Tag Archives: writing

Covid BCN 03: shop till you drop

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Yesterday it was time to eschew my quarantine and head out into the world to stock up on perishables. After 72 hours, in which my computer has been my only window onto the world – except for my balcony, which faces a brick wall – this was a big deal.

First things first: this meant putting on my outdoor shoes, careful not to tread virus deeper into the house. In many countries, people remove their shoes when they enter a home, but in Catalonia, with its predominantly tiled floors, shoes inside remains the norm. That’s a thing of the past. Shoes that walk on the street now stay in the entrance hall, since virus-containing sputum coughed into the air ends up on the street and from there onto the soles of your shoes, where it can live for several hours.

I take my shopping bag and head downstairs – I’ve been advised not to use shopping trolleys as too many people have handled them (I’ve been trying not to use plastic for several months already because of the environment). Once below, I realise I have no gloves (or a mask!) and have to open the street door with the cuff of my jacket. So many simple actions now need to be rethought to help contain the spread of this virus.

At my local supermarket, a few dodgy characters can be seen hanging around the entrance, but there are no queues or hysterical mobs in sight. Yet as I go to enter, one of them hauls me up. Thus I am introduced to the new Covid queue: far more spacious, with oodles of room between you and the next person. I assume I’ll be here for hours so I take a selfie, but in just a few minutes, I am waved in by a masked and gloved supermarket cashier, who in these post-Covid days has assumed the role of traffic warden. Inside, there is none of the usual shoving and jostling that generally goes on in this small but popular shop. Customers edge around each other warily, aiming to maintain that crucial one metre of viral-free breathing space.

Photo showing people in BCN queuing 1.5 metres apart
The new Covid queue is far more spacious: over 1.5 metres between members and no nasty pushers-in

I’m surprised to find that many products are available: no eggs, pasta, fresh milk or my particular brand of yoghurt, but plenty of paella rice (fair enough; it isn’t the season for large family gatherings), and meat and poultry. I came for juice, yoghurt and other perishables and these are mostly available. That may be unique to this supermarket, which though small is popular, offering high-quality products at excellent prices, so endless restocking of shelves has always been a big part of their working day.

It is tempting to want to pile goods into my bag. The whole atmosphere is post-apocalyptic, and the goods I am seeing now may not be here tomorrow or next week. But I stiffen my resolve and heed the government warnings not to hoard, buying just what I came here for, not a half dozen more.

Today is Tuesday, and I am worried that my organic veggies woman – who normally comes into town on Tuesday evenings – will have bailed. Last night my remaining veggies were looking extremely bedraggled. I made soup, reader. There is something about this lockdown that inspires domestic endeavour (being shut within these same four walls, no doubt). There’s been a frenzy of vacuuming from neighbours above and below over the last 48 hours).

Today’s figures are six deaths and almost 500 new cases in Catalonia. Five of the mortalities are linked to the city of Igualada, which has been totally closed off from the rest of Catalonia. Spain is still being laggardly about closing its ports and airports – or about isolating Madrid. The city has become a major focus of viral infection – and spread: the capital’s wealthy have apparently been fleeing to their summer homes in Valencia and so importing the virus there, which the Valencians are none too thrilled about.

Banner for BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta
Click here to purchase BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta on Amazon.com

Covid BCN 02

Since it looks like Barcelona will be locked down even beyond the next two weeks, I’m posting a few choice diary excerpts about life in the containment zone. Without the raunchy bits – unless you count me sitting on my balcony watching pigeons copulate (lucky buggers!). In terms of entertainment value, I doubt it will have Netflix quaking in its boots, but it passes the time.

Monday, 16 March 2020

On Sunday my plan had been to put on my cycling gear and get in a decent ride before we were all totally locked down, but in the event I just lounged around home watching Netflix. So when that evening, Jordi told me that two Lycra-clad cyclists had been fined on Avinguda Paral·lel to the tune of 600 EUR, I thought: “There but for the luck of the Irish …” As a middle-aged man who goes cycling in Lycra, I know that middle-aged men wearing Lycra is a crime of fashion in the first degree, but I still find the punishment extreme.

At 8 o’clock every evening, neighbours have been coming out on their balconies and continuously applauding in support of the health workers and other workers who are on the front line in the fight against covid19. Apparently, it’s a trend that started in Italy and has taken off here. I take part. It almost passes for socialising.

Wholemeal and spelt sourdough bread with rosemary and olive oil topping ready for baking
Into the oven … Sourdough bread with olive oil and rosemary topping to give it some perfume

This morning I baked a fresh batch of sourdough bread. This has been my homebody thing for several months and now it’s my small contribution to the covid19 crisis. Not that I can divide a few loaves among the five thousand who are combatting the crisis – that’s been done before anyway – but it offers at least some semblance of community support to a couple of Poble Sec residents. The flour combination I used for this batch was about 70% white, and 15% each of spelt and wholemeal flour, giving a nice light but chewy brown bread. I managed to get good aeration in this batch.

Freshly baked sourdough bread of wholemeal and spelt flours
The covid loaf: sourdough bread of wholemeal and spelt flours with added immunity against the virus!

Yesterday I also downloaded an app from my gym, as I’ll need to start exercising at home if I can’t get to the pool or take my bike out. This blog post by the Travellothoner also offers a short workout you can do in just a few square metres with no equipment. So yes, that middle-aged man in Lycra doing knee bends on his balcony c’est moi. Or maybe I’ll take up Tai Chi again.

Banner for BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta
Click here to purchase BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta on Amazon.com

Covid BCN 01

Since the whole of Barcelona is going to be locked down for at least the next two weeks, I thought I might post a few excerpts from my diary, detailing the ongoing craziness. It will depend on interest (my own and others) as to whether this becomes a regular thing.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Cercle Artístic Sant Lluc has said it will close its doors from 16 March because of the Covid19 hysteria, so I need to take advantage of the days left to get some drawing in. I think the next few weeks are going to become crazy. The other day I did a big shop at BonÀrea, stocking up on jars of lentils, beans, pasta and other non-perishables as I suspect that this week people will start swamping the supermarkets, bulk-buying against the scare of a lockdown as part of anti-coronavirus measures. Being a trendy liberal Guardian reader, I’ve seen this is already happening in the UK and elsewhere (worldwide toilet paper shortage!), so forewarned is forearmed.

As my working life is pretty much a model of self-isolation anyway (working at home, not forming part of large groups), I think I’m unlikely to be stricken down any time soon. My friend Jordi, working in the hospital reception is totally frontline, so if it does enter our orbit, it may be from that direction. For people like us, young(ish) and fit, the symptoms are likely to be mild, so I’m not too concerned. It is interesting to watch the world’s population at work though – a fascinating study for a science fiction movie: so this is how the world really reacts to an alien invasion!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Barcelona life has undergone radical changes yet little has changed for me personally. Last night the government closed all sports and entertainment centres, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops. Most businesses are now working from home – it is in this sense that little has changed for me. Though it is a bummer that I can no longer go to the pool. I’ll have to get my bike rideable in the next few days. Last night, we had an early beer at Saïd’s, went home for dinner, and then Jordi and Andreu came round to mine and we had beers on the balcony. In that time, the Catalan government issued a decree to close all the bars and restaurants.

Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa
Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa

So my larder is full, I have beers, gin and Irish whiskey in stock … Hence these days should be an intensive of writing and art … Let’s see.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

I tried to go for a final bike ride today down to the beach and the police turned me back at Plaça del Mar. From tomorrow everything will be in total lockdown. I have food stocked up for a month though apparently food shops will be open. We’ll see how much translation work comes in over this time.

Actually I quite like having the excuse to do nothing but sit at home and write or paint.

Banner for BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta
Click here to purchase BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta on Amazon.com

Nothing to Lose – Clare Lydon

dreaming of books 9

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Nothing to Lose by Clare Lydon

Nothing to Lose by Clare Lydon

While lesbian romance is not my usual fare, I am pleased I made an exception for this heart-warming novel. And this was the adjective that kept coming back to me as I read: heart-warming. It is a novel about all the best things in local communities; it celebrates the humanity, compassion and solidarity that are dredged up out of even the stoniest hearts when disaster strikes. Truly comfort food for the soul.

Scarlet (yes, after O’Hara), burnt once too often, has now closed her heart to love and chiselled herself a survival existence in a basement flat in a small town. But when the rain comes down and leaves her world underwater, finally the floodgates must be opened. She takes shelter with Joy, “local mayor and sunshine specialist”, who helps her see that life can indeed return after the deluge. As a gay man (for whom sex is the bit before you ask someone’s name), I found the age it took for these two to get together both excruciating and tantalising. However, when they finally do, not only are they consummating their relationship, but reaffirming their links to the family and friends around them. Their relationship becomes a celebration of community.

Spoiler: as it says on the tin, this is lesbian romance, so there are a couple of raunchy, blow-by-blow, no-holds-barred yet elegantly rendered, girl-on-girl action scenes which, had I been of the right sex and persuasion, I would have found incredibly hot. In the event, I was able to skip nimbly forward with my modesty intact, but if this what you came for, you will receive full satisfaction.

Above all, it is a tale of love between two strong and honest women, both very different yet who each have a lifetime of experience to offer the other and, together, two lifetimes to do it in. This book does what a romance is supposed to: it leaves you feeling fabulous!

Get it here.


Fresh Air and Empty Streets – Oliver Cable

dreaming of books 8

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Cover: Fresh Air and Empty Streets by Oliver Cable

Fresh Air and Empty Streets by Oliver Cable

Having once sat drinking under a full moon on Sacré-Cœur’s steps, I immediately identified with this gem of a first novel set in the Paris streets. It is a sensitive story about a young man, Felix, who comes to meet, challenge and discover the father, Alexander, he has never known. In doing so, he is forced to question some of his own most staunchly held beliefs.

If the first few chapters feel slightly tentative, it is almost as if the author is wrestling with what sort of book he has inside himself. Then father and son finally meet and, as they explore their budding relationship, the writing becomes more assured. At times the prose truly catches alight, flaming brightly in passages describing Paris’s live jazz scene and Alexander’s regular haunts. The writing works best when, rather than trying to comment on the city or its tourists, the author simply slows his heartbeat to listen to the dark river running through himself and annotates its sounds, more in the nature of a poet than a narrator. The prose is strongest when focussing on those first tentative steps in a relationship – between father and son, or between new lovers.

With so many novels being bashed out these days by writers aiming to publish a couple of kilos of pulp each and every business quarter, it is a relief to find a writer who cares about his craft, as Cable clearly does. I look forward to his next book.

Get it here.


The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

dreaming of books 6

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Cover of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

A brilliant read. The two main characters, brothers and hired assassins, are grudgingly revealed through the narrator’s voice, and deWitt is ruthlessly Spartan in his prose. With the feel of a literary road movie, we are moved through a series of alien worlds at the pace of a dawdling nag. We never wholly come to know these rough environments, and they remain strange, as the protagonists are estranged from polite society. Yet through their mystery, somehow they beautifully and increasingly reveal the characters’ tenderness and humanity. This book promised much, and for me it truly delivered, never relying on the stereotypical tropes you might expect of the Western genre it moves within.

Available from: Amazon


AN INTERVIEW WITH AN EDITOR – KEVIN BOOTH

I am thrilled to announce that author Chele Cooke’s interview with me regarding my editing work has just gone up on Ben Galley’s blog Shelf Help. I talk about the role of the freelance editor in the new publishing environment and the professional challenges facing authors who opt for the independent publishing route. It’s also packed with advice for authors who are considering their options about who to choose as an editor for their novel.

an intelligent  fantasy about saving the environment

Drawn together from parallel universes, Jade and Kreh-ursh must fight to halt the destruction of their worlds.

Remember that Through the Whirlpool is free to download at Kobo and Smashwords. It is now also available on Apple’s ibooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and many other online retailers. Visit Poble Sec Books for a full list of our retailers. Sign up to our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates on new publications.

An intelligent fantasy about saving the environment

As their worlds collide, Jade, Kreh-ursh and Geh-meer fight to save those whom they love.

Twilight Crosser, the sequel to Through the Whirlpool is available to pre-order at the following retailers: Kobo, Smashwords and ibooks. It will be available at Amazon and Nook from 15 November 2013.

Happy reading and writing!


It’s July, so where’s the revolution?

I first published this post two years ago. However, yesterday, the 19 July, was the Barcelona anniversary of the military uprising whose failure led to the Spanish Civil War (the mutiny starting in Morocco on the 17th), so I thought it was appropriate to bring this post to the fore again (19/07/2014).

July is nearly over and I can’t help wondering where the fireworks are? While popular images of the Spanish summer include blasting hot days, clear skies, greasy paella and treacherous sangria, it is worthwhile remembering that Barcelona was also a key city in the development of Anarcho-Syndicalism – the tying of Anarchist thought into a cooperative structure. It is in fact the sole place in the world to have enjoyed an Anarcho-Syndicalist government of any kind, as related in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. And it all started in July.

July is a key month in Spanish history. Traditionally, you either start a revolution or go to the beach. During the First Spanish Republic, back in July 1873, there was Cartagena’s Cantonal Revolution and Valencia’s Petroleum Revolution. Then in 1909 came what was known as the July Revolution, an Anarchist-influenced worker uprising in Barcelona, dubbed la setmana tràgica, or “tragic week”, by the bourgeoisie as they saw their opulent Modernista world tilt dangerously and their churches set on fire. The infamous uprising of 17–19 July 1936 saw General Mola’s failed coup develop into the three-year conflict of the Spanish Civil War. Sparked off by the coup, an ensuing worker revolution was decisive in foiling it, resulting in Catalonia’s revolutionary government which lasted until the Communist mid-war takeover in May 1937.

Image

Churches burning across Barcelona during the setmana tràgica, July 1909.

July fireworks isn’t just a Spanish thing. This is the month when the Bastille was stormed and in which Belgium also gained its independence. Closer to the equator, Columbia, Venezuela and Peru all gained their independence in July while the Sandinista and Cuban revolutions exploded. Argentina’s independence further to the south, where it was winter, puts a dent in my theory that it is the heat that makes this such a volatile month.

Last year in Barcelona, the 15-M movement of indignados – inspired by the book Indignez Vous! By Stephane Hessel, one of the fathers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – was a response to Spanish political events that have seen many people become angered and disillusioned with Spain’s out-of-touch political party system in the context of the ongoing economic crisis. In May and June, we thought great events were afoot. However, by mid-July, it seemed that everyone had slunk off to lie on the sand.

This year, things seem to be following a similar path. Early in the month, Rajoy’s government introduced the harshest set of cutbacks and revisions that this young democracy has ever seen, sweeping away many of the rights and advances that unions and workers fought desperately throughout most of the twentieth century to win. Now July is almost over. While the continual protests and demonstrations have settled into a certain routine, no revolution is yet apparent, but it is a scorching day… so I am off to the beach.


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