Saturday, 31 March 2012

Let's Talk Crap...I mean Crop Circles

Hello people. This is my first post from the road in 2012 and I'm in Priego de Cordoba.

What could possibly have happened to me in this year's trip to inspire me to write something so soon? Well, if I'm being honest it happened just before I set off but I think it's a tale worth telling. Y'see, I met a nutter, a genuine, bona fide, McVitie's fruity cake-flavoured loon. If he's reading this, then I'm very sorry. Very sorry you're such a McVitie's fruity cake-flavoured loon.

A few days before I left Nerja I was sat in my favourite internet café, DB'S. I might have mentioned DB'S before. DB'S isn't actually an internet cafe. It's a pub with WiFi, the best kind of internet café there is. The first noteworthy thing about DB'S is that DB stands for Dog's Bollocks. It's classy like that. The second thing is that, from a linguistic point of view, I don't really understand the apostrophe capital-S after DB. That makes it Dog's Bollocks'S, and that's not really English. Still, the people that work and drink there are lovely and, via a possibly illegal satellite system, they show Blackburn Rovers on a regular basis and that's good enough for me. I like Dog's Bollocks'S. And, given what's happened so far on this trip, one day I will probably also eat them.

In DB'S, on the Monday before I left, there appeared a man in a straw hat. He told me he was a writer, a writer of books and screenplays. Cool, I said, what have you written? Oh, I've had nothing published. Now, while I admire the will to write and the desire to be 'a writer', I reckon - and call me picky if you like - that to be a writer you need to have written something that is out there, that people might have paid to read or that someone somewhere might have paid you to publish. I'm not a writer, as you've probably guessed. I used to be a technical writer - I wrote software manuals for five years - which isn't really writing, and I sort of claim to be a comedy writer only because I was once paid £50 for a rude song I wrote about Prince Harry that was performed by NewsRevue, a London-based satirical comedy show. But I'm not a writer writer because no one pays me for this shite. I think you need to be paid before you can claim a title. After all, if I stick a turnip in an eggcupful of water I'm not a florist.

Anyway, in addition to our initial meeting on Monday I bumped into him again on Tuesday (as he desperately explained why he hadn't paid his bill at DB'S on Monday) and then again in DB'S on Wednesday. It was only then that the full joy of his nutterdom became apparent. He talked about crop circles. Oh yes he did. He chewed my ear off and, out of politeness and the opportunity to talk to someone from another planet, I abandoned all plans to access my email.

Before he got to the full fruit of his loopiness he mentioned how he'd written letters to the Queen and how she'd passed them to "the relevant authorities for processing" (i.e., the bin), and how he'd scared politicians with his No Fear approach to letter writing (despite admitting to never getting a reply). Mmm.

Best of all though was his crop circle stuff. I said I thought that a couple of blokes in Wiltshire had admitted to doing them all. No, well, yes, no, that wasn't the point. How was it possible, he asked with intrigue in his voice, that no one had ever witnessed them making the circles? Mmm, because it's dark. Ah, but how could I explain how such intricate patterns could be made in such darkness?

He had a solution. He offered that, yes, humans did make the crop circles - c'mon, he wasn't one of those UFO crop circle-making mentalists! - but that it had only been possible for them to get away with making the circles because "special powers" had been bestowed upon them. Eh? How? Why? Possibly because of - he got vague here - magnetic fields or ley lines...or, or, or homeopathy or tarot cards or, I dunno, beetroot or something...or any one of those other 'spiritual' words that can usually be substituted by 'woo woo' in the gameshow that is otherwise known as Wankety Wank. Anyway, as no one has ever been caught making crop circles (despite what Google tells me), in his view, the best possible explanation is that the circle makers  - prepare yourself for this one! - "become invisible". Beautiful!

I asked him if perhaps a more reasonable explanation might not be that the crop circle-makers had bought a couple of pairs of night-vision goggles off Ebay. After all, if you had the power to become invisible, would you really toss around in a wheat field at midnight up to your knees in cowpats? No, surely you'd be sneaking into women's changing rooms, or dripping Domestos into the open mouth of a sleeping David Cameron, or something productive like that. No, he said, there was "absolutely no evidence" that the crop circle-makers used night-vision googles. Mmm, suddenly evidence was important, missing as it had been from the rest of his tale. It was at this point that I left DB'S, slightly annoyed that I hadn't actually managed to check my email, but immensely happy that conversations like this were still legal.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the internet café and/or for reasons of faulty memory (OK, it was the beer!), I've omitted a lot of his delusional pap. It was powerful stuff. I'd like to assure any of you lot out there that if you've kindly agreed to meet me on this year's trip I won't be exposing your foibles like this. If you've been gorgeous enough to offer to have a coffee with me, then no matter how bonkers you are it will remain our little secret. I don't want to scare anybody away. But if, while I try to download my email, a random space cadet approaches me in the pub and spouts bollocks at me - dog's or otherwise - then I think he's fair game.

You will notice that I'm posting this now, a good couple of days since leaving Nerja. That's because I'm a massive coward and he will never find me or know where I am.

Hello people. This is the first post from the road in 2012 and I'm in Priego de Cordoba. Oh shit, it's time to move on...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Bleedin' Bike Shops and Bleedin' Noses

I'm all packed up and ready to leave on Friday. Albania, Kosovo and Turkey here I come!

This week I took my bike in for a service. I knew that there were certain things that needed replacing: The seat was falling apart, the handlebar grips were held together with masking tape and I suspected that I needed a new chain. When I went back to the shop to pick the bike up, the shop assistant chuckled and told me that, for only €30 more, she could have sold me a brand new bike. How I laughed! As it turned out, the cassette needed replacing, along with the only half-working gear levers that had fallen apart last year and one of those big cog things that I really should know the name of was badly worn. Still, it could have been worse. I think.

Anyway, now I'm sorted, if over €200 closer to starvation. I will set off, for one day only, with Boz, the friend who accompanied me into Nerja on the final morning of 2011's ride and who was then partially responsible for my not having any memories of the following twenty-four hours. Unfortunately Boz has recently suffered a strange medical complaint that involved his nose bleeding profusely and then never actually stopping. Apparently he lost a bucketload of blood, had to go to hospital, have horrible plastic pipes inserted up his nose and then had the whole lot held in place using a comedy, snout-like bandage. The last time I saw him, despite the bandage, the bleeding hadn't entirely stopped. He looked like a badly beaten Porky Pig. So it remains to be seen whether Boz can actually come along on Day One or, more precisely, Day One-Six-Two. I hope he can. He could carry some of my stuff.

Last year's ride began with a flat but still knackering leg into Blackburn. Admittedly, it didn't help that I was as fat as Jabba the Pizza Hut. This year, although I'm in better shape, the first day is going to be even tougher. Although Friday will only see me do around seventy kilometres to Alhama de Granada, I have to climb from sea level to about one thousand metres up and over the Zafarraya Pass with thirty kilos of luggage on the bike. This is after doing no cycling whatsoever for the last six months. I can think of better ways to start a twelve thousand kilometre trip, but if I want to head straight for Madrid via Toledo - and I do - then there aren't really any other options. Pain it is then. At least I have the consolation that Boz will have to suffer along with me. Especially if I can secretly strap all my gear to his bike when he's not looking. I just hope it doesn't make his nose explode again. I'd hate to have that on my conscience. Or on my sponsor's nice, white cycling top.

I'm looking forward to the ride but I'll be sad to leave Nerja behind, even if only temporarily. I've made loads of new friends, had a few walks in the mountains, been introduced to the joys of padel (a walled tennis-like game), been swimming in the sea, done countless tapas runs and managed almost no studying whatsoever. So thanks to everyone in Nerja and to one very special person in Competa for making these last two months so utterly fantastic.

Now it's time to say goodbye to Nerja and to hit the road, and the books, again. I'll be back again in November. Until then there's the small matter of twenty countries to cycle through. I wonder if I can convince Boz and his over-burdened bike to follow me all the way there...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Hannibal Lecter's Kitchen Nightmares

I have to apologise. My original plan to write about the places I'm going to visit this year fell by the wayside. The problem is Spain. I'm back here and suddenly I find myself with a social life. And since it won't be long before I'm spending weeks sleeping alone in a field I thought it better to capitalise on the kind offers of liver abuse that have come my way. Thank you, Team Nerja.

And since a lot of alcohol has been absorbed over these last few weeks, it's only appropriate that I talk bollocks. My hunt for testicles proved more difficult than I imagined. Nerja seems to lack a proper local butcher and the supermarkets don't carry...erm...'speciality' cuts of meat. I learned that the word I needed to ask for was criadillas. I've also learned not to approach the supermarket butchers' counter and ask Tiene criadillas? (Do you have testicles?) In one, the bloke looked positively crestfallen. In the other, she really wasn't amused. Yes, Vende criadillias? (Do you sell testicles?) is probably the better way. You still get funny looks though.

So, with Testicle Supreme off the menu I had to become more inventive. A couple of weeks back, I had crabs. Sorry, I mean I ate whole baby crabs - shell 'n' all - and they were surprisingly tasty. Then I had a strange, green whelk-like thing that wasn't bad. But the showpiece meal in the Spanish round of my Eat Something Awful Challenge was pigs' brains.

I was initially surprised how small the pigs' brains were, but perhaps they were only special constables. There's something macabre about eating a brain - it's difficult not to feel like a zombie - but the secret was apparently in the preparation. So, for anyone who wants to try this at home, here's my guide to cooking up the ultimate brain food:

1. Take a fresh brain or two. Always ask permission first.

2. Don't eat it raw. That would be stupid.

3. Boil for ten minutes. Look at that lovely, grey scum on top. That's the pigs' hopes and dreams, that is.

4. Remove from the water. Cor, doesn't that look yummy?

5. Chop brains and sauté them in butter and garlic, just like you might do with real food.

6. Serve. Apologise.

7. Trick girlfriend into trying it first. Chuckle to yourself.

8. Face up to the inevitable and take a deep breath.

9. Make desperate attempt not to be sick.

10. Be sick.

Verdict: The brains in Spain fall mostly down the drain. Next week, toddler's eyeballs!