As we get out of the car and start walking towards New Slains Castle - a mere stripling of 420 years, whereas the old Slains Castle was built in the 13th century - my friend M remarks: "This was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula."
What? I thought Dracula was in Transylvania, not really fictional, and certainly not flapping around in a ruined castle near Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland! But it turns out that Stoker had been staying near, perhaps even been a guest in, this bleak and eerie castle. The year was 1895 and the castle, having originally been built as a round tower, was in its last reincarnation as a "Scots Baronial Manor."
Think Rebecca, think the Addams Family and everything scary, creepy - but presumably with a roof, at least. That somewhat essential part of modern living had had to be taken down (or off) by the last owner, Sir John Ellerman, to avoid taxes. And without a roof there was only one way to go for this gaff, really.
Now it's sitting there, creepy as hell, protected from sea attackers by cliffs and a natural deep gash in the landscape forming a semi moat. Even if it had a roof, some floorings and maybe a window or two, I would think twice about living there.
Plans to restore it to its former (ugliness?) glory have been afoot since 2004, but so far it seems they have gone the way of all Brexit. Meanwhile, people have wasting no time in taking advantage of the remote setting, general creepiness and car accessibility.
"They just drive past the castle at top speed and keep driving", my friend M said darkly. Others have jumped or "fallen" from the cliffs. And indeed, on a weatherbeaten fence outside the castle hang a few forlorn teddybears and plastic flowers waving a sad farewell.
This is not the cheeriest part of Scotland by any stretch of the imagination, but a treasure trove for those who possess one. Especially one of the morbid kind.
New Slains Castle, Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire
Open 24 hours a day - to the elements
I have only one principle in life. Well, two, but they are connected. One, I never go to fast food shops where the chairs are welded to the floor and Two, I never eat or drink anything out of paper or plastic.
Therefore I was dismayed, nay, a bit horrified, the other day outside Euston station in London, hungry as hell and starting to faint, when my friend A suggested we "get some food from S&M (or something) and eat it sitting on benches.
He probably thought I was an entitled whiner when I started moaning "Oh no... oh no, not on benches" as if it was the benches there was something wrong with. But remember, my blood sugar was dangerously low. We looked around us. Everywhere was fast food, people sitting inside and outside "restaurants," eating out of paper and drinking from plastic cups. Like, well, inmates in a lunatic asylum! Or people living under a bridge.
How has this paper and plastic thing completely taken over modern eating? I hate the idea of paying a five star price for a minus two star product, or "dining experience" as it's called now.
But then we spotted another establishment, slightly different-looking in that there was a notable gleam in metal cutlery and the twinkling of glasses made of - glass. Café Rouge. "There!" we said in unison. Oh yes. Although clearly part of a chain, the place had proper tablecloths, real glasses and all the other things I need in a restaurant.
My friend A, modest in everything as usual, just wanted sparkling water. Oh no, but I wanted to treat him to a meal after all he had done for me that day. 1. Pick me up at Stanstead, 2. Given me an Oyster card, 3. brought five packets of printer's ink over from Hong Kong. I knew the only way he would let me pay for a meal was if I passed it off as only for me, so I ordered a sharing board. And this is what I wanted to tell you: The Toulouse Sausage! Oh oh oh oh!
I'm not a sausage fan. I probably eat it once every two years, if offered me on a canapé or something. But these things are so wondrous, so bursting with subtle, sharp, medium and exotic and dreamy flavour that I will just have to go to Toulouse and become a regular sausage-eater now. Watch this space!
One of the many great things about Palma is the many churches. I don't know what exactly this thing is called - road icon indicating that a church is near? Unfortunately this and many other of the lovely icons or paintings on display, including on the churches themselves, have had to be covered in metal mesh because of vandalism. Grrrrr.
This particular church is about 15 minutes' walk from my house, and a place to which I frequently take the dogs. We now live in an urban environment, and unfortunately I can't let them off the leash everywhere because they are both traffic idiots who have been hit by cars, but outside the church it is safe.
Sunday morning we were hanging around the church when an unusual sight caught my eye: A young man dressed only in a beard and some kind of underwear, I think it is known as Y-fronts, wandering through the courtyard, looking a bit lost. No shoes. Oh no, another victim of stag night "fun"!
He immediately addressed me in Norwegian.
"Sorry to disturb, I'm looking for a hotel."
"That's the thing, I don't really know." I bet! I thought. "It was Mari, Mal... rosa?"
"Yes! I've been walking in my sleep. It's very inconvenient."
"So, this happens a lot?"
"Oh yes, all the time."
I walked him to the hotel, a few minutes' walk away. I wonder if he walks in his sleep in winter in Norway. That would be really inconvenient. Not least because his choice of underwear pattern. Cartoon characters with space ships, moons and stars? Come on! Who would be seen dead in that, let alone walking around the city asleep?
O people who don't want the Mandarin juggernaut to take over Hong Kong and the world: Please know that the fight for Cantonese world supremacy (in which, unlike under the Mandarin world supremacy, the other languages can do whatever the hell they want) rages on! Your Cantonese Fundamentalist (under whose non-leadership, unlike under other fundamentalists, everybody can do whatever the hell they want) may live in exile in Spain, but I have not withdrawn from the fight.
Now I have lived in exile for six months, and it's time to share my new life with the world. Warning: Contains the depiction of the enjoyment of alcohol - at 12:00 NOON!
Guess what happened last week: My Cantonese student (victim) on Skype, Ah-Fu, came all the way from Switzerland to eat Sichuan food! What a great but slightly expected surprise. He was just as delightful 'live' as he is on Skype, which says a lot. Unfortunately, apart from a quick foray to an Armenian (!) restaurant, I didn't have much time to explore the island with him, because I had to prepare the Sichuan lunch for 16 people.
We did have time, however, to make a little film in Cantonese (watch this space!) and to learn how to look up Chinese characters in the dictionary. Well, ah-Fu did. I already know it, natch.
The big day came and so did all the people who had signed up; very unusual in this town.
Ways that make cooking Sichuan in Palma easier than Hong Kong: Most of the ingredients are available from a ten minute's walk away or less. I don't have to worry about the weather because 1: It's always good and 2: The eating is in the living room, not precariously on the roof, threatened by sideways rain most days.
Ways that make cooking Sichuan in Palma more difficult and time-consuming than in Hong Kong: The water from the tap is disgusting and full of calcium, so I have to dry each glass with a tea towel right after I have cleaned it instead of letting it air dry.
So there you have it, whether you live in Palma or abroad, there's always a Canto lesson near you. And a short walk, plane or car trip will let you enjoy lovely food in great company! But unfortunately, for now I can only cook for people who are actually in the same house. When will these techno-people invent a food-bearing Skype?!?
亞虎 - Ah Fu - Tiger
川菜 - Chuen choi - Sichuan food
外國 - Oi gok - foreign