An intrepid explorer having a closer look at something he’s found.

The last time we visited the caves the weather was dry but we were advised to wear light rain jackets because of drips coming through the ceilings. But apart from the odd plop of cold water on our heads the ground was dry and easy to walk on.

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A dainty fern growing in the artificial light.

This time, there had been heavy rain prior to our arrival so it was wet underfoot with a few puddles, and many more drips from the roof. The plus side of this was that the underground pools of water looked more spectacular in the eerie lighting.

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It was a good idea to watch where you placed your feet.

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I was fascinated by these gouges though my camera struggled with the lack of light.

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The ceiling height varied, lower in some parts than others.

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This looks almost as if there are seams of gold though presume it’s merely the light.

The walk through the mountain is around 700 metres long, taking around 30 minutes. I found it fascinating to see the striations and patterns left when the lava surged though, parts of it reminiscent of intricately carved cathedral roofs.

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More golden colour.

In places where there were lights plants grew, luminously green despite the lack of natural light, their seeds deposited by the water that seeps into the tubes through the rock above. The temperature here is fairly constant  about sixteen degrees centigrade I seem to remember.

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This looked more like a hot climate plant than one for dark, dank caves.

The pools we came across took our breaths away and caused bottlenecks on the narrow path as we all stopped to take photographs.

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Very clear and a wonderful eau de Nil colour.

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Some visitors threw coins in the water and made wishes.

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A wonderful pattern of light.

A truly amazing walk through the entrails of the earth during which visitors can admire volcanic stalactites, lava accumulations, known as ‘lava cakes’, and the ‘erratic block’ – a large boulder carried by the lava that, because of its size, became stuck in one of the lava channels.

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One of the smaller tubes.

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Part of the group further back on the route, admiring the water.

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Another of our golden memories. It looks like a golden eye.

Our grandchildren looked slightly apprehensive as it was the first time they had ventured underground, but I’m sure they’ll remember aspects of their trip with fascination.

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Mmmm, that’s good!

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The large mahogany table in the kitchen groaned with bowls and baskets of fruit, some, like tomatoes, staples of our diets at home though different varieties that seemed to have more flavour.

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One of the joys of a large table is the amount of fruit you can load it with. It never lasted long.

We trawled market and supermarkets for salad ingredients and experimented with some fruit and vegetables we weren’t familiar with. Bananas were Madeiran, slightly smaller, firmer and less cloying than those we usually buy, but with a flavour that filled your mouth. We ate lots, and I demolished one for breakfast every morning whilst sitting outside in the sun.

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Bananas grow in all the coastal areas. In fact many families seem to have their own banana plantation – even if only a small patch in their terraced garden. They are seemingly easy to grow and are a ready source of income.

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These bananas were available in the market. Their peculiarly patterned skin covered a sweet squishy flesh.

Daughter and her family are vegans and their meals are gluten-free. They came across sweet potatoes which were white rather than the orange fleshed ones usual here, and enjoyed them, baked, as part of their meal one evening. The fact the sweet potatoes were white explained something about which I’d wondered since, on previous December holidays in Madeira, coming across numerous stalls cooking and selling Bolo do Caco, a traditional bread. To me it looks and tastes like the large soda scones my mother used to make on her cast iron girdle (or griddle as it’s referred to outwith Scotland). The Bolo do Caco however has yeast in it and some versions are made with sweet potato. It is served warm, split and slathered with garlic butter.

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One of many stalls selling Bolo do Caco.

We bought lots of them in the supermarkets, and found they made admirable sandwiches for the journey home when we missed out on dinner. Filled with salad and cheese they provided a meal that sustained us until we reached home.

Another new vegetable was one with a pale green skin, with deep folds, which when cut looked similar to a pear, but which had quite a crisp texture. Indeed vegetable pear is one of its many names, though more commonly referred to as Chayote. It’s a member of the gourd family, so related to melons, cucumbers and squashes. We ate it peeled and sliced into salads, but if we come across it again will be more adventurous in the way we use it. You can see it in the dish at the bottom right of the photo above of our fruit-laden kitchen table.

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Persimmons look something like tomatoes but with a different flavour.

The other surprise was persimmons (also known here as Sharon fruit as they come from Israel), which again go by a variety of names and come in astringent (bitter) and non-astringent (sweet) types. They look something like a large tomato, and indeed that’s what I used the ones we had as, being told to eat them when very red. Despite squishing to pulp when cut they did add an interesting flavour our salads. Perhaps these were an astringent variety. However, since coming home I’ve been able to buy persimmons in my local supermarket where they are called kaki which is the Oriental or Japanese persimmon. These we are eating before they become red, and have the most wonderful peach flavour. I don’t even need to peel them. Hopefully the supermarket will keep stocking them as they are a fruit well worth buying, adding a touch of the exotic to winter fare.

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And of course there were lots of grapes as well as mangos. These ones in the market were an array of jewel-like colours.

When in Rhodes in June we were surprised by how good and cheap lamb dishes were, despite the bareness of the hills. We were assured there were sheep – further south. In the Scottish Borders sheep are everywhere, yet lamb is hardly plentiful in shops and is expensive. So it didn’t really come as a surprise when we found steak in Madeira (an island of volcanic rock and steep narrow terraces totally unsuited to cattle) was much cheaper to buy than at home in Scotland, famed for its beef. And that was despite the very significant drop in the pound against the Euro before we travelled. So naturally we made the most of it.

When, many years ago, my grandparents were organising a large party for their golden wedding my mother asked my grandmother if everything was as she wanted it. She admitted to being disappointed by only one thing. Her wedding had been a small affair and she had always dreamed of having a two-tier cake. So my mother assured her that for her golden wedding she would ensure the cake had two tiers. Funny the dreams we sometimes harbour! I wasn’t worried about the number of tiers, I just wondered how I’d manage to organise a cake, not being an item I could easily pack in my suitcase with all the other clutter I was taking.

However my daughter came to the rescue. She and her family are vegans and eat only gluten free food, so I was intrigued as to what our cake might be like. On the day, I was banished to read in the sun whilst daughter’s family took over the kitchen. Late afternoon a snack appeared – freshly roasted chestnuts.

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Granddaughter Molly (six in a few more days) admitted she had been tasked with cutting a cross in the top of each but had found it too difficult so her dad had to help her.

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Chestnut stalls always seemed to have very large bags of supplies stacked beside them so presumably roast chestnuts are popular with the Madeirans, specially in the run-up to Christmas.

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Starter made by husband of roast pears and peppers (I did say we were experimenting). It proved a very successful combination. A flavoursome but not heavy starter.

Our lemon golden wedding cake was wonderful, sprinkled with gold edible glitter and topped with a heap of chocolate truffles. We demolished every last crumb, even though our main course of pork stuffed with cured ham and prunes had been filling (forgot a photograph of that, too).

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A golden cake for a golden occasion.

Our second celebration a few days later was Molly’s sixth birthday for which her mum and dad produced a rich chocolate cake sprinkled with dried rose petals and topped with chocolate covered dates stuffed with lemon filling.

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This is when Molly discovers the candles won’t blow out but keep relighting.

There are times when only one word is adequate. Mmmm!

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Says it all, really!

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Impressive, quirky, idiosyncratic

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A major celebration is always a time for reflection, for remembering people and occasions, quirks and sayings, events of significance and insignificance. Granny used to say… I can still see his face when… Do you remember the time we went to…? That’s something I’ll always remember, especially when the idiot…

So reflections were on my mind as well as lips during our stay in Madeira. Some were prompted by one of my inputs to the celebration, the book of memories, photographs and stories I had produced that gave a flavour of our fifty years and more together. Photographs of people even I had never known to be passed down to the next generations, or those of our engagement party and wedding, of the family when young, and more recently of our daughter’s wedding, laced with stories in which parts of my own life, my feelings and experiences, were reflected.

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The front of the Quinta Freitas, set within a garden of palms and exotic plants.

For the occasion we had rented a quinta on the outskirts of Madeira. After much discussion husband and I agreed a celebration in the sun won hands down over one in dreary November weather at home. Besides, rather than a one evening or one day celebration, it allowed us to extend it to eleven days – and why not.

The quinta was impressive but quirky, idiosyncratic, just what we wanted as a backdrop to our reflections of fifty years.

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Windows in the dining area, open even in the evening, the mirror between them reflecting part of the chandelier over the table.

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Mahogany sideboard reflecting the fanlight above the entrance door. The golden orchid travelled home with us  and is still just about surviving, a reminder of golden days in Madeira.

Built by the owner thirty years ago as a family home on a terraced site that was part of the banana plantation belonging to his family, the quinta was furnished in traditional Madeiran style, albeit in probably a rather grander scale than what most of the island’s inhabitants probably lived with. But this gave us impressive surrounding in which to celebrate, with its large mahogany tables seating a dozen in both kitchen and open plan dining area where a crystal chandelier provided sparkle and light. It was one of three in the spacious area of dining room, entrance area and hall, with its 300-year old doors from a demolished church, and the impressive lounge area.

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The gold candles seemed very appropriate. Again, although taken in the lounge area, the fanlight above the old doors can be seen.

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The quinta boasted numerous grand mirrors, this intricately carved  one in the lounge area.

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Dining table and window reflected. On the left is the door to the large kitchen.

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One mirror reflecting the reflection in another mirror in the lounge part of this enormous open plan space.

In the upstairs hall was another seating area with doors leading out onto a balcony with day bed seating. Bedrooms were huge and en suite bathrooms large enough to hold parties in comfort.

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Part of the spacious upstairs landing.

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Dressing table cluttered with my bits and pieces.

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The bedhead and tapestry above can be glimpsed in this.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large mirror in a bathroom. It reflects the wardrobes which were all sited in the bathrooms rather than the bedrooms. To the left is a corner whirlpool bath.

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As I love coloured glass I couldn’t resist this little duck catching the light and reflecting it.

As part of the reflections theme I grabbed the opportunity to take photographs of the enormous and intricately framed mirrors around the rooms, fascinated by seeing the spaces from a different aspect. It’s strange how that can show something different from what your eyes see, or what you expect. A bit like reversing an image or photograph and how it can make the subject look very different, or more intriguing, prompting questions about what lies beyond.

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From the hall looking towards the mirrors in the lounge area with their reflections.

Our celebration in the sun provided an opportunity to spend time with our family and get to know our grandchildren better. What better way to spend a golden wedding!

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Golden reflections on a golden occasion.

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It began as a card

It began as a card for my husband to mark a significant milestone, our special anniversary, but a card seemed insufficient to cover fifty years of marriage. So I wondered about a double card but wasn’t sure how I could make that work with two folded sheets of photographic paper, but went ahead anyway.

The double card prompted thoughts of a small booklet which I could have printed, so I pressed on. In the end the card turned out to be a 220 page, A5 book, printed on good paper. A brief memoir (which will have missed out lots), full of black and white and coloured photographs covering the period and more, truncated family trees, and pieces of my writing (including short stories and a chapter from a recent book) in which I’d used vivid memories and experiences that lingered in my mind. All put together in a week as it had to be delivered from the printer before we went off to Madeira for our big family celebration. More on that in another post.

The finished books (limited edition, with one copy for each of the family) added considerable kilos to my cabin luggage (just as well Easyjet didn’t weigh it). The gold candles, tea lights and holders, napkins and table decorations were in another heavy case in the hold.

As we enjoyed a glass of sparkling stuff in the lounge of our quinta prior to our meal on the big day I handed out a book, wrapped appropriately in gold paper) to each of my family.

Hopefully, they and our grandchildren will enjoy leafing through their copy, dipping in to read pieces, exclaiming at photographs of people they never knew but whose genes help make them the people they are.

That was one of my contributions to the celebration. And I’m rather chuffed with the end result.

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Oh, and by the way, the original card which became the book cover was still used as a card for my husband. And he did me a delightful one too.

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