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Trafalgar Square 2009

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Flamenco dancer

Ritmo Andaluz Show

Montilla. Pottery, Fino and a little silver Renault. Surreal menus and gallons of sherry


I furiously attacked the bedroom door. My Son had volunteered to drive me to Exeter Airport and his resistance to verticality was becoming disturbing. The early flight to Málaga was convenient in as much as you have almost a full day on arrival. The drawback is getting up early enough to catch the ruddy thing.

I had called him three times but the first two brought no response. The third rewarded with a thumping on the floor. This was an old ploy, a diversion. I was to think he was out of bed and getting dressed. It was in fact a device to give himself a couple of extra minutes in that delightful semi-conscious state enjoyed in the early hours. Perseverance and nagging eventually paid-off and a bleary eyed scratching progeny emerged from the depth of his lair.

After some diligent loading, we headed off in my Son’s little green Peugeot. The route to the airport included country lanes and an old Roman road which appeared to be in its original condition. I wasn't going to get away unscathed after my beratings and early calls. He had me where he wanted me. Corners were taken on two wheels. Every pot-hole caused the suspension to buffet violently, my knuckles turned white as I gripped the safety strap.

The rapid changes of gear and acceleration should have had the Peugeot Company offering sponsorships. If it had not been for the fear of tetanus I would have kissed the ground as we pulled up at the terminal building. This was shabby, run down and in need of a face lift but from my point of view sanctuary.

The flight when viewed against my crazed ride to the airport was tranquil and uneventful apart from one startling fact. The aircraft I was travelling in was British, leather seats with plenty of leg-room it was really pleasant. A budget airline that doesn’t rely on 737s, that must be something of a novelty.  Like all budget airlines food is not included in the ticket price. Not a problem on two hour flights, unless the people in front of you bring their own. Warm egg sandwiches given full reign in the recycled air of a small aircraft cabin brought back memories of the inside of my old school satchel. I would have preferred a more exotic aroma.

The Pyrenees slid past the port wing as Green Spain spread out below. At 500 knots it wasn’t long before the arid central regions gave way to the geometric olive groves of Andalucía. The aerial view of traffic on the wrong side of the road still filled me with dread. Although I have mastered the technique of driving on the right, the view from above is still somehow daunting.

I was still musing over this change as the courtesy-coach delivered me to the car hire compound. I always use the same hire company. They have never let me down and they are cheap, a wonderful combination. As I signed the necessary forms and flashed my driver’s license I became aware of a hammering in the compound.  There in the far corner was the little silver Renault that I had rented last year undergoing some feverish and impromptu panel beating. It was pleasing to see it again, something familiar, a bond with my earlier visit.

As I dodged, swerved and cursed my way off the Málaga ring road and onto the N331 I asked myself “Why had I chosen Montilla this time” .

Was it because it was a small town away from the coast and from the tourist areas? Or perhaps because it is a place to meet the genuine Spaniard, in his own environment, with his everyday pressures and needs. Not a bit of it Montilla is slap bang in the middle of the N331. It meant I wouldn’t get lost.

Being perpetually mislaid was starting to wear thin. The hotel I had chosen was the Alfar, marked on Autoroute software and alongside the main road. I would have to excel myself to get lost this time. I should have used different criteria for planning the holiday, but any holiday is a gamble. My method must be as valid as any.

Hotel Alfar
Hotel Alfar

The Hotel Alfar is on the left of the road when travelling west. I should have used the small slip road on the right and then crossed both lanes of traffic. It's incredible how modern cars can recover from a skid. The driver of the car behind certainly had quick reactions. Also a very colourful grasp of his native tongue. I still haven’t fully translated the suggestion he made to me.


The Hotel is a rambling rectangular affair with its longest side parallel to the road. The 38 rooms are all on the first floor, mine being in the rear of the building overlooking the swimming pool. It was only early May, so the pool was still empty, about as inviting as a closed pub.

Two girls shared reception duties during the day, bright, bubbly and friendly individuals. One evening one of the girls excitedly dragged me from the bar. She kept saying Los Beeratalis, that had me stumped. I thought the Guardia Civil had caught up with me for ignoring the solid white line when I turned left. As I was led to reception the strains of 'Love Me Do' flowed from a small radio. The Beatles. The kind hearted recepcionista thought I would like to hear them. Why? I am not sure. Nostalgia? I appeared delighted and tapped along to the beat.

The rooms were large airy and comfortable. I looked for the flaw. Every hotel room I had stayed in had a flaw. At the Zuhayra in Zuheros, it was the bidet. Both tap and plug leaked, but the through flow of water kept my bottled beer cool. It didn’t take long to find it. The shower- head had broken away from its bracket, so I tied it on with a sock. It worked surprising well and it had the added advantage of giving the sock a wash. If anyone books into room 122, have a look for my sock its black, not that I want it back I would just like a sighting.

The food was Spanish and excellent. A bonus was the entertainment. This took the form of the 'English' menu. It provided hours of enjoyment. Messers Milligan, Sellers and Seacombe would have approved. The translation looks as if it was via Latin; it was a work of art. The most unfortunate entries were the meat dishes from the
Spanish carne via a Junior schools edition Latin Dictionary and into the English as slaughter.

The bar, where I spent most of my time, was a wonderful place. It wasn't just because of the never ending supply of alcohol and food, a consideration of course. It was mainly the ambiance of the place. Intricate tile-work depicting the pottery industry, the hanging hams and the big brass San Miguel pump all merged to produce a Spanish workaday atmosphere.

Bar at the Hotel Alfar
Bar at the Hotel Alfar

The two barmen were attentive rotund and jolly. One of them even learnt a few words of English to welcome me in the evening. Before dinner he would bring me samples of the main dishes so I could decide my meal. The revelation for me was the Fino, kept in a silver tea-pot and draped in wet tea-towels; it was superb. Delicate, dry and with an aroma which is the essence of Spain.

Now back in the UK I drink Fino rarely. This is partly due to the inferior quality and partly because of the vivid memories associated with the sherry. I do not want to degrade them with over use.


One of the bar duo
One of the bar duo






A photo journey
through Spain


Written by:
John MacDonald
Patricia Díaz Pereda.

ISBN 978-1-909612-70-9
To order from Amazon.co.uk
Click here

by John MacDonald



Moving on a pavement artist. London. 2009



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