Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hip Hop

Never Eat At Fosters Hollywood

I'm just wondering, what is the worst meal you have ever had, that you paid money for ?

We went to a chain place on the last day of our recent Spanish trip, it was called Fosters Hollywood and was a Tex-Mex sort of place. Inedible, foul, stodgy deep fried starter selection followed by a burger boiled in two pints of walrus lard covered with roadkill chilli-con-carne and servd with chips cooked in oil close to burning point so they were nicely browned on the outside and nicely raw and crunchy in the middle.

I realise I'm leaving myself open to criticism here, but what the hell, come on, tell me where it's really crap to eat ?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Comic Primer - Watchmen

I've recently had some interest in a comic quiz I ran earlier this year and I thought I might run a short series on landmark comics, the ones that made a really big impact on the 'adult' comics scene, Sandman, Lucifer, Preacher, Sin City, Hellboy, and of course the father of them all, Alan Moore's Watchmen.





On the surface, Watchmen is a crime fighting / superhero comic, but really it deals with the philosophy of good versus evil, morality, megalomania, the nature of evil, love, betrayal, honour and friendship.

The novel takes place in an alternate reality USA were Nixon is enjoying his fourth term in office after winning the Vietnam war with the aid of the super hero Dr. Manhattan. Manhattan is the only super hero in the book to actually posses powers of any sort (although a good argument could be made for Ozymandias' bullet catching feat) after being deconstructed in a nuclear experiment.

Costumed heroes (vigilantes) have been outlawed, most retire gracefully but Rorschach responds by leaving a wanted rapist strung from a lamp-post outside the police HQ. Rorschach, real name Walter Joseph Kovac, comes from a highly abusive background, his mother is a prostitute plying her trade at home and he grows up with a definite sense of what is right and wrong. As he matures on the violent streets of New York he defines himself by what is right and must be protected, and what is wrong, and must be punished. Rorschach believes himself to be a true agent of law, justice and retribution, when the Keane Act is passed to ban the vigilantes he believes that the law is wrong and he is right, and thus continues to find and punish criminals.

Other ex-costumed vigilantes are being murdered, Rorschach attempts to involve Dr Manhattan and Night Owl in his investigations, but Dr Manhattan has become powerful beyond measure and is more interested in the workings of the universe, Night Owl has become complacent and overweight, he still tinkers with his creations (much like Batman and his cave) but harbours no real dreams of returning to crimefighting.

The Comedian worked exclusively for the government, leading Rorschach to believe in a high level conspiracy. Edward Blake, The Comedian, was a nihilist, he understood the minds of men, knew what was really going on when he fought in the Vietnam war, bu he just didn't care. When, on Victory in Vietnam Day, he is confronted by a local girl he has got pregnant, he responds by telling her he will leave for New York without her and never look back, she strikes him with a shattered bottle, Blake shoots and kills the girl. Dr Manhattan watches watches the whole scene but does not either prevent Blake's injury or the girl's death. Blake also attempted to rape the original Silk Spectre and was thrown out of the the Minutemen by Hooded Justice, who was later found murdered.



The Watchmen characters, clockwise from the blue bloke who is Dr Manhattan, the cigar smoking Comedian, Ozymandias, Night Owl, Rorschach, Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre.

Dr. Manhattan exists within the flow of time, he experiences all things as one, ha can see all the events yet to take place but seems ruled by fate, he cannot change the future, or so he believes. It is rather more that he will not change anything. When questioned about a death he responds by saying that a dead body contains the same amount of atoms as a live one and he sees no real difference.

After Rorschach is set up for the murder of ex-con Edward Jacobi and imprisoned, Night Owl and Silk Spectre come out of retirement to break Rorscach out of prison. Another ex-costumed hero has been murdered and Daniel Dreiberg, aka Night Owl, has finally come to accept Rorschach's conspiracy theory. Laurie Jupiczyk, aka Silk Spectre, has left Dr Manhattan claiming that his feelings for his work and research far outweigh any feelings and compassion he has left for her or any other human. Jupiczyk and Dreiberg become lovers.



Dr. Manhattan appears on a tv show where a journalist questions him about the deaths of many of his colleagues and adversaries from cancer, in the aftermath of the show he leaves Earth for Mars and there builds a glass castle. He brings Laurie Jupicyzk there and explains that for once he cannot see into the future, some large event, possibly nuclear detonations, are blocking his view.

The world seems to be heading for war, Russia has invaded Afghanistan and the Amercian president in considering tactics for a nuclear exchange. As the heroes resume their investigation it leads them in the direction of one of their own, Ozymandias.


Ozymandias is behind the murders, they are all to cover up an event he is about to launch, something so audacious that it will bring the people of the world together. He drops a genetically engineered 'alien' into New York, it's amplified brainwaves cause the death of the city's inhabitants, millions die but the threat of nuclear war is averted. With this huge threat from 'outside' the governments of the world finally come together to talk. In a final confrontation Rorschach the moral absolutist vows to expose Ozymandias, "Evil must be punished", Dr Manhattan says he cannot allow him and kills him, but then tells Ozymandias "nothing ever ends. "

Night Owl and Silk Spectre feel bound not to tell the world what has happened, by exposing Ozymandias they might well plunge the world into war.




Nothing ever ends, before setting off to confront Ozymandias, Rorschach posted his journal, containing all his investigation notes, to the Office of a right wing news magazine, in the final scene of the book we see a young intern's hand hovering over the in-tray where Rorschach's journal lies.

The forthcoming events in Watchmen are mirrored/re-told by a comic within the comic, a young boy at a news stand reads a comic throughout the book, the Tale of the Black Freighter is a pirate story of the blackest sort in which a young man trying to save his family from the pirates finally murders innocent people in his desperation to accomplish his goal. The final murders in this comic foreshadow the events that Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias is about to unleash.

This is a huge work, examining many aspects of the moral compass and in particular the questin "What are you willing to do for the greater good ?". It's a fine story with good characterisation, very nicely drawn in a 'golden age' style by Dave Gibbons, it's a treat, if you are just starting in the world of comics, this is the place to start.

Qui custodiet ipsos custodes ?
Captions ?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Definition Of Irony....

...George Best dies on the day that 24hr drinking is introduced in the UK.
D&D : Lathander's Tryptych pt.3

I thought we had made some progress, with a magical dancing sword in hand and an increase in the powers of my companions perhaps I allowed myself to suffer from a rush of pride.

I led the way back to the trap door, carefully we arrayed ourselves and prepared spells and powers, we triggered the trap door as one and dropped through.

Death. Tierry lands awkwardly and fails in his summoning spell, I release Harrikas to dance as the Ghouls rush at us, he holds the first one back but the second rips through my flimsy leather armour with its filth encrusted claws and I am paralyzed and helpless. Elsine kills one before we are overwhelmed.

And again, this time we all drop down safely but the Ghouls with their Ghast leader are just too strong for us, in a prolonged fight, even with Tierry's summoned hounds and Harrikas fighting on his won we are still defeated.

And thrice, a small pack of bloodsucking Stirges flies down a corridor towards us, we dispatch them easily enough bu the noise has atracted the attention of a Drow patrol, and before we realise they have us flanked, dark shafted arrows are decorating our backs.

For days afterwards we hunt in the mazes to the South and East of the entry well, small Goblin and Orc patrols fall before us and slowley but durely we hone our skills and tactics as a unit. We are learning much, and the most important thing in Undermountain is, when to run away. We run away often from Trolls, Drow and Bugbears. Fights taking place in corridors where noise can echo, and any especially loud noise seems almost always to attract the attention of something we would rather not meet, thus we now try to lure enemies backwards into sections of passage we believe to be empty before fighting them.

This almost led us into disaster when luring a Goblin squad, we jogged back along a corridor and past a junction we had previously searched, not seeing the lurking Carrion Crawlers that had moved into position there in the moments since we had passed by, the Goblins found them though, and we mopped up the survivors of the encounter.

We have another problem, no-one amongst us has the skills to open a locked door. Both Tierry and myself are strong enough to smash through most doors but this usually alerts dangerous predators in the area. We have now explored a fair sized area of this dungeon, but we are stuck, we have found many locked doors and are afraid of knocking them down, but it is either that or make a fourth foray against the undead beyond the trapdoor.



The Elan Psion Elsine.

Friday, November 25, 2005

D&D : Lathander's Tryptych Pt.2

So we passed a 'night', night I say, but everything is utter darkness in this place, I at least have the darkvision, my friends are blind without my help.

We approached the barricade where the wererats had previously ambushed us, again they drove us away with poison arrows. At our third attempt, with Lathander's light shining from me, Elsine sent a powerful mind bolt into one and it scampered away in pain, its companion turned and ran with it rather than face the three of us.

Beyond the barricade we found some stairs, descending. The simple law of dungeons is, the deeper you get, the more dangerous the inhabitants are, so we stepped down most carefully. A corridor ran along the bottom of the stairwell, there are many doors, each with lurking death behind. Here we fought and died numerous times, I shall recount these failures only briefly.

Black skeletons that surrounded themselves with darkness even as I can do with light, a giant of man wielding a greataxe, four ogres counting their spoils looted from some other poor unfortunates. We tried each way, died, and could progress no further. With no food, only stale water, and no way forward we appear stuck. Tierry has suggested a return to the first place in which we woke up, and to try and force entry into Undermountain, we agree, it cannot be worse then this.

The way is open, we pass from the dirt tunnels of Rappan Athuk into the lair of the wizard-lichs.

A day later it appears we have made the right decision, we crept along tunnels for a while, sneaking not like the hallowed warriors we trained to be, but like cutpurses and cowards. We surprised a single goblin, he ran and we let him go but as he ran he must have stepped upon some hidden trigger for with a roar of hot light he vanished into a pillar of flame, we chose another route.

Our days now pass like this. We have found a storeroom, with food stores and a souce of water not too far away. We are still lacking in proper clothing but have fashioned some garments for our modesty from sacking. When we are rested and have spells, powers and psionics to use we creep out and explore, slowley as stalking cats, as silent as we can, we search for the things we need to live, or escape.

Two sleep whilst one watches, or listens, in the darkness. A strange shuffling and clicking brings us awake and we are assailed by skeletons, Elsine uses Psionic Grease on the stone floor and they tumble down, Tierry - a powerfully built man for sorceror and myself hew at them until they are shattered.

On an exploration we encounter four Orc soldiers, Elsine sends one reeling with blood and gray matter spewing from its nose and ears before they react, I call up my light and they flinch and in that moment I plunge my rapier through the heart of a second, Tierry calls up Celestial Hounds.
There are a fewmore moments of confusion and shouting and then it is all over.

Now we have clothing, stinking Orc clothing, armour, boots and better swords and we return to our hideyhole in good spirits. When Elsine is rested, she says she now feels ready to wield powers as a second rank psion adept, Tierry also feels an increase in his sorcerous might.

The next day is another black one. One of us triggers a pit trap, we all fall but I land badly and fel my ankle break, moments later we are beset by Ghouls, and by the foul stench of it, at least one Ghast. Death.

Awakening. We try a different route, find ourselves pursued by some strange amorphous jelly creature, we climb a ladder to escape and find the long dead body of a soldier, he has a glowing sword close by.

We are now 4, of a sort. The sword's name is Harrikas, he is the soul of a ranger, a sworn enemy of Trolls, crafty in the ways of silent moving and hiding in shadows, and perhaps best of all for our next fight, he dances.
Book Review : Iron Council - China Mieville*****


I want to cry when a Mieville novel ends, they are so good that I just don't want them to end, it wouldn't matter if the book was ten times the size of this already weighty tome, I'd still just happily plough on, dazzled and amazed by Mieville's incredible imagination and talent.

Mieville has taken the fantasy genre and breathed new life into it, and let's be fair, it's a genre that has stumbled along for quite a while without any really good new talent (Stephen Erickson aside) coming along. Mieville though has rewritten the genre with his magical / technological / fantastical city-state of New Crobuzon and its myriad inhabitants.

Iron Council takes place roughly two decades after the events in Perdido Street Station, it simultaneously describes the political upheavals that led to the foundation of the renegade - runaway perpetual train of Iron Council and the desperate search for it by a group of rebels requiring its aid to overthrow the city's mercantile elite.

Also woven in the numerous plotlines is a gay leading character, Cutter, and his more or less unrequited love for the Golem Mage Judah Low, a nice look at the various points of view in political upheavals with the characters of Ori and Toro and the factions of prostitutes, workers and remade that make up the Iron Council, and plot twists. Oh yes, the plot twists.

Mieville, like Erickson, has no qualms about killing off leading characters, or taking the plot into sudden and wholey unexpected new directions. I'm not going to give spoilers except to show that there are two giant plot twists here, both fantastic, the second one leaving you both with a feeling of 'that was wonderful' and 'but surely it can't end like this ?'

It's obvious that Mieville is a D&D fan, even going so far as to nick the a few of the games monsters, the watercraefting Vodyanoi, for inclusion. But his imagination runs riot at all times, it seems limitless, every chapter, page, even each paragraph seems filled with new wonders, strange things to marvel over, characters to feel for or despise. His world is strange, fantastic, gritty and believable, it works very well as a fantasy world.

If you like either fantasy or SF, read this, even if you don't, perhaps you should have a try, this is the fantasy novel made art, people are calling Mieville 'Visionary, powerful, intelligent, deeply rewarding, wondrous.' It's all true, his work almost defies description, scene after vivid scene pulls you headlong through the pages and then suddenly, it's all over, and I really didn't want it to end.

Christmas Shopping

Christmas is coming, must pop out and get some dangerous and unsuitable presents for the kiddies then.

It's this line that has me wanting one of these....."The Splatmatic Pistol Splat Paintball Shooter, which fires paint balls at a high velocity, also made the list because of its potential for eye, face and other impact injuries."

I want one.

Or perhaps we should go out for a nice meal, if you're paying that is.

Finally, in the best Christian Christmas tradition, maybe you should consider buying your more religious friends some semi-automatic weaponry to celebrate the birth of Jesus ?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Death Metal Murders

I have just watched the fairly well presented BBC documentary on the above topic presented on BBC 2's This World series, and, contrary to what you might think, I'm not going to leap to the defence of black/satanic/death metal.

I wouldn't leap to the defence of guns 'n ho's rap either, I wonder which has inspired the most killings ? Anyway, I digress.

The programme looked into a series of murders in Italy conducted by a black metal affiliated group known as the Beasts Of Satan, plus other murders in the USA and Norway.

I think the most important point that was made during the programme was this, virtually all of the young people that took part in the murders had very, very troubled backgrounds, indeed the programme didn't look into this closely enough. It rather hinted at the problematic backgrounds of the youngsters involved, seeming happy enough to let most of the blame lie with their choice in music. An American professor (of sociology/anthropology, sorry, I missed his name) was quite convinced though that it was the teenagers background and upbringing, (including social isolation, general social disfunction etc) that had brought them to black metal rather than the other way around.

I would have to agree, I love fairly extreme music, looking around my cd collection I seem to own albums by quite a few of the bands that were mentioned in the programme, Slayer, Cradle Of Filth, Ozzy Ozbourne (oh yes, the doddering Grandaddy of metal gets his compulsory mention in these sort of programmes, seriously though, could Oz persuade you to worship the devil ? ). I own a lot of albums that also also as fast and heavy, or contain lyrics as violent or disturbing as any of those mentioned (Alec Empire, Megadeth, Distillers, Rammstein, Sacred Reich, Coroner, Napalm Death etc, etc, etc).

The thing is though, along the vast majority of heavy metal fans, I don't worship the devil, I don't wish anyone any harm, I just really like loud, fast music, wearing black, having skull tattoos, drinking too much and shouting the F-word in a room full of people doing much the same thing.

If the truth be told, I can't even sing along to Marilyn Manson's Fight Song when he screams "I'm not a slave to a god that doesn't exist", I just have to mumble that line lest a bolt from above takes me out.

Black/death metal is a musical offshoot of heavy metal, and can be almost entirely seperate from it. There are black metal fans, who, following the everything faster then everything else credo, listen to nothing other than their chosen niche. Black metal has it's own websites, online music stores, record companies and festivals, due to it's overpowering speed and ferocity it tends not to cross over well with other types of rock and metal. I bet there arn't many people with Bathory close to Bon Jovi in their record collection.

I think disaffected youth may well be drawn to black metal, or to punk perhaps, more likely to R 'n B with it's gansta posturing. Nice, well brought up, educated kids (i.e. the vast majority) might be attracted to these forms of music as well, but they will see it for what it is, acting and entertainment.

Black and death metal lyrics don't have all that much appeal for me, sure, the odd song about death and mayhem gets me going, Slayer's Angel Of Death is a musical masterpiece and a vital bit of thrash metal history, but even so many years after it's release I still find it's lyrics unsettling and I think the band should have made their point of view on it, and it's associated topics of anti-semitism and the Holocaust, much clearer years before they did.

From a lyrical standpoint though, many rap artists preach a violent, misogynistic message where money is everything, women are worthless and where your petty, pointless reputing is worth defending with a gun is anyone dares diss you. Rap probably outsells black metal a hundred times over, it's message reaches far more dissafected youth and potentially has a far greater impact on the susceptible.

My parents always hated my choice in music, but if your anthems don't piss your parents off then what's the point ? You're a teenager, you're trying to rebel, you don't want your parents to like and agree with everything you do.

If your kid comes home with the new Mayhem album, don't panic, it might not just be a phase, but it doesn't mean he is going off the rails. If on the other hand your child comes from a home where daddy drinks all day, shoots up and slaps mommy around, where there's no love, support or will to do better, where the only writing on paper in the house isn't a book but a court summons, well then if your kid gets into Deicide maybe you should watch out, but then of course you won't care.
Captions ?

The Fall of Ronda

The Christians looked at the landscape, saw the fertile mountain valley with it's rocky plateau and thought....."we can build an impregnable castle up there", so they did.

Along came the Moors bent on conquest, they thought......"that castle looks impregnable to our attacks, let's dam the river instead and cut off the supplies to their wells".

The 'impregnable' castle surrendered seven days later

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ronda



It's a long way down, this is the view condemned prisoners got from the top of Puente Nuevo, seconds later they saw the bottom in close up.



The Puenta Nuevo bridge, you can pay €2 and go inside the bridge, the views are not any better but there is a small display showing how the bridge was built in both Spanish and English.

Ronda is the prettiest of the White Towns, situated atop some fearsome cliffs and outcroppings up in the mountains North of the Coasta Del Sol. A winding, but safe enough road, leads from San Pedro to Ronda, oddly some maps show a connecting road from Benehavis, this is a lie, maybe they were going to build the road and ran out of money, who knows ? Whilst driving up though, keep an eye out for the remains of the old mountain road, you can see bits of it from time to time, much more twisting and dangerous looking.









This is the clifftop Parador, we only stayed in one Parador (in Malaga), these independant hotels are beautiful, often in stunning locations, as this one is, featuring superb local food, but often prices to match.


The main door of the Palacio del Marques de Salvatierra.



Arco de Felippe V, with Mrs YS happy in the sun.



The nice looking bell tower at Santa Maria la Mayor in the heart of old Ronda, for such a small and safe feeling town it had a very large police prescence, there were a couple of dozen wandering around the plaza in front of this church.



I shouldn't mock because my Spanish is no better than their English, but could water what ? It's the big philosophical debating point in Ronda.



Looking onto the pine forests on way back down the mountains, there were eagles soaring on the warm updrafts over the tallest peaks, winged death for the local bunnies.



Then the weather started to change, Andalucia seems almost as unpredictable as Yorkshire. The small house is an abandoned ruin, you see these all over the more rural areas of Andalucia, remnants of the civil war perhaps ?
Pirouette, Pas De Deux, Piss Orf

So, imagine you are a cricketer, a cricketer playing for your country, the highest level you can achieve.

During a match there is an explosion in the stands, it sounds like a bomb, people are running and screaming in panic, there may well be people lying injured, or worse, only a few tens of yards from where you are standing, what is your first thought ?

Will you rush to assist ? Will you run away in fear ? Will you remain calm and composed ?

In this exact situation, the first thought that ran through Shahid Afidi's mind was, "Ey up, the umpires arn't looking, I could cheat here." And so thinking, he did, stepping onto the wicket he performed a short series of ungainly ballet maneuvers, shredding the surface with his spikes.

Let us be thankful for the numerous tv camera's at every test match, and for the sharp eyed vigilance of the umpires, they spotted the damage and the culprit, he was caught, confessed and received a short ban.

You don't have to have the longest of memories to remember that last time that Pakistan cheated against England, with England batting late in the day and getting closer to a win, Moin Khan employed every underhand tactic he could think of to slow down play so that bad light could end the game. Constant and slow field changes, endless examination of the ball, long talks between Khan and his bowlers. All to no avail, Hick and Thorpe could apparently see in the dark and were having no trouble in peppering the outfield, where the bemused fielders were by now standing stock still as balls flashed by them in the gloom.

Khan managed a piece of fine comedy as well, he actually asked the umpires if it was too dark to continue play. As the winning runs were struck, the English celebrated, the Pakistanis looked around in confusion, again they hadn't seen the ball in the dusk.

Why do the Pakistani's feel the need to cheat so ?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Restaurant Review - Bodega Gongora, Seville*****

Of all the numerous tapas bars we toured in the centre of Seville, this was our favourite. Situated just off the Puento Nuevo a couple of minutes walk from the cathedral, this is a tiny bar where perhaps 20 people could stand (no seats inside) with plenty of seating outside if the weather is suitable. We found this place on our first night and made it part, or all, of our tapas trail on most of the following evenings.

You can have very reasonably priced tapa at the bar, if you sit outside you must choose from the larger 1/2 racion, or the near dinner sized racion. Service is friendly, and speedy, they don't dither or mess about.

I realise that in summer here the temperature can be insufferable, but I still don't think this excuses putting decent Rioja in the fridge. On subsequent visits I went for either beer (lager) or Quina Fina - dry sherry, one night we had our entire meal here and I had a bottle of Cava for €10, what a bargain. I had already started that evening with sherry and Mrs YS reports that my condition was, "Puddled."

The food then, the acorn fed Serrano ham is a tapas must, the seafoood here at Gongora is excellent, I particularly enjoyed the deep fried baby squids, a really good sized portion for a 1/2 racion, soft and delicate, very nice. The Iberian blood sausage was also excellent, a salami shaped sausage, served cold, made up from large pieces of liver with paprika and blood, delicious.

Mrs YS would recommend the battered prawns, in a light and foamy beer batter, and we both enjoyed the prawns, garlic and chilli (gambas pil-pil) with lashings of flavoursome olive oil to be mopped up.

The waiters here do a good job of keeping the street 'entertainers' away fom their tables. We found that in Barcelona you couldn't eat outside on the Ramblas without being bothered literally every couple of minutes by some tuneless guitar strumming, bongo playing or wheezing kazoo puffers, here though, itinerant performers were given a steely eye by a phalanx of waiters and steered clear.

Prices are very reasonable, bearing in mind this is a city centre establishment, on our most expensive night here we had 7 1/2 racions, bread and breadsticks, olives, sherry and cava and the bill came to just over €50, or about £35, very good value for a tasty fun meal.

Bodegas Gongora English website

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Few Holiday Pics



Mrs. YS wants this one, looking at the rich folks' toys in Puerto Banus.




Puenta Nuevo, the bridge that allows the inhabitants of Ronda to get across to the shops.




Barbary Apes on the Rock of Gibraltar.




It died for a good cause, the remains of the tiny baby lamb we devoured at El Asador De Benehavis.




Fantastic looking fruit and veg in San Pedro market.




The bones of a saint in Seville Cathedral.




Gardens of the Alcazar in Seville, those Moorish kings, they had real style.




Mmmm, sherry, and lots of it waiting in the barrels at Sandemans, Jerez.




The sun rises on Malaga beach on the last morning.
Dear Old Blighty

We're back, our gastronomic and cultural tour of Andalucia has come to an end, bankrupcy looms, my credit card is groaning under the strain, we're had a great time. Lakes of wine and sherry have been drunk, vast swathes of ocean have been denuded of prawns, mussels and squid, I been been up the tower/battlements/things with "Do Not climb This" signs on them of every monument in the region and have eten olives, constantly, with every meal.

By 'eck though, it's cold back here, and we're doing crap in the 2nd test after throwing the 1st test away.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bem Vindo.....(Shut up, bloody vikings)

to Portugal, breakfast in Seville, lunch by the harbourside in Faro, driven like an Exocet missile by Mrs. YS, I try not to think of the near launch velocity speeds she manages to get out of our hired smartcar. The panicky moments of "wasn´t that the guardia ?" fade even as the sirens fade into the distance.

Faro was nice enough, oddly this had been one of our original choice of destinations when we were driving our friendly travel agent Adrian mad with a multi-centre itinery. Now though, I am glad we have visited, but also glad we didn´t decide to spend five or six nights there.

We have spent three solid days exploring the old town of Seville, exploring the old town of Faro, in it´s entirity, took about an hour. We went in through the old town gates, walked all of the six streets that the walls enclosed, did the cathedral and museum tour (fairly crap except for the chance of seeing the large Crane nesting atop the bell tower) then walked around the dilapidated and dogshit strewn streets outside the old town.

Faro looks poor, and poorly looked after, there are numerous buildings which are little more than broken windowed shells. The newer parts of town beyond are nicer, and the small boat harbour and glass walled cafe/restaurant are very pretty. Lunch brings about the bloody vikings quote, I thought I was ordering a breaded pork schnitzel, but what turned up was a spam and cheese fritter and chips, hey ho, beuatiful spam, wonderful spam....

Dinner last night was also a bit of a fiasco, we got absolutely and unsolvably lost in the narrow streets of the barrio ("I'm sure we were at this square an hour ago"), for the better part of two hours. Naturally this led to some mild, er, bickering, until we gave up on trying to find our way and flagged down a passing taxi. Dinner was taken very late in an Irish pub/tapas house with NI vs Portugal on the telly. Some decent enough food, Baileys and Lagavulin soothed the nerves, we´re all happy again now.

Halfway through the second week of our trip, we have explored quite a lot of Andalucia, we might yet make it to Jerez or the mountain towns where the king of hams - Cinca Jotas - is produced - Yorkshiresoul.

Note from MrsYS - If you ever visit Saville, take no notice of the street maps because sadly but honestly they are CRAP!!
If in doubt call a taxi. We set off today for Faro, Portugal because my Mum said it was beautiful, well sorry Mum but i disagree, it´s a bit run down. Nice marina and good food but as for this so called great beach - couldn´t find it.
Any way better go as he is looking over my shoulder itching to be back at the keys. Love to everyone and see you next week (Happy birthday again Kev) Love MrsYS XX

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Happy Birthday Kevin

Brother in law mk.1 has his birthday today, he´s even older than me, hoorah! Have a good day mate.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Tapeador

Well, those famous oranges obviously require buckets of water, and to get them nice and plump it has hardly stopped pouring it down since we arrived yesterday.

Yesterday´s arrival was a little fraught, navigating around a city like Seville for the first time is intimidating to say the least. ´Streets´ can be only a block long, the name changes after every adjoining street, with the usual inner city one way system to work round at the same time it was not easy to find our hotel, words were exchanged.

After an evening out though we had forgotten our less than sedate entrance into the city. It¨s a wonderful place with some stunning architecture. We took advantage of the Sunday - Free rule at the cathedral and went for a look around, the probable resting place of Christopher Columbus (apparently they muddled his bones with those of his son and grandson and now are not entirely sure whether they have entombed the correct set of remains) is a grand affair. Built atop the previous Islamic temple it is a huge gothic edifice with some of the earlier building still apparent.

The main tower offered a great view of the city, it is ascended in tall passageways via 34 sets of ramps which turn their way tot he top, ramps because the mullah who had the original temple built wanted to be able to call the faithful to prayer from horseback. When the Christians conquered the area they topped the domed Islamic tower with a bell tower. And a weathervane, a woman with a man´s name, I don´t know why.

On to the tapas though, dinner last night was taken at four different establishments, I love this, wandering from place to place, having a little here and a little there, and a glass of vino everywhere. This is the true style of Sevillian dining, and there are many more tapas bars than there are restaurants. We found some tiny, sawdust on the floor places where you ate standing up, there´s no space for chairs, but the food was excellent. Chorizo, pork in creamy whisky and raisin sauce, tiny whole fish, big rings of breaded calamari, huge fresh prawns, chicken and ham croquettes and the two compulsory items in these mobile feasts, olives and cured ham.

If the maxim ´you are what you eat¨ is true, then I am an olive, they are ubiquitos, arriving at the start of meals and with drinks at the bar, large, small, green, black, purple, plain, soaked in garlic, stuffed wth almonds or chillies, I love them. Even better, they are not to Mrs YS´ tastes, so I get the whole of every dish offered.

We had more tapas for lunch today, washed down with glasses of chilled sherry, that´s it, I don´t want to be a matador, but I think I could become an accomplished Tapeador!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Last Day On The Coast

We took a small trip into the mountains this morning to see the pretty mountain village of Coin clinging to the steep valley sides, every home in the village must have a spectacular view, and it´s inhabitants a good head for heights.

Mrs YS isn´t too keen on the winding mountain roads with their often unfenced edges and alarming drops, so we came back down to the coast and explored the ruins of a Moorish castle on the edges of Torremolinos. We didn´t bother going into town though, another Blackpool in the sun has no appeal for me.

Lunch in Puerto Banus again, after laughing at the prices in the rich folks shops. Actually, after looking at the rpice of clothes in Armani, a pair of faux ´punk´ jeans would set you back €700, and there was a wallet on sale for €1500, if you can afford to spend money like water on bollocks like this perhaps it would be better if you were held down and given a severe slapping whilst Bob Geldof screams "Give us the fucking money" in your face.

It does appear that the more money you have, the worse your sense of taste becomes, triple decked sunglasses looking like small bits of portable architecture, handbags looking disturbingly like roadkill, gauche labels and badges everywhere, floral pattern shoes that you wouldn´t spend 50p on at a jumble sale, let alone €400.

A woman walked past whilst we were having lunch, let us not be too polite about this, she had a fat arse, clad in lime green, skintight (sadly) polka dot leggings, the aforementioned floral print shoes, a rather nasty leather and fur jerkin which looked like a badly skinned Rottweiler, a sequined purple blouse, the compulsory D&G sunglasses, and to top off this vile ensemble, a pair of green leather gloves with matching fake green fur trim. With her more soberly attired husband they transfered from their yacht, via brand new Bentley, to their 1st tee mansion, I swear if you had seen her walking through Bradford you´d have had her locked up as an escaped mental patient.

Friday, November 11, 2005

We Have Given The King Of Spain A Bloody Nose

Well not me personally obviously, I´ve got nothing against the old chap, but that was more or less what Sir Francis Drake said some time ago, 1587 if I´m not mistaken, when he attacked and burnt the Spanish fleet at Cadiz.

Anyway, the Spaniards seem to have pretty much forgotten and forgiven our previous violence against them, even to the point of putting up an exhibition to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar.

We had a long drive out today, stopping on the way to watch young James Hepworth of Ilkley Golf Club teeing off in the European Tour Qualifying Tournament at San Roque Golf Club, excellent first drive James!

Then on to Cadiz, a peninsula port city and site of some of Spains most righteous arse kickings at the hands/feet/cannons of the English. We parked within sight of the Nuevo Catedral, handily built over the site of the previous Catedral and thus saving you the effort of visiting both. We wandered utterly lost in the narrow, twisting alleyways of the old town for a while before finding a street wider than 4´in which we could grab a table for lunch. A most excellent, and cheap, club style sandwich, frites and cerveza for about €12 for both of us.

Mrs YS basked in the blazing hot sun for a while whilst I went and partook of some culture in the aforementioned Catedral, note to architects - don´t build limestone cathedrals next to the sea - the ceiling will have a tendency to fall on the heads of the congregation.

We then departed Cadiz and drove back home, stopping for dinner at a restaurant that our club captain had recommended, the Playa Bella, great shellfish dinner, grilled mussels and then the local version of king prawn thermidor, a good bottle of Raimat Chardonnay '04, not at all expensive, but quite hilarious. The restaurant has two rooms, we turned up without booking and were given the last table in the first room, it was homely, quirky and stuffed with an eclectic selection of furniture and adornments.

This was most definately the Non-U room, as the Marbella name set turned up they all marched strait to their preferred tables in the inner sanctum, but when that filled up they were forced into the first dining room alongside us, the proles, and what complaints there were...

"Oh, we have to eat here tonight ?"

Well I´m sorry madam if my C&A shirt clashes with your Dolce & Gabbana glasses, but I think you´ll find the food is exactly the same, cheers captain, both for the restaurant tip and the insight into Costa Del Golf life.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Mrs YS has just phoned home, oh joy, it is cold and raining. I have just got out of bed for the second time today, the Spaniards are spot on with this siesta business, just the thing for digesting a large lunch.

We went to a street market in San Pedro de Alcantara today, I bought myself some bargain shoes for €10. The fruit and veg stalls were amazing, piled high with fantastic looking produce, plum tomatoes, giant mangos, mountains of artichoke globes, cauliflowers bigger than footballs.

We have wandered around the posher bits of the coast, Marbella and Puerto Banus, where the rich set live in mountain side villas or huge yachts and the shops are all D&G, Boss and other ludicrously priced places, nice boats though, if you like that sort of thing.

The symbol of the Costas del Sol/Golf is the crane, in Estepona alone there were ten cranes visible along the skyline, hauling building materials into place. Everywhere along the coast new apartment blocks are springing up, thousands and thousands of them, all seemingly to attract one type of punter, golfers.

"GOLF SHARE INCLUDED", shout colourful posters around every corner, advertising some new and hideous apartment complex. Within ten minutes drive from San Pedro there are about two dozen golf courses, and innumerable building sites. There is something odd though, although the local magazines claim that we are in the height of the tourist golf season, there are very few golfers to be seen. We drive past courses that are mostly empty, with only the odd fourball pottering around.

Ecologically, the rush to grab the golden apple of golf tourism might well be a disaster for Anadalucia. This is a warm, dry country, which is of course why the golfers want to come when it is cold and miserable on the courses of Northern Europe. But golf courses are thirsty beasts, unlike the fruit and olive groves and grazing land they have replaced, they require lakes of water everyday to keep them green. This is a warm, dry land, not a lush, wet one, the river beds here are dusty at the end of a hot summer, and the summers have been amongst the hottest and driest on record, 5 in the past decade have broken the previous records for minimal rainfall.

Parts of Southern France are suffering in the same way, farmers are driven into bankrupcy as their crops shrivel and their herds cannot graze, but the golf courses with their invested millions are alive and verdant.

We have enjoyed our visit to this part of Spain, our hotel, the Grand Spa Benehavis is fantastic if mostly empty, Ronda and the white towns are beautiful, Gibraltar was interesting and there are a few nice places along the coast. Most of the area though is ugly with new building, and many of the new buildings are ugly when finished. The main roads remind me of the roads on the outskirts of huge cities in the USA, with their seemingly endless miles of fast food joints and lurid neon signs.

Benehavis itself it nice, nestled as it is up a pretty gorge in the mountains, but even here there are five cranes and millions of tons of rock and soil are being cut out from the steep valley walls to make small plateaus for new building, what is a pretty village now will be a bustling town in a couple of years time.

I have enjoyed our trip to this part of the country, but I don´t think it likely that we will return, it is on to Seville at the weekend, the city that invented tapas, flamenco and sending oranges to the UK at Christmas.

Adios, Yorkshiresoul.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Restaurant Review : El Asador, Benehavis*****

"Culinary Nirvana"

We went out last night into ´happening´Benehavis, many restaurants are closed for the annual staff and owners holidays, but we found a place which looked inviting. The entrance led past an open kitchen with a vast wood burning oven and open charcoal grills. We were offered any seat in the house and givena menu.

I liked the look of the ´degustacion´ menu, an aperitif, a bit of everything for starter, then a choice of meats or fish and a dessert, it was slightly pricey at €40 each, but as Mrs YS had been eyeing up some big old lobsters in the harbour earlier which we´ll doubtless have at some point, I thought it might be worth it.

A great decision, a plate of olives arrived along with a glass of semi-sweet sherry, fabulous, juicy olives, some small, others half the size of a golf ball. I´m on a winner here, Mrs YS doesn´t like them, she drank the sherry though.

The red wine is odd, it has been kept in the fridge, strange, maybe it´s a local custom, I spend half the meal hugging my glass and bottle to get it warmed up.

A vast platter of starters arrives, one platter each. King prawns, stuffed egg, avocado, sweet melon, jambon croquette, baked stuffed mussel, pate, salads, plus half a loaf of fresh baked foccacia like bread with a jug of herbed olive oil, brilliant.

The starter degustacion was almost enough for a meal, then the main event arrives. We opted for baked lamb, and we get a quarter of baby lamb, neck, shoulder and flank, all baked in a clay pot in the wood oven where the smoke has added a delicate, rosemary tinged piquancy to the meat. This is real lamb, you know those fluffy little bouncy, springy, cute, two week old ones, it´s one of those. The flesh is succulent, meltingly tender, so tender you can almost lick it off the bones. It is fabulous, nothing short of remarkable, I have never eaten meat so sweet, juicy and tender.

We devour it, getting thoroughly greasy in the process, every last scrap of meat and fat is eaten, the small puddle fo juices mopped up with the last of our bread. The flavour is incredible, this is easily amongst the best things I have ever eaten, and so simple. It comes with a dressed salad which we pick at, unwilling to let the salad dressing oppose the flavour of the lamb.

For dessert, Mrs YS has a very nice chocolate mousse, I opt for apple strudle, which is very nicely presented with swirls of apricot puree, pistachio cream, cinnamon ice cream and the only, tiny, low point of the meal, some sugary aerosol whipped cream.

We didn´t have coffee, I´m struggling with my recurring sleeplessness, but had a nice bottle of Tempranillo-Roble, the total bill came to €107, about 75 pounds, money well spent, this was a memorable meal, and as soon as I remember the name of the restaraunt, I will tell you, it deserves more custom than just the two of us.

El Asador,Plaza de la Inglesia 4, Benehavis (5 mins North of Peurto Banus/San Pedro)
Tel : 952 85 50 96

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

We Have Apes, The Rock Remains British

A swift drive along the coast today brings us to one of the last surviving British Colonies, Gibraltar. Now, the Spaniards have fallen out with us over the sovereinty of Gibraltar, so they try to hide it from you by claiming that all roads lead to La Linea De Concepcion rather than the GB outpost, no roadsign in Spain will direct you to Gib. It does no good though, the rock is bloody enormous and can be seen for tens of miles.

La Linea is a rather depressed looking town, Gib on the other hand bustles with life, commerce and tourism. It is the most overtly militaristic place I have visited, the authorities here never miss a chance to point out just how many times we sent the Spanish packing.

There are UK warships at harbour here, and off duty squaddies roaring around the streets on mopeds, but what we really came to see is apes, Barbary Apes.

Mrs YS took one look at the cable car and said no, I paid my ticket and went in, two minutes later I was back out, it was closing due to high winds. I was offered a bus tour to the top for about 25euro, but I´m a Tyke, so I took Shank´s Pony to the top.

I was panting and running with sweat by the time I had staggered as far as ther Apes outpost, took the obligatory photos of the residents, then I spied a rickety walkway with a Danger - No Entrance sign. One vault over a fence and I took the worryingly decrepit stairway all the way to the summit, oh my aching legs! They were right, it was dangerous, don´t be tempted unless you have a head for heights, nerves of steel or no common sense at all.

Must dash now, a hot jacuzzi awaits!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hola

Ey up folks, here we are in sunny Spain. When we left Yorkshire yesterday it was pissing it down sideways, on landing in Andalucia it was warm, slighty breezy and sunny.

The Spanish authorities believe in two things, apparently.....

1) It is good to keep tourists lost.

2) It is even better if they stay lost.

They accomplish this by a number of diverse and cunning methods......

1) Roads are marked with one number on roadsigns, and a different one on the roadmap, thus the A374 to Ronda on the map becomes the A397 on the actual road.

2) Roadsigns are often hidden behind trees, have fallen down gullys, or do not exist.

3) Whereas in the UK you get a large roadsign giving you the primary city that a road leads to, then a second sign telling you of smaller towns on the same road, Spanish roadsigns are placed on the actual road junctions forcing you into life and underwear altering split second decisions, often involving heavy goods vehicles with poor brakes.

Nevertheless, we made it to Benehavis more or less unscathed. It wasn´t what we were expecting, at first glance it appeared to be a hotel, four houses and a building site, however, upon a later recon mission we found a 'town' centre with bars and restaurants and Spanish Chavs on mopeds.

Today (Monday) we went to the White Town (which means paint rather than any National Front affiliation) of Ronda, way up in the mountains up a fairly hairy road. It was very beautiful, with a stunning triple arch bridge, Moorish architecture and narrow, winding streets painted white and yellow.

This evening (and last night) we ended up in Pueto Banus harbour, where the rich set go in summer, tonight´s dinner was fantastic, gambas pil-pil, paella and Priorato, last night´s repast was less good.

Good news at the hotel, free interwebnet access, expect regular updates then. The hotel appears to be mostly empty, we are out of season I suppose. We are planning a day out to Gibraltar on Tuesday, reports from The Rock (the geological talking piece rather than the crap actor) will follow.

Buenos Notchas, Yorkshiresoul.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

D&D : Lathander's Triptych

Being the memories of myself, Marcus of Lathander, and my companions, the Elan Psion Elsine, and Tierry the Sorceror. I am a holy warrior of my God, and born of the spawn of Gods, I am an Aasimar Paladin.

We stood together at the temple of Lathander as the army of the death god swept away our best and strongest, and when the the temple doors were breached we three stood in fornt of the altar, three followers fresh from training, hoping against hope to hold back the avatar where our high priest had already failed.

Myrkul's avatar stretched out an arm and black fire rippled out from it, we were swept away into darkness, but as we fell three sparks rose from the alter and sank one into each of us.

We awoke, naked and in darkness. I have the darkvision, my companions are forced to stumble along behind me. We were in a corridor with a door at either end, each door has a sign, one reads Undermountain, the other, Rappan Athuk. What evil joke was this ? How had three such lowly warriors offended the death god so ?

We decided, and passed through the door into Rappan Athuk, the Dungeon of Graves, famed throughout the Shining South, infamous rather. We scrabbled and searched for the things we needed, weapons, armour, food and water, but Rappan Athuk is a cold, dead place, the things you find are beyond eating. Armed only with rough clubs made from shattered chairs we advanced slowly.

A stair gave way beneath my foot and I found myself impaled on barbed sticks, I endured much agony to rip myself free. We found a cavern with running water, and an ambush. We were showered with poison tipped arrows from off in the darkness and a swarm of Dire Rats ran amongst us biting and tearing, we tried to escape.

Elsine focused her mind on the rats and poured her thought power into them, two lay lifeless, minds burned out. Tierry is strong and agile for a magic user, he fired frost rays at the rats and summoned a Celestial Hound, but took a poison arrow in the shoulder and fell. Elsine fell soon after and now our attackers showed themselves, a pack of Wererats, outnumbered and unarmoured I fell to their blades.

I awoke, as did my friends, in the same corridor, again naked and unarmed, again the same choice to make. We took the same door, I remembered the small pit and Elsine located another larger one, I could remember the ambush and our deaths. This time I ran into the cavern and shouted, then ran back with the rat swarm at my heels, I jumped as Tierry stamped on the pit cover, but our timing was hard in the darkness and many rats were across before the pit opened, we fought, and died, and awoke.

This time the pit plan worked, the mass of the rats tumbled in, Tierry and myself smashed others off the walls as they tried to climb across. When their Wererat masters arrived we were prepared, Elsine sent one twitching to the floor, Celestial Hounds appeared amongst them biting and snapping, I leapt the pit and smashed the skull of the last one.

Now we could arm ourselves, shortbows and rapiers, but their tiny clothing and armour would fit none of us. We ate, and a foul meal it was, rat blood and flesh, raw, for we had no method of lighting a fire. We slept, keeping watch in turn.

This is our curse then, to fight and die, then to awake and fight again. Whether this curse was laid upon us by Myrkul or Lathander I do not know, but we were trained to fight, and so we shall.

Friday, November 04, 2005

It Lives!

Sorry about the hiatus, my PC broke down and then Blogger ate my template, but here's a nice new one with more space for pictures of Charlotte Church, Christina Aguilera etc.

Anyway, Sunday morning we depart for Andalucia, a week or so on the Costa Del Sol in Estepona, another week or so in beautiful Seville, and everywhere tapas and gran reservas. Mrs YS plans to decimate Mediterranean shellfish stocks while we are there.

I will send reports if time and sobriety allow, I promise to bore the pants off you with my holiday snaps when I come back, I must remember not to let Mrs YS catch me ogling pretty senoritas on the beach.