Journeys Into The Unknown

Although it’s hard to realise, it’s twenty months since I relocated to Spain …

For many British people who retire to Spain, life basically consists of lying in the sun around the pool, consuming copious amounts of relatively cheap booze, and venturing out to local shops and bars owned by fellow Brits. Many appear to live in a comfort bubble within a 20 km radius of their homes and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve mentioned places that I’ve visited, only to be greeted with the ‘where’s that?’ comment. It has become very apparent that people simply don’t look at maps or, indeed, are incapable of doing so, but for those struggling to read maps, there are easier ways of finding places, notably the Internet, as well as enquiring at local information centres. For those who do make the effort, there is a wealth of history, culture and scenery to be discovered almost on the doorstep.

I appreciate that Spain is a large country and that many places cannot be visited in a day. I am fortunate in living in the north east of Almería province which affords easy access to Granada and Jaën provinces as well as the autonomous region of Murcia. To put things into perspective, Almería province covers 8774 sq kms, which is the approximate size of Cornwall and Somerset combined but somewhat smaller than the total area of Dorset and Devon. As well as coastal towns and villages, there is an abundance of secluded coves, and moving inland, one will find mountains, valleys, hidden villages, lakes, forests and ancient monuments. When navigating mountain roads, many of which are maintained to a good standard, one can expect ever-changing vistas with a surprise around virtually every corner. Admittedly, some roads are very narrow and twisty, even degenerating into dirt tracks, but persevering with these will reward the traveller with uninterrupted views and frequent hidden gems.

As a general rule, I do try and explore new places at least twice a month. Of course, this is weather-dependent but for the most part, the sun shines! Having said that, some of the mountainous areas can look stunning with cloud formations looming overhead, and their overall appearance changes to reflect the seasons. Quaint villages with their narrow streets, plazas and churches are a joy to wander around, and maybe partake of a drink in the local bar whilst soaking up the views! Obviously, to experience these hitherto unknown places, a car is essential, but seeing as public transport in this part of Spain is fairly minimal, almost everyone has access to private transport.

Much of the interior of Almería province consists of a parched, lunar landscape with low mountain ranges and dried-up river beds. However, two areas of the desert boast exceptional geological features, namely the Karst in the Yesos de Sorbas Natural Park which is the most outstanding gypsum landscape in Spain, and the eroded mountains of the Tabernas Desert Natural Park. Nestling in the shadows of the Sierra Alhamilla Natural Park is the town of Níjar, famous for its primitive earthenware ceramics, and further into the mountains at 550m above sea level is the village of Lucainena de Las Torres. This quaint Andalucian village boasts narrow streets with whitewashed houses, and the 18th century church faces a ‘mirador’ or viewing area giving panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscape. Of particular interest are the remains of large kilns used for iron extraction from the rocks. Mining began in 1895 and due to its secluded location, a special 35 km railway line was constructed to transport extractions to the Mediterranean coast. The industry functioned until its closure in 1942 and the recently renovated kilns are now a site of special historical interest. The eight round kilns, which were constructed in 1900, were used to transform the rock into a much richer material. The kilns were filled from the top with alternate layers of rock and charcoal, and after cooking, the nuggets of ore were removed from the mouth of the ovens and loaded into wagons for their onward journey by train. Each oven was capable of producing 50 tonnes of ore per day.

To the south east, and close to Almería city, is the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park. This is the largest coastal protected area in Andalucía comprising a wild and isolated landscape of specific geological interest. Offshore are numerous tiny rocky islands and underwater extensive coral reefs teeming with marine life. In the northern corner of the province lies the Sierra de María-Los Vélez wooded park, bordered by the towns of Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco, the latter boasting an interesting castle. For those wishing to stay closer to home, local fiestas are a great way to experience regional culture. As the Spanish are very family-orientated, with several generations often living in the same house, they are proud to share their country and heritage. And that is just part of what my home province of Almería has to offer …

So, to those who simply want to soak up the sun, I say good luck and beware the health risks. However, they are missing out on an enrichment of life, education, enjoyment, and fun! Travelling in this part of Spain is a pleasant experience with generally little traffic and discovering some of these hidden places is, indeed, a journey into the unknown!

¡Feliz viaje!

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Daytime Television

A slightly tongue-in-cheek view of daytime tv in the United Kingdom which is not meant to cause offence …

Having considerable time on my hands owing to a hefty downfall in my workload, I’ve finally found the time to write something about daytime television. The first thing I must point out is that I’m no advocate of the facility but in order to be even slightly constructive. I’ve had to force myself to dip into the schedules and what a nightmare it has been. Thankfully the day starts off quite well with BBC Breakfast, a programme that manages to strike a fair balance between serious news coverage and the world of entertainment. Contrast this with the abysmal Daybreak on ITV which lacks any gravitas and currently is presented by two people who combined have the charisma of a dead wasp. In fact, the male presenter looks rather like a dead wasp! Still, I digress.

Immediately following Breakfast, the BBC offers a variety of programming in the slot up to 10am. At the time of writing, viewers are being informed about consumer issues in Rip Off Britain, a programme that has previously occupied an early evening slot. I suspect that there are not that many people who are unaware that we live in a rip off society, so it rather begs the question as to what benefits this programme has to offer.

As the day progresses, both BBC One and BBC Two between them effectively focus our minds on buying and selling homes or making money from discarded possessions. We can put our Homes Under the Hammer, choose whether To Buy Or Not To Buy, and even Escape To The Country. Having then decided that any relocation would be a logistical nightmare, and opting to stay put, we are encouraged to rummage for Cash In the Attic and convert Trash To Cash. Many of the homes featured are in the upper price bracket, yet it is highly probable that the audience demographic falls into a much lower category. Maybe that’s where the complementary programmes come into their own … a short-term means of survival by disposing of low value assets!

At least these programmes have some educational value! Compare them with the dross over on ITV during the day. There’s some bloke called Jeremy Kyle who manages to find the low life in society who are happy to air their dirty linen in public, or at least via the medium of national television. Just where do these people come from? One has to wonder whether or not some of the scenarios are staged simply for dramatic effect and to woo the audiences. Following this daily slanging match, we are loosely entertained by the insipid This Morning, a programme that lost all credibility after the departure of Richard and Judy. Talk about milking a dead cow!!

Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, four Loose Women pop up. I fail to see the point of this trash other than as an outlet for the presenters to impart their highly inflated egotistical opinions upon bewildered viewers. Their guests struggled to get a word in edgeways, though this is hardly surprising given that the women include Janet Street-Porter, Denise Welch and Jenny Éclair. After a break for lunchtime news, BBC One offers a daily dose of Doctors, set in a fictional suburb of Birmingham. In fairness to this programme, it really deserves a better timeslot and would be best suited in the early evening prior to the news at 6pm.

In the afternoon, ITV hits back at the BBC with May The Best House Win whereby homeowners rate one another’s properties. This offered absolutely no staying power given that it would only be of the slightest interest to people in the immediate locality, so I was next serenaded by the over-powering and blinding David Dickinson trying to give me a Real Deal on things I’d sold earlier in the day when rummaging in my attic! As if that wasn’t enough, BBC Two encourages me to Flog It! in the late afternoon after I’d previously turned trash to cash.

So what alternative offerings do the main channels offer their daytime audience? Basically a plethora of quiz shows! Currently BBC Two shows Weakest Link, a programme that is now way past its sell-by date. It never ceases to amaze me what stupid answers some of the contestants give to the simplest of questions. Over on Channel 4 Countdown continues to reign supreme. Somehow this programme manages to stay fresh as the challenge to find words and numbers is different in every round. This was also the very first programme to be broadcast by the channel on its launch day in November 1982. Following this short period of brain-stimulation comes Deal Or No Deal, a show that almost renders me speechless. At best, this is a programme of simple luck, yet it has been promoted to a game of great skill and power of mind. I find it hilarious that contestants admit to any form of game plan, and actually enjoy seeing some of them humiliated because of greed in turning down what many would consider worthy sums of money. Finally, to round of the daytime schedule, BBC One now offers us Pointless and never has a programme been so aptly named!

I’ve just realised I’ve failed to mention Channel 5! Does anyone actually watch this channel? They appear to offer a bland mix of so-called discussion shows in the mornings followed by an hourly dose of Australian soaps, which even native Australians rarely watch.

I am not suggesting that daytime television shouldn’t exist but do feel that the programme content could be far more varied and the time slots used to show archive programming such as award-winning dramas and documentaries. Of course, in this technological age, the television is only one means of watching programmes, and with the advent of so many channels, quality standards were bound to suffer. Still, it is a sad indictment on the part of broadcasting executives that they think the only people watching during the day are of limited intelligence and would not have the ability to absorb more mentally stimulating programmes.

Having sacrificed time and energy to absorb the dross that comprises daytime tv scheduling, I can happily say that I will not be tuning in on a regular basis, much preferring to read a good book or listen to music.

Banned Video

Apparently this video has been banned in Australia and can’t be accessed on the YouTube website

The video suggests that bullying takes place in the University of Newcastle NSW despite denials to the contrary. Bullying in any form must be outlawed and people allowed to live their own lives. The video is reproduced below to endorse my hatred of this outrageous activity.