This year I was really pleased to have the opportunity, for the third year running, to be a World Book Night giver. I had asked to give away A Little History of the World, by EH Gombrich. I first heard of this book when my son bought a copy a few years ago. He felt he had large gaps in his knowledge of history, and that the book might help remedy that. He was very impressed and recommended it to me, and my husband bought me a copy last Christmas. I'm just reading it now myself, and although I have always read a lot of history and other related subjects, I'm learning a lot from it, especially a deeper knowledge of European history. I tried to find people from as many walks of life as possible in my small commuting circuit, in a fairly rural setting - I hope they enjoy it as much as I have!
I've recently come back from a three day visit to Barcelona with two young colleagues to see some hotels and a selection of places my employers send school groups to. We flew into El Prat de Llobregat and picked up a hire car to drive to Tossa de Mar, with an en route stop at Calella. This was the first time I have ever driven abroad (ie on the right!), and I was feeling apprehensive, but luckily we weren't arriving in the Barcelona rush-hour, so we had a pretty easy run along the port front of the city and down the coast. My left hand kept groping for the gear-stick and hand-brake, but apart from that, I managed! I did think of my mother, who used to single-handedly drive me and my assorted siblings in a Dormobile all the way from Kent to Ampolla, a village south of Tarragona, for our summer holidays. As I recall, my younger brother and I were usually already arguing by the time we got to the Hawkhurst crossroads (about a hundred yards from our house). I remember my feelings of pride on one occasion when Mum backed the Dormobile into a tight space on the cross-Channel ferry and smilingly said
to the deck-controller "Not bad for a woman, eh?"
I've never been north of Barcelona since those childhood drive-throughs, and a very brief summer au-pairing in Alella in my teens, so I was interested to see the beautiful country en route to Tossa de Mar, and sight of the old medieval city of Girona in the distance. We stayed overnight at Tossa, and walked round the old walled town on the hill above the beach, where a tiny hospital for the poor existed until the late 18th century.
Over the next two days in Barcelona we took the Big Red Bus to give my colleagues a physical sense of where everything lay in the city, and also caught the funicular railway and cable car to the top of Montjuic, the green hill looking down on Barcelona. The Sagrada
Familia rising above the city still looks stunning from there, even with all of the surrounding skyscrapers to compete with. We dashed round the old Gothic Quarter and Montjuic itself, including the charming Poble Espanyol, making mental notes for future more leisurely visits.
My sister lived in Barcelona for many years with her family after marrying her Catalan husband. I would like to spend time getting to know Barcelona on other levels, not just the face it presents to tourists, to visit the places where Pablo Casals studied and played, and to learn more about Catalunya's culture and history. I enjoyed watching old men chatting on the Rambla as the coach parties swirled by, the school children walking home with their satchels, the office workers drinking a quick coffee in the bars, the students parking their scooters outside the universities.
The Boqueria, the famous indoor market off the Rambla, is a huge draw for tourists, and I marvelled at the patience of the stall-holders, who not only must have spent hours building their beautifully-constructed displays of goods, but also have to put up with large numbers of visitors who are there more to take photographs than to buy anything! We did buy some chocolate hedgehogs and fruit salad, but fortunately there were locals embarked on the more serious business of evaluating and purchasing cheese, meat and fish.
Most of the stalls are breath-taking, but I did feel sad and sorry to see crabs and lobsters, still alive, with moving claws and feelers, and we were all slightly horrified at the tongues, skinned sheep's heads (eyes intact), tripe, testicles etc. These days most of us supermarket shoppers are never faced with the realities of where our tidily-displayed pieces of meat have come from.
Lifelong bookworm, love writing too. Have been a theatrical agent and reflexologist among other things, attitude to life summed up by Walt Whitman's MIRACLES.