Lost and found

This Spanish sabbatical has thrown up its fair share of characters; who would have thought that one of the main players would be a hound dog though? 

Cast your minds back a few months. Some ridiculed whilst others empathised but I was kept ‘prisoner in my own home’ by Herbert, the Podenco. (Blog post here).

Since Herbert’s howling ceased on my patio, I’ve often wondered what has happened to the poor mutt. In an ideal world, the dog would have been picked up by a kindly soul or it might have found wherever it was journeying. I consoled myself that this is one of those frequent stories in life where the ending can never be known. 

Last week I was procrastinating with Facebook, a favourite hobby of mine when the heat gets too fierce or the mosquito bites too itchy. I stumbled upon an article on a local Catral news group that I’m part of. Typically, it hosts articles about the weather, fiestas or classic car shows. But, staring out at me today, was an article about a hound, Alisha, who had been missing in action for four months. I read on. 

There was a professional photograph of Alisha at the top of a Facebook group, “Alisha Busca”. The group had about 50 people in it then yet that number has now grown to well over 100. Without reading too far, it quickly became evident that this villa’s previous tenant (known ‘affectionately’ in this blog as crazy dog woman) was involved in the search. Alisha was her dog and had escaped back in May shortly after the move. 

Now, here’s the truly amazing bit. Lost, undoubtedly desperate and not yet settled into her new home, Alisha began her incredible journey. She spent a couple of weeks travelling from Aspe, over forty kilometres away, to get back to this villa here. 

I find that mind-blowing. It’s stating the obvious but Alisha didn’t have a phone with sat-nav on it; she can’t (to my knowledge) read road signs. The only time she would have done the trip before was in the back of a truck. How did she even start going in the right direction? These hunting dogs are smart. 

On Sunday evening, the lovely Alisha was reunited with her owner (and dog mates) after being recaptured about six miles from here. As the Facebook group found its stride, sightings of Alisha became increasingly frequent. After four months living in the wild, Alisha seems relatively healthy and I’m sure she’s happy to now be at her new home. I’m so glad that this dog is no longer stray.

There is, of course, a sting in this tales tail. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the amount of money she still owes to Sarah in unpaid rent, bills and general damage, crazy dog woman didn’t pass on any forwarding details when she moved, not to me or the next door neighbours. Back in June when Alisha turned up on my doorstep I had no way of accurately contacting her though I tried. 

Alisha needn’t have suffered for so long over a Spanish summer if only her owner had acted in a more responsible and honest manner when moving. And that’s why this overwhelmingly happy story still leaves a slightly sour after-taste. 


The End Of The Summer

Friends tell me that the fabulous Shambala festival has once again been a riotous success over in Market Harborough. It’s always been one of my favourite festivals – and one that leaves me exceptionally sad when packing up the tent to head home on August Bank Holiday Monday. 

In years gone by, it’s marked the end of Summer for me. Often, but not always, it’s been my last festival of the year. The days can’t help but get shorter and colder; it’s not long before the central heating has to kick into action again; that’s if it hasn’t already done so. Schoolteacher friends have to head back to jobs they hate. There’s little bonus to look forward to in Autumn and Winter when Christmas rarely floats your boat.

This year feels different. July and August have frankly been too hot in this part of Spain but I’m told that September and October are much better months to experience. Far from being dejected, I’m excited by the new things I’m likely to discover. This is a year that’ll keep on giving. 

Progress on the novel has been slow and I’ve hardly been churning blog posts out with dedicated profligacy. 

Profligacy – there’s a word I really should avoid using in the future.

It has been a wonderful summer though. If I was truly able to live in the moment, I’d probably say it’s been one of my best ever; it’s certainly one that I’ll look back on fondly in years from now. Not having to worry about a day job has given me all sorts of freedoms I otherwise wouldn’t have. 

I slept under canvas when back in England for three weeks; the weather helped but what a glorious thing to be able to do. Looking out from the dewy tent over perfect panoramas of the Dorset coast; poring over newspapers and magazines and being truly able to appreciate the columnists’ craft without having ‘something’ else to do; not beating myself up for not rushing around madly; finding my own pace. These have been my favourite experiences. 

British festivals ensured that my need for the chaotic was still achieved; from the wet and cosy Lunar (review here) through to the simply extraordinary, out of the world Boomtown (review here) via the sizzling Bestival (review here), they’ve all provided summer memories to cherish. 

Just last week after a day exploring the Ricote Valley here in Spain (highly recommended when it’s less hot), Sarah and I stumbled upon the thermal baths and day spa at Archena. Full of water jets and forceful showers, plunge pools and wave trails, here you could massage and pummel your achy joints and muscles whilst looking out to the mountains north of Murcia. I’ll go there again. 

Fine food, simple sea swimming and  surprises beyond every T-junction that are waiting to be explored. 

It’s the end of Summer but it’s not the end of this crazy adventure. 


Naked feelings

I’m berating myself but I’ve not been writing much recently; a kind of lethargic sludge has accompanied my every move. I blame the heat. 


The summer in the south of Spain, slower to emerge than in previous years by all accounts, has now appeared with sweltering intent. I can just about get through the days but it’s at night when things get most unpleasant. This villa has no air conditioning and the temperature isn’t dropping much beneath 25 degrees. Should I be lucky enough to get to sleep, it’s very rare that it’ll be unbroken. The noises of nature at night are both eerie and exciting. 4 AM is always interesting out in the sticks. 

News rumbles through from the UK that the heatwave there shows no sign of abating. I’m coming home in a few weeks to cover a couple of festivals and I’m sure that the rain Gods are waiting for that to make a reappearance. 

Amidst the heat and the lethargy, I have been having fun as well. This has been a pretty special World Cup so far. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to watch pretty much every game I’ve wanted to with beer or wine in hand. I’ve enjoyed/endured much of it alone in this villa but have ventured out once or twice. I found sports bars in Alicante that I liked when I lived there back in April and they’ve really come alive during this competition. 

Take Saturday afternoon as an example; an hour before kick off in the Red Corner, there was a mass of yellow shirted Swedes sat around most of the tables. The English were outnumbered but it was of no consequence because there was little of the hysterical nationalism that often rears its head back home. Everyone was up for a party, keen to cheer on their countries but happy to shake hands with the opposition. The Swedish masked their disappointment at the end of the game well and were magnanimous in defeat. It was the same when Japan played Senegal in the group stages. Countries coming together to watch football – it’s what it’s all about yeah? 

I’ve discovered a love for swimming in the sea. I had no idea how liberating it can be. The San Juan fiesta in Alicante was a colourful pageant; a crazy mix of bonfires, giant wooden structures, excitement and water. Somewhat drunken, I had no sense of the potential danger I was putting myself in when I nipped out into the sea to bounce over the waves at midnight. I lay on my back and looked out to the moon, not quite full but shining brightly. Some youngsters had bought guitars to the beach and I could just pick out their strummings as I lay there, head half submerged in the salty sea. ‘This is an experience to bottle’, I thought to myself, learning to live in the moment. 

Since that revelation in Alicante, I’ve swam in the sea as much as I can. I’ve found a beach near here that you get to by walking along a boardwalk. The smell of the pine and the gentle breeze from the sea air heightens the sense of anticipation as you approach. I spend no more than a couple of hours there. I’ve got little interest in bronzing my white torso. It’s just the saltwater that I’m addicted to. 

Last weekend I went on something of a road trip. From the moment that I saw the line-up of Vida festival, I earmarked it as one not to miss. Any festival that can find space in its schedule for Of Montreal, They Might Be Giants, Franz Ferdinand, St Vincent and Calexico deserves credit. In addition to the stellar line-up, I was drawn to the ’boutique’ nature of Vida. Primavera, Sonar, Benicassim and Mad Cool all subscribe to the ‘big is beautiful’ motto whereas Vida is happy to cap numbers. It achieves on pretty much every level. This is a man who has been to a lot of festivals over the last years and very few have left me feeling as satisfied as Vida.

The location helps. La Masia d’en Cabanyes is a neo-classical house on the edge of Vilanova. Beautifully treed, exquisitely lit, you can’t help but feel pretty privileged when walking around these grounds. Small stages appear in hidden woodland alcoves; food vans emerge from behind lines of trees. Vines line the fields and our vista towards the mountains in the distance. This is a great place to watch the sun go down. 

I bought myself a wild side ticket. The website promised free beer, wine and cava tasting and that was too much for this Brit to resist. It was worth every penny. On arrival, I was directed to a separate entrance and led into a walled garden by the side of the house. Beautiful people sat on straw bales drinking cava and wine out of glass. I couldn’t help but think what carnage there might be if ‘free’ alcohol was on offer at a British festival. But this was Catalonia, a place where restraint and pacing yourself comes naturally; where binge drinking plays little or no part in proceedings. 

I’ll return to Vida in future blog posts. I’ve deliberately not written about the daytime activities that took place at the beach club; astonishing live music whilst drinking Aperol Spritz and looking out across Vilanova’s impressive bay. Suffice to say, I’ve already bought a Wild Side ticket for next year’s Vida. I’ve also bought a ‘Rat Pack’ ticket for a new event that’s being launched in December. Secret Vida looks like it’ll hold equal amounts of joy. 

On my first night in Vilanova, I took off all of my clothes and ran out to the sea to skinny-dip (undoubtedly a misnomer in my case with fat-dipping being a better description). 

This was all about throwing caution to the wind and losing inhibition. In lots of ways that’s what the last months have been about; stripping away the complex layers and allowing the naked feelings to surface. Long may that continue in this fascinating country. 


A prisoner in my home…

Irrational fear/phobia is a funny thing. The other day a spider crawled over the top of a table towards me. Without second thought, I picked it up by a leg and calmly moved it to the garden. I have friends who would have been up on their tiptoes, cowering and screaming at such action. To me though, it’s only a spider. 

Last week, I was on a plane heading back to this villa after a fine time at Primavera Sound in Barcelona (review here). You can tell those people who are tense on a flight. They purse their lips, forget to breathe regularly and go an unfortunate shade of red. It’s easy to smirk about their misfortune because I’m not experiencing their fear. I enjoy flying. Kudos to them for tackling their phobia head on though.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it but I have a fear of strange dogs. Over the years, I’ve crossed streets to avoid yapping chihuahuas. When on walks in the country, I’ve cowered behind others that I’ve been with (awkward when that other is your son, ten years old at the time). It’s an irrational fear but it’s very real.

The stupid thing is that, by and large, I like dogs. Once I’ve got to ‘know’ a dog and to build up some rapport, I can see that they’re immense company. Truly they are best friends in the making. But strange dogs still do my head in. 

I know that many will smirk at this but this weekend I’ve been kept prisoner in the villa by a stray dog. Herbert (we’ll call him/her that even though I have no idea of his/her sex) came bounding up onto my patio early on Saturday afternoon. I had the French doors to the kitchen shut . Herbert made his presence known by howling intensely like you imagine a werewolf might. I then heard something scrapping at the kitchen glass. I went to investigate. 

I was taken aback when I saw Herbert staring through the glass at me. You probably could have knocked me down with a feather. I called Sarah. She’s good with dogs and would know what to do although, being back in England, any practical help would be out of the question. It’s not as if she could get on a flight to save me from my phobia (even though I would get on a flight to save her from spiders).

My problem was a very real one. Herbert seemed desperate to get into the villa. It’s all accessed by opening French doors and iron grills. By the time I’d unlocked everything to get out, Herbert would be in. And I was terrified of the ill-looking, desperate Herbert, even more so now after Sarah advised that he ‘probably has ticks and you don’t want to get bitten by one of them’.  We were entering into a stalemate and a battle of wills. I lowered the shutter to have a think. 

I had a scout online to try to work out what sort of dog Herbert is. His erect, pointy ears and long head were giveaways and I quickly derived that he was a hound (or a podenco in Spanish). There are different varieties of podenco but I’m not confident enough to say what type Herbert is. As Herbert scratched and howled on the steps of my villa, I felt all sorts of despair as I read about the plight of podencos. 

Podencos are hunting dogs in Spain. They’re not pets but tools of the trade. And when they are no longer of use to the hunters and farmers they are disposed of. The fact that the malnourished Herbert was on my doorstep was a good thing. His life could feasibly have been ended in ways too upsetting to write about in this post. Here, Herbert was safe from immediate harm (though I still baulked at the idea of heading out to say hello to him). Everything I’ve read about podenco’s says that they’re friendly, affable and loyal dogs which is quite incredible after what many have been through. 

I left a message on the answer-phone of the local animal rescue centre. When they called me back, they wondered whether Herbert had a previous knowledge of the villa. They suggested it was odd that he was showing such affinity to my patio. I was perhaps a bit too definite when agreeing with their assessment. I read about dogs who have travelled miles and miles with a sixth sense to get home. And I wondered if Herbert was a legacy of crazy dog woman. Appliances, cutlery, plates and pans had all gone but Herbert hadn’t. Silver clouds and all that. This was surely too far-fetched to be true. 

Time passed. Herbert’s howling became intermittent. He seemed comfortable to rest in the sun. I opened the shutters and that didn’t fail to get his attention. We had a stand-off with just a window-pane separating us. Herbert turned away and settled to rest again. This was a dual-edged stake-out; our negotiations were entering an intense period. I had beer and wine in the fridge. I was in no rush to leave (though I did feel very inadequate that I couldn’t take control of this situation like a ‘real’ man might).

Fast forward to Sunday morning. I’d been woken by Herbert’s howls earlier but it had now been some time since I’d heard him. I lifted the blind in the kitchen only to jump back. Herbert was still there looking in on me. More howls followed. I’m too frightened to go outside. I decide I’ve not had a sofa day for quite a while now and that’s what I do. I’ve got to sit this out even if Herbert’s howls do seem to get more desperate as the day passes and night again descends. 

It’s now Monday morning. There’s no obvious sign of Herbert but I wonder if he’s hiding in a spot I can’t see until I open the door. The mind plays funny tricks on you when you’re caged up for a weekend. But I had space to roam about in, food to eat and beer to drink. That’s absolute luxury compared to how many of Herbert relatives are kept. 

Herbert might have gone but I’ve got a feeling it’s not the last I’ve heard from him. I genuinely hope that some kind soul has found him and is helping him. Should he return, I really need to face my fear head on. 







Jonathan Bree – Boombox Serenade

“I think you’ll really miss being able to go to gigs every night of the week should the mood take you.”

That was the prediction of a few people when I told them that I was moving away from the hustle and bustle of Leicester city centre and heading to this remote Spanish villa. It’s true that the nearest small town is a three kilometre drive away and that karaoke and Michael Jackson tribute acts reign supreme but so far I’ve not missed the live gigging scene. To be fair though, I have been in the villa less than a week. 

And, despite the lack of gigs, it’s not as if I’ve had a live music drought in the weeks I’ve been waiting for crazy dog woman to vacate the villa. Before heading up to Lisbon and Eurovision, I spent a lovely weekend in Murcia for the ‘Warm Up’ festival. Kasabian and Alt-J were the bands at the top of the poster but it was probably the Spanish alt-indie acts that got the biggest cheers from the partisan crowd. Next week, I’m heading up to Barcelona for Primavera Sound. I’ll be reviewing it for eFestivals and fully intend to dig deep beneath the surface. Tomorrow, there’s a spring festival in Alicante that I might explore after getting my beard trimmed by a trendy barber with blue hair. 

Jonathan Bree travels from New Zealand to play his first ever UK dates in August. It’s an odd-looking three date mini-tour beginning at the Rough Trade store in Bristol and ending at the mightily-fine looking Visions one-dayer down in Hackney. Sandwiched in between these dates, Bree plays the Soundhouse in Leicester. As great a venue as the Soundhouse is, I still see this as quite a coup for the place. For Bree is brill and him and his band have an out-there image to boot – full white masked body suits and bowl haircut wigs. I let out a little yelp when I realised this was one show I wouldn’t get to see. 

His genius is more than evident in the recently released video for ‘Boombox Serenade’. Like a warped Magnetic Fields (if such a thing is possible), Bree plays with all sorts of iconic images as he rides in on a horse to woo the woman of his dreams (with a Boombox). The music won’t be too everybody’s taste (for some it’ll sound like the batteries on your Boombox are fading fast) but I find the combination of baritone croon and changing tone delightfully woozy. The awkward romanticism is right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. 


‘Boombox Serenade’ is the fourth track to be released from Bree’s forthcoming album, ‘Sleepwalking’. Each of the previous three singles showcase this man’s peculiar knack for skewed songwriting. From gallic glamour to more traditional electro-pop and all with the distinct voice, this is something to get excited about as summer settles. 








Afrikan Boy (featuring aJan) – Ancestry

I think that this terrace will be good for writing. That’ll be especially true in the mornings when the sun hasn’t quite moved around the villa to give the patio its afternoon heat. 

It’s been a waiting game the past couple of days; today, I’m having some furniture delivered – a comfortable sofa that’ll be perfect for World Cup viewing and a dining room table and chairs. The fabulous handyman (who fixed the electric gate yesterday)  returns to inspect the hot-tub that’s been out of action for years. And the pool man keeps an eye on his work in progress. The pool turns bluer by the day. 

I spent much of yesterday trying to catch up on Sonic Breakfast E-mails. With 7,000 unread in the inbox this is quite a task. I barely made a dent in the unread number but did listen to some fabulous tunes that have been sent my way. 

Ancestry by Afrikan Boy (featuring aJan) was one of the stand-outs. I’ll always be drawn to tunes with a message that are delivered with dollops of exasperated humour. Afrikan Boy ticks those boxes as he exposes the ridiculousness of the current ‘DNA’ fad, widely advertised on daytime TV. For an obscene amount of money, rogue scientists will analyse your blood, spit, sweat or faeces and tell you where your genes originate from. I guess that for some people this is the sort of thing that matters? 

What I do (sort of) like about ancestry websites is how such tests can blow the most fervent of racists out of the water. The mischief-maker in me would love to be a fly on the wall when your average UKIP supporter gets the devastating news that they hail from Europe. 

But these sites are pernicious. They’re selling a potential identity to people who aren’t comfortable with the one they have. I’ve got no such interest myself in knowing where my ancestors originate from. 

And it would appear that I share this feeling with Afrikan Boy who playfully experiences all sorts of identity crises within his banger of a tune before ultimately concluding that it’s hogwash. The accompanying website (here) is worth having a scout around as well. 

“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a citizen of the world“, wrote Socrates many moons ago. And yet still that search for ancestry goes on.







On moving into the villa

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast might care to know that I’ve now moved into the Spanish villa. A mere seven weeks after crazy dog woman’s leaving date, she has now finally departed. The strong whiff of dog will soon be gone as well.

I’m thinking about this post from the terrace of my villa. Whilst I write, a troop of Spanish people work on cleaning and sorting the accommodation. I feel immense guilt. I think I should be helping in some way, offering cups of tea, strumming tunes on my guitar or being generally convivial. Instead, I silently sit outside like a lord of the manor.  Frankly, although I’ll be paying for their services, it’s an economic exchange that I feel uncomfortable with. 

This morning, the pool was a dark and dingy green. Two big barrels of chlorine expertly administered by Pool man Ed, a Welsh carpet fitter who came here to retire but realised he needed something to do, appear to have done the trick. That and a fair bit of fiddling with the motor, a trick I suspect was used to confound me into thinking that the role of pool technician is not for every Tom, Dick and Harry. 

I broke down in tears on this very terrace barely four days ago. Everything seemed so overwhelming and it has been a long couple of months. Yes, I’m prone to drama but I was absolutely moving into a shithole of a place. I blamed Sarah who could do nothing from England. I shouted at people who were only trying to help me. I looked around and could see no way forward. I could write words about how I felt. But, I couldn’t actually do anything practical. I had no way of turning the green pool blue. To clean the dog hair from this place would have taken me months of hard graft; to fit the new light bulbs or fill in the holes even more time. Some people are born practical and I envy them more and more each day. 

Something beyond magical happened two nights ago, the first night I stayed in this remote space. When I turned the lights off, I was initially puzzled. Something was missing. A dog barked in the distance and then an insect fizzed. I could hear trees swishing in the slight wind. All was black save for a bit of starlight. It didn’t take long to dawn on me as I lay still, quiet and a little bit scared. This is no metropolis – there is no artificial street light, no constant hum from the late night taxis depositing the drinkers home from their last orders. This is like wild camping but under a roof with wifi. I pulled down the fly-guard, opened the window and took a big gulp of air. 

This is my life for the next year. Let the writing of the novel begin.