Category Archives: Arts and Crafts

Portugal, Lisbon Streets – Art or Vandalism?

Lisbon Tram Grafitti

In Lisbon and throughout Portugal no public place is safe from Spray Paint Vandals…

Lisbon Urban Art

I don’t dislike this…

Lisbon Wall Painting Urban Art

But I don’t like this…

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Where do you stand on the issue of Urban Art or Criminal Graffiti?

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Portugal, a Clothes Line

Lisbon Washing Line

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Portugal, A Red Door

A Mystery Story for Halloween – The Single Footprint

Just over forty-five  years ago when I was about fifteen I bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.

The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.”  There were actual photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.

I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christ like wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed.  There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.

Ouija Board

I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls.  You can’t dispute evidence like that.  There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors.

One night together with some friends we held a séance and got to speak to the spirit of Donald Campbell!

I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right of course because I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!

I mention all of this because just last week I was on the island of Malta and came across a mystery of my own which would be worthy of inclusion in the ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.

Have you ever noticed that wherever there is freshly laid concrete someone manages to walk in it?  I have always considered that to be rather stupid, dogs do it but they are extremely stupid of course (when they are not being dangerous) in fact the combined brain cells of all the dogs in the World would still not equal that of the dumbest cat,  but  returning to the wet concrete, I have always wondered why people do it?

Anyway, I was rather perplexed by this bizarre example that I came across in Malta just recently.  Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint.  Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper, surely a curious mystery equally as mystifying as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’! 

Is this perhaps the mystery of the Night the Devil walked in Malta but only managed one single footprint?  Who or what I wonder passed this way?

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Portugal, Tomar, an Unexpected Festival and a Geographic Coincidence

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Breakfast at the United Nations table was a little easier for us today, the French Canadians and the Flemish Belgians had left and been replaced by an Irish couple and two ladies from New Zealand, so we were not so linguistically outnumbered this morning and ours was the majority language.

The Americans continued to struggle with the English language but it didn’t seem to bother the Germans who were quite happy chatting away with us all in Queen’s English.  The Russians showed no inclination to join in.

As it happened, the Germans were leaving today and driving to Coimbra, the Americans were driving north and the New Zealanders were going south to the Algarve but our plan was to visit the Convento de Cristo, an important historical monument built originally by the Knights Templar as long ago as the twelfth century, their most important possession in all of Iberia and now since 1983 a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I diagress here for a sentence or two – Tomar is most famous, not just for the Convento de Cristo but also for the Festa dos Tabuleiros. A festival that is held every four years when the local population parades in pairs with women and young girls carrying tabuleiros on their heads and men accompanying them to make sure they don’t fall off because these things are seriously heavy.

Tomar Festival

What is a tabuleiro I hear you ask?  Well, a tabuleiro is made of thirty stacked pieces of bread, liberally decorated with flowers and carried on the head.  At the top is a crown which normally contains either a white dove, symbolising the Holy Spirit, or the Esfera Armilar, which turns out to be a symbol of  historical Portuguese maritime expansion of five hundred years ago or so.  Tomar it turns out was once the base of Henry the Navigator even though it is some considerable distance from the Atlantic Ocean.

I mention this because after we set off at about ten o’clock and were almost immediately distracted by some music and making our way to the town centre we came across a parade. You are probably expecting me to tell you that It was the Festa dos Tabuleiros but of course it wasn’t because this wasn’t scheduled for a further two years or so but rather an annual religious event called Nossa Senhora da Piedade which is always held on the first Sunday in September and which also involves ladies carrying baskets of bread on their heads.

Nossa Senhora da Piedade 01Nossa Senhora da Piedade 02Nossa Senhora da Piedade 03Nossa Senhora da Piedade 04

This was a real bonus; usually we are unlucky about such events; they have usually taken place a week before we arrived or are due to take place a couple of days after we have left. I am not exaggerating here, this was literally the first time that we have ever had such good fortune on our travels.

We chanced upon the parade at the very start and then followed it through the streets until it made its way to the main square, the Praça da República (in any Portuguese town the equivalent of the Spanish Plaza Mayor) and then following some religious rituals that we didn’t fully understand it set off again to an out of town religious sanctuary, the Hermitage of Our Lady of Mercy, but we had enough by this time so before setting off for the Convent we sat in the square in the already burning sun and had a coffee and a beer.

Nossa Senhora da Piedade Tomar Portugal

As we sat we engaged in conversation with a Canadian man who was walking the Camino Way, as you do in these situations we naturally exchanged personal information and told him that we lived in a town called Grimsby in England and he told us that he lived in Toronto near a place called Grimsby on Lake Ontario and close to the Niagara Falls. I really didn’t expect a coincidence like that during a chance meeting at a pavement bar in central Portugal.  Moments like that always enhance the travel experience don’t you think?

We finished our drinks, he drank the last of his mineral water, left and followed the sign of the scallop shell on the way to Santiago de Compostela and we said once again that one day that we would like to do that but for today we simply contemplated the climb to the Convent and the Castle and then had a second beer to prepare ourselves before setting off.

Tomar Portugal

Portugal, Lisbon – On The Streets (1)

Lisbon ArtLisbon StreetsLisbon Poster
Lisbon Wanted PosterCurse of the Smart Phone

Scottish Borders, Galashiels, Walter Scott and William Wallace

Neidpath Castle Peebles Scotland

Every year thirty or so members of my golf club go for a week away golfing in Scotland and after three years on the reserve list I finally got an invite.

Unfortunately the week prior to departure I entertained my three grandchildren and one of them left me a parting gift of a very heavy cold so when I set off one Sunday morning I was sniffing and sneezing and relying on cold relief capsules to help me through the journey north.

Actually I think it was probably ‘man flu’ and  I digress here for a moment to explain that this is a condition that this is a strain of flu so powerful and so deadly that it can only be matched by the Bubonic Plague.  It is an incurable virus, which has adapted to only effect the “XY” gene found in men. The virus attacks the immune system ten thousand times more seriously than an average flu and causes excruciating pain and discomfort for the victim.

For all of the week I felt awful but I played golf for four days but on Friday I woke to grey skies and persistent rain so on account of the fact that I was due to go on holiday to Wales a couple of days later and I didn’t want to get worse and spoil that I decided against putting on the leaking waterproofs and dragging myself around the fifth course of the week and thought that I might do a little bit of sightseeing instead.

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

This is Walter Scott country where the great man of Scottish literature chose to live and receive his literary inspiration and the land of William Wallace and the marcher lands that separated England from Scotland and was the scene of much medieval warfare and fighting.

Galashiels Raid Stane Englishman's Syke

And so it was in Galashiels where I came across memorial called “The Raid Stane” the site of an incident in 1337 when a raiding party of English soldiers were picking wild plums close to the town and and were caught by angry Scots who came across them by chance and slaughtered them all.  It seems that they were picking and eating sour fruit and they were so unwell that they were unable to fight back.

Today the town’s coat of arms shows two foxes reaching up to eat plums from a tree, and the motto is Sour Plums pronounced in Scots as soor plooms.  Every year in June there is an event in the town called the Galashiels Braw Lads Gathering which celebrates the event and by all accounts if you are English you really don’t want to be in town that particular night.

Angry Scots

I spent a half an hour or so in the granite town of Galashiels and with the rain getting heavier returned to the car and with the stubborn grey skies refusing to clear away planned a route south towards the town of Jedburgh and followed a route through sweeping hills, purple with heather and decorated with the ragged stumps of the ruins of castles and derelict lookout towers, testimony to its turbulent history.

I passed through the town of Melrose with its ruined Abbey which is said to be the secret  burial site of the heart of Robert the Bruce but I didn’t stop there because I calculated that I only had time for one ruined abbey and that was going to be Jedburgh.

I did however make detour into a valley of the River Tweed and stopped for a while at Scott’s view which is a place where allegedly he liked to stop by and reflect on life.  I am not disputing this but it this rather remote place is about ten miles or so from where he lived so in days before automobiles this would not be something that the average person, or even the great Sir Walter Scott, would be able to do on impulse.  It was a nice view all the same and apparently his funeral cortege stopped off here for a short while on his way to his burial spot in the grounds of nearby Dryburgh Abbey.

One of my favourite Scott stories is how he saved the Scottish bank note.  In 1826 there was a proposal to abandon Scottish notes and adopt the English notes instead.  Under the pseudonym Malachi Malagrowther Scott campaigned hard against the proposal and was eventually successful.  In recognition of this a picture of Scott even today appears on every Bank of Scotland note.

Walter Scott bank note

Instead of visiting the Abbey I sought out a massive stone statue of William Wallace standing solitary and magnificent in half armour and kilt, a massive claymore hanging menacingly from his belt and leaning on a giant sword fully fifteen feet tall.

Thanks to the hopelessly historically inaccurate Mel Gibson film ‘Braveheart’, quite possibly the most aggressively Anglophobe and historically inaccurate film ever made, William Wallace remains a burning symbol of Scottish nationalism but the truth is that his fame is based on one lucky victory against the English and a conveniently overlooked string of subsequent defeats.

I thought he looked rather sad and forlorn stuck out here abandoned on a ridge overlooking the river wondering what might have been and with nothing to detain me here for more than a few minutes I swiftly moved on towards my intended destination.

William Wallace